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Battle at the Hamlet of Ap Bac - January 2, 1963

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On July 7, 1954 Bao Dai, president of Vietnam appointed Ding Diem as Prime Minister. Dai was a pro French president who did not have communist beliefs for Vietnam. Diem was man who refused French rule and favored American ideas. He was a Roman Catholic, thus causing him to be an opponent of communism as well.

He also maintained a link to the CIA through Colonel Edward Lansdale, renowned expert on counterinsurgency. In April 1955 Diem launched an offensive against his main rivals in the south (Coa Dai and Hoa Hoa sects well as the powerful Binh Xuyen pirates) and declared himself president.

Since the south was a mainly Buddhist and Diem was Catholic, it caused him to be isolated from the people. His fear of a coup and obsession with power caused him to distrust all, but his own family. Between Diem and his family there was a spread of corruption throughout the country. By the late 1950's South Vietnam had degenerated into repressive, undemocratic state, which left its people angry and isolated.

1957 sparked the first sign of trouble as guerillas launch attacks on government agencies in rural areas. It was believed that the Vietnamese Communist launched the attacks; also know as the Viet Cong, who was of the Viet Ming party that stayed behind.

They had gone under ground a few years earlier in 1954. They gained the support of North Vietnam and in 1959 began a policy to reunify Vietnam with a large-scale infiltration of armed cadres into the south along the Ho Chi Man Trail.


Due to the resentment caused by Diem, a substantial part of South Vietnam was taken over by the communist (Viet Cong). The US, under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy, was convinced that the insurgency in South Vietnam was part of a Sino-Soviet campaign to ensure the spread of Communism.

The US government sent aid to South Vietnam in the form of US supplied M-113 armored personnel carriers, helicopters, aircraft along with pilots and mechanics to train South Vietnamese personnel on their use. Also US Special Forces (green berets) and Army advisors were deployed to boost the capability of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

At the end of 1961, about 3,160 US service personnel were in Vietnam. The number would rise to about 16,000 two years later. Even the advantages of US military technology and advisors to South Vietnam, after a short time the Viet Cong learned to operate around them.

This was due to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam unit commanders, many of who were just political appointees, lacked resolve. Thus allowing the Viet Cong to escape instead of risking heavy Army of the Republic of Vietnam casualties.

The Viet Cong was engaging in new techniques ranging from the relocation of villagers to more fortified areas to use of air and artillery strikes in rural areas. This resulted in more alienation of the people from Diem's cause, ultimately leading to the peasant class assisting the Viet Cong.

On January 2, 1963, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam 7th Division was ordered to destroy a Viet Cong in the Hamlet (AP) of Tan Thoi. The plan was for Army of the Republic of Vietnam infantry to be landed by helicopter to the north of the hamlet, while two Civil Guard battalions supported by a company of M-113s approached from the south through the neighboring hamlet of Bac. Originally it was believed that the transmitter was guarded by an estimate of 120 Viet Cong. In reality it was guarded by about 360.

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam attack went wrong from the very start. After the infantry had landed at 0703 hrs, it was discovered that the weather was not good enough for any more helicopter operations, due to a thick ground fog. Further operations had to post-poned until 0930 hrs.

The first clash occurred at 0745 where the Civil Guard blundered into the Viet Cong section across their route. After the loss of their company commander the South Vietnamese Army went to the ground and called for much needed reinforcements. Helicopters were landed 300 yards west of Bac and were supported by UH-1 gunships.

It is said that US pilots landed 200 yards from the hamlet into a Viet Cong ambush. As they came in at about 1020 hrs they were hit by machinegun and rifle fire from hidden foxholes. One of the CH-21 was shot down and another came in to recover the aircrew.

That helicopter and a UH-1 met a similar fate. The infantry on board took cover in the paddy dikes. A call was made to the commander of the M-113s ordering him to suggest an immediate advance on Bac, but the APCs were away to the west beyond a series of canals. Some ARVN unit commanders had initially refused to move.

It was not until 1300 until the first APCs reached the battle area. At 1430 hrs they charged the Viet Cong held positions, but the Viet Cong held their ground using grenades to hold off the vehicles. An airborne division was to the made available to the ARVN but were ordered the east of Bac to cut off the retreat of the Viet Cong.

The Viet Cong was resourceful enough to wait until nightfall to slip away into the darkness leaving only 18 dead behind. America suffered only 3 fatalities, but the Army of the Republic of Vietnam suffered over 80 due to the indecisiveness of their leaders.

Later after much conflict in South Vietnam, a coup was plotted and carried out against Diem. He was assassinated due to his oppressive nature against the Buddhist religion. America at this point could not back out of the conflict and was committed by November 1, 1963.

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