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Operation Francis Marion
Part of Vietnam War
Date 6 April – 11 October 1967
(6 months and 5 days)
Location Pleiku, Darlac and Kon Tum Provinces, South Vietnam
Result Inconclusive
Belligerents
United States
Flag of South Vietnam.svg South Vietnam
Flag of North Vietnam.svg North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
United States MG William R. Peers unknown
Units involved
United States4th Infantry Division
United States173rd Airborne Brigade
South Vietnam 42nd Regiment
32nd Regiment
66th Regiment
95B Regiment
174th Regiment
K101D Battalion
Casualties and losses
United States 300 killed
South Vietnam 100 killed
1,600 killed

Operation Francis Marion was a 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade operation that took place in Pleiku, Darlac and the Kon Tum Provinces, lasting from 6 April to 11 October 1967.[1]

PreludeEdit

The operation was a continuation of the recently concluded Operation Sam Houston in the same general area. 4th Infantry Division commander MG William R. Peers planned a defense in depth against People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) incursions from Base Areas 701 and 702 across the Cambodian border.[1]:290

OperationEdit

Operation Francis Marion commenced on 6 April. The 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division deployed in an arc 20 km east of the Cambodian border along Highway 14B and the north-south line of U.S. Special Forces camps at Plei Djereng, Đức Cơ and Plei Me, with the 2nd Brigade held as a reserve force. Special Forces, CIDG units and the 4th Division's long-range reconnaissance teams would search the area west of this line to the Cambodian border. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 23rd Division extended the screen south into Darlac Province and the 42nd Regiment extended it north into Kon Tum Province, split between Kon Tum city and Tân Cảnh Base Camp.[1]:290

The operation saw isolated skirmishes in its first 2 weeks, then in mid-April Special Forces teams reported engaging a PAVN battalion in northern Darlac Province and several days later they reported sighting 2 PAVN companies 70 km south of Plei Me. In response to these reports on 24 April MG Peers sent a 1st Brigade battalion task force into northern Darlac Province.[1]:290

On 28 April the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment patrolling north of Plei Me ambushed a group of PAVN killing 13 and the remainder fled into a fortified base camp. The 2/18th Infantry were unable to break through the PAVN defenses despite air and artillery strikes. The following morning, supported by 2 tanks and M113s they entered the camp but found it deserted. The force continued to advance, finding another base camp which was soon overrun by the tanks firing canister rounds, by mid-afternoon the battle was over, 138 PAVN soldiers from the 95B Regiment had been killed for the loss of 1 U.S. killed. On searching the base the 2/8th Infantry found 42 weapons, supplies and ammunition and a notebook detailing PAVN objectives for the rainy season offensive, including the 2nd Brigade base at Landing Zone Oasis and the Special Forces camps at Plei Djereng, Đức Cơ and Plei Me.[1]:290–1

On 1 May a U.S. company repulsed a battalion-size attack near Đức Cơ. A prisoner revealed that 2 battalions of the 66th Regiment had recently arrived in the area around Đức Cơ and they planned to attack the Special Forces on 6 June, before attacking Plei Me.[1]:291

Following 4 B-52 strikes southwest of Đức Cơ Camp, MG Peers sent the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry in to search the area but they found no sign of PAVN activity.[1]:291 On 13 May following a further B-52 strike 15 km northwest of Đức Cơ Camp, the 1/8th Infantry went in to search the area ending at Landing Zone Jackson Hole (13°50′17″N 107°41′02″E / 13.838°N 107.684°E / 13.838; 107.684), the 1st Brigade base on Highway 14B, with the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment moving parallel to it. On the morning of 18 May, Company B 1/8th Infantry patrolling in the densely jungled Ia Tchar Valley near the Cambodian border saw and pursued a lone PAVN soldier. The pursuit led the Company into an ambush by a large PAVN force and they formed a defensive perimeter while calling in air and artillery support, however the thick jungle canopy prevented aerial observation and absorbed much of the force of the incoming fire. The Battalion commander sent Company A to assist but the thick jungle delayed their progress. Company B's 4th platoon radioed that they were being overrun and called in artillery fire directly on their position. Company A was then moved by helicopter to Company B's position arriving just before sunset. The following morning Company A located Company B's 4th platoon, which had lost 19 killed, 1 missing and 7 wounded. The survivors said that after the PAVN overran the position they played dead while the PAVN executed those who moved. The rest of Company B lost had 10 killed and 24 wounded, while sweeps turned up 119 PAVN bodies. The PAVN were identified as being from the 32nd Regiment, which had last been seen in March 1967.[1]:292–3

On 18 May a U.S. unit set up a night defensive position in an abandoned PAVN base camp. Shortly after dark, the PAVN began mortaring the position and then sent 3 assault waves against the position. The attack continued for several hours before the PAVN withdrew leaving 38 dead and 8 weapons, while U.S. losses were 10 killed. Four B-52 strikes were made on the surrounding area in the next 24 hours to deter any further attacks.[1]:293–4

MG Peers moved the 3/12th Infantry into the Ia Tchar Valley to support the 1/8th Infantry and arranged for the 173rd Airborne Brigade to be moved in as reinforcements. On the morning of 24 May two companies of the 3/12th Infantry were about to break camp when they were hit by mortar fire and then attacked by a battalion-sized force. After 2 hours of fighting, low cloud in the area cleared allowing air support to break up the attack. U.S. losses were 10 killed while PAVN losses were 79 killed and 4 captured.[1]:294

On 23 May it was decided to replace the 1/8th Infantry with the 3/8th Infantry. On 24 May as the 3/12th Infantry shuffled its companies, one understrength company was left alone to defend a hilltop landing zone when they were hit by a PAVN attack. Artillery fire was called in and a relief column sent and after an hour the PAVN withdrew leaving 37 dead, while U.S. losses were 4 killed.[1]:294–5

On the morning of 26 May Company C, 3/8th Infantry was moving through thick jungle when it was hit by sniper fire killing the company commander and then hitting every officer in the company with a Master Sergeant having to take command and form a defensive perimeter. Company B sent 3 platoons to support Company C, only 1 of which was able to reach them, the others being stopped by intense fire. The PAVN launched several assaults, coming within 10m of the U.S. lines but were unable to penetrate and were eventually driven back by artillery and gunship fire leaving 96 dead and 2 wounded behind.[1]:295–6

PAVN tactics were similar to those seen during Operation Sam Houston, the PAVN usually controlled the place and timing of the fighting, launching surprise attacks on units moving through jungle or in overnight positions, attacking with large amounts of mortar and RPG-2 fire and then withdrawing when American pressure became too great. Most of the engagements occurred close to the Cambodian border so the PAVN could withdraw to their cross-border sanctuaries as needed.[1]:296–7

On 27 May MG Peers sent the 173rd Airborne Brigade into the Ia Drang Valley, but despite now having 3 brigades operating near the border the PAVN were still able to mortar Đức Cơ Camp on 19 and 23 June. In Kon Tum Province on 13 June the PAVN K101D Battalion attacked a CIDG unit 20 km southwest of Tan Canh and on 15 June they destroyed a Special Forces mobile guerilla force nearby. On 17 June MG Peers ordered the 173rd Airborne Brigade to reinforce Đắk Tô Base Camp.[1]:296–7 This would mark the beginning of Operation Greeley, which would culminate in the Battle of Dak To in November 1967.[1]:299

On 10 July 2 B-52 strikes took place between the Ia Drang Valley and Đức Cơ within 5 km of the Cambodian border and on 11 July the 1/12th Infantry was deployed to conduct bomb damage assessment of the area. The unit found no evidence of PAVN and moved 1 km east to set up 2 night defensive positions. On the morning of 12 July a patrolling platoon from Company C engaged a PAVN force killing 3, 30 minutes later Company C saw a larger PAVN force and called in artillery fire and ordered its patrol platoon to move to Company B's position, however the platoon then ran into another PAVN force and was soon surrounded. A platoon from Company B was sent to assist the Company C platoon and was similarly surrounded. Fog and low cloud prevented aerial observation and support until 11:00 and the isolated platoon relied on artillery support to avoid being overrun. Companies B and C were ordered to move to assist their beleaguered platoons but mortar fire hit the Company B command group killing the commander. Air and artillery support and reinforcements eventually forced the PAVN to abandon their attacks leaving 142 dead, U.S. losses were 31 dead and 7 missing (6 of whom became POWs and were returned in 1973) most of them from the Company B platoon.[1]:304–6

On 23 July Companies B and C 3/8th Infantry were manning positions south of Đức Cơ, 10 km east of the Cambodian border. Each Company's 3 platoons were ordered to patrol the area to the west. At midday a platoon from Company C fired on 2 PAVN and were met by return fire from all directions, a second platoon was ordered to assist and was similarly pinned down. The PAVN then attacked the Company C command post and this was beaten back by helicopter gunships and reinforcement by Company B. The remainder of Company C backed by Company B, Company A and other reinforcements with strong air and artillery support then set out to rescue the 2 platoons, driving the PAVN 32nd Regiment back towards Cambodia. U.S. losses in the 5 hour battle were 18 killed, while PAVN losses were 184 killed by body count and 63 weapons captured.[1]:306–7

On 3 August the PAVN ambushed a CIDG patrol 1 km from Dak Seang Camp and prisoner interrogations revealed that the newly arrived PAVN 174th Regiment planned to attack both Dak Seang and Dak Pek Camp. The ARVN airlifted a battalion of the 42nd Regiment and the 1st Airborne Task Force to Dak Seang and this force patrolled west from Dak Seang, where they encountered an entrenched battalion of the 174th Regiment. After a four day battle and with heavy air support, the ARVN overran the position forcing the surviving defenders to flee into Laos. In the base were 189 PAVN dead, ammunition and equipment and a command post with a mock-up of the Dak Seang camp, which the PAVN apparently planned to attack on the night of 6 August.[1]:303–4

Between 24 September and 10 October MG Peers deployed the 2nd Brigade to interdict PAVN infiltration through the Dak Payau Valley, southeast of Pleiku. On 1 October, helicopter gunships and tactical air support engaged a PAVN force moving along a trail, killing 49 by body count and taking 2 prisoners from the 95B Regiment.[1]:309

AftermathEdit

The operation finally concluded on 11 October 1967. PAVN losses were 1,600 killed, U.S. losses were 300 killed and ARVN losses were 100 killed. The 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division continued to screen the border in western Pleiku Province, while 2nd Brigade continued east into Phu Bon Province to interdict PAVN infiltration.[1]:309

ReferencesEdit

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 MacGarrigle, George (1998). Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966 to October 1967. Government Printing Office. p. 287. ISBN 9780160495403. 

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