Operation Delaware

Operation Delaware/Operation Lam Son 216 was a joint military operation launched during the Vietnam War. It began on 19 April 1968, with troops from the United States and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) moving into the A Sầu Valley. The A Sầu Valley was a vital corridor for moving military supplies coming from the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was used by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) as a staging area for numerous attacks in northern I Corps. Other than small, special operations reconnaissance patrols, American and South Vietnamese forces had not been present in the region since the Battle of A Shau in March 1966, when a U.S. Special Forces camp located there was overrun.[1][2]:182-92


In January 1968, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, ordered the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to move north from the Central Highlands to support the Marines.[3] The 1st Cavalry Division, an airmobile division with 20,000 men and nearly 450 helicopters, had the most firepower and mobility of any division-size unit in Vietnam.[3]:42&209 When it arrived in I Corps, the 1st Cavalry Division fought toe-to-toe with the enemy during the Tet Offensive. It was fully engaged in Operation Pegasus, the relief of Khe Sanh when its commander, Maj. Gen. John J. Tolson, was ordered to prepare plans for Operation Delaware.[2]:178[4]

After gaining control of the A Sầu Valley in March 1966 the PAVN fortified it with powerful crew-served 37mm antiaircraft cannons, some of them radar controlled. They also had rapid firing twin-barreled 23mm cannons and many 12.7mm heavy machine guns to contribute to their air defenses. The A Sầu Valley soon evolved into a major logistics depot for the PAVN, with storage locations often located in underground bunkers and tunnels. Because of this strength on the ground, and the relative geographic isolation of the valley, the U.S. and its allies conducted little offensive activity in the area except for air attacks, and those were limited by steep, mountainous terrain often cloaked under clouds and prone to sudden, violent changes in weather. Because of the very limited air mobility of the Marines in I Corps, no ground operations of any significance had been launched in the A Sầu.[3]:143–9[5]

1st Cav at LZ Stud
1st Cav forces at LZ Stud approaching Khe Sanh Combat Base

By early April 1968, the PAVN had just suffered casualties of more than 40,000 men in two major military campaigns: the Tet Offensive and at Khe Sanh.[6] But the PAVN still had the ability to take the initiative in the northernmost part of I Corps. That ability came in part from isolated base areas like the sparsely populated A Sầu Valley, running north-south along the Laotian border 30 miles (48 km) south of Khe Sanh, where troops and supplies were moved into South Vietnam as the PAVN prepared for another battle — at a time and place of its choosing. The A Sầu, a mile-wide bottomland flanked by densely forested 5,000-foot (1,500 m) mountains, was bisected lengthwise by Route 548, a hard-crusted dirt road.[2]:182–192[4]:347–9[1]


Dong Re Lao Mountain
LRRPs on Signal Hill scanning for enemy vehicles in the A Sầu Valley below.

The battle began on 19 April 1968, after preparatory B-52 and tactical bombing of PAVN antiaircraft and troop positions. Troops of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division were inserted into Landing Zones Tiger (16°21′07″N 107°06′32″E / 16.352°N 107.109°E) and Vicki (16°22′23″N 107°08′10″E / 16.373°N 107.136°E) at the north of A Sầu Valley, as the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division moved west from Firebase Bastogne along Route 547, the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment moved southwest meeting up with the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry which had been landed by helicopter at the junction of Route 547 and Route 547A, establishing Firebase Veghel.[7]:90 The operation required a radio relay site so the engaged brigades could communicate with Camp Evans near the coast or with approaching aircraft. On the eastern side, midway up the valley, was a perfect spot: the 4,878-foot (1,487 m) Dong Re Lao Mountain. The 1st Cavalry Division's headquarters dubbed it "Signal Hill."[1][3]:144–6 A 30-man long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP, or "Lurp") from Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP) rappelled by helicopter onto Signal Hill, followed by other members of Company E along with signalmen, who fought a two-day battle with PAVN forces.[5][8] Poor weather and anti-aircraft fire made flying very dangerous.[1][2]:184–5 The 1st Cavalry lost 10 helicopters destroyed and 23 damaged in the first day's assault.[2]:186

On 20 April the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry continued to deploy, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment moved southeast while the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry moved to block Route 548 to Laos. The 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry was landed further down the valley. The 6th ARVN Airborne Battalion was landed by helicopter at the 1/327th's landing zone and soon was engaged by PAVN forces.[7]:91

On 21 April the Cavalry units continued to push further down the valley, while the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment was landed near Firebase Veghel to support the 1/327th and 6th ARVN Airborne.[7]:91

On 24 April 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry was landed 2 km south of the abandoned A Lưới Airfield. The Cavalry forces found a communications network and numerous supply caches in the area including 3 37mm anti-aircraft guns.[7]:91

On 25 April First Lieutenant James M. Sprayberry leading a patrol from Company D, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry rescued men who had been wounded and cut off from the rest of the company. Sprayberry personally killed 12 PAVN soldiers and eliminated 2 machine gun emplacements, he was subsequently promoted to Captain and awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.[9]

On 26 April C-130B #60-0298 was hit by antiaircraft fire while on approach to drop supplies at A Lưới Airfield, the aircraft crashed and burnt on the airfield, the remains of 5 of the 8 crewmen were recovered.[10]

The first cargo aircraft, a C-7 Caribou, landed at A Lưới on 2 May. After further improvements to the airstrip, the first C-130 Hercules landed on 4 May.[7]:91 As the 1st Cavalry Division kept sweeping south through the valley it linked with the other allied units that served as blocking forces and uncovered large caches of weapons, vehicles, ammunition, and rice.

US and ARVN troop extraction started on 10 May. On 12 May 1/12 Cavalry linked up with the ARVN Airborne moving along Route 547.[7]:92 The operation terminated on 17 May.[3]:147–9


Despite hundreds of B-52 and jet air strikes, the PAVN shot down a C-130, a CH-54 Skycrane, two CH-47 Chinooks, and nearly two dozen UH-1 Hueys. Many more, though not shot out of the sky, were lost in accidents or damaged by ground fire. The 1st Cavalry Division suffered more than 130 dead and 530 wounded. Bad weather aggravated the loss by causing delays in troop movements, allowing a substantial number of PAVN to escape to safety in Laos.[1] Nevertheless, Operation Delaware was hailed as a success by the United States, but the withdrawal of US and ARVN troops made it possible for PAVN forces to quickly regain control of the valley.[3]:148–9

MG Tolson, in summing up the weather's impact on his division's airmobile operations, said, "According to the long range forecast based on old French records, April was supposed to have been the best month for weather in the A Shau Valley. As it turned out, May would have been a far better month––but you don't win them all."[2]:192 U.S. forces would return to the A Sầu Valley in August 1968 in Operation Somerset Plain, in January 1969 in Operation Dewey Canyon and in May 1969 during Operation Apache Snow.[2]:192[5]

During the operation U.S./ARVN forces captured large supply caches, 70 trucks, 2 bulldozers and one damaged PT-76 light tank.[11]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

  1. ^ a b c d e Ankony, Robert (2009). Lurps: A Ranger's Diary of Tet, Khe Sanh, A Shau, and Quang Tri. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. pp. 157–72. ISBN 9780761832812.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tolson, John (1973). Vietnam Studies: Airmobilty 1961–1971. Department of the Army. ISBN 9781494721848. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stanton, Shelby (1987). Anatomy of a Division: The 1st Cav in Vietnam. Presidio Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780446356947.
  4. ^ a b Westmoreland, William (1976). A Soldier Reports. Doubleday. p. 347. ISBN 9780385004343.
  5. ^ a b c Ankony, Robert (October 2008). "No Peace in the Valley". Vietnam magazine: 26–31.
  6. ^ Pisor, Robert (1982). The End of the Line: The Siege of Khe Sanh. W. W. Norton. p. 181. ISBN 978-0393015805.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Pearson, Willard (1975). The War in the Northern Provinces 1966–1968. United States Army Center of Military History. ISBN 9781780392486. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  8. ^ Jorgenson, Kregg (2000). LRRP Company Command: The Cav's LRP/Rangers in Vietnam, 1968-1969. Ballantine Books. pp. 3–5. ISBN 978-0804119207.
  9. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipient Recalls Times in Vietnam". Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Friday 26 April 1968". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  11. ^ Shulimson, Jack; LtCol. Leonard Blasiol; Charles R. Smith; Capt. David A. Dawson (1997). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968, the Defining Year. History and Museums Division, USMC. p. 253. ISBN 0160491258. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

External links

1st Cavalry Division (United States)

The 1st Cavalry Division ("First Team") is a combined arms division and is one of the most decorated combat divisions of the United States Army. It is based at Fort Hood, Texas. It was formed in 1921 and served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, with the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the Iraq War, in the War in Afghanistan and in Operation Freedom's Sentinel. As of October 2017, the 1st Cavalry Division is subordinate to III Corps and is commanded by Major General Paul T. Calvert.

The unit is unique in that it has served as a Cavalry (horse) Division, an Infantry Division, an Air Assault Division and an Armored Division throughout its existence.

75th Ranger Regiment (United States)

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8th Cavalry Regiment

The 8th Cavalry Regiment is a regiment of the United States Army formed in 1866 during the American Indian Wars. The 8th Cavalry continued to serve under a number of designations, fighting in every other major US conflict since, except World War I, when it was not deployed to Europe because it was already engaged in the Punitive Expedition in Mexico from 1916 to 1920. It is currently a component of the 1st Cavalry Division.

A Lưới District

A Lưới is a rural district of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province in the North Central Coast region of Vietnam. It is located west in the highly mountainous area of A Shau Valley bordering Laos. The population includes many Bru, Hoa and Tà Ôi people. As of 2003 the district had a population of 38,616. The district covers an area of 1,229 km² and its capital lies at A Lưới, a former French airfield, later used by the Americans in Operation Delaware and then by the North Vietnamese for courier flights.Many areas and mountains in the A Luoi region became historically significant in the mid-late 1960s during the Vietnam War, such the Battle of A Shau, the 5th Special Forces' A Lưới Camp that was overrun in 1966, as well as the 4,878-foot Dong Re Lao Mountain best known as the "Signal Hill" that was seized by 1st Cavalry Division LRRP / Rangers in 1968 during Operation Delaware. Also, A Bia Mountain, known as the Hamburger Hill that was seized by members of the 101st Airborne Division.A Lưới is connected to the former French colonial capital and coastal city, Huế, one of the main historical cities in central Vietnam by National Road 49, a road notorious for poor safety because of the mountainous terrain and poor road surface. The A Lưới District has one town and 21 communes. The central town has gas stations, and a few guest-houses for travelers.

A Sầu Valley

The A Shau Valley (Vietnamese: thung lũng A Sầu) is a valley in Vietnam's Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, west of the coastal city of Huế, along the border of Laos. The valley runs north and south for 40 kilometers and is a 1.5- kilometer-wide flat bottomland covered with tall elephant grass, flanked by two densely forested mountain ridges whose summits vary in elevation from 900 to 1,800 meters. A Shau Valley was one of the key entry points into South Vietnam for men and material brought along the Ho Chi Minh trail by the North Vietnamese Army and was the scene of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. The A Shau Valley is bisected lengthwise by Route 548. The Ho Chi Minh Highway now runs along the valley floor.

Battle of A Sau

The Battle of A Shau (Vietnamese: trận A Sầu) was waged in early 1966 during the Vietnam War between the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The battle began on March 9 and lasted until March 10 with the fall of the U.S. Army's Special Forces camp of the same name. The battle was a strategic victory for the PAVN in that they were able to take control of the A Shau Valley and use it as a base area for the rest of the war.

Battle of Signal Hill (Vietnam)

The Battle of Signal Hill was a company size engagement between members of Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP) long-range reconnaissance patrol of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) from 19–21 April 1968 during Operation Delaware. Signal Hill was the name given to the peak of Dong Re Lao Mountain, a densely forested 4,878-foot (1,487 m) mountain in the A Sầu Valley. The strategic location made it an ideal communication and fire support site, vital to the success of Operation Delaware.

Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP) (United States)

Company E, 52nd Infantry, (LRP) was a 120 man-sized long-range reconnaissance patrol unit attached to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam in 1967-69. Its origin begins on January 1, 1967, as "LRRP Detachment G2," 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). It was then redesignated "Headquarters & Headquarters Company LRRP Detachment" in April 1967, and redesignated "Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP)" on December 20, 1967.Later, when all LRRP units were folded into the US Army Rangers on February 1, 1969, Company E was redesignated, "H Company, 75th Infantry (Ranger).

Dong Re Lao Mountain

Dong Re Lao Mountain is located at 16.3038°N 107.2479°E / 16.3038; 107.2479 in the A Shau Valley, Vietnam, near the Laotian border. It is densely forested and rises to 4,879 feet (1,487 m), just north of A Luoi, a former French airfield.

In April 1968, during the Vietnam War, the mountain was the site of an intense battle between members of the American 1st Cavalry Division, long-range reconnaissance patrol troops, and the North Vietnamese Army. The mountain was dubbed "Signal Hill" by headquarters as it served as the lone radio relay site for American forces fighting in the valley during Operation Delaware.

Firebase Bastogne

Firebase Bastogne was a U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) firebase, located along Highway 547 halfway between the city of Huế and the A Sầu Valley, a feeder route from the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Firebase Veghel

Firebase Veghel is a former U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) firebase located southwest of Huế in central Vietnam.

John J. Tolson

John J. Tolson III (October 22, 1915 – December 2, 1991) was a lieutenant general in the United States Army. During the Vietnam War, he helped implement the airmobile concept use of helicopters in combat with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Tolson credited the U.S Marines for first using helicopters to transport troops into combat in the Korean War, making the ground fight a three-dimensional war, thus freeing troops from the tyranny of terrain.In World War II, John J. Tolson was a member of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion and participated in every jump with that unit, including the recapture of Corregidor in 1945.In the Vietnam War, Major General Tolson took command of 1st Cavalry Division in April 1967 and served in that capacity till July 14, 1969. Under his command, his division played crucial roles during the Tet Offensive during the Battle of Hue and at Quang Tri City in January 1968. It also participated in the second biggest battle of the war: Operation Pegasus the relief of the Marine Khe Sanh Combat Base in March 1968 where all three brigades engaged the enemy, as well as Operation Delaware, the massive air assault into the A Shau Valley in April 1968.After his Vietnam tour ended, he was promoted to lieutenant general. He retired in 1973 as deputy commander of the Continental Army.He died on 2 December 1991 at the age of 76. He was survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1968–69)

This article is a list of U.S. MIAs of the Vietnam War in the period 1968–69. In 1973, the United States listed 2,646 Americans as unaccounted for from the entire Vietnam War. By August 2017, 1,604 Americans remained unaccounted for, of whom 1,026 were classified as further pursuit, 488 as no further pursuit and 90 as deferred.

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Operation Delaware (Iran)

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Operation Somerset Plain

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United States Army Rangers

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