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1ST ARVN DIVISION Winter 1969 Rendezvous With destiny Magazine

1Lt. Robert Gorman

On 1 January 1970, the First Divi­sion of the Armed Forces of Vietnam marked the 15th anniversary of its activation.  In this relatively short but distinguished military history, the oldest and largest ARVN unit has met many crucial tests.  But none of them have equaled the tremendous challenge of assuming full responsibility for the pacification and security of Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces in which they are now engaged.

The 1st Division is universally recognized as an outstanding ARVN unit.  One contributing factor to the elite unit’s success has been its out­standing leadership.  Major General Ngo Quang Troung has commanded the division since June 1966, after holding every position from platoon leader to chief of staff of the Vietna­mese Airborne Division.

Former commanding generals have been President Nguyen Van Thieu; Lt. Gen. Nguyen Khanh, premier of South Vietnam in 1964 and current roving ambassador; Lt. Gen. Do Gao Tri, ambassador to Korea; and Maj. Gen. Tran Thanh Phong, chief of staff of the Joint General’s Staff.

Gen. Troung was the driving force behind the 1st Division’s dramatic victory over enemy forces who as­saulted the city of Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive.  It was this victory more than anything else that has established the 1st ARVN Division as a force to be reckoned with and has

won the support of the people of Hue and the surrounding countryside.

It was early morning on 1 Feb­ruary when the 10,000‑man force of the 324th NVA Division invaded the city.  The 2nd Battalion of the 6th NVA Regiment stormed the Citadel, moving towards the 1st ARVN Headquarters while the 800th NVA Battalion assaulted Hue airport.  It was near the airstrip that the first major conflict of the 25‑day battle for Hue took place.  The enemy force was met head‑on by the elite, all volunteer Hac Bao or Black Panther Company, the 1st Division’s 100 per cent mobile reaction force.  Using M72 LA W rounds, small arms, hand grenades and bayonets, the Hac Bao drove off the larger force, killing 30.

But by the following morning the enemy controlled all but the 1st AR VN Headquarters which was under strong attack from the 6th NVA Regiment.  Gen. Troung sent the 3rd Regiment, the First Airborne Task Force and the Third Troop, 7th Cavalry to reinforce the Citadel.  With incessant allied bombing and continuous ARVN pressure, the enemy finally fled after staging a bloody counter attack.

On 24 February the 2nd Battalion, 3rd ARVN Regiment seized the area of the Citadel’s main flagpole and ripped down the VC flag that had flown there for 24 days.  In its place they ran up the gold and crimson colors of the Republic of Vietnam.

On 25 February President Thieu flew to the 1st ARVN Headquarters to congratulate Gen. Troung on the victory.  In all, 16 NVA battalions and two divisions had been committed against Hue.  Allied forces killed 2,642 enemy soldiers in 25 days.

The present mission of the division as articulated by Gen. Troung, is to clear and protect the provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien known as the 11th Division Tactical Area.  The division provides direct support to the Revolu­tionary Development Cadres in the provinces and trains the People’s Self‑Defense forces which live within the villages and hamlets.

Other division responsibilities in­clude securing Hue against possible future attacks, protecting QLI and interdicting enemy infiltration routes across the DMZ and Laotian borders.

The division is organized into four infantry regiments; the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the 54th, which was added to the division after the Tet offensive in 1968 to garrison the crucial Phu Tu District.  The 17th Infantry Battalion and 7th and 11th Cavalry Squadrons bolster division forces along with five artillery battalions and one artillery company.

Also organic to the division are the 41st Regional Force Company and 163rd Popular Force Platoon in Thua Thien Province and the 29th Regional Force Company and 168th Popular Force Platoon in Quang Tri Province.

On the waterways, the division is supported by three naval boat teams and a naval battalion.

The division’s pacification program in both Thua Thien and Quang Tri has been a continuing task over a long period of time and now boasts remarkable results.  The division’s G3 (Opera­tions) officer, Maj. Nguyen Trinh, cited figures showing that 437 out of Quang Tri’s 451 hamlets have been pacified and that approximately 285,000 out of the province’s 294,000 people fully support the South Viet­namese Government.  “In Thua Thien Province, 91 per cent of the hamlets and 98 per cent of the people support the government,” Trinh noted.  “In addi­tion, all the villages in both provinces have elected officials.”

But this progress has been hard won.  After Tet of 1968, it took three months of hard fighting to break the enemy resistance in the plains surrounding Hue.  The last of the “big unit” battles took place in Phouc Yen village south of Hue.  In a classic “hard cordon” operation, the 101st’s 2nd Brigade and Vietnamese militia surrounded the 813rd NVA Battalion and captured 100 enemy soldiers.  This was the end of large scale combat operations and the beginning of integrated Viet­namese‑U.S. operations aimed at rooting oat the V.C. Infrastructure in the villages and hamlets.

In the fall of 1968, the division took part in a “soft cordon” operation on the island district of Vinh Loc, east of Hue.  The 10‑day operation was designed to seek out members of the VC Infrastructure and sympathizers who had infiltrated the island in the vacuum of manpower caused by the high enemy casualties of the Tet offensive.  The 54th ARVN Regt., working with Screaming Eagles of the 2nd Brigade, combed the island from end to end.  A joint Vietnamese‑U.S. intelligence co‑ordination center in­terrogated the suspects. Fifty‑six infiltrators rallied to the government and led troops to several hidden weapons caches and provided a constant flow of intelligence informa­tion.  During the operation, 116 members of the infrastructure and 254 VC were captured and 154 VC were killed.  Vinh Loc was now ready to prepare for the 40,000 refugees who would return to their home.

In Thua Thien Province, the 101st has co‑ordinated all its combat mis­sions with the 1st ARVN Division.  The results of combined U.S.‑ARVN operations during 1969 are impressive.

In Operation Apache Snow, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ARYN Regiments, work­ing with the 101st’s 3rd Brigade, rendered the 29th NVA Regiment combat ineffective during the 10‑day battle for Dong Ap Bia.  With tactical air support, artillery and helicopter gunships, the U.S. and Vietnamese troops successfully assaulted the hillmass, killing 691 enemy troops.

Operation Montgomery Rendezvous again saw Screaming Eagles from the 3rd Brigade working with the 3rd ARVN Regiment.  The combined team sought out NVA forces in the high ground to the east of the A Shau Valley.  The results of the two month operation were 390 enemy killed and 185 individual and 43 crew‑served weapons captured.

The Government of South Vietnam has decorated the 1st ARVN Division four times for extraordinary military achievement.  The 2nd Battalion of the division’s 1st Regiment is the only regular Vietnamese Army unit ever to be awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation.

Troopers from the 101st and the 1st ARVN Division have fought together from the coastal lowlands to the DMZ.  They fight that some day a Vietnamese generation may grow up to know their country in the peace and beauty in which it was created.

 

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