Riverine

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Review by Martin Koenigsberg

Just Finished my 55th Book Review of the Year!! https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4295166149 If you thought the Americans used a lot of charismatic Aircraft in the Vietnam War, you should see the ships and boats they used in country. In this 64 page iteration of the “Vietnam Studies Group” and “in Action” series from Squadron/signal Publications, Jim Mesko, a Veteran himself and a writer on American Military technology of the 20th Century, takes us on a tour of the “Brown Water Navy”, America’s riverine effort in the war. Task force TF 115 “Market Time” tried to interdict resources along the South China Sea coastline. Task force TF 116 “Game Warden” tried to interdict VC access to Rivers and canals in country in South Vietnam. Task Force TF 117, the Mobile Riverine Force attempted to wrest the Delta away from the Viet Cong and NVA more aggressively. All three featured a mixture of vessels- some using speed and firepower to fight, some using slower speed , armour, lack of draft, and of course firepower to join the struggle. Along the way, the Navy/Marine/CoastGuard/Army Cooperation was unusually strong- as was the bond with ARVN/NRVN personnel.

After Tet 1968- the programs were so robust that they opened river navigation all the way to Cambodia. Mesko tells the story from before the American period, giving us French IndoChina War river experience before taking us into the 1960s. He also gives us the end of the RVN- as waning resources forced a gradual withdrawal from the prior successes. Its so much more than just the “swift Boats” you may have heard of. Coast Guard cutters, Destroyers and Corvettes, about 20 different adaptations of WWII style Landing Craft for tanks and or infantry, Junks and Sampans, – they even experimented with PACVs, really cool hovercraft in their combat debut. The rivercraft were well supported with their own UH-1 Huey unit, their own OV-10 Bronco support flights and even some floatplanes in the early years. This was one of the main theaters for the Navy SEALS, who added a real edgy bite to the overall riverine capabilities of these forces. They even had their own version of “Puff The Magic Dragon”, not a AC-47, but a SP-2H Neptune gunship unit! All along Mesko gives you alot of pithy prose interspersed with just a tonne of great B/w pics of just about every craft mentioned, and then 10 pages of colour pics and great Colour scheme profiles of some equipment discussed by the great illustrator Don Greer. I found stuff I had not know before on just about every page. There are few adult themes beyond inter-service rivalry, so this is a fine book for a history or nautically oriented Junior Reader from about 10/11 years.

For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast- this is a treasure trove, especially as it covers both the IndoChina and Vietnam wars. French Catalinas, Grumman Gooses, Consolidated Privateers (I think their only combat use) are as interesting as their Naval Hellcats, Corsairs and Bearcats. For the Gamer the depth of information on each force cannot help but be useful if one were to use Peter Pig’s great Riverine boat models -or make your own, and game some scenarios outlined in the book. The Modeler gets alot of details and great ideas for dioramas and unique builds. But it is the Military Enthusiast, who may feel a dearth of good resources on this vital part of the war, who gets the most information. Before reading this book, all other sources I had read on this type of warfare were footnotes or chapters of books on other topics. Now that I have read this- I want to get more books and explore this theatre on its own even more closely. It’s certainly as worthy of study as the airwar in this struggle that gets so much more attention. A recommendation for sure.

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