Week of February 25
On February 24, 1968, U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam officially activated Task Force Clearwater in I Corps. Made up of river patrol boats, helicopter gunships, landing craft, armored assault boats, minesweepers, and ground forces, Task Force Clearwater was assigned to patrol the Sông Thạch Hãn (Cửa Việt River) and the Sông Hương (Perfume River) in northern I Corps. These rivers and their tributaries were crucial supply and communication links for U.S. and allied forces in the region, and traffic along them had recently come under attack by Communist troops during the 1968 Tet Offensive. As Việt Cộng and North Vietnamese forces assaulted shipping on these rivers, the task force fought to stop them and to protect supply convoys and other river traffic in the region.
With the activation of Task Force Clearwater, river patrol units began operating in the northern portions of I Corps permanently for the first time. Clearwater operations were under the official control of III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF). The Marine Corp also attached Marine ground units to Clearwater, which served as quick-reaction forces that could go ashore rapidly to repel enemy ambushes. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters also provided air cover, both for Clearwater boats and troops as well as for civilian and military supply traffic in the region. When necessary, Clearwater troops could also call on artillery, naval gunfire, and fixed-wing aircraft support from nearby American and allied forces. The task force’s headquarters was a floating base initially stationed at Tấn Mỹ. The base eventually moved to Cửa Việt.
The deployment of Task Force Clearwater had an immediate positive effect for the American Marines and Soldiers fighting to defeat the Tet Offensive in I Corps and to those based along the Demilitarized Zone, all of whose fighting effectiveness largely depended on having reliable logistics links along the region’s rivers. In 1968 in particular, Clearwater forces proved vital for protecting supplies headed for the besieged U.S. Marines holding the combat base at Khe Sanh and for recapturing the city of Huế from its Việt Cộng occupiers. The task force remained on patrol along the waterways of I Corps until July 1, 1970, when their mission was turned over to the South Vietnamese Navy as part of President Richard M. Nixon’s Vietnamization policy.1
1Edward J. Marolda and R. Blake Dunnavent, Combat at Close Quarters: Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2015), 37–43; Willard Pearson, Vietnam Studies: The War in the Northern Provinces, 1966–1968 (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1975), 57–65 (note that “Huong River” is another name for the Perfume River); Jack Shulimson, et. al., U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Defining Year, 1968 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 1997), 231–32; Edward J. Marolda, By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1994), 186–88.