PANO - Three months later, after launching the first operation at the Hoa Da station, Battalion 200c was assigned to attack the Song Mao (Mao River) entrenched fortification and again achieved an even sounder victory. The Song Mao victory has in fact entered the Vietnamese Encyclopedia and the Vietnamese General Military Dictionary; these dictionaries lack important information or provide incorrect details though. The operation on the Song Mao base, where part of the command of enemy division 23, a company of US military advisors and the command of enemy regiment 44 were stationed, has become a precious lesson, an operational model for special and task forces.
|War veterans of battalion 200c return to the old Song Mao base
Second Sai Gon in the Central Region
Enemy division 23 staffed with more than 10,000 Vietnamese and US soldiers was considered a “steel blow” to the military forces of the old Sai Gon regime, which was mainly responsible for 6 provinces in the Central Highlands. Song Mao was a large base, which accommodated the whole of regiment 44, part of the 23rd division command, a company of US advisors and soldiers as well as a large number of military assets and efforts of the division, including task force units, thousands of military vehicles, artillery, canons and a military airport.
Our Hoa Da victory certainly more or less made the enemies in Song Mao become more alert. But with a complement of more than 1,000 Vietnamese and US garrisoned troops, a large number of military assets and weapons and their very stringent security precautions, enemies at Song Mao considered the base a reliable entrenched fortification or “Second Sai Gon”. Even regiment 44, under the command of division 23, was preparing for a large scale operation on the High Command of then Military Region 6 in an effort to take revenge for the Hoa Da station defeat.
The enemy, however, did not know that battalion 200c, which was stationed only 10 km away from them, was also collecting intelligence and information to draft a combat plan to strike the Song Mao base. Earlier, in an afternoon in the beginning of November 1968, there was a secret meeting at our Le Hong Phong base, in a dense forest, between the Commander of the High Command of Military Zone 6, Nam Nga, and the battalion 200c command. They carefully discussed the combat resolve and combat plan for an attack on the enemy Song Mao base. Although the draft combat plan was totally agreed, the High Command was still worried that the battalion was staffed with only 100 soldiers, while the enemy’s strength at the base amounted to 1,000 personnel, together with modern military equipment and weapons. The High Command later reinforced them with 18 personnel, one DKZ75 and 2 82 mm mortars. At the end of the meeting, Chief of battalion 200c, Senior-Lieutenant Nguyen Van Bong, promised a victory to the High Command.
Determined to fight and determined to win
On a misty night at the end of autumn, there were several black figures silently moving here and there in the Hoa Da base; they were scouts of battalion 200c led by Deputy-Commander Pham Van Hop. Earlier, they had to spend 4 nights cutting through multi-layer barbed fences and neutralising other obstacles, including mines and bells. With the full knowledge of the enemy situation gained by the scouts, habits, arms disposition and so on, battalion 200c started to build the model and exercise their combat plan.
On the night of November 24th, 1968, more than 100 soldiers of battalion 200c, divided into 3 directions of attack and had already broken into the Song Mao base and took up positions at designated locations. The whole base was quiet and enemy troops were asleep. At 24.30 hours on the early morning of November 25th, a shot of B41, the order to start the assault, tore the quietness of the night. Right after the shot, all kinds of our weapons and explosives fired off and thundered every where in the base. The whole base was then in a sea of fire and flashes. Enemy troops were awakened by explosions, shouting and running about in full fear. They were put in confusion and did not know what to do. Meanwhile, our soldiers quickly moved from place to place to annihilate designated targets.
Our first direction of attack was to target the enemy command and the communications company. It took them only 20 minutes to annihilate the two targets and either destroy or seize almost all communications equipment and devices.
The second contingent of battalion 200c attacked the enemy artillery station and other fire-power weapons. Our soldiers destroyed a 175mm canon, 3 105mm canons, 2 106.7mm mortars and many other smaller fire-power weapons. With a small number of men, our soldiers quickly launched a tactical and then retreated out of the base without any losses.
The third direction of attack was responsible for the enemy logistics sites, vehicles and the engineering company. After 30 minutes, they wiped out the enemy engineering company, destroyed many logistic stores, paralyzed vehicles, and particularly, exploded an enemy ammunition store. The ammunitions then exploded through the night and did not stop until 11 am next morning.
Bui Tien Loi, who participated in the battle now lives in Bac Ninh, recounted: “When we advanced into the Song Mao base, we realised that the number of enemies in the base was much larger than that informed by scouts. Later, we knew that enemy regiment 44 had been reinforced to prepare for a raid into our rear bases. Therefore, more enemies than expected were annihilated.”
After the assault, our spies informed us that more than 1,000 enemy troops, including nearly 100 US ones, were killed, most of the enemy heavy artillery and mortar fields were destroyed, the regiment command was wiped out, communication assets, weapons and ammunition stores and armour cars units were heavily damaged, which forced the enemy to cancel the prepared attack on our rear bases. Even the then Sai Gon Voice (the enemy radio station) acknowledged the heavy losses in its news next day. Although battalion 200c obtained such a big victory, surprisingly they suffered only several injuries due to shrapnel from explosions. Before the attack, the unit had dug 15 graves in case there had been martyrs from the battle. Luckily, all of the participating soldiers returned alive.
Talking about the battle, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Trong Xuyen, the ex-Commander of Military Zone 6, emphasised that this battle became not only a model for our special and task forces but also bore a strategic meaning in the battlefield of the Southern Center. After the battle, the enemy had changed their notion of our forces and the revolutionary movement and understood that the so-called “safe heaven” and “secure time” for them after the Mau Than Campaign were ended.
Reported by Nguyen Van Minh
Translated by Thu Nguyen
1. The battalion going into battle