Battle of A Shau
The Battle of A Shau (Vietnamese: trận A Sầu) was waged in early 1966 during the Vietnam War between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The battle began on March 9 and lasted until March 10 with the fall of the U.S. Army's Special Forces camp of the same name.
The A Shau Special Forces Camp was located in the A Sầu Valley, about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Huế in Thừa Thiên Province. The valley was strategically important for the NVA as a major infiltration route because it was adjacent to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Laos. Defending the camp were 10 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group and 210 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group, supported by Air Commando units equipped with vintage A-1 Skyraiders and AC-47 Spooky gunships.
The camp was routinely harassed by small Vietcong formations leading up to the battle. Throughout February and March, 1966, platoon-sized troops from the camp were sent out to conduct reconnaissance patrols in the surrounding area. On March 5, two NVA defectors turned up at the camp. Under interrogation, they indicated that four battalions of the North Vietnamese 325th Division were planning to attack the camp.
Based on that information, night patrols were dispatched to confirm the enemy positions but no sightings were made. However, Air Commandos conducting reconnaissance flights observed large build-ups of NVA troops along with anti-aircraft emplacements. As a result, airstrikes were ordered against enemy positions.
On March 7, the A Shau camp was reinforced with seven U.S. Special Forces personnel, nine interpreters, and a MIKE Force Company in anticipation of the North Vietnamese attack.
On March 8, the camp was placed on general alert and the camp's defenders had taken up their positions. During the night an enemy assault was launched but thrown back. Because of poor weather conditions that would hinder tactical air and resupply efforts, the North Vietnamese decided to continue more forcibly. The second attack began during the early morning hours of March 9 with mortar bombardment, damaging communications and reducing defensive positions to rubble. At 13:00 hours an AC-47D "Spooky 70" from the 4th Air Commando Squadron, circling the camp, fired on attacking North Vietnamese formations but was shot down and crashed about five kilometers north of the camp. All six crewmen survived, but were attacked by NVA troops. Three crewmen were killed but the other three were eventually rescued by a USAF HH-43.
Between 16:30 and 17:00 hours, supplies of ammunition were flown in by C-123 and CV-2 aircraft, but the resupply drops often landed outside of the camp and could not be retrieved. At the same time, helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. However, reinforcements from Huế and Phu Bai could not be deployed because of the bad weather, so the camp's defenders repaired their defensive wall and dug in for the night.
On the morning of March 10, the NVA launched another attack with mortar and recoilless rifle fire. At 05:00 hours an assault team penetrated the east wall of the camp, where hand-to-hand combat took place for three hours. By 08:00 hours the defenders had withdrawn to the camp's north wall. Throughout the day USMC and VNAF bombers strafed NVA positions around the camp, but as fighting continued the situation deteriorated with ammunition supplies running short. As a result, a decision was made to evacuate all personnel.
At 17:00 hours all communication equipment was destroyed. The survivors carried out their evacuation orders and destroyed all abandoned weapons and withdrew further to the north wall. Leading the evacuation effort were fifteen H-34 helicopters from HMM-163 supported by four UH-1B gunships. Panic-stricken Vietnamese mobbed the evacuation helicopters and overwhelmed U.S. Special Forces troops as they abandoned the camp. This reached a point where the helicopters were so overloaded some SF soldiers were forced to fire upon the Vietnamese soldiers to allow the helicopters to take off. Only 172 of 368 Nung and Vietnamese irregulars were flown out. The others were listed as MIA, although many of these turned up later. The evacuation further complicated by heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire, and two H-34s were lost.
American control ceased at the camp at 17:45 hours when overrun by enemy troops. During the battle the U.S. special forces team suffered five killed and twelve wounded (100% casualties). The numbers of South Vietnamese soldiers present at the camp or how many casualties they suffered varies. According to one account, 172 out of 368 irregulars were flown out, with the others listed as missing, although many of them surfaced later. Another report stated 231 out of 417 irregulars were lost. According to Sgt. Major Bennie G. Adkins only 122 out of about 410 irregulars survived, with many of them wounded. Adkins was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions in defense of the camp by President Barack Obama in September 2014.
With their position consolidated, the NVA heavily fortified the area with bunkers, antiaircraft guns, and artillery. During the Tet Offensive the A Shau Valley provided Communist troops an important sanctuary from which to launch attacks at South Vietnamese cities and military bases, especially Hue and Phu Bai.
- An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present By David Eggenberger - Page 31
- "The Fall of a Fortress". Time. 1966-03-18. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- Perini, Capt. Michael B. (April 1983). "Uncommon Gallantry". Vol. 66, No. 4. Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-02-11. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- Sams, Kenneth (1966-04-18). "The Fall Of A Shau" (PDF). Project Checo report. USAF. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-11-28. Retrieved 2007-04-08.