This is an account of the attack by the North Vietnamese Army on the United States Army Radio Relay Unit stationed atop Nui Ba Den on Monday, May 13, 1968. During the attack 24 Americans were killed and 2 were taken prisoner.
All of the material presented has been taken from After Action Reports from both 125th Signal Battalion and Special Forces A-324, Daily Logs, Lessons Learned reports, articles found on the internet and personnel reports from soldiers who were stationed at Nui Ba Den, either before or during the attack.
I will apologize now for all the reports I have paraphrased.
I dedicate this account to my cousin, John Austin Anderson who died in the attack. John was a Tactical Wire Operations Specialist, (MOS…36K20). John was a Specialist Fourth Class with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (Manchus), 25th Infantry Division, United States Army. Two other Manchu soldiers also died in this attack. They were SP4 Moses James Cousin, B Company, 4/9 Infantry and SP4 Gary Joseph Gilin, A Company, 4/9 Infantry.
If anyone who knew John could please get in touch with me I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
Nui Ba Den rises 3000 feet, (1000 meters) out of the rice paddies and jungles of Tay Ninh Province north of Ho Chi Minh city, 18 miles from Cambodia. Constructed of granite and covered with jungle this ancient volcano has always been a very powerful political symbol.
There are several stories as to how the ancient volcano received its name. A common version was prior to 1700 a local chieftain had a daughter, Nang Denh. A Chinese Buddhist monk who was passing through the area asked the local chieftain if he could stay and live in the area and practice the teachings of Buddha. The Chieftain agreed and the monk built a temple called Chua Ong Tau (Chinese Monks Temple) which ruins can still be seen at the foot of the Eastern Slopes. In time, Nang Denh became a devoted follower of Buddhism. When her father offered her in marriage to a neighboring Chieftains son, Nang Denh resisted and went into hiding on the mountain. She was never seen again and it was thought she killed herself rather than leave her life of Buddhism.
Years later a different priest was said to have seen Nang Denh walking along the mountain slopes. In recognition of Nang Denh, the priest build an alter, the Shrine of the Black Virgin which still stands on the mountain side.
I have read Nui Ba Den translated to Black Virgin Mountain and Black Widow Mountain but from what I have read the most accurate translation is Black Lady Mountain. At the base of Nui Ba Den and to the North West is a smaller mountain, Nui Caw.
NUI BA DEN CAMP BEFORE THE ATTACK
The United States Army had a two acre camp built among the rocks and boulders on the summit of Nui Ba Den. It was first captured by Special Forces in a helicopter assault in May 1964. Before Special Forces had control, it was controlled by the Viet Minh, the Japanese and the French.
The Nui Ba Den camp was a very complex unit. In November 1967, the United States Army 25th Infantry Division took over guarding the radio facility from the Special Forces and the Civilian Irregular Defense Group. The CIDG was made up of factions of native South Vietnam groups who lived near Cambodia. The Special Forces enlisted and supplied the CIDG with weapons but they were never a part of the Armed Forces of Vietnam. Although the 25th Infantry Division was the unit of record it did not have control over the operation of the camp.
Nui Ba Den was a highly sensitive, complex and covert military communications station used as a listening post to capture enemy signals. Personnel and equipment from numerous 25th Infantry Division and non-divisional units were under one administration as �D� Company (Provisional) 125th Signal Battalion. The main unit atop Nui Ba Den was the 372nd Radio Relay Unit (RRU) out of Sobe, Okinawa which was a special section of the American Security Agency. The ASA took orders from the United States National Security Agency, not from the 25th ID. The NSA used the camp as a world wide listening post. The 25th ID was merely a cover for the ASA operation. The official unit description was 125th Signal Battalion, Provisional Company. The Prov Comp was for special security made up of Special Forces. MACV (Military Assistance Command � Vietnam) placed a Special Forces camp within Nui Ba Den for security for there was so much special equipment and technology involved in the operations. If this equipment was ever to fall in to enemy possession it could be forwarded to the Chinese or USSR for evaluation.
The 372nd RRU provided intelligence reports to the 25th ID. The ASA was broken down to RRU�s, each one had men assigned to various provinces in the south to provide intelligence to the ASA. The high level communications and intelligence gathering, done by the 372nd was done in the pagoda. It was a highly classified and secretive operation that even the Commanding Officer of the 125th Sig Bat did not have clearance to enter the pagoda. It was common practice when a soldier arrived in camp, if they had clearance to the pagoda, they would hang their rifle and bandolier in the north room of the pagoda. Some soldiers said they used to spend time in the pagoda if they had clearance, which was packed with communications equipment, listening to conversations between ambush teams of Special Forces and members of the CIA stationed in the jungle along the Cambodian border.
All military operations in War Zone �C� and the northern portion of the 25th Infantry Division TAOI (Tactical Area of Operational Interest) were contingent upon the availability of Nui Ba Den as a communication relay point. The manner in which the radio relay unit worked was when a military unit was in the area, such as the Manchus who John was with, that unit would send a communication team, in this case there were 3 radio men from Manchus, to the Nui Ba Den camp. When the unit was in the surrounding jungles or rice paddies of Tay Ninh Province they would utilize the communication facilities on Nui Ba Den to re-transmit their radio messages from the high elevation of the mountain. By using the high elevation of Nui Ba Den radio messages were able to be sent much farther than if the radio message was just sent along the jungles and rice paddies.
Arial View Map Nui Ba Den
On May 13th, 1968 there were 140 personnel stationed on Nui Ba Den. They were from the following Divisional and Non-Divisional Units who had personnel, equipment and facilities as follows:
1� 125th Signal Battalion
2� 25th Infantry Division Artillery
3� 65th Engineer Battalion
4� HQ, 1st Brigade
5� 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry
6� 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry
7� 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry
8� 372nd Radio Relay Unit
Units OPCON to the 25th Infantry Division
1� 3rd Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry
Non � Divisional Units
1� 121st Signal Battalion, 1st Infantry Division
2� HQ, 1st Infantry Division
3� 509th Radio Research Unit
4� 194th Military Police Company, 1st Signal Brigade
5� 86th Signal Battalion, 2nd Signal Group
6� 588th Engineer Battalion
7� 5th Special Forces Group
Also reported to be on the mountain were members of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Korean Intelligence Agency, and 2nd Air Force Red Horse Division.
Many times while the rice paddies and jungles surrounding Nui Ba Den were being drenched in torrent rain the summit would be in perfectly clear weather. Conversely there were times the surrounding area would be having a full day of sun, and there would be a dense cloud over the summit, so thick that at times the helicopter pilots were not able to land. All supplies had to be delivered by helicopter and at times supplies would not arrive for days till the weather at the summit cleared.
Although the summit was controlled by the US Army, all the rest of the mountain and surrounding area was Viet Cong controlled. Small villages dotted the mountain slopes all which were inhabited by suspected VC. The slopes were dug in with many tunnels and hidden caches of food. After the war, it was found out that the VC had a medical facility dug right into the slopes. Enemy activity was common place on the slopes. The enemy also used the slopes as a training center, and a communications intercept and relay site. There was a story of a spring down one side of the mountain and how the spring was shared by the Americans and VC but Nui Ba Den veterans deny that there was any truth to the story.
Some soldiers thought the summit camp was a safe place while others thought they were very vulnerable, only there till the VC thought otherwise. But some said it was a fantastic view.
The 2nd Air Force Red Horse Division was on Nui Ba Den constructing facilities to house intelligence equipment to monitor major mechanized operations by the North Vietnamese along the Cambodian border. The Red Horse operation was called �Command Shackle Relay� and was not in the pagoda but on the side of the mountain looking toward Tay Ninh and the rock quarry. Red Horse personnel were told that in the event of an attack, to go to the pagoda.
The United States Army Special Forces was headquartered out of Ben Soi, A-321 but had unit A-324 on the mountain comprising of about 30 men. Unit A-324 were on the mountain to provide continuous radio relay for the Special Forces and Vietnam Special Forces for the entire III Corps area, and to advise the VNSF�s in matters of camp defense and to send out security patrols. In November 1967, the last two responsibilities were discontinued because the CIDG was pulled off the mountain and replaced by a company size security force from the 25th Infantry Division.
The Special Forces senior radio operator had just left Nui Ba Den for re-assignment before the attack but before he left he briefed his replacement as to the preparations the SF�s had made in the event of an attack. SF�s had equipment ready in that medical supplies and a radio were packed. They had gone over what duties each soldier would be responsible for, an E & E (escape and evasion) plan was discussed and relay points highlighted. It was determined that in the event of an attack, SF�s would have one soldier stay with the radio operator till the bunker was about to be over run at which time they would leave the bunker and make their way out side the perimeter till the camp could be re-taken. Their plans were to defend the north perimeter on Nui Ba Den.
Artillery support for Nui Ba Den was supplied by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Artillery with 175mm artillery support from the Tay Ninh West Base camp and from Sobe, Okinawa.
Special Forces personnel had concerns regarding the defense of Nui Ba Den and made these known to the CO months before the May 1968 attack. These concerns included the concertina wire was only one strand and it was 50 meters down the mountain. The alerts that were executed weekly were now eliminated and booby traps were removed from down on the perimeter. There used to be guards in the bunkers 24 hours a day utilizing communications personnel who were also trained in weapons and mortars and they were effective in repulsing enemy probes. The camp was built by Second Field Force, Vietnam (IIFFV) and they would chopper in to camp and listen to suggestions. One suggestion was to build concrete bunkers into the military crest of the camp, but this was not done. Instead small houses were built near the perimeter and these had poor lines of fire. By not having concrete bunkers, the wood would rot due to the monsoon rains and they could not be reinforced with sand bags. Regardless, the CO said the sand bags were on order but they never arrived. An American General inspecting the mountain camp questioned the construction of the bunkers but was told the bunkers were for the CIDG and not Americans. The General asked what difference that would make but the comment was shrugged off. After this, the engineers said the bunkers would be reinforced but it was never done. The bunkers were not manned at all times, only every 3rd or 4th bunker during the day and only every second bunker during the night. The SF�s personnel could hear the VC talking and saw signs of VC activity when they conducted probes so everyone knew the VC were all around. The SF�s wanted to continue offensive patrolling as a standard operating procedure (SOP) at least twice a week. This was especially necessary due to the high turnover rate of personnel on Nui Ba Den since many of the men stationed on the mountain were not experienced infantry soldiers but were communications specialists. The patrols would also work as alerts; drills the soldiers would practice in the event of an attack so the soldiers would know what to do and where to go in the event of an attack. Also recommended was to improve the field of fire at the camp by removing rocks and boulders and eliminating known tunnels in the area. Further recommendations included installing trip flares and cementing claymores into the bed rock and reinstating listening posts but none of these were done. Also more concertina wire was to be in place to limit movement and Special Forces asked that the CIDG be brought back to Nui Ba Den. Special Forces knew there were problems with the defense of the camp but they had very little influence in bringing about the necessary changes. The VC had probed Nui Ba Den camp about four times in the summer and fall of 1967.
THE ATTACK ON NUI BA DEN
MONDAY MAY 13, 1968
The evening started with the sky clear, many stars could be seen. Many soldiers were having a quiet evening watching TV. At 2145 hours the camp on Nui Ba Den came under attack from combined 82mm mortar and rocket propelled grenades. At this time the standard manning of defensive positions were odd numbered bunkers on duty from dusk to midnight and even numbered bunkers on duty from midnight to dawn. Therefore only every second bunker was on alert.
At this time, Special Forces members at base B-32 at Tay Ninh reported hearing explosions and seeing fire atop Nui Ba Den. From the radios of the SF�s Tay Ninh camp there came a request for �artillery to be brought in here fast� then the radio went silent. Other frequencies were tried by SF�s to no avail. It was at this time that the communications antenna was blown out by rocket propelled grenades or satchel charges.
Upon the initial mortar attack, personnel from bunkers that were manned open fired with automatic weapons. A soldier from bunker 12 just got guard duty and while starting down to bunker 15 received small arms fire so he returned fire. He checked bunker 13 and saw one soldier wounded and one dead. He reported seeing a force of fifteen VC proceeding to the helicopter pad carrying RPG�s. After the first five or six mortars landed on site, bunker 19 was destroyed by either rocket propelled grenades or mortars from the ravine below bunkers 18 and 19. Bunker 19 faced north between the mess hall and the helicopter pad. With bunker 19 out of action the enemy moved up the ravine completely hidden from bunkers 18 and 20. There was tear gas that came over bunker 20 as bunker 19 burnt. The US personnel moved from bunker 18 to 20 and 2 soldiers were in bunker 20 attempting to operate the radio. The main enemy force advanced past the perimeter and split into two sections. Some American soldiers moved from bunker 19 to hide in the rocks behind the Enlisted Men�s club. The larger enemy force moved east to the helicopter pad where they set up a command post with two radios and a mortar team. The smaller enemy force moved further east to bunker 17 then continued south, then west to bunker 13. This secured the bunkers around the helicopter pad. The enemy met automatic fire at bunker 16 and afterwards the US personnel moved south to hide in some rocks in the vicinity of bunker 15. The personnel in bunker 14, west of bunker 15, tried to open fire on the helicopter pad but were unable to swing the .50mm caliber around to the rear, which was north. The US personnel in bunker 14 had no M-79�s and insufficient M-16 ammunition to initiate and return fire as a RPG had destroyed most of the M-16 ammunition. These US personnel then left bunker 14 through the gun port and sought safety outside the camps perimeter in the rocks. The sound of Vietnamese voices chattering and screaming could be heard.
At the same time, an enemy force of between 15 and 20 penetrated the west slope between bunker 7 and the remains of bunker 8 which was burning from RPG�s. There were US personnel in bunker 7 that attempted to stop this advancement but after a courageous attempt were knocked unconscious by a hand grenade. The soldiers later gained consciousness when it started to rain at about 0230 hours and joined other soldiers in the burnt out bunker 8. The personnel in bunker 8 did not open fire. The enemy moved uphill eastward toward the pagoda at the top of the mountain blowing up the generator on the way. Upon reaching the top the enemy spread out and placed satchel charges in the operations building and the officer�s quarters. All the US personnel in the pagoda locked themselves inside and were not confronted by the enemy. All the VHF antennas on the pagoda were destroyed by satchel charges.
Another small enemy force penetrated the perimeter on the North Slope near bunker 2, west of the reservoir. They continued up the hill to the summit where they joined the force that penetrated the perimeter from between bunkers 7 and 8. During this time bunker 1 detected movement to their front and opened fire with the M-79. This drew enemy fire from the rear and the personnel evacuated through the front window and went east to bunker 20, near the reservoir where they remained through out the night.
Two soldiers who were in bunker 5 and opened fire with an M79, M16 and claymores. Both soldiers stayed in bunker 5 all night.
Special Forces had two soldiers in bunker 1, one manned the machine gun while the other tried to radio for help. Also in the bunker were two CIDG�s, one was wounded when a mortar or RPG blew a hole in the roof. The SF�s mascot dog died of gun fire. The butane tank for the stove was punctured and this started the bunker on fire. The SF�s personnel could hear the VC talking. At this time SF�s left the bunker and went down the mountain a bit and used a short antenna radio to contact Det B but could not for they were on the north side of the mountain. They tried different radio frequencies and after about 30 minutes communicated with Katum. The radio operator was told to go to frequency 68.00. On this frequency they heard from the S-3 of the 25th ID, 1st Brigade that spookys were on their way for assistance. The SF�s soldiers who went down the mountain side a bit heard the other soldiers who were in the rocks near the reservoir and moved to their location. Upon arriving, SF�s secured the reservoir perimeter and there were about 20 Americans assembled there. There were only 5 weapons among them and most of the men were not fully clothed, some only had shorts and no boots on. Some were wounded.
Generally, US soldiers were split into small pockets of resistance and stayed this way through out the night. They were reluctant to move due to VC filtration and fire from the spookys.
Once the enemy secured the helicopter pad as a Command Post and mortar location, they split into 3 groups at approximately 2200 hours. The CP/mortar crew remained in place, a small group moved southwest to bunker 13 and a larger group moved west up the hill behind a barrage lay down by the mortar crew on the helicopter pad.
While the larger force moved up the path westward to the mess hall and billets complex, the smaller force continued along the south perimeter securing bunkers 13, 12 and 11. The soldiers in bunker 11 tried to detonate their claymores but most never went off. As each bunker was approached, the enemy threw satchel charges or hand grenades into the doorways. The personnel in each bunker manned their positions till they were forced to evacuate. Some soldiers proceeded from the orderly room to bunker 10 where they laid down a field of fire until a satchel charge exploded in the door way. At this time the soldiers ran out the back door, killing 2 VC then west to bunker 8 where they joined the rest of the men from bunkers 8 to 12. The soldiers in bunker 9 set off their claymores then started to fire their .50 caliber, then evacuated when bunker 10 was blown up. They saw the generator blow up when a VC threw something at it. All personnel regrouped in the wreckage of bunker 8 which had been destroyed earlier by a mortar or a RPG. They set up a local security force at approximately 2330 hours and most soldiers stayed there till morning. One soldier left bunker 8 and preceded to the ammunition bunker next to the pagoda and obtained 2 cases of M-79 ammo then returned east to a location in the rocks above bunker 12 and laid down intensive fire on the enemy command group on the helicopter pad. Immediately after this action, the enemy started exfiltrating.
At approximately 2200 hours the main force of the enemy was proceeding westward up the path towards the pagoda. When they reached the mess hall, billets and officers and enlisted men�s clubs they spread out placing satchel charges and throwing hand grenades into the buildings. Some of the buildings were already on fire from the mortar and RPG attacks. The US personnel who were in the mess hall, billets and officers and enlisted men�s clubs left the buildings and went to the sandbagged bunker 19 or to the rocks in the immediate area for cover. A melted watch found at the NCO club indicated the time was 2220 hours. Nearly all the personnel were without weapons. The soldiers with weapons were reluctant to fire them for they never had positive identification of the moving figures and ammunition was low and they did not want to give away their position. The soldiers had to abandon bunker 19 due to the heat from the burning mess hall and moved to a cave located near the reservoir and bunker 20. Soldiers gathered in either bunker 20 or the nearby caves and rocks and they maintained local security the rest of the night. Some shots went into the cave and the surrounding rocks and ricocheted and wounded some men.
The Special Forces team house was destroyed when a RPG hit the butane tank and caused a fire that destroyed the team house. Almost all the buildings on site were burnt to the ground.
At approximately 2330 hours a Light Fire Team and mini-gunship arrived and were directed by a lone radio operator working under the Red Horse re-transmission. The supporting forces providing fire and illumination during the attack were B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 17th Air Calvary (UHIC) gun ships; 5th Air Command Squadron (C-47 Flare and gun ships); Tay Ninh Artillery B Battery 2/23 Artillery. The LFT drew heavy anti-aircraft fire from the base of the mountain. The LFT saturated an area about 75 meters outside the perimeter to prevent any further infiltration. The lone radio operator directed LFT�s weapons fire and the flares dropped by the mini-gunship. When the first spooky arrived the weather was still a clear night but by the time the second spooky arrived the clouds rolled in and it rained from 0200 hours till 0600 hours. A second spooky arrived at 0100 hours. By 0130 hours the top of the mountain was heavily fogged over and the spookys were having difficulty making accurate assaults on the mountain even with the very good illumination from the flare ships. By now the airships were receiving medium to heavy anti aircraft fire from the sides and the base of Nui Ba Den. Even under harsh conditions the spookys shot up the resistive areas well. It was noted later that the response from the spookys was outstanding in their fire power. The aircraft remained in the air until their ammunition was depleted at which time they were replaced by another sortie. At approximately 0230 hours the gun ships departed the area leaving behind the flare ship that remained on station till the weather forced them to return to their base.
Special Forces with their radio had problems communicating with the spookys but found them on frequency 39.30.
While all this was going on, SF�s Det B at Tay Ninh was organizing a rescue operation. They had gathered up ammunition, food, water, clothing and medical supplies as well as a 125 KW generator for supplying power ready to go at first light. By 0230 hours B Det had received a message from the mountain saying all but one building and most of the bunkers were destroyed.
From the Red Horse re-trans the personnel back at Tay Ninh could hear VC voices walking around the camp shooting the wounded.
Later at 2400 hours the enemy forces moved down hill eastward toward the helicopter pad where they exfiltrated by an unobserved route. From 2300 hours till they left, the enemy were setting booby traps in the area on their own fallen dead.
By 0230 hours the enemy had completely left Nui Ba Den. No dust off�s were possible till morning due to rain, fog and gusting winds.
At 0530 hours the group of soldiers from bunker 20, the reservoir and the cave emerged from their positions and split into three units. One group went to secure the helicopter pad in preparation of medical evacuation helicopters, another group swept the mountain camp to check for any VC that may still be there and the third checked for booby traps and bring the wounded and dead to the helicopter pad. It was still raining and would continue raining till 0800 hours. Several of the bodies were discovered in the bunkers and some were booby trapped. The first MEDVACS helicopters arrived from B Det, Tay Ninh at 0706 hours May 14 and the seriously wounded were evacuated by 0900 hours. Two SF�s medics came on the first helicopter with blankets and medical supplies and they worked with the two medics stationed on the mountain to tend to the wounded. The first helicopters received automatic weapon fire from the southern portion of the mountain resulting in minor damage and one aircraft crewmen wounded. When the first helicopters arrived there were soldiers standing around the helicopter pad, some with only shorts on and no boots. There was some confusion as the evacuation of the wounded for some of the less serious were loaded on the helicopters before the more serious wounded. Some soldiers had to be ordered off the helicopters to make room for the wounded. These soldiers were described as junior enlisted soldiers who were in shock and wanted off Nui Ba Den. When the second set of helicopters came in they brought more blankets, medical supplies and communications equipment. The helicopter pad was now congested with equipment and all around the pad were the bodies of the fallen soldiers. A senior officer asked that the bodies be covered. By 0900 hours the perimeter was re-secured with available forces. The soldiers arriving at the top noticed that everything was leveled except the pagoda. Special Forces personnel went to the pagoda and re-established communications by 1400 hours. Special Forces had a much shorter time re-establishing communications than the 125th Sig Bat. A company of 2/12 Infantry, 25th Infantry Division was airlifted to the mountain to reinforce the remaining elements of D Company (Provisional) 125th Signal Battalion. Initial sorties began arriving at 1227 hours and the airlift was complete by 1350 hours.
Three members of the SF�s A-324 received the Bronze Star for heroism during the attack. Also two SF�s medics received Bronze Stars for meritorious achievement for the work they did as part of first medical evacuation helicopter.
It was noted in one of the AAR interviews that the night before the attack there was suspected movement noticed in the front of bunkers #14 and #15. There was a request for illumination but the request was denied.
It was determined that the size of the attacking VC force was between a reinforced platoon and a company size.
It was noticed later that 2 Americans were taken prisoner. One was SP4 Donald Smith. I do not know the name of the other POW.
The overall toll was US KIA � 24
US WIA � 35
US MIA � 2
VC KIA � 25
The VC advantage was their ability to closely approach and break into the perimeter undetected and their thorough knowledge of the locations of key installations such as VHF antenna towers and the generators.
The following recommendations were noted in the AAR�s of both the 125th Signal Battalion and Special Forces A-324.
The 125th Sig Bat to the 25th ID said it needed to increase proportionally its share of manning requirements at Nui Ba Den from 10 to 19 EM with a MOS of 11B, which is an infantry man and of these extra EM, at least 50 per cent must have combat experience. This means each major command unit having communications facilities on NBD must increase its manpower. It was also suggested that a permanent force of 155 EM and 3 officers be stationed on NBD. It was determined that the staffing numbers were sufficient for the administrative duties but not sufficient for protection.
The 125th Sig Bat said there were insufficient personnel to man the bunkers with 2 soldiers per bunker, or to conduct ambush or reconnaissance patrols, or maintain defensive wires, early warning systems or to maintain re-supply, sanitation, rodent control and site improvement. There were also no radar operators and insufficient numbers to man the 81 mm mortars. Also noted were not enough medical personnel to sustain Nui Ba Den during times of isolation due to poor weather. Switch board operators should be on a 24 hours rotation and they weren�t.
It was recommended that there be a minimum of 2 EM in each bunker at night and times of poor visibility.
Must conduct reconnaissance and ambush patrols each day and a minimum of 1 ambush patrol per night.
Provide between 4 to 6 listening post�s during nights
Maintain and improve defensive wire
Maintain and improve primary and secondary defensive position, all of which must be blasted out to the rock due to the camps terrain.
Maintaining and improving early warning systems such as trip flares and anti-intrusive devices
Maintaining and improving fields of fire, this would be difficult due to the camps terrain.
Improve health and sanitation conditions for personnel on NBD. This is a prime command responsibility.
A work detail for providing re-supply on a daily basis.
Manning secondary positions in the case of enemy penetration.
Operating a mortar fire direction center (FDC) so support fire can be properly employed.
Operate a ground surveillance section utilizing radar 24 hours a day covering the main avenues of approach to the camp.
Need to operate a weapons section of three 90 mm recoilless rifles.
Improve medical support.
From the Detailed Discussion Paper included in the AAR these points were raised:
To reduce the manpower on NBD it was considered to reduce the perimeter of the camp but this was later rejected.
Since Nui Ba Den is in such isolation because of its poor access during periods of poor weather the entire camp must be completely self sufficient
There were enemy reports on the state of the Nui Ba Den camp and since the number of enemy in Tay Ninh province was substantial, it is imperative that the communications camp be protected by a strong dependable self sustaining force.
At the time of the attack the 125th Sig Bat had about 70 EM on Nui Ba Den but since the 125th primary duty was communications it did not have the resources necessary to properly defend the camp. Most of the 125th Sig Bat were communication�s specialists, not infantry soldiers. This will have to continue until additional resources are available.
Since the attack, the majority of the replacements have been 11B infantry soldiers with no combat experience, straight from the US. It is critical to man the camp with sufficient numbers of combat experienced 11B soldiers to give guidance and offer experience to the new soldiers. Being stationed atop Nui Ba Den, completely surrounded by VC is a very insecure situation, especially for a new soldier from CONUS.
It was noted in the Recommendations that taking into account the duties of the soldiers stationed on Nui Ba Den the numbers were not sufficient. The duties of effectively conducting defensive operations and at the same time improving positions, were early warning systems and conducting necessary patrols they were under staffed. At the time of the attack there were only 58 enlisted personnel with a MOS of 11B. Under normal operating conditions only 85% of this force can be expected to physically be on the mountain. Due to soldiers being sick, in transit, on R&R or leave, or on special duty this further limits the numbers on duty on Nui Ba Den. With 26 primary fighting positions to be manned with 2 soldiers during times of darkness or poor visibility there would just barely be enough soldiers. 85% of 58 is 49 and a bare minimum for the 26 bunkers is 2 X 26 = 52 soldiers as a minimum.
The terrain of Nui Ba Den is very difficult to defend due to restricted fields of fire, poor visibility and narrow defensive sectors. This would require a tight defense with bunkers close together supporting each other. This was not the case.
It was anticipated that approximately forty communications personnel would be stationed on Nui Ba Den at any time with each unit having 2 or 3 men assigned to the mountain. But of the 2 or 3, only one may be normally on duty. The other may be off the mountain in Tay Ninh.
It was noted that the level of medical aid was low. At the time of the attack there were 2 E-4 medical aid men assigned and it should be raised to 3. Also, a senior aid man should be assigned to the area.
There were not enough infantry soldiers with a MOS of 11C to operate the three 81mm mortars and this number should be increased. The report recommended there be four 11C MOS personnel per gun for a total of twelve 11C personnel. And to effectively employ the 81mm mortars a fire direction center must be maintained.
It was noted that a radar section was on the mountain at the time but not authorized but should have been. The radar section should comprise of 2 radar sets and have six personnel of ground surveillance training and also on ground surveillance mechanic.
Also considering the number of weapons on Nui Ba Den there should be an amour for safe storage.
Also two additional cooks should be added and two switchboard operators be made a part of the command section. The fighting positions would all be connected by telephone communications as would all other buildings on the mountain. The switch board would be connected to the Tay Ninh switch board and be manned 24 hours a day.
These are only a brief list and explanation of the recommendations that came out of the AAR�s.
Which of these recommendations, if any, were implemented the report does not say.
It was quite difficult to obtain information regarding this attack but here is list of the reports I used:
Obtained 125th Signal Battalion After Action Report, Attack on Nui Ba Den
Obtained 5th Special Forces Group, A-324, After Action Report, Attack on Nui Ba Den
Obtained report of interviews from the 5th Special Forces Group, A-324, After Action Report on the attack as documented by the S-3
Obtained the S2/S3 Duty Officer log for HHC 2D Bde, 25th ID but there was no mention of the attack on May 14th, 1968
Obtained the Duty Officer log for the 25th ID for May 13, 1968 and there was no mention of the attack
Contacted National Archives and Record Administration and they informed me they were unable to locate daily logs for the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment for May 1968. No records were available from September 1966 to January 1969 but were able to find the daily journal of the 25th ID as mentioned above but there was no mention of the attack.
NARA explained that records are difficult to locate at this time (May 1968) for there was much going on in the 25th ID area. The 4/9 was normally assigned to the 1st Brigade but on May 13, 1968 they started out being assigned to the 3rd Brigade then at noon were switched over to the 2nd Brigade. They said when Battalions operate outside their usual command channels the records are often few or missing.
The Lessons Learned Report obtained from the National Technical Information Service has a small paragraph reporting the attack on Nui Ba Den. All that is mentioned is that the perimeter was penetrated, the enemy destroyed the communications facility with mortars and satchel charges, and there were 19 Americans KIA. The attack is not mentioned again, not in observations, evaluations or recommendations.
Photos and a historical summary of Camp Nui Ba Den from the NARA
The Duty Officer Log, dated May 13, 1968, for the 3rd Brigade, 25th ID does mention the attack as noted below:
2210 hours�Nui Ba Den Special Forces Camp receiving mortars and SA fire, LFT scrambled from Tay Ninh, Atry being fired from TN
2220 hours�LFT on station Nui Ba Den
2315 hours�Nui Ba Den still under ground attack, received heavy SA and AW fire from west side
2320 hours� NBD reported to have some VC within perimeter
2359 hours�Spooky on station for NBD
I don�t have the report for May 14, 1968.
In January 2017, Gaylene Levesque and Ed Tatarnic toured Vietnam and visited Nui Ba Den, the site where their cousin John A Anderson died in the attack on Monday, May 13, 1968. John, who turned 21 years old only three months earlier was 25th Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, HHC, Manchu, Specialist 4th class. John was a communications specialist atop Nui Ba Den. We accessed Nui Ba Den by gondola which goes up approximately 2/3 of the way to the top. Although we were not on the exact site of the American Special Forces base of May 1968, we were very close. We were surprised at the ruggedness of the rocky site, but were comforted by the peacefulness afforded by the Buddhist temple that was built there. In remembrance of John we left a poppy with a Canadian Maple Leaf in the centre in a small cave in a rocky area off the trail. The poppy is a Canadian and British Commonwealth symbol of Military remembrance and sacrifice. The poppy first took on this symbolism when a Canadian WW1 doctor, Lt Col John McCrae, wrote a poem entitled “In Flanders Fields” after a friend of his was killed in battle. Gaylene and Ed said a silent prayer for John and all the other soldiers who died on the mountain. One picture is of Gaylene and Ed at the base of Nui Ba Den, one of a copy of the poppy that was left on the mountain and a picture of Ed in front of a monument erected by the Vietnamese government at the base of the mountain.
I would like to acknowledge certain people who have helped me in understanding what happened on Nui Ba Den May 13, 1968. Firstly to Reg Lee who was there at the very beginning as I was trying to find out about my cousin John Anderson and to Donald Crowley, who gave me insight on to conditions on the mountain. Edward Shaw and Paul Sherman for their accounts of Nui Ba Den.
I would also like to thank the very generous and professional people at the National Archives and Record Administration, namely Clifford Snyder and Susan A. Francis-Haughton. Also the fine people at the FOIA, Department of the Army, National Personnel Records Center, and the Director of the Joint Services Record Research Center.
Also I would like to thank the following people for their kind emails and encouragement,
Most of all I would like to thank Bruce Swander for all the invaluable assistance he has given. Bruce instructed me as to what documents I needed, how to obtain them and how to understand them, which I still do not fully understand. Bruce also gave me assistance on how the US Army functioned in Vietnam. Without Bruce, this account would not have been written.
Again, thank you Bruce.
In closing, I am not a military person, I have just documented the facts around Nui Ba Den, May 13, 1968.
I would like to repeat, if any one knew my cousin, John Austin Anderson, could you please get in touch with me as I would very much appreciate knowing more about John.
Contact me by E Mail
My Mailing address is:
35 MacFarlane Avenue
Red Deer, Alberta
Canada, T4N 5S9