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The Brown Navy And It's Roll In The Vietnam War

Aug 11, 2008
The concept of riverine forces was not new to Southeast Asia. During the Indochina War of 1946-54, French forces created the Dinassauts, which were combat organizations designed to operate in the hostile environment of Vietnam's waterways. These employed a variety of modified landing craft in the fire support and stop and search roles. When the first South Vietnamese Naval units were established in 1955, their River Assault Groups (RAGs) took over the equipment. By 1964, the RAGs possessed over 200 craft.

Prior to 1965, operations against the VC in the Mekong Delta were the responsibility of the South Vietnamese forces. However, from December 1965 onwards they transferred to the U.S. Navy's River Patrol Force (Task Force 116). One of the earliest operations mounted by the RPF was Game Warden, which deployed river patrol boats and experimental hovercraft to prevent the VC use of the waterways. It was run parallel to Operation Market Time, which began in March 1965 by Task Force 71 (later 115), and was designed to cut off NVA seaborne infiltration. By mid-1966 it had become clear that more had to be done to challenge VC control of the delta and the coastal mangrove swamps of the Rung Sat Special Zone, southeast of Saigon.

Between August 1966 and November 1967, 17 million cubic tons of silt were dredged in order to create a base on the My Tho river for a new Mekong Delta Mobil Afloat Force (MDMAF). Along with the base, two self-propelled barracks ships (APDs) where added to the area to provide floating base facilities and accommodations for the grunts when they cam back from an operation. Each ship was usually moored no more than 30 miles from the zone of operations, and had berths for 800 men, with space for a further 600 at a tight squeeze.

American attempts to control VC infiltration in the delta, saw the largest expansions to date of riverine forces when, in June of 1967, the Mobile Riverine Force became operational. Reviving a strategy used during the American Civil War, when Union Army forces operated Navy gunboats on the Ohio, Mississippi and other inland water-ways, US Army troops were given special training, including combat operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone and at the Coronado Navel Base in San Diego, California. The MRF comprised a navel component (Task Force 117) harnessed to the 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. This included the 3d and 4th Battalions, 47th Infantry; the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, and the 105mm howitzers of the 3d Battalion, 39th Artillery. The task force was often combined with units drawn form the South Vietnamese Marine Corps.

The MRF were given with an array of landing craft and spawned a new type of weaponry made for taking on the VC in the Mekong. The MRF were provided with Armored Troop Carriers (ATCs) with steel slats to take the beef out of recoilless-rifle rounds; Monitors and Command Control Boats (CCBs) for co-coordinating assaults; not forgetting the trusty Swifts and River Patrol Boats (PRBs). Add helicopter pads to some of the craft, and equip each and every one with a factory of weapons ranging from the 0.5in machine gun to the 40mm cannon and 81mm mortar, and you have one heck of a Brown Navy on your hands.

The arrival of the Assault Support Patrol Boats (ASPB) added still more firepower to the MRF's inventory, and provided a razor sharp cutting edge during the ambushes, patrols, reconnaissance and escort missions. Then there was the Patrol Air Cushion Vehicle (PACV), known as the shark-mouthed raider and using the call-sign "Monster," these hovercraft could race across rice paddies and shallow swamps that were off-limits to other riverine craft. Complete with a heavy-duty battalion of 105mm howitzers based on mobile barges, the MRF worked the waters of the delta.

The operations usually followed the same pattern. The heavily armed ASPBs would take on the role of point as the column of boats cruised through the water, with minesweepers on both flanks. Next came the river assault squadron's naval commander in his CCB. A Monitor was usually the next boat in line, ready to unleash sustained firepower into the bushes on the river banks if any incoming was received. Then came a force of three ATC's carrying the battalion's first company.

The Coronado operations (I to XI) from June 1967 onwards, concentrated on Long An and Dinh Tuong Provinces in the Mekong, with special attention to the Rung Sat Special Zone. Initially, the VC attempt to stand and fight against the MRF hammer and anvil tactics, but the sheer scale of the MRF operations accounted for over 1000 VC during the last six months of 1967. By the end of 1968, the objectives of Market Time, Game Warden and MRF along the coast and in the Mekong Delta had largely been achieved. However, now there was a new problem. Thwarted in the delta, the VC began to exploit a new infiltration route - across the Cambodian border. To counter this, Market Time, Game Warden and MRF units were welded into a combined force under the codename "Sealords."

Mobile Riverine Force Boat Specs:
Speed: 25 knots
Length: 9.5 meters
2 x 0.3in machine gun
2 x 0.5in machine gun
Speed: 60 knots
Length: 11.8 meters
2 x 0.3in machiine gun
2 x 0.5in machine gun
1 x 40mm grenade launcher
Length: 17.5 meters
1 x 40mm machine gun
2 x 40mm grenade launcher
1 x 81mm mortar
2 x 0.5in machine gun
Speed: 16knots
Length: 15.4 meters
1 x 20mm
1 x 0.5in machine gun
1 x 81mm mortar
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