PTF Zero Six-The Mission

The South Vietnamese Navy Special Maritime Operations
of the Nasty class Patrol Torpedo-Fast Boat
Commander Thong Ba Le, South Vietnamese Navy


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 Ben Hai 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 Ho Chi Minh trail along Truong Son 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 Ngo Dinh Diem 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, Jaqueline, 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 Danang. 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 So Phong Ve Duyen Hai, Coastal Security Service (CSS), operating under the command of Nha Ky Thuat, the Strategic Technical Directorate (STD), of the Vietnamese Bo Tong Tham Muu, 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 Luc Luong Hai Tuan, the Maritime Patrol Force, and many Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams of Luc Luong Biet Hai, 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 from the southern edge of Hon Cop island to the Bach Long Vi 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 Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc (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 Mission

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, Danang, 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 "Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc" (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.

Lt. Le Nguyen Thai's gunboat (call name "Hai Au") was in second position of the "India" formation. Another boat, the "Hau Giang," was captained by Lt. Nguyen Van Tieu, also the Officer-in-Tactical Command (OTC). He was known as "the Tiger" by his American and Vietnamese colleagues. Lt. Tieu 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.

Lt. Thai looked at his 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. He called down to the radar room and asked his XO, LTJG Luong Ha Chuong, "How we are doing? Have we reached checkpoint Alfa yet?"

LTJG Chuong stopped doing a fix on the navigating map, looked up and answered, "Yes sir, skipper, we're almost there. It looks like it's going to be a quiet mission--no radar contacts since we passed "Hon Mat." I think "tui Vem" (the Communists) must be sleeping."

"Well, I don't know, we're still far away from the hostile area in the "Vang" (Yellow) operating area north of "Sam Son", I think all the action would take place over there." Because he was a veteran to this type of mission, Lt. Thai would not feel safe until the PTFs returned and passed the seventeenth parallel on their way home.

"All units, this is Hau Giang, over."

Lt. Thai reached for the microphone next to the throttles on the bridge and responded, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au, over."

He then heard the voice of other skipper to respond to the OTC. "Hau Giang, this is Bach Dang, over"

Lt. Tieu was a graduate of the class of 1959 from the Naval Academy in Nha Trang. Lt. Tieu 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."

Lt. Thai acknowledged, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. Change course to 305, speed 25 knots, formation India. Roger and out."

The other gunboat did the same and 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.

Lt. Thai 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 "Vung Bien Den," or the "Black Sea zone" by the Task Force members.

"All units, this is Hau Giang. Prepare to release merchandise, over."

Lt. Thai was returned to the present from his thoughts by Lt. Tieu's voice from the intercom. He quickly responded to his friend and OTC, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. Acknowledge and standby, over."

The other skipper of the gunboat behind him also acknowledged the order. "Hau Giang, this is Bach Dang. Roger, over."

Lt. Thai 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 "Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc" (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.

Lt. Thai thought of the happy time when these poor people's families saw their loved ones suddenly show up at their doorsteps in the morning.

"All units this is Hau Giang. Change course to 270 degrees, speed 10 knots. Execute, over."

Lt. Thai responded to the OTC, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. Course 270 degrees, speed 10 knots. Roger out." Bach Dang also executed the order.

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.

The voice of Lt. Tieu, Captain of the Hau Giang, was heard again from the intercom. "All units, this is Hau Giang. Change course to 010 degrees, speed 5 knots, formation India. Execute, out."

Lt. Thai acknowledged the OTC and then ordered the helm while pulling the throttle that controlled the boat engines slowly backward to reduce speed. "Right 15 degrees rudder."

The helm repeated while turning the wheel, "Right 15 degrees, aye aye, sir."

Lt. Thai waited to see his heading turning on the gyro compass toward the starboard. " Rudder amidships, steady as she goes. Course 010 degrees."

"Rudder amidships, course 010, aye aye, sir"

Lt. Thai looked down into the radar room through a small window located at the dashboard and spoke to his XO. "Mr Chuong, how far from check point Bravo?"

LTJG Chuong replied nervously while concentrating on the radar repeater that showed the shape of the coast of North Vietnam. It was very close to the left of the task group formation. " We are about one thousand yards to drop point sir, 2 miles from shore line, 50 feet depth, no contacts in the radius of 10 miles."

Lt. Thai did not see the face of his XO under the red light but he could hear the nervousness in his voice. He knew his XO very well, LTJG Chuong was a graduate of the Class XI , Aquarius the Water Bearer, from the Vietnamese Naval Academy. He had been his Executive Officer for almost three months and they had been together on more than 20 dangerous missions:

"Very well, Mr. Chuong. Keep me posted please--we are now in a very hostile area and the enemy will probably be waiting for us out there."

"Aye aye, sir," LTJG Chuong replied, as he continued to check the distance on the radarscope between his boat and the OTC. It was 310 yards in front of the formation; the diamond shaped echo behind him that was Bach Dang was 290 yards away.

Lt. Thai turned around when he 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 Cu Lao Cham, where the indoctrinated camps were located.

" Skipper, we are almost there. Be ready, sir." LTJG Chuong reported to his Captain from the radar room.

"Very well, Mr. Chuong," Lt. Thai acknowledged. He then ordered the radioman standing on his right, "First class Kiet, tell the SEAL crew to stand ready to release the fishermen."

"SEAL, this is the bridge. Prepare to release the fishermen." He reported back to his Captain, "They are ready, sir"

Lt. Thai said, "Very well" and he heard the voice of the OTC from the intercom.

"Hai Au, Bach Dang, this is Hau Giang. All engines stop, drop merchandise. Execute, over."

Lt. Thai answered while pulling the throttles to neutral, "Hau Giang, this is Hai Au. All engines stop, drop merchandise, over and out."

"Hau Giang, this is Bach Dang. All engines stop, drop merchandise, over, out."

Lt. Thai told the radio man to relay the order and he looked back to see his 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. Lt. Thai saw two barrels with fishermen hanging on them, floating away in the calm surface of the South China Sea. He prayed for Duc Phat (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.

Lt. Thai 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."

The voice of Lt. Ha Hieu Diep, Captain of the Bach Dang, Lt. Thai 's class mate, a graduate of class X, Capricorn the Goat, was heard from the intercom. "Hau Giang, this is Bach Dang. Mission accomplished, over."

"Hai Au, Bach Dang, this is Hau Giang. Job well done! Increase speed to 25 knots, course 070, formation India. Execute, 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. Lt. Thai 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 Dao Cat Ba 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 Dao Cat Ba to Sam Son in groups of five or more to ambush and destroy Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc's (The Sacred Sword of Patriot League) PT boats. Therefore Lt. Tieu, 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 Lt. Thai and kept him awake so many nights after returning from combat missions. He compared the ambiguities between his responsibilities as a normal Naval Officer and as a Warrior, killing the enemy of the Vietnamese people, the International Communist Party. That thinking made him unhappy and he suffered deeply when he witnessed his comrades-at-arms being killed in action. He suffered even more when, as Captain of the PTF boat, it was his duty to inform the families of his fallen comrades of the devastating news.

Thong Ba Le

Please read PTF Zero Six in The "Black Sea Zone"

Please read PTF Zero Six-The Expendable

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