Southlands Snuffys

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 19 (v.1) - Mer Bleu, sur, Mer Bleu

Submitted: September 29, 2014

Reads: 737

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Submitted: September 29, 2014

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Mer Bleu, sur, Mer Bleu

 

“Ok, now we turn to Flack Jackets, fiberglass filled useless crap which can hardly stop a BB from a kids play toy rifle! But yet, even knowing of their abject uselessness at stopping high velocity rounds, and High Explosive produced shrapnel, any of you heading for Nam will be issued with one!

 

Personal equipment lecture, Riverine Training Facility, Florida Everglades 1966.

 

To many of us it seemed as if the war had been started by accident, for like all wars few in the population wanted it, and even fewer had expected it, although tensions between the western countries in general, the USA in particular, against Communist style ideology had been building for years. This “cold war” between the East and West needed a blow-hole to vent aggression, and for the more hawkish of our American politicians, who were determined to stop the “Red Tide”, the ongoing struggle between North and South Vietnam supplied one. It is undoubtedly true that both sides went into battle for a cause, and we knew exactly what the Communist’s one was. Unfortunately, we had only a vague idea about our own.

The war, as fought in the Delta, was a daily grinding business, and we were in a constant state of alert being under the incessant threat of ambush, and at times this made it difficult to tell friend from foe. We were always pushed for time with the ever increasing duties, and as there always seemed to be so much to think about, and so much to remember, that it all became part of the recipe which made mistakes inevitable.

We had been waiting for three Yabuta Junks of the Vietnamese Navy with which we had lost contact in poor weather, so were now at a pre-arranged emergency rendezvous position for such an event. It was another beautiful day with a calm, deep blue sea, and bright sunshine that made the mercury rise to 110, and it kept on climbing. The humidity inland must have been close to past the tolerable level, but I was not interested in the weather as I searched the sea through my binoculars, for that corner of the South China Sea had become a damn dangerous place to be, and it was wise not to linger there for long on such a beautiful day, but as luck would have it, this time the horizon proved to be empty.

We waited there until darkness fell, and as the Junks still didn’t show had coasted all night upon an oily sea devoid of swell at an economical speed of six knots to the next emergency rendezvous position near to the river estuary. Then, unexpectedly, for when we had left the sky had been full of stars, on the back of a fickle wind, the rain came, a few pattering drops at first, and then in a drenching downpour. But as the hiss of the rain died away we heard another sound, the growling mechanical sound of powerful motors. Quietly at first, then threateningly growing in sound until it matched that of our boat’s motors. I could see a fairly large, gray in color shapeless mass, misted in the after- rain gloom shadowing our course, and as there had been unconfirmed reports of either a Russian made P-4 patrol boat or a Shanghai class gunboat prowling the area in an effort to give some protection to their “no name fleet” of trawlers and Junks, which were running ordnance and men into the Delta. Once again, for our boat, discretion had to overrule any valorous thoughts.

Undoubtedly, it was better to risk a small-arms land-to-sea fire-fight with Charlie than the possibility of taking on a well armed Patrol boat or Gunboat, and leave to slim chance our survival from such an encounter, so I ordered a violent turn towards the shore, and increased speed, heading for the relative safety of the mangrove shallows with their natural hazards. When in the military you train for every eventually envisaged in the manual as written for your rank value, and we did, but there comes a time when that text-book stops, when the imagination of whoever compiled the tactics to be used never considered that an enemy who would shadow his adversary before going in for the kill. At that point, you are left on your own to try and out-fox the fox.

With the menacingly mysterious vessel sailing around there seemed to hang in the air a sense of rising tension as the Junks finally appeared in line astern from a particularly heavy and misty rain squall, about a klick seaward from us, and we, and they, didn’t have the slightest idea that one of them was steaming towards sudden and final ruin!

The South Vietnamese Navy crewed, Norwegian built, 80 ft Nasty Class PTF, Patrol, Torpedo, Fast, looking sleek and deadly, made a brave sight indeed as she darted out of the dense sea-mist towards them at full speed. With stern almost submerged in a soaring wake, bows flinging spray as high as her masthead, and her ensign whipping and snapping on a yard-arm halyard she had come slicing down like an executioner’s axe to attack the junks. At that stage of any attack there could be no other order left to her Captain but,” Gun action! Open fire!”

As the Nasty roared past the lead junk, doing in the region of fifty knots in speed, it began shooting, hitting her on the stern with 40mm and 20mm cannon rounds, which tore at the hull and deck like a ship-wrecker’s claw, lifting planks and removing metalwork. In the poor light the muzzle-flashes of the cannons looked like a fireworks display but not to the men on the junk whose lives hung in the balance as shells burst among them. Some were lifted clear off the deck and pitched over the side by the large caliber rounds, falling like corn before the scythe, and others jumped into the sea next to the now stricken Junk!

Finally, as the Nasty raced away to prepare for another attack run the mortal blow to the Junk came from a long burst of 40mm shells, her stern quickly dipped beneath the surface, and she rolled over in a great welter of foam and bubbles, and all that marked her sinking was some swirling wreckage and a spreading diesel stain upon the surface of the sea, a pang of regret ran through me as I watched her slip away.

The Nasty came around in a flamboyantly high-speed turn, which produced a spectacular curling wake of sea-green, sparkling water, and completed the picture of a deadly sea-going thoroughbred. With one swift kill to her credit the obvious intention was the sinking of the other Junks. Suddenly, the water at her stern began to thrash and boil as propellers raced in reverse, and the whine of her motors grew higher in pitch as the screws clawed her to a halt, for just at the point of opening fire once more her Captain must have realized his grave error, and immediately began picking up the destroyed Junks people. In doing so they had to be quick, as no sailor likes to see another drown, gurgling and trying to shout but unable to, as the seawater choked them.

Now heading towards the scene of what had been a terrible case of friendly-fire, a blue-on-blue, of which there were many during the Vietnam War, we could clearly hear the angry shouts of the men in the water, coughing and spluttering as they cursed all aboard the Nasty for their predicament, at the same time loudly demanding they got a move on, and pluck the wounded from the seas embrace before they gasped out their life.

At the mouth of the river estuary we reached the fairway buoy in a light drizzle of rain, and passed up the channel towards the Colonial boatyard. Whilst sitting on an ammo box, which also doubled as a desk, I pondered upon the day’s tragic event and watched the shoreline with its low-lying mangrove and nipa palm swamps and slowly shelving mud-banks, until the farther inland we travelled the ground began to rise and the jungle closed in as we neared our home base.

Then, writing in standard military square-hand, I penciled into our boat’s log the unfortunate loss of the Junk, but in doing so I studiously avoided laying blame, as it was not wise to point such a finger at those you may have to rely on in the future. Anyway, I could only blame myself for those short moments of tragedy, as it was not the fortunes of war which had sent the Junk falling slowly into the depths, it was my decision to move off station towards the shore.

Although she and some of her crew had been needless losses, they were just more unfortunate victims of the suspicious times we lived in, for most serving in the battle areas had become like people who are so scared of a home-invasion they will shoot the mail-man dead, rather than take a chance!


© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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