U.S. Naval Support Activity Dong Tam (1966-1971)
Dong Tam, in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, was the home ashore during the Southeast Asia Conflict for a unique joint services formation, the Mobile Riverine Force. Composed of a brigade of the Army’s Ninth Infantry Division and the Navy’s Riverine Assault Force, the 5,000-man unit was created to launch swift, wide-ranging offensive operations against the Viet Cong by using the many waterways in the region. To retain flexibility logistic support resources initially were concentrated on river-based ships, smaller craft and pontoon barges that deployed with the combat units.
However, recognition that supplemental shore facilities also were needed prompted the search for a suitable site. Anticipating operations against the Viet Cong in the southern and western approaches to Saigon. Army and Navy leaders sought a base site that was centrally located and on a major river in the region. The My Tho area possessed some assets, but they were a scarcity of unoccupied land on which to locate a base. However about 5 miles west of the city, at Dong tam, there were several hundred acres of abandoned rice paddy that could be developed to support a base.
Accordingly, in August 1966 dredges began filling a 1-square mile area with river sand and at the same time excavating a boat turning basin. This work was dangerous; three of the five dredges used at Dong Tam from 1966 to 1969 were damaged or sunk by Viet Cong swimmers. Another vessel was sunk when it dredged up live ordnance that exploded.
Regardless of the risk, by January 1967 the site was ready to receive construction forces. Seabees moved ashore and began work on berthing, messing, administrative, and recreational facilities with pre stocked materials transported from Saigon by the Brule (AKL-28), Mark (AKL-12) and YFR-889. In addition the naval construction men installed a pier using six pontoons. In January 1967 the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Dong Tam, was established to provide the naval component of the Mobile Riverine Force with fuel, ammunition, and supplies. Maintenance and repair of river craft also a responsibility. As the detachment strove to build up the logistic establishment, interim measures were taken to support the assault force. A 12,000 gallon fuel barge, eight mechanized landing craft (LCM-3) repair, berthing and messing barge YRBM-17, barracks craft APL-26 and floating crane YD-220 were dispatched to the site in the first half of 1967.
With the base prepared to receive them, River Assault Squadron 9 elements of the Navy’s assault force deployed to Dong Tam in March and April 1967. Each squadron consisted of various converted landing craft, including two command craft (CCB) five monitors, twenty six armored troop carriers (ATC), sixteen assault patrol boats (ASPB), and one refueler. Mobile support for the entire Mobile Riverine Force was by two self propelled barracks ships (APBs) USS Benewah APB-35, USS Colleton APB-36, two fleet tank landing ships (LST) two tugs (YTB) and a non self propelled barracks barge (APL-26) and ARL-30 USS Askari, and a repair barge (YFNB).
By the end of 1967 the base at Dong Tam was able to provide boat berthing, dry dock, maintenance and repair, supply, communications, sleeping and messing facilities for one river assault squadron. The Army compound accommodated an infantry battalion and an artillery battalion. These units periodically rotated with their counterparts afloat. In addition, a detachment a detachment of the Navy’s Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 was based at Dong Tam for support of the Force. During 1968 the responsive logistic support provided by the detachment at Dong Tam, as well as the support contingent afloat, enabled the Mobile Riverine Force to surprise and destroy widely separated enemy units. During the TET Offensive the force was saving My Tho, Can Tho, and Vinh Long from complete enemy destruction.
Although the Mobile Riverine Force was disbanded in August 1969, Dong Tam continued to serve the Navy in Vietnam. As a logistical Support Base, it provided river craft with major overhauls and stocked large amounts of supply items for smaller installations in the area. In September 1971, once the Vietnamese Navy was prepared to take on the responsibility for support of river operations in the region, The U.S. Navy turned over it’s facilities at Dong Tam.