In March 1970, I received a call from the CG 5th Mech. Brigade informing us that a Mike Force of LLDB (ARVN Special Forces) was being pursued by a superior NVA force in an area south of Khe Sanh near the Laotian border . The weather precluded reliable gunship support, and no Puffs were available. He asked if the 8/4th could provide them with direct support. Some choice words were exchanged with the tread-head commander about using 175s in direct support, but the essence of the conversation was that we could do it. "Yes Sir, the guns could make it" even though they seldom left the fire base. "Yes Sir, (after a call to Fulton) we can be ready to go and on the road in two hours." The tread-head general then gave me a ration of sh-- about the artillery always being late and for being seldom as STRAC as the mechanized infantry (Naples may remember the conversation).
One hour later, when I arrived at Camp JJ Carroll, A battery was already ready to go. Ten minutes later, the two guns from A-4 arrived and we had a six-gun 175 artillery raid in the making. One hour and twenty minutes after the briefing at 5th Mech. HQ, the ARVN 105 battery rolled in from down the road. We split the ARVN, two sections in front of the 175s and two sections (plus) trailing. At exactly the LD (Line of Departure) time, the Artillery was mounted up and prepared to depart. Then we waited thirty minutes for the Cavalry troop (minus) to arrive. (I should note that, in the interim, I did not resist the temptation to call the tread-head one star and inform him that the entire task force was in place minus his every ready horse soldiers.)
We moved out three hours after the briefing and thirty minutes after the Cav. arrived (it took that long for me to brief the Cav. commander (Captain) and for him to confirm with his higher that he would in fact be under the control of the Artillery and further, that he would be gone for at least a week instead of the 24 hours as he had been briefed.)
On this first 175gun Artillery Raid in Vietnam, everything started smoothly. All the trucks and tracks ran beautifully, thanks to the BN and Btry maintenance personnel, and everything was proceeding according to plan. We had coordinated with the ARVN firebase that overlooked the QL-9 bridge near the Rock Pile, but only about 15 minutes before the Cav. secured the bridge. (No use providing information that could be spread any earlier). Half of the Cav. remained at the bridge to fall in behind the last ARVN unit and the other half took the lead and moved west around the south side of the Rock Pile. At that point., the Cav. Detachment, two ARVN units, my jeep, and one gun section made the turn south and soon we started taking small arms and .50 cal fire from a position on the west side of the rock pile. The other sections and the FDC vehicle remained in defilade, while we deployed as fast as we could into an old Marine site just north of the main area of Vandergrift.
We lost a couple of ARVN and one Cav. vehicle (with folks) before we got into position behind the rocks. After a couple of tense moments trying to figure out how the Cav. was going to eliminate what was apparently a solitary enemy position, we put the hairlines over the breech and sighted in on what seemed to be a circular shadow of a cave just above the .51 caliber machine gun. (Fortunately tracers work both ways.) We lowered the spade as best we could in the rocky area and using the long (25 foot?) lanyard we fired max charge direct fire at the SOBs. Simultaneously with the explosion that wiped away the heavy machine-gun, the gun track recoiled back over the spade and the gun came to rest in a very awkward position-the only major maintenance casualty of the raid. The second casualty was my jeep, which did not take kindly to multiple .51 cal rounds.
By the time we resumed our movement, there was no chance that we would obtain our original objective before midnight. Initially, we were destined for a point near the intersection of QL9 and the road leading north to the abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. I decided to set up the task force at Ca Lu, using the old Marine Corps 8 inch firing positions. Now deprived of one jeep, I got Group (Col. Key) to loan us his Ranger. It was almost dark when the Cav. reported that Ca Lu was secured and we emplaced the remaining 9 sections (four 105s and five 175s) using the chopper's landing strobe. Since this was a night-time occupation of a non-reconnoitered site, the pucker factor was up, believe me. The task force was finally in place and the FDC reported ready at 10:00PM.
We contacted the Mike Force, SF leader, using a relay through FSB Sarge and learned that his position was two hundred meters beyond the max range of the guns. However, he wanted immediate fire support. After explaining the CEP (Circular Error Probable) at that range even IF we could cheat the firing tables to reach him, his comment was (I don't think I will ever forget), "Listen, buddy, I'd rather get my shit blown away by friendly fire than be tortured by Chuck!"
That first night, employing the wizardry of the BN FDC Sgt. and Ron Naples, coupled with minute leveling of the bubbles and the gunner's quadrant, we fired two missions. Both were successful in that we didn't hit any friendlies and we were able to reach the general area well enough that the NVA pulled back from their attack on the Mike Force position.
The next morning the Cav. moved out to secure our original objective. As they got about halfway, they came under attack from a couple of 130s the NVA had put in caves high on the Co Roc just inside Laos. The Cav. beat a hasty retreat.
Naples figured out that we could reach the 130s from Ca Lu, but even given their height advantage, they couldn't reach us. We did a Task Force six, five times on the SOBs, but they were dug in. (Folks who went on Lam Son 719 later told me that the NVA kept their various artillery pieces back in the caves and would roll them forward only to shoot)
The next day, the Mike Force made its way east about a click and during that withdrawal and subsequent fire fights during the day we fired at least forty missions in support. The morning of the third day , the Mike Force was extracted. I called 108th Group for instructions and was sure that we would receive a CSMO (Close Station, March Order) by noon. However, XXIV Corps was delighted to have someone in the area who could engage targets spotted by the lookout post on Hill 798, and since the weather was still too bad for the flyboys, we spent the next three days firing at suspected targets coming down from the tri-border area towards Khe Sanh.
Staying at Ca Lu, where Charlie had roamed at will for two years, with only 40 Cav. troops to protect us, an ARVN battery that didn't know how to lay down defensive fires; and a five-gun battery (plus) of 175 gunners accustomed to a static firebase, seemed risky enough. However, things got worse.
Two things happened on the fifth day. The first was that the SF Captain from the Mike Force flew in on the re-supply chopper. He gave credit to the task force for saving the lives of four dozen men and told us that we had obtained a direct hit on top of a machine gun position that screwed up Charlie's attack.. We didn't tell him how improbable that was, but did determined it was either gun three or gun four. We were firing three guns at one target and two at the other on that second day. He also gave me a bottle of Crown Royal. (Apparently sometime during the first night he promised me a bottle of my favorite if he got out alive.)
So far so good, but then Group called and told us to expect an ground attack that evening. All the questions you can imagine ran through the FDC. How do you know? What size of an attack? If we know, will they attack from the northwest or the southwest? All we got was a "wait out." 30 minutes later we got a partial answer.
"Maybe a reinforced Battalion."
"How do you know?"
"Can't tell you."
"Why the hell not?"
"Corps G2 says so."
About the time I stopped stomping, Ron Naples or Al Fulton or both in unison said, "Only two Corps G-2 intel posts in the area, Hill 728 and FSB Sarge." Their conclusion was that with the clouds and rain it probably wasn't Hill 728, so that left Sarge. I got Group to send out the Ranger again, took a cursory look around the areas just to the west of Ca Lu (saw nothing), and then flew up to Sarge. The MI Lt. was smiling to see the helicopter as he thought he was going to be relieved to return to Corps. HQ. I spoiled his day by asking him if he was the one who reported the hostile Main Force Battalion moving into attack position.
After several hems and haws, and no direct answers, I told him I didn't care how he knew, I just wanted to know their approximate current location and how fast they were moving. "For security reasons," he couldn't tell me, "too classified." Another ten minutes of BS passed before I ordered him to get in the helicopter, informing him that he was going to spend the night with us in Ca Lu. After a few salvos of how Corps G-2 was going to have me relieved, and my incessant reminders that he would have a better chance to make it through the attack at Ca Lu if he took all of his ammunition with him, he showed me on the map where he had picked up the radio intercepts and where he thought the NVA were, based on the time and location between intercepts.
The enemy force was supposedly south east of Khe Sanh and south of QL 9 heading east toward Ca Lu. We lay in defensive fires using the remaining 175s at Carroll and A-4, the 8 inch howitzers at A-2, and the two 105s at FSB Sarge. Beginning about two hours before ENT (Evening Nautical Twilight) we fired everything we could into the area and along the route of advance and continued to fire throughout the night. We even enlisted 155s from the 5th Mech. to join us. Well, it was a tense night but the attack never materialized; either Charlie wasn't there or we made him decide not to challenge us that night.
The next morning we CSMO'd and made it back across the bridge without incident. The first 175 gun Artillery Raid, with a night occupation, ended with kudos for the 8/4th thanks to the readiness of the gunners, the maintenance of the equipment, and good luck!
It was a nice day to be a soldier!
Over the next two months we conducted three other raids, each of two days duration, to support intelligence from Hill 728 and all were deemed successful, but none were anywhere near as exciting, puckering, or challenging as the six days west of the mountains.
By the way, about three days after the operation , before I had the chance to explain the situation in detail, I got my ass royally chewed by the G-2 General and a Counter Intelligence Colonel for my treatment of the MI Lt.. After I informed them that I had been serious, and explained why I would have taken their Lt. down to the firing position if he hadn't given me the information, they agreed that I was probably right. The information should have been shared with the unit under possible assault.