Category Archives: vietnam

Toughest thing I had to write

This cartoon hit me in the feels this year.

That’s because it is the first in my life without my grandfather.

A career NCO (Signal Corps), he joined the Guard as a teenager during the war in Korea and then transitioned to active service, serving as an adviser to the Shah’s Army, to that of the King of Iraq, to the West Germans, and then the South Vietnamese, the latter repeatedly. After traveling around the globe for most of his 23 years of active duty, he retired as a promotable E8, declining to take the extra bump and be a 30-year man because it would have meant finishing his next contract in the Beltway, something he said that he just wasn’t built for.

So, he retired, picked up his family from Fort Gordon, then headed back home to Mississippi. This included his newly-born first grandson– me.

My grandpa and I in 1975, just after he left the Army, with his brand new bouncing baby grandson. The carpet on the wall behind him he brought back to the states from some bazaar in Iran, back when it was called Persia. The right is him just last year, a proud old bearded Vietnam vet.

Now, he is gone, and, while I have written professionally for the past 20 years, including several books, thousands of articles, and thousands more blog posts, his obituary was the toughest thing I ever had to write.

Over 8.7 million Americans served in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era from 1964 to 1973, and it is thought that well over a third of those have already left us, with more packing their sea bags and duffles every day. The number of Korean War era Vets is even smaller and is expected to fall below 200,000 in the next couple of years.

Be sure to hug them while you can.

Kiwis Exit, 50 Years ago

Via the National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand, the end of an era, 50 years ago today:

22nd December 1972, the NZ Army withdraws its troops from Vietnam. Today we acknowledge the service of the 3,400 New Zealanders who served in Vietnam during the war between June 1964 and December 1972. We honor the 37 personnel who died on active duty, the 187 who were wounded, some very seriously, and all those who have suffered long-term effects.

The Vietnam War was our longest and most contentious military experience of the twentieth century. Back home, the Vietnam War led to enormous political and public debate about New Zealand’s foreign policy and place in the world.

Note the kiwi tattoo

Note the mix of kit on these recce guys, including triple canteens, Boonie hats, M16A1s, and inch pattern L1A1 FALs

That M60, tho…

Mighty Mansfield

56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

  • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
  • Days on Gun Line: 220
  • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
  • Enemy KIA: 187
  • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
  • Secondary Explosions: 59
  • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
  • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

Goums at 114: France’s Tough Moroccan Reliables

Back on 3 October 1908, under the terms of the Algeciras Conference that calmed the Moroccan Crisis between France and Germany, the French Republic stood up its first “goum” (roughly “troop” in Arabic) drawn from Moroccan Berber volunteers nominally still under the control of the Alawi Sultan of Morocco. These company-sized groups of irregulars, typically of 100-150 men consisting of three or four infantry platoons and a horse-mounted cavalry troop, all commanded by a couple of French officers and NCOs, soon expanded as they proved ideal for use in North Africa.

Tasked as sort of a gendarmerie intended to carry out patrols or reconnaissance missions on Moroccan territory, they were distinctive in their brightly colored wool djellaba cloaks with a hood (koub) to protect the soldier in harsh weather, loose gandoura blouses, naala ox skin sandals attached with palm cords, short séroual pants that ended in the mid-leg, a wool head covering, and leather choukara satchels in place of the more traditional French musette bag.

By 1920, there were 25 goums. Following tough service and proving themselves in the Atlas mountains against the Rifs in the 1920s, by 1933, there were 47 goums. By 1940, the French no less than 121 goums were on the books. Larger battalion-sized Tabors, formed from three or four goums, appeared. A dozen goums in May 1940 were molded into a regiment-sized force (1er Groupe de Supplétifs Marocains, 1er GSM) to fight to Italians in nearby Libya.

Restricted to local duty since they were founded, the Moroccan goums had missed out on service in Metropolitan France in the Great War and later in the 1939-40 Battle of France and remained a presence in North Africa, intact, during the Vichy regime under the guise of being gendarmerie troops used for internal security. Following the Torch Landings, the Free French moved to form the goum into something more expeditionary and 1er GSM was soon in combat against the Italians and Germans in Tunisia.

April 1943: Siliana, Tunisia French Goumiers 1er GSM with a FIAT 508 CM captured from the Italians. Note the second-hand German MP38 SMG (ECPAD TERRE 43-846)

They marched in the liberation of Tunis in May.

Des goumiers marocains reconnaissables à leurs vêtements, qui ont participé aux combats, défilent dans Tunis.

Soon, a second GSM was formed and, befitting of Allied support, these units soon became GTMs or Grouping of Moroccan tabors (Moroccan Tabors Groupments) with four brigade-sized GTMs soon being stood up.

The four GTM insignia, 1943-45

The size of a standard goum and tabor would expand to over 200 as 81mm mortar teams and a M1919 machine gun platoon was added. At the same time, the M1903A3 Springfield rifle in .30-06 became the main battle rifle while the heads of the goumiers would be protected by M1917 Brodie style helmets, the later dubbed “Mle 17 A 1” in French service. Slowly, GI combat boots replaced sandals while olive drab web gear supplemented then replaced French leather gear. 

One of the most famous photos of a Moroccan goumier, from Yank magazine, shows one sharpening an M1905 bayonet for his M1903A3 Springfield rifle while wearing a French Adrian-style helmet

They would land with Patton’s 7th Army in the Sicilian Campaign, with the 4th GTM attached to the Big Red One of the 1st U.S. Infantry Division, and then continue to carry the war up the Italian boot, serving with Mark Clark’s 5th Army.

They were on hand for the liberation of Corsica and on to mainland France, with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd GTMs taking part in the Dragoon Landings in August 1944 and heading inland from there.

Goumiers marocains, Libération de la Corse. Note the French cadre in more traditional dress.

September 21, 1943 first goumiers landed at Ajaccio, Corsica. Note these are still carrying French weapons and don’t have Brodie helmets yet.

France 1944, goumiers du 2e GTM (Groupement de Tabors Marocains) with Brodies and M1903s.

Moroccan soldiers at Monte Cassino in January 1944

French Algerian soldiers at Monte Cassino c.1944 operating a Browning M1919 machine gun, they are of course Moroccan Goumiers

St. Elia, Italy, de Gaulle inspects Moroccan Goumiers of the Free French forces, 9 March 1944. Note the mix of French cartridge pouches, traditional costumes, and Adrian helmets.

They even made it to a Bill Mauldin cartoon. 

The 3rd GTM ended the war on occupation duty in Stuttgart. 

June 14, 1945, in Stuttgart Germany, French Gourmiers trade tobacco with the locals. Note the slung M1903A3. ECPAD EATH 10622-L369 M1903

Collectively, the goums racked up 26 unit citations for their WWII service. In all, they suffered more than 8,000 casualties fighting in Europe. They also left their marks on the continent, with several atrocities and assorted human rights violations blamed on the units.

Bandiera Fanion del 1er Groupement de Tabors Marocains, with honors for Tunisie 1943, Rome 1944, Sienne 1944, as well as a Legion of Honor presented to the unit by De Gaulle 

Nonetheless, the French became increasingly enamored with these hard-fighting Moroccan troops and, of the 130,000 assorted North African troops that fought in Indochina between 1945 and 1954, no less than 52 percent hailed from Morrocco. The feeling was mutual, as, for many of these soldiers the duty was good and well-liked– with the goumiers returning home with medals and well-filled savings books while at the same time the units they were attached to saw very low desertion rates.

At least nine gourmier tabors (1er, 2e, 3e, 5e, 8e, 9e, 10e, 11e, and 17e) would be stationed in the region and were noted in their performance in the battles RC4 and at Diên Biên Phu. They would leave no less than 4,120 Moroccans behind in Southeast Asia, including 611 still listed as MIA.

In May 1956, with the independence of Morocco, the days of the goumier were numbered and on 9 June, the last goum was disbanded, folded into the Royal Moroccan Army of today.

As far as France is concerned, the Infantry Museum in Montpellier maintains the history of the goums through a dedicated collection in a room dedicated to them. A monument to the goums was erected in 1954 at the Croix des Moinats, in the heart of the Vosges mountain range they helped to liberate in 1944-45.

Le monument du col de la croix des Moinats. l’inauguration, les Goums

The French regularly hold ceremonies at the monument today

The Armee Musem, which houses the decorated banners of the GTM, notes, “Feared, admired, and always respected, the goums contributed by their exploits and their faithful commitment to the writing of the most valiant pages in the history of the French Army and the Infantry.”

Guns of the Air Force at 75

While Ben Franklin theorized using airships to deliver troops to battle behind enemy lines as early as 1783 and the Union Army fielded a balloon service in the Civil War, today’s Air Force traces its origin to the heavier-than-air machines of the U.S. Army’s Aeronautical Division, founded in 1907– just four years after the Wright brothers first flew. After service in Army green during both World Wars, the Air Force became an independent branch of the military in 1947 with the first Secretary of the Air Force named on Sept. 18 and its first Chief of Staff named on Sept. 26. 

To salute the 75th birthday of the USAF this week, I took a deep dive into the small arms of the organization over the years, including some rares.

Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype
A Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype on display at the USAF Armament Museum (Photo: Chris Eger/
Remington XP-100 survival gun
The Remington XP-100 survival gun concept. (Photo: Chris Eger/
Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm
The Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm was another planned Air Force survival gun that made it about as high as a lead balloon. Bushmaster did, however, put it in limited commercial production. (Photo: Chris Eger/

More in my column at


Recon by Colt

55 Years Ago Today.

Original Caption:

On 8 September 1967, PFC Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA) uses his M16 rifle to recon by fire. Earlier, the company received sniper [fire] from the valley below. His company; Company “A”, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade [Division], was moving to a mountain top to secure a landing zone. This was mission was a part of Operation “Cook” conducted in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. Mendoza was also known for his helmet graffiti “Goin-home!! California”.

By Sp5 Robert C. Lafoon, Department of the Army Special Photo Office. National Archives Identifier:100310264

Note PFC Mendoza’s early model (XM16E1) M16 with its heavily-scarred plastic furniture, at least three casings in air, and brass being pushed into the chamber by the BCG. These guns had most of the externals seen on the later M16A1s (3-prong FH, triangular handguards, forward assist, and A1 sights) but did not have a chrome-lined barrel/chamber. These were fielded to airmobile units such as the 101st around mid-1965 before the A1 was standardized. Note there is no brass deflector and the “fence” around the mag release is very shallow, with users of these rifles often complaining they would accidentally eject a mag when going to close the dust cover.

While there are a dozen Mendozas listed from PFCs to a light colonel among the more than 58,000 named on The Wall, our particular PFC is not among them, so at least he seems to have made it back home to California. 

As noted on the Vietnam Veteran’s page for the 2nd/502nd: 

The 2nd Battalion of the 502nd Infantry Regiment (often referred to as the ‘O Deuce’) was part of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. The 1st Brigade of the 101st was one of the first major units in Vietnam – arriving by boat in July 1965. The O Deuce was on that boat as part of the 1st Brigade, and remained in Vietnam until 1972. The historical average “time in combat” for WWII Infantry Soldiers was 40 days, and in Vietnam they give 240 days as the norm or average. In the O Deuce the norm was much closer to 330 days – in a 365 day tour. We lived “in the bush”, and saw the “rear area” for only a couple of days at a time, often a month or more apart.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 07, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

U.S. Army Photo 111-CCV-113-CC43650. National Archives Identifier: 100310246

Above we see the Benewah-class self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36), some 55 years ago this month on 24 September 1967, moored in South Vietnam’s My Tho River. A collection of floating piers and docks sister the big, armored converted LST, to her small craft brood of the Mobile Riverine Force. Alongside her are at least 10 LCM-6 landing craft converted to Armored Troop Carriers (aka “Tango” boats), four CCB (aka “Charlie” boats) communication/control monitors, and a helicopter-pad equipped Aid Boat. Note the quad 40mm Bofors fore and aft on Colleton along with two 3″/50s flanking her helicopter pad as well as her location near shore.

Colleton had to be one of the most formidable vessels to even be labeled a “barracks ship” and these days would pull down the designation of an Expeditionary Sea Base, although she was much better armed.

About those APBs…

The Old Navy’s primary receiving ship/barracks ships, based at naval stations and shipyards to house blue jackets between homes, were usually just hulked warships, their topsides covered over by dormitories. 

U.S. Navy frigate, USS Constitution, photographed while serving as a receiving/barracks ship in Boston, circa 1905. Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1891-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

USS Chicago (IX-5) at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, October 20, 1926. Chicago was originally commissioned in 1889 as a protected cruiser was classified as CA-14 in 1920 and became a barracks ship at Pearl Harbor after decommissioning in 1923. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-1010827

With the U.S. military swelling to a multi-million man force in WWII– much of it to be sent far overseas into often remote areas such as isolated Pacific islands with no infrastructure– the Navy quickly realized that barracks ships would be needed. Soon, starting in FY 1942, a class of 40 non-self-propelled Barracks Ships (APL hull numbers) were begun. Dubbed the APL-2 and APL-17 types, they were simple 2,000-ton, 260-foot, covered barges with a two-story barracks built on top.

APL-17, under tow to her next location, 8 October 1944. Able to accommodate 500 or so troops or sailors, these barracks barges had three generators for lights, cooling, and amenities but no engines and a 71-man crew made up primarily of Ship’s Servicemen– Barber (SSMB), Laundryman (SSML), Cobbler (SSMC), and Tailor (SSMT)– rates along with a few engineering rates and GMs. For defense, as they were to be forward deployed, was a battery of 20mm Oerlikons on the roof and some M1919 mounts to cover the water. 

Midway into the numbering sequence for the APLs, starting with APL-35 and running through APL-40, it was decided to create a run of larger, self-propelled barracks ships. These would become the Benewah-class authorized as APL-35 (soon morphed to APB-35) and 15 sisters soon following.

To avoid reinventing the wheel, the Benewahs were all 4,000-ton, 328-foot, LST-542-class landing ship tanks, or AKS-16 class general stores issue ships (which used the same hull and machinery). They were able to steam at 12 knots and had a decent self-defense capability including two twins and four single 40mm/60 Bofors as well as a mix of smaller cannon and machine gun mounts. Gone was the landing and beaching gear and added was a double-deck troop accommodation for 28 officers and 275 enlisted as well as galley and recreation facilities for those embarked as well as the 137-man crew.

For a time still termed APLs then “LST (Modified)” they eventually became APBs by the time they joined the Navy List.

Ten of the class were quickly converted to APBs post-commissioning while still at their builders including USS Wythe (APB-41) (ex-LST-575), Yavapai (APB-42)(ex LST-676), Yolo (APB-43)(ex LST-677), Presque Isle (APB-44)(ex LST-678), Accomac (APB-49)(ex LST-710), Cameron (APB-50)(ex LST-928), Blackford (APB-45)(ex AKS-16), Dorchester (APB-46)(ex AKS-17), Kingman (APB-47)(ex AKS-18), and Vanderburgh (APB-48)(ex AKS-19). These ships made it to the fleet first and some were sent into the thick of the action by 1944.

USS Yavapai (APB-42) at anchor off the coast of Okinawa in the summer of 1945. Note the magnificent view of a DUKW six-wheel amphibian in the foreground. Photo from the NARA US Army Air Force photo collection.

This left Benewah, Colleton, Marlboro (APB-38), Mercer (APB-39), and Nueces (APB-40) to be built as barracks ships from the keel up rather than converted.

USS Mercer (APB-39) and USS Marlboro (APB-38) under construction at Boston Navy Yard, 3 January 1945. Note the two-level superstructure running nearly the entire length of the ship with the pilot house onthe  top forward. The destroyer at the top is USS Babbitt (AG-102) and across the channel, there is probably a British battleship. NARA Identifier NA 38329801

However, this meant that the five-pack of fresh-built Benewahs, Colleton included, were only completed post-VJ-Day.

Speaking of which, Colleton, authorized, on 17 December 1943 as Barracks Ship (non-self-propelled) APL-36 and later reclassified to APB-36 on 8 August 1944, was laid down, on 9 June 1945 at Boston Naval Shipyard and “completed” in September 1945. As she wasn’t needed, she was never commissioned and was placed immediately in reserve at Boston, her bunks never slept in, an ensign never flown from her. She would slumber for 22 years, just in case.

She earned her name from the county and river in South Carolina, near the vital entrance to Port Royal.

Preliminary chart of Port Royal entrance. Beaufort, Chechessee, and Colleton Rivers, South Carolina From a trigonometrical survey under the direction of A. D. Bache, Superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States. Triangulation by C. O. Boutelle, Assist. Hydrography by the parties under the command of Lieuts. Commdg. J. N. Maffit and C. M. Fauntleroy, U.S.N, Assists. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division: G3912.P62 1862. U5 CW 389.2

Good Morning, Rat Sung Special Zone!

On 1 April 1966, Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established to control the Navy’s units in the Army’s II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. This eventually included the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). The latter unit formed the naval component of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force.

Patterned after the French naval assault divisions, or Dinassauts, which performed well in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, the MRF consisted of an Army element– 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (augmented by the 3rd Brigade after mid-1968), and a Navy element– River Assault Squadrons 9 and 11 along with River Support Squadron 7– under COMUSMACV’s overall direction.

The “Old Reliables” of the 9th Infantry Division were reactivated on 1 February 1966 and arrived in Vietnam on 16 December 1966 from Fort Riley, Kansas, and would spend most of their time “in-country” with wet boots, motored around the Vietnamese river complex via the Navy.

Original Caption: 26 September 1967, My Tho River, Republic of Vietnam: “Soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division’s ‘Riverines’ assault a heavily wooded area. The Soldiers were brought to the beach head by an Armored Troop Carrier landing craft.” Note the CAR-15 (XM-177) in the hands of the platoon leader, the Marlboros and bug juice in the bands of their M1 helmets, and the general lack of shirts/blouses. U.S. Army photo 111-CCV-113-CC43676, NARA 100310250

As detailed in By Sea, Air, and Land » Chapter 3: The Years of Combat, 1965-1968 from The Navy Department Library:

Each 400-man assault squadron, divided further into two river assault divisions, marshaled a powerful fleet of five monitors. Each monitor was protected with armor and equipped with .50 caliber, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter gun mounts, two 40- millimeter grenade launchers, and an 81-millimeter mortar. Another two or three similarly armed and armored craft served as command and control boats. A total of 26 Armored Troop Carriers that mounted .50-caliber machine guns, rapid-fire grenade launchers, and 20-millimeter cannons transported the Army troops. Also installed on the former amphibious landing craft were helicopter landing platforms. A number of craft mounted flame throwers [dubbed “Zippo” boats] or water cannons [dubbed “Douche” boats] to destroy enemy bunkers. A modified armored troop carrier functioned as a refueler for the river force. Beginning in September 1967, to augment the firepower of these converted landing crafts, each squadron was provided with 8 to 16 newly designed Assault Support Patrol Boats for minesweeping and escort duties.

By the end of 1967, each river assault squadron contained 26 ATCs, 16 ASPBs, five Monitors, two CCBs, one Aid Boat, and one refueller (a modified LCM).

An Assault Support Patrol Boat (ASPB) of Task Force 117 moves slowly up the outboard side of an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC). The ATC is sweeping for Vietcong command detonated mines during a Mobile Riverine Force search and destroy mission. The boats are assigned to River Assault Flotilla One, 16 December 1967. USN 1132289

Army infantrymen of the Second Brigade, Ninth Infantry Division return to a U.S. Navy Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) of River Assault Flotilla One, Task Force 117, after conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in the Rung Sat Special Zone in October 1967. USN 1132292

A group of riverine craft consisting of ASPB and Armored ATCS makes a firing run on a suspected enemy position. The craft is part of Commander Task Force 117. K-74760

However, the MRF needed mother ships, and the first, USS Whitfield County (LST 1169), clocked in to support River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau in January 1967. The utility of this put the Navy on a course that would bring its APBs out of mothballs and sent them  to Southeast Asia

Converted to provide a mobile operating base for river patrol squadrons and serve as a command ship in support of Amy infantry battalions, Colleton was finally commissioned on 28 January 1967, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Colleton’s ultimate conversion included upgraded habitation amenities, a large amidship helicopter pad for supporting aircraft (primarily Army and Navy UH-1s), expanded 18-bed sick bay facilities, and some quickly installed electronics and commo gear. Her WWII-era guns, well-greased but never fired, were put back in service as threats from Viet Cong sappers and NVA PT boats were a real thing.

From the Mobile Riverine Force Association:

After a complete paint job (green Army olive drab), several hundred square feet of bar armor was fabricated to cover the bridge and operations area. This had to be constructed entirely by ship’s company from angle iron and ½-inch steel bars. The month of May [1967] also saw the installation of 8-50 caliber and 12 7.62mm machine guns to the armament of the ship. She also acquired three ammo pontoons to be used as a mooring place for the small boats of the River Assault Squadrons and as assembling points for troops about to be embarked in the Armored Troop Carriers (Tango’s).

She was soon joined by Benewah who had been laid up at Green Cove Springs, Florida since 1956, and the ship was recommissioned, on 26 February 1967 and sent to Vietnam.

USS Benewah (APB-35). In the Soi Rap River, the BENEWAH lies at anchor with her assault ships nesting alongside, 24 October 1967. K-41574

USS Colleton (APB-36) with a full dozen Armored Troop Carrier LCM-6 conversions– including one outfitted as an Aid Boat– alongside while in the Mekong Delta. L45-55.02.01

Mekong Delta, Republic of Vietnam. Soldiers of the joint U.S. Army-Navy mobile riverine force get a “hosing down” to remove Mekong Delta mud as they return to their floating home base, a self-propelled barracks ship, after completing a mission during Operation Coronado Nine. Photographed by PH1 L.R. Robinson, December 1967. 428-GX-K42765

“Mother Ship: the USS Colleton’s bow, quad 40mm gun mount, loaded and fully manned during the ship’s movements up and down the Delta. It was also partially manned from 6 PM to 6AM every night at anchor. Three different crews taking shifts. We slept in the gun mount when we were able. Most nights we were usually awake and firing, off and on, in support of Army infantry. Sleep was not an option then.”– Dennis Noward

As detailed in Riverine Warfare, The U.S. Navy’s Operations on Inland Waters:

By late May 1967, the five ships that formed the initial Mobile Riverine Base had arrived in the Delta. These include two self-propelled barracks ships, the USS Benewah (APB 35) and USS Colleton (APB 30); a landing craft repair ship, USS Askari (ARL 30); the barracks craft APL 26; and a logistics support LST assigned on a 2-month rotational basis by Commander Seventh Fleet.

These five ships provided repair and logistic support, including messing, berthing, and working spaces for the 1,900 embarked troops of the 2d Brigade, and the 1,600 Navy men then assigned to TF-117. Benewah served as the Mobile Riverine Force flagship. By mid-June, 68 boats had joined the force and others arrived every few days (the full complement of 180 river assault craft was reached in 1968).

Thus, beginning June 1967, it was possible to conduct six to eight search and destroy missions per month, each lasting 2 or 3 days. (A number were joint United States-South Vietnamese.) On each of eight separate operations during the year, more than 100 Viet Cong were killed.

Sisters Mercer (also laid up in Green Cove Springs) and Nueces (laid up in Orange, Texas since 1955) would soon follow by 1968.

USS NUECES (APB-40) commissioning ceremony at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 3 May 1968. Note the 40mm Bofors mount. USN 1132322

PBR alongside USS Colleton APB-36, near Dong Tam, 1969

USS Colleton -APB-36 and her cluster of river boats. Mekong Delta-1969. Note, that the photo has been reversed.

PBRs alongside USS Colleton APB-36 Near Dong Tam 1969

The four barracks ships, augmented by a rotating force of LSTs (Caroline County, Kemper County, Vernon County, Washtenaw County, Windham County, Sedgwick County, and the aforementioned Whitfield County), and supported by the landing craft repair ships USS Askari (ARL-30) and Satyr (ARL 23) and a couple of yard tugs, would form the hard nucleus that the MRF would operate from throughout 1967 through 1969.

Notably, Colleton was the only one of her sisters outfitted as a pseudo-hospital ship. Arriving in the theater just days before the Tet Offensive, she managed 890 combat casualties from 29 January 1968 to May 1968 alone. Of these patients, 134 were admitted to the ship’s ward, and 411 evac’ed after stabilization.

Seaman Arthur Melling, the coxswain of Monitor 92-1, is loaded onto a “dust off” medevac Huey from an Aid Boat LCM after he was wounded. Helicopters could evacuate wounded MRF Sailors and Soldiers to medical care in a matter of minutes. Melling was evacuated to USS Colleton (APB 36) which had an operating room and medical facilities. Putting flight decks onto Armored Troop Carriers to turn them into Aid Boats was another example of adapting equipment to the demands of the battlefield. Official U.S. Navy photo (XFV-2530-B-6-68)

Then came the policy of Vietnamization, which aimed to reduce American involvement in the country by transferring all military assets and responsibilities to South Vietnam. With that, the MRF soon changed hands, and, with “the locals” taking over its tasks, the MRF faded away and its support ships went home.

The riverine craft of commander Task Force 117 is moored alongside the self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36) pending the ceremony in which the craft will be turned over to the Republic of Vietnam at Dong Tam. The photo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74723

Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) with the current U.S. crewmen and the Vietnamese future crewmen aboard await the word to lower the U.S. Flag and raise The Republic of Vietnam Flag during ceremonies in which the Riverine task force 117 craft are to be turned over to the RVN at Dong Tam.The photoo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74731

OG-107 clad Navy personnel of Commander, Task Force 117, stand in formation during ceremonies in which their riverine craft was turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Forces, in July 1969. Taken at Dong Tam, Republic of Vietnam. Note the insignia patch of River Assault Division 111, on the shoulder of the nearest man with the motto “Come Hell or Low Water” and the rocker “Mekong Marauders.” K-74726

The four barracks ships earned no less than a combined total of 27 campaign stars for Vietnam War service in addition to seven Combat Action Ribbons, a Presidential Unit Citation, seven Navy Unit Commendations, and one Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation. To this were added a host of RVN awards and decorations including multiple Gallantry Crosses and Civil Action Medals. Not bad for floating hotels.

Colleton transited back home, arriving at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning in December 1969. Back in mothballs at Bremerton for a few years, she was struck from the NVR in 1973 when it became apparent that she would not have to return to Vietnam, and was sold for $172.226.62, to American Ship Dismantler’s Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for scrapping.

As for the 9th ID, they incurred 2,624 causalities in Vietnam and were brought home and inactivated in 1970 with the Vietnamization of the MRF, then reactivated in 1972 then served as a state-side equipment testing unit at Ft. Lewis, Washington until 1991. There are 10 Soldiers of the 9th ID or its component units in Vietnam still listed as missing in action, some vanished during MRF operations.
For more on the arrival and first year of the 9th ID in Vietnam, see George L. MacGarrigle’s Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966–October 1967, The United States Army in Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1998), 14–15, 117. 


The U.S. Navy has only had a single USS Colleton on its list and as far as I can tell there is little in way of relics around from her life.

As noted by the MRF Assoc, “She was a good ship and will always be remembered by all who served and lived on her in Vietnam, Navy and Army alike.”

Of her sisters, they would prove to be extremely hard to kill indeed. The pair of APBs that arrived in Vietnam to support the MRF in 1968, Nueces and Mercer, once they left Southeast Asia, they only made it as far as Japan and are still there. Nueces is still in Yokosuka while Mercer is in Sasebo, providing berthing and messing assistance to U.S. Forces Japan. Of course, they long ago landed their guns and were officially decommissioned in 1970, redesignated APLs as they are no longer self-propelled.

APL-39, ex-Mercer, moored at SRF Det., Sasebo Japan, 13 December 2012. (By Bob Gregory, Dep Requirements & Special Programs Officer, COMPACFLT N43, via Navsource) and APL-40, ex-Nueces, moored pier side, at Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, Japan, date unknown. US Navy photo.


Displacement 2,189 t., 4,080 t.(fl)
Length 328 feet
Beam 50 feet
Draft 11′ 2″
Fuel Capacity: Diesel 2,975 Bbls
two General Motors 12-567A Diesel engines
double Falk Main Reduction Gears
five Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C. Ship’s Service Generators
two propellers, 1,800shp
twin rudders
Speed: 12 kts.
Officers 12
Enlisted 129
Berthing Capacity:
Officers 26
Enlisted 275
Armament (1945)
four single 40mm AA gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
twenty .50 and .30 cal machine guns

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Into the Lion’s Den

50 years ago today.

Haiphong Harbor, 27 August 1972: In the last naval battle of the Vietnam War and the last time that American surface ships would close within mutal range of enemy shore batteries in a naval gunfire raid, Operation Lion’s Den was one for the books.

The four ships task unit four-ship task unit (TU 77.1.2) surface action group included the 8-inch-gunned heavy cruiser USS Newport News (CA-148) – -with VADM James Holloway, COMSEVENTHFLT, aboard no less!– followed by the 6-inch-gunned light cruiser USS Providence (CLG-6), the missile destroyer USS Robinson (DDG-12), and the ersatz “Wild Weasel” tin can Rowan (DD-782), would lay down a naval gunfire strike against targets in Haiphong, on the Do Son Peninsula and Cat Ba Island, all in North Vietnam’s home waters in conjunction with Operation Linebacker air strikes.

They would reportedly trade shells at a roughly 2:1 rate with NVA shore batteries, with the American guns being much more effective.

“When Lightning Followed Thunder” by Dale Byhre, showing the destroyer USS Rowan astern of the cruiser USS Newport News, as they engage in bombarding enemy shore installations and suppressing fire from enemy shore batteries.

The engagement as related by the flag officer on Providence, who fired 250 shells in the half-hour raid and reported a trio of responding P-6 (Soviet-made) torpedo boats sunk.

From Newport News‘ history:

During the 33-minute raid 433 8-inch, 532 5-inch, and 33 3-inch rounds were fired. Two secondary explosions had been observed and ammunition was seen “cooking off” at a coastal defense site. Seventy-five enemy rounds were counted. Shrapnel was found around some of the weather decks, but damage to the ship was negligible.

As noted by NHHC:

At 2300, Newport News opened fire with her 8-inch guns at the primary targets. Rowan fired four Shrike anti-radiation missiles at North Vietnamese radar sites (Rowan had been specially equipped with a “Shrike on Board” system mounted on her ASROC launcher).

During the course of the 33-minute engagement, North Vietnamese coast defense artillery fired about 300 rounds at the U.S. ships. Although none hit, many came as close as 15–20 yards. Newport News had shrapnel on her weather decks, but no serious damage. Holloway spent part of the battle outside the pilot house to “experience the battle” as he later said, probably to the consternation of the skipper. The North Vietnamese lacked flashless powder, so their guns proved vulnerable to U.S. fire and most were silenced. The U.S. ships ceased shelling at 2333 after expending about 700 rounds of ammunition and noting at least five major secondary explosions ashore.

While the U.S. would go on to use Naval Gunfire Support off Lebanon in 1983 (USS New Jersey) and in the Persian Gulf (destroyers and frigates during Operation Preying Mantis in 1988, and Desert Storm in 1991 with 1,083 16-inch shells lobbed by the battleships Missouri and Wisconsin), they wouldn’t take enemy shells back in kind.

Last ‘Ace in a Day’

On this day in 1945, LT Oscar Francis Perdomo, USAAF, became the last American Ace of WWII, bagging four Ki-84 “Frank” fighters and one Yokosuka “Willow” trainer. (While the 507th Fighter Group mission reports confirm his kills as “Oscars”, they were actually Franks from the 22nd and 85th Hiko-Sentais.)

Via the Commemorative Air Force, Perdomo in front of Republic Lil Meatie’s Meat Chopper, his P-47N-2-RE Thunderbolt (serial number 44-88211), based on Ie Shima in 1945. The baby is an ode to the young officer’s boy who at the time, Kris Mitchell Perdomo, was still in diapers.

The combat took place over Seoul, Korea when Perdomo’s formation of 38 P-47 Thunderbolts, from the 507th Fighter Group of US 20th Air Force, encountered approximately 50 enemy aircraft. It was Perdomo’s last combat mission, and the five confirmed victories made him an “Ace in a Day” for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal with one leaf cluster.

An El Paso Texas native whose daddy rode with Pancho Villa, Perdomo received his wings on January 7, 1944, and only flew his first combat mission on July 2, while escorting a B-29 to Kyushu. Six weeks later, he was the last American ace.

Perdomo remained in the Air Force after the war, serving in Korea, then left the military in 1958 as a major. Sadly, he succumbed to self-destruction after the loss of Kris, who died when his Huey exploded in Vietnam, and died in 1976, aged 56.

Meanwhile, the CAF has flown a P-47N made up to salute Perdomo’s Meat Chopper since 2017. 

Warship Wednesday, June 29, 2022: PBR Rue Bande

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 29, 2022: PBR Rue Bande

U.S. Navy Historical & Heritage Command photo NH79376

Above we see vedetes of French Naval Assault Division (Dinassaut) 8 patrolling the Bassac River in the sector of Can Tho, Cochinchina, August 1952. If you were to lose the traditional French sailor’s “bachi” caps, this image could have come right out of “Apocalypse Now.” 

When the French decided to reassert themselves in formerly Japanese-occupied French Indochina in late 1945, they found it a tough apple to bite. While control of the large cities, ports, and highways was cut and dry, the interior and its waterways were a whole different issue.

VADM Paul Philippe Ortoli, the French Naval commander in the Far East, and Gen. Jacques-Philippe Leclerc, at the time the top banana overall in the region, therefore directed career Fusilier Marin Capt. Francois Gabriel Pierre Jaubert– head of a group of volunteer French Marines and sailors dubbed Compagnie Merlet— to form a riverine force of landing craft and naval infantry to secure the Mekong and Bassac rivers.

Jaubert set up shop at the Saigon Yacht club– which is funny considering the U.S. Navy’s latter Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club nickname for Operation Marketime– and went looking for river craft to arm for his “flottille fluviale.”

For a deep dive into the Brown Water experience in Vietnam, I suggest the NHHC’s 91-page Combat at Close Quarters Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam by Edward J. Marolda and R. Blake Dunnavant, available online.

As noted by Marolda and Dunnavant:

This initial riverine force evolved into the division navales d’assaut (dinassauts, or naval assault divisions). Dinassauts typically included 12 converted U.S. World War II landing craft mechanized (LCM); landing craft utility (LCU); landing craft tank (LCT); landing support ship, large (LSSL); landing craft, vehicle or personnel (LCVP); landing craft, infantry (LCI); and landing ship infantry, large (LSIL). French-built river patrol craft, referred to as STCAN/FOMs, augmented these units.

In addition to infantry small arms, each vessel maintained an array of larger ordnance such as 81mm mortars, 20mm cannon, 40mm cannon, 37mm cannon, 3-inch guns, .50-caliber machineguns, and .30-caliber machine guns. A total of six Dinassauts eventually served in Indochina [French resources say there were actually 10 different Dinassauts]. Their mission was to insert and extract troops and to provide emergency evacuation of isolated outposts along the rivers.

Marine Major Paul J. Kennedy’s superb 73-page paper Dinassaut Operations in Indochina: 1946-1954, detailed these vessels.

LSSL – Landing Ship, Support, Large
Displacement: 227 tons / 383 tons full load
Dimensions: 158 x 24 feet (6 ft draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
4 – 40mm gun
4 – 20mm gun
Speed: 14 kts

LSIL- Landing Ship, Infantry, Large
Displacement: 227 tons / 383 tons full load
Dimensions: 158 x 24 feet (6 foot draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
1 – 40mm gun
2 – 20mm guns
4- HMG
5- Mortars ( 1-4.2in, 2- 81mm, 2-60mm)
Speed: 14 kts
Note: Both the LSSL and the LSIL were used as command and control ships. These vessels were capable of providing fire support and robust communications. The high bridge allowed the commander unobstructed observation

LCU- Landing Craft, Utility
Displacement: 227 tons
Dimensions: 158 x 24 x 6 feet
Armament: 2 – 20mm gun
Speed: 10 kts

LCM- Landing Craft, Mechanized
Displacement: 36 tons
Dimensions: 50 x 14 (1.3meter draft)
Armament: variously armed.
Speed: 8 kts
Note: The LCM was the workhorse of the riverine fleet. These sturdy landing crafts were converted into armored personnel carriers by welding steel plates along the sides and covering the upper portions with mesh deflection screens. Automatic anti-aircraft artillery, tank main guns, and flamethrowers could be mounted in the “monitor” versions. Mortars were invariably added to provide inshore fire support

LCVP- Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel
Displacement: 13 tons
Dimensions: 40 x 12 feet (1.2 meter draft)
Armament: none
Speed: 8 kts
Note: these crafts were designed primarily for the transportation of troops and a single Jeep. Sometimes lashed together, especially under the cover of darkness, for ease in movement.

Gressier Barges
Displacement: 220 tons
Dimensions: 100 x 24 feet (1.2 meter draft)
Armament: 1- 3” gun
4 – 40mm gun
4 – 20mm gun
Speed: 4-8 kts
Note: These were the recovered barges the BMEO first employed in 1945-46. Although of questionable seaworthiness, they provided journeyman service in the early days of the riverine force. They were generally armed with one 75mm gun, three mortars, and various automatic weapons. Capable of carrying entire rifle company for short distances.

A few images of such modded WWII Yankee vessels are in the NHHC’s collection:

Engins d’assaut, of Dinassaut 8 during patrol and escort mission Bassac River 1952

Bren LCM Dinassaut 8 during patrol and escort mission Bassac River 1952

French Dinassaut 8 LCM. Note the M1 helmets and M2 “Ma Duece” 

French Dinassaut 8 LCM

French Patrol Craft Patrolling Saigon River during Indochina restricted-water operations, 26 April 1952. NH 79380

The French formed the 1,000-man Far East Naval Brigade (Brigade Marine d’ Extreme-Orient, BMEO) in late 1945, a force that morphed into the French Naval Assault Division (Dinassaut) in January 1947 after the recapture of Nam Dinh from the Viet Minh. The Dinassaut group would shine in Operation lea and Ceinture later that Fall, then make a name for themselves in the Gian Khau raid in 1948. After Mao started shipping arms and material to the Viet Minh in late 1949, the French would spend the next five years increasingly on the defensive and off-balance, despite a flood of U.S. Mutual Defense Assistance Program transfers (hence all the landing ships and patrol boats).

It was then that the Dinassaut would clock in as a fire brigade to repulse the attacks on Vinh Yen, Mao Khe, and along the Day River, repulsing a series of offensives by Giap in 1951. By 1952, the force was employed in repulsing the attack on Hoa Binh and the attack on Na San before the death spiral that was Operation Atlante and Operation Castor (Dien Bien Phu), with some French marines hastily trained to make combat parachute drops in the latter days of the conflict.

In the end, two weeks after the French and Vietnamese signed the Geneva accords in July 1954, the French Navy U.S.-built Casa Grande-class dock landing ship Foudre (ex-HMS Oceanway, ex-Greek Okeanos) picked up the remaining small craft of the Dinassaut and sailed for Saigon, leaving them there in the custody of the South Vietnamese, who later got some additional use out of them.

“French-designed St. Can river craft in use by the Vietnamese for fire support, minesweeping, and patrol missions. The craft is armed with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. The length of the craft is 55 feet and operates at approximately 12 knots.” USN 1104731

While the French had upwards of 125,000 troops in Indochina at their peak strength, less than 3,000 of those at any time were the Marines and sailors of the assorted Division d’Infanterie Navale d’Assaut.

These groups developed a serious riverine doctrine during the First Indochina War to a level not seen except for the follow-on U.S. Navy in the conflict a decade later, and it should be pointed out that the latter’s TF117 borrowed heavily from the French experience to shape its own river war.

As for Jaubert, the 43-year-old French marine captain who formed the first riverine units to fight the Viet Minh, he was killed on 29 January 1946 at Than Uyên in Indochina, earning the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, posthumously. In 1948, the French formed Commando Jaubert, an elite “berets verts” marine commando unit, from his old Compagnie Merlet, and it still exists today as a crack counter-terror/frogman group.

Commando Jaubert, in a salute to its origins, maintains an Eastern dragon on its crest.

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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