Friday, November 13, 2009

The Refugee come home / Commander Le Ba Hung

The Communist Vietnam Officer waiting to welcome Commander H.B. Le

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Hung Ba Le comes out from his ship USS Lassen, which anckored off the Tien Sa Port in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009. On the day his side lost the Vietnam War, Hung Ba Le fled his homeland at the age of 5 in a fishing trawler crammed with 400 refugees. Thirty-four years later, he made an unlikely homecoming as the commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer.

Le Ba Hung (R) commander of the USS Lassen and a Vietnamese native of Hue (central Vietnam) is greeted by Communist Vietnamese Army officers during a welcoming ceremony held in Vietnam's central coastal city of Da Nang on November 7, 2009 where Hung's destroyer is on an official port call. The commander who fled Vietnam as a five-year-old boat-people boy and was picked up by an US ship in 1975 has visited the country in command of a destroyer.

CORRECTION CITY IN IPTC FIELD Le Ba Hung, commander of the USS Lassen and a Vietnamese native of Hue (central Vietnam) stands on a speed boat near the destroyer at Vietnam's central coastal city of Da Nang on November 7, 2009 on an official port call. The commander who fled Vietnam as a five-year-old boat-people boy and was picked up by an US ship in 1975 has visited the country in command of a destroyer.

At the helm of a U.S. warship,

a Vietnam refugee comes home

Matthew White / U.S. Navy
Cmdr. Hung Ba Le, left, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen, discusses the ship's position during operations at sea Wedneday. Le, the first Vietnamese-American to command a U.S. Navy ship, is returning to the country of his birth for the first time in 34 years.

Courtesy of the Le family
Cmdr. Hung Ba Le, front left, and his siblings on Thuan An beach, just south of their hometown of Hue, Vietnam, in 1974.

Courtesy of the Le family
Ensign Thong Ba Le, right, receives his Sword of Honor from Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem at his graduation from the Vietnamese Naval Academy in 1962.

Courtesy of the Le family
Courtesy of the Le family Cmdr. Hung Ba Le, left, and his father, Thong Ba Le.
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — As South Vietnam crumbled under advancing North Vietnamese forces 34 years ago, 5-year-old Hung Ba Le and his family escaped and eventually found refuge on a U.S. Navy ship.
This week, he returns to the land of his birth for the first time. And it is a U.S. Navy ship — the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen that he commands — that will take him there.
On April 30, 1975, Saigon’s fall was imminent. Le’s father, a South Vietnamese navy officer, had just assumed command of the Nha Be Naval Support Activity Base after learning the previous commander left the country without warning.
He led his sailors until the last possible moment. But finding himself unable to communicate with his headquarters and fearing the impending collapse of the government, he ordered his men to go home and be with their families.
In his online memoir, “The Journey of Destiny,” Le’s father wrote: “It was over. There was no one willing to fight because there was nothing for which to fight. The country was about to collapse under the Vietnamese Communist. I was so desperate, angry, and upset in my heart.”
Now the younger Le transits the same waters where he and his family sought refuge more than three decades ago.
“I feel blessed to be where I’m at today,” Le, the first Vietnamese-American to command a U.S. Navy ship, said during a phone interview from sea Tuesday. “It feels very neat to think that we left on a U.S. Navy ship, and to come back on one is pretty awesome.”
After the fall of Saigon, Le’s family escaped on a fishing trawler. Le’s father led the vessel and its 400 refugees out to sea on April 30, 1975. Numerous times, the younger Le said, the refugees were refused assistance from passing ships.
As Le’s father navigated the boat out to sea, he was leaving behind more than his native country: His four oldest children, living in the family’s hometown of Hue, were unable meet the rest of the family before the trawler departed.
After days at sea, sleep-deprived and hungry, Le, three other siblings, his parents and the other refugees were taken aboard the USS Barbour County, a ship participating in Operation Frequent Wind — the evacuation of foreigners and South Vietnamese from Saigon.
The Barbour County took the refugees to the Philippines.
“The cool ocean breeze could not comfort the wave of sorrow in the heart of this Vietnamese refugee,” the elder Le wrote in his memoir.
The Le family eventually made their way to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they were kept in a refugee camp for several weeks.
They soon found sponsorship from an American family and made the trek to northern Virginia, where they would eventually settle.
With no money, Le’s father worked various jobs to support the family before settling into a job at Giant Food, a supermarket chain.
“We had some great help along the way from our sponsors,” the younger Le recalled.
Although the family’s journey to gain U.S. citizenship lasted eight years, Le describes his experience in America as one of little struggle.
“I always felt lucky to come to America when I did,” he said.
In 1983, the naturalization process concluded and the family’s four oldest children were permitted to join the family.
With a family deeply rooted in naval heritage, Le said that as a teenager getting accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy was his goal.
“I was never pressured over the years from my father to do so,” he said Tuesday as his ship steamed toward its scheduled Saturday port call to Da Nang with USS Blue Ridge. “But [I] enjoyed being able to follow in his footsteps.”
Le’s father recently told him that following his son’s career, and seeing him command a Navy warship, has added years to his life.
Graduating from the Naval Academy with merit in 1992, Le was designated as a surface warfare officer. Four ships and 17 years later, he finds himself leading one of the Navy’s premier warships back to a land of which he has few memories.
“It’s amazing to get an opportunity to get to go back, and one that I don’t know if I would have had otherwise,” said Le, who hopes to reconnect with relatives still in the country. “America gave my family a lot of opportunity, so I enjoy giving back by serving.”

Some pictures of Tien Sa today

Monday, November 9, 2009

Operation Vulcan

The Secret Side of Tonkin Gulf Incident

As the sun rose over the Tonkin Gulf, fishing boats ventured out onto the sparkling sea. Behind them lay the verdant coast, sharply outlined in the clear morning light. Fishermen came here regularly to cast their nets, taking advantage of the rich waters near the mouth of the Gianh River, about 40 kilometers miles north of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam's southernmost town of any note. But this was wartime, and the peaceful appearance was merely a facade. A kilometer upriver, on the south bank. lay Quang Khe naval base, home to part of Hanoi's fledgling coastal defense fleet.

On 16 May 1962. the scene looked much the same as on any other day. No one suspected that just below the surface lurked an American submarine, the U.S.S.Catfish, carefully watching the naval base. A few days earlier, the submarine had sailed from the Philippines toward the mouth of the Gianh River on a mission codenamed WISE TIGER. Remaining in international waters, the Catfish was collecting data on Hanoi's fleet. The submarine was interested in Swatow gunboats, a Chinese-made vessel that formed the backbone of the North Vietnamese navy. Measuring 83-feet long, the boat packed up to three 37mm automatic cannons, two twin 14.5mm heavy machine guns, and eight depth charges. With a crew of 30, a Swatow could travel at 28 knots and use its surface-search radar to detect incoming boats. A trio of Swatows was thought to be harbored at Quang Khe. After patient monitoring, the Catfish confirmed the presence of all three and sent word back to Manila. This was then relayed to Saigon. where the CIA was finalizing plans for a bold maritime strike against the gunboats.

This mission was long in coming. Back in March 1961, the CIA had first proposed sabotaging North Vietnamese ports as part of a diverse covert warfare menu forwarded to president John F. Kennedy. The scheme lay dormant until the early spring of 1962, when Hanoi's increasing aggressiveness in both South Vietnam and neighboring Laos prompted Washington to re-examine its options. Frustrated by North Vietnamese involvement in the burgeoning southern insurgency, especially its expansion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Kennedy administration groped for some way to react. Using covert action to send signals would become an increasingly common tool as the war escalated.

Maritime operations were nothing new to the CIA. Beginning in 1951, the Agency had frequently used motorized junks and Taiwanese commandos to strike at the Chinese mainland, and during the Korean War, had deployed sabotage teams along the northern half of the peninsula. Adapting this experience to a North Vietnamese setting, the CIA case officers in Saigon envisioned a motorized junk making its way up the coast, and from there deploying a team of commandos to steal up the Gianh River and set charges against the Swatows.

In April 1962, the CIA secured loan of Four Taiwan trained commandos. Code named Team VULCAN, they were brought to Danang and trained in planting limpet mines on the hulls of boats. The following month, after receiving confirmation of the gunboats' presence from the Catfish, the CIA decided to make a trial run. VULCAN and 10 crewmen loaded into the Agency's specially outfitted junk, Nautilus 2, and headed up the coast. Anchoring off the mouth of the Gianh River, the commandos sneaked to shore in a raft for a beach reconnaissance. After looking around for signs of activity, they returned to the junk. No one had seen them.

Borrowed Commandos

Captain Ha Ngoc Oanh, known by his call sign, Antoine, looked around the table at the four VULCAN commandos. A two-year veteran of the covert war, this was the first team under his direct supervision. When the final order to attack the Swatows came on 28 June, he scheduled this final briefing. Joined by a pair of CIA officers, Antoine translated instructions into Vietnamese, aided by aerial photos of Quang Khe taken just a few days earlier. On the wall behind him was a map of the naval base marked with avenues of approach and retreat. The commandos listened closely. From the junk, they would switch to a smaller wooden boat and head to the river mouth. Since there were three Swatows at Quang Khe, only three frogmen would enter the water and swim the rest of the way using scuba gear. The fourth combat swimmer, Nguyen Chuyen, would remain on the boat as backup. They would target one boat apiece, planting a limpet mine below the water line near the engine, then swim back to the boat.

On the night of 29 June, Team VULCAN boarded the junk along with a dozen crewmen and cast off. Sailing through the night and all the next day, Nautilus 2 blended with other junks at sea. The following night they closed on their objective. Darkness cloaked the coastline. Just before midnight on 30 June, they cut both engines. Two crewmen lowered a small motorized launch into the gentle swells, then climbed in. The VULCAN commandos, dressed in scuba gear and each clutching a limpet mine, joined them. As its small outboard coughed to life, the skiff slowly parted from the junk.

Fifteen minutes later, Le Van Kinh, one of commandos, could clearly see the shores the Gianh River. In the darkness, the VULCAN members set their mines to detonate in two hours -- sufficient time for them swim in, plant the charges, and get back to the skiff. Kinh put on his mask, cleared his mouthpiece, and slipped into the water. He was soon joined by two other commandos, Nguyen Van Tam and Nguyen Huu Thao. They quietly adjusted their masks and mouthpieces and entered the sea.

The swimmers reached the North Vietnamese base about 45 minutes later and set about their work. In the oily water, Nguyen Huu Thao was in the process of fixing his limpet mine to a Swatow's hull. Hearing a commotion on the deck above, he apparently panicked - and the mine exploded in Thao's hands. What had been a stealthy raid was now a race for survival.

Kinh, the first commando in the water, had managed to place his mine without incident. Twenty meters from the Swatow, he surfaced to get his bearings. It was at that same moment that Thao's limpet detonated in a blinding flash. The shock wave hit Kinh on the back of the skull, then slammed into the rest of his body. As his limbs went numb, he floated helplessly on the surface. Kinh saw that the Swatow was badly damaged, but he also knew that the North Vietnamese would soon be swarming about the base.

In the skiff, Nguyen Chuyen and the two crewmen watched as the explosion lit up the night. It took only moments for the North Vietnamese to spot the bobbing boat silhouetted in the smoke and flames. Frightened by the sound of revving Swatow engines and fearing the worst, the men did not wait around to see what would happen next. Their own engine coughed to life and the little boat turned tail for the open sea. In the stern, Chuyen raised a machine gun and fired long bursts toward his pursuers. The North Vietnamese fired back, and by the time the little boat reached the junk, Chuyen was hit and bleeding

Alone in the water, Kinh had little time to think. In pain, he kicked toward shore and rolled out of the water into a bush. Peeling off his tanks and wetsuit, he planned to hide until the commotion subsided, then try to swim south. It was not to be. Within an hour, North Vietnamese patrols found him. Beating Kinh almost senseless, they marched him off for interrogation. Blindfolded, he managed a smile as the sound of a second limper detonation rumbled in the distance.

Nguyen Van Tam, the third swimmer, had only slightly better luck. After placing his limpet. he headed back toward the skiff. Then the first mine detonated prematurely and he suddenly found himself abandoned in the middle of the river. Tam spied a boat lying at anchor nearby and silently swam alongside. Hoping to creep out to sea unnoticed, he climbed over the gunwale-and into the arms of some North Vietnamese militiamen.

Sinking Ships

Quang Khe erupted into action. Holed by the first limpet, Swatow 185 was taking on water fast. In the confusion, one gun- boat, Swatow 161, took to sea after the escaping skiff.. Throttling up its engines, the gunboat surged into the bay looking for the culprits and soon spotted the little wooden boat. Tailing it back to the junk, the Swatow bore down on its quarry with guns blazing. Far from helpless, the crew of the Nautilus2 aimed machinegun fire at the gunboat in their wake. For the next three hours they kept the Swatow at bay as they ran south along the coast. At 0600 hours, however, gunfire from the North Vietnamese vessel struck the junk's engine compartment. With Nautilus 2 dead in the water, the circling Swatow pummeled it to matchwood. Nguyen Chuyen, the frogman who had earlier escaped in the skiff, and one other crewman died in the exchange.

As the Swatow picked its way among the floatsom, 10 surviving South Vietnamese were plucked from the water and blindfold ed. Unknown to the gunboat crew, an 1lth crew member, Nguyen Van Ngoc, was hiding in the junks partially submerged cabin. Clinging to the wreckage, he floated south toward the 17th Parallel, where he was spotted by a patrolling aircraft and rescued.

On 21 July. Hanoi placed the captured commandos and crew before a jury. Receiving sentences of up to life in prison, the somber commandos headed for their cells. Photos of their captured equipment were splashed across English-language publications coming out of Hanoi, and one of the commandos was even coerced into making a public condemnation of the program.

Try, Try Again

Despite the failure, there would be other operations. CIA headquarters sent a new man. Tucker Gougleman, to shape up the the maritime program. A seasoned paramilitary operative, Gougleman was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Pacific campaign who walked with a permanent limp courtesy of a Japanese bullet. This handicap had not pre vented him from transferring to the CIA, where he spent the Korean War conducting strikes along the embattled peninsula.

Gougleman could not have been pleased with the operation he took over. The CIA had half a dozen junks in Danang - and no qualified commandos. That fall the Agency put out a call for combat swimmers, and by November 1962 more than four dozen volunteers had been assembled at makeshift camps strung along the Danang waterfront. But without qualified teachers and training facilities, instruction proceeded at glacial speed.

Gougleman's arrival quickly improved things. Shortly after he took over, a team of U.S. Navy Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) commandos were detailed to Danang for support, making Gougleman's job much easier. Two SEAL officers and 10 enlisted men spent six months training the South Vietnamese, and by late summer 1963, four action teams were ready, each made up of civilian agents combined with a handful of former South Vietnamese army sergeants. One of them, NEPTUNE, was qualified in scuba. Another, CANCER, consisted almost entirely of ethnic Chinese Nungs.

Gougleman now had plenty of commandos, but he still had a problem with his boats. Although the North Vietnamese navy paled in comparison to the South Vietnamese, Hanoi's gunboats both outgunned and outpaced the CIA's motorized junks. Clearly, Gougleman needed a better vessel to get his men to and from their target.

The search for such a boat dated back to 1959 when the U.S. Navy began looking for something to replace its aging WWII torpedo boats. One of the top choices was the Norwegian Nasty-class patrol boat. Built by Westermoen in Mandel, Norway, the Nasty was one of the fastest and most reliable patrol boats of its day. Its superior performance came from two diesel Napier engines which could propel the 24-meter, 80-ton mahogany and fiberglass hull at speeds of more than 40 knots. Packing a wide range of light weapons, it could cover 1,600 kilometers without refueling. Best of all, its foreign manufacture afforded plausible deniability for covert operations.

Norwegian Nasty boat undergoing modifications at Subic Bay, Philippines, before being shipped to Danang to run covert operations along the North Vietnamese coast

The VULCAN failure brought the CIA into the picture. In Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff pushed for a new boat, a call echoed by American military commanders in Saigon (represented by the newly formed Military Advisory Command, Vietnam - MACV). In August 1962, General Paul D. Harkins, the MACV commander, had suggested that U.S. motor torpedo patrol (PT) boats be used for missions north. His proposal had already been sent for review by President John F. Kennedy's top national security advisors.

President Kennedy, himself a PT boat commander during WWII, liked the idea. On 27 September, Washington cabled approval for the scheme. Acting on this mandate, the U.S. Navy took two of its 1950-vintage, aluminum hulled torpedo boats, PT-810 and PT-811, out of mothballs at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to fill the bill until new boats could be sent to South Vietnam. The two aluminum boats, nicknamed "gassers" because their antiquated engines, burned gasoline rather than more efficient diesel, took a couple of months to refurbish. Each was given a 40mm automatic grenade launcher on the bow, a .50-caliber machine gun amidships, and engine muffling to run more quietly. They were also renamed: PTF- 1 and PTF-2 (Patrol Torpedo Boat, Fast, in Navy nomenclature).

The first "fast boats" sent to Vietnam for secret operations were WWII-era PT boats. the PT-810 was re-designated PTF-1 and took part in several operations.

While the gassers were being readied, the CIA bypassed the Pentagon's bureaucracy and ordered two Nastys. In early 1963, at the same time that Gougleman arrived in Danang, the Agency passed both ships to the U.S. Navy for comprehensive testing. Designated PTF-3 and PTF-4, they were refitted that spring with U.S. equipment for familiarization drills at Little Creek, Virginia.

On 28 June, Admiral George W. Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operations, assigned the boats to the Pacific Fleet's Amphibious Group I, to occur immediately following modifications to their armament. Technicians added two 40mm automatic grenade launchers and two 20mm automatic cannons, plus two 3.5-inch rocket launchers and provisions for up to three flamethrowers. Work was completed by the end of August, and the boats were loaded aboard the transport ship Vancouver- for the journey to San Diego via the Panama Canal.

All this took time, however and the CIA needed to gets its maritime operations back up to speed. Gougleman needed an interim boat to put into immediate operation before the arrival of the Nastys. The answer came from another covert operation, this one in Cuba. Since the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster the Agency had been authorized to conduct a maritime harassment campaign against Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, and they picked a boat that already was a common sight on the Gulf of Mexico -- a vessel made by Seward Seacraft in Burwick, Louisiana, known as the Swift. Originally designed for oil companies operating in the Gulf's far flung drilling platforms, it was 15 meters long, displaced 20 tons, and had two diesel engines.

The Swifts were still in California undergoing modifications when the call came for boats to handle North Vietnam missions. Three were immediately crated and sent to the Philippines. From there, they were ferried to Saigon. Sailing up the coast to Danang, they were ready for action by October 1963. While the Swifts were a welcome addition to Gougleman's clandestine maritime force, they had one drawback. Though easier to maintain than the temperamental Nastys, they represented an insurmountable leap in technology for the CIA's existing roster of junk crewmen. This put the Agency in a fix. Forbidden from recruiting experienced sailors from the South Vietnamese navy, and also unable to use Americans in order to uphold plausible deniability, there was nobody on hand to operate the boats.

So the CIA turned to foreign experts. As they already had developed good contacts in Oslo during the Nasty purchase, they arranged for three Norwegian civilians to be hired on six-month contracts. Arriving in Danang, they were given the barely disguised codename "Viking" and assigned as skippers, one per Swift. Young and aggressive, the Norwegians got along well with the South Vietnamese. "They were real Vikings," remembers Captain Truong Duy Tai, a maritime case officer. "They knew about navigation so well."

Now with boats as well as crews, the CIA planned its first maritime hit-and-run since the VULCAN debacle. But planners showed little imagination --their plans called for essentially a repeat of the failed strike against the Swatows at Quang Khe. The only difference was the team would ride a Swift instead of a junk.

On 15 December, one of the new powerboats headed north. Aboard was Team NEPTUNE -- the lone scuba-qualified team - with a supply of limpet mines. Short of their target, however, the skipper became lost, forcing an abort.

Returning to Danang, the CIA waited out the New Year. Finally, on 14 January 1964, they launched an ambitious doubleheader. Plans called for two Swifts to leave their berths shortly before midnight. They would stay together until they crossed the Seventeenth Parallel, then continue to their objectives alone. One would head for a coastal desalinization plant near the town of Dong Hoi. The other would go to the Ron River, 18 kilometers farther up the Quang Binh coast from the Swatows on the Gianh. One kilometer inland along the Ron was a ferry which connected North Vietnam's major north-south logistical artery, Route 1.

The Dong Hoi team, codenamed ZEUS, had no problems. The Norwegian skipper approached his designated target just before dawn, throttling back on the engines as he neared shore. Unlike the earlier scuba attacks, the ZEUS commandos took a rubber boat to shore. There they off-loaded a makeshift weapons package devised by CIA technicians. Consisting of six 3.5-inch "flat-firing" rockets, the cluster was affixed to a central battery pack. Pointing it in the general direction of the desalinization plant, they set a timer, slipping back into their rafts, and reached the Swift without incident.

The second team, codenamed CHARON, was not as lucky. When the Swift was less than 19 kilometers from its target, the Norwegian skipper spotted a boat heading toward them from the north. Though not moving fast enough to pose a threat, the Viking reversed course, taking evasive turns until he lost his pursuer. Hugging the coast, he then doubled back north. They were now more than an hour behind schedule.

Electing to proceed with the mission, the team leader ordered CHARON into a rubber raft. As they neared the mouth of the Ron, the team donned flippers and entered the water. Dividing in two, a pair of swimmers headed along the north bank, while the other two pushed along the south. Quickly, things began to fall apart. One pair soon encountered a junk coming downriver. With heavy silt clogging the entrance of the Ron, they feared that the water was not deep enough to clear the passing hull without being seen. Panicking, they turned swam back to the rubber raft.

The second pair was nowhere found. After exceeding their proscribed wait, the first two swimmers headed the Swift alone. With dawn fast approaching, the Norwegian captain reluctantly decided it was time to leave. But as the engines throttled up, he spotted a flashlight blinking near shore. Taking an enormous risk, he turned the Swift inland. relief, bobbing in the water were 1 missing swimmers. With a full complement, they headed south.

Back at Danang, the CIA had mixed emotions about the missions. CHARON had failed to reach its objective, and while claiming it was sure the rockets went off, had not actually been there to witness the event. On the other hand, both teams had returned safely, marking the first time any of the Agency's saboteurs had managed to return home intact.

It would be one of the last CIA maritime operations in Vietnam. In January 1964 the entire covert program was transferred to the Pentagon and called Operational Plan 34A. The military would continue the missions using the new Nasty patrol boats - the command of SOG, the Studies Observation Group. Ranging up and down the North Vietnamese coast the Nastys were only moderately successful, but in 1964 they helped trigger a wider American role in the war with their role in the Gulf incident.

Dale Andrade, Ph.D., resides in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BY SEA, AIR, and LAND Chapter 1

WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Chapter 1: The Early Years, 1950-1959

From the beginning of the conflict in Southeast Asia, the Navy played a key role in support of American strategic objectives. With the Communist seizure of China in 1949 and the invasion of South Korea by North Korean and Chinese forces the following year, U.S. leaders concluded that the Indochina Peninsula and possibly all Southeast Asia soon might also sink under the rising Communist tide.

To prevent this loss, the administration of President Harry S. Truman provided military aid and advisory assistance to France,then fighting to retain control of its Indochinese possessions against an indigenous Communist movement, the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh.

On 3 August 1950, the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group(MAAG), Indochina, arrived in Saigon to administer the material assistance program. The MAAG's Navy Section, comprised of Commander John B. Howland and seven other officers and men, was on hand at the end of October to process the first shipment of naval material, which consisted of Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters, to French forces. During the next four years, as part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, the United States delivered military aid totaling $2.6 billion, including two light aircraft carriers, renamed by the French Bois Belleau and La Fayette, 438 amphibious landing ships and craft, armored river patrol boats and other vessels, and 500 aircraft. In addition, the Navy Section of MAAG oversaw the provision of spare parts and the development of base facilities such as the Naval Shipyard in Saigon and the Naval Amphibious Base in Haiphong.

The fleet complemented these efforts with port calls and task force deployments intended to highlight American support for the anti-Communist stand of France and its Indochinese allies of the French Union. As early as March 1950, the Seventh Fleet commander, with destroyers Stickell (DD 888) and Richard B.Anderson (DD 786), visited Saigon while 60 plans aircraft carrier from Boxer (CVA 21) overflew the city. In October 1953, the four ships of Destroyer Division 30 conducted a similar show-the-flag voyage up the Saigon River.

In the spring of 1954, the fleet's presence took another form in Southeast Asian waters when the French military effort in Indochina reached a climax at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Responding to pleas from the French, who were fighting desperately to hold on to their isolated bastion in the mountains of Tonkin, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed an aircraft carrier task force and supporting units into the South China Sea. At various times Wasp (CVA 18),Essex (CVA 9), Boxer, and Philippine Sea (CV 47) steamed off the Indochinese Peninsula prepared to launch their aircraft against Communist forces besieging the French base. Awaiting a possible order from Washington to enter the conflict, naval leaders dispatched carrier reconnaissance planes to fly over the area around Dien Bien Phu. The aircraft gathered intelligence on Viet Minh troop movements and logistic buildup. Finally, President Eisenhower, concluding that the risks of unilateral U.S. intervention might far outweigh the gains,decided against any action. On 7 May 1954, Viet Minh forces overwhelmed the last French defenders of the surrounded outpost. Two months later, hard on the heels of this defeat, France surrendered its interests to Indochina at an international conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Passage to Freedom

The Geneva Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities divided Vietnam into two zones for the regroupment of the contending Viet Minh and French forces. Ho Chi Minh's troops concentrated north of a provisional military demarcation line established along the Ben Hai River at the 17th parallel while French and allied indigenous forces regrouped to the south of it. At the same time, Vietnamese civilians were allowed to emigrate to the zone of their choice. The U.S Navy answered the French government call to assist in evacuating the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese who chose to live in the predominately non-Communist South. From August 1954 to May 1955 the Navy mounted a massive sea lift between the ports of Haiphong and Saigon. To carry out the operation, named Passage to Freedom, the Pacific Fleet concentrated 74 tank landing ships (LST), transports, attack cargo ships, dock landing ships (LSD), and other vessels in the South China Sea under Rear Admiral Lorenzo S. Sabin, Commander Amphibious Force, Western Pacific and Commander Amphibious Group 1.

The Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) provided an additional 39 transports. This large group of ships, shuttling between North and South Vietnam, was supplied and replenished by the Logistic Support Force, Western Pacific, whose oiler, cargo, provision, repair, salvage, and hospital ships were stationed at the midway point in Danang Bay. Fleet medical units and Naval Beach Group 1 elements helped ease the plight of the Vietnamese refugees encamped ashore at both ends of the transit route. By 20 May 1955, the Navy had transported 293,000 immigrants, many of them Catholics, who soon formed the core of the anti-Communist segment of the population in South Vietnam. In addition to 17,800 Vietnamese military personnel, the American flotilla carried south 8,135 vehicles and 68,757 tons of cargo,much of it material provided to the French under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program.

Development of the Vietnamese Navy

In succeeding years, the Navy continued its support of the new Republic of Vietnam as the United States filled the vacuum left by the French. The Eisenhower administration, guided by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, was instrumental in forming the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a coalition of non-Communist states concerned with preventing the further extension of Communist influence in the region. In addition, the United States undertook the task of equipping and training an indigenous South Vietnamese armed force capable of defending the country during the initial phases of attack by an external power.

Because Ho Chi Minh's regime was concerned with consolidating control over North Vietnam in the years following the end of its war with France, the threat to President Ngo Dinh Diem's South Vietnam was temporarily limited. Thus, the U.S. military mission in the country had a grace period in which to prepare South Vietnam for the enemy's expected offensive.From 1954 to 1959, the Navy Section of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), Vietnam, worked to develop a viable navy for South Vietnam. The number of advisors allowed in-country at anyone time was limited by the Geneva Accord restriction on there introduction of military personnel. In this period there were never more than 79 naval advisors assigned to MAAG or to the Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission, created to salvage American aid material left in Vietnam by the French. But these Navy and marine Corps advisors were important in the development of the Vietnamese Navy, which grew from a force of 1,500 men, and a small number of ships and craft to a force of 5,000 men and 119 ships and craft. Controlled by the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnamese Armed Forces, the navy was organized into a Naval Staff; Sea Force, River Force, and Marine Corps operating forces; and a shore establishment. The latter group comprised the Naval Stations and Schools and the Naval Supply Center, Saigon.

The American naval advisors concentrated on providing material assistance to the Vietnamese Navy. Many vessels were left behind by the French, but the advisory group designated additional material aid that was needed and administered the deliveries. Patrol craft, escorts, minesweepers, and landing craft were acquired so that the South Vietnamese could carry out the priority mission of supporting its army with coastal patrol, escort and transportation, harbor defense, limited minelaying and minesweeping, and antisubmarine warfare. In addition, the naval trainers taught gunnery, navigation, and other subjects at the Nha Trang Naval School and worked to improve management skills at the Saigon Naval Shipyard. The Navy Section also served as the field office for the evaluation of new weapons, boats, and equipment for possible future use in the special environment of Southeast Asia. These relatively modest efforts to prepare the South Vietnamese Navy for combat would soon be tested.

Chapter 2 / The Sea Commando

WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Chapter 2 : The Era of Growing Conflict, 1959-1965

In 1959 North Vietnam initiated a long-term campaign aimed at destroying the government of South Vietnam through political subversion and armed action. The goal was to unify Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. To achieve this end, the North Vietnamese directed Communists in the South to spark unrest, infiltrated guerrilla reinforcements, and began preparing a logistical line of communication, soon labeled the Ho Chi Minh Trail, through neighboring Laos. To ease the threat to this supply system, the North Vietnamese exacerbated existing political tensions in Laos. They supported with troops and supplies the indigenous Pathet Lao Communists, who were attempting to overthrow the pro-Western Royal Laotian Government.

The Crises in Laos

The Navy was called upon to demonstrate American determination to oppose these actions. One of the means adopted was a show of force by the fleet. During September 1959, in the autumn of 1960, and again in January 1961, the Seventh Fleet deployed multiship carrier task forces into the South China Sea as a deterrent to further Communist guerrilla attacks on pro-American forces in Laos and as reassurance to friendly governments of U.S. resolve to stand by them. Although the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese supporting forces withdrew in each crisis, in the spring of 1961 their offensive appeared on the verge of overwhelming the pro- American Royal Laotian Army. Once again the fleet sortied into Southeast Asian waters. By the end of April most of the Seventh fleet was deployed off the Indochinese Peninsula preparing to initiate operations into Laos. The force consisted of Coral Sea (CVA 43) and Midway (CVA 41) carrier battle groups, antisubmarine support carrier Kearsarge (CVS 33), one helicopter carrier, three groups of amphibious ships, two submarines, and three Marine battalion landing teams. At the same time, shorebased air patrol squadrons and another three Marine battalion landing teams stood ready in Okinawa and the Philippines to support the afloat force. Although the administration of President John F. Kennedy already had decided against American intervention to rescue the Laotian government, Communist forces halted their advance and agreed to negotiations. The contending Laotian factions concluded a cease-fire on 8 May 1961, but it lasted only a year.

Fleet training exercises also served to highlight American strength and purpose in Southeast Asia. Exercise Pony Express, conducted on the northern coast of Borneo by 60 ships and 26,000 personnel from SEATO member states between late April and early May 1961, prominently displayed U.S. naval power and allied military solidarity. Throughout this period, the Navy took other steps to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to friendly governments. Heavy cruisers Toledo (CA 133) in October 1959 and Saint Paul (CA 73), the flagship of Commander Seventh Fleet, in October 1960 visited Saigon to participate in Vietnamese Independence Day celebrations. On 27 August 1961, Commander Mine Division 93, with ocean minesweepers Leader (MSO 490) and Excel (MSO 439), made the first official visit by ships of the U.S. Navy to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

In addition, less visible actions were taken to aid the anti- Communist cause in Laos. During 1959 several detachments from naval mobile construction battalions (NMCB), known as Seabees, improved strategically important roads and the country's main airfield, Wattay, at the capital of Vientiane. In June and July of the following year, men of Naval Beach Group 1 and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 12 pushed 430 miles up the unpredictable, rapid-strewn Mekong River to deliver ten landing craft to the Laotian armed forces. During the 1961 spring crisis, antisubmarine support carrier Bennington (CVS 20) carried 14 Sikorsky H-34 helicopters to the Gulf of Siam where they were flown off and transferred to friendly forces in Laos, then preparing to meet the next Pathet Lao assaults. However, relative calm settled over the country during the latter half of 1961 and early 1962. This lull was shattered when the Communists overran the pro-American defenders of Nam Tha on 6 May 1962, renewing fears for the survival of a non-Communist Laotian government.

Determined to preserve the status quo and at the same time reassure American allies, President Kennedy again ordered the Seventh Fleet into the South China Sea. The Hancock (CVA 19) carrier group and the Bennington submarine hunter-killer group steamed to a position off Danang, and the fleet's Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) carried the Marine Special Landing Force (SLF) into the Gulf of Siam. Then, in mid-May, U.S. ground, air, and naval forces deployed to Thailand. On the 17th, the Amphibious Ready Group landed a Marine ground-air team, which quickly moved forward to Udorn on the Thai-Laotian border. Other units, including elements of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 10, joined this force in succeeding days to form the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade. With the forces in the area now more in balance, political compromise was possible. On 23 July 1962, the various Laotian parties formally agreed at the Geneva Conference to form a coalition government headed by the neutralist, Prince Souvanna Phouma.

U.S. Naval Advisors and the Vietnamese Navy

Even as the Laotian crisis subsided, Southeast Asia remained an area of concern because of developments in the Republic of Vietnam. That country was increasingly threatened by Communist insurgents who wreaked havoc on the political, economic, and military infrastructure. Bedeviled by the enemy's guerrilla attacks and political proselytizing, the South Vietnamese government looked to the United States for assistance.

After a fact-finding mission to South Vietnam in October 1961 by the President's chief military advisor, General Maxwell Taylor, the Kennedy administration, responded by: 1) increasing military aid and the number of advisors in-country, 2) adopting specialized counterinsurgency measures, and 3) deploying American support forces to Southeast Asia. The U.S. Navy played an important role in each of these three major programs. Paralleling the overall rise in MAAG strength, the Navy Section increased from 79 men in 1959 to 154 in early 1964. In addition, the naval advisors began to accompany South Vietnamese ships, river assault groups, and other units on combat operations. Another small naval contingent served on the staff of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), established on 8 February 1962 to coordinate the total U.S. effort in the Republic of Vietnam. The command function was centralized when the MAAG was disestablished on 15 May 1964, and its resources were absorbed by MACV. Thereafter, the Naval Advisory Group (NAG) continued the work of the old Navy Section. By the end of the year, 235 naval personnel were assigned to the 4,889-man military assistance command.

This increase in strength reflected the growth of the Republic of Vietnam Navy from 5,000 officers and men in 1959 to 8,162 in late 1964. During this same period the naval service doubled to a force of 44 seagoing ships and over 200 landing craft, patrol boats, and other vessels.

Among the ships and craft provided between 1961 and 1964 by the United States to the Vietnamese Navy's Sea Force were an additional 5 escorts (PCE), 12 motor gunboats (PGM), 3 medium landing ships (LSM), and 3 tank landing ships (LST), 1 fuel barge (YOG), and 12 minesweeping launches (MLMS). These vessels gave the oceangoing force a greater capability to carry out its responsibility for patrol and transport along the 1,200-mile coastline, gunfire support of troops ashore, amphibious landings, minesweeping, and open sea operations.

A similar burgeoning of resources enabled the River Force to create additional commands in support of its primary mission of aiding the South Vietnamese Army with river transportation, escort, patroling, minesweeping, and waterborne assaults. New infusions of specially configured American landing craft enabled the establishment of two 19-boat, 250-man, river assault groups (RAG) at Saigon. The existing river assault groups were based at My Tho, Vinh Long, Can Tho, and Long Xuyen. In addition, in October 1960, the navy formed the River Transport Escort Group as protection for the vital foodstuffs being convoyed through the Mekong Delta to Saigon. Later in the period, the navy created the River Transport Group to move army forces in the delta.

Recognizing that the sea was a likely avenue of approach for Communists infiltrating from North Vietnam or moving along the South Vietnamese littoral, in April 1960 the navy established the paramilitary Coastal Force. In line with its emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, the Kennedy administration wholeheartedly endorsed the development of this junk fleet, providing the force with American naval advisors, boat design and construction funds, and stocks of small arms. By the end of 1964, the 3,800-man, 600-junk force patroled the offshore waters from 28 bases along the coast. To coordinate the operations of these 28 separate divisions, U.S. advisors helped set up coastal surveillance centers in Danang, Cam Ranh, Vung Tau, and An Thoi, the respective headquarters of the 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th Coastal Districts.

The advisory team also persuaded the Vietnamese Navy to create, on 16 October 1963, four naval zone commands, from the 1st Naval Zone in the north to the 4th Naval Zone in the Gulf of Siam. Thereafter, operations of the Sea Force, River Force, and Coastal Force in a particular zone were controlled by an overall commander whose area of responsibility now corresponded with that of an army corps commander.

The Navy's advisors undertook other specialized measures to strengthen the Vietnamese Navy, such as streamlining supply management at the Naval Supply Center in Saigon and improving repair procedures at the Saigon Naval Shipyard. Training in seagoing-ship and small-boat operation, gunnery, and proper maintenance routines were important parts of the advisory mission.

Temporarily deployed American mobile training teams complemented the advisory effort. These small detachments accomplished such specialized tasks as helping to develop a full-fledged intelligence department on the Vietnamese Naval Staff, reactivating an old French boat repair yard adjacent to the Saigon Naval Shipyard, and teaching courses in radar technology. In addition, the mobile training teams instructed Vietnamese Air Force mechanics in the maintenance of 63 Douglas A-1H Skyraiders and 15 North American T-28 Trojan aircraft that were transferred to the allied air service from 1960 to 1964. Also during this period, many Vietnamese naval personnel received training at U.S. facilities in the United States, including the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Other Vietnamese sailors served short tours in Seventh Fleet ships or benefited from combined antisubmarine warfare exercises with U.S. submarines Bluegill (SS 242), Queenfish (SS 393), and Capitaine (AGSS 336).

After nearly ten years of work, the naval advisory team had helped build a promising South Vietnamese naval arm. But the nature of the advisory role limited what Americans could do to effect change. The naval service was troubled with problems that continually resisted solution. The relatively few advisors were generally unable to speak the Vietnamese language or fully understand the culture. Between 1959 and 1964, poor leadership constituted the greatest hindrance to an effective Vietnamese Navy. Political intrigue, cultural differences, and seemingly petty personal disputes troubled the officer corps. Because of the navy's short existence, senior officers were relatively young and inexperienced. Its small size in comparison with the Vietnamese Army and the consequent domination by the ground force stifled the naval command's initiative. In the enlisted ranks, lack of motivation, low pay, austere living conditions, and inadequate training for navy life caused some to desert. Poor maintenance of obsolete World War II-vintage ships and craft and the inefficient repair and supply systems reflected a lack of modern technological heritage in South Vietnam. All of these factors resulted in the mediocre operational performance of the naval service. Many of the problems identified by Rear Admiral Henry S. Persons during his inspection of the Vietnamese Navy in November 1961 for the Commander in Chief, Pacific remained when Captain Phillip S. Bucklew made a similar visit in early 1964. Indeed, the disruption in the officer corps caused by the coup d'etat against President Diem in November 1963 and the Communist exploitation of the subsequent political and military chaos in South Vietnam even lessened the Vietnamese Navy's ability to carry out its mission at the end of 1964.


The Kennedy administration concluded early that in addition to providing military aid and advice to friends in their fight against Communist "wars of national liberation," specially trained American units might be necessary to combat the enemy's political-military offensive. The Taylor mission to South Vietnam in October 1961 invigorated the American effort to develop specialized counterinsurgency units in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Stimulated by the Kennedy administration's direct interest, on 1 January 1962 the Navy established in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets 60-man naval special warfare units called SEAL teams (the name reflects a capability to fight on the sea, in the air, and on land). Their chief purpose was to carry out guerrilla and antiguerrilla operations in rivers, canals, harbors, and on adjacent land areas. The units were also charged with training American and allied forces for special operations. Throughout 1963 and 1964, detachments from SEAL Team 1 (the Pacific Fleet unit) deployed to South Vietnam and instructed American advisors, South Vietnamese "frogmen," or LDNN (Lien Doi Nguoi Nhai), and Coastal Force Biet Hai commandos in related skills.

On 19 February 1962, Admiral George W. Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operations, authorized establishment of another type of unit designed to counter Communist insurgencies through civic action programs. The 13-man Seabee Technical Assistance Teams (STAT), formed to help win the support of indigenous populations for their governments, also constructed traditional military posts for American and friendly forces.

The first of these specially configured construction units to deploy to South Vietnam arrived in-country on 25 January 1963. Fourteen teams were operating or had completed their six-month tours by the end of 1964. During the first deployments, Seabees took part in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) Program, building or improving fortified outposts for U.S. Army Special Forces detachments and their Vietnamese and Montagnard (hill tribesmen) allies. After October 1963, a number of STAT teams deployed to South Vietnam for "nation building" work, were assigned to the Strategic Hamlet Program, designed to separate the Viet Cong from the civilian population by grouping the latter in defended hamlets. The Seabees aided this effort by building houses, schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges. A separate Seabee contingent, dispatched to South Vietnam from March 1964 to February 1965, dug deep wells at locations where fresh water was unavailable to villagers. To control the entire Seabee program in-country, on 30 September 1963 the Pacific Fleet commander established the billet of Commander Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet Detachment, Republic of Vietnam. The detachment worked under MACV.

The Navy took other steps to prepare its forces for counterinsurgency and counterguerrilla conflict. In late 1962, two Korean War-era motor torpedo boats were reactivated and armed with 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns. Soon afterward, the Navy acquired two modern, Norwegian-built PT boats of the "Nasty" class and refitted them with American equipment. The diesel- powered, fiberglass-hulled, 80-foot-long craft were capable of 41-knot speeds and were considered ideal for the Southeast Asian environment. The fast patrol boat (PTF) force, at the end of 1964 numbering eight craft with the procurement of four additional Nastys, was developed to carry out hit-and-run operations along enemy coasts and to support raids ashore by SEAL units. At the same time, the Navy recommissioned transport submarines Perch (APSS 313) and Sealion (APSS 315) to land and supply SEALs, collect intelligence, and perform rescue operations in enemy waters. To centralize administrative and logistic support of the growing number of SEAL, PT boat, underwater demolition team, and other special units, the Navy created Naval Operations Support Group commands in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets on 10 October 1963.

In addition, training was reoriented to reflect the new strategic emphasis. The Chief of Naval Operations George W. Anderson, Jr, mandated a Navy-wide effort to prepare personnel for the political-military environment existing in areas such as Southeast Asia. After he issued a formal instruction on 19 July 1962 establishing the Counterinsurgency Education and Training Program, the Navy's major schools provided orientation courses in the military, economic, political, social, and psychological aspects of Communist revolutionary warfare. SEAL and STAT units, prospective advisors, selected fleet staff officers, and mobile training team personnel received rigorous, specialized training. All officers and men were encouraged to better their awareness and understanding of the causes, characteristics, and possible solutions to insurgency movements. Thus, by the end of this period, most naval personnel were at least familiar with the situation in Southeast Asia and the American approach to the region's problems.

Although developing a limited and specialized capability for guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency, primarily with the SEAL and STAT units, the Navy continued to stress that its forces were designed to fulfill many diverse roles. Thus, amphibious units, with their attached Marines, were believed to be as able to carry out small raiding operations along rivers in the heart of the Mekong Delta as to take part in major amphibious assaults on enemy coastlines. Many of the aircraft in the fleet were prepared to carry out reconnaissance or air strikes against the Soviet fleet, should that become necessary, and at the same time to find and attack Communist junks infiltrating munitions into guerrilla-held areas of South Vietnam.

U.S. Navy Direct Support

As a result of President Kennedy's decision in November 1961 to expand the use of American support units in South Vietnam, in "limited partnership" with the South Vietnamese Armed Forces, the U.S. Navy deployed major fleet units to the increasingly hostile region. Beginning in December 1961, Seventh Fleet and Vietnamese Navy units conducted combined surface and air patrol operations from the 17th parallel eastward to the Paracel Islands. The purpose of the patrols was to train the South Vietnamese Sea Force in open sea deployments and to determine the extent of any waterborne infiltration of munitions from North Vietnam. Aided in their surveillance mission by Martin SP-5B Marlin seaplanes based on Taiwan, five minesweepers of Minesweeping Division 73 carried out the first patrols. Faster and more seaworthy destroyer escort ships soon relieved the minesweepers on patrol.

Seeking to verify any Communist infiltration of arms and supplies from Cambodia into the Ca Mau Peninsula and adjacent areas, U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces mounted a similar effort in the Gulf of Siam. Training the Vietnamese Navy in blue-water surveillance operations also became a goal in this area. Destroyer escorts Wiseman (DE 667) and Walton (DE 361) initiated the combined patrol when they steamed into the gulf on 27 February 1962. For the next three months, U.S. ships' radar vectored South Vietnamese ships toward suspicious contacts for boarding and search. Nonetheless, the gulf's shallow waters precluded combined operations by U.S. and Vietnamese ships, thus allowing little opportunity for training. At the same time, the forces found no appreciable infiltration. Accordingly, U.S. participation in the gulf patrol was ended on 21 May, when the ships of Escort Division 72 departed South Vietnamese waters for their scheduled return to the United States.

Training was more effective on the simultaneously conducted 17th parallel patrol. But there too, the allies did not discover significant infiltration, even after boarding and searching or seizing thousands of suspicious vessels. On 1 August 1962, Minesweeping Division 71 sailed from the area, thus ending the 7-month-long combined patrol. Other Seventh Fleet ships gathered information on the suitability of South Vietnamese beaches for amphibious landings. During January 1962, high-speed transport Cook (APD 130) conducted beach surveys along the South Vietnamese coast from Quang Tri in the north to Vung Tau in the south. In February and March of the following year, Weiss (APD 135) made a similar transit along the South Vietnamese littoral. On several occasions, the Viet Cong fired on shore parties from the ship. Fleet units also transported American support forces to South Vietnam. On 11 December 1961, aircraft ferry Core (T-AKV 13) of the Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) arrived in Saigon and offloaded two Army helicopter transportation companies. At the end of January 1962, Card (T-AKV 40) carried another such unit to Subic Bay. There, it was transferred to amphibious assault ship Princeton (LPH 5), LST 629, and LST 630 for the last leg of the journey to Danang. Soon afterward, on 15 April Princeton steamed with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 362 to a point south of the Mekong Delta. Under cover of Hancock's air group, the squadron flew off Princeton to the unit's subsequent base at Soc Trang.

Throughout this period, other Seventh Fleet ships carried out traditional show-the-flag visits to South Vietnam. The units included fleet flagships guided missile cruisers Providence (CLG 6) and Oklahoma City (CLG 5), guided missile destroyer Mahan (DLG 11), and submarine Bluegill.

The Seventh Fleet's air units also supported the Republic of Vietnam in its struggle with the Communist foe. During the 1961 fall crisis, planes from Ticonderoga (CVA 14) conducted photographic reconnaissance over the Central Highlands. In September and October, Douglas A3D-2P Skywarriors and Vought F8U-IP Crusaders flew random missions over suspected infiltration routes. During May of the following year and then from November 1962 to February 1963, Douglas RA-3B Skywarriors of Heavy Photographic Squadron 61 photographed large segments of the country for use in a crash mapmaking program.

Responding to South Vietnamese reports of air intrusions by unidentified aircraft in August 1962, the Navy dispatched an AD-5Q (EA-IF) Skyraider detachment of Air Early Warning Squadron 13 to Tan Son Nhut Airfield near Saigon. From that location, the five-aircraft interceptor team, alternating deployments to South Vietnam with a similar Air Force unit, practiced how to discover and identify aerial intruders. During the deployments of August- September 1962, January-February 1963, and November 1963, the naval air detachment, under the operational control of COMUSMACV, protected South Vietnamese air space from Communist violation.

The growing American military presence in South Vietnam demanded expansion of the logistic and administrative support establishment. Because the Navy had been charged in 1958 with the responsibility for the unified commands in the Pacific area, on 1 July 1962 the naval service established the Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon (HSAS), under the operational control of MACV. By the end of 1964, the headquarters was staffed by 600 mostly naval personnel who provided the MACV and MAAG headquarters and the American forces in the Saigon area with a wide range of support. This included medical and dental services from the Saigon Station Hospital, commissioned on 1 October 1963; accounting and disbursing of funds; religious activities by service chaplains; morale improvement through rest and recuperation (R&R) flights to Asian cities, moving pictures, and USO shows; and management of 32 bachelor officer, enlisted, and transient quarters. In addition, HSAS was responsible for the unloading, storage, and transportation to outlying ports of supplies required by the services. The 100 incountry exchange stores also came under HSAS purview. The physical security of this burgeoning logistic establishment (a difficult task during the dangerous and chaotic months of 1964) was another responsibility of the naval command. By the end of the year, HSAS was the primary logistic command for an American military contingent in South Vietnam that totaled 23,000 men and women.

The worsening situation in South Vietnam during 1963 prompted measures to evacuate Americans in the event of a general emergency. Saigon street demonstrations by Buddhists and other Vietnamese disaffected with the Diem government occurred throughout the summer. The public self-immolation of several Buddhist monks drew world attention, as did the government's heavy-handed counteractions. When the political turmoil in the capital reached a peak at the end of August 1963, the Seventh Fleet deployed the Amphibious Ready Group and the Marine Special Landing Force to a point off Vung Tau, where they prepared to take out the 4,600 American noncombatants in the Saigon area. Although the crisis in the capital abated, the relief was only temporary. In response to the overthrow of the Diem government on 1 November, U.S. naval forces again concentrated off South Vietnam and prepared to ferry evacuees by helicopter from Saigon to transport them by boat from the nearby Vung Tau Peninsula. When the political unrest in the capital once again quickly subsided, the fleet steamed from the South Vietnamese coast and resumed normal operations.

Expanding Operations into North Vietnam and Laos

Despite material aid, advisory assistance, and direct support by American military units, by 1964 the failure of the counterinsurgency struggle in South Vietnam was apparent. The Communists exploited the crisis with attacks on South Vietnamese regular and paramilitary forces and with stepped-up infiltration of reinforcements and supplies, primarily through Laos. To curtail this external direction and armed support, the new administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson adopted a different strategy. Its intention: to signal the North Vietnamese leadership, through increasingly severe military pressure applied in Laos and North Vietnam, that the United States would not abide the Communist efforts against the South Vietnamese and Laotian governments.

The Navy was a key component of this broader counterinsurgency effort. One of the initial measures was a series of maritime harassment operations in North Vietnam begun in February 1964 under Operation Plan 34A. South Vietnamese "frogmen" and boat crews carried out the action using the American PTF motor torpedo boats reactivated or bought in 1963. A U.S. Naval Advisory Detachment established in Danang maintained the boats and trained the Vietnamese Navy personnel. Beginning in May a major part of the Seventh Fleet was deployed off the South Vietnamese coast to show U.S. determination to preserve South Vietnam and the now pro-American Laotian government of Souvanna Phouma. For the remainder of the year, up to three carrier task groups steamed at the soon-to-be famous Yankee Station, the operational staging area at 16N 110E. Aside from a naval presence, carriers supported U.S. policy with low-level aerial reconnaissance of suspected Communist infiltration routes in eastern and southern Laos. The Navy's participation in this joint Navy-Air Force operation, designated Yankee Team, was inaugurated on 21 May by two Chance-Vought RF-8A Crusader photo reconnaissance planes from Kitty Hawk (CVA 63). The aircraft discovered a Communist military presence in the Plain of Jars region, from both a photographic record and direct hit on one plane by antiaircraft fire. Between 21 May and 9 June, 130 Navy and Air Force flights over Laos confirmed the existence of a North Vietnamese infiltration system in the southern panhandle.

On the 6th, Lieutenant Charles F. Klusmann became the first American aviator taken prisoner in the long Southeast Asian conflict when his Crusader was shot down over eastern Laos. Held captive by the Pathet Lao for 86 days, Klusmann managed to escape and make his way to friendly forces. The day after Klusmann's shoot-down, escort aircraft were added to reconnaissance missions with orders to retaliate against antiaircraft guns that opened fire on American planes. In spite of this protection, on 7 June enemy gunners downed the F-8D of Commander Doyle W. Lynn, who was rescued the next day after a well-executed search and rescue effort. Although Air Force aircraft hit enemy antiaircraft installations at Xieng Khouang in retaliation on 9 June, the Yankee Team operation was temporarily called off to assess the situation.

When resumed on the 14th, reconnaissance flights were conducted from a higher altitude and away from the more lethal areas of Laos. These steps limited losses to two Air Force planes for the next six months, but also muted the intended message of U.S. resolve and lessened the quality of the intelligence. RF-8A Crusaders, RA-3B Skywarriors, and newly deployed North American RA-5C Vigilantes carried out the aerial reconnaissance of Laos from carriers in the South China Sea. The Navy's aircraft flew more than half of the 198 photographic, 171 escort, and 81 weather missions of the Yankee Team program. In addition to acquiring useful intelligence of enemy activity in the Plain of Jars and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the officers and men of the Seventh Fleet task force gained practical experience in the command, conduct, and support of intended operations. This experience would prove beneficial as the fleet was increasingly drawn into the Southeast Asian conflict.

Gulf of Tonkin Incidents

Even as the fleet shows of force and armed reconnaissance operations were initiated, steps were taken to improve the prospects of the 34A maritime program against North Vietnam. Lack of information on North Vietnamese coastal defenses, including the enemy's patrol vessel disposition, bases, and coastal radar sites, frustrated operations by the South Vietnamese raiders during early 1964. Accordingly, the U.S. Navy was directed to focus its longstanding patrol along the Chinese Communist, North Korean, and North Vietnamese coastlines (named the Desoto Patrol) on the collection of intelligence relevant to the 34A program. Authorized to approach no closer than four miles to islands off the North Vietnamese littoral, destroyer John R. Craig (DD 885) cruised along the coast from 25 February to 6 March 1964. Foggy conditions in the coastal waters hindered the patrol mission, so Commander in Chief, Pacific ordered subordinate naval commands to dispatch another destroyer to the patrol area. Maddox (DD 731), with Captain John J. Herrick, Commander Destroyer Division 192, embarked, was directed to obtain intelligence on coastal geography and hydrography, defensive installations, naval forces, and junk traffic, especially in the area around the Hon Me, Hon Nieu, and Hon Matt islands and off Vinh Son.

As Maddox prepared to steam into the Gulf of Tonkin at the end of July, the 34A boat force for the first time was authorized to conduct offshore bombardment of targets in North Vietnam. Shortly after midnight on the 30th, local time, four PTFs shelled the sites on the islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu. Their mission completed, the PTFs returned to Danang the following morning, passing Maddox between 0820 and 0845, then refueling near the 17th parallel. Observers in Maddox sighted the unidentified boats. During 31 July and 1 August Maddox cruised uneventfully along a predesignated track in international waters off the North Vietnamese coast. However, in the early morning hours of 2 August, Captain Herrick learned from intelligence that North Vietnamese naval forces planned to attack his destroyer that day. Directed to continue the patrol, Maddox reached a point east of Thanh Hoa about 1045. Two hours later, lookouts and radars on Maddox picked up five North Vietnamese naval craft north of Hon Me. Even though the destroyer headed away from the area in a northeasterly direction, at about 1400 the enemy force was ordered to carry out a torpedo attack on the ship. Between 1500 and 1600, North Vietnamese boats closed on the ship as Captain Herrick increased speed, headed for the mouth of the gulf, called General Quarters, and radioed for air support. At 1608, after firing three warning shots with her 5-inch, 38-caliber guns at the fast-approaching vessels, by then identified as three P-4 motor torpedo boats in column, Maddox opened fire. For the next 20 minutes the ship maneuvered to avoid torpedoes and raked the still closing PTs with gunfire. Passing astern of the ship, all three P-4s were hit. Struck by only one 14.5-millimeter round, Maddox headed out to sea as four F-8 Crusaders from Ticonderoga arrived overhead and attacked the now retiring North Vietnamese craft. One of the P-4s, already slowed by damage, was set afire and left dead in the water; the boat later sank. This short, sharp naval action was only the first round in a new confrontation with North Vietnam. Within hours of the engagement, Maddox, accompanied by destroyer Turner Joy (DD 951), was ordered to resume the interrupted patrol in international waters around Hon Me. Washington wished to reassert traditional freedom of the seas and to avoid any appearance of backing down in the face of the Communist challenge. This decision was made despite intelligence reports from various sources that the North Vietnamese, who apparently linked the Desoto Patrol with the 34A operation, again might attack. The two destroyers headed back into the Gulf of Tonkin toward the North Vietnamese coast at first light on 3 August. Between 1600 and 1727 the ships turned north, passed by Hon Me, and retired to the east for a nighttime steaming area in the middle of the gulf. During that time, 240 miles to the south in Danang, the 34A maritime force got underway for another operation in North Vietnamese waters. Around midnight on 3 August, three South Vietnamese-crewed Nastys reached their operating area off Cape Doc, 95 miles south of Hon Me. The PTFs shelled a radar facility at Vinh Son and a security post on the south bank of the Ron River. Their mission accomplished, the boats withdrew and made for Danang, the last PTF putting in at 0715 on 4 August.

Having spent a routine night out in the gulf, Maddox and Turner Joy changed course to the west and headed for North Vietnamese coastal waters at 0700 on the 4th. All that afternoon the destroyers cruised to the north and south of Hon Me along a track that came no closer than 16 miles to the North Vietnamese coast. Meanwhile, the enemy's naval forces were ordered to prepare for military operations that night. As they had the previous night, Maddox and Turner Joy retired to an area in the middle of the gulf to await the dawn.

Beginning at 2041, the ships picked up fast approaching contacts on their radars. Captain Herrick ordered his destroyers to change course in order to avoid what he believed were hostile surface craft. At 2239, when one of the contacts closed to 7,000 yards, Captain Herrick directed Turner Joy to open fire. For the next two hours the American destroyers, covered overhead by carrier aircraft, evaded what lookouts and sonar rated as torpedoes and fired on contacts, visually identified by Turner Joy crewmen as P-4 motor torpedo boats. Thereafter, the ships headed for the Ticonderoga carrier task group steaming around the entrance to the gulf.

As they had on 2 August, American civilian and military decision makers were kept informed of developments on the 4th. Reports of a North Vietnamese attack streamed into Washington along with a message from Herrick that doubted the validity of some of that information. Since 1964, several other witnesses to the events in the Tonkin Gulf, including later Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, have expressed their belief that no North Vietnamese attack took place on the night of 4 August.
However, once they received additional information from Herrick's command and important intelligence from other sources, U.S. leaders were convinced that North Vietnamese naval forces had attacked U.S. ships in international waters. Accordingly, President Johnson ordered U.S. naval forces to prepare for a retaliatory air strike against North Vietnam and that it be carried out at 0800 local time on 5 August. Although the short warning time and operational difficulties delayed the actual launch of aircraft from Ticonderoga and Constellation (CVA 64), both positioned in the South China Sea, 16 aircraft from the first carrier struck the petroleum storage complex near Vinh at 1320. Other Ticonderoga flights attacked the enemy Swatow gunboats and P-4 PT boats at Quang Khe and Ben Thuy. Douglas A-l Skyraiders and A-4 Skyhawks from Constellation's Carrier Air Wing 14 then bombed and strafed the North Vietnamese naval craft near their bases at Hon Gai and in the Lach Chao Estuary. The results were impressive. At Vinh, North Vietnam's chief fuel facility, 90 percent of the storage capacity went up in flames. At the nearby Ben Thuy naval base, three craft were sunk. The naval aviators sank one boat and damaged five others at Quang Khe. Under intense antiaircraft fire, the Skyraiders and Skyhawks from Constellation sank or disabled six Swatows and P-4s in Hon Gai's inner harbor. Unfortunately, the A-4 of Lieutenant (jg) Everett Alvarez, Jr., was shot down and he became the first naval aviator interned in North Vietnamese prisons, where he spent the next eight and a half years. Other Constellation attack aircraft en route the Lach Chao Estuary sank or damaged five enemy craft near Hon Me. The two-carrier, 67-plane attack destroyed 7 enemy vessels, severely damaged 10 more, and inflicted lesser damage to another 16. However, Lieutenant (jg) Richard C. Sather went down with his crippled aircraft. He was the first of many naval aviators who died in the line of duty over Southeast Asia.

Soon after these actions in the Gulf of Tonkin, the United States Congress took a step that would have long-term influence on the role of the United States in Southeast Asia. On 7 August, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, as proposed by the Johnson administration, was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and approved in the Senate by an 88 to 2 margin. Based upon the events in the Gulf of Tonkin, this measure authorized the President to use the U.S. Armed Forces to assist in the defense of the non-Communist nations of Southeast Asia. This resolution served as the legal basis for the armed support provided by the United States to South Vietnam throughout the war.

Soon after these incidents, concern grew in Washington that U.S. actions in the gulf might unnecessarily escalate the conflict. Thus, despite recommendations from Pacific naval leaders to maintain pressure on the North Vietnamese, the Johnson administration gradually decreased American presence in those waters. The 34A maritime operations along the North Vietnamese coast were postponed until early October 1964 and then conducted only sporadically through December. Operational problems and foul weather negated the program's effectiveness.

Not until mid-September did American leaders authorize another Desoto Patrol into the gulf. On the 17th and 18th, Morton (DD 948) and Richard E. Edwards (DD 950) cruised along a track no closer than 20 miles to the North Vietnamese mainland without incident. On the night of 18 September, however, both destroyers opened fire on what their crews believed were attacking high-speed surface vessels. While a subsequent naval investigation concluded that at least one unidentified, hostile-acting fast craft was in the area, the validity of an attack was called into question by the lack of firm evidence. Following this incident, never again were Desoto Patrols conducted in the Gulf of Tonkin. Thus, from a military standpoint, the naval actions in August initiated a temporary downturn rather than an escalation in the Southeast Asian crisis.

The Conflict in Transition

During the fall of 1964, the Johnson administration refrained from actions that might precipitate a broader confrontation. When the Viet Cong mortared the American military barracks at South Vietnam's Bien Hoa Airbase on 1 November, killing 4 men and wounding 72 others, a preplanned reprisal air strike against North Vietnam was not authorized. Similarly, the President denied permission for a retaliatory air strike when the enemy sabotaged the American Bachelor Officers' Quarters in Saigon's Brink Hotel on Christmas Eve. Over one hundred Americans, Australians, and Vietnamese were injured and two Americans were killed. In each of these instances, major Seventh Fleet units had sortied into the South China Sea prepared to launch air strikes, evacuate American dependents in danger, or take any number of contingent actions.

Despite the relative lull in active military operations, U.S. naval leaders anticipated an intensification of the conflict in Southeast Asia. They accelerated preparation of the fleet for the limited conventional war that national strategists had long studied as the logical response to localized aggression. During late 1964 and early 1965, 15 ships (1 attack carrier, 3 submarines, 10 destroyer types, and 1 LST) augmented the Seventh Fleet. Another ten ships were scheduled for deployment. Early in 1965 the Navy shifted MSTS passenger, cargo, and tanker ships to the Western Pacific, reactivated National Defense Reserve Fleet auxiliary ships, and chartered U.S. and foreign merchantmen to establish an efficient logistic pipeline to Southeast Asia. The number of aircraft in the fleet replacement pool was doubled and a patrol squadron, equipped with Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft, was relocated to the Western Pacific. The latest material, including improved Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles, the new antiradar Shrike air-to-ground missile, and modernized 20- millimeter cannon were rushed to the fleet. Stocks of bombs, missiles, and other ordnance were increased and the replacement process streamlined. Naval communications were upgraded. Intelligence and information on enemy forces and targets in North Vietnam were updated and provided to the fleet. Construction of additional fuel storage tanks, ammunition magazines, warehouses, hangars, and ship berthing facilities was begun at the U.S. Navy's installations on Guam, Okinawa, and especially at Subic Bay in the Philippines.

While naval forces prepared for extended combat, the Johnson administration reinvigorated its program to dissuade the North Vietnamese from supporting insurgency in Southeast Asia and chose Laos as the locus of this effort. As part of this renewed campaign, on 17 December 1964 A-1H Skyraiders escorted by McDonnell-Douglas F-4B Phantoms and followed by RF-8A photo reconnaissance aircraft from Ranger (CVA 61)) conducted the Navy's first armed reconnaissance mission over eastern Laos. In this joint Navy-Air Force program, named Barrel Roll, American aircraft flew over likely infiltration routes and attacked Communist supply vehicles or other targets of opportunity. If none was sighted, the flight was authorized to strike preselected storage buildings, antiaircraft emplacements, and related facilities of a military nature. The military objective, however, was considered secondary to the political one of sending Hanoi a message of U.S. determination to prevail in Southeast Asia. Analyzing the program at the beginning of 1965, U.S. leaders concluded that the small-scale military effort had failed to deter the enemy. As a result, the joint Barrel Roll force was redirected toward key transportation bottlenecks or "chokeplanes points." On 28 February, Skyraiders and Skyhawks from Coral Sea carried out the first such attack with a concentrated strike on Mu Gia Pass near the North Vietnamese-Laotian border. After an Air Force attack on critical Nape Pass, early in March, Hancock planes again struck Mu Gia. In both operations the logistic routes were cut at critical points and delayed- action bombs made the areas difficult for the enemy to traverse. Still, the North Vietnamese soon managed to repair the roads, construct bypasses, and maintain the logistic flow. By 23 March 1965, Seventh Fleet aircraft had carried out half of the 43 Barrel Roll missions with 134 strike, 28 flak suppression, 56 combat air patrol, 32 aerial photographic, and 25 escort sorties. Nonetheless, American military and civilian leaders concluded that the overriding political objective of the campaign, to deter North Vietnamese subversion of South Vietnam and Laos, had not been achieved.

Now convinced that even stronger actions were required, the Johnson administration reacted vigorously to Viet Cong mortaring of an American advisors', compound at Pleiku, South Vietnam, on 7 February 1965. Johnson ordered a one-time, "tit for tat" reprisal strike on enemy barracks in North Vietnam. That same day Coral Sea's Air Wing 15 and Hancock's Air Wing 21 conducted Flaming Dart I, a multiplane attack on Dong Hoi.

On the 1Oth, carrier forces were ordered to respond to yet another Communist attack, this time the sabotage of the American quarters in Qui Nhon, which resulted in 54 casualties. The following day, as the U.S. and South Vietnamese Air Forces hit Vu Con, 95 aircraft from Ranger, Hancock, and Coral Sea, in Flaming Dart II, bombed and strafed enemy barracks at Chanh Hoa. But even as the Flaming Dart operations were underway, U.S. leaders decided that continued Communist resistance demanded resort to the last stage in the program of military persuasion, a sustained and increasingly intensive bombing effort in North Vietnam. Accordingly, on 2 March, three weeks after Flaming Dart II, the U.S. and South Vietnamese Air Forces opened the Rolling Thunder campaign with strikes on Xom Bang and Quang Khe. Because of heavy weather, international concerns, and the unstable political situation in South Vietnam, the second operation was delayed for another 12 days. Then, on the 15th, the Navy joined the fray when 64 Skyhawks and Skyraiders and 30 supporting planes from Task Force 77 carriers Hancock and Ranger hit the Phu Qui ammunition depot.

The Rolling Thunder bombing campaign and the 34A operation in North Vietnam, the Yankee Team and Barrel Roll programs in Laos, the 34A operations, and the fleet's presence in the South China Sea would continue for years. By mid-March of 1965, however, American leaders concluded that these actions would not compel the North Vietnamese and the subordinate Viet Cong and Pathet Lao to forego their drive for control of Southeast Asia. Indeed, the enemy attacks on the Desoto Patrol, stepped up Communist activity in South Vietnam and Laos, and infiltration of regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units southward revealed Hanoi's intention to turn up the heat. Having exhausted most of the options in the campaign of coercion initiated in early 1964 without achieving the desired result, the Johnson administration sought a new strategy in Southeast Asia.