THE 3rd RANGER GROUP (Out of An Loc)

Ranger Khue Q. Nguyen

Translated by Hieu D. Vu


Noon, July 7th 1972, the entire 3rd Ranger group was air-lifted by helicopters out of An Loc to Lai Khe. At the airfield, Col. Nguyen Thanh Chuan, commander of the III-Corps Ranger was there to greet the returning rangers. After a handshaking with Lt. Col., commander of the group, the commander praised the rangers profoundly. Colonel Chuan stated that the group will stay overnight in Lai Khe. And on the next morning (7/8/1972), the group commander and himself will go to the forward headquarters of the III-Corps for briefing and receiving new order of operation.

All day long, the entire 3rd Ranger group stayed inside Lai Khe combat base near the landing strip and waited for receiving new enlist men and supplies from the home base. We were on alert for combat ready. Next morning, at 8am, Col. Chuan arrived on a helicopter. The group commander greeted and took him to the forward headquarters of the III-Corps by Jeep. Major Hong Khac Tran, operation officer (S-3) and me followed on another Jeep. At the forward HQs, we met Colonel Minh, chief of staff of the HQs and he led us to a briefing room in the tactical operation center (TOC). Opening speech, Col. Minh represented Lt. Gen. Nguyen V?n Minh, commander of the III-Corps praised the 3rd Ranger group for the defending of An Loc and expected the rangers will continue to accomplish given tasks.

Then, the chief of staff went straight to the order of operation. The entire group will be transported by trucks to Phuoc Tuy, Ba Ria and the goal for this operation was to remove enemy pressure on the two hamlets Binh Ba, Binh Giạ These two hamlets were surrounded and cut off from the outside. The Regional Force was still hanging on but the civilians in the hamlets were running out of their food supplies. The enemy seized the hamlets and set up road blocks. They had about two regional battalions with supports (heavy weapons). The government 52nd regiment of the 18th Infantry Division has been in the operation area. The HQs of the 52nd regiment was established on a small hill (Doi Mong Ngua, Horse Shoe Hill), an old camp of the Australian army. For almost a month, the infantry could not clear the road blocks on the country road leading to the hamlets.

Colonel Minh emphasized the task given to the 3rd Ranger group was to replace the 52nd regiment, so it could be sent back to its parent, the 18th Infantry Division. The group's HQs will moved in to replace the 52nd HQ on the small hill and sent two battalions out to remove all the road blocks. The task must be accomplished within fifteen days, so the two hamlets could be resupplied.

At the end, the chief of staff asked for questions and the commander of the rangers presented some difficulties after the fierce battle of An Loc but will do our best. To compensate for the rangers, Col. Minh assured that the group will have high air support priority and two artillery companies (one 105mm and one 155mm) attached and placed under the control of the 3rd Ranger group. Also, there was one Combat Engineer platoon dispatched alongside for mine detection. The two artillery companies were already there (on the hill with the 52nd Infantry regiment), they were protected by a battalion of Regional Force of the Phuoc Tuy province. This operation and the 3rd Ranger group were placed under the direct control of the forward headquarters of the III-Corps. All reports and requests must go through this HQs.

Colonel Minh handed Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Biet a big and thick envelop, and the group commander handed it to Maj. Tran, the operation officer of the group. The chief of staff also told Lt. Col. Biet that the President (Nguyen Van Thieu) somehow got the news about these two hamlets and he personally gave order to the III-Corps commander to save the hamlets.

Lieutenant Colonel Hau, chief of the G3 gave the details that the group will be transported by trucks with an observation (birdog) plane (L-19) cover in the air, to Long Thanh district, then walked a short distant to the front of the district office. They already organized a group of students to greet the rangers.

After the briefing, an officer of the G-2, handed me a number of operation maps. Colonel Nguyen Thanh Chuan, commander of the III-Corps Ranger asked Lt. Col. Biet, if he needs anything else? The group commander thanked him but the III-Corps already prepared to the details. The Colonel wished us lucks.

Back to our tents, Lt. Col. Biet ordered Maj. Tran and me to prepare order of battle, sketched operation maps and called the battalion commanders to the HQs of the group for briefing and receiving order of battle. The signal officer also prepared a new set of communication according to the order from the III-Corps.

At 3pm July 8th 1972, all staff officers of the 3rd Ranger group HQs and three battalion commanders reported inside a tent that served as the temporary headquarters. Lt. Col. Biet informed everyone about the new order of operation from the III-Corps then Maj. Tran, operation officer of the group presented the operation plan of the group for the three battalions.

In the coming battle, the rangers had high priority in using artillery and air support. Lt. Col. Bỉt told the commanders of the 31st and 52nd to survey the battlefield, located the exact enemęs locations for air strikes or artillery bombardments. This tactic minimized our casualty and save lives of our soldiers. All the battalion commanders agreed. I did all the interpretation for US advisors to the 3rd Ranger group. The senior advisor of the group seemed like the operation plan, said that the US Air Force will provide air support for the operation and the FAC OV-10 that worked with us in An Loc will cover us on the new operation.

At 7am July 9th 1972, the entire 3rd Ranger group started from Lai Khe on trucks and moving toward Phuoc Tuy, Ba Ria. An L-19 Birdog covered the air and always maintained communication with us. The convoy stopped temporary in Long Khanh for us to march to the district. People and students were waiting on both sides of the road greeting us with banner "Bravo the heroic of the Rangers", "Congratulation! The spirit Victory of An Loc is forever". A group of high school girls decorated us with "victory ring of flower".

Around 11am, we arrived at the battlefield. The group positioned as following:

  1. The HQs, the 36th battalion and the 3rd Recon company occupied the Mong Ngua hill, and strategic high points in the area. The 36th sent two companies to hold two hills in the northwest, and southeast. The 36th served as the reaction force of the group. The Recon company protected the headquarters of the group.
  2. The 31st replaced blocking positions of the 52nd Infantry which were holding temporary by Regional Force so the 52nd Infantry can pull out. The rest of the 31st must clear enemy road blocks on the east side of the road toward hamlets Binh Ba, Binh Giạ
  3. The 52nd Ranger battalion would do the same as the 31st but on the west side of the road.
At that time, Major Le Quy Dau, commander of the 52nd Ranger got sick and stayed at the medical team in the group headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel Biet appointed Captain Tran Cong Hien, deputy commander of the battalion to command the 52nd rangers.

At the group headquarters, Lt. Col. Biet ordered to maintain and rebuilt trenches, fighting positions. The deputy commander of the group (a Major) and Artillery liaison officer checked on ammunition of the two Artillery companies, and their defense.

The commander also asked me if I already sent our coordinates to the US advisors, so the American can prepare when we need air support. In fact I did. The senior advisor assured me that, American will do when needed.

Begin to attack. Early in the morning of July 10th 1972, the group commander ordered to attack. Both the 31st and the 52nd rangers at the further most blocking positions (facing the enemy) started moving toward the enemęs blocking positions for the attack. They reacted strongly, with AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, and RPGs. Enemy also retaliated by shelling HQs of the two battalions with 82mm mortar.

The ranger officers quickly located the enemęs positions then called back for artillery bombardments. It was a bright sunny day, after was told about the height of the artillery projectile, I forward information to the American advisor to inform the FAC OV-10 to be aware of that. At that moment, both battalions report the enemy has stopped bombardment and prepared to counter attack on our blocking positions. The group commander ordered the two artillery companies to react quickly to support the rangers at the front. The FAC OV-10 also reported that our artillery bombardments were accurate and the enemy abandoned their blocking positions on the road and retreated toward the hamlets of Binh Ba, Binh Giạ Our forward artillery officers continued to call on the retreating enemy.

After the bombardments, the 31st and the 52nd rangers moved forward. The ranger found a trench with fox holes, a clear evident that they were prepared for the fight, and without artillery support, the ranger would have difficult time and casualties. Under the heavy bombardments, the communication broke down and the enemy retreated in panic, left behind 30 dead corpses, and a number of AK-47s, RPG B-40.

The two ranger battalions continued to move on to Binh Ba. The group commander insisted that moving slowly and using artillery or air support when needed. Along the country road, the ranger cleared enemy blockages and spread out on the both sides of the road to secure the area. The Combat Engineer platoon also moved along to destroy mines planted on the road.

The two ranger battalions rotated companies to attack days and nights toward the hamlets. When encountered strong resistances the ranger called for air or artillery strikes on enemy positions. After four days attacking, both ranger battalions were about 1km from the hamlets where the enemęs last stand. The FAC OV-10 reported that the enemy dug in with trenches and bunkers for 57mm recoilless guns, and 82mm mortar pitches. Information from the OV-10 were collected and pre-plotted for artillery and air strikes. The US advisor also requested for 10 air strikes.

At 8am July 14th 1972, all twelve 105, 155 guns from the two artillery companies opened fires at the same time on the perimeter of enemy defensive line. Then US jets dived in to release bombs on the target. After one hour of continuous bombardments, the ranger moved in to finish the fight. They reported that the target was a big mess, with dead enemies scattered everywhere, their weapons were burned and melt out of shapes.

The rangers captured some wounded enemies. They told the rangers that their comrades already ran to a nearby forest with the RVN artillery chasing behind.

After the battle was over, the leading element of the 31st ranger entered the hamlet of Binh Ba, the civilians ran out embraced them and shouted "Bravo the Rangers". The 52nd entered Binh Gia was also greeted by the same way. The people led the rangers to enemy foxholes around the hamlets but they were already long gone.

At 11am, the two battalions reported.

Enemy: killed 200, captured 1 82mm mortar, 1 recoilless gun 57mm (gun barrel was damaged), numerous AK-47s, RPG B-40, B-41.

Rangers: None KIA, weapons preserved.

Around noon, a supplying convoy has been waiting in Phuoc Tuy started rolling into the hamlets. The drivers even increased speed when they saw the rangers on the road. When the first truck arrived, the 31st battalion reported, and through the chain of commands to the forward headquarters of the III-Corps.

The group headquarters received a congratulation message and was instructed to send a group of officers represented for the group, including three battalions to the provincial headquarters of Phuoc Tuy at 8am, July 18, for decoration. The message stated that all men from the 3rd Ranger group were promoted to a higher rank from the 18th of July 1972.

At 10am, July 18th 1972, Lieutenant General Nguỷn Văn Minh and the provincial chief arrived. He represented the President of the Republic of Vietnam to decorate officers of the 3rd Ranger group. The group commander was promoted to Colonel, all three battalion commanders, operation officer was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and... all the men.

The newly Colonel Nguyen Van Biet, the commander of the 36th and me were also received another US medal from the American advisor.

The 3rd Ranger accomplished their task in five days. A week later, the group was ordered to moved to Bien Hoa with a new duty, to protect the forward headquarters of the III-Corps and searched the Tan Uyen area to prevent enemy artillery bombardment into the Bien Hoa airfield and the city. It was considered a break for the group.

California, March 14, 2003

 

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