In the early years the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was essentially a defensive effort characterized by the overriding goal of securing control over the indigenous minorities and winning their allegiance so that they would not fall to the Communists. The missions were to control the Viet Cong, either through area development or border surveillance or combinations of the two. The civilian irregulars and the U.S. Special Forces were not hunting the Viet Cong in the beginning. The buildup of conventional U.S. forces in Vietnam changed all that and opened the door to the next stage in the evolution of the Special Forces CIDG program—a stage in which the Special Forces and the irregulars would find themselves cast in a distinctly offensive role. They were to become hunters with the mission of finding and destroying the enemy.
In January 1965, just before the beginning of the massive U.S. commitment of conventional forces to South Vietnam, the U.S. Special Forces counterinsurgency program was defined in a letter from Headquarters, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), to the commanders of all operational A, B. and C detachments:
Definition: The SF Counterinsurgency Program is a phased and combined military-civil counterinsurgency effort designed to accomplish the following objectives: (a) destroy the Viet Cong and create a secure environment; (b) establish firm governmental control over the population; and (c) enlist the population's active and willing support of, and participation in the government's programs.
These objectives are accomplished while executing any one of three possible assigned missions: (1) border surveillance and control, (2) operations against infiltration routes, or (3) operations against VC war zones and bases.
Concept of the Operation: This is essentially a clear, secure, and develop operation. A fundamental point in the counterinsurgency program is that, where possible, the Strike Force personnel should be locally recruited in order to provide an exploitable entry to the populace which, in turn, facilitates military-civil relations.
The letter goes on to state that no population area which is "uncommitted" or which has been dominated by the Viet Cong can be
considered won to the government until the Viet Cong have been cleared from the area, the local Viet Cong underground organization has been eliminated, and the government of the Republic of Vietnam has firmly replaced that of the Viet Cong. The letter also points out that in remote areas the task is often to introduce the government representatives for the first time.
While the new offensive role of the CIDG under the U.S. Special Forces is reflected in the letter, its operations statement reveals that the old area development concepts were still operative to a large extent. As the number of conventional U.S. forces began to grow, however, the use of the Special Forces and CIDG troops in a straightforward, offensive combat role became the norm—both in theory and in practice. In these middle years, the civilian irregulars under the Special Forces assumed a fully offensive, though not always fully conventional, role. They became hunters of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army.
U.S. forces were there to defeat the enemy. Their presence and the presence of conventional North Vietnamese units changed the nature of the entire war. Before 1965 there was principally a guerrilla insurgency. After 1965 the conflict became more conventional, with the major qualification that guerrilla tactics were used heavily by the enemy. At any rate, the "conventionalization" of
the war led to the "conventionalization" of the civilian irregulars, who were no longer fighting for their own protection but instead were fighting to defeat the enemy.
The emergence of the Special Forces Civilian Irregular Defense Group project as an offensive effort is not surprising. For the most part, the American soldier arriving in Vietnam found himself in an environment totally different from anything he had ever experienced. He was not used to the heat, the rain, the jungle; he did not know the Vietnamese people and their culture; he did not speak the language; and, most significantly, he did not know who or where the enemy was or how to find out. On the other hand, the U.S. Special Forces and their civilian irregular troops were accustomed to the heat, rain, and jungle, and they could communicate. Special Forces men had come to know the people and their culture. Participation by the Special Forces in tribal ceremonial functions was not uncommon, and the Montagnard bracelet worn by many Green Berets was a token of Montagnard respect and involved a ceremony for its presentation. And, finally, if they did not know who or where the Viet Cong were, they could find out.
Besides causing the shift to the offensive in the Special Forces
CIDG role, the large number of American troops had other effects on the CIDG program, both good and bad. For example, new American commanders often misjudged or misunderstood the capabilities of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group units present in their tactical areas of responsibility. As a result a company of irregulars would occasionally be requested for a job which a U.S. infantry company could handle but for which the irregulars were neither trained nor prepared. Another mistake U.S. commanders made was to propose splitting a CIDG company, with the idea of sending one platoon here and another there. This practice, standard procedure for an American unit, was hard on the CIDG troops for whom unit integrity was extremely important. The civilian irregulars did not think of themselves as battalions, brigades, or divisions. They were companies, strike forces, tied together not only by their Vietnamese Special Forces commanders and U.S. Special Forces advisers, but also by their common homelands and tribal bonds. It is not surprising then that a CIDG platoon would be in over its head trying to work with a U.S. infantry platoon on its flanks. On the whole, U.S. commanders never really became familiar with the civilian irregulars and their capabilities.
The U.S. buildup also had good effects. Most important of these was in the area of camp defense and security—two major concerns in the early years. The chief difficulty had been to reinforce a camp rapidly and effectively when it came under imminent or actual enemy attack. The buildup of U.S. forces not only provided powerful U.S. reaction forces, but it also promoted further development, particularly from 1966 to 1967, of indigenous reaction forces, known as mobile strike units, in numbers, dispersion, and strength. The advent of U.S. Air Force support along with the helicopter and its availability to the CIDG reaction forces made rapid and effective response a reality. Command and operational control structures were reorganized and streamlined in order to provide rapid reaction forces with reserves. Eventually, these developments would make it possible for the Special Forces and civilian irregulars to reinforce camps under attack that would otherwise have been lost. Similar positive effects were achieved in other combat operations. For example, in the early 1960s the irregulars had run into enemy units which were too big for them to handle. In the latter years, such contacts could be and were exploited. In fact, one of the major functions of the CIDG came to be precisely that of finding the enemy in force so that he could be engaged.
Along these lines, it is not surprising that the ability to gather
intelligence that was inherent in the Special Forces CIDG effort came to be heavily used. The CIDG troops and their U.S. and Vietnamese Special Forces leaders were ideally suited for the task of finding and fixing enemy forces. Their camps were dispersed from one end of the country to the other, usually in Viet Cong territory. Further, the civilian irregulars and the Special Forces were themselves trained guerrillas, capable of meeting the enemy on his own terms. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, estimates indicate that in the course of this period almost 50 percent of the command's ground combat intelligence came from Special Forces and civilian irregulars.
Again, this new role as intelligence gatherers had both good and bad effects on the Special Forces CIDG program. On the positive side, the CIDG program was revitalized and strengthened when its value as a source of intelligence was realized and exploited. In the early years plans had been formulated for the discontinuance of the program as such, and its integration into the conventional Vietnamese military structure. In fact, the opposite happened. The program continued to expand vigorously as new missions like the production of intelligence were devised. (Table 6)
On the other hand, the emphasis on producing reliable intelligence for use by conventional forces necessarily led to the decline of what may be termed "local" intelligence. Under the area development concept, emphasis had been placed on intelligence covering the local Viet Cong underground organization in the area of operation of each camp. The aim was to destroy the Viet Cong organization in each tactical area of responsibility. Later, when priority was given to intelligence for conventional forces, local intelligence efforts deteriorated, with a corresponding decrease in the effectiveness of local area development. Finding and destroying the Viet Cong countrywide by conventional military methods took precedence over the more subtle tactic of systematically rooting out the Viet Cong structure in each of the areas surrounding the CIDG camps. This is not to say that the expanded and unified intelligence mission given the Special Forces and civilian irregulars was not effective. On the contrary, it was effective. But the talents of the Special Forces in area development came to be exploited only to a minimal degree.
Finally, the demand for intelligence was the primary factor influencing the development of the so-called unconventional operations carried out by the Special Forces during this period. The mission of finding the enemy led to the establishment of such special operations as Projects Delta, Omega, and Sigma, which
proved to be significant contributions of the U.S. Special Forces to the war in Vietnam. The intelligence these projects produced was invaluable, and their deadly effectiveness against the enemy proved their worth as methods of offensive counterinsurgency.
In the course of these middle years, the Special Forces troops also were given new missions, which, while related to the CIDG program, were in addition to their CIDG mission. Included among these were the subsector advisory mission and the Recondo (reconnaissance-commando) School mission.
Combat actions during this period fell into three categories. First, there were actions connected with the opening, closing, or defense of CIDG camps, especially along the border, including the battles at A Shau, Lang Vei, Con Thien, Loc Ninh, Thuong Thoi, and Bu Dop. The pattern seems to have been that when a camp became a real nuisance to the enemy he was very likely to attack in great strength in an effort to overrun and destroy it. Otherwise the camps were left alone, and any contacts made were, for the most part, the result of sending out patrols from the camp.
Second, there were combat actions that grew out of the special operations, including Project Delta operations in I Corps; BLACKJACK 33 operations in III Corps under Project Sigma—the first operation in which mobile guerrilla forces were employed in conjunction with a project force; BLACKJACK 41, in which two mobile strike force companies conducted a parachute assault in the Seven Mountains region of IV Corps, and a mobile strike force carried out an operation in III Corps around Soui Da, in which the force was credited with rendering a Viet Cong battalion ineffective and which eventually developed into Operation ATTLEBORO.
Finally, the third type of combat action took place when CIDG troops were employed in conjunction with conventional forces in conventional combat operations. Among these were Operation NATHAN HALE, jointly conducted by CIDG forces, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), and 101st Airborne Division; Operations HENRY CLAY and THAYER; Operation RIO BLANCO in I Corps, involving CIDG troops, Regional Forces, Vietnam Army troops, Vietnam Rangers, Korean marines, and U.S. marines; and Operation SAM Houston in II Corps, conducted by the 4th Infantry Division and the CIDG troops. The CIDG troops also fought in the cities during the enemy Tet offensive of 1968. Contacts made by mobile strike forces and mobile guerrilla forces often developed into significant combat actions.
The introduction of large numbers of U.S. forces to the conflict in Vietnam brought drastic changes in the role of the U.S. Special
Forces, in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program, and in the war itself. The effects were felt almost immediately in the assignment of new subordinate missions, including that of assisting in the introduction of U.S. forces into remote areas. Initially the U.S. troop buildup had its greatest impact on the CIDG program in the II and III Corps Tactical Zones because conventional operations were, in the beginning, conducted there on a much larger scale geographically than they were in IV Corps or I Corps. In II and III Corps, tactical areas of responsibility of the CIDG camps repeatedly intersected or were included in the operational areas of conventional U.S. forces, with the result that camp strike forces came more and more under indirect U.S. operational control.
U.S. unit commanders soon realized that a Civilian Irregular Defense camp was an excellent source of local information. They learned quickly that guides, interpreters, scouts, or trackers, and fairly proficient prisoner of war interrogators were to be found in the camps, and that the strike force companies—provided that their special aptitudes were exploited and they were not expected to perform in all respects like U.S. infantry companies—could be useful adjuncts to U.S. search and destroy operations. In I Corps conventional operations by the III Marine Amphibious Force were concentrated near the coast and therefore did not become operationally involved with the Civilian Irregular Defense Group. It was not until the spring of 1967, with the introduction of Task Force OREGON, that this situation changed. In IV Corps the U.S. buildup had no impact on operations in the beginning, although good effects were felt, for example, in more helicopter and tactical air support.
The buildup benefited the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program itself in many ways. U.S. Army engineers were brought in to assist in the construction of camps. U.S. ground forces could now be used as security forces when areas were being explored to select new campsites. A combination of U.S. combat forces and civilian irregulars would make it possible to establish CIDG camps in areas where enemy strength had previously made it unfeasible. There was now increased helicopter support for CIDG airmobile operations. U.S. combat forces could now be employed as reaction forces to exploit opportunities developed by CIDG operations and to relieve CIDG troops or camps under attack. The camps of the civilian irregulars were small, isolated strongpoints, without any inherent capability for mutual support. The organic mobile strike forces did not attain significant strength until late in 1966; Vietnamese Army reaction forces were usually available but could
seldom be committed quickly. Actually, until the U.S. infantry arrived in strength there was no force available to exploit such a target of opportunity as a multibattalion concentration of Viet Cong preparing to attack a Special Forces camp, or to justify penetration of the war zones by CIDG reconnaissance patrols to locate enemy units. Especially during 1965 and 1966 many of the more productive U.S. operations in II and III Corps began as reactions to CIDG contacts with the enemy or as attacks against enemy concentrations discovered in their preparations by Special Forces agencies.
The troop buildup also brought difficulties for the Special Forces. These invariably stemmed from a lack of understanding on the part of U.S. commanders at all levels of the nature of the CIDG program and its command structure, of the role of Special Forces operational detachments, and of the capabilities and limitations of irregulars. The most common mistakes of U.S. commanders and staff officers were to equate a strike force company with a regular infantry company and to assume that CIDG camps located in an American unit's assigned area automatically came under its operational command.
In the period from July 1965 to June 1966 the Special Forces continued to grow. No attempts at turnover were made during this year; the emphasis was on expansion and development of CIDG resources in support of the war effort in general. This growth was another effect of the U.S. buildup, one which had not been expected and which came to light when the 5th Special Forces Group submitted its analysis of the CIDG.
With the deployment of conventional U.S. combat units to RVN in May 1965, it was felt by many that the CIDG effort was no longer required or valid in the face of the increased enemy threat. A study was conducted by the MACV staff to determine the desirability of completely phasing out all USASF and converting the ClDG to Regional Force status by 1 January 1967. The proposed conversion schedule required a specified number of CIDG to convert to RF during a specie fled time frame.
While being considered for complete phase-out by January 1967, it was found that the CIDG camps provided valuable staging bases from which ARVN and the Free World Military Assistance Forces (FWMAF) could launch offensive operations against the enemy, a role which the founders of the program had not foreseen.
Some of the points made by the departing commander of the 5th Special Forces (Airborne) in June 1966 concerning his year of command will bear repeating here.
The "special" about Special Forces is simply that the non-commissioned officers are the finest to be found anywhere in the world. Their multiple skills and individual motivation are exploited to the fullest in the combat environment of the A detachment in VC-dominated areas. If today's Special Forces NCO has ever had any peer, it was probably the tough, self-reliant, combat-tested soldier who fought on the Indian frontier of our own country during the 1870's....
Also, to my surprise, I discovered that the CIDG troops are not the band of unskilled, disorganized, and disgruntled peasants I had envisioned. They are, in fact, closely knit religious or ethnic minority groups with a fierce loyalty to each other and to those who will treat them with respect and consideration....
The addition of an airmobile company (light) has proved to be of particular value. Command and control are greatly enhanced, and the organic capability to stage my own airmobile operations has drastically reduced reaction time, which is so important in this counterinsurgency environment. Similarly, the engineer augmentation has greatly assisted in improving airfields and expediting camp construction....
A few observations should be made in the area of combat operations. First, much of the initiative still rests in the hands of the VC and the NVA. This remains so primarily as a result of the first-rate intelligence system of the VC. In general, most engagements occur when the VC determine that it is to their advantage to fight. Otherwise, they fade
into the bush. Operations of larger-than-company size seldom make contact. Small unit patrolling and ambushes (squad and platoon), backed up by responsive air support and reaction forces, have proven to be a most effective approach. . . In this manner we have been able to average 9.7 contacts per day with the enemy during the past year. Counting operations outside the camp perimeters each day during the past twelve months....
Project Delta continues to be a particularly useful intelligence gathering means.... The technique of employment of these reconnaissance teams today differs somewhat in that they are now employed in VC-controlled areas where there are no major friendly actions in progress which might compromise Delta's presence. . . Currently these six-man US-Vietnamese teams "work an area" for longer periods (generally thirty days) than heretofore. Repeatedly they have collected valuable intelligence.
Probably the single greatest U.S. shortcoming in Vietnam is our lack of timely, accurate intelligence. Soldiers' complaints about their repeated "walks in the woods" without contact give evidence of this problem. SF CIDG camps however, have helped to fill this vacuum. SF camps are able to establish effective agent nets in the locale of the camp using CIDG who are native to the area.... It is a unique capability which accrues to the USASF-CIDG system. MACV J2 states that over 50 percent of all their ground intelligence reports in the country come from Special Forces sources. . . The 1st Air Cavalry Division's Operation Crazy Horse during May 1966 in Binh Dinh Province is an example of an operation launched solely as a result of intelligence obtained by a CIDG-Special Forces patrol . . . Another example of success achieved from rapid exploitation of SF battlefield intelligence occurred when Camp Buon Ea Yang, Darlac Province, II CTZ, conducted an operation on 18 March 1966, in which a VC Company Commander was KIA and several documents were captured. Subsequent analysis of the documents indicated the location of four VC companies, approximately twenty-two kilometers from the camp. An operation was planned on the basis of the captured information. Operation Le Hai 21 made contact with a VC battalion located at the coordinates taken from the documents....
The areas of civic action and psychological operations continue to occupy much of our attention. According to USARV records, the 5th Group Civic Action Program accounted for half of all the civic action projects conducted by USARV units during 1965-66 to date.
In 1964 officials in the United States Mission in Saigon began pressing for more emphasis on providing advice and assistance to the Vietnamese on civil matters. One program which was developed and rapidly expanded called for U.S. advisers to assist the Vietnamese government officials in improving the civic and community activities in their local areas. The advice and assistance ranged from large-scale projects such as dam construction, crop development, bridge-building, and road improvements to the digging of wells, planning and supervising elementary sanitation systems, the estab-
lishment of small businesses, the construction of Montagnard hospitals, and the technical training of medical orderlies, dental technicians, and automotive mechanics.
U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, advisers were assigned to province or sector officials (roughly equivalent to state officials in the United States), and as the number of American advisers increased, they were assigned to the next lower political level, the subsector (town or village) officials. At the same time, it was recognized that the real focal point for advice and assistance should be the officials of the town or village. The availability of U.S. advisers, civilian and military, did not always stretch to include these grass roots officials.
Since a number of CIDG camps were located near subsector headquarters, the U.S. Army Special Forces was asked in 1964 to study the practicality of assigning the additional mission of advising subsector officials to the U.S. Special Forces commanders in the nearby CIDG camps. At this point in time, the 103 advisers from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, had proven their worth in the political structure but had all the responsibility they could manage. Geographically they were stretched thin. The U.S. Special Forces headquarters agreed to take on the additional mission of advising the Vietnamese civilian officials with the clear understanding that the CIDG combat mission had priority. One compelling reason for accepting these posts in a select number of locations was that the Special Forces adviser had a built-in defensive capability in the form of the CIDG troops in nearby camps, a resource not available to the Military Assistance Command adviser, especially in insecure districts largely controlled by the Viet Cong.
After a successful test period with an A detachment in this dual role, the Military Assistance Command assigned the subsector mission to appropriately situated A detachments in all four corps tactical zones. In certain provinces in III and IV Corps, where most of the subsector officials were advised by Special Forces A detachment commanders, the control B detachments were assigned the next higher political level requirement—the sector advisory mission. The mission of an A detachment commander in this assignment was to advise and assist the subsector official or district chief in the training and employment of his Regional and Popular Forces troops. As a sector adviser, a B detachment commander had a similar mission in relation to the sector commander or province chief.
By October 1965 five B detachments had coequal missions and thirty-eight A detachments were assigned the subsector mission. The
number of detachments assigned these missions peaked in the first quarter of 1966 at seven B and forty-one A detachments and thereafter declined. At the end of June 1967 there were four B and twenty-three A detachments so assigned. On the whole, the performance in the subsector and sector advisory mission by the Special Forces was very good, but A detachments were clearly better motivated and more effective in carrying out the subsector mission when controlled by a B detachment charged with the sector advisory mission.
The combination of the coequal missions of B detachments and the similarly charged A detachments under them was most productive in the Mekong Delta, where the presence of U.S. troops was not a factor, and the contest, despite presence of the Vietnam Army, was for the most part between government paramilitary forces and local Viet Cong units. In these circumstances, the B detachment commanders were in a position to plan and co-ordinate the operations of all CIDG, Regional Forces, and Popular Forces units in a province by using an integrated intelligence system. Detachment B-41 at Moc Hoa in Kien Tuong Province, B-42 at Chau Doc in
the same province, and B-43 at Cao Lanh in Kien Phong Province —all in the IV Corps—were able to operate most effectively in this way.
In the area of combat developments, the achievements of Project Delta must be mentioned. Project Delta was the first unit specifically trained to perform special operations. When it first became operational in December 1964, after a long period of training, it consisted of six reconnaissance teams of eight Vietnamese and two U.S. Special Forces men each, and a reaction force, the Vietnam Army's 91st Ranger Battalion (Airborne) consisting of three companies. By 1967 Project Delta had expanded to sixteen reconnaissance teams composed of four Vietnamese and two U.S. Special Forces members, eight roadrunner teams, and a reaction force of six companies. The pattern of operations consisted of infiltrating teams, normally by helicopter, at dusk or after dark into a Viet Cong-controlled area, without benefit of lights or ground reception party. At first the teams were limited to reconnaissance and were withdrawn if discovered. Subsequently, a decision was made to allow them to continue operations provided that contact with the enemy had been safely broken and to attack small targets that they could handle without help. Missions were assigned by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, or the Vietnamese Joint General Staff and were based on recommendations from the commanding general of the Vietnamese Special Forces and the commanding officer of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Besides Project Delta, other combat developments in this period included the creation of the Apache Force and the Eagle Scouts, which were eventually integrated into the combat reconnaissance patrol and mobile strike forces, which also had their beginnings at this time. The full effectiveness and capabilities of the combat reconnaissance patrol and mobile strike forces were not realized until after June 1966.
The Apache Force was conceived as a combined force of Special Forces men and indigenous troops with the primary mission of orienting an American battalion or larger size unit prior to its commitment to combat against Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army forces. The orientation included terrain walks, map analyses, Viet Cong or North Vietnamese small unit tactics, a review of lessons learned to date on enemy weaknesses and common mistakes made by U.S. forces when first committed. Finally, the Apache Force usually accompanied the American unit into the field for the first several days of combat. Its secondary mission was to serve as a multipurpose reserve for the Special Forces CIDG program in order
to extend intelligence capabilities, conduct offensive operations with Nung companies (which came to be heavily utilized in the mobile strike forces), reinforce threatened areas, or act as a reaction force for camps, outposts, or forward operations bases under attack. The Eagle Scouts, like the Apache Force, were capable of reconnaissance and combat and could be moved by helicopter as well. These two forces, along with others, represented stages in the evolution of an effective reconnaissance and reaction force—the mobile strike force.
The formation of combat reconnaissance platoons of thirty four men each, one platoon to each camp, began during the first quarter of 1965. It took some time to send all the platoons to Dong Ba Thin to receive special training at the Vietnamese Special Forces training center under Project Delta instructors, but the reconnaissance platoon became the elite unit of each camp and measurably increased the effectiveness of strike force operations. In most camps there was at least a reconnaissance squad attached to a regular strike force patrol, usually of company strength. The combat reconnaissance platoon was infrequently employed as a unit, but elements were often assigned the task of finding and fixing
enemy targets or used for psychological operations and small raids, or to adjust artillery fire and air strikes. In July 1966 the decision was made to increase the strength to two reconnaissance platoons per CIDG camp.
From 1961 to 1964 a serious weakness in the CIDG program was the lack of troops to reinforce a camp garrison under attack or to exploit a patrol contact with the enemy.
General William C. Westmoreland in June 1965 approved the creation of a small reserve force for each C detachment for use in long-range patrolling, reinforcement, and reaction. These multipurpose reaction forces, called mobile strike forces, were formed during the fourth quarter of 1965. Another mobile strike force was organized at Nha Trang under the operational control of the Commanding Officer, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Each mobile strike force consisted of a headquarters and three companies with a total strength of 594. Each company was composed of three infantry platoons, a weapons platoon, and a reconnaissance platoon which together had a total strength of 198. Mobile strike force troops were trained to a tactical competence beyond that of a CIDG camp strike force company. A Special Forces A detachment, initially without Vietnamese Special Forces counterpart, was assigned to each mobile strike force. At first full use was not made of the strike forces' capabilities as reaction and reconnaissance units. Instead these units for the most part acted as interior guards for the corps C detachments and the headquarters compound at Nha Trang. After June 1966, however, full use of the mobile strike forces was made, with excellent results.
There was a significant engagement at the A Shau camp in I Corps on 11 March 1966 that underscored the need for an effective reaction force. A Shau was an isolated camp southwest of Hue, about five miles from the Laotian border. The camp's mission was border surveillance and the interdiction of infiltration routes. During the first week in March 1966, captured enemy documents and information from defectors indicated that an attack by four North Vietnamese Army battalions was imminent. Reinforcements were requested. Headquarters, I Corps, disapproved the request, but the commander of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) committed a mobile strike force company of 143 men, seven of them U.S. Special Forces men, which arrived in the camp on 7 March. The garrison consisted of 220 civilian irregulars, 10 U.S. Special Forces men, 6 Vietnamese Special Forces men, several interpreters, and 41 civilians.
Although local patrols and night ambush parties had failed to find the enemy on 7 and 8 March, the VietCong began to probe the outer defenses at 1930 on the 8th. Early on 9 March the enemy opened up with 81-mm. mortars, causing fifty-seven casualties and damaging camp structures. Air strikes were ineffective because of heavy ground fog, and one incoming C-47 crashed after being hit by ground fire. A helicopter evacuated twenty-six wounded.
Mortar and 57-mm. recoilless rifle fire beginning at 0400 on 10 March reduced most of the remaining buildings to rubble and silenced half the crew-served weapons. At 0500 the enemy launched heavy assaults across the runway against the east wall and—under cover of the tall grass that had been allowed to grow up in the defensive minefield—against the south wall. The defense of the southeast corner collapsed and the fighting surged into the camp. Survivors from the east wall and south wall defenses withdrew to positions near the communications bunker and the north wall at about 0830. Air strikes were then brought in with good effect on the enemy forces occupying part of the breached walls and on enemy units that were forming east of the airstrip for another assault, but they had no power to change the outcome of the fight. The enemy attack had succeeded. In mid afternoon Headquarters, III Marine Amphibious Force, dispatched sixteen H-34 helicopters with tactical air support to evacuate the garrison. At 1720 survivors began to move toward the landing zone, with Special Forces mobile strike force troops fighting a rear guard action. Heavy enemy fire at the pickup point inflicted many casualties, and the waiting civilian irregulars panicked and tried to force their way into the aircraft. Two helicopters were destroyed by enemy fire. Some were unable to touch down because of the low ceiling. Only sixty-five of the original three to four hundred persons were evacuated.
By 1745 all who remained and could do so—seven of the Special Forces men, forty mobile strike troops, fifty CIDG troops, and the two downed helicopter crews—made their escape, moving in a northeasterly direction. On 11 and 12 March several small groups were sighted by rescue aircraft and picked up. Further air search from the 13th through the 15th of March failed to locate any more survivors.
In July 1965 fighting took place near Camp Bong Son, Binh Dinh Province, II Corps, involving four Special Forces men and the 883d Vietnamese Regional Forces Company. The action bears mention because it illustrates the demands often made on Special Forces men in South Vietnam and reflects the considerable ability demonstrated by many Green Berets in combat. The following
account was written by Major Paris D. Davis, then a captain, who participated in the action.
We had just finished a successful raid on a Viet Cong Regimental Headquarters, killing upwards of one hundred of the enemy. The raid had started shortly after midnight. We had four Americans and the 883rd Vietnamese Regional Force Company participating in the raid. After the raid was completed, the first platoon of the 883rd company broke and started to run just about the same time I gave the signal to pull in the security guarding the river bank. I went after the lead platoon, MSG Billy Waugh was with the second platoon, SSG David Morgan was with the third platoon, and SP4 Brown was with the fourth platoon. It was just beginning to get light (dawn) when I caught up to the first platoon and got them organized, and we were hit by automatic machine gun fire. It was up front and the main body of the platoon was hit by the machine gun. I was hit in the hand by a fragment from a hand grenade. About the time I started moving the platoon back to the main body, I heard firing and saw a wounded friendly VN soldier running from the direction of the firing. He told me that the remainder of the 883rd company was under attack. I moved the platoon I had back towards the main body. When I reached the company, the enemy had it pinned down in an open field with automatic weapons and mortar fire.
I immediately ordered the platoon I had to return the fire, but they did not—only a few men fired. I started firing at the enemy, moving up and down the line, encouraging the 883rd company to return the fire. We started to receive fire from the right flank. I ran down to where the firing was and found five Viet Cong coming over the trench line. I killed all five, and then I heard firing from the left flank. I ran down there and saw about six Viet Cong moving toward our position. I threw a grenade and killed four of them. My M16 jammed, so I shot one with my pistol and hit the other with my M16 again and again until he was dead.
MSG Waugh started to yell that he had been shot in the foot. I ran to the middle of the open field and tried to get MSG Waugh, but the Viet Cong automatic fire was too intense, and I had to move back to safety. By this time SSG Morgan, who was at the edge of the open field, came to. He had been knocked out by a VC mortar round. He told me that he was receiving sniper fire. I spotted the sniper, and shot him in his camouflaged man-hole. I crawled over and dropped a grenade in the hole killing two additional Viet Cong.
I was able at this time to make contact with the FAC, CPT Bronson and SGT Ronald Dies. CPT Bronson diverted a flight of 105's and had them drop their bombs on the enemy's position. I ran out and pulled SSG Morgan to safety. He was slightly wounded, and I treated him for shock. The enemy again tried to overrun our position. I picked up a machine gun and started firing. I saw four or five of the enemy drop and the remaining ones break and run. I then set up the 60mm mortar, dropped about five or six mortars down the tube, and ran out and tried to get MSG Waugh. SSG Morgan was partially recovered and placing machine gun fire into the enemy position. I ran out and tried to pick up MSG Waugh, who had by now been wounded four times in his right
foot. I tried to pick him up, but I was unable to do so. I was shot slightly in the back of my leg as I ran for cover. By this time CPT Bronson had gotten a flight of F4's. They started to drop bombs on the enemy. I ran out again, and this time was shot in the wrist—but I was able to pick up MSG Waugh and carried him fireman style, in a hail of automatic weapon fire, to safety. I called for a MEDEVAC for MSG Waugh. When the MEDEVAC came, I carried MSG Waugh about 200 yards up over a hill. As I put MSG Waugh on the helicopter, SFC Reinburg got off the ship and ran down to where the 883rd company was located. He was shot through the chest almost immediately. I ran to where he was and gave him first aid. With SSG Morgan's help, I pulled him to safety.
The enemy again tried to overrun our position. I picked up the nearest weapon and started to fire. I was also throwing grenades. I killed about six or seven. I was then ordered to take the troops I had and leave. I informed the colonel in the C&C ship that I had one wounded American and one American I didn't know the status of. I informed the colonel that I would not leave until I got all the Americans out. SFC Reinburg was MEDEVACed out. The fighting continued until mid-afternoon. We could not get the company we had to fight. The enemy tried to overrun our position two more times. We finally got reinforcements, and with them I was able to go out and get SP4 Brown who lay out in the middle of the field some fourteen hours from the start until the close of the battle.
Major Davis received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his efforts in this action.