By Richard H Dick James
54 years ago, 13 May 1967, I was the Staff Sergeant Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border. I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam
.OPERATION BLACKJACK 41C The Mobile Strike Force (aka Mike Force) from Company D (also known as Task Force 399A) had begun operating on Nui Giai (one of the nearby Seven Mountains) on 20 April. Intelligence gathered by them on 9 May, from those operations, led to a quick reaction parachute drop and assault on the mountain. The intelligence showed that a company of the 512th Viet Cong Battalion (which operated in our area) was on the mountain. An operation, named Operation Blackjack 41C (also known at various times as Operation Blackjack 41 White and Operation Arrowhead) was conceived, planned, and set into action in less than thirty-six hours.
The mission was “to seal off Nui Giai, inflict maximum casualties on VC forces, destroy VC command and supply installations, and deny the VC further use of Nui Giai.” The allied players included Company D/Detachment C-4 and VNSF forward command post, a command & control helicopter, a platoon of gunships, Task Force Alpha (consisting of Task Force 399A [Company D Mike Force] and 2 CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka our VN “mercenaries”) companies from Detachment A-423 [Tinh Bien]), Task Force Bravo (consisting of the Company E command element, 3 companies of the 5th SFG Mike Force, and Task Force 588 [Company D Mobile Guerrilla Force company]), and Task Force Charlie (USSF Detachment B-42/VNSF B-18 [Chau Doc] and 1 company CIDG each from Detachments A-421 [Ba Xoai], 422 [Vinh Gia], and 423 [Tinh Bien]). At one minute past midnight, on the morning of 12 May, detachments A-402 and A-403 (4th Mobile Guerrilla Force, aka Task Force 588) moved into position near the base of Nui Giai, to set up as drop zone security and blocking force for DZ Blackjack. With only eighteen hours advanced warning (prior to the airborne assault) from headquarters, five of our team departed Vinh Gia on the evening of 12 May to participate in Operation Blackjack 41C (aka Operation Blackjack 41 White, aka Operation Arrowhead). CPT Morris, SGT Gilchrist, and I deployed, with a company of our CIDG as part of the blocking force, west of the target. Another company, led by 1LT Tomlinson and SP4 Evec, acted as part of the attacking force from the south. Units from the SF camps of Ba Xoai and Tinh Bien also took up blocking positions, to the north and northeast of the mountain. The group I was on moved out of camp, ostensibly to set up a night ambush, but instead to set up the blocking force the following morning. The target was Nui Giai, a VC controlled granite mountain, pockmarked with hundreds of VC tunnels and caves, about fifteen miles east of Vinh Gia. There was no preparatory artillery fire, or tactical air softening the target, prior to initial engagement. The VC on, and in, the mountain, were caught by complete surprise. At 0530 the following morning, six men from detachment C-4 (C-4’s XO, the assistant S-3 [operations] officer, an S-2 [intelligence] NCO, and three operators) arrived at Ba Xoai (A-421), to set up the forward command post (CP) for the operation.
The assault was to be a large-scale operation, involving eleven companies, including two companies involved in an airborne assault, marshalled out of Nha Trang. At 0645 thirty-nine USSF and three companies of the 5th Special Forces Group Mike Force out of Nha Trang parachuted from five C-130 “Hercules” Air Force cargo aircraft, 700’ above the ground, onto the drop zone (DZ Blackjack) at the south base of the mountain. There was no enemy resistance. That was the second-ever combat parachute jump in the history of Special Forces. The Command & Control (C&C) helicopter, with the CO of Detachment C-4 onboard, flew over the DZ during the drop. You would have thought some leg was responsible for selecting the drop zone. The jump would have been a funny ha-ha moment, if it had been a peacetime jump. The drop zone consisted of rice paddies and marshes, containing water that was anywhere from eight inches to four feet deep. Amazingly, only two paratroopers were injured, both minor. The parachute drop was completely unexpected by the VC. They didn’t get a single shot off before the paratroopers had formed on the ground and began to move out, hampered by the mud and water. Helicopters flying overhead provided cover and additional firepower. After the drop, the Mobile Guerrilla Force proceeded slowly up the mountain in advance of the Mobile Strike Force, acting as a recon unit for the strike force. At 0900 hours, two companies of Tinh Bien (A-423) CIDG moved up the north slope of Nui Giai, to link up with the existing task force on the mountain (TF 399A). TF 399A had been on the mountain since 20 April. The Tinh Bien CIDG contacted an estimated squad of VC, at 0930. Two CIDG were KIA, and one USASF (CPT Syring, the CO from Tinh Bien) was WIA. On the way down the mountain with the casualties, a TF 399A unit of CIDG and Mike Force personnel again made contact, at the same location and, once again, with an estimated squad of VC. The contact caused the two Tinh Bien CIDG companies to become dispersed. They managed to go down the mountain, to re-form at the Ba Chuc FOB. The company of CIDG from Vinh Gia was positioned on the west side of Nui Giai at 1800 hours, to act as a blocking force. The results for the day included 9 VC confirmed KIA, 2 CIDG KIA, 4 CIDG and 3 USASF WIA (2 of the SF slightly wounded). Also, a .45-cal pistol, an M-1 Garand rifle, and 2 U.S. Carbines, were captured. Task Force 399B also apprehended 48 suspected VC, who were heli-lifted to Ba Chuc for interrogation.
The following day, 14 May, Task Force (TF) Bravo elements moved to a draw on the mountain, at 0800. Contact was made with an estimated 40 VC, armed with a 60mm mortar and a light machinegun. Gunships, and a FAC, moved to the location. Contact was broken at 1030 hours, the task force continuing its movement up the draw. The two companies of Tinh Bien CIDG were heli-lifted to the top of Nui Giai, at 0815 hours, to link up with TF Alpha. The movement was completed at 1020 hours. At 1100 hours, TF Bravo once again made contact, with an estimated force of 80 VC that time. Artillery and air strikes were called in by the FAC. TF Alpha moved in, at 1200 hours, to form a blocking force to the north. Two USAF F-101 sorties arrived. TF Bravo again contacted an estimated 80 VC, at 1500 hours. Again, FAC called for air support, resulting in contact with the VC being broken. The results for this day, the second day of the operation, was 10 VC KIA, 8VC WIA (all confirmed by USASF), 1 Mike Force WIA, and 2 USASF (from Detachment A-503) slightly WIA. The following day began with a CBU-19A cluster bomb drop on VC positions at 0745, followed by an airstrike at 0845. TF Bravo moved out at 1200 hours, to check for damage. At 1645 they reported heavy blood trails leading north. TF Alpha and Bravo received sporadic sniper fire. Both Task Force units also received ammunition and ration resupplies. For the day, there were no confirmed VC casualties, and no allied casualties during that day. The first three days had consisted of combat patrols around the base of the mountain. There were numerous firefights on the first two days, but quiet on the third. The following morning, 16 May, the company of CIDG from Vinh Gia began climbing the west slope of Nui Giai, at 0755 hours. At 0830 they initiated contact with an estimated two platoons of VC. The Vinh Gia unit was supported by 4.2” mortar fire from Ba Chuc. Contact ended at 1030, with no known VC, or allied, casualties. At 0905 hours, TF Bravo initiated contact with an estimated two squads of VC. The VC were armed with a 60mm mortar and a light machinegun. Contact ended 40 minutes later, with 4 confirmed VC KIA, and no friendly casualties. Again, at 1015 hours, TF Bravo initiated contact with the same size enemy unit. The TF closed in, supported by 81mm mortar fire. The result was 2 VC KIA. TF Bravo continued contact with the VC, at 1130 to 1500 hours, supported by gunships, and at 1805 hours, when they initiated contact with an estimated two platoons of VC, armed with a 60mm mortar, a light machinegun, BARs, and assorted small arms. This time the VC were in fortified, and camouflaged, positions. The TF broke contact 25 minutes later. All units then assumed defensive positions for the night, with ambushes set out. For the day, 13 VC were KIA, and 4 WIA, all confirmed by USASF. Friendly losses were 10 MF WIA (5 serious) and 1 USASF WIA (SGT Strewder of Detachment A-503). The take included 3 U.S. carbines and 50cc penicillin captured. Task Force 399A had completed its evacuation of Nui Giai by 1400 hours. It moved to Ba Xoai, from which it was moved, by trucks, to Chi Lang, and then home to Don Phuc. At 0725, on the morning of 17 May, airstrikes commenced, beginning with a sortie of F-100 “Super Sabres.” That was followed by a de Havilland C-7A Caribou dropping twelve 55-gallon drums of diesel and gasoline on the target, immediately followed by another airstrike, dropping a heavy mix of napalm. The drop of napalm was impossible to evaluate due to a heavy fog covering the area. A barrage of 81mm mortar white phosphorus (WP) followed the dropping of the fuel. TF 588 moved out, headed south, one company of TF Bravo headed south, and two companies moved north. At 1000 hours, TF 588 encountered a boobytrapped area, suffering a CIDG KIA. At 1210 hours they initiated contact with approximately 2 platoons of VC, armed with a 60mm mortar, two light machineguns, M-79s, and small arms. TF Bravo supported TF 588 with 81mm mortars.
Firefights continued through the afternoon, TF 588 and the Mike Force attempting to assault the enemy, who were in fortified positions. The area was also heavily boobytrapped, causing casualties. Not until 1800 hours did friendly units cause the enemy machineguns to retreat. The enemy fortified positions were subsequently occupied by friendly forces. At 1630 hours the company from Vinh Gia encountered boobytraps, resulting in two CIDG KIA. The results for 17 May were 8 VC confirmed KIA, 6 CIDG KIA. There were also 8 CIDG, 3 MF, and 3 TF 588 USASF WIA. Captured were a U.S. carbine, assorted documents, and field equipment. 3,000 pounds of rice, 10 squad-sized huts, and 15 caves were destroyed. TF 588 and the Mike Force company made contact with an estimated platoon of VC at 2140 hours. Two USAF AC-47 Spooky (aka Puff, the Magic Dragon) came to their aid at 2220 hours, illuminating the area, and firing suppressing fire. At 2300 hours, contact was finally broken. The operation officially terminated on 18 May, control being turned over to Special Forces Detachment B-42, in Chau Doc. however a company of CIDG from Tinh Bien and the company from our camp, Vinh Gia, including Tomlinson and Evec, remained on Nui Giai for a while longer, assigned to mopping up operations. Friendly forces suffered 9 KIA and 35 WIA, including 9 USSF WIA. The VC reportedly lost 40 confirmed KIA and 12 confirmed WIA. Numerous enemy structures and supplies were destroyed, and a .45-caliber pistol, 6 U.S. carbines, an M-1 Garand rifle, and 3 homemade weapons were captured. As short-handed as we were, our CIDG companies, as well as 1LT Tomlinson and SP4 Evec, remained on Nui Giai, basically amounting to another outpost we were responsible for, leaving our camp dangerously undermanned. A lot of lessons were learned from the operation, including the fact that large-scale operations could be planned, and launched in a very short span of time. Being able to do so limited the chances of the enemy learning about an ensuing operation, thus drastically reducing the preparedness of enemy defenses. The nearness of Camp Ba Xoai to the operational site was a major plus. Communications was immediately possible due to already existing communications set-ups. Medevacs from the operational area could be transported the short distance to Ba Xoai, where the wounded could receive immediate treatment at the camp dispensary, while waiting for regular dust-off flights to evacuate them to better equipped hospitals. A negative lesson learned was that preplanned air support had to have at least 24 hours advanced notice, at least in IV Corps. On one occasion, an airstrike was requested the night before a requested morning action. The mission couldn’t be flown because of the short notice. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case when immediate air support was requested. Immediate air support mission requests were usually acted upon within satisfactory time periods. From my book #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4”), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Seven Mountains area map / Me (on left) and SGT Gilchrist in blocking position / CPT Morris making a commo report / (my photos/map)SLURP SENDS!