"Riverine Operations"

Submitted in Partial Fulfullment of the Requierments for the Degree of Master of Military Studies.

An Analysis of the employment of the LVT-5 in Riverine Operations in Vietnam and Recommendations for the Employment of the AAAV in Future Riverine Operations

Major David L. Coggins USMC

Joint Riverine Operations in Vietnam

The enemy moved at night often in human powered craft using the river current. Marines in 1965 were wholly engaged in northernmost part of the country and their riverine operations experience was limited to using Amtracs to move and support troops opening the restricted waterways of Annam (I Corps TAOR). Even with the limitations of the Amtracs, had the Marines been made available for redeployment to the Mekong Delta area, after specialized training, they would have had a more traditional relationship with the Navy than the Army did. During Operation GAME WARDEN in February 1966 the US Navy embarked VMC, paramilitary units, and police as infantry to check boats and enforce curfews on the river. Later the Army and Navy conducted Joint Riverine Operations in the Mekong Delta. The Army did not have the longstanding amphibious relationship the "blue-green team" and their brown water experience started from zero. Marines would have been better suited to the environment in the delta operating with the Navy, but they were assigned to the north where they were more immediately needed as a buffer just below the DMZ. From 1965-1969 the peak of US involvement in Vietnam, Marines conducted 62 landings, mostly by the Special Landing Force/Amphibious Readiness Group (SLF/ARG) of the 7th Fleet. The capabilities of the SLF left no doubt in the enemy's mind that no coastal area of Vietnam was immune from attack from the sea………

The LVT5 Employment in Riverine Operations in Vietnam

The proposed mission of the LVT in Vietnam was to support amphibious assaults for the (SLF) 7th FLEET for ship-to-shore movement similar to WWII and Korea by leading the surface assault element ashore. In 1964 the Marine Corps published a Fleet Manual directing a mission for the Amphibious Tractor (LVT) Battalions.

Even though the Marine Corps had a remarkable history of amphibious assaults against traditional anti-landing defenses, the nature of the conflict and the littoral environment in Vietnam meant Amtracs would operate in ways not yet planned for in Fleet Manuals or taught in Marine Corps Schools……

Early Unconventional Missions for the LVTs in the Riverine Environment

Mike Company 3/3 was tasked with crossing the Vu Gia River in 1966. On this very unconventional mission, eight LVTP5s crossed the Vu Gia River to bag some elephants, two of the LVTP5s were armed with 81mm mortars and two were topped with 106s to provide cover. Intelligence reports revealed the VC were using elephants to bring heavy artillery from Thailand along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to a village adjacent to the Vu Gia River, which if established, could range the 3rd Marine Division supply area. While there was a slim chance of spotting VC in the bush, the next best thing was the elephants. Upon contact with the VC a firefight erupted leaving no Marine casualties, 5 dead VC, 1 wounded, and 5 dead elephants.

LVTs in Operation DOUBLE EAGLE on Riverine Patrols

Amtracers from Bravo Company 3rd Tracs supported BLT 2/1 from August 1965 to April 1966 in Operation DOUBLE EAGLE. Operating for weeks at a time from the Chu Lai Junk Fleet cantonment from the "Splash Point", they spent hours daily in the rivers north and west of Chu Lai, Danang, and later in support of 5th Marines in An Hoa..........

LVTs in Operation WOLF GARDEN

During Operation WOLF GARDEN, 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 3rd Marine Division (Rein.) FMF, was directed to protect the mouth of the Cua Viet River. Employed as an independent battalion and maneuver element, the battalion task organized for riverine warfare with what they had on hand and could scrounge. 3rd Amtrac Battalion was assigned the tactical mission with no supporting units--a role reversal from traditionally supporting the infantry and tanks. Amtracers became "Amgrunts" (Amphibious Ground Unit-AMGRUNT) patrolling riverbanks on foot and along the rivers by LVTs, which illustrated the flexibility of Amtrac units in the riverine environment as part of a MAGTF.

TASK FORCE KILO--The Right Combination for MAGTF Riverine Operations in Vietnam

Amtracs used in BLT 2/4 Operation TASK FORCE KILO, 29 March- 2 April 1968, a multi-battalion punch to the DMZ employed LVTs in a river crossing under preparatory fire like a classic amphibious wave across the beach, but with troops riding on top. When the Amtracs got to the far side bank and the enemy opened up, but the direct fire weapons of a supporting Naval River Assault Group (RAG) gave excellent support for the Marines who fought their way ashore.

AAV Employment in Riverine Operations Since Vietnam

While LVT5 family of vehicles saw extensive service in Vietnam and especially riverine combat operations, the AAV has yet to be employed extensively in riverine operations in combat, except in 1992 in Somalia during Operation RESTORE HOPE. A Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF) was created for the operation and TASK FORCE BARDERA was organized around the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion (Rein.), 1st Marine Division (Rein.) equipped with AAV7A1s in the area adjacent to the Juba River upstream from Mogadishu. The Battalion employed their AAVs and used Amtracers without their vehicles as "Amgrunts" (infantry), similar to what 1st and 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalions did in Vietnam, to conduct operations which established a "safe zone" for food distribution.

AAVs were employed in zone, including the Jubba River with missions which included: mine sweeping, patrolling, traffic control points, as well as for airfield security, and as reaction forces. These missions were almost identical those that the LVT Battalions were tasked with 30 years earlier in Vietnam, .......

The AAAV and Future Riverine Operations

The application for the AAAV to deliver riverine assault forces is obvious in keeping with the STOM tenants, but there are several key factors that must be identified pursuant to successful employment of AAAV borne forces in the riverine environment: current, water depth, composition of the river bottom and exit points, and the terrain in the areas adjacent to the river. AAAV missions could include: river control points, patrols (show of force), listening and observations posts, base of fire and support force, deliver assault forces in combination with MAGTF, naval, joint and combined forces..

The complete text of this paper can be downloaded in PDF format from the Library Section.

Special thanks to Major David L. Coggins for providing this document.