Operation Junction City

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Operation Junction City
Part of the Vietnam War
CFJC-map.jpg
Cedar Falls/Junction City area of operations
Date 22 February – 14 May 1967
Location War Zone C, Tay Ninh Province, South Vietnam
Result U.S. tactical victory,[1][2] strategic failure
Belligerents
Flag of the United States.svg United States
Flag of South Vietnam.svg South Vietnam
FNL Flag.svg Viet Cong
Flag of Vietnam.svg North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
United States William Westmoreland
United States Jonathan Seaman
South Vietnam Cao Văn Viên
FNL Flag.svg Lê Đức Anh
Vietnam Dinh Thi Van
Strength
30,000; 240 helicopters;[3] 700+ combat vehicles: M48 tank, M113 APC Unknown
Casualties and losses
282 killed
1,100 wounded
FNL Flag.svg US claim: 2,728 killed and wounded
Air drop of supplies in Operation Junction City

Operation Junction City was an 82-day military operation conducted by United States and Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) forces begun on 22 February 1967 during the Vietnam War. It was the largest U.S. airborne operation since Operation Market Garden during World War II, the only major airborne operation of the Vietnam War, and one of the largest U.S. operations of the war.[4] The operation was named after Junction City, Kansas, home of the operation's commanding officer.[5]

The failure to gain surprise lay in discovery of the plans after NVA Col. Dinh Thi Van managed to place one of her agents in social circles that included ARVN Gen. Cao Van Vien and US Gen. William Westmoreland.[citation needed] That agent further reported one ARVN staff officer's comment of the early phase of the operation: "(The Viet Cong) seem like ghosts. All the six spearheads of our forces have been attacked while we don't know exactly where their main force is. Even in Bau Hai Vung that is considered to be a safe area, we lost one brigade. It's so strange." (Van, p. 237)

The stated aim of the almost three month engagement involving the equivalent of nearly three U.S. divisions of troops was to locate the elusive 'headquarters' of the Communist uprising in South Vietnam, the COSVN (Central Office of South Vietnam). By some accounts of US analysts at the time, such a headquarters was believed to be almost a "mini-Pentagon," complete with typists, file cabinets, and staff workers possibly guarded by layers of bureaucracy. In truth, after the end of the war, the actual headquarters was revealed by VC archives to be a small and mobile group of people, often sheltering in ad hoc facilities and at one point escaping an errant bombing by some hundreds of meters.

Hammer and Anvil[edit]

Junction City's grand tactical plan was a "hammer and anvil" tactic, whereupon airborne forces would "flush out" the VietCong headquarters, sending them to retreat against a prepared "anvil" of pre-positioned forces. Total forces earmarked for this operation included most of the 1st Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division including the 27th Infantry Regiment (United States) "Wolfhounds;" and the [(196th Light Infantry Brigade]) and the airborne troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and large armored elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

American forces of II Field Force, Vietnam started operation on 22 February 1967 (while Operation Cedar Falls was winding down), the initial operation was carried out by two infantry divisions, the 1st (commanded by Major General William E. DePuy ) and the 25th (Major General Frederick C. Weyand), who led their forces to the north of the area concerned to build the "anvil" on which, according to the American plans, the forces of the Viet Cong 9th Division would be crushed. At the same time the movement of infantry (eight battalions with 249 helicopters), took place on the same day including the launch of the paratroopers (the only launch carried out during the entire Vietnam War and the largest since the days of Operation Market Garden in World War II), an airborne regiment of the 173 Airborne Brigade, which went into action west of the deployment of the 1st and the 25th Infantry Division.

The operations were apparently at first a success, designated positions were reached without encountering great resistance, and then on February 23, the mechanized forces 11th Armored Cavalry and the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Division, the "hammer" of armor struck against the '"anvil" of the infantry and airborne positioned north and west, giving the enemy seemingly no chance to escape.

In fact, the Vietcong forces, highly mobile and elusive as ever, and with information sources located deep in the south Vietnamese bureaucracy, had already relocated their headquarters to Cambodia, and launched several attacks in mass disorder to inflict losses and wear down the enemy. On February 28 and March 10 there raged two fierce clashes with U.S. forces, the Battle of Prek Klok I and the Battle of Prek Klok II where the US, supported by a powerful potential air strikes and massive artillery support repuled Vietcong attacks, but the strategic outcomes were overall disappointing.

Best available photograph of the 25th Infantry Division. A year after Junction City, the 25th ID shows the M113 Armored Personnel Carriers by which the US enjoyed a firepower and armor advantage in Prek Klok I and II.

On 18 March 1967, General Bruce Palmer, Jr., new commander of II Field Force, Vietnam, in replacement of General Seaman, launched then the second phase of Junction City, this time directly to the east and carried out again by the mechanized divisions, the 1st Infantry Division and 11th Cavalry, reinforced this time from the 1st Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division (including the 5th Cavalry Regiment). This maneuver gave rise to the toughest battle of the entire operation, the March 19 Battle of Ap Bau Bang II, wherein the 273rd Vietcong regiment put into difficulties the American armored cavalry although eventually forced to retire by a huge amount of firepower.

In the days after the forces of the Viet Cong they launched two more attacks in force, on March 21 and in Ap Gu on April 1, against the 1st and the 25th Infantry Division, both assaults were bloodily repulsed, and the Viet Cong 9th Division came out seriously weakened, though still able to fight and, if necessary, to retreat to safety in areas adjacent to the Cambodian border. On April 16 the U.S. command of II Field Force, in agreement with the MACV, decided to continue operations with a third phase of Operation Junction City, until May 14 certain units of the 25th Division Infantry American, undertook long and exhausting research the enemy, advancing in the bush, raking villages and retrieving large amounts of material logistics Vietcong, but with little contact with the Communist units, now cautiously moved to a defensive footing.

Outcome[edit]

The US infantry enjoyed advantages in mechanization over the Viet Cong forces encountered, including the M113 and in certain locales, full battle tanks.

The province of Tay Ninh was picked over thoroughly and Viet Cong forces suffered significant losses, including large amounts of material captured: 810 tonnes of rice, 600 tonnes of small arms, 500,000 pages of documents . According to calculations by the American command the 9th Division VC went seriously weakened by the operations, suffering the loss of 2,728 killed, 34 captured men and 139 deserters, but also the American losses were not negligible, amounting to nearly 300 dead and over 1,500 injured.

After the operations, the American forces were recalled to other areas of operation and then the country, apparently assured to be in the firm control of the South Vietnamese government fell prey again soon to infiltration by the Viet Cong forces returned from their sanctuaries in Cambodia.

When American troops found in some stores of the enemy, 120 reels of film and logistical equipment for the printing of documents, the command of MACV assumed to have finally found the famous COSVN in reality things were very different. The mobile headquarters, commanded by some mysterious and famous personalities such as generals Thanh, Tran Van Tran Between and Do, had quickly retreated to Cambodia, maintaining its operations and confounding the hopes of the U.S. strategic planners.

With a huge consumption of resources and equipment, including 366,000 rounds of artillery and 3,235 tons of bombs, the American forces had inflicted losses on the enemy and demonstrated the remarkable ability of airborne forces and even mechanized forces (also useful in impervious territory), but also strategically Junction City had missed the most important goals and had not led to the expected turning point of the war.

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