A quick glance at a map of South Vietnam shows the southern portion of the country to be intersected by several large rivers.
While the map doesn’t show it, the area is also home to thousands of smaller rivers, streams, canals, swamps, deltas and marshes. Few roads traverse the area. For centuries, the waterways of the south provided the only transportation network. This area was also the breadbasket of Vietnam, and home to a huge portion of the population. The more remote reaches of the area were also home to large portions of the VietCong insurgency, and their redoubts in the region were almost inaccessible to conventional military forces.
Further, coastal seaborne traffic was long used for infiltration of weapons and supplies for the insurgency.
The Navy (and to an extent the Army) was faced with the challenge of first shutting down the infiltration of enemy forces via these waterways, and then secondly mounting offensive operations against VC strongholds in the Delta regions.
The Navy, with a rapidity that would be stunning in todays service, conceived, instituted, equipped, trained and deployed three separate task forces to address this problem, and eventually combined their operations into an integrated campaign known as SEALORDS- South East Asia Lakes, Ocean, Rivers, Delta and Streams.
We tend to think of Vietnam as a 10 year long war. And it was. But the bulk of US fighting took place during the years 1966 to 1969. And it is in that four year span of time we’ll focus our attention on the three components of SEALORDS.
- Task Force 115 (Operation Market Time) – Coastal Patrol and Interdiction
- Task Force 116 (Operation Game Warden) – Riverine Patrol and Interdiction
- Task Force 117 (The Mobile Riverine Task Force) – An Army/Navy task force for offensive operations on inland waterways.
We’ll discuss (very) briefly the operational environment of each task force, the special equipment they used, and just a touch of their history. Finally, we’ll compare and contrast that to some recent operations of the Navy and future challenges.