The Battle of Ấp Bắc was a major battle fought on 2 January 1963 during the Vietnam War. It was fought in Định Tường Province (now part of Tiền Giang Province), South Vietnam. On 28 December 1962 US intelligence detected the presence of a radio transmitter along with a sizable force of Viet Cong (VC) soldiers, reported to number around 120, in the hamlet of Ap Tan Thoi in Dinh Tuong Province, home of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) 7th Infantry Division. To destroy the VC force, the South Vietnamese and their US advisers planned to attack Ap Tan Thoi from three directions by using two provincial Civil Guard battalions and elements of the 11th Infantry Regiment, ARVN 7th Infantry Division. The infantry units would be supported by artillery, M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), and helicopters.
On the morning of 2 January 1963, unaware that their battle plans had been leaked to the enemy, the South Vietnamese Civil Guards spearheaded the attack by marching toward Ap Tan Thoi from the south. However, when they reached the hamlet of Ap Bac, southeast of Ap Tan Thoi, they were immediately pinned down by elements of the VC 261st Battalion. Shortly afterwards, three companies of the 11th Infantry Regiment were committed into battle in northern Ap Tan Thoi, but they too could not overcome the VC soldiers who had entrenched themselves in the area. Just before midday, further reinforcements were flown in from Tan Hiep. The 15 US helicopters ferrying the troops were riddled by VC gunfire and five helicopters were lost as a result.
The ARVN 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron was then deployed to rescue the South Vietnamese soldiers and US aircrews who were trapped at the southwest end of Ap Bac, but its commander was highly reluctant to move heavy M113 APCs across the local terrain. Ultimately, their presence made little difference as the VC stood its ground and killed more than a dozen South Vietnamese M113 crew members in the process. Late in the afternoon, the ARVN 8th Airborne Battalion was dropped onto the battlefield and, in a scene that characterized much of the day's fighting, were pinned down and could not break the NLF's line of defense. Under the cover of darkness the VC withdrew from the battlefield, having won their first major victory.
|Battle of Ấp Bắc|
|Part of the Vietnam War|
A map of the battlefield.
|Commanders and leaders|
Nguyễn Hữu Xuyến
Bùi Đình Đạm|
Huỳnh Văn Cao
John Paul Vann
1,500+ troops/civil guards|
13 M113 APCs
10 CH-21 Shawnees
5 UH-1C Iroquois
1 L-19 Bird Dog
|Casualties and losses|
5 helicopters shot down
10 helicopters damaged
Small-scale military actions, which would eventually escalate into the Vietnam War, started in the late 1950s, when South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem instituted an anti-Communist campaign aimed at rooting out "left behind" Viet Minh forces. At that time, North Vietnam was hoping for an election, promised under the Geneva Accords of 1954, that would unite North and South Vietnam. It was also worried about inciting the United States into directly supporting South Vietnam, and had recommended a policy of avoiding battle at all costs. However, Diem's campaign was too successful to allow them to do nothing, and small-scale actions broke out across the country. North Vietnam remained worried about US involvement and refused any sort of military support, forcing the remaining Viet Minh to retreat into inaccessible areas in the hills and river estuaries. A stalemate of sorts followed, as South Vietnamese forces took so long to reach these areas that the guerrilla fighters were able to retreat with little difficulty.
Large-scale American support began during the Kennedy Administration in the early 1960s, with the arrival of large numbers of the US Special Forces to help out in the field. The arrival of helicopters changed the nature of the battle considerably. Helicopters enabled South Vietnamese soldiers to quickly fly to almost any point in the country, leaving little time for a retreat. Throughout 1962, the combined forces were increasingly effective in routing the VC. These tactics, combined with the use of armored personnel carriers, took a heavy toll on various fledgling VC units. The lightly armed VC had no weaponry capable of stopping the armored carriers and inevitably were forced to flee, taking heavy casualties.
The most successful South Vietnamese force had been the 7th Infantry Division, then under the command of Colonel Huỳnh Văn Cao. His US adviser was Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann, who directed much of the unit's activity in concert with his planner, Captain Richard Ziegler. They had scored the biggest successes of the military campaigns of 1962, killing along with the paramilitary and Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps, more than 2,000 VC fighters and leaving thousands of others cut off from supplies.
However, South Vietnamese officers were often reluctant to absorb heavy casualties. On several occasions, Cao's forces were in an excellent position to trap and wipe out whole battalions of VC, but he would fail to close the trap on one pretext or another and allow the enemy to escape. This behavior initially mystified Vann, who was attempting to build Cao into an aggressive commander. Unknown to Vann, Diem would reprimand or demote any officer who lost too many men, no matter how successful the operation. Diem was more interested in using the military to protect his regime than to take on the VC. His solution was to fill the ARVN with Catholic political cronies and friends like Cao, Lê Quang Tung, and Tôn Thất Đính, who had little military ability, but were very likely to help stop a coup attempt. After a skirmish on a highway that resulted in a small number of South Vietnamese casualties along with several trucks destroyed, Cao was called to Saigon and reprimanded by Diem. Upon his return, Vann and his group of advisers were forced to end the joint planning sessions that had been so successful earlier, and action essentially wound down in their region. Cao used the excellent military intelligence network they had developed to find areas devoid of VC, and planned operations only in those areas. In many other cases, operations were executed on paper only, in order to report an increasing tempo of operations that did not actually exist.
In 1962, Diem decided to split the command of the area in the south around Saigon into two, the former III Corps area being reduced in size to cover the area northeast of Saigon, and the newly created IV Corps taking over the west and southwest. Cao was promoted to general and assumed command of the new IV Corps Tactical Zone, which included the area of operations of his 7th Infantry Division. Command of the 7th was given to Cao's chief of staff, Colonel Bùi Đình Đạm. Dam expressed concerns about his own abilities when the promotion was first presented to him by Diem. Nevertheless, he took Cao's former position and welcomed Vann's advisers back into the planning effort. Despite the change in leadership, the same problems continued to plague the 7th Infantry Division.
In November 1962, the VC's Military Region 2 ordered the VC 261st Battalion and the 514th Battalion, the home battalion of Dinh Tuong Province, to destroy the strategic hamlets in their region and at the same time to attack South Vietnamese sweeping operations. Between 28–30 December 1962, an American aircraft equipped with eavesdropping equipment located a VC radio transmitter. It intercepted radio signals in the hamlet of Ap Tan Thoi in Dinh Tuong Province where the ARVN 7th Infantry Division was headquartered. The radio intercept and other information obtained by Jim Drummond, Vann's intelligence officer, indicated that the VC were using Ap Tan Thoi as a headquarters location. Furthermore, South Vietnamese and American intelligence personnel believed the VC had deployed a reinforced company of about 120 men to protect the transmitter. Certain that the VC unit was no larger than the reported number, the ARVN 7th Infantry Division was instructed to attack Ap Tan Thoi.
An operations plan suited for an attack on a small enemy formation was drafted by Ziegler, who was an adviser to Dam and the command staff of the 7th Infantry Division. Ziegler's plan, codenamed Operation Duc Thang I, called for the South Vietnamese to assault Ap Tan Thoi from three different directions: three rifle companies from the 11th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, to move from the north; the Dinh Tuong Civil Guards Regiment to march north from the south in separate columns; and a company of 13 M113 armored personnel carriers with an infantry company on board from the southwest.[note 1] The M113 carriers and the infantry company could act as both a mobile reserve and a reaction force, so it was positioned where it could be shifted to the contact area if the VC began to retreat. In addition, Dam would also deploy two rifle companies at Tan Hiep airfield ( ), which could be brought to the battlefield by helicopters from the US Army 93rd Transportation Company.
On previous occasions, US intelligence had tracked down the location of Viet Cong radio transmitters, but those were often relocated before the South Vietnamese launched their attacks, so Ziegler privately questioned if the VC had as many as 120 soldiers in Ap Tan Thoi. However, in 1963, the VC had changed its policy from avoiding the ARVN to standing and fighting. The 1st Company, 261st Battalion and the 1st Company, 514th Battalion, had a total strength of 320 regular soldiers and were positioned in Ap Bac and Ap Tan Thoi respectively, which were separated by a distance of about 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi). The combined companies were supported by approximately 30 local force soldiers from Chau Thanh District who served as scouts, ammunition bearers, litter carriers, and emergency replacements. Together, elements of the VC 261st and 514th Battalions in Ap Tan Thoi and Ap Bac formed a "composite battalion", which was placed under the command of Colonel Hai Hoang.
Previously, leadership of the 261st Battalion alternated between Hoang, a South Vietnamese revolutionary who had returned from North Vietnam after 1954, and Tu Khue, who was a native of North Vietnam. Khue was unpopular among the battalion's soldiers because he was known to be very strict and demanding. However, he was very careful about details. In contrast, Hoang was far more relaxed and commanded a high degree of confidence from the soldiers of the 261st Battalion. Thus, due to his strong leadership skills and popularity, Hoang was selected to take command of VC forces for operations in Ap Bac. Most of the soldiers under Hoang's command were equipped with captured US weaponry, such as the M1 Garand, M1 carbine, BAR light machine guns, .30 caliber machine guns, and a single 60mm mortar.
In the days before the battle, Hoang anticipated a major attack from the South Vietnamese government, as VC intelligence agents in Dinh Tuong had reported the arrival of 71 truckloads of ammunition and other supplies from Saigon, about 65 kilometers (40 mi) to the northeast. In addition, with information provided by Pham Xuan An, a well-connected journalist and undercover VC agent in Saigon, Hoang's soldiers conducted last-minute anti-helicopter and anti-M113 training by studying US weaponry and South Vietnamese plans and manuals. Furthermore, using radios captured from the ARVN, the VC was able to intercept news of the attack due to unencoded radio communications from the ARVN. The VC also took full advantage of the local terrain by taking up positions in Ap Tan Thoi in the north, along a tree-lined creek in the southeast, and Ap Bac in the south. Their positions were well-concealed by trees and shrubs, which made them difficult to see from the air and provided good protection from heavy weaponry. To the south and west of Ap Bac, the VC dug a series of foxholes in front of an irrigation dike, which afforded them an unobstructed field of fire in the surrounding rice fields. The foxholes were deep enough for one man to stand up, or big enough to accommodate a two-man machine gun crew. Behind the foxhole line, the irrigation dike enabled VC units to communicate with each other. In short, the VC enjoyed a great advantage over any attacking force.
At 04:00 on the morning of 2 January, VC scouts around the hamlets of Ap Bac and Ap Tan Thoi reported hearing the sounds of truck and boat engines, so Hoang issued an alert order which prompted his troops to pick up their weapons and hurry to their foxholes. Most of the women, children, and old men in both hamlets fled and hid in the nearby swamps as soon as the order was issued.
Thirty CH-21 Shawnee helicopters were needed to airlift the entire ARVN 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, but only ten were available. As a result, Dam could only send one company at a time onto the battlefield. At around 07:00, the first wave of CH-21 helicopters offloaded the first group of South Vietnamese soldiers. These troops had to hold their positions until the rest of the battalions had arrived. Because of the delay in the arrival of the regular South Vietnamese army units, two Civil Guard battalions of Task Forces A and B—under the command of Dinh Tuong provincial chief Major Lam Quang Tho—were left to march against enemy positions by themselves.
As planned, the first Civil Guard battalion of Task Force A started north towards Ap Bac. Hoang knew the Civil Guard battalions were approaching, so he instructed his company commander in Ap Bac to be ready, as they would fire the first shots of the battle. VC radio operators, using captured US communications equipment, followed the movements of the Civil Guards by monitoring the frequencies the government troops were using. When the leading Civil Guard battalion came within 30 meters (98 ft) of the south end of Ap Bac, the VC opened fire from their foxholes and immediately killed the leading company's commander and wounded the task force commander. Task Force A's momentum was stopped when the soldiers of the leading Civil Guard battalion sought shelter in a dike, where they tried unsuccessfully to outflank the VC. During that time, artillery support was ineffective, as Civil Guard forward observers would not stand up to observe the fall of artillery rounds. Consequently, one artillery round after another fell behind VC positions, instead of on their foxholes. To make matters worse, Tho failed to send his second Civil Guard battalion of Task Force B to rescue the first.
North of Ap Tan Thoi, three companies of the ARVN 11th Infantry Regiment fared no better. They marched south in three separate axes towards their objective. Again, well-concealed VC soldiers of the 514th Battalion allowed their opponents to come within 20 meters (66 ft) before opening fire. Immediately, the South Vietnamese infantrymen were forced to hug the ground. During the next five hours, they managed to launch three major assaults, but failed to break the VC's line of defense. By 09:30, the last of Dam's reserve companies had been airlifted into Tan Hiep, about two hours late because American aircrews were prevented from landing their CH-21 helicopters, known as "flying bananas" for their shape, in the heavy fog that covered Tan Hiep Airfield most of the morning. With the ground attacks in the north and south bogged down, Dam decided to stretch out the defending VC units by attacking the east and the west.
Dam asked Vann, who was circling the battlefield aboard an L-19 reconnaissance aircraft, to reconnoiter possible landing zones on the east and west sides of Ap Bac, where additional reinforcements could be inserted to launch their attacks. In response, Vann asked his pilot to make low passes over the trees which covered Ap Bac. Although he could not see any VC positions, Vann knew there was a well-fortified position at the south end of the hamlet, due to the impact of the VC's firepower on the Civil Guards since the battle's inception. As Vann's L-19 aircraft flew over the western tree line, the VC watched from their foxholes, but held their fire because they knew the aircraft was trying to draw fire in order to mark their positions. Although Vann was suspicious, he decided it was a better landing zone because the area was tranquil despite the heavy fighting elsewhere.
Vann then ordered his pilot to make contact with the other L-19 that was leading the ten CH-21s with the first South Vietnamese reserve company from Tan Hiep. Vann relayed a message to the command pilot of the ten CH-21 helicopters, which were being escorted by a group of five recently deployed UH-1 Huey gunships, armed with 7.62mm machine guns and 2.75-inch rockets, and instructed him to land the reserve companies about 300 meters (980 ft) from the western and southern tree lines that covered Ap Bac in order to minimize the effectiveness of the VC's .30 caliber machine guns. However, in the early phases of the war, command relationships between US military units were not well-established, and American aircrews had a tendency to disregard the instructions of advisors, especially Vann, who was regarded as domineering. Instead of following Vann's instructions, the command pilot decided to lead his helicopters over southern Ap Tan Thoi and along the creek to Ap Bac. The US pilots landed their helicopters 200 meters (660 ft) west of Ap Bac, where they were hit multiple times by VC machine gun and small arms fire.
The five UH-1 gunships immediately strafed VC positions with 2.75-inch rockets, but failed to suppress the enemy fire. After South Vietnamese soldiers had disembarked from the helicopters, one CH-21 was too severely damaged to get off the ground. A second CH-21 was sent to rescue the crew, but it too was immobilized as soon as it touched the ground. One of the Hueys returned to pick up the crews of the two downed CH-21s. As it prepared to land, the main rotor was struck by enemy gunfire. The aircraft flipped over to the right and crashed. Almost simultaneously, a third CH-21 sustained heavy damage and was forced to land on the rice fields a short distance from the first two helicopters. By 10:30, all the South Vietnamese soldiers who had landed on the field were under heavy fire from inside Ap Bac and refused to move. Sergeant Arnold Bowers, who had ridden in the first crashed helicopter, raced back and forth to rescue injured American airmen.
After Bowers had attended to the injured men, he borrowed a field radio from the South Vietnamese to coordinate artillery and air strikes. Later, two AD-6 Skyraiders arrived over Ap Bac and attacked the thatched houses with conventional bombs and napalm. The South Vietnamese soldiers, who were pinned down on the ground, believed their ordeal was over, so they stood up to see if the VC were retreating from their positions. The VC fired on the exposed soldiers and killed several. Vann then radioed Captain James B. Scanlon—senior adviser to the ARVN 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment—and told him that four US helicopters had either been destroyed or immobilized about 1,500 meters (4,900 ft) southeast of the regiment's position. Scanlon was told to get his South Vietnamese counterpart, Captain Ly Tong Ba—commander of the 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, to rescue the trapped South Vietnamese company and the helicopters.
Ba asserted that he would not take orders from Americans. He also argued that sending the 13 M113 armored personnel carriers through the Cong Ba Ky Canal would enable the VC to retreat because it might take too much time. An argument broke out between Vann and Ba. Finally, Vann radioed Ziegler at the command post at Tan Hiep and told him to ask the commander of the ARVN 7th Infantry Division to order Ba to move toward Ap Bac immediately. Shortly afterwards, Ziegler returned with Dam's permission, and Ba was ordered to move his M113 carriers in the direction of the white smoke that was rising from the burning hamlet. The American advisers were quietly confident that Ba's M113s could turn the tide of battle; on previous occasions, VC fighters often fled from the battlefield as soon as M113 armored personnel carriers turned up. However, in contrast to previous engagements, VC commander Hoang had ordered the soldiers of the 261st and 514th Battalions to throw everything they had at the South Vietnamese, as retreat through the muddy rice fields would result in certain death.
The South Vietnamese M113s had no problem crossing the generally shallow streams and rivers typical of the Mekong Delta, but the heavy 10-ton M113s became bogged down in the deeper Cong Ba Ky Canal, forcing the crews and the infantry company on board to cut down brush and trees and fill the canal until it was shallow enough for the M113s to cross. The rescue operation was further delayed when Ba tried to obtain proper authorization to advance, because he was under orders not to take commands directly from the American advisers. Vann, who was flying above the armored formation, demanded that Ba advance immediately. Ba replied that he would not take instructions from Americans. When Vann threatened to have Ba shot, he reluctantly continued to advance, although very slowly, toward the entrenched VC.
Meanwhile, a fourth CH-21 returned to Ap Bac to attempt to rescue the downed helicopter crews, and it too was heavily damaged by ground fire and forced to land on the muddy rice field. The VC had set a new record: the battle was the first time they had either destroyed or downed five helicopters within a few hours. At 13:30, Ba's M113 formation finally closed in on the downed helicopters on the west side of Ap Bac. The M113s approached the landing zone in single file instead of in formation, and they were immediately fired upon by VC inside the hamlet who were able to concentrate their fire on one target at a time. The South Vietnamese M113 gun crews were exposed from the waist up, so they were easy targets for snipers; by the end of the day, 14 South Vietnamese M113 crewmen had been killed due to their exposure. The two leading M113s were able to pull up beside the downed helicopters, but one driver was killed while driving with his head outside of the hatch, and Ba was knocked unconscious inside his carrier.
Scanlon, with the help of Bowers, ran forward to aid the wounded men and carry them back to the M113 formation. At that point, South Vietnamese M113 crews backed off while firing their .50 caliber machine guns aimlessly into the sky. When Ba recovered, his company launched a frontal assault on the VC's foxhole line. Just when the M113 crews closed in on their objective, a VC squad leader and his men jumped out of their foxholes and tossed grenades at the lead formation of the attack force. Cohesion and morale among the crews of the armored formation quickly deteriorated as South Vietnamese sergeants, who served as both commanders and machine gunners of the carriers, were killed and were replaced by less experienced, poorly trained men.
In a last-ditch effort to overrun the VC's stronghold, an M113 equipped with a flamethrower was sent forward to within 100 meters (330 ft) of the VC position to fire the western tree line. The flamethrower had a range of up to 200 meters (660 ft), but when the operator fired the device, the flame died after only 30 meters (98 ft). It was later discovered that the crew had mixed the incorrect amount of jelling agent with the gasoline. The final attack mounted by the M113 company failed. At around 14:30, defeated and with their morale sagging, the 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron disengaged from the fight and withdrew.
By that stage, Vann was frustrated by the Civil Guard soldiers of Task Force B, because they appeared to be in no hurry to reach Ap Bac, as they searched one house at a time while marching up from the southwest flank of the battlefield. In his final effort to defeat the VC, Vann flew into Tan Hiep and asked Cao to deploy an airborne battalion on the east side of Ap Bac, the most logical retreat route for the Viet Cong. Vann hoped to trap the Viet Cong inside the hamlets by blocking their retreat routes on all sides, and annihilate them using an elite battalion of South Vietnamese paratroopers. To Vann's disappointment, Cao strongly opposed the idea and decided to drop one of his airborne battalions behind the M113 formation on the west side instead. Vann accused Cao of wanting to let the VC escape in order to avoid further South Vietnamese casualties. However, Cao argued that a surrounded and well-entrenched enemy would fight more fiercely than a retreating one, so he wanted the VC units inside the hamlets of Ap Bac and Ap Tan Thoi to expose themselves by retreating through the eastern side of the battlefield, where he could destroy them with artillery and air power. Cao had also lost confidence in Vann, because Cao felt Vann had placed the lives of many South Vietnamese soldiers at risk to save the lives of a handful of Americans. Major-General Tran Thien Khiem, Chief of the ARVN Joint General Staff, was present during the argument. He did not object to Cao's plan because it was consistent with President Diem's objective to save Vietnamese lives through the Rural Revolutionary Development and Chieu Hoi Programs, which encouraged VC fighters to join the South Vietnamese military.
Believing it was useless to continue arguing with Cao, Vann climbed back into his L-19 reconnaissance aircraft and left Tan Hiep. Throughout the afternoon, he continued to press Cao to quickly deploy the South Vietnamese paratroopers. He was fearful that the battle would turn out to be the largest defeat of South Vietnamese forces up to that point of the war. Cao promised to deploy the second Civil Guard battalion which had just arrived at the southwest flank of Ap Bac, and to drop the ARVN 8th Airborne Battalion at around 16:00 behind Ba's armored personnel carriers. Late in the afternoon, a flight of C-123 Providers, with about 300 South Vietnamese paratroopers aboard, closed in on their objective and quickly drew machine gun fire from the hamlet. The C-123 pilots changed course to avoid the ground fire, but either the South Vietnamese jump master or the American flight leader did not compensate for the change. As a result, the paratroopers landed right in front of the entrenched VC positions, instead of behind the 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron and the Civil Guards.
The VC were able to pick off one South Vietnamese paratrooper after another, some as they descended and others when their parachutes became stuck in the trees. Those paratroopers who reached the ground and survived tried to move forward, but the VC soldiers in defilade position fired on the paratroopers exposed in the open rice paddies. Undeterred, the ARVN 8th Airborne Battalion launched small-unit attacks, but on each occasion they were repelled, and sporadic fighting continued until sundown. By the end of the day, the airborne battalion had lost 19 soldiers killed in action and another 33 wounded. American advisers Captain Fletcher Ware and Sergeant Russell Kopti, who had parachuted in with the South Vietnamese, were also wounded. As night fell, Hoang knew that South Vietnamese forces were closing in from three directions. The eastern flank remained open, and he ordered both elements of the 261st and 514th Battalions, exhausted and low on ammunition, to assemble at the south end of Ap Tan Thoi. They evacuated through the rice fields, taking their dead and wounded comrades.
Vann wanted to use a C-47 flare plane to illuminate the rice fields on the eastern flank of Ap Bac and Ap Tan Thoi. He wanted to hit the VC with 500 rounds of artillery and destroy them as they retreated. Cao would not approve the use of flares because it could expose the airborne battalion's night defensive positions, and instead ordered 100 rounds of artillery to be fired at a rate of four shells per hour. At 22:00, VC commander Hoang led his two companies out of Ap Tan Thoi and headed for their base camp in the Plain of Reeds, while the local force units left by a different route for their hideouts in the local area. The 1st Company, 261st Battalion, led the column, followed by litter carriers carrying the dead and wounded. The 1st Company, 514th Battalion, covered the tail of the formation, with one of their platoons acting as a rear guard. The wounded VC soldiers were transferred onto sampans at the canal on the east side of Ap Tan Thoi, while the rest of the formation marched on. At 07:00 on 3 January, Hoang's men successfully reached their destination without being detected.
On 3 January, Western journalists toured the deserted Ap Bac hamlet with American advisors. When reporter Neil Sheehan asked Brig. Gen. Robert York what had happened, the general replied: "What the hell's it look like happened, boy? They got away, that's what happened"! Shortly afterwards, more than 18 hours too late, the South Vietnamese hit Ap Bac with an artillery barrage. The artillery rounds killed another five South Vietnamese soldiers and wounded 14 others. Vann, who had made key decisions in the early phases of the battle, blamed the South Vietnamese for the debacle. "It was a miserable damn performance, just like it always is. These people won't listen. They make the same mistake over and over again in the same way". According to Moyar (2008), in blaming the South Vietnamese, Vann wanted to conceal the Americans' flawed intelligence and poor leadership. He hoped to pressure the South Vietnamese to accept future changes he favored.
General Paul D. Harkins, commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), made a much more optimistic assessment of the battle. He considered the operation to be a major success; after the VC abandoned their positions, the South Vietnamese units captured the hamlets of Ap Bac and Ap Tan Thoi. Harkins' evaluation of the battle's success was based on US military doctrine from World War II, in which opposing forces fought a conventional combined arms battle with the objective, on each side, of gaining control of the opponent's territory. The VC, however, were more interested in exposing the weaknesses of Diem's regime and its military. Moyar (2008) argues that Harkins' resolutely optimistic assessments based on conventional doctrine avoided recognizing shortcomings in tactics and battle readiness and in the arrangement under which ARVN commanders and their American counterparts and advisers were operating. Largely because of his attitude, neither the South Vietnamese nor the American commands learned useful lessons from the battle.
The South Vietnamese units that participated in the battle took heavy losses in their failed attempt to destroy the VC forces. South Vietnamese casualties included 83 killed in action and at least 100 wounded. The American participants, who included advisors and aircrews, counted three dead and eight wounded. Of the 15 American helicopters sent to support the operation, only one escaped undamaged, and five were downed or destroyed.
For the VC, the Battle of Ap Bac marked the first time they stood and fought a large South Vietnamese formation—despite being outnumbered by more than five to one. Against overwhelming odds, the VC had achieved their first de facto victory; they had successfully held off well-equipped ARVN forces supported by artillery and armored units as well as by American airpower. VC casualties were limited to 18 soldiers killed and 39 wounded, even though their positions had been hit by more than 600 rounds of artillery, napalm and other ordnance released by 13 warplanes and five UH-1 gunships.
Ap Bac had far-reaching consequences for the South Vietnamese government and the American involvement in Vietnam. The battle was a milestone for the VC. For individual VC soldiers, the battle demonstrated they could defeat nominally superior ARVN forces, well equipped as they were with up-to-date military hardware and significant support and funding from the United States. Militarily, the morale and confidence of VC commanders and soldiers, who had experienced serious setbacks in the previous year, were greatly boosted. Politically, the VC 261st and 514th Battalions were able to exploit the prestige gained from having inflicted disproportionate losses on the ARVN forces to exercise greater influence in their areas of operations.
Despite the initial success of the Strategic Hamlet Program and the intensified military operations of 1962, the events at Ap Bac placed additional pressure on Diem's government because they showed it was not prepared to cope with the resurgence of the VC, particularly in the Mekong delta.
The defeat of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in a battle in January set off a furious debate in the United States on the progress being made in the war against the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. Assessments of the war flowing into the higher levels of the U.S. government in Washington were wildly inconsistent, some citing an early victory over the Viet Cong, others a rapidly deteriorating military situation. Some senior U.S. military officers and White House officials were optimistic; civilians of the Department of State and the CIA, junior military officers, and the media were decidedly less so. Near the end of the year, U.S. leaders became more pessimistic about progress in the war.
Although the U.S. denied that it had combat soldiers in South Vietnam, U.S. soldiers routinely participated in combat operations against the Viet Cong. The number of U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam rose to more than 16,000 by year's end with 122 combat deaths in just that year.
The President of South Vietnam Ngô Đình Diệm initiated a brutal crack-down on protests by Buddhists against his (largely Roman Catholic) government that caused consternation in the U.S. and concern that the Diệm government was failing. In November, Diệm was overthrown and killed in a coup d'état by his military, with the tacit acquiescence of the United States. A military junta headed by General Dương Văn Minh replaced Diệm. United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated three weeks later. Lyndon Johnson became President of the United States. Johnson did not make any major changes in Kennedy's policies or team of policy advisers on Vietnam.
Most of the statements and reports quoted below were secret and not shared with the American public for many years.7th Division (South Vietnam)
The Seventh Division was part of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the army of the nation state of South Vietnam that existed from 1955 to 1975. It was part of the IV Corps, which oversaw the Mekong Delta region of the country.A Bright Shining Lie
A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988) is a book by Neil Sheehan, a former New York Times reporter, about killed in action U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann and the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.
Sheehan was awarded the 1988 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for the book. It was adapted as a film of the same name released by HBO in 1998, starring Bill Paxton and Amy Madigan.Air assault
Air assault is the movement of ground-based military forces by vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft—such as the helicopter—to seize and hold key terrain which has not been fully secured, and to directly engage enemy forces behind enemy lines. In addition to regular infantry training, air-assault units usually receive training in rappelling and air transportation, and their equipment is sometimes designed or field-modified to allow better transportation within aircraft.
The US Army field manual FM 1-02 (FM 101-5-1) describes an "air assault operation" as an operation in which assault forces (combat, combat support, and combat service support), using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the battlefield under the control of the ground or air maneuver commander to engage and destroy enemy forces or to seize and hold key terrain usually behind enemy lines.Due to the transport load restrictions of helicopters, air assault forces are usually light infantry, though some armored fighting vehicles, like the Russian BMD-1 are designed to fit most heavy lift helicopters, which enable assaulting forces to combine air mobility with a certain degree of ground mechanization. Invariably the assaulting troops are highly dependent on aerial fire support provided by the armed helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft escorting them.
Air assault should not be confused with air attack, air strike, or air raid, which all refer to attack using solely aircraft (for example bombing, strafing, etc.). Moreover, air assault should not be confused with an airborne assault, which occurs when paratroopers, and their weapons and supplies, are dropped by parachute from transport aircraft, often as part of a strategic offensive operation.Bùi Đình Đạm
Major General Bùi Đình Đạm (born c. 1926 – 30 May 2009) was a general of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).Field artillery
Field artillery is a category of mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons are specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, short range, long range, and extremely long range target engagement.
Until the early 20th century, field artillery were also known as foot artillery, for while the guns were pulled by beasts of burden (often horses), the gun crews would usually march on foot, thus providing fire support mainly to the infantry. This was in contrast to horse artillery, whose emphasis on speed while supporting cavalry units necessitated lighter guns and crews riding on horseback.
Whereas horse artillery has been superseded by self-propelled artillery, field artillery has survived to this day both in name and mission, albeit with motor vehicles towing the guns, carrying the crews and transporting the ammunition. Modern artillery has also advanced to rapidly deployable wheeled and tracked vehicles and precision delivered munitions capable of striking targets at ranges between 15 and 300 kilometers.Force B (disambiguation)
Force B was a Royal Navy task force during the Second World War.
It may also refer to:
Indian Expeditionary Force B, part of the Allied force sent to German East Africa during World War I.
Task Force B, part of the South Vietnamese Civil Guards Dinh Tuong Regiment at the Battle of Ap Bac, 1962.
Corps Detachment B, part of the German 8th Army at the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket.
B-Force, Swedish black metal musician
Cruiser Force B, the British naval unit enforcing the economic blockade of Germany in World War I. Also called the Northern Patrol.Huỳnh Văn Cao
Major General Huỳnh Văn Cao (26 September 1927 – 26 February 2013) was a major general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.January 2
January 2 is the second day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. 363 days remain until the end of the year (364 in leap years).John Paul Vann
John Paul Vann (July 2, 1924 – June 9, 1972) was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, later retired, who became well known for his role in the Vietnam War.Le Quan Cong
Le Quan Cong was a Vietnamese guerilla and soldier who fought against both French and American forces during the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. He was a member of the Việt Cộng and first joined Vietnamese resistance movements in 1951 when he was 12.Le Quan Cong was primarily fighting in the Mekong Delta from 1960 to 1975. After South Vietnam's president Ngo Dinh Diem incarcerated tens of thousands of citizens and executed hundreds in an anticommunist campaign, Le Quan Cong was one of the Viet Cong who took up arms against Diem's government. Cong stated that he and other villagers used machetes early in the fighting when they did not have access to guns.Cong was present at the hamlet of Ap Bac, near the village of Tan Thoi, when it was attacked in 1963, in what became known as the Battle of Ap Bac. Along with other Viet Cong, Cong had prepared trenches and bunkers so that the guerillas could take cover from American and South Vietnamese fire. Cong and fellow soldiers were able to destroy a series of American helicopters sent as reinforcements to the village. Cong stated that the Viet Cong viewed the battle as a major victory and inspired other Viet Cong guerillas across Vietnam.Cong became a Viet Cong platoon commander, and survived the failed Tet Offensive assault on Saigon.Interviewed by filmmaker Ken Burns for the TV series The Vietnam War, Cong stated that three of his brothers and a sister were all killed by American or South Vietnamese forces during the war. Cong stated that civilians were much more likely to be killed by American forces in helicopters than Viet Cong, since civilians ran at the sight of helicopters and were therefore easily seen and gunned down. By contrast he stated that Viet Cong forces were more likely to maintain their positions in these contexts.Operation Concordia (Vietnam)
Operation Concordia was an operation conducted by the U.S. Mobile Riverine Force in conjunction with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) from 19–21 June 1967 against the Viet Cong (VC). It resulted in a US/ARVN victory.Outline of the Vietnam War
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Vietnam War:
Vietnam War – Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States, Philippines and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle.Paul D. Harkins
Paul Donal Harkins (May 15, 1904 – August 21, 1984) was a career officer in the United States Army and attained the rank of general. He is most notable for having served during World War II as deputy chief of staff for operations in George S. Patton Jr.'s commands, and as the first Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) commander, a post he held from 1962 to 1964.Role of the United States in the Vietnam War
The role of the United States in the Vietnam War began after World War II and escalated into full commitment during the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1973. The U.S. involvement in South Vietnam stemmed from 20 long years of political and economic action. These had the common incentive of ending the growing communist domination in Vietnam. At the time, French forces, allies of the U.S., were backed by America — President Harry S. Truman provided progressively increasing amounts of financial and military assistance to French forces fighting in Vietnam. From the spring of 1950, their involvement increased from just assisting French troops to providing direct military assistance to the associated states (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Eventually, U.S. missions were carried out at a more constant rate by sending out increasing number of military assistance from the United States. Their main intent was to restrict the Communist domination that was present in the government of Vietnam as it would soon lead to a chain of neighbouring countries adopting the same. This would have resulted in a change in balance of power throughout Southeast Asia. The U.S. foreign policy establishment saw national security interests being disturbed due to the rise of this communist expansion and strived to take any measure to end it. Their actions came to be questioned by other segments of government and society, however, including the US congress..
Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 966,000 to 3,812,000. The conflict also resulted in 58,318 US soldiers dead.Vietnam War
The Vietnam War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Việt Nam), also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America (Vietnamese: Kháng chiến chống Mỹ) or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.
American military advisors began arriving in what was then French Indochina in 1950 to support the French in the First Indochina War against the communist-led Viet Minh. Most of the funding for the French war effort was provided by the U.S. After the French quit Indochina in 1954, the US assumed financial and military responsibility for the South Vietnamese state. The Việt Cộng, also known as Front national de libération du Sud-Viêt Nam or NLF (the National Liberation Front), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, initiated a
guerrilla war against the South Vietnamese government in 1959. U.S. involvement escalated in 1960, and continued in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy, with troop levels gradually surging under the MAAG program from just under a thousand in 1959 to 16,000 in 1963.By 1964, there were 23,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, but this escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a U.S. destroyer was alleged to have clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft. In response, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave President Lyndon B. Johnson broad authorization to increase U.S. military presence, deploying ground combat units for the first time and increasing troop levels to 184,000. Past this point, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) engaged in more conventional warfare with US and South Vietnamese forces. Every year onward there was significant build-up of US forces despite little progress, with Robert McNamara, one of the principal architects of the war, beginning to express doubts of victory by the end of 1966. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. The U.S. conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The Tet Offensive of 1968, proved to be the turning point of the war; despite years of American tutelage and aid the South Vietnamese forces were unable to withstand the communist offensive and the task fell to US forces instead. The Tet Offensive showed that the end of US involvement was not in sight, increasing domestic skepticism of the war. The unconventional and conventional capabilities of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) increased following a period of neglect and became modeled on heavy firepower-focused doctrines like US forces. Operations crossed international borders; bordering areas of Laos and Cambodia were used by North Vietnam as supply routes and were heavily bombed by U.S. forces.
Gradual withdrawal of U.S. ground forces began as part of "Vietnamization", which aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the task of fighting the communists to the South Vietnamese themselves and began the task of modernizing their armed forces. Direct U.S. military involvement ended on 15 August 1973 as a result of the Case–Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress. The capture of Saigon by the NVA in April 1975 marked the end of the war, and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 966,000 to 3.8 million. Some 275,000–310,000 Cambodians, 20,000–62,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict, and a further 1,626 remain missing in action. The Sino-Soviet split re-emerged following the lull during the Vietnam War and confllict between North Vietnam and its Cambodian allies in the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, and the newly-formed Democratic Kampuchea begun almost immediately in a series of border raids by the Khmer Rouge and erupted into the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, with Chinese forces directly intervening in the Sino-Vietnamese War. The end of the war and resumption of the Third Indochina War would precipitate the Vietnamese boat people and the bigger Indochina refugee crisis, which saw an estimated 250,000 people perish at sea. Within the US the war gave rise to what was referred to as Vietnam Syndrome, a public aversion to American overseas military involvements, which together with Watergate contributed to the crisis of confidence that affected America throughout the 1970s.War in Vietnam (1959–1963)
The 1959 to 1963 phase of the Vietnam War started after the North Vietnamese had made a firm decision to commit to a military intervention in the guerrilla war in the South Vietnam, a buildup phase began, between the 1959 North Vietnamese decision and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to a major US escalation of its involvement. Vietnamese communists saw this as a second phase of their revolution, the US now substituting for the French.
Between the Geneva accords in 1954 and 1956, the two states created by the talks were still forming; the influence of major powers, especially France and the United States, and to a lesser extent China and the Soviet Union, were as much an influence as any internal matters. There is little question that in 1957-1958, there was a definite early guerilla movement against the Diệm government, involving individual assassinations, expropriations, recruiting, shadow government. The insurgents were South Vietnamese rebels or northerners who had been living there for some time. While there was clearly communications and perhaps arms supply from the north, there is little evidence of any Northern units in the South, although organizers may well have infiltrated.
There was endemic insurgency in South Vietnam throughout the period 1954–1960. It can also be established-but less surely- that the Diệm regime alienated itself from one after another of those domestic sectors which might have offered it political support, and was grievously at fault in its rural programs. That these conditions engendered animosity toward the Southern dictatorship seems almost certain, and they could have led to a major resistance movement even without North Vietnamese help.
There is little doubt that there was some kind of Viet Minh-derived "stay behind" organization between 1954 and 1960, but it is unclear that they were directed to take over action until 1957 or later. Before that, they were unquestionably recruiting and preparing.
While the visible guerilla incidents increased gradually, the key policy decisions by the North were made in 1959. Early in this period, there was a greater degree of conflict in Laos than in South Vietnam. US combat involvement was, at first, greater in Laos, but the activity of advisors, and increasingly US direct support to South Vietnamese soldiers, increased, under US military authority, in late 1959 and early 1960. Communications intercepts in 1959, for example, confirmed the start of the Ho Chi Minh trail and other preparation for large-scale fighting. North Vietnam declared its public support for communist insurgents in South Vietnam. The communist forces in South Vietnam established the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong). At the same time, the United States helped the South Vietnamese regime conduct its war strategy. Despite this assistance, the communist forces still won on the battlefield, fighting several large campaigns next to the big cities. Diệm was unable to take control of political crisis and was overthrown by the Council of Revolutionary Military (some documents of both sides suggest that it was the United States which had given the green light for this coup). After several years of chaos, the Ngô Đình Diệm government came to an end in 1963 and South Vietnam then fell into management crisis.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)