TC Support of Riverine Operations in Vietnam

1099th Medium Boat Company

Ralph Grambo with photos from Armin Schmalz and Peter Bayliss

The geography of III and IV Corps areas in Vietnam causes the use of waterways for transportation in much of the area. The delta area of the Mekong and other rivers cuts the country into many slices that are not bridged by roads. Much of the area is either cultivated for rice or remains mangrove swamp. A network of irrigation and drainage canals was constructed many years ago by Dutch and French engineers throughout the agricultural region of the delta. These canals generally run perpendicular to the major drainage rivers and provide an excellent means of transportation. Access to large areas of the country by motor vehicle is not practicable. It is obvious that any kind of military action in such a region must depend of water transportation. From the beginning of the U.S. commitment transportation boat units were heavily used throughout the delta region.

Main areas of operations

Protecting the Supply Lifeline

The main task of TC units in the Saigon Port Complex was the discharge of ocean vessels and clearance of the cargo to depots further inland. This was a monumental task in the early days of the buildup of troop strength. In terminal operations ships can be discharged at piers or while anchored away from the shore by using lighters. The lighters can be moved to a pier or quay for discharged or driven up on the beach and unloaded on the beach. The LCU and LCM boats were designed for this method of operation. However, in a tidal area the riverbanks are steep and muddy and overgrown with impassible vegetation. Clearance of the cargo off the beach was also a major problem. Ammunition ships are seldom discharged at a pier because of the danger of collateral damage if the blow up. Petroleum tankers have their own special needs. General cargo and containerized cargo was discharged at the available piers but ammunition was discharged at Cat Lai and moved by barge to the ammo dumps at Long Binh and bomb storage at Bien Hoa.

The harbor river system was usually clogged with boats moving cargo from ships to its next destination. There was a constant danger of attack from the river banks by rockets or water mines. Major operations by large Infantry units were necessary to protect these movements. Army boat units were used in direct support of these operations when the combat troops were operating in the area. This was a type of riverine operation. The major VC infested area involved was the Rung Sat Zone.

Cleaning out the VC Sanctuaries on the upper Saigon River

Operation Cedar Falls

January 1967.

The aim of this operation was to destroy the "Iron Triangle" a 60 square mile area 35 miles northwest of Saigon in the Thanh Dien forest, for years a stronghold of Viet Cong terrorists operating in the Saigon area. Cedar Falls has produced its share of unwanted misery. Farms and villages, people and their animals all have been disrupted. The 1099th TC used four boats to relocated the village and their animals.

5,959 Villagers were evacuated!

Allies Attack Sanctuary, 1-11-67 from the NY Times

SAIGON, South Vietnam, Jan. 10 - Allied forces have mounted the largest combat operation of the war in an effort to disrupt the organization that directs insurgent activities in the Saigon area, military spokesmen said tonight.

While conducting the operation, code-named Cedar Falls, the allies also hope to deprive the Vietcong of one of their oldest and most utilized sanctuaries.

Only the Vietnamese kids would go in the well deck with the water buffalo. Cattle and water buffalo in the well decks.

Military officials said they expected that during the operation up to 10,000 South Vietnamese peasants would be moved into refugee centers in Government-controlled areas.

The battle area is 60 square miles of jungle about 25 miles northwest of Saigon. It includes the Thanh Dien Forest reserve.

Troops began moving into position Sunday morning and by this evening more than 15,500 ringed the oblong patch of jungle, nearly 10 miles in length.

Twenty-five infantry battalions, six of them South Vietnamese, and 30 artillery batteries, with about 150 howitzers, were directly committed to the engagement along with countless thousands of support troops. A battalion may have between 400 and 600 men. At the peak of Operation Attleboro, the largest previous allied operation, 17 battalions were committed, including support troops. American military officers estimated the total Attleboro force at about 20,000 men.

That operation churned along for six weeks in the jungles 65 to 70 miles northwest of Saigon and the allies reported having killed 1,106 enemy soldiers.

The men directing the new operation do not expect to kill nearly as many enemy soldiers.

Their primary target areas are the Thanh Dien Forest Reserve and what the Americans call the Iron Triangle, because of the difficulty in penetrating it.

The southern tip of the triangle is only 10 miles northwest of Saigon.

The spokesman reported tonight that 115 Vietcong had been killed and 28 captured, with 230 suspects detained, since the operation began. The total was higher than some officers had anticipated.

There are probably no more than 100 there all the time," one American intelligence officer said last night of the Vietcong in the Iron Triangle.

"There have been reports right along," the officer said, "that the people in the headquarters of [Vietcong] Military Region IV, which we figure is in the Iron Triangle, have been planning to increase the terror and attacks in Saigon. These are the people we want to get at. There aren't many of them, but they're important."

The Vietcong have used the Iron Triangle as a rest camp for more than 20 years, steadfastly resisting attempts by foreign troops to pry them out.

The last large-scale United States venture into the area was carried out by troops of the 173d Airborne Brigade in October, 1965.

That brigade is also a part of the allied force now searching the Iron Triangle. Elements of the 173d, the 25th Infantry Division and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, along with South Vietnamese troops, are positioned at the west, south and east sides of

the battle area, set to block the escape of enemy troops pushed through the jungle by battalions of the First Infantry Division.

In a three-day operation that ended Sunday, 50 bulldozers leveled the 370-acre Cau Dinh Forest at the southeastern edge of the Iron Triangle.

"The local guerrillas used to hide there," said one American officer. "They won't now."

Most of the fighting troops joined the operation yesterday. The bulk of them, under the command of Maj. Gen. William E Depuy, commander of the First Infantry Division, scrambled out of the helicopters precisely on schedule all morning.

Before the 60 helicopters carrying each battalion eased into the grassy landing zones, tons of high-explosive artillery shells and bombs dropped by jets battered the area. The battalions landed in an arc at the top of the Thanh Dien Forest and the bombardments moved ahead of each of them.

"It's like a Cecil B. DeMille production," said one observer. "General DePuy does things big."


In the first three days of the operation, 276 fighter-bombers flew attack missions and by today B-52's had hammered the battle area 10 times. Other actions reported by military spokesmen included the following:

United States pilots flew 60 strike and reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam yesterday, primarily in the southern panhandle region along the coast.

United States Marines reported having killed 17 enemy soldiers in scattered fighting yesterday about 30 miles northeast of Saigon.

On the coastal plain 340 miles northeast of Saigon, South Vietnamese troops killed 45 enemy soldiers while repulsing two enemy attacks. In one attack, a Government company of about 120 men suffered moderate casualties.

Support of the 9th Division Operations

A Brief History of the 9th Division Operations

The 9th division was activated and equipped as the first "riverine" division. That is, it was designed for combat operations in a river delta area like the Mekong Delta. It was designed to have a part of its combat forces afloat while the remainder was land based. The afloat force was billeted on LST's and Barracks ships. Operational transportation was by modified LCM6's. Special PBR's and gun boats were also operated by the Navy.

The land based force was eventually placed on land created by dredging at Dong Tam. Army boats and harborcraft supported the logistical needs of both the afloat and land based forces. Resupply by highway was often impossible because of the geography.

The main body of troops debarked at Vung Tau January 1967. Initial operations were run in the Rung Sat special zone located in the swamps between Vung Tau and Saigon. The mobile riverine force operated throughout the Mekong Delta for two years.

1099TH TRANSPORTATION COMPANY (MEDIUM BOAT) "River Rats" The 1099th Transportation Company (Medium Boat, LCM-8) is Headquartered at Camp Davies near Saigon The 1099th supports units in the Mekong Delta whenever called upon. Their missions range from assisting in recovering downed helicopters in the Dong Nai River, pushing cargo barges anywhere in the Saigon area and pushing gravel laden barges from French Fort to Tan An in support of base camp construction by the U.S. 9th Infantry Division.

The 1099th Transportation Company (Medium Boat) was deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in 1965 to provide landing craft for the movement of personnel and cargo in support of Saigon Port and Vung Tau sub-port operations. The mission has expanded to include all types of cargo which is moved throughout III and IV military regions on the inland waterways. The 1099th is one of 3 Landing Craft Medium or LCM-8 Boat companies in the Republic of Vietnam. The 1099th was based at the Cat Lai Army Terminal about 8 miles due east of Saigon. The boats of the "brown water navy" have been deployed as far south as the old French resort town of Cap. Ste. Jacques (Vung Tau), and as far west as the Cambodian border. Of course, trips to Saigon and the neighboring area were common. The boats generally transport two commodities: ammunition and general cargo.

The Cat Lai Terminal is the primary ammunition offloading point for most of southern and Delta area of Vietnam. Ocean going ships, unable to travel further upstream, discharge their cargo in mid-river to barges and the boats which transport the ammunition up to the main depot at Long Binh.

The company was involved in an important combat support operation in the U Minh Forest during the last part of November 1970. The 1099th River Rats provides POL and ammunition to the 1st Aviation Brigade's 164th Combat Air Group (CAG) supporting the 21st ARVN Division's search and clear operations. The 1099th "Mike" boats were fitted with 5000 gallon POL tanks or 10,000 gallon bladders in their well decks in order to bring JP4 from the mouth of the Song Ong Doc River up river to Thoi Binh for discharge. There is also a maintenance boat along with other boats which carry ammunition that are involved in this operation. They operate out of Ca Mau, the base of operations. The crews of these boats are faced with danger everyday. During trips up and down the river, they are constantly subject to river ambushes and operate continually under extremely adverse conditions. All of this has helped to make the 1099th the most decorated Transportation Boat Unit in Vietnam. They have been awarded numerous Silver Stars, Bronze Stars for valor and Army Commendation Medals. As a unit the 1099th has been awarded the Valorous Unit Award, the Meritorious Unit Award and has been recommended for a Presidential Unit Citation.

Armin Schmalz in the Artillery Boat Preparing Fuzes
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