(p.164) Appendix D Prisoner Phan Xuan Quy: Biographical Information and Thanh Phu Battle Account
(p.164) Appendix D Prisoner Phan Xuan Quy: Biographical Information and Thanh Phu Battle Account
Phan Xuan Quy—Headquarters Secretary, 261 B Battalion On 11 April 1969, approximately 12 kilometers southwest of My Phuoc Tay, elements of the 7th ARVN Division discovered a VC hospital and captured a PW identified in subsequent interrogation as Phan Xuan Quy, Headquarters Secretary of the 261 B Battalion. This position is roughly equivalent to that of Battalion Adjutant. The subject is an intelligent, well educated and hardcore Viet Cong. He had been wounded on five occasions in contact with ARVN elements and did not desire to rally to GVN.
Phan Xuan Quy was born in the 1st District of Saigon in 1949. He lived with his stepfather as his mother had been imprisoned during the reign of Bao Dai for reasons unknown to Quy. Quy’s mother was released from prison in 1954 and died a few days after her release. According to Quy, her last words to him was a request that he avenge her death and the wrongs she had suffered at the hands of the Bao Dai regime. His disaffection and dissatisfaction with the GVN and the later rallying to Viet Cong ranks can be traced to this. In 1958 Quy’s stepfather died and Quy went to live with Pham Binh, a friend of his father. From 1958 to 1963 Quy attended school in Saigon. In 1963, Quy moved to the capitol of Cambodia, where he attended a private school until 1966. While in this school Quy became fluent in both the French and the Cambodian languages. In January of 1966 Quy went to work for the Doc Lap newspaper, a neutralist newspaper in the capitol of Cambodia. In February he joined the Viet Cong to as he stated “Fight for the country he loved so much.” He attended basic training and NCO school in Back Lien (P), Cambodia, for five months. In July (p.165) of 1967 he was assigned to the VC 502 Battalion as a squad leader. In August of 1968 he was transferred to the 261 B Battalion, where he was promoted to the rank of platoon leader. In March of 1969 he was made Battalion Headquarters Secretary. On 11 and 12 March his battalion was decimated by elements of the 9th Infantry Division at Thanh Phu (V), Cai Be (D), Dinh Tuong (P), Republic of Vietnam. On 11 April 1969 he was captured by elements of the 7th ARVN Division while he was a patient in a VC hospital where he was recovering from wounds incurred from a booby trap on 10 April. He was subsequently turned over for interrogation to the 9th Infantry Division and has voluntarily provided the information concerning a contact between his unit, the 261 B Battalion, and elements of the 9th Infantry Division.1
It is believed that the subject, as Battalion Secretary, wrote an account of the battle for the Battalion Commander, which was to be sent to the Headquarters Dong Thap I Regiment of MR II for possible preparation of a unit citation. He admitted discussing the battle with all the unit officers.
INTERROGATOR: SP5 ROBERT T. KOT, 9TH MI Detachment
INTERROGATOR: SSG HUYNH VAN MAI, 9TH MI Detachment
An Account of
The Battle of Thanh Phu
Prisoner Phan Xuan Quy
The 261 B Battalion with four companies and a headquarters section totaling 268 men arrived to Thanh Phu (V) at 0200 hours on the morning of 11 March 1969 after many hours of traveling from Hau My (V). The time for travel varies depending upon the situation and whether or not bunkers are available at the new site. This day we started at 1700 hours. On arrival the battalion was joined by 30 guerillas of Thanh Phu (V) and though very tired and hungry, immediately started building bunkers (usually 10 (p.166) meters apart), and camouf aged the area because of constant fear of air and artillery strikes.
At 0 630 hours, 11 March 1969 we suddenly received word from higher ranks that this morning there would be a sweep operation in our area. This message was received on a PRC-10 radio to the battalion commander by coded radio transmission from 122-X signal element. The 122-X signal company is assigned to Dong Tap I Regiment of MR II and has an element with each battalion.
Immediately we received an order from battalion headquarters to get in the bunkers and wait to see what happens in the next few hours. Our unit was tired and when we got word it was too late to move to another area with bunkers. We did not want to move during the daylight. Besides it usually takes us one to two hours to prepare to move because we have to raise our sunken sampans hidden in the small canals used to move our heavy weapons.
Two hours passed, then three hours, so I felt nothing was going to happen. I went out to look for some f sh in the nearby canal, since I had not eaten since the day before. We get 28 piasters a day with which to buy rice. We spend very little in the first part of the month, saving seven or eight piasters a day with which to buy a duck or chicken for the squad or platoon to have an interesting party. A party for the morale of the unit and decorations are given at this time.
About a half an hour later (1030 hours, 11 March 1969), a small helicopter came into the area (C3) and few around several times. We call this the “Staf Officer’s” helicopter and when it visually recons the area, we know from past experience that US troops would def nitely have an operation in that area. We had standing orders not to fire on helicopters when hiding in an area.
Suddenly another two helicopters came in and few around our area. The order was immediately given by the C3 commander to prepare for combat. I think that then one of the helicopters discovered my position. It hovered right above me. Quickly I jumped in the ditch, trying to hide. The second helicopter was coming over fast and it looked like it was going to open fire on me. I jumped from the ditch and crawled to my bunker. As the helicopter came around again, I saw the ditch where I had been receive rockets and gunfire. The helicopters were dropping the “crying gas” and a marsh grass fire was set of by smoke grenades. To defend against the gas, we (p.167) placed a wet cloth across the bunker openings, then lit a candle or burner to cause any gas which might penetrate the bunker to rise to the ceiling while we remained on the floor. This was 100 percent effective. The other method we use is to urinate on a towel and place it over the face. After the attack, we use a “Chinese Oil” to clear the “crying gas” from our skin.
At 1130 hours, 11 March 1969, I could see in the distance some helicopters coming from the south. Immediately I stood up on the top of the bunker where I could observe them. I could see five helicopters landing troops over 300 meters from my position [see map 3]. The US helicopter assaults were very fast and well done, allowing us no time to move out. US troops came in almost immediately after the first two helicopters dropped the smoke grenades.
They were all Americans without a doubt, because they were tall and had huge bodies. They started to move in our direction. C3 element got ready to hold their position and had their gun emplacements ready for them. Then I could see them advancing through the booby trap area which the Thanh Phu (V) Guerrillas had set up for our unit as a defense. Local guerrillas are used to lay booby traps to protect the flanks of the battalion. They had set up these booby traps in three rows around our defense, each row with five meters between booby traps and ten meters in depth between each row.
We had given the Thanh Phu (V) Guerrillas 150 grenades to set up for us plus they had some of their own. The Guerrillas’ position was set up along the south bank of Nguyen Van Tiep Canal four kilometers from the ARVN Special Forces of My Phuoc Tay Camp to the east. This area was familiar with the local guerrillas and main ways the ARVN Special Forces would come in. The guerrillas were spread out in this area which already had old bunkers there.
(1200 hours, 11 March 1969) US troops were moving fast, so I knew they did not have any idea the booby traps were there. Suddenly I heard some booby traps explode. Five US soldiers in the front element went down and were wounded or dead. Then the entire US element stopped, lay down for five minutes and started advancing again. I think US troops were staying too close together during movement. US troops moving single file, too close together causing many booby trap casualties.
I could feel the intensity of the heat on my face from the grass burning and the soldiers around me were coughing from the black smoke. Then I was informed that two killed in action and two wounded in action had resulted from the time the very first two helicopters had f own over our location (C3). US troops were still advancing, but now were dividing into two single file elements. They were 40 meters away from our location ‰ 20 meters ‰ ten meters. I remember seeing the tactic of advancing and dividing into single file elements being used by the ARVN’s.
(p.169) I heard someone yell “Fire!” To the right of my position two submachine guns swiftly spit out ammo at US troops. Meantime I gave the order to the machine gunner in my area to fire on the second part of the US element. I was put in charge of the machine gun in that area by the C3 commander, Ba Kiet, 37, K-54, when the positions were first set up. I had been ordered from battalion headquarters to stay with C3 element as acting platoon leader.
We had them pinned down at this point. Then I saw two helicopters fly over our C3 location and opened up, killing two soldiers and wounding three more to the west of my location. In my opinion US troops were moving in large groups allowing us to easily pin down the element with one or two machine guns. They waited until they were too close to our position to deploy any assault tactics. US troops believe that because they cannot see the VC in the area, the VC are not there.
About 1300 hours the reinforced elements of the US were landing 15 more helicopters to the east of C3 location approximately 350 meters away [see map 3]. During this time the US was dispersing in that area where the second insertion took place. Two 82mm mortars from C4 (Heavy Weapon) element were firing away. I heard many mortar rounds hit that US element, but they were still advancing. The C4 Heavy Weapon element was set up in the middle of the defense area to protect battalion headquarters and provide artillery support to the infantry companies.
The US second inserted troop landing had started to break up into three elements to try to penetrate the battalion defense position: first element concentrating on C4 location; second element moved north to Thanh Phu Guerrillas position guarding the aid station in that area; third element was heading southwest to C3 location where I was. I ordered the machine gunner at my position to turn and fire at the second inserted landing of US troops to the east. At this time C3 and C4 machine gun elements were concentrating to fire on US advancing elements and it was effective because we had “dug in” positions and bunkers. Then the C3 commander, Ba (p.170) Kiet, near my position, gave the order to concentrate B40’s and antitank weapons on the dikes and small canals which US soldiers were using as protection when advancing to the company defense positions from the east. Also he gave the order to start evacuating the wounded. The wounded are carried to a battalion aid station for emergency treatment by members of the battalion. From that point they were transported by recruited civilians to a hospital supporting the unit. Nylon hammocks are often used to transport the wounded.
About 1600–1700 hours, the C3 location was hit by helicopters. This time they destroyed two submachine guns and killed two west of my location. Suddenly there was a terrific flash to the north of C3 location near the Nguyen Van Tiep Canal where the Thanh Phu Guerrillas were located. No more firing was coming from that area. Later after the battle, I found out that this air strike knocked out the guerrilla position resulting in 30 Thanh Phu Guerrillas killed. At 1700 hours there was one helicopter flying at low altitude at C3 location and spotted our position, forcing us to open up with AK-47 and machine gun fire. The helicopter was hit and started shaking as it few back toward Highway 4 in a southwest direction.
The recon reported the following to battalion headquarters and this information was passed to the companies by field phone:
About 1730 hours the third element of US troops were landing 20 helicopters southwest of the battalion location [see map 3]. The US troops were 400 meters from the contact area. They broke up into two elements; first element moving toward battalion headquarters and C4 location and second element toward C1 and C2 locations. At 1800 hours it was reported that the first element of this third US troop landing got hit by booby traps 150 meters from battalion headquarters and C4 location. At 1830 hours it was reported that this third reinforced element then had pulled back 100 meters and deployed as a blocking force along the southwestern flank of our battalion location.
I saw US troops using sniper fire tactics and launching M-79 rounds at our elements during this time. The battle area was covered with thick black smoke from the marsh grass fire. About 1830 hours US troops to the east (second US troop landing) started to strongly assault the C4 Heavy Weapon element located in the center of the battalion defense formation. Two helicopters and two jets had already destroyed the C4 Heavy Weapon (p.171) position that had been blocking US troops coming from the east earlier. Many VC were lying around dead or wounded in that area. This caused the C1 (100 men) to reinforce the C4 element which was hit so badly and to continue to prevent US troops from penetrating that area by acting as a screening force. C2 had only 40 men and did not reinforce C4. C3 element was still holding of US elements to the south with small arms fire. During this time the elements kept close communication by using runners from platoon to company headquarters and field phones were used from company headquarters to battalion headquarters. (This is how C1 knew to reinforce C4.) We had a PRC-10 radio at battalion headquarters but did not use it during contact because the helicopters might discover our positions.
About 1900 hours the C3 commander, Ba Kiet, 37, K-54 ordered some of his men to look around for dead bodies and hide them in bunkers and cover others with camouf age nylon because it would be dark soon.
About 2000 hours the US hit the C2 location and southern bank of Nguyen Van Tiep Canal with air and artillery strikes, but the C2 element had already pulled back before the strikes to the northwest where the C1 element was previously. They had only left a squad-size element in the air/ artillery strike zone to fire at US troops on the southwestern flank. The C2 soldiers had informed this to me after the battle. Also during this time I did not know what was happening to the north of Nguyen Van Tiep Canal because we were in heavy contact with US elements to the east but the battalion commander, Le Ha, 44, K-54 had already known helicopters had landed to the north of this canal. He did not inform to our element (C3) because it would cause fear and low morale among the soldiers. I found this out later after the battle from him.
About 2100 hours it was completely dark except for flares and the speed of the fire fight was diminishing, but sound of helicopters were heard and seen still flying around our area of defense. At this time our element (C3) was informed by the battalion commander, Le Ha, that 44 helicopters with US troops had landed and already set up all along the northern part of Nguyen Van Tiep Canal. At this time I just knew that US troops had completely surrounded our position.
About 2200 hours the recon had reported to the battalion commander, Le Ha, that the withdrawal route was found. He informed to the companies that at 2300 hours the units would start withdrawing, element (p.172) by element. At 2330 hours a recon member from battalion headquarters came down to C3 position to give the word that we were to move north to Nguyen Van Tiep Canal. The strength of our element (C3) was very low at this time. Many small arms (AK-47) were lying around the bunkers where our soldiers lay dead. We placed some more of the dead in the bunkers and covered some with nylon stuff because US troops fail to check all possible places for bodies. Usually one day later a recon element goes back to check if US troops have left the area. Then they report back to battalion headquarters. A platoon size element is sent back into the area in the next few days to find the hidden bodies to bury them and to look for weapons that US troops failed to discover after the battle.
The C3 commander, Ba Kiet, told the soldiers to carry as many rifles and equipment with them as they could. I carried out a machine gun stand and an AK-47 rifle. The recon element then guided our element north to the Nguyen Van Tiep Canal. I saw, when we were withdrawing, that each soldier carried two to three small arms (AK-47, SKS, etc.). There were some flares in the sky around our defense area. In this case, where the tactical situation required rapid withdrawal, some weapons were hidden in the area of contact for pickup several days later.
About 0030 hours, when we reached the Nguyen Van Tiep Canal, the C3 element lost contact with the recon. The political officer, Bay Quyen, 27, K-54 took charge and guided the C3 on the withdrawal route. The rest of the battalion was ahead of C3 already moving west along the canal with elements ten meters apart. The battalion’s main recon element was in front avoiding contact with US troops as much as possible. I would like to include here that the recon elements conducted continuous and extensive recon during the course of the contact to attempt to locate a gap in the US defense formation. They reported constantly to the battalion commander.
About 0045 hours, when the C3 element was along the Nguyen Van Tiep Canal, we began receiving M-16 and M-79 fire from the US troops on the northern bank of the canal. One round hit the machine gun stand I was carrying and I fell in a ditch. I picked up the stand and continued on. The tracers continued to fly all around us. Later the political officer found a new way to bypass traveling near the canal where the tracers were hitting. Continuous air strikes were dropping all along the canal and surrounding area. When they came close to our position, we would lie down. While (p.173) moving along the withdrawal route, we tried to run quickly to wherever the air/artillery strikes already hit. This is how we got through them. Move back when the first bombs fall. Then after the strikes, move back into the same area, as we believe the US does not bomb in the same area right away.
Approximately 0100 hours we finally reached the area where the battalion recon element was standing guard. They showed us the 50 meter gap where the rest of the battalion had made it through. The tactics we used here were the recon element secured each side of the gap. The companies infiltrated through the gap in small groups in single f le. A small force is left behind in the contact area to cover the withdrawal of the main body.
As we passed through the gap, we could hear the Americans talking loudly on both sides of us. We quietly took our clothes of upon reaching the Cha La Canal and made floating rafts out of nylon. These floating rafts hold the weapons while in the water as we swam to the other side. We did not use sampans because they can easily be detected by US helicopters. I just got out of there in time and was glad to be alive!
The air/artillery strikes could be heard in the distance as we were moving away from the contact area (0130–0200 hours). After moving out of that area for one and a half kilometers, I estimated 95 men left. The air/ artillery strikes continued all night in the area of Thanh Phu.
On 13 March 1969, when we reassembled at the Trai Lon Canal after the battle, I found we had 20 deserters, leaving only 75 men left.
We discussed the battle. Before the battle we had 268 men in our unit plus there were 30 guerrillas. In the reassembly area after the battle there were 95 in the unit but 20 deserted. The 30 Thanh Phu (V) Guerrillas were killed by air/artillery strikes and general casualties were 173 men of our unit. It was unknown how many were killed and wounded of each company because the report was not made out that was to go to MR II. Since my position is secretary of the battalion at this time I have to collect the information and write a report to the battalion commander but the only thing I received was the weapon loss report. This consisted of the following:
C1 — 1 Machine gun
C2 — 1 Machine gun 1 B40 1 B40 1 60 mm mortar
C3 — 2 Submachine guns
C4 — 1 82 mm mortar 1 B40 1 Machine gun
(p.174) Small arms lost in the battle were not reported. The reason I have to take a long time to make a report is because the exact personnel loss was not reported by each company commander yet.
On the day of 13 March 1969 my battalion commander reported on the radio to the 1st Regiment that: There were 1500 US troops that participated in the battle from Saigon. We were courageous and killed 150 US troops, shot down one jet aircraft and two helicopters. After this the battalion commander gave the speech in front of the soldiers that the regiment highly recommended praise to each soldier.
On 15 March 1969 at 0300 hours in the morning 20 men (subject included) of the unit arrived back at the battle area. We just arrived in the battle area and observed around the area. The truth of the area was exposed under my eyes. Oh, I could not believe any view more lonely and terrible than this. All of the trees were burned down all around the area and I could not see any grass left on the ground. Our bunkers were destroyed and out on the ground I saw dried blood all around, still smelling the odor of the dead bodies in the air. It made me feel terrible. Also the big holes that were made by bombs made me thankful I had made it out alive. We encouraged ourselves to look for the dead and bring them to the sampans forgetting the smell of their bodies. At about 1000 hours in the morning we saw the ARVN Special Forces in that area but we ran away and hid from them along the Cha La Canal, one kilometer to the west of the battle area. We had only recovered five bodies before we were forced to move. Then we returned to the units with a sentimental feeling for all our dead comrades that were lost in the battle.
EPILOGUE: After we had returned to Trai Lon Canal the unit broke up into small groups. The regiment had already sent us three new 60 mm mortar tubes a few days after the battle. We were very tired and our morale was very low, but the battalion commander gave the word that our unit (75 men) would return to Kien Phong (P) to get reinforcements and recruit new men to fight again. On the way I got hit by a booby trap so I had to stay back at X-12 Hospital of MR II in Hau My (V). I just stayed there one night and the next morning the 7th ARVN Division soldiers swept the area and captured me and six other VC, when discovering and destroying the hospital.
(1) . Maj. Clyde A. Turner III, Letter, Subject: Thanh Phu Battle, 1 May 1969, 9th Military Intelligence Detachment, 9th Infantry Division, RVN.