From the author – The purpose of this article is to speak out the truth to honor the combatants who participated in the battle of Snoul, as well as to render justice to the combatants who have been left out in the ARVN military history.
I fortuitously found a webpage of Nguyen Van Tin,  a younger brother of Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Hieu, who was my venerable 5th Infantry Division Commander in the years of 1969, 1970 and 1971. After visiting it I came to understand the sufferings and frustrations endured by general Hieu’s family. Time is unable to assuage the sufferings of general Hieu’s spouse who was compelled to live and die under the weight of a painful existence of an expatriate, and Tin had tried to do his utmost to render justice to his beloved brother. And there are so many people who are in the same situation as general Hieu’s family, like the families of my fellow combatants in the 1971 Snoul Operation. The tree wishes to remain undisturbed, but the wind stirs things up again; I must write to speak out the truth, because I sympathize with my fellow combatants, general Hieu, and colonel Bui Trach Dzan who are unjustly forgotten in the ARVN military history for all these years.
The truth is, I have my reason to remain silent during more than three decades, because of an advice general Hieu gave me when I met him again in 1971 in Dalat, when he attended the graduation of Class 24 cadets. He made me feel so small facing the grandeur of a genuine patriot, when I listened to his gentle voice, "General Minh is leading the troops to defend our country, and his prestige needs to be upheld. If you care for the sake of our country, you then would understand the reason why we must let bygones be bygones, and forgive a few mistakes the General committed in the battle of Snoul. To err is human. I only regret not having the authority to honor all my fellow combatants of the Snoul battle". These kind words have sufficed to keep me silent all these thirty some years!
Nowadays General Minh is no longer defending the country, furthermore time is not able to assuage the sufferings and frustrations of a human being. Therefore I have a reason to break my promise toward general Hieu and write in haste and with accuracy a fact of military history. I must hasten to write because I am afraid that the remaining witnesses would not stay forever in this temporary life to offer confirmation or clarification. In order to write truthfully, one must have accurate documents and witnesses to confirm. That is one of the difficulties in writing the truth. I have tried to seek out general Bui Thanh Danh, former 5th Division VC Commander in 71-72, former 7th Military Region Commander, general Le Nam Phong, former 7th Division VC Commander in 71-72, former Superintendent of 2nd Army School (Long Binh, Dong Nai) . , however I succeeded only in contacting with a couple of officers of these two divisions. Meanwhile General Minh, ARVN, did not answer my letter. He was a competent commander when he was still 21st Infantry Division Commander. That is why I think he must have his unspoken reasons not to tell the truth pertaining to the battle of Snoul. I only pray that he will have the opportunity to reveal the reasons for immobilizing the troops during the last week of May 1971, and for ordering the 8th Task Force to retreat unassisted, while it was encircled and attacked from 5/24/71 to 5/30/71, so that we continue to respect him as a competent commander of the ARVN. That is my sincere hope!
(From 4/15/71 to 5/30/71)
A. Operational Concept :
C. Firepower Support: Artillery Battalion: Provide direct support to the battalions.
SET UP DEFENSIVE FORTIFICATION
1/8th Battalion was reinforced by one Armored Company comprising about twelve M41 tanks commanded by Lieutenant Minh, a VNMA cadet as company commander, to organize defense lines, poking attack operations and long range recon in assigned areas.
The location of the battalion was surrounded at East, North, North East and South by dense bamboo forests, and by dense rubber tree forests at West and North West. Otherwise there was no high grounds around the battalion location that could control and overlook the defensive troops.
The battalion established three defensive perimeters, the main perimeter A, the last defensive perimeter B, and the lookout perimeter C. The perimeter A was protected by three companies with fortified bunkers to sustain artillery and mortar firepower. 2nd Company commanded by Captain Thao, a former paratrooper, was responsible to defend the West and North West side; 3rd Company commanded by Lieutenant Ninh, a VNMA cadet, was responsible to defend from the North West to the East side, and 1st Company commanded by Lieutenant Gioi, was responsible to defend the South side of perimeter A. The battalion CP, the armored company, the recon platoon and the heavy weapon platoon were responsible to defend the last defensive perimeter B. Besides, the armored company and the recon platoon were also responsible to act as reserved forces for the battalion.
Besides the task of daily search operations and long range recon operations, the units set up fortified bunkers at perimeter A, and each company was responsible to clear the grounds between perimeter A and perimeter C, also to set up automatic and artillery triggered mines between perimeter A and perimeter C. Within a month, the companies had clear bamboo trees and transformed these cut up bamboo trees into two meter high obstacles, and at the same time widened vision span and firing fields from perimeter A to perimeter C. Claymore mines as well as artillery shells were transformed into automatic and remote controlled traps between perimeter A and perimeter C, and about one hundred meters beyond perimeter C. All these actions were done by mid 5/71.
On 5/15/71, the recon platoon ambushed and shot six Viet Cong who was scouting at the water stream located at coordinates XU548385, about one and a half kilometer West of the battalion position. This was the only water stream that supplied drinking water to the entire defensive troops. That was why the battalion CP anticipated that if the enemy encircled and attacked the battalion, they would take control of this stream first, to interdict the main water supply of the defensive troops. Therefore the units had to use made shifted containers to store enough drinking water for a week if encircled and attacked. Especially on 5/16/71, general Hieu visited the battalion and ordered the 5th Division CP to provide more water containers and munitions which increased the defensive troops’ resistant capability to about two weeks, in the event the battalion was encircled and completely isolated.
General Hieu visited 1/8th Battalion at Snoul a lot of times. 1/8th Battalion was a battalion operating alone at the farthest outpost, the deepest one within enemy sanctuary. General Hieu told me the truth about B52, "Don't believe in the Americans' promise about B52; you must rely on your own resources to survive at this outpost position that ought to be held at all costs if you don't receive the order to withdraw. You must take initiatives in the matter of securing the lives of your battalion and of the armored company which is attached to your unit. If I give the order to withdraw, you must give a make-believe order to hold at all costs on the radio, because the Viet Cong certainly will hear clearly on the radio, and ask Colonel Dzan to have B52 bomb the route along which you plan to withdraw your troops. Afterwards, withdraw swiftly!"
1/8TH BATTALION DEFENSIVE OPERATION
1/8th Battalion and the armored company were attacked, encircled and isolated by two battalions of E6th Regiment and two battalions of 174th Regiment from the morning of 5/24/71 to 5/27/71. Furthermore, enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower had hampered medevac and supply capabilities of the air force and US Air Cavalry on these days.
At around 23:00H on 5/23/71, an ambush team of 2nd Company encountered heavy fighting with the enemy at the west direction, beyond perimeter C about 500 meters. The Battalion Command Post ordered it to retreat back to perimeter A. At around 23:50H, two ambush teams of 1st Company and 3rd Company at about 300 meters South and East from perimeter C, also encountered the enemy, and were ordered to retreat back to perimeter A. Captain Bao, 1/8th Battalion X.O, listened on enemy radio, and overheard the enemy was maneuvering two battalions of the E6th Regiment and two battalions of the 174th Regiment to encircle and attack 1/8th Battalion. The Battalion sent a code message back to the 8th Regiment, requesting artillery on the ready to hit targets when signaled. Lookout teams were ordered to deploy more Claymore mines and automatic artillery shell explosives at about 50 meters outside perimeter C, then to silently retreat back to perimeter A. Meanwhile alert status was issued to the defensive troops. All orders within the battalion were given out orally, maintaining absolute silence on the radio.
At around 02:00H on 5/24/71, three automatic mines located West of 2nd Company exploded followed by the enemy trumpets sounded up for the assault at West, North and East of 2nd Company and 3rd Company. Firepower of tanks in conjunction with firepower of 2nd and 3rd Companies, deafening explosions of automatic mines outside of perimeter C, together with luminous shells and artillery pounding from 8th Regiment CP, responded appropriately to the first enemy assault. Intensive firepower of defensive troops silenced the enemy trumpets within five minutes. However, firepower of our artillery as well as firepower from tanks and infantry continued to perform with accuracy, under the light created by 81 mm and 60 mm mortars and artillery shelling from 8th Regiment CP. 2nd Company witnessed hundreds of enemy troops cut down in the rubber jungles, while 3rd Company could not see clearly enemy corpses because they were covered by dense bamboo jungles and also because the enemy did not show up on time at perimeter C from the East and Northeast. Captain Bao overheard on the radio that the enemy was ordered to withdraw at around 02:30H, while enemy artillery firepower began to put pressure on the defensive troops and 8th Task Force CP. At around 03:30H, four gunships of Company A/3/17/USAC started shooting at withdrawing enemy units at about one kilometer from perimeter C; however, within about ten minutes they had to depart due to intensive enemy anti-aircraft firepower. Fortunately, no helicopters were hit by enemy anti-aircraft bullets.
At around 04:30H, two automatic mines made from artillery shells exploded South oustside of perimeter C, at the same time an automatic Claymore mine exploded Southwest outside of perimeter C. Immediately luminous shells were hurled up from 81 mm and 60 mm mortars of the battalion to allow 1st Company to clearly see the enemy in columnar on QL 13 about 50 meters outside perimeter C. Following were the deafening sounds of artillery and defensive troop’s firepower, explosions of artillery shells from 8th Task Force CP and artillery barrages of the enemy muffled the assault soundings of enemy trumpets. Fighters of 1st Company and armored unit fired at will on moving targets and completely controlled the battleground. Unable to sustain our troop’s firepower, the enemy was forced to retreat after about twenty minutes of fighting. However the enemy increased artillery pounding to cover its retreat and to put pressure and cause damages to our troops.
At around 08:00H on 5/24/71, lookout teams of the companies were re-established, and each company sent out one platoon to search about 300 meters outside perimeter C. The enemy had left many disfigured corpses and many weapons destroyed by automatic mines made of artillery shells of the defensive troops.
At around 08:50H, three medevac helicopters of Company A/USAC attempted to land at the battalion CP, under the cover of two gunships, in order to evacuate four KIA soldiers and twelve WIA soldiers; however they could not land down after two attempts under enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower around the defensive vicinity of the battalion.
At around 12:00H, 2nd Company reinforced by an armored platoon launched an recon attack at an enemy anti-aircraft position East at about 250 meters outside perimeter C. 5th Platoon lead by First Lieutenant Tao made contact with about one enemy battalion hidden in trenches in the rubber jungle. Captain Thao immediately maneuvered the two remaining platoons along with the armored platoon to attack the enemy’s right flank to deflate the pressure imposed by the enemy; however, the enemy reacted fiercely, while Captain Bao heard on the radio the enemy was maneuvering one battalion from the North to attack the rear of 2nd Company. The Battalion Commander led the remaining armored company together with the recon platoon to cross over perimeter C and to cover the right flank and the rear of 2nd Company, while 2nd Company attempted to disengaged the enemy to retreat to perimeter A. The troop withdrawal succeeded under the artillery support from 8th Task Force CP, and the firepower of tanks and organic mortars of the battalion. Our side suffered two soldiers dead and six soldiers wounded.
All day long on 5/24/71, the enemy employed artillery pounding with 130 mm artillery shells and 107 mm and 122 mm rockets to hit continuously on the base camp of 1/8th Battalion. The defensive troops continued to dig deep into the ground to create shelter dugouts like rat holes, but the slow to explode shells penetrated one meter deep into the ground before exploding, creating two-meter diameter holes which caused great damages to our troops. Besides, these shells did not need to hit directly on the dugout entrance covers and needed only to hit on the approximity to kill our troops due to the tremendous pressure created by the explosion.
On 5/24/71 night, our ambush teams and lookout teams made successive contacts with enemy sappers and scouts. And automatic mines outside perimeter C also exploded frequently. However, the enemy did not attack as fiercely as the night before, although enemy rockets became more intense than the night before.
On 5/25/71, based on contacts with the enemy during the night of 5/24/71, on the number of automatic mines exploded and on enemy’s radio interceps, the Battalion CP determined that perimeter C was the main tactical line for the defensive troops in interdicting enemy’s observation and adjustment of artillery and rocket hits. Therefore each company increased ambush teams and lookout stations. Furthermore, each company organized a long range recon team to come close to enemy positions in order to verify information obtained through enemy’s radio interceps.The outcome was that indeed the enemy was digging trenches and tunnels around perimeter C in order to encircle our troops and to hide from our artillery and air force firepower. Besides, the enemy was totally oblivious of radio interceps by 1/8th Battalion. A number of airplanes had attacked enemy’s anti-aircraft and artillery targets in support of medevac and supply helicopters; however these helicopters were unable to land because enemy’s anti-aircraft and artillery firepower was fiercer than the day before. This means that the enemy had intensified anti-aircraft and artillery firepower to completely isolate 1/8th Battalion with the intention of catching alive or annihilating the entire defensive troops.
At around 09:00H, the ambush team of 3rd Company employed remote controlled Claymore mines to destroy completely an enemy scout squad, about 100 meters East of perimeter C, and captured an enemy’s artillery scout officer who was seriously wounded. Based on information obtained from this officer prisoner, 1/8th Battalion was encircled by two battalions of E6th Regiment of 5th Division VC from Northeast to Southeast, and two battalions of 174th Regiment VC from Nortwest to Southwest. And the enemy was using the 7th Division VC and local units to organize artillery poundings and attacks the entire 8th Task Force. Colonel Dzan had reported this information to General Hieu and had requested reinforcement for the task force.
At around 11:00H, Colonel Dzan gave out the order to hold at all costs from General Hieu, and announced that General Hieu had reported to III Corps Commanding General to come to the rescue of 1/8th Battalion and 8th Task Force, and to destroy the enemy by using the Assault Task Force of III Corps coming from Loc Ninh and the friendly task forces coming from Southwest of Snoul. 1/8th Battalion continued to increase mine traps around the defensive position, under constant enemy artillery firepower, while the morale of the defensive troops was high at the news of the coming rescue column forces.
At around 13:00H, the recon platoon crawled to the West to survey the enemy situation at the stream, at coordinates XU548385, and made contact with an enemy platoon, about 300 meters from perimeter C. Captain Bao heard on the radio that the enemy was ordered not to allow the defensive troops to reach the stream to get drinking water. The recon platoon withdrew to preserve manpower and made believe in complaining with company commanders the lack of drinking water and in requesting urgent resupply of drinking water as well as ammunition by helicopters.
On 5/26/71, all day long there were only small squirmishes between small units of both sides at the outside of perimeter C. Furthermore, medevac and supply helicopters were still unable to land, due to increase of enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower which was more intense than the day before, 5/25/71.
On 5/27/71, many airplanes and helicopter gunships took turn in bombarding and strafing enemy’s artillery and anti-aircraft positions, to cover medevac and re-supply helicopters; however enemy firepower kept on pounding on the defensive troops, despite the fact helicopter landing zone had been moved around the defensive location several times. Therefore 1/8th Battalion was in fact attacked, encircled and isolated by two battalions belonging to E6th Regiment and two battalions belonging to 174th Regiment from the morning of 5/24/71 to 5/27/71. Furthermore, enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower neutralized the re-supply and medevac capabilities of the air force and the US Air Cavalry during these days.
At around 08:00H on 5/28/71, the battalion received a coded message from the 8th Task Force CP ordering to abandon the base camp and retreat to link with 2/7th Battalion at Snoul market the next morning 5/29/71.
At around 09:00H, 2nd Platoon of 1st Company, reinforced with the recon platoon under the command of Lieutenant Chinh launched a recon operation at a path along QL7 that stretched from perimeter C to Snoul market, and employed diversionary tactic to ambush the enemy on this path in case the recon platoon made contact with the enemy. The recon platoon continued to foray ahead while 2nd Platoon began at rear to set up ambush site along the path with about 30 remote controlled Claymore mines, at a about 400 meters from perimeter C. After leaving 2nd Platoon’s position about 250 meters, the recon platoon encountered heavy contact with the enemy, resulting in two soldiers slighty wounded; the recon platoon withdrew and returned fire to incite the enemy. Captain Bao heard on the radio the enemy battalion commander gave order to a company to pursue and to destroy the entire recon platoon. The enemy launched a hot pursuit behind our troops. 2nd Platoon waited patiently for the entire enemy platoon to enter the trap made of remote controlled Claymore mines. As soon as the recon platoon ran pass 2nd Platoon, 30 Claymore mines were triggered simultaneously. An entire enemy leading platoon was cut down, while artillery firepower from 8th Task Force CP and 81 mm organic mortars of 1/8th Battalion pounded on the heads of the enemy units that followed behind.
At around 17:00H, 1/8th Battalion Commander requested to talk to Major Hung, 8th Regiment G3 Chief to converse openly by radio. He said, "I have received the order to hold position at all costs and the good news that we will get B52 air support, however at the present time many soldiers felt sick for lack of water after five days of fighting, without re-supply and medevac. I am afraid they would surrender within 24 hours, if they do not receive immediately drinking water re-supply. Therefore I ask you to transmit my request to Eagle allowing us to attack and occupy the stream next morning to obtain drinking water. I dread the two enemy battalions will attack us from the rear and flank, from the battalion position to Snoul market along route QL7, if we deployed troops tomorrow. Therefore, I ask you to request Eagle to concentrate B52 strikes in boxes along route QL7 to flatten a one kilometer wide band the two sides of this route. This would allow us to gain the upper hand with the enemy at this stream." Major Hung intelligently responded, "I understand exactly your request, I will pass it to Eagle immediately." About half an hour later, Colonel Dzan radioed back the 1/8th Battalion Commander, "Your request is approved, however you must wait for B52 strikes in "Box" from your position to the market to cover your flank and rear before you attack the stream." 1/8th Battalion Commander answered, "Roger, Sir."
On the night of 5/28/71, companies secretively buried their dead soldiers, and only placed two lookout groups at perimeter C. Artillery from 8th Task Force CP continued pounding the stream and route QL7 from the battalion position to Snoul market, meanwhile the enemy increased artillery firepower on the battalion all night. 60 mm and 81 mm mortars of the battalion continued to fire luminous shells to prevent enemy surprise attacks, however the enemy did not attack in mass like on the night of 5/23/71.
The terrain around the defensive position of 1/8th Battalion created many disadvantages to the two enemy Regiments in their planning to use mass9 to crush the defensive troops with human wave attacks, because bamboo forests which were very dense at three North, East and South sides of the base camp had completely prevented the enemy from deploying rapidly troops in file formation. Furthermore bamboos were not strong enough to cover against direct firepower and artillery support from our side, and the enemy had suffered heavy losses in the two first assaults against the defensive troops in the morning of 5/24/71. In particular at the East side, the enemy could deploy two entire battalions to assault in mass against the defensive troops, however the enemy was neutralized by automatic mines made from artillery shells, by automatic Claymore mines, by direct firepower of M41 tanks and infantry troops, and by artillery support strikes from 8th Task Force Command Post.
The enemy could not also ascertain surprise in their assault planning because of automatic mines as well as our lookouts and ambushes.
Furthermore the enemy completely underestimated the security imperative in communication lines. All their un-encoded radio conversations had been intercepted by Captain Bao and used to pre-empt enemy actions. This security factor also was the reason for the enemy to lack the element of surprise in their assault planning against our troops.
The enemy was too subjective in scanning and listening to un-encoded radio conversations of the defensive troops. From 5/24/71 to the night of 5/28/71, the enemy applied artillery shelling battle days and nights to inflict losses and to unnerve our defensive troops, however 1/8th Battalion and the armored company only suffered relatively minor losses under the enemy artillery firepower. The main reasons were the vastly dispersed deployment of the defensive troops, fortified bunkers, and the imprecision of enemy artillery and rocket hits. The defensive terrain did not allow the enemy to observe at distance to adjust these off targeted strikes. Because in order to adjust artillery and rocket hits with precision, enemy scouts must crawl next to perimeter C to observe, however these scouts encountered automatic mines, ambush teams as well as lookout teams of the defensive troops. Enemy subjectivity caused them to rely entirely in eavesdropping our defensive troop’s radio communications to adjust artillery and rocket firepower. Those hits that fell precisely on defensive positions were reported to 8th Task Force CP as not causing damages because they fell far away from defensive positions, meanwhile those hits that fell way off defensive perimeter A were reported to 8th Task Force CP as causing heavy damages.
Enemy subjectivity also caused them to be duped by diversionary tactic of the defensive troops. From 5/25/71 to 5/28/71, companies were constantly complaining back to 8th Task Force CP that lack of drinking water had caused many soldiers to become sick and depressed. And companies clamored in unison for immediate drinking water supply, or to be allowed to attack right away the stream to obtain drinking water. The enemy completely believed intercepted defensive troop’s radio conversations, because they knew that US Air Cavalry helicopters had been prevented from providing medevac and re-supply operations in support of 1/8th Battalion due to heavy enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower. Therefore the enemy subjectively believed that by encircling and by heavily pounding the defensive troops with heavy shelling to interdict medevac and re-supply by helicopters, it would be sufficient to force the defensive troops into surrendering due to lack of drinking water. In reality, the enemy was duped by the defensive troops in a "Delaying Tactic" to await rescue force, in the "Luring the Tiger down the Mountain" tactic of 3rd Corps Commanding General and general Hieu.
Under Pressure From Two Enemy Regiments’ Attacks
At around 05:00 H on 5/29/71, lookout teams secretively crawled back to perimeter C, meanwhile the recon platoon left 8th Battalion CP to recon the path and QL7 South of the base camp. All actions of the defensive troops were conducted under the wrap of radio silence.
At around 06:30 H, 8th Battalion CP received a three "Click" signal in the radio. According to pre-agreed code, 8th Battalion CP understood that the enemy had moved out of individual fox holes situated between the battalion position and Snoul market along route QL7 and the path.
Around 07:00 H, the CP issued oral operational orders as following:
The battalion will apply diversionary tactic, lightning speed, total secret and combined firepower of armor and infantry to withdraw on 5/29/71.
Coordination instructions were issued as following:
At around 08:30 H, 2/7th Battalion took control of the situation at Snoul market.
At around 09:00 H, 1/8th Battalion CP heard clearly a four "Click" signal sent by the recon platoon’s radio which indicated enemy forces had completely left positions along the withdrawal route of the battalion. The Battalion Commander issued order by radio to continue to dig fox holes to hold position at all costs. Within less than ten minutes, the last units of 3rd Company departed the base camp to run after the armored platoon. Captain Bao heard clearly in the enemy radio, "We have been duped by the sons of the bitch. All units must revert back quick to their positions to encircle and kill them all."
At around 09:20H, 2nd Company and tanks saw clearly the enemy in file on the right flank from the rubber forest, running and firing at our troops. Meanwhile 1st Company and 1/8th Battalion CP were also under direct enemy gun fires coming out from dense bamboo forest on the left flank. Enemy artillery started to shell in salvo on the withdrawal axe of the battalion, meanwhile 3rd Company reported the enemy was following at its heels, and requested the lead troops to advance more quickly. Despite heavy enemy fire powers, infantry as well as armored troops kept on running and shooting at the enemy. Artillery firepower from 8th Task Force CP also started to pound at enemy advance axes, forcing the enemy to delay assaulting the right flank of 2nd Company, allowing companies respite to drag along their wounded soldiers.
At around 09:30H, four helicopters of US Air Cavalry flew low above the head of the Battalion to lend support in this epic battle between the enemy and us. Fortunately enemy anti-aircraft firepower remained in total silence. The reason is that the enemy was fearful of B52, and had moved out all these infantry troops as well as anti-aircraft positions the night before. And so gunships dominated the air to destroy enemy positions at the right and left flanks and the rear of 3rd Company. Meanwhile powerful weapon fires of tanks and infantry troops combined to destroy hundreds of powerless enemy troops in the rubber forests, on the right flank of 2nd Company, in their effort to desperately launch assaults against the lightning speed advance of the entire battalion and armored company. General Hieu, 5th Division Commander, also bravely flew C&C helicopter atop rubber trees and ordered the battalion to keep on advancing more quickly to avoid enemy effort of encirclement in this epic battle. The sudden appearance of general Hieu above the withdrawing force also boosted up the combat resolve of the combatants and made them run faster through enemy artillery firepower.
At around 10:30H, the entire 1/8th Battalion and tanks linked with 2/7th Battalion at Snoul market. All tanks were safe and 1/8th Battalion only suffered relatively minor losses and succeeded in bringing back all wounded soldiers to 8th Task Force CP at Snoul.
Diversionary tactic was the main factor of the success in the troop retreat under the pressure of assault and encirclement of two enemy regiments during five days and five nights at the base camp of 1/8th Battalion. If the enemy continued to occupy fox holes dig along the stretch between Snoul market and the battalion’s position, the battalion would suffer very heavy losses, if it fortunately succeeded in piercing through the enemy combat position. If the battalion was not capable of piercing through this enemy blocking position, it was certain the entire 1/8th Battalion and the armored company would be encircled and annihilated by the two enemy regiments.
Coupled with the diversionary tactic, the lightning speed factor was the first factor for the success of this troop withdrawal. The combatants understood that time delayed in troop withdrawal meant death to them, therefore all combatants demonstrated resolve and determination by keeping on running and firing at the enemy despite enemy heavy firepower
Combined actions in the entire troop deployment, firepower between armor-infantry, artillery units and air firepower of US Air Cavalry neutralized the effort of encirclement and assault of two enemy regiments.
General Hieu demonstrated bravery when he showed up amidst the combatants in full action and had boosted up the combat resolve and confidence of the entire withdrawing combatants facing the firepower and attacks of two enemy regiments.[10,11]
OPTIONIAL COURSES OF ACTION
This was almost a suicidal troop withdrawal, because 8th Task Force must withdraw unassisted under repeated encirclements and attacks of two Divisions VC, 5th and 7th, from 5/25/71 to 5/31/71. Diversionary tactic using radio was no more effective because the enemy was able to figure out radio manipulation of our troops! Two task forces at South West Snoul stayed put at their positions during those days, while III Corps Assault Task Force operating South Chup Plantation until 5/29/1971 only received order from III Corps to move to Thien Ngon (Tay Ninh), and was only attached to 5th Division from 5/31/71. 8th Task Force could only rely on airpower support of US Air Cavalry in this suicidal troop retreat. Therefore, Colonel Dzan, 8th Task Force Commander must weight carefully between two alternatives in carrying out his unavoidable task.
In order to apply delaying tactic, 8th Task Force must have three main conditions to preserve the integrity of the withdrawal force and to limit loss. The first condition was that the task force must have a contingent force equivalent to the enemy’s. The second condition was that the task force must have additional rescue force to at least threaten the right flank and the rear of the enemy, as well as providing firepower support to the task force during its withdrawal. The third condition was that the rear of the withdrawal route must be secure. Unfortunately, 8th Task Force did not have these three conditions. It was facing an enemy force five to six times stronger, while the two task forces at South West still remained still, and III Corps Assault Task Force was still not attached to 5th Division to secure the rear of 8th Task Force withdrawal. Nevertheless, 8th Task Force still had an advantage that the enemy did not, A Company of US Air Cavalry lent direct support to the task force in this withdrawal. Therefore Colonel Dzan must ask himself, "Will air power support of this US Air Cavalry company be sufficient to substitute the three essential above-mentioned conditions?" Three elements needed for the success of air support were enemy anti-craft firepower, weather and terrain. From 5/24/71 to 5/29/71, the weather was excellent, very favorable for air support, however enemy anti-aircraft capability was overwhelming, to the point pilots were unable to land for medevac and re-supply to 1/8th Battalion. Besides the terrain of the operation area was totaling unfavorable to air support, because the rubber and bamboo forests were too dense between Snoul and the Vietnamese border. Therefore the US Air Cavalry had hard time identifying and discerning foe and friend troop movements on the ground, except along the two sides of South West QL13 which had been cleared 50 meter wide. Furthermore, US Air Cavalry also did not have liaison officers on the ground with the infantry units to adjust strikes as directly requested by 8th Task Force. Based on existing battlefield conditions at the moment, Colonel Dzan determined that US Air Cavalry could not substitute the three main conditions that lacked for the survival of 8th Task Force in the planning of this delaying tactic. Therefore Colonel Dzan clearly saw that, if delaying tactic was applied in this case, the two enemy divisions would have enough time to maneuver troops from North East and North West of Snoul to encircle, divide up the units and annihilate the entire 8th Task Force.
According to this tactic, 8th Task Force must resigned to very heavy loss, in particular heavy and cumbersome equipments could not be transported properly with infantry and armored vehicles. The advantage of this tactic was that the enemy did not have time to maneuver the entire two division along with artillery and two anti-aircraft battalions to encircle and organize firepower strikes on our troops who could not benefit the cover of bunkers while withdrawing. It was evident that it was better to sustain heavy loss rather than to have the entire task force annihilated or captured alive by the two enemy divisions. Furthermore, the task force still hoped to have the opportunity to destroy enemy force or to inflict heavy loss to the enemy while withdrawing. Therefore Colonel Dzan rationally opted to reluctantly apply this inferior tactic, “First Best: Attack, Second Best: Defense, Third Best: Escape”, to preserve the life of 8th Task Force in his task of this suicidal troop withdrawal.
CONCEPT OF RETREAT OPERATION
Apply diversionary tactic and speedy troop maneuver under cover of airpower support of A Company of US Air Cavalry, in two phases: phase 1 troops will retreat from Snoul to 3/9th Battalion on 5/30/71, and phase two troops will retreat from 3/9th Battalion to 3rd Corps Assault Task Force, in order to reach Loc Ninh on 5/31/71.
ASSIGNEMENTS DURING PHASE 1
ASSIGNMENTS DURING PHASE 2
PHASE 1 OPERATION SCENARIO
In the evening of 5/29/71, 1/8th Battalion launched three ambush teams and two recon teams North West of Snoul, and the combatants of the battalion understood well their task of fighting all out the next day 5/30/71 to foray a bloody path for the following forces. The operational concept for 5/30/71 was similar to the one for 5/29/71 in the retreat of 1/8th Battalion from North to Snoul market, therefore they were familiar with the coming tactic of the task force next day. However on 5/30/71, combatants of 1/8th Battalion realized quite well they played the role of "Samurai" fighters to assault directly at the enemy and would only lie down when they were wounded or dead.
The night of 5/30/71, 1/8th Battalion heard clearly many airplanes constantly bombarding North West and North East of Snoul. That meant general Hieu was applying diversionary tactic to support the withdrawal planning of 8th Task Force on 5/30/71, These bombardment had also the purpose of destroying and interdicting enemy movements from North West and North East of Snoul to South East of the withdrawal route on 5/30/71.
At around 08:00H on 5/30/71, air force bombarded targets along the withdrawal route of 8th Task Force, as well as tactical targets to interdict enemy encirclement maneuvers.
At around 08:30H, 8th Task Force artillery shelled in salvo on the advance axe of 1/8th Battalion to link with 3/8th Battalion which was encircled by the enemy.
At around 09:00H, 1/8th Battalion used 2nd Company and 3rd Company together with the M113 armored vehicles company as main force to cross the departing line, while 1st Company covered the left flank of 2nd Company. Commanders from battalion to squad were equipped with individual rifles M16 to assault the first enemy perimeter along with the soldiers. After leaving the departing line about one kilometer, 1/8th Battalion saw clearly the enemy who was hiding in individual holes in the rubber forests starting to fire in unison when the battalion approach the enemy around 200 meters, while enemy artillery started to open fire in salvo on the advance route of the battalion. In spite of enemy firepower, the M113 armored vehicles company together with 1/8th Battalion kept on moving while returning fire from one rubber tree to the next one in front of the advance axe, despite the fact that some soldiers were gunned down.
At around 09:40H, the enemy used artillery strikes along the entire advance axe of 8th Task Force, while 2/8th Battalion’s right flank perimeter was pierced through by the enemy and had to run toward the side of 1/8th Battalion. Fortunately six helicopter gun ships of US Air Cavalry flying atop rubber trees fired at the enemy assaulting 2/8th Battalion, and succeeded in stopping the first enemy assault aimed at 2/8th Battalion. Meanwhile 1/8th Battalion heard clearly in the radio that 2/7th Battalion was pressured by artillery pounding and assaults in the rear. General Hieu flew above 1/8th Battalion and ordered the battalion that it must cut through enemy defensive perimeter immediately at all costs, to foray a bloody path for the task force that was encircled by the enemy at the rear. At that moment, the enemy and us were fighting within 100 meters, and so 1/8th Battalion and the M113 armored vehicles company could only rely on organic firepower to assault at close range with the enemy who was lodging in individual holes. Oral order to assault was rapidly issued to the combatants at the front line, since the commanding officers were all at the front line along with the soldiers at that moment. In spite of direct firepower in front, on the right flank as well as merciless enemy artillery pounding, "Samurai" fighters of armor and infantry units opened fire and assaulted enemy defensive perimeter. Enemy dead and ours mingled indistinctly atop individual holes and enemy trenches, while armored vehicles kept on running over the enemy who could not jumped out of individual holes on time. Enemy blood and ours mixed together in this immemorial and short and close range battle, which lasted less than ten minutes and 1/8th Battalion and the heroic combatants of the armored unit overran the defensive positions of more than one enemy battalion. The picture of the Battalion Commander and the Battalion Executive Officer who burst into tears at this defensive position, when they witnessed and heard the heart wrenching supplications of seriously wounded fellow combatants lying next to enemy corpses, "Please Eagle, don’t abandon me, let me come with you," is sufficient to depict the devastation and suffering intensity of this kamikaze assault of the armored and infantry units. The faces in deep pains and the supplicating eyes of the combatants who were left behind to be picked up by the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), still frequently haunted many frightful dreams endured by the 1/8th Battalion Commander on this land of temporary settlement even to these days.
Advancing like waves breaking up against the river bank, our "Samurai" fighters continued to wipe out resistant pockets behind the route linking with 3/8th Battalion with a remaining stretch of about two kilometers. The majority of enemy resistant pockets had abandoned in fear positions prior to the appearance of our troops, and 1/8th Battalion and the armored company linked with 3/8th Battalion at around 11:00H, nevertheless 2/8th Battalion and the task force CP were still pinned down behind, because the enemy used artillery strikes and attacks too vehemently the right flank of 2/8th Battalion. The battalion received order to linger and deploy in the vicinity of 3/8th Battalion position to support the rear units which were fighting at equal force with the enemy. Captain Bao had enough time to search enemy radio communication and heard clearly that the enemy was issuing order to units to maneuver in order to encircle and divide up 8th Task force still remaining behind, as well as enemy complaints concerning the displacement of anti-aircraft batteries from North of Snoul to South East of the current battle area between the enemy and us. Captain Bao immediately reported to the task force Command Post regarding the enemy’s intention, meanwhile he overheard clearly General Hieu giving order to the Task force to catch up with 1/8th Battalion. General Hieu himself bravely ignored enemy firepower, flew atop rubber trees to observe the enemy and issued orders to the US Air Cavalry to fire at the enemy troops attacking 2/8th Battalion and 2/7th Battalion. Colonel Dzan and the 1st Armored Squadron Commander caught up with 2/8th Battalion to attack the enemy on the right flank of 2/8 Battalion, effectively lending support to 2/8th Battalion in its effort to veer to the left in order to advance rapidly through the opening created by 1/8th Battalion to continue to link with 1/8th Battalion. Finally, Task Force CP, 1st Armored Squadron and 2/8th Battalion heroically vanquished the enemy on the right flank to open up the route allowing 2/7th Battalion to follow through, under the pressure of atrocious enemy attacks and artillery strikes. Fortunately the enemy did not have time to move anti-aircraft units from North West and North East of Snoul to South East to fire at supporting helicopters of US Air Cavalry. Therefore the heroic allied forces were able to destroy unimpeded enemy units on maneuvers to encircle 8th Task Force, under the instructions of general Hieu.
At around 12:00H, 1/8th Battalion and the armored company continued to advance from the position of 3/8th Battalion to the position of 3/9th Battalion, within approximately nine kilometers along South East of QL13. The enemy started to increase the intensity of artillery pounding when 1/8th Battalion just left its position, in order to delay the withdrawal of our troops, nevertheless 1/8th Battalion and the armored company disregarded enemy artillery firepower and advanced through the stretch of about 200 meter long under artillery strikes in order to finish up enemy resistant pockets along QL13. During this phase, 1/8th and the armored company only relied on its own organic firepower, because the US Air Cavalry gave priority to the units at the rear that were fighting with the enemy minutes by minutes in the effort to escape enemy encirclement. Fortunately, 1/8th Battalion and the armored company only encountered relatively weak enemy resistant pockets and ambushes, due to the powerful fire support of tanks as well as rapid troops maneuvers of infantry units. 1/8th Battalion and the armored company linked with 3/9th Battalion at around 17:30H in the same day, while the task force Command Post and the following units had to continue to fight with the enemy following closely behind as well as to deal with enemy mobile ambush tactic along QL13.
PHASE 2 OPERATION SCENARIO
On the night of 5/30/71, 8th Task Force set up defense at the outskirt of 3/9th Battalion’s defensive area, while artillery and air force pounded all night long along QL13 to destroy and prevent enemy troops movements to South East of QL13. During this night, dense fog accumulated through the night until at around 09:30H on 5/31/71 limiting vision to no more than fifteen meters, causing the withdrawal to be postponed for two hours.
From 07:30H to 09:30H on 5/30/71, artillery of III Corps Assault Task Force constantly pounded on targets on withdrawal route, before 8th Task Force crossed the departing line to link with III Corps Assault Task Force, recently attached to 5th Division on this day of 5/31/71.
At around 09:30H, the task force started the withdrawal heading down South East of QL13 as planned, while III Corps Assault Task Force also attacked from the border up North West along QL13, in an anvil-hammer tactic to subdue the enemy. Firepower of helicopters of US Air Cavalry also started striking at targets along QL13 to cover the flanks of infantry units.
At around 11:30H, 3/8th Battalion and 3/9th Battalion linked with III Corps Assault Task Force, while 8th Task Force CP fell into a mobile ambush set up by the enemy, and 1/8th Battalion was also assaulted at the rear, and III Corps Assault Task Force was also fighting heavily along the two sides of QL13, about 500 meters from the position of 8th Task Force CP. Colonel Khoi requested Colonel Dzan to stop advancing and await for III Corps Assault Task Force to finish up the enemy before advancing, however Colonel Dzan decided to fight without delay using "Anvil-Hammer" tactic to defeat enemy encirclement efforts. 8th Task Force CP and 1st Armored Squadron CP heroically launched an assault against the ambush pocket to destroy the enemy, under the supports of III Corps Assault Task Force and of US Air Cavalry. Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Van Toa, 8th Regiment Executive Officer, and Major Truong Hong Cam, 1st Armored Squadron Executive Officer, were killed in this assault. III Corps Assault Task Force also bravely advanced to destroy more than 4/5 of enemy forces.
At around 12:30H, III Corps Assault Task Force completely dominated the battlefield to allow the last unit of the task force, 1/8th Battalion to safely withdraw back to the border.
The enemy was duped by diversionary tactic of general Hieu and Colonel Dzan in the night of 5/29/71, and consequently believed that 8th Task Force would launched an operation to attack them at North West or North East on 5/30/71. Therefore the enemy made the mistake of not maneuvering two anti-aircraft battalions and not committing additional infantry units from North West or North East to South East to participate directly in the battlefield on 5/30/71 at about one kilometer on QL13 South East of Snoul.
The surprise and speedy withdrawal of 8th Task Force as well as firepower support of US Air Cavalry effectively destroyed and stopped, or at least delayed enemy troops maneuvers from North West or North East to South East to the real battlefield on 5/30/71.
The combat resolve of 8th Task Force combatants received a boost by the permanent presence of general Hieu when, in spite of enemy artillery and infantry firepower, bravely flew close to enemy troops in order to observe and adjust US Air Cavalry firepower to hit enemy forces with precision.[10,11]
Colonel Dzan and the 1st Armored Squadron Commander wisely decided and bravely advanced close to 2/8th Battalion to support 2/8th Battalion while its right flank was weakening under enemy attacks as well as to break up enemy’s efforts to encircle and divide up the battalion.
III Corps Assault Task Force played an important role in the last withdrawal of 8th Task Force on 5/31/71. Consequently, 8th Task Force suffered only minor losses on the 5/31/75 withdrawal. Besides, III Corps Assault Task Force also neutralized further enemy efforts to encircle and destroy 8th Task Force.
Although general Hieu had used electronic fences to detect enemy movements in his Division’s operational area, nevertheless the enemy was clever in avoiding these bugged locations. Furthermore, the enemy always tried to evade recon operations performed by 8th Task Force around Snoul areas beginning of 1971.
By mid May, the enemy secretly moved 7th Division VC to the areas around Snoul to coordinate with 5th Division VC in the preparation to encircle, organize artillery battle and destroy the entire 8th Regiment and its attached units. Enemy planning was well kept under wrap to the point our intelligence and our ally’s were in the dark. However general Hieu, with his sixth sense, in a coded message dated 5/4/71, gave order to organize well fortified defensive positions, and to organize limited attack operations, because he sensed that the enemy was about to show up. He ought to be an exceptional commanding general for possessing such a keen intuition!
Around 6/15/71, two weeks after the battle of Snoul, the enemy used a very clever counterintelligence tactic in releasing many prisoners coming out from Tay Ninh, except soldiers belonging to 1/8th Battalion. The reason for the enemy not to liberate soldiers belonging to 1/8th Battalion was because 1/8th Battalion had engaged in battle with the enemy six days and five nights and knew exactly the real enemy force committed into the battle during those days. Meanwhile the majority of the soldiers belonging to other units were engaged in battle only during the two days of the withdrawal, and the enemy succeeded in indoctrinating and inducing them in believing the enemy only committed one Regiment in the attack of 8th Task Force. The result was that the VN Congress, III Corps Commanding General, our intelligence and our ally’s innocently believed in this misinformation and gave the enemy the chance to turn defeat into victory.
Meanwhile our intelligence and our ally’s as well as III Corps HQ underestimated accurate intelligence provided from the Snoul battlefield by Colonel Dzan, through general Hieu. Colonel Dzan had patiently listened to and counted enemy artillery and anti-aircraft positions in order to determine accurately that the enemy used two artillery battalions and two anti-aircraft batteries around the areas of Snoul. According to VC order of battle, each Division VC had only one artillery battalion and one anti-aircraft battalion. That was the reason Colonel reported to general Hieu that the enemy had at least one 5th Division, reinforced by at least one artillery battalion and one anti-aircraft battalion. In fact, the enemy had used two Divisions, the 5th and the 7th, to attacked 8th Task Force, based on intelligence obtained through a VC scout captured alive by 1/8th Battalion on 5/26/71. However Colonel Dzan was cautious in only reporting what he saw and heard, because 1/8th Battalion was encircled and attacked without respite by the enemy during five days and five nights at the battalion’s location, preventing 1/8th Battalion from shipping this prisoner back to the task force command post. On 5/29/71, 1/8th Battalion withdrew in emergency and this prisoner escaped when soldiers of the battalion was busy with fighting the enemy for their lives.
It was evident general Hieu believed entirely the intelligence coming from Colonel Dzan, because he was the only commanding general to fly daily over the battlefield of Snoul from 5/24/71 to 5/31/71, despite intense enemy anti-aircraft firepower at North and North West of Snoul. General Hieu himself reported twice to III Corps Commanding General this accurate intelligence originated from Colonel Dzan, however III Corp Commanding General subjectively rejected it, because he relied on allied force’s intelligence of that time indicating that the enemy only used one Regiment to attack 8th Regiment, and the two remaining Regiments belonging to 5th Division VC to ambush and pin down III Corps Assault Task Force at around one kilometer on QL13 inside Cambodian territory from Vietnam border.
In brief, the enemy had many advantages in term of intelligence and counterintelligence in the battle at Snoul, because III Corps Commanding General did not believe in accurate intelligence regarding enemy forces committed in the battle of Snoul provided by Colonel Dzan through general Hieu, and III Corps Commanding General and Vietnam Congress also were duped by enemy counterintelligence tactic through the release of prisoners on 6/15/71.
Based on VC information as well as newspapers’ information, General Minh who was the field commander of Cambodian battlefield, had gone from an offensive posture adopted by General Do Cao Tri when he was III Corps Commander, to a defensive posture April 1971 to 5/31/71. He also did decide appropriately in the planning of withdrawal of 8th Task Force in the end of May 1971 in attaching III Corps Assault Task Force to 5th Division on 5/31/71, as indicated by Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi, III Corps Assault Task Force Commander.[6,27] However, this assault task force was attached too late on 5/31/71, instead of being attached to 5th Division from the first day of the battlefield, on 5/24/71, or at least prior to the withdrawal day, on 5/29/71.
In particular from 5/24/71 to 5/31/71, General Minh immobilized the main force of Task Forces in the areas of Chup, Kampong Cham, and two Task Forces operating near South of Snoul; furthermore, he also did not want to report the military situation and enemy’s intention to the Joint General Staff in order to request for more air support and reserved force.
General Minh only put a few general staff officers of III Corps at Loc Ninh, and he himself was not permanently present at Loc Ninh .[10,29] He also never flew over the Cambodian territory to assess the situation and to command the maneuvering of the main and secondary forces of his troops.
General Minh also refused many times general Hieu’s request to use the main force from South Snoul to execute the "Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain" plan that the two commanders had agreed upon before. Finally, he ordered general Hieu to withdraw troops unassisted, under the attack of two Divisions VC on 5/28/71.
In his capacity of Cambodian operations Field Commander, General Minh must choose one of the following courses of action:
General Minh decided to choose the 4th course of action, because of some unspoken reasons that only he can explain to the combatants at this moment in time. As a competent commander when he was 21st Infantry Division Commander, General Minh knew quite well that with the 4th course of action, which was the worst choice, 8th Task Force would sustain heavy losses or be completely annihilated if the enemy force comprised more than one Division.
General Minh violated fundamental war principles, the day he replaced General Do Cao Tri as Commander of the Cambodian operation.
General Minh used the entire available forces of 18th Division and 25th Division as main force at South of Snoul, as well the entire available force of 5th Division as secondary force to bait the enemy at Snoul in the "Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain" tactic. Therefore he had only the III Corps Assault Task Force as reserved force at his disposition. On 5/31/71, he was too late in attaching his assault task force to link with 8th Task Force in the planning of withdrawal prior to the rainy season. Of course he should have requested immediately reserved force from the Joint General Staff as well as from the VNAF to reinforce 8th Task Force since the first day 8th Task Force entered the battlefield, but then in reality he had never reported the critical military situation and did not request for reinforcement during those days.
From 5/23/71 to 5/31/71, General Minh never supervised the battlefield or commanded in person the operation, but only put a few general staff officers of III Corps at Loc Ninh, and he was not permanently present at Loc Ninh[10,29], except only sporadically flying in to visit the 5th Division Forward Command Post at Loc Ninh. Furthermore he was too late in placing the assault task force under the command of 5th Division on 5/31/71, instead of on 5/25/71 as it should be. This late decision prevented general Hieu from using this Assault Task Force to rescue 8th Task Force and destroy the enemy from the first day of the battle, on 5/24/71.
According to Colonel Dzan, the withdrawal plan had been submitted to III Corsp/HQ and had been approved, however III Corps/HQ decided to postpone D day for two days, so that the Corps could celebrate III Corps' anniversary. The postponement of D day had many disadvantages in terms of tactics and security because the enemy had time to concentrate and the operational plan could be leaked to the enemy.
The lack of responsibility in command lead to the wrong assessment of the situations of enemy and friend on the battlefield during the days of fighting with the enemy, because III Corps Commanding General only relied on the wrong intelligence analysis of III Corps and subjectively believed that the enemy force committed at Snoul comprised only one Regiment, although Colonel Dzan and general Hieu had several times reported that the enemy force committed comprised at least one Division at Snoul. The consequence of this detrimental subjectivity of III Corps Commanding General was the wrong assessment of the enemy Primary and Secondary forces under the perspective of a Commander of the battlefields in Cambodia.
Misjudgment between Primary and Secondary forces lead to the wrong choice of course of action for the battle at Snoul, General Minh only relied on report of the main force that was being pinned down by only enemy 9th Division remaining in this area, and concluded that here was the Primary force, while the reality indicated that the Primary force was at Snoul, and the Secondary force was at the main force at South East of Snoul! That was the reason for General Minh not to request reinforcement from reserved force of Joint General Staff and not requesting additional air support from VNAF, but only relied on organic support force and air support of US Air Cavalry.
Despite the mistakes of III Corps Commanding General in leadership and in the planning of withdrawal, 8th Task Force together with attached forces comprising Armor, III Corps Assault Task Force and Artillery, were victorious in the withdrawal under the command of general Hieu, Colonel Dzan, and Colonel Khoi. Furthermore, the participant combatants had neutralized the strategy aiming at using the battle of Snoul as a trump card in the Paris Negotiation, by capturing alive or destroying our entire force committed in the battle at Snoul7. Unfortunately, General Minh ignored the real military merits of his combatants by relieving general Hieu and Colonel Dzan of their commands, as well as treating the returning combatants as a bunch of vanquished soldiers!
General Hieu was frustrated for not having any left reserved force at his disposition, because he was responsible of protection a territory too extended, and had to use the entire 8th Task Force in the task of baiting the enemy for the Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain tactic of III Corps, coupled with the task of securing QL13 from the border to Snoul. As a general one certainly prefers offensive posture, here general Hieu must put himself in the defensive posture without a reserved force of at least one Regiment to counter-attack to destroy the enemy. No wonder he should be frustrated.
Nevertheless general Hieu did not sit still. He ordered 8th Task Force to continue to take control of the battlefield by frequently launch limited operations to search and daily recon operations to collect intelligence on the enemy, besides establishing an electronic fence to detect enemy movements around the areas of Snoul. These actions kept the morale of the combatants of 8th Regiment and its attached units high during the more than two month operation at Snoul.
Beginning 4/71, general Hieu was permanently present at 5th Division Forward Command Post at Loc Ninh, in order to monitor closely the battlefield situation in Cambodia, and to use C&C helicopter for daily visits. On 4/21/71, he wrote a letter to his wife, "I stayed up in Loc Ninh last Monday and has just returned to Lai Khe Tuesday evening and depending on the situation will stay here until next Monday," which proves he was permanently at Loc Ninh to execute the Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain tactic of III Corps.[2,12]
Contrary to General Minh,[10,13,14] general Hieu was frequently present above 8th Task Force units fighting with the enemy from 5/24/71 to 5/31/71. In particular from 5/24/71 to 5/30/71, he witnessed enemy atrocious anti-aircraft and artillery firepower which prevented medevac and re-supply helicopters from landing. However, not fearing for his life, he continued to fly over the units fighting with the enemy on the ground in order to command and reassure the soldiers. By witnessing the real situation on the battlefield with his own eyes, he believed what Colonel Dzan had reported on the ground.
General Hieu proposed twice to General Minh to use at least two Task Forces from South West of Snoul to execute the Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain tactic of III Corps, and requested for more reserved force of Joint General Staff to reinforce III Corps Assault Task Force that was pinned down at the border, because the enemy was using at least 5th Division VC reinforced at least by two artillery and anti-aircraft battalions of 7th Division VC. Unfortunately, on 5/28/71, General Minh issued oral order to general Hieu that the committed forces in the battle at Snoul should withdraw unassisted, because he still subjectively believed that 5th Division VC only used one Regiment to attack 8th Task Force. And so, general Hieu was completely helpless in terms of providing reserved force to 8th Task Force in this suicidal withdrawal.
Nevertheless, general Hieu refused to completely give up in his capacity of battlefield Commander. He tried his utmost to do what he could to rescue the lives of his fellow combatants in this suicidal withdrawal. He asked Colonel Raymond Kampe, 5th Division ARVN Senior Advisor, to request US Air Cavalry to increase air support to 8th Task Force, besides one Air Cavalry Company already in permanent support to 8th Task Force. He also requested Colonel Raymond Kampe and III Corps Chief of Staff Colonel to accompany him in his flights in order to facilitate coordination between III Corps Assault Task Force and firepower support from US Air Cavalry.[10,11]
In particular from 5/29/71 to 5/31/75, General Hieu demonstrated traits of a battlefield Commander, by braving intense enemy anti-aircraft firepower to fly close to the withdrawing troops on the ground in order to maneuver and reassure the soldiers, despite Colonel Dzan’s advice not to allow the helicopter to land down, still gave order to the pilot to scoop down to witness the Recon company capturing8 an enemy anti-aircraft weapon placed close to the outskirt of the base camp. Furthermore, he assumed the role of an Air Control Officer in order to request US Air Cavalry to hit targets through Colonel Kampe. This action caused the enemy to delay troop’s movements to encircle and destroy our combatants on the ground. In particular US Air Cavalry never mistakenly shot at our troops on the ground during those days. Therefore general Hieu also assumed the role of an outstanding Air Control Officer!
In particular on the night of 5/30/71, general Hieu used an excellent diversionary tactic. He gave order to VNAF and 8th Task Force artillery to pound incessantly through the night in the direction of North and North West Snoul, and at the same time, he ordered Colonel to use 1/8th Battalion to position troops toward the direction of North East of Snoul, in order to dupe the enemy in believing that 8th Task Force would launch an attack against the enemy at this two directions the next morning, on 5/30/71. This diversionary tactic proved to be effective when Major Hung, 8th Regiment G3 Chief eavesdropped enemy radio, "They do not attack us, they are withdrawing to the East. All units must leave their defensive positions to encircle and destroy them fast."
In summary, general Hieu had done all he could to save the lives of his fellow combatants in the withdrawal under the attack of two enemy Divisions, the 5th and the 7th. Furthermore, he also demonstrated traits of a competent general. Those are Courage, Resourcefulness and Intuition of an accomplished fighter.
Colonel Dzan organized frequent operations as ordered by general Hieu and also on his own initiative. Furthermore, long range recon teams of different Battalions operated constantly days and nights, since the day 8th Task Force was assigned the area of Snoul. He also used artillery and Air Force strikes to hit suspected routes used by the enemy in movement in the operational area assigned to the task force. This lead the enemy to assess Snoul ought to be a strategic position for them. Therefore, the enemy decided to use two Divisions VC, the 5th and the 7th, to attack and destroy 8th Task Force at all costs. Therefore, Colonel Dzan performed well his assignment of baiting the enemy according to the Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain tactic of III Corps.
In particular on the night of 5/24/71, he ordered Artillery firepower support for 1/8th Battalion while this unit was under attack at the outpost of 8th Task Force, about three kilometers North of 8th Task Force CP. From 5/25/71 to 5/31/71, he gave order to the Signal Officer to scan the enemy’s radio frequency to eavesdrop their radio conversation. He also patiently listened to and counted the numbers of enemy artillery shells as well as anti-aircraft fires to assess the enemy troops involved in the area of Snoul. He estimated with near accuracy that the enemy was using 5th Division VC, reinforced by at least one Artillery Battalion and one Anti-aircraft Battalion to attack 8th Task Force and its attached units. Consequently he reported to 5th Division/HQ on 5/25/71 regarding the current enemy involvement in order to request for reinforcement for 8th Task Force.
On the night of 5/28/71, he was sharp in understanding immediately the deception tactic used by the 1/8th Battalion Commander to withdraw 1/8th Battalion units back to 8th Task Force CP on 5/29/71 by telling openly on the radio to the 1/8th Battalion Commander that there would be B52 available to flatten the area from 1/8th Battalion position to Snoul market the next morning, on 5/29/71. Furthermore, he also used 2/7th Battalion to support 1/8th Battalion, by ordering 2/7th Battalion to retake Snoul market on 5/29/71, prior to the withdrawal of 1/8th Battalion.
In particular he made the right choice of planning to withdraw 8th Task Force on 5/30 and 5/31/71, after he abandoned the plan to attack toward Kratie, because Lieutenant Colonel Ninh, 5th Division G2 Chief let he know that 5th Division did not have any reserved force left in the withdrawal day of 5/29/71. He chose the Diversionary tactic, Surprise, Speed and Firepower and Troop Maneuvering, to avoid the enemy’s efforts of using two Divisions to encircle and destroy the entire 8th Regiment and its attached units, because he determined accurately that time would be the main factor of survival in this unassisted withdrawal of 8th Task Force and its attached units under the attack of two enemy Divisions.
Battlefield assessment is based on three main factors: the respective forces of the opposing sides, the potential situations of the moment, and the losses suffered by the two sides.
8th Task Force had to uphold the siege at Snoul from 5/24/71 to 5/29/71, and was ordered to withdraw with an amount of troops too lopsided between us and the enemy, 2,000 soldiers of the task force facing more than two enemy divisions of approximately more than 20,000 soldiers. Therefore, one soldier of 8th Task Force must face 10 enemy soldiers.
During one week of fighting against two enemy divisions, 8th Task Force never received any rescue force from South West of Snoul, as planned in Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain tactic. Therefore besides the solution of a surprise and speedy withdrawal, 8th Task Force had only two alternatives left, to withdraw using delaying tactic or to surrender with shame. Delaying tactic would only result in the annihilation of the entire 8th Task Force as Colonel Dzan envisioned clearly in his assessment, and surrender was not an acceptable alternative in term of honor of ARVN in general, and of the entire body of 8th Task Force combatants in particular. Furthermore, 8th Task Force would lose all equipment, armored vehicles and artillery in the two above-mentioned alternatives. Furthermore with the solution of a surprise and speedy withdrawal, 8th Task Force still had the chance to preserve the majority of the combatants, a number of equipment, and also the chance of inflicting heavy losses to the two enemy divisions, if this solution succeeded. The reality indicated that more than 85% troops of the task force returned safe to Vietnam.
On 6/3/71, general Hieu stated the accurate losses suffered by both sides, in the five days of combat and siege at Snoul. Our troops killed 1,043 enemies, while our side had 37 killed, 167 wounded and 74 soldiers missing. Furthermore, Colonel Dzan also reported the detail of equipment losses: 10 tanks and 14 armored vehicles were destroyed, 12 artillery batteries were destroyed before our troops’ withdrawal, 22 mortar weapons were missing, and a number of trucks. The number of more than 200 enemy individual weapons and anti-aircraft captured by 1/8th Battalion and other 8th Task Force units were not included in this assessment, because these weapons were left behind by 8th Task Force in the enemy’s hands in this hasty withdrawal. Therefore 8th Task Force’s loss was 278, including KIA, WIA and MIA, which are 14% troops of the Task Force. Experience shows that for each enemy KIA there is at least one soldier WIA. Therefore the enemy’s loss was about 2,086, which means that for 10 soldiers loss in our side there were 75 soldiers loss in the enemy side during the five days of fighting in the area of Snoul, and two days of withdrawal of 8th Task Force before the attack of two enemy divisions. The number of 167 WIA of our troops that were carried back to Vietnam in the withdrawal was an eloquent indication that the withdrawal of 8th Task Force was carried out in order and well planned. Among the 74 soldiers MIA of 8th Task Force, only 26 soldier prisoners were released by the enemy at the border near Tay Ninh around two weeks after 5/31/71, except 6 soldier prisoners of 1/8th Battalion still detained by the enemy; the majority of the remaining 42 MIA were combatants of 1/8th Battalion and armored company KIA during the assault to foray a bloody path in the withdrawal day of 5/30/71.
In summary, General Hieu and Colonel Dzan were two competent battlefield commanders. They defeated two enemy divisions to save the lives of more than 85% troops, and to preserve light weapons of the task force. On the contrary, the two enemy division commanders were vanquished generals in the planning to encircle and destroy the entire 8th Task Force.[7,9] III Corps Commanding General must be proud of the heroic victory of our troops in this withdrawal. Therefore, it is not too late for him to pay tribute to the combatants of 8th Task Force, general Hieu and Colonel Dzan and III Corps Assault Task Force who achieved a difficult task and fight bravely against two enemy divisions across the border from 5/23/71 to 5/31/71.
The demise of the Republic of Vietnam government on 4/30/75 was the consequence of a string of events related to Military, Politic and Foreign Relation of different participant forces in Vietnam, since 8/69. In particular the blunder committed by III Corps Commanding General was the starting point of subsequent events of Vietnam history.
The secretive peace negotiation campaign of the Vietnam war took an important historical turning point when Kissinger secretly met twelve times in Paris with the North Vietnamese delegation since 8/69, as revealed by Nixon. The two simultaneous incursion operations at corps level of the ARVN starting on 2/8/71 were the consequences of this peace negotiation campaign in order to bargain at the conference table, Operation Lam Son 719 and Operation Toan Thang 1. Operation Lam Son 719, as narrated by Nguyen Tien Hung, was drafted by the United States and given to General Cao Van Vien for his signature[18,21]. This was a gesture of dumping one’s infant at the market place in Low Laos, because our side had only 25,0000 troops facing 36,0000 enemy troops, reinforced by two armored Divisions equipped with modern Russian tanks and many artillery and anti-aircraft regiments. The result was a resounding defeat for our troops and the loss of many elite combatants, while general Westmoreland stayed put because he dared not allow four American divisions to cross the border together with the ARVN units. Therefore, general Westmoreland bore full responsibility in this Operation Lam Son 719. However in reality, the ARVN was hammered by the media as well as the antiwar movement in the United States, which lead later to a strategic defeat on the national level. Furthermore, this was an opportunity for the enemy to assess the military leadership capability on the battlefield of our generals at corps level after the two incursion operations of ARVN.
The 5/71 Resolution issued by the Communist Politburo was the first step to re-assess the military leadership capability on the battlefield of our generals at corps level. The Snoul battle was the starting point for this Resolution. The enemy used the entire three Divisions, the 5th, the 7th and the 9th to attack and encircle 8th Task Force at Snoul, and pin down the main force of III Corps at South West Snoul, the rescue column of III Corps Assault Task Force at South East Snoul. It was III Corps Commanding General’s mistakes in the areas of command and battlefield assessment in the battle of Snoul, which had enticed the enemy to take the decision to widen the strategic battlefield over the entire territory of South Vietnam later in 1972.
On 3/30/72, the enemy simultaneously widened the battlefield with three campaigns, Nguyen Hue campaign in South East in the south was the main force, Tri Thien Campaign was also the main force, and Tay Nguyen campaign was the secondary force. In Nguyen Hue campaign, the enemy used the entire three Divisions, the 5th, the 7th and the 9th to take control of Loc Ninh and the surrounding areas, before encircling and attacking An Loc during approximately two months. The ARVN had to use 5th Division, and two Airborne Brigades, 81st Special Airborne Group, two regiments of 21st Division, and several Ranger Groups to hold An Loc, with a powerful air support from US Air Force, including B52 bombers. An Loc was bravely defended by our troops, however Quang Tri was lost into enemy’s hands, because our elite reserved troops were detained at the two battlefields of Tay Nguyen and An Loc. In particular in Nguyen Hue Campaign, the enemy had learned our subterfuge in the radio transmissions of our troops in the battle of Snoul, and observed radio silence before attacking to gain surprise in the first day of the campaign .
Tri Thien and Nguyen Hue campaigns were the consequences of the coercion imposed on the VN government into signing the Paris Agreement on 1/27/1973, after Nixon sent a ultimatum letter to President Thieu[18,19,24]. Another cause was the retreat in haste of American and other Allied Forces within 60 days, according to stipulations 5 and 6 of the agreement. Furthermore, based on stipulation 12(a), the enemy was put at equal footing with the government of Vietnam, and was not obligated to withdraw troops out of South Vietnam. Therefore, we practically lost our country after the signing of the Paris Agreement which was nothing less than a surrender agreement[20,22,23].
Next to the Paris Agreement was the US Congress’ cut regarding military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam, while Russia increased its military assistance with more modern weapons to North Vietnam. Furthermore, the War Powers Act imposed on the US President also passed by the Congress in 6/73 precipitated the fall of South Vietnam in 75..
If the "Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain" plan were executed by III Corps Commanding General in the battle of Snoul in the end of 5/71, it was doubtful the enemy would have enough power and confidence to open Nguyen Hue campaign ten months after the battle of Snoul. If the Nguyen Hue campaign did not occur, the battle of An Loc would not have occurred either, so that about one ARVN division of reserved elite combatants would not be detained at An Loc for two months. If the ARVN were not pinned down at An Loc, we would not have lost Quang Tri, because the ARVN would have free hand to reinforce at least one division of elite combatants to the battlefield of Quang Tri. Of course if we did not lose Quang Tri, then the Republic of Vietnam would not be coerced to sign the Paris Agreement, because the enemy would have lost the bargain at the conference table, when the enemy Tri Thien campaign was defeated by our troops. Therefore there would be no cut in military assistant to South Vietnam by the US Congress, and nor the War Powers Act imposed on the US President signed in 6/73. Therefore, Vietnam history would have taken an entirely different course after 1975, and the fall of South Vietnam would not have happened in 1975, forcing more than two millions of Vietnamese to expatriate, and ten thousands of boat people to perish in oceans in search of freedom, and the cruel and long imprisonment the enemy imposed on South Vietnamese troops would not have existed.
I attest that general Hieu, Colonel Dzan, general Khoi and the entire 8th Task Force and III Corps Assault Task Force combatants had bravely defeated two divisions VC in the epic battle during the incursion battlefield from 5/4/71 to 5/31/71.
Sections on assessment and critics on General Minh, battlefield assessment on national strategy level are my lines of thinking, a mere battalion commander directly involved in this battle, based on data on hand, therefore might lack in objectivity and accuracy. Therefore, I have tried to contact General Minh in order to allow him to review, revise, and correct the content according to his knowledge as well as to pay tribute to the combatants involved in this operation. I equally have proposed to him to substitute the section pertaining to III Corps, critics of him, and battlefield assessment on national strategy level, with his own interpretations of the events and written in his own hands to be inserted in this article, so that the Vietnam military history would be fair and just. With the General's clarification, the combatants and the overseas communities will understand his difficulties and pains, in order to sympathize with him and pay tribute to him, a competent general who had defend the country.
Unfortunately, I have received no response from him to this date, and that is also the reason for this article to be posted on the internet, so that the readers can join with me in the efforts to search for the true fact of the Vietnam Military History in the operation at Snoul. If one wants to know the true fact of III Corps as well as General Minh’s reactions, I think one need only to address the question directly at him, the unique and most reliable authority on these matters to clarify and correct the author’s assertions.
I wish that the sections on III Corps and General Minh written by me proved to be wrong, if the General himself speaks up to make corrections; in such eventuality, I would have the chance to apologize to him for committing a sacrilege toward a superior, and to sympathize with his difficulties and pains in this battle of Snoul. Furthermore, I and my fellow Vietnamese would have the chance to understand the historical truth, in order to pay tribute to the General and to unify into one block, and put a stop to mutual bickering and incriminations. This is the last bullet of an old soldier paying his due to the country, in order to be at peace and to be able to enjoy his old days. Therefore I state that I will only speak up if I hear from the General himself pertaining to this battle of Snoul.
The image of the combatants’ faces in pains abandoned on the battlefield in the speedy withdrawal, the tears of widows, fathers and mothers of dead soldiers in the rear camp of 1/8th Battalion at Lai Khe after the return of the Battalion, as well as the image of a 74 year old general commander, Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi, still bitter by the battle of Snoul and the battle of Dambe related to the command of III Corps Commanding General after years in Communist prisons, and to these days still have to work to earn his living at the age of over 74, are the main motivations for me to write this article.
The purpose of this article is to tell a truth in the ARVN military history because the truth must be returned to history.
General Hieu and Colonel Dzan together with their combatants were victorious in the unassisted withdrawal under pressure from two enemy Divisions, as a Division Commander and of a Regiment Commander. General Khoi, III Corps Assault Task Force, together with III Corps Assault Task Force also defeated the enemy and neutralized the enemy’s efforts of encirclement and destruction of the entire 8th Task Force on 5/31/71. However General Minh failed as a Corps Commander, because he had chosen a withdrawal plan for 8th Task Force and was too late in attaching III Corps Assault Task Force to 5th Division, furthermore he had allow a good chance to destroy the entire two enemy Division in the Luring the Tiger Down the Mountain slipped away, as secretly planned by the two Commanding Generals . The consequence was that these two Divisions were kept alive and allowed to launch an attack at Loc Ninh and An Loc ten months later.
The flaws in our intelligence and our ally’s, the irresponsibility in command, the subjectivity in relying too much on our intelligence, and not wanting to heed accurate reports pertaining to the enemy capabilities engaged in the battle at Snoul provided by general Hieu and Colonel Dzan, led General Minh to make mistake as a Corps Commander. Therefore he and the VN Congress inadvertently had changed the real battlefield situation, from a victor to become a vanquished in both tactics and strategy. The consequence was that more than thirty percent of combatants deserted after returning to Vietnam, because they felt left out, and because of the concessions stipulated in the 1973 Paris Agreement appeared like capitulation.
Therefore the Vietnam history could be changed if the above-mentioned mistakes did not occurred.
At the present moment, we have lost everything besides ourselves; we pray General Minh and the VN Congress revise the historical truth, so that they came closer to us. As human being, everybody makes mistakes sometime, or can be misunderstood. One needs only to recognize one’s mistakes, or to clarify one's actions to give satisfaction to the combatants who have been forgotten more than thirty years. With his admission of wrongdoings, the General would maintain the spirit of fraternity among soldiers forever, in order to promote unity among soldiers and civilians in the present common struggle against the Communist.
 Nguyen Van Tin, General Hieu’s Page , http://nguyentin.tripod.com/
 Conversation between General Hieu and the author on 12/17/71 in Dalat.
 E-mails dated 11/04/03, 11/18/03, 11/21/03 between three general staff officers of 5th and 7th Divisions VC and the author
 Nguyen Van Tin, Snoul Battle As Reported By The New York Times , http://nguyentin.tripod.com/snoul-nyt-2.htm/
 Operational Orders HQ/TT02/71/B5/KB of 5th Division, signed by General Hieu on 5/04/71, http://nguyentin.tripod.com/TT02-2.htm/
 E-mail of Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi dated 11/20/03
 Le Kinh Lich, Thrity Year Battle , Quan Doi Nhan Dan Publishing, Hanoi, 1996, p.405-406, 421, 432, http://nguyentin.tripod.com/xnun-2.htm/
 Carl J.Haaland, Operational Report-Lessons learned 3/17 Air Cavalry, 30 April 1971, http://splorg.org/vietnam/orll.html
 Carl von Clausewitz, Principles of War, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
 Conversation between a III Corps high ranking general staff officer and the author on 11/22/03
 Conversation between Colonel Raymond Kampe, former 5th Division ARVN Senior Advisor, and the author on 11/24/03
 Nguyen Van Tin, Operation Snoul, http://nguyentin.tripod.com/Snoul-2.htm/
 Tran Quang Khoi, Tường Trình Về Vai Trò Của Lữ Ðoàn 3 Kỵ Binh Và Lực Lượng Xung Kích Quân Ðoàn III, http://vietnam.glypto.com/webhtml-01/LD3KyBinh-1975-001.php
 Tran Quang Khoi, Fighting to the Finish, Armor, March-April 1996, p. 19-25, http://nguyentin.tripod.com/tqkhoi2-2.htm/
 George G. Layman, Problems Encountered By 5th Division in Vietnamization , http://nguyentin.tripod.com/vnmization5ID-2.htm/
 Internet: http://members.aol.com/spur317f/private/cambodia.htm
 Nguyen Tien Hung & Jerold L. Schecter, Hồ Sơ Mật Dinh Ðộc Lập, C&K Promotion, Inc., Los Angeles, tr. 75, 78, 267,417.
 Tran Van Don, Our Endless War: Inside Vietnam, Novato, CA: Presido Press, 1978
 Goodman, Allen E., The Lost Peace: America’s Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War, Stanford, CA : Hoover Institution, 1978
 Nguyen Duy Hinh, Operation Lam Sơn 719, Indochina Monographs, US. Army Center of Military History, 1979
 Isaacs, Arnolds, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia, New York: Vintage Books, 1983
 Kissinger, Henry A., The White House Years, Boston: Little Brown, 1979
 Nixon, Richard, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, New Yorks: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978
 Ngo Quang Truong, The Easter Offensive of 1972, Indochina Monographs, U.S Army Center of Military History, 1980
 Cao Van Vien, The Final Collapse, Indochina Monographs. Washington D.C.: U.S Army Center of Military History, 1983
 Letter of General Tran Quang Khoi, III Corps Assault Task Force, dated 01/5/2004
 E-mail of Colonel Bui Trach Dzan, 8th Task Force Commander dated 01/04/2004
 E-mail of Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi, III Corps Assault Task Force dated 01/15/2004
 Ha Mai Viet, Thép và Máu, Thiết Giáp trong Chiến Tranh Việt Nam
(From 5/24/71 to 5/30/71)
(Based on VC documents, information of US Air Cavalry, radio intercepts, VC prisoner captured by 1/8th Bn, and some VC retired officers in VN)
Tran Van Thuong
(A few words about the author from the webmaster: After his participation in the Snoul battle as the battalion commander of 1/8th Battalion, he was assigned to Vietnamese Military Academy at Dalat. In 1974 he attended U.S Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and when Vietnam fell in 5/1975, he remained in the United States. Currently, he is an associated mathematics professor at an American University.)