The Viet Cong
The Viet Cong D445 Battalion: Their Story
The Viet Cong
Ernest Chamberlain – 2011
Published in Australia in 2011 by Ernest Chamberlain, Point Lonsdale VIC 3225. Copyright © Ernest Chamberlain 2011 email - email@example.com
This monograph is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. Inquiries should be made to the publisher. The author has also published: The Struggle in Iliomar: Resistance in rural East Timor; Editions - 2003, 2004 and 2008 (ISBN 9780980562309). Perjuangan di Iliomar: Perlawanan di Pedesaan di Timor-Leste, 2004 (ISBN 0-97503501-0). Faltering Steps – Independence Movements in East Timor in the 1950s and 1960s; 2005 (ISBN 0 97500350 2 9). Faltering Steps: Independence Movements in East Timor – 1940s to the early 1970s; Editions – 2007, 2008 and 2010 (ISBN 9780980562330). Rebellion, Defeat and Exile: The 1959 Uprising in East Timor; Editions - 2007 and 2009 (ISBN 9780980562316). Forgotten Men: Timorese in Special Operations during World War II, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-9805623-2-3) National Library of Australia : Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry Chamberlain, Ernest, 1944 – The Viet Cong D445 Battalion: their story. Bibliography; Index. ISBN 978-0-9805623-4-7 Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam. Vietnam War, 1961-1975 – History. Vietnam War, 1961-1975 – Participation , Australian. Dewey number: 959.7043394
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PREFACE To date, the Australian War Memorial has published two volumes of an official history on Australia’s military involvement in the Vietnam War.1 Each of the nine Australian Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) infantry battalions that served in Vietnam has produced histories of their tour – or tours, of duty. This modest work on a battalion on “the other side” will hopefully complement those publications and the official histories. This 145,000-word work presents a translation and examination of The Heroic 445 Battalion : its History and Tradition (Tiểu Đoàn 445 Anh Hùng : Lịch Sử/Truyền Thống) – ie the “445 Battalion History” published in 1991. As near as possible to a literal translation of the Vietnamese text has been attempted - without any omissions. As a result, the English prose may appear somewhat stilted in parts.2 Nevertheless, it is hoped that this work will bring an understanding of D445’s story to a wider readership. As comments on the text - and to add context, a considerable number of “Translator’s Notes” have been added as footnotes to the translation. The original footnotes (14) in the Vietnamese text have been retained and are indicated with an asterisk eg “6 *”.The “Translator’s Notes” include detailed references to enable interested readers to readily access primary source material – much of it now available via the Internet. Many of these comments relate to other Vietnamese histories that have somewhat different accounts of events - including engagements with the Australian forces eg: the “Đồng Nai History – 1986”, the “Đồng Nai Monograph – 2001”, the “Military Region 7 History – 2006”, the “History of the 5th Infantry Division – 2005”3, the “Long Đất District History – 1986”, “The Minh Đạm Base” – 2006, the “History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter – 2009”, and a major Vietnamese work on the War: “The History of the Anti-American Resistance War of National Salvation – 1997/1999”. As Part II of this work, a series of annexes have been offered that cover a range of aspects of probable interest. These annexes include translated extracts from the 5th Infantry Division History - 2005, the organisation of 445 Battalion in mid-1966, casualties at the Battle of Long Tân, outline biographies of key 445 Battalion cadre, and information on the Battalion’s Party organisation and activities – that also includes age and social data on the Battalion’s personnel. The work includes a comprehensive index. Many of the comments on the 445 Battalion History are based on an examination of captured North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Việt Cộng (VC) documents and the debriefs of prisoners and ralliers (ie defectors). During the Vietnam War, this material was collated centrally by the Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam (CIC-V) in Sài Gòn
McNeill, I., To Long Tân – The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966, Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, St Leonards, 1993; McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the Offensive, Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, Crows Nest, 2003. The third volume – Fighting to the finish, is planned for publication in April 2012. 2 The Vietnamese text uses “…” as an equivalent for the English “etc” and also for pauses – and this original “…” expression has been retained in the translation of the 445 Battalion History – ie Part I. 3 A Vietnamese language copy was provided by Colonel (Retd) Bruce Davies. Unlike the 445 Battalion History – 1991, the 5th Division History – 2005 relates that the Việt Cộng forces at the Battle of Long Tân were not fully prepared for the engagement against the Australian forces on 18 August 1966, see Annex I.
– with the captured documents processed by its Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC).4 A very large quantity of CIC-V material is held by The Vietnam Center and Archive (VCAT) at the Texas Tech University, Lubbock – Texas, United States. Without access to the records held by the VCAT, it would have been very difficult to comment meaningfully on the text of the 445 Battalion History. Accordingly. access to the records held by Texas Tech University is gratefully acknowledged and noted in this work as “VCAT” material. Among other issues, the text of the 445 Battalion History and access to VCAT/CDEC material has enabled the resolution of several minor queries on the Battle of Long Tân fought on 18 August 1966 in Phước Tuy Province. The two volumes of the official Australian history on the Vietnam War5 have cited Nguyễn Văn Kiềm (Năm Kiềm)6 as the commander of D445 Battalion at the Battle – based on interviews by a senior Australian military historian7 with Kiềm in Vietnam in June 1988. However, Kiềm was not present at the Battle.8 Subsequently, this error has been repeated in several other published works and on Internet websites. Kiềm also met and guided visiting Australian dignitaries, and participated in other interviews in which he described the fighting at Long Tân.9 Another interesting aspect is that while the combat effectiveness of NVA/VC forces was seriously hampered by high malarial rates, malaria is not mentioned at all in the 445 Battalion history. At Annex J, this aspect is examined in relation to 275 Regiment – the major Việt Cộng element at the Battle of Long Tân on 18 August 1966. 445 Battalion still exists. In late February 2011, a meeting of officials and the Liaison Committee for a proposed D445 Memorial determined that a stela and memorial would be completed by December 2011. A more comprehensive edition of this work is planned following a further research visit to Vietnam and the examination of additional captured and recovered documents of the 1969-1975 period. Ernie Chamberlain July 2011
At the Australian Task Force base in Núi Đất, captured documents were processed by the Detachment of the 1st Divisional Intelligence Unit before on-forwarding to CDEC in Sài Gòn. 5 McNeill, I., To Long Tan , op.cit., 1993; McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the Offensive, op.cit., 2003. 6 Biographies of key 445 Battalion cadre are included at Annex B. Almost all NVA/VC cadre, soldiers and infrastructure personnel had two-word nicknames/aliases/pseudonyms (tự, bí danh). Invariably, these comprised a number (from 2 to 10) – or occasionally “Út” (meaning “youngest”), followed by their given name. Party members sometimes also had a secure cover-name – ie an additional “full” Vietnamese name of three words. 7 The transcripts of interviews conducted in the mid-1980s are held in the Official Historians’ Collection in the Australian War Memorial (AWM), and several are not yet accessible as they are still within the “closed period” of 30 years – advice to the author by the AWM Research Centre, RCIS26101, 9 April 2010. 8 At the time of the Battle of Long Tân, Nguyễn Văn Kiềm was the commander of the Châu Đức District Unit, and he did not join 445 Battalion until late 1967/early 1968 - see: Chamberlain, E. P., Research Note 23, “Vietnam War: Commander of D445 Battalion at Long Tan – Not “Nguyen Van Kiem” but “Bui Quang Chanh”, 23 September 2010 (to the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Army History Unit). 9 Including, for example, the television documentary and DVD: “Long Tan – The True Story: - Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Australian Broadcasting Commission/Film Australia, Lindfield, 1993.
CONTENTS Part I The Heroic 445 Battalion : its History and Tradition – an English translation of Tiểu Đoàn 445 Anh Hùng : Lịch Sử/Truyền Thống, with translator’s notes. Chapter IChapter II – Concealed Among the Forces of the Sects. Coming of Age during the Concerted Uprising Movement and Attacking the “Strategic Hamlets”. Chapter III – “We Will Fight and Defeat any Enemy”. Chapter IV – The Attack on the Enemy during the Mậu Thân Spring Phase in Bà Rịa. Chapter V – Destroying the Australian Military’s Bunker and Barrier-Shield Strategy; Holding Ground Staunchly; Sticking to the People and Standing Firm in the Main Areas. Chapter VI – Towards the Day of Total Victory. Chapter VII – A Confident and Deserved Victory. Part II Annex A – Senior Cadre: D445 Battalion. Annex B – Key Cadre: D445 Battalion – Outline Biographies. Annex C – D445 Battalion: Strength Figures. Annex D – Probable Organisation of D445 Battalion - Mid-1966. Annex E – The Battle of Long Tân: Casualties. Annex F – The Party in D445 Battalion. Annex G – D445 Command and Political Reports – mid-1966. Annex H – Higher Headquarters. Annex I – The History of the 5th Infantry Division (1965 – 2005): Extracts. Annex J – 275 Main Force Regiment. Annex K – D440 Local Force Battalion. Annex L – Long Đất District History – 1986: Extracts. Annex M – The Minh Đạm Base – 2006: Extracts. Annex N – The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter – 2009: Extracts. Bibliography Index
This Giấy Khen – “Letter of Appreciation” was awarded to Trịnh Văn Liêm – a section commander in the 2nd Company of D445 Battalion. Liêm was born in “Long Phước village, Châu Đức [sic] District, Bà Rịa Province.” The Letter recognises his bravery and other achievements in the battle at Phước Hải. Dated 10 January 1967, the Letter is signed by the D445 Battalion Political Officer, Đổ Văn Liên (CDEC Log 051407-67). Subsequently, while serving as the Political Officer of the 2nd Company, Trịnh Văn Liêm was killed in an Australian ambush at Cà Thi (Xuyên Mộc) on 31 December 1970 (see footnote 262.)
The Heroic 445 Battalion : its History and Tradition
Tiểu Đoàn 445 Anh Hùng : Lịch Sử/Truyền Thống Nguyễn Thanh Tùng (ed), published by the Military Headquarters of Đồng Nai Province, Đồng Nai, 1991 (Bộ Chỉ Huy Quân Sự Tỉnh Đồng Nai, Đồng Nai, 1991) Compilation Guidance: Đồng Nai Province Military Headquarters Major General Nguyễn Thanh Tùng – Commander Colonel Đỗ Tiến Đậm – Deputy Commander responsible for Historical Science Colonel Nguyễn Công Hạnh – former Deputy Commander responsible for Historical Science Implementation Historical Science Section Staff Department Compilation Phạm Thanh Quang1 Participation in Document Production Lê Rẫn Đàm Đức Thung
Phạm Thanh Quang is cited by the Đồng Nai Library (Biên Hòa) as the principal author.
Shaped and developed at the peak of our uprising and bearing arms against the enemy in order to liberate the Fatherland, 445 Battalion was a core armed force from its inception – a fist and a driving force in Biên Hòa-Bà Rịa.2 Throughout the war, 445 Battalion fought on this extremely dangerous and critical battlefield under constant enemy attack. Under the leadership of the Party and shielded and protected by the mountains and rivers of the Fatherland, in all situations the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion firmly grasped their weapons to confront the invading American troops, the Australian vassals and the puppets – and defeating their many plots and tricks, we inflicted heavy casualties and panic upon them. Throughout the stages of the fighting that were full of hardship and sacrifice, 445 Battalion achieved many great feats-of-arms and combat exploits. These are memories that cannot fade in the minds of the cadre and soldiers - nor be forgotten by the cadre, Party members, and the people in the two provinces of Biên Hòa and Bà Rịa. The Battalion displayed intelligence and resolve, a will to struggle, and confidence and belief in the Party – and has been worthy of the noble accolade: Hero Unit of the People’s Armed Forces. To introduce our readers to the Heroic 445 Battalion, the Đồng Nai Publishing House has produced this work. While it is possibly inadequate - and has its shortcomings, we hope that it satisfies in some part the long wait by the cadre, the soldiers and our fellowcountrymen who have been associated with 445 Battalion - as well as the wider readership. Đồng Nai Publishing House
Translator’s (E. Chamberlain) Note: Bà Rịa Province – the Sài Gòn Government’s Phước Tuy Province, was 445 Battalion’s principal area of operations. Occasionally, the Battalion also operated in Long Khánh Province and Bình Tuy Province – respectively to the immediate north and northeast of Phước Tuy/Bà Rịa Province. Phước Tuy Province was about 55 kilometres from east-to-west and about 35 kilometres from north-to-south (an area of about 1,958 sq km – about 83% of the size of the Australian Captial Territory). The Province capital - Phước Lễ/Bà Rịa Town, was about 110 kilometres by road southeast of Sài Gòn via Route 15 (nowadays Route 51). In 1967, the population of the Province was about 103,000 - including Bà Rịa Town’s population of about 15,600; and was 112,683 in January 1970. An historical summary of Phước Tuy Province from the late 18th century can be found in O’Brien, M., Conscripts and Regulars – with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995, pp.14-22. A detailed political history of the Phước Tuy-Vũng Tàu region from 1930 can be found in Liên đoàn Lao động tỉnh Bà Rịa Vũng Tàu, Lịch sử Phong Trào Công Nhân, Viên Chức, Lao Động va Hoạt Động Công Đoàn Bà Rịa Vũng Tàu Giai Đoạn 1930-2006 – The History of the Workers’, Public Servants’ and Labourers’ Movement and Trade Union Activities in the Period 1930-2006, Vũng Tàu, 2011.
CONTENTS Pages Chapter I Chapter II – Concealed Among the Forces of the Sects. 1-5
Coming of Age during the Concerted Uprising 5-23 Movement and Attacking the “Strategic Hamlets”. 23-54 54-63
Chapter III – “We Will Fight and Defeat any Enemy”. Chapter IV – The Attack on the Enemy during the Mậu Thân Spring Phase in Bà Rịa. Chapter V – Destroying the Australian Military’s Bunker and Barrier-Shield Strategy; Holding Ground Staunchly; Sticking to the People and Standing Firm in the Main Areas. Chapter VI – Towards the Day of Total Victory. Chapter VII – A Confident and Deserved Victory.
(A Việt Cộng soldier armed with a MAT-49 submachine gun)
CHAPTER I CONCEALED AMONG THE FORCES OF THE SECTS On 20 July 1954, the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam was signed. The long and heroic resistance war by our people against the French colonialists had been completely victorious.3 Our country was temporarily divided into two regions: North and South, with the calm Bến Hải River on the 17th parallel as the border. The North had been completely liberated. The South was temporarily controlled by our adversaries. Almost all the revolutionary cadre and soldiers in the South had to regroup to the North (in accordance with the Agreement). Our happiness at our coming together was still fresh when this sadness of division broke upon us. However, our countrymen and soldiers in the South believed that - in a not too distant time, the North and the South would be one. In July 1954, the American imperialists installed Ngô Đình Diệm as the Prime Minister of the puppet government, and immediately leapt to annex the South and elbow aside the French-appointed officials from the puppet regime. In November 1954, the American imperialists appointed General Collins4 to Sài Gòn as an Ambassador with the aim of fulfilling the six-point plan of the Eisenhower Government. In defiance of the international agreement, the Americans and Diệm shamelessly sabotaged the Geneva Agreement. They savagely suppressed the revolutionary people. It was a time of arrests, imprisonment and deportation. Blood flowed and heads fell – all of the South was faced with the Machiavellian schemes and cruelty of the new enemy. Apart from purging the revolutionary organisations, the Americans and Diệm launched many campaigns to attack the forces of the pro-French religious sects: the Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo and the Bình Xuyên. At the end of 1955, over 4,000 Bình Xuyên troops in the Rừng Sác5 (Long Thành) were attacked and dispersed by Diệm’s forces. In the face of the enemy’s schemes and tricks, the revolutionary cadre remaining in Biên Hòa and Bà Rịa had to revise their strategy and activities. The Bà Rịa Province Committee – whose cover-name at that time was “Miss Hai”, advocated a daring policy to win over the few disintegrating Bình Xuyên units in order to take their weapons and organise long-term armed revolutionary resistance forces.
Translator Note: For a brief history of Việt Minh activity post-World War II to 1954 in Phước Tuy Province - see Lưu Dương, “Những chặng đường phát triển của lực lượng vũ trang Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu” - “The Stages of Development of the Armed Forces Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu”, Cơ Quan của Đảng Bộ Đảng Cộng Sản Việt Nam Tỉnh Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, Vũng Tàu, 17 December 2009; and Lịch sử Đảng bộ xã Hòa Long (1930-2005) - The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930-2005), 25 April 2009 (see Annex N). 4 Translator’s Note: General J. Lawton Collins was appointed as the United States (US) President’s “Special Envoy” to Sài Gòn with the diplomatic rank of “Ambassador”. He arrived in Sài Gòn on 8 November and replaced the US Ambassador in the Republic of Vietnam Donald R. Heath (June 1952 – November 1954). 5 Translator’s Note: For the early history of the Bình Xuyên – ie to late 1955, see Chapter 19 in Department of Army, Minority Groups in the Republic of Vietnam, Pamphlet 550-105, Washington, 1966. The Rừng Sác/Rừng Sát lies about 32 kilometres south-southeast of Sài Gòn and comprises about 1,250 square kilometres of tidal swamp. Its population in 1968 was about 18,000. The Lòng Tàu River runs through the Rừng Sác and connects Vũng Tàu/South China Sea and Sài Gòn. For a very detailed US report (circa mid1968) on the Rừng Sác and the Việt Cộng Đoàn 10 Group (997-strong, including 211 guerrillas) see Rung Sat Special Zone Intelligence Study – VCAT Item No. 4000105007. For a comprehensive history of the conflict in the Rừng Sác to 1975 – in Vietnamese, see Hồ Sĩ Thành, Đặc Khu Rừng Sác, Nhà Xuất Bản Trẻ, 2003. See also the following footnote 127. 1 ATF conducted its “first combat assault” and a “search and destroy” operation (Operation Hayman) into Long Sơn island – adjacent to the Rừng Sác, in the period 8-12 November 1966 – 1 ATF Opord 1-14-66, 4 November 1966, AWM95, 1/4/16.
2 In Nhơn Trạch – in the Long Thành area, there was still a Bình Xuyên company led by Nguyễn Văn Phú as company commander. The company had been dispersed by Diệm’s forces, but there were still about 17-18 personnel. Phú was frightened and was preparing to surrender to the Diệm regime. Following a directive from above, comrades Ba Hóng and Ba Đắc – the two Party members assigned from Nhơn Trạch District, won over Company Commander Phú. The problem was how to incorporate our people and develop this force – and whom to choose ? On receipt of the higher directive, Nguyễn Văn Bảy – the Party member from Phước Khánh village, lost sleep worrying to find an optimum solution. He personally made a number of decisions to resolve this important responsibility. The 15th of December 1955 was a very bright moon-lit night – with the Milky Way like an immense and brilliant road traversing the heavens. From the wharf at Lô Đất – Nhà Bè, a small boat appeared cleaving the water silently and carrying Nguyễn Văn Bảy accompanied by a young woman. The boat also carried a small group of strong young men including Năm Ninh – Bảy’s son, and Nguyễn Tấn Thành, his grandson. There were silent and regretful farewells – no one spoke a sentence, but the perplexed mood had a spark of hope. The boat continued to quietly and secretly cross the Lòng Tàu River skimming past the enemy posts on the river’s banks. At 2am, the boat reached Rạch Bàng, the Chà Là River and – close to dawn, arrived at Sở Dừa (Phước Khánh) and delivered the group of youths to Ba Hóng and Ba Đắc (who were waiting at the agreed location). Bảy grasped Năm Ninh’s hand and, shaking it strongly, said: “Now you are not only my son, but you are a revolutionary soldier ! Strive to listen - Năm ! Strive to listen, all of you ! ” “Please rest assured, father !” Năm Ninh replied briefly, then he and his companions alighted and watched the boat with Bảy and the girl move away from the bank unnoticed ! On 16 December 1955, the first three revolutionary soldiers were incorporated into the Bình Xuyên force. Seven days later, Ba Hóng and Ba Đắc guided Bảy Cơ, Minh, Sáu Sang, Hai Rổ, Hường, Tửu, Hai Xuân, Tư Ù, Mười Tùng … to Phú’s Company. In this way, in the period of only one month, 15 revolutionary youth were incorporated into the Bình Xuyên force. Following this, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh (Ba Thanh) - the first Communist Party member, was placed in Phú’s Company in the position of its second-incommand. Nguyễn Văn Phú and a number of his Bình Xuyên men had not yet been won over completely to the Revolution. However, faced with the threat of disintegration, they were forced to cooperate in order to fight Diệm. Our people comprised half the strength of the Bình Xuyên Company. After convincing Phú, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh quickly arranged for the force to take additional weapons from Phú’s storehouse in the Rừng Sác. The weapons had been placed in three drums that had been heavily smeared with grease and placed on a small watch-tower. The weapons were sufficient to equip over 30 personnel - and included three medium machineguns (American) and a 60mm mortar. The armed group was very well manned and armed, but still without a common aim. All the operations of the group at this time were termed as being conducted by: the armed forces of the sect. Immediately after the first phase of strengthening, reorganising and stabilisation, in about February 1956 the armed forces of the sect prepared an attack on Long Thành to kill Second Lieutenant Hải and Lâm – the village chief of Phước Thọ, together with another wicked second lieutenant in the region. These three thugs were widely notorious in the Phước Thọ (Long Thành) area and were tried and punished – an initiative that elated the local people. On 4 March 1956, Ngô Đình Diệm organised an election for the puppet National Assembly. In support of the strong wave of struggle by the people, the armed sect group was dispersed in several elements to sabotage the election – employing the 60mm mortar to
3 shell Long Thành Town, firing medium machineguns at the ballot boxes in Phước Lý village and attacking the post at Phước Khánh etc … . With these operations, the Long Thành area was the only place in the Province that experienced armed activities in opposition to Ngô Đình Diệm’s National Assembly elections. The enemy was not able to conduct elections in many hamlets and villages. In this series of operations, Nguyễn Văn Phú was killed in action. Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh then assumed command. With a clear understanding of the unit’s heavy responsibilities, he quickly consolidated the force and allowed a number of Bình Xuyên who were in weak health or who had not yet been won over to the Revolution, to return to their families. At that exact time, Bảy Môn and Tư Đại – the Bình Xuyên superiors, appointed Mười Đôi to replace Phú. However, Nguyễn Quốc Thanh remained in command. Although Mười Đôi revealed his intention to upset matters, he was alone ! Nguyễn Quốc Thanh cleverly suggested that Mười Đôi command a Bình Xuyên unit in Rừng Dòng (Châu Pha – Hắc Dịch). In this way, all of the weapons and equipment for half of a Bình Xuyên company fell into the hands of the Revolution. From that time, these armed forces took the title: armed self-defence force. In October 1956, the armed self-defence force received a directive from the Provincial Committee to cross Route 15 6*, occupy a base in the Hắc Dịch, and take the title: armed propaganda unit. On 2 December 1956, the American-Diệm “Tân Hiệp Prison” was attacked and broken wide open. Over 500 revolutionary cadre escaped from detention and, like birds, flew off in all directions to the areas that had continued to operate. In the Hắc Dịch base, the armed propaganda unit welcomed hundreds of comrades who had escaped from prison. Following this, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh received an order from the Provincial Committee to continue in command of the armed propaganda unit and return to the Rừng Sác to prepare to guide a group of cadre who had escaped from prison in the Western Region to cross the Lòng Tàu River to Gò Công and safely return to Military Region 9. After a campaign of attacks by the sect forces, the Americans and Diệm launched a campaign titled: “Trương Tấn Bửu”7 - employing main-forces, the Civil Defence Force8 and the police in coordination with the “Denounce the Communists” groups, to attack and destroy the revolutionary organisations in the Eastern Nam Bộ Region9. Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa was the main target of their attacks. Hundreds of cadre and countrymen were captured, exiled, beaten and savagely murdered. The enemy was increasingly revealing his true cruel nature. In the face of this situation, the Bà Rịa Provincial Committee continued to send personnel to join the Bình Xuyên force stationed in the Rừng Dòng in order to build up the armed force. In January 1957, Comrade Lê Minh Hà (Tám Hà) – Deputy Secretary of the Provincial Committee, directly appointed Comrade Vũ Tâm (Sáu Tâm) to meet with the prison escapees and to escort Comrades: Ba Liên10, Tấn, Vinh, Bổn … who had just escaped from the Tân Hiệp Prison, to join the Bình Xuyên unit - then at Châu Pha and
* Nowadays titled Route 51 (Sài Gòn – Vũng Tàu). Translator’s Note: Trương Tấn Bửu (1752-1827) was a general of the Nguyễn dynasty. 8 Translator’s Note: The “Bảo An” – Civil Defence Force/Civil Guard (also translated as “Provincial Guard”) were established in 1955. They were a local force who were both armed and uniformed – and were replaced by the Regional Forces in 1964. 9 Translator’s Note: The Nam Bộ Region constituted that area of Vietnam south of the Central Highlands equating to the French colonial “Cochin China” region. 10 Translator’s Note: For a biography of “Ba Liên” - ie Đổ Văn Liên (real name Đỗ Văn Chương/Đồng Văn Chương), who became the political officer of 445 Battalion, see Annex B – Key Cadre.
4 commanded by Mười Đôi. Since leaving Nguyễn Quốc Thanh’s unit and taking charge of the Bình Xuyên unit there, Mười Đôi had continued to reveal that he had not been won over to the Revolution – and only fought for his own personal aims, and liked to eat and over-indulge … . Although they understood Mười Đôi’s aims and attitude, the Provincial Committee still directed that Mười Đôi be treated in a respectful manner. The lives of our cadre and soldiers were still very difficult – and they were forced to eat vegetables and gruel. Each day however, we continued to provide Mười Đôi with a litre of liquour and two packs of “Cô Táp” cigarettes … . At the same time, the Provincial Committee continued to send additional cadre, Party members and youth to Mười Đôi’s unit – including, in this phase, Comrades: Hai Thuận, Năm Kiên, Năm Nhân (Trung), Dậu, Ân, Yên …, and slowly our numbers placed in the unit reach 30 comrades. A Party Chapter was established comprising nine Party members and a Chapter Committee of three comrades - with Vũ Tâm as the secretary and Ba Liên and Hai Thuận as members of the Chapter Committee. At this time, we had clearly enunciated the Party’s position and path and the responsibilities of the unit to a number of the Bình Xuyên personnel in order that they might firm their ideals and resolve when the time came to oppose the Americans and Diệm and save the nation. We allowed Mười Đôi and a number of his men who lacked the revolutionary spirit and were in weak health to return to their families in accord with their wishes. So, in the Bà Rịa Province area, two armed propaganda units had come into being - and these forces were the predecessors of 445 Battalion. To achieve the directive of the Provincial Committee, at the end of 1957, the armed propaganda unit led by Comrade Vũ Tâm attacked the “Bàu Lâm Forced Resettlement Camp” – which, in fact, was Diệm’s “Civil Service Training School” in Phước Tuy.11 The aim of destroying the Bàu Lâm camp was to both break up this disguised military organisation and to acquire finances and solve some of the difficulties in the basic life of the Province. The secret elements of the Party Chapter in Bàu Lâm village had closely studied the enemy situation and provided information to the armed propaganda unit – including on the enemy’s operational methods. The armed propaganda unit then prepared an ambush on the enemy. At 3pm, when the director’s jeep had just reached the gate of the camp, it was struck by a sudden volley of shots. The driver of the vehicle was killed on the spot. We assaulted and captured the director and seized 500,000 piastres (in Indochina currency). In the following days, the secret Bàu Lâm Party Chapter mobilized the people to struggle and to strike from their work. The Bàu Lâm Forced Resettlement Camp in Bà Rịa – a disguised Diệm military organisation, disintegrated. At the end of 1957, the Bà Rịa armed propaganda unit killed Cỏn – a wicked thug who was widely notorious in the Hòa Long region. He was a former member of the Party Chapter and commander of the Hòa Long village public security element during the antiFrench period but, in an act of betrayal, he had surrendered to the enemy. Also at this time, the armed propaganda unit was given the task to strike the post at Bưng Riếng – and to liberate the two villages of Bưng Riếng and Bình Châu. However, although having studied the battlefield, the unit was ordered to cancel the operation on the Bưng Riếng post – and implementation of the plan to kill the wicked thug was specifically forbidden. The directives prohibiting the above combat operations upset a number of the men in the armed propaganda unit. Many of them asked the leadership: “Why can the enemy
Translator’s Note: On 22 October 1956, the Sài Gòn Government (ie the Republic of Vietnam) retitled Bà Rịa Province as “Phước Tuy” – which included the adjacent Cần Giờ District and Vũng Tàu. However, the communist side preferred the earlier title of “Bà Rịa Province”. While the Province capital was officially titled “Phước Lễ”, it was commonly referred to as “Bà Rịa Town” by both sides. Cần Giờ District and Vũng Tàu were subsequently detached from the Province which thereafter had an area of 1,958 sq km – about 55km from east to west and 35km from north to south (ie about 83% of the size of the Australian Capital Territory).
5 attack us, but we’re not allowed to attack them ? Why are we armed with weapons, but must stand by and watch the enemy kill our countrymen and comrades ?”
CHAPTER II COMING OF AGE DURING THE CONCERTED UPRISING MOVEMENT AND ATTACKING THE “STRATEGIC HAMLETS” With the coming into force of the American-Diệm Law “10/59”, the Americans and Diệm killed people by guillotine ! Guillotines were taken everywhere. Thousands and tens of thousands of nation-loving people in the South were decapitated by the guillotine ! Countrymen in the South, countrymen in Biên Hòa and Bà Rịa, could no longer believe in the “General Consultative Election to Unite the Nation” that had been determined by the Geneva Agreement. Hundreds of political struggles opposing the Americans and Diệm arose in Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Xuân Lộc – and the rubber-growing regions. However, these hundreds of political struggles were stamped out with bayonets and gun barrels – and great grief and death ensued across the land. In January 1959, the 15th Conference of the Executive Committee of the Party’s Politburo was convened. The Conference affirmed: “… The fundamental way forward for the Vietnamese revolution in the South is through an uprising to secure the government in the hands of the people … It is essential to employ the strength and political force of the masses – in coordination with the armed elements …”.12* The Central Committee Conference stressed: With their bellicose nature, the American imperialists can intervene militarily to recover the situation. In those circumstances, the uprising will have to adapt to a protracted armed struggle. Resolution 15 of the Executive Committee of the Party’s Politburo was like a brilliant beacon showing the way forward for the battlefield in the South. The two provincial armed propaganda units were concentrated in the Hắc Dịch base area to deeply study Resolution 15. Comrade Năm Hoa – a Military Region cadre, disseminated the Resolution. Listening to each section of the Resolution, our men leapt up with happiness – and then embraced one another in a circle, and their tears overflowed. They cried with joy at being able to take up their weapons and kill the enemy. Having studied Resolution 15, the Provincial Committee and the Eastern Region Military Committee13 decided to merge the two provincial armed propaganda units and create a concentrated unit for military training, the study of sapper and reconnaissance tactics, and armed propaganda operations in order to support the political struggle of the masses. In February 1960, the 40th Company – the first concentrated mobile unit in Biên Hòa and Bà Rịa in the Anti-American/National Salvation period, was formed under the direct leadership of the Province and the Eastern Region Military Committee. The 40th
* The Vietnam Military History Institute, The Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Country, p.52. 13 Translator’s Note: The Eastern Region - ie “Miền Đông”, was the eastern half of “Nam Bộ”. As noted, Nam Bộ comprised those provinces in the Republic of Vietnam from the Central Highlands to the south. A Military “Ban” – literally “Section”, has been translated as “Committee” at echelons above Province. A history of Việt Cộng political geography in the South from 1954 is detailed in United States Mission in Vietnam, Viet-Cong Political Geography of South Viet-Nam – March 1971, Viet-Nam Documents and Research Notes No. 93, March 1971. The organisation of the Eastern Nam Bộ Region changed five times in the period 1967-1972 – see Communist Territorial Organization in the "Eastern Nam Bộ" and the SaigonCholon-Gia-Dinh from 1966 to Date – VCAT Item No. 2310510003.
6 Company (C40) was commanded by Comrade Lê Thành Công (Sáu Thịnh) – a cadre of the staff branch of the Eastern Region Military Committee. Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh – the first Communist Party member to join the Bình Xuyên force, was appointed as the Company’s political officer (C40 was officially established in August 195814 – but to maintain secrecy it was only officially announced in February 1960. At its inauguration, C40 was given the title: Liberation Force of the Bà Rịa – Long Khánh region). At the end of February 1960, the Provincial Committee and the Eastern Region Military Committee decided to select the 40th Company to attack the enemy at the Bình Ba plantation in order to support the rubber workers in the region to rise up and kill the tyrants, destroy the oppressors, and give sovereignty to the people of the Bà Rịa – Long Khánh region. The first company-level attack in the Province was urgently prepared. The Bình Ba camp lay on Inter-Provincial Route 2, 18 kilometres north of the town of Bà Rịa. At Bình Ba, the enemy had employed the Civil Defence Force ((Bảo An)) combined with a Self-Defence Corps platoon ((Dân Vệ15)) and many sections of gendarmerie ((hiến binh)) to block access to Route 2, to operate deep into our base areas, oppress the struggle movement of the rubber workers and to defend the Bình Ba rubber plantation16 – one of a number of large French colonial plantations. The enemy had constructed three large posts, many blockhouses - and the strong defensive works were surrounded by a fence. With the support of the rubber workers – who drew sketches and knew the enemy situation, on the night of 30 March 1960, C40 deployed to attack the Bình Ba camp. At the time, C40’s organisation comprised two platoons and an administrative staff section (C cell). Comrade Lê Hồng Sơn – a platoon commander, led one assaulting spearhead while comrade Hương – a platoon commander, led another. The administrative section was also responsible for an attack axis. Within 24 hours, all three assault groups had closed-in to the objective. When the two medium machineguns in the two principal attacking spearheads had just fired their resounding bursts of fire, grenades and explosive charges flew thick-and-fast into the enemy camp. At the same time, our soldiers assaulted one and all. Comrade Mười Hương led a spearhead that rushed straight towards the enemy headquarters. The enemy were caught by surprise, did not have enough time to respond, and quickly disintegrated. Entering the enemy headquarters, Mười Hương put aside the grenade in his hand in order to strike a match to light a lamp (as it was very dark). He then suddenly remembered that the pin of the American “duck’s bill” grenade17 had been removed. At that moment, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh and many of our men also entered the area. Comrade Mười Hương only had the time to think to swiftly grab the grenade and rush outside. However, as he reached the door the grenade exploded. The grenade tore open part of Mười Hương’s stomach, and another two comrades were wounded.
Translator’s Note: According to the “Đồng Nai History - 1986”: “In the middle of 1958, at the Suối Quýt T-junction, the armed forces of Bà Rịa led by Vũ Tâm and the Long Thành (Biên Hòa ) group led by Nguyễn Quốc Thanh united as one unit and took the title of the 40th Unit ((bộ đội)) – with a strength of almost 30 … Subsequently, they established a number of bases at Phước Thái, Cẩm Mỹ, Gia Ray, Vũ Đắc, Định Quán, Xuyên Mộc … Footnote 1: The Commander of the 40th Unit was Lê Thành Công and the Nguyễn Quốc Thanh was the Deputy Commander.” - Phan Ngọc Danh, Trần Quang Toại & Phạm Van Hy, Đồng Nai 30 Năm Chiến Tranh Giải Phóng (1945-1975) - The 30-year Liberation Struggle in Đồng Nai (1945-1975), Nhà Xuất Bản Đồng Nai, Đồng Nai, 1986, pp.86-87. 15 Translator’s Note: The Dân Vệ were replaced by the Popular Forces (PF) in 1964. 16 Translator’s Note: The principal plantation in the area was the French-owned Gallia plantation. 17 Translator’s Note: Either the US Mk I or Mk II fragmentation grenade.
7 Comrade Mười Hương was the first of C40’s soldiers to be heroically sacrificed while saving the lives of his companions-in-arms. The heroic revolutionary qualities of this cadre platoon commander exemplified the first military exploit of the Province’s first concentrated unit. In coordination with our troops, the rubber plantation workers lit torches, beat drums and struck wooden bells to hunt down the enemy soldiers – and killed many wicked thugs including Nuôi, a thug who was widely notorious in the Bình Ba region. The victory at Bình Ba was not large in terms of wiping out the enemy’s strength or its means of war-fighting, but it strongly supported and mobilized the political struggle of the rubber workers. Also – the movement spread out from there, with all the people of the Province rising up, and subsequently the “three spearheads” form of attack was utilized throughout the countryside. Following the Bình Ba victory, the 40th Company continued to attack the enemy in the plantations and the villages in the Route 2 region such as: Ngãi Giao, Xuân Sơn, Xà Bang, Hắc Dịch … . The rubber plantation workers and the people used sticks and canes, swords, rubber-tapping knives … to rise up and kill the thugs and destroy the enemy oppressors – thus becoming masters of many villages and hamlets contiguous to our base areas. From then on, the Hắc Dịch region became a secure base area for the Province, the rubber-growing districts and Châu Đức throughout the whole campaign to oppose the Americans and save the nation. Enlightened by the Party’s Politburo Resolution 15 and emulating the Concerted Uprising by the people of Bến Tre and the whole of the South, the Party organisations in Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa rose up to seize mastery of the villages and hamlets adjacent to War Zone D (Biên Hòa) and along Routes 2, 23 and 52 (Bà Rịa). The political struggle expanded in many places after our battle victory at Bình Ba – and, in the uprisings by the masses of the people, hundreds of youth volunteered to join the armed revolutionary forces. The revolutionary momentum of the attacks signaled a comprehensive change. The political struggle developed widely in the regions of the Province, demanding the support of the armed forces. In April 1960, the Provincial Committee and the Eastern Region Military Committee decided to establish the 45th Company. Personnel and weapons – and especially the cadre personnel, were shared with the 40th Company to provide a core element. Consequently, in the Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh region, there were then two companies as the concentrated mobile force for the Province. The 40th Company was commanded by Comrade Sáu Thịnh, with Comrade Ba Đại as its political officer. The 45th Company was led by Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh, and Comrade Ba Hà was the political officer. The two company commanders18 were members of the Provincial Committee and held very important positions in the Provincial Military Section.19* The 40th Company was stationed to the east of the Route 2 area (Mây Tàu [sic] – Xuyên Mộc) with responsibilities for armed propaganda in the villages in the coastal area and the region of Routes 23 and 52. The 45th Company was located west of Route 2 and operated as a mobile element to destroy a number of the enemy’s concentrated forces and
Translator’s Note: Việt Cộng personnel did not have formal military ranks or insignia. Rather, they were referred to by the functional title of their position. Generically, they were also referred to as “cán bộ” (cadre – ie officer-ranking) or “chiến sĩ” (combatant or soldier). Prior to 1958, the People’s Army of Vietnam (ie the North Vietnamese Army – NVA) did not have rank insignia. Until the early 1970s, infiltrating NVA personnel routinely discarded their rank insignia - although some were still referred to by their NVA ranks – ie lieutenant, major etc. 19 * Comrade Sáu Thịnh was concurrently the head of the Provincial Military Section. Comrade Ba Thanh was the deputy of the Provincial Military Section. Translator’s Note: Lê Thành Công (Sáu Thịnh) was also known as Lê Minh Thịnh.
8 to defend the Hắc Dịch base area while conducting armed propaganda and supporting the political struggle of the people in a number of villages and hamlets on Routes 2 and 15. In May 1960, the 40th Company coordinated with our fifth-column agents to destroy a puppet commando section led by the wicked thug – Tài, who was the most widely notorious in the region. They had killed 30 former resistance personnel and had attacked, injured and crippled over 70 people. This commando section had been dispatched to Xuyên Mộc by the Phước Tuy Sector.20 Comrade Sáu Chiến21 was our underground agent in the Self-Defence Corps ((Dân Vệ)) post at Gò Cà. Chín Tờ was the one who had directly proselytized and educated Sáu Chiến from being a Self-Defence Corps soldier to becoming our clandestine revolutionary agent. Sáu Chiến provided a lot of important news on the enemy to us and, on this occasion, directly coordinated with the 40th Company to kill Tài and his commando unit. Having firmly grasped the operational methods of the puppet commando unit, Sáu Chiến advised the 40th Company on how to develop a plan to destroy the enemy – while, at the same time, telling Tài that he could guide him to where “there were Việt Cộng”22. At 7am, the whole commando section - led by Sáu Chiến and Tài, fell into the 40th Company’s ambush (at a place that had been coordinated with Sáu Chiến). Tài was holding on fast to Sáu Chiến’s belt – so close that he was always within half a step of Sáu Chiến. How could we guarantee that Sáu Chiến’s life would be safe ? The only way was to separate Sáu Chiến far from Tài. When Sáu Chiến and Tài were only a few tens of metres away, the medium machinegun of our forward blocking group fired a short volley over the heads of Sáu Chiến and Tài. Tài moved very quickly. He dropped down close to the ground and shouted for his soldiers to take up defensive positions. Like lightning, Sáu Chiến moved away from where Tài was lying. At the same time, our soldiers rushed out and fought hand-to-hand with the enemy. Tài and the commando section resisted stubbornly, and a few of our soldiers became casualties. However, after a few minutes of fighting, all 12 of the enemy commando section were killed - as well as Tài. We recovered all their weapons and a radio. That very afternoon, Sáu Chiến guided the 40th Company to kill the enemy in the Gò Cà Self-Defence Corps post. These concentrated attacks were highly successful for the 40th Company and were known throughout the Xuyên Mộc – Phước Bửu – Cây Cám Slope – Bà Tô region … - and became the first step in destroying the enemy oppression in the coastal area. Also in May 1960, the Provincial Committee directed the 45th Company to deploy for its first battle with the aim of destroying an important element of the enemy’s strength and to force their withdrawal from the Hắc Dịch post and guarantee security for our base area. Every day, on the section of the unsealed road from Phú Mỹ to Hắc Dịch, a Civil Defence Force company scoured the area of the route and rotated with another company. Knowing these enemy traits well, we prepared an ambush at Bến Tàu.
Translator’s Note: A “Sector” (Tiểu Khu) was the regional Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) military command covering a province; “Sub-Sector” (Chi Khu) were the subordinate district-level ARVN military commands. These regional levels commanded “territorial forces” - ie the Civil Guard/Regional Forces and Self-Defence Corps/Popular Forces. 21 Translator’s Note: It is unclear whether “Sáu Chiến” was Trần Van Chiến (Sáu Chiến) who later became the commander of the Battalion’s 1st Company – see footnotes 65 and 160; and Annex A – Senior Cadre. 22 Translator’s Note: The Vietnamese communists did not refer to themselves as “Việt Cộng” (“Cộng Sản Việt Nam” - Vietnamese Communists) – this was a pejorative term initiated and used by the Republic of Vietnam (RVN - ie South Vietnam).
9 At that time, the 45th Company only comprised one platoon with little more than ten weapons – but the principal weapon was the “Mantis”23. The Company also had all types of mines, 82mm mortar ammunition and a 61mm home-made mortar which were all concentrated for the attack. To guarantee the 45th Company’s victory in the engagement, the Provincial Committee reinforced the 45th Company with the defence unit of the Provincial Committee’s administrative section. At the same time, the local armed forces – such as the village guerrillas of Long Phước, Hòa Long … led by Comrade Tám Việt, coordinated with the Company. Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh – the second-in-command of the Provincial Unit and concurrently the Company Commander, was the commander of the operation. Also involved were Comrade Lê Thành Ba (Ba Bùi) – a Provincial Committee cadre, Comrade Vũ Tâm – the Provincial Committee cadre responsible for the masses movement in the villages along Route 15, Comrade Tư Ù, and Comrade Ba Hà as the second-in-command. Although his wound had not yet healed and he was on crutches, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh still led the action. Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh directly commanded the medium machinegun and the 10 comrades in the forward blocking group. Comrade Lê Thành Ba commanded the 10 comrades in the rear blocking group. Comrades Ba Hà, Tư Ù and Vũ Tâm led the main forward element (along the edge of the road). At 8am, a Civil Defence Force company stumbled into our ambush site and – at the same time, another Civil Defence Force company appeared that was returning from its searching operation. They met, discussed their tasks and sat scattered around right in our ambush site – although they had not completed their deployments (which stretched beyond the two ends of our ambush site by a couple of tens of metres). A surprise situation had arisen beyond our anticipation with the enemy strength ten times ours – and their formation was quite spread out in length. After a few minutes consideration, Comrade Nguyễn Quốc Thanh crawled to the side of Comrade Tư Chánh – the section second-in-command who directly controlled the medium machinegun in the forward element, in order to change the attack plan. At that time, one of the enemy carrying a medium machinegun placed the weapon against a bush while he went to relieve himself. Comrade Tùng in the guard element immediately killed the enemy soldier and seized his medium machinegun. At the same time, Tư Chánh’s machinegun opened up with resounding bursts of fire into the midst of the enemy formation. Next, Comrade Tư Chánh turned the machinegun’s fire on the small groups of enemy who were still beyond the extent of our ambush site. At that time, our attack groups in the killing zone24 simultaneously rushed forward and fought decisively. The enemy machinegun that had just been seized by Comrade Tùng also fired bursts – thick-and-fast, into the groups of enemy beyond the ambush site. Consequently, in only a blink of an eye, the enemy’s formation was broken into three clusters. The enemy had been surprised and, panicstricken, disintegrated. We killed over 30 and seized 15 weapons, including three medium machineguns. The remaining enemy took flight. The other enemy forces in the Hắc Dịch were also fearful and abandoned their posts. The next morning, hundreds of countrymen gathered at Hắc Dịch carrying a pig, many chickens and ducks, and cakes as a feast for our troops - and to see the “Soldiers of the Forty-Fifth” first-hand. We held a large meeting to proselytize the victory that we had won. Hắc Dịch had become the first liberated village in Bà Rịa. The Battle of Bến Tàu – the first combat victory of the 45th Company, was not only a battle of the highest effectiveness by the provincial armed forces at that time, but also
Translator’s Note: The Việt Minh – and later the Việt Cộng, manufactured over 40 different types of “súng ngựa trời” – ie “mantis guns”. These were locally-produced tube-type recoilless rifles or rocket launchers – dubbed “mantis guns” as their thin supporting legs resembled those of the mantis insect. 24 Translator’s Note: Literally “quyết chiến điểm” – “decisive point”.
10 created a spirit of affection and confidence among our countrymen for their young people who had only just come of age. The term “Soldiers of the Forty-Fifth” was popularized from that time. Also as a result of the Bến Tàu battle, we had been able to seize enough weapons to establish an additional two platoons – and so the 45th Company was fully constituted with three platoons. A month after the Bến Tàu success, the 45th Company deployed to fight a battle at Khánh Lâm (Phước Thái) and destroyed a commando section and a section of the SelfDefence Corps, seizing many weapons. The enemy mounted sweeping operations into the Hắc Dịch base area in the last months of 1960, but these were all driven back by the 45th Company. In one engagement, a whole Civil Defence Force company was destroyed. At the end of 1960, the 45th Company coordinated with the district forces to wipe out an enemy platoon at the Bầu Đập post. This was the first battle in which the 45th Company employed a tactic of coordinating with clandestine elements among the workers in the post – resulting in a great victory and the seizure of 30 weapons of all types that were passed to the district troops and the village guerrillas. On 20 December 1960, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was formed. Following this important event, on 15 February 1961 a military conference was held in War Zone D during which the armed revolutionary forces in the South were officially united to become the “South Vietnam Liberation Forces”. The COSVN25 Military Committee became the Headquarters of the Liberation Forces of South Vietnam. The Revolution in the South had entered a new phase. At the beginning of 1961, the revolutionary movement in the countryside had expanded across a wide area requiring that our armed forces strike the enemy in many places in support of the masses. It was necessary to raise district forces and self-defence guerrilla elements in a number of critical areas. The Provincial Committee decided to transfer a number of our cadre and soldiers in the provincial concentrated unit to build the core of the armed forces in the districts. Comrade Biên – together with a section of troops, moved to Long Đất District; Comrade Nhẫn – and a section, joined Xuân Lộc District. Comrade Mười Nông - and a section, went to Long Thành District. Comrades Hai Thuận and Năm Kiên – together with a section, were allocated to Châu Đức District. From that time, the concentrated mobile forces in a number of the critical districts became the core of the process of setting up the district companies. After reinforcing the districts with a large number of troops, the Provincial Committee combined the 40th Company and the 45th Company and designated the new unit with the title of the “445th Company”.26 Comrade Tư Ù was appointed as the company commander of the 445th Company27, and Comrade Năm Ninh28 became its political officer and concurrently operated as the
Translator’s Note: COSVN – the Central Office for South Vietnam (Văn Phòng Trung ương Cục Miền Nam), directed from Hà Nội, was the communist political and military headquarters responsible for Vietnam south of the Central Highlands - an area termed “Nam Bộ” (equating to the French colonial “Cochin China” region). Sometimes abbreviated to “Miền”, COSVN’s principal cover designators were “R” and “Năm Trường”. 26 Translator’s Note: The formation of the 445th Company at the beginning of 1961 is also related in the publication: The Armed Forces of Military Region 7 – 50 Years, 1995. Military Region 7 (Eastern Region) – founded in 1945, was re-established in May 1961 to encompass the provinces of: Tây Ninh, Bình Dương, Bình Long, Phước Long, Phước Thành, Biên Hòa and Bà Rịa. 27 Translator’s Note: The “Đồng Nai History - 1986” similarly relates that in 1962, “the 445th Company – the concentrated Province Unit, was established with three platoons (120 troops) and sufficient weapons – and led by Năm Ninh and Tư Chánh.” - Phan Ngọc Danh …, Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit.,1986, p.101. Note: a draft version - ie “Sơ Thảo”, is also available, see Bibliography. 28 Nguyễn Minh Ninh (Năm Ninh), see biographical detail at Annex B – Key Cadre.
11 secretary of its Party Chapter. Comrade Tư Chánh was made second-in-command, and Comrade Ba Quảng was appointed deputy political officer. Immediately after being established – and although its organisation had not yet been fully set up, the 445th Company was deployed over a wide area in Long Thành – Xuân Lộc – Bà Rịa – Long Đất … to operate in concert with a number of local district platoons and companies and village guerrillas that had recently been formed to fight the enemy and who had liberated a number of villages such as: Tam An, Phước Nguyên, Bình Sơn (Long Thành) Tam Phước, Phước Thọ, Long Tân (Long Đất) … With the strong support of the armed elements, the people in many places had risen up and become the masters of their areas and set up a large number of new organs in their hamlets. … Everywhere in the Province, the momentum of the revolutionary struggle was advancing strongly. At the end of 1961, the Staley-Taylor “Pacification” plan – to pacify the South in 18 months, was launched. This was the first plan in the Americans’ “Special Warfare” strategy.29 The gathering of the people into “Strategic Hamlets”30 was elevated to become a national policy. In March 1962, the Americans and Diệm began their “Sunrise” campaign.31 On a large scale, they coordinated their regular main-forces, Civil Defence Force, Self-Defence Corps and police from company to regiment level in devastating attacks in the provinces of the Eastern Nam Bộ Region, and they forced the people to establish “strategic hamlets”. In Bà Rịa, the enemy concentrated a large force and launched a sweeping operation termed “Thunder and Wind” into the Hắc Dịch base area – but they were driven back by the 445th Company. Our armed forces and the people in Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh faced a serious challenge caused by these tricks and plots of the enemy. The 445th Company launched concentrated attacks – and also at times operated in a dispersed mode in coordination with the district and village-level forces to attack the enemy and support our countrymen to resist the destruction of their homes and forced relocation into strategic hamlets. We strove to coordinate our armed forces and the people in order to retain a number of villages and hamlets in critical areas. However, we were faced by the enemy’s sweeping campaigns, massed attacks, the destruction of houses and the forced relocations … - and everywhere our forces were thin on the ground. Consequently, in 1962 about 70% of the people in the Province were regrouped to live in the strategic hamlets. Large numbers of those in our political apparatus were captured or were unable to operate any longer. In such a serious situation, the Provincial Committee ordered the 445th Company to return to Long Phước in order to defend the liberated region and support our countrymen oppose the relocations and the setting up of “Strategic Hamlets” in the “Central” area of Long Đất. Immediately on its arrival in its newly-designated area, the 445th Company
Translator’s Note: The strategy announced in May 1961 – and, together with its component “Pacification program”, was colloquially referred to as the Staley/Maxwell plan - ie after the Stanford University academic Eugene Staley and US General Maxwell Taylor (later US Ambassador in the Republic of Vietnam 19641965). 30 Translator’s Note: The “Strategic Hamlet” (Ấp Chiến Lược) programme was wider than the “Agroville” resettlement program begun by President Diệm in 1959. In 1964, post- Diệm, it was “revitalized” as the “New Life Hamlets” (Ấp Đời Mới) - and in 1965 retitled “Secure Hamlets” (Ấp Tân Sinh – ie New Life Hamlets, but in Sino-Vietnamese). 31 Translator’s note: “Operation Sunrise” – launched in Bình Dương Province in late March 1962, began the Strategic Hamlet programme. In 1962, the focus of the program was the six provinces around Sài Gòn (including Phước Tuy) and Kontum Province. Initially, 11,316 strategic hamlets were planned – but the program faltered with the assassination of President Ngô Đình Diệm in November 1963.
12 organised an operation to kill many of the notorious and wicked thugs in the Long Điền and Hòa Long region and to strike at the enemy’s oppression of the people. In August 1962, 445 Company employed a platoon to conduct an ambush at Đá Giăng – Long Hải to kill the thug Sáu Lỏ – together with his commando platoon. Sáu Lỏ led a commando platoon that was part of the enemy force at Long Điền. Each day, Sáu Lỏ would lead his platoon on search operations from Long Điền to Long Hải to destroy our revolutionary apparatus. Whenever suspected Việt Cộng were captured, Sáu Lỏ would shoot them right away – then cut open their stomaches and remove the livers. On returning to Long Điền, he would give the livers to the innkeeper to cook - and then Sáu Lỏ would eat these in a drinking session. The evil Sáu Lỏ and his vicious commando platoon had to be captured, and retributive punishment enacted for the people. With that resolve, the 445th Company eliminated this platoon and Sáu Lỏ at Đá Giăng – Long Hải. Next, the 445th Company prepared an ambush at the Hòa Long intersection to kill the thug, Thu. Thu was a “Pacification cadre”32 who deceived, enticed and tried to win over the people, raped women, and attacked our underground apparatus. He had shot and killed Miss Bửu – a cadre of our movement in Bắc Hòa Long hamlet. After she had been killed, Thu then raped her dead body. This vile act greatly outraged the local people. With the assistance of the people, a reconnaissance cell from the 445th Company led by Comrade Lê Tranh33 concealed themselves in a scorpion tree for several days in order to determine Thu’s routine and movements. Following this, we deployed a platoon to secretly ambush and eliminate Thu in Hòa Long. A further seven enemy were captured. The most notorious and wicked thugs in the Long Điền, Hòa Long region had been judged and punished – and this limited the brutal and cruel activities of the other thugs. The people were extremely elated and increasingly believed in the struggle to oppose the enemy’s attempts at the destruction of their homes and concentrating them into strategic hamlets. At the beginning of 1963, in the Long Đất area, only the villages of Long Tân and Long Phước were liberated villages. There, a tunnel system had been dug in order that our armed elements could staunchly stand their ground and, with the people, counter the enemy’s violence.34 The tunnel system in Đông Long Phước had been begun in 1948 by Comrades Vũ Tâm, Chín Sanh, Bảy Thử – Party members; together with: Lê Văn Tư, Trần Thị Ký, Trần Thị Tấc, Nguyễn Thị Dừa, Tư Ngà, Mười Hơn, Ba Lung … who played their roles by digging the first tunnels with their hoes. At that time, Party Chapter 116 (the Long Phước Party Chapter) had 48 Party members leading the people of Long Phước to achieve this marvellous feat-of-arms. The Soldiers’ Mothers’ Organisation mobilized the people to contribute grain35, foodstuffs, fruit and vegetables, sugar and milk … The Womens’
Translator’s Note: The killing of Thu in August 1962 is very similarly related in The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930-2005), op.cit., 2009, except that Thu is described as a member of the “Popular Forces”. 33 Translator’s Note: Lê Tranh (Năm Tranh) was interviewed by T. Burstall in November 1987 – see Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns – A Long Tan veteran discovers the other side of Vietnam, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1990, pp.141-145. Lê Tranh claimed to have later been the deputy commander of 445 Battalion in 1972-1974 – see Annex A. 34 Translator’s Note: The other major Việt Cộng tunnel systems in Phước Tuy Province were at Kim Long in the Việt Cộng Châu Đức District and at Hắc Dịch in Tân Thânh District. The Long Phước tunnels were declared an historical site by the Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu authorities on 9 January 1990 – see “Đia Đạo Long Phước”, 26 September 2010 – note the item also claims two Australian battalions were destroyed at the Long Tân battle in August 1966. 35 Translator’s Note: Literally “lương thực” – translated as “grain”. This term is sometimes more broadly translated as “cereals” – encompassing rice, corn/maize, manioc, potatoes and beans; and is also occasionally translated in other contexts more generally as “rations” or “supplies”.
13 Organisation organised the cooking of the food for the hundreds of people engaged in digging the tunnels. Every night, hundreds of candles spread light within the tunnels. Throughout the night, there were the sounds of movement and the digging of shovels within the area controlled by the enemy. The earth that was removed was spread and scattered about in family garden plots, disguised as the foundations for new houses … At first, the tunnel complex in Đông Long Phước hamlet was 300 metres long, 1.5 metres in height and .8 of a metre wide – and many entrances were dug. In 1949, the women and children continued to dig the tunnels at Bắc Long Phước. Throughout the whole period of Resistance against the French, the tunnels of Long Phước silently protected hundreds of people on the road to victory ! In the times of opposing the Americans, the provincial troops (C445) helped develop the tunnels in Bắc Long Phước hamlet to a length of more than 800 metres and a depth below ground level of five metres. The tunnels were two metres in height and a metre wide. On the surface, on both sides of the tunnels there were communication trenches, fighting positions, spike traps and minefields. This area was used as the base for the District Committee and also the Provincial Committee. At the time, it was a firm rear area where the 445th Company could stand its ground and deploy to other locations to strike the enemy in support of the district troops, guerrillas and the people in its task of destroying the enemy’s plans to concentrate the populace into strategic hamlets – in particular in the two important areas of Long Điền and Hòa Long. Acknowledging those areas as critical, Lê Đức Đạt – the Phước Tuy province chief, announced on many occasions that he would “mow down” Long Phước. To implement the province chief’s order, the captain in command of Long Lễ District – Mai Lang Luông, had led Civil Defence Force battalions on sweeping operations into Long Phước village on several occasions. At the beginning of March 1963, the 38th Ranger Battalion and the 61st Civil Defence Force Battalion coordinated with Self-Defence Corps elements and aircraft and artillery support to launch an operation over several days with the aim of wiping out the Long Phước liberated zone. At this time, the 445th Company’s strength was over 120 – organised in three platoons. One platoon was operating with the local combat force at An Ngãi (Đất Đỏ) – with the other two platoons in Long Phước. On the very first day, the enemy’s vanguard elements flooded violently into Long Phước. The village guerrillas and the 445th Company occupied their defensive positions … (in the outer perimeter) to drive the enemy back – and the fighting waged back-and-forth for weeks. At night, the enemy would withdraw, and we would control the area. We would repair and consolidate the defences to ensure their effectiveness for the next day. After more than ten days of the enemy’s failure in their attempts to take Long Phước, the enemy reinforced its strength to the equivalent of a regiment – supported by a squadron of armoured vehicles and aircraft and artillery, to bomb and shell Long Phước. Their firepower cratered the ground – not one tree or metre of dirt in the hamlet of Bắc Long Phước was left intact. Our trenches and fighting revetments were devastatingly blown apart. Our soldiers fought on doggedly, blocking each forward step of the enemy troops. At that time, we did not have anti-tank weapons and could only use mines and grenades against their tanks and armoured vehicles – but our weapons were ineffective. Many of our comrades were wounded and - unable to be evacuated, had to be treated in the tunnels. Slowly, our ammunition ran out. The situation was extremely tense and dangerous. The 1st of April 1963 was a very decisive day - and an historic day for the 445th Company at Long Phước. The lives of hundreds of people would be decided in a few short seconds. Faced by continuing mass attacks day-after-day by almost a full enemy infantry regiment, an armoured vehicle squadron and very heavy fire support, the fighting spirit of our soldiers never wavered – but our ammunition was down to its last bullet and shell. The
14 enemy assaulted en masse, and we had to ensure that each of our bullets brought down an enemy soldier. Using our sniping skills, every round struck one of the enemy. Nguyễn Văn Bảo (Sáu Bảo) – second-in-command of a section, shot and killed tens of enemy. All our communications trenches and external defensive works had been seized by the enemy. Our 12 loopholes had been blocked by 12 of the enemy’s armoured vehicles. The two major entrances to the tunnel system were covered over by two armoured vehicles. Below in the tunnels, there were 250 cadre, soldiers and Long Phước villagers. The enemy used megaphones to call on them to surrender – if not, in an hour, the enemy would pump poisonous gas down into the tunnels and collapse the whole tunnel system. The fate of our provincial main-force unit and hundreds of villagers would be decided in a few final decisive minutes. Our soldiers below in the tunnels crawled to the entrance and saw – with growing hate, the underbelly of an enemy tank. But how to remove it ? They couldn’t just give up and die. The Company headquarters gave the last remaining bazooka to Comrade Năm Tranh and Comrade Tốt – of the reconnaissance team, to crawl forward and place the weapon beneath the armoured vehicle and detonate it. However, the blast of but one bazooka against an armoured vehicle was ineffective. Down in the darkness of the tunnels, the atmosphere was silent. For many tens of minutes, Comrade Năm Ninh was unable to either sit or stand – as if ants were biting all over his body. He checked and remembered that there was a lone “Câm” mine remaining and thought of the recent attempt by the reconnaissance team. The mine had been manufactured from a 15 kilogram cluster bomb to attack tanks - but because its fuze was faulty, it had not exploded. Comrade Năm Ninh consulted with Comrade Tư Chánh on a method of attack and delegated the task to Comrades Mười Dậm and Sáu Bảo.36 With a clear understanding of their heavy responsibility towards the fate of hundreds of people, Mười Dậm and Sáu Bảo quickly carried the mine to the tunnel entrance. Having crawled up to the entrance and groped for a while examining the underbelly of the tank, Mười Dậm used a plank of wood to affix the mine to the bottom of the tank. With the mine attached, he took a very deep breath, then jumped back down into the tunnel and followed the detonating wire back to the firing position. An explosion violently shook the earth and erupted from the mouth of the tunnel. The tank was blasted aside. Immediately, in a wink, Comrade Sáu Bảo crawled up and pulled out the pin on a “Sáng fruit” grenade and threw it at the enemy infantry. Flames burst out everywhere, and the enemy - screaming, fled helter-skelter. With the smoke and fire obscuring the tunnel entrance, one our soldiers shouted – “Attack”, and with grenades, weapons of all calibres and illuminating grenades, they attacked the enemy and occupied the entrance to the tunnel. At the other tunnel entrances, the enemy’s armoured vehicles also withdrew in panic. Our soldiers seized the opportunity and sprang forward to seize the entrance to the tunnel. It was then 2pm. At 3pm, the enemy again attacked, but their armoured vehicles only fired on us from a distance and didn’t dare approach close to the tunnels. At 5pm, all of the enemy withdrew to Bà Rịa. The lives of 250 cadre, soldiers and villagers in the tunnels were saved. That night, although the enemy shelled sporadically, our countrymen of Long Phước flocked to the
Mười Dậm - probably Quách Văn Mười ie noted as the commander of the Battalion’s 1st Company in February 1968 – see footnote 197*. Nguyễn Văn Bảo (Sáu Bảo), noted above as a section commander, was interviewed post-War by T. Burstall in August 1987. Bảo – b.1943 near Long Mỹ, declared that he had “joined the guerrilla army” at 16, and had been a company commander in 445 Battalion in the period 19661968 (but “had not been involved personally” in the Battle of Long Tân) – then posted to 5th VC Division Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, pp.65-66. See also the following footnotes 37, 188 and 197 and also Annex A.
15 tunnels to warmly greet the victorious men of “Four Four Five”. They joyfully embraced one another, chatting happily and were bathed in tears ! The people and our troops remained awake throughout the night - evacuating the people, consolidating our positions, gathering weapons and ammunition and preparing for the next day’s battle. After 45 days of staunchly holding out in the Long Phước tunnels against enemy forces that outnumbered us by tens of times, the 445th Company proved that it had matured in leaps and bounds – especially in morale and its will to fight doggedly. In both body and will, they had proven themselves worthy of the boundless affection of the people. In summary, after 44 days and nights of holding out in the Long Phước tunnels, many cadre and soldiers of the 445th Company were nominated by the Province authorities for medals and letters of appreciation. In particular, Comrade Mười Dậm and Comrade Sáu Bảo37 were accepted into the Party on the field of battle. Also, after the “Battle of the Long Phước Tunnels”, people everywhere requested that the 445th Company come to their assistance. The term “Soldiers of Four Four Five” began to echo resoundingly throughout the region. Many of our countrymen brought their children and entrusted them to the 445th Company so that they might join the Revolution. Also from that time, the 445th Company was able to form five platoons and continue its fight to defend the Fatherland. From the beginning of 1963 – after the victory of Ấp Bắc (Mỹ Tho), the movement to destroy the strategic hamlets across the South gained strong momentum. The Bà Rịa – Long Khánh Provincial Committee continued to direct the 445th Company to strongly attack the enemy’s posts and to support our countrymen to wipe out a number of the American-Diệm model strategic hamlets. In May 1963, the 445th Company was tasked to destroy the Bàu Lâm strategic hamlet. Comrade Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà)38 – the commander of the Provincial Unit, personally accompanied the 445th Company. Bàu Lâm was a hamlet contiguous to our base area in Xuyên Mộc. The enemy had used bulldozers to flatten the terrain. They had built a church, tile-roofed houses, houses roofed with steel sheets and thatched houses … for the inhabitants (according to their political classification). Our Christian countrymen who had emigrated from the North lived on both sides of the road - our nationalist countrymen and revolutionary families … were in a separate area. The enemy exploited the contradictions of religion and nationalism to create divisions. They contrived hatred against the Revolution hoping to convert each person into a shock-troop soldier and destroy the Revolution in this border area. Surrounding the hamlet, there was a system of communication ditches two metres deep and 1.5 metres wide – with a barbed-wire fence. The whole hamlet only had two gates – and these were guarded. Everyone entering or leaving the hamlet was monitored and checked. Rations for every family were calculated for each member. Schools and an infirmary were built … and Bàu Lâm was the second model “strategic hamlet” in the Province (after Bình Giả). This false scene of prosperity created by the ideology of the new American colonialists now appeared throughout the villages and hamlets. With information on the enemy’s activities and routine provided by our agents within Bàu Lâm, three platoons of the 445th Company secretly entered the hamlet and concealed themselves. Each morning, the enemy soldiers would leave their post and, carrying their weapons, swagger down to the market for breakfast – and then go off on search operations. We placed two platoons in ambush positions on each side of the road,
See footnote 36. Translator’s Note: “Mười Thà - a military cadre, returned ((from North Vietnam)) at the end of 1962 and became the Provincial Commander.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.101. In late 1963, Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà) was noted as the Provincial Unit Commander ie of then Bà Rịa Province.
16 with one platoon to block the rear. Comrade Bé (Bé Giò)39 carried the heavy machinegun and was in the lead element at the “Bùng Binh” market. Waiting until the whole enemy group had entered the ambush site, Bé Giò then pulled the trigger and the machinegun sprayed rounds into the enemy. At the same time, the soldiers of the 445th Company simultaneously rushed forward from both sides and the rear and, from close quarters, shot each of enemy. Although attacked by surprise, the enemy went to ground and took up defensive positions. Comrade Nguyễn Phi Hùng was struck by a bullet and was killed. Before his heart stopped beating, Nguyễn Phi Hùng tried to lift his head up and shouted three times: “Long live Hồ Chí Minh”. After only a few minutes of fighting, 27 enemy were killed in the engagement – including Hương, a wicked thug in charge of pacification. The people were extremely elated and gathered to assist our soldiers in clearing the battlefield, destroying the barbed-wire fence, and pulling out the steel pickets … The Bàu Lâm strategic hamlet had been destroyed – and the enemy was never able to rebuild it. With the Bàu Lâm strategic hamlet destroyed, the 445th Company moved to operate in the Route 2 area. At this time, our armed forces routinely interdicted traffic on the roads in order to conduct propaganda among the people – sometimes disguised as civilians, and on other occasions publicly as revolutionary forces. The Đức Thạnh district chief had discovered that Comrade Mười Quang – the commander of our Cao Su District40 Unit, often disguised himself and propagandized the people on Route 2. Exploiting Mười Quang’s weak point when “stopping vehicles”, the enemy planned an operation to capture him. Both the Đức Thạnh district chief and his deputy directly participated in the operation. They placed a medium machinegun in a three-wheeled Lambretta which they disguised as a civilian vehicle. Back in the camp, there was a vehicle-mounted enemy platoon ready to move as a rapid reinforcement element once the machinegun opened fire. Comrade Mười Quang had just waved down the Lambretta – when the machinegun fired a burst past his ears. Mười Quang dived to the ground. At that moment, the military vehicle in the camp rushed out in support. At this time, the 445th Company was about 400-500 metres from Route 2 and deploying towards the road to conduct armed propaganda activities. Comrade Tư Chánh – the company commander41, Comrade Năm Tranh and three reconnaissance soldiers heard the sounds of the gunfire and moved forward to the road where they saw the Jeep carrying the enemy troops. We opened fire. Realizing that they had been attacked by guerrillas, the enemy stopped their vehicle and were engaged fiercely by the 445th Company’s reconnaissance element. The Jeep was overturned, and all the troops on the vehicle were eliminated – except for one who fled. Hearing the sound of the reconnaissance team’s fire, the 445th Company deployed to the road and immediately engaged a vehicle carrying
Trần Văn Bé (Tư Bé) - Trần Văn Bé (Tư Bé aka Bé Giò) was reportedly later a company commander in 440 Battalion in mid-1968 and appointed a 2ic of 445 Battalion on 4 November 1969 – Annex B to 1 ATF INTSUM 35/71, 4 February 1971. Subsequently, when Commander of the Châu Đức District Unit, Trần Văn Bé (Tư Bé) was killed by Australian forces on 4 February 1971 - Annex B to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 35/71, Núi Đất, 4 February 1971. 40 Translator’s Note: The principal Việt Cộng districts (huyện) in the Bà Rịa (ie southern) half of Bà Rịa – Long Khánh (ie “Bà Long”) Province were Long Đất (ie Long Điền and Đất Đỏ were combined in April 1960), Xuyên Mộc and Châu Đức – see map at back cover. Châu Đức District was formed from Châu Thành and Đức Thạnh Districts on 24 May 1965 [sic] – see the The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930-2005), op.cit., 25 April 2009. Occasionally, Cao Su (“Rubber”) District – encompassing the rubber plantations from Bình Ba to the north, the Courtenay plantation and several in southern Long Khánh Province, was included as a discrete district. For the boundaries of Việt Cộng “sub-districts”, see 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), VC Districts and Sub-Districts, Special Overprint AFV/MISC/ 2187, Special Use S.E. Asia 1:100,000 – Sheet 6430 Series L607, circa 1971. The boundaries of the Việt Cộng “Bà Rịa” area were adjusted during several re-organisations – see Annex H, Higher Headquarters. 41 Translator’s Note: Previously, Tư Ù had been the Commander of the 445th Company.
17 enemy reinforcements. We opened fire and killed all the troops aboard the vehicle. As a result, a Civil Defence Force platoon was destroyed – and the district chief and his deputy were captured. We seized a large number of weapons, including a 60mm mortar and a PRC10 radio.42 A chance combat engagement – that was never intended, involving the 445th Company and the forces of Cao Su District had resulted in a big victory. The senior leadership of an enemy district ((quận)) had suffered retributive punishment, and their soldiers were now extremely fearful. It was not a very large victory, but those who were directly involved in the fighting would not easily forget the “Battle of Đồng Ngọc Khải”. Also, from this time, the 445th Company and our Cao Su District elements increased their cooperation in attacking the enemy, and our armed propaganda was more effective.43 In October 1963, the people told 445 Company that there was a Civil Defence Force platoon that usually came to the Sông Cầu44 strategic hamlet in Hòa Long and stayed overnight among the people. The 445th Company’s reconnaissance element crept in to check and saw the enemy erecting their hammocks in the people’s houses and gardens. A plan for an attack on Sông Cầu hamlet was quickly approved by the Company’s Party Chapter. Comrade Lê Minh Việt (Sáu Việt)45 – the company political officer and concurrently the Party Chapter secretary, represented the Party Committee and ratified the basic elements of the attack plan: the battle must be successful and force the enemy to abandon its practice of staying overnight among the people in the hamlet; in order to maintain the Company’s prestige, no villagers must be killed; and the attack would take place on Sunday night when the enemy would be more complacent and off-guard. Comrade Tâm (Tâm Méo) was given the responsibility for the medium machinegun. All the orders for the engagement were concretely coordinated with each planned firing of the machinegun to be controlled by Comrade Tâm. In the middle of the night, the whole Company entered the hamlet and infiltrated to within a few metres of the enemy. The silvery moonlight lit up each of the enemy hammocks clustered together. Comrade Tâm elevated his machinegun to 45 degrees and fired a short burst (as warning shots so that the villagers would seek safety in their bunkers). He then lowered his weapon and swept its fire thick-and-fast at the enemy’s positions. Our soldiers then threw a large number of grenades and assaulted into the main area of the enemy - while Comrade Tâm moved his machinegun to a new position and fired sweeping bursts into pockets of enemy resistance. The attack was conducted in a very business-like manner. The enemy had no defensive positions and resisted passively – so in a few minutes they were completely wiped out. We seized two medium machineguns and tens of other weapons, and captured seven of the enemy.
Translator’s Note: A United States AN/PRC10 VHF manpack radio. Translator’s Note: A major attack by Việt Cộng forces in late August 1963 is not included the 445 Battalion History. According to The Minh Đạm History, on 24 August 1963, the “45 Company Provincial Unit” in conjunction with Long Đất District guerrillas and elements of the Military Region’s 800 Battalion attacked an officers’ recreation facility at Long Hải – killing and wounding 19 and seizing 40 weapons – see The Minh Đạm History - 2006 ie Phạm Chí Thân, Căn Cứ Minh Đạm 1945-1975 - The Minh Đạm Base 1945-1975, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province Information and Cultural Office, 2006, p.45 – translated extracts are at Annex M. The Long Đất District History - 1986 also relates that: “on 25 August 1963, C25, C45 and Khu (D800) attacked the Long Hải complex – killing 19.” - Phan Ngọc Danh & Toại, Trần Quang Toại, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất -The History of the Revolutionary Struggle in Long Đất District, Nhà Xuất Bản Đồng Nai (Đồng Nai Publishing House), Đồng Nai, 1986, p.113 – See Annex L. 44 Translator’s note: Việt Cộng sketch maps of Sông Cầu hamlet were made on 31 July and 5 October 1963 by “agent 980” – CDEC Log 12-1845-66. 45 Translator’s note: Sáu Việt (“Six Việt”) – the nickname for Lê Minh Việt, was subsequently (1966) the deputy political officer of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit.
18 Not one villager was wounded, and the villagers greatly admired the fighting skill of the 445th Company. Many people happily remarked: “The soldiers’ bullets must have eyes.” On that night, our countrymen assisted the soldiers to destroy the strategic hamlet’s barbed-wire fence. And, from that time, the enemy never dared to stay in the hamlet overnight. With the impetus of that victory, the 445th Company immediately deployed to other critical areas of the Province to coordinate with the district platoons, companies and village guerrillas to attack the enemy’s posts, and to assist our countrymen to destroy a series of enemy strategic hamlets – allowing our people to return to their former homes and make a living. On 11 November 1963, a coup broke out in Sài Gòn. Ngô Đình Diệm and Ngô Đình Nhu were both killed, and the nepotistic and dictatorial regime in the South was overthrown. There were internal conflicts within the puppet regime, and there had been a continuous struggle for power and influence. Immediately on 11 November 1963, the 445th Company – in coordination with the forces of Cao Su District, attacked the Đồng Ngọc Khải strategic hamlet, wiped out a Self Defence Corps platoon, and supported the people to rise up, destroy the strategic hamlet and liberate Đồng Ngọc Khải. Exploiting this victorious achievement, a few days later the 445th Company coordinated with the Cao Su District forces to attack the enemy in the strategic hamlet at Xuân Sơn – and, in the day, wiped out an enemy platoon. The people were elated and joined our soldiers in up-rooting hundreds of steel pickets, destroying the strategic hamlet’s barbed-wire fence and liberating the village of Xuân Sơn. The victories related above provided the impetus for cooperation between the armed forces and the people to destroy a whole series of enemy strategic hamlets across Bà Rịa. The Revolution in the South had moved forward and undergone a comprehensive change – with the liberated regions expanding in almost all the rural areas. On the main communications axes in Bà Rịa – Long Khánh, the enemy only maintained its posts in the towns, the sub-sectors46, the province capital and a number of key points. This revolutionary momentum saw attacks breaking out everywhere. In these circumstances – and in response to the requirement to further develop the Revolution, our Provincial Committee decided to establish an additional company as a concentrated mobile force. At the beginning of 1964, the 440th Company came into being. This Company was commanded by Comrade Năm Đành, with Comrade Năm Ninh as its political officer. The 445th Company transferred a number of cadre and soldiers to the 440th Company to build its nucleus – and then was itself additionally strengthened. Comrade Tư Chánh remained its company commander, and Comrade Sáu Việt was its political officer. At the end of the 1964 Wet Season, the 445th Company and the 440th Company combined in an attack on the enemy post at Bình Ba Xăng – with the aim of seizing quantities of rice to support later larger attacks. We wiped out a Self-Defence Corps platoon at Bình Ba Xăng and seized 51 bags of rice (each weighing a quintal).47 This quantity of rice overcame the food difficulties of the provincial concentrated armed forces – and was also sufficient to support over 500 people in our civilian labour group within the Province.48 At this time, the 445th Company also continued to provide a platoon to protect the civilian labour group. Together with the labour group, that platoon from the 445th
Translator’s Note: “Chi khu” – military sub-sectors, meaning the RVN Government district capitals/ centres. In Phước Tuy Province: Long Lễ, Long Điền, Đất Đỏ, Đức Thạnh and Xuyên Mộc. 47 Translator’s Note: One quintal equals 100 kilograms. 48 Translator’s Note: The organisation and management of civilian labour is detailed in the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Province Forward Supply Council report of 25 August 1969 – that report also covers the purchasing and requisitioning of rice and other foodstuffs - CDEC Log 02-1480-70.
19 Company safely moved over 20 tonnes of weapons provided from the North that had been moved by sea through the port of Lộc An (in November 1963) and had taken this materiel to our base area.49 By this time, the liberated zone had expanded greatly, and the enemy’s strategic hamlet system within the Province had basically been destroyed. The Bà Rịa – Long Khánh armed forces had increased, but were not yet strong enough to liberate the towns. Having assessed the situation, the leadership cadre of the 445th Company and the 440th Company decided to attack Bình Giả. This resolution was agreed by the Province authorities – but there were still a few aspects on which there was not yet unanimity. Bình Giả - a village on Route 2 (18 kilometres north of Bà Rịa Town), comprised three hamlets and had a population of 5,726. 99% of its inhabitants were Christian refugees. Exploiting religious and ethnic contradictions, the enemy had created divisions and hatred among the populace towards the Revolution and built Bình Giả into its premier strategic hamlet in the Province.50 Enemy strength in Bình Giả comprised 147 Popular Force troops ((“Dân Vệ”))51 – organised in many platoons, and a Ranger company ((Biệt Động Quân)) from the 38th Battalion. Additionally, there were 108 well-armed “Defendersof-the-Church Youth”. Different to other strategic hamlets, at Bình Giả the enemy had mobilized the people to grow bamboo in groves to form a thick fence around the village. Beyond, there was a system of deep trenches with spikes and mines - both within the trenches and on the ramparts. The enemy regarded Bình Giả as an “Inviolable” place. And, in fact, none of our units had ever struck Bình Giả. In October 1964, our two companies attacked Bình Giả. We organised two forces: one force comprised a company (minus) to strike at the main gate at the Our Lady ((Đức Mẹ)) church in Village 2. The remaining elements were kept in reserve. At exactly 6am, the enemy soldiers opened the hamlet gates. Our force had secretly concealed itself and - as one, opened fire and poured through the gate. The bodies of many enemy soldiers fell right beside the gate. Exploiting the advantage of surprise, our force advanced like lightning to directly seize Village 2 – and captured a wicked gendarme ((hiến binh)), before moving on to Village 3. The fighting became increasingly fierce as the enemy were able to reinforce
Translator’s Note: Lộc An is located on the coast about five kilometres northeast of Phước Hải village. The landing is also related in the Long Đất District History – 1986 - ie Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986, pp.114-115 – giving the landing date as 29-30 November (see Annex L). However, according to the The Minh Đạm History - 2006, the vessel arrived at Lộc An on the night of 3 October 1963 – see Phạm Chí Thân, Căn Cứ Minh Đạm, op.cit., 2006, p.45. A political/labour history also cites 3 October and relates that the onward movement was managed by Group 1500 (“Đoàn 1500” - previously Group 555) – assisted by the 5th Company of 800 Battalion (a “Regional” element) - Liên đoàn Lao động …, Lịch sử …, op.cit., 2011, p.16. A detailed account of this supply operation - confirming the date as 3 October, can be found in Nguyễn Quý Đại, “Hành trình từ những con tàu không số”, in Hàng hải VN - Một thời hào hung (“Những tập thể và cá nhân tiêu biểu ngành GTVT 1945-2005”) eg – the vessel, Number 41, was captained by Lê Văn Một and landed 40 tonnes of weapons and stores. This landing is briefly described in McNeill, I., To Long Tan – The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966, Allen & Unwin/Australian War Memorial, St Leonards, 1993, pp.219-220 citing the Long Đất District History – 1986. However, in the Australian work “Đoàn 1500” (ie “Group 1500” – see also footnote 140) - a logistics element of 84 Rear Services Group (Đoàn 84) was incorrectly translated as “1500 cadres”. A further two landings at Lộc An (29 November 1964, 1 February 1965) are related in extracts from the Đoàn 125 History ie - Phan Lữ Hoàng Hà, “Chuyện kể về ‘đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh’ trên biển: Huyền thoại những con tàu”, vietbao.vn, 30 April 2005. 50 Translator’s Note: According to a principal Vietnamese military history account, the population of Bình Giả comprised “more than 400 families – religious refugees from the North, and almost all were the families of officers and soldiers of Ranger and Marine units.” - Lịch sử Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước - Tập 3 (Vol 3), Nhà Xuất Bản Chính Trị Quốc Giả, Hà Nội, 1997. 51 Translator’s Note: As noted earlier, the Dân Vệ were replaced by the Popular Forces (PF) in 1964.
20 their units. At 9am, they coerced a number of reactionary Catholics to arm themselves with sticks and canes and demonstrate to demand that we release the wicked gendarme. Our force had to disperse - while at the same time fighting the enemy who were counterattacking the objectives and conducting armed propaganda among the Catholics who they had exploited. Two days later, we again launched an attack, striking into Village 1 and destroying much of the enemy’s capability before withdrawing to consolidate our forces. Although we didn’t completely liberate Bình Giả, we had been able to seize both Village 2 and Village 3 in our first attack, and had destroyed an important part of the enemy’s strength and energy. The enemy’s No.1 model strategic hamlet in Bà Rịa was no longer “Inviolable”. A few days later, the two companies – the 445th and the 440th, continued to attack Bình Giả for a second time, with the targets still Village 2 and Village 3. However, this time the enemy deployed 60 helicopters in the afternoon to insert a Ranger battalion to relieve the encirclement. Our forces dug trenches in order to hold on in the hamlet and repelled all the enemy’s counter-attacks. This unequal fighting was extremely fierce, and we suffered increasingly heavy casualties. The 445th Company itself suffered over 20 casualties. Comrade Sáu Việt52 – the company political officer, had to take direct charge of the wounded. When the 445th Company and the 440th Company withdrew from Bình Giả to consolidate their forces and to prepare for subsequent attacks, Comrade Năm Ninh and Comrade Sáu Việt met a group of COSVN staff cadre who had come to reconnoitre battlefields in the area. This group of COSVN staff cadre was led by Comrade Trần Đông Hưng and had come to study the battlefields in preparation for a large campaign in the Xuyên Mộc-Long Đất region. Having listened to the ideas put forward by Năm Ninh and Sáu Việt – ie: “We should launch a large campaign against Bình Giả”, the COSVN staff cadre remained in the Route 2 area to follow the situation. The 445th Company and the 440th Company launched three further attacks against Bình Giả. In the final phase, we held on for five days in the hamlets. Each time that we attacked, helicopters would swarm like flies to insert enemy support forces for Bình Giả. Despite the fierce fighting and large casualties after our many attacks - which had not been able to completely liberate Bình Giả, the 445th and the 440th Companies had however, from that time, given the higher echelons the main idea for the “Bình Giả Campaign”.53 On the night of 2 December 1964, the Bình Giả Campaign began.54 Our forces comprised: 761 Regiment55, 762 Regiment56, the COSVN artillery regiment (ie Q761,
Translator’s note: As noted earlier, Sáu Việt (Lê Minh Việt) was subsequently (1966) the deputy political officer of the Bà Rịa District Unit. 53 Translator’s Note: The attack on Bình Giả was an element of COSVN’s 1964-65 Dry Season campaign. 54 Translator’s Note: The Battle of Bình Giả is cited in most Vietnamese communist histories as a major victory. It is related in Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, op.cit., Tập 3 (Vol 3), op.cit., 1997; in the History of the 5th Infantry Division (1965-2005) - Lịch Sử Sư đòan Bộ Binh 5 (1965-2005), The People’s Army Publishing House, Hà Nội, 2005; and also in the Long Đất District History – 1986: ie from 2 December 1964 to 7 January 1965, in Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986, p.119 – see Annex L. 55 Translator’s Note: Q761 Regiment (founded in July 1961) – also known as the “1st Regiment”, was later retitled 271 Regiment (the Bình Giả Regiment) and was subsequently a founding formation of the 9th VC Division in early September 1965. Q761was reportedly commanded at Bình Giả by Nguyễn Thế Truyện (aka Năm Truyện and also aka Năm Sài Gòn). Truyện later commanded the 5th VC Division from 1966 until late November 1967 - and was killed in combat in early February 1968 during the NVA/VC Tết Mậu Thân 1968 offensive while serving as Commander of Sub-Region 1. Bùi Thanh Vân (Út Liêm) was the second-incommand of Q761 at the Battle of Bình Giả. 56 Translator’s Note: Q762 Regiment – also known as the “2nd Regiment” and the Đồng Xoai Regiment, was later re-titled 272 Regiment and was subsequently a founding formation of the 9th VC Division in early
21 Q762 and Q56357), the 445th Company, the 440th Company (Provincial), and the Châu Đức District armed force. The 455th and the 440th Companies had the mission of attacking directly into Bình Giả.58 The two COSVN regiments were the main force to destroy the puppet troops that would be sent as a relieving force. At this time, the 445th Company had been strengthened to 140 comrades (of whom 120 participated directly in the fighting). The Company’s weapons were almost all Thompsons, carbines and Garands. Our fire support was quite strong, comprising 14 medium machineguns, two 75mm recoilless rifles, two 60mm mortars and two heavy machineguns. This included a .30 calibre US heavy machinegun that was usually mounted on an armoured vehicle. This weapon had been seized by the Long Đất District Unit from an armoured vehicle at An Nhất bridge (August 1963). The heavy machinegun was quite heavy – weighing 24.7 kilograms, so Long Đất District had sent it to the Province storage facility. Then, it was given to Nguyễn Văn Quang (Quang Hùm)59 to use. From that point on, Nguyễn Văn Quang and the heavy machinegun were inseparable throughout the long years of fighting the Americans, and together they achieve many outstanding feats-of-arms. In the first days, the 440th Company was the reserve unit. At 3am on 2 December 1964, the 445th Company was divided into two forces to continue the attack against Bình Giả. The main force was the 1st Platoon under the direct leadership of platoon commander Ba Lòng. Comrade Sáu Việt – the political officer, and Comrade Đào Thanh Xuân (Hai Xuân) – the Company second-in-command, also accompanied this force. The secondary force was the 2nd Platoon led by its platoon commander - Ba Kiên, and the Company deputy political officer - Tô Dũng. Both forces attacked on an axis through the main gate of Village 2. The enemy at that site had been attacked many times and were therefore very vigilant, regularly changing the location of their mines and their system of defence. When the 1st Platoon force approached the hamlet gate, they struck grenade traps - and three comrades were wounded. All types of enemy firepower began to fall like rain. Immediately, Nguyễn Văn Quang set up his heavy machinegun 60 metres from the hamlet gate and fired waves of volleys thick-and-fast to pin down the enemy’s firepower so that the Company’s reconnaissance element could plant explosives to destroy the hamlet gate. When a round from Comrade Hường’s bazooka blasted the hamlet gate wide-open, the two infantry forces poured through as one – and, crossing through the gate, fought their way forward in two directions. In his first engagement with the heavy machinegun, Nguyễn Văn Quang brought into play his bravery and strength. He was strong - like a nimble tiger, constantly on the move and carrying his heavy machinegun swiftly from one point to
September 1965. Q762 was raised in 1961 from former Việt Minh troops who had “regrouped” (“tập kết”) to North Vietnam in 1954-1955 and infiltrated back into the South - ie were “returned cadre” (“cán bộ hồi kết”). A comprehensive booklet on the history of 272 Regiment (dated 19 May 1967) is at CDEC Log 03-2284-68. The Regiment’s major ambush on Route 2 on 9 December 1964 is related in more detail in a captured document at CDEC Log 03-2656-67. At Bình Giả, Q762 Regiment was led by Tạ Minh Khâm with Nguyễn Thới Bưng (Út Thới) as the Regiment’s second-in-command. Subsequently, Nguyễn Thới Bưng commanded 275 Regiment at the Battle of Long Tân on 18 August 1966. In October 1966, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the 5th VC Division until moving to COSVN staff in January 1967. Nguyễn Thới Bưng later served as Commander 7th VC Division – and on retirement in the late 1990s , was Vietnam’s Vice Minister of Defence (as a Lieutenant General). For further information, see Annex J - 275 Regiment. 57 Translator’s Note: The COSVN Artillery Regiment’s title was Q763 (cover designator: Đoàn 80) – and comprised four battalions. 58 Translator’s Note: “On 2 December 1964, in support of 445 Battalion’s [sic] attack on Bình Giả, the 1st Battalion of Q761 and COSVN artillery attacked the Đức Thạnh Sub-Sector headquarters” - Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, op.cit., Tập 3 (Vol 3), 1997. 59 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Văn Quang – see also footnotes 105, 112, 113, 175, 280 and 296, was later declared a “Hero of the People’s Armed Forces” and - after training in North Vietnam from 1968 to 1972, returned as the second-in-command/Chief of Staff of D445 Battalion in March 1972.
22 another in order to provide effective support to the infantry. After a few minutes of fighting, an enemy Regional Forces ((Bảo An60)) platoon was in disarray – and we moved on to seize Village 2 and Village 3, and killed over 60 enemy. On the same night, a battalion of 761 Regiment attacked and seized Village 1. In this way, our force had struck the “Objective” of the Campaign and successfully achieved the mission to create advantageous conditions for the “Reinforcement Killing” force that was ready to meet and strike the enemy from many different directions. After having seized Village 2 and Village 3, the 445th Company consolidated its defensive works in order to hold out and repel all the enemy’s counter-attacks. In withstanding the strong enemy counter-attacks, in only two days of fighting the 445th Company had suffered nine comrades killed in action (including Comrade Tín - a platoon-level cadre from the Châu Ro ethnic group61) and tens of other comrades were wounded. On the second day of the Campaign, the enemy employed their helicopters to insert the 38th Ranger Battalion from Phú Mỹ (Long Thành) into an area southwest of Đức Thạnh (in the direction of the bamboo fields along the Soài River). This enemy force was struck into disarray by 762 Regiment. At 6pm, the remaining elements of the 38th Ranger Battalion - which had huddled together, were attacked by the 445th Company and 20 enemy were killed. After four days of holding out in Bình Giả, the 445th Company was ordered to withdraw from the area and coordinate with the main-force regiments to attack the enemy’s relief forces. The Company joined with 761 Regiment to strike and disintegrate the 30th Ranger Battalion. The 440th Company was then ordered to deploy down to Long Đất – together with 761 Regiment, to attack the enemy at the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector and the surrounding area, and to create the conditions for 762 Regiment to destroy a squadron/company ((chi đoàn)) of armoured vehicles advancing on Route 2 to relieve Đất Đỏ. After the fighting, only three of the enemy’s 14 armoured vehicles remained intact and 100 enemy had been killed – including nine American advisors.62 The first phase of the Bình Giả Campaign had concluded in victory. At 4am on 28 December 1964, the sounds of gunfire opened the second phase of the Bình Giả Campaign. The 445th Company again struck Bình Giả to lure the enemy into inserting troops. In this phase, the Company again fought alongside 761 and 762 Regiments to destroy the 33rd Ranger Battalion and the crack 4th Marine Battalion of the puppet forces’ General Reserve that had been deployed to relieve Bình Giả. Supported by COSVN and provincial troops, the people, and the armed forces of the districts and villages, we had blasted wide-open the strategic hamlets on Route 2, Route 52, Route 44 and the coastal areas of Xuyên Mộc – and further developed the resistance bases from Châu Pha to Hắc Dịch, east and west of Route 2, to join up with War Zone D and the provinces of Region 6. The momentum of the Revolution’s attacks resounded everywhere.
Translator’s Note: The Bảo An (Civil Defence Force/Civil Guard) – established in 1955, were a local force who were both armed and uniformed. As noted earlier, in 1964, the Bảo An and the Dân Vệ were replaced respectively by the Regional Forces (RF) and the Popular Forces (PF). However, communist writings continued to use the term “Bảo An” for the Regional Forces. For detail, see the MACV RF/PF Advisor’s Handbook: January 1971 - VCAT No. 2171811002; 1970 – 2171811001; 1969 – VCAT No. 0440319001. 61 Translator’s Note: The Châu Ro are a minority Mon-Khmer ethnic group of about 26,800 (2009) of whom about 85% live in Đồng Nai, Bà Rịa and Long Khánh provinces 62 Translator’s Note: This engagement is related in the Long Đất District History – 1986: “At the end of December 1964, the 445th Company (Province) assisted the Đất Đỏ area – attacking at Đá Giăng on Route 44 between Long Hải and An Ngãi on 24 December 1964. Long Đất was provided with two 75mm recoilless rifles (RCL) by 800 Battalion; two companies from the Long Hải training centre were destroyed (150 killed including a US advisor).” - Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986, p.121 - see Annex L. 800 Battalion of 272 Regiment was later retitled H-12.
23 On 3 January 1965, the second period of the Bình Giả Campaign had concluded in victory.63* COSVN Headquarters now directed that the Campaign be developed along Route 1 and into Bình Tuy Province. With a will to continuously and tirelessly attack, all the concentrated mobile forces of the Province had come of age very quickly. From an armed propaganda force, we had created many companies to strengthen the districts, and then deployed in continuous combat. From our very beginnings, we had grown by steps - as demanded by the Fatherland, and had played an important role in armed propaganda and the fulfillment of our mission to effectively support the people’s political struggle movement. We had been the decisive “Fist” that destroyed the “strategic hamlets”. Our combat capability had grown unceasingly by leaps and bounds – from destroying the wicked thugs, to small attacks by sections, platoons and companies – and then joining in the combat of a very large campaign. We had to continuously oppose numerous enemies that were better armed than us – but we still won. Having contributed importantly to the victory of the Bình Giả Campaign, General Secretary Lê Duẩn stated “… With the Battle of Ấp Bắc in 1963, the enemy realized that it would be difficult to defeat us – after the Bình Giả Campaign, the enemy realized that they had lost to us.”
CHAPTER III “WE WILL FIGHT AND DEFEAT ANY ENEMY” The Bình Giả Campaign demonstrated the utter defeat of the Americans’ “Special Warfare” strategy. However, in accordance with their bellicose nature, the American imperialists moved from their “Special Warfare” strategy to a strategy of “Limited War”. With the strength of their wealth, weaponry and war-fighting means, this leading imperialist nation hoped to crush the morale and fighting will of the Vietnamese people. To implement their new strategic intrigue, the American imperialists began a destructive air power war against the North, massing ultra-modern weapons, and pouring American troops and those of their vassal nations into the South. The whole world turned its attention to Vietnam in fearful expectation. Together with the whole of the South, the armed forces and the people of Bà Rịa – Long Khánh – Biên Hòa 64, under the leadership of the Party, had determined that their strategic mission was to stand up and confront the invading American aggressors. Our armed forces at every level were swiftly consolidated and strengthened to respond to the requirements and demands of the battlefield.
* We had removed 1,755 enemy from the battlefield – including 60 American advisors. We had captured 293 enemy, destroyed 45 military vehicles, shot 56 aircraft down in flames, and completely destroyed two battalions and one armoured vehicle company. We had inflicted heavy casualties on six other battalions. Importantly, for the first time we had destroyed an armoured company and a battalion of the puppet strategic reserve (the 4th Marine Battalion). The puppet forces’ tactic of deployment by helicopters and armoured vehicles had been bankrupted in our great Campaign. Translator’s Note: According to the official history of the 5th VC Division - 2005, the communist forces at the Battle of Bình Giả inflicted the following casualties: “2.000 enemy captured; 45 M113s destroyed; 56 aircraft shot down; 611 weapons seized; and three battalions, an armoured company and two detachments of mechanized vehicles destroyed.” - Phạm Quang Đinh, Colonel, Lịch Sử Sư đòan Bộ Binh 5 (1965-2005) – The History of the 5th Infantry Division (19652005), The People’s Army Publishing House, Hà Nội, 2005. According to a principal Vietnamese military history, the Sài Gòn Government’s forces suffered: 1,755 killed; 193 captured; 45 vehicles destroyed (mostly M113 armoured personnel carriers); and 56 aircraft - Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, Tập 3 (Vol 3), op.cit., 1997. 64 Translator’s Note: The Việt Cộng Bà Biên Province – encompassing Bà Rịa–Long Khánh–Biên Hòa was first established in April 1963 – see Annex H, Higher Headquarters.
24 On 19 May 1965 – in an area of jungle at Suối Rau (Bà Rịa), the Provincial Committee founded 445 Battalion. Four Four Five – was the title for a series of groups that had been used many times, split up and regrouped. Now – on the birthday of our revered Uncle Hồ, those numbers would go down in history as officially designating a local battalion ! In essence, the troops and weapons of the two companies – the 440th and the 445th, were the core elements - together with additional recruits. The Battalion was fully structured with four companies65* totaling 350 personnel with Comrade Bùi Quang Chánh (Sáu Chánh)66 as the battalion commander. Comrade Lê Thành Ba (Ba Bùi) – a member of the Provincial Committee and the deputy political officer of the Provincial Unit, was appointed the political officer and was concurrently the secretary of the Battalion’s Party Committee. The Battalion’s Party structure was comprised of five Party Chapters. At its founding, the Battalion had innumerable problems and was in straitened circumstances. However, the Provincial Committee paid special attention to all aspects in order to ensure that the Battalion had sufficient to achieve its tasks.67 The issue of rear service support required immediate attention and was resolved in stages. Comrade Ba Tâm68 was appointed the staff officer responsible for rear services, and Comrade Nguyễn Tuấn Giải (Mười Giải)69 became its adjutant. The Battalion was provided with one hundred thousand piastres (Sài Gòn currency) by the Province – together with seven tonnes of rice. The rice was placed in three storehouses in two areas – one in the Suối Rau area and two in
* The four companies were three infantry companies and one fire support company: 1st Company: Sáu Chiến as company commander and Tô Dũng as political officer; 2nd Company: Sáu Thu as commander and Hai Khanh as political officer; 3rd Company: Năm Thành as commander, Khởi as political officer; 4th Company: Tư Như as commander, Thống as its political officer. Translator’s Notes: Subsequently on 20 October 1965, the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit formally promoted: Trần Văn Chiến (Sáu Chiến) from company executive officer to company commander; Tô Dũng from platoon leader to assistant political officer; Nguyễn Minh Khanh (Hai Khanh) from assistant political officer to political officer; Nguyễn Đức Thu (Sáu Thu), Trần Văn Khởi, and Nguyễn Văn Thống from platoon leaders to executive officers - CDEC Log 09-1876-66. Note however, that the date on that document (Command Committee T.1 No. 602/TB) was incorrectly translated at CDEC as 20 October 1966, instead of 1965. 66 Translator’s Note: Earlier on 23 February 1965, as “Nguyễn Quang Chánh”, Bùi Quang Chánh had been assigned to the “Bà Rịa Province Concentrated Unit” as the “Battalion Commander” - CDEC Log 09-186366, Bulletin 1063. According to the Đồng Nai History - 1986: “On 19 May 1965 in the Long Tân base (Long Đất), the Bà Rịa Provincial Committee established the Provincial Main Force [sic] Battalion with the title of 445 – with Comrade Tư Chánh as the Battalion Commander and Comrade Lê Thành Ba as its political officer.” – Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.123. It appears that the 445 Battalion History – 1991 (ie the text above) has corrected the name of 445 Battalion’s inaugural commander to “Bùi Quang Chánh (Sáu Chánh)”. However, a number of other publications have cited Tư Chánh as the initial 445 Battalion Commander – probably influenced by the Đồng Nai History – 1986 eg: the Đồng Nai Monograph – 2001 - Địa Chí Đồng Nai, Nhà Xuẩt Bản Tồng Hợp Đồng Nai, Biên Hòa, 2001. For biographical notes on Bùi Quang Chánh (Sáu Chánh), see Annex B – Key Cadre. 67 Translator’s Note: On 10 October 1965, 445 Battalion’s 4th (ie Support/Heavy Weapons) Company was equipped with three 57mm recoilless rifles (RCL) with 50 rounds; two 81mm mortars – with 28 rounds/bombs, three MG-34 machine guns – with 8,000 rounds; and 17 individual weapons – CDEC Log 041322-66. 68 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Thanh Tâm (aka Ba Tâm) – CDEC Log 05-1808-67, Log 05-1797-67. For his correspondence with the 445 Battalion adjutant - Nguyễn Tuấn Giải (Mười Giải), see CDEC Log 05-3474-67, Log 05-3406-67. Nguyễn Thanh Tâm – as the Battalion 2ic, was killed in an ambush by the Australian 7th Battalion (7RAR) on 1 January 1971 at Cà Thi in the Xuyên Mộc area – see footnotes 260 and 262. 69 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Tuấn Giải (Mười Giải - b. Quảng Ngãi, North Vietnam) was noted as a platoon commander in the 5th Company of 445 Battalion in January 1966, attended a COSVN training course at the H21 Rear Services School in February-early August 1966, and was formally appointed adjutant (quản lý) of 445 Battalion in September 1966. The Battalion adjutant was responsible for managing rear service support including finances. Nguyễn Tuấn Giải’s diary indicated that he was enroute from H21 back to Phước Tuy Province at the time of the Battle of Long Tân on 18 August 1966.
25 the Suối Lồ Ô area. Additionally, the Battalion had two sewing machines to make uniforms for the troops. One sewing machine was provided by the Province, while the other belonged to Miss Năm Mỹ of Hòa Long village who had left and joined our forces - and her family allowed her to bring the machine to support the Revolution. The Battalion was also allocated two assistant doctors ((y sĩ)) in order to set up a surgical section under Comrade Năm Hiếu.70 The surgical section had the capability to resolve and treat minor wounds, remove appendixes … obviating treatment in a hospital. Each company had from two to three medics ((y tá)). All of the companies organised their messes on a section basis. The Battalion immediately conducted tactical training for its soldiers aimed at responding to the combat requirements facing the unit. Special importance was given by the Battalion to training in individual combat tactics within the teams and sections in coordination with combat at the platoon and company level. Based on its tasks and the particular traits of the operational environment, the Battalion also conducted in-depth training in a range of basic tactics such as: “ambush”, “mobile ambush”71, “attacks on camps” … and model-making - specific planning and training areas were also carefully addressed. There were training areas within the bases and training areas in the field … training was conducted by day and night. All the companies were engrossed with the impetus of the training and utterly focused on being victorious in the first battle. Political studies were undertaken to thoroughly grasp the directives and resolutions of the Party at all levels and the Battalion’s responsibilities in the new environment. This included studying the current and longer-term plots of the American imperialists – with political and military training alternating. In only a short period of time, the tactical and political standards of the cadre and soldiers in the Battalion had clearly risen. The Battalion’s training activities continued concurrently with reconnaissance of the enemy’s situation preparatory to our forces receiving orders for the first battle.72 With training completed, the Battalion organised its forces to attack the enemy at the Láng Cát strategic hamlet (on Route 15) – but the number of enemy killed was not high, as they slipped away among the populace. We only seized two weapons, and a number of our comrades were wounded. Taking aboard the experiences of that battle, the Battalion concluded that, for this first deployment73, the target had been too complicated and
Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Văn Hiếu – see CDEC Log 12-2427-66. However, a discrete medical history reports his name as Nguyễn Thanh Hiếu (Tư Hiếu) – see: Lê Thanh Dũng (et al), Lịch Sử Ngành Y Tế Bà Rịa-Long Khánh (1945-2006) - The History of the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Medical Services (1945-2006), Vũng Tàu, 2008. 71 Translator’s Note: “Phục kích vận động” – see discussion of the “mobile ambush” tactic at footnote 79. 72 Translator’s Note: According to a principal Vietnamese history of the War: In May 1965, “the troops of Xuân Lộc District – together with 445 Provincial Battalion and Military Region main force elements, attacked and liberated Route 1 from Gia Ray to Rừng Lá ((Long Khánh Province)), and the hamlets of Trà Tân 1 and Trà Tân 2 on Route 3” - Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, Tập 3 (Vol 3), op.cit., 1997, footnote 16. The 445 Battalion History does not record any involvement in such engagements in Long Khánh Province in 1965, 73 Translator’s Note: There is little in the 445 Battalion History on the Battalion’s activities in the period to December 1965. However, in July 1965, the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit reported that, during June, their forces in the Province were involved in 169 engagements in which 148 enemy were killed, 134 wounded - while suffering 15 killed and 34 wounded. Almost all activity involved district forces and village guerrillas – CDEC Log 12-2987-66. More specifically, two subsequently captured Letters of Appreciation signed by Lê Thành Ba - the 445 Battalion political officer, commended two personnel of the 4th Company for their “outstanding combat exploits” in a successful attack on Bà Rịa on 16 (or 26) July 1965 – CDEC Log 12-2425-66. Morale problems were later discussed at a four-day political conference held by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit in midSeptember 1965, and it was reported that 44 personnel in the Province had deserted in the preceding twomonth period (July, August) – including eight from 445 Battalion, 10 from the Long Đất District Unit, eight from the Châu Đức District Unit and four from the Bình Châu (Xuyên Mộc) guerrilla unit. The main reasons cited for desertion were: fear of death, shelling - particularly enemy aircraft attacks, hardship - and a preference for the “easy” life at home – CDEC Log 09-2601-66 (signed by Bá [sic] Liên – Head of the
26 consequently our aim had not been achieved. But, more basically, we had been able to achieve mutual tactical support between our attacking elements.74 On 23 December 1965, the Battalion deployed to attack the enemy at the FiveBuilding Complex75 in the town of Long Điền (Bà Rịa). An element of the Long Điền District police force occupied the Five-Building Complex. Its system of defences was rudimentary – there were no defensive positions, blockhouses, or trenches, and there was only a single simply-constructed surrounding fence. To approach this Complex, we would have to cross open rice fields, and there were a large number of enemy guard posts on the tracks. The enemy had never been attacked here – so consequently they were very complacent. We collected information on the enemy and also focused on our own capabilities. In order to guarantee victory and to create a momentum and resolve for the whole unit, the Battalion leadership decided to employ all of the Battalion’s companies in the battle with the reconnaissance force as a core element – together with Party members, Youth Group members and a number of the local people who had a heroic fighting spirit. The selected force was in excess of two companies – divided into three spearhead thrusts. The reconnaissance element led by Comrade Năm Tranh and Comrade Bảy Bình was divided into two teams that would lead the two infantry thrusts. The attacking elements were reinforced with a 57mm recoilless rifle set up 300 metres from the Five-Building Complex. A further 2nd Company group led by Nguyễn Minh Khanh (Hai Khanh) was assigned the task of blocking any enemy reinforcements that might come from the direction of Vạn Kiếp.76 The Battalion headquarters was established within Long Điền Town, about 500 metres from the objective. Comrade Sáu Chánh and Comrade Ba Liên were in direct command (Comrade Ba Liên had just replaced Comrade Ba Bùi as the political officer).77 This was the first time that a battle had been commanded using a telephone system. Our communications soldiers had surmounted every obstacle to ensure constant liaison – including the techniques for using the equipment and laying the telephone lines in enemycontrolled areas. By midnight, the attacking elements had completely concealed themselves in the Town and finalized their tactical deployments. Comrade Năm Tranh and Comrade Hùng (the commanders of the two spearheading forces) used pliers to secretly cut sections of the barbed-wire security fence. Comrade Năm Tranh then crawled through with an explosive charge, placed it against the base of a wall, and moved back. An explosion resounded throughout the Town – following which the 57mm recoilless rifle fired three rounds at its target. The enemy had been attacked by surprise – some were killed, others were wounded, and a number of those remaining ran helter-skelter seeking somewhere to dig in. At the same time, our reconnaissance elements and infantry in the two spearhead groups simultaneously assaulted – throwing a large number of grenades into the enemy buildings. Our grenades and the fire of our supporting weapons demolished one building. Over 30
Political Section of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit – the signature is identical to that of Đổ Văn Liên - aka Ba Liên, who became the 445 Battalion political officer soon after, see footnote 77). 74 Translator’s Note: According to the 5th Division History - 2005, in mid-December 1965, a coordinating conference was held between the staffs of the 5th Division, “the 445th Bà Rịa Battalion, the 25th Long Đất Company and the 240th Company” to plan future activity. 75 Translator’s Note: Literally: “lầu Năm Căn” – possibly a five-storied building. 76 Translator’s Note: A few kilometres to the west of Long Điền, the ARVN Vạn Kiếp National Training Centre was located on Bà Rịa Town’s eastern outskirts. 77 Translator’s Note: Ba Liên - ie Đổ Văn Liên, had been the Head of the Political Section of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit up until at least late September 1965 – see footnote 73 and Annex B – Key Cadre. Ba Bùi (Lê Thành Ba) appears to have been posted to the Political Section of Bà Rịa Provincial Unit – CDEC Log 091883-66 and subsequently to Long Đất District – see Annex L, footnote 30.
27 enemy were eliminated from the battlefield. Our soldiers quickly seized the buildings oneby-one and continued to pursue the enemy. After a few minutes of our surprise attack, a number of the surviving enemy retreated to higher floors of the buildings. Blocking the stairways, they hurled down a large number of grenades, and our forces suffered many casualties. Comrade Hùng – the leader of one of the attacking groups, and Comrade Lực – a very experienced soldier in the reconnaissance element, both died heroically ! In the darkness, we could no longer determine the enemy’s positions in the nooks and crannies of the stairwells and were therefore unable to rush up to the higher floors and wipe out the enemy. The 2nd Company’s combat group was able to kill more than 10 enemy as the enemy’s relief elements advanced to destroy our blockade. After an hour of fighting, the Battalion headquarters ordered our attacking groups to withdraw their troops. Our wounded and our dead were taken back to Long Phước village. Mr Hồ Văn Quang and the villagers in Đông hamlet (Long Phước) prepared food and drink, resting places, bandages and medicine for our soldiers – and treated the wounded and buried the dead. … At daybreak, the people of Long Phước organised a group of labourers who – together with our soldiers, carried the wounded on stretchers, as well as rice, back to our base area. The battle at the Five-Building Complex in Long Điền – the first coordinated tactical battle at battalion-minus level in a town by 445 Battalion had destroyed much of the enemy’s strength and crippled an important element of the Sub-Sector’s police forces. The repercussions were wide-ranging - intimidating the morale of the enemy troops and their officers. The battle proved our ability to organise, to infiltrate and conceal a quite large force – and to defeat the enemy right in his lair. However, the battle also revealed our weaknesses in tactics, technical aspects and the choice of combat formations. We had only studied combat coordination at the section and platoon level within a company context – but we had then fought at battalion level. We had trained on the individual techniques of deploying and fighting the enemy in jungle and mountain environments and in their camps … - but then we had attacked them in a town that had the characteristics of city-fighting. The result was that we were confused when the enemy fought back from the higher floors of buildings using grenades and causing us many casualties – and we were not able to achieve our goal. This was the first lesson that 445 Battalion’s Party Committee and leadership drew and planned to implement in future engagements. The victory in our first battle had the power to fire with enthusiasm the spirit and will-to-fight throughout the whole Battalion. Although we had suffered casualties, the troops never flinched – death was something that had to be accepted. The Party Committee and the Battalion’s leadership continued to train and develop the unit’s tactics – while, on the other hand, deploying the reconnaissance group to study future battlefields in preparation for a large ambush action that would involve the whole Battalion. This would implement the slogan: “Go forth for victory – attack to the end” and build the basis for the Battalion’s tradition. After three weeks of close and arduous observation of the enemy, the Battalion’s reconnaissance element had fully grasped the enemy’s deployment methods in a number of locations - including the ambush site at Đá Giăng. The tactical plan for the ambush at Đá Giăng was then approved by the Province cadre. Đá Giăng was a location on Inter-Provincial Route 44 that ran from Long Điền to Long Hải. The enemy’s Non-Commissioned Officers School for Phước Tuy Province was in Long Hải. Their training grounds were in the valley at the foot of Minh Đạm Mountain.78
Translator’s Note: The Minh Đạm is a range of hills – and a Việt Minh/Việt Cộng base area/secret zone within the areas/boundaries of the villages of Tam An, Phước Long Hội, Phước Hải and Long Hải - (of Long Đất District in modern-day Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province). The Minh Đạm area is more than nine kilometres long and almost five kilometres at its widest. See The Minh Đạm History – 2006 at Annex M.
28 Every day, when moving to their training grounds, the enemy had to pass along the stretch of road at the Đá Giăng bend. They moved in a close formation with less than 10 metres between each soldier. On their way to the training area, hundreds of “student soldiers” would shuffle along in a column many kilometres long – some singing aloud to themselves. The foregoing were the basic factors why we decided to mount a mobile ambush79 at Đá Giăng.80 On the night of 7 January 1966, the four companies of 445 Battalion – together with an element of the Long Đất local troops81 secretly threaded their way past the enemy posts to Đá Giăng (Long Hải) to set the ambush. The 2nd Company was tasked as the forward group (located near the base of Minh Đạm Mountain) and was reinforced with a 57mm recoilless rifle from the 4th (Fire Support) Company. The 1st Company had the task of killing the enemy at the “Decisive point”82 (the centre section). The 3rd Company was the rear element (close to the village of Long Hải). A platoon led by Quang Hổ was stationed on the edge of the salt fields opposite the killing ground of the ambush (in the Rừng Sác). The ambush site was almost 3 kilometres in length and about one kilometre from the road. The Battalion’s headquarters was located on Minh Đạm Mountain. Comrade Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà)83 – the commander of the Provincial Unit, Comrade Sáu Chánh – the Battalion commander, and Comrade Ba Liên – the Battalion political officer, were in direct command. By midnight, all of the ambush groups had deployed into their ambush positions. At 1am, a team from the platoon in the ambush group located in the Rừng Sác salt fields came to the headquarters and reported that the tide was coming in, and they would be unable to conceal themselves. This unexpected situation worried the command element: if there was no group in that area, the enemy would be able to escape into the area and fight back like “trapped rats”. After thinking for a while, Comrade Ba Liên said to Comrade Mười Thà and Comrade Sáu Chánh : - “I guarantee you that at first light the tide will slowly drop. I still remember the proverb by which our countrymen calculate the tide heights: In January, July it’s clear-cut, on the 5th and the 19th of the month it comes in between 7am and 9am – then the ebb occurs from 9am to 11am.” 84 - “Is that correct ?” – Mười Thà responded, slapping Ba Liên on the shoulder. - “Yes, it’s right !”
Translator’s Note: Việt Cộng ambushes were generally classified as either area, static, mobile or manoeuvre. Detailed discussion on such from a Việt Cộng doctrinal publication is in McAulay, L., The Battle of Long Tan, Arrow Books, London, 1987 – see Appendix 4 “The Vietcong Ambush”. A recent analysis by a senior Australian military historian cites a Việt Cộng “annihilation /triple ambush plan” that became an “encounter battle” - Ekins, A., “Unravelling the riddles of Long Tan”, Wartime, Issue 55, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, July 2011, pp.46-47. See also footnote 145 for discussion of “ambush” or “attack”. 80 Translator’s Note: Several “Letters of Commendation” were awarded by the 445 Battalion Commander – Bùi Quang Chánh (Sáu Chánh), for exploits at the Đá Giăng battle on “Route 44” – including for the 57mm recoilless rifle section of the 4th Company – see CDEC Log 12-2425-66. Đá Giăng is sometimes misspelt in communist sources as “Đá Vắng” – and on some maps appears as Núi (Mount) Đá Dung. The ambush occurred in the vicinity of grid reference (GR) YS 432549. 81 Translator’s Note: The involvement of the Long Đất District unit is described in the Long Đất District History – 1986 ie Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử … Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986 - see Annex L. 82 Translator’s Note: “Quyết chiến điểm” – as noted earlier, the ambush “killing ground”. 83 Translator’s Note: Captured Việt Cộng documents show the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit in 1965 to mid-1966 was Nguyễn Văn Mười - ie the cover name for Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà). Nguyễn Văn Mười – as the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit, signed several Letters of Appreciation including for a sapper/reconnaissance member of the 445 Battalion’s 5th Company for exploits at the Đá Vắng [sic] battle on 8 January 1966 – CDEC Log 06-1013-66. 84 Translator’s Note: Literally: “Tháng giêng, tháng bảy phân minh, mồng năm, mười chín, thìn sinh, ty hồi.” – however, the last two words should read “tỵ hồi”.
29 “Okay – go down and directly encourage the men. They can climb into the trees or get soaked in the water – as long as they hold that position. Remind them that to surprise the enemy, they must not open fire until the enemy is very close.”
Ba Liên then returned with the troops to their ambush position. At 8am, the tide dropped, but the enemy had not appeared. By 10am, there was still no sign of them. The villagers were going to work in large numbers, and any who saw our troops were temporarily detained until the battle would be over. The atmosphere in the headquarters was becoming increasing tense and deeply worrying. At midday on 8 January 1966, two wheeled armoured vehicles (“copper pot” vehicles) appeared leading hundreds of enemy troops and moving into the battle area. The whole Battalion held its breath and waited in anticipation. The enemy had stumbled into our ambush site. The leading armoured vehicle was 200 metres from our forward group when the order was given to fire the 57mm recoilless rifle. The round hit the vehicle’s hull, and it slowly reversed while rapidly firing its heavy machinegun. The enemy column began to pile up. At that moment, Nguyễn Văn Quang opened fire with his heavy machinegun, and the weapons of all calibres in the forward group also fired furiously into the enemy infantry. Not giving the enemy any time to regain their composure, the 2nd Company - as the leading spearhead, rushed out at the enemy. At the same time, the rear group also stormed forward. While rushing towards the enemy, our soldiers fired their weapons, threw grenades and loudly shouted: “Attack”. Screaming in panic, the enemy huddled in the middle of the road and returned fire. Then, the 1st Company rushed to attack the “killing ground” and spit scornfully in the faces of the enemy. A very large number of the enemy were killed – and the remainder ran for their lives in the direction of the salt fields. Quang Hổ and his platoon – with their clothes soaked, were in the bushes of the Rừng Sác and, wholly unexpected by the enemy, fired into their ranks. Bodies lay all around, and blood spread into the salt pans. After only ten minutes of fighting, the enemy had been wiped out, and our troops in the four groups met and “shook hands”. One enemy company and two other platoons had been eliminated - and we seized 32 weapons, set fire to two armoured vehicles and captured 25 prisoners.85 It took more than two days for the enemy to recover their dead. Weeks later, the villagers going to their fields were still picking up enemy weapons and ammunition which they handed over to our troops. The Đá Giăng Victory – resulting from the first battalion-level mobile ambush conducted by the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion, will live forever in history.86 Even now at 445 Battalion anniversary celebrations, those soldiers who were present at Đá Giăng
Translator’s Note: A captured Việt Cộng document claims that at Đá Giăng, the communist forces “appealed to US troops to surrender” unsuccessfully, so they “shot and killed them all” – see CDEC Log 031270-66. According to the Đồng Nai Monograph – 2001: on 24 December 1965, 445 Battalion with C25 Company (Long Đất) destroyed two companies of NCOs from the Long Hải Regional Forces Training Centre - Địa Chí Đồng Nai, op.cit., 2001. 86 Translator’s Note: On 15 May 1966 – vide Decision #49/QD-KT, the Headquarters of the South Vietnamese Liberation Army awarded the Liberation Military Exploits Medal 2nd Class to the “Concentrated Battalion of Bà Rịa Province” for its “destruction of the Long Hải NCO School students on 8 January 1966” and its “superior performance of duties in the Phước Thành Battle on 26 April 1966.” – CDEC Log 09-197266. Letters of Commendation were also awarded to 445 Battalion personnel for the Đá Giăng battle – including to platoon commander Nguyễn Văn Ái and squad leader Hồ Văn Phong – see CDEC Log 12-241366. On 10 January 1966, the Battalion Political Officer – Đỗ Văn Liên (Ba Liên), wrote a letter of condolence to the parents of section commander Nguyễn Quốc Thống “killed in a battle on Route 44 on 8 January 1966” – CDEC Log 01-1032-67.
30 speak of the battle as a resounding combat exploit likened to the sound of waves crashing on the shore.87 Also at the beginning of 1966, the Battalion conducted an ambush on Route 15 with the aim of destroying military transport vehicles and seizing war booty to equip our unit’s logistic personnel who lacked equipment. The Battalion destroyed six trucks of the South Korean forces and seized a quantity of white cloth (lengths of cloth) which was later dyed and made into uniforms. At this time, the Battalion also organised a production unit – led by Comrade Hai Hồ, comprised of those comrades who were disabled or feeble, and which was set up in overgrown bushy areas. In but a short time, the production unit had cultivated five sào88 - principally growing vegetables, raising pigs, chicken and cattle … and providing a place where our disabled and wounded could convalesce while producing some grain and food for our unit. As the area was close to the enemy, the cultivated area could not be extensive. Consequently, throughout its setting-up period and development, the production unit was only able to function as a “Production improvement” programme – and was not able to provide “Self-sufficient production”. At the beginning of 1966, across the Southern battlefield, the Americans and their vassals had increased their strength to 200,000. The puppet troops numbered over 500,000. 44 American battalions had been brought into the South. In Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh, the 173rd Airborne Brigade89 and an element of the 1st “Big Red One” Division had completed the deployment of their forces. Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” tactics – together with Phase 1 of their “Limited War” strategy90* was being implemented in a hectic manner. The American military massed into the South with the rashness and bellicose characteristics of that leading imperialist nation. However, from the first days, they stumbled up against the fierce resistance of a people who had never submitted to any invading foreign aggressor.91 The resounding victories of our the troops and the people of the South at Văn Tường, Núi Thành, Bầu Bàng and Plâyme … had all stirred public opinion world-wide. Hundreds of Americans and many of their battalions had been wiped out in a battle that made them panic. These feats-of-arms were increasingly a source of
Translator’s Note: The Đá Giăng battle of early January 1966 is not mentioned in the published history of the Minh Đạm “Secret Zone” Base – ie Phạm Chí Thân, Căn Cứ Minh Đạm, op.cit., 2006. However, on 22 March 1966, a force comprising Việt Cộng sappers (240C Company) and an artillery element from the 5th VC Division moved from the Minh Đạm base and attacked and shelled the Vũng Tàu airfield and the Chí Linh Rural Development Cadre Training Centre in Vũng Tàu – see Phạm Chí Thân, Căn Cứ Minh Đạm, op.cit., 2006, pp.47-48. The Eastern Năm Bộ Region citation for the attack on Vũng Tàu shows the date of the attack as 12 March – CDEC Log 09-1880-66; as does the COSVN award of the Liberation Combat Achievement Medal 3rd Class – CDEC Log 09-2189-66. See also the account of the attack in the 5th Division History – 2005 at Annex I, footnote 10. According to a rallier (hồi chánh) from 240C Sapper Company, the unit incorporated a platoon from 445 Battalion and had undergone training directed by Sáu Chánh - the commander of 445 Battalion prior to the attack on Vũng Tàu – MACV Report 6 026 1864 7. The organisation of 240C and preparations for the attack on “13 March 1966” are detailed in the MACV Report. 88 Translator’s Note: One sào is an area of 360 square metres. The cultivation method was “làm rẫy” – ie the “slash and burn” technique. 89 Translator’s Note: The 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived at Biên Hòa in early May 1965. 90 * Phase 1 (July-December 1965) - to destroy our Wet Season plans and rapidly deploy the American military and its vassals. Phase 2 (1966-1967) – to launch a strategic counter-offensive to destroy our mainforce elements and control the rural areas. Phase 3 (1967-1968) - to finish off our main-force elements, destroy our bases (control the jungle and mountain areas) and withdraw American forces. Source: Selected Writings of Hồ Chí Minh – Book 2, Sự Thật Publishing House, 1980, p.367. 91 Translator’s Note: The Chinese occupied Vietnam on several occasions – the longest being from 111 BC to 939 AD, see Bắc-Thuộc Thời-Đại (The Period of Northern Occupation) in Trần Trọng Kim, Việt-Nam SửLược - A Summary of Vietnam’s History , Edition 7, Tân Việt, Sài Gòn, 1964, pp.45-81.
31 strong encouragement for the morale and will-to-fight of our troops in their struggle for victory over the invading American aggressors. To complement the momentum of the whole nation’s resolve to fight the Americans, 445 Battalion launched an emulation movement to kill the foreign aggressors throughout 1966. This merit programme was divided into three phases (each of three months duration). The first phase was termed the “Determined to fight and defeat the invading American foreign aggressors” movement. The Battalion promulgated the emulation targets for each of the units and their personnel. Being the first to be granted the honourable title of “Valiant Killer of Americans”92 created noisy discussion. Across the whole Battalion, all unanimously registered as one to be “Valiant Killers of Americans”. The resolve within the Battalion had never been so enthusiastic. The companies shook hands pledging emulation competitions and loudly shouted the teachings of the revered Uncle Hồ: “… Overcome every difficulty, fight and defeat every enemy !”. Having developed its logistic base at Biên Hòa, the Americans’ 173rd Airborne Brigade launched a very destructive sweeping operation into the base area of the Biên Hòa Provincial Committee at Gang Tói (Đại An – Vĩnh Cửu), but they were given a hiding and dealt a warning blow by the troops and guerrillas of Vĩnh Cửu (Biên Hòa) - and lost 100 killed. At the beginning of April 196693, the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed a force to sweep the Long Thành and Bà Rịa areas aimed at eliminating the nerve centres of our Bà Rịa – Long Khánh Province and guaranteeing the security of National Route 15 to transport the Americans’ weapons and war materiel from Vũng Tàu to Biên Hòa – Sài Gòn. Having thoroughly grasped the new combat guidelines promulgated by the Provincial Committee, the Military Region and COSVN headquarters, the leadership of 445 Battalion was directly instructed by the Provincial Unit to deeply examine all aspects and strengthen and adjust the unit’s operating methods and tactics. Although the Battalion had yet to clash with the American infantry, the companies were directed to thoroughly absorb the combat ideology, develop a spirit of initiative and creativeness in their methods of attack, and increase the dispersal of their teams and sub-elements in order to swiftly attack the enemy. The companies were to coordinate orders for opening fire – and, when necessary, concentrate their forces rapidly to strike the enemy blow-by-blow. They were to stand firm, strike a warning blow against the Americans and resolve to defeat them in the first battle. The companies would gain experience while fighting.
Translator’s Note: On 22 February 1966, the Political Section of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit issued a directive on establishing “Anti-American Belts” (ie zones) and the “Killing Americans Campaign” – CDEC Log 09-1879-66. A week earlier on 15 February 1966, the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit awarded 445 Battalion’s 1st Company and the Long Đất District Unit the rotating “Determined to Fight and Defeat the Americans” flag – CDEC Log 04-1394-66. For the criteria for the award of the title “Valiant Killer of Americans”, see the Group 84 Circular dated 5 July 1966 with the attached COSVN memorandum dated 5 February 1966 – CDEC Log 12-1913-66. In September 1966, the Military Political Department of the National Liberation Front promulgated a clarifying instruction on awards – by grade, of the “Valiant Killers” programme that noted American vassals (chu hầu – comprising troops from Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Korea) were included in the programme – VCAT Item No. 23119093001. 93 Translator’s Note: The 445 Battalion history does not mention the major ARVN operation Dân Tâm 36 (22 February-5 March 1966) into the Đức Thạnh, Xuân Son, Bình Ba, Tam Long (Tam Long = Hòa Long, Long Phước, Long Tân), and Minh Đạm areas. A detailed report by an element of the Bà Rịa Provincial Committee (C900 – ie the intelligence staff) dated 16 March 1966 is at CDEC Log 09-2447-66. That report claimed that 206 enemy were killed, 73 wounded and two weapons seized in the engagements. Subsequently, on 29 March 1966, the Political Section of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit produced a directive on “political activities” deemed necessary following “counter-sweep operations” in the Long Tân area in the period 23-28 February indicating morale problems in 445 Battalion – CDEC Log 09-1882-66.
32 In implementing the Battalion’s combat concept, the companies were always organised into two elements. One element was dispersed by teams to conduct reconnaissance on the enemy and launch lightning attacks. Another element was ready to deploy for a coordinated attack when ordered. When conducting reconnaissance close to the enemy, the infantry teams were - at the same time, effective “aircraft-hunters”. Using all types of infantry weapons, the soldiers of 445 Battalion shot to smithereens tens of American aircraft during the Americans’ first sweeping operations. 445 Battalion regularly engaged American aircraft involved in heliborne operations east and west of Route 2. The aircraft-hunter team led by Comrade Chinh shot down four UH-1A American aircraft in one day. Comrade Nhan and Comrade Trí even shot down heavy-lift “crane” aircraft (CH5494 and CH4795) with oblique and flanking fire. On 8 April 1966, the Battalion’s reconnaissance elements reported that the Americans were landing troops on the tactical airstrip at Bà Lang (Bình Giả). Assessing the weak points of the American force when it had just landed in this new area preparatory to launching a large sweeping operation, the Battalion headquarters directed a swift attack on the Bà Lang tactical airstrip using two mortars – one 81mm calibre and the other 61mm [sic] calibre, of the 4th Fire Support Company with the company commander - Comrade Tư Như96, in direct command. The reconnaissance element guided the 4th Company’s mortar section, and assisted their survey activities and the selection of a firing base. On the night of 8 April, the mortar section traversed four kilometres of jungle – pushing their way forward, and carrying their mortars and ammunition to a position 500 metres from the Bà Lang airstrip. From there, they fired their mortars by “applied fire” (observing and adjusting the fall-of-shot by sight – and not requiring the optical aiming equipment and other technical elements of artillery troops). At 4am, when the enemy was soundly sleeping after a day of field operations – and their aircraft, artillery and vehicles were in jumbled groups, 35 mortar rounds from 445 Battalion rent the air and plunged down on the enemy. The whole of the Bà Lang tactical airstrip was enveloped in smoke, fire and loud explosions. 12 helicopters and four M113 armoured vehicles were smashed to pieces, and 20 Americans were killed and wounded. On the next day, our Provincial authorities sent a message commending this latest combat exploit by the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion.97 This first feat-of-arms - that destroyed a large quantity of weapons, war materiel and Americans in Bà Rịa, was a significant exploit by the reconnaissance troops and the artillery of 445 Battalion. This evidenced the failure of Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” tactics in those first years in which the whole nation attacked the Americans together. Secrecy, surprise ambushes - and using concentrated forces to wipe out large numbers of enemy in their very dens, were the versatile methods employed by our local troops who were familiar with the terrain and also thoroughly understood the enemy’s operational methods. These were our tactical strong points that - in the spirit and tradition of the earlier 445th and 440th Companies, were passed down and adopted by 445 Battalion. While still employing its forces against the enemy’s sweeping operations98 on Route 2, the
CH-54 Sky Crane helicopter. CH-47 Chinook helicopter – passenger capacity 35. 96 Translator’s Note: Phan Văn Như (aka Tư Như) was formally appointed Company Commander of the 4th Combat Support Company by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit on 9 December 1965 – CDEC Log 09-1830-66, Item 7. He is also noted as the Company’s inaugural commander – see footnote 65. 97 Translator’s Note: Hoàng Văn Lý of the 4th Company was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit for his role in the attack on Bà Lang. – CDEC Log 09-1830-66, Item 10. 98 Translator’s Note: Letters of Appreciation were awarded by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit to soldiers of the 1st, nd 2 and 4th Companies of 445 Battalion for action in counter-sweep operations in the Đồng Ngọc Khải/Xuân
33 Battalion concentrated its elements to launch a surprise attack to wipe out the enemy deep in the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector and support the district troops, the guerrillas, and the political struggle movement of the people. Having been supplied by the people with information on the enemy, on 24 April 1966, the Battalion used its concentrated forces to mount a mobile ambush in the Bà Kỳ Slope area (Phước Thạnh) less than one kilometre from the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector. After an hour of fighting, the Battalion had wiped out a “Panther Skin” commando99 company of the puppet military. One of the enemy captains was brought to justice, many other enemy soldiers were captured, and 53 weapons were seized together with two radios. Also, this was the first battle in which our Battalion’s soldiers seized the American “rapid-fire light machinegun” (AR 15).100 With the support of the Provincial Unit, the Phước Thạnh village Party Chapter immediately led the people to destroy the “New Life Hamlet”101 set up by the enemy, and won a great victory by organizing almost 100 of our countrymen to flock to the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector demanding compensation for the lost lives of their husbands, children and property. Following our battle success in the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector, the whole Battalion deployed to the area of Route 2 to continue the fight against the enemy’s sweeping operations. We also fought a decisive battle there – our first battalion-level engagement by the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion against the Americans in the Jackfruit Gardens base area of Sông Cầu. For a long time, 445 Battalion had determined that the base areas were not only a place to billet its troops – but rather they were a rear base, a training area, and a decisive point within which to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy in a battalion defensive battle. At this time, the Battalion’s rear base area was usually established in two locations - the “primary rear base” and the “combat rear base”. The combat rear base was normally set up on the axes of the enemy’s principal sweeping operations (as assessed by the Battalion) and a few kilometres away from the primary rear base. The positions of the companies were arranged in a formation like the “feet of a cooking tripod”102 - with defensive works, strongly-built shelters and trenches. Assumptions on the enemy’s attack tactics were included in our combat plans and practised daily. The companies were deployed 500-1,000 metres apart as the sides of a triangle, and ready to strike to the flank to aid each other if attacked by the enemy. On 18 May 1966, while all of the military cadre (company and battalion-level) were preparing the battlefield and only the political cadre were in the base arranging political study material for the Battalion, one of our reconnaissance soldiers ran into the base in panic:
Sơn area of Châu Đức District in the period 1-8 April 1966 – see CDEC Log 09-1830-66, Items 9 and 15; Log 12-2405-66, Items 8 and 10; Log 09-1863-66, Items 8 and 10. 99 Translator’s Note: The text uses the term “biệt kích” – a term used by the communist forces for enemy commando/special forces- type troops eg the Civilian Irregular Defence Groups/Mobile Strike Force (CIDG/Mike Force) elements, the Special Air Service and earlier Diệm-era forces. In February 1960, President Diệm established 75 150-man commando companies – later to become ARVN Ranger units (ie the Biệt Động Quân). A “1st Commando Company” was based in Hòa Long village adjacent to 1 ATF in June 1966. In this case, the ARVN unit is probably an ARVN Ranger element – ie Biệt Động Quân. 100 Translator’s Note: Letters of Appreciation were awarded by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit to soldiers of the of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Companies of 445 Battalion for action in the Đất Đỏ/Phước Thạnh area in the period 24-26 April 1966 – see CDEC Log 09-1830-66, Items 8, 11 and 14; Log 12-2405-66, Item 9; Log 09-1863-66, Items 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 11 and 14. 101 Translator’s Note: Literally “Ấp Tân Sinh” – see footnote 30. 102 Translator’s Note: Literally: “Chân Kiếng” – but should be spelt as “Chân Kiềng”.
34 “Comrade Commander, one of our minority countrymen has told me that there is a unit with a large number of strange-looking soldiers – with blue eyes, aquiline noses, and including some with coal-black skin and speaking raucously like highland minority people, and they are moving tactically towards our base.” “Americans ! The Americans are here”. Ba Liên bit his lips for a moment. “Comrade, report back to the reconnaissance element - stay very close to the enemy and lure them slowly in the direction of the 2nd Company. It is imperative that you fire on them, then withdraw quickly and let them follow you. Remember, in the direction of the 2nd Company !” “I understand !” After a very short reply, the reconnaissance soldier ran off.
Ba Liên called Hai Khanh – the political officer of the 2nd Company, for a very brief meeting – nominally a conference of the Standing Committee of the Battalion’s Party Chapter, to decide on tactics. Following this, orders for the deployment of the companies were sent down. The company political officer Tô Dũng also ran off like a flying shuttle103 - running back to check the teams’ fighting positions for a last time. Nguyễn Văn Quang’s heavy machinegun was sited in the defences on the edge of the rubber plantation’s dyke and very carefully camouflaged. The Battalion’s reconnaissance element had fired on the enemy and correctly lured them in the direction ordered by the Battalion. In the whole base area, there wasn’t a single shadow of anyone above ground – all was ready awaiting the enemy. The American soldiers were huge in their flak vests and staggered into the battle area. When the enemy was only 50 metres away, the whole of the 2nd Company suddenly opened fire. From the very first volley, tens of Americans fell down headlong. In the pandemonium, they screamed raucously, fell to the ground, and crawled about in disorder trying to set up a defensive formation. Nguyễn Văn Quang noticed an American 60mm mortar firing rounds into our positions. He quickly dragged his heavy machinegun in that direction, fired a burst, and many Americans writhed about in pools of blood. However, they still clustered around their mortar and continued firing – and suddenly the mortar became a focus point for the destructive fire of Nguyễn Văn Quang’s machinegun. With a large number of American soldiers being killed, the enemy worried about retrieving their dead rather than fighting back. They were only concerned with recovering their comrades’ bodies under our fire – and more fell. Bodies piled up on one another. The cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion had discovered the Americans’ weak point as soon as the enemy had set foot on the Bà Rịa battlefield. While the enemy was focused on its engagement with the 2nd Company, the 1st and rd 3 Companies sortied forth and attacked the enemy’s flank. However, our exposed forces were discovered by the enemy who quickly deployed into blocking positions. After a few minutes of combat and wiping out a number of Americans, the 1st and 3rd Companies withdrew to their defences. The enemy poured in additional troops, but were unable to seize our base. They dug commanding defensive positions and called in armed helicopters (AH1G)104 to fire fiercely into our formations. Follow this, their infantry attacked again, but they couldn’t move forward an inch. Our soldiers held firm in their defences and repelled tens of counterattacks by the American infantry. Comrade Nguyễn Văn Quang’s machinegun alone shot
Translator’s Note: Tô Dũng was the political officer of the 1st Company. A “flying shuttle” (“Con thoi”) ie is a reference to a shuttle used in weaving ie that is passed rapidly across the threads in the warp. 104 Translator’s Note: The AH-1G Cobra helicopter - equipped with miniguns, 2.75 inch rockets and 40mm grenade launchers.
35 down tens of Americans around their 60mm mortar. Late in the afternoon – as it became dark, the whole Battalion abandoned the base.105 In 445 Battalion’s first face-to-face engagement with the American 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Battalion had removed over a hundred enemy from the battlefield. As a result of this victory over the Americans, our resolve was increasingly effervescent. Even when withdrawing, our men excitedly discussed the battle, laughed and chattered boisterously. When they heard the sounds of gunfire in the base area, our military cadre comrades who had gone to study future battlefields turned about and returned. Later, the Battalion organised a military affairs conference to gain experience from our first battle with the Americans. From this, the Battalion determined four problem areas: The Americans’ firepower was very strong – comprising their infantry, artillery and air firepower. Their “Lẹp Fish106” armed helicopters (AH1G) were very dangerous and capable of blasting our firing positions with their rockets. However, the American infantry were timorous; their individual mobility was slow; they only attacked on one axis; and when their soldiers were killed, they worried more about recovering the bodies than continuing the attack. They were also very afraid of close combat. If we were to confront the Americans in a conventional manner over a protracted period, we would be wiped out by their firepower. To be victorious over the Americans, we would have to exploit surprise and attack aggressively. By close combat – “grabbing them by their belts”, we would be able to make their firepower ineffective. We needed to increase guerrilla-style attacks, deploy in small groups and deliver lightning attacks by both day and night whenever they were getting ready to attack us. In this way, their thinking would be affected – they would become wary and apprehensive before setting out on operations and clearing sweeps. After the battle in the Jackfruit Gardens at Sông Cầu107, the Americans deployed their forces to attack into the Đất Gai and Long Phước areas108 with the aim of gathering all the people of Long Phước into Long Điền – Đất Đỏ, and thereby expanding the security zone for their key position at Núi Đất. 445 Battalion continued to engage the Americans in this area. One of the Battalion’s platoons held the Long Phước tunnel system and, for a full day, engaged an American battalion. However, they were able to drive our platoon from the
Translator’s Note: In a directive on 19 May 1966, the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit noted that the US forces “from Biên Hòa” had commenced a “sweep operation” in the Province on 16 May, and on 17 May had clashed with the Provincial Battalion at Long Phước. The Châu Đức, Long Đất and Xuyên Mộc district units were directed to interdict, respectively: Routes 15, 2 and the Bình Ba airstrip; Routes 44 and 52; and Route 23 – CDEC Log 09-2499-66. 106 Translator’s Note: The Parapelecus argenteus fish species – was the communist forces’ nickname for the US AH-1G helicopter, see footnote 104. 107 Translator’s Note: According to the “Hòa Long History” – ie The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930 - 2005), op.cit., 25 April 2009 (see Annex N), elements of the Châu Đức District Unit – under the command of Nguyễn Văn Kiềm, also fought the US 173rd Airborne Brigade in the “Jackfruit Gardens at Sông Cầu” from 18 May 1966. 108 Translator’s Note: The 5th Division History relates that on “6 May, the 1st Battalion ((of 274 Regiment)) combined with the 445th Battalion to drive back two battalions of the US 2nd Brigade sweeping into the Long Phước base” … The 4th ((274)) Regiment was given the mission – together with the 445th Bà Rịa Battalion and local troops to counter the enemy and defend the Long Phước War Zone. From 15 May – continuously to 15 August, the Regiment coordinated with the Bà Rịa local forces.” For the Australian official history’s account of the fighting at Long Phước, see McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, pp.243-246 ie 173rd Airborne Brigade (Operation Abilene) attacked Long Phước on 17 May – and lost 12 KIA and 35 WIA against a Việt Cộng company on the day of arrival and inflicted 16 enemy KIA. Two days later, the clearance of Long Phước began – including participation by 3/43/10th ARVN Division (ie later retitled 18th Division) – joined by the recently-arrived Australian 5RAR for Operation Hardihood a few days later (24 May). Half of Long Phước village’s 3,000 inhabitants were resettled to Hòa Long village - others to Đất Đỏ and Long Điền. Long Phước village was reported as having been “cleared” on 24 May 1966.
36 Long Phước tunnels. Once again, hundreds of villagers and local cadre were trapped below in the tunnels while the American troops held the ground above. The people and our local cadre had to be rescued from the Long Phước tunnels. To achieve this, the Battalion employed sapper tactics – striking with a “blossoming” attack among the enemy to save the people and local cadre in the Long Phước tunnels.109 On the night of 21 May 1966, the Battalion sent seven reconnaissance comrades – with Comrade Nguyễn Văn Bỉ (Hai Bỉ), Comrade Lê Tranh (Năm Tranh)110 and Comrade Năm leading the two teams, to crawl into the Long Phước base and attack the Americans. The whole Battalion’s stock of American “duck’s-bill” grenades was gathered and given to the seven reconnaissance comrades. Each carried a bandolier of grenades and a submachinegun. The two reconnaissance teams both crawled towards the tunnels at Bắc Long Phước hamlet where the Americans had most densely deployed their troops. By employing sapper infiltration techniques, our reconnaissance soldiers each crawled past the American’s “three human fences”. Close to the tunnels, our comrades crept through a flattened banana garden (that had been leveled by bombs), treading on the heads of a few sleeping Americans. They awoke screaming and fired at random. Two comrades in Năm Tranh’s team were hit and killed. Năm Tranh stayed put, took out grenades and threw them into the enemy’s heavy machinegun positions – throwing them one at a time to where the enemy were in great disorder. Having thrown 16 grenades, Năm Tranh was wounded in the buttocks. Using a large fallen tree, he crawled forward and fired the rounds in all seven of his carbine’s magazines before dragging himself beyond the encircling enemy. In the teams led by Hai Bỉ and Năm, everyone had thrown all their 20 grenades – and all three in Hai Bi’s team had been wounded. It’s unclear whether they had been wounded by the enemy or by their own grenades. With the explosion of more than a hundred grenades within throwing distance, the sound was ear-splitting – like a heavy artillery barrage. The enemy screamed in pandemonium. At first, they fired indiscriminately – and only their cries and the sounds of exploding grenades could be heard. Our soldiers’ ears were ringing and bleeding. Exhausted, they were unable to distinguish direction - and those strong enough dragged themselves slowly away from the screaming, the clamour, and the sounds of the enemy’s random firing. When they heard the gunfire, the exploding grenades and the screaming above ground, the local forces below in the tunnels knew that our forces had come to their rescue. A plan to escape their entrapment was implemented immediately. A small opening was made at the tunnel entrance only about five metres from where wounded Americans were moaning. A reconnaissance element crawled out first to take defensive positions to protect the wounded, women … who, in turn, withdrew from the tunnels that very night. During the day, 445 Battalion blocked each sortie of the Americans’ sweeping operations. At night, we divided into many teams to attack their tactical bases. The Battalion fought continuously for weeks killing hundreds of Americans, seizing weapons and ammunition, and military equipment. With 15,000 American troops engaged in their sweeping operation, the enemy were able to seize Long Phước and a number of our bases in the jungle. However, they were unable to destroy our forces – but rather were attacked
Translator’s Note: According to the 5th Division History - 2005, the Division’s 274 Regiment “was given the mission – together with the 445th Bà Rịa Battalion and local troops to counter the enemy and defend the Long Phước War Zone. From 15 May – continuously to 15 August, 274 Regiment coordinated with the Bà Rịa local forces” in combat against the Americans – with its 2nd and 3rd Battalions operating in the Route 2 and 15 area, and the 1st Battalion of 274 Regiment fighting alongside 445 Battalion in Long Phước from 5 May until 4 June. However, the 445 Battalion History makes no mention of 274 Regiment’s involvement at Long Phước. 110 Translator’s Note: See footnote 33 and Annex A – Senior Cadre.
37 continuously both by day and night. Their casualties and losses were heavy, and they were forced to withdraw to Núi Đất to consolidate.111 After almost two weeks of contesting with the Americans, 445 Battalion had gained additional experience. The momentum for the “Kill Americans” emulation programme in the Battalion became increasingly active. Tens of comrades were awarded the title of “Valiant Killer of Americans”. Many of the comrades in the reconnaissance element and the 1st Company received the title: “Distinguished and Valiant Killer of Americans”.112 These included Comrade Nguyễn Văn Quang – the exceptional heavy machinegunner, who was awarded the Liberation Forces Combat Achievement Medal.113 In April 1966, the Royal Australian mercenary forces deployed a task force into the South. The Australian Headquarters was located at 12 Trần Quốc Toản Street (Sài Gòn) and commanded by Major General Priro’ (Parasen).114 At the end of May/beginning of June 1966, the Australian task force completed its deployment and moved to pacify the Bà Rịa region. The tactical headquarters of the Australians was established at Núi Đất and commanded by Brigadier Henderson.115
Translator’s Note: The Bà Rịa Provincial Unit Headquarters sought medals from T1 (Military Region 1) for counter-sweep operations in period 16-24 May 66 (including at Long Phước) comprising a First Class Liberation Forces Combat Exploits Medal for 445 Battalion, Second Class Medals for its 1st and 2nd Companies and Third Class Medals for the C20 and C21 Châu Đức District Companies. In a cited period of nine days of continuous combat - ie 17-25 May 1966, 445 Battalion was claimed to have killed a total of 423 Americans, wounded 25, and shot down seven helicopters – see detailed medal citations at CDEC Log 091885-66 and, for C21, CDEC Log 09-1887-66. 445 Battalion’s casualties were reported as 10 killed and 20 wounded. For claimed US casualties, see footnotes 112 and 113 below. 112 Translator’s Note: Sub-units of 445 Battalion and individuals (37) were noted as being awarded “Valiant Killers of Americans” status. For having successfully “checked the RVNAF sweep operations” in the period 16-24 May 1966, the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit sought Liberation Combat Exploit medals for 445 Battalion, its 1st and 2nd Companies, C20 and C21 Companies (Châu Đức) and Nguyễn Văn Quang (“machine gun cell leader”) – CDEC Log 09-1863-66. C20 Company was reported to have killed 143 Americans and wounded 50 – while suffering five wounded; while C21 Company reportedly killed 180 Americans in the Long Phước battle (19-23 May). 113 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Văn Quang (see also footnotes 59, 105, 175, 280, and 296) was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit for his exploits at Phước Thạnh (Long Đất District) on 26 April 1966 (as a squad leader/2/3/445), and was recommended for a “Third Class Liberation Combat Exploits Medal” for his exploits as a “machinegun team leader” in engagements against ARVN forces in the period 16-24 May 1966 – CDEC Log 09-1863-66. His citation recommendation dated 3 June 1966 noted that in an engagement on 17 May 1966, his heavy machinegun team had killed 65 Americans, and Quang had personally killed 35 Americans - CDEC Log 09-1885-66. 114 Translator’s Note: The Headquarters Australian Force - Vietnam (HQAFV) was established in the Free World Military Assistance Forces (FWMAF) building at 12 Trần Quốc Toản Street (Sài Gòn) on 3 May 1966 under Major General K. Mackay, MBE. Earlier – from May 1965, the commander of Australian Army Force - Vietnam had been Brigadier (from July 1965) O.D. Jackson. The above passage in the 445 Battalion History appears to have been borrowed from Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.132 that refers to a “Major General Fraser” - but “Fraser” has been corrupted to “Parasen” in the 445 Battalion History. Major General C.A.E. Fraser served as the commander of AFV from March 1970 to March 1971. 115 Translator’s Note: The 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) “opened” at Vũng Tàu on 20 May 1966. Following Operation Hardihood to secure the area, 5RAR occupied the Núi Đất area on 2 June – with elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in adjacent positions to the west across Route 2 until their departure on 8 June. That US formation reportedly “lost 23 killed and 160 wounded in helping establish the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF)” - O’Neill, R.J., Vietnam Task: The 5th Battalion – Royal Australian Regiment 1966/67, Cassell Australia, Melbourne, 1968, pp.48-49. Headquarters 1 ATF - commanded by Brigadier O. D. Jackson, arrived at Núi Đất on 5 June 1966 (Brigadier W.G. Henderson took command in June 1970) – the same error appears in both the Đồng Nai History – 1986, the 5th Division History – 2005, and The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930-2005), op.cit., 2009. The Đồng Nai History – 1986, op.cit., p.132 (footnote 2) adds that the Task Force’s strength was “7,824 troops” and was supported by 31 Australian aircraft. The Hòa Long History adds that the Task Force occupied Núi Đất on “29 May 1966”,
38 Like the Americans, having developed their base at Núi Đất, the Australians began to launch sweeping operations deep into the jungle with the intention of destroying our rear base areas, storehouses and fighting strength.116 On 15 July 1966 during one of their sweeping operations, an Australian company clashed with a reconnaissance team from the 1st Company of 445 Battalion that was closely following the Australians.117 Hearing the sound of the reconnaissance element’s gunfire, the 1st Company independently moved swiftly from the base at the Lồ Ô stream (Long Tân) through the jungle for 2-3 kilometres to come to their aid, engage the enemy, and put into practice the Company’s combat tactics. After advancing for 15 minutes, the leading platoon met the enemy and, opening fire immediately, killed almost all of the Australian military’s vanguard platoon that had left Núi Đất on the sweeping operation. Our other platoons followed in time to assist and inflicted heavy casualties on another Australian platoon. Hearing the sound of the 1st Company’s bugles (at this time the Battalion used bugles to coordinate our actions), the Battalion ordered the 2nd and the 3rd Companies to attack from the flank. They struck another Australian column, and the 2nd and 3rd Companies inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy’s leading elements. However, the enemy quickly adopted a defensive formation, threw coloured smoke grenades, and called in artillery to break up and block us. The enemy’s artillery fell like rain, and we were unable to close with their infantry. The Australian force discovered the thrust of our attack and continued to call down artillery to strike deep into our formations. A number of comrades were wounded. Comrade Tô Dũng – the political officer of the 1st Company, died on the withdrawal route back to our base.118 The battle was our first test-of-strength with the Australian forces. We suffered a number of wounded, but we had inflicted heavy losses on an Australian company. This
and the “Royal Australian Task Force” comprised 8,080 troops with a New Zealand artillery company of 20 “106.7mm” guns. 116 Translator’s Note: When deploying Australian forces from Vũng Tàu to Phước Tuy Province in May 1966, 1 ATF noted the local Việt Cộng battalion as “860 Battalion” – with “Code Names” of “C860 Battalion” and “D445 Battalion”, and a strength of 550 – 1 ATF Intelligence Summary (INTSUM) 1/66, Vũng Tàu, 21 May 1966 (the intelligence information was based on the US 173rd Airborne Brigade OPORD 7/66 - Operation Hardihood). The INTSUM did not mention Việt Cộng district companies or village guerrilla elements. 117 Translator’s Note: A report by Đổ Văn Liên (Ba Liên) – the 445 Battalion political officer, shows the date of the engagement as “25 July 1966” – see Annex G. In an interview in March 1989, Đổ Văn Liên claimed to have been the “commander on the ground” and stated that 445 Battalion’s losses “had not been more than six, but one had been a company commander” (connect with the following footnote) – Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, pp.116-117. For the Australian official Australian, see McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit.,1993, pp.280-281: “At Suối (stream) Đá Bang; Australian forces (B/6RAR) suffered two KIA; the enemy reportedly suffered 6 KIA including possibly the commander of the 1st Company of D445.” In May 1971, in an historical review of 445 Battalion, the 1 ATF Intelligence Staff noted that in June 1966, 445 Battalion had been “caught in a 1 ATF counter sweep in the Long Tan area and lost 50 KIA, 20 WIA and 10 weapons CIA ((captured in action)).” - Peters, C.C.M. Major, D445 - Order of Battle, 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, Núi Đất, 6 May 1971 – ie a repeat of the “50 VC KIA (BC)” cited in an earlier 29 May 1970 edition of their D445 Order of Battle study. 118 Translator’s Note: “Tô Dũng” was noted earlier in this 445 Battalion History as the deputy political officer of 440th Company in December 1964. He was formally promoted from “platoon leader to assistant political officer” by Military Region 1/Bà Rịa Provincial Unit on 20 October 1965 – CDEC Log 09-1876-66. However earlier in the 445 Battalion History, Tô Dũng is shown in May 1965 as the 1st Company political officer. He was also noted in a captured document conducting a motivational campaign as the 1st Company political officer in December 1965 - that included a quite detailed history of the then 117-strong 1st Company (CDEC Log 05-1293-66). In mid-1966, a “Tô Văn Dũng” was recommended for promotion to political officer of the Battalion’s 1st Company – CDEC Log 12-2393-66. 1 ATF reported the recovery of the body of an “officer of D445 Battalion, possibly the commander of C1/445 Company” who had been “badly wounded … and executed by VC troops … VC had searched the body and removed weapon” – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 55, Núi Đất, 26 July 1967.
39 proved our capability to deploy and apply our combat tactics swiftly - and that 445 Battalion’s cadre and soldiers had the spirit and will to fight doggedly and defeat all enemies in any situation. However, from this first test-of-strength, the Battalion confirmed that it could not under-estimate the Australian forces – particularly their application of artillery fire to break up counter-attacks and their ability to flexibly redeploy their own forces for counter-attacks.119 Following the coordinated sweeping operations by the Americans, Australians, and the puppet forces, tens of thousands of enemy troops struck into our base areas at Sông Cầu, Suối Lồ Ồ, Long Phước and Minh Đạm with the aim of achieving victory in the first phase of their “Counter-offensive Strategy” on the Bà Rịa battlefield – but they were all defeated. From the 1966 Wet Season, the Americans transferred the responsiblility for pacification in all of Phước Tuy Province (Bà Rịa) to the Australian forces.120 The New Zealand artillery was placed wholly in support of the Australians. In August 1966, the Australians set up two further major positions at Núi Đất and Bàu Lùng121. At the end of the 1965-66 Dry Season, COSVN reinforced the Bà Rịa battlefield with a regiment from the 5th Division to join with the local forces against the enemy’s sweeping operations.122 In the 1966 Wet Season, the headquarters of the 5th Division123 coordinated with the military headquarters of Bà Rịa - Long Khánh Province to direct a major destructive strike
Translator’s Note: According to the 5th Division History - 2005: “On 15 July, the Australian 3rd Battalion secretly attacked the base of the 445th Battalion at Lồ Ồ stream. In this first engagement, we lacked tactical experience against the Australians – and although the cadre and soldiers of the 445th Battalion fought very bravely, they were unable to destroy many of the enemy. Rather, the unit suffered heavy casualties from the enemy’s artillery firepower.” The initial Australian infantry battalions of 1ATF were 5RAR and 6RAR - ie not 3RAR which arrived in Vietnam in December 1967. 120 Translator’s Note: On “pacification”, see footnotes 29 and 225. 121 Translator’s Note: “Bàu Lùng” is probably a reference to “Bầu Lun” – where a US Special Forces element established a camp (B-36) in January 1967 to train Vietnamese Mobile Strike Force (MSF-Mike Force) elements. The camp was located on Route 44 west of the Long Hải Mountains – about a kilometre north of Long Hải village. The Long Đất District History – 1986 relates that, in 1970, the Australians “set up a battalion-level training centre at Bầu Lun for the Lon Nol troops and used them for patrolling on Routes 2344.” Australian personnel trained Khmer Republic soldiers at the Long Hải camp from January 1972. The Đồng Nai History – 1986 refers to a base at “Bàu Lùn … with more than one thousand” troops. - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.132. 122 Translator’s Note: The 5 Division History - 2005 relates: “In June 1966, the 4th ((274)) Regiment received orders to move to the Châu Pha-Hắt Dịch with the task of attacking the enemy and defending the supply areas of Group 84. The 5th Regiment moved from Long Khánh to east of Route 2 to protect the offices of the Divisional Headquarters and to prepare its forces to attack the Australian forces developing their base at Núi Đất – Bà Rịa.” In June 1966, the strength of 274 Regiment’s battalions was 1,128 (D1/800 Bn/H12 – 411 personnel; D2/265 Bn/H14 – 401; D3/308 Bn/H16 – 316) – CDEC Log 09-1854-66. On 20 October 1966, Australian 5RAR troops in an operation in the Núi Thị Vải mountains recovered the notebook/diary (completed to 7 October 1966) of Nguyễn Nam Hừng – the second-in-command of 274 Regiment - see CDEC Bulletins 1413 and 1418; CDEC Log 11-1259-66 (translated text); and 1 ATF Troops Information Sheet No. 31, Núi Đất, 13-19 February 1967 (for a three-page commentary). The capture of the diary and an outline of its contents is related in O’Neill, R.J., Vietnam Task, op.cit., pp.48-49 and pp.155-156. According to Australian sources, the diary reportedly related that, in the period 9-11 June 1966, 274 Regiment lay in wait to ambush an Australian sub-unit expected to recover a US observation aircraft shot down in the Núi Nghe area. Similarly - according to the Australian official history, the diary indicated that 274 Regiment “had planned to ambush Australian troops near the Núi Nghe feature in early June 1966.” – see McNeill, I., To Long Tan , op.cit.,1993, p.249. Author Paul Ham interviewed Nguyễn Nam Hừng in Vũng Tàu in midNovember 2005, but Hừng could not “recall the loss of his diary.” – Ham, P., Vietnam – The Australian War, HarperCollinsPublishers, Pymble, 2007, p.710. 123 Translator’s Note: The 5th Division History – 2005 also relates the Battle of Long Tân in some detail – see the translation at Annex I, pp.5-10. In August 1966, the Headquarters of the 5th Division moved three kilometres south from its base at Suối Đu Đủ (YS 780820 – in Base Area 301) to the vicinity of YS 790785.
40 against the Australian forces on the Bà Rịa battleground. Comrades Năm Truyện124, Năm Tâm125 (Sư Năm), Ba Út126, Út Đặng127 (Bà Rịa - Long Khánh Provincial Unit) – together with the staff elements of the two units, held many meetings to carefully consider and assess the situation - while delegating Comrade Nguyễn Hữu Nghĩa128 - the second-incommand of the reconnaissance company of the 5th Division, and the 445 Battalion’s reconnaissance element to go and examine the battlefield in the Long Tân and Long Phước region of Bà Rịa. After three days, the reconnaissance elements of the two units had completed their study of the battlefield.129 In the Lồ Ồ stream base, the Province’s military
Translator’s Note: Colonel (Thượng Tá) Nguyễn Thế Truyện (aka Năm Truyện and Năm Sài Gòn) had commanded the 1st Regiment (271/Q761 Regiment) during the successful battle of Bình Giã in early 1965. He commanded the 5th Division until late November 1967. Năm Truyện was killed in combat in early February 1968 during the NVA/VC Tết Mậu Thân offensive while serving as Commander of Sub-Region 1. 125 Translator’s Note: Trần Minh Tâm (Năm Tâm) was the founding commander of the 4th Regiment (274 Regiment) of the 5th VC Division. In August 1966, he was the Chief of Staff of the 5th Division – confirmed by the NVA defector Lieutenant Colonel Lê Xuân Chuyển. His participation in the planning and conduct of the battle at Long Tân as the “Deputy Divisional Commander” is also related in the 5th Division History – 2005, see Annex I, p.5, p.8. That History relates Năm Tâm meeting with “Comrade Đặng Hữu Thuấn (Commander of the Bà Rịa Unit)” on 10 August 1966 to plan the engagement, and Trần Minh Tâm is described as the “battlefield commander”. Tâm’s presence is also related later in the 445 Battalion History – see footnotes 142, 149 and 162. Tâm is also noted in a major Vietnamese account of the War as leading the 5th Division elements at Long Tân – ie Lịch sử Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước – The History of the AntiAmerican Resistance War for National Salvation, Tập 4 (Vol 4), Nhà Xuất Bản Chính Trị Quốc Giả, Hà Nội, 1999. However, Trần Minh Tâm is not mentioned as the senior 5th Division Headquarters representative during the Battle by Nguyễn Thanh Hồng (Hai) – a 5th Division operations officer, who strongly implied that he - ie Hồng, played the premier 5th Division role - see Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, pp.99104. According to Nguyễn Thanh Hồng, during the Battle, the headquarters of 275 Regiment was on Núi Đất 2 Hill (see footnote 142), and he commanded the 5th Division Headquarters forward element in Ấp Phước Hưng (GR YS 495670) – see footnotes 137, 142, and 144. Post-War, Nguyễn Thanh Hồng appeared in an Australian DVD/video documentary and described aspects of the Long Tân battle - Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, Australian Broadcasting Commission/Film Australia, Lindfield, 1993. 126 Translator’s Note: Ba Út – ie Nguyễn Đức Hoạt, Deputy Commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit – was also reportedly known as Nguyễn Văn Út. He was transferred to the staff of Military Region (MR) 7 in June 1969 – VCAT Item No. 2310510003. Nguyễn Đức Hoạt (Ba Út) - Deputy Chief of Staff of MR7, was killed by Australian forces on 21 November 1969 in northwest Phước Tuy Province – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 39/70, Núi Đất, 8 February 1970. 127 Translator’s Note: Đặng Hữu Thuấn was also known as Út Đặng, Đặng, and Thiêm. He had infiltrated into the South in 1961, and in 1965-1966 he served at Military Region 1/T.1 as the Chief of Operations and Training with the grade of “regimental executive officer” – CDEC Bulletin 257, Log 03-1253-66. Thuấn was transferred from T.1 to Bà Rịa on 30 June 1966 – CDEC Log 12-2459-66. Đặng Hữu Thuấn (Út Đặng) is noted in the 5th Division History - 2005 as the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit. According to that History: on “10 August 1966, the Combined Battle Headquarters – comprising Trần Minh Tâm and Comrade Đặng Hữu Thuấn (Commander of the Bà Rịa Unit) met to determine the fighting tactics to destroy an Australian battalion in the Long Tân region.” Út Đặng is also later described in the 445 Battalion History at p.67, pp.75-76 as the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit – apparently replacing Nguyễn Văn Mười/Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà) in mid-1966. Nguyễn Việt Hoa (Mười Thà) was transferred to command the Việt Cộng “Đoàn 10/Group 10” unit in the Rừng Sác/Sát - CDEC Log 06-2022-67. Đoàn 10 was reportedly 64-strong – Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.132. However, see the detailed Rung Sat Special Zone Intelligence Study (circa mid-1968) of the Rừng Sác and Đoàn 10 (997strong, including 211 guerrillas) – VCAT Item No. 4000105007. 128 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Hữu Nghĩa – or probably more correctly Lê Hữu Nghĩa, was either the commander or 2ic of the reconnaissance company of 275 Regiment – see following footnote 153. A “Nguyễn Hữu Nghĩa” – a member of the 9th VC Division, had been attached to Bà Rịa but, as directed by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit on 19 July 1966, was returned via MR6 – CDEC Log 09-1979-66. 129 Translator’s Note: The 445 Battalion political officer – Đổ Văn Liên (Ba Liên), stated that he and Sáu Chánh (Bùi Quang Chánh – 445 Battalion Commander) “coordinated with the 275 Regiment and the element of 5 Division headquarters” – Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, p.117.
41 command section and the headquarters of the Division convened a conference of cadres comprising the platoon commanders and above of the two units - ie 445 Battalion130 and the 4th [sic] Regiment131 of the 5th Division, to thoroughly study the tactical outline of the ambush battle to destroy the Australians at Long Tân.132 The forces to participate in the fighting comprised133:
Translator’s Note: According to the Australian official history, the Australian Task Force assessed the strength of 445 Battalion as 550 – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.351, p.559 (endnote 114). McNeill has apparently reported the 1 ATF estimate as at late May 1966 – see footnote 116. However, 445 Battalion’s strength was probably no more than about 380 – see “social data” on the Battalion’s personnel at Annex F and translated extracts of the recovered 445 Battalion Command and Political Reports of July and August 1966 at Annex G. In this 445 Battalion History - 1991 account of the Battle of Long Tân, the name of the 445 Battalion commander is not mentioned. The Australian official histories cite Nguyễn Văn Kiềm (see footnote 195) as the 445 Battalion commander at the Battle – ie rather than Bùi Quang Chánh (Sáu Chánh) – see Chamberlain, E. P., Research Note 23, “Vietnam War: Commander of D445 Battalion at Long Tan – Not ‘Nguyen Van Kiem’ but ‘Bui Quang Chanh’ ”, 23 September 2010 (to the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Army History Unit - Canberra) - and discussion in outline biographies at Annex B – Key Cadre. Note however that an “Australian intelligence document” (an organisational chart) in September 1966 included “Sau Chanh” as the commander of 445 Battalion – reproduced in Burstall, T., Vietnam – The Australian Dilemma, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993, p.94. 131 Translator’s Note: An apparent error – as the 5th Regiment (275 Regiment) was the principal Việt Cộng formation involved in the Battle of Long Tân – ie not the 4th Regiment (274 Regiment). 274 Regiment is also incorrectly cited (in lieu of 275 Regiment) in the history of the C.12-65 “Binh Gia Victory” Assault Youth Group – see Annex E: Long Tân Casualties. The official histories of the 5th Division - 2005 and the Đồng Nai History - 1986 – as well as the major Vietnamese history of the War ie Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, Tập 4 (Vol 4), op.cit., 1999 – all cite 275 Regiment (ie the 5th Regiment) as the principal Việt Cộng formation at the Battle of Long Tân. At Long Tân, 275 Regiment was commanded by Nguyễn Thới Bưng (also known as Út Thới – see footnotes 56, 142 and Annex J) and Nguyễn Văn Cúc was the Regiment’s political officer. The 2ic of 274 Regiment – Nguyễn Nam Hừng, noted in his diary on 28 September 1966: “the 5th Regiment ((ie 275 Regiment)) attacked Núi Đất”, “600 Australians” were killed and “1 Australian battalion exterminated” – CDEC Log 11-1259-66. On 274 Regiment activity, Hừng related that “for most of August and September, the ((274)) Regiment was transporting rice.” Hừng’s statement conflicts with claims – including by Nguyễn Văn Kiềm (Commander D445, early 1968-1969), that 274 Regiment was tasked in mid-August 1966 to interdict any US forces moving south on Route 2 to relieve Australian forces during the Long Tân battle – see Kiềm’s statement in Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993. On 274 Regiment’s activities, see also extracts of the 5th Division History – 2005 at Annex I, footnote 29. According to the 275 Regiment commander Nguyễn Thới Bưng, during the Battle of Long Tân, his 275 Regiment headquarters was located “on the small feature of Núi Đất 2” – see map at page 100, and he was accompanied by his executive officer “Major Ba Du” (ie Ba Đức) - see the interview in Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, Book 2, op.cit., 1990, p.100 and p.206. According to the Australian official history: “In the final evaluation, including forces held in depth, the task force assessed the enemy as 275 Main Force Regiment of three battalions reinforced by at least one battalion from the North Vietnamese Army together with 445 Battalion. … The total strength of 275 Regiment was 1600 … The strength of the NVA battalion was 500 and the strength of D445 Battalion was 550.” – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.351 and p.559 (endnotes 113 and114). A contemporary account reported that: “At least one North Vietnamese battalion was attached to 275 Regiment for the operation.” - Townsend, C. Lieutenant Colonel, 6 RAR After Action Report – Operation SMITHFIELD: 18-21 August 1966, Nui Dat, 7 September 1966. 132 Translator’s Note: The Australian official account of the Battle of Long Tân – including discussion of casualties, is in McNeill, I., To Long Tan , op.cit., 1993, pp.305-375. Other relevant Australian works on Long Tân include: Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns (Book 2), op.cit.,1990, pp.92-124; McAulay, L., The Battle of Long Tan, op.cit., 1987; Grandin, R., The Battle of Long Tan: As Told by the Commanders to Bob Grandin, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2004; and Ekins, A., “Unravelling …”, op.cit., July 2011. The account of the Long Tân battle as related in the 5th Division History - 2005 is included in Annex I, pp.5-10. 133 Translator’s Note: Additional to the elements listed below, according to “Mr Quang”: the “Long Tan Village Guerrilla Group” also participated – see interview in Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993. In 2006, the officer commanding the Australian forces at Long Tân (Major H. Smith) related Việt Cộng forces involved as: “275 VC Main Force Regiment. These plus D445 and D400 [sic] made around 3,000 enemy troops.” - Smith, H. “No Time for Fear”, Wartime – Issue 35,
42 the 2nd Company of 445 Battalion with the responsibility of being the forward blocking force at Hamlet 1 of Long Tân village – reinforced with one B40134, a reconnaissance element from the 5th Division and a 57mm recoilless rifle from the Battalion. the 1st and 3rd Companies of 445 Battalion directly commanded by Comrade Sáu Thu (the Battalion second-in-command)135 – together with the 1st Battalion (4th [sic] Regiment136 of the 5th Division) as the rear blocking group. the 3rd Battalion137 (4th [sic] Regiment of the 5th Division) with the responsibility for the flanking thrust (the decisive point138). We reinforced the area of the killing ground with a minefield comprising 12 DH5 and DH10139 mines, and 42 American Mk1 mines. the 80-strong Võ Thị Sáu140 civil labour company – comprised mainly of females from the Province and led by Chín Phương as company commander, to support the battle.
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2006. However, neither 440 Local Force Battalion (see Annex K) - nor a “D400” were involved. A map of the battle site follows at page 100. 134 Translator’s Note: B40 – a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG-2), effective range 150 metres; B41 – a larger rocket propelled grenade (RPG-7), effective range 500 metres. 135 Translator’s Note: Sáu Thu (Nguyễn Đức Thu) – previously noted as commander of the 2nd Company at the founding of 445 Battalion. Post-War, Nguyễn ĐứcThu appeared in an Australian television documentary and described aspects of the battle - Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993. 136 Translator’s note: see footnote 131 above – should be 5th Regiment throughout not 4th Regiment. 137 Translator’s Note: This indicates that 275 Regiment’s 3rd Battalion was allocated the “killing ground” at Long Tân – as confirmed by the 5th Division History – 2005, see following footnote 138. However, Nguyễn Thanh Hồng (footnote 125) stated that at the 5th Division forward headquarters element in the small deserted hamlet of Phước Hưng near Long Tân, he “had with him there the third battalion of the 275 as a reserve element.” - Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, Part 2, op.cit., 1990, p.99. According to the NVA defector Lê Xuân Chuyển (Chief of Staff of 5th VC Division – see VCAT Item No 4080124002), the 3rd Battalion of 275 Regiment was “fairly good” because it consisted entirely of North Vietnamese who had been recalled to active duty and infiltrated into the South. The 3rd Battalion was previously the North Vietnamese Army’s 605th Battalion and had initially been raised as the 4th Battalion of the 32nd Regiment in Thanh Hóa on 15 April 1965 – of its 500 members, two-thirds were “Southerner regroupees” – ie “cán bộ hồi kết” (soon joined by 200 Northern recruits). On 10 September 1965, the Battalion was redesignated D605 and began its 2,000km/112-day infiltration on 13 September – CDEC Bulletin 3975. D605 Battalion (commanded by Nguyễn Văn Thiệu; and with Vũ Ngọc Khuyến as political officer) was incorporated into 275 Regiment in May 1966 following the Regiment’s heavy casualties at the second battle of Võ Su (Bình Tuy Province) in mid-March 1966 which had forced the incorporation of the Regiment’s 2nd and 3rd Battalions as a restructured 2nd Battalion. The Australian official history notes that the Australian Task Force estimated that 275 Regiment “of three battalions ((had been)) reinforced by at least one battalion from the North Vietnamese Army together with D445 Battalion.” - McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.351. Nguyễn Văn Thiệu did not command 275’s 3rd Battalion at Long Tân as he had been killed in the Ông Đồn engagement in March 1966 in Long Khánh Province – as related in the 5th Division History - 2005. A major Vietnamese history of the War incorrectly cites the “6th Battalion of 275 Regiment”– ie rather than the 3rd Battalion, and “a company of 445 Battalion” destroying a “company of Australian soldiers” at Long Tân - Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, Tập 4 (Vol 4), op.cit, 1999. For detail on 275 Regiment, see Annex J. 138 Translator’s note: Literally – “Quyết chiến điểm” which equates to “killing ground”. The 5th Division History – 2005 (see Annex I, footnote 33) similarly states that “The 3rd Battalion was deployed about 800 metres to the northwest of Route 52 with the task of attacking into the main killing zone at the Thất Pagoda.” 139 Translator’s note: DH10 was a directional mine – “equivalent” to the US Claymore mine. 140 Translator’s Note: In May 1950, Võ Thị Sáu, a member of the Đất Đỏ Công An Xung Phong was captured. She was born in 1933 in Phước Lợi (joined Việt Minh at age of 14), sent to Côn Đảo (a prison island in the South China Sea), and executed in January 1952. Võ Thị Sáu was made a member of the Đảng Lao Động Việt Nam (Vietnamese Labour – ie Communist, Party) on day before being shot. A statue of the female martyr Võ Thị Sáu was erected in Đất Đỏ in 1985 – see the Long Đất District History - 1986 at Annex L – pp.64-65, p.99 for detail. According to its unit history, the C.12-65 “Bình Giả Victory” Company also
43 a surgery element led by Dr Phong and Dr Kính.141 a forward command element was established two kilometres to the north of Long Tân142 by Comrades Út Đặng and Năm Tâm143 to directly command the battle.144
The ambush145 configuration for the battle was almost three kilometres long.
assisted at the Long Tân battle: ie as the enemy artillery was very heavy and destroyed the NVA/VC field telephone lines, they were employed in commo-liaison duties taking messages from the headquarters to the battlefront, repairing broken field telephone lines, and evacuating casualties to "Hospital 1500" in the area of the “Mây Tào” mountains. Reference to casualties being treated at “Đoàn 1500” (ie Đoàn 555 until mid-late 1963) is also included in Hữu Thanh, Miền Đông Nam Bộ khói lửa, Thursday - 28 August 2008. For translated extracts related to NVA/VC casualty evacuation, see Annex E – Battle of Long Tân: Casualties. 141 Translator’s Note: Comrade Hai Phong and Comrade Nguyễn Đình Kính. 142 Translator’s Note: The headquarters would appear to have been on the southern slopes of Núi Đất 2 (GR YS 485676) – a small wooded hill about 126 metres in height, also called “Núi Thơm” (see footnote 291). During the Battle, a Việt Cộng heavy machinegun and a medium/light machinegun fired on Australian troops from that location, and “the enemy command element” was thought to be “on the forward slopes of Nui Dat 2” – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.328 and p.323. As noted earlier however (see footnotes 125 and 137), Nguyễn Thanh Hồng related that the “headquarters of the attacking force of the 275 Regiment under the command of Senior Captain Ut Thới” (ie Nguyễn Thới Bưng) was located “on the small feature of Nui Dat 2, just to the north of the ((Long Tân)) plantation’s edge.”, and that he (Hồng) commanded the forward headquarters element of the 5th Division “in a small deserted hamlet just on the eastern side of the Long Tân plantation called Ấp Phước Hưng” – ie about two kilometres east of the Long Tân battlefield at GR YS 495670. Hồng made no mention of the presence of Trần Minh Tâm – the Chief of Staff of the 5th Division at the Battle – see T. Burstall’s interview with Nguyễn Thanh Hồng in Biên Hòa City on 10 November 1987 – pp.99-112 in Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns …, op.cit., 1990. 143 Translator’s Note: Trần Minh Tâm – Chief of Staff of the 5th Division, See footnotes 125 and 127. 144 Translator’s Note: This passage notes Út Đặng (Đặng Hữu Thuấn – the Commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit) and Năm Tâm (Trần Minh Tâm – Chief of Staff /Deputy Commander of the 5th Division, see footnotes 125 and 127) directly commanded the battle from a position two kilometres north of Long Tân – ie Núi Đất 2. However, as noted above, Nguyễn Thanh Hồng (born 1932, Hội Mỹ – aka Hai Hồng) - an operations staff officer on the Headquarters 5th Division, has claimed that “it was left to him to plan the attack” at Long Tân and that he was the on-site commander throughout from Phước Hưng hamlet. NguyễnThanh Hồng also stated that he chose a tactic for the Battle that he described as “the luring of the tiger from the mountain” – see T. Burstall’s interview with Nguyễn Thanh Hồng in Biên Hòa City on 10 November 1987 – pp.99-112 in Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns …, op.cit., 1990. Subsequently, Hồng also outlined his role – including the “luring the tiger” tactic in Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993. See also Annex J – 275 Regiment, footnote 34 for information on Nguyễn Thanh Hồng. 145 Translator’s Note: Vietnamese accounts describe the engagement as a planned “ambush” (see footnotes 138 and 144). The 5th Division History – 2005 (see Annex I, p.9) describes the tactic as a “mobile ambush to destroy the Australian force – a new combat objective on the battlefield.” Several Australian works contend that an “encounter battle” is a more appropriate description – see McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, pp.362-371; Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, Book 1 - p.160, Book 2 – p.99, pp.109-110, pp.122-123; Ekins, A., “Unravelling …”, op.cit., 2011. See also footnote 79. In his report – citing intelligence indications, the commander of 6RAR wrote that D Company “contacted 275 Regiment plus elements of D445 Bn which was moving to attack 1 ATF base on the night 18/19 Aug 66.” - Townsend, C. Lieutenant Colonel, 6 RAR After Action Report – Operation SMITHFIELD: 18-21 August 1966, Nui Dat, 7 September 1966. The 1 ATF Report similarly implied that the Việt Cộng force intended to attack the Núi Đất base - 1st Australian Task Force - Vietnam, Combat Operations After Action Report – Operation Smithfield, R723-1-5, December 1966. In recent publications, Lieutenant Colonel H. Smith (the officer commanding D/6RAR at the Battle of Long Tân) and David Sabben (a platoon commander at the Battle) have argued strongly that the Việt Cộng force had planned a ground attack against the 1 ATF base at Núi Đất - ie rather than an “ambush” at Long Tân – eg see Grandin, R., The Battle of Long Tan …, op.cit., 2004, pp.275-293; and Sabben, D., Was the Battle of Long Tan a VC ambush? : A presentation, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1996.
44 At 10.15am on 18 August 1966146, two Australian battalions and an armoured vehicle squadron147 advanced in three columns (a main column and two subsidiary columns) that moved in parallel into our battle zone. The main column advanced along the dirt road to Long Tân with four tanks148 in the vanguard, followed by two infantry companies supported by two armoured vehicles. The two subsidiary columns advanced as pincers – parallel with the main column and at a distance of 300 metres from it. Each of the pincers comprised a battalion with two tanks in support. All three enemy columns fell into our encircling ambush.149 Nguyễn Văn Bượng – the commander of the observation post element reported the following to the headquarters: “Report ! The enemy has appeared 650 metres from the rear blocking position of our battle zone.” After having confirmed the situation with the observation group, Út Đặng flicked the switchboard150 to another line and loudly and clearly ordered: “Attention, forward
Translator’s Note: This 445 Battalion History does not mention the shelling of the Australian Núi Đất base on 17th August. However, according to Đổ Văn Liên – the 445 Battalion political officer, the Battalion provided “guides for the units that mortared the Task Force” – Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, p.117. The 5th Division History – 2005 (see Annex I, p.7) relates: “Continuously through 16 and 17 August, the local forces and the Division’s reconnaissance cells fired mortars into Núi Đất”. The 1 ATF Commander’s Diary for August 1966 described the impact on 17 August of “63 VC 82mm mortar bombs and five 70mm howitzer rounds” based on “crater analysis” – Headquarters 1 ATF - Commander’s Diary, August 1968 – see also 1 ATF INTSUM No. 77, Núi Đất, 17 August 1966 that reported the shelling “as probably by D860 Battalion”; and McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.305 that related the 22-minute shelling that began at 0243hrs on 17 August. The shelling comprised 82mm mortar, 75mm RCL and 70mm howitzer rounds (probably from an obsolescent Japanese Model 92 howitzer). 1 ATF suffered 24 wounded – two seriously. On 17 August, patrols from B Company of 6RAR found the firing site of the Việt Cộng 75mm RCLs (at GR YS 468655) with 23 discarded 75 mm shell cases, “bits of bodies and blood-stained clothing”, and an ox cart destroyed by the 1 ATF artillery counter-battery fire. - Mollison, C.S., Long Tan and Beyond – Alpha Company 6 RAR in Vietnam 1966-67, Cobb’s Crossing, Woombye, 2006, pp.124-125. Mortar base-plate positions were also found in the vicinity of GR YS 459671. Post-War, a Việt Cộng medic - Chung, related that three of Việt Cộng RCL party from 275 Regiment were killed in the 1 ATF counter-battery fire and were buried nearby. - Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993. According to the official Australian account of the Battle in McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993 pp.305375, the ground battle commenced at 4.08pm on 18 August 1966. According to the 5th Division History 2005, the Australian force was sighted: “at 3.30pm” by “the 2nd Battalion’s reconnaissance cell” (of 275 Regiment) and engaged soon after. A comprehensive contemporary Australian report of the Battle is at: 1st Australian Task Force - Vietnam, Combat Operations After Action Report – Operation Smithfield, R723-1-5, December 1966 (Internet-accessible, see Bibliography). According to the Report, the first contact between the two forces was at 1540hrs (3.40pm). Maps and sketches attached to the Report illustrate the phases of the Battle and also note the Việt Cộng shelling positions and the 1 ATF counter-battery targets. 147 Translator’s Note: Literally – “chi đoàn xe bọc thép”. The initial Australian force at Long Tân – ie the 108-strong D Company of 6RAR (infantry, three artillery personnel) was not mounted in armoured personnel carriers and was not accompanied by armoured vehicles. Australian armoured personnel carriers (APCs M113A1 11-tonne) - carrying infantry reinforcements, only arrived at Long Tân towards the end of the Battle – at approximately 1850hrs (ie 6.50pm) on 18 August 1966. 148 Translator’s Note: Literally - “xe tăng”. The Australian tanks (“xe tăng”) – ie 51-tonne Centurions, did not arrive in Vietnam until February 1968 (by August 1968, the squadron was at full strength with 28 tanks). Subsequently, in this 445 Battalion History, the Vietnamese term, “xe thiết giáp” has been translated as “armoured vehicle” – this is almost always a reference to the M113A1 APC, and its variants. 149 Translator’s Note: The 5th Division History – 2005 (see Annex I, p.8, p.9) indicates that the 275 Regiment elements were caught off-guard by the Australian advance because Trần Minh Tâm (Năm Tâm) – who was “directly commanding the battle”, had “directed the observation element to temporarily withdraw” … “We had committed an error in our observation of the enemy and in arranging our formations to start to attack from a far distance – because of this, we were unable to surround and destroy the enemy battalion.” 150 Translator’s Note: Literally: “tổ hợp điện thoại” - probably a field telephone switchboard, most likely the Chicom Type 10.
45 blocking group: the enemy is advancing in three columns to the west-northwest straight into our battle zone. Comrades must strive to maintain complete secrecy. Wait until the enemy is truly close, and only open fire when the order is given by the headquarters.” Năm Tâm151 picked up his communications device and added: “Attention ‘Tail’, the enemy force is very long. If there are any difficulties with the command’s communications system, then automatically open fire on the enemy when they are 30 metres from the battle zone’s forward blocking position.” Everything went without a hitch until the last minute. When an enemy tank was 50 metres from the forward blocking position, the trigger was pulled on a recoilless rifle (RCL) - but the round misfired ! The enemy then discovered our battle position. They fired thick-and-fast – while withdrawing and redeploying their formations. Comrade Lê Thanh Trừng – a 5th Division reinforcement to D445152 and armed with a B40, had just got up to fire on a tank when he was shot through the chest by a round from an enemy heavy machinegun. The hero Lê Thanh Trừng had fallen ! Nguyễn Hữu Nghĩa – the commander of the reconnaissance element (from the 5th Division)153 came forward and grabbed the B40 and hit the leading armoured vehicle, setting it on fire. Comrade Vĩnh – the number two154 of a 57mm RCL crew, followed up by loading a second round for Comrade Tân to hit and set fire to the second armoured vehicle. The third armoured vehicle was destroyed by two B41 rounds fired by the reconnaissance element from the 5th Division. The engagement at the forward blocking position became increasingly fierce. The situation was like a “Battle Royal” as the enemy massed quite close to our positions. The battle became close combat, fought in groups and by areas – it was difficult for our infantry and artillery to support one another. Rain began to come down in buckets. Our 57mm RCL155 was “nullified” at a tactical distance of a few tens of metres, and many of the comrades in the weapon crew were killed and the crew commander was captured.156 After the first few minutes of
Translator’s Note: Trần Minh Tâm (Năm Tâm) – Chief of Staff of the 5th Division, see footnote 125. As noted at footnote 144, Trần Minh Tâm was reportedly collocated with Út Đặng (Đặng Hữu Thuấn) - the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit, most likely on the southern slopes of Núi Đất 2 Hill (see footnote 142). 152 Translator’s Note: This is the only reference in this 445 Battalion History to the Battalion as “D445”. The NVA/VC used letter designators for their formations, units and sub-units - ie A for section/squad, B for platoon, C for company, D for battalion, E for regiment and F for division. 445 Battalion was referred to as “D 445” in the reports by the Battalion commander and the political officer – see Annex G. 153 Translator’s Note: Earlier – see footnote 128, Nguyễn Hữu Nghĩa was described as the 2ic of the reconnaissance company of the 5th Division. The 5th Division History – 2005 however relates that a “Lê Hữu Nghĩa” as the officer commanding 275 Regiment’s reconnaissance company – and who “used a B40 to destroy the leading armoured vehicle” at the Long Tân battle. 154 Translator’s Note: Literally: xạ thủ phụ – not the “firer” of the DKZ 57 (57mm recoilless rifle), but the support soldier who loaded the weapon. 155 Translator’s Note: The Vietnamese text implies a single weapon only. However, two 57mm recoilless (RCL) rifles were among the weapons captured by the Australian forces at Long Tân. Individual weapons recovered were 33 AK-47 rifles, five SKS rifles, two M1 carbines, one M1 Garand rifle, one Browning automatic rifle, seven RPD light machineguns, one PPSh M1941 sub-machinegun, one Thompson submachinegun, and four RPG-2 rocket launchers. Crew-served weapons captured were one 7.62mm SGM heavy machinegun (with shield/wheels) and two 57mm RCLs – see McAulay, L., The Battle of Long Tan, op.cit., 1987, p.141 and McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.558, endnote 108. Several “side-arms” – particularly K-54/Tokarev automatic pistols, were also recovered but retained by Australian personnel. 156 Translator’s Note: On the evening of 18 August 1966– ie at the conclusion of the Battle, 1 ATF reported that “the VC unit was probably the 274 Regiment of the 5 Division” – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 78, Núi Đất, 18 August 1966. On the afternoon of the day following the Battle, a 6RAR situation report noted recovering “ID cards issued in North Vietnam. Enemy units involved in battle identified as C14 Company, D3 Battalion, Q5 Regiment; D605 and 45 NVA Regiment.” - Mollison, C.S., Long Tan and Beyond , op,cit, 2006, p.201. Only one member of 445 Battalion was captured at Long Tân (reportedly a 57mm RCL gunner); and two members of 275 Regiment were captured – who declared themselves as members of “Đoàn 45” (ie then a cover
46 confusion, our forward position was still able to force the enemy into the killing zone. They fell into our minefield and were killed in large numbers. Our rear element also began to storm into the enemy in the killing zone – while, at the same time, our flank attacking group advanced. The enemy was in a miserable situation and surrounded, but the tanks and infantry in their subsidiary columns continued to press into our areas that lacked anti-tank firepower and counter-attacked us. Following this, the enemy regrouped and used coloured smoke to mark their positions and called in directed artillery fire. We were unable to move even a half-metre to finish off a number of the enemy because of their “rain of artillery” from the “New Zealand orchestra” (a term used by the enemy for their New Zealand artillery battalion in Bà Rịa157). Almost all our attacking elements suffered casualties to the enemy artillery.158 Comrade Sáu Thu – the commander of 445 Battalion’s rear blocking group, was seriously wounded by an AR15 round that passed through one ear lobe to the other.159 Comrade Sáu Chiến160 – the commander of the 1st Company was killed. After about an hour of fighting, the headquarters ordered our elements to withdraw.161 Miss Chín Phương and her comrades in the Võ Thị Sáu civil labour company
designator for 275 Regiment). Later on 19 August, 1 ATF reported that the two “Northern” PW “were members of NVA 45 Regiment whilst the other was a member of D445 Battalion Local Provincial Mobile. The North Vietnamese prisoners revealed that 45 Regiment formally [sic] 23 Regiment (possibly means 33 Regiment) moved into Phuoc Tuy Province in May this year and is allied to 66 Regiment. … Captured documents revealed that D3 Battalion, D605 Battalion, and C14/D3/Q5 Regiment were in contact with elements of 6RAR on 18 August” – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 79, Núi Đất, 19 August 1966. Translator’s note: Some published Australian accounts have misinterpreted the foregoing to indicate that a North Vietnamese unit titled “45” – ie separate to 275 Regiment, was involved at Long Tân (see footnotes 131 and 137). The foregoing three unit/sub-unit designators in the captured documents all relate to the 3rd Battalion of 275 Regiment of the 5th VC Division – for an outline history of 3/275 Regiment see footnote 137, and also Annex J for 275 Regiment (including a very brief account of the Long Tân battle by NVA Captain Trần Văn Tiếng). On 21 August, the 1 ATF intelligence staff were still unsure of the enemy elements engaged at Long Tân – assessing that: “The 275 VC Regt, 605 Bn 250 Regt and C860 Bn withdrew East and NE following the 18 Aug operations against 6 RAR” – Annex A to Op Toledo Frag Order 1-8-66, OPS204, 211600H Aug 60. As noted earlier at footnote 137, D605 was the earlier title of the 3rd Battalion of 275 Regiment that had joined the Regiment in May 1966, and C860 was believed by 1 ATF to be a cover-name for 445 Battalion. 157 Translator’s Note: The New Zealand artillery element – ie 161 Battery - Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA) had earlier been attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade since June 1965. In mid-1966, it joined the Australian Task Force and was located in the Task Force base at Núi Đất – not “in Bà Rịa”. Two New Zealand infantry companies were later integrated into Australian battalions – the first arriving in April 1967. For New Zealand forces in Vietnam, see Rock, J.R., Kiwis Under Fire: The New Zealand Armed Forces in South Vietnam c.1965-1972, University of Auckland, November 1995. 158 Translator’s Note: Artillery units in the 1 ATF base at Núi Đất comprised: 1 Field Regiment (105mm M2A1 howitzer – maximum range 10,575 metres), 161 Battery RNZA (105mm), A Battery of the US 2/35 Regiment (155mm M109 medium self-propelled gun – maximum range 14,600 metres). A total of 3,198 105mm and 242 155mm rounds were reportedly fired in support of the Long Tân battle – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.351. 159 Translator’s Note: Some of the Australian troops at Long Tân were armed with the 5.56mm M16 rifle – not the very similar AR15 model. Post-War, in an Australian television documentary, Nguyễn Đức Thu (Sau Thu) spoke on the Long Tân battle and displayed his head wound - Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., DVD, 1993 – see also notes on Nguyễn Đức Thu (Sáu Thu) at Annex B. 160 Translator’s Note: Trần Văn Chiến (Sáu Chiến) was appointed - from Executive Officer, to command the 1st Company on 20 October 1965 - CDEC Log 09-1876-66. He was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit in mid-February 1966 - CDEC Log 04-1394-66, was as an “outstanding emulator of 1965”- CDEC Log 05-1294-66 (very unusual for such a high-ranking military cadre), and had been formally promoted to Commander of the 1st Company on 15 February 1966 - CDEC Log 05-1294-66. 161 Translator’s Note: In an interview on 18 March 1989 in Biên Hòa, Đổ Văn Liên (Ba Liên) – the 445 Battalion political officer, related to Terry Burstall that after the battle: “Ba Lien’s part of the D445 went to the area of the Song Rai [sic] forest and moved around the area telling the people all about the big battle in the rubber plantations. They did not go anywhere near the Nui May Taos [sic]” – Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, p.117. After the battle, 275 Regiment elements “moved back to Lá Jungle base camp”
47 – unafraid of death, ran fearlessly through the enemy’s falling artillery and - together with the troops, carried the wounded to safety. In this large battle with the Australian forces, we wiped out an entire company and inflicted heavy casualties on one of their battalions.162 COSVN Headquarters awarded the Liberation Combat Exploits Medal Third Class for the battle.163 However, it was also a battle in which we suffered heavy casualties. In 445 Battalion’s 2nd Company alone, there were 23 casualties – of whom three died.164 The 5th Division lost 30 comrades killed and over 60 wounded.165 Our casualties were mainly inflicted by the enemy’s artillery. Once
((ie the Rừng Lá – vicinity YT 7610 in Xuân Lộc District of Long Khánh Province)) – see Annex J, 275 Regiment. 162 Translator’s Note: For an “all-sources” summary of casualty claims for the Battle, see Annex E – Battle of Long Tân: Casualties. On Australian casualties, in his 153-page diary (to 7 October 1966, recovered by Australian forces on 20 October 1966), Nguyễn Nam Hừng (2ic of 274 Regiment) related that “the 5th Regiment attacked at Núi Đất” and “500 Australians” were killed and “1 Australian Battalion” was “exterminated” – CDEC Log 11-1259-66. The 5th Division History - 2005 relates that the Long Tân battle: “had a very important significance: it was the first time that we had destroyed an Australian company.” The Military Region 7 History relates: “The 5th Division … fought many battles … and - in particular, together with the Bà Rịa 445 Battalion, for the first time struck the Australian forces in the rubber plantation at Long Tân (18 August 1966) and inflicted heavy casualties on an Australian company.” - The Armed Forces of Military Region 7 – 50 Years, 1995, p.35. The Đồng Nai History – 1986 relates: “As planned, on 19 August 445 Battalion ambushed (“phục kích”) the Australian group at Vườn Xoài. Their 3rd Battalion advanced with tank support from Núi Đất and fell into our ambush. 275 and 445 manoeuvred to decisively fight the enemy. Our troops killed 500 Australians and destroyed 21 tanks.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.132. The Đồng Nai Monograph - 2001 similarly records: “The Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu 445 Battalion attacked the Australian troops at Vườn Xoài on 19 August 1966 and killed 500 and destroyed 21 tanks.” - Địa Chí Đồng Nai, op.cit., 2001. A major Vietnamese account of the War relates: “On 18 August, the troops of the 5th Regiment of the 5th Infantry Division led by Deputy Divisional Commander Trần Minh Tâm set an ambush and attacked the Royal Australian Battalion [sic] which was sweeping the Núi Đất-Đất Đỏ area. After 30 minutes of fighting, the 6th [sic] Battalion (of the 5th Regiment) – supported by a company of the 445th Battalion (Bà Rịa Provincial Unit) destroyed a company of Australian soldiers. As a result, this Australian mercenary force - renown for its experience in counter-guerrilla warfare, became panic-stricken and fled to Đất Đỏ.” - Lịch sử Kháng chiến …, Tập 4 (Vol 4), op.cit., 1999. 163 Translator’s Note: Several 445 Battalion soldiers were awarded Letters of Appreciation (Giấy Khen) for their exploits “fighting the Australians on 18 Aug 66” at Long Tân including Đào Văn Trung – section 2ic/2nd Company - CDEC Log 12-2368-66; Trần Văn Tranh – section 2ic/2nd Company; Phạm Văn Đương - 2nd Company – CDEC Log 01-1673-69. Soldiers of 275 Regiment also received medals, letters of appreciation and commendation certificates for action in the battle at Long Tân – see Annex J. 164 Translator’s Note: The same casualty figures for the 2nd Company are cited in a medical history - Lê Thanh Dũng (et al), Lịch Sử …, op.cit., 2008. A former commander of 445 Battalion (early 1968-1969) – Nguyễn Văn Kiềm, but who was not present at the Long Tân battle, claimed that 445 Battalion’s casualties – both dead and wounded, were “approximately 30, mainly from artillery fire” – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.368. According to Nguyễn Văn Nhường (alias Lộc) – a 445 Battalion platoon 2ic at Long Tân who subsequently defected under the Chiêu Hồi programme (see footnote 233), 445 Battalion casualties were “10 killed in action and 16 wounded in action.” – Pannell, B.W., “Postscript to Long Tan”, Australian Infantry, 16, No.2, May 1970, p.180. In mid- September 1966, 1 ATF reported: “D445 had probably lost between 30-40 KIA.” - 1 ATF Intelligence Review No.1, Núi Đất, 13 September 1966, para 4.c. Much later, in May 1971, the 1 ATF Intelligence Staff noted that “returnees” had stated 445 Battalion’s “casualties were 70 KIA and 100 WIA.” - Peters, C.C.M. Major, D445 - Order of Battle, 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, Núi Đất, 6 May 1971. At time of the Battle, 445 Battalion’s strength was probably 380-400 (see Annex G). Captured 445 Battalion documents detailed the Battalion’s strength as 392 in early August 1966, 409 in November 1966 and about 415 in December 1966 – see Annex C – D445 Battalion: Strengths. 165 Translator’s Note: For a summary of Long Tân battle casualty claims and assessments, see Annex E. On the 5th VC Division’s casualties in the Long Tân battle (ie almost all suffered by its 275 Regiment), the 5th Division History – 2005 relates: “The 1st Battalion and the 3rd Battalion ((of 275 Regiment)) suffered high casualties. … Our forces suffered a large number of casualties – 32 were killed and 60 comrades were wounded.” - Phạm Quang Đinh, Colonel (ed) Lịch Sử …, op.cit., 2005. A recent medical history has related that the 5th Division’s “main forces” suffered “over 200 casualties” - Lê Thanh Dũng (et al), Lịch Sử …,
48 more, 445 Battalion’s cadre and soldiers again discovered a dangerous trick: the use by the Australian forces of directed and counter-assault artillery fire. Throughout the 1966 Wet Season, the Australian forces coordinated with the puppet military to continuously launch deep clearing operations into our rear service bases located east and west of Route 2, in Long Phước, and the Minh Đạm … they had met our forces on the Bà Rịa battlefield – particularly 445 Battalion which they regarded as a “Force to be afraid of”. They coordinated with intelligence networks and the military intelligence of the puppet forces to find out 445 Battalion’s operating methods and the location our bases in order to attack us with artillery and airpower – and launched large clearing operations using infantry … with the aim of “eradication”. However, not only were they unable to achieve such, but there were many occasions on which they suffered heavy casualties. 445 Battalion continued to operate right beside them. In places where the enemy’s bombs, shell and tanks had flattened the earth, it looked like not even a mouse could exist. However from July [sic]166 1966 onwards, 445 Battalion did not conduct any large operations (at battalion-level) as we were continually on the defensive countering the enemy’s sweeping operations. Nevertheless, unplanned engagements occurred regularly – and these were very tense. After almost a year of contending with the enemy’s “counter-offensive strategy” in the critical areas, many of our core soldiers and battle-experienced cadres had become casualties. The morale and the fighting will of the Battalion were still good – but our combat strength was uneven. At the end of the 1966 Wet Season, 445 Battalion headquarters decided to strike a staggering blow against the puppet forces deep within the enemy’s area of control – a blow that would resound across the region, while gaining experience for us to attack the Australians’ base on Da Quy Mountain.167 After our reconnaissance platoon had reported on the situation, the Battalion chose the Đồn Sập camp (Phước Hải) as the target for its attack. The Đồn Sập camp – in a
op.cit., 2008. Nguyễn Văn Nhường (see the preceding footnote) stated that the official casualty figure for the 5th Division was “about 200 killed in action”, but he believed “the figure of 200 to be a gross under-estimate.” - Pannell, B.W., “Postscript …”, 1970, op.cit., p.180. Subsequently, a 5th Division POW – NVA Captain Trần Văn Tiếng – an assistant political officer in 275 Regiment at the Long Tân battle (captured on 26 February 1969), stated that 275 Regiment “sustained over 200 casualties, including both KIA and WIA” at the Long Tân battle “on approximately 17 August 1966” – VCAT Item No. 2310305007. The Australian official history relates that “A diary of the enemy commander at Long Tan which was subsequently captured listed his losses as 500” - McNeill, I., To Long Tan, 1993, op.cit., p.351 and p.558 (endnote 110) - note however, that no copy or translation of that reported document is available. In 2008, Vietnamese contributors to an official Vietnamese military blogsite challenged the Australian figures for Việt Cộng casualties as excessive – see Altus, Trận Long Tân, Quân Sử Việt Nam website, 8 May 2008 – and postings in August 2008 by sudoan, and in February and March 2011. None of the available Vietnamese district-level histories make any mention of the Long Tân battle - including the Long Đất District History - 1986 (although the battle took place on the far northern border of Long Đất District) - Phan Ngọc Danh & Trần Quang Toại,, Lịch Sử …, op.cit., 1986; The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930 – 2005), op.cit., 2009; nor The Minh Đạm History, op.cit, 2006. As noted, for further discussion on aspects of the Battle, including Vietnamese and Australian casualty claims and assessments – see Annex E, Battle of Long Tân: Casualties. 166 Translator’s Note: As the battle at Long Tân occurred on 18 August 1966, the reference to “July 1966”, may imply that 445 Battalion did not regard the battle at Long Tân as an engagement in which they had operated at “battalion-level” – or, more likely “July 1966” should perhaps have been “September 1966”. 167 Translator’s Note: Sometimes also spelt as “Gia Quy” – was an ancient partially-collapsed volcano about 8 kilometres southeast of the Australian 1ATF base, and termed “The Horseshoe”, or “Horseshoe Hill” or “the Horseshoe Feature”. Located at YS 494620 on the northern edge of Đất Đỏ Town, the height of its rim was about 60 metres, and the crater floor was about 550 metres across. The Horseshoe was first permanently occupied by D Company of 5RAR on 6 March 1967. Artillery in The Horseshoe base extended the range of 1 ATF fire support. ARVN units were also trained at The Horseshoe.
49 commanding position and manned by a Regional Forces168 platoon, obstructed our movement from the direction of Lộc An169 to the Minh Đạm base. While termed a platoon base, Đồn Sập had all the strength characteristics of an entrenched defensive position. The camp was atop a white sand hill and comprised a large blockhouse with a large number of firing loopholes and three other blockhouses – all connected by communications trenches. Alongside the fighting trenches, there were many bunkers constructed of “sand bags”.170* Heavy machineguns were placed at the loopholes – and there were also bins full of grenades for the enemy to throw out around their blockhouses. Beyond the communications trenches, there were many barbed-wire fences (loose-wire fences, stackedroll fences, single-layer fences) – 15 metres in depth and sown with many different types of mines and illumination flares. This was the first attack on a camp by our Battalion171, so the Provincial Party Committee and the Provincial Military Command Section were very concerned. Comrade Út Đặng 172 – the Provincial Unit Commander, and many of the Provincial cadre staff specifically came down to the Battalion to provide guidance. The Battalion had selected a reconnaissance detachment of seven soldiers - directly led by Comrade Hai Bỉ, and the whole of the 2nd Company for this task. All were under the general command of Comrade Tư Chánh, the Battalion’s second-in-command. The battle was practised on a tactical model and rehearsed in our Suối Rau base. For the engagement, the force was bolstered with a 57mm recoilless rifle from the 4th Company to suppress the enemy firepower, six DH10 directional mines, and two bazooka rounds. The bazooka rounds were to be used as large explosive charges to blow passages through the barbedwire and create two entrances for our assault forces to seize the camp. At midnight on 20 November 1966, our two columns had concealed themselves close to the Đồn Sập fences. Late on that deserted and quiet night, an explosion resounded and a three-metre wide gap was blown in the array of fences. The sound of the explosion had not completed died away when Hai Bỉ – carrying a pistol, had placed six grenades against the “principal blockhouse”; and was followed by Comrade Hường. With their grenades, the two comrades had crippled the main blockhouse and allowed our two infantry spearheads to pour into the camp. In only a few minutes, we had seized the complete camp. Such a victory was beyond our expectations. However, it had been too quick and unusually easy – and this kindled complacency. Two of the remaining enemy in the corner of a trench threw grenades, and 12 of our comrades were wounded.173 It took another 15 minutes
Translator’s Note: Formerly termed the Civil Defence Force/Civil Guard – ie until 1964. However, communist writings continued to call both the Civil Defence Force and the Regional Forces – “Bảo An”. At the end of 1966, there were 17 Regional Force (RF) companies and 46 Popular Force (RF) platoons in Phước Tuy Province (totaling 4,500 troops) – together with an understrength ARVN battalion (1/43/10th Division) – ie later retitled 18th Division – McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.403. The locations of all ARVN – including RF and PF elements, in Phước Tuy Province as at 30 November 1966 are recorded in 1 ATF, ARVN, RF and PF Dispositions in Phuoc Tuy Sector, R92-1-2, Núi Đất, 31 December 1966 – see AWM95, 1/4/20, folio 40 (Internet accessible). 169 Translator’s Note: Lộc An is located on the coast about five kilometres northeast of Phước Hải village see footnote 49. 170 * A type of bag made of synthetic material that the enemy filled with soil or sand to build their bunkers – each bag weighed about 30 kilograms. 171 Translator’s Note: A captured document showed 445 Battalion’s strength in November 1966 as 409: Headquarters and 1st Company – 110, 2nd Company – 42, 3rd Company 41, 4th Company- 75, 5th Company 81 (CDEC 05-1754-67). The Australian official history shows the Battalion’s strength as 350 in November 1966 - McNeill, To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.48 and p.501 (endnote 56). 172 Translator’s Note: As noted earlier, Đặng Hữu Thuấn – ie as related in the 5th Division History – 2005, was the commander of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit. 173 Translator’s Note: A captured document shows that 445 Battalion’s 2nd Company lost four personnel killed on 20 November 1966 - ie the date of the attack on the Đồn Sập camp - CDEC Log 05-1754-67. At 0650hrs on 21 November, ARVN Bà Rịa Sector advised 1 ATF that VC elements had launched a small arms
50 before we were able to grab these two and take hold of the whole battlefield. More than 30 men and women (civilian labourers) from three villages in the Đất Đỏ area assisted our troops to collect all the weapons – that included tens of boxes of grenades. Following the Đồn Sập victory – and through the example from the very beginning of the bravery of Comrade Hai Bỉ and Comrade Hường, the Battalion had gained the needed experience in attacking a camp. 30 seconds after an explosion had blasted a way in, our forces had to be right at the base of a blockhouse – that was the most critical moment in which to seize victory. This experience helped in many subsequent attacks on camps in which the Battalion was victorious. Our elements that attacked the camp had achieved a significant military exploit. However, our troops in the base area were to suffer unimaginable losses. They were developing the barracks area when a number of seemingly aimless artillery rounds impacted. No one was able to count the number of rounds in that indiscriminate bombardment. Suddenly, a number of our people felt a heat gnawing at their insides, and they appeared quite exhausted. Following this, a few comrades died. The Battalion assessed that our base had been hit by chemical rounds174 and decided to move from the area. Our forces were just leaving the base when it was suddenly struck from the air by a B52 raid, and the base became a sea of fire. Next, American and Australian troops began a sweeping operation. On our withdrawal to a new base, many more comrades fell down without apparent cause and could not be saved ! Comrade Hai Ban - a doctor, and a number of comrades from the Province’s military medical group came to the Battalion and conducted surgery and tests and discovered that those who had died had pale livers and their lungs were full of blood. Looking at the poisoned soldiers, Comrade Ba Liên – the Battalion political officer, wept his heart out at the enemy’s extremely wicked act. Something that we could no t fully comprehend. The outcome of the enemy’s chemical shelling was quite serious. Apart from burying its dead, the Battalion had to organise a group to transport a number of its soldiers who had been poisoned to our Province hospital. This evacuation group was led by Comrade Ba Kiên, the Battalion’s second-in-command. However, the enemy’s aggressive sweeping operation was still ongoing - they had discovered the blood trails of the evacuation group and were in pursuit. Comrade Ba Kiên delegated Comrades Thắng, Thống and Nguyễn Văn Quang to remain behind and block the enemy. At this time, Nguyễn Văn Quang had cached his heavy machinegun and was armed with a B40 - that had been left behind by the 5th Division, to enable him to more easily carry the wounded. The three comrades climbed a large tree to observe the approaching enemy. Six tanks appeared – each a few tens of metres apart, knocking down the trees and foliage as they advanced. The leading M41 tank halted when it was about 40 metres from the large tree. The enemy opened the turret hatch to look around. The situation was very dangerous. From a fork in the large tree, Nguyễn Văn Quang raised his B40, aimed at the tank and pulled the trigger. Hit by the rocket, the tank burst into flames. As all three comrades were descending from the tree, the ammunition in the tank exploded. The explosion shook the surrounding area, and they were flung to the ground. Comrade Thống was killed. Comrade Quang was
attack at Phước Hải. At 1035hrs, Sector reported “15 KIA and 12 WIA” (presumably RF), but APC-borne assistance from 1 ATF was not required – 1 ATF Operations Log, Sheets 66 and 68, 21 November 1966 – AWM95, 1/4/19. 174 Translator’s Note: A directive from the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit - signed by Deputy Chief of Staff Nguyễn Kim Trào on 9 May 1966, warned of the US use of poisonous products on the battlefield (reportedly used on 11 April 1966) . The directive was not to be disseminated to village militia and guerrillas fighters “lest they be confused”, but included advice on protective measures. - CDEC Log 12-1826-66. Subsequently in October 1966, a circular advised personnel in Châu Đức District of preventative measures and first-aid against CH and BZ chemicals – CDEC Log 10-2443-66.
51 seriously wounded and unconscious. Slightly wounded, Comrade Thắng shouldered their three weapons and - with Comrade Quang leaning on him, dragged Quang 500 metres and hid in the undergrowth. Following this event, Province awarded Certificates of Commendation to all three comrades. For his exploit in destroying the tank and many other outstanding achievements175, Comrade Nguyễn Văn Quang was declared a “Hero of the People’s Armed Forces”. In the fighting, Party work and political work were routinely important tasks.176 In arduous, violent and difficult situations, our cadre had to strive even harder. After the losses in the chemical attack, the Party Committee and the Battalion Headquarters both reinforced the 2nd Company – the sub-unit that had suffered the heaviest casualties.177 The Battalion transferred a number of Party cadre and key soldiers from the other companies to the 2nd Company. Party and Youth Group Chapters were also strengthened in both the quantity and quality of personnel to achieve their tasks. The Battalion initiated a series of activities entitled “Remember and Respond” in order to change the deep grief into revolutionary action, successful combat, training and other good activities - and to exact revenge for our comrades who had been killed by the enemy. The Province authorities also provided funds to purchase materials for political activities in the Battalion. Each company was given from one to two transistor radios and guitars, chess sets and packs of cards … Art and cultural activities were strongly encouraged throughout the companies, and the morale and fighting spirit were soundly maintained. Many disabled comrades in the rear areas (production units) - who had not yet recovered from illness and injury, enthusiastically rushed back to their units to again take up arms.178 Youth in the villages of Long Đất and Châu Đức Districts volunteered to join the revolutionary armed forces179 in this period, and the Province authorities allocated them all to 445 Battalion (at the request of the youths). At this time, the Battalion had 21 sets of brothers (from two to three siblings) who fought alongside each other.180*
Translator’s Note: For Nguyễn Văn Quang, see footnotes 59, 105, 112, 113, 280 and 296. Translator’s Note: In several captured documents, the political staff are described as “non-combatants” – eg statements by Trần Văn Tiếng (3/275 Regiment), Đổ Văn Liên (445 Battalion). 177 Translator’s Note: As noted earlier, a captured document shows that the 2nd Company lost four personnel killed on 20 November 1966 - ie the date of the attack on the Đồn Sập camp - CDEC Log 05-1754-67. Losses would have also included those in the fighting with 6RAR (Operation Bribie, 17-18 February) east of Hội Mỹ and probably at Lò Gốm on 17-18 February 1967. An Australian report noted that - supporting an ARVN operation, 6RAR elements had assaulted a VC position following an airlanding at YS 542572 on 17 February 1967 and reportedly killed 35-50 VC, later identified as D445 Battalion personnel – 1 ATF Troops Information Sheet No. 44, Núi Đất, 15-21 May 1967. In Operation Bribie, 6RAR suffered seven killed and 27 wounded – and, among the six VC bodies recovered on the battlefield were reportedly the officer commanding D445’s 3rd Company – and his 2ic. In January 1968, 1 ATF reported that 445 Battalion had “not operated as a battalion since February 1967.” - “Discussion Point: The Enemy In And Around Phuoc Tuy”, Troops Information Sheet No. 77, 31 December 1967 - 6 January 1968, Section 3, p.4. 178 Translator’s Note: At about this time – 445 Battalion’s strength was about 415. A captured finance report for “D/445” listed the strength of the Battalion’s companies in December 1966 as follows: 1st Company: 104 personnel; 2nd Company: 88; 3rd Company: 38; 4th Company: 73; and 5th Company: 91 = Total 394 (ie not including a discrete figure for Battalion headquarters) - CDEC Log 05-1724-67. 179 Translator’s Note: Below the level of 445 Battalion and the local district companies, the Việt Cộng “irregulars” in Phước Tuy Province included village guerrillas, “self-defense forces”, and “secret self-defense forces”. In early December 1966, the United States Sector S-2 (Intelligence) advisor in Bà Rịa Town estimated the strengths of these elements respectively as: guerrillas – 467; self-defense forces – 245; secret self-defense forces – 207; Total – 917. The ARVN estimates were respectively 420; 1,445; 410; Total – 2,275. The MACV Order-of-Battle estimates were 405; 575; 410; Total 1,390. See - Estimate of Việt Cộng Irregular Forces Strength in SVN, CIC-V Item No. 0240612012, 24 March 1967. See also Annex C. 180 * Xuất - Cải – Sinh – Tranh, Hùng, Đức – Bé Mến, Bé Sáu, Bé Bảy, - Ba Bùi, Thăng, Tám Tông – Tô Dũng, Tô Sỹ – Oanh, Vũ – Huyền, Thanh – Tặng, Xuân – Bỉ, Lưởng – Đế, Băng – Tinh, Minh – Quang Hổ,
52 With reinforcements and a period of consolidation, the Battalion launched many attacks directly against the bases of the Australians and the puppet forces in Long Điền, Phước Long Hội and Phước Hải182 and destroyed much of the enemy’s strength. These victories contributed importantly to the defeat of the enemy’s second counter-offensive (in the 1966-1967 Dry Season) on the Bà Rịa battlefield.183 As the limited war of the American imperialists reached its peak, aid to the South from our fraternal brothers in the North progressively increased greatly – “All for our blood brothers in the South”, “Everything to defeat the invading American aggressors”, “Cross over the Annamite Mountains to save the country” … Share everything – from your own lives to even potatoes.184 That feeling moved the hearts of millions in the South who loved their homeland. Make the Fatherland an impregnable fortress. This wholehearted assistance even reached 445 Battalion. The Battalion was completely re-equipped with new weapons and reinforced with a number of
Hồng Linh – Quý Thảo – Tư Bốn, Lợi – Xuân, Tuấn – Trung, Tư – Là, Ngà – Thùi, Lọ – Hoàng Anh, Nghĩa – Tí, Nhật. 181 Translator’s Note: A major engagement on the eastern outskirts of Bà Rịa Town in December 1966 is not mentioned in the 445 Battalion History – ie on 9 December 1966, 180 ARVN recruits were captured at the Vạn Kiếp National Training Centre, and the VC subsequently released 62 elderly and sick ARVN POW on 9 January 1967 – see the report by the Phước Tuy Sector S-2 on 5 Feb 67 – VCAT 6 075 3301 67. See also the S-2 debriefing report of POW at VCAT 6 075 3302 67 and 1 ATF INTSUM No.192, Núi Đất, 10 December 1966 (ARVN casualties: 11 KIA, 26 WIA, 184 MIA; VC: 2 KIA. VC possibly “265 Bn/274 Regiment or D445 Provincial Battalion”). According to the 5th Division History - 2005, this attack on Vạn Kiếp was conducted by the 2nd Battalion of 274 Regiment and the “Chau Đức Company” on 18 November 1966 – resulting in 187 ARVN captured and 71 weapons of various types seized. 274 Regiment reportedly “organised an education program for the prisoners and chose 80 of the soldiers who had volunteered to join the revolutionary forces. 40 were incorporated into the Bà Rịa local forces and 40 into the units of the 4th Regiment” (ie 274 Regiment). 182 Translator’s Note: The 445 Battalion History does not mention the Battalion’s reported major attack on the Regional Forces outpost near Phước Hải village on 17 February 1967 – nor the subsequent heavy fighting against Australian elements (6RAR - Operation Bribie) that ensued east of Hội Mỹ and Lồ Gồm. 6RAR suffered six killed and 27 wounded in Operation Bribie, while the “official estimate” of Việt Cộng killed was “between 50 and 70” - see McNeill, I & Ekins, A., On the offensive, pp.90-115. According to Nguyễn Thanh Hồng – a 5th VC Division operations staff officer interviewed in November 1987 (see footnotes 125, 137, 142 and 144), the initial attack at Phước Hải in February 1967 was undertaken by 445 Battalion, but he recounted that 5th Division elements lured Australian troops into their prepared defensive positions east of Hội Mỹ. Hồng stated that – “from his recollections”, 275 Regiment was the 5th Division formation involved – Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, pp.110-111. The 5th Division History – 2005 does not mention any 5th Division participation in the engagements, nor was it mentioned in the comprehensive POW debrief of a 3/275 Regiment political cadre. However, the 2nd Battalion of 275 Regiment attacked the Popular Force outpost at Lồ Gồm several weeks later on 20/21 March 1967 – McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., pp.146-148. , O’Neill, R.J., Vietnam Task, op.cit., 1968, pp.236-239 and VCAT Item No. F034600701813. Accordingly, it is most probable that 445 Battalion attacked the Phước Hải RF post on 17 February and the 2nd Battlion of 275 Regiment attacked Lồ Gồm on 20/21 March – with Nguyễn Thanh Hồng conflating aspects of these engagements – which were close both in time and physical location, when interviewed 20 years later. 183 Translator’s Note: The Đồng Nai Monograph - 2001 relates: “On 19 June 1967, troops of the 5th Main Force Division coordinated with the sappers of the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh 445 Provincial Battalion to ambush the enemy on Route 2 and inflicted heavy casualties on an American infantry battalion and destroyed the headquarters of the 11th Armored Regiment.”- Địa Chí Đồng Nai, op.cit., 2001. On 20 June 1967 – according to the 5th Division History – 2005, the 2nd Company of 445 Battalion was employed as a reserve element for the attack on an ARVN force at He An-Kim Long (about 5 kilometres northwest of Đức Thạnh Sub-Sector) by two battalions of 274 Regiment. 184 On the night of 26-27 November 1967, the 3rd Company of 445 Battalion raided the Farmers’ Bank and a number of government offices on the western outskirts of Bà Rịa Town – and seized 250,000 piastres (equivalent to USD 2,119) – 1 ATF, “Discussion Point: The Enemy In And Around Phuoc Tuy”, Troops Information Sheet No. 77, Núi Đất, 31 December 1967 - 6 January 1968, Section 3, p.4.
53 new recruits from the North.185 Every section received a B40 or a B41 and parachute-fitted anti-tank grenades.186 AK assault rifles and RPD machineguns (of Soviet or Chinese manufacture) replaced almost all the types of obsolescent infantry weapons. The Battalion only retained a number of weapons: the AR15, M79 and the Malaysian heavy machinegun (an American weapon). Accordingly, the Battalion’s infantry weapons were of the most modern and up-to-date types (the most formidable weapons of both sides). In December 1967, the Battalion set an ambush to destroy enemy tanks on Route 2 (in the area of the Quang Minh plantation).187 An infantry detachment of the Battalion coordinated with the local district troops to attack the enemy at Đức Thạnh in order to lure the American 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Suối Râm to come down to their relief. To ensure success against an enemy armoured unit in this battle – and especially to create confidence in our new types of anti-tank weapons, the Battalion had chosen Party and Youth Group members from the companies to be armed with B40s and B41s. These personnel were quite capable in combat and in this first battle would be the core element of the tank-destroying teams. Each company organised from three to four teams. Each team was armed with a B40 or a B41 (and six rounds) and two AKs. Everyone had parachute grenades. In particular, the forward team was equipped with one B40, one B41 (12 rounds) and a large number of parachute grenades. The ambush site stretched out over 300 metres, and our forces were positioned about 50 metres from Route 2. The commander of the 1st Company – Đào Văn Tổng (Tám Tổng), and its political officer – Nguyễn Văn Bảo (Sáu Bảo)188 were directly in charge of the forward element. The 2nd Company covered the killing ground, and the 3rd Company comprised the rear group. Exploiting broken sections of the sealed road and rough dirt patches, we buried two mines in the middle of the road. At 2am, an American armoured squadron from the 11th Regiment coming down from Suối Râm to aid Đức Thạnh fell into the 445 Battalion ambush. In the very first minutes, three American tanks had struck the mines and been destroyed by our forward element. At the same time, our groups in the groves of trees and undergrowth burst forth and split the armoured column in order to destroy it. The 445 Battalion soldiers with B40s and B41s moved as swiftly as squirrels and, in a flash, engaged the bulky and imposing American M41 and M48 tanks. Almost all the Americans in the tanks huddled under cover in their
Translator’s Note: During infiltration into the South, People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN - ie North Vietnamese Army) military personnel routinely physically discarded their rank and other insignia and adopted “functional titles”. However, in many formations and units this was nominal, and their military ranks were used – see Advanced Research Projects Agency, Basic Profile: NVA PW – MR3, Summary Report No.15, Washington, 14 January 1971, VCAT Item No. 2321314001. 186 Translator’s Note: The RKG anti-armour grenade – this was a shaped-charge grenade with a stabilizing drogue parachute that deployed from the grenade’s throwing handle once thrown - ie for a stabilized and controlled descent onto an armoured vehicle or bunker. Sometimes called a “stick grenade”. 187 This was probably the attack at 0300-0400hrs on 31 December against a US armoured convoy (comprising two M48 tanks, 12 APCs) moving south on Route 2 just north of Xà Bang at YS 454864 resulting in nine US killed and up to 25 wounded. Two US tanks and five APCs were reportedly “gutted” or “put out of action”. No VC casualties were reported. 1 ATF assessed that the VC unit involved was “likely the Cam My District Company”, possibly strengthened either by sub-units of 274 Regiment or D445 Battalion. - 1 ATF Intelligence Review No. 16, Núi Đất, 3 January 1968. The US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s (11 ACR) “Blackhorse” base was located on Route 2 in the Suối Râm area about six kilometres south of Xuân Lộc Town. The Regiment’s combat power comprised: three armoured cavalry squadrons and an air cavalry troop. Each squadron comprised three cavalry troops, a tank company and a self-propelled (SP) 155m howitzer battery. Its principal equipments were: 51 M48A3 Patton medium tanks/M551 Sheridan light tanks, 296 M113 APCs and 18 M109 155 SP howitzers. - Chesney, E.J. Major, The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam – January 1969 through June 1970, Fort Leavenworth, 2002. VCAT Item No. 168300010420. 188 Nguyễn Văn Bảo (Sáu Bảo) - see footnotes 36, 37, 197 and Annex A.
54 vehicles - relying on the steel armour and not daring to engage with our soldiers. It was a “struggle” between men and steel. One of our comrades dodged to one side, let a tank pass – and then launched his rocket and set the vehicle on fire. The whole ambush site was clouded by smoke and dust, and the hulks of tanks and armoured vehicles were in a scattered disorder. Thus the battle was set. Many of our soldiers even forgot to support one another. They even forgot their orders to coordinate their actions and the combat plans – thinking only of one thing, pursuing the tanks and destroying them. After nearly an hour of fighting, 445 Battalion had set fire to and destroyed 12 tanks and armoured vehicles and completely destroyed an armoured squadron of the American 11th Armored Regiment. With the battle over, enemy aircraft appeared while we were withdrawing. The L19 (Old Lady) aircraft189 focused on the tracks through the rubber plantation to the east of Route 2 (our withdrawal route) and fired rockets inflicting a number of casualties on us. Comrade Tám Tổng – a company commander, was struck in the mouth by a piece of shrapnel and half of his jaw was broken, and another piece passed through his neck rendering him unconscious. Comrade Sáu Bảo was wounded in the hand. Sáu Bảo carried Tám Tổng on his back, and inched his way for a few hundred metres until he noticed that Tám Tổng had ceased breathing. He then hid his comrade-in-arms in some bushes, took Tám Tổng’s weapon and some unit documents, and returned to the unit to report the situation. Near midday, Tám Tổng regained consciousness and, waiting until dark, crawled in the direction of the firing and reached the unit’s initial regrouping position. The following morning, villagers on their way to work found Tám Tổng and told local guerrillas who carried him back to the unit. After two years of implementing their “Limited War” strategy – that peaked with the two strategic offensives in the 1965-66 and 1967 Dry Seasons, not only had the American imperialists been unable to achieve their intention - but they had suffered a humiliating defeat. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, puppet troops and vassals had been driven from the battlefield. Many well-trained and battle-tested American units had been attacked and had disintegrated. A large number of their aircraft, tanks … had been destroyed, resulting in heavy losses.190* Almost 3,000 of the most modern American aircraft had been shot down over the North, hundreds of pilots captured, and the number of American troops against the War grew larger every day. The American imperialists were at a strategic impasse.
CHAPTER IV THE ATTACK ON THE ENEMY DURING THE MẬU THÂN SPRING PHASE IN BÀ RỊA While the American imperialists were bogged down in a stalemate in the war in Vietnam, the Politburo of the Party’s Central Committee in Hà Nội directed:
Translator’s Note: The US Cessna L-19/O-1 “Bird Dog” aircraft was used for reconnaissance and forward air control tasks. During the Vietnam War, 469 L-19/O-1 aircraft were lost to all causes. 190 * In the first strategic counter-offensive (in the 1965-1966 Dry Season), the enemy deployed 200,000 troops, 2,200 aircraft, 1,400 tanks and armoured vehicles, and 1,200 artillery pieces … And their troops driven from the battlefield and killed comprised 114,000 men (including 4,300 Americans), 1,440 aircraft and 1,300 armoured vehicles destroyed … . In the second counter-offensive (in the 1966-1967 Dry Season), the enemy deployed 440,000 troops, 4,300 aircraft, 3,300 tanks and armoured vehicles, and 2,300 artillery pieces … And their troops driven from the battlefield comprised: 175,000 men (including 70,000 Americans and 15,000 vassals) and 1,800 aircraft – Vietnam’s Strength, People’s Armed Forces Publishing House, 1977, p.157, p.159.
55 “Mobilize the greatest effort from the whole Party, the whole armed forces and all the people in both parts of the country in order to bring our revolutionary war to its highest stage and through a general offensive and general insurrection seize the decisive victory.”191* This major policy statement from the Politburo of the Party’s Central Committee was promulgated widely to all the cadre and soldiers in the South Vietnam People’s Liberation Armed Forces. The local units made every effort to prepare urgently to attack the enemy at Tết Mậu Thân in 1968.192 445 Battalion also paid immediate attention to reorganizing and preparing every facet in order to participate in the general offensive. At this time, the whole Provincial Committee apparatus, the agency branch committees and 445 Battalion were moved from east of Route 2 to the west (the Núi Dinh region, Bà Rịa). 445 Battalion continued to receive a number of recruits from the North – while at the same time, the Provincial Committee reduced the establishments of a number of agencies and branches within the Province to provide reinforcements for 445 Battalion. The strength of the Battalion reached 608.193 This was the highest strength figure for the Battalion from its inception to its coming-of-age.194 At this time, Comrade Nguyễn Văn Kiềm (Năm Kiềm)195 was the Battalion Commander and Comrade Năm Ninh196 was the political officer and concurrently the secretary of the Battalion’s Party Committee. The Battalion was still structured with four companies197* and five Party Chapters198. Additionally, the Battalion appointed a
* The Vietnam Military History Institute, The Resistance War Against the Americans for National Salvation, p.178. 192 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai Monograph - 2001: On 26-27 January 1968 – preparatory to the Tết 1968 Offensive, a Command Committee was established for the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Front. For Bà Rịa Town and the districts of Bà Rịa: Lê Đình Nhơn – the Secretary of the Province Committee (since late 1966) was appointed political commissar (chính ủy) and Đặng Văn Thuấn (Út Đặng) – the commander of the Bà Rịa–Long Khánh Provincial Unit was made commander (tư lệnh). For Long Khánh Town: Phạm Lạc (Tư Lạc – the deputy commander of the Bà Rịa–Long Khánh Provincial Unit was made commander (tư lệnh) with Lê Sắc Nghi of the Bà Rịa–Long Khánh Standing Committee as political commissar (chính ủy). The towns and districts all established command committees led by their secretaries. - Địa Chí Đồng Nai (Đồng Nai Monograph), Tập 3 (Vol 3) – Chương 6 (Chapter 6), op.cit., 2001, footnote 21. 193 Translator’s Note: When interviewed by Dr I. McNeill in Vũng Tàu in June 1988, Nguyễn Văn Kiềm stated that 445 Battalion had an effective strength at Tết 1968 of “over 600 soldiers”- McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003. p.305. 194 Translator’s Note: For a summary of 445 Battalion strength figures, see Annex C. 195 Translator’s Note: This is the first mention of Nguyễn Văn Kiềm (Năm Kiềm) in the 445 Battalion History. Kiềm had been the commander of the Châu Đức District Unit since early 1966 – and he signed a document as the Commander of the Châu Đức District Unit on 28 January 1968 (CDEC Log 01-1333-69), two days before 445 Battalion’s attack on Bà Rịa Town at Tết Mậu Thân. As noted earlier, a number of published Australian works incorrectly cite Nguyễn Văn Kiềm as the D445 Battalion commander at the Battle of Long Tân on 18 August 1966 – including the Australian official history which describes Nguyễn Văn Kiềm as the “most important witness” among the “former enemy” on the Battle - McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit, 1993, p. 365. However, Dr McNeill noted: “There were some ambiguities about the precise nature of Kiem’s command of D445 Battalion, though, and his actual role in the battle at Long Tan.” - Ekins, A., “Unravelling …”, op.cit., July 2011. Kiềm also appeared in a DVD/video as the on-site D445 Commander at Long Tân describing the battle in detail - see Horsefield, B. (Director/Producer), Long Tan – The True Story, op.cit., 1993. For biographic detail on Nguyễn Văn Kiềm and discussion of his career, see Annex B. 196 Translator’s Note: Năm Ninh – ie Nguyễn Minh Ninh. Other reports indicated that Đổ Văn Liên was still 445 Battalion’s political officer in February 1968 and led the Việt Cộng attack on Long Điền – see footnote 210. 197 * 1st Company: Comrade Hai Bỉ as Company Commander; Chín Phấn as Political Officer. 2nd Company: Comrade Bốn as Company Commander; Sáu Bảo as Political Officer. 3rd Company: Comrade Mười Dậm as Company Commander; Sáu Phương as Political Officer. 4th Company: Comrade Tư Đức as Company Commander; Sáu Thống as Political Officer. Translator’s Note: The Battalion’s 5th Company is omitted – the 5th Company was noted as active in 1965 (CDEC Log 04-1431-66 – commendation for Le Văn Loi; CDEC
56 number of cadre as core elements for a battalion of northern recruits who had just been allocated to reinforce the Province and had been given the title: 440 Battalion.199 The plan for COSVN’s Mậu Thân Spring Offensive in the Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh area was carefully studied by the local units – and by each cadre and soldier, to ensure its unqualified implementation. The 5th Division (a COSVN main-force formation) and the Biên Hòa armed forces were to attack the enemy in the city of Biên Hòa and at the Biên Hòa airfield.200 440 Battalion – together with the armed forces of Long Khánh Town were to attack the enemy in Long Khánh Town.201 445 Battalion was to coordinate with the Bà Rịa Town special action unit202 to attack the enemy in Bà Rịa Town.203 At about 5pm on the last day of January 1968, Comrade Lê Đình Nhơn (Chín Lê)204 – the secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, and Comrade Út Đặng205 - the Commander of the Provincial Unit, came down directly to 445 Battalion to thoroughly brief on the orders for the fighting. Comrade Chín Lê stated: “A thousand years of history comes down to this point. 445 Battalion must swear its resolve to die so that the Fatherland might live.” The whole Battalion leapt up, calling out and resoundingly shouting slogans and their pledges of resolve in front of the Provincial Party Secretary. Having listened to the directives and orders for the fighting – and the inspiring encouragement of the cadre from several levels, almost all the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion believed that this was the final battle. Everyone was extremely elated, and there was vigorous discussion. The prospects of returning to their home villages and meeting once again with their families after our victory – which was only a few more days away, ran repeatedly through the hearts
Log 12-2451-66 - promotion of Hồ Văn Phong) and in 1966 (see previous footnotes 69, 83, 171 and 178). The Military Affairs Committee Roster document (CDEC Log 12-2393-66) of mid-1966 lists promotions for nine junior personnel of the 5th Company. In December 1966, according to a captured finance report, the 5th Company’s strength was 91 – CDEC Log 05-1724-67. 198 Translator’s Note: See Annexes F and G for detail on Party membership, organisation and activities in 445 Battalion. 199 Translator’s Note: In November 1967, 1 ATF at Núi Đất reported that on 22 May 1967 the Bà Biên Provincial Committee had ordered 41 cadre from 445 Battalion and other local VC units to assembly on 10 June 1967 for the formation of 440 Battalion – and its first Political Officer was Nguyễn Hữu Thi, and its first Assistant Political Officer was Trần Văn Khồi. – 1 ATF Troops Information Sheet No. 69, Núi Đất, 5-11 November 1967. Recent (2008) Vietnamese sources however relate that: “440 Battalion’s antecedent was the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Regiment of 340B Division, and was established on 14 September 1965.”– see Annex K for detail. 200 Translator’s Note: The attacks at Biên Hòa are detailed in the 5th Division History - 2005. 201 Translator’s Note: Detail on the Tết Mậu Thân (1968) attacks on the Long Khánh Province capital - ie Xuân Lộc Town, can be found in Annex I (III Corps Advisory Group) to Tết Offensive After Action Report (not dated) – VCAT Item No. 13680112021 and at Annex K – 440 Local Force Battalion. 202 Translator’s Note: Literally the “biệt dộng thị xã Bà Rịa” – however, the US III Corps Advisory Group After Action Report (footnote 201) referred to the “C610 Baria City Company”. 203 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai History – 1986: “Út Đặng ((Đặng Hữu Thuấn)) – the Provincial Unit Commander directed the political officer Lê Đình Nhơn ((Chín Lê)) to directly control the attack on Bà Rịa City.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.142. For the Australian official history account of the attack on Bà Rịa at Tết Mậu Thân, see McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003, pp.304-320. 204 Translator’s Note: Lê Đình Nhơn (Chín Lê/Chinh Lê/Lê Chính) was posted form U1 (Biên Hòa)/MR1 to Bà Rịa Province as Secretary of the Party Committee and political officer of the Bà Rịa Provincial Unit. “Lê Chính” was noted on 21 June 66 and 22 July 1966 as Secretary of the Provincial Civil Affairs Committee see CDEC Log 9-2049-66; and also later in January 1967 – CDEC Log 05-2647-67. Lê Chính was also noted holding the position in 1971 and 1972 - CDEC Log 07-1132-72. See also Annex H, Higher Headquarters. 205 Translator’s Note: Đặng Hữu Thuấn/ Út Đặng – also as Võ/Vũ Đặng – aka Thiêm. Út Đặng became the chief of staff of Military Region 7 in January 1969 – VCAT Item No. 2310510003.
57 and minds of everyone. No matter how ill or debilitated, no one wanted to stay at the base. Everyone picked out their newest uniform to wear. There were some who washed their only uniform. Left-over accoutrements were thrown into the corners of their trenches. There were some comrades who poked holes in their cooking and eating utensils - and shouted: “Farewell Forever to the Forest”. Mr Hai Cà – who was over 60 years of age, and his 20-year old daughter were responsible for cooking the rice for the Battalion’s headquarters group. They both approached the headquarters in tears asking that they might accompany the unit and take part in this final battle. The Battalion cadre explained endlessly, but Hai Cà would absolutely not listen. Finally, only when ordered, did the father and daughter remain at the base – but Hai Cà was still very melancholy. The whole Battalion was in readiness and awaiting the order to deploy, but we waited and waited and still received no word. It was past the first day of Tết and approaching the afternoon of the second when we heard a radio broadcast and knew that the attacks had begun almost everywhere else206 – and that there had been great victories. Our forces had seized the imperial capital of Huế, the radio broadcast station in Sài Gòn, the American Embassy, and the city of Biên Hòa. The Battalion then deployed over several tens of kilometres to attack Bà Rịa Town.207 The Battalion’s reconnaissance detachment attacked the civil administrative headquarters building and the Province Chief’s official residence. The 1st Company attacked the self-propelled artillery base. The 2nd Company attacked the Police Field Force and the compound of the public security service. The 3rd Company attacked the provincial Regional Forces Group. The 3rd Company opened fire first and, with the advantage of surprise and the initiative, seized almost all of their objectives in the Regional Forces Group’s complex – only a few of the enemy’s fighting pits held out in a corner of the base. The Battalion’s reconnaissance detachment attacked and seized a number of objectives in the civil administrative headquarters building and the Province Chief’s residence – and then took the jail (prison) and advanced to attack
Translator’s Note: An official media article following the 2008 conference presided over by the former Deputy Secretary of Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Province Phạm Văn Hy to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Tết 1968 Offensive, included the following: “H-hour on D-Day for the whole of the South was set as 0000hrs (giao thừa) of the Lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên đán). The calendar calculation in the North that year was one day earlier than that in the South. The Nam Bộ Region opened fire according to the Southern calendar – one day late, and so the B2 battlefield did not have the element of surprise as the enemy was forewarned, had organised their defences and ordered all their troops to remain in camp. In Bà Rịa–Long Khánh, as the key to the codes had been lost, we began our attacks a further day later, losing the surprise factor. - Nguyễn Đình Thống, “Những ký ức không thể nào quên” – “Memories that can never be forgotten”, Communist Party of Vietnam - Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Agency, Vũng Tàu,1 February 2008. See also Annex L, footnote 39. 207 Translator’s Note: As noted, the official Australian account of VC attacks at Tết Mậu Thân in 1968 in Phước Tuy Province is in McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003, pp.304-320. Dr I. McNeill interviewed the former 445 Battalion commander Nguyễn Văn Kiềm in Vũng Tàu on 18 June 1988 – and some information from Kiềm is included at p.305. As noted earlier, Kiềm stated 445 Battalion had an effective strength of “over 600 soldiers”. The 445 Battalion History – 1991 account does not mention that “at 5am on 2 February 1968, Comrade Bùi Quang Chánh ((the former 445 Battalion Commander)) - the commander of the Châu Đức District Unit, led the District’s armed forces to attack the Long Lễ Sub-Sector Headquarters ((in Hòa Long village)) and the enemy’s post at the Long Xuyên T-Junction.” – The History of the Hòa Long Village Party Chapter (1930 - 2005), op.cit., 2009 (see Annex N). Bùi Quang Chánh is also reported as leading the Châu Đức District Unit in attacks in the first days of February 1968 on Hòa Long and shelling the Australian base at Nui Dat with 82mm mortars - Hà Nhân, “Bà Rịa-Long Khánh và ký ức không thể quên”, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Communist Party Agency, 29 January 2008. 1 ATF records show 40 82mm mortar rounds impacted in the 1 ATF base on 1 February, with a further shelling on 2 February 1968. The Châu Đức District report on their attacks in the period 31 January-10 February 1968 – including against Australian troops at Hòa Long, is at VCAT Item No. 2131111007.
58 the self-propelled artillery base in coordination with the 1st Company. The 2nd Company attacked the Police Field Force area (at the Thành Thái junction). This objective was in greater depth and attacked later – and so the enemy had the opportunity to deploy all its troops to occupy the blockhouses and defensive positions. Our soldiers of the 2nd Company fought doggedly but were only able to seize one-third of the objective. By 3pm, all the Battalion’s attacking columns had still not been able to take all of the objectives that had been allocated. We moved onto the defensive. In the first minutes, the enemy had been confused, but they then relied on their blockhouses and strong defensive positions to hold out – and then counter-attacked to retake in-turn each of their blockhouses and buildings within the Town. All types of enemy aircraft gathered and fired devastatingly into the rear of our attacking formations. At the same time, the enemy’s reinforcements also arrived from many different directions. A Ranger battalion advanced from the training centre at Vạn Kiếp. A squadron of Australian armoured vehicles and an infantry battalion came down from Núi Đất208 … At that time, we had no troops at all to repulse these enemy units. There was only the provincial reconnaissance company that was attacking the military training centre at Vạn Kiếp, and our forces were too few. The fighting in Bà Rịa became increasingly more tense and decisive. 445 Battalion had to simultaneously contend with the enemy’s forces counter-attacking out from their positions - while fighting against their elements arriving and attacking us from the outside. 35 of our comrades were killed and 108 were wounded209 – but many of 445 Battalion’s cadre and soldiers still held on staunchly and repulsed tens of counter-attacks from all directions by the enemy’s infantry and tanks and were able to retain the objectives that they had seized. At the one time, Comrade Phạm Văn Đương of the 2nd Company set ablaze four enemy tanks with his B40. Comrade Tiến – a section commander in the 3rd Company, fired seven B40 rounds and destroyed several pockets of enemy resistance. As a result of the explosive force of the seven B40 warheads, blood flowed from both of Tiến’s ears, but he still remained on the battlefield. Comrade Sửu – the assistant company political officer, and three soldiers drove back tens of enemy counter-attacks. However, when the enemy retook their blockhouse, the brave Comrade Sửu was killed. … And it’s unknown how many other comrades were seriously wounded and were unable to be evacuated from the battlefield. After a day and two nights of fighting in Bà Rịa Town, we had set fire to 14 enemy tanks, eliminated over 300 enemy from the battlefield, crippled their self-propelled artillery and almost all of the important targets within the town (the Phước Tuy Province Chief was forced to flee to Vũng Tàu). At daybreak on the fourth day of Tết, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw from Bà Rịa Town. The 1st Company and the 2nd Company were immediately ordered to Long Điền Town – and together with the local force troops, to attack the enemy there and to defeat the enemy’s forces attempting to relieve the town.210 We fought the enemy at
Translator’s Note: The tactical headquarters of 1 ATF and its 2RAR and 7RAR infantry battalions - and a company from 3 RAR, were deployed about 55km to the northeast of Núi Đất on the approaches to the Biên Hòa and Long Bình base areas (Operation Coburg: 24 January – mid-February). In early February, 3RAR(-) and APC units engaged in the fighting in Bà Rịa and Long Điền. In an interview on 18 March 1989 in Biên Hòa, Đổ Văn Liên (Ba Liên) – the 445 Battalion political officer, stated that “D445 were unaware that most of the Task Force was away at Long Bình in Biên Hòa province, but Ba Liên said that would hardly have mattered.” - Burstall, T., A Soldier Returns, op.cit., 1990, p.117. 209 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai History – 1986: “after one day of fighting in Bà Rịa, we had suffered 50 casualties.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.142. For US and 1 ATF reports on total Việt Cộng casualties during the Tết 1968 attacks on Bà Rịa, Vạn Kiếp and Long Điền, see footnote 213. 210 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai History – 1986: “For the attack on Long Điền, the Standing Committee strengthened our forces which were led by Ba Liên (445 Battalion political officer) and the Secretary of the District Committee.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.142. The “three-platoon attack on Long Điền led by the Long Đất District Secretary - Lê Thành Ba, together with Đỗ
59 Long Điền for a full week.211 The 3rd Company attacked the enemy at the Rạch Ván bridge on Route 15.212 This was the first time that all of the Battalion had engaged in a large attack in a town – and also a time when we had to develop new methods and structures for complex and rapidly changing combat situations during which we were forced to contend with enemy forces that outnumbered us by tens of times. … However, the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion had fought doggedly and had worn down and destroyed large enemy forces from many of their units. The Battalion had achieved its tasks well, attacking into the centre of Bà Rịa Town, crippling many of Phước Tuy Province’s key organisations, and destroying a large weapons warehouse and much of the enemy’s war materiel. We crushed many important enemy units and played our part in the conflagration across the whole battlefront. Any victory in battle however entails losses, sacrifices and death.213 Any soldier who takes up arms on the battlefield must also accept this. The most optimistic thing - and final hope, is that a battle or a campaign will be successful. … And, if success is not achieved, then that’s very harmful to the combatants’ psychology. The attack on Bà Rịa Town was not the final battle. The victory at Tết Mậu Thân was not yet the final victory. In that situation, a negative tendency arose in the resolve of the unit. The Battalion’s Party Current Affairs Committee held a very urgent meeting with the core leadership and convened a symposium on ideological work. Following this, a broader conference of the Party Committee was held for all of the political cadre in the Battalion. This conference unanimously ratified the key ideological aspects put forward by the leadership. The atmosphere of silence, vague thoughts and foolish optimism had to be eliminated. Discipline must continue for each stage of the war, and the enemy must not be underestimated. The belief had to be reinforced that, while the war will continue to be arduous and protracted – victory is certain. The activities of the Youth Group Chapters had to be increased. In each unit, art and cultural events had to be accentuated, and the initiative taken to improve the mental and material lives of the troops. In a short time, the resolve of the unit was raised to a new level in preparation for the tasks to come. To implement the resolution of the Party Committee, the Battalion’s leadership focused every effort on the political and ideological work before them. Political funds were increased and provided to the companies to purchase guitars and “Croky” paper with which
Văn Chương ((Đổ Văn Liên/Ba Liên)), Nguyễn Văn Hoạt and Nguyễn Hoan”, was related in a 2008 media article - Hà Nhân, “Bà Rịa-Long Khánh và ký ức không thể quên” - “Bà Rịa-Long Khánh and Unforgettable Memories”, Communist Party of Vietnam - Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Agency, 29 January 2008. The Australian official history noted a “pro-Viet Cong attitude in Long Dien” - McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003, p.309 and p.315. 211 Translator’s Note: The “Free World Forces” engaged in Long Điền were elements of the ARVN 52nd Regiment of the 18th Division and A Company of 1 ATF’s 3rd Battalion (3RAR). 212 Translator’s Note: As noted earlier, more detailed accounts of the Tết Mậu Thân (1968) fighting at Bà Rịa and Long Điền can also be found in McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003, pp.304-320 and the US MACV report cited at footnote 213. 213 Translator’s Note: For the US MACV report noting 445 Battalion’s activities during the Tết 1968 Offensive, see Weyand, F.C. Lieutenant General, Military Assistance Command – Vietnam, Combat Operations After Action Report (RCS: MACJ3-32) (K-1) - Tet Offensive After Action Report (31 January – 18 February 1968), Saigon, 1968 – VCAT Item No. 13680112021 or 168300010351. At Annex I (II Corps … ), p. I-14, the report relates: “206 VC were killed and 61 weapons found in the town ((Bà Rịa)). … At the Van Kiep training centre, 52 VC were killed, 2 VC and 53 weapons were captured.” 1 ATF reported the total Việt Cộng casualties during Tết attacks on Bà Rịa, Vạn Kiếp and Long Điền as: “43 enemy KIA (BC) and 17 possible”. – 1 ATF Intelligence Review No. 17, Núi Đất, 23 February 1968. According to the analysis in the US MAC-V After Action Report, the pre-Tết Offensive strength of D445 Battalion was estimated as 350, and the post-Offensive strength was 225. – see Weyand, F.G., Combat Operations …, op.cit 1968, VC Order of Battle, Appendix I to Annex A, p.A-1-4, VCAT Item No. 13680112004.
60 to make posters to hang in the units. Comrade Năm Ninh – the Battalion political officer, Comrade Năm Kiềm – the Battalion commander, and other comrades in the Battalion leadership group participated in-turn in up-lifting cultural events and group activities in the companies. At the same time, each company organised the hunting of wild jungle animals to improve the meals for their units … In this way, the reasons behind these developments was correctly assessed and redressed in time by the leadership. The morale and material welfare of the soldiers was thoughtfully addressed, leading to a gradual strengthening and raising of the resolve of the whole Battalion. On the night of 4/5 May 1968214, 445 Battalion undertook its mission for the second phase of the Tết Mậu Thân attacks. The Battalion’s task was to destroy the enemy’s facilities on Route 2 in order to hold back any enemy relief force that might move against the critical thrusts by our forces in this phase. 440 Battalion attacked the enemy at Courtenay Hill (Cẩm Mỹ) while 445 Battalion laid an ambush on Route 2. An armoured squadron of the American 11th Armored Brigade [sic] fell into the ambush, and a fierce engagement ensued. While engrossed in pursuing the enemy, Comrade Lợi – a soldier in our reconnaissance element, became surrounded by enemy tanks. As he lifted his B40 to aim at an armoured vehicle, an American jumped down from another adjacent armoured vehicle. Lợi turned, intending to strike the American on the head with his B40. However, the American was too tall and strong, and was able to snatch the B40. After a few minutes struggling, the American grabbed Lợi’s groin area and put his Colt pistol in Lợi’s back intending to capture him. With the special skill of a reconnaissance soldier, Lợi flexed himself - then, suddenly raising his arm, stuck a swift and hard blow to the American’s private parts. The American gave a loud roar, and then stumbled away. Lợi still had time to grab his B40 and disappear into the jungle. After a few tens of minutes of fighting, 445 Battalion had destroyed 16 of the enemy’s tanks and armoured vehicles. Following this victory, 445 Battalion deployed its forces in a counter-sweep operation in the Route 2 area. The Battalion had attacked an outlying base of a battalion of the puppet’s 18th Division at the Sesame Bushes T-junction (close to Xuân Lộc).215 The Battalion inflicted casualties on this unit at a time when the enemy were preparing to launch a sweeping operation into the Provincial Unit’s base. Having suffered a painful blow, the puppet forces frantically deployed two other battalions to continue their operation. However, they were attacked by 445 Battalion, suffered serious losses and were forced to abandon the operation. In this phase of the fighting, Comrade Kiên – the Battalion’s second-in-command, was killed ! In the Long Đất area, in a series of attacks and the uprising for the second phase of Tết Mậu Thân, the local armed forces attacked the Đất Đỏ and Long Điền Sub-Sectors and wore down and destroyed an important part of the enemy’s war-making capacity. Afterwards however, the Australian military and puppet forces discovered that our forces were too thin on the ground and that there were no main-force troops. Consequently, they counter-attacked deeply into our bases – particularly into the Minh Đạm base area. Our forces had to fall back and ward off large sweeping operations launched by the Australian
Translator’s Note: On 5 May 1968, the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11 ACR) reported heavy contact with elments of 440 Battalion in the vicinity of Cẩm Mỹ (YS 4888) – 1 ATF INTSUM 126/68, Núi Đất, 5 May 1968. 1 ATF reported that in the attack by 445 and 440 Battalions at Cẩm Mỹ (YS 4692) on 5 May 1968, Việt Cộng casualties were 36 killed (by body count), a further 57 killed by artillery, and five prisoners taken. US losses were five killed, nine wound, one M48 tank destroyed and two damaged - 1 ATF INTSUM 127/68, Núi Đất, 6 May 1968. 215 Translator’s Note: 1 ATF records indicate that on 7 June 1968 445 Battalion attacked a night defensive position of the 43rd ARVN Regiment (at GR YS 580931) and suffered 58 killed (by ARVN body count) – four enemy weapons were recovered. ARVN casulaties were reported as three killed and 26 wounded 1 ATF INTSUM No. 158/68, Núi Đất, 7 June 1968.
61 infantry and armoured elements. In these circumstances, 445 Battalion was ordered to return to Long Đất and assist the local forces. Over a three-month period, the Battalion coordinated with C25 (Long Đất), hamlet and village forces and the people to keep that key base secure. The enemy conducted many large sweeping operations scouring the Minh Đạm War Zone, but the base remained secure and unyielding. In August 1968, 445 Battalion wiped out the 18th Puppet Division’s “Crazy Buffalo” battalion. These resounding victories by 445 Battalion since its founding, greatly enthused the people and the local armed forces in the Long Đất – Châu Đức – Xuyên Mộc region. The Australian military and the puppet forces were extremely bitter. On many occasions, they had used every sort of trick to destroy the Battalion. This time, a well-credentialed battalion from the 18th Puppet Division – with the title of “Crazy Buffalo”, sent a provocative letter threatening to destroy 445 Battalion in the open ground around Đất Đỏ. The Battalion’s leadership group didn’t respond with a declaration of war on the enemy, but resolved to wipe out this battalion at Đất Đỏ. With the assistance of the people in the hamlets and villages of Phước Thọ, Phước Thạnh and Phước Long Hội … the Battalion prepared an ambush on Route 52 about 300 metres from the Phước Long Hội camp. The enemy was completely surprised – and could not understand what had happened. The 2nd Company was our forward group. The 1st Company led by Comrade Hai Bỉ – the company commander, was responsible for the killing ground. The 3rd Company led by Comrade Nguyễn Văn Vũ – the uncle of Comrade Hai Bỉ, acted as the rear group. Comrade Hai Bỉ and his uncle had met before we deployed and had pledged to shake hands right in their home area after only 10 minutes of the fighting. At 8am on 8 August 1968, the “Crazy Buffalo” Battalion – with two American advisors in command, had only just stumbled out of their camp on their clearing operation when they suddenly came under fire and were attacked from three sides. After more than 10 minutes of fighting, only an enemy platoon was able to break through our encirclement - and fled in disorder. We seized over 40 weapons.216 A top-notch puppet-force battalion – together with its two American advisors, was wiped out right in Đất Đỏ. Comrade Hai Bỉ and his uncle were able to honour their pledge and shook hands right in their own home area ! Our Battalion remained in Đất Đỏ for two days and continued fighting - but none of the enemy’s forces dared come to the rescue. The people of Phước Thọ, Phước Thạnh and Phước Long Hội had been able to witness with their own eyes the “art of fighting the aggressors” by people, who - as children, had been born in their dearly loved homeland of Đất Đỏ. Angered and frenzied, almost a month later, the 18th Puppet Division sent the “Thunder and Lightning Battalion” of its 52nd Task Force [sic] to Đất Đỏ to exact revenge. However, as soon as they set foot there, they were ambushed by 445 Battalion and two of the enemy’s companies were wiped out.217 The 18th Puppet Division’s plans to destroy 445 Battalion had gone up in smoke. Further – from that time onwards, whenever our guerrillas
Translator’s Note: Such an engagement by 445 Battalion in the Đất Đỏ area is not recorded in 1 ATF records. This action might possibly be a reference to the Việt Cộng attack farther north later in August ie: on the afternoon of 23 August 1968 in southern Long Khánh Province (Courtenay plantation area – YS 579958), a Việt Cộng force attacked the Headquarters of the 43rd ARVN Regiment, 3rd Battalion/43rd Regiment and 3rd Battalion/52nd Regiment. The ARVN force was reportedly surrounded, and their casualties were reported as 14 killed and 80 wounded. Việt Cộng casualties were reportedly 13 killed (by body count) - 1 ATF INTSUM 236/68, Núi Đất, 24 August 1968. 217 Translator’s Note: According to the Long Đất District History - 1986, “At the beginning of August 1968, Phước Tuy Sector deployed the “Thunderbolt Battalion” of the 18th Division to Phước Hòa Long to support pacification. ... On Route 52, we ((D445)) ambushed them between Phước Lợi and Triên Vườn – the battalion was destroyed in 30 minutes.”
62 in the Đất Đỏ area engaged the enemy, they would shout: “445 Battalion – Attack !”. And, on many occasions, the enemy just ran off. Such large victories – consecutively defeating two elite puppet-force units, encouraged the Battalion’s resolve in the closing months of 1968. In September 1968, the Battalion moved its forces to directly attack the Australians at Long Điền.218 Here, we destroyed a number of tanks and inflicted losses on an Australian company. The Battalion was united and resolved to “Strike strongly and fight to the utmost”. However, the Australians employed a very large force and deployed in many columns. We became perplexed – moreover, the terrain was sandy and water-logged, and our defences could not withstand the intensity of the enemy’s air and artillery firepower. As a result, 21 of our comrades were killed including Comrade Phấn – the political officer of the 1st Company, and a platoon commander (in a rear blocking group). The Battalion learnt a bloody lesson in the battle at Long Điền: Be daring - but you must seek advantageous terrain and prepare everything with circumspection to ensure success in combat. Hanging-on in open terrain, that’s sandy and water-logged - against a heavily-armed enemy with air and artillery support, is a road leading only to defeat. In November 1968, after almost a year of continuous combat, the Battalion received orders to withdraw to Bàu Nhám (Xuyên Mộc) to consolidate and train, and to prepare to receive our tasks to attack the enemy in the 1968-1969 Dry Season. While strengthening and training, the Battalion received information that the Minh Đạm base of the Long Đất District organisation had been fiercely attacked by B52 bombers. Many cadre, local soldiers and people had become casualties. So, the Battalion took the initiative and ordered the 1st Company to take up positions at Đất Đỏ to threaten the enemy – while the rest of the Battalion cut across into the Minh ĐạmWar Zone and assisted the local elements to carry the wounded back north to the Sông Ray. Also at this time, we became aware that the people in the Phước Bửu liberated region - who had endured the enemy’s destructive sweeping operations, were now suffering serious hunger. The Battalion took 800 litres of rice from its storehouse and directed Comrade Mười Giải and 14 soldiers to take the rice there to help the people. The Battalion’s spirit of supporting one another - in the good times and bad, has always been praised by the local cadre and people. The Battalion would not have been able to come of age and be victorious in battle without that consideration. In the spring of 1969219 – together with the attacks across the whole of the South, 445 Battalion was ordered to attack the enemy in Bà Rịa Town.220 The firepower employed
Translator’s Note: These passages of the 445 Battalion History probably refer to engagements in August 1968 – not September. On 11 August 1968, a company-sized Việt Cộng force attacked Long Điền Town – 1 ATF INTSUM 223/68, Núi Đất, 11 August 1968. On 22 August 1968, an estimated 100 Việt Cộng attacked Long Điền and were engaged by 1RAR resulting in 29 Việt Cộng killed (body count) and 11 Australians wounded. Việt Cộng forces involved were reportedly the 1st and 3rd Companies of 445 Battalion, probably supported by the 4th Company. On 22 August 1968, Đất Đỏ Town was shelled by forty 82mm mortar rounds and RPG rounds by an estimated two Việt Cộng platoons – 1 ATF, Enemy Situation - Phước Tuy Province, Núi Đất, 23 August 1968. According to the Long Đất District History – 1986: “on 22 August 1968, D445 attacked Long Điền – and inflicted heavy casualties on a relieving Australian company – D445 lost 11 killed.” 219 Translator’s Note: In January 1969, 1 ATF produced a 12-page “history” of 445 Battalion – ie: D445 Local Force Battalion, HQ 1 ATF – Núi Đất, 18 January 1969, that assessed the Battalion’s “actual strength” “to be in the vicinity of 350.” The study did not include any detail on 445 Battalion personalities. The study related: “Combined with elements of 5 VC Div, the Battalion attempted to ambush Australian forces at Long Tan ((18 August 1966)). They were surprised by an encircling movement and suffered very heavy casualties in the order of 70 KIA and 100 WIA.” 220 Translator’s Note: According to 1 ATF records, 445 Battalion attacked Bà Rịa Town on 23 February 1969 and suffered 10 killed and 12 wounded. 445 Battalion elements noted in the attack included the 1st and 3rd
63 by the Battalion included B40s, B41s, 61 [sic] mm mortars, 82mm mortars, recoilless rifles and H12s221 … the attack was principally by firepower with a supporting ground assault, but once we struck, we withdrew immediately and did not hold any ground. At 1am on the third day of Tết, 445 Battalion’s firepower enveloped almost all the enemy’s important bases in Bà Rịa Town. As soon as the shelling ceased, the Battalion’s infantry attacked and seized a number of the enemy’s important targets – most importantly, the base of the Province Regional Forces Group. Comrade Nguyễn – a platoon commander in the 3rd Company, was given the task of placing the liberation flag on the flagpole of the Province Regional Forces Group. Defying the enemy fire that was as thick as rain, Nguyễn tightly grasped the flag in his hand and - sometimes crawling, sometimes running and sometimes taking cover, rushed swiftly forward. When the flag – with its yellow star and half-blue and half-red background222, was flying freely on the flagpole of the Province Regional Forces Group, Comrade Nguyễn’s shirt had already become soaked in blood. He spent his last breath in a final farewell to his homeland and our nation beneath the proudly flying flag. In this attack on the enemy in Bà Rịa Town, the Battalion destroyed 13 tanks and armoured vehicles, two artillery pieces, and a large quantity of ammunition - and removed from the battlefield almost 100 puppet soldiers. Afterwards, the Battalion moved down to Long Đất and continued to attack the enemy in the 1969 Spring-Summer Campaign.223 Three years after being formed – with our spirit of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, a will to continuously attack the enemy, and under the leadership of the Party and the love and mutual support of the people, 445 Battalion had quickly reached its maturity and had sufficient strength to stand up to the Americans, the puppet forces and the vassals and to win many victories. From the beginning, we had fulfilled the teachings of the revered Uncle Hồ: “We’ll fight and defeat any enemy”. The military exploits of the Battalion had played an important part in the defeat of the Americans’ “Limited War Strategy” on the Bà Rịa battlefield.
CHAPTER V DESTROYING THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY’S BUNKER AND BARRIERSHIELD STRATEGY; HOLDING GROUND STAUNCHLY; STICKING TO THE PEOPLE AND STANDING FIRM IN THE MAIN AREAS The great victories in the General Offensive and Uprising of the Mậu Thân Spring (1968) and the attacks launched in the Summer-Spring of 1969 by our armed forces and people across the whole Southern battlefield had destroyed the American imperialist’s
Companies and a reconnaissance element - 1 ATF INTSUM 54-69, Núi Đất, 23 February 1969; Graham, N.F. Major, D445 - Order of Battle, 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, Núi Đất, 29 May 1970. 221 Translator’s Note: On 26 February 1969, over-calibre 107mm rockets were fired into the Vạn Kiếp National Training Centre on Bà Rịa’s eastern outskirts – the 4th Company of 445 Battalion was believed to have been responsible – 1 ATF – Enemy Situation in Phước Tuy Province, 11 March 1969. “H12” was the nomenclature for the H12 Type 63 multiple rocket launcher - ie a 12-tube 107mm rocket launcher. It is highly probable that over-calibre 107mm rockets were fired from a single tube or a field-expedient launcher. 222 Translator’s Note: The flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam – the Front was formed in December 1960. 223 Translator’s Note: The 445 Battalion History does not specifically relate a Việt Cộng company-strength attack on Đất Đỏ Town on 15 May 1969 – see footnote 230, that reportedly involved elements of 445 Battalion and the C25 Long Đất District Company. The attack is also not mentioned in the Long Đất District History - 1986 - ie Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986 – see Annex L.
64 “Limited War” strategy. We had forced them to de-escalate the war and move from a strategy of “search and destroy” (counter-offensive) to a strategy of “clear and hold” (the defensive). Nixon had become President, replacing Johnson in the “White House”. The policy of “Un-Americanizing” the war in Vietnam was adjusted by Nixon to a strategy of the “Vietnamization” of the war. The enemy was forced to scale-down the war, but in essence from the summer of 1969 fighting on the battlefield became extremely tense and decisive. In Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh, the enemy did their utmost to counter-attack us everywhere. The main-force elements of the Americans, their puppets and their vassals launched attacks into the outer areas, while the Regional Forces and Popular Forces scoured the intermediate zones. The police, spies and Pheonix224 operatives pacified the inner area. Their drive for destruction and pacification was aimed at achieving their principal targets in the first phase of the “Vietnamization” strategy: to destroy our main-force units and wipe out our infrastructure, and to pacify almost all the rural areas in order to hand these over to the puppet forces as the Americans and their vassals were progressively repatriated. In the South, the Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh zone was a close-knit element of the Fatherland’s impregnable fortress – and also the “foot of the ladder” for the Americans. Their climb up the ladder began there, and they were also forced to descend there. And so it was there that the fighting became decisive. The direct and dangerous combat opponents of 445 Battalion in this period were the Australian and American forces, the 18th Puppet Division and the Phước Tuy Regional Forces. The Australians were especially responsible for pacifying the Long Đất region and southern Route 2 – an area that the enemy considered as the main area for their “Accelerated Pacification Program”225 and the backbone of their strategy to “Vietnamize the war” in the region northeast of Sài Gòn. Here, the Australian forces applied their utmost effort to turn the Long Đất and Route 2 area into a “White Zone”. At the one time, they focused on two aims: to conduct sweeping operations and to destroy our bases and forces in the outer areas; and to destroy our inner organisations through pacification operations in the hamlets and villages with the intent of cutting the connections between the revolutionary forces and the people. From the beginning of 1969, the Australian forces launched their “bunker tactic” – an extremely dangerous tactic that replaced their “M16-E3 minefield barrier-fence tactic”226 which we had earlier destroyed. East-northeast of three villages in the Đất Đỏ
Translator’s Note: The Pheonix (“Phượng Hoàng”) programme was targeted against the Việt Cộng’s political infrastructure - ie the Việt Cộng Infrastructure (VCI). For data and a listing of VCI in Phước Tuy Province, see the 1 ATF document: L’Epagniol, J.L. Captain, Summary of VCI Personnel in Ba Long Province, Det 1 Div Int Unit, Núi Đất, 2 April 1969. 225 Translator’s Note: On 16 May 1969, the Commander of the US II Field Force Vietnam (FFV) at Long Bình issued a new directive to the Commander 1 ATF that changed the operational priorities of the Task Force. The first priority was now to be pacification, the second – upgrading of the South Vietnamese forces, and the third was to be military operations – see Horner, D.M., Australian Higher Command in the Vietnam War, Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No.40, Australian National University, Canberra, 1986. 226 Translator’s Note: In the 445 Battalion History, there is no previous mention of the 11km-long minefield and associated fences, laid by the 1 ATF beginning in mid-March 1967 from The Horseshoe (Đất Đỏ) south to the coast at Phước Hải. The Australians laid 20,292 M16 “Jumping Jack” mines (lethal radius 25 metres, dangerous out to 200 metres) – of which 12,700 (about 25%) were fitted with an anti-lifting device below the mine – see Lockhart, G., The Minefield: An Australian tragedy in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2007, p.xvii. More extensively than the 445 Battalion History, the minefield is covered in the Long Đất District History – 1986 - ie Phan Ngọc Danh …, Lịch Sử Đấu Tranh Cách Mạng Của Huyện Long Đất, op.cit., 1986 – see Annex L. According to the Đồng Nai History – 1986: “On 1 May 1967, COSVN ordered the Long Đất District Unit under Lê Thành Ba to destroy the initial minefield and fence – and this was
65 area – ie Phước Thạnh, Phước Thọ and Phước Hòa Long, a 15 kilometre-long area was closed off with a system of blockhouses, barbed-wire fences and mines. The enemy constructed 36 concrete blockhouses – with two-thirds of each blockhouse below ground. Each of the blockhouses had numerous firing loopholes at ground-level. The largest of the blockhouses were manned by a section of troops, and the small blockhouses by a halfsection. The large blockhouses were about 300-500 metres apart, and interspersed between them were the small blockhouses about 100-200 metres apart. These were all connected with each other by telephone lines. The large blockhouses were surrounded by a barbedwire fence of concertina wire, while the smaller blockhouses had a single barbed-wire fence. Alongside the blockhouses’ barbed-wire fences ran a wide track – about eight metres wide, for the movement of tanks that would come to the rescue when the positions were under attack. Beyond the track for the tanks, there was a system of barbed-wire fences (with all types of fence configurations) 20 metres wide and sown with mines. Finally, there was a communications ditch about 1.5 metres wide – with mines in its bund. In the hamlets, the enemy laid out tape to divide the hamlet areas into small zones and tested the ground with sharp implements to search every house for hidden underground shelters which they suspected our secret cadre might be using. In a short time, many of our comrades and countrymen were captured, and many of our revolutionary organisations working among the people gradually dried up or were smashed. The revolutionary movement in the countryside sunk into a period of silence. 445 Battalion had to regularly contend with large sweeping operations launched by the Australian, American and puppet forces into our jungle base areas. However, they were unable to dislodge the Battalion from the Long Đất area. Nevertheless, over many day-long and successive large counter-sweep engagements, the Battalion’s numbers thinned out considerably. A basic factor was that the source of our food reserves and rear service support was gradually drying up. Different to the main-force units of the Military Region and COSVN, 445 Battalion did not rely on rations and rear service support from above – but rather our development and our battlefield victories were a result of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The Battalion survived thanks to the “Hidden Rear Services Warehouse” in the hearts of the people in the Long Đất area. At set times, the Provincial authorities provided funds, and the rear services cadre of the Battalion would enter the hamlets and entrust villagers to purchase material for us.227 When we didn’t have any money, the people would let us purchase on credit or give us what we needed. Rice, ammunition, explosives, medicine … were all hidden by the families of our underground organisations in the hamlets within the enemy-controlled areas. By night, the Battalion would enter the hamlets to pick up rice, and the next day the Battalion would go off to the fighting. If we needed a roll of electrical wire or a few batteries, we would just go into the hamlets. If we needed a shaving razor or just a
successful as no anti-lifting devices had been attached to the mines. The Australians then “rebuilt” the minefield - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, pp.137-139. 227 Translator’s Note: Large quantities of rice and other foodstuffs were acquired by the Province Forward Supply Council through “purchasing agents”. For example in the first half of 1969, the Council reported - on 25 August 1969, having purchased or requisitioned: 66,000 litres of rice in Long Đất, 18,775 in Châu Đức; 1,630 in Xuyên Mộc - CDEC Log 02-1480-70. With effect from 1 November 1969, the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Province Unit directed that the ration entitlements for 445 and 440 Battalions were 27 litres of rice per man/month when on operations and 25 litres when in base areas or training – CDEC Log 06-2911-70. For detail on NVA/VC rice and salt rations, see 1 ATF Troops Information Sheet No. 33, Núi Đất, 21 February-5 March 1967: VC rations – combat troops 750gm of rice per day, but 875gm for artillery troops. For NVA/VC use of flour as a food staple, see Annex F to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 166/71, Núi Đất, 16 June 1971.
66 few things with which to “have a few drinks”228 – then we would also just go into the hamlets … From the Battalion’s founding, no matter whether we had won victories, suffered losses, or endured hardships and violence – we had never really been hungry often. We had never had to miss a few meals. Now however, the enemy was launching sweeping operations and setting up blockades everywhere. The hearts of the people in the Route 2, Châu Thành and Long Đất areas … were, for the Battalion, like a gourd of mother’s milk. The three villages in the Đất Đỏ area were the Battalion’s nipple, but these were now tightly blocked off by the enemy’s “steel net”. Difficulties, hardships and violence that we had never before experienced, then began. In those times229, organising any force – even if it was very small, to attack the enemy in the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector, was not an easy thing to do. However, despite it not being an easy or a favourable situation, the Battalion attacked the enemy.230 Sometimes only a
Translator’s Note: Literally – “nhậu lai rai”, which implies a small social-type gathering at which a few drinks and “nibbles” would be consumed – “nibbles” might include food such as dried squid, dried prawns, peanuts, pickled onions etc. 229 Translator’s Note: The 445 Battalion History does not mention the early June 1969 “Battle of Bình Ba” – probably because it did not participate in that engagement. The Australian after-action report claimed 43 enemy killed (1st Battalion of 33rd Regiment) – later amended to 126 killed after Popular Forces troops reportedly found many more bodies beneath the rubble of destroyed houses – Battle, M.R. & Wilkins, D.S. (eds), The Year of the Tigers, Trojan Press, Thomastown, 2009, p.346, p.350. Another Australian military record relates that the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 33rd Regiment of the 5th Division – together with the local force D440 Battalion, was engaged by battalions of the Australian Task Force in the Bình Ba area (Phước Tuy Province) in the period 5-11 June 1969 - Johnson, L., Operation Lavarack - Phước Tuy Province, Vietnam, 1969, Australian Army Journal, Vol VII, No.2, Winter 2010, pp.89-114. 1 ATF contemporary reporting identified the 1st Battalion of the 33rd Regiment – together with the Regiment’s heavy machine gun and recoilless rifle elements – 1 ATF Vietnam Digest No. 22-69 (covering the period 1- 6 June 1969) and listed 71 enemy killed, six wounded and 12 POWs. In July 1969, a rallier stated that 440 Battalion had fought at Bình Ba on 6-7 June 1969 – together with the 33rd Regiment, and that 440 Battalion suffered “about 60 casualties” – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 198/69, Núi Đất, 17 July 1969. Subsequently, 1 ATF reported “51 NVA KIA (BC), 11 POWs” – 1 ATF INTSUM 268/71, Núi Đất, 25 September 1971. However, the 5th Division History - 2005 does not record any activity by the 33rd Regiment in Phước Tuy province in June 1969. Rather, the 5th Division History relates that its 33rd Regiment “ambushed and destroyed an engineer company on Route 3” on 6 June 1969 and “blocked a relief force from the ARVN 52nd Regiment destroying 11 armoured vehicles and inflicting casualties on two enemy companies.” In 2009, a memorial article for the 33rd Regiment's Ex-Soldiers’ Liaison Section stated: “The Regiment had 3,050 martyrs - including 2,008 who bravely fell on the Eastern Nam Bộ battlefield. In particular, in the fighting to liberate Bình Ba in the 1969 Spring Campaign, close to 50 cadre and fighters bravely died." - Thanh Tùng, "Lễ cầu siêu và dâng hương tưởng nhớ các anh hùng liệt sỹ Trung đoàn 33” (“A Buddhist Mass and Ceremony to Remember the Heroic Martyrs of the 33rd Regiment"), Baria Vũng Tàu Television, late August 2009. There is a 33rd Regiment memorial (khu tưởng niệm) with a stela (bia) to the 53 fallen soldiers of the 33rd Regiment in Bình Ba village. In a 2010 article, 33rd Regiment veterans related that at battle of “Bình Ba on 6 June 1969 more than 50 members of the Regiment fell in an unequal battle with the enemy.” - Lê Đình Thìn, “Trung Đoàn 33 – một thời hào hùng …” – “The 33rd Regiment – an heroic time …”, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu (magazine), Vũng Tầu, 30 April 2010, p.18. A subsequent article related that 33rd Regiment suffered 50 killed at Bình Ba, and the Regiment had destroyed “two Australian companies” – Hồng Quốc Văn “Gặp gỡ một chiến sĩ của Trung đoàn 33 Anh hùng” – “Meeting a combatant of the heroic 33rd Regiment”, Báo cựu chiến binh online, 17 December 2010. A 2011 television program showed the 33rd Regiment memorial at Bình Ba, and a 33rd Regiment veteran related that 55 of the Regiment’s personnel had been killed in the Battle and 54 were “bulldozed” into a mass grave by the Australian forces – Walker, M. (Director), “Private Terrence ‘Hippo’ Hippisley – Vietnam”, In Their Footsteps, Channel 9, Melbourne, 12 June 2011. The D440 “Long Khánh” Battalion was formed in September 1965 from the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Regiment of the North Vietnamese 340B Division – see Annex K: 440 Local Force Battalion. It remains somewhat unclear whether 440 Battalion was involved in the Battle of Bình Ba in early June 1969. For an outline of the history of the 33rd NVA Regiment, see footnote 271. 230 Translator’s Note: Although not specifically mentioned in the 445 Battalion History, a captured report related the Battalion’s attack on Đất Đỏ on 14-15 May 1969 – by all four companies and with elements of 440 Battalion, resulting in six of their men killed and 31 wounded. The report claimed to have “put out of action
67 small explosion in the enemy’s heartland could have resounding repercussions - regaining the momentum for us and restoring our resolve. In July 1969, 445 Battalion decided to coordinate with our underground elements and attack the police offices in Đất Đỏ. The Battalion tasked two comrades to take with them a three-kilogram time-bomb that had been manufactured by the Battalion’s engineers. It took attempts over several successive nights before they were able to infiltrate into Phước Thạnh hamlet and meet our agent, Năm Đáng. Taking the device, Miss Năm Đáng said: “You two take this small amount of rice back to your comrades. I promise that I’ll place the bomb in the police offices, even if I die doing so.” Each of the two comrades took half an armful of rice and left the hamlet immediately that night. However, both were killed in the enemy’s minefield ! The next morning, Miss Năm Đáng shouldered her panniers of water-cress and went to the side of the Đất Đỏ police offices. Here, she placed the bomb against the wall of a building and then safely returned home. However, after waiting for quite some time without hearing any explosion, she became very worried. Năm Đáng sent her younger sister – Sáu Cũ, to check. However, the bomb was still in its original position and untouched. Remembering our two soldiers who had died, Sáu Cũ decided to put the bomb in one of the baskets on her carrying pole and take it back home – despite knowing that she was carrying a live bomb that could explode at any time. The two sisters were both pleased and afraid when placing the live bomb in their home. They waited many months, but none of our soldiers entered their hamlet – although every night mines could be heard exploding in the enemy’s minefields and a number of our soldiers were killed. The girls wanted to use the bomb to strike the enemy but as it was the first time they had seen a bomb, how could they prepare it ? On 13 August 1969, an element from 445 Battalion entered Đất Đỏ and attacked the enemy at the Phước Thới communal hall. The sound of gunfire didn’t cease until the afternoon. Mrs Lê Thị Mầu’s legs had been paralysed since she was little. For many years, she had been a reliable agent for 445 Battalion (as she was crippled, the enemy didn’t suspect her). Mrs Mầu was very fond indeed of our soldiers and - although she couldn’t walk properly, she shuffled out to the site of the clash to see whether any of our wounded had been left behind. However, after she had dragged herself there, the enemy fired an intense artillery barrage, and a shell blew off both of Mrs Mầu’s arms and also wounded her on the right side of her chest. She didn’t die, but was completely incapacitated. The lack of rice became increasingly serious each day, and for months the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion had to eat bushes, leaves and jungle roots in lieu of rice. The people of Long Đất had always been deeply attached to 445 Battalion and had protected and nurtured the unit like members of their own family. These serious difficulties only made their commitment more unshakeable and constant. Although the enemy strictly controlled the rice, our countrymen were still able to hide rice in their homes to sustain our troops. Rice was buried below ground, hidden in the walls of houses, poured into American “sandbags” and disguised as bags of earth placed on the tops of bunkers and in front of house doors as protection against artillery fire – and the enemy remained unaware. No one knows how many people were imprisoned, banished and killed for the crime of “supplying the Việt Cộng”. But the rice was still moved to our bases. Miss Năm Đáng (of Phước Thạnh village) and Miss Nguyễn Thị Đẹp (Phước Thọ village) regularly hid hundreds of
107 enemy, seized five weapons and captured a PW.” - CDEC Log 07-2146-69. On the morning of 15 May, 1 ATF ready-reaction elements (9RAR) deployed to assist the Regional Forces at Đất Đỏ. A “consolidated report” on the morning of 16 May by 1 ATF on the engagements in Đất Đỏ listed “friendly losses” as: “ARVN KIA: 7, ARVN WIA: 26, ARVN MIA: 12 – 12 M16 rifles missing”; and “enemy losses”: as “ 2 KIA (possible), one M2 rifle and one pistol captured.)” – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 136-69, Núi Đất, 16 May 1969. 1 ATF assessed the “company-strength attack” as comprising elements of 445 Battalion and the C25 Long Đất District Company. The attack is also not mentioned in the Long Đất District History – 1986 (Annex L).
68 litres of rice in their houses for the 445 troops. In the houses of Tư Phụ, Tư Lứu, Hai Nam … there was always rice available – or batteries, electrical wire, medicine … The troops would enter the hamlets where the material was ready and carry it off. Miss Tư Mút (Hội Mỹ hamlet) – in 1969 alone, provided the troops of 445 with 18.75 grams231 of gold. On many occasions, Mr Ba Trừ (of Phước Thạnh village) used his ox-cart to transport rice to the troops. Thanks to his clever camouflaging, the enemy’s check points were never able to discover his loads of rice … It’s impossible to relate in full the noble feelings of our Long Đất countrymen for the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion in those wartime years of hardship and violence. The people’s constancy and unshakeable loyalty manifested itself in many different acts – both large and small, that exemplified their sacrifice. Daily, the enemy’s control of rice became even more strict, and – with our troops unable to enter the hamlets, the villagers sought every way of bringing food and grain into the jungle. Rice was hidden under baskets of faeces. Salt was dissolved in water and carried in cans. Rice was hidden in buckets of rubber latex. Sodium glutamate and medicine were hidden in blouses and shirts and in the hems of trousers … But slowly the enemy also discovered these measures. They checked the blouses and trousers of all women as they left the hamlet gates. It was very difficult, and only a few people got through. Mr Sáu Chất of Long Phước was carrying very large handfuls of food into the jungle for the 445 troops, when he was stopped by the enemy. He told them that it was for his own consumption – but a soldier forced him to sit down and eat the lot. Sáu Chất tried to eat it all - to the point where he couldn’t get up but fainted, and he nearly died from “over-eating”. If a handful or a small can232 of rice was slipped out by the villagers in 1969-1970, it was paid for in blood. But not even this was enough to sustain a whole battalion. Enduring hardship and violence was the yardstick of a person’s spirit and integrity. This hardship and the violence was also the “travelling companion” of betrayal. 445 Battalion had traitors who surrendered to the enemy. These included Lộc233 – the deputy commander of the 2nd Company, and Quốc Hùng – the Battalion’s political adjutant.234 They guided enemy battalions on sweeping operations that destroyed many of the Battalion’s bases and storehouses. At this time, Comrade Sáu Thu235 was the Battalion commander and Comrade Hai Khanh236 was the Battalion political officer. On one occasion, Lộc and Hùng guided two battalions of Australian and puppet troops in an attack on the Battalion’s base area near Long Tân. Having suffered a number of casualties, the
Translator’s Note: Literally “năm chỉ vàng”- five chỉ of gold. A “chỉ” was 3.75 grams. Translator’s Note: Literally “Lon” – a re-usable aluminium powdered milk can (capacity 275 grams or 1/3 litre) – usually “Guigoz” brand, routinely used for measuring quantities/volumes of rice and also for storage. 233 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Văn Nhường (aka Lộc – see also footnotes 164 and 165, and further detail at Annex A) rallied under the Chiêu Hồi programme on 29 July 1969 at a RF post and that evening revealed the locations of the headquarters of 445 Battalion and four of its companies. Nhường claimed to have been the commander of the 2nd Company of 445 Battalion – see AWM photo P04667.589 for the author (Lieutenant E.P. Chamberlain – 1TALU) in discussions with Nguyễn Văn Nhường in Bà Rịa on 31 July 1969. Nhường was also debriefed in Biên Hòa on 17 August 1969 - see Report FVS-19,822 of 18 August 1969; and by 1 ATF intelligence staff , see - Pannell, B.W., “Postscript …”, op.cit., 1970, p.180. Nhường was later employed as a Bushman Scout with the Australian 6RAR and subsequently was a member of a Chiêu Hồi Armed Propaganda Team in Bà Rịa. For Chiêu Hồi statistics for all provinces – see VCAT Item No. 2234403020. For Phước Tuy: 1965 – 77 ralliers (hồi chánh); 1966 – 278; 1967 – 317; 1968 – 45; 1969 – 121; 1970 – 196; 1971 – 37: for seven years 1,071 (National: 176,756). The 1963 and 1964 rallier figures were not broken up by province. 234 Translator’s Note: This may be a reference to Trần Văn Kinh – a 445 Battalion Assistant Political Officer, who rallied on 8 September 1969 - Graham, N.F. Major, D445 - Order of Battle, 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, Núi Đất, 29 May 1970. 235 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Đức Thu (Sáu Thu) – see his outline biography at Annex B. 236 Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Minh Khanh (Hai Khanh) – see his outline biography at Annex B.
69 Battalion withdrew towards Hội Mỹ. At this time, Comrade Hai Khanh – the Battalion’s political officer, had gone to a provincial-level meeting and was unaware of the situation in our base area. When Comrade Hai Khanh, Mười Sinh237 (who had just been appointed as the Party secretary of the Long Đất District Committee – replacing Ba Bùi238) and Ba Bùi (a provincial cadre dispatched to give direct on-the-spot guidance) were on their way to the 445 Battalion base, the Provincial Committee received a radio message from the Battalion that the enemy had seized the base. The Provincial Committee was extremely worried about the fate of the three key cadre of the Long Đất area and a number of our troops escorting them. The Provincial Committee dispatched someone to catch up with them, but Hai Khanh’s group had left the base of the Provincial Committee two hours earlier. When Hai Khanh’s group was about 40 metres from the Battalion base at Tà Loong, tens of Claymore mines239 exploded at once. Smoke and dust filled the air, and trees and bushes were blown down. The four leading soldiers were killed on the spot. Hai Khanh was wounded in the stomach and the arm. Mười Sinh was wounded in the thigh and the stomach, and another comrade was also seriously wounded. Before the dust and smoke had cleared, our comrades staggered to the rear and hid among the bushes – and thankfully were not discovered by the enemy. When night came, our seriously wounded comrade died ! They buried their comrade-in-arms in an old bunker of decaying wood. Early the next morning, Ba Bùi and one of the courier troops set off through the jungle to the new base to let the Battalion know what had happened. Meanwhile, Hai Khanh, Mười Sinh and two couriers remained behind in the thick bushes awaiting rescue by the unit. An extremely tense day passed. The enemy artillery fire was heavy. Their only cover was the old bunker in which they had buried their comrade. Hai Khanh and Mười Sinh decided that - no matter the cost, they had to find their way to the new base. They understood that - apart from the importance of their own positions in the unit and the local region, Hai Khanh was still carrying 300,000 piastres that had been provided by the provincial authorities. At this time, three thousand piastres was enough to sustain the whole Battalion for a while.240 On the first day, the four helped one another through the jungle and were able to move more than a kilometre. Their strength however gradually waned as they hadn’t had even a grain of rice to eat. From the third day, they could only crawl forward slowly through the wild jungle inch-by-inch and metre-by-metre. Mười Sinh’s courier became feverish and could crawl no more. Tearfully, they said good-bye to one another ! Hai Khanh crawled in front – with Mười Sinh crawling behind him. Whosoever could crawl the strongest, it was essential that one of the two found their way back to the base. After 11 days and nights of crawling through the jungle and eating only leaves, their bodies and their clothes were scratched and torn. Then, Hai Khanh came upon some slash-and-burn fields tended by our countrymen and collapsed into unconsciousness. He only had time to remember that he still had his Claymore mine ((mìn mo)) satchel full of the money. Mười Sinh also crawled out into the villagers’ fields. They were carried back to the base by the anonymous villagers and handed over the 300,000 piastres (Sài Gòn currency)241 - not knowing whom their benefactors had been.
Translator’s Note: In mid-1971, when Xuyên Mộc District was absorbed into Long Đất District - ie to become Long Xuyên District, Tạ Hồng Sinh (Mười Sinh) was appointed Secretary of Long Xuyên District – see The Minh Đạm History – 2006 at Annex M. Mười Sinh may also have served as the Chief of Staff of 440 Battalion in early 1970 - Appendix II to Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 84/70, Núi Đất, 25 March 1970. 238 Translator’s Note: Lê Thành Ba (Ba Bùi) – see footnotes 66, 73, 77, 180, 210, 226 and Annex A. 239 Translator’s Note: M18 Claymore – a directional mine with a lethal range of 50 metres, remotely detonated by wire. 240 Translator’s Note: Food and monetary allowances were outlined earlier at footnote 227, see also footnote 273. 241 Translator’s Note: At the official exchange rate, 300,000 piastres was about USD 2,542.
70 Hai Khanh got a bit of “rice” into him - and although his wounds became inflamed and swollen, he was determined to be treated at the unit so that he could brief all on the policies of the Provincial Committee in the new circumstances. The whole Battalion was briefed on the Provincial Committee’s call to “hold on” – and especially the directive to destroy the bunkers constructed by the Australians.242 The Provincial Committee had absolute confidence that the Battalion could achieve this task. But how to destroy these bunkers, what methods might be used ? These questions troubled everyone. But, by giving it a go, we would find out. The Battalion declared its resolve for the task. An element of “elite cadre and soldiers” from the 1st Company was chosen as the first unit to attack and destroy the bunkers.243 The 1st Company was reinforced with a 57mm recoilless rifle, two B40s, one B41 and a 12.7mm heavy machinegun. In the attack that lasted from midnight to 4am, ten recoilless rifle rounds were fired – along with over ten B40 and B41 rounds, and several containers of 12.7mm machinegun ammunition were also expended. However, the bunkers were unaffected as they were buried two-thirds below ground level. Moreover, a number of our cadre and soldiers became casualties at a time when each company’s strength was only a little over 10 riflemen. Both Hai Khanh and Sáu Thu (respectively the political officer and the Battalion commander) were in anguish - and had to direct the unit to withdraw and bear the defeat of that first engagement. The Party Committee and the Battalion’s leadership held a meeting to determine a method of attack. Finally, the Battalion’s Party Committee agreed to use sapper tactics to destroy the bunkers. Over a 20-day period, Comrade Tư Lôi and the Battalion’s sapper section conducted training in the basic techniques – especially sapper “infiltration” methods, for a number of the Battalion’s selected cadre and soldiers. On the night of 21 September 1969, 445 Battalion organised a group of 15 comrades – based on the Battalion’s sapper detachment and a team from each of the
Translator’s Note: A captured 28-page Việt Cộng notebook (entries: August-October 1969) by a “D1” cadre revealed that 445 Battalion received instructions in August 1969 from the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Province Party Committee – “Attacks on Đất Đỏ …” to “foil the enemy’s accelerated pacification effort in the Province”, and three villages in the Đất Đỏ area (Phước Thạnh, Phước Thọ and Phước Vĩnh Long) were chosen as the “pilot area for counter-pacification” … “to destroy the enemy blockhouse network thereby to boost the local revolutionary movement.” – VCAT Item No. 2131409011 (CDEC Log 11-2585-69). The CDEC document incorrectly linked “D1” with 440 Battalion. D1 was a cover designator for 445 Battalion, and D2 was a cover designator for 440 Battalion. 243 Translator’s Note: According to the captured notebook (see the footnote above), “the first attack was made at 2200hrs on 4 September 1969 and carried out by 34 selected outstanding cadre – including the 445 Battalion executive officer” (presumably Hai Khanh). They reportedly killed 20 enemy while suffering one killed and one wounded. The second attack was mounted by 24 “hard-core” personnel at 2400hrs on 2 October 1969 – in which they reportedly killed 25 enemy and captured 11 “AR-15” rifles. The third attack occurred on the night of 21 October 1969 in which 14 bunkers were reportedly destroyed. While the dates in the notebook do not exactly match the dates in the 445 Battalion account above, the notebook detail – being a contemporary record, is likely to be accurate. – VCAT Item No. 2131409011 (CDEC Log 11-2585-69). 445 Battalion’s attacks on the bunkers are also related in The Minh Đạm History – 2006, see Annex M, which records attacks on 21 September (the second) and 28 September. Regarding the early September 1969 attacks, 1 ATF reported that in the Việt Cộng attacks on bunkers northeast of Đất Đỏ on 5-6 and 6-7 September 1969, three bunkers were over-run – and four soldiers of 613 RF Company were killed and four wounded. One Việt Cộng was killed – the leader of a sapper/reconnaissance platoon – 1 ATF INTSUM No. 252-69, Núi Đất, 9 September 1969. Subsequently, a captured Việt Cộng letter dated 11 September from “Ba Anh” (a Long Đất District cadre) discussing these attacks noted that, in Đất Đỏ, they: “hit four bunkers …and about one enemy squad was wiped out … and five M16s were seized” but “in Đất Đỏ, we lost one of our platoon commanders due to one of our shells.” Ba Anh’s assessment on the availablility of rice from the villages was very sanguine ie: “The food situation in the villages had gone back to normal … ((our people were)) going in-out all the time.” – Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 262-69, Núi Đất, 19 September 1969.
71 companies comprising personnel of proven ability. The group to attack the bunkers was divided into three teams, and directly commanded by the second-in-command of the Battalion – Comrade Tâm. Crawling through the minefields, the soldiers of the reconnaissance detachment led the three infantry teams up to the barbed-wire fences. Passages were blown open in the fences with explosives, and the infantry applied suppressive fire on the enemy to allow the sappers to throw explosive charges into the bunkers. … However, the explosive charges only detonated outside the wire, and no enemy troops were killed. Rather, they returned fire fiercely. Without any defences, we suffered casualties. Although we fought throughout the night, only one of the teams was able to destroy one bunker – the other two teams were unsuccessful. Once more, we had been defeated. In a meeting to examine our experiences in attacking the bunkers this time, Comrade On – a brave and resourceful member of the reconnaissance detachment, voiced his opinions heatedly. Comrade On was the soldier who had crawled through all the barbed-wire fences and dense minefields surrounding the bunkers and had lain atop a bunker and listened to the enemy chatting, playing chess and gambling. And, it was On who had earlier proposed that the Battalion employ sapper tactics to destroy the bunkers. He outlined his views: When attacking to destroy the bunkers, no new method was needed – we should just use the same tactics as when we attacked the Western camps. We just needed to ensure secrecy and surprise when getting into the enemy’s wire. From that point onwards, we must get flat to the ground and endure all types of heavy enemy firepower. That’s all there was to it. Following meetings reviewing our experiences in methods of attack, a democratically-decided viewpoint was broadly disseminated – which then produced a satisfactory attack plan. On the night of 28 September (a week later), the Battalion organised five teams to destroy the bunkers. Five comrades from the reconnaissance element guided five infantry teams to attack the bunkers. On reaching the fences, the infantry personnel laid on the ground. The reconnaissance personnel disarmed the mines and crawled through up to loopholes of the bunkers and stuffed grenades into the bunkers. A “popping” sound was followed by an explosive boom in the bunker, and none of the enemy had time to cry out at all before blood flowed from their noses and mouths. The enemy soldiers in the bunkers were all killed – and our reconnaissance troops then crawled outside the barbed-wire fence and joined with the infantry in placing explosives to destroy the fences and the bunkers. We seized 14 weapons and only lost one killed – Comrade Nhất, a reconnaissance soldier. Nhất had led one of the teams, and when crawling up to the loophole he saw that the enemy in the bunker were playing cards. Nhất turned around to crawl back, but didn’t follow his earlier path. He struck a mine and was killed ! Following this very significant engagement, each night soldiers of the Battalion’s reconnaissance element crawled up to each of the bunkers in order to understand how best to destroy them. The enemy however, had only one plan of resistance – they didn’t dare sleep in the bunkers. At the beginning of October 1969, to implement the directive of the Provincial Committee, the Long Đất District Committee coordinated with 445 Battalion in a “general attack to destroy the bunkers.” 445 Battalion gathered together all its explosives and created 12 explosive charges (each 4-5 kilograms in weight). Again employing sapper tactics, the Battalion’s reconnaissance soldiers – together with 12 infantry teams, crawled in and set explosives at each of the bunkers’ loopholes, and then reeled out the electrical detonating wire. When this was completed, they awaited the order - and then all 12 explosive charges were fired.
72 With a resounding explosion, the 12 bunkers were blown to pieces. From that time on, no enemy soldier dared sleep in a bunker. The underground elements of the Long Đất District Committee active in the Đất Đỏ region led the people in demonstrating against the enemy’s policy of oppressive control, and demanded the destruction of the bunkers and the lifting of the mines so that the people had the freedom to move about and make their living. Hundreds of people took up hammers, crowbars, and shovels to destroy four bunkers. In the middle of October 1969, 25 of the 36 Australian bunkers had been smashed to pieces. A few bunkers remained, and the Australians and the puppet troops joined together to guard them. However, they were on tenterhooks with worry and only dared to occupy the bunkers by day – when night came, they sought a safe place to avoid any calamity. The Australians’ “bunker tactic” had been defeated. The “bunker tactic” – the enemy’s extremely dangerous “net of steel” had been breached. Immediately – in the following nights, 445 Battalion sent many of its companies into the hamlets to meet with the people and to bring out grain and food. This was not only sufficient to supply the Battalion, but also to assist even the provincial agencies. Every night, the Long Đất District local forces went in to make contact with the people and continued to build additional underground organisations in the villages. … At a time when the general situation across the whole Southern battlefield was daily becoming more difficult and our people faced seriously straitened circumstances, there was still rice to eat here. After our victory in defeating the “bunker tactic”, 445 Battalion continued to attack the enemy’s Regional Forces and the Australian military – and supported our local forces in destroying “pacification”. The Battalion destroyed the camp at Phước Hòa Long and wiped out a 70-strong Regional Forces company – including Major Bé, the deputy commander of the Sector, who was killed while leading a relief force. Following this, the Battalion inflicted heavy casualties on an Australian company. In these extremely difficult and violent situations – with the support of 445 Battalion, Long Đất District’s 25th Company and the village guerrillas increased their attacks against the enemy’s oppressive system of control. Tens of the enemy’s People’s Self Defence Force (PSDF)244 groups in Phước Hải, Phước Thạnh, Phước Thọ, Phước Hòa Long … were destroyed; and tens of wicked “pacification cadre”245 were killed. In the Long Điền and Tam Phước regions, many PSDF groups abandon ned their guarding and patrolling functions. The Australian military’s “bunker” tactic had essentially been defeated.246 However, entry into the hamlets by our local armed forces and 445 Battalion was still not
Translator’s Note: The PSDF (Nhân Dân Tự Vệ) – ie additional to the RF and PF, was established in July 1968 after the mid-year General Mobilization (ie post-Tết 1968). The PSDF superseded earlier militia – ie the Combat Youth, Popular Militia and the Revolutionary Development People’s Group. The PSDF encompassed males aged 16-17 and 39-50 years. See the PSDF Handbook – 1969, VCAT Item No. 14040111001. 245 Translator’s Note: The Revolutionary Development (RD) Cadre - later termed Rural Development Cadre, were established on 4 January 1966 in New Life hamlets to train village self-defence elements. See VCAT Item No. 13510124002 ; VCAT Item No. 13510123005. The 59-man RD Cadre teams in the villages – first deployed in May 1966, also progressed the Sài Gòn Government’s political, social and economic programmes. For RD Cadre organisation, numbers and activities in Phước Tuy Province to the end of 1966, see McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, pp.420-422. 246 Translator’s Note: In a 10 December 1969 review, Military Region 7 declared that “… Australian troops also suffered bitter failures in 1969. They are no longer as aggressive in their sweep operations as before, and they have often told the people that they will withdraw their troops as soon as the US forces leave, and they have requested the Việt Cộng not to attack them. … During the year … approximately 2,509 Australian troops were killed, resulting in six companies and five platoons destroyed. Five other companies and six platoons were depleted. They admitted that the 5th Australian Battalion has lost its combat effectiveness. … We successfully eliminated enemy control in Long Đất (Bà Rịa) … We thwarted the Australian tactic of
73 as easy as in past years. The Australian troops no longer lay waiting in the bunkers. Sometimes, they would set ambushes right in the gardens of families that they suspected we usually visited by night. Sometimes, their ambushes would be set on the edge of the jungle and on the tracks out to the fields. There were even times when they lay down in flooded paddy fields or in the spotlessly white salt pans to ambush our people. Hence, on any night, our forces suffered casualties. However, our underground agents and supportive families within the enemy’s areas of control also had clever ways of giving us secret warning signals of the enemy’s presence. Sometimes it was only a shirt drying on a fence, an upturned vessel on a well (by day), a small candle burning on an altar, or a pile of straw burning behind a house to drive off mosquitoes (by night) – all these told our 445 Battalion soldiers that the enemy had set an ambush in the house or in its garden. Thanks to these warnings, the numbers of our comrades being killed declined. The Australians however became even more Machiavellian. When going on ambushes, they would “parade” past the villagers’ houses. Every soldier would be piggy-backing another soldier hidden under his raincoat (looking as if he was wearing a large backpack). One or two hours later, they would again “parade” back past the houses. This was essentially aimed at letting the people observe: “Ah, six Australians went off on the ambush, and all six have returned …”. However, the fiendish “backpacks” that had been on their backs were now lying in ambush. Many of the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion and our local forces became casualties or were captured as a result of this wicked ruse.247 This also led our forces in the jungle to even suspect the most loyal people and families in the hamlets. How long would this situation have continued without the help of our people ? One evening at the beginning of November 1969, a section from 445 Battalion - led by Nguyễn Sơn Minh, entered a hamlet to collect rice. On their return, they fell into an Australian ambush at the edge of the hamlet. Four comrades were killed ! (The Australians deeply studied the psychology of our soldiers and applied this to their ambushes. If the number of Australians in their ambush were less than the number of our troops, then they would only ambush us when we were returning – as when returning, we would usually be more complacent and less careful). Mr Ba Mạnh was very angry: “Very cunning … How come all four Australians who went out on the ambush have returned – but there’s still gunfire in the area in which they’ve been ? …” The following night, stumbling along, he followed five Australian soldiers wearing raincoats moving from Phước Thới (Phước Thọ village) to the stream near the temple. And indeed it was Ba Mạnh who was first to discover the Australian military’s “piggyback” trick. Cutting through the jungle, he ran to report his discovery to our troops. With his stalwart spirit, the corpulent old man crossed swamps - slipping and falling – and then getting up to run on. He continued to run with the essential aim of finding our troops and, very luckily, he met Năm Tranh – a 445 Battalion cadre, and a number of our men enroute to the hamlet. Ba Mạnh led Năm Tranh and our troops on another route, and they were able to pick up the rice from the hamlet and return safely. On that night, 445 Battalion had finally become aware of the Australian military’s extremely dangerous deception. Also from that time on, our forces never entered the hamlets on established tracks – but entered on many minor and different routes. At a time when the enemy was conducting a “ballyhoo” of propanda among the people to the effect that they had driven our forces from the villages, and that we no longer
planting M16 mines and completely destroyed the bunker and watchtower networks in the areas surrounding strategic hamlets in Long Đất.” - CDEC Log 07-1632-70/CDEC Report No. 6 028 0700 70. 247 Translator’s Note: The Đồng Nai History – 1986 also notes that the Australians were “Machiavellian” (ie “xảo quyệt”) and briefly related the “raincoat ruse” noting that, as a result, “many cadre and soldiers were wounded or captured.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.152.
74 had the capability to infiltrate into the areas that they controlled … 445 Battalion organised an armed propaganda night that stirred public opinion throughout the Đất Đỏ region. On Christmas Eve (24 December) 1969, the Battalion selected a number of strong, well-regarded comrades from each of the companies … with the force equivalent to a company and led by Comrade Tâm – the Battalion second-in-command, to conduct an armed propaganda operation in the church at Đất Đỏ.248 A heavy machinegun was set up in front of the gate to the police compound - about 300 metres from the church, so that our forces had a well-developed position to threaten the enemy. Another 20 of our troops – well-attired and led by Comrade Tâm, burst into the church. At first, the people attending the service were very afraid of the “Việt Cộng”. Comrade Tâm approached the clergyman and requested permission for our armed revolutionary forces to directly address the Christian congregation on the policies of the National Liberation Front. With the clergyman’s agreement, Comrade Tâm stepped forward, took the microphone, and spoke to all present. After speaking intimately with the people, Comrade Tâm announced: “Any puppet soldier who might have carelessly brought a weapon to this church service, should now hand it in. The revolutionary forces will treat you leniently. …” After a few minutes silence, a puppet second lieutenant raised his hand and handed in his pistol (revolver). Following this, two enemy soldiers surrendered two hand-grenades. The people cheered loudly. After propagandizing for an hour, we announced: “You are free to continue the service, we will stay and provide security.” We remained there until the service concluded, and then everyone crowded around our troops asking questions and wishing them good health … . Many people said: “This is the first time that we’ve seen the ‘Việt Cộng’ with our own eyes. You’re not at all like the ‘nationalists’ claim in their propaganda.” Such a major political victory at the Đất Đỏ church evolved from a daring and clever plan that none of our units or local groups in the area had ever dared attempt. This evidenced the types of multi-faceted attacks undertaken by 445 Battalion in all situations and at all times. Although the enemy used all types of tricks: intensely searching the hamlets and arresting people, enclosing the villages tightly and conducting major sweeping operations against our jungle-based elements … the revolutionary forces had still not been completely eliminated. The enemy concluded that, in essence, they had not yet been able to cut the links between the people - in the areas that they controlled, and our troops – and this was first evidenced initially by the failure of their “bunker” tactic. Accordingly, the Australian military “brought forth” their third dangerous tactic: the “barrier tactic249*” – that we usually termed the: “human barrier-shield fence”. At the beginning of 1970, the Australians began their “barrier strategy”250. Based on their old ring of bunkers, by night the Australians coordinated with the puppet troops to establish a system of minefields and soldiers to surround three villages in the Đất Đỏ area.
Translator’s Note: At 2155hrs on 24 December 1969, the ARVN Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector reported that about 60 Việt Cộng – comprising C25 Long Đất Company elements and local guerrillas, “surrounded a church and spread propaganda to the people” in the northern part of the Town – I ATF INTSUM No. 359/69, Núi Đất, 25 December 1969. 249 * From first arriving in the Bà Rịa region up until their withdrawal, the Australians implemented three basic tactics – all of which caused us difficulties and losses: 1. The 16-E3 minefield; 2. The bunkers; and 3. The barrier-shield fence. 250 Translator’s Note: The “barrier-tactic/human barrier-shield fence” is described in the Long Đất District History - 1986 (see Annex L) - in 1970: “The Australians continued their ‘chiến thuật hàng rào lá chắn’ ((‘barrier shield’)), but in a more limited fashion.” This is also explained in a footnote to p.186 of the Long Đất District History - 1986 as a tactic in which the Australians used “tanks and commandos [sic]” to make a fence/barrier to block the Việt Cộng moving from their bases into the hamlets and villages.
75 Their system was arranged in a circular-type formation (some close in, some further out). Every three to five metres, a soldier lay in ambush with tens of mines of various types – and every 15 metres, there was a fire support team to provide “emergency support” if a mine detonated. They also even employed “tropical trees” (sound-activated sensors)251 that they placed in those areas that were difficult for them to ambush. Early in the morning, all their troops were withdrawn, and the mines de-activated and removed … No sign remained at all of any weapon pit or trench. This “barrier-shield tactic” was even more dangerous for us than their “bunkers”. The local forces and 445 Battalion were almost never able to slip into the hamlets by night. The numbers of our casualties and those captured increased daily. Usually, we were unable to recover the bodies of those killed. One night, the Long Đất District Committee organised seven groups from the Minh Đạm base to enter the hamlets, but all were ambushed by the enemy. On the night of 15 January 1970, a group of cadre from Long Đất District entered Long Điền intending to set up an underground element, but seven of the comrades were killed and a further three members of the District Committee were lost. On the night of 16 February, 445 Battalion joined with district and village elements to enter the hamlets for food – but struck the Australians’ “barrier-shield” and 12 comrades were killed. On the night of 27 February, one of the District’s underground elements came to our base to report on the situation – but they were ambushed and eight comrades were killed. 445 Battalion continued to organise attempts to enter the villages, but over two successive months no one was able to slip through. Whenever we were able to enter a hamlet, we had casualties among our cadre and soldiers. A time of hunger, difficulties and violence began. On many occasions, 445 Battalion mounted section-level operations – complete with heavy firepower. These were intended to engage any enemy that they encountered, but we still didn’t know where the enemy’s ambush teams were located. Sometimes our troops struck the Australian “barrier” immediately at the jungle’s fringe – sometimes in the middle of the fields – and there were times when we only engaged them at the very edge of the hamlet. No matter what track or route we took, we couldn’t slip through. The enemy had all the initiative - so, if we struck them, we just had to handle matters and suffer their heavy firepower. We were lucky to stay alive – and there was no thought of counter-attacking them. The Provincial authorities directed 445 Battalion to destroy the Australians’ “barrier-shield tactic”. Cadre from the Province staff even came down to assist the Battalion.252 However, after many months we still had no effective response. By day, our cadre and soldiers went out to dig up roots and also sought bamboo shoots to eat. When night came, we again mounted attacks against the enemy and attempted to enter the hamlets – but again suffered casualties. It was an extremely worrying time.
251 Translator’s Note: The Australians employed Patrol Seismic Intrusion Devices (PSID) to cover “dead ground” - ie ground not covered by direct sight. A PSID set comprised four conical-shaped detectors – each with a 20-metre detection radius, and a receiver. 252 Translator’s Note: According to a rallier (4th Company of 440 Battalion), on about 22 February 1970, the Chief of Staff of the Ba Ria-Long Khánh Provincial Unit – Phan Thanh Hà (Hai Hà), visited 445 Battalion and together with Hai Khanh – the Battalion’s Political Officer, conducted a 1½-day political re-orientation course in the Battalion’s Suối Rau base (YS 555694). For the coming “rainy season”, the Battalion was to stay in the Minh Đạm area “to support the people in Long Đất”, and the Battalion was to “split up and operate in company strength for these missions.” The 1st Company was to operate in Long Điền District, the 2nd Company was to cooperate with the village guerrillas and operate in Phước Hải village and Can Ba Mia hamlet (Hội Mỹ), the 3rd Company was to join with the village guerrillas for operations in Đất Đỏ Distrct, and the 4th Company was to “receive its missions from the Battalion Headquarters and the Long Đất District Unit for mortar attacks”. - Appendix II to Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 127/70, Núi Đất, 7 May 1970.
76 After many exchanges of views, one afternoon Sáu Thu (the Battalion commander) and Hai Khanh (the political officer) made a plan. Sáu Thu had been struck by a round from an AR15 rifle253 - that had passed through one ear lobe and out the other, during a battle with the Australians at Long Tân (in 1966) – and he was deaf. In a loud and powerful voice, Sáu Thu said: “One of the two of us must sacrifice himself in order to find a way to fight them. I think that I know a way that can work – and it’s the only way. I’m prepared to ‘chance my arm’, so let me try it now and see what happens.” “No way” said Hai Khanh with a deliberate wave of his hand. “You can’t hear – and what could you do when a clash occurs ? Political work is very important at present. You let me go …” The two of them debated back and forth, and finally Hai Khanh won. A suicide squad was set up and many comrades volunteered; but Hai Khanh only chose seven men - using the Battalion’s reconnaissance element as the squad’s core. The squad was quite heavily armed: two B40s, six AK assault rifles and a large number of grenades. The squad was divided into two detachments. The leading detachment was the “bait”. It was led by Comrade Hòa - with two soldiers who had volunteered from our reconnaissance element, and all were armed with AKs. The rear element followed about 50 metres behind and was armed with three AKs, two B40s and many grenades. Hai Khanh directly commanded this “resolved-to-die” element. One afternoon at the beginning of the 1970 Wet Season, the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion bade a melancholy farewell to the suicide squad as they departed. Hai Khanh put his arm on Hòa’s shoulder and, looking fondly into his eyes, asked the young soldier: “Have you any message that you’d like to have passed on to anyone ?” “No” – he replied, “there’s nothing more. Is it time to go now ?” “Yes”, said Hai Khanh, “all’s ready”. Hòa and the two reconnaissance soldiers slung their weapons over their shoulders in a lively manner, waved farewell to everyone and then set off leading the group. Nightfall came silently. Everything appeared dim in the half-light.There was only the light of the stars shining on the flooded paddy fields and glittering brightly. Occasionally, a puff of wind from the sea freshened their faces. From time to time, Hai Khanh tilted his head to hear the “cu, cu” sound (a coded signal) from in front of him in order to maintain a distance of about 50 metres from the leading group. When a few hundred metres from the hamlet, the three leading comrades encountered the enemy and were killed. Many strings of Claymores exploded, renting the night. This was followed by two heavy machineguns firing fiercely at the site where the mines had just exploded. M79 grenade launchers and 60mm mortars also rapidly fired in that direction. In our second element, nobody said anything as they hugged the ground closely. After a few minutes of observing the enemy’s fire, Hai Khanh crawled over to each of our soldiers and indicated to them which of the enemy’s firing positions they had to destroy. In the wink of an eye, two B40s rounds were launched accurately into their targets. The two enemy heavy machineguns were silenced. This was followed by volleys of AK fire and hand-grenades that exploded into the enemy’s positions. … After 10 minutes of fighting, our 445 Battalion soldiers had forced a gap in the Australians’ “barrier-shield” – and 15 were killed, two heavy machineguns were destroyed, and three AR15 rifles were seized. We had another comrade wounded. Our four remaining comrades carried their three dead companions and their wounded comrade into Thạnh Tân hamlet of Phước Thạnh village. Miss Tư Thế and a number of villagers buried the dead comrades, bandaged the wounded soldier, and prepared
Translator’s Note: A number of the Australian personnel at the Battle of Long Tân were equipped with the 5.56mm M16 rifle - not the very similar AR15 model. Subsequently, larger numbers of M16s were made available. In 1968, 262 soldiers in an 800-strong Australian battalion were equipped with M16s ie 33%.
77 necessary materials for our troops to carry back with them. Hai Khanh and the three remaining soldiers quickly arranged their loads and carried four heavy armfuls: ie rice, sodium glutamate, batteries … safely back over their previous route to the base. The blood of those four soldiers of the suicide squad helped the Battalion gain experience in “counter-ambush” fighting. Four days later, the Battalion deployed the 1st Company – together with a reconnaissance section, to continue its destruction of the enemy’s “barrier-shield” tactic. Again, three comrades put up their hands and volunteered for the leading group. And also as before, the three clashed with the enemy - and two were killed on the spot. One comrade was seriously wounded. Once the enemy’s position was identified, the 1st Company made a frontal attack, while the reconnaissance section attacked from the flank. Under such a large and surprise attack, the enemy called for helicopters to support them. Comrade Tốt raised his AK straight up to the sky and sprayed half a magazine, shooting down a helicopter. Comrade On – a reconnaissance soldier, set fire to another helicopter. The enemy’s flares burned brightly in the sky. An enemy counter-attack was launched with tens of tanks. The enemy had their hackles up and was very upset - but they only found an extensive battlefield many kilometres wide littered with weapons and the bodies of their dead comrades. An Australian company suffered heavy casualties. While our soldiers were resting in the people’s houses in the hamlet, the enemy’s “artillery band” shelled the jungle fringe (thinking that we had withdrawn). The families in Phước Thạnh village hastened to prepare grain and foodstuffs … sufficient for more than a company, and which was carried back to the base. One of our sections became lost and wasn’t able to withdraw in time. When morning came, Mr Tư Ngân (Comrade Hai Khanh’s uncle) hid the whole section in a stack of straw in his garden, provided food and water, and looked after their health. The enemy began a detailed search. They even rested beside the hay stack. After some minutes of worrying, Mr Tư Ngân set out some trays of fruit in his house to “entertain” the “nationalist soldier chaps”. The enemy troops rushed into the house to eat the fruit – and, thanks to that, were unaware of our soldiers’ presence. When night fell, Tư Ngân guided the whole section safely back to the base. The great success of these “counter-ambushes” resounded throughout all the districts and the whole Province at a time when the situation was very violent and tense. From then on, our local armed forces also launched a number of successful “counterambush” operations. Then, every night, 445 Battalion also attacked the Australians’ “barrier-shield”. And it was the same each time - with two to three comrades putting their hands up and willing to accept death so that their unit could successfully attack the enemy. The will-power and extreme bravery of these men was a critical factor – the pistil of that blooming flower of military exploits that would remain fresh and beautiful for ever. Every night, the enemy had to lie out in the dew and wind – without defences to protect them, and every night they were attacked. The basic weakness of mercenary soldiers – their fear of death, had been exposed. However, they had clever tricks to protect themselves. When night came and they were forced to man the “barrier-shield”, they would dig defences and huddle in one place to counter our attacks. They didn’t smoke or make any loud noises … But there was one thing that they couldn’t hide – the smell of earth from the defences that they had dug. The warm and fragrant smell of our homeland told 445 Battalion’s reconnaissance troops where the enemy were. Knowing that, they could either attack the enemy or find another route into the hamlet. So, the enemy’s extremely dangerous “barrier-shield” tactic - that had spilled the blood of our revolutionary soldiers in the Long Đất area more than any other of their tactics, had now gone up in smoke. To implement the Province authorities’ directive to “move to vulnerable areas”, the whole of 445 Battalion deployed out to Xuyên Mộc to fight a number of large concentrated
78 battles in support of the local revolutionary movement.254 In December 1970, the Battalion launched an attack against an enemy commando255 company at the Cây Da camp in Xuyên Mộc.256 For the attack on the camp, the Battalion employed two companies and the reconnaissance element – divided into three attacking columns. The reconnaissance section secretly lifted the mines and cut the barbed-wire to facilitate the passage of the three columns that then concealed themselves 100 metres from their targets. At exactly “Hhour”, the grenades of the reconnaissance section and the B40s and B41s of all three columns simultaneously erupted in a resounding explosion. The enemy was attacked by surprise and had no time to react. After only 15 minutes, we controlled the whole battlefield. Lieutenant Hải – the commander of the camp, was killed in the battle. The use of “sapper” tactics to attack a camp was a highly efficient mode of combat, as evidenced by the victory at the Cây Da (Xuyên Mộc) camp. The Battalion had wiped out an enemy company, killed over 80 enemy, seized 59 weapons, and captured 11 of the enemy.257 We only suffered one comrade slightly wounded. This success was highly encouraging, and we had efficiently supported the local guerrillas in destroying much of the enemy’s oppressive machinery in the hamlets around Xuyên Mộc. With the destruction of the Cây Da (Xuyên Mộc) camp, the Australians now knew 445 Battalion’s area of operations. On one hand, they increased their combat operations
Translator’s Note: In September 1970, there were major changes in 445 Battalion that are not related in the History. Earlier, in August-September 1969, personnel had been withdrawn from 445 and 440 Battalion to form a Bà Rịa-Long Khánh provincial reconnaissance company – Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 51-70, Núi Đất, 23 February 1970. In July 1970, the Province Headquarters directed that “all units – including the two battalions of the Province … become trained as sappers as soon as possible.” – Annex B to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 40/71, Núi Đất, 9 February 1971. In August 1970, the 1st and 3 Companies of 445 Battalion – and probably the 2nd Company, undertook sapper training; and in September almost all of the 3rd Company joined with 40 personnel from the K6 Company of 440 Battalion to form the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh provincial sapper/reconnaissance company – ie the C36 Company, under Hai Bỉ (ie probably Nguyễn Văn Bỉ, a former commander of 445 Battalion’s 1st Company) – Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 51/71, Núi Đất, 20 February 1971. On 11 January 1971, the Chief of Staff of the Provincial Unit – Phan Thanh Hà, sent a congratulatory letter to the C36 Sapper Company for its “5 January achievements” (probably the attack on La Van hamlet, Đức Thạnh) and praised the Company as the “Province’s punch” and as a “never-lose”sapper unit - Annex B to 1 ATF INTSUM 35/71, Núi Đất, 9 February 1971. With removal of the 3rd Company personnel to form C36 Company, in September 1970 a “new” 3rd Company of 445 Battalion was created by the integration of 440 Battalion’s K9 Company (all North Vietnamese) - together with some members of other 440 Battalion companies, into 445 Battalion. – Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 17/71, Núi Đất, 17 January 1971. The 3rd Company – then 27-strong, reportedly retained its former company commander. - 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, D445 Order of Battle, Núi Đất, 6 May 1971. On 17 September 1970, Năm Vũ (Nguyễn Văn Năm ?) – the second-in-command and acting commander of 445 Battalion was killed in an Australian ambush (7RAR) in Đất Đỏ. Reportedly a northerner NVA cadre who had served in Cambodia, Năm Vũ had been assigned to 445 Battalion as its Chief of Staff on 19 June 1970 – O’Brien, M., Conscripts and Regulars – with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995, pp.219-220. See also Annex A. 255 Translator’s Note: Literally “biệt kích” – a probable reference to a Mobile Strike Force (“Mike Force”) company. 256 Translator’s Note: This is probably the attack on the Regional Forces compound in Xuyên Mộc Town on 29 November 1970 involving the 2nd , 3rd and 4th Companies of D445 reinforced by K8 – the heavy weapons company of 440 Battalion – see O’Brien, M., Conscripts and Regulars …, op.cit., 1995, p.226; and CDEC Log 01-1468-71. The 1 ATF Intelligence Staff reported the attack in detail: RF Company post (YS 650673) was over-run and their casualties were six RF/PF killed and five wounded – with 36 M16 rifles lost – see Peters, C.C.M. Major, D445 - Order of Battle, 1 ATF Battle Intelligence Section, Núi Đất, 6 May 1971 257 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai Monograph - 2001: “In December 1970, the 445 section [sic] concentrated its forces and destroyed a Regional Forces company at the Cây Da post in Xuyên Mộc.”Địa Chí Đồng Nai, op.cit, 2001.
79 and pacification activities in Long Đất258 – and, on the other, deployed forces to find and destroy 445 Battalion in the Xuyên Mộc area. After our victory in wiping out the Cây Da camp, 445 Battalion fought many successful engagements in Xuyên Mộc. The guerrilla warfare movement there also escalated. The Battalion was next given orders to withdraw to its Núi Bể base (Mây Tào – Route 1)259 to re-organise and prepare to receive orders for a new mission. And, with this deployment, the Battalion was to suffer it greatest number of casualties to date. One afternoon at the end of 1970, the whole Battalion was organised to deploy back to the Núi Bể base area. Not knowing why - but on that day, Hai Khanh felt very anxious inside - although there was no engagement planned. Before the whole Battalion put their loads on their backs, Hai Khanh again asked the political officer of the 2nd Company: "You’ve checked the route carefully, haven't you ?" The political officer of the 2nd Company angrily responded: "Don't you trust your subordinates, or what ? I'd bet my life on it for you." At 2am, the Battalion had all reached the open area at Cà Thi.260 The night was quiet and ethereal. Occasionally, a few owls hooted plaintively in the still and deserted night. The whole Battalion was in the middle of the open area when suddenly a ring of fire burst forth followed by a salvo of explosions. An Australian ambush had fired Claymores and this was followed by a thick hail of gunfire. All of the vanguard 2nd Company Headquarters and two-thirds of the leading formation of the Battalion were hit by the mines. 19 were killed on the spot - and 22 were wounded seriously (at that time, the personnel strength of a company was only about 20 riflemen261). From our founding, the Battalion had never suffered such large casualties as that in such a short time. Those who survived still recall the Cà Thi clearing with grief and pain and our never-before-suffered heavy casualties - brought about by a perfunctory attitude, subjective thinking and underestimating the enemy.262 Two days later, while the Battalion was reconstituting in the Núi Bể base, an American unit launched a sweeping operation into the area. The Battalion hung on to the
Translator’s Note: According to the Long Đất District History -1986, “At the end of 1970, D445 ambushed the Australians at Phước Hòa Long, killing 80 - p.184. At Phước Lợi, village guerrillas used E3 mines to wipe out an Australian section moving into their base.” 259 Translator’s Note: The Núi Bể Mountains are in southeastern Bình Tuy Province, about 10 kilometres west of the Mây Tào Mountains that straddle the Phước Tuy/Long Khánh/Bình Tuy tri-border area. 260 Translator’s Note: Termed by the Australians as the “Waterfall Clearing”, Cà Thi (YS 690668) was about six kilometres southeast of Xuyên Mộc. 261 Translator’s Note: This implies a significant decline in 445 Battalion’s personnel strength in the second half of 1970. In early July 1970, based on captured documents, 1 ATF had assessed D445’s strength as 182 in five companies – see O’Brien, M., Conscripts and Regulars …, op.cit, 1995, p.204. 262 Translator’s Note: The Cà Thi ambush (at 0353hrs on 31 December 1970) is related in detail in O’Brien, M., Conscripts and Regulars …, op.cit., 1995, pp.232-234. The Việt Cộng casualties are also identified in 1 ATF Intsum 365/70, Núi Đất, 31 December 1970. In 1994, Colonel M. O’Brien interviewed a former 445 Battalion commander - Nguyễn Văn Kiềm, in Vũng Tàu, and Kiềm commented that 445 Battalion “was dealt a heavy blow” at Cà Thi. In the days immediately preceding the Cà Thi ambush, troops of the 1 ATF’s 7th Battalion (7RAR) had forced 445 Battalion elements from a bunker system five kilometres southwest of Cà Thi. The bodies of 21 members of 445 Battalion were recovered by 7RAR from the Cà Thi ambush site – and a further two were found nearby several days later. Several senior cadre were identified among the 445 Battalion personnel killed, including: Nguyễn Thanh Tâm (Ba Tâm) – the Battalion second-in-command; Nguyễn Thành Long – the 2nd Company Commander; Trịnh Văn Liêm – the 2nd Company Political Officer; as well as Phan Thanh Chiến (Mười Chiến) – the Secretary of the Long Điền District Party Chapter. In accord with a MACV Directive, 1 ATF had ordered the cessation of offensive operations over the New Year period ie: from 1800hrs on 31 December 1970 to 1800hrs on 1 January 1971. The 1 ATF directive noted that “defensive ambushing on routes to defensive positions was to continue”. – 1 ATF, OPS1719, Núi Đất, 23 December 1970.
80 base and, fighting determinedly, eliminated nearly 100 Americans in the engagement and was able to firmly defend the base area.263 Having reorganised264, trained and having been reinforced, at the beginning of 1971 445 Battalion again received orders to return to the Long Đất area. At that time, the Australians joined with American and puppet troops in combined sweeping operations intending to clean out the Minh Đạm War Zone for a last time. Together with village guerrillas in the Minh Đạm Mountain area, 445 Battalion launched continuous attacks – striking the enemy from beyond the area. The Battalion destroyed over 20 tanks and armoured vehicles, shot down five aircraft, and killed hundreds of the enemy. The Battalion supported the 25th Company and the Long Đất District organisation in the Minh Đạm Mountain area to hold on doggedly for 25 days and nights and firmly retained the base. In April 1971, COSVN’s Standing Committee issued Directive 01 that clearly set out the following requirements. In order to defeat the enemy’s current pacification plots, we had to implement two steps – the first was to loosen the enemy’s oppressive and pincerlike grip across a broad area. We needed to build our armed and political forces into strong organisations, and change relationships between our forces in order to advance to the second step – developing our forces and expanding our areas. … To implement the COSVN policy for the new circumstances, in May 1971 COSVN Headquarters decided to disband Military Region 5 and U1265 and establish two SubRegions directly subordinate to COSVN - ie the Bà Rịa Sub-Region266* and the Thủ Biên Sub-Region. The mobile concentrated units of the Sub-Regions were also re-organised to appropriately reflect the combat requirements in the field. 445 Battalion was temporarily divided-up267 in order to reinforce the districts: the 1st Company and the 2nd Company returned to Long Đất268, the 3rd Company moved to
Translator’s Note: The 3rd Brigade/1st US Air Cavalry Division launched operations into the Núi Bể area in southeastern Bình Tuy Province in late January 1971 – and seized over 19 tons of flour and foodstuffs in the period late January-early February (in the vicinity of YS 832937 – 445 Battalion’s camp in the western Núi Bể area was reportedly in the area of YS 7990). In an engagement nearby on 7 February 1971, US forces suffered six killed and 10 wounded – 1 ATF SUPINTREP 6/71, Núi Đất, 8 February 1971. The US operations in the Núi Bể/Mây Tào area continued until late February 1971. 264 Translator’s Note: Trần Tan Huy has been incorrectly cited as a “former Lieutenant Colonel commanding 445 Battalion in 1971” – see the interview by Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) G. McKay MC, 23 September 1993 Australian War Memorial ID Number SO1932. For background on Trần Tan Huy, see Annex A - Senior Cadre. 265 Translator’s Note: U1 and U3 were cover designators for the Biên Hòa Provincial Unit. The Bà Rịa Provincial Unit’s designator was U2, Bình Dương Province was U4, Tây Ninh was U5, Long Khánh was U8, and Phước Thành was U9. 266 * The Bà Rịa Sub-Region comprised nine districts (in the provinces of Bà Rịa–Long Khánh, and Long Thành, Duyên Hải, Thủ Đức and the three towns of Long Khánh, Bà Rịa and Vũng Tàu). Translator’s Note: For detail on the formation of the Bà Rịa Sub-Region, see Annex H – Higher Headquarters. 267 Translator’s Note: According to 1 ATF records, 445 Battalion had “continued to operate as a mobile battalion until July 1971.” 1 ATF first became aware of the break-up of 445 Battalion from captured documents in early September 1971: a captured Việt Cộng document dated 3 July 1971 related that 445 Battalion’s 2nd Company, 3rd Company, Surgical Platoon, Signals Platoon and Recce Platoon had been sent to reinforce the local forces of Long Đất and Xuyên Mộc Districts. For detail on the 1 ATF assessment of the “De-Activation of D445”, see Annex F to 1 ATF INTSUM 302/71, Núi Đất, 29 October 1971; and the booklet: Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force, Ba-Ria Sub Region, Vũng Tàu, 10 December 1971, pp.3-4 and p.7 – that noted however that the “fate of C4 and C5 is unknown”. 268 Translator’s Note: According to the Long Đất District History – 1986, see Annex L: “Two companies of the D445 Battalion were allocated to Long Đất District – together with a battlefield reconnaissance cell. … In 1971 the forces were organised as follows: The 1st Company of D445 was responsible for Đất Đỏ (southwest of Routes 23, 52) and to support the coastal areas of Phước Lợi, Long Hội Mỹ, and Phước Hải. The 3rd Company of D445 was responsible for the area north of Route 23 and to support Xuyên Mộc and Phước Bửu.
81 Châu Đức269, and the principal Battalion cadre strengthened the two Districts of Châu Đức and Long Đất.270 A number of comrades were withdrawn to Province control and sent for study and training. Throughout a year of dispersed operations – and under the direct command of the Districts, 445 Battalion’s companies successfully fulfilled their key roles in the mission to kill the wicked thugs and to destroy the enemy’s pincer-like grip on the key areas. The 1st and 2nd Companies cooperated closely with the 25th Company (Long Đất) and the village guerrillas to destroy a mass of People’s Self Defence Force groups, kill many wicked thugs, open up the control by our local forces in the Long Điền – Đất Đỏ region and along Route 23 in Xuyên Mộc, and to build additional underground revolutionary organisations to give us control of many “spots” on the axes of Routes 23 and 44. The 3rd Company coordinated with the 33rd Regiment271, the 4th Regiment272, and the local forces of Châu Đức District to
The Long Đất District Company C25 operated in the area of Long Điền and supported the villages of An Nhứt, Tam Phước, Phước Tĩnh and An Ngãi. The four-comrade battlefield reconnaissance team was responsible for activity in the villages of Phước Lợi, Long Hội Mỹ, Phước Hải and lower Route 44.” The account in The Minh Đạm History – 2006 (see Annex M) of 445 Battalion’s dispersal is different – it states that “Long Xuyên District” was “confirmed by the Sub-Region as the critical area and was strengthened with two companies from 445 Battalion. … The Battalion Headquarters also supplemented Long Xuyên and Châu Đức Districts” – p.59. 269 Translator’s Note: In late October 1970, 1 ATF assessed the total strength of Châu Đức District as 180 – comprising Châu Đức District Unit: 94 personnel, C41 Company: 20, and village party chapters and guerrillas: 66. Of these, only 86 (48%) were considered as “effective” – ie armed and free from injury or illness – Peters, C.C.M Major, Battle Intelligence Section 1 ATF, Order of Battle – Chau Duc, Núi Đất, 23 October 1970. According to a POW captured by 1 ATF on 19 October 1971, 445 Battalion’s 2nd Company was integrated into Châu Đức District’s C41 Company (see also footnotes 267 and 268), and Sáu Thu (ie Nguyễn Đức Thu – the 445 Battalion Commander) operated as the Commander of the Châu Đức District Unit - Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 294/71, Núi Đất, 21 October 1971. According to 1 ATF records, by May 1971, Việt Cộng strength in Châu Đức District had been reduced to 93 (from 204 in October 1969) Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force, Ba-Ria Sub Region, Vũng Tàu, 10 December 1971, p.2. 270 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai History – 1986, with the dispersal of 445 Battalion: the 1st Company went to Long Đất, the 2nd Company to Xuyên Mộc, and the 3rd Company to Châu Đức. - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.164. 271 Translator’s Note: Troops from the 33rd NVA Regiment had participated in the Battle of Bình Ba in early June 1969 – see footnote 229, possibly together with elements of 440 Battalion – but, as noted, that engagement is not mentioned in this 445 Battalion History. On 20-21 September 1971, the Australian 4RAR Battalion (Operation Ivanhoe) engaged the 3rd Battalion of the 33rd Regiment northeast of Đức Thạnh in the Núi Sao/Núi Lê area (YS 513857) – five Australians were KIA, and 33rd Regiment suffered 16 confimed KIA – see 1 ATF SUPINTREP 39/71, Núi Đất, 27 September 1971 . Subsequently, the 7th Company of the 33rd Regiment joined 445 Battalion in the fighting in the Long Tân area in February 1974. The 33rd Regiment was reportedly formed in Tuyên Hóa District (Quảng Bình Province, North Vietnam) in May 1965 based on 101B Regiment of 325th NVA Division and including a composite battalion from the 308th NVA Division (The 101st Regiment of 325th Division had earlier moved to South Vietnam in September 1964). The Regiment departed for South Vietnam in the second half of July1965 and fought in the Plei Me/Ia Drang battles in the Central Highlands in late October 1965. The 33rd Regiment joined the 5th Division in July 1968 in Tây Ninh Province and moved into the Long Khánh-Bà Rịa-Biên Hòa area. In June 1970, the 33rd Regiment became a subordinate formation of Military Region 7. A 12-page report – “33 NVA Regiment”, was produced by 1 ATF – see Annex F to 1 ATF INTSUM 264/71, Núi Đất, 21 September 1971. As noted at footnote 229, postWar, a memorial to the 33rd NVA Regiment has been established at Bình Ba. At its inauguration, it was stated that “in the fighting to liberate Bình Ba in the 1969 Spring Campaign, close to 50 cadre and fighters bravely died." – Thanh Tung, “Lễ cầu siêu …, op.cit., August 2009. 272 Translator’s Note: 274 VC Regiment (known as the “4th Regiment”) had been the inaugural regiment of the 5th VC Division. For the Regiment’s operations from mid-1967, see Annex I, footnote 50 - the 5th Division History – 2005. From April 1968, 274 Regiment “continued to operate independently on the Bà Rịa-Long Khanh-Biên Hòa battlefield strengthening the fighting formations of the Eastern Military Region.” 275 Regiment “and units directly commanded by the Division were ordered to operate as mobile elements on the front north-west of Sài Gòn …” see Annex I, p.14 - the 5th Division History – 2005.
82 take control along Route 2 - while at the same time joining up the strategic corridor from War Zone D to Long Đất, Vũng Tàu and the Rừng Sắc … . With our spirit to hang on staunchly, to continuously attack the enemy in the important areas, and to suffer the violence and sacrifices, 445 Battalion’s companies successfully fulfilled their key role in contributing – together with the local forces, to advancing the revolutionary movement to a new stage.273 After their heavy defeats on the battlefield, in December 1971, the Australian and New Zealand troops furled their flags and departed Phước Tuy to return to their countries.274 American units: the 9th Infantry Division, the 199th Brigade and the 173rd Airborne Brigade also packed up and left Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh to return home. The weakened enemy became yet weaker. ((Seven photographs – poor quality, omitted. Titled: 1. After a series of political studies at the base.275 2. Training to raise combat standards.276 3. All working to improve living conditions in the base. 4. Captured prisoners.277 5. War materiel seized in the defence of Long Phước.278 6. A number of key Battalion and company cadre after Liberation.279 7. Comrade Nguyễn Văn Quang – Hero of the People’s Armed Forces.280))
Translator’s Note: In a letter dated August 1971 captured by Australian forces, a member of 445 Battalion’s signals platoon in the Minh Đạm area wrote to a 445 Battalion colleague: “personnel (in Long Đất) were able to purchase most items easily, including drugs, milk and fabrics. The situation was similar to that of peace time. The rice ration was 20 litres per person per month.” Some members of the signal unit had married local girls … although the unit had plenty of food, they still felt homesick since all of them were natives of North Vietnam. - Annex B to 1 ATF INTSUM 253/71, 10 September 1971. Tensions and “lack of cooperation” between “Southerners” and “Northerners” in units – and between 445 and 440 Battalions, were reported by a rallier - Appendix II to Annex A to 1 ATF INTSUM No. 84/70, Núi Đất, 25 March 1970. More generally, see also North South Divisiveness in the PAVN/PLAF – April 1974 (within the 9th VC Division) – VCAT Item No. 2310513021, and Division in Communist Ranks in 1974 – VCAT Item No. 2122902006. 274 Translator’s Note: The Đồng Nai History – 1986 related that the Australians withdrew in December 1971: “after seven years as mercenaries (1965-1971) - with three generals directly commanding the Task Force, and causing misery and loss to the people. However, they had to pay a price of over 10,000 wounded and killed.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.167. The Australian flag at the 1 ATF Headquarters in Núi Đất was lowered for the last time on 7 November 1971 – see http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/ CUN/71/0536/VN . 1 ATF withdrew from Phước Tuy Province to Vũng Tàu and on 9 November 1971 ceased to be under the operational control of the US Third Regional Assistance Command (TRAC) – which had replaced the US II Field Force Vietnam (II FFV) on 2 May 1971. An Australian Army training group remained in Phước Tuy Province until the Australian Government formally declared a cessation of hostilities in January 1973. The “Embassy guard” platoon returned to Australia in July 1973. According to the Australian official history, Australian Army casualties in Vietnam were 414 killed in action and 2,348 wounded – see McNeill, I. & Ekins, A., On the offensive, op.cit., 2003, Appendix F, "Statistics”. The Australian Army History Unit website records that: “Army casualties in Vietnam were 413 KIA/DoW, two MIA, 2026 WIA, 64 non-battle deaths and 999 other casualties”. Note however, that the last two Australian Defence Force MIA (RAAF officers) were recovered in mid-2009. An analysis of 1 ATF engagements (six major battles and over 3,900 contacts) can be found in Hall, R., 1st Australian Task Force – A new operational analysis 1966-1971, Vietnam Center & Archives – Seventh Triennial Symposium, Session 5A, Lubbock – Texas, 11 March 2011. VCAT Item No. 999VI3155. See also: Hall, R., “Operation Wandering Souls”, Wartime, Issue 55, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, July 2011, pp.25-29. 275 Translator’s Note: About 27 males and two females in “black pyjamas-type” clothing. 276 Translator’s Note: Two soldiers demonstrating sapper minefield-breaching techniques. 277 Translator’s Note: A soldier with about six ARVN prisoners. 278 Translator’s Note: Four AR15/M16 rifles and an unidentified weapon. 279 Translator’s Note: 11 cadre in civilian clothing in front of a building.
At the end of March 1972281, our strategic offensive was launched at Đông Hà, Quảng Trị and in the Northern Central Highlands. At the beginning of April, the Nguyễn Huệ Campaign broke out in Tây Ninh and Lộc Ninh. In the provinces of the Eastern Region and the Southwestern Region, the enemy was simultaneously attacked in many locations in concert with the Nguyễn Huệ Campaign – and many great victories were won right from the first days of the first phase. At the beginning of 1972, 445 Battalion was reconstituted282 - with Comrade Sáu Thu continuing as the Battalion commander. Comrade Năm Ninh was the deputy political officer of the Provincial Unit and concurrently the political officer of the Battalion (having replaced Comrade Hai Khanh who had gone for training and had not yet returned). Comrade Sáu Phương was the Battalion second-in-command and chief-of-staff. Comrade Tư Thuật was the Battalion’s deputy political officer. In coordination with the Nguyễn Huệ Campaign, 445 Battalion was given the task of attacking the enemy in Đất Đỏ Town and seizing a number of important objectives – while at the same time blocking the enemy’s use of Route 23 and preventing them deploying their forces from Đất Đỏ to relieve Xuyên Mộc. To implement these important tasks, on 17 May 1972, 445 Battalion concentrated its forces to inflict heavy casualties on a Regional Forces company located at the base of Da Quy Mountain283 about two kilometres to the north of Đất Đỏ. The enemy at Da Quy Mountain fled. With the enemy’s defensive position to the north of Đất Đỏ now cleared, this was a good opportunity for us to deploy our troops to launch an attack into Đất Đỏ. On the following day, the Battalion’s reconnaissance platoon – led by Comrade Thanh (Thanh Chàm), went with the Battalion’s second-in-command and chief-of-staff – Sáu Phương, to study Đất Đỏ Town. The police complex in Đất Đỏ was chosen to be invested by the Battalion. At midnight on 19 May 1972, our reconnaissance element guided the whole Battalion into Đất Đỏ. The Battalion headquarters was set up one kilometre to the south of the Đất Đỏ police compound. The 1st Platoon (of the 3rd Company) was divided into four teams – with each team comprising six heavily-armed men, and given the task of surrounding the Đất Đỏ police complex. The remaining two platoons of the 3rd Company dug defensive blocking positions to eliminate any enemy relief force from the Đất Đỏ SubSector that might try to aid the Đất Đỏ police compound (from the west). The 1st and 2nd Companies established blocking positions a kilometre from the surrounded police complex in order to stop any enemy advancing up from their camp at Phước Hòa Long (from the south) – while at the same time were tasked to operate as our mobile force should any new developments evolve during the fighting.
Translator’s Note: Nguyễn Văn Quang – D445 second-in-command, in dress uniform wearing 10 medals – see also footnotes 59, 105, 113, 175 and 296. 281 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai Monograph - 2001: “On 15 February 1972, 445 Battalion ambushed the enemy at Bàu Sấu (Long Đất) and wiped out the 4th Company of the 356th Regional Forces Battalion – and captured 24 enemy and seized 34 weapons.”- Địa Chí Đồng Nai, op.cit., 2001. 282 Translator’s Note: In May 1972, 445 Battalion received reinforcements from North Vietnam. One group from 325th NVA Division commenced infiltration from its base north of Hà Nội in December 1971 and arrived in Bà Rịa Province area in May 1972. Their journey down the “Trail” – ie Military Region 559, through Laos and Cambodia, and then across the “Liberation Corridor Line” is detailed in CDEC Report 6 028 0368 72, Log 06-1049-72 (diary of Corporal Đặng Lợi Ích) – see also footnote 25 in Annex C. For detailed Vietnamese accounts of the “Trail”, see Đồng Sĩ Nguyễn, The Trans-Trường Sơn Route, Thế Giới Publishers, Hà Nội, 2005 and Võ Bẩm (et al), Đường Về Thành Phố Mang Tên Bác – The Road Back to the City Named After Uncle Ho, Nhà Xuất Bản Quân Đội Nhân Dân, Hà Nội, 2005. 283 Translator’s Note: The “Horseshoe” feature – see footnote 167. With the preparations for the departure of the Australian forces, the Horseshoe had been occupied by elements of the 302nd Regional Force Battalion since 10 June 1971.
84 At daybreak, our team surrounding the police complex in Đất Đỏ opened fire at ranges of 50 to 100 metres. The enemy were tightly surrounded on four sides but fought back while calling for assistance. However, after almost a day of fighting, no enemy force at all came to their rescue. After nearly 10 hours of following the situation, at 5pm the enemy ordered their 302nd Regional Forces Battalion from Long Hội Mỹ (from the south) to break through our siege of the Đất Đỏ police complex. This enemy force fell into an ambush set by our 1st and 2nd Companies. After more than an hour of fighting, the 1st and 2nd Companies had smashed a company of the 302nd Regional Forces Battalion to pieces – and the enemy were forced to retreat back to Long Hội Mỹ. That very night, our Battalion ordered the 1st and 2nd Companies to return to Phước Thạnh hamlet to counter an enemy relief force advancing to Đất Đỏ from the southwest. Just as we had foreseen, on the third day, the 18th Puppet Division ordered its 43rd Task Force to move down and relieve Đất Đỏ. However, they fell into the ambush set by our 1st and 2nd Companies. The fighting waged fiercely throughout a full day. The enemy suffered heavy casualties and was blocked at the ambush site … The following day, the 43th Task Force continued its attacks against the 1st and 2nd Companies’ key terrain with the intention of breaking through in that area and relieving the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector. However, for four successive days, the enemy suffered heavy casualties but still remained held up. Meanwhile, our 1st and 2nd Companies were exhausted. On the seventh day of the engagements, the enemy in the Đất Đỏ police complex found a small gap that wasn’t covered and escaped the encirclement – leaving behind tens of dead, all their weapons and their storehouse. … In that way, we had liberated Route 23 from east of the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector to Xuyên Mộc. The enemy now brought up the 5th Ranger Group to replace the 18th Division’s 43rd Task Force and to continue efforts to break through to Đất Đỏ. Two Ranger battalions (the 30th and 31st Battalions) advanced from new directions. They entered Đất Đỏ from the northwest and were blocked by the 4th Regiment (a Regional main-force unit).284 The 1st and 2nd Companies were both quite worn-out after more than a week of continuous fighting against enemy forces that outnumbered them by six to seven times. The Battalion allowed the 1st and 2nd Companies to rest and refit right on the battlefield – while at the same time ordering the 3rd Company to block the southeastern approach to Đất Đỏ under the direct command of Comrade Sáu Phương – the Battalion second-in-command and chief-of-staff. The enemy’s Ranger force had been blocked by the 4th Regiment, but the enemy still sought to “bludgeon” their way into Đất Đỏ and were engaged by the 3rd Company. When deploying for combat, each of the Ranger troops was equipped with an anti-tank weapon - the M72.285 In their relief operation, the Rangers deployed successive companies in the vanguard of their attacks and counter-attacks – and this progressively wore down our troops. However, over three successive days, they were still unable to force a gap through our 3rd Company’s position. In the 11th day of the fighting, the 3rd Company’s strength was only six comrades – and each was using three different weapons to fight back the enemy (at the beginning of our attacks, the Company had 70 men). That night, the Battalion received orders to withdraw to its initial positions where we had blocked the 302nd Regional Forces Battalion. On the 12th day of our attacks, the Battalion
Translator’s Note: The 4th Regiment – ie the 274 Việt Cộng Main Force Regiment, was an original formation of the 5th Việt Cộng Division. From about April 1968, the Regiment had “operated independently on the Ba Ria-Long Khánh-Biên Hòa battlefield” (5th Division History – 2005) as a subordinate of Military Region 7 and was later placed under the Bà Rịa Sub-Region. The attack is also recounted in the Long Đất District History – 1986, p.204 – see Annex L: “D445 and the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Regiment and the Đất Đỏ guerrilla unit attacked the Sub-Sector and the Đất Đỏ police centre – and we held the town of Đất Đỏ for 13 days before withdrawing to regroup in our base area.” 285 Translator’s Note: The M72 66mm Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW) had an effective range of 200 metres. It was also used against defensive positions and personnel.
85 received orders to send the 1st Company – with a company from the 4th Regiment, back to Phước Thạnh and to attack the 5th Ranger Group. On the 13th day, the whole Battalion was ordered to deploy to the Bà Lá Culvert on Route 23 and to block an enemy force relieving Xuyên Mộc. At this time, there were only 17 comrades in the whole Battalion who were fit enough to undertake this task. A few days later, our troop strength slowly increased (as a number of our men who had been lightly wounded or exhausted were by then well enough to rejoin the fighting). In the second phase, our Battalion consolidated its forces and - together with the District armed forces, satisfactorily achieved its task to hold the liberated regions of Route 23 while at the same time attacking the enemy in depth at Long Điền, Đất Đỏ, Long Hải and Phước Hải – liberating many important hamlets near the Đất Đỏ – Long Điền – Xuyên Mộc Sub-Sectors. … The liberated region was broadened in the form of a “dove-tailed saw-tooth pattern”. These new combat exploits by the Battalion in the Long Đất area had contributed significantly to the whole of the South forcing the American imperialists to sign the Paris Accords on Vietnam. Throughout four years (1969-1972) of holding-on unyieldingly in the Long Đất area, the Battalion had depended on the people to survive and to win. The people and the local forces had relied on the Battalion to travel the tough and decisive revolutionary road that at times seemed impassable. The extremely dangerous tactics employed by the Australians had been bankrupted, wicked thugs and People’s Self Defence Force troops had been wiped out, and the Battalion had launched small attacks deep into Đất Đỏ – but had suffered casualties there. However, all these represented significant military exploits and were fulcrums in a region of our dearly loved homeland that moved the revolutionary movement forward.286
CHAPTER VI TOWARDS THE DAY OF TOTAL VICTORY On 27 January 1973, the Paris Accords on ending the war and re-establishing peace in Vietnam were signed. However, in the liberation zone occupied by 445 Battalion, the guns were only silent for one hour. The headquarters of the Battalion and three of its companies (1st, 2nd and 3rd ) were stationed in Đất Đỏ. The flag of the National Liberation Front flew from the rooftops and from the tops of the coconut palms in the villages of Phước Hòa Long, Phước Thạnh and Phước Thọ … The flag of the puppet forces had been set up in the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector and in a number of enemy posts along Route 52. In almost all the hamlets and villages around the Đất Đỏ District centre, we held half – and the enemy also occupied half. The borders between our areas were delineated by the flags. The 4th Company of 445 Battalion – directly commanded by Nguyễn Tuấn Giải (Mười Giải) - the Battalion’s deputy political officer, occupied Phước Hải. There, our flag had been raised about 200 metres from the destroyed Phước Hải camp. An atmosphere of peace was felt in all the hamlets and villages, and in the streets and neighbourhoods. The people discussed the situation excitedly, and there was no end of
Translator’s Note: In July 1972, COSVN severely criticised the cadre in the Bà Rịa Sub-Region for their poor performance in the mid-May 1972 attempts to over-run Phước Tuy Province. COSVN cited “a lack of effective civilian proselytizing and cadre ineptness in assuming control of the populace in areas over-run by military elements that caused the near defeat of the revolutionary forces” in Phước Tuy - VCAT Item No. 2122407002.
86 happiness. They had confidence in the international treaty. However, after only an hour of the Paris Accords coming into effect, a flight of enemy AD6 aircraft287 suddenly appeared in the skies above Đất Đỏ. They massed and then poured their bombs down on the hamlets where the liberation flag was flying. Flames and dark smoke enveloped the ruined houses. In panic, the villagers picked up their children and belongings and fled the area. After tens of bombing runs by the AD6 aircraft, the Regional Forces began to fire indiscriminately and, shouting and screaming, invaded the liberated zones. The fighting had recommenced. At this time, 445 Battalion was commanded by Comrade Đào Văn Tổng (Tám Tổng) and Comrade Hai Khanh was the political officer. The whole Battalion now had to face the cunning and bellicose enemy and hold every inch288 of our liberated homeland. In Long Đất, the Battalion’s companies had to dig lines of trenches and defensive positions to block the enemy. Gunfire was continuous across the battleground. Our soldiers held on staunchly and repelled almost all of the enemy’s invading thrusts. Each time the enemy’s penetration attempts failed, their infantry would call in artillery support and bombers to attack our positions for several hours. Following the bombardment, they would recommence their attacks. In the afternoon, the enemy reinforced their efforts with the 326th Regional Forces Battalion – led by Major Đề, in their resolve to dislodge 445 Battalion from Đất Đỏ Town. The fighting in the town now became increasingly decisive. At 8am on 27 January, a helicopter appeared in the sky over Phước Hải, following which enemy artillery from their surrounding posts fired into our positions. The 4th Company dug shelters on each side of Route 44 about 200 metres from the Đồn Sập (Phước Hải) camp. Each platoon dug a shelter, and there was also a shelter for the company headquarters. Although the villagers provided wood and planks for the shelters, the shelters were on a dry sand hill - and no matter how we tried to camouflage the positions, they still look like “toy” shelters. The company headquarters ordered Comrade Vượng’s mortar platoon to fire five warning rounds into the enemy’s Con Ó post. But the enemy’s other positions shelled us more intensely. One of our soldiers armed with a B41 was ordered to fire a round into the Đồn Sập camp - but as the grenade left the launcher, our comrade was seriously wounded as the blast from the B41’s exhaust had bounced back off the wooden revetment to his rear. The two sides maintained their positions and exchanged fire throughout the day. Two of our men were killed. At 8am the next day, the enemy aircraft continued their intensive bombing attacks on the 4th Company, and their infantry again assaulted our positions. We lost a further B40, and at midday on 28 January the enemy dislodged the 4th Company from Phước Hải. The 4th Company withdrew back to Đất Đỏ, and the whole Battalion fought against the advancing enemy. However, with their overpowering fire support from the air and their infantry outnumbering us by tens of times, the enemy inflicted heavy losses on us. There were many casualties, and our ammunition was gradually running out. After holding on in Đất Đỏ for close to a week, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw to our base at Hội Mỹ. Only one week after the signing of the Paris Accords, the Machiavellian and warmongering enemy in Long Đất had driven out 445 Battalion from the Đất Đỏ and Phước Hải regions – important liberated areas within Long Đất that we had won during the Nguyễn Huệ Campaign (1972). The Long Đất area now only contained just two liberated villages - Long Tân and Long Phước. The enemy also began to advance their plan to invade our zones – intending to force us back to the pre-1972 situation. In March 1973, 445 Battalion was ordered to return to Long Tân and Long Phước to defend the liberated zones. There, the Battalion joined with the village guerrillas and the
Translator’s Note: The Douglas AD-6 (A-1H) “Skyraider” AD6 aircraft was a piston-powered, propellerdriven close support aircraft provided by the US. 288 Translator’s Note: Literally “tấc” – ie one tenth of an old Vietnamese measure for a yard.
87 local people to set up “combat villages”. A system of spiked pits, minefields, lines of fighting trenches and tunnels were urgently established and camouflaged. Coordinated combat actions between the Battalion and the guerrillas were regularly practised. The Battalion now employed “sparrow” tactics to defend the liberated zones. The companies were dispersed in teams and sections in order to coordinate with our guerrillas in blocking the enemy at some distance – and in all directions, from our areas of control. The Battalion’s tactical guidance was to wear down the enemy’s strength beginning at our outer defensive lines. We established close coordination between the blocking teams and our mobile attacking forces – always maintaining the initiative to split the enemy’s formations and then to separately destroy each of their component elements. This would create the conditions for our other forces to completely destroy the enemy forces. A number of concrete plans were made and, with close coordination between our troops and local guerrillas, these were regularly practised. Accordingly, we were able to attain a high degree of combat efficiency. At the end of March, the enemy concentrated two Regional Force battalions – together with strong air support assets, to strike into Long Tân and Long Phước. In the very first days, we drove hundreds of enemy from the battlefield, and they were forced to regroup in the open fields where they became “prey” for the artillery firepower of our 4th Company and destroyed. Throughout a 15-day period, the enemy were unable to force their way through our outer-most defensive lines around Long Tân and Long Phước. Rather, worn down significantly, they were forced to withdraw to Bà Rịa having suffered a defeat in their drive to occupy Long Tân.289 In July 1973, the Party’s Central Executive Committee promulgated Resolution 21. This was like a brilliant spotlight that illuminated for us a change in direction on the battlefield. The mirage of peace and “relaxation” - that had been held by some, was no more. 445 Battalion was no longer in two minds and hesitant in the face of the gunfire and shelling at a time when there was a ceasefire agreement. We clearly understood the enemy’s mind and their intentions – and were elated when we received the Party’s new policy. In implementing the directions of the Provincial Committee and the Military Region to “strike directly at the enemy bases from which they launched their operations”, the Battalion conducted a large number of attacks on the enemy’s bases in the Sub-Sectors of Đất Đỏ, Long Điền and Núi Đất … to destroy the enemy’s capabilities. These punishing blows were able to limit many of the enemy’s attacks into our liberated zones.290 At the beginning of 1974, the Eastern Military Region (Military Region 7) ordered a campaign on Route 2 to recover liberated regions from Đức Thạnh up to Cẩm Mỹ that had been occupied by the enemy following the Paris Accords. While the Military Region was directing our forces to implement the “Route 2 Campaign”, the puppet 18th Division concentrated two task forces (the 43rd and the 48th) to join with Regional Forces and Popular Forces to move into and occupy Long Tân and Long Phước. This was a good opportunity for us engage the enemy’s main-forces and disrupt their campaign. The
Translator’s Note: In May 1973, the US Defense Attache Office (DAO) estimated the strength of “445 Bn Ba Ria-Long Khanh Province Unit” as 180 – and also in Phước Tuy Province: “D.500 Battalion MR1” with a strength of “55 NVA” and “634 Battalion Ba Ria-Long Khanh Provincial Unit” with a strength of “50 VC” – USDAO, PLAF/PAVN Troop Strength by Unit - May 1973 , Saigon, 31 May 1973 – USDAO Report No. 6 918 5093 73. These USDAO figures have also been cited on a Vietnamese military history website: Rongxanh, Phân bố - quân số các đơn vị Quân Giải phóng miền Nam trên lãnh thổ miền Nam Việt Nam đến 31/5/1973 (Deployment and Strengths of the South Vietnam Liberation Armed Forces with the Territory of South Vietnam – 31 May 1973), Quân Sử Việt Nam, 6 February 2009. 290 Translator’s Note: According to the Đồng Nai History - 1986, in mid-1973: “500 Battalion of the Bà RịaLong Khánh Province was absorbed into 445 Battalion.” - Phan Ngọc Danh ..., Đồng Nai 30 Năm …, op.cit., 1986, p.182. As noted in the footnote above, the US DAO had estimated the strength of “D.500 Battalion MR1” in Phước Tuy Province as “55 NVA” and “445 Bn Ba Ria Long Khanh Province Unit” as 180.
88 Military Region strengthened our forces in Long Đất with the 7th Company of the 33rd Regiment of the 9th Division and two anti-aircraft artillery companies from the 24th Battalion. In a very important role, our Battalion had to achieve two tasks simultaneously: to stoutly defend Long Tân and Long Phước, and to lure the enemy and block their mainforce elements. The Battalion – together with the 34th Company (Châu Đức District), the Long Đất District Unit and two companies from the Military Region, now faced their greatest tests of strength in this period of countering the offensive launched by the puppet forces. In early February 1974, two task forces of the puppet 18th Division and an armoured squadron came and occupied Long Điền and Đất Đỏ and – together with seven Regional Forces battalions (Bà Rịa), prepared to invade Long Tân and Long Phước. The two villages of Long Tân and Long Phước were in hilly terrain - with Route 52 running from east to west. The boundary between the two villages was the Đá Bàn [sic] stream that ran alongside wide areas of open fields for about one kilometre. To the south of Long Tân and Long Phước, there was a field contiguous to Long Điền and Đất Đỏ. To the north, there were gardens of fruit trees leading to a rubber plantation next to a forest of tall, old-growth trees. Standing in the centre of the village, one had a clear view down on all the surrounding terrain. The Battalion’s defensive positions at Long Tân and Long Phước were arranged facing three directions. The main defences faced the west-northwest and were the responsibility of the 1st Company and the 7th Company (of the 33rd Regiment). These were supported by our 4th Artillery Company and an 82mm mortar detachment from the Military Region’s 274th Artillery Unit. In this sector, the companies dug their defensive positions as small team sites facing in many directions in order to launch surprise attacks against any enemy airborne forces. The 7th Company’s positions faced the northwest and were located about two kilometres from Long Tân. The first of our secondary defences faced east-southeast from Long Tân and was occupied by the 3rd Company. The positions were arranged in three lines. The first line was at the edge of the hamlet; the second was half-way up the hill; and the third was on the summit of the hill (in the centre of the village). The defensive lines and the defensive works were set out in an arc and carefully camouflaged. Two “steel bolt” teams were located on Route 52 to block any enemy tanks that might advance from Đất Đỏ - and were equipped with two B40s, a B41, an American heavy machinegun, and a 60mm mortar. The second of our secondary defences faced south-southwest from Long Phước and was held by our 2nd Company and the 34th Company (Châu Đức). All of the Battalion’s battlefield positions were laid out on the apexes of a triangle with sides from two to three kilometres long. The headquarters of the Battalion was set up east of Núi Thơm291 and about three kilometres to the north of Long Tân. On 14 February 1974, the puppet forces launched an operation to take Long Tân and Long Phước. The 302nd Regional Forces Battalion moved from Long Điền along Route 52 towards the 2nd Company’s position (Long Phước). The 355th Regional Forces Battalion advanced from Đất Đỏ on both sides of Route 52 to Long Tân and engaged the 3rd Company. From the very first day, the two enemy columns manoeuvred exactly as our tactical plan had anticipated. The 3rd and 2nd Companies – together with the 34th Company, fought doggedly throughout three successive days and halted the enemy’s operation.
Australian forces referred to the 126 metre-high Núi Thơm Hill as “Núi Đất 2” – see footnotes 125, 142 and 151 - and also footnote 9 in Annex L.
89 On 17 February, the puppet 18th Division now formally joined the fighting at Long Tân and Long Phước. At 5am, a pale white mist hung over the rubber plantations – the atmosphere was peaceful, and there no sound at all of gunfire. A few quite loud bird-calls could be heard greeting the new day. The 7th Company’s sentries were silently re-checking their combat materiels for the anticipated battle when suddenly they saw grey shadows moving forward in the mist. These were enemy troops from the 18th Division’s reconnaissance company from Núi Đất intending to insert a group into Long Tân’s flank and facilitate a larger enemy force to launch a surprise attack. However, they didn’t suspect the presence here of the soldiers of the 7th Company – a unit of the 33rd Regiment whose forté was the mobile ambush, and the elite 1st Company of 445 Battalion who were all in wait for them. The sentries urgently threw small lumps of soil at the entrances of the Company’s defensive shelters – and, now alerted, the whole of the 7th Company took off the safety catches on their weapons. In the Company Headquarters shelter, the PRC25 radio292 was not used in order to ensure absolute security. When the advancing grey shadows were about 10 metres from our DH10 mines, there was a blinding flash - followed by a ground-shaking explosion that blew down the vegetation and kicked up dust and smoke. Following this, the call to attack rang out. The 7th Company soldiers - who had been below ground, leapt out and attacked directly into the enemy formation firing bursts from their AK submachineguns. Meanwhile, at the 1st Company’s commanding position beside a banyan tree, Hùng – the radio operator who was high in its luxuriant green branches, used his field telephone to contact Vượng’s 61mm [sic] mortar platoon and report the direction in which the enemy was regrouping and taking flight. Tens of mortar rounds rained down on the grey-clad shadows at the edge of the rubber plantation. The 1st Company was ordered to attack and drive off the enemy near the 7th Company’s location. After a few minutes fighting, the enemy’s fire fell silent. Our soldiers quickly cleared the battlefield and then returned to their trenches. Half an hour after the battle, our political officer Nguyễn Minh Khanh took the field telephone in the Battalion Headquarters and informed all of our positions that, with the support of our 1st Company, the 7th Company had eliminated the 18th Division’s reconnaissance company, seized tens of weapons, and captured two of the enemy. News of this victory encouraged all our troops on the battlefield. There was an air of excitement everywhere, and all competed with one another to destroy the enemy, capture prisoners and seize weapons. At 2pm, tens of helicopters appeared and landed the 48th Task Force of the 18th Division in the open ground at Bẩy Mẫu about four kilometres to the north-northwest of Long Tân. The enemy divided into many columns and advanced straight at the positions of the 7th Company. The enemy’s M72 anti-tank weapons struck many of the 7th Company’s defences. With their overpowering strength, the enemy inflicted a large number of casualties on the 7th Company. The 1st Company was ordered to attack the enemy’s flank and support the 7th Company, but was blocked by an enemy battalion. The enemy then over-ran the 7th Company – and the situation was extremely dangerous. At the Battalion Headquarters, Tám Tổng consulted urgently with Hai Khanh then ordered all of the 7th Company to get below ground. Our 82mm mortars then heavily shelled the 7th Company’s position, and tens of enemy soldiers fell down headlong at the edge of our defences. The enemy were forced to rush back. At the same time, an infantry team from the 3rd Company arrived in time to aid the 7th Company in clearing the battlefield and carrying away our
Translator’s Note: United States AN/PRC25 VHF military manpack radio.
90 wounded and our dead. After a day of tense fighting, all the three helicopter-inserted battalions of the 18th Division were pinned down northwest of Long Tân (at a distance of three kilometres). That very night, the 1st Company was ordered to divide up into a large number of detachments and attack the dispersed elements of the 48th Task Force, and we inflicted many casualties on the enemy. Also on 17 February, at about 8am in the 3rd Company’s area, a squadron of 15 enemy armoured vehicles (that included both M41 and M48 tanks) advanced along Route 52 and struck directly into the 3rd Company. On both sides of the road (at about 100 metres distance), two enemy infantry battalions (of the 18th Division and the Regional Forces) moved forward in parallel. The commander of the 3rd Company and Comrade Tư Kia – the 1st Platoon commander, personally joined a “steel bolt” team beside Route 52, and both led their troops in engaging the enemy. Tư Kia raised his B41 and aimed at the leading tank. When it was 200 metres from the team, the B41 on Tư Kia’s shoulder shook and ejected a jet of flame. The tank was brought to a halt and emitted clouds of pitch-black smoke. The following tanks pulled back and returned fire randomly into our positions. The tanks then recommenced their advance, firing while on the move. Our B40 and B41 grenadiers in the 3rd Company set fire to a further two enemy tanks. The enemy were then forced to disperse into the fields to find positions from which to return fire, and did not dare move further forward. At the same time, our artillery and infantry fired fiercely at each of the groups of enemy in the open fields. Enemy bodies were strewn in disorder all over the fields. Unable to advance, the enemy regrouped, dug defensive positions and re-constituted their units. Then, having called down heavy air attacks against our troops, they re-commenced their move forward. However, regardless of whether they advanced or huddled together, the enemy still had to hug the ground in the fields under all types of fire from the 3rd Company’s solid defences that had been dug into the red soil. After tens of enemy assaults had been beaten back, their dead soldiers lay scattered along both sides of Route 52. Unable to recover their dead, as darkness fell both their infantry and tanks withdrew to Đất Đỏ. Early the next day, the enemy again advanced on their previous axis of attack, but were again driven back. The situation for our 1st Company was different from that at the 3rd Company’s position. Because of the distance from their rear support, the enemy’s 48th Task Force was unable to advance by day. So during the night, they sought areas to regroup and to launch operations the following day. As a result, they were attacked during the night by the 1st Company – both by ground assaults and our artillery fire. Principally by their methods of fighting defensively by day and then attacking by night, the 1st and 7th Companies were able to firmly hold our main positions in the face of an enemy force that was almost ten times stronger. Over a period of two weeks, all three zones of the Battalion’s defences at Long Tân and Long Phước had fought with great stamina and smashed almost all of the enemy’s operations to break-in to the area. We had killed hundreds of enemy and firmly held the battlefield. Apart from the factor of the doggedly brave spirit of our people, we must also acknowledge the red soil of Long Tân. For indeed it was that red earth – as bright as blood, hard but malleable, that formed those solid defensive positions for 445 Battalion’s cadre and soldiers and that enabled us to be victorious. On the night of 25-26 March 1974, the curtain was raised on the “Route 2 Campaign”293 launched by the Military Region against the enemy at the Kim Long camp –
Translator’s Note: “The Route 2 Campaign Headquarters was established in an area of over-grown rubber to the east of Cẩm Mỹ village (Xuân Lộc) and comprised Colonel Lê Văn Ngọc of the Military Region Headquarters as commander. Comrade Phạm Văn Hy - the Secretary of Bà Rịa–Long Khánh Province, was the political commissar (chính ủy) and Comrade Phạm Lạc – the Province Unit Commander, was the deputy
91 a stroke that flabbergasted the puppet military in Bà Rịa and Long Khánh. The enemy hurriedly ordered two of the 18th Division’s task forces to move from Long Đất and to break through our interdiction of Route 2. They now abandoned their plan to occupy Long Tân. Regional Forces troops from Bà Rịa replaced the withdrawing 18th Division forces, and they never again dared to come near to Long Tân and Long Phước. After more than a month of vicious fighting (from 26 March to 31 April 1974), Military Region 7’s campaign on Route 2 was a resounding victory.294 We had over-run 12 of the enemy’s posts on Route 2, retaken the liberated zone from Kim Long to the Bà Cùi plantation, and destroyed much of the enemy’s war materiel and strength. These victories had the power to greatly encourage the fighting spirit and will of 445 Battalion as well as the other local armed forces in that new revolutionary phase. With the impetus of our punishing success over the enemy – and the support of the Military Region’s 18th Sapper Battalion, 445 Battalion joined with the 25th Company (Long Đất) to attack and seize three posts and seven enemy positions on Inter-Provincial Route 44, and recover the six kilometre-long Cầu Tum – Nước Ngọt liberated zone. This victory also effectively supported and strongly encouraged the village guerrillas of Hội Mỹ, Phước Thạnh, Phước Thọ and Long Điền … who attacked the enemy, killing over 200 “Pheonix” pacification operatives, wicked thugs and Popular Forces troops while expanding our control over the villages and hamlets in the Long Đất area. In these operations, 445 Battalion had supported our local people who were able to upgrade the status of 20 hamlets from “weak” to that of being disputed with the enemy. Nearly 100 youths – both male and female, volunteered to join the revolutionary armed forces, establish underground organisations in Long Đất District, and to raise an additional local company which bore the title: 26th Company. The number of people of the Long Đất region rushing into the liberated zone to make their living increased daily. Many families built houses and huts right in the rice paddies and the slash-and-burn fields. In the enemy-controlled areas, at 7pm every night our revolutionary armed forces visited the families that had clandestinely supported us. The enemy’s pincer-like grip over the people was now only nominal and almost completely ineffective. In the 1974-1975 Dry Season, the situation on the Southern battlefield became increasingly advantageous for us. On the B2 Front295 alone, the enemy lost 2,373 military posts. The liberated zone extended uninterrupted from Lộc Ninh (Bình Long) down to Bến Cát, Tây Ninh, Bà Rịa and Long Khánh. The political and internal situation of the puppet central government became increasingly confused, and it was in serious crisis. In Bà Rịa – Long Khánh Province, following the success of the “Route 2 Campaign”296, the Military Region mounted a series of victorious operations on Route 1
commander.” - See Địa Chí Đồng Nai (Đồng Nai Monograph), Tập 3 (Vol 3) – Chương 6, op.cit., 2001. Phạm Văn Hy (Tư Hy) was also known as Phạm Văn Hiểu; and Phạm Lạc was also known as Tư Lạc. 294 Translator’s Note: According to the Military Region 7 History - 1995, p.49, the following elements participated in the Campaign: 33rd Regiment, 44th Regiment, 18th Sapper Battalion, 445th Battalion, 25th Company (Long Đất) and 43rd Company (Châu Đức). The Campaign began on 27 March 1974 and “after three months of fighting, the first campaign by Military Region 7 in the resistance war against the Americans achieved great victories … completely liberating 100 [sic] kilometres of Route 2 from north of Đức Thạnh to Cẩm Mỹ and restoring the situation on the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh battlefield to the situation before 28 January 1973.” 295 Translator’s Note: Created in 1961, the B2 “Bulwark” Front encompassed all the provinces of ộ, as well as the five southern provinces of Military Region 5 in southern Trung Bộ: ie Ninh Thuận, Bình Thuận, Quảng Đức, Tuyên Đức, and Lâm Đồng. See Trần Văn Tra, Vietnam: History of the Bulwark B2 Theatre, Văn Nghệ, Hồ Chí Minh City, 1982. 296 Translator’s Note: “At the conclusion of the Route 2 Campaign, we had killed 890 enemy, captured 37 prisoners – including a full colonel, six lieutenants/captains, seized 200 weapons and 20 radios, shot down 17 aircraft, destroyed 16 tanks, and liberated Route 2 forcing the withdrawal of 12 enemy posts. The liberated
92 and launched the “Route 3 Campaign” to surround and isolate Xuân Lộc (the principal town of Long Khánh). At the end of 1974, the Party’s Central Executive Committee promulgated the Resolution: “Resolve to liberate the whole of the South in the two-year period of 75-76”. This Resolution was disseminated to all the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion. Everyone was extremely elated, and all were resolved to strive towards the day of final and complete victory. In coordination with the Military Region’s Route 3 Campaign, 445 Battalion attacked and destroyed the enemy at the Bờ Đập (Hội Mỹ) camp, seized the Đồn Lớn camp (Phước Hải) and occupied the hamlets of Hải Lạc and Hải Trung. Panic-stricken by the Battalion’s attacks, the enemy were forced to withdraw and abandon their outlying posts on Routes 23 and 52. To strengthen our forces in important areas of the Military Region - and also those of COSVN, 445 Battalion was deployed from the Long Đất area up to Xuân Lộc. At this time, the momentum of the Revolution’s attacks was like a rising tide or a crashing waterfall. Our troops and the people of the whole South were preparing to launch the “Historic 1975 Spring Campaign”. Now, liberating a strategic area was not just the sole responsibility of a local unit or a main-force unit. It demanded high-level tactical coordination between all forces. The peak of the multi-faceted people’s war waged by the whole nation had arrived, and the time was ripe. The significance of this prodded 445 Battalion’s cadre and soldiers to improve themselves in all aspects and strive to keep pace with events. At this time, there were also changes among the principal cadre of 445 Battalion. Comrade Tám Tổng was the Battalion commander. Comrade Nguyễn Văn Quang – an armed forces hero, had studied in the North in the period from 1968 to March 1972 and returned to 445 Battalion to take up the position of Battalion second-in-command. Now, he was both second-in-command and chief-of-staff. Comrade Bùi Chính was the political officer - and concurrently was the secretary of the Battalion’s Party Committee. On 21 March 1975, 445 Battalion attacked a Regional Forces company at Ông Quế village (the Ông Quế plantation) on Route 2 in Xuân Lộc.297 At 8am, when the last rounds fired by the 4th Company had exploded, the whole Battalion simultaneously attacked on three axes (with a company on each axis) and cut the Regional Force company’s position into many small clustered groups. The enemy had not been unable to recover from this surprise shelling - when they were unexpectedly assaulted in daylight. Although the enemy’s defensive positions were well-developed, after only 20 minutes the Regional Force company in the Ông Quế plantation had disintegrated. Ông Quế was the first village on the Bà Rịa – Long Khánh battlefield to be completely liberated in the 1975 Spring Campaign. With the impetus of that victory, only a few days later 445 Battalion advanced along Route 2 and liberated the hamlets of Bảo Bình 1 and Bảo Bình 2, destroyed the enemy at Lò Than Mountain - and then turned to Route 1, liberated Bảo Hòa hamlet, inflicted heavy casualties on two battalions of Regional Forces at Bình Phú and Bảo Toàn, and interdicted two kilometres of Route 1 isolating Long Khánh Town (Xuân Lộc) from the
areas of Bà Rịa–Long Khánh–Biên Hòa were now connected.” - See Địa Chí Đồng Nai (Đồng Nai Monograph), Tập 3 (Vol 3) – Chương 6, op.cit., 2001. 297 Translator’s Note: For the 1975 Xuân Lộc campaign see Phạm Văn Hy, “Tỉnh Ủy Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Với Chiến Trường Xuân Lộc-Long Khánh” - “The Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Province Committee and the Xuân LộcLong Khánh Battlefield”, pp.161-164 in Military Region 7 (Quân Khu 7), Chiến Thắng Xuân Lộc-Long Khánh - The Xuân Lộc-Long Khánh Victory, Nhà Xuẩt Bản Tồng Hợp Đồng Nai, Biên Hòa. Phạm Văn Hy was the Secretary of the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Provincial Committee in the period September 1972-1975.
93 south. During this time, the devastating attack to smash “the steel gate of Xuân Lộc”298 also took shape. 445 Battalion – together with K8 (Xuân Lộc), the 34th Company, the 41st Company (both of Châu Đức)299, and the 207th Company (Cao Su District) formed a force equivalent to a regiment and - led personally by Comrade Phạm Văn Còn (the deputy chiefof-staff of the Provincial Unit)300, joined the attack to liberate Xuân Lộc from the south.301* The essential task for 445 Battalion302 was to interdict Route 1 and Inter-Provincial Route 2 three kilometres from Long Khánh Town and block the enemy’s forces from Suối Cát (Route 1) and Suối Râm (Route 2) from reinforcing Xuân Lộc. At 5am on 9 April 1975, our main column began its attack on Xuân Lộc. To the north and west, we had won great victories. In the east however, we were blocked by the enemy and suffered many casualties. In the south, 445 Battalion significantly wore down two enemy battalions from Suối Cát (the 3rd Battalion of the 48th Regiment and the 234th [sic] Regional Forces Battalion) that had tried to break through to the Town. At the same time, we seized the hamlet of Bảo Toàn. Each day, the encirclement of Xuân Lộc tightened. After four days of unsuccessful attacks on Xuân Lộc, our forces in the north and the east were ordered to withdraw from the Town and to change our methods of attack. In the south, 445 Battalion continued to invest the hamlets of Bảo Hòa and Bảo Toàn – while at the same time attacking the enemy in Bảo Thị, Bảo Liệt and the Gia Liêu bridge … At these locations, we captured 117 prisoners, seized 43 radios and satisfactorily completed our task of holding the enemy and thus enabling our large forces on the main thrust line into Xuân Lộc to change to a more effective operational method. The enemy’s 1st Airborne Brigade (part of the Thiệu government’s General R eserve) was inserted south of Tân Phong to rescue Xuân Lộc. Only a few hours afterwards, they were heavily shelled by the 4th Company’s artillery and suffered heavy losses. Next, the Battalion joined with the local district companies and launched continuous ground and artillery attacks on small groups of the 1st Airborne Brigade, killing hundreds of enemy and preventing them from entering Xuân Lộc to reinforce the rear areas of the 18th Division. While the 52nd Task Force (of the puppet 18th Division) was being eliminated at Kiệm Tân (Gia Kiệm – on Route 20), the enemy’s defensive line at Phan Rang was also being shattered by our 2nd Corps – and the puppet forces at Xuân Lộc became extremely alarmed. According to statements by the enemy’s Colonel Bảo – the deputy commander of
Translator’s Note: The term - “steel gate/door” (“cánh cửa thép”) ie blocking the NVA/VC northeastern approaches to Sài Gòn, was apparently coined by the commander of the 18th ARVN Division, Brigadier General Lê Minh Đảo. 299 Translator’s Note: The consolidation of C41 Company on 6 April 1975 in the Hắc Dịch area - under Aspirant Lương Văn Cao (Bảy Cao), and detail of the fighting is related in Mai Thanh Xuân, “Bắt Đại Tá Tỉnh Trưởng Ngụy Phạm Văn Phúc” - “Capturing the Puppet Province Chief Colonel Phạm Văn Phúc”, in Military Region 7 (Quân Khu 7), Chiến Thắng Xuân Lộc - Long Khánh ..., op.cit., 2004, pp.185-189. 300 Translator’s Note: Phạm Văn Còn is also referred to as the Chief of Staff of the Bà Rịa-Long Khánh Provincial Unit commanding the “Southern Front Headquarters” at Cẩm Mỹ - see Mai Thanh Xuân, “Bắt Đại Tá …”, op.cit., 2004. He is possibly Phạm Văn Cõn – b. Long Phước 1941, probationary Party member 1963, platoon 2ic/1st Company/445 Battalion in May 1965 – CDEC Log 12-2394-66. 301 * For the attack on Xuân Lộc, our participating forces were more than a corps in strength and attacked the enemy from four directions: - from the east: the 7th Division (of 4 Corps); - from the north: the 341st Division (of 4 Corps); - from the west: the 6th Division (of Military Region 7); and - from the south: the armed forces of Bà Rịa–Long Khánh. 302 Translator’s Note: 445 Battalion’s participation in the Xuân Lộc campaign is also related in Xuân Thanh, “Tiểu Đoàn 445 Trong Tấn Công Xuân Lộc-Long Khánh” - “445 Battalion in the Attack on Xuân Lộc-Long Khánh”, in Military Region 7 (Quân Khu 7), Chiến Thắng Xuân Lộc ..., op.cit., 2004., pp.161-164.
94 the puppet 18th Division, on the afternoon of 18 April the headquarters of the 18th Division had decided to flee Xuân Lộc and consolidate their forces on a defensive line at Trảng Bom. On the afternoon of 19 April, there was heavy rain, and on the unpaved roads south of Xuân Lộc the muddy water surged like streams and rivers. In the howling storm, the sounds of the enemy’s artillery boomed repeatedly to the west of Xuân Lộc. The headquarters of our local forces group (to the south of Xuân Lộc) assessed that the enemy were firing diversionary barrages and were preparing to abandon Xuân Lộc. At the headquarters, Comrade Phạm Văn Còn – the deputy chief-of-staff of the Provincial Unit, consulted very briefly with the key cadre of 445 Battalion, and a plan to interdict the fleeing enemy was formed. So, immediately on the night of 19 April, the 2nd Company was ordered to deploy from Bảo Bình to the S-bend on Route 2. The 3rd Company and the 1st Company moved from Bảo Hòa (Route 1) to Con Rắn Mountain (Cẩm Mỹ – Route 2). With legs that had been toughened over 10,000 miles303 – and after more than 10 years of hardships, maturing and winning victories, the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion now focused on running across tens of kilometres in order to interdict the enemy in time. The heavy afternoon rains further increased the difficulties. Kilograms of the thick red soil stuck to the soles of our soldiers’ sandals and shoes. The straps on their sandals snapped. There were sounds of stumbling, falling and exhausted breathing. Then – sandals and shoes were cast off into the jungle. Bare-footed, they raced on over all obstacles. The red soil of the tracks was imprinted with their blood-stained footsteps. Everyone’s hearts and minds were firmly focused on completing every stage of the journey. Fire-flies twinkled brightly, and the final victory was also a dazzling light before them – calling and urging them on … Their bare feet would have to win - they had to arrive before the enemy’s armoured columns. On the morning of 20 April, the 2nd Company arrived at the S-shaped bend and the C-shaped bend on Route 2 (in the area of the Hoàng Quân plantation) and, on that very afternoon, we destroyed two Regional Force posts and deployed to stop the enemy. Would the enemy flee through here – and had they already gone past ? No matter what – this had been our plan. The 1st, 3rd and 4th Companies had also reached Cẩm Mỹ. The 1st Company deployed immediately for the attack and eliminated an enemy platoon on Con Rắn Mountain. The 3rd Company killed 83 enemy and seized two 105mm howitzers at Cẩm Mỹ junction. We then established our headquarters on Con Rắn Mountain. A helicopter from Biên Hòa planned to land on Con Rắn Mountain - but as it descended, the enemy saw that the liberation flag was flying and hurriedly climbed and flew away. On the afternoon of 20 April, 445 Battalion and a number of the local district companies completed their deployments to block the enemy on Route 2 from the area of the Hoàng Quân plantation to the Quang Minh plantation – a distance of about 10 kilometres. The accurate assessments by the leadership of the group of local forces south of Xuân Lộc - and the first-rate efforts of the cadre and soldiers who ran for tens of kilometres to block the enemy, produced a very satisfactory outcome. At 2am on 21 April, a mixed convoy of mechanized vehicles led by tanks and armoured vehicles fled noisily south down Route 2. This convoy of the Xuân Lộc puppet military and puppet civil authorities was divided into two groups of about 70 vehicles. They were blocked and attacked by 445 Battalion and the local companies. A vehicle carrying enemy troops was set on fire, and the soldiers leapt down in panic seeking shelter on both sides of the road. In the area from the
Translator’s Note: Literally “dặm” - a “Vietnamese mile” of 444.4 metres.
95 S-bend to Cẩm Mỹ, we captured more than 100 prisoners. Still, the enemy fled onwards – fleeing and firing aimlessly before them, and leaving the hulks of their vehicles and the bodies of their fallen soldiers along the road. An hour later, another convoy of over 60 vehicles also fled down Route 2. These were also stopped and destroyed. We faced a large enemy force – more than a division with hundreds of vehicles, fleeing with tactics of “opening a road of blood”. Our forces were not able to stop them all – only to attack and destroy elements of their convoys over several kilometres. We hadn’t assessed that the enemy vehicles would carry the enemy’s nerve centre or that they would have included their important units in the fleeing convoys.304 Châu Đức District’s 41st Company was the unit that stopped the head of the enemy’s formation (south of the Quang Minh plantation) and set fire to two enemy tanks and captured a number of prisoners – including a vehicle carry Colonel Phúc, the Province Chief of Long Khánh. At that point, our attacks against the “steel gate of Xuân Lộc” - that had gone on for 12 days and nights, now ended. The fate of the Colonel – the Province Chief of Long Khánh, was also decided immediately in the field by those whom he had oppressed. That day, a 445 Battalion cadre boldly wrote a few stanzas of poetry in his notebook (diary) to express his happiness and pride in the victory in which he had played a part: We stand dauntless and dignified beneath the Xuân Lộc sky. The ‘steel gate’ was burst wide-open with lightning speed by our feet. Uncle has returned ! Solemnly from the centre of the city, he looks upon his free children ! After the victory at Xuân Lộc, the campaign to liberate Sài Gòn – Gia Định took shape and was given Uncle Hồ’s revered name: THE HỒ CHÍ MINH CAMPAIGN ! In the province of Biên Hòa – Bà Rịa – Long Khánh, two attacking columns – comprising two corps, were formed to strike into Sài Gòn. After tens of years of hardship, sacrifice and holding-on in a strategic area close to Sài Gòn, the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion – together with the local armed forces and the people, had frequently thought about and waited for this day. This was the day when the lightning-fast steps of the main-force units symbolized the will of the whole people and the whole Party as they passed through their homeland to sweep away the enemy in their final lair. While the 3rd Division (of the 2nd Corps) attacked the Đức Thạnh Sub-Sector and Bà Rịa Town, 445 Battalion attacked the Sub-Sectors of Long Điền and Đất Đỏ. Long Điền and Đất Đỏ – very well-loved names and the homeland of almost all of the cadre and soldiers of 455 Battalion, had been downtrodden by aggressors for years. It was also the place where the order to “wipe out” 445 Battalion was first issued. A Battalion that now stood before all and was now facing the final battle.
Translator’s Note: For an ARVN account of the withdrawal on Route 2, see Hua Yen Len, Colonel, The Line of Steel at Xuân Lộc (Long Khánh), Seattle, 5 February 1988 - ie: On 20 April 1975, the headquarters and elements of the 18th ARVN Division successfully withdrew south down Route 2 to an assembly area at Đức Thạnh and enroute - “easily brushed aside the enemy road-blocks and ambushes … and arrived the next morning.” They were soon joined by the 1st Airborne Brigade and the 2nd Battalion of the 43rd Regiment that had suffered “only light losses”. After two days of “regrouping and re-organizing our units at the Đức Thạnh assembly area, the entire 18th Infantry Division was transported by trucks to its rear base at Long Bình to receive new equipment and replacements.” During the 12-day battle at Xuân Lộc, “ARVN losses were 30% for all units participating in the battle, except for the 52nd Task Force which suffered 60% losses; North Vietnamese casualties : 5000-6000 killed or wounded and 37 armoured vehicles destroyed.” – VCAT Item No. 3670101001.
96 The 1st Company attacked the Long Điền junction. The 3rd Company attacked the Long Điền District Headquarters. The 2nd Company attacked the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector – together with two companies of the Long Đất local forces. The 4th Company (the fire support company) was dispersed to strengthen our two forces attacking the two District capitals. In the half-light of 27 April, the companies opened fire and attacked the enemy. After 20 minutes of shelling by our 4th Company on two locations at the junction and the Long Điền District capital, the infantry of the 1st and 2nd Companies simultaneously assaulted the enemy’s last-ditch defences and trenches. With our overpowering strength, after only half an hour we had seized all of the Long Điền District capital buildings, captured hundreds of prisoners, seized their weapons – and then released them all. At midnight, the 2nd Company and our local forces also occupied the Đất Đỏ Sub-Sector. On 28 April, the 1st and 2nd Companies seized the Long Điền junction and eliminated the enemy units from Vạn Kiếp and Bà Rịa Town that had fled there intending to regroup. Our companies held the junction to secure that position and enable the 3rd Division to advance and attack the enemy at Long Hải and in Vũng Tàu. On 29 April, 445 Battalion joined with the 3rd Division to liberate Vũng Tàu. The Battalion attacked the puppet’s 4th Marine Battalion - and at 10am on 30 April, the liberation flag flew over the enemy’s Hoàng Hoa Thám base at Vũng Tàu – symbolizing the strength and will of 445 Battalion after tens of years of development, reaching maturity and combat victories. Following this, the Battalion continued to coordinate with the 3rd Division to cross the sea and liberate Côn Sơn island305 – the last part of the South to rejoin the Fatherland.
CHAPTER VII A CONFIDENT AND DESERVED VICTORY The red soil region extends across Bà Rịa – Long Khánh, the homeland of tens of thousands of people who had indomitably endured calamities and dauntlessly opposed invading foreign aggressors. This was the homeland of such heroes as: Võ Thị Sáu, Hồ Thị Hượng, Nguyễn Thanh Đằng, Lê Thành Duy … and produced the heroic 445 Battalion ! Throughout its history of nearly 20 years – developing and maturing from a time when it was “concealed within the forces of the sects”, the Battalion had come of age during the Concerted Uprising Movement and had destroyed the strategic hamlets to become a force that “fought and was victorious over every enemy”. In the strategic coastal area to the northeast of Sài Gòn, in all its combat exploits – whether large or small, and even when suffering casualties that seemingly would not be overcome, the Battalion unceasingly strove to create a reliable and firm base for the local armed forces and the people to advance along the tough and decisive road to “reach the day of total victory”. The blood and intellectual effort of many had been laid down to create the glorious tradition of 445 Battalion. In its development, coming-of-age, and combat successes, the Battalion had always held to the maxims of: belief in the Party, for the people, holding-on, and fighting dauntlessly. Each of the Battalion’s victories was based on the clear-sighted and flexible application of the people’s war strategy of the Party. The leadership of the Military Region,
Translator’s Note: Côn Sơn (Côn Đảo) is an island in the South China Sea about 180 kilometres south-east of Vũng Tàu that had been used as a prison island since early French colonial times.
97 the Provincial Committee and the District Committees of Long Đất, Châu Thành … of the Battalion’s Party Committee, the Party Chapters and Party members were always to the fore when facing the violent and difficult challenges – and were like a red thread that ran through all of our distinguished military exploits. The people of the Long Đất region, Route 2, Long Thành … were like a gourd of sweet mother’s milk that nurtured the growth of its “sturdy 445 child”. The more violent the difficulties, the more the spirit of the people became even more unshakeably faithful. In these extremely difficult and violent periods of the Revolution, the Battalion paid a price in holding on to our strategically important region. This deep and intimate attachment was like an electric current that powered the lights of the Revolution in the countryside. We dared to strike all our opponents, we knew how to fight – and to fight well. The American imperialists escalated the war – and the first rung on their ladder was the land for which the Battalion was responsible. Every colour of enemy soldier and all the combat arms of the Americans, their puppets and vassals operated in our area. And in this region, the enemy also evolved many of their designs, plots and tactics as pilot schemes for the whole battlefield and for America’s war. We confronted the Americans – and fought the Americans; we confronted the Australians and fought the Australians … despite lacking guidance and experience, we still fought them. Every experience had to be bought in blood. We sought out the similarities and differences between the types of enemy soldiers, and then focused on their weaknesses when fighting them. Consequently, their troops who sought to destroy us – and who used all types of schemes to “wipe out 445”, became afraid of us. Many tactics were employed by these expeditionary forces and trialled in the war – but all were defeated by the Battalion. The Battalion’s combat victories multiplied day-byday and had their source in our psychology of daring to fight, knowing how to fight, and fighting well. The Battalion’s coming-of-age was linked to our military exploits on the battlefields and the development of the people’s war. As the enemy became progressively more Machiavellian and the war became more violent, the Battalion quickly came up with more effective ways of fighting. The fires of tens of years of warfare on end had toughened the ranks of our cadre and soldiers who had become inured to hardship and were staunch, intelligent and creative. Many generations of Battalion and company cadre had passed on – leaving behind many effective fighting techniques. We used small forces, surprise “attacks” on the enemy in their dens, and “ambushes” and “mobile ambushes” to destroy large enemy forces – all these were the basic tactics that were the forté of the cadre and soldiers of 445 Battalion. The enemy became aware of this and took precautions – but they were still destroyed. From year-to-year, from one period to the next, the enemy floundered and continued to suffer the same casualties. Many times they would reoccupy positions - but were still unable to hold them. While conversely, 445 Battalion became famous in the region for its combat methods. Each of the Battalion’s battles and victories had different properties and outcomes, but all were proof of our ability to employ our leadership cadre at all levels: always having a firm grasp on our tactical strong points; being daring; attacking by surprise on several fronts; manoeuvring flexibly; and concentrating and dispersing in a timely manner. Our combat abilities and flexibility in manoeuvre were very appropriate in a region that comprised both coastal areas and jungle, as well as rural areas and towns. Our combat exploits and the missions that we achieved were the unique marks of a unit that was both a local force - but yet very much “main-force”.
98 We relied on the people as our rear and clandestine storehouses, we seized enemy materiel to fight the enemy, and we employed people in the rear areas to support those in the frontline – this was the Battalion’s tradition of self-reliance and self-sufficiency along that long road over several tens of years of development and fighting. All this was in concert with the special characteristics of a local unit whose families and relatives were part of the region – and whose families and children also had to take up arms against the enemy. The help, protection and unqualified support of the people was founded on their revolutionary ideals - and also based on their love and deep admiration for the quality of our soldiers. Great-grandfather Hồ would approve of 445 Battalion’s soldiers. Our soldiers had a spirit of sharing hardships – eating whatever was available, and although hungry still fighting the enemy and bearing all the hardships and violence to complete their missions. Even if they lacked weapons, our soldiers still fought the enemy and seized enemy weapons to arm themselves. Almost all of the Battalion’s weapons before 1967 had been seized from the enemy. We fought skilfully – and also manufactured and cultivated skilfully. In the Battalion’s rear areas, one quarter of the Battalion’s strength was engaged in manufacturing materiel and growing produce to improve the soldiers’ living standards. At the same time, the rear areas were a place of convalescence and rest for our incapacitated troops and, when necessary, were the most rapid source of reinforcements … The Battalion’s traditions were built on willpower, blood and toil, and intellect. Hundreds of people fell306 for the “Four Four Five”- but they will live forever in their now free and independent homeland ! Today, tens of the children of 445 Battalion are high level cadre in the Party and the People’s Armed Forces of Vietnam. Acknowledging our Battalion’s military exploits, 445 Battalion was honoured to have conferred upon it by the Party and the Nation the title of Heroic Unit of the People’s Armed Forces.307 Following in their elder brothers’ footsteps, since 1976 the young soldiers of 445 Battalion have overcome new and difficult challenges and fulfilled their mission to assist our fraternal neighbour Cambodia, and to build and defend the fruits of the Revolution in Đồng Nai Province.308 The achievements and combat exploits of our young cadre and
Translator’s Note: On 23 February 2011, at a formal meeting to discuss arrangements for a memorial for 445 Battalion by the Battalion’s veterans’ committee and government officials, it was stated that during the War the Battalion “had wiped out more than 10,000 enemy soldiers, destroyed 120 military vehicles, shot down 20 aircraft, and seized more that 1,800 weapons of different types. More than 1,000 cadre and soldiers of the Battalion had heroically sacrificed themselves.” A stela and memorial for the Battalion is planned to be completed by December 2011 - Bùi Xuân, “Xây dựng tượng đài và bia tưởng niệm cán bộ, chiến sĩ D445” – “Erecting a Memorial and Commemorative Stela for the Cadre and Soldiers of D445”, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu (Cơ quan đảng bộ đảng cộng sản Vietnam – BR-VT), 24 February 2011. In recent years, a group of Australian military historians has conducted an analytical study of about 3,900 engagements by 1 ATF during the War against NVA and VC forces (see footnote 274) – and produced a “Vietnamese Missing In Action Database”. The Database “identifies the approximate burial site of more than 3,790” NVA and VC soldiers killed in action by elements of 1 ATF. The Database includes cadre and soldiers of units other than 445 Battalion – eg other provincial elements, district forces, village guerrillas, personnel from 274, 275 and 33rd Regiments, rear service personnel, and those killed in engagements outside Phước Tuy Province by 1 ATF. This data was formally passed to Vietnamese authorities in March 2010 – and the Canberra-based Australian military historians are continuing to refine their study - see: Hall, R., “Operation Wandering Souls”, Wartime, Issue 55, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, July 2011, pp.25-29. 307 Translator’s Note: The title was awarded on 3 June 1976. 308 Translator’s Note: In January 1976, Phước Tuy (Bà Rịa) Province was incorporated into Đồng Nai Province – with the Province capital at Biên Hòa. On 12 August 1991, several districts were detached and the current Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province was established.
99 soldiers 10 years after liberation309 have continued to build the traditions of the heroic 445 Battalion in a manner worthy of the confidence and affection of the Party and the people. --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Translator’s Note: In September 1979, D445 troops were engaged in operations against armed FULRO elements in the Chứa Chan Mountain/La Ngà River area of Xuân Lộc – “Nhóm PV, Lật lại những vụ án do Công an Đồng Nai triệt phá Kỳ 5: Đập tan âm mưu gây bạo loạn của Fulro” - “Over-turning of the charges by the Đồng Nai Public Security Service wiped out – Instalment 5: The FULRO plot for violent disorder completely destroyed”, Báo Đồng Nai, Biên Hoa, 13 August 2010. FULRO (The United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races - 1964-1992) sought independence for ethnic minorities in Vietnam and Cambodia.
100 Translator’s Endnote: Long Tân – Map
Scale: each grid square is 1km x 1km. The site of the engagement on 18 August 1966 is indicated by the dotted lines – based on Major H. Smith’s sketches (see Annex E – footnote 13, and the preceding footnotes 132 and 146 in Part I). There are no maps of the Long Tân area in either the 445 Battalion History – 1991 or the 5th Division History – 2005. The 1 ATF base at Núi Đất was about five kilometres to the west of the battle site.