Wargaming with the US Brown Water Navy - Riverine Operations

US Riverine Operations - Page Title





Mobile Riverine Force Patch InsigniaThe Mekong Delta, covering fully one third of South Vietnam, is an extensive area of low-lying marsh and swamp land, crisscrossed by myriad rivers, tributaries and canals. Due to constant flooding there was practically no road infrastructure so the primary mode of transport and communication between the isolated hamlets and the larger population centers was by water. The Delta formed the IV Corps Tactical Zone.

The Viet Cong used the waterways of the Delta extensively for the movement of troops and materials and as a primary communications route. They were, as a result of the population density of the Delta, also politically very active. It became clear quite early in the conflict (as it had done for the French in their war with the Viet Minh) that control of the waterways of the Delta was of major importance strategically. 

In September of 1966 the US Navy established it’s River Patrol Force, codenamed ‘Game Warden’, and designated it Task Force 116 which became operational on 11th February 1966.

Task Force 116’s mission was to police the waterways by conducting river patrols and inshore surveillance in order to enforce the curfew, interdict and disrupt Viet Cong infiltration and to maintain Government control over the region..

PBR - Patrol Boat RiverThe original organisation of TF 116 consisted of 120 boats which were organised into 4 Divisions, each of 3 Sections. Each Section consisted of 10 boats. The boat used was the PBR Mk I (Patrol Boat River).

Patrols generally consisted of 2 boats operating within radar range of each other and working a patrol zone some 50km in length. The boats would move in loose column and at varying speeds. Their routes and timing were randomly determined. The patrol would interdict traffic in an effort to stop Vietcong activity on the waterways. Patrols had a duration of approximately 12-14 hours.

Daylight patrols consisted of only 2 boats. At night the patrolling effort was intensified with 6 boats on patrol from each section of each division to combat the increased Viet Cong activity which took place at night.


The success of the river patrols could be measured in several ways. Initially the local water users were irritated by the US presence, but as the patrols began to cut down on the activity of the local Viet Cong the local populace became increasingly positive towards the TF and it's operations. Also, as mentioned, Viet Cong infiltration was considerably disrupted and their political control challenged. To counter this the VC began to increase their own activities in order to re-establish their control and dominance in the Delta.

PBR cutting the water at speed!The US responded by adding a further 80 boats to operation Game Warden. These were PBR Mark II's, an improved version of the early boats. Displacing nearly 1 metric ton more than the PBR Mark I and with some modifications to the placement of armaments - the twin .50 Cal was relocated further forward towards the bow.

These 80 boats were deployed as sections of 10 boats with 6 new sections being added to the existing Divisions within the TF and a new Division created containing just 2 sections. Despite this increase in capacity Game Warden was coming under increasing pressure as the VC began to re-exert themselves.

When US combat troops first began to deploy to Vietnam in 1965, it is estimated that the VC had approximately 70,000 troops in the Delta - these were organised on the basis of 1 squad/hamlet, 1 platoon/village, 1 company/district and 1 battalion/province. There was no way that Game Warden was capable of combating this large deployment since it did not have the combat power to do so.


In 1965, aware of this large concentration of enemy forces,  MACV started advocating the deployment of combat forces into the Delta itself and by 1966 it was more a question where and how to base such troops.

On 15th March 1966 COMUSMACV put forward a proposal for the formation of the MEKONG DELTA MOBILE AFLOAT FORCE (MDMAF) to be designated Task Force 117. It was envisaged that this would comprise a full US Army Division with 2 of it's 3 brigades based ashore at Vung Tau and Mytho and the 3rd brigade based afloat on a river based and hence mobile base. Tactical mobility was to be provided by the River Assault Squadrons, each of which was capable of transporting a battalion strength combat element. The base would consist of:

5 x Barrack Ships (APB)
2 x LST's
2 x Harbor Tugs (YTB)
2 x Landing Craft Repair Ships (ARC)




Schematic Diagram (thumbnail) of MRF Operational ConceptThe Operational Concept  of the Task Force involved basing an Army element of Brigade strength on barrack ships for a period of 6 months and rotating the brigades of the Division. In fact, although the original proposal envisaged the deployment of a full Brigade afloat, it was only possible to accommodate a reduced brigade of 2 battalions. 

The Base itself was to be located in a hostile zone and to remain there for 4-6 weeks while the Infantry Battalion patrolled the region and engaged the enemy which were found, before moving to a new Area of Operations.

Tactical operations were conducted at up to 50km from the base itself, although quite often the MRB was located much closer to the AO, and such operations would last for about 5 days. It was estimated that a single battalion could systematically search an area of 40 square kilometers during a tactical op.

Movement to the location of a tactical operation was made by land, water and air and all coordinated with local forces. It was intended that maximum use be made of air and artillery supporting fires.


Schematic Diagram (thumbnail) of MRF Assault LandingDuring movement on the waterways ASPB's would cover the flanks and rear of the formation and join monitor's in providing close-in fire support. Monitor's would lay down preparatory fire on intended landing sites on the shore assisted by arty and air. Once a landing was made, ingress and egress to the AO would be sealed off by the armed boats.

Tactical operations were of the classical 'Search & Destroy' type. Once the enemy had been located they would be fixed in place by supporting fires and assault troops while other units were deployed as a blocking force. Massive fire power was brought to bear in order to comprehensively destroy the enemy forces.




One particular problem which you may encounter if you choose to wargame this area of the conflict is the availability of suitable models to represent the boats. Check out the SUPPLIERS page for a listing of manufacturers and suppliers.

As for rules then I suggest both Buckle for Your Dust (which contains the section 'Mouth of the Dragon' ) and Free Fire Zone. Different approaches are adopted by both sets of rules but they play equally well and cater for different player tastes.


Mouth of the Dragon, Rules for Riverine Operations by Paddy Griffith
Free Fire Zone, Wargames Rules for the Vietnam War by Barrie Lovell
Brown Water Navy - article in Dustoff#9 SOTCW Vietnam War Study Group
The Brown Water Navy, Col. Victor Croizat USMC (Retd.), Blandford Press, ISBN 0-7137-1272-4




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