Operation Eagles Claw 800
In the US 1st Cavalry Division's Operations Context
In his article Portrait of General Perfect both in Competency and Virtue, Colonel Trinh Tieu recounted a great military exploit achieved by General Hieu in Operation Eagles Claw 800 . Since it was said to be an American-Vietnamese-Korean combined operation, I was curious in finding out the American side of the story pertaining to this operation.
I used the following information provided by Colonel Trinh Tieu as leads in my fishing expedition:
- Name : Dai Bang 800 (Eagle 800);
- Date: beginning of 1967;
- Locations: Tam Quan, Bong Son, Phu My, Phu Cat, Qui Nhon, Tuy Phuoc, Phu Phong, Van Canh, An Khe, Vinh Thanh, An Lao, Hoai An;
- Forces involved: US 1st Cavalry Division; Korean Tiger Division; ARVN 22nd Division; NVA Sao Vang (Yellow Star) Division.
I directed my researches toward accounts pertaining to military operations conducted by the US 1st Cavalry during the time frame of 1966-1967.
My first source is the two Combat Operations After Action Reports I obtained at the National Archives. The first report, dated 10 March 1966, was submitted by the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division with Colonel Harold G. Moore as reporting officer. The second report, dated 4 March 1966, was submitted by the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division with Colonel E.B. Roberts as reporting officer. These two reports pertained to Operation Masher (7 Jan 66-12 Feb 66), Operation White Wing/Eagles Claw (12 Feb 66-15 Feb 66), Operation White Wing/Eagles Claw (15 Feb 66-18 Feb 66).
At first, due to the fact Operation White Wing was also named Eagles Claw, I thought Dai Bang (Eagle) 800 occurred within Operation White Wing, and used Eagles Claw 800 as the English translation of Dai Bang 800, instead of just Eagle 800, which is its literal translation. However, a closer examination discounted that assumption since General Hieu only took the command of the ARVN 22nd Infantry Division in June 1966, and Operation White Wing/Eagles Claw happened in February 1966.
My second source is the Vietnam Order of Battle authored by Shelby Stanton. Pertaining to the operations conducted by the US 1st Cavalry Division in 1966-1967, he wrote:
In the spring of 1966, the 1st Cavalry Division fought to clear Binh Dinh Province in a series of operations known as MASHER/WHITE WING/THANG PHONG II which became the first large unit operations across corps boundaries when the U.S. Marines crossed into Binh Dinh to link up with the 1st Cavalry Division. In August 1966 the division went into Pleiku Province in Operation PAUL REVERE II. Battalion-sized elements of the division’s Skytroopers were also battling in Binh Thuan Province from August 1966 through January. In October 1966 the division teamed up with the Republic of Korea and South Vietnamese forces in Binh Dinh Province in Operation IRVING. From the end of October into February of 1967 the 1st Cavalry Division continued to clear Binh Dinh Province in Operation THAYER II, which was in turn followed by Operation PERSHING in the rich northern coastal plain as well as the Kim Son and Luoi Gi Valleys to the west. Throughout the remainder of 1967 the division combated the North Vietnamese Army’s 610th Division and Viet Cong units in the II Corps Tactical Zone.
As one can see, although there is mention of combined American-Vietnamese-Korean units operations and of Operation THANG PHONG (Ascending Wind) II, there is no trace of Operation Dai Bang 800. However, based on the date given by Colonel Trinh Tieu (beginning of 1967), Dai Bang 800 should have taken place within Operation Pershing which started in February 1967.
My third source is the Vietnam Experience’s series of 26 books. One of these books, entitled Flags Into Battle, dedicates a whole section to the US 1st Cavalry Division, from page 118 to page 143. It recounts all the major operations conducted by this division from its inception into Vietnam in September 1965 to its withdrawal in April 1972: Silver Bayonet (1965-Kinnard), Masher/White Wing (1966-Kinnard), Davy Crockett (1966-Kinnard/Norton), Crazy Horse (1966-Norton), Paul Revere (1966-Norton), Hawthorne (1966-Norton), Nathan Hale (1966-Norton), Thayer I (9/1966-Norton), Irving (10/1966-Norton), Thayer II (1966-Norton), Pershing (2/1967-Norton: 4/67-Tolson), etc. There is no mention of Operation Dai Bang 800 in any of the narration of these operations. But since Colonel Trinh Tieu placed it in the beginning of 1967, and since the mission statement of Operation Pershing was the pacification of Binh Dinh Province which lasted from 2/1967 until the end of that year, it is conclusive that Dai Bang 800 was part of Operation Pershing and the Commanding General of the US 1st Cavalry Division that burst into General Hieu’s headquarters was Major General John Norton.
Although the joint operation that the Vietnamese side called Dai Bang 800 that involved the ARVN 41st Regiment of the 22nd Infantry Division was not mentioned in this section, it did recount another joint operation in which another regiment (the 40th) of the ARVN 22nd Division participated, as part of Operation Pershing which occurred at the end of 1967 as following:
The largest engagement of the campaign occurred toward the end of the year when three infantry battalions of the 1st Cavalry backed by the recently arrived 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry (Mechanized), and the 40th ARVN Regiment, fought a two-week running battle with the 7th and 8th Battalions of the 22d NVA Regiment along the coastal plain north of Bong Son. The action began on December 6, after scout ships of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, spotted a radio antenna near the village of Tam Quan, a cluster of paddy island hamlets surrounded by an expanse of rice fields. Met by machine-gun fire as they swooped down to investigate, the White team observation helicopters pulled away and called for the insertion of a Blue team rifle platoon. The riflemen of A Troop only got as far as the edge of the village before they were pinned down by intense fire from a sizable and well-entrenched NVA force. A second aerial rifle platoon then air-assaulted into an adjacent rice field, but it too became stranded as it attempted to link up with the men of A Troop.
With darkness rapidly approaching, 1st Brigade Commander Colonel Donald V. Rattan ordered his ready reaction force - Company B of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry - to reinforce and rescue the isolated reconnaissance troops of the 1/9. Again the North Vietnamese waited until the cavalrymen had closed in on the thick hedgerows and shrubbery that concealed their entrenchments, then opened up with a deafening volume of automatic weapons and grenade fire. Savage, close-range combat raged. The NVA surged out of their trenches and spider holes to finish off and loot the American wounded. In the meantime, four armored personnel carriers from Company A of the mechanized 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry, rushed toward the scene of action, only to be halted by a dike at the edge of the village. After one of the APCs took a direct hit from a B-40 rocket, the other three pulled back and joined the men of Bravo Company to form a makeshift defensive perimeter.
Throughout the night, aircraft searchlight and illumination flares lit up the sky over Tam Quan, as helicopter gunships and artillery continually pounded the NVA fortifications. Taking advantage of the covering fires, one of the relief force’s APCs churned through the rice fields and extracted the beleaguered aerial riflemen of the 1/9. By early morning, troops of the 40th ARVN Regiment had taken up blocking positions around the general area, while the rest of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, moved in to reinforce Company B.
At 9:00 A.M. on December 7 the soldiers of the 1/8, backed by four self-propelled 40mm Duster guns and additional armored personnel carriers, renewed their attack on Tam Quan. Charging across a causeway created by bulldozer crews of the 8th Engineer Battalion, the infantrymen once again ran into a wall of machine-gun, rifle, and grenade fire from the enemy’s interlocking defensive positions. Casualties mounted as NVA snipers zeroed in on the armored tracks, disabling several vehicles and killing their commanders and drivers. Forced to fall back, the cavalrymen called for more artillery and air strikes, then regrouped for a follow-up assault. This second advance proved even more costly than the first, as twenty men from Company B were cut down trying to cross a low hedgerow less than 100 meters from the point where they started.
By early afternoon, so many Americans had fallen on the battlefield of Tam Quan that twelve helicopter sorties were required to evacuate the wounded. Despite the heavy toll, the battalion mounted a third attack, this time moving in line behind a shield of armored personnel carriers and a mechanized flame thrower. Hit by steadily intensifying recoilless rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades as they rumbled forward, one of the APCs exploded and another became immobilized. The flame thrower retaliated by immolating an NVA antitank weapon site. Moments later, the remaining three armored personnel carriers suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated to maximum speed and smashed into the enemy’s forward trench line. Caught by surprise, many of the North Vietnamese troops began to flee. Others attempted futilely to climb atop the onrushing vehicles, only to be crushed beneath their steel tracks or shot down by their crews. The infantrymen quickly closed in behind the armored carriers, and by nightfall the NVA’s main line of defense was in American hands.
The following morning the air cavalrymen resumed the offensive, though it soon became apparent that the enemy’s resistance had weakened considerably. Heavy fighting nevertheless continued for ten more days as infantry, armor, and engineering forces combined to drive the 22d NVA Regiment from the surrounding area . By the time the battle of Tam Quan came to an end on December 20, both sides had paid heavy prices. Fifty-eight soldier of the 1st Cavalry Division had been killed and another 250 wounded, while enemy losses, established by body count, exceeded 600.
Nota bene: according to the author of this excerpt, the Vietnamese 40th Infantry Regiment only played a minor role in this battle at Tam Quan; Major General John Tolson, Commander of the US 1st Cavalry Division offers a different opinion when he states, The 40th Regiment of this division played a major part in the Battle of Tam Quan. (...) On the following day, elements of the 40th Army of the Republic of Vietnam Regiment joined the fight and distinguished themselves by their aggressive manner.
My fourth source is the web site of the US 1st Cavalry Division. Pertaining to Pershing Operation, its webmaster wrote:
On 13 February 1967, Operation "Pershing" began in a territory which was familiar to many skytroopers, the Bong Son Plain in northern Binh Dinh Province. For the first time, the First Cavalry Division committed all three brigades of its division to the same battle area. ARVN soldiers familiar with the methods of the Viet Cong operations in the Bong Son Plain helped the skytroopers locate and eliminate the numerous caves and tunnels infiltrated by the enemy. For nearly a year the division scoured the Bong Son Plain, An Lo valley and the hills of costal II Corps, seeking out enemy units and their sanctuaries. Pershing became a tedious, unglamorous mission that produced 18 major engagements and numerous minor skirmishes in the 11 month campaign.
Here again, although the secondary role played by the ARVN soldiers in this operation was acknowledged, Eagle 800 was not mentioned.
In conclusion, either because the above-mentioned sources‘ main focus is solely the recount of performances achieved by the US 1st Cavalry, or either because of the insignificance of the ARVN units in the eyes of the American interests, Dai Bang (Eagle) 800 was completely left out in these American documents.
Nguyen Van Tin
05 August 2000
Updated on 12.10.2000