Category Archives: vietnam

Main Battery, Away

Check out this series of great images from LIFE photographer Bill Ray in 1964, chronicling Douglas A-1J Skyraiders from Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196) “Main Battery” aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) gearing up for a strike in Vietnam.

VA-196 was part of Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19), tail code NM, aboard the “Bonnie Dick” for the carrier’s West Pac deployment to Vietnam from 28 January to 21 November 1964.

Commissioned in late 1944, Bonnie Dick was the first ship in the modern Navy to commemorate the name of John Paul Jones’ famous Revolutionary War frigate– and she got in enough licks in during WWII to earn one battlestar.

Her WWII cruise

She was much more active in Korea, carrying the F9F Panthers and AD-4 Skyraiders of first Carrier Air Group 102 (CVG-102) then CVG-7.

Stretched and given the SCB-125 overhaul in the mid-1950s, BHR was in the thick of the air war off Vietnam from 1964 onward.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) with her crew spelling out Hello San Diego, while en route to San Diego on 9 February 1963. She returned to San Diego, her home port, on 11 February, following a Western Pacific cruise that had begun seven months earlier, on 12 July 1962. Aircraft on her flight deck include three E-1, 11 F-8, six F-3, 13 A-4, and nine A-1 types. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97343

Completing her sixth and last deployment to Yankee Station on 12 November 1970 (again with CVW-5), she was decommissioned the next year and, after spending 21 years on red lead row as a source for potential spare parts for the similarly laid-up but slightly younger USS Oriskany (which the Navy saw as a mobilization asset through the Reagan years), she was scrapped in 1992.

As for CVW19, it was disestablished in 1977, having conducted nine Vietnam tours from the decks of Essex-class flattops (BHR, Oriskany, Ticonderoga).

The end of VA-196 came on 21 March 1997, after more than 48 years of service, with the squadron switching to A-6 Intruders in 1966, an aircraft they put to good use not only over Indochina but also in the Persian Gulf, but that is another story. 

ROK Marine Mystery Glass

Official caption: “A sniper of the 5th Battalion, 2nd Marine Brigade (ROK) uses a scope to draw a bead on a Viet Cong during Operation Dragon Five, Oct. 22, 1967. The operation is taking place on the Batangan Peninsula, South of the Chu Lai Marine Air Base.”

Marine Corps Photo A421954 by SSGT Gary Thomas/1st MAW. Via NARA 127-GVB-320-A421954 

Of interest in the above photo, besides the fact that he has a horrible cheek weld and the dust cover is closed, is the ROK Marine’s early M16, equipped with a non-standard low-powered optic.

While Colt marketed the Dutch 3x25mm Delft scope on 601 model AR-15s in the 1960s– before they marketed their own 4×24 optic, the above is neither of those. The ROK’s optic looks sort of like a basic Weaver commercial scope of the time. 

Compare:

1960s Pasadena California Police Dept. Colt AR-15 Model 601 Automatic Rifle with a Dutch 3x Delft scope

The Delft 3x had a G3 Hensoldt-style reticle, and the Dutch State Arsenal (Artillerie Inrichtingen) marketed it with the license-produced ArmaLite AR-10 before the M16 was even a thing.

Ad from 1969, showing the Colt 4×24

I’ve also seen another non-standard optic, possibly a Redfield, in at least anecdotal use with an M-16 in Vietnam: 

K co 75 Rangers Larry Flanigan 1st Bgde 4th Div LRRP 1968

If anyone knows more, drop me a comment or email and I’ll be most appreciative. Watch this space for updates.

PFC Milton L. Cook

Original Caption: On 8 January 1967, PFC Milton L. Cook (Baltimore, MD) fires his M60 machine gun spraying a tree line. The platoon received sporadic sniper fire from the tree line earlier. PFC Cook was one of many Soldiers from “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Mechanized Infantry, 25th Infantry Division on a search and destroy mission. The mission was a part of Operation “Cedar Falls” conducted in and around the Filhol Plantation near Cu Chi, Republic of Vietnam.

Killed on at least his second tour in Vietnam, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; Cook’s name is inscribed on the wall on Panel 49W, Line 54.

 

Goodbye RIVRONs, hello MESF

The Navy announced recently they have “officially changed the name and mission of the Coastal Riverine squadrons to reflect their role amid a new era of great power competition; they are now known as the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force.”

The prerequisite moto video, tying the new units to the old Brown Water PBR gang of Southeast Asia (although the SWCC guys of SBT22 will most likely dispute ownership of this lineage, as they carried the dim candle of the small boat shop at Rodman for decades):

“As we maintain a connection to our legacy we must honor those warriors that come before us and learn from their heroism,” said RADM Joseph DiGuardo, commander NECC, “we must continuously evolve to meet the needs of the Navy and the Nation for Great Power Competition, crisis, and conflict. The change to Maritime Expeditionary Security Force clearly articulates the mission of our sailors to reinforce lethality in the blue water and dominate in the littorals.”

The MESF now consists of two groups; one in San Diego and one in Virginia Beach. The force includes two expeditionary security detachments in Guam and Bahrain, seven Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons, and 31 Maritime Expeditionary Security Companies.

The original three Coastal Riverine squadrons of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (RIVRON 1, 2, and 3) were all formed in 2006-07, modeled after the Marines Small Craft Company (SCCO) of 2D MAR Div– then the only specialized small boat company in the Marines– which had been disbanded the year prior although that forgotten unit of Devil Dogs in tiny boats had been bloodied and proved their mandate in the marshes and reservoirs around Haditha, fighting the kind of war that was familiar to Vietnam. Their Riverine Assault Craft, zodiacs, and Raider boats were handed over to the Navy, although Big Blue soon bought lots of new go-fasts.

Marines from Small Craft Company tether their Riverine Assult Crafts together during a break in training. Marines from Small Craft Company, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, demonstrated their capabilities to Paraguayan Marines in the Joint Training Exercise Unitas. The exercise was conducted in Asuncion, Paraguay. USMC Photo by LCPL Tyler J. Mielke. 29/09/1999

“People think it’s money or manpower problems, but no one knows for sure why they’re getting rid of us,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vinciguerra, who had spent 14 years with the SCCO, on the occasion of the unit’s disbandment in Feb. 2005. “The capabilities we provided to the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and Navy SEALS in Iraq are too big to be gone for long. We’re leaving an avenue of approach open for the enemy now,” he said. “I think Small Craft Company will be back in a few years when people realize what we brought to the fight.”

Now, after a similar 14-year run, the Navy’s trio of RIVRONs have a name change, and, notably, are moving to more 80+ foot platforms such as the MKVI. Not a lot of “river” about that.

Oh well, at least SBT22 and NAVSCIATTS are still around, keeping that lamp tended for the next time.

The Right Stuff

Brig. Gen. Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, after service in WWII (where he finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter), Korea and Vietnam, holder of both the Collier and Mackay trophies, first (confirmed) man to break the sound barrier, and all-around good guy, passed away on Monday, aged 97.

Ironically, his last day on this humble planet was the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, an event that enabled him to rapidly move up from being an aircraft mechanic in the USAAF to apply for flight training, eventually receiving his wings in 1943. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, he is best remembered for his deeds of October 14, 1947, when he became the fastest man in the world, dramatized below.

Keeping Warm, Operation Newton edition

53 Years Ago Today:

Official Caption: “3rd MarDiv, Vietnam, 3Dec67, L/Cpl Hagarty, GH & L/Cpl Rose, HF flammen with ‘C’ Co. 1st Battalion, 4th Marines help each other with their gear on Operation Newton.”

Photo by PFC Shackhail, Marine Corps A193874, via NARA 127-GVB-204-A193874

Of note, the M9A1-7 flame pack weighed upwards of 50-pounds when full, but allowed a range of 130+ feet when using thickened fuel. Add to that the M-1955 flak vest (10-pounds), M1 helmet (3-pounds), web gear, boots, canteens, sidearm, grenades, patrol rats, et. al. and multiply it by the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia, and you realized just how warm Cpls. Hagarty and Rose were, even before the pilot light is lit.

Sometimes you can hear a photo, aka Charlie Don’t Surf

November 1967: A Navy Seawolf (armed Huey) gunship of HAL-3 coming in at tree-top level to deliver a 2.75-inch rocket attack on a spotted Viet Cong position along the bank of the Ham Luong River in Vietnam in response to the Brown Water Navy PBR burning on the right.

USN Photo XFV-2053-B-11-67

All you are missing is Ride of the Valkyries or perhaps Fortunate One. 

Hạ Long Bay Vacation, 70 years ago

From the French military archives, this group of photos of the Marine Commando de Montfort catching some rays in Hạ Long Bay, in what is now Northern Vietnam, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from mainland China, October 1950.

Just 60-strong, the Montforts had been formed in Indochina in late 1947, named after the late Ensign Louis de Montfort, a commando killed in Haiphong in March 1946. Using a mix of German, French, U.S., and British gear, they fought the Viet Minh extensively along with the coastal and border areas, carrying out various raids and reconnaissance operations borne by local craft and LCIs.

Like their companion unit, Commando Jaubert, the Montforts integrated local Vietnamese volunteers into their ranks, which at times accounted for half of the unit.

Their heaviest artillery were 60 mm mortars

…as well as lots of submachine guns, with the German MP40 being preferred.

Their go-to infantry arm was the U.S. M1 Carbine, light and handy for jumping around out of small boats for coastal operations in the jungle area

Note the M1 Carbine over the Marine’s shoulder, French OF37 ouef (egg) grenades on his pockets, and twin mag pouches. You would hope to have more than 60 spare rounds and a couple of grenades for a firefight in Indochina…

Montfort Commando-marine Moïse Saillant with a Châtellerault FM 24/29 LMG, in Ha Long Bay, circa 1950, note the cross draw pistol, which could be a MAB Model B. The FM 24/29 would remain in French service well into the 1970s, although it was a forerunner of the BREN

When it came to uniforms, you can tell their old WWII Commando Kiefer origins, as they made extensive use of the green beret with left-oriented cap badge and Denison smocks.

Note the flatbottom punts, possibly bridging pontoons, being towed by launches

After seven years of combat, Commando Montfort was disbanded in December 1954, its Indonchines members dismissed. It would soon be reformed in Metropolitan France, as a new war was brewing in Algeria.

Of Long Tan

The fact that the U.S. military and its South Vietnamese allies were not the only countries that faced off against the Sino-Soviet-backed North Vietnamese/Viet Cong South East Asia is often forgotten. Besides South Korean and Filipino units, Australia and New Zealand also dispatched contingents of their own while thousands of Brits and Canadians fought as volunteers wearing the uniform of several of the aforementioned forces.

Here is a picture of Australian SAS captain Peter Shilston as Mike Force company commander. Note the BAR belt used for 20 round M16 mags

When it comes to the ANZACs, no less than 61,000 Australians fought in Vietnam between 1962 and 1972, amassing over 3,500 casualties.

Their shining moment was perhaps the Battle of Long Tan which saw three forward observers of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery and 105 men of D Company, 6 Royal Australian Regiment fight a hopelessly outnumbered action (some 20:1 according to some reports) against a full NVA regiment and supporting VC battalion.

It was brutal, sometimes hand-to-hand fighting, with artillery and air support called in almost on top of the Australian/New Zealand force.

An Australian-made film about Long Tan, which used over 100 former Australian and New Zealand combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq as extras, was just released and it is pretty good.

If you have Amazon, it is on Prime.

Wombat Gun

Australian War Memorial WAR/70/0105/VN

Official caption:

Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. 18 February 1970. Section Commander, Corporal Joe Danyluk of Port Kembla, NSW, carrying a mortar gun [M79 40mm grenade launcher] calls a halt during a sweep through bombed-out jungle after a bloody battle in the Long Hai mountains during Operation Hamersley. His company, B Company of 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR), together with other units of the Battalion, supported by armor, fought an estimated company of hard-core Viet Cong (VC) for a number of days in the mountains. The area was pounded by airstrikes including a raid by giant B52 bomber aircraft, naval bombardment from HMAS Vendetta, and artillery fire. Twenty-nine bodies of dead VC have been found to date.

First fielded in 1961 by the U.S. Army, the 6-pound M79 was light enough that you could carry it as a support weapon while still having a primary rifle– note CPL Danyluk’s M16 over the shoulder. In American service, it was often called the Bloop Gun or the Thumper. Meanwhile, the Ozzies referred to it as the Wombat Gun.

Because wombats…

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