On 22 February 1967, a gigantic military horseshoe was pitched into the pit of War Zone C and the largest operation of the Vietnamese War [to that time] was underway. By evening of the 22nd, a casual observer flying over War Zone C would have spotted the settling dust as the well-aimed horseshoe slid into place. That settling dust was a direct result of mechanized, airmobile, and airborne forces of the U.S. 25th Infantry Division, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the BIG RED ONE. The western and north-western portions of the horseshoe were occupied by the 25th Infantry Division. The northeastern and eastern portions of the horseshoe were occupied by forces of the 1st Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade.
From MINH THANH the 1st Bn, 2nd Inf, 1st Bn 26th Inf, and 1st Bn 28th Inf conducted heliborne assaults in the north along Route 246. From QUON LOI, the 4th Bn, 503rd Inf and 1st Bn, 503rd Inf of the 173 Airborne Brigade under operational control of the 1st Division, conducted heliborne assaults in the northeast along Route 246.
From Bien Hoa, the 2nd Bn, 503rd Inf conducted the first battalion-sized parachute assault since the Korean War. Their drop zone was north of KATUM along Route 246.
The eastern portion of horseshoe was occupied by the 1st Sqdn, 4th Cav with Co B, 34th Armor attached, the 2nd Bn (Mech) 2nd Inf, and the 1st Bn 16th Inf. From the 1st Sqdn, 4th Cav positioins in the south to the 1st Bn, 2nd Inf positions in the north, 12 batteries of artillery thundered 105mm, 155mm, and 8 inch howitzer support. When all blocking units were in position, Search and Destroy forces surged into the open end of the horseshoe towards the blocking forces in the north.
As those forces charged north, let's consider some of the reasons which brought about OPERATION JUNCTION CITY. In November, 1966, the 1st Infantry Division entered the northern portions of War Zone C on OPERATION ATTLEBORO. The operation yielded large stores of VC foodstuffs and munitions and uncovered extensive logistical, administrative, and training complexes. In addition, forces of the 9th VC Division were encountered in well-fortified base areas. Attleboro yielded 1136 tons of rice and 845 VC killed. If southern War Zone C was so productive, northern War Zone C, along the Cambodian border, was probably an equally ripe target. To confirm this, during the months of December, January, and early February, a thorough evaluation was made of documents captured during ATTLEBORO; a concentrated intelligence-gathering effort was focused on War Zone C. Captured enemy materiel, documents, prisoners, and ralliers indicated that both the Central Organization for South Vietnam (COSVN) and the 9th VC Division Headquarters were located in northern War Zone C. In short, the most logical pit for that giant horseshoe was northern War Zone C.
The forces pouring into the open end of the horseshoe continued their thrust northward. The 2nd Bn, 28th Inf was helilifted into the area, and in coordination with all the units around the horseshoe, conducted search and destroy operations. On 28 February, just east of route TL 4, Co B, 1st Bn, 16th Inf engaged two battalions of the 101st North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment. The brief engagement cost the 101st NVA Regiment 167 killed. All units continued their missions locating rice, supplies, munitions, base camps and training areas throughout the zone of operations.
AS JUNCTION CITY entered its third week with only one major enemy encounter and sizeable but unspectacular equipment finds, a prominent news magazine in the United States asked its readers, "Whatever became of JUNCTION CITY?" An answer developed as the BIG RED ONE prepared to charge into phase II of JUNCTION CITY and encounter three additional regiments of the 9th VC Division. However, before JUNCTION CITY I was finished an additional major engagement took place. On 10 March 1967 tje 2nd Bn (Mech), 2nd Inf, minus Co B, was attacked at a fire support base along Route TL 4 by the 272nd VC Regiment. The attack was initiated by a heavy 30 minute mortar, recoiless rifle fire preperation, employing 120mm, 82mm, and 60mm mortars and 57mm recoiless rifles. Near the end of the barrage the enemy launched a two battalion ground attack on the eastern portion of the perimeter. The attack met withering US caliber .50 and M60 machine gun fire from armored personnel carriers adnf ground-mounted positions. As the battle continued, mutually supporting artillery bases rained over 5000 rounds of artillery into the area surrounding the base being attacked. Forward air controllers directed over 100 sorties of tactical fighter support. The battle ended at 0500 hours. A police of the surrounding area revealed 196 VC killed and five wounded PW's. Friendly casualties were three killed and 38 wounded. Only ten of the wounded required evacuation. One week later, the 1st Infantry Division terminated Phase I of Operation JUNCTION CITY.
On 180001 March 1967 the Division initiated Operation JUNCTION CITY II. The area of operations was immediately east of the JUNCTION CITY area, extending into the eastern portion of War Zone C between KATUM and Route 13. This area was selected for a number of important reasons. First, a CIDG compound and airstrip were being constructed along Route 246 west of AN LOC. Forces in the area would provide security for engineer work parties. Second, this area was the only remaining portion of War Zone C which had been searched by US forces. In mid-February 1967, Operation TUCSON had covered the area south of MINH THANH between the Michelen Plantation and Route 13. JUNCTION CITY I covered the western portions of Zone C. To completely blanket the zone, the JUNCTION CITY II area was selected. Third, intelligence gathered from documents, informers, ralliers, aerial observers, and airborne radar indicated substantial VC traffic flowing northeast and southwest in the saem general direction as the SAIGON River, north of DAU TIENG. JUNCTION CITY II was the last phase of a plan designed to sweep through War Zone C in TAY NINH Province and to demonstrate to the VC that an area they use as their major stronghold and headquarters for all South Vietnam is vulnerable to entry by American forces. Prior to this time no American forces had ever operated in eastern War Zone C.
The plan for the second phase in War Zone C was quite simple: place two brigades of infantry, reinforced with armored and mechanized forces, across the flow of V.C. traffic.The 2nd Brigade and 173rd Airborne Brigade, under operational control of the 1st Division, were chosen for the task. They executed search and destroy operations in the general area of Junction City II. The 1st Brigade secured QUAN LOI, Route 246 to the bridge site, and Route 245 to MINH THANH. The 1st Brigade of the 9th Division, also under 1st Division control, secured Route 13 from LAI KHE to QUAN LOI. During this pahse of the operation, the 1st Infantry Division controlled five brigades and an armored cavalry regiment, in addition to supporting artillery, engineer, aviation, signal and logistics units.
Two significant enemy contacts occurred during JUNCTION CITY II. The first took place at a destroyed village named BAU BANG, eight miles north of LAI KHE along Route 13. At that location, the 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry was securing B Battery, 7th Bn, 9th Artillery inside a perimeter of 20 M113 armored personnel carriers and six M48A3 tanks. At ten minutes past midnight on 20 March the base came under heavy caliber .50 machine gun, mortar and recoiless rifle fire. At 0135 hours the perimeter came under heavy ground attack from two battalions of the 273rd VC Regiment reinforced with local guerrillas. Heavy enemy machine gun fire was directed into the perimeter from along a railroad track embankment 50-100 meters east of the perimeter. Friendly forces replied with intensive, sustained small arms fires, M60 and caliber .50 machine gun fires, 90mm tank fires, 4.2 inch mortar fires, 3000 rounds of 105 mm, 155mm, 8 inch, and 175 mm artillery fires, coupled with 87 sorties of tactical fighter support. A police of the battle area the following morning revealed 231 V.C. killed and three wounded prisoners. U.S. forces sustained three killed and 63 wounded; 26 of the wounded were evacuated. As in the 10 March battle, the ability of the mechanized/armored perimeter to fight off repeated attacks kept the V.C. in position for friendly artillery and air attack.The second major enemy contact involved the 1st Bn, 2nd Infantry, the 1st Bn, 16th Infantry, and the 1st Bn 26th Infantry. On 30 March the 1st Bn, 26th Infantry conducted a heliborne assualt east of KATUM along Route 246. On the following day, the 1st Bn, 2nd Infantry,ade heavy enemy contact with an unknown V.C. force. Co B was sent to reinforce the recon platoon and encountered caliber .50 machine gun fires, recoiless rifle fires, claymores, and mortars, indicating a main force V.C. unit. Extensive artillery and air strikes forced the VC to break contact at 1700 hours. All elements of the 26th Infantry returned to night defensive positions, dug in, and waited for morning. The 1st Bn, 16th Infantry (-) had been helilifted into the area by 1730 hours to reinforce the position. At 0500 hours on 1 April a heavy enemy mortar barrage began to fall into the 16th and 26th Infatnry positions. The firing lasted 15 minutes. The 1st Bn, 2nd Infantry to the southwest also came under mortar attack. At 0522 hours enemy ground attacks were launched from the north and east against the 26th Infantry. U.S. ground forces returned a heavy volume of small arms fires while artillery was massed on the east and air strikes delivering anti-personell bomblets and napalm in the north. The massive U.S. response broke the enemy contact. Immediate interrogation of a captured V.C. indicated that the enemy reassembly area was to the east of the battle site. Air and artillery were shifted into the area and followed by a sweep, employing the 1st Bn, 2nd Infantry and 1st Bn 16th Infantry. A total of 491 bodies were counted in and around the defenses of the 1st Bn, 16th Infantry and 1st Bn, 26th Infantry. The final count after a sweep of teh area was 609 V.C. killed and three prisoners. Friendly casualties were 10 U.S. KIA adn 64 WIA.
JUNCTION CITY I AND II achieved very significant results. Not all of the units that participated in Operation JUNCTION CITY had a chance to participate in one of these pitched battles. Those who did made the V.C. pay dearly for the mistaken idea that they could overrun a BIG RED ONE position. Other units contribute in important ways. The 1st Engineer Battalion, for instance, constructed two new airfields in War Zone C and erected a new bridge capable of carrying tanks across the Saigon River into the zone. Highway 13 was held open for military traffic almost continuously for three months from Saigon to Quan Loi.
Most Important, the 1st Infantry Division and other U.S. units marched at will throughout the length and breadth of War Zone C destroying basecamps and gathering vital information. No longer can the V.C. regard this area as "safe haven". Incidentally Operation TUCSON from 14 to 22 February deprived the V.C. of 1700 tons of rice and JUNCTION CITY deprived them of 311 tons more for a total of 2011 tons. That is enough rice to feed 15 V.C. battalions of 500 men each for one year.
Most significant of all, fouir regiments of the 9th V.C. Division engaged in combat and resoundingly defeated. The 101st North Vietnamese Army Regiment and the 271st, 272nd, 273rd V.C. Main Force Regimetns lost a combined total of1203 combat soldiers killed in four separate battles.
If you were on Operation Junction City or any related operation, we would like to have your memories about this operation. Please contact the webmaster, John McCoy