One Of The Most Important Forces In Vietnam — The Brown Water Navy

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This 12 minute long documentary will take you into the world of Navy patrol boats during the Vietnam war.

Many don’t know that the U.S. Navy had serious and very effective combat units fighting in Vietnam. You may know something about the role of the Seabees, or about Navy fighter pilots, or Navy Corpsmen fighting alongside their Marine Corps brothers, but there was another navy presence in Vietnam as well, the Patrol Boat Riverine (PBRs) and the “Swift Boat” (PCF) units who patrolled the rivers and the coastlines of Vietnam.

The PBRs were designed to patrol the rivers, mostly in the Mekong Delta area in the very south of Viet Nam, including around Saigon. These boats could travel at up to 25 knots in the rivers and were used to do reconnaissance patrols, to interdict the movement of ammunition and supplies by the Viet Cong in those areas.

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Swift Boat sailors keep the waterways of Vietnam clear.


While on patrol during the day, they would stop all small boat traffic to check for contraband, weapons, or other military related supplies. Most of the time they were stopping local farmers and fishermen who were simply about their normal commerce or work.

These stops would provide the sailors an opportunity to build relationships with the locals. But they were also patrolling the rivers during the nighttime. That was the preferred by the enemy to move their troops and supplies.

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Patrolling the rivers was a dangerous but necessary job.


It was infinitely more dangerous and nerve wracking to do those nighttime patrols.
But, on those occasions when the fecal matter hit the oscillating blade, these PBRs could direct a considerable amount of firepower on the enemy. They were armed with twin 50 cal. machine guns forward and a single 50 cal. machine gun aft, and of course, M-16s.

They carried 4 man, all-Navy crews, and they always operated in pairs, that is, two PBRs working together as both backup and to double their response capability.

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These patrols were commonly known as the “Brown Water Navy.”


These were not heavily armored boats, rather they relied on their speed and mobility, and the amount of firepower they could put out to suppress enemy fire. The worst case scenario, of course, would be an ambush carried out on them from the shorelines.

These PBR crews would also work in tandem with Navy helicopter gunships that were stationed on either Navy warships, or LSTs stationed nearby. These helicopters were known as “Sea Wolves.” When the PBRs came across enemy forces they could call for Sea Wolf support and it would be there quickly.

Source: YouTube/MAHARBAL5022
When fighting got intense, they’d call in the “Sea Wolves” for aerial support.

Along the coastlines of South Vietnam, the Navy deployed their new PCF Patrol Craft Fast (PCF), Swift Boats. These were designed for speed as well, but were also heavily armored with both twin and single 50 cal. machine guns, and an 81 mm mortar to support troops on shore. They, too, were used to interdict enemy supplies of weapons and information, but their main area of operation was along the coastlines, not in the rivers.

Both the PBRs and the Swift Boats were instrumental in curtailing and disrupting enemy troop movements and supply lines.

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The Veterans Site thanks all the U.S. Navy personnel who served on the PBRs or Swift Boats in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam. Because of your courage and skill in interdicting enemy supplies and personnel, you were deeply appreciated and respected by the grunts on the ground.
Welcome home, and thanks for your service!

Read more from veteran Dan Doyle: Click “Next” below!

Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.
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