Talking Proud --- Military

“Find the bastards, and pile on,” the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Indochina

By Ed Marek, editor

July 17, 2010

namM113s mural

Vietnam, 1968: M113 armored personnel carriers and troopers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. (enlarged as a mural at the Patton Museum) By Jody Harmon, Military Art & limited Edition Prints

This report is about the US Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), the “Blackhorse” Regiment, in the Indochina War, to some also known as the “soul ponies.” The regiments’s roots go back to the post-Spanish American War when it formed in 1901 at Ft. Meyer, Virginia. It adopted its motto, Allons (“Let’s Go”) in 1920.

This is a most interesting and instructive combat organization. The 11th ACR was known as the “Blackhorse” Regiment. The 11th ACR was not officially designated a regiment, because it was not the size of a regiment, more like a brigade. A brigade will range in size between 1,500 and 3,200 troops, usually commanded by a colonel. The 11th ACR would enter combat in Vietnam with over 3,700 troops plus 500 from other units, commanded by a colonel. In the day, armored cavalry units were referred to as regiments.

The 11th ACR was assigned to Ft. Meade, Maryland from Germany in 1964, trained, and provided support activities like participation in the Presidential Inauguration and support for ROTC Training. Given what you’ll learn about the 11th ACR, hardly a mission that matches its capacity to fight.

General Westmoreland, the Allied commander of all operations in the RVN wanted the 11th ACR to come to the RVN as early as 1965, but there were issues, the most notable being a broad Army reluctance to employ armored cavalry in the RVN which we’ll address later. What Westmoreland really wanted was a mechanized brigade. The 199th Infantry brigade was preparing to go to Vietnam at the time, and advisors said it could be converted to a mechanized brigade. That would have required the deactivation of the 11th ACR and the 199th’s deployment would be delayed. So Westmoreland opted for the 11th ACR instead. But as you’ll see later, the 11th ACR had to reorganize and re-equip for this mission. It would deploy in 1966.

The Regiment entered the RVN but did not have a shoulder sleeve insignia authorized. General Harold K. Johnson, Chief of Staff, Army (CSA), authorized the 11th to wear a distinctive patch in February 1967, shown above, red and white with a black horse. The 11th established justification to receive its own patch and it was authorized on May 1, 1967. It was the first of five ACRs to receive a distinctive shoulder sleeve insignia.

The motto of the 11th ACR was Allons, “Let’s go!”, and it was inscribed on its Coat of Arms in 1934.

The 11th ACR was arguably the only independent cavalry unit in Vietnam. We’ll talk more to this later as well. It was also the largest ACR to come to the RVN. It’s one thing to be sent to war. Quite another to be sent to war knowing that much of the Army brass at home and in-country believing that armor could not be useful in the jungles of Vietnam. But the war was intensifying and more men and equipment were sorely needed. Its men proved that armor and especially an armored cavalry outfit could make a difference. They devised new ways of equipping and fighting. The 11th ACR would spearhead the invasion of Cambodia targeted against enemy sanctuaries and its headquarters for operations in the RVN.

As one observer put it, the
11th ACR brought a fresh look to combat in Vietnam.

By war’s end, the Regiment lost 768 troops with 5,721 wounded during its operations in Vietnam and Cambodia. Three among them received the Medal of Honor, two posthumous. They were:

SFC Rodney J.T. Yano, Air Cavalry Troop, posthumous. Flying aboard his troop’s command-and-control helicopter, his chopper came under small arms and antiaircraft enemy fire. Yano put down suppressive fire and marked the enemy’s location with white phosphorous grenades. This enabled his troop commander to direct fire against the hostile emplacements. One of his phosphourus grenades exploded prematurely, severely wounding him. It also spat flaming fragments inside the helicopter causing supplies and ammo to detonate. The smoke was so dense the pilot could barely see and was losing control of his craft. Yano had the use of only one arm and was partially blinded by the explosion. Nonetheless, he began grabbing and hurling burning ammunition from the helicopter, inflicting more wounds on himself. He kept at it until the danger was quelled. He would later die.

Corporal Jerry Wayne Wickam, Troop E, 2nd Squadron, posthumous. Troop F, 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR, F/2-11 ACR. While on a reconnaissance in force patrol the lead element came under heavy rocket, automatic weapons and small arms fire from a well concealed enemy bunker complex. Wickam jumped from his armored vehicle, assaulted an enemy bunker, threw a grenade into it and killed two enemy. He jumped into the bunker with another soldier, and heard an enemy grenade being charged. He warned his brother, pushed him away, and protected him from the blast. A second bunker was discovered, and he ran through a hail of fire to deliver lethal fire to the enemy, killing yet another and capturing another. His force withdrew, delivered the POW for interrogation, and then went back to the site to conduct battle damage assessments of air strikes that had been called in on the complex. The enemy was still there and attacked. Once again he ran to a bunker, threw in a grenade, killed two more enemy, destroyed the bunker, and enabled his brothers to seek cover. Shortly thereafter, enemy fire killed him.

Capt. Harold A. Fritz, Troop A, 1st Squadron. His story will be told later.

The Regiment earned 14 battle streamers and became one of the Army’s elite units. Nine different colonels commanded the Regiment while it was based in the RVN. They are known as “Colonels of the Regiment.”

Why focus on the 11th ACR? My motivation occurred when I learned that the question that dominated insertion of the 11th ACR into the RVN was whether armor would be of any value in Vietnam’s dense jungles. My first reaction was that if there was such strident debate, why send the 11th in at all? As I waded through that, I learned a great deal about the 11th ACR’s contributions and sought to obtain insights from men who fought with it.

General Donn A. Starry, USA, wrote a Vietnam study, “Mounted combat in Vietnam,” published in 1989. I will draw some from his work for this story. He served as Colonel of the Regiment starting in December 1969 - June 1970 and would lead the regiment into Cambodia.

The employment of armor during WWII was well understood. Not so in Indochina. The US Army felt the French experience with armor in its Indochina War was not very successful. That contributed to American doubts that armor would be any good during the American War. Let’s briefly explore what the French experienced, drawing from Simon Dunstan’s book,
Vietnam Tracks: Armor in Battle 1945-1975. I commend it to you. Portions of it are on line. I also wish to draw your attention to an excellent website called “‘Bisons,’ AFVS of the French Indochina War.”

This is a French M8 HMC of the 1st Régiment de Chasseurs á Cheval negotiating a gully on the road between Son Tay and Trung Ha, 1951. Presented by Vietnam Tracks: Armor in Battle 1945-1975, by Simon Dunstan

French M5A1 Stuart Tank of the Foreign Legion’s Escadron,1er Régiment Étranger de Cavalaries, August 1952. Presented by Vietnam Tracks: Armor in Battle 1945-1975, by Simon Dunstan

Following WWII, France regained dominion over its Indochina colonies. In October 1945, Lt. General Leclerc landed in Saigon tasked to re-occupy Indochina. The first armor to arrive had been commanded by Leclerc in WWII and consisted of a reconnaissance squadron of M8 armored cars, a squadron of US supplied M5A1 Stuart light tanks and a provisional military in half tracks. Initially, armor was used for convoy escort and security duties. But French armor was limited to roads, while the enemy wandered through the jungles and fields at will. The roads were in a state of disrepair from WWII. Roads were often so narrow that two way armor traffic was next to impossible. Bridges were knocked out, so by-passing the bridges took time and effort.

The British would leave their armor from WWII in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) behind for the French, such as the Coventry Mk. 1 armored car shown to the right, courtesy of Vietnam Tracks: Armor in Battle 1945-1975, by Simon Dunstan. The French used as much Japanese equipment left behind as they could, and the US supplied Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) “Alligators,” mainly for coastal and amphibious operations, the M5A1 Stuart light tank and the M24 Chafees.

French M24 Chaffee Vietnam. Presented by wikipedia.

The Chafees proved the most maneuverable through the Vietnamese environment. As the French learned how to move troops better by armor to where they needed to engage the enemy, they started using it as a reaction force. French forces were highly dispersed in small isolated outposts, vulnerable to attack. Arguably the most difficult challenge for the French was they lacked the troop transport needed for cross-country mobility. They often had to use up-armored trucks to transport troops, largely insufficient for the Delta area where the French had to form amphibious units.

The Viet Minh enemy learned how to attack the outposts, lure the armor to respond, and then ambush the armor and mine areas where they knew the French would traverse. The enemy then received and employed 57mm and 75mm recoilless rifles and bazookas. The mines proved to be the most effective at stopping the armor, and then the enemy would employ their recoilless rifles and bazookas.

The classic touches de piano (piano keys) and nids de poule (potholes) patterns of road sabotage were trademarks of VM activity during the Indochina War. Presented by “The Tiger and the Elephant, Viet Minh strategy and tactics.”

They also built obstacles to slow down French armor movement, such as ditches, walls and barricades, even building high earthen ramparts around villages. These obstacles were very effective.

Added to all this, the French lacked sufficient armor to move forces to the hinterland and keep lines of communication open at the same time. The French brought in more M8 armored cars and M8 75mm self-propelled howitzers along with more infantry, much of which was Vietnamese. They created mobile strike forces and became fairly good at a variety of employments of a variety of vehicles and armor.

In sum, the French faced a host of equipment problems and issues. Their men did the very best they could with what they had, and worked hard to develop ways to outsmart the enemy. By 1953, French armor was thought to be organized about as well as it could and they were conducting widespread offensive operations.

However, the French decided they had to go into the heart of enemy territory. They selected Dien Bien Phu as their main launching pad for mobile units and aircraft.

Artist’s graphic of aerial view, Dien Bien Phu. Presented by displaying the book, The Undetected Enemy, French and American Miscalculations at Dien Bien Phu, 1953, by John R. Nordell.

Starting in December 1953, they brought in M24 tanks to supplement their other armor. However the tanks arrived in pieces, and had to be reassembled. That took until January 1954. Once everything was set up, the French began armored offensive patrols on February 1, 1954. At first, they had to familiarize themselves with the terrain, and then they began more vigorous patrols along the slopes of surrounding hills.

But on March 13, 1954, the enemy began its assault on Dien Bien Phu, beginning with intensive artillery barrages from the high terrain above, followed by wave after wave of infantry. Outposts started to fall, which reduced the field of action for armor operations. Additionally, they found that too often their tanks were in static positions, subject to artillery attacks, which damaged or destroyed the tanks and killed their crews. They found it very hard to maintain their revetments. Indeed the artillery could be so intense it was hard to even feed ammo to the tanks. Dunstan wrote that they would have to place “the tank over a trench and pass the rounds through the floor escape hatch.” Crews were being lost at such a rapid rate that replacements with no jump training were parachuted in, often resulting in many injuries. Frequently French tank crews fought with their arms and legs in plaster casts.

M24 tanks firing in support of French infantry at Dien Bien Phu. Presented by wikipedia

The French also found that employing the tank in a fire support role ate up ammunition at very high rates, each tank often firing on average 1,500 shells in a battle, and 60-100 rounds in an engagement. The M24 carried 48 rounds and extra rounds had to be placed on the trackguards, rear decks or turret floors, impeding tank operations and increasing the vulnerability of the tank.

The enemy overwhelmed Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954, and all French tanks were destroyed. The rest is history.

General Starry had this to say about the American understanding of how the French employed armor in their Indochina war:

“The U.S. Army in the early 1960's had very little information on the use of armor in Vietnam, and most of that came from French battle reports and the fact that the French Army had been supplied with World War II tanks, half-tracks, and scout cars. Although most of this equipment was American, made originally for the U.S. Army, there was little reliable information as to the amount, condition, and use of it in Indochina ... All the American equipment used by the French was produced before 1945. In general the armor was not fit for cross-country movement and because of its age was often inoperative. The logistical system, with supply delays of six to twelve months, further hampered operations by making maintenance difficult. Helicopters were not available in large numbers-there were ten in 1952, forty-two in 1954; all were unarmed and were used for resupply and medical evacuation. To the French command, impoverished in all resources, fighting with limited equipment over a large area, the employment of armored forces became a perpetual headache. Armored units were fragmented; many small remote posts had as few as two or three armored vehicles. Such widespread dispersion prevented the collection or retention of any armor reserves to support overworked infantry battalions. When French armored units took to the field, they were roadbound. Roads prescribed the axes of advance, and combat action was undertaken to defend a road and the ground for a hundred meters or so on either side. The enemy was free to roam the countryside. Since armored units were generally assigned to support dismounted infantry, their speed and ability to act independently, an important part of any armored unit's contribution to the battle team, were never used.

“All these facts were duly reported by the French in their candid, comprehensive, and sometimes blunt after action reports. In the United States, because of restrictive military security regulations and a general lack of interest in the French operation in Indochina, there was no body of military knowledge of Vietnam. What was known had been drawn not from after action reports but from books written by civilians. Foremost among these was Bernard B. Fall's,
Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina, which greatly influenced the American military attitude toward armored operations in Vietnam.”

Starry wrote further:

“It was widely believed that Vietnam's monsoon climate together with its jungle and rice paddies constituted an environment too hostile for mechanized equipment; it was further agreed that armored forces could not cope with an elusive enemy that operated from jungle ambush. Thus at the outset of American participation in the conflict and for some time thereafter, Army planners saw little or no need for armored units in the U.S. force structure in Vietnam. At the same time, however, extensive American aid that flowed into Vietnam after the French left the country was directed in part to developing an armored force for the newly created Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).”

Initially, the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), the command charged with all Allied operations in the RVN, did not see a need for armor. Retired Army General Maxwell Taylor, shown here, at the time the US Ambassador Saigon, objected to the arrival of armor in 1965. Starry noted, “It was not until 1967, however, when a study titled “Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations, Vietnam,” conducted by Major General Arthur L. West, Jr., was sent to the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Army, that the potential of armored forces was fully described to the Army's top leaders.

The study covered the period January 6, 1967-March 28, 1967. It was intended to be “A detailed evaluation of US Army mechanized infantry, tank, armored cavalry and air cavalry units in the RVN.” This is an extensive study which we cannot cover in any depth here. The preface stated, “Great attention was given to those characteristics of the enemy, terrain and climate which impacted on the use of armor and mechanized forces. The subject of tactical movement, in particular, was treated in significant depth.”

The study examined all four Combat Tactical Zones (CTZ), which would later be called corps.

  • I CTZ, in the north, most people “live along a narrow 15 mile strip of coastal rice growing land.” The Marines were the main force there, working to stop infiltration.
  • II CTZ, the terrain varied widely. The coastal plains were heavily populated growing rice, the Anamite Mountains were in the center and covered 64 percent of the CTZ, the thickly forest highlands in the west. The enemy entered the RVN main through this latter area, from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. It was through this area that the bulk of enemy entered the RVN. This CTZ presented a major requirement for force mobility.
  • III CTZ hosted the capital, Saigon, “the political heart of the RVN.” It “is flanked by dense mangrove swamps and extensive piedmont jungle growth. The hardcore enemy units, predominantly the Viet Cong (VC), have developed a series of long established base areas and a deeply entrenched infrastructure.”
  • IV CTZ was primarily “an area of ARVN operations, dense population, flat rice paddy terrain, heavy mangrove swamps and the tactics employed by the enemy, make operations in this area separate and distinct from the other three CTZ.”

The study group concluded the following:

  • “Mechanized infantry, tank and armored and air cavalry equipment is, for the most part, efficient and capable of accomplishing its intended purpose.
  • “Requirements for changes in organization as a result of this examination are neither drastic or revolutionary.
  • “Mechanized infantry, tank and armored and air cavalry units have been successful in Vietnam.”

So at a top level, the report’s finding endorsed employment of these kinds of forces. However, by the time the report was published constraints on the size of American forces in Vietnam had been imposed by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, shown here, and decisions on force deployment extending well into 1968 had already been made. The ARVN armored force meanwhile had been successful enough in fighting the elusive Viet Cong that U.S. armored units had been deployed in limited numbers, usually as part of their parent divisions.

As armor deployed to the region, their organization and table of allowances were very fluid. Many units were deployed haphazardly to various commands.

The 11th ACR was alerted to deploy in March 1966 and right away had to train to fight in a counterinsurgency environment, which demanded it modify its organization and equipment. Remember, the 11th had been stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland and was not being used or trained to its maximum effect. However, GIs being who they are, they hustled and adapted rapidly, as it would turn out, with tremendous foresight.

The 11th focused its preparations for war on the M113 armored personnel carrier (APC). This was going to be its main attack vehicle, and would serve as a substitute for medium tanks and reconnaissance vehicles. This is a photo of a M113 fully tracked armored personnel carrier, known as the APC. She was introduced in the 1960s. When first introduced to Vietnam in 1962, she needed only two crewman, a driver and a commander. She had a single .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun operated by the commander. In this photo, you can see the head of the driver out the forward hatch and the commander manning the .50 cal.

Right off the bat, the 11th felt compelled to modify this equipment. The Regiment had a vision. It wanted the M113 to beat a path through the jungle for the infantry, bring heavy-duty firepower, speed, mobility and maneuverability.

It’s worth highlighting that the M113 in this APC configuration could carry 11 troops inside. This shows the interior of an M113 at the American Armored Foundation Museum in Danville, Virginia, July 2006, presented by a
Japanese version of wikipedia. You can see the benches on which the troops inside could sit.

The 11th ACR added to this configuration and made it a significantly more potent and safer fighting vehicle, but deleted the notion of carrying troops inside other than the crew.

M113 ACAV “A” Troop ACR “Blackhorses” near Bien Hoa, 1970, presented on flickr by zippo132, who presents a magnificent stream of photos of armored vehicles. We commend his presentation to you.

The M113 was already a deadly machine, but the 11th added two M-60 machine-guns (yellow arrows) with a protective gun shield at the rear of the vehicle and installed a gun shield around the .50 cal machine (green arrow) at the commander’s hatch. This configuration required a crew of four. Soon the men stopped calling the M-113 an APC and called her the Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle, ACAV, much more fitting. Each squadron still had a tank company employing the M-48A3 main battle tank.

It’s also worth noting that the M113, now seen as an assault vehicle, seldom carried passengers inside. More often than not the inside was packed with supplies. This is a superb photo of what I mean. It shows an 11th ACR M113 at Bien Hoa, I believe used by the 919th Engineer Co. “Red Devils” assigned to the 11th ACR. It too was presented on flickr by zippo 132 and is listed as part of the Christopher Harlow collection.

Here’s another look inside the M113. That’s Sergeant Victor R. Vela-Carmona, a squad leader with B/1-11 ACR. He had just returned from the Iron Triangle after about 30 days in field combat operations. The photo was taken in January 1967. You can see the amount of supplies carried, such as ammunition, stacks of rifles, C-rations and other needed equipment and gear. The photo was presented by Wisconsin Latino Veterans.

The 11th prided itself on its capacity to conduct decentralized operations and do so as a self-sufficient force, grub, shelters and all. It had plenty of automatic weapons, long-range radios, and a good amount of aircraft. We’ll talk more about the Air Cavalry Troop (ACT) later. The 11th felt confident in its ability to collect intelligence, reinforce rapidly from its own resources, and employ its own artillery using its own howitzers.

The 11th brought 51 M48A3 90mm-gun tanks and 296 M113 personnel carriers. This is a marvelous photo presented by The Patriot Files. It shows a total of five 11th ACR vehicles in Vietnam. The two at the bottom are M113s. The vehicle shown by the white arrow is a M48A3 90mm-gun tank. The tank commander on the tank has the same .50 cal machine gun on the turret. You can see that both M113s do not have men manning the smaller machine guns to the rear of the commander’s .50 cal. It looks like the other two vehicles in the background might be M113s. Whatever the case, you’ve got some good ol’ American horsepower and firepower here in this photo.

In 1969 the M551 armored reconnaissance assault Sheridan first appeared with the 11th. This is an 11th ACR Sheridan working its way through a ravine. Note off to the upper left what appears to be a M113.

M109 155mm Self Propelled (SP) Howitzer. Presented by 11th ACR 3rd Howitzer Battery Vietnam

The 11th also brought 18 self-propelled howitzers including the M109 105 mm and 155 mm versions. It is air transportable and ground mobile under its own power. They received the Self-Propelled 175mm later in the war ...

M132 Flamethrower video grab presented by You Tube.

...Nine M132 flamethrower vehicles, which were a variant of the M113 ACAV. Her role was to provide close-in support. It shoots burning napalm to destroy targets to a range of 170 meters for a maximum of 32 seconds.

... and 48 helicopters. It also had engineer and medical companies attached. It had three armored cav squadrons, a tank company and an howitzer battery, and there was one Air Cav Troop. The Air Cav troop, known as the “Thunderhorse,” had its own helicopter gunships and transports. I will talk more to the helicopters later. They rounded out the 11th ACR as one tough bunch of hombres.

Tom Clancey and Frederick M. Franks, in their book,
Into the Storm: A Study in Command, described the makeup of an armored cavalry squadron in Vietnam:

  • Headquarters, with about 200 troops
  • Three numbered cavalry squadrons equipped with M113s
  • Three lettered cavalry troops such as E,F,G for the 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR, 2-11 ACR; each troop had around 130 men
  • Tank company with 17 M48A3 tanks and 85 soldiers
  • Howitzer batter of six 155-mm artillery pieces, about 125 soldiers. The 2nd squadron would later get two eight inch howitzers, 40 soldiers, and a platoon of 40-mm anti-aircraft pieces (this is a bit hard to understand given there was no enemy air threat)
  • Combat engineer platoon from the regiment’s 919th Engineer Company
  • Command and control aviation section, two UH-1 Hueys and two OH-6A Cayeuse “Loaches”
  • Air Cavalry Troop (ACT) equipped with AH-1G Cobra attack helicopters and OH-6A scout helicopters.

Alerted in March 1966, 11th ACR members spent July and early August 1966 preparing pallet loads for its trucks to embark from the port of Baltimore. The rolling stock went by ship from the port of Baltimore. Support personnel left by commercial air in late August for San Francisco and Oakland Army Terminal. Their task was to prepare for the arrival of the equipment at the port of Saigon. The 1/11 went by troopship, the USNS
General Daniel Sultan, with one overnight stop in the Philippines. The 2/11 and 3/11 had their own troopships. The Sultan took approximately 19 days for the trip to Vung Tau.

Soldiers of the U.S. Army 11th ACR walk ashore, Vung Tau, Vietnam, 1966 (AP) Credit: Henri Huet. Presented by, in a section entitled, “The photographers who died in Vietnam and Indochina.”

The regiment conducted an amphibious landing at Vung Tau, RVN on September 7, 1966, with 3,762 troopers, Colonel William W. Cobb in command. Another 560 troops from other units accompanied the 11th and were attached to it. The 11th ACR would remain in the RVN for five and one-half years, through 1972. It attacked some 60 miles into Cambodia in 1970 as the lead element for the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions. The 2nd Squadron and the 11th’s Air Cav Troop were the last elements of the Regiment to be deactivated and sent back home.

Blackhorse map, presented by K Troop, 11th ACR, Bob Kersey

Initially, the Blackhorses set up their base camp at a place known to some as “Atlanta” (red dot), about four miles south of Xuan Loc (green arrow) on Route 22 and about 22 miles east of Saigon (blue arrow). I have learned from those who served with the 11th ACR that the term “Atlanta” was what was used in the plan that produced their deployment and Base Camp Blackhorse. You’ll note on the map that it is called Blackhorse Base Camp. Please also note a location known as the “Iron Triangle” (black arrow). The 11th ACR conducted many operations in that area.

Here are some shots of the Blackhorse Base Camp.

11th ACR troop quarters, Blackhorse Base Camp, Vietnam 1967. Presented by 7th Surgical Hospital (MA) Vietnam on flickr.

11th ACR Blackhorse Base Camp 1966 and 1967

Yet another view of Blackhorse Base Camp presented by 104 Signal Squadron, Australia

This next map shows III Combat Tactical Zone (CTZ) which marked the area of operations for the 11th ACR.

III Combat Tactical Zone (CTZ)

The 11th ACR was assigned to the II Field Force, Vietnam, which had arrived in March 1966, headquartered at Bien Hoa AB. You can get a little tangled up in nomenclature here. Recall there were four CTZs, which were also known as Military Regions and Corps, all employing the same numbers. In the case of the II Field Force, its area of responsibility was Military Region III or III CTZ, which included 11 provinces surrounding Saigon. I’ve highlighted each province in a light yellow.

While called a Field Force, it was a corps-level command. At its height, it was one of the largest corps-level commands in the Army’s history. Many divisions and units were assigned to it, including the 1st, 9th and 25th Infantry Divisions; 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions; 173rd Airborne Brigade; 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Group, 23rd and 54th Artillery Groups, and the 1st Australian Task Force and Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force.

The 11th ACR was unique. Even though it was not of regimental size, the 11th ACR reported directly to the II Field Force, as did the larger divisions assigned to that field force. This allowed the field force to assign elements of the 11th ACR to a multitude of areas of its responsibility working with a multitude of units depending on the needs of the field force commander. In effect, the 11th ACR was the only independent cavalry unit in Vietnam.

The mission was to provide mobile-shock mechanized support. It did much of its fighting in War Zone C (red arrow) of Tay Ninh Province and the Iron Triangle (green arrow), though its units were called on to provide road clearance and security elsewhere. The blue arrow points to the approximate location of Base Camp Blackhorse. To get your bearings, note the pink arrow pointing to Saigon. The significance of war Zone C would increase over time as US forces learned more and more about how the enemy was employing heavily dug in and well fortified sanctuary camps just across the border in Cambodia. The 11th ACR would play a major role in going after those sanctuaries inside Cambodia later in the war.

Lt. Bill Blickenstaff, a National Guard Protective Service Division Training Supervisor, described the 11th’s mission this way:

“(The mission) consisted of intelligence gathering… (and) what they called ‘Search and Destroy’… The LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) (11th ACR LRRP soldier shown here) were assigned a whole myriad of tasks, which included locating enemy reserves, combat patrols, conducting ambushes; bomb damage assessments; locating enemy command posts and other key facilities; locating targets for air/artillery/ground attack; prisoner snatches, and the placing of sensors along known enemy infiltration routes…”

Having arrived in the RVN in September 1966, the regiment began some serious fighting in January 1967 that extended through its entire stay in-country. I cannot here go into all these battles.

During its stay, the 11th ACR quickly demonstrated its agility. General Starry talks about a battle near Suoi Cat in early December 1966 as an example.

Battle of Suoi Cat, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR, December 2, 1966, presented by Donn A. Starry in his book, Armored Combat in Vietnam.

Suoi was only 30 miles from Saigon. The 11th ACR received intelligence reports indicating an enemy battalion was operating near there. The 1st squadron conducted a limited reconnaissance but could not find the enemy. Troop A tended to base camp security. Base Camp Blackhorse was off to the west (left on the map, off the map). Troop B was securing a rock quarry (red arrow), and most of the rest of the squadron was taking care of maintenance. Some elements of Troop B provided security for a resupply convoy, employing two tanks, three ACAVs, and two 2.5 ton trucks. The convoy was about 15 miles from the quarry. On their way back from escort duty, these B Troop elements (pink area) were ambushed. They immediately charged through the hail of fire. The remainder of Troop B, still at the quarry, hopped to and headed toward the action from the quarry. Additionally, D Co., C Troop, a tank unit, and a howitzer battery rushed to the action from the west. Troop A did likewise.There was a gunship on station, he asked for fixed air support, and a forward air controller (FAC) called for it. You can see a box on the map which was the target of artillery, and an area just to the south of B Troop struck by tactical air.

The battle intensified, vehicles were hit and burning, the squadron commander arrived by helo overhead and directed tactical air and artillery to go after the enemy. The howitzers were positioned, tanks lunged forward at the enemy all guns firing and by the time the dust settled, over 100 enemy were dead including battalion and company commanders.

That’s agility! That’s the advantage the 11th had, a completely mobile reconnaissance and striking force --- some would even say it was the only freewheeling armored unit in combat of its kind in Vietnam.

CW2 Jack Stoddard served two tours in Vietnam, one with the 11th ACR. He really liked the ACAV, as he says here:


ACAVs, by D&S McSpadden, presented on

“Our ACAVs were special because they had a four man crew, one commander, a driver and two side gunners. That meant that there was one 50-cal, and two M60s for fire power. Each gun also had its own metal protective shield. They carried no other troops, but had plenty of ammo on board, as our motto stated, ‘Find The Bastards, Then Pile On!’ The 11th would attack in full force with anywhere from 20 to 60 ACAVs, plus up to three companies of M48 Tanks."

Another example of the 11th ACR’s agility occurred during the Tet Offensive of 1968. The Regiment moved 80 miles at night through enemy territories near the Cambodia border and arrived on location in about 14 hours after alert notification. It followed this demonstration of agility by adding an Aero-Rifle Platoon (ARP) to its Air Cavalry Troop (ACT). This meant that the 11th could move rapidly to areas inaccessible by the ground, disembark, search and destroy, and get extracted out. My research indicates that the 11th ACR defeated the enemy during Tet in multiple locations, fighting both in the jungles and in the cities: Bien Hoa, enemy routed by the 3rd squadron in house-to-house fighting; defense of Saigon, amazingly driving their ACAVs and tanks through the narrow roads and alleys inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, and providing ARVN forces with the armored firepower they needed for support; Cho Lan area of Saigon, 11th ACR troops moved block by block probing into every building, learning that the enemy had essentially fled the area. The Secretary of the Army awarded the 11th ACR the Valorous Unit Award for its work during Tet.

Following Tet, the 11th and other units took advantage of the opportunities presented by defeating the enemy and took the offense to search and destroy the enemy and its underground bunkers. Along with the ARVN, the 11th ACR moved to the northwest of Saigon, fighting for 41 straight days supporting the ARVN.

I found an informative newsreel on You Tube which I commend to your attention, entitled, “
Blackhorse regiment: 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Best Combat Unit in Vietnam.” I drew a few video grabs that walk you through their engagements during the period just described.

M113s leading the charge with dismounted infantry following behind.

These look like M551 Sheridans on the assault

A M551 Sheridan passing by a M113 ACAV

Looks like a M48A3 90mm-gun tank rolling through an urban area. However, a reader has suggested it looks more like a M41 tank with 76 mm gun belonging to the ARVN.

M48A3 90mm-gun tank ready to conduct business in Saigon. However, a reader has suggested it looks more like a M41 tank with 76 mm gun belonging to the ARVN.

ARVN and 11th ACR armor moving to the northwest of Saigon

ACAVs and M48A3 tanks setting up for the assault

In 1969, the 11th ACR moved an entire Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) Troop by C-130 Hercules transport.

This is a modern day photo of a New Zealand ‘113 being uploaded to a C-130.

Let’s move on to convey some stories told by men of the 11th ACR as a means to give you some first-hand views of what the fight in the RVN was like. I had wanted to stay away from the invasion of Cambodia, but the 11th ACR spearheaded that so I have set up a separate section for it. I found it a tough suite of operations to track, but we’ll give it a run in the next section.

In the mean time, 11th ACR stories less their operations inside Cambodia.

Robert Fromme, D/4-12 Infantry of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB), recorded his thoughts in a memoir. It was spring 1969. His outfit worked out of Fire Support Base (FSB) Blackhorse. He talked of the 11th ACR patrols in and out of the FSB. He mentioned that in spring 1969 the 11th ACR was ordered to move out of part of the area for which it was responsible. Fromme’s unit was “to maintain part of the territory made secure by the 11th ACR.” This is an excerpt:

“We were working out of FSB Blackhorse in terrain spotted with a few old French plantations but mostly jungle. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11th ACR) had been operating in the area, sending out periodic armored patrols along tank and armored personnel carrier (APC) trails that carved up the landscape at five- to 10-mile intervals. In the spring of 1969 their orders were to relinquish part of the area. Elements of the 199th LIB were moved northeast, out of the rice and pineapple regions of Long An and Hau Nghia, south and east of Saigon. I remember the names of Firebases Elvira and Claudette from those early months. Soon Delta Company would know life in the jungle and frequent camps named Bear Cat, Blackhorse and Joy. Our new mission was to maintain part of the territory made secure by the 11th ACR.

This is a typical enemy camp in the jungle. Presented by TGappa at picasweb

“In reality, the jungles around Blackhorse were infested with NVA regiments and VC, dug in and camping in the patchwork between the cavalry trails. No doubt they had been entrenched there for years.”

Jack Stoddard, 21, arrived in the summer of 1968. He was assigned to 1st Platoon, M Company, 11th ACR. He was taken to his outfit by a Chinook helicopter and during the flight was able to grasp the density of the triple canopy jungle beneath him, a jungle he described as taking on a “darker green” and then turning “even darker” appearing to look like black terrain. By then he commented that it was “almost impossible to see through.” He would learn this was a triple canopy jungle.

His helicopter then approached a clearing, once elephant grass, now completely flat after being crushed by a group of 50-ton tanks.

Shortly after arriving at his unit, the radio squawked for the platoon to move out. Stoddard was so new that had not yet received any ammo, but he grabbed his duffle bag and rifle and mounted up on top of Mike 14, the same tank with Sergeant First Class (SFC) Edwards aboard. The platoon at the time had no officer, so Edwards was in charge.

Stoddard said the tanks simply crushed through the dense jungle, deeper and deeper, with branches and tree limbs hitting him. As they continued into the jungle, Stoddard said it “became darker and thicker with every minute that went by. It seemed to me as if it was trying to attack and swallow our tanks.”

“Wait-minute-vine”, presented by Homer R. Steedy, Jr., callsign swampfox, 4th Infantry Division, Vietnam

Then, all of a sudden, a “giant prickly vine leaped out at me (and) in no time it was wrapped around my chest and was strangling me in a quiet death grip.” He was unable to get anyone’s attention, since all hands were very busy and on head-phones. The tank was moving slowly, but fast enough that the vine, gripped around Stoddard, starting pulling him off the tank. Then he said his legs flew up in the air and he started passing by SFC Edwards. Edwards saw what was happening, told the tanker to stop, and then using his knife he cut the vine loose. Stoddard was saved! He saw everyone around him laughing, which astonished him as he was sure he was going to die. These vines were known to the old hands as “wait-a-minute vines.” Tough to be a “newbie.”

2/A/1-11th ACR Fritz Battle Scene art , presented by the Pritzker Military Library

Quite often 11th ACR units would escort truck convoys. On January 11, 1969, Lt. Harold Fritz was in command of 2nd Platoon, Troop A, 1st Squadron 11th ACR. His task was to escort a truck convoy on Hwy 13, termed by the troops as a “gravy run.” He had seven vehicles in his armored platoon. On their way to meet and escort the convoy, they were ambushed by a reinforced enemy company deployed in ambush positions. The cross fire was intense, setting nearly all the platoon’s vehicles aflame. Fritz’s vehicle was hit and he was seriously wounded. He saw his platoon was completely surrounded. He jumped up on top of his vehicle and directed his troops to reposition their vehicles, set up a defense, help the wounded, distribute ammo, direct fire all the while encouraging them to fight on. The enemy then began an assault, so Fritz manned a machine gun and inspired his troops to deliver intense counter-fire, forcing the enemy to drop back. Then a second enemy force advanced on their positions. Armed with only a pistol and bayonet, Fritz led a small group of men to charge the enemy forcing the enemy to abandon its ambush positions. A relief force of tanks and armor arrived, Fritz was not liking how it was deploying and despite his wounds and the continuing heavy enemy fire, ran about redeploying the relief force to be most effective. He would not leave the area until all his men were evacuated. Among other medals, including the Silver Star, Lt. Fritz would receive the Medal of Honor. Incredibly, following the battle Fritz returned to the site, and found a cigarette lighter given him by his wife. It had been in his left breast pocket and stopped a bullet that surely would have killed him. I suppose you’ve heard this phrase so many times, but it says it all --- “Where do we get guys like this?” My answer has always been, from our neighborhoods, from the family next door.

A convoy from Blackhorse basecamp makes its way around a stand of rubber trees. This photo was given to Jack Stoddard for inclusion in his book. Presented by K Troop hosted by Bob Hersey

A lesson here is that the enemy attacks a convoy escorted by the 11ACR at its own peril. You might inflict heavy damage, but you will not defeat the Blackhorses.

There is a wonderful interview video of Fritz presented by the
Pritzker Military Library. Lt. Fritz had been assigned to the 6th Cav, but when he got to Vietnam learned he was going to go to the 11th ACR. He liked that, saying, “It had a helluva good reputation, they were hard fighters, they had good leadership, they had good troopers.” He was assigned to Delta Co. which was a tank company of the 1st Squadron. He liked this as well. It turned out the unit was on the march when he tried to catch up to it and join it. Unfortunately, a major with whom he was riding was killed by stepping on an anti-tank mine after dismounting their jeep. Again, the age-old question, “Why him? Why not me?” The only answer I have is, “Because.”

A modern-day Vietnamese soldier demonstrates how VC and NVA soldiers used spider holes to pop up and attack Allied forces. Presented by Pete’s site, “Return to Vietnam 2006.”

During that interview, Fritz talked about an engagement in August 1968 when he was with Alpha Troop. He had five M48-A2C tanks and was sent to help out and extricate a unit under heavy fire, encircled, and in deep trouble. When he and his men arrived, they saw that the Americans, far outnumbered in an ambush, had taken high casualties. He also saw enemy popping out of “spider holes” in the ground, firing rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s and then going back into their holes. They took intensive fire. Ultimately they managed to get out.

He said they were often detailed to infantry units to give them the added firepower. They were also called on to conduct night operations with their tanks, which created challenges with the terrain. He commented that a hole at night could be a two foot hole they would roll over or a deep drop off a cliff. During this discussion, he mentioned that Col. George S. Patton, shown here, was in command and called frequently for night missions. Patton’s motto was, “You’ve got to be bold to make contact.” In other words, like his old man, Patton wanted contact and wanted his men to search it out and destroy the enemy in the process.

Lee J. Pryor was with B Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR in 1968. He mentions in a book review that his outfit had been in the field for quite a while and had been sent to Bien Hoa for some rest. With short notice, they were ordered back to combat and began moving north to support the 1st Infantry Division. During the road march, Pryor remarked:

“During the road march north the radio suddenly came to life with information that the Regimental Commander, Col George S. Patton, ‘Blackhorse Six,’ was standing on the side of the road saluting each A-Cav as it went by him. The troopers on each vehicle, including myself, returned the salute as they went by Blackhorse Six ... Patton’s simple leadership act of standing by the road and saluting each vehicle as it went by had a great affect on me. That image has stuck with me to this day.”

Leadership, marvelous to behold.

The first Raven helicopter received by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment lands at Tipton Army Airfield, Fort George G. Meade. The pilot, Captain Joseph Gallagher, Air Troop Commander, was accompanied by Captain Joseph L. Kaster. For the 11th ACR, the OH-6A Cayuse would replace the OH-23 for Vietnam duty circa 1968. I wanted to show it to you because this aircraft was part of the next story. Presented by Ft George G. Meade Museum

In March 1968,
Major Glenn O. Ryburn, the Executive Officer (XO) for the 3rd squadron, 11th ACR was flying some supplies for his troops from Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon to the squadron’s command post (CP) near Bien Hoa. He was the passenger aboard an OH-23 Raven light observation helicopter and, always with a sharp eye, spotted some grass huts beneath him that made him suspicious. He told his pilot, WO Eldon Nygaard to fly lower to get a better view. As they swooped in, they took automatic weapons fire. Ryburn saw where the fire came from, pointed to the hut, and Nygaard rolled away from the fire and circled the hut. Nygaard rolled in toward the target a few times from different directions and Ryburn readied his automatic rifle. Then two VC appeared at a doorway and Ryburn forced them back into the hut by firing at them. Then Nygaard noticed that there was a bunker in there. So he rolled around to get a better view, passed just four feet above the ground, and saw a concrete bunker with several firing ports. Here again the agility of the 11th ACR. Ryburn called in to his boss, Lt. Col. Neil Creighton, told him what they found, and with Nygaard and Ryburn flying above directing traffic, in came tanks and ACAVs. The ACAVs pounded the enemy with .50 cal fire and the bunker erupted into flames. Ryburn spotted three VC running from the area and concluded business with them. All in all, during what was to be a routine resupply endeavor, six VC dead and the bunker with supplies and weapons all in the vapor.

Even though they were armored, the troops often relied on air strikes before they moved into a hot spot, and also would get flareship support from their own Air Cav Troop to light up their way at night. They would often travel with the ARVN, the latter of whom might simply wish to hitch a ride. Doug Kibbey, who had been with”Dirty Delta”, 2/17 Air Cav, 101st Airborne Division, but transferred later in his tour to the 2/11 ACR, commented that the ARVN wanted to go inside the personnel carriers thinking it was safe down in there, even though Kibbey felt it was safer to ride outside on top.

As the 11th ACR moves through heavy bush, you can see an ARVN soldier riding along with his foot hanging off the side of the M113. Photo courtesy of Doug Kibbey, presented by Vietnam Helicopters Pilots Association.

The 11th Cav guys would warn the ARVN not to let their feet hang down over the side of a vehicle, in case a land mine would go off. Quite often, the ARVN simply would not heed the warnings.

Video grab of M113 moving through dense jungle, presented by You Tube.

A technique often employed by the 11th ACR was to take a M113 ACAV into extremely heavy bush areas while conducting lengthy patrols and conduct what they called insertion maneuvers. The M113s might carry about four of their own 11th Cav troopers, each of whom would slide out the back under the cover of the bush to set up an ambush site, going undetected as they slipped out the back. In looking at the above video grab of a M113 pushing its way through dense jungle, you can almost envision a few troopers inside sneaking out the back, which is to the right.

Here you see a M113 that has thrown its track. That’s Arthur “Willie” Williams preparing to repair the track. He was with I Troop, 3/11 ACR. Photo courtesy of Jerry Mitchell and presented by I Troop 3/11 ACR.

One of the problems operating in such thick bush areas was the intense heat, which could increase the risk of the vehicles overheating or the tanks throwing their tracks. Repairing vehicles while on patrol was a constant requirement. Some times the other vehicles on the patrol would have to go ahead, leaving the track under repair alone, and sometimes troops would fall out and provide some semblance of security until the repair was made. Other times, they would put a vehicle in tow and get on the move that way. When in the heavy bush, if enemy were known or suspected to be ahead, anywhere from one to a few would dismount and reconnoiter the area ahead through the thick bush.

One section of an 11th ACR Night Defensive Position, image courtesy of Doug Kibbey, commander, M113 ACAV G71, 2/11th ACR, presented by the Vietnam Helicopters Pilots Association.

Kibbey talks a lot about Night Defensive Perimeters, or NDPs. He commented that this was “the armored cav version of ‘circling the wagons.’” He described it like this:

“Would have 2 concentric circles, an inner and outer, though reaction to threat was to mobilize & attack (every vehicle here could be movin' & shootin' in 30 seconds). (An) M548 in center of circle was the troop mechanic’s vehicle (best parties in town) and on the right, time for a car wash. We'd sortie from these (1 or 2 of 3 line platoons at a time, 1 stayed for security) and maintain the location for 24-72 hours, any longer invited attack of some kind. Note erected 'RPG (rocket propelled grenade) nets.’”

They would dig large pits, if you will, in which the men could convene, rest, eat and relax. These pits would be covered by tarpaulins which would stand only a few feet above the ground.

Sometimes the men would take an artillery ordnance container and place it on top of their vehicle’s exhaust. This would extend the exhaust plume above the crew when they were in heavy bush.

US Army Chinook delivering 500 gallon collapsible drums filled with fuel. Presented by US Army Center of Military History

They would also refuel while on patrol by employing hand pumps attached to aerially-delivered fuel blivets placed on the ground. Lt. General John H. Hay, Jr. wrote “Tactical and Materiel Innovations” as part of the Army’s Vietnam Studies Program. he wrote this about refueling armored vehicles:

“The transfer of fuel from the 500-gallon rubber drums to the armored vehicles of the task force sometimes posed a problem. Wherever possible, the force of gravity was used; however, a modified M113 bilge pump was designed and constructed by the task force maintenance section. This pump greatly reduced the restrictions on the refueling of the vehicles.”

When the men took their vehicles and tanks through the bush, they would call it “busting the bush.” Here you see G Troop, 11th ACR “busting bush.” Image courtesy of Doug Kibbey, presented by Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Museum.

The troops had a little flier for the enemy that read like this:

11th ACR flier for the enemy. Image courtesy of Ed Rouse at via Doug Kibbey, presented by Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Museum.

"Viet Cong Beware! There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide! The tanks and armored vehicles of the Blackhorse Regiment will find and destroy you! It is too late to fight. Beware Viet Cong, we are everywhere! Rally now under the Chieu Hoi Program (a government surrender program for rebels),it is your only hope to live!"

In March 1970, A Troop, 1st squadron 11th ACR was on patrol when they learned that Charlie Company, 1st Infantry Division, was pinned down by the enemy after entering a cluster of NVA bunkers near the Cambodian border. Charlie Co. was in deep trouble.

Capt. John Poindexter (white arrow), with a South Vietnamese scout at his side. Photo credit: Martineau, The Washington Post, presented by The Seattle Times

Capt. John Poindexter commanded A troop, and pondered for a moment or two whether to go in and help or come back another day with a larger force to work against the entrenched enemy. He and his men decided they had to go in and mount a rescue and extraction. They pushed their tanks some two miles through dense jungle and planned simply to extract what remained of Charlie Co. But the enemy kept firing, so Alpha troop replied. Enemy fire intensified. Poindexter said:

"There were smells of acrid smoke, the discharge of dozens of machine guns, main tank guns, occasionally something worse, something burning or the smell of blood."

Alpha’s tanks engaged with heavy fire, enough to weaken the enemy. Then day turned to night, and Poindexter worried about being surrounded, so he and his men picked up all hands and they slipped out under the cover of night.

Eleven veterans from the Alpha Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which has its active unit stationed at Fort Irwin, stood on stage with President Barack Obama on October 20, 2009 as the president commented on the veterans' delayed recognition. Mr. Obama awarded the unit with the Presidential Unit Citation. AP Photo. Presented by Desert Dispatch.

Former captain of the Alpha Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment John Poindexter (right), shook hands with President Barack Obama as the president awarded Poindexter's troops the Presidential Unit Citation at the White House on October 20, 2000. AP Photo. Presented by Desert Dispatch.

Poindexter lost two of his men with 40 wounded, but the rescue mission was successful. In October 2009, President Obama presented the men of Alpha Troop with the Presidential Unit Citation after their captain, John Poindexter pressed for recognition.

In his book, Vietnam was more than just the killing, Patrick H. Dockery, Lt. Col. (USAR Ret.), shown here when he commanded C/5-7 Cav, talks of his first day to command Echo Co. 5-7 Cavalry, in September 1969. Echo was located at FSB Buttons in Song Be. The base camp was expanding to handle a brigade and units were moving around. Charlie Troop of the 2-11 ACR was in final preparations to be airlifted out by C-130 transports. Dockery intimated that they all would be sad to see Charlie Troop leave as it had proven a good combat partner with a host of other units.

During their preparations to leave, Charlie Troop had to drain 50 percent of the gasoline from their vehicles and replace all their ammo with banded cases, stacked and banded inside their APCs.

Shortly before Charlie Co. was due to leave, word came in that one of Dockery’s recon patrols was in heavy contact with a major enemy force several kms from FSB Buttons. They were not able to break contact and communications equipment was so badly damaged that they were virtually radio silent.

Charlie Troop’s commander got wind of the problem, and refused to load up any more of his APCs until his “brothers” were clear of the enemy. The enemy had the advantage against the recon troops and medevac flights could not get in and out. The Charlie Troop commander stood firm, but got the order from his brigade commander that he must continue loading up and leave. With that, Charlie Troop’s skipper still stood firm, refusing to upload. His stubbornness paid off. He was ordered to go to the ambush area and influence the outcome.

Charlie Troop’s men had to virtually undo everything they had done to load up on the C-130s and leave. Nonetheless, all of Charlie Troop’s APCs hit the road and the men were suiting up for the fight as they rolled out.

M113s advancing on the attack with infantry following behind. Presented by wikipedia.

Dockery then wrote:

“I was not there, but the survivors from the Recon Platoon told me that it was a sight to see. In the midst of all the smoke, explosions and confusion Charlie Troop seemed to appear from nowhere coming over the hill leading down into the contact area. They were in their battle formation and as soon as they could engage the enemy without endangering their ‘brothers,’ ran through the ambush side to the enemy side and opened up with everything they had. My guys said the only thing missing was the horses and bugler sounding charge ... The battle ended as soon as Charlie Troop rolled through the ambush, directly into the enemy positions and opened up. The enemy now faced with their overwhelming firepower broke contact and left the area.”

The enemy force was estimated to be at least a reinforced battalion.

In 2004, Ty Dodge, a former commander 3rd Platoon, I Troop, 3rd Squadron, 11th ACR (1969-70) wrote a paper, really a memoir, a composite of memoirs he gained through talking to the troops, covering the
Battle of Fire Support Base (FSB) Buttons fought in November 4, 1969. I commend this memoir suite to you.

I wanted to extract his description of a normal 11th ACR platoon. He wrote, “At full strength an armored cavalry platoon, depending on its configuration, had as many as forty men and nine vehicles, or ‘tracks,’ including six ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles) and three Sheridans (light tanks). At that time, however, I had only five ACAVs, one Sheridan, and about twenty troopers.” This underscores an age old military adage, “Do more with less.” That said, Dodge would comment, “An armored cavalry platoon was the most powerful and heavily-armed ground force in the military.”

FSB Buttons, drawn from Ty Dodge’s Battle of Fire Support Base (FSB) Buttons

FSB Buttons was the base camp for the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. Buttons had grown so much that Dodge said it was “nearly indefensible.” It was located close to the Cambodian border almost due north of Saigon. So his platoon was tasked to help defend it. The enemy attacked the FSB in the very early morning hours of November 4, 1969, starting with 107-mm rockets and 82-mm and 120-mm mortars. The enemy was focused on Dodge’s platoon’s position, though he attacked at many points. Then came enemy sappers and infantry. The estimated size of the attacking force would later be determined to be about 1,000. Buttons was defended by only a few hundred men. Dodge was wounded right off the bat by a rocket propelled grenade hitting his track.

He would write, “Just the six tracks I had on line that night mounted six .50 caliber machine guns, ten M60 machine guns, and an M73 machine gun. Together they were capable of putting out fire at a combined-rate of nearly 12,000 rounds per minute—not to mention the main gun on Sgt. Loose’s Sheridan. And my guys weren’t making the mistake of firing high, as so many untrained gunners did. Their fire was deadly accurate, lighting up the night like a thousand Fourth of July sparklers as bullets sliced through the concertina wire to our front. I remember thinking how beautiful that was—and how deadly. I would not have cared to be on the other side of our guns that night!”

The fighting was fierce, and lasted until about 5:30 am. The enemy broke contact and left many of their dead behind. Dodge, like so many others, fought through the night wounded, Dodge riddled with shrapnel. The enemy lost about 172, maybe more. Two Americans died, 26 were wounded. It has always been known that an attacking force must far outnumber a defending force, I have seen some say 3-1. By the looks of it, if you choose to attack an 11th ACR platoon, you’ll need a lot more than 3-1.

I have deliberately left the Air Cav Troop until last. Part of the reason is that there’s a lot to cover and learn about how they organized and fought and how they fit with their own and other ground units in Vietnam.

11thACR M113 and UH-1 Huey, the ground-air team

The Air Cav Troop, the “Thunderhorses,” rounded out the 11th ACR to make it one-each mean fighting machine. Some have said that these aircraft, when combined with the rest the 11th ACR took to the battlefield, made it a “self-contained cavalry formation.”

The 11th ACR’s Air Cavalry Troop (ACT) had a mix of OH-6A scout helicopters, UH-1H Hueys, and later, AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters in the RVN. Broadly speaking, the plan was for the OH-6s to conduct reconnaissance, often at tree-top level, often to attract enemy fire; the AH-1 Cobra gunships would clear the area as required, and would often respond to the fire being taken by the OH-6s; and the UH-1 Hueys would come in with troops for insertion and extraction. As we will see, life here was a bit more complicated than that but you get the top-level idea.

Let’s take a look at the three. I must comment that I spent a great deal of time searching for 11th ACR birds. I could have presented better photos of the aircraft type in some instances, but I wanted you to see the 11th’s aircraft. As luck would have it, after days and days of searching, all of a sudden I would find several shots.

OH-6 Cayuse, nicknamed the “Loach” after the requirement acronym LOH, Light Observation Helicopter. It is my understanding that while the OH-6A replaced the OH-23 in 1968, the Loach came to Vietnam with the 11th ACT.

OH-6A LOH Scout in sand bag revetment at Bien Hoa, RVN. Image courtesy of Paul Madsen CWO, 11th AirCav. 11th ACR. Presented by

Video clip of an 11th ACT UH-1 “iroquois,” better known as the Huey, in operations in Vietnam.

I could have presented better photos of the UH-1 Huey. She was and is a famous ship. But I wanted to show you 11th ACR ACT choppers, and that’s what this is. She belonged to the 2/11th ACR. The photo was provided to us by Doug Kibbey.

Miracle of miracles, I found some other shots of 11th ACR Hueys. Here’s a good one from the front. Presented by

11th ACT AH-1 Cobra gunship, RVN

Cobra AH-1G "The Wanderer" flown by W.O. Paul Madsen - call sign Thunderhorse 669". Image courtesy of Paul Madsen CWO, 11th AirCav. 11th ACR. Presented by Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association.

The 11th ACT received its AH-1 Cobra gunships in the RVN in the summer of 1968, and flew them through 1972.

There are two aspects of the 11th ACT that I wish to highlight, and then post a few stories from people in the Troop.

First, let’s discuss something known as “Pink Teams.” The men flying Pink Team missions called their helicopters “tadpoles” and “snakes.”

A Pink Team is a combination of different helicopters, each with a different role. Usually a Pink Team employed an OH-6A Loach, known as the “white bird” from the “White Platoon,” to fly low level observation or surveillance missions, often at tree top level, often in tight circles trying to draw enemy fire to help them spot the enemy’s location. The OH-6A in this role was known as the tadpole, quickly moving left and right, up and down, always searching for enemy. The AH-1G Cobra gunship accompanied the Loach and was there to protect the OH-6A and destroy the targets observed by the OH-6A crew. The AH-1G was known as the “red bird” from the “Red Platoon.” It was also known as the snake, sneaking around preparing to strike on short notice. She might fly higher, above the Loach, perhaps to an altitude of 1,000 ft. She had a crew of two, a front-seater and a back-seater, operating 2.75-inch rockets, 40mm canons and miniguns that could pour out a continuous stream of fire. The front-seater could fire using the flex turret and/or rockets. The back-seater controlled a stowed turret and rockets as well. As an aside, the back-seater was usually the aircraft commander (AC).

While it was the white and red that made up the pink, they would often travel with UH-1 Hueys tailing behind, kind of in a “chase plane” mode, ready to respond to extracting troops on the ground or, should something happen to the Pink Team, prepared to promptly pickup the crews. The UH-1s could play another role, which is what I want to highlight next.

As a neat aside, the 11th ACR’s colors are red and white! Red and white equals pink.

An ARP in action in the bush with the Huey. Presented by “the Blue Annihilators.”

Second, I want to highlight the Aero-Rifle Platoon (ARP), known as “the Blues.” They often flew with the Pink Teams. Quite often, the Pink team would find the enemy in very inaccessible locations, hard to strike at from the air even from helicopters which had great maneuverability. There were always instances where a small ground force would have to be inserted into the area to hunt down the enemy and conduct business. If they needed help, reinforcements would be flown in as well. The ART would usually be a patrol-size element, which could be followed promptly by insertion of the rest of the platoon. The ART was mainly a ground reconnaissance team tasked to fix the enemy until a larger force could be inserted, search out bunker complexes and possible cache sites. The ARTs would also be used to find crash sites and either medevac out the survivors or extract the bodies of their brothers.

Thomas Miller was with the 11th ACR and has posted a tribute to his roommate, Sgt. Frank De Paul Saracino, Jr. It is entitled,
“Closing the door for Frank...” They worked together in an 11th ACT ARP. Both flew their first ARP mission together on March 20, 1969 during “Operation Atlas Wedge.” For this mission, the ARPs had four squads of seven men each. Thomas was in the 2nd Squad, Frank was in the 3rd. Each squad had its own H-1 Huey along with on OH-6A Loach and one AH-1G Cobra, a pink team. The pink team launched first followed by the four Hueys. They headed toward their landing zone, LZ, and the pink team attempted to ascertain whether there were any enemy there by trying to draw their fire.

Spc 4 Jarvis was Miller’s squad leader and assigned him the task of walking behind the point man. Saracino was tasked to be the point man for his squad. After takeoff and a flight to the LZ, Jarvis told Miller, “We’re getting ready to land. When we touch down, you unass this ship fast and stay behind me.” Jarvis took point. Within moments, the four Hueys dove into a very small clearing, and everyone “unassed” themselves in a hurry. The Hueys then left, while the pink team remained aloft, out of sight.

This photo is of a rubber tree area near Blackhorse basecamp. It gives you an idea of how thick such an area can be, with open area nearby. Presented by K Troop hosted by Bob Hersey

All three squads convened outside a small hamlet near the Michelin Rubber Plantation, a huge operation. The plantation was about as thick with trees and jungle as it can get, which is why ARPs were sent in. The problem initially is that the enemy is often in the the thick of the plantation while the men, once “unassed” from their Huey, are in the open.

All of a sudden, the squads took heavy machine-gun fire. Miller said he was pinned down, but his squad leader ordered his men to run for cover. Miller said, “there was no cover.” Grouch, from the 2nd squad, was hit. Four ARP members gathered and moved forward toward where they thought the enemy was, and laid down some heavy fire, stopping enemy fire long enough for others to get Groucho out of there.

Both the 3rd and 4th squads managed to withdraw “away from the killing zone.” This enabled them to position their machine-guns and grenade launchers and their counter-attack proved effective. In addition, they called for helicopter support. Then came word there was one of their own KIA, and it was Frank. For the moment, they had to leave him behind.

Elements of the 1st Cav were already in the area and on their way to help. Ten helos with 1st Cav troops aboard came in under the direction of the 11th ACR squads on the ground. Friendly artillery also started coming in against enemy positions. However, an intense firefight ensued and one element of the 1st Cav was gunned down. A medic crawled over to a pile of bodies and tried to help them. He was then hit, but was able to signal to Miller where the enemy was coming from before the enemy finished him off. Miller told Jarvis where the fire was coming from, and together the 1st Cav and 11th ACR guys pounded that position with heavy fire, silencing the enemy.

The fight still not over. The men started looking for their dead and wounded. Miller and others from the 11th ACR were authorized to look for Frank. They found him in a ditch, and it appeared the enemy tried to remove his boots. His weapon was missing. He had been shot in the head by a machine gun. Four from the group picked him up and carried him to the LZ. There were four Hueys waiting there, one of which carried the Blackhorse patch. They carried Frank to it and put him inside. One of the pilots then said, "You'll have to take that soldier back to one of the dust-off (medevac) choppers.” Miller wrote:

“We looked at him and replied, ‘He’s one of us, he's an ARP, and we want you to take him home!’ I think the pilot saw the stern look in our eyes and he talked to his superior over the headset. In a moment he told us, ‘We’d be proud to fly him back.’ “

In February 1971, the Regiments units, minus 2nd Troop and the ACT, returned to the US and were inactivated. The ACT and 2nd Troop were inactivated in the RVN on March 20 and April 6, 1972 respectively.

The 14th ACR in Germany was redesignated the 11th ACR on May 17, 1972 where it would guard the East-West German border. The regiment played a major role in training our forces to fight in Southwest Asia, and then went there itself. The Regiment fights on to this day.

U.S. Army soldiers and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle with the 2nd Battalion, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment cautiously advance into a bunker area as they conduct a raid on the Hateen Weapons Complex in Babil, Iraq, on March 26, 2005. The 11th Armored Cavalry is attached to the 155 Brigade Combat Team headquartered in Tupelo, Miss. Photo credit: Chief Petty Officer Edward Martens, USN


11th ACR charges into Cambodia