The port of Saigon and, to a lesser extent, the port of Cam Ranh Bay
were the only harbors in South Vietnam capable of docking deep-draft
oceangoing vessels before the force buildup in early 1965. There were
shallow-draft port facilities at Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, and Da Nang, and
there were numerous beaches along the coast over which cargo could be
landed from ships lying offshore. But in 1965 only one berth in the old
port of Saigon was permanently allotted to American forces, although from
two to ten were used at various times. In January 1966 three berths were
permanently assigned for United States military use in Saigon. Cam Ranh
Bay had at that time only one deep-draft pier in operation which was
insufficient for existing and projected cargo handling requirements.
From Washington a close watch was being kept on the operation of
Vietnamese ports throughout 1965 and 1966. Ninety percent of all military
supplies and equipment were destined to arrive in Vietnam by deep-draft
vessels, and millions of tons of foodstuffs and nation-building equipment
imported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the
Vietnamese government were at the same time competing for berth space at
the port of Saigon. Until an effective Pacific theater movement agency was
in operation to balance port reception capability with inbound shipping
and until limits were placed on out-of-country cargo shippers, a
tremendous backlog of vessels could be expected in Vietnamese waters or in
nearby port facilities. At one time over 100 deep-draft vessels were
awaiting discharge in Vietnamese waters or were in holding areas at
Okinawa in the Ryukyus or Subic Bay in the Philippines. Many ships loaded
with supplies had to wait several months for berthing and off-loading.
The Army lacked the shallow-draft shipping necessary to take advantage
of shallow port facilities, but this was offset somewhat by landing cargo
across undeveloped beaches; deep-draft vessels were unloaded into Army and
Navy landing craft and civilian barges. Although supplies could be landed
this way, it was not sufficiently
- Chapter V:
EARLY CONSTRUCTION at Cam Ranh Bay by the 497th Port Construction Company.
rapid and would certainly not work as supplies were increased. There
never really were enough lighters or barges.
The 1st Logistical Command Engineer Section was responsible for initial
construction planning for Army requirements in Vietnam, including the
development of port facilities. This small section began the initial
development of ports. Upon the arrival of the 18th Engineer Brigade and
with the organization of a USARV Engineer Section, this responsibility was
transferred to a new headquarters. Planning for the over-all development
of ports within Vietnam became the responsibility of the Assistant Chief
of Staff for Logistics, the MACV J-4.
Later in the summer of 1965, the USARV Engineer Section made studies of
required construction to refine the original plans. The only organized
Army port construction company, the 497th, arrived at Cam Ranh Bay late
that summer from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to assist in the port
construction program. The 497th helped develop requirements and plans for
both long- and short-range port
facilities throughout Vietnam, exclusive of the I Corps area, whose
development remained with the Navy.
The plan was to develop Saigon, Da Nang, and Cam Ranh Bay into major
logistical bases and Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Chu Lai, Phu Bai, and
Vung Tau into minor support bases. Because of the tactical and
geographical isolation of these ports, all supplies had to come by sea.
Port development involved more than the construction of additional piers.
Barge off loading facilities, ramps for landing craft, and petroleum
unloading facilities were all required.
To begin the port construction projects, a fleet of dredges was
assembled under the flag of the Navy's Officer In Charge of Construction.
The hydraulic dredge is without question the most useful piece of
equipment afloat for harbor and channel projects, reclamation and
landfill, and for providing the huge stockpiles of sand necessary for
other construction projects. In 1966 the dredge fleet included two
side-casting and three hopper dredges, the Davison and the Hyde from
the Army Corps of Engineers civil works fleet, and eighteen pipeline
cutterhead dredges. During the period November 1965 through May 1970,
hydraulic dredges excavated 64.8 million cubic meters of canal, entrance
channel, and river bottom material.
The scope of work, availability of funds, hydrographic surveys, soils
explorations, length of maintenance and overhaul periods, and desired
completion dates are as in the planning and executings of dredging
operations as in any other engineering project; but familiar problems were
compounded by a few others in Vietnam. For example, the monsoon season
interrupted earthwork on land reclamation projects; civilian crews
operating dredges had to be protected against enemy attack; safety
measures were imperative for dredging in areas where the marine bottom was
peppered with live explosives; and the extremely long supply line was
encumbered with faulty requisition transmission, frustrating concepts, and
an extreme shortage of needed replacement parts. Added to this was an
ever-changing tactical situation which would not respect previously
established readiness dates or work schedules.
Site acquisition was the first step in hydraulic fill operations.
Maintenance dredging projects usually encountered little opposition, since
both the military and civilians considered land reclamation beneficial.
However, when improved land was required for a project, time-consuming
negotiations followed. Requests for hydraulic fill projects had to be
forwarded by the military to the Interior Ministerial Real Estate
Committee, Ministry of Defense, Government of Vietnam. If approved, IMREC
directed the appro-
priate province chief to form a committee to evaluate real-estate costs
and to determine what homes, graves, facilities, or other improvements
would require relocation and to whom compensation would be paid. After the
site was acquired, actual work could begin. To illustrate how dredging
operations progressed in Vietnam, we can consider one project-at Dong Tam
in IV Corps.
Dong Tam, a marshy area lying along the My Tho River, eight kilometers
west of the town of My Tho and sixty-five kilometers southwest of Saigon,
was selected as the site for a joint Army-Navy military complex. To
develop the location into a base required excavating a rice paddy for
development into a turning basin and dredging an entrance channel into the
basin from the My Tho River. The over-all plan also called for dredging
sand from the river, creating a landfill of one square mile and providing
a stockpile for airfield, concrete, and road construction projects in the
surrounding area. The 16-inch pipeline cutterhead, Cho Gao, first of five
dredges assigned, started work on 4 August 1966. The basin and channel had
a higher priority than the sand stockpile and were completed in April
1967. The shortage of sand at Dong Tam persisted.
Dredging at Dong Tam was not without combat losses. First, the Jamaica
Bay, a 30-inch pipeline cutterhead dredge, was sunk by sappers on 9
January 1967. Two American crew members were drowned during the incident.
Subsequently, the dredge was salvaged, but while under tow off the port of
Vung Tau, she encountered heavy seas and sank. Attempts to raise her were
unsuccessful and the dredge now lies on the bottom of the South China Sea
off the coast of South Vietnam. Fortunately her sister dredge, the New
Jersey, was also in the country and available as a replacement.
The Thu Bon 1, a 12-inch pipeline cutterhead dredge, was sunk by
sappers on 28 July 1968 while working in the entrance channel. Following
salvage, a survey team estimated that repair costs would reach at least 75
percent of the purchase price; therefore, the decision was made to scrap
the dredge for parts. She was replaced by a similar 12-inch dredge, the Thu
Bon 11. Thirteen months later, on 22 September 1969, the U.S.
Navy-owned 27-inch pipeline cutterhead Sandpumper sucker up live
ordnance from the bottom of the My Tho River and sank following detonation
of the explosive. For a period of four months, attempts were made to raise
her but, as in the case of the Thu Bon I, a cost survey revealed
that salvage and repair were not economically feasible. A disposition
board recommended that the dredge be stricken from the register of U.S.
Navy vessels and turned over to military authorities for disposal. The
Sandpumper now rests in the My Tho River, posing no immediate threat
to navigation and awaiting her ultimate fate.
Finally, on 22 November 1969, sappers sank the 30-inch pipeline
cutterhead New Jersey. Harbor Clearance Unit One, a U.S. Navy team
from the Subic Bay Naval Base, raised her on 30 December. Taken to
Singapore in January 1970, she underwent overhaul and repairs in the
Keppel Yards. In May 1970 she was towed back to Vietnam, refitted with the
gear that had not been taken to Singapore, and put back in operation
performing maintenance dredging at Qui Nhon.
An outstanding contribution in expediting the port construction program
was made by using DeLong Floating Piers. These patented products of the
DeLong Corporation are sectional and can be fabricated outside of the
theater of operations in a variety of sizes and configurations, towed to a
site, and quickly emplaced. These piers made it possible to develop
additional deep-draft ports and berths at Qui Nhon, Vung Tau, Cam Ranh
Bay, Vung Ro, and Da Nang in record time.
The first DeLong pier with all its equipment and spare parts was towed
to Cam Ranh Bay from the east coast of the United
A DELONG PIER under construction at the Cam Ranh port facility.
States in a trip that took about two months. The men of the 497th Port
Construction Company, who were to place the pier, were inexperienced in
the construction of DeLongs and had to learn on the job. Advice and
technical assistance were provided by representatives of the manufacturer.
The first pier was essentially a 90x300-foot barge supported by eighteen
tubular steel caissons six feet in diameter and fifty feet long. The
additional caisson sections were joined end to end to provide the required
length. Collars attached to the pier caissons were driven into the harbor
bottom, and pneumatic jacks, which were a part of the collars, were then
used to jack the barge up on its legs to a usable height.
Before placing the pier, no test piles could be driven or test bores
taken because the equipment was lacking. Test bore data was available for
the adjacent pier, but the depth of refusal for the caissons could not be
accurately predicted. Because of a mud layer beneath the sand bottom of
the bay, three lengths of caisson 150 feet long were required at each
location. Although two sections could be joined before erection, the third
had to be welded on in place, a process that required twenty days. The
first DeLong pier, completed in mid-December 1965, doubled the capacity of
the Cam Ranh Bay port. This pier required forty-five days for construction
by sixteen men. Engineers estimated that a timber-pile pier would have
required at least six months' work by a construction platoon of forty men,
plus supporting equipment and operators, as well as a large number of hard
to get timber piles and construction timber. It was demonstrated that
significant savings in time and material could be had with the DeLong pier
compared to an equivalent timber-pile pier.
The two existing piers for deep-draft vessels still lacked in-transit
storage areas, so a sheet-pile bulkhead was constructed between the
causeways to each pier. The area behind the bulkhead was filled in using a
30-inch pipeline dredge and 96,000 cubic yards of material. The surface
was then stabilized to provide a large cargo-handling area. (Map 5)
Work started on the third general cargo pier at Cam Ranh Bay in May
1966. This was a two-barge DeLong pier ninety feet wide by six hundred
feet long. It was installed by the DeLong Corporation, which was under
contract to the Army to install all the additional DeLong piers used in
Vietnam, with engineer units providing connecting causeways, abutments,
roads, and hardstands.
In September 1965, large-scale landing ship, tank (LST), operations
began. LST's transported supplies from Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay, and Okinawa
to the shallow ports of Qui Nhon, Vung Tau,
CAM RANH BAY
and Nha Trang. Consequently, the first job for the port construction
company was to increase the traffic-handling capacity at these sites.
Sand on many Vietnamese beaches becomes almost impassable with heavy use
and severely limits the loads that can be transported across the beach.
Many methods of stabilizing sand were tried unsuccessfully, and wave
action over the beaches washed away most expedients. However, late in
1965, large coral beds were found offshore at Cam Ranh Bay; these deposits
were then blasted and excavated with draglines. The coral was crushed and
hauled to the landing sites. The foreshore area between high and low tide
marks was excavated to eighteen inches, and the crushed coral was placed
FIRST DELONG in use at Cam Ranh.
in layers and compacted with rollers, then the beach was graded to its
original alignment. This process gave satisfactory results that lasted for
several months with only minor repairs.
At Cam Ranh Bay the first expeditionary airfield was under construction
by Raymond, Morrison-Knudsen, and the first jet fighter aircraft were
scheduled to arrive on 1 November 1965. However, the fuel supply available
was inadequate, so in early October work started on a 400-foot timber fuel
jetty extending out to the five and a half fathom line. The floating
pile-driving equipment of the port construction company was used to
construct the jetty, and on 1 November fuel was being pumped from a tanker
to the Cam Ranh Bay Air Base ten miles away. But marine wood borers, which
are prevalent in Vietnamese waters, caused a goodly amount of damage to
the jetty's untreated timbers within a very short time. Treated timbers
were not available for bracing of either the POL jetty or the wharf; and
lateral and longitudinal bracing had to be replaced quite often.
With the addition of the third and fourth DeLong piers, and more than
3,000 linear feet of bulkhead, the port facility formed a major part of
the logistical area at Cam Ranh Bay, which became one of the largest in
the Republic of Vietnam.
Soon after arriving in Cam Ranh Bay, the 1st Platoon of the 497th
Engineer Company went to Qui Nhon where with elements of the 84th Engineer
Battalion a considerable effort was being made to increase the capacity of
port facilities. A "Navy cube" floating
pier, 42 feet wide by 192 feet long, was built and connected to the
shore with a 200-foot rock-filled causeway in February 1966. These cube
piers consisting of 5x7x7-foot cubes of steel fastened together with angle
irons and cables were used extensively in Vietnam. They could be towed for
short distances and emplaced where needed, requiring very little on-site
Inasmuch as Qui Nhon was a shallow-draft port, ramps for landing craft
were needed. However, no suitable land was available. The first step,
therefore, was the extension of the Qui Nhon Peninsula with approximately
45,000 cubic yards of fill to create a usable area measuring 620 feet by
360 feet. A sheet-pile cofferdam was built to exclude water from the work
site, and select fill was placed and faced with riprap, or a lose stone
foundation, on a slope of five to one. This extension to the peninsula
provided an excellent place for LCU's (landing craft, utility) and LCM's
(landing craft, mechanized) to unload and also increased the in-transit
storage area by more than 100 percent. (Map 6)
In February 1966 Qui Nhon was changed from a support area to a
logistical base, which required increased storage capacity. Ton-
nage requirements were calculated, and the design for the port was
developed. Phase I included eight barge unloading points, four deep-draft
berths provided by DeLong piers, and two permanent LST ramps. In June 1966
the 937th Engineer Group began building a four-lane port access road 1.5
miles across the bay to bypass the congested city of Qui Nhon. The subbase
of the access road was hydraulic fill. The approach channel, some two
miles in length, and the turning basin were dredged. A total of 4,000,000
cubic yards of material was moved. A submarine pipeline for the transfer
of petroleum from tankers to tank farms was installed. Two 4-inch lines
near the landing craft ramps and one 4-inch line on the seaward side of
Qui Nhon were also put in but were accessible only to small tankers. For
stabilizing the tankers while unloading, a system of anchorage and
breasting dolphins was rigged at the sea end of the pipelines.
With the increased movement of troops into the Saigon area, .the
deep-draft facilities there proved completely inadequate. However, a plan
was already under way to construct a new port on the Saigon River upstream
from the city. The location was chosen by Captain Maury Werth, U.S. Navy,
who was a special assistant to the MACV J-4. This site, called Newport,
was in a sparsely populated area adjacent to a main highway connecting
Saigon with the newly developing Long Binh area some twenty miles from
Saigon. This massive project financed by the Army was constructed by
To meet the immediate need for additional port facilities in the Saigon
area, the 18th Engineer Brigade built six cargo barge unloading points
near the Long Binh Depot. The ammunition unloading points were constructed
on the Dong Nai River at Cogido, and two piers were constructed for
The 536th Port Construction Detachment, consisting of a construction
platoon and construction support elements, operated in Vung Tau during the
spring of 1966. This detachment developed temporary LST facilities,
timber-pile piers, sheet-pile bulkheads, and DeLong pier abutments.
Improvements in the flow of cargo not only had a military impact but
also aided the Vietnamese people, since a steady flow of consumer goods
helped to combat the inflation which threatened to ruin the Vietnamese
economy. To a very great extent, the success in providing logistical
support to American forces in South Vietnam was a direct result of port
The capacity of permanent port facilities in South Vietnam increased
many times over, with the construction of new facilities at Newport,
Saigon, Vung Tau, Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon, Da
Nang, and other installations. Port development throughout the coastal
region of South Vietnam gave the republic permanent access to the sea,
thus promoting development of a stabilized economy and the emergence of
Vietnam as an Asian trading center. (Map 7)
As the building of improved ports and docking facilities continued, a
network of air bases was under construction which further
absorbed the engineers' attention. The differences in high-performance
aircraft used by the French and Vietnamese, as opposed to the American
military machine, forecasted the development of jet air bases in Vietnam
that would be an engineering undertaking of enormous magnitude.
When Navy Mobile Construction Battalion Ten landed with the Fourth
Marine Regimental Landing Team at Chu Lai to construct an all-weather
expeditionary airfield, it found the site covered with shifting wind-blown
dunes of quartzite sand. The use of pneumatic-tired equipment was severely
restricted, and the amount of earthwork required to level the site
presented a serious problem, since speed was essential.
At Chu Lai, Navy Mobile Construction Battalion Ten was able to provide a
continuously operational jet airfield while conducting extensive
experimental work for the future use of AM-2 aluminum matting (the
successor to World War II pierced steel planking) runway designs. The
original operational strip, 3,500 feet long, was laid on a laterite base
10 inches thick. Confined to a small beachhead area, the Seabees and
marines had little choice of material, and the available laterite proved
to be of a very poor quality. Although it was originally planned to use
plastic membrane seal between the laterite and the matting, the plastic
material was not available in time for the first section of runway. This
3,500-foot section, equipped with arresting gear, was laid without a seal
under it. It was started on 7 May 1965 and completed in twenty-one days.
By 3 July the Seabees and marines had constructed an entire 8,000foot
runway, an 8,000x36-foot taxiway, and an operational parking apron of
28,400 square yards. This airfield, however, eventually experienced base
failure, and the laterite was replaced with soil cement.
The second major aluminum mat airfield in Vietnam, constructed by
RMK-BRJ, was at the Air Force base at Cam Ranh Bay. A runway 10,000 feet
long by 102 feet wide was constructed on an all-sand subgrade. Because of
the experience at Chu Lai, particular attention was paid to the base under
the matting. Extensive soil stabilization work, beginning on 22 August
1965, included flooding the sand with sea water and rolling to stabilize
it so that the sand could support earthmoving and compaction equipment.
Following compaction and grading, the base was sealed with bituminous
material. Laying of matting began late in September, and the runway was
completed on 16 October. With completion of the runway, a parallel
taxiway, high-speed turnoffs, and 60,000 square yards of operational
apron, all in AM-2 plank, the scheduled operational date of 1 November was
Another AM-2 runway, identical in size to the one at Cam Ranh, was
constructed at Phan Rang. It was started in September 1965 by the 62d
Engineer Construction Battalion. Once again, the quality of the base was
first improved. At this field a graded fill material was placed beneath
the matting, and for the first time flexible plastic membrane was used as
a seal. The first aircraft landed on the runway on 20 February 1966. The
entire 10,000x102 foot runway was completed on 15 March, along with
sufficient taxiways and aprons to provide an operational jet airfield.
Later base failures, however, caused extensive reworking on the original
Believing that the Navy contractor would be unable to meet occupancy
dates for some of their projects in Vietnam, the Air Force in February
1966 requested authority from the Secretary of Defense to make a separate
contract with a U.S. firm for construction of an air base. Air Force
officers detailed the scope of work but did not identify the site at
meetings with potential contractors. The agreement they proposed to use
was a "turnkey" contract whereby the contractor assumed
responsibility for shipping and logistic requirements as well as for
design and construction.
General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharp both opposed the introduction of
another cost reimbursable construction contractor into Vietnam, arguing
first that the air base was unnecessary and second that the proposed
turnkey arrangement would bring one more construction organization into
the country to compete for port facilities, storage, transportation, and
other logistic support. The Secretary of the Navy supported General
Westmoreland by pointing out to the Secretary of Defense that any scheme
for increasing contract construction in Vietnam should take advantage of
the existing capability of RMK-BRJ. On 12 March 1966 General Westmoreland
reiterated his reasons for nonconcurrence with the Air Force proposal, and
the following day Admiral Sharp endorsed General Westmoreland's position.
On 21 April, after being directed to reconsider the situation by the
joint Chiefs, General Westmoreland concluded that an additional airfield
could be used. The preferred site was at Hue, but because this site was
unavailable he recommended to Admiral Sharp that work start at Tuy Hoa.
On 27 April the Joint Chiefs of Staff consented to agree on Tuy Hoa,
only if the Hue site was completely out of the question. They agreed to
help surmount State Department objections to the Hue project but, in the
interests of speed, urged that preliminary work be pushed at both
locations. Responding to this message on 6 May, General Westmoreland
mentioned Chu Lai as an acceptable alter-
native to Hue and concurred in proceeding with the Tuy Hoa site using
the turnkey concept, as well as with a parallel runway at Chu Lai using
the Navy's contractor.
On 7 May 1966 Admiral Sharp approved the Tuy Hoa proposal but imposed
certain conditions. The Air Force's turnkey contractor would be
responsible for building the complete Tuy Hoa complex -air base, port, and
breakwaters-as well as for relocating roads and trackage. He would
mobilize his own equipment, manpower, materials, and dredges, using only
such local resources as were surplus to other service requirements. He
would also be responsible for his own sea lift, unloading, beaching, and
barging. In late May the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave the project their
blessing, and on the 27th of that month the Deputy Secretary of Defense
authorized the Air Force to negotiate a turnkey contract for the Tuy Hoa
At Tuy Hoa, an 8-inch soil cement base was planned under the AM-2
aluminum mat. The airfield facilities included a 150x9,000foot runway, a
parallel taxiway 75 feet wide, and some 165,000 square yards of apron,
with lighting, markers, and barriers. A control tower, operations
buildings, and a communication facility were included. At first, a mobile
tower and portable navigational aids were to be used. Fuel was handled
through a 300,000-gallon "bladder system" until welded steel
tanks were ready.
In all, five major jet air bases were constructed in Vietnam to
supplement the three already in existence, and over 100 widely dispersed
fields were built for intratheater transport aircraft. The major air bases
afforded the necessary facilities for tactical aircraft and aircraft
arriving from outside Vietnam, while the smaller fields allowed dispersal
of logistics in support of forces operating in the field. The newly
developed aluminum matting and older steel planking allowed construction
at the most remote sites and permitted air delivery by heavier fixed-wing
By mid-1966 the plan was to have every point in South Vietnam within
twenty-five kilometers of an airfield. (See Map 8.) The few
existing outlying airfields had been constructed mainly by the French.
These strips were paved with a surface treatment from one half to one inch
thick and could not withstand the heavy volume of traffic required during
tactical operations. In some of these operations up to 100 tons of
supplies and 200 aircraft sorties were required daily.
The very nature of the war scattered small troop detachments to outlying
locations. These detachments were supplied by air, primarily by CV-2
Caribou aircraft which were capable of landing on 1,000-foot hastily
constructed airfields. Most of the early forward airfields were
constructed with expedient surfacing materials such as
TWO CARIBOUS debark troops on unimproved runway.
laterite and crushed rock, which later proved to be inadequate. These
surfaces had been used because a suitable matting was unavailable at the
time of construction. M8A1 matting later was used extensively for forward
airfields, although it required considerable maintenance when used by
heavily loaded aircraft.
Forward airfield construction was rough and crude. Yet, experience
indicated that the construction of each airfield should be preceded by as
detailed a reconnaissance as time and circumstances would permit. In
almost all instances the reconnaissance was made by helicopter. Landing
permitted cone penetrometer soil-bearing tests and clearing and grading
estimates. Time on the ground was usually limited to a few minutes because
of possible enemy attack. With the ground survey completed, aircraft
instruments were used to determine the runway azimuth and to estimate
Division operational plans and areas were often based on the
availability of an airstrip that could be used by supporting fixed wing aircraft and which was at or near the tactical operations area. Completion
time was critical. Consequently, the reconnaissance was extremely
important and accurate work estimates were essential.
Heliports varied in size from the brigade base camps of airmobile
divisions to the isolated rearming and refueling facilities scattered
about which have become common to the airmobile con-
cept. While little preparation was required for a one-time landing zone
in the forward areas, both the west and dry seasons in Vietnam posed
significant problems in construction and maintenance of areas with a high
density of helicopter traffic.
As with any piece of equipment, helicopter maintenance problems received
command interest only after the abrasive effect of heavy dust was
realized. Dust suppression was an obvious necessity for the safety of
pilots during takeoffs and landings, and the damage dust caused to turbine
blades was as effective as combat action, if not as dramatic, in downing
aircraft. The use of matting or planking was effective in providing dust
control, but unfortunately it was seldom feasible at hasty facilities
constructed for helicopter operations. Periodic ground spraying with
.diesel fuel provided a relatively easy means of dust surpression for
short periods of time, and usually some type of a trailer- or
truck-mounted distributor could be manufactured for continued use by the
using unit. Soil binders were effective for several weeks but were easily
disturbed by vehicular traffic on the pad and could not withstand the
monsoon season. The construction of a hardstand of asphaltic compounds or
concrete offered a permanent solution and was considerably more economical
in the long run than various types of portable matting.
The monsoon season also created many problems for heliports, which were
often located in flat low-lying areas characterized by poor drainage.
Considerable attention was required to ensure that all existing facilities
would be usable, even after the very heavy monsoon rains. Both erosion and
standing ,water had to be controlled or eliminated, and control of
vehicular traffic through the heliport had to be regulated. Vehicles
constituted a source of erosion and a safety hazard to approaching and
departing aircraft, yet they were normally essential for aircraft
maintenance and reprovisioning.
Much of the construction required to support aviation units was not
included in early planning. Each aircraft in Vietnam eventually required a
protective revetment. One of highest priorities in Vietnam , during 1968
was the construction of protective structures for tactical aircraft. Known
as the Hardened Shelter Program, the task of erecting these structures was
assigned to Air Force Prime BEEF teams (base emergency engineering
forces). The shelters eventually found most efficient in terms of unit
cost (for fighter aircraft) were 72 feet long, 48 feet wide, and 24 feet
high corrugated steel arch structures, which were covered with concrete
for protection against rocket and mortar fire.
In the development of protective structures, particularly for
helicopters, various designs were tested with the primary purpose of using
materials indigenous to or readily obtainable in Southeast
TACTICAL AIRFIELDS, RVN 1968
Asia and of utilizing the manpower, skills, and equipment usually
available to military field commanders. Vertical, sloping, and cantilever
revetment walls were evaluated for their ability to protect against
conventional weapons attacks. Construction procedures, requirements, and
costs were studied, and basic weapons effects data pertinent to future
protective structures were obtained.
Revetments did not provide complete protection for aircraft, but they
did stop or deflect fragments. Only a cocoon-type enclosure, which in
itself was able to resist both blast pressure and fragments, would
completely protect an aircraft; but the cost of these structures, as well
as the space occupied and the operational limitations imposed, made
cocoons impractical as a solution for rotary-wing aircraft. Since some
protection could be achieved with revetments alone, they were generally
used. Protection against blast pressure, which might cause detonation of
fuel and armament, had to be achieved by adequate spacing of aircraft.
Considerable efforts were made to determine the most effective revetment.
Earth-filled timber bins, cement-stabilized earth blocks, plain or
cement-stabilized sandbags, sulphur and fiberglass coated cement blocks,
soil-cement, and earth-filled fiberglass resin cylinders were the most
suitable materials for revetment construction. Corrugated asbestos
material with earth fill was effective against small arms fire; however,
this brittle material was easily damaged by heavy weapons fire. Steel
sheet piling without earth fill proved to be very ineffective in stopping
small arms fire and fragments, but it had other drawbacks.
Seldom did economy or available construction materials permit much
latitude in the selection of revetment types; the commander usually had to
base his decision on erection time, equipment requirements, and the degree
of protection desired. By the nature of their mission, aviation units have
to relocate frequently, and each move required additional revetment
construction. In Vietnam experience showed that approximately one-third of
the units relocated annually. This mobility necessitated the use of
prefabricated revetments which could easily be assembled, disassembled,
and moved with the redeploying aviation units.
Use of M8A1 or other types of matting was considered justified to
protect the enormously expensive aircraft, but investigation revealed that
adequate protection was available with lower cost materials-particularly
for rotary-wing aircraft. Corrugated sheet metal on 2 X 4 A-frames filled
with earth proved to be effective, easy to construct, and relatively
The use of precast concrete revetments was initiated in 1970. By this
time precast yards were already manufacturing bridge decking, and the
yards were easily converted to revetment fabrication.
Tests indicated these revetments were particularly effective and that
they offered the advantage of long life and portability. From late 1970
on, the precast concrete revetment was adopted for exclusive use.
With construction in .full swing, the size of bases continued to
increase. The U.S. Navy complex at Da Nang in I Corps supported a powerful
combined force. As of early 1968 more than two-thirds of the Navy's
strength in Vietnam, or 22,000 men, were in I Corps, and the majority of
them were in Da Nang. The Air Force had most of its 7,000 men in I Corps
also stationed there. The port supplied the logistic support for the 1st
and 3d Marine Divisions and several Marine support agencies. In all there
were 81,000 marines being supported from the Da Nang complex in early
1968. As Army units moved north into I Corps in support of U.S., Korean,
and Vietnamese forces, there would be seventy-three infantry battalions
operating in these five provinces. The major: facilities at Da Nang
1. The deepwater port.
2. The Naval Support Facility depot.
3. Jet airfields at Da Nang and Chu Lai.
4. A C-130 airfield at Hue.
5. Shallow LST ports at Chu Lai and Hue.
In late 1966 the Qui Nhon complex in II Corps supported combat
operations of 15,100 combat troops (including 6,300 ROK) and 25,000 combat
support troops (including 10,800 ROK) as well as service support elements
numbering 22,100. Combat figures included some 550 Navy personnel engaged
in coastal patrol and harbor defense. These men were part of the MARKET
TIME operations. Cantonments were arranged so that all functional elements
(combat, combat support and service) were grouped together. Major
logistical and support facilities included:
1. Deepwater port with four berths at Qui Nhon.
2. Depot at Qui Nhon.
3. Jet airfields at Phu Cat and Tuy Hoa.
4. Five C-130 capable airfields at Kontum, Pleiku, Che Reo, Qui Nhon,
and An Khe.
5. MARKET TIME facilities at Qui Nhon.
In late 1966 the Cam Ranh Bay complex in II Corps supported the
operations of 8,000 combat troops (including 2;400 ROK) and 11,100 combat
support troops (including 2,000 ROK), as well as 17,000 service support
troops on a direct basis, and in addition provided general support backup
for the entire theater. These
figures included 2,450 naval personnel supporting MARKET TIME, harbor
defense, and the Naval Air Facility. The major logistical and support
1. Deepwater port with ten berths at Cam Ranh.
2. Depot at Cam Ranh.
3. LST ports at Nha Trang, Phan Rang and Tuy Hoa.
4. Jet airfields at Cam Ranh Bay and Phan Rang.
5. Six other airstrips of which five were C-130 capable (Ninh Hoa: C-123
6. MARKET TIME facilities.
In late 1966 the Saigon complex for III and IV Corps Tactical Zones
supported 39,700 combat troops (1,400 allies) and 18,300 (5,200 allies)
combat support troops, as well as 42,800 service support troops.
Operations included MARKET TIME and GAME WARDEN. The major logistical and
support facilities included:
1. Deepwater ports at Saigon (including Newport).
2. Depot at Saigon.
3. LST ports at Vung Tau and Can Tho.
4. Jet airfields at Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa.
5. Eight other airstrips of which five were C-130 capable.
6. MARKET TIME and GAME WARDEN facilities.
With the location of each major port of entry established on the concept
of a series of logistical islands, each with easy access to the sea, the
construction of more extensive base complexes proceeded apace. With no
connecting roads and reliance on sea transportation for bulk supply, each
island was a self-supporting unit capable of sustaining combat units in
its immediate area of operations.
Until 1968 the I Corps Tactical Zone was under Navy and Marine Corps
jurisdiction for the most part, with only a small Army contingent on hand.
In the other three tactical zones in South Vietnam, the area support
commands in Saigon, Qui Nhon, and Cam Ranh Bay operated under Army
command, the Navy maintaining smaller facilities for the support of naval
combat and patrol operations but obtaining items of common supply from
Army stocks. After the spring of 1968 the Army moved in force into the I
Corps Tactical Zone, basing its support operations at the already
functioning base at Da Nang.
As the troop commitment to Vietnam increased, the numbers of individual
supply depots of the logistical island type multiplied; each of the area
commands became the hub of a network of smaller depots, and the demand for
construction at their lesser "subarea"
commands progressed accordingly. From a mail-order supply operation
supporting some 25,000 American troops in 1965, the system expanded into a
complicated and functioning, though sometimes less than efficient, machine
supporting over a half million troops in three years' time.
page created 15 December 2001
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