It was five minutes past six in the morning. Platoon Leaders were meeting with their Platoon Sergeants discussing the plans for the day’s operations when the first volley of mortar rounds fell inside the perimeter, belching black smoke. In the clouds of gray dust that followed, infantrymen scrambled for their foxholes; the Cavalrymen to their armored sanctuaries to man the machine guns. The cannoneers ran to the guns and prepared for the first fire-mission of the day. LTC Shuffer told his radio operator to call brigade and tell them that the battalion was under attack. Among other things, that call cancelled breakfast. He radioed for reports from B and C Companies. Nothing going on in either sector.
The mortar bombardment continued for ten minutes. It was all 60mm, between 50 and 60 rounds in all, and the only casualties were two wounded cavalry troopers. Immediately the Viet Cong infantry assault began in the southwest sector. From fifty meters beyond the wire, under the covering fire of another volley of mortar shells, machine guns and rifle fire, the battalion of the 271st Regiment charged forward out of the thicket of bruch and young trees. The cavalry troopers responded with their .50 caliber machine guns, their m-60’s, rifles and grenade launchers. Then to the obvious dismay of the Viet Cong, the cavalrymen on the south side of the perimeter charged the advancing enemy over the wire with a sweeping assault and a storm of machine gun fire, roaring engines and crushing tracks. The cavalrymen then wheeled and returned to it’s positin within the perimeter without a loss. But during this action one of the mortar carriers sustained a direct hit. The round detonated inside the carrier, setting off the ammunition load and killing or wounding the entire crew. By this time all officers of Troop A were seriously wounded and unable to continue in the battle.
By the time the Viet Cong commander ordered his decimated battalion to withdraw, the 105mm howitzer concentration called for by LTC Shuffer had begun to fall in the rubber to the rear of the retreating battalion.
Pulling back was not easy. Nearly every able soldier was dragging or helping another wounded, dead or dying comrade.
While the Viet Cong companies and platoons were making their tortuous withdrawal from the machine gun beaten zone, here came another line of armored personnel carriers, guns blazing, engines roaring. The American cavalry platoons pressed the counterattack to the edge of the rubber forest. Three Viet Cong mortar crews had no chance to escape the fire or to recover their weapons. The cavalry run over the mortars, grinding them into the dust of the peanut field. An enemy infantryman ran forward out of the trees. He aimed his flame thrower at an armored personnel carrier but was killed by a machine gunner on the vehicle before he could light his torch.
It was not yet seven o’clock. But to the troopers and infantrymen it seemed that the attack had lasted all day. Heavy fire from mortars, recoilless rifles and machine guns continued to pour into the perimeter from inside of Bau Bang and from behind the berm.
LTC Shuffer was in constant radio contact with his brigade commander, Colonel Brodbeck. The brigade was responding to all requests for artillery support. By 6:45 a forward air controller (FAC) arrived overhead with a flight of A1H Skyraiders. LTC Shuffer asked them to put their load on the woods north of Bau Bang. He couldn’t ask them to strike Bau Bang itself because it was a populated area, therefore designated a “no fire zone”. The bombs and 20mm cannon fire in the woods had no effect on the incoming ordance LTC Shuffer was receiving from Bau Bang. He was in the midst of his request to COL Brodbeck for permission to fire into Bau Bang when the next Viet Cong assault began.
The Phu Loi battalion charged across Hwy 13 from the jungle and brush behind the old railroad bed. It was met by concentrated fire from the right flank of Company A and the heavy machine guns of the Cavalry APC’s on the west end of Troop A’s Line. The assault withered, staggered and died in the middle of the road. As the shaken Viet Cong dragged their wounded back to defilade behind the railroad embankment, the 155’s and 105’s from the Lai Khe batteries began raining high-explosive on the Phu Loi Battalion’s assembly area. Casualties mounted rapidly as the battalion commander ordered a withdrawal eastward away from this storm of fire and flying steel.
Meanwhile LTC Brodbeck relayed and reinforced COL Shuffer’s request to hit Bau Bang. He called General Seaman at Di An. The 2d Battalion task force was suffering many casualties from fire out of Bau Bang and from the earthen wall surrounding it. It had beaten off three strong infantry assaults but was still dangerously vulnerable to destruction by attrition. It had no way to silence the mortars in Bau Bang or the recoilless rifles firing from position-defilade behink the berm. The artillery battery and Mortar Carriers of the cavalry were firing into the berm with little observed effect on the enemy gunners.
Relayed through COL Brodbeck, LTC Shuffer received General Seaman’s approval to strike Bau Bang just as the enemy infantry, the battalion of the 273d regiment, swarmed over the berm and charged the front of the two platoons Company A, four howitzers and Cavalry Mortar Carriers. It was quickly obvious that this was the main attack. Violent and costly as they were, the first three attacks were probes compared to this one, although the 9th Division Commander probably would have reinforced the success of any one of them. But they had challenged the strength and mobility of the American position and had not broken through anywhere; they had not even reached the barbed-wire barrier.
Covered by the fire of their machine guns, recoilless rifles and mortars, the 273d reached the concertina in front of the American infantry. Here they were stopped by the Machine guns of the cavalry and infantry, and by the devastating fire of the 105mm howitzers. The gunners of Battery C set the projectiles for two-second delay. Then they lowered the muzzles to fire into the ground just a few yards in front of the battery. The shells would hit and skip like flat stones across a still pond and, when they were above the attacking enemy infantry, explode in dark red and black clouds and jagged shards of steel.
The violence and volume of the American fire forced the enemy to withdraw. But not before one squad had worked its way through the barbed-wire and up to the number one howitzer (on the left of the battery). The Viet Cong squad lobbed a grenade into the midst of the crew serving the connon, killing two and wounding all the rest. But this courageous enemy squad died there too.
Now it was 0730, and another flight of bombers was overhead, ready to be directed to its targets by the FAC. These were A4 Skyhawks from a US Navy carrier. LTC Shuffer told the FAC to hit the berm. He wanted most of all to silence the recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns that were firing from that position. The flight of A4’s did it’s job, and it was quickly followed by two more flights of skyraiders with 500-pound bombs, napalm, and followed by two more flights of skyraiders with 500-pound bombs, napalm, and CBU*(Grenade sized bomblets, a devastating anti-personnel munition) that they expended on the berm. Meanwhile, Battery C continued the fire with more high explosives into the berm and, now that permission had been granted, with rounds timed to burst over the mortar positions in Bau Bang.
A brief quiet descended over the smoke, dust, and mournful murmers of the battlefield. Helicopters for medical evacuation, call “dust-off,” settled into the center of the perimeter. The “dust-off” departed quickly with the wounded that had been gathered near the command group.
It appeared for awhile that the enemy was through for the day. Many of his soldiers lay dead or dying in front of the American positions. But he was not finished. At 0900 he attacked again over the berm. Battery C responded with 65 more rounds of 105, timed to burst over the attacking ranks. Another flight of fighter-bombers appeared overhead. These were F-100’s carrying napalm, which they placed directly on the attacking formation. After this devastating bomb-run the left-over napalm canisters were tossed onto the mortar batteries in Bau Bang.
The nine-o’clock assault failed as decisively as had the earlier ones. The mortars in Bau Bang were silenced, as were the heavy weapons on the berm. Desultory enemy rifle fire continued for an hour or so, probably designed to cover his withdrawal. By noon all was quiet.
The tenacity, courage, dedication, and teamwork shown by the artillerymen in this particular battle were remarkable, even for soldiers who are trained, indeed indoctrinated, to believe that service of the howitzer comes above all other considerations. The cannoneers of C Battery stood and sweated out there in that peanut field by Bau Bang and fired 300 rounds of high explosive during the morning. It is likely that without them the enemy assault over the berm would have carried to the center of the perimeter.
The mortar men of Company A also did yeoman duty. They fired 225 high explosive 81mm shells in close-in defensive fires during the battle. That works out to 76 rounds per tube, a prodigious effort!
During the after mop up, B and C companies sweep the battle area to include around Bau Bang. They counted 198 Viet Cong dead around the perimeter and in the village. Because of the Viet Cong practice of recovering all dead and wounded soldiers possible, the enemy’s losses must have been substantially greater. He also lost numerous rifles, machine guns, light and medium mortars, light and heavy recoilless rifles, a radio, and a flame thrower.
The Americans lost 20 Soldiers killed in action, 103 wounded in Action (every third man had been wounded or killed). Five armored vehicles were destroyed (all three mortar carriers); three more were damaged badly enough to be withdrawn from service for repairs. The Vietnamese interpreter with the battalion, who had helped the hospital team in Bau Bang was also dead, and Bau Bang itself was completely destroyed, a lifeless ruin. It’s villagers had crawled out of their holes and bunkers and disappeared before the smoke, dust and confusion of the battle.