Chapter XIV: 
(September 1968)
Two operations of the Vietnam War, VINH Loc and PHU VANG, illustrate how the Vietnamese paramilitary forces were combined with U.S. forces in activities aimed at the destruction of the Viet Cong infrastructure. The U.S. Army has a long history of operations with the regular military forces of allies. However, the extended association of U.S. regular units with indigenous paramilitary organizations was new to the Army and required a succession of innovations in many aspects of operations.
The World War II association of U.S. units with the Philippine Constabulary (a paramilitary force) paralleled the situation with the Vietnamese paramilitary forces. However, the Philippine Constabulary had been inducted into the U.S. Army Forces, Far East, a few months before the war, and the command relationship was therefore relatively uncomplicated.
As U.S. armed forces, other than advisory groups, joined the Vietnamese conflict, they were superimposed on the existing Vietnamese military structure. The U.S. units began operating in areas assigned to the Vietnamese corps tactical zone commanders, who had subdivided their areas among their assigned divisions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. This arrangement, of course, created problems of area responsibility and co-ordination. To complicate these problems further, the provincial (sector) and district (subsector) political partitions of the country had several indigenous paramilitary organizations under the control of the province and district chiefs.
In addition to the need to integrate all units into combat operations, there was a compelling requirement to train the indigenous forces to do the jobs themselves. Major General Melvin Zais, commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), in his debriefing report outlined the problem and its solution.
It became apparent from the earliest days of my command that in order to insure a lasting success in our operations against the enemy forces in Thua Thien Province the troopers of the 101st Airborne Division must fight side by side with the GVN [Government of Vietnam] forces. To this end every

operation of any significance was a combined operation with 101st Airborne units and 1st ARVN Division and/or Province units. To insure close coordination US and ARVN command posts were co-located for operations, and liaison was established with the 1st ARVN Division headquarters and regimental headquarters, Province headquarters and every district headquarters in Thua Thien.
This collocation of units, together with the concept of "tactical areas of interest," insured co-ordination between forces. In the long run the system served to strengthen the South Vietnamese forces, including the paramilitary units. It proved to be tremendously effective as American commanders worked with the Vietnamese commanders to increase the competence, confidence, and aggressiveness of indigenous troops.
Vinh Loc Island is approximately twenty-five miles long and three miles wide at the widest point. It is situated in Thua Thien Province along the coast of the I Corps Tactical Zone fifteen miles east of Hue. Before the 1968 Communist Tet offensive, the island was relatively secure under South Vietnamese government control and the 50,000 inhabitants were unmolested by the Viet Cong. During Tet, however, the attention of allied forces was diverted away from areas such as Vinh Loc to more populated areas. This diversion allowed the enemy to infiltrate, gain control of the island, and use it as a haven. As a result, many of the inhabitants fled.
During the spring and summer of 1968 several one- and two-day operations were conducted to destroy the enemy force. Each resulted in enemy losses but failed to uproot the Viet Cong infrastructure. An analysis of these efforts revealed that a longer operation using available Vietnamese resources together with U.S. forces was needed to clear the island. A combined planning group was therefore established consisting of the province and district chiefs, Vietnamese Army commanders, U.S. advisers, and the commanding officers of the 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), and the 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry. The 2d Brigade was commanded by Colonel John A. Hoefling, and Lieutenant Colonel Jim I. Hunt commanded the 501st Battalion. The plan developed by this group called for a combined operation to conduct a soft cordon on the island. The soft cordon differed from a normal cordon operation in several respects. Most significant were the emphasis on combined operation, the limited use of firepower in order to keep property damage and civilian injury at a minimum, and the slow, painstaking searches by the sweeping and cordon forces.
Phase I of the plan consisted of positioning the ground blocking forces on D minus 1 (10 September 1968) in such a way that the enemy would believe that all the activity was just an extension of normal operations. Company D, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry,

conducted an operation in the northwestern part of the island to force the enemy toward the southeast. Concurrently, the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 54th ARVN Regiment moved into blocking positions along the northeastern shore of Phu Vang District to add depth to the river patrol on the estuary between Vinh Loc and Phu Vang.
Phase II began on D-day (11 September) at first light when the naval forces surrounded the island. Immediately thereafter, the 3d Troop of the 7th ARVN Cavalry conducted a reconnaissance in force from the northwest into Vinh Loc District to prevent the enemy's escape and to force him into the cordon. With all blocking forces in position, units of Task Force 1-501 and 1st Battalion, 54th ARVN Regiment, air-assaulted into six landing zones along the seaward shore. From these positions the two battalions began reconnaissance in force operations to the southwest into the blockade established by the 2d and 3d Battalions, 54th ARVN Regiment, and the naval forces. The 922d and 955th Regional Force Companies, previously positioned in their zones between the two battalions, conducted similar sweeps. These maneuvers were quickly executed and were completed on D-day. During the night, the operation involved maximum illumination and engagement of enemy forces attempting to escape the island by water.
Phase III began on D plus 1 (12 September) and continued to the end of the operation on 20 September. This phase consisted of continuous reconnaissance in force activities, saturation patrols, "eagle flights," and night ambushes by all units in assigned areas of operation. The plan was to conduct methodical, detailed searches and to react immediately to combat intelligence gained, while maintaining the cordon around the island.
Indigenous paramilitary forces were used extensively in order to take maximum advantage of their capabilities. The two Regional Force companies were assigned their own areas and conducted operations alongside the ARVN and U.S. rifle companies. Popular Force platoons were positioned with each company-size tactical unit to take advantage of their knowledge of the terrain and the local population. Twenty-four members of the National Police Special Branch, 100 members of the National Police Field Forces, 30 men organized into Armed Propaganda Teams, and a 7-man detail for census grievances were spread throughout the tactical elements to question and control the population. This arrangement insured that South Vietnamese government representatives were with all units, thus minimizing misunderstandings with detainees and allowing a meaningful initial screening of the people.
A central collection point was established where prisoners of war and detainees could be held. Fourteen National Policemen of the district were responsible for the security and handling of suspects

PICTURE: ARVN Soldiers and U.S. Adviser

brought to the collection point. Near this facility was a Combined Intelligence Center, where representatives of all U.S. and Vietnamese intelligence agencies were located. Through the workings of a combined staff, the initial interrogation produced information that was used within minutes. The Provincial Reconnaissance Units (ten 12-man teams) reacted immediately to exploit specific intelligence, and People's Self-Defense Forces were used wherever possible in searching the villages. In one village, twenty members of the People's Self-Defense Force joined ten U.S. troopers in a combined air assault in reaction to intelligence.
The Vietnamese at the Combined Intelligence Center were quick-witted and capitalized on available opportunities. For example, helicopters carrying 231 suspects landed at the interrogation center between 0100 and 0230 hours on 12 September. The landing zone was dusty and noisy, and the suspects were considerably confused. As the helicopters were unloaded the suspects were given directions such as, "All members of K4B Battalion over here, 0117 Company over there." Accordingly, sixty-three of the suspects lined up as directed. The district S-2 then asked the suspects to identify other members of their units who had not followed the instructions. In this way, more prisoners were identified.
The over-all operation was extremely successful. Before the operation began, two enemy companies reinforced with hamlet guerrillas were estimated to be in the area. At the completion of the operation, enemy organizations were virtually ineffective and the regular U.S. and ARVN forces were replaced by Regional and Popular Forces. Subsequently, two revolutionary development teams returned to the area and continued their work with no further interference.

PICTURE:  Prisioners of War are Taken to Collection Point
The VINH Loc operation was followed by Operation PHU VANG I in an area near the Vinh Loc district boundary. The operational area was approximately one kilometer east of Hue city and included parts of three districts. The area within the cordon, approximately twenty-nine square kilometers completely surrounded by navigable waterways, was along the primary infiltration route into the city.

During the four months before the operation, numerous contacts were made with two- to five-man enemy groups. The enemy was active, employing numerous mines and booby traps along the canal on the north and east of the eventual cordon. The area was known to have a strong and deeply rooted Viet Cong infrastructure. The civilian population feared the Viet Cong and as a result they tried to avoid all allied forces and seldom gave information about the enemy. Under these circumstances, a prolonged operation including a detailed search of the area was needed. Calling on the experience gained on Vinh Loc Island earlier in the month, planning was done by a combined staff and envisaged the use of all available U.S., ARVN, province, and district resources.
The operation included three phases. Phase I began on D-day (27 September 1968) with all forces conducting diversionary operations to deceive the enemy and, if possible, to force him into the cordon area. Task Force PHU VANG and Task Force HUONG THUY moved into assigned areas just east of Hue early in the morning. Colonel Hunt's 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, was placed in the area north and northeast of the cordon, while Task Force 2-17 moved into blocking positions on the southern edge of the cordon to seal off escape to the south. In the meantime available naval forces screened adjacent waterways, and a composite battalion of the 54th ARVN Regiment swept from the southeast toward the cordon area.
Phase II called for most of the available forces to move overland and close into blocking positions around the cordon area by 0730 hours on D plus 1 (28 September). Company A, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, air-assaulted into its blocking position. Shortly thereafter, 2d Battalion, 54th ARVN Regiment, air-assaulted into two landing zones in the western portion of the cordon, swept to the east to engage any large enemy force encountered, and detained all suspicious persons.
The final phase began on D plus 2 (29 September). All forces conducted detailed searches within their areas, rapidly exploiting new intelligence.
In execution the operation went as planned with one exception. Information obtained through interrogation of detainees early on 27 September indicated that the enemy would attempt to withdraw from the cordon to the east before blocking positions could be established in the area. Consequently, the cordon was closed immediately instead of waiting until 28 September.
Once again maximum use was made of available indigenous paramilitary forces. Regional Force companies participated in the operation in their own assigned areas. Popular Force platoons served as blocking forces and contributed their knowledge of the area and local population. National Police Field Forces, Police Special

Branch, Provincial Reconnaissance Units, and Census Grievance Teams were spread among the tactical forces to assist in the initial screening of the people and the questioning of the detainees. They also worked at the Combined Intelligence Center, processing information gained from detainees for immediate exploitation.
Although the immediate tactical results of these two battles were impressive, the long-term results of the VINH Loc and PHU VANG I operations were even more significant. Viet Cong control was replaced by South Vietnamese government control and a new environment of stability. U.S. and ARVN tactical units were replaced by Regional and Popular Forces and eventually People's Self-Defense Forces.
The VINH Loc and PHU VANG cordons are excellent examples of combined operations conducted on a basis of co-ordination and cooperation between the forces of two countries. These soft cordon operations were characterized by surprise, combined planning, combined operations and intelligence centers, minimum destruction, population control, rapid reaction to intelligence, and detailed searches. The combined tactical operations center, where the operational representatives of all elements were located, was essential for these operations. Normally the commanders were also at the combined centers. This system enabled better co-ordination, control, and planning and achieved unity of command.
The Combined Intelligence Center also contributed significantly to the operations. Representatives of all intelligence agencies-U.S., Vietnamese, military, paramilitary, and civilian-participated in the interrogation system. This practice insured that the resources of each agency were used to the best advantage and the unique abilities of each of the forces in the cordon area were exercised without delay to exploit intelligence as it became available.
Another significant aspect of the soft cordon was the limited supporting fire. This precaution was necessary because of the presence of friendly units and individuals inside the cordon. Strict fire discipline had to, be imposed on all participating units, but civilian casualties and property damage were kept at a minimum because of it.
The success of the VINH Loc and PHU VANG operations came from many factors: soft cordon tactics, combined planning, combined operations and intelligence centers, and the widespread integration of South Vietnamese paramilitary units and civilian agencies into U.S. formations. These combined operations, in addition to defeating the enemy, had a lasting effect on the area. They uprooted the Viet Cong infrastructure in Vinh Loc and Phu Vang and contributed significantly to the confidence and aggressiveness of the Vietnamese forces.

page created 15 December 2001

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