The Battle of Bong Son (Hardback)
Operation Masher/White Wing, 1966
Operation Masher/White Wing targeted the regiments of the North Vietnamese Army Sao Vang Division operating in the Bong Son area in northeast Binh Dinh Province in central South Vietnam. The operation started on January 24, 1966, immediately after the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) and ended six weeks later. It was led by newly promoted Colonel Harold G. Moore, who as a lieutenant colonel commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry in the battle of Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley two months earlier.In 41 days of sustained fighting, the 1st Cav battled each of the three regiments of the Sao Vang Division, resulting in enemy losses of more than 3,000 KIA. This came at the cost of 199 Americans killed on the battlefield and 46 more who died in the crash of a U.S. Air Force C-123 aircraft en route to the battlefield, making it one of the deadliest battles of the entire Vietnam War.Operation Masher/White Wing was a success. The 1st Cav demonstrated that it had the firepower, mobility, and leadership to find the enemy and deliver a severe blow to it in terms of personnel and equipment losses and in forced evacuation from formerly “secure” base areas, seemingly proving the value of the search-and-destroy strategy.However within a few weeks, intelligence reports indicated that North Vietnamese soldiers were returning to the Bong Son area in small groups. By late April, the Sao Vang Division was back in the area in force. Operation Masher/White Wing proved to be the start of a very long and deadly struggle between the 1st Cav and North Vietnamese for control of Binh Dinh Province—multiple search & destroy operations eventually resulted in more than 9,000 enemy KIA and 2,358 enemy detained, with friendly losses of more than 1,200 KIA, 5,775 WIA, and 27 MIA. While Masher/White Wing demonstrated that search & destroy operations were very effective at the tactical level but without a high-level strategy to stop the unabated flow of fresh Communist troops and supplies into South Vietnam, it wasn’t clear just how they contributed to overall victory. At the start of 1968, General Westmoreland ordered the 1st Cav to terminate its operations in the Bong Son area, bringing the battle to a close.