U.S. Naval Support Activity Can Tho – Binh Thuy (1966-1972)
Can Tho, situated in the center of South Vietnam’s economically and military vital Mekong Delta, was the hub of U.S. naval operations in that region. The site was chosen because of its location on the Bassac River, making Can Tho ideal as a base from which naval forces could operate against Viet Cong supply traffic on surrounding waterways. Another attractive feature was the city’s accessibility to logistic vessels deployed in the South China Sea. In addition, an existing Vietnamese Navy installation could partially accommodate the first increment of the U.S. River Patrol Force scheduled to deploy there. And in Can Tho the largest city west of Saigon, were concentrated the headquarters of key Vietnamese naval and military commands.
As a result, in May 1966 a ten-boat section of River Division 51 deployed to Can Tho to inaugurate the Game Warden river interdiction operation in that area. Although the Vietnamese River Assault Group base possessed a marine railway and a number of storage buildings, at first logistic support for the Americans was austere. Quartering was a special problem, necessitating the acquisition of facilities in the city. However, when the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Can Tho, was established that August, conditions soon improved. Seabees installed portable fuel bladders and connected a number of pontoons to form a small pier for the (PBRs) unit. In October, YRBM-9 a repair, berthing, and messing barge arrived at Can Tho, easing support problems enough to allow the deployment from Saigon of Commander River Patrol Force and his staff.
At the same time the Naval Support Activity oversaw the deployment of a major base complex at nearby Binh Thuy, and by mid summer 1967 this facility was prepared to receive tenants.
In July 1967 the Headquarters of the River Patrol Force was moved to Binh Thuy, and shortly afterward the Naval Support Activity Saigon, detachment Can Tho, was redesignated Detachment Binh Thuy. Another headquarters took shape in the area when the Deputy Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam, was charged in late 1968 with implementing the Sea Lords strategy, which sought to interdict the infiltration of communist troops and supplies from Cambodia.
To enhance support from Binh Thuy of naval combat units throughout the delta, a great effort was made during 1968 to improve the airstrip at Can Tho and to complete a 1,500 foot airstrip, hangers, aircraft repair shops, and berthing and messing facilities at Binh Thuy. As a result, in 1969 major components of Helicopter Attack (light) Squadron 3, the Seawolves, and Light Attack Squadron 4, the “Black Ponies” the Navy’s only combat air support unit based in South Vietnam, were established there.
Even as Sea Lords operations got under way, steps were taken, under the Vietnamization Program, to diminish the Navy’s role in the Delta and to enhance that of the Vietnamese Navy. Between 1969 and 1972 American naval personnel trained their Vietnamese counterparts, turned over to them river craft, equipment, and installations, and conducted the U.S. withdrawal. The turnover of the Bin Thuy Logistic Support Base and the disestablishment of the Naval Air Squadron and the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Binh Thuy, in April 1972, concluded the major U.S. naval presence in the Can Tho–Binh Thuy area.