The CIDG camp Dak Pek was a frontier camp near the border of Laos, Vietnam. It located below Ba To county of Quang Ngai province and about 80km northwest of the city of Kontum. American Special Forces built this camp in April 1962 for the purposes of blocking, sabotagging the infiltration, supplying route from the north of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). On the 30th of November 1970, the CIDG camp Dak Pek was transferred to the ARVN and converted to the 88th border ranger battalion.
After the conversion, the 88th was assigned an extra duty, training newly officers of the ranger the tactic of scouting and reconnaissance. Many young officers had been through this training before they became platoon leaders of ranger battalions. The communists attacked this camp during the Easter Offensive but failed to take over the camp because of the fighting spirit of the rangers and the strategic location of Dak Pek. The rangers stretched out on the hilly region to avoid overwhelming by enemy’s artillery concentration. Unsuccessful in up-rooting the camp, the NVA moved arround to the south to attack, decimating the RVN 22nd infantry division and overran the town of Tan Canh, Dakto then pressed toward the city of Kontum.
In 1973, there were clashes between the rangers and the enemy in the surrounding areas of Dak Pek, but the NVA did not show any threats to the camp. Probably, the communists forgot or did not want the camp Dak Pek, even thought other frontier CIDG camps such as Ben Het, Dak Seang and the county of Ba To already fell into their hands. By the end of 1973, the 88th combined with the 95th (Ben Het) and the 62nd (Polei Kleng) to form the 22nd rangers group. This newly group with two mobile battalions usually operated in the central highland Kontum, Pleiku, Phu Yen provinces, the 88th destined to stay at Dak Pek (frankly speaking -- It was trapped). At that time, the camp Dak Pek was isolated completely. All the communications with the ouside were done by air (logistic supplies, evacuating wounded or illness soldiers, etc...). The ranger battalion also had no artillery supports because it was located too far, deep inside enemy controlled territory.
In late March 1974, while the 62nd and the 95th battalions embattled with the NVA forces from the 320th division and the 95B separated regiment in the area of Kon So Lu, northeast of Kontum city. Cables from the 88th arrived at the forward HQs of the 22nd group every other days. Major Di, commander of the 88th and his staffs sent messages reported that recon teams of the battalion spotted enemy activities in many locations such as troop transportation on trucks (Molotova), engineers and civilian laborers building, repairing roads, etc... “The enemy is preparing to attack our camp... Urgently! Request your HQs to send us foods, ammunitions, claymore mines, M-72 rocket launchers, and medical supplies. Stop!”. Inside the TOC bunker at the forward HQ of the 22nd group, the group commander and staff officers understood the syndrom. The 88th was about to run out of its time, everyone felt pain in their breasts, sorry for the comrades of the 88th but could not do much... The only thing, which the group could do was to forward the messages to the MR-II for assistances. Meanwhile, the battle in the area of Kon So Lu was comming to the end, and the 22nd group was ready for a new deployment in another area of operation (AO) Plei Lang Ba in Pleiku province.
On a brief skirmish near the camp in the morning of the 27th of April, the rangers captured a document which stated clearly that the NVA forces were planning for a full scale crushing attack to up-root camp Dak Pek. In early of May, rangers reconnaissance team discovered an under ground storage with 60 shells of 105mm (Captured from the ARVN during the Easter Offensive). One thing the rangers did not find out that the enemy 29th regiment of the 324B division was moving by trucks from A-Shau valley, Thua Thien province (MR-I) into the three borders area (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). The fact of deployment the 29th regiment proved the mobility ability of the NVA that improved along with road building and AAA distribution. Given the task of crushing the 88th ranger battalion, the 29th NVA regiment was transported secretly 75 miles south and placed under the command of the communist headquarters of the B3 Front.
The commander of the 88th kept with him a sealed envelope, he was directed to open only when the battalion was being overrun. In that secret command, he would lead the survived rangers to cross the dense mountainous forest toward Mang Buk, a regional force camp located about 60 km southeast of Dak Pek. Major Di, somehow did not have a chance to execute that order.
From the 10th of May, rangers platoons patrolled outside camp began to exchange gun-fires with the enemy. Two days later, the NVA artillery showered 130mm, 122mm, 82mm shells on the ranger defensive positions, then infantry men of the 29th regiment started their ground assault, first on those small out posts outside main sector of Dak Pek. Under the enemy heavy pressure, the rangers pulled back inside and fought back ferociously and pushed back many waves of attacks. When the 29th pulled back for realignment their forces, the NVA punished the stubborn rangers with their deadly artillery bombardments. Without artillery supports, the rangers only hope depended on the RVN / Air Forces but the enemy air defense in the area of Dak Pek was so strong caused the jets to drop bombs from a high altitude therefore air supports for the 88th were less effective.The battle lasted into the fourth day, the ranger defensive line was getting smaller and smaller, but they still hang on to the fight. Early in the morning of the 16th, the NVA concentrated their artillery to pound on the remainning positions of the rangers then the 29th regiment with T-54 tanks rumbled into the main sector of Dak Pek. In the final assault, all the bunkers inside the camp was collapsed, trenches filled with death soldiers, the survivors returned fires with their small weapons (M-16), that were what they got... The Bird-Dog air plane L-19 lost contact with Major Di, the battalion commander around noon since the beginning of the final assault.
In the final 12 hours, the NVA pounded the camp Dak Pek with more than 7000 artillery shells. The lost of the 88th ranger battalion was reported 100%. It was isolated more than a year, but the MR-II High Command did not have any plans to rescue or to bring the battalion back to its parent group (22nd)! The surrounding areas of Dak Pek were lost after the Easter Offensive (Tan Canh, Dakto, Ba To county in the north) and the closest ARVN out post, camp Mang Buk was 60 km away...From the books: - Francis J. Kelly, The Green Berets, Brassey’s (US) Inc., New York, 1991.
- Co. William Le Gro, Vietnam from cease fire to capitulation, Wasington D.C., 1981.
In memory of the 88th comrades.RVN Armed Forces day 06/19/1995
Hieu D. Vu