American military strategy in the Battle of Ap Bac

SR 2089
653 Take 1
Interview with Capt. Nguyen Cong Danh, 41
During the fighting the Americans used the helicopter gunships. What difficulties did they create for us? And after that how did we change our tactics in fighting them?
Nguyen Cong Danh:
Friends and honored guests. I will describe to you the Ap Bac Battle. After the General Uprisings of 1960, the revolutionary movement in the South moved into a new stage. At that time the American neocolonial war in the South had become bankrupt. The Americans were forced to put into effect a strategy called the Special War in the South and to change completely their combat tactics in order to deal with the revolutionary armed forces in the South.
By the beginning of 1961, the American Special War was carried in the South. By the end of 1962 there came into being the Staley-Taylor military tactic which involved search and destroy operations and pacification. There also came into being the military tactic of transporting troops by helicopters and tanks which involved the so called "net and spears" and "anvil and hammer" tactics. There were also other tactics.
But the newest tactic was the use of helicopters and tanks in combat. The idea at the time was also to reinforce the puppet army with American troops in the hope of wiping out the revolutionary forces in the South which were still very young at the time.
By the end of 1962 this tactic appeared in many places and caused difficulties for our revolutionary movement in certain places. Before the Battle of Ap Bac they used the helicopters and tanks and achieved certain results in certain places.
For example the battle of Kinh Giua in Kien Tuong province, the battle of Trai Lon in Kien Tuong, and the battle of September 2nd in my native village of Huong Thanh. They caused much damage to our armed unit. This tactic was new in the South at that time.
For this reason, at the beginning the enemy did obtain an offensive posture on the battlefield. This tactic was therefore employed as a national strategy: search and destroy operations against the revolutionary forces and pacification of the rural population. Therefore, by the end of 1962 we were somewhat puzzled.
By September and October of 1962 the armed units in my province included one company of regional force and one company of regular force belonging to the Regional Military Command. The first battle...
SR 2090
Beep tone
Roll 90, Vietnam Project.
Interview with Capt. Nguyen Cong Danh.
When the enemy employed the helicopters, what difficulties were created for you? When did you manage to find ways to deal with the helicopters? And what were the preparations for the Battle of Ap Bac like?
Nguyen Cong Danh:
When the enemy came out with the helicopter tactic he achieved certain successes because this tactic was new to us. They reaped certain results in the battle of Kinh Giua and Trai Lon. And they also caused damage to my company in the Hung Thanh area.
They created difficulties for us at that time because we still did not understand the characteristics and capabilities of the tactic of helicopter and tank deployments. At first we did not think that we would defeat this tactic. However, after we combated the search and destroy operations in Ca Nai, Cau Giong, Boi Tuong, and Cau Van Sap – and especially during the battle of Cau Giong we destroyed three helicopters – we found the solution to our difficulties and we realized that we could use rifles to shoot down the American helicopters and that we did not have to use bigger guns.
Therefore, we reinforced our movement of clinging to the land by constructing foxholes and trenches in preparation to fight against the helicopter tactic no matter where it happened to appear in our province. Therefore, we were all determined to defeat the helicopter and tank tactic with the use of simple rifles. This was our conclusion, and we were determined to defeat that tactic the next time we were to encounter it.
Mentally, the population and the armed units were all prepared and our forces were all coordinated to meet with such an eventuality. Whenever a battle was going to occur, all the forces in the surrounding area should be deployed there in order to attack the enemy and to stretch the enemy thin. At the same time, we would send the popular movements out there to wage political struggles against the enemy to stop the enemy from conducting their operations and to shoot and kill our people and from bombing and shelling the rural areas.

Events of the battle

Why did you make preparations for the Battle of Ap Bac? Did you know that the enemy was coming?
Nguyen Cong Danh:
We just made the preparations. But we did not know when and where the enemy was going to strike. We knew that they knew that this was an area where we usually came to rest. Therefore we had plans ready for combat at any time should the enemy pour in. We were determined to fight to the last man should a battle take place.
Please tell us in a very concise manner how the Battle of Ap Bac developed on that day.
Nguyen Cong Danh:
The Battle of Ap Bac started on January 2nd, 1963. The development of the Ap Bac Battle was as follows: At 6:30 a.m. a convoy of helicopters came roaring down along Highway 4 to the My Phuoc Tay relocation area and then directly to our place to pour down their troops.
We opened fire suddenly and downed a number of helicopters just right in front of the battleground which we had prepared. It was only about 200 to 300 meters from where we were. The troops on the helicopters were killed and wounded and some managed to jump out of the helicopters.
Subsequently, the enemy called in artillery fire from four various locations, from their firebase in Long Dinh, in Thuoc Nhieu, in Cai Lay and in the My Phuoc Tay relocation area. They shelled from four different directions. It was a ferocious battle; there was fire and smoke everywhere. But we were ready to fight back all the waves of enemy troops which came pouring in.
After that the enemy sent in a company of security forces from Cai Lay and attacked us at our first anchor of defense at the Ong Boi bridge. We immediately destroyed this company, and its remnants had to flee at around 8:00 a.m.
After that, they sent in another company from the west, aiming at attacking us from behind. But we were ready for them and again managed to destroy this company, and its remnants also retreated to a distance and did not dare to move forward again.
At about the same time there was another battalion of troops which was brought in by the helicopters. They landed at the road intersection of Mieu Hoi, intending to attack us on the flank and from the west. But this battalion was pushed back by only a small contingent of our forces. They were unable to advance. The captain commander of the battalion himself shot to pieces his radio in order to cut off communication with his superiors who were then given orders from the helicopters.
The battle continued until around 12:00 noon when the enemy was forced to send in a convoy of armored vehicles which came down on Highway 4, through the villages of Tan Hoi and Tan Phu, and directly to the Battle of Ap Bac. Along with this convoy of M-113s were infantrymen who helped to protect them. When they arrived at the battle they deployed their armored vehicles just about 200 to 300 meters from us.
655 Take 1
Nguyen Cong Danh:
At 12:30 p.m. the enemy was forced to send in a convoy of armored vehicles which came down on Highway 9, through Tan hoi village, and into the battleground. They deployed the convoy and, in coordination with the infantry, they attacked us. The armored vehicles brought along infantrymen to protect them and to fight against us.
At around 1300 hours the M-113s, the infantry, the airplanes, the helicopter gunships and the fighter bombers opened fire profusely and ferociously at us. This was in preparation for a counterattack. After this softening up of the area with bombs and artillery shells and other forms of firepower, the M-113s and the infantrymen advanced directly into our battleground.
After about half an hour of combat, we destroyed and damaged a number of M-113s and the infantry also broke up and ran to different directions. They left the dead and the wounded on the ground.
At about the same time the enemy also sent in a convoy of patrol boats down the Nguyen Tan Thanh River, heading toward the battle about five to seven kilometers to our backs. They intended to land their troops and attack us from behind as well as to cut off our route for retreat.
But we had prepared for this convoy of boats by using mines and bazookas, destroying and setting a number of boats on fire. The rest of the boats backed up and were unable to advance. All the other units which coordinated with the M-113s to attack us were all beaten back.
Therefore, the first wave of counterattacks by the M-113s was defeated. We believed then that we could maintain our ground until that night, although a small number of our comrades had been killed and injured. But we were determined to maintain our ground and to fight to the last man.
During each subsequent attack, the M-113s expended a lot of firepower into the area. And the bombers and artillery also pounded our battleground. It was thick with smoke and we could not even see each other when we were about five meters apart.
But we clung on to our foxholes and trenches and were determined to fight to the end. There were many subsequent counterattacks. Finally, we organized a cell which was commanded by Brother Nguyen Van Dung (who sacrificed himself and was buried there) who was assigned to carry grenades and explosives to crawl up to the M-113s by taking advantage of the undulating terrain and the ditches to attack them by lobbing grenades into the M-113s through the windows.
As a result, this cell managed to blow up two M-113s. When the cell returned to their positions, other armored vehicles shot after them and they were all killed. But the entire convoy of M-113s and the infantrymen who accompanied them were all beaten back.
From around 1500 to 1600 hours, General Le Van Ty who was at that time the Chief of Staff, the Commander of F-7 and the Commander in chief of Dinh Tuong province inspected the battle from the air. They realized that it would soon get dark and yet they were still unable to finish with the battle. Therefore, the Saigon High Command decided to send in the airborne division from Saigon to destroy our forces and to occupy the battleground.
At that same time, the enemy brought domestic and foreign reporters to the Thuoc Nhieu marketplace which was on Highway 9 to take pictures and make films of the confident announcements of the puppet forces there. They declared that they would destroy all of our forces in the Ap Bac Battle before nightfall and that they would bring back the Viet Cong alive to show to the reporters. So the reporters waited there to find out how the battle would finally end.
At around 1600 hours a squadron of about sixteen Dakotas circled above our position. We did not expect them to bring in the paratroopers. But all of a sudden we saw the paratroopers came pouring out. At the same time, four bombers poured bombs down on our position in order to control our firing and to get the paratroopers to land on the ground safely.
But we did not pay any attention to this firepower and decided to fight and destroy the paratroopers at all costs to maintain our position. For this reason, we started shooting at the paratroopers while they were still in the air and just as they landed on the ground. So the paratroopers suffered certain casualties in the air and on the ground.
And the paratroopers started to pour down at the elevation of about 1,000 meters. Their jumping skills were not so good since they landed all over our battleground. At that time they became mixed up with us like "cooked rice and beans" and so we were forced to fight them in close combat.
After about half an hour, we wiped out all the paratroopers who landed on our position. After that, we began to fight the incoming forces. After that, the paratroopers began to deploy their forces and began to attack the position of our Company 514 with the hope of destroying the whole battle position which had shot down their helicopters and damaged their M-113s.
But after waves and waves of attack which they thought would squeeze us to death, but we were determined to fight to the last man to maintain our battleground.
Therefore, finally with our courage and our simple rifles we managed to destroy the paratroopers and cause heavy casualties to them. After eight waves of attacks, which lasted until about 2000 hours, the paratroopers suffered so many casualties that they lost their combat effectiveness and could not advance anymore.
Therefore, the paratroopers had to draw back to a distance. By that time, they left the dead and wounded all over the battlefield. The wounded were groaning, yelling and scolding President Ngo Dinh Diem for having sent the paratroopers to the burying ground. This further boosted our morale and our spirit.
And, in my entire fighting life, this was the time when we reaped the highest victory ever since the General Uprisings. This was also the first battle in which we fought all day against the enemy and against all their armed forces: the air force, the navy, the armored units, the artillery and the infantry whose combined strength was ten times larger than ours. But we were able to win nevertheless.

Civilian participation and the end of the battle

During that day what did the inhabitants of Ap Bac do to help you?
Nguyen Cong Danh:
During that day the entire population of Ap Bac and Tan thoi was still in place. The also had to put up with tons of enemy's bombs and shells. There were many who got killed and injured. But with the tradition of fighting against the foreign invaders until the end, the village inhabitants fought side by side with us.
When the paratroopers got stuck in the trees and on the roofs of the houses, the villagers brought out the machetes and clubs to kill them. There were some who ran and hid in the corners of the houses, but the villagers dragged them out and killed them or pointed them out to our fighters so that we could shoot at them.
The villagers also supported us by cooking and taking our meals to us, by taking the injured away and by bringing ammunition up to our positions for us.
656 Take 1
Please tell us when the battle ended and how you withdrew.
Nguyen Cong Danh:
The battle raged on from 630 to 2000 hours before it became quiet again. By that time we cleaned up the battlefield and organized our withdrawal. We were withdrawing toward our sanctuary which was about fifteen kilometers from the battlefield and rested there.
Could you tell us the casualties suffered by your forces and by the enemy?
Nguyen Cong Danh:
The end result of this battle was that the enemy left on the ground 250 dead and 270 wounded. We destroyed five companies completely, among them were regular forces, security forces, armored vehicle troops and paratroopers. We captured about 100 guns of all kinds, a large amount of ammunition, and many parachutes.
We also destroyed and damaged eight M-113s on the spot and four M-113s elsewhere. We sunk and set on fire four boats on the Nguyen Tan Thanh River and shot down seven airplanes of all types on the spot. We also shot down over a dozen and damaged some elsewhere in the province that day.
On our side, seventeen comrades and four villagers were killed. We suffered twenty-seven wounded and the villagers suffered five injured. All in all there were thirty-two wounded.