Memories of a Vietnamese Sailor #9
(6/22/01 7:39:55 am)
| Del All Memories of a Vietnamese Sailor #9
We were assigned to Ha Tien to patrol Giang Thanh Creek for two weeks, then we were assigned to patrol the coast of Ha Tien, Rach Gia and many small islands and islets around Phu Quoc for two weeks then back to Ha Tien again. Our routine on the coast was 48 hours patrol and 24 hours off, in the river the routine was 12 hours on patrol and 12 hours off, alternating between day and night patrol. We devised an ambush tactic that 3 or 4 Swifts would take off from Ha Tien at dusk going into Giang Thanh Creek. We cruised up and down at ¾ of full speed. On the second round of cruising, the last Swift in the formation would shut off both engines and steered toward the bank then lay low to set an ambush. That Swift served as an ambush post for the other three Swifts. It then watched the creek for any traffic. We caught them several times crossing the creek from the Cambodia side, thanks for Starlight Scope. Most of what we got was one or two KIA, a sunken sampan or junk. Most of our time in Giang Thanh Creek was to provide fire support for the Vietnamese outpost near the French built block and to lop 81MM to wherever our electronic listening devices told us. The Giang Thanh Creek served as an unofficial demarcation of border between Vietnam and Cambodia. As we come from Ha Tien, the left bank is basically Cambodian territory even though the official border demarcation is about 250 to 300 yards from the left bank. One night three Vietnamese Swift and one American Swift, which was reassigned from Qui Nhon or Da Nang, took of toward Giang Thanh Creek. The American Swift, being new to the area was lagging behind by several hundred meters. About less than 2 miles into the creek, we heard AK 47 went off and then our 50’s went off in return. We turned around and found that the American Swift was in heavy firefight with several sampans. Needless to say all of us opened fire and sunk all of the sampans. We hung around the area until the next morning when reinforcement came. We never recovered any body, but our Seals recovered a lot of brand new AK 47, a couple of brand new 81 MM, and a lot of backpacks covered with blood. It turned out that their tactic was to cross the creek right behind us, and they knew that we usually came in with three Swifts. This time they got caught because of the fourth Swift that was lagging behind. Actually that Swift did not know for sure if the sampans were civilian or commies and the commies thought that they were caught red-handed so they opened fire first. It was one victory for the Swifts. No casualty on our side.
One morning Ha Tien was littered with leaflets from communist to announce that Giang Thanh Creek became a dead zone for all South Vietnam Navy vessels. They vowed to sink any and all Swifts, Yabuta and Chu Luc Junk boats that dared to come in. The stage was set for a big firefight. The commander of South Vietnam Navy in Ha Tien decided to confront them the next day, on broad daylight. All of us took off and headed toward Giang Thanh Creek; we also requested Rach Gia and an American LST (stationed just off the coast of Ha Tien) to stand by to provide Helicopters and air strikes support. As we proceeded into Giang Thanh creek, everything was eerily quiet, the only thing we heard were communications, engines throbbing and the sound of the L19 scout plane flying overhead. At this time I was “promoted” to man the double 50’s on top of the pilothouse.
The L19 scout plane spotted a suspicious dirt mound, it dropped a smoke grenade on the mound and requested a Swift to lop an 81 MM high explosive on the mound, on Swift did it, sure enough; two guys took off and ran toward Cambodia territory. All hell then broke loose and we unloaded everything we got. They started to climbed out of their holes and ran toward a Buddhist temple on Cambodia territory. Automatic weapons (AK 47) and their equivalent of our 50 calibers started coming out from the temple toward us. We returned fire using all 50’s and M60 but not 81MM mortars; they did not relent and kept firing at us. We then requested our scout plane to drop smoke grenade on the temple so that we could call air strikes but the pilot refused to do so because he said to do so would be a violation of Cambodia sovereignty. The commander then decided that we lop all 81MM on that temple, we did. Finally they ran out, but sadly with quite a few Buddhist monks. We searched the area and found several un-detonated bombs under water; one Swift was actually sitting on top of one! We also found wires and batteries. I guessed that since we opened fire first and caught them by surprise that they did not have time to detonate those mines (bombs). Another victory! Felt good.
(To be continued...)