II Corps Chief of Staff and II Corps Senior Advisor
In April 2001, I attended a seminar on Vietnam War hosted by Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. In this occasion, I fortunately met Brigadier General (retired) Theodore Mataxis. He told me that he was a Colonel and II Corps Senior Advisor in 1964-1965 and knew Colonel Hieu who was at that time II Corps Chief of Staff. I asked him to give me any documents related to my brother that he possessed. He promised that upon returning home, he would search for those documents among the numerous boxes that he stored in his garage all these years, and would send them to me if he found any. But then I lost contact with him. Fortunately, in October 2002, when I search The Virtual Vietnam Archive in the internet, I fortuitously discovered that General Mataxis had given to Vietnam Center all the documents related to the periods he served in Vietnam. Among these documents, I found four photos of my brother:
and three texts revealing Colonel Hieu's feats in his role of II Corps Chief of Staff: 1. Road Clearing Operation; 2. Attack and Counter-Attack on Highway 19; and 3. VC Summer Monsoon Offensive (with the following extracts: VC 1965 Dong Xuan Campaign and II Corps' Strategy, II Corps Coping with VC Attacks in Phu Bon, Pleiku and Kontum, Rescuing CIDG Duc Co Camp).
All of these three texts related to 1965 when the Viet Cong attempted to achieve their intention of controlling the Highlands by cutting South Vietnam in two from Pleiku down to Qui Nhon. In order to realize this intention, the Viet Cong switched from the guerilla warfare to the conventional warfare by way of infiltrating NVA regular troops and by launching battalion-sized operations in the beginning of 1965, then regiment-sized operations, and then division-sized operations toward the end of 1965. The first NVA battalion discovered in an operation in western Kontum Province was a battalion belonging to the 101st Regiment of 325 NVA Division.
Following is the series of VC attacks during 1965:
In the majority of these VC attacks, the VC applied the tactics of attacking a location and destroying the relief column in attacking remote outposts or weak district towns, then ambushing the relief column task force. Because the operational areas of II Corps was very large (equivalent to the areas of I , II and IV Corps combined), the Corps was forced to commit all units of 22nd and 23rd Divisions and 24th Special Tactical Zone in the Corps to static security missions. Even that was not sufficient, like in the case of the CIDG Duc Co camp's rescue operation, II Corps had to request the help of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade to protect Pleiku, and in the case of CIDG Pleime camp's rescue operation, the Corps had to request the help of a Brigade of the US 1st Cavalry Division to protect Pleiku. The reserve force available to II Corps was composed of: the Eagle Flight Company, two Marine battalions, two Ranger battalions and Airborne brigade. When in need, II Corps requested an additional Airborne brigade from the General Reserve Force of the Joint General Staff.
Circumstances dictated II Corps when to use one, two or all the units of its reserve force, depending on the numbers of troops the VC committed into the battle. In the case of rescuing Thuan Man District in the end of June, when the VC threatened this district with a regiment, II Corps deployed two Airborne battalions and an infantry battalion of the 24th Special Tactical Zone. Then when the VC ambushed and surrounded these two units and planned to introduce another regiment, II Corps dispatched a task force composed of two Marine battalions, an Airborne brigade from II Corps' reserve force and one Airborne brigade from the JGS's General Reserve Force. Furthermore, a unit from the CIDG Buon Brieng camp was also committed.
In the Road-Clearing Operation in mid-July, II Corps deployed simultaneously units of 22nd Division and 3rd Armored Squadron, 2nd Airborne Task Force, Regional Forces, CIDG Special Forces, Alpha Marine Task Force, 42nd Regiment, 20th Combat Engineer Group in a series of diversionary attacks aiming at confusing and pinning down the three VC regiments present in the operational area. Furthermore, II Corps positioned in the ready a reserve force composed of one Ranger battalion, one Marine battalion, one Airborne battalion and two Armored Squadrons. Furthermore, the Road-Clearing Operation had two characteristics: (1) it was planned in utmost secrecy, only Colonel Hieu and General Vinh Loc knew about it; and (2) it forbade the enemy from establishing ambush sites, thus saving blood and sweat attempting to destroy these ambush sites.
In the rescuing operation of CIDG Duc Co camp in the beginning of August, II Corps deployed one Airborne Task Force, one Marine Task Force, the 3rd Armored Squadron and one Ranger battalion.
In order to neutralize the VC tactics of besieging a camp and destroying the relief column, II Corps employed rapid troops transport mobility in using Caribou troop-carriers for long distance and helicopters for short distance to reach any combat location, while resorting to maximum combined fire artillery and air supports from American and Vietnamese Air Forces. In the Than Phong Operation, operational plans show Colonel Hieu's meticulous positioning of artillery batteries to cover the entire operational areas along Highway 19 from Pleiku down to Qui Nhon. In the evacuation of entrapped 220 troops in firebase FOB2 by helicopters, II Corps' TOC (tactical operation center) designed and implemented an extremely complicated plan using closed fire supports from all types of airplanes. Colonel Mataxis wrote:
Whenever an armored relief column unit encountered an ambush site, II Corps' planning called for the tanks and armored vehicles to regroup into ball defensive posture to allow heavy artillery and air supports to annihilate recoiless rifles and anti-tank rocket-launchers positions, then afterwards to spring out and finish off the ambush pockets.
When a besieged camp had to resort to escape tactics, like in the case of Thuan Man District town, II Corps' escape tactics called for fighters and helicopter gunships to clear the retreat route by strafing and bombing VC ambush sites along the retreat route day and night in advance, while dispatching an unit moving toward the retreating troops to provide a security screen for the arrival of the troops from Thuan Man District's garrison.
Documents kept by Colonel Mataxis allow the readers to see military operations through the lens of the corps level and thus to obtain a overall view of an operation, from the corps' general strategy viewpoint to the tactical aspects of the planning and implementing a specific operation. Take into consideration the case of the rescue operation of CIDG Duc Co camp, when reading the narration provided by an airborne officer, one can only see the limited portion of the battle carried out by the airborne units, and when reading the narration provided by a Marine officer, one can only see the limited portion of the battle carried out by the Marine units. On the contrary, Colonel Mataxis' account of the battle provides II Corps taking control and coordinating roles of all the units participating in this battle.
The significant role of Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, in the military operations conducted by II Corps in 1965 should be highlighted here. Colonel Hieu came to Pleiku in February 1964. In the meantime, General Co was nominated II Corps Commander in September 1964 and left this position in June 1965, replaced by General Vinh Loc. The assignment of these two corps commander was more politically motivated rather than militarily oriented: General Co belonged to Khanh-Thieu-Ky's faction, and General Vinh Loc to Ky's faction (Khanh had been evinced and Thieu was still weak at that period). Therefore, Colonel Hieu was the continuity factor in II Corps fighting spirit. In fact, General Co and General Vinh Loc relied heavily in Colonel Hieu's strategic and management skills without having to be concerned of being eclipsed because Colonel Hieu was a can-do person and yet at the same token extremely discreet and feeling completely comfortable remaining behind the scenes.
Colonel Mataxis summarized II Corps' accomplishments at the end of VC 1965 Summer Monsoon Offensive as following:
Through its battles in 1965, II Corps proved that, with extensive air support from US Air Force, ARVN troops were capable of defeating the most seasoned VC troops. It was unfortunate that the American government did not choose to continue this course of action in Vietnamese and American combined forces, but elected to change policy. In lieu of providing financial aid to increase the number of ARVN combat units, the United States poured in American troops into South Vietnam and had them conduct unilateral military operations. This fact first happened when the US 1st Cavalry Division, after Pleime battle, told II Corps to stay put and jumped in alone in Ia Drang Valley in the pursuit of remnants VC troops...
On this issue, General Schwarzkopf, who was an advisor to the ARVN Airborne Task Force participating in the rescue mission of Special Forces Duc Co camp, had this to say:
Nguyen Van Tin