Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr
OP SEALORDS: Swift Boats, PBRs, Riverine Assault
Fri Aug 20, 2004 00:27
Swift Boats, PBRs, Riverine Assault
From 1968 to 1971, as U.S. forces prepared the South Vietnamese military to
assume complete responsibility for the war, they also worked to keep pressure on
the enemy by exploiting the Communists' staggering battlefield losses during the
1968 Tet Offensive attacks
The Navy, in particular, spearheaded a drive in the Mekong Delta to isolate and
destroy the weakened Communist forces. The SEALORDS(Southeast Asia Lake, Ocean,
River, and Delta Strategy) campaign was a determined effort by U.S. Navy, South
Vietnamese Navy, and allied ground forces to cut enemy supply lines from
Cambodia, and disrupt operations in his base areas deep in the Mekong Delta.
This strategy was developed by Commander Naval Forces Vietnam (COMNAVFORV), Vice
Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr, after taking command in late 1968 and with the
blessing of the also new Commander US Military Assistance Command Vietnam (COMUSMACV),
General Creighton Abrams
Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr.
In order to focus the allied effort on the SEALORDS campaign, COMNAVFORV
appointed his deputy as the operational commander, or "First SEALORD," of the
newly activated Task Force 194. Although continuing to function, the Market Time
(TF115), Game Warden (TF116), and Riverine Assault Force (TF117) operations were
scaled down and their personnel and material resources increasingly devoted to
To kick off SEALORDS, Market Time (TF115) Swift Boats initiated the "Market Time
Raider" program which mounted lightning raids into enemy held coastal waterways
and took over patrol responsibility for the Southern Delta's larger rivers. This
freed up the smaller PBRs (Patrol Boat River) for operations along the
previously uncontested smaller tributaries and canals. These intrusions into
former Viet Cong bastions were possible only with the on-call support of naval
aircraft and the heavily armed Riverine Assault Craft
In the first phase of the SEALORDS campaign, allied forces established patrol
"barriers," often using electronic sensor devices, all along the waterways
paralleling the Cambodian border west of Saigon:
In early November 1968, PBRs and Riverine Assault Craft opened two canals
between the Gulf of Siam at Rach Gia and the Bassac River at Long Xuyen in an
operation labeled Search Turn. Vietnamese paramilitary ground troops helped US
Naval patrol units secure the transportation routes in this operational area.
Later in the month, in operation Foul Deck, Swift Boats, PBRs, Riverine Assault
Craft, and Vietnamese naval vessels penetrated the Giang Thanh River-Vinh Te
Canal system, north of Search Turn and nearer to the Cambodian border, to
establish patrols all along that waterway from Ha Tien on the Gulf of Siam to
Chau Doc on the upper Bassac.
Then in December, against heavy enemy opposition, U.S. Naval forces pushed up
the Vam Co Dong (Vam Co East) and Vam Co Tay (Vam Co West) Rivers west of Saigon
to cut infiltration routes on either side and through the "Parrot's Beak" area
of Cambodia. This Giant Slingshot operation, so named for the Y-shape of the
confluence of the two rivers on a map, severely hampered Communist resupply in
the region near the capital and in the Plain of Reeds.
Completing the first phase of the SEALORDS program, in January 1969, PBRs,
Assault Support Patrol Boats (ASPB), and other river craft established patrol
sectors along canals westward from the Vam Co Tay River over to the Mekong River
in operation Barrier Reef.
So by the end of the first four months of SEALORDS, a patrolled waterway
interdiction barrier had been established that extended almost uninterrupted
from Tay Ninh northwest of Saigon all the way to the Gulf of Siam at Ha Tien and
During 1969 the second phase of SEALORDS was expanded as pacification efforts to
additional regions of Vietnam, principally in I Corps in the far north and the
most remote reaches of the Mekong Delta at the southern tip of Vietnam inside
the Ca Mau Peninsula.
In February 1969, pacification efforts in I Corps were initiated by Vietnamese
Coastal Group 14 Yabutas and Coastal Division 12 Swift Boats on the Cua Dai
River south of Da Nang and west of Hoi An in Quang Nam Province. Although
remaining under the auspices of TF115, this operation was very much a vital part
of the SEALORDS campaign strategy and, with the much later inclusion of PBRs
from TF116, became known as Operation Sea Tiger
In the Mekong Delta, Swift Boat, PBR, Riverine Assault Craft, SEAL, and
Vietnamese ground units struck at the Viet Cong in their former strongholds,
which included the Ca Mau Peninsula, the U Minh Forest, and the islands of the
broad Mekong River system. From April 7 to 18, ground - air - and naval units
from each of the American services, the Vietnamese Navy, and the Vietnamese
Marine Corps conducted Silver Mace II, a strike operation in the Nam Can Forest
on the Ca Mau Peninsula. Fierce fighting erupted with the northern forces that
occupied the narrow Duong Keo River - (also see "The Death of PCF 43") - but the
enemy's operations were significantly disrupted.
The allies further threatened the Communists in this "rear area" when they set
up raids inside the Song Ong Doc, a river on the southern border of the dense
and isolated U Minh area. Staging from what was known as a Mobile Advanced
Tactical Support Base (MATSB) at the river's mouth, U.S. and Vietnamese PBRs and
Swift Boats of operation Breezy Cove repeatedly intercepted and destroyed enemy
supply convoys crossing this waterway.
Based on the "lessons learned" by such forays into the enemy held strongholds of
this southern most region of South Vietnam, the SEALORDS leaders came up with an
extrordinarily innovative way to secure a more permanent Vietnamese government
presence in this vital area. In June 1969, the Navy first assembled, then
transported, a mobile pontoon base that was anchored in the middle of the Ca Mau
region's Cua Lon River. Labeled Sea Float, this operation was made difficult by
very heavy Communist opposition, strong river currents, and the distance to
logistic support facilities. Still, this "floating fortress" denied the enemy a
safe haven even in this isolated corner of the delta. By late October, the area
was secure enough to allow a land base, named Solid Anchor, to be established
adjacent to the floating base anchored just off the town of Nam Can.
One year after the start of the SEALORDS campaign, Communist military forces in
the Mekong Delta were under heavy pressure. The successive border interdiction
barriers had delayed and disrupted the enemy's arms resupply and troop
replacement efforts from Cambodia. The raiding operations had hit vulnerable
base areas. And the Sea Float and Sea Tiger deployments had pacified areas deep
in what had once been Viet Cong sanctuaries. Although costly in allied
casualties, the campaign had proved to be highly successful as a potential war
Perhaps the culmination of the SEALORDS campaign was inclusion of US and
Vietnamese naval forces in the incursion into Cambodia to finally take the
interdiction efforts of the allies directly to the source of the movement of
arms, material and troops into the southern areas of Vietnam. The total
Cambodian operation was authorized by President Nixon and carried out starting
in May of 1970. The naval part of this operation was known as Tran Hang Dao XI
and had the goal of clearing the Mekong River all the way to Phnom Penh and to
cut the supply line near the Cambodian town of Neak Loeang. This was carried out
with great success, as was the entire Cambodian incursion, halting infiltration
activities from this region until political pressure in the United States forced
an end to the operation.
Another fall out of this political pressure was a major reorganization, in June
1970, of the American and Vietnamese navies to accomodate the fast moving
process of Vietnamization. A few SEALORDS operations were reassigned back under
Game Warden (TF116) designations, but the rest were turned over to the South
Vietnamese Navy. By the end of 1970, only Sea Float remained under American
command, and that was turned over on the first of April 1971, marking an end to
direct US Navy control of operations inside South Vietnam.
This web site is Copyright � 2002 by Robert B. Shirley.
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John Kerry's Final Mission in Vietnam
... or "Swift" boat, Lieutenant junior grade Kerry was ordered to patrol the
rivers of Vietnam's Mekong Delta as part of Operation Sealords. ...
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