U.S. Naval Support Activity, Chu Lai (1964-1971)
Almost overnight this site fifty six miles southeast of Danang in the Republic of Vietnam became a major naval logistic base. In the latter months of 1964, U.S. naval leaders concluded that an additional air facility was required in the I corps Tactical Zone to ease the current and projected over-crowding of units and aircraft at the Danang airfield. Soon after construction of the proposed 8,000 foot jet-capable airfield was ordered. Pacific Fleet Units moved ashore. In May 1965 Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, protected by Marine Forces, installed two pontoon causeway piers and an amphibious fuel line along the sea bottom, and Naval Construction Battalion 10 laid down aluminum matting for the runway and taxiways. By the end of the month, half of the airfield was completed, enabling the immediate operation from Chu Lai Marine Air group 12 elements.
Assuring adequate logistic support by sea to the air group, the growing Marine ground force, and some of the Navy’s Coastal Surveillance Force units was an absolutely essential but difficult task for the Naval Support Activity, Danang, Detachment Chu Lai. The Viet Cong interdicted the roads and rail lines in the vicinity of the coastal site, and air transport resources were limited. Although relatively secure from enemy action, the sea line of communication was threatened by natural conditions. There was no harbor at Chu Lai, at the mouth of the Truong River, and the unprotected coastal site was subjected to heavy seas especially during the northeast or winter monsoon period; both the causeway and the fuel line was damaged in 1965. Initially there were few facilities ashore, and deep powdery beach sand hindered both over-the shore movement and construction.
While the establishment of permanent base facilities was under way, interim steps were taken to maintain support. Landing craft transferred supplies from Danang , and LST’s, delivered cargo, especially ammunition, from the naval depot at Subic Bay in the Philippines and from Sasebo, Japan. By the fall of 1965, smaller LSTs were crossing the Truong River at high tide to offload at the temporary Cus Ho ramp. The river finally opened to larger ships, including LST’s, fuel barges, and coastal freighters, when dredges cleared A 16 foot channel in the spring of 1966. The weather continued to hamper operations at Chu Lai, witnessed by the loss of the Mahnomen County LST-912 in January 1967. The ship broached off Chu Lai beach after being torn from her anchor by 18 foot waves and Subsequently broke apart on the rocks.
However the construction of permanent facilities continued to improve the logistic situation. By 1967 portable fuel storage bladders were replaced by a rigid-wall tank farm that was constructed to additional fuel lines laid along the sea bottom. A hard topped road and ramp complex enabled sailors to offload as many as six LSTs simultaneously. Chu Lai soon became the second busiest port in I corps after Danang. By September 1969 the Naval Support Activity Danang, Detachment Chu Lai, handled over 86.000 measurement tons of cargo each month in support of the First Marine Division and First marine Aircraft Wing elements. The Naval presence in Chu Lai diminished after June 1970, when logistic facilities were turned over to the Army, whose units were playing a greater operational role in the southern I Corps region. The coastal patrol operating base there was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in May 1971.