Thursday, June 17, 2021

The terrible fate of PCF-19 (USN Swift Boat) via Naval History and Heritage Command.

Story here..I found it very it all if you have the time...
Samuel J. Cox, Director 
NHHC June 2018 

PCF-19 was one of four Swift boats lost in combat during the Vietnam War (seven more were lost to heavy seas or severe weather, some after being transferred to the South Vietnamese navy). PCF-4 was destroyed by a command-detonated mine in February 1966 (four killed, two wounded). PCF-41 was damaged by heavy shore fire and a mine in May 1966 and abandoned (one killed, others wounded) and later deemed unsalvageable. In April 1969, PCF-43 came under recoilless-rifle and rocket fire, and was beached and burned when a cargo of explosives detonated (four killed). However, what sank PCF-19 remained lost in the fog of war for many years, although the initial court of inquiry assessed that it was the result of friendly fire from U.S. Air Force aircraft. 

After President Johnson unilaterally called a halt to U.S. bombing north of the 19th parallel on 31 March 1968, U.S. Navy aircraft from carriers on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin and U.S. Air Force aircraft from bases in Thailand and South Vietnam continued to strike targets in North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the 17th and 19th parallels. The result was a lot of aircraft crowded into a relatively confined area, with what some senior commanders at the time assessed as inadequate command and control. 

The North Vietnamese responded to the partial bombing halt (and “good will” gesture) by pulling surface-to-air missile batteries from the heavily defended Hanoi and Haiphong areas and moving them into the confined space where U.S. aircraft were still conducting strikes, making the southern part of North Vietnam even more dangerous. Throughout the spring of 1968, U.S. Marine Corps and other observers reported hovering lights at night flying just north of the DMZ and even out over water between North Vietnam and Tiger Island (which was held by the North Vietnamese). In typical American black-humor fashion, these contacts were frequently referred to as “UFOs.” Although the lights were presumed to be helicopters, daylight reconnaissance missions could find no trace of helicopters in the vicinity of the DMZ or on or near Tiger Island, nor was there any other intelligence indicative of North Vietnamese helicopter operations in that area, not to mention the obvious question: Why would they have their lights on? 

Various theories, such as thermal ducting, were postulated to try to explain why hovering lights could plainly be seen, but no helicopters could be found. At the time, North Vietnam had Soviet-supplied MI-4 Hound helicopters that could be equipped with rockets and machine guns, but they were used almost exclusively for urgent resupply missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. Some sources erroneously call them Hind helicopters, but that Soviet attack helicopter was still in development at the time. (I could find no reports of North Vietnamese helicopter attacks, other than the PCF-19 incident, although I can’t say I exhausted every possible source.) PCF-19 was definitely hit by something shortly after midnight on the night of 15/16 June 1968, and it was sudden, catastrophic, and a surprise. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Point Dume reported seeing PCF-19 hit by two rockets from an unidentified source, and several hours later came under fire herself from an unidentified aircraft (the Wikipedia entry for Point Dume conflates this incident with the attack of the following night on HMAS Hobart (D-39) and USS Boston (CAG-1), as do other sources, and as did the court of inquiry.) Point Dume pulled two badly wounded survivors from PCF-19 from the water. The explosion and rapid sinking of of the Swift boat was also reported by the naval gunfire liaison officer at Alpha One, an observation post at the DMZ.

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