Chapter V: 
(March-April 1969)
Military operations in rough or mountainous terrain usually call for infantry; however, the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), conducted successful operations in the highlands of Vietnam with an armored-mechanized force. Several materiel innovations made this success possible: the exclusive use of cargo helicopters to establish a line of communications, new aerial resupply techniques to assist the helicopters in providing logistical support, and the use of the armored vehicle launched bridge (AVLB) to maintain ground mobility within the task force. Finally, the organization of the brigade itself was an innovation that gave it great flexibility and power.
The 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), a unique and versatile organization, was the last major U.S. tactical unit to arrive in Vietnam. It included the 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry; the 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry (Light); the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry (Mechanized); the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor; and the 5th Battalion, 4th Artillery (155-mm. Self-propelled). Shortly after arriving in Vietnam the brigade was placed under the operational control of the 3d Marine Division. The brigade's commander received most of his combat and combat service support from the division. The brigade often conducted combined operations with South Vietnamese forces in the near-trackless terrain adjacent to the demilitarized zone and the Laotian border. In April of 1969, Colonel James M. Gibson conducted a dual operation by splitting his brigade: an armored infantry task force operated on the Khe Sanh plateau, and the rest of his force engaged in Operation MONTANA MAULER in the central demilitarized zone.
In March 1969, intelligence reports indicated that the North Vietnamese once again were moving across the Laotian border in the direction of the A Shau Valley. Air reconnaissance had revealed an extension of Route 926, which the Viet Cong were building from the old Route 92 on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, across the lower end of the Khe Sanh plateau in the direction of the A Shau Valley. Long-range

patrols had reported hearing trucks and tracked vehicles moving along this new road.
Because of these reports, the 3d Marine Division deployed one reinforced regiment to prevent the enemy from using this route and to search out possible North Vietnamese Army base areas in the northern extension of the A Shau Valley. At the same time, the XXIV U.S. Corps commander sent an armored task force to the Khe Sanh plateau to open up Route 9 to Khe Sanh, cut Route 926, and protect the west flank of the Marine regiment. This armored force was composed of elements of the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized). It was given the code name of Task Force REMAGEN and consisted of two mechanized infantry companies; a tank company; a self-propelled, 105-mm. artillery battery; a reinforced armored engineer platoon; a platoon of 40-mm. antiaircraft "dusters"; and a battalion headquarters element. Initially, command and control of the task force was provided by the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor. Later, this unit was replaced by the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry (Mechanized), and the task force was enlarged. A troop of ARVN cavalry was among the units reinforcing the task force. Each battalion headquarters brought its organic scout and mortar platoons, its combat trains of tracked maintenance vehicles, and most of its supply section. At the height of the operation, there were over a hundred tracked vehicles in the task force and no wheeled vehicles.
In March 1969, the last secure position on Route 9 was at a bend in the road called Ca Lu. From this point, the road wound upward through a valley for about thirty miles until it reached a high plateau. The ruins of the ancient town of Khe Sanh sat along a stream in the middle of this plateau. The infamous airstrip lay about a mile north of the town.
There were several narrow defiles and one unfordable mountain stream along the road from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh. An armored vehicle launched bridge was needed to span the stream. However, since there were no forces available to secure this span and the adjacent defiles, the bridge had to be retrieved after the last vehicle in the armored column had crossed. This meant that there would be no land line of communication behind Task Force REMAGEN. The armored task force had to be supplied completely by air during the entire operation.
For forty-seven days, Task Force REMAGEN ranged up and down the Laotian border. It cut the Viet Cong Route 926, it defeated several attacks by elements of two North Vietnamese Army regiments, and it took a heavy toll of enemy casualties. It also captured numerous enemy weapons, documents, and equipment. During this time, the men of the task force consumed over 56,000 meals, used over 59,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, and fired over 10,000

rounds of artillery ammunition. The maintenance sections of the task force installed 12 engines, 18 sets of tracks, and 7 transmissions and performed numerous other maintenance chores under field conditions. All of this material and equipment was brought to the task force in the field by Army CH-47 (Chinook) or Marine CH-46 helicopters. This feat involved a considerable logistic effort, representing about fifteen sorties by the supply helicopters every day for forty seven days. In addition to the CH-47 and CH-46 helicopters, brigade UH-1 helicopters were used to deliver mail, meals, and spare parts.
Mechanized infantry played a key role in the success of the operation. It provided one of the two command and control headquarters, bore the brunt of the fighting, took the greatest number of casualties, and inflicted a resounding defeat upon the enemy in every engagement. In this instance, the mechanized rifle companies served in their traditional role, reinforced with the tank company. However, these rifle companies operated in a wild and rugged area over thirty miles from the nearest friendly installation. Once again, they demonstrated their flexibility and proved that no terrain was inaccessible to them.
From their sanctuaries across the Laotian border, the North Vietnamese launched a number of attacks against the night positions of the task force. A typical night attack occurred on 25 April, beginning with an extensive mortar barrage at 0330 hours. An estimated battalion from the 304th North Vietnamese Army Division was attempting to overrun and destroy the night defensive position of the 2d Troop, 7th ARVN Cavalry. Team ARVN, as the unit was designated, was under the operational control of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry (Mechanized). The heavy mortar barrage was followed by a determined ground attack using rocket propelled grenades, small arms, automatic weapons, flamethrowers, and satchel charges. Unable to penetrate the position, the enemy quit the field at 0600 leaving behind 33 dead North Vietnamese soldiers, several weapons, and 300 prepared satchel charges.
Three days later the enemy tried again. The commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry (Mechanized), had prepared his defenses well. The company was alerted by the men at a listening post, who sprang an ambush on the enemy soldiers as they were moving into position. Again, the enemy attack was supported by fire from rocket propelled grenades, mortars, small arms, and automatic weapons. Throwing satchel charges and using flame devices, the enemy troops charged from the southwest but were unable to penetrate the perimeter. Before dawn they again withdrew and disappeared into the night. This time 34 of their soldiers were killed, small arms and automatic weapons littered the battlefield, and 500 satchel charges lay undetonated.
At 1100 hours, Company C, 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry, was air-

assaulted into the area to help re-engage the enemy. At the same time the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry (Light), was functioning as part of Operation MONTANA MAULER, being conducted far to the northeast also by the 1st Infantry Brigade. Enemy contact by this element was recorded in the brigade's after action report.
Two ground troops of the 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, were sent into an area in which an NVA Regiment was suspected to be located. Being small enough to invite an attack by an enemy regiment, yet strong enough to be able to defend itself until reinforcements could arrive, the cavalry was able to draw the enemy into a fight. Once contact was gained the cavalry was able to develop the situation so that additional forces could be intelligently committed to the battle in an attempt to close with and destroy the enemy.
The 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry, was being used as an airmobile reserve, prepared to reinforce the cavalry. When this battalion was later committed, a U.S. Marine Corps rifle company was attached to it. Thus a most unusual combination resulted: REMAGEN, a U.S. -ARVN armored-mechanized infantry force, without a single wheeled vehicle and no land resupply route; and MONTANA MAULER, with light infantry in airmobile reserve. Both of these forces contained Marine Corps units, and the brigade reported to the 3d Marine Division. Lieutenant General William B. Rosson, Commanding General, I Field Force, Vietnam, said of such operations:
I am persuaded that the mixture of Marine Corps and Army forces within III MAF [Marine Amphibious Force] is a desirable and productive arrangement. Indeed, of things learned during my several assignments in Vietnam, I accord top billing to the realization that when Marine Corps and Army units are teamed together, as in Provisional Corps Vietnam, their capabilities combine to produce a force possessing greater power and effectiveness than would be the case if the same units operated separately. Rich are the gains in cross infusion of ideas and experiences. Equally rich are rewards achieved by shifting of assets belonging to one service to support operations by the other when such action promotes the common good, e.g., helicopters, artillery, tanks, amtracks.
Task Force REMAGEN displayed this shifting of assets from one service to support another, as Marine resupply helicopters supported the task force and Marine artillery fired in support of it.
Several measures were taken to accomplish the aerial resupply. A forward supply element was established at Vandergrift Combat Base, where supplies and repair parts were assembled for shipment by helicopter to Task Force REMAGEN. All types of class-I supplies, such as sundry packs, B rations, and C rations, were also stockpiled. Petroleum, oil, and lubricant supplies were ordered from brigade stocks to meet demands as they occurred. Over 75,000 gallons of fuel were delivered to the maneuver units in 500-gallon, rubber drums. The transfer of fuel from the 500-gallon rubber drums to the armored vehicles of the task force sometimes posed a problem. Wherever possible, the force of gravity was used; however, a modified M113 bilge pump was

PICTURE: UH-1 Helicopter Makes Delivery

PICTURE: 500 - Gallon Collarpsible Drums Filled With Fuel
designed and constructed by the task force maintenance section. This pump greatly reduced the restrictions on the refueling of the vehicles. The brigade's supply officer made arrangements with the Marine Logistics Support Unit for the supply of munitions. As the after action report on Task Force REMAGEN stated:
Overall, Task Force Remagen received from Vandergrift over 200 aerial lifts representing over 1 million pounds plus an additional 50, 000 pounds of hot meals, mail and spare parts flown in on brigade UH 1's. A UH-1 was a daily necessity for retail distribution of parts, mail and meals from the combat trains area to the users.
During this period, Operation MONTANA MAULER was also being resupplied by air with an average of 12.7 short tons a day. Certain aerial resupply procedures and techniques were developed due to the jungle environment and monsoon weather in the Republic of Vietnam.
Natural sources of water were sparse in the area where forces were committed to Operation MONTANA MAULER. As in many other operations in Vietnam, water had to be transported to the troops by helicopter. There were several ways to carry the water. The water can usually issued by the government could be used; however, once the water was consumed, the troops either had to wait for the helicopter to return to carry away the empty cans or they had to destroy them. They were too bulky and heavy for the rifleman to carry over the

broken and rough terrain. Although plastic water containers could be collapsed when empty and therefore were much easier to carry on the backs of troops, they too were a nuisance. They were frequently lost or damaged in the jungle.
The troops of the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), developed a third method to supply water to the rifle companies in the field. The empty shell casings provided by the 5th Battalion, 4th Artillery (155-mm. Self-propelled), were cleaned and filled with water and transported to the troops in large numbers. Once the shell casings were empty, they were either buried or otherwise discarded. In this way, troops were not burdened by the containers, and they could not be used by the enemy.
A lightweight collapsible container, nicknamed "lug-a-lug," was also used. This container, as in the case of the five-gallon metal water container, could not be air-dropped from any appreciable height above the jungle canopy. Therefore, the unit on the ground still had to clear a landing zone. A newer container was developed consisting of several plastic inserts protected by a crushable cardboard covering. It could withstand a free fall of up to 300 feet and thus often eliminated the need to clear a landing zone. This three-gallon container proved to be very useful,
Before the commitment of Task Force REMAGEN, other innovations had been developed in Vietnam to improve aerial resupply techniques. Early in 1967, the A-22 cargo sling was employed. This device decreased the number of man-hours spent in preparing resupply items for aerial delivery, reduced the amount of handling, and allowed more sorties to be flown in a given period of time. Also, because of the insulation of the cargo bag, there was less spoilage of food. In another effort to improve aerial resupply, artillery ammunition was packed ahead of time for aerial delivery loads during periods when the demand was light, in order to allow a continuous flow during periods of heavy demand.
Inclement weather, a frequent deterrent to aerial operations in Vietnam, was combated somewhat by using ground controlled approach radar in landing zones for aerial resupply under instrument flight conditions. The procedure was developed initially at Camp Evans, a major logistic base in South Vietnam. Resupply helicopters were guided by means of a radioed vector from Da Nang and Hue Phu Bai airfields to areas above the overcast where visual flight was possible and then directed to Camp Evans. Ground controlled approach radar would then guide the helicopter as it approached touchdown. This method was also used successfully with helicopters carrying external (sling) loads. During the month of February 1968, the 228th Combat Support Helicopter Company flew over 700 hours in instrument weather conditions. Included in that figure were over

twenty missions with sling loads. Several hundred instrument approaches were made without a single mishap. The system established during Operation DELAWARE in April 1968 to provide instrument approach into the A Shau Valley is a good example of this radar technique. Over twenty aircraft could be controlled or monitored simultaneously by radar to and from the valley.
A simple expedient was developed by the infantryman to provide visual contact between air and ground elements during darkness. The M79 grenade launcher was broken open as when loading the weapon, and a light source was inserted in the breech. This practice provided a highly reliable directional signaling and marking device, which could be seen clearly by the pilot or aircraft crew but not by other persons on the ground. The operator merely pointed the light as though aiming at a target.
To reach the Laotian border area and the Khe Sanh plateau, Task Force REMAGEN had to cross over old Route 9 from Ca Lu to the border. Engineer troops had been attached to assist in this job. Company A, 7th Engineer Battalion, provided a reinforced engineer platoon, and four bulldozers were made available by the 14th Engineer Battalion and the Marine 11th Engineer Battalion. The armored vehicle launched bridges in the task force served a dual purpose. The power and traction of the vehicle made it an excellent tank retriever, when not being used in its primary role. The task force had two of these vehicles. The AVLB can launch its eighteen-meter bridge without exposing the crew to enemy fire. The launcher can then pick up the bridge on the far bank and continue along in support of the assault forces. During the operation, thirteen bypasses were constructed around destroyed bridges, the AVLB's were launched six times to span washouts and bridge abutments, and the entire road was swept for mines. Several enemy antitank mines were detected and destroyed along the route. The engineer effort was greatly simplified by using only track-laying vehicles during the operation. Wheeled vehicles of any type were prohibited.
Part of the mission of Task Force REMAGEN required the pioneering of a new trail along the Cambodian border from Route 9 south to Route 926. In heavy growth, land navigation sometimes became a problem due to limited visibility. One device used to solve this problem was a magnetic pilot compass mounted in the armored personnel carrier to maintain the approximate proper magnetic azimuth for the force.
The success of Task Force REMAGEN was described by Lieutenant Colonel Carmelo P. Milia, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, in these words:
The mission was a natural for an armored task force. The scouts reconnoitered; mech infantry moved rapidly to secure the high ground; armored

PICTURE: Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge
engineers pioneered a road; armored artillery and mortars provided continuous fire protection. When the preliminary work was completed, the tanks thrust deep into the Khe Sanh plateau reaching the Laotian border one day after crossing the LD at Calu [sic].
The 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry, presented a good example of the innovative nature of the war in Vietnam. The rugged, unpopulated territory, the enemy's nearness to its supply bases, and the large area of operation required fast-moving, independent task forces capable of aerial resupply and reinforcement.

page created 15 December 2001

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