Since the Viet Cong blew out three bridges on Route 19 in June 1965, the central highlands' vital western tier of towns---Kontum, Pleiku, and Ban Me Thuot---was accessible only by air. Despite an airlift that brought hundreds of tons a week into Pleiku, supplies grew critically short in July and MACV decided that Route 19 had to be reopened at any price.
|Map of Major South Vietnamese Highways. Route 19 highlighted in red box. (Image from 1965 MACV Command History, p. 304.)|
MACV deployed more than 7,000 South Vietnamese troops on 18 July 1965 to protect civilian and military truck convoys bearing supplies from Qui Nhon to Pleiku, and Movements Branch organized airlift to support the convoy and security troops that tied up virtually every transport aircraft in South Vietnam for days. Although the effort succeeded and daily truck convoys rolled from Qui Nhon to Pleiku, the magnitude of the effort underscored how thoroughly the Viet Cong cut South Vietnam's land lines of communication into isolated shards. Only a fraction of the nation's 4,000 paved miles were freely passable in the summer of 1965; of more than 600 miles of railroad trackage, only 100 miles remained usable.