During the Vietnam War, almost half of Viet Cong insurgents lived and worked in the Mekong Delta, the southernmost part of Vietnam crisscrossed by 3,000 miles of canals and streams. The waterways act as river roads and support thick, often impenetrable vegetation perfect for concealing guerrilla operations.
In 1967, in an effort to take on the Viet Cong and reclaim the swampy Delta for friendly forces, the US created the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), the first major joint Army-Navy operation in history.
The collaboration proved a remarkable success, bringing 5,000 soldiers of the 9th Infantry Division together with sailors of the Navy’s Riverine Assault Force to pursue and engage the enemy in some of the most remote and rugged areas of Vietnam. A strange array of boats and ships, along with armor, trucks, and helicopters, made up the force. Most famous was the new “Patrol Boat, River”–PBR–studded with.50-caliber and M-60 machine guns that could maneuvers quickly in the narrowest and shallowest waterways.
There were other unique assault and transport vessels, such as the amphibious Armored Troop Carriers (ATCs), while more heavily armored “monitors” ddi battle from the water. There were boats equipped with helicopter landing pads. Boats used as floating barracks and hospitals. Boats for repair and resupply.
These boats, and those who manned them and disembarked them, helped save the Delta from the Tet Offensive of 1968. The MRF is considered one of the more successful innovations of the US effort in Vietnam.
Join us for a conversation with Mobile Riverine Force veterans from Army and Navy, including Lt. Gen. Gus Pagonis (Ret.), who commanded the 1097th Transportation Company in 1967-1968. The 1097th was a completely waterborne unit, operating out of 20 Landing Craft, Mediums (LCMs).
Pagonis figured out how to mount 105mm Howitzers mounted on the boats. They also mounted platforms for helicopters and mortars. As one site dedicated to the company’s memory states:
“By the end of the tour the 1097th modifications created living quarters, fire direction centers, command posts, landing pads for medevacs, ammo depots, and maintenance facilities all completely waterborne. What made the unit so successful in Vietnam also brought great credit to the unit. Captain Pagonis was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device and the Legion of Merit for his actions as company commander. Other awards included four Bronze Stars for valor, and 24 Army Commendation Medals with “V” device. During this era over 100 heroism awards and six unit medals were presented to the company.”