V. The Attack to the East
Report for the
Instructions from brigade required that the battalion attack to the east on 9 February into a newly authorized extension of the area of operations, approximately described by the following coordinates: BT 0055, 0052, 0353, 0356. This action was in response to recently acquired intelligence material indicating that a large size NVA unit had moved into the area. The attack was coordinated with a similar action by the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, located to the east of the Golden Dragon area of operation. Accordingly, A and C Companies were ordered to attack to the east, with appropriate objectives designated in the eastern portion of the AO extension. In order to control the activities of the battalion during this phase of operations, the battalion commander moved overland with a small command group and established a daylight observation post on the northeastern part of the ridgeline, vicinity AT989509; it afforded excellent observation and radio coverage of the area of interest.
After advancing across the north-south railroad tracks, C Company soon encountered elements of the enemy force, verifying its presence in the area. After a stiff fight in the vicinity of Ban Lanh (BT005537), Charlie Company effectively reduced the initial resistance by means of artillery and gunship support, direct weapons fire, and unit maneuver. Unfortunately, two short rounds of 105 mm howitzer wounded two of C Company’s men. Medevac was requested for these and other casualties; however, the aircraft was somehow downed en route and the Battalion C&C aircraft with Doctor David E. Bishop, the battalion surgeon, on board, tended to the evacuation. The company then closed on the main enemy position, met heavy resistance and proceeded to destroy the enemy force.
A serious problem existed in that the 1st platoon’s ammunition supply was nearly depleted due to the earlier contact and the 2nd platoon was about halfway through its supply of ammunition for the same reason. An emergency resupply of ammunition was requested; the helicopter attempted to land, but was driven off by intense enemy fire. Also, initially, priority of artillery fires and gunship support was given elsewhere due to the serious situation developing concurrently with Bravo Company (which will be discussed later).
Regardless of these obstacles, Charlie Company tackled the objective, a heavily wooded area running on an east-west axis. On its southern side was a gully 20 feet deep; on the northern side was the Song Ky Lam (River). When making contact with the enemy, C Company was located on the southern side of the 20 foot gully.
The second platoon was used as a diversionary force in that it placed fire on the enemy’s flank while the third platoon maneuvered from the west to the east toward the objectives. The 1st platoon was used to secure a LZ for the ammunition resupply. The C Company CP and 81 mm mortar elements were being used as a reserve. At the time the company commander, Captain Robert R. Vaughn, could not determine the size of the enemy force. The third platoon engaged the enemy and received intense automatic weapons fire. The CP and reserve reinforced the 3rd platoon and the order was given to adjust weapons for automatic fire in order to gain superiority. At times the fighting was as close as 1-10 meters.
The woodline was encircled by a trench six feet deep. The enemy occupied the trench system and the several "hootches" beyond it. The attacking troops made maximum use of M-79 grenade launchers, LAWS, and hand grenades in gaining possession of the enemy positions. Once in the trenches an enemy 82 mm mortar was captured and 25 known dead within 20 meters of friendly positions were counted. All the dead had packs and weapons and were wearing camouflaged uniforms. Another 20 or more were seen being carried off but were not accounted for as confirmed or possible kills. Gunships were requested and they pursued the enemy who was now attempting to escape to the northeast. The company was forced to discontinue further pursuit in order to get the much needed resupply of ammunition which had finally arrived.
After the completion of the resupply, a night laager was found 100 meters from the objective; gunships and artillery were employed to saturate the entire area. About 0300 hours that night, noises were heard coming from the contact area. The "dinks" were pounding on gongs and chanting "Hey Joe, you number 10, you die!" Shortly afterwards seven mortar rounds believed to be 82 mm were received inside the company perimeter. At the same time a light was seen and movement was heard to the east of the perimeter about 30 meters out. A hand grenade was thrown and the light went out and the movement ceased. As a result, the mortars stopped firing.
Concurrent with C Company’s action of 9 February, Alpha Company was heavily engaged in assisting both C Company of the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry and in reducing the pressure on C Company of the Golden Dragons Battalion.
In the meantime, B Company was ordered to proceed with all available speed to block possible escape routes for the enemy from Charlie Company’s assault. After moving only about 1000 meters, B Company engaged a numerically superior enemy (NVA) force in vicinity of Boa An Dong (AT985535). A violent small arms and hand grenade battle took place in which the NVA used short-range rockets (B-40 type) and 82 mm mortars. Counter-mortar fire directed from the battalion OP silenced one mortar position and severely restricted the action of one other. However, B Company took serious casualties; the enemy was entrenched and determined to stay and fight. At the time the action started, B Company was in file and the enemy split the file with recoilless rifle fire, isolating the second platoon to withdraw and form a perimeter. At this time
the entire element was receiving heavy recoilless rifle, B-40 machinegun and mortar fire.
The company commander instructed the 1st platoon to move up two squads in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the 2nd platoon’s flank. This required them to "low-crawl" over three hundred meters, which they did successfully. The 1st platoon relieved the 2nd platoon, recovered the wounded and moved back into the perimeter formed by the remainder of the company. The 2nd platoon’s dead had to be left in the contact area. At about 1430 hours, Delta was committed to the relief of B Company and finally after a bloody battle both companies linked up and were able to reorganize for the night.
While reorganizing, eleven of the wounded from B and D Companies had to be evacuated from the contact area. Due to the seriousness of the wounds, an attempt had to be made for evacuation before dark. The landing zone was marked with smoke and covering fire from small arms was given by elements of the two companies. Gunships protected the evacuation from the air. As the Dustoff landed, enemy 82 mm mortar rounds fell in the perimeter and heavy enemy automatic weapons fire hit in and around the landing zone. The evacuation was effected but not without minor casualties. One of the gunships protecting the Dustoff was shot down. The pilot fought the aircraft all the way to the ground; it crashed, but miraculously the crew was unhurt. They were picked up by a sister gunship. The gunship was evacuated the next day.
After the casualties were evacuated, an attempt was made by B and D Companies to withdraw from the immediate area. B Company met heavy resistance and could not move. It was decided by both commanders to remain in the contact area for the night. As darkness closed a final mortar attack fell on D Company’s position killing four and wounding sixteen more. After dark the enemy attempted to probe the friendly positions.
During the reorganization that evening, the third platoon of Bravo Company was separated from the main body and forced to organize a platoon perimeter. At approximately 2100 hours, the enemy attempted to slip by the third platoon on a major east-west trail. The enemy had no idea of the third platoon’s location and fired recoilless rifles at random. This triggered the firing of an enemy 82 mm mortar. The enemy recoilless riflemen, apparently thinking the mortar belonged to the Bravo Company, laid heavy fire directly on the tube. In turn, the mortar shelled the recoilless rifle positions. Thus an all night firefight erupted between two enemy units with the third platoon enjoying the show. At this point in the confusion, an enemy platoon (on line) laid down a heavy base of fire. In return the enemy recoilless riflemen walked the strike of their
weapons up and down the other enemy position.
There is no way of knowing how many "dinks" were eliminated by each other. However, the third platoon also took their toll. The enemy moved past the platoon location on two parallel trails, with the third platoon in a trench between the trails. The platoon used hand grenades which they threw on the trail after holding them for three seconds with pins pulled and hand safety released. Again the enemy could not determine the source of the grenades and would fire their weapons in fear and desperation into their own ranks as they moved along the trails. At first light the next morning, the third platoon joined the remainder of the company.
A portion of the night perimeter was manned by the weapons platoon of D Company. They were dug in beside a trail bordered by a heavy bamboo hedgerow. The enemy threw eight to ten grenades at their position with little effect. The grenades could not clear the bamboo and they fell harmlessly short of the intended target.
On the next day, 10 February 1968, an extensive US Air Force air strike, artillery and mortar preparation, to include CS munitions and US Army gunship fire softened up the objective area. B and D Companies advanced to seize the objective, destroy bunkers and recover seven friendly dead. Fresh enemy graves were found; evidence of the violent nature of the engagement were apparent everywhere. In the meantime, A and C Companies mopped up the enemy position further to the east. In the objective area were numerous indications that the previous day’s fighting had inflicted heavy casualties on the NVA. The total results for A, B, C and D Companies in the two day operation were 116 enemy killed, 25 individual weapons and one 81 mm mortar CIA with 13 US soldiers killed and 53 wounded.