AFTER ACTION REPORT - THE BATTLE FOR A SHAU


GENERAL SITUATION:

The A Shau CIDG Camp had the primary mission of border surveillance and interdiction of infiltration routes into its assigned area of operation. The Camp was located south west of HUE and approximately five kilometers east of the Laotian border at coordinates YC 494834. Because of its location near three major infiltration routes leading from Laos east into the A Shau-Aloui Valley the camp was continuously harassed by small Viet Core elements with small arms fire prior to the large scale attack which began on 9 March 1966. The only local population that existed prior to the attack were an unknown number of secretive and hostile KATU Tribesmen who were either Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers. The occupants of Camp A Shau never made friendly contact with the KATU. The weather on 9, 10, 11, and 12 March included a heavy cloud cover and ground fog during the early morning hours, with ceilings less than 2,000 feet. The attack took full advantage of bad weather conditions to hinder tactical air support, reinforcement, and resupply attempts. Elephant grass reaching 8 to 12 feet high covers most of the valley floor around the camp, therefore, observation from the ground and air is very difficult and detecting movement of even large units is practically impossible unless they are detected while moving on trails in the valley. On the east side of the airstrip and the south side of camp were old mine fields that were overgrown with dense, high grass, which could not be cut because of the danger to friendly forces.

The friendly situation prior to the attack was as follows: Patrols on 18-19 Feb and 24-25 Feb captured enemy documents that indicated Camp A Shau was under enemy reconnaissance pending an enemy attack. On 5 March a reconnaissance patrol consisting of 30 CIDG and 2 USASF was dispatched 2 kilometers south of Camp A Shau, and no contact was made. On 6 March a company size patrol was dispatched. The mission of this patrol was to move southwest of camp A Shau and be prepared to attack and destroy a suspected enemy position in this area. These positions were detected by an overflight aircraft on 5 March 1966. This patrol was planned for a 2 day operation. In the meantime, however, 2 NVA defectors had turned themselves in at Camp A Shau and indicated that four battalions of NVA planned to attack Camp A Shau on 11 or 12 March and that heavy infiltration into the valley was continuing. Based on this information the patrol was recalled to Camp A Shau to improve the defensive posture of the camp. The patrol returned with negative enemy contact. On 6 March a reconnaissance patrol was dispatched approximately 2 kilometers northwest of Camp A Shau with the mission to reconnoiter a suspected enemy mortar position. This patrol was unable to locate the position and returned to Camp A Shau with negative contact. Since Headquarters I Corps had disapproved repeated requests to reinforce the camp, Detachment C-1 requested and received a reinforcement from the 5th SFG Mike Force in Nha. Trang. On 7 March at 1640 hours one Mike Force Company consisting of 141 Mike Force, 7 USASF and 7 Interpreters arrived to improve the reconnaissance and defense capability of the camp. Patrols were initiated approximately 1 to 2 kilometers north, south, and northwest of the camp with the mission of confirming the locations of reported NVA troop positions. These patrols returned with negative contacts and negative information of any enemy activity. In conjunction with these patrols night ambush patrols were dispatched in all directions around the camp area and resulted in no enemy contact. During the period 4 thru 8 March daily overflight aircraft were requested and received. These overflights detected numerous weapon positions, freshly dug personnel positions, and anti-aircraft emplacements. This confirmed information received from the 2 NVA defectors that a definite buildup of a large unit was in progress. Tactical airstrikes were requested and received on these positions; however, assessments of these strikes were virtually impossible because of dense foliage and heavy ground fog. On 7 March a leaflet drop was conducted in conjunction with a loudspeaker broadcast encouraging more enemy personnel to defect with the theme that all defectors would be well treated and moved to a secure location. On the evening of 8 March the Camp's strength was as follows: 220 CIDG, 141 MIKE Force, 9 Interpreters, 41 Civilians, 6 LLDB, 17 USASF.

The sequence of events during the attack, evacuation, and escape and evasion were as follows:

On 8 March, the night before the attack, the camp commander placed the camp on general alert, since he considered an attack imminent. All personnel remained in their defensive positions. At approximately 1930 hours a squad of enemy was observed on the north end of the camp, and was fired on with mortars. At about 2300 hours the camp was alerted by digging noises heard south of the camp. At about 0130 hours a claymore mine was fired in the direction toward which wire cutting sounds were heard. Then, at approximately 0350 hours on 9 March the camp began receiving heavy 81mm mortar fire which continued until 0630 hours. A probe of about 2 NVA companies was initiated on the south wall at approximately 0430 hours. They were met with heavy fire and fell back at no loss in additional friendly casualties. The initial barrage of mortar fire was extremely accurate and caused heavy damage to the USASF team house, supply room, water storage, and contributed to the temporary loss of communications with all outside installations. Communications were reestablished through LLDB channels at approximately 0800 hours and through US channels at approximately 0920 hours. Casualties resulting from the 3 hour mortar barrage were as follows: 2 USASF KIA, 5 USASF WIA, 25 CIDG WIA, 7 Mike Force KIA, 14 MIKE Force WIA, 1 Civilian KIA, 3 Civilians WIA. After the mortar barrage stopped, sporadic sniper fire continued resulting in 1 Civilian KIA, 1 Civilian WIA, and 3 CIDG WIA. Sniper and mortar fire continued throughout the day.

At 1100 hours on 9 March an airstrikes:e was received north and south of the camp. Because of heavy ground fog the FAC could not observe the target, so bombs were initially dropped from above the clouds and were adjusted from within the camp by sound. All airstrikes were discontinued at approximately 1506 hours due to low ceilings. At approximately 1015 hours the camp requested emergency resupply of ammunition and medical evacuation of all wounded. At 1100 hours two L-19 aircraft landed to evacuate seriously wounded personnel. However, these aircraft began receiving intense ground fire and were able to evacuate only 1 USASF (MSGT ROBERT I. GIBSON). At approximately 1300 hours an AC-47 aircraft arrived over the camp area. This aircraft was flying northwest to southeast and received intense anti-aircraft fire while flying down the valley. The aircraft attempted to circle east of the camp and again received heavy anti-aircraft fire from the high ground to the east. At this time the ground fire was very accurate and the aircraft crashed approximately five kilometers north of the camp. Three of the crewmen were rescued by helicopter and three were KIA. At 1415 hours a load of ammunition and medical supplies were air dropped by CV-2 just outside the camp area. It was retrieved by a party from the camp. At 1630 hours another load of ammunition was air dropped by C-123, a part falling outside the camp area. Approximately 50% of this resupply was not recovered because of heavy ground fire on the recovery team. At 1700 another resupply drop from a CV-2 aircraft landed both in and out of camp. Also about this time an H-34 helicopter landed inside the compound to evacuate casualties. It was heavily damaged by sniper fire on the approach into the camp and was unable to lift off. One more medical helicopter, an Air Force CH-3 which had been called in, evacuated 26 casualties prior to darkness. As darkness fell personnel were deployed in defensive positions in anticipation of ground assault during the night, and work continued to repair damaged defensive positions caused by mortar attacks. Those portions or the airdrops that had fallen outside of camp were retrieved. At approximately 2000 hours a flare ship arrived over the camp and provided continuous but limited illumination throughout the night.

At 0400 hours 10 March the camp again began receiving intense and extremely accurate mortar and 57mm recoilless rifle fire which battered almost all remaining buildings to rubble. This heavy fire continued throughout the entire day in varying intensity until the camp was eventually evacuated at 1730 hours. The 57mm fire rapidly destroyed approximately fifty percent of all crew served weapons. At 0500 hours a massive ground assault was initiated on the east wall from across the runway, and on the south wall, the most vulnerable side due to the tall grass. At approximately the same time defense of the southeast corner of the camp collapsed as CIDG company 141 ceased all effective resistance. The remainder of the east wall occupied by Mike Force and two Americans initiated fire against the enemy within the camp who had taken part of the east and south walls and temporarily halted their advance. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting continued for almost 3 hours until those friendly forces on the east wall were isolated from the rest of the camp, drawing heavy machine gun and small arms fire from front and rear. When the south wall was taken at about 0800 hours the retreating personnel withdrew to the vicinity of the communications bunker and the north wall. They were joined about 0830 hours by survivors from the east wall. The examples of outstanding courage, self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and leadership of the defenders were so widespread as be commonplace.

At 0600 hours the camp had requested airstrikes and targets were hit in the immediate vicinity north and south of the camp. Those strikes were effective but an assessment could not be made due to the heavy ground fire within the camp. At 0830 hours only the north wall and the communications bunker were still held. About this time the enemy initiated an assault to secure the communications bunker but was unsuccessful because of the heavy volume of fire delivered by the defenders. The one remaining 81mm mortar and 60mm mortar continued to fire but were destroyed prior to 1200 hours.

At 0900 hours airstrikes continued and inflicted heavy casualties on the NVA entrenched in the south wall, however, no exact figures of enemy casualties could be made. The remaining USASF and Mike Force personnel, led by Captain David BLAIR, made several assaults to reoccupy the south wall but these attempts were unsuccessful.

At 1000 hours the "A" detachment commander requested the entire camp, except for the communications bunker and north wall, be bombed and strafed. Between 1000 and 1200 hours the airstrikes continued, inflicting heavy casualties, and discouraged any further assaults on the communications bunker and the north wall by the North Vietnamese forces.

At 1215 hours a CV-2 aircraft dropped another resupply of water and ammunition However, all of this fell into the enemy controlled portion of the camp. At the same time an AlE aircraft crash landed on the airstrip, shot down by heavy anti-aircraft fire from the many AA positions in the valley. The pilot was immediately picked up by another AlE which landed on the strip.

Between 1215 and 1400 a heavy exchange of small arms fire continued, and the communications bunker sustained several near hits from a heavy caliber weapon. It should be noted that enemy 81mm mortar fire had continued uninterrupted throughout the attack.

At 1415 hours the enemy was observed to be massing on the east side of the airstrip, presumably for another assault on the east wall. (This is the wall where the front gate is located). Airstrikes were immediately called on this target, and heavy casualties were sustained by the enemy, causing them to disperse. The assault failed to materialize. However, the VC continued to pour intense fire into the camp.

From 1430 to 1630 hours the situation of the defenders deteriorated gravely. Almost all friendly crew served weapons were destroyed. Very little ammunition remained. No food and water had been available for 36 hours. No further offensive capability existed due to the strength of enemy forces entrenched in the Camp.

At 1500 hours a decision was made by III MAF Headquarters to commit Marine helicopters to support the evacuation of the garrison. The camp was therefore immediately instructed to destroy their weapons and SOI's and prepare to evacuate by helicopter at 1700 hours.

At 1700 hours all communications equipment and SOI's had been destroyed and personnel occupying the bunker withdrew under fire to the north wall and took defensive positions with the remaining force. Friendly forces on the north wall covered this withdrawal by fire.

At 1720 hours personnel were ordered to evacuate the camp by moving north to a helicopter landing zone approximately 300 meters outside the wire. All able-bodied Americans and the remainder of the Mike Force stayed behind to fight a rear guard action but the enemy laid heavy fire down in the helicopter pickup area and inflicted many casualties. The rescue element consisted of 15 H-34 helicopters in flights of 4 supported by 4 HU-1B gun ships and tactical air, which had remained over the camp area. Some of these helicopters were unable to come in, however, due to low ceiling. At the helicopter pickup point the Vietnamese personnel panicked and mobbed the aircraft. Abandoning their wounded and throwing down their weapons the Vietnamese personnel fled from the camp, trampling [censored in source], USASF, who was providing fire support. At the aircraft they fought to get aboard and at one point threw a wounded USASF soldier [censored in source] off the aircraft. One helicopter piloted by Lt Col HOUSE, the 163rd HMM Squadron Commander, was so overloaded that it could not initially takeoff. All efforts to throw the panic-stricken and hysterical Vietnamese personnel off the under carriages were fruitless. By this time the tail rotor was damaged and the helicopter had to be abandoned. Due to the uncontrolled actions of the indigenous people and the mounting intensity of heavy ground fire, the rescue helicopters were only able to lift out 69 personnel that first day, including four wounded Americans. Two H-34 helicopters were destroyed during this operation. By 1745 hours all friendly personnel had left the camp who could do so and C0, Detachment C-1, declared the camp closed.

At approximately 1800 hours all personnel not evacuated began evasion and escape action. This included seven USASF personnel, one of whom was seriously wounded; forty Mike Force personnel, fifty CIDG and the crew of two downed Marine helicopters. The wounded USASF [censored in source] died in the vicinity of the helicopter landing zone. From this time on the evasion element moved northwest and took up positions on the high ground approximately two kilometers away from the camp. At 0200 hours they moved again in a northerly direction. During this movement several men were lost because of extreme exhaustion and the difficulty of moving in the dark. On 11 March one USASF, the marine helicopter crew, and an unknown number of Mike Force and CIDG were rescued, by helicopter at different times during the day. The remaining elements continued north in the hope of being seen by friendly aircraft. Their objective in the event rescue aircraft failed to materialize was the city of HUE. The remaining Americans and some scattered groups were seen by rescue aircraft and returned to HUE on 12 March. Further air reconnaissance on 13, 14, and 15 March failed to locate any more friendly personnel and was discontinued on 16 March. The total personnel still MIA are depicted in the personnel recapitulation.

PERSONNEL RECAPITULATION

CIDGMIKE
FORCE
CIVUSASFLLDBINTERPTOTAL
Originally in Camp210143511767434
Returned1095361251186
Returned Wounded523321211101
MIA1019045516248
MIA Believed KIA407545516172

WEAPONS LOST (ESTIMATED)

100Carbines
10LMGs
5BARs
4Mortars - 60mm
2Mortars - 81mm


SOURCE
Extract from Inclosure 15 to Section II to Operational Report on Lessons Learned for Period Ending 30 April 1966, Headquarter, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces

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