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 Operation Wilderness

 HEADQUARTERS
3RD Squadron,  17th Cavalry
APO San Francisco  96216

     AVGC - BC                                                                                                     15 April 1968

     SUBJECT:   Combat Operations After Action Report

     See Distribution

     1.   NAME OF OPERATION:   Operation WILDERNESS

     2.   DATES OF OPERATION:     8 March 1968 thru 7 April 1968

     3.   LOCATION:               Tay Ninh Province

     4.   COMMAND HEADQUARTERS:   3rd Squadron,  17th Cavalry

     5.   REPORTING OFFICER:     William W. Brannon Jr.,  LTC, Commanding

     6.   TASK ORGANIZATION:

             A Troop,  Major Robert A. Witcher, Commanding
    (OPCON to 199th Light Infantry Brigade)

            B Troop,  Major James T. McManus, Commanding
    8 March 1968 thru 23 March 1968;  24 March 1968 OPCON to 1dst Brigade, 1st Infantry Division

           C Troop,   Major Gary E. Luck, Commanding
    OPCON to 9th Infantry Division until 23 March 1968;  24 March 1968 thru 7 April 1968.

           D Troop.   Captain Russell W. Mengel, Commanding

     7.   SUPPORTING FORCES:     None

     8.   INTELLIGENCE:     

          A.   When the 3rd  Squadron 17th Cavalry was committed to Operation Wilderness, there had been no recent contact with the 271st, 272nd and 273rd VC Regiments, which indicated that elements of these units had possibly moved to supply areas, and were deliberately avoiding contact with Free World Forces.

          B.    Terrain and Weather:

               (1)   General:  The TAOR was bounded generally by Cambodia on the North and West in War Zone C, the 1st Infantry Division boundary on the East, and the XT25 East-West grid line on the South.

(2)  Terrain:

     (a)   Observation and fields of fire ranged from limited in War Zone C to excellent in the      rice paddies near Go Dau Ha.

     (b)   Obstacles:  Throughout the TAOR there were no natural or artificial obstacles which      impeded the reconnaissance or movement of the squadron.

     (c)   Concealment - The hours of darkness and early morning fog provided the VC and      NVA with natural concealment from air activity.

     (d)   Key Terrain - Highway 22 was selected as key terrain since this is the route by which      convoys move to resupply the Tay Ninh area.

                                 (e)   Avenues of approach::

1.  Fish Hook - Saigon River - Michelin Plantation.
2.  Highway #1 leading from Cambodia to Go Dau Ha.

     (3)    Weather:

     (a)   Visibility - During early morning hours visibility was restricted due to fog and haze.
     (b)   Temperature - The temperature averaged in the high eighties throughout the operation.

        C.   Intelligence During the Operation  (Annex B Intelligence Overlay):


                         (1)   Lines of communication for the VC/NVA extended from the Fish Hook south toward the Michelin Plantation.

         (2)    Logistical Bases:  Several large bunker complexes were discovered.  In the vicinity of XT5271 a possible transfer point was located.  Several truck tracks (3 /4 ton) led into the area from the north, but no tracks were discovered leading from the area to the south.  There were also two 3 /4 ton trucks, type and make unknown, spotted under camouflage.  A cache consisting of approximately 4000 lbs of rice was discovered in the area as well as 300 boxes of small arms ammunition.

     9.   MISSION:

Conduct armed aerial reconnaissance of t 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division TAOR to locate VC/NVA forces, enemy logistical bases, and interdict enemy lines of communications.  Provide counter-mortar area weapons team for Dau Tieng Base Camp during the hours of darkness.  Conduct route reconnaissance and security between Tay Ninh and Trang Bang.

   10.   CONCEPT OF OPERATION:

               3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry (-) will conduct armed aerial reconnaissance in the 1st Brigade TAOP with one air cavalry troop.  B Troop will locate, report, and destroy within its capabilities, VC/NVA forces, enemy logistical bases and reconnaissance of Highway I and 22 from Tay Ninh to XT413238.  Local patrols will be conducted along route following the initial reconnaissance mission.  Secure engineer work parties as necessary.

 11.   EXECUTION:  

               A..   8 March 1968 thru 23 March 1968

          On 8 March 1968, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry(-) was placed OPCON to 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division and given      the mission of performing reconnaissance in the 1st Brigade's TAOR (Annex A), searching for signs of enemy movement and      base areas were plotted.  On 11 March, B Troop spotted four NVA soldiers dressed in khaki uniforms at XT613312.  The enemy troops were taken under fire resulting in 4 KBA (BC).  Later in the day, D Troop reported a roadblock and possible enemy ambush site at XT530183.  One company of 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry was sent to that location as a reaction force.  Due to the distance and time involved for the reaction force, the enemy had abandoned the ambush site just prior to the company deploying.  No contact was made during the maneuver.
          On 16 March, two more weapons teams from B Troop were sent to XT234300 when an ARVN outpost came under      heavy attack by an estimated VC battalion.  B Troop received anti-aircraft fire from one position which they immediatelyengaged and silenced. The aero-weapons teams then engaged the VC positions.  With the combined fires from the weapons      
          On 18 March, an aero-scout team from B Troop was on reconnaissance vicinity XT565503 when the team received heavy automatic weapons fire.  The team leader immediately called artillery on the position.  Following the fire mission, the      team made a low level assessment of the damage, and credited the artillery with one automatic weapons position destroyed and two KBA (BC).   
          Between 18 March to 5 April, D Troop was assigned the additional mission of escorting gravel trucks from the 65th      Engineer Battalion, from Tay Ninh to Trang Bang in support of road repair operations.

          On 20 March, B Troop discovered an enemy storage area at XT481593 containing bunkers and one large tin building.       An artillery mission was called on the site, resulting in one secondary explosion producing a 150 foot high mushroom cloud.  

          On 21 March, the aero rifle platoon of B Troop was inserted at XT1646 on a reconnaissance in force operation of a      reported VC rendezvous point.  Inspection of this area failed to show any signs of recent activity, and the platoon was extracted.       D troop, on a route reconnaissance mission, encountered an ARVN popular forces unit which had just been ambushed along the      advisor to the unit.  Contact was then broken with unknown results.  The aero rifle platoon of B Troop was inserted on 22 March at XT573502, in coordination with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Mechanized).  The platoon established a blocking position at that location as the battalion swept toward the platoon from the west.  Negative enemy contact was encountered on the operation and the platoon was extracted at 1536 hours.  On 23 March, C Troop was released from the 9th Infantry Division and returned to squadron control.

               B.   24 March 1968 thru 7 April 1968

          On 24 March 1968 B Troop was placed OPCON to 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and C Troop assumed B Troop's      mission in operation WILDERNESS.  On 25 March 1968 D Troop encountered an ARVN Mechanized Company which had village of Can An (XT292361).  D Troop supported the ARVN advance by placing 106mm recoilless rifle fire on the enemy locations.  Twenty (20) VC were spotted at XT299361) attempting to envelop the ARVN from the south, and were immediately engaged.  The VC then withdrew in the direction they had come.  Approximately one hour and thirty minutes later, the VC  broke contact with the ARVN unit.  D Troop had negative casualties or damage, and inflicted three (3) VC KIA (Possible).  The aero rifle platoon of C Troop was inserted at XT528553 in a coordinated operation with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Mechanized).  C Troop set up a blocking position with the battalion sweeping toward the platoon.  Negative contact was established, and the platoon was extracted at 1300 hours vicinity XT519556.
          On 26 March, an Air Force Forward Air Controller assigned to the squadron, spotted 40 VC at XT120947, walking      along a road.  The FAC contacted one of C Troop's aero scout teams and vectored them to the target area.  By using forward air      controlling procedures, the team was vectored to the enemy location, made the first firing pass, and caught the VC still on the      road.  The team was credited with ten (10) VC KBA (BC).
          On 30 March, C Troop was performing an aerial reconnaissance south of Tay Ninh between the Oriental River and the      Cambodian border.  An estimated VC company was sighted occupying a base camp at XT301301.  Three air-strikes were put into the target area.  However, the strikes were relatively ineffective.
          On 3 April, C Troop spotted an enemy base camp at XT539721 and marked the target for a FAC.  Results of the air-strike were 30 - 40 bunkers destroyed with two KBA (BC).
          On 5 April, C Troop discovered recent vehicle tracks leading from Cambodia toward Dau Tieng.  Similar tracts had been spotted and reported in the past, though no trucks were ever found.  On this occasion, C Troop followed the vehicle tracks to a storage area, XT527714, and found two 3 /4 ton trucks, type unknown, and 300 boxes of ammunition.  An air-strike on the area destroyed 1 truck and more than half the ammunition, and damaged the other truck.  Artillery fire was placed on the target area throughout that night.  
          On 7 April, D Troop stopped a Vietnamese vehicle along with several suspicious personnel at XT352334.  The vehicle      was filled with contraband including whiskey, cigarettes, C-Rations and beer.  The vehicle and personnel were turned over to the Vietnamese National Police.  This period confirmed that VC/NVA forces were re-building and re-occupying old base areas in War Zone C, and were moving large amounts of supplies by truck from Cambodia  toward the Dau Tieng area.

              12.  RESULTS:

               A.   Friendly:          KHA   WHA

               Officers                     0       0
               Warrant Officers      0       0
               Enlisted Men           0       0


 Enemy:
               (1)   VC/NVA   KIA  (BC)                             82
               (2)   VC/NVA  KIA  (Poss)                        109
               (3)   Military Structures Destroyed          107
               (4)   Military Structures Damaged             23
               (5)   Sampans Destroyed                           37
               (6)   Sampans Damaged                             4
               (7)   Miscellaneous Destroyed:
               3 /4 ton truck                                                1
               Boxes small arms ammunition              150 boxes

                   C.   All bomb damage assessments were conducted by aerial reconnaissance.

 13.    ADMINISTRATIVE ACTIVITY:

                   A. Supply

     (1)   No difficulties were experienced in either Class I, II, III, IV, V.
     (2)   Total ammunition expenditures by the squadron during this operation:

               2.75 Rockets                                1,376
               7.62mm Linked                        164,550
               5.56mm                                        4,022
               40mm  (M79)                                  393
               40mm  (M 5)                                1,684
               Smoke (all colors)                          193
               Frag. Grenades                                10
               White Phosphorous Grenades     240
               106mm (Recoilless Rifle)                29
               81mm (Mortar)                                   4
               MK-24  (Flare)                               192

               B.  Maintenance:

        Daily road reconnaissance missions are very demanding on equipment and vehicles in D Troop.  Each vehicle averaged 125 miles per day during this operation.  Although numerous parts were replaced, particularly suspension items and tires, equipment readiness averaged 99% throughout the period.  A concrete preventive maintenance program, actively supervised before, during, and after operations, forestalled major problems.  Aircraft maintenance was greatly improved, enabling all air cavalry troops to increase their availability approximately 10% over that available during the last operation.

14.   .COMMANDER'S ANALYSIS:

               A.  ITEM:   Local Intelligence.                                        (p8)

     DISCUSSION:     Daily recon. operations bring the unit in constant contact with local civilians, Popular Forces, and ARVN troops.  These people live and work in their specific areas and know not only the terrain, but also enemy locations and movements.

    OBVERSATION:   It is highly desirable to cultivate these local intelligence sources.  By daily contact, these sources can give an exceptionally clear picture of local VC activity, many times pin-pointing numbers and locations.  The time involved in seeking out this type intelligence is well spent.
             B.   ITEM:   Operational Control

    DISCUSSION:   When a cavalry troop becomes OPCON to a battalion size unit, there has been a tendency to fragment the assets of the troop using the sections to augment the reconnaissance platoon or rifle companies.

    OBSERVATION:   Commanders must be briefed on the missions, capabilities, and limitations of the cavalry troop.Particular emphasis must be placed on the necessity for maintaining platoon integrity as all sections are dependent upon each other for the cavalry platoon to operate as it is designed.

 C.     ITEM:   Maintenance:

DISCUSSION:   When performing daily route reconnaissance and security missions with wheeled vehicles, the maintenance requirement increases drastically.  Parts wear fster, more maintenance is required, and minor assemblies, i.e. ball joints, shock absorbers, universal joints, break with increasing frequency.

OBSERVATION:   In order to maintain an acceptable degree of combat readiness, both a strong maintenance program and management of assets are necessary.  A good preventative maintenance program stressing operator maintenance, timely requisitioning of parts, and timely replacement of parts is a must.  Secondly, the available assets must be managed so each piece of equipment gets necessary maintenance time.  This may require standing down individual vehicles if a platoon cannot be released for maintenance.  With careful management the former can be an effective program.

      D.   ITEM:    Dust

DISCUSSION:       Dust continues to be a major problem in many helicopter parking and landing areas throughout the corps.  Dust causes many extra hours of maintenance and presents a major safety hazard for helicopters taking off and landing.  At night, dust can cause pilots to loose ground reference with serious consequences.

     OBSERVATION:   All commanders must realize the hazards of dusty conditions in areas where rotary wing aircraft operate, and take such action as necessary to eliminate those conditions.

                           WILLIAM W. BRANNON Jr.
 LTC,  Armor
  Commanding

     ANNEXES:     A - Operations Overlay
                             B -  Intelligence Overlay

     DISTRIBUTION:       Special

                    (pages 11, 12, 13 drawings)     




 Battle Of FSB Maury

Batteries B and C (105-mm), 7th Battalion, 11th Artillery, and Battery A (155-mm), SP, 3d Battalion, 13th Artillery, were occupying MAURY I, a 25th Infantry Division Artillery firebase.  Although the base was located in what was probably the most available area, bamboo thickets and wood lines surrounded the clearing.  The three field artillery batteries had been arranged in a triangle within the perimeter, with one battery at each point. The 155-mm battery was to the west, and the 105-mm batteries were to the northeast and southeast.
  On the night of 9 May 68, MAURY I came under heavy attack. The enemy began his attack at 0200 with an intense mortar and RPG (Russian-made antitank grenade) barrage. He launched a diversionary attack against the northeastern and southwestern portions of the perimeter followed by the main attack directed against the eastern portion of the triangle, where the 155-mm battery was located less than 200 meters from the tree line.
  The 155-mm battery, between the two 105-mm batteries and the attacking enemy, took the brunt of the attack. The RPG fire had a devastating effect on the 155-mm howitzers.  At 0330 an attempt was made to move two 105-mm howitzers to the southwestern side of the perimeter to aid the medium battery. By this time, only one of the 155-mm howitzers was serviceable; of the others, three had been completely destroyed, as had two M548 ammunition vehicles. Flareships and gunships arrived by 0330 and Air Force fighter aircraft by 0500.  At 0530 a relief element of the 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry (Mechanized), arrived and battered its way into the beleaguered base. The attack was finally repulsed.
  All Beehive ammunition had been expended but, because of the speed and accuracy of the assault against the medium battery, less than 10 rounds of 155-mm ammunition had been fired before the destruction of the howitzers.  Eighteen Viet Cong were confirmed dead, and friendly losses numbered 10 killed and 66 wounded. Four men died of wounds received in battle. These, along with seven others killed and 39 wounded, were artillerymen.  Five M109 howitzers were destroyed: one serviceable howitzer was later pieced together from two damaged howitzers. Two M548s were destroyed, and one 5-ton truck was severely damaged. Fourteen M16 rifles were either lost or destroyed.   


FIELD ARTILLERY JOURNAL
May - June 1976
Pages 54-55-56
by MG David E. Ott
Commandant, USAFAS