THE 42 RANGER BATTALION
Three Stripes Tiger Head
Maroon Beret Le Ngoc Buu
Translated by Hieu dinh Vu
Foreword: I am a former "maroon beret" of the 42nd Ranger battalion. I was transferred to the newly formed headquarters of the battalion in the early of May 1963. Until late 1968, I was transferred to the newly formed 6th Ranger group.
Rgr. Le Ngoc Buu.
1. THE FORMATION OF THE 42nd RANGER BATTALION
Second lieutenant Manh, 2nd Lt. Kham, MSG Nu (battalion sergeant), MSG Tue (asst. S-2), and myself were sent to Trung Hoa training center (Trung Lap, Cu Chi district, Binh Duong province) to form the HQs of the 42nd Ranger battalion. There were several things that needed to mention about this ranger training center.
It was located at the center of the three VC secret sanctuaries: Ho Bo, Boi Loi, Go Noi. From west An Nhon to Ben Suc, plain So, a name that the French tried to avoid. The training center usually had two or three separated ranger companies at a time for training, according to the intensity in the battlefields. The center had a section of command and control, a trainning section, one platoon of rear services, and one platoon of 106 inches mortar (artillery) which was responsible for all fire support in the area.
During this time, the commander of the center was captain Tran Dinh Nai, the executive officer was captain Hoa (old Hoa), and other officers: Hoa, Cam, Su, Dep, Van, Huong, Khoi... whom I don't remembers. Especially, the center also had MSG Diem, who was in charge of the security. Whoever had passed by the center for additional training should not forget the convenience store of the chief of village of Trung Lap. The owners had two nice and beautiful daughters, Tuyet and Cuc went to school in Saigon and were at home on weekend or holiday.
From the center to national highway 1, there was a dirt road about 6km long to three-way intersection Phuoc Hiep and the highway, one lead to Trang Bang, Tay Ninh province, the other to Saigon. This dirt road was the principle road to the center therefore it always had mines, booby traps, snipers, and ambushes. The units in the center took turn to clear the road for resupply trucks and communication. The late colonel Tran Dinh Nai (cmdr) was assassinated and died at the market next to the center during the Tet Offensive 1968.
After nearly four months since the formation, the battalion headquarters included section 1 (personnel), section 2 (security and a squad), section 3 (operation, training), section 4 (logistic, and rear services), section 5 (psychologistic and internal security), section radio communication with one officer and a signal platoon. One heavy weapons platoon with 2 81mm mortars, 2 57mm recoilless guns, and two machine guns M-30. And four organic rifle companies:
Because of the needs on the battlefields, all companies of the battalion could not be assembled. During this period, MSG Diem the security officer of the center, secretly inform the Ranger High Command that captain Hanh and his staff officers opposed to the government listening to the BBC channel on the radio and conducted fast (Buddhist tradition, eating vegetables only). And we had to go to the Ranger High Command two, three times and reported to major general Ton That Xung, lieutenant colonel Phan Xuan Nhuan and captain Due, chief of the security section of the Ranger High Command.
Then captain Nguyen Phuoc Danh replaced captain Hanh as the new commander of the battalion. On December 28th 1963, the entire battalion assembled at Nha Be, Saigon, ready to go to Ranger Training Center at Duc My.
The battalion arrived Duc My with three companies: 2, 3, 4. Company 1 was still on operation in Khanh Binh Dong. First lieutenant La Quy Phan was promoted to the XO of the battalion, second lieutenant Vuong Van Tro became the interim commander of the company. The 28th of December could be regarded as the birthday of the battalion.
2. OPERATION AND RECORDABLE VICTORIES
After nearly two months training at the Ranger Training Center Duc My, the 42nd Ranger battalion returned to Can Tho and placed under the control of the IV-Corps. As a reaction force for the Corps, the rangers were always on the moves, in Ca Mau in the morning, in Vinh Binh in the evening then in Chuong Thien on the next morning. The battalion attached to (under the command) a province, the 7th, 9th, and 21st Infantry divisions. Later, the battalion operated almost permanently under the control of the 21st Infantry division, and the home-base for the battalion, camp Le Van Luong (To Muoi) located in Bac Lieu.
On the first action day in Can Tho, the battalion clashed with the enemy at the three-way canal intersection Chech Tho (Thuan Trung district). The VC's Tay Do battalion pinned down the rangers, and caused some casualties. The commander neglected the recommendation from his staffs and did not know well the battlefield. Second lieutenant Giai was seriously wounded, and the battalion captured some weapons. Enemy left behind eight dead VCs. Colonel Cao Hao Hon, commander of the 21st Infantry arrived to inspect the battlefield, and the rangers were sent back for resting. Captain Nguyen Van Biet was appointed to replace captain Danh as the new commander of the 42nd Ranger battalion. Captain Biet was former commander of the 31st Ranger battalion in Phuoc Binh Thanh strategic tactical zone before commanding the 42nd.
Captain Biet brought new air into the battalion. He was an easy going, open arms person, and full of brother in arms hood. The battalion participated in almost operations Dan Chi(s) of the 21st Infantry, Long Phi(s) of the 9th Infantry, and Dong Tien(s) of the 7th Infantry.
- Participated in the sweep operation in Hai Yen strategic tactical zone. In this operation, the first (1/42) rejoined the battalion. From this point, the 42nd Ranger battalion operated with its four companies. Each company had a different color carf. Company 1/42 maroon, 2/42 red, 3/42 red and yellow, 4/42 red and blue, battalion CP and rear services woodland. Each men was issued a whistle to intimidate enemy.
- Participated in operation Dan Chi 33, counter-attacked to retake a Popular Force camp at the three-way intersection Cay Duong, and removed enemy pressure in the district of Phung Hiep, Can Tho province. From home-base in Bac Lieu, the battalion moved on trucks to seven-intersection around 5pm and was ordered to start the counter-attack. The battalion was allowed to use four river boats from the Popular Force, and used six additional sampans for troop carrying. From the seven-intersection to three-intersection Cay Duong was about 8km, and the width of the river was about 300m, it could be a problem in mutual supporting each other from the two edges of the river. The battalion split into two prongs, the 2nd and 4th and the battalion CP took the left bank, the remaining took the right bank.
After moving about 5km, the enemy positioned on the left bank opened fires on the rangers, and they reacted quickly, landed on the left bank of the river, took positions and called artillery for support. Lieutenant Van the Artillery forward observer for the Rangers directed Artillery shelling accuracy on the enemy positions. After three hours of intense fighting, the VC retreated out of the battlefield. The Ranger captured many weapons and documents, killed 45 and captured 5 POWs. From the POWs, the VC's Tay Do and 307 battalions coordinated for this battle. The Rangers suffered 5 KIAs, and 14 wounded, among them was lieutenant Ho Viet Luong. The 42nd Ranger battalion was decorated with the Cross of Gallantry with the Palm the second time. The commander Capt. Nguyen Van Biet was promoted to major, several officers were also received a new higher rank.
Since colonel Dang Van Quang became the new commander of the 21st Infantry and major general Nguyen Van Thieu became the commander of the IV-Corps, new military tactic was developed. With the available helicopters, "Eagle Claws" tactic was very successful in operations in the Mekong delta. The 42nd, 44th Ranger battalions, the 2/31 under the command of captain Le Van Hung (BG, committed suicide after the fall of South Vietnam), 1/33 and the division reconnaissance company under the command of captain Dan (later became the commander of the 44th Ranger, and KIA in 1972) were very famous in the IV-Corps. Captains Dan, Hung and first lieutenant Luu Trong Kiet (later became the commander of the 42nd, and KIA) were three favorite fighting corks of colonel Dang Van Quang, commander of the 21st Infantry.
First victory using this "Eagle Claws" tactic was at the Dan Chi 73A operation in Phong Loc, north of the city of Ca Mau. The 1/42 company was select for this military tactic, was heli-born directly into Phong Loc when an unit of VC was discovered by observation airplane. The 1/42 encountered strong reaction from the U Minh battalion then the rest of the battalion arrived to acttack the enemy ferociously. After two hours of fighting, and with the support from armed helicopters, the rangers killed 80 enemies, captured many weapons and two POWs. This victory brought another Cross of Gallantry for the 42nd Ranger battalion (the 3rd time).
- Operation Dan Chi 92 at Tan Phu, the border area of the three provinces: An Xuyen, Bac Lieu and Chuong Thien. The ranger was directed to the area to reinforce and relieve pressure for the 21st reconnaissance company. They fought with two enemy's battalions U Minh-1 and U Minh-2. One hundred enemies killed, the rangers captured 70 weapons, included 57mm recoilless gun, 61mm mortar tube, and 12.7mm AA's legs.
- Operation Dan Chi 98 in Vinh Chau district, Bac Lieu province. Around noon, airplane detected a VC unit was assembling in the village of Dai Ngai, Bac Lieu province. The 1/42 company, again was the lead element heli-born into the battlefield. The commander, first lieutenant Vuong Van Tro directed his men to attack as soon as they got out of the helicopters. The rangers charged into enemy's dug in positions, and quickly captured three 12.7mm AA guns. The second landing brought into the battlefield the 2/42 company and the light HQs of the battalion under the command of captain La Quy Phan. Captain Phan and a ranger in his CP were killed instantly as they jumped out of the helicopter. Then the rest of the battalion followed.
After four hours of fierce fighting, it was getting dark and the enemy retreated. In this battle, the rangers killed 154 VCs, captured 12 POWs, nearly 200 weapons, and radio equipments. The ranger lost 12 KIAs, included captain Phan the battalion XO and 35 WIAs.
The 42nd Ranger battalion returned to its home-base then major Nguyen Van Biet was transferred to province of An Xuyen. The Ranger High Command appointed captain Nguyen Tan Giai as the new commander of the battalion but a few month later, the IV-Corps appointed captain Luu Trong Kiet, commander of the 21st reconnaissance company to replace captain Giai, who later became the commander of the 51st Ranger battalion.
About May 1965, with the victory in operation Dan Chi 100, the 42nd Ranger battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. From operation Dan Chi 100 to Dan Chi 128, the VC tried to avoid a confrontation with the 42nd rangers.
- Operation Long Phi 999, coordinated between the 9th Infantry division and the 21st Infantry division. Navy in the I-Corps detected a NVA ship that transported weapons to the south and anchored in the beach Ba Dong of the Vinh Binh province. The 42nd Ranger battalion, from Soc Trang was heli-born directly to the target. The battalion encountered heavy fires from the VC's Cuu Long battalion that was protecting the ship. After two hours of fighting, the enemy fled, the rangers killed about 100 VCs, captured many weapons on the battlefield... and the entire ships with thousands weapons. This victory earned the 42nd Ranger battalion the seventh Cross of Gallantry with the Palm.
- Operation Dan Chi 135, the 42nd Ranger battalion was heli-lifted from Phu Loc, district Thanh Tri, Ba Xuyen province to the village of Giai Lang, Bac Lieu province. The VC had in this area one battalion of the provincial's main force. They planned to burn the rangers in dry rice field (after the harvest), but with the "Eagle Claws" tactic, their plan did not work. The rangers were heli-born directly into their positions and the battle broke out in favor of the rangers. The rangers killed 130 enemies, captured 12 POWs, and about 100 weapons. The rangers lost 18 KIAs, and 32 WIAs. The battalion was decorated with the eighth Cross of Gallantry with the Palm (most in the ARVN). This victory also earned another Presidential Unit Citation for the battalion.
- Operation Dan Chi 179 in Chuong Thien province. The battalion was ordered to move from Bac Lieu to Soc Trang and served as the reaction force for the operation. At 9:00am in the following morning, the battalion started to move into Chuong Thien. At coconut plantation Ong Muoi, the ranger bumped into a large enemy force (regiment size). The rangers were ordered to attack and move on, but the battalion was stalled. In the plantation, was an old strategic hamlet, built during the late President Ngo Dinh Diem regime, and was very solid for defense.
The commander of the 42nd Ranger battalion was major Luu Trong Kiet reported to the 21st Infantry but according to their G-2 officer, the enemy had only a small unit in the area and they insisted the ranger battalion must get rid of the target and move on. The battlefield became intense, the rangers and VCs distanced only 100m. Major Kiet was shot on the chest, and still hang on to direct his men, and he got another shot and died. Later the 44th Ranger battalion under the command of major Ho Viet Luong commander of the 44th arrived the battlefield (former 42nd ranger) but the enemy pulled out of the battlefield and the commander of the 42nd, major Luu Trong Kiet already died...