CHAPTER X

Phase I-The Horseshoe Is Pitched

Phase I of Operation JUNCTION CITY was conducted from 22 February to 17 March and involved forces of the U.S. 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions and some South Vietnamese forces deployed in the shape of a giant horseshoe. 1st Division elements constituted the east and north portion of the inverted U; the 25th was assigned the northwestern and western portions and the mission of driving a force north through the open end. With a perimeter of approximately sixty kilometers, the western leg of the horseshoe extended north of Tay Ninh along Route 22 (with major concentration north of Route 247) to the junction at Route 246 on the Cambodian border. The top of the horseshoe was generally delineated by Route 246 (which in that area was nothing more than a cart trail) parallel to the Cambodian border on the north. The east portion continued along Route 246 to the vicinity of Katum and from there south along Route 4 to south of Prek Klok. It was through the southern opening of the horseshoe that 25th Division forces initiated their drive north to conduct search and destroy operations. To the west, south, and east of the horseshoe sweep operations were to be conducted by the units forming it. (Map 11)

The controlling headquarters for Junction City was II Field Force, Vietnam, under General Seaman. For the first time in the war, II Field Force headquarters displaced to the field and opened a tactical command post at Dau Tieng on D-day.

Combat Forces

During Phase I of Operation JUNCTION CITY the Big Red One, commanded by Major General John H. Hay, Jr., employed two of its three organic brigades (the other remained active on Revolu-tionary Development operations) and was augmented by the 173d Airborne Brigade and two South Vietnamese units named Task Force WALLACE the 35th Ranger Battalion and one troop from the ad Battalion, 1st Cavalry Regiment. Later in Phase I the 1st Bri-gade, 9th U.S. Infantry Division, joined the 1st Division to keep Route 13 open from Lai Khe to Quan Loi. The division's missions

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for Phase I were to conduct air and ground assaults to block enemy escape routes in the northern and eastern portion of the area of operations; conduct search and destroy operations; secure lines of communication from Tay Ninh to Katum (consisting of approximately forty-five kilometers of Route 4); and provide security during engineer construction at Katum and Prek Klok. On D-day the 1st Brigade (Colonel Caldwell), comprised of four infantry battalions and Task Force WALLACE was to assault by air and establish blocking positions in the northern portion of the area. The 173d Airborne Brigade (Brigadier General John R. Deane, Jr.) with three battalions was directed to assault by air on D-day and establish blocking positions from Katum to the 1st Brigade area; this put the 173d on the northeast portion of the horseshoe. Respon-sibility for the eastern leg of the horseshoe was assigned to the division's 3d Brigade (Colonel Marks). His brigade included one mechanized battalion, an infantry battalion, and the cavalry squadron with one tank company attached. This brigade was to attack north on D-day along Route 4, establish fire support bases, and link up with the 173d. Each of the brigades had at least one artillery battalion in direct support.

During Phase I of Operation JUNCTION CITY the 25th (Tropic Lightning) Division under General Weyand employed its organic 2d Brigade with other units under division control, namely, the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; 196th Light Infantry Brigade; 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (-); and two South Vietnamese units, the 1st and 5th Marine Battalions (Task Force ALPHA). The 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, part of the division's task organization, was placed under the operational control of the 1st Infantry Division later in Phase I.

Under the 25th Division's plan, the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (Colonel Garth), would block and continue to conduct search and destroy operations from the area which it held at the close of Operation GARDEN on 21 February in the far western portion of the operational area. Assigned to the brigade were one mechanized infantry battalion, two infantry battalions, one troop of cavalry, and a company of armor. Operating closely with Garth's brigade was the 196th Brigade (General Knowles), which on D-day would conduct airmobile assaults with its three infantry battalions along the northwest portion of the horseshoe to establish blocking positions and seal enemy escape routes into Cambodia. The positions of the 25th Division units would thus form the broad left leg of the horseshoe and would complete, along with the 1st Division, the seal of the operational area. The division's 2d Brigade (Colonel Marvin D. Fuller) and Colonel William W. Cobb's 11th Armored

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Cavalry (-) constituted the hammer forces that on D plus 1 would drive north into the horseshoe to locate and destroy enemy forces and facilities.

Both the Tropic Lightning Division and the Big Red One started deploying forces for JUNCTION CITY on 18 February (D minus 4) and were ready to roll by D-day.

D-Day, 22 February 1967

On D-day the operation order was implemented as envisaged. Nine infantry battalions conducted air assaults (eight airmobile, one parachute) to cordon the entire northern portion of the objective area. At the same time, the 25th Division adjusted its one brigade in blocking positions on the west while positioning additional units for the attack into the horseshoe; the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, pushed- north up Provincial Route 4 to complete the horseshoe.

The 1st Brigade, 1st Division, initiated the airmobile operations from Minh Thanh with one battalion making an airmobile assault at 0813 into a landing zone north of Route 246 and only 1,600 meters south of the Cambodian border. Sporadic small arms fire was encountered from the southern portion of the landing zone; however, the zone was quickly secured. The other two battalions of the brigade air assaulted into LZ's to the west of the first battalion at 1130 and 1630. They were unopposed.

Earlier that day, 845 paratroopers had boarded sixteen C-130's at Bien Hoa and at 0900 the 173d Airborne Brigade began its combat jump. As the aircraft approached the drop zone (three kilometers north of Katum), the jumpmaster's voice rose above the roar of the C-130: "Stand in the Door." General Deane moved to the right door; taking his position in the left door was Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Sigholtz, commander of the airborne task force composed of the 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry; A Battery, ad Battalion, 319th Artillery; and elements of the 173d Brigade headquarters and headquarters company. As the green light flashed "go," General Deane jumped, leading the first U.S. combat parachute assault since the Korean War. There was no enemy contact during the jump.

(Chief Warrant Officer Howard P. Melvin of San Francisco, California, then 53 years old, was participating in his fifth combat parachute assault over a period of some twenty years. His previous four were Gela, Sicily, Salerno, and St. Mere Eglise.)

By 0920 all companies had established command posts. A heavy equipment drop commenced at 0925 and continued periodically

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throughout the day. By 1230 the battalion command post was estab-lished. There had been only eleven minor injuries as a result of the jump.

Almost simultaneously with the airborne assault, the 196th Brigade of the 25th Division began airmobile assaults in the vicinity of Route 246 along the northwestern portion of the horse-shoe. By 1350 all three battalions had completed their assaults unopposed.

The northeastern portion of the inverted U was completed by the two other battalions of the 173d Brigade, then at Quan Loi, making their airmobile assaults into four landing zones, three north and one south of Katum.

Ground elements for the operation had started rolling at 0630 on D-day as the 1st Division's 3d Brigade entered the action. While an infantry battalion remained in Suoi Da, other forces of the brigade attacked north along Route 4 from Artillery Base I at the "French Fort." Following the attacking force, the mechanized infantry battalion moved into defensive positions at planned artillery bases near Prek Klok and three kilometers to the north.

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Artillery for the bases was in the column and was dropped off as the column came to the appropriate fire base. In the column was also the armored company of the 173d Brigade which would revert to the brigade's control upon linkup. Although there were temporay delays in getting the column pushed through caused by mines, road repair, and the need to bridge some streams, the 1inkup with elements of the 173d just south of Katum occurred at 1500.1 The division engineer elements in the column had had a busy day in making Route 4 passable and in launching three AVLB's over streams.

The 2d Brigade, 25th Division, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (-) moved to positions near the open (south) end of the horseshoe and poised for their attack to the north in the morning. The remaining brigade under the 25th Division continued search and destroy operations east of Route 22 and north of Trai Bi.

Eighteen battalions, organized into six brigades, and one cavalry regiment were now deployed around the horseshoe. Thirteen mutually supporting fire support bases also ringed the operational area.

Throughout the day enemy contact and casualties remained light with four Americans killed and twenty-three wounded; enemy losses were unknown. The Air Force had also had a busy day, having flown 216 preplanned strike sorties in direct support of the ground operation.

D Plus 1, 23 February

The combined elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (-) and the 2d Brigade of the 25th Division thrust northward through the open end of the horseshoe to trap the Viet Cong and locate and destroy COSVN and North Vietnamese Army-Viet Cong installations. The units immediately began to uncover significant caches of enemy supplies and equipment. Only four minor contacts, however, were made during the day's search.

Around the horseshoe the units continued to improve their defensive positions, to secure routes in their areas, and to conduct search and destroy operations. Contact remained light. One sig-

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nificant find in the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, area was a battalion-size base camp complete with shower facilities and over 6,000 pairs of "Ho Chi Minh" sandals (made from worn-out truck tires). The infantry battalion of the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, which had remained at Suoi Da, air assaulted into a landing zone near Route 4, three kilometers southwest of Katum. Another infantry battalion from Minh Thanh replaced it at Suoi Da. Task Force ALPHA consisting of the 1st and 5th South Vietnamese Marine Battalions was airlifted from Saigon to Trai Bi and was attached to the 25th Division. Engineers continued to improve Route 4 and started the construction of a timber trestle bridge about four kilometers south of Katum. Tactical air strikes for the day numbered 175.

D Plus 2, 24 February

General Seaman sent a message to the commanding generals of the 1st and 25th Divisions congratulating them on the speed

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and professionalism displayed during the placement of the cordon in western War Zone C. He concluded by saying ". . . I want a thorough search to be made of areas of responsibility. . . . I particularly desire that western War Zone C be completely cov-ered." Just as a similar one sent in CEDAR FALLS had done, General Seaman's message was to set the tone for JUNCTION CITY for the next twenty-one days.

On 24 February Task Force ALPHA conducted an airmobile assault into a landing zone secured by the 196th Brigade at the northern end of its area of responsibility near the Cambodian border; the South Vietnamese marines attacked south within the zone and prepared to continue operations farther to the south. The infantry battalion of the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, which was at Suoi Da, moved to field positions six kilometers south of Prek Klok along Route 4.

The hammer forces of the 25th Division continued the attack to the north. The other II Field Force units on the horseshoe strengthened further their defensive blocking positions and continued

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search and destroy operations. The engineers continued to improve the road network and started to clear the jungle up to seventy-five yards from the sides of Route 4. Construction of the airfield at Katum also commenced.

Resistance was light and scattered throughout the day and into the night; however, six enemy base camps were located and destroyed. The bases contained a significant number of weapons, ammunition, rice, and miscellaneous supplies of all types, "from fish-sauce to dynamite." It was on this day that a series of base camps in an area three kilometers south of the Cambodian border began to be uncovered by one of the battalions of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division; and they had to fight their way in. It appeared that the camps were part of the military affairs section of the Central Office of South Vietnam. There were large mess facilities, lecture halls, recreational areas, and supply depots. Among some of the unusual items found in them were over 30 excellent portable tran-sistor radios made in Japan, over 4,500 batteries for such radios, reams of paper, 700 pencils, 500 ball-point pens, 1,750 erasers, a new Briggs and Stratton 3-hp. engine and generator, shower points, and ping-pong tables. A visit to one of these base camps revealed large underground living quarters and big, heavily built defensive positions. Above ground were some sleeping quarters and cooking areas with roofs made of leaves so they could not be seen through the jungle canopy. In one of these cooking facilities was a calendar pad nailed to a roof support. The date exposed was 23 February, the day U.S. forces first entered the general area of the base camps. The occupants had departed in a hurry, leaving behind food par-tially prepared in the kitchens as well as their livestock and chickens.

By the end of the third day of the operation, all was still going according to plan. Forty-two of the enemy had been killed and 1 prisoner and 4 ralliers taken; U.S. losses were 14 killed and 93 wounded.

End of Phase I, 25 February-17 March

During the rest of Phase I (which was officially terminated at midnight of 17 March) the units of both divisions continued their meticulous search of the operational area. Since the hammer forces had completed their operations, the units of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, started leaving their portion of the horseshoe as early as 2 March when one battalion was airlifted to Quan Loi. A second battalion was lifted the following day to Minh Thanh, and on 4

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March the 1st Brigade terminated Phase I. On 3 March the 1st Engineers completed the Katum airfield;2 the next day all of the battalion had terminated Phase I and began relocating to the east-ern edge of War Zone C. (For all intents and purposes the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division and the 1st Engineer Battalion began Phase II on 7 March when they started operations west of An Loc along Route 246 and at the destroyed bridge site where that road crosses the Saigon River.)

During this 21-day period the action was marked mainly by contacts with small forces (one to ten men) and the continual discovery of more and more base camps. Rice, documents, dried fish,

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ammunition and explosives, some weapons, and much communication equipment (including miles of wire) were the principal items found. Along Route 4 convoy vehicles continued to hit mines and be harassed by RPG2 antitank weapons and small arms fire.

The two major battles fought during Phase I occurred at or near Prek Klok on 28 February and 10 March. However, there were other occurrences and sizable engagements during this period which are worthy of mention.

On 26 February a company of the 3d Brigade, 4th Division, west of Route 22, engaged the 3d Battalion, 271st Viet Cong Regiment, in the latter's base camp. The company was completely surrounded and another company came to its relief. Eleven enemy were killed with U.S. losses 5 killed and 19 wounded.

Two days later the 173d Brigade northeast of Katum found what appeared to be the public information office for psychological propaganda of the Central Office of South Vietnam. In an underground photographic laboratory the troopers found 120 reels of motion picture film, numerous still photographs, and pictures and

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busts of Communist leaders. This discovery proved to be one of the major intelligence coups of the war.

On the following day, 1 March, a battalion of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, sweeping in the same general area as the location of the COSVN military affairs section, found what appeared to be a school and propaganda center. There were light, office-type huts, a mess hall, two dispensaries, and sleeping quarters, but no fighting positions. Among the items taken were a loudspeaker system com-plete with speakers and amplifiers, material for making identification cards, and a bag of documents.

On 3 March a company of the 173d Brigade made contact with an estimated enemy company east of Katum. In an intensive fire fight in which the enemy used small arms, automatic weapons, and M79 grenade launchers, and which lasted only thirty minutes, the enemy lost 39 killed and the U.S. 20 killed and 28 wounded.

On 6 March the 173d Brigade made airmobile assaults with its three battalions into three landing zones located one, three, and six kilometers south of Bo Tuc (on Route 246 southeast of Katum).

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The brigade was searching for the COSVN military intelligence bureau reported to be located south of Bo Tuc. During the next seven days of search and destroy the battalions made sporadic con-tact, killing about 40 Viet Cong.

Having completed its participation in the hammer operation, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (-) had tuned west on 26 February to continue search and destroy in the 25th Division's operational area. On 6 March the two squadrons of the 11th Armored Cavalry began a sweep along the Cambodian border. The sweep was to cover a zone extending 1,500 meters from the border and was to start four kilometers southwest of the point where Route 22 hits the Cambodian border in the north and was to end at Lo Go. The sweep would include all the border in the "Little Elephant's Ear" proper. Just after noon on 11 March one troop was brought under small arms, automatic weapons, RPG2, and recoilless rifle fire from an estimated Viet Cong company at six kilometers northwest of Lo Go and within 200 meters of the Cambodian border. The enemy was in well-prepared positions with fortified bunkers and an extensive trench system. As friendly fires and air strikes increased, the Viet Cong were trapped on the near bank of the river which marks the border at this point; heli-copter gunships kept the river under surveillance to prevent escape into Cambodia. During the night the position was kept under con-tinuous illumination by flareships and under artillery and mini-gun fire from the flareships. However, the enemy slipped away during the night, leaving twenty-eight dead behind. The reason for the stiff resistance became readily apparent the next morning. Located in reinforced concrete bunkers fifteen feet underground were two large, electrically powered Chinese printing presses weighing nearly a ton each. Manufactured in Shanghai in 1965, each press had an hourly output of 5,000 printed sheets measuring 17 by 24 inches; the presses also had cutting and folding attach-ments. A further search yielded several barrels of lead printer's type as well as thirty-one individual weapons. The presses were airlifted to the 25th Division's base camp. Indications were that the presses were being utilized by the COSVN propaganda and cultural indoctrination section.

The Phase I operations started to wind down beginning 12 March. On the 14th the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, turned over responsibility for the security of Prek Klok Special Forces Camp, the old French Fort, and Route 4 to the 196th Brigade. Colonel Marks commenced repositioning his forces and prepared to relieve the division's 2d Brigade of its Revolutionary Development mis-

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sion so the brigade could participate in JUNCTION CITY II. On 15 March the 173d left the operational area and reverted to control of II Field Force; on the same day the 11th Cavalry (-) terminated its participation. At midnight on 17 March Phase I officially came to a close. The enemy had lost 835 killed, 15 captured, 264 weapons, and enormous quantities of supplies and equipment.

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