Military Sea Transportation Service
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  1. #1

    Cool Military Sea Transportation Service

    Military Sea Transportation Service

    In February 1951 the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) aircraft carrier Windham Bay, was the first large ship to navigate the Long Tam River since 1925. While the ship was docked at Saigon (French Indochina) 17 hand grenades were tossed at the ship by terrorists.

    The Military Sea Transportation Service was established in 1949 to provide sea transportation to the military as a successor to the Army Transportation Service. MSTS operated a fleet of ships and had charter agreements with commercial shipping firms. MSTS was succeeded by Military Sealift Command.

    In 1954, after the partitioning of Vietnam, MSTS evacuated Vietnamese refugees from North to South Vietnam. USNS Howze was one of many MSTS ships involved in "Passage to Freedom" bringing 300,000 refugees and 200,000 tons of Cargo from North Vietnam.

    The Military Sea Transportation Service had the job of bringing war supplies to Vietnam -- 10,000 miles from the Pacific coast. MSTS had four separate customers to serve: the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. MSTS ships were staffed by "civilian" crews, but carried 95% of the supplies used by our Armed Forces in Vietnam including bombs and ammunition into combat zones under fire. Crew members were given Navy grades and rank identification in event of enemy capture. During Vietnam, MSTS first utilized roll-on/roll-off ships and container ships which speeded loading and unloading.

    MSTS took about 100 Victory ships out of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (mothball fleet), repaired them, and assigned them to private companies for operation to carry ammunition across the Pacific. MSTS carried guns, tanks, trucks, trains, riverboats, barges, helicopters, bombers, fighters, reconnaissance planes, food, fuel, and medical supplies. By 1965 MSTS had 300 freighters and tankers supplying Vietnam, with an average of 75 ships and over 3,000 merchant mariners in Vietnamese ports at any time.

    Early in the Vietnam War, troop ships such as the USNS Upshur, Geiger, and Gordon carried two thirds of U.S. troops to Vietnam; later, most American troops traveled by air. However, Korean troops were transported by MSTS throughout the war, with the first 2,000 coming on the MSTS Mann in March 1965. In August 1966 USNS Patch and Darby carried troops 12,500 miles from Boston to Vietnam, the longest trooplift in U.S. military history. In October 1966 the converted Liberty ship SS Benjamin Chew and the SS Meredith Victory were added as troop carriers. Men and equipment of the Army 1st Cavalry Division went to Vietnam aboard the baby flattops USNS Kula Gulf and Point Cruz which were taken out of mothballs to transport the 434 aircraft and other equipment. Other escort carriers which saw WWII duty included the USNS Core, Card, Croatan, and Breton.

    Da Nang harbor was the home of the Marine Amphibious Force Logistic Command which handled the gear necessary to support 81,000 Marines. MSTS brought 96% of their war materiel including tanks, airplanes, ammunition, and food -- including ice cream.

    Between 1965 and 1969, MSTS carried 7.6 million tons of supplies for the Air Force, about half going directly to Vietnam, the rest to staging areas in the Pacific. MSTS delivered the goods "Special Express" and kept some of its 19 ammunition ships anchored offshore near combat areas as floating warehouses to ease storage problems experienced by the Air Force. SEA Express was the name of the program which delivered other Air Force supplies from Oakland, California to Saigon between 1965 and 1967, in an average of 23 days.
    In 1965, US Coast Guard Squadron One, composed of 17 patrol boats was sealifted to the Philippines for Vietnam duty on the SS Pioneer Myth, SS Transcaribbean, SS Aloha State, and the SS Ocean Cloud. MSTS delivered bulldozers, cranes, steel and cement for use by Navy Seabees. MSTS and the Merchant Marine transported oil and aviation gas to support Navy fleet operations.

    In 1968 MSTS sealifted 19 million tons (39 billion pounds) of cargo to Vietnam for the Army at a cost of $570 million. The MSTS Corpus Christi Bay, which housed an Army aviation-maintenance battalion, was positioned as necessary along the coast of Vietnam to provide aircraft maintenance facilities.

    MSTS and chartered ships delivered to many ports in Vietnam during this "War Without a Front." The following were among the 46 precautions to be taken by the crew of the SS President Garfield (and other ships) during the particularly hazardous 35 mile river transit to Saigon:

    Bridge personnel in helmets and flak suits.
    Sandbags around bridge. Wheelhouse doors and windows open.
    Grenade screens secured on portholes.
    Engineers to go to full engine speed at first indication of attack without notifying bridge.
    Only necessary persons on duty in Engine Room or on open deck. Off duty crew spread out in alleyways.
    Purser standing by with medical kit.
    Fire fighting equipment ready.
    Bilge and ballast pumps warmed up, ready to use.
    Towing wires ready for tow without assist from ship crew. Both anchors ready for dropping.

    USNS Point Cruz loaded with CH-47 helicopters, F-5 fighters and truck trailers in 1968

    Just as in World War II and Korea, merchant mariners in Vietnam were subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Effective December 1966, the military was granted authority to take disciplinary action against merchant mariners.

    In 1975 MSTS helped evacuate refugees from Da Nang and later, Saigon. On March 28, 1975 the Pioneer Commander, the Pioneer Contender and the Navy's U.S.S. Miller evacuated about 10,000 refugees each. Returning the next day when the Communists had already overrun Da Nang, the ships evacuated thousands more.

    On May 12, 1975, the SS Mayaguez was seized by Kmer Rouge. US marines suffered heavy casualties during the attempted rescue of the 39 seamen and the ship. Six mariner volunteers from the USNS Greenville Victory received Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for their role during the action.
    Capture and Release of SS Mayaguez by Khmer Rouge forces in May 1975.

    Harbor at Cam Ranh Bay

    Damaged SS Baton Rouge Victory under tow


  2. #2
    I had no idea such strong principles are at the base of MSTS.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. #3
    In 1956, my Dad, who made the Army a career, had enough rank that he was allowed to bring his family to Germany with him. However, we had to ride on the same troop ship that his unit was going on .. So, I spent about a week aboard the Upshur with a few hundred Soldiers, on our way to occupied West Germany. It was quite an experience for a six year old.

  4. #4
    It is a small world; I came to America on the USNS Upshur in 1962. I was only two, so I don't have any memories of it. I found the manifest on

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