Week of July 9
This week's selection is taken from John M. Carland's Combat Operations: Stemming the Tide, May 1965 to October 1966.
The Battle of Minh Thanh Road
As units from the 1st Infantry Division continued to hunt the Việt Cộng in the Binh Long province of the III Corps Tactical Zone, General William E. DePuy gave Colonel Sidney B. Berry of the 1st Infantry Brigade a special assignment to trick the enemy into ambushing an American convoy that seemed to be vulnerable and destroy them. Col. Berry decided that the best place to spring the trap was along the Minh Thanh Road.
Berry decided to offer such a tempting target that an ambush would be inevitable. The deception plan would show that the 1st Infantry Division was sending a convoy of bulldozers and supply trucks, protected by Task Force Dragoon, from An Lộc to Minh Thanh to repair the airfield there. To lure the enemy to the convoy, General DePuy fed information about the convoy to a suspected enemy sympathizer on the Binh Long province chief's staff.
As the convoy took the turn toward Minh Thanh on July 9th 1966, fire from American artillery bases pounded areas along the road where the Việt Cộng might be lurking, jets streaked overhead dropping napalm, and helicopter gunships prowled both sides of the road. Task Force Dragoon's tanks fired at right angles to the convoys' progress.
When the ambush began, tanks and armored personnel carriers immediately angled to alternate sides of the road in a herringbone formation per standard procedure. By 1230 the Việt Cộng guerrillas realized that a successful assault would be impossible and withdrew an hour later.
Three of Colonel Berry's infantry battalions reinforced Task Force Dragoon and moved to block the enemy's withdrawal. Dense jungle reduced the American infantry battalions' progress to a crawl.
As the firing tapered off, 1st Infantry Division forces tried to draw the enemy into another fight. Between 1210 and 1230 Colonel Robert Haldane's 1st Battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment air-assaulted into a landing zone north of the ambush and then headed southwest. Việt Cộng guerrillas sniped at the Americans, but did not try to stop their progress.
Around 1330 air observers spotted large groups of Việt Cộng guerrillas moving northwest from the battlefield. Not all the Việt Cộng guerrillas were withdrawing because a half hour later Colonel Haldane's men encountered a force of unknown size near the original ambush site. A two-hour firefight followed before the Việt Cộng guerrillas withdrew.
Major John C. Bard's 1st of the 18th Infantry Regiment had better luck. Moving slowly through the choking undergrowth toward the battle area, the battalion ran into a small group of Việt Cộng shortly before 1600. Major Bard called in an artillery barrage and then close assaulted the disrupted Việt Cộng guerrillas as soon as the barrage lifted.
Col. Rufus G. Lazzell's 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment air-assaulted north of the action and immediately maneuvered south to seal off the battlefield. Dense jungle and occasional sniping by small groups of Việt Cộng guerrillas slowed Lazzell's progress, and it took him longer than expected to reach his destination.
Col. Jack L. Conn's 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment also had orders to help seal off the battlefield. His men, the last of whom did not arrive until 1755, formed a defense line near their landing zone. Despite the effort, the American battalion was unable to prevent the Việt Cộng guerrillas from slipping through the net.
The battle of Minh Thanh Road was over. Gen. DePuy had inflicted a defeat on the 9th Việt Cộng Division and frustrated the offensive in the northern part of III Corps Tactical Zone.1
1John M Carland, Combat Operations: Stemming the Tide, May 1965 to October 1966 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History United States Army, 2000) pp.319-325.
Map illustrating the 1st Infantry Division's fight on the Minh Thanh Road, July 9, 1966. (Center of Military History)