The Old Reliables in Vietnam, 1966-1968

 

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BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MOBILE RIVERINE FORCE

THE 9th INFANTRY DIVISION IN VIETNAM

9th DIVISION COMMANDERS

THE MEKONG DELTA


MEDIA AND PHOTOGRAPHS


SOURCES

The 9th Infantry Division, also known as “The Old Reliables” launched their first combat operations in Vietnam in December of 1966. Successful in a number of operations, some of the 9th’s most significant achievements in Vietnam included an overwhelming number of victories against Main Force Viet Cong units, the initiation of sustained operations in the Mekong Delta, forming the first Mobile Riverine Force since the Civil War, the discovery of the largest enemy weapons cache of the entire Vietnam war, and suppression of the Viet Cong terror campaign during Tet 1968.

1966

Upon their reactivation on February 1, 1966 the Old Reliables became the first division to be organized, equipped, and trained for deployment to an overseas combat theater since World War II.
Organized  under the Reorganization Objective Army Division (ROAD) concept the Division included ten maneuver battalions (three each to the 39th, 47th, and 60th Regiments, and also the 6th and 31st battalions), the 3d Squadron, 5th Armored Cavalry, 15th Engineer Battalion, and the Division Artillery.
In May of 1966 the Department of the Army warned the Division for movement to Southeast Asia during December and on October 19th the 15th Engineer Battalion became the first rank to arrive in Vietnam where they began to develop the Division-sized base known as “Camp Bearcat,” about 20 miles northeast of Saigon in Long Thanh. The first group of deployed parties traveled by air and landed in Vietnam on December 8th, with the rest travelling aboard Naval transport ships and arriving between December 19, 1966 – February 2, 1967.
The official entry of the 9th Division into Vietnam is December 19th, when Major General George S. Eckhardt led 5,000 9th Infantrymen onto the beaches of Vung Tau to be welcomed by General William C. Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command in Vietnam.

1967

In January of 1967 the Division became the first American infantry unit to establish themselves a permanent camp in the Viet Cong-infested Mekong Delta. Known as Camp Dong Tam and five miles west of the My Tho River, it was occupied by their 3d Brigade headquarters, 3d Battalion, and 60th Infantry.
Dong Tam, built up by dredging the sand from the My Tho River, was transformed by two companies of the 15th Engineer Battalion into a base camp along with roadways, foundations for buildings, and with an established defensive perimeter.
The Division had their first significant contact with the enemy on January 20th during Operation COLBY in which 14 Viet Cong were cut down. A month later 105mm howitzers were mounted on floating barges and the Division began to navigate the Delta’s muddy waterways.
In March the 1st Brigade and 3d/5th Cavalry joined Operation JUNCTION CITY, the largest operation of the war. On March 20th near Bau Bang, 34 miles north of Saigon, a six hour-long firefight left 230 Viet Cong dead, while friendly losses amounted to four killed with another 67 wounded.
Several weeks later an engagement involving a pre-planned air strike that forced the Viet Cong out of their damaged hideouts near Rach Kien in Long An Province resulted in 207 Viet Cong killed with one American fatality and fifteen wounded.
As the battles that followed after this point pushed their way further into the Mekong Delta it became apparent that the need for a mobile strike force capable of navigating the waterways was necessary. This solution came in June of 1967 with the reformation of the Mobile Riverine Force combining elements of the 9th Division and Naval Task Force 117. The Mobile Riverine Force operated from a fleet of 100 naval vessels while the Infantry initiated extensive combat missions into the Mekong marshlands and rice paddies.
The Mobile Riverine Force's first major contact with Viet Cong enemies came between the 19th and 22nd of June in which 256 Viet Cong were killed at the Rach Nui Canal. Later in August during Operation CORONADO II, a joint American and Vietnamese force encroached further onto a suspected enemy stronghold in the Cam Son Secret Zone and after eight days counted 285 Viet Cong dead. Encouraged by their successes, Operation CORONADO V, a 27 day operation in September saw 330 enemy killed along with 11 individual weapons and 11,200 rounds of small arms ammo seized.
On September 21st eh 2,200 man Royal Thai Army Volunteer Regiment, after months of training and preparation by the 9th, landed in Vietnam as the fifth free world force to join the South Vietnamese, and in October came the seizing of the largest arms cache during the entire Vietnam war. While cleaning jungle several miles southeast of Bearcat during Operation AKRON III, an enormous network of tunnels and bunkers were found. After two weeks of extensive searching led to the discovery of 1,140 weapons, nearly 95,000 rounds of small arms ammo, 3,634 grenades, 2,273 recoilless rifle shells, and 452 mortar rounds. The cache also included 85mm howitzers - the first artillery pieces seized from the Viet Cong by United States forces.

1968

During January of 1968 combat activity was low for the most part, specifically due to a truce between the North and South Vietnamese that there would be a cease-fire for the new year, known as the Tet Truce. However, on the 31st during the Tet Truce, massive guerilla attacks broke out in the Delta - this was referred to as the Tet Offensive. The South Vietnamese government quickly sent reports throughout the country to cancel the truce, and the United States was informed simultaneously of their cancellation of the trucel. All units were advised to resume full operations.
Due to the 9th Divisions swift response, the moment the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units who normally kept themselves expertly hidden exposed themselves during their attack, they were immediately pushed to the defensive.  The communist outbreaks led infantrymen into unfamiliar fighting grounds and missions - units from the 1st Brigade were taken from their jungle environment and put into the Delta, while troops from the 2d and 3d Brigades who were used to making the weary trek through the muddy rice paddies of the Mekong were now tracking down invaders in the streets of Ben Tre and My Tho. By February 22nd over 1,625 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese deaths were accredited to the Division troops.
On March 11 the 3d Brigade's 13 month-long Operation ENTERPRISE, aimed at driving the Viet Cong out of the Long An Province, finally came to an end with more than 2,000 enemies dead, more than 1,000 suspects detained, 35 Hoi Chanhs (Government returnees), and 8,500 Viet Cong bunkers destroyed. As a result, many of the roads and waterways once controlled by the Viet Cong were opened and reverted to Government control, deserted villages were finally reoccupied, and thousands of acres of waste land were slowly put back into use for rice production.

 

1

SP4 Haines and SGT. Black (background) take a break.

 

2

SP4 Haines with an M-60 machine gun. Notice the defoliation of
the surrounding area (Agent Orange/Napalm).

 

 

Source: 9th Infantry Division/Delta Division, SP4 James Street (1968)
The Tet Offensive: intelligence failure in war, James J. Wirtz, Cornell University Press (1991)