Southlands Snuffys

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Chapter 4 (v.1) - Bateaux et des Hommes

Submitted: February 17, 2014

Reads: 803

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Submitted: February 17, 2014

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Bateaux et des Hommes

 

“There are few roads in the Delta and so everyone, friend and foe, take to junks or sampans. Those you encounter may be innocent villagers, fishermen or VC. Only time will tell. Then again, if you’re dead, all of this wont matter a fuck, will it!”

 

Riverine survival lecture 7, Florida Everglades. 1966.

 

 

The "Mike" Boat was a waterborne workhorse tasked with directly supporting tactical units throughout the Mekong Delta, and other inland waterways of Vietnam. A "Mike 8 LCM" was a welded all steel, twin-screw craft powered with four marine diesel engines connected in such a way as to form two engines.

Designed to withstand hard service, it was capable of landing on a beach in a moderate sea, and or heavy surf and remain upright and watertight. It was then capable of retracting from its chosen landing point under the power of its own engines. In addition, it was 73 ft long and drew a maximum of 4 Ft.6 Ins forward and 5 Ft.6 Ins aft. With a full cargo of 60 tons a Mike 8 had a maximum design speed of 9 knots, depending on wind and tide.

Although smaller in actual boat size than those used by units with heavier boats our "Mike" boats were much faster and more water maneuverable. Although originally designed as a ship-to-shore landing craft it was used in many other ways on the rivers, canals, and coastal waters of South Vietnam. It could and was used as a fuel tanker with large rubber fuel “balloons” secured in its well deck, as a mobile artillery platform when fitted with howitzers, and at times good sized mortars were added. It was also used as a tug for moving barges, and even converted into some very strange looking but extremely effective craft.

Most of our Marine River Detachment LCM 8s were employed as offensive tactical craft. One was a Zippo, our boat, which had a platform covering her well deck and was fitted out with a turreted flamethrower, which was seldom used. 
There was also a “Bird Table Boat”, being utilized as a floating helipad which could accommodate various types of helicopters such as the little observation “White Bird”, and Bell Huey “Slicks ”. Another was a “Blast boat” with its sand bagged protection, mounted 105 howitzers, and large mortar on the deck.

The most deadly for Chuck was a “Lawnmower Boat”, so named due its ability to “scythe”, cutting down practically anything above ground level. It was heavily armed with a large array of small arms weaponry which included Gatling Guns, “mini-guns”, situated along both port and starboard gunwales.

The weirdest was a “Douche Boat”, which had one high powered water cannon to be used for blasting out enemy river bank defenses. It was an amazingly innovative idea for getting any gooks out of their mud bank bunkers. Once blasted out with the water cannon and into the river or canal they were helpless and easily dispatched by small arms fire. In addition to the tactical boats others acted in a capacity of being troop carriers, for various South Vietnamese units operating throughout the rivers and canals. Then there were others which were just sailing around doing the mundane, “General Duties”, such as ferrying cargo, or rear echelon personnel.

There were seventeen "Mikes" available to our river detachment, and of these fourteen were designated only for operational tasks, and a smaller "Mike 6" boat was kept for maintenance and salvage. This boat’s crew also acted as clearance/recovery divers. And one "Mike 8" boat was designated as a “tactical ready” spare. In addition, we had some small picket boats, boston whalers, and inflatable boats. One ageing and severely battered "Mike 6" boat served in a dual purpose capacity of passenger/cargo. That old Mike “Sixer” was reserved solely for company headquarters use.

Company headquarters formed part of an old French Colonial boat repair yard on a river not far from Saigon. Even before we arrived the boat repair yard had a long history as home to the military, especially during World War 2 when the Japanese made full use of it, and interestingly they certainly left their mark there with navigational charts showing there were four sunken Japanese ships on the bottom of the river.

Those shipwrecks were eventually dispersed with explosives after some of the boats and barges got hung up on them, and that resulted with a couple actually sinking and the others suffering severe damaged. Therefore the Jap wrecks just had to go, which they did, by some of the loudest bangs heard and ensuing water spouts seen since they went down in WW2. The river itself was a superb natural sea port. At its widest there was a minimum of one mile safe navigational water, with the main channel in some places varying from 50 to 75 ft deep.

Primarily our military forces used the river as an unloading point for ammunition ships which tied up to large can-style mooring buoys out in the mid stream of the river, their cargo then being off-loaded into dumb barges that were moored in turn to both sides of the ship. After the barges were loaded to their maximum capacity they were rafted together in pairs and secured to trot-moorings which were close to the river bank. There they awaited tugs, some of which were steam driven and looked nearly as ancient as Methuselah.

The tugs would drag the barges out in formed-up bunches to waiting Mike boats which in turn would take them on a perilous journey upriver. The barges intended destinations, once the orders for them to proceed arrived, were the distant fighting zones, some of which lay in territory that was hotly contested by the enemy.

Occasionally, when there was a shortage of "Mike" boats for the task, one of those “Methuselah Class” tugs would be employed to take the barges up river. Unfortunately, a few never returned having been either sunk by enemy fire, mine, or just through old age when their hull rivets popped under the enormous strain inflicted by the barge hauling.

The entire operation of ammunition movement was overseen and directed by US Coast Guard personnel to their usual demand for absolute efficiency. The Coast Guard also had a detachment of river patrol boats which were operated by their skippers and engineers but manned by Military Police. Those patrol boats policed the harbor and the river up to Saigon but no farther. After that various Riverine Forces took over as it was classed as “Indian Territory”.

Our home base had a maintenance boat equipped with a full set of tools and lots of spare parts with the exception of, or so it was claimed, machinery gaskets. The material to make gaskets was in the most part unavailable, even at times from our local sources, and as gaskets are an integral part of machinery repair without one when required your fucked, some of our guys were always pressing their family members to send out gasket material from the States. However, our ingenuity at times in finding alternative material for the manufacture of gaskets, and for that matter everything else to keep our boat operational knew no bounds.

 The maintenance boat yard also had a magnificent maintenance workshop, fully equipped with everything an engineer’s heart could desire, and was always ready to fix anything mechanical when required, and so there was a large store attached to the workshop. That store was guarded day and night for it was more an Aladdin’s cave than simply a machinery storehouse. However, we always managed to breach their defenses and grab at least some of what we required in the way of motor and other spare parts.

All of the river detachment people lived onshore at the boat repair yard, except for those who manned the tactical boats. They lived aboard their respective boats, and the maintenance boat’s crew tended to follow likewise, more likely in an attempt to stop us doing a night raid and completely stripping their boat for desperately needed spares rather than for a love of boat life.

All in all we suffered from the same problems which tended to plague all other fighting units in South Vietnam, in that we had few spares and practically no supplies. Our problems were compounded by the fact that some of our boats were out in the D10 special zone for weeks, even months at a time, going from one place to another doing this and that in constant tactical mode. The shortage of spares and supplies left the boat crews with no other choice but to go around scrounging, at times even resorting to stealing from various other units that which was required to keep them going operationally.

There was no one excluded from those friendly “Raids”, as the Vietnamese Navy and their Marines often found to their cost. On average there were two or three boats out on some form of mission at any one time, with some boats such as our Zippo in steady combat roles. In essence we only returned to the old boat yard for a hull repair or overdue R&R. We could easily stay gone for several months at a time if required, and happily did so when needs must, but now and again we were forced into returning for a replacement crewman, or re-stock the boat with desperately needed ammo and or supplies.

There was always one boat on a detail called "Base Static”. You only pulled this detail if you had crossed the Rubicon of acceptable military discipline, in that you really and truly had fouled up in one way or another. The static boat's duty was to act as a personnel shuttle to the ships and if required assist in their unloading. This boat was on call twenty-four hours a day until some other boat crew made an ass of themselves. However, there were in fact crews who considered this boredom as a prime duty to have for their boat, especially after being out for months and being constantly fired on or sniped at.

Then there were other crews who had natural luck and managed to draw the same details time after time for their boats. Such as hauling gravel or construction material out to the Army engineers building fire-bases in the D10 special zone. Or alternatively, hauling or pushing ammo barges up into the various areas of operation. However, in my humble opinion, by far the best detail out of all those available to be chosen for, was when you were cut loose on a tactical mission out into the Southland. There at times having to live by your wits, and use your own initiative to complete whatever task had been handed out to both crew and boat.

When the only communication to the higher-higher command structure was via an unreliable and very temperamental PRC radio you had to be able to adapt and overcome whatever problems emerged, either mechanically or operationally. The US Marine Corps training puts great stock in the ability to overcome, to adapt, it was drummed into all who took the Riverine course. However, that ability has never been restricted to, nor reserved for, any who serve in the military for sailors down through the ages, ever since man first took to the sea, have required that ability to survive.


© Copyright 2018 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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