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Below is the briefing prepared by 1Lt Robert Van Buskirk for General Creighton Abrams following Operation Tailwind. This document is available in the National Archives and is not classified.
Sir, I am LT Van Buskirk fom MACVSOG CCC at Kontum. I was a platoon leader during Operation Tailwind which entered target area Tango-1 eighteen kilometers east of Chavane on 111245Z Sep 70. The force committed was 16 US and 120 SCU. Our mission was to conduct a reconnaissance in force, to collect information and intelligence, and to create a diversion in support of, and in consonance with, the CAS launched Operation Gaunlet.
Twenty minutes after a 12 man Pathfinder team was delivered to the LZ by 2 UH-1 helicopters, the main body was landed by 3 CH-53 helicopters at (POINT 1). There was no enemy fire received by the Pathfinder ships, however, the first CH-53 received small arms fire approximately 5 minutes from the LZ. Two SCU and the first platoon sergeant reported seeing, from the window of the aircraft just prior to landing, 3 Russian medium tanks and two 2 1/2 ton trucks moving NE on route 966. The LZ and surrounding areas had been prepped with "Rock-eye" armor-piercing, cluster bomb units. All the CH-53 aircraft received minor hits from small arms fire, but due possibly to the LZ prep, enemy anti-aircraft was not observed from these positions known to be in the general area.
The company moved approximately 600 meters to the NW when the 1st platoon point squad located an enemy hut at POINT 2 which contained over two hundred 140mm rockets (POINT 2). Two squads from the first platoon deployed and searched the area locating a total of 8 huts containing:
1. Five hundred 140mm rockets (Start slides) (Slide two)
2. Three hundred B-40 rockets
3. 12,500 rounds of small arms ammunition
4. Approximately 40 bicycles
5. Three hundred 83(sic)mm mortor rounds (SLIDE ONE)
6. Two thousand 23mm anti-aircraft shells (SLIDE ONE)
During this period the enemy could be heard firing signal shots throughout the area and at one time a field phone has heard ringing. The two squads, brought samples from each structure for photographing and identification. The demolition experts set an explosive charge with a 13 1/3 minute delay fuze in each of the two largest structures containing the 140 mm rockets and placed a white phosphorous grenade on each charge to mark the location for the FAC. The company moved north at 1500 hours and 14 minutes later. two large explosions were heard. Secondary explosions were heard for the next five hours. The FAC reported seeing the smoke from the white phosphorous grenades and marked the location for a bomb strike.
The company was engaged by enemy forces which were by passed at (POINT 3) and continued to a RON site at (POINT 4). No enemy contact was made during the night. As The company was preparing to move to the road the morning of D+1 two tracked vehicles, possibly the tanks mentioned earlier, were heard moving slowly from north to south on route 966. The company attempted to destroy the tracked vehicles with light anti-tank weapons, however, the terrain between the company location and the road was a swamp which precluded direct observation.
At POINT 5, an estimated 40 enemy soldiers initiated contact with the lead element. The enemy fired AW weapons rifle grenades, B-40 rockets and a mortar. Two squads deployed from the 1st platoon and maneuvered against the enemy. TAC air, armed with CBU-25 was expended against the enemy's position. This engagement lasted over one hour. The company moved 500 meters SE to a large bomb crater to prepare an LZ.
The enemy initiated two more contacts with the company using AW fire, B-40 rockets, and throwing grenades. During these contacts, which lasted over two hours, the US company commander, 1st platoon leader, 1st Sergeant, medic, and 5 squad leaders were wounded. The extraction was not completed due to bad weather in the area.
The company was in contact with the enemy all night. A large force had surrounded the company and attempted to break into the perimiter. The enemy fired many B-40 rockets and mortar rounds, but main attack was with hand grenades. The 1st and 3rd platoon each reported receiving 300 enemy grenades in their defensive areas and each platoon three 200 hand grenades back at the enemy. The rest of the company reported an estimated 100 explosions caused by mortar rounds, B-40 rockets, and hand grenades that were thrown over the 1st and 3rd platoon positions. During this contact they had only one man wounded, a US squad leader, who had crawled from his foxhole and attempted to capture a POW. The 1st platoon reported only 1 enemy confirmed killed but estimated that 35 enemy were killed by Spectre aircraft which provided support throughout the night. Third platoon reported 30 enemy killed by air in their segment of the perimeter and the 2d platoon reported 2 enemy killed by air and no enemy killed by ground actions. Netther force used small arms fire during the night for fear of exposing their position. The enemy used signals which the company soon understood and was able to warn all units by use of thc radio:
One click or whistle - move
Two clicks or whistles - throw grenades.
Three clicks or whistles - withdraw.
the clicks were made by hitting two pieces of bamboo together
The Spectre aircraft was unable to read the signals from the companies transponders or mini-ponders. The pilot stated that his equipment was old, and he adjusted his A/C fire continuously from flashes of B-40 rockets, exploding hand grenades, and trip flares that the company reported to him. Throughout the night of D+1, 1st and 3rd platoons members could hear the enemy cry out, groan, moan, and other sounds of pain. They could hear many objects being dragged away within 5 meters of their positions. After the A/C would fire, they could hear the enemy run and bang into trees as they fled in panic; they could hear some cry out as they died. Shortly thereafter, they could hear the sound of heavy objects again being dragged away from their positions, then more enemy signals and incoming grenades. The company estimated the aircraft as having killed a minimum of 67 enemy throughout the night.
On D + 2, 13 Sep, the company was directed to move to a new LZ for extraction of the two seriously wounded personnel. During this movement an enemy squad was observed moving to occupy the 3rd platoon's foxholes from the previous night. 1st platoon initiated contact and held the enemy so the company could by-pass them with the wounded. Another enemy squad reinforced the first , and 3 US personnel and one SCU maintained contact until they could bring in TAC air to destroy the enemy squads. The TAC air was successful on the first enemy squad and killed approximately half of the other squad. The 4 men rejoined the company on the way to the LZ. Just after arriving at POINT 8 an enemy squad again initiated contact. CBU-25 was used against the enemy by TAC air. The company secured the LZ at POINT 9 and cleared trees and stumps with Claymore mines and other explosives. At 1255 a CH-53 arrived to remove the seriously wounded, however, the aircraft could not land due to a tail rotor blade striking a tree (SHOW BLANK SLIDE). This ship later crashed 3 kilometers to the NE at POINT 10 after it was hit by a B-40 rocket. All personnel were rescued by a chase ship. During this rescue eight enemy were killed by air. The company was directed to another LZ for evacuation of wounded. The company had travelled approximately 350 meters when more than two enemy squads intiated contact at POINT 11. The first platoon engaged the enemy withtwo squads and directed a successful TAC air strike with CBU-25 on the enemy position.The company arrived at the LZ location at 1400 hours (POINT 12). The first platoon linked back up with the company and deployed into a rear ambush formation. TAC air was directed throughout the areas where earlier contact had occurred. The enemy did not make contact with the company again until the following day. When bad weather prevented evacuation of wounded, the company set up a defensive perimeter at POINT 13. The company began movement to another LZ at daybreak. The company was out of water, had used more than half of their basic load of ammunition; most of us were wounded. Some twice. and many SCU were wounded, however only four seriously. The morale of the company was extremely high due to the success of their contact with the enemy thus far.
Approximately 600 meters from the RON site, the unit received fire from a B-40 rocket at POINT 14, automatic weapons,and hand grenades. The enemy was only 20 meters away.
Two squads deployed on line facing the enemy and returned what soon became sporatic [sic] fire. The platoon leader could hear the enmy talking among themselves, but neither one of his interpreters could translate what they think to be a Laotian dialect. The platoon leader called out to the enemy in English [sic] to "choi hau" [sic] and his interpreter called out in Vietnamese. But each time they called out their positions would come under more automatic weapons fire.
The company could have by-passed the enemy, however, this was the first time the enemy had initiated direct frontal contact. Because of this situation, we believed the enemy was trying to protect a valuable location. We requested permission from the company commander to assualt the position. The company commander approved and two squads, yelling, screaming, and firing their weapons, assualted the position. Some of the enemy returned fire and others broke and ran. The two squads killed those remaining and drove many into a BN size base camp (POINT 15). The assualt continued and the enemy broke into three directions. The reserve squad engaged those that were fleeing in their direction.
Due to the canopy thinning out, the base camp was marked with a white phosphorous grenade and TAC Air was brought to bear on the enemy soldiers fleeing to the front and the right flank. The enemy who had remained in the center of the base camp took up positions in huts which were assaulted and destroyed. The first section killed a confirmed 54 enemy in huts, bunkers and spider holes. Two of these were NVA Sr. Master Sergeants. The 2nd section killed 17 enemy on the left flank. TAC Air killed an estimated 25 fleeing enemy soldiers.
After the base camp was secured, photographs were taken and many valuable intelligence documents were gathered and all livestock was [sic] killed. Three enemy refused to surrender and one broke and ran when an enemy automatic weapon fired on the squad's position. All were killed.
Squad leaders attempted to drag some bodies outside the huts for further identification, however, they were unable to do so because the bodies were spread all over the floors and walls. Intelligence material was removed from sleeping hooches, passed to the company commander, and the assualt continued. The first platoon took no casualties during this assualt, and the second platoon had only one SCU wounded. At this point, B company considered their situation critical and requested extraction.
As the first helicopter arrived at POINT 16, it received ground fire from a long hill to the NW and SW. The company supressed the ground fire with organic weapons and remaining ammunition. The first two CH-53's [sic] were able to lift off the LZ with only minor damage possibly due to CBU-19 being used to prep the area. The third ship apparently sustained damage which caused it to crash 15 kilometers east of the LZ. Five enemy soldiers who had crawled back up the hill and were on the LZ were killed by personnel as they boarded the aircraft. One SCU was fatally wounded as he entered the aircraft and another SCU was killed when the aircraft crashed. A chase ship successfully rescued the passengers and proceeded to Kontum on 141500 Sep 70.
The information I have just presented was obtained by a complete interrogation of every US and SCU member of the company immediately upon return to CCC. As a platoon leader on this operation, I am most proud of my own US and SCU personnel and of the entire company. We feel we did a good job. The personnel were aggressive and effective. We cannot say enough good things about the air support we received. They were magnificent. Without them our job would not have been possible.
Sir, Colonel Sadler would like to present a final wrap up on Operation Tailwind.
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