“Find the bastards, and pile on,” the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Indochina
By Ed Marek, editor
Note bene: I have received most informative memoirs from Don Dauphin and Ron Brown about the 11th ACR. I have appended them to the end of this page. I invite others to send in their memoirs as they see fit.
July 26, 2010, Memoirs at the end updated September 18, 2014
The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) would play a major role in the incursion of Cambodia executed in late April early May 1970. While 1970 was the official launch date, I need to speak to events prior to that time. There are those who prefer to call this an invasion. Frankly, I started this story with that opinion, but have decided the term “incursion” is more accurate. The purpose was not to invade all Cambodia and hold it. Instead it was targeted at North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) troops, base-camps, supplies and food, weapons and ammunition caches located inside Cambodia along her border with the RVN.
Let’s update ourselves on the geography and the targets. This is an informative map to get this discussion going.
Map of Cambodia invasion areas. Presented by Northwest veterans Newsletter.
As you study this region during the Indochina war, you’ll hear mention made of the Parrot’s Peak of Cambodia to the bottom of this map, and the Fish Hook just above and to right of center. The area of the RVN that lies in between is War Zone C and this is where the invasion force assembled and launched. Let’s talk a bit to the targets:
- I mentioned the COSVN (Central Office for South Vietnam) in the previous section. This was the enemy’s headquarters for combat operations in the southern half of the RVN. You can see it was thought to be located in the thick of the Mimot Rubber Plantation, at least during the planning phase of the operation. Please remember that this was not a “MACV” type headquarters, but instead was a network
- The NLF equates to the National Front for the Liberation of Southern Vietnam, a fancy name for the Viet Cong, the VC.
- The PRG was the Provisional Revolutionary Government formed in the RVN by the Hanoi government as a formal alternative to the RVN government in Saigon. It would later represent the interests of the NLF in the final peace negotiations. The PRG had its presidential headquarters at Ben Ra and its justice ministry in Hoa Hep. Other ministries and base areas were strung out along the border from Xom Giua to below Tapang Robon.
- The COSVN area was known to USAF B-52 bombers as Base Area 353, code named “Breakfast,” while most of the PRG headquarters were targeted as “Base Area 354.”
- Not shown on the map were the PAVN, or People’s Army of Vietnam, known to the US as the North Vietnamese Army, the NVA. They were in these areas in great numbers.
- All along the border, enemy troops were hunkered down in well entrenched bunkers, spider holes, and tunnel networks to protect their sanctuaries inside Cambodia.
This region was close to the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which brought these kinds of materiels all the way from North Vietnam into the lower reaches of the RVN, through Laos and Cambodia.
The enemy therefore had long lines of communication from the North all the way to the Mekong River delta region of the South, and over time built an incredible network of trails and paths to move troops and supplies through Laos and Cambodia and into the RVN. The US and its Allies were not able to shut it down. An incursion into Laos to block the trail and the incursion into Cambodia were the only ways to stop the flow. The US-ARVN “Operation El Paso” incursion into Laos was nixed by the suits, but the incursion into Cambodia went forth. The green circle reflects the area of interest for the Cambodia incursion, the Parrot’s Peak jutting to the south (lower black arrow), the Fish Hook to the north (upper black arrow), with the main incursion thrust planned to go straight between the two directed at the COSVN headquarters.
US and ARVN authorities knew the enemy had been operating here for a long time. USAF B-52 strategic bombers had been pounding this region for years.
Map of Cambodia showing the 113,716 sites bombed by 30,516 sorties dropping 2,756941 tons of ordnance through the period 1965-1973. The top yellow arrow marks the Fish Hook, the bottom the Parrot’s Peak. Drawn from a historical paper done by Taylor Owen and Bob Kiernan, “Bombs over Cambodia” and presented by Yale University.
You might read from other sources that B-52 bombing raids began inside Cambodia in March 1969. Actually, B-52 bombing inside Cambodia started in October 1965, during the Johnson administration. The B-52 was designed to conduct nuclear bombing flights over the Soviet Union. In Vietnam, it was used more as a long-range artillery barrage. No one in his-her right mind would want to be under a B-52 barrage.
The date March 1969 is used because that is when the Nixon administration approved an intense B-52 bombing campaign designed to destroy the COSVN HQ. More on that in a moment.
Intelligence as early as February 1969 made a strong case that the COSVN HQ was in Cambodia. In addition to believing COSVN was in Cambodia as shown on the previous maps, the 11th ACR developed solid intelligence to indicate the enemy was planning to launch a major offensive from this region of Cambodia into the RVN. This offensive would likely be directed straight at the 1st Cavalry Division and perhaps even all the way to Saigon.
I want to talk about the Laos operation for a moment. When he was the MACV, General William Westmoreland proposed a ground operation into Laos called “Operation El Paso.” He proposed sending in three divisions, two ARVN, one US. Their mission would be to barricade the Ho Chi Minh Trail and with air support shut it down. There are many reasons to believe that it would have worked. NVA general officers said it would have shut down their war efforts in the South. USAF fighter bombers and heavy bombers had been bombing the trail for years, but the trail stayed open and the logistics continued to flow to the enemy forces in the RVN. The suits in Washington vetoed the plan, fearing the Chinese. Westmoreland would say, “I’d like to go to Tchepone (Laos) but I haven’t got the tickets.” Keep this plan in mind as we go forward.
One of the accomplishments of the Cambodian incursion we are about to describe is that it forced the NVA to increase the amount of supplies they funneled into the RVN through Laos. Absent approval by the suits of Operation El Paso, the ARVN invaded Laos themselves in Operation Lam Son 719, launched on January 30, 1971. US ground forces supported them, but mainly with artillery from inside the RVN. B-52 raids were conducted against targets in Laos.
The ARVN gave the enemy a good fight, but both sides took very heavy casualties and there was no clearcut victory. Most important, the ARVN were not able to barricade the trail in Laos. The US forces were essential to success.
There is a similarity between that operation and the one we are about to describe into Cambodia. Bombing had an effect, but alone it was not enough. Ground forces had to go in for both cases. In our case, the suits in the Nixon administration agreed that we had to go into Cambodia, and they did.
American planners were well aware that in 1970 US forces were withdrawing from the RVN and the enemy would surely take advantage of that. One area of great concern was War Zone C and the III CTZ. The enemy headquarters had directed its forces to step up their attacks. the enemy’s problem was that its units down in that region were under-manned and under-equipped, and their morale was not good. From the American vantage, the US did not want to get caught in a Dien Bien Phu kind of situation, so the American military leadership had to be very cautious.
It is in this context that the 11th ACR played a significant role even before the incursion occurred.
Swanson “Jerry” Hudson served in the RVN for 32 months and was a member of the 11th ACR. He has written about the intelligence obtained by the 11th, “Big catch in the Fishhook: a secret foray into Cambodia produced the intelligence that undercut a major Communist attack in the summer of 1969.”
Hudson served with the Air Cavalry Troop (ACT) and on August 9, 1969 went on his first mission into Cambodia. He was a squad leader in the Aero-Rifle PLatoon (ARP). During much of the year, his outfit conducted offensive operations as a light infantry strike force. Many of his missions were inside Cambodia. They went into the Fish Hook, a place he felt was among the most dangerous in the Indochina War. He and the others knew it was technically not legal for them to go into Cambodia, but they saw that as politics --- they had their mission tasking and executed it.
In July 1969, less than a month before Hudson’s mission, a VC soldier decided he had had enough of the war and defected to an RVN regional forces unit. No big deal, everyone thought. The 541st Military Intelligence Detachment was attached to the 11th ACR and interviewed the POW on July 31, 1969. Sifting through the noise was hard, but the POW indicated the NVA 9th Division had moved into an area farther south than originally thought. Some call this the 9th VC Division, but it was actually manned by NVA forces at about the 90 percent level. He also said that the NVA-VC were planning a major offensive in the Binh Long Province of the RVN (green on the map), adjacent to Tay Ninh Province and bordering on the Fish Hook (top red arrow, Parrots peak lower red arrow) of Cambodia. Furthermore the NVA 1st Division had sent in forces and all together they were going to go straight at the 11th ACR and the 1st Cavalry Division. The main target was An Loc. The POW said the attack would occur in August.
The 11th ACR then launched out to collect more intelligence by engaging and killing or capturing enemy. The plan worked. On August 1, 1969 the 11th captured an NVA soldier from the 7th Division and he confirmed the 7th was ready to attack. The next day, another VC defector surrendered and said that the 9th Division was surveilling an area west of An Loc, so it was confirmed that it was in the area.
The 11th ACR team briefed Colonel James Leach, 11th ACR commander, and he sent them to brief Brigadier General George W. Casey, Sr., acting commander 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Then on August 7, 1969 General Creighton Abrams visited the 1st Cav headquarters and was briefed. Abrams took the threat seriously, told the 1st Cav to get ready, and promised more B-52 attacks.
Obviously, there is a lot going on here. Let’s focus, though, on another interesting and relevant mission conducted by the 11th ACR in support of all this, and written down by Hudson.
On August 9, 1969, B/1-9 Cav and Air Cavalry Troop (ACT), 11th ACR, flew into the Fish Hook. NVA soldiers were walking around aimlessly, apparently dazed by the B-52 strikes, and the US troopers killed 24. While that was underway, Hudson’s group was flying around the southern Fishhook following a night of intensive B-52 attacks.
A pilot spotted an NVA soldier wandering about and an 11th ACT AH-1 Cobra conducted business with him. More enemy troops appeared as a result, so the Cobras sent their best wishes to them. The Cobra shootout seemed so easy that they decided to insert an ARP to grab up some of these guys for questioning.
Video grab showing how tight a space the Loach could enter.
The Hueys could not find a good place to land, so two OH-6A Loaches directed to the scene, loaded up with four each ARP, 1st Lt. Douglas Rich in command.
This is a video grab. Regret the poor resolution. I believe this is a more modern version of the OH-6A, known as the AH-6, where two armed troops each side had seats on which to sit and from which they could jump off.
The Cobras provided cover, and the Loaches landed in the middle of a NVA bunker complex.
This is a model of a typical NVA bunker. Imagine multiple bunkers like this spread around under dense jungle cover. Presented by photobucket.
This is a typical NVA bunker entry point. It had considerable overhead protection against aerial bombing and camouflaged against ground observation. Presented by the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian regiment association website.
The eight ARP troopers moved about, they spotted more dazed enemy, and captured three. These three then pointed to where there were more of their comrades. The ARP went over and found a NVA commander and another NVA soldier. So now we’re up to five POWs. The ARP continued its search and grabbed up a sixth, found a cache of ammo and rice, engaged two NVA soldiers and killed them, and called in the Cobras to destroy the cache.
This Cobra attack caused more NVA to show up and the Cobra gunship employed rockets and 7.63mm miniguns to kill 34 enemy trying to escape.
The entire 1st Cav Division area of responsibility was put on high alert. On August 12, 1969, the enemy invaded Binh Long Province employing two possibly three divisions, as predicted by the intelligence thus gathered. They attacked some 150 towns and bases, and inflicted heavy casualties in the first 24 hours on the US (90 KIA, 500 wounded) and ARVN (170 KIA and 371 wounded). However, between August 12-19, the US-ARVN forces killed 4,000 enemy and captured 251. By the third week, the enemy retreated back to Cambodia.
Based on all this and more, General Abrams decided a ground attack into Cambodia had to happen. The plan was approved in Washington, by National Security Advisor Kissinger and President Nixon. There was a lot of politics and I dare say some misinformation resident in the president’s decision to go ahead. I’ll not address that here. Our guys went in, they understood their mission, and they did the best they could do.
Then Col. Donn Starry commanded the 11th ACR at the time.
Col Starry, cigar (yellow arrow), April 1970, by D&S McSpadden, presented on flickriver.com.
Map of Cambodia invasion areas. Presented by Northwest veterans Newsletter. Red arrows superimposed to show the general character of enemy incursions into the RVN from Cambodia. My arrows are not as good as those employed by the Northwest Veterans Newsletter but they tell the story, which is that the enemy had multiple options to strike at Saigon from the Parrot’s Peak and the Fish Hook.
About those days, General Starry wrote this:
“As early as 1965 the North Vietnamese used areas of Cambodia and Laos near the borders of South Vietnam as sanctuaries in which to stock supplies and conduct training without interference. It was in these countries that the North Vietnamese built the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail as their principal supply route to the south ... This relatively sophisticated transportation system terminated at depots within and adjacent to South Vietnam. Combat units in South Vietnam received supplies from these depots by a simpler but highly organized system of distribution that made use of small boats, pack animals, and porters.
“The Cambodian government, under pressure from North Vietnam and China, had for several years conceded these areas to the enemies of South Vietnam. In March 1970, however, Marshal Lon Nol of Cambodia seized control of the government, and began a campaign to restrict the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in their use of his country.
“As the Cambodian situation became worse, the Cambodian government sought military assistance from the United States and South Vietnam ... The major attack into Cambodia was a series of operations jointly planned and conducted by South Vietnamese and American units, directed at the highest levels, and involving the headquarters and forces of the South Vietnamese Army in the III and IV Corps zones and the U.S. II Field Force, Vietnam.
“The attack resembled a large double envelopment, with the South Vietnamese forces forming most of the western pincer and the American forces the center and the eastern pincer.”
Some 12,000 US troops would be employed.
Let’s pause for just a moment. I wish to highlight General Starry’s comment that the US knew as early as 1965 that the NVN was using Cambodia. Wes Simmer, who was with the 11th ACR 1967-1968, has told me he thought that they were going to go in to Cambodia around Christmas 1967, much earlier than 1970. I am using a map depiction of the actual incursion plan for 1970. Forget everything except where I’ve highlighted using the red arrow. You will see in Simmer’s description that three squadrons of 11th ACR artillery came up Route 13 through An Loc and stopped at the border a stone’s throw from Snoul, Cambodia. I just wanted you to have a sense for the locale, and to see that this drive was also in the actual 1970 plan that was implemented.
This is Simmer’s memoir:
“We were celebrating Christmas 1967 at FSB (Fire Support Base)Tom (1/11th Arty), on Route 13 just outside An Loc, as the C.O. (commanding officer) passed down orders -- I repeat, orders -- to write home because we were to move into Cambodia beginning on the 26th, and expected to face upwards of 10,000 enemy.
“On the 26th, we moved up route 13 and through Loc Ninh. As usual we were in convoy, but we picked up more of the 11th from FSBs Dick (2/11th Arty) and Harry (3/11th Arty).
“The day turned to night and we stopped -- the nose of the lead tank was actually on the Cambodian Border, just a short jump from Snoul.
“Anyone not in a combat vehicle (I was in a Howitzer Battery Maintenence vehicle) was ordered to leave their vehicles and set up guards. That is where we spent the night -- in the dense jungle -- sleeping -- sort of -- on the ground far away from our armor.
“The next morning we were told to turn around in position and head back down Route 13, where we moved around the local area until we were ordered to move out - this on January 31 1968, to what we found out was TET.”
So they did not go in.
Back to the actual 1970 incursion. The suits in Washington as they are wont to do, placed limits on the forces. A line was drawn 19 miles inside Cambodia and US forces could not go beyond it. Enemy units lucky enough to reach it were safe. There was also a time limit. All US forces had to be out by June 30, 1970. So this was a two month endeavor for US forces. ARVN forces would remain for 18 months. Just a moment on these restrictions : they essentially negated the chance to barricade the trail in this location and prevent US-ARVN forces from marching up the trail complex to barricade it in multiple locations.
Let’s start our discussion of the actual incursion with this map. This is an important map. I have highlighted the nicknames of the areas in a light red and the main force entities in pale yellow. There are significant placenames on the map. I have highlighted Memet (green arrow) and Snoul (red arrow).
The overall operation was named “Operation Toan Thang” (Rock Crusher). It had six phases. I’m drawing much of the information below from Punnee Soonthornpoct’s book, “From freedom to hell: a history of foreign intervention in Cambodia.”
Phases I and II were directed at the Parrot’s Peak and Angel’s Wing, and were led by the ARVN.
Phase III and IV went at the southern part of the Dog’s Head (also called Dog’s Face) and was intended to push northward to Kampong Trach and westward along Route 1.
This is a map of the invasion from a slightly different perspective. Those red areas are enemy bases marked for attack and destruction.
On April 27, 1970, the 1st Cavalry Division was tasked to eliminate enemy base areas in the Fish Hook region and establish blocking positions to prevent enemy escape into the RVN. The 11th ACR and the 3rd Brigade, ARVN 1st Airborne Division were placed under its OPCON. In addition, units of the 25th Infantry Division and 3rd Bde of the 9th Infantry Division participated.
11th ACR buildup prior to the incursion. Presented by D&S McSpadden on flickr.
This tasking to the 1st Cavalry Division gave the 11th ACR a 72 hour notice “to refit, re-supply, and move into a staging area south of the Cambodian Fish Hook.” It should be noted that all hands had been preparing for this incursion for some time, even though the whole notion of an actual incursion was secret. The exact timing was not widely known. The 3rd Squadron was not in the immediate area, and had to road march 145 kms (87 miles) to its assembly area ala pronto. An interesting comment is due here. Col. Starry, the 11th’s skipper, argued that moving the 3rd Squadron the way he did would make it look to the enemy like it was a normal rotation wherein the 3rd would relieve one of the others. Instead, once the 3rd arrived, he had all three squadrons ready to go in.
ARVN operations into Cambodia began on April 14, 1970. Their major thrust began in April 29, 1970, known as “Operation Toan Thang 42”, TT42, General Starry wrote that this, an ARVN operation, was among the very best planned operations by the ARVN to date. To start, the ARVN shot for enemy base area “BA 367” right at the bottom of Parrot’s Peak. The ARVN completed Phases I and II by May 5.
TT43 was an US Army operation that included the 3rd Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 34th ARVN Airborne Brigade, and the 11th ACR. Blackhorse was ready on D-Day, May 1, just three days after alert. The targets for all these units were BAs 350, 351, 352, 353, 354 and 707, the main base areas north of Tay Ninh. BA 707 was thought to be COSVN HQ. This operation kicked off as President Nixon spoke to the nation on TV to explain the incursion on April 30, 1970.
TT44 focused on BA 354. The 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division took this on, hoping to engage the NVA 95 C Regiment and the NVA 9th Division HQ. However, these units had already dropped back farther into Cambodia and were being engaged by ARVN forces that had already swept through. As an aside, BA 354 was not far from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, located just to the west. Let me take this moment to mention that a 50-ship US-Vietnamese naval force entered Cambodia on May 9 to clear the Mekong River all the way to Phnom Penh. This force destroyed all enemy craft encountered.
By this time, it became apparent, at least in the western areas, that the enemy had decided to withdraw and limit contact. The intent was to return to their camps once our forces left. There were casualties on both sides, however, which I will address in a moment. Nonetheless, BA 354 proved to be a lucrative and important target. Massive quantities of weapons, ammo and supplies were uncovered. Perhaps more important, BA354 proved to be a great source for intelligence, intelligence that reflected the importance of the Cambodian sanctuaries far beyond what Allied forces understood prior to the incursion.
TT45 then followed led by the 1st Cavalry Division combined with the 9th Regiment and ARVN 5th Infantry Division. The 1st Cavalry Division focused on BA 351 to the northeast while the 9th Regiment and ARVN 5th Infantry Division went after BA 350, north of An Loc. The 1st Cav found an underground training shelter and seized documents indicating the area served as the signal depot for COSVN HQ. BA 350 hosted a large hospital complex.
Operations would continue farther to the north to BAs 740, 701, 702 and 609, bordering Quang Duc, Darlac, Pleiku and Kontum Provinces of the RVN. US incursion units left by June 29, 1970.
I would like to address an interesting 11th ACR operation to the city of Snoul up on Route 7. To do this, we’ll have to step back a bit and show you yet another map.
This map provides a close-up of the 1st Cavalry Division’s operation into the Fish Hook. I believe this correlates to Operation TT43. The 2-47 Mechanized Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division would move through the western portion of the Fish Hook. Since the target area in the Fish Hook was the COSVN HQ, the 2-47th could block the escape routes to the west. Then note the 3rd ARVN Airborne Brigade assaulted three locations just north of the COSVN HQ, while three companies of the 2-34 Armor, part of the 25th Infantry Division, OPCON to the 1st Cavalry Division, combined with the 2nd and 3rd Squadrons of the 11th ACR to dive straight at the COSVN HQ.
The 2nd Squadron 11th ACR crossed “the fence” at 1030 hours, May 1, 1970 (I have seen another report say 1000 hours), followed by the 3rd Squadron. Remember, the 1st squadron is standing to the rear as a backup. The artillery and air attacks were integrated with their movement and the movements of the other units involved. The artillery and air attacks, both B-52 and tactical fighters, were intensive throughout. By May 2, the artillery forces had to advance in order to keep up with the ground force attacks. They did so with relative ease.
It had been my understanding that the 11th ACR’s two squadrons were to go straight for COSVN HQ. However, somewhere in the mix, the 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR was diverted and tasked to capture the city of Snoul, a march of some 40 kms (24 mi). Col. Starry, the 11th ACR commander, led the charge. I have seen some numbers which can be confusing with regard to the distances involved. Overall, the Regiment went 60 miles deep into Cambodia. Once tasked to go to Snoul, that trip was only 40 kms or 24 miles. The 11th made this portion of its trip in 48 hours.
But why Snoul? I believe this decision was made because Snoul was at the junctions of Routes 7 and 13 (now 74), and was the suspected terminus of the Sihanouk Trail, to wit, a strategic target. John B. Shaw, in his book The Cambodian Campaign: The 1970 Offensive, he says that the 11th was sent to Snoul “to cut off as many NVA troops and supplies as possible.” He goes on to say that Snoul was a good target because the men could remember the name easily and they could move quickly through on Route 7. Enemy leaders believed that the Allies targeted Snoul because they wanted to use it as a jumping off point to attack other targets in Cambodia. I understand that the squadron going to Snoul brought nearly 100 armored vehicles, good thinking, as the fight here was among the fiercest the Allied forces had endured during the entire incursion. Indeed I have read reports that said the fight at Snoul was the only major conventional battle of the incursion.
11th ACR, Cambodia, May 3,1970 by D&S McSpadden, presented on flickriver.com.
The 11th reached the city by May 3. An infantry force had already air assaulted south of Snoul and the 2/11th simply passed them by and attacked the city with all guns burning from the ground and air on May 5. The 11th met stiff resistance from the NVA, underscoring the importance of this target.
Snoul had a reasonably good dirt and grass airstrip, and the enemy knew the Americans would like to land heliborne assault units there, so the NVA dug in with 12.7mm heavy machine guns positioned so they could make minced-meat of an air assault effort. But there would be no air assault, instead an 11th ACR armored ground assault supported by Cobra gunships. If you were to study this whole incursion in detail, you would learn that it was assembled hastily, largely in secrecy until the very last moment, and the fog of war and its attendant communications did not get the word out about incursion depth limits placed on the US troops by Washington to all hands. As a result, during the fight, Col. Starry’s troops violated the “Nixon line” by about 5 kms (3 miles). Shaw reported, “Starry first learned of the limit from communist radio broadcasts complaining about his disobeying Nixon’s orders.” Once Starry confirmed the report, he pulled his troops back.
The 11th at certain points had to back away and bring in tactical air in addition to their own Cobra attack helicopters, which attacked the city for two days.
2/11 ACR enters Snoul, Cambodia. Presented by US Army Center of Military History
Snuol, Cambodia May 4, 1970; enemy fire resulted in air strikes by D&S McSpadden, presented on flickriver.com.
An 11th Armored Cavalry soldier dries his laundry — and his feet — during a respite from the muddy conditions as the Blackhorse regiment spearheads the Cambodian campaign in the Fishhook region. John Cady, Stars & Stripes, May 1970
Col. Starry was wounded while saving one of his officers from an enemy grenade, but he did not turn over command to Col. John Gerrity until June 22. Starry was wounded by grenade fragments. Col. Starry became the first Colonel of the Regiment to be wounded in action.
An estimated 11,562 enemy were killed and an enormous amount of enemy weapons and supplies and bunkers were destroyed or captured.
There is controversy surrounding the incursion, controversy that is still argued to this day. I do not want to go deeply into it. On a positive note, the enemy lost a great deal of supplies and equipment, some 10,000 tons of materiel and food. They lost enough rice to feed 25,000 troops in full ration for one year. They lost enough individual weapons to outfit 55 full-strength battalions, enough crew-served weapons to equip 33 full battalions. They also lost enough mortar, rocket and recoilless rifle ammunition to support more then 9,000 average attacks. They lost over 11,000 troops and saw 2,000 captured. They had also lost a good number of their leaders. This all occurred at a time when the enemy units this far south were demoralized. The ARVN, on the other hand, had proven itself to be a good fighting organization. Large enemy attacks into the RVN from Cambodia almost ceased for about a year. On the negative side, the NVA regrouped and moved to northeast Cambodia near Laos and took over the entire region.
Back home in the US, the Cambodia incursion created enormous discontent and violence. Four students at Kent State were shot and killed during a protest, and nine others were wounded, one seriously.
All this said, an objective study of the incursion, I believe, would show that the Allied US-ARVN incursion was a successful military operation in terms of how well it was planned and executed. Most important, the incursion bought time for Nixon’s people to negotiate a settlement they thought was honorable, protect the American troop withdrawal, and improve on the pacification and Vietnamization strategies.
“Well COSVN, of course, moved around a good deal across uh the border there and we were generally aware of their location through the normal intelligence means. And uh, uh, we knew, for instance, the day that the operation was to begin that they had left the area which is not surprising, because our movements I'm sure on the other side of the border alerted that something might well happen.
“And of course it was, I presume, a rather small thing. Perhaps a foxhole and a couple of radios, and we went from the briefing that morning and the operation began, was due to begin, at seven o'clock and Nixon's speech came on about that time and here was President with his map making a big issue of the fact that we were going to capture COSVN which wasn't anything to begin with, as I've said. And of course we knew it wasn't there.”
Some sources say the CIA had judged that the COSVN enemy headquarters was not in Cambodia but President Nixon decided to go in anyway. I find this worrisome.
I am absolutely sure the pic of a Sheridan tank in Snoul, Cambodia is of myself and two fellow soldiers in the 1970 attack. I was in 2/11 E-Troop and was directly behind Col Starry when he got wounded. I know the facts of his wound and it wasn’t as dramatic as reported. We actually laughed. Love to be able to get a copy of that pic for my daughter.
I have read reports of 4 Cambodian civilians found in Snoul. I was on a ground patrol and was alone away from others in the small patrol and walked upon 4 children placed sitting up back to back still smoking and charred coal black from being burned. The NVA sat them there. A reporter came up and ask me about it and my comments were in newspapers all over the world. I have a copy.
I was 11D (Recon) MOS. I lived on an infantry track with 3 other kids. We would go into an area, clear out a circle and set tracks 30 feet apart in a circle for our perimeter. The communications, CO track would be in the middle. We would usually stay 3 days unless we had lots of action. A patrol would go out daily on foot consisting of 6 to 12 guys. Usually one night a week 2 to 3 kids would go out on a hot NVA trail and sit a few feet off it all night and count NVA going by. The stories I could tell. I walked point the last 6 months I was there. Couple Purple Hearts etc. We got hit almost nightly wherever we were. The only time we came into a base camp was to go on R&R or leave country or wounded badly.
September 17, 2014
I found your article about the 11th ACR and Cambodia while using a search engine for another topic. I must say, it is one of the most accurate and well written summaries of what things were like in 1970. I was with the 409th Radio Research Detachment, a cover name for the 409th Army Security Agency Detachment. We had our forward observation base in Quan Loi, and had one track in the field performing Low Level Voice Intercept, which was an excellent source of intelligence. It was a 4 man track with two Vietnamese linguists. I rotated back and forth from the track to Quan Loi.
I remember participating in the defense of an attack on the 2nd squadron/11th ACR at Ft. Defiance, southwest of the Fishook. Hill 98 on the maps. Later interviews with POWs indicated it was a battalion size operation, and the plan was to overrun our location. We had 2 KIA's. Numerous NVA KIA's. We were getting hit quite often during those 2-3 weeks before the incursion. The odd thing was that about 10 days before the incursion, we were watching COSVN and other Central units, (69th NVA Artillery, MR7 command, etc.). They were entrenched just inside the Fishook for several months. All of a sudden, they started moving to the Northwest. Every day, the fixes were farther and farther. At the time the US leadership knew this was happening, but we went in and did destroy many supply depots, and got very good intelligence. The 541st MI detachment was overwhelmed by the volume of documents we captured. I think it took COSVN, and company a full year to recover. Enemy contac! ts in War Zones C & D were reduced considerably. I often wondered how COSVN knew to move out past the 17KM zone 10 days before the incursion. I can only assume that the NVA had very good intelligence sources in Saigon, most probably from the ARVN planners.
I still keep in contact with several of our unit members. I will forward the link for the web page. I am sure it will trigger some long forgotten memories. Thanks.
March 2, 2011