Tuesday, January 25, 2011

From the Pages - U.S. Navy SEALs

The U.S. Navy SEALs were officially born on January 1, 1962, with President Kennedy doing the honors, commissioning Teams One and Two, assigned to the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Both teams would see extensive service during the Vietnam War.

In the following excerpt from U.S. Navy SEALs, Captain Bob Gormly describes SEAL Team Two's insertion into the Mekong Delta in 1967, a mission that would be anything but routine and would help set the tone for future special operations combat missions during the war.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Captain Bob Gormly has commanded SEAL Teams Two and Six, UDT-12, and NSW Group Two during a long career in NSW, just concluded. As a young lieutenant he went to Vietnam with SEAL Team Two’s first deployment to the combat zone in 1967. SEAL Team Two was sent to the Mekong Delta, a hotbed of enemy activity, in the first use of the SEALs in that part of the country—though Team One had been working for some time up to the north, around Saigon.

“Our operations at first were kind of ‘touch and feel,’” he says. “We were always searching for a strategy that we fitted into—and we never found it—but we had a lot of fun. Us young lieutenants had tremendous freedom about how we wanted to run an operation. We couldn’t be told by anybody to run an operation that we didn’t want to do.”

Back then the entire delta was considered “Indian” country—hostile territory. The only real U.S. presence was the Navy River Patrol Force (CTF-116), which used PBRs to patrol the major rivers for about a year, getting shot at regularly. The VC had pretty much free run of the rest of the area.

The problem for the newly established SEALs from Team Two was first to find out what was going on. That required an intelligence information program, something that began immediately with requests for overflights, interrogations of prisoners, radio intercepts, and similar information-gathering techniques.

Gormly developed his own little plan for how he wanted to operate. First, the SEALs wouldn’t go where other friendly forces could operate—there probably wouldn’t be anything there, and it made coordination with friendly forces more efficient.

After considering the available intelligence information—the intel, as it’s called—Gormly would call for a navy Seawolf helicopter and go for a ride. He flew over the area he was interested in to get a sense of the lay of the land, looking for signs of enemy activity. Although there were no U.S. forces in the area, other than CTF-116, there were a few trustworthy American officers in the delta who could help keep the chaos and confusion to a minimum.

“Then I’d land at the subsector headquarters to meet with the senior U.S. advisor, usually a U.S. Army captain or major, who would be working with the local Vietnamese provincial and subsector commanders. I’d walk in and tell him, ‘Hi, I’m Bob Gormly. I’ve got a SEAL team, and we want to operate in your subsector—and I don’t want anybody else to know about it but you.’ To a man, they all agreed to that condition. Then I’d tell them, ‘I’m going to be out there sometime in the next three or four days. I’m not going to tell you when. Just, please, don’t put H&I [harassment and interdiction artillery fire] in there.’

“Then I’d go back to base, get the platoon together, start running whatever intel we had on the place, setting up to go. We usually went the next night.

“Just before we launched, within six hours, I sent a UNODIR [unless otherwise directed] message . . . a flash message that went to all higher headquarters that began ‘Unless Otherwise Directed,’ and indicated where we were going. Never once was I told not to go. Then we’d hop in the boat and head down river.

“We traveled very light, only small arms, plus an M60 machine gun and an M79 grenade launcher. The briefing was simple; I made sure everybody had the equipment they were assigned, then I told them where we were going, when, and what we were going to do. ‘Any questions? No? Let’s go!’

“We jumped in the boat, a twenty-two-foot trimaran and took off. The boat was a seventy-five-mile-per-hour boat that we made into a twenty-five-mile-per-hour boat by adding a lot of weight in the form of ceramic armor, weapons, and a lot of people.”

The SOP for ambushes involved cruising down one of the main rivers or canals into the general area of the objective, inserting several kilometers (“klicks,” in the trade), and walking in to the ambush site along another canal. A typical mission involved a boat trip of fifty kilometers or so up the lazy river, as fast as possible for most of the trip, then as quietly and innocently as possible for the last few klicks. Navigation in the confused maze of canals was a tremendous problem, generally one the skipper of the boat was responsible for. If he was good you arrived where you planned to go—if not, you could have a real problem.

The most dangerous and vulnerable concern was the problem of getting off the boat and into the local woodwork without being noticed. Nearly all insertions were done in the middle of the night. Rather than run the boat up into the weeds and debark the patrol in obvious fashion, the insertion was usually conducted in a more sneaky way. While the boat motored along in normal fashion, the team members merely stepped off the stern in patrol order, swam ashore, and slithered up on the bank. They all waited silently for ten minutes or so, listening for any movement that might indicate they’d been compromised and that enemy forces were moving in to investigate. If that happened, the boat could be recalled for an emergency extraction. Otherwise the mission proceeded according to SOP and to plan.

In the delta, the patrol moved out into the rice paddies, staying off the dikes and away from the treelines where enemy soldiers were most likely to be. Movement was extremely slow and careful, the SEALs moving quietly toward the intended ambush site, normally a canal bank, usually several klicks from the insertion point.

“Although we were in a free-fire zone where everything that moved at night was considered enemy,” Gormly says, “we were more selective. Unless I actually saw weapons on the boats we would call the boat over to the bank and search it. If they were ‘clean’ I’d just take the sampan down the canal a ways and hold them there while we waited for somebody else to come along. One night we had to wait for four sampans before one came along that belonged to the bad guys.”

SOP for that kind of contact was for the patrol leader to initiate the ambush, typically at quite short range where the M60, the M16s on full-auto, and the M79 grenade launcher’s focused fire shredded the wooden vessel and its crew. The team would wait for the leader to fire, sometimes with full-tracers, the signal to “hose down” the enemy vessel. “Seven guys carry a lot of firepower,” Gormly recalls. “If it was a good hit and there were a lot of weapons aboard we might stick around to see what happened—maybe somebody would come over to investigate. Then we could ambush them too!”

After the patrol leader was satisfied with the evening’s mayhem, the order to move was given. The detained boats were released, much to the relief of the fishermen aboard, and the SEALs would move off toward the extraction point. The pickup boat was already somewhere in the vicinity for the scheduled recovery of the team, waiting for a radio call. The team was recovered and headed back to base for debriefing and chow. In a couple of days it would be time for another briefing and another mission.

This pattern was used for the vast majority of SEAL missions of all types, including recons and prisoner snatches, with slight variations. Recons involved insertion around two or three in the morning, then patrolling into a predetermined overwatch location, setting up a “hide,” and staying very still all day. Air or artillery fire could be called in on targets of opportunity. Finally, late at night, the SEALs patroled back out to be extracted.

While this was a pretty efficient way of running operations, it was hardly without risk. Gormly was asked to send a team onto Cu Lao Tan Dinh, an island in the delta where enemy gunners routinely shot up passing patrol boats from fortified bunker complexes. With several patrol boats standing by for fire support, the team inserted at first light on 7 June 1967, loaded with hundreds of pounds of C4 explosive, blasting caps, detonation cord, and fuse.

Once ashore, Gormly’s motley crew “sneaked and peeked” finding lots of bunkers in the process but not encountering any of the loyal opposing team. With the patrol boat supplying the demo materials, the team methodically blew up every bunker in sight. They did this for about four hours, moving steadily down the river from bunker site to bunker site. As they left what turned out to be the last bunker complex, Gormly noticed signs of human activity—bent grass where someone had stepped within the previous few minutes, leaving a trail away from the river. The patrol crawled thirty or forty meters forward, following the tracks, until Gormly (now on point) saw an enemy soldier, complete with helmet and weapon, in the weeds ahead. “I stood up and hosed him down. Then I got shot—and all hell broke loose! We had walked down the side of an L-shaped ambush—lucky us! We had a big firefight, then made our way back to the river where we directed fire on the VC until we could get a boat in to extract us. The helo gunships and the boats stayed there for about eight more hours, shooting it out with the VC. I got shot through the wrist. The guy that shot me was no more than five feet behind me. We had a Vietnamese SEAL with us, and he hosed that guy down. I was real lucky—he shot me over my right shoulder. At first I didn’t even know I was shot. I thought my rifle had jammed and blown up—then I noticed the gaping hole in my wrist and realized I’d been shot. That was kind of a stupid op, but it was fun for a while!” It also turned out to be worth a Silver Star for Gormly after his SEALs wrote him up for the award.

No comments:

Post a Comment