REPUBLIC of VIETNAM ARMY RANGER

By Hieu Dinh Vu

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    I. INTRODUCTION.

       The Ranger was formed in July 1960 as separate commando companies.  Those companies were specially trained in guerrilla warfare.  Since the beginning, the Rangers became well known for their aggressiveness and élan in attack.  Through out the war, the Ranger battalions participated in most famous campaigns, operations and engaged in many bloody battles.  They were brave, courageous soldiers, proudly wore the maroon berets and the "Snarling Black Panther" insignia of the Ranger.  The Black Panther was usually painted in the front of their helmets as a symbol of intimidation and the name "Tiger" was used widely as the nickname of the Rangers. 

As the war escalated, the Ranger companies were grouped into battalions so they can engage with the enemŭs larger units.  In 1967, the war turned into conventional with the participation of larger Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regular units (VC / NVA).  The Ranger was reorganized into groups for the new test of the battlefield.

       Famous Battles, Operations, Campaigns.

  • 1964 Binh-Gia.  The 30th and 38th Ranger Battalions.
  • 1965 Dong-Xoai.  The 52nd Ranger Bn.
  • 1968 The TET Offensive.  All Rangers battalions in all Military Tactical Zones.  Khe-Sanh.  The 37th Ranger Bn.
  • 1970 The Cambodia Incursion.  The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Ranger Groups.
  • 1971 The Lam-Son 719 campaigned into Laos.  The 21st, 39th of the 1st Ranger Group.
  • 1972 The Easter Offensive.  The 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th Ranger groups.

    II. FAMOUS BATTLES.

           1. THE BATTLE OF BINH GIA (12/28/1964)

       Binh Gia is a small village in Phuoc Tuy province, most of the population of 6,000 people are Catholics resettled from North Vietnam after 1954.  It is a strategic hamlet, about 67km east of Saigon city.

       Two regiments 271st, 272nd of the Viet Cong (South Viet Nam Liberation Front - the NLF) 9th division from war-zones C and D moved to the coastal areas to receive logistic supplies from North Vietnam.  Then after that, the two units regrouped and organized training in the rubber plantations surrounding Binh Gia.

       In commemorating the fourth anniversary of the South Vietnam Liberation Front, a battalion of the 9th division attacked the village of Binh Gia, which was defended by two platoons of regional forces, early in the morning of 12/28/64.  After a successful attack, the communists held and reinforced with fresh troops.  The headquarters of the ARVN / Military Region III sent the 30th Rangers battalion into Binh Gia by heli-born to counter-attack.  The Viet Cong ambushed the landing zone and destroyed the reinforce unit, the survived rangers ran to the villagés church and hang on.

       The next day, the 38th ranger battalion was heli-born in the south and counter-attacked toward the village.  The fight lasted all day but the rangers could not clear the enemy dug-in positions.  In the morning of the 30th, the 4th Marine battalion was sent into the battlefield to reinforce the rangers.  The Viet Cong already moved to the northeast, the ARVN retook the village of Binh Giạ At night, the VC came back to attack but was pushed back.  One armeđhelicopter was shot down at the rubber plantation Quang Giao about 4km away from Binh Gia.

       On the 31st, the 4th Marine battalion was ordered to retrieve the down helicopter with its crewmembers.  Near the location of the down helicopter, the 2nd company of the 4th Marine fell into enemy's ambush, the remaining of the battalion arrived also taken heavy casualties.  The marines had to retreat back to Binh Gia.

       On 01/01/1965, two airborne battalions, the 1st and the 3rd were heli-born in the eastern flank of battlefield for reinforcement, but the communists had gone.  After the battle at Binh Gia, the RVN Armŭs elite units rangers and marines had taken heavy casualties, especially the 4th Marine battalion with 112 men killed, 71 wounded.  The figure included 29 out of 35 officers of the battalion, the battalion commander Maj. Nguyen van Nho was also killed.

       On the 4th of January 1965. At the headquarters in Binh Gia, the Viet Cong set up a press conference with the present of Australian news reporters W. Burchett and French M. Riffaud.  They announced that they had kill 2,000 RVN troops, 28 Americans and destroyed 37 military vehicles included M-113 and shot down 24 airplanes.

       The battle of Binh Gia was a warning for the ARVN and the US counterpart that with supplies from North Vietnam, the Viet Cong forces were capable for large battles.  They began to combine guerilla and conventional warfare in the Vietnam War.

           2. THE BATTLE OF DONG XOAI (06/09/1965)

       On 06/09/1965, the Viet Cong used two regiments 762nd and 763rd to attack Dong Xoai, a county in Phuoc Long province. At 11:30pm, the main forces of the communists attacked the newly established CIDG Special Forces camp.  Unprepared for the attack, the CIDG men and soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam regional forces ran to the government section inside the town to set up the defense.

       The Viet Cong made four waves of attack in the area held by government forces but were pushed back, leaving their deaths in the battlefield.  Angrily, they returned to the CIDG camp and slaughtered women, children about 200 of them whom were wives and children of the CIDG men.

       The next morning, the RVN sent one infantry and the 52nd ranger battalions into the battle of Dong Xoai.  The infantry battalion was ambushed at Thuan Loi plantation and broken apart.  The 52nd rangers with air support, counter-attacked ferociously.  Taking advantage of the air strikes, in the nightfall and the Viet Cong taking cover from the bombardment.  The fearless rangers, one by one squad crawled into positions closed to the enemy and attacked areas surround the district headquarters.  After cleared the areas, the rangers continued to attack and retake back the CIDG camp before the sunrise in the morning of 06/10/65.

       The following day, the 52nd ranger battalion was given a rest because of casualties.  The 7th Airborne battalion arrived and tracked down the retreating route of the Viet Cong.  At the rubber plantation, the paratroopers found many bodies of the infantry soldiers killed in the ambush the day before.  The airborne was ordered to continue the search to the north, and again fell into the communists trap.  This battalion was overran, some survivors ran back to the town of Dong Xoai.

       Throughout the fighting at Dong Xoai, the communists tried to take over the RVN governmental district headquarter building.  The CIDG men under the leadership of a Special Forces officer, Lt. Charles Q. Williams, wounded four times, he still rallied the defenders and personally knocked out the enemy machine gun.  He also guided medivac-helicopter to evacuate wounded soldiers.  For his valor, Lt. Williams was later awarded the Medal of Honor.  Also the 52nd Ranger battalion arrived at the right time and counter-attacked gallantly.  Among numerous weapons captured by the rangers, there were more than 50 AK-47 assault rifles.  It was the first time in the Vietnam war, the AK-47s were used by a Viet Cong unit.

       The battle of Dong Xoai in 1965 was claimed as a big victory by the Viet Cong.  They proved that they were capable for large battle and confronted the RVN elite units such as the airborne or the rangers.  The result of the battle following.

       -  8 Americans, 40 CIDG men were killed and 124 captured.
       -  200 civilians (women, children) were killed.
       -  The 52nd ranger battalion taken medium casualties.
       -  The 7th airborne and the infantry battalions taken heavy casualties.

       The Viet Cong left behind 134 bodies in the battlefield.

           3.THE BATTLES OF SAIGON DURING THE "TET" OFFENSIVE 1968.

       "TET" is the celebration of the lunar new-year in Vietnam.  It is the most important holiday in the Vietnamese tradition.  It is time for family reunion, visiting friends, entertainment and trying for lucks.  Taking advantage of the cease-fire of the sacred holiday, the communists launched a surprised attack named "General Attacking / General Up-rising" (TCK / TKN) on all major cities in South Vietnam.  This is a story of the RVN Rangers in the battle of Saigon during the "TET" offensive.

       For the battle of Saigon, the communist regular units were placed under the command of the two commanding posts.  The forward headquarters North (Forward 1) led by General Tran Van Tra, Mai Chi Tho and Le Duc Anh.  The forward headquarters South (Forward 2) led by Vo Van Kiet and Tran Bach Dang.

  • One battalion of the 271st regiment, 9th division and battalion 56/U80 attacked the Quang Trung training center and the vicinity.
  • Two battalions 267th, 269th with one unit of the 271st regiment attacked Tan Son Nhut airfield.
  • Two battalions of the 273rd regiment, 9th division attacked county headquarters of Thu Duc.
  • The 1st Cu Chi battalion and one battalion of the 101st regiment, 7th division and one unit of the 2nd mobile unit of "R" attacked military installations in Go Vap.
  • The 2nd Go Mon (Go Vap, Hoc Mon) battalion combined with the J1-F100 sappers company attacked the gate numbered 4 of the JGS headquarters.
  • The 3rd Di An battalion (3-165A) attacked Hang Xanh area (northwest of Saigon city).
  • The 4th Thu Duc battalion (4-165A) held the area of highway 1 to Saigon city.
  • The 6th Binh Tan battalion (6-165A) controlled the area of Phu Tho, Ba Hat (inside of Saigon).
  • The 508th Long An battalion attacked area of Binh Tay (southwest of Saigon, 7th district).

      On the 2nd day of the lunar new year (01-31-1968), the VC's 3rd Di An battalion moved into Hang Xanh area.  This area located in the northwest of Saigon city, near highway 1 to the northern coastal provinces.  The communists overran the local police station then hang on to defense against the RVN relief forces.  At 4:30am next day, the RVN Thu-Do (Capital) tactical zone sent the 30th rangers battalion to the fighting area, meanwhile the VCs built up the defense around the occupied police station and waited for the RVN troops.  They blew up the first GMC truck of the convoy by B-40 RPG, two rangers killed and two other wounded.  Immediately, the rangers jumped out of the trucks and lined up in attacking formation.  When the rangers started moving closer to the police station, the enemies opened fires from the high buildings occupied in the surrounding area slowing down the advancing rangers.  At that time, it was still dark and the 30th rangers were ordered to limit their fires power for the lives of civilians in the area.

       At 6:15am, the rangers used loud speakers urged civilians to move out of the fighting area before 10:00am.  People poured out on the streets with their children and small bags of belonging, they ran toward the rangers for helps and protection, still people in the nearby area of Cau Son trapped between the lines.

       The climax of the battle began at 10:30am, the 30th rangers split into two spearheads.  One started from the new port, on Hung Vuong street attacked from the south, the other moved along highway 1 straight to the police station.  The gun fires broke out, a lot more than fire-works, after the first wave, the VCs gave up the police station, retreated to a nearby slump area.  When the aggressive rangers continued to charge the enemy into the slump, another group of VCs came out from hiding places reoccupied the police station.  Again, the rangers had to return to sweep off the enemy, before continuing the game "hide and seek" with the ghost VCs then a platoon of the 30th battalion had to stay at the police station.  The communists retreated back to Cau Son area, and hang on there.  There were many people still trapped in this area, the rangers were ordered to close in slowly avoiding civilian casualties.  The rangers captured some weapons and a flag of the NLF (National Liberation Front - Southern communists).

       At 3:30pm, the 30th rangers began to move into Cau Son area, the advancing was stalled at the small bridge linked Cau Son and Hang Xanh.  The VCs was reinforced by a company of the Q.10 battalion from Thu Duc.  This company positioned along the northern bank of the canal and held the rangers at the other foot of the bridge.   At 6:30pm, one company of the 38th battalion with APC M-113 supported tried to cross the bridge, the enemy fired B-40 RPG blew the leading M-113 on fire.  There was only one road to Cau Son, the rangers were ordered to halt their attack at 8:00pm for the night.

       In the night of the 1st of February 1968, two companies of VCs from Cat Lai (northwest of Saigon) moved into positions then attacked the regional forces post at the foot of Saigon bridge.  At 1:00am, the VCs at Cau Son increased their fires powers to pin down the rangers and shelled into the new port caused fire on one fuel-storage.  The 38th ranger battalion with M-41 tanks attached was directed to rescue the regional forces and protecting the important bridge, the northwest gate into the city.  Under fires supported from the M-41 tanks, the rangers advanced easily, forcing the enemies to retreat back from where they came, but another communists unit had crossed the Saigon river and joined their comrades in the area of Hang Xanh.  In this area, the rangers had known that a numbers of wounded VCs were evacuated out of the battlefield the night before.

In the morning of the 4th day of the Lunar new year (02-02-68), the rangers were ordered to terminate the battle at Hang Xanh quickly (for other duty, VCs appeared in many areas in Saigon city).   Again the rangers used loud speakers urged civilians to evacuate then attacked valiantly. The 30th ranger battalion controlled the area of Hang Xanh before the sunset.  The Communists left behind 85 bodies, the rangers captured 3 enemies, 30 AK-47s and CKCs.  The rangers lost 14 men KIA, 25 wounded. The cavalry lost 2 men and 2 wounded.  Thousands houses in this area were burned.

In the area of Gia Dinh (jointed with Saigon city in the north), the 38th ranger had a closed house to house combat with the enemies. Under the expanding fire, the rangers chased the VCs running from houses to houses liked cats and mouse.

In Cho Lon area (eastern section of Saigon), communist troops appeared in many areas, the 38th rangers searched in the section near An Quang pagoda killed 4 and captured 1 female VC armed with AK-47 and eight magazines of bullets. In another area nearby, two platoons of VCs set up blockages and guarding the area in groups of three. At 8:00am, men of the 35th and the 38th rangers closed in, the fight began and also the fire. The rangers moved from house to house, advancing slowly minimized civilian casualties, the fight last until the sunset. Taking advantage of darkness, the communists retreated to another area near the racetrack.

       The most fierce battle took place in the areas southeast of the city, near the race track, Phu Lam (6th district), Binh Dong (7th district) and the Catholic diocese of Binh An (8th district).  The Communists 508th battalion (Long An) moved in and controlled the Binh An area smoothly, they dug in then waited for the RVN relief forces.  The rangers attacked from two directions but stalled under enemy firepower, the battle lasted for several days.  Finally, with air supports the rangers attacked ferociously and ran over the enemy positions with well-built foxholes and trenches.   Most houses in this area were destroyed or burned because of RVN aerial bombardments.

       In district 7th, the VCs appeared on many streets and set up their headquarters in the Binh Tay liqueur plant.   Just after midnight of the 7th, the 41st ranger battalion sent companies 2nd and 3rd into the battle.  The two arrows of rangers moved slowly 4km on the street to the destination target, they exchanged gun fires with the enemies on the roads without casualty.  At the distiller plant, the communists closed the gate and hang on.  The 41st used the 2nd company as the main spearhead for the attack, men in this company just positioned outside the plant then waited.  Meanwhile the 3rd company was split into three groups, one group moved in to occupied high houses (2 or 3 floors) surrounding the plant, their job was to support the other groups and keeping the enemies busy to focus on them.  The other two groups from two directions used tools to break walls of houses then sneaked into the plant (Sappers tactic).  This tactic worked magically.  When the front gate of the plant was blown away by the men of the 3rd company, the rangers of the 2nd company waiting outside screamed and ran forward to charge the enemies.  By surprise, the communists panicked, ran for their lives, the rangers killed 20 enemies, captured some weapons and 3 prisoners, they also liberated some civilians included one medical doctor.  Next morning, three VC prisoners led the 3rd company of the 41st ranger to a different place to capture the courier.  This man reported that the 2nd battalion of the Dong Thap regiment was presented in the area.

       The RVN started new campaigns to stop the enemy infiltration into Saigon city called Tran Hung Dao I then Tran hung Dao II (The general who defeated the Mongolians) following to mope up the remaining VCs in the city.  The 41st battalion ranger from the Mekong delta (Corps IV) was called in for actions.  This battalion joined other ranger battalions 30th, 33rd, 38th and the 5th recon company of the 5th ranger group built up a screening comb in the east and southeastern flanks of the capital to stop the VCs infiltrating to the heart of Saigon city.  In many occasions of gunfights, the rangers killed 40 enemies.

       Around 2:00pm, the 30th ranger were trucked and transported from highway 1 (northwest) to Rach Cat (district 7th) for a confrontation with an unit of the VC Dong Thap regiment.  The battle broke out and again, civilians ran toward the rangers for protection. After separated civilians from the communists, the rangers began to attack.  One hour later, the rangers controlled the bridge of Rach Cat, the VCs retreated to Me Coc port (Therére many man-built canals in the 7th, 8th districts).  In this area, the communists used churches, temples as shelters.  One VC prisoner said that his group included 35 men armed with AK-47s and RPG B-40s, they just gun down two policemen at the Binh Tien bridge.  The 30th ranger continued to attack and the battle lasted through the night until the next day with many fires and huge black cloud of smokes in the air.

       On the 10th of lunar new year (02-08-68), the 38th ranger operated in Phu Lam area (district 6th).  The VCs reacted strongly first then dispersed into small groups and fled out of the area of operation of the rangers.  Meanwhile the 35th ranger (from the 6th group) and the 33rd rangers continued the "Cats and mouse" with the enemies in the 5th district (closer to the center of the city).  The communists avoided the rangers by running from one area to another.

       The RVN restored the control of the city.  The Tran Hung Dao II began to mope up the infiltrators from their hiding places.  The people of Saigon felt safer when the 5th ranger group moved its forward HQ to the racetracks inside the city for directing the ranger units, which were assigned to protect the east and southeast sides of the city.  On the 5th of May 1968, the communists started the second "General Attacking, General Up-Rising", but much less intensity.  In Saigon city, the principle battles were in the center of Cho Lon, district 7th and Phu Lam (district 6th).  The rangers defeated the enemy but casualties were high, in the first week of July 1968, the rangers lost three high ranking officers, Colonel Dao Ba Phuoc commander of the 5th group, Captain Nguyen Van Uc deputy commander of the 34th ranger and Major Nguyen Nganh commander of the 41st ranger battalion.

            4. OPERATION LAM-SON 719.

       Operation Lam-Son 719 in the early of February 1971 was planned to take and destroy sanctuary base 604 of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).  This base located in Tchepone, a small town in southern of Laos.  Intelligence analysts stated that the NVA had built many large storages stocked with weapons, ammunitions, logistic supplies and foods.  Also this base was used as a resource for refreshing, troop replacement and training for the NVA units after battled with the RVN Armed Forces.  Backed by this base, the communist forces crossed the Laos-Vietnam border to attack the Quang Tri province.  In the south of base 604 closer to the border, there was also base 611, and from this base the enemy could launch attacks into the city of Hue, Thua Thien province.  The operation also carried an important meaning in the Vietnamization program.  No American infantry soldier landed feet in the land of Laos, all American advisors attached to the RVN units were ordered to stay in the soil of South Vietnam.  Lam-Son 719 operation began at 7:00am on the 8th of February, as the leading element of the RVN 1st Cavalry with M-41 tanks and M-113 APCs crossed the border into Laos on route 9.  This route was narrow and rough terrain slowed down the advancing of the RVN forces.  Meanwhile, ỤS. helicopters of the 223rd and 158th Combat Aviation battalions left Khe Sanh packed with troops from the RVN Airborne, 1st Infantry divisions and the 1st Rangers group.  Khe Sanh combat base was used as the forward headquarters for the ARVN I-Corps.  The helicopters transported RVN troopers to their designated areas of operations (AO).

       The 1st rangers group participated in the operation with two battalions, the 21st and the 39th.  The 37th stayed to protect the group forward headquarters inside South Vietnam.  The forward headquarters of the 1st ranger group moved to Ta Bat, northwest of Khe Sanh, close to the Laos border.  The 21st battalion was heli-born into landing zone (LZ) "Rangers South", about 5km northeast of fire support base (FSB) 30.  Three days later, the 39th was brought into the LZ "Rangers North", 3km northeast of LZ Rangers South.  The two ranger battalions assignment was the sensor to detect the NVA movements and to delay the enemŭs spearheads of the attacks toward fire-support bases (FSB) 30 and31.  If the communist overran these two FSBs, they cut off the retreating route 9 of the RVN forces.

       After landing, the rangers established defensive positions in the areas surrounding of the landing zones (LZ) then ranger companies fanned out searching for the enemŭs trails and activities in their area of responsibility (AO).  Beginning the 14th, leading platoons of the 39th started exchanging gunfire with the enemy forces, and forward artillery observer called for supports.  In their responsibility, the rangers were supported directly from a company of the 64th artillery battalion from Phu Loc.  Around 4:00pm all companies engaged in fighting with the surrounding NVA units.  The 64th artillery company with six 105mm guns could not keep up with the intensity of the battle.  In desperate, the forward observer broke in the working frequency of the C/44th artillery company on FSB 30 and requested for fire-support.  With the effects of artillery supports, the NVA had to pull back, the rangers also fell back to defense the battalion command post.

       On the following days, the 39th rangers sent its companies out on patrol in the AO, they killed 43 enemies and captured two 37mm Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA) guns. The AAA guns indicated that the NVA had a large size of unit in the surrounding areas of the ranger north. In the south, the paratroopers, and infantry units discovered storages of foods, fuels, weapons... and dead NVA troops killed by B-52s bombing earlier.

       Until the 18th, the NVA Corps 70B moved its divisions 308th, 304th, 320th, 324B together with tanks regiments, artillery regiments to counter-attack.  On this day, they concentrated to up-root the 39th rangers with human wave tactic.  The rangers fought gallantly and with artillery supports from Phu Loc and FSB 30, the Communists attacks was repulsed, left hundreds of bodies in the battlefield, the ranger captured more than 500 weapons of all kinds.

       The next morning, the NVA troops returned to continue the attack.  The battle soon turned into the killing ground.  The RVN artillery from the 64th battalion and the C/44th companies opened fire continuously to support the rangers.  The 39th ranger battalion hang on for another day, when the enemy pulled back for realignment its force for the attack, the slightly wounded rangers were bandaged quickly then returning to the trenches.

       The rangers probably knew their destiny, they prepared for the last fight... On the 20th of February, early in the morning, the NVA mounted a new attack with more intensity.  The battle lasted into afternoon and the ranger reaction was weaken... then the 64th and the C/44th artillery companies did not hear any calls for helps from the forward observer of the 39th rangers.  The communists already swamped into the ranger positions.  Aerial photos showed at least 600 NVA bodies left in the battlefield.  The survivors of the 39th ran back to the defensive line of the 21st rangers in the southwest and continued to fight side by side with brothers in arms of the 21st until this battalion was also evacuated.

       News of the 39th ranger battalion fought until the last bullets then dispersed instead of surrendering spread out rapidly.  Lt. Col. Molinelli of the ỤS. Air Cavalry wrote: "We could not re-supply for them for three days.  When ammunitions were about to run out, they got out of their positions, counter-attacked then continued to fight with captured weapons".

       After overran the 39th, the NVA forces moved south and surrounded the 21st ranger positions.  In the night of the 20th, flares lighted up the sky above the 21st ranger position in the area of LZ "Ranger South".  It was the last outer shell, which shielded the FSB 30 from the enemy advancing from the northwest.  The NVA began their attacks on the ranger positions on the 21st of May, the rangers fought back and held their positions.  The battle between the 21st and the survivors of the 39th with the NVA units lasted for 4 days and nights.  When the enemy pulled back after waves of attacks they pounded on the rangers positions with 122mm and 130mm shells to weaken the ranger physicals and morals.

       To preserve the ranger battalion, in the morning of the 25th, the 21st ranger was ordered to evacuate according to plan "Zulu 1".   Again the 64th and C/44th artilleries were directed to maximize fire-support for the rangers.   About 10:00am, four Cobra gun-ships encircled above the ranger positions then a squadron of helicopters landed quickly in the LZ "Rangers South" to scoop up the rangers and brought them to FSB 30.  Later, another squadron arrived at FSB 30 picked up the rangers and transported them back to Phu Loc, accomplishing the commitment of the 1st ranger group in operation Lam-Son 719.  However, one company of the 21st ranger battalion was left behind on FSB 30, they fought together with the men in the FSB 30 until this FSB was also forced to retreat.

            5. EASTER OFFENSIVE

       By the end of March 1972, in preparing for the peace talk in Paris, the NVA launched a massive attack named the "Nguyen Hue campaign".  The massive attack aimed at three fronts.  The first began on the 30th of March 1972 in the RVN / MR-I with six NVA divisions, 304th, 308th, 312th, 324th, 325th and the B-5 Front with four regiments, and two separated regiments.  The communists spearheaded across the Ben Hai river and the DMZ to attack the RVN 3rd Infantry division and the two attached RVN Marines brigades.  The second began on the 5th of April with three divisions of the COSVN ("R"), the 5th, 7th and 9th divisions crossed the Cambodian border attacked the Binh Long province, took Loc Ninh county and seized the provincial city of An-Loc some 96km away from Saigon city.  The third began on the 6th of April in the central highland in the MR-II with three divisions, the 2nd of the B-3 Front, the 320th, the 3rd "Gold Star" division and separated battalions attacked the city of Kontum, and the towns of Dakto, Tân Canh, and the areas surround Chu Pao pass, Mang Yang pass.

       Before the offensive, in the MR-I north of Hai-Van pass, the RVN had the 1st Infantry division, which defended the Thua Thien province and the city of Hue.  The 3rd division, the 1st Cavalry brigade with the 20th M-48 Tanks regiment, the 147th, 258th Marines brigades and the Regional and Popular forces defended the Quang Tri province and the city of Dong Hạ The RVN forces were positioned as: The 57th regiment, 3rd Infantry held strong points A1, A2, A3 and C1 (Gio-Linh).  The 2nd regiment, 3rd Infantry stationed at A4 (Con Thien), Fuller, C2 and C3. The 56th regiment, 3rd Infantry was at Cam Lo, Khe Gió and Carroll (Tan Lam).  The Marines 147th brigade held four strong points Ba Ho mountain, Sarge, Holcomb and Mai Loc.  The 258th brigade was in reserve at Pedro (Phuong Hoang), Anne, Jane, Barbara and Nancy.  The Regional and Popular forces protected bridges, posts under the command of the Military Provincial of Quang Trị The three Rangers groups 1st, 4th and 5th from MR-III and Da Nang were sent to Quang-Tri as reinforcement after some positions of the 3rd Infantry and Marines fell into communist hand.  The 4th ranger group committed only two of its three battalions, the 43rd and 44th, the 42nd was still holding a strong point in Cambodia.  The 6th Ranger group was deployed in the area near the city of Hue, later was sent to help in defense the city of Kontum in the MR-II.

       As the situation in the MR-I became critical, on the 3rd of April, the RVN, JGS ordered airlifted the Marine divisional headquarters, the 369th Marines brigade, the 4th and the 5th Ranger groups from Saigon to reinforce the I-Corps (the 1st Rangers group was already in the MR-I).  At that time, the whole Marines division was in the I-Corps but two of its brigades were still placed under the command of the 3rd Infantry division.  This command structure was clumsy and mixed up.  The Marines and Rangers executed the orders from the HQ of the 3rd Infantry only and after approval from their HQs.

       On the morning of 6th of April a Ranger battalion moved in camp Pedro to relieve the 1st Marines battalion, which then brought to Ai Tu combat base.  On the 10th of April, the NVA launched a serious attack against the 3rd Infantry.  NVA tanks and infantry also attacked the Marine 1st and 6th battalions in the southwest of Pedro base.  The enemy was repulsed but the Marines casualties continued to mount.  To the north toward Cua Viet, NVA troops with tanks supported attacked two Ranger battalions unsuccessfully.  The rangers fought gallantly and held their positions even lost several armor personnel carriers (APC) and one M-48 tank.

       On the 11th, Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam focused on a counterattack westward.  The operation named "Quang Trung 729", consisted of three battalions of the 147th Marines, three Ranger groups and two Cavalry regiments.  Quang Trung 729 was on schedule with RVN troops moving forward cautiously.  Only the 5th Ranger group encountered with the enemy, they overran a NVA battalion size and taken light casualty.  Then the RVN became bogged down as the fighting intensified.  On the 18th, all RVN units including Marines and Rangers reported contacts with enemy forces.  The 5th Ranger group with tanks of the 20th Cavalry support was confronted by one regiment of the NVA and held in place.  The 20th lost several tanks by RPG guns B-40s, B-41s and Sagger portable missiles.  The 1st Ranger group and the 3rd Marines battalion also reported enemy tanks moving from the west.

       With fresh troops arrived, the RVN in Quang-Tri province realigned its forces.  On the 23rd of April, the Marines 147th brigade after a brief rest, with the 4th, 8th battalions and the 2nd Artillery battalion. replaced the 258th Marines in the western of Ai Tu combat base and received ađitional the 1st battalion which was at the Phuong Hoang base.  The 258th brigade with battalions the 7th and the 3rd were sent back to Hue for resting and replacement.  The 57th regiment 3rd Infantry, the 1st Cavalry brigade and the 4th, 5th Ranger groups defended Dong Ha corridor, north and east of Ai Tu base.  The 2nd regiment 3rd Infantry held the southern region of Ai-Tu base to the northern bank of Thach Han river.  The 1st Rangers group built the defensive line at the southern bank of Thach Han river and protected the city of Quang-Trị

       On the 27th of April, the NVA began a major drive toward Quang Tri city.  Early in the morning, the enemy attacked the 4th Ranger group in the center of the RVN defensive line.  Fifteen minutes later, they attacked the 1st Marines battalion in the south.  In the northwestern of the 3rd division, the 1st Armored held the pivotal northern portion of the defensive line.  At 6am, NVÁs artillery began pounding the RVN positions with 122mm rockets and 130mm field artillery guns. Later, at 7:15am the enemy attacked positions of the 5th Rangers group with their infantry and T-54 tanks.  The Rangers held off repeated attacks, Lt. Col. Ngo Minh Hong, commander of the 5th group, tirelessly drove his men out as they cleared out enemy foxholes and blew up tanks, but the enemy continued mounting pressure on the rangers.  The NVA determined to punch a hole through the RVN position.  The fighting increased at heavy pace as the NVA massed and assaulted the 30th, 33rd and 38th battalions of the 5th group.  The rangers were pushed back two miles.  The 33rd battalion was ordered to reinforce the 30th rangers, but the 30th already had fled to the east.  The lone 33rd battalion fought on without support until nightfall then they broke contact and withdrew to the east.  By 9:45am, the NVA overran the 38th, exhausted the rangers fell back to Ai Tu combat base and built their defense in the east, next to line of the 8th Marines battalion. American advisors to the rangers believed there had been no other alternative.

       In the center of the RVN's defensive line, the 4th Ranger group continued to hold off NVA Infantry and tanks attack after attack.  However, their remaining M-48 tanks were lost one after another by Sagger missiles.  By 16:15pm two NVA battalions assaulted into the hole of the 4th Ranger group.  At 16:40, the 43rd Rangers battalion was overrun, the group was forced to retreat then built up a long thin line defensive about one mile south of Dong Ha combat base near the Mieu Giang river.

       In the night of the 29th, the enemy bombarded and harassed the defensive line of the Marines and the 2nd regiment 3rd Infantry division in the west, southwest of Ai Tụ On the next morning, those M-48 tanks squadron attached to the rangers was directed to move to the western front for the Marines.  Because lacking of coordination, the rangers thought those tanks were running away from the battlefield and without tanks support, they retreated back to Quang Trị

       On May 1st, Lt. Gen. Ngo Quang Truong replaced Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam as the new commander of the I-Corps, he urgent requested the JGS for reinforcement from the general reserve forces. The 2nd Airborne brigade was sent from Saigon to the northern provinces. It was placed under the command of the Marines division (Marinés three brigades were already there) and defended the front line. Later the 1st Rangers group was also placed under the command of the Marine division. This group participated in the counter-offensive to retake the old citadel Dinh Cong Trang in the Quang Tri province. The other Ranger groups were sent back to Saigon for replacement then redeployed to the other fronts in the central highland and in An Loc, Binh Long province.

       On the 26th of May, the NVA attacked heavily on the defensive line of the 1st Rangers group. The rangers held their positions, the enemy left behind more than 200 dead comrades and numerous weapons.

       By the end of May, the I-Corps received ađitionally, the HQs of the Airborne division and the 3rd Airborne brigade. On June 28th, the I-Corps launched the Lam Son 72 operation with the Airborne division, Marines division and the 1st Ranger group to retake the lost lands in Quang Tri province and the target was the old citadel Dinh Cong Trang. The operation lasted until September 16th 1972 and costly. In seven weeks of intense fighting one out of four Marines killed. From June until the victory (09/16/72), the Marines lost over 5,000 men included 3,658 killed in actions. The Rangers and Airborne casualties were not reported in those actions.

    III. CONCLUSION.

       Medals, Decorations.

  • Twenty three Rangers units were awarded the Cross of Gallantry with the Palms awards.
  • The 42nd Ranger battalion received seven times, the 44th six times, the 43rd and the 1st Rangers Group received four times.
  • The 42nd was awarded twice the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), other battalions 44th, 37th, 39th, 52nd and 41st were decorated once.
  • Many other Ranger battalions awarded various Cross of Gallantry medals of the ỤS. Army.

       The Rangers fought until the last minutes of South Vietnam as the largest group to defense Saigon city, the capital of the Republic of Vietnam.

 

References:

  • Hoang An, Thanh Liem, Thanh Nha, "Tet Mau Than 68 in Saigon", Song Moi, Fort Smith, AR. 72913
  • Nguyen Duc Phuong, "Nhung tran danh lich su", Dai Nam, Glendale, CẠ 91202, 1993
  • Will Fowler, "The Vietnam Story", Winchmore Publishing Services, 1983
  • John Pimlott, "Vietnam the decisive battles", Marshall Editions Developments, Ltd. 1990
  • Truong duy Hy, "Tu thu can cu hoa luc 30", Dai Nam, Glendale, CẠ 91202, 1993
  • Col. G.H. Turley, "The Easter Offensive", Warner Books Inc. New York, N.Ỵ 10103, 1989
  • Hien Van Tran, "The RVN Marines in the battle Spring-Summer 1972 in MR-I", KBC magazine 10/96
  • Dale Andrade, "Trial By Fire", Hippocrene Books, Inc, New Yok, 1995


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