- Chapter III:
- Growth of U.S. Armored Forces
- The American elections of 1960 brought John F. Kennedy to the White House
and Robert S. McNamara to the Pentagon. The change spelled the end of the
strategy of massive retaliation and of the pentomic division with its five
battle groups designed to fight nuclear wars. The Army reorganization of 1963
restored the infantry battalion and provided a structure for the whole Army
that, at battalion and brigade level, was much like the separate battalions
within the combat commands of U.S. armored divisions after World War II. It
was clear that the new policy of flexible response demanded a force that could
fight in any kind of war, including so called wars of national liberation.
- In armored units there was little change. The 1963 reorganization reduced
each tank and mechanized infantry battalion to three line companies, but each
division had more battalions and support echelons. No one in armor seriously
believed that armored unit tactics needed to change. In 1957 Field Manual
17-1, Armor Operations, Small Units, devoted only two and one-half pages to
guerrilla warfare. By the early 1960's that coverage had been broadened; Field
Manual 17-35, Armored Cavalry Platoon, Troop and Squadron, carried an expanded
treatment of guerrilla fighting under the title, Rear Area Security.
- Many of the tactics set forth in the manual for employing armored cavalry
in rear area security missions proved useful in Vietnam. Road security, base
defense, air reconnaissance, reaction forces, and convoy escort were described.
Field Manual 17-1 included discussions of base camps, airmobile forces, tailoring
of forces for specific missions, encirclements, and ambushes. Both books stressed
surveillance, the use of the combined arms team, and the need for mobility.
Yet most counterinsurgency training was limited to work on patrols, listening
posts, and convoy security; the Army did not foresee a whole theater of operations
without a front line or a secure rear area.
- Although the helicopter was not specifically designed for counterinsurgency
warfare, it proved to be one of the most useful machines the U.S. Army brought
to Vietnam. As early as 1954 the Army had studied the use of helicopters in
cavalry units, and later experiments with armed helicopters had been conducted
- U.S. Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama. By early 1959 the U.S.
Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the U.S. Army Aviation School had
developed an experimental Aerial Reconnaissance and Security Troop-the first
air cavalry unit. This aerial combined arms team, composed of scouts, weapons,
and infantry, was tested in 1960 and recommended for inclusion as an organic
troop in divisional cavalry squadrons. In early 1962 the Army's first air
cavalry troop, Troop D, 4th Squadron, 12th Cavalry, was organized at Fort
Carson, Colorado, with Captain Ralph Powell as its commander. The troop mission
was to extend the capabilities of the squadron in reconnaissance, security,
and surveillance by means of aircraft. Over the next three years all divisional
cavalry squadrons in the Army were provided with air cavalry troops.
- In mid-1962 Lieutenant General Hamilton H. Howze headed a study group to
examine the possibilities of the helicopter in land warfare. The group concluded
that helicopters organic to the ground forces were an inevitable step in land
warfare. The Howze Board foresaw air assaults, air cavalry operations, aerial
artillery support, and aerial supply lines, and recommended the creation of
an air assault division. The outcome of the study was the formation of the
11th Air Assault Division, later to become the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
. The division organization included one unique unit, an air cavalry squadron
made up of one ground troop and three air cavalry troops.
- By 1965 when the U.S. Army began to send units to Vietnam, divisional armored
cavalry squadrons had three ground cavalry troops and an air cavalry troop,
tank battalions had three identical tank companies, and mechanized infantry
battalions had three mechanized companies mounted in APC's. (Chart 1)
Armored units were equipped with a mixture of M48 and M60 tanks, M 113 armored
personnel carriers, and M109 self-propelled 155-mm. howitzers.
- On the eve of the Army's major involvement in Vietnam, however, most armor
soldiers considered the Vietnam War an infantry and Special Forces fight;
they saw no place for armored units. The Armor Officer Advanced Course of
1964-1965 never formally discussed Vietnam, even when American troops were
being sent there. Armor officers were preoccupied with traditional concepts
of employment of armor on the fields of Europe; a few attempted to focus attention
on the use of armor in Vietnam, but in the main they were ignored. Many senior
armor officers who had spent years in Europe dismissed the Vietnam conflict
as a short, uninteresting interlude best fought with dismounted infantry.
- CHART. U.S. ARMORED ORGANIZATIONS, 1965
- The Marines Land
- By early 1965 the American command in Vietnam had concluded that the South
Vietnamese could not hold off the combined Viet Cong and North Vietnamese
Army forces without U.S. assistance, and in February American forces began
a limited air and sea bombardment of North Vietnam and jet aircraft strikes
in South Vietnam. In late February General William C. Westmoreland, Commander,
U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, requested two U.S. Marine battalion
landing teams to assist South Vietnamese forces in making the airfield at
Da Nang secure.
- On 9 March 1965 Marine Corps Staff Sergeant John Downey
U.S. MARINE CORPS FLAMETHROWER TANK IN ACTION NEAR DA
NANG. The U.S. Army no longer had flamethrower tanks but the Marine
Corps sent several to Vietnam.
- drove his M48A3 tank off a landing craft onto Red Beach 2 at Da Nang and
was followed by the rest of the 3d Platoon, Company B, 3d Marine Tank Battalion,
the first U.S. armored unit in Vietnam. Later in March the 1st Platoon, Company
A, 3d Marine Tank Battalion, landed with a second Marine team, and for the
remainder of the month these two platoons bolstered the defenses of the Da
- On 8 July 1965 the 3d Marine Tank Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
States R. Jones, Jr., debarked at Da Nang-the first U.S. tank battalion in
Vietnam. Consistent with U.S. Marine Corps concepts of tank employment, the
battalion's primary mission was to support Marine infantry. As Marine tactical
areas of responsibility expanded throughout 1965, so did the areas in which
tank units operated in support of infantry reaction forces, as support for
infantry strongpoints, or in sweep and clear operations.
- U.S. Marine Corps tank units took part in the first major battle involving
U.S. armored troops-Operation STARLITE. In mid-August
- 1965 a large Viet Cong force believed to include the 1st Viet Cong Regiment
was reported to be preparing to attack the Chu Lai airfield, southeast of
Da Nang. To preempt the attack, a marine amphibious operation using helicopters
and three battalion teams was mounted. A tank platoon supported each battalion.
The operation lasted for two days, and was characterized by short, bitter
firefights as the Viet Cong attempted to evade encircling forces. When Operation
STARLITE ended, the marines had pushed the Viet Cong regiment against the
sea, killing over 700 men. In two days, seven tanks had been damaged by enemy
fire, three so badly that the turrets could not traverse, and one to the point
that it had to be destroyed by a demolition team. The Marine tank crews had
demolished many enemy fortifications, captured twenty-nine weapons, and killed
sixty-eight Viet Cong.
- Until their final withdrawal in late 1969, Marine Corps tanks continued
to support U.S. Marine Corps infantry units in Vietnam. During this time,
Marine armor, eventually two full battalions, participated in the battles
of Khe Sanh and Hue and was the main armor defense force of the Demilitarized
Zone in the north.
- When the decision to send American ground forces to Vietnam was finally
made after a long, involved debate at high governmental levels it was conditional.
Troops were released to Vietnam in increments, each designed to support one
of the three principal ground strategies that followed one another in rapid
succession. The cumulative effect of rapidly changing strategy and the absence
of a clearly stated long-term goal with a definite troop commitment can be
easily seen in retrospect, but in the hectic days and months of the first
half of 1965 there was no one who could predict the length of the war, enemy
intentions and capabilities, and the extent of future U.S. commitment. It
was in this atmosphere that General Westmoreland and his planners labored
to develop troop lists of units they wanted sent to Vietnam.
- During the first half of 1965 the three principal ground strategies were
described as security, enclave, and search and destroy. Of the first two,
neither required the use of large mobile forces nor implied that U.S. troops
would stay in Vietnam for any length of time. Under the security strategy
American marines were sent to Vietnam to defend an airfield and took their
tanks along. The planners in the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam,
had not examined the makeup of a marine battalion landing team and therefore
did not realize that the team had tanks. The marines, for
- their part, saw no reason to leave their tanks behind. That tanks were sent
to Vietnam was, therefore, a kind of accident, and a not altogether popular
one. For example, U.S. Ambassador Maxwell D. Taylor was surprised and displeased
to learn that the marines had landed with tanks and other heavy equipment
"not appropriate for counterinsurgency operations."
- The security strategy was defensive in intent and limited in scope. In neither
it nor its successor, the so-called enclave strategy, was the use of armored
forces planned. The troops sent to carry out both strategies-the Marines,
the U.S. Army 1734 Airborne Brigade, and an Australian infantry battalion-were
therefore dismounted infantry elements whose stay in Vietnam was considered
temporary. In fact, the airborne troops were sent to Vietnam on temporary
duty. Force planners, trying to get all the combat troops on the ground they
could and still stay within the limited troop ceilings and the very restricted
capacity of the logistical base, chose infantry units that were easily deployed
and required only minimal support.
- The third strategy, search and destroy, began to evolve during June and
July of 1965. After receiving the authority to use U.S. ground forces anywhere
in Vietnam in search and destroy operations, General Westmoreland tried to
determine the forces that would be necessary to defeat the enemy. Throughout
1965 he personally studied every unit on the troop lists to insure the best
use of the authorizations, the earliest possible troop deployments, and the
most appropriate apportionment of troops among the armed services. Within
Army manpower authorizations, he also sought an effective distribution among
branches. The MACV staff continuously reevaluated the situation to determine
whether there was a need for additional troops. Because of the troop ceilings-the
first three troop increments were only 20,000 each, with no promise of more-the
severely limited logistical base, and the many misconceptions about the country,
armored units were not seriously considered for early employment in Vietnam.
- The first debate on the use of armored units arose during planning for the
deployment of the 1st Infantry Division. Directives from the Department of
the Army required reorganization of the division to eliminate the units designed
for nuclear war, the division's two tank battalions, and all the mechanized
infantry. The mechanized infantry units were to be organized into dismounted
infantry battalions. The rationale for these decisions was provided by the
Chief of Staff of the Army, General Harold K. Johnson, in a message on 3 July
1965 to General Westmoreland. Overruling an Army staff proposal that one tank
battalion be retained, General Johnson gave some of his reasons.
- A. Korean experience demonstrated the ability of the oriental to employ
relatively primitive but extremely effective box mines that defy detection.
Effectiveness was especially good in areas where bottlenecks occurred on some
routes. Our tanks had a limited usefulness, although there are good examples
of extremely profitable use. On balance, in Vietnam the vulnerability to mines
and the absence of major combat formations in prepared positions where the
location is accessible lead me to the position that an infantry battalion
will be more useful to you than a tank battalion, at this stage.
- B. I have seen few reports on the use of the light tanks available to the
Vietnamese and draw the inference that commanders are not crying for their
attachment for specific operations.
- C. Distances and planned areas of employment of the 1st Division are such
that the rapid movement of troops could be slowed to the rate of movement
of the tanks.
- D. The presence of tank formations tends to create a psychological atmosphere
of conventional combat, as well as recalls the image of French tactics in
the same area in 1953 and 1954.
- General Johnson went on to say that the divisional cavalry, the 1st Squadron,
4th Cavalry, would be allowed to keep its medium tanks, M48A3's, to test the
effectiveness of armor. If circumstances required it later, General Johnson
was prepared to reinforce the division with a tank battalion. In his answer
to this message General Westmoreland declared that "except for a few
coastal areas, most notably in the I Corps area, Vietnam is no place for either
tank or mechanized infantry units."
- These two messages clearly show the prevailing attitude among American senior
officers toward the use of armored forces in Vietnam, and reflect the influence
of the French experience with armor. At the staff level, the commanders' misconceptions
were magnified by problems of force structure; troop ceilings and the limited
logistical base became further justification for rejecting armored units.
For example, when it was noted that a mechanized battalion required more than
900 troops and a dismounted infantry battalion only about 800, dismounted
infantry became the choice. Further, the mechanized battalion also needed
a direct maintenance support unit of over 150 troops and a security force
to guard its base. Although a tank battalion required but 570 men, its detractors
were quick to say that only 220 of these were fighters-the rest were support
troops. To support the tank battalion in combat still more maintenance and
security troops would be needed. This line of reasoning made the tank battalion
an unattractive package. One force planner in the Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam, commented that while no one was outspokenly prejudiced against the
use of armored forces in Vietnam there was no strong voice calling for their
- The experience of the 1st Infantry Division illustrates some of the problems
faced by the commanders of armor units earmarked for Vietnam. Having lost
his tank and mechanized infantry units, Major General Jonathan O. Seaman,
the 1st Division commander, wanted to make sure that his one remaining armored
unit, the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, was properly equipped. General Seaman,
noting the poor performance of the M114 reconnaissance vehicle in Vietnam,
recommended substituting M 113's for the squadron's M 114's. After considerable
resistance from the Army staff in Washington the exchange was finally approved.
The M113's, modified with additional machine guns and gunshields, came from
the pool of vehicles taken from the recently dismounted mechanized battalions.
Obtaining trained people was another matter. Some months before when General
Seaman had been told that only one of his brigades would go to Vietnam, he
had filled the deploying brigade with experienced officers and men from other
division units, including the 4th Cavalry. Subsequently the remainder of the
division was ordered to Vietnam. Filled with new officers and troops the cavalry
had time for only two weeks of unit training before it left.
- When the first armor units reached Vietnam their tactical employment was
equally frustrating for the squadron and battalion commanders; again the experience
of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, is illustrative. The brigades of the 1st
Division, each with a cavalry troop attached, were sent to three different
locations. The squadron headquarters was left with only the air cavalry troop
under its control. The first operation at squadron level took place in early
1966, over six months after the unit reached Vietnam. Cavalry tactics during
those first six months suffered from the "no tanks in the jungle"
attitude. Because General Westmoreland saw no use for tanks, the M48A3's were
withdrawn from the cavalry troops and held at the squadron base at Phu Loi.
It took six months for General Seaman and Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Fisher,
the squadron commander, to convince General Westmoreland that tanks could
be properly employed on combat operations. Although the tank crews subsequently
proved themselves in combat, General Seaman's repeated requests for one of
his tank battalions that had been left at Fort Riley were refused. The same
fate befell similar requests by his successor throughout 1966.
- The air cavalry troop was also fragmented. Before the unit was sent to Vietnam
it was organized like an armed helicopter company: a troop of two platoons,
equipped with command and control helicopters and gunships. Training was based
on experience with
- armed helicopters in Vietnam. Once in Vietnam, however, helicopters were
parceled out to the units that wanted them, and the aerorifle platoon was
attached to Troop C for use as long-range patrols and base camp security guards.
The troop continued to operate in this makeshift fashion for over a year until
the example of other air cavalry units brought about a change in organization
- As the political and military power of the enemy continued to grow during
1965, General Westmoreland and his planners were convinced that the United
States would have to provide additional troops if the government of South
Vietnam was to survive. When the evolving strategy required additional American
forces, the President of the United States increased manpower authorizations,
and eventually more armored units were sent to Vietnam. In late 1965 General
Westmoreland requested deployment of the 11th Armored Cavalry and the 25th
Infantry Division. Included in the latter were the 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry,
the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) , and the 1st Battalion, 69th
Armor. Major General Frederick C. Weyand, the 25th Division commander, insisted
on deploying the armor battalion despite resistance from staff planners in
both Department of the Army and Vietnam.
- Scouts Out
- In the U.S. cavalry of the late 1800's, the familiar call at the beginning
of a campaign was "scouts out"; so it was, too, in Vietnam, in 1965.
Earlier some ground cavalry units had been used in Vietnam, but in September
the first air cavalry unit, the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry (Air) , arrived
with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). While a brigade of the 101st Airborne
Division maintained security in the An Khe camp area, the air cavalry troopers,
together with the airmobile infantrymen of the division's traditional "cavalry"
battalions, were allowed a few days to move into and secure an area for building
a division base.1
By 18 September enough aircraft were available for the squadron to begin aerial
reconnaissance of the division base area.
- In late October 1965 reports of increasing enemy strength in the central
plateau brought commitment of the entire 1st Cavalry Division to an offensive
in western Pleiku Province. The 1st Squad-
- ron, 9th Cavalry (Air) , the "eyes and ears" of the division,
was given the mission of finding the enemy as well as covering divisional
troop movements. Few enemy troops were spotted from the air at first but by
30 October the number of sightings began to increase. Troop C captured three
North Vietnamese soldiers, the first divisional unit to capture North Vietnamese
Army troops. On 1 November 1965 Troop B's scouts sighted and fired on eight
North Vietnamese soldiers. Shortly thereafter about forty more were spotted
and the troop's aerorifle platoon, already airborne, was landed to investigate.
For once the enemy stood and fought; the American platoon killed five of the
enemy and captured nineteen others. The troopers found the reason for the
enemy concentration when they moved into a nearby stream bed and discovered
a hospital. Fighting around the hospital continued while the captured soldiers,
medical equipment, and supplies, all part of the 33d North Vietnamese Army
Regimental Hospital, were evacuated. Late in the afternoon the 2d Battalion,
12th Cavalry (Airmobile) landed as reinforcements, and the 9th Cavalry aerorifle
platoon was withdrawn.
- Knowing that the enemy was in the area in strength, the 1st Squadron, 9th
Cavalry (Air), with Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry (Airmobile), moved
to the Duc Co Special Forces Camp and by evening on 3 November 1965 had begun
a reconnaissance in force along the Cambodian border. The squadron ambush
force, consisting of three American aerorifle platoons, an attached Vietnamese
platoon, and a mortar section of Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, reconnoitered
and established three ambush sites. In the early evening the southernmost
ambush, manned by Troop C's aerorifle platoon, sighted a large, heavily laden
North Vietnamese Army company. The enemy soldiers, easily seen by the light
of the full moon, were laughing and talking and obviously felt secure in that
part of the jungle. The waiting cavalrymen detonated eight claymore mines
set along a 100-meter kill zone, and the troopers joined in with their M16
rifles as additional claymores and rifle fire from the flank security elements
sealed off the area. The firing lasted two minutes, and when there was no
answering fire from the enemy the aerorifle platoon returned to the patrol
- One ambush platoon was still in position at 2200 when the three platoons
in the base were assaulted by an estimated enemy battalion. The first attack
was costly to the North Vietnamese, who withdrew. Enemy snipers remained in
the nearby trees, and, aided by bright moonlight, attempted to pick off the
defenders. With the help of the reinforcements from Company A, 1st Battalion,
- Cavalry, the Americans defeated another enemy attack just before daylight.
The defenders then made limited counterattacks to expand the perimeter and
provide a safer landing for the rest of the battalion. By dawn the enemy began
to break away, incoming fire slackened, and there was only occasional sniper
fire from the surrounding trees. The air cavalry platoons were then extracted,
leaving the 8th Cavalry to sweep the battlefield.
- For the second time in a week air cavalry soldiers had successfully battled
the enemy, later identified as the 66th North Vietnamese Army Regiment, recently
arrived in South Vietnam. These combat actions and the scouting activities
of the entire squadron supplied information on enemy locations that brought
major elements of the 1st Cavalry Division into action for almost a month
in the Ia Drang valley. The first stage of the Ia Drang campaign, which was
also the first major battle for an air cavalry squadron, showed how the air
cavalry should be used. For those commanders who employed it properly, the
air cavalry in Vietnam was a primary source for gathering intelligence information.
- Ap Bau Bang
- As the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, was triggering the Ia Drang campaign,
far to the south Troop A, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, participated in the first
major engagement of the 1st Infantry Division. The battle at Ap Bau Bang was
an early example of a combined arms defense of a night position. The action
was important because it occurred during the initial stages of U.S. troop
involvement and demonstrated the effectiveness of combined arms in jungle
- A task force of the 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, consisting of the battalion's
three rifle companies, its reconnaissance platoon, and Troop A (less the nine
tanks still at Phu Loi), was ordered to sweep and secure Highway 13 from the
fire base at Lai Khe to Bau Long Pond, fifteen kilometers north. The purpose
of Operation ROADRUNNER was to secure safe passage for a South Vietnamese
infantry regiment and provide security for Battery C, 2d Battalion, 33d Artillery,
which was moving north to support the South Vietnamese regiment. On 10 and
11 November 1965 the road was cleared without incident; medical teams even
visited the village of Bau Bang as part of a medical civic action program.
- During the afternoon of 11 November, Troop A, the artillery battery, the
command group, and Company A of the infantry battalion moved into a defensive
position south of Bau Bang. (Map 5) Concertina wire was installed,
individual foxholes were dug, and
- MAP 5
- patrols were setup for ambushes. Dragging the hull of a destroyed armored
personnel carrier around the perimeter, Troop A knocked down bushes and young
rubber trees to clear fields of fire. The night passed with only a light enemy
probe, but within minutes after the early dawn stand-to (a term applied
by armored units to first-light readiness of men, vehicles, and radios) fifty
to sixty mortar rounds exploded inside the perimeter. In the first few minutes
Troop A had two men wounded. Half an hour later a violent hail of automatic
weapons and small arms fire was added to the mortar fire. Under cover of this
fire, the Viet Cong moved to within forty meters of the defensive positions.
While the cavalrymen returned the fire, M113's of the 3d Platoon roared out
and assaulted the enemy. The violence of this unexpected mounted counterattack
disrupted the Viet Cong attack, and the M113's returned to the perimeter.
The troop suffered three more wounded and one killed when ammunition in a
mortar carrier exploded after being hit by enemy mortar fire.
- The Viet Cong made their second assault from the jungle and rubber trees
south of the perimeter. Again supported by mortars and automatic weapons,
they crawled through the waist-high bushes of a peanut field and rushed the
concertina wire. One of the M113's in that section of the perimeter was driven
by Specialist 4 William D. Burnett, a mechanic. When the .50-caliber machine
gun on his APC failed to function, Specialist Burnett jumped from the cover
of the driver's compartment to the top of the vehicle, cleared the weapon,
and opened fire on the charging Viet Cong, killing fourteen. For this and
other actions during the battle, Specialist Burnett was awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross. The heavy fire from Burnett's machine gun and those of the
M113's near him broke the enemy assault.
- The Viet Cong next attacked west from Highway 13, and again were repulsed
by .50-caliber and small arms fire. Several times M113's were moved to weak
points on the perimeter so that their machine guns could fire into the enemy's
ranks at point-blank range. At 0645 an air strike directed by an airborne
forward air controller dropped bombs and raked the wooded area north of the
task force with 20-mm. cannon fire.
- At 0700 the Viet Cong began their main charge from the north out of Bau
Bang, supported by recoilless rifles and automatic weapons emplaced along
an east-west berm on the southern edge of the village and mortars in the village
itself. The main attack was stopped at the wire by the combined firepower
of Company A and Battery C, which in thirty minutes, using two-second delay
- fired fifty-five rounds point-blank at the attackers. Despite this wall
of steel, one Viet Cong squad penetrated the perimeter and threw a grenade
into a howitzer position, killing two artillerymen and wounding four others.
Three infantry companies were meanwhile ordered by the 1st Infantry Division
to move toward the battle and to envelop the Viet Cong from the rear. At the
same time, armed helicopters flew to the scene.
- The enemy attacked again at 0900, this time from the northwest, with recoilless
rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars. Protected by the berm, these weapons
could not be destroyed by direct artillery fire. When an Air Force pilot reported
that the villagers were fleeing to the north of Bau Bang, and another pilot
sighted the mortar positions within Bau Bang, permission was obtained to hit
the village. Fighter planes bombed the enemy positions and armed helicopters
discharged rockets and strafed. For the next three hours, while mortars, artillery,
and air strikes hammered the enemy, the task force repelled successive attacks.
- The battle of Ap Bau Bang went on for more than six hours before the enemy
withdrew to the northwest, leaving behind his wounded and dead. Troop A, commanded
by Second Lieutenant John Garcia, suffered seven killed and thirty-five wounded;
two M 113's and three M 106 mortar carriers were destroyed and three M 113's
were damaged. Procedures and techniques learned in training had been proven
in battle. The clearing of fields of fire and the pre-dawn stand-to had insured
the full application of Troop A's fire-power. The 3d Platoon's foray into
the enemy position and the positioning of M113's on the perimeter had demonstrated
the unit's flexibility, and artillery and aerial fire support had provided
depth to the defense. The enemy had begun the fight; the combined arms team
had ended it.
- Deployments and Employments
- The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, had made the case for armored forces. Upon
the recommendations of General Seaman and others, armored units of the 25th
Infantry Division were sent to Vietnam in early 1966. Before leaving, the
1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized), had equipped its APC's with gunshields
and extra machine guns and the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, had exchanged its
gasoline-powered M48A2C tanks for diesel-powered M48A3's. For these units
and others to follow, South Vietnamese Armor Command advisers had prepared
a packet that included information on the terrain, suggestions for modifications
to equipment, a description of enemy weapons and tactics, and suggested countermeasures
- to the tactics. Such special South Vietnamese Army equipment as the M113
capstan recovery device was also described and detailed illustrations and
explanations of South Vietnamese modifications to the M113, notably gunshields
for the machine guns, were included.
- Within three weeks after their arrival, the three armored units of the 25th
Division participated in the first multibattalion armor operation to take
place in Vietnam. Operation CIRCLE PINES was carried out in the jungle and
rubber plantations twenty kilometers north of Saigon, where heavy growth favored
the concealment of Viet Cong base camps. In places soft marshy soil impeded
tank movement, but generally vegetation did not appreciably restrict either
tanks or armored personnel carriers. By the close of this eight-day operation,
more than fifty of the enemy had been killed and large amounts of arms and
supplies had been captured. Of more importance was the fact that a large armored
force had successfully invaded a Viet Cong jungle stronghold, forcing the
enemy to move his base camps. The myth that armor could not be used in the
jungle had been destroyed, and for that alone CIRCLE PINES will remain significant.
- During April and May the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) , continued
operations around the Cu Chi region, returning to enemy bases in the Filhol
Plantation and the Boi Loi and Ho Bo Woods. When conducting search and destroy
operations in the base areas, mechanized infantry usually fought mounted,
using the personnel carriers as assault vehicles. In the heavily wooded terrain
the vehicles moved in column formation, breaking paths through the trees and
thick brush and permitting the infantrymen to remain mounted and avoid booby
traps. When the infantry located the Viet Cong the vehicles were moved rapidly
toward enemy positions, with all guns firing in an attempt to overrun the
enemy before the troops dismounted to make a thorough search. Using these
techniques, in two months the battalion found and destroyed three base areas,
killed 130 of the enemy, and captured thirty-six weapons.
- In early June the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) , began Operation
MAKII, the first test of U.S. mechanized infantry's ability to operate in
III Corps Tactical Zone during the wet season. This maneuver took the unit
back into the Bao Trai-Duc Hoa area where it had fought in Operation HONOLULU
in March, when the rice paddies were hard and the canals dry. The plan called
for an immediate and rapid sweep of the respective company zones with the
object of finding and destroying all enemy forces. To gain as
- much surprise as possible, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas U. Greer, the battalion
commander, had the unit leave the base camp at Cu Chi just early enough to
reach the line of departure by H-hour, which was 1100 on 3 June.
- As the battalion reconnaissance platoon entered the zone of operation, it
spotted and killed two Viet Cong soldiers. When the M113's churned over the
dikes, more Viet Cong came out of the water where they were attempting to
hide by submerging and breathing through hollow reeds. In a short time twelve
of the enemy had been killed and nineteen captured. For the next three days
the battalion searched the area, occasionally encountering a few Viet Cong
soldiers. On 8 June, acting on information from prisoners, Company C discovered
the second largest arms cache of the war to date-116 weapons and two tons
of ammunition. The battalion learned from this operation that M113's could
move through paddies covered with more than a foot of water but could not
navigate damp, muddy paddies that had no standing water. The conclusion drawn
from the maneuver was that most of the division area was suitable for mechanized
operations, even during the rainy season.
- Task Force Spur
- Armored units arriving early in the Vietnam War literally had to invent
tactics and techniques, and then convince the Army that they worked. While
there was basic doctrine upon which to improvise, for Vietnam it needed expansion,
modification, and, in some cases, combat testing. Not all innovations came
from experienced armor leaders. Frequently, improvisation was necessitated
by the tactical situation, but more often it came from the imagination of
- Several general officers advocated more armor. General Jonathan O. Seaman
as commander of the 1st Division, and later as commander of II Field Force,
constantly recommended the deployment of more armored units. Brigadier General
Ellis W. Williamson asked for armor to support his 173d Airborne Brigade when
the tanks of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, were being held at Phu Loi. General
Fred C. Weyand, commander of the 25th Division, insisted on deploying armored
units with his division. Brigadier General William E. DePuy, who as MACV J-3
was convinced that armored units could not be used, later changed his mind
and as commander of the 1st Division constantly employed his armored units
to seek out the enemy.
- Not all early users of armor were generals. In early April 1966 Colonel
Harold G. Moore, Jr., commander of the 3d Brigade, 1st
- Cavalry Division (Airmobile), found a role for armored forces in the II
Corps Tactical Zone near Chu Pong Mountain, twenty-seven kilometers west of
Plei Me. The division was conducting Operation LINCOLN, and infantry units
requested heavy artillery-175-mm. and 8-inch-to provide close support. The
mission was given to Colonel Moore, who decided to move self-propelled artillery,
escorted by Troop C, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, through twenty kilometers of
jungle where no roads existed. The armored column was to be guided and protected
by elements of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry (Air) .
- On 3 April Task Force SPUR, with nine M48A3 tanks, seventeen M113's, and
the self-propelled artillery, struck out boldly from Plei Me into the jungle
to the west. Tanks of the 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, guided by scouts of the
1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, picked their way toward the planned artillery site
with M113's, artillery, and cargo trucks following in their path. Task Force
SPUR went through the twenty kilometers of jungle in seven hours, and for
the next two days conducted search operations in the valley. When no Viet
Cong were found, the armored unit returned to the artillery position to escort
the guns back to Plei Me. The cavalrymen had covered over 108 kilometers of
trackless jungle with the aid of air cavalry, demonstrating a far greater
capacity for cross-country movement in the II Corps area than anyone had thought
- Battles on the Minh Thanh Road
- In armored battles the mobility and heavy firepower of armored units often
compensated for tactical mistakes. Some battles were extremely close, and
caused changes to be made in operational procedures. One of these occurred
in the III Corps Tactical Zone in 1966 as the 1st Infantry Division, probing
into War Zone C, triggered a series of engagements on a dirt track called
the Minh Thanh Road.
- Operating with South Vietnamese forces, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division mounted
a series of operations in eastern War Zone C during June and July 1966. The
purpose was to open Route 13 from Saigon to Loc Ninh in Binh Long Province
and to destroy elements of the 9th Viet Cong Division. The 9th was reported
to be massing to seize the province capital of An Loc and several district
capitals. By the end of Operation EL Paso II in early September 1966, five
major engagements had been fought, and all three regiments of the 9th Viet
Cong Division had withdrawn into sanctuaries deep in War Zone C along the
Cambodian border, leaving behind some 850 dead. Highly effective counterambush
- based on the firepower and mobility of armored forces were developed during
three of the five engagements. These battles showed that armored cavalry with
air and artillery support could more than hold its own against a numerically
superior force, giving airmobile infantrymen time to join forces with the
cavalry to defeat an enemy ambush.
- The first of the three U.S. engagements took place when Troop A, 1st Squadron,
4th Cavalry, was ambushed by the 272d Viet Cong Regiment on 8 June 1966, north
of the Ap Tau O bridge on National Highway 13. (See Map 6, inset.) The
Viet Cong were deployed along a five-kilometer stretch of road in positions
extending well beyond the length of the cavalry column. When the ambush was
sprung most of the American troopers were able to reach a small clearing near
the head of the column, where, with the help of artillery and air support,
they desperately fought off the Viet Cong for four hours. When the battle
ended, the enemy had lost over one hundred dead and four taken prisoner, as
well as thirty individual and twelve crew-served weapons. Although successful
the cavalry had made mistakes. Since original estimates of the enemy force
were low, supporting fire was used primarily against the Viet Cong in the
fighting positions near the cavalry force and other enemy forces were left
free to maneuver. Although an infantry reaction force was committed toward
the end,, it did not arrive in time to be a decisive factor. After the commander
and other principals had analyzed the battle, cavalry communications were
changed and coordination of air and artillery was improved. Plans for reinforcement
by airmobile infantry were developed to ensure quick arrival of reaction forces
designed to fight off the main attack and to provide troops for blocking the
enemy withdrawal routes.
- Lessons learned on 8 June paid dividends on 30 June when the 271st Viet
Cong Regiment attacked Troops B and C, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, farther
north along Highway 13 near Srok Dong. This time, when the ambush hit Troop
B, Troop C rapidly maneuvered to reinforce. Coordination of fire support had
vastly improved and tactical air and artillery were immediately and effectively
employed. The relief force arrived in time to engage the Viet Cong before
they could withdraw, while exploitation forces were inserted behind the enemy
as far west as the Cambodian border, where another engagement took place.
Enemy losses were heavy-270 dead, 7 taken prisoner; 23 crew-served weapons,
and 40 small arms captured.
- Encouraged by the two earlier successes of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry,
Major General William E. DePuy, 1st Infantry Division commander, directed
development of a plan to lure the enemy into
- MAP 6
- attacking an armored cavalry column. Colonel Sidney B. Berry, Jr., 1st Brigade
commander, prepared a two-phased flexible plan that could be easily modified
for attacks on either Route 13 or the Minh Thanh Road. Five possible enemy
ambush positions were selected during the planning, and, as it turned out,
the site selected as the most likely was where the enemy struck. To increase
the chances that the enemy would attack, rumors were circulated for the benefit
of Viet Cong agents that a small armored column would escort an engineer bulldozer
and several supply trucks from Minh Thanh to An Loc on 9 July. The true size
of the force, called Task Force DRAGOON, was a well-kept secret; actually
it was composed of Troops B and C, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, and Company
B, 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry.
- Phase I, a deception plan involving an airmobile feint, covered the movement
of artillery and supporting forces. The infantry forces that were to attack
the flanks of the ambush and block withdrawal routes had to be in position
to act quickly if the ambush occurred. The 1st Brigade began positioning these
forces on 7 July, with infantry and artillery at Minh Thanh, more infantry
and artillery just north of Minh Thanh Road, and an infantry battalion near
An Loc. (Map 6) The trap was set.
- At 0700 on 9 July 1966 Phase II started as the task force moved south from
An Loc on National Highway 13, turned southwest on Minh Thanh Road, and arrived
at Checkpoint Dick at 1025 without incident. There were artillery and air
preparations on the western side of the bridge at Checkpoint Dick to soften
up possible enemy concentrations. Following the air strikes, the 3d Platoon,
Troop C, supported by covering fire, moved across the bridge with two engineer
minesweeper demolition teams. A quick check was made for demolition charges
and mines but no evidence of an enemy attempt to sabotage the bridge was found.
Since the cavalrymen were now only 1,500 meters from the site selected earlier
as the most likely ambush location, tension among the troops mounted. The
Troop C commander directed the 1st Platoon to cross the bridge, pass through
the 3d Platoon, and advance down the road toward Minh Thanh.
- As the 1st Platoon moved past the 3d Platoon, a planned air strike was made
near Checkpoint Tom while a CH-47, a helicopter with four.50-caliber machine
guns, a 40-mm. grenade launcher, and two 7.62-mm. machine guns, struck the
area southwest of Checkpoint Tom. There was no return fire. At 1100, midway
between Checkpoints Dick and Tom, the crew of the lead vehicle of the 1st
Platoon spotted ten Viet Cong running across the road. Minutes
- later when ten more crossed, the 1st Platoon's lead tank blasted them with
canister. The tank fire brought an almost unbelievable volume of enemy fire
on the entire Troop C column. The enemy had taken the bait.
- At the beginning the 1st Platoon took the brunt of the enemy fire; the commander
of the lead tank was killed. Within a few minutes the platoon leader reported
his scout section out of action, and a little later he himself was wounded.
As the platoon began to draw back under the heavy pressure, the platoon sergeant,
who had taken command, moved to the front of the column to get the lead tank
remanned and fighting. He directed the M132, a flamethrower, to send liquid
fire into the enemy positions on the north side of the road. Two of the 1st
Platoon's M113's were hit and burst into flames. The 1st Platoon now had two
tanks and four M113's firing at the enemy. The 2d Platoon, leading with an
M48A3 tank, closed rapidly on the 1st Platoon and deployed in a herringbone
formation, concentrating its fire to the north side of the road.2
The 3d Platoon, heavily engaged as soon as the first rounds were fired,
could not move forward to join the 1st Platoon and a 300-meter gap existed
between the two platoons. The Viet Cong were unable to take advantage of the
gap, however, because of the intense fire. Tracked vehicles along the entire
column were firing as rapidly as possible, continuing to jockey for position
and avoid the enemy antitank fire while artillery fire and air strikes hit
the enemy positions.
- The task force commander ordered Troop B forward to relieve the enemy pressure
and called for more artillery and air support. At first the enemy's main attack
had seemed to come from the south, but it was soon apparent that the enemy
force was concentrated to the north side of the road. The plan for infantry
reinforcement was put into action while the cavalrymen fought. When Troop
B closed on the tail of Troop C, the fighting intensified. Within forty-five
minutes the tanks had fired more than 50 percent of their canister and the
M113's were nearly out of .50-caliber ammunition. Several Troop B tracked
vehicles filled the 300-meter gap between the 2d and 3d Platoons of Troop
C, and one platoon was assisting the lead element of Troop C.
- With Troop B well disposed throughout the length of the Troop C column,
the squadron commander ordered Troop C to
- pull back to Checkpoint Dick for resupply. Some supporting infantry were
by then attacking the flanks of the ambush force while others were flown north
in helicopters to take blocking positions. The battle raged for another half-hour,
then the enemy began to leave protective cover and run away from the withering
fire of the cavalrymen and supporting forces. As the Viet Cong fled, infantry,
artillery, and tactical aircraft intercepted and destroyed them. An infantry
sweep the following day discovered small groups of Viet Cong still trying
to escape the trap. The searching forces found 240 of the enemy dead, took
8 prisoners, and captured 13 crew-served weapons and 41 small arms. By 1630
of 10 July the search was complete, and the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, withdrew
to Minh Thanh. The enemy plan to seize An Loc failed; the 1st Squadron, 4th
Cavalry, had reopened Route 13, a vital line of communications, and had assisted
in defeating the 9th Viet Cong Division.
- Two significant facts emerge from these engagements. First, contrary to
tradition, armored units were used as a fixing force, while airmobile infantry
became the encircling maneuver element. Second, the armored force, led by
tanks, had sufficient combat power to withstand the mass ambush until supporting
artillery, air, and infantry could be brought in to destroy the enemy. Engagements
with armored elements forcing or creating the fight and infantry reinforcing
or encircling were typical of armor action in 1966 and 1967.
- Armored forces, like other American units, generally. avoided deliberate
night actions in the early days of the Vietnam War. The scarcity of night
fighting equipment, poor training of U.S. forces in night fighting, the difficulty
of crashing through a dark jungle in armor at night, fear of ambush, and a
general reluctance to fight at night, all militated against planned night
actions. Armored operations at night were either reactions to enemy attacks
or defenses of night positions. Such techniques as the use of helicopters
and artillery flares for directing armored units and the employment of tank
searchlights to illuminate likely ambush sites were eventually developed,
but for most of the early years the night belonged to the enemy.
- In an effort to change this situation armored leaders developed several
techniques. One, nicknamed thunder run, involved the use of armored vehicles
in all-night road marches using machine gun and main tank gun fire along the
roadsides to trigger potential ambushes. While this procedure increased vehicle
mileage and maintenance problems, it often succeeded in discouraging enemy
- road mining and ambushes. Highway 13 from Phu Cuong to Loc Ninh became known
as Thunder Road because of the frequency of these runs and their similarity
to those in the Robert Mitchum movie. Roadrunner operations, named after the
cartoon character, although similar to the thunder runs were carried out by
larger units on armed route reconnaissance that looked for trouble spots.
These operations took place both day and night.
- The Blackhorse Regiment
- Although armored operations in Vietnam were catalysts for new concepts and
innovations, there seemed to be, at MACV staff level, a lingering reluctance
to deploy armored forces, especially those with M48A3 tanks. Nowhere is this
better illustrated than in the events that preceded the arrival of the 11th
Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse Regiment.3
Proposals were made to move the 11th Cavalry to Vietnam as early as December
1965, when General Westmoreland requested the regiment for the purpose of
maintaining security along Route 1. His subsequent desire to use the unit
for other missions precipitated a discussion of the regiment's table of organization
and equipment. In late December 1965, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam,
requested equipment modifications to the 11th Cavalry tables, including substitution
of light M41A3 tanks for medium tanks in the tank companies of the regiment's
squadrons and M 113's for both medium tanks and M114 reconnaissance vehicles
in the cavalry platoons. After evaluating the proposed changes, the Department
of the Army concluded that the regiment could not be sent as early as General
Westmoreland had requested if all proposed changes were made.
- The answer of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, that a mechanized
brigade was required in lieu of the regiment, created considerable consternation
among armor officers in the 11th Cavalry and in the Pentagon. It seemed that
the largest armor unit yet requested for Vietnam would be eliminated before
it had a chance to perform, and with it would go the hopes of many who believed
that more armored forces were needed. The request for a brigade prompted a
study by the Army staff, which considered as alternatives deploying a mechanized
brigade, reshaping the 11th Cavalry, or sending the 11th Cavalry as it was
- Deployment of a modified 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, with M113's substituted
for the medium tanks and reconnaissance vehicles of the cavalry platoons,
was considered the best alternative in view of the regiment's unusual capability
for decentralized operations. The cavalry regiment had a higher density of
automatic weapons, possessed long-range radios, and had more aircraft than
a mechanized brigade. It had better means of gathering intelligence, was capable
of rapid internal reinforcement, and possessed its own artillery in its squadron
- When agreement on the unit's organization was reached, the 11th Cavalry
began final preparations for Vietnam. Since M113's were to replace tanks in
the cavalry platoons, they were modified for use as fighting vehicles by attaching
a shield for the .50-caliber machine gun, and pedestals and shields for two
side-mounted M60 machine guns. The concept and design were exactly that adopted
by the South Vietnamese armor forces three years earlier, and subsequently
recommended to American units by the advisers to the Vietnamese Armor Command.
With the modifications the M113 was called the armored cavalry assault vehicle,
or ACAV, a name coined by the 11th Cavalry troopers, probably in memory of
the tanks the M 113's replaced.
- The 11th Cavalry arrived in Vietnam in early September 1966. Shortly after
its arrival the Military Assistance Command welcomed its second U.S. Army
tank battalion, the 2d Battalion, 34th Armor, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
Raymond L. Stailey. Part of the 4th Infantry Division before being sent to
Vietnam, the battalion was attached to II Field Force in the III Corps Tactical
Zone to replace the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, which had moved to the II Corps
area. On 19 September Company B was detached to the 1st Infantry Division
at Phu Loi, and on 5 October Company A was detached to the 25th Infantry Division
at Cu Chi. Finally, Company C was sent north to I Corps Tactical Zone until
December. The practice of parceling out its tank companies was to haunt this
battalion throughout its service in Vietnam; seldom did it have more than
one tank company under battalion control. This unfortunate practice, so characteristic
of the French in Indochina, was symptomatic of a command with few armored
units. It reached a new high later in the war when, for a period of several
months, the commander of the 2d Battalion, 34th Armor, again had no tank companies
to command. The 11th Cavalry also suffered from the
- ACAV PREPARES TO ESCORT A TRUCK CONVOY
- detachment practice, and there were periods when the headquarters controlled
only the regimental air cavalry troop.
- After Operation ATTLEBORO in September and October 1966, units of the 11th
Cavalry returned to Bien Hoa to continue Operation ATLANTA, whose mission
was to clear and secure lines of communication in three provinces near Saigon
and to secure the new Blackhorse Base Camp, 13 kilometers south of Xuan Loc.
At first the operation was limited to clearing and securing Route 1 from Xuan
Loc to Bien Hoa and Route 2 to the base camp. As ATLANTA continued, however,
the 11th Cavalry extended its operations away from the roads and throughout
- From the standpoint of the number of enemy killed, and, more important,
from the number of roads opened to military and civilian traffic, ATLANTA
was a success. Regimental experience varied from roadrunner and convoy escort
duties to cordon and search operations in which the squadrons sealed off an
area and then worked, both mounted and dismounted, to drive out the enemy.
Throughout, the regiment was able to move at will both on and off the roads,
and experienced little difficulty with the ter-
- rain. Areas hitherto considered Viet Cong sanctuaries were entered by armored
columns that destroyed base camps, fortifications, and supplies.
- It was during Operation ATLANTA that the 11th Cavalry fought its first major
battle. Twice the enemy tried to ambush and destroy resupply convoys escorted
by units of the 1st Squadron, but in both attempts was defeated by the firepower
and maneuverability of the cavalry. The second of these two ambushes took
place on 2 December 1966 near Suoi Cat, fifty kilometers east of Saigon. The
steps taken in this action illustrate a procedure for dealing with ambushes
that became standard in the regiment.
- When intelligence reports indicated that there was an enemy battalion in
the vicinity of Suoi Cat, the 1st Squadron conducted a limited zone reconnaissance
but found no signs of the enemy. Shortly thereafter, on 2 December 1966, Troop
A was handling base camp security, Troop B was securing a rock quarry near
Gia Ray, and the balance of the squadron was performing maintenance at Blackhorse
Base Camp. (Map 7) Early that morning a resupply convoy from Troop B, consisting
of two tanks, three ACAV's (modified M113's) and two 21/2-ton trucks, had
- MAP 7
TANKS AND ACAV'S FORM DEFENSE PERIMETER AT BRIDGE SITE.
Distance between vehicles was much less than armor doctrine stated because
of need for mutual support and to prevent infiltration.
- twenty-five kilometers from the rock quarry to Blackhorse without incident.
- At 1600 the convoy commander, Lieutenant Wilbert Radosevich, readied his
convoy for the return trip to Gia Ray. The column had a tank in the lead,
followed by two ACAV's, two trucks, another ACAV, and, finally, the remaining
tank. Lieutenant Radosevich was in the lead tank, and after making sure that
he had contact with the forward air controller in an armed helicopter overhead,
moved his convoy out toward Suoi Cat. As the convoy passed through Suoi Cat,
the men in the column noticed an absence of children and an unusual stillness.
Sensing danger, Lieutenant Radosevich was turning in the tank commander's
hatch to observe closely both sides of the road when he accidently tripped
the turret control handle. The turret moved suddenly to the right, evidently
scaring the enemy into prematurely firing a command detonated mine approximately
ten meters in front of the tank. Lieutenant Radosevich immediately shouted
"Ambush! Ambush! Claymore Corner!" over the troop frequency 5
and led his convoy in a charge through what had become a hail of enemy
fire while he blasted both sides of the road. Even as Lieutenant Radosevich
charged, help was on the way. Troop B, nearest the scene, immediately headed
toward the action. At squadron headquarters, Company D, a tank company, Troop
C, and the howitzer battery hastened toward the ambush. Troop A, on perimeter
security at the regimental base camp, followed as soon as it was released.
The gunship on station immediately began delivering fire and called for additional
assistance, while the forward air controller radioed for air support.
- When the convoy reached the eastern edge of the ambush, one of the ACAV's,
already hit three times, was struck again and caught fire. At this point Troop
B arrived, moved into the ambush from the east, and immediately came under
intense fire as the enemy maneuvered toward the burning ACAV. Troop B fought
its way through the ambush, alternately employing the herringbone formation
and moving west, and encountering the enemy in sizable groups.
- Lieutenant Colonel Martin D. Howell, the squadron commander, arrived over
the scene by helicopter ten minutes after the first fire. He immediately designated
National Highway 1 a fire coordination line, and directed tactical aircraft
to strike to the
- east and south while artillery fired to the north and west. As Company D
and Troop C reached Suoi Cat, he ordered them to begin firing as they left
the east side of the village. The howitzer battery went into position in Suoi
Cat. By this time Troop B had traversed the entire ambush area, turned around,
and was making a second trip back toward the east. Company D and Troop C followed
close behind, raking both sides of the road with fire as they moved. The tanks
fired 90-mm. canister, mowing down the charging Viet Cong and destroying a
57-mm. recoilless rifle.6
Midway through the ambush zone, Troop B halted in a herringbone formation,
while Company D and Troop C continued to the east toward the junction of Route
333 and Route 1. Troop A, now to the west of the ambush, entered the area,
surprised a scavenging party, and killed fifteen Viet Cong.
- The squadron commander halted Troop A to the west of Troop B. Company D
was turned around at the eastern side of the ambush and positioned to the
east of Troop B. Troop C was sent southeast on Route 1 to trap enemy forces
if they moved in that direction. As Troops A and B and Company D consolidated
at the ambush site, enemy fire became intense around Troop B. The Viet Cong
forces were soon caught in a deadly crossfire when the cavalry units converged.
As darkness approached, the American troops prepared night defensive positions
and artillery fire was shifted to the south to seal off enemy escape routes.
A search of the battlefield the next morning revealed over 100 enemy dead.
The toll, however, was heavier than that. Enemy documents captured in May
1967 recorded the loss of three Viet Cong battalion commanders and four company
commanders in the Suoi Cat action.
- The success of the tactics for countering ambushes developed during ATLANTA
resulted in their adoption as standard procedure for the future. The tactics
called for the ambushed element to employ all its firepower to protect the
escorted vehicles and fight clear of the enemy killing zone. Once clear, the
cavalry would regroup and return to the killing zone. All available reinforcements
would be rushed to the scene as rapidly as possible to attack the flanks of
the ambush. Artillery and tactical air would be used to the maximum extent.
This technique was used with success by the 11th Cavalry throughout its stay
- Mine and Countermine
- Although tanks and ACAV's were effective against the enemy when he could
be found, they were vulnerable to the explosive antivehicular mine. For example
in June 1966, while moving back into the Boi Loi and Ho Bo woods in III Corps
Tactical Zone, the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) , lost fourteen
M113's to mines in eight days of operation. Only eight M 113's were eventually
returned to service. In the period January-March 1967 on Highway 19 east of
Pleiku in 11 Corps, the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, found 115 mines; 27 were
detected and disarmed, 88 exploded and damaged tanks. From June 1969 to June
1970, the 11th Cavalry encountered over 1,100 mines in the northern III Corps
Tactical Zone. Only 60 percent were detected; the other 40 percent accounted
for the loss of 352 combat vehicles.
- Generally, tank hulls proved capable of absorbing the shock of a mine explosion,
preventing serious injuries to the crews and damage to interior components.
But when an APC hit a mine, particularly an APC that was gasoline-fueled,
several crew members were usually wounded seriously or killed. Drivers were
especially vulnerable, and crew members frequently rotated this dangerous
job. For these reasons tanks normally led in clearing operations or reconnaissance
in force. A study of the six-month period from November 1968 to May 1969 found
that throughout Vietnam 73 percent of all tank losses and 77 percent of all
armored personnel carrier losses were caused by mines. Another study conducted
in December 1970 found that mines accounted for over 75 percent of all combat
vehicles lost. This was not news to armor troopers.
- In past wars countermine equipment had been chiefly designed to clear lanes
through minefields where the mines were laid in patterns. In Vietnam, however,
such minefields were never encountered; instead, the enemy planted mines at
random on a massive scale. Antitank mines ranged from pressure-detonated to
improvised mines, some as heavy as 250 pounds. The enemy also recovered unexploded
artillery and mortar shells and aircraft bombs and rigged them with pressure-detonated
or command-detonated fuzes. Mines were set on roads and off roads, in open
field and dense jungle. There seemed to be no pattern that applied countrywide.
- American units dealt with the mine problem by trying to prevent the enemy
from laying mines, by trying to detect implanted mines, and by deliberately
detonating mines-usually with a tank. Traditionally, countermine operations
were efforts to detect mines
- ENGINEER MINESWEEPING TEAM CLEARS HIGHWAY 13
- after they were emplaced but in Vietnam, with no set battle lines, the enemy
could be attacked as he attempted to lay mines. Ambush patrols were set up
at likely enemy mining locations, and sensors were used to detect the people
emplacing mines. The best way to defeat random mining was to kill the soldiers
who were laying the mines or destroy the supply system that furnished the
mines. Anything short of that was bound to be frustrating work with little
promise of success.
- Units like the 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry (Mechanized), used night roadrunner
operations in an attempt to discourage or kill those placing mines along the
road at night.7
In addition to conducting runs at random intervals, the roadrunners
called for planned artillery fire and reconnoitered by fire between friendly
night defensive positions. The 11th Armored Cavalry employed thunder runs
using tanks, and where possible fired harassing artillery fire on habitually
mined sections of road. Other units made extensive studies of the tactical
areas and developed mine incident charts. These studies pinpointed areas that
were constant mine problems
- and invariably exposed three common factors: all the pinpointed spots were
close to areas dominated by the local Viet Cong; all afforded the enemy good
cover and routes in and out; and all had a high rate of mine incidents when
armored units were present.
- The information, gathered from these studies indicated that the use of ambush
patrols at night could be a valuable means of preventing mining operations,
but it was limited, particularly in armored units, by the number of men that
could be spared from other duties. Since armored units ranged over wide areas
it was also impossible to study each area long enough to acquire sufficient
information to act upon. Sensors, used in locations where there was repeated
mining, were passive in nature but were responded to by artillery fire when
activated. While their use seemed to reduce incidents, the precise effect
was difficult to measure.
- If the enemy could not be prevented from laying mines, the next step was
to find the mines by some means other than running over them with vehicles.
A mine sweeping team or troops familiar with an area could often visually
locate mines. Informers who received on-the-spot cash payments and a degree
of anonymity for themselves were a moderately reliable source of information.
Metallic mine detectors and individual probing were useful but time consuming.
On the whole, more road mines were spotted by alert armor crewmen than were
found by mine detectors. Armored units were often the security element for
clearance teams, and in most corps tactical zones had a daily mission of road
clearance by probing and by using minesweepers and vehicles. Clearing units
used one tank on the road and one on each shoulder; the tanks on the shoulders
preceded the roadbound vehicle to destroy any wires to command-detonated mines
in the road. The wheeled vehicles carefully followed in the tracks of the
lead vehicle. Even fake mine-laying by the Viet Cong was successful since
it also had to be checked. No system of mine detection was markedly effective,
however, and losses occurred regularly in clearing operations.
- Most armored vehicle crewmen took preventive measures to reduce mine injury
to themselves and damage to their vehicles. The men always wore flak jackets
and steel helmets. The floors of tracked vehicles were sometimes overlaid
with sandbags, ration and ammunition boxes, or unusable flak jackets to prevent
mine blast penetration.8
In most units troops rode on top of the vehicles,
- feeling that it was better to get blown off the top than to be blown up
inside. The Viet Cong countered by placing mines in trees. Some armor leaders
even went so far as to have the crews of lead vehicles wear ear plugs to reduce
ear damage when a mine was detonated. Tanks survived mine damage much better
than M 113's. To reduce mine damage to M 113's, "belly armor" kits
arrived in 1969. When this supplemental armor was applied to M113's and Sheridans,
it protected them from mine blast rupture, saved many lives, and gave the
crews added confidence, but it did not solve the mine problem.
- As early as 1966 commanders in the field began to ask for better devices
to deal with the mine danger. They were in particular need of a mine detector
that could be mounted on a vehicle and that was capable of finding any type
of mine, metallic or nonmetallic, no matter how fuzed. Finally, in 1969, the
U.S. Army, Vietnam, asked the Mobility Equipment Research and Development
Center to provide a device that could detect or destroy low-density mines
on roads and that could move faster than a man carrying the portable mine
detector then in use. The center's answer was the expendable mine roller,
a mechanism to be mounted on and pushed in front of an M48 tank. The roller
was tested at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and delivered to Vietnam for combat
evaluation in the fall of 1969.
- Although the 11th Cavalry, which made the first test, felt strongly that
the device would tie down a much needed vehicle, it fitted one tank with the
roller and tested for over eighty kilometers, but no mines were found. Eventually
the device was damaged when it was taken into the jungle, for which it was
not intended. The regiment concluded that it was unsatisfactory, primarily
because of its twenty-ton weight and maintenance requirements. Again in the
fall of 1969 the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), tested the
roller in Quang Tri near the Demilitarized Zone, where it proved unsuitable
for the soft sandy soil of the region and was eventually ruined by a mine.
The 4th Infantry Division made the third test of the mine roller, which was
mounted on a combat engineer vehicle in lieu of a tank. In an experiment the
roller detonated four mines and the 4th Division requested more rollers. Eventually
twenty-seven were used in Vietnam. At the end of American participation in
the war, the mine roller had not been fully accepted, and there was still
need for a mine destroyer that would allow rapid movement.
- TANK-MOUNTED MINE ROLLER PREPARES TO CLEAR HIGHWAY 19
- page created 17 January 2002
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