VII. The Push to the South
Report for the
Map depicts 1st phase
During the mop-operations of the area north of and otherwise in the vicinity of Hardcore, the battalion reconnaissance platoon, "Fox Force", led by First Lieutenant Terry E. Bender, operated on a "work night, sleep day" basis on the long ridge line across Crocodile Lake and directly south of Hardcore. Fox’s mission was to screen the battalion’s
southern flank and to report significant activity. During this operation, there were no enemy sightings. On 16 February, Fox secured a two-ship landing zone on the north side of the aforementioned ridge line, into which A Company air landed. A Company immediately pushed to the south, and operated without contact on 16 and 17 February.
View of above mentioned
Ridge Line to the South
from LZ Hardcore
On 17 February, the battalion commander established Mini-base Fox at coordinates AT958469. Two tubes of 4.2 inch mortar, on ground mounted 106 recoilless rifle and associated ammunition and equipment were airlifted by UH1 aircraft. Mini-base Fox was utilized as the forward battalion command-observation post for controlling the push to the south. The battalion commander and elements of the command group manned to OP during all daylight hours and overnight as required by the activity in the area.
On the following day, 18 February, Charlie Company combat assaulted into a landing zone protected by A Company and Fox Force from commanding high ground in the vicinity of the LZ. During the pick-up of the next to last lift, a lift helicopter received automatic weapons ground fire from the flat area across the river to the north of Hardcore, crashed and burned. All four crew members and four combat troops were killed. Both A and C Companies pushed further to the south after a B-52 strike in the saddle at the southern border of the battalion area of operations. During the activity of 18 February, 1 NVA was killed, 8 US killed, and 1 US wounded.
View from Mini-Base
Fox SW to Hill 341
The battalion moved to the south on 19 February consisted of two companies, A and C, advancing on parallel axes. Both companies made slow progress in the rough terrain and thick vegetation. D Company was relieved of firebase security by B Company in order to secure the east flank of the battalion, and search and clear the area in the vicinity of Scorpion Lake. No enemy contact was produced by A and C Companies on the 19th.
In the meantime, while securing the east flank of the battalion, D Company routed an enemy force with small arms fire, 4.2 inch mortar support and a diverted air strike. The company suffered one man killed in the action while killing 4 enemy soldiers.
On the 20th of February, the push continued on two parallel axes, with A and C Companies abreast, C Company on the right. Early in the morning, Company A received sniper fire from a heavily wooed hill (AT960438) to the south of their CP location. Just prior to this incident, the battalion commander, from the OP on Mini-base Fox, observed through the BC scope what he believed to be an element of A Company. In reality, the personnel observed were well-dressed enemy (NVA)… part of the force that was later in contact with A Company. Artillery fire was accurately adjusted jointly by the A Company FO and the battalion LNO (from Minibase Fox). An immediate air strike also was requested and it effectively covered the target area. A Company swept the area and found 3 enemy KIA by the artillery and air strikes.
Delta Company attacked to the southwest on an axis lying to the south of Scorpion Lake. The third platoon of D Company was attempting to maneuver to the high ground south of Scorpion Lake when it encountered an undetermined size enemy force firmly entrenched along a steep ridge. A stiff fire fight ensued but the enemy could not be dislodged. The third platoon, in an exposed position required covering fire from the 4.2 mortars on Mini-base Fox. The fire was placed on the enemy as the platoon withdrew to a secured position where the wounded could be extracted. D Company then maneuvered north around the lake for more advantageous terrain, in an attempt to dislodge the enemy on the following day. C Company had no contact in their southward movement.
During the afternoon of 20 February, the Assistant Division Commander of the Americal Division, Brigadier General Ryder, visited Mini-base Fox and observed the action. An incident in which General Ryder took particular interest was the finding of an occupied "hootch" – cave complex (AT981438) on a narrow ledge on the southwestern face of Hill 845. The complex was discovered by Helix 53 (USAF Major Wilbur Skaar) while flying a FAC visual reconnaissance mission along the near perpendicular face of the mountain. Major Skaar later arrived on the ground at Mini-base Fox, and assisted in directing the ensuing action. It was decided to attack the complex by firing a destruction mission with 8 inch howitzers from the Marine Industrial Complex, some 11 km to the west.
The mission was adjusted by the Airborne FAC now on station (Helix 52 – Major Severtson) ably assisted from Mini-base Fox by General Ryder, Major Skaar – the ground FAC, and the Golden Dragon artillery LNO, Captain Jack Jones. After the destruction mission, which further exposed the complex by clearing some of the vegetation from the area, two US Army gunships were directed on the target by the Airborne FAC. As a result of the attack, the complex burned the remainder of the afternoon, throughout the night, and until mid-morning the next day. It was judged to be an important NVA command/logistical installation. The opinion is based partly on information available to the battalion commander through Brigade S2 that related favorably to the time and location of the friendly attack.
The following day, 21 February, A Company searched out the area of previous contact, finding stoutly constructed enemy "hootches", two of which were filled with brown rice. Living quarters and air raid shelters were also found. After destroying these, A Company moved to the south. It is believed that these constructions were part of an important enemy base camp area lying further to the east of the area of contact (vicinity AT964423). This conclusion is based on FAC sightings and a terrain analysis. Unfortunately, the opportunity to check the area with ground troops did not present itself. C Company continued to move to the south, finding a complex of well-used trails in the area. Delta searched the area of the previous day's contact without finding the enemy.
On 22 February, both Alpha and Charlie Companies ran into sporadic enemy resistance in their movements to the south. Unfortunately, Alpha had a soldier killed early in the day. Efforts to evacuate the man (a Dustoff was called before he died) proved fruitless. While attempting to lower a jungle penetrator into the area, Dustoff was hit by
ground fire. The rounds damaged the UHI engine, which forced the aircraft down about 1.5 km from the area of contact. Delta Company immediately dispatched a platoon to protect the downed bird. Until the arrival of ground troops, the Air Force FAC orbited the area, and was later joined by gunships. The crew was then evacuated unharmed by a Dustoff slick aircraft. By 1430 hours, the aircraft had been rigged and evacuated without incident. In the meantime, after sweeping, Alpha carried the body out of the area of contact. It was considerably later in the day before it was possible to evacuate the body by CC aircraft with gunship escort.
Charlie Company met with increasing resistance until, at about 1500 hours, it encountered a hornet's nest of activity to the north of Hill 341 (AT954416). The resistance consisted of at least two well-placed machine guns and a variety of other semi-automatic and automatic weapons positions. The enemy also employed mortar fire against Charlie. After maneuvering, Charlie used gunships which assisted in relieving the pressure. The company was able to withdraw to a position from which artillery and air could be employed. At the time of the initial encounter, C Company reported one friendly KIA and three wounded. As the situation developed to the advantage of the friendly elements, the KIA suddenly became alive and returned by the most direct route to the friendly lines.
He was PFC William Demott, the point man for the 2nd platoon, who after killing one enemy soldier and wounding another, pursued the wounded NVA soldier along the main trail that led to Hill 341. The trail disappeared around a large rock formation. When PFC Demott arrived at this location the NVA soldier and two other "dinks" opened up with a machinegun. PFC Demott and the second man in the column, PFC Richard Sommers, absorbed most of the burst. PFC Demott, thinking that Sommers was wounded more seriously than he, laid down a covering base of fire. This allowed PFC Sommers to withdraw to a safe place to receive medical attention. Demott then dropped to the ground; both the company and the NVA assumed him to be dead. To insure that he was, an NVA officer fired at him with a pistol at point blank range. The bullet merely grazed his forehead. In an attempt to recover the body, Captain Vaughn and two volunteers began working their way to his position. Enroute, an NVA soldier rose from his concealed position and hurled a grenade at the rescue party. Captain Vaughn was thrown to the ground and lay temporarily stunned... quickly he fired at his assailant and killed him. He continued on until within 20 meters of the supposedly dead man. At this point Demott leaped to his feet and emptied his remaining ammunition at the
enemy position, killing the NVA officer. He turned and screamed, "Get back! I'm still alive!... I ain't gonna die!" Like a streak of lightning he raced through the column and continued to run until he was stopped by the company medic located with the rear platoon. Dermott was still alive though he was covered with blood, sweat and dirt. For Captain Vaughn he was "The prettiest sight we had seen in a long long time... We didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
In the meantime, the report of Dermott's death was joyfully corrected.
Charlie's assault carried from north to south; the objective was a heavily wooded hill (Hill 341-AT954416) in the middle of the primary valley pass extending south from Hardcore in the direction of LZ Ryder. Delta Company swept the previous day's area of contact with negative results. The results of the action of 21 and 22 February were 6 enemy KIA and 1 weapon CIA while the losses were 1 KIA and 8 WIA.
The action on 23 February began slowly. The plan called for a new direction of attack against the objective (Hill 341) by two companies, A and C, preceded by an extensive artillery preparation. Delta Company was to continue searching out the area between Mini-base Fox and the A/C Company objective. Alpha and Charlie Companies maneuvered to the south and then attacked from east to west, with Charlie on the right. All went smoothly as the companies entered the woodline of the objective.
At this same time (about 1200 hours), and army observation airplane (01) "Black Ace 27" crash landed on the side of the mountain, BM 845. It had been observing for the Golden Dragon Battalion Commander and for the Delta Company Commander. Fortunately, a visual "fix" on its approximate location was furnished by the battalion commander to the Airborne FAC and the artillery battalion commander who happened to be visiting the area in an OH23 aircraft. The aircraft and crew members were extracted (at the fresh air end of a nylon rope) by the Golden Dragon S3, Major James T. Campbell, and taken aboard the utility aircraft and deposited some 3 km away at the Delta Company CP. At that point they were transloaded inside the Huey and transported to the brigade CP at LZ Baldy. Nobody was injured other than being shaken up a bit. Later in the day the 01 aircraft was recovered by Chinook Aircraft.
Shortly afterwards, Charlie and Alpha Companies received sniper and sporadic mortar fire. Both elements maneuvered against the enemy and worked their way to the vicinity of the topographical crest of the hill. A pre-planned air strike was placed on the hill mass (AT957406) about 1 km to the south of the objective. At that time, the attacking companies encountered determined resistance from prepared bunker positions. When the companies were within twenty meters of the trenches and bunkers, the "dinks" blew one long, loud blast on a whistle. Immediately, semi-automatic and automatic rifle from the ground positions and from snipers suspended in the trees along the woodline struck at the advancing elements of Alpha and Charlie. A second whistle preceded an 82 mm mortar attack on the rearmost elements at the attacking companies.
Fire and maneuver failed to dislodge the hostile forces. Both elements tried repeatedly to overrun the position; Charlie Company appeared to have hit the defensive site head on. At this point, C Company had suffered 3 soldiers KIA and several wounded. As it appeared that needless casualties were being taken, both elements withdrew tactically, with the permission of the battalion commander. While this was being done, an immediate air strike hit the opposite side of the hill and the sharp valley position beyond it. 4.2 inch mortar fire was directed at suspected mortar positions throughout the valley with little positive effect. Gunships and air strikes were interspersed with each other as the two elements withdrew.
Wounded and dead were evacuated by Dustoff and CC aircraft, under cover of the air strikes and gunship attacks. As the withdrawing elements lengthened the distance between the objective and themselves, attack aircraft were called in on the near side of the hill. The Airborne FAC observed the enemy fleeing from the objective along the ridgeline trail to the next hill to the south. The FAC, USAF Major Wilbur Skaar, used his M-16 rifle in an attempt to hold them in place until the next set of fighters appeared, a scant 05 minutes later. Even though the light was failing (it was 1815-1845 hours) two more air strikes hammered at the objective and the enemy, now exposed in an open area. In the meantime, the two maneuver companies had laagered for the night, received resupplies, and were in the process of reorganizing for the next day’s operation.
Earlier, when it was obvious that a major battle was imminent, Delta Company was ordered to assemble and move to a location on the prominent hill mass, AT952424, to the north of the objective as a blocking/reaction force which could support by fire the activity on the objective hill. Plans were made for the next day’s battle to include air strikes, artillery preparations, mortar fire and scheme of maneuver. Highlights were the contingency use of CS munitions, the use of smoke to lessen the effect of mortar fire and scheme of maneuver. Highlights were the contingency use of CS munitions, the use of smoke to lessen the effect of mortar fire and attack from a different direction.
Most of the afternoon action was observed by Major General S. W. Koster, the commanding General of the Americal Division, who visited the battalion commander, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, on Mini-base Fox.
Saturday the 24th of February dawned full of promise. Visibility was excellent in the target area at 0800. However, at 0830, the weather rapidly became unfavorable and the hope for air strikes had diminished. The FAC reported that the trail (north-south) between Hill 341 and the saddle further south had much traffic during the night. The weather brightened during the period 0930 to 1130, but air support was still unavailable. Even though the Airborne FAC remained on station hoping for a break, the weather progressively worsened until visibility was 0/0 through EENT. The battalion commander made the decision to attack Hill 341 using the following preparations: 30 rounds 4.2 CA, followed by continuous 105 mm HE and WP until lift was forced by the advancing troops. At the same time, 105 mm HE was fired from LZ Ryder on the hill in the mountain pass to the south; this continued throughout the day. The scheme of maneuver was coordinated with gun-target (GT) lines from Mini-base Fox, LZ Hardcore, LZ Polar Bear (USMC Industrial Complex) and LZ Ryder. Had the fighter bombers been used, their heading of 140 degrees to target would have been coordinated with the scheme of maneuver. Special equipment to include gas masks, M79 CS gas grenades and emergency resupply of ammunition was delivered to the troops. Alpha and Charlie
Companies moved into their attack position approximately 500 meters southeast of Hill 341. Delta Company moved into its supporting position about 600 meters to the north of the objective. Alpha and Charlie advanced from southeast to northwest under cover of supporting fire into the woodline of the objective. Fires were lifted on the objective and shifted to a possible escape route just south of Hill 341. At the same time the 4.2 inch mortar platoon began firing at suspected enemy mortar positions. The companies advanced into the area of previous contact.
For a short, suspenseful time it appeared that the enemy was in retreat. However, such was not the case. Again, a loud whistle sounded; this time, both companies concentrated their return fire into the tree branches. Seven NVA snipers fell dead from the trees…both A and C Companies began their close in maneuver. The NVA defenders seems to sense that the tide of battle was running against them; two short blasts on the whistle reverberated in the jungle air as 82 mm mortar rounds fell to the front, center and rear of the advancing troops. During this close in maneuver, Lieutenant John C. Martin, A Company’s 1st platoon leader distinguished himself under intense fire by personally rescuing two of his wounded soldiers who were lying helpless in the bullet swept area; in so doing he was severely wounded in the shoulder. Bleeding profusely, he regrouped and rallied his troops for a renewed assault and pressed forward toward Hill 341. He personally eliminated an enemy sniper in his path. It was during this assault that Lieutenant Martin fell, mortally wounded in the chest.
Besides Lieutenant Martin who was killed by small arms, A Company suffered 9 other casualties from mortar fire. At this time, the battalion commander called for an orderly withdrawal so that covering artillery fire could be employed. Throughout the action, First Lieutenant Willy E. Lehninger’s heavy mortar platoon fired against suspected enemy mortar positions, apparently with negative results.
Delta Company remained in position to cover the withdrawal. The companies withdrew, bringing their wounded and dead with them. When the hill was vacated, artillery from LZ Hardcore was brought in on the enemy. Due to weather conditions, 105 mm ammunition resupply was hampered and strict conservation had to be imposed which limited the pressure that could be placed on the enemy. However, the companies were able to withdraw to night laager positions, specifically selected to prevent enemy mortar ambushes. As the companies closed their locations, Delta Company’s FO adjusted 155 mm artillery from the Marine Industrial Complex against Hill 341. Due to the thick fog, the adjustment was essentially by sound and accuracy was therefore doubtful. Plans were laid for fires throughout the night; however, these plans would be curtailed
by the ammunition resupply problem. The results of the contact on 23 and 24 February were 8 NVA killed, 1 NVA captured, 4 US killed in action and 19 wounded.
Map depicts 2nd
phase of the "Push
to the South"
Considerations by the battalion commander on future courses of action included the following facts: that attacks had been conducted from three different directions on the hill, the maneuver room for more than two companies was limited by the narrowness of the pass (bounded on the east of the objective by steep slopes and on the west by a sharp ravine), that six air strikes and massive artillery bombardments had been expended in the target area on the previous day with no diminution of enemy resistance, that the mass of the attack had been increased from one company to two maneuver companies, that CS had been used in an effort to soften the resistance, that the terrain favored an attack down hill from the south (a direction unfavorable without a combat assault and doubtful of success by combat assault because of threatening potential enemy positions to the east and south), and that on three separate occasions, unacceptable friendly casualties had been taken without penetrating the basic defensive complex. Therefore the recommendation to brigade was that the following day be devoted primarily to strikes against the objective area by artillery and air, that the stage be set for both B52 and A6 strikes (and the targets thereof) and that pressure be exerted from favorable terrain to the south and/or west.
On Sunday, 25 February, Alpha and Charlie Companies prepared a common LZ to evacuate their dead and wounded. With this accomplished, an attempt at an artillery ambush was made on Hill 341 (the same sequence of events was followed as on the two previous days – preparation by air strikes and artillery). Delta Company moved the 1st platoon to within small arms range; at about the time the ground attack had occurred previously, the platoon opened fire in the hope that the enemy would expose himself and his positions. An artillery TOT fell on the objective after approximately 5-7 minutes as planned. In the meantime, Alpha and Charlie Companies had departed their LZ and penetrated the jungle. They moved into the ambush positions for the night. The results of this tactic could not be determined as time did not allow for complete exploitation of the objective. In essence, the day was spent in short movement with consideration given to reorganization or whatever the company commanders felt necessary.
At about noon time, Helix 52, who had been on a visual reconnaissance mission over the battle area for the Golden Dragons, informed the battalion commander that he had just discovered that he had zero oil pressure, and that he was going to orbit LZ Hardcore until he could determine whether the difficulty was in the instrument or in the 01 Bird Dog engine. At the firebase, B Company commander was informed of the trouble and instructed to monitor the situation. Major Severtson orbited until he believed the difficulty was with the instrument and then headed for LZ Baldy at the a healthy altitude of about 4000 feet.
The battalion commander continued to watch the aircraft with binoculars and noticed a sharp swing back toward Hardcore from about 5 km out. Upon asking 52 if he was in trouble, Major Severtson replied matter of factly "Well, I’ve just lost an engine," as if he had at least one to spare! He then informed the battalion commander that he would land in the valley northeast of Hardcore, and if possible would the Golden Dragons please pick him up? In the meantime, the S3 Air, S2 and Bravo 6 come into action, arranged for a security element to protect the bird, loaded the element (from Bravo 20, or "Bomber") into an available Huey, and arrived at the downed aircraft. Major Severtson was picked up, brought to Hardcore, and later transported by UH1 to Baldy. Later the 01 was lifted out by Chinook aircraft. After traversing about 4-5 km to the northeast, .50 caliber ground fire hit the 01 as it was swinging underneath the CH47, causing it to drop. Upon impact with the ground, a slightly damaged USAF Bird Dog aircraft became a total loss. At last inspection, troops believed to be North Vietnamese were in and around the vicinity of the crash.
Monday, 26 February, was spent in maneuvering to support either effort that faced the Golden Dragons, to remain and continue the offensive against Hill 341 and surrounding territory (hopefully with the aid of B52 and A6 strikes) or to move to the Bong Son area. Mop-up actions on the plain’s area continued in the vicinity of Hardcore. Bravo Company had made contact with 5 or 6 enemy wearing khaki uniforms in vicinity of AT977501, and Alpha and Charlie Companies moved to commanding terrain approximately 1.5 km to the north of Delta. Company D remained in place on the critical terrain overlooking the objective hill and the suspected base area to their immediate east. Results of the day’s action were 4 enemy killed by 4.2 inch mortar fire called for and adjusted by Bravo Company.
Visits by both Protestant and Catholic Chaplains to Alpha and Charlie Companies and by the brigade commander to Charlie were accomplished. The brigade commander informed the Golden Dragon commander that an extension of ten days in the present area of operations had been approved; immediate instructions were given to Alpha and Charlie Company commanders and to the staff to prepare for continuation of the attack. However, at approximately 2000 hours, word was received that the extension was cancelled and that the battalion would be relieved by the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry on the following morning, the 27th of February. Immediate plans were initiated for PZ’s, LZ’s and command and control functions. Alpha Company was to move first to secure the LZ for the incoming units, followed by Charlie, and then by Delta, but only (in Delta’s case) after relief in place by a company of the incoming battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Cully, the battalion commander of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry and his artillery
liaison officer planned to join the Golden Dragon battalion commander on Mini-base Fox in order to coordinate the movement and to arrange for change of responsibility for the AO. The Golden Dragon artillery LNO arranged for covering fires from LZ Polar Bear during the relief. 4.2 inch mortar fires from the Mini-base Fox would also be employed. The evening of the 26th and early morning of the 27th of February were filled with last minute preparations at LZ Hardcore for the move of 27 February.
In closing out LZ Hardcore, it was discovered that 40 rounds of 105 ammunition had been left for destruction. After a thorough police and when all had departed the firebase, a detachment consisting of the battalion commander, S3, the engineer platoon leader, demolition sergeant, and a radio operator set the demolition charges at two separate locations, boarded the UH1 – CC aircraft, and orbited the firebase at about 3000 feet to observe the destruction of the ammunition. After 7 minutes, one of the charges exploded. After 15 minutes, the other had not exploded (the fuse was designated for 7-10 minutes duration) and the rear detachment reluctantly departed the area. The incident was reported to the brigade and to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry. The S3 was instructed to inspect the area on the following day to determine whether or not this charge exploded during the night (it had), as well as to monitor the extraction of Delta Company. In the meantime, Delta Company passed to the operational control of the 4th
Battalion, 31st Infantry; all other Golden Dragon units were lifted to Dragon Rear at LZ Baldy. Mini-base Fox was taken over by the incoming battalion as an OP. Control of the area of operations was relinquished by the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry to the commanding officer of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry at Mini-base Fox at 1730 hours.
On 28 February, all elements of the Golden Dragons, except the rear detachment led by the executive officer, had departed LZ Baldy and arrived at LZ English to be transported to their new firebase in AO Pershing, LZ Geronimo. The rear detachment would close the new area on 29 February.
The inclusive confirmed totals for Golden Dragon action from 3 February through 28 February were 243 enemy killed, 1 enemy captured, and 43 weapons (to include one 82 mm mortar) captured or destroyed. The battalion suffered 40 killed and 153 wounded during the same period.
Early morning horizon shot of LZ Hardcore from the West.
AAR: TET OFFENSIVE