After the formation of the twenty ranger battalions from separated ranger companies. The 44th ranger and the 32nd , 41st , 42nd , and 43rd ranger battalions were placed under the command and control of the IV-Corps in the IV-Corps Tactical Zone. The 44th had participated in most major campaigns and operations in the Mekong delta (IV).
In the Tet offensive (Luna new year day, year of the Monkeys), the battalion was stationed in the perimeter of the Soc Trang airfield to protect the airfield. Suđenly, the entire battalion was heli-lifted to Long My district at 14:00 hours on the 9th of the end of the old year (Vietnamese calendar, two days before the new year). The following morning, I gave order to four rifle companies to search the surrounding area, about 4, 5km in defense. From the news, the battalion must be on alert and ready for combat.
In the afternoon of the 30th, I received the order from brigadier general Nguyen Van Minh, commander of the 21st Infantry division that the 44th ranger must be ready for deployment. But the current AO, there wasn't any sign of the enemy activities. The company commanders suggested that we should do some civil activity to celebrate the new-year with the villagers. We have soldiers who can perform lion dance with a big lion head, borrowed from a Buđhist temple in the area, and do fire-works if permitted. But!
In the late night of the 30 (new year eve), Lt. C. Le Van Hung, commander of the 31st regiment (21st Infantry) called me from his headquarters in the province of Chuong Thien. He informed that the communists have attacked many cities in the I-Corps and II-Corps, and the Joint General Staffs put the entire arms forces in the alert state. But peace was still in this area, the villagers still celebrated the luna new year, with fire-works. I let soldiers in small groups, took turn to go to the village and enjoyed the new year with people beginning at 9:30 in the morning.
At 12:30, the battalion again was heli-lifted into the city of Can Tho to counter-attack the enemy who had penetrated into the city. About 1pm, the 44th ranger was landed in the 31 airfield (for observation airplane L-19), I contacted, colonel Nguyen Ngoc Diep, the deputy commander at his headquarters (light HQs of the 21st Infantry division) inside a chilđcared building, next to the IV-Corps headquarters compound.
I was ordered to move the battalion to the center of the city, and from there to direct the battalion to "clean up" those positions where the enemęs sapper units had penetrated: the area of Tham Tuong bridge, hamlet of Ca Dai, Rach Ngong canal, and area along the banks of Cay Khe canal. I moved the headquarters of the 44th battalion into the center of the city and camped overnight in the provincial installation. Inside the compound, there were many units of the infantry, cavalry, ranger and provincial units which were busy in coordination with each others to counter attack.
Outside, the atmosphere was very much different. The streets were all deserted, only sounds of the gun-fight broke out everywhere and the smell of smoke from house fires filled the air. I gave order to all four rifle companies moved out in quiet and silence radio transmission, except when clashing with the enemy. During this time, I met Lt. Col. Son Thuong, commander of the 4th ranger group, but we did not talk much, everyone was busy with the fights in the city.
All companies of the battalion reported encountered light reaction with the enemy. On the second day of the new-year, the 44th ranger was ordered to coordinate with cavalry and infantry units to counter attack to regain the control of the radio station. The Can Tho radio station was attacked and hold by the Tay Do battalion and one company of sapper unit. The enemy after controlling the radio station already dug in to defend against the counterattacking forces.
The battalion started from the Tham Tuong bridge, split into two spear-heads. The first (light or Bravo wing) with companies 2 and 4 under the command of the battalion's XO, Captain Hoang Dinh Man attacked directly to the radio station and the Cao Dai temple. The second with companies 1 and 3 under the command of the battalion commander (I, Major Ho Viet Luong, the author of this story), this spear-head will attack from the east and the south. The 2/31 infantry will attack from the southwest. This battalion encountered heavy defense and through the radio PRC-25, I knew that this infantry battalion suffered some casualties.
The ranger battalion encountered the same enemęs reaction with AK-47s and B-40, B-41 RPG guns. We had to divide unit into small squads and pushed forward, to regain each single piece of land and small canals. When we got close to the enemy position, I called for artillery and air strikes then moved forward to attack ferociously. The VC abandoned their fox holes and retreated to the other area along the banks of Rau Ram canal and Rach Ngong canal with the intention to retake the radio station. The ranger counted 32 enemy dead bodies, captured 9 AK-47s, 2 B-40 RPGs and one machine gun RPD. The ranger lost 6 soldiers KIA and 11 wounded. By the night fall, the 44th battalion completely controlled of the radio station.
On the 3rd and 4th of the new year, the headquarters of the battalion based in the Phan Thanh Gian high school (oldest and largest in the city of Can Tho) to direct companies to mop up remaining enemy positions in the city. The city of Can Tho was dead on the first three days in the luna calendar, in the afternoon of the 4th day, the enemy was pushed out and away from the center of the city to the outskirt, so some small businesses reopened. One unforgettable memory is that, wherever the rangers went through, they were greeted by civilian people with special foods and drinks of the new-year.
The following days, the 44th ranger was to protect the city, they encountered "hit and run" from those enemy who "got stuck" in the city. In one serious occasion, when the ranger moved into the hamlet of Ca Dai (searching operation), suđenly the enemy used machine gun and opened fire on the leading element of the battalion. The ranger took positions, I ordered a three men recon team to find the location of the machine gun. They came back and reported that the enemy positioned the machine gun on the second floor in the house that belonged to Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Khuong, chief of staff of the 21st Infantry division. Then the recon team led the 57mm recoilless gun team to a position closed to the enemęs machine gun. They only needed one shot from the 57mm gun then the recon team rushed inside the house and killed two more VCs. The remaining battalion entered and search the entire hamlet, they found 5 more dead enemies and captured 5 more (some of the POWs were wounded). Searching to the end of the hamlet, the ranger found two more VCs lied dead in the front yard of a house.
At noon on the 6th, the battalion received order to be ready as a reaction force. The 31st regiment under Lt. Col. Le Van Hung was sweeping enemy positions on the outskirt of the city and the Joint General Staff also sent the B (Bravo) Marines brigade under the command of Lt. Col. Ton That Soan to reinforce the IV-Corps. I stopped by the headquarters of the Marines to visit the commander and gave a briefing on the situation of the city of Can Tho on the last several days.
Back to the battalion, I was reported that the 2/31 infantry was ambushed at the bank of the Rau Ram canal. This battalion was already inflicted with casualty, and the battalion commander was among the KIAs. Then, I received the order from the light headquarters of the 21st Infantry division to move the 44th ranger to the northwest. Received the order, I was very reluctant. It was getting dark, and the target area hold a strategic advantage with many trees. Also, there were canals on two sides along the road to the target and with many small canals. But the order was order and it must be accomplished.
With the disadvantages on both time and the terrain, I gave order to the men to form battle formation in upside down U-shape and to the artillery forward officer to plot predefined targets. The battalion moved in silence radio, only use when under enemy fires. Even with careful, when the leading element of the "Black Tiger" (nick name of the 44th ranger battalion) moved about 700, 800m, the enemy opened fires on the rangers with all kind of weapons: AK-47, B-40, and machine gun. The 44th rangers were pinned down, using the mud banks on the rice pađy for cover. The enemy in their trenches screamed "Attack! Attack!" to intimidate the rangers but none of them moved forward. At that moment, the battalion had only two soldiers wounded from the initial round of enemy gun fires.
The deputy commander of the 21st Infantry division was flying on a C&C saw the action on the ground and allowed the 44th battalion to have privilege using fire support. I requested artillery to fire on enemy positions, and they continued to scream "Attack! Attack!". Then I called artillery to fire away from the rear of the enemy line. After the artillery bombardment, I gave order to the rangers to go forward for the attack. The enemy abandoned their positions, ran for their lives when rangers screamed "Ranger Kill! Ranger Kill!". The 44th ranger battalion swam into enemy position killed 39 VCs, captured 1 machine gun with three-legs, 2 B-40 and 12 rifles. The ranger suffered 6 KIAs, among those was First Lieutenant Doan Van Cho, class 20 Dalat (national military academy), commander of the 2nd company. Words from the captured VCs, if the Tay Do battalion did not meet the 44th ranger, they will move on to attack the radio station again.
On the 11th, the 44th ranger battalion was visited by Lt. General Nguyen Duc Thang, new commander of the IV-Corps, and on the 12th, the battalion was sent back to Rach Giạ
Commanders of the 44th ranger battalion:
- Captain Nguyen Van Dan (KIA in 1972)
- Captain Nguyen Van Huy (latest rank Colonel)
- Captain Ho Viet Luong (Tet Offensive, latest rank Lt. Colonel)
- Captain Hoang Dinh Man (?)
- Captain Nguyen Nghenh (KIA)
- Not known from here...
Orange county... Missing friends.
From Hieu Vu: The latest rank of the author was Lt. Colonel, commander of the 32nd regiment, 21st Infantry division.