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Operation Market Time

The Bucklew Report, as it became known, put into words what many American advisors, commanders, and officials believed was happening in South Vietnam during the pre-1965 American military advisory years of the Vietnam conflict. Communist North Vietnam was violating the Geneva Accords, which had established an independent North and South Vietnam. It was sending into South Vietnam a steady stream of men, materiel, and supplies to the Communist Viet Cong guerillas in order to overthrow the democratic government there. The Bucklew Report defined the problem and made a number of suggestions to solve it. But evidence was needed to officially allow direct American military action. Approximately a year later, in March 1965, it was literally uncovered in the Vung Ro Incident.

Named after the many marketing vessels that were targeted for searching, Market Time was created on March 11, 1965, as a combined U.S. Navy and Coast Guard effort.

Vung Ro is a small bay located near the city of Qui Nhon, near the central coast of South Vietnam. Army Lt. James S. Bowers was on patrol in his Huey that day covering an area that took him over the South China Sea in the Second Coastal Zone. As he banked over Vung Ro, he sensed something wrong with a tree-covered island below. When he flew closer he discovered that the “island” was in fact a small ship cleverly camouflaged with potted plants on its deck and superstructure. Bowers immediately radioed in his discovery to Second Coastal Zone senior advisor Lt. Harvey P. Rodgers, USN. Air strikes and beach assaults were promptly launched. The result was a captured North Vietnamese supply ship and a spectacular find of cached supplies, explosives, weapons, and ammunition originating from a number of Communist countries and designated for use by the Viet Cong. In addition, troops discovered numerous North Vietnamese charts and assorted military papers. Among them were documents revealing that members of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA’s) 338th Division were stationed in the region and that the trawler had been constructed in Communist China and was unit K.35 of the North Vietnamese Naval Transportation Group 125. This incident, and other events, helped transform the largely advisory American presence of Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam (MAAG-V) to the active American combat force effort, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV).

PACV, Market Time

One of the U.S. Navy’s PACV hovercraft on patrol in Vietnamese waters assists in the searching of suspected boats for smuggled goods and contraband. Here, crewmembers pursue the search of a Vietnamese junk. National Archives photo

Administratively, three task forces were created to interdict Communist water-borne traffic: Task Force 71, Task Force 116, and Task Force 117. Task Forces 116 and 117 operated on the inland waterways as the River Patrol Force and the Mobile Riverine Force, respectively. Task Force 71 was commanded by the U.S. Seventh Fleet and designated the Vietnam Patrol Force. Then, on July 31, 1965, operational command was transferred to the Naval Advisory Group (NAG), and its name was changed to the Coastal Surveillance Force, or Task Force 115. Ultimately, Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV), activated on April 1, 1966, assumed command of Task Force 115 and became responsible for it for the rest of the war. Task Force 115 was the Coastal Surveillance Force and conducted its missions under the code name Market Time.

Named after the many marketing vessels that were targeted for searching, Market Time was created on March 11, 1965, as a combined U.S. Navy and Coast Guard effort. Though its primary task was to interdict the flow of Communist supplies, Market Time ships performed other missions as well. These included naval gunfire support for troops engaged on or near beaches, as blocking forces in encirclement operations near the coast and on large rivers, in transporting troops and evacuating civilians, participating in medcaps (Medical Civil Action Program), and, as most of the waterways were uncharted, aids to navigation and other tasks.

Market Time consisted of three squadrons, two Navy and one Coast Guard. Navy Boat Squadron 1, operating along the coast, was composed of five divisions. Coastal Squadron 1, operating at sea, contained six divisions. Coast Guard Squadron 1 contained three divisions. Bases were located at eight sites ranging from Da Nang in the north to An Thoi on the southern tip of Phu Quoc Island off the Cambodian border.

Market Time operated a three-ringed patrol system that employed both surface vessels and aircraft. Shallow draft vessels, principally PCFs (Patrol Craft, Fast) and Coast Guard cutters, known as WPBs, as well as some gunboats and, for a brief period, Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles (PACVs), sometimes working with the South Vietnamese Navy (VNN) and other times independently, operated the innermost ring along the coast and in river mouths. Deeper draft ships, such as coastal mine sweepers and high endurance cutters (WHECs), operated in deeper water within 40 miles of the South Vietnamese coast. A combination of ships, including WHECs, radar-equipped destroyer escorts (DERs), and minesweepers, and observation aircraft, initially A-1 Skyraiders and later P-3 Orions, conducted surveillance in the outermost ring in international waters.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11069">
    Larry Doyle Sr.

    I was with Patrol Squadron Two (VP-2) and was over the 3rd trawler when this occurred. This story failed to mention the Patrol Squadron’s effort during Market Time. I know that VP-1, 2, 17 & 42 were involved over the duration of Market Time, there may be more & I apology for any that I may not have remembered. For our effort on Feb 29/Mar 1 68, our crew (Crew 8), officers were awarded the Air Medal & the enlisted men were awarded the Navy Achievement Medal W/Combat “V” device. I was the ordanceman in Crew 8 and flew approx. 60 combat patrols. We tracked the trawler & stayed with it during the duration until it’s blowing up. I have documentation to confirm all information.

    Larry Doyle (AO-3 A/C) Patrol Squadron Two (VP-2) 1965-68

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-dwight-jon-zimmerman bypostauthor odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11073">
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman

    Dear Mr. Doyle,

    This article fails to mention a lot of things! At best, it’s a summary of the action. Inevitably, it has to leave out so much stuff. I’m working on a SEAL history article for Defense Media Network’s parent company and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the founding of the SEALs. That is a bearcat of a balancing act trying to get as much information into an article, as opposed to a book.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-12415">

    Dwight, I am a second cousin to Navy SEAL One member Bill Machen, the first Navy SEAL killed in combat in Vietnam. He was a part of Task Force 116 in 1966, and was taking part in operations there when he later found his demise. I see this article did fail to mention SEALS, and a few other things that the US Military were doing in this zone. I have a facebook site dedicated to Bill (and other SEALS’s) memory, and am an avid researcher of such historic things. If you have any info you (Or anyone reading this article) would like to share about SEAL Team 1 and 2, or Bill respectively, I would love to see it. You can email me at Cds4344@gmail.com. Thanks,
    Cody

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24058">

    I was an ordanceman in V.P. 6 crew 3 flying P-3 Orions. We ran Markettime ops.from MAR.69 to Nov.69. Our squadron got the Navy unit commedation for running these ops.I think it would be a good idea to acknowledge all groups that were involved in markettime rather than just a few.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24073">

    The article was intended to show the part special operations forces, and the progenitors of special operations forces, played in the operation. It wasn’t possible to include all the participants within the scope of the article, but that doesn’t mean in any way that we don’t appreciate the part everyone played in the operation.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-45641">

    I was on the USS Black DD666 we were part of Operation Market time. Along with the USS Higbee DD-806 we spent 80% of our 7 month deployment at sea as first U.S. warships to use the infiltration surveillance methods. You failed to mention destroyers as part of this operation.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-45644">

    hey chuck might as well take down the sight if you don’t want to accept comments.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-45656">

    Don’t know what you mean Russ. There’s a lag sometimes because we do sort through comments for Spam, but barring anything profane or abusive, we encourage commenting, and all comments are accepted.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-45664">
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman

    Russ, unfortunately I failed to mention destroyers (though I did mention the task forces and fleets involved, thus implying their use) or include the information you mentioned. This was not meant as a slight. Given the vastness and timeframe of Market Time, it was inevitable that something would not be included.