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CHAPTER 13

The SLF of the Seventh Fleet

Disbandment of the SLF-A New Mission-The Reestablishment of the SLF-Command and Control Changes-The First DAGGER THRUST Raids-Further Changes in the SLF-The Saigon Conference-The Second Series of DAGGER THRUST Raids-The SLF at the End of the Year

Disbandment of the SLF

The landing of the 9th MEB and the deployment of reinforcing Marine units to Vietnam during the spring of 1965 seriously depleted the Marine forces with the Seventh Fleet. Lieutenant Colonel Edmund G. Derning's BLT 2/9 which had become the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force (SLF) battalion in late February, was tasked as the floating reserve for the Da Nang landing of 8 March. Derning's attached shore party and the landing craft from the attack transport USS Bexar (APA 237) and the landing ship dock USS Thomaston (LSD 28) assisted in landing the brigade's supplies and men. In addition, the pilots of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Koler, Jr.'s HMM-365, the SLF helicopter squadron on board the amphibious assault ship USS Princeton (LPH 5), flew their aircraft from the ship to the Da Nang Airbase. There the 23 UH-34s were turned over to HMM-162 whose personnel arrived by KC-130 from Okinawa. After Koler's pilots returned to the Princeton, the ship sailed for Okinawa to take on replacement aircraft. The other ships of the amphibious ready group (ARG) carrying the SLF, Thomaston and Bexar, recovered their landing craft and reembarked the BLT's shore party on 12 March and steamed northward to rendezvous with the Princeton.

After a seven-day port call at Hong Kong, the force returned to Subic Bay for refurbishing of equipment and for training. In mid-April, the SLF was once more off the coast of Vietnam, covering the landings of BLTs 2/3 and 3/4. The group then sailed for Okinawa where both HMM-263 and BLT 2/9 disembarked. At this point, the Seventh Fleet and FMFPac dissolved the SLF, because its amphibious shipping was required for the landing of the 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade at Chu Lai.

The senior Marine and Navy Pacific commanders recognized that the disbandment of the SLF was a temporary measure. During a visit to Vietnam and Okinawa in May, Lieutenant General Krulak, the FMFPac commander, met with Vice Admiral Paul P. Blackburn, Commander Seventh Fleet; the two agreed that the SLF should be reconstituted when additional amphibious shipping became available. Krulak suggested that this should take place when the first elements of the 7th Marines arrived on Okinawa from California.1

A New Mission

Throughout the spring, American commanders in the Pacific discussed the possibility of employing the Seventh Fleet's SLF in a series of amphibious raids on VC/NVA infiltration and marshalling points along the coast of South Vietnam. On 14 March, representatives from MACV and the Pacific Fleet reached an agreement in Saigon for a naval coastal surveillance campaign. Operation MARKET TIME. The agreement contained provisions for carrying out amphibious raids using South Vietnamese Marines, U.S. Marine battalions, or combined South Vietnamese and U.S. Marine forces. The MACV and CinCPacFleet staffs were to evaluate available intelligence and agree on suitable target areas for these raids. The first targets were to be in unpopulated areas, which would allow the amphibious forces relative freedom of action. After the two commands had agreed on suitable target areas, the CinCPacFleet staff was to prepare a concept of operations from which the amphibious commander was to make his detailed plans. Completed plans were then to be submitted to ComUSMACV for his concurrence and for South Vietnamese clearance for the raids.2

Both General Westmoreland and Admiral Johnson ratified the results of the Saigon conference. In their transmittal of the agreement to Admiral

Page 193(The SLF of the Seventh Fleet )