Sa Dec
Coastal Division 13 Forward Operating Headquarters
Inland up the Mekong River near the Plain of Reeds

Music by Joan Baez©

Unless noted otherwise, all images on this page Copyright © 2003 by William L. Rogers.

Between March 6 1970 and October 9 1970, the headquarters of Swift Boat Coastal Division 13 was moved from the large VNN coastal base at Cat Lo, near the resort town of Vung Tau at the entrance to the shipping lanes leading to Saigon, up the Mekong River to the town of Sa Dec, just beyond Vinh Long.

    

This put this Swift Boat command headquarters closer to the infiltration routes used by the North Vietnamese in the Mekong and Bassac River Delta region as they regularly crossed the Cambodian border into South Vietnam west of Saigon. It was also the occasion for the Swift Boat patrols to move closer up these rivers to augment the PBR patrols along the Vietnamese side of the Cambodian Border.

As a result, this smaller forward headquarters became the planning and staging area for many of the Swift Boat activities in support of the SEALORDS strategic initiative that had formed interdiction barriers to NVA infiltration via the waterways adjacent to the Cambodian border: From the Gulf of Siam at Ha Tien along the Giang Thanh / Vinh Te Canal complex to the Bassac and Mekong Rivers at Chau Doc, across the Plain of Reeds adjacent to Sa Dec, and around the "Parrot's Beak" area on both branches of the Vam Co River up to Tay Ninh.

    

The berthing and administrative buildings for this upriver base were located on the south west side the Sa Dec Canal, which ran parallel to the Mekong. LTJG Andy Horne (Swift Boat OinC) is shown just outside the NAVSUPPACT Det Sa Dec building which also served as the CosDiv 13 Headquarters offices.

 

Travel between the administrative buildings and the pier was via a small bridge just upstream from the mooring location. As with the situation at Ha Tien, this pier was barely adequate to allow the boats to be nested outboard of one another in the narrow canal. They also shared space with the VNN Yabutas and the "harbor patrol" craft of the US Navy's Operation Stable Door.

 

Departing for patrol from Sa Dec entailed exiting out the narrow waterways and "klongs" of the Sa Dec Canal in a southeasterly direction. The bridge connecting the nearby banks of the canal prevented egress to the northwest. Once free of the canal, you entered the significant Mekong River enroute either toward your patrol areas directly or by crossing over to the Bassac River.

 

Once out on the river, patrols were similar to those conducted through out Vietnam. The one difference at this stage of the war was that the Vietnamization program was well under way and the crews of the boats were comprised of both American and Vietnamese sailors. Hence they flew the flags of both nations. Even in the broad Mekong, hostile action could be expected at any time, with quick reactions necessary.

PCF-59 moves up the Mekong under two flags
William Rogers image
 

A Swift returns fire at targets while "on the run"
Image courtesy of Brent Trathen

Consistent with the "lessons learned" operating out of Ha Tien and the Ca Mau Peninsula, the Swift patrols were now conducted in pairs for mutual support. And moving into the tributaries looking for suspected enemy activity became a normal part of every patrol

PCF-60 and its partner slowly investigate the river bank
 

PCF-102 ventures up a tributary to check things out
Images courtesy of Brent Trathen

As more experience was gained concerning operations in the upper reaches of the Mekong and the Bassac Rivers, the Swifts joined the PBRs and the Riverine Force in moving the interdiction patrols closer to the Cambodian border and of longer duration. This set the stage for operation out of the advanced base aboard YRBM-16 at Chau Doc, and the later incursion into Cambodia itself during Operation Tran Hung Dao XI  in May of 1970.

Artwork by R. G. Smith

Image courtesy Ronald S. Owensby


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