Battle of Kham Duc
Battle of Kham Duc
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Battle of Kham Duc
Part of the Vietnam War
The only photo ever to capture actions leading to a Medal of Honor during the last aircraft out of Kham Duc.
Date May 10?12, 1968
Location 15?26′10″N 107?47′41″E / 15.43611?N 107.79472?E / 15.43611; 107.79472 (Kham Duc)Coordinates: 15?26′10″N 107?47′41″E / 15.43611?N 107.79472?E / 15.43611; 107.79472 (Kham Duc)
Kham Duc, South Vietnam
UTM Grid ZC 0059-0810
Result Communist victory
Viet Cong United States
Casualties and losses
Unknown 270+ killed or missing
[show]v ? d ? eMilitary engagements
of the Vietnam War
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The Battle of Kham Duc was the struggle for the United States Army Special Forces camp located in Quang Tin province, South Vietnam. It began on May 10 and ended on May 12, 1968.
The Kham Duc special forces camp was occupied by the 1st Special Forces detachment consisting of U.S and South Vietnamese special forces, as well as Montagnard irregulars. From September 1963 the camp was used as an intelligence gathering post, often impeding Communist infiltration into the Central Highlands. In May 1968, following the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese decided to take out the camp once and for all.
2.1 Ngok Tavak
2.2 Kham Duc
5 External links
During the early months of 1968 the Communist forces had launched a nation-wide offensive attacking most cities in South Vietnam. At the same time, large divisions from the North Vietnamese Army also laid siege to the United States Marines base at Khe Sanh. When the fighting at Khe Sanh and other locations were over, the focus was shifted to the Kham Duc CIDG camp in western South Vietnam near Laos. From early May, movement of the North Vietnamese 2nd Division and the Vietcong 271st Regiment was detected by Allied forces. The Americal Division, was ordered on 10 May to evacuate the camp. A Company, 1/46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade was flown in followed a day later by the 2/1 Infantry of the U.S. 196th Light Infantry Brigade from Chu Lai to reinforce the camp. Men from the 2/1 manned the OPs and were overrun and killed or forced to e & e the night of May 11. On 12 May at 09:30 a US Air Force A-1 Skyraider making a low altitiude observation run over the ridge was shot down and crashed west of the camp. The pilot was rescued by 14th Combat Aviation Battalion aircraft (Call sign Arab) which were beginning the evacuation of the camp. Once the OPs were lost it was apparent that the NVA had seized the high ground and were in proximity to the camp. Simutaneously, the Special Forces camp lost its communications to their headquarters in Nha Trang when the NVA destroyed the antennae with mortar fire. The 14th Combat Aviation Battalion Commander, on the scene, notified the Americal Division of the dire circumstances. He was ordered to Chu Lai to brief the Division Commander, Major General Koster, and the Division Aviation officer, LT Colonel Holladay. The decision was made to scramble all Army, Air Force and Marine assets for the hasty, and unplanned evacuation of the camp under fire. The Danang Direct Air Support Center (DASC) was ordered to support the evacuation operation with all available close air support assets.
 Ngok Tavak
On May 10, 1968, the outpost of Ngok Tavak at 15?22′55″N 107?47′13″E / 15.38194?N 107.78694?E / 15.38194; 107.78694 (Ngok Tavak) was attacked by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong guerillas. Although it was not the main target, it stood in the way of the Communist forces. The attack on the Ngok Tavak outpost coincided with initial artillery bombardments on Kham Duc. Australian Captain John White led a small company which consisted of Chinese Nung soldiers and U.S. Marines out to engage the Communists.
The fighting at Ngok Tavak confirmed Captain White's suspicion that a CIDG platoon was infiltrated by the Communists. At 03:00 a group of soldiers approaching the Ngok Tavak position claiming to be friendly was challenged by machine gunners, shortly afterwards two North Vietnamese companies surged forward and attacked the machine gun positions, and set mortar positions ablaze with flamethrowers. The fighting lasted for ten hours, when the Australian-led company had exhausted their ammunition supply. Without any sign of reinforcements, they abandoned the position and made an escape towards Kham Duc. They made it halfway to Kham Duc when helicopters were called in to carry them the rest of the way.
 Kham Duc
When Ngok Tavak's survivors arrived at Kham Duc the fighting was still in its early stages, but mortar attacks proved to be deadly as several outposts came under direct hit. General William C. Westmoreland realized that the camp could not be reinforced any further and decided to evacuate all the personnel to avoid news of the camp being overrun.
On the morning of May 11 a C-130 transport aircraft of the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron landed at the airfield. Vietnamese civilians rushed on to the aircraft overwhelming the loadmaster as the C-130 came under enemy fire, and minor damage was suffered as a result. Despite having a flat tire, the C-130 crew attempted to take off but failed. So while the crews stopped to work on the their damaged C-130, a C-123 arrived to fly out the civilians. During the afternoon U.S fighter-bombers beat back a massed assault on the main compound with napalm and cluster bombs.
On May 12 the VPA 2nd Division and Viet Cong 271st Regiment tightened their noose around Kham Duc, hitting three outposts and subsequently over running those positions by 09:30. The USAF's 834th Air Division was deployed to evacuate Kham Duc. While evacuations were underway, B-52s were called in to pound North Vietnamese positions around the camp.
Under heavy mortar bombardment the officers of the Americal Division requested immediate extraction. Members of A Company, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade were airlifted out by CH-47 Chinooks when one of their helicopters was hit by anti-aircraft fire, forcing the CH-47 to land under intense fire. One soldier was killed by ground fire and left on the crashed Chinook. The evacuation of Kham Duc was complicated as Mountagnard fighters and their families boarded helicopters designated to fly out U.S. soldiers. Members of A Company, 1/46th Infantry 198th Light Infantry Bde., were forced to remove Mountagnard fighters to board their helicopters. The decision was made to evacuate all the Mountagnards on C-130 transports instead. One C-130, filled with indigenous personnel was shot down and all aboard perished.
In the afternoon, as one aircraft after another took off from Kham Duc airfield with their passengers, Army and Marines helicopters landed on the airfield to evacuate what was left of their personnel, although most of the camp's defenders were airlifted out, those left behind had to attempt to exfiltrate through enemy lines. When the last special forces team was flown out, another C-130 landed on the airstrip carrying three men- Major John Gallagher, Sergeants Mort Freedman and James Lundie- they ran into the camp. Lt. Col. Jay Van Cleeff, pilot of that C-130, took off after it was reported that the evacuation was complete. After receiving reports that the three men were left behind, Lt. Col. Alfred Jeanotte landed his C-123, but no one ran to his aircraft.
A second C-123, piloted by Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson, landed on the airfield under North Vietnamese fire and was able to extract the men, who were hiding in a ditch. For his courageous actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His daring landing under heavy fire was captured on film and is the only known photograph ever recorded of actions resulting in the Medal of Honor.
At 16:33 on May 12, officers of the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, responsible for conducting the evacuation, on behalf of the Americal Division notified all USAF and Marine aircraft that the camp was abandoned. The Air Force (Call sign Longstreet) landed an air liaison team shortly thereafter thinking the evacuation was still in progress. It was the second CIDG camp to be taken by Communist forces in 1968 after the Battle of Lang Vei, and was the last Special Forces camp in northwestern South Vietnam to be destroyed. The third Special Forces Camp, Khe Sanh was successfully defended by the US Marines and Vietnamese Rangers.
Given its unplanned nature the evacuation of Kham Duc proved to be ad hoc, sometimes near the point of panic, and despite coming under heavy enemy fire, the pilots of the US Army, US Marine Corps and US Air Force managed to fly out with most of the Special Forces personnel and civilians. Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts. Officers of the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion were awarded the Silver Star Medal.
MACV and III Marine Amphibious Force ordered the Americal Division to conduct a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) of Kham Duc on 13 May 1968. The BDA was to assess the results of Arclight (B-52) bombardment that occurred after the camp was abandoned on 12 May. The BDA was conducted by the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion. No enemy contact was observed
Posted by Rodney Brewer
Aug 03 2010 02:17:47:000PM