“Out of the Hornet’s Nest”: Armored Cavalry Came to the Rescue of Soldiers Ambushed at Loc Ninh

Lieutenant Ed Knoll was woke up by his foot being gently pushed, the cautious and protected technique of waking somebody in fight. A handset was shoved in his face, and the radio phone operator stated, “EL TEE, pressing name from Defiant 3,” the battalion operations officer’s name signal. It was an operations alert for Knoll, a primary lieutenant and commander of Alpha Firm, 1st Battalion, twenty eighth Infantry Regiment (the Black Lions), 1st Infantry Division. The decision to Knoll, on the An Loc firebase about 95 kilometers north of Saigon, got here simply after midnight Sept. 12, 1968. The lieutenant’s unit was trucked to close by Quan Loi, and within the morning the first Battalion (minus B Firm dealing with base safety at Quan Loi) was airlifted north to Loc Ninh.

On Sept. 11, the North Vietnamese Military had attacked Loc Ninh, hitting native and regional militia teams as nicely troops from South Vietnam’s common military. The city, a district capital surrounded by rubber plantations, was about 110 kilometers from Saigon on Freeway 13, a serious artery that ran south from Cambodia and supplied a direct hall into the Saigon space for advancing enemy forces.

On the day of the NVA assaults, the first Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade, headquartered at Quan Loi (20 kilometers southeast of Loc Ninh), despatched a number of items to the Loc Ninh airstrip: 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment; E Troop, 2nd Squadron, eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment; and Battery B, 1st Battalion, fifth Discipline Artillery Regiment (105 mm howitzers). Knoll’s Alpha Firm and others within the 1st Battalion, twenty eighth Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Leland Rew, arrived round 10 a.m. on Sept. 12. Further artillery assist—Battery D of the first Battalion, fifth Discipline Artillery—was flown in that night. On Sept. 13 the 2nd Battalion, sixteenth Infantry Regiment, was deployed into blocking positions north of Loc Ninh.

An Ominous Mission

When Alpha Firm was prepping earlier at Quan Loi, Pfc. Dave Himmer of Lima Platoon and Pfc. Bob Gruen of Mike Platoon noticed a number of the “previous guys” taking “final” photographs. Once they requested why, the previous guys stated, “Loc Ninh is a badass space. Not all of us can be coming again.” Himmer and Gruen, who had been in Vietnam solely a few months and never but seen a large firefight, thought it was a scare tactic.

4 days later the 2 “newbies” could be thought-about seasoned “previous guys.”

When the troops in Rew’s battalion had arrived at Loc Ninh on Sept. 12, they might hear that the first Battalion, 2nd Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Fitzpatrick, was already closely engaged with an NVA drive east of the airstrip. E Troop of the Armored Cavalry, with a component of Bravo Firm from Fitzpatrick’s infantry battalion, had been deployed to blocking positions 5 kilometers north of Loc Ninh and engaged in mild contact on the best way to these positions.

Corporations in Rew’s battalion began sweeps of the realm: Delta to the west curling to the north and again to the airstrip, Charlie to the northeast and Alpha barely east of Charlie.

The Reconnaissance Platoon was held on the airstrip. Every of the maneuver parts had just one gun of artillery. Fitzpatrick’s battalion was receiving all out there artillery assist for its combat. Delta made its sweep with none contact and returned to the airstrip to offer night time safety. This might not be the case for Alpha and Charlie corporations.

At 2 p.m., a helicopter gunship was shot down southeast of Fitzpatrick’s males. The recon platoon from Rew’s battalion was flown to a touchdown zone close to the downed chopper.Because the platoon moved out from the LZ, it got here below assault, suffered casualties and had issue returning to the touchdown website below the heavy hearth. By 2:30 p.m., with artillery and gunship assist, the recon platoon obtained again to the LZ and was lifted out with its casualties by 3 p.m.

In the meantime, Alpha and Charlie made mild contact with the enemy about 2:15 p.m., however by 3 p.m. each items had been in heavy preventing, with Knoll’s Alpha Firm within the extra important scenario. E Troop, with the Bravo Firm aspect, had been recalled from its place to help within the aid of the recon platoon however was redirected to Alpha’s location in a rescue mission.

The Alpha Firm commander on the Loc Ninh battle, Lt. Ed. Knoll, in glasses. (U.S. Military)

Alpha had moved slowly by the primary two checkpoints on its route and noticed no indication of the enemy. It had gone about 2 kilometers from Checkpoint 2 when an NVA soldier was noticed in a makeshift rubber staff’ hut. He was fired on and killed. Alpha then “cloverleafed” the realm—with groups sweeping out in several instructions after which circling again.

Discovering nothing, the corporate continued for about 200 meters, noticed three NVA troops and fired, killing two. Mike Platoon despatched out a squad to do a cloverleaf. The squad had moved east about 150 meters when it got here below automated weapons and small-arms hearth. The enemy then added rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to the barrage.

Mike Platoon’s chief reported a minimum of eight killed and 4 wounded. He requested assist to get the casualties out. Knoll, nevertheless, believed the enemy hearth was too heavy for a retrieval effort—the casualties had been “bait within the lure.” Due to this fact, he moved Lima and November platoons on line with a niche between them, laid down a base of fireside and directed Mike Platoon’s chief to tug his unit again by the hole.

Knoll then took Alpha again 75 to 100 meters and established a 360-degree defensive perimeter. In entrance of the perimeter had been positioned Claymore mines, which shoot out a whole lot of metal pellets after being detonated from a protected distance utilizing an electrical wire.

Ambushed in a rubber plantation

“I contacted Defiant 3, informing him of our scenario, the necessity for optimum artillery assist and every other hearth assist out there,” Knoll recalled. “Whereas reporting, I may see 200 to 300 NVA working their approach round us. The rubber plantation was crawling with NVA. Briefly order we had been surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned with mortars and RPGs hitting the rubber bushes.”

Alpha’s one 105 mm howitzer wasn’t sufficient on this scenario. Two helicopter gunships—UH-1 Iroquois “Hueys”—flew in to assist. However rain began coming down too laborious for Alpha to mark its place for the copters with smoke grenades, and the Hueys returned to Loc Ninh.

Non-public Himmer of Lima Platoon was crawling again into Alpha Firm’s perimeter after establishing his Claymore mines when a RPG whooshed over his head, exploding on a tree. Then the NVA fired on the Individuals with the whole lot it had—mortars, RPGs, small arms and automated weapons.

“We had practically walked into an ambush,” Himmer stated. “Lieutenant Knoll’s directive to tug again and arrange a fringe saved Alpha. We had been nonetheless in a combat for our lives. Over the din, I may hear LT calling for assistance on the radio, asking for no matter assist we may get. Because the NVA had been transferring towards and round us, it began to rain so laborious we couldn’t see something. It was laborious to sight an M16 [rifle] or M60 [machine gun]. When it could let up a bit we may see the NVA transferring from tree to tree. They had been throughout. We simply saved firing.”

Pfc. Lyle Leonard remembers the stream of NVA tracer bullets that left a glowing inexperienced path that confirmed shooters the place their rounds had been hitting. Each fifth bullet was a tracer. “It appeared like strong inexperienced above us,” Leonard stated.

“I didn’t need to increase my head and hearth, however I needed to, so I did it. It was all like a really unhealthy dream.”

Each time Gruen hears “The Star Spangled Banner,” he remembers that night time. “When the NVA would hearth these RPGs, there could be a giant crimson flash out within the rubber,” the Mike Platoon personal stated. “Then there could be an explosion within the bushes above our heads. It was the rockets’ crimson glare and bombs bursting in air.’”

Pfc. Glenn Patton of Lima Platoon says the coolness below hearth displayed by Knoll and Employees Sgt. Terry Richardson, his platoon chief, helped him deal with his obligation, reasonably than fascinated about the overwhelmingly unhealthy scenario Alpha Firm seemed to be in.

A Mike Platoon squad chief, Sgt. Bob Parker, pulled his males again from the enemy hearth and into the corporate’s defensive place. “As we shaped into a fringe, I had my males use the bottom of rubber bushes for canopy as they fired,” Parker stated. “Rapidly everybody was coated with leaves. The air above us was inexperienced! Tracers had been crisscrossing from each path.”

The eleventh Armored Cavalry, right here close to Saigon in 1966, rode to Alpha in armored assault autos. (Bettman/Getty Photos)

The battle—and the rain—intensified. The rain would pour down in laborious squalls, let up some, then strengthen. The NVA firing didn’t let up in any respect. The enemy troopers had been creeping in and closed to inside 25 meters. Alpha began detonating the Claymores, which eased the rapid stress. Knoll was instructed that the cavalry was on its approach.

“NVA had been in all places,” stated Pfc. Pete Sasko, a Lima Platoon rifleman. “The rubber was crawling with them. As soon as it began to get darkish, the flares lit them up making them look bizarre.”

The Cavalry Arrives

Sgt. Norm Meier, a squad chief in Lima Platoon, recollects that night. “As we shaped our perimeter one in all my machine gunners was hit,” he stated. “I took over the gun, firing a lot that I used to be frightened that I might both expend the barrel or run out of ammo. I may see NVA operating from tree to tree earlier than it began raining. As soon as it obtained darkish I may see them with each flare. I used to be praying as laborious as I used to be firing, making an attempt to maintain from being overrun.”

“The cavalry arrived and got here to our rescue! I obtained extra ammo from them simply as I used to be operating out. My prayers had been answered.”

The coming troopers from E Troop—mounted on M113A1 armored cavalry assault autos, or ACAVs—had fought their approach by the NVA with the connected Bravo Firm aspect and bolstered Alpha’s defensive perimeter by 5:45 p.m. Getting into the perimeter, the cavalry commander noticed greater than 100 NVA troops advancing towards the Individuals.

As soon as they had been inside, the cavalry troops opened up with their .50-caliber and M60 machine weapons, offering 360-degree protection. The enemy firing intensified earlier than momentarily slacking off. Then the RPGs began coming in. However the cavalrymen saved firing away.

Round 7 p.m., 1st Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Keith Ware contacted Knoll by radio. “He directed us to maneuver out and hyperlink up with Charlie Firm, about 2 kilometers north,” Knoll recalled. “I defined our current scenario: surrounded by many NVA, in heavy contact, darkish and raining.”

Mike Platoon’s cloverleaf squad casualties had been about 200 meters from the perimeter, and a few wounded had been inside. Knoll instructed Ware that his males weren’t ready to maneuver.

“He insisted that the scenario wasn’t as unhealthy as I used to be reporting,” Knoll remembered. “He then radioed the E Troop commander, ordering him to maneuver [to Charlie Company]. The cavalry commander agreed with my evaluation. He wasn’t going to probability transferring his ACAVs and dismounted troops at night time, navigate round rubber bushes with solely the illumination of artillery flares, whereas making an attempt to combat by the NVA encirclement. We stayed put. We had probes, mortars and RPGs many of the night time.”

Later that night time Alpha began pulling down rubber bushes with explosives to make a touchdown zone for a medevac helicopter. The “dustoff” copter arrived round 1 a.m. The entire American perimeter fired rounds to suppress the enemy hearth whereas the dustoff pilot was dropping into the opening made by the downed bushes.

Purple tracer bullets from American weapons are used to enhance accuracy throughout preventing at Loc Ninh in fall 1967. (U.S. Military)

“It was inky darkish apart from floor flares and artillery flares giving off actually bizarre mild,” Non-public Leonard stated. “The pilot moved the chopper forwards and backwards, clipping leaves from branches, as he settled the chopper down. The crew was hanging out of the doorways guiding him in.”

The dustoff introduced in a lot wanted ammunition, water and battalion commander Rew, who took cost of the drive. After the wounded had been loaded, the dustoff lifted straight up and out of the opening.

Through the early portion of the battle, Air Drive Maj. Ingram Ottinger, flying above Alpha in his L-19 Fowl Canine commentary airplane, got here on the radio. He had fast-moving fighters circling close by and making runs to the battle website.

The perimeter on the bottom was marked by an out of doors ring of inexperienced tracers from the incoming NVA hearth and an interior circle of crimson tracers created by outgoing American bullets. Ottinger fired recognizing rockets exterior the crimson circle to mark targets for the jet pilots. For a lot of the night time, he dropped flares and introduced in air energy to assist the troops beneath.

When Ottinger lastly departed, he stated he could be again very first thing within the morning, and Knoll provided him a bottle of Jack Daniels if he returned. The foremost was true to his phrase and stayed by the remainder of the battle, leaving solely briefly to refuel on the Loc Ninh airstrip. (When Alpha returned to Quan Loi after the battle, Ottinger flew in to get his Jack Daniels. “He earned that and extra,” Knoll stated. “He helped us survive the night time.”)

At first mild on Sept. 13, a Mike Platoon patrol, supported by two ACAVs, looked for the platoon’s cloverleaf unit. Non-public Gruen remembers a sergeant giving the squad directions: “Everyone out there’s lifeless. I don’t need anybody to get mad and lose your head. We’re going to choose them up and put them on the ACAVs. Rule No. 1, don’t go in entrance of the ACAVs. Rule No. 2, don’t lose your head!”

Because the search patrol approached the realm of the cloverleaf squad, “we may see our bodies,” Gruen stated. “We heard somebody saying ‘assist me!’ Kinser hollered, ‘Who’s it?’ ‘Steadman’ was the reply. As quickly as we heard Steadman, everybody, led by Sergeant Kinser, rushed forward of the ACAVs. Bernie Steadman and Doug—can’t recall his final title, the machine gunner from Philly—had been alive however badly wounded from gunshots and stab wounds. The remainder of the our bodies had been shot, stabbed and reduce up. We had been PO’d. As they had been being loaded into the ACAVs, an NVA soldier got here out from behind a tree. Washington Norfleet fired his M79 [grenade launcher] from the hip, hitting the NVA within the shoulder space. It was too shut for the grenade to blow up [the round needed approximately 15 meters to arm itself.] The NVA simply slid down the tree. After seeing what was completed to our guys, Sergeant Kinser completed him off with a full journal burst. He was indignant.”

After recovering the lifeless and wounded, the battalion moved to an open space, evacuated the casualties, obtained resupplied and moved to hyperlink up with Charlie Firm, commanded by Capt. Michael Hageman, whose contact with the NVA had ceased late within the night of Sept. 12.

Again at Quan Loi, Alpha clerk Spc. 4 Jerry Simecka had been listening to rumors that the corporate was overrun and worn out. “It wasn’t till the morning of Sept. 13 that I used to be in a position to get an official report from the battalion XO [executive officer] who tasked me to ID Alpha’s KIAs on the Quan Loi graves registration level,” he stated.

“It was the most effective day and the worst day of my life. The corporate hadn’t been worn out, however I needed to ID eight of my guys.”

After the linkup, Rew’s battalion and E Troop, with the Bravo infantry aspect, moved towards Hill 222 to do a sweep of the realm. The items superior in a field formation—Alpha on the left, Bravo on the best, and Charlie interspersed within the field.

At one level the Individuals noticed appreciable motion in entrance of them. E Troop opened up with machine weapons. Rew known as in air assist. Because the planes did their work, E Troop was indifferent by the brigade operations workers to rescue Fitzpatrick’s battalion, in a pitched battle with a big NVA drive east of Loc Ninh.

When the airstrikes ended, Rew’s battalion, with out E Troop, moved towards Hill 222. The air above was crowded: Ottinger’s Fowl Canine, gunships and their controller, a minimum of one command-and-control ship, all circling the realm. Charlie Firm obtained heavy hearth from dug-in bunkers and was pinned down. Alpha moved up and laid down hearth to help Charlie’s pullback.

Knoll once more was on the radio with division commander Ware, in his command-and-control helicopter. “This time,” Knoll remembered, “I used to be instructed to ‘cease appearing like a coward and combat as you’ve been skilled.’ At that second, we had been making an attempt to tug out of the hornet’s nest, with .51-caliber rounds snapping overhead and round us, shredding rubber bushes. I may solely reply with ‘Roger, out.’ We continued to tug Charlie’s casualties again.”

Shortly afterward, Rew was notified that Ware’s chopper had been shot down. All aboard had been killed, seven males and the final’s canine, King.

Air assist was known as in for 12 to 14 strikes on Hill 222. Alpha moved ahead to gather the remainder of Charlie’s casualties, after which the battalion pulled again to arrange an evening defensive perimeter.

One other assault plan was shaped for the subsequent day, Sept. 14. Alpha was to steer, approaching from a extra northern path, skirting the hill. The assault was met by heavy machine gun, RPG and mortar hearth. The lead squad from Lima was shot up. Even with a complete 105 mm battery firing, the shelling didn’t have an effect on the NVA troops of their well-built bunkers.

As Alpha pulled again with the casualties, Lima Platoon’s Sergeant Richardson grabbed a radio, crawled by the outer bunker space and known as in airstrikes, napalm, bombs and cannon hearth—all aimed on the enemy base camp.

“I used to be in a small irrigation ditch hiding behind a rubber tree that was smoldering from napalm,” Richardson stated. “When the strikes had been over, I couldn’t imagine what number of NVA had been nonetheless round. They had been transferring down the bottom of the hill. I may see them, however couldn’t hear something. My listening to had been tousled by the strikes. Then a sniper in a tree shot me within the leg.”

Because the NVA broke contact late that afternoon, a squad from Lima Platoon moved ahead to recuperate Richardson. As they approached the sergeant, Spc. 4 Robert Grier noticed a sniper chained to his perch in a rubber tree and shot him.

They discovered Richardson dazed and bleeding from the ears however alive with a leg wound. There have been NVA our bodies throughout him.

The battalion stayed within the defensive place for the night time, pushing onto Hill 222 the subsequent morning. There was no resistance as the boys slowly made their approach by the huge complicated of well-constructed and camouflaged bunkers. The NVA had withdrawn from the positioning, decided to be the seventh NVA Division’s base camp. The departing troops had eliminated their lifeless.

It was a expensive battle: Alpha entered Loc Ninh with 102 troopers and returned with 82—dropping eight killed and 12 wounded. The first Brigade after-action report tallying the losses for all items recorded American casualties of 70 killed and 488 wounded and NVA losses that included 608 confirmed killed.

Jeff Harvey, a retired Military lieutenant colonel, was commanding officer of Alpha Firm, 1st Battalion, twenty eighth Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, from October 1967 to March 1968. This narrative was compiled from Alpha Firm oral histories and the after-action report by the seventeenth Army Historical past Detachment, 1st Infantry Division.

This text appeared within the June 2017 subject of Vietnam journal.


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