THE 52ND RANGER BATTALION
(THUNDERBOLT OF THE EASTERN SKY)

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    Introduction

        Early 1964, four independent ranger companies 347th, 348th, 351st and 352nd were grouped together then moved to My Tho to form the 52nd battalion, the last of the 20 ranger battalions.  Captain Vong Si Dau, a brave and experienced in combats and leadership was assigned the commanding position, the executive officer was captain Vo Van Sang.

        During a training at Trung Hoa ranger training center located at Cu Chi, where the communists call “The Iron, Copper wall”.  The 52nd battalion had live exercises with the VC (guerrilla units), according to the training of level of operations from squad, platoon ... to battalion. In the operation prior to accomplish the training, the 52nd-(one company stayed at camp to guard the training center).  After nearly 6 hours of fighting, the battalion defeated the VC K15 battalion at Sa Nho deep inside their safe, secret sanctuary.  This first victory gathered 30 of medals for the battalion.

    Part 2

        After 42 days of training, the battalion returned to My Tho city and was used as the reaction force for tactical zone Tien Giang.  The battalion was the main spearhead in heli-born search and destroy operations. Victories at Ba Beo, hamlet Cai Be, Cai Lay, Vinh Kim and the islet Loi Quan built up the reputations for the 52nd ranger battalion in the tactical zone.  On August 1964, in a retaliation operation, the battalion annihilated the VC 512 battalion at the river of the Ham Luong, Kien Hoa province, two days after this battalion raid and caused casualties for the 41st ranger battalion.  The fierce battle began at sunset, after the last company of the 52nd crossed the river and was looking for a covered area, but the VC were already positioned there and waiting.  When the first platoon moved in they were greeted with fires from the enemy’s guns.  The lieutenant interim commander gave order to his men to go forward attacking immediately.  After two waves of the suicide attacking, the rangers broke the outer defensive line of the VC, then straight forward to the HQ of the VC battalion.  The VC’s 57mm SKZ gunners did not have time to fire a single round, gave up the gun ran for their lives... but the first company was pinned down, both left and right flanks were counter-attacked. The company commander was wounded and the leader of its 2nd platoon was killed.  Captain Vong Si Dau ordered the 2nd and the 3rd companies attacked around the enemy’s flanks then moved his light CP in with the 1st company.  The fight went on in the darkness, the rangers and VC distanced only 10-20 meters, artillery could mot used for support.  The battle lasted until 2:00 am in the morning, when the 2nd company arrowed through the VC right flank, screaming the ranger battle cry “Biet Dong Quan... Sat!” (Rangers... Kill!).  The communists panicked and gave up, some ran into the ranger positions and were captured or killed.

        By the end of 1964, general Lam Van Phat ordered the battalion moved into Saigon city for an unsuccessful coup.  The province of Long An was annexed into MR-III and the 52nd ranger battalion operated under the commanding of the MR-III, the battalion was split into two parts to protect King Sang and Luong Hoa Thuong regions.  Captain Nguyen Thanh Nguyen, the hero of Do Xa victory became the 2nd commander of the battalion. He was the man of discipline, bravery and good hearted.  He disciplined officers who were not well groom or drinking on the street.  People of King Sang and Luong Hoa Thuong respected and loved him dearly.  Captain Nguyen and Lieutenant Nguyen Tha gave their lives for the nation in the battle at Thanh Loi 12/1964, when the battalion from Luong Hoa Thuong crossed the Vam Co Dong river and moved toward Duc Hoa.  The battalion acted as a bait in the operation. The enemies included the 504th battalion and companies of regional guerrillas.  From the western bank of Vam Co Dong river, the battalion engaged enemies fires continuously since early morning.  The rangers crossed through four branches of the river and captured numerous weapons.  At the branch Rit, the battalion was pinned down by machine gun and 82mm mortar, this proved the enemy had a large sized unit in the area.

        Armed helicopters were called in by American advisor to support, but ineffective because of high grasses.  From the sky, the pilot could not distinct friends or enemies positions.  Meanwhile the airborne and marines units remained in Saigon city due to political chaos.  One battalion of the 25th division was heli-born but moved toward Duc Hoa instead of coming to relieve the rangers.  Around 4:00pm that day, there was a big fire caused by exchanging gun fires and suddenly, the wind blew fires toward the positions of the 52nd ranger battalion.  The defensive positions of the battalion were cut into pieces and the battalion was forced to retreat back toward the river’s bank.  The VC poured out from small river’s branches like water to attack...

    Part 3

After the disaster, young officers realized that their weapons from WW-II Garants, Thomsons, Bar and Carbin M1 were out-dated and overpowered by the communist weapons.  Victory was not depended on courage alone.  The third commander of the battalion was captain Hoang Tho Nhu, he was one of the first battalion commander of the ranger.  Capt. Nhu asked Americans advisors to negotiate with other American units in exchanging communist captured guns for M60 machine guns to improve fire power for the battalion.  Before returning to Trung Hoa camp, the 52nd battalion was used as main force in two operations at Duc Hoa, Duc Hue for the 25th division.

        On May 1965, the first time in Vietnam war, the VC concentrated three regiments to attack and hold Don Luan county (Dong Xoai) then positioned their forces to wait for and destroy the reinforcement units.  The 52nd battalion was heli-born first into the battle ground.  When nearly 100 helicopters landed, the ranger s in a field in front of the business section, the town was already overran and occupied, but the MR-III confirmed that the town was still in our hands.  As a result, the 4th company marched comfortably toward t he city governmental installation, and was blasted with M50 machine gun (mounted on personnel carrier M-113, captured from the defender).  This company backed off to the sides and hold the sections surrounding.  Other companies and the HQs of the 52nd retreated back to the outside and waiting for the confirmation from the MR-III. Fifteen minutes later, 1st platoon of the 3rd company positioned just outside the barbwires of the county installation reported that the VC was using the M50 gun on a captured M113. Capt.  Nhu decided to use American air support, called from his advisor to bomb the installation instead of waiting for the confirmation from the MR-III.  In the sky two B57 airplanes dived in to release bombs destroyed two M113s.  After the bombardment, the ammunition storage exploded. Lieutenant Tran Thanh Thuy ordered his 1st platoon to get inside by crawling and to re-take the installation before the night fall, while the ammunition storage was exploding.  Fear of the explosion, the VC moved to the artillery and special force camps.  Those stubborn rangers, one by one squad crawled inside the installation and held.  Around 8:00pm, the explosions stopped, the VC returned from the two camps felt prey into the hands of the waiting rangers of the 3rd company.  The rangers destroyed those two VC units then continued the attack to retake the two artillery and special force camps before the sunrise.

        The 52nd ranger battalion with causalities was ordered to stay at the Don Luan county.  The 7th parachute battalion was heli-born in the morning of day N+1 to search and destroy the enemies toward Thuan Loi plantation.  More than 1000 weapons were captured by the rangers, among them more than 50 AK-47s and 1 fire-thrower gun. Probably, this was the first time AK-47s were used in the Vietnam war.

        This victory earned the 52nd battalion the nick name “Thunderbolt of the Eastern Sky” and was decorated in recognition of the Arm Forces.  Again, with more than 200 strong, the battalion was ordered from the JGS, air lifted to MR-II to participate in a large operation in the Pleiku, Kontum, Dakto and Daksut.  At a location near Tan Canh, the battalion was replaced by two Marine battalions and brought back to MR-III for resting and reorganizing with new men.

With captured weapons, the 52nd traded for new gun M-14, AR-15 and M60 machines guns, therefore the battalion fire power was stronger than other friendly battalions.  The rangers left their foot prints on every tough areas such as Xom Do, Phuoc Thanh, Lai Khe, Rung La.

        On October 1965, the battalion was dispatched to Phuoc Tuy province to operate under the command of Lt. Col. Le Duc Dat.  The main duty was to sweep and to relieve the communist’s pressures at Binh Gia, Xuan Loc, Xuyen Moc, Dat Do, Ham Luong, and Nui Dat.  The 1st company under Lt. Nguyen Van Nien was ordered to stay at Binh Gia, therefore the operation conducted by three companies and the battalion’s HQ.

        On 11/11/65, the 2nd company laid an ambush in the area of Me Bong Con pass.  The 3rd company of Capt. Tran Thanh Thuy, the 4th company of Capt. Nguyen Cong Thong commanded by the battalion’s XO Capt.  Nguyen Hiep attached with two personal carriers and one company of regional force. This combine forces were retu rning from operation by trucks on route 15.  Meanwhile, at the military provincial, one returning VC from “Open Arms” program informed that his regiment positioned around the firing range at the edge of town, waiting for the 52nd ranger battalion on the return.  An L19 Bird-Dog airplane was sent to overlook at the area.  This plane confirmed that seeing the VC positions.  By the time the rangers received the message, the convoy was already inside the ambush area but luckily stopped about 50m before a turn where the VC had planed to open fires when the first truck reached that point.  The ambush area longed 2km set up by two VC battalions, they came from the foot of the Thi Vai mountain.  The third battalion positioned at the firing range, waiting for the result of finishing the 52nd battalion then attacked the city.  When the convoy stopped, immediately the experienced rangers jumped off the trucks and positioned toward the enemies.  The first platoon, 3rd company supported by one M14, one AR15 and one M60 machine gun, moved in to attack.  The first B40 RPG captured in the Vietnam war had time to fire only one rocket and destroyed a truck.  The communists started shelling on the ranger positions inside a jack-fruit plantation to support their ground attack.  The rangers gunned down their first wave of the attack then called for air strikes.  When the F100 jets appeared in the sky the communists tried to get inside the plantation, close to the rangers to avoid air strikes.  Capt. Thuy decided to call his platoon to move back, out of the plantation to the other side of the road, let the pilots did their jobs.  The first platoon after moved to the other side of the road was ordered to move along the road to another location to attack the left flank of the enemy.

    Part 4

        Lt. Tran Trong Truoi, commander of the 2nd company at the pre-planned ambush location brought his men to the battlefield by hitch-hiking buses.  He positioned his company next to the ambush area then waited for order to attack the right flank of the enemies.  After more than an hour of air strike, the night was coming, Capt. Hiep requested to stop the air strike and ordered to attack.  The rangers from left, right sides and at the middle all ran forward charging the enemies.  The VC ran away, they were crowded the area closed to the foot of Thi Vai mountain, and left behind their dead everywhere in the battle field.  This battle, the 52nd rangers battalion broke the enemy’s plan of attacking Phuoc Tuy province.  Rumors that the VC regiment was commanded by Phan Lac Tuyen, a former captain of the ranger, after the fail coup (11/1960) he ran away and served for the communists.  President Johnson awarded the 52nd battalion with the Presidential Unit Citation.

        Early 1966, the battalion was dispatched to the 10th infantry division.  Principle officers were transferred, many were accused of undisciplined. General Lu Lan used his men Captains Rieu and Phap from the 10th division to command the 52nd ranger battalion.  As a result, the battalion became regional force guarding Danh Moc of Cam Tam, Cam My for VIPs.

        09/66, after graduated from the Commanding school, Capt. Nguyen Hiep returned as the commander of the battalion, the deputy officer was Capt.  Nguyen Cong Thong. Many officers were called back, Capt.  Tran T hanh Thuy served in the HQ of the 52nd before served as the deputy officer of the 35th battalion.  He became the commander of the 31st battalion in 1967.  In 1968 he was killed in a car accident on highway BienHoa. The rangers lost a great battalion commander.

        The 52nd made thunders again after the return of its leader.  The battalion combined with American 11th cavalry searched and destroyed in the responsible region of the 10th division.  The battalion was used as a test unit in heli-born operation at night, dispatched for the RVN 10th cavalry in a sweeping operation at Bau Ca Tre.  It held Katum base during a long attack of the VC in the early of 1967.  On July 1967, with a big victory at Suoi Long, again the 52nd rangers battalion was decorated in recognition of the Armed Forces and received the Medal of Honor from president Johnson.

        During the Tet offensive 02/1969, the battalion swept the communists out of Long Khanh, Phuoc Tuy, Bien Hoa.  Together with the 31st and the 36th to form the 3rd ranger group under the command of Major Pham Van Phuc to protect the nation capital.  At that time, Capt. Nguyen Van Nien who served with the battalion from platoon leader to the XO became the seventh commander of the battalion.  The new XO was Capt. Hong Khac Tran.  The eighth commander was Capt. Le Quy Dau, the battalion was a part of the 333 battle group commanded by Col. Phuc attacked the communists sanctions in Cambodia.

        During the burning summer 1972 (Easter offensive), the 52nd and the 3rd rangers group were heli-born into Binh Long province under NVA artillery bombardments.  Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Biet ordered the 31st battalion to attack and hold the Dong Long hill, the 36th moved toward Quan Loi plantation and the 52nd (-) acted as the reaction force.  The 3rd/52nd attacked and secured Doi Gio as the landing zone for the HQs of the 1st airborne brigade then for the 81st airborne-rangers group five days later.  After transferred the secured area to a friend unit, on the way back, the company clashed with the enemy.  The company commander was seriously wounded, at that time Binh Long was isolated, and without evacuation... the young lieutenant died a few days later.

        After 100 days suicide defended, Binh Long (An Loc) was held, the 52nd and the 3rd ranger group lost half of its men, the rest of the battalion were wounded at least once.  The battalion was air lifted to Tay Ninh and operated in the regions of Ben Cat, Phuoc Tuy and Bien Hoa to reopen the road which was cut by VC at Dau Giay.   At that time the 52nd was commanded by Major Tran Dinh Nga, the Battalion attacked from inside of Bau Ca toward outside, supporting the 36th commanded by Lt. Col. Hong Khac Tran attacked from the castles farm of Trang Bom along the road.  When the operation ended, the 3rd rangers group was air lifted to Binh Long, becaused of the NVA’s pressure in this province. The group defended this region from mid of 1974 until March 1975.

    Conclusion

        At Binh Long, Major Nga the 9th and last commander of the battalion formed three LRRP teams, dressed and armed like NVA troops, rotating operated behind the enemy lines.  These team plotted enemy’s locations for artillery bombardments, kidnapped POWs... gradually, the NVA retreated back to Song Be and the 52nd expanded the operation region.  Casualties on the rangers were very light, almost none.

        Early April 1975, the 3rd rangers group was ordered to open the bloody route, ran over the NVA positions back to Lai Khe.  Lt. Dat commander of the 2nd company was wounded.  He volunteered to stay blocking the enemies for brothers in arms to escape.  He shared with the enemies his last hand grenade.  After the successful retreat, the 52nd with the 3rd rangers group were air lifted to Phan Thiet, to block the advancing NVA on the way to the nation capital.  The 52nd ranger battalion met its fate as with the fall of South Vietnam.

                From the Special Publication of the Maroon Berets.

        Translated by Hieu D. Vu

        Dallas, 08/16/94


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