The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam


Cover 'TYPHOON' - February 1970

Articles from TYPHOON
Vol. IV, No. 2 - February 1970

The Battles of Bu Prang and Duc Lap

From Vigil to Victory

By PFC Gerhard Bartman

(Ben Het, Kate, Duc Lap - Charlie Battery at War - Inset Article)


It was forecast. The allied commanders knew that Quang Duc Province would be the enemy's next major target. They suspected that the NVA soldiers planned to attack and hopefully control Duc Lap by early winter and then march on to Ban Me Thuot in Darlac Province. The allies still remembered last year's engagement with the enemy at Duc Lap. They recalled the intensity with which the NVA launched attacks against Ben Het and Dak To last spring. One American advisor with the 45th ARVN suggested, "It doesn't take a crystal ball to realize why Charlie wants this place now. They need it. They need something that looks like a victory. But we're ready for them. They'll never get that victory here."

His premonition proved to be correct. The enemy, the 66th NVA Regiment that engineered the offensive against Ben het and Dak To in May and June, did attack Duc Lap. They tried to overrun the Bu Prang CIDG Camp almost to the day predicted. They attempted to disrupt resupply channels and destroy communications. They engaged ARVN and Mobile Strike Force soldiers along the Central Highland frontier stretching 30 miles southwest of Ban Me Thout into northern III Corps. They rocketed and mortared every allied camp and firebase along Quang Duc's border with Cambodia. The Allies, inevitably, suffered casualties. "We actually want them to try to get us off this hill," another high-ranking ARVN advisor pointed out before the attack. "We're dug in and ready."

After more than a month of bloody, vicious combat centering around the Bu Prang and Duc Lap CIDG-Special Forces camps, the enemy realized the allies were in fact prepared. The NVA infantry and artillery units that began their attack in late October retreated once again to their Cambodian sanctuaries after the first half of December. They withdrew, leaving behind more than 1500 of their dead comrades. More significantly, however, they departed in defeat. The ARVN's, backed by allied air and artillery support, stood their ground tenaciously once they acquired the confidence and determination to "go it alone."

Back Cover of TYPHOONThe I Field Force Forward Movile Staff spearheaded the advisory effort throughout the month-long action. Analysis of the main-force enemy drive at Ben Het six months earlier indicated that a rapid communications and advisory rapport between the ARVN and I Field Force would be essential during the action around Bu Prang. The communication and advisory liinkup would insure effctive manipulation of forces required in massive defensive or offensive retaliation. Subsequently, I Field Force prepared to deploy representatives of each of its staff sections, in addition to various other personnel required to help counter a large-scale enemy buildup.

The Forward Mobile Staff (FMS) traveled by convoy from Nha Trang to Ban Me Thout along Highway 21 after the enemy offensive was imminent. Once established and functioning, the FMS displayed its potential to relay communications swiftly and effectively to higher headquarters in Nha Trang. The MACV advisory team, headed by Colonel William Zook, senior advisor to the 23rd ARVN Division, had been prepared for the enemy offensive for weeks.

It began late in October. Enemy activity had been reported in Quang Duc Province for months, but it wasn't until October 29th that the NVA launched their drive to over-run Bu Prang and Duc Lap.

In preparation for the attack, a string of firebaseshad been hacked out of the jungle. These were designed to support the ARVN and CIDG patrols that had been combing the hills and forests for weeks. "These firebases were never designed to be permanent locaations," explained Colonel Francis Bowers, commander of the Provisional Artillery Group, headquaarters for all American artillery batteries in southern II Corps. Artillerymen began digging in on firebases called Susan, Annie, Helen, and Kate. Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 92nd Artillery was pt on Kate. (See story insert.)

On the night of October 29th, the NVA artillery battalion began blasting the isolated border firebases with 81mm mortar rounds, 75mm recoiless rifle fire fire and both 107 and 122mm rockets. These shellings impeded the allied artillery batteries from retaliating in full. Only during the infrequent lulls was it safe for them to leave their bunkers and fire back at the enemy. For more than 40 hours, the enemy continued in bombardment of Firebases Kate, Susan, Helen, and Annie. Finally th eorder to evacuate these firebases was relayed to the artillerymen on Kate. On the night of October 31st, after an apparent lull in the shelling, Charlie Battery began their withdrawal from the besieged hill. They marched through the night and into the next morning, completing a wide arc around the enemy positions that had all but surrounded the outpost. The next afternoon the artillerymen arrived safely at the Bu Prang CIDG-Special Forces Camp.

Immediately after Kate's evacuation, the entire hilltop was raked with allied air and artillery strikes, making sure the firebases held nothing of value for the enemy. "We traveled through the night with just what we could carry," recounted one cannoneer. "We destroyed most of our personal gear we left up there. But after those F-100's and F-4's fot through with that hiill, there couldn't have been much of anything left for Charlie.

The next two days two other firebases were evacuated. "the important thing is," remarked Colonel Bowers, "the artillerymen on those three had already done their job of supporting the troops. There wasn't any need for them any longer on the hills. The operation on the ground were completed. And these firebases would have been evacuated soon anyway. They were sitting ducks."

While the evacuation of firebases occurred, the NVA redirected their shelling to the other allied bases located throughout the Duc Lap and Bu Prang areas. ARVN and American artillery batteries from the allied camps at Mike Smith and Bu Prang retaliated while the ARVN 45th and 53rd Regiments scouted the terrain for signs of the initially elusive enemy.

On November 2nd, a 19 vehicle convoy was ambushed on Highwy 14, seven klicks northwest of Firebase Dorie. At the same time, two light observation helicopters and one Cobra gunship were shot down near Firebase Helen. These actions precipitated a concentrated enemy effort to close the vital supply channels to the firebases that supported the allied ground offensive.

"If he had been successful in this," mentioned a top American advisor, "Charlie could have hurt us pretty bad. But as it was, we kept our supply slicks flying through on a regular basis. None of our firebases were hurting after the evacuation of the first three."

After the three choppers were shot down, the 22d ARVN Rangers initiated an intensive search for the pilots. The search, beginning shortly after the choppers were lost, lasted three days and saw the Rangers engage various-sized enemy units in contacts ranging from a few minutes to several hours. Their night positions came under fire, and during the day they warded off ambushes. The 1st Battalion, 53rd Infantry Regiment (23rd ARVN Infantry Division) linked with the Rangers and continued their search in a massive and systematic probe of the surrounding countryside. Contacts with the enemy continued in rapid succession for the remaining two days of the operation. More than 100 enemy dead were accounted for in the three-day operation.

While the main infantry effort during this three-day period centered on the recovery of the three chopper crews, the NVA artillery and infantry units began their attacks on the border outposts.

Ground probes of up to company size NVA units occurred almost nightly. Bu Prang, Dak Sak, Mike Smith, Duc Lap, as well as Firebases Helen, Dorie, and Ellen were kept under constant harassment with everything from mortars to the devastating 122mm rockets. The enemy intercepted resupply convoys, planted road mines, and anbushed security forces in an effort to isolate even furthere the small camps. With every supply chinook or slick, additional incoming rounds pounded the camp. "It got to the point," reported on Special Forces advisor at Bu Prang, "where we almost wished that the slicks wouldn't have to come in any more. Everty time they did come in, we knew that more rounds would be coming in within thirty seconds."

While the enemy pressured the allies, the 23rd ARVN Division proceeded to shift its forces. The first and second battalions of the 47th ARVN Regiment moved from their northern coastal area of operations into defensive positions encircling Ban Me Thout. This city, according to military strategists, would be the ultimate NVA goal. With the shuffling of the 47th Regiment's battalions, the entire 45th ARVN Regiment established its headquarters nearer the focal point of the conflict-Firebase Mike Smith, a few kilometers from Duc Lap District headquarters and Dak Sak CIDG camp.

But as the tempo of enemy shelling increased, it became obvious that the immediate objectives would be Bu Prang and Duc Lap. To counter this, the 47th ARVN Regiment once again deployed; this time from Ban Me Thuot to N
hon Co, the resupply station for Bu Prang and the CIDG camp itself. The 53rd ARVN Regiment remained in its headquarters location at Bu Prang, as did the 45th, with battalions scattered throughout Duc Lap District and at Mike Smith.

The second week of action saw an intensification of shelling, as it became apparent the ARVN infantry units were "holding their own" against the seasoned NVA regiment. The pattern for engagement with the enemy varied slightly. Based at strategic hilltops and camps within a few Klicks of their parent headquarters, the AVRN battalions conducted operations daily.Remaining in the field from one to three days, usually patrolling the areas surrounding the camps, the ARVN infantrymen encountered many NVA patrols.

"One of the battles was classic," recalled Lieutenant Colonel Leo Boucher, the 45th ARVN Regiment senior advisor. Utilizing APC's as the flanking element, a battalion of ARVN infantrymen conducted a sweep of an area adjacent to a resupply highway connecting Duc Lap sector headquarters with Firebase Helen. Screening the jungles and hills, they drove an NVA company toward the waiting APC's. After the battle, more than 40 enemy bodies were found.

The 2nd Mobile Strike Force Battalion, on a sweep within eyesight of Bu Prang, fought an unknown-sized enemy force from early dawn until sunset during the second week of the shelling. Reinforced by a battalion of the 53rd Regiment, they finally scattered the enemy by nightfall. Over 39 enemy soldiers died.

An NVA company began lobbing mortar and directing 75mm recoiless rifle fire into Bu Prang on November 10th. With the camp's defenders in their bunkers, the enemy unit staged a daring, daylight assault of the camp. When they were within 300 meters of the camp, an allied 105mm artillery section directed its tubes pointblank at the charging enemy. Within minutes only numerous blood trails leading back into the jungle told of the attackers' demise.

Although all the allied bases came under enemy fire during the 40 days of action, Bu Prang was perhaps the hardest hit. But almost as abruptly as it began, the action around Bu Prang ended. The initial reaction was caution. Would they concentrate on Duc Lap? Would they attempt to bypass these objectives in favor of Ban Me Thuot? Tension gave way to determination; determination to a feeling of victory, as it became apparent after two, three, then four days of quiet that the enemy had retreated. More than 1500 enemy soldiers had died. Countless blood trails indicated many more had been wounded. The ARVN soldier, aided by artillery and air support from Americans had proven his mettle. On his own terms he defeated the enemy. It was forcast.

  " An ARVN soldier stands guard near the perimeter of Bu Prang in a vigil that preceded a month-long clash with the NVA for conrtol of Duc Lap and Bu Prang camps."

Ben Het, Kate, Duc Lap---
Charlie Battery at War
(inset article with above Typhoon Story)

Dak To, Ben Het, Firebase Kate, Mike Smith and Duc Lap are the names of homes-the mud-mired, dustchoked homes of the " experiment battery," Charlie, 1st Battalion, 92d Artillery. These "homes" have been the scenes of the enemy's most intense, brutal, and in the end, significant attacks directed against the allies in II Corps last year. Charlie Battery and a few of its "oldtimers" have memories of all these places. They were there; they fought there; some of their friends died there. According to the artillerymen of Charlie Battery, they have seen and experienced five battalions worth of enemy incoming and ground attacks. They are the ones, they boast in the same breath, who are always there when the action happens.

"Dak To and Ben Het ween't bad," mused Specialist Four Rudi Childs, St. Louis, Mo., one of Charlie Battery's oldtimers. "We got a lot of incoming, and a couple of guys got messed up, but the thing is, man, we made it out of there."

It began last May. In the midst of the torrential monsoons and intermittent heat and near freezing temperatures, the NVA decided to attack in force the Special Forces advised CIDG camp at Ben Het. Their ultimate goal, presumably, was Dak To, subsector headquarters near the scene of their 1967 battle with elements of the 173d Airborne Brigrade. The ARVN 24th Special Tactical Zone with headquarters in Dak To was charged with the defenese of Kontum Province when the NVA began their attack near the middle of May. Only American advisors and American artillery batteries supported this ARVN show.

Charlie Battery had just left Firebase Impossible near Pleiku where the artillerymen spent long days and nights firing in support of allied operations in the surrounding jungles. They were heli-lifted to Dak To and moved again within a few days. Splitting their battery all but one gun was positioned in Ben Het, a Special Forces CIDG Camp a few Klicks west of Dak To. The other gun from Charlie Battery's arsenal was flown to Firebase Six, a hill with an overview of both Dak To and Ben het.

Charlie Battery, during a two-day period, fired their 155mm guns for all but three hours. At times, enemy mortars landed in the camp during a fire mission. Several artillerymen became casualties during one fire mission when an enemy mortar exploded a few feet from their from their parapet. During another three-day period, while the NVA prevented supply convoys from traveling the dirt road leading to Ben Het from Dak to, C-130's air-dropped suplies and ammo with parachutes.

"Sometimes the wind took the chutes outside the camp," recalled Hopkins. "Then we coulldn't even pick them up. Charlie was right on our doorstep. There was a time when we didn't even have water."

The seige lasted for nearly a month. The NVA attempted several "last ditch" suicidal attacks on the camp itself. The artillerymen leveled their guns and aimed pointblank. Finally, after nerves had become used to the bombardment, the enemy withdrew. Charlie Battery's guns reportedly accounted for nearly 200 of the 1,000 enemy deaths throughout the seige. Charlie Battery had earned a rest.

However, their role in action had merely begun at Ben Het. After a few weeks of additional firing, providing artillery security for the infantry conducting otheir sweeps in search of the dead or wounded enemy, thry moved to another firebase near Plei M'Ruong.

"Those were the days . . ." reminisced Hopkins. "All we really had to do all day was clean our guns, fire some H&I (harrassment and interdiction) and pull guard at night. During the day we could go to the river and take a dip."

A succession of firebases: Swinger, Alfa, Polei Kleng, and Cherry carried the artillerymen through four months of memories: building bunkers, destroying bunkers; firing all night, firing during the days; the heat, the cold of the highland nights; the dry season, the monsoons; the choking, red dust, and the early morning fog.

Late in October, Charlie Battery received orders to move again-this time to a small hilltop south of Duc Lap near the cambodian border called Firebase Kate. They were more than familiar with their mission-support the troops in the field. In this case it was the Mobile Strike Force soldiers who were searching the nearby forests for signs of an enemy who was to attack the area within weeks.

"We were told that this area would be the next big enemy buildup," recalled one of Charlie Battery's artillerymen. "But even we weren't prepared for what happened once we got up there."

The enemy began pounding the firebase early on the morning of October 29th. Bunkers and gun pits-any place that would shield a body from the incoming mortar, rockets, and satchel charges-were utilized. Only during the momentary pauses when the enemy stopped firing could the artillerymen scurry from their cover to direct their own 155mm rounds at the enemy positions.

"They were coming in every minute," recalled Hopkins. "All we could do was sit it out and wait."

Charlie Battery waited over 40 hours after the shelling began before word to evacuate the firebase arrived. "Choppers couldn't take us out," said Hopkins "Everytime a slick tried to land, Charlie'd open up.

"They had the whole hill pinpointed. He could hit almost anything he wanted anytime." Nerves weakened with every passing moment. "You never knew where they were going to hit next. We'd be crouching in our bunkerss praying like hell that a 122 didn't land on our heads," said one of the cannoneers.

Night came slowly for Firebase Kate defenders. The battery commander relayed the evacuaation orders to his men: they would leave that night and march until they made it to Bu Prang. The Mobile Strike Force company on the hill with the artillerymen would provide cursory cover on the long trek through the enemy positions. Cobra gunships were poised on the heli-pads at Ban Me Thuot and Gia Nghia. The artillery batteries on the nearby Firebases, Susan, Anne, and Helen, would distract Charlie long enough, hopefull for the Kate artillerymen to escape.

The enemy's shellings relented for an hour. The cold, night air blanketed the firebase. As the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the western ridge of hills, Kate's population dribbled down through her treeline. Carrying their M-16's, rucks, and water, the line of artillerymen slithered quietly from their home.

"The only way we could have gotten around the enemy positions," recalled one man, "was by making a wide arc around them. We were only a couple of klicks from the Cambodian border. We came pretty close to it during that march."

The long night seemed endless. After enduring nearly two days of incoming the shell-shocked artillerymen became infantrymen.

With nearly 14 hours of humping behind them, the men of Charlie Battery and their CIDG escort had wound their way through an estimated regiment of enemy soldiers and finally entered Bu Prang. The Bu Prang CIDG Camp received incoming that day, but Charlie Battery once again had a home.

After a brief vacation in Ban Me Thuot, Charlie Battery's new guns and her refreshed crews were headed once again for the action.

(U.S. Air Force fighter-bombers raked Kate after the evacuation to prevent the NVA from pilfering any of the equipment and machinery the battery left behind.) Their new home was Mike Smith, thirty miles from Bu Prang. Once there they were colocated with an ARVN 105mm battery from the 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery.

From Mike Smith, Charlie Battery continued its firing. They received incoming once again. This time, however, they knew that Mike Smith ws a permanent firebase. It would not be evacuated.

"Near the middle of November," recalled Hopkins, "just after the NVA stopped their shelling of Bu Prang, we got word down that they were all headed our way." The men on Mike Smith waited. They fired in shifts of "all day-all night."

Sleep was liimited to a couple of hours each night, between guard and fire missions. The shock of inncoming rounds reverberated through every corner of the camp. But after a week, after two weeks, the incoming became sporadic and finally stopped. The enemy did not attack. The seige of Bu Prang and Duc Lap was over.

See also Maps Number: 6433-1 Bu Prang, 6433-2 LZ Kate & 6533-4 Duc Lap

Editor Notation and Disclaimer:
As with many articles, ORLL's, histories, etc., there are errors, ommisions, and fabrications. This article is no exception. Bo Prehar and David Powell have offered to clarify the above articles with the following information.
Thanks, JD - Webmaster.


Charlie Battery relieved Alpha Battery on 26 June 1969 after most of the fighting at Dak To and Ben Het had subsided (ORLL May-June 1969).  The Typhoon articles gives the impression that it was Charlie Battery that participated in the Siege of Dak To/Ben Het.  That is not correct.  BP


The other 2 platoons from Charlie Battery were stationed at LZ Mike Smith and did provide support to the bases in that area.  I realize there was only 1 platoon ON Kate.  I re-read both articles and I don't see Charlie Battery Operation anywhere.  If we had an article from A Battery or B Battery, it would be there to support or refute, I just don't see it.  (now what?)  We certainly didn't want to slight any other Battery by putting this up, or toot Charlie Battery's own horn.  It was first shown to me by Steve Ollerton, then I saw it again in Ft. Bragg CA, while on vacation and visiting with David Nylund. DP


A platoon from Charlie Battery participated in the battle at LZ Kate and not the entire battery.  The platoon's successful escape and evasion from LZ Kate was due to the bravery of the Special Forces leadership on the firebase.  A platoon from the 5/22 artillery as well as a group of Montagnards participated in the escape as well. The escape and evasion from LZ Kate was not a Charlie Battery operation as the  Typhoon article  by Gerhard Bartman states. It was a team effort led by the SF advisors. BP


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