Operation Attleboro

14 September - 25 November 1966

II Field Force        25th Infantry Division      196th Infantry Brigade


                              (Tropic Lightning)               (Light) (Separate)

In the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times, Tuesday, November 29, 1966, on page three, it states Operation Attleboro ended Saturday, November 26 based on the article. Operation Attleboro cracked open one of the toughest and oldest of the Viet Cong's strongholds in the judgment of Major General Fred C. Weyand who directed the operation involving some 25,000 American troops in Tay Ninh Province and provided information for the article.

Read the full article here.

Operation Attleboro, at that time, was the largest US operation in Vietnam. Starting off as an infantry battalion, using company size forces, to do search and destroy missions, it increased in scope to an 11 company battalion, brigade, and a division operation. But by its close, Operation Attleboro was commanded by II Field Force, one of the two corps headquarters in Vietnam. Please keep in mind that accounts differ in detail. Because of the World Wide Web, for the first time in history, any participant in a battle can put, before the public, her or his account of events. Discrepancies are bound to occur. We are unable to note all of them but will note a few. Even so, we are not in a position to pass judgment on them.

Some reports and articles on the internet say Operation Attleboro began as early as September 2 but the majority of official unit reports and major news clippings from 1966 settle on September 14, 1966 at the start of the operation. A smaller variation appears for the ending day of the operation, with the majority reports settling for November 25, 1966.

The 196th LIB was activated in August 1965 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts as a 'train-and-retain' unit tailored to the concept of light infantry's capabilities for maneuver. It was one of four brigades formed to build up the US Army's reserve forces after the United States began to send troops to Vietnam. The brigade left Boston in July on the USN ships William O. Darby and Alexander M. Patch for a month at sea. The brigade arrived in Vietnam, by sea and air, in August 1966 and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Their first combat was code-named "Attleboro" after the Massachusetts town from where many of their men came from. It began from the brigade's partially complete base camp in a manioc field just west of Tay Ninh (manioc is a large thick-skinned tuber, that is poisonous when raw and untreated, but like the potato when boiled and used as a vegetable in many tropical countries as well as a source of tapioca).

At the same time the 196th was enroute to Vietnam, events leading up to Operation Attleboro for the enemy began in the summer of 1966 in Hanoi, North Vietnam. General Nguyen Chi Thanh, Viet Cong (VC) commander of the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN), won a bitter argument in the Politburo. Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap had been criticizing Thanh for ordering near suicidal battles with American combat forces in the South during the past year instead of choosing less costly hit and run guerrilla tactics. In July, Thanh, an ideological zealot known for motivating his soldiers with class hatred, convinced the Politburo that success would only come by the loss of so many American lives that the growing U.S. antiwar movement would force Washington to abandon the war.

Thanh gave his most reliable and experienced division orders for a November offensive. The objective was the sparsely populated region of Tay Ninh Province, just south of the Cambodian border, about 60 kilometers northwest of Saigon. Many considered it as the gateway corridor to the Saigon region and the locus of the majority of country's population, most of its industry and agriculture and its political capital. Among other tasks, the 9th VC Division was to protect the hidden VC storage and supply facilities in Tay Ninh Province, disrupt South Vietnam's growing effort to win over the rural population, and destroy "a vital element" of the enemy forces in the III Corps area.

Senior Colonel Hoang Cam, the 9th VC Division commander, targeted the newly arrived U.S. Army 196th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB) based at Tay Ninh West as the "vital element" to be destroyed. The well-experienced and battle-savvy Cam would employ a local force battalion, two of his division's regiments and the 101st North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment in the offensive. He assigned his 271st Regiment, 1,500 men strong, to attack the American brigade's base while two battalions of the 272nd Regiment and the local force unit targeted the South Vietnamese home guard unit at Soui Cao, 30 kilometers southeast of Tay Ninh. At the same time, the 3rd Battalion of the 272nd Regiment and the 101st NVA Regiment would attack a U.S. Special Forces unit and indigenous forces at Suoi Da, northeast of Tay Ninh.

Cam's counterpart, the 196th LIB commander, newly appointed Brig. Gen. Edward H. de Saussure, an artilleryman in World War II and guided missile expert thereafter, was in his first infantry command. While American intelligence was reporting that elements of the 9th VC Division were becoming active in War Zone C, there was no knowledge of COSVN and Colonel Cam's actual intentions. In September, de Saussure, still supervising two of his battalions in building the brigade's base camp, launched Operation Attleboro (named for the Massachusetts town). The operation, a battalion-size series of probes into the sparsely populated region surrounding Tay Ninh, was a familiarization and combat training effort focused on searching for VC supply caches and getting the brigade's feet wet.

When the troops of the 196th landed at Vung Tau, they were surprised that General Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, had ordered the replacement of their brigade Commander, Colonel Francis S. Conaty, with Brigadier General De Saussure. Colonel Conaty became the 196th's Deputy Commander. The Air Force, using C-130s, transported the brigade to Tay Ninh, the largest city in the province of the same name.

What began as a small-scale, limited-objective combat training exercise for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB) on September 14, 1966, unexpectedly developed into a widespread, protracted, multi-organizational battle before it ended on November 24, 1966. The final troop list included elements of the U.S. 1st and 25th divisions, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, several Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) battalions, a Special Forces-trained "Mike Force" and U.S. air support--22,000 Allied troops in all.

It was the 196th's first battle test so the plan was designed not to be a bold one. It called for a series of battalion-size, airmobile operations extending north, east and south of Tay Ninh from Trai Bi to Suoi Da to Dau Tieng, including the Michelin rubber plantation just outside of Dau Tieng. The area of operations assigned to the 196th by the 25th Infantry Division was on the southern fringes of War Zone C. That area and War Zone D, just to the east and in the southern portion of Phuoc Long province, had been used by the Viet Minh as base areas during the French colonial days and continued to be used as supply, training and administrative zones for the Viet Cong (VC) during the years of U.S. military presence in South Vietnam.

The brigade was to use small units, no larger than a battalion, to scout and probe the areas around Tay Ninh to search for the hidden VC supplies. General De Saussure hoped to give the brigade some experience as well as familiarize them with the landscape in the area as well as provide training.

The 25th Infantry Division's Combat After Action Report (CAAR) indicates Operation Attleboro was to be a Search and Destroy operation - initially a 196th LIB operation to the south and west of Tay Ninh city. The Area of Operation was expanded to include Dau Tieng area in the exploitation of Viet Cong logistical bases located there and subsequently to include all of War Zone C. VC Units located in the area included elements of the 9th VC Division (271st, 272nd, 273rd Regiments), 101st NVA Regiment, 70th Guard Regiment, U80 Artillery Regiment, Central Office South Vietnam (COSVN) headquarters and associated facilities, the 320th LF battalion, 8 LF Companies, and local guerilla elements. The area contained large supply/arms/ammo caches, factories, hospitals and base camps of the Rear Services Supply & Transportation sections of Group 82 and 83.

There had been no significant activity in War Zone C by the ARVNS and US Marines since April-May 1966 The proximity of Cambodia, supporting riverways, developed roads and trails attested to fact that VC were present had developed the area into diversified military complex for their support.

For purposes of the 25th ID CAAR report, they broke down the operation into four phases:

Phase I: 14 September - 28 October, a series of Battalion operations by the 196th LIB (Separate). The brigade conducted search and destroy operations to destroy VC bases, supplies, and interdict VC lines of communication near the American Tay Ninh Base Camp.

Phase II: 29 October - 5 November, operations leading up to and including contact with the 9th VC Division. 196th Brigade performed same operations, but in the vicinity of Dau Tieng.

Phase III: 5 to 10 November, period where control transitioned to 1st Infantry Division and II Field Force. 196th was under the control of 1st Infantry Division.

Phase IV: 11 to 26 November, 25th Division reconnaissance in force in assigned sector of operations (North into War Zone C).

The report shows dates of operation for Operation Attleboro were from 14 September to 25 November 1966.

Command and Control Headquarters were:
     14 September - 5 November, 196th LIB (Sep)
     5 November - 6 November, 1st Infantry Division
     6 November - 25 November, II Field Force.

Task Organization:

Phase I (14 Sep - 31 Oct)

  196th Inf Bde (Lt) (Sep), BG DeSaussere, Commanding
       2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry
       4th Battalion, 31st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery
         (Support from B Battery, 3rd Bn, 13th Artillery(-)
       Supporting artillery not assigned to 196th: B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 13th Artillery Direct Support 20-29 September

Phase II (1 to 5 Nov)

  196th Inf Bde (Lt) (Sep), BG DeSaussere, Commanding
       2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry
       4th Battalion, 31st Infantry
       1st Battalion, 27th Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery
       A Battery, 1st Battalion, 8th Artillery - Reinforcing 1 Nov; Attached 4 November
       C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Artillery - General Support, Reinforcing 2 Nov
       1 Platoon, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Artillery - attached 3 November.

Phase III (6 to 10 November 1966)

       1st & 2nd Battalions, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division

  196th Inf Bde Task Force - attached to 1st Infantry Division - 5 to 11 November
       2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry
       4th Battalion, 31st Infantry - 8-10 Nov attached to 1st Bn (Mechanized), 5th Infantry
       1st Battalion, 27th Infantry - attached to 1st Inf Division, 5-11 November
       2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry - attached to TAY NINH Base Commander
       1st Bn (Mechanized), 5th Infantry
       Supporting: 3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery(+) from Phase II

Phase IV (11 to 25 November 1966)

       1st & 2nd Battalions, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division

  2nd Brigade, 25th Inf Div Task Force
       1st Bn (Mechanized), 5th Infantry, 10 November
       1st Battalion, 27th Infantry
       2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry - 11 November
       2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry
       2nd Battalion (Mech), 22nd Infantry - 13 Nov from 3d Bde, 4th Inf Division
       1st Battalion, 8th Artillery, Direct Support
       Supporting Artillery: A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 13th Artillery; B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Artillery
          and A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 77th Artillery (Aerial Rocket Artillery);

  196th Inf Bde Task Force
       2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry
       4th Battalion, 31st Infantry
       3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery

The Artillery fired 2634 support missions and 10,356 Harassment & Interdiction or defensive missions, expending 70,470 high explosive (HE) , 2085 White Phosporous (WP), and 342 Illumination rounds.

Aviation Support was provided by 25th Aviation Battalion (A & D companies), 11th Aviation Battalion (116th, (also here), 147th, and 178th Aviation Companies), 13th Aviation Bn (175th Avn Co), 52nd Avn Bn (117th Avn Co), and 145th Avn Bn (68th Avn Co), 71st Avn Co), and 118th Avn Company) (and here)) . They flew 17 Battalion size Combat Assaults, 12 extractions, and 7 Repositions while flying 3 Company size Combat assaults, 2 extractions and 1 reposition. Assets were also used for Command and Control, reconnaissance, resupply, and medical evacuations in addition to the above missions.

During the initial phase of the operations around Tay Ninh City, the small VC units preferred to avoid contact so only light and sporatic contacts were made by the 196th LIB. The 196th shifted operations to the Dau Tieng area in October to concentrate on neutralizing two supply activities of Group 82 & 83. The shift was prompted when the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division found a rice cache of 279 tons. Captured documents indicated the area was a major VC Supply activity. The 196th made more cache and intelligence discoveries through the end of October.

On 3 November, 196th LIB made contact with an unknown size VC force and from the response of small arms, hand grenades, rifle grenades, claymore mines and the fact the enemy put up a determined defense indicated the 196th had encountered a main force element. Light sporatic contact continued through the night of the 3 and 4 November.

On the 4th, they met heavy resistance with three VC company size assaults being repelled. Captured documents indicated it was elements from the 271s and 273rd VC regiments. Shortly after midnight on 4 November, the 2nd battalion, 272nd VC Regiment put forth a coordinated attack Soui Cau Op, using mortars, recoilless rifles, automatic weapons and a variety of Bangalore torpedoes in an attempt to breach the defenses and overrun the camp. They were repelled and retreated to BO LOI woods. In the early morning hours of the 4th, they VC also mortared the 196th Base Camp.

On the 5th of November, elements of the 196th again main contact with VC forces well fortified in bunkers resulting in heavy losses for the VC when all was over. Frontal assaults of 80-100 men each were used by the VC against the American forces. Documents found indicated it was elements of the 271st and 273rd VC Regiments.

After the 5th, the 1st Infantry Division made contact with Viet Cong (VC) units withdrawing from the area. They identified elements of the 101st NVA Regiment, and 2nd Battalions of the 271st and 273rd Regiments.

The 25th Division effort was directed at this time to the North to War Zone C. Contacts were sporadic and with smaller size elements for the remainder of the operation for the 25th ID. Indications were that Operation Attleboro completely disrupted Viet Cong (VC) plans for a MAJOR winter offensive by the 9th VC Division and the 101st NVA Regiment.

Read the detailed 25th Infantry Division's Combat After Action Report (CAAR) report for Operation Attleboro, period ending 25 November 1966. You can read the execution summary for all the key or major events in a chronological sequence starting on page 13 of the report. It includes unit names, locations, grid coordinates, captured materials, movement, contacts etc.

Read the detailed Operational Report - Lessons Learned, Operation Attleboro report, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, for 1-25 November 1966. Similar to Division report but shows the participation by their 2nd Brigade. Contains Concept of Operations for the Brigade, Order of Battle, and events by dates for the period they were part of Operation Attleboro.

Read the Operational Report - Lessons Learned, HQ 25th Infantry Division, FULL REPORT for period ending 31 October 1966. Provides details of the Divisional units not in Attleboro in all of their operations during the August, September, October 1966 reporting period. It will discuss all of their key events that occurred for their units during the reporting period.

Read 6 pages, from Texas Tech University, of the 25th Infantry Division's Operational Report - Lessons Learned (ORLL) for the period ending 31 January 1967 REPORT which provides some details of the Divisional units not in Attleboro in all of their operations during the November, December, and January 1967 reporting period. It discusses some of their named OPERATIONS (Including Attleboro) and key events that occurred for their units during the reporting period.

At the end of Operation Attleboro, the 25th Infantry Division stated they had lost 44 Killed in Action, 342 Wounded by Hostile Action (WHA), and 4 died from wounds days after they were wounded; the 196th LIB lost 53 KIA, 399 WHA, and none died from wounds during the operation period ending 25 November. Records today show that one soldier, SSG Lloyd Hans Rohde, a member of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry was severely wounded on the contact of 4 November 1966 when his company was moving to support the extraction of the companies from the two battalions of the 27th Infantry. He survived until November 30, 1966 when he succumbed to his abdominal wounds. As a result of his actions on 4 November, SSG Rohde was awarded the Silver Star.

Another soldier who was wounded in action on November 5, 1966 while being extracted from the area as part of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry was PFC Thomas Joseph Conners, also known as "Ozzie". He passed away on May 27, 2000 as a result of complications attributed directly to his wounds received in Vietnam. His name was added to the Wall in Washington, D.C. in May of 2005. Read the story about "Ozzie" Conners' participation in Operation Attelboro here.

At least 152 of America's servicemen from participating units died during Operation Attleboro from 14 September and 25 November 1966. One hundred and forty-five (145) names are accounted for below and they are:

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