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The PT boats of World War II were no longer in use, but the Nasty, with its similar dimensions and performance, was ideal—and immediately available.

On July 30, 1964, four speedy U.S. Navy wooden hulled boats, manned by South Vietnamese commandos advised by elite American troops, entered the Gulf of Tonkin. They carried out a late-evening attack against North Vietnam’s radar station on Hon Me Island and a garrison on Ngu Island before withdrawing shortly after midnight.

The vessels used in the attack had been developed by a Norwegian company in the 1950s as a prototype patrol torpedo boat named Nasty, which became Norway’s first vessel in its Tjeld class of patrol torpedo boats. When the U.S. Navy began to support unconventional warfare operations in Indochina in 1961, it had no suitable craft for the job, as the PT boats of World War II were no longer in use. But the Nasty, with its similar dimensions and performance, was ideal—and immediately available.

Norway delivered 14 vessels to the Navy, and American company John Trumpy & Sons Inc. provided six more. The Navy got its first two of 20 in 1962 and its last vessel in 1968. It bought the Nasty class boats primarily for the Studies and Observation Group, a covert operations agency that included men from the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. SOG used the boats to attack enemy defenses and radar sites on the coast, land South Vietnamese units to blow up bridges, drop off SEALs for reconnaissance operations in North Vietnamese harbors and carry out a variety of similar operations.

When the first boats arrived from Norway, the Navy added electronics, a 40 mm cannon on the bow and a 20 mm cannon on each bridge wing. The bow cannon was soon replaced by a .50-caliber machine gun mounted atop an 81 mm mortar. Crews also augmented the boats’ weapons with other guns to meet specific mission requirements. They often carried light anti-tank weapons, M60 machine guns, M79 grenade launchers and recoilless rifles.

After President Lyndon B. Johnson ended attacks on most of North Vietnam by U.S. aircraft and naval vessels in March 1968, the Nasty boats were employed for offshore patrols and commando insertions. Three were transferred briefly to the South Vietnamese navy, and six were lost in combat. The surviving units returned to the United States in 1972 and were stricken by 1981. 

Crew: 17-19

Propulsion: Two supercharged 3,100 shaft horsepower Napier-Deltic diesel engines driving two propellers

Displacement: 80 tons (full load) Length: 80 feet, 4 inches

Beam (width): 24 feet, 7 inches Draft (depth): 6 feet, 10 inches

Top speed: 42 knots at full load

Maximum range: 912 nautical miles at 20 knots

Armament: One Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun; two 20 mm cannons; one M2 .50-caliber machine atop an 81 mm mortar

This article was published in the October 2018 issue of Vietnam.