The following account is based on my personal notes and memory of friendly and enemy activities on the 5th and 6th of June 1972, during the battle for An Loc, Republic of Vietnam. At this time, I was the Senior Regimental Advisor to the 33rd Regiment, 21st ARVN Division, and was the only U.S. Army advisor with this unit. The call sign that I used for my radio transmissions was “Constant.”
The 33rd Regiment had occupied Tan Khai by a foot march through enemy lines followed by a combat assault. The unit was subsequently ordered to move by foot, to positions south of An Loc to relieve ARVN Airborne forces on the southern perimeter of that beleaguered town.
On 5 June 1972, the 33rd Regiment’s 1st and 2nd Battalions had reached positions where they were contained by a determined enemy force from well fortified and prepared positions. Fighting continued throughout the day and, although the ARVN units had outstanding tactical air support, they were unable to gain additional ground and suffered numerous casualties. On the morning of 6 June 1972, an ARVN airborne battalion made some progress toward An Loc on the east side of Highway 13 which leads into the southern approaches of An Loc. The decision was then made to shift the 33rd Regiment’s advance axis to an area north of the rubber processing plant to allow them to follow the successful advance along Highway 13 that had been opened by the ARVN Airborne.
At approximately 1430 hours, 6 June 1972, the Regimental Commander and I began moving with the lead elements of the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Regiment, while the 1st and 3rd Battalions maintained continuous pressure on the enemy. Almost immediately after passing a bridge, we came under an intense mortar barrage. It was obvious that we had been spotted by enemy gunners, forcing us to move as quickly as possible through the exploding rounds. The enemy continued with intense mortar fire as the 2nd Battalion and the Regimental Headquarters continued moving through the area.
Enemy ground forces allowed us to advance past their positions and began firing on us from positions three and four rows of rubber trees away. They fired from the south and west as we moved into the lair of the enemy. The enemy shifted their mortar fire and combined it with the automatic weapons and rocket fire of their troops near our positions. The situation was critical, as we had few troops and very little firepower with us. The Regimental Commander and I secured positions behind a fallen tree, but were quickly brought under withering enemy fire.
I tried calling my higher headquarters on our frequency, but could not reach anyone. I then tried contacting advisors with the 31st Regiment at Tan Khai and the 32nd Regiment at Chon Thanh, but was unable to raise anyone at either location due to poor radio performance at our location in the rubber groves. Finally, I called for any station on our 21st Division frequency.
First Lieutenant James W. Beaubien, III, a Forward Air Controller over An Loc, replied immediately. When advised of the seriousness of the situation, he informed me that he was on the way down to my location, but was not certain he could help because of low cloud cover. LT Beaubien immediately called for TAC Air, and while they were en-route to our location, I gave him a complete briefing on enemy positions and disposition of friendly forces. He then made numerous passes to get a good visual location of the target area.
The volume and intensity of enemy fire continued in spite of the arrival of friendly reinforcements, who were able to move into support positions while all enemy fire was being directed at our positions. I do not know how many minutes elapsed, but it seemed like only a few minutes until the TAC Air fighters were ready to place fire on enemy positions, at our request. Since we were in such close proximity to the enemy, we placed the larger ordnance on enemy mortar positions and softer ordnance closer to the contact area.
As the first fighter aircraft delivered their ordnance, they were met with a large volume of .51 caliber anti-aircraft fire. It was common knowledge that the enemy had established a very strong air defense system around both An Loc and Tan Khai. They utilized .51 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns, 23 mm and 37 mm anti-aircraft guns, Strela anti-aircraft heat-seeking missiles, and even resorted to B-41 rockets whenever they thought it could destroy or damage an aircraft. LT Beaubien worked the fighter aircraft expeditiously and had them delivering their ordnance precisely on target. The close proximity of friendly and enemy forces required LT Beaubien to make frequent passes to ensure proper marking for the fighter aircraft.
With the enemy forces momentarily distracted by the continuous pounding they were receiving from TAC Air, we were able to take advantage of the opportunity and move to positions further north so subsequent air strikes could be placed on the enemy’s most forward positions. Meanwhile, the 1st and 3rd Battalions disengaged from their contact to the east of our positions and proceeded toward the main body of the enemy. LT Beaubien continued directing strikes on enemy positions while the 1st Battalion maintained contact with the enemy and pushed them south of Route 245 and to the west of Highway 13.
The enemy suffered severe losses to both men and equipment. Friendly units regrouped and moved forward to positions from which they could control and expand the territory held by friendly forces. As a result, the enemy around An Loc was forced to redeploy and make contact with numerically superior ARVN units to the south, resulting in even greater losses to the enemy’s fighting capability.
The ARVN 33rd Regiment contributed immeasurably to the final relief of the siege of An Loc by the largest force ever massed by North Vietnam in this area throughout the entire war [as of this writing]. It also made possible the subsequent extraction of the wounded and tenacious soldiers of the 5th ARVN Division, who had so courageously defended their positions since early April 1972.
Figure 1 – Joint Operations Graphic Map (1:250,000 scale)
Figure 2 – Enlargement from 1:50,000 L-7014 Series Map of An Loc
Figure 3 – Tank turret and body at the Battle of An Loc
Helicopter Logs from June 6
Thursday, May 25, 1972
Little Tan Khai Joins List Of Bloody Landmarks
by Allen Schaefer
LAI KHE, Vietnam –Nondescript villages, many no larger than a few thatched huts, throughout the history of this war have become landmarks in battles for some larger territory. Tan Khai, five miles south of the provincial capital of An Loc, has been added to the list. After three weeks of bloody and close-in fighting the 21st ARVN Div. pushed through a three-mile roadblock 18 miles north of Lai Khe on Highway 13 that the North Vietnamese defended fiercely. At the same time, units were airlifted into Tan Khai and met little resistance as they established the forwardmost offensive position against the Communist. Today Tan Khai is a stepping stone for the South Vietnamese to free An Loc. From the small village astride the highway, ARVN troops have set up an artillery fire base which is able to pound enemy troop concentrations to the east and west of An Loc. Reacting to the shelling, the NVA have had to redirect some of their barrages away from the embattled city. “There’s no doubt that the NVA badly want Tan Khai back,” said the senior American adviser to the 21st Div. “It represents a real threat to their offensive against An Loc.” The NVA want the town, which has a scattering of about 20 houses, so much that they have been launching daylight attacks through open fields in hope of wresting it from the South Vietnamese, the adviser said. Every foray was turned back by tactical air strikes and ground troops. Reports said that Red units broke ranks and ran after the initial strikes, and indication that they may be fresh replacements for forces that have stormed An Loc at bay for more than a month. In a night assault Sunday, four companies of NVA rushed Tan Khai in line formation on eachside of the town, but were massacred by air strikes and AC130 Spectre gunship sorties. The adviser said there are an estimated 300 NVA bodies scattered outside the village. Military sources here said South Vietnamese casualties have not been evacuated from Tan Khai for four days, but that resupply problems have been overcome. Although the battle to open Highway 13 from Lai Khe to An Loc gained momentum in the last week, 21st Div. forces still must contend with Red troop concentrations blocking the road nine miles south of An Loc and between Tan Khai and the city. By air An Loc Tuesday looked calm. Its northern sector, leveled by air strikes, was a splotch of brown earth contrasted against surrounding rubber plantations and open fields. A37 Dragonflys arched in low dives against NVA positions south of the city, leaving mushrooming clouds of thick, black smoke. Highway 13 between Chon Thanh and An Loc is pitted by craters from numerous bombing missions. Scars of B52 arc light drops mar the skin of the countryside on both sides of the road. The adviser said strikes in the last week have met with the greatest success since the offensive began in the region. Targets have been well-confirmed and almost every bomb dropped has been directed on NVA concentrations in the open, he said. In addition planes Monday knocked out 11 Communist tanks near the provincial capital. Some of that armor, according to the adviser, was attempting to push from the north against Tan Khai. Sources here reported that ARVN troops in An Loc are gradually enlarging their defensive perimeter in house-to-house fighting.
“Little Tan Khai Joins List of Bloody Landmarks”, by Allen Schaefer, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes Thursday, May 25, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.