My 1969 Navy STAB Boat

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ordnance
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My 1969 Navy STAB Boat

Post by ordnance » Sun Mar 19, 2006 1:13 pm

It's nice to see a new forum on the "G" for the REALLY eccentric MV collectors. Here is my military boat. These photos were taken the day I found it in a California Surplus yard, in May of 1990. It doesn't look much better today unfortunately, as there always seems to be another project ahead of it.

Officially, the boat is a 24 foot Utility Boat, MKII. Unofficially, they were called STAB's, for Strike Assault Boat. A total of 22 were built by Grafton Boat Works in Illinois in 1969. Of these, 20 were shipped to Vietnam and assigned to Stabron 20, operating in the Mekong Delta. They performed unit insertion and extraction duties, operated as high speed assault boats, and worked as waterborne guard post boats at night watching river traffic.

They were designed for steath to assist in SEAL insertion and extraction and had large mufflers and thick sound absorbing foam surrounding the engines. The aluminum hulls were double wall with flotation foam between tthe sheeting, making them virtually unsinkable. They had no superstructure or covering above the gunwales, unlike the PBR's, so they operated looking much like the photo below. Missing in the scrap yard photo, of course, is the armament the boats were overloaded with. Normal armament consisted of 4 M60D machine guns and one MK20 40mm grenade launcher, all mounted on 5 MK16 stands around the crew compartment. One of those is still visible at the stern on my boat. Often the waist positions were fitted with twin M60D's, bring the total number of mounted guns to 7, not bad for a 24' boat filled with guys carrying their own individual weapons, too.

The crew compartment and engine areas were surrounded with 3/4" thick hard ceramic and nylon armor plate and the crew area was further lined with laced in ballistic nylon flak blankets to help knock down any bullets that got inside. All of the hard armor was still in the boat when surplussed and the loops can be seen around the crew tub where the flak blankets were tied in.

Power consisted of two Mercruiser 325 packages. These were 427 Chevrolet gas engines running Mercruiser commercial size Group III outdrives with 18" props. At the stern, there is a flotation box attached to help offest the weight of the twin 427's and outdrives, bringing the actual length of the boat to 26 1/2 feet. Above the trim tab hanging down, you can see the ends of the keel coolers that extend almost halfway up the hull. These acted as a radiator, with a closed loop cooling system, to allow the boats to silently idle in hot, shallow water without overheating.

These boats were easily the fastest craft operating in the Delta, and could reach 50-55 knots with a clean hull and strong engines. They were well liked by the crews in their short service life, only operating for about a year in Vietnam. The changing Naval doctrine and Vietnamization of the Riverine fleet ended the program and the boats were all returned to the United States. I've been told by several Vets that the main reason they weren't transferred to the ARVN along with the PBR's and Swift's was the gasoline engines. They were virtually the only non-diesel boats in the fleet and always posed logistical and security problems to keep fed with gasoline. So in the end, it was easier to bring them home than continue the support structure for them.

After their return to the States, the boats were used a little around the West coast before the Navy finally decided they really didn't need a small fleet of high speed, heavily armed assault boats, so they were slated for destruction. Most were sent to Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station to be used as hard targets at sea for jet jockeys to shoot at. That plan didn't work out too well in the long run. With the floatation foam filled hulls, the boats refused to sink after being strafed, so instead of being convenient disposible targets, they became a navagational hazard that needed to be towed away. The remaining boats were sent across the bay to the Port Hueneme DRMO yard and were surplussed out in the late 1970's. For some reason, the Navy kept boat #21 until much later, not releasing it until September, 1989, still on its orgiinal STAB trailer.

Several hulls survive on the West coast, some converted to fishing or pleasure boats, and I think there are still one or two at Coronado to be used in a museum/memorial to Riverine forces in Vietnam. As far as I know, there are no operational boats restored to their original confiuration. I hope mine will eventually get there but you know how boats are......a hole in the water to pour money into.

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Last edited by ordnance on Tue Jan 08, 2008 4:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by dan1 » Sun Mar 19, 2006 6:36 pm

Glad to see that you rescued this historic MV from the scrapyard! I wish you smooth sailing with your eventual restore and hope you keep us updated on the progress :D :D
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Post by petesilfven » Mon Mar 20, 2006 2:11 pm

I wonder what that sucker would do with a pair of new 502 hp. big blocks and a couple of the latest and greatest drives. Put a .50 M2HB in that pintle, and you'd be good to go..... :wink: :wink:
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my 69 navy stab boat

Post by dilvoy » Mon Mar 20, 2006 4:26 pm

WOW! That's a cool boat. Thank heavens for those scrap dealers that supposedly buy junk but actually buy cool things that they want to play with while still being able to get some money out of them just incase they can't use them or sell them whole. Do you still have the engines for it?
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Post by ordnance » Tue Mar 21, 2006 5:50 am

To this day I'm still amazed I was able to buy this boat at all. It was found at Barstow Truck Parts in the California desert. They were pretty notorious in those days for smelting anything that was a slow mover. On one visit, they were pulling NOS Mighty Mite tail gates from their cardboard boxes and feeding them into the aluminum smelter they operated in the middle of the yard.

So when I saw the boat, I did a little quick math in my head. Figuring the boat weighed about 6,000 or 7,000 pounds (they tip the scales at over 15,000 with a full combat load), and aluminum scrap at about $1.00 a pound in those days, I assumed it would be way out of my reach. But I asked anyway and was quoted a price of $1,500! My only conclusions were they must have assumed it was fiberglas like the PBR hulls they had, or were afraid of cutting and burning the floatation foam between the hull plates. In any case, a deal was handed to me and as hard as I tried to talk myself out of it, the STAB followed me home.

When acquired, there were no engines or transmissions and one of the outdrives was cracked and frozen, but both were there. As Pete suggests, it probably would be a real screamer with more modern gear installed. But I tend to be as much of a purist about this as a Dodge WC, MB, or CCKW. So I spent several years tracking down a pair of Government issue, rebuilt Mercruiser/Chevrolet 427 marine engines.

It now has all the proper gun mounts, repro M60's, transmissions, driver's chair, steering gear, and many other small parts and accessories. Major items still needed include fuel tanks, two deck plates, one outdrive lower half, a replica of the MK 20 40mm grenade launcher, new instruments, and about 2,000 hours of spare time to put it all together, just like the other boat projects out there in everyone's garages.


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Post by faabala » Tue Mar 21, 2006 6:18 am

Got any recent photos? It sounds great!
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Post by ordnance » Mon Mar 27, 2006 4:19 am

The boat really doesn't look much different now than in the photos above, just harder to see as it is wedged in the confines of my workshop. But I'll attach some actual Vietnam service photos of the STAB boats, much more interesting and inspiring anyway. These were copied from the few original photographs of STAB boats found in the files of Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. They give an idea how the boats looked and performed in combat.

The first shows 11 of the 20 boats in country being maintenanced and prepared for waterborne guard post duty on the Grand Canal. In the foreground, you can identify boats number 11 and 17. Unfortunately, the other hulls cannot be identified by number and I sure would like to know if number 21 is in that group.

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The next photo is of the same group of boats with the crew of one working on a pair of M60D waist mounted machine guns. At the stern of the crew compartment, a crew-built rack is filled with pop flares and hand grenades. The whip antennas were for the VRC-46 and PRC-77 radios carried on each boat.

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The final 3 photos show a STAB on a high speed patrol mission near the Cambodian border in early 1970. The normal armament of 4 M60D machine guns and one MK20 40mm grenade launcher can be seen and show how much the weapons define the profile of the boats in operation. Many of the M60D's were fitted with the unofficial ration can addition that helped feed the linked ammo into the guns.

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Sorry to all the guys with dial up connections about the size of the images (that includes me) but I like to see the details in the photos, so I left them large intentionally. Thanks for all the positive comments---now if I can just get the thing back in the water someday.

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Post by john bell » Mon Apr 03, 2006 7:13 am

Nice project Ordnance!
I live about 20 miles south of "The Grafton Boat Works", where your boat was built. Its located on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.
We spend alot of time in that area pleasure boating. Someone told me a long time ago they once built PT boats there but now I know for sure.
"The Grafton Boat Works" is now a restaurant/ bar called "The Loading Dock" with a scenic view of the river and bikini clad beauties. :wink:
Next time I'm up that way I'll get some pictures for you.....of the building that is :D ...........John
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Post by ordnance » Wed Apr 05, 2006 12:13 pm

Thanks for the offer. Yes, I would appreciate a few photos of the current state of affairs at the old Grafton Boat Works when you get the opportunity. I was aware Grafton had sold out to another boat company but didn't know the whole operation had gone down the drain. Not too surprising, I guess, as that's the way so much American manufacturing has gone in recent years.

I'm not sure what other products Grafton contributed to the Military boat world but do know this. Before they built the 22 STAB boats in 1969, they manufactured 16 LSSC boats for the Navy SEALs on a FY 1968 contract. The LSSC designation stood for Light SEAL Support Craft. These boats were very similar in hull design to the STABs, 24 feet in length, but were powered by Ford 427's and 12" Jacuzzi jet pumps. All 16 went to Vietnam and, with the MSSC's, were the workhorse boats of the SEALs from 1967 to the end. I only know of one LSSC that has been restored and preserved, in a private collection in Minnesota.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear of other Grafton products built for the Navy, but do not know of any for sure. Anyone else know of any Grafton built craft out there?

I"ve thought about visiting the site but haven't had the time when I've been in the St. Louis area. Perhaps I'll have to drive up for a sandwich and a beer on my next trip to the area. And don't worry too much if you accidently include a few bikini clad beauties in the photos---probably more interesting than an old building anyway. Thanks.

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STAB Boats

Post by Steve Greenberg » Mon Apr 24, 2006 5:53 pm

Gosh Rick,
Tell us about the boats you went to look at!!! :roll: You can leave out the 1st day of the trip :?
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Post by ordnance » Sat May 19, 2007 3:13 am

OK, time for an update on things. I've been wanting to visit the Grafton Boat Works site in Grafton, IL for a long time to see where my boat was made. Especially so after John's post above. So when I was in St. Louis last month, I decided to drive up and have a look on my way north to Rock Island Arsenal.

I'm not sure what I expected to see, but have always had this expectation that it was built at some sort of large shipyard in a bustling waterfront industrial area. Actually, Grafton is a sleepy little town of 640 people on the east bank of the Mississippi river just north of St. Louis and the mouth of the Missouri river. The building that had formerly been the Grafton Boat Works is easily the largest structure in town but is a modest old brick warehouse next to the river. It had been a boat building facility since the early 20th century but is now a summertime flea market and a waterfront restaurant and bar.

As John suggested, it looks to be a pretty swinging place in the summer when the boats and bikinis are out. The bar was built on the site of the machine shop and has 5 all glass garage doors on the north, south, and west that all go up when the weather is warm to let the fun move out on the patio. It would be fun to visit in the boating season but I was there during last month's cold snap in the mid-west and it was only in the 40's.

I had a sandwich and beer while visiting and talked with the bartender and a local guy who lives across the street about the history of the place. Everyone seemed aware that some sort of Vietnam river boats were built there but nobody actually knew what they looked like. The neighbor across the street didn't have a high opinion of the place during the Navy boat building days. He had gotten out of the Army in 1961 and said the place worked 24-7 when they were trying to finish their Navy contracts in 1968 and 1969. That meant someone was always pounding on aluminum panels at 3AM and keeping him awake so he seemed happy the place was now a bar. If I'm reading things correctly, I'll bet he spends a lot of time on that same bar stool when the scantily clad boat babes are out.

The bartender was nice enough to let me in the empty factory to take some photos and look around. All the bridge cranes are still in place but couldn't find any NOS STAB boat parts lurking in the corners.

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The view down river toward St. Louis.

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Inside the factory today. The Christmas lights hanging from the trusses are from large indoor parties catered by the Loading Dock bar.


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The locals call this island in the river across from the bar "machine gun island" and claim there are bullet holes in many of the trees from test firings of the machine guns on the newly built STAB boats. I'll bet the State of Illinois would frown on that today.

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Even though it wasn't exactly what I expected, it was still a fun visit and was worth the detour to learn a little more about the history of the STAB boat. There weren't any former employees around that anyone could put me in touch with but I thought it might be worth sending them a photo to hang on the wall to see if any of the old timers might see it and contact me with further info. I hope some of you boat enthusiasts find this interesting.
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1969 Grafton 24' STAB, Vietnam River Boat
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Post by raymond » Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:56 pm

I live not far from there and have driven by their numerous times, I've even stopped there (and Kinder's and the Barefoot Bar in Hardin up the Illinois) in my boat on an alcohol soaked Poker Run and never knew they made any military craft. There is an neat old military boat at my marina. Here is a link.

http://www.g503.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=97131

Raymond

Edit, the trees on that island don't look old enough to have been there in the late 60's. Trees on the Mississippi River will grow an inch in diameter or more (especially Cottonwood and Sycamores) a year. Plus the guns would have been fitted after delivery to the military.

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Post by ordnance » Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:18 am

Raymond,

Those bridge boats are pretty interesting. I've seen a few for sale here in the Pacific Northwest but always figured one boat project was enough.

Regarding the trees on Machine Gun Island.......I also thought they looked too young to be 38+ years old while I was taking the photo. And I wondered if they would have survived the floods in the 90s or were new growth after the original trees were swept away. But it was included in my update as a good bit of local legend.

I actually discussed this a bit with the neighbor sitting at the bar and he was insistant that the boats were tested with guns aboard, but said most of the actual firing was done at a quarry up river from Grafton. While you are correct that the machine guns wouldn't have been installed at the factory and delivered that way to the Navy, it's quite probable that the hard points on the hulls would be tested with actual guns by the builder. The Mk16 gun stands on the STAB boats took a LOT of abuse and had to be pretty tough. In Vietnam, one of the M60D guns was sometimes replaced with a .50 Browning and I'm sure that was a good test of the hull strength.
1934 Dodge 1/2 T PU
1937 Chev 1 1/2 T Cargo
1941 Bantam BRC
1941 37mm AT Gun
1941 GMC CCKW 352
1942 Dodge WC-55 Gun Carriage
1943 Borgward Sd. Kfz.302 Goliath
1944 MB
1969 Grafton 24' STAB, Vietnam River Boat
9 assorted hand carts, 1917-1944

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Post by raymond » Sun Jul 01, 2007 5:27 am

The types of trees on those islands (most likely cottonwoods or willows) aren't hurt by prolonged flooding, even of the type we had in 1993. THe 1993 flood did kill bottoms hardwoods like pin oak and pecan, but they tend to grow back from the channel and are usually not first colonizers of a new island like cottonwoods, willows, sycamores, and soft maple.

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Just a question about the STAB

Post by Podder » Fri Nov 02, 2007 12:54 am

I thought I knew the difference. Having read a few books and seen a few other pictures, I thought the STAB was a rubberized and or lightly armored boat with two outdoor Mercs. When I first came across your pictures and the following comments I thought you had came across an LSSC. From what I had learned and from what I have seen it looked like an LSSC especially with the two engine compartment and the exterior shot showing the Jacuzzi outputs. You will have to correct me where these differences are that I see in from what I have read about. Obiously from what you know, showing what you have seen, to be different, especially with the aluminum hull and all the flotation etc. and the bladder and baffled engine compartment. It is just that by don't know, and have not read about the big boat that you described and have pictured is a STAB and not an LSSC.
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