TME Looks Back: Vietnam – “Seabees in Combat”

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This week in TME Looks Back: Vietnam, we remember the heroism of sailors from Seabee Team 1104, who, while working on constructing an Army Special Forces camp 60-mi north of Saigon were attacked, along with 11 soldiers and 400 members of the Vietnamese Defense Force, by an estimated 1,500 to 2,000-men strong Viet Cong shortly before midnight. “Seabees in Combat, Vietnam,” was published in the November-December 1965 issue of The Military Engineer.

The article appears below in mobile-friendly format.

In the summer of 2016, SAME will publish a special issue of The Military Engineer commemorating the service and contributions of military engineers in the Vietnam War. As part of the run-up to the publication, over the next several months we will be featuring on Bricks & Clicks a special series entitled TME Looks Back: Vietnam featuring past articles, photos, advertisements, covers, and other material that first appeared in the magazine during the 1960s and early 1970s. [The TME editorial staff welcomes input as we develop the Vietnam Commemorative Issue. Contact TME Editor Stephen Karl at editor@same.org for more information or click here to contribute editorial content. Contact Stephanie Satterfield, SAME Marketing Sales Manager at ssatterfield@same.org for sponsorship/advertising inquiries.]

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Seabees in Combat, Vietnam

 

Seabee Team 1104 of Navy MCB-11


 

Seabee Teams (previously called Seabee Technical Assistance Teams) of the Pacific Naval Construction Forces have been deploying to Southeast Asia, since January 1963. Each team is composed of a junior officer of the Navy Civil Engineer Corps (officer in charge) and twelve members: three equipment operators, one utilities man, two construction mechanics, two builders, one steelworker, one construction electrician, one engineering aide, and one hospital corpsman, all selected from highly qualified personnel in the Pacific Mobile Construction Battalions (MCB’s).

Each Pacific MCB usually provides two Seabee Teams annually. After four months of special training at Port Hueneme, California, each team deploys to Southeast Asia for a period of six to eight months. The teams there have been employed in civic actionprojects for the United States Operations Mission (USOM) in Thailand and Vietnam, to train Thai and Vietnamese workers in construction skills and to build facilities for the United States Army Special Forces in Vietnam.

Seabee Team 1104 (Figure 1) in February 1965 relieved Seabee Team 1004 that had been constructing Special Forces camps in remote areas of Vietnam. By June 1, a camp had been completed by Team 1104 at Ben Soi, Vietnam. It included barracks, other troop facilities, ammunition bunkers, a defensive berm around the camp with machine-gun bunkers and fighting holes, a helicopter pad, and a water tower.

Early in June, the officer in charge and eight members of the team arrived at a new camp site at Dong Xoai, approximately 60 miles north of Saigon. On June 9, before the other members and equipment of the team reached Dong Xoai, the Viet Cong attacked.

The camp was occupied by eleven men of an Army Special Forces team, a Vietnamese defense force of approximately 400 men, and the nine Seabees. Shortly before midnight, with mortar and 57mm recoilless-rifle fire, a Viet Cong force, later estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 strong, opened a fierce battle. Some of the first mortar rounds struck the communications building, medical aid station, and the quarters where the Americans were sleeping, inflicting casualties in the first moments of the attack.

The defending forces rushed to their assigned alert positions on the earth berm surrounding the camp. The Americans were divided between defensive positions in the north and west sides of the camp.

 

Shortly before midnight, with mortar and 57mm recoilless-rifle fire, a Viet Cong force, later estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 strong, opened a fierce battle. 

 

About an hour later, as the intense Viet Cong attacks with mortars, rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, machine guns, and small-arms fire continued, friendly aircraft arrived to drop flares and were followed by armed helicopters which bombed and strafed the areas north and west of the camp. At this time, supported by the continuing barrage and small-arms fire, and using hand grenades and flame throwers, the Viet Cong assaulted and overran the west berm of the north area of the camp. Most of the defenders were scattered, made a hasty withdrawal to the east to take cover, and suffered many casualties. (See Figure 2.)

Shortly before the assault began on the north area, the Americans in the west end had withdrawn into a District Headquarters building from which they successfully held off the attacking Viet Cong throughout the night and following morning, although all of them were wounded. American and Vietnamese aircraft arrived over the camp at daybreak. Using a PRC-10 radio (their only undamaged communications equipment), the defenders in the building directed highly effective air strikes against the attacking Viet Cong.

Seabee Team 1104 of Navy MCB-11


 

Shortly after noon, with ammunition running low and the Viet Cong massing for an assault, the Americans withdrew from the Headquarters building to a nearby 105mm-howitzer pit for a final stand. Soon afterward, while aircraft pounded the surrounding area with machine-gun fire, bombs, rockets, and napalm, rescue helicopters came in through the Viet Cong fire and successfully evacuated the thirteen American survivors at about 2 p.m. on June 10.

The Viet Cong finally withdrew on the morning of June 11, and the remaining Americans, who had been overrun at the north end but managed to survive during the attack, were lifted out by rescue helicopters.

[Reprinted from TME / November-December 1965]