The Battle of Long Tân: Việt Cộng ‘numbers’ – 275 Regiment ‘s ‘QM notebook’

Robert HallArticles, Australian Army, News, Uncategorised1 Comment

By Ernie Chamberlain

 

The 50th anniversary of the 1966 Battle of Long Tân is now past. However, with the the Red Dune movie “Danger Close” – “based on” the Battle, to begin filming in southern Queensland shortly, interest in the detail of the Battle is expected to increase.

Estimates published in a 2016 “fact sheet” by the Red Dune Film group cited the enemy force at Long Tân as totalling: “2,500 to 3,000 soldiers” and “3000+ soldiers”- with the “NVA/VC casualties” as “up to 800 killed” and “more than 1,000 wounded”. In my 2016 book on the VC’s D445 Battalion, I reviewed and discussed a wide range of estimates of the strength of the enemy forces at the Battle – and included a detailed Annex F on VC casualty estimates from a range of sources.[1] Following additional information acquired in 2017, I penned a Research Note in October last year titled: “The Battle of Long Tân: Việt Cộng Casualties – New Material”, in which I included the “190 names/personal details” of 275th VC Regiment personnel killed at Long Tân (or who had subsequently died of wounds). That listing was based on available official Vietnamese death certificates (giấy bo tử) – and analysis of some “tombstone data”. In that Note, I cautioned that: “Of course, for a complete and accurate listing of NVA/VC KIA at the Battle of Long Tân, KIA figures would also be needed for elements additional to the 275th VC Regiment” – eg D445 Battalion (20-30 KIA ?), and perhaps a few from the small HQ 5th VC Division element, the HQ Bà Rịa-Long Khánh-Biên Hòa Province Unit, the Võ Thị Sáu Civil Labour Company, the C.12-65 Bình Giã Assault Youth Unit, the “Surgery Element”, small reconnaissance elements (ie 5th VC Division, C.982), and possibly a small Z39 artillery element (which may have “retired” after the early morning shelling of Núi Đất  on 17 August ie following 1 ATF “counter-battery” fire).

Earlier this year, the “Quartermaster’s (QM’s) notebook” of the 275th VC Regiment became available – a document captured in early February 1968 by 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC) during Operation Coburg. Entries in that document covered the period from June to October 1966 – and while the notebook is unfortunately in very poor condition, some of the legible passages covering August 1966 are potentially quite interesting.  The notebook’s entries can probably be regarded as far more “factual” than accounts in published Vietnamese histories – such as those of the 5th VC Division (2005), the 275th VC Main Force Regiment (2015), and the D445 Local Force Battalion (1991 and 2004). Among other aspects, the 2

A page of the Quartermaster’s notebook, 275 VC Regiment. The notebook was captured by 2RAR/NZ.

75th Regiment “QM” recorded in some detail his “issues” of rice (by litres), fish, tinned milk, clothing, hammocks, mosquito nets etc[2] to the units and sub-units of the 275th VC Regiment according to their strength-states.

The 275th Regiment’s westward deployment in late July/August 1966 towards the site of the Battle of Long Tân – from a location just north of Xuyen Moc District Town, was monitored by airborne SIGINT direction-finding (USAF EC-47C aircraft). Progressive “fixes” on the Regiment’s radio transmitter are “illustrated” in the Australian Army Official History.[3]  On 7 August, the Regiment headquarter’s transmitter was fixed at YS 5473 (about 12 kilometres north-east of the 1 ATF base).[4]

The recovered 275th Regiment QM’s notebook shows that on 9 August – ie about a week before the Long Tân battle, he recorded rice issues to the Regiment’s units and sub-units – noting their respective strengths (see the extract above). On that day, the Regiment’s transmitter was located about six kilometres north-east of the site of the subsequent Battle of Long Tân. In the notebook, the 275th Regiment’s total strength was shown as 1,011 (including: 1st Battalion – 107, 2nd Battalion – 254, and 3rd Battalion – 250); followed by the manning detail of all the support companies (C16 to C23 inclusive[5]) and the four staff elements of the regimental headquarters. In a note written diagonally across those strength figures, the QM included that the “food” issue was to last until 29 August – and didn’t include the daily additional subsistence allowance.[6]

Captain Bryan Wickens, Intelligence Officer, 6RAR, questions a prisoner with the help of a Vietnamese interpreter. The PW was one of three captured at the battle of Long Tan.

Subsequently, the QM recorded his “temporary” strength-reckoning of the Regiment on 20 August (ie two days after the Long Tân battle). This listed totalled “852[1] – ie 159 less than the strength figure of 1,011 recorded on 9 August. The QM’s notebook also included a detailed listing of 111 personnel – in groups of ten, who had fought at Long Tân (including four company commanders). This could perhaps be interpreted as the Regiment’s “WIA list” for the Battle – but needs further analysis. The “20 August list” also included a food allocation for “100 Dân Công” – ie “civilian labourers”, who had probably been engaged in porterage and casualty evacuation in support of the Regiment.[2]  Further examination of the notebook could perhaps provide additional information.

On D445 Battalion’s strength, the biannual reports of its commanding officer (Bùi Quang Chánh) and its political officer (Đỗ Văn Liên) – dated July and early August 1966 respectively, show that Battalion’s strength as “403” and “392”.

Of course – as noted above, any KIA or WIA figures for the Long Tân battle would also have to include probably quite small numbers from HQ 5th VC Division elements, the HQ Bà Rịa-Long Khánh-Biên Hòa Province Unit, the Võ Thị Sáu Civil Labour Company, C.12-65 Bình Giã Assault Youth Unit, the  “Surgery Element”, reconnaissance elements (5th VC Division; and C.982), and a possibly a Z39 artillery element.

The seemingly macabre and petty “accounting” related above is perhaps not particularly relevant to the main story of that fierce Battle in August 1966. Others might wish to challenge the figures offered above, and are of course free to do so. However, I believe that we owe it to the soldiers who fell – on both sides, to relate all aspects of the story of the Battle of Long Tân as accurately as possible.

[1] The list of “852” includes: 1st Battalion – 70, down from the 9 August figure of 107; 2nd Battalion – 190, down from 257; and 3rd Battalion – 190, down from 254 on 9 August 1966. Almost no “losses” were noted in the support companies – suggesting perhaps that such had yet to be collated.

[2] These ‘civilian labourers” may have included personnel from the Võ Thị Sáu Civil Labour Company (VC Long Đất District) and the C.12-65 Bình Giã Assault Youth Unit (VC Châu Đức District).

[1] See Annex F (26 pages), free–to-read on the Internet at:  https://www.scribd.com/doc/306536690/The-Viet-Cong-D445-Battalion-Their-Story-and-the-Battle-of-Long-Tan

[2] As the notebook does not appear to include data on issues of weapons or ammunition, a separate rear services cadre probably managed those items.

[3] McNeill, I., To Long Tan, op.cit., 1993, p.310 (Map 14.1). For a 49-page detailed discussion of SIGINT against VC elements in Phuoc Tuy in 1966 see Annex E in Chamberlain, E.P., The Viet Cong D445 Battalion: Their Story, 2016.

[4] 173d Airborne Brigade, Combat Operations After Action Report – Lessons Learned: Operation Toledo, 15 December 1966.

[5] Support companies: C16 mortars – 46 strong; C17 RCLs – 65; C18 Anti-Aircraft – 65; C19 Engineers – 23; C20 Signals – 70; C21 Recon/Sapper  – 28; C22 Transport – 12; C23 Medical – 30. No discrete C24 Convalescent Company was noted in the 9 August figures. The Headquarters elements totalled 61 – and may have included attached cadre.

[6] In August 1966, the monthly rice allowance in VC main force units was 21 or 23 kilograms per soldier – depending on availability. In times of rice shortage, this was sometimes supplemented by corn and manioc.

Additionally, in 1966 the troops each received a daily meal/subsistence allowance of 8-12 piastres per day (USD 1 = 118 piastres) – depending on rank/function.

[7] The list of “852” includes: 1st Battalion – 70, down from the 9 August figure of 107; 2nd Battalion – 190, down from 257; and 3rd Battalion – 190, down from 254 on 9 August 1966. Almost no “losses” were noted in the support companies – suggesting perhaps that such had yet to be collated.

[8] These ‘civilian labourers” may have included personnel from the Võ Thị Sáu Civil Labour Company (VC Long Đất District) and the C.12-65 Bình Giã Assault Youth Unit (VC Châu Đức District).

One Comment on “The Battle of Long Tân: Việt Cộng ‘numbers’ – 275 Regiment ‘s ‘QM notebook’”

  1. Long Tân: 3rd Battalion/275th Regiment – Further Information Confirming Casualties:
    From data in the“QM’s Notebook” above, the KIA figure for the 275th VC Regiment’s 3rd Battalion at the Battle of Long Tân was deduced as 64 – ie footnote 15: on 20 August the strength of the “3rd Battalion – 190, down from 254 on 9 August 1966.” On 31 March 2018, further personal data became available on 65 soldiers and cadre of the 3rd Battalion/275th VC Main Force Regiment noted as killed at the Battle – ie as detailed in their official “Personal History Statements” (PHS) captured by elements of the US 9th Infantry Division in late January 1968.
    Among the 65 personnel of the 3rd Battalion/275th Regiment noted as KIA on 18 August 1966 – according to their individual PHS, were: 11 section commanders, seven platoon 2ics, one platoon commander, and four senior cadre (Nguyễn Bá Trị, political officer 11th Company, b. Thanh Hóa 1930; Nguyễn Văn Dành, company commander 11th Company, b. Bến Tre 1932; Hà Xuân Diện, company commander 12th Company, b. Thừa Thiện 1930; and Lê Quang Trung, company commander 14th Company, b. Quảng Trị 1930).
    The QM’s Notebook – and the captured PHS data, give important insights into VC casualties at the Battle.
    Note: The 3rd Battalion/275th VC Main Force Regiment was originally the D605 NVA Battalion (of the Bắc Sơn Regiment) and infiltrated into the South in late 1965 (about 2,000km/112 days) – and was incorporated into the 275th VC Regiment in April 1966 following the Regiment’s earlier heavy losses in attacks on Vỏ Đắt and Vỏ Su in Bình Tuy Province.
    Ernie Chamberlain, 31 March 2018.

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