Interesting MSO Facts

By Rick Szpyrka EX-RM2 USS Conflict MSO-426

Minesweepers in Vietnam
Operation Market Time


Commander Mine Division 93, with USS Leader (MSO-490) and USS Excel (MSO-439), made the first official visit by ships of the U.S. Navy to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on 27 August 1961.


On 17 December 1964 the USS Conflict (MSO-426) went to the assistance of a Vietnamese Navy Junk Division 31, which was under Viet Cong attack near Point Kega. She fired 560 rounds of 40mm ammunition during the ensuing hour-long engagement and was later credited with killing 17 Viet Cong.


March 1, 1968 a trawler had been challenged by the Coast Guard Cutter Androscoggin and was running toward the beach 40 miles south of Chu Lai, on the north central coast. A gun duel erupted and the Androscoggin was joined by two other smaller cutters, the Point Welcome and Point Grey, the Minesweeper USS Persistent (MSO-491), PCFs 18 and 20 and two army helicopter gunships. The trawler was forced aground. When U.S. Army Americal Division troops reached the area and capture seemed imminent, the enemy crew detonated charges, destroying the weapons-laden craft.


March 1, 1968 another heavily loaded trawler was on a course toward the mouth of the Bo De River on the Ca Mau Peninsula, 155 miles southwest of Saigon, and on the southern tip of Vietnam. It crossed into contiguous waters, refused repeated challenges by the Coast Guard Cutter Winona, and headed for the river mouth. Winona took it under fire while other Market Time units, the minesweeper USS Conflict (MSO-426), the cutters Point Hudson, Point Grace and Point Marone, and Swift boats 69 and 103 moved in. The trawler's crew was returning fire and jettisoning cargo when a heavy barrage of fire (from the Winona's 5-inch gun) hit home. An enormous fireball ripped the trawler in two successive explosions and sank it in 25 feet of water. U.S. Forces destroyed three trawlers and turned back a fourth has been declared the "greatest naval battle of the Vietnam war."


On the evening of 27 April 1969 The 201st Aviation Company (Corps), U.S. Army unit lost four men and two UH-1H helicopters in the Bay of Nha Trang. The minesweeper USS CONFLICT (MSO-426) was assigned the mission to search for and recover the helicopters and lost crewmen. Through their complete knowledge of their ship, they were able to maneuver the USS CONFLICT into what could have been perilous waters for a less experienced crew, thereby completing the recovery of the lost helicopters. Without the willing assistance of this crew and their complete knowledge of the capabilities of the ship this task could not have been successfully accomplished.


November 1970 the Coast Guard cutters Rush and Sherman and the minesweeper USS Endurance (MSO-435) teamed to sink a trawler attempting to bring supplies into beleaguered VC forces on the Ca Mau Peninsula at the sourthern end of Vietnam.


During its six years of existence, Operation Market Time Compiled an incredible score. But for the men who served in it, the reality of the operation could never be described by figures. More than figures, it was a war of young men and fast boats with battle fought at point-blank range. It was a war that required death-defying daring. It proved that the young officers and men of today's naval forces possess all the qualities of leadership, courage, and daring that we have always admired in naval heroes of the past. They were assigned staggering responsibilities and shouldered them with honor.


January 1973 The last provision of the cease-fire agreement that directly related to the Navy entailed removal of the U.S. sea mines laid along the North Vietnamese coast and the Mark 36 Destructors dropped into inland waterways. On 28 January, following months of extensive preparation and training, the Seventh Fleet's Mine Countermeasures Force (Task Force 78), led by Rear Admiral Brian McCauley, sailed from Subic Bay and shaped course for a staging area off Haiphong. On 6 February, one day after Commander Task Force 78 met in the city to coordinate actions with his North Vietnamese opposite, Colonel Hoang Huu Thai, Operation End Sweep got underway. Ocean minesweepers Engage (MSO 433), Force (MSO) 445), Fortify (MSO 446), and Impervious (MSO 449) swept areas off the coast near Haiphong while being escorted by guided missile frigate Worden (DLG 18) and destroyer Epperson (DD 719). A total of 10 ocean minesweepers, 9 amphibious ships, 6 fleet tugs, 3 salvage ships, and 19 destroyer types served with Task Force 78 during the six months of Operation End Sweep.


Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM
1991

January 1991, Soon after the Iraqi invasion, it became clear that Iraq was laying mines in international waters. U.S. ships discovered and destroyed six mines during December. The U.S. Mine Countermeasures Group (USMCMG) was established with the objective of cleaning a path to the beach for a possible amphibious landing and battleship gunfire support.

The minesweepers USS Adroit (MSO 509), USS Impervious (MSO 449), and USS Leader (MSO 490) along with the newly commissioned mine countermeasures ship USS Avenger (MCM 1 ) arrived in the Gulf aboard the heavy-lift ship Super Servant III. More than 20 Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams were also deployed to support the mine countermeasures force. Allied minesweepers from Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and Kuwait, and the MH-53 Super Stallions of Mine Countermeasures Helicopter Squadron 14 joined the MCM effort.

After months of training off Dubai, United Arab Emirates, USMCMG staff embarked in USS Tripoli (LPH 10) on 20 January, and proceeded to the northern Gulf waters to perform their mission. As flagship for the combined operation, Tripoli's flight deck was the base for the mine-sweeping helicopters. Six British minesweepers joined their U.S. counterparts, with British and U.S. warships providing air defense.

USMCMG began its work 60 miles east of the Kuwaiti coastline, working initially to clear a 15-mile long, 1,000-yard wide path. The mine-clearing task force spent the flrst few weeks of DESERT STORM pushing 24 miles to "Point FOXTROT," a 10-mile by 3.5-mile box which became the battleship gunfire support area south of Faylaka Island.


18 February 1991, While sweeping further toward shore, the task group was targeted by Iraqi fire control radars associated with Silkworm missile sites inside Kuwait. Task force ships moved out of Silkworm range and worked to locate the radar site. During those maneuvers, Iraqi mines found their mark. Within three hours of each other, Tripoli and USS Princeton (CG 59) were rocked by exploding mines. As damage control teams successfully overcame flres and flooding aboard Tripoli and Princeton, minesweepers Impervious, Leader and Avenger searched for additional mines in the area. Adroit led the salvage tug USS Beaufort (ATS 2) toward Princeton to tow her to safety.

Tripoli was able to continue her mission for several days before she was relieved by USS La Salle (AGF 3) and USS New Orleans (LPH 11) and proceeded to Bahrain for repairs. New Orleans provided the helicopter deck while the mine group staff moved aboard La Salle to coordinate the operation. Princeton restored her TLAM strike and AEGIS anti-air warfare defense capabilities within fifteen minutes of the mine strike, whereupon she reassumed duties as local anti-air warfare coordinator and remained on station, providing defense for the mine countermeasures group for an additional 30 hours, until relieved.


SPECIAL NOTE
Commanding Officer, USS Princeton - "As the day wore on I was concerned about drifting around in the mine field. So I made the decision to have the salvage ship, USS Beaufort, take us in tow, since our maneuverability was not good. Once under way, we moved slowly west with the minesweeper, USS Adroit, leading us, searching for mines. USS Beaufort continued to twist and turn, pulling us around the mines located by USS Adroit and marked by flares. Throughout the night, USS Adroit continued to lay flares. Near early morning, having run out of flares, she began marking the mines with chem-lights tied together. The teamwork of USS Adroit and USS Beaufort was superb."

"I felt the life of my ship and my men were in the hands of this small minesweeper's commanding officer and his crew. I directed USS Adroit to stay with us. I trusted him and I didn't want to let him go until I was clear of the danger area. All of us on USS Princeton owe a big debt to the officers and crew of USS Beaufort and USS Adroit. They were real pros."


16 March 1991, Naval forces continue counter air-defensive, combat air patrols and minesweeping operations. Marine forces maintain defensive positions. 81 crewmembers of the minesweeper USS LEADER (MSO 490), whose minesweeping efforts enabled the battleships USS MISSOURI and USS WISCONSIN to safely transit mine-infested waters for close-in gunfire support, return from six-month deployment in the Arabian Gulf to NAVBASE Charleston SC. Ship remains overseas, manned by crew of minesweeper USS EXULTANT (MSO 441), as part of crew rotation policy for minesweepers.


25 March 1991, Naval forces continue counter air-defensive, combat air patrols, maritime interception and minesweeping operations. While actively sweeping for mines in the Arabian Gulf, the minesweeper USS LEADER (MSO-490) deployed its magnetic acoustic influence combination sweep which detonated a suspected mine approximately 600 yards behind the ship. No injuries, crankshaft cracked in the #1 main propulsion unit. Ship continued mission, then proceeded to Bahrain shipyard under its own power for scheduled maintenance.


In 1959, MinDiv72, consisting of Reaper MSO-467 and four others, were returning from a routine visit to Bangkok heading for Subic Bay and then Home. However, half way to the Philippines we were directed to proceed to Danang to take up what became the first "Operation Market Time" assignment. As you know, MSO's weren't noted for the long hauls, so our main engines were already overworked and facing the long run home. No skirmishes to report, but our motor whaleboat made the first run to the beach. As the Army and Air Force advisors were the only troops there, at the time, we were most likely the first sailors to set foot in South Vietnam since WWII, or maybe longer.