SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 40: Apocalypse Now

Jim Randall
Navy Veteran, WWII enthusiast

The Brown Water Navy

The movie features a non-human character: the boat, a Patrol Boat Riverine, that the crew takes
up-river. I was a young sailor in 1968. My ship was stationed for a time off Vung Tau resupplying
the brown water navy. I went on several short patrols on a PBR that needed someone to man the
50, a skill I had acquired. We rarely had to fire a shot. We patrolled the shorelines and searched
sampans during daylight. Going out at night was left to the crazies. At that point the Navy and
Army had chased the VC into the deep swamps.

The boat in the movie was a Mark II and had the twin 50s in the bow and a M60 aft. Several boo-
boos involve the boat, such as they had one boat gutted to lighten it so a Huey could lift it. In the
scene when the Huey was carrying the boat when it gets dropped from quite high. When it hits
the water you can see the canopy collapse. Also in that scene the radar dome is gone. The dome
appears and disappears throughout the film. The canopy catches fire, replaced by palm fronds,
then later reappears when they get upriver.

From my readings, the production crew acquired two PBRs with armaments, probably from a
country such as Thailand which still operated them. Actually the PBRs were still based in the
Napa Sonoma Marsh north of SanFrancisco in the late nineties. But in the seventies the DOD
probably wouldn’t let the production company use them any more than Huey choppers.

“The PBR, workhorse of the River Patrol Force, was manned by a crew of four bluejackets, all
enlisted, equipped with a Pathfinder surface radar and two radios, and commonly armed with a
twin-mount .50-caliber machine gun turret forward, M-60 machine guns or Mk18 40mm grenade
launcher port and starboard amidship, and a .50-caliber aft. The initial version of the boat, the
Mark I, performed well in river patrol operations but was plagued with continual fouling of its
water-jet engines by weeds and other detritus. In addition, when Vietnamese sampans came
alongside for inspection they often damaged the fragile fiberglass hull of the PBRs. New Mark IIs,
first deployed to the delta in December 1966, brought improved Jacuzzi jet pumps, which reduced
fouling and increased speed from 25 to 29 knots, and more durable aluminum gunwales.”
From Rivervet.

PBR-Other details:
Detroit Deisel 180 hp 6V53N engines each driving a Jacuzzi Brothers 14YJ water pump-jet with
thrust buckets for reverse thrust. Capable 25 to 30 knots Displacement approx 17,000 lbs. fully

Many boats carried as much extra ammo and fuel as possible. Some up-armored around the
crew, guns, fuel tanks and engines. Accepting that extra weight would slow them down, the boats
were still fast and maneuverable. If ambushed the best thing was to get out of Dodge rather than
slug it out. Even though the twin 50s were a fearsome weapon it was best to bug out. Small arms
bullets would go in one side and out the other if nothing solid was encountered. An RPG (known
as B40 and B50 by the VC) could devastate a boat. Two tactics emerged, put as much armament
as possible or go light and run away then call in an air-strike. Some boats mounted 20mm heavy
machine guns, carried two Mk18 grenade launchers, etc. There was considerable leeway.
Whatever the crew could lay hands on or steal from the Army was tolerated.

The Nung River is fictional. No rivers connect the south coast of Vietnam with the Cambodian
highlands. The huge delta formed by the Mekong and Soia Rivers go all the way up beyond
Phnom Pehn. A boat trip into the Cambodian highlands would be a long trip of many days. Up
around Danang going west you run into Laos. Verisimilitude? The willing suspension of disbelief
is the way someone described it. A lot like the novel “Heart of Darkness,” Coppola used lots of
creative license in setting the movie, creating the characters etc. to achieve his objective which
was a literary masterpiece on film, greater than “The Godfather.” He pursued his dream
relentlessly and achieved it in my opinion. I highly recommend “Hearts of Darkness” for the
background to the making of.
Viet Nam War Era PBR Mk IIs

Source: Wikipedia

Dennis Meyers
U.S. Army Intelligence, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State
of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:
Joseph Conrad and Heart of Darkness, the Congo Free State, U.S. Special Forces & The Civilian
Irregular Defense Group

Joseph Conrad
The English novelist Joseph Conrad is one of the great modern writers of England. Józef Teodor Konrad
Nalecz Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) was born in December 3, 1857 in Berdyczew, Poland to Joseph and
Evelina Korzeniowski. In 1862 the family was forced to move to Russia because of his father's Polish
independence political activities. His mother died in 1965 and he and his father returned to Poland in

From the time spent with his father—a writer and a translator of William Shakespeare—Conrad became
a lover of literature, especially tales of the sea. His father died in 1869 whereupon he went to live with
an uncle. In 1874 Conrad went to Marseilles, France, where he entered the French marine service to
begin a 20-year merchant marine career. To avoid possible conscription into the French navy, in 1878
he signed on as a deckhand on a British freighter. In June 1878 Conrad went to England for the first time
and began working on British merchant ships. In 1880 he had become an officer in the British merchant
service, rising from third mate to master. His voyages took him to Australia, India, Singapore, Java, and
Borneo, places which would provide the background for much of his fiction. In 1886 he became a British
citizen. He received his first command in 1888. In 1890 he traveled to the Belgian Congo, Zaire, and
Africa, which inspired his great short novel Heart of Darkness.

In 1890, to satisfy a lifelong desire to visit Africa, Conrad secured an appointment with a Belgian trading
company to serve on one of its steamers in the Congo Free State. While sailing up the Congo River from
one station to another, Conrad assumed command when the captain became ill. He guided the ship up
the tributary Lualaba River to the trading company's innermost station, Kindu, in Eastern Congo Free
State. Heart of Darkness is based on what Conrad saw and did felt in the Congo.  Charlie Marlow, its
central character, has experiences like Conrad’s.

In the early 1890s Conrad had begun to think about writing fiction based on his experiences. In 1894 he
retired from the merchant marines and completed his first novel, Almayer's Folly, which was published
in 1895. It received favorable reviews and thus began his writing career.

He settled in Kent, England after marrying Jessie George, an Englishwoman, in 1896. Conrad befriended
and collaborated with several English and American writers including John Galsworthy, Henry James,
Arnold Bennett, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane, and Ford Madox Ford.

His earliest novels, including Heart of Darkness published 1899, were based on places he visited as a
merchant marine. His next novels reflected Conrad's political psychology views. His novel Chance
(published1914) was a such a financial success that he was able to live without worrying about money
for the rest of his life. Victory (1915), his last important novel, further examined the theme of solitude
and sympathy.

Conrad’s view of life is very pessimistic. Idealism sets the scene for corruption, and the uncontested
standards of honorable men fail to defend them against assaults of evil. 

Conrad received many honors for his work, including a celebrated visit to the United States in 1923 and
an offer of knighthood in England in 1924, which he declined. He died on August 3, 1924, of a heart
attack and was buried at Canterbury, England.

Heart Of Darkness

The famed American literary critic literary critic Harold Bloom claims that Heart of Darkness had been
analyzed more than any other work of literature that is studied in universities and colleges due to its
"unique propensity for ambiguity". It was first published as a serial in 1899 in Blackwood’s Edinburgh
Magazine and then in his book Youth: and Two Other Stories in 1902.

Heart of Darkness examines the horrors of Western colonialism as exemplified by the Congo Free State.
According to Conrad, colonialism tarnishes not only the lands and peoples it exploits but also those in
the West who support it.

It closely follows the events of Conrad’s Congo journey in 1890 during King Leopold II of Belgium’s
horrific rule.  The story’s narrator is fascinated by a mysterious white man, Mr. Kurtz, the manager of a
trading station deep in the interior. Based on his eloquence and hypnotic personality, Kurtz dominates
the brutal tribesmen around him. 

The story centers around Charlie Marlow, an introspective riverboat captain, and his long, difficult
voyage up the river up the Congo River to meet Kurtz. Marlow encounters widespread inefficiency and
brutality in the trading stations run by the Company, a Belgian concern organized to trade in the Congo.
The indigenous people have been forced into the Company’s service, and they suffer terribly at the
hands of the Company’s agents.

On the voyage, dense jungle, oppressive silence and furtive glimpses of native villages and the sound of
drums works the crew into a frenzy. At one point, after taking firewood from a mysterious source, the
ship enters a dense fog. When the fog clears, the ship is attacked by an unseen native firing arrows from
the safety of the forest. The ship’s African helmsman is killed before Marlow frightens the natives away
with the ship’s steam whistle.

When Marlow and his crew arrive at Kurtz’s Inner Station they are met by a half-crazed Russian trader,
who assures them that everything is fine. He claims that Kurtz has enlarged his mind and cannot be
subjected to the same moral judgments as normal people. To the natives Kurtz is a god and has gone on
brutal raids in search of ivory. Severed heads sit atop fence posts around the station attests to his brutal
methods. Marlow’s men bring an ailing Kurtz out of the stationhouse on a stretcher, and a large group of
native warriors pours out of the forest and surrounds them. Kurtz speaks to them, and they disappear
into the woods.

When Kurtz is loaded on the steamer his native mistress appears on the shore and stares out at the ship.
The Russian implies that she is somehow involved with Kurtz and has caused trouble before through her
influence over him. The Russian reveals to Marlow, that Kurtz had ordered the attack on the steamer to
make them believe he was dead in order that they might turn back and leave him to his plans. Kurtz
disappears in the night, and Marlow goes out and finds him crawling toward the native camp. Marlow
stops him and convinces him to return to the ship. They set off down the river the next morning, but
Kurtz’s health is failing fast.

On the return voyage Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent
pamphlet on civilizing the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the
brutes!” The steamer breaks down, and while waiting for repairs Kurtz dies, uttering his last
words—“The horror! The horror!”. Soon after Marlow falls ill and barely survives.

Eventually Marlow returns to Europe and goes to see Kurtz’s fiancée. She praises Kurtz and asks what
his last words were, but Marlow cannot bring himself to shatter her illusions with the truth. Instead, he
tells her that Kurtz’s last word was her name.

First and foremost, Heart of Darkness was taken to be a critique of Colonialism. The Belgian Congo was
the most notorious European colony in Africa because of the Belgian colonizers' extreme greed and
brutality. Heart of Darkness shows that European colonizers used the idealistic goals of colonization—to
civilize and educate the "savage" African—as a cover to allow them to brutally rip whatever wealth
theycould from Africa. By focusing on the Europeans, the story reveals the damage done to the souls of
white colonizers, which extends the criticism of colonialism back to its corrupt source— “civilized”

The Congo Free State

Henry Morton Stanley (of ‘Stanley and Livingston’ fame) completed an exploration of the Congo River
in 1877. After failing to attract British interest in colonizing the region, Stanley was contracted to do so by
King Leopold II of the Belgians. To avoid overt competition among the European powers for the region,
the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was held that recognized the sovereignty of King Leopold II of Belgium
over the Free State of the Congo to be ruled by King Leopold. He convinced other European states that
he was interested in pursuing humanitarian and philanthropic work rather than personal gain.
The Congo Free State operated as a separate nation from Belgium, privately controlled by Leopold II.

Under Leopold’s rule, from 1885 to 1908, the Free State endured systematic exploitation of its natural
resources, especially ivory and rubber. The colonial administration controlled the native population
with a reign of terror that included frequent mass killings and mutilations. European mercenaries were
hired and organized into a private army, the Force Publique, that was both an army of occupation and as
a police force which served the interests of the trading companies. The Force dealt with several
rebellions, which were put down with horrifying savagery. Force Publique troops often cut off the hands
of natives, including children, to serve as a punishment and to terrorize the people into submission.
Severed hands were also used as a measure soldiers used to prove that they were actively crushing
rebellious activity. It is estimated that between five and 10 million people died because of the colonial
exploitation under King Leopold II.

The loss of life and atrocities inspired literature such as Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness and
raised an international protest. As word of Leopold’s atrocities spread, indignation in Britain and other
parts of Europe grew so great that Leopold was forced to transfer his authority in the Congo to the
Belgian government. In 1908 the Congo Free State was abolished and replaced by the Belgian Congo;
a colony controlled by the Belgian parliament.

U.S. Special Forces and the Civilian Irregular Defense Group Program

The 5 th Special Forces Group (SFG) used a variety of unconventional and conventional warfare tactics to
fight the Viet Cong insurgency. As early as 1957, four years after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu,
U.S. Army Special Forces were deployed to train, advise, and assist the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN). By 1967, the Special Forces were advising and assisting over 40,000 paramilitary troops, along
with another 40,000 Regional Forces and Popular Forces soldiers.

Up to 1961 the counterinsurgency strategy had primarily focused on developing the regular ARVN
military forces, which excluded ethnic and religious minority groups. The U.S. Mission in Saigon initiated
several programs in late 1961 to broaden the counterinsurgency effort by developing the paramilitary
potential of some of these minority groups. This came to be known collectively as the Civilian Irregular
Defense Group (ClDG) program.

There were two principal reasons for the creation of the CIDG. One was that the U.S believed that a
paramilitary force developed from the minority groups of South Vietnam would strengthen and broaden
the counterinsurgency effort. The other was that the Montagnards and other minority groups were
prime targets for Communist propaganda, partly because of their dissatisfaction with the Vietnamese
government. It was important to prevent the Viet Cong from recruiting them and taking complete
control of their large and strategic land holdings.

Originally attention was concentrated on the Montagnard people who lived in the strategic Central
Highlands. The first step was taken in October 1961 with the beginning of a project designed to prevent
the Rhade tribesmen in Oarlac Province from succumbing to Viet Cong control.

The Vietnamese had not only made no attempt to gain the support of the Montagnards and other
minority groups but in the past had antagonized them because the Vietnamese had traditionally
regarded them as an inferior people.

The Montagnard constitute one of the largest minority groups in Vietnam. The term Montagnard applies
to more than a hundred tribes of primitive mountain people spread over all of Indochina. In South
Vietnam there were some 29 tribes, all told more than 200,000 people.

Recruits for both village defenders and the local security force were obtained through local village
leaders. Before a village could be accepted as a part of the development program, the village chief was
required to affirm that everyone in the village would participate in the program and that enough people
would volunteer for training to provide adequate protection for the village.

All villages were lightly fortified, with evacuation the primary defensive measure and some use of family
shelters for women and children. Strike force troops remained on the alert in the base center to serve as
a reaction force, and the villages maintained a mutually supporting defensive system wherein village
defenders rushed to each other's assistance.

The pilot program around the village of Buon Enao in Darlac Provence was considered a resounding
success. Village defenders and strike forces accepted the training and weapons enthusiastically and
became strongly motivated to oppose the Viet Cong, against whom they fought well. Toward the end of
1962 the province was declared secure. Based on this success, more Montagnard and other tribal
groups were drawn in and more Special Forces detachments became involved.

The general mission of a CIDG camp was to train strike forces and village defenders; hire local populace
under the influence of the South Vietnam government; employ paramilitary forces in combat operations
to reinforce organized hamlets; carry out interdiction activities and conduct joint operations with ARVN
units. Other operations included psychological operations to develop popular support for the
government; establish area intelligence systems including, but not limited to, reconnaissance patrols,
observation posts, and agent informant networks.

By mid-1963 the CIDG camps had completed the training of enough strike force troops to allow U.S.
Special Forces to shift emphasis from training to operations against the Viet Cong. A higher priority was
given to border surveillance which led to a shift of the CIDG efforts from interior to border sites.

The major task of the Special Forces during 1968-1971 was to complete the turnover of the CIDG
program to the Vietnamese in order to conduct the war with less and less assistance from the United

During 1970, combat continued, but at a reduced tempo. The incursion into Cambodia in the spring of
1970, had significantly weakened the insurgents. In April 1970, 5th SFG began reducing its number of
personnel in Vietnam. The participation of the 5th SFG in the CIDG program, like the program itself,
ended on 31 December 1970. However, members of the unit continued to conduct intelligence
operations in Southeast Asia until the collapse of the South Vietnamese government on 29 April 1975.


Heart of Darkness, Britannica,
Colonel Francis Kelly. Viet Nam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces, 1961-1970. 2004.
Congo Free State, Britannica,
The Free State of the Congo, a hidden history of genocide, Barcelona Cultura,
Joseph Conrad, Britannica,
Joseph Conrad Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography,
Heart of Darkness, sparknotes,
Wikipedia articles: Montagnard (Vietnam), 5th Special Forces Group (United States), Harold Bloom,
Congo Free State, Henry Morton Stanley

A few words from Jeff Kuykendall (our resident gun expert and author of most of our
Danger Close: Armory posts)about his uncle A.D. Flowers, who worked in special effects in Hollywood:

I don't have much to contribute currently for the historical research, but I can tell you how AD did the
napalm scene. Basically, the team dug up a massive ditch in the treeline, line it with a waterproof liner, and
filled it with over 1200 gallons of gasoline. Then AD had the team set up right behind and off to the side of a
roughly 200 foot long, 6" diameter pvc pipe filled with additional gasoline, rigged with small explosives tied
underneath the pipe. Part of the pipe was submerged into the gasoline pool, to ignite it as the charges were
blown. As the Filipino A-5's flew overhead and dropped dummy canisters, they'd use a remote to blow the
charges sequentially to mimic the effect of multiple napalm canisters going off as they all hit the ground
individually. As the initial pipe went up, it then set the entire ditch on fire. Since true napalm can't really be put
out in cases of emergencies (given how much was going to be ignited for the shot), they just stuck with straight
gasoline, in case something went horribly wrong. Coppola said that he could feel the strong flash of heat from
across the lagoon where they were filming.

And lastly, here is the link to the making of AN documentary, Hearts of Darkness, free on youtube: