A Brief History
On May 2, 1964, before even the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that heralded major US involvement in the Vietnam War, a Viet Cong or North Vietnamese frogman placed an explosive charge against the hull of the USS Card (USNS Card at the time of sinking), blowing a hole in the ship and sinking 48 feet as she lay berthed at the dock at Saigon.
The USS Card started life in 1942 as ACV-11 (Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier) after being laid down as a cargo ship. Just under 10,000 tons and just under 500 feet long, the little carrier could carry 28 planes, 12 Devastator torpedo bombers and 16 Wildcat fighters. With a crew of 890 men, she was armed with 2 X 4inch guns and anti-aircraft rapid fire cannons.
The Card served anti-submarine patrol in the Atlantic during World War II, with considerable success sinking 11 German submarines. After the War she was decommissioned, but re-commissioned in 1958 as the USNS Card, a designation for a Navy ship crewed by civilian sailors. The Card became an ‘aviation transport ship,’ AKV-40, with helicopters as the aviation being transported.
At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Card delivered helicopters to Vietnam, and was tied up at dock when she was sunk. Though the ship had sunk at the at the pier, the ship only settled 48 feet to the bottom with most of her hull above water. Five American sailors were killed in the blast. The Card was pumped dry, patched, refloated (after 17 days) and towed to Subic Bay, then Yokosuka, for repairs and returned to service. The Card was once again decommissioned in 1970, and scrapped in 1971.
The brave frogman that sunk a US ship all by himself (with an accomplice not in the water) was Lam Son Nao, age 27 at the time of the attack, who placed 80 kilograms of TNT and 8 kilograms of C-4 against the Card’s hull to sink the ship. In fact, Nao had failed to sink the USNS Core in a similar attack in December of 1963, an attack foiled by faulty a detonator battery. Nao claimed 23 helicopters and jets had been destroyed in the attack, with “high casualties.”
Lam Son Nao was an employee of the Saigon Port, and had bribed the port police to allow him and his assistant to canoe out into the port under the pretense of smuggling, for which the cops got a nice bribe. Approaching the returning saboteurs after the explosives were placed to solicit another bribe, the cops were diverted by the massive explosion, allowing Nao and partner to escape.
Although firmly patriotic Americans, we at History and Headlines have to recognize bravery and daring from whomever is gallant enough to display such courage. Lam Son Nao is obviously such a fighting man and patriot to his own country and worthy of recognition. With only low technology and a simple plan he managed to sink a giant ship, truly one of the great individual feats in Naval Warfare History.
Question for students (and subscribers): Was participating in the Vietnam War worth it for Americans? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Marolda, Edward J. The U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War: An Illustrated History. Potomac Books Inc, 2002.