FROM WAR TO FREEDOM by Thong Ba Le
Go To War
The Vietnamese people fought the war against the French Colonists for over a century, during which hundreds of thousands of young nationalists sacrificed their lives to liberate our homeland. We have all spent time mourning our beloved friends or relatives who died in the cruel war that all but destroyed our underdeveloped country. Vietnam survived only because of her proud and patriotic people. The Vietnamese Navy was founded in 1952 with the Turn Over program from the French Navy, until August 20, 1955, the date that Vietnamese Naval Officers completely commanded the Navy Forces. There were about 2000 personnel from the beginning, with 22 vessels consisting of: Patrol Coastal Escort (PCE), Landing Ship, Mechanized (LSM), Landing Ship Infantry, Large (LSIL), Landing Ship Support, Large (LSSL), Mine Sweeper (YMS) and six River Assault Groups. The Navy then was formed into two main Combat Forces: Sea Forces and River Forces. In 1959, North Vietnamese Communists started developing a movement to sneak troops and equipment into the Republic of Vietnam’s territory. In order to stop the Communists from using the East Sea to sneak troops and weapons by boats to the coastline of South Vietnam, the RVN’s Navy, along with the mentioned ships, organized a Lực Lượng Hải Thuyền (Coastal Junk Force) with 200 boats. These motor propelled and sail junk boats, manned by Regional Irregular Forces personnel and local fishermen recruited for the occasion, kept watch along the 1,200 mile coastline. The name Coastal Junk Force was later changed to Regular Forces and came to be known as Duyên Đoàn (Coastal Groups) and was under the command of the Coastal Zones. While organizing the Coastal Junk Force, the Sea Force was also modernized and developed with the receiving of warships that were transferred from the United States Navy. The period between 1959 and 1966 was noted for the considerable advance of the RVN Navy in every field involved: the operations activities, the training facilities and the logistics capability. These fields had developed and improved as well as the overall organization and management of the Navy. The total number of gunboats, warships and junk boats increased from 94 units to 560 vessels and the number of personnel grew to 16,000 from 3,000 in 7 years. In addition, from October 1966, Lực Lượng Liên Đoàn Tuần Giang (The River Patrol Groups), previously under the command of Địa Phương Quân (The Regional Irregular Forces), were included in the Command and the Organization of the Republic of Vietnam Navy. In 1968, in order to quickly improve the role of the RVN Armed Forces in fighting against the aggression of North Vietnamese Communists, the RVN Navy and the U.S. Navy carried out plans to turns over all assets of the U.S. Navy to the RVN Navy in a program named "Accelerated Turn Over to Vietnam" (ACTOV). This plan was executed swiftly and effectively and was accomplished before schedule. As a result, at the end of 1972, the number of warships, gunboats and junk boats had reached a total of 1,500 vessels and more than 40,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. There were 16 Radar Surveillance Sites and 16 Naval Support Bases and Operational Support Units.
On January 19, 1974, the Republic of Vietnam Navy ships courageously fought against the aggression of the Chinese Communists who tried to occupy the Paracels Island by force. The valiant and heroic action of the Officers and Enlisted men of the RVN Navy showed the spirit of our Navy’s Founder Trần Hưng Đạo and the patriotic quest of Vietnamese people.
My Navy Career
I attended the South Vietnamese Naval Academy as a class 10 naval officer in Nha Trang, graduating in 1962 as valedictorian of my class. During the graduation ceremony of class 10, I received the Sword of Honor personally presented by President Ngô Đ́nh Diệm, witnessed by Captain Hồ Tấn Quyền, Chief Naval Officer (CNO) of the Republic of Vietnam Navy.
I was then sent to the United States to receive Landing Ship Mechanized (LSM) - Hải Vận Hạm Hậu Giang HQ 406 - in Seattle, USA in 1963.
Back in Vietnam, I continued my Naval career, serving as executive officer of Mine Sweeper Coastal (MSC) - HQ 116 in 1964, only two years after my graduation. This was an achievement that only a few Naval officers could accomplish.
In 1965, I abandoned the safety of serving on a ship at sea and volunteered to join the Coastal Security Service (CSS), a covert special Naval operations unit of the Strategic specialists conducting covert operations north of the 17th parallel. There, I was appointed as Captain of PTF-6 which was a new and modern Patrol Torpedo Fast (PTF) at the time.
I continued to serve in the Coastal Security Service until I was appointed Commander of Task Group "Sea Tiger" operating in the Cửa Đại, Thu Bồn river, Hội An City. It was a very heavy and dangerous task because they were required to use small gunboats to patrol and protect many waterways controlled by the enemy. In 1970, I served as Commanding officer of Đà Nẳng Naval Base.
In 1972, I was appointed Deputy Commandant of the Military Instruction Directorate of the VN National Military Academy in Đà Lạt. This position was particularly important in the training of cadets to become great leaders of the nation in the future.
As a Naval officer, I held a military position normally assigned to Army officers, at the military college known as Đà Lạt Army Military Academy; I showed great talent and an especially high capacity for this job. I then held many key positions such as Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations at The Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters in Cam Ranh bay; Commanding Officer 32nd River Assault Group in Huế City ; Commanding Officer Cửa Việt Naval Base; Commander Task Group 231.1 in Thuận An.
I fought until the last minutes in Nhà Bè Naval Support Base, my last unit at which he served as Deputy Commander. I escaped with my family to the United States on the afternoon of April 30, 1975.
1962 Graduated Republic of Vietnam Naval Academy, Nha Trang
1962 Republic of Vietnam Navy Headquarters - Operation "Sóng T́nh Thương"
1963 Seattle U.S.A to receive Landing Ship Mechanized (LSM) - Hải Vận Hạm Hậu Giang HQ 406
1964 Minesweeper, Coastal (MSC) - HQ 116 - Executive Officer
1965 Torpedo Boat, Fast (PTF) 06 - Captain
1968 Coastal Security Service (CSS/NAD) - Đà Nẳng
1969 Operation "Sea Tiger" - Hội An - Commander Task Group
1970 Đà Nẳng Naval Base - Commanding Officer
1971 Sea Operations Headquarters - Cam Ranh Bay - Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations
1972 National Military Academy - Deputy Commandant Military Instruction Directorate
1973 River Assault Group 32 - Cửa Việt Naval Base - Task Group 231.1 - Commanding Officer
1974 Graduated Command and General Staff College - Sài G̣n
1975 Nhà Bè Naval Support Base - Deputy Commander (Acting Commanding Officer)
The Maritime Patrol Force
The war in Vietnam between the free world and the Communist bloc had reached a higher level since the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, which involved North Vietnamese PT boats and two U.S. Navy destroyers in the international waters. Since the national resistance against the French from 1940-1954, war had taken the lives of so many innocent people in both North and South Vietnam and now there were more people being killed.
The Geneva Convention Accords agreed to end the war between Vietnam and France, and to divide the Vietnamese's beloved country into two parts. The Bến Hải River on the seventeenth parallel became the border. It was like a long sword of evil cutting across the beautiful land, what used to be an 'S' shaped paradise. Millions of Vietnamese citizens died for their nationalistic ideology and their blood poured into the soil of their homeland.
After celebrating a victory that had been won with the blood of their own countrymen, the Communists of Vietnam killed and eliminated all patriots who once fought side by side with them. In South Vietnam, the people mourned their lost brothers. The Communists also destroyed all parties that rebelled against them, and in 1958, they began to sneak troops and equipment through the jungle on the Hồ Chí Minh trail along Trường Sơn Mountain. The North Vietnamese Communists sent supplies and weapons to the South Vietnamese coastline by boat, to start another war between the ideologists.
South Vietnam was at the forefront of the struggle between the free world and the International Communist Party. The Party was under the leadership of the Russian and the Red Chinese who hoped to conquer Southeast Asia, an area that included Indochina, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and perhaps India, too.
In November 1963, the free world lost two anticommunist leaders. President Ngô Đ́nh Diệm of the Republic of South Vietnam was killed on November 1st in a "Coup d'etat" carried out by his one time loyalists, the Army Generals. Three weeks later, on November 22, 1963, while visiting Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas, in his limousine, with his wife, Jacqueline, sitting next to him. These two men had been devoted in their commitment to protect Southeast Asia, and with their deaths and new leaders in their place, a new era of war was born.
The war increased the next year and the President of the United States of America, Lyndon B. Johnson, decided to stop the Communists' plan to rule Vietnam before the other members of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), fell to the Internal Communist Party in a domino effect. In August 1964, in retaliation of the North Vietnamese attack to the USS Maddox and the USS Turney Joy, President Johnson ordered Navy airplanes from the aircraft carrier the USS Ticonderoga of the Seventh Fleet to launch a massive attack and air bombardment of the North Vietnamese Naval Bases and their facilities.
The South Vietnamese Army Generals, vowing to fight the Communists, faced the uncertainty of maintaining their power over their people. One military coup after another had hindered the stability of the government, and it was their primary responsibility to stop the North Vietnamese infiltration of South Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail before it was too late.
On a sunny day in May 1965, the first United States Marine stepped onto the white sandy beach of Đà Nẳng. Billowy clouds covered Hai Van pass, which overlooked the Tien sa peninsula. President Johnson committed himself as the leader of the free world when, with the approval of the U.S. Congress, he made the historical decision to send the U.S. Armed Forces to battle in a foreign country.
In Saigon, the Military Advisory Command, Vietnam (MACV) increased the number of personnel. There were more U.S. Advisors working alongside their Vietnamese counterparts in South Vietnamese units. The Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) and the Mobile Support Team (MST) were the counterparts of the South Vietnamese Navy Sở Pḥng Vệ Duyên Hải, Coastal Security Service (CSS), operating under the command of Nha Kỹ Thuật, the Strategic Technical Directorate (STD), of the Vietnamese Bộ Tổng Tham Mưu, or General Staff Headquarters in Saigon. With their American counterpart, the US Studies and Observation Group (SOG), they carried out a covert operation to deter the war being conducted by the North Vietnamese in the South China Sea from north of the seventeenth parallel to the twentieth parallel
Twelve Vietnamse Navy crews and 12 Patrol Torpedo-Fast (PTF) boats and 3 Patrol Craft-Fast (PCF) boats of Lực Lượng Hải Tuần, the Maritime Patrol Force, and many Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams of Lực Lượng Biệt Hải, the Special Maritime Force, were formed into a Special Task Force that operated different missions north of the seventeenth parallel. These missions were categorized in four missions called: "Mint, Cado, Loki and Special," and each had a specific task to execute. Furthermore, in order to classify the maritime operating areas, the sea between the seventeenth parallel and the twentieth was designated by colors, such as "Purple, Green, Blue, White, Yellow and Red." The operation units conducted their missions along the coast of North Vietnam that ranged from the southern edge of Ḥn Cọp island to the Bạch Long Vĩ island in the north. This dangerous and venturous maritime zone was named by members of the Special Task Force as the "Black Sea Zone" and every night, in the darkness of the storm,
quietly steaming on the white-capped waves of the South China Sea, were the phantom boats in different formations, PTF boats of Mặt Trận Gươm Thiêng Ái Quốc (The Sacred Sword of Patriot League) with its crew members wearing black pajamas, on their mission to search and destroy their enemy's Naval vessels.
The "Black Sea Zone"
The PT boats were now heading north-northwest toward coastline of Hà Tỉnh province. I returned to my chair on the bridge and scanned the horizon. Just forward of my port beam were some flares hanging lonely in the sky, their pale rays looking like the light of the universe. I mused, all at once feeling profound pity for the people who were suffering with the war that had caused them pain for many, many years. I thought about my friend and OTC of the task group, LT Tung, a native of North Vietnam who had emigrated to South Vietnam in 1954. He was a Naval Academy graduate of class Eight -"Scorpio the Scorpion"- an outstanding, experienced officer who had been with the Task Force for more than two years.
"All units, this is Hai Dang, over." The voice from the radio brought me back to the present. I responded, "This is Hai Au, over" and waited for other boats to do the same. "This is Hai Dang, all units change course to 285, formation India, execute, over." After I responded and executed the order from the Officer Tactical Command (OTC), I looked down at the radar scope through the small window next to the throttles. The outline of the shoreline south of the Hà Tỉnh Bay was now just ahead of the task group. "What is the distance to the shore, Mr. Tan?" I asked.
The Executive officer, standing anxiously in front of the radar repeater, answered, "About 11 miles and closing, sir. Speed is 25 knots and we will reach our target in about 20 minutes”.
"Very well," I answered and then gave an order to the radioman standing next to me: "Forward 81mm mortar standby, set up distance 800 yards." The sailor repeated the order to the forward gun crew, and I watched as they prepared the mortar rounds for firing.
"All units, this is Hai Dang. Reduce speed to ten knots, one zero knots and prepare to execute to fire Lima, over. "This is Hai Au, roger, out. "This is Bach Dang, roger, out. "This is Truong Giang, roger, out. The four PT boats were quickly approaching their targets. "Distance 5000 yards from shore, sir. We're pretty close, Skipper."
I acknowledged the report from his "XO." I suddenly felt a tingling sensation down the back of my neck. This feeling often occurred when I was about to engage in battle and disappeared as soon as the first gun shot was fired. "Distance 1500 yards," LTJG Tan reported nervously from the radar room. "All hands standby. Forward 81mm mortar standby to fire leaflets on my command.
My task group's primary mission tonight was to shoot rounds containing anticommunist leaflets into enemy posts located on the shore. As part of the psychological warfare program against the North Vietnamese Communist government, these leaflets were designed to inform the civilian populace about Mặt Trận Gươm Thiêng Ái Quốc - The Sacred Sword of Patriot League. According to intelligence reports, these enemy posts were manned with 155mm batteries to defend their seaboard. "They should know that we're here. Why is it so quiet? They must have fallen asleep tonight," I whispered to my quartermaster, who was at the helm and concentrating on keeping the boat in position.
"All units this is Hai Dang, change course to 000, formation India, execute, over. The four PT boats turned parallel to the shoreline. All guns were trained to the coastline and ready to fire. "Distance 600 yards from shore...sonar indicates that the depth is 55 feet and dropping fast, Skipper," LTJG Tan reported to me. "Very well Tan, we are going to open fire now," I hoped. "We're too close to the beach. "All units this is Hai Dang, speed 35 knots, fire at will, out.
I responded, pushing the throttles forward, and ordered: "Forward 81, batteries released!" I watched the mortar crew load round after round into the muzzle. "Pup, pup, pup," was the sound emanating from the mortar as the rounds were fired. Suddenly, there were explosions all around the boats. "All units, change course to 090, formation two, repeat formation two, flank speed, execute, out. All the PT boats made a sharp 90 degree turn to starboard, forming a line abreast. I pushed the throttles all the way forward to increase his speed to flank, which was about 55 knots. The bow of his PT boat raised up; the boat was almost flying out of the water, with only the stern still touching its surface. I maintained my position while artillery shells exploded dangerously close to my boat. Saltwater spray covered my face. My crew was courageously and calmly returning fire. They were used to these dangerous situations, although never before had they been this close to the shore to deliver leaflets.
The 40mm cannon aft fired noisily, and the sound "tac.. tac.. tac" from the two Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft cannons on either side of the boat was deafening. Traces of the rounds drew hundreds of lines toward the shore, and exploded when they hit their targets on the beach. The moonbeams streamed down from the western sky and the flares lightened up the darkness of a cool night, I saw the other boats clinging to the surface of the sea. Hai Dang was on the left, and Bach Dang was on the right. I could not make out Truong Giang's silhouette, but I could see the flashes of gunfire from the boat. The enemy artillery shells were still falling and exploding around their boats. Fortunately, the PT boats were very small, fast moving targets that zigzagged easily. Even those enemy rockets that were radar controlled could only manage to hit the water at about 30 to100 yards from the boats.
"The distance is 5000 yards, we're just about out of their range, Skipper. "Very well, all hands maintain your stations. "Lookouts, keep an eye on the sky for enemy airplanes." My crew had ceased firing for now. "All units this is Hai Dang, resume speed to 25 knots, formation Delta, execute, out. I reduced speed and maneuvered into station. My boat was now on the guide boat's starboard quarter. Bach Dang maneuvered to his position on the OTC's port quarter, and Truong Giang closed to complete the "diamond shaped" formation. This Delta formation was used to protect the group from the attack of enemy airplanes flying out from their bases inland.
The PT boats turned to the new course, still maintaining the anti-aircraft formation, and increased their speed heading south. I looked at his aluminum wristwatch and saw that the time was 0220.
The half moon, on the boats' starboard bows, was still hanging on the far horizon over the Motherland.
As on many other missions after the battle was over, I felt myself changing back from a warrior to a man. Sometimes I wondered and asked myself how long the war would continue.
I remembered the day when I kneeled down to accept "the Sword of Honor" from the President of The Republic of Vietnam, and along with other commissioned naval officers, took the oath to protect and defend his country. I had kept my oath until now.
The mission which this task group had carried out was one of four maritime missions. This night's mission was named Operation "Mint." The others were called "Cado," "Loki" and "Special" missions. The six color blocks from the seventeenth parallel to the twentieth parallel and the four category missions, had been named by the "Special Sea Warriors" as "Vùng Biển Đen" or the "Black Sea Zone".
A crescent moon hung in the western sky. The wind blew softly from the northeast and the South China Sea was calm on a starry night in July, 1966, just a few weeks after Co van, Advisors of the Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) celebrated the Independence Day of the United States of America at Bai bien Tien sa - Spanish Beach, Đà Nẳng, South Vietnam. Task group "Two" consisted of three Nasty class PTF boats that were en route to the "Vung Trang" (White section) of the operating areas, patrolling in the "Mint" mission. "Mint" was a call name of one of four missions that were carried out by the crews of these Nasty class gunboats. The other missions were "Cado," "Loki" and "Special." The "Mint" operation involved patrolling the designated areas in the northern sea above the seventeenth parallels up to the twentieth parallels. Their primary task was to capture North Vietnamese fishermen for the indoctrination program and to return them to their villages, located in the long coastal zone between Vinh Linh and Hai Phong harbor, after they completed the program. This would hopefully help the covert operations of "Mặt Trận Gươm Thiêng Ái Quốc " (The Sacred Sword of the Patriot League), the call name of the anticommunist organization, an internal resistance movement in North Vietnam. Other tasks were to destroy Communist Navy vessels along the coast of North Vietnam and to carry out psychological propaganda and warfare. This was accomplished by shooting mortar shells to deliver anticommunist leaflets to people living on shore. My gunboat (call name "Hai Au") was in second position of the "India" formation. Another boat, the "Hau Giang," was captained by Lt. Nguyễn Văn Tiêu, also the Officer-in-Tactical Command (OTC). He was known as "the Tiger" by his American and Vietnamese colleagues. Lt. Tiêu was a true sea warrior with all characteristics of a good fighter. The third gunboat's call name was "Bach Dang." The task group was heading north for a "Mint" mission. All hands on the three PTF boats manned their battle stations long after they passed the northern point of the "Green" operating area. I looked at my wristwatch--it was 12:15 A.M. They would be nearing checkpoint Alfa, located between the offshore island called "Hon Me," southeast of Sam Son resort city, and "Hon Mat" island, located about 15 miles east of the coastal province of Vinh.
"All units, this is Hau Giang, over." I reached for the microphone next to the throttles on the bridge and responded, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au, over." I then heard the voice of other skipper to respond to the OTC. "Hau Giang, this is Bach Dang, over" Lt. Tiêu was a graduate of the class of 1959 from the Naval Academy in Nha Trang. Lt. Tiêu gave orders to his task group to be executed. "All units, this is Hau Giang. We've just reached checkpoint Alfa. Change course to 305 degrees, speed 25 knots, formation India. Standby...execute. Over and out."
All three PTF boats took turns changing course and increasing their speed to 25 knots in a column formation, with the distance of 300 yards between each boat. The execution of an order from the OTC only required a split second, thanks to the hard training and repeated exercising of tactics and formation maneuvering. Many nights at sea, they had trained again and again, in the darkness and cold wet of northeastern season; the roughest weather conditions in the South China Sea. I still remembered training at night with a Navy SEAL team, the Vega, in an exercise to recover members of the team who were waiting in the water. A rubber boat was tied alongside of the PT boat and on board the rubber boat were two team members holding a big loop. The loop was used to scoop the SEAL members from the water.
Each SEAL would raise his arm and try to grab the loop so that he would be pulled out of the water into the rubber boat as the PTF made a straight pass by him. In training, the instructors allowed the PT boat to make only two passes and if any SEAL member missed twice, he would have to swim with his equipment to shore, which was about two miles away. Coordination and teamwork were extremely important to both the SEAL team and the PTF crew. It was a matter of life and death for the comrades-at-arms who had volunteered to take the risk and defend their homeland against the aggression of the North Vietnamese Communists. Therefore, in order to master rescue procedures in a hostile situation under enemy fire, they had to practice very hard without making any errors. Quick, instinctive reactions as well as intelligent, life-saving decisions under extreme pressure were the result of many successful missions of these professional PTF skippers and SEAL team leaders. They had developed a tight combat relationship that allowed them to depend on one another for survival in a "Mission Impossible" that was carried out almost every night.
These missions occurred in the most dangerous maritime operating area of the South China Sea called "Vùng Biển Đen “or the "Black Sea Zone" by the Task Force members. "All units, this is Hau Giang. Prepare to release merchandise, over." I gave orders to members of the SEAL team and to his master chief Hai Ho to follow procedures
of releasing the indoctrinated fishermen back to their fishing village, located about two miles off shore. There were barrels used as floats and the prisoners wore disposable life jackets that were made by hand. They were also given one bag full of gifts, including a portable battery-operated radio that could only tune into the frequency of the radio station of the "Mặt Trận Gươm Thiêng Ái Quốc " (The Sacred Sword of Patriot League).
It was another of the psychological program's methods to make the North Vietnamese nationals to believe that the comrades of the so-called "National Resistance Movement" within North Vietnam were people's friends. This was done in hopes that the people would join them in liberating the North from the Communist regime. I thought of the happy time when these poor people's families saw their loved ones suddenly show up at their doorsteps in the morning. The formation headed now toward the shoreline. The task group was about to reach the drop point, which was approximately 2 miles off shore and 15 miles south of Sam Son beach in the "Trang" (White) operating area. I heard the noises behind the bridge.
Three members of the SEAL team and the master chief Hai Ho were helping two North Vietnamese fishermen, who were blindfolded, up from below deck. They were guided to the area in the stern of the boat waiting for to be released. These two fishermen, along with four others, were transferred from a Patrol Craft-Fast (PCF),one of three Swift boats of the Task Force, to the PTF boats that evening at a 'rendezvous' point about 15 miles north of Cù Lao Chàm, where the indoctrinated camps were located. "Hai Au, Bach Dang, this is Hau Giang. All engines stop, drop merchandise. Execute, over."
I answered while pulling the throttles to neutral, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. All engines stop, drop merchandise, over and out." I told the radio man to relay the order and I looked back to see my crew dropping two floats that were attached to the boat by a rope, then remove the blindfolds from the fishermen's eyes. Chief Hai Ho showed them the direction of the shore; the crew wished them good luck and helped them climb down the ladder into the water. After making sure that they secured their gift bags and that they held on to the rope, the SEAL team quickly untied the rope from the PT boat and then let go. I saw two barrels with fishermen hanging on them, floating away in the calm surface of the South China Sea. I prayed for Đức Phật (Buddha) to bless them and the others and to guide them safely back. Their families had not seen them in over three months, not since their last fishing trip at sea. Then I got the microphone and reported the completion of the mission to the OTC. "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. Mission accomplished, over." "Hai Au, this is Hau Giang. Roger out."
All three PTF boats headed out to the open sea and continued on to the next checkpoint, located offshore, east of Sam Son beach and south of Hon Mat. Their mission's secondary task was to search and destroy enemy vessels at sea and to capture prisoners. It was 1:30 in the morning; the starry sky was so deep and twinkling above the formation. A good breeze from the northeast was blowing cool air into the faces of the PTF crewmembers. They were tired from the long journey and the tense mission. They were on their battle stations for almost three hours. I could not release them from general quarters because they were now in the most dangerous area in South China Sea and action could take place at any time. They were very close to the enemy Navy base in Đảo Cát Bà and its airfield in Thanh Hoa. USNAD intelligence had recently reported on the North Vietnamese Navy hara-kiri activities in the "Yellow" operating area.
These suicidal junk boat units set traps along the coast of Đảo Cát Bà to Sam Son in groups of five or more to ambush and destroy Mặt Trận Gươm Thiêng Ái Quốc 's (The Sacred Sword of Patriot League) PT boats. Therefore Lt. Tiêu, a.k.a. the Tiger, and his task group decided to challenge them. But on the other hand, they did not want to kill innocent fishermen who were in the middle of a cruel war that had lasted too long and destroyed the Vietnamese homeland. From time to time the crews of the Nasty class gunboats, The Expendable, had to face the reality of the war, either following their consciences to avoid killing innocent fishermen, thus taking chances of being killed, or to shoot and destroy without thought in order to survive.
That had bothered me and kept me awake so many nights after returning from combat missions. I compared the ambiguities between my responsibilities as a normal Naval Officer and as a Warrior, killing the enemy of the Vietnamese people, the International Communist Party. That thinking made me unhappy and I suffered deeply when I witnessed my comrades-at-arms being killed in action. I suffered even more when, as Captain of the PTF boat, it was my duty to inform the families of my fallen comrades of the devastating news.
The sea was very rough this morning and the sea weather scale level was probably 3 minus. It was on a cloudy and gloomy day in October 1966, about one week before the South Vietnamese memorized their third National Celebration Day of the Revolution in November 1, 1963. The Revolution was carried out by the Army Generals to end the regime of President Ngô Đ́nh Diệm and his family's rule.
The "Task Group One" included four Patrol Torpedo, Fast (PTF) boats. Their call-names were: Hong Ha, who was the Officer-in-Tactical Command (OTC), Hai Au, Huong Giang, and Bach Dang.
Their mission was to search and destroy enemy convoys that used the high sea, on the far eastern edge of the "Vùng Biển Đen “(The Black Sea zone), to penetrate into South Vietnam. Navy intelligence had reported that by using this route, the enemy would be able to carry supplies on the large vessels formed in-group, and easily avoided the detection of the Navy that only operated close to the mainland.
The Task group left their base very early in the morning; this would be a difficult mission and a long journey. The furthest checkpoint of their mission was southern of an island called "Bạch Long Vĩ “(The Tail of the White Dragon) located in international waters. The boat was rolling and pitching, the bow raised up and down with the waves spraying water over the bridge. I kept wiping water from my face; the salty taste on my lips made me thirsty, again and again.
I had been with the force for almost two years, participating in over seventy missions in different categories. I was the captain of PTF Zero Six and my call-name was Hai Au. I became accustomed to the dangerous life and grew more and more excited with each adventure.
"This is a very dangerous job, the life is so uncertain; you can live today and die tomorrow, just like that."
I smiled as I recalled the "theory of life," statement made by my close friend who had been with the force longer than I who believed in destiny, I always thought that anything that happened in this life was planned and there was no coincidence when events occurred, there were always reasons behind them.
"Well, at least there is a reason for me to have the courage to continue to do my duty for this kind of mission and to have peace in my mind."
I thought of my family, "Minh must be preparing lunch for our children now."
Minh was my wife. She did not know what of duties were involved in my job. She expected that this job was a Navy mission, like the normal patrol at sea that required me to be away from home for a couple of days. She was never told about how dangerous they might be and she never asked.
One day, I came home very depressed and sad and did not want to eat my favorite dinner. On this day she asked me who told her later that some members of my crew were killed in the last mission.
"All units, this is Hong Ha, over"
The voice from the radio brought me back from my thoughts to the present.
"Hong Ha, this is Hai Au, over",
"General quarters, general quarters, all hands man their battle stations".
I gave the order to the crew who was running to their GQ combat positions.
"All guns, test firing to the air, 45 degrees angle, starboard side, 3 o'clock, fire at will, batteries release."
The sailors begun to fire their guns to the direction away from the task group, the noisy sound from the gunshots and the smell from the gunpowder made everybody feel to be in the mood of readiness.
The 40mm cannon was right behind of the bridge; two Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft canons were mounted on each side of the bridge. Those are very good and reliable weapons to protect the PT boat. Right in front of the bridge was the 81mm mortar, which was used mainly to shoot leaflets and flares, but sometimes I used this powerful mortar to destroy targets in a close range combat. A 50 caliber machine gun was mounted on top of the 81mm mortar, this gun was also very effective in close battles because it could shoot hundred of bullets in a minute, including tracers which used in the dark nights to mark the flight of projectiles to the enemy targets. The armament had been built to give the PT boats the firepower to protect them against the sea and the air attacks from the enemy.
"Cease-fire, cease-fire, all hands are secured from general quarters".
I gave the order to the radioman standing next to me on the bridge who in turn related the order of the captain to all positions. I took off his flak jacket and put the helmet on the flight deck behind my chair then looked down to the radar room.
"How are we doing Mr. Lai?"
I asked my Executive officer who was standing in front of the radar repeater and doing a fix on the navigation map.
"We are about fifteen minutes behind schedule, we just have passed check point Alfa. The sea is pretty rough, wind from east northeast about 16 knots, with our speed of 25 knots we can catch up the lost time, sir."
LTJG Lai was his new XO, this was his third mission and he still needed to be coached and trained.
"Very well, let me know as soon as we reach to check point Bravo."
"Aye Aye Captain" LTJG Lai replied to his skipper who returned to his chair on the bridge. Check point Bravo was about 20 miles north of the 17 parallels.
"All units, this is Hong Ha, over."
* * * * *
It was about fifteen hundred hours, the sea was calmer and the wind came slightly from the east. I could see the sun trying to get its sunrays out of the clouds. Far away on the horizon, on my boat port side, was the coast of North Vietnam about 65 miles to the west. There was no contact on the radar repeater in the last three hours; the radar scale was now set for the distance of 35 miles radius.
"All units, this is Hong Ha, change course to 010 degrees, speed 25 knots, formation India, execute, over and out."
"This is Hai Au, roger, out."
All PT boats took turns changing to the new course and maintained their positions behind the OTC in a column formation. The distance between each boat was 300 yards.
I worried about this long mission and the unfavorable weather conditions.
It was now the northeastern season, the stormy season in the South China Sea, with the rougher seas and stronger winds. The crew tired more easily and became seasick. That would affect their physical conditions as well as their performances during the mission..
"We will need all our strength for this mission."
I was talking to myself and looked at my wrist watch then looked toward the direction of the land. It was so far away in the horizon; there was the land that nourished the hopes of a whole generation that had suffered too much and too long in the war. I wished that one day my people would be happy and be able to live without destruction and famine from the war. I returned from his thought by the voice from the radio:
"All units, this is Hong Ha, change course to 355 degrees, execute, out".
The four PT boats changed to the new course heading to their destination that was about 7 hours away, at the southwest of the island named "Bạch Long Vĩ” (The Tail of the White Dragon), located at 20o25 North and 107o 50 East.
"All units, this is Hong Ha, "Skunk" at two o'clock, distance 34 miles, general quarters, general quarters, execute over,"
I gave the order to the radioman standing next to me who related to my crew:
"General quarters, all hand man their battle stations ".
The sailors knew that this was not a drill; they ran quickly to their CQ posts while putting on their life jackets and the helmets.
"All stations are ready, sir"
"Radar room, keep me posted on the Skunks"
I looked down and talked to my XO who concentrated on the contacts on the radar repeater:
"Aye aye sir, those will be many Skunks, I think they are stationary sir"
LTJG Lai's voice was shaking
"Distance is 25 miles at 010 degrees".
I reached for my jacket and the helmet. I guessed that these Skunks were the Chinese Communist Navy vessels that were on the international waters, so I did not think there would be any danger.
"Unless these Chinese want to start a war" I said to myself "We will be ready."
"All units, this is Hong Ha, change speed to 35 knots, course 010 degree, execute over and out"
Four PT boats increased their speed and changed course, heading to the Skunks.
I looked at the horizon and I could see through my binocular the small dark shapes of boats appearing from time to time in the waves.
"Distance to the targets is 5500 yards, dead ahead and closing fast, Captain".
LTJG.Lai reported from the radar room.
I acknowledged "Very well" then I turned to the radioman and told him to relate my order to all positions
"Tell them do not fire unless I give the order to do so, understood?"
I did not want to make any mistake in this situation.
The Skunks appeared to be what I had expected. They were the Chinese Communist Navy boats. I could see the red flags flying in the wind. There were more than ten gunboats forming an "India" formation heading south very slowly. I saw that they were in combat positions too.
“All units this is Hong Ha, contacts were identified as Chinese Communist Navy boats in the international waters, change course to 350 degrees, execute, over and out".
I exhaled softly then ordered the helm to the new course while continuing to observe the reaction of the Red Chinese vessels. They did not to be a threat to the Task group and they maintained their course. The tension was lesser as the PT boats steamed further away from the Chinese Communist. It was about 1800 hours; the sea would be dark soon.
"Mr. Lai , check and let me know how far to the check point Delta"
Check point Delta was the destination of the mission.
"Sir, it's about 80 miles, with this speed and this weather we could get there at 2030 hours".
I already knew that the OTC wanted to gain back the lost time by maintaining the same speed of 35 knots.
The sea became rougher and the wind blew water over the bow to the bridge. The crew was getting tired but they still had to remain at their battle stations. The boat kept rolling due to the waves coming from starboard side at about 2 o'clock.
"All units this is Hong Ha, battle condition two, maintain look out, be careful over and out"
I gave the ordered to my crew to release half of them from the battle stations and put another man on look out position. The Task group continued on their mission without incident up to that time.
At about twenty hundred hours, I was all wet with the sticky salt water. I felt so tired because of the long day. It was dark; I could only see the dim light at the stern of the boat of the OTC about 300 yards away.
I called to my XO down below:
"LTJG Lai, you are in charge, I am going to my room and change my clothes"
LTJG Lai climbed up from the radar room and said:
"Aye aye sir, I am in charge, course 350 degrees, speed 35 knots".
He took the binoculars and put it around his neck, standing watch on the bridge.
I went down to the radar room, talked to the radar man on duty, checked the position of the boat then proceeded to my quarter below.
About 15 minutes later, while putting on the dry black shirt, I felt the rolling of the boat seemed different. I knew right away that the course was changing.
I hurried up and ran to the bridge, I took a quick look at the radar repeater and realized that my boat was turning to the port side and was making a 360-degrees turn.
I skipped the doorstep, rushed to the throttles and pulled back to stop my boat while ordering the helm to put the rudder in mid-ship position.
It was too late, my PT boat had collided with the last PT boat of the formation from the stern of this boat and in five minutes, two boats were dead in the water.
I radioed and reported the incident to the OTC who had stopped with the other boat to prepare and join the rescue. Bach Dang was the boat that was hit. The skipper was LTJG Le Giang who had ordered his crew to abandon ship.
While I maneuvered my boat to the rescue position, I had my crew check the bow of my PT boat that was damaged in the collision.
"Hai Au, Huong Giang this is Hong Ha, fire flares and maintain looked outs, I will keep my radar surveillance, remember that we are only 25 miles south of “Bạch Long Vĩ “ (The Tail of the White Dragon) island, over and out.”
Bach Dang went down in about 20 minutes after the collision and all crew members were rescued in a little over one hour, in the rough sea and under the light of flares that brighten the moonless night. It was a miracle that Lt. Giang and his crew including 5 members of the SEAL team, the Venus, were all accounted for. They were pulled out from the cold water of the South China Sea onto three PTF boats thanks to their life jackets that kept them afloat while waiting to be rescued.
The bow of my PTF boat was badly damaged; about half of the front compartment was gone. The damage control crew had used the plywood and beams to repair and to keep the water from coming in, but I could only run slowly at the speed of 10 knots.
The OTC had radioed to the headquarters after the rescue was completed and informed them that the task group was heading home at slow speed and he requested assistance to be on standby.
I came down from the bridge to comfort my friends and his crew who were still in shock from the cold. After that I got the report from my XO about what caused the boat to make a 360-degree turn. The gyrocompass had suddenly gone out of order and caused the heading turn to starboard. That made the helm, who tried to maintain the course at 350 degrees, to steer to the left causing the boat to made a circle and collide with the last boat.
It took 25 hours for the trip back to the base.
The quest, the dangerous life, the courage of the PTF crews continued in the next "Mission Impossible". The tale of this event which took place in the darkness of the night, south of the coast of the “Bạch Long Vĩ “ (The Tail of the White Dragon) island, was recalled by members of the 12 crews of the PTF Task Force including PTF Zero Six. They were known as The Expendable
The Survival Spirit
I graduated from the Naval Academy on 14th of July 1962. My wife Minh who had to take care of our two small daughters, Thanh Nhàn, 2 years old and Thanh Trang, 8 months old; was unable to attend the graduation ceremony that presided by the President Ngô Đ́nh Diệm.
On 1963, I was the navigation officer of Landing Ship Mechanized (LSM) - Hải Vận Hạm Hậu Giang HQ 406. The Commanding officer of my ship granted me permission for two weeks leave due to the birth of our first son Lê Bá Trí.
My wife Minh was staying in the hospital of Doctor Thân Trọng Phước in my hometown near our house.
The Army had blocked all roads leading to Huế City. Martial Law was in effect in this old royal capital and only authorized personnel were allowed to travel. Therefore, I had to wear my Navy uniform in order to visit my wife and our newborn baby.
While we were conversing in the recovery room inside the hospital, we heard running steps outside. Suddenly, the unlocked door was pushed opened and to our surprise, we saw a young man with blood running down on his face, rushing into the room. He begged me to let him hide under the bed because soldiers were chasing after him. Without thinking, I accepted his desperate request, then showed him the way, and told him to stay down there.
After checking to make sure of the young man could not be seen, I stepped out and stood in front of the door. A moment later, a group of soldiers with weapons in their hands was running toward me. As soon as the non-commissioned officer saw the rank on my shoulders, he saluted and politely asked me if I saw young students running by. I said, "Yes," then pointed to the rear of the hospital. The NCO saluted again, thanked me, and led his soldiers toward the other side of the building. I realized that my reaction was based on what my mother had taught me when I was young; to assist helpless and innocent people whenever possible.
The young student who had just escaped from the government troupe thanked us for hiding him. I told him to wait for me to check and make sure that it was safe. Then we both shook hand and he left the room to join his other friends.
Two years later, I transferred to The Maritime Patrol Force in Đà Nẳng and brought my family along, While in Đà Nẳng in the summer of 1965, I got another dog from a Navy friend for my eldest daughter, Thanh Nhàn. We named him "Mina".
Minh had gone to Huế City to stay with my parents and been ready for another child. At this time, the political situation of the country became a big problem for the government to handle. I waited for my wife to give birth to our baby, and then I would arrange to go home and to bring both mother and child back to Đà Nẳng.
The Buddhist movement in the center of Vietnam had created a far more serious crisis than any other movement in previous times. The protest that the Monks and their followers had carried out day after day in the streets of Đà Nẳng and Huế City increased the instability of the local government. Consequently, the local authority requested assistance from the Central government in Saigon. The government, led by military generals decided to send troops to take charge and control the unlawful protests in those cities. Martial law was in place again. Military personnel barricaded Highway 1, which connected Huế City and Đà Nẳng.
Upon arriving in Đà Nẳng from my mission, I returned home and found out that Minh had given birth to my second son Lê Bá Dũng, three days before. Both mother and child were fine. They were waiting for me to find a way to bring them back to Đà Nẳng by sea because there was no other land route except for the barricaded Highway 1 between Huế City and Đà Nẳng. I radioed to my Navy friend who was the Commanding officer of the Coastal Junk force in Thuận An, located about 5 kilometers from Huế City and asked if he could send a truck to pickup my family and bring them to his base.
After making that arrangement, I requested permission to go aboard a Coastal Security Service Swift boat that was on a mission nearby to pick up Minh and my family. Due to the urgent and very special situation, my superior kindly approved my request and on a sunny day in late March 1966, the Navy boat brought my family back to Đà Nẳng while the sea was very calm. Minh and Dũng, my newborn son, never forgot the journey that they had endured during the national crisis in 1966 that eventually led the country to select a new President.
My dog Mina later lived with my parents in Hue when I kept moving due to my assignment and Minh was too busy with our four young children. We had no spare time to take care of Mina in that kind of situation.
Then, in the Lunar New Year day of the year of Monkey, the Việt Cọng violated the military cease-fire agreement between Allied forces and the Communist. There was a nation-wide attack carried out by the North Vietnamese communists to all cities and provinces of South Vietnam including the Huế metropolitan area. That cease-fire violation was later known as the "Tết Mậu Thân Offensive."
I had two weeks of vacation and brought my five-member family home at Huế City to celebrate Tết with our folks. My oldest daughter, Thanh Nhàn visited my mother-in-law and stayed there with her grandmother, later they were safe when they evacuated to another remote area, Bao Vinh town away from Huế City, the other three children were with us at our parents’ house.
I did not know that on the day of the New Year, I would have to hide underground for almost 26 days in different hidden places in my parents' house, surrounded by the Việt Cọng. They had occupied the area from the first day of the Lunar year.
After the Việt Cọng occupied Huế City, they ordered men and former government soldiers and personnel to report to their local committee to register then, they started searching to capture men and young men who were hiding from their authority,
Because of the situation was getting worse I talked to my parents and my wife and decided to escape from our area to other side of the Perfume River where the Republic of Vietnam Army and U.S Marines still had been fighting and holding their positions.
So, on early next morning, I said goodbye to my love ones and I went out by the rear door in the cold, down the dirt road, across my old aunt’s house, toward the main road to the Perfume River. As soon as I almost passed my Aunt’s house, I heard loud dogs’ barking and voices of people talking from not far away; I ran into my Aunt’s house and asked her to show me the hiding places. She led me to a low, dark handmade bunker in the back room and told me to get inside and to hide myself at the farest corner. About ten minutes, I heard the voices of Việt Cọng militias questioning my Aunt, Cô Thiệp who tried to span the blanket that she used to keep herself warm, across the small and low entrance of the bunker and asking if they wanted to have cups of tea. She intended to distract them from looking down to the bunker where she stood in front of its entrance.
The Việt Cọng went to the living room up front and finally left the house after they apprehended two young students hiding over there. I waited for a moment then came out of the bunker and kissed my Aunt, Cô Thiệp to thank her for saving my life then deciding to get back to my parents’ house to meet my wife and my parents who were so nervous and worry and afraid if I got caught or not.
Two days later, when hiding in the house, I was told by my wife that a girl in our neighborhood being lightly wounded at her right ankle. When she went to the riverbank of Perfume River to get drinking water and got hurt by warning shots shooting by Việt Cọng guerillas guarded there to stop people trying to escape to the South Vietnamese Forces stationed at the other side of the river. One of our relatives who was a medical student living nearby was treating the poor girl.
Another week waiting and listening to the news from my transistor radio about the activities and movements of the US Marines and SVN Rangers, on a cool morning in Huế City, I heard many noisy AK47 gunshots, Việt Cọng guerillas were attacking from the direction of the riverbank in front of our neighborhood. The "tac tac tac" sound were breaking the silence of the cool morning and the sound of boats engines were heard too. Immediately all US Navy boats returned fire with all of the power of the Navy guns mounted aboard the vessels. By my experiences with the Navy, I knew right away that was a supply convoy of US Navy boats from Thuận An, passing by and heading toward their base near the Trường Tiền Bridge.
The noise of the 12.7 mm machine guns blended with the "pup pup pup" of the 81mm mortars, the "tac tac tac" of the automatic rifles. The gunfire continued for about ten minutes and US Navy boats destroyed the Việt Cọng 's bunkers and gun positions along the riverbank.
After that day, I made up my mind to dig more hiding caches and stayed in the house to hide rather than ventured out to the unknown situation in Huế City then I prayed and waited for the escaped opportunity.
One morning on a week later, I heard the barking of my dog Mina, I jumped immediately into my hidden reserve nearby. I knew that the enemy soldiers were about to search this neighborhood again. They were looking for young men, South Vietnamese officers, and the government employees.
* * * * *
I remembered my adventures during my time with the Special Maritime Operation Force, standing on the bridge of the Nasty class mighty Torpedo boat, moving at high speed in the dark of the night in the "Black Sea Zone." I left the Special Maritime Operation Force a year ago and I remembered daily the loss of my dear friends in the war. Since then, I had become bored by my daily activities, surrounded by four walls in my office at Headquarters, dealing with paper reports, briefings, and logistics control. I heard of the increasing levels of the war in the high land and at the Mekong River. It was time for me to take command of the combat unit as I was becoming very depressed in my current office job. But my wife, Minh had to deal with being separated from me one more time. As she had many times before, she silently accepted her role of mother to six children: Thanh Nhàn, Thanh Trang, Lê Bá Trí, Lê Bá Dũng, Thanh Nhă and Lê Bá Hùng, our sixth child was born on late March 1970.
My wife, Minh who was pregnant our fifth child at that time, opened the front door when the 2 Việt Cọng militias knocking at the door. They pointed their AK47 at Minh and asked her if there were men in the house? When Minh replied “no men here”, they threatened her that if they searched and found any man, they will shoot and kill the whole family. Minh was scared but calm and responded to them that “no men in the house”. They then left and went away to search another house in the neighborhood.
Thanks to my parents, my Aunt, Cô Thiệp and my wife, Minh, I survived through that desperate and hopeless time of the Tết offensive until the South Vietnamese Rangers liberated our town. I was able to return to my unit in Đà Nẳng without my family, after 26 long days in the hidden places. Minh joined me in Đà Nẳng later to give birth to our fifth child, a girl; Thanh Nhă was born on April 1968.
Days and nights, she prayed for my safety as I carried out my dream of sailing away and fighting for freedom and democracy in the Republic of Vietnam, our beloved beautiful natural setting country with magnificent Trường Sơn (Long Range) Mountains and white-capped waves Cữu Long Giang (Mekong River).
Operation "Sea Tiger"
The Patrol River Boat (PBR) was steaming at high speed toward the base of the Navy Coastal Group 14, which was located at the mouth of the Hội An, or Faifo, River. I stood at the front of the small boat, holding my Navy hat. The cool morning breeze ruffled my hair and I could see the fog hovering above the trees that lined the sides of the Thu Bồn River. In the distance, a few cranes searched for food along the edges of greensward. They paid no attention to the boat's loud engine or to the waves rolling one after the other towards the riverbank.
The water of the Thu Bồn River was not as clear as the Perfume River in Huế City. It was shallow, except in the channel, and required skillful sailors who were accustomed to the river's waterways. Only these professional sailors could navigate safely through the dangerous area located between the Cẩm Thanh, a Việt Cọng secret zone, and Hội An City.
The Task Group "Sea Tiger" had been organized to conduct the Amphibious Operations in Quang Nam Province, pitted against the local Communist forces that operated from their secret zones around the coastal area. The Task Group consisted of the Navy units, including two (2) Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) gunboats from the Coastal Patrol Maritime Group 1, four (4) Patrol River Boats of the River Patrol Group 60 from Đà Nẳng, and the Coastal Group 14 at the Faifo river mouth.
The Cẩm Thanh secret zone was in range of 81mm mortar from the Base of the 14th Coastal Group. The second was Đập Lỡ and the third secret zone was Đồng Ḅ, hidden under the edge of the Trường Sơn (Long Range) Mountains west of the Quảng Nam Province. The Communists called these bases the "untouchable zones" and usually launched terrorist attacks against the Vietnamese and Allied Forces in the region.
The result of the enemy's attacks was very critical and created terror in the people who lived in this volatile area. The mayor of the city, who was also the Commanding Officer of the Tactical District of Quảng Nam Province, was Army Colonel Lê Trí Tín. Recently, the enemy had been launching fierce rocket bombardments every night. They also mined along the main road that connected Hội An City with High Way One in the northwest. Heavy casualties in both materials and fatal dead had been reported in the last few days.
About one week before I took command of the Task Group, two PBRs were sunk. The enemy had thrown explosives from the cliff that overlooked the Thu Bồn River onto their boats. Four sailors were killed; the Skipper was seriously wounded and required immediate evacuation by helicopter to Đà Nẳng. Lt. Commander Holland, Commanding Officer of the Operation "Sea Tiger", then ordered 2 Phantom F-4 jets to sink the boats before the Communists could occupy them.
I remembered my time two years ago as the Skipper of a Patrol Torpedo Fast Boat (PTF). Twice a week, I faced danger while carrying out special missions in enemy waters north of the seventeenth parallel. Now I faced the Communists again, but in a different battlefield with an unclear line between enemy and regular citizen. There had been incidents of people living normal lives in the fishing villages during the day who became Việt Cọng at night. They shot B-40 rocket launchers from their hiding places in the cliffs at the Navy Patrol boats and destroyed them.
My thoughts were interrupted and I returned to the present with the sound of the footsteps behind me. I heard the voice of my advisor, Lt. Comdr. Holland, as he approached and stood next to me, "Is everything Ok, Commander?"
I turned around, shook the firm hand of the US Navy Officer, I had heard about him through my conservations with the Senior Advisor of the First Coastal Zone, who had highly commended his junior officer. He said very positive things about Lt. Commander Holland, including his super experience and leadership and incongruous appearance. When I first glimpsed him, I agreed that Lt. Commander Holland, with his thick glasses, looked more like a school teacher than a sea warrior.
The PBR continued its journey toward mouth of the Thu Bồn River. The high tide from the ocean reduced the boat's speed. In the distance, one could see the brown sails of fishing boats, oscillating on the white-capped waves. Seagulls were in flight, as always looking for food and the azure sky was perfectly clear.
On the port side of the PBR, there were hunter green rows of palm trees in the distance. The Việt Cọng had a secret zone there: Cẩm Thanh was mined and booby-trapped to guard against the attack of units from Operation "Sea Tiger." This sandy island also produced famous big crabs with meat that was delicious and tender when cooked.
On the surface of the water, there were lines of nets across the river to catch fish. Sea birds that perched on top of the bamboo poles looked at the passing boat that caused long ripples of muddy water. I could see the pier of the 14th Coastal Force appear in the distance in the direction of 10 o'clock. The Skipper of the PBR reduced the boat's speed before he turned the control of the boat over to his seaman. He said to the two Officers standing at the bow, "Commander, I would like to report that Lt. Comdr. Hải, my Commanding Officer, was on the mission this morning. My Executive Officer will greet you both at the pier of the Coastal Force."
"Very well, 1st class Quang, thank you for the report. I spoke to Commander Hải this morning and was informed of the combined operation that took place at Đập Lỡ. Commander Holland and I want to be at the operation center and follow its progress."
I smiled at the old Petty Officer, whom I knew from Danang, and patted his shoulder. In my mind, the image of Lt. Commander Phan Tứ Hải, my classmate at Quốc Học High School in Hue over 10 years ago, was still young man who played the guitar left handed. That tiny student had became one of the Navy's most highly decorated warriors who continued to be a threat to the Việt Cọng with his excellent leadership and combat experiences. Hải was a graduate of the Class 11 from the Vietnamese Naval Academy in Nha Trang, one class below me.
The NCO navigated the River Patrol Boat alongside the pier of the Base. Holland and I shook hands with Lt. Tam, the Deputy Officer, and proceeded to the operations center to be briefed about the undergoing combined Army and Navy operation, which consisted of a battalion of regional forces and 3 Navy boats from the Đập Lỡ area, northwest of Hội An City.
After the briefing, Lt. Commander Holland and I stopped by to say hello to Hải 's wife, who lived in the Commanding Officers' Quarters, and then we went down to the enlisted men's living to visit their families. Having seen the military wives and their children who left all of the comforts of the city to follow their husbands to the Naval Base, which did not have proper facilities for their families, I felt sorrow in my heart. Sometimes, the sailors' wives and their children were forced to hide in the bunkers scattered around the compound when the Việt Cọng bombarded the Base. I respected them so much for their sacrifice, for their faithfulness and the love that they gave to their husbands, who were courageously fighting, proud soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam.
After resuming my Command of the Task Group "Sea Tiger", I accompanied Lt. Commander Hải everyday on the PCF (Swift), Ferrous Cement, PBR or Thien Nga junk boats to visit Navy units that were on patrol along the Thu Bồn River or on the reconnaissance missions. Two weeks went by before I decided to pay visit to the Mayor and Quang Nam District Commander, Colonel Lê Trí Tín, a well-known and good Army officer. I invited him to accompany our units on the next mission that was to deploy sensors to the south of the Đồng Ḅ area. The US Marines were clearing that dangerous jungle for the mission. Colonel Lê Trí Tín accepted my invitation and promised to give me all the support that I might need to do my job. I sincerely thanked him and left his office to prepare for my first operation as the Commanding officer of the Task Group "Sea Tiger."
Two days later, it was a beautiful morning; the foggy air still hovered over Hội An City. The operation consisted of 4 junk boats, 4 PBRs, 1 platoon of reconnaissance and 4 members of the sensor team. We picked up Colonel Lê Trí Tín and his staff at the pier in Hội An and then proceeded toward the west of the city. Lt. Commander Holland, Hải and I were with Colonel Lê Trí Tín aboard the Command and Control boat. We took turns briefing him about our responsibilities and our plan for the day's operations. Lt. Commander Hải also let him know the strategic areas along the river that we needed to control as the boat passed those locations. His voice could hardly be heard over boat's engines. The Thu Bồn River became narrower when we reach to the westernmost portion of it. On both sides of the river, there were steep cliffs, a combination of clay and rock walls that lasted for miles, and the slow current reflected images of green shady trees on top of the cliffs.
We were passing a small inlet near Đập Lỡ; there was a platoon of regional forces guarding the area. When they realized that Colonel Lê Trí Tín was aboard our boat, some soldiers hurriedly jumped out of the hammocks that hung between the pine trees and saluted him. We saluted back and waved to them and continued our journey toward the operating area that was located about 4 kilometers west of Đập Lỡ.
Suddenly we heard a big explosion behind us, from the direction of the platoon. Lt. Commander Hải immediately used his PRC-25 to communicate with the operation center and reported back to us that a grenade booby trap had exploded when a soldier, finding a place to relieve his bladder, stepped on it. He was badly injured and the District had sent helicopter to evacuate him to the military hospital. Mines and booby traps were the Việt Cọng 's most advantageous weapons in the Quang Nam Province. The Việt Cọng had used these weapons to destroy Government soldiers and allied troops that tried to penetrate their bases.
The sun had risen above the cliff and burned off the fog. Its beams pierced the shady trees and brightened the remote areas of the land. At first glance, one would never know that a war had raged there for years and that death might happen at any moment to the sailors and soldiers of the task group. In the distance, I heard the sound of a motor, perhaps from the US Marines' bulldozer, echoing along the high walls of the cliffs. I decided to send two junk boats to the north to protect the group and ordered another 2 boats to anchor in the middle of the Thu Bồn River. Then I told the Skippers of two PBRs to navigate towards the sandy beach in front of the Marines' area. The other PBRs continued to run back and forth to provide gunfire support in case we came under enemy attack.
The beach that stretched between two oak trees was an ideal spot for landing. So without hesitation I held my M18 rifle and jumped onto the sandy beach from the low bow of the boat, followed by Lt. Commander Holland, Colonel Lê Trí Tín and Lt. Commander Phan Tứ Hải.
The operator of the bulldozer, a young US Marine, was sweating under the hot summer sun, bareheaded and clad only in camouflage pants. He steered his bulldozer back and forth to clear the bushes and small trees to make a road toward the jungle ahead. The landing party waved at him as they went by on their way to the Command tent of the US Marines Corp.
In the meantime, the four members of the sensor team started their job without delay. They picked up their electronic devices, hefted their weapons on their shoulders and disappeared behind the row of big trees. They were professional US Navy technicians; their task was to plant sensor equipment in the enemy operating routes. The new technique of using listening devices and shelling accuracy had caused heavy casualties among the Việt Cọng, who moved their troops at night through the trails along their secret zones. Each time their ground movement activated the electronic sensors, the signals alerted the NCO on duty at the district operation center, who concentrated on the noises coming through his earphones. He in turn gave the coordinates to the artillery unit who in turn bombarded the Việt Cọng.
While we waited for the sensor team to complete their task, we exchanged pleasantries with the US Marine Officers and soldiers operating the mission, then attended a briefing conducted by Lt. Commander Hải, under the shadow of a big oak tree. During the briefing, I recommended starting an ambush plan that would deter and possibly eliminate the Việt Cọng 's efforts to frighten people by shooting mortar rounds and rockets nightly at Hoi An City. According to my plan, every night the Task Group would send PBRs, PCFs and junk boats to carefully selected points close to the enemy's secret zone and any place that could be accessed from their safety areas. With the firepower and the capability of the River Patrol Boats (PBR), I would send them to the more distant locations that might be used by the enemy to launch their rockets. The Swift Boats (PCF) would be deployed to ambush those enemy guns that were aimed at our bases. Finally, the junk boats would be used at the positions closer to the city and the base of 14th Coastal Group. Our main goals were to react in a timely manner whenever the enemy started shooting their first rounds and to use our Naval gunfire power to stop the bombardment and destroy the enemy.
The ambush sites would change every night and troops would accompany the boats from time to time to reinforce the boat crews if I received reports of heavy enemy activity in the area and ground combat would be needed. After being briefed of the plan, Colonel Lê Trí Tín was very encouraged; he complimented the Navy for coming up with ideas that he thought would successfully put an end to the Communists' nightly bombardment.
The planting of sensors and electronic devices were completed without incident in little over an hour and the sensor team and the party retreated back to boats and we began our return to the District in the afternoon. Upon our arrival at the District, Lt. Commander Holland went to the US Operation Center located inside the compound. Minutes later he rushed over to me and let me know the terrible news that the young Marine who operated the bulldozer was killed after we left the site. His bulldozer ran over a 250-kilo bomb booby trap while clearing the jungle and was completely destroyed, along with the driver's body. We had been so lucky not to be killed that morning when we walked alongside the bulldozer. I believed that destiny had saved my life as it had so often before, when I stayed alive in near death situations while engaged in nightly combat at the "Black Sea Zone", north of 17th parallel.
About two months had passed since the day we planted the sensors in the Đồng Ḅ Việt Cọng secret zone. Our new nightly operations had been effective; the result was reduced artillery bombardment from the enemy. Before, they launched three or four 122mm rockets almost every other night, shot 5 or 6 rounds of 81mm mortar from their positions northwest of Hội An City. Later, as soon as they shot their first rocket or mortar, our boats immediately returned fire upon their hidden locations with our powerful batteries and shut them down. Nights after, they were too scared and just prepared the sites, shot one round and then ran away when our units started firing at their positions. Later they only launched one rocket a week. Last week was the first time the citizens of Hội An City had a good night's sleep; they were not awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of rockets and they did not have to carry their children to the bunkers.
On a moonless night in May 1969 at about after midnight, Lt. Commander Holland, Hải and I conducted an operation to launch a Navy blockage around the Cẩm Thanh Island that we knew was the safety base of the Viet Cong in that region. They had used this mined and booby-trapped muddy island as their hiding place and shot 81mm mortar shells at the South Korean Green Dragon Division's units and at the Vietnamese Navy. The operation consisted of two PBRs, one PCF, two Chu Luc junk boats, two Thien Nga boats and one US sniperÖ
In the days after, we began our barricade with all available vessels of the Task Group "Sea Tiger" and surrounded the Cẩm Thanh Island to isolate it until the Quang Nam District launched their "sweep, search and destroy" operation with two Regional battalions along with Naval gunfire support. The Army landed and moved further inland without minor injuries and successfully completed their mission the first week of June 1969.
I still remember another event that happened on a warm summer afternoon. On that day, Lt. Commander Holland and I were reviewing a report from the sensor team. They were failing to receive signals from the electronic devices that they had planted two months before. We were interrupted when the operation officer of the 14th Coastal Group came in and reported that Lt. Commander Hải needed assistance and that he was waiting on the PRC-25. We rushed down to the base's operation center and spoke to Hải via radio. We were told that his boats were facing strong enemy attack and the Chu Luc junk boats were running aground when navigating and returning enemy fire. We told Lt. Commander Hải that we would be there in a short time with four PBRs to assist him.
On the night ambushes with the crew of PBR of the 60th River Patrol Group and PCF of the First Coastal Patrol Maritime Group, I acknowledged the effectiveness of these vessels. With our new plan and by using the speed as well as the powerful, superior gunfire of these boats, the Task Group "Sea Tiger" had stopped the enemy's bombardment activities from first week of June to the last week of September. The young and skillful officers of the Republic of Vietnam Navy, skippers of the Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) or Swift boats, had led me to believe that our Navy was in good hands. For example, Lieutenant Junior Grade Trịnh Thiếu Sinh, a talented and courageous combat skipper, very handsome with his Clark Gable mustache, had gained the admiration of his peers with his leadership and career knowledge.
Two snipers, Holland and I ran to the pier where the PBRs were ready to depart and arrived in flank speed at the battlefield about 15 minutes later. The South Korean Marines were engaged in combat with enemy ground troops on the other side of the riverbank. Rounds of mortars fell around the Chu Luc junk boats as Lt. Commander Hải passed the towing line from his Ferrous-Cement boat to pull the grounded Chu Luc junk out of the shallow water. Four PBRs started shooting their twin 50-caliber machine guns that were mounted at the bow to cover Hải 's boats. The sounds of gunfire, "tac tac tac," and mortars exploding, "boom boom boom," disturbed the long-necked cranes that were walking on their skinny legs, searching for food. They hurried to whisk out of the reed-covered field and flew away under the summer sun.
After about 20 minutes, the Việt Cọng withdrew, leaving behind the bodies of their fallen comrades, which floated among the watercress on the surface of the muddy water.
There were many nights when I accompanied them on mission, uncomfortable in the small flak jacket and helmet, holding my personal M18 rifle. I had time to share my experiences and my viewpoints of this war with the young skippers, the new graduates from our dear Academy in Nha Trang, and to also carefully listen to them talking about their future plans and their devotion to defend our Motherland. Hearing them talk would have made the founder of the Republic of Vietnam Navy, Lord Tran Hung Dao, very proud of his followers.
During the 2nd week of August, Lt. Commander Holland and I continued to receive reports from the sensor team that they had problems gathering signals from their planted electronic devices. The sensors were either damaged or running out of batteries and needed to be replaced. I met with Colonel Lê Trí Tín to inform him of the situation and let him know that we would launch an operation in which I would personally command 7 vessels, one platoon assault team of the Coastal Group and a sensor team with new equipment. In order to protect our troops, I requested that Col. Lê Trí Tín keep this information confidential and only prepare a plan for artillery support in case we came under heavy Việt Cọng attack. I also reported to him that Lt. Commander Holland had been approved by US Headquarters in Đà Nẳng to provide 2 F-4 Phantom jets and a reconnaissance aircraft for air support of the operation.
Very early on the appointed morning, 4 PBR gunboats, one PCF Swift boat and 4 Yabuta junk boats got underway from the pier of Coastal Group, traveling upstream of the Thu Bồn River. We decided to use the Đập Lỡ passage to avoid being detected by enemy intelligence around Hội An City. The sun was still under the horizon when we left our base, the North Star was bright and a crescent moon was hanging in the dark blue sky above the convoy of gunboats. At about 0600 hours, when the sun started rising from the east and the first light began creeping over the water, we heard the sound of the reconnaissance aircraft above us. Lt. Commander Holland communicated with the pilot to update the situation and to coordinate the operation plan. He let me know that two F-4 Phantom jets were on standby on the runway in Đà Nẳng 's airbase and were ready for take-off when requested by us. I felt more comfortable having such air support for a dangerous operation like this one. We were entering the untouchable secret zone of the Việt Cọng in Quang Nam District, a place that had never before been under attack by the South Vietnamese troops, neither by the Army ground forces nor the Navy units throughout the Thu Bồn River.
We passed check point "Alpha," the furthest that the Swift boat might navigate, so I ordered Lieutenant Junior Grade Hoa, Skipper of the PCF to anchor in middle of the river and to be ready to provide gunfire support with his 81mm mortar and 12.7 mm machine guns when we retreated. His gunboat also maintained communications with the Operation Centers in Quang Nam Province and Navy Headquarters in Đà Nẳng during the operation. General Quarter condition was set from that time on; all gunboats were ready in combat situation in the column formation or "Formation India," steaming toward the river of death.
From the cliffs on both sides of the river, tall trees overhung with shadows reflecting on the calm surface and covered the hilly edges above; there were no birds flying, no sound except the noisy engines of the gunboats. This place would be an ideal position to set up ambush site to attack the gunboats below.
The Thu Bồn River made a left turn as it neared the mountain. The sounds of the PBRs engines were heard echoing from the dirt and rocky cliffs. These gunboats could run as fast as 25 knots when engaging the enemy, with its twin 50 caliber machine gun at the bow and a single in the aft, these mighty river boats were very effective in riverine combat. We passed the area where two of Lt. Commander Holland's PBRs were sunk by explosives prior to my command of the Task Group "Sea Tiger." The reconnaissance aircraft followed the convoy from overhead and continued to relay information to Lt. Commander Holland through the PRC-25. With my previous experiences from the period when I was Captain of a PTF boat, I was pretty sure that the enemy would attack our boats after we completed our mission and were on the way back to our base. They thought that because we were tired after a long and stressful voyage, perhaps we would not be in combat readiness and slow to react to the attack and would make it easy for them to destroy our boats.
I shared my expectation with Lt. Commander Hải and Holland and they both agreed that we should pay attention, be ready and cautious and have a good plan when we returned to this curving, hilly site.
The Yabuta junk boats, equipped with a 60mm mortar and 50-caliber machine guns, also transported a platoon of experienced sailors who, with their individual weapons, would be more than capable of defending themselves against enemy forces.
The Navy convoy continued toward its target as the summer sun almost reached its zenith and the wind blew from behind, from direction of the city that we just left this morning. I was imagining the unexpected events that might happen anytime from this point on. Lt. Commander Holland kept himself busy talking with the Marine pilot, standing to my right aboard the Command and Control gunboat.
Lt. Commander Hải reported that we had reached the landing beach and requested permission for two Yabuta to debark the reconnaissance platoon immediately to protect the sensor team. I granted permission and ordered the PBRs to drift north and south, along the landing site to provide cover. I observed their progress through my binoculars while giving instructions to my units to execute my orders. Four members of the sensor team rushed into the greenery of the jungle about 100 meters from the landing at the riverbank, at the edge of a dirt trail wound along the Thu Bồn River. According to the intelligent reports that we received from the First Coastal Zone in Đà Nẳng, this would be the main trail used by the Việt Cọng 's troops between their bases,
The sensor team planted their new and upgraded electronic devices along the trail and finished in very short time. I was pleased with the progress of the mission, but uncertain about the return trip home through the winding river with its high cliffs on both sides. Those curving turns were perfect for a Việt Cọng ambush, with their B-40 rocket launchers ready to destroy the convoy.
The landing teams re-embarked the vessels when I was talking with the two combat-experienced Lt. Commanders and laid out our retreat plan. I wanted to send two PBRs up front and with the recommendation of Lt. Commander Hải, who had experience in combat in this area, two Yabuta junk boats would follow, then two other PBR gunboats would cover the rear of the convoy.
Lt. Commander Hải also requested my permission to shoot at the suspected sites on both sides of the river. I agreed with the plan and we began to pull out. The convoy moved downstream toward Hội An City while Lt. Commander Holland radioed the aircraft flying overhead and alerted the two Phantom jets in Đà Nẳng to be ready for take-off. I called to LTJG. Hoa, skipper of the PCF, to retract the anchor and be ready to support us.
Once again, the convoy was in "India" formation and traveled full speed to the south-southeast. The distance between the gunboats was about 75 meters. The Yabuta's speed was slower than the PBR's and light black smoke came from the boat engines and flowed with the wind in that afternoon in the last days of the summer of 1969. When we reached the portion of the river that was flanked by the high cliffs, the atmosphere was so tense, I felt like I was running into the "Valley of Death," like in the Western movie filmed in the Desert Mountains of Arizona that I had seen in Đà Nẳng long ago.
The sunrays penetrated the branches of pine trees on the hills that shadowed the gunboats below. The voice of Lt. Commander Hải brought my thoughts back to the present, "Hai Au, this is Kinh Ngu. I began to release battery at starboard, 2 o'clock high, hills direction. Over."
I acknowledged his report, "Kinh Ngu, this is Hai Au. Roger, start shooting, all units. Out" Then I ordered the skipper of the Command and Control PBR in the second position to also begin shooting. The sounds of gunfire from six gunboats broke the silence of jungle in a remote and isolate area, the gun smoke and the smell of gunpowder put everybody in the mood of combat. Birds from the trees were scared and flew in all directions. Dirt, wood and broken branches scattered all over, flying in the air when bullets hit the unknown targets. There was no reaction from the enemy, and worried me greatly and I called for the soldiers to cease firing. We were almost to the area where the two US Navy PBRs were destroyed before.
I radioed to all gunboats to remind them of the dangerous turn that we were going to pass. Everybody had to be alert and careful, ready to return fire and maintaining position while engaging the Viet Cong. I believed that our plan would succeed and with the combat experience of Lt. Commander Phan Tứ Hải, if we came under enemy attack, his troops would be able and capable of overcoming the Communists.
From our starboard side, in front of the bow, the Thu Bồn River curved to the right with the dreaded cliffs on both sides. The trees and bushes that would provide such perfect cover ran for almost 2 kilometers along the site of the destroyed PBRs. I radioed ahead and ordered the two Yabutas to shoot 4 rounds of 60mm mortar toward the cliffs. After the sound of firing there were explosions and dirt flew into the airÖ
Two months after the mission, I received an order from the First Coastal Zone to assume the command of Đà Nẳng Naval Base and Lt. Commander Phan Tứ Hải became the Commanding officer of the Task Group "Sea Tiger". The change of command between two high school classmates was witnessed by our counterpart, Lt. Commander Holland, who stayed with Hải for another month before returning to Đà Nẳng and back to the United States for a new assignment. Lt. Commander Phan Tứ Hải, my dear comrade-at-arms, continued to fight as a good warrior to stop the aggression of Communists in Quang Nam Province, to protect citizens and to provide security and safety in the vital waterways surround Hội An City, FaiFo river mouth.
On a stormy afternoon during the last days of autumn, a lightning drew tracks in the dark sky. I sat in the passenger seat on my military jeep, my luggage consisting of a small bag of personal belongings, my helmet and my M-18 rifle. For the last time, I looked back at Hội An City, smaller than my hometown of Huế City, where I had spent the last six months fighting and surviving beside my friends and my soldiers. I realized that although I might never return to this place, the memory of this watery battle zone would never fade from my mind.
I was assigned as Commanding officer of Đà Nẳng Naval Base from September 1970 after I left The Operation “Sea Tiger” in Hội An City, Quang Nam province.
The Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters
The SVN Naval First Coastal Zone Headquarters, under the command of Captain Hồ Văn Kỳ Thoại was stationed in Đà Nẳng Naval Base.
First Coastal Zone was established in order to coordinate operations of the territorial and tactical organizations. Its primary responsibilities were to maintain the Seaboard and Coastal security including the island territory. First Coastal Zone’s other missions were to stop and prevent the enemy’s infiltration by sea in its responsible zone and to conduct operations of their naval units to support and reinforce the appropriate Army Tactical Corp. The main units of the First Coastal Zones were 6 Duyên đoàn (the Coastal Groups),1 Hải đội Duyên pḥng (the Coastal Patrol Maritime Group), 1 Đài Kiểm Báo (Radar Surveillance Site) and Căn cứ Hải quân Đà Nẳng (Đà Nẳng Naval Base) located in its territories.
Đà Nẳng Naval Base had the responsibilities included providing security, safety for the First Coastal Zone Headquarters, Đà Nẳng harbor and multiple services for SVN Navy vessels mooring in the harbor and at piers of the Base...
The security situation at Đà Nẳng harbor was more secure when I got my order to my next assignment at Cam Ranh Bay.
In order to effectively maintain control over the entire Republic of Vietnam territorial waters, the Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters was established to command and to control maritime operations Trần Hưng Đạo along the coastline and to stop and prevent the infiltration of the North Vietnamese Communists by boats. The Organization also provided naval gunfire support to friendly forces in the responsible operational areas and to assist in the Pacification programs of the Government. There were 5 Sea Operations Zones and each zone was controlled by a Task Force and manned with about 100 ships, gunboats and junk boats. The Sea Operations Zone consisted of three tactical areas:
The area between the coast to 12 miles was assigned to junk boats, Patrol Craft, Fast- Swift boats (PCF), Patrol Gunboats (PGM) to maintain patrolling.
The area between 12 miles to 53 miles was designated to and patrolled by Destroyers, Frigates and Patrol and Escort Ships (PCE).
The area between 53 miles to 100 miles from shore was responsible of the surveillance of the long range airplanes of the VN Air Force that were flying out from inland to patrol in this tactical area.
I reported to Captain Nguyễn Bá Trang, the Commanding officer of the Tactical Mobile Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay on second week of September, 1971. I was assigned to be Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.<==Previous----Next===>
In 1968, in order to quickly improve the role of the RVN Armed Forces in fighting against the aggression of North Vietnamese Communists, the RVN Navy and the U.S. Navy carried out plans to turns over all assets of the U.S. Navy to the RVN Navy in a program named "Accelerated Turn Over to Vietnam" (ACTOV).
This plan was executed swiftly and effectively and was accomplished before schedule and The Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters planned to move to Saigon on early spring 1972 with the new Commanding officer of the Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters, Captain Nguyễn Văn Thông who relieved Captain Nguyễn Bá Trang.