lifted by helicopters to an LZ in vicinity of the 1/27. They closed on the position at about 1800 and immediately occupied positions on the south perimeter of Meloy's fighting forces. Evacuation of the dead and wounded began at sunset and lasted into the night. There were minor probes by the VC that night but no significant ground attacks.
Late that evening, the 196th operations (S-3) section published orders for the next day. The 1/27 was to attack northeast, guiding on the same trail ("Ghost Town Trail"), and set up positions some two kilometers from their present location. B Company, l/27, was to attack west along the abandoned and overgrown highway Lien Tinh Le (LTL) 19 and link up with the 1/27. The 2/1 was to attack east about 2_ kilometers and set up a position that would be about two kilometers to the southeast of the 1/27 objective. A Company, 2/1, with the battalion commander, had been moving on Blue Axis about four kilometers to the east. They would attack west and link up with the 2/1 to re-establish unity of command. The 4/31 would attack northwest to a blocking position about one to 1_ kilometers northeast of the 1/27 and 2/1 objectives. The purpose of the plan was to prevent the 9th VC Division from moving to the southwest and to consolidate control of all subordinate commands of the 196th LIB. Although it was clearly important to consolidate the command, the new plan perpetuated the obvious mistakes of the original plan by moving individual, company-size units cross-country through terrain that made it next to impossible to maneuver and maintain control.
At 0800 on November 4, 1966, the 4/31 departed their battalion base, marching northwest to reach their blocking position. They encountered no opposition. B Company, l/27, began moving west to link up with the 1/27, but later, under instructions from General DeSaussure, B Company reversed its direction to become part of the 4/31 blocking force. A Company, 2/l, with the battalion commander, also began its move to the west to link up with the 2/1. At 1040 the 2/1 began its move to the east. The 1/27 commander, wishing to avoid any unnecessary conflict with a sister battalion, did not continue the attack until 1140 in order to give the 2/1 time to deploy well to the east.
The 1/27 moved out with Captain Cole's A/1/27 leading, followed by the battalion command group, then C/3/21 and C/l/27 at the rear. The lead element had moved approximately 200 yards through the dark, triple-canopied jungle when all of A/l/27 came under heavy fire from small arms and automatic weapons.
Major Meloy immediately ordered C/3/21 and C/1/27 to move to the left flank of A/l/27, sensing that the VC were strongest on the A/1/27 left flank. In order for the Americans to break through the enemy defensive position, the VC right flank had to be rolled up. While making this maneuver, C/3/21 inexplicably had one platoon go to the right of A/l/27. Captain DeVries later explained that the 2nd platoon leader had simply misunderstood a command given over the radio. Due to the "unbelievable battle sounds which went on for hours in the thick, highly resonant jungle," the platoon leader mistook "right" for "left."
The 2nd platoon went past A/l/27's front on the right flank and found themselves in a heavy firefight. The unit fought with distinction. Sergeant Lester Armstrong, of Molden, Mo., a squad leader, attacked a VC bunker with an automatic weapon recovered from a badly wounded squad member, and knocked out the bunker. Sergeant Armstrong later received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his action.
Sergeant Armstrong's actions were but one example of the many selfless, heroic acts that took place during those three days of heavy engagement. Two Medals of Honor and several DSCs were awarded to members of the two Wolfhound battalions (the 1/27 and 2/27). After Sergeant Armstrong's one-man assault, the platoon pulled back to the company CP and moved into position to the left flank of A/1/27. Meanwhile, the platoon from C/1/27 that was to go to the right flank of A/1/27 could not make much progress because of heavy fire. To fill in the gap, the commanding officer of A/1/27 ordered his right-flank platoon to curve back and link up with the platoon from C/1/27, which it did.
At this point there was no radio communication with 196th headquarters. However, an Air Force forward air controller (FAC) flying overhead was contacted, and he relayed messages to the 196th CP. In his book Ambush, S.L.A. Marshall pointed out that the 196th's commander lacked communications equipment adequate to control "a far-extended and rapidly shifting battle" from his command helicopter.
Since there was no progress on the ground, higher headquarters decided to reinforce the 196th with Major Meloy's sister battalion, the 2/27, commanded by Lt. Col. William C. Barrott. The commanding officer of the 2/27, at the division base camp at Cu Chi, was alerted at 1246 for possible movement.
Major Meloy had already contacted the S-3 of the 2/1 and requested assistance to relieve the pressure on the 1/27. The 2/1, with B and C companies, immediately reversed their march to the east and started moving north and west to aid the 1/27. Almost immediately, automatic weapons fire from dug-in VC positions and rifle fire from snipers in the trees was directed at the advancing 2/1 companies and became extremely intense.
To the west, at the 1/27 CP during the height of the firefight at about 1330, Major Meloy was wounded in the right elbow by mortar fragments. Although he was in pain, he refused evacuation; he also refused medication because he was worried that a pain reliever might affect his ability to think clearly. To the east of the firefight at 1435, Captain Garrett, commanding officer of B/1/27, turned his company westward, away from the planned linkup with the 4/31 to go to the aid of his own battalion. Apparently he did not have the blessings of the 196th's commander to change his mission, but his overriding concern, in the isolation and confusion of the moment, was to help the rest of his battalion.
Meanwhile, C/2/27, commanded by Captain Gerald F. Currier, had been ordered into the battleground to relieve the pressure on the 1/27's left flank. The company from the 2/27, unbeknown to Meloy, landed at an LZ close to the fighting at 1440, but much farther west and north than Meloy wanted them to land. The company immediately moved east in an attempt to roll up the VC right flank. The battalion commander, Colonel Barrott, accompanied C Company. It took C Company and the battalion command group two hours of walking through the dense underbrush of the hardwood forest to reach a spot less than two kilometers away, where they thought they were on the flank of the VC. In fact, they were to the rear of the VC dug-in defensive positions.
At 1451, an estimated 100 VC in a skirmish line made a frontal assault on the first platoon, A/1/27. This was the first of three such assaults, which diminished in size and intensity. The second assault was launched at 1515 against A/1/27 and C/3/21. Meanwhile, C/2/1 had reached a point about 300 meters to the southeast of the 1/27 and had come under fire from the VC left flank at 1515. Major Meloy than ordered B/2/1, commanded by Captain Joseph Czubecki, that had been moving to aid the 1/27 with C/2/1 and the 2/1 S-3 command group, to maneuver and protect the right flank of A/1/27 and C/1/27. By 1600, C/2/l had broken contact with the enemy and was ordered to the southwest to cover the southeast portion of the perimeter to the right of B/2/1.
The third and weakest frontal assault was made by the VC at 1630. It had no adverse effect on the l/27, which had already deployed. At that moment, Major Meloy had control of seven rifle companies in the immediate vicinity.
By November 5, Major Meloy eventually would control the movements of 11 infantry companies. It was an obvious violation of the principle of span of control, and the commanders on the ground were concerned that the situation was out of control.
At about this time, A/2/27, commanded by Captain Robert Foley, landed on a cold LZ to join the 1/27 and assist 2/27 in securing the left flank. By 1715 it was discovered that C/2/27 and the battalion command group had gone too far and were behind what later was determined to be the entrenched recon company of the 9th VC Division and members of the 1st Battalion, 273rd VC Regiment. The VC positions were discovered when C/2/27 came under heavy fire and the company commander was killed. Under the command of the ranking platoon leader, the company assaulted the VC position, but was unsuccessful. The VC had numerous automatic weapons and camouflaged fields of fire. At that point Barrott threw a smoke grenade to mark his location for the aircraft overhead. An FAC saw the smoke and took a reading. He determined that C/2/27 was about 100 meters to the north of the bogged-down 1/27. At 1734, Barrott took a squad and moved south in the direction of the 1/27 in an attempt to link up. Barrott crossed a well-concealed lane of fire and was instantly killed by automatic weapons fire. The company first sergeant, a platoon leader, a platoon sergeant and several radio operators were also killed during this firefight.
C Company, 2/27, was now completely isolated on the battlefield, and the men were ordered by Meloy to stop where they were and form a tight perimeter to defend themselves that night in case they should be attacked.
During the next 12 hours, Meloy ordered a night attack by C/2/1, commanded by Captain James P. Thompson, followed by a daylight attack by A/2/27, commanded by Captain Foley, in a continued attempt to rescue C/2/27. After a heavy engagement during the night attack, a crippled C/2/1 withdrew to the rear and took over security of the LZ from A/2/27. The next day, A/2/27 was given the mission of rescuing its sister company, C/2/27.
Higher headquarters had begun working on a new tactical plan to re-establish control over the rifle companies that had lost their way while maneuvering in the dense jungle. The priority from now on would be to consolidate and regain control over the fighting elements. The latest plan would eliminate separate companies moving through the thick underbrush, trying to reach ill-defined objectives, piecemeal deployment of maneuver units, and the unmanageable span of control that had been given to Major Meloy.
The regrouping of forces and the final attack of this phase of Attleboro was to be under the command of the commanding general of the 1st Division, Maj. Gen. William De Puy. #1
During the early hours of November 5, evacuation of the wounded was given priority. As daylight came, the firefight resumed. At 0745, Captain Foley's A/2/27 moved out to the east, then north and then west to relieve the pressure on C/2/27. After moving 30 meters, the lead elements came under heavy fire and suffered eight casualties. The company laid down a base of fire and overran three bunkers, but could not breach the VC position. It was one of the most intense firefights during Attleboro. The fighting spirit of the troops was personified by Captain Foley and Sergeant (then Pfc) Baker of A/2/27, both of whom later received the Medal of Honor for their actions. Captain Foley's citation read in part, "despite his painful wounds he refused medical aid...and...led an assault on several enemy gun emplacements and single handedly destroyed three such positions." Sergeant Baker's citation read in part, "as he returned to evacuate another soldier, he was taken under fire by snipers, but raced beyond the friendly troops to attack and kill the snipers."
Meanwhile, to the east of this engagement, the commanders of A/2/1, A/4/31 and B/l/27, who earlier were supposed to establish a blocking position and then were told to move west and be prepared to assist the l/27, were ordered to withdraw and establish a perimeter approximately 1000 meters to the southeast of the action. Captain Garrett, the B/1/27 company commander, did not withdraw, based on his own assessment of the situation. Together with A/2/1 and A/4/31, Garrett helped form an ad hoc task force with the commander of the 4/31 to go to the rescue of C/2/27.
By 0830, A/2/1, A/4/31, and B/1/27 had reached a position 1,000 meters to the northeast of 1/27's position. Ordered by Meloy to attack to the southwest to assist the l/27 and C/2/27, the three companies moved abreast on different axes while coordinating their movements with one another. Sometime before 1000, the commanding general of the 196th made formal what had been a de facto arrangement by putting these companies under the command of the commanding officer of the 1/27. This gave Meloy command of 11 rifle companies. By 1200, B/1/27 had reached the 1/27's defensive perimeter after sustaining only one casualty. At about the same time, A/2/1 and A/4/31 had finally reached C/2/27 and were ordered to prepare to withdraw to the 1/27 perimeter.
At 0930, Major Henry R. Shelton, Colonel Barrott's replacement and the new commander of the 2/27th Infantry, arrived by helicopter from Cu Chi. He joined the operations officer of the 2/27 at Major Meloy's forward CP. By mutual agreement, Shelton immediately assumed control of A/2/27; he would assume control of B/2/27 as soon as they arrived by helicopter later that day and would assume control of C/2/27 when survivors returned to the perimeter. This plan would gradually relieve Major Meloy of his unprecedented span of control. Major Shelton's first concerns were to reassess the gallant but costly daylight attack of A/2/27, which had become bogged down. In Shelton's judgment, the spirited attack against prepared positions was doomed to fail because C/2/27's exact position and the actual maneuvers of A/2/1, A/4/31 and B/1/27 were all unknown. Given this situation, there could be no direct fire support. Even though the attack by A/2/27 had stopped, the company was still taking additional casualties trying to recover dead comrades-in-arms.
The fighting to the east broke out again. The three companies, now under the operational control of the 1/27, were then ordered to withdraw with the survivors of C/2/27 to the north, west and then south to rejoin the main body. They carried out six dead and l9 wounded from C/2/27 alone. The survivors of C/2/27 were consolidated with B/1/27, which was assembled at an LZ south of the l/27 perimeter. Captain Story was ordered to take command of C/2/27.
The reconstituted 2/27, under the command of Major Shelton, was attached to the 1st Infantry Division that afternoon and ordered to airlift to Dau Tieng (about 1800) and secure the 1st Division's forward CP for the night of November 5.#2 This was part of a new plan devised by the commanding general of the 1st Division. All forces were to be disengaged and withdrawn, and intensive artillery fire and air bombardment were then to be placed on the VC positions for the next 24 hours.
The commanding officer of the 3/21, Colonel Nulsen, who was at the Tay Ninh base camp, was alerted to have his battalion ready for air movement into the objective area. The 1/27 was given the mission of airlifting to and securing the Tay Ninh base camp that had been vacated by the 3/21. The 3/21 was airlifted into the area and closed about 1130. After coordination with the other 196th battalion commanders (the 2/1 and 4/31), the 3/21 commander established a defensive perimeter for the night. The orders for the next day's operation were: after intensive air and artillery preparations, the 3/21 would advance to the east and take the ground where the VC had their defensive positions. The battalion would hold that objective and evacuate the casualties that had been left in place overnight. One of the bodies yet to be recovered from within the VC defensive position was that of Colonel Barrott. The other two battalions would remain in reserve, prepared to help the 3/21 if needed.
The 3/21 crossed the line of departure at 1200, November 6, with A/3/21, commanded by Captain Emil "Chuck" Gregg, leading. B Company, 3/21, was next in line, followed by the battalion command group. C Company, 3/21, which was still commanded by Captain DeVries, was placed in reserve because of its previous heavy combat engagements with the 1/27. The attack was preceded by one of the heaviest concentrated artillery and air bombardments of the war to date. It would have been a miracle if anything or anyone had survived that much punishment. To evacuate the dead and wounded, B and C companies were each given about a dozen medical field stretchers. Once the objective had been secured by A Company, one platoon from each of the other two companies was to come forward and evacuate the dead and wounded of the 2/27 and 1/27.
After the 3/21 captured the objective and the dead of the 2/27 and 1/27 (21 in all) were evacuated, the battalion commander walked throughout the position observing the details of the bunkers and fire lanes. To his surprise, he discovered that the VC position was strung out laterally for about 200 meters and had very little depth to it. That is why Colonel Barrott had been able to come within 100 meters of the 1/27 line before he was killed. About 1530, the 3/21 was ordered to withdraw and was given another mission for the next day, November 7--to attack north along the tree line from present locations. The 2/1 and 4/31 were also assigned other missions. This was the last major combat action for the 196th during Attleboro.
In Phase II, the 1st and 25th divisions and a Special Forces-controlled Mike Force continued to be active around the Tay NinhSuoi Da area. The 173rd Airborne Brigade was deployed to Minh Thanh, 20 kilometers northeast of Dau Tieng. II Field Force Vietnam took control of the operation on November 6, 1966, and declared an end of the operation on November 24, 1966.
Operation Attleboro exposed the lack of clear understanding by some senior commanders of how to best use American troops to fight an elusive and determined guerrilla force in the jungle. #3
Complicated maneuvers by company-size units in the heavy underbrush of the jungle were not successful. Radio and ground communications between commanders were neither well planned nor properly tested. Piecemeal commitments of forces were made seemingly without rhyme or reason. The principle of span of control was violated by giving one battalion commander command over a brigade-size force of 11 rifle companies on an ad hoc basis. And finally, the American units lacked adequate, timely intelligence on the VC and NVA units in the area of operation.
#1 Gen DePuy was the only comander at that time who had one lick of common sense and the know-how to fight Charlie in the bush.
#2 Gen DePuy put the Blacklions in the field, there was little danger to his CP
#3 Hindsight is always correct I know, but a lot of lives were lost because of a bunch of officers and their book training. Everyone would have been better off if every officer there had went to Vung Tau for the duration and let the NCOs run the show with a good general such as Depuy overseeing the operation.