Sơn Tây prison camp
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The Son Tay prison camp was a POW camp operated by North Vietnam near Son Tay town in the late 1960s through late 1970. About 65 captured US military personnel were held there during the middle of the Vietnam War.
Operation Ivory Coast
On November 21, 1970, a force of 56 US commandos led by Col. Arthur 'Bull' Simons raided the Son Tay camp to rescue the estimated 70 to 80 prisoners, supported by 29 USAF aircraft and 92 flight crew on the direct raid and a total of 105 aircraft including supporting roles.
Prior to the raid, all 65 prisoners were moved to another camp about 15 miles away, apparently due to the proximity of the camp to a river thought likely to flood. US intelligence may have identified this the day before the raid, but the raid was sent anyway.
Three commando teams landed at the camp:
- The first team intentionally crash landed a helicopter right in the middle of the camp to get into position as quickly as possible.
- The second landed 400 meters away by accident, at what turned out to be a base for Russian and Chinese military advisers. The team attacked the headquarters and killed an estimated more than 100 people at the base.
- The third team landed outside the main complex and assisted in securing the facility.
The raid succeeded completely at its technical objective of seizing control of the camp. There were no prisoners present to rescue, though.
26 minutes after the first helicopter intentionally crash landed, all US commandos were recovered and flying home.
One US soldier was wounded in the leg and one broke his ankle in the intentional crash landing.
An unknown number of North Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the raid.
The failed mission did bring an ironic success for Simons and his troops. The attempt to rescue prisoners brought the world's attention to the inhumane treatment of the American POWs. The raid on Son Tay altered how the North Vietnamese housed, treated, and interacted with the foreign prisoners.
Some have questioned whether the real intention of the raid was dual purpose and in addition to the attempted rescues of POWs was designed to send a message to the Russians and the Chinese assisting the Vietnamese.
In the Media
The Son Tay Prison camp is the basis for the Call of Duty Black Ops multiplayer map, Hanoi.