Brown Water Navy in Vietnam

PTF (Fast Patrol Boat "Nasty" Class), PG (Ashville Class Patrol Gunboat), and PBR (River Patrol Boat) (Sketch by John Charles Roach, NHHC L-File)

2012 marks the beginning of commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration has launched a website ( which has information on the anniversary, and on the war itself. The website is a work in progress, and features an expansive interactive timeline of the war, featuring images and reference material. The Naval Historical Foundation will also be taking steps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. We are planning a major announcement soon on new Vietnam exhibit construction at the Cold War Gallery. We’re also planning to do a series of stories throughout the year on the Navy’s role in the war, and we want to begin the series with a number of stories on the “Brown Water Navy.”

Late last year, we heard from a number of our NHF Members about the History Channel’s 2011 documentary Vietnam in HD. These Members, veterans of the war, were concerned that the documentary did not provide adequate coverage of the Brown Water Navy. During the War, sailors of the U.S. Navy braved over 3,000 nautical miles of perilous rivers and canals threading the landscape of Vietnam. The River Patrol Force was established on 18 December 1965, and for the remaining years of the war, Navy patrol boats were a common sight on the waters of Vietnam. Their mission was broad and covered a number of contingencies. The infrastructure of Vietnam was devoid of superhighways and sophisticated rail systems, thus waterways served as a primary means of transportation. Control of the waterways was crucial. The primary mission of the River Patrol Force was to intercept and interdict Communist supplies being smuggled from the North. Additionally, they delivered and supported land forces (including Navy SEALs) and engaged North Vietnamese forces ashore with onboard weaponry.

The sailors who served in the Brown Water Navy endured unique forms of hardship and danger. Small craft such as PBR’s (River Patrol Boats, see sketch above) made their way deep into inland waterways, surrounded on both sides by impenetrable jungle. Gunfire could erupt from the dense forests along the shore at any time, often from cleverly concealed enemy positions just yards away. These lightly armored patrol boats  were built for speed, and offered little protection to their crews. Vietnamese sampans and small craft were intercepted on a daily basis and search for contraband materials – always a tense and potentially dangerous situation.

Sailors of the Brown Water Navy also battled the natural environment of Vietnam, enduring punishing heat and pounding monsoons. They contended with shallow, narrow waterways, whose constantly changing waters overflowed and flooded during the monsoon season. And of course, like all who serve, they spent many a lonely day, thinking about a home on the other side of the world.

To whet your appetite on the topic, we’d like to begin with this 30 minute documentary, “River Patrol.”  This  1967 U.S. Navy documentary gives a sense of the hardships endured by sailors of the Brown Water Navy. It follows  PBR’s and UH-1B Seawolf helicopters operating from USS Harnett County (LST 821) in the area of the Co Chien River.


We’re working closely with several of the veterans of the Brown Water Navy, and plan to highlight different aspects of their experiences throughout the year. Stay tuned for more stories in the months to come. In the meantime, please visit the Virtual Exhibit we’ve posted online at, entitled Vietnam War Afloat and Ashore.

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26 Responses to Brown Water Navy in Vietnam

  1. Robert J malinovsky says:

    In Jan/Feb 1964, SEAL Team One and UDT Team 13 were attached to MAACV (later it was MAC) they were part of “black ops Studies and Observation Group (original SOG). Two old, wooden, Captains Gigs were obtained from the USS Weiss, a barge that served as dock and housing for team one and certain MACVSOG members was fixed in the Saigon River. These two boats were fitted with hand mounted 50 cal machine guns and deployed throughout the Delta to insert/extract recon teams. self designated “River Assault Team One (RAT1) mostly referred to as “floating coffins”. I think if you are going to talk about the history of the Brown Water Navy….this piece needs to be mentioned some how. Black Ops was sensitive, few records or written history exists or is denied. My guess though is that if you were to search out the ship logs of the USS Weiss you may see log entries to validate this…I am interested in accurate reporting (where it is possible) so to me the BW Navy was born in 1964 not 1967…just sayin’……..I also do not want to be contacted about this further…check it out you’ll see

  2. i am thoroughly disgusted with your portrayal of your version of the brown water navy. there is no mention of the sailors who served on tango boats or the squadrons that they served in . for instance squadron 91,92,31,32,etc. i was a boat captain in t-132-4. we inserted and retracted army all over the delta. among other things my boat could accomplish was to land dust offs in the middle of firefights to dust off wounded. my boat was constantly in the canals patrolling and setting ambushes. myboat spent more time in the bush than , the grunts that we supported. i and my crew was in nam from april 15 69until april 15 70. i now know what it feels like to be a bastard step child unwanted and neglected

    • admin says:

      We’re truly sorry you feel that way. The aim was not to offend anyone, or to belittle the brave service of Vietnam veterans. Would you be interested in collaborating with us on a story to talk more about the experience of tango boat sailors? We have have access to Vietnam photography that could be used to accompany the story. Please do let us know if you might be interested, we welcome your input. We’ve collaborated with other Vietnam veterans on stories, and we’d be pleased to do so with you. And again, our apologies that the story upset you.

  3. Jake M. Wolfe says:

    Radarman 3rd Class USS Hunterdon County LST 838 CIC (September 1968 – August 1969). Worked closely with the River Divisions and Seawolf Units that were assigned in rotation to Hunterdon County primarily on the Bassac during this period, sometimes priviledged to work with the boats on patrol with the PRC-10 strapped on – Ti-Ti Canals only – of course – flashback=(Humdrum – Humdrum this is Cobra 5 – our patrol firing on hostiles XR 293 764 how copy over?) -yep -I was “that guy”. Thank you so much for the Video – I’m still shivering from goosebumps and flashbacks. 44 years ago – How quickly it passes!

  4. waylon walton says:

    my father served on tango 91 -13 from sept 67 through 68 . i never read anything about the tangos either . while i understand the glamour of other units and boats , the tangos were very important to the delta front . ps hope my pops doesnt see this because he doesnt care about recognition , he cares only about the fact that he did his job and just wishes friends he had were still alive and with their familys

  5. kenneth gamble em2 says:

    served aboard lst762 operation market time in support of ten wpb and game warden

  6. david sizemore says:

    was on yfbn 17 jan -june 1967 also at long exyen angian provence

  7. Jack Barwick says:

    I agree with Mr Siebern concerning the portrayal of the “Brown Water” navy in Vietnam. I served in River Division 112 and was in the Long An province engagement when Chief Bannister was killed as the B40 rocket hit the coxswains flat. The PBR guys are due all the credit they receive, however, they now wear the same Vietnam Craft Combat Crewman as we do. I guess we can continue to eat the crumbs that fall from the masters (Naval Historical Foundation) table.

  8. Bill Potter says:

    i was on r-1 on the grand canal up by Cambodia Dec. of 69 to Oct 70 riv ron 13 and 15
    i lost a lot of good friends on stab and alpha boats. yes we had pbr, tango, stabs and monitor,
    the brown water navy was not only pbr boats

    • Ron Stockbauer says:

      Wow 44 years ago today I left Travis…I served at first on a Alpha boat at Song Ong Doc…later on a Tango boat on the Grand Canal…
      ..spend some time(repairs) in Dong Tam. The last several months after our boat were turned over to the Vietnam navy, was in Binh Thuy…anyone get to spend some pre or post R&R time at the Hotel President in Saigon?

  9. Bill Potter says:

    see above info

    • Joseph P.Thomas says:

      Seeking any information on my uncle, Joseph E.Kuhn, USN He served in the brown river navy. He was there 1967,68,69. He passed away 9 years ago. I am not sure which unit he served in. Two tours were in the delta, and one up north. thank you if anyone remember him.

  10. Wade Knapp says:

    Please don’t forget the LCVP’s either. My father drove these from the USS Point Defiance, LSD 31 from ’67-’68 and spent considerable time up the rivers inserting and retrieving SEAL teams and Marines, as well as patrolling the rivers. Those guys drove antiquated un-armored boats with very small 3 man crews doing the same things as the faster boats, yet you never hear their story. He too seeks no recognition, but I’d like to see him and the other LCVP drivers get a little.

  11. Joe Criscione says:

    I liked the collection of information for Brownwater Navy but was disappointed in the coverage of LCU, YFU operations in I corp. There was also many LCM8’s and 6 boats that ran the Cua Viet River from Cua Viet to Dong Ha with supplies and mine sweeper operations in the mornings. Myself being on LCU 1499 was one of many boats making supply runs all over I corp. The LCU’s were largely responsible for most of the supplies brought up river in Hue, Dong Ha, Chu Lai and Sa Huynh. I had a movie camera on the 1499 and took movies of the river and boats. Also have many photos if you are interested. I know there is a lot to tell and much information to cover with such a subject but the boats of I corp were forgotten for their contribution to the war effort. Most attentions was given to the Delta. Thanks for the Brownwater article and what it was in Vietnam.

    • Larry Melvin says:

      I served on mike 8 boat for awhile running ammo&supplys up theCuaViet river and then went to mike6 boat,sweeping for mines.I was their 68&69.

  12. Lenton Tony Ganey says:

    I was in River Division 592 out of Nha Be in 68 and 69. Life was never going to be the same after that experience. I sure miss those guys I served with, I can still see the smile and grins on their faces, We would lay our C rations on the engine heat exchanger pipes to get a hot meal. We were just doing our duty by being there and hopefully we saved some American lives by our actions.

  13. Leah Wheeler says:

    My father Ronald Wheeler served as a gunners mate on the brown river. Was in the White Elephant Division. He served from 65 to 70. He was on a boat with Zumwalt III. I am looking for anyone that knew him during that time and possibly served with him. He was one of the boats that went up the river to bring back the downed pilots. Please contact me if you have any information. Thank you in advance for the help. My dad is not doing well health wise and he wants to reconnect with his old shipmates if I can find any that is.

  14. Lillian Simons says:

    Anyone serve onboard USS Bennington 1968-1970. If you remember a crew member by the name of Craig Simons. Please let me know. We are trying to prove he was on river patrol boat off coast of Vietnam. He is now suffering from PTSD, diabetes, lung cancer, cold, turrets, and sleep apnea. We are trying to get comp and benefits for him more than 10% for hearing loss. Please contact asap. Thank you,
    Lillian Simons

  15. Kenneth A Rhodes EN1 USN says:

    I was in Da Nang I corp 1969-1970 YFU 72 I believe we have all been forgotten for the support of the Army Marines there has been way two many years past over 44years and we should all stand up together . After15 yrs in the navy last year nt to ships reunion for the USS Hassayampa was nice seeing old frends

  16. jim remmey says:

    I served in 1/70 to 1/71 riversection 541 in the Mekong Delta,looking for shipmate, who served that time. thank you.

  17. LARRY PINK says:

    None of us really went to war for recognition, I know I didn’t,I wanted to serve and get my pink butt back asap. .No Heros for this old country boy…My pops did that in ww2 fighting in 13 major battles under Patton,

    What gets me is the hard time we as veterans are receiving in applying for agent orange disabilities, I have been told the ship I was on qualified but they cant prove I was on the ship??dd214 useless. Am I a veteran or Vietnam era veteran,. Do I Need boots on ground in Vietnam or not, Its so screwed up the blue water navy thinks they are brown and vice versa, Rules are changed daily to meet the situations and situations.

    All I got to say there is thousands who just gave up on something they earned not deserved,,,Everyone who was given a campaign medal should automatically get medical and dental work free, If nothing else, if nothing else.

    Do you all realize only 30 percent of v veterans are all that’s left alive…I n closing, how can everything in our upper respiratory system be associated with agent orange?/But everything below the waste doesn’t count, where in the hell does everything that had agent orange go, God forbid, have we lost all common sense in our country?
    I have had 7 major operations, died 3 times and being told I had the wrong cancer, COLON, Wrong peripheral neuropathy, and wrong tias and strokes,conjestive hear failure and don’t qualify, because of WHAT EVER THEY WANT TO SAY, It will be over soon, GOD BLESS AMERICA,,20 different diseases

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  19. Luis Arenas says:

    seems to be one forgotten unit that begun duty in the rivers in 1965. that was MINRON-11 Detachment alpha. Wooden boats with crew of 5, which mine swept the rivers with drag chains on the banks of rivers, subjected to all kinds of small arms and rocket fire, plus clay more mines. the unit consisted of one hundred sailors, all rates and one CO. By 1967 we had approx. 26% casualties. The unit was awarded the PUC, NUC, and MUC between 1966 and 1967. WOODEN BOATS, MEN OF IRON.

  20. Dave Pratt says:

    BWN->Dong Tam –> Song Ong Doc 70
    AO trying to confirm Boots-O-Gound WTF
    Looking into Payroll “MPC” records possibility
    BM3 Boats

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