Skip to comments.Vanity: Coast Guard WPB's and Navy PCF's in Division 11, An Thoi, Viet Nam
Posted on 08/23/2004 7:57:11 PM PDT by CedarDave
The excerpt presented below provides a glimpse of the organization, boats, and mission of Coast Guard Patrol Boats and Navy Swift Boats in Viet Nam in 1968. It is presented to help FReepers better understand the context of the relationship between the two branches of the service, the boats used in routine patrol and offensive operations, and the change in mission from coastal interdiction to offensive operations that occurred in the latter half of 1968.
The Coast Guard commander in the Gulf of Thailand wore three hats: he commanded the Gulf of Thailand surveillance group and Coast Guard Division 11, in addition to serving as senior naval advisor to the Vietnamese fourth coastal zone commander. He was responsible to three separate bosses captains who had differing opinion about mission priorities. He reported to CTF 115, commander Coast Guard Squadron One, and the senior naval advisor. Commander Norman C. Venzke said, It was an impossible situation. I had to satisfy three four-stipers. I handled the jobs in the following priority: the operations job as task group commander came first. The advisory job was second. And I essentially turned over Coast Guard Division 11 to my chief staff officer. I couldnt do all three. When Venzke was scheduled to leave Viet Nam in April 1968, he recommended command of Division 11 be separated from the other two jobs. In ceremonies on 4 April 1968, Cdr. Adrian L. Lonsdale relieved Venzke as CTG 115.4 and senior advisor; Lt. Cdr. Alan C. Peck, who had been Venzkes chief staff officer, took command of Division 11.
In response to queries [in April 1965], the Coast Guard decided that 82-ft. Point-class steel-hulled patrol boats (WPBs) would be best suited for the mission. While they were not as fast as the larger 95-ft. Cape class cutters, and with smaller crews, had less capability, they were considered the best choice because they were newer and with only two main engines, compared with four in the Cape-class cutters, were easier to maintain. Types and manufacture of main propulsion and auxiliary machinery were more consistent throughout the Point-class, easing logistic and support requirements. Air conditioning was an important bonus for the 82-footers, considering Southeast Asias climate and the fact that crews had to live aboard, both on and off patrol.
The crew for a Point-class patrol boat in the United States was eight enlisted men, with a master chief boatswains mate as officer in charge. For Viet Nam, the personnel allowance was changed to include to officers a lieutenant as commanding officer and a lieutenant (jg) or ensign as executive officer. The two seamen in the crew were replaced by petty officers a second-class gunners mate to maintain the additional armament and a third-class electronics technician to keep the increased electronic gear operating.
A highlight of stateside shipyard modifications was a unique piggyback gun mount, designed by the Coast Guard, on the bow. The mount combined a trigger-fired 81 mm mortar and a .50-caliber machine gun. Ammunition storage lockers were modified for 81 mm rounds and bow lifelines were lowered to provide clearance for the direct fire mortar. Mounts for four .50-caliber machine guns were installed aft and sound-powered phone circuits were run to all guns. Two extra bunks were installed in the officer-in-charges cabin and an extra bunk was put in petty officer berthing. The cutters 16-ft. boat was replaced with a 14-ft. Boston Whaler skiff.
Subic Bay shipyard modifications for use in Viet Nam included installation of single-sideband, high frequency transceivers; fabrication and installation of gunners platforms around 81 mm mortars; modification of trigger fired mortars to allow depression below the horizon for close range firing; rigging of floodlights for night boarding; installation of small arms lockers on mess decks; and additional sound-powered phone circuits.
On 31 October 1965, two of the Navys new class of 50-ft. PCF (patrol craft, fast) arrived at An Thoi. The boats, called Swifts, were part of Boat Division 101. PCF-3 and PCF-4, the first of 17 Swift boats planned for the Gulf, reported to CTU 115.1.9 for Market Time operations with the WPB division. Aluminum-hulled PCFs were a military version of crew boats used for offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Swifts, which drew 3.5 ft. of water and displaced nineteen tons, were powered by twin diesel engines; they were capable of 25 knots in calm waters. Boats were manned by crews of six: a lieutenant junior grade as officer in charge and five enlisted men. They were well armed, mounting a piggyback 81 mm mortar and .50-caliber machine gun aft, and twin .50-caliber machine guns in a tub on top of the pilot house. The next six Swifts arrived in the Gulf on 24 December 1965.
Manning U.S. Navy Swifts was more complicated than single-crewed Coast Guard WPBs, because three Navy crews were assigned for every two Swift boats. Adm. John B. Hayes, a commander when he was in command in the Gulf of Thailand from 1966 to 1967, said, One of the problems with Swifts was that a permanent crew was not assigned to a particular boat. I had a lot of problems, as did their division commander. He had a heck of a time with his crews. It was hard to develop much esprit de corps when crews didnt own their own territory.
PCF hull design light weight and shallow-draft with a shor bow made open sea interdiction operations difficult; boats were severely limited in seaways of six feet and above. In all but calm waters, aluminum hulls did not provide stable platforms for boarding. With small crews of only six men, endurance was also a problem for Swifts. To get maximum patrol time out of PCFs, and not expend their endurance on transiting, they were assigned 24-hour patrols in areas close to An Thoi. Later, they deployed to the southern end of the area with a destroyer as a mother ship. While limited in open-sea operations, Swiftes proved to be very effective on inland waterways. They were used extensively for incursion operations up rivers and canals in later phases of the war.
By 1968, no evidence indicated that significant amounts of arms and supplies were being smuggled to the VC through gulf waters; the infiltration threat had not materialized. Toward the end of 1968, focus of operations shifted from defensive patrolling (coastal interdiction) to offensive actions. Lonsdale said:
Incursions from sea just sort of came about We had a lot of Navy lieutenants, who, on dares, started running up the rivers and seeing if they could get from one place to another. It was contrary to doctrine, but they did it. They went through and found out it wasnt so bad. When our task force commander found out what we were doing, he said, Lets start doing more of that. Lets start taking the territory back. So we did. We wrested control of the canals and most of the inland waters, at least along the coast, back from the communists. We were running freely wherever we wanted to. Probably the last [communist] stronghold was the tip of the Ca Mau peninsula.
Capt. John G. Busavage, who was a lieutenant junior grade when he commanded Point Confort in 19689, said, From the time I got there in August 1968, our patrol area were actually up the rivers and canals. Were only supposed to go offshore to rendezvous for supplies or if there was an indication something was going on. Busavage went to a patrol boat commanding officer conference at CTF 115s headquarters in Cam Rahn Bay. At the conference, Coast Guard WPB and Navy PCF skippers questioned the value of going up canals. When one young lieutenant (jg) raised the question with the commodore, Busavage said, I still remember the captain looking down the table with his cigar and saying, Son, this is the only war the Navys got and weve got to make the most of it.
With the approval of the task force commander, Lonsdale began planning and executing coastal operations. Initially, only U.S. forces were authorized to take part in the actions. Later, CTF 115 approved the use of South Vietnamese Navy vessels and troops. Operations, conducted almost daily, were usually amphibious raids on VC villages and staging area along the coast of the mainland. Some raids, using canal and river systems, penetrated well inland. Lonsdale did not need prior clearance for missions, as long as they took place in free fire zones. He said, I just planned them and did them We pretty much ran our own show. We made reports afterward Captain Hoffman was CTF 115. He let us go ahead and do what we thought we could do. Task group forces also mad landings on the northern coast of Phu Quoc Island. But when little VC activity was found, they were discontinued. Operations usually began with naval gunfire from Market Time ships softening up the objective. Next WPBs and Swifts moved in and provided covering fire while coastal group junks or VNN landing craft put troops ashore. When available, helicopter gunships were used to support landings.
Lonsdale said, Occasionally, Id go on operations. But I couldnt go on all of them; I was too busy planning the next one. Around 1100, I would start on the next days operation. In the afternoon, I would get reports on the one we did that morning. I made my reports to Saigon and did press releases. Through the night, probably to midnight, I worked on the next days operation. In preparing for missions, CTG 115.4 requested intelligence information about prospective landing sites from Saigon. After we sent a request, Lonsdale said, It wouldnt be long before we got a query through intelligence channels asking what we know about activity in that particular area so they could respond.
Excerpts from The Coast Guard at War, Vietnam, 1965-1975, by Alex Larzelere. Copyright 1997. This excerpt is permitted under the fair use provision of the copyright act, and is limited to educational and discussion purposes only. Commercial use is prohibited.
Thank You Swift Boat Vet CedarDave PING!
Oh heck yes! BZ!
Thank you for serving our country!
Hi Tonk...they were nice boats; they could even stand up to an Air Force pilot with his head up his arse.
Thanks for the history lesson cedardave!~
Typed the whole thing in and found a few spelling errors -- ugh.
This explains an awful lot of whty there are so many conflicting stories on what went on during ops and why kerry was so able to have his reports taken at face value.
I love independant ops above all other methods, but they are open to misjudgement
Thanks, it's an interesting site, but it doesn't mention the Campbell or PCF 19 which was lost 6/68, along with most of it's crew.
Information the Cutter Cambell's 1967-1968 deployment to Vietnam can be found here:
Information on PCF-19 can be found here:
The Campbell did more than service PCF 19, the crews were based on the Campbell (two crews, one boat). There is some question about the true fate of that boat, the Navy declared it friendly fire, but another swift boater who was on a nearby boat swears that they came under fire from North Vietnamese helos. The Navy says that the N. Vietnamese didn't have any helos. The whole thing was kept pretty quiet.
I really miss the USCGC Point Herron, north atlantic, february!
That's incorrect. In fact, helos were observed from time to time in certain places on the Ho Chi Minh trail by SOG recon teams. The description of the helo on the Swift boaters' site doesn't sound like a Soviet aircraft. At the time, the NVA was operating Mi-4, Mi-8 and perhaps a few Mi-26 helicopters. I am unaware of any gunship capability, but in the 1970s rocket pods on Mi-8s became very, very common. Rockets were a standard air-ground weapon for MiGs as well, but PAVN-AF MiG drivers didn't do much air-to-ground practice.
The NVA could be quite daring. On 19 April 72 two MiG-17s came out and attacked the destroyer Higbee and cruiser Oklahoma City with bombs. They scored a hit on Higbee's X-turret, but the gun crew were not in the turret as they had had an emergency inside... this attack is credited to Nguyen Van Bay the ace, but appears now that the NVA are opening up the archives a little to be a different guy with the same name (hardly unusual for a Vietnamese).
The US forces fired at the MiGs with Terrier missiles and F-4 Phantoms chased them -- apparently the suckers got away.
In another case, well-recorded in history, two An-2 Colt biplanes attacked a classified operational location in Laos. They were shot down by a crew chief in a slick Air America Bell 205 (civil Huey), using a handheld weapon -- ISTR it was an AK. The tail feathers of one of the Colts was last seen in the Ravens' bar in Long Tieng.
I take the 1972 attack particularly as an indicator that the PAVN-AF would take a shot at an unaccompanied patrol craft at night if they thought they could get away with it.
Criminal Number 18F
This guy would love to hear from you.
THE SINKING OF PCF-19
AS SEEN FROM PCF-12
I was aboard PCF-12 on June 15, 1968 when we got underway from DaNang enroute to our assigned patrol area, Enfield Cobra Charlie. This area is off Wonder Beach, south of Cua Viet. We settled into our patrol area and all seemed quiet and routine. Our crew consisted of LTJG Pete Snyder, BM2 Johnnie P. Fitts, LPO, myself, EN2 James Steffes, QM2 Gary Rosenberger, RD2 Kenneth Bloch and GMG3 Thomas Klemash. It was our second patrol since taking over PCF-12, and it was running well.
Around 1900 or so, we received a call from Enfield Cobra Alpha asking to meet us near the point that our patrol areas touched, saying they were having radar problems. The Alpha boat was PCF-19 with LTJG John Davis crew aboard. They were operating off of a Coast Guard Cutter, the USCG Campbell. About 2000, I guess, we met. It was dark when she came alongside. I hadnt been in country long and did not know the crew personally, although I had seen them around the APL.
The problem was that their radar kept fading out, especially at slow speeds. They could not be sure where they were and their position was critical being so close to the DMZ. I climbed down into the engine room with their snipe, EN2 Edward Cruz. We quickly determined that the starboard engines alternator was not charging its bank of batteries and the radar ran off these batteries. PCF-12 had a knife switch on the after bulkhead that connected the two banks of batteries together in case of charging circuit problems. PCF-19 had no such switch and since it was not his boat he did not know where his jumper cables were or if he had any. I quickly got my set from PCF-12 and we hooked them up across the battery banks on PCF-19. Now the port engine could charge both banks of batteries. I recall chatting and laughing with my new found snipe friend, Ed Cruz, as we slipped and slid in the wet bilges while hooking up those cables. With their radar working fine, we said goodbye and PCF-19 moved off into the darkness, never to be seen again.
At approximately 0030 on June 16th, "flash traffic" was sent to all Market Time Units from the Naval Gunfire Liason Officer at Alpha One, which was an outpost on the DMZ, part of the MacNamara Line. It stated that Enfield Cobra Alpha has disappeared in a flash of light and appeared to have sunk. We proceeded at max speed to the area, arriving just as the Point Dume was pulling two survivors from the water. They proceeded to Cua Viet with LTJG John Davis and GMGSN John Anderegg, both badly wounded. After notifying CSC DaNang, "Article," that we were on station and assumed Enfield Cobra Alpha, we began to illuminate the area looking for survivors until we exhausted our supply of 81mm illumination rounds. We found only debris and a fuel slick, no bodies or survivors. Suddenly, we were illuminated by four amber colored illumination rounds, at a high altitude, directly overhead. Mr. Snyder called the Point Dume but she was still in Cua Viet. We headed south with illumination rounds continuing to light us up, following us southward. At some point, we stopped and checked our bearings. As we looked around us into the darkness, with a moon that sometimes was behind the clouds, we spotted two aircraft "hovering" on our port and starboard beams. They were about 300 yards away and 100 feet above the water. As the boat swung around to put the aircraft ahead and astern of PCF-12, I could hear Mr. Snyder requesting air support and identification of these helos. The answer from the beach was "no friendly aircraft in the area, have contacts near you on radar and starlight scope." "Are they squawking IFF," my OinC asked? "Negative, I repeat, negative squawking IFF," came the reply. At this time, Mr. Snyder radioed, "Roger that, I am taking aircraft under fire if they show hostile intent." By this time the helos were forward and aft of PCF-12 and I got a good look at one of the helos in the moonlight. It had a rounded front like an observation helo and it looked like two crewman sitting side by side. I went up to the pilot house to tell Mr. Snyder, who was standing in the doorway, I could see the other helo. I watched as tracers began to come toward us as this helo opened fire. The guns were from the nose of the helo. Our guns opened up and I ran back to my position as the loader on the after gun. We heard a crash of glass and a splash as one of the helos hit the water, the other helo broke contact and left the area.
For the next two and a half hours, we played cat and mouse with one or more helos at a time, opening up with our guns when they moved toward us in a threatening manner. We must have moved back north because we saw Point Dume nearby and blinking lights around her in the air, she was firing tracers into the air at something, but we could not see what it was. During this time, the radios were crackling constantly as my OinC answered calls from DaNang and other units while all friendlies that could be in the area were checked out. The result was; no friendlies, these had to be North Vietnamese.
About 0330, low on ammo, fuel and our 50 caliber barrels burned out, PCF-12 received a call from an aircraft flight leader as they approached from the south to intercept. We were told to fire a blue flare, both us and the Point Dume, to mark our positions. The jets flew overhead and acknowledged our position. There were explosions and gunfire to the north as the jets looked for targets. Remember, this is at least three hours after PCF-19 went down. As dawn broke, we could only see the shoreline and the Point Dume. We went alongside a ship where we received fuel and some 50 caliber ammo. We continued to patrol and look for signs of PCF-19 until we were relieved by PCF-101 and then returned to DaNang. A few days later some of our crew and some of the Point Dume testified at a Board of Inquiry held at III MAF Headquarters in DaNang.
We continued to monitor and track these "lights" for several weeks after this, up until September. In August PCF-12 and an extra crew took turns patrolling Enfield Cobra Alphas area for two weeks using USCG Owasco as our mother ship.
I have pages of documents, deck logs of ships in the area, copies of mortuary logs and many more documents. I started to write a book entitled "The Sinking of PCF-19". If any of you wish to share your observations or records of that night, I will recognize you as the source of any material that I can use.
This is my story in brief. I know what the "official story" is, but this is mine, as true and complete as I can remember.
My investigations continue to this day, however not much new evidence has surfaced. Along with Larry Lail, a hospital corpsman that assisted the divers on June 16, 17 and 18, as they retrieved the bodies from the sunken PCF-19. He was aboard USS Acme, an MSO. We have located the Marine Officer who was at the forward most post, on the beach, "Oceanview" and the Naval Gunfire Laison Officer at Alpha One. They bear out this story as they had tracked the lights for several weeks. The NGLO had a radio operator that saw the flash and explosion of PCF-19. We have also located two of the four divers, the skipper of the Point Dume, the Wing Commander of the planes out of DaNang and the pilot that was blamed for sinking PCF-19, however he has not as yet agreed to talk to us.
Our comrades lost to us that night were: BM2 Anthony Chandler, EN2 Edward Cruz, GMG3 Billy Armstrong, QM2 Frank Bowman. Bowman is still listed as an MIA.
Jim Steffes, ENC, USN Retired
I was in country during that time, but my patrol area was north and south out of Cat Lo. I don't remember hearing about the incident, but often, unless action involved our boats or was in our area, word was not been passed down to us.
I read that story which was linked from something you, or Dave, posted. I will see if I can get some contact info on go-to guys on NVA air opns. For years the enemy slung BS and propaganda but the air is starting to clear a little. There are a couple of guys who are real experts on that stuff, and can give you tick-by-tick the timeline of that attack on the US ships in 1972.
If Swift Boat 19 was sunk by enemy air, chances are good there is information on the sinking that remains classified (reason: sources and methods).
Criminal Number 18F
Great background information!
I'm sure you must have seen this 'news' article from the New York Times, the war as seen from the communist perspective.!!!!
Thank you. I saw the thread yesterday.
Sheesh! The north Atlantic was bad enough in winter on a DLG. I can't imagine how bad it would have been on a cutter.
Not too bad, as long as you beat the ice off the hull about every hour so you don't roll over. And the freezer doesn't bust open. I do recall three of us on the mess deck chasing and dodging a 20lb roast (frozen!) in 20 ft seas!
You call them wrinkles on the water waves??
You want waves?
Try the NORTH SEA, Not the North Atlantic, but the North Sea in Septemnber in a storm!
And do it in a flat bottom boat filled with puking Marines!
Then, be one of the ones puking!
"Lemmee tell ya about heavy seas girls!" "This one's a no sh***er!"