Riverine Operations
1966 - 1969

 Chapter III:

Riverine Preparations in the United States and in Vietnam

During the final preparation of the Mobile Afloat Force plan in South Vietnam, the 9th Infantry Division was activated at Fort Riley, Kansas, on 1 February 1966 under the command of Major General George S. Eckhardt. This was the one infantry division to be organized in the United States during the fighting in Vietnam -the so-called Z Division that had been scheduled for operations in the Mekong Delta. It was probably no, coincidence that the division had been designated the 9th U.S. Infantry; General Westmoreland had seen extensive service with the 9th in World War II, having commanded the 60th Infantry and having served as chief of staff of the division during operations in both France and Germany.

Because of a shortage of men and equipment the activation order provided for incremental formation of the division. Division base elements such as the headquarters and headquarters company, division support command, and brigade headquarters and headquarters companies were activated first. Activation of the battalions of each brigade was phased, commencing in April for the 1st Brigade, May for the ?d Brigade, and June for the 3d Brigade. The artillery and separate units were scheduled for activation during April and May. Some of the division's officers who had been previously assigned to the Department of the Army staff had learned that the 9th Infantry Division was scheduled to operate in the southern portion of the III Corps Tactical Zone and the northern portion of the IV Corps Tactical Zone and that it was to provide a floating brigade. This information was not discussed officially but was known to the brigade commanders and the division artillery commander.

The division was organized as a standard infantry division composed of nine infantry battalions of which one was initially mechanized. It had a cavalry squadron and the normal artillery and supporting units. The division training program was limited to


eight weeks for basic combat training, eight weeks for advanced individual training, and eight weeks for both basic and advanced unit training-a total of twenty-four weeks. This compression of training time eliminated four weeks from each of the unit training periods and the four weeks usually allowed for field training exercises and division maneuvers-a total of twelve weeks from the normal Army training time for a division. Although it was not generally known in the division, the division training period as established in Army training programs had been reduced in order to conclude at the time of the beginning of the Vietnam dry season in December 1966 when the MACV plan called for the introduction of U.S. ground forces into the Mekong Delta.

The normal Army training programs were followed for the basic combat and advanced individual training. General Eckhardt, perceiving that the existing training programs had limitations for combat in Vietnam, by means of a personal letter gave his brigade commanders the latitude to make innovations and to modify training in order to prepare their men for the physical conditions and the tactics of the enemy in Vietnam. The training given by the brigade commanders was based on lessons learned and standing operating procedures of United States units then fighting in Vietnam. Although aware of possible employment of his unit in the Mekong Delta, each of the brigade commanders required the training he deemed advisable to prepare his unit for operations in any part of Vietnam. Although the brigade afloat had not been designated, Colonel William B. Fulton, Commanding Officer, 2d Brigade, felt that the mission could ultimately be assigned to his brigade. Because the training period was short, however, he elected to adhere to normal basic training in counterinsurgency for his units.

Colonel Fulton established a training course for the brigade and battalion commanders and their staffs that was designed to develop proficiency in command and staff actions for land operations in Vietnam. The class was held every ten days in a map exercise room with a sand table and map boards depicting selected areas of Vietnam. The sessions lasted approximately five hours. Three days before the class a brigade operations order was issued to the battalion commanders, requesting each battalion to prepare plans and orders in accordance with the brigade tactical concept. At the start of the session the brigade staff outlined the situation. Each battalion commander was then required to furnish a copy of his orders and to explain why he deployed his units as' he did: There was a general critique, after which a new situation was


assigned for study. Each commander and his staff, which included representatives of artillery, engineer, aviation, and other supporting elements, then prepared the next set of orders. These in turn were presented to the group for analysis and critique.

The commanders and staff studied various forms of land movement by wheeled and tracked vehicles on roads and cross-country. Next, air movement was considered, including troop lift and logistics computations, various formations, and the selection of landing and pickup zones. This in turn was followed by a study of water movement by small craft.

In conjunction with command and staff training, the brigade was developing a standing operating procedure, which was reviewed at sessions of the command and staff course. The course began in May when the brigade was activated and was separate from the Army training programs being undertaken by the units. Officer and noncommissioned officer classes in the subject matter covered in the Army training programs were conducted at the battalion level.

Following the map exercises on movement, a series of exercises was conducted involving the organization and security of the base area and patrolling outside of the base in the brigade tactical area of responsibility. Subsequently, exercises were conducted combining both air and ground movement in search and destroy operations.

The brigade patterned its standing operating procedure and its methods of tactical operations primarily after those of the 1st Infantry Division. At the time that the command and staff training course was in full swing, several unit commanders from the 1st Infantry Division were returning from Vietnam to Fort Riley and Junction City, Kansas, where they had left their families when they departed with the 1st Division in 1965. Extensive interviews were conducted by the brigade commander and staff, who incorporated the information obtained into the standing operating procedures and the command and staff course.

The command and staff course did not specifically deal with riverine operations. Some of the map exercises were plotted in the northern delta immediately adjacent to the Saigon area and Di An where the 1st Division was operating, and one problem explored water movement. Too little was known about riverine operations to incorporate them fully into training. Furthermore, Colonel Fulton felt that the basic operational essentials should be mastered first; riverine operations could be studied after unit training was completed.


Review of the Mobile Afloat Force Concept

On receipt of the MACV Mobile Afloat Force concept in mid-March 1966, the Commander in Chief, Pacific, Admiral Sharp, requested that it be reviewed by the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Admiral Roy L. Johnson. The latter generally concurred in the plan but pointed out that while the Mobile Afloat Force concept provided for maintaining a brigade in the delta for up to six months, it might be necessary to rotate the APB's for maintenance and upkeep every two to three months.

Admiral Sharp had questioned the command arrangements. Under the Mobile Afloat Force plan it had been recommended that the Navy commander be charged with the security of the mobile base, while the Army brigade commander would provide support. Admiral Johnson, on the other hand, believed that the Army commander should be responsible for base security with the Navy commander providing supporting fire and protection against waterborne threat. He also questioned whether the Mobile Afloat Force could search junks effectively and protect naval craft against water mines and ambushes. He expressed concern that hydrographic charts of the delta waterways were incomplete, and that river assault craft were not properly designed and were, furthermore, too noisy.

Except for operational control, the Navy units were under the control of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. The Commander, Amphibious Force, Pacific, and Commander, Service Force, Pacific, had specific responsibilities and part of the subsequent success of the force stemmed from the professional manner in which the Navy fulfilled its obligations. In the case of logistics, support was given not only by units in Vietnam such as the harbor clearance units of Service Force, Pacific, but also by other units of the logistic support system, afloat and ashore, as set forth in the support plan of the Service Force. Each of the commanders concerned felt personal responsibility for the performance of those of his units that would be operating under Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.

As staffing of the Mobile Afloat Force proceeded, General Westmoreland continued to call attention to the need for beginning immediately U.S. operations in the Mekong Delta. In a message to Admiral Sharp on 11 May, with respect to intensification of the efforts of Vietnam armed forces and early initiation of U.S. operations in the Mekong Delta, he stated that "enemy access to Delta resources must be terminated without delay."


The planned deployment into the delta had appeared in MACV Planning Directive 3-66 published 21 April 1966. The directive had emphasized widening the range of operations in the northern coastal areas of South Vietnam and close-in clearing and securing operations around Saigon. It did not provide for any major American effort in the delta during the rainy season of May-November 1966, but the possibility of short operations by units such as the Special Landing Force was cited. These operations were to have as their target the mangrove swamps along the coastal areas in the southern III Corps and northern IV Corps Tactical Zones. Plans for the operations were based on the success of operation JACKSTAY in the Rung Sat Special Zone in 1966.

General Westmoreland expected to send forces in late 1966 and early 1967 from the III Corps Tactical Zone to the Plain of Reeds and other northern delta areas. The planning provided for the Commanding General, 11 Field Force, Vietnam, Lieutenant General Jonathan O. Seaman, to assume command of U.S. tactical operations in the IV Corps Tactical Zone, co-ordinating operations with the Commanding General, IV Corps, through the American senior adviser who was to be a brigadier general. (Colonel William D. Desobry, Senior Advisor, IV Corps Tactical Zone, was promoted to brigadier general in August of 1966.)

On 29 May 1966 General Westmoreland was briefed on the deployment of the 9th Infantry Division to the IV Corps Tactical Zone. He approved the plan and ordered his staff to discuss with General Seaman an alternate location for the 9th Division base. General Westmoreland directed that the Mobile Afloat Force plan to locate a division headquarters and one brigade at Ba Ria be reconsidered. He called attention to his previous decision that the 9th Division would be placed under General Seaman to facilitate tactical operations along the III and IV Corps border and that the Commanding General, 9th Division, would not become the senior adviser to the IV Corps Tactical Zone. General Westmoreland pointed out further that the introduction of a division force into IV Corps would require discussion with General Cao Van Vien, chairman of the joint General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam 

On 9 June General Westmoreland suggested that the delta might well be a source of stabilization of the Vietnamese economy. The delta could produce enough rice for the entire country if it were kept under government control; other areas of the country would then be free to industrialize. The delta was also the source


of nearly 50 percent of the country's manpower. It therefore followed that development of the region had to be accelerated; sending in a U.S. division would aid in this acceleration.

On 10 June General Westmoreland discussed with General Vien and Lieutenant General Dang Van Quang, Commanding General, IV Corps Tactical Zone, the possible introduction of U.S. forces into the IV Corps Tactical Zone. On 13 June the matter came up for discussion in the Mission Council meeting. General Quang, who had made a statement to the press some weeks earlier against the stationing of U.S. troops in IV Corps, but in the meantime had apparently had a change of heart, now expressed in the meeting a desire that a U.S. brigade be stationed in IV Corps. General Westmoreland told the council that a final decision on the matter of basing American troops in IV Corps would be made in October. Dredges had already been ordered, and the proposed site would be ready by December. He further stated that the troops would be located about eight kilometers from My Tho, which would be off limits to U.S. troops, and that travel through My Tho would be sharply restricted. Since the base would be completely self-sufficient, it would be no drain on local resources. When Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and the political counselor expressed reservations, General Westmoreland agreed with them that it would be preferable to use Vietnamese troops, but pointed out that up to this time Vietnamese troops had not been completely successful in the delta, and important Viet Cong units were still operating there.

The land base had been selected by General Westmoreland himself from four sites submitted by the engineers as suitable for building by dredging. The sites were designated W, X, Y, and Z, and the one near My Tho chosen by General Westmoreland was W. The general's staff immediately referred phonetically to Site W as Base Whisky, the word used in the military phonetic alphabet for the letter W. General Westmoreland felt that the site should be given a significant name in keeping with its role as the first American base camp in the Mekong Delta. He asked the official MACV translator to give him several possible Vietnamese names for the base, such as the translation of "friendship" or "co-operation." The translator's list included the Vietnamese term Dong Tam, literally meaning "united hearts and minds." General Westmoreland selected this name for three reasons: first, it signified the bond between the American and Vietnamese peoples with respect to the objectives to be achieved in the delta. Second, it connoted an appro-


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priate objective compatible with the introduction of U.S. forces into the populous delta where their prospective presence had evoked some official concern. Third, Dong Tam was a name which Americans would find easy to pronounce and remember. Having chosen the name of Dong Tam, General Westmoreland asked General Vien, the chairman of the joint General Staff, his English translation of the name. General Vien confirmed that "united hearts and minds" was the literal translation. Thus the name Base Whisky was changed to Dong Tam, which became a well-known landmark during the subsequent co-operative efforts of American and Vietnamese troops in the delta.

Later in the month, at the Honolulu Requirements Planning Conference, the Mobile Afloat Force was included in requirements for the calendar years 1967 and 1968.

The Mekong Delta Mobile Afloat Force will provide a means to introduce, employ and sustain substantial U.S. combat power in that vital area. Introduction of the MDMAF [Mekong Delta Mobile Afloat Force] at the earliest practicable date, whether it be an increment of that force or all of it, will provide a capability for more rapid achievement of U.S. objectives in that area.


These requirements as set forth in the conference provided for the arrival of the first component of that force by April 1967 and the second, final component by March 1968.

On 5 July Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, approved activation and deployment of a Mobile Afloat Force consisting of two river assault groups. At the time of the approval, he reduced the number of self-propelled barracks ships from five to two and eliminated one landing craft repair ship from the force. He was not willing to provide for the total package requested for the Mobile Afloat Force because he felt that the force could be fully tested with the equipment he had approved. Included in the cut was the salvage force, which required two heavy lift craft of 2,000 tons, two YTB's altered for salvage, two LCU's, and three 100-ton floating dry docks. Only one YTB was authorized. Secretary McNamara's decision was to have an appreciable impact on the preparation for and the operations of the Mobile Riverine Force as it was constituted in June of the following year. Subsequently General Westmoreland, through Admiral Sharp, requested reconsideration of the decision to field only two self-propelled barracks ships and two river assault groups; again four river assault groups and at least four barracks ships were requested.

In view of the request, the joint Chiefs of Staff asked for an evaluation of the planned employment and of the additional effectiveness which these ships and craft would contribute to the force. Such an evaluation already had been completed by the MACV staff in May. The evaluation pointed out the lack of firm ground for stationing major troop elements and noted that "the time consuming process of dredging" required to base additional units on land justified the additional two barracks ships. Admiral Johnson called attention to the fact that the Mobile Afloat Force concept also provided for a mobile brigade independent of a land base. One brigade of the. 9th Division was to be stationed at Dong Tam in early 1967. When barracks ships became available, a reinforced battalion from a brigade in III Corps Tactical Zone would be put afloat.

The two river assault groups approved by Secretary McNamara for fiscal year 1967 would be stationed at Dong Tam. Omission of the repair boat to provide mobile maintenance would preclude the permanent basing of assault groups with the two barracks ships in the first increment of the Mobile Afloat Force. Either assault group would be available on call from a land base to provide lift for a


battalion afloat. Some of the boats of an assault group would remain to protect the barracks ships.

Units of the 9th Division not stationed at Dong Tam or aboard APB's would be based in III Corps Tactical Zone north and east of the Rung Sat Special Zone, permitting extensive operations into the special zone and IV Corps by assault group craft. With the arrival of a third assault group, which would include an ARL, one group could be permanently assigned to the forces afloat. This would leave two river assault groups assigned to Dong Tam for lifting battalions of that brigade or the other brigade from the Vung Tau area for operations in the upper delta. When the second increment arrived, at least two river assault groups would be needed for the floating base and one each to support the other two brigades of the 9th Division.

General Westmoreland strongly recommended to Admiral Sharp that the two additional APB's and assault groups be included in the calendar year 1967 force requirements and that they be activated and deployed at the earliest practicable date. Admiral Sharp supported General Westmoreland's position and forwarded it to the joint Chiefs of Staff on 16 July, with a further justification of the two river assault groups on the grounds that "projection of U.S. combat operations into the Delta is an objective of major importance." Admiral Sharp stated that with three thousand kilometers of navigable waterways, an absence of adequate roads, and a lack of helicopters, the 9th Division, which "will be the principal riverine ground combat force," would require river assault group support. Four groups (two organic to the Mobile Afloat Force and two additional) could lift about half of the riverine ground force at any one time. In addition, river assault group craft would be used in reconnaissance and patrolling missions and resupply operations, would reinforce GAME WARDEN and MARKET TIME operations when necessary, and would support operations to open and secure important water routes.

In August while the question of whether to increase the number of Navy boats was being decided at higher headquarters, in Vietnam Mobile Afloat Force preparations were nearing completion. On 1 August, MACV published Planning Directive 4-66 Operations in the Delta. The directive called for employment of riverine forces "regardless of whether based on land (Dong Tam or elsewhere) or on MDMAF [Mekong Delta Mobile Afloat Force]." Composition of a river assault group was established as 26 armored troop carriers, 16 assault support patrol boats, 5 monitors, 2 com-


mand communications boats, and 2 LCM-6 refuelers. This composition was to vary little throughout the entire period of river assault group operations.

The MACV plan would operate in three phases. During the first, the Construction Phase, 1 July 1966-31 January 1967, all actions required to prepare the ground and facilities for occupation of the base would be completed. In the second, the Preparation and Occupation Phase, also to run from 1 July 1966 through 31 January 1967, all actions required to prepare the Army and Navy units to occupy bases, and the actual occupation would be completed. Preparation of the forces would proceed concurrently with base construction. The Improvement and Operations Phase would begin when the Army and Navy units had occupied the bases and were ready to begin combat operations. All actions necessary to conduct and sustain combat operations from the Dong Tam base would be undertaken during this phase and base facilities would be improved and expanded as necessary.

9th Infantry Division Studies the Mobile Afloat Force

In July 1966 the 9th Division at Fort Riley bad been furnished copies of the plan and requirements of the Mobile Afloat Force. These were studied by the division staff and, after approximately two weeks, the chief of staff, Colonel Crosby P. Miller, assembled the brigade commanders. In very broad terms, Colonel Miller outlined the intended area of operations for the division and referred to the provision for a brigade afloat. This briefing aroused the curiosity of Colonel Fulton, commander of the 2d Brigade. He requested copies of the complete plan for study by himself and his staff, and the division commander approved. An intensive analysis was then made by the appropriate staff officers and the study was returned to division headquarters.

Exhibiting the foresight that had characterized its planning effort, MACV sent one of the principal planners for the Mobile Afloat Force to the United States on normal rotation and placed him on temporary duty with the 9th Division for a week. This officer, Lieutenant Colonel John E. Murray, Field Artillery, was extremely enthusiastic about the project and was familiar with all aspects of the plan and with the area of intended operations in the delta. Colonel Fulton arranged for Colonel Murray to spend some time with his brigade staff and battalion commanders to discuss all facets of the project. Through questions and, answers, a clear


understanding of what was intended was conveyed to the brigade officers.

Later in the week, Colonel Murray addressed the division staff and subordinate commanders. He outlined the Mobile Afloat Force plan, discussed the environment, and sketched the nature of intended activity. He also explained that the Marine Corps had developed a basic riverine manual entitled Small Unit Operations in the Riverine Environment. This document was obtained by the 2d Brigade for study from the division G3 (assistant chief of staff for operations), Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Zastrow.

In early May the Department of the Army had informed the 9th Division that it would be sent to the Republic of Vietnam, beginning in December. The assistant division commander, Brigadier General Morgan E. Roseborough, headed an advance element that left for South Vietnam in late August to plan deployment of the division.

The Coronado Conference and Doctrine

On the 12th of September, Colonel Fulton was informed by General Eckhardt that a conference would be held on the 17th of September at Coronado Naval Base, California, and was designated the division representative at the conference. The conference had been coordinated by Headquarters, U.S. Continental Army Command, to examine the joint training implications which would be imposed on the 9th Division and the Army U.S. training base by participation in the Mobile Afloat Force. General Eckhardt directed Colonel Fulton to prepare a brief of the Army views on the Mobile Afloat Force that would include a plan for logistic support. General Eckhardt further asked that he receive a briefing on the presentation to be made at the conference. It was also decided that the division support commander, Colonel John H. Barrier, should accompany Colonel Fulton to Coronado to handle the logistical aspects.

On 19 September, accompanied by Captain Johnnie H. Corns of his staff, Colonel Barrier, division G2 and G3 representatives, and a representative of the division signal office, Colonel Fulton proceeded to Coronado. The conference was held under the auspices of the Commander, Amphibious Command, Pacific, Vice Admiral Francis J. Blouin. Navy attendees included representatives from the Chief of Naval Operations, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, the Amphibious Training Center, the U.S. Marine Corps, and Commander, Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Army dele-


gation also included representatives from Continental Army Command headquarters, U.S. Army Combat Developments Command, Fifth Army headquarters, and Sixth Army headquarters. The commander of River Assault Flotilla One, Captain Wade C. Wells, who was to be the U.S. Navy component commander of the Mobile Afloat Force, his chief of staff, Captain Paul B. Smith, and the rest of his staff attended. The conference was chaired by Rear Admiral Julian T. Burke, who had the additional responsibility of preparing a U.S. Navy doctrinal manual for riverine operations. Presentations were made of the organization and operations of the two components as well as the broad problem of command relationships of the joint force. Afterward several working groups were established to deal with command and control, joint staff arrangements, training, logistics, communications, and medical support.

During the conference Captain Wells informed Colonel Fulton that the River Assault Flotilla One chief of staff and representatives of N-1, N-2, N-3, and N-4 staff sections, as well as a communications officer, were going to Vietnam as an advance party in early October. Upon learning that the 9th Division had an advanced planning element at Headquarters, U.S. Army, Vietnam, Captain Wells agreed that the two advance elements should be the basis for co-ordination in Vietnam. Captain Wells and Colonel Fulton also made informal arrangements to co-ordinate mutual problems that might arise between the time of the conference and the departure of the 2d Brigade for Vietnam, which was tentatively scheduled for early January 1967. While there were no official provisions for direct communications and co-ordination between the two component commanders of the Mobile Afloat Force, this early meeting proved extremely beneficial in resolving matters that could have impaired the entire undertaking.

Returning to Fort Riley, Kansas, Colonel Fulton and Captain Corns briefed General Eckhardt and his staff on the results of the Coronado conference. General Eckhardt then designated Colonel Fulton as the executive agent for the division on riverine matters, and specified that this responsibility carried with it the designation of commander of the floating brigade and the U.S. Army component for the Mobile Afloat Force. Colonel Fulton still chose not to incorporate riverine operations in his training program because of the great amount of normal training to be accomplished. It was implied, however, at the conference that there would be a training period in Vietnam of approximately two to three months during which the Army and Navy components would be able to train


their forces for the .joint riverine operations. Nevertheless when Colonel Fulton informed Lieutenant Colonel William B. Cronin, Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry, and Lieutenant Colonel Guy I. Tutwiler, Commanding Officer, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, of the riverine mission, they decided as part of their normal training programs to incorporate techniques and equipment for crossing small rivers.

While at Coronado, Colonel Fulton explored with the commander of the Amphibious Training School the possibility of conducting a riverine course for his brigade staff, the battalion commanders and their staffs, and the brigade supporting unit commanders. This school was a repository of amphibious doctrine and concepts as well as lessons learned in the MARKET TIME and GAME WARDEN operations, which were, respectively, the U.S. Navy offshore and river operations in South Vietnam. All the U.S. Navy advisers for the Vietnamese river assault groups were trained under Amphibious Training School auspices. The Navy SEAL (sea-air-land) teams, which were rotated in and out of South Vietnam, were also trained there. Many of the school faculty had already completed tours of duty in both the U.S. and Vietnamese navies. The idea of conducting a riverine course was acceptable to the commander of the Amphibious Training School, and plans for instruction were developed through subsequent correspondence between the brigade and the Amphibious School during the period October through December. Also it was agreed that the Amphibious Training School would provide a team at Fort Riley during December 1966 for the purpose of training selected men from brigade and battalion in techniques of waterproofing, small boat loading and handling, and combat offloading from transports. Also included was instruction in water safety techniques that was to prove immensely valuable once operations commenced.

In early October Colonel Fulton was informed that he would accompany the division commander to Vietnam on an orientation visit to reconnoiter the riverine environment and get a preview of the requirements for riverine operations. The division commander and a small staff left on 9 October for a three-week visit to Vietnam. Colonel Fulton's arrival coincided with that of the advance party of the River Assault Flotilla One staff. Colonel Fulton and Captain Smith, chief of staff of the flotilla, were able to visit and analyze the proposed training site in the vicinity of Ap Go Dau, adjacent to the Rung Sat Special Zone, approximately fifteen kilometers south of Bearcat. Bearcat, ten miles south of Long Binh, was to be


the 9th Division base instead of Ba Ria, which had been specified in the original Mobile Afloat Force plan. Bearcat was to be expanded into a base capable of accommodating the entire division until the 2d Brigade base at Ap Go Dais could be built. Colonel Fulton and Captain Smith agreed on the site near Ap Go Dau, and plans were developed by Company B, 15th Engineer Battalion, to construct the joint training base. A phased training schedule based on actual combat operations from the new location was also tentatively agreed upon. The shift of the division base from Ba Ria to Bearcat was to have no significant effect on the Mobile Afloat Force plan.

Colonel Fulton also visited the Dona Tam construction site, the 7th Division headquarters of the Army of Vietnam, and General Desobry, senior adviser of IV Corps Tactical Zone at Can Tho. Discussions centered on projected operations of U.S. forces in the Mekong Delta. It was especially fortuitous that Colonel Fulton, General Desobry, and the Senior Advisor, 7th Division, Colonel John E. Lance, Jr., had been on the faculty of the Army War College during the period 1962 to 1965. This professional association proved to be very valuable during the ensuing months as the 2d Brigade planned for and conducted operations in the Mekong Delta.

While at Headquarters, U.S. Army, Vietnam, Colonel Fulton learned that the Army had not completed the preparation of the riverine doctrine, a task assigned to it by MACV Directive 3-66. In discussing the task, Colonel Fulton found that Major John R. Witherell, the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command liaison officer, had developed an active interest in the Mobile Afloat Force plan and had started preparation of a rather detailed manuscript which dealt with organization and tactics of units as envisaged by the Mobile Afloat Force planners. At Colonel Fulton's suggestion Major Witherell agreed to propose to Headquarters, Combat Developments Command, that it undertake the drafting of a test field manual on riverine operations. In snaking this recommendation, Major Witherell planned to furnish his draft manuscript. The meeting proved to be beneficial since during the Coronado conference the doctrine matter had been explored with both Navy representatives and Major Donald R. Morelli, the Combat Developments Command representative at the conference. It was agreed that if the manual was undertaken, the writing should be done at the Amphibious Training School at Coronado, the best source of information on riverine warfare.


Upon his return to Fort Riley, Colonel Fulton was visited by a representative from Combat Developments Command who had outlined a manual based on Major Witherell's manuscript. Colonel Fulton suggested that this be accepted as the basis for the manual which was to be prepared at Coronado with representatives from the various Army service schools and Combat Developments agencies under the leadership of the Institute of Combined Arms Group, Fort Leavenworth. Colonel Fulton stressed that the manual should be available when the brigade and battalion staffs departed for South Vietnam on 14 January 1967. The need for the manual was quite apparent since the U.S. Marine Corps Fleet Marine Force Manual 8-4, the only doctrinal manual on riverine operations, dealt with only small boat tactics and did not cover joint riverine operations.

Final Decisions on Deployment

Secretary of Defense McNamara during his October visit to South Vietnam was briefed on the Mobile Afloat Force, and the need for two additional river assault squadrons was stressed at that time. The designation river assault group had been changed to river assault squadron in order to avoid confusion with the Vietnamese river assault groups. During this briefing it was emphasized to Mr. McNamara that if the objectives of the MACV campaign plan were to be achieved, U.S. ground operations in the IV Corps area were needed to assist the Republic of Vietnam armed forces. It was further pointed out to Mr. McNamara that roughly 50 percent of the population and 68 percent of the rice-producing area in the Republic of Vietnam were in the Mekong Delta. In this briefing it was explained that the 9th Division, due in Vietnam in December 1966 and January 1967, was to be the principal river ground force, and that the river assault boats needed to provide tactical mobility would conform to standard U.S. Navy organization structure, with two assault squadrons of about fifty boats each under command of River Assault Flotilla One. The Mobile Afloat Force with the two approved river assault squadrons would provide a good start, but there was a need for at least two additional assault squadrons by the end of calendar year 1967 in order to sustain the momentum of the riverine operations. The 9th Division, now planned with seven infantry battalions and two, rather than one, mechanized battalions, would require the support of two river assault squadrons. Two additional battalions from the U.S. 25th Division and the Australian Task Force would bring the total to


eleven infantry battalions for riverine operations. No decision was made by Mr. McNamara on the two river assault squadrons during his visit.

On 21 November General Westmoreland suggested to the Mission Council that it was feasible to deploy a battalion to Dona Tam in January 1967, and requested the council's endorsement of this action. Anticipating the council's concurrence, General Westmoreland directed the planning and preparation for deployment of a brigade in February 1967 if it was deemed feasible by II Field Force, Vietnam. By 29 November, Ambassador Lodge had approved this deployment.

On 1 December, Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, published a plan for logistical support for the Mobile Afloat Force. This plan provided for two kinds of support-one for the units based at Dong Tam and one for the units afloat. The land base commander was assigned responsibility for the logistical support for Dong Tam, and the mobile riverine base commander would have responsibility for the mobile riverine base, while service-peculiar supply would be the responsibility of the component commander concerned. Saigon was designated as the primary supply source for the Dong Tam base, with Vung Tau as the alternate, and land lines of communication were to be used wherever possible. The mobile riverine base would be supported by Vung Tau, with Saigon as the alternate.

After evaluating the progress of the base construction at Dong Tam, II Field Force reported on 4 December that it was feasible to support a battalion at Dong Tam in late February 1967. The planning and liaison machinery went into high gear early in December. Elements of the 9th Division would be available for training at the Vung Tau base in early January. The commander of Naval Forces, Vietnam, had shifted all efforts to prepare the base for riverine training when the proposed training site at Ap Go Dau was abandoned in favor of Vung Tau. He recommended liaison between 9th Division and Vietnamese and U.S. agencies. He also asked Admiral Johnson to provide a suitable support ship at Vung Tau about 7 January and at the same time to place aboard it one river assault squadron staff and one river division staff. The commander of River Assault Flotilla One and his staff, less the advance element, were to leave Coronado in mid-February and a second river division was to leave in late February.

General Westmoreland directed the commander of II Field Force to prepare to send an infantry battalion task force from the


9th Division to Dong Tam, to add forces later to increase it to a brigade, and to advise hire of the arrival dates. The Commanding General, U.S. Army, Vietnam, was to support the task forces and Senior Advisor, IV Corps Tactical Zone, was directed to plan for the provision of Vietnam Army security forces, co-ordinate Vietnamese and U.S. security arrangements, and prepare the Vietnamese people for the presence of U.S. troops at Dong Tam.

The first elements of the .9th Division landed at Vung Tau on 19 December, and on 20 December General Westmoreland estimated that the battalion task force would move to Don- Tam on 25 January following two engineer companies that were to arrive there on 7 January. He calculated that strength would increase to brigade level in late February or early March.

The Mobile Afloat Force, conceived and approved during 1966, was one of the most important MACV accomplishments of the year. This force eras expected to play a major role in the control of the delta, not only in a military sense, but also economically and politically. Further, the entire delta campaign could well be a key to the success of the combined operations of the United States and the Republic of Vietnam.

2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, Arrives in Vietnam

Upon completion of. training at Fort Riley at the end of November 1966, the 2d brigade began preparation for overseas movement. During this time, selected men from the brigade and battalions were given training by the Marine Training Team from the Naval Amphibious School. On 3 January, the brigade commander and staff, the commander and staff of the 2d Battalion, 4th artillery, the commanders and staffs of the 3d and 4th Battalions, 47th Infantry, and the S-2, 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry, went to Coronado to attend the ten-day riverine course that had been established at the request of the brigade commander. The course provided a great deal of useful information on operations of the Vietnamese river assault groups, U.S. Navy SEAL teams, Viet Cong intelligence operations in the delta, and the riverine environment. The ten days gave the commanders and staffs of the brigade's attached and supporting units the opportunity to concentrate on purely riverine problems for the first time.

When the course ended on 12 January, the Combat Developments Command writing group had completed the first draft of Training Text 31-75, Riverine Operations. Colonel Fulton now learned that although the Navy had provided advice and consulta-


tion, it would not formally accept the manual, not would the commander of River Assault Flotilla One acknowledge the text as a source of doctrine to which he would subscribe. When agreement had been reached in September that a manual would fee written, Navy acceptance was tacitly understood, but since it was not forthcoming the question of agreement on joint procedures remained. The brigade commander and his officers, however, considered the training text a sound new source of riverine doctrine and concepts on which subsequent training in Vietnam could be based. improvement could be made in the text after the experience of actual operations.

The 2d Brigade officers who had attended the Coronado riverine Course arrived at Bien Hoa on 15 January and proceeded to Bearcat. Shortly afterward the remainder of the advance party arrived by air from Fort Riley-, included were all the squad leaders from the three infantry battalions, two platoon sergeants and two platoon leaders from each of tile companies, and all company commanders. The main body was en route by water from San Francisco tinder the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas F. O'Connor, the brigade executive officer. The other officer cadre consisted of the company executive officers, two platoon leaders from each company, and the battalion executive officers with small staffs. The purpose of the large brigade advance party was to give most of the tactical unit combat leaders battle experience before the main body arrived at the end of January. To this end the unit advance parties were sent to operate with the U.S. 1st and 25th Divisions for approximately two and one-half weeks.

The main body debarked at Vting Tau on 31 January and 1 February 1967 and reached Bearcat on 1 February. On 7 February the 9d Brigade, with the 2d, 3d, and 4th Battalions, 47th Infantry, and 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, commenced a one-week operation in the Nlion Trach District of Bien Hoa Province ,just north of the Rung Sat Special Zone. The 2d Brigade had an excellent opportunity to shake itself down operationally in a combat environment and to compensate for the lack of a brigade field training exercise which it had been unable to conduct at Fort Riley because of the short training period.

Rung Sat Special Zone Operational Training

During the latter part of ,January the 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, an element of the 3d Brigade, 9th U.S. Division, had begun riverine training with the advance River Assault Flotilla One ele-


ments that were aboard USS Whitfield County (LST 1169) , anchored in Vung Tau harbor. The 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, was to be the first infantry unit sent to Dong Tam and was to arrive there by the end of January. It would be followed in training by the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, which was then participating in the 2d Brigade operation in Nhon Trach.

On 10 February, two companies and the staff of the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, under Lieutenant Colonel Lucien E. Bolduc, Jr., left for riverine training in the Rung Sat Special Zone. The Navy crews with which the battalion would work had received on-the-job training with the Vietnamese Navy river assault groups in the delta.

On 15 February, as the brigade was returning from the Nhon Trach operation to its base camp at Bearcat, an order was received from II Field Force directing that an entire battalion conduct operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone beginning 16 February. The order was prompted by a Viet Cong attack on a freighter navigating the Long Tau, the main shipping channel connecting Saigon and Vung Tau, on 15 February. It brought to an abrupt halt the organized training for Colonel Bolduc's battalion, which had accomplished only three of the scheduled ten days of training; full-scale combat operations would have to begin. The battalion commander was aboard USS Whitfield County with two companies when Colonel Fulton talked to him. Colonel Fulton had already ordered the remaining companies of the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, as well as a direct support battery of the 2d Battalion, 4th Artillery, into the northern portion of the Rung Sat Special Zone. Colonel Bolduc's mission was to disrupt enemy activities in the major base areas of the Viet Cong.

The resulting operation initiated on 16 February 1967 and terminated on 20 March was designated RIVER RAIDER I. It was the first joint operation by U.S. Army and U.S. Navy units that were later to constitute the Mobile Riverine Force. The 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, was supported by River Assault Division 91 of River Assault Squadron 9. (Chart 1)

Joint operations centers were maintained twenty-four hours a day both at land bases and aboard the APA Henrico, and joint plans were made for each project. River Assault Flotilla One provided rear area support and planning assistance for river squadron operations. Squadron 9's assault division was commanded by Lieutenant Charles H. Sibley, who operated LCM-6's and a command vessel borrowed from the Vietnam Navy since the squadron's boats


CHART 1- River Assault Squadron Organization

CHART 1- River Assault Squadron Organization


had not yet been delivered. Vietnam River Assault Group 26 provided mine-sweeping support and escorts for movement on narrow and dangerous waterways.

Particularly important was the support provided by the Infantry Advisor, Rung Sat Special Zone, Major McLendon G. Morris, USMC, who joined the battalion command group at the outset of the operation and remained till the battalion's operations were completed. Major Morris furnished liaison to the Senior Advisor, Rung Sat Special Zone, at Nha Be and invaluable advice and assistance. His extensive knowledge of and experience in the zone, his familiarity with complex fire support procedures, and his ability to get support on short notice made a significant contribution to RIVER RAIDER I's Success.

During the operation boats of River Assault Division 91 moved


troops to and from the barracks ship by ATC at alt hours of the day and night, delivering them primarily to friendly ambush sites, sometimes to the battalion land base. They remained in ambush sites at night, and one boat was normally kept within a fifteen-minute standby range of the land base as transportation for the platoon-size ground force. Division 91 was called on a number of times and eras twice instrumental in the capture of sampans and documents. Its boats patrolled the waterways and gave great flexibility to the river force.

Use of deception in the conduct of night operations was found very effective in the Rung Sat Special Zone. Usually a rifle company would be positioned around the battalion command post during daylight hours. Under cover of darkness this company would be withdrawn and transported to a new area where it would establish a perimeter, then move out to place ambushes. It would then be in a position to begin search and destroy or strike operations at first light. On one occasion a complete riverine assault, with artillery fire and radio transmissions, was staged as a feint while troops remained quietly aboard landing craft that resumed their patrol stations from which small landings were subsequently made.

For operations on small waterways plastic assault boats and water safety devices were useful. The battalion used one 27-foot engineer boat and several 13-man inflatable rubber rafts to advantage, but they, like the plastic assault boats, offered no protection from small arms fire and their slow speed and the inevitable bunching of troops made them highly vulnerable. Water movement was essential, however, since the Viet Cong moved primarily by sampan; no amount of trudging through mangrove swamps would outmaneuver an enemy who sought to avoid contact.

While salt water damaged clothing, the need for exchange was not much higher than in normal field use. The jungle boot stood up well under protracted use; jungle fatigues were washed overnight aboard the support ship, and a small direct exchange stock was maintained. The principal damage was to weapons and ammunition, which salt water corroded. It was necessary to break down weapons and scrub them with a mixture of cleaning solvent and oil on each return to the ship. The 7.62 metal link belt ammunition was frequently so badly corroded that it had to be discarded.

Only essential equipment was carried, the normal load consisting of seven magazines for the M16 rifle, 200 rounds for the machine gun, and twelve rounds of 40-mm. grenades. Each squad


carried 100 feet of nylon rope, a 10-foot rope with snap link per man, and a grappling hook with 50 feet of line-items that were invaluable in water crossing operations as well as in detonating booby traps.

Ambushes were found to be most successful on well-traveled waterways. While airborne infrared devices for detecting people or things by their difference in temperature from the surrounding area proved valuable in the sparsely populated Rung Sat Special Zone, they were later less successful in the heavily populated delta.

The common rule that an ambush should be moved after being tripped did not always apply to water ambush in the Rung Sat Special Zone. On one occasion, an ambush was tripped three times in one night, with the result that seven of the enemy were killed and three sampans and two weapons captured.

Lack of positions suitable for placing artillery and the great distances involved produced a large zone in which the enemy was not subject to friendly fires. The zone was sparsely populated, with friendly civilians concentrated in a few widely dispersed villages separated by areas which the government warned citizens not to enter. Here the U.S. effort was to keep the enemy out of areas where troops had already discovered and destroyed large Viet Cong base camps, factories, munitions, stocks of rice, and other materiel.

As a result of the experiences in RIVER RAIDER I, Colonel Bolduc submitted several suggestions that assisted later operations of the Mobile Riverine Force. He advised that any unit operating in the Rung Sat Special Zone for other than a limited objective should either be a riverine unit or receive riverine training at the outset of the operation. Techniques were relatively simple and easily learned; troops that were well conditioned and adequately commanded could operate in the zone for a long time without suffering adverse effects. The longer the operation, the longer the troops needed to rest and dry out.

Since the enemy scrupulously avoided contact, current tactical intelligence was of paramount importance. Units operating in the Rung Sat therefore had to seek intelligence aggressively from all sources and agencies. Quick translation of enemy documents was also important. In one case the battalion captured at night from a group of five sampans documents and maps showing the location of a Viet Cong regional headquarters and various stops made by the sampan owners along the route they had traveled. One document showed delivery of arms to specified Viet Con'- units and compromised an entire Viet Cong signal system. Although the general nature of


the contents and their importance was immediately apparent to the battalion commander, he was obliged to send all the documents to the senior adviser of the Rung Sat Special Zone. Although he dispatched them immediately, no translation was received for more than a week too long a delay to permit timely exploitation. During the last stages of the operation, all documents were quickly translated by the S-2 and an interpreter before being sent to higher headquarters so that information could be acted upon at once.

Airmobility was essential to effective riverine operations; it was necessary to have a command helicopter capable of carrying a commander, a fire support co-ordinator, an S-2 intelligence officer, an S-3, and necessary radio communications. When naval helicopters were used a Navy representative had to be aboard. When not required for direct control of operations, the helicopter was fully utilized for reconnaissance and liaison.

One UH-ID helicopter was placed in direct support of the battalion to permit resupply and emergency lift of widely scattered troops. The battalion could fully utilize five transport helicopters and two armed helicopters on a daily basis for about ten hours. They were needed for airmobile assaults, positioning of ambushes, troop extractions and transfers, ground reconnaissance of beaches and helicopter landing zones, checking sampans, and return to areas previously worked in order to keep the enemy off-balance. In addition, there was a need for night missions using one helicopter with two starlight scopes and two armed helicopters in order to interrupt Viet Cong sampan traffic along the myriad waterways. Finally, airlift was necessary to make use of any substantial finds in the area of operations. Without helicopter transport, it was frequently necessary to destroy captured materiel-munitions, cement, large rice stores-because it could not be moved.

Fire support was diverse and highly effective. Artillery fire support bases were established with as many as three separate artillery batteries (105-mm., towed) employed at the same time from different locations. Naval gunfire was used continuously throughout the operation, including indirect fire of several destroyers and the direct and indirect fire of weapons organic to boats of Division 91, U.S. Navy, and River Assault Group 26, Vietnam Navy. Other fire support was provided by tactical air, and by U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy fixed-wing and helicopter gunships.

Fire support presented a number of co-ordination and clearance problems. The main shipping channel was patrolled constantly by U.S. Navy river patrol boats and aircraft which, because of daylight


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traffic in shipping, required close control to prevent damage to U.S. or South Vietnamese forces and equipment. An additional problem was that in some areas clearance from the government of Vietnam was required for each mission. U.S. ground clearance for indirect fire was co-ordinated by the artillery liaison officer. Getting government clearance at first proved to be time-consuming. Requests had to be submitted to the senior adviser of the zone at Nha Be. Any aircraft in the area of operation would cause a cease fire in the entire Rung Sat. A zonal clearance system was worked out by all parties concerned and proved highly successful. It consisted of a circle with a radius of 11.5 kilometers drawn on the fire support map using the fire support base (battery center) as the center. The circle was then subdivided like a pie into eight equal parts or zones and each was numbered from one to eight. Thereafter, to obtain clearance all that was required was to ask permission to fire into the zone in question. Artillery and mortar fire could thus be applied to the zone or zones where it was needed and withheld from the rest of the area.

Troops on combat operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone


Diagram 4 - Foot Disease Incident Rate.
Diagram 4. Foot disease incident rate.

were continually in mud and the salty, dirty water could not be used for bathing. Certain measures were therefore taken to safeguard the health of the troops. Men stayed on combat operations for forty-eight hours at a time and were then sent to the troopship in the Vung Tau area where adequate shower facilities were available and every man had a bunk for the night. All companies received instructions on care of the feet, which included thorough washing, drying, and daily inspection of the feet by medics. The battalion surgeons carried out frequent inspections and all cases of dermatophytosis were treated with fungicidal ointments and powders. (Diagram 4)

An experiment to determine the efficiency of a silicone ointment was carried out with seventy-six soldiers who used the ointment daily. During some twenty days, six cases of immersion foot occurred, four of them on men who used the silicone. It was found that the system of rotating troops for a forty-eight-hour drying out period and conducting inspections of feet to insure necessary treatment of conditions as soon as they arose was of far greater benefit than use of the preventive ointment.

Positioning mortars ashore in the Rung Sat was difficult and time-consuming because of lack of firm ground, and was done only


in the area of the battalion forward command post, which was seldom moved. For support of wide-ranging operations more mobility than this semi permanent location of the mortars was required. During RIVER RAIDER I, two 81-mm. mortars were installed in the forward portion of an LCM. The mortar boat was nosed into the bank, engines kept running to advance or back in accordance with the tide, and steadied against the current by quartering lines running from the stern forward and outward at an angle of about 30 degrees to the bank on either side of the bow ramp. Most of the mortar crews were used to establish local security on the bank. This arrangement permitted a high degree of mobility, rapid positioning for firing, minimum wasted effort by the gun crews, and an ample supply of ammunition close at hand. The mortar boat was used both day and night throughout the operation, and provided flexible, mobile fire support for all types of maneuver.

The major operational success of RIVER RAIDER I was the capture of substantial stores of water mines and the destruction of facilities for constructing water mines. It is highly probable that these losses suffered by the Viet Cong account in part for the very limited use of water mines against riverine forces during later operations in the northern Mekong Delta as well as in the Rung Sat Special Zone.

After RIVER RAIDER I, the 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, took up operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone, making use during April and early May of the experiences of the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, and improvising other techniques. During this time so-called Ammi barges were obtained from the Navy for use alongside the LST of River Flotilla One. With this type of pontoon, rope ladders were not needed and the training time for riverine troops was drastically reduced. The Ammi barges provided as well some much needed space for cleaning and storage of ammunition, crew-served weapons, and individual equipment.



Contents  -  Chapter 4