Battle of Suoi Tre information
3/22 INF was a US Army unit
for 3/22 INF
3 BDE 4 INF
25 INF DIV
For date 670321
3 BDE 4 INF was a US Army unit
25 INF DIV was a US Army unit
2/77 ARTY was a US Army unit
Primary service involved, US Army
Operation JUNCTION CITY II
Location, FSB GOLD
Description: The following is a slightly edited version of 'VC Onslaught at Fire Support Base Gold' by Hemphill that appeared in the Dec, 1998 issue of Vietnam Magazine.
Time: 0631 hours, March 21, 1967. The sound of small-arms fire, answered by the distinct sound of AK-47 fire and the 'crump' of grenades, suddenly jolted CPT James 'Walt' Shugart III, CO of B/3/22d Inf, 4th Inf Div, out of his reverie. He struck his head out of his command post bunker at FSB Gold to see what the firing was about.
SP4 Terry Smith, his RTO on the company commo net, was outside the bunker. He told Shugart that the firing was coming from the direction of the 1st Platoon's ambush patrol site, which was about 500 meters outside the perimeter. As the firing continued, Shugart called the 1st Platoon leader, Bravo 1-6, 2LT John H. Andrews, Jr. for a situation report.
Andrews informed his CO that his patrol was engaged in a serious firefight. While breaking down their ambush site, the men had spotted a couple of VC. When they open up on the enemy and threw their grenades, the VC had returned their fire - they had been in the tall grass around them.
When Shugart inquired about casualties, Andrews knew only that part of the patrol had made it back in to get help, but that there were still about five guys pinned down out there. Shugart told him to get a squad ready to provide help, but he withdrew that order a few minutes later when the firing died down and he heard several bursts of AK-47 fire. He knew the short, distinct bursts meant that any survivors had been executed.
Shugart looked around for 1LT William Pacheco, his arty FO, and ordered him to call in some HE around the ambush patrol's last position. He wanted it near the position, not on it, in case somebody was still alive out there. Shugart told Pacheco to walk the HE around the area in case any larger forces were nearby. But the fire mission was never executed - before the target could be plotted, everyone in the perimeter heard the sound of enemy mortar rounds going down the tubes beyond the ambush position.
Shugart shouted a warning that echoed throughout the firebase. Men could be seen diving for the nearest bunker as 61mm and 82mm mortar rounds started falling everywhere, walking all around the perimeter and the artillery tubes.
So began what later became known as the Battle of Suoi Tre or the Defense of FSB (or LZ) Gold. The location was a small clearing in a remote section of jungle near Cambodia in War Zone C, III Corps. The 3d Bde, 4th Inf Div (brigade call sign Flexible) commanded by COL Marshall B. Garth, was operating in the area. On the perimeter of Gold were Alpha and Bravo, 3/22d Inf. (call sign Falcon) commanded by LTC John A. Bender with the 2/77th Arty (call sign Focus) and its three howitzer batteries inside the firebase. The artillery battalion commander, LTC John W. Vessey, would later become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Operating in the nearby jungle were the 2/12th Inf (call sign Flame) and tank-mechanized infantry task forces of the 2/22d Mech. Inf (call sign Fullback), and the attached 2/34th Armor. Supporting Gold from other locations were other units of 8-inch, 175mm and additional 105mm and 155mm howitzers.
At 0635 the opening mortar attack drifted toward Alpha company's side of the perimeter. Suddenly, from the 2d Plat's area in Bravo's center to the east, the perimeter was raked by intense fire. The small-arms fire, punctuated by exploding grenades and claymores, gradually crescendoed.
RTO Smith informed Shugart that Romeo 6 (the recon platoon leader) had reported a large number of VC to his front. They had sneaked up to within 30 to 40 meters of his positions and he was heavily engaged.
The recon platoon had been given to Shugart the day before, to reconstitute his 2d platoon after the platoon leader and half of its members had been wounded on the 19th at the LZ. He told Romeo 6 to send in his final protective fire when he thought it was necessary, to which Romeo 6 responded t hat it was already necessary. Shugart looked around for LT Pacheco and saw that he was already on his radio, calling in his defensive contact arty fire. The FO glanced up and reported that it was on its way.
As Shugart was about to warn the other platoons, Bravo's entire section erupted in gunfire. The biggest outbreak of outgoing and incoming fire was on the right (which was the SE), in Bravo 1-6's area. Andrews reported massive waves of black-clad enemy to his front at a distance of less than 50 meters. He said they were just boiling out of the wood line. Shugart order Andrews to provide final protective fire.
The 3d platoon leader on the left (which was NE), 2LT James Slinkard (call sign Bravo 3-6), reported that enemy troops were massed to his front but he was holding his own. He was also instructed to provide his final protective fire.
Mortars continued to fall inside the perimeter among the artillery tubes and near Alpha Company. The defenders could hear the shells crashing near the perimeter and the more distant explosions of counter-mortar fire. The volume of mortar fire was diminishing. It was now 0638. Only seven minutes had passed since the ambush patrol had set off the VC attack.
The VC had been sneaking up on them in the woods and tall grass when the patrol had surprised the enemy troops. Shugart turned to SP4 Henry Toyama, his RTO on the battalion radio, and told him to inform the battalion S-3, MAJ Cliff Roberts, that they were fully engaged and providing final protective fire. He also instructed Toyama to ask Falcon 3, COL Bender, where the Air Force's tac air support was - it was clearly needed.
At that point, Smith shouted to Shugart that all platoons reported VC in the wire. Romeo 6 and Bravo 1-6 reported hand-to-hand combat. LT Andrews radioed that the enemy was surrounding some of his positions. Shugart told Pacheco to notify the 2/77th Arty to have their reaction force standing by. He expected to need them shortly, most likely in 1-6's sector. It was a move they had rehearsed the day before. Shugart also wanted the 105mm howitzer fire to keep coming as close to the perimeter as possible and the heavy artillery plastering the wood line, to get some of the enemy troops still coming out of the woods.
Toyama relayed a message from Falcon 3, that the FAC was inbound toward them. He would start with four sorties of fighters. Flexible 6 had alerted the 2/12, the 2/22 and the 2/34 tankers to get to Gold as soon as possible, but they first had to negotiate the jungle and bamboo surrounding the position.
At 0640 Bravo 1-6 called Shugart and reported VC around his positions. Shugart instructed him to get as far inside the perimeter as he could. He assured Andrews that help would arrive soon. Shugart told Toyama to inform Falcon 3 that Bravo 1-6's position had been penetrated. Agitated and anxious, Shugart told Pacheco to call for Focus' reaction force. He made sure they knew that they were to execute exactly what they had rehearsed the day before to restore the perimeter. And they had to move as soon as possible.
As Shugart sat back against the side of the bunker at 0655, the FSB continued to be swept by incoming small-arms and recoilless-rifle fire and falling mortar rounds. Looking out over the battlefield, Shugart shouted to Pacheco over the tremendous din to move the artillery to within 100 meters of the perimeter.
Pacheco informed Shugart at 0701 that the reaction force was on the move. Shugart notified Bravo 1-6 of the movement and cautioned Andrews to be alert and not shoot them up. Andrews certainly needed them, since he was being pushed hard from the east and southeast. Five minutes later Andrews was back on the air, reporting that the VC were all around his men. The reaction force was nowhere in sight. The fear in his voice was obvious. Shugart turned to Toyama and had him inform Falcon 3 that Bravo 1-6's position had been overrun and was surrounded, and that they were fighting hand to hand. He also told Falcon 3 that the arty reaction force had not yet arrived.
At 0711, Shugart had Smith check on the status of the other two platoons, Romeo 6 was holding its own against tremendous pressure on its front. Bravo 3-6, Slinkard, reported that they were fighting VC in his foxholes at the center of his position. Slinkard was not sure how much longer he could hold out; both Romeo 6 and Bravo 3-6 were really burning up ammo and would need resupply soon.
Suddenly Shugart heard Andrews exclaiming breathlessly that the reaction force had arrived and was counterattacking on line across his positions. His men were concentrating on keeping their heads down out of the line of fire. Shugart cautioned him not to get in their way.
A silver object swooped down overhead at 0715, passed along the edge of the woods to the east and pulled up to the north, followed by the thunder of ordnance. The Air Force had arrived! A second F-4 Phantom appeared and repeated his wingman's performance. Shugart saw the FAC in a small plane circling to the SE, directing the fighter-bombers. Two more silver birds swooped down and delivered their loads.
Shugart had Pacheco tell the FAC to move some of his strikes down to the SE corner in front of Bravo 1-6. Shugart wanted him to make some napalm runs in closer. He was trying to catch the VC in the open.
By the time the planes launched their attacks, the mortars had tapered off, due to the continuing artillery counter-mortar fire. The VC were still shooting at the arty positions with RPGs and 75mm and 57mm RRs from the wood line. The FSB was raked by automatic fire as the attack on the perimeter intensified.
At 0745 Shugart glanced back toward the FAC's plane. As he focused on the small silhouette, the plane spiraled from about a 1,000-foot altitude down into the trees. Shugart asked Pacheco what had happened. Pacheco looked up from his map, shocked, and said that the VC had shot him down. That meant there would be a lull in the airstrikes.
As the ramifications of the loss of air support sank in, Shugart directed Pacheco to tell the arty FDC that he wanted beehive rounds loaded and standing by - now! Beehives were anti-personnel rounds that contained thousands of small flechettes capable of converting a human being - or a group of them - into hamburger in the blink of an eye. They had not been used more before, but the commanders had been briefed on them.
Shugart called Bravo 1-6 and asked for a report. Andrews reported that they had just linked up with the reaction force. The VC kept on coming, despite their losses.
Shugart decide to use the beehives in 1-6's section. He told Andrews to get his men under cover, then gave the order to Pacheco to fire toward the east and southeast. One minute later the first shell screamed overhead and exploded over 1-6's sector, followed by several more. The company radio crackled to life, and Andrews' excited voice attested to the effectiveness of the beehive rounds. The flechettes had torn a wide swath in the attacking ranks of VC - he wanted more.
On the battalion radio, Shugart called Alpha 6, CPT George Shoemaker. He quickly summarized his situation, particularly in Bravo 3-6's sector, and requested that Alpha have a reaction force standing by, expecting to need it for 3-6. Shoemaker agreed.
Shugart told Toyama to report what was going on to Falcon 3. He also wanted to know when they were getting another FAC.
The company radio jumped to life at 0800. It was Slinkard, reporting that his sector had been penetrated. The VC had occupied a couple of foxholes in his center. His reserve squad was trying to block them, but he needed help. Reassuring 3-6 that help was on its way, Shugart notified Alpha 6 to dispatch his reaction force. Shoemaker replied that his 20-man force would be moving in two minutes.
At 0810 Slinkard called Bravo 6 to say that Alpha's force had linked up with him and that they were containing the penetration but the fighting was fierce. Shugart told his FO to get some beehives into 3-6's area. Three minutes later, rounds began screaming in that direction.
At 0820 Shugart received reports from all platoons that they were barely holding their own and that ammo was running low. Clearly, they were firing a lot of ammo, since they had started the battle with a double basic load. The VC were continuing to press Shugart's perimeter as more troops flowed from the woods.
The platoons had prepared secondary positions back around the arty tubes the day before. In addition to rehearsing an arty counterattack, Shugart had made the platoon leaders rehearse the movement back to those positions. Now was the time to use them. He gave each platoon leader instructions for moving back to their secondary positions. They would have to fight their way back, holding off the attackers as their squads leapfrogged backward. He test-fired the arty while they were moving.
By 0840, all Bravo plats had completed their move to the secondary positions and obtained ammo from the arty. In their new positions, they were closer together, making their formation harder to penetrate. Furthermore, the arty could now fire their beehives over the soldiers' heads, directly into the attacking VC, making it much more effective.
However, the swarm of VC kept coming at them like an army of ants after a jar of honey. Although the enemy troops did not penetrate the dense rain of small-arms and automatic fire and beehives, they were within hand-grenade range of the battalion command post and within five meters of the air station. But the tenacious defense managed to blunt the waves of attackers before they could get to most of the artillery.
At 0845 a silver bird again swooped down and laid its 500-pound HE egg. Another FAC was on station.
Shouting so that he could be heard above the din of battle, Shugart told Pacheco to have the FAC put HE in the wood line and napalm within 50 meters of his current position on the east. Pacheco had to make sure that the FAC knew they had pulled in. After relaying Shugart's instructions, Pacheco informed Bravo 6 that 2/77 had run out of beehives. The guns would be using direct-fire HE at point-blank range.
By 0900, Bravo was running short of ammo again, but their reduced perimeter was still intact. Alpha was under moderate pressure from VC 15 meters from their positions, but they still held their original perimeter.
SSG Robert F. Freeman, the second squad leader in C/2/22's 2d plat, halted his APC 30 meters inside the wood line SW of FSB Gold. He check to make sure the other tracks were ready. His track commander, above him, pulled back the cocking handle twice to ready his .50-caliber machine gun for firing. Freeman's job was to lead the company in the charge against the VC trying to overrun Gold. He checked to see that his squad members had their weapons ready.
Earlier that morning, as they were preparing to break camp just south of the Suoi Samat River, the members of the platoon had heard the mortar and automatic weapons fire erupt around FSB Gold, about 400 meters to their front. Every man in the company knew that they were in a position to assist the defenders.
Task Force Fullback was comprised of most of the 2/22d Mech. with A/2/34th Armor attached. Although Charlie Company - with one tank platoon - was only 400 meters from Gold, the rest of Fullback was 3,000 meters to the SW. They had spent most of the previous day trying to cross the Prek Klock River, just managing to get all unit across before nightfall. They had established their night position near the river. Charlie Company, commanded by CPT George C. White III, had crossed first and had been sent ahead of the task force.
The recon platoon, commanded by 1LT Roger Frydrykowski, was positioned with the task force HQs until the firing started at Gold. The platoon then moved forward to Charlie Company's location.
When White heard the firing at Gold, he requested permission from LTC Ralph W. Julian (call sign Fullback 6) to react to Falcon. Julian, who wanted to consolidate his combat power, denied his request. But the brigade commander, COL Garth, wanted the 2/22 to move more quickly through the jungle and bamboo to get some combat force up to the FSB. Garth prodded Julian until he finally gave in.
From his observation helicopter, Julian told White (call sign Charlie 6) to go in with all he had. Since the task force was only about 500 meters from Charlie's location, they could assist if necessary. White issued his instructions to his platoon leaders and Romeo 6. He told the 2d Platoon leader, 2LT Thomas Utter, to have Freeman lead the attack, since Utter had not seen much action.
White told Freeman to across the shallow river and have the FAC guide him into position. Beyond the river, Freeman executed a flanking movement to the west to avoid some big trees and to allow the company to get on line. While this was being done, the recon platoon crossed the river to the west and surged ahead to Charlie, heading back east and then north, and the tankers followed.
As Freeman prepared to launch the assault, he looked to the east and saw the 2/12's infantrymen bursting into the southern end of the clearing, firing as soon as they cleared the trees. They had fought their way through the sniper fire in good time. Freeman waved the company on.
At 0901 Shugart heard firing off his right flank, to the south. He could see infantrymen emerge from the wood line, heading for the perimeter with weapons blazing into the flank of the attacking VC. He told Toyama to inform Falcon 3 that the 2/12 was approaching the perimeter from the south. He then ordered Pacheco to shift the artillery away from that area to avoid hitting the good guys. Toyama relayed a message from Falcon 3 that Alpha Company was the 2/12's lead element, and that Bravo 6 was to guide him into position. Shugart contacted Alpha 6, Shoemaker, and then began planning how to use the 2/12 to restore his perimeter.
Suddenly from the SE corner of the clearing came the roar of engines and the crash of heavy-caliber machine guns. Through the battlefield haze, Shugart saw a line of tracks emerge from the wood line, pass through the 2/12's lines and head directly for the southern end of Alpha's sector. A few moments later, he saw more tracks charge out of the woods from the south, followed by several tanks. They passed around the perimeter and charged into the flank of the attackers between the perimeter and the wood line.
Shugart watched C/2/22's tracks sweep across the clearing, through Alpha Company's southern perimeter, through the southern half of his sector and back out to the east, the .50 calibers cutting wide swaths in the VC ranks. Charlie's tracks crashed into the attackers head-on, track treads grinding bodies as the vehicles rolled over everything ahead of them. Soldiers used pioneer tools to knock off VC who attacked tracks with the bayonets and tried to swarm over the turrets. Passing through the original perimeter, Charlie turned north to cover the VCs' exit route.
Recon and the tanks swept to the east outside the perimeter and north along the wood line, cutting deeply into the enemy ranks. As they continued to chew up the attacking formations, the VC began to turn and run toward the woods, dragging many of their casualties with them. The tanks roared forward, trying to cut them off before they reached the trees.
When Alpha 6 of 2/12 arrived, Shugart briefed him on his plans for the counter-attack. He then told his platoon leaders to move out on his order.
At 0920, after 2/22 moved beyond the perimeter, Shugart gave the order to move out. A line of men from each platoon sector stood up simultaneously, firing point-blank into the VC still moving around them inside the perimeter. Moving forward, they took out anything in their way, firing, changing magazines and then closing in on the few enemy troops that survived the furious onslaught. Moving with precision, they arrived at their old positions, pulled out the dead and wounded, jumped into the foxholes and began firing from their old positions. Medics evacuated any friendly wounded uncovered by the counterattack.
At 0928 Shugart had Toyama inform Falcon 3 that they had reoccupied their old positions. Toyama then relayed a return message from MAJ Roberts that C/2/22 had found a VC aid station just north of the perimeter. They also came across Bravo's ambush platoon position, where they found four KIAs and one man alive, PFC Edward Watson. He had hidden under some bodies until help appeared.
Across the battlefield, the VC attack faltered. They ran from the FSB, back into the woods to the NE. The mechanized and armored formations chased the VC into the wood line, trying to get as many of them as possible. The supporting artillery had been shifted into the woods to pound their avenue of withdrawal.
As Charlie, recon and the tanks entered the wood line after the VC, the remainder of TF Fullback reached the clearing, taking up positions outside the perimeter. Later they were joined by the 2/34 Armor.
After the firing died down inside the perimeter, LTC Vessey, the artillery battalion commander, toured the units on the perimeter, congratulating them on the tremendous job they had done. As Vessey was talking to Bravo 6, Flexible 6's command helicopter landed, and he turned it over to Vessey to evacuate the casualties. Soon medevac helicopter appeared as well.
Later that evening, MAJ Roberts called a meeting and the commanders learned the extent of their victory. They were told that the battle would be called 'Suoi Tre' after a village that had once been nearby.
Bravo Company had taken the brunt of the attack, which had been conducted by the VC 272d Main Force Regt., reinforced by two battalions, for a total of six battalions consisting of about 2,500 men. The attackers had lost 647 men. As many as 200 more were believed to have been killed and dragged away after the battle.
Friendly casualties included 31 KIAs and 187 wounded. Supporting artillery had fired more than 3,900 rounds of various sizes, with the 2/77 alone firing more than 2,200 rounds of HE and 40 rounds of beehives, most of it fired point-blank. The Air Force had flown 31 sorties around the perimeter, dropping 34 tons of ordnance. Participating 3d Brigade units later received the Presidential Unit Citation.
The following was taken from the 22nd Infantry Society website:
On March 21, 1967, the 3-22 and 2-22 Infantry, along with 2-77 Artillery and 2-34 Armor, earned the Presidential Unit Citation for their actions that resulted in over 600 NVA and VC killed in action. US casualties were 31 KIA and and 187 WIA. In summary, LTG Jonathan M. Seaman in his commendation to the Battalion states: "I want to extend my congratulations to you and your magnificent troops for their major victory at FSB Gold on the 21st day of March. Fighting against a numerically superior and well equipped foe, elements of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, with supporting elements, inflicted a devastating defeat on major elements of the 272nd Main Force Regiment. This is the most decisive defeat the Viet Cong have suffered in the III Corps Tactical Zone in my 18 months in Vietnam."
The source for this information was Vietnam Mag Dec 98 P:22+ by Robert L. Hemphill; 22nd Infantry Society
Additional information is available on CD-ROM.
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