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Battle of the Slopes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of the Slopes
Part of Operation Greeley and Vietnam War
Troops of the 173rd Airborne during Operation Greeley (Battle of Dak To, 1967).jpg

Troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade during Operation Greeley (Battle of Dak To, 1967)
Date20-22 June 1967 [1]
Location
Result PAVN victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States.svg
United States
Flag of Vietnam.svg
North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
John R. Deane Jr. Unknown
Strength
Two Companies, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment 6th Battalion, 24th Regiment
Casualties and losses
78 killed US body count: 475 killed[2], but only 10 could be verified[2]

The Battle of the Slopes was the site of an engagement between elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate), nicknamed "Westmoreland's Fire Brigade" and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) units, as part of Operation Greeley.

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  • ✪ Culp's Hill - Ranger Jim Flook

Transcription

Contents

Prelude

The 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) was among the first U.S. formations deployed to Vietnam, and was intended as an elite, rapid-reaction force meant to counter PAVN infiltration into the Central Highlands.

The battle occurred around Đắk Tô Base Camp, part of MACV-SOG operations intended to surveillance and gather intelligence on the Ho Chi Minh Trail on supplies flowing into South Vietnam. In 1967 mortar units begun shelling the Dak To Base Camp, intending to draw US forces to assault PAVN positions within the Central Highlands.[3] Western Kon Tum was covered by double and triple-canopy rainforests, and the only open areas were filled in by bamboo groves whose stalks sometimes reached eight inches in diameter.

On 20 June, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment discovered the bodies of a Special Forces CIDG unit that had been missing for four days on Hill 1338 (14°36′00″N 107°46′34″E / 14.6°N 107.776°E / 14.6; 107.776), the dominant hill mass south of Dak To. With mortar fire and ambushes ongoing around the Dak To base camp, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, a highly-mobile team intended to rapidly deploy across the Central Highlands, was quickly alerted to respond.[1]

Battle

Two companies of the 2nd Battalion were airlifted onto a steep hill near Hill 1338 on June 21. The two companies had set up camp for the night, intending to assault the top of the hill later in the day. During this time, a scout sent out on night reconnaissance was shot and killed, while one US sentry accidentally killed a GI who had momentarily stepped out of the perimeter to relieve himself.[2]

At 06:58 the following morning, Company A began gradually moving up a ridge finger. A patrol from Company A had stumbled upon a PAVN squad, opening fire before withdrawing.[2] Within minutes an ambush was triggered by a platoon-sized group[1] of the PAVN 6th Battalion, 24th Regiment and AK-47 fire came from all directions in a "grab-by-the-belt" scenario. Under attack, Company A immediately radioed for aerial and artillery support, radioing that "be advised that these people [the North Vietnamese] all got black berets on, they got AK-47s, every one of them, and they got so damn much ammunition."[2] The thick-canopy jungle had blocked the view of aerial reconnaissance units.[2] Gradually, the PAVN units mounted three assaults, closing in each-time on Company A's position.[2]

Around noon, Company C was ordered to move in to reinforce Company A. However, PAVN forces later redeployed and entrenched alongside both sides of Company C's position while the heavy vegetation and difficult terrain made movement extremely difficult. Artillery support was continually rendered ineffective, while US forces failed to spot enemy positions. Company C became badly mauled thereafter by PAVN forces as well until night-time when PAVN shooting died down. The night of June 22, PAVN forces went around and shot wounded US forces[2]. Company A managed to survive repeated attacks throughout the day and night, but the cost was heavy. Of the 137 men that comprised the unit, 76 had been killed and another 23 wounded. A search of the battlefield revealed just 9 or 10 PAVN dead.[2]

Aftermath

Initial actions at Dak To intending to lure US forces to deploy and attack PAVN positions were a hall-mark of PAVN strategy. Similar to the Plei Me campaign, initial mortaring and skirmishing actions were conducted to lure in a bigger attack or rapid reaction force, with a subsequent ambush conducted to destroy the attacking US forces. Following further deployment of larger US forces for reinforcement, PAVN forces would melt away.

Regarded as a more elite, rapid-reaction force, the 173rd Airborne Brigade had lost an entire company to a well-placed ambush by a platoon-sized PAVN force.[1] Lack of overwhelming aerial support, artillery support and fire-power had rendered these two forces more or less on equal footing, with the advantage shifting to PAVN entrenchment and small-unit tactics.[2]

A search for PAVN dead, made after the battle to justify US soldiers killed, was a disappointment. The search revealed just 9 to 10 PAVN dead in shallow graves. General William Westmoreland would later inflate this number to 475 PAVN dead, declaring "too late it's already been sent out" when questioned about the authenticity of the number.[2] The battle was reported to Saigon press agencies as a victory, due to the secondary number being used.[2] See discussion on body count.

This engagement was part of a spike of PAVN activity to draw US forces into the Central Highlands, with another battle, the Battle of Dak To resulting a few months later. These two battles would exact a heavy toll on the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which was rendered combat-ineffective and withdrawn from Vietnam for the entirety of 1968.[4]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Murphy, Edward (2008-12-24). Dak To: America's Sky Soldiers in South Vietnam's Central Highlands. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 56–62. ISBN 9780307518767.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (2017-09-05). The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 198–202. ISBN 9781524733100.
  3. ^ Neil Sheehan (26 May 2017). "David and Goliath in Vietnam". New York Times.
  4. ^ "Airborne Operations", in The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Spencer C. Tucker, ed. (ABC-CLIO, 2011) pp. 96–100
This page was last edited on 25 November 2019, at 05:16
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