CHAPTER V

The Hammer Strikes

Action proceeded in the Iron Triangle and Thanh Dien forest as the hammer continued its swing toward the anvil. On the morning of 11 January, General Seaman sent a message to the commanding generals of the 1st and 25th Divisions. After congratulating them on achieving initial surprise and on the encouraging results of the operation, he concluded by saying ". . . I want a thorough search to be made of the area of responsibility. . . . I particularly desire that the Iron Triangle be completely covered." It was in the spirit of this message that Operation CEDAR FALLS was conducted until its termination sixteen days later.

The operation was characterized by numerous small unit actions with both the hammer and anvil forces continuing to uncover increasingly large amounts of supplies. The men of the 1st and 25th Divisions searched meticulously, stripping the Iron Triangle and the surrounding area of all they could find that might be of value to the enemy. The enemy's defenses were weak and disorganized and had evidently been shattered by the mass and surprise of the attack. Mines, booby traps, and snipers were encountered, but there were no organized defenses or counterattacks. The enemy had evidently ordered units to disperse and try to escape. Because of the tight seal around the triangle, this was not always easy.

25th Infantry Division

Forces of the 25th Infantry Division continued search and destroy and search and clear operations along the Saigon River. The action was typified by company-size sweeps of assigned areas of operations. An entry in the 2d Brigade's after action report summarizes the activities of the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, on 17 January, which were fairly illustrative of the activities of the other units:

CO. A 1/27 conducted S&D [search and destroy] operations between AP NHA VIEC and the Saigon River. B 1/27 continued road clearing operations in sector. C 1/27 continued to outpost Saigon River. At 0947 hours A 1/27 destroyed one sampan, one bunker. At 1223 hours C 1/27 located 600 pounds rice. At 1350 hours C 1/27 destroyed four bunkers, and

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located miscellaneous documents. At 1515 hours A 1/27 destroyed three CBU's. At 1517 hours C 1/27 destroyed two bunkers. At 1531 hours A 1/27 located one VC KIA. At 1615 hours C 1/27 destroyed seven bunkers, six huts. At 1622 hours A 1/27 destroyed two bunkers. At 1720 hours A 1/27 destroyed two bunkers, one building, 200 pounds salt. At 2200 hours C 1/27 destroyed two sampans, two VC KIA (POSS).

The locations cited for these entries were all within one kilometer of the Saigon River in the vicinity of its junction with the Thi Tinh River.

The brigade elements also continued to work closely with the South Vietnamese 2d Battalion, 7th Regiment, in and around the village of Phu Hoa Dong.

Elements of the 25th Division continued to search the enemy base areas in the Ho Bo woods and Filhol Plantation while block-ing enemy escape routes out of the Iron Triangle. Although most enemy contacts were with small scattered groups attempting to escape, one company did engage an enemy platoon and another destroyed a sampan with thirteen Viet Cong aboard: Buddy operations employing U.S. troops and the Vietnamese 5th River Assault Group patrolled both banks of the Saigon River to help seal off the triangle.

In accomplishing its objective of denying the enemy access to the Saigon River, the 25th Division employed various tactics, as described in a news release from the 25th Division's public information office:

CU CHI, VIETNAM (IO)-Part of the 25th Infantry Division's mis-sion in Operation "Cedar Falls" was to seal off a portion of the Saigon River to all traffic. The Saigon River is a favorite escape route of the Viet Cong and the banks of the river are dotted with heavily fortified weapons emplacements.

"Tropic Lightning" soldiers used aerial observers and gunners and a waterborne force of RAG (River Assault Group) boats manned by infantry-men armed with automatic weapons and rifles. The RAG boats patrolled the river around the clock, raking the banks with their heavy firepower, while the gunships of the Division's D Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, peppered fortifications and sampans alike with aerial rockets and machine gun fire.

As the operation continued, the Viet Cong began to realize that the airborne-waterborne, one-two punch made the Saigon River a boundary they could not afford to come near, let alone cross. Even at night the river was sealed. The RAG boats used searchlights to probe the darkened shoreline, and tanks used their high intensity Xenon lights to scan the water and the aviation units used the firefly team with a 1,750,000 candlepower beam to scan both areas. With these tools, very little escaped their surveillance.

Despite the destruction and sporadic contact which were occurring, the division forces found the time and occasion for civic

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action activities, as noted in the following extracts from the after action report of the 2d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division:

11 Jan 1967 . . . 2d Bn, 27th Infantry
A MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] was conducted on the out-skirts of forward base camp and 38 patients were treated. This number is not impressive except that the people in this area had been indoctrinated by the VC that American medicine would harm them. One woman had an ill child but would not let the doctor give it medicine. Several days later this woman returned and allowed the child to be given medicine since she had seen that the medicine did not harm others who had taken it. On 11 Jan the MEDCAP also distributed candy and toys to the children.

15 Jan 1967 . . . 2d Bn, 27th Infantry
Civic Action: MEDCAP operations were again conducted at base camp, where 163 patients were treated. This, it should be noted, was a tremen-dous increase over the first day's total of 38 patients, and indicates the continued progress in gaining the respect of the local civilians.

To the north of the 25th Division's 2d Brigade, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade was conducting similar operations in its area of responsibility. Using patrols, company-size search and destroy

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operations, and periodic platoon airmobile assaults, the brigade uncovered numerous installations containing caches of enemy munitions, food, clothing, documents, and equipment. One company reported during this time that it had "engaged 14 bushes floating upstream resulting in 10 VC KIA (Possible)."

Another low-key report was submitted on 18 January by the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, and stated simply: "At 1730 hours Company A discovered an extensive tunnel complex." However, it developed that this discovery probably uncovered the headquarters of Military Region IV or at least a significant portion of it.

The tunnel system was located adjacent to the stream (the Rach Son) which marked the 196th Light Infantry's south boundary, on a narrow strip of relatively clear land between the Ho Bo woods and the Filhol Plantation. In the first few hours after its discovery, the vast complex yielded forty pounds of documents including detailed maps of Saigon and the Tan Son Nhut area, maps showing the schemes of maneuver of friendly operations in the area and Viet Cong routes of movement from the Iron Triangle area to the Saigon River.

Newsweek magazine described the tunnel discovery in these words:

Entering the shaft head first through a small hole that descended to the tunnel floor some 16 feet below, the tunnel rats spread out through the winding galleries. Soon they realized they were on to something big. In their haste to escape, the Viet Cong had left behind not only medical supplies and weapons but maps, diagrams of U.S. billets in Saigon and other plans for terrorists raids. One of the documents outlined the plan for the December 4 raid on Tan Son Nhut air base. Brigadier General Richard Knowles, commander of the 196th, was clearly convinced that his men had found the headquarters for all Viet Cong activity in the Saigon region. "This is by far the most important one yet," said Knowles last week. "This was his headquarters."

Company A, together with other elements of the battalion, searched the tunnels during the next six days. Time magazine related the story of the complex's end:

There were a few Viet Cong defenders left behind, and the G.I.s, equipped with silencer-mounted .38 pistols, pursued them through the labyrinth. After exploring the maze for 1,000 yards, the tunnel rats came up and turned the task over to units that pumped riot control agents through the system, then set about blasting it to dust.

Small villages in the area were searched and cleared. Armed helicopters, used deceptively, orbited the villages before the ground forces moved in, as described by General Knowles:

Armed helicopters proved to be extremely valuable in search and clear

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operations of villages. It was observed on Cedar Falls that armed helicopters on station would prevent the VC from fleeing the village into the rice paddies. Once armed helicopters would leave the area, it was discovered the VC would try to make their escape from the village being searched. One technique which proved successful was to have the armed helicopters leave the village area for four to five minutes. The VC, think-ing the helicopters had left for good, would then try to make their escape. The helicopters would then return and observe the VC fleeing and take them under fire.

The 196th Light Infantry Brigade terminated Operation Cedar Falls on 25 January when the last elements left the operational area and closed at their Tay Ninh base camp. The organic battalion of the 25th Division which had been attached to the 196th was released and moved overland to Cu Chi, the base camp of the 25th Division. However, the 25th Division's operations had proved so profitable that elements of the 2d Brigade continued to search the area as part of Operation ALA MOANA after the termination of CEDAR Fares on 26 January.

1st Infantry Division

On 10 January two South Vietnamese battalions relieved the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, of its security mission along the Thi Tinh River, and the squadron came under the operational control of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (and Task Force Deane) and took over the blocking assignments of the 2d and 4th Battal-ions, 503d Infantry, along the east side of the Thanh Dien forest perimeter. The following day these two battalions, under the control of Task Force DEANE turned southward.

Having been relieved of the Ben Suc seal mission by the two South Vietnamese airborne battalions on 10 January, the 1st Battalion,26th Infantry, still under the 2d Brigade, was committed on the next day to assisting in the search of the Thanh Dien forest.

1st Division forces combed the enemy sanctuary throughout the remaining days of the operation and found huge quantities of rice, hundreds of documents, and many enemy weapons and much ammunition; destroyed enemy tunnels and bunkers; and stripped trees and underbrush from roads and trails and carved out landing zones for future operations. By 12 January 1st Division forces had captured 1,800 tons of rice, 189 small arms, and 971 grenades. The 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, had located a 100-bed underground hospital complete with blankets and equipment along the north-western edge of the Thanh Dien forest.

The two battalions of the 503d Infantry attacked south into the triangle, with units of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment screening on the north and augmenting the infantry battalions in search

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During Operation CEDAR FALLS it was observed that anytime a large cache of rice had been discovered a flock of small birds had been frightened away by the approach of friendly troops. Accordingly, any time a flock of birds was noticed, a search for a rice cache was made in the area.

Only light and occasional contact continued with the enemy while the task force moved south uncovering quantities of material and numerous fortifications.

As the operation continued, the number of enemy Chieu Hoi (open arms) ralliers grew well beyond previous totals. Psychological Operations field teams effectively exploited these ralliers by printing rapid reaction leaflets containing surrender appeals from the ralliers to their Viet Cong friends. Typical of the messages dropped was one written by rallier Le Van Sa. Printed on both sides of 5x8-inch paper, 50,000 copies were disseminated in the 1st Infantry Division's area of operations:

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To my dear friends still in the VC Ranks, I am Le Van Sa, medic of the medical team of VH (MB 3011). I followed the VC by their false inducement. I found fault with our people and nation. I have gone the wrong way. But in time I found out what is right and what is wrong. I have rallied to the GVN and have been warmly welcomed, well treated. At the present time I am very happy at the CH (Chieu Hoi) Center. I also saw my family who are living in the Resettlement Center of GVN. I send to you this letter so that you too could rally to the Government side where you can start a new life and see your families. My dear friends: Hung, Rong, Tieng, Chi, Tu Dan, Minh Nhan, Tha Luong, Tam Thu. Thanh, Huyen, Lion, Thau, Mong Tieng, Ut and Gan, all of you should return to GVN as soon as possible. Staying with VC, you will have no place to hide. You can use any Chieu Hoi leaflet and take the nearest road to report to the Government or Allied Military Installations. You will be treated as we are now. There are more than 300 VC who have returned to the National Just Cause in a very short time. They are having a good living here at the CH Center. They have been well treated. My dear friends you should rally right now to avoid useless deaths. Tet is going to come very soon. Rally to reunite with your families. The door of the Chieu Hoi Center is wide open for your return.

The leaflet also bore a photograph of Sa.

In addition to these quick reaction messages directed at individual Viet Cong by name, more general messages were also dropped encouraging the Viet Cong to give up. One such message read:

To VC of South Ben Cat, the powerful GVN and Allied Forces will continue extensive operations in the area of Ben Suc and south Ben Cat. All base camps will be destroyed and the area will be subjected to continuous artillery fire and air strikes. Huge areas of jungle are being removed and there will be no safety for VC anywhere. You will no longer find shelter or supplies here, and you will not have safe base camps. All VC remaining in this area will meet inevitable death.

From 8 to 15 Jan 67, 259 of your comrades have been killed and 60 captured, and numerous other supplies, clothing and equipment have been captured or destroyed.

More than 200 of your comrades have already rallied to the GVN and are receiving good treatment. Rally now and start a new life of happiness, united with your families. Turn yourself in to the nearest government office. A government office is located in Ben Cat where you will be welcomed with open arms and given protection. Walk to any road that leads to Ben Cat-stay on the road-walk at all times-if you run your intentions may be mistaken and you may be killed. Use the sketch map on the back of this leaflet as your guide to safety and freedom. Rally now before it is too late!

On the reverse side of the 5x8-inch sheet was a map of the Iron Triangle.

Over five hundred Viet Cong surrendered during the operation, many as a result of the Psychological Operations but most because the continued presence of allied troops gave them no choice when they became hungry, wet, and out of supplies and support.

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The evacuation of civilians from Ben Suc and the other three villages in the triangle continued through 16 January. About half of the inhabitants made the journey to the Phu Cuong resettlement camp in Chinook helicopters or South Vietnamese Navy craft down the Saigon River. After the road from Ben Cat to Ben Suc via Rach Bap was passable, the other 3,000 traveled by truck convoy. This unprecedented mass evaucation, executed on short notice, required a tremendous effort by U.S. and South Vietnamese military and civilian agencies; but it would be weeks before the latter could restore a sense of normality to the evacuees. Eventually they would have their own village with its school, raise their own crops with access to the Saigon markets, and have much-needed medical assist-

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ance available. Meanwhile, a source of supply and support for the Viet Cong had been eliminated.

By 14 January the forces of the 1st Division were starting grad-ually to wind down CEDAR FALLS. However, before they did, the Blue Spaders of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, moving to the northwest of Ben Suc, uncovered one of the more highly developed and strongly built enemy complexes to be found in the area located less than one kilometer from the Saigon River. This is the descrip-tion of it contained in the after action report of the Big Red One's 2d Brigade:

Building #1 was approximately 9 feet wide by 18 feet long and 10 feet below the surface of the ground. The building had cement on all four sides and flooring about 5 inches thick. The only overhead protection was afforded by sheets of tin. On the northwest corner was a bunker with no overhead protection. Beds and tables were on the floor.

Build #2 was approximately 9 feet wide by 12 feet long and 10 feet below the surface. It had concrete identical to Building #1. Overhead cover over one-half of the structure consisted of 5 inch logs and 3 feet of packed dirt. There were no fighting positions located near the building and beds were located on the 1st floor and on top of the overhead protec-tion. Building #3 and #4 were exactly identical to building #2.

Bunker #5 located north of the camp and connected by tunnel to build-ing #3 had overhead protection of 5 inch logs and 3 feet of packed dirt. There were four firing apertures, each 2 inches high and 4-6 inches wide and each could cover an area over 100m wide to the front.

The second level tunnel going north was made so that at every 10-15m it came to a dead end; and a trap door on the floor connected with a tunnel which went down, around and back up to the other side and on the same level with the fake dead end. There were two small holes in the dead end permitting one man to observe and fire through the tunnel.

On 17 January the 2d Brigade ended its participation in CEDAR FALLS. By 18 January the 3d Brigade had withdrawn. Task Force DEANE terminated CEDAR FALLS on 25 January while the 1st Squad-ron, 4th Cavalry, continued road security in the triangle for the departing engineer work parties. At midnight, 26 January 1967, the operation came to a close.

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