Snippets of History From the World Wide Web . . .
In February 1966, forces of the North
Vietnamese Army (NVA) overran the A Shau Special Forces Camp which was
located in the A Shau Valley, in the northwest corner of I Corps. Camp A
Shau, established in 1964, was one of three such camps in the valley. The
other two – Ta Bat and A Loui – were abandoned before 1966. Being
located only two miles from the Laotian border, the Green Berets manning
Camp A Shau were able to monitor NVA activity along the Ho Chi Minh
Trail. The camp also lay along a favored NVA infiltration route to the
cities of Hue and Da Nang. The valley itself was about six miles long and a mile wide. The bordering hills reached some 1500 feet above the
valley floor. Pilots flying up the valley referred to it as "The
Tube." Camps in the A Shau were reliant solely on support by air.
Material to build the camps had been carried in by US Air Force C-123
Provider twin-engine transports, an all purpose tactical cargo aircraft that
often worked with the special forces. Everything needed was flown in,
including food and ammunition. Due to surrounding mountains and
low-lying clouds and fog, access to the valley by air could be difficult.
When the camp fell, rescue helicopters
were sent in to pick up the survivors air in between suppressive air strikes
against the NVA attackers. Once in possession of the A Shau, the NVA
established a major logistical base and a holding area for forces
|. . . and Those Who Flew There
"There was a mayday call from an F-4, call sign
Gunfighter 42. The lead jet -- Gunfighter 41, with two pilots
on board -- had been shot down in the A Shau Valley, a narrow,
twenty-five-mile strip of terrain that was a strategic focal point
of the war for the Trail. The valley straddled the border
between South Vietnam and Laos just south of Khe Sanh and was a key
arm of the Trail network. A major NVA staging post known as
Base Area 611 sat at the north end of the valley, which had made it
a major battleground from the earliest days of the war."
Rick Newman and Don Shepperd, Bury Us Upside
Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 2007,
Detachment photo-observers flew the valley numerous times, generally as
part of a two-ship formation. The low ship, flying at
3000 feet, carried the photo-observer. The high ship flew behind
and above at 5000
feet. Although the NVA was believed to have 37-mm antiaircraft guns concealed on both sides of the
valley that could have made short work of the
low ship, it generally did not fire. Firing would
have revealed their presence, exposed their positions and brought down an air strike directed by
the high ship -- a large price to pay for a minor target like an 0-1.
"B" Detachment -- Working In the A Shau
Above: Bomb craters cover
the floor of the A Shau Valley in 1967. Barely visible, extending
upward at about a 45-degree angle in the
circle, is a portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the major NVA/VC
thoroughfare that was the target
of repeated heavy bombing by USAF B-52s.
and Mission Memories
A Shau Valley was a major infiltration route in I Corps, situated in
[the] western portion of the Corps area next to Laos, if I recall
correctly. A dirt road ran through the valley. B-52 raids all up and
down the valley turned it into a cratered moonscape – yet it didn’t
stop the infiltration. You could always see a recent trail winding
around the individual craters.
saw the same thing in early 1968 when the ["B" Detachment]
was reading a lot of missions around Khe Sanh. [Bomb craters]
surrounded the base but you’d still see new trails skirting around
craters, and a trench line or two coming closer to the base
perimeter every day. At the end of the trench line you’d see a
donut-shaped machine gun emplacement. Obviously, the other side did
a lot of their work on the night shift. When it was decided to
relieve the Marines at Khe Sanh, we could watch the relief, [by way
of the successive updates of aerial photography that we were
evaluating] making its way along Rte 9, to the base. TET brought on
longer hours – 18 on and 12 off, if I remember correctly, a lot
more missions and additional staffing.
additional staffing was provided by a National Guard or reserve
unit. I believe they were from Michigan. Missions were brought in
from the airport both during the day and on the mid-night run up
from Saigon, and there were enough of them to fill up a small
trailer that was towed behind a jeep.
was during this time that Detachment B sent staff up to help out at
Phu Bai. We saw a lot of missions over Hue when the fighting was
going on there. The City looked quite nice from the air but I’ve
read that, from the ground level, those who were there weren’t
appreciating its beauty.
"B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1967 -1968
More Background From the World Wide Web . . .
With the 1968
Tet offensive, the NVA restocked the A Shau valley with food and equipment.
US Forces returned to the valley in April 1968, the 1st Air Cavalry Division
conducting Operation Delaware, with the 3rd Marine Regiment entering with
Operation Dewey Canyon in January 1969. But when aerial and on-the-ground
reconnaissance detected continuing activity in the A Shau in the early
months of 1969, the possibility of a new NVA offensive emerged. Army
operations were launched in the valley and faced strong resistance,
especially from anti-aircraft guns. On May 11, 1969, a battalion of the
101st Airborne Division climbing Hill 937 in the A Shau engaged the NVA’s
28th Regiment. This fight extended for a period of over ten days.
937 was more formally known as Ap Bia Mountain and may be the area to the
left side of the photograph at the top of this page. But "Hamburger
Hill" was the label affixed by the news media, apparently to suggest that
American troops had been thoughtlessly chewed up in a meat grinder.
This was derived from the
fact that after substantial casualties – 56 killed and 420 wounded – the
decision was made to abandon the mountain shortly after it was captured with
the explanation that the rationale for the operation was to harass the NVA
and not to capture and hold territory. In fact, he NVA soon reoccupied
Hill 937. Publicity over what appeared to be a senseless sacrifice of American lives
caused the US to shift its emphasis to a policy of
"Vietnamization." This meant that the US would turn the war over
to the South Vietnamese forces and avoid future involvement direct combat
-- Back In the Valley . . .
The photo at right shows a U.S. Army Special Forces camp in the A Shau
Valley in late 1966. This camp, with adjacent long and short airstrips,
was one of the
three abandoned such camps in the valley -- either Camp A Shau, Ta Bat or A
Luoi. The triangular
shape pointing upward from the center of the photograph marks the
earthworks that formed the defensive perimeter of the camp. This
characteristic shape, with circular trenched corners, allowed defenders clear and close
fields of defensive fire along all of the camp's boundaries. Taken
from the Greek term for a triangle -- "delta" -- this
configuration was said to have given elements of the special forces -- its
Delta Force units -- their name.
this picture was taken, the airstrip surface had been converted by the
NVA or the VC for use as a segment of the road system that
ran through the center of the valley. The multiple bomb craters
suggest attempts defend the camp against attack or interdict this segment of the Ho
Chi Minh Trail network. It was rumored that the NVA had bulldozers
secreted in the nearby jungle. In any event, by the day following
most air strikes, craters that had cut the road were often found to have been filled in or a
new road segment constructed around them.
Photo Credit: Kelly Lea As Posted On
com, website of The Marine Helicopter Association.
This photograph, included for comparison purposes, shows
what appears to be a secure and functioning, but otherwise unidentified, outpost in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam in
1963. It seems to be fully fitted out with structures and building
materials, including the corrugated aluminum sheeting that was used
extensively in Vietnam for roofing, both in permanent installations and
in static field encampments. Contrast this camp with the stripped
installation pictured above -- which may or may not be the same
location. Conventional aerial imagery of Camp
A Shau, taken by the Air Force and evaluated by "B" Detachment
after the camp was abandoned, showed extensive battle damage, with
unidentifiable bodies scattered around the perimeter of the camp, left-behind equipment, and
building materials such as lumber and sheeting. Like the photograph at
left, subsequent U.S. Air Force aerial photography taken over the
course of 1967 documented the gradual disassembly of the camp, as
the NVA systematically stripped it of anything and everything usable.
By November 1967, there was little evidence of the three camps but scarred ground.
Left: This is a photograph of
the remnants of the actual Camp A Shau in
the A Shau Valley. The perimeter follows the similar delta-shaped defensive
construction, although in this photograph the arrow-like shape is
pointing downward. In over-flying the valley, the same road that ran through the
abandoned camp pictured above could be observed continuing to this camp and
running through the airstrip surface before southward moving southward.