The Battle of A Shau was waged in early 1966 during the Vietnam War between the North Vietnamese Army and the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The battle began on March 9 and lasted until March 10 with the fall of the U.S. Army's Special Forces camp of the same name.
The A Shau Special Forces Camp was located in the A Shau Valley, about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Huế in Thừa Thiên Province. The valley was strategically important for the North Vietnamese Army as a major infiltration route because it was adjacent to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Laos. Defending the camp were 10 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group and 210 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group, supported by Air Commando units equipped with vintage A-1 Skyraiders and AC-47 Spooky gunships.
The camp was routinely harassed by small Vietcong formations leading up to the battle. Throughout February and March, 1966, platoon-sized troops from the camp were sent out to conduct reconnaissance patrols in the surrounding area. On March 5, two defectors from the North Vietnamese Army turned up at the camp. Under interrogation, they indicated that four battalions of the North Vietnamese 325th Division were planning to attack the camp.
Based on that information, night patrols were dispatched to confirm the enemy positions but no sightings were made. However, Air Commandos conducting reconnaissance flights observed large build-ups of North Vietnamese troops along with anti-aircraft emplacements. As a result, airstrikes were ordered against enemy positions.
On March 7, the A Shau camp was reinforced with seven U.S. Special Forces personnel, nine interpreters, and a MIKE Force Company in anticipation of the North Vietnamese attack.
On March 8, the camp was placed on general alert and the camp's defenders had taken up their positions. During the night an enemy assault was launched but thrown back. Because of poor weather conditions that would hinder tactical air and resupply efforts, the North Vietnamese decided to continue more forcibly. The second attack began during the early morning hours of March 9 with mortar bombardment, damaging communications and reducing defensive positions to rubble. At 13:00 hours an AC-47D "Spooky 70" from the 4th Air Commando Squadron, circling the camp, fired on attacking North Vietnamese formations but was shot down and crashed about five kilometers north of the camp. All six crewmen survived, but were attacked by NVA troops. Three crewman were killed but the other three were eventually rescued by a USAF HH-43.
Between 16:30 and 17:00 hours, supplies of ammunition were flown in by C-123 and CV-2 aircraft, but the resupply drops often landed outside of the camp and could not be retrieved. At the same time, helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. However, reinforcements from Huế and Phu Bai could not be deployed because of the bad weather, so the camp's defenders repaired their defensive wall and dug in for the night.
On the morning of March 10, the North Vietnamese Army launched another attack with mortar and recoilless rifle fire. At 05:00 hours an assault team penetrated the east wall of the camp, where hand-to-hand combat took place for three hours. By 08:00 hours the defenders had withdrawn to the camp's north wall. Throughout the day USMC and VNAF bombers strafed North Vietnamese positions around the camp, but as fighting continued the situation deteriorated with ammunition supplies running short. As a result, a decision was made to evacuate all personnel.
At 17:00 hours all communication equipment was destroyed. The survivors carried out their evacuation orders and destroyed all abandoned weapons and withdrew further to the north wall. Leading the evacuation effort were fifteen H-34 helicopters from HMM-163 supported by four UH-1B gunships. Panic-stricken Vietnamese mobbed the evacuation helicopters and overwhelmed U.S. Special Forces troops as they abandoned the camp. The evacuation further complicated by heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire, and two H-34s were lost.
American control ceased at the camp at 17:45 hours when overrun by enemy troops. In the evacuation the U.S. suffered five more killed and twelve wounded. With their position consolidated, the North Vietnamese Army heavily fortified the area with bunkers, antiaircraft guns, and artillery. During the Tet Offensive the A Shau Valley provided Communist troops an important sanctuary from which to launch attacks at South Vietnamese cities, especially Hue and Phu Bi.