Phuoc Tuy Province – a quiet “backwater” before the arrival of 1 ATF?
In the Australian Parliament on 18 August 1971, Mr Lance Barnard (Labor – Deputy leader of the Opposition) referred to Phuoc Tuy Province (South Vietnam) as: “a quiet backwater of the war”
However, reviewing VC activity in Phuoc Tuy in May 1966 before 1 ATF deployed into Phuoc Tuy, Brigadier David Jackson (Comd 1 ATF) declared that the province ‘was not a backwater’ (see footnote 1).
At the Battle of Binh Gia (18 kilometres north of Ba Ria Town) in December 1964 and January 1965, three Vietnamese ARVN ranger battalions (30th, 33rd and 38th) suffered heavy casualties, and the 428-strong 4th Vietnamese Marine Battalion suffered 112 killed and 71 wounded. Three US advisers were captured: a captain, a sergeant and a private first class. The VC forces were armed with the first of their AK-47s in the South – delivered by sea from the North and landed on the Phuoc Tuy coast north of Phuoc Hai.
On 6 January 1966, MACCORDS (MACV Civil Operations and Rural Development) Team 89 – based in Van Kiep, lost three KIA in a D445 ambush.
During subsequent US operations in Phuoc Tuy Province in the period April to mid-September 1966, US forces reportedly lost 87 personnel KIA and 408 WIA – in Operations Abilene, Hardihood, Hollandia and Toledo.
As an element of the US 173d US Airborne Brigade during Operation Abilene, the 1RAR Battalion Group operated in southern Long Khanh Province and Phuoc Tuy Province as part of the US 1st Infantry Division (“The Big Red One”) commanded by US General W.E. DePuy (29 March – 9 April 1966). Operation Abilene had the aim of ‘destroying the 94th [ie the 274th] VC Regiment, the 5th [i.e. the 275th] VC Regiment, and the May Tao Secret Zone’. In a “southern” phase of Operation Abilene, on 4 April 1966, two US battalions conducted a search and destroy operation north and north-east of the VC-controlled village of Long Tan while an ARVN force searched the village – and then moved the villagers to Dat Do, Long Dien and Hoa Long.
1RAR returned to Bien Hoa from Operation Abilene’s Binh Ba logistic base area on 8 -9 April 1966 by road and air to prepare for Operation Denver in the Song Be area of Phuoc Long Province.
A few days later – on 11 April 1966, Charlie Company/2nd Battalion of the 16th Regiment of the US 1st Infantry Division engaged a VC force that included ‘800 Battalion’ (i.e. 1/274 VC Regiment) in north-eastern Phuoc Tuy – about 5 kilometres south of the Long Khanh/Phuoc Tuy border and about 8 kilometres east of Route 2. Initially unsupported by other US companies, the 134-strong Charlie Company suffered 48 killed in action (KIA) and 58 wounded in action (WIA). Reportedly, the bodies of 41 VC were found on the battlefield, and 100 -150 VC were assessed by MACV as having been killed or wounded in the engagement. That engagement on 11 April 1966 is known as the “Battle of Cam My” in US records and as the “Battle of Tam Bo” in the Vietnamese communist account.
The battles of Binh Gia and Tam Bo in central and north-eastern Phuoc Tuy are lauded in communist accounts as major VC victories in Phuoc Tuy Province.
If any reader would like a complimentary nine-page study of that “pre-1 ATF” period in Phuoc Tuy (ie as an email attachment – with map, photo, and 30 footnotes), then email Ernie Chamberlain at: [email protected]
Footnote 1. Taped interview, Dr Bruce Horsfield, 20 August 1990, Burradoo NSW, AWM: AWM 3849628, Tape 1.