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Frequently Asked Questions & Their Answers

(Click on the questions to view the answers, or simply scroll down the page)
 

1. What is/was a swift boat?

2. Why were they called "SWIFT BOATS?"

3. Who was the manufacturer of the swift boats?

4. What was the makeup of the crew on a swift boat?

5. Was there any special training for service on a swift boat?

6. What was the normal tour of duty on a swift boat?

7. How many people served on swift boats?

8. Where were the swift boats stationed in Vietnam?

9. When did these bases open and when were they shut down?

10. How many people, stationed on swift boats, were killed during the Vietnam war?

11. Are there any swift boats still in service?

12. Are there any swift boats in the United States that can be viewed and/or visited?


1. What is/was a swift boat?

- A swift boat is a 50 foot 1.5 inch long, 13 foot 6.5 inch wide, 1/4 inch aluminum alloy boat built in the later half of the 1960s for use as a COIN (Counter Insurgency) patrol boat in South Vietnam's coastal waters.   It was powered by two General Motors 12V71"N" Detroit Marine Diesels driving two counter-rotating 28x27 inch/pitch screws.   Its primary armament consisted of twin .50-caliber Browning machine guns, mounted on a Mark 17/Mod 1 manually operated, twin-scarf-ring mount located on the boat centerline, in a guntub, mounted on top of the pilothouse and an 81mm Mark 2/Mod 0, trigger fired mortar with a .50-caliber, semi-automatic capable, Browning machine gun, fixed atop it,  all mounted on top a centerline fantail tripod.   It's max designed speed was 32 knots, turning radius of 75 yards at 20 knots, could stop in less than one boat length from 20 knots and carried 828 gallons of diesel or JP-5 in three fuel tanks.

2. Why were they called "SWIFT BOATS?"

- First off the proper US Naval term is PCF or "Patrol Craft Fast."   Now that's a bit clumsy when used to describe something whose primary means of defense was to be it's speed.   An online search of the words "SWIFT BOAT" yields that it is an acronym for "Shallow Water Inshore Fast Tactical."    However, the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, could not find any record of that meaning.

A more though search of the PCF's background yields a much better explanation of the origin of the nickname "SWIFT BOAT."   When PCF's 1 & 2 were delivered to the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, CA, newspaper articles refer to them as swift boats, meaning fast boats, and that this term was first applied to them before the US Navy took acceptance of those first two boats.   This points the way towards the term coming from Berwick, LA and Sewart Seacraft, the manufacturer.   The people at Sewart Seacraft actually used the term "Swift" not as a reference to speed, but it was the builder's design designation and it was only meant to apply to their Patrol Craft Fast product line.   But the nickname STUCK and became a very appropriate description of this class of patrol craft, the "SWIFT BOAT."

3. Who built the swift boats?

- Sewart Seacraft located in Berwick, Louisiana, built a total of one hundred seventy-one (171) Mark I, II and III swift boats for the United States Navy, the Philippine Navy, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil and Zaire.   The swift boat design was adapted from an all-metal crew boat, being used to support the off-shore oil drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

4. What was the makeup of the crew on a swift boat?

- The vast majority of swift boat crews consisted of a US Naval Officer, the boat commander, (usually an LTJG, but there were LT's and ENS's), a Quartermaster, Radarman, Gunners' Mate, Engineman and Boatswains' Mate.   These enlisted personnel ranged in paygrade from E3 (Seaman) to E6 (Petty Officer First Class).

Although this was the normal rating configuration of a swift boat crew, many of the early crews had an Radioman instead of a Radarman.   A few other ratings were also represented in the swift boat crews, they included: Firecontrolman, Hospital Corpsman, Machinery Repairman, Mineman, Signalman, Sonarman, Torpedoman and a single Yeoman.

5. Was there any special training for service on a swift boat?

- The answer to this is both no and yes all depending on when your service on swift boats started!   The early crews, beginning in late 1965, were sent to the US Naval Base in Subic Bay, Philippines after only a few short weeks of training in Coronado, CA, because they were needed to outfit the boats (get them ready for service) that were now starting to arrive by freighter from Sewart Seacraft.   Their real training was OJT on those boats that they would soon be delivering to the South Vietnam bases in but a matter of only a few short weeks.

Otherwise, the enlisted personnel were all extensively cross-trained in the other ratings so that an injured persons job could be done by another crewman.   The officer and either the quartermaster or radarman were also given intensive Vietnamese language training at a Defense Language School.   Then there was the S.E.R.E. (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training in the California mountains or the Whidbey Island, WA wilderness.    There was also survival swimming and rescue training in the COLD base swimming pool.   All types of firearm training ranging from .38 &.45 caliber hand guns, M14 & M16 rifles, .50 caliber machine gun, grenade and 81mm mortar live fire exercises and weeks spent on the training boats learning their idiosyncrasies.   This training took anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks to accomplish, the length of the school increased as actual combat experiences demanded that additional items be added to the curriculum as time and service went on.

6. What was the normal tour of duty on a swift boat?

- The normal tour of duty for a swift boat crewman was one year, in country, however numerous people volunteered for a second tour and a few even served three tours.   Also of note was the fact that the vast majority of these swift boat crewman volunteered for this duty.

7. How many people served on swift boats?

- The best guess is that approximately 600 officers and 3,000 enlisted rode the boats, there are no personnel listings that were keep by Coastal Squadron One to back this up as an actual number.   This number was derived by using a formula of: 6 people on a boat (times) 1.5 crews per boat (times) 84 boats normally operational each day (times) 5 years.

Now that gives you a number that is slightly higher than 3,600, because people constantly came and went short of a year, and some stayed for 2 or 3 tours and the number of boats operational on any given day was rarely 84.   In fact for the first year the number of boats in Vietnam service hardly ever made it as high as 84 and in later years the average often exceeded 90.  But in the second half of 1969 we started to turn boats over to the Vietnamese Ö so this actual number is a rubber one.   No one really knows for sure, and I doubt ever will.   I donít want to be the one who has to check every sailor who served between mid 1965 and 1975.   Thatís millions of records to search just to find those 3,600 or so who actually DID serve.   At this point in time, this website lists slightly over 2,700 unique names of people who DID serve on swift boats and in Vietnamese service.

8. Where were the swift boats stationed in Vietnam?

- First, you need to know something about how the country of South Vietnam was divided for military administration; there were four Tactical Zones, I Corps, II Corps, III Corps & IV Corps.
        * I Corps was the northern most area starting at the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) and proceeding south through the five northern most provinces.
                The main base in I Corps was located at Naval Support Activity, Camp Tien Sha, in DaNang.
                The base in DaNang supported detachments in Cua Viet, Hue and Chu Lai.
        * II Corps had the the longest coastline of the four corps and encompassed the next five coastal provinces continuing to the south.
                II Corps had two bases located in it, one at Naval Support Activity Qui Nhon and the other at Naval Support Activity Cam Ranh Bay.
                The Cam Ranh Bay base also supported detachments at Cua Viet and Chu Lai before their turnover to the base at DaNang.

        * III Corps was the smallest of the four corps with only the next three coastal provinces in its boundaries.
                III Corps' main base was located at Naval Support Activity Cat Lo.
                The Cat Lo base supported detachments at Sea Float and Sa Dec.

        * IV Corps was the southern most, running from the Saigon River on the north, around the southern tip of South Vietnam to the Cambodian border in the Gulf of Thailand.
                IV Corps' main base was on the island of Phu Quoc and was called An Thoi.
                The An Thoi base supported detachments at Sea Float, Solid Anchor and Nam Can.

9. When did these bases open and when were they shut down?

- Lets start at the beginning.
        * Task Force 115, Operation Market Time, was stood up by CDR Arthur Peter Ismay on 30 July 1965. This was all US Navy assets involved in Vietnamese coastal patrol.
        * BoatRon1 (Boat Squadron One), was commissioned at the US Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, CA by
CDR Arthur Peter Ismay on 1 October 1965. This was the US Navy Patrol Craft Fast or Swift Boats group.
                PCF Div 101 (PCF Division 101) on 30 October 1965 initially deployed to Phu Quoc Island and living in the American Sector of the An Thoi Tent Camp. PCFs #3 & 4 arrive and immediately commence patrolling.
                PCF Div 102, staff arrives in DaNang on 16 January 1966, division is established on 23 January 1966 with the arrival of PCFs #13 thru 18.
                PCF Div 103 is established in Cat Lo on 11 February 1966, patrols commenced on 23 February with the arrival of the first four PFCs #23 thru 26.
                PCF Div 104 was established at Cam Ranh Bay on 11 April 1966, patrols started in late April with the arrival of 13 PCFs.
                PCF Div 105 established at Qui Nhon on 2 May 1966, the first four PCFs  #57 thru 59 and 61 arrived on 16 May 1966, they started patrols on 18 May 1966.

        * BoatRon1 name changed to CosRon1 (Coastal Squadron One) on 1 November 1966.
                PCF Div 101 was renamed Coastal Division 11
               
PCF Div 102 was renamed Coastal Division 12
                PCF Div 103 was renamed Coastal Division 13
                PCF Div 104 was renamed Coastal Division 14
                PCF Div 105 was renamed Coastal Division 15
                Coastal Division 16 was established in Chu Lai on 16 June 1967 and disestablished on 1 November 1967 as it again became a detachment of Coastal Division 12.
        * The divisions were disestablished as their assets were turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVN).
                Coastal Division 11 was disestablished on 1 October 1970.
                Coastal Division 12 was disestablished on 28 February 1970.
                Coastal Division 13 was disestablished on 1 December 1970, this was the last of the bases to close with the turnover of the final fourteen American Swift Boats.
                Coastal Division 14 was disestablished on 1 April 1970.
                Coastal Division 15 was disestablished on 5 November 1969 and was the first of the American bases to close.
 

10. How many people, stationed on swift boats, were killed during the Vietnam war?

- Fifty One, the first being SN David Joseph Boyle, BM2 Thomas Edward Hill, EN2 Joaquin Charles Rodriquez and BM2 Dayton Luther Rudisill who died on 14 February 1966, all were members of the crew of PCF 4, which was sunk by a remote controlled mine.   The last was QM1 Joseph Peter Jurgella who died on 25 October 1970 and was a member of the crew of PCF 59.

11. Are there any swift boats still in service?

- Yes, quite a few in fact!   The countries of the Philippines and Thailand are all still using various versions of the venerable swift boat in their navies or coast guards.

Malta had two Mark II swift boats in their Maritime Squadron, numbers P23 & P24.    The P23 was the former PCF 813 used as a training boat by the US Navy; the P24 was the former PCF 816 also a US Navy training boat.   P23 is now part of a monument honoring those that served in Malta's Maritime Squadron and P24 has been returned to the United States to become a piece of the San Diego, CA Maritime Museum's collection and is again known as PCF 816.

The Philippines has four Mark I and eight Mark II swift boats in its coast guard.

Thailand has two Mark II and two Mark III swift boats in its coastal forces.

12. Are there any swift boats in the United States that can be viewed and/or visited?

- Indeed there are!   Four in fact, three Mark I; one in Washington, DC, one in Norfolk, VA and one in Coronado, CA; the Mark II will soon become a piece of the San Diego, CA Maritime Museum's collection.

PCF 1 is part of a memorial display at the Washington Navy Yard, in Washington, DC.

PCF 2 is now named the RV Matthew F. Maury and is still in active service as a oceanographic research boat at Tide Water College in Norfolk, VA.

PCF 104 is on display as part of the Vietnam Unit Memorial Monument located on the US Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, CA.   PCF 104 is maintained by ex-swiftees and is available for tours by contacting the Swift Boat Sailors Association personnel listed on the website at:     http://www.vummf.org/visit_memorial.aspx

 

Do you have additional general informational questions?
If so drop me a note at:
larrywaz@swiftboats.net

I will try and answer it, as well as add both the question and answer to this site.