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                        IN VIETNAM

                  
 by General Donn A. Starry

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY

WASHINGTON, D. C., 1989

 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Starry, Donn A 1931-

Mounted combat in Vietnam.

(Vietnam studies)
Includes index.

1. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975-Campaigns. 2. United States Army. Armored Force-History. 3. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975-United States. I. Title. II. Series.

DS558.9.A75S73 959.704'342 78-12736

First Printed 1978-CMH Pub 90-17

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402

 

Foreword

The United States Army met an unusually complex challenge in Southeast Asia. In conjunction with the other services, the Army fought in support of a national policy of assisting an emerging nation to develop governmental processes of its own choosing, free of outside coercion. In addition to the usual problems of waging armed conflict, the assignment in Southeast Asia required superimposing the immensely sophisticated task of a modern army upon an underdeveloped environment and adapting them to demands covering a wide spectrum. These involved helping to fulfill the basic needs of an agrarian population, dealing with the frustrations of antiguerrilla operations, and conducting conventional campaigns against well-trained and determined regular units.

It is still necessary for the Army to continue to prepare for other challenges that may lie ahead. While cognizant that history never repeats itself exactly and that no army ever profited from trying to meet a new challenge in terms of an old one, the Army nevertheless stands to benefit immensely from a study of its experience, its shortcomings no less than its achievements.

Aware that some years must elapse before the official histories will provide a detailed and objective analysis of the experience in Southeast Asia, we have sought a forum whereby some of the more salient aspects of that experience can be made available now. At the request of the Chief of Staff, a representative group of senior officers who served in important posts in Vietnam and who still carry a heavy burden of day-to-day responsibilities have prepared a series of monographs. These studies should be of great value in helping the Army develop future operational concepts while at the same time contributing to the historical record and providing the American public with an interim report on the performance of men and officers who have responded, as others have through our history, to exacting and trying demands.

The reader should be reminded that most of the writing was accomplished while the war in Vietnam was at its peak, and the monographs frequently refer to events of the past as if they were taking place in the present.

All monographs in the series are based primarily on official records, with additional material from published and unpublished secondary works, from debriefing reports and interviews with key participants, and from the personal experience of the author. To iii

 

facilitate security clearance, annotation and detailed bibliography have been omitted from the published version; a fully documented account with bibliography is filed with the U.S. Army Center oŁ Military History.

The story of mounted combat in Vietnam was written at Fort Knox between 1973 and 1976 by a task force under the direction of Major General Donn A. Starry, then commander of the Armor Center and commander of the Armor School. General Starry has been involved in the planning or direction of armored operations and development since he was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1948 as a second lieutenant of cavalry. After serving in command and staff positions from platoon to battalion in armored units in Europe until 1953, he became a staff officer in the Eighth Army in Korea and then an instructor in combined arms and nuclear weapons employment at the U.S. Army Intelligence School. He later served as an armored battalion commander and staff officer in U.S. Army, Europe. In 1966 he assumed duties in the G-3 Section, U.S. Army, Vietnam, and was a member of the Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations, Vietnam, study group which evaluated armored operations in Vietnam. After serving in assignments with the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, he returned to Vietnam to join the plans office of J-3, Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and in 1969 assumed command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. In 1970 he returned to the United States and served successively as Deputy Director of the Operations I Directorate and Director of Manpower and Forces. After two and j one-half years as the commander of the Armor Center, he assumed command of V Corps, U.S. Army, Europe, in 1976. Promoted to full general, in July 1977 General Starry became commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia.

Washington, D. C.
15 September 1977

JAMES C. PENNINGTON
Brigadier General, USA
The Adjutant General iv

 

Preface

This monograph is an account of the operations of armored units of the United States Army in the Republic of Vietnam. The term armored units as used here is generic and includes tank and mechanized infantry battalions and companies, armored cavalry squadrons and troops, and air cavalry squadrons and troops-all forces whose primary modus operandi was to fight mounted.

Of necessity the story begins not with the arrival of the first U.S. armored units in Vietnam in 1965 but with armor in Vietnam during the years immediately after World War II. The generally unsuccessful experience of French armored forces in Southeast Asia from the end of World War II to 1954 convinced American military men that armored units could not be employed in Vietnam. It was widely believed that Vietnam's monsoon climate together with its jungle and rice paddies constituted an environment too hostile for mechanized equipment; it was further agreed that armored forces could not cope with an elusive enemy that operated from jungle ambush. Thus at the outset of American participation in the conflict and for some time thereafter, Army planners saw little or no need for armored units in the U.S. force structure in Vietnam. At the same time, however, extensive American aid that flowed into Vietnam after the French left the country was directed in part to developing an armored force for the newly created Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

It was not until 1967, however, when a study titled Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations, Vietnam, conducted by General Arthur L. West, Jr., was sent to the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Army, that the potential of armored forces was fully described to the Army's top leaders. Despite the study's findingsthat armored cavalry was probably the most cost-effective force on the Vietnam battlefield-there was little that could be done to alter significantly either the structure of forces already sent to Vietnam or those earmarked for deployment. By that time, constraints on the size of American forces in Vietnam had been imposed by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and decisions on force deployment extending well into 1968 had already been made. The armored force of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, meanwhile had been successful enough in fighting the elusive Viet Cong that U.S. armored units had been deployed in limited numbers, usually as part of their parent divisions. v

 

From early March 1965 until the cease-fire in January 1973, U.S. armored units participated in virtually every large-scale offensive operation and worked closely with South Vietnamese Army and other free world forces. After eight years of fighting over land on which tanks were once thought to be incapable of moving, in weather that was supposed to prohibit armored operations, and dealing with an elusive enemy against whom armored units were thought to be at a considerable disadvantage, armored forces emerged as powerful, flexible, and essential battle forces. In large measure they contributed to the success of the free world forces, not only in close combat, but in pacification and security operations as well. When redeployment began in early 1969, armored units were not included in the first forces scheduled for redeployment, and indeed planners moved armored units down the scale time and again, holding off their redeployment until the very end.

In almost equal parts this study has drawn from official war records of armored units and personal interviews with men of those units. The monograph makes no attempt to document every armored unit in every battle. Nor does it list in detail the lessons that may be learned from the Vietnam conflict, although it does call attention to some. In so doing it sometimes isolates and focuses on the mounted combat aspects of operations that actually included many different American and other free world units. The reader should keep in mind that the author's intent is to tell the story of mounted units, and not to describe battles in their entirety.

Documenting this story of mounted combat in Vietnam was not a one-man job. Of the many people who helped, several deserve special thanks. Lieutenant Colonel George J. Dramis, Jr., director of the monograph task force, developed the first topical outline, assessed the historical significance of each bit of the wealth of information available, and ran the task force from day to day.

The members of the monograph task force, Vietnam veterans with firsthand experience, whose collective knowledge contributed to the continuity of the story were armor officers Major John G. Russell, Major Thomas P. Barrett, Captain Robert M. Engeset, Captain John L. Hagar, Captain Gerald A. McDonald, Captain Maurice B. Parrish, Captain Jeffrey A. Stark, Captain Calvin Teel, Jr., and Sergeant Major Christopher N. Trammell; infantry officers Captain Robert P. Antoniuc and Captain John J. Strange; and Captain Dennis M. Jankowski of the (quartermaster Corps. The contributions of the Infantry School, particularly those of Lieutenant Colonel Wayne T. Boles, were invaluable. Without the good work of the administrative staff, Mrs. Pege R. Bailey, admin- vi

 

istrative assistant, Mrs. Jeanne Meyer, typist, and many temporary typists, this volume would not have been completed. Specialist 5 Elmer R. Adkins, Jr., and Specialist 4 Jack D. Travers, who repeatedly typed the final drafts, deserve special mention. Not to be forgotten are the many lieutenants on temporary assignment with the task force who painstakingly researched articles and located officers and enlisted men who had served in Vietnam.

This monograph is an accounting of the stewardship of the tank crewmen, mechanized infantrymen, armored cavalrymen, and air cavalrymen who had a hand in some of the more significant events in the Vietnam War. It was their devotion, professionalism, valor, and dedication that brought American arms to the conclusion decided upon and ordered by their commander in chief. In the end they left us a large legacy. The monograph is their story - it is dedicated to them.

Fort Monroe, Virginia
15 September 1977

DONN A. STARRY
General, U.S. Armyvii

 

Contents

Chapter

Page

I. INTRODUCTION

3

Influence of French Use of Armor

3

US Armored Forces After 1945

6

Vietnam as a Field for Armor

9

The Enemy in Vietnam

10

II. ARMOR IN THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE ARMY

17

US Advisers

19

M113's in the Mekong Delta

21

Reorganization and Retrenchment

24

Expansion of Armor in the South Vietnamese Army

30

Cuu Long 15

31

Time for Corrective Analysis

33

Improvements in Equipment

37

Enemy Reaction to Armored Vehicles

45

"Coup Troops"

48

III. GROWTH OF US ARMORED FORCES IN VIETNAM

50

The Marines Land

52

Decision Making

54

Scouts Out

58

Ap Bau Bang

60

Deployments and Employments

63

Task Force Spur

65

Battles on the Minh Thanh Road

66

The Blackhorse Regiment

72

Mine and Countermine

79

IV. COMBINED ARMS OPERATIONS

84

The MACOV Study

84

Cedar Falls-Junction City

91

Mechanized Operations in the Mekong Delta

103

Route Security and Convoy Escort

106

Air Cavalry Operations

111

Other Free World Armor

112

V. THREE ENEMY OFFENSIVES

114

Enemy Buildup

114

First Offensive: Tet 1968

116

Battle of Tan Son Nhut

118

Battle of Long Binh and Bien Hoa Area

123

Battles in Vinh Long Province

127

Second Offensive

129

Third Offensive

131

Aftermath

136

VI. THE FIGHT FOR THE BORDERS

138

Changing Strategy

138

Armored Forces Along the Demilitarized Zone

139

The Sheridan

142

"Pile-on"

145

Rome Plows

147

Tank Versus Tank

149

Invading the Enemy's Sanctuaries

153

Securing the Borders

156

Pacification Efforts

161

Vietnamese Forces Take Over the War

164

VII. ACROSS THE BORDER: SANCTUARIES IN CAMBODIA AND LAOS

166

Early Operations Into Cambodia

167

The Main Attack Into Cambodia

168

South Vietnamese Army Attacks Continue

176

Secondary Attacks Across the Border

178

Cambodia in Perspective

179

Maintenance and Supply

181

Lam Son 719

186

The South Vietnamese Army Attack

190

Air Cavalry and Tanks

193

The Withdrawal

194

Cuu Long 44-02

197

VIII. THE ENEMY SPRING OFFENSIVE OF 1972

199

Point and Counterpoint

200

The 20th Tank Regiment

203

Attack Across the Demilitarized Zone

205

The Rock of Dong Ha

206

The Enemy Attack in Military Region 2

212

The Aftermath

217

IX. REFLECTIONS

220

APPENDIX A VIETNAM UNIT COMMANDERS

227

APPENDIX B ARMOR RECIPIENTS OF THE MEDAL OF HONOR

238

GLOSSARY

239

Chart

US Armored Organizations 1965

52

Maps

1 Geographic Regions South Vietnam

8

2 Dry Season South Vietnam (and tracked vehicles)

11

3 Wet Season South Vietnam (and tracked vehicles)

13

4 Battle of Ap Bac I 2 January 1963

26

5 Ap Bau Bang I 11-12 November 1965

61

6 Battle of Minh Thanh Road 9 July 1966

68

7 Battle of Suoi Cat 2 December 1966

75

8 Expanding US Operations 1967

92

9 Ap Bau Bang II 9-20 March 1967

98

10 Battle of Ap Bac II 2 May 1967

104

11 Major Armor Battles Tet 1968

117

12 Saigon Area Tet 1968

120

13 Battle of the Crescent 20 January 1970

158

14 Operations Into Cambodia May-June 1970

170

15 LAM SON 719 8 February-6 April 1971

188

16 Northern I Corps March 1972

202

17 20th Tank Regiment 1-27 April 1972

207

Diagrams

1 Capstan and Anchor Recovery

39

2 Push-bar Extraction

39

3 Cable and Log Extraction

40

4 Block and Tackle

40

5 Tow Cables

41

6 Cloverleaf Search Technique

88

Illustrations

M24 (Chaffee) Used by French in Vietnam

4

Tanks Firing in Support of French Infantry at Dien Bien Phu

5

Viet Cong Soldier

15

South Vietnamese Reconnaissance Unit With 1939 French Armored Car

18

Armored Personnel Carrier M113

23

Balk Bridge Carried by M113

42

M41 in South Vietnamese Training Operation

44

M113 Damaged by Viet Cong Recoilless Rifle

46

US Marine Corps Flamethrower Tank in Action Near Da Nang

53

ACAV Moves Out to Escort Convoy

74

ACAV's Form Defense Perimeter

76

Engineer Minesweeping Team Clears Highway 13

80

Tank-Mounted Mine Roller Prepares to Clear Highway 19

83

Herringbone Formation

87

MI 13's and M48A3 Tanks Deploy Between Jungle and Rubber Plantation

94

Tanks and ACAV's Secure Supply Routes

106

OH-6A Observation Helicopter and Two AH-1G Cobras on Visual Reconnaissance

110

Troops of 1st Australian Armor Regiment With Centurion Tank

113

Tank and M113 During Enemy Attack on Bien Hoa Tet 1968

125

M41 of South Vietnamese Army Advances on Enemy Positions in Saigon May 1968

130

M113 With Protective Steel Planking in Action at Ben Cui Plantation

133

Preparing Night Defensive Positions Along Demilitarized Zone

141

Sheridan M551 and Crew

142

Pile-on Operation in I Corps

146

Rome Plows With Security Guard of M113's

148

Russian-made PT76 Tank Destroyed at Ben Het

152

A Tank in Position To Provide Static Road Security

162

The 2d Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry Enters Snuol Cambodia

173

M88 Heavy Recovery Vehicle Loads Damaged APC

185

Red Devil Road

190

ACAV's of South Vietnamese 1st Armored Brigade in Laos

191

Captured North Vietnamese T59 Tank

210

South Vietnamese M48 After Hit From Rocket

213

UH-1B Helicopter With TOW Missiles

214

ACAV Takes Position for Counterattack Near My Chanh

216

M48A3 Tank Explodes Bomb Set Up as Mine

222

Engineers Clear Trail of Mines in Cambodia

223

M578 Light Recovery Vehicle Works on Sheridan

225

 

 

page created 17 January 2002

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