Battle of Sông Bé

The Battle of Sông Bé was a major action between the Viet Cong (VC) and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in May 1965.

Planned as a major show of force against the ARVN forces, the VC attempted to capture the fortified capital of Phước Long Province, Sông Bé. Perhaps to their surprise, ARVN forces in the area rallied and re-took the town by the end of the second day of combat. Several additional days of chasing the VC forces involved proved fruitless, as they escaped.

Background

A series of political and military setbacks starting as early as 1962 had been gradually eroding the combat effectiveness of the ARVN forces, originally more than a match for the VC with their United States supplied helicopters and armored personnel carriers. The VC forces had been left to train in relative safety and had developed new tactics and been supplied with new weapons that upset the balance of power. By 1964 ARVN morale was collapsing and the VC was in nominal control of much of the countryside. To capitalize on this, the VC was planning ever-larger operations.

On April 16, 1965, the U.S. Special Forces SF B-34 Detachment was sent to Sông Bé to reinforce the ARVN forces, joining an existing MACV team headquarters in the town. They set about building up a fortified area on a nearby hill and were joined by the POW intelligence team, 120 ARVN, and several light tanks manned by local militiamen.

Battle

At 01:45 on May 10, the VC 761st and 763d Regiments consisting of two thousand five hundred infantry attacked the city from multiple directions, first using mortar barrages and then rushing in their forces. Even though the American positions were still being constructed, the special forces and ARVN were able to stop them from overrunning their positions and the area of the town around them. Hung up on the defenses, many of the VC became easy targets for U.S. snipers. At 03:45 helicopter gunships arrived but were unable to see the ground because of fog and low clouds. They instead attacked supporting artillery (likely 82mm mortars) west of the town. Attempts to evacuate casualties by helicopter were repeatedly driven off by 50-caliber machine guns, until these were suppressed by F-4 Phantoms using special cluster munitions. The machine guns silenced, the evacuation finally took place at 08:00.

Even though the base had been defended, much of the town had fallen to VC control. They positioned machine gun and flamethrower units at almost every street corner. At noon, the 36th ARVN Ranger Battalion brazenly attacked into the town, and drove off the VC occupying the center of the town, often resorting to melee combat using knives and swords. This is surprising in some regards, since the Rangers were local irregular forces and generally had not performed well against the VC in prior battles. They were joined a few hours later by the 34th ARVN Rangers, and by evening the entire town was returned to South Vietnamese control.

Notes

  1. ^ Kelley, Michael P. (2002). Where We Were In Vietnam. Hellgate Press. pp. 5–471. ISBN 1-55571-625-3.

References

Contemporary news reporting

Bình Phước Province

Bình Phước (listen) is a province of Vietnam. It is located in the Southeast region of the country, to the north of Hồ Chí Minh City (formerly Saigon). It shares a border with Cambodia.

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.

Vietnamese Rangers

The Vietnamese Rangers, properly known in Vietnamese as the Biệt Động Quân and commonly known as the ARVN Rangers, were the light infantry of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Trained and assisted by American Special Forces and Ranger advisers, the Vietnamese Rangers infiltrated beyond enemy lines in daring search and destroy missions. Initially trained as a counter-insurgency light infantry force by removing the fourth company each of the existing infantry battalions, they later expanded into a swing force capable of conventional as well as counter-insurgency operations, and were relied on to retake captured regions. Later during Vietnamization the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was transferred from MACV and integrated as Border Battalions responsible for manning remote outposts in the Central Highlands.Rangers were often regarded as among the most effective units in the war, the most well-led ARVN unit and formed part of the highly-mobile response units operating in key areas. Part of this was due to the specialized role of these units, given that they had their origins in French-raised Commando Units, the GCMA which were drawn from Viet Minh defectors and Tai-Kadai groups, operating in interdiction and counter-intelligence roles, and were trained specifically for counter-insurgency and rough-terrain warfare in the region. Ranger Units often had a US Military Adviser attached to these units although operated independently. The foremost counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson remarked in 1974 that the ARVN as a whole were the third-best trained army in the free-world and second only to the Israelis in counter-insurgency, with the Rangers, ARVN Airborne and Marine Division forming the vanguard. With improvements in the ARVN from 1969 onward and the growing prestige of the Airborne and Marine Division, depredation had caused the Central Highlands-based Rangers to become manned by deserters, released convicts and Montagnards nevertheless the unit continued to perform critical roles in the Easter Offensive and frontier skirmishes in 1973 and 1974.

A total of 11 U.S Presidential Unit Citation (United States) were issued to the 22 original Ranger Battalions, including one unit whom earned three total citations from two different presidents. See List of Non-US Presidential Unit Citations in Vietnam.

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