Battle at Doi Ma Creek
April 16th / 17th 1967
The 3d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division moved into Long An Province during February and March 1967. Long An is bounded on the north by Saigon, on the west by the Plain of Reeds, on the east by the Saigon River, and on the south by Dinh Tuong and Go Cong Provinces. The most populated province in the Republic of Vietnam, it is the commerce center of the rice-rich Mekong River belt, the portal to Saigon from the south and the location of a series of enemy communication lines to the lower Delta and the capitol, Saigon.
The 3d Brigade was assigned the mission of conducting a consolidation operation throughout Long An Province with emphasis on Rach Kien, Tan Tru, Binh Phuoc Districts, the area around Tan An, the province capital, and to open Highway 4, the main route of commerce between Saigon and the Delta. Code named "Enterprise," the operation was aimed at defeating organized enemy forces, eliminating enemy infrastructure and conducting pacification operations. The enemy traditionally had a strong hold on Long An and moved his guerrilla bands, local and regional force companies, and main force battalions through the area with impunity.
The 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry had been conducting operations in Rach Kien District for a short time prior to the 3d Brigade move and had established a fire support/patrol base (FS/PB) in the village of Rach Kien. In early March, the 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry was moved to Ben Luc, on Highway 4, to temporarily operate in that area until its scheduled move to Tan Tru District, some 14 kilometers to the south, at a later date. During the second week in March, the brigade headquarters moved to the outskirts of Tan An to establish their base near the province capital and the airstrip. On March 15, 1967, the 5th Battalion (Mechanized), 60th Infantry displaced from the 9th Infantry Division forward operational base at Dong Tam to the district of Binh Phuoc which, although the battalion operated throughout the northern Delta, became their primary area of operations.
The 5th Battalion (Mech) was organized as follows:
Headquarters and Headquarters Compan
Reconnaissance Platoon (Mech)
Heavy ( 4.2-inch) Mortar Platoon (Mech)
Antitank (106mm RR) Platoon
Ground Surveillance Platoon
Communication Platoon (Mech)
Medical Platoon (Mech)
A Company, 5/60 (Mech) Infantry
B Company, 5/60 (Mech) Infantry
C Company, 3/60 Infantry (attached)
B Battery, 2/4 Artillery (direct support)
3d Platoon, C/15 Engineers ( direct support )
During the first weeks in Binh Phuoc, the 5th Battalion's operations resulted in many small contacts and two company-size battles. During this period the battalion placed special emphasis on night operations utilizing squad to platoon-size patrols. This brief period soon proved to have been sound training. By mid-April, the battalion's experiences had hardened the troops and tested the commanders, and the morale was high due to several successes the unit had experienced during this period.
On Apri1 16, 1967, the 5th Battalion was conducting limited operations in the vicinity of Binh Phuoc. The attached Company C, 3d Battalion was operating southeast of Binh Phuoc village. At 1230 hours the
brigade operations officer reported that the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry had made sharp contact with an estimated enemy battalion in their area of operation near Cau Long Son. He ordered the 5th Battalion to alert one company for airmobile redeployment to reinforce the 3d Battalion. After a quick review of his dispositions, 5th Battalion's CO determined that his Company C, currently committed to a non-critical sweep and reasonably consolidated for pick-up, would be alerted. In addition, since the move was by helicopter, it was more reasonable to commit a straight Infantry company.
A short time later, the brigade command group arrived at the 5th Battalion's CP (Binh Phuoc) with instructions to make the move as soon as the helicopters arrived. Company C, now ready on a PZ, was ordered to conduct an airmobile assault. Their mission was to sweep south through the wood line below the LZ in an effort to make contact with any enemy elements attempting to withdraw to the northwest, and then establish a blocking position in the vicinity of the junction Doi Ma Creek and route 227. The brigade command group coordinated a short artillery preparation of the landing zone and gun ships escorted the troop carrying helicopters into the LZ.
After making an unopposed landing, Company C moved south as planned. Minutes later the lead elements made contact with an enemy squad attempting to escape the 3d Battalion's encirclement. Employing rapid fire and movement, the company eliminated the enemy without sustaining any casualties. The company then continued to move south without further contact and reached their blocking position shortly after 1700 hours.
Meanwhile, the 3d Battalion (minus) was still engaged in a violent battle against a frantic enemy who was using all means to break contact, but by 2200 hours the action subsided to only sporadic contacts. The battalion remained in position throughout the night in order to sweep the battle area at sunrise. The remainder of the night was characterized by frequent enemy probes against the friendly positions in what apparently was either an attempt to find a gap in the encirclement or a feint to cover enemy egress in another area.
At approximately 1700 hours the same day, the 5th Battalion was alerted to move to the village of Rach Kien, with one additional rifle company, for prepositioning and quicker reaction for influencing the battle in progress. Company A was left to secure the battalion's fire
support base and the Reconnaissance Platoon was to conduct patrol operations around Binh Phuoc. Battery B, 2/4 Artillery (DS) was moved to Ben Luc, to reinforce the artillery fires already within range of the battle. The battalion (minus) departed their base and closed at Rach Kien at approximately 1900 hours. Upon arrival, Company B coiled in the village while the command group coordinated with the commander and staff of 3d Battalion. During this situation briefing, the CO, 5th Battalion was notified to remain in the village and not to proceed into the battle area until ordered. However, the 5th's CO thought that an immediate move into the area of contact would greatly assist the 3d Battalion in containing and destroying the enemy, as well as achieving better positioning for subsequent operations. The request for immediate employment was denied because of a known enemy minefield in route to the battle area, the only area through which APCs could move to enter western Rach Kien District. The minefield, plus darkness, would make the move extremely hazardous. Weighing the risk involved against the benefits, 5th Battalion's commander made a second request to deploy into the battle area.
It was now 2100 hours. The 5th Battalion (minus) set out after carefully planning its route through the mined area. The force of one rifle company mounted in 18 Ml13s and the command group mounted in two Ml13s and one MS77 set out in single file formation under strict light discipline. By 2200 hours the unit had moved through the minefield without incident. (It is interesting to note that at a later date this battalion sustained APC losses when moving through the same mined area during daylight).
While in route, the battalion commander received instructions to link up with the 3d Battalion and resume control of Company C, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry. Upon link up, the battalion's mission was to block to the south, patrol aggressively to preclude enemy egress to the north and prepare to conduct a sweep the following morning. After arrival and link-up, the battalion deployed as ordered and began planning for the next day's operation.
On the morning of April 17th, the battalion set out to sweep the area west of the previous day's contact. The plan called for Company B, with APCs, to conduct a sweep west-southwest through the wood line and streams near Ap Xom Cau. Simultaneously, Company C minus one platoon was to sweep southwest and turn their sweep northwest
upon reaching the southeastern end of Ap Ben Do at route 228. The remaining platoon from Company C was to conduct an airmobile assault into an LZ just northeast of Ap Ray at the same time as Company B's arrival at its start point. The platoon's mission was to conduct a search of the vegetated area north of the Rach Ong Binb and along the Rach Sau. H-hour was set for 0705 hours.
At 0700 hours the helicopters arrived to pick up the first platoon of Company C. They touched down in the LZ at H-hour without benefit of an artillery preparation. Moments later, as the platoon reorganized for their search, they came under heavy fire. The enemy, located along the Rach Sau, had obviously been surprised. The platoon leader, experienced and in complete control of his unit, employed fire and maneuver and attacked into the wood line. Gun ships arrived within minutes to support the platoon. Moving directly into the Rach Sau, the platoon swept both banks and the stream bed itself. In the stream they engaged a frantic squad size enemy force. The enemy was using reeds to breathe below the water's surface while attempting to disengage to the southeast. Within minutes enemy bodies bobbed to the surface of the now red water. The platoon continued southeast in a meticulous search of the wood line and the stream.
Meanwhile, Company B arrived at its start point at H-hour. The company commander's plan was to drop-off the 1st platoon at the start point and have them sweep west along the creek while the 2d platoon was to sweep south along the creek in that area. The 3d platoon and company headquarters was to move to Ap Chua Ba Khai, search that area and then sweep south. The APCs, with drivers and track commanders, were to be used to screen and block along the outer edges of the wood lines. Upon arriving at the start point the 1st platoon dismounted from their APCs and proceeded west into the woods. As they entered the woods, the platoon leader was shot and later died in route to a hospital. The platoon, now under command of the platoon sergeant, attacked the enemy position and destroyed it. After a quick reorganization, the platoon continued west. For this unit, the remainder of the day was typified by brief engagements with small enemy elements. Each time they eliminated the resistance from what appeared to be a series of enemy pickets conducting a delay-type action. By mid after noon they had reached the stream junction and linked up with the 2d platoon.
The 2d platoon searched the wood line and stream throughout the day, with small sporadic contacts. As it was later discovered, their presence in this area forced the enemy into killing zones for the remainder of the company.
Upon reaching Ap Chua Ba Khai, and following notification of the 1st platoon's initial contact, the Company B commander turned the APCs of the 3d platoon and Company Headquarters south and headed into the gap between the platoon of Company C operating along the Rach Sau and his 2d platoon in the wood line to the east. As this force headed south, they observed a large cluster of small haystacks. As they closed with them the haystacks began to move. Each stack was an enemy soldier trying to conceal his attempt to break out from the impending encirclement. In the words of the company commander, "It was a hay day." Employing the .50 caliber and M60 machineguns mounted on the APCs, the company (minus) conducted a mounted attack directly into the fleeing enemy. Across the open field and paddy dikes they pursued the enemy. After insuring the destruction of that enemy force and thoroughly searching the area of contact, the 3d platoon and company headquarters moved back to Ap Chua Ba Khai and swept that area with no results.
At H-hour of this same day, Charlie Company, minus one platoon, moved out in a sweep of its assigned area. Moving west, the company searched the area along the Rach Ong Ung and by 1000 hours reached route 228 without incident. But, based on the assessment that the battalion's current contact north of the Rach Ong Binh was an enemy unit of company-size, it was determined that C Company should continue its sweep into Ap Ben Do with one platoon moving southwest while the remainder of the company continued south along route 228. The company commander chose to place himself between and to the rear of his two platoons. Making a very deliberate and careful approach, the company began its sweep.
Concurrent with the evolution of events in the Bravo Company sector and following consultation with the 5th Battalion and 3/39 Infantry COs, which was no longer in contact, the brigade commander placed all available artillery and gun ships in direct support of the 5th Battalion, requested an air alert of fighter-bomber sorties in close air support of the 5th and moved the 2nd Battalion, minus one company, into a blocking position southwest of the Yam Co Dong River. The 2d Battalion
was to be reinforced and assisted by Vietnamese river assault craft. This blocking force was in position by approximately 1130 hours and by 1400 the 3d Battalion had concluded its sweep along Doi Ma Creek and was extracted to its base at Rach Kien, leaving a small stay-behind force to survey the former battle area.
Around 1100 hours, Company C, now moving southwest towards Ap Ben Do, began receiving heavy fire from the wood line to its front. The enemy was deployed on line in bunkered positions along the north- eastern edge of the wood line. During the initial volley of fire, Charlie Company sustained two casualties and moments later a company medic was killed attempting to reach the wounded. Due to the open terrain and excellent fields of fire afforded the enemy in Ap Ben Do, Charlie Company was unable to maneuver effectively, despite several desperate tries on the part of the company commander. A medical evacuation helicopter attempting to get to the wounded was shot down, adding two additional casualties. The battalion command group landed at Charlie Company to make an on-the-spot assessment. By this time Company C's artillery forward observer, demonstrating great courage, had moved forward and was directing the fire of two batteries of 105mm artillery on the enemy positions approximately 300 meters to his front. The artillery, firing a linear concentration to cover the target, was only marginally successful in neutralizing the enemy.
Gun ships were then employed, again with limited success. Two air strikes came on station and met with greater success in silencing the enemy. The battalion requested six more air strikes to attack in succession and divided the linear target in half, directing the aircraft on the southern half while the battalion artillery liaison officer massed all available artillery on the northern half of the target. In this way the artillery was able to concentrate its fires in a smaller area and be more effective. With careful coordination between the artillery, the forward air controller and the fighter pilots, this system proved successful and fire superiority was achieved. At this time a second dust-off was called in and the wounded were evacuated.
Assessing the enemy's firepower and frontage to be that of a dug-in battalion, the 5th Battalion's CO decided to rely on artillery and air support to gain the upper hand and then maneuver against the enemy position. Since the remainder of his battalion was committed to operations in Binh Phuoc, he requested an additional rifle company to assault
the wood line. The request was approved and Company B, 3d Battalion went under the operational control of the 5th Battalion. Realizing the unprotected posture of Company C, the battalion commander ordered B/5 to release four APCs from the 1st platoon. These APCs moved immediately to Company C's position and, upon arrival, came under the control of Charlie Company.
The APCs arrived at approximately 1200 hours and elements of Company C, under the control of a platoon leader, mounted the vehicles. Still under fire, this ad hoc mechanized unit assaulted the northern end of the enemy position. With all machineguns firing they closed to within 100 meters of the enemy and destroyed several positions. By now, Charlie Company had managed to move its right flank closer to the contact while the left flank remained in its original position, placing small arms fire on the objective. Charlie Company was now running low on ammunition and a re-supply was flown in by helicopter. One of the APCs was disengaged and used to distribute the ammunition along the company line and the few casualties sustained so far were evacuated to a safe PZ for pick-up by dust-off.
By 1400 hours Company B, 3d Battalion was airborne and in route to join the battle. Upon landing they would attack northwest into the wood line. By doing this, the battalion would hit the enemy on a flank and from a different direction. Following a short, violent artillery LZ preparation, Bravo Company, 3d Battalion landed and pushed toward the objective with a two-platoon front. The company walked artillery about 100 meters forward of their point while Charlie Company ceased all small arms fire. Plagued by a maze of booby traps and sustaining casualties, the assaulting company was making very slow progress.
Anxious to complete the sweep before dark and having neutralized the enemy, the battalion CO decided to give Company B, 3d Battalion a limit of advance and move Company C into the northern part of the objective. This attack was executed with minor resistance and by 1700 hours the entire objective had been swept. In Ap Ben Do alone, 73 enemy KIA were found. This fact, coupled with the equal successes of Company B, 5th Battalion and the 1st platoon of Company C to the north of Rach Ong Binh, indicated that a large portion of an enemy battalion had been destroyed. The 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry suffered 11 casualties and consolidated for the night, leaving stay-behind forces in Ap Ben Do and Ap Chua Ba Khai. The night passed without incident. The enemy had been defeated.