U.S. Naval Base Cam Ranh Bay (1965-1972)


The naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, in the Republic of Vietnam, served as the nerve center of the Navy’s Market Time anti-infiltration operations during the war. With one the largest natural harbors in the Far East and centrally placed on the 1,500-mile coast of South Vietnam, Cam Ranh Bay was long seen as a strategic site. Russian Admiral Rozhdestvenski’s fleet anchored there in 1905 before steaming onto its fateful meeting with the Japanese fleet in the strait of Tsushima. The Japanese had used it during World War II until 1944, when U.S. Naval Task Force 38 blasted it.

Almost 60 years later American naval leaders evaluated the bay as a possible fleet anchorage and seaplane base from which to support the foundering South Vietnamese nation. During 1964 seventh fleet reconnaissance aircraft, seaplane tender Currituck (AV-7) And Mine Flotilla 1 units carried out hydrographic and beach surveys and explored sites for facilities ashore.

This preparatory worked proved fortuitous when a North Vietnamese trawler was discovered landing munitions and supplies at near by Vung Ro Bay in February 1965; the incident led U.S. naval leaders to develop Cam Ranh as a major base to support the Coastal Surveillance Force. During the following years, the Navy deployed the fast patrol craft (PCF), and patrol gunboat (PG) units.

The site became the center of coastal air patrol operations with the establishment in April 1967 of the U.S. Naval Air Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, and the basing there of P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion patrol aircraft. That summer, Commander Coastal Surveillance Force and his staff moved their headquarters from Saigon to Cam Ranh Bay and set up operational command post to control Market Time effort. Country wide coordination also was enhanced with establishment of the Naval Communications Station.

In the beginning the shore facilities at Cam Ranh Bay were extremely limited, requiring interim measures to support assigned naval forces. Army depots provided common supplies, while Seventh Fleet light cargo ships Mark (AKL-12) and Brule (AKL-28) delivered Navy-peculiar items from Subic Bay in the Philippines. Until mid 1966 when shore installations were prepared to take over the task, messing and quartering of personnel were handled by APL-55, anchored in the harbor. Also, a pontoon dock was installed to permit the repair of the coastal patrol vessels. Gradually the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, improved the provision of maintenance and repair, supply, finance, communications, transportation, postal service, recreation, and security support.

While the concentration at Cam Ranh Bay of Market Time headquarters and forces during the summer of 1967, the demand for base support became extraordinary. Accordingly, the Naval Support Activity Saigon, Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, was redesignated the Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, a more autonomous and self sufficient status. A greater allocation of resources and support forces to the shore installation resulted in an improved ability to cope with the buildup of combat units. In time, the Cam Ranh Bay facility accomplished major vessel repair and dispensed a greater variety of supply items to the anti-infiltration task force. In addition the naval contingent at the Joint Service Ammunition Depot issued ammunition to the coastal surveillance, river patrol and mobile riverine forces as well as to the Seventh Fleet’s gunfire support destroyers and landing ships. Seabee Maintenance unit 302 provided public works assistance to the many dispersed Naval Support Activity, Saigon detachments.

As a vital logistic complex, Cam Ranh Bay continued to function long after the Navy’s combat forces withdrew from South Vietnam as part of the Vietnamization of the war. However between January and April 1972 the Naval Air Facility, and the Naval Communications Station turned over the their installations to the Vietnamese Navy and were duly disestablished. The headquarters and naval operations center of commander Coastal Surveillance Force redeployed to Saigon, thus ending the Navy’s seven year operation at Cam Ranh Bay…. ABM