In analyzing inland waterway traffic as an extension of present-day amphibious techniques, we must consider the possibility that U. S. Marine Corps could be employed in sections of the world that use inland waterways for transportation and communication. In planning for future deployments, these waterways should be regarded as likely avenues for supporting tactical and logistical plans and as a means to extend our mobility, rather than as obstacles which must be crossed.
Movement over inland waterways in support of tactical and logistical operations poses many problems. Riverine operations have now become a frequent subject of military discussions. Today, numerous documents and articles are appearing which show that we have re-discovered the “river road” and its potential use in support of military operations in areas of limited traffic-ability.
The extensive, navigable river and canal systems of South Vietnam provide useful routes into the interior areas that are used by the Viet Cong. These routes offer more flexibility than the limited road nets. French naval officers estimated that 90 per cent of the communications in Indochina are water-borne, e.g., the South China Sea, the rivers and their confluences, and the canals. Control of such waterways could materially influence the outcome of counter-guerrilla operations.
As a result of experiences gained by French (Dinassaut) flotillas in Indochina operations, the U.S. Navy has developed a class of specially modified landing craft for gunfire support in riverine operations. The introduction of river landing ships and monitors into the Mekong Delta late in 1967, by the U.S. Navy’s River Assault Flotilla 1, now paves the way to extend control over this vast and important food-producing area.
Granted these new craft – LCM(6) monitor, ATC (armored troop carrier), and CCB (command control boat) – add to the combat arsenal, let us not ignore the fact that the United States presently has in the active inventory a ready-made monitor, the tank and LCM(8). This is from the marriage of the medium tank with the LCM(8), combining the fire power of the tank with the shallow water capability, of the LCM. In areas of limited trafficability, the role of the tank has been relegated to that of a pillbox in rear areas. By combining the tank with the LCM(8), we add another versatile weapons system without additional cost.
Deployment of the tank-LCM(8) team in South Vietnam was intended to exploit the full potential of the medium tank. Fields, paddles, extensive canals, and interrelated tributaries along the coastal and Mekong Delta regions of South Vietnam severely hamper movement of wheeled and track-laying vehicles. The full combat potential of the 90-mm. tank gun cannot be used because of the limited load capacities of bridges and narrow tunnels. However, the extensive river and canal systems of South Vietnam are in varying degrees navigable by shallow draft ships and small craft. Lessons learned from successful employment of French naval Dinassaut flotillas, using tanks and other supporting arms in landing craft, can be properly applied to operations in the Delta areas of Vietnam.
A medium tank can fire its main armament from and LCM(8) while underway and obtain effective results. Firing a 90-mm. canister round as well as “beehive (antipersonnel),” H.E. (high explosive), and W.P. (white phosphorous) rounds, the tank is a valuable adjunct in riverine operations. The canister round, for example, is an effective antipersonnel weapon at a range up to 200 meters.
In addition, the tank-LCM(8) team can support riverine operations by:
- Providing effective flank security for tactical elements moving on land adjacent to waterways.
- Moving into areas where the terrain will permit land operations, debarking and rendering fire support for the task organization.
- Firing in special night situations, the tank’s Xenon infrared, white-light searchlight, plus the 90-mm. canister or beehive round gives a capability to reinforce and protect critical structures and bridges.
Substituting an M67A2 flamethrowing tank for the M48A3 90-mm. gun tank, as a portion of a balanced force, will provide a force with a capability with which to counter ambushes. The flamethrowing tank, with a maximum range of 250 meters, adds the desirable feature of controlled burning of potential ambush sites abutting routes used for tactical and logistical movement. The controlled burning technique also could be used effectively in populated as well as unpopulated areas.
The installation of a cyclone-type fencing skirt on the tank turret and on the sides of the LCM(8) down to the water line provides “stand-off” detonation protection against the explosive, penetration effect of shaped-charge rocket projectiles and gives the tank and craft greater protection.
Installation of the Claymore Antipersonnel Weapon, M18, on the sides of the LCM(8) reinforces the effectiveness of immediate, “first-round” reaction of the craft when ambushed in a restricted area.
With the tank-LCM(8) team concept, we are not just building a special-purpose craft suitable for a specific task, but rather we are exploting the potential of hardware that is operational at present. In areas of the world where there are extensive water ways and where travel ashore is marginal or nonexistent, we now increase the multiple capabilities of tanks by extending their mobility through the use of landing craft. There is no intent to replace the LCM(6) monitor of the U.S. Navy’s Mobile Riverine Force with the LCM(8)-tank team, but rather to expand the riverine capability and place the 90-mm. tank in areas that are uncommon to it and that are unsuitable for the normal employment of armor.