Pacific Stars & Stripes December 10, 1970

U.S. 'Brown Water Navy" becomes History


Saigon ---- The U.S. Navy transferred the last 125 of it's small coastal and River Combat Boats to the South Vietnamese here Wednesday, marking the end of the American "Brown Water Navy" and completing a major step in Vietnamazation. "The Vietnamese Navy ... is now ranked among the 10 largest navies in the world" said the Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam, Vice Adm. Jerome H. King Jr. in his address at the mid-morning transfer ceremony. Some 650 U.S. Brown Water Combat craft have been given to the South Vietnamese Navy since the start of an accelerated turnover program in November 1968, U.S. Naval Command spokesmen said.

In the four years since its inception, the Brown Water Navy fought thousands of brief but bloody battles for control of large water-bound areas of Vietnam's rice bowl and of major enemy supply routes from Cambodia. Names like "Blood Creek", "Coral Bend", "Rocket Alley", were etched into the lore of the struggle for Vietnam's crucial inland waterways as the Brown Water Navy patrolled border rivers, delta canals and the shipping lanes to Saigon that run through the Rung Sat (Killer Forest) special zone.

Speaking of his Brown Water Sailors in 1969, during his term as Commander of Naval Forces in Vietnam, Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., now Chief of Naval Operations said "they are tigers in every respect. Tales of their courage are legend. The episodes they have brought off are almost unbelievable". Because of the role he played in its development, Zumwalt has been called "The father of the Brown Water Navy".

The Vietnamese Navy now consists of nearly 1,500 combat and logistic vessels and nearly 40,000 men, the ninth largest navy in the word, according to naval spokesmen.

There are now just under 17,000 U.S. Sailors in Vietnam, down 19,000 from 1968. Adm. Bernard A. Clarey, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has said the Navy will continue to maintain adviser in Southeast Asia for an indefinite period. River Assault Sq. 15 (RAS-15) was the last active unit of the U.S. Brown Water Navy. The Squadron's last fight took place November 21 on the Ong Doc River, about 165 miles southwest of Saigon. When six enemy rockets hit around one of its boats on a night patrol. The boat mad a firing run then called in OV10 Bronco strike aircraft. There were no U.S. casualties, the enemy losses were unknown Navy spokesmen said. The fight was typical of Brown Water contacts - - the enemy struck by surprise with no tangible results. The best measure of success, however, is the freedom with which civilian sampans now move on rivers they could not use before. Describing the mood of a Brown Water Patrol, an enlisted man who served on a "Swift" boat in the delta earlier this year said, "you sometimes felt kind of stupid. You go out in those canals and you can't see - it's too thick. There could be 1,000 VC within a few hundred yards, but you couldn't see them. You have to wait until you get shot at."

Though optimistic about the fighting ability of the Vietnamese Navy, some advisers note that its rapid growth has caused "critical internal problems". They cite low pay, food and housing shortages and inadequate benefits for disabled veterans. A joint U.S. and Vietnamese program called Operation Helping Hands had been developed to alleviate some of these problems. For example, the Vietnamese Navy and Marine Corps need an estimated 27,000 shelters for dependents. Over 10,000 such units will be financed by the aid program, Navy spokesmen said. The plan also seeks to develop self-help agricultural ad fishing projects to provide food for Vietnamese Sailors and their families, the spokesmen said. In many cases, U.S. Navy men are active as advisers to these projects, they said.

Courtesy of Richard Pettit, USS Satyr ARL-23 (69-70)