Military Operations Report of Battles Which Happened During My Tour of Duty


(I, Wayne Wade, was in November (3rd) Platoon, B company, 1/18th Infantry.) Richard Cavazos, who was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, and later became the first Mexican American four star general was Wayne's Battalion Commander. This is the Army’s description of an operation the Big Red One was involved in during the last part of 1967 in which Richard participated. Many young men's lives were saved more than once by Richard, during the time he served in Vietnam, including mine. He is a very remarkable and humble man.


Battle of Loc Ninh

(October-November 1967)


The 1st Infantry Division's operations around Loc Ninh in October and November 1967 illustrates many of the tactical and material innovations used by the infantry commander in Vietnam. New formations and techniques were employed to find the enemy. Dogs, starlight scopes, and anti-intrusion devices helped the units to avoid being surprised. Carefully planned defensive measures for small unit tactical perimeters were developed by the division, and new, lighter weapons with increased firepower made the foot soldier more effective. Other new techniques increased the support provided by artillery, by air, and by Army aviation.


Events leading up to the battle of Loc Ninh included the engagement of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, with elements of the 271st Viet Cong Regiment at Da Yeu, fifty-five kilometers south of the Loc Ninh airstrip. This firefight clearly demonstrates fire support in Vietnam. It also illustrates the use of scout dogs and the cloverleaf formation, a conventional reconnaissance technique adapted to the infantry battalion's movement toward contact with the enemy.


The battle was fought in dense scrub jungle, where observation was limited to ten feet. The lst Battalion, 18th Infantry, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Cavazos and had been operating in the vicinity of Da Yeu for seven days, searching for elements of the 9th Viet Cong Division. On the morning of 11 October Companies B and C and the battalion tactical command post moved out of the position that the battalion had occupied without contact during the night. Company B, commanded by Captain Watson G. Caudill, led, followed by the tactical command group and Company C, which was commanded by Major William M. Mann, Jr. The mortars were left in the night defensive position with Company D. (Company A was in Di An on a rear area security mission.) The mission was to search for an enemy base camp believed to be two kilometers north. The point squad of Company B was accompanied by a scout dog, which immediately gave the alert as the company cleared the perimeter. In response to the dog's alert, the column proceeded in a clover-leaf formation in order to provide maximum security. No enemy was sighted; however, the point squad reported hearing movement to its front and the dog continued to give the alert. After covering 1800 meters, Captain Caudill directed his front platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant George P. Johnson, to deploy his troops in line and direct small arms fire into the forward area. The fire was immediately returned from a range of thirty meters, whereupon Colonel Cavazos ordered Captain Caudill to withdraw his platoons through each other and move into the defensive perimeter being formed by Company C. Meanwhile, Captain Robert Lichtenberger, Company B's forward observer, had called in artillery. As the 1st and 2d Platoons withdrew through the 3d Platoon, he guided the artillery fire back with them until it was falling only 100 meters from the 3d Platoon's positions and well inside the initial point of contact. Second Lieutenant Ralph D. McCall had selected an excellent position for his 3d Platoon to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of, the company. His squads were linked with Company C. Because the heavy enemy fire was ineffective, Colonel Cavazos directed the 3d Platoon to maintain its position rather than pull back into the perimeter. By 1015, forty-five minutes after the initial contact, the first of nine tactical air sorties was attacking 400 meters in front of Lieutenant McCall's 3d Platoon and just north of the east-west fire coordination line that had been established by Colonel Cavazos. Simultaneously, the artillery was striking in the area between the 3d Platoon and the fire co-ordination line.


At 1020, a helicopter light fire team entered the battalion net for instructions. After noting the smoke that identified the front and flank elements, the fire team leader began to search the battalion's west (left) flank. He had been directed to run from south to north, to work his fire up to the artillery impact area, and to break west to avoid conflict with the fighters which were striking from east to west and breaking north. The enemy reacted immediately to the fire team's first run. Seventy-five Viet Cong, who had been hiding on the left flank, assaulted the 3d Platoon. They were cut down by the U.S. infantrymen firing from their positions behind trees and anthills. The charge ended as abruptly as it started. The 3d Platoon was moved back into the perimeter as the artillery was shifted even closer to the battalion's position. After another hour, in which artillery, tactical air forces, and helicopter fire teams continued to work the area, enemy firing ceased and the battalion (minus) moved forward. Twenty-one bodies were found in the enemy position. The 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, had one man killed and four wounded (all from the 3d Platoon of Company B) during the Viet Cong assault.


During the three-hour contact, the battalion was never decisively engaged. The final assault into the enemy position was not started Diagram 1. Rifle company clover-leafs, advancing toward contact until enemy firing had ceased. The combined firepower of tactical fighters, armed helicopters, and artillery was directed simultaneously on the enemy position, which had been detected from an airborne scent picked up by a scout dog.


The cloverleaf formation, named for the trace of the patrols that emanated from the main column, was used habitually by the 1st Infantry Division when contact with the enemy was imminent. It provided for a deliberate search of the flanks of a column and for an "overwatch" technique used by the point squad. (Diagram 1) In the overwatch, one element moved while another element occupied a position from which it could fire immediately in support of the advancing point men. Using this formation, the enemy position was discovered before the entire unit became engaged. Assigning the helicopter fire team to cover the battalion's flank was another new technique in the Vietnam War. Although successful commanders in all wars have been concerned about the security of their units' flanks, the war in Vietnam demanded even greater attention. This new emphasis resulted from the relative independence of small unit operations, from the nature of the terrain, and from the enemy's ability to hide his formations close to U.S. forces.


Scout dogs also proved to be a valuable innovation. A scout dog team consisted of one dog and one handler, trained to work together and inseparable for operational purposes. Scout dogs were German shepherds and normally worked on a leash. They were trained to respond to airborne scents by signaling their handlers when they picked up a foreign presence. Scout dogs could locate trip wires, mines, fortifications, tunnels, and storage areas. Under ideal conditions, they could detect groups of people several hundred meters away; however, fatigue, adverse weather conditions, and dense vegetation affected their performance. In addition to the scout dog was the tracker dog. The tracker, a Labrador retriever, was part of a team consisting of the dog, his handler, and four men trained in visual tracking techniques. The dog, working on a 25-foot leash, followed a ground scent over terrain where the soldier-trackers were unable to pick up visible signs. The first combat tracker teams used in Vietnam were trained by the British in Malaya. Now the Military Police School at Fort Cordon, Georgia, has the facilities for tracker training.


The battle of Da Yeu was an unqualified defeat for the North Vietnamese Army; it was indicative of the outcome of subsequent contacts in the vicinity of Loc Ninh. Loc Ninh is a district town 13 kilometers from the Cambodian border and 100 kilometers north of Saigon. The town was slated as a target by the 9th Viet Cong Division for late October. The timing coincided with the inauguration of President Nguyen Van Thieu; the seizure of a district capital by the enemy could have had substantial political impact.


PICTURE: Scout Dog Leads Patrol Searching for Viet Cong


During the weeks that preceded the battle, the headquarters of the 9th Viet Cong Division left War Zone D for the border area north of Loc Ninh. The division headquarters moved with the 273d Viet Cong Regiment and approached the border areas where the 272d Regiment had already assembled. The 271st Regiment, the third of the division's three regiments, moved into the Long Nguyen secret zone, fifty kilometers south of Loc Ninh. A captured enemy document indicated that this move was made to facilitate the logistic support of the 271st Regiment. However, after several contacts with elements of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, including the battle of Da Yeu, the 271st Regiment withdrew from the area in late October. The regiment had sustained over 400 killed in action during its brief tenure in the Long Nguyen secret zone, and it was probably too weak to be committed at Loc Ninh. The 165th Viet Cong Regiment was subsequently directed to provide additional men to the 9th Division in order to fill in the ranks.


PICTURE: CIDG Compound and Loc Ninh Airstrip with A Battery, 6th Battalion,  

CIDG COMPOUND AND LOC NINH AIRSTRIP with A Battery, 6th Battalion, 15th Artillery, position in the foreground.


The enemy's scheme of maneuver directed the 272d and 273d Viet Cong Regiments to converge on Loc Ninh. The 272d Regiment was to approach from the northeast and the 273d was to approach from the west, The operation began at 0100 hours on 29 October, when the 273d Regiment attacked the district headquarters and the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) and Special Forces camp at the Loc Ninh airfield. The 273d Regiment pressed the attack until 0535 when it was forced to withdraw. Although it had briefly penetrated the CIDG compound, it left 147 Viet Cong bodies on the battlefield.


In reaction to the attack, Major General John H. Hay, Jr., commander of the 1st Infantry Division, alerted four battalions and their supporting artillery. General Hay's plan was to deploy the battalions in a rough square around Loc Ninh. A study of the terrain and the pattern of enemy activity in the area revealed the most probable enemy routes of approach and withdrawal. The battalions were to set up night defensive positions at the corners of the square and to block the enemy's withdrawal. Artillery was to be placed in each of the night defensive positions to insure mutual support as well as support for the maneuver battalions' operations. The locations of these positions-temporary fire bases-on routes essential to the enemy would challenge him to attack; and as he massed for the assault, fire from supporting artillery, tactical fighters, and helicopter fire teams would be directed on his exposed formations. In addition to the units along the routes of withdrawal, the plan included bolstering the defenses of Loc Ninh with a small force of infantry and artillery. At 0630 on 29 October the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Cavazos, made an air assault into the southwestern corner of the square, four kilometers west of the Loc Ninh airstrip. Elements of the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, commanded by Major Louis C. Menetrey, and two batteries of artillery were moved to the airstrip. The 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, were moved to Quan Loi, from where they could be committed as the situation developed.


By 1215 C Company of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, on patrol from the Battalion NDP had made contact with a Viet Cong company. This engagement, the first. of six major firefights that comprised the battle of Loc Ninh, resulted in another twenty-four enemy soldiers killed and one man in C Company was killed. At 1215 the following day A Company of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, again made contact, and the 273d Viet Cong Regiment lost eighty-three men. A Company lost four men. At 0055 hours on 31 October, the 272d Viet Cong Regiment made its bid from the northeast for the Loc Ninh district headquarters and the CIDG compound, now reinforced with elements of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, and Battery A, 6th Battalion, 15th Artillery. The 272d Regiment withdrew at 0915, leaving 110 bodies and 68 weapons around the airstrip. To block the withdrawal of the 272d Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James F. Cochran, III, conducted an air assault three kilometers southeast of the airstrip. Although the battalion made sporadic contact for several days following the assault, it was unable to re-engage the enemy significantly. While the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, blocked the southwest withdrawal route of the 272d Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, searched the area west of the airstrip.


In the early morning hours of 2 November, the night defensive position of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, became the battlefield for the fourth major engagement of the battle for Loc Ninh. The 1st Division's after action report described the conflict as follows:


2 Nov-The 1 /18th Infantry NDP [night defensive position] came under heavy mortar attack commencing at OO80H and lasting for 20 minutes. The mortar positions were reported by ambush patrols, one being directly south of the NDP and one being located to the southwest. About 5 minutes later, Company A ambush patrol reported movement coming from the south. The VC were in the rubber guiding north along a road which led into the NDP. The ambush patrol blew its claymores and returned to the NDP. One VC was KIA [killed in action] attempting to follow the ambush patrol inside the NDP. ( Read Pat Mclaughlin's description of Loc Ninh Battles 1967 to get more details. Just go to  and click on C Company War Stories. ) 


To the east, Company D's ambush patrol reported heavy movement and the patrol was ordered to return to the perimeter. Company C ambush patrol located north of the NDP also reported movement. The patrol blew its claymores and returned to the NDP. The VC attacked the NDP from three sides, northeast, east and south. Artillery and mortar defensive concentrations served to blunt the assault. Two VC armed with flamethrowers were killed before their weapons could be fired.


As the artillery was brought in close to the NDP from one direction, the VC fire would diminish and build up from another direction.


When LFT's [helicopter light fire teams] arrived on station they were directed to expend on the main attacking force to the south. The gunships as well as the FAC [forward air controller and the AO [aerial observer] received heavy machinegun fire from three locations to the south. Fire from 12 heavy machineguns was identified. Airstrikes eliminated the positions. The artillery battery inside the NDP was directed to be prepared to fire antipersonnel rounds. The guns were readied but their use was not required.

Contact was broken at 0415H. U.S. casualties were 1 KHA [killed hostile action] and 8 WHA [wounded hostile action. There were 198 VC KIA and 22 KBA [killed by air] by body count in the immediate vicinity of the NDP. For the next five days patrols found additional VC bodies bringing the final body count to 263 VC KIA (BC) [body count] and 6 POW's [prisoners of war]. There were 18 individual weapons, 10 crew served weapons, and 3 flamethrowers captured. The flamethrowers were Soviet Model . . . . The unit was identified as the 273d VC Regiment. There were 50 sorties of tactical air flown in support of the contact.


November 2d was the fifth day of the battle for Loc Ninh. The enemy had attacked Loc Ninh twice and had been defeated both times. The U.S. battalions blocking his retreat were deployed on the southeast and southwest withdrawal routes. Intelligence indicated that it was now time to close the escape routes to the north. The 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry (attached to the division for this operation), and the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, were assigned the mission. The 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Raphael D. Tice, air-assaulted seven kilometers northeast of Loc Ninh; the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur D. Stigall, landed six kilometers northwest. The landings were unopposed, and both battalions established night defensive positions in the vicinity of their landing zones. The four corners of the square were now occupied by U.S. battalions, each supported by carefully positioned artillery batteries. At 2340 eight Viet Cong walked into the 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry, position, half of them carrying flashlights. Four of the enemy were killed and four were captured. They were members of the 272d Viet Cong Regiment. The U.S. battalion's position was attacked at 0220. When the fight was over, twenty-eight enemy bodies were left around the perimeter.


The final engagement of the battle for Loc Ninh occurred on 7 November, when two companies of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, engaged the 3d Battalion of the 272d Viet Cong Regiment. The 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, had been airlifted out of the area on 6 November after having spent four days northwest of the airstrip without a significant contact. The battalion air-assaulted into an area two kilometers west of the 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry-roughly eight kilometers northeast of Loc Ninh. The day after the air assault, Companies C and D and Colonel Stigall's command group engaged the 3d Battalion, 272d Regiment. Artillery, armed helicopters, and twenty-seven air strikes supported the U.S. troops. Ninety-three enemy soldiers were killed, including twenty-seven by air strikes. The battle of Loc Ninh was over.


Of the six major engagements that comprised the battle of Loc Ninh , two were fought in temporary night defensive positions. The use of night defensive positions in Vietnam was brought about by the lack of conventional front lines, the inclination of the enemy to fight at night, and the need for the tactical units to protect themselves. The principles of defense were unchanged from earlier wars, but their application to night defensive positions included a number of new techniques. The most widespread of the innovations was the increased emphasis on defensive operations throughout the Army-an army that has been and will probably continue to be oriented to the attack, rather than to the defense. Companies and battalions in previous wars had been integrated into the defensive plans of larger units to a far greater extent than was possible on the battlefields of Vietnam. The independence of these units required a new emphasis on all aspects of defensive operations by company and battalion commanders. For example, in the past a battalion commander in a defensive position on the forward edge of a conventional battle area could expect the brigade headquarters to deploy a security force in front of his position. He could also expect additional forces in the form of a general outpost to be deployed forward of the brigade's outposts. The battlefield in Vietnam, however, was not adaptable to these traditional arrangements, and the extensive security echelons that characterized the night defensive positions in Vietnam were the sole responsibility of the battalion or company commanders who organized the positions.


The principles of defense were professionally applied to the night defensive positions at Loc Ninh. In the 2 November attack on Colonel Cavazos' night position, one American was killed and eight were wounded. The enemy body count was 263. Among the primary factors that contributed to these and other similarly impressive results was the position that had been standardized in the 1st Infantry Division.


During SHENANDOAH II the VC attacked a night defensive position on five separate occasions: 6 October, 11 October, 31- October, 2 November and 3 November. The US KHA [killed hostile action] totaled seven. The VC KIA was 509 by body count. One of the major reasons why the friendly casualties were so low was the 1st Infantry Division fighting position. This fighting position has become standardized throughout the division and provides each soldier with adequate overhead cover, overhead clearance, and protective berm to the front with firing apertures at a 45 degree angle a berm to the sides, adequate near protection and thorough camouflage. The fighting position is completed during the first day in a new NDP, before the soldier is allowed to sleep.


A second factor that contributed significantly to the effectiveness of U.S. units in Vietnam was new weapons. The M16, the standard rifle, took eight years to progress from the drawing board to combat in the U.S. Army. It was designed by the Armalite Division of Fairchild Aircraft Corporation in 1957 and sent to Vietnam with the 173d Airborne Brigade in 1965. Initially the rifle was the target of some criticism because sometimes it would unexpectedly stop firing. Technical modifications were therefore made on the weapon. These improvements, along with a significant effort to train the troops in its care and cleaning, removed any doubts about the reliability of the M16 in combat. The M16 muzzle velocity was higher than that of its predecessor, the M14, which significantly increased the destructiveness of the bullet at close range. The relatively light weight of M16 ammunition (half the weight of the 7.62-mm. NATO round) allowed the soldier to carry a larger basic load and reduced the frequency of resupply. The M16 was dependable, easy to maintain, and capable of being fired as either a semiautomatic or automatic weapon. It proved particularly valuable in the jungle where visibility was poor, targets were fleeting, and contact was normally at short range.


The history of the M79 grenade launcher is longer than that of the M16, but it too first met the test of combat in Vietnam. Development of the 40-mm. M79 began in 1952; however, it was not until 1961 that a substantial quantity was available for issue to units. With the M79, units in Vietnam could engage the enemy with a fragmentation round beyond normal hand grenade range. High explosive was the most commonly used round, although other types of ammunition were available. The M79 was useful in conducting ambushes and counter ambushes; destroying point targets, such as machine gun positions; providing illumination; and marking targets for air strikes. The weapon was a universal favorite with U.S. troops in all units from infantry to quartermaster.


PICTURE: Claymore Mine, Armed and Ready to Fire


These small arms and support weapons were coupled with night surveillance devices to give U.S. units a significant advantage over the enemy in night operations. The night surveillance devices most commonly used in Vietnam were the searchlight, sniper-scope, starlight scope, and radar. Among these, the innovation was the starlight scope. This device weighs only six pounds and, when mounted on an M16 rifle or M60 machine gun, can fire effectively at night out to 300 meters. The principle of the starlight scope is amplification of existing light. In situations where no natural light was available for the starlight scopes, artificial illumination from searchlights, flares, and other light sources was used. In addition to the individual model, larger crew-served starlight scopes were also manufactured.


Other new equipment related to night defensive positions was also introduced in Vietnam. Anti-intrusion devices, such as various types of sensors, supplemented the security echelons at night. Kits including fortification material and mortars that could not be carried cross-country were delivered and removed from unit night positions by helicopter. The claymore mine became a part of virtually every night position in Vietnam.


The claymore mine, which was developed by the U.S. Army before the war, was introduced into combat in Vietnam. The mine weighs 3.5 pounds and has a casualty area the height of a man out to fifty meters. Most importantly, it can be aimed to cover a specific area. In fixed positions claymore mines were used in depth, with overlapping kill zones. In ambush positions the ratio of one mine to two men was not uncommon. The claymore mine was particularly effective to open an ambush because the extensive, instantaneous kill zone that it generated did not disclose the location of the ambush patrol. The ingenuity and speed with which claymores were positioned became a matter of professional pride with infantrymen in Vietnam. The mine's effectiveness has insured its retention in the U.S. Army's arsenal.


Many of the problems encountered were unique among the recent experiences of artillerymen, and the solutions to some of these problems were necessarily innovative. The classic artillery roles remained unchanged, but how the units were used often differed from previous wars. Because of the large areas that needed protection and the enemy's surprise tactics of ambush, raid, and attack by fire, artillery units were required to respond almost instantly to calls for defensive fire, Any U.S. or allied installation without this support was inviting attack by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. Such instant response required spreading the artillery thin and resulted in the inability to mass fire, as was done in World War II and Korea. Large amounts of firepower were delivered, but instead of firing a few rounds from many weapons- as was the case in more traditional warfare-many rounds were fired from the few tubes within range of the target.


The "speed shift" of the 155-mm. howitzer was an example of the ingenuity of artillery innovations in Vietnam. During the first few months of Vietnam combat, 1st Lieutenant Nathaniel W. Foster of the 8th Battalion, 6th Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, developed a simple, effective device to allow rapid shifting of the 155-mm. towed howitzer. The old method involved lowering the weapon down off its firing jack, picking up the trails, and pointing the piece by hand in the new direction of fire. At best, this action was a time-consuming procedure involving considerable effort for at least eight men. Under less-than-ideal conditions, particularly in mud, such a shift was accomplished only with tremendous difficulty. This problem considerably hampered the ability of the 155-mm. towed units to meet the 360-degree firing requirement that existed in Vietnam.


The solution to the problem was a locally fabricated "pedestal" positioned under the howitzer carriage at the balance point. In use, the howitzer was lowered until its weight rested on the pedestal. It was then possible to pick up the trails and swing the howitzer in any direction in seconds, The average crew strength was six. Because of its effectiveness, the speed shift pedestal came into general use within the 8th Battalion, 6th Artillery, in the spring of 1966. In Operation BIRMINGHAM, Battery B, with Lieutenant Foster as its executive officer, fired over 7,200 rounds during nineteen days and performed innumerable shifts using the pedestal. One gun was shifted thirty-three times in one critical nineteen-hour period.


A new response to the need for heavy artillery was the 175-mm. gun, which was used in combat for the first time in Vietnam. The gun was a corps-level weapon and could permanently cover large tactical areas of operations, thus freeing the smaller caliber division artillery units to support the maneuver units. Furthermore, the 175-mm. gun when teamed with the reliable eight-inch howitzer was even more effective.


Central tactical control of all field artillery units was exercised in Vietnam to insure the most efficient use of available firepower. However, an artillery mission was generally carried out at the lowest possible level, usually battery or platoon. Brigadier General Willis D. Crittenberger, Jr., Commanding General, I Field Force Artillery, described the situation as follows:


This war, at least from the Force Artillery point of view, is largely a battery commander's war-the junior officer must really be on his toes, thinking ahead, making his wants known in advance, for his battalion staff is miles away. In addition, the various fire support bases are established in several locations, so one can cover another. The battery commander then must be self-reliant. Vietnam is a great training ground for the leaders of the future.


Unique problems that arose from the unconventional nature of the war in Vietnam were, of course, not limited to artillery. Tactical control measures were also a major difficulty. One geographical area in Vietnam might well contain American tactical units; third country forces; Vietnamese regular tactical units; American Special Forces detachments; and irregular units, such as Regional Forces, Popular Forces, and People's Self-Defense forces. Clear boundaries were needed between these units to avoid the tragic consequences of friendly fire landing on allied positions. At the same time, unity of command was required to insure that friendly units, regardless; of make-up or nationality, were reinforced in the shortest possible time when necessary. In the spring of 1967, the II Field Force commander, Major General Frederick C. Weyand, introduced a new solution to the tactical control problem. In co-ordination with the Vietnamese III Corps commander, he divided the zone into "tactical areas of interest" and assigned them to subordinate commanders. These tactical areas of interest were normally extensions of the tactical area of responsibility. In the tactical areas of interest, commanders were not charged with primary tactical responsibility, and they were not expected to conduct operations on a continuing basis. The commander to whom a tactical area of interest was assigned, however, had to know the location, activities, and operations of all forces and installations in his area and, through mutual co-operation and co-ordination, to achieve the maximum effect from the combined friendly forces and firepower available. This arrangement worked extremely well. Not only did it provide local unity of command, but it served to increase the confidence and aggressiveness of the Vietnamese Army commanders who shared areas of operation with U.S. tactical elements. The Vietnamese commanders knew that their U.S. counterparts would provide resources and firepower when they needed them.


PICTURE: General Wastmoreland and General Hay


Brigadier General Henry J. Muller, Jr., served in Vietnam on both sides of this arrangement. As assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division, he participated directly in providing support, primarily helicopters and firepower, to the commanders of the 1st ARVN Division. Later, he became the deputy senior adviser to the Vietnamese I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Lam. In this capacity he coordinated support to I Corps from the 101st Airborne Division and other U.S. units. He attributed the remarkable progress of the Vietnamese divisions in the I Corps area primarily to the close association between the Vietnamese units and the U.S. tactical elements in their common operational area.


The key innovation of Loc Ninh was the exploitation of the tremendous tactical mobility available to the 1st Infantry Division. When the battle started with the attack on the airstrip, there were no regular U.S. Army units around Loc Ninh. Immediately the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, most of the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, and two batteries of artillery were committed. Two more battalions were standing by twenty kilometers south at Quan Loi, ready to be flown in by helicopter on a few minutes' notice as the situation developed. On 2 November, the fifth day of the battle, two additional battalions stationed 100 kilometers to the south were flown in and attached to the 1st Infantry Division. This ability to react with entire battalions and their supporting artillery on short notice and the concomitant ability to withhold the battalions until the enemy has committed himself were major innovations of the war.


Such unprecedented mobility coupled with the firepower available to 1st Division commanders laid the foundation for the victory at Loc Ninh. Time-tested principles, new weapons, starlight scopes and other surveillance devices, claymore mines, responsive artillery, and innovative tactical control measures all contributed. Finally, the individual soldier, well trained and well led, was the decisive factor. In the words of General Westmoreland at the conclusion of the battles around Loc Ninh: "This operation is one of the most significant and important that has been conducted in Vietnam, and I am delighted with the tremendous performance of your division. So far as I can see, you have just made one mistake, and that is you made it look too easy."