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Sailing in the Midget Fleet (cont'd)
DESPITE THEIR speed and maneuverability, however, river patrol boats have no easy job. But then, a Vietnamese river isn't easy to patrol, at best. It swarms with junks and sampans, any one of which might be helping the Viet Cong. To complicate matters further, a sampan made of bamboo can navigate in only a few inches of water.
These difficulties are compounded by overhanging vegetation under which a sampan can travel practically unseen along the banks of a river or through a mangrove swamp. Control, under such conditions, seemed almost impossible at first glance.
Nevertheless, the job is not impossible and the results are beginning to show. Combat material is now in short supply for the Viet Cong, and VC munitions factories often lack at least one ingredient essential to producing a weapon.
The PBR crews which play a major role in creating these shortages usually are headed by a boatswain's mate first class who is boat captain. One engineman third class is the boat engineer and a gunner's mate third class is both gunner and seaman. An additional crewman can also be carried when necessary. Frequently, this is a Vietnamese interpreter who also knows the peculiarities and geography of the river.
Inasmuch as PBRs carry no berthing or messing facilities, they do not operate far from their bases at Can Tho, Nha Be, Cat Lo, and My Tho. A fifth group operates from USS Tortuga (LSD 26) which is stationed off the delta river mouths.
All three patrol air cushion vehicles now in Vietnam have been brought together to form PACV Division 107, a unit of the Coastal Surveillance Force. The division was given a job betwixt and between the assignments of the Swift boats and the PBR. They are to prevent Viet Cong infiltration from the sea and the tidal areas along the river mouths.
A PACV might be sent out on an independent patrol or it might be used to follow up enemy contacts made by other units.
The PACV might also patrol very shallow water where even low draft boats such as the PBR could not pursue light VC sampans.
Extra crews have been assigned to PACV Division 107 so the new craft, like the Swifts, can be kept on station for long periods.
Each crew has an officer in charge, an assistant officer in charge, a gunner's mate and an engineer.