Colonel Hieu and Colonel Mataxis
II Corps Chief of Staff and II Corps Senior Advisor

In April 2001, I attended a seminar on Vietnam War hosted by the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. On 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 on 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:

- (1) Colonel Hieu sipping wine at a Montagnard rice wine ceremonial drink,
- (2) and (3) Colonel Hieu is coordinating artillery and air supports in operation,
- (4) Colonel Hieu and Colonel Mataxis, II Corps Senior Advisor.

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. 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 at the beginning of 1965, then regiment-sized operations, and then division-sized operations toward the end of 1965. The first NVA battalion discovered in 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:

- On 02/03, the VC attacked camp Halloway manned by the US Army 52d Combat Aviation Battalion.
- On 02/14, the VC ambushed a Regional Force company at Mang Yang Pass.
- On 02/20, the VC attacked CIDG firebase FOB1.
- On 02/20, the VC ambushed the relief force company from An Khe.
- On 02/21, the VC ambushed the relief force company on its return to An Khe.
- On 02/22, the VC ambushed the Suoi Doi company.
- On 02/24, the VC surrounded 220 troops at firebase FOB2.
- On 03/08, the VC attacked camp Kannah and camp Plei Ta Nangh.
- By the end of March, II Corps attacked the VC to relieve a garrison in Bong Son.
- On 04/10, II Corps launched a joint operation with the I Corps to relieve Hoai Nhon District.
- On 04/21, the VC attacked two Marine battalions on Highway 1.
- On 05/26, the VC attacked the village of Buon Mroc.
- On 05/28, the VC seized the Pokaha bridge in Kontum and Le Bac bridge in Phu Bon simultaneously.
- On 05/31, the VC overran Le Thanh District.
- On 06/01, the VC ambushed the Kontum Province Chief's party visiting Le Thanh District.
- On 06/03, a VC regiment ambushed a battalion of ARVN 40th Regiment on its way to relieve the Le Bac bridge near the village of Phu Tuc.
- In mid-June, the VC attacked the village of Toumorong west of Kontum.
- On 06/30, a VC regiment ambushed an airborne task force at Cheo Reo in Thuan Man District.
- On 07/01, the VC launched a massive mortar attack on the garrison of the Thuan Man District.
- On 07/07, the VC attacked Dak To District in Kontum Province.
- On 07/16, II Corps launched a road-clearing operation on Highway 19.
- At the beginning of August, the VC, after besieging Duc Co camp during July, attempted to overrun this camp.
- On 08/09, the VC ambushed the relief column task force on Highway 19.
- On 08/18, the VC attacked Dak Sut District.
- On 08/19, II Corps launched a road-clearing operation on Highway 21.
- On 10/19, the VC attacked the CIDG Pleime camp.
- On 10/23, the VC ambushed the relief column task force.

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 were vast (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 seek 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 at 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 in attempting to destroy these ambush sites.

In the rescuing operation of CIDG Duc Co camp at the beginning of August, II Corps deployed one Airborne Task Force, one Marine Task Force, the 3rd Armored Squadron, and one Ranger battalion.

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 the maximum combined fire artillery and air supports from American and Vietnamese Air Forces. In the Than Phong Operation, operational plans show Colonel Hieu's accurate 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 incredible complicated plan using closed fire supports from all types of airplanes. Colonel Mataxis wrote:

The plan called for the use of U.S. jets on the flanks of the helicopters to provide suppressive fires by strafing and bombing while the helicopter gunships flew shotgun on the immediate flanks of the "slick" choppers. This scheme - trying to match helicopters, F-100s and A-1E fighters and B-57 bombers, all of different speeds and characteristics, in a single integrated operation - required careful planning and split-second execution. Fortunately, it went off like a charm. Almost without incident, 220 ARVN and CIDG troops were taken out in three lifts on the afternoon of 24 February.

Whenever an armored relief column unit encountered an ambush site, II Corps' planning called for the tanks and armored vehicles to regroup into defensive ball posture to allow heavy artillery and air support to annihilate recoiless rifles and anti-tank rocket-launchers positions, then afterward 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 a 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 an 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 restricted 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 commanders 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 on the II Corps fighting spirit. General Co and General Vinh Loc relied heavily in Colonel Hieu's strategic and management skills without having to be concerned about being eclipsed because Colonel Hieu was a can-do person and yet at the same token extraordinarily 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:

At the end of the summer, the corps commander still held all of the provincial capitals, the vast majority of the district towns. Despite some losses, he still controlled most of the people and all of his provincial capitals. The most important factor, however, was that his troops had met the heaviest blows the enemy could throw at him during this period of unfavorable weather. Not only had he retained the integrity of his units, but he had also defeated the best troops, the enemy could throw against him. Here the contingency planning which had been done at the beginning of the summer paid off. By a an informed choice of areas where the corps would respond to enemy attacks, the VC was thrown off balance by the unpredictable responses to his attacks. This could not have been done, however, without the extensive support by Air Force troop-carriers and fighters. Army aviation allowed the corps commander to rapidly concentrate his troops from all over the corps area and, reinforced by troops from the General Reserve, to respond at places of his own choosing with superior numbers and firepower. This completely upset the VC tactics of "attack and ambush" which had proved so successful in the past. The air mobility and unexpected moves by the corps commander completely frustrated VC attempts to calculate, in advance, the number of government troops available in an area so they could plan to have the advantage of superior force on their side. In summary, in exchange for the loss of four minor district towns, the government retained its initiative and its control of the highlands. (VC Summer Monsoon Offensive)

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:

On the other hand, the Americanization of the war disturbed me. We were suddenly going in the wrong direction with the South Vietnamese. It was their country, their battle: eventually, they would have to sustain it. I thought we should give them the skills, the confidence, and the equipment they needed, and encourage them to fight. Yet while our official position was that we were sending forces to help South Vietnam fight, the truth was that more and more battles were being fought exclusively by Americans, rather than by the United States and South Vietnamese units working together. American officers began saying things like, "Theses guys can't handle the war. None of them are fighters. None of them are worth a damn." (The South Vietnamese Airborne and Marines continued to participate in combined operations with the Americans, but even we could see that supplies and equipment were harder to come by because American units had priority.)[It Doesn't Take A Hero, page 144]

Nguyen Van Tin
14 December 2002