Patrol Boat, River (also referred to as Riverine), or PBR, is the US Navy designation for a type of 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 Sa More..t 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. PBR's were also used to insert and extract Navy SEAL teams.
The PBR was a versatile boat with a fiberglass hull 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.
The PBR was manufactured in two versions, the first with 31 foot length and 10 foot, 7 inch beam. The Mark II version 32 feet (9.8 m) long and one foot wider beam, had improved drives to reduce fouling, and aluminum gunwales to resist wear. It usually operated with four enlisted men, of which the most senior crewman was designated the Boat Captain. Often, however, a junior officer would be assigned as Patrol Officer of two boats.
The boats were powered by dual 220 hp (164 kW) Detroit Diesel engines with Jacuzzi Brothers water jet drives. The boats reached top speeds of 28.5 knots (53 km/h). The boat was typically armed with twin M2HB .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns (the forward '50s), as well as a rear M2HB, an M60 7.62 mm machine gun, a Mark 19 grenade launcher, and sometimes a 20 mm cannon. The machine gunners were protected with ceramic armor.
PBR's were operating with the US Navy Reserves up until 1995 at Mare Island, California prior to the base's closure that year. Mare Island is located in San Pablo Bay, which begins on the northeast side of the San Rafael/Richmond bridge. The opposite side of the bridge is San Francisco Bay. For most people not living in the Bay Area of California, the whole bay is called San Francisco Bay, as there are no visible markers indicating otherwise. During the Vietnam War, Mare Island was home to the US Navy's Repair Facilities, Mothballing Operations, Submarine Operations, and Riverine Training Operations for both Swift Boats and PBR's.
The training areas for the PBR's and Swift Boats still exist today within the "Napa-Sonoma Marshes State Wildlife Area." Sloughs such as Dutchman Slough, China Slough, Napa Slough, Devil's Slough, Susiun marshland and the Napa River all run through the former training area. The TV series entitled "Great Ships", sometimes shown on The Military Channel, has one episode covering Riverine Warfare. Live footage showing some of the riverine boats is used, but tall metal electric power lines are visible in the background of the speeding PBR's. Although not mentioned by the narrator, these scenes are of US Navy Reservists undergoing training at Mare Island, California.
In the late 1990s, what remained of the US Navy PBR force (Swift Boats had been retired from the US Navy immediately following the Vietnam war during the early 1970s) was moved further inland towards Sacramento (State Capital), California, which is also intertwined with rivers. From Sacramento, PBR's can still transit directly to and through San Francisco Bay and into the Pacific Ocean, if need be. The waters of the State Wildlife Area, next to the former US Navy (Riverine) training base at Mare Island, are still available for US Navy PBR usage.
A PBR is the setting for much of the action in the film Apocalypse Now. Colonel Le Monde's forces use the PBR, referred to as a 'pibber', in the Electronic Arts game Nuclear Strike although the boats were never referred to as a 'pibber' in the Navy.
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