THE BATTLE BEGINS
Kontum, a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, is located about 30 kilometers north of Pleiku City, in the Central Highlands. During the first three months of 1972, a large build-up of enemy forces was detected in the valley area southwest of Dak To and northwest of Kontum City. For the purpose of this presentation, I have divided the Battle of Kontum into three distinct phases. Phase I was the battle for the fire support bases and Tan Canh, Phase II was the battle for the border camps, and Phase III was the battle for the city of Kontum. Phase I lasted most of the month of April; Phase II the first two weeks of May, and Phase III from the middle of May until the first week of June. There was overlap in time between the separate phases.
Elements of the 22nd ARVN Division were located northwest of the city and deployed in a broad arc, which extended from the southern end of "Rocket Ridge" to the district headquarters of Dak To. Most of the ARVN units were located in fortified positions known as fire support bases (FSB). These FSBs were occupied by units that ranged from company size organizations (roughly 150 men) to full battalions (roughly 500 men). Most of the FSBs were located on the peaks of large hill masses or mountains. These bases were prepared to accept attacks from any direction and usually had interlocking artillery fire for mutual support. The 22nd Division headquarters was located in Binh Dinh Province; however, a forward headquarters was established northwest of Kontum City near the village of Tan Canh.
As the threat mounted in Kontum Province, the 22nd Division was reinforced by elements of the strategic reserve, a brigade of an airborne division. Elements from the airborne division were located in FSBs on "Rocket Ridge." The airborne headquarters was established near the village of Vo Dinh, approximately halfway between the city of Kontum and Tan Canh, on QL14.
In addition to the positions occupied by these elements of the 22nd Division, there were two Ranger camps, Polei Kleng and Ben Het, located along the Laos and Cambodian Borders. These camps were manned by Ranger battalions from the Ranger Group and were placed under the operational control of the 22nd Division.
The U. S. Army, 17th Combat Aviation Group (CAG) and the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion (CAB) operating out of Camp Holloway in Pleiku and Vietnamese helicopter squadrons operating out of the Pleiku Air base provided ARVN units operating in Kontum Province, helicopter support. The U.S. aviation units primarily supporting the 22nd Division and the airborne units were from the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion (this unit actually stood down in March of 1972 and these aviation assets came directly under the 17th Group): 57th Assault Hel. Co. (8 AH-1G, 20 UH-1H); 180th Assault Support (16 CH-47); 361st Aerial Weapons Co. (12 AH-1G); B Troop 7/17 Air Cavalry Squadron (9 AH-1G, 8 UH-1H, 10 OH-6) --- This unit was re-designated H Troop 17th CAV in April 1972 and a small team from C Troop 7/17 Air Cavalry Squadron --- This unit was re-designated H Troop 10th CAV in April 1972. Some aviation assets from the 201st helicopter company supported II Corps operations, most notably, the OH-58s supporting Mr. John Paul Vann and the II Corps advisors.