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Operation Giant Slingshot: A History (Part 3)

The month of April was spent fighting. The Viet Cong launched an aggressive program of broad-daylight ambushes against the Navy in an all out effort to drive the boats from the rivers.

The early part of the month was marked by daily, and on some days, multiple daily ambushes. One ambush killed the Vam Co Dong on the scene Commander, LCDR CARL J. PETERSON USN. LCDR PETERSON was on patrol south of Tra Cu when the ASPB he was riding and it's cover boat came under rocket and machine gun attack. The patrol had been ambushed and resumed patrol when they came under intensive fire (at XS 529945) at 021420H. LCDR PETERSON was killed instantly being hit by a B-40 rocket.

Now the duel was in full swing. Day and night ambushes from the VC and WBAs (Waterborne Ambushes) by the U.S. Navy were numerous and intensive. GSS took heavier casualties than ever before but fought back harder and steadier than ever, inflicting unbelievable casualties on the enemy. RivDiv 533, based at Tuyen Nhon, shifted to the WBA extensively and heretofore average contact increased significantly.

The WBA's ghost like qualities made the interdiction effort even more efficient. Viet Cong who had previously been able to approach a river bank at night and cross if a boat was seen or heard, were now unable to do so because of constant fear of the WBA. So even if the boats were not in the area, the slowing effect accomplished the desired results.

The VC continued to be extremely aggressive and proved so time and again. When the Viet Cong saw boats or saw them enter an ambush, they would attempt to sneak up on the boats for a grenade drop. All eyes and ears on all boats were searching the enemy out and often the VC were allowed to approach to point blank range in order to assume a kill. An example of the type of aggressive combat conducted is below quoted from a 194.9 summary report: Two PBRs of TU 194.9.5 (based at Ben Luc) on routine patrol observed ten personnel in the field, east bank, two miles N/W of Ben Luc. XS 575778, 121745H. Personnel evaded and patrol took them under fire and LHFT placed strike on contact area. Patrol then went into WBA and kept field under surveillance. Shortly after patrol was in position, a VC attempted to sneak up on units and was taken under fire. At 121950H another TU 194.9.5 patrol in WBA a mile east of contact site, XS 590772, detected a sampan with seven occupants crossing north to south and took in under fire. Two VC were KIA (prob) and sampan, AK-47 ammo and two sets of web gear were captured. Three hours later the first patrol observed five VC approaching ambush site and took them under fire. Seven VC were KIA (prob)on the beach.

In mid-April, a SEAL platoon was staged at Moc Hoa to give direct support to the Task Group Commander. They conducted numerous ops and gathered much intelligence.

Some units initiated "Boston Whaler Ops" in conjunction with the WBA. The low profile of the small runabout lets it be well hidden thus giving more of the advantage to the ambusher. The quieter engine also ensured more silent insertion at the ambush site. The ops weren't used extensively at the time as the boats were vulnerable to small arms fire and lightly armed.

The middle of April marked the beginning of Eagle Float Ops. This was a three day op similar to the Keel Haul op but oriented more toward land action. The boats would insert company sized elements or smaller at various random points in the area along the river and then act as a blocking force for the sweep which followed. The operations were efficient and well coordinated but results were disappointing.

On 27 April a Hoi Chanh rallied and informed the Army that he had been a member of a sapper team who was directed to attach a one ton mine to the bottom of the USS HARNETT COUNTY. He further stated that he thought the team had proceeded without him and had planted the mine, an EOD team immediately searched the hull for the mine, fortunately with no results.

On the morning of 18 April OV-10 air craft teamed up for the first time in GSS to support a 40 man PRU (Provincial Recon Unit) in contact with 50 VC on the Kinh Cung Canal. This successful link-up of support gave and continued to give Navy riverine assets tremendous fire power and outstanding support.  VA(L)-4-Det-B was established in late March to provide fixed wing support of Navy assets in the Rung Sat Special Zone, GIANT SLINGSHOT and lower Mekong River. Although not officially operational until 1 May, the Det very quickly began providing excellent support starting with the coordinated support mentioned above.

Constructed of the base at Ben Luc was started on 1 April and on 29 April CDR R. G. MURPHY, (who relieved LCDR PARKER as unofficial On-Scene Commander of the operation) relocated the YR-9 and CTG 194.9 headquarters from French Fort to the slip provided at Ben Luc. The Vam Co Dong on-scene commander's billet, then being filled by LCDR H. R. Cust, USN, was disestablished and he became the CTG 194.9 operation officer. On 1 May the USS HARNETT COUNTY departed GIANT SLINGSHOT to resume station on the Hamlong river as a "River LST", after a well deserved yard period in Japan.

HA(L)-3 Det-3 Seawolves on the morning patrol of 20 April diverted to vic XS 1495 to place an air strike on several sampans. After making a firing run the Seawolves apparently did not turn enough to remain on the correct side of Cambodian -Vietnamese border. At the same time one aircraft experienced oil pressure failure and crash landed vic XS 153985 at 201016H. The second aircraft caught fire upon crashing, killing three of the occupants. The fourth occupant and five members of the second aircraft were extracted by a U.S. Army slick. Three hours later the VC placed mortar fire on the down helo and destroyed it completely. Four USN were killed, two were wounded and two Army crewmen were wounded.

Just as April was a heavy month of fighting, May's action was relatively light. There were contacts, but their frequency was reduced to approximately three or four per day. The daily ambushes ceased and night contacts were friendly initiated.

The Navy participated in still another joint operation Caesar II. It was designed to throw a strong cordon around a heavily infiltrated VC area, remove and detain all civilians within the area, and then sweep the area continuously for eight days. VC remaining in the area would be starved into fighting or surrendering. The area in question was bounded on two sides by the Vam Co Dong River just north of Ben Luc. The local TU commander dedicated all of his boats to the cordon and set numerous night ambushes. The operations was a success and the body count of the VC reached upwards of 40 with numerous suspects detained for further questioning and processing. A most unfortunate note followed this successful operation by one week, when an Army patrol was ambushed in the same area where the operation had just been conducted. Two troopers were killed.

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