- Chapter XIV:
- VINH LOC and PHU VANG I
- Two operations of the Vietnam
War, VINH Loc and PHU VANG, illustrate how the Vietnamese paramilitary
forces were combined with U.S. forces in activities aimed at the
destruction of the Viet Cong infrastructure. The U.S. Army has a long
history of operations with the regular military forces of allies.
However, the extended association of U.S. regular units with
indigenous paramilitary organizations was new to the Army and required
a succession of innovations in many aspects of operations.
- The World War II association
of U.S. units with the Philippine Constabulary (a paramilitary force)
paralleled the situation with the Vietnamese paramilitary forces.
However, the Philippine Constabulary had been inducted into the U.S.
Army Forces, Far East, a few months before the war, and the command
relationship was therefore relatively uncomplicated.
- As U.S. armed forces, other
than advisory groups, joined the Vietnamese conflict, they were
superimposed on the existing Vietnamese military structure. The U.S.
units began operating in areas assigned to the Vietnamese corps
tactical zone commanders, who had subdivided their areas among their
assigned divisions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. This
arrangement, of course, created problems of area responsibility and
co-ordination. To complicate these problems further, the provincial
(sector) and district (subsector) political partitions of the country
had several indigenous paramilitary organizations under the control of
the province and district chiefs.
- In addition to the need to
integrate all units into combat operations, there was a compelling
requirement to train the indigenous forces to do the jobs themselves.
Major General Melvin Zais, commander of the 101st Airborne Division
(Airmobile), in his debriefing report outlined the problem and its
- It became apparent from the
earliest days of my command that in order to insure a lasting success
in our operations against the enemy forces in Thua Thien Province the
troopers of the 101st Airborne Division must fight side by side with
the GVN [Government of Vietnam] forces. To this end every
- operation of any significance
was a combined operation with 101st Airborne units and 1st ARVN
Division and/or Province units. To insure close coordination US and
ARVN command posts were co-located for operations, and liaison was
established with the 1st ARVN Division headquarters and regimental
headquarters, Province headquarters and every district headquarters in
- This collocation of units,
together with the concept of "tactical areas of interest,"
insured co-ordination between forces. In the long run the system
served to strengthen the South Vietnamese forces, including the
paramilitary units. It proved to be tremendously effective as American
commanders worked with the Vietnamese commanders to increase the
competence, confidence, and aggressiveness of indigenous troops.
- Vinh Loc Island is
approximately twenty-five miles long and three miles wide at the
widest point. It is situated in Thua Thien Province along the coast of
the I Corps Tactical Zone fifteen miles east of Hue. Before the 1968
Communist Tet offensive, the island was relatively secure under
South Vietnamese government control and the 50,000 inhabitants were
unmolested by the Viet Cong. During Tet, however, the attention
of allied forces was diverted away from areas such as Vinh Loc to more
populated areas. This diversion allowed the enemy to infiltrate, gain
control of the island, and use it as a haven. As a result, many of the
- During the spring and summer
of 1968 several one- and two-day operations were conducted to destroy
the enemy force. Each resulted in enemy losses but failed to uproot
the Viet Cong infrastructure. An analysis of these efforts revealed
that a longer operation using available Vietnamese resources together
with U.S. forces was needed to clear the island. A combined planning
group was therefore established consisting of the province and
district chiefs, Vietnamese Army commanders, U.S. advisers, and the
commanding officers of the 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
(Airmobile), and the 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry. The 2d
Brigade was commanded by Colonel John A. Hoefling, and Lieutenant
Colonel Jim I. Hunt commanded the 501st Battalion. The plan developed
by this group called for a combined operation to conduct a soft cordon
on the island. The soft cordon differed from a normal cordon operation
in several respects. Most significant were the emphasis on combined
operation, the limited use of firepower in order to keep property
damage and civilian injury at a minimum, and the slow, painstaking
searches by the sweeping and cordon forces.
- Phase I of the plan consisted
of positioning the ground blocking forces on D minus 1 (10 September
1968) in such a way that the enemy would believe that all the activity
was just an extension of normal operations. Company D, 1st Battalion,
- conducted an operation in the
northwestern part of the island to force the enemy toward the
southeast. Concurrently, the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 54th ARVN
Regiment moved into blocking positions along the northeastern shore of
Phu Vang District to add depth to the river patrol on the estuary
between Vinh Loc and Phu Vang.
- Phase II began on D-day (11
September) at first light when the naval forces surrounded the island.
Immediately thereafter, the 3d Troop of the 7th ARVN Cavalry conducted
a reconnaissance in force from the northwest into Vinh Loc District to
prevent the enemy's escape and to force him into the cordon. With all
blocking forces in position, units of Task Force 1-501 and 1st
Battalion, 54th ARVN Regiment, air-assaulted into six landing zones
along the seaward shore. From these positions the two battalions began
reconnaissance in force operations to the southwest into the blockade
established by the 2d and 3d Battalions, 54th ARVN Regiment, and the
naval forces. The 922d and 955th Regional Force Companies, previously
positioned in their zones between the two battalions, conducted
similar sweeps. These maneuvers were quickly executed and were
completed on D-day. During the night, the operation involved maximum
illumination and engagement of enemy forces attempting to escape the
island by water.
- Phase III began on D plus 1
(12 September) and continued to the end of the operation on 20
September. This phase consisted of continuous reconnaissance in force
activities, saturation patrols, "eagle flights," and night
ambushes by all units in assigned areas of operation. The plan was to
conduct methodical, detailed searches and to react immediately to
combat intelligence gained, while maintaining the cordon around the
- Indigenous paramilitary forces
were used extensively in order to take maximum advantage of their
capabilities. The two Regional Force companies were assigned their own
areas and conducted operations alongside the ARVN and U.S. rifle
companies. Popular Force platoons were positioned with each
company-size tactical unit to take advantage of their knowledge of the
terrain and the local population. Twenty-four members of the National
Police Special Branch, 100 members of the National Police Field
Forces, 30 men organized into Armed Propaganda Teams, and a 7-man
detail for census grievances were spread throughout the tactical
elements to question and control the population. This arrangement
insured that South Vietnamese government representatives were with all
units, thus minimizing misunderstandings with detainees and allowing a
meaningful initial screening of the people.
- A central collection point was
established where prisoners of war and detainees could be held.
Fourteen National Policemen of the district were responsible for the
security and handling of suspects
ARVN SOLDIERS AND U.S.
brought to the collection
point. Near this facility was a Combined Intelligence Center, where
representatives of all U.S. and Vietnamese intelligence agencies were
located. Through the workings of a combined staff, the initial
interrogation produced information that was used within minutes. The
Provincial Reconnaissance Units (ten 12-man teams) reacted immediately
to exploit specific intelligence, and People's Self-Defense Forces
were used wherever possible in searching the villages. In one village,
twenty members of the People's Self-Defense Force joined ten U.S.
troopers in a combined air assault in reaction to intelligence.
- The Vietnamese at the Combined
Intelligence Center were quick-witted and capitalized on available
opportunities. For example, helicopters carrying 231 suspects landed
at the interrogation center between 0100 and 0230 hours on 12
September. The landing zone was dusty and noisy, and the suspects were
considerably confused. As the helicopters were unloaded the suspects
were given directions such as, "All members of K4B Battalion over
here, 0117 Company over there." Accordingly, sixty-three of the
suspects lined up as directed. The district S-2 then asked the
suspects to identify other members of their units who had not followed
the instructions. In this way, more prisoners were identified.
- The over-all operation was
extremely successful. Before the operation began, two enemy companies
reinforced with hamlet guerrillas were estimated to be in the area. At
the completion of the operation, enemy organizations were virtually
ineffective and the regular U.S. and ARVN forces were replaced by
Regional and Popular Forces. Subsequently, two revolutionary
development teams returned to the area and continued their work with
no further interference.
PRISONERS OF WAR ARE TAKEN
TO COLLECTION POINT
- The VINH Loc operation was
followed by Operation PHU VANG I in an area near the Vinh Loc district
boundary. The operational area was approximately one kilometer east of
Hue city and included parts of three districts. The area within the
cordon, approximately twenty-nine square kilometers completely
surrounded by navigable waterways, was along the primary infiltration
route into the city.
- During the four months before
the operation, numerous contacts were made with two- to five-man enemy
groups. The enemy was active, employing numerous mines and booby traps
along the canal on the north and east of the eventual cordon. The area
was known to have a strong and deeply rooted Viet Cong infrastructure.
The civilian population feared the Viet Cong and as a result they
tried to avoid all allied forces and seldom gave information about the
enemy. Under these circumstances, a prolonged operation including a
detailed search of the area was needed. Calling on the experience
gained on Vinh Loc Island earlier in the month, planning was done by a
combined staff and envisaged the use of all available U.S., ARVN,
province, and district resources.
- The operation included three
phases. Phase I began on D-day (27 September 1968) with all forces
conducting diversionary operations to deceive the enemy and, if
possible, to force him into the cordon area. Task Force PHU VANG and
Task Force HUONG THUY moved into assigned areas just east of Hue early
in the morning. Colonel Hunt's 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, was
placed in the area north and northeast of the cordon, while Task Force
2-17 moved into blocking positions on the southern edge of the cordon
to seal off escape to the south. In the meantime available naval
forces screened adjacent waterways, and a composite battalion of the
54th ARVN Regiment swept from the southeast toward the cordon area.
- Phase II called for most of
the available forces to move overland and close into blocking
positions around the cordon area by 0730 hours on D plus 1 (28
September). Company A, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, air-assaulted
into its blocking position. Shortly thereafter, 2d Battalion, 54th
ARVN Regiment, air-assaulted into two landing zones in the western
portion of the cordon, swept to the east to engage any large enemy
force encountered, and detained all suspicious persons.
- The final phase began on D
plus 2 (29 September). All forces conducted detailed searches within
their areas, rapidly exploiting new intelligence.
- In execution the operation
went as planned with one exception. Information obtained through
interrogation of detainees early on 27 September indicated that the
enemy would attempt to withdraw from the cordon to the east before
blocking positions could be established in the area. Consequently, the
cordon was closed immediately instead of waiting until 28 September.
- Once again maximum use was
made of available indigenous paramilitary forces. Regional Force
companies participated in the operation in their own assigned areas.
Popular Force platoons served as blocking forces and contributed their
knowledge of the area and local population. National Police Field
Forces, Police Special
- Branch, Provincial
Reconnaissance Units, and Census Grievance Teams were spread among the
tactical forces to assist in the initial screening of the people and
the questioning of the detainees. They also worked at the Combined
Intelligence Center, processing information gained from detainees for
- Although the immediate
tactical results of these two battles were impressive, the long-term
results of the VINH Loc and PHU VANG I operations were even more
significant. Viet Cong control was replaced by South Vietnamese
government control and a new environment of stability. U.S. and ARVN
tactical units were replaced by Regional and Popular Forces and
eventually People's Self-Defense Forces.
- The VINH Loc and PHU VANG
cordons are excellent examples of combined operations conducted on a
basis of co-ordination and cooperation between the forces of two
countries. These soft cordon operations were characterized by
surprise, combined planning, combined operations and intelligence
centers, minimum destruction, population control, rapid reaction to
intelligence, and detailed searches. The combined tactical operations
center, where the operational representatives of all elements were
located, was essential for these operations. Normally the commanders
were also at the combined centers. This system enabled better
co-ordination, control, and planning and achieved unity of command.
- The Combined Intelligence
Center also contributed significantly to the operations.
Representatives of all intelligence agencies-U.S., Vietnamese,
military, paramilitary, and civilian-participated in the interrogation
system. This practice insured that the resources of each agency were
used to the best advantage and the unique abilities of each of the
forces in the cordon area were exercised without delay to exploit
intelligence as it became available.
- Another significant aspect of
the soft cordon was the limited supporting fire. This precaution was
necessary because of the presence of friendly units and individuals
inside the cordon. Strict fire discipline had to, be imposed on all
participating units, but civilian casualties and property damage were
kept at a minimum because of it.
- The success of the VINH Loc
and PHU VANG operations came from many factors: soft cordon tactics,
combined planning, combined operations and intelligence centers, and
the widespread integration of South Vietnamese paramilitary units and
civilian agencies into U.S. formations. These combined operations, in
addition to defeating the enemy, had a lasting effect on the area.
They uprooted the Viet Cong infrastructure in Vinh Loc and Phu Vang
and contributed significantly to the confidence and aggressiveness of
the Vietnamese forces.
- page created 15 December 2001
Return to the Table of Contents