June 17, 1966

Harbor at Vung Tau Attractive, Crowded

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is in Viet Nam reporting on activities of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Today, he continues a series on Operation Sea Wolf.)

Enquirer Military Writer

USS TORTUGA - The harbor at Vung Tau has a gleaming white scallop of beach which makes it one of the most attractive spots in Viet Nam - it is also one of the hottest - and I always enjoy seeing it from the air.

I pounded out over the blue water of the bay in a gunship piloted by CWO Wyburn Burroughs and CWO David Anderson.  The ship was one of four UH1Bs operating from LST Floyd County and LSD Tortuga as part of the Sea Wolf team in support of Navy river patrol boats in the swamps and waterways of the Rung Sat Special zone.

A picturesque lighthouse stood on a spit and a freighter looked out of place gong up the Saigon river.

Mismanaged Docks

The water here was filled with a fleet of cargo vessels.  They were the backwash of the flood that is continuously dammed by the mismanaged tangle of the Saigon docks.

Some of these vessels had fretted here for more than three weeks, occasionally changing their anchorage spot for no real reason except boredom and frustration.

A few days later a Panamanian freighter boiled down the river and through the anchorage, finally unloading and wanting out.

It banged the stern of a destroyer in passing and never even slowed to apologize or assess the damage.  The destroyer was deeply dented, but the freighter captain kept going despite all signals.

“You don’t often see a hit-and-run on the ocean, but in a way you can’t blame that guy,” an officer on the Tortuga said.

“He knew it wasn’t too serious, he knew they had his number and flag and would make a report, and he just did not intend to get hung up here any longer than he already had been,” he said.  “He would rather get the red tape straightened out some place else.”

Whatever the implications of the huge mass of anchored ships, they made a colorful sight as the chopper soared over them toward a remarkably tiny oblong on the stern of the easy-to-spot LSD.

Floating Dry Dock

The LSD has gates which allow a central hold (called the “well”) to be flooded so that boats can run right inside of her.  She is a floating dry dock in miniature.

It is not even a good miniature of a landing zone the first  time you see it from a chopper, however.
The stern was covered with planking.  Another helicopter perched on a square of steel grating adjoining the planked area and as we went over the ship I could see short, broad green boats lined up in the well of the ship under the grating.  Several were bobbing in the water under a crane boom.

A circle with an “X” drawn in it was painted in yellow on the grey deck (everything is grey on these ships), and that was the spot Burroughs and Anderson intended to hit.

I’ve been into landing zones which were possibly smaller on  mountaintops, in jungles, in messy rice paddies, and I have gone in there with bullets adding a certain spice to the endeavor - but the choppy sea, the sheer ship sides and the cramped nodule of bustling activity a ship represents made this landing an experience I’ll never forget.


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