Missions to capture fishermen for the purpose of indoctrination began on May 27, 1964. In this operation a fast patrol boat and a Swift captured a fishing junk in the waters off Ðồng Hới. Six fishermen along with their junk were brought to a place called Cù Lao Chàm Island which was located off the coast of Ðà Nẵng. In an effort to win their support, the fishermen were treated very kindly and were well fed. On June 2nd, the fishermen and their junk were returned to where they were captured and they brought along with them the various gifts of cloth, food and plastic utensils, etc., that they had been given during their stay.
The PT Boats captured three more junks on July 7th and an additional two on July 20th. Following this the Swifts did not undertake any further missions north of the 17th Parallel and the task of observing and capturing the fishermen was taken over exclusively by the fast patrol boats. However, these boats were faster than the Swifts and when towing them in to Cù Lao Chàm without a crew they were often swamped and sunk. So for that reason the crew was transported on our boats but the junk was left behind. When the fishermen were returned, small bamboo rafts were brought along and the fishermen were released on these tiny craft in the area where they were captured.
Sometime later there were American documents alleging that the junks left behind were rigged with explosives and left as floating booby traps. This allegation was baseless. The fact that the junks were not towed was really a decision that was based on the practicalities of the matter and not on any desire to inflict harm on the enemy.
The people who depended on fishing for their livelihood eked out an existence under the Communist regime and were very poor. As a consequence their junks were very fragile and very primitive. They had to be kept relatively close to the shore and used only on those days when the ocean was calm. For that reason, even the Swift, which was a small patrol boat, had to be very careful when towing a junk and could not exceed ten nautical miles per hour to avoid sinking or otherwise damaging the fragile vessels. The people who lived in the area of the 17th Parallel such as the inhabitants of Ðồng Hới and Quảng Khê at least had junks to fish with though they were quite rudimentary. Further north in the area of Thanh Hóa and Nghệ An the fishermen were so poor that they had no junks at all. They had to use a type of raft (“mảng”) made of large bamboo logs which were lashed together with a fiber of split bamboo.
Naturally, these rafts had no engines and were powered by sail or oars. No fabric was available for the sails so they were made of palm fronds or a sort of woven bamboo and the mast was made of a large tree trunk. Fishing with one of these rafts meant that those on board were always wet because while the raft floated on the surface it sank ankle deep in the water! Even if one wanted to tow one of these rafts it was not possible. If they were lucky the fishermen had clothes with untold layers of patches and the majority had a coat like covering made of palm fronds that were tied together. Their very modest fishing gear consisted of droplines and hooks.
We recall once searching a junk near the estuary known as Lạch Trường which is the opening to the Sầm Sơn Beach near Thanh Hóa. It was a December day with a steady drizzle and a cold north wind. As we approached one of the fishing rafts described above we saw a half dozen or so fishermen dressed in cone hats and wearing palm frond overcoats which they held tightly around themselves. They were huddled in one corner as if to protect each other from the cold. As they looked somewhat suspicious those who conducted the search from on board the PT Boat used a megaphone to order the fishermen to stand and raise their hands.
The fishermen seemed embarrassed but when they saw that guns were aimed in their direction they complied with the order. Everyone on board the PT Boat was astonished because when the palm frond overcoats were released they fell to the deck revealing the completely naked body of each fisherman. Under the palm frond coats, they had on not one stitch of clothing. When they were brought on board and given a solid meal we learned that each citizen of North Vietnam was allowed to buy only two yards of cloth per year from the regime’s monopoly and they did not have the money necessary to make a purchase on the black market. Therefore, whenever they went fishing the lucky ones wore old patched rags while the majority wore only a coat of palm fronds to provide some protection from the elements. Whatever attire they may have owned was set aside to be used for important occasions only.
As for psychological operations, an experienced commander of the Sea Patrol Force gave the following account:
During 1967 we undertook a special psychological warfare program. For a period of almost three months we captured more than 300 fishermen in the area from Ðồng Hới to Thanh Hóa. We took two individuals from every village. After delivering them to Cù Lao Chàm we made sure that they were well fed. Each person ate a half chicken every day and after three months was plump and had a healthy complexion. We took them back, each to his hometown, to see what the reaction would be both locally and by the regime in North Vietnam. It came as no surprise to us during the next six months that when we tried to capture the same individuals again, they were nowhere to be found. After almost nine months had passed we finally captured one fellow who sighed: you folks hurt us. When you released us the local government officials noticed that we were fat so they put us in the thought reform camps and just released us.
IX. THE FAST PATROL BOATS AND THE TONKIN-GULF INCIDENT
At the time that the Maddox, a U.S. Navy Destroyer, was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, its mission coincided with the operations of the fast patrol boats of the Sea Patrol Force. Because there has been much speculation that the fast patrol boats and the Destroyer Maddox were coordinating their efforts to provoke North Vietnam into making an attack at sea so that the U.S. would have a pretext for bombing North Vietnam, we are summarizing herewith some of the events related to this matter so that the reader can find out for himself what really happened.
1. Operations of the Destroyer Maddox
Early on July 31, 1964, the Maddox, a U.S. Navy Destroyer arrived in the coastal waters of Vietnam just off the 17th Parallel to begin patrolling the coastal waters of North Vietnam. Its mission was known as Operation De Soto. At noon on August 2nd when the warship was located about 18 nautical miles offshore and approximately 10 nautical miles away from Hòn Mê, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats marked T-333, T-336 and T-339, fired torpedoes at the Maddox. The result of the encounter was that the North Vietnamese boats were heavily damaged while the Maddox remained unscathed.
On the morning of August 3rd, the Destroyer Maddox received orders from Admiral Johnson, Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to continue Operation De Soto but this time the Destroyer Turner Joy would join the mission as a reinforcement. According to a U.S. Navy report, at 9:34 PM local time on August 4th, both warships reported that they were under attack by North Vietnamese ships and commenced firing at 9:39 PM. At that time the target was 8,000 yards away. Later many people said that the second confrontation had never occurred.
2. The Activities of the Fast Patrol Boats During Operation De Soto
On July 22, 1964, four PT Boats including PTF-3, 4, 5 and 6, were preparing to go on an operation to land commandos who would then attack various military outposts at Hòn Mật island and a coastal radar facility near Vinh Sơn (near the Bến Thủy harbor in the city of Vinh). However, the missions were scrubbed at the last minute because aerial photography taken that morning by a U-2 spy plane showed that two enemy Swatow ships were spotted in the area of Hòn Niếu and three others were observed near Hòn Mê which was about 50 nautical miles north of the target area. Naturally, the fast patrol boats undertook another mission to patrol the coast and prepare to do battle at sea with the North Vietnamese ships in the area instead of dropping off SEAL teams on the shore. It was not clear whether the enemy ships simply slipped away but we did not intercept them on that day.
On July 27, 1964, two fast patrol boats were providing support for two Swifts that were searching fishing junks in the waters off Vinh Sơn when enemy Swatow boats appeared. They may have come from the Quảng Khê base that was located near the mouth of the Giang River. Under orders to be on guard for enemy ships that attacked unexpectedly from the front, the fast PT Boats that were escorting the Swifts proceeded quickly to open water and prepared for battle but the North Vietnamese Swatows dared not chase after the PTFs. Because the main mission was to search fishing vessels and not attack enemy ships, the fast patrol boats returned to base without incident.
On July 30, 1964, a group of four PT Boats including PTF-2, 3, 5 and 6, went out on an operation. The objective was to land teams on the islands of Hon Niếu and Hòn Mê for the purpose of using sapper charges to destroy various military positions. Hòn Mê was located about 12 kilometers from shore and around 19 degrees North in the open sea off Lạch Tray, also known as Sầm Sơn. Hòn Niếu lay further South and only about four kilometers off Bến Thủy Harbor that is located at the city of Vinh in Nghệ An Province.
This was a very desperate mission fraught with danger because commando teams were to be dropped off deep in enemy territory and intelligence as well as aerial photographs indicated that enemy ships were laying in ambush in the target area. For that reason, the crews of the fast patrol boats had all been carefully selected on the basis of each members time in service and his combat experience.
Just before midnight on July 7th, at 11:15 PM to be exact, the fast patrol boats arrived at the final rendezvous point Southeast of Hòn Mê. The coordinates for this position were 19 degrees North and 106.16 East. At this location the PT Boats split up into two pairs. The Northern two included PTF-3 and 6, which headed toward the target on Hòn Mê, and the Southern pair, which was made up of PTF-2 and 5, started moving toward the objective at Hòn Niếu.
The Northern PT Boats reached their target that was located in the Southern area of Hòn Mê at 9:00 PM on July 31st. While it is called an island, Hòn Mê is really a mountain that rises out of the sea. It is covered with large trees and dense vegetation that make it very difficult to observe what is happening on the island, especially at night. At the summit of Hòn Mê, which is 500 meters above sea level, there was a North Vietnamese artillery emplacement. Intended for coastal defense, it could hit targets on the high seas within a radius of 15 nautical miles.
Both PT Boats cautiously proceeded to the target according to the prescribed formation, one boat providing cover as the other moved to the drop off point, about 2,000 meters offshore. The landing team was making preparations to go ashore with explosives to blow up a lookout tower and various other military installations on the island. As the SEAL team was preparing to drop its pneumatic raft, a Swatow was spotted close to the shore by one of the crew looking through binoculars. At that moment the enemy ship opened fire first with a 37 millimeter cannon and a heavy machine gun. Although attacked first the PT Boats returned fire and effectively silenced the enemy after engaging him for only a few minutes. The appearance of the enemy ship at Hòn Mê came as no surprise to the crews of the PT Boats. It merely confirmed the intelligence they had already received.
Having been discovered, it was now imperative that the landing be canceled but the fast patrol boats switched to an alternative plan and shelled coastal targets with their regular armament which included 20 mm, 40 mm guns and 81 millimeter mortar. The landing team’s 57 millimeter recoilless rifle provided an extra degree of firepower for the bombardment. This shelling was the first time that targets on shore were hit by the fast patrol boats within the framework of OPLAN 34A.
In a period of only about 20 minutes PTF-3 and 6 laid down a deadly wall of fire that completely destroyed the designated targets as well as many machine gun nests. Having completed the mission, the two PT Boats left the area shortly after midnight. According to later U.S. reports, a Swatow identified as T-142 had come to assist the force defending Hòn Mê and did its utmost to follow the activities of the fast patrol boats but dared not engage in hostilities. Documents captured by the Americans noted that the ship in question made up an excuse when reporting to the enemy high command that it had to quit the chase because the fast patrol boats traveled at such a high rate of speed. It is possible that this particular Swatow may not have been discovered by the fast patrol boats because it was hiding near the shore.
At the same time that the hostile action at Hòn Mê was unfolding, the two boats that made up the Southern pair were only 800 meters from their objective which was a radio installation on the island of Hòn Niếu. However, perhaps because the enemy at Hòn Mê had sounded the alarm, the defenders at Hòn Niếu were prepared for an imminent attack. Realizing the disadvantage inherent in landing a team under these conditions, the officers in charge decided to scrub the landing in favor of shelling the target from the two fast patrol boats that comprised the Southern pair. Because of the clarity and relative closeness of the target, the radio station was destroyed by the first few volleys. After that the fast patrol boats turned their weapons on secondary targets such as military and defensive installations. After more than a half hour of destructive fire, throughout which the enemy did not respond, PTF-2 and 5 left the area and returned to base.
On the afternoon of July 3rd, four PT Boats PTF-1, 2, 5 and 6, left the base at Ðà Nẵng to undertake a mission. The objective was to destroy various targets along the North Vietnamese coast in an area known as the Cape of Vinh Sơn and Cửa Ron which were located near the city of Vinh approximately 70 nautical miles North of the 17th Parallel. PTF-2 developed engine trouble again and had to turn back.
At approximately 11:00 PM PTF-1 and 5 directed their fire on the radar facility at Vinh Sơn for about 20 minutes. PTF-6 remained alone at the mouth of the Giang River firing at various targets on shore and a group of North Vietnamese torpedo boats that were docked at the Quảng Khê Naval Base. A North Vietnamese PT Boat left port to give chase to PTF-6 but returned after about 40 minutes because it was unable to catch up. When the mission was completed all the PT Boats returned safely to Ðà Nẵng.
In the attacks that took place on Hòn Ngự and Hòn Mê during the night of July 30th and the dawn of July 31st, North Vietnam did not let it be known that the warship Maddox had been involved. But in the attack that occurred on the night of August 3rd and into the dawn of August 4th, North Vietnam clearly indicated that the attacking force included four PT Boats from Ðà Nẵng and two American Destroyers. One of the reasons that North Vietnam did not know exactly how many ships were engaged in the attack was because the radar station at Vinh Sơn had been heavily damaged by the fire from the PT Boats and was knocked out of commission.
X. NORTH VIETNAMESE COASTAL DEFENSE CAPABILITY
The North Vietnamese coastal defense system included naval ships and specialized junks. It also included radar facilities and artillery that were placed at locations all along the coast. North Vietnamese Navy: North Vietnam’s naval ships could only operate in the shallow coastal waters. Based on the intelligence that was available at that time, the North Vietnamese Navy had four SO1 escort vessels, 12 P-4 torpedo boats and a number of Swatow PT Boats.
SO1 Escort. The SO1 escorts weighed in at about 250 tons and were provided by the Soviets, two in 1960-61 and two in 1964-65. They were 140 feet in length and 20 feet wide. With a diesel engine and a crew of 30 they had a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour. Their armament included two 25 millimeter cannons mounted on the bow and behind the bridge. There were also four positions where depth charges could be launched against submarines. On February 1, 1966, one of the SO1 vessels was sunk by an American plane. The remaining three were broken down or otherwise unfit for service as they were not observed on the scene at the time. As for the patrol boats which were lighter, they were very old and while their firepower was heavy their speed was relatively slow so that they were not a cause for concern.
P-4 Torpedo Boat. The P-4 torpedo boats could be seen as the most effective weapons in the arsenal of the North Vietnamese Navy as they were capable of inflicting heavy damage on their enemy. These boats were small with a gross weight of about 50 tons. Diesel powered with a length of 85 feet and a width of 20 feet, they had a top speed of about 40 nautical miles per hour. Their armament included one heavy machine gun mounted behind the bridge and a torpedo tube on each side. Each torpedo had a warhead equal to 550 pounds of TNT which could sink a large warship. However, the effective range of the torpedoes did not exceed one kilometer. They were also equipped with a 253-type radar that had a range of 15 nautical miles in good weather. Normally, the P-4 would have to travel at high speed to launch a torpedo but when traveling very fast the radar antenna would have to be folded down to reduce wind resistance and to avoid damage from the heavy sea. Although the P-4 had a fairly high speed it was far inferior to the speed of our fast patrol boats. Also, the radar range was very limited and its firepower consisted of only one machine gun. For these reasons the P-4 was not a real contender against our fast patrol boats. American planes during their air raids against North Vietnam sank the majority of the P-4 boats.
Swatow PT Boat. The Swatow PT Boats had a displacement of 67 tons, were 83.5 feet long and were 20 feet wide amidship. They were equipped with two double 37 millimeter cannons. These Swatow ships of the North Vietnamese were fairly equal contenders with our fast patrol boats but our ships were faster and the Swatow had a difficult time trying to keep up. American planes also sank a fairly large number of the Swatow boats. During the years when our fast patrol boats were active, direct contention with the coastal defense vessels of the North Vietnamese were very rare and only a few instances of such confrontations were ever known to have occurred. This was due partially to the fact that small North Vietnamese vessels did not dare to go far from shore because they were afraid of an air attack and partially because they were painfully aware of their inferior capability. A fast patrol boat commander gave the following account of one such rare occurrence:
On five years of operations we only came face to face with a North Vietnamese patrol boat once in early 1965 in a joint mission with our two sister ships. While enroute to Mũi Ðào which is north of Ðồng Hới at about three in the morning the radar picked up the echos of three vessels speeding toward us from shore at high speed. Immediately after notifying the U.S. Seventh Fleet, we formed into a battle formation and increased our speed to 55 nautical miles per hour. In keeping with standard naval tactics we attempted to form into a T-formation in order that our weapons would begin firing together. The enemy also jockeyed for position. In the end we faced off in an irregular position. The enemy opened fire first but we refrained from shooting until they were about 1,000 yards away.
In the skirmish that followed one of our ships was damaged lightly by an enemy shell and a number of personnel were wounded. Our two ships that were escorting the third returned safely. In the days that followed our intelligence reports indicated that the enemy force received fairly heavy damage because they commenced firing too early and concentrated their fire on only one target. They received direct hits from our other two vessels.
Decoy Fishing Junks. Having seen the fast patrol boats searching fishing junks and detaining the fishermen, the Vietnamese Communists took advantage of what they saw as an opportunity to arm fishing junks with both weapons and explosives. Thus disguised, they waited in ambush among the other real fishing junks. When the fast patrol boats approached the enemy opened fire unexpectedly with a B-40 or tossed explosives onto the PT Boats. While this technique caused damage on a few occasions, all of the crew of the decoy vessels were killed and then each junk was sunk on the spot.
Coastal Radar Defense. North Vietnam placed a number of radar stations along the coast in order to monitor the activities of the fast patrol boats that operated out in the ocean. However, as time went on, all of the radar stations were destroyed or under constant air attack which rendered them ineffective.
Coastal Artillery Defense. This consisted of artillery emplacements that were located on the peaks of the islands or on the high rocky outcrops along the coast in order to fire out to sea. The range of the artillery was quite far, about 15 nautical miles, and even though they fired on a fairly regular basis no fast patrol boat was ever hit. At times the enemy would place a fairly large junk in position as bait. They then would predetermine the coordinates and wait for a fast patrol boat to approach before opening fire. However, even this tactic did not produce an optimum result. They were never able to hit a PT Boat but they did hit a number of U.S. warships which presented them with larger targets.
Throughout the eight years that it was in operation, the Sea Patrol Force suffered negligent enemy damage. As for the PT Boats, not a single one was ever sunk by enemy fire and only a number of them ever sustained light damage. Of course, there were a number of PT Boats that ran aground. This was easy to understand because most of the missions were carried out at night and close to shore in areas that were unfamiliar. All of those that ran aground were subsequently bombed and destroyed by U.S. aircraft to keep them from falling into enemy hands. There was also one case when a PT Boat was sunk by mistake by an American plane.
As for personnel, enemy impact was very light. There were only about 30 or 40 casualties that occurred during the thousands of individual missions that were carried out. The heaviest personnel loss occurred when one of our boats was mistakenly hit by friendly fire during a skirmish and two officers were killed.
XII. MISTAKES AND DISPUTED FACTS CONCERNING THE SEA PATROL FORCES
Because it was an irregular unit that was cleverly disguised, only a few people really knew the backgrounds of the personnel who made up the Sea Patrol Force. It was not uncommon for even those who served together in the various naval units to be unaware of a comrade’s origins except when the mission took place in the Ðà Nẵng area. The PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force are also a source of much heated debate, especially among srohtua and people who are not familiar with the Navy.
The war ended almost 30 years ago but there is still much misinformation and considerable controversy concerning the Sea Patrol Force. Some falsehoods and misconceptions are still propagated by personnel who served with MACSOG as well as by American writers. This is not because there is a deliberate effort to distort the truth. It is rather the nature of classified operations. Each individual is aware of only a part of the missions on a “need to know” basis. Therefore only a very few had a broad and complete view of the entire program.
Following are some “truths” concerning a number of disputed facts and mistakes that are known to us and can be found in American and Vietnamese books written on this subject.
In the book President’s War, the author Anthony Austin writes that while there were Vietnamese on the various PT Boats there were no RVN Navy personnel. All of the crews consisted of direct hires. A MACSOG document entitled Maritime Operation stated that RVN Navy personnel were not recruited during the period prior to the beginning of 1964. Therefore, civilian personnel had to be hired.
In his book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, historian Edwin Moise of Clemson University, wrote the following on page 15, There is good evidence that the Nasty boat crews belonged to the South Vietnamese Navy and wore uniforms while on operations. Professor Moise also wrote on page 15 that, The RVN Navy had said it was assigning the cream of its men to this program and the officers in particular were convinced that they were the cream.
The Truth: From the moment that the Sea Patrol Force was founded, the crews of the PT Boats were all RVN Navy personnel. However, they were NOT in uniform when they went on missions. Professor Moise was right when he wrote that all of the officers were the cream of the crop.
THE EQUIPMENT AND THE MISSION
In the book The RVN Navy Goes to Sea, (Hải Quân VNCH Ra Khơi) author Ðiệp Mỹ Linh wrote on page 69 that the PT Motor Torpedo Boat was about eighty feet long with a composite/plastic hull. It was built in Norway, ran on fuel oil and had a top speed that exceeded 50 nautical miles per hour. The various PT Boats of the Coastal Security Service were nicknamed Nasty and Swift. Every PT Boat was routinely equipped with an 81 or 130 millimeter rotating mortar located behind the bridge. Two .50 caliber double barreled machine guns mounted on the sides and an automatic 40 millimeter double barreled anti-aircraft cannon. The author also wrote on page 69 that: after returning from a mission in North Vietnam our crews were tired and exhausted in both body and soul. The patrol forces of the RVN were often stopped and hit by the patrol forces of the enemy at Hòn Cọp. MIGs that flew in pairs discovered the boats with radar and then attacked them with heat seeking missiles. The Vietnamese Communists usually used the Kronstad PT Boat that had a top speed of 35 nautical miles per hour and the P-4 which had a top speed of 65 nautical miles per hour and was equipped with six .50 caliber double barreled machine gun positions with which to attack the PT Boats of the RVN.
The Truth: The PT Boat hulls were constructed of laminated wood or aluminum, not composite/plastic. Only the Norwegian built boat was known as a Nasty. Swift was a nickname used by the Sea Patrol Force. The fast patrol boats only had an 81 millimeter mortar that was mounted in FRONT of the bridge not behind it and did not have a 130 millimeter gun at all. It was another type of boat that had an 81 millimeter mortar mounted behind the bridge. The PTF had 40 millimeter single barreled, not double barreled, cannon. Our crew members were tired after a mission that kept them up all night but not to the point of exhaustion.
Our PT Boats were not routinely stopped and fired upon by enemy PT Boats at Hòn Cọp because most of the North Vietnamese PT Boats had been sunk. Those ships that remained stayed close to shore as they dared not to engage our patrol boats that had more firepower and were faster. Moreover, our PT Boats could call in U.S. air support when necessary. We recall operation Double Tango in which our fast patrol boats blockaded and shelled Hòn Cọp continuously for a full month and never observed a North Vietnamese PT Boat offer any resistance.
Throughout the five years of experience with the Sea Patrol Force that included over two hundred missions, we never saw a North Vietnamese PT Boat with naked eyes. We also never tracked one with radar at night. According to our experience in thousands of missions there were only a few instances of confrontations between our fast patrol boats and North Vietnamese PT Boats. The North Vietnamese refer to Hòn Cọp Island by another name: Con Cò Island. Speaking of this location a PT Boat commander said the following:
North of the 17th Parallel and about 30 nautical miles off Vinh Linh is a small island that Radio Hanoi continuously praised as the Con Cò Island of heroism. The island was home to a North Vietnamese naval base and an artillery emplacement that was used for shore defense. It was a sad situation for the comrade troopers on the island who had to maintain an alert status for months on end because every time we went past we would receive an order to lob in a few rounds to wake them up. American planes also used this island to drop whatever extra ordinance they were carrying before returning to their bases.
In regards to the Kronstadt boat, under ideal conditions these boats had a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour and it is not certain that the enemy even had this type of craft. As for the P-4, its top speed was 45 nautical miles per hour. There are no reports confirming that there were ever more than a very few attacks on our fast patrol boats by North Vietnamese planes. Their airborne heat seeking missiles were only used for targets they encountered in their dogfights in the air or for targets on the ground such as tanks. As for targets at sea the MIGs routinely used air to surface missiles.
EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING
In an article entitled The SEALS and Sea Patrol: the Battle With Communist Troops Along the Coast, (Biệt Hải và Hải Tuần: Trận Chiến với Cộng Quân ở Duyên Hải) was published in the Vietnamese newspaper, Economy, on December 3, 1999. Its author, Vương Hồng Anh wrote the following:
…SOG naval advisors modified 12 Swift river patrol boats to be used in secret missions. With a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour the PT Boats were armed with 40 millimeter cannon and various light weapons. SOG took the boat crews and SEAL teams from Long Thành to be trained to go ashore and attack targets along the coast. These teams were trained at a secret base in the South near Saigon. The boat crews were trained to go out into the high seas of the South Vietnamese coast from 100 to 110 kilometers and then head into North Vietnamese waters from the open seas. Such a tactic would be necessary because the coastal waters were crowded with boats and rafts making it difficult to slip by undetected and avoid pursuit or discovery.
The Truth: The Swift is not a river patrol boat but a coastal patrol boat. A river patrol boat is a small boat with a fiberglass hull. An ocean going PT Boat may operate in a river but the reverse is not true. If a river patrol boat were to venture out into the high seas it could be capsized by a large wave, especially if it is 100 to 110 kilometers offshore. The crews of the fast patrol boats and the Swifts were all trained in the waters off Ðà Nẵng. The mission routes usually took us along the coast of North Vietnam and we were very seldom 100 kilometers away from shore.
COMMUNIST NAVAL BASE
Vương Hồng Anh also wrote about the mission to attack and destroy boats belonging to the North Vietnamese Communists at Hòn Cọp as follows:
The first mission was undertaken by a SEALS team that secretly attacked and destroyed a North Vietnamese Communist vessel at Hòn Cọp.
The Truth: The North Vietnamese Communists did not have a naval base at Hòn Cọp and that island did not have a beach or a place to drop anchor. The North Vietnamese Communist naval base closest to the 17th Parallel was at Ðồng Hới. Based on our knowledge of the situation, the mission was directed at the Quảng Khê base that was located at the mouth of the Giang River.
THE BOAT CREWS
Did American personnel who trained the boat crews actually go on missions north of the 17th Parallel? Although strictly forbidden, was this policy absolutely observed? According to Colonel Bucklew, Chief of the Support Group for Naval Operations who was also responsible for the Americans serving with MACSOG, the prohibition was habitually violated.
Historian, Edwin Moise, also interviewed Colonel Bucklew concerning this matter and wrote on page 16 of his book as follows, Indeed, he is not aware of any cases in which the PTFs from Ðà Nẵng went on combat operations without American personnel on board. His recollection is that the Americans were running the boat with the Vietnamese along in what was essentially an apprenticeship role. He states that there were suggestions during 1964 that Vietnamese officers and men be given actual responsibility for handling the boats on combat missions, but that these suggestions had been opposed on the grounds that the Vietnamese did not have the skills.
In an interview conducted by historian Moise on March 10, 1988 with Vice Admiral Roy L. Johnson, who had served as Seventh Fleet Commander starting in June, 1964, Johnson recalls that the Vietnamese crews proved unreliable. When sent out on an operation against the North they sometimes just cruised around in circles for a few hours off shore, and then filed a false report that they had conducted the assigned operation. Admiral Johnson is “pretty sure” that American crews were used on raids against the North Vietnamese coasts by August 1964. If the change had not come by this time, it came soon after.
The Truth: There were never any Americans that went along on the missions that were conducted in the territorial waters of North Vietnam north of the 17th Parallel. The belief that American crews took the fast patrol boats into North Vietnam only exists in the imagination of the Seventh Fleet Commander because he has always believed that only his crews were reliable. There were many practical cases that serve as proof that an experienced commander of a PT Boat is much more well versed in naval warfare and more reliable than the advisers who were still wet behind the ears.
Moreover, when the PT boats went out on a mission they followed an established route that required them to check in at certain points and times so that friendly forces would not mistake them for the enemy. Therefore, there never was any cruising around in circles.
On this subject of Americans, a Vietnamese commander who served for many years in the Sea Patrol Force said the following:
The Sea Patrol Force was probably the only unit in the armed forces of the RVN that in eight years of fighting in enemy territory was never accompanied by an American adviser. Our naval advisers were only responsible for providing support, i.e., intelligence, logistics and maintenance. They had a profound respect for us. Occasionally a few officers or noncoms would joke that somehow they were going to accompany us on a mission but no one believed that the joking would ever come to pass. On one mission that consisted of two ships, I took the second position. After crossing the 17th Parallel, two U.S. noncommissioned artillery officers suddenly appeared on deck and cheerfully volunteered to serve under my command while on that mission. Somewhat shocked, I asked the commander of the lead boat for a decision. He then reported to our operations office and within ten minutes we received an urgent request for the joint mission to return to base. When we returned to our base, we noticed that the two adventurous Americans were whisked away in a vehicle “that was shrouded in secrecy.” They were taken to the airport for an immediate trip home. We were happy that this incident only happened once.
We hope that the foregoing, though far from complete, will cast a little light on the truth connected with the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force. The purpose of this article is to also commemorate and show our gratitude to those warrior SEALS who responded to the call of their homeland and did not hesitate to charge into the waters of North Vietnam.
Trần Ðỗ Cẩm