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In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable as in the military.

-- General Douglas MacArthur
The Battle of Tam Quan11096 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Vietnam During the month of November and the first part of December 1967 there were many indications that the enemy ws building up forces in preparation for the coming Tet Offensive in the Bong Son plains of Binh Din Province. Their major targets would be U.S. and ARVN forces and the major district capitals. Aerial reconnaissance forces of the 1st Cavalry Divisions had found many indications of this to include an enourmous Russian Ship to Shore radio on the beach.

On the 6th day of December a reconnaissance helicopter of the 1/9th , 1st Cavalry Division spotted a radio antenna sticking out of a hooch in the vicinity of the village of Dai Dong (2) . Troop A 1/9th sent a platoon of the Blues (Infantry) in the vicinity of BS 897071 to investigate. At 1630 Hours while approaching the area the platoon came under intense automatic and small arms fire and was pinned down. The Weapons Platoon of the 1/9 was sent in to help and they also were pinned down and unable to move. They had stumbled upon a large enemy force of the 22nd NVA Regiment. This was the beginning of the Battle of Tam Quan.

The two platoons were in great danger of being overrun and destroyed. It was late in the afternoon and soon it would be night time. At 1725 the 1st Bde assumed control of the action from the 2nd Bde and directed B Co. 1/8 Cav to the contact area and joined up with a platoon of the A Co. 1/50(Mech) Infantry which had been dispatched from LZ English a few miles away. The combined troops encountered stiff resistance from a well entrenched enemy. With the firepower of the platoon of APCs they were finally able to extract the two platoons of 1/9th by 2100 Hrs. There is no doubt that had it not been for the firepower of the APCs of A Co. 1/50 (Mech) Infantry, the mission would have been more perilous and at a greater cost of American lives. A 1/50 and B 1/8th Cav established their night perimeter and called in artillery and illumination for the night. They had no further contact that night.


On the morning of December 7, the commander of the 1st Bde, Col. Rattan committed Delta Company, the newest company in the battalion to the battle. Delta Company had just been formed upon arrival of the 1/50(M) Inf. Bn to Vietnam September 22, 1967. It was formed from personnel from HQ Co, Supply, other companies, and new replacements. The battalion had just started operations on October 7, 1967 and within a month it was already in the thick of its first major battle. When the order came we had been operating out of LZ Pony, a Green Beret post in the middle of 506 Valley. For the past month of November, Delta 1/50 2nd platoon had been going out on patrols on foot in the high mountains of the 506 Valley and then we pulled night security for the Special Forces camp at night. Delta Company 1/50 was spread out in the AO. Some of the troops were at Uplift, some troops were with the CO, Cpt Bruce Braun at Uplift and LZ English, 2nd Platoon + was at LZ Pony.

When Lt Welch, second Platoon leader yelled " OK everybody, let's mount up". I didn't know what he was talking about because we had been on foot or combat assaults since I got to Vietnam and I didn't know we had M113 APCs or ACAVS. We all climbed gladly into the APCs but were held up for a while because we were missing two troopers. Eventually we found them playing cards at the little club the Green Berets had there. Finally we took off and by 1145 Hrs we were on Hwy One close to the contact area waiting for further orders.

Delta mortar platoon had been called to LZ Uplift (Our Bn basecamp) to replenish their mortar loads and joined the rest of the company at the contact site. The 1/8 Cav had air assulted the rest of their companies and had started their attack in the initial conact area by 0915 Hrs, but were pulled back because they encountered stiff enemy resistance. A barrage of fire from a well prepared enemy positions and well camoflouged bunkers and trenches halted their advance. As they pulled back the area was prepped with artillery, CS, ARA, and air strikes which were called in to hit the area.

Delta Company 1/50 (Mech) was released from the 2nd Bde and became OPCON to 1/8 Cav, First Bde at 1230 Hrs on 7 December. At 1406 hrs, A,& B 1/8 Cav and Delta Co. 1/50 Mech with flame thrower APCs successfully penetrated the initial bunker and trench network. Delta Company formed all of its APCs in a line facing east with troops of the 1/8 Cav in between the tracks. With all of the company's 50 Cal. and M60s , M79s and personal weapons going on at the same time, it was beutiful sights and sounds. One of the 1/8 Cav troopers later mentioned that they had never heard so much racket in their life. The enemy probably thought the same thing.

The flamethrower tracks (Zippo) of the 1/50 Mech were especially useful in neutralizing the bunkers and trenches, since the 1st Cav Div. had no tanks attached to them at the time. Two D-7 bulldozers from the 19th Engineers were brought in to destroy the bunkers and to clear a pathway for 1/50 APCs. The Engineers had several KIAs from their unit and were credited with killing 10 NVA soldiers.

Delta Co. 1/50 Mech and 1/8th Cav had succeeded in penetrating the inital bunker and trench network on the first day U.S. troops counter attacked. Soon we started seeing some of the enemy coming out of the bunkers some with arms missing, not a sign of pain on their faces. They must have been doped up and some of them still continued firing. Every evening when we pulled to a defensive position for the night we would get replenished with ammunition, food, and hopefully some letters from home.

Although we seemed to have the upper hand in this battle, none of us knew if we were going to make it.

Two companies of the 2/8 Cav were sent northeast to the beach area to serve as a blocking force. They had only sporadic fire during the day.
Their CP was momentarily pinned down as they tried to cross a rice paddy. The CP was finally extracted at 1900 Hrs. An ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) unit conducting screening operations to the north of the contact area was engaged in heavy contact throughout the day with enemy forces trying to escape to the north. The ARVN force conducting screening operation to the south had no contact.

On December 8, after an early morning artillery TOT hit the enemy positions in the vicinity BS899072 around the original area of contact. It was followed by an air strike and CS (Tear Gas) to drive the enemy out of the bunkers. The wind shifted and the CS cloud hit us as we were poised to attack. The problem was that there were not enough gas masks to go around. Some of the troops were choking and coughing. Even with the gas mask on, the CS was so concentrated that all our body was stinging with the gas. Most of the ARVNs didn't have gas masks and were seen running toward a ravine for protection.

At 0845 hrs on Dec. 8, D 1-50 Mech began a reconnaissance in force to the east edge of the village (Dai Dong 2) and we encountered light resistance. We pushed east and north to vicinity BS904073 and then we returned to the starting point. C 1-8 Cav had replaced B 1-8 which had been in the inital assault on the 6th Dec. Delta 1-50 Mech. kept on working with A and C 1-8 Cav as we conducted a coordinated attack east and north finding many destroyed bunkers and enemy killed . We swept back through the same area policing the battlefield. Some of the guys in the mortar platoon loaded dead NVA on their APCs trimbane and took them to a designated area. Delta Co. mortars for the most part were in an infantry role, since a lot of the Red Leg fire missions were being coordinated by Brigade Hqs.

We returned to a night perimeter at 1530. On this day HQ Co. and B 1-50 Mech. became OPCON to the 1st Bde and were sent to LZ English north, a secure area, to prepare for employment. At 1245 hrs the two platoons of Alpha 1-50 Mech were sent to LZ Lowboy and LZ English for rest and to assume their defensive postures. The 1-8 Cav units operating in the beach area to the northeast had only light contact from snipers. The ARVN screening force to the north of the contact area had no contact with the enemy. The southern screening force engaged the 8th Bn, 22nd NVA Regiment in the vicinity of BS905052. This engagement ended at 1500 Hrs.

On 9 December, D 1-50 Mech along with A and C 1-8 Cav began the final sweep through Dai Dong at 0845 Hrs after artillery and CS strikes. There was little enemy resistance during the sweep and the southern edge of the village was reached by 1530 Hrs. The force returned to the northwestern edge of the village and established that location at 1630 hrs and returned to LZ English for some much needed rest and security of the LZ. Delta 1-50 Mech had been in combat for three days.

Also on the 9th Dec., at 0700 Hrs. Bravo company 1-50 Mech moved out of LZ English North under the control of Task Force Dolphin (1-50 Mech (-) and headed toward the beach area BS926079 where it linked up with B 1-8 Cav. C and D 1-12 Cav set up blocking positions in the beach area. The southern screening force, ARVN 40th Rgmt. came under attack by elements of the 8th Bn. 22nd NVA Regiment. At 0520 Hours, the attack was repulsed but they had sporadic to heavy contact continued during the day in the vicinity of BS905050 , five klicks north of MY AN (1) village.

On 10 DECEMBER at approximately 0900 hours, the commanding officer of the 40th ARVN Regiment reported that civilians were seen running from the village of Troung Lam (1) BS905055. Task Force 1-12 relieved TF DOLPHIN and sent B 1-12 to join up with D 1-12 and B 1-50 Mech. At 0925 Hrs. B 1-50 was directed to turn south and search Troung Lam (1) At 1055 hours, while approaching Troung Lam (1) B 1-50 Mech came under intense small arms and automatic weapons fire. This was the first time B 1-50 Mech. had engaged the enemy in the Battle of Tam Quan. B 1-12 maneuvered to the right flank and C 1-12 air assaulted to the left flank at 1220 Hrs. Apparently B 1-50 Mech company had been split up by a big ditch and part of the company came under intense enemy fire. The other part of the company could not cross the ditch to come to the aid of the beleagured troops. The company lost 10 soldiers in that encounter. Three coordinated attacks by the three companies were made on the enemy positions during the afternoon. At the time B 1-50 Mech was in contact, Delta Co. 1-50 was still at LZ
English having spent the night there. We spent the morning getting ammo, and getting our weapons cleaned. D 1-50 Mech's rest was cut short as again they were called to the southern screening force area where the 40th ARVN was in heavy contact and were caught in a cross fire from elements of the 8th Bn 22nd NVA Regiment at BS911048. Each time the ARVNS wanted to attack they came under a cross fire. Delta 1-50 Mech. came to the rescue and hooked up with the ARVNS at 1545 hrs on the 10th of December. At 1600Hrs they made a combined attack just north of BS911048 close to the village of My An(2) The UPI Reports for that day read like this:

SAIGON-(UPI) U.S. ARMOR SPURTING FLAME AND MACHINEGUN
FIRE BROKE THROUGH A NORTH VIETNAMESE TRAP AND
RESCUED SOUTH VIETNAMESE TROOPS IN THE SIX DAY
BATTLE OF BONG SON PLAIN. COMMUNIST LOSSES IN THE
CAMPAIGN 300 MILES NORTH OF SAIGON ROSE TO AT LEAST
305 SUNDAY AFTER THE HELL-FOR-LEATHER TYPE DASH BY
ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIERS (APCs) OF THE 1ST. AIR
CAVALRY DIVISION SUNDAY IN THE SIX DAY BATTLE OF BONG
SON PLAIN.

UPI BONG SON- ON THE COASTAL BONG SON PLAIN, ABOUT
1,000 SURVIVORS OF THE NORTH VIETNAM'S 22ND REGIMENT
WERE FRANTICALLY UNLEASHING ALL THEIR FIREPOWER
FROM BUNKERS DUG UNDER HUTS OF A RICE PADDY
VILLAGE. THE IST CAV SENT A COMPANY OF APC'S TO THE
RESCUE SUNDAY WHEN SOUTH VIETNAMESE TROOPS WERE
CAUGHT IN A CROSS FIRE.

During that firefight on the 10th of Dec, Lt. Sodowsky (D 1-50) was killed and we had others wounded including some straightlegs who were working beside us. It is a possibility that some of the wounded were by friendly fire. Our two medics in Delta Company, Pete Tovar, and Ron Provencher worked frantically tending the wounded right away. In that engagement Pete Tovar distinguished himself when he went to the aid of the wounded soldiers under a hail of automatic and small arms fire. His heroic actions earned him a Bronze Star with a V device.

While this action was taking place, Bravo 1-50 Mech was about 15 Kilometers away. Each line company had two medics which most of the time had their hands full with their own company during a firefight.

Delta 1-50 remained OPCON to Task Force Dolphin. The commanders of the 40th ARVN and TF Dolphin were in a Command and Control helicopter above the battlefield controlled the combined attack. They kept in constant contact with Delta commander through his RTOs Louis Friesby and Fred Bantle.

11 DECEMBER - Task Force 1-12Cav initiated an attack against Troung Lam (2) from the north after an intense artillery TOT and CS strike. Resistance was sporadic and contact was broken by noon. Task Force DOLPHIN (also D 1-50) had no enemy contact throughout the day.
They policed of the battlefield in the vicinity of BS911058.

12 DECEMBER - Task Force Dolphin and Marine Task Force Alpha (ARVN) and TF 1-12 as a combined force began pursuit of the 22nd NVA Regiment. D 1-50 and D 1-12 were linked up at the boundary between MTFA (ARvn) and TF Dolphin. At 1055 Hrs. Delta 1-50 Mech. and D 1-12 Cav became engaged with an unknown size enemy force in vicinity of BS917073. Artillery, ARA, and a successful flanking movement from the east eliminated this last pocket of resistance. All the rest of the units continued to operate in their assigned area of operation but had no significant sightings or contact.

13 DECEMBER-No major contacts with the enemy on this day . 1-12 Cav ambushed a squad of the enemy.

14 DECEMBER- All units continued search and destroy operations with no significant sightings or contact. The 1-50 Mech HQ, B and D Companies of 1-50 Mech were returned to the 2nd Bde at 0800 Hrs.

15 DECEMBER- One of the last major encounters of the battle was initiated by C 1-12 in an area around My An (5) close to Troung Lam (1) by the end of the day seven U.S. Companies and 2 ARVN battalions were thrown into the firefight. A request for a Mech unit was granted and A(-) 1/50 was sent in the afternoon. A soldier from the 1st Cav Div was awarded the Medal of Honor in this encounter.

16 DECEMBER- Another attack on Truong Lam (1) was initiated with A(-) and C 1-50 Mech. The attack only met with light resistance. They continued to police the battlefield. Delta 1-50 Mech was already operating in another area south of Bong Son river. One soldier was blown up accidently with a Claymore mine on this day.

DECEMBER 17 & 18- All allied units searching for remnants of the 22 NVA Regiment. No major contact with any of the units.

19 DECEMBER- Again an aerial recon by A Troop 1/9 Cav found an antenna wire leading to a large bunker complex. At 1408 D 2-8 Cav air assaulted into the area and was engaged by an unknown size enemy force. A total of six air strikes were called in and by 1700 Hrs bunker complex was completely destroyed.

DECEMBER 20- Four air strikes and intensive artillery were used to neutrelize the contact area before a coordinated attack with D 2-8 C and C 1-50 Mech were to move on line and cross the Bong Son river. Swift tidal currents and steep muddy banks on the Bong Son river prevented C 1-50 Mech from crossing to join the attack. D 2-8 Cav completed the attack with no contact. The Battle of Tam Quan ended at 2400Hrs on the 20th of December 1967. The 2-8 Cav remained in the area digging through the demolished bunkers and fortified positions recovering enemy bodies and weapons.

The First Battalion (M) 50th Infantry had met its first combat test in a major battle and had come out successfully and victorious. The battle of Tam Quan turned out to be the 1/50 (M) Infantry's biggest engagement during it's stay in Vietnam.

Note: by Rigo Ordaz, 1st Bn (Mech), 50th Infantry


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