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Battle of Dak To

 
NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION OF EVENTS
3-21 November 1967
by
1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
WITH ASSIGNED ATTACHED AND SUPPORTING UNITS
 

During the month of October, 1967, intelligence agencies received information that indicated widespread preparation for an attack by elements of the Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) B-3 Front. By 20 October, it was apparent that the PAVN 1st Division, consisting of the 32nd and 66th NVA Regiments, previously located in the Cambodian-Vietnam-Laos triborder area. the displacement of the division was particularly significant because the 24th and 174th NVA Regiments were already located in Kontum Province. With four, and possibly five (the PAVN B3 Front had previously been supported by the 40th Artillery Regiment, although it was not positively located in the Dak To area at this time) regimental size forces located in one area, it was determined that a major enemy offensive action was about to be initiated in the Central Highlands. The subsequent location of enemy reconnaissance units indicated that the initial objective was to be the United States support base and district headquarters of Special forces operations located at Dak To.

Reacting to this intelligence, the 4th Infantry Division dispatched the 1st Brigade, then in the process of moving to begin operations in Dar Lac Province, southwest of Pleiku, to Dak To assume tactical control of that area of operations, the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry was already located at Dak To as a result of routine rotation of security units; the 3rd Battalion 8th Infantry and the 4th Battalion, 503d Infantry (Airborne) were placed under the operational control of the 1st Brigade with the primary missions of developing the enemy situation, and initiating offensive operations to destroy the enemy.
 
The Brigade Commander envisioned accomplishing the assigned missions in three overlapping phases: Phase 1 (Defense) included assumption of security missions, a rapid buildup of combat and combat support units in the area of operation, and positioning maneuver units, with their artillery, to block the most dangerous avenues into Dak To; Phase II (Offensive) included attacks to the south and southwest of Dak To search the key terrain features in order to interdict the enemy's movement; Phase III (Pursuit) assumed the successful completion of Phase II, and envisioned rapid development of Battalion Fire Support Bases to the southwest, to destroy the enemy main forces, and to destroy those NVA base and storage areas discovered during search operations
.
Defensive operations began on 28 October with the arrival of the 1st Brigade Advance Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and the maneuver elements headquarters of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry. The battalion continued along Route 512 to the location of the US Special Forces Camp construction project at Ben Het (YB 8625). On 1 November, the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne) was air-lifted to Dak To and convoyed to Ben Het to assume the mission of securing the installation. Simultaneously B and C Companies of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry air-assaulted Ngok Ring Rua Mountain (YB 9318). ; southwest of Dak To to establish the battalion fire support base
.
During this period of defensive operations, the Brigade support elements were established at Dak To. D company, 704th Maintenance Battalion, B Company 4th Medical Battalion, 1st Platoon, 4th Military Police Company, communication elements from the 124th Signal Battalion, and the 1st Logistics Command Forward Supply Agency (FSA) expanded their support capabilities and base operations almost overnight.
 
The expansion of base support facilities and the continuous screen on the north and east along the Main Supply Routes (MSR) provided by B Company, 1st battalion, 69th Armor and C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry set the stage for offensive operations. All that was needed was more definite tactical intelligence. This information was almost immediately provided by the Brigade Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols which had been inserted on the main avenues of approach into the Dak To area. Their detection and reports of heavy enemy movement in the Dak Hodrai River Valley were supported by Airborne Personnel Detector (APD) readings, and augmented by information provided by a "Hoi Chan" ( a rallior to the Government of Viet nam). The letter, a NVA sergeant and a member of a PAVN 1st Division Reconnaissance element, revealed the basic plan for destruction of Dak To. The plan consisted of a southwest to northeast attack and the 32nd and 66th NVA Regiments, supported by the 40th Artillery Regiment located on the hill mass approximately seven kilometers south of Dak To. The 24th NVA Regiment located to the northeast of the base, was to block the US Forces exit from the area, while the 174th NVA Regiment, positioned in a TRI-border area base camp, was to act as the division reserve. This information when combined with existing intelligence confirmed the enemy's intention and plan for the destruction of Dak To, and provided the catalyst for initiation of offensive operations. The brigades plan for offensive operations, which had already been conceived, was designed to destroy NVA infantry units and weapon security forces before they were positioned for the planned attack.
 
Initial enemy contact was made by A and B Companies, 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry immediately after conducting an air assault to the ridgeline directly south of Dak To Base (ZB 012161) (see Enclosure A). Their mission was to move west to vic YB 996162 and establish a position suitable for later preparation as the battalion fire support base. At 1552 hours, 3 November, the lead element of B Company engaged an estimated enemy platoon positioned in a bunker and trench system at YB 999161. Immediately fixing the enemy position by grazing fire, the element withdrew to the company perimeter and called in artillery from their direct support battery( B Battery 105), 6-29 Artillery) on the enemy position. The enemy fire ceased, and the company pushed forward again, only to be met by heavier fire from the same location, now augmented by B-40 rocket and 60 mm mortar fire. The company withdrew to the perimeter again, and utilizing tactical air power and artillery, battered the enemy positions. Early on the morning of 4 November, B company, led by the 3rd Platoon, moved to secure the enemy position. The attack progressed without enemy contact, until suddenly, in a classic defensive maneuver, the NVA cut off the 3rd Platoon in a deadly crossfire, and immediately pinned down the remainder of the company with B-40 rocket and 60mm mortar fire. Heavy fighting raged throughout the morning and finally the entrapped platoon was reached by two squads from the 1st Platoon, who heroically fought their way through the enemy encirclement. The badly battered platoon linked with the company at 1400 hours, and again, artillery and tactical air went to work on the enemy positions. The next morning the two companies, again with B Company in the lead, moved forward, eliminating occasional snipers as they advanced, and secured the enemy's fortified positions. this action established the patterns of attack employed throughout the battle that ensued for the ridgeline.
 
Immediately prior to the air assault conducted by the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry on 3 November, A and D Companies, 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry air-assaulted to the Ngok Dorlang ridge complex (YB9114) southwest of Dak To Base with the mission of gaining a position from which to interdict the high-speed trail networks in the Dak Hodrain River Valley. The purpose of this maneuver was to develop a contact in an area where reinforcing artillery fires could be brought to greatest advantage (see inclosureB). The two companies gained the landing zone (YB 919149) without incident, and moved to establish a patrol base for search and destroy operations on hill 785. On 4 November, on the approach to Hill 882, A Company was engaged by an enemy platoon armed with automatic weapons and small arms. The company pinned the platoon down with devastating return fire, and destroyed it with artillery and tactical air strikes as the evening drew to a close. A sweep of the area the next day revealed a small body-count, but sufficient blood trails and drag-marks to confirm that the platoon had in fact been rendered totally ineffective by the immediate reaction of the infantry-artillery-air team. The enemy avoided direct contact with A and D Companies as they swept hill 882 and approached hill 843 (YB 910145) although the companies did not move through fire from the enemy B-40 rockets and 60 mm mortars. Throughout the night and early morning of 7-8 November, as the companies were digging in on Hill 843, the enemy continued firing sporadically into the perimeter. On the morning of 8 November, with D Company securing the perimeter, A Company moved northwest to secure hill 724 (YB 895149). As they moved toward a small knoll, overshadowed by hill 843, they were engaged and pinned down with withering automatic weapons and small arms fire while suppressive B-40 rocket and 82mm mortar fire was avalanched into the position. The A Company commander directed D Company to maneuver right (North) and attack the enemy position from the flank. As D Company approached within 100 meters of A Company's location they, too were pinned down by automatic weapons and small arms fire from the knoll. This redirection of the enemy's fire allowed A Company to disengage and join D Company at the latters position (YB 905149). The enemy continued to direct heavy automatic weapons, small arms, rocket and mortar fire as the companies heroically inched forward throughout the afternoon. With a final rush through these withering fires, the companies secured the knoll, and although still under interdicting fires, dug in. At 2000H, the perimeter was subjected to a fierce ground attack, supported by rocket and mortar fire from the small hills to the west and northwest. Some elements of the attacking enemy succeeded in penetrating the perimeter, but were cut down by the coordinated and massed fire of the infantry, artillery and tactical air ( the latter, directed by 1st Brigades Air Force Forward Air Controllers, was brought within 15 meters of the companies' positions). Under this intense fire, the enemy attack faltered then ceased by late evening; however, there was no letup in the enemy's suppressive fire which continued throughout the night. On 10 November, despite the fact that the companies landing zone was well known to the enemy, and therefore subjected to pounding interdicting fires throughout the day, A Company was relieved in place by B and C Companies, 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry, and all wounded and dead extracted. At first light on 11 November, leaving B Company to secure the landing zone, C and D Companies moved to secure Hill 724. They gained the hill without incident although sporadic mortar fire continued to impact on the position. After a hasty landing position had been cut on the hill, B Company was directed to move to hill 724 and co-locate with C and D Companies. As B Company approached the perimeter, the enemy, who had apparently trailed the company, unleashed his final most furious attack. Heavy interdictory fire from b-40 rockets and 82mm mortars pounded the position as the enemy made a frantic attempt to overrun the perimeter. Again devastating artillery and tactical air ripped into the enemy as the battle-weary infantry cut them down at the perimeter, ending the attack after two hours of bitter fighting. Only later was it determined that during those critical engagements, culminating in the establishment of the interdiction base, the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry had rendered ineffective two battalions of the 32nd NVA Regiment.
 
During these periods of intensive enemy contact, the 4th battalion, 502rd Infantry (Airborne), under the operational control of the 1st Brigade since its arrival on 1 November, initiated the third arm of the 1st Brigade offensive operations (see enclosure C). A,C, and D Companies began a search and destroy operations on an axis generally south from Ben Het (YB 8625). Their mission was to search and interdict the northern end of the extensive trail system running southeast and northeast through the Dak Klong River Valley, which is the most direct northwest route from Cambodia to the Dak To area. On the 5th and 6th of November, A Company observed and engaged several 5-6 man elements of NVA moving south and southeast in front of the companies advance. the 1st Brigade Commander ordered the airborne battalion to conduct an air assault on Hill 823 (YB 8518), in order to establish a fire base to jump another battalion to the enemy's rear. A bold new concept was envisioned for the air assault. Because of the heavy foliage surrounding the hill and on the hill itself, the Brigade Commander determined that a small LZ should be blasted on the top by artillery and air strikes, even though the possibility existed that the landing would be directly into a fortified enemy position.
The air strikes were successful in opening a small LZ on the hill and escorted by gunships spraying continuos suppressive fire on top of and around the hill, B Company was inserted one ship at a time. The company gained the landing zone without incident, finding a well prepared NVA position and sufficient personal equipment and crew served weapons to indicate that a battalion size force has fled only moments before the company's air assault. As B Company began to prepare its own position and clear fields of fire, they came under heavy ground attack. Reacting immediately the paratroopers dove for the already prepared NVA positions, and fought off the fanatic enemy with near hand-to-hand fighting, the enemy again and again closing to hand grenade range and was driven back with heavy losses. Simultaneously A,C, and D companies were engaged in three separate contacts to the south of Hill 823, thereby temporarily preventing them from reinforcing the beleaguared B Company. At 1000H on 7 November, the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry became opcon to its parent brigade. This brave and outstanding successful maneuver, coupled with the heroic accomplishments of the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry n the Ngok Dorlang ridge complex, destroyed all hopes the enemy had of attacking and over running that Dak To area.
 
During the two fierce battles mentioned above, intelligence sources had detected what seemed to be a logistical base near the trail junction at YB 914107. It was deduced that this might also be a division headquarters area. Considering the obvious tenacity of the enemy units in the area and their demonstrated willingness to attack US units, any type of penetration or maneuver into this area was subject to be attacked with fanatical zeal. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry was directed to conduct an air assault into what was later to become known as "Dogbone Hill" (YB 910121). The Battalion Commander committed a three company task force, consisting of Companies A, C, and D, into the initial assault, accompanied by the direct support artillery battery, the attached engineer platoon and a small command group led by the battalion S-3. After a heavy artillery and air preparation, the battalion assaulted the hill and immediately set to the task of preparing a defensive fortress. The rapidity with which the fortifications took shape and the determination with which the battalion seized the hill drew high praise from the Division Commander and (as it was later learned) caused the enemy to initiate a swift withdrawal from the area instead of conducting an attack.
At this point, every intelligence means available to the 4th Division and the 1st Brigade confirmed that the PAVN 1st Division was on the run, moving west into its Cambodian sanctuary. This knowledge provided impetus for the initiation of the final phase of operation ; PURSUIT.
On 14 November, the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry assaulted Hill 762 (YB 956115) to block the Dak Sir Valley with Companies B and C. On 15 November, the same battalion assaulted hill 530 (YB 8959730) with companies B and D of the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry operating under the control of the 1st Battalion 8th Infantry. This maneuver placed a blocking force at the intersection of two key exfiltration routes: the Dak Hodrai and the Dak Romao Valleys. Intensive search and destroy operations were conducted with only sporadic enemy contact; it began to appear that the enemy had been able to slip through the screen and passed the blocking positions. But the initiation of enemy weapons attacks on the Dak To and the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Fire Support Base indicated that the NVA were still present and still trying frantically to break from the trap. On 17 November, the fire support base received a vicious attack of 82mm mortars and 122mm rockets which proved to be the first of what was to be a series of daily attacks lasting for ten straight days.
 
During this period, over 500 enemy rounds landed on and around the Dogbone Hill, yet not one casualty was reported, proving the strength of the fortifications and the professionalism of the battalion. On 19 November, C Company D patrol became engaged with an enemy force considered to be a carrying party accompanied by a large security force. A police of the battle area later, recovered enough individual and crew-served weapons to outfit a company as well as the total cargo of the carrying party: over two tons of rice.
 
The final blow dealt to the enemy began as the Brigade continued pursuit operations. In a determined effort to keep the headquarters and support elements off-balance, the enemy attacked battalion fire support bases and support areas with mortar fire and recoilless rifle indirect fire. The attacks were normally of short duration, but were generally accurate. The most serious of these attacks took place on 15 November against critical support complex at Dak To Base. Three C-130 aircraft were located on the base camp unloading much needed supplies, when the first rounds tore through the tail section of one craft and shell fragments punctured the wing fuel tank on all. Fire broke out immediately, engulfing two of the craft. The third was saved only by the valiant effort of officers and men from the 1st Brigade Headquarters, B Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, and D Battery, 4th Battalion, 60th Artillery (AA). The weapons fire shifted south to the ammunition supply point, causing a tremendous secondary explosion and scattering tons of unstable artillery ammunition throughout the Dak To Complex. This initiated a sixteen-hour period of destruction during which the supply point was completely destroyed and other secondary explosions and fire endangered every person with-in the perimeter.
 
Although the loss of the Ammunition Supply Point was serious, it was offset by Herculean effort from the FSA, 4th Division Support Command elements and the units; supply sections supported by the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion. These elements, in 3 days, rebuilt the logistical system to full capability.
 
The 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry continued the mission of clearing the heavily fortified Ngok Kon Kring Ridge (YB 9815-YB 9914) which over looks Dak To Base from the south (see enclosure E). During the period 6-14 November the battalion fought continuously along the ridge; Hills 1124 YB 978171), 1089 (YB 967169) and 1021 (YB 948177), were all hard fought battles characterized by heavily fortified bunkers and trench complexes. Repeated attacks against enemy machine gun, B-40 rocket and 60mm Mortar fires were required to neutralize each position. Often the fighting raged as close as five meters. On November 16, C Company engaged a heavily entrenched enemy force followed by A Company, it advanced on Hill 1338 (YB 9815) . Under heavy enemy fire, including B-40 rockets and 60mm Mortar fire from an estimated battalion strength force, the company withdrew. Direct and general support artillery and accurately directed Air Force tactical fighters blasted the target throughout the night. At first light the next day, the companies advanced, with C Company leading, only to be met by intense enemy fire even heavier than the day before. Company A maneuvered southwest and established a base of fire as C Company fought its way uphill against the heavily fortified bunkers, trenches, and spider holes as it went forward. The battle weary companies secured the hill just at darkness, with time only to dig in and form a defensive perimeter; consequently, it was not until the following morning during a search of the area that they discovered that they had fought through six trench-lines studded with bunkers and open fighting positions. It was the most elaborate defense and most stubbornly defended complex faced by any unit of the brigade and had been secured only by an extraordinary gallant effort and exceptional team work
.
Through 21 November, the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry continued to clear the ridge line. Hill1262 (YB 9714) and 1294 (YB 9914), were next to be taken and required repeated attacks against the enemy that was now fighting a stubborn delaying action in order to withdraw his badly battered force from the ridge line. The battalion then air-assaulted southwest to Dak Hodrai River Valley to continue pursuit.
The period 3-21 November encompassed the most critical period in what has come to be called the Battle of Dak To. During this period the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division controlled the operations of as many as five maneuver battalions and conducted operations which first, in 4 days, accomplished buildup from a minimal security status to full operational capability; second, in 8 days, conducted coordinated attacks which destroyed the capabilities of two NVA regiments to conduct offensive operations; and third, initiated pursuit operations which ultimately drove the remnants of those same regiments to Cambodia.
Each of the individual locations, completed gallantly and successfully in each instance, comprised the success of the closely coordinated and heroically accomplished plan; one carried out by maneuver and support units in the highest traditions of the United States Army.
 

NARRATIVE Chronological Hill 724 Photos LTC Belknap Photos  

Chronological Summary Document:
 

Chronological Summary of Significant Activities
Battle for Dak To,  25 Oct - 1 Dec 67
(PDF Document 357 KB)

 


Hill 724 Aerial Photos

scroll down for more photos

Photos by Lt Larry Skoglund, FO, C/6/29 Arty Bn
 




LTC Belknap  'SABER'
 


Photo provided by Saber's son Doug Belnap

 


Helicopter Incident Report 13 Nov 67 - PDF File 611KB
 


NARRATIVE Chronological Hill 724 Photos LTC Belknap Photos

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