Blue Max In Vietnam
2d Battalion 20th Artillery Lineage
The 20th Artillery insignia shows a red background crossed diagonally by a gold bar. On the bar is a red diamond. At the bottom of the shield is a scroll with the battalion motto, “Duty Not Reward.” The red is the traditional color of the artillery. The 20th Artillery won the right to bear the golden bar on the shield for its part in breaching the Hindenberg Line in 1918. The red diamond is the same design as the shoulder patch of World War I’s 5th Division, to which the 20th Artillery was organic. The motto typifies the spirit of the artilleryman.
The 20th Artillery was constituted June 3, 1916, as the 20th Field Artillery in the Regular Army. The regiment was organized June 1, 1917, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, as an element of the 5th Division. On September 5, 1921, the unit was inactivated at Camp Bragg, North Carolina.
The 20th Field Artillery was relieved from its assignment to the 5th Division on October 16, 1939, and activated June 1, 1940, at Fort Benning, Georgia, and concurrently assigned to the 4th Division (later the 4th Infantry Division). The unit was reorganized and redesignated as the 20th Field Artillery Battalion on October 1, 1940. The battalion was inactivated February 13, 1946, at Camp Butner, North Carolina. It was activated again on 6 July 1948 at Fort Ord, California and was inactivated 1 April 1957 at Fort Lewis, Washington, and relieved from assignment to the 4th Infantry Division.
Redesignated 22 August 1957 as Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Field Artillery Battalion, 20th Artillery with the organic elements concurrently constituted. The battalion was activated October 15, 1957, in Korea and concurrently assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. The unit was redesignated the 2nd Rocket Howitzer Battalion, 20th Artillery, on July 1, 1960. It was redesignated 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery, on September 1, 1963. On July 1, 1965 the battalion was transferred (less personnel and equipment) from Korea to Fort Benning , Georgia, and reorganized. The 3rd/377th was redesignated the 2nd Aerial Rocket Artillery Battalion 20th Artillery on July 1, 1965.
A discussion of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery of the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) cannot comprehensively depict the impact of this unit without first looking into its illustrious past. The 2nd/20th has long since proven the versatility and adaptability of the artillery to meet the ever-changing demands of the infantry in its conquest of the enemy. From its onset, the 2nd/20th has pioneered totally new concepts of the artillery’s role in providing lethal fire support, which combined with infantry tactics smashes enemy units.
In World War II the artillery found itself faced with the perplexing problem of supporting airborne infantry units. This totally new concept involved many challenges for the artillery and the 377th Field Artillery Battalion (to be redesignated 2nd/20th in 1965) met them head on. After long months of extensive and exhausting training, the 377th readied itself to assume the role of an airborne unit. In May of 1943 this proud Battalion made the First American Airborne Artillery jump, with the determination and fortitude of the 377th ending in success.
The 377th, on 6 June 1945, D-Day, jumped into Normandy in support of the 502nd Airborne. The 377th fought from northern France to southern Germany with such valor that the infantry units it supported and the enemy forces it battled could never forget. The 377th was awarded many Campaign Streamers and World War II Decorations. The challenge of the Airborne Concept for the artillery had been met and overcome.
The advent of the helicopter gave birth to a whole new tactical environment. In 1963 the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was formed at Fort Benning , Georgia to develop and test the concepts of Air Mobility. The artillery was called upon to develop tactics and techniques that would greatly enhance the capability of this airmobile unit. The 3rd/377th Field Artillery Battalion, with its gallant past, was once again called upon to pioneer an entirely new concept that evolved around the helicopter, and employed under direct fire support by use of aerial rockets.
In 1964 the 3rd/377th, as part of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), found itself confronted with the challenging mission of developing these tactics and techniques. The arduous task of testing, training, and evaluating began in June of 1964 and terminated a year later in June of 1965. In so doing, the 3rd/377th gave birth to the First Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) unit the world had ever known. ARA extended the range of the Division Artillery and dynamically strengthened its ability to provide extremely close fire support; often less than 50 meters from friendly positions.
The 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery has campaign participation credit for St. Mihiel and Lorraine (1918) in World War I and for Normandy (with arrowhead), Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe in World War II.
The battalion received the Belgian Fourragere, 1940, for action in Belgium (cited in the Order of the Day for the Belgian Army) and for action in the Ardennes (cited in the Order of the Day for the Belgian Army). In Vietnam the unit received the Presidential Unit Citation (streamer embroidered PLEIKU PROVINCE) and the Valorous Unit Citation (streamer embroidered TAM QUAN).
Major General E. B. Roberts, division commander, affixes the Valorous Unit Streamer to the colors of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery at Phouc Vinh. The unit was recognized for its extra-ordinary heroism while engaged in military operations during the period December 6-10, 1967 at the battle of Tam Quan. Award was presented at the change of command ceremony 24 July 1969 when LTC Jack Schnibben turned over the battalion colors and command to LTC Max Bunyard.
The Battalion Commanders of the 2nd Battalion (Aerial Artillery), 20th Artillery from its activation on 1 July 1965 till its inactivation 10 April 1971 were as follows:
Battalion Deactivated at Fort Lewis, WA on 10 April 1971
The stand down of the Battalion and its assets began in March 1971. Bravo battery completed its stand down on 24 March. Several of the members of Bravo battery received Foreign Service tour curtailments and departed for Bien Hoa. The remainder of the battery was reassigned. Alpha battery was fully committed at the scheduled time of stand down consequently the orders were canceled.
The 31st of March 1971 was the last day for BLUE MAX as an operational battalion. On 1 April, Alpha battery became part of the 1st Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group. Charlie battery was assigned to the 1st of the 21st Artillery battalion on 30 March with the mission of supporting the 3rd Brigade, the 1st Cavalry Division’s residual Brigade in Vietnam. On 1 April, Headquarters and Headquarters battery began the actual work of stand down. Although 25 March was the official date stand down was to commence, operational commitments made it impossible to accomplish them as originally scheduled. Stand down was completed on 9 April 1971 and the color guard departed Vietnam for Fort Lewis, Washington, to retire the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery colors. Two aerial field artillery batteries stayed on to continue the traditions that had been established from five and one-half years of combat.
Blue Max Insignia And Call Sign
ORDER POUR LE MÉRITE
Order For Merit
(THE BLUE MAX)
The Order Pour Le Mérite (Order For Merit) was established in 1667 as the Order de la Générosité by elector Frederick who later became the first King of Prussia. In 1740 Frederick The Great renamed the order Pour le Mérite. King Frederick William III revised the order in 1810, and from then until 1918 it was awarded only for outstanding valor on the battlefield. In 1810 it was made an award for exceptional military merit against an enemy in the field, but later, a Civil Class was added for art and science. Nicknamed the “Blue Max” after German aviator Max Immelmann in World War I, the medal was the equivalent of the American Medal of Honor
In World War I, this was the highest German award for individual gallantry in action. Emperor Wilhelm II bestowed it on officers of Prussia and other German states. The “BLUE MAX” was awarded for heroism to 78 Army and Navy aviators and was worn around the neck.
In 1968 the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery (ARA) adopted the call sign of BLUE MAX. By the end of 1968 the Battalion helicopters were known through-out the 1st Cav as “Blue Max,” a fitting tribute to pilots and crewmen whose skill and daring at least matched that of the World War I flying aces with whom the award originated. The battalion as a symbol adopted the blue Maltese Cross on the original medal.
The Vietnam Environment
It is important when reviewing the historical perspective of the Vietnam War that one understands the environment in which this war took place. All too often people refer to the Vietnam War as to what happened during the 1960’s and 70’s. In reality, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in 1950 when President Truman on July 26, 1950 signed legislation granting $15 million in military aid to the French for the war in Indochina. Thus, we are talking about a 25 year protracted involvement. Vietnam, as I recall my first impressions when I first set foot in Vietnam at Bien Hoa airbase in September 1965, was a beautiful country which showed no major strains of warfare other than blown bridges and a few remnants of gunfire marks on some of the buildings. Cars and trucks were traveling on the major highways; people working in the rice fields without fear of being attacked and a general peaceful environment appeared to exist. Perhaps this was an illusion as the Vietnamese had become so use to counterinsurgency warfare as it had been on-going in their country for decades that this was now their normal way of living. Vietnam has been a battlefield for centuries. As such, it presented to the newcomer a totally different impression than one would have expected just entering into the war zone. As we quickly learned, observations can be misleading as the situation, as we well remember, was drastically changed by the Viet Cong ambushes and night attacks, tactical and strategic bombing, defoliation, artillery and mortar attacks, and the usual destruction that is associated with war activities. The beautiful countryside and numerous productive rubber plantations Northwest and Northeast of Saigon plus other major activities in other parts of Vietnam soon became a wasted landscape ravaged by war.
In order to provide a top-level view of the environment, it is necessary to look at the situation from several different perspectives. While there are numerous approaches that could be followed to accomplish this, I have elected to synopsize the environment from six different vantage points: geographic; culture; American misperceptions; Viet Cong and North Vietnam forces; Ho Chi Minh Trail; and, South Vietnamese leadership. All of these had a very direct bearing on how the war was carried out and each had its own implication in respect to decisions being made at the highest level of governments in Hanoi, Saigon and Washington. In preparing this section of the book I have conducted research on these various perspectives, have utilized numerous direct extracts of the research material, and have credited the authors through the endnotes. I have attempted to provide a balanced view on what was written by the various authors in these areas. By far, based on those books and material that I reviewed, three of the authors appear to be well versed and articulated very clearly the situation as they saw it first hand or had an opportunity to interview the key participants on both sides of the war. Those three authors are Stanley Karnow, General Bruce Palmer and Jeffrey Clarke. All three provide, in my opinion, a very balanced and objective look at the history of the Vietnam war as well as providing some very detailed specifics of why things happened as they did. An accurate portrayal of the Vietnam War requires the widest possible horizons, for even among those who served there, time and space circumscribed their vision.
Vietnam, geographically, is a mixture of rugged, unexplored jungle and cultivated riceland that had sheltered man since almost the dawn of measured time. The country totals approximately 66,000 square miles - about the size of Georgia or Alabama - the land of South Vietnam formed an upright crescent some 700 miles long, with a width of about 40 miles at the slender top slowly growing to approximately 120 miles at its broader base. In the northern and central portions of the country, steep, heavily forested mountains and hills marched east from the Laotian and northern Cambodian borders almost down to the sea, broken up in a few areas by small pockets of coastal lowlands. There, in scattered communities along the coast, lived most of the Vietnamese people of northern and central South Vietnam. Inland, steep mountains and deep valleys were interrupted only by the central plains, or “Highlands,” of mid-South Vietnam, actually a broad, isolated plateau region inhabited chiefly by primitive mountain tribesman. In the southern third of the country the mountains finally gave way to a hilly, rolling plain that rapidly flattened out into the wide low deltas of the Mekong River , heavily laced with streams, canals, dikes, rice paddies, and home for most of the people of this agrarian land. The climate was generally tropical and hot by European standards, temperatures averaging somewhere in the eighties (Fahrenheit), with seasonal variations caused by two monsoonal wet seasons.
The geographic configuration of South Vietnam and the nature of its road and railroad system—the main roads and the single railroad running generally parallel to the coast—added up to a major vulnerability. Enemy forces based in the remote border and mountainous areas did not have far to go to reach the populated coastal plains. Using the river and land routes available, these forces had rapid and easy access to the population centers, main roads, and railroad lines that they could readily attack in any number of vulnerable places.
Indochina, as its name implies, became the locus for competition between Asia’s two great civilizations, India and China. Merchants and missionaries from both countries converged on the peninsula, promoting commerce, religion, language, art and customs. India left its mark on Laos, Cambodia, and even as Far East as Champa, a kingdom that flourished in central Vietnam until its destruction by the Vietnamese; China imposed its imprint on Vietnam, which was insulated from India’s sway by topography.
Due to a lack of census every being taken in South Vietnam there was almost a complete lack of knowledge of the number, characteristics and distribution of the South Vietnamese population. However, what is generally known is approximately 85 percent of the inhabitants were ethnic Vietnamese, and the remainder divided about equally among the native Highlanders, or Montagnards (various mountain tribes of Malayo-Polynesian stock); the Khmer, or ethnic Cambodians; and the nonindeigenous Chinese. Buddhism was the nominal religion of about 80 percent of the inhabitants, leavened by some 1.5 million Catholics and an assortment of local sects. Vietnamese culture was derived primarily from China, including the traditional social, economic, and political patterns based on the extended family system, intensive rice farming, and an authoritarian government. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship also came from China, but Western culture had made major inroads through French colonial administration and Roman Catholic proselytizing. Vietnamese society was, in fact, in a state of transition. Although the average Vietnamese lived in the rural countryside as farmers, fishermen, and small artisans, most had some property and education and were noted for their energy, resourcefulness, and ambition. While their primary loyalties were to their families and the lands they worked, their lives were inevitably linked to the larger villages, towns, and cities by a complex of trails, roads, and waterways; by a growing “transistor radio” communications system; and by their own strong personal bonds with relatives and neighbors who had left the rural hamlets for other occupations. Of the 20 percent or so urban dwellers, over half lived in the capital, Saigon, a major port just north of the Mekong Delta, and the rest were scattered in smaller coastal communities to the north and south.
Most South Vietnamese considered themselves well off and culturally and economically superior to their Southeast Asian neighbors. Vietnamese ethnocentrism had its roots in a history, two thousand years old, whose major themes were the successful resistance of the Vietnamese people to foreign domination and a continuous expansion to the South.
Vietnam is an old country and it is one whose history holds precedents for both unity and division. The culture of Vietnam is Chinese in almost every respect, and its language, literature, and arts reflect an overwhelming Chinese influence. Although Vietnam’s thousand years of firm Chinese rule ended in the tenth century, its governing system—rule by an emperor and his court, with mandarins at province and district levels—remained Chinese until the French occupation in the late nineteenth century. The mandarins, or civil officers, achieved their rank through a Chinese-style examination system more or less open to all classes. This system held the country together in two ways: socially, for mandarins were recruited from villages throughout the country, maintained life-long relations with their homes, and returned to their native villages in retirement or death; and formally, by substituting for a feudal structure a system of provincial and district chiefs appointed from the court. 
The religion of the average Vietnamese is a mixture of Confucian ancestor worship, Taoism, and Mahayana Buddhism. There are some Theravada Buddhists in Saigon, but contrary to some assumptions, they are largely confined to the Cambodian minority. Although in a few areas Mahayana monks have developed relatively strong organizations, it would appear that the Mahayana Buddhism of most Vietnamese is weak: pagodas are often in poor repair, the largest pagodas in Saigon are quite small, and many villages seem to have little or no religious teaching. It is this vacuum in organized spiritual strength into which the Hoa Hoa Buddhist sect, the Cao Dai, the Catholics, and the Communists have flowed. The Cambodian Theravada Buddhists also form much more organized and resistant communities.
Two of the major misperceptions by the Americans, which had a long-term impact, were the strategic and tactical significance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the lack of good leadership within the South Vietnamese government throughout the period that America was involved in the South East Asia war.
There was almost a complete lack of knowledge—not only among the American people but in academia and government as well—about the geography, the history and the culture of Vietnam. As Sun Tzu had predicted, Americans would pay dearly for their ignorance.
In his assessment about the American Strategy in Vietnam and where we went wrong, General Bruce Palmer, Jr. described the three major mistakes the Americans made. The first two of these deal directly with the misunderstanding of the Vietnamese people and their culture. General Palmer identified the first major mistake as South Vietnam, comprising Cochin China, centered about Saigon, and Annam, centered about Hue, lacked political and social cohesion, having no history or tradition as a unified nation or as a united people. Leaders were scarce and generally came from the privileged class. The second major misstep in the U.S. strategy was the people in the southern part of Vietnam are more like the Laos and the Cambodes, peaceful people very different from the more aggressive and militant people in the Red River Delta. The Montagnard region in the Central Highlands was a distinct political and sociological handicap to Saigon. The Montagnards are a primitive, tribal people subsisting on a marginal basis, moving frequently in the wild forests of the region, and using “slash and burn” techniques to carve out new temporary home sites. The Vietnamese suspect their loyalty and do not trust them. There is no love lost between the two ethnic groups. And third, the United States seems to share a common weakness of Western democracies, an inability to inculcate in people the kind of determination and almost religious zeal which communist countries have achieved.
General Palmer also highlighted some other misperceptions or misjudgments. He sighted the facts that the United States badly misjudged the situation in Vietnam. The extent of subversion from local to national levels we did not fully realize. When U.S. ground combat forces were committed in 1965 we were quite aware of the outward manifestations of near collapse—a demoralized, defeated army and a staggering economy-—but we did not comprehend the depth of the Viet Cong insurgency in certain areas. We could see only the tip of the iceberg. We also greatly underestimated the Viet Cong and the NVA, particularly their staying power. They had an extraordinary ability to recuperate, absorbing heavy casualties in numbers unthinkable to us, replacing people, retraining and reindoctrinating them, and then bouncing back. We underestimated the will, tenacity and determination of the Hanoi regime. North Vietnamese leaders were playing for keeps, believing that their ends justified the use of any means. They bought in terms of generations; the longer the war continued, the more persistent they became. Their will to persist was inextinguishable.
The war in South Vietnam had its peculiar difficulties: First, it borders on a Communist country, which acts as a sponsor and sanctuary and is ethnically identical to South Vietnam; second, Red China’s and the Soviet Union’s competition for leadership of the Communist world revolution tended to escalate active support for this war, to the point of making it a test of what ideologies and tactics are most usable against the free world; third, the terrain and demographic environment lend themselves to guerrilla warfare (as did in Malaya and the Philippines), and because of the contiguous Communist country, there was a much higher potential for persistence and violence; fourth, the Communist infrastructure, originally embedded in a nationalist popular movement against the French, had been established for twenty or twenty-five years.
Stanley Karnow in his book, Vietnam: A History describes some of the misperceptions that were made by the American leadership. President Johnson eventually failed because he misjudged the enemy’s capacity to withstand pain, believing there was a threshold to their endurance. Paul Warnke, an assistant secretary of defense, stated that… “the trouble with our policy in Vietnam has been that we guessed wrong with respect to what the North Vietnamese reaction would be. We anticipated that they would respond like reasonable people.” President Johnson narrowed his options to only one option—war. He was not blind to the tragedy. But he closed his eyes to the possibility of other alternatives and seemed to have persuaded himself that his plight was inevitable. As he told his press secretary, Bill Moyers, “I feel like a hitchhiker caught in a hailstorm on a Texas highway. I can’t run. I can’t hide. And I can’t make it stop.”
Stanley Karnow talked with General Maxwell Taylor shortly before his death in 1987 and General Taylor admitted that the involvement in Vietnam had been both a blunder and a lesson. “First we didn’t know ourselves. We thought that we were going into another Korean war, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn’t know our South Vietnamese allies. We never understood them, and that was another surprise. And we knew even less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy, know our allies, and know ourselves, we’d better keep out of this kind of dirty business. It’s very dangerous.”
VIET CONG and NORTH VIETNAM FORCES
The term Viet Cong is a pejorative term meaning literally Vietnamese Communists. The Americans of South Vietnamese did not universally understand the Viet Cong force structure and tactics, especially in the early years of the conflict. Failing to grasp the nature of the total threat, U.S. leaders initially perceived the major threat to be an overt, across-the-border invasion by North Vietnamese or Chinese forces, and were slow in recognizing the serious threat posed by subversion, infiltration, and guerilla warfare.
Many normally well-informed persons still believe that a Communist guerrilla movement like the Viet Cong is something spontaneous – halfway, let us say, between a misguided patriotic society and a nationwide game of cops-and-robbers. From their first obscure guerrilla origins, however, the Viet Cong was a second government of South Vietnam. Furthermore – and here is the important point – this clandestine Communist second government had fiscal, economic, manpower and other problems that plague any normal government. Since this is also a government at war, the VC second government’s biggest problem was naturally to recruit, equip and maintain its armed forces. This has always been the biggest problem, and its difficulties caused the Viet Cong to gamble in late 1963 after the coup d’etat against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
South Vietnam in the summer of 1963 was a country in which every province had its own civil war, with the Saigon government controlling a good many villages and the province capitals, with the VC second government controlling a good many other villages, and with troops of both sides in the field everywhere. By that time, there was a Viet Cong provincial battalion of about 500 men operating in each of Vietnam’s 43 provinces. There was a Viet Cong district company of about 150 men operating in each of at least 250 of the administrative districts into which the provinces are subdivided. And in each of several thousand VC-controlled villages and hamlets, there was a Viet Cong guerrilla band of 20 or 30 men to maintain local discipline and to harass friends of the established government in neighboring villages and hamlets. All these VC soldiers – about 50,000 in the local forces and 110,000 in the guerrilla bands, or approximately 160,000 men in all – had to be paid and armed and kept supplied with ammunition and much other material, and all but the minority of strictly part-time guerrillas had to be provided with rations as well. Salaries and rations also had to be found for tens of thousands of Viet Cong in essentially civilian occupations, ranging upward from humble couriers and tax collectors, through secret policemen and the personnel of the medical services, to the awe-inspiring members of the Communist Party’s central committee for South Vietnam in their remote jungle lair near the Cambodian border. The Viet Cong between January, 1964, and the early spring of 1965 wrung from the unhappy villages enough men and resources to increase the VC main forces to 24 regiments, complete with porter battalions, or the equivalent of eight army divisions.
Until 1964 the VC had always worn two masks – one to deceive people abroad, the other for the South Vietnamese themselves. For foreign eyes, they had worn the mask of an indigenous movement of social discontent. However, as early as 1965, Le Duan, now first secretary of the Communist party of North Vietnam, had gone south to make preparation for the beginning of the guerrilla war, with the aid of many thousands of cadres whom the Communist government in the North had ordered to go underground in the South when the French war ended in 1954. From Le Duan’s arrival onward all the higher direction of the VC had come from Hanoi. The northern Communist government had also provided large quantities of military equipment and had secretly sent further tens of thousands of cadres to the South to aid and guide the struggle there. But all this was hidden well enough that those who wished could go on claiming that this was “just a civil war.” The other mask, worn to deceive the simple people of South Vietnam, was vastly more important and valuable to the VC. This was the mask of amiable agrarian reformers—the same mask that the Chinese Communists had worn with such success until they got control of China. Until the 1964-65 time frames, the VC wore this mask with great success, thereby gaining solid popular support in their “liberated areas” and seriously softening up every contested area. It was during this time that they promised the peasants, again and again and with utmost emphasis, that there would be no VC taxation and no VC conscription. These promises were kept until the year 1964.
In Mr. Alsop’s paper on Why We Can Win in Vietnam, he describes the strategic situation very well in the 1963 -1965 time frame in respect to what the Viet Cong (VC) objectives were and what were the “guerrilla rules” they were abiding by at the time. He further describes how the VC began to “break” the guerrilla rules and what this mistake caused the Americans to capitalize on. Had President Johnson not intervened with ground troops in the 1965 time frame, it is Mr. Alsop’s opinion that the VC movement would have won the war by end of 1965. I feel it is worth incorporating a general discussion on this particular situation because that was the environment that the U.S. troops were confronted with in this particular time frame when the first major U.S. elements were committed to combat in mid to late 1965. Also, it explains why certain decisions and actions were taken at that time.
First, there are certain “guerrilla rules” from the rulebook that was written by Chairman Mao Tse-tung and General VC Nguyen Giap that need to be identified. Because it was these rules that were violated by the VC that caused President Johnson and General Westmoreland to take certain actions in the 1965 time frame which had a major impact on not only the infusion of thousands of American troops but also the philosophy in which the war would be pursued. Clarification of rules and impacts for breaking them are described in more detail in the endnotes to this document. Some of those rules were as follows:
The situation was such in the spring of 1965 that the VC had gained a significant hold on South Vietnam and was successful in most of their encounters with the South Vietnamese army. Throughout the spring almost the whole South Vietnamese army was firmly pinned down in the provinces by the urgent requirements of local defense. Also, most of the South Vietnamese army’s slender mobile reserve, 13 South Vietnamese ranger and Marine battalions were also being chewed up by new main-force regiments. By mid-June, after the bloody fight at Dong Xoai , about 60 miles from Saigon, only three of the government’s reserve battalions remained in good combat trim. The VC was continuing to build their forces and had strong reserves. This situation meant that the VC could now win province by province by concentrating in heavily superior force wherever they chose to do so. Thus, it appeared that the war was about won for the VC. It was at this time, based on the intelligence reports and recommendations coming from General Westmoreland, that President Johnson ordered the commitment of U.S. ground troops on a big scale. This came as a big surprise to the VC. It was the combination of air power and US ground troops that were needed to counter the serious situation that existed in South Vietnam at this time in the war. Neither could do it alone.
The VC rather than follow their rule of “advance and retreat” and pull back into a low-level guerrilla activity, elected to fight head-on with the U.S. forces. In October of 1965 after the battle at the Pleime Special forces post and the 1st Cav Division fight in the Ia Drang valley, no one could any longer believe the VC intended to pullback to the typical guerrilla warfare type activity.
Recognizing that the VC had well-established main-areas or War Zones, General Westmoreland elected to utilize the Strategic Air Command to bomb these areas in order to preclude the VC main units their safe haven or enclaves from which they could work out of to replenish their forces as well as administer whatever needs were called for at the time. The B-52s, with their 500-pound bombs, were utilized to destroy, as best they could, the VC main-base areas. The bombs could penetrate the fortification tunnels some 30 feet under the ground. It should be noted that even with this capability, the B-52s were not completely successful in destroying the underground tunneling because of the depth and the maze of ant-like construction. But what this did do was to cause the VC leadership to issue orders for their main-force regiments to spend no more than one night or at least two nights, in the same place. Thus, through this action another rule of the VC guerrilla warfare was discarded. Some Americans even today do not understand the rationale for the large amount of bombing by the B-52s in South Vietnam. This account attempts to explain that rationale and I, for one, personally can verify the significant and positive results of this type action in helping the ground troops to achieve their ground objectives.
By precluding the VC from having their safe haven of the main-base areas this caused them to be on the move continuously therefore allowing their movements to be picked up and recorded. Thus, another basic rule of guerrilla warfare was violated. Through the increased intelligence, General Westmoreland mounted successful attacks against the VC prior to their long planned attacks. With the U.S. troops in country, this also allowed the concept of “search and destroy” to be implemented. This again, creates major problems in implementing guerrilla warfare when you, as the guerrilla, cannot pick the time and place to attack. In these situations, the VC had to go on the defensive in order to survive.
There was increasing evidence by November 1965 that North Vietnam was continuing to send their North Vietnam regulars to South Vietnam in increasing numbers. General Westmoreland’s staff revised their estimates at this time and projected a continuous growth of the enemy main forces in South Vietnam at the rate of two regiments per month until the end of 1966. This meant that the main VC forces, which had strength equivalent to 10 divisions when President Johnson committed U.S. troops, were now projected to grow to strength equivalent to about 18 divisions before New Year’s Day 1967. This new projection caused considerable turmoil and panic in Washington. No one wanted to hear this kind of news. Out of this panic grew the President’s peace offensive, the pause in the bombing of the North, and other manifestations. All of this helped renew the Hanoi leaders slumping faith in their basic theory of American weakness of will. There started at this time the lack of U.S. support for the Vietnam effort. The stability of the South Vietnamese government and the President’s hesitant and intricate methods of war-making, combined with the manifestations of the war’s senatorial and other critics, had deprived the U.S. soldier of the absolute confidence in their support at home that American troops in combat always ought ideally to have.
North Vietnam maintained an unwavering consistency in driving toward its basic political aim of not only reunifying and communizing all of Vietnam, North and South, but also subjugating and communizing the rest of former French Indochina, which is, Laos and Cambodia (now Kampuchea). For Hanoi, the struggle was a test of will rather than of strength, and that end justified any means. Only the United States stood in the way, and so Hanoi’s second objective was to eliminate American influence through humiliating defeat, by imposing unacceptable political, economic, social, and military costs on the American people. To this end, the North Vietnamese mobilized world opinion against the United States and turned public opinion at home against the war by inflicting maximum U.S. casualties. They exhausted American patience by prolonging the conflict and raising the cost in dollars and material resources. They also painted the U.S. effort as an immoral, illegitimate, and unlawful war against the weak, small country (North Vietnam) seeking to unify its people under one government.
HO CHI MINH TRAIL
The Ho Chi Minh Trail, which threaded through southern Laos and northeastern Cambodia into the highlands of South Vietnam, was not a single track, but a complex web of jungle paths. Aboriginal tribes who had inhabited the area for centuries, hunting its tigers, elephants and other wild beasts, had carved out the paths in their migrations, and for millennia they had also served traders, as caravans of coolies transported gold and opium from China to the cities of southeast Asia. The Vietminh had used the Ho Chi Minh Trail as a communications link in the war against the French and, in the initial stages of the southern insurgency, it became the route through which North Vietnam infiltrated cadres as well as modest shipments of arms, ammunition and other materiel to the Viet Cong. Later it grew into a highway.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was North Vietnam’s strategic key to the Vietnam War, for it gave the north a decisive logistic and tactical advantage. Logistics - arms, ammunition, gasoline, food and other supplies – are the sinews of war, and when North Vietnam decided in 1959 to conquer South Vietnam by force of arms, one of its first considerations was how to infiltrate soldiers and supplies into the south.
As early as May 19, 1959 North Vietnamese General Vo Bam was ordered to begin construction of an infiltration route into the south. Taking advantages of existing trails, General Bam and a 30,000-man work force expanded and improved these trails into a major road network. Spurs were also constructed off the main trail into base areas, such as the A Shau Valley in I Corps and the Ia Drang Valley in II Corps, and into War Zone C in III Corps.
There were two other infiltration routes used earlier to support the Viet Cong in the South. In mid 1960’s to 1970 there was a south to north supply line from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville. From oceangoing cargo ships supplies would be transported by truck through Cambodia to NVA base areas along the Cambodian-Laotian borders. This route was interdicted by the secret bombing of Cambodian base areas in 1969 (Operation Menu) and closed completely when Cambodian General Lon Nol deposed Prince Sihanouk in 1970. Another supplement to the Ho Chi Minh Trail was infiltration of troops and supplies by small boats – junks and sampans – from the South China Sea into the coastal inlets and inland waterways of South Vietnam. The U.S. Navy’s Operation Market Time beginning in March 1965, too, drastically reduced this infiltration. As these alternate supply routes dried up, the Ho Chi Minh Trail became even more critical to North Vietnam’s success.
By the spring of 1964 North Vietnamese troops were mobilized for deployment in the south, and their units were laced with southern Vietminh veterans to guide them in the unfamiliar area. In order to furnish the force with hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons, ammunition, food and the other necessities vital for major battles, the Hanoi high command set in motion a vast and ambitious scheme to turn the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a modern logistical system. The immense project, which began in the middle of 1964, continued until hostilities ceased a decade later. Its architect was Colonel Dong Si Nguyen, who was to become minister of construction in Hanoi after the war, and he spared no expense. He brought in engineer battalions equipped with up-to-date Soviet and Chinese machinery to build roads and bridges that could handle heavy trucks and other vehicles. Anticipating the likelihood of relentless American bombings, he erected sophisticated antiaircraft defenses. He dug underground barracks, workshops, hospitals, storage facilities and fuel depots – further precautions against air raids – and platoons of drivers, mechanics, radio operators, ordnance experts, traffic managers, doctors, nurses and other personnel were recruited to support the North Vietnamese army in the field.
In 1964 northern regulars were headed down the enlarged trail, and the first complete North Vietnamese tactical units followed them before the end of the year. Throughout 1964, an estimated ten thousand North Vietnamese troops went south – a trickle compared to the numbers three years later, when they were pouring into South Vietnam at the rate of twenty thousand or more per month. The Communists had added a new and significant dimension to the struggle. Henceforth, in their view, there could be no substitute for military victory: the strategy that had succeeded against the French would work again. As General Vo Nguyen Giap asserted at the time: “The most correct path to be pursued by the people to liberate themselves is revolutionary violence and revolutionary war…. Only by revolutionary violence can the masses defeat aggressive imperialism and its lackeys, and overthrow the reactionary administration to take power.”
The Ho Chi Minh Trail in addition to its logistical advantage also provided a tactical advantage – the advantage of “interior lines.” Interior lines, by virtue of location, permit a belligerent to move faster than its adversary does to any given point on the battlefield. South Vietnam is shaped like a bow, with the coastal lowlands, where the majority of north-south transportation networks are located, representing the bow. The relatively straight Ho Chi Minh Trail represented the bowstring. Using the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the spurs leading off into critical areas of South Vietnam, NVA forces could move more quickly than their South Vietnamese counterparts do. From 1965 to 1973 U.S. inter-theater airlift and helicopter mobility negated this advantage, but after the U.S. withdrawal the realities of geography came back into play. The NVA was able to concentrate its forces more rapidly than the South Vietnamese could react. The Ho Chi Minh Trail proved to be the road to victory.
The American air strikes directed against the Ho Chi Minh Trail did not slow down the traffic from the north to the south. Hundreds of American aircraft bombed the Laotian routes every day, their missions facilitated by electronic detection devices and other sophisticated gadgets. Covert teams of South Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, many led by American officers, were infiltrated into the region to provide the American bombers with information on enemy activities. Even so, the raids barely dented the southward movement of either Communist troops or supplies. Nor were the U.S. airstrikes  effective against the infiltration of North Vietnamese combat divisions into the south. Though the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail grew in intensity, American intelligence experts estimated that the annual infiltration rate soared from thirty five thousand in 1965 to one hundred and fifty thousand by late 1967. And most of the North Vietnamese who died while making the march were victims of dysentery, malaria and other diseases rather than U.S. bombs.
SOUTH VIETNAM LEADERSHIP
In any war it is vitally important that national leaders, civilian and military, have a fundamental understanding of the capabilities and limitations of military power. Likewise, it is also of vital importance that the leadership has public acceptance and support of the war. In achieving the latter requires a consensus of understanding among the populace that the effort is in the best interests of the country. This consensus comes from the people perceiving there is a clear threat or need for the war to be fought.
In the case of the Vietnam War the leadership of North Vietnam had this consensus whereas for the United States it did not. The leadership of the United States was, for the most part, constantly trying to build this cohesion among the American people throughout the entire involvement.
Stability of leadership is also another key element when involved in a war. I believe it can be said that only North Vietnam experienced stable leadership over this 25 year struggle. While the U.S. leadership at the presidential level was stable, so to speak, over the period, the other major players within the U.S. government tended to change from time to time. Certainly the U.S. Ambassadorship in Saigon was a musical chairs situation in periods of critical situations. But, the most perplexing leadership problem for the United States was the lack of sound leadership of not only sound leadership not only at the highest level of Saigon government but also the poor leadership in some of the more demanding military commands of the South Vietnamese forces. There were exceptions in some of the military commands such as LTG Do Cao Tri, III Corps Commander who, unfortunately, was killed in a helicopter crash in the Delta.
On June 16, 1954 Ngo Dinh Diem was selected by Bao Dai to serve as the Prime Minister of South Vietnam. This was shortly after the French had been defeated at Dienbienphu on May 7, 1954. After Diem’s return to Saigon in July, General J. Lawton Collins, President Eisenhower’s special envoy traveled to Saigon to affirm American support for Diem, including $100 million in aid. On October 23 1955, Diem defeats Bao Dai in a referendum, becomes chief of state, and proclaims the Republic of Vietnam with himself as President effective October 26, 1955. In February 1962 the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) under General Paul D. Harkins was formed. The U.S. Ambassador at that time was Ambassador Frederick E. Nolting. Both General Harkins and Ambassador Nolting were firm supporters of President Diem. However, the debate over Diem’s capacity to govern South Vietnam effectively was mounting. In August 1963 Nolting was replaced in Saigon by the well known Massachusetts Republican, Henry Cabot Lodge, who promptly joined the anti-Diem faction led by the under secretary of state, Averell Harriman. Ambassador Lodge quickly succeeded in alienating key U.S. officials in Saigon, especially General Harkins. The Kennedy administration soon became committed to the overthrow of Diem without having thought through the likely consequences. On 2 November 1963, President Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu were assassinated in Saigon, and Vietnam plunged into a prolonged state of disarray.
Diem’s successors continued to squabble among themselves; the regime would be revamped seven times in 1964, even though the same faces reappeared like a reshuffled pack of cards. With each change, the government’s authority dwindled, and its influence further declined with its inability to check the Vietcong’s progress on the battlefield. Late in January 1964, a thirty-seven-year-old field commander, General Nguyen Khanh, toppled the junta that had ousted Diem only three months before. As regimes rose and fell in Saigon, nothing alarmed American strategists more than the prospect of a change that would bring to power South Vietnamese leaders prepared to reach an accommodation with the Communists.
In June 1964, General Taylor replaced Lodge as the Ambassador in Saigon, Shortly after he took over he was extremely troubled with the rambunctious, unruly, and intriguing South Vietnamese leaders. General Westmoreland was perplexed as well and remarked that he found the situation “more complex than I ever visualized it would be.” After Ambassador Taylor’s first month on the job he described Khanh’s regime as an “ineffective government beset by inexperienced ministers who are also jealous and suspicious of each other.” Yet he feared that another change of authority in Saigon would be disastrous, and he clung to Khanh as America’s only hope. However, on August 25 1964, President Khanh quit as his internal opponents continued to plot against him. The military revolutionary council met the next day and created a triumvirate of Khanh, Khiem and Minh to rule until a permanent government could be formed. Turbulence persisted and squabbling continued among the leaders. Secretary of State Rusk sent a message of warning to the South Vietnamese that “…the United States has not provided massive assistance to South Vietnam, in military equipment, economic resources and personnel in order to subsidize continuing quarrels among South Vietnamese leaders.” Khanh, who had taken over as the chief of the armed forces, sent Khiem into honorable exile as South Vietnamese ambassador to Washington, and dispatched Minh abroad on a “goodwill” tour. On October 20th he proclaimed the creation of a civilian regime headed by Phan Khac Suu with Tran Van Huong as the Prime minister.
The Saigon factions, the Buddhists in the forefront, were again on the rampage. They staged demonstrations, went on hunger strikes and repeated their charge that the government still employed pro-Diem elements. Huong declared martial law and this was interpreted by Khanh and Ky to be a device to put General Minh back in power. President Johnson told Ambassador Taylor to stem the instability in Saigon. Ambassador Taylor and General Westmoreland invited Ky, Thieu and other young officers that the chronic disorder was not in their best interest in respect to continued support from the U.S. Ky and Thieu attempted to persuade Huong to retire “old guard” generals including General Minh. Huong refused to do so. On December 20th they rounded up General Minh and four other generals and flew them to confinement in Pleiku. They also arrested thirty other officers and civilian politicians and then set up an armed forces council as the real authority in Saigon, with Khanh its titular head. Ambassador Taylor frustrated to the point of despair called in Khanh and the young officers and asked them “Do you understand English?” From that point on he launched into a tirade, scolding them stating the U.S. was tired of coups. He went on to say that “now you have made a real mess. We cannot carry you forever if you do things like this.” He humiliated the young officers and had made them “lose face” – the most demeaning of experiences for an Asian. Khanh reacted angrily. Ambassador Taylor advised Khanh to resign and go abroad. Khanh replied by hinting that he might expel Taylor. By early January 1965, the Buddhists were again demanding Huong’s ouster, and Khanh saw this as a chance to advance his own ambitions. He offered to protect Huong on condition that four army officers, among them Ky and Thieu, be given cabinet posts. On January 27 Khanh was returned to power. Ambassador Taylor proposed withholding U.S. recognition from Khanh but was overruled by Washington. Taylor signaled to Khanh’s rivals that he would welcome a change. Ky and Thieu began to plot Khanh’s downfall. Saigon was referred to as the city as “the capital of the double cross.” On February 16 several battalions of troops entered Saigon occupied key buildings and encircled Khanh’s house. Khanh escaped through a back gate and got Ky to fly him to Dalat. Ky then threatened to bomb Saigon unless the conspirators capitulated in four hours. On the evening of February 19 the conspirators agreed to surrender on the condition that Khanh be dismissed and sent into exile. The next morning the South Vietnam officers voted to strip Khanh of his authority and appoint him as Ambassador-at-large. Three days later Khanh left Saigon, never to return. Ky became the Prime Minister and Thieu as chief of state. President Johnson now realized that he could not count on the undisciplined South Vietnamese.
When General Palmer took over as the II Field Force Commander in March 1967 he learned very quickly that problems existed in respect to leadership within the South Vietnamese forces. His counterpart, Lieutenant General Le Nguyen Khang, was the commanding general of III Corps and doubled as the commandant of the Vietnamese Marine Corps. General Khang had the confidence of President Thieu, to whom he was completely loyal. General Palmer got along well with General Khang except when he tried to get General Khang to speak frankly about such unpleasant things as a poor unit performance, incompetent leadership, lack of training, or corruption on the part of his ARVN forces. In III CTZ General Palmer did not have much to work with in terms of regular South Vietnamese troops. The three ARVN divisions, the 5th, 25th, and 18th were among ARVN’s weak outfits at that time; some senior ARVN leaders were incompetent and others were corrupt. In one instance the advisory group discovered that the commanding general of the 5th ARVN Division, using ARVN trucks and ARVN soldiers, was running a black market rubber business in cahoots with the French rubber plantation managers in his area. General Khang was confident of his strong political position and did not want to listen to American counsel. However, the most disturbing aspect according to General Palmer was the extent of subversion within the South Vietnamese official structure. At times the government had been penetrated all the way from the palace down to small units in the fields. When he first visited the 25th ARVN Division headquarters at Duc Hoa, the division commander would discuss only trivial matters in his office; he took me outside well away from any building, with only the two of them present. Here he explained that he strongly suspected that his own Division G2 (intelligence officer) was a Viet Cong agent; thus he did not dare discuss operational matters in his own command post. In many ARVN units, battalion and regimental commanders would issue fictitious operations orders in writing, then at the last minute issue the real orders verbally in the field. It was also apparent that in some contested areas, a certain degree of accommodation existed between South Vietnamese and local enemy forces, each operating in its own area, carefully avoiding the others’ turf. It was at times suspected that this “cooperation” might exist even to the point of sharing access to government ammunition and other supplies, at different times and by prearrangement. This baffling situation was very difficult for Americans to understand, much less accept, especially for eager, bright-eyed young officers and noncommissioned officers on duty as unit and district advisers out in the “boonies.”
Missions of Blue Max
While supporting 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) THE FIRST TEAM in Vietnam, BLUE MAX could be assigned the tactical missions of: General Support (GS); General Support, Reinforcing (GSR); Reinforcing (R); or Direct Support (DS). The Division Artillery Commander, using these tactical missions, would tailor the responsiveness of the Division’s fire support so it can best support the maneuver elements of the Division. These are standard artillery type missions assigned to field artillery units. For BLUE MAX, another term was used called Direct Fire Support. This was the term and method used primarily for BLUE MAX to accomplish its mission.
The battalion organization was designed in order to maximize the responsiveness required to meet the needs of the division combat elements requiring fire support. Designed into the organizational structure and the operational procedures was the necessary flexibility by the formation of Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) Sections. The ARA Section consisted of two cobras and four pilots. A Section of Blue Max could be dispatched anywhere and support anyone in the Area of Operation (AO). They were not restricted to any specific area or unit. When significant battles occurred in a given sector, there could be elements of all three firing batteries in support of the ground troops.
Another factor that was vital to this type of operation was the communication link-up for the battalion. In order to operate as described above we had to have continuous communication with all elements to include the ARA Sections that were on missions. In the III Corps Tactical Zone (CTZ) we established radio relay sites on the two major topographic features within this area. These were located on top of the mountains of Nui Ba Ra at Song Be and at Nui Ba Den near Tay Ninh. In this manner, the battalion S-3 had complete control over the operation of the 36 cobras assigned to the battalion for fire support. While the day to day operational control was decentralized to the firing batteries, when needed, the battalion S-3 could intercede and divert aircraft when needed to different sectors for additional support.
The organizational structure of the battalion shown below was rather straight forward. The endnote identifies the personnel manning the key positions of the battalion during My Watch (July 1969 through January 1970).
2nd Battalion 20th Artillery Organizational Structure 
The primary mission of BLUE MAX was to provide Direct Fire Support by means of aerial rockets to the maneuver elements of the division. This mission was further broken down into mission types or tasks, which spelled out the precise responsibilities of this unique battalion. The varied types of missions included landing zone (LZ) preparations, fire missions, mortar and rocket patrol and LZ extractions. BLUE MAX was also responsible for augmenting other armed helicopter units within the Division, and providing non-divisional fire support.
The first and foremost type of mission is that of a fire mission. BLUE MAX was responsible for providing immediate on-call direct fire support for ground units within the Division. Well over 90% of the requests for fire were from friendly units in contact with the enemy. The most significant reason for this was the ability of BLUE MAX to deliver extremely close and accurate direct fire support.
Another type of mission that BLUE MAX may receive would be for those of LZ preparations. These were normally of a pre-planned nature and constituted tube artillery fires being placed on an LZ prior to the arrival of friendly forces (Combat Assault). The purpose of these preparations was to kill and destroy enemy personnel and equipment thereby depriving them the opportunity of attempting to repel the combat assault. To prevent inflicting friendly casualties by our own preparatory fires, the artillery lifts or shits its fires one minute prior to the scheduled arrival of friendly forces. After the field artillery tube preparation, any surviving enemy elements have ample time to reorganize and effectively defend their position before the troop carrying helicopters land. BLUE MAX prevents this from happening by delivering lethal armament onto the LZ during this final minute. By virtue of BLUE MAX being able to physically see the target, while at the same time being capable of watching the approach of the friendly forces, BLUE MAX could effectively place fire on the LZ until the escort Cobras from the Aerial Weapons Companies was able to place the final suppressive fires on the landing zone. The escort Cobras would protect the troop carrying helicopters while BLUE MAX “preps” the LZ. In the event enemy forces were still in the area after friendly troops were on the ground, BLUE MAX was there to provide direct fire support to the maneuver elements.
BLUE MAX also performed the mission of providing security for LZ extractions. This type of mission was received when friendly forces were returning to a LZ and was to be air-lifted to another area. Because of the vulnerability of the friendly forces during this critical period of extraction, BLUE MAX would come on station to provide the necessary security. In the event enemy forces attempted to harass or prevent an extraction, BLUE MAX was there to unleash its devastating firepower against the enemy.
Frequently BLUE MAX received the mission of providing rocket and mortar patrols. These type missions were flown to reduce the probability of stand off attacks against large concentrations of Division aircraft or logistics areas such as ammunition stockpiles. These type patrols were flown over bases and installations designated by the Division G-3. Mortar and rocket patrols are a General Support (GS) type mission and constitute one Cobra from a section continuously circling such an installation during the hours of darkness. If the base came under attack, BLUE MAX was capable of rapidly locating and engaging the enemy firing positions. This type mission is called a “counter battery” mission.
Beyond these types of primary missions, BLUE MAX was called upon to augment other divisional-armed helicopter units. As such, BLUE MAX was prepared to provide security and cover for downed aircraft, security escorts for Medevac operations, security for ground convoys and unarmed helicopters, and to fly armed aerial reconnaissance patrols. Occasionally, BLUE MAX would be called upon to fly VIP patrols which are armed security escorts flown around an area or installation being visited by high ranking or important officials. Also, BLUE MAX provided non-divisional fire support when units working adjacent to THE FIRST TEAM’s tactical area of responsibility needed assistance. After arriving in the III Corps TZ, BLUE MAX provided fire support for the 9th Infantry Division in the IV Corps TZ, the 25th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the 36th Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Rangers, and the 5th ARVN Rangers located in III Corps TZ.
As noted earlier, the primary mission of BLUE MAX was to be responsive to units in contact with the enemy. Immediate response was the key to success in accomplishing this type mission. Therefore, BLUE MAX had to be in a continual state of readiness because there is no way to forecast when the infantry units would need close direct fire support, but when they do, every second counted. Consequently, BLUE MAX maintained at each of its three firing batteries the requirement to have a section (two Cobras) in the air within two minutes after receiving a fire mission. Each battery maintained a ready bunker next to the flight line. In addition, each battery was required to maintain two additional sections that were on a five and ten minute alert status. When the Division had units deployed considerable distance away from the BLUE MAX battery locations, laager sites would be activated by BLUE MAX close to the units in order to be responsive to the needs of the infantry that would come in contact with the enemy. These positions were fluid and flexible. The number of these positions throughout the Division’s area of operation depended solely on the tactical situation and the needs of the DS artillery battalions supporting the maneuver brigades. Usually, only one section would be employed to a laager site and would remain on a two-minute alert status the entire time. If the tactical situation was critical enough, further sections may be deployed from the batteries. This concept worked extremely well and greatly reduced the response time of BLUE MAX by lessening the distance a section had to fly before arriving on station.
Part of the Two Minute Crew Waiting in their Bunker for a Fire Mission
“Hot” Crew from B Battery (1969) from left to right are 1Lt Alfred Gregory Snelgrove, 1Lt Robert E. Little and CW2 Jerry G. Traynham
From the second a Blue Max battery received a fire mission everything operated with timed precision. The radio telephone operator (RTO) in the “hot” bunker yells “FIRE MISSION” as he receives it. On this command, the crews run to their awaiting aircraft with no knowledge of their mission or destination. All they knew is someone needs help and they must get there as fast as possible. They man their cobras and are on their way in less than two minutes. While they are taking off, the RTO radios to the section leader and gives him the necessary information to get the section to the target. While enroute to the target, the section leader, the Forward Observer (FO), Divarty, and the Direct Support Fire Direction Center (FDC) coordinate and prepare for Blue Max’s participation in the fire support mission.
While enroute, the section leader contacts the FO and coordinates marking of friendly positions, target identification and fire adjustment procedures. The FO will ensure that all friendly positions will be marked by smoke, colored panels, flares, strobe lights, or any means available. It is imperative that all friendly positions be marked especially the most forward elements.
The FO located on the ground will identify the target by polar plot and in so doing will give the direction in degrees and distance in meters. Clearly defined terrain features will be further implemented to assist in identifying the target area. Once friendly positions are clearly identified to the pilots, adjusting fires would begin. An ARA Aircraft Commanders checklist must be completed prior to any firing. Usually on the initial firing run, only one pair of rockets would be fired for marking purposes with the FO making necessary adjustments to bring the fires within less than 100 meters from the target. Once this has been achieved, the Blue Max section fires for effect. One of the key factors in utilizing ARA support is that it requires minimum adjustment because the gunner can visually see the target area.
Blue Max became famous in Vietnam for its extremely rapid response to requests for fire and its ability to place lethal and accurate fire in the near proximity of friendly positions. Time and time again this distinguished unit has actually saved American lives by denying enemy forces the opportunity to overwhelm friendly units.
In addition to the normal missions previously described, Blue Max was called on from time to time to perform special missions. Some of these missions were of one time duration while others became routine and were continued as long as higher priority missions did not require the use of the aircraft. One such mission was called the “Blue Pecker” mission that was performed for the 1st Cavalry Division Artillery Commander starting the latter half of 1969. The Divarty Commander, in addition to his normal operational missions, had the responsibility for the defense of Camp Gorvad, 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters located at Phouc Vinh.
The VC was continuously launching rocket, mortar and recoilless rifle fire into the fire base. What was needed was the capability, just before dark, to scout out the area outside of the firebase for potential movement and possible launch sites. Blue Max Cobras and the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) from Echo Battery 82nd Artillery were teamed together to form a hunter-killer team. Captain Tom Konitzer, operations officer for Bravo Battery 2nd of 20th along with 2Lt William Dobbs established the necessary training and coordination requirements for this type operation in conjunction with Major Joe Davis, CO E/82nd Artillery.
The combination of the observation capabilities of the LOH with the quick strike firepower of the cobra provided a system capable of not only finding the enemy but also immediately providing devastating firepower on the target.
The success of any operation of this nature can only be determined in combat, and it was in combat that the “Blue Pecker” team made its mark. Engaging hot targets, plotting intelligence targets and general reconnaissance proved its worth.
Shown below are Captain Tom Konitzer and 2Lt William Dobbs discussing the mission for the evening. Preliminary planning and preparation has already been completed and coordination effected with E/82d Artillery for the mission to be executed.
Captain Tom Konitzer and 2Lt William Dobbs
Discussing the Day’s Mission Prior to Takeoff
“Blue Pecker” Team on a Mission in Vicinity of Camp Gorvad
A Specialized Team Searches for the Enemy in the Jungle near Phouc Vinh (1969)
The armament system for the AH-1G cobras used by Blue Max consisted of aerial rockets carried in four rocket pods and the XM-28 Gun system consisting of the 40mm grenade launcher and 7.62mm machine gun.
Blue Max Cobra with its Weaponry
The 2.75 Inch Folding Fin Aerial Rocket ammunition consisted of:
The XM-28 Gun System consisted of the following:
The aircraft capability which was restricted due to ARA’s armament configuration and Vietnam climatic conditions were as follows:
The Early ARA Days of 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery
In the 1960’s the “Howze board” established the rationale and the requirements for an air assault division. In late 1962 Secretary of Defense McNamara ordered the Army to conduct a series of field tests to seek out the advantages and limitations of the airmobility concept. Major General Harry William Osborne Kinnard was given the task of taking these visions and dreams and fashioning them into reality. The vehicle chosen for airmobility test was the 11th Airborne Division. It was recalled back to active duty February 15, 1963, and redesignated as the 11th Air Assault Division (Test).
Tactics, techniques, handbooks and Standing Operating Procedures (SOP) were formulated, tested, and revised. With each innovation often came changes in organizational structure. In the summer and fall of 1964 the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) prepared and executed their graduation exercise called AIR ASSAULT II. They were pitted against the 82nd Airborne Division in the Carolina maneuver area. Within the division’s Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE), was the 3rd/377th Aerial Rocket Artillery battalion. The test concluded in June of that year. By November the results of the test showed conclusively that the division’s elements could seek out an enemy over a very wide area, find him, and then rapidly bring together the necessary firepower and troops to destroy him. In a low intensity war, the division would be ideally suited for controlling large sectors; in a high intensity war, it could serve superbly as a screening force or as a mobile reserve.
Testing of the airmobile concept was conducted in 1965 at Fort Benning, Georgia, prior to the division’s deployment to Vietnam. Here troops board helicopters in the final phases of the test program.
The concept of air mobility for the Army was a hotly contested argument within the Pentagon circles and especially with the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay. “Before LeMay retired, however, the JCS went through a particularly difficult controversy about interservice roles and missions that reached very bitter proportions during 1964 and often colored their discussions of the growing Vietnamese hostilities. This concerned the development and employment of Army aviation…Early in 1965, the secretary of defense resolved the Army-Air Force dispute in favor of the Army and the inexorable advance of technology. And so a new and different type of division, officially called an airmobile division, was added to the Army’s roster. The test division, now permanently organized and given the designation of the famous 1st Cavalry Division by General Johnson, was deployed to Vietnam in the late summer of 1965.”
On September 1, 1963 the 2nd Rocket Howitzer Battalion 20th Artillery was redesignated the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery. On July 1, 1965, the battalion was transferred (less personnel and equipment) from Korea to Fort Benning, Georgia, and reorganized. The 3rd/377th was redesignated the 2nd Aerial Rocket Artillery Battalion 20th Artillery on July 1, 1965.
On June 16, 1965 Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara announced in a nationally televised press conference that an airmobile division had been authorized for the U. S. Army force structure. He also announced that the famed 1st Cavalry Division had been chosen to carry the standards of airmobility. He also gave the division a very short time to get organized and combat ready. On July 3, 1965 the 11th Air Assault Division colors were cased and retired and then, to the rousing strains of Garry Owen, the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division were moved into Doughboy Stadium at Fort Benning, Georgia. Thus, the beginning of the infamous 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
The birth of the 1st Air Cavalry Division (above) was also the end of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). The “changing of the colors” ceremony took place at Fort Benning’s Doughboy Stadium on July 3, 1965. The “airmobile concept’ had become reality.
By August of 1965, the 2nd ARA Battalion 20th Artillery found itself enroute to Vietnam as an integral part of the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The battalion personnel stepped ashore at Qui Nhon, Republic of Vietnam, on September 15, 1965. Two days later they flew their first combat mission, as Charlie Battery fired 2.75-inch rockets in support of elements of the 101st Airborne Division. Because of this fire support, sixty-four Viet Cong were killed. At that time the rockets were mounted on UH-1B Huey helicopters as shown below, circa 1965.
In late October the battalion was called upon to provide support in the Pleiku Campaign, for which the division would win the Presidential Unit Citation. In December the battalion was engaged in supporting operations from the Cambodian border to the South China Sea.
On the night of November 12-13, 1965, Charlie Battery was positioned for the campaign on a small strip on a tea plantation south of Pleiku City. The enemy attacked the position in battalion strength. As the first mortars hit the camp, pilots dashed to their helicopters and quickly had them all in the air, the first instance in Vietnam when all aircraft evacuated without loss from an airstrip under attack. Despite wounds, battery operations officer Captain Charlie D. Hooks and operations NCO Sergeant First Class Francis L. MaGill directed the ARA fire against the VC, who withdrew under the battery’s counterattack. In 1965 the 1st Cavalry Division was involved in two major operations and five major battles.
The first major campaign of 1966 was Operation MASHER/WHITE WING in the plains and foothills around Bong Son. The operation marked the first successful firing of the combination SS-11 missile and the 2.75-inch rocket weapon designed by Warrant Officer Robert W. Maxwell of Bravo Battery. Before, the battery’s helicopters had carried one rocket or the other. By enabling the helicopters to carry both simultaneously, the new system combined the pinpoint accuracy of the SS-11 missile and the area fire superiority of the 2.75-inch rockets. This flexible and responsive system added greatly to ARA capability.
The SS-11 Missile System along with the 2.75-inch rocket launcher pods mounted on a UH-1C.
When the 2nd of the 20th ARA Battalion arrived in Vietnam in September 1965 each firing battery had an XM-22 Wire Guided Missile System in its spare parts inventory as a secondary weapon system. However, the system was not mounted on any aircraft, but was to be used “On Demand.” This created some problems since to change over between systems and check out required about 2 ½ to 3 hours removing one system and installing the other. With the low demand for the missiles this meant that having a dedicated M-22 aircraft available at all times would have been an unacceptable waste of assets.
Bob Maxwell , who was assigned to Bravo Battery, researched the technical manuals on both the aircraft and the weapons systems. He found he could install both weapon systems electrically and mechanically while reducing some of the weight through reduction in the number of 2.75-inch rockets. Utilizing his ingenuity he was able to develop the necessary interfaces and support mechanisms in order to efficiently carry both systems and use them simultaneously in support of the ground troops.
When he had completed the assembly and checkout he showed the system to the battalion commander, LTC Nelson Mahone who in turn briefed the Divarty Commander and the Commanding General, Major General Harry W.O. Kinnard. General Kinnard came to the battery area, inspected the system, and said, “This is what I mean when I say Imaganuity” (which of course was his buzzword for a combination of imagination and ingenuity). Clearance was given by Division and the first fire mission for the Maxwell System was conducted that afternoon by firing the system for the first time at a sniper located in a cave in the hills around the Mang Yang pass. The next day Bob Maxwell started on three more systems so that each firing battery would have a system and there would be a spare retained in battalion reserve.
The history of the 1st Air Cav Division and its supporting elements is replete with countless days and nights of heroic battles and campaigns during its Vietnamese experience.
In 1966 the combat numbers increased to eleven major operations and thirteen major battles. On February 12, 1966, information was received that a Viet Cong heavy machinegun was holding up the advance of infantry near Bong Son. Major Roger J. Bartholomew, Charlie Battery Commander, located the 12.7-mm anti-aircraft gun, attacked it with rockets and killed all six crewmen. He then landed and captured the weapon to prevent the enemy from putting it back into service.
By the time the campaign in the Bong Son area ended, ARA inflicted 574 casualties on the VC and destroyed 157 enemy fortified positions. Operation LINCOLN took place in March 1966 near the Chu Pong Massif on the Cambodian border. Several company-size units of the division were in heavy contact in the area where both extraction and reinforcement were difficult. At 5 p.m. ARA was committed. There were solid layers of fog and haze up to 5,000 feet, but the aircraft remained on station until 7:30 the next morning, firing 1,250 rockets to support the hard-pressed troops. ARA fire killed 138 enemies in the campaign.
On May 16, 1966 the 2nd of the 20th ARA battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Morris Brady, and Major Bartholomew, the Charlie Battery commander, volunteered to fly two ARA birds in support of a company in contact and in danger of being overrun by a large VC force. They inched their aircraft through fog, rain and darkness up the slopes of a mountain peak east of An Khe, until they were hovering directly over the beleaguered company. Then, directed by the artillery forward observer below, unleashed ripple after ripple of rockets into an enemy assault force. Their timely fire support was credited by the ground commander with stabilizing an extremely grave situation. On May 22, 1966, the ARA battalion fired its 100,000th rocket in Vietnam.
On June 11, 1966, Captain Frederick S. Beck of Alpha battery was operating in the Kontum area when two 12.7-mm anti-aircraft machineguns opened fire and four armor piercing rounds tore into the helicopter, setting the rocket pods on the right side on fire. Disregarding the natural inclination to jettison the burning rockets, the irate Captain Beck swung his aircraft sharply around and emptied his remaining 41 rockets into the enemy positions, silencing them.
At 1:05 a.m. December 27, 1966, the 18th NVA Regiment attacked LZ Bird and Alpha Battery responded to the call for support. Despite the night, fog and heavy rain the battery delivered withering fire on the attacking enemy half an hour after the battle began, Charlie Battery soon joined the fight, and the aircraft stayed on station until the attack was repelled and the enemy force destroyed.
In 1967 this number was four major operations and twelve major battles. In 1967 the battalion continued a vigorous civic action program with emphasis on schools, medical aid and long-range civic improvement programs. This was a joint effort with the communities providing the labor and those materials within their resources and battalion providing material and technical support. In February 1967, Operation PERSHING began. Its aim was to root out the enemy forces in the bong Son Plain, An Lao Valley and the mountains adjacent to An Lao. The battalion moved its command post, with Alpha and Charlie Batteries, to LZ Two Bits. During this period the battalion had added to its arsenal CH-47s, Chinooks armed with grenade launchers, two pods of rockets and two .50 caliber machineguns.
By early summer 1967, the 1st Cavalry Division faced a highly demoralized enemy. Hoi Chanhs and detainees spoke of the terror that Aerial Rocket Artillery and armed helicopters wrought and of the rapid decay of morale among the VC and NVA cadre. The battalion continued to support Operation PERSHING actions throughout 1967. During the year the unit added the mortar aerial delivery system to its arsenal. The 81-mm mortars were used on interdiction targets with canopy cover. By the end of the year the battalion had fired 500,000 rockets since arriving in Vietnam. For actions by the 2nd of the 20th ARA Battalion from December 6-10, 1967, the battalion won the Valorous Unit Citation. The citation read “the officers and men of the battalion displayed extraordinary valor in accomplishing all assigned tasks in the face of almost certain death.” The battalion’s aircraft flew at ground level between the division’s forces and the enemy, providing a screen for the Skytroopers to withdraw so heavy artillery could destroy the enemy bunkers.
On December 29, 1967 at 1740 hours an UH-1B #64-14034 from Charlie Battery was lost to hostile fire near Quang Nam. The aircraft crashed and burned in the water. Lost in the crash were Aircraft Commander WO Larry R. Doyle, Pilot WO Ronnie H. Beals, Crew chief PFC Lupe P. Lopez, and door gunner Corporal Clifton Henson. The aircraft was in a combat support mission. During the approach to the target area, they received a large volume of 7.62mm fire that hit the fuselage numerous times causing them to crash into the water.
Aerial Rocket Artillery provides support to the ground troops (Circa 1967).
The division moved from II Corps to I Corps in 1968, meeting the enemy head on in the battle for Hue, Khe Sanh and the A Shau Valley. It was during this move that the call sign for the 2nd of the 20th Artillery was changed from ARMED FALCON to BLUE MAX. In numerous close firefights aerial rocket artillery blasted the enemy, foiling his plans for victory. The deadly accuracy of the SS-11 missile penetrated his bunkers and fortifications. Psychological operation leaflets used pictures of ARA aircraft to frighten enemy soldiers into surrendering. In 1968 there were eight major operations and eleven major battles.
On February 2, 1968 the 3rd Brigade was given the assignment of driving the enemy from Hue and its environs. Flying at tree top level because of fog, helicopters air assaulted the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry into an ARVN outpost 10 kilometers northwest of Hue. On February 5th, the battalion pursued the enemy into a hamlet of Thon La Chu. Shortly thereafter the battalion was in a firefight with 1,000 NVA soldiers. A call was made for artillery support but it was not available for several hours. Two aerial rocket artillery helicopters braved the dense fog to spew 2.75-inch rockets at NVA positions. This permitted battalion elements to occupy trenches abandoned by NVA guards.
Men of the battalion pulled off a daring rescue of surrounded Cavalrymen east of Khe Sanh during Operation PEGASUS to relieve the Marine Base. Crewmembers of Captain Charles D. Dorr’s ship spotted two wounded men on the ground. Despite of the presence of the enemy Captain Dorr salvoed all his rockets to make his ship lighter, and set his helicopter on the edge of a bomb crater. The crew dragged the wounded men to the helicopter and took off, while supporting rocket fire hit within 30 meters of the aircraft. All three members of the crew received the Silver Star for their action.
Operation DELAWARE, which was the invasion of the A Shau Valley, began on April 19, 1968. The A Shau Valley is a slit in the mountains 45 kilometers west of Hue. Close to the Laotian border, remote and usually hidden from the air by thick clouds, the valley was a major way station on the Ho Chi Minh trail, a North Vietnamese Army base and was the jumping-off point for the enemy’s Tet Offensive against Hue. Since a CIDG camp pulled out of the area in 1966, no Free World Forces had penetrated the valley. As the SKYTROOPERS began to enter the valley they were engaged by 37-mm guns that were camouflaged in the jungle and capable of hitting targets at an altitude of 25,000 feet. These weapons poured out their fire and .50 caliber machineguns added a wall of red tracers. Despite this resistance, the division’s battalions successfully secured landing zones. The 2nd of the 20th ARA battalion played a major role in the support of this operation.
During the assault into the A Shau Valley in May another ARA pilot earned the Silver Star. Warrant Officer Clint Stanley was flying in support of a unit being airlifted into the valley when his chopper came under intense enemy fire. Several times anti-aircraft explosions rocked the helicopter as it made firing runs on the enemy. After expending all his ammunition Mr. Stanley continued flying over the area, making low level dummy passes that kept the enemy pinned down, enabling the Skytroopers to be successfully airlifted.
On May 17, 1968 Operation DELAWARE ended as the brigades moved back to Camp Evans. The FIRST TEAM, who had destroyed the enemy’s bunkers and fortifications and stripped the valley of his supplies, had raided what the enemy had regarded as an inviolable sanctuary. The division had captured or destroyed 2,371 individual weapons, 13 ant-aircraft weapons, 42,000 large caliber rounds, 169,000 small arms rounds, 40 tons of food, two bulldozers, 73 wheeled vehicles, three tracked vehicles and a tank. In addition, 737 enemy soldiers were killed.
Later in May, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, forces were only a short distance from wounded men, but unable to reach them because of an overwhelming barrage of enemy automatic weapons fire. Because of the close proximity of the enemy troops to the American forces, the ARA ships of Captain David J. Whitlinh and Major Daniel J. Delaney flew at a much lower than normal altitude, laying down a heavy volume of rockets that permitted the evacuation of the wounded. By July 1968 the battalion had fired its 750,000th rocket in Vietnam.
With respect to mobility, each battery is capable of moving at a speed greater than 100 knots when necessary. In October 1968, the move “Liberty Canyon” found the battalion moving from the 1st Cav’s Area of Operation (AO) in the I Corps area down to III CTZ. Battery C moved by its own organic means, no other air support was required, its air elements, personnel, and its essential operational communications equipment. It made this move of over 500 miles completely unsupported and was capable of firing missions the night it arrived. Few, if any, tube artillery units can, in one day, move some 500 miles by its own organic means and be ready to accept fire missions when they arrive at their destination.
During 1968 the battalion made the transition between Huey ARA ships and the AH-1G Cobra. Unlike the Huey, the Cobra was specifically designed for fire support, and carried firepower equivalent to that of three conventional artillery batteries.
In November 1968 the battalion, with the rest of the division, moved to a new area of operations, the III Corps Tactical Zone near the Cambodian border north of Saigon. The unit was soon in action. That same month the NVA assaulted LZ Dot, located 43 kilometers northwest of the new division base camp at Phouc Vinh. Some 2,000 enemy hit the tiny LZ at midnight with a human wave assault after a mortar and rocket attack. ARA was called in, decimating the enemy just as they penetrated the outer wire. At 6:30 a.m. the enemy broke contact, leaving 287 dead.
The military helicopter truly came of age in Vietnam, where the Army, at times opposed by its sister services, never lost its faith in this remarkable instrument. Clearly the single most outstanding military innovation in the Vietnam War was the development and introduction into combat of the “chopper” in various forms – the troop-carrying assault helicopter, the helicopter gunship for escort and close fire support missions, the attack helicopter with a tank-killing capability, and the scout helicopter for performing classic but still essential cavalry missions.
During My Watch
1969 - 1970
This chapter is designed to describe the events that occurred during the stated period. Some of the activities related to in this chapter occurred when LTC Jack Schnibben was the battalion commander before the stated time frame while others continued following the turnover of the battalion to LTC Hubert Morris in January 1970. Also, discussed in general terms are the events that occurred during the calendar year 1969 in respect to the 1st Cavalry Division activities. The events that took place are listed chronologically in order to make it understandable in respect to what the rest of the Division was accomplishing at the same time.
By 1969, after the Division was in full operation in III Corps, they were involved in three major operations and thirteen major battles. Throughout these operations and battles, the 2nd ARA Battalion 20th Artillery was in direct support of each of these activities.
To set the big picture, there were three major operations being conducted during 1969 by the 1st Cavalry Division. Listed in the table below are those three major operations along with the time the operation started.
MAJOR OPERATIONS IN WHICH SKYTROOPERS TOOK PART OR COMPLETED
*Operation Toan Thang III continued beyond Dec 31, 1969.
In conjunction with these major operations were numerous major battles that were fought by members of the 1st Cavalry Division. In the majority of all these battles, Blue Max was constantly involved day and night. Some of the subsequent events described in this chapter will relate back to these particular battles and/or major operations.
Shown on this and the subsequent page is a graphic portrayal of the “big picture” describing the major battles as well as the map locations of these events during the 1969 time frame.
1969 MAJOR BATTLES
(BASED ON 50 OR MORE ENEMY KIA KEYED TO A SINGLE, IDENTIFIABLE ACTION)
In addition to these major operations and major battles there were numerous firefights, ambushes, night patrols, mortar patrols and long-range patrol type combat missions that required the support of the Blue Max organization. The aerial artillery support was provided from the earliest entry of Blue Max into Vietnam until the last unit left. Each mission, regardless of the size of the battle, was considered top priority and of utmost importance and it would be carried out with alacrity and in a highly professional manner. Blue Max gained its reputation by following these two major objectives in every activity it supported.
As was depicted on the major battle chart, several major battles took place on August 12, 1969. This particular time frame August 11 through the 13th will be highlighted later in this chapter in that this was one of the finest hours of the Blue Max battalion. Whatever reputation it had prior to these dates it was increased two fold by the heroic actions of every one in the battalion in support of not only the 1st Cavalry Division but other units as well.
In conjunction with these major operations and battles there were additional activities on-going in the III Corps Tactical Zone that had an impact on the total operation as well as requiring support from the Blue Max battalion. Major political decisions were being made in Washington and directions given to the COMUSMACV to implement. One such direction pertained to “Vietnamization” of the war and one of the implementing strategies of this policy direction was the Dong Tien Program that was utilized in the III Corps area. A brief description of both these efforts is needed to give the reader a better feel for what the U.S. forces were involved in during the 1969 time frame.
The word itself coined by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, President Nixon officially initiated “Vietnamization” on June 8, 1969.
Vietnamization was an integral part of President Nixon’s strategy to bring the Vietnam war to a close. Essentially, it consisted of a gradual turnover of the war from the U.S. military to South Vietnamese Armed Forces and a buildup of South Vietnam’s war supplies. As South Vietnam assumed responsibility for the war, U.S. combat forces were gradually withdrawn.
Beginning in late 1968 the administration undertook a complete review of the situation in Southeast Asia. In mid-December 1968 President-elect Nixon examined the Central Intelligence Agency’s critical evaluation of the South Vietnamese armed forces, undoubtedly raising many questions in the mind regarding the direction of future American policy. Upon taking office the following month, he directed all agencies involved with the war to review the CIA study and prepare detailed estimates of the current military and political situation in South Vietnam.
General Abrams intended MACV to speak with one voice. In truth, the command had been asked to evaluate its own work, and like the individual U.S. advisers in the field, General Abrams and his staff emphasized accomplishments rather than shortcomings.
On 5 March Melvin R. Laird, Nixon’s new secretary of defense, visited Saigon, accompanied by General Wheeler. Briefed by MACV on the situation in Vietnam, Laird declared his satisfaction with the progress that had been made, both in the war effort and the South Vietnamese armed forces, and instructed General Abrams to accelerate all programs turning over the war to Saigon. On 13 March he reported the results of the Saigon visit to the president. Although the enemy had been beaten on the battlefield, Laird related that General Abrams believed that an American military victory was impossible, “considering the restrictions with which we are compelled to operate.” 
In the spring of 1969 President Richard M. Nixon initiated his new policy of “Vietnamization.” Vietnamization had two distinct elements: first, the unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam; and, second, the assumption of greater military responsibilities by the South Vietnamese armed forces to make up for that loss. Vietnamization, in contrast, was a policy, rather than a plan, and rested on the twin assumptions that the combatants would not reach any political settlement, or understanding, and the fighting in the south would continue with no voluntary reduction in enemy force levels. Although in theory the subsequent withdrawal of American troops depended on improvements in South Vietnamese military capabilities and the level of combat activity, in practice the timing and size of the withdrawals were highly political decisions made in the United States.
An important element of the Vietnamization program entailed a large expansion of the regular South Vietnamese forces, which increased by almost one-third (from about 825,000 to over a million), while Saigon’s paramilitary forces almost tripled in size (from 1.3 million to 4 million). Large numbers of U.S. aircraft, naval craft, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces were turned over the South Vietnamese. Whether this program would give the South Vietnamese capabilities anywhere approaching U.S. standards was highly questionable. But given the limited time available to train the South Vietnamese in these long-term skills and to develop effective, modern forces, the program was probably the best that could have been achieved.
Dong Tien Program
As the Vietnamization program began to unfold within the Republic of Vietnam, different programs were discussed as to what was the most efficient way to go about turning over the responsibilities to the South Vietnamese armed forces. In the I Field Force area, Lieutenant General Peers, I Field Force Commander, had effectively pioneered the “pair-off” program in the Highlands. Impressed with success of combined operations in the I Corps Tactical Zone, Lieutenant General Ewell, II Field Force Commander, in April 1969 decided to sponsor a similar program in the III Corps Tactical Zone.
When General Ewell became the III Field Force Commander in April 1969 General Abrams informed him that there would be no further U.S. reinforcements and he would somehow have to get the three local South Vietnamese divisions moving “despite their commanders.” This guidance was repeated to him again a short time later. On 22 June 1969 General Ewell announced his intention to “buddy up US and ARVN units to conduct combined operations that would maximize the effectiveness of both forces and achieve in 2, 3 or 4 months a quantum jump in ARVN and RF/PF performance.
General Ewell’s counterpart, Lieutenant General Do Cao Tri, who had assumed command of the Vietnamese III Corps in August 1968, agreed with the concept and collectively they jointly proclaimed the new Dong Tien (or “Progress Together”) Program. The whole purpose of the Dong Tien Program was to have the ARVN units take over their own independent operations as rapidly as possible. To accomplish this, it was imperative that the ARVN commanders at all echelons would control their own units.
The program was initiated on 1 July 1969 when Generals Ewell and Tri created eight Dong Tien zones within the III Corps Tactical Zone each consisting of one or more of the eleven provinces in the III Corps area. To initiate this activity, General Ewell moved almost all of the U.S. combat units out of the Saigon area and turned the defense of the capital over to the Vietnamese. He also relieved the U.S. Bien Hoa Tactical Area Command, east of Saigon, of its tactical responsibilities and fashioned it into an advisory and liaison agency to the South Vietnamese Long Binh special Zone headquarters.
The initial unit that began the Dong Tien operations was the 199th Light Infantry Brigade which moved to Xuan Loc and married up with the South Vietnamese 18th Infantry Division. Other U.S. units were brought into this program: 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division with the 46th and 50th Regiments of the ARVN 25th Infantry Division; U.S. 25th Infantry Division, Northwest of Saigon worked with the ARVN 25th Infantry Division; U.S. 1st Infantry Division with the ARVN 5th Infantry Division astride Highway 13; U.S. 1st Cavalry Division with the ARVN Airborne force.
Since its arrival in the III Corps Tactical Zone in late 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division had been operating along the sparsely populated Cambodian border, engaging regular enemy forces that dared venture across the border. In October 1969, General Ewell selected the 1st Cavalry Division to enter into a Dong Tien program with the ARVN Airborne forces. Almost immediately, the South Vietnamese 2nd Airborne Brigade moved into War Zone C along the Cambodian border for combined operations with the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. They operated from Tay Ninh City and opened up fire support bases across War Zone C for the three participating battalions. In December 1969, the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division began a similar program with the South Vietnamese 1st Airborne Brigade east of War Zone C, in the Phouc Binh border area. All the ARVN units were rotated through the 1st Cavalry Division “training area” until the program ended in April 1970.
Throughout this period of the Dong Tien Program artillery and aviation support was provided in support of the program by the assets of the 1st Cavalry Division to include the aerial rocket artillery support provided by the 2nd of the 20th Artillery Blue Max battalion.
As the 1st Cavalry Division started its move South to III Corps in late 1968 the Division had to fight on two fronts 350 miles apart, overcoming staggering problems of control. Three operations were in progress simultaneously. The 3rd Brigade spearheaded the advance south. The 1st Brigade remained in the Northern provinces until November 3, wrapping up Operation JEB STUART III, which had lasted 171 days and cost the Communist 2,016 men. The 2nd Brigade continued to participate in Operation COMANCHE FALLS in the jungle 25 miles from the DMZ. COMANCHE FALLS ended on November 7, resulting in more than 100 enemy killed.
In the midst of this, the brigades had to adapt to a new kind of task organization. The 3rd Brigade occupied the northeastern section of the new AO, with a base at Quan Loi. The 1st Brigade was positioned in the Tay Ninh area. The 2nd Brigade came last, taking up a central position between the other two brigades. The new division base was established at Phouc Vinh. The FIRST TEAM assumed areas of responsibility in the provinces of Phuoc Long, Binh Long, Tay Ninh, and Binh Duong. The move was clearly a logistical triumph. By the evening of October 31, 2,600 men and 61 helicopters had arrived in Quan Loi. By November 10, 378 air sorties had been flown from Camp Evans with more than 9,200 men aboard. Some 3,600 tons of vehicles and equipment had moved by air. The Navy’s LSTs had carried 2,800 passengers, 11,000 tons of equipment, 1,750-wheeled vehicles and 27 helicopters. As the 1st Infantry Division moved out of its bases, the Skytroopers moved in.
The division continued Operations TOAN THANG II as 1969 began, interdicting enemy activity in the northern area of the III Corps Tactical Zone. From January 5 to January 12, 267 enemy were killed, and one of the largest munitions caches of the war, some 18 tons of arms and ammunition, was found near Tay Ninh on January 21. The 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, initiated the cache find and they requested the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry to move in and check out the area. The enemy fought for three days to protect the bunker complex but the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery along with the USAF and artillery drove the enemy from the bunker complex.
One of the hardest hit Cav bases was LZ Grant. Located northeast of Tay Ninh, the LZ was astride a major enemy infiltration route. The enemy decided to rid themselves of this obstacle. The first attempt came on February 23, 1969 at 3:30 a.m. Sixteen of the enemy was killed. They tried again with 1,000 men on March 8, 1969. Despite a direct hit on the TOC that killed the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Gorvad, the battalion did not give way. The enemy had blasted through the outer wire with bangalore torpedoes, charging in after hitting the base with rockets, mortars, and nausea gas. A withering hail of small arms and point blank artillery stopped the enemy, and the appearance of the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery and USAF gunships put the enemy into retreat. At least 157 NVA died in the six-hour battle. The enemy came back on March 11 and sixty-two of them did not leave alive. On May 12 in another attack, the NVA stormed LZ Grant with Two Hundred men only to be hurled back with the loss of 45 men.
On April 23, 1969 MG Forsythe left command of the Division to become the commander of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On May 5, 1969 MG E. B. Roberts, who had led the 1st Brigade in 1965 and early 1966, returned to command the division. General Roberts had also been the first Chief of Staff of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning.
Early on the morning of May 6 the enemy hit LZ Carolyn and LZ Joe. The enemy force was smashed with 198 killed and 30 taken prisoner. On May 12, the same day as the attack on LZ Grant, the enemy also assaulted LZ Jamie, LZ Phyllis and Quan Loi, the 3rd Brigade Headquarters. A total of 83 enemy were killed in the unsuccessful attacks.
The 3rd Brigade was sent south again on May 19. Its mission was to interdict the movement of the 5th Viet Cong Division out of War Zone D toward the heavily populated and strategically crucial Long Bien –Bien Hoa area.
The long arms of Hanoi made a mid-August lunge for the political plums of district capitols in Binh Long and Phuoc Long Provinces. However, the joint NVA and VC bid for control of one or more small rubber towns in the 1st Cav AO ran afoul of a military briar patch called Task Force Casey – the combined 1st Cav, 11th Armored Cav and ARVN forces.
The night of 11 August __(See Lucky’s story about An Loc)_____
On 12 August, elements of the 1st and 7th NVA Divisions and the 5th and 9th VC Divisions, heavily armed and working on well laid plans, struck in force at towns and Cav fire support bases throughout AO. They struck as far west as LZ Becky, to the east at Duc Phong and LZ Caldwell, in the far southeast at LZ Grant, and also attacked northern Landing Zones Jon and Kelly, located near Loc Ninh. In the heart of the fight was LZ Andy, the Cav’s 3rd Brigade Headquarters at Quan Loi.
The attacks began in the early hours between 1 and 4 a.m. The fighting in some areas flared on through the daylight hours. Landing Zone Becky, which had received an attack the night before, – like all LZs, a small island in the sea of concealing jungle – was the scene of what was perhaps the fiercest fighting. The attack began at 4:10 a.m. following a mixed mortar and rocket barrage. It was reported that the enemy in this initial assault fired 400 rounds of mortar and rockets. In the next forty minutes the LZ was silhouetted with the flashing glow of a massed firefight. In the end, the enemy failed, and 59 of their number had died in the attempt.
No less fierce and perhaps more dramatic was the long battle for Quan Loi and LZ Andy. There, at 1:20 a.m., NVA and VC troops from the 9th VC Division –spearheaded by a crack sapper platoon – threw themselves into the wire and succeeded in penetrating the defensive structure. At the point of furthest penetration, within 75 meters of the brigade tactical operations center, a small but key fight raged between a handful of sappers and eight U.S. medics. Under fire from automatic weapons and rocket grenades, the ordinarily noncombatant medics held off and finally killed the sappers who might otherwise have dynamited the nerve center of Quan Loi’s defense. Five of the eight medics were wounded in the fight. Though the last sniper did not fall silent until late afternoon, the main enemy force broke contact with LZ Andy at 4:30 a.m. and withdrew; leaving 48 dead inside the wire.
With no hope of taking Quan Loi, the enemy turned its considerably diminished strength on nearby An Loc. For a while the city’s east gate was under heavy fire and VC agents were inside the city passing out propaganda leaflets. But there, again, the VC and NVA forces were pushed back. The price they paid at An Loc was over 50 dead.
Further north the tight triangle formed by Loc Ninh and Landing Zones Jon and Kelly was assaulted in force. The town could not be taken unless the fire support bases were either eliminated or kept very busy. But the NVA triple play fell short and they lost 42 men.
Landing Zone Caldwell, strategically close to the object of another enemy push, Duc Phong, came under attack from elements of the 5th VC Division. Under the hot tubes of LZ Caldwell artillery, Duc Phong resisted and 60 enemy soldiers died.
Men of E Troop, 2nd Battalion 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, fighting at LZ Sidewinder, wrung another heavy enemy toll. They accounted for 78 enemy dead in that fight.
When daylight came, the fighting dwindled across the Cav AO, and the enemy forces receded into the jungle that had hidden their night approach. They found the jungle and forests much less of a sanctuary during the day – their scattered groups were raked again and again by Cobras and Huey gunships that used up four times a normal load of rockets and minigun ammunition.
Twenty-four hours after the wide ranging battle began, 452 enemy dead had been counted. In the two days that followed the 12th, 242 more enemy soldiers were killed by helicopters and scattered encounters with ground troops. The body count figure for the three days was 694 enemy dead.
On the 12th, U.S. losses totaled 26 killed and 234 wounded. In the same three-day period in which the 694 enemy soldiers died, 33 Americans were killed and 292 wounded.
********TO BE CONTINUED******
 First Air Cavalry Division, Volume I, 1965-1969. p. 134
 Jenks, 1Lt William S. III, “The 1st Air Cavalry Division’s 2d Battalion (Aerial Rocket Artillery), 20th Artillery, 6-69”, Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 30 July 1969. pp.1-2.
 First Air Cav, Vol. I. p.134.
 Jones, Charles R. Captain, “History of the Second Battalion Twentieth Artillery (Aerial Field Artillery)”. 1 January 1971 - 9 April 1971. 1971. p.7. Details of the final actions of the battalion are described in this document. It also describes how Bravo battery, who was suppose to be in the process of preparing for standdown, was dispatched to Camp Eagle on 25 February where it was attached to the 101st Airborne Division and its aircraft reassigned to various units. The BLUE MAX aircrews volunteered to fly missions into Laos with its sister ARA battalion the 4th Battalion 77th Aerial Field Artillery battalion. WO1 Stiff was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his action in the defense of Hill 318. On 14 March 1971 Bravo battery personnel and equipment, minus aviation equipment and some vehicles, returned to Phuoc Vinh to complete their standdown.
 Summers, Harry G. Jr., Vietnam War Almanac, Facts on File Publication, New York, New York, Oxford, England, 1985, P. 1.
 Ibid., p. 3. The Mekong Delta was formed by the 2,800 mile-long Mekong River, one of the 12 great rivers of the world. From its source in the high plateau of Tibet, it flows through Tibet and China to the northern border of Laos. There it separates Burma from Laos and, farther downstream, Laos from Thailand. Flowing through Cambodia, it divides into several branches and begins to form a delta, the broad base of whish is in Vietnam. In what was South Vietnam, the delta proper, approximately 26,000 square miles in area, forms a low, level and very fertile plain, nowhere more than 10 feet above sea level.
 Clarke, Jeffrey J. “Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973, Library of Congress, 1988. P. 8.
 Palmer, Jr., General Bruce “The 25 Year War”, University Press of Kentucky, 1984. p. 178.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, Penguin Books, 1997, p. 110.
 Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years, p.8-9.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 Gastil, Raymond D., Can We Win in Vietnam?, Hudson Institute, 1968. P. 68.
 Ibid., p. 70.
 Summers, Harry G., Vietnam War Almanac, p. 1.
 Palmer, Jr., General Bruce The 25 Year War, 1984. p. 174.
 Ibid., pp. 175, 176.
 Armbruster, Frank E., Can We Win In Vietnam?, p.119.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History. p. 412.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 Palmer, Jr., General Bruce, The 25 Year War. p. 8, 9.
 Alsop, Joseph, “Why We Can Win In Vietnam”, Saturday Evening Post, April 1966. p. 1.
 Ibid., pp.1-2.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Ibid., pp. 3, 4.
 Ibid., pp. 2,4, 5. This rule was broken because the VC were having trouble maintaining their force strengths as well as their resources in order to continue their operation. Thus, they had to violate their principles of no VC taxation and no VC conscription. Taxes were sternly imposed on the people of the villages and universal military service was proclaimed for all males from 18 to 36 years of age. The VC realized this was a gamble but the high VC command felt that it would never go sour because they were certain of an early victory.
 Ibid., p.2, 9, 10. The mountains, jungle-covered and swampy tracts of South Vietnam provided splendid terrain for many such main-base areas. But barracks, hospitals and numerous other facilities had to be secretly built within these areas. Wherever the ground was suitable, the main bases also had to be fortified by an almost inconceivably antlike program of digging and tunneling; and although the labor from VC-controlled villages was used for this purpose, the hundreds, even thousands of men in this labor force had to be given rations while away from home. Finally, all the main bases had to be prestocked with medical supplies, ammunition and food. This was an enormous undertaking in itself. A single underground cache that was found contained a huge hole approachable only by a narrow tunnel, all this rice had evidently been carried in on men’s backs bagful by bagful. Life in a main-force element was considered a good deal. One did not have to endure prolonged hardship. Two or three night marches out from the main base, one or two days of fighting at the scene of his regiments’ operation, and two or three night marches back to their regimental main-base area – that was about the maximum effort that was normally required each month. Without a secure base, Mao says, any such movement must automatically “deteriorate” into a mere “peasant revolt” which “it would be fanciful to suppose” could “avoid defeat.”
 Ibid., p. 6.
 Ibid., p. 9. Great failures may precariously survive such as happened in China at the time of the famous Long march. The rule book nonetheless enjoin guerrilla commanders always to prefer the mere assassination of a village elder to the dramatic capture of a district town, if it is thought that the attempt on the town may risk defeat.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, p.437. In May 1965 two Viet Cong regiments struck in Puoc Long, raiding the government military headquarters inside the town of Dong Xoai and hitting a U.S. Special Forces camp a mile away. At Dong Xoai, Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams single-handedly knocked out a Viet Cong machine gun and guided helicopters into the area to evacuate the wounded. Himself wounded four times in the engagement, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
 Alsop, Why We Can Win In Vietnam, pp.5, 6.
 The B-52 air strikes were called “Arc Lights” and could be heard and felt for great distances because of the tremendous firepower that was released during one of these strikes.
 Alsop, Why We Can Win In Vietnam., p.12.
 Palmer, Jr., General Bruce, The 25 Year War, p. 180.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, p. 347.
 Summers, Harry G., Vietnam War Almanac, p. 196.
 Ibid., p. 196.
 Ibid., p. 196.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, p. 348.
 Ibid., p. 350.
 Summers, Harry G., Vietnam War Almanac, p. 197.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, p. 469.
 Ibid., pp. 192, 189.
 Ibid., pp. 12, 13.
 Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, p. 350, 354.
 Ibid., pp. 394-397.
 Ibid., pp. 398–401.
 Palmer, Jr., General Bruce, The 25 Year War, pp. 54, 56-57.
 Individuals occupying key positions within the battalion during My Watch were:
 Jenks, 2/20th History, pp. 7-8.
 Ibid., p. 8.
 Ibid., pp. 8-9.
 Ibid., pp. 9-10.
 Ibid., pp. 11-13.
 First Cav, Vol. I. pp.21-23.
 Palmer, The 25 Year War. pp. 26-27.
 First Cav. Vol. 1., p.259.
 In the February 14, 1997 Blue Max Association News Letter is a copy of a letter from Bob Maxwell to Russ Warriner explaining why and how the “Maxwell” system came into being.
 First Cav. Vol. I., pp. 134-136.
 Bob Maxwell passed away unexpectedly on 12 July 1998. Bob had attained the rank of Colonel and was highly respected by not only his Blue Max associates but also all that had known Bob before and after Vietnam. I was in the process of discussing some of the various aspects of the battalion and had written an E-mail to Bob just prior to his death requesting his assistance in the preparation of this document. He truly was one of the finest members of the 2nd of the 20th ARA Battalion.
 This is an extract from a letter written by Bob Maxwell to Russ Warriner that was included in the Blue Max Association Newsletter, Volume 3 Issue 1, and dated February 14, 1967.
 First Cav Vol I, p. 138.
 Warriner, Russ, p. 17, Saber Newspaper, September/October 1995 issue.
 First Cav, Vol I, p.41.
 Ibid., p. 281
 Palmer, The 25 Year War., p. 156.
 Ibid., pp.203-215.
 First Cav, Vol. I. p. 214.
 Ibid. p. 214.
 Ibid. p. 215.
 Summers, Harry G., Jr. Vietnam War Almanac. Facts on File Publications, New York, New York. 1985. p. 353.
 Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years, pp. 341, 342.
 Ibid., pp. 344, 345.
 Ibid., p. 347.
 Ibid., p. 341.
 Palmer, The 25 Year War., p. 177.
 Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1967. P. 409.
 Ibid., P. 409.
 Ibid., P. 411.
 Ibid., PP. 411-415.
 Ibid., PP. 415, 416.
 1st Cav Vol I, p.42.
 Ibid., p.42.
 Ibid., p. 247.
 Ibid., p. 248.
© 2005-2006-2007 Jerry Max Bunyard