Review of PTFs and BSU-1 in Vietnam
COMMAND HISTORY - Vietnam
The earliest dedicated naval special warfare craft was the PTF (fast
patrol boat). Its role in the Vietnam war has been shrouded in classified
operations and only recently been de-classified. The boats development is
also a product of political and changing military doctrine. Both must be
discussed before getting into the development of the PTF.
The year 1961 was a year that saw President John F. Kennedy direct the
armed services to create "counter-insurgency forces to meet the
irregular forces developing in the hot spots of the world." In
Vietnam in 1961 the CIA was supporting the South Vietnamese government. In
a covert war against the North, maritime operations at this time were
carried out by South Vietnam's 1st Observation Group and were inserted and
extracted by junks, under the code name Nautilus. The North Vietnamese
responded by building a Navy capable of protecting her coastline.
President Kennedy's mandate gave birth to the U.S. Navy SEALs in
January 1962. The naval commando who's role is to have a sea air and land
capability. The Navy and SEALs were now looking for delivery platforms for
this sea-borne raider. Air assets, ships, and even submarines were already
in the Navy's inventory. What was lacking was an armed, high speed shallow
draft boat that could operate in a hostile coastal environment and insert,
support, and extract a SEAL platoon. To meet the needs of the SEALs the
Navy went "shopping". A key figure of influence, and a naval
special warfare legend, was Capt. Phil H. Bucklew, whose exploits in World
War II won him two Navy crosses and the silver star. Capt Bucklew made use
of the PT boats in WWII and again in Korea. As the commanding officer of
the newly commissioned Naval Operations Support Group One (now Naval
Special Warfare Group One) knew he needed PT boats again and made his
|The development of the PTF began with two aging post war PT
boats, PTs 810 and 811. While identified as a quick solution for the SEALs, money was put into the boats and modernized and designated PTFs on
21 Dec. 1962.
These craft once refurbished were moved to Little Creek Va. and began
stateside SEAL support operations. More PTFs were needed and the Navy
began looking at designs. The Navy for years had been looking at a new
combatant craft to match the Soviet small combatant craft, but never
really had the need or money for such a craft in the fleet so all research
was on paper alone. Of all this research the best design was the Norwegian
Tjeld ( Nasty) Class torpedo boat. The chief obstacle to buying a foreign
boat was political. The legal obstacles of the buy-American Act required
presidential authorization. This political obstacle was over come when the
Central Intelligence Agency requested a new presence in Vietnam by Jan.
1963. So two Norwegian Nasty class boats, named Skrei, and Hvass were
bought in December 1962. These would become PTFs 3 and 4. Planners now saw the need for 10 to 15 more
PTFs. So the politics of boat procurement were overcome by geo-political
1963 was a year where much was to be accomplished in little time
because of the commitments in Vietnam. SEALs were already in DaNang and
training the SCT sea-commando (biet-hai) since mid-1962. MACVSOG had
established a base For the new maritime assets coming, and South
Vietnamese Navy ( Hai-Tuan ) crews were being gathered and trained to
prepare for the arrival of the PTFs, and a logistical night-mare of all
support lined up. The CIA's Philippine-based Eastern Construction Company
(ECC) set up its company and integrated into the MACVSOG organization, as
well as the Chinese, German, and Norwegian hired operators.
In the U.S. at Little Creek Va. as the PTFs became operational, crews
were recruited, many officers were L.D.O.'s and the enlisted were serious
professionals. Much of the boat training was self-taught. It was found
that the PTF crewman was a professional in his rate yet cross-trained in
all operations of the boat. The theory being if one man is a casualty
another could take his place, so it was possible for a Radarman to find
himself manning a weapon. The crew was also trained in navigation and
small arms. Boat tactics were being developed, SEAL support operations was
learned from insertion and extraction, patrol planning, and standard
operating procedures between boats and SEALs.
Special Boat Squadron ONE was originally
established by CNO on 1 February 1964 as Boat Support Unit ONE, a
component command of Naval Operations Support Groups, Pacific. Its mission
was to administer the newly reinstated PTF (Patrol Torpedo Fast) Boat
program and to operate high-speed craft in support of Naval Special
Warfare Operations, this primarily in conjunction with UDT and SEAL units.
BSU-1's first commanding
officer was Lt. Bert Knight. The missions were soon expanded to include all aspects of riverine and
restricted water warfare. The PTF program grew rapidly, beginning with
four “Nasty” class PTF’s in the fall of 1964. Crews attended schools
in the San Diego area, then deployed to Subic Bay, Philippines, to put
their boats in service and prepare for operational commitments. As a
result of events in the Tonkin Gulf, there had been a great demand for
simulated PTF type attacks for training, and Boat Support Unit ONE was
tasked with providing such services. In September 1965, Boat Support Unit
ONE implemented the original training for PCF (Swift) crews in underway
boat operation for duty as part of the MARKET TIME patrol in Vietnam,
using eight Swift Boats. On 1 July 1971, Boat Support Unit ONE was
re-designated Coastal River Squadron ONE and its mission broadened to
encompass coastal/riverine patrol and warfare.
|The command was instrumental in the
development and evaluation of a wide variety of small boat projects. These
included the Landing Craft Swimmer Recovery Vessel (LCSR); Coastal Patrol
and Interdiction Craft (CPIC); Swimmer Delivery Vehicle, Auxiliary (LCU/ASDV),
which continues to serve as a mother ship for SEAL/UDT mini-subs,
providing compressed air and diver recompression emergency services; and
the FLAGSTAFF (PCH-l), one of the Navy’s first operational hydrofoils.
While this sounds good, in reality BSU-1 assets had deployed to Subic
Bay P.I. By Feb. these deployed assets were now called Mobile
Support Team One (MST-1). The Philippines was a good source of mahogany
wood for the Nasty PTFs, and soon a Napier Deltic engine repair facility
was installed and Subic Bay P.I. became the "official" homeport
for deployed PTF Dets. While the PTFs were being painted dark green, PTF
Crews endured S.E.R.E. School. PTF-1 and 2 received 2 single 50cal m.g's.
Final preparations of the craft and other assets were loaded out on a LSD
for its last leg of the journey to Vietnam.
|On 24 Jan, 1964 MACVSOG was formally organized in
Vietnam, and on that same day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the
authorization of OPLAN- 34a. Op-34a was the authorization to carry
out operations in North Vietnam. April 1964 saw PTF-1 and 2 plus a
pontoon dock, a floating dry dock (AFDL-23), a crane barge, and a
LCM-3 push boat arrive in DaNang.
PTF-3 And 4 remained in Subic for fuel tank improvements. May saw
PTF's 3,4,5,6, arrive in DaNang. July saw PTF's-7 and 8 arrive in-country.
MST-1 assets continued to arrive in increments over the the years
including three PCF Swift Boats. These PCFs were proto types without the
twin 50 cal m.g. gun tub on top of the pilot house. These swifts were in
the early years used on raids North also, but later they were used for
harbor and base security and logistic support. Upon arrival in DaNang
MST-1 became part of MACVSOG's maritime organization called the Naval
Advisory Detachment (NAD) whose first C.O. was Cmdr. Al Thomas. NAD
was organized into a repair and maintenance team, boat training team, SEAL
training team, and a marine recon team for NAD Security. The South
Vietnamese personnel contribution was the Coastal Security Service, CSS,
(so phong ve duyen hai). The CSS was the South Vietnamese organization of
MACVSOG, with Cmdr. Ho van Ky Thoai as C.O.. The CSS like SOG utilized
different services into the special action teams, with code names for its
teams, Sea Commando Team (SCT) that were trained and run by U.S. Navy
SEALs was called "Vega". The Marines was " Romulus",
and Army was "Nimbus". The CSS also controlled civilian agents
code name " Cumulus". The Coastal Security Service (CSS) were
the PTF boat crews (hai-tuan), and also PCFs and the junks under
"Nautilus". These South Vietnamese Navy sailors were supposed to
be above the average in the regular South Viet Navy and received more pay
than their regular South Vietnamese sailors. South Vietnamese civilians
were also hired to run the base facilities.
NAD bases at DaNang comprised of a number of facilities.
- Lower base camp, was the operational base of NAD. In-Country PTFs
were birthed at 3 pontoon piers, it also had the command post, and
craft repair and maintenance facilities
- Upper base camp, contained the messing and birthing and
Administrative facilities for the CSS.
- Camp Fay, was the principle birthing and messing and support area
for all U.S. Personnel assigned to NAD. However early in the war
officers were billeted in a French villa known as the Alamo.
- Camp Black Rock located a mile east of Camp Fay was the berthing
area of the SEALs.
- Coral beach, was a range for pistol, rifles, grenades and mortars.
It was also an area for training for infiltration.
- Spanish beach, was the magazine storage for ordinance.
- Nung Camp, located next to upper base camp, was used for additional
CSS and CIDG birthing.
- "Do-Do" Island P.O.W. Camp for North Vietnamese prisoners.
|MST-1, on arrival, began training CSS on PTFs. There
was a great push to become operational. American PTF crews taught
The CSS/PTF crews what they had learned in the States, plus air and
fleet coordination, proper communication procedures, and multiple
boat tactics, gunnery and underway repairs were stressed.
Later in the war PTFs were used to simulate attacks on 7th Fleet ships
in the area. But what was quickly apparent was that the CSS crews did not
grasp the technical side of the high performance PTF. There were several
visits by Norwegian tech. reps of Bataservice Industrier A/S, who built
the Nasty PTF over the years.
Operations against North Vietnam by the PTFs began in late May 1964 and
set the pattern of raids that would last until the last operations in
1971. It is note worthy that these operation were comparable to American
PT's and British MTB's of WWII. This was extremely rare and unique in the
Vietnam war and any other conflict since WWII. These missions include,
direct action missions, insertion and extraction of SCT teams for recon,
prisoner snatches, and demolition raids, insertion and extraction of
agents. Psychological operations, which included floating in special one
frequency radios that would only pick-up only a SOG propaganda station.
Also fishermen from the north would be kidnapped and taken south where
they would be wined and dined and shown the wonders of South Vietnam. They
were given presents and taken back to the north with the hope they would
spread dissent. The success of this program was questionable but popular
as many North Vietnamese fishermen were repeat guests and had many
volunteers. Coastal patrol and interdiction of the northern coast included
junk captures, board and search and the disruption of North Vietnams
maritime industry. The PTFs aided in hydrographic surveys of North Vietnam
and were available assets in the recovery of downed pilots. The most
dramatic missions of the PTFs were shore bombardment and direct combat
action against North Vietnam's naval combatant craft.
Perhaps the most dramatic effect of the raids up north occurred on 2
Aug. 1964 the USS Maddox DD- 731 was making a Desoto patrol [intell sweep]
when it was attacked by North Vietnamese P-4 torpedo boats. The
attack was repulsed, but the ramifications were historic. The North
Vietnamese government claimed it was chasing South Vietnamese PT boats and
assumed the Maddox was also part of the raid. This incident gave President
Lyndon. B. Johnson the political power to commit a massive influx of U.S.
Forces into Vietnam. The Vietnam War that would take the lives of 58,000
Americans. The small covert war could have remained as it was, it was a
Politician that made the decision, and its the service man that carries
out the order. In 1964 who knew, the PTFs stood down for two months after
the Maddox incident. Then they carried on with ops. Some typical PTF
operations during op34a are described in the October 1964 ops schedule:
Prisoner snatch by SCT from PTF.
- Junk capture.
- Bombard Cafe Mui Ron and Tiger Island by PTFs.
- Bombardment of Yen Phu and Sam Son radar sites by PTFs.
- Return captives from previous raid (junk capture).
- Bombardment of Hon Ne and Hon Me.
- SCT team blows up pier at Phuc Loi and bombard Hon Gu.
- SCT team blows section of Hanoi-Vinh rail line.
- Bombardment of Dong Hoi and Tiger Island by PTFs.
- Bombardment of Nightingale Island.
|It has been often asked did Americans go north on ops?
Officially no, and were ordered not to. However Capt. Phil Bucklew
stated over the years it was necessary for American participation,
whether to support a CSS counter-part, it was to reassure his CSS
counter-part that all of the advise and support he had given was
valid. This made the SEAL/MST counter-part more credible thus more
effective, however most of the time, SCT personnel were in DaNang
behind the scenes performing up-keep on the boats.
|In fact in the later years most enlisted MST thought
that going to DaNang or "on site" as they called it,
rather passive, but a great place for drinking beer and a serious
game of monopoly. Enlisted MST did feel friction towards the CSS
because the CSS who would come down, operate the boats north, come
back and walk off and leave the MST to fix them. However the CSS
working in the hops with the MST were on good terms with the
enlisted MST. It must also be noted that enlisted MST were often
kept in the dark about operations up north, and only had vague idea
about what went on through rumors and conversations.
In Jan. 1965 the PTFs and PCFs were leased to the South Vietnamese
Navy. PTFs-1 and 2 were so mechanically unreliable and had no spare parts
so they were stripped and sunk for target practice in 1965. PTF-4 was sunk
in 1965 on ops, and 8,9, 14, 15, and 16 were sunk in 1966 on ops. North
Vietnam now was fighting back with coastal batteries and combatant craft
and on rare occasions NVN aircraft. One PTF was sunk by accident by
another PTF, blue on blue engagements could be understandable when you
have trouble with bad communications, a radar screen, full of contacts and
no positive control of your patrol at night. Some PTFs were accidentally
grounded, so at any one time in DaNang there were at least 5 to 7 PTFs and
11 CSS crews available for Ops. MST crews were the backbone of keeping the
boats up and available for ops., but it was clear more PTFs were needed to
replace the battle loses and badly damaged PTFs. In 1967 the Navy was
building PTFs of the Nasty design in the U.S. at John Trumpy and Sons of
Annapolis, Maryland. These craft were built under license from Norwegian
designs. These PTFs would be known as "Trumpy" class PTFs
numbered in series 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22.
The missions continued through the years, some filled with violence and
tragedy, others were milk runs that could have suddenly turned to death.
But a final look at an operation called Hai Chang Do 1, MACVSOG plan 5-71,
on the night of 19- 20 Feb 1971 reveals the nature of aggressive PTF
operators. Four PTFs in the Hon Nieu island area observed three large
freighters of Chinese registry. While photographing these ships they were
engaged by a North Vietnamese P-4 torpedo boat. This P-4 was engaged and
sunk. With the mission compromised the PTFs heads south. A hour later the
PTFs were engaged by a North Vietnamese Swatlow class and Shanghi class
gun boats. These boats were engaged and were heavily damaged and left
behind as the PTFs headed south. The PTF patrols were passing between Hon
Gio Island and the north Vietnamese coast when they were engaged again by
a P-4 torpedo boat and a Shanghi class gunboat. The P-4 was heavily
damaged and broke off the engagement, same For the Shanghi. The PTFs
returned to DaNang with one KIA amongst her crews.
It must also be noted that the SCT and CSS also did operations in South
Vietnam under the code name Dodge Mark. These operations were primarily
SCT teams with their SEAL counter-parts, but PTFs did support the missions
by insertion, and extraction and gunfire support. A typical Dodge Mark
mission using SCT and a PTF occurred 25 April 1969, a PTF left DaNang and
transited to Barrier Island. Well off shore the PTF launched two RB-12s
inflatable boats, One of the RE-12 engines wouldn't start so the other
inflatable was towed along with them. At 400 yards from the beach the SCT
swam ashore leaving just the coxswains on the inflatable. The SCT sent
scouts up the beach, but they quickly returned for two V.C. were coming
down the beach. A hasty ambush was set up and the V.C. killed, their
bodies searched for intell. The SCT then swam out to the RB-12s and called
for extraction, and moved out to meet the PTF. The PTF recovered the boats
and team and returned to DaNang. While this was technically a CSS
operation, because it was south of the DMZ, the SEAL advisors went with
the SCT, and 2 MST were aboard the PTF.
|The year of 1971 also saw the stateside commands
change their names from Boat Support Units 1 and 2, to Coastal River
Squadron 1 and 2.
In Vietnam MACVSOG was in the process of turning over operations to the
Vietnamese and the Naval Advisory Detachment was no exception. The
improvement and modernization program was a program that prepared the CSS
to operate independently and take over planning and conduct operations
without U.S. advise.
The CSS took over in May 1971. Then on 22 Oct 71 typhoon Ester hit
DaNang and the damage to MST Assets were PTF 6, 12 and PCF 3 were sunk at
the piers Also a LCM-3 and the 40' UB boat were sunk. All boats were
raised and PTFs 6 ,12 and PCF 3 were sent to Subic Bay P.I. for repairs.
The LCM-3 was repaired by CSS/MST and the 40' UB was surveyed. The CSS in
early 1972 was organized into five 15 man SCT teams, a maintenance
training team, eleven PTF crews and five PCF crews, plus a headquarters
and support element. Jan. 72 Saw all NAD base facilities turn over to the
CSS except for Camp Fay which still supported U.S.N, personnel. MST-1 in
1972 had 7 PTFs, 3 PCFs, 1 LCM-3, 1 LCM-3 push boat, 1 40' Utility boat,
and a 30 ton crane barge. On Mar. 72 NAD received approved relief from the
maritime mission assigned to MACVSOG, on 28 Apr 72 Naval Advisory
Detachment was disestablished. The leases to the South Vietnamese of the
PTFs were terminated and the PTFs and other MST assets were shipped out of
Vietnam. MACVSOG was disestablished 30 Apr 72 and became Strategic
Technical Directorate Team 158. This ended more than eight years of of
covert maritime operations. This was true naval special warfare.
POST- VIETNAM - 1972
At home in the U.S. the PTFs were divided up between the two east and west
coast Coastal River Squadrons and Subic Bay would become MST-3 in 1972, a
forward operations base for PTFs. From 1972 to 1978 the PTFs carried out
her missions in the form of training exercises which included SEAL/UDT
Insertion and extractions, and simulated enemy PT attacks on U.S Navy
ships called Komar exercises. Some PTFs were used as platforms for
evaluation in new weapons and engineering. Peace time found it too
expensive to operate and maintain these high performance craft and the
PTFs were placed out of service between the years of 1976 and 1978 (PTF-13
May 1976, Coastal River Squadron ONE received the first of a projected 8
new 65-foot patrol boats, 6 of which were received and were operational
for over 2 years. Total acquisition was completed in May 1979. The PB was
expected to carry the Coastal Interdiction/Patrol mission of the command
well through the next decade. In September 1976, FLAGSTAFF (PGH-l) was
transferred to the Coast Guard. During January 1977, USS CANNON (PG-90),
USS GALLUP (PG-85), and two “Trumpy” class PTF’s were retired from
In October 1978
Coastal River Squadron ONE became
Special Boat Squadron ONE, spawning three commissioned units; Special Boat
Units ELEVEN, (Mare Island, San Francisco), TWELVE, and THIRTEEN (Reserve
Special Boat Unit TWELVE performed its mission of
Coastal Patrol and Interdiction, UDT/SEAL Team support and diving
qualification support with various craft assigned including two auxiliary
swimmer, deployment vehicle tenders (ASDV), two patrol torpedo craft
(PTF), three Specter class patrol boats and various smaller craft. The
unit also maintained a detachment (Mobile Support Team Three) in Subic
Bay, Republic of the Philippines of one officer and ten enlisted personnel
who support UDT/SEAL Team training in the Western Pacific.
(Compiled by Jim Gray from his personal experiences and the following
- MACVSOG Command History - Annex A,N,&, M 1964-1966, Annex B
1971-1972, by Charles F. Reske, Alpha Publications, 1990
- Reminiscences of Capt. Phil H. Bucklew USN (ret.), U.S. Naval
Institute oral history deft. 1981.
- Southeast Asian Special Forces, by Ken Conboy, Osprey Publishing
Ltd. 1991, ISBN: 1-85532-106-8.
- U.S. Small Combatants, by Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press
1987, ISBN: 0-87021-713-5
- Jane's Fighting Ships, 1970-1971, Capt. John More RN, Franklin Watts
inc. ISBN: 0531-032515
- Boat Manual for the Nasty Class PTF, Bataservice Industrier A/S