Brief History of the 1st Bn 69th Armor

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The nickname of the 69th Armor is Black Panthers, derived from the panther stalking up a green hill on the unit crest. The unit motto is Vitesse Et Puissance, which means "speed and power". We had both in abundance. If you've never witnessed five main battle tanks charging line-abreast, guns blazing, you would not understand. The motto of the Armor branch is Firepower, Mobility, Shock Action, for good reason.

The 1st Bn of the 69th Armor was originally part of the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry (Tropic Ligthning) Division which was deployed to Nam in 1966 from Hawaii. During a period of intense manuevering by both the 25th Infantry and the 4th Infantry, each division found that the other division's 3rd Brigade was closer than its own, so they swapped 3rd Brigades and the 69th Armor became part of the Ivy Division.

The 4th Infantry had its base at Camp Enari outside of the Central Highlands town of Pleiku. The camp was named for 1Lt Mark Enari, killed in action on December 2, 1966. The most memorable thing about Pleiku was the torrential monsoon rains and the red mud, which turned to choking red dust in the dry season. A tank kicks up alot of dust. I actually only saw Camp Enari three times: when I arrived in-country on July 31, 1968 and went through Cherry School; In November of 1968, when I went back to leave on R&R in Hawaii; and in February of 1969 when I returned for DEROS. The rest of the time I spent in the field.

My company, Charlie, was based at LZ Uplift, a dreary, sprawling firebase located directly on (no kidding, the road ran through the base) Highway 1. But we spent very little time at Uplift. We were permanently attached to the 1st Bn 503rd Infantry (Airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) and were always out in the field with them. We performed numerous sweeps of the lowlands from as far north Tam Quan, to as far south as the suburbs of Quin Nhon. We also pulled strongpoint duty on Highways 1 and 19, the latter running from Quin Nhon on the coast of the South China Sea, west past Ane Khe and through the Ane Khe pass and the Mang Yang pass to Pleiku. At night we usually guarded the numerous highway bridges, the most famous being the twin bridges at Bong Son.

In November of 1968 our entire battalion moved to LZ Oasis, a firebase southwest of Pleiku on Highway 19W, near the Cambodian border. Our platoon, the 1st platoon of Charlie Company, was left behind and attached to the 1st Bn (Mechanized) 50th Infantry. We worked with them until March of 1969 in the Central Highlands along route 19E. We provided road security, Mobile Reaction Force, and bridge guard. We were basically on our own, and had to develope the ability to fend for ourselves with respect to obtaining repair parts, ammunition, food, fuel, and water.

The remainder of the battalion saw heavy action around LZ Oasis, and A and B companies compiled an impressive combat record in support of 4th Infantry Division operations there. The after-action reports and daily journals are filled with contact reports involving these two companies, which accounted for a large number of NVA/VC KIA.

Armor was not used in Vietnam in the classic sense. There were no large scale pitched battles between opposing tank forces, although Bravo company 1st Bn 69th Armor was involved in the only tank battle of the Vietnam War (prior to U.S. withdrawal) at a place called Ben Het on the Laotian Border. They engaged 5 Soviet built PT-76 light tanks (76mm gun) and destroyed two before the remaining tanks fled out of range.

Our armor was used for convoy escort, strongpoint duty, and the occasional foray into the bush to provide direct-fire support for mounted and dismounted infantry. We also served as the Rapid Reaction Force which responded to calls for help from practically anywhere in the TAOR, or Tactical Area Of Responsibility. The terrain in Vietnam was not what we call "Tank Country". Iraq is tank country, but Vietnam is certainly not. For this reason our missions were, for the most part, ones that we were never trained for.

I had trained in Germany for two years to engage Soviet armor at ranges of between 1,000 meters and 3,000 meters. In Vietnam we engaged targets at less than 100 meters and rarely could use our sights, which were designed to magnify targets at ranges of 1,000 meters and beyond. We basically just pointed the tube at a target and fired without using the fire control system.

Often just the presence of our vehicles caused the enemy to delay or cancel scheduled attacks. He preferred to deal with dismounted infantry, or lightly armored APCs rather than suffer the punishment our cannon and machine guns could inflict.

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Creation Date: Friday, March 29, 1996
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 21, 1996
Copyright © Ray Smith, 1996