U.S. Naval Support Base Ben Luc (1968-1971)
Located close to the junction of South Vietnam’s Vam Co Tay and Vam Co Dong rivers, Ben Luc served as the main support base for the Navy’s Giant Slingshot operations during the Vietnam War. The main objective of these operation were to interdict communist infiltration from the nearby “Parrot’s Beak” border area of Cambodia using river patrol, riverine assault and helicopter units.
Beginning in December of 1968, American naval forces deployed to forward staging positions along both rivers. At Ben Keo, Go Dau Hau, Hiep Hoa, and Tra Cu on the Vam Co Dong, and at Moc Hoa, Tan An, and Thuyen Nhon on the Vam Co Tay, Seabees brought in from Danang area set up advanced base defenses, fuel and ammunition storage, a helicopter pad, sleeping and messing facilities, and other essentials. Meanwhile efforts were made to prepare facilities at Ben Luc, which would be responsible for the intermediate level repair of the combat units’ patrol boat river (PBRs) and for supply of the Advanced Tactical Support Bases (ATSBs). Because of the location in relation to the two key waterways of the area and on Route 4, the main road to Saigon, Ben Luc was well suited for it’s role. However, the base site chosen on the bank nearest to Saigon in case the bridge was dropped by the Viet Cong, was less than ideal. When the Navy’s survey team arrived at Ben Luc they found the site under water and river material inadequate for landfill use. In order to obtain funds for a expensive truck-transported fill, naval leaders designated Ben Luc a combined U.S. – Vietnamese naval base, thereby enabling the effort to tap into available Vietnamization program allocations.
Other problems hindered the base development effort. Fears that the French had laid a minefield in the area prompted a thorough but time consuming search by an EOD team. The dredge “Western Eagle” was damaged by a Viet Cong 107mm rocket and on another occasion a crane bearing barge tipped over, dropping machinery into the river. Finally, an LST from Da Nang transporting material required for construction of the installation was unable to offload it’s cargo; the facilities at Ben Luc were too rudimentary. The ship was diverted to Newport Pier near Saigon and the resources were transferred to truck for delivery to the site.
While base facilities were under construction the Navy took interim measures to provide logistic support to the patrol forces upriver. YR-9, a floating workshop with spaces that were ideal for an operations and communications center, was grounded at the site. In addition, the USS Harnett County (LST-821) temporarily anchored in the river to provide berthing for the PBRs and crew accommodations.
The intermediate support base was commissioned in July 1969 as Naval Support Activity Saigon, Detachment Ben Luc. By September of that year, 812 men worked at the installation and occasionally as many as seventy vessels tied up or anchored in the river.
As part of the Vietnamization of the war, the Vietnamese Navy relieved U.S. naval forces of control of the Giant Slingshot operation in May 1970. In April of the following year the turnover process was completed when Ben Luc and the ATSBs on both rivers were turned over to the Republic of Vietnam.