AN INCIDENT IN RACH GIA
© MikeW 2021 – All Rights Reserved
Rach Gia was a larger port town, in Kien Giang Province, situated on Rach Gia Bay, in the lower reaches of the Gulf of Thailand. The town was surrounded by rice fields, and bisected by many small canals. The main harbor, from which most of the fishing fleet departed, as well as a market on the wharves selling their catch, was on the north bank of the Cai Lon River estuary, and the main part of the town was on an island formed by the Cai Lon River diverging into two parts.
There was a thriving boat-building industry along the river, with the wooden fishing boats used by the town’s fishing fleet being built right in the town. Notwithstanding most of the fishing fleet tying up dockside in the harbor, many of the boats were anchored in the numerous small channels located throughout the town, most of them in front of their owner’s houses. Fishing though was only one of the major occupations of the town’s boatmen. A number of them were also involved in smuggling goods to, and from, Cambodia. At least one, our target, was involved in the infiltration, by sea, of supplies and personnel for the Viet Cong, which he picked up either in Cambodia, or from the ocean-going motorized junks, that had successfully made the journey from the north, after running the gauntlet of US Navy, South Vietnamese Navy, and US Coast Guard sea patrols.
Our target had arrived in Rach Gia some weeks previously from Nha Trang, where he had been running a similar operation. On his becoming, or his being made aware, that his operation there was blown he had disappeared. He had resurfaced in Rach Gia, where he purchased, for cash, his current fishing boat. Unlike the town’s other fishing boats, which normally sailed with a crew of three or four, plus the captain, depending upon their size, and which returned with a catch of fish, he sailed with a crew of one, plus himself, and never returned with a catch of any description. Also, whereas the regular fishing boats were gone either overnight or for a day or so, he was frequently gone for four or five days.
We flew in, Nga, the team (Khan, Minh, Dung, and Suong), and I, to the small French-built airstrip, at Rach Gia, late one hot, humid, Delta afternoon, aboard an aging South Vietnamese Air Force C-47. Besides our personal weapons we also had two GPMG M60s, together with several thousand rounds of belted ammunition, and a large quantity of Semtex plastique explosives. On arrival, we were met by two local MSS operatives with a small truck. Loading our equipment and ourselves aboard the truck we were conveyed to a safe house where we spent the night.
The following morning the two MSS operatives took us to a solidly built, brick, riverfront house, situated within a walled compound, with its own private wharf. Tied up to this wharf was a bright blue painted, local ocean-going fishing boat, with a white superstructure. It appeared that in return for his receiving a significant sum of money, plus air tickets, the owner of the house and fishing boat had agreed to put them at our disposal for ten days. In the meantime, he and his family would be enjoying a relaxing hill station vacation in Dalat. We quickly offloaded our weapons, equipment, and explosives from the truck. Khan and Dung quickly gave the fishing boat a once over, and announced that it was fully fuelled and in excellent condition. There were half a dozen life jackets, several boxes of flares, and an inflatable life raft in the wheelhouse. Obviously, the owner was serious about his boat and his business. Additionally, the local MSS unit had installed VHF and HF radios, in the event we might need them. We then loaded all our equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives on to the boat. The two GPMGs were placed in strategic positions on the deck, to enable us to fight the vessel if the necessity arose. We also placed air identification panels on the roof of the wheelhouse.
Information from the local MSS operatives was that the target, along with his sometime crewman, were currently enjoying the rather dubious pleasures of one of the waterfront bar/whorehouses, and had been so doing for the past two days. They, it appeared, spent their days and evenings carousing there and returned to their fishing boat to sleep it off. Strangely, none of their lady friends for hire ever accompanied them. Their boat was moored to a wharf in a poorly lit part of the harbor, whether by accident or design, which suited us perfectly. We decided that, when they left the bar/whorehouse that evening, we would intercept them just prior to them boarding their craft.
At our pre-mission planning session, we had decided, to make his disappearance complete, that we would take the targets boat about three hours out into the Gulf of Thailand and blow it up, with him aboard. For this, we needed another boat and explosives hence our rented fishing boat, the GPMGs, the belted ammunition, and the large quantity of Semtex plastique. Now that we were aware that he had a sometime crewman, who obviously knew what was going on, we decided that, although we had the authority, should we wish to exercise it, we would not kill him but kidnap him and take him back to Saigon with us for interrogation. This, however, depended on whether he put up a fight on his abduction. Should he resist, then we would treat him in the same manner as we intended to treat our target.
That evening, after confirming that our targets were indeed in the bar/whorehouse, we lay in wait for them, in an uninhabited area, on their route to their fishing boat. Sure enough, about 11.00 pm, an hour before curfew, they came stumbling along the uneven roadway. Given their inebriated state, it was easy enough to approach them from behind, and knock them unconscious using rubber-coated billy clubs. We picked them up and carried them along the dark, deserted wharf, to their boat. Once on board, we took them into the cabin. To the casual observer, it would have looked like we were a group of concerned friends putting two drunks to bed. In the cabin, we tied the two up, gagged them, and put hoods over their heads. Nga and I, together with Dung, would stay on board with them overnight, whilst Minh, Suong, and Khan returned to our rented fishing boat. Prior to Khan’s departure, he and Dung gave the boat a quick look over for seaworthiness and ascertained that it was fuelled enough for our purposes. Strangely, although the boat was diesel powered, lashed down on the deck, forward of the wheelhouse, were six red forty-four gallon (what the Americans called fifty-five gallon) drums full of petrol.
At first light, the next morning the targets fishing boat, piloted by Dung, cast off from its place at the wharf and we headed out of the harbor into the Gulf of Thailand. Once clear of the harbor Dung opened the throttle and we proceeded to cruise out into the open sea. Meanwhile, back on board our rented fishing boat, Suong, Minh, and Khan also left their wharf. With Khan at the helm, they headed downriver, and out into the Gulf of Thailand. The sea that morning was glassy smooth, with barely a ripple marring its surface, and with the early morning sun reflecting off it. It promised to be another swelteringly hot day. As our two vessels proceeded out to sea, about a kilometer or so apart, we passed several boats from the town’s fishing fleet proceeding landwards. We proceeded thus for about an hour and one half until we were out of sight of land and there were no other vessels in sight. Khan then brought our fishing boat alongside the target boat. Leaving Khan and Dung at their respective wheels the other four of us moved the still securely bound, gagged, and hooded crewman, albeit now awake, from the targets boats to our boat. We then proceeded to move all the Semtex plastique from our boat to the target boat.
Once the two transfers had taken place Khan moved our boat some two hundred meters from the target’s boat, whilst keeping pace with it. Nga, Suong, Minh, and I then moved the Semtex below decks. Once this was done Suong requested Nga and me to leave so that she and Minh could work in peace and quiet, to place the explosives. Nga and I returned to the wheelhouse, where the target was lying, albeit now awake, still securely bound, gagged, and hooded. We decided that we would interrogate him to pass the time. After dragging him out onto the deck we took his hood off and removed his gag. To say he was upset would be an understatement. He looked at us with pure hatred in his eyes and unleashed a loud torrent of Vietnamese which, Nga assured me, was foul abuse. After about half an hour Nga and I decided that we were wasting our time, as the only response we received to our questions was a further torrent of abuse.
After three hours, since setting sail, Dung hove to. The sea was still glassy smooth, allowing the vessel to gently rock in the water. Khan brought his boat close alongside. The land had long been lost to sight, and there were no other vessels within visual distance. Shortly after, Suong appeared on deck and announced that she and Minh had completed their work placing the explosives. She had chained the explosive charges together and, using pencil detonators, with a fifteen-minute delay, ensured we would have time to get well clear. As this target was considered a high-value target, she had doubled up on the number of detonators she used, to ensure the explosives exploded properly. She had also saved one block of plastique, which she placed between the petrol drums forward of the wheelhouse. Nga and I quickly rendered the target unconscious, removed the ropes binding him, and left him on the floor of the wheelhouse. We made sure we took these ropes, along with his gag and the hood, with us. Nga and I then boarded our boat, whilst Suong and Minh set the detonators. They very quickly joined us. Khan then rapidly moved our boat to about a kilometer away from the target vessel.
We sat there, our boat gently rocking in the slowly moving swell, the hot sun reflecting off the water, and watched and waited. Some fifteen minutes later there was an enormous explosion and we watched burning boat parts, along with a flaming, red forty-four-gallon drum, arc into the air. Khan moved our boat in close and we watched as what was left of the target’s boat, still burning, slid beneath the waters. The other floating debris soon joined it. To ensure there was no trace of the vessel remaining we drifted in the area for another thirty minutes, during which time we had lunch. We then proceeded to return to our berth in Rach Gia.
The following day the team, together with our prisoner, and along with our weaponry, minus of course the Semtex, flew back to the Bien Hoa Air Base, aboard another C-47 of the South Vietnamese Air Force. After the post-mission debriefing, and completion of the after-mission reports, a ten-day standdown followed, after which we entered another pre/post-mission training cycle.