Sunday, May 29, 2011

From The Editor: Intra-Theater Coastal Shipping and the Alaska Barge and Transport Company, November - December 1965

As the U.S. military buildup progressed throughout late 1965, the requirement for intra-theater shallow-draft shipping increased sharply.  South Vietnam lacked adequate deep-draft ports, so military terminal service units had to unload cargo in the few ports available and then forward the cargo to up-country destinations.  The lack of secure roads and highways in South Vietnam necessitated transport by coastal shipping.

In August 1965, Clark was a member of a joint board consisting of personnel from MACV and the Military Sea Transport Service, Far East (MSTSFE).  The MACV-MSTSFE board studied the subject of intra-coastal shipping and established the requirement for MSTSFE to deploy twenty-two LSTs to South Vietnam no later than 15 October in order to relieve the shallow-draft shipping problem. [1]

However, MSTSFE never met this requirement.  By mid-December 1965,  only seven LSTs were available to MACV for coastal shipping.  The commander of MSTSFE explained that he used his entire fleet of twenty-five LSTs in support of MACV, but he refused to continuously use the LSTs to move cargo along the South Vietnamese coast because of other commitments including maintenance, shuttle runs to the Philippine Islands, tactical troop movement requirements, and return to Japan for crew home leave. [2]

Clark believed that even if all twenty-five LSTs were available, they would still be inadequate to handle the shipping requirements which by December had reached a 78,479 measurement-ton backlog at Saigon.  Nevertheless, Clark felt that any change in deployment of LSTs to South Vietnam should have been coordinated with MACV to insure maximum use of limited resources. [3]

After MACV raised the issue with Pacific Command, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, the CINCPAC, directed that maximum coordination be effected between MACV and MSTSFE and stated the need for a possible re-definition of Pacific Command priority criteria.  Additional LSTs from both Pacific theater and continental U.S. reserve fleet resources were expected to arrive in South Vietnam in early 1966. [4]

General William C. Westmoreland, the MACV commander, accepted Clark's recommendation that a commercial shipping firm, Alaska Barge and Transport (AB&T) be placed under contract to supply part of the much needed coastal shipping capability.  AB&T had experience in supplying material for U.S. Air Force Distant Early Warning (DEW) line sites, and the company's directors stated it had the capability to move cargo in South Vietnam within sixty days of the contract date.  Clark performed a cost analysis study that indicated using AB&T would be less than fifty percent of that applied to equivalent MSTS LST operations. [5]

By the end of November, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara approved the concept and directed MSTS to send a representative, Paul Niederman, to Saigon to work with Clark to negotiate a contract. [6]

By 8 December, Clark and Niederman prepared a contract acceptable to the Defense Department, MSTS, and MACV, and AB&T was scheduled to begin operations in South Vietnam in early 1966.  Clark estimated that AB&T could move about 7,000 tons of supplies per month along the South Vietnamese coast. [7]

[1] Message, COMUSMACV, 170438Z Dec 65.

[2] Ibid.; Message, COMSTSFE, 180551Z Dec 65.

[3] Message, COMUSMACV, 170438Z Dec 65; Message, COMSTS, 181750Z Dec 65.

[4] Message, CINCPAC, 041042Z Dec 65; Message, CINCPACFLT, 150437Z Dec 65; Message, CINCPAC, 181735Z Dec 65.

[5] Message, COMUSMACV, 160105Z Nov 65; Message, COMUSMACV, 230600Z Nov 65.

[6] Message, CINCPAC, 280050Z Nov 65.

[7]  Memorandum, MACV, 8 Dec 65, Subj:  Staff Conference Notes.

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