USS EXCEL (MSO 439) COMMAND HISTORY
PEACETIME COLD WAR OPERATIONS
1955: Excel was commissioned on 24 February 1955 at the U.S. Naval Station, New Orleans. On
4 June, she reported to Mine Division 95 (which later became MinDiv 93) in Long Beach, California, for duty, following passage
through the Panama Canal.
1956:1st Deployment: Departed Long Beach in October with other units of MinDiv 93 for duty with
the 7th Fleet. She returned to homeport in April 1957 having, while deployed, visited Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and
Saipan, and participated in minesweeping exercises with both U.S. and allied forces.
1960: Commander Mine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet presented Excel on 19 August with the Battle Efficiency
“E” and Minesweeping “M” excellence awards. In October, he nominated her to the magazine Our
Navy for the “Outstanding Ship of the Year” Award, citing Excel’s achievements during the year.
INITIAL INVOLVEMENT IN THE VIETNAM WAR
1961: 2nd Deployment: Left Long Beach on 1 May for the Western Pacific, carrying aboard tons
of clothing donated by the Long Angeles Girl Scouts for the needy in Japan and Korea. In addition to minesweeping exercises
conducted with units of the Chinese Nationalist and South Vietnamese Navies and with our forces off Korea, Excel made goodwill
visits to ports in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Guam. The most memorable visit, however, was that
with Leader to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, described in the below excerpt from Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s
Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994 (courtesy of David D. Bruhn):
As the U.S. continued to try to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam, its involvement in
Southeast Asia and commitment of military forces continued to increase as did the associated requirement to “show the
flag” in an effort to demonstrate American resolve and to create or improve alliances with regional countries.
In 1961, as part of the larger effort to establish an American presence in Indochina, Mine Division 93 units Leader and Excel
became the first ships of the U.S. Navy to pay an official call at Phnom Penh, Cambodia. To reach the capital city,
the minesweepers navigated from the South China Sea 180 miles up the Mekong River through South Vietnam. Sailing through
shallow water at the mouth of the river, the ships were not certain they would clear the delta, but in the event had no trouble.
On hand to meet Leader and Excel as they entered Cambodian waters were Royal Cambodian Navy gun ships. These vessels,
about the size of large dugouts with an old tank gun mounted forward, escorted them up the Mekong to Phnom Penh, where they
were accorded a very cordial diplomatic welcome upon arrival. No less a personage than General Lon Nol, the minister
of national defense, greeted the visiting Americans and told them he was "most happy that the two vessels could visit Cambodia."
the visit, from 27 to 30 August 1961, the officers and men of Excel and Leader welcomed aboard their ships officials of the
royal government and members of the staff of the Palais Royal and Jeunesse Royale Socialiste Khmere. Other guests included
students of the Centre de Preparation Pedagogique, the Ecole National des Arts et Metiers, and other schools in the capital.
Commander, Mine Division 93, embarked in Leader, and the commanding officers of Excel and Leader paid courtesy calls on government
officials, local dignitaries, and members of the Cambodian and U.S. military, including the chief of the U.S. Military Assistance
Advisory Group, a brigadier general. The resounding success of the visit was later recognized by the Chief of Naval
Operations, Commander in Chief, Pacific, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Commander, 7th Fleet, and the American consulate
in Cambodia, who sent congratulatory messages praising the performance of Leader and Excel sailors.
King Norodom Sihanouk subsequently,
under pressure from leftists, refused further U.S. aid and in 1965 broke diplomatic relations with the United States.
However, later in the decade he became angry with the Khmer communist party (commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge) and
restored normal relationships with Washington. In the spring of 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad receiving medical treatment,
civilian bureaucrats and military officers overthrew his regime and established the Khmer Republic, led by General Lon Nol,
the new president.
While homeward bound from the deployment, Excel received word that she has been selected as the Mine
Force Pacific “Ship of the Year” for the second consecutive year.
1962: During July and August, Excel, and other units of Mine Division 93, attended the Sea Fair at
1963: 3rd Deployment: In company with MinDiv 93, Excel stood out of Long Beach on 5 April for the
Western Pacific, via stops at Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, and Guam. On 19 May, she set a course for Buckner Bay, Okinawa
to participate in a Fleet Service Mine Test (a description of these tests is provided in the 1968 history). Following
completion, she departed for Sasebo, Japan. Excel participated during the month of June in the combined U.S.-Korean
amphibious exercise FLAGPOLE off the eastern Coast of Korea. In July, she visited the city of Shimizu on the Japanese
island of Honshu to enjoy the annual festival commemorating the opening of the port to shipping. During the three-day
visit, over 50,000 visitors toured the ship. Following completion of an upkeep period at Sasebo, Excel conducted a minesweeping
exercise with the Republic of China Navy, followed by a port visit to Hong Kong. On 16 September, she sailed from Subic
Bay, Philippines for Long Beach, with stops en route at Guam, Midway, and Pearl Harbor before arriving home on 5 November.
1964: Excel entered the Harbor Boatbuilding Company Shipyard in San Pedro, California on 14 April
for a two-month overhaul. In October, she made a port visit with Mine Division 93 to San Francisco, and from 13-21 November,
participated in Operation FLEA BITE, a minesweeping operation off Oceanside, California.
FORMAL ENTRY INTO THE VIETNAM WAR
1965: From 1-12 March, Excel participated in Exercise SILVER LANCE with numerous other units of
the U.S. 1st Fleet.
4th Deployment: In company with Mine Division 93, Excel
sailed from Long Beach on 5 April for the Western Pacific, with stops at Pearl Harbor, Johnston Island, Kwajalein Atoll, and
Guam en route. She departed Subic Bay on 28 May for the first of two patrol periods in support of Operation Market Time.
A description of these operations from Wooden Ships and Iron Men follows:
In 1965, U.S. Navy ships were directed formally to assist the South Vietnamese Navy in its coastal surveillance and anti-infiltration
patrol efforts. Operation Market Time, a massive combined U.S. Navy and South Vietnamese Navy effort to stop Viet Cong
infiltration of weapons and supplies into South Vietnam, was inaugurated on 11 March 1965. General William C. Westmoreland,
the U.S. commander (of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam) at the time, estimated that prior to 1965 Viet Cong enemy
forces in South Vietnam received about seventy percent of their supplies by sea, a percentage which by the end of 1966 had
been reduced to less than ten percent. In A Soldier Reports, Westmoreland states, “I decided to institute Market
Time after South Vietnamese planes during the first two months of 1965 found two big trawlers unloading arms and ammunition
along the coast, clear evidence that screening by a fleet of South Vietnamese junks was inadequate.”
On 31 July, the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115) was formed, with headquarters at Cam Rahn Bay. Three
zones of interdiction were established. Farthest out to sea, 100 to 150 miles from shore, was an air surveillance zone
in which Navy maritime patrol aircraft, operating from bases in the Philippines and Vietnam itself, searched for mother ships
that might be supplying the coastal smugglers. Closer in was an outer surface barrier, patrolled initially by fifteen
destroyers or minesweepers and later by radar picket escorts (DER). In May 1965, U.S. Coast Guard Squadron 3, equipped
with 82-foot cutters, arrived on station to patrol this barrier, and by February 1966, 26 cutters were in operation.
Between 1967 and 1971, the force would be augmented by three Royal Australian Navy guided-missile destroyers. Nearest
to shore was an inner or shallow-water barrier. Here, in addition to the South Vietnamese Junk Force (later renamed
the Coastal Force), the Navy deployed 84 Swift boats, 50-foot vessels armed with .50-caliber machine guns and mortars, which
darted among the hundreds of shallow coves and inlets that dot South Vietnam’s extensive coastline.
From the Gulf of Tonkin, all the way down the South China Sea to the Cambodian border, a picket line of minesweepers, Coast
Guard cutters, destroyer escorts, Swift boats, and patrol aircraft roamed off shore on "Operation Market Time" duty.
Assisted by airborne spotters, the surface units challenged unidentified ships, and searched passing suspect junks and stationary
fishing fleets for caches of ammunition and grenades and uniforms, in addition to keeping a constant lookout for supplies
being smuggled to the enemy by junk, sampan, or freighter. Captain Ho Tan Quyen, South Vietnamese Chief of Naval Operations
(1960-1963), when asked to describe the most numerous indigenous vessels plying Vietnamese waters, replied: “Junks may
be defined as any craft large enough to carry a water buffalo standing athwartships.”
Excel’s first patrol required her to remain at
sea for a period of fifty days as she assisted with the effort to help reduce or eliminate coastal infiltration by the Viet
Cong, by boarding and inspecting numerous fishing and cargo junks. (For this operation, she received both the Armed
Forces Expeditionary medal and Vietnam Service medal.)
Following a week of upkeep at Subic Bay in late July,
she journeyed to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong for eight days of crew liberty, and returned on 7 August to Subic Bay.
On 4 September, following another four weeks of upkeep and availability, she left port to commence her second Market Time
patrol, of thirty-four days duration (for which Excel received her second Vietnam Service medal).
With other units of Mine Division 93, Excel stood out
of Subic Bay on 21 October for the Gulf of Panay, located off the west coast of the central Philippines, to participate in
a joint U.S./ Philippines minesweeping exercise. During the two days preceding the 25-28 October exercise, the division
made a visit to Iloilo, during which the ship hosted general visiting and conducted a blood drive for the Philippine Red Cross.
From the Gulf of Panay, the units of MinDiv 93 began their return journey to Long Beach, stopping en route in Guam, Kwajelein
Atoll, Johnston Island, and Pearl Harbor. The early portion of the voyage was particularly challenging as the ships
encountered a typhoon, described in the below excerpt from Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s Ocean Minesweepers,
Upon being relieved from patrol by another sweep division, Leader headed home from the Philippines in late 1965.
Traveling north of the Philippines, we were in the classic “H” formation with Leader as flagship in the center
and the Lucid, Excel, Guide and Enhance at the four outer points. We had reports of an incoming storm and right in the
middle of the San Bernardino Straights we hit Typhoon Faye. For several days we experienced the most extreme conditions
I had ever seen. We were taking water over the bridge and that was an open bridge. During an evening watch I had
to take message traffic to the OOD [officer of the deck] on the bridge. As I finally got there, the OOD turned around
and he was wearing a scuba diving mask. Almost in hysterics, I said to Lieutenant--, “What the hell are you wearing
that for, sir”? About that time, one of the lookouts on the bridge called out “WAVE” and we all hit
the deck with me and the lieutenant hanging on to the compass and we were all damn near swept overboard. As the bow
came back up, Lieutenant-- looked at me and said, “Now do you know why I am wearing this f---ing thing? I can’t
see a damn thing without it.” I asked him if he had another one.
Seas were so heavy that while on the bridge I watched the Guide in front of us heel over so far that both screws came out
of the water. When it was all over, one sweep had its steel bow plate ripped off and another had its mast twisted some
five or so degrees. When you ran next to her dead amidships you could see both the port and starboard green minesweeping
task lights because the yardarms were twisted so far.
Sleeping at night in the bow-berthing compartment was nearly impossible. You had to strap yourself in the bunk and
then hang on as the ship “went over one [wave] and under two.” It was the only time on board the lady that
I was not quite sure she would hold together.
Following Excel’s arrival in homeport, the remainder of the year was devoted to a holiday leave and upkeep period.