Battle of Pat To
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2012)|
The Battle of Pat To was a series of raids conducted by the Việt Cộng 200C Battalion against elements of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 3/53rd Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division during the period from 10 September to 1 October 1969.
Following the Việt Cộng victories at Hoa Da and Song Mao, the commander of Military Region 6 were determined to inflict greater damages on the South Vietnamese, so the Việt Cộng's 200C Battalion was once again deployed to the battlefield with the task of raiding South Vietnamese military installations. Unfortunately for the members of the 200C Battalion, the first attack on Ma Lam was a great setback, as the South Vietnamese army already knew of their enemies' plan to attack. Despite the heavy defeat at Ma Lam, the Việt Cộng's 200C Battalion were able to inflict great losses on the South Vietnamese forces at Pat To Hill, using mostly inexperienced reinforcements from North Vietnam.
After their stunning victory over the ARVN 44th Infantry Regiment at Hoa Ha and Song Mao, the 200C Battalion were back on the battlefield looking to inflict further damages on the regular units of the South Vietnamese army. Subsequently, the South Vietnamese base at Ma Lam was selected as the next target, where the 200C Battalion would attempt to repeat their deadly assaults. Like previous ARVN installations at Hoa Da and Song Mao, the South Vietnamese forces at Ma Lam had constructed numerous blockhouses, multi-layered barbed-wire fences and minefields to protect their base. Undeterred by the obstacles created by their enemies, General Nguyễn Trọng Xuyên of the Việt Cộng's Military Region 6 ordered the 200C Battalion to attack Ma Lam.
Unlike their previous missions, the 200C Battalion encountered greater challenges because South Vietnamese soldiers at Ma Lam were always on 24-hour alert. To make matters worse the terrain around Ma Lam hindered the Việt Cộng, as the South Vietnamese had created a 'no-man's land' around the base, which simply exposed potential attacking forces. During the first days of their mission against Ma Lam, the Việt Cộng had already begun to experience setbacks. In one incident a company commander from the 200C Battalion was killed, whilst leading a reconnaissance mission to collect information for the planned attack. Ultimately, 14 soldiers from the 200C Battalion were killed in their efforts to collect information about the Ma Lam base, including 5 scouts who died in the minefields. On the night of 21 March 1969, the 200C Battalion were ready to stage their long-awaited attack. The Việt Cộng sappers quietly took up their positions around the base, and were ready to struck at their designated targets when the unthinkable happen. As members of the 200C Battalion were about to move forward, South Vietnamese flashlights from the Ma Lam base blinked three times to signal an attack. Then, suddenly artillery and helicopter gunships began firing on Việt Cộng positions around the base. The Việt Cộng commanders were forced to withdraw leaving more than 30 of their dead comrades on the battlefield.
Back to the Battlefield
The defeat at Ma Lam had a severe impact on the Việt Cộng's 200C Battalion because they had lost about two-thirds of their personnel. To understand why they suffered such a heavy defeat, the commanders of 200C Battalion requested higher authorities to launch an investigation. The Việt Cộng's Military Intelligence Agency later revealed that it was a traitor from within their own ranks, a district-level commander, who had disclosed the 200C Battalion's battle plans to the South Vietnamese army. However, despite the crushing defeat which they had suffered, the 200C Battalion continued to send out small groups of soldiers to launch raids against South Vietnamese installations.
In the summer of 1969 reinforcements from North Vietnam finally arrived to replace the soldiers who were killed during the operations against Ma Lam. Once the fresh reinforcements had settled in with the Việt Cộng's 200C Battalion, the commander of Military Region 6 began to plan another major combat operation. The 200C Battalion's next target would be elements of the 3/53rd Infantry Regiment, 23rd ARVN Infantry Division, based at Pat To Hill. The South Vietnamese base on Pat To Hill occupied an important position, which enabled South Vietnamese soldiers to maintain their observation of a key transportation route. The base itself was surrounded by a swamp and several rubber plantations, and protected by two artillery bases, blockhouses, barbed-wire fences and minefields. The ARVN 3/53rd Infantry Regiment at Pat To Hill were so confident that they often launched raids of their own, against Việt Cộng bases in the areas surrounding Pat To Hill.
To put an end to the confidence displayed by the ARVN 3/53rd Regiment, the commander of Military Region 6 ordered the 200C Battalion to destroy the South Vietnamese base at Pat To Hill. Like their previous mission against the South Vietnamese base at Ma Lam, the attack on Pat To Hill also presented the 200C Battalion with a major challenge. In order to stage their attack the 200C Battalion had to move outside of their own base in Bình Thuận Province, and march hundreds of kilometres to reach Lâm Đồng Province, where the ARVN base at Pat To Hill was located. Furthermore, they only have two months to plan the operation, using mostly inexperienced reinforcements from North Vietnam. In June 1969 the 200C Battalion began making their journey towards Lâm Đồng. Upon arrival the Việt Cộng set up their base at Hon Bo, several dozen kilometres from the ARVN base at Pat To Hill.
The Việt Cộng spent two months collecting information to learn about South Vietnamese routines, defence assets, and force deployment capabilities. Once the Việt Cộng got hold of the information they needed, the operation date was set for 4 September 1969, two days after North Vietnam's independence day. On 2 September 1969, however, all combat operations had to be postponed so North Vietnamese and Việt Cộng soldiers in South Vietnam could mourn the death of North Vietnamese President Hồ Chí Minh. One week following the death of Hồ Chí Minh the Việt Cộng decided to launch their operation. Before the Việt Cộng's 200C Battalion commence their operations, a ceremony was held in honour of Hồ. At 20:00 on 10 September 1969, Việt Cộng sappers moved into designated positions about 500 metres away from Pat To Hill.
As the Việt Cộng were about to make their move, flashlights from the ARVN base at Pat To Hill began to light up and South Vietnamese soldiers were moving towards Việt Cộng positions. Fortunately, unlike the disaster at Ma Lam, the South Vietnamese soldiers only went out to catch frogs unaware that Việt Cộng sappers were about to hit their base. At 21:00 the Việt Cộng reached Pat To Hill and began removing the obstacles which the South Vietnamese 3/53rd Infantry Regiment had put in place. Precisely at midnight the 200C Battalion fired a shot to signal their attack, and soon Việt Cộng formations were moving from one place to another, destroying designated targets such as the quarters of U.S. advisers, heavy weapons, vehicles and ammunition. Within 38 minutes the 200C Battalion had achieved their objective after killing and destroying large numbers of South Vietnamese soldiers and weapons; however the 200C Battalion reportedly only lost two of their own soldiers in the battle.
Following the devastation of their unit, the South Vietnamese 3/53rd Infantry Regiment became more cautious and alert in their approach to defend Pat To Hill. The 3/53rd Infantry Regiment scattered leaflets, placing large rewards of up to 500,000 dong to anyone who caught or killed Major Nguyễn Văn Bông, commander of the 200C Battalion. The Việt Cộng, on the other hand, were planning for a second attack on Pat To Hill. Following their first attack, the commanders of the 200C Battalion received permission from the commander of Military Region 6 to stage a second attack on Pat To Hill. The Việt Cộng, deploying only 32 soldiers for their second attack, successfully sneaked into the same base on the evening of 1 October 1969. The second attack lasted only 28 minutes but the Việt Cộng successfully inflicted large numbers of casualties on the South Vietnamese.
Like the Battle of Hoa Da-Song Mao before, the 200C Battalion considered their raids against the South Vietnamese base at Pat To Hill to be a great victory. Despite the lost of two-thirds of their personnel as a result of the defeat at Ma Lam, the 200C Battalion were able to return to the battlefield and inflict huge damages on the regular units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, all within a short space of 20 days in two separate assaults. Overall the Việt Cộng claimed to have inflicted about 430 casualties on the South Vietnamese in the first attack, and another 140 during the second. In contrast the 200C Battalion suffered only light casualties, with 3 killed and 1 wounded in both raids.