Battle of Xa Cam My
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The Battle of Xa Cam My was fought over two days from April 11–12, 1966, 10 miles (16 km) south of the village of Cam My in Phuoc Tuy Province, during the Vietnam War. Originally planned as a U.S. search and destroy mission intended to lure out the "crack" Viet Cong D800 Battalion, Charlie Company, US 2/16th Infantry Battalion soon found itself fighting for survival in the rubber plantations of Cam My village, approximately 42 miles (68 km) east of Saigon. During this battle 134 men of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division were ambushed by the Viet Cong and 80 percent became casualties.
Commencing on March 29, 1966, Operation Abilene was a U.S. search and destroy mission through Phuoc Tuy Province, targeting the 274th and 275th Regiments of the Viet Cong 5th Division and their base areas in the May Tao Secret Zone. It involved two brigades of the US 1st Infantry Division, while the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery were also attached. However, the Viet Cong largely avoided battle and contact with the sweeping US brigades was light.
Major General William E. DePuy, as commander of the US 1st Infantry Division, subsequently planned to lure out the Viet Cong by using Charlie Company, US 2/16th Infantry Battalion as a bait. Once the Viet Cong attacked the isolated company, DePuy planned to rush in other rifle companies to destroy the Viet Cong. The next phase of the operation began on April 10, 1966, with soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division moving into positions between Saigon and Vung Tau in search of the elusive Viet Cong D800 Battalion. Unlike previous operations, Charlie Company numbered only 134 men because of casualties, leave and other reasons. In addition to the lack of numbers, the company was also cut off from Alpha and Bravo Companies.
On the following day as Charlie Company moved through the Courtenay Rubber Plantation, they encountered sporadic fire with Viet Cong snipers attempting to knock the Americans off one by one. The sporadic fire allowed the Viet Cong to maneuver around the outnumbered Americans. By 14:00, VC officers were spotted around the positions of Charlie Company, directing the encirclement of U.S positions.
By that time it had become clear that the Viet Cong had taken the bait. However DePuy's gamble on other rifle companies arriving in time was thwarted by the thick jungle.
To minimize casualties and break the ambush, Charlie Company formed a circular perimeter with interlocking fire. The situation deteriorated as Charlie Company found itself increasingly isolated with only a distant hope of reinforcement. This was made worse when misdirected artillery fired upon Charlie Company instead of the aggressive VC forces.
The fighting continued well into the night with the desperate Charlie Company throwing all it had at the aggressive Viet Cong using tear gas grenades. However, their efforts were not enough to stop the Viet Cong from breaking through their lines. Through the night, small units from the Viet Cong D800 Battalion breached the American perimeter, retrieving their own casualties and slitting the throats of wounded U.S soldiers along the way.
After five hours of brutal fighting, what was left of Charlie Company formed a tight perimeter, protected by a barrage of artillery fire which came down at a rate of five or six rounds per minute. By 07:00 on April 12, the Viet Cong had disengaged from the battle before other U.S units could arrive.
American losses numbered 36 killed and 71 wounded, while the Viet Cong left 41 dead left on field, more than 80 killed and wounded removed. Two posthumous Medals of Honor were awarded in connection with this action. Sgt James W. Robinson, Jr. and A1C William H. Pitsenbarger. The latter was awarded in December 2000. SPEC-4 Johann Lang was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his heroic actions in the battle.
- Carland, John (2000). Stemming the Tide: May 1965 to October 1966. The United States Army in Vietnam. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, US Army. ISBN 1931641242.
- Horner, David, ed. (2008). Duty First: A History of the Royal Australian Regiment (Second ed.). Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1741753740.
- McNeill, Ian (1993). To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950–1966. The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975. Volume Two. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1863732829.
- Tucker, Spencer C. (2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851099603.
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-17A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Men of the 1st Division, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, Rangers, Charlie Company Vietnam