Friday, January 31, 2020

USS Barb, WWII: "Galloping Ghost of Chinese Coast"

USS Barb — Pacific killer submarine: "tighten the steel belt around Japan"

The barbus is a ray-finned fish genus, noted for its pair of barbels on its mouth used to search for food at the bottom of the water. The USS Barb (SS-220), was a Gato-class diesel submarine, the first ship of the USN to be named for the barbus. During WWII in the Pacific, she was credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons including the Japanese aircraft carrier Un'yō. Others think the numbers to be higher.

When she fought in the Pacific, Commander Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey was the skipper. He was known to the crew as "Dead Eye Fluckey." Together, Fluckey and his crew were known as the "Galloping Ghost of the China Coast."

This is one of "Luckey" Fluckey's mottoes:

"I've always believed luck is where you find it, but by God, you've got to go out there and find it."

Commander Fluckey received the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses for his service as the Barb's commander. He would rise to the rank of rear admiral.

Fluckey took command of the Barb in January 1944. By the time he joined the Barb, the Japanese had gone about as far as they could. The Marines were about to start jumping the island chain toward the Japanese home islands, the Army was heading into New Guinea, and the mission of submarine warfare was to "help tighten the steel belt around Japan" and "strangle her."

The Gato-class diesel submarine was a major threat to the Japanese in WWII.

For starters, she was fast, to 21 knots surfaced and nine knots submerged. Her surface speed beat out many opposing submarines and most certainly his prey, tankers and merchant transport-cargo ships and naval men of war.

The Barb was also lethal: she had 10 torpedo tubes, six forward and four aft. She carried 24 torpedoes. Barb also was armed on the deck: one three inch .50 cal gun, a Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannons. Significantly, Barb would get a rocket launcher with 5-inch shells for shore bombardment, the only sub to get one. More about that later; it's significant.

A note on torpedoes back then.  Said briefly, they were very unreliable. Fluckey had the the Mark 14 to start. It was a bad torpedo, not trusted by crews. It often ran 10 ft. deeper than set, often exploded prematurely, often failed to explode, and was known to circle back to strike the firing sub. Many submarine captains would not even fire them.

Barb received Mark 14s the Navy said were "repaired," but there was still that sinking feeling among crew members with regard to how well it was fixed.
  This makes the Barb's achievements under Fluckey all the more notable.

The Barb would later get the Mark 27. It used an electronic secondary battery propulsion system with a passive acoustic control system, a system that would home in on the sound of the target ship's propeller's. Furthermore, this torpedo had only one propeller which made her more quiet.

There has been a lot written about Fluckey, his crew and the Barb. I'll mention that the stories of the Barb under Fluckey's command vary. I found it hard to keep his achievements straight. I'll not walk you through all his kills, though they are exciting. I will highlight that while Fluckey was in command, Barb sank the greatest tonnage of any American submarine in WWII.

I commend Eugene Fluckey's book to you: Thunder below: The USS Barb revolutionizes submarine warfare in WWII and The Galloping Ghost, by Carl LaVO. There are other books and many magazine articles about the submarine's exploits as well. 

I want to focus your attention on Fluckey's view of submarine warfare. He and his crew became known for developing innovative ideas, new tactics and new strategies. Some say they transformed, revolutionized the way submarines stalk and kill their enemies.

The old-timers saw their mission as reconnaissance: find targets, radio them in. Or, lie submerged and wait for the enemy to come by.

Not so Fluckey. He saw the submarine as an offensive weapon, a hunter-killer. He liked to keep his boat on the surface, creep up on the enemy, attack at night, hit-and-run.  He took advantage of his boat's speed. He would stalk and kill by all means available, deck guns and sub-surface torpedoes. He would tip-toe up to a flank escort's stern, then sprint in and out between the transport ships and sink them up the line. Business complete, he would turn his submarine to the sea and high-tail out.

Fluckey pressed his crew hard. Incredibly, his crew suffered no loss of life, not even one Purple Heart. In a few instances, they achieved that by the skin of their teeth.

Fluckey became known as among the most daring submarine commanders in the Navy.

On Fluckey's first patrol, Barb's eighth, which lasted 52 days, he submerged only for one day. His crew got five freighters. Barb also used the ship's guns to destroy two trawlers. Sam Moses, writing "Hell and High Water" for historynet, said this about this first patrol:

"Indeed, (Fluckey's) report on the patrol was so full of new ideas, so gung ho, positive, and entertaining, that the commander (Submarine, Pacific Fleet), Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, gave it to President Roosevelt, who happened to be at Pearl Harbor on the Barb’s return. FDR enjoyed it so much he asked that all of Fluckey’s future patrol reports be sent along to him."

Prior to this patrol, Admiral Lockwood asked Fluckey:

"How many ships do you think you can sink?"

Fluckey responded, "Will five be enough, admiral?," to which Lockwood responded, "Yes, five will be enough."

As I mentioned, on his first patrol the Barb sank five as promised.

Submarine patrols last many weeks. The trick was to hunt, kill and remain alive for ther next attack.

William P. Gruner, a Naval Academy graduate and former submarine skipper in WWII, wrote an extensive history entitled, "US Pacific Submarines in World War II." He wrote:

"Fleet submarines were designed for a patrol endurance of 8 weeks (56 days). Endurance was limited by personnel, weapon, food and fuel consumption considerations. Most patrols were of 42 to 56 days duration."

Fluckey commanded the Barb on five patrols in the Pacific. He received the Medal of Honor for one of those patrols and a Navy Cross for the other four.

Broadly speaking, he liked to do things that were different instead of just the repetitive things. He felt doing things differently increased chances of success.

My research tells me Fluckey's outlook was along these lines:
  • Relentlessly sweep back and forth. Hunting never ends. Don't wait. Hunt.
  • Fight at night, preferably from the surface. He could see much farther through the periscope while on the surface than while submerged.
  • A human's night vision was a secret weapon. Fog not an obstacle. 
  • The submarine is like a motor torpedo boat.
  • Use deck guns and torpedoes. He knew the guns would work; early on the torpedoes were unreliable.
  • You cannot hide from me. He studied the charts, even when they were from 1894. Enemy ships tried to hide in anchorages inshore, in shallow, often uncharted waters. He went in on the surface, struck, and escaped.
  • Use the submarine's speed on the surface. Underscored the run part of hit-and-run. Once he broke the world's record at 23.5 knots to escape through shallow, mined, rock-filled, uncharted waters.
  • Get in there, zigzag, weave around the enemy ships at night. Loop around to get a good look at the targets, fire and run.
  • When being chased, hide among junks if they are around. If not, then hightail it to open seas and dive.
  • Where possible, fire multiple torpedoes at multiple ships and create confusion. Throw the enemy off balance.
  • Postulate the enemy's plan, find the vulnerabilities. Use your head and figure it out. Look for solutions. Assess how the enemy will respond.
  • Subscribed to the "General Prudential Rule: "A captain at sea may render a departure from such rules necessary to avoid immediate danger."
  • Demand a great deal from the crew. He would say "SLIPKEEP" to his crew: "One slip and it's for keeps." Stay alert.
  • Reward them: "The captain has been entrusted by the most considerate US Navy with sufficient bourbon whiskey to provide two ounces to each man as a depth-charge ration ... Whenever we sink a ship, we splice the main brace. Hip-Hip-Hooray! The bar is now open."
In his book, The Galloping Ghost, Carl LaVO wrote:

"(Fluckey viewed submarines as) a kind of torpedo boat that ought to operate on the surface, where it could use its fast speed to outmaneuver ships in hit-and-run attacks and could dive quickly when planes approached, only to pop back up minutes later."

Fluckey said:

"You see more ships and sink more ships" if you are on the surface.

Gruner wrote:

"The most serious tactical problem in sinking a Japanese ship was that of finding one." 

Fluckey did not stay below the surface waiting for the enemy. He went out and found them.

Prior to his first patrol when in command, Fluckey met with Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, the Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet. Lockwood asked, How many ships do think you can sink?" Fluckey responded, "Will five be enough, admiral?" Lockwood responded, "Yes, five will; be enough." On that patrol, Fluckey, his crew and his boat sank five as promised. He was not arrogant. He was confident, aggressive, demanding.

I'll close by introducing you to two historic operations undertaken by Fluckey and his crew.

The first operation had to do with the employment of rockets against shore installations.

After Barb's fourth patrol under Fluckey's command, she went to Mare Island near San Francisco for a yard overhaul and alterations. One significant alteration was installation of a five inch Mark 51 rocket launcher on the deck. The Barb received 72 rockets. This photo shows two crew loading rockets into the Mark 51 launcher on Barb's deck. The Mark 51 reportedly could fire twelve 5 in. rockets in less than a half minute.The Barb was the only submarine in the fleet to have such a launcher. 

Fluckey was among the precious few to imagine using it for shore bombardment. This was part of Fluckey's vision, that he could use his submarine on the surface such that in its own small way he could mimic a destroyer. Fluckey wanted to use this rocket launcher for saturation shore bombardment.

The submarine then patrolled north of Hokkaido and east of Sakhalin. This was Fluckey's fifth and final patrol with the Barb. He made history by firing 12 five inch rockets at the town of Shari , northern Hokkaido, from about three miles away, all landing in the town center. The next month, Fluckey expended 68 rockets against three more towns on Sakhalin, then known as Karafuto. The rockets hit civilian industrial sites, a few small shipyards and military stations.

James R. Holmes, reporting for "The Diplomat," described the rocket encounters this way:

"Barb’s most novel cruise found it harrying the coasts of Hokkaido in the war’s waning months. A rocket launcher had been mounted on the sub’s deck during a yard period. Barb’s crew pummeled the port of Shari with 5-inch rockets, dueled Japanese gunners at Kaihyo, demolished canneries in the town of Chiri, and set the shipyard at Shibertoro ablaze with gunfire.

In his report for this patrol, Fluckey made this prescient forecasts:

"The torpedo has fulfilled its purpose. Its day in this war is passing. It is believed that in the not too distant future, with the anticipated increase in tempo of air operations and the lack of air opposition that life-guard duties will be taken over more capably and more efficiently by PT boats. That those of us not specially equipped for the last good area must stagnate and slowly slip into oblivion, or look to a new main battery - rockets. The rocket is not a toy. Its possibilities are tremendous, strategically and tactically,"

The concept of ballistic and cruise missile submarines was effectively born. The world's first operational nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was the USS George Washington which carried 16 Polaris A-1 missiles in late 1959 and conducted its first patrol in mate 1960. Since the 1960s, strategic deterrence has been the SSBN's sole mission.

The second operation I wish to highlight has to do with sending crew ashore to destroy an enemy train.

While at Patience Bay in Sakhalin Island, Fluckey noted constant rail traffic. He pulled within 1,000 yards of the shoreline, about 0.5 miles. He decided he to send a shore party to the rail line at night to plant explosives. One of his crew had worked on the rail line in West Virginia. He offered a plan which Fluckey, an Annapolis graduate with an engineering degree, studied and, of course, adjusted.

Fundamentally the crewman's idea was used. They used scuttling charges. These were aboard in case they had to destroy the boat, so they had power. They wired the charge and a micro-switch to a battery.  The raiding party would then place the scuttling charge and micro-switch wired to the battery underneath the rail. When a train road over this section of rail, the rail would sag down just enough to set off the micro-switch and complete the circuit, triggering the blasting cap to detonate the explosive.

Fluckey selected eight from his crew, led by Lt. William Walker, USNR. Fluckey took the Barb to within 950 yards of the shore, in shallow water. The raiding party paddled their rafts ashore. They walked to the rail line. They dug through the dirt, buried the explosives, hooked up the mechanism.

Fluckey pulled the Barb to within 600 yards (0.3 miles) of the shore, in less than six feet of water. The raiding party signaled it was finished and was preparing to return. Then a crewman aboard the Barb spotted a train coming down the tracks, Fluckey grabbed a megaphone yelling at the party to paddle as fast as it could.

The train hit the trap, blew sky high, shattered, and the cars buckled, burst into flame, and exploded. Twelve freight cars, two passenger cars, and one mail car derailed and piled up. Five minutes later the raiding party boarded the Barb and Fluckey slowly, at about two knots, snuck away, having to remain surfaced because of the shallow waters. The Barb had destroyed the train and all its contents.

This photo is of a painting of the explosion done by Rainier Hanxleden.

In effect, the Barb's crew had become commandos. This would be the dawn of the emergence of Navy SEALs in 1962 and later the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV). This photo shows a submarine carrying a SDV on her deck. SEALs in the submarine can climb into it, launch it, conduct a mission, and return.

To conclude, Car LaVO wrote this:

“He was the first submarine skipper in history to employ a submarine to launch guided missiles at an enemy target ... He also thought submarines could be used for landing saboteurs on shore, and they blew up a 16-car train on a northern island off the Japanese mainland. He also is credited for creating havoc by hit-and-run tactics, so that the Japanese never knew where the attack was coming from, and that’s how he got this moniker, ‘the Galloping Ghost.’ ”

Fluckey received the Medal of Honor. L-R: Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Cmdr. Eugene Fluckey, Mrs. E.B. Marjory Fluckey.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Logistics in the Iraq War: "A herculean feat"

“Good generals study tactics. Great generals study logistics”

"If there is an enduring image of this war, it may be that of the supply convoy, a parade of trucks and their protective Humvees rolling across the desert landscape."
Ron Jensen, Stars & Stripes

Two weeks after US and Allied forces crossed the line of departure from Kuwait into Iraq bound for Baghdad in the Iraq War of 2003,  Lieutenant General John P. Abizaid, USA, Deputy Commander (Forward) of the Combined Forces Command/U.S. Central Command, observed:

“I’m certain that when the history of this campaign is written, people will look at this move that the land forces have made in this amount of time as being not only a great military accomplishment, but an incredible logistics accomplishment.”

First Lieutenant Don Gomez was an infantry officer, a rifle platoon leader with the 82nd (Abn) Division in the war. He has written a good deal about the war. In one article,“The Battle of As Samawah,” he commented:

“We were out of MREs (meals ready to eat) and were told to conserve what we had, because we didn’t know when we would be resupplied. This was another one of those things that I didn’t think could happen in 2003 – no resupply?”

Good point. How does it all get there?

The short answer is logistics, an incredible logistics machine.

That is the focus of this story —- sustaining troops in combat, at war. This report looks at the 2003 US-British invasion of Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This look is broad brush, and only covers the first couple weeks — the complexity of all this is mind-boggling.

Brigadier General Jack C. Stultz, USA, then commander, 143d Transportation Command (Forward) noted:

"With the combat troops of Iraqi Freedom moving at a faster pace than ever before, the ability of logisticians to keep them supplied was taxed but never in danger of breaking down.”

Lt. Colonel Wes Gillman, USA, commander 1-30 Infantry, 3 Bde, 3 Infantry Division, described it this way:

"We move fast. We use the night. We move with a small force forward and you are able to react to contact. You try to bring your logistics trail up."

The man or woman providing the logistics support had to overcome significant complications and obstructions to stay pace with the fighting force. That was the main challenge.

Next time you watch TV News and see our military forces responding to war or to rapidly evolving contingencies, I want you to think about how all that stuff was ready and available for them to fight. It is staggering and, I must say, stunning.

The Army's Field Support command wrote in a March 2005 study:

"The build up and use of prepositioned equipment started increasing after Operation Desert Shield/Storm (Free Kuwait, also known as the Gulf War). After the Gulf War there was a pressing motivation to reduce the time-frame it takes to deploy and equip soldiers on the battlefield.


Indeed for 12 years following Desert Shield the Army maintained a heavy brigade combat team set of equipment in Kuwait."

It was clear an armored blitzkrieg was the centerpiece of the OIF plan —- there would be a need for tactical surprise and a need for speed. There would be no strategic surprise. The emphasis was placed on tactical surprise — the tactical surprise would be a very rapid set of maneuvers calculated to get to Baghdad as quickly as possible.

To achieve tactical surprise, the combatants took a “running start.” Combat operations began before all hands, combat and support, were in place.

Additionally, for several reasons, the decision was made, nearly at the last moment, to start the ground offensive before the air offensive, to further the chance of tactical surprise. 

Diane K. Morales and Steve Geary, writing for the Harvard Business Review, said General Tommy Franks, the commander, CENTCOM "envisioned a swarming, rapid, responsive force capable of removing threats immediately: relying on speed more than mass.”

Paul Needham and Christopher Snyder, in their Case Study, "Speed and the Fog of War: Sense and Respond Logistics in Operation Iraqi Freedom-I," said,

"The concept of speed became the underlying theme throughout the war for all commanders."

The advance was to be rapid, very rapid, avoiding cities and towns to avoid getting bogged down in fighting. The objective was Baghdad and removal of the Iraqi government.

As one writer would say, "speed became a culture."

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) maintains sea-based ships around the world uploaded with prepositioned military equipment. MSC began off-roading prepositioning ships in Kuwait for Army exercises in the summer of 2002. Much of that equipment was retained in theater for future use.

Sealift began in a serious way in November 2002 and surged through the beginning of the war.

Assuring there was enough fuel available to propel the advancement for forces was arguably the highest logistics priority. 

Reserve component fuel truck companies were alerted for deployment. Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and prepositioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait.

There was no opportunity to set up large supply points between Kuwait and Baghdad prior to the invasion. The Army employed what it called “Distribution Based Logistics," or DBL. Rand Corp. described this as meaning:

"Limited inventory to cover small disruptions in distribution flow and enough supply to cover consumption between replenishments. The primary reliance is placed on frequent, reliable distribution rather than on large forward stockpiles."

Once the first tanks breached the border, the logistics forces with their fuel tankers, water trucks and other support began their continuous chase back and forth to keep the front line supplied

They and other logistics activities set up Logistics Supply Areas (LSAs) by following behind the combat force — the combat forces secured the area enough for the logistics people to roll in and set up an LSA. They established forward LSAs about every 50 miles, stocked with some supplies and able to do some maintenance. On occasion, they were setting up the LSA while combat forces were still fighting on its outskirts to secure it completely.

Tom Bowman and Robert Little, reporting for The Baltimore Sun, said Pentagon officials knew the "re-supply operation taking place behind the troops advancing toward Baghdad was one of the most complicated and critical components of the invasion."

One Pentagon planner was quoted by Little saying: 

"This isn't just a refueling operation, it's a massive re-supply chain … We're talking about thousands of tanker trucks, container trucks filled with ammunition and supplies, medical equipment, spare parts, water, food - we're still trying to give them one or two hot meals a day."

The Army and Air Force wanted an airfield to bring in supplies by air and launch air attacks closer to the fighting. For example, Tallil Air Base., shown in this photo.

It first had to be captured and repaired. It was in desperate shape because the Allies had bombed it to smithereens during the first Iraq War and, frankly, it was a wasteland. Wasteland or not, capturing Tallil was a high priority. 

The Global Security organization described Tallil AB this way:

"Everything that does not move is covered in a grayish-brown, powdery dust. The heat is oppressive -- more than 120 degrees in the shade. Open fields and roads bear craters large enough to swallow small trucks. In March 2003, the area around Tallil Air Base looked more like the surface of the moon … After the base fell to coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the landscape was desolate, except for a few abandoned buildings, many of which still had extensive damage remaining from the first Gulf War.


Jim Gammon, reported for Air Force News, said:

"Tallil, the former Iraqi air force field, was a wreck. The Iraqis had built berms across the runways to stop U.S. airmen from using the facility. The buildings all were missing windows; there was no tank farm to refuel aircraft. In short, there was nothing that U.S. airmen could salvage to use … Fuel, ammunition, maintenance facilities, security forces, medical facilities -- they all had to be brought in to the field."

US forces captured the base. Logistics convoys from the south arrived shortly thereafter as did C-130 transports, flying in low and fast to avoid enemy ground fire.

The first A-10 Warthog air-to-ground fighter flew in a few days later. This was a huge advantage as the A-10s would be able to support the run against Baghdad directly from Tallil. This all went on while fighting continued about 10 miles away.

The advancing forces avoided towns and cities. That allowed the supply line to run through the desert areas.

Commanders took everything they could with them, which lengthened the convoy tails traveling with the combat force. Quite often the roads would get choked. Most of the time MPs were not with the forward forces and therefore were unavailable to clear up the choke points.

Projecting a unit's demands in battle is a far different challenge than projecting a unit's demands at home during exercises. 

The bottom line was the forces, combat and support, would have to make a great many adjustments on the run. And adjust they did. Once combat operations were underway, units were shifted around to meet battlefield needs, which affected how they would be supported.

For example, the 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne was sitting in Kuwait when the order came through to get up and move. The men expected to jump in to Tallil. Instead they drove to the objective by truck.

Lt. Gomez said:

"(They were) old Army trucks that I had never seen before.”

He said they were utility trucks, uncovered, not combat vehicles. And apparently the men of the brigade would have to drive the trucks themselves in what was sarcastically called a "Ground Assault Convoy," an outrage for airborne forces trained to conduct airborne assaults!

 On their way, the Gomez said:

“(As we approached the objective area) I looked out at an endless sea of military equipment. There were trucks, tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and steel containers for as far as I could see … The enormity of what we were doing started to hit me. We were only days into the war, and all of this equipment was here, ready to be switched to kill.”

In another instance, a US force was close to a cement factory. The troops "requisitioned" bulldozers and dump trucks from it, dug and transported clay to a location where engineers were constructing an airstrip, then combat support troops mixed the clay and the quick drying composite, laid it down in a 3,500 ft. runway, and stood ready to accept C-130 transports in and out. 

Then came a huge challenge. A hellacious sandstorm, known as the shamal, or to the troops, the "mother of all storms," blew through Iraq. It affected the progress of much of invasion force. Everything slowly turned a yellowish-orange color, decreasing visibility, dropping to 10 meters. Carl Drews wrote:

"Ochre dust and grit worked its way into every crevice of every weapon, garment, and vehicle."

Lt. General Wallace, USA, the Army’s V Corps commander, called the dust storm the “low point of the entire campaign for me.”

In an interview with PBS Frontline, he commented this way:

"The weather really sucked. It's hard to describe. ... You could literally not see more than about 30 or 40 feet with your naked eye. The whole area was engulfed by this orangish, reddish haze -- it looks like one of these old science fiction movies of folks walking around the surface of Mars. I mean, there's just red haze, and then it started raining. And because of all the particles suspended in the air, as the rain hit the ground it was actually a drop of mud, and it began to cake on the vehicles. ...

"… The sandstorm hit at the same time the logistics base was needing to be built, and the sandstorm ... slowed down our convoys. ... I remember vividly a supply convoy from the Corps Support Command that had two days of supply of water and food for the 3rd Infantry Division, but it took them four days to get there. ... So the sandstorm was a low point in that it slowed us down; it slowed down our momentum and it slowed down our ability to build our logistics."

General Tommy Franks, USA, the overall commander also commented on the storm:

"The big sandstorm was even worse than predicted. Reddish brown dust formed a high dome in the western desert and rolled over southern Iraq - and over 170,000 coalition troops. Visibility dropped to 10 meters or less. Rain pounded down through the red dust, turning the air to mud.

"Our long logistics convoys crawled ahead, however, eventually linking up with the armor and infantry units that were managing to creep forward during lulls in the sandstorm. And, as the troopers inched on, scouts and special forces reconnaissance teams infiltrated more Iraqi positions, identifying the precise GPS co-ordinates of enemy armor and artillery."

As the sandstorm rose in intensity, movement on the battlefield virtually stopped, including for the enemy. So USAF B52s, B-1s and a mix of fighter bombers flew above the dust storm and pummeled Republican Guard forces that were stalled in place.

Franks wrote:

"The Republican Guard units were hunkered down, and they were being destroyed piece by piece."

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) employed 167 ships, literally one ship every 72 miles from the US to Kuwait. Rear Admiral D.L. Brewer III, the MSC commander, shown here as a Vice Admiral, called this the "Steel Bridge of Democracy (carrying) the torch of freedom to the Iraqi people." Ready Reserve, commercial, Navy Fleet Auxiliary Force and Special Mission ships were used. Merchant ships were taken out of mothballs; the Coast Guard had to approve these ships as seaworthy, a major task. The Coast Guard's Atlantic area commander, Vice Admiral James D. Hull, USCG, commented:

"We had to take care of ships that had been sitting in Charleston. Ships that had been sitting there for years without smoke coming out of them, and all of a sudden now all the ships are starting to move from pier to pier. Things were happening."

 Look at the list of ports employed: Charleston, South Carolina; Beaumont, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Corpus Christi, Texas. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Norfolk, Virginia also supported some traffic.

Here you see loading military cargo aboard the USNS Pililaau at Beaumont. On the receiving end, naval and contract people offloaded the arriving ships 24/7. They found that often there were not enough transportation resources available to move the stuff off the piers, and security requirements were stringent. 

The Kuwaiti port at Ash Shuaibah was the main port used. It could handle only six ships at a time. Nonetheless, people at the port offloaded more than 150 MSC ships during the initial two month period. 

Global Security reported:

"Under the Guardian Mariner program, more than 1,300 Army reservists were activated to provide force protection and security aboard MSC ships sailing to and from Southwest Asia."

I mentioned earlier fuel was a number one priority. But there was a shortage of fuel trucks. The Army decided to distribute bulk fuel using a tactical pipeline known as the Inland Petroleum Distribution System (IPDS). The manner in which the Army did this, to me, is incredible.

As you can imagine, there was no such pipeline inside Iraq to support the invasion. The Army had to build one, and it did so in phases following right behind the combat force moving north.

This map provides an overview of the system. Overall, the objective was to build the pipeline from Camp Virginia through Camp Udairi to Breach Point West on the Iraq border, all in Kuwait, and then to CEDAR II at Tallil AB, Iraq. Then the fuel could be moved elsewhere by truck. The Mina Abdullah refinery in Kuwait already had a pipeline from there to Camp Virginia, so that part was easy. The work started on the rest before the war started. 

A Quartermaster platoon deployed to Kuwait in 2002 to build a tactical petroleum terminal (TPT) at Camp Virginia, such as the one shown here. Then a Quartermaster Battalion deployed to Kuwait to construct TPTs at the Mina Abdullah refinery, at Camp Udairi and at Breach Point West. An Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Heavy) was tasked to construct the pipeline. Oe company built 51 miles of IPDS from Camp Virginia through Camp Udairi to Breach Point West while another Company concentrated on building the TPTs. They would also build a secondary and parallel line over that same 51 mile route as projected daily fuel requirements increased with the war approaching. The units had to do this amidst maneuver units moving all round them, including the enemy.

Once the war started, units started digging and laying pipe while the combat forces moved ahead.

The combat force used more than 90 million gallons of fuel in the first three months of OIF, 60 million gallons of which were transported via IPDS. Tank divisions needed to refuel every four to six hours; the M1 Abrams tank ran at about two miles per gallon. Tallil would become a fuel center in the early days of the war. 

In addition to the IPDS, the "Fuel Masters" of Corps Support Command filled large bags of JP8 fuel, some as large as 210,000 gallons, and cradled them in sand berms, lining them up side by side for more than a football field. The fuel bladders shown in the example photo hold 50,000 gallons. 

Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and pre-positioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait. Once the force launched off the mark these kinds of fuel farms were quickly placed in Iraq at those LSAs I introduced earlier. 

I should also say that Forward Area Refueling Points (FARP) were set up as the force moved north through Iraq. These were mostly for helicopters. They were often set up as stand alone entities, without any protection. Indeed the long fuel supply lines often went without protection.

A most glaring problem encountered at the outset for sure was the forces lacked truck capacity. The forces used bottled water instead of relying on bulk water production. That caused a major increase in truck demand, not to mention the breakage experienced along the way.

In addition to the bottled water, the "Water Dogs" of a Quartermaster Water Purification Co. began pumping nearly 6,000 gallons per day of portable water from three "reverse osmosis" purification pumps, and began providing water to combat forces coming through on their way north. This example shows a Marine Corps reverse-osmosis water purification system in Iraq, drawing water from a nearby river. 

Anthony Cordesman, whom I mentioned earlier, noted a most revealing point regarding the rapidly changing situation on the battlefield. He wrote that quite often the logistics units did not really know what was going on operationally —- they lacked “situational awareness.” So the logistics units could easily find themselves in a situation where they were not exactly sure where the maneuver unit was they needed to support. In addition, the dynamics of the battlefield required units to move to locations that were not in the plan, which demanded trucks to move them about, and as I have mentioned trucks were in short supply. Furthermore, the truck transportation units themselves were in need of a capacity to defend themselves, but they were not properly organized or equipped to do that.

General Stultz commented on this issue of situational awareness for the logistics people:

"It was not so much being able to supply them, but to locate where they were moving to. That tended to be a challenge for us as we moved out convoys across the desert.”

The general experience was that everything I’ve touched on thus far resulted in replenishment of food and water coming three days late. Supply units pushed as hard as they could to make this up, but remember these units too were exposed to battlefield demands and firefights.

I'll stop here.

Retired Col. Gregory Fontenot, USA wrote:

"An armored move of this scale and scope placed an almost overwhelming logistics burden on theater and corps logistics units supporting V Corps and the MEF … Truckers and logistics soldiers drove themselves to the point of exhaustion. They kept on driving and fighting to get supplies forward … For the American logistics and combat troops alike, were was no time-out. From their
perspective, the pace slowed from outrageous to merely brutal … Logistically, OIF tested the Army. The size of the theater, tempo of operations, complexity, distribution of forces, nature of the threat, terrain, strategic constraints, paucity of logistics forces, and requirements to support other services proved daunting. Despite these difficulties, Army (logistics) troops turned in a heroic performance by providing 'just enough' to sustain the fight.

"There are some good news logistics stories. Under incredibly difficult conditions, logistics troops made sure that food, fuel, and ammunition got forward. Logistics troops and their leaders literally fought their way forward to get the vital supplies in the hands of the combat soldiers. The scope and scale of their effort are hard to grasp, but it was truly monumental. Joint logistics functioned across 8,000 miles and met the theater’s needs without a long buildup of stocks. As one logistician put it, there were still some 'iron hills,' but there were no 'iron mountains.'

"General Dave McKiernan offered the best testimony to the logistics troops when he noted on 1 May 2003, 'the truth of the matter is we did not stop operational tempo because of any class of supply, and what was accomplished was never impeded by logistics, and I think that is a remarkable story.'"

Someone else called it "Herculean." I agree.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The F-105 Thunderchief, a legend flown by legends

The F-105 “Thunderchief” was the Air Force’s primary primary strike aircraft during the 1960s. Her pilots flew 75 percent of the USAF’s strike missions over North Vietnam during “Operation Rolling Thunder.” These pilots flew her to “Downtown,” Hanoi, even though the aircraft was not designed for that kind of mission.

Blake Morrison, a F-105 pilot, said:

“She wasn’t perfect. No real lady is. She couldn’t turn worth a damn. She didn’t always come back. She died a lot. Her corpses line Thud Ridge, Hanoi, Thanh Hoa, and a lot of other places up north. She wrote the epitaph for a lot of good men. Over half the inventory was gone by the end of 1968; most lost in combat.”

Morrison added:

“She stays with us as an American classic and a real thoroughbred. She could break your back but never your heart. She is genuinely loved by all who flew her and a lot who didn't.

“She was ugly, she was strong, but she had dignity.”

If you were to study the men who flew this “Thud,” you would quickly identify with what Colonel Bill Norris, a F-105 pilot, wrote:

“I would much rather be remembered as an F-105 Thud pilot of the Rolling Thunder campaign in 1967. There could be no finer tribute to comrades who fought, died, and suffered in Hanoi's prisons. Knowing what lay ahead, the best of those men competed for a place on the toughest missions. The reason may defy layman's logic. They did it because they were fighter pilots."

In short, they were legends who flew a legend.

I’ve plucked one of these legends from the list and wish to introduce you to one.

He is Darel Dean Leetun, Captain, United States Air Force, pilot, F-105, lost in North Vietnam, repatriated in 1995, firmly identified in 2005, now buried in Arlington Cemetery, a place where valor rests.

Ken Rogers, writing for the Bismarck North Dakota Tribune, has suggested:

“All of us should take a moment and think about Darel Leetun's sacrifice, about what that means in terms of our nation, and about his family. And then look up at that blue sky and imagine an F-105 Thunderchief flying high.”

On September 17, 1966, Captain Leetun, known as “Gravel” because of his raspy voice, was flight leader for a group of F-105 Thunderchiefs from the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS), Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), Thailand. His squadron was known as “The Panther Pack.”

On that day, his flight went to the infamous, and most dangerous, "Route Package 6," (RP6), the geographical sector of North Vietnam hosting the capital, Hanoi, the country's major seaport, Haiphong, and two railroads to China crucial to the North Vietnamese logistics line.

His flight of four F-105s was targeted at rail and road bridges near Kep, about 35 miles northeast of Hanoi, in the mountainous Lang Son Province, not far from the border with China. The target area is shown roughly by the red dot on the map. If you studied this target, you would be overwhelmed with Air Force and Navy pilots who gave their lives to attack the airfield and railway complexes in its near environs. Exposure to them and their stories is numbing.

Kep was a major distribution point for transportation of weapons coming from China. It was a key hub on the North Vietnamese railroad system. Once weapons arrived at Kep, they were moved by trucks and boats to designated collection points were porters then carried them to their final destination points in the war zone.

Captain Leetun's was a daylight mission flown in the morning hours. The target was heavily defended. He and his flight came under a barrage attack. Captain Leetun's aircraft was struck by hostile fire, most likely antiaircraft artillery (AAA) as the flight approached the Cao Nung bridge 17 miles northeast of Kep.

His aircraft lit on fire and was nearly uncontrollable. Nonetheless, Leetun remained in formation, delivered his ordnance right on target, and destroyed that target. After he released his load, his aircraft spun out of control and crashed about 10 miles from the target area.

His wingman, Mike Lanning, saw Leetun's aircraft crash but saw no chute and heard no emergency beepers. Lanning had tried to call Leetun during the bomb run when Leetun's aircraft was on fire, but Leetun never responded and Lanning said he never ejected. Captain Leetun was declared missing in action (MIA). The Air Force declared him killed in action (KIA) in June 1975.

A joint US-Vietnamese search team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted three investigations between 1991 and 1995 as they sought information on Leetun's crash site. During one of the investigations, local villagers led them to human remains on a hillside. The Vietnamese Communists agreed that the remains found on the hillside could be repatriated in 1995.

American forensic efforts in Hawaii positively identified these remains as those of Captain Leetun in March 2005 using DNA samples from family members. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA as one of the forensic tools to identify his remains.

Leetun received the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism, the second highest medal for valor in combat. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 8, 2005. A flight of USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon jets in the “missing man formation” flew over the grounds of North Dakota's State Capitol in Bismarck to remember him on August 13, 2005.

Let’s take a brief look at the aircraft, the F-105.

The F-105 Thunderchief was the first supersonic fighter-bomber developed from scratch.

The aircraft was built around a large internal bomb bay that could carry what was in those days a large nuclear bomb. The B28IN nuclear bomb shown at the forefront of this next photo was the principal nuclear bomb to be carried by the F-105. In short, this aircraft was designed to drop nuclear bombs.

This was a bomb built for high altitude free-fall or retarded (parachute), airburst or contact, and low altitude lay-down. It is my understanding that, for most targets, the Thud intended to come in low and as fast as it could go (Mach 1-2, depending on altitude and load).

The triad of B-52 long-range strategic bombers, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), and Submarine Launched Nuclear Missiles (SLBM) formed the heart of the American nuclear combat capability. The idea of using the F-105 for this job soon lost favor. As things turned out, she was needed for the tactical job in Vietnam, a job, frankly, for which the USAF was ill-prepared.

At the beginning of the Southeast Asia (SEA) War, the US had very few fighter aircraft from which to choose, and found itself having to use whatever was in the inventory. In terms of jet fighters, the F-100 Super Sabre was the first, getting to the theater in the early 1960s. The F-105 was then chosen, arriving in 1965.

Most F-105s were transferred from Europe, Japan and South Korea to SEA for a tactical and conventional role, far different than the nuclear role for which most of its pilots had been trained. The F-105 carried the heavy load of USAF fighter operations in this war, most certainly at the outset.

I have counted ten F-105 fighter squadrons assigned permanently to the Vietnam War, mainly at two bases in Thailand, Korat RTAFB and Takhli RTAFB. I counted another 10 squadrons that went in and out temporarily.

Ed Rasimus, a former F-105 pilot, has explained what its was like to train for the nuclear mission in Europe. He contrasts this with what the aircraft was expected to do in Vietnam. Training pilots for the nuclear job was far different than training them for the Vietnam War. Indeed, for the Thud pilots who were among the first to arrive in the theater of war, their tactical training was on-the-job training.

Furthermore, many changes had to be made to the F-105D to employ it in the Vietnam War.

 Additional fuel storage was put into the large bomb bay.
cA six-barrel Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon was installed.

The aircraft was configured to carry 12,000 lbs of external armaments on ejector racks hung from the wings. For a short-range mission, she could carry sixteen 750-lb bombs. Alternatively, she would carry two 3,000 lb bombs or three drop tanks. Typically, over North Vietnam, she would be outfitted with six 750-lb bombs or five 1,000 pounders, along with two 450 gallon drop tanks. She could also carry a Bullpop air-to-surface missile.

The F-105D ended up carrying most of the load over North Vietnam early on. It experienced a very difficult growth period. Between 1961 and 1967, the F-105D was grounded a number of times after experiencing various operational problems, including the failure of the fuselage frame, chafing and flight control deficiencies, engine failures, fuel leaks, and malfunctions of the fuel venting systems.

The aircraft went through continuous modification as a result of rapidly changing Southeast Asia combat requirements. These included equipping them with armor plates, backup flight control systems, X band beacons, new radar altimeters and gun bombsights. Their conventional bombing capability was increased. The pilot ejection seat was improved as were the refueling probes of the early F-105Ds.

While all this was true, the F-105 could take a beating. If she had a drawback, it was with her control hydraulics, easy to damage leaving the aircraft without control. Pilots frequently found it very hard or impossible to control their damaged aircraft.

SSgt Ervin Davis, has talked about the resiliency of the F-105 in very descriptive terms. A few excerpts:

"F-105s came back … blown to Hell … I’ve seen many of those battle damaged bird sights ... and it seemed most frequent that an F-105 would land blowing a tire eating half the metal wheel away while skooting blowing sparks down the runway, or sliding into the grass at 100 mph or so ....... I'll never forget that one even landed blind with oil covering its windshield after being shot in the front section and taking a direct hit in the front canopy glass.......but one of the strangest memories was when an F-105 landed with a missile stuck into its tail … this F-105 came in boiling black smoke, the rear side of the engine area with flames … and that damned missile wedged in between the engine afterburner and the skin of the bird..... normally maybe a three inch gap now swelled around seven inches in diameter."

Most targets in North Vietnam demanded the Thud pilots fly 1,250 mile round trips from Thailand, so air refueling was required on the way in and on the way out. This map displays typical flight routes for the Thud from Korat RTAFB, Thailand. You can imagine a similar route from Takhli RTAFB. Note that for practical purposes, same way in, same way out, day in and day out, for the F-105s, and the same kind of refueling orbits for the tankers, so F-105 attacks on North Vietnam seldom came as a surprise.

F-105 pilots often ran into so many hostile attacks on the way to and exiting from their targets that our refueling aircraft, normally the KC-135, a modified Boeing 707, had to take a high risk and fly over North Vietnam to feed the fuel exhausted F-105 on his way out.

When approaching Hanoi from Thailand, the F-105Ds first had to cross the Red River, then fly over to "Thud Ridge", the name given by Thunderchief pilots to a series of hills located between the Red and Black Rivers. They then turned and flew low level down Thud Ridge directly to Hanoi and its near environs, or cross over Thud Ridge and strike at targets to the northeast of Hanoi.

Once over "Thud Ridge," the F-105s would approach their targets low and fast, an environment in which the F-105D excelled. Maneuverability and stability during low-level, high-speed flight were excellent because of the aircraft's high wing loading. By fast, I'm talking in the vicinity of 500-600 knots, often at treetop level, no room for error.

I have read accounts by veteran 105 pilots that if hit over their targets in this route pack, they would first assess whether they could get to the Gulf of Tonkin to the east and bail out, knowing they would be picked up by the Navy, or second, get back to Thud Ridge where they could bail out and find some cover. Bail-out over the plains almost surely would lead to capture, and bail out over the rugged karsts to the northeast was a dangerous enterprise once their chutes hit the jagged limestone rocks. Sometimes, they could regain control and hobble to Udorn RTAFB. Some would even land at or bail out over friendly Laotian dirt strips.

To this day the mere mention of Rolling Thunder can get a veteran's dandruff up. Washington imposed stringent controls, fearing Communist China would send in its forces to fight. These fears drove many political decisions at home, and many American forces were fighting with their hands tied as a result.

In any event, the thinking in Washington was that a major air campaign against North Vietnam would force the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table and the war could be swiftly brought to an end. Some thought this could happen within eight weeks. They were wrong. Rolling Thunder lasted, on and off, for three years and, in response, the North Vietnamese substantially increased their operations in South Vietnam.

There were significant differences of opinion about the Rolling Thunder campaign between military, especially Air Force, leaders and political and diplomatic leaders, the latter referred to by this editor as "the suits."

The USAF bought about 600 F-105Ds. As of early 1967, there were only about 300 left. About 350 F-105s were lost to combat. Most of these, 312, were lost to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles (SAM). In 1966 alone, the year we lost Captain Leetun, 126 Thuds were lost, 103 to AAA.

One problem was the F-105 formations flew every day at roughly the same time, using roughly the same flight routes, and the same callsigns. So the enemy was waiting for them. It was calculated that an F-105 pilot stood only a 75 percent chance of surviving 100 missions over North Vietnam.

The suits created “protected” zones around Hanoi and Haiphong. This is what drove senior Air Force leaders nuts. They wanted to take down Hanoi and Haiphong and all the major distribution points around them; the idea that they would fall in "protected" zones was unthinkable. There were many other restrictions that would roil your stomach.

I like to conclude with the thoughts of others.

The following are the thoughts of Blake Morrison, F-105 pilot and editor, USAF Weapons Review Magazine, in a “Requiem for a heavyweight:"

“From 1966 to 1968 she was the one to carry the big iron Downtown. She wasn't exactly designed for it, but Thuds hauled 75% of the smash carried down Route Pack Six. And in combat, she maintained a 90 percent in-commission rate.

“Maybe it was because she was used to taking hits from anyone and everyone, for we found out that she could take other kinds of hits, the real kind, as well, and still fly.

“But she wasn't perfect. No real lady is. She couldn't turn worth a damn. We figured even a frisbee would outturn the Thud.

“She didn't always come back. She died a lot. Her corpses line Thud Ridge, Hanoi, Thanh Hoa, and a lot of other places up north. She wrote the epitaph for a lot of good men like Karl Richter. Over half the inventory was gone by the end of 1968; most lost in combat.

“She became a legend and legends flew her. Robbie Risner, Karl Richter and Leo Thorsness, to mention a few. She was flown by other greats such as Dave Waldrop, Billy Sparks, and Pete Foley. And she was handled by many unknowns like Bob Gerlach, Jim Stiles, and me.

“She stays with us as an American classic and a real thoroughbred. She could break your back but never your heart. She is genuinely loved by all who flew her and a lot who didn't.

“She was ugly, she was strong, but she had dignity.”

I'll close out with comments made by John L. Frisbee in an article entitled, "A Bridge Downtown." published by Air Force Association Magazine in January 1992. Frisbee talks to courage and valor.

"One of the Thud pilots who had gone north many times was Col. William C. Norris, who had flown 100 F-51 missions in Korea, had spent most of his career in fighters, and now commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing's 333d Squadron. He remembers those days in Southeast Asia with a mixture of pride and bitterness. 'During Rolling Thunder, we lost 252 F-105s. Every day, those pilots who went to the Hanoi area went to one of the most heavily defended areas in modern warfare. Worst of all, they were forced to fight under the most ridiculous rules of engagement. Those unrealistic rules certainly contributed to our heavy loss rate and also hindered us from accomplishing our mission. To go to Hanoi day after day not only took great courage, but, more important, it took loyalty to your country'--whose leaders seemed not to understand air operations or the hazards to their own men, which they were compounding.

"There could be no finer tribute to comrades who fought, died, and suffered in Hanoi's prisons. Knowing what lay ahead, the best of those men competed for a place on the toughest missions. The reason may defy layman's logic. They did it because they were fighter pilots."

Two F-105 pilots received the Medal of Honor. By my count, 39 received the Air Force Cross, the second highest award for valor in combat. One of those received three.

I could go on forever highlighting these brave F-105 pilots, but I should stop here. There is plenty to read on the internet and ion the bookstore.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Da Nang’s Tien Sha peninsula: Naval covert action in NVN

The US Navy’s unconventional warfare and covert action capabilities and activities grew considerably from WWII through the Indochina War, and beyond. I have done considerable research on this period and produced an extensive report, far too long to present here.

This account will break down two most interesting and interrelated sets of maritime covert actions against North Vietnam (NVN).  I wanted to keep this brief, but fear the history complicated that.

The two sets of covert actions are: Naval activities on Da Nang’s Tien Sha Peninsula and the Navy’s Desoto Maritime Patrol Missions along NVN's periphery.

In short, US SEALs transported Vietnamese commandos and others into NVN from Da Nang Air Base (AB), Republic of Vietnam (RVN). The USS Maddox was on a Desoto intelligence collection patrol to monitor these commando operations, arguably the cause of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and US war against NVN,

With that in mind, let’s start with the Tien Sha Peninsula. It is a peninsula, marked in the red box, close to Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (RVN). It butts out northeast of Da Nang, between Monkey and Marble Mountains, both of which would evolve to be important US military outposts. During the US Indochina War Da Nang Air Base (AB) was a major air, Marine and naval base about 96 miles southeast of the DMZ.

Da Nang is a coastal city not far from the the border with North Vietnam (NVN). The first American combat troops to arrive in Vietnam landed there in March 1965: Marines.

In 1962 the CIA Maritime Operations (MAROPS) set up a base along Da Nang’s Tien She peninsula, enclosed in the red rectangle on this map,

In January 1962, the Navy established two SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) teams: Seal Team 1 (ST-1) at Coronado, California, and ST-2 at Little Creek, Virginia. Admiral Arleigh Burke, USN, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), wanted such special units to handle naval guerrilla warfare. Their existence was handled as classified information throughout most of the Indochina War.

In January 1962, ST-1 sent two men, Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Robert Sullivan (shown here) and CPO Charles Raymond to conduct initial surveys and prepare to train South Vietnamese to be maritime commandos under a CIA program code name, “Nautilus.”

Nautilus was a CIA plan to insert commando teams into NVN's coastline. In April 1962 CIA brought in four Taiwan trained commandos, known as “Team VULCAN.” They went to Da Nang to learn how to plant mines on the hulls of enemy boats. This was the first operational effort of the Nautilus program.

On January 1, 1963, the responsibility for Nautilus operations was transferred to the Navy under “Operation Switchback.” ST-1 would be the main entity involved. During the time CIA had been in charge, it conducted several clandestine maritime operations in NVN using RVN, Taiwanese and other ethnic groups.

On January 24, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) signed the authorization for OPLAN-34-A. It gave the go-ahead for US forces to carry out operations in the NVN.

The Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) activated at Da Nang at about this time, January-February 1964. The NAD was a cover used by the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation group (MACSOG). MACSOG is a study unto its own: Its job was covert operations in Vietnam.

CIA’s MAROPS operated within the MACSOG). ]To my knowledge, the men in CIA’s MAROPs were mostly Navy SEALs.

NAD’s headquarters was located at the foot of Monkey Mountain on Tien Sha peninsula. I have read that on arrival at NAD’s offices, the sailors turned in their Navy identification cards and received NAD ID cards in their place.

I want to show you a series of drawings and a photo dealing with the NAD’s location at Da Nang.

The SEALs used the Tien Sha base, known as Camp Tien Sha. The SEALs berthed at Camp Black Rock. Camp Fay had living quarters and messing and support areas for all military personnel assigned to the NAD. The 30th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) was located at a cove on Da Nang Bay.

The SEALs trained the Vietnamese Coastal Force in reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare. The red arrows roughly highlight a section of My Khe Beach which was used secretly to house the Vietnamese commandos. In the beginning, mostly Vietnamese commandos were used, though later downstream men from other nations and ethnic groups were used. The SEALs piloted the patrol boats transporting them.

This is a photo of the main gate at Camp Tien Sha. Navy Seabees built the base from an old French encampment. I believe it was ready for bed-down by 1965.

Prior to moving over to the Tien Sha peninsula, the NAD operated from a place called the “White Elephant,” It was an old French hotel in Da Nang city. The Navy used it for several purposes, one of which was to serve as a communications center. This is a photo of the old elephant. The Navy continued using it even after the NAD left.

This is a great schematic of the lower base and the Patrol Boat Fast (PTF base).

The NAD building was built in 1965. Offices inside were also used by MACSOG and “others.” It was a concrete block building with metal hip roof and one controlled entrance, no windows. The fence was about 10' high with a barbed wire top. Those who were there called it the "Super Spook" building.

There were three piers for the PTFs. Pier One was the primary pier for Nasty class PTFs in early days. Floating pier sections were able to berth six boats. Pier Three was a floating pier section off of Pier One used for small craft and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) assigned to base. Pier Four had floating sections used by the NAD’s Swift boats. Pier Two had floating sections used in the early days to berth the “gassers.”

PTFs 1 and 2 were the “gassers” because they used 115 octane gasoline for power. They were never refueled at the pier, but instead moved out to a buoy. Trucks delivered the gas through a hose floating on the water.

I believe the other PTFs that came had diesel engines which could be refueled at the piers.

There was a cove at the base of Monkey Mountain at which the SEALs set up a small base with finger piers and a floating dry-dock.

The PTFs were also known as “Nasty-class” high speed patrol craft, of Norwegian design. They were built of wood. Initially they used gasoline, then switched to diesel.

Camp Tien Sha was on the enemy hit-list and received many enemy attacks. NVN agents were all around the area watching. One report of a US pilot overflying the camp said he received ground fire. The pilot said the area was infested with Viet Cong.

Recall CPO Sullivan, mentioned earlier. He wrote that the officer in charge of the NAD was Lt. Cathal “Irish” Flynn, shown here. He wrote that ST-1 had 16 SEALs, known as Detachment Golf. As an aside, Flynn would rise to the rank of rear admiral, as shown in the photo. He was the first active duty SEAL promoted to flag rank.

Sullivan has written that the site he and CPO Raymond had set up for Operation Vulcan in 1962 along the beach below Monkey Mountain at Da Nang was expanded. Sullivan, now on his second tour to the RVN, wrote:

“It (the old Vulcan training area) was now a group of five separate training sites spread out along 4 or 5 miles of beach. The Headquarters was on the northern end of the beach, and that was where the SEAL advisors were housed. Each site was separated and segregated to keep the personnel from contact with each other for security reasons. Each site was designated for a specific mission. SEAL personal were assigned to train a particular group of agents for their mission and only that mission. Usually there were two SEALs assigned to each group, but in a few cases it took up to four. We had graduated from operating from Junks to ‘Swift Boats,’ and then to the ‘Nasties.' This was a definite improvement in our speed and armament capability. All the boats were heavily armed.

“Our group of agents came from the remaining Vietnamese trained in Taiwan for the Vietnamese UDT (Underwater Demolition Team), but not chosen for the First ‘Vulcan’ operation. There were twenty of them. There was also an interpreter in the group. He was a noncombatant and used only to explain our English to the group, and their Vietnamese to us. We held a short course with the group on what American commands that they must know immediately without the need of an interpreter. We didn’t want the need for an interpreter if we were in the middle of a firefight.”

The SEALs were to only transport the commandos to NVN and were not to disembark the PTF. They could watch the commandos and listen to explosions they set off. Those who survived returned to the PTF.

NVN Swatows often chased after them. Sullivan even commented that he fired the PTF's .50 cal and is sure he “got some good licks in.”

Steve Edwards, author of “Stalking the Enemy’s Coast,” published by the Navy’s Proceedings in February 1992, wrote this:

“...Did U.S. Navy SEALs ever go north on these (OP 34-A) missions? The official answers to these questions have always been ‘no’ ...We now know that U.S. Navy SEALs did go up north.

“In a June 1980 interview with the U.S. Naval Institute, Captain Phil H. Bucklew (shown here), an almost legendary figure in naval special warfare, addressed the 34-A missions specifically: ‘Our SEAL contingents would train Vietnamese SEALs and supervise. They were not allowed to go north of the demarcation line, though they did at times...’”

Edwin Moise, in his book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, wrote that US policy clearly forbade the US military from going along on combat missions against the NVN. He wrote:

“Captain Phil H. Bucklew, who as head of the Naval Operations Support Group was responsible for the US Navy personnel in question, believes that they habitually violated the prohibition. Indeed he is not aware of any cases in which PTFs from Da Nang went on combat operations without American personnel aboard.”

On May 27, 1964 a Nasty crew captured a NVN junk boat and six passengers. CIA ran a top secret resistance training center at Cu Lao Cham island off Danang, and the captives were taken there for interrogation.

Cu Lao Cham was also known as Paradise Island. It was also called “DODO” Island. Operations here began in May 1964 as a detention center for fishermen captured by the RVN Navy (VNN) in NVN waters. The operations used to capture them specifically for the “Sacred Swords of Patriotism League” (SSPL). The SSPL was a CIA developed, MACSOG executed operation involving pyschological warfare operations. The Cu Lao Cham project was codenamed “Mint,” for “Maritime Interdictions.”

MACSOG used former NVN inhabitants who had the right dialects etc. to pose as SSPL members and seize the fishermen. American members of MACSOG travelled below deck so they were not seen. The MACSOG Command History states:

"Covert boat and landing team operations were conducted against the coast of North Vietnam to interdict enemy coastal shipping, capture prisoners for interrogations and psychological warfare exploitation, and to force North Vietnam to increase its coastal defenses."

The SSPL members told the fishermen Paradise Island was “liberated territory,” and that the island was a secret training camp for the resistance that would liberate the NVN from the Chinese communists.

I’ll stop this discussion here. You get the idea. Let’s turn to the Navy’s Desoto Missions.

The US Navy began Desoto missions at sea in April 1962. Desoto is an acronym for Dehaven Special Operations off TsingtaO which were conducted in the Yellow Sea area April 14-20, 1962.

The USS DeHaven (DD-727) was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer. Mobile signals intelligence (SIGINT) communications and electronic intelligence-COMINT and ELINT vans were placed on the destroyer. Navy operators from the Naval Security Group (NSG) intercepted Chinese communications and electronic emissions.

The Desoto Patrol was a response to Chinese efforts to extend China’s territorial waters. There were three objectives:

  • Assert freedom of the seas
  • Realistic training
  • Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) collection

The Navy ran the initial Desoto patrols offshore China and up the Korean and Soviet coasts as far as the Soviet Gulf or Strait of Tartary. This map does not reflect the tracks the patrols took, but instead is meant to give you a sense for the geography.That geography would change as you will see.

RAdm. James W. Montgomery, USN, DeHaven’s captain, said,

“The special operation was a then highly-classified intelligence gathering and probing excursion by USS DeHaven into waters that had not been visited by Pacific Fleet men-of-war since the late 1940s.”

The second Desoto patrol was conducted by the USS Agerholm (DD-826), a Gearing-class destroyer, from the Gulf of Tonkin around China’s Hainan Island and off the coast of NVN. The Agerholm’s patrol was the first such SIGINT patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea targeted mainly at North Vietnam.This was a marked change from the China mission of the Dehaven.

The National Security Agency (NSA), the US agency responsible for SIGINT operations abroad, wrote:

“By December (1964), the (Desoto) patrols had been extended to the coasts of Korea and North Vietnam. The rationale was to support special operations under OPLAN 34-A.”

As commandos conducted their nighttime insertion raids into the NVN, the NSG operators aboard the Agerholm monitored NVN reactions, support the commando raids with the resulting intelligence, and help obtain order of battle and capabilities information. The commando missions themselves did little damage to NVN. But the raids yielded a lot of very useful intelligence.

Between February and March 1964, the USS John R. Craig (DD-885), a Gearing-class destroyer, conducted the second Desoto patrol. Her authorized closest point of approach to North Vietnam was 8 nautical miles (nm) to the mainland and 4 nm to offshore islands.

In late February into early March 1964, the USS Craig (DD-885), a Gering-cass destroyer, conducted the third Desoto patrol offshore NVN. The NSG crew embarked intercepted the NVN tracking the Craig on this mission. NSA reported,

“(NVN) radar stations tracked the USS Craig and DRV (NVN) naval communications referred to her by hull number. Although the SIGINT from the Craig’s mission wasn’t voluminous, it did contribute to new insight into DRV tracking station locations, equipment and capability.”

By the end of July 1964, OPLAN 34-A MAROPS was launching almost every day out of Tien Shah peninsula, Da Nang. On July 30, VNN naval commandos staged a midnight amphibious raid on the NVN islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu in the Gulf of Tonkin. Most operations consisted of small amphibious raids and bombardments of shore targets in the NVN by fast armed motorboats.

The focus of the Desoto missions changed in character. They were now to support OPLAN 34-A; that is, determine NVN coastal activity which would cover those areas targeted by OPLAN 34-A commando raids.

The idea was to gather intelligence to support such operations. The alphabetic points show the Desoto mission start and stop points, the latter serving as loitering areas. Desoto crews might not know such operations were planned or were occurring. The purpose was to cause the NVN to react, to do something that would give insights into its naval capabilities and intentions.

The fourth Desoto patrol mission offshore the NVN was conducted by the USS Maddox (DD-747) in July 1964, for about three days, up and down the NVN coastline. The Maddox mission was the first to sail up and down the entire NVN coastline. Furthermore, she would sail while OPLAN 34-A missions were underway.

CINCPAC eased the restrictions, telling Maddox she should stay eight nautical miles from the coastline but could approach to four miles of any of its islands. At the time of the VNN OPLAN 34-A operation, the Maddox was 120-130 miles away, positioned along the 17th parallel, roughly where the DMZ divided North from South Vietnam.

NSA reported,

“Her (Moaddox) mission was to observe the junk fleet suspected of transporting guerrillas to the south, obtain navigational and hydrographic data and acquire intelligence on the NVN Navy. The latter item was of considerable importance, first because the Geneva Accords of 1954 specifically prohibited the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) (NVN) from having naval forces and second because of SIGINT’s role in detecting DRV naval activity.”

Cmdr. Herbert Ogier (right) was in command of the Maddox, Captain John Herrick (left) was embarked on the Maddox and in command of Destroyer Division 192, a two destroyer task group, the other destroyer being the USS Turner Joy (DD-951), a Forrest Sherman-class destroyer, Cmdr. Ronald Barnhart, Jr. in command.

On July 31, the Maddox turned northward on a course up the coast, staying about 12 miles offshore, but on a course that would pass by Hon Me Island. Also on July 31, the Maddox intercepted NVN communications indicating the “American imperialists” had shelled one of their fortifications. The Maddox did report sighting NVN patrol craft pursuing several unidentified vessels, but the Maddox made no attempt to investigate.

On August 1, 1964, NSA alerted the Navy that the NVN was reacting with more belligerence to these Desoto missions and warned the Navy that the NVN Navy might attack one of the destroyers. Nonetheless, the Maddox continued her patrol northward that put her on a course past Hon Me Island. SIGINT intercepts reported a NVN naval entity informing the location and course of an enemy ship which correlated to the position and course of the Maddox. Shortly thereafter, an intercepted NVN naval message said it had been “directed to fight the enemy tonight.” The Maddox was notified of this report. The NVN then continuously tracked the Maddox and several messages were intercepted pre-positioning NVN warships for attack.

On August 2, 1964, the Maddox sighted five naval vessels, three PTs and two probable Swatow-class PGMs along with a large fleet of about 75 junks some 10 miles north of Hon Me Island. The Maddox changed course twice to avoid the patrol boats, reached the northernmost point of her patrol track, and turned to the south. Shortly after turning south, the NVN issued a command message instructing that the time had come to close with the “enemy” and employ torpedoes. The Maddox was notified of this message.

The NVN patrol boats did attack. I will not go into the details other than to say the Maddox requested air support, she fired warning shots, she maneuvered to avoid torpedoes, she attacked the NVN vessels, air cover did arrive on scene, and the Maddox withdrew. She had rendered one NVN patrol boat dead in the water and burning, with two other vessels heavily damaged but still underway.

On August 3, 1964, President LBJ ordered the Maddox to be reinforced by the USS Turner Joy. He sent both ships back to the area. The NVN remained interested but took no hostile action. However, VNN patrol boats did run up the coast and bombarded a radar installation at Vinh Son and a security post at Mui Ron. NVN patrol boats pursued them back to Da Nang without incident.

On August 4, 1964, both the Maddox and Turner Joy returned to patrol but north of where the incidents had occurred. During the evening, Capt. Herrick’s crew spotted several enemy vessel contacts some 25-35 miles away and air contacts. He asked for air support. Fighter aircraft launched from the carriers USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation. While the US Desoto destroyers reported losing contact with the aircraft, they did report enemy vessels approaching and closing fast.

The Turner Joy began firing and dropped depth charges once the vessels approached within 4,000 yards. The Maddox did not see these vessels on her radars and could not locate them. Then some among the Maddox crew aid they spotted a torpedo coming at them and skimming beneath the surface. Both destroyers took immediate evasive actions. There was quite a bit of activity thereafter.

On August 4, 1964, at midnight, LBJ spoke to the public about what became known as The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

As a result of the August 2 and August 4 incidents, the Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of official US warfare against North Vietnam. As would be be reported, there were many questions about the August 4 "attacks." But that had little impact, The war was omn.