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The art of organizing and deploying forces in counter attack operation against the US. Operation Junction City, 1967

In early 1967, with strong determination, firm defensive posture, and creative counterattack tactics, the armed forces and the people in the Southeastern region defeated the US. Operation Junction City. Though the operation took place in a mountainous and forestry areas with little resident, our forces, still composed of “three forces” (the active force, the local force, and the militia), conducted counterattacks and won significant victories. The operation represented a number of unique and creative tactics.

Junction City Victory Monument in Tan Chau (Tay Ninh) (photo: baotayninh.vn)

In early 1967, the war against the US. Expeditionary force in South Vietnam was in the fiercest period. Despite heavy losses in the ‘search and destroy operations’, with its aggressive nature, the U.S. showed no intention to stop its plan to attack our bases and destroy our headquarters. Carrying out its plan, on Feb, 22nd 1967, the US. and the Republic of Vietnam’s forces launched Operation Junction City, mobilizing forces to attack Duong Minh Chau War Zone – the Headquarters of the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) and the Regional Military Headquarters (RMH), aiming to gain a decisive victory, to take advantage of the situation. To do that, it mobilized a huge amount of forces, including 45,000 personnel, more than 1,000 tanks and armored fighting vehicles, hundreds of artillery units and helicopters, and massive air strikes, forming encirclement around Duong Minh Chau war zone. On our side, on the basis of thoroughly understanding the situation, particularly the strong and weak points of our forces, the enemy, and the terrain, the Regional Military Party Committee and RMH decided to launch a counter attack operation in Tay Ninh province. It resulted in our great victory. In almost two months of the operation, though our force was only 1/3 in comparison to the enemy, with resolute determination to fight, firm defensive positions, and creative and cunning fighting tactics, our forces eliminated more than 14,000 enemy’s troops (most of them were the US. troops), destroyed nearly 1,000 armored vehicles, shot down and damaged 160 helicopters…, firmly protected the war zone. It was victory of significant importance, defeating the US. troops utmost effort in its ‘search and destroy’ operations, forcing it to strengthen the war, get bogged down, and then withdraw its troops home. That victory was resulted from various factors, of which the most typical one was the art to organize and deploy forces.

1. To be active in deploying forces to fight against the enemy in almost non-populated areas, putting the enemy into passive and surprised situation. This is a typical feature in the art of organizing and deploying forces. In this operation, the forces’ balance was always in the enemy’s advantage. It mobilized an overwhelming number of troops, tanks, armored infantry vehicles, howitzers, and helicopters. To defeat it, we had to deploy combined forces, creating a posture to attack the enemy in all types of terrain.

However, since the fighting areas were almost non-populated, the formation and use of the ‘three forces’ to fight against the enemy encountered difficulties. In order to solve that issue, COSVN and RMH decided to form ‘specialist people living areas’, aiming at forming a force to engage the enemy right at their living area, combining their counter attacks closely with the fighting of the active force. Accordingly, cadres and personnel of COSVN and the National Liberation Front were deployed to communes and districts. They then formed local force and militia units. Personnel of RMH were divided into local forces. Their task was to be mobile to engage the enemy in the area that they were formed. By doing this, only in a short period of time, we could form 03 battalions, 13 companies of local forces, and 3,200 militias. That was a unique and creative feature of the operation and a surprise to the enemy. It was engaged everywhere, from all directions (in front, in the rear, and behind). It met difficulty in identifying which one was the active and which one was the local force; it even was forced to leave a certain amount of force to protect its positions and roads. So their strength directly engaging in combat reduced, their combat morale was bad. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the local force, in combination with the militias, proactively engaged the enemy and sharply reduced its fighting power. The battle on March 3rd, 1967 of the S3 Signal Unit was a typical one. Its 19 soldiers pushed back 8 attacks of the enemy, destroyed a US. company and heavily damaged another, captured a large amount of weapons and military equipment.

2. Flexibly deploying active force to engage the enemy in the outer and inner circle, on the flanks, and behind its formations, launching several counterattacks. As a part of the US. ‘search and destroy’ operation, Operation Junction City’s aim was to destroy the headquarters of the Communist uprising in South Vietnam and its active force in Southeastern region. Therefore, we could neither defeat it from the beginning nor wait for it to come then destroy it. To improve the combat strength of the active force (when the balance was in the US. troops’ advantage), the High Command of the Operation managed to deploy active force in close combination with the local force, to be mobile and flexible in combating inside and outside the enemy’s encirclement throughout the operation. That was also a unique and creative art of mobilizing and deploying forces, to make it relevant to the terrain and our condition. By applying this art, despite much smaller strength, we were able to attack selected targets while maintaining combat strength. During the Operation, while the US. deployed a huge amount of troops and weapons to search and destroy our forces, our active force calmly and actively launched counterattacks on its key positions, causing its heavy losses and damages. A notable battle was the counterattack, launched on Feb, 28th, 1967, by the 16 Regiment. It deeply attacked the starting position of the enemy, killed more than 200, and destroyed 31 vehicles. Another example was the counterattack in Dong Pan, our troops not only attacked the enemy starting position, but also the logistic facility of the operation, seriously affect its troops’ will to fight. Afraid of being attacked by our active force, one armored infantry brigade of the Republic of Vietnam’s force stayed still, did not dare to conduct the operation. It was then lifted back by helicopters.

Another special feature in organizing and deploying forces in this Operation was represented in the second phrase. Instead of vigorously launched the attacks as in the first phrase, the enemy was forced to organize force in groups, forming an encirclement in an area of 450 square kilometers, then gradually narrowed the encirclement to destroy our force. Coping with the enemy’s plan, our active force quickly changed tactics, luring the enemy to our prepared areas then mobilizing forces to destroy it. The battle of Dong Rum on March 20, 1967 night is an example. While the enemy was not familiar with the terrain and weather, the Regional Command decided to deploy two infantry regiments for a decisive battle in our planned area. The enemy was suffered seriously with one artillery battalion and three armored companies (72 vehicles) were heavily damaged, 10 helicopters were shot down and 1,200 were killed. After the battle, the enemy group in southern direction was almost unable to fight any more; the enemy in other directions got stuck, could not support each other, and lost the operation.

3. Highly valuing the formation and deployment of armored vehicle and helicopter hunting group, creating block posture, defeating all the enemy’s attacking points.

In the Operation, besides mobilizing forces, the US. also deployed the assaulted forces, including tanks, armored infantry vehicles, helicopters, and artillery fire to attack our position, aiming at destroying our Headquarters in a short period of time. That was really a huge challenge, requiring the Operation's High Command to have a good fighting plan with scientific combating structure, creative and cunning fighting tactics to gradually defeat the enemy, leading its operation to a comprehensive failure.

On the basis of studying and understanding the enemy’s tactics, the Operation High Command formed hunting groups to hunt AIV and helicopters, making a breakthrough to attack the enemy’s weakest points, forcing it to follow our tactics. That was a creative fighting tactic, originating from the realities of the operation that would never happen before. The hunting groups included brave and active soldiers, who could use different types of weapon and knew the terrain clearly. In addition, they were well equipped with anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons. Before the operation, each active company was equipped with 09 anti-tank weapons (RPG-2 and RPG-7). For local forces of Binh Duong and Tay Ninh provinces, each was equipped with 70 anti-tank weapons. These weapons made great contribution to the victory of the operation. By using them, the local force and militias could closely collaborate with the active force to launch daring attacks that caused heavy loses to the enemy. Typical hunting battles include the counterattacks launched by militias of Suoi May and Ta Dat districts. In Suoi May battle, the militias destroyed 27 enemy’s armored vehicles when they got into their area. On road No.13, Loc Ninh local force cooperated with No.3 regiment of active force launched an attack, killing 400 and destroying 92 vehicles. Especially, in Rum Duon and An Khac, the local force in collaboration with the active force ambushed and shot down 09 helicopters, killed 160. Continuous counterattacks launched by the ‘three forces’, particularly by hunting groups, caused heavy losses to the enemy.

50 years passed but the victory of the operation to defeat US. Operation Junction City still bears in mind of many people. It left valuable lessons for us to study and creatively apply in today cause of Homeland protection./.

Col. Nguyen Van Su, MA

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