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Vietnam Warfare
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Riverine Warfare

An Introduction 

One of the more successful campaigns of the Vietnam

War was the river operations in the Mekong delta. By

gaining control of the rivers, which were the main communication routes of the area, Australian forces prevented re-supply and movement of Viet Cong forces. In many other countries rivers also form a major part of the communication system. Securing such systems will depend on the numbers and quality of combat river craft.
      Workhorse of the River forces in Vietnam was the PBR boat. Although a hastily adapted civilian vessel this proved to have many useful features:-

  • Use of hydro jet propulsion avoided problems with damage or fouling of rudders and screws.
  • PBRs had a speed of at least 30 knots and a draft of 18" stationary or 9" cruising.
  • Vessels had a low profile, making them difficult targets.
  • PBRs could easily be beached to off-load troops or wait in ambush. Hydro jets could easily reverse the boats off the bank by dropping thrust deflectors over the outlets.
  • Weighing only 7 tons, damaged PBRs could be transported by Landing craft modified to serve as mobile Dry docks. Large helicopters could also airlift PBRs, allowing them to be placed on isolated watercourses that enemy assumed would not be patrolled.
  • For their size, PBRs were heavily armed. A four-man boat would have at least three Browning .50 caliber machine guns. Many boats would also mount M60s, Grenade launchers, mortars and recoilless rifles.
      The PBRs were versatile, fast, hard to hit and heavily armed. They were not without their faults however. Weapons positions were rather exposed, particularly if fire was coming from more than one quadrant. Boats often had to operate close to the bank, and there was a large area of open deck that could catch hand grenades. Gunwales prevented these being easily kicked over the side and trapped the blast. These features undoubtedly contributed to the fact that one in three crewmen was likely to be killed or injured during a tour of duty.

        Future PBR boats should have enclosed weapons positions; Open areas of deck should be protected by sloped awnings, chicken wire and bar Armour cages. The above suggestions apply to any boat adapted to military service. What features would be desirable on a custom designed vessel? I'm no sailor, but offer the following ideas for discussion: The superstructure of the vessel should resemble an APC, with turrets mounted on the roof and a door at the front. This door would provide access to a forward deck area that lacks gunwales and is used for any tasks that the crew cannot perform from the cabin, such as boarding and search operations. The hull is air lubricated that is it is shaped to direct air beneath the hull and create lift when the vessel is underway. There is a dual system of propulsion. The first involves a hydro jet system with a low noise system fitted. Some operations require speed, others stealth. The second system is a turbine fitted in the rear of the superstructure. This takes in air via grills in the roof and expels it via grills at the back a system used in some hovercraft. The riverboat can therefore operate like the airboats used in the swamps of Florida. Armament will probably include light cannon, automatic grenade launchers and 81mm gun-mortars.

      PBRs were used for patrols and to transport small numbers of infantry. They were supplemented in this role by the PCF swift boats, which were larger inshore vessels that could also be operated on river systems. For larger scale operations against strongholds naval beach landing craft were used to carry larger numbers of troops. These vessels were rather slow and clumsy and in more recent times some of their roles for beach assaults have been taken over by hovercraft. The Monitors were armed with 40mm cannon and a wide range of smaller weapons such as machine guns and 20mm cannon. Although this was a potent armament, it was often not sufficient to breech VC bunkers.

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This site was created on 20th May 2004 for PART C of the History Assessment for the yr 10 School Certificate at the McDonald College