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!
Thanks for the history lesson cedardave!~
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
Great background information!