Operation Speedy Express

Operation Speedy Express was a controversial U.S. Army 9th U.S. Infantry Division operation of the Vietnam War conducted in the Mekong Delta provinces Kiến Hòa and Vĩnh Bình. The operation, led by Major General Julian J. Ewell, was part of US military "pacification" efforts against the Viet Cong (VC). The US military sought to interdict lines of VC communication and deny them the use of base areas by using brutal repression and counterinsurgency tactics. At least 5,000 to 7,000 killed were reported to have been civilians.


In 1969 the 1st Brigade, 9th U.S. Infantry Division operated in Định Tường Province, using night ambush tactics; the 2nd Brigade continued its mission with the Mobile Riverine Force. Although engagements in the Operation Speedy Express were typically small, the 9th Infantry Division fought several sizeable engagements.[4] The objective was summarized by a U.S. Army publication to take the "war to the enemy in the Delta and sever his supply lines from Cambodia".[2]

The U.S. military used 8,000 infantrymen, 50 artillery pieces, 50 helicopters and extensive aerial bombardment. The United States Air Force used fighter bombers to carry out 3,381 tactical air strikes. The military also employed "people-sniffer" devices that detected traces of carbon and ammonia. The policy under this operation in a densely populated area was to target "people running, people in black pajamas, civilians past night-time"[5] . Furthermore commanders and infantry units were forced into the field, and they were told they were not to leave until an acceptable number of "kills" were made[5]. The success of the operation is in question, according to guerrilla leader Le Quan Cong, a Viet Cong platoon commander operating in the Delta during this operation, "most of the people killed were civilians, because civilians would run, we soldiers held our fighting position so they could not get us, they had wiped out whole villages" while failing to actually interdict the Viet Cong in the region[6]. The Viet Cong furthermore claims a strategic victory, claiming that their fighters and bases were left mostly intact and their presence in the region was not removed by the operation[7].


The combined ground and air operation resulted in thousands of deaths. The U.S. military claimed that 10,889 of these deaths were VC soldiers, but this claim was undermined both by on-the-ground reports and by the much smaller number of weapons seized than enemy soldiers reported killed. The US Army Inspector General estimated that there were 5,000 to 7,000 civilian casualties from the operation.[8]

The U.S. military claimed 10,899 enemy dead, with only 242 soldiers killed in this operation from the period of December 1968 to 31 May 1969 (a kill ratio of 45:1), but only 748 weapons were recovered (a ratio of enemy killed to weapons seized of 14.6:1).[9] The U.S. Army after-action report attributed this to the fact the high percentage of kills made during night hours (estimated at 40%), and by air cavalry and other aerial units, as well as asserting that "many of the guerilla units were not armed with weapons". The commander of the 9th Division, MG Ewell, was allegedly known to be obsessed with body counts and favorable kill ratios and said "the hearts and minds approach can be overdone....in the delta the only way to overcome VC control and terror is with brute force applied against the VC".[10] Robert G. Gard Jr., who served as artillery commander under Ewell and commenting on his superior officer stated "the idea that we killed only enemy combatants is about as gross an exaggeration as I could imagine, but to talk about ratios of forty-five to one simply defies my imagination.[6]

Controversy over the operation arose in June 1972, when Newsweek's Saigon Bureau Chief, Kevin Buckley (working with Alexander Shimkin), wrote an article titled "Pacification's Deadly Price" that questioned the spectacular ratio of U.S. dead to purported VC, as well the small number of weapons recovered, and suggested that perhaps more than 5,000 of the dead were innocent civilians (quoting an unnamed U.S. official).[11] Buckley's statements were based on extensive interviews conducted by him and his associate Alexander D. Shimkin, who was fluent in Vietnamese.[12]. Although Buckley acknowledged that VC infrastructure and control in the region was extensive, he wrote that local hospitals had treated more wounds caused by U.S. firepower than by the VC. Col. David Hackworth was a battalion commander during Speedy Express; according to him, "a lot of innocent Vietnamese civilians got slaughtered because of the Ewell-Hunt drive to have the highest count in the land." Hackworth added that "the 9th Division had the lowest weapons-captured-to-enemy-killed ratio in Vietnam." The book Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse devotes a chapter to Speedy Express. It reports that "free fire zones" were designated in the Mekong Delta where any human present could be killed. These zones helped the 9th Division achieve an unlikely enemy-to-GI kill ratio of 134:1 in April 1969.[13] According to David Hackworth, Julian Ewell's policies would later earn him the nickname the "Butcher of the Delta" from members of the 9th Division[14].

More recently, former Senator (and eventual Secretary of Defense) Charles Hagel of Nebraska, a veteran of the 9th Infantry, alleged that some U.S. commanders on the ground inflated the body count during the operation since this was how their success was judged."You used that body count, commanding officers did, as the metric and measurement of how successful you were...."[15]

See also


  1. ^ http://dangcongsan.vn/tu-lieu-van-kien/tu-lieu-ve-dang/lich-su-dang/books-092920159155146/index-09292015913534619.html
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-03-27. Retrieved 2010-01-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (August 5, 2009). "Julian J. Ewell, 93, Dies; Decorated General Led Forces in Vietnam". Washington Post.
  4. ^ "Named Campaigns - Vietnam". Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-04.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. ^ a b Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (2017-09-05). The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 356–357. ISBN 9781524733100.
  6. ^ a b Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (2017-09-05). The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 357–359. ISBN 9781524733100.
  7. ^ NAM, ĐẢNG CỘNG SẢN VIỆT. "Chương VIII: Góp phần đánh bại chiến lược "Việt nam hóa chiến tranh" của Mỹ - Ngụy (1969 - 1973)". dangcongsan.vn (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (August 5, 2009). "Julian J. Ewell, 93, Dies; Decorated General Led Forces in Vietnam". Washington Post. While there appears to be no means of determining the precise number of civilian casualties incurred by US forces during Operation Speedy Express, it would appear that the extent of these casualties was indeed substantial, and that a fairly solid case can be constructed to show that civilian casualties may have amounted to several thousand (between 5,000 and 7,000).
  9. ^ (PDF). MACV http://www.virtual.vietnam.ttu.edu/cgi-bin/starfetch.exe?eYxiSjanJy2HZQLzOlh99bpHd76sapm4ywK1VcUNu4ybrmYqWTbfvnFkT@x5Vdv2SlwyEv0jScqq6sD3Qa9fxb3hx2KiwNMO1JC98UbilK0/7390115001b.pdf. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Lewy, Guenter (1980). America in Vietnam. p. 142. ISBN 0195027329.
  11. ^ Buckley, Kevin (19 June 1972). "Pacification's Deadly Price". Newsweek. pp. 42–3.
  12. ^ Turse, Nick (13 November 2008). "A My Lai a Month". The Nation.
  13. ^ Turse, Nick (2013). Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Metropolitan Books. p. 209. ISBN 9781250045065.
  14. ^ "Peoples Century | Guerrilla Wars | Col. David Hackworth". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  15. ^ Patricia Sullivan (5 August 2009). "A Vietnam War That Never Ends". Retrieved 17 August 2011.

Further reading

  • John Pilger: Heroes, Jonathan Cape, Australia, 1986. ISBN 978-0-89608-666-1
1968 in the Vietnam War

The year 1968 saw major developments in the Vietnam War. The military operations started with an attack on a US base by the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong on January 1, ending a truce declared by the Pope and agreed upon by all sides. At the end of January, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive.

Hanoi erred monumentally in its certainty that the offensive would trigger a supportive uprising of the population. NVA and Viet Cong troops throughout the South, from Hue to the Mekong Delta, attacked in force for the first time in the war, but to devastating cost as ARVN and American troops killed close to 37,000 of the ill-supported enemy in less than a month for losses of 3700 and 7600 respectively. These reversals on the battlefield (the Viet Cong would never again fight effectively as a cohesive force) failed to register on the American home front, however, as shocking photos and television imagery, and statements such as Conkrite's, fueled what would ultimately prove to be a propaganda victory for Hanoi.

Peter Arnett quoting an unnamed US major as saying, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." Eddie Adams' iconic image of South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan's execution of a Viet Cong operative was taken in 1968. The year also saw Walter Cronkite's call to honourably exit Vietnam because he thought the war was lost. This negative impression forced the US into the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam.

US troop numbers peaked in 1968 with President Johnson approving an increased maximum number of US troops in Vietnam at 549,500. The year was the most expensive in the Vietnam War with the American spending US$77.4 billion (US$ 557 billion in 2019) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed. The deadliest week of the Vietnam War for the USA was during the Tet Offensive specifically February 11–17, 1968, during which period 543 Americans were killed in action, and 2547 were wounded.

9th Infantry Division (United States)

The 9th Infantry Division ("Old Reliables") is an inactive infantry division of the United States Army. It was created as the 9th Division during World War I, but never deployed overseas. In later years, it would become an important unit of the U.S. Army during World War II and the Vietnam War. It was also activated as a peacetime readiness unit from 1947 to 1962 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Fort Carson, Colorado, and from 1972 to 1991 as an active-duty infantry division at Fort Lewis, Washington. Nicknamed the "Old Reliables", the division was eventually inactivated in December 1991.

Alexander D. Shimkin

Alexander Demitri "Alex" Shimkin (October 11, 1944 - July 12, 1972) was an American war correspondent who was killed in Vietnam. He is notable for his investigation of non-combatant casualties in Operation Speedy Express.

Julian Ewell

Julian Johnson Ewell (November 5, 1915 – July 27, 2009) was a career United States Army officer who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He commanded the 9th Infantry Division and II Field Force in Vietnam, and attained the rank of lieutenant general.

The son of a career Army officer, Ewell graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute and the United States Military Academy. Commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in 1939, he volunteered for paratrooper training at the start of World War II. During the war, he commanded 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division. He took part in a parachute jump into Normandy during the D-Day invasion, and continued to take part in combat against the Nazis in Europe. Ewell later commanded the 501st Regiment, which included participation in Operation Market Garden and the defense of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism at Bastogne.

After the war, Ewell continued his Army career, and his command assignments included the 9th Infantry Regiment in South Korea during the Korean War, Assistant Commandant of Cadets at West Point, Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division, and Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff for the Combat Developments Command.

During the Vietnam War, Ewell commanded the 9th Infantry Division (1968-1969) and II Field Force (1969-1970). He later served as military advisor to the U.S.-South Vietnamese delegation at the negotiations for the Paris Peace Accords and Chief of Staff of the NATO Southern Command. Ewell's Vietnam service generated controversy, especially over concerns that his focus on "body counts" as a measure of success caused his subordinates to inflate their numbers by counting civilian dead as enemy combatants and by committing atrocities. Among the most well-known operations he took part in was Operation Speedy Express, which was estimated by internal Department of Defense documents to have killed as many as 5,000 to 7,000 civilians. David Hackworth alleges that among those in the 9th Division he had commanded, this earned him the nickname the "Butcher of the Delta". According to Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns in The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, Ewell was apparently proud of this nickname, and saw nothing wrong with what the soldiers under his command had done.Ewell died in Virginia in 2009, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

List of Phi Delta Theta members

This is a list of prominent alumni of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Names are listed followed by the school attended and their graduation year.

List of war crimes

This article lists and summarises the war crimes committed since the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the crimes against humanity and crimes against peace that have been committed since these crimes were first defined in the Rome Statute.Since many war crimes are not ultimately prosecuted (due to lack of political will, lack of effective procedures, or other practical and political reasons), historians and lawyers will often make a serious case that war crimes occurred, even if there was no formal investigations or prosecution of the alleged crimes or an investigation cleared the alleged perpetrators.

War crimes under international law were firmly established by international trials such as the Nuremberg Trials and the Tokyo Trials, in which Austrian, German and Japanese leaders were prosecuted for war crimes committed during World War II.

My Lai Massacre

The Mỹ Lai Massacre (; Vietnamese: Thảm sát Mỹ Lai [tʰâːm ʂǎːt mǐˀ lāːj] (listen)) was the Vietnam War mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops in Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968. Between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by the U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated as were children as young as 12. Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest.

The massacre, which was later called "the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War", took place in two hamlets of Sơn Mỹ village in Quảng Ngãi Province. These hamlets were marked on the U.S. Army topographic maps as Mỹ Lai and Mỹ Khê.The U.S. Army slang name for the hamlets and sub-hamlets in that area was Pinkville, and the carnage was initially referred to as the Pinkville Massacre. Later, when the U.S. Army started its investigation, the media changed it to the Massacre at Songmy. Currently, the event is referred to as the My Lai Massacre in the United States and called the Sơn Mỹ Massacre in Vietnam.The incident prompted global outrage when it became public knowledge in November 1969. The incident increased to some extent domestic opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War when the scope of killing and cover-up attempts were exposed. Initially, three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors by several U.S. Congressmen, including Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Only after 30 years were they recognized and decorated, one posthumously, by the U.S. Army for shielding non-combatants from harm in a war zone. Along with the No Gun Ri massacre in South Korea 18 years earlier, Mỹ Lai was one of the largest publicized massacres of civilians by U.S. forces in the 20th century.

National Veterans Inquiry

The National Veterans' Inquiry was a national-level inquiry into American war crimes in Vietnam. They were held December 1–3, 1970 in Washington, DC.

Nick Turse

Nick Turse (born 1975) is an American investigative journalist, historian, and author. He is the associate editor and research director of the blog TomDispatch and a fellow at The Nation Institute.

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.

The Political Economy of Human Rights

The Political Economy of Human Rights is a two-volume work written by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman and published in 1979. The authors offer a critique of United States foreign policy, particularly in Indochina.

Tiger Force

Tiger Force was the name of a long-range reconnaissance patrol unit of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade (Separate), 101st Airborne Division, which fought in the Vietnam War from May to November 1967..

United States war crimes

United States war crimes are the violations of the laws and customs of war of which the United States Armed Forces are accused of committing since the signing of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. These have included the summary execution of captured enemy combatants, the mistreatment of prisoners during interrogation (torture), and the use of violence against civilian non-combatants.

War crimes can be prosecuted in the United States through the War Crimes Act of 1996. However, the U.S. Government, which strongly opposes the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, arguing that the Court lacks checks and balances, and thus does not accept ICC jurisdiction over its nationals.

Urbana High School (Illinois)

Urbana High School is the only public high school in Urbana, Illinois and was established in 1872.

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.

Vietnam War Crimes Working Group

The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group (VWCWG) was a Pentagon task force set up in the wake of the My Lai Massacre and its media disclosure, to attempt to ascertain the veracity of emerging claims of war crimes by U.S. armed forces in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War period.

The investigation compiled over 9,000 pages of investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military officers, indicating that 320 alleged incidents had factual basis.

Vietnam War body count controversy

The Vietnam War body count controversy centers on the counting of enemy dead by the US forces during the Vietnam War with issues around killing and counting unarmed civilians as enemy combatants as well as inflating the number of actual enemy KIA. For search and destroy operations, as the objective was not to hold territory or secure populations, victory was assessed by having a higher enemy body count.

Vietnam War casualties

Estimates of casualties of the Vietnam War vary widely. Estimates include both civilian and military deaths in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The war persisted from 1955 to 1975 and most of the fighting took place in South Vietnam; accordingly it suffered the most casualties. The war also spilled over into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos which also endured casualties from aerial and ground fighting.

Civilian deaths caused by both sides amounted to a significant percentage of total deaths. Civilian deaths were partly caused by assassinations, massacres and terror tactics. Civilian deaths were also caused by mortar and artillery, extensive aerial bombing and the use of firepower in military operations conducted in heavily populated areas. Some 365,000 Vietnamese civilians are estimated by one source to have died as a result of the war during the period of American involvement.A number of incidents occurred during the war in which civilians were deliberately targeted or killed. The best-known are the Massacre at Huế and the My Lai massacre.

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