Battle of Bong Son

The Battle of Bồng Sơn was the second major battle for the US 1st Cavalry Division, an airmobile unit of divisional strength, during the Vietnam War. The battle was part of Operation Masher, also known as Operation Whitewing. A month earlier in 1965, in the Battle of the Ia Drang, the 1st Cavalry used all the division infantry, but one brigade at a time. One of the realizations that affected Bong Son was that with adequate helicopter lift, the traditional need to keep a strong reserve was less required—the least involved unit usually could break away and go where it was needed.

At the operational level, it was begun as a pursuit of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 2nd, 18th, and 22nd Regiments (forming the 3rd Division) by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 22nd Division, commanded by Brigadier General Nguyen Thanh Sang and assisted by the Republic of Korea Capital Division. The PAVN fought back strongly and Sang asked for reinforcements by two ARVN airborne battalions, which still were not enough.[1]

During the Battle of the Ia Drang, 1st Cavalry commander Major General Harry Kinnard had considered operations on the Binh Dinh plain, part of the area involved in Bong Son. He now had time to implement those ideas. Even through the ARVN needed help, the Cavalry prepared systematically.

Preparation

Ia Drang demonstrated the fundamentally new capabilities, as well as the liabilities, of large, well-integrated airmobile forces, and Kinnard wanted to apply the lessons learned. It was planned as a divisional operation, rather than as the more reactive operations at Ia Drang in September and October 1965. Rather than troop movement alone, the division staff dealt with psychological operations and civil action, not only protecting the 250,000 civilians, rice farms, and salt production in the area, but, with the controversial "hearts and minds" approach that General William Westmoreland tended to dismiss, extensive steps were taken to deal with both the enemy and the potential friends.

Some twelve million leaflets and 150 radio broadcast hours were used during Operation IRVING to help control the civilians. Curfews were established, and at times villagers were requested to stay where they were until more specific instructions were given. Psychological efforts were also geared to appeal to the enemy. For example, substantial rewards were offered for surrendered weapons[2]

Background

Binh Dinh province stretches from the mountains to the seacoast of Vietnam, it is full of contrasting terrain.[3] The geography made it a key transportation nexus during the Vietnam War, linking Nha Trang, Pleiku, Hội An, Da Nang and Huế, and providing access for the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Areas along the coast on the South China Sea allowed Naval fire support to be added to the three allied national forces. ARVN junks and the United States Navy (USN) sealed escape routes to the sea and provided fire support from the destroyer USS Hull, plus several smaller ships.[2]

Preliminaries

A local Viet Cong (VC) unit, the 2nd Regiment, had been reinforced by the 18th PAVN regiment; they operated in a plain near the Dam Trao lake. Also in this area was the deep Kim Son and An Lão valleys. The Communist regiments had struck at Sang's command from the valleys, and were driving him back into defensive positions.

Kinnard looked at the geography of the Bong Son plain, and saw the United States Army Special Forces camp and airstrip at Bong Son as a natural place to insert the 1st Cavalry, which could then move to any of four geographical areas. He knew that a pressed PAVN battalion or regiment would itself move if threatened, and counted on it doing so, planning to use "hammer and anvil" tactics to start the enemy moving, when they would be easier to detect, and to drive them into ambushes.

Early movements by 1st Cavalry

Colonel Hal Moore, now commanding the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry, secured Bong Son, and then probed at the enemy, opening his serious operations on 28 January. He had established LZ Dog, on high ground along Highway 1. With as much stealth as possible, he moved part of his command into blocking positions at the north end of the plain. The plan was for Kinnard's forces in the valleys, along with ARVN units to "encourage" the Communists to fall back into the ambushes.

Weather and having a howitzer-carrying helicopter shot down on 29 January, started the fight prematurely. The weather broke, however, and now that the enemy had been located by fighting with the fire bases, Moore's three battalions attacked the 22nd Regiment from three directions.

As this four-day fight wound down, Kinnard moved the 2nd Brigade into the mountains at the An Lao valley, the 3rd Brigade at the south end, where they were covered by artillery. United States Marines pressured the enemy force in the valley, while Sang blocked the exits. This operation was of limited effect, as the enemy had moved into the jungle and mountains.

A reinforced battalion made a night air assault on the beaches east of Hoa Hoi and moved into the encirclement, with illumination from an AC-47 gunship, artillery, and the destroyer USS Uhlmann. The enemy was hit heavily by 105-millimetre (4.1 in) artillery fire from the cavalry's helicopter-lifted howitzers, and helicopters operated at night in fire support, supply, and medical evacuation roles. A B-52 strike also was made on the suspected 2nd Regiment command post, with limited results,[2]

Pressure and pursuit

On 10 February, the 1st Brigade (Archie R. Hyle, commanding) flew from An Khe into the Kim Son valley, where Moore's brigade implemented an idea he had been planning since October.[4] He flew an air assault onto the valley floor, only after company-size ambush forces were astride the exits of the valley. Contact was made with Communist forces on every one of the escape routes, and they took casualties both from the ambushing companies and the prepared artillery, the latter including heavy, long-range artillery moved by road into the area.

A captured VC battalion commander talked enough about his unit for Kinnard to find the 2nd Regiment headquarters. 2nd Brigade (Colonel Ray Lynch, commanding) committed to this area, and fought a two-week battle, along with Moore's 3rd Brigade. The area known as "The Iron Triangle" is west of Saigon in military zone III, and that area was the responsibility of the 25th Infantry Division HQ'd at Cu Chi.

Aftermath

After 41 days of fighting, the U.S., ARVN, and South Korean forces had maneuvered in a complete circle around Bong Son, breaking up the 3rd NVA Division. Sang's ARVN division was able to move back in and take control of the plain.

The major tactical innovation illustrated in Operation IRVING was airmobile combat. An airmobile operation is one in which combat forces and their equipment move about the battlefield in aircraft to engage in ground combat. In such an operation, helicopters not only transport the forces to the battle area, but also enable them to develop the situation and to reinforce, withdraw, and displace combat power during the battle. The purpose of an airmobile assault is to position fresh combat troops on or near-their tactical objectives. The tactical unit can fly over obstacles and impassable terrain to land at the strategic point in the battle area.

— Lieutenant General John H. Hay Jr.

Hay observed that Bong Son involved new levels of complexity in planning and coordination. He described the ideal planning sequence being quite different than used by ground units:

  1. The commander of the assault unit presented his scheme of ground maneuver and plan for fire support in the objective area. Assault objectives were chosen that insured the accomplishment of the mission. Landing zones were then carefully selected to support the ground tactical plan. A fire support plan was developed concurrently in order to be closely co-ordinated and integrated with the scheme of maneuver.
  2. The next step in the sequence was the development of a landing plan, setting the sequence, time, and place for landing troops, equipment, and supplies.
  3. Based on the ground maneuver and landing plans, the air movement plan was developed to lay out the schedule and routes to get the airmobile troopers into position
  4. Last a loading plan was developed to schedule the arrival of units at pickup zones and the embarkation of troops and equipment onto the correct helicopters.

In the formal after-action report,[5] it was observed that since good intelligence of VC unit locations is difficult to obtain, the force must be able to respond quickly to spot reports. A more deliberate approach recognizes that "the enemy will not generally stand and fight when faced by a superior force aggressively employed, preferring to fade away into the bush in classic guerrilla fashion." To forestall this classic move, his escape must be predicted, and ambushes placed; it is as important to block his escape routes as to directly attack his force.

References

  1. ^ Galvin, John R. (1969), Air Assault: the development of airmobile warfare, Hawthorn Books, p. 298
  2. ^ a b c Hay, John H. Jr., "Chapter III: (operation) IRVING (2–24 October 1966)", Vietnam Studies: Tactical and Materiel Innovations, United States Army Center of Military History, archived from the original on 22 March 2009
  3. ^ "Binh Dinh Tourism Zone", Binh Dinh Province, archived from the original on 23 March 2009
  4. ^ Moore, Harold G. (Hal) (9 December 1965), After Action Report, IA DRANG Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 1 November 2011
  5. ^ Lessons Learned, Report 2-66 - The Battle of Annihilation and The BONG SON Campaign, 1 April 1966, AD0502772

This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Battle of Bong Son", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.

Billy Waugh

William "Billy" Waugh (born December 1, 1929), is a former United States Army Special Forces soldier and Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary operations officer who served more than 50 years between the U.S. Army's Green Berets and the CIA's Special Activities Division (renamed Special Activities Center in 2016 ).

Capital Mechanized Infantry Division

The Capital Mechanized Infantry Division (hangul: 수도기계화보병사단; hanja:首都機械化步兵師團), also known as Tiger Division (hangul:맹호부대; hanja:猛虎部隊), is currently one of the six mechanized infantry divisions in the Republic of Korea Army. It is part of the VII Corps, 3rd ROK Army (TROKA), tasked with covering approaches to Seoul from North Korea and counterattack operations.

This division saw extensive combat both during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where it was dispatched in September 1965, as a part of the Republic of Korea's contribution to the South Vietnamese war effort. The 1965 deployment became possible when in August of that year the Republic of Korea's National Assembly passed a bill authorizing the action. Recently, elements of this division were sent as Republic of Korea's contribution to the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq.

Fire in the Lake

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972) is a book by American journalist Frances FitzGerald (1940-) about Vietnam, its history and national character, and the United States warfare there. It was initially published by both Little, Brown and Company and Back Bay Publishing. The book was ranked by critics as one of the top books of the year, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 10 weeks, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, the Bancroft Prize for history, and the National Book Award. It was published in paperback in 1973 by Vintage Books.

Harry Kinnard

Harry William Osborne Kinnard II (May 7, 1915 – January 5, 2009) was an American general officer who, during the Vietnam War, pioneered the airmobile concept of sending troops into battle using helicopters. Kinnard retired from the military as a Lieutenant General.

Kinnard grew up in Dallas, Texas. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1939, he entered military service.

Joint warfare in South Vietnam, 1963–1969

In the Vietnam War, after the assassinations of Ngo Dinh Diem and John F. Kennedy in late 1963 and the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and the continuing political instability in the South, the United States made a policy commitment to begin joint warfare in South Vietnam, a period of gradual escalation and Americanization, involving the commitment of large-scale combat forces from the United States and allied countries. It was no longer assumed the Republic of Vietnam could create a desirable situation without major external assistance. This phase of the war lasted until the election of Richard Nixon, and the change of U.S. policy to Vietnamization, or giving the main combat role back to the South Vietnamese military.

The North Vietnamese term for the large-scale introduction of U.S. ground forces, in 1965, is the Local War, according to Gen. Trần Văn Trà, the [North Vietnamese] Party concluded, the "United States was forced to introduce its own troops because it was losing the war. It had lost the political game in Vietnam....the situation allows us to shift our revolution to a new stage, that of decisive victory." The Party issued a resolution to this effect, which was transmitted, in October 1967, to the Central Office for South Vietnam and to key officials of the major commands in the South. They were directed to begin detailed planning for what was to become the Tet Offensive. Note that there was a delay of approximately two years between the Politburo decision and the directive to begin planning, so it can be asked if the Politburo did actually make the broad strategic decision in 1965, or some time later, as they grew more aware of the effect of U.S. operations.

Robert McNamara suggests that the overthrow of Dương Văn Minh by Nguyễn Khánh, in January 1964, reflected different U.S. and South Vietnamese priorities.

And since we still did not recognize the North Vietnamese and Vietcong and North Vietnamese as nationalist in nature, we never realized that encouraging public identification between Khanh and the U.S. may have only reinforced in the minds of many Vietnamese that his government drew its support not from the people, but from the United States.

Landing Zone English

Landing Zone English (also known as English Airfield, LZ Dog, LZ English or simply Bong Son) is a former U.S. Army base in Bồng Sơn, Bình Định Province, Vietnam.

Operation Masher

Operation Masher (24 January—6 March 1966) was in early 1966 the largest search and destroy mission that had been carried out in the Vietnam War up until that time. It was a combined mission of the United States Army, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and Republic of Korea Army (ROK) in Bình Định Province on the central coast of South Vietnam. The People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 3rd Division, made up of two regiments of North Vietnamese regulars and one regiment of main force Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas, controlled much of the land and many of the people of Bình Định Province, which had a total population of about 800,000. A CIA report in 1965 said that Binh Dinh was "just about lost" to the communists.The name "Operation Masher" was changed to "Operation White Wing", because President Lyndon Johnson wanted the name changed to one that sounded more benign. Adjacent to the operational area of Masher/White Wing in Quang Ngai province the U.S. and South Vietnamese Marine Corps carried out a complementary mission called Operation Double Eagle.The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was the principal U.S. ground force involved in Operation Masher and that operation was marked as a success by its commanders. Claims are made that the PAVN 3rd Division had been dealt a hard blow, but intelligence reports indicated that a week after the withdrawal of the 1st Cavalry PAVN soldiers were returning to take control of the area where Operation Masher had taken place. Most of the PAVN/VC had slipped away prior to or during the operation, and discrepancy between weapons recovered and body count led to criticisms of the operation.Allegations that there were a reported six civilian casualties for every reported PAVN/VC casualty during the Fulbright Hearings prompted growing criticism of US conduct of the war and contributed to greater public dissension at home. During Operation Masher, the ROK Capital Division were alleged to have committed the Bình An/Tây Vinh massacre on 26 February 1966. The operation would create almost 125,000 homeless people in this province, and the PAVN/VC forces would reappear just months after the US had conducted the largest search and destroy in the war up to that point.

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.

Robert Mason (writer)

Robert C. Mason (born March 20, 1942) is a Vietnam War veteran and author of several books, including his first, best-selling memoir: Chickenhawk (1983). Mason piloted Huey "Slicks" in the United States Army as a Warrant Officer 1. He sailed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and served a one-year tour, nine months with the "First Cav", the last three months with the 48th Aviation Company.

Mason spent his first month in Vietnam clearing land for his unit's airbase, after which he and his fellow pilots flew many missions to resupply the infantry and pick up wounded. At that time 1st Cavalry Medevac helicopters were not allowed to fly if the landing zone was hot. While serving with the 1st Cavalry, Mason was involved in several battles and other missions, including the Battle of Ia Drang, the Battle of Bong Son and Happy Valley.Mason transferred to the 48th Aviation Company (referred to as the 49th in his memoir) in May 1966. He continued to fly helicopters, including assault missions for the 101st Airborne in Dak To as part of Operation Hawthorne in June 1966.After his one-year tour of duty, Mason became an instructor pilot at Fort Wolters, Texas. Eventually he was grounded for dizzy spells and diagnosed with combat fatigue resulting from his service in Vietnam. Later, he and his wife realized he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.In 1979, Mason began to write a book about his tour in Vietnam. He named it Chickenhawk after a conversation he and his friend and fellow helicopter pilot Jerry Towler had had in 1965 while waiting to pick up some GIs in Vietnam, describing their alternating feelings of terror and courage as they flew missions.

In 1981, Mason was arrested for smuggling marijuana on a boat from Colombia. A month later his agent sold Chickenhawk to Viking Penguin based on the one third of the book Mason had delivered. Mason did not tell anyone of his arrest, including his agent and his editor, until they finished the rest of the book and read the last page.Chickenhawk was published in 1983, and Christopher Lehmann-Haupt gave it a positive review in The New York Times. Mason was invited to appear on The Today Show on a Wednesday and had to show up at Eglin Federal Prison Camp on the following Friday. Chickenhawk became a hardcover and paperback best-seller. It received many positive reviews, inspiring People magazine to do a story on his troubles under the heading "Trouble."

Mason was released from prison on May 17, 1985. He has subsequently published two novels, Weapon and Solo, as well as a second memoir, Chickenhawk: Back in the World. In 1996, Columbia/Tristar released a film (Solo) based on Mason's first novel, but which used the title of the second.

South Korea in the Vietnam War

The South Korean government, under the administration of Park Chung-hee, took an active role in the Vietnam War. From September 1964 to March 1973, South Korea sent more than 300,000 troops to South Vietnam. The South Korean Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force all participated as an ally of the United States. The number of troops from South Korea was much greater than those from Australia and New Zealand, and second only to the U.S. military force for foreign troops located in South Vietnam. The military commander was Lieutenant General Chae Myung-shin of the South Korean army.

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