The History of the Swift Boat: from WWII to Vietnam to the Coast Guard


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: wikimedia

About This Quiz

Battleships and destroyers are hulking monstrosities of war – they weigh tens of thousands of tons, carry hundreds of sailors and feature enough weapons to blow up entire towns. But these big ships are virtually useless in shallow water, where they get hung up on rocks and reefs. In the early 20th century, the United States Navy began using much smaller boats to patrol coastlines and pursue enemies in littoral zones. What do you know about the storied – and sometimes controversial – history of swift boats?

Aircraft carriers are undoubtedly cool, but they are also enormous, and they displace an incredible amount of water. Translated: They only work in deep water. Savvy enemies know they can survive the wrath of such behemoths if they can just stay alive long enough to reach the cover of shallows and rivers. Starting in World War I, the U.S. began producing smaller craft meant to address shallow water combat. What do you recall about the design and specifications of swift boats?

In World War II, combat happened everywhere from inland rivers to wide-open ocean, and the Navy created a class of boats meant to deal with the Axis near shorelines. Then, in Vietnam, similar challenges arose, as the North Vietnamese attacked and disappeared using guerilla warfare tactics in swampy areas and rivers. What do you know about the swift boat crews who served during these conflicts?

Quick, plunge into the waters of this swift boat history quiz now! We’ll see if you can survive the onslaught of river combat or if you’ll be “swift boated” into oblivion!

What's a "swift boat"?

Swift boats are a more common name for what are technically called patrol fast craft. They are small, manueverable vessels that have a storied history with the U.S. Navy.


Swift boats gained fame during which conflict?

During the Vietnam War, the Navy spent much of its time in the shallow waters of Vietnam's coasts and rivers. Swift boats, with their small size and speed, were invaluable tools during the fight.


Swift boats are often called _____.

Because the military is always loaded with acronyms, the swift boat needs one, too. Patrol fast craft are often simply called PFCs.


Why did the U.S. need swift boats during the Vietnam War?

In Vietnam, the North Vietnamese used their small, fast boats to move men and equipment through shallow waters. The U.S. Navy needed swift boats because its other watercraft were too big and slow.


How big were the swift boats of the Vietnam era?

Swift boats of Vietnam were 50 feet long. They were big enough to carry an effective crew, along with necessary weapons, but small enough to plunge through shallow bays and rivers.


During WWII, the Navy had an early version of swift boats. They were called _____ boats.

They weren't called PFCs or swift boats in WWII. These small craft were called PT boats, and they were used in WWI, too.


WWII swift boats were called PT boats. PT stood for what?

PT boats were patrol torpedo boats. PT boats were small, fast, and yes, they shot torpedoes at enemy targets all over the world.


What was the "brown water navy"?

During the Vietnam War, the brown-water navy referred to vessels that attacked targets in shallow or river waters (where the water is often brownish instead of bluish). Swift boats were a vital part of the brown-water navy.


What was the average size of a crew for a Vietnam War swift boat?

In Vietnam, swift boat crews were small, just six sailors operating in a hostile environment. Many swift boats wound up in heavy fire fights during the war.


The first swift boats of Vietnam featured which weapon?

The first swift boats were armed with a pair of .50-caliber machine guns, big enough and powerful enough to blow men, structures and machines to bits.


How did swift boats deploy during the Vietnam War?

During Vietnam, swift boats were deployed in small groups, featuring around four vessels. These crews coordinated their actions for maximum firepower and safety.


What was a primary construction material for swift boats?

The Navy wanted non-wood construction for its swift boats. The final design used a lot of lightweight aluminum.


How did Operation Sealords change the purpose of swift boats?

Earlier in the Vietnam War, swift boats were only deployed to shallow coastal waters. In '68 that all changed with Operation Sealords, in which the craft began traveling up into Vietnam's rivers in pursuit of their objectives.


What was one drawback to WWII-era PT boats?

Early in WWII, PT boats were notorious for featuring rather flimsy construction. They didn't withstand the rigors of deployment the way sailors would've preferred.


What was the maximum speed of Vietnam War swift boats?

U.S. swift boats weren't incredibly fast, but they were speedy enough for shallow rivers. They had a maximum speed of 32 knots, or about 37 mph.


Which U.S. politician is inextricably linked to a political debacle in which he/she was "swift boated"?

In 2004, John Kerry ran for president, and the dirt slinging began in earnest, and his enemies began questioning his service during the Vietnam War. Hundreds of veterans created an opposition group that said Kerry's inadequate leadership on a swift boat during the war was a sign that he was unfit for president. In short, Kerry was "swiftboated."


During WWII, PT boats were rather _____.

PT boats in WWII were cheap and expendable. They were a quick way for the Navy to deploy men and weapons on shallow-water missions.


In Vietnam, which part of a mission was most dangerous for a swift boat crew?

During Vietnam, it was always more perilous when crews returned downriver after a mission. Why? Because the enemy knew the boats would have to come back downriver, giving them ample time to set up deadly ambushes.


The Japanese named PT boats _____ during WWII.

PT boat crews zoomed around blasting Japanese ships in WWII. They were bold and fast, and the Japanese nicknamed them "devil boats."


How many swift boats does the U.S. Navy currently list in operational status?

Swift boats are an older technology that's virtually obsolete. The Navy currently has only two of these vessels on hand.


WWII-era PT boats were often simply called ______ boats.

Because a company called Higgins Industries built a wide variety of boats, including some PT boats. The company is better known for making the flat-bottomed landing craft that ferried troops to shore during D-Day.


How was the first swift boat lost in the Vietnam War?

Mines were a constant threat to vessels of all kinds in Vietnam. The first swift boat destroyed in action was a victim of a mine, but it would not be the last to succumb to these hidden munitions.


Swift boats had two diesel engines. Each engine had how much horsepower?

Swift boats had to be both fast and reliable. They sported a pair of Detroit Diesel engines, both rated at about 480 hp.


In addition to machine guns, swift boats were equipped with what weapon?

Many of the swift boats featured both machine guns and an 81mm mortar, which lofted explosives over obstructions and (hopefully) into the loving arms of the enemy.


How were the Mark III versions of the swift boats different from the Mark IIs?

There were three primary versions of swift boats in Vietnam, Mark I, Mark II and Mark III. The Mark III boats were the biggest and most capable.


In WWII, a company called Elco built one PT boat every ____ hours.

PT boats were complicated contraptions, but Elco employed thousands of people to make these vessels as quickly as possible. The company completed a PT boat roughly every 60 hours.


True or false, does the "swift" in swift boat stand for "shallow water inshore fast tactical"?

There are some rumors online that "swift" stands for "shallow water inshore fast tactical." However, there aren't official sources that confirm it, so "swift" is a descriptor of the craft's agility, not an acronym.


Which U.S. president famously served aboard a PT boat during WWII?

During WWII, John Kennedy was a lieutenant in command of a PT boat in the Pacific Theater. His boat was smashed by a Japanese ship, and the survivors -- including the future president -- swam miles to shore.


About how many swift boats did the U.S. deploy during the Vietnam War?

Swift boats were handy but not particularly numerous. The U.S. had about 100 of them in action during the Vietnam War.


True or false, in Vietnam, were Patrol Boats, River (PBRs) the same thing as swift boats?

The missions of PCFs and PBRs overlapped, but they weren't the same thing. Patrol Boats, River, were made specifically for river missions, were 20 feet shorter, and had smaller crews.


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