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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Vietnam War

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Vietnam War The Battle for Vietnam. .

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  #1  
Old 04 Oct 09, 12:30
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Battle of Kham Duc

While a lot of information is available about the Battle of Kham Duc, May 10 thru May 12, 1968, from the Tac Air side of the battle, not much is available from the viewpoint of the infantry solider who was on the ground. As in all conflicts there are discrepancies in the reports and accounts from all sources, as could be expected. If you read the information it does not take long to figure out what are the probable facts. Remember you are dealing with information provided by the military that does not have a great track record on providing correct information. Eyewitness accounts differ from the military account on several issues and are more consistent in what happened.

Several questions still seem to be unanswered, even after 40 plus years. If the troop strength of the NVA was know, as suggested in the Special Forces reports, why was Kham Duc reinforced in the first place? If there was a plan to fix the NVA in place by reinforcing the camp and evacuating it, why was there such a lack of communication and control for the air units involved? If the plan was to bomb the NVA while in place, why reinforce the camp in the first place? If the plan was to reinforce and then evacuate the camp, why the evacuation stopped at one point and restarted later in the day on May 12? Why did Lt. Col. Nelson send Recon troops to the OPís if he knew there was to be an evacuation?

First let me make it clear that the air forces used at Kham Duc can never get enough credit for what they did those days in May. They are all heroes in the greatest sense. If not for what they did, sometimes on their own, no one would be giving eyewitness reports of the battle. They all deserve our highest honors.

On May 10 my unit, the 2/1 196th Light Infantry Brigade was in the A Shau Valley West of Hue when got the orders to pack up to move out. We were not in Chu Lai as reported. We were transported to Hue by chopper, loaded on C130ís and flown to Kham Duc. The Camp was getting mortared as we unloaded. We hauled tail to the ditch at the side of the runway until the mortars stopped and went to the area where the engineers were digging a trench the width of the dozer blade and about two feet deep for our gun emplacements. We had four squads of 81MM mortars, not 4.2Ē mortars as reported. All four squads were in the same trench, which turned out to be not a good thing. We started firing missions as soon as we got set up and got ammo for the guns. The 10th and 11th were busy days constant fire missions. Early morning of the 12th, Mothers Day that year, when the OPís started to be overrun our mortars never stopped firing until we ran out of ammo. After the NVA tried to knock out the Artillery unit of 105ís, which they never totally accomplished, the fire concentrated on our unit. We took a lot of wounded during this barrage, but were only shut down by the lack of ammo. During this period the ammo dump had been set on fire by the NVA trying to explode it. Most of the equipment used to bring us ammo had been disabled by this time so a member of each gun squad was sent to the ammo dump to carry back ammo to the guns. This was done until the ammo dump began exploding. I made the last trip into the ammo dump to get six rounds of ammo, all you could carry in the boxes, and saw that the crates were starting to burn. That was the last of the ammo we had to use. When I got back to the gun pit we were ordered to get the wounded to the airstrip for evacuation. When I finished with moving the wounded I returned to the pit and found that the rest of the Platoon had started to destroy the weapons and head for the airstrip. I fired the last six rounds of ammo and destroyed the gun with a Thermite grenade. By this time the rest of the squads had been put on choppers and taken to LZ Baldy, I hooked up with Bravo Company and was evacuated to Chu Li on a C130.

I do not have any pictures of the Battle, there was not much time to take any as you can imagine. I do have a lot of information in the form of after action reports by eyewitnesses and others. I also have a NVA video on VHS tape that I will post if I can figure out how to get it on my computer.
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  #2  
Old 04 Oct 09, 14:20
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I'm glad you opened this thread Spence.

Four companies from the 14th Avn Bn were awarded Valorous Unit Awards for 12 May, 68, the 71st, the 174th, 176th and 178th that was flying Chinooks and lost two on the runway.

We (the 174th) had one pilot receive the DFC.

This link is to a letter written by a 178th pilot about his experiences that day.

Rotorwash

http://www.theboxcar.org/khamduc-busbee.html
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Old 04 Oct 09, 14:27
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Another letter from a crewchief this time.


RW

http://www.theboxcar.org/khamduc-means.html
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Old 04 Oct 09, 14:31
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I've read about twelve different guys claim they were the last ones out of Kham Duc, but I think this Air Force report is the most reliable.

RW

http://www.theboxcar.org/khamduc/index.html
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Old 04 Oct 09, 14:37
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An excellant map of Kham Duc.

RW

http://www.rjsmith.com/Kham_Duc_West.html
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Old 04 Oct 09, 14:45
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Another Air Force version

RW

http://www.airforce-magazine.com/Mag...05khamduc.aspx
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Old 04 Oct 09, 14:50
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Here is the picture of the C-123, callsign "Bookie 771" preparing for takeoff from Kham Duc, the last aircraft out

RW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KhamDucEvacuation.jpg
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Old 04 Oct 09, 18:23
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Great links Rotorwash! I can never say thank you enough for what you guys did for us. Here is part of the After Action Report of LT. Metis of C Company 2/1 196th talking about my mortar platoon. There used to be a better picture of Jackson's plane on the runway. You could see the rocket that stopped under his nose in it. I may have it on my old computer, I'll look for it.
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File Type: doc after action report of Lt Metis c21.doc (19.0 KB, 33 views)
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Old 04 Oct 09, 20:23
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Is There a Controversy about Kham Duc?

From reading the comments of others about the need for a specific thread on this battle, I seemed to gather that there might have been a controversial issue involved. Is there?

I hate to have to admit that I am a blank slate when it comes to the Battle for / of Kham Duc, but judging from the quality of information being put forward about the war from others on here, I would have to say that I was fooling myself if I thought I knew anything at all about the war in Vietnam.

The wikipedia article on the battle is not very helpful. (I know, wikipedia is not to be used as a source.) Were some of the defenders actually ordered to exfiltrate the camp through enemy lines and make do on their own? What happened to the Air Force liaison team that was landed after the camp had been declared abandoned? Is that the same group that Lt Col Jackson rescued? The wiki article shows the group Jackson rescued and the liaison team being landed as two separate incidents.

Any clarification would be welcome.

Cheers,
Dan.
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Old 04 Oct 09, 23:25
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Welcome aboard Dan,
I hope you enjoy this forum as much as I have. And I was an Infantry Platoon Leader in Vietnam - '67 & '68

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Old 05 Oct 09, 00:59
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I've tried to find the AAR (I think the AMERICAL operation was called GOLDEN VALLEY) and the Operational Report - Lessons Learned for the period but it seems they are not available on the net (both at Texas Tech and DTIC).

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Old 05 Oct 09, 04:01
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan M View Post
From reading the comments of others about the need for a specific thread on this battle, I seemed to gather that there might have been a controversial issue involved. Is there?

I hate to have to admit that I am a blank slate when it comes to the Battle for / of Kham Duc, but judging from the quality of information being put forward about the war from others on here, I would have to say that I was fooling myself if I thought I knew anything at all about the war in Vietnam.

The wikipedia article on the battle is not very helpful. (I know, wikipedia is not to be used as a source.) Were some of the defenders actually ordered to exfiltrate the camp through enemy lines and make do on their own? What happened to the Air Force liaison team that was landed after the camp had been declared abandoned? Is that the same group that Lt Col Jackson rescued? The wiki article shows the group Jackson rescued and the liaison team being landed as two separate incidents.

Any clarification would be welcome.

Cheers,
Dan.
Hi Dan

My understanding is this.

The rot started at Ngok Tavak. By rot I mean inexplicable command decisions, betrayal and mistrust.

Ngok Tavak was an old French Fort used as a patrol base by Mike Force units.

A section (Two guns) of Marine 105ís was flown into Ngok Tavak. This forced the Nung Mike Force Company, a maneuver element into a static role of base defence to protect the guns. A role that they were unsuited and untrained for.

The Marine guns were not requested and were not in range of any other supporting artillery.

A platoon of CIDG Montagnard soldiers was sent from Kham Duc to bolster the defences of Ngok Tavak. This platoon was also not requested. The Nung and Montagnard soldiers had a mutual distrust of each other.

Just before Ngok Tavak was attacked the CIDG soldiers came into the Marine gun position saying ĎDonít shoot, donít shootí Behind the CIDG were NVA Sappers with flame throwers. The CIDG defectors and NVA opened fire on the Marines causing heavy casualties and setting the 105mm ammunition on fire.

The advisors, Nungs and surviving Marine Gunners held on to half the compound with the assistance of AC-47ís in support. At Dawn the Nungs counter attacked and drove the NVA out of the gun position. Two CH-46ís were shot up on the helipad while attempting to evacuate the wounded.

The Mike force withdrew from Ngok Tavak and was eventually airlifted back to Kham Duc on the 10th May

Word of the CIDG betrayal quickly spread around Kham Duc. An attitude of fear and distrust of the USís erstwhile CIDG allies quickly developed. After more inexplicable command decisions that spencebere has accurately related. The heights around the camp were lost. The circumstance of the loss of these OPís has never been made clear to me.

The unplanned withdrawal was made by air under extremely adverse conditions.

Wiki describes the withdrawal thusly:

The evacuation of Kham Duc was complicated as Montagnard fighters and their familiesí boarded helicopters designated to fly out U.S. soldiers.

Bruce Davies describes it so

The Americal Divisions aerial evacuation was disorderly and bordered on absolute chaos. Eight aircraft were shot down, the artillery destroyed their own howitzers, and then Americal soldiers shoved aside Vietnamese to get aboard aircraft, and in one shameful episode soldiers and refugees trampled the weak to get onto a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. The Hercules in standard configuration would normally carry 64 paratroopers or 92 fully armed soldiers in combat mode. Now with more than 200 people on board it took off and was shot down and crashed in flames at the northern end of the runway. (MWP P124-125)

I must also stress that while Bruce Davies is usually meticulous in his footnoting. I have not read his source for this controversial claim which is Shelby Stantonís Green Berets at war Page 165.

The loss of Kham Duc is historically important, I believe that up until the C-5 crash on Op Baby lift the Kham Duc C-130 crash was the worst loss of life in an aviation incident in Vietnam.

Kham Duc is an example of the failure of the American way of War in Vietnam, Find em, fix em and smash them with firepower. Before this turns into an international willy waving contest Iíll offer an example of the failure of the Australian Way of War. Google ďAp Suoi NgheĒ

Further, Vietnam is often depicted as a war where the US lost no battles. If any losses are acknowledged they are never mentioned by name and dismissed as unimportant. This Ďairbrushingí of history is in my view dishonest. It does a disservice to those who fought and died in these battles.

When the surviving Marine gunners returned to their unit at Danang they were told not to talk about what they had seen and heard. Thatís not particularly fair.

History should record the good the bad and the ugly.

Iím sure to be corrected on some of this and I welcome that.

Cheers

Mick
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Old 05 Oct 09, 11:06
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Why Kham Duc?

Everyone,

Thanks for all your answers, but as good answers often do they tend to raise even more questions in my mind. After incurring so many casualties during the Tet offensive, why did the NVA commit what had to be their remaining scant resources to overrunning a small CIDG camp on the Laotian border? What did the NVA gain by their victory, and not in prestige terms but in actual, practical benefits to their overall strategy?

Mick, further to the statement that the American military claims never to have lost a battle, I clearly recall an interview of William Westmoreland featured on the television series, 'Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War' (produced by Michael Maclear and written by Peter Arnett) wherein he states that the American forces never lost a battle, however there were certain infantry companies who were badly mauled (I'm paraphrasing here). Westmoreland was still in command of MACV during Kham Duc but perhaps it was thought of as an SVN rather than American battle. Lang Vei was overrun during Westmoreland's tenure. Did he think that that was also an SVN defeat?

Very interesting thread, this one.

Cheers,
Dan.
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Old 05 Oct 09, 11:27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan M View Post
After incurring so many casualties during the Tet offensive, why did the NVA commit what had to be their remaining scant resources to overrunning a small CIDG camp on the Laotian border? What did the NVA gain by their victory, and not in prestige terms but in actual, practical benefits to their overall strategy?
All CIDG Camps were located astride infiltration routes and were a hindrance to NVA movements and supply, they attacked them every chance they got, even after the CIDG program was terminated and the camps turned to the ARVN border rangers.

Kham Duc was built near Base Area 614 in Laos and across the resupply route from Laos to the Do Xa Base Area where the Headquarters of Military Region 5 was located.
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Old 05 Oct 09, 12:59
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Quote:
why did the NVA commit what had to be their remaining scant resources to overrunning a small CIDG camp on the Laotian border?
For what it's worth, from: http://www.macvsog.org/the_legacy.htm


Quote:
Command and Control North (CCN) was formed by MACV-SOG in late 1967 as an expansion of its Da Nang Forward Operations Base (FOB) which included launch sites established as early as 1964 at Hue-Phu Bai, Khe Sanh and Kham Duc, CCN, always the largest of the three MACV-SOG field commands, was commanded by a lieutenant colonel. It was assigned conduct of classified special unconventional warfare missions into Laos and North Vietnam.
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