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Sailing in the Midget Fleet
THE WAR IN VIETNAM has been unusual in many respects. It has, for example, been fought against an almost invisible enemy that strikes, then fades into the jungle. At the same time, the enemy moves on the water in ships and small craft, taking advantage of the mobility of winding rivers and the protection of a tortuous coastline.
In the beginning, the Viet Cong could fight almost on its own terms, but the situation has changed greatly -more with each passing week.
Against an enemy of this kind, the role of the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam Theater must be a varied one. It ranges from carrier air strikes to shore bombardments by cruisers, destroyers and rocket ships. It involves naval units ashore and ships of all kinds, from the flagship of Commander Seventh Fleet, to the smallest naval craft. This report centers on the small combat craft.
UP THE 'CREEK'-Patrol craft of South Vietnamese River Force looks for VC.
The coastal and river areas are increasingly patrolled by the U.S. and Vietnamese navies, using a variety of old and new craft. Relatively few of the sampans, junks and coastal steamers that ply the Vietnamese waters are operated by the Viet Cong, but it takes a sizable force of small combat boats to seek them out from the large number operated in the normal commerce of the area.
NAVY GUNNER keeps twin 50s trained on junk as it approaches Harbor Patrol Boat 15 for check. Below: LOOT - Captured weapons lie on deck.
TWO RELATIVELY NEW U.S. Navy types-the Swifts and PBRs-are at the moment carrying a major portion of the load. Other models are being introduced as soon as their effectiveness has been proven. The Swifts are used primarily for coastal surveillance; the PBRs, for river patrol. Both are well suited for their special jobs.
The Swifts are 50 feet long and are propelled by diesel engines. They are armed with two .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top of the forward wheelhouse. They also carry another .50caliber machine gun pickaback atop an 81mm mortar on the after deck.
Usually a lieutenant (jg) heads the crew, which frequently consists of a gunner's mate, radarman, boatswain's mate a radioman and a Vietnamese interpreter.
Every crewmember aboard a Swift is a volunteer. Inasmuch as the number of volunteers far exceeds the billets available, the job is apparently widely sought.
Such popularity must be deserved but it certainly can't be attributed to the easy life led by the crew. Swift bases are usually primitive tent installations where the rattle of small arms fire is well known.
While they are on patrol, Swift boats offer a rough ride-very much like the old PTs. They may remain at sea for three days and frequently can be found more than 100 miles from their home base somewhere along the 1000-odd miles of South Vietnamese coastline.
Living conditions aboard Swifts are spartan when you consider how long they remain on patrol. They do, nevertheless, have the essentials -bunks, a refrigerator, an electric stove and a head.
Junk is checked by minesweeper.