Category Archives: vietnam

Hamilton to Bertholf

Check out this great view of Coast Guard Island in Alameda, taken 30 years ago this month, showing five immaculate USCG high endurance cutters:

USCGC Boutwell (WPG-719; WHEC-719) in the foreground; then directly starboard of Boutwell is the USCGC Jarvis (WHEC-725) which is moored ahead of the USCGC Munro (WHEC-724). Munro is astern of Jarvis and inboard of the Morgenthau (WHEC-722)–note the Harpoon launchers on Morgenthau directly behind her main battery; and finally, the USCGC Sherman (WPG-720; WHEC-720) is directly astern of the Munro; USCG PACAREA photo; photo no. #PA 051892(01)-34A; May, 1992; photo by PAC R. L. Woods.

The top of the line in 1960s warship technology, the dozen New Orleans-built Hamilton-class of High Endurance Coast Guard Cutters or “378s” as they are referred to by the branch, were the go-to workhorses of USCG for five decades. They replaced a host of WWII (and earlier) cutters and stood on the line against the Soviets, ready to escort convoys to Europe if the balloon ever went up. They saw a real-live shooting war in Vietnam, providing naval gunfire support to the troops ashore. Mostly based on the west coast, today the class spends most of its time in Alaskan and Hawaiian waters.

Above you see five in 1992 in San Diego (Alameda). This is just after they were FRAM’d with Harpoon missiles (only Morgenthau so equipped) 76mm guns, CIWS, and modern torpedo tubes using Mk50s.

Of these five today, all are still in hard use around the Pacific rim and the Indian Ocean. Sherman transferred to the Sri Lanka Navy in 2018 as SLNS Gajabahu (P626). Munro decommissioned last April and is slated to transfer to the Vietnam Coast Guard where Morgenthau has been serving as CSB 8020 since 2017. Boutwell transferred to the Philippine Navy in 2016 as BRP Andres Bonifacio. Meanwhile, Jarvis has served the Bangladesh Navy since 2012 as BNS Somudro Joy (F-28).

The Hamiltons have all since been replaced by the new Bertholf-class National Security Cutters and four– USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750), Waesche (WMSL-751), Stratton (WMSL-752), and Munro (WMSL-755)– are all stationed there. 

The Trip Trey, now 30 Years Gone

Formed at Cherry Point on 1 August 1943 as Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 333 (VMSB-333), the logically named “Trip Trey” began their career flying SBD Dauntless dive-bombers from Midway on anti-shipping patrols.

Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Dive Bomber of VMSB-333 over Wake Island.

The original “Trip Trey” crest, circa 1943. From the Claude A. Larkin Collection (COLL/791) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

Adding an “F” designation to their name after transitioning to F4U Corsairs in late 1944, VMBF-333 was deactivated just two months after VJ-Day.

Reformed during the Korean War as Marine Attack Squadron 333 (VMA-333), they transited quickly through the F6F Hellcat to the A-1 Skyraider and entered the jet age in 1957 with FJ-3 Fury jet fighters, again adding the “F” to their title to become VMF-333, after which adding the triple shamrock to their planes and going by the “Fighting Shamrocks” as well as the more commonly applied “Trip Trey.”

Next came the F-8 Crusader– with which they ran hot pad alerts at GTMO during the Cuban Missile Crisis– and then the F-4 Phantom in 1966.

The Shamrocks would deploy aboard USS America (CVA-66) in 1972, picking up the only Marine MiG kill of the Vietnam War.

Remaining part of CVW-8 through most of the 1970s and carrying “AJ” tail flashes, they would ship out with the brand-new supercarrier USS Nimitz in 1976 on a Med Cruise.

Four U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell F-4J Phantom II (BuNo 153848, 155523, 155525, 155511) from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-333 “Shamrocks” in flight. VMFA-333 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 7 July 1976 to 7 February 1977. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.253.7315.009 by PH2c Klaus Homedale, U.S. Navy

An air-to-air silhouetted view of a Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 333 (VMFA-333) F-4 Phantom II aircraft, 9/1/1985. At this time the Shamrocks were one of the few active duty Phantom operators in the U.S. military. U.S. Navy photo DNSC9011796 by LCDR David Baranak, via NARA (330-CFD-DN-SC-90-11796).

The last regular Marine squadron to operate the big smoky Phantom, they transitioned to F-18A Hornets in October 1987, which they would fly during Desert Storm just three years later, delivering over 2 million pounds of ordnance (typically 2,000-pounds at a time) against Iraqi forces across a staggering 700 combat sorties.

VMFA-333, Operation Desert Storm, 1991 USMC photo

“Over the Oil Fields,” by Col H. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR. “Towards the war’s end, the Bahrain-based Shamrocks of VMFA-333 were able to survey damage caused by their bombing runs. Previously, the ground fire had caused the F/A-18’s to pull out rapidly from their dive-bombing runs, no chance for visual confirmation.” Photo via the National Museum of The Marine Corps.

Returning from the sandbox, the “Fighting Shamrocks” were deactivated on 31 March 1992 during the post-Cold War drawdown.

The Forgotten Karen (circa 1976)

The AP Archives recently coughed up a golden oldie 25-minute doc from 1976– which aired less than a year after the fall of Saigon. Covering the Karen rebels in Burma, it is well done and filmed in color, with lots of on-the-ground footage including close-order drills of 15-year old new recruits armed with a collection of M1 Carbines and the occasional M16A1, and a chat with then-Karen National Liberation Army leader, Manh Ba Zan.

And you’ll love how Manh Ba Zan carries his (likely nickel-plated) Colt Commander.

You gotta admit, the sling is relatively safe with the hammer down on an empty chamber, and, as the gun is more a symbol of office than a combat tool, it needs to be seen.

Note the “duck hunter”  “Beo Gam” camo boonies, M1 Carbines, and at least one M1919A6

The official descriptor from the AP:


For over a quarter of a century, the Karen rebels of Eastern Burma have been fighting a little-publicized war of liberation. The Karens are Burma’s largest minority with a population of at least three million and an army of 10,000, which now includes some school-age boys. In 1975, they agreed on a common front with other groups, including the Shans and the Kachins, which are also trying to wrest autonomy from the one-party state of Burmese President Ne Win, but there has been no major breakthrough yet. This colorful report of a rarely filmed area shows their training and life in their jungle HQ and includes an interview with their political leader Manh Ba Zan.

Across the Reef!

The Assault Amphibian / Trac’r Memorial Monument is getting closer to being a reality:

Gators, We are proud to report Progress. As we move towards 3D computer and physical clay modeling, this is a rendition of what our Memorial will look like. The color of the waves over the reef and Gators is accurate. The bronze waves and bronze Gators will color like this – it’s called patina. The content and images on the memorial wall will be refined as we close on completion. Many opportunities for units or eras to fund an inscription. As we refine the details of the memorial, we will seek input from those who donated – no matter the amount. 3D modeling is a huge step forward. We need all hands in to accomplish this mission.

Please donate if you can!

Supersonic Navy!

The Vought F-8 Crusader, whose quartet of Colt Mk12 20mm cannons gave the supersonic air superiority fighter the nickname of “The Last of the Gunfighters,” certainly looked the part of Atomic-era modernity on the posters.

Painting, Acrylic on Illustration Board, by Joseph Binder, C. 1960, Unframed Dimensions 26H X 20W. Naval History and Heritage Command Accession #: 68-084-A-07

Withdrawn from service starting in the late 1960s as the F-4 Phantom replaced it– a plane that initially did not have any gun armament– the Navy Air fighter jocks of the time, many who cut their teeth on 20mm cannon-armed jets like the F2H Banshee, F9F Panther/Cougar, F3D Skyknight, F4D Skyray, and F7U Cutlass, saw the Crusader’s departure as the end of an era.

When you’re out of F-8’s, you’re out of fighters…

Clocking in One Last Time

Recently retired after 76 years of hard service under three flags in two wars, the Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy, VADM Adeluis S Bordado on 28 December approved the recommendation of the Philippine Fleet to reactivate ex-BRP Magat Salamat PS20 to augment current Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response efforts in areas severely affected by super typhoon Odette.

The ship had just been laid up two weeks ago, along with BRP Miguel Malvar (PS19).

Salamat was originally built by the Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding in Washington State as USS Gayety (AM-239, later MSF-239), an Admirable-class minesweeper with a similar hull to the PCE-842-class. Commissioned in time to see service off Okinawa, she suffered a near-miss from a 500-pound bomb and was damaged with several casualties who were buried at Zamami shima. Her postwar career limited largely to a training role, she was mothballed in 1954 then transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1962 as RVNS Chi Lăng II, one of the first such American ships that force acquired.

CHI LANG II (HQ-08) (South Vietnamese patrol ship, ex-USS GAYETY, MSF-239) Photographed during the 1960s. NH 93779

She escaped to Subic Bay after Uncle Ho’s kids took over the south, and was later folded into the PN as a corvette. The vessel maintained her WWII-era armament including 3″/50s, 40mm Bofors, and Oerlikons although her engineering suites and sensors have been upgraded over the years.

She will serve as a temporary Command Post for the duration of the Navy’s HADR operations in the Dinagat Islands at which point she will likely be put back in mothballs, just in case.

America’s 1966 New Year’s Deck Log

The tradition of Navy and Coast Guard vessels logging a special New Year’s poem probably reached its peak in the Vietnam era and has been, sadly I feel, declining ever since. The Sextant noted that “In 2016, fewer than 30 ships made a New Year’s Eve mid-watch verse; in 2017 that number dwindled to fewer than 20.”

Here is one from that golden era– from the newly-built Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier USS American (CVA-66), which was in the Med tied up in Italy on New Years 1966, just beginning her first stint with the 6th Fleet– courtesy of the National Archives who has been hard at work saving and digitizing historic deck logs:

A visitor boarding
new from the East!
To the OOP a report
is due at least.

“Reporting for duty
and full of good cheer,
Permission to board sir,
for I’m the new year.”

“Permission granted,
and welcome to the crew.
But be assured, friend,
your name is not new.

“For 66 here,
with numbers of gold
Has had a head start –
almost a year old.

She’s taut and she’s bold;
her performance is true.
Her record stands out
above quite a few.

“From Commissioning thru Shake Down
on into the Fleet,
She’s sailed and she’s flown
a record to meet.

In service of country, far from home this night,
She stands a mighty vanguard
in the half-moon’s shimmering light.

“In 10 fathoms of water
at anchorage XRay-3
America is anchored
at Liverno, Italy.

With 90 fathoms
of chain to her bow
She’s anchored –
secure from the Northwind’s howl

“The Liverno light at 028.8°
shines its silent goria
And America lies 293°
from Torre Della Meloria.

“The quartermaster
is recording the lore.
Her reading tonight
is condition Four.

“The Marines are on guard,
that you may bet
And the engineers provide
us with condition Yoke set.

“In Liverno tonight
your eyes will meet
Various units of the
U.S. Sixth Fleet

“Naturally SOPA has
chosen the best.
Rear Admiral COBB, CCDII,
makes America his nest.

“Under the keen eye
of Polaris to the north
Her lights thier [sic] good will
are sending forth.

“Her reputation with
hard work was won,
For being 66
means being number one.

“I’m proud to be aboard
this brave and true ship.”
Our visitor impressed,
he replied with a tip.

“I offer you hope –
as the spirit of peace.
Together we’ll sail
from Naples to Greece.

“By joining our missions
of peace and of strength,
We’ll make this a year
with happiness in length!”

With all best wishes for the year of the “66”!


Per DANFS on America’s first deployment, once the New Year started:

Over the ensuing weeks, the ship visited Cannes, France; Genoa, Italy; Toulon, France; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Valletta, Malta; Taranto, Italy; Palma, Majorca, Spain; and Pollensa Bay, Spain. She sailed on 1 July for the United States. Early in the deployment, from 28 February to 10 March, America participated in a joint Franco-American exercise, “Fairgame IV,” which simulated conventional warfare against a country attempting to invade a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Oragnization) ally. She arrived at NOB, Norfolk, on 10 July.

USS America (CV-66) underway in the Indian Ocean on 24 April 1983. Photographer: PH2 Robert D. Bunge. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 106552-KN

As for America, conducted the carrier service certifications for the new A-7A Corsair II in 1966 as well as the F/A-18 Hornet in 1979, made several combat deployments to Vietnam sending aviators out on dangerous sorties from Yankee Station while earning five battle stars, would return often to the Med where she had tense interactions with Soviet surface ships, ride El Dorado Canyon against Libya and helped with the evacuation of Lebanon– later returning there in 1983; then see the swan song of her career in Desert Shield/Desert Storm where her air group conducted 3,008 combat sorties and dropped over 2,000 tons of ordnance while suffering no aircraft losses during the conflict.

Appropriatedly, her 20th and final deployment was to the Med, from 1995-96. She was scuttled in a SINKEX in deep water rather than go through a SLEP that would have seen her serve well into the 2010s.

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Orleck on the way to getting better

The Gearing-class destroyer USS Orleck (DD-886) has had a long and happy career, in at least four parts. Laid down 28 November 1944, the 77-year-old warship is about to embark on her fifth.

Her first part, beginning with her U.S. Navy commissioning two weeks after VJ Day, saw the support of post-WWII minesweeping operations off China, combat during Korea– where she received four battle stars and earned a spot in the “Train Busters Club” — followed by tense Taiwan Strait patrols.

Off Mare Island, 1959

The 1960s FRAMing added ASROC and DASH drones just in time to support the recovery of the Gemini IV space capsule for NASA, and deliver naval gunfire support off Vietnam.

Orleck NGFS March 1966, firing on a Viet Cong stronghold near Vung Tau, at the mouth of the Saigon River. Photo by J. L. Means, NPC K-31267

Decommissioned on 1 October 1982, she was transferred to Turkey for the second part of her work career, serving Istanbul as the destroyer TCG Yücetepe (D-345) for another 18 years.

Saved by the USS Orleck Association, the third part of her career saw her brought back “home” in 2000 and opened as a low-traffic museum ship in Orange, Texas, where she had been built by the Consolidated Steel Corporation in WWII.

Then, the historic ship moved to nearby Lake Charles a decade later, where she received even less traffic as the industrial Louisiana coastal city isn’t exactly on the tourism trail. Heck, I tried to tour Orleck three different times when I was passing through between Galveston and Pascagoula but she always seemed closed for one reason or another.

Last year, washed up the Calcasieu River by a hurricane, the group that runs her went ahead and called Lake Chuck quits and made contact with an organization in Jacksonville to move there, a Navy city with a plan to put her in a high-traffic park downtown.

In preparation for this move, last week Orleck was successfully towed to the Gulf Copper Central Yard in Port Arthur for a much-needed drydocking.

You can follow her progress here. 

Saluting 150 Years on Two Hulls

Last Friday, the Philippine Navy decommissioned the patrol craft BRP Miguel Malvar (PS19) and BRP Magat Salamat (PS20) on 10 December 2021 at Captain Salvo Pier, Naval Base Heracleo Alano.

While “Miguel Malvar’ and “Magat Salamat” may not ring a bell with naval history buffs on this side of the globe, the ships have a very long and interesting history.

Malvar was born in the Windy City of all places, originally built by the Pullman-Standard Car Company of Chicago during WWII as USS PCE(R)-852, a PCE(R)-848-class rescue patrol craft escort for the Navy. Commissioned in 1944, she has another Chicago connection as she was an ancillary part of USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60)‘s hunter-killer group that captured U-505, the German U-boat that has been preserved at that city’s Museum of Science and Industry since 1954. PCE(R)-852 carried 26 captured German POWs to Norfolk.

4 June 1944 Tug USS Abnaki (ATF-96) tows U-505 photo from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) Note the large U.S. Ensign flying from U-505’s periscope. 80-G-324351

Postwar, she was named USS Brattleboro and, redesignated E-PCER-852, she worked as a test vessel assigned to the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory at New London, Connecticut until 1965 when she was laid up at Philly.

U.S. Navy photo of USS PCER-852 from the April 1958 edition of All Hands magazine

In 1966 she was transferred to South Vietnam for service in the Republic of Vietnam Navy as RVNS Ngọc Hồi (HQ-12) and served that doomed country for a decade, escaping with the fall of Saigon along with other South Vietnamese naval assets to the Philippines where she was part of the exiled fleet for a year before turned over to the PN, who renamed her Malvar and kept her on active duty under her third flag for 44 years.

As for Salamat, she was originally built by the Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding in Washington State as USS Gayety (AM-239), an Admirable-class minesweeper with a similar hull to the PCE-842-class. Commissioned in time to see service off Okinawa, she suffered a near-miss from a 500-pound bomb and was damaged with several casualties who were buried at Zamami shima. Her postwar career limited largely to a training role, she was mothballed in 1954 then transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1962 as RVNS Chi Lăng II, one of the first such American ships that force acquired.

CHI LANG II (HQ-08) (South Vietnamese patrol ship, ex-USS GAYETY, MSF-239) Photographed during the 1960s. NH 93779

Like Brattleboro/Ngọc Hồi, she escaped to Subic Bay after Uncle Ho’s kids took over the south, and was later folded into the PN as a corvette.

Notably, both ships maintained their WWII-era armament including 3″/50s, 40mm Bofors, and Oerlikons although their engineering suites and sensors have been upgraded over the years.

In all, these two vessels clocked in over 150 years of active duty, fighting in at least two armed conflicts, which is really not bad for being “war babies.”

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