PANO – To conduct the strategy “Special war”, the US Army resorted to the tactics “transporting helicopter” and “transporting armored car” opened a number of marches, aiming at decimating revolutionary forces and backing the attempt to driving people into “strategic villages.”

At first, our forces did not learn about the enemy’s schemes and tricks. Leaders and commanders at levels were confused so they could not work out appropriate directions instructing the army and people to respond to the enemy’s new schemes and operational tactics. After a short time of confusion, our command and leadership was determined to find out the responding operational tactics to defeat marches with support of helicopters and armored cars conducted by the Sai Gon puppet troops led by US military advisors. The Military Zone 8 Command set high resolve to lead and command forces to “find and annihilate” enemies and “destroy enemy-set up strategic villages; at the same time, it enhanced tactical training, especially the tactics of shooting down helicopters and M.113 armored cars with infantry guns, and instructed forces to draw up combat plans to fight the enemy in communes and villages, where our units often stationed. Under the instruction of the Military Zone 8 Command, the battle to counter an enemy raid on Ap Bac village on January 2nd, 1963 became the first battle, in which our forces defeated the enemy’s tactics of “transporting helicopter” and “transporting armored car.” The battle is narrated as the follows:

Air-lifted troops. Photo: Archived photo

In an attempt to put our regular units out of action, the US-Sai Gon joint force launched a large-scale raid, coded “Duc Thang 1/13”, on Ap Bac village, Tan Phu commune, Cai Lay district, My Tho province. The enemy used 3 battalions of Division 7 of Tactical Zone 4, one parachute battalion of the strategic reserved force under the Sai Gon General Staff, one security contingent of Dinh Tuong province, several commando companies, quasi-military force and 51 US military advisors. In addition, 3 enemy battleships, a M.113 armored car unit, 15 combat helicopters, 7 C.123 helicopters, 5 HU-Iroquois armed helicopters, 8 bombers and 4 L.19 jets participated in the battle, supporting the forces in action.

For our part, with high resolve and prepared combat plans to defeat the enemy’s attempts and tactics of “transporting helicopter” and “transporting armored car,” our participating force totaling some 350 troops led by Hai Hoang Commander, comprising 2 companies (one of Battalion 216 and the other of Battalion 514), one 60mm mortar battery, a platoon of the local force and a platoon of local militiamen, firmly kept the combat positions and broke 5 fierce offensive drives conducted by the enemy.

On January 2nd, 1963, 2 enemy security companies from Dien Hy attacked Hoi Dong Vang village, starting the first offensive drive. Friendly Company 1 of Battalion 261 stopped 3 attacking directions, annihilating a majority of the enemy participating force, sank a battleship and damaged another. In the second attacking drive, the enemy sent 5 HU-1 Iroquois armed helicopters to support 10 H.21 transport helicopters carrying 2 infantry battalions to Ap Bac in an attempt to form a pincer movement engulfing our troops. However, right after enemy helicopter lowered down, our troops suddenly fired at them. In 5 minutes, our troops shot down 3 H.21, 2 HU-1 Iroquois, and damaged several others.

With the heavy losses in the two attacking drives, US advisors and commanders of the Sai Gon army decided to entrust 3 battalions of Division 7 to action. Waiting the enemy troops all ran into an ambush, our force, comprising Company 1 of Battalion 514 and local militia, fired at them and defeated the third attacking drive. In the fourth attack, the enemy resorted to artillery to shell our positions. After heavy shelling, 13 M.113 armored cars and one reinforced infantry battalion advanced toward the friendly force’s lineup. Our troops hid in trenches during the shelling so the casualties were not significant and when enemy troops came, our force’s firepower of various kinds at the same time fired at the enemy advancing lineup. 2 M.113 armored cars were on fire, several others were hit, enemy troops drew back and dispersed, forming a circle around Ap Bac.

Victory monument in Ap Bac, Cai Lay Town. Photo: Tien Giang University

After the 4 failures, Chief of the Joint Staff Committee Tran Thien Khiem and Commander of the Parachute Force Le Van Ty were in charge of the fifth attacking drive. The enemy was reinforced with a 106.7mm mortar company, 7 aircraft carrying Parachute Battalion 8. But the enemy parachute unit fell into our force’s already made ambush so a majority of the parachute troops were killed and injured by Company 1 of Battalion 514. At the same time, Company 1 of Battalion 261 stopped the advancements of M.113 armored cars.

After the 5 attacking drives, two thirds of the enemy parachute force were put out of action; the armored and infantry also suffered big losses; the remaining enemy troops lost fighting spirit and withdrew to safe positions to camp for the night, and intended to launch more attacks on the next day.

After carefully assessing the situation, our command decided that the scale of force was in favor of the enemy and that they would mobilize much more forces to vigorously attack our force stationed in Ap Bac. So our commanders at all levels agreed to withdraw our troops to our revolutionary base, our safe haven, in Dong Thap Muoi, Mekong Delta, on the night of January 2nd.

The results of the Ap Bac battles showed that our forces put out of action 450 enemy troops, including 11 US advisors and technicians, shot down 5 aircraft, destroyed 3 M.113 armored cars and sank a battleship.

More importantly, the Ap Bac victory left a mighty echo across the revolutionary movement in Military Region 8 in particular and the entire Southern battlefield in general. First Secretary of the Party Central Committee noted: “Since the Ap Bac victory, the US Army has realized that they are not able to defeat us.” On April 17th, 1963, CIA concluded in a special report: Viet Cong has demonstrated that they are a powerful enemy and have an effective guerrilla force… They have also showed that they have been flexible in adjusting tactics in response to the new military concepts of the Sai Gon Army.

In the Ap Bac battle, our forces for the first time defeated the enemy’s tactics “transporting helicopter” and “transporting armored car”, opening a high in decimating the enemy force during their raids, shooting down enemy aircraft, destroying armored cars, and breaking enemy’s set up strategic villages. The battle was at the tactical level but had a strategic meaning because the victory marked a big development of the revolutionary force in terms of both posture and power and encouraged Southern military and people to promote the emulation movement “Following the example of Ap Bac, annihilating enemies to achieve feats. Moreover, it led the enemy to the beginning of a tactic crisis and signaled the bankruptcy of the enemy’s strategy “Special war”

Written by Ngo Quoc Tuan

Translated by Thu Nguyen