Heavy Boat Company

From Bill Sadler with Ralph Grambo

5th Trans Company 97 Trans Company 329th Trans Company
67-72 65-72 66-72
Vung Tau Cam Ranh Bay Da Nang

Factual material and some pictures on this page are drawn from Logistical Over-The-Shore Operations, U.S. Army Transportation School, Fort Eustis VA Reference Text 42, 1963 and Theater Terminal Commands and Related Subjects, U.S. Army Transportation School Fort Eustis VA 1962.

First hand operational accounts in Vietnam are provided by William Sadler. C.W.O Ret.

Bill Sadler served three tours in RVN as an NCO and Warrant Officer in Heavy Boat Companies, skippered LCU's, Large tug and the Y-487 an Army Tanker.


A transportation heavy boat company's mission is to provide and operate landing craft, utility (LCU's), for transporting personnel and heavy cargo in offshore discharge operations, and to augment lighterage service in a harbor, in inland or coastal water, or on the open sea, including lighterage service required in joint amphibious or other waterborne tactical operations. A heavy boat company is assigned and attached to organizations similar to those to which the light boat company is assigned and attached. It may operate separately under an appropriate staff transportation officer.


At full strength, a heavy boat company is equipped with 12 LCU's for task purposes. Company headquarters has a 46-foot picket boat for controlling operations and a 65-foot tug for towing disabled craft, retrieving beached craft, or augmenting the company's lift capabilities when barges are available. An LCU has a welded-steel hull. Powered by three diesel engines developing 675 brake horsepower each at 1, 800 revolutions per minute, it is propelled through the water by three propellers. An LCU is 115 feet long, 34 feet wide, and draws from 3 to 4 feet of water when fully loaded. Traveling light, it can move at 8 knots; when loaded, it can make 6.5 knots.

The LCU was designed to transport cargo from shipside to the beach although it can also be used for long-distance trips. Wheeled and tracked vehicles and artillery can be rolled on and off the deck of the LCU. The craft can be deck loaded on a landing ship, tank (LST) intact for launching at destination, or it can be carried in the well deck of a landing ship, dock (LSD). It can be sectionalized in three parts for transportation overseas as deck cargo on conventional cargo ships. In the past, LCU's have crossed oceans, but generally they are not suited for such voyages. A flotilla of LCU's once traveled from San Diego, California, to Guam, but it took a month to make the trip.

Like the LCM's, an LCU is capable of landing on a beach, remaining there to discharge cargo, and retracting under its own power. A total of 150 short tons can be carried by an LCU and this could include three 50-ton tanks or five 30-ton tanks.

LCU's in California waiting to be sent to war


Organized to command and administer a unit whose platoons and even individual craft may be spread out along a coastline, company headquarters has command, administrative, communication, control boat, and tug echelons.

A company commander, control officer, and first sergeant are in the command echelon. The control officer may be land based or aboard the unit's control boat, depending on where he can best control operations and be accessible to higher headquarters. A control officer is like an S3 or operations officer. He is needed in a company because, in a beach operation, its LCU's are special task craft, going from ship to ship to transport heavy lifts. Doing this, they may scatter over a wide area. Sticking close to a radio, a control officer dispatches LCU's individually or in groups on missions, keeps track of the craft, and assigns them new tasks when they complete old ones.

Company administrative clerks, mess, and supply personnel are in the administrative echelon. One clerk's duties involve regular company chores such as making out morning reports, keeping duty rosters, filing, and typing. Another clerk is a personnel administration specialist. The mess steward operates the company's shore-based mess and supervises messes aboard the landing craft and tug. In addition to his regular duties, the supply sergeant supervises the activities of an armorer and an individual who is both radio operator and light truck driver.

A communication chief takes care of the company's signal equipment, advises the commander about such matters, and supervises the radio mechanic.


Crews for the tug and control boat are assigned to company headquarters. The tug crew consists of a master, a marine engineer, a boatswain, a cook, and seamen. The crew of the control boat consists of a chief harbor craft operator, a marine engineman, and a harbor craft crewman. Marine hull repairmen and signal repairmen are pooled in company headquarters to perform maintenance as needed. These repairmen include shipfitters and electricians. Higher echelon maintenance is performed by the floating craft depot maintenance company.

23rd MARCH 1967 CAM RANH BAY 97th HEAVY BOAT CO. ON PARADE Bill Sadler near front in light jungle jacket


Each of the two boat platoons in the heavy boat company is assigned six LCU's. Each has a crew of 12 consisting of master, engineer and assistants, boatswain, cooks, seamen, and low- speed- radio operator. The LCU's are capable of independent operation, but they can also be employed by platoons.



Bill Sadler's Background in Army Boats

I was first assigned from the infantry because of my merchant marine background to a harbor craft company, the 339th in 1953, at Inchon Korea where I skippered 45' harbor tug. After my reenlistment in 1955 I was assigned to the 110th Harbor Craft Compnay at Fort Eustis as a 2nd class diver. In 1956 I was shipped to Southampton England as a movement specialist meeting all us troop ships the U.S.United States and the U.S.America. At the time DOD chartered both passenger ships as a subsidy to move military passengers. I was reassigned in 1960 to New Orleans as operations NCO formulating plans for one heavy boat company with 12 vessels and three stevedore companys. In 1961 retrained as EOD. Deployed to RVN in 1966 and because of the critical shortage of vessel operators at the time the U.S.Army was accepting active duty U.S. Navy chief petty officers giving them direct transfers as warrants into the army's harbor craft units

Assigned deck officers school Fort Eustis. 1967 promoted to warrant officer. Reassigned back to Vietnam May 1968 as master of an Large Tug then a LCU 1522. May 1969 thru Sept.. 69 attended supply management school. Fort Lee, then assigned to 579th Ordnance company Neu Ulm Germany as executive officer. November 1970 returned to Vietnam as commanding officer and master of the y-487 a tanker of 1,250 tons the 222' long 38' beam twin screw 1440 HP TO&E was 6 warrant officers 22 enlisted men. I brought the y- 487 back to Rio Vista under tow via Guam January 1972.


I was assigned to the 97th Heavy Boat Company where I was skipper on LCU 1563 for a total of 15 months operating out of Cam Ranh Bay south as far as Phan Thiet and north to Bong son.

LCU 1563 moved in a thirty day period may thru June 1966 1,605 tons of ammo. and general cargo plus 505 passengers. We participated in the Tuy Hoa operation from 26 June thru 14 July 1966 moving 650 tons and 247 passengers. 14 July 1966 we sailed to Qui Nhon to work ship to shore moving 3,344 tons of cargo and 2,500 passengers


An LCU prior to beaching had a large danforth anchor mounted on the after port side with 500' scope of one and an eighth inch cable that you let go as far off shore as possible to assist you in getting off the beach.

An LCUs crew was 2 warrants officers as skipper and chief engineer, e7 boatswain 1 seaman/cook & 4 seaman. and normally a FMS (fleet maintenance ship) was attached which was a very large vessel that had the lathe capability of turning out a vessels shaft plus all the other tradesmen required to maintain or manufacture parts for your vessel,

Every vessel was basically an independent unit. In the daily operations on board the boat, because of our location, we did not have much contact with the 97th. I was dispatched, as I remember, by the harbormaster to normally go to a vessel in the harbor to pickup cargo (mostly ammo.) and take it to a port on the coast such as Phan Thiet, Phan Rang, or where ever we would receive a manifest.

[Cargo arriving in Vietnam had to be discharged at ports with facilities to handle ocean going vessels. The largest ships i.e. deepest draft, could only be discharged at Cam Ranh Bay, Danang or Vung Tau. Saigon could handle a great volume of cargo but the draft was limited to 26 feet. Therefore all cargo destined for other ports had to be discharged and the lightered to the smaller ports and sometimes discharged on the beach.R.G.]

It would normally take one day to load. Delivery of the cargo took approximately a two day run and a day to discharge cargo then back to Cam Ranh Bay or where ordered.

The skipper took care of supplies, the cook would order the food (crew members of army vessels drew one and a half rations) so we always had lots of food, always steaks (great for bartering with other units). A few of us had our own jeeps that we re-marked, not really legal or kosher. I swapped a new fridge for mine as I had ordered a D.C. powered one and when it arrived it of course was A.C.

The most northerly port I went into was Dong Ha, just south of the parallel. I did some ship to shore mostly bringing troops ashore some cargo but I preferred coastal runs. I was fortunate to always have a good cook but most of the crew where not seamen, and of course draftees.

I skippered my first LCU as a SP5 before making SSG. And as an NCO I was skipper with a warrant officer as chief engineer for a couple of trips. But we worked together OK. Most warrants in RVN in the 60's came out of the U.S.N. with direct promotion from C.P.O.'s.