1968 & 1969
Firmly established as potent striking force, River Assault Squadron NINE moved into 1968 in high gear. After the quiet of the New Year’s Truce, the Green Fleet boats penetrated population centers throughout the Delta always keeping the Viet Cong off balance. With troops of the 2nd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, operations were conducted in Kien Hoa, Vinh Long, and Long An Provinces. Operation “Coronado IX” (10-12 January) was pursued throughout these areas, and in Dinh Tuong Province. “Coronado X” was launched 22-23 January.
At first light on 25 January, River Assault Squadron NINE relocated, with the Mobile Riverine Base, to the junction of the Song Ham Luong and Son Ben Tre. This was the first time that the MRB located in this area, later to become a routine anchorage well known to the Riverine Forces. Minor contacts with Viet Cong Forces were continuously encountered, and several major battles favorably concluded. But arduous, costly, and productive as these early operations of the year were, River Assault Squadron NINE soon faced a more critical challenge.
With the launching of the TET Offensive all the major cities of the Mekong Delta came under fierce attack; communist forces threatened all Government and Allied control. Their work cut out for them the little Green Fleet responded with courage and dedication; running day and night, for weeks at a time without stand-down hammering incessantly at the Viet Cong. With troops of the 3/47th and 3/60th Infantry, River Assault Squadron NINE moved rapidly, and repeatedly, to conduct offensive operations, wresting initiative away from the Viet Cong.
Moving from a ready posture around the towns of Cai Lay and Cai Be, and covering the Vinh Long Air Field, the assault craft conducted a swift transit on 01 February to relieve pressure on the city of My Tho. Later landings were conducted to the south along the Bai Lai River, and then a return to Vinh Long. As the pace of enemy initiated activity remained heavy, so too did the response of the River Sailors. Long transits on short notice, with the promise of hard battle on arrival, were the order of the day. A one hundred and ten mile transit, from Dong Tam to Can Tho, was conducted on the fourteenth of February. The succeeding days saw some of the fiercest fighting of the river war during the defense of Can Tho, Cai Rang, and Binh Thuy. The battles fought in late February on the Can Tho River became part of the heritage of River Assault Squadron NINE – written in bold deeds, and the blood of brave men.
At 140825H March 1968, Assault Support Patrol Boat 92-7 was sunk by hostile fire, becoming the first River Assault Craft to be lost in action. While part of a Riverine Assault Reconnaissance Element (RARE) operating in conjunction with waterborne movement of companies of 3/60th Infantry, ASPB 92-7 took a recoilless rifle round hit in the transom. Miraculously there were no fatalities as the boat rapidly swamped in the muddy waters of the Song Sam Giang.
Only four days further later tragedy beset the Squadron. While in command of Naval units in the highly successful operation “Coronado XII”, Lieutenant David H. WYRICK, United States Navy, Commander River Assault Division NINETY-TWO, was killed in action.
At 181615H March, while operating on the Rach Ba Rai, a B-40 rocket detonated behind the coxswain flat of Monitor 92-1 demolishing the entire area. He died leading his division through sudden ambush. Although Lieutenant WYRICK had been Commander River Assault Division NINETY-TWO for only sixteen days, his imprint, and the impact of his sudden death, were felt throughout the squadron. Two other sailors were wounded in the same action.
Heavy combat became the rule, as the inauspicious New Year moved into the Spring. The routine for assault operations settled into a schedule allowing almost no respite.
On the line for several multi-day missions each week, stand-down days were few, and when they occurred, necessarily were utilized for maintenance and upkeep. Coming in from the field, spending hours refitting and then shoving off again before dawn, had the curious result of many boat crews getting more rest during extended field periods – where upkeep could not be performed – than back at the Mobile Riverine Base.
On 04 April 1968 River Assault Squadron NINE suffered the greatest number of casualties during any single day of its existence. With soldiers of the 3/47th Infantry embarked, the assault craft were proceeding to designated beaches along the Song Ba Lai – East and West. Both columns were ambushed, taking many rocket hits; thirty-five sailors were wounded. For the Boat Captain and .50 caliber machine gunner of Monitor 92-2, and a 40MM gunner on M-91-3, this was their last firefight. The names of BMC Samuel C. CHAVOUS, BM3 John D. WOODWARD, and FN Douglas G. MORTON were stricken from the muster of River Assault Squadron NINE. At day’s end, nine assault craft were disabled in various degrees by enemy action, and required repair.
On the fifteenth of April a column of boats was attacked from the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest river banks at the junction of the Song Ba Lai and Kinh Giao Hoa – three corners of the “Cross Roads” above Ben Tre; an area which rapidly gained infamy among the brown water fleet.
Other notable engagements occurred on the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth of April, and the eighth of April, and the eighth of May. On 08 May under extremely heavy fire from bunkered positions on the Song Ba Lai – West, ASPB 91-3 was damaged and beached. A daring rescue of the craft was conducted by M-92-1, despite continuous rocket and automatic weapons fire received at almost point blank range. That day saw 17 personnel casualties taken.
Units of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE encountered an unusual weapon during fighting later that week (14 May). A variation of the United States Claymore mine had been set above the Rach Mo Cay river bank, and rigged for command detonation. Only moderate casualties were inflicted by this device, but another lethal weapon had been developed which would have to be reckoned with.
The middle and end of May continued in the same turbulent manner. Two days of intense action to the North, on the Rach Vang during 17-18 May, resulted in successful strikes against local force guerrilla units – and seventeen Navymen wounded. One week later in a strike operation on the Rach Ben Tre fierce resistance developed; the boats were forced to push through an ambush kill zone (XZ605253) which extended approximately two kilometers. In this incident on the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh of May, another eighteen riverine sailors earned their Purple Hearts.
There is no easy way to merit that medal; during April and May 1968 River Assault Squadron NINE accumulated ninety-seven Purple Hearts. The hard way.
Action decreased in the following weeks as the insurgents became more elusive and avoided contact. River Assault Squadron NINE conducted fourteen planned operations during June and July 1968 ranging in duration from five hours to five days. Area sweeps and penetrations of Viet Cong sanctuaries; seeking out the enemy forcefully bringing the war to his waterway lairs. In addition dozens of unscheduled administrative runs were carried out: resupply, trooplift, blockade. These often involved duties more hazardous and demanding than going ‘on the line’.
None-the-less contacts with the enemy were slight until the twenty-third of July. At 230840H while transporting the entire 3/60th Infantry Battalion to designated landing beaches down the Rach Ben Tre, a heavy ambush was unleashed against the twenty-two boat column of assault craft from both river banks (XS 591259). Two sailors died in the onslaught including the coxswain of ASPB 91-4. As he fell forward over the throttles, the boat raced ahead, running onto the beach. Down by the stern, with the engines ahead full, ASPB 91-4 rapidly swamped. With the attack suppressed, a security force was placed around the swamped ‘Alfa’. Combat Salvage Boat Three (CSB-3) and Yard Light Lift Craft Five (YLLC-5) were called to the scene and, despite continuing sniper fire, successfully salvaged ‘Alfa’ 91-4 during the night of 23-24 July. Killed in this action were BM1 John F. BOBB and David A. PEARSON; and fifteen others wounded.
After this inauspicious ending to July, the month of August opened with a combined operation with the Fifth Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps. Working around Cai Rang and Vi Thanh the tough, ‘Gung Ho’ Marines routed the Viet Cong from their holes and produced major contact. Using monitor firepower and mortar capability, close fire support was provided at the request of the Marines, and over thirty VC KIA’s were credited to the RIVRON NINE boats.
On the morning of 02 August the troop laden column was attacked on the Rach Ba Mieu. SN Charles H. DELLINGER was killed in action and fourteen sailors were wounded in action. These were to be the first of sixty-one River Assault Squadron NINE ‘River Rats’ to become casualties during the month. Commander Joseph E. SULLIVAN, USN assumed duties as Commander River Assault Squadron NINE on the sixth of August; and shortly thereafter led the squadron through one of it’s costliest battles.
With the familiar companies of 3/60th Infantry embarked, a two day zone sweep was undertaken in Kien Hoa Province along the Rach Ben Tre. At 151415H August the column encountered the first of three large ambushes over a 36 hour period. Five assault craft immediately sustained major damages with thirty crewmen wounded. Two hours later in another sudden attack a recoilless rifle shot passed entirely through the stern of ASPB 91-5, from port to starboard. Remaining over night in the field, the column was again ambushed early the morning of the sixteenth. Results of the two day operation: Armored Troop Carrier 92-7 received a rocket hit which caused flooding; T-91-3 received 3 rocket and recoilless rifle hits which disabled the electrical system. Thirty-seven Navymen wounded in action. With these events, the latest in a series, the notorious Rach Ben Tre was thereafter infamously known throughout the Delta as ‘Rocket Alley’.
Lieutenant Commander William F. McCAULEY, USN assumed duties as Commander River Assault Squadron NINE on 17 August 1968.
Several other heavy contacts were made and pursued through the end of the month.
In September the focus of Mobile River Force activity centered on Kien Hoa Province; with several exceptions, this was to be the major AO for River Assault Squadron NINE for the remainder of the year. Troop insertions were made in all parts of this area – Mo Cay, Ben Tre, Thoi Son; minor firefights resulted without significant contact being developed.
On 23 September River Assault Squadron NINE lead the first penetration of the ‘Thanh Phu Secret Zone’. This area, a Viet Cong refuge, had not been entered by government forces since the end of World War II. Within this relative sanctuary the Viet Cong maintained base camps and hospitals for training, resupply, and recuperation. The operation was marked by a lack of contact, despite evidences of guerrilla presence. Apparently the sudden invasion of their haven by the ‘Green Monster’ boats scattered the Viet Cong.
During September and October the first group and bulk of the new squadron officers arrived in-country. Within the next few weeks these ‘Third Generation’ officers relieved all positions in the Squadron and Divisions. Commander James C. FROID assumed duties as Commander River Assault Squadron NINE on 03 October 1968. Another Viet Cong haven was entered by River Assault Squadron NINE in early October. With units of the 4/47th Infantry, a sweep operation of the ‘Binh Dai Secret Zone’ was conducted from 11-14 October. This area previously under Viet Cong control, contained hidden caches of munitions and supplies, hospital, and training camps. Once again the insurgents were taken by surprise and abandoned much equipment while fleeing from sudden invasion.
The Third Battalion Vietnamese Marine Corps was assigned to Kien Hoa Province and to work with RIVRON NINE, during the middle of October. Having previously gone into action with the 5th Vietnamese Marine Corps the Squadron sailors looked forward to working with the 3rd Battalion. Soon a profitable working relationship, based on mutual respect, was established as a long series of combined operations was launched. Establishing their Command Post on the Northwest corner of the notorious ‘Cross Roads’ the Vietnamese Marines immediately moved into ‘Hard Core’ Viet Cong territory. From this base, the assault craft operated to both ends of the Ba Lai River and into ‘Rocket Alley’; the Rach Ben Tre. Typical was an operation on 22 and 23 October, during which the boats remained over night on the southeast end of the Rach Ben Tre, contact was made both days – 7 sailors were wounded in action.
This combined effort forced the guerrilla foe to keep moving and denied him security in his own strongholds, the successful employment of water-borne Vietnamese Marines resulted in the extension of their assignment to work with River Assault Squadron NINE and other assault units through November.
During an ambush on 10 November while the Squadron conducted one of the many sweep and search assaults with the Third Battalion Vietnamese Marine Corps on the Rach Giong Trom, a recoilless rifle round detonated on the barrel of the 81MM mortar on M-91-2 killing GMG3 Sammy Joe CROSS. A return to the ‘Thanh Phu Secret Zone’ was made in an operation starting 12 November. More Viet Cong supplies and facilities were unearthed; again the guerrillas avoided heavy offensive action.
River Assault Squadron NINE was selected to provide the first Assault Division to be transferred to the Vietnamese Navy under the Accelerated Turnover (ACTOV) Program. With a target date of 01 February 1969 for the turnover and disestablishment of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE, a comprehensive training schedule was placed in effect. Vietnamese Navy training crews were assigned aboard ASPB 91-5, ASPB 91-7, and Monitor 91-2 – and they commenced training in Dong Tam on 15 November, working alongside the American boat crews. Squadron staff assumed responsibility for material readiness and preparation of all boats to be transferred, and appropriate inventories and planning which continued for the next three months – was started.
These undertakings, however, proceeded on a not-to-interfere basis with combat operations. Moving into an area relatively far afield from the southern Mekong Delta, River Assault Squadron NINE was tasked with coordinating the logistical resupply of combined units on the upper Song Vam Co Tay at Moc Hoa: “Operation Cactus Fire II”. Shoving off on the fifth of December, the craft made two 16 hour transits, plus unloading time, and completed the operation on the ninth.
After one month of combined training ASPB 91-5, ASPB 91-7, and M-91-2 were assigned to On-the-Job Training. These units of River Assault Squadron NINE were among the first boats assigned to operation ‘Giant Slingshot’ on 06 December to interdict the Vite Cong supply routes on the branches of the Vam Co River from Cambodia. Working out of the advance base at Tra Cu, they established procedures which produced enormously successful results in capturing supplies and interdicting movement from Cambodia toward Saigon. This hazardous duty had it’s costs: on 23 December 1968 BM2 Wallace GOING was killed in action on the Song Vam Co Dong. Routine troop insertions were made within Kien Hoa Province throughout December. The last major operation of the year was ‘Cactus Fire III’, a repeat of the resupply of Moc Hoa. The returning column, after several days spent almost continuously at General Quarters, was ambushed on the King Cho Gao near the intersection of the Kihn Ong Van – 23 December. The attack was suppressed with embarked troops, artillery, and air assets. A corpsman, and the boatcrew engineman, became the last casualties of the year in River Assault Squadron NINE, when T-92-13 – a flattop aid boat – was hit during this action.
At year’s end River Assault Squadron NINE, although with much to look back upon in pride, faced several interesting duties in the future. ‘Giant Slingshot’ was proving to be an extremely profitable effort, and the boats and men of River Assault Squadron NINE prepared to assume assault/patrol stations on the Song Vam Co Tay, and Song Vam Co Dong. With the ‘ACTOV’ transfer of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE coming on 01 February 1969, that Division was deeply involved in training and preparation.
With the New Year River Assault Squadron NINE was tasked with several new major responsibilities, which were to prove extremely important to the achievement of Allied goals throughout III and IV Corps Tactical Zones and significantly influence the complexion of the Vietnamese war effort. River Assault Division NINETY-ONE was the first division to participate in ‘ACTOV’ (Accelerated Turnover of Riverine Assault Craft to the Vietnamese Navy). River Assault Division NINETY-TWO went north of the Delta to participate in the interdictory efforts of newly organized operation ‘Giant Slingshot’ on the Vam Co Tay and Vam Co Dong Rivers.
River Assault Division NINETY-ONE: Turnover
Throughout the entire month of January River Assault Division NINETY-ONE worked steadily to meet a turnover date of 01 February. Preparing the assault craft, organizing a training program, and instructing Vietnamese trainees was an arduous full time job. Stripping the craft of all ordnance, personal gear, and miscellaneous items. They were thoroughly cleaned and painted, inside and out. From an examination of boat requirements, field experience, and previous U. S. allowance lists, an updated and complete inventory for each model assault craft was derived. Each of the twenty-five assault craft designated for turnover was outfitted exactly to allowance, despite the difficulties of tracking down adequate supplies of minor items.
Simultaneously with bringing all boats up to “As New” condition, the Vietnamese Navy boat crews commenced training in all phases of operation and maintenance. A curriculum was established, with lesson plans encompassing boat handling, ordnance, engines, and communication. Covering both theory and practice, the Vietnamese sailors learned the basics of manning the craft, soon to be theirs, and the essentials of keeping the craft operational. Working and learning alongside the men of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE, the Vietnamese gained the benefits of costly experience and hard-won knowledge. Their instructors were the best river fighters in the world.
In accordance with schedule, the Vietnamese sailors phased into manning the assault boats and acquired practical experience. Actually operating the craft, making firing runs, beaching, formation maneuvers these earnest trainees became full-fledged crewmen; the skilled men of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE had accomplished their mission.
On February 1969 River Assault Interdiction Divisions 70 and 71 of the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam were established and River Assault Division NINETY-ONE, Lieutenant D.J. KINSLEY, United States Navy, Commanding, was decommissioned. In ceremonies held aboard USS BENEWAH (APB-35), Flagship of the Riverine Assault Force, Commodore TRAN VAN CHON – Vietnamese Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, signed transfer documents and received custody of the riverine assault craft from Vice Admiral Elmo R. ZUMWALT, Jr., United States Navy, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. At 011520H February 1969, while the anthems of both countries were played, the United States Ensign was struck and that of the Republic of Vietnam hoisted aloft by the departing American and incoming Vietnamese crews aboard each of the twenty-five craft.
As the Vietnamese boat crews assumed responsibility for the craft, nearly two hundred RIVDIV 91 personnel required reassignment. Taking into consideration personal desires and available billets, most of the RIVDIV 91 ‘River Rats’ were reassigned in-country. Some were short toured and sent home early. Ninety-six men were designated as boat crews for 16 Program V ASPB’s not yet arrived in-country. Eventually these men were transferred to Commander River Patrol Flotilla FIVE, and subsequently the new ASPB’s were organized into River Division 595, under the Riverine Patrol Force. Appropriately, in early May, Lieutenant P.W. JONES – River Assault Squadron NINE Operations Officer – was transferred to assume duties as the first Commander of River Division 595.
Almost twenty RIVDIV 91 sailors continued serving on their boats; as advisors to RAID 70 and RAID 71. They provided continued guidance, instruction, and liaison for the new Vietnamese Navymen in Saigon. Some became instructors in English Language School; others taught boat maintenance, overhaul, and repair to prepare Vietnamese to operate complete repair facilities. Over fifty men were returned to the United States, given an “Early-Out” of country. These were sailors who had already completed 9 or 10 months of service in Vietnam. The remainder of the turnover boat crews were either assimilated into the RAS 9 attrition pool, or transferred to other in-country Naval commands.
One River Assault Division NINETY-ONE sailor was not transferred. In the early morning darkness of 10 January 1969, while boats shifted stations, Engineman third Class Daniel L. WESTLIE fell overboard from ATC-91-1 and drowned in the swift waters of the My Tho River.
Now a part of Naval History, River Assault Division NINETY-ONE bequeathed a valor – Laden heritage to Navymen everywhere. Appropriately, a meaningful piece of memorabilia was forwarded to the Naval Inshore Operations Training Center, Mare Island, for custody: the River Assault Division NINETY-ONE Insignia Board – depicting a ferocious ‘River Rat’ riding a Monitor gunboat. For more than two years this insignia had represented the fighting spirit of the division, mounted on the pontoon shack, wherever the division moved.
Not only was a tradition left behind, but a legacy passed to the Vietnamese Navy. The establishment of the River Assault Interdiction Divisions represented a radical new concept in the utilization and command of Naval units: a revitalization and emphasis of the Vietnamese Naval chain of command. As printed in the turnover program notes:
“The turnover of 25 United States Navy River Assault Craft to the Vietnamese Navy for employment in the newly established River Assault interdiction Divisions (RAIDs) 70/71 is another milestone in the ever expanding combat capability and versatility of the Vietnamese Navy.”
“In addition of these craft will significantly increase the capability of the Vietnamese Navy to conduct river assault and interdiction operations against the enemy on and around the many rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta, thus enhancing the Navy’s posture, ability and readiness to protect the people and enhance the image of the government of the Republic of Vietnam.”
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO: ‘Giant Slingshot’
At this time, River Assault Division NINETY-TWO was engaged in an entirely different manner of business. Something new in the employment of armored assault craft, and that was to prove extremely hazardous.
During the first week of January the division continued routine riverine operations, participating in several actions in Kien Hoa province; most notable operation ‘Water Trap’ – a complete blockade and sweep of Thoi Son Island.
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO completely sealed off the Northern side of Thoi Son Island while River Assault Division 111 Covered the Southern side. With all Viet Cong routes cordoned off two U.S. Infantry Battalions, working with ARNV and Vietnamese National Police Forces, thoroughly searched the island for Viet Cong – inspecting all villages and checking identification papers of every person. For more than 3 days and nights – 04-06 January – no watercraft departed or approached Thoi Son Island without passing the rigid scrutiny of the assault craft. ‘Water Trap’ resulted in over 100 detainees and confirmed Viet Cong being captured, with no injury to allied forces.
Boats of the division assisted in several trop insertions, landing companies of troops in areas of Kien Hoa Province lying between the Song My Tho and Song Ham Luong.
On 06 January one VC KIA was credited to RIVDIV 92, during an operation on the Ba Lai River.
Then on 10 January 1969 the entire division sailed north, to the branches of the Song Vam Co, and relieved boats of River Assault Division 132 assigned to operation ‘Giant Slingshot’.
Units of five or six assault craft, grouped roughly into 2 ASPB’s, 3 ATC’s, and a Monitor, sailed to bases along the Vam Co Tay and Vam Co Dong Rivers – the upper arms of the Song Vam Co (and the origin of the name ‘Giant Slingshot’). Operating out of five advance bases – Hiep Hoa, Tra Cu, and Ben Luc on the Vam Co Dong; Tuyen Nhon and Tan An on the Vam Co Tay – the heavy units meshed with PBR divisions to provide a depth of surveillance coverage and reaction capability over the river as had only previously been accomplished on very large specific strike missions.
Each advance base evolved as a semi-autonomous and self-sufficient group; capable of planning, controlling, supporting, and maintaining riverine operations and craft for an indefinite period. The advance base provided few luxuries, but all the necessities to actually keep boats on the river. Usually tacked on to some already existing ground force outpost, the riverine units normally enjoyed the advantage of established ground security. Thus Tra Cu – a CIDG/Special Forces containment, and Hiep Hoa – RF/PF outpost and headquarters of the province chief both had fortified perimeters; Ben Luc and Tan An – more substantial cities – had the status of reasonably pacified and secure areas, with major allied units present.
Nevertheless the special dictates of each particular location often required the sailors to man machine gun bunkers and string concertina wire around pontoon facilities. More than once, under alert of impending attack, an entire detachment slept in combat boots with weapons at hand. Throughout River Assault Division NINETY-TWO’s entire deployment no ground threat to a base camp actually materialized; base security, however, sometimes seemed more facsimile than fact and the men were constantly aware of their precarious (if not pretentious) footholds in Viet Cong territory. Shower shoes, towels, and M-16’s were standard shower apparel.
Of course, in an emergency, these water-bred men placed ultimate reliance in themselves and their crafts; standard General Quarters procedure was to evacuate the camp and have all hands scramble to their boats.
The advance base was the home port which supported the boats. In its relative security all required services were provided: the most important ones for the boats themselves; comforts for crewmen came second. To fight afloat all critical supplies were accumulated at advance bases (although quantities were generally more tactical than strategic). First: fuel; tens of thousands of gallons, required to run boat engines. Second: ammunition; tons of machine gun, flare, mortar, shotgun, grenade, and cannon rounds – the wherewithal to accomplish the task at hand. Third: upkeep; routine maintenance, minor repair, crucial spare parts – everything short of a major facility to keep boats operational.
Facilities and habitability at the base camps were primitive. Electricity and potable water were not easily obtained, but providing hot meals, bunks, cold showers (in river water), and cold beer these dusty camps could seem like an R & R center to a sailor coming in from 20 hours of patrol – 10 burning in the sun and 10 in a chill, wet, night dew – and perhaps from a fire-fight.
The heart of each riverine advance camp was the Tactical Operations Center. Sometimes set up in a dirt bunker, palm leaf hootch, brick building, or on a Command and Communications Boat, the TOC controlled the length of river allotted to each detachment, and a 500 meter strip of land along both banks. All movement and actions within these boundaries required the knowledge and permission of the TOC.
All patrols and assaults, all boats on the river, all vessels transiting, all artillery fires and air strikes, checked in or originated from the TOC. Through the TOC available resources could be requested and coordinated; friendly positions fixed, and hostile forces rapidly plotted. And no boat on the river ever ran alone; all support from C-rations to medevacs could be obtained from the TOC.
Using this concept, it was possible to mount missions ranging from one boat admin runs to fifteen boat multi-company troop insertions. All manner of combination and duration of patrol were attempted between the heavy assault craft units and PBR’s, and among the various type of assault craft. The objective was to provide effective interdiction of Viet Cong movement on the water; thus the basic target was 24 hour coverage, several patrols constantly on the river.
Two patrols of two boats each, the original PBR method of patrolling was modified: an ASPB and a PBR were matched; 2 ASPB’s working with PBR’s; ATC’s and ASPB’s; Monitors streaming continually in a zone while PBR’s would speed ahead and then drift. Eventually a few most desirable tactics evolved. Assault craft and PBR’s were found to be incompatible working together; instead of strong points complementing each other, cross-utilization had the effect of emphasizing the weak points of the two different types. PBR’s, fast and (relatively) lightly armed could scout, hit, and run. Assault craft had the fire power, armor, and staying power (fuel and ammunition capacity) to respond to enemy initiated action, engage the enemy and pursue the contact to a successful conclusion.
But what was not practical on the individual boat level, worked extremely well on a larger scale. Using each type within it’s own designed capabilities the overall efficiency of the river blockade was enhanced. Regular PBR patrol zones and rotations were established. In addition heavy units would move on the rivers at night, intending (and expecting) more to draw fire than to act as an efficient interdiction force. PBR’s would inspect sampans by day. ATC’s and Monitors would carry platoons of RF/PF troops. The swift and silent PBR’s could sit in ambush by night; the powerful assault units could conduct RARE’s (Riverine Assault Reconnaissance Element) or hold a company of troops aboard as an instant reaction force. More boats were on the river more often, demonstrating mutual cooperation and not mutual interference.
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO developed these techniques out of common sense and experience; and in this special segment, of the unique riverine aspects, of an unusual and unpredictable war, the sailors of River Assault Squadron NINE helped write the book.
During the approximately one month period that River Assault Division NINETY-TWO was assigned to operation ‘Giant Slingshot’ contact with the enemy was a fact of life. Moving at night on the glassy-black mirror surface of the river, boat crewmen acquired a sixth sense of caution; and an awareness of the pervading presence of enemy waiting in ambush became a subconscious instinct. Some form of action against the Viet Cong occurred every day, at some point along the ‘Giant Slingshot’ network. It was not unusual for several patrols – PBR, assault craft, or combined – from the same base camp to be ambushed at different ends of the patrol sector in the same night. All boats remained at General Quarters from the time they casted off until they moored again at the advance base. Nor did the Viet Cong limit their ambushes to darkness. In at least one instance a patrol was attacked in daylight within one kilometer of the advance base.
An ominous portent of the month to follow was given when RIVDIV 92 boats making their original transit to Tuyen Nhon were ambushed before even arriving at their operating base. In this action, at dusk on 11 January 1969, ASPB 92-5 and ASPB 92-2 were raked with .51 caliber machine gun fire, and two men wounded. That same night, ASPB 92-8 which had been assigned to ‘Giant Slingshot’ several weeks earlier, came under mortar attack while alongside an Army LCM-8 in night mooring, at a Vietnamese outpost. As mortar shells burst about the craft all five crewmen were wounded; the boat captain, BM2 George T. MORTENSEN, in actions for which he was later awarded the Silver Star Medal, parted the fouled forward mooring line by backing his engines, and brought his craft midstream just as three rounds impacted in the spot where it had been moored.
Another incident in which an entire boat crew was wounded happened shortly afterwards. On the night of 15 January, T-92-10 patrolling as a unit of operation ‘Barrier Reef’, on the exceptionally narrow Dong Tien Canal, came under rocket and automatic weapons fire at close range. Sustaining three rocket hits and raked with machine gun fire, all six men aboard were injured but they fought their way out of the ambush. The craft subsequently had to be towed to the River Assault Flotilla ONE facilities at Dong Tam for repair.
During nine separate fire fights in which RIVDIV 92 craft sustained personnel casualties, a total of thirty-three men were wounded. Numerous other engagements were concluded without harm to the river assault men; the Viet Cong were not so fortunate.
There were no deaths, KIA or otherwise, within RAS 9 during this period. This can be attributed to the inherent advantages of a bar trigger shield and armor plate in a fire-fight; as well as a tremendous amount of good luck. Unfortunately, the PBR sailors with whom the squadron worked and lived so intimately suffered many KIA’s. And it is only on paper that the squadron may be considered as having come away unscathed, for the death of comrades on PBR’s was felt deeply by everyone within the advance base.
During the third week in January, the Squadron NINE assault craft were instrumental in the establishment of the advance base at Go Dau Ha. The riverine units working out of the Sugar Mill – RF/PF complex at Hiep Hos moved further north to expand coverage of the river; the heavy ATC’s and powerful ASPB’s were crucial in setting up and resupplying the new camp at Go Dau Ha. Without ATAC’s to tow pontoons, and transport supplies and gear, it would have been an immense logistical task simply to move all facilities up river. Alfa boats made bi-weekly fuel transits to Tra Cu towing an oil storage pontoon; other ammi pontoons were towed up from Tra Cu by the heavy craft, later in the week. These ammi’s added to several already in place, actually comprised the entire base at Go Dau Ha for several weeks. The only reliable electrical power was tapped from the lister generator of CCB 92-1. The CCB itself was used as the TOC. The feasibility of maintaining Go Dau Ha as a river headquarters during this period depended on the assets of RIVDIV 92.
On 12 February RIVDIV 92 packed its gear and departed base camps, returning to the MRB. Craft from the furthest upriver bases joined with those at each base on the way, until the entire division steamed in unison for the first time in over a month, entering the Song Vam Co enroute to the YRBM-18. Appropriately, one group provided fire support to a patrol which had been in contact, and made a firing run on the bank as they transited the area. After a twelve hour journey, the division arrived at the YRBM-18 at dusk, and found River Assault Division 111 waiting there. Turnover conferences lasted well into the night as the men of RIVDIV 92 passed on their hard earned knowledge, thoroughly briefing the relieving Squadron ELEVEN Boat Captains. Charts were passed on, spare parts turned over. In the morning River Assault Division 111 went North, and Division 92 went South, transiting the Gho Gao Canal and joining the MRB at the Dong Tam Anchorage.
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO: Utility Duties
Without respite, within hours after return to the Green Fleet on 13 February, the assault craft of RIVDIV 92 assumed Utility Division Duties. That same night ATC’s and ASPB’s of the Division sailed to various Fire Support Bases (FSB’s), to provide security to the water mobile Army artillery units; this was the major task of the division while on ‘Hash and Trash’ duty. This task would be the major operational concern of the division for more than two months. From 13 February until 26 April, RIVDIV 92 remained on Utility Duties; the longest period that the division had ever remained off Line.
None the less, this period was one of considerable activity. The primary job of supporting water mobile Fire Support Bases required between six and twelve assault craft to remain with these outlying bases for extended periods. All the RIVDIV 92 craft rotated to this duty, providing relief for those boats due for overhaul. The utility period was utilized to provide overhaul status for seven craft. Throughout February, March, and April some boats were constantly in the yards, and a correspondingly larger operational burden fell on those boats in an ‘up’ status.
In addition to supporting barge mounted artillery, as Utility Division, RIVDIV 92 provided a pool of boats which could be called upon to supplement Divisions engaged in direct combat operations; this happened many times. RIVDIV 92 boats continued to participate in combat operations, even though technically in a secondary support and upkeep status. This was especially true of the monitors, flame boat, and command communications boat.
The squadron also provided craft to supplement the Base Internal Defense (BID) Patrol; several boats were almost continually assigned to this duty. RIVDIV 92 ASPB’s were given the additional task of sounding ahead of MRB ships during relocations of the MRB.
Despite this heavy schedule, which often strained the division – using all available assets – two other escort missions developed. During March, the tree line along the southeast and southwest corners of the infamous “Cross Roads” in Kien Hoa Province, were demolished by an Army Engineer Unit, which established a temporary base on the Giao Hoa Canal. RIVDIV 92 escorted LCM-8 resupply vessels through the “Cross Roads” to this base almost every day for four weeks. The second mission, more sporadic – and more dangerous, was the occasional escort of assault craft or other vessels transiting the Cho Gao Canal enroute to or from Operation ‘Giant Slingshot’. The craft were ambushed only once while conducting these escorts, on the Cho Gao Canal on 22 March.
On 16 April several assault craft were returning to the MRB from a Fire Support Base were ambushed on the Song Ben Tre, two kilometers east of Ben Tre City. Refueler 112-1 was hit in the well deck, and the more than 1,200 gallons of mo-gas aboard were ignited. The refueler, which rapidly turned into an inferno, was beached and abandoned; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) R. R. SCARBROUGH, Operations Officer of River Assault Division NINETY-TWO directed fire-fighting efforts from the flattop flight deck of ATC 92-13. Damage control assistance and pumps were flown to the scene by Commander J. C. FROID, Commander River Assault Squadron NINE, in a Command and Control helicopter. After hours of fighting the flames, exposed to any renewed enemy attack, as well as the detonations of ammunition cooking-off, the craft was saved.
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO: ACTOV and ‘On-Line’
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO was relieved of Utility Duties on 26 April. Proceeding to Dong Tam Basin, the American sailors met sailors of the Vietnamese Navy who would become boat crews on the RIVDIV 92 craft after turnover (under the ‘ACTOV’ Program) on 10 June 1969. For one week the men of RIVRON 9 conducted a concentrated course in Basic Assault Craft operations. Formal class sessions were held to teach communications, engines, maintenance, ordnance; every essential to operating the craft. Maneuvering drills, and firing runs were conducted, each boat underway with two complete crews aboard: American and Vietnamese. All Vietnamese sailors qualified as coxswains, and gunners, and learned the basics of engines, radios, and ramps. But when this week of formal courses finished, training did not: all boats carried half the on-coming Vietnamese crews in addition to a full American crew, on every operation from that time until turnover.
On 03 May 1969, the division went ‘On the Line’ assuming first line combat assault duties in support of 3/60, 4/47, 3/47, and 6/31 Infantry Battalions. Conducting more than sixteen major troop insertions, as well as numerous shorter range lifts, MLDCAPS, PSYOPS, and special missions, River Assault Squadron NINE covered all of Kien Hoa Province – operating through the “Cross Roads” into the Song Ba Lai East and Song Ba Lai West, the Rach Ben Tre, and the Rach Mo Cay.
Three significant enemy contacts occurred during this on-line period. The morning of 10 May after inserting and extracting companies of the 3/47 and 3/60 on the Rach Ben Tre – Notorious ‘Rocket Alley’ – the column of assault craft was attacked with rockets and automatic weapons on the way out from the beaches. ATC 92-4, aid boat at the tail of the column, took a direct hit on the port .50 caliber machine gun mount; SN David A. PARSON was hit in the leg, seriously wounded and medevaced. Three other crewmen were injured. Also wounded was a Vietnamese sailor, part of the Vietnamese Navy crew which would be manning T-92-4 after turnover. All of the RAS 9 craft involved in the action had 3 or 4 Vietnamese sailors aboard, and they responded excellently. Coming through this fire-fight they acquired confidence in themselves and in the assault craft they would man.
Another small group of craft, conducting a ‘RARE’ (Riverine Assault Reconnaissance Element) mission, defoliating the banks of a small stream off the north side of the My Tho River four kilometers west of Dong Tam, came into heavy contact on 24 May, ASPB 92-5 and M-92-2 were hit by B-40 rockets wounding three men including GMG2 James R. MOORE who was injured seriously. The craft suppresses the hostile fire; SSGT Douglas W. LINDMER, assistant operations officer 6/31 Infantry, who was aboard M-92-2 coordinating the mission obtained communications with a Light Helo Fire Team, and artillery direction centers, and the assault craft remained in the vicinity of the ambush directing air cover and ground fires on to the Viet Cong locations. Six Viet Cong dead were credited to RIVRON 9.
The last action in which River Assault Squadron NINE craft came under fire was on 28 May 1969. Returning from a troop insertion, ‘One Shot Charlie’ fired two rockets at the stern of the column, from a location on the south bank of the Song Ben Tre, two kilometers east of Ben Tre City. This tactic of a small group of Viet Cong taking pot-shots at the stern of a column, which has already passed by the ambush point towards Ben Tre City, was well known; the RAS 9 sailors were ready and 40MM cannon and 90MM recoilless rifle fire rapidly devastated the ambush position. Three firing runs and one flame run were made in quick order. The only USN WIA was Fireman Robert E. MORAN, 20MM gunner on C-92-1, caused by a 20MM round cooking-off in the chamber.
River Assault Squadron NINE lost one man during its last operational month: On the night of 12 May 1969 Seaman David J. BORON fell from ‘C’ Pier in Dong Tam while boarding an ATC alongside and drowned.
River Assault Division NINETY-TWO Turnover
With the end of May River Assault Squadron NINE came off ‘the Line’ and out of an operational status. With 10 June as target date for turnover, the boat crews worked steadily to outfit all craft in an ‘As New’ manner. Sandbags, personal gear, charts, excess ammunition – all were stripped off the boats. New coats of paint, replacement of damaged gear, ready for turnover. Exact allowances of gear in accordance with specified inventories were placed on each boat. On 07 June, the Vietnamese boat crews rejoined RIVDIV 92 and inventoried the craft they would shortly man.
On 10 June 1969, with the ascension of the yellow and red flag of the Republic of Vietnam, on staffs from which the Stars and Stripes had proudly (and often gloriously) flown for more than two years, the gallant history of River Assault Squadron NINE came to a close.
The men of the squadron transferred to other commands in-country, the largest single group remaining within the mobile Riverine Force – bringing the traditions of River Assault Squadron NINE to the newer Squadrons THIRTEEN and FIFTEEN. The files were closed and laid aside. But the accomplishments of River Assault Squadron NINE remain. It is probable that the significant achievement in pioneering specific riverine doctrine and winning the war in the Mekong Delta are out shined only by the record of courage and dedication which River Assault Squadron NINE had added to the continuing traditions of the Naval Service.