HISTORY OF THE 3/5 ARMORED CAV IN VIETNAM
(1966 to 1971)
In 1966, the 3rd Squadron, 5th Armored Cavalry was reactivated at Ft. Riley Kansas with the 9th Infantry Division for deployment to Vietnam as Division Reconnaissance. The first Squadron Commander, Colonel Sidney (Hap) Haszard, was given the task of assembling this unit for combat duty. Delta Troop, its’ Air Cavalry Troop, took more time to organize because their equipment was different from the other line Troops. Being an Air Cavalry Troop, D-Troop had helicopters rather than Armored Cavalry assault vehicles (M-113 ACAVs) and M-48A3 main battle tanks. Delta Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, became an operational fighting member of the Squadron on 1 March 1967. But, later in that year D-Troop was requisitioned by the 9th Infantry Divisions’ 3rd Brigade (separate) and relocated. Fighting from the Mekong Delta to the DMZ, the "BLACK KNIGHTS" of the 3rd/5th Armored Cavalry operated throughout Vietnam.
On 29 Dec.1966, Sgt. Bobby R. Williams was the first 3rd/5th Cav Trooper killed in action. The Squadron won their first major victory in the spring of 1967. During this period, the 3rd/5th Armored Cavalry was given three missions: Clear and secure Hwy 13 from Lai Khe to Cau Xe Lu Than – Secure the artillery base near Ap Bau Bang – Prepare for commitment as a reaction force in the 1st Brigades’ AO (area of operation), which was participating in Phase II of "OPERATION JUNCTION CITY". It was during this operation that the "BATTLE OF BAU BANG" took place where the BLACK KNIGHTS distinguished themselves by gallantry in action and was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. This action took place on March 19 & 20, 1967. When the battle was over, the VC (Viet Cong) body count was 228 confirmed dead from the 273rd Viet Cong Main Force Regiment. The final body count after 3 days of search missions was 363 VC dead. 7 VC POWs (prisoners of war) reported an estimated 700 to 800 VC were killed in the whole operation. The 3/5 Cav lost 5 Troopers KIA (killed in action) and 63 wounded of whom 28 required hospitalization. In Oct.1967, B-Troop 3/5 Cav, found the largest arms cache of the war to date in an underground storage complex that contained approximately 1400 small arms, 95,000 rounds of ammunition, 3642 grenades, 452 mortar rounds, 4 75mm Howitzers, and 5 anti-aircraft guns. This happened during "OPERATION AKRON III". It made the cover of TIME-LIFE magazine showing General William Westmoreland looking down the barrel of a captured SKS sniper rifle.
In early 1968, the Squadron also scored major victories during the 1969 Tet and Saigon Counter Offensive Campaigns. The two most notable of these victories was the defense of Bien Hoa Air Base and Xuan Loc for which the 3/5 Cav received two Valorous Unit Awards.
In Feb.1968, The Squadron moved to northern I-Corps initially establishing its’ base camp on WUNDER BEACH. Operations then extended from the beach via "THE STREET WITHOUT JOY" to the DMZ. On 17 May, the 3/5 Cav became OPCON (operational control) to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division for "OPERATION JEB STUART III" which started on 21 May. The 3/5 Cav mission was to secure the WUNDER BEACH COMPLEX and the access road to Hwy 1, not far from Camp Evans. On 27 June 1968 at 0900 hrs, C-Troop, 3/5 Cav and D-Troop 1/9 Cav, came under fire from RPGs (rocket propelled grenade) as they were engaged in a detailed search of an area known as "THE STREET WITHOUT JOY". As an indication of the battle to come, the residents of the nearby village of Binh An, Quang Tri Province, began to leave the area. In an attempt to detain and question the villagers, an NVA soldier (North Vietnamese Army) was caught hiding amongst the villagers and was interrogated. He revealed to his captors that the entire 814th NVA Battalion was hiding in the village of Binh An. A & B Troops of the 3/5 Cav, and D-Troop 1/9 Cav, closed on the village joining C-Troop. There was no way for the enemy to escape during daylight hours due to the clear visibility and the superior firepower of the surrounding forces. In addition to this firepower, aerial rocket and Marine artillery from Quang Tri was made available along with TAC (tactical air control) aircraft from Da Nang, and a Navy Destroyer waiting offshore.
During the next 7 hours, all of this firepower pounded the NVA forces. At the same time, D Co 1/5 Cav and C Co 2/5 Cav were being air lifted into an adjacent LZ (landing zone) and closed in on the village. Due to the possibility of the NVA infiltrating the lines during the night, it was decided to overrun the position of the enemy and destroy their capability for effective operations during the cover of night. The guided missile cruiser, USS BOSTON, arrived at dusk and began an all night bombardment that exhausted her basic load of 8-inch shells just before daybreak. It was a bad night for the NVA soldiers. Unorganized and shell shocked, some of the survivors during the siege attempted escape and were rounded up under the glare of tank mounted searchlights. At 0930 hrs the next morning, a final assault was made on the enemy. In the final assessment, the entire 814th NVA Battalion had been annihilated. The 3/5 Cav lost 3 KIA and a total of 35 wounded from the combined ground units. The 3/5 Cav had 1 ACAV and 1 tank destroyed. There were 44 NVA captured, 233 NVA killed, including the Battalion Commander, his staff, all his Company Commanders, and the Regimental S-1. This became known as "THE BATTLE OF BINH AN". It also was the first time since 1943 during WW-II that these 3 units from the lineage of the 5th U.S. Cavalry fought together.
There were two more engagements by the NVA with the 3/5 Cav during "OPERATION JEB STUART III". Contact was made in May 1968 at Gia Dang with the K8 NVA Battalion and again in August 1968 at La Hue with the same K8 NVA Battalion. The total NVA KIAs in these 3 engagements during "OPERATION JEB STUART III" came to 365 KIA and 145 POW. After that operation, the 3/5 Cav was OPCON to the 3rd Marine Division in a mission known as "OPERATION PEGASUS" in "TASK FORCE KILO". 150 NVA were KIA in the first day of this operation. The 3/5 Cav received several more unit citations for combat actions in 1968.
In early 1969, the Squadron was deployed near the DMZ at Con Thien. Working with the 1st Brigade, 5th Inf. Div. (Mechanized) and various Marine units, the "BLACK KNIGHTS" once again proved to be the backbone of the American force. The Squadron encountered the NVA late in Feb. 1969 at Nui Da Bac in "THE BATTLE OF CAM HUNG" where the 3/5 Cav inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy. In March, contact was again made in the Dong Ha Valley where the Squadron defeated hardcore NVA regulars from the 27th NVA Regiment.
During March and April 1969, the 3/5 Cav was in "OPERATION MONTANA MAULER" while with the 5th Mech . This was to be a RIF (reconnaissance in force) through the Khe Chua Valley where "THE BATTLE OF CAM HUNG" was fought earlier in the month. It was believed the 27th NVA Regiment was again operating there. Leaving C-2 on 22 March leading a task force, the 3/5 Cav with 2 Cavalry Troops, 1 combat engineer platoon, and 2 light infantry Platoons, when the search for the enemy began. In the first two days, enemy contact was frequent but sporadic. On the third day, the 3/5 Cav encountered 2 companies of hard core NVA soldiers entrenched in camouflaged bunkers. I 3/9 Marines air assaulted into the battle and were placed OPCON to the 3/5 Cav. Fighting was heavy on the 24th until the enemy, estimated to be a Battalion in strength, began to break off the contact. At this point, 2 companies and Battalion HQ of 1/11 Infantry, air assaulted into an LZ on higher ground. On the 26th, the 1/11 Infantry was attacked from all sides. Air strikes and artillery were called in but the enemy refused to budge. A series of attacks by friendly forces and counter attacks by the NVA ensued over the next 2 days. March 29th was the last day of fighting. During "OPERATION MONTANA MAULER", at least 2 Battalions of the 27th NVA Regiment were rendered combat ineffective with 571 NVA and VC KIA. American losses were 21 KIA and 150 wounded. This proved again that the U.S. Cavalry and infantry forces could work effectively together to defeat the enemy in rough terrain without ground lines of communication in the pacification effort.
Leaving the DMZ in April, the Squadron was committed to operations in support of the 101st ABN Division (Airmobile) in the Ruong Ruong Valley. Joining the Squadron was C Co 2nd/34th Armor ( Dreadnaughts). The merge greatly increased the firepower of the 3/5 Cav making it one of the strongest and most respected Armored Cavalry units in Vietnam. On April 18 & 19,1969, C-Troops’ NDP (night defensive position) was attacked by an estimated NVA Company with sappers (suicide squad). Heavy mortar fire forced the Troops to seek shelter in their vehicles. Sappers that were hiding in spider holes entered the NDP throwing satchel charges into the ACAVAs . 15 of America’s best were killed that night with many more wounded. The battle was fought bravely by the surviving Troopers in the form of hand-to-hand combat against the NVA forces.
In May 1969, the Squadron was based at Camp Evans when it was given a new mission. Route 547 was being reconstructed from Hue to the A-Shau Valley. The Squadron escorted convoys and provided security for the 27th Engineer Battalion, which was carving the route through the mountains. On 10 May 1969 to 6 June 1969, the squadron participated in "OPERATION APACHE SNOW". It was this operation that the first bloody battle for "HAMBURGER HILL" took place by units of the 101st ABN Division. This operation was designed by the U.S. XXIV Corps to keep the NVA forces in the A-Shau Valley off balance. The goal was to prevent the NVA from using the Valley as a staging area for attacks on the old Imperial Capital of Hue and the coastal provinces as they had done the previous year during the Tet Offensive. The NVA had bragged for years that the A-Shau Valley was theirs and would not be taken by the Americans after they had overrun the 6th Special Forces Camp there in 1966. The 10 Battalions of "OPERATION APACHE SNOW" was the initial assault force consisting of the 3rd Brigade 101st ABN Division under the command of Colonel Joseph B. Conmy, Jr. with his 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 2/501, 1/506, and 2 infantry battalions from the 1st ARVN Division. Part of this operation consisted of 3 battalions of the 9th Marine Regiment, the 3/5 Cav, and 2 additional ARVN infantry battalions. The operation was supported by some 217 air strikes as well as fire from four 105mm artillery batteries, two 155mm batteries, one 175mm battery, and one 8-inch battery.
On 20 June 1969, the Squadron, minus C-Troop, C Co 2/34 Armor, and the tanks from A & B Troops entered the A-Shau Valley that was more commonly known as "THE VALLEY OF DEATH". This marked the first time in history that a U.S. Armored Cav unit had entered the A-Shau Valley. Upon further improvements of Route 547, one Platoon of tanks from C Co 2/34 Armor plus the tanks from A & B Troops joined the rest of the Squadron in the A-Shau Valley on 22 June. Subsequently, the Squadron was joined by "A" Battery 7th/40th Artillery, self-propelled 105s. The highlight of the A-Shau Valley operation was the forced march of B & A Troops to the top of Dong Ap Bia, Hill 937, a mountain overlooking the Laotian border west of the A-Shau Valley that is better known today as "HAMBURGER HILL. A fire support base was established from which the tanks could deliver both direct and indirect fire onto targets in Laos for a period of 9 days. While occupying this hill, the 3/5 Cav was attacked by several large NVA sapper units . Due to the alert Troopers, the 3/5 Cav inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy while sustaining no casualties of its own. None of the enemy sappers got beyond the wire. Definitely payback time for April 18th. The 3/5 Cav received a Presidential Unit Citation for "OPERATION APACHE SNOW".
In late September, the Squadron left Camp Evans and returned to the DMZ to replace the departing 3rd Marine Division. B & C Troops returned to operations at Cam Lo and were responsible for the security of Hwy 9 and the surrounding refugee villages. A-Troop remained at fire support base Birmingham to provide road security for re-supply convoys to forward support bases in the A-Shau Valley.
In early Oct. 1969, A-Troop headed for the DMZ to join the rest of the Squadron near Cam Lo. A-Troop pulled bridge security and later participated in road runs. Later in November and December, all Troops of the Squadron found themselves alternating with each other working near C-2 and sweeping the area utilizing RIF and ambush patrols. The 3/5 Cav also pulled security for the 59th Engineers while on a land clearing mission.
The last operation that the 3/5 Cav participated was "OPERATION LAM SON 719". On January 30,1971, A-troop and units from the 14th Engineer Battalion were attacked southwest along two axes from Rockpile and Vandergrift. They moved from Ca Lu to open the road for vehicle traffic from Dong Ha to the Laotian border. The 3/5 Cav with "A" Co, 14th Engineers, opened the road from Rockpile to Khe Sanh. At the same time, 1/11 Inf. air assaulted the high ground on either side of QL 9 from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh. Once the road was opened to Khe Sanh, 1/1 Cav moved from Dong Ha to the former Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei. They advanced to open the road (QL 9) to the border (Tabat). After these missions were executed, an ARVN Task Force of 20,000 men moved to the Laotian border.
Before returning to the USA in 1971, Delta Troop 3/5 Cav was reunited with the Squadron after being separated for most of its’ combat tour in Vietnam. D-Troop was a highly decorated Air Cavalry unit. After reading this summery, you can understand why every Trooper in the 3/5 Cav served with pride and distinction. The 3/5 Cav was known in Vietnam as "THE BASTARD CAV" because it served with many Divisions. It was also called "THE BASTARD CAV" during the Korean War where it served under General Douglas MacArthur for the second time during time of war at his request. The proud and time honored traditions of the U.S. Cavalry lives on.
By Ron Quezada & Doug Hallas – 8/14/01
(Editor’s note – As more research is done this unit history may be revised)
May Not Be used without the expressed written permission of the President of the BLACK KNIGHTS Inc. – All rights reserved