Essay written by Major Fred Shirley
ARMOR OPERATIONS IN VIETNAM
January 1968 to April 1968
Troop A, lst Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st US Infantry Division
The evolution of armor's role in Vietnam from the myopia held by some that armor could not be used successfully to its dominance in many major operations throughout South Vietnam is testimony to the ingenuity and creativity of the officers and men of armor. Unquestionably, armor played a significant role in the tactical outcome of the War. For 23 months, May 1966 to April 1968, I witnessed armor's increasing role in Vietnam in my various armor assignments--Tank Troop Advisor (M41s) with the 1st RVN Cavalry Squadron, 5th RVN Infantry Division; S2, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st US Infantry Division; and Commander, Troop A, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry.
In October l967, I assumed command of Troop A. The Troop was organized with each platoon having three tanks (M48A3s) and seven ACAVs (without the special ACAV kits). The ACAVs were not, however, organized into the traditional cavalry sections/squads. Rather, they were employed normally as tanks. Sufficient personnel were not available to man an infantry squad, and the Troop did not have its organic mortars. All the 4.2 inch mortars during my duty with the 1st Division were consolidated under division artillery. In addition to the normal troop headquarters vehicles, the Troop was equipped with a medic track and two flame thrower tracks.
On 29 January 68, Troop A moved from the Squadron's Base Camp at Phu Loi to northwest of Tan Uyen (XT 968231) to establish a defensive position in the vicinity of XT 901265. The move was significant because the Troop had freedom of movement to reinforce a number of military installations and towns within a few hours--Binh Duong, Di an the Long Binh Supply Base, Phu Loi and even Saigon. At the time, however, no information had been received by the Troop either to future enemy actions or to how long the Troop would remain in its new location.
The following day was spent in improving the Troop's position and conducting mounted security patrols. No major operations were conducted because of the Tet Cease Fire. In mid-afternoon on the 30th two significant events took place that altered our situation. The Troop was informed that the cease fire had been lifted and ordered to encircle the village at XT 910300. Doing so without incident, the Troop, however, made no attempt to enter the village. Except for an unusual calm over the village, nothing was sighted, and the Troop returned to its defensive position. Towards nightfall information from an assistant division commander of suspected increased enemy activity during the night served to increase the alertness and attention to detail of the men. In addition, the Troop was instructed to maintain a high state of readiness throughout the night. Based upon the enemy information, no ambush patrols were established. My reasoning was that if the Troop had to move at night it might be difficult to locate and pick-up the patrols. Each platoon did, however, establish LPs and maintained two men instead of one man awake on each track which was normal procedure.
Putting the events described on 29 and 30 January into perspective and considering contingencies that the Troop had been given in December 1967, it was clear that the US anticipated increased enemy activity during the Tet time frame. Although no specifics of possible enemy activity had been given to me, never-the-less, I was able to make map reconnaissances of the entire area to select approach routes to possible enemy targets. And coupled with my familiarity of the area including Saigon (At the time of the Tet Offensive, I had spent 20 months conducting armor operations in Binh Duong and Binh Long Province and had visited Saigon as an advisor on several occasions.), prior planning was performed for a number of contingencies. The old adage of the importance of prior planning was once again to be proven true.
(Note: All times are approximate.) The night of 30 January was uneventful until 0200 hours (January 31). From our position we could observe the Bien Hoa Air Base under mortar attack. Shortly after the initial observation, US attack helicopters were seen firing indiscriminate suppressive fires in our area. This was immediately reported to Squadron Headquarters, and a request was made to notify the helicopters of our existence in the area. This request was too late. Our position was soon hit by 2.75 inch rocket fire. Fortunately, no casualties were received. All personnel were in their tracks by this time (The LPs had been called in at the first sight of the helicopters.), but several claymore mine wires were severed on the tracks by the rocket fires from the helicopters. This incident was an obvious example of poor coordination between the 1st Division, Field Forces II, and the Bien Hoa Air Base Security Forces in establishing the Troop's location. Where the communication breakdown came, I do not know. But it could have been a costly mistake.
During this period, the Troop received word of Troop C's involvement in the town of Ben Cat near Lai Khe, and the Troop was alerted to move on order--destination unknown. No further enemy or friendly activity was observed in our area after about 0330 hours.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours the Troop was ordered to move towards Saigon as quickly as possible. Moving on Highway 16 would have been the quickest route to reach Tan Uyen, but the Highway was a favorite route for enemy antitank mines. Therefore, movement was cross- country until the Troop reached Tan Uyen.
One tank, however, from the 2nd Platoon did hit a small pressure detonated antitank mine (XT 934264). A cavalry troop from the 11th ACR was located just north of Tan Uyen on a Rome Plow Security Mission, and it provided security for the tank and crew while the tank was repaired. The remainder of the Troop sped towards Saigon. (The tank and crew rejoined the Troop several hours later while the Troop awaited further orders outside of Saigon.)
During the movement, the Troop had to move through several small burning roadblocks south of Tan Uyen. The lead tank in the single column formation never hesitated as it smashed through these roadblocks. Since the Troop had been placed under increased alert status some 12 hours earlier, an overwhelming sense of urgency had come over the Troop's personnel. Their personal safety was now secondary.
Several hours after our initial move, we were halted along Highway 316 and told to wait for further orders. The Squadron Commander, LTC John W. Seigle (now COL), later commented to me how amazed Division Headquarters had been at the rapidity at which the Troop had moved. Several factors worthy of mention contributed to this rapid deployment.
1. The sense of urgency that each man in the unit had developed. 2. The detailed knowledge of the area which caused us to move cross-country where we suspected enemy mines and on the hard surface roads when we did not suspect mines. 3. Serving as both aero-scouts and as airborne commanders in their helicopters, the Squadron qommander and the S3, MAJ Thomas Kelly (now LTC), greatly facilitated the move--particularly in the area around the roadblocks. 4. The mobility of armor which I am afraid at times was neither appreciated nor understood by our Division was a definite asset. 5. The contingency planning that the Troop had carried out prior tp the order to move.
Once in position outside of Saigon, the Troop remained static until about 1500 hours. During the interim, the Troop secured its position and an electrical power plant in the vicinity. Not until we crossed the bridge (XS 891941) leading into Saigon did the realization of what was happening in Saigon unveil itself to us.
After passing through the destruction at the eastern edge of the City without incident, the Troop proceeded towards the Tan Son Nhut Air Base (TSN). During the movement, I received the Capital Military District Advisor (CMD) radio frequency from the Squadron Commander. The flexibility of the AN/VRC 12 series of radios proved invaluable. I was able to monitor and talk on the Troop's command net, the Squadron's command net, and the CMD's command net with little difficulty. Information from CMD was sketchy.
Nearing the vicinity of TSN, the CO's helicopter was shot down by enemy fire from the vicinity of the golf course adjacent to the Base. The pilot was able to bring the helicopter down safely inside the Base. Events are somewhat confused to me now, but about the time that the CO was shot down military police were frantically trying to get me to proceed to the BOQ area where a 2 1/2 ton truck loaded with MPs had been ambushed earlier in the day by the VC. No orders were received initially from CMD to dispatch elements of the Troop, and the MPs had no knowledge of the enemy situation in the BOQ area.. I finally received orders after several requests from CMD to send a force. I dispatched my 1st Platoon commanded by LT Joe Scates. As the lead tank moved down the alley where the MPs were located, its gun tube was rendered inoperative by an antitank round. But the failure to destroy the tank prevented the enemy from delaying the Platoon in the accomplishment of its mission, and the firepower of the platoon quickly overcame the estimated platoon size enemy force. Unfortunately, upon reaching the MPs all were found dead. The Platoon was successful in recovering the remains of the MPs without casualties to the Platoon.
The Platoon returned shortly before dusk to the Air Base, but not before I had spent many anxious moments wondering about the Platoon's fate. For in the heavy built-up area, I had lost radio contact with the 1st Platoon. Loss of radio contact was to be experienced on several other occasions while operating in and around Saigon. While the 1st Platoon was performing its mission, the rest of the Troop continued on to TSN. Here my knowledge of Saigon proved invaluable. No guides were available to lead us after the CO's helicopter went down. Though all key personnel had maps of Saigon (We carried a large basic load of maps with us to include Saigon on our vehicles.), a knowledge of the city facilitated our movement. As the Troop approached the west end of TSN, all of us were shocked to see the carnage that laid before us. I am just as certain today as I was then that had it not been for the heroic actions of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry the enemy would have inflicted heavy damage to the Base and increased casualties to Base personnel. The time was approximately 1800 hours when we reached TSN, and the major fighting had ceased by this time in this area. As darkness approached, the Troop moved into the Base and established a defensive position in conjunction with the � Cav at the west end of the runway.
Noteworthy to point out is that for all members of the Troop it was the first time any of them had been exposed to fighting in a large city. No longer were troopers who had been trained to fight through jungles and over dry rice paddies and clear and secure roads exposed to these environments. The concern now was not with antitank mines, so the troopers were ordered inside their armored vehicles. Enemy snipers were located in windows and on roof tops, so observation had to be directed at these critical areas. Maneuver room was severly restricted, so the Troop had to insure that areas were clear before proceeding. Recon by fire could not be used for this purpose. Instead, this was done by either small mounted or dismounted patrols moving forward of the Troop. The threat of burning buildings was also of real concern. As I think back, it is remarkable how well the troopers adapted to this new environment. The minimal casualties that the Troop received in Saigon were testimony to this fact. Even in built-up areas, the flexibility, mobility, and firepower of armor had its. place and was used effectively.
At 2100 hours the Troop was ordered to report to the Tan Son Nhut Base Defense Headquarters. The Troop was given the mission of securing a total of three BOQs and BWOQs in the vicinity of TSN. (I cannot recall the exact locations.) I was given OPCON of an infantry company from the 25th Infantry Division, and I was also supplied with a guide from the CMD Advisory Team.
The first installation was found without difficulty or incident. The 2nd Platoon under the command of LT Hammonds and one infantry platoon with the infantry company commander were left to secure the first installation. The second installation was never located. This was because the Base Defense Headquarters had the wrong location and could not obtain the correct one. The third installation, a BOQ occupied by Air Force pilots, was located, but not without incident. In reaching the BOQ, the Troop minus the 2nd Platoon and one infantry platoon came under fire by enemy troops attacking the southeastern perimeter of TSN which was occupied by RVN soldiers. The brief engagement that ensued highlighted the importance of observing roof tops when operating in built-up areas. The NCO, SSG Barge, firing the .50 cal machinegun on my command track toppled three enemy soldiers from their roof top position almost immediately after they had opened fire. From their vantage point, which gave them excellent fields of fire, they could have inflicted a considerable number of casualties if it had not been for the alertness of SSG Barge. Using the firepower and speed of our tracks, the Troop moved through the enemy positions with only several minor injuries and no damage to the tracks and proceeded without further contact to the BOQ. The BOQ was located near TSN and was sporadically coming under small arms and light mortar fire from both RVN soldiers protecting TSN and enemy troops attacking the Base. The Air Force personnel had suffered one KIA earlier in the day, and they were very apprehensive about their situation. Throughout the remainder of the night, the four platoons (two infantry and two cavalry) secured tbe BOQ with mounted and dismounted patrols through narrow alleys surrounding the BOQ. After several checks on my other force, I remained with the four platoons the remainder of the night.
Had it not been for the presence of our force it is doubtful that the Air Force personnel would have held their position. Enemy troops had been reported closing in on the BOQ prior to our arrival, but the presence alone of the Troop was sufficient to keep the enemy away. And once again I experienced communication difficulties. I had to relay through the CO, 3/4 Cav, to contact the Base Defense Headquarters.
About 0900 hours 1 Feb, the Troop and the infantry company were ordered back to the Base. Much to the relief of the Air Force personnel, we brought them back with us to the Base. As the Air Force officers moved from their BCQ to the Troop, some of them were so overcome with joy to be leaving the BOQ that in an emotional scene they ran up to and kissed the tanks and threw their arms around the crews.
After a debriefing at the Headquarters with the late MG Keith Ware, who had assumed command of the defense of Saigon for the US, the Troop moved to the northern end of the north-south runway and came OPCON to the � Cav command by LTC (now COL) Glenn Otis.
The remainder of the day was spent in maintenance, resupply, and getting rest. By this time, most of the men had been awake for more than 36 hours. If I recall correctly, we received resupply of ammunition from the � Cav. Parts, other supplies, and hot meals were from the 1/4 Cav and flown in by helicopters. One platoon was sent during the afternoon to the US Embassy to provide security, but no contact was made.
The night of 1 Feb was filled with reports of possible renewed attacks on TSN, but except for an occasional sniper round nothing materialized. Before nightfall of the first, the 3/4 Cay with Troop A OPCON was given the mission of conducting a show of force operation the following day through downtown Saigon.
Shortly after daybreak on 2 Feb, the mission was changed. Along with an infantry battalion from the 25th Infantry Division, the � Cav with Troop A was ordered to conduct a reconnaissance in force operation north of TSN through the village of Ap Dong (2) at XS 820990 (Enclosure 2). The plan for the operation was sound. Following tac air strikes and an artillery preparation, the infantry was to move north through the village (Enclosure 2A). Led by Troop A, the cavalry was to move north along the north-south road bordering the western edge of the village in order to provide flank security for the infantry.
The operation commenced shortly before noon. Not knowing from one minute to the next where the Troop would be sent, the entire Troop moved out on the operation. The operation proceeded slowly at first with the infantry conducting a detailed search of the village. As the infantry approached the east-west road at XS 818990, they made contact with enemy forces, probably NVA, estimated at battalion size. At about the same time, the infantry battalion commander flying in a C&C helicopter reported a large number of the enemy troops fleeing north of the road at XS 817997. LTC Otis, mounted on an ACAV, ordered my Troop north as quickly as possible from our location at XS 815990. Reacting to the order, the Troop rushed north to head-off the escaping enemy force. The lead tank from the 2nd Platoon in the Troop's single column formation came under claymore fire and small arms fire as it rounded the turn in the road (XS 817997). Blasting its way through the enemy position, the 2nd Platoon moved northeast up the road through the intersection at XS 819998 to cut off the escaping enemy force. The command group; my track, the medic and communication tracks, and flame thrower tracks; was now located in the middle of the road (xS 817997) and receiving heavy enemy antitank and small arms fire from both north and south of the road. Soon afterwards, the communication track which the Troop's First Sergeant, Frank Kather, was in was hit by an antitank round. The entire five man crew were burned with the First Sergeant being the most seriously wounded. I then moved the Troop Headquarters through the intersection and instructed the 2nd Platoon to find a route through the village in order to attack enemy troops located in houses along the road running northwest-southeast (XS 818998). No route could be found. The need for an aero-scout was apparent. Had the � Cav Commander been airborne he could have scouted the area quickly and told us that no routes were available except moving directly up the road where the enemy was located in the houses, but there was no helicopter available for his use. It should be noted that LTC Otis commanded this entire battle mounted on an ACAV. The infantry battalion commander was too busy directing his engaged companies to be of much assistance. Meanwhile, enemy troops could be observed continuing to flee north. But except for the 1st Platoon which was now located astride the location formally held by the Troop Headquarters and in heavy contact, fire could not be placed on the enemy because of the many civilians also fleeing the area.
To relieve the pressure on the 1st Platoon, I ordered the 2nd Platoon to move northwest up the road. In an awesome display of armor firepower, the lead tank destroyed at least five Vietnamese stucco style constructed houses and silenced the enemy fire from this location. During this action, LT Hammonds was injured and lost his sight in one eye. With the greater part of the enemy's fire now silenced, LTC Otis ordered the Troop back down the original approach route (XS 814994) to await MEDEVAC helicopters for LT Hammonds, the First Sergeant, and three other troopers. The communication track which was already a combat loss was destroyed in place with an incendiary grenade, so that recovery personnel would not have to be exposed to enemy sniper fire that was still prevalent in the area. Medical evacuation completed, the Troop along with elements of the � Cav moved east in a line formation through the village. Light contact was made. The 3d Platoon lost one tank from an antitank round, but no casualties were received. Around 1700 hours all units returned to TSN.
In reviewing this action, there are a few important points that should be highlighted.
1. The Troop suffered no KIAs, five WIAs had to be evacuated and one M113 and one M48A3 were combat losses. Enemy casualties were unconfirmed, but estimated at between 30 to 40 KIAs. 2. For the greater part of the battle, little fire could be placed on enemy troops to the south, because US infantry moving north were too close and could not be moved back. The infantry company commander in the area had been killed and his radio operator left his radio to go to the aid of his fallen commander. The platoons were not contacted on the company or platoon nets. The full effect of the closeness of the two friendly forces on the outcome of the battle cannot be assessed, but no doubt enemy casualties would have been greater. 3. The 1st Platoon, although engaged for the longest period of time, suffered neither casualties nor vehicle losses primarily because of the platoon's intensive organic firepower and the continuous motion back and forth of its vehicles in its herringbone formation. 4. No artillery or tac air was used because of the closeness of the contact--at times less than 50 meters-- and the civilians in the area. Attack helicopter support was limited. 5. The limited maneuver room in a built-up area was very apparent. Quicker reaction to the enemy situation w~s negated in part by narrow streets, dead-in streets, and civilians fleeing the area, but still we could have maneuvered more than we did. 6. For most of the men, it was their first heavy fighting experience. Without exception, they all responded in the highest cavalry traditions.
The night of 2 Feb was uneventful, and the following day was spent conducting sweeps of the area of the previous day's action. No contact was established, but numerous enemy bunkers and some equipment were found in the village of Ap Dong.
On 4 Feb the Troop moved west with the � Cav from TSN and established a defensive position in the vicinity of XS 725960. This area consisted of dry rice paddies and sparse vegation-excellent terrain for armor operations. The morning of 5 Feb was spent by the Troop conducting a search of a village north of our position (XS 715975). Having the ability to speak Vietnamese, which was an invaluable asset to me, I was able to gain some enemy information concerning the withdraw of the enemy several days before through the village from a few bid villagers. The rest of the populace had been forced to support the VC's attack on Saigon and had not yet returned.
Around noon on 5 Feb the Troop was ordered back to the defensive position and instructed to move back through Saigon to the water filtration plant (Xs 944997) east of. Thu Duc. There we were to rejoin an infantry battalion from the 1st US Infantry Division. However, for the remainder of the month of February, the Troop and the infantry battalion were OPCON to either Field Forces II or CMD. No significant events were incurred during the movement and the Troop closed on the water plant just before dark.
Very little if any difficulty was experienced in operating with the 3/4 Cav, and we were made to feel a part of the 3/4 Cav by its Commander and men. No doubt, the feeling of belonging contributed to the Troop's success. All of us, however, were glad to rejoin the 1st Division. We were beginning to feel like like orphans being tossed between relatives and friends--never really knowing where we would be next and with whom and when we would be resupplied.
For the next two months the Troop operated with an infantry battalion from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division with the mission of securing the water plant, Highway 316 and the surrounding area located generally between XS 592946 and XT 989935. Since this was the dry season, cross-country movement was good except in the vicinity of the numerous rivers and streams. Additional obstacles to armored vehicles consisted of the villages in the area. The high concentration of villages in the area also severly restricted the use of recon by fire, artillery, tac air, and attack helicopter support. Moderate vegetation throughout the area provided little concealment and the terrain provided little cover from enemy fire. The events that were to take place were noteworthy because of the night mobile operations conducted by armor and infantry in securing Highway 316. There were, however, four significant engagements that took place of which one will be discussed.
Initially, operations in the area consisted of reconnaissance in force operations designed to clear VC main force battalions from the area. On 6 Feb Troop A in conjunction with the infantry battalion minus to which the Troop was OPCON conducted a search of Long Binh Village (YT 008000). (This village is located about 3500 meters northeast of the Vietnamese Armor and Infantry Schools.) The previous day contact had been established in the village by a troop from the 11th ACR, but before the troop could develop the situation the troop was called to support an action elsewhere.
The sweep of the village commenced shortly before noon. Prior to the sweep, the infantry battalion established a blocking position in the southern section of the village (Enclosure 3A). When available, helicopters were to screen to the east of the village. Inundated rice paddies prohibited the use of armor to the east.
My plan was to move the 3rd Platoon commanded by LT William Chaffin through the village from north to south while the 1st and 2nd Platoons were to screen to the west. The command group, consisting of my command track, the medic track, and one flame thrower track (I cannot remember why the second flame thrower was not present.) would move between the 3rd platoon and the screening force depending on the situation.
Shortly after the operation started, helicopter gunship crews spotted three VC along the east-west trail (TY 012006). The 3rd Platoon had not yet reached this location, so I elected to try to capture the three VC with my command group less the medic track. While a few old villagers observed (the village was almost deserted), we successfully captured two of the three VC with the aid of two gunships. The third VC was KIA. The two captured VC were immediately evacuated for interrogation. We were to learn later from the infantry battalion commander about the time heavy contact was established that a VC battalion along with a VC regimental commander were located in the village. The importance of capturing the enemy and immediate evacuation was quite apparent, because when the enemy information was received the Troop had not yet sufficiently developed the situation to determine the number of enemy troops in the village. Based on this information, I was to withdraw the 3rd Platoon from the Village before additional casualties were received.
As the 3rd Platoon proceeded south in a line formation with a few dismounted troops, the platoon ran into heavy enemy antitank and small arms fire south of the same east-west trail where the two VC were captured. One tank was hit by an antitank round and within a matter of seconds it exploded. The driver was killed. In addition, Lt. Chaffin received a serious leg wound and had to be evacuated. (Within five days, the Troop lost two fine officers and an outstanding First Sergeant. Their loss was quite an adversity to overcome, because all were highly respected as combat leaders by the men, and they had extensive experience in VN. But credit must be given to the NCOs that replaced them until replacements could be received several weeks later. Their performance was outstanding and the men rallied behind them.) After LT Chaffin's injury and the enemy information was received, the 3rd Platoon withdrew from the village and the entire Troop took up positions about 300 meters west of the village. Tac air and artillery was requested, but because of heavy commitments elsewhere the support was minimal. The two jet fighters available dropped napalm and bombs, but the effect was marginal. Artillery fire support was received from a 105mm howitzer battery, but because the enemy's positions were fortified (some positions were under concrete floors of the houses) the fire was ineffective. The flame thrower would have been effective, but its crew had been wounded in the initial contact and had been evacuated.
The supporting fires completed, the Troop assaulted the village. The 3rd Platoon was involved again in the heaviest contact and lost one ACAV to enemy fire. Intensive enemy antitank and small arms fire caused the Troop to once again withdraw. Two more assaults were conducted on the village, but they too failed to dislodge the enemy from his position. At about 1700 hours and with almost all our ammunition expended, all units were withdrawn to the water plant because security of the plant, the Thu Duc District Headquarters and several other industrial plants located along Highway 316 were considered of more concern than the enemy in Long Binh Village.
The numerical results of this engagement are vague, but one man was killed and at least five or six were evacuated for injuries. One tank and one ACAV were destroyed. Enemy casualties were one KIA and two POWs confirmed. Several days later a few fresh grave sites were found in the village. The Troop, however, had been successful in preventing the battalion from conducting attacks on the US Army Long Binh Supply Base located just to the north or on Thu Duc or Saigon. The battalion was never again reported in the area while we continued to conduct operations in the area. As in all actions, there were lessons learned and problems incurred.
1. A lack of understanding of the employment and capabilities of armor at all levels of the infantry battalion chain of command was to plague the Troop's operations for the entire period along Highway 316. The difficulty in conducting a search of a village without infantry should be obvious. My requests for at least a platoon of infantry had been denied. In future operations this lack of understanding was most noticable, except for a couple of exceptions, at the company commander level. The company commanders did not know how to employ a combined arms team. 2. Vividly brought out in this action was the difficulty of dislodging enemy troops when in fortified positions. With maneuver room almost nonexistent in the village, only tac air and medium and heavy artillery could have destroyed the enemy's defenses. But in this action tac air was not sufficiently available and heavy or medium artillery fire was nonexistent in the area. 3. Resupply was a problem in this action and it continued to be throughout the two month period. The infantry neither understood the resupply problems of armor; fuel, ammunition, and spare parts; nor were they able to carry out our resupply of these items satisfactorily. I had to depend upon Squadron Headquarters for resupply. Even though the Squadron was operating at extended distances from Troop 'A's location, the Squadron supply and maintenance officers overcame the problems and handled our needs with little support from the infantry battalion to which we were attached.
During the next two months, several other major actions were to take place which I will only briefly mention. On 8 Feb the infantry battalion and my 2nd Platoon engaged several enemy companies located in and around a textile factory in the vicinity of XS 942981 and drove them from the area. In action against an enemy company on 19 Feb in the vicinity of XS 950995, the Troop suffered two KIAs and had one tank destroyed. In another significant action two cavalry and two attached infantry platoons engaged an enemy battalion in the village of Xon Dau Binh Thoi (XS 940960) on 30 March. This action, if intelligent reports were accurate, disrupted a planned attack on several bridges along Highway 316 leading into Saigon on the night of 30 March.
Minor contacts were to occur almost daily in an area bounded by XS 930970, XS 940990, XS 955990, and XS 950960. Typically, an infantry company would move into a sector of the area in the morning. Late in the afternoon contact would be made with an enemy platoon, and a cavalry platoon was dispatched to provide fire support for the infantry to enable the infantry to maneuver on the enemy.
One of the most critical missions of the entire operation was the security of Highway 316 during the hours of darkness. Around mid- February convoys started moving again at night from Saigon to the Long Binh Supply Base. Almost immediately after the convoys started, they were ambushed by a platoon size enemy force. The convoys had several military police jeeps with three man crews for security. After these initial ambushes, the Troop was given the mission of securing the convoys. The infantry battalion's S3's plan was for a cavalry platoon to move physically with each convoy (four or five convoys a night of about 10 to 15 vehicles). This plan was in operation for a week when it became apparent that too many miles were being put on the tracks and that the enemy was not being destroyed. I recommended and the infantry battalion CO and S3 concurred in a plan that I had first tried to implement when I was a tank troop advisor to the Vietnamese along Highway 13, but to no avail.
The probable ambush area was between XS 926956 and XT 989034. To secure this area I was to receive one to three ambush patrols (six to ten men) nightly from the infantry. These patrols were to be inserted by a cavalry platoon at irregular intervals during the hours of darkness. And then at irregular intervals the cavalry platoon would conduct mounted patrols (one to three a night) over all or a portion of the Highway. A typical night's operation would begin with a cavalry platoon departing the water plant with an ambush patrol(s) to insert the patrol in its ambush location that I had selected-- usually within 100 meters of Highway 316. The ambush patrols could not be sent out during daylight hours, because of the civilians in the area. False insertions were conducted to add deception to the true location of the patrol or at times the patrol would proceed dismounted 300 to 500 meters to its ambush site. Once insertion of the patrol(s) was completed, the platoon would conduct a patrol or return to the water plant. Then at varying intervals and with a different number of patrols nightly, so as not to establish a pattern, mounted patrols were conducted. During the mounted patrols, movement was either by bounds or continuous. Extensive use was made of the Xenon searchlights using their infrared and white light capabilities. In addition, on occasions the ambush patrols would be picked up and inserted in another location. If contact was established by an ambush patrol or the cavalry platoon, the Troop's command group would proceed to the scene of contact.
After two months the enemy platoon was completely destroyed. One US infantryman was killed and no vehicles were lost. And just as important was the fact that no convoy vehicles were lost during these night mobile operations. There were several keys to the success of this operation.
1. Elements of the Troop operated east and west of the road daily as did the infantry, so we knew the terrain well. Our knowledge of the terrain enabled my platoon leaders and myself to select better ambush sites. 2. The operations were so successful that both the cavalry and infantry soldiers believed in them and were eager to participate. And the infantry knew that if they made contact they would have armor support immediately. It was not uncommon to have contact three or four times a week. 3. Several attempts were made to ambush the mounted patrols, but this proved to have disastrous effects on the VC, because of the cavalry's armor protection, its mobility in moving through the ambushes, and its organic firepower. 4. For about two weeks, I had under my OPCON a D Troop from an air cavalry squadron. Once I was able to convince this troop that their wheeled vehicles were not tanks the troop was employed successfully.
The actions involving Troop A during the period of the Viet- Cong Tet Offensive of 1968 are only a small segment of all US Armor operations conducted during the War. However, the successful conduct of the varity of missions from jungle terrain to the streets of Saigon by Troop A is conclusive proof that armor can be used effectively in counter- insurgency operations. These events were especially satisfying to me, because for the most part I had all three of my platoons under my command. Generally speaking, in the 1st Division cavalry platoons were attached to infantry battalions leaving the troop commander with one platoon. The troop commanders in effect became platoon leaders. Such was not the case during the time frame discussed for my troop.
The success of the operations described was a direct result of emphasis being placed on things that didn't seem important to the men when the Troop would go for days without contact prior to Tet. Maintenance of vehicles and weapons to include proper head space set on the .50 cal machine gun, the use of loading plans, and the wearing of steel helmuts and flak vests are examples of what may have seemed like little things, but they paid enormous dividends in reducing casualties and equipment damage once the enemy situation changed.
The final totals of enemy killed by the Troop are not important. What is important is that the Troop played its part successfully in defending Saigon during the Tet Offensive, and in the weeks to follow continued to aid in the defense of Saigon. The Troop's actions along with the rest of the Squadron's actions in other areas of operation earned the Squadron the Valorious Unit Citation for this period. And the five Troop A troopers who gave their lives during this period will always be remembered for their ultimate sacrifice.
/original signed by FREDERICK W. SHIRLEY Major, Armor