By Carl Kurfuss
Patrol Boat, Riverine or PBR, (aka “Swift” Boat) is the United States Navy designation for a small rigid-hulled patrol boat used in the Vietnam War from March 1966 until the end of 1971. They were deployed in a force that grew to 250 boats, the most common craft in the River Patrol Force, Task Force 116, and were used to stop and search river traffic in areas such as the Mekong Delta, the Rung Sat Special Zone, the Saigon River and in I Corps, in the area assigned to Task Force Clearwater, in an attempt to disrupt weapons shipments. In this role they frequently became involved in firefights with enemy soldiers on boats and on the shore, were used to insert and extract Navy SEAL teams.
The PBR was a versatile boat with a fiberglass hull (some early versions were built on plywood hulls) and water jet drive which enabled it to operate in shallow, weed-choked rivers. It drew only two feet of water fully loaded. The drives could be pivoted to reverse direction, turn the boat in its own length, or come to a stop from full speed in a few boat lengths. (A major producer of the PBR was Uniflite, of Bellingham, WA., Since sold to Chris Craft and successors, ed.)
The PBR was usually manned by a four-man crew. Typically, a First Class Petty Officer served as boat captain, with a gunner’s mate, an engineman and a seaman on board. Each crewman was cross-trained in each other’s job in the event one became unable to carry out his duties.
Typical armament configuration included twin M2HB .50 caliber machine guns forward in a rotating shielded tub, a single rear M60, and one or two 7.62 mm light machine guns mounted on the port and starboard sides, and an Mk 19 grenade launcher. There was also a full complement of M16 rifles, shotguns, .45 ACP handguns, and hand grenades.
Early in their use, casualties among the PBR crews approached 80%, becoming one of the drivers of the massive use of Agent Orange to clear the river banks of ambush locations, which is of course another story altogether.