Historically, the bay has been significant from a military standpoint. The French used it as a naval base for their forces in Indochina. It was also used as a staging area for the 40-ship Imperial Russian fleet under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky prior to the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, and by the Japanese Imperial Navy in preparation for the invasion of Malaysia in 1942. In January 1945 U.S. Naval Task Force 38 destroyed most Japanese facilities in an action called Operation Gratitude, after which the bay was abandoned.
In 1964 United States Seventh Fleet reconnaissance aircraft, the seaplane tender Currituck, and Mine Flotilla 1 units carried out hydrographic and beach surveys and explored sites for facilities ashore. This preparatory work proved fortuitous when a North Vietnamese trawler was discovered landing munitions and supplies at nearby Vũng Rô Bay in February 1965; the incident led the United States to develop Cam Ranh as a major base.
The United States Air Force operated a large cargo/airlift facility called Cam Ranh Air Base, which was also used as a tactical fighter base. It was one of three aerial ports where United States military personnel entered or departed South Vietnam for their 12-month tour of duty.
The United States Navy operated a major port facility at Cam Ranh, and the United States Army had a major presence there as well. The Navy flew various aircraft from Cam Ranh and other bases, conducting aerial surveillance of South Vietnam's coastal waters.
The APO for Cam Ranh Air Base was APO San Francisco 96326.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army maintained the 6th Convalescent Center at Cam Ranh Bay enabling most wounded soldiers to be treated in country. Only those who required advanced treatment not available in Vietnam got sent out of country. Injured and wounded soldiers whose injuries had received initial treatment, usually at an evacuation hospital unit, but who could not immediately return to duty, were sent to the 6th CC where they could recover and, if needed, receive further treatment which did not require hospitalization. The "wards" were typical wooden US Army Vietnam-type barracks. Some patients, based on the status of their injuries, were initially admitted to an Intensive Care ward. They were nothing like what one would view as an Intensive Care ward in a regular hospital. They were the normal barracks type "wards," but the patients were more closely monitored. When well enough, patients were moved to a regular ward, from which they were ultimately discharged when recovered enough to return to duty with their units.
Naval use of Cam Ranh Bay
Cam Ranh Bay became the center of coastal air patrol operations with the establishment in April 1967 of the U.S. Naval Air Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, and the basing there of P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion patrol aircraft. That summer, the commander of the coastal surveillance force and his staff moved their headquarters from Saigon to Cam Ranh Bay and set up operational command post to control the Operation Market Time effort. Country wide coordination also was enhanced with establishment of the Naval Communications Station.
In the beginning the shore facilities at Cam Ranh Bay were extremely limited, requiring interim measures to support assigned naval forces. Army depots provided common supplies, while Seventh Fleet light cargo ships USS Mark and USS Brule (AKL-28) delivered Navy-peculiar items from Subic Bay in the Philippines. Until mid-1966 when shore installations were prepared to take over the task, messing and quartering of personnel were handled by APL-55, anchored in the harbor. Also, a pontoon dock was installed to permit the repair of the coastal patrol vessels. Gradually the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, improved the provision of maintenance and repair, supply, finance, communications, transportation, postal service, recreation, and security support.
While the concentration at Cam Ranh Bay of Market Time headquarters and forces during the summer of 1967, the demand for base support became extraordinary. Accordingly, the Naval Support Activity Saigon, Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, was redesignated the Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, a more autonomous and self-sufficient status. A greater allocation of resources and support forces to the shore installation resulted in an improved ability to cope with the buildup of combat units. In time, the Cam Ranh Bay facility accomplished major vessel repair and dispensed a greater variety of supply items to the anti-infiltration task force. In addition the naval contingent at the Joint Service Ammunition Depot issued ammunition to the coastal surveillance, river patrol and mobile riverine forces as well as to the Seventh Fleet’s gunfire support destroyers and landing ships. Seabee Maintenance unit 302 provided public works assistance to the many dispersed Naval Support Activity, Saigon detachments.
As a vital logistic complex, Cam Ranh Bay continued to function long after the Navy’s combat forces withdrew from South Vietnam as part of the Vietnamization of the war. However, between January and April 1972 the Naval Air Facility, and the Naval Communications Station turned over their installations to the Republic of Vietnam Navy and were duly disestablished.
By the early spring of 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to conquer South Vietnam, so they launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.
With the fall of the Central Highlands and the northern provinces of South Vietnam, a general panic had set in. By 30 March, order in the city of Da Nang and in Da Nang harbor had completely broken down. Forward North Vietnamese forces fired on American vessels in Da Nang harbor and sent sappers ahead to destroy port facilities, and refugees sought to board any boat or craft afloat.
Initially, Cam Ranh Bay was chosen as the safe haven for these South Vietnamese troops and civilians transported by boat from Da Nang. But, even Cam Ranh Bay was soon in peril. Between 1 and 3 April, many of the refugees just landed at Cam Ranh reembarked for further passage south and west to Phú Quốc Island in the Gulf of Siam, and ARVN forces pulled out of the facility.
On 3 April 1975, North Vietnamese forces captured Cam Ranh Bay and all of its military facilities.
Soviet and Russian naval base
Four years after the fall of Saigon and the unification of North and South Vietnam, Cam Ranh Bay became an important Cold War naval base for the Soviet Pacific Fleet.
In 1979, the Soviet government signed an agreement with Vietnam for a 25-year lease of the base. Cam Ranh Bay was the largest Soviet naval base outside the Soviet Union, allowing it to project increased power in the East Sea. by 1987, they had expanded the base to four times its original size and often made mock attacks in the direction of the Philippines, according to intelligence of the United States Pacific Fleet. Analysts suggested that the Vietnamese side also saw the Soviet presence there as a counterweight against any potential Chinese threat. The Soviet Union and Vietnam officially denied any presence there. However, as early as 1988, then-Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze had discussed the possibility of a withdrawal from Cam Ranh Bay, and concrete naval reductions were realised by 1990.
The Russian government continued the earlier 25-year arrangement in a 1993 agreement that allowed for the continued use of the base for signal intelligence, primarily on Chinese communications in the South China Sea. By this time, most personnel and naval vessels had been withdrawn, with only technical support for the listening station remaining. As the original 25-year lease was nearing its end, Vietnam demanded $200 million in annual rent for the continued operation of the base. Russia balked at this, and decided to withdraw all personnel. On May 2, 2002, the Russian flag was lowered for the last time. Vietnamese officials have considered turning the base into a civilian facility, similar to what the Philippines government did with the U.S. Subic Naval Base. One October 7, 2016 Russia indicated it was reconsidering its departure from naval facilities in Vietnam.
After the Russian withdrawal, the United States negotiated with Vietnam to open Cam Ranh Bay to calls by foreign warships, as it previously had done with the ports of Haiphong in northern Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. In a move that security commentators say is aimed at countering China's build-up of naval power in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced on October 31, 2010 that the bay would reopen to foreign navies after a three-year project to upgrade the port's facilities. Vietnam has hired Russian consultants to direct the construction of new ship-repair facilities, which are scheduled to be available to foreign warships.
The United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Cam Ranh Bay in June 2012, the first visit by an American official of cabinet rank to Vietnam since the Vietnam War.
On 2 October 2016, US Navy ships USS John S. McCain and USS Frank Cable made the first port visit to Cam Ranh Bay since 1975.
Ba Ngoi port is an international commercial port located in inside Cam Ranh Bay, which has advantageous natural conditions and potentials for developing services of seaports, such as: the depth of anchorage area, airtight and wide bay, nearby International Marine route (about 10 km), Cam Ranh Airport (about 25 km), National Highway No.1A (about 1.5 km) and National Railway (about 3 km). Therefore, it has been an important centre of marine traffic covering the economic zone of south Khanh Hoa and neighbouring provinces for a long time.