Thursday, March 10, 2011

From The Editor: The Siege of Duc Co, 10-17 August 1965

In early August 1965, the Viet Cong encircled a U.S. Army Special Forces camp at Duc Co, west of Pleiku, and attacked a South Vietnamese military relief convoy on Highway 19 between Pleiku and Duc Co.  [See map.] Movements Branch programmed U.S. Air Force  C-123 flights that made airdrops along the highway, resupplied the blocked convoy, and made paradrops of supplies and medical equipment to the besieged camp.  As Clark noted in his diary on 7 August, one C-123 aircraft received mortar damage and more than twenty small-arms hits during a medical evacuation at Duc Co. 

The South Vietnamese army sent three of its airborne infantry battalions to Duc Co by helicopter, but these units found themselves trapped by the Viet Cong.  The South Vietnamese Joint General Staff appealed to MACV for help, and General Westmoreland decided that only U.S. intervention could salvage the situation.  Westmoreland and his J-3, Brigadier General DePuy, ordered Movements Branch to shut down all scheduled logistical airlift and prepare for emergency tactical movement of American combat troops to Pleiku.

On 10 August 1965, U.S. Air Force C-123s and C-130s airlifted elements of the 173d Airborne Brigade, including Lieutenant Colonel Lee Surut's 3d Battalion, 319th Artillery, and elements of Colonel Jim Simmons' 2d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Bien Hoa to Pleiku.  The two-day effort required 150 airlift sorties.  As Clark wrote in his diary, he worked almost continuously over forty-eight hours to organize the airlift to move the troops and vast quantities of equipment, including ammunition, artillery, armor, and trucks, to two airfields at Pleiku.  From Pleiku, the brigade-sized task force moved west overland along Highway 19 toward Duc Co.

The Viet Cong forces withdrew once U.S. troops entered the combat area, and the siege of Duc Co lifted.

The brigade-sized American task force reopened Highway 19 from Duc Co to Pleiku, and on 17 August, provided protection for the South Vietnamese paratroopers to withdraw.  The task force patrolled around Kontum during the remainder of August, and returned by airlift to Bien Hoa on 6 September 1965.

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