PANO - During the war against the US invaders, there was a special force unit that appeared in 1968 and operated in Southern Center, the area where the Ho Chi Minh path ended. The unit was called “battalion 200c”, and it terrified the enemy with its bravery, boldness, ingenuity and skillful military tactics. It was called the “Miraculous Sword” on the battlefield of the Southern Center. Soldiers of the battalion and its victories have now become legendary and are part of the glorious history of the nation and the military.
|Mac Tan Mui (left) and the old commander Pham Van Hop who retuns to the old battlefield and meets the old war prisoner.
Great victory in first battle
It was August 1968 and the sun was burning hot in the southern central locality of Binh Thuan. It was even hotter after the Mau Than Campaign of 1968 as the enemy was like a wounded brute after their heavy losses in the campaign, while reinforcing and widely tracking down our forces everywhere, which made our operations more difficult. The enemy built and fortified outposts and stations and usually launched large scale mops-up in an attempt to sweep out our forces and cripple the revolutionary movement.
Recalling the old days 42 year ago, Mac Tan Mui, of Binh Le Village, Phan Ri Thanh Commune, Bac Binh, Binh Thuan, who was forced to become an enemy quasi-militant, said that the enemy erected a station in Hoa Da Town garrisoned with some 400 troops and armed with heavy weapons. In addition, the station was protected with 5 layers of fences, minefields and blockhouses. It was assigned to control road No1 and to coordinate with regiment 44 of division 23 to prevent revolutionary forces’ operations from the Central Highlands to the coastal areas.
After the 1968 Campaign, the enemy increased their alertness. At the Hoa Da station, the enemy positioned watch-posts with soldiers on sentry duty 24 hours a day and fired flares once every 15 minutes during the night. With the positioning of such arms and forces, the enemy considered the station to be an impenetrable fortress.
On the evening of August 23rd, 1968, in the build-up to the mid-autumn festival, Mui and other soldiers went to bed at 9 pm as usual. But at midnight the whole station was shaken and he heard many heavy explosions. The station went black and there were only flashes of light from explosions. But he had no orders from his seniors. He heard frightened shouts “Việt Cộng” or VC (Vietnamese Communist forces) and cries and groans of pain from wounded soldiers. But he heard no shot from an AK47. A soldier shouted, “Run down to trenches, VC shelling”. Mui and his fellows took shelter in a trench. However, a few minutes later he heard many people running on the top of the trench, Mui peered out through a hole and became terrified when seeing many people painted black, carrying AK47s. A Northern voice on the top of the trench loudly shouted, “There may be enemies in the trench, throw a grenade in.” As quick as he could, Mui rushed out of the trench, put his hands over his head and begged for surrender. Following him, others also left the trench, knelt and pleaded for their lives.
Mui and 11 others became war prisoners for some time and all of them were then released to go home. Later, he was told the story about that terrifying night. Hoa Da station was almost totally destroyed, 300 troops were killed, 24 others were captured, while only some escaped and all weapons and military equipment were demolished or taken away by VC, with even the district commander’s home being blown up by bombs. Surprisingly, that was the first time special force battalion 200c went into battle, right after it was founded. Furthermore, they only used explosives and grenades and did not have to fire their personal rifles but still achieved a great victory.
100 beat 500
Although the enemy suffered heavy losses, they still did not know how soldiers of 200c had been able to break into and destroy the heavily-protected station. They then decided that there must have been agents or spies in their organisation, and, at that time the 24 war prisoners, including Mr. Mui, were returned by our forces. “They decided that we all were agents for VC so they detained, interrogated and violently and brutally tortured us,” Mui recalled his story from 42 years ago in a bitter voice.
As he was painfully beaten, he finally was forced to admit, incorrectly, that he worked for VC. But he was not able to answer such difficult questions as who had launched the assault; how many VC soldiers participated in the attack and how VC forces conducted the operations. Without the answers to these questions, the enemy guessed that the VC had used a regiment to attack the station with the support of artillery.
Meanwhile, there was an article in the People’s Army Newspaper saying that the Chief-of-Staff of a battalion, with the code name “H”, led a contingent to achieve a great victory when attacking an enemy station in the Southern Center. The Chief-of-Staff was Pham Van Hop, who used to be Deputy-Commander of special force battalion 200c. Recounting the old battlefield, Mr. Hop said that 200c was unknown to the enemy but was a “Miraculous Sword” of our then High Command of Military Zone 6. He affirmed that there were no agents or collaborators, as the enemy believed, and that the number of our soldiers participating in the battle was only 100 and armed with explosives, grenades, B40, B41 and a canon DKZ75. Before launching the attack, scouts of battalion 200c had to spend some nights infiltrating the station and mapped out an exact detailed picture of the station as well as the enemy situation so the battalion command could draw up the combat plan. According to the old commander, it took our special force soldiers only 40 minutes to defuse mines and cut through multi-layer barbwire fences to open an attack line for our troops. Next, as he recounted the battle, our forces, from 3 different directions at the same time, fired explosives, B40, B41 and DKZ at designated targets, on his command. The enemy forces in the station were completely surprised and there was little or no reaction. Many were killed, some were arrested and others quickly found ways to escape; that was why our forces did not need to fire riffles.
The attack almost totally eliminated the station and the enemy garrisoned troops so that the enemy had to spend a long time to reconstruct and reinforce the station once again. In the battle, 5 of our soldiers laid down their lives. Of these, 4 remains were found but one was still missing. The missing soldier, named Nang, has now joined the sand and wind of the Southern Center and, together with local people, now builds a prosperous and happy community in the locality. Standing right at the old battlefield, Mr. Hop whispered, “Brother Nang, lie in peace. We, your old comrades, and the whole nation will never forget you and other martyrs, who laid down their lives for national long-standing independence, freedom, prosperity and happiness.”
Reported by Van Minh
Translated by Thu Nguyen