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Hai Quan Hull Number Markings
This article first appeared in the May 2006 issue of the Indo-china Philatelist

Hai Quan, or South Vietnamese Navy (VNN), military mail is an interesting collecting area, providing ample opportunity to seek covers to and from particular vessels, naval insignia, and patriotic illustrations or drawings. This article pertains in particular to hand stamped hull number markings.

Hai Quan covers are often identifiable by the abbreviation 'HQ' in the address. Care must be taken however, not to confuse this same abbreviation for Hanh Quan, meaning "campaign" or "in the field," with a naval cover. The letters 'HQ' followed by a number, such as "HQ 07", generally represents a hull number.

Vietnamese Navy KBC numbers are typically in the 3000 range. KBC 3328, for example, represents the naval fleet headquarters in Saigon. Keep in mind that other types of units used KBC numbers in the 3000 range, including rangers, political warfare units, and even armored cavalry.

Hai Quan 07 boxed handstamp military cover
Figure 1 HQ 07 boxed handstamp

In 1961, the United States Navy transferred the USS Crestview to the South Vietnamese Navy. Renamed the Dong Da II, this patrol craft escort was assigned hull number HQ 07. Figure 1 depicts a military cover from the Dong Da II to HQ 2, the Tran Quang Khai, a high-endurance cutter formerly on the roster of the United States Coast Guard.

It is important to note that hull numbers HQ 1 through HQ 6 and HQ 01 through HQ 06 represent different sets of ships, the latter being patrol craft. HQ 1 through HQ 6 were destroyers and high endurance cutters.

This cover received two imprints on the front of a boxed HQ 07 handstamp. It also received two matching handstamps on the reverse. These HQ markings were applied by the ship's postal clerk at the same time the KBC cachet was struck. This type of marking is not common on naval covers.

Although the cover proclaims that it is military mail (Quân Thu) and was sent between military units, it was charged postage due as indicated by the "T" marking since it traveled through the civilian postal service in Saigon.

The Dong Ha II was transferred to the Philippines Navy after the fall of Saigon and renamed the Sultan Kudarat. The Than Quang Khai likewise became the property of the Philippines after the war, but was never commissioned; instead it was used for parts.

Hai Quan 603 boxed handstamp military cover
Figure 2 HQ 603 boxed handstamp

The cover illustrated in Figure 2 was stamped with an HQ 603 boxed handstamp. HQ 603 was the hull number of the Kien Vang, abbreviated "KV" in the return address. This patrol gunboat medium, built by the J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation, was deployed in Vietnam in 1963. The return address abbreviation "T.Z.H." stands for Tuan Duong Ham, meaning "ocean patrol ship". The cover was sent to KBC 6649, known to be used by River Group 92.

The sender's rank is Ha Si Giam Lo (HS/GL), which translates as 'Seaman, Sea Route Inspector.' He had the responsibility of checking the ship's actual route to ensure it matched with the course plotted on the map. The recipient is a Mechanic Seaman (Ha Si Co Khi).

The HQ 603 handstamp is smaller than the one used on the HQ 07 cover. The HQ 09 handstamp illustrated in Figure 3 is different yet again, suggesting that these box-style handstamps were not officially produced and distributed by the military post office (Quan Buu Cuc) but rather designed by each ship.

Since naval KBCs served a large number of ships, these hull marking handstamps probably came about as a way to facilitate reuniting returned mail with its sender, especially when the return address did not include the hull number.

Hai Quan 09 boxed handstamp military cover
Figure 3 HQ 09 boxed handstamp 1969

Hai Quan 09 handstamp cachet military cover
Figure 4 HQ 09 cachet 1965

Figures 3 and 4 illustrate covers sent from HQ 09, the Ky Hoa. This minesweeper was formerly the USS Sentry, transferred to the VNN in 1962. The sender of the cover shown in Figure 3 wrote "PCE 09" in the return address, apparently the abbreviation for Patrol Craft Escort. The slogan in the upper left, To Quoc Dai Duong, literally means "Nation and Ocean," and proclaims the Navy's role of protecting the nation by securing its seas.

The lightly struck handstamp on the cover in Figure 4 includes HQ 09 on the 'bridge' portion of the cachet overlapping crossed anchors. The text at the bottom, Bo Chi-Huy Hai Luc, indicates it was sent from the Sea Force Fleet Command. The Ky Hoa was captured by the communists in April, 1975.

The following commemorative ship covers, each with a "Welcome to Norfolk" cachet, appear courtesy of SICP member, Son Luu. These covers provide nice examples of additional cachets that include HQ hull numbers, including those not previously seen from HQ 08, the Chi Lang II, HQ 12, the Ngoc Hoi, and HQ 14, the Van Kiep II.

A handstamp for HQ-04 is reported from an ex-sailor on that vessel, but no examples have been found. For what other Vietnamese Navy hull numbers due handstamp markings exist on cover?

Figure 5 various HQ hull markings on commemorative covers (HQ 09, HQ 08, HQ 12, HQ 14)

Hai Quan cachets on commemorative naval covers
Figure 5 HQ 09 boxed handstamp 1969

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