Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sunday Ship History: U.S. Army Vietnam Riverine Operations 1966-1969

Interesting U.S. Army discussion of river operations at When a River Runs Through It: Riverine Operations in Contemporary Conflict:

The purpose of riverine operations may be to facilitate or prevent river traffic, or the river may be ancillary to the main purpose which is on the banks, not the river itself. Missions may include: naval combat; fire support; landing assault; mine and obstacle removal; reconnaissance; line of communication security; logistics support; ground force movement; line of communication interdiction; raids; patrolling; presence; piracy suppression; smuggling and contraband suppression; suppression of human trafficking (prostitution, slavery, illegal immigration); police support; fishing support; host nation training; vessel recovery; medical support/evacuation; humanitarian aid; and liaison with naval/ground units and local civilians. Trans-axial riverine operations may be categorized by the situations above and include most of the above missions. Historically, the U.S. Army has devoted more thought to crossing rivers than controlling them until confronted with the opportunity to exploit terrain for maneuver, advantage, and supply.


Waterways and population centers will be factors in future war. Frequently they will be collocated and will become operational key terrain. They won’t be just the Navy’s, Army’s, Air Force’s, or Marine Corps’ problem. They will affect all services and other departments, bureaus, and agencies of government. Riverine operations will be a part of future military actions and will be an Army problem. The best way to prepare for a future problem is through study, training, and equipment design and development.

Technology will not readily resolve the difficulties of future riverine operations. A major challenge will be developing the leadership that can function effectively in a joint or combined environment and understands the language, culture, employment, capabilities, and limitations of the sister services or international forces involved in riverine actions. Success in future riverine operations begins in the school house of today.(emphasis added)

As is noted in the article, the U.S. has a long history of riverine operations dating back to the Revolutionary War. In places where virtually the only means of access to the interior of a contested land mass is via a river system, knowing that history and learning from it are vital for success of a necessary missions that cannot be accomplished by other means.

While the above- referenced article looks at such operations in the Iraq conflict, an earlier document looked at such operations during the Vietnam War, the most recent large scale such operations undertaken by the U.S. military.  That monograph is below, but can also be found at the Army History site. Other discussions of riverine  and inshore operations have been part of the Sunday Ship History series, see Operation Game Warden and Operation Market Time.

A reminder of how large rivers can carry fairly large ship is "With the Yangtze Patrol" (1938)


  1. Read this book before and after my tour with the Brownwater Navy

  2. The US Navy has recently removed Riverine Operations from its list of essential missions. That is nothing new, they have done such many times before only to re-establish and re-learned that type of warfare.
    It is still under discussion IF the USMC will re-establish its Small Boat Companies to perform riverine ops?
    The US Army has been shrinking its watercraft fleet over the last decade as well