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Brown Water Navy - The PBR
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Posted on 11/14/2002 5:38:15 AM PST by SAMWolf


The kind of warfare that was waged in the inland waters of South Vietnam was last practiced by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. As a result much of the tactics were developed by trial and error. Sailors learned their lessons well and became a formidable fighting force that wrested control of the water ways from the Viet Cong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

No boat came to symbolize the Brown Water Navy like the small fragile River Patrol Boats (PBR) of Task Force 116 (T.F. 116), Code named Game Warden. The sailors who manned the PBRs often fought pitched battles with the VC and NVA at ranges of mere feet.

When the Navy decided to commit river patrol forces to the inland waters of Vietnam, it found itself in need of a small fast patrol craft. The result was the PBR MK I. The boat was 31 ft long and capable of speeds approaching 25 knots. It was powered by two GM 220 Horsepower diesel engines connected by direct drive to a pair of Jacuzzi water jet propulsion pumps. the boat's armament consisted of a twin 50 Caliber machine gun mount in the forward gun tub, a single 50 Caliber machine gun on a stern mount, an M60 machine gun and a Honeywell MK 18 40mm grenade launcher mounted amid ship. In addition each boat was equipped with various small arms; M-79 grenade launcher, Shotgun, mortar, grenades and side arms. The PBR was outfitted with a Raytheon 1900 radar unit and two AN/VRC 46 radios. The PBR drew only two feet of water while at rest and about nine inches of water at full speed. After the initial run of MK I PBRs, the MK II was introduced. Slightly larger and faster and with a lower profile, the only significant difference was the beefed up aluminum gunwales to aid in protecting the boat from being damaged when coming alongside sampans and junks. Eventually there would be 250 PBRs in Vietnam.

The PBR was manned by a four man crew - normally a first class petty officer as boat captain, a gunner's mate, an engineman and a seaman. Each crewman was cross trained in each other's job encase one became unable to carry out his duties. Generally PBRs operated in two boat patrols under the command of a patrol officer who rode one of the boats in addition to the normal crew.

The sailors who took on the VC in his own territory and on his short range terms, and beat him, became a force without precedence in the history of the U. S. Navy. Enormous responsibility and demands were placed on the PBR sailors, especially the Boat Captain.

PBRs logged up to 70,000 patrol hours in an average month with the PBRs being in approximately 80 firefights per month. At one time the causality rate ran at about 6% per month. At that rate and over a years tour, nearly three out of four PBR sailors could be expected to be killed or wounded. Individual River Divisions sustained casuality rates far higher for short periods of time. As an example, River Division 531 suffered B-40 Rocket hits to 7 of the 10 assigned boats in a period of only 40 days. During the overall period of the PBR in Vietnam, 1 out of 3 PBR sailors were killed or wounded.

The PBR Sailors became the most highly decorated naval command of the war with two recipients of the Medal of Honor, fourteen recipients of the Navy Cross and recipients of untold numbers of Silver Stars, Bronze stars and Purple Hearts.

Today, many old sailors wear the Vietnam service medal. Of these, only a small portion served in the River Patrol Force. And in a sense these men are a group unto themselves. Their uniforms were not white nor even blue denim, but jungle fatigues. And rather than the traditional White hat, they wore the distinctive head gear that only those who served with the River Patrol Force were permitted to wear. These sailors proudly wore the Black Beret.


Five US Navy ships were named after five PBR Forces sailors who were killed in Vietnam. One US Navy ship named after the passing of Medal of Honor recipient BM1 James Elliott Williams. Logistic Support Vessel (LSV - 06) of the US Army was named (in 1995) after SP4 James A Loux, who served with 458th Transportation Company and was killed in Vietnam.

In Memory of GMG2 P.O. Ford, KIA 06/21/68
In Memory of SN D.G. Ouellet, KIA 03/06/67
In Memory of LCDR A.J. Elliot, KIA 12/26/68
In Memory of LCDR C.J. Peterson, KIA 02/04/69
In Memory of BMC Q.H. Truett, KIA 01/20/69
In Memory of BM1 James Elliott Williams, (13 Nov. 1930-13 Oct. 1999) DDG 95 Named 26 May 2001

Two PBR Forces Sailors were recipients of the Medal of Honor:

* BM1 J.E. Williams
* SN D.G. Ouellet (posthumously)

Fourteen PBR Forces Sailors were recipients of the Navy Cross:

* RM2 T. J. Freund (posthumously)
* BMC Q. H. Truett (posthumously)
* GMG2 P. O. Ford (posthumously)
* SM1 C. B. Smith
* GMG3 D. R. Larsen
* SN G. O. Hampton
* MN1 C. H. Martin
* SN T. D. Alspaugh
* BM1 W. Westphal
* BMC G. Ajdukovich
* GMGC R. O. Porter
* BM1 J. E. Williams
* FN W. E. Hayenga, Jr
* EN3 M. L. Gates


TF-116 MIA's.....................................................8

TF-116 KIA's

Riv Ron/Pat Flot-5 Staff......................................6
River Sections/Divisions PBR..........................137
LST's TF-116.......................................................6
VAL-4 (Black Ponies)..........................................6
HAL-3 (Seawolves)...........................................45
Mine Ron 11A..................................................13
MinDiv 113........................................................4
SEAL Team 1.....................................................34
SEAL Team 2.......................................................9
Total TF-116 MIA and KIA..............................272

TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: brownwater; navy; pbr; vietnam
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Origin of the Black Beret Provided by Fred McDavitt

It was born out of necessity. I was the first CO of RIVER SECTION 531 out of My Tho, VN. We arrived in country in the March/April 1966 timeframe, and had to train with the Swift Boats and USCG WPBs because the first PBRs had not yet arrived in country. (Think about this - the first time the original PBR sailors saw a PBR is when they went into combat. But that's another story)

The Navy sent us to VN with no jungle uniforms. The first RIVSEC COs spent a good deal of time scrounging around Saigon trying to get jungle uniforms, boots, and hats. I got the first uniform issue for the members of my Section from the USAF and jungle boots from the Army. But I could never find 60 of the same type of hat. When we arrived in My Tho in late May 1966, several of my boat crews started wearing black berets that they had purchased in town. I had the boat captains take me to the shop, where I was able to buy 60 berets, one for everyone in the Section. I thought I had solved a problem. But I had really just traded one problem for another.

My immediate boss, LCDR Jim Toole, Commander River Division 53, said he thought it was a good idea, but he had little hope that his boss, Captain Kronander, CTF 116, would support the idea. He was right. Captain Kronander said that there was nothing in Uniform Regs about black berets. But, Captain Kronander was relieved shortly thereafter by Captain Burt Witham as CTF 116, and I took up the black beret issue with him. Captain Witham's initial reaction was predictable, not only no, but hell no.

As other River Sections came up the Mekong, enroute to their bases, they stopped in My Tho for fuel, provisions, and intelligence. They also saw my boat crews wearing black berets. By the time they left My Tho, their crews were also wearing black berets.

To make a long story short, by the time Captain Witham made his first tour of the PBR bases in the Mekong Delta, everywhere he went the boat crews were wearing black berets.

I'm sure that all the other River Section CO's and Boat Captains made their case for black berets to Captain Witham too. The end result was that he sent out a message in 1967 stating that PBR sailors could wear the black beret - but with a long list of restrictions that most folks ignored. One restriction was that it could not be worn in Saigon. However, when the boat crews went to Saigon on convoy duty, they left My Tho wearing their green jungle uniform ball cap. As soon as they were out of sight - out came the black berets and off went the ball caps.

Regards, Fred McDavitt RIVER SECTION 531, 1966-67 "Boats of Glass, Ball of Brass, Black Berets Forever!" (The RS 531 toast)

1 posted on 11/14/2002 5:38:15 AM PST by SAMWolf
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To: souris; SpookBrat; Victoria Delsoul; MistyCA; AntiJen; SassyMom; Kathy in Alaska; bluesagewoman; ...
River Patrol

The great strategic and economic importance of South Vietnam's extensive inland waterways made it clear from the beginning of the war that the Navy would be in the front rank of the allied forces. Laced by 3,000 nautical miles of rivers, canals, and smaller streams, the fertile Mekong Delta south of Saigon, where the largest segment of South Vietnam population lived, constituted the country's rice bowl. Northward along the coast to the DMZ, sizable rivers stretched inland past vital population centers such as the old imperial capital of Hue. Throughout the country the road and rail system was rudimentary while the waterways provided ready access to the most important resources. The side that controlled the rivers and canals controlled the heart of South Vietnam. U.S. naval leaders were determined that allied forces would command these waterways when they established the River Patrol Force (Task Force 116) on 18 December 1965. From then until March 1966, the Navy procured river patrol boats (PBR) in the United States, prepared the crews at the Coronado, California, and Mare Island, California, training centers, and deployed the units to Southeast Asia for Operation Game Warden. On 15 March 1966 the River Patrol Force was also designated River Patrol Squadron 5 for administrative and supply purposes. By 31 August 1968, the force consisted of five river divisions, each controlling two 10-boat sections that operated from combat bases along the major rivers or from ships positioned in the rivers. The Navy reconditioned each of the ships so they could serve as floating base facilities for a PBR section and a helicopter detachment.

River Patrol Force Dispositions

River Division 51 Can Tho/Binh Thuy
River Division 52 Sa Dec (later Vinh Long)
River Division 53 My Tho
River Division 54 Nha Be River
Division 55 Danang

Support Ships -- 1966

Belle Grove (LSD 2)
Comstock (LSD 19)
Floyd County (LST 762)
Jennings County (LST 846)
Tortuga (LSD 26)


Garrett County (LST 786)
Harnett County (LST 821)
Hunterdon County (LST 838)
Jennings County (LST 846)

The PBR, the ubiquitous workhorse of the River Patrol Force, was manned by a crew of four bluejackets, equipped with a Pathfinder surface radar and two radios, and commonly armed with two twin- mounted .50-caliber machine guns forward, M-60 machine guns (or a grenade launcher) port and starboard amidship, and a .50-caliber aft. The initial version of the boat, the Mark I, performed well in river patrol operations but was plagued with continual fouling of its water-jet engines by weeds and other detritus. In addition, when Vietnamese sampans came alongside for inspection they often damaged the fragile fiberglass hull of the PBRs. New Mark IIs, first deployed to the delta in December 1966, brought improved Jacuzzi jet pumps, which reduced fouling and increased speed from 25 to 29 knots, and more durable aluminum gunwales. Task Force 116 also employed the experimental patrol air cushion vehicle (PACV), three of which operated in the Mekong Delta during 1966 and 1967 as PACV Division 107. During 1968, the PACVs deployed to the Danang area as Coastal Division 17. Although able to move with great speed over shallow, marshy areas, such as in the Plain of Reeds, the PACVs proved to be too noisy and too mechanically sophisticated for riverine war in South Vietnam. After the Tet emergency, the craft were shipped back to the United States for reevaluation.

2 posted on 11/14/2002 5:39:20 AM PST by SAMWolf
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To: SAMWolf
Ten-hut. Hand salute.

Boonie Rat

MACV SOCOM, PhuBai/Hue '65-'66

3 posted on 11/14/2002 5:45:54 AM PST by Boonie Rat
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To: SAMWolf
River Patrol

Sam I remember watching news clips of these patrols every night on tv.
4 posted on 11/14/2002 5:49:38 AM PST by Soaring Feather
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To: bentfeather
Morning Bentfeather.
5 posted on 11/14/2002 5:50:26 AM PST by SAMWolf
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To: Boonie Rat
A salute back to you, sir.

20th Engr Bde. Phuoc Vinh. 1969-70
6 posted on 11/14/2002 5:51:54 AM PST by SAMWolf
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To: SAMWolf
Don't forget our mighty swift boats, they too starred in the Brown Water Navy...


7 posted on 11/14/2002 6:05:27 AM PST by meandog
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To: SAMWolf
8 posted on 11/14/2002 6:06:25 AM PST by oyez
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To: SAMWolf
Thank you for the short history and for your service!
9 posted on 11/14/2002 6:15:28 AM PST by PBRSTREETGANG
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To: meandog
Vung Tau / Cat Lo / An Thoi. 67 - '68.

Mostly PCF. Remember the Green Fleet? Monitors? Remember "Numbah One" and Snoopy after the Red Baron ?

Brown water Navy.

Nam Vet

10 posted on 11/14/2002 6:27:45 AM PST by Nam Vet
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To: SAMWolf
Thanks for this - my neighbor served two tours in PBRs. He still can't talk much about it. I respect him a lot - her recently retired after a 31 year career with the Santa Barbara City Fire Department. You might check this link out, too.

11 posted on 11/14/2002 6:34:21 AM PST by RKV
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yikes! her=he I can spell?!
12 posted on 11/14/2002 6:37:49 AM PST by RKV
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To: Nam Vet
I do remember getting called "Numbah Ten" a few times, I think I got a "Numbah Ten Thousand" once or twice too.

Something to do with MPC Exchange day.
13 posted on 11/14/2002 6:39:16 AM PST by SAMWolf
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Thanks for the link. I have a friend who served in PBRs.

Unfortuanately I lost touch with him since moving to Oregon, we just exchange Christmas Cards now.
14 posted on 11/14/2002 6:41:47 AM PST by SAMWolf
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To: SAMWolf; Rheo; carenot; Victoria Delsoul; HiJinx; SassyMom; SpookBrat; AntiJen; Diver Dave; ...
Thanks, Sam! Wonderful thread!!! :)
15 posted on 11/14/2002 7:00:55 AM PST by MistyCA
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To: SAMWolf
Snoopy was a mascot of one of the Riveron Units. Numbah one was their motto. That's what I was referring to then.

Of course among my nicknames were:

Buku nammah ten Navy

Buku Buttahfly (The Vet liked lots of different flowers)

Even Buku nummah ONE many times (believe it or not)

You've got me thinking a lot now.

Nam Vet

16 posted on 11/14/2002 7:04:18 AM PST by Nam Vet
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To: SAMWolf

Great read about great warriors and honorable men, as for me I was gator navy.

Sere Doc

17 posted on 11/14/2002 7:07:33 AM PST by SERE_DOC
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We may know your neighbor. Thanks for the post! :) I have know many people who served in Vietnam. I can think of very few who ever talk about it. Welcome to FR!!
18 posted on 11/14/2002 7:09:25 AM PST by MistyCA
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To: SAMWolf
A bump for EN3 Hill. He enjoyed his 20 or 21 years immensely.

Nam Vet

19 posted on 11/14/2002 7:46:56 AM PST by Nam Vet
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To: SAMWolf
"River Division 51 Can Tho/Binh Thuy "

C Co. 69th Bn 34th Gp 20th Engr Bde.

I was right across the road from those guys.

20 posted on 11/14/2002 7:58:03 AM PST by kahoutek
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