The Buildup (1965-1967)

The Buildup Begins and Early Actions Around Saigon

At 0530 on 5 May 1965, the first of 150 sorties of C-130 aircraft loaded with men and equipment of the 173d Airborne Brigade and its support elements landed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Saigon. Battalion-size elements of the U.S. Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, had been operating around Da Nang in the northern portion of South Vietnam since March, but the arrival of the 173d, consisting of two airborne infantry battalions, marked the first commitment of a U.S. Army ground combat unit in Vietnam. The brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson, formed a defensive perimeter around the air base. In direct support of the brigade was the 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery (Airborne), a two firing-battery 105-mm. battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lee E. Surut.

Counterinsurgency operations dictated new tactics and techniques, and, as they affected maneuver units, so they affected their supporting artillery. Although the brigade had undergone rigorous training in Okinawa before its departure for Vietnam, the "first unit in" could not be totally prepared. Nevertheless, the airborne troopers of the 173d performed admirably. No sooner had the brigade unloaded its gear than it began to conduct operations around Bien Hoa, primarily search and destroy operations and patrol actions. The men of the 319th had a "jump" of two months on fellow artillerymen, which enabled them to compile an impressive list of firsts. The first field artillery round fired by a U.S. Army unit in the Republic of Vietnam came from the base piece of Battery C, 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, during a registration mission. With that round, the U.S. field artillery role in the Vietnam war began.

On 31 May 1965 the 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, as part of Task Force SURUT, participated in the largest air assault conducted in Vietnam to that date. The task force, consisting of the 319th reinforced by a cavalry troop, an engineer platoon, and a composite platoon made up of volunteers from the support battalion, secured a landing zone and guided in CH-37 Mohave helicopters carrying


Photograph: 105-mm. Battery Firing from Hasty Position

the howitzers. Up to this point in the war, the Mohaves had been doing yeoman duty as all-purpose aircraft. So smoothly and efficiently did this initial move go that three hours later these same howitzers mounted preparation fires on another landing zone for Task Force DEXTER, a reinforced infantry element of the 173d Brigade. This was the first such operation ever conducted in actual combat by a U.S. Army unit-one that had been in Vietnam less than thirty days.

The 173d soon had an opportunity to participate as the reserve force in an offensive operation. In June a Viet Cong regiment launched an attack on Dong Xoai, a district town ninety miles north of Saigon. With the press corps closely following the events, the 173d moved to a forward airfield in case relief forces were needed. Although South Vietnamese troops ultimately relieved Dong Xoai, the Redlegs of the 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, became the first U.S. Army unit in Vietnam to engage in an offensive operation by providing fire support for the South Vietnamese troops relieving Dong Xoai.


After the Dong Xoai support operations, the 3d Battalion returned to Bien Hoa to ready for a history-making operation that commenced on Sunday, 27 June. Fifty kilometers north of Bien Hoa lies the southern edge of a huge tangle of double-canopy forest and thick undergrowth. Called War Zone D, it had long been a guerrilla haven, unpenetrated even by the French in their many years of fighting. In a massive, businesslike operation, five maneuver battalions penetrated deep into the area. The 3d Battalion (Airborne), 319th Artillery, provided coordinated fire support for the 1st and 2d Battalions (Airborne), 503d Infantry, of the 173d Airborne Brigade and the 3d and 4th Battalions of the South Vietnamese Army 2d Airborne Brigade. The Royal Australian Regiment joined the operation after the second day. The size of the assaulting force determined the significance of the operation for the artillery. It necessitated the close coordination of large volumes of artillery fires augmented by close air support and armed helicopters.

Before the operation began, the brigade commander directed that artillerymen "exercise the complete system." Exercise it they did. One hundred forty-four aircraft providing support for the operation assisted in the displacement of five infantry battalions, a field artillery battalion, a support battalion, and a composite battalion of cavalry, armor, and engineers. Throughout the entire operation, no serious incidents or major breakdowns in the system occurred. The artillery provided ten forward observers (including the battalion property book officer), three liaison officers (including the battalion communications officer), and two aerial observers in addition to those forward observers and liaison officers normally provided. Three communication nets were used and all fires were cleared through the brigade fire support coordination center. The 319th fired nearly 5,000 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition during the four-day period while maintaining contact and effecting coordination with the supporting Vietnamese and Australian artillery units.

Known only as OPORD 17-65, the designation of the original operation order, this venture into War Zone D yielded satisfying results. By conservative estimates, the enemy suffered 75 casualties and lost several trucks and nearly 250 tons of food and supplies. In an honest appraisal of the field artillery role shortly after the conclusion of the operation, Colonel Surut admitted having discovered some "bugs" in the fire support system:

Fire support coordination initially slowed some missions, but by D+2 this bottleneck was overcome. Safety checks slowed the firing somewhat; however the checks are necessary for close support, particularly with three major maneuver elements abreast.


General Williamson, the brigade commander, in a letter to the commandant of the Field Artillery School, discussed the initial operations of the 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery:

The artillery over here is doing a fabulous job. My Artillery Battalion Commander is having experiences that far exceed what most others have had. . . I would suggest that the Artillery make every effort to get the most promising young officers out here for some very worthwhile experiences.

The 173d Airborne Brigade again tested its fire support system in War Zone D on 6 July. Along with a battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and units of the 43d Regiment of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the brigade conducted four multiple air assaults supported by helicopter sorties just north of the Dong Nai River. The operation resulted in 56 enemy killed, 28 captured, 100 tons of rice seized, and several tons of documents destroyed.

For the field artillerymen, this second venture into War Zone D provided an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the previous operation. Clearance and safety checks now were routine and the liaison and coordination efforts functioned smoothly. General Williamson, in complimenting the coordination efforts of all involved, said:

. . . as I looked at it from above, it was a sight to see. We were withdrawing from the center Landing Zone while some friendly troops were still in the western Landing Zone. We had a helicopter strike going in a circle around the center Landing Zone. The machinegun and rocket firing helicopters kept making their circle smaller and smaller as we withdrew our landing zone security. Just to the west side we had another helicopter strike running north to south. We also had something else that was just a little hairy but it worked without any question. The artillery was firing high angle fire to screen the north side of the landing zone. The personnel lift helicopters were coming from the east, going under the artillery fire, sitting down on the LZ to pick up troops and leaving by way of the southwest. In addition to that, we had an airstrike going to the northeast. All of these activities were going on at the same time. We could not have done that a few weeks ago. The only reason we can do it now is that (we know) where our troops are and the fire support coordination center can coordinate fire and other activities.

The 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, maintained continuous "feedback" to the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile School (later the Field Artillery School) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Correspondence included letters, memorandums, and copies of debriefings and after-action reports which contained numerous insights on the employment of artillery. At the school the correspondence was thoroughly studied and discussed with a view toward including any new and valuable information in classroom instruction. The fol-


Photograph: Aerial Rocket Artillery UH-1B with XM3 Weapons System
AERIAL ROCKET ARTILLERY UH-1B WITH XM3 WEAPONS SYSTEM, which carried forty-eight 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rockets.

lowing are only a few of the important insights and tips received from the 3d Battalion:

1.  Dense foliage in Vietnam made it particularly difficult to identify friendly troop dispositions and enemy targets to close air support aircraft. One system adopted to help correct this shortcoming was to employ white phosphorous projectiles as marking rounds.
2. Commanders must make every effort to preclude the check firing of one fire support system to accommodate another. General Williamson's description of actions in War Zone D was evidence that the 173d Airborne Brigade was getting good results with the continuous and concurrent employment of various fire support systems.
3. Responsive shelling report (SHELREP) personnel were necessary to establish an effective countermortar and counterbattery program. To this end, correspondence from the 173d Airborne Brigade recommended the use of artillery survey personnel in crater and shelling report teams.
4. Whenever possible clearances of large zones should be obtained in advance of an operation. This foresight in opera-


tional planning would result in more responsive on-call supporting fires.

New Arrivals

The 3d Battalion (Airborne), 319th Artillery, relinquished its position as the only U.S. Army artillery unit in Vietnam on 16 July 1965 with the arrival of the 2d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One"), and its supporting field artillery, the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery. Less than two weeks later the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, arrived by ship at Cam Ranh Bay with the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery. In September the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) arrived and brought with it the first U.S. Army division artillery to arrive in Vietnam.

The organization of the 1st Cavalry Division Artillery was typical of other division artilleries that followed. The division artillery consisted of three light 105-mm. howitzer battalions with three batteries of six guns each and an aerial rocket artillery battalion with thirty-nine aircraft. Most division artilleries contained three 105-mm. battalions but also included a fourth battalion of three 155-mm. howitzer batteries and one 8-inch howitzer battery. Whether aerial rocket artillery or heavy cannon artillery, the fourth battalion augmented and extended the range of the three 105-mm. battalions, each of which was in direct support of a brigade of the division.

Before the end of 1965, the remainder of the 1st Division Artillery arrived to provide support for the Big Red One in III Corps. Its organization was typical of most of the division artilleries that would arrive later, its fire power coming from three 105-mm. battalions and a composite 155-mm. and 8-inch battalion. The initial field artillery buildup also included the first few separate battalions that provided the general support and reinforcing fires needed to complement the divisional artillery.

As the number of U.S. troops committed to Vietnam grew, organizational changes to facilitate command and control were required. U.S. Army Support Command, Vietnam, was redesignated U.S. Army, Vietnam (USARV). Task Force ALPHA was activated on 1 August 1965 and based at Nha Trang with control over all U.S. units in the II and III Corps areas. III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) functioned as controlling headquarters for U.S. units in the I Corps area. In early 1966 Task Force ALPHA was redesignated I Field Force, Vietnam (IFFV), with responsibility for II Corps area. II Field Force, Vietnam (IIFFV), was activated. II Field Force was then assigned responsibility for III Corps area.


Coinciding with the activation of the II Field Force headquarters was the creation of controlling artillery headquarters. On 30 November 1965, XXX Corps Artillery arrived at Nha Trang and assumed control of U.S. and allied artillery units under Task Force ALPHA. On 15 March 1966, XXX Corps Artillery was redesignated I Field Force Artillery. To the south, II Field Force Artillery, organized in January, arrived in Vietnam in March 1966. The force artilleries functioned as controlling headquarters for all nondivisional artillery. Commanded by a brigadier general, the field force artillery was similar to a corps artillery, long a part of the U.S. Army organization. The force artillery was made up of all separate artillery battalions, batteries, and detachments in addition to the artillery groups under its control. The artillery group made its debut in the war with the arrival of the 23d Artillery Group in November of 1965. The group functioned as the controlling headquarters for its assigned battalions and normally had a mission of general support of the field force and reinforcing the fires of specific artillery units within the field force area of responsibility. Although many smaller organizational changes occurred in the course of the war, these first few significant steps laid the basic framework for the artillery command structure that by 1969 would support the operations of over a half million U.S. troops.

The Pleiku (Ia Drang) Campaign

In the early days of the buildup, units could not be permitted time for detailed planning and rehearsing. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had increased its forces significantly and had to be engaged at once. The situation was particularly critical in II Corps Tactical Zone, where at least three regiments of North Vietnamese regulars and one Viet Cong main force battalion were threatening to cut the country in half. Part of their mission was to meet and humiliate the newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division.

The 1st Cavalry Division did not arrive in Vietnam until September 1965, some of its units in early October. Yet on 22 October 1965 the commanding general of the division received the following order:

Commencing first light 23 Oct 65, 1st Air Cav. Deploys one BN TF (Minimum 1 Inf Bn and 1 Arty Btry) to Pleiku with mission to be prepared to assist in defense of Key US/GVN installations. Vic Pleiku or reinforce II Corps Operations to relieve Plei Me CIDG Camp.

The Pleiku campaign, sometimes called the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, started with only a small force but eventually involved the entire division; Before the battle was over, the division


Map 4: Ia Drang Valley
Map 4

accomplished several significant feats. (Map 4) Among these was the first air deployment and supply of tube artillery in an area of extremely rugged terrain and no roads. The operation proved that infantry units could always have tube artillery, as well as aerial rocket artillery, in support of their ground operations regardless of the terrain. The Pleiku campaign saw the first night employment of aerial rocket artillery in extremely close support of ground troops and in conjunction with tube artillery and tactical air. Also, for the first time large American units met and defeated battalion-


and regiment-size North Vietnamese Army units under control of divisional headquarters. This was also the first real combat test of the airmobility concept.

The campaign opened on the morning of 23 October. Task Force INGRAM, composed mainly of the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, and Battery B, 2d Battalion, 17th Artillery, moved by air from An Khe to Camp Holloway at Pleiku to reinforce the area. The commanding general of the lst Air Cavalry Division received permission­mission to move his entire 1st Brigade to Camp Holloway to assist in the security mission.

While the 1st Brigade was repositioning its forces, a South Vietnamese task force was moving from Pleiku to the relief of the Plei Me civilian irregular defense group camp, which had been attacked by a North Vietnamese regiment. Unfortunately, the relief column was engaged and halted by two or three enemy companies. The South Vietnamese commander absolutely refused to move unless he was provided U.S. artillery support. In an effort to get the relief column moving, the artillery battalion commander placed an artillery liaison team with the task force and provided the support of two artillery batteries. Still, the attempt to get the column moving was initially unsuccessful because the Vietnamese commander then refused to move until he had been resupplied from Pleiku. It was several days before the relief column started to move, and then only after the U.S. artillery forward observer mounted the lead vehicle of the convoy and literally walked artillery fires down the road in advance of the moving column. With this support, the column received only sporadic small-arms fire and this was silenced by attack helicopters and Air Force tactical air strikes. The South Vietnamese column finally arrived at the Plei Me camp at dusk on 25 October.

The reluctance of the Vietnamese commander to move on 23 October was probably a blessing in disguise, because it allowed the cavalry to reposition two batteries of the 2d Battalion, 19th Artillery, better to support the future battle. This proved a significant advantage later. The delay also gave the brigade time to learn more about the enemy disposition in the area.

On the morning of 26 October, the Vietnamese task force conducted a sweep around the Plei Me camp. Five minutes after noon the task force encountered mortar, small-arms, and recoilless rifle fire. The force immediately took casualties and faltered. The two batteries of the 2d Battalion, 19th Artillery, responded at once with supporting fires, which enabled the task force to regroup, withstand the attack, and take the offensive. The North Vietnamese forces suffered 148 killed and 5 captured in this action. The two artillery


units were credited with drawing first blood for the 1st Cavalry Division. Had they not been in position, what became the first friendly victory could well have been a defeat.

The division started hunting for the enemy force with all available means. It planned to support any engagement by rapid air movement of artillery batteries and by tactical air strikes. The airmobility concept had envisioned the movement and supply of maneuver and support forces by helicopter, and the 1st Cavalry Division had been organized accordingly with light equipment and aircraft. From 27 October until the morning of 1 November, the enemy proved to be elusive. He attempted to retreat toward sanctuary areas and avoided contact whenever possible. A few skirmishes occurred, but they were mainly between small forces.

On the morning of 1 November, an air cavalry troop discovered a small enemy force guarding a regimental aid station. Before the action terminated, an enemy battalion was engaged by the air cavalry troop. The air cavalry habitually operated beyond artillery range; its mission was to find the enemy and fix him in position, when possible, until the division ground forces and supporting artillery could be brought to the scene. In this case all friendly artillery was out of range, but even so the enemy lost the effectiveness of most of one battalion before the battle was over. The enemy withdrew pursued by division scout and aerial rocket artillery aircraft as well as Air Force tactical air strikes.

On 2 and 3 November, light action continued and ambush positions were established throughout the area. One of the ambushes caught an enemy platoon-size force by surprise and totally destroyed it. The ambush patrol then pulled back into the patrol base area and established a tight defensive perimeter. At midnight of the 3d, the patrol base was attacked by an enemy battalion-size force. It was evident that reinforcements were needed at once. The patrol base, which had been established by Troop B, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, had a landing zone within the perimeter sufficient to accommodate five helicopters. Into this landing zone came Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, in platoon-size lifts, making this the first time that a perimeter under fire had been relieved by a heliborne force. Although cannon artillery was not within range of the patrol base initially, aerial rocket artillery was available and for the first time fired at night in very close support-as near as 50 meters to friendly positions. Aerial rocket artillery continued to support the defense of the patrol base until the morning of 4 November, when tube artillery was moved to a supporting position. The enemy broke contact shortly after artillery rounds began to


fall on their positions. Although a large number of the enemy dead was carried away by the retreating forces, the body count was 112, with an estimated 92 others killed inaction. Intelligence discovered that this enemy force was a North Vietnamese Army unit that had just arrived in the country. The cavalry division had insured that they received a warm welcome.

The artillery also proved instrumental in defeating an enemy force engaged by elements of Company B, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry. While on a sweep operation, Company B came upon an enemy element guarding a cache of weapons and ammunition. The artillery fire caused the enemy to disengage and abandon the cache. He lost 120,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition; 126 rounds of mortar ammunition, recoilless rifle ammunition, and hand grenades; and 26 weapons, including mortars and recoilless rifles.

Again, on 6 November, aerial rocket artillery fire was decisive in battle. Company B, 2d Battalion, 8th Cavalry, became engaged with a battalion of the 33d North Vietnamese Army Regiment. The enemy battalion had attempted to encircle Company B, but the company's fire power plus artillery and air strikes held off the enemy threat. Company C was able to reinforce Company B before dark. After dark; when the most intense part of the firefight was over, the enemy withdrew his main force and left snipers behind to harass the perimeter of the two companies. He was soundly defeated. His last cohesive fighting unit east of the Ia Drang River had sustained an estimated 460 killed and wounded. Many of these casualties must be attributed to the fires of both tube and aerial rocket artillery.

The enemy wanted no further engagements until he could regroup his forces after the mauling the lst Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division had given him. Sufficient intelligence had been gathered to determine that the division was fighting three separate North Vietnamese regiments-the 66th, which had just arrived in the country; the 32d, which had ambushed the South Vietnamese task force on its way to Plei Me; and the 33d, which had attacked Plei Me. These regiments formed a full North Vietnamese Army division, which was being used offensively for the first time in South Vietnam.

Of the three North Vietnamese Army regiments, the 33d had been particularly hard hit. When the unit attacked Plei Me, its strength was 2,190 men. In actions against the 1st Brigade, the regiment had lost 890 men killed, more, than 100 missing, and still more suffering incapacitating wounds. Materiel losses had also been heavy. The regiment lost 13 of its 18 antiaircraft guns as well as


11 mortar tubes and most of its recoilless rifles. In addition, there had been crippling losses of ammunition, food, and medical supplies.

The North Vietnamese division headquarters next planned an attack for the morning of 16 November against the original target -the Plei Me civilian irregular defense group camp. With this objective in mind, the three enemy regiments regrouped and headed eastward toward Plei Me.

During the lull in battle, the 3d ("Gary Owen") Brigade relieved the now battle-tested 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division on the battlefield. The 1st Brigade returned to Camp Radcliff at An Khe for a well-deserved rest. No significant action occurred until 12 November, when the enemy, seemingly just to let the 3d Brigade know that he was still around, staged a violent battalion-size attack against the 3d Brigade base at Landing Zone STADIUM. Aerial rocket artillery aircraft positioned at STADIUM responded immediately. All seven aircraft were airborne within five minutes after the attack started, and their combined fires stopped the mortar barrage.

As the 3d Brigade began search and destroy missions to the east of Plei Me, it also set the stage for a sudden thrust to the west by prepositioning artillery at Landing Zone FALCON, twelve kilometers to the west of Plei Me. This artillery move took place on 13 November. The field was now prepared for what was to be the major battle of the campaign, Landing Zone X-RAY.

The 3d Brigade waited until the North Vietnamese assault elements were moving toward Plei Me. Then, at noon on 14 November, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, landed at the foot of the Chu Pong Massif, at X-RAY. The enemy was totally surprised. Instead of launching a divisional attack on Plei Me and possibly gaining the tactical initiative, the North Vietnamese Army division was now required to defend its own base area in the Chu Pong Mountains and the Ia Drang Valley, long a sanctuary for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. Such so-called secret bases provided the insurgents with a secure area in which to store supplies, conduct training, carry out administrative functions, manufacture and repair arms and equipment, and provide an operating base for combat units. Not since the French occupation had Vietnamese government units penetrated the Chu Pong Massif; it was from this sanctuary and supply base in the Ia Drang Valley that the Field Front Headquarters and the 32d and 33d Regiments had moved to Plei Me on 19 October.

Reacting swiftly to the cavalry landings, the enemy Field Front


ordered the 66th Regiment to attack the landing zone. Strong elements of the regiment were established on the ridge line overlooking the landing zone to provide a base of fire for the attack. The 9th and 7th Battalions of the 66th and a composite battalion of the 33d (the combined forces of what remained of the 2d and 3d Battalions) provided the initial assault forces.

When the troops of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, landed at X-RAY, they expected to engage enemy forces, but they did not expect to face an entire North Vietnamese Army regiment before the day was over. The enemy attacked with great ferocity against all elements of the 7th Cavalry. At least two cavalry platoons were immediately cut off and completely surrounded. The only thing that saved the platoons was the combined fire of the aerial rocket artillery unit and the two batteries of artillery at Landing Zone FALCON. The tube artillery support was frequently called to within less than 100 meters of the friendly positions. An additional company from a sister battalion of the 7th Calvary was helilifted into X-RAY and filled a vacant and vulnerable position on the perimeter.

Throughout the night, the North Vietnamese Army forces attempted to crack the perimeter of one of the isolated platoons but intensive artillery protective fires that ringed the position broke up every attack. The main perimeter was also subjected to repeated probes, and these too were repulsed. Batteries A and C, 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery, located at FALCON, fired over 4,000 rounds of high-explosive ammunition during the night in close support of X-RAY. The probing attacks continued into early morning. At first light, a North Vietnamese Army force of over two companies once again attempted to penetrate the perimeter. Despite intensive air strikes and cannon and aerial rocket artillery fires, the enemy closed to hand-to-hand combat range, attacking from all directions. Artillery fire was brought to within 50 meters of the hard-pressed perimeter. This devastating curtain of steel finally broke the back of the attack. By midmorning the fight had been reduced to the point that reinforcements could again be helilifted into X-RAY and the wounded air evacuated.

To provide additional artillery support, Landing Zone COLUMBUS was established 4 1/2 kilometers to the northeast of X-RAY. This landing zone was midway between X-RAY and FALCON, where Batteries A and C of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery, were located. Battery B of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery, and Battery C of the 2d Battalion, 17th Artillery, were now moved into COLUMBUS.

The enemy broke contact and filtered back into the mountains after suffering tremendous losses. He was pursued with heavy fire


power: cannon artillery continually pounded the area; Air Force tactical air provided continuous support with a fighter bomber on a target run on an average of once every fifteen minutes; but the most devastating support was provided by B-52 bombers which struck without warning six kilometers west of X-RAY. Though the bombers had been employed initially in Vietnam some six months earlier, this was their first use in direct support of U.S. troops on a tactical operation. For the next five days, the big bombers systematically bombed large areas of the Chu Pong Massif.

Early on the morning of the 16th, the enemy attempted again to overrun X-RAY and again there was a bloodbath. The defenses were just too tough to penetrate. The enemy lost 834 soldiers by actual body count and an estimated 1,200 more.

On 17 November, X-RAY was evacuated in preparation for a B-52 strike (referred to as an Arc Light) that was to be virtually on top of the landing zone. The 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was moving overland from X-RAY toward a clearing to the northeast; which was to be used as, a landing zone designated ALBANY. About 300 meters short of the objective, the battalion became involved in an intense battle with the 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, of the North Vietnamese Army.

As all too often happens in a meeting engagement, the exact locations of friendly and enemy positions were uncertain. Although artillery aerial observers were overhead and two batteries of 105-mm. and one battery of 155-mm. howitzers were well within range, none could fire initially. It was solely an infantryman's battle for several hours. By midafternoon heavy supporting fires began falling among North Vietnamese Army elements. The first strikes were by aerial rocket artillery, followed by a tactical air napalm run on an enemy company that was forming for an attack. The attack never started.

Reinforcements were quickly brought into ALBANY, and the perimeter was consolidated before dark. Actually, two separate perimeters were established-one by the 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and one by two companies of the lst Battalion, 5th Cavalry, which had moved toward ALBANY as reinforcements. The hard-hit 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was able to expand the perimeter and recover friendly casualties from the battle area. This freedom of movement was afforded by the continuous artillery fire from COLUMBUS and FALCON and the illumination provided by Air Force flare ships.

The punishment taken by both friendly and enemy units was severe during the short battle at ALBANY. Over 270 troopers were


casualties. The enemy lost 403 soldiers by body count and an estimated 100 others killed. No estimate of wounded was made.

The next morning, the battle area around ALBANY was relatively quiet. The enemy had moved on toward his new objective­-the artillery units at COLUMBUS. At 1735 on 18 November, the last enemy offensive of the Pleiku campaign began. The remnants of two enemy regiments attacked COLUMBUS with heavy mortars and automatic weapons. Because the artillery based at FALCON was being moved to another location, tactical air strikes and aerial rocket artillery were used along with direct fire from the artillery weapons within COLUMBUS to repulse the enemy attack. After three hours the enemy attack lost momentum and subsided into sporadic small-arms fire and then quiet. The battle of the Ia Drang Valley was, for all practical purposes, over.

The 2d Brigade now entered the battle area and relieved the 3d Brigade. The new brigade continued to search for the enemy. Contacts were made with scattered North Vietnamese Army elements of squad or platoon size, and then only after they had been flushed out and chased by heliborne cavalry or foot patrols.

During the Pleiku campaign, the enemy lost over 1,500 confirmed killed and an estimated 2,000 more. His losses were so extensive that an entire North Vietnamese Army division was made ineffective. His casualties were produced by all types of weapons, ranging from the B-52 bomber to the individual rifle. But a very large proportion of those casualties must be attributed to the artillery of the cavalry division. The enemy was driven back time and again, primarily by the intensity of artillery fire power. The division fired 40,464 artillery rounds and rockets during the campaign. Of the total casualties, 562 enemy killed and an additional 1,863 estimated killed and wounded were officially credited to the artillery.

Although the Pleiku campaign was the first time an entire U.S. division was committed in battle in Vietnam, the division had been committed piecemeal, one brigade at a time. Piecemeal commitment in this case had certain benefits. As one brigade was committed, the relieved brigade along with its supporting forces, including the direct support artillery battalion, was withdrawn to a rest area and allowed to refit and to consider what had taken place in the battle.

The artillerymen had learned much from this campaign. First, the concept of displacing and supplying artillery by air was proved valid, particularly in support of an airmobile force. During the campaign, artillery units of the cavalry division artillery had made


a total of 79 tactical moves-67 of them by air. Continuous air movement by maneuver and support forces unsettled the enemy. Properly executed airmobile operations could keep constant pressure on him, wearing him down and destroying his will to resist. Second, aerial rocket artillery was shown to be extremely responsive and effective in augmenting cannon fires. Ground forces learned that aerial rocket artillery was reliable and extremely accurate, characteristics that were particularly important in close support missions. By controlling helicopter fires through artillery fire support channels, as was done with aerial rocket artillery, cannon and helicopter fires could be closely coordinated by a single individual, thus insuring that both were complementary. Third, artillerymen learned of the necessity of having artillery positions that were mutually supporting. Though Landing Zone COLUMBUS had stood off an enemy attack without mutually supporting artillery, its defenders had required air support, which in poor weather might not have been available. Fourth, because of the rugged terrain and dense foliage, target acquisition was a definite problem. Forward observers were still the best means of target acquisition because they were always with maneuver companies. To augment the forward observers, aerial observers were added whenever possible and were particularly effective in support of overland ground movements. Fifth, it was shown that the 105-mm. howitzer was a particularly good weapon for reconnaissance by fire. As the unit moved, the artillery forward observer would adjust artillery rounds in advance of the unit. This provided two benefits: the artillery could disrupt any activity or ambush site the enemy might have, and the location of the last round fired was a good indicator of the unit's location. This second advantage would allow for rapid delivery of artillery in the event the enemy ambushed the ground force.

The Buildup and Major Combat Operations During 1966

During 1966 three divisions-the 4th, 9th, and 25th-came to Vietnam. Two separate brigades-the 196th and 199th Light Infantry Brigades-and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment also arrived. The organization of supporting artillery varied somewhat. The divisional artillery of the three infantry divisions consisted of three 105-mm. howitzer battalions and one composite battalion of 8-inch and 155-mm. weapons. The separate, or nondivisional, brigades were organized for independent operations. For that reason, they each had an organic 105-mm. howitzer battalion. The armored


Photograph: Field Force Artillery
FIELD FORCE ARTILLERY. Eight-inch howitzer ready to fire (note gunner's quadrant held by man on left).

cavalry regiment, roughly equivalent to a brigade, had no artillery battalion. Instead, each of its three subordinate squadrons had an organic 155-mm. self-propelled howitzer battery, which together equalled an artillery battalion. The absence of an artillery battalion headquarters, however, precluded the coordination of all fires.

As 1966 began, artillery in the Republic of Vietnam consisted of one 105-mm. battalion in direct support of each maneuver brigade, plus two additional 105-mm. battalions, one 155-mm. battalion, one 155-mm. and 8-inch battalion, one aerial rocket artillery battalion, four 8-inch and 175-mm. battalions, and two artillery group headquarters. Before the end of 1966, the amount of artillery in Vietnam was to increase over 100 percent. There would be four group headquarters, six 8-inch and 175-mm. battalions, six 155-mm. or 155-mm. and 8-inch battalions, twenty-four 105-mm. battalions, and the one aerial rocket artillery battalion. There would also be two artillery 40-mm. "Duster" battalions that had been reactivated from Reserve and National Guard assets.


Photograph: 175-mm. Gun
175-MM. GUN. Battery C, 1st Battalion, 83d Field Artillery, at Fire Support Base Bastogne.

The very number of the operations during 1966 was particularly important for those concerned with artillery employment. Operation MASHER/WHITE WING, conducted by the 1st Air Cavalry Division in early 1966, was the first large-scale operation to cross corps boundaries, and it involved a tie-in with U.S. Marine Corps forces as well as allies of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the Republic of Korea. The effect of the operation on the enemy was devastating; it was the largest of the nineteen major operations conducted during 1966 and resulted in 2,389 enemy casualties.

The operation took place mainly in Binh Dinh Province, largely controlled by the enemy and considered a very "hot" area. Binh Dinh is bounded by the South China Sea on the east, by foothills on its northern boundary with Quang Nga Province, and by large hill masses on the west and south. In the eastern part of the province, the terrain is mostly flat coastal plains; to the west, the terrain becomes rugged but is interspersed with flat plateaus. Reliable in-


Map 5: Area of Operations Masher/White Wing

Map 5


telligence gathered over a period of months pointed to the presence of a large enemy force in the north of the province. Believed to be operating there were the 18th and 210th North Vietnam Army Regiments, the 2d Viet Cong Main Force Regiment, and an unidentified regiment.

The division plan for the operation covered four phases: Operations MASHER, WHITE WING, WHITE WING (EAGLE'S CLAW), and (WHITE WING BLACK HORSE). (Map 5) Phase I, Operation MASHER, began with a deception operation south of Bong Son to increase the security of Highway 1 and to lead the enemy to believe efforts would be directed southward. The 3d Brigade, the Gary Owen Brigade, conducted the initial assault. The artillery for this diversionary assault was task organized to allow for adequate fire support in the event heavy contact was made.

The organic 105-mm. battalions were assigned their normal missions of direct support and the aerial rocket artillery battalion was assigned its normal mission of general support. In addition, the division had field artillery support available from higher headquarters. One 8-inch and 175-mm. battery was given the mission of general support to the division; one 105-mm. battalion, that of reinforcing the South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade Artillery; and one searchlight battery, that of general support.

To weight the attack further, elements of direct support units that were not heavily committed in the opening phase of the operation were attached to more heavily committed units. Some units were also given on-order missions, which would facilitate planning for projected future operations. Additional fire power outside the division organic and attached resources was also made available for the operation. Tactical air support, both preplanned and immediate, was available for the entire operation. Naval gunfire support was available on call except for the period 10 February-1 March. The fires of a 105-mm. battalion of the 22d South Vietnamese Division Artillery and a 155-mm. battery of II Corps were also available.

The initial assault into the area south of Bong Son met little opposition, and on 28 January, in conjunction with the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade, air assault and overland attacks were launched north of Bong Son. Two enemy battalions were found, fixed, and destroyed during the move north. Prisoner interrogation revealed that the enemy had moved out of the coastal plains and into the adjoining highlands to the north and west.

In response to this intelligence, the division launched Phase II of the operation, WHITE WING. Originally scheduled for 4 February, the initial assaults were delayed for 48 hours because of bad


weather. On 6 February, with a battalion of Marines holding blocking positions to the north, the 2d Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division, launched a coordinated five-battalion attack from both sides of the An Lao Valley and swept south toward the 22d Division.

As the 2d Brigade moved south, the 3d Brigade launched Phase III, a series of attacks into the area southwest of Bong Son. Highlighted by valleys, this area was appropriately nicknamed the "Eagle's Claw." A number of light to moderate contacts were made as enemy units within the valleys were caught between converging forces. Meanwhile, the 2d Brigade received some valuable intelligence information. Among the prisoners captured by the division was a battalion commander of the 22d North Vietnamese Army Regiment. He revealed that his unit held defensive positions in an area south of Bong Son. The brigade responded to this intelligence with an assault into the area and, in three days of continuous fighting, destroyed the 22d Regiment. While the 2d Brigade was engaged, the 1st Brigade relieved the 3d Brigade in the Kim Son Valley and in a matter of days rendered the 18th North Vietnamese Army Regiment ineffective, capturing all of the enemy antiaircraft weapons and recoilless rifles.

The final phase of the operation, WHITE WING (BLACK HORSE), was a sweep into the Cay Giap Mountains southeast of Bong Son. The sweep, conducted with the South Vietnamese 22d Division, met only sporadic enemy resistance. By 6 March, 1st Cavalry sky-troopers had made a complete sweep of Bong Son and the area could no longer be considered an enemy stronghold. The division had maintained contact with a determined enemy for 41 consecutive days and had again proved the effectiveness of airmobile operations.

For the supporting field artillery involved in Operation MASHER/WHITE WING, the success of the operation is of particular significance. The artillery showed that it could follow the fast pace of the airmobile troopers. Displacements were made quickly and efficiently without loss of the fire support capability.

At the outset of Operation MASHER on 25 January, the division artillery forward command post displaced to Bong Son Special Forces Camp, where it was collocated with the division tactical operations center and the Vietnamese division command post. The move greatly facilitated clearance procedures and created a quick fire channel, which permitted immediate U.S. response to Vietnamese calls for fire and Vietnamese response to U.S. calls for fire.

Although every attempt was made throughout the operation to position artillery so that displacements were held to a minimum, the speed with which ground troops moved and the size of the area


Photograph: CH-54 Emplacing 155-mm. Howitzer


Photograph: M102 Firing High Angle
M102 FIRING HIGH ANGLE. 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery, received the first M102 howitzers in Vietnam in March 1966.

of operations nonetheless dictated an unusually high number of artillery displacements. Shown below are battery displacements for the 41-day period:

Operation Displacement by Air* Displacement by Road
2 30
28 27
WHITE WING (EAGLE'S CLAW) (11-28 February)
27 35
0 17
57 109
*Average of 12 CH-47 sorties per battery displacement

When a field artillery unit is moving, it cannot support the maneuver forces; the displacement that becomes necessary requires a considerable amount of planning and coordination to avoid depriving the ground troops of the support they need. Nevertheless, 1st Cavalry artillerymen at all levels of the command met this challenge. Although most of the personnel assigned to the division were not strangers to airmobility, many of the supporting units were; yet they, too, completed air moves without major difficulty.


In early February during Operation WHITE WING, a CH-54 Crane moved a 14,000-pound 155-mm. towed howitzer for the first time in combat. The weapon belonged to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 30th Artillery. This feat showed that medium towed artillery could go virtually anywhere the lighter (105-mm.) artillery could go; thus greater flexibility of the artillery and its supported forces was achieved. Much of the credit for the move must go to the men of the 1st Cavalry Division Support Command, who fabricated and tested the special slings required to lift the 155-mm. howitzer.

The large number of displacements by air put a tremendous strain on the air resources of the division. When the artillery was displaced by helicopters, ammunition was transported separately. During MASHER/WHITE WING, artillerymen attempted to determine a means of economizing on "blade time" in the displacement of artillery. The product of this experimentation was a double­sling system that allowed the CH-47 to lift the 105-mm. howitzer as well as a load of ammunition. The ammunition was suspended underneath the howitzer by means of a long (18- to 20-foot) sling. With crew riding inside the CH-47, this new method proved invaluable in subsequent operations, since it permitted the displacement of a complete firing section in one aircraft sortie. The initial attempt to test this concept during combat was not made until Operation JIM BOWIE, which took place a few days later, though its development is attributed to the experiences of MASHER/WHITE WING.

The development of procedures to displace artillery during MASHER/WHITE WING is of secondary importance to the actual shooting done by the field artillery. Operation MASHER/WHITE WING testifies to the ability of the field artillery to maintain a devastating volume of fire and still move and communicate with the supported forces. During the operation, 141,712 artillery rounds of all types were fired during 16,102 missions. A breakdown of expenditures by size and mission is shown below:



Time on Target Missions

Enemy Contact Missions





























Phase 105-mm. 155-mm. 8-inch 175-mm. 2.75-inch Total
Msn Exp Msn Exp Msn Exp Msn Exp Msn Exp Msn Exp



































































In addition to the artillery expended, the U.S. Navy supported the operation with 3,212 5-inch rounds, and the U.S. Air Force flew 515 tactical air sorties during which over 1,000 tons of ordnance were dropped.

Both tube and aerial artillery received a fair share of credit for enemy killed. Of particular value in this respect was information gleaned from prisoner interrogations. For example, a prisoner from the 8th Battalion, 18th North Vietnamese Army Regiment, revealed that on 3 February 1966, at the end of Operation MASHER, his unit had discovered and buried 200-400 bodies killed by artillery. All told, Operation MASHER/WHITE WING yielded 2,389 enemy casualties, of which 358 confirmed dead were credited to the field artillery.

On the whole, Operation MASHER/WHITE WING was a tremendous success in defeating the enemy and freeing the civilian populace of the Bong Son area from enemy control. The complete fire support system functioned effectively throughout this operation. Target acquisition resources, artillery survey, artillery aviation, firing batteries, and support elements all acted as a team. The cooperative effort and enthusiastic response of the South Vietnamese artillery contributed significantly to the over-all fire support coordination effort. On the U.S. side, the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 19th Artillery (Airmobile), and the 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 77th Artillery, exchanged liaison personnel during the operation to permit the direct support battalion of one brigade more easily to provide support for maneuver units of another brigade. Artillery communications functioned smoothly throughout the operation, and, last but not least, despite the vast area covered by the operation, artillery survey personnel from both division artillery and the support battalions traversed in excess of 190,000 meters and established 18 survey control points during the operation. If there had been doubts as to how an entire division artillery would fare in its first large-scale operation, MASHER/WHITE WING erased them.

Another significant 1966 field artillery action occurred during Operation BIRMINGHAM. This operation is noteworthy because it involved a major movement of supporting field artillery that required detailed planning and coordination

The operation was initiated when Military Assistance Command directed a search and destroy operation into northwest Tay Ninh Province. Controlled by the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, Operation BIRMINGHAM was directed at locating and destroying Viet Cong forces and base camps in the area. The 1st Division was operating in the Phu Loi area, 50 kilometers southeast of Tay Ninh,


when the division commander received word to displace to Tay Ninh Province within a week. The 1st Division Artillery had to plan and coordinate the displacement of elements from seven field artillery battalions. The result was the smooth displacement of 72 pieces of field artillery into Tay Ninh Province using all available means of transportation. The 1st Division Artillery Headquarters, functioning as the convoy control element, moved by road, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery, and the 8th Battalion, 6th Artillery, in the formation. Security for the convoy was provided by the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry ("Quarter Horse"). One battery of the 2d Battalion, 33d Artillery, moved by C-130 aircraft from Lai Khe to Tay Nih city. Air Force C-123 aircraft were used to displace a second battery of the 2d Battalion, 33d Artillery, from Binh Gia, southeast of. Saigon, to Tay Ninh. An attached battery of the 2d Battalion, 13th Artillery, was airlifted by CH-47 helicopter from Phu Loi. The 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, under operational control of the 1st Division and in support of the South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade, moved separately by road; and a battery of 175­mm. guns, in general support of Operation BIRMINGHAM, moved by road to Soui Da To insure continuous and sufficient fire support for the road moves; the 1st Division Artillery Headquarters utilized its headquarters battery executive officer to coordinate fire support along the route of march.

Brigadier General (then Colonel) Marlin W. Camp, 1st Division Artillery commander, was justifiably proud of the manner in which the move was conducted. The success of the move is especially significant because friendly units had not ventured deep into northwest Tay Ninh Province in the past.

For field force artillery to provide maximum area coverage, certain of its firing units were required to occupy extremely remote positions. In such cases, movement to the positions and position preparation required detailed planning. Those weapons that provided the best area coverage by virtue of their long ranges were self-propelled weapons-8-inch howitzers and 175-mm. guns-too heavy to move by helicopter. For the most part, the "heavies" were restricted to movement by road.

Some of the roads over which self-propelled weapons moved were in remote areas which had long been in enemy hands. These roads could be expected to be heavily mined with their bridges destroyed. Extensive engineer support was required to open those roads and the engineers, like the artillery that followed, were subject to ambush at any time. Infantry and armor support was required to help open the roads, provide protection, and keep the


roads open at least until the artillery movement was completed and support withdrawn.

In a war characterized by the frequent movement of field artillery, the displacement of Battery B, 7th Battalion, 8th Field Artillery, in September 1967 is particularly impressive. The movement of Battery B was unusual because it was accomplished by Air Force tactical airlift. The battery, under the command of Captain Edward G. Walker, was moved from Bien Hoa air base to a landing strip at Song Be in heavily contested Phuc Long Province. To make the move, the weight of the weapons had to be reduced to the lift capacity of the aircraft. This was done by removing the weapons' spades and tubes and transporting them by C-130 aircraft. The carriages could then be lifted by C-124's. B Battery was positioned at the end of the Song Be airstrip from where its weapons could easily reach to the Cambodian border. The men of B Battery worked on their new position for a month and then turned it over to B Battery, 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery. Both batteries swapped their weapons to avoid the problem of having again to move weapons to and from a remote area. The artillery position at Song Be was occupied until June 1971. The weapons could not be withdrawn by air in the same manner in which they had been moved to Song Be, since the landing strip was able to accommodate aircraft landing at peak capacity loads but was insufficient to allow them to take off with these same loads. The weapons were, therefore, withdrawn over a road that had been opened and improved during the four years that the Song Be position was occupied.

As noted earlier, the first combat firing of the Beehive round occurred in November 1966. But it was the battle at Landing Zone BIRD in December that really woke up field artillerymen and infantrymen to the effectiveness of this new round.

BIRD was a fire base located in the Kim Son Valley some 50 kilometers north of Qui Nhon. (Map 6) No strangers to the valley, the 1st Cavalry Division had operated throughout the area since Operation MASHER/WHITE WING early in 1966. The landing zone had only one half-strength infantry company (Company C, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry) for security in addition to twelve howitzers (six 105-mm. and six 155-mm.). The surrounding terrain afforded good cover for an enemy force that might decide to attack the base. On the night of 26 December 1966, two companies of the 22d North Vietnamese Army Regiment decided to test the light defenses and silently moved to within feet of the outer perimeter of BIRD.

Shortly after midnight the enemy launched a coordinated mortar and ground attack against the position. The attack penetrated


Map 6: Landing Zone BIRD
Map 6

the base from both the northeast and southeast. Driven slowly back, the defenders found themselves cornered in the south end of the base in the vicinity of gun number 2 of the 105-mm. battery position. Almost in desperation, Captain Leonard L. Schlenker, the battery commander, ordered the firing of Beehive and First Lieutenant John T. Piper, the battery executive officer, loaded the round, yelled a warning, and fired the round to the northeast in the direction of the enemy main attack. One hundred enemy soldiers were at the northeast corner of the fire base, in and around the


number 1 gun position of the 155-mm. battery. Piper fired one additional round and the attack was halted as suddenly as it had begun.

The United States lost 30 men killed in action at BIRD while claiming 266 known enemy dead. For doggedly beating back a determined and numerically superior enemy, the three units at BIRD (Battery B, 2d Battalion, 19th Artillery; Battery C, 6th Battalion, 16th Artillery; and Company C, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry) were all presented the Presidential Unit Citation. Sergeant Delbert O. Jennings, weapons platoon sergeant, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery, and Lieutenant Piper and Staff Sergeant Carrol V. Crain, Battery B chief of firing battery, both received the Distinguished Service Cross for their action.

The most important benefit derived from the action at BIRD was recognition that the Beehive round was a tremendously valuable asset to the over-all fire base defense program. It had gained the confidence and respect of both artillerymen and infantrymen and would continue to play a vital role in position defense throughout the remainder of the war.

The Buildup and Major Combat Operations During 1967

The year 1967 saw a continued growth in the number of field artillery units in the Republic of Vietnam. During that year, eleven nondivisional field artillery battalions arrived in Vietnam and began supporting operations in various parts of the country. They were joined by three additional division artilleries. In January, the 9th Division Artillery set up its headquarters in Bearcat, and in late 1967, the remainder of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division joined their 1st Brigade. In a ceremony held at Chu Lai in September 1967, Task Force OREGON was redesignated the 23d (Americal) Division and thus was also born the Americal Division Artillery. The task force had been in existence since mid-1967 and was composed of three separate infantry brigades.

In contrast to the previous year, 1967 was highlighted by large­scale, multidivisional operations. The year was only a week old when Operation CEDAR FALLS began. Controlled by II Field Force, CEDAR FALLS involved the 1st and 25th Divisions, the 173d Airborne Brigade, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and separate battalions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The operation was directed against the enemy Military Region IV headquarters and strongholds in the Iron Triangle region of III Corps. The success of the operation (389 enemy killed, 471 defectors) attested


to the ability of the Free World forces to work together, fight side by side, and produce a well coordinated, multidivision offensive.

While CEDAR FALLS was in full swing in the Iron Triangle, II Field Force planners were putting the final wraps on plans for subsequent operations. The largest offensive planned to date, Operation JUNCTION CITY had been on the drawing boards for months. It was aimed at Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army strongholds in War Zone C, in northern Tay Ninh Province, which had long been a major Viet Cong stronghold and the location of the headquarters for the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN). COSVN, the controlling headquarters for all Viet Cong activities in South Vietnam, had always been an elusive target and continued to be throughout the war.

Committed to JUNCTION CITY were two U.S. divisions (1st and 25th), five brigades (173d Airborne; 196th Light Infantry; 199th Light Infantry; 3d Brigade, 4th Division; and 1st Brigade, 9th Division), and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. II Field Force, Vietnam, under the command of Lieutenant General Jonathan O. Seaman, was the controlling headquarters for the operation. II Field Force Artillery, commanded by Brigadier General Willis D. Crittenberger, Jr., provided six field artillery battalions and four batteries of Dusters and quad.-50 machine guns from the 5th Battalion (AWSP), 2d Artillery. II Field Force assets were divided equally between the 1st and 25th Divisions, the two major subordinate elements. An additional eleven artillery battalions were committed to the operation in various support roles. A list of the participating field artillery units is shown below:

II Field Force Artillery Units

7-9 Arty (105 T) attached 1st Div
2-13 Arty (105 T), attached 1st Div
2-11 Arty (155 T)
6-27 Arty (8/175)
2-32 Arty (8 / 175)
2-35 Arty (155 SP)
5-2 Arty (AWSP)

25th Infantry Division Artillery

1-8 Arty (105 T)
7-11 Arty (105 T)
2-77 (Arty 105 T)
3-13 Arty (105 T)
3-82 Arty (105 T) OPCON, DS 196th Bde
Btry A, B, C, 11th ACR, OPCON, Supporting 11 th ACR 1st Infantry Division Artillery
1-5 Arty (105 T)


1-7 Arty (105 T)
2-33 Arty (105 T)
8-6 Arty (1558)
3-319 Arty (Abn) (105 T), OPCON, DS 173d Abn Bde

JUNCTION CITY was initially a two-phase operation; Phase I (22 February-17 March 1967) called for a coordinated assault into western War Zone C and search and destroy operations against the Central Office and enemy forces and installations in the area. Phase II (18 March-15 April 1967) called for a shift of emphasis to eastern War Zone C and continuation of search and destroy operations throughout the remainder of the war zone. The success of these first two phases resulted in a third (16 April-14 May), which called for a continuation of search and destroy operations to the southern edge of the war zone and the provision of security for the city of Tay Ninh and the town of Soui Da (Map 7) For Phase III, II Field Force passed control of the operation to the 25th Infantry Division.

The objectives of Operation JUNCTION CITY were accomplished to varying degrees. The Viet Cong lost 2,728 soldiers. A number of his base camps and supply caches were destroyed, forcing him to move. Although the operation did not destroy the enemy's capability to wage war, JUNCTION CITY can be said to have put him significantly off balance and to have eliminated War Zone C as a haven for enemy units. During the operation, U.S. forces constructed in War Zone C three C-130 airfields and two civilian irregular defense group camps, giving Free World forces readily accessible points from which to launch future operations in the area should the need arise.

JUNCTION CITY required most of the U.S. ground forces available in the III Corps area, and a commensurate amount of field artillery supported the operation. The massive coordination effort dictated by the employment of the equivalent of seventeen field artillery battalions was effected with surprising ease. The completeness with which the operation was planned is, in large part, the explanation for its success. To facilitate command and control of the operation, II Field Force for the first time displaced a tactical headquarters to the field. Collocated with the tactical command post was the II Field Force Artillery command post. In addition, II Field Force Artillery tapped the resources of its 54th Artillery Group to provide a controlling headquarters for the separate howitzer batteries of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The technique proved to be a success in aiding the coordination between firing units. For the remainder of the field artillery battalions, existing liaison sections proved sufficient in strength to provide


liaison between units. Unit boundaries were used as fire coordination lines throughout the operations, and the II Field Force fire support plan authorized direct coordination between divisions and supporting artillery groups. Field artillery fire planning was accomplished by division and separate brigades.

The most significant combat action during Operation JUNCTION CITY took place around Fire Support Base GOLD, seventeen miles northwest of Tay Ninh. The fire base was occupied jointly by the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, of the 3d Brigade, 4th Division, and the headquarters and all firing batteries of the 2d Battalion, 77th Field Artillery. At 0640 on 21 March infantry patrols sweeping the area around GOLD made contact with elements of a Viet Cong force apparently preparing to attack the base. The contact prematurely triggered the enemy attack which began with heavy fire from recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and 60-mm. and 82-mm. mortars. At 0715 the Viet Cong launched a coordinated ground assault from the east, southeast, and north with elements of five battalions under the control of the 272d Viet Cong Regiment. So violent was the assault that the enemy carried portions of the perimeter, but actions by the field artillery turned the tide. All batteries of the 2d Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John W. Vessey, engaged the enemy with over 1,000 rounds in direct fire including 30 rounds of Beehive, the largest number of these rounds fired in a single engagement to date. At the same time three batteries within range added their fire. The batteries included Battery C, 1st Battalion, 8th Artillery (105-mm., towed), to the south which delivered more than 1,000 rounds; Battery B, 3d Battalion, 13th Artillery (155-mm., self­propelled), which delivered almost 400 rounds; and a composite 8-inch and 175-mm. battery from II Field Force Artillery to the south which provided additional support. Further fire support was provided by Air Force tactical air. During the attack two maneuver battalions of the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, were rushed to the scene, catching the enemy forces as they were attempting to withdraw and inflicting further casualties. The action in and around GOLD resulted in 635 Viet Cong killed (confirmed by body count) and 7 captured together with 65 crew served weapons and 94 individual weapons. U.S. losses were 31 killed and 109 wounded. The action was given the name Battle of Soui Tre after the fact.

Field artillery units involved in Operation JUNCTION CITY gained invaluable experience in employment, tactics, and techniques in a large-scale, multidivision offensive operation. To help preserve the element of surprise, field artillery units usually fired preparations of short duration; the fires of large numbers of units


  Map 7: Operation Junction City, 22 Feb-14 May 1967    

Map 7


were massed to insure the effectiveness of preparations yet to maintain brevity. A problem was the lack of a large number of suitable field artillery positions. Thus, several artillery units were often consolidated at one location. Landing Zone BLACKHORSE at one point in the operation housed 52 field artillery tubes-five 105-mm. batteries, three 155-mm. batteries, and an 8-inch battery. The disadvantages of crowding artillery into one location and presenting a lucrative target were far outweighed by being able to mass accurately the fires of a large number of weapons from a few locations.

Since the element of surprise was essential, extensive position area surveys were impractical; the field artillery instead employed a relatively new technique called photogrammetic survey. Basically, the technique utilized air reconnaissance photos, the prominent terrain features in the photos serving as registration points and survey control points for position area survey. Although limited, the method proved far superior to that of obtaining coordinates by map inspection and served as a valuable expedient during the operation.

Several other artillery-related techniques used successfully during JUNCTION CITY deserve mention:

1. Artillery warning control centers (AWCC's) played a vital role in the operation. The tremendous number of aircraft in the area coupled with the large amount of constant artillery firing necessitated timely and accurate artillery advisories for aircraft. The 1st and 25th Divisions operated centers for their respective areas of operation during Phase I of the operation. During Phase II, such responsibility was delegated to the direct support artillery battalion in each brigade area of operation. The advantage of this system was that data were always current and did not have to be consolidated at a central location. One center in an area as large as that encompassed by JUNCTION CITY would necessitate an unacceptably heavy volume of radio traffic.

2. High-angle fire was proved to be more effective in penetrating the thick jungle foliage than low-angle fire, principally because the projectile descended steeply, paralleling the tree trunks, so that the chance of its hitting a tree and detonating prematurely was reduced. High-angle fire in the jungle also assured added safety for supported ground troops. If high-angle fires detonated prematurely, they did so almost directly over their target. On the other hand, if low-angle fires detonated prematurely they did so some distance laterally from the target, possibly directly over the heads of friendly troops.

3. During the operation, the effectiveness of the AN / MPQ-4A radar was proven. Careful planning prior to the operation resulted


in the placement of radars to provide mutual and overlapping coverage of the various units and fire support bases. Each radar had a primary direction of coverage as well as alternate directions. If a fire base came under attack, usually a radar at another fire base would pick up the enemy rounds before the radar on the fire base under attack would. This flexibility greatly enhanced the ability of U.S. Forces to deliver rapid counterbattery fire.

4. On D-day, 22 February 1967, the artillerymen of Battery A, 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, under operational control of the 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne, participated in the only U.S. parachute assault conducted in the war. Led by the battery commander, Captain Charles C. Anderson, the entire battery parachuted into the area around Katum. The howitzers were dropped into the landing zone by C-130's. From a position established in the vicinity of the landing zone, Battery A provided direct artillery support for search and destroy operations conducted by maneuver elements in the vicinity of Katum.

In spite of the magnitude of the operation and the amount of artillery involved in JUNCTION CITY, there were surprisingly few problem areas of major significance. The most significant was in fire support. During the operation, field artillery fires were frequently lifted to accommodate tactical air support, which is a bad practice. If supporting fires are properly coordinated, the need to check fire field artillery should rarely occur. When it does occur maneuver forces are slighted because only when all available supporting fires, regardless of type, are able to function simultaneously will they provide the best possible support.

On the whole, JUNCTION CITY was a successful operation. In the years of combat that followed, U.S. and allied forces maintained the capability of reentering War Zone C at will. All artillerymen participating in the operation could take great pride in having contributed so effectively to the accomplishment of the mission.

Perhaps it is only fitting that 1967, the "year of the big battles," should end as it had begun. Operation JUNCTION CITY began the year; the battle for Dak To ended it. Although much of the heavy fighting in 1967 took place in the south (for example, CEDAR FALLS, JUNCTION CITY, and the battle at Loc Ninh), Dak To was to the north in the Central Highlands of Kontum Province. The battle for Dak To was part of MACARTHUR, an operation that extended into early 1969.

Reacting to intelligence reports that indicated a large buildup of enemy troops in Kontum Province, the 4th Infantry Division deployed its 1st Brigade to the Dak To airfield in late October


1967. On 2 November, a North Vietnamese Army reconnaissance sergeant defected and revealed that four infantry regiments and an artillery regiment were preparing to launch a large-scale attack against the Dak To-Tanh Canh area. This would have been the largest enemy offensive in the Central Highlands area to that time.

The 1st Brigade initially made heavy contact with the enemy to the south and southwest of Dak To throughout the first week in November. Augmented by the 173d Airborne Brigade, the 1st Brigade maintained heavy contact throughout the Ben Het-Dak To area. Additional assistance came from the 42d South Vietnamese Army Regiment, operating to the east of Dak To, and from the 1st Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division, which blocked enemy withdrawal routes to the south of Ben Het-Dak To. As the fighting intensified, the enemy was forced to commit his reserves to cover his withdrawal toward the southwest. The bitter fighting that followed ranks with the fiercest of the war. The turning point of the action was the fight for Hill 875, which was finally taken by elements of both the 4th Division and the 173d Airborne Brigade but not before the hill "received the heaviest concentration of Tac Air and all calibers of artillery bombardment of any single terrain feature in the II Corps area."

After the operation, Major General William R. Peers, commander of the 4th Division, acknowledged the role played by the artillery in the battle: "The large number of enemy in the area and the fact that many of the contacts were against elaborately constructed enemy fortifications required that Tac Air and artillery be used at the maximum rates possible. The responsiveness of both air and artillery and the cooperation between them contributed greatly to the victory and was a real tribute to integrated direct support under difficult circumstances."

The artillery committed in the battle of Dak To consisted of 15 batteries of all calibers, with a total of 77 artillery pieces available for support. These figures do not include the battery of aerial rocket artillery that became available when the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division joined the operation on 11 November. Battery A (ARA), 2d Battalion, 20th Artillery, assumed a general support­reinforcing role. The U.S. aerial rocket artillery, coupled with the enemy's use of rockets, led to the unfamiliar sight of rockets being employed against rockets.

Artillery expenditures for the 37-day period exceeded 150,000 rounds of all calibers. Artillery units completed 48 tactical displacements to meet the constantly changing demands of the battle. To eliminate fire support coordination problems, the 4th Infantry Division Artillery sent a tactical command post to Dak To on 9


Map 8: Battle of Soui Cut, FSB Burt

Map 8


November and U.S. artillery batteries provided liaison personnel to the fire direction centers of the three supporting Vietnamese artillery batteries. The effectiveness of the fire support coordination effort is evidenced by the successful integration of 2,096 tactical air sorties and 45 B-52 strikes during the operation. The battle of Dak To cost the enemy 1,644 lives and rendered three North Vietnamese Army infantry regiments ineffective, totally disrupting enemy plans for a major victory in the Central Highlands.

The holiday truce ended abruptly on New Year's Day 1968 for the defenders of Fire Support Base BURT, a 25th Infantry Division base located ten kilometers south of the Cambodian border. (Map 8) Beginning with sporadic mortar attacks in the late afternoon, the enemy sent four Viet Cong battalions against the base. Among the defenders were two batteries of 105-mm. and one battery of 155-mm. howitzers. The enemy ground attack commenced minutes before midnight, the official end of the truce. After a diversionary attack on the west side of the perimeter, defended by elements of the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry (Mechanized), the enemy launched his main attack from the southeast, a sector defended by Company C, 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, and Battery C, 2d Battalion, 77th Artillery. As the enemy slowly worked his way toward the bunker line, the artillery shifted from countermortar to direct fire in answer to a call from the infantry command post. Battery C began firing a heavy volume of direct fire with both high explosive and Beehive ammunition. The enemy attack slowed in the face of the artillery but picked up to the south of the fire support base, a sector manned by Company C, 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, and Battery A, 2d Battalion, 77th Artillery. Battery A commenced direct fire, and flare ships and armed helicopters were used extensively throughout the south side of the base. Fire Support Base BEAUREGARD, located twelve kilometers to the west, provided supporting fire west of BURT in an attempt to prevent the enemy from reinforcing or withdrawing in that direction. The 155-mm. (self-propelled) howitzers of Battery C, 3d Battalion, 13th Artillery, located on the north side of the fire base, supplied continuous direct fire to the north, northeast, and northwest. In addition to the direct fire, indirect fire from both BURT and BEAUREGARD was shifted out to the road running south from BURT. Although they were not discovered until daylight, two enemy battalions were assembled on that road as a reserve force to exploit weaknesses in the perimeter, If weaknesses existed, the two battalions never found them. By 0300, tactical air had arrived and was pounding the area to the south. The fires of the artillery gunships and tactical air broke up the Viet Cong attack: by 0600 contact was broken and 400 enemy lay dead in and around the base.


Diagram 7: Battery A, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery, fire base

Diagram 7

The artillerymen of the 25th Division played a vital role in the success of the operation. In addition to maintaining a constant stream of both direct and indirect fire, artillery personnel cut out hasty landing zones for resupply aircraft and broke out and distributed over 1,500 rounds of artillery and mortar ammunition and 200,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, all during the hours of darkness and in the heat of battle. In addition, they established an improvised air station in the fire direction center of Battery C, 2d Battalion, 77th Artillery, and assisted in the treatment and evacuation of the wounded.

Despite the heroic actions of the 25th Division personnel, the battle cost 23 lives and 153 wounded. The successful integration of infantry, artillery, and air power had saved Fire Support Base BURT. The battle of Soui Cut is a typical example of many such actions that occurred during the war in Vietnam. It is representative of well coordinated position defense and fire support.

A second example of a determined defense by field artillerymen occupying a fire base occurred during the early morning hours of 14 October 1967. Battery A, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery (105-mm.), and Battery C, 3d Battalion, 16th Artillery (155­mm.), were occupying an unnamed fire base on a ridge line in support of elements of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 327th Infantry, of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, during Operation WHEELER. The fire base, which had been occupied for almost a month, was located halfway between Tam Ky and Thien Phuoc in the I Corps region.


To assist in the defense of the base, a force of 75 civilian irregular defense group (CIDG) personnel manned the perimeter bunkers. For further security, Battery A nightly posted guards at each howitzer, the fire direction center, and the ammunition section. Because of the difficulty in distinguishing them from the enemy at night, the irregulars had been instructed to remain within their bunkers during the hours of darkness.

The perimeter bunkers were on the edge of a steep dropoff along the narrow ridge line. Because of the steepness of the slope, it was impossible to observe activity directly below the bunkers. It was up these steep slopes that a platoon of sappers crept during the early morning hours and pre-positioned themselves for an attack on the 105-mm. battery. Their objective was to capture the weapons and turn them on the 155-mm. battery and infantry battalion headquarters, which were located on either side of the 105-mm. battery position.

At 0320, in extreme darkness, mortars, rockets, and recoilless rifles unleashed a devastating barrage on the area in conjunction with the sapper attack. Every position within the battery area was known to the enemy before the attack. The radios in the fire direction center were destroyed immediately. A sapper tossed a grenade into the center and then reached in and placed a satchel charge directly on top of the two VRC-46 radios. The enemy so effectively infiltrated the battery area that the artillerymen had no chance to repulse the initial attack; instead, the fighting began within the parapets. That the crewmen of the weapons were able to return fire with their howitzers testified to their discipline and courage. Although the enemy seemed to be everywhere in the battery area, the battery commander, executive officer, and first sergeant, though wounded, moved from weapon to weapon, helping the more seriously wounded and assisting in the delivery of fire.

Each weapon parapet had its own private war going by this time. All the men of number 1 section had been wounded by the initial mortar attack; nevertheless, the section chief, Staff Sergeant Webster Anderson, and his men moved into the parapet and directed fire upon the enemy. Grenades fell all around them, but neither Anderson nor his men faltered. Two mortar rounds landed at Anderson's feet and severely mangled his lower legs. Although in great pain, he managed to move around in the protective parapet and continued to inspire his men. When a grenade landed next to one of his wounded cannoneers, Anderson grabbed the grenade and threw it from the parapet. In the process, his hand was blown off. The executive officer came upon number 1 weapon at this time and, seeing Sergeant Anderson's condition, moved him to medical aid.


Photograph: Battery A, 2d Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, in position on Operation WHEELER
BATTERY A, 2D BATTALION, 320TH FIELD ARTILLERY, IN POSITION ON OPERATION WHEELER. An example of a small, crowded ridgeline position.

For his actions, Sergeant Anderson later received the Medal of Honor.

By now the battery commander had retrieved the sole remaining radio and had directed defensive fires upon the enemy weapon positions. These fires, in conjunction with direct fires from the 105-mm. howitzers, silenced the enemy. The Viet Cong were finally driven from the battery perimeter after more than two hours of close combat. The infantry battalion headquarters and the 155-mm. battery had not received a single enemy round during the battle. Because of the unknown nature and size of the enemy force, these two units were forced to man their own defenses and were initially unable to assist Battery A. Because of extremely bad weather, the only aircraft flying that night were medical evacuation helicopters, and even they had to be directed into the fire base by the battalion Q-4 radar, which was collocated with the 155-mm. battery. A total of three medevac aircraft evacuated the wounded and dead from the battery area under the worst possible flying conditions.

Morning found Battery A with 6 killed and 29 wounded out of


an initial strength of 49. Twenty-two of the wounded required evacuation. The civilian irregulars lost 6 killed and 5 wounded. Fifty-six craters from 82-mm. mortar rounds were counted in the battery position. At least five mortar rounds had landed in each section parapet. Rocket and recoilless rifle flashes had been observed and fired upon by the 105-mm. and 155-mm. batteries. Although the 105-mm. battery was hurt badly during the attack, the objective of the enemy force was not realized. The field artillerymen stood by their weapons in the face of overwhelming odds and repulsed the enemy from the battery area without losing a single howitzer.

Still another example of determined defense of a fire support base occurred on 18 November 1967 at the opposite end of the country from Operation WHEELER, at Fire Support Base CUDGEL. It was one of three bases established in support of 9th Infantry Division units participating in Operation KEN GIANG in western Dinh Thong Province.

The operation began at dawn on 15 November from a staging area at Dong Tam, the 9th Division command post. In order to locate an area of dry ground large enough to accommodate four guns of his 105-mm. howitzer battery, the commander of Battery C, 2d Battalion, 4th Artillery, Captain Dennis J. Schaible, accompanied the first flight of infantry. For security reasons, reconnaissance of the area had been limited to one brief flyover three days before the operation. Forty-five minutes after the insertion, the battery commander had located an area suitable for the four howitzers. This area was later named Fire Support Base CUDGEL. Fifteen minutes after the crews had lowered the first howitzer to the mushy ground, Battery C commenced preparation fires in support of positions previously selected for the other two fire bases. Later in the morning after the insertion of two infantry battalions into the area of operations, three howitzers of Battery D, 2d Battalion, 4th Artillery, joined Battery C at CUDGEL. Battery D was the first battery employed in Vietnam with the airmobile firing, platform, and this was its first operation. The four guns of Battery C were positioned near the northern perimeter and the three guns of Battery D flanked the southern portion of the perimeter. With the addition of elements (battalion headquarters, Company C, and the reconnaissance platoon) from the 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry, which would join the two artillery batteries at CUDGEL on the 17th, the cast of players was set for the battle of Fire Support Base CUDGEL.

The base was bordered on the west by a canal approximately 33 feet wide and 10 feet deep. On the north was a canal with similar dimensions and running east to west. To the south were scrub woods and thick undergrowth, and to the east were open rice paddies. The


reconnaissance platoon was deployed on the western portion of the perimeter across the north-south canal, since the canal offered a good line of protection against enemy advance and was a good terrain feature on which to fix the two flanks of the company defensive position. The right flank of the reconnaissance platoon, on the west side of the canal, was linked with the left flank of the 2d Platoon, Company C, which was on the east side of the canal. The 2d Platoon stretched to the east and linked up with the 4th Platoon, which extended south. The right flank of the 4th Platoon linked with the 3d Platoon, which deployed south and west to tie in with the 1st Platoon on the south. The right flank of the 1st Platoon, on the east side of the north-south canal, joined with the left flank of the reconnaissance platoon, along the west side of the canal. In addition to the perimeter established by the infantry company and reconnaissance platoon, Battery C had prepared automatic weapons positions on the east side of the north-south canal as a backup defensive position. A hot line between the battery fire direction center and the infantry battalion command post provided vital communications for the integrated defense.

Intelligence had disclosed a heavy concentration of Viet Cong forces in the area. Battery C cannoneers prepared sandbagged positions as a precaution before dark on their first night at the fire support base. They improved their positions at every opportunity during the occupation of CUDGEL. Preparations were extremely difficult because the water level was less than one foot below the ground. All the foxholes filled with water and most of the protection had to be constructed above the soggy surface of the base.

Soon after the occupation of the perimeter by the reconnaissance platoon, one member of the platoon saw what he thought to be someone wearing a helmet and crouching next to a stand of palm trees directly west of the position. The soldier was unarmed at the time; when he returned with his weapon to investigate, he could find nothing and did not report the incident.

At 2130 the men of one of the listening posts set out by the reconnaissance platoon intercepted a Viet Cong scout and killed him with a burst from an M60 machine gun. Around 0150 the south side of the fire support base perimeter came under heavy fire. The 1st Platoon of Company C was in danger of being overrun. Within minutes, an intense mortar barrage fell on the positions occupied by the reconnaissance platoon and Battery C. This seemed to be a signal for enemy forces on the southwest of the perimeter to attack the reconnaissance platoon positions. It was later estimated that one company assaulted the reconnaissance platoon on the south and west to provide a base of fire with mortars and


Map 9: Fire Support Base CUDGEL

Map 9

recoilless rifles while two companies maneuvered against Company C on the south.

When the mortar barrage began in the Battery C area, most of the men cried "incoming" and dived for protection. The battery commander and the fire direction officer (FDO) were in the fire direction center. Within seconds after the first mortar rounds burst in the battery area, the officer was on the radio requesting that supporting artillery prepare to fire the defensive concentrations to the south and west of the battery position. At the same time the battery commander was on the hot line to the infantry battalion command post and informed the infantry battalion commander that the fire direction center was in contact with the mutually supporting artillery and requested permission from the battalion commander to call for defensive concentrations. Though permission was quickly granted, it was ten to fifteen minutes before the first artillery support from a sister battery was received. The enemy had also mortared Fire Support Base MACE, a few kilometers away, just before the ground and mortar attack on CUDGEL. (Map 9)


The battery supporting CUDGEL was also supporting MACE and was already engaged in a fire mission when the call from the Battery C fire direction center was received.

In the battle that raged for the next 1 1/2 hours, the Viet Cong forces made a desperate attempt to penetrate the southwest portion of the perimeter by overrunning the reconnaissance platoon left flank and Company C right flank. They came perilously close to achieving their goal.

The reconnaissance platoon and the 1st and 3d Platoons of Company C were the most heavily engaged infantry forces during the battle. The fighting in their sector was so fierce and at such close range that each position seemed to be isolated by intense enemy fire in a struggle for individual survival. The battle had been going on for approximately 30 minutes when the reconnaissance platoon leader gave the order to pull back across the canal to the positions occupied by Battery C. As the platoon evacuated its position, the enemy rushed forward and set up recoilless rifle and automatic weapons positions aimed point blank into the Battery C position across the canal.

As soon as the reconnaissance platoon began to withdraw across the canal, Battery C was subjected to intensive automatic rifle, rifle grenade, and recoilless rifle fire. The battery commander requested and received permission from the infantry battalion commander to engage the advancing Viet Cong units with direct artillery fire. Permission to fire Beehive rounds was withheld, however, until the reconnaissance platoon had crossed the canal. Three of the four howitzers had been firing an illumination mission when the attack began and were pointed away from the direction of the enemy advance. Within a few minutes, the crews had turned the pieces around and taken the onrushing enemy under fire. The battery commander and the chiefs of sections adjusted the high-explosive direct fire while the fire direction officer was on the radio adjusting the indirect supporting fire.

The Viet Cong countered with recoilless rifle and heavy machine gun fire. The first round from the recoilless rifle missed the guns and its flash provided a target for howitzer number 2. The cannoneers of number 2 fired at the recoilless rifle, but their first round was low. It struck the canal just below the target, exploded on contact with the bank, and sent mud and fragments back into the battery position. As the crew was about to fire a second round, a recoilless rifle scored a direct hit on the front carriage of the howitzer. The blast wounded the entire section. The tires and sling-load cushioning on the howitzer burst into flame. One of the cannoneers, Private First Class Sammy L. Davis, struggled to his


feet and returned to the now furiously burning howitzer. Disregarding a hail of small-arms fire directed against the position, he aimed and fired the howitzer. The damaged weapon recoiled violently and slammed Davis to the ground. Undaunted, he returned to the piece, but a mortar round exploded within 20 meters of his position and compounded his wounds. Private Davis loaded the howitzer, aimed it, and fired; this time he destroyed the recoilless rifle. Again the recoil of the howitzer knocked him to the ground, sent the howitzer skidding into a hole, and rendered it inoperable.

By this time, most of the reconnaissance platoon had reached the friendly side of the canal. The artillerymen of Battery C dragged many of the infantrymen from the canal. Three men from one of the platoon listening posts were not so fortunate; the Viet Cong attack had cut them off. As the battle progressed, a round from another battery landed immediately in front of them. They decided that they must abandon their position or be annihilated by their own artillery. As they started back, another artillery round landed behind them and wounded two of the three men. They continued to low crawl back toward the canal. As they reached the bank of the canal, they saw the recoilless rifle that Davis had knocked out. Not knowing that the round that had knocked out the recoilless rifle had also put the howitzer out of action, they yelled across to the artillery to cease firing. Hearing their cries for help, Davis and another member of number 2 gun section, Private First Class William H. Murray, went to help the wounded men. Despite his painful wounds and his inability to swim, Davis picked up an air mattress and he and Murray struck out across the deep canal to rescue three men. Upon reaching the men, all of whom had by this time sustained wounds, Davis took up a position on the canal bank and fired on the Viet Cong, who were swarming the western bank, while Murray ferried the most seriously wounded infantryman across the canal. After emptying five magazines into the charging enemy, Davis and Murray floated the remaining two wounded infantrymen across the canal. Though still suffering from neglected wounds, Davis refused medical attention, joined another howitzer crew, and assisted in firing until the attack was broken later in the morning. For his action, Private Davis received the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Johnson at the White House exactly one year from the date of the battle.

While Davis was fighting his private battle with the recoilless rifle, the other howitzer sections were also heavily engaged. By 0245 the 3d Platoon, manning the southern perimeter, had fallen back to the battery position. The platoon leader had been seriously wounded and the platoon sergeant killed. With a second side of the


perimeter now open, gun number 4 once again shifted trails to level direct fire south into the vacant perimeter area. Throughout the raging battle, the battery commander continually requested permission to fire Beehive in hopes of breaking up the attack. Finally permission came, and Battery C fired a total of 21 Beehive rounds. Just after the first of these was fired, number 3 gun received a direct hit from a recoilless rifle. Although the recoil mechanism was leaking oil, the crew continued to fire the Beehive rounds until the piece would no longer return to battery. As the last of the Beehive rounds was fired, and almost as quickly as the firing had begun, that attack withered. By this time helicopter gunships and a C-47 Spooky had arrived on station to add their fire power against the retreating enemy forces.

When the battle was over, 22 of the 44 artillerymen of Battery C had been wounded. Two of the 4 howitzers had been destroyed and over 600 direct fire rounds, including the 21 Beehive rounds, had been fired at the enemy. The infantry suffered 6 killed and 76 wounded. The official number of enemy killed in the operation was placed at 83, but estimates of the actual enemy losses were more than twice that number. The efforts of Private Davis and the other field artillerymen in Battery C turned what could have been a Viet Cong victory into a clear defeat.

Overview: 1965 to Pre-Tet 1968

As 1967 drew to an end, the enemy was busy formulating plans for an offensive to be launched throughout Vietnam in celebration of Tet 1968. The eve of Tet is a good vantage point from which to look back on the U.S. Field artillery's first 2 1/2 years of combat in Vietnam.

Beginning on 5 May 1965, with the commitment of the 3d Battalion (Airborne), 319th Artillery, the U.S. Army involvement had increased until 54 artillery battalions were in various supporting roles throughout Vietnam. In nearly 1,000 days of combat, artillery progress and accomplishments contributed significantly to the success of the U.S. tactical mission. Artillerymen adapted to the unique situation posed in Vietnam. The length of time between the Korean War and the start of combat operations in Vietnam had deprived the Army of a high level of combat experienced personnel. Combat experience was the exception rather than the rule at company and battalion levels in all branches. Further, the nature of the Vietnam war negated much of the conventional war experience possessed by those who had previously been in combat. To overcome this inexperience and unfamiliarity with counterguerrilla opera-


tions, the field artilleryman needed to be more creative, innovative, and flexible than ever before. Artillerymen fulfilled this need with the utmost professionalism.

From the first few informal reports from the field in 1965 through the volumes of operational reports and lessons learned that became formalized by 1967, the message was clear: the basic doctrine, tactics, and techniques that had been followed for years by artillerymen were still valid, but some modifications of the manner in which they were applied were necessary. These modifications initially resulted in problems, which were listed and discussed to determine expeditiously the best and most feasible solutions. Experiences were shared with artillerymen worldwide to insure against repetition of the same mistakes and to better provide adequate fire support.

Probably no artilleryman of any grade or position proved more flexible in the face of adversity than the forward observer. Every maneuver company was assigned a field artillery forward observer who traveled with the company and called for and adjusted supporting fires. The "eyes and ears of the artillery," as he is often called, the forward observer in Vietnam faced many disadvantages in the early months of the war. A lieutenant by table of organization and equipment, the observer was often a young noncommissioned officer or enlisted soldier, in his first combat tour, and trained in the principles of conventional war. In Vietnam he encountered thick forest and jungle and, more often than not, lack of visibility of the target area. This often necessitated the adjustment of artillery by sound, something he was not trained to do. The nature of operations in Vietnam often resulted in infantry platoons and squads operating semi-independently, away from the company command post. Control of the platoons and squads kept company commanders so busy that the forward observer's responsibilities often included maintaining accurate and current locations of the company and subordinate elements. This was a significant problem, compounded by the fact that vegetation often obscured prominent terrain features and visible reference points. The 1st Cavalry Division reported in 1965 that their forward observers, hampered by dense jungle, had improvised a rope and sling device with which to climb trees in order to observe artillery fire. Common methods of resolving map reading problems were the "pace and count" method of land navigation and the firing of a spotting round of smoke or white phosphorus, which was detonated in the air above a location that had been predetermined by the fire direction center and passed to the forward observer. In a series of taped interviews with company commanders who had served in Vietnam, the general consensus was


Photograph: Aerial Field Artillery Cobra in Flight

that map reading and responsibilities for maintaining unit locations were best left in the hands of the artillery forward observer.

Another problem area for the observer was the employment of aerial rocket artillery, which was relatively new. The forward observer had received little if any training in aerial rocket artillery adjustment. He had to gain confidence in the system, but once that was accomplished, aerial rocket artillery inevitably became his "trump card."

Artillery commanders in Vietnam were quick to recognize the need for well-trained, able observers. In 1965, a large proportion of "combat notes" and reports from the field emphasized the importance of the forward observer section to the successful accomplishment of the fire support mission. Initial reports from the 173d Airborne Brigade stressed the need for cross-training of personnel in these sections. The reconnaissance sergeant and the radiotelephone operator often had to assume fire-support responsibilities


Photograph: Aerial Field Artillery Cobra and  Light Observation Helicopter

and some were not qualified to do so. In addition, it was believed that forward observers were not being properly utilized as a source of intelligence. It was concluded that more emphasis should be given to correcting these shortcomings during training in the continental United States.

Firing batteries throughout Vietnam experienced several common problems. Tables of organization and equipment prescribed personnel levels and authorizations that made 24-hour operation a severe strain on personnel. Modification of tables was necessary to permit round-the-clock operations, particularly in the fire direction center. Large areas of operation and great distances between battalions and their batteries put the emphasis on the battery center as the primary source of firing data. Often the battalion fire direction control mission became more a matter of control than direction. Too, mountainous terrain often hampered communications and thus the battery center had to check its own firing data. The frequent splitting of batteries meant that a battery had constantly to maintain the personnel and equipment to establish and maintain several fire direction centers. Another challenge for the field artilleryman was his new-found mobility resulting from the extensive


use of the helicopter. Few individual replacements had much if any training in airmobility, yet all towed artillery units had to be ready to move on a moment's notice. The versatility of the artilleryman offset his lack of experience. Units that had never displaced by air learned, and learned quickly. Occasionally peacetime habits, both good and bad, cropped up in Vietnam. One such habit, a negative one but easily correctable, was cited by the 23d Artillery Group. Delays in firing often occurred in firing sections with new section chiefs. The explanation was that these chiefs, with considerable peacetime experience, were in the habit of waiting for the safety officer to check firing data. A further problem was that firing batteries equipped with the M107-mm. gun were hampered by the weapon's extremely short tube life. After firing 300 full charge rounds, it was necessary to replace the tube, a six-hour procedure. The artillery lived with this problem until a new tube with four times the tube life was developed. Stateside production of the tubes caught up with Vietnam demands in early 1968. In addition, the field time required to change tubes was reduced to two hours, principally the result of the efforts of an enterprising artilleryman who fabricated an adapter which prevented the nitrogen in the weapon's equilibrators from escaping. Previously, equilibrators were permitted to empty during tube change and additional time was required to replenish the lost nitrogen.

Initially, many combat experiences, creative ideas, and new tactics and techniques were peculiar to particular units or areas of Vietnam and were passed informally by word of mouth. To prevent disjointed concepts and ideas and to standardize procedures, information pertinent to artillery procedures was given wide dissemination. The best source was lessons learned reports, and information from them was distributed throughout Vietnam as well as up through channels, ultimately to be used in training by units and service schools in the United States.

To standardize procedures in Vietnam and to reinforce written standing operating procedures, training schools were established at division artillery, artillery group, and field force artillery levels to train newly assigned personnel in artillery procedures and techniques peculiar to Vietnam or to the particular area or unit to which they would be assigned. The emphasis was primarily on forward observer and fire direction center procedures and techniques. These schools ranged in duration from three days to a week and were staffed and equipped from units already in Vietnam. Typical of this training was a six-day course in fire direction conducted by I Field Force Artillery for all its newly assigned fire direction officers. The 41st Artillery Group conducted a five-day orientation course for


newly assigned forward observers. Similar schools were conducted by II Field Force Artillery and its subordinate units.

To improve coordination and liaison between U.S. Forces and other Free World Military Assistance Forces units, many U.S. units conducted artillery orientation schools for allied personnel. The 9th Infantry Division conducted such a school in 1967 in preparation for a joint U.S. and Thai operation. To facilitate artillery coordination in the II Corps area, the 41st Artillery Group conducted fire support training for South Vietnamese Army personnel. When the language barrier was overcome, the result of such training was a marked improvement in the speed and quality of artillery support.

The ultimate in training experiences was on-the-job training (OJT) in a unit engaged in actual combat operations. As time progressed and personnel were "infused" between units to prevent large rotational humps, individual training became possible. To insure adherence to basic artillery doctrine and safety procedures and to allow for standardization of artillery techniques, artillery staffs at group. and division levels established various means of testing the proficiency of subordinate units. The most common technique was the formation of a team which visited a subordinate unit to render assistance and evaluate the artillery procedures used. The 23d Artillery Group conducted unannounced proficiency tests (UPT) of the basic artillery fundamentals and principles in their subordinate units. Requirements consisted of firing a registration mission, a time-on-target mission, and two adjust fire missions. The objective of such tests was to evaluate and assist, not to harass, and the practice proved quite successful.

As lessons learned reached the continental United States, every effort was made to ease the training burden of combat units in Vietnam and to incorporate Vietnam-related procedures and lessons learned into instruction and training.

At the Field Artillery School (then the United States Army Artillery and Missile School) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the emphasis was on instruction and training geared to meet the artillery requirements in Vietnam. The Field Artillery School dispatched liaison teams to Vietnam "to determine the actions required to improve the products of the [Artillery] Training Center and the Artillery School at Fort Sill for officers, enlisted men and deployable units." These visits included one in September of 1967 by Major General Charles P. Brown, Fort Sill commander and Artillery School commandant. Extensive interviews at all levels of artillery command were conducted during these visits and a list of matters requiring the attention of the Artillery School was made. Essentially, the ba-


Photograph:  Major General David E. Ott Demonstrates FADAC

sic message gleaned from these trips was that although the over-all state of training of artillery personnel assigned to Vietnam was excellent, increased Vietnam-oriented training was required. Specifically, it was determined that increased emphasis was necessary in 6,400-mil fire direction center procedures; counterguerrilla reconnaissance, selection, and occupation of position training; and fire support coordination responsibilities at all levels, particularly those of the artillery liaison officer.

By mid-1967, the Artillery School had begun to make significant progress in implementing changes in instructional programs to satisfy Vietnam requirements. A field artillery officer's Vietnam orientation course (FAOVOC) was instituted in July 1967. Four to five weeks long, the course concentrated solely on tactics and techniques used in Vietnam. In fiscal year 1968, 239 officers completed the course; in fiscal year 1969, over 1,000. The course was offered in addition to the officer basic schooling and was designed better to prepare officers for Vietnam service. The officer basic course was increased from 9 to 12 weeks, and the Artillery Officer Candidate School enrollment increased from 3,000 in fiscal year 1966 to 9,600


in fiscal year 1967. Increased emphasis on Vietnam training for non­commissioned and enlisted students resulted in short (2-3 week) section chief courses and a noncommissioned officer candidate course designed to emphasize skill development in artillery procedures. Fire direction center training stressed 6,400-mil fire direction procedures, including chart preparation and wind cards. On the basis of information received in Vietnam during liaison visits, additional training on the field artillery digital computer (FADAC) was implemented. The Tactics and Combined Arms Department constructed two Vietnam-type artillery fire bases for instruction in battery defense, and field exercises included a counterguerrilla phase in the scenario as students participating in training for reconnaissance, selection, and occupation of position began occupying star-shaped and circular battery positions in addition to conventional linear positions. Throughout the Field Artillery School, every attempt was made to prepare the field artilleryman for combat duty in Vietnam.

The field artillery made genuine progress after its arrival in Vietnam in 1965. The quality of fire support was ever increasing as the artillery played a vital role in operations ranging from JUNCTION CITY, the largest combined operation to date, to small-unit actions such as those in the remote outposts of Landing Zone BIRD and Soui Cat. In over two and a half years of combat, the artillerymen had trained hard, fought hard, and shared experiences with personnel of other branches. As the 1968 Tet holiday season neared and the enemy made final plans for attack, seasoned artillerymen manned positions in 54 field artillery battalions scattered throughout Vietnam.


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