Transcript of Sheehan Interview of Jack Heslin
1 Neil Sheehan: Captain Heslin, side 1, go ahead.
2 Captain Heslin: I have divided the battle up in three phases, that I thought was a logical sequence of what happened. The first phase was a battle for fire support bases and it ran from the 4th to the 24th of April. And the second phase, was the battle for the border camps, from the 5th to the 9th of May. And the third and final phase was the battle of Kontum City itself, 14th of May and then on through June. During months of January and February, a large build up was detected in this valley area, located South West of Dak To. And West of a very predominant ridgeline that runs North and South along Rocket Ridge.
3 Neil Sheehan: Is that valley the Plei Trap Valley?
4 Captain Heslin: No, it's not. The Plei Trap it's quite a bit further South, West and South.
5 Neil Sheehan: Well, what do you call that valley?
6 Captain Heslin: It was, I don't know it by name. But, in that valley area, a lot of troop movement, vehicle activity, and other kind of activity, indicate a buildup in the area. This is also the same area that the battle of Dak To took place in 1968. One of the things I did compare with the battle of 68 was how we fought it, with the 4th as opposed to the way it was fought here in 72.
7 Neil Sheehan: You say you compare the way we fought in the-
8 Captain Heslin: I thought it was a very interesting comparison, yes, I did. This was the area of the battle 68. Dak To 68. The timing and everything, I thought there was some real interesting comparisons. In fact, that was my initial interest in making the comparison to figure out what he was probably and how it developed.
9 Neil Sheehan: What sources did you use to compare the..
10 Captain Heslin: I was there in 1968. I flew in the battle. I flew with the 119th Assault Helicopter Company.
11 Neil Sheehan: Is that the battle that Sam Marshall wrote up and-
12 Captain Heslin: No, he wrote in 66 and talked about West Cambodia and the fields of Bamboo. And so, his books, one in particular that he talked about, was one of the Medal of Honor one, I can't remember which one that it was.
13 Neil Sheehan: He wrote about the fighting up at the Tou Morong, but that was the early, his early ones. Not the 68 one.
14 Captain Heslin: As far as I can remember, that I remember, he didn't write up the 68.
15 Neil Sheehan: Was the 68 battle the one that involved Hill 875?
16 Captain Heslin: 875, that's correct.
17 Neil Sheehan: Where is 875?
18 Captain Heslin: Located right down here, let's see if I can find it.
19 Neil Sheehan: The 173rd worked the Rocket Ridge area huh?
20 Captain Heslin: Not initially. The 173rd was working this area to the West. They had the Western part of the area. And the 4th Division was working the ridgeline South, into the valley area.
21 Neil Sheehan: Oh, the 173rd was working the Rocket Ridge.
22 Captain Heslin: Negative. 4th Division.
23 Neil Sheehan: 4th Division, excuse me.
24 Captain Heslin: 4th Division was working in that area and down into the valley area.
25 Neil Sheehan: Just below it, huh?
26 Captain Heslin: Right, exactly right.
27 Neil Sheehan: And then the 173rd was working over to the West here, towards the tri border area.
28 Captain Heslin: That's right, and they worked out of, well, what later became Ben Het, the border camp of Ben Het was located right up here, they had staged out of there initially. We brought them in here, out of Dak To, and then we CA'd them out of there into the valley area and into the hill tops area down South.
29 Neil Sheehan: Now where was the buildup you said that took place this year. What valley is it in?
30 Captain Heslin: Same valley. Same valley, right here.
31 Neil Sheehan: Same valley. It's called the, DakRo Ray. The DakRo Ray. Yeah, right near the Dak To/Kontum border. Right near where the Kontum district meets Dak To District.
32 Captain Heslin: The big hill mass right here, has locally been called Big Mama. Because it's a very, very predominant area. A predominant mountain in that area.
33 Neil Sheehan: Oh, and it took place, in other words right to the North East of Big Mama, the valley to the North East of Big Mama, okay, right, got you. Go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt you, but that's fascinating. So, you compared the two battles.
34 Captain Heslin: Yes, I thought, my, again from my opinion I thought there was a valid comparison in the way we conducted it, as opposed to the way it was conducted here in 72.
35 Neil Sheehan: Right.
36 Captain Heslin: We went out after them, so to speak. And the battle that I think, they had told me of Kontum, took place in November, December and January in this valley. That battle never took place in 72, and they never committed large scale forces out here. They stayed on fire support bases on the ridge line. They were eventually driven off and they encountered decisive battle around Kontum. I think that was their intent back in 68. In fact, in TET of 68 the 24th Regiment, the NVA regiment did assault the city from the North East, the same avenue of approach they used in 68 was the same avenue of approach they used this time.
37 Neil Sheehan: And you think that in 68 the NVA were trying to move into Kontum and were stopped.
38 Captain Heslin: That is exactly what I think. That is exactly what I think. The timing of the NVA in the late November, and December, October, November. The dry season started, they started to build up in the area. The 4th Division countered it and moved into the area. And then they fought it out. This year, they built up in the same area, but nobody went in to get them. They built up enough strength to come across.
39 Neil Sheehan: And you said this same valley, North East of Ben Het.
40 Captain Heslin: Exactly the same way. So, during the months of January and February. The buildup was monitored. The CAV Troop at that time, Bravo Troop 7/17 squadron was conducting reconnaissance up in that area. And the buildup was monitored, being watched. At that time the 22nd Division, as you already know, had elements up here, involving the defense of Kontum. They occupied fire support bases along this ridgeline known as Rocket Ridge. The same ridgeline where the 4th Division had its fire support bases. They also occupy positions in Dak To, and a little fire base to the west I think called Dak Moat. And then out the East they had their division forward at Tan Canh, it was a compound called Tan Canh, the division headquarters.
41 Neil Sheehan: And some of those same fire bases were used by the 4th
42 Captain Heslin: That's right 1338 later become fire support base 5, but that was a big battle of the 4th division taking 1338, that predominant hill mass just South of Dak To. So it was just retained back in November of, November of this past year in 71, there was a pretty good size fight at that fire support base. The enemy tried to take it.
43 Neil Sheehan: That's fascinating. Hill mass 1338 was fire support base 5, Jesus.
44 Captain Heslin: So, the fire support bases were strung out along this ridgeline, and those places I mentioned. As TET approached, and they had anticipated a large offensive up here. Elements of the 2nd Airborne Brigade were moved up into the area. And they also occupied fire support bases on the Southern part of the ridgeline.
45 Neil Sheehan: Was it the same?
46 Captain Heslin: No, not the same. Because the 4th Division never got down that far. They didn't get the fire support bases down as far the 2nd Airborne had.
47 Neil Sheehan: What about fire support base 6, by the way?
48 Captain Heslin: 6 and 5 are right up close together. 6 was further on down the ridgeline.
49 Neil Sheehan: Was that ever used by the 4th too?
50 Captain Heslin: Yes, same area same area. It was 6 on 1001. That was a long time ago. That was old Colonel Belnapís fire support base there. I flew in there many times. In fact, back in 68 with him. (Note: it was late 67 not 68) He was killed out here.
51 Neil Sheehan: Who Col. Belnap.
52 Captain Heslin: Right, LTC Belnap was a battalion commander. There was 6, and 5 was 1338 right there. Originally, when the 4th Division assaulted them, we assaulted them on a ridgeline down here, the South, I mean to the North, basically, and they fought their way to the top. It was a very costly fight. So, there was 6, 5, and then they occupied Yankee, which was further on down, which was Delta or 421, which is where the first ground assault took place which I'll get into.
53 Neil Sheehan: The 4th Division did not occupy fire support base Yankee.
54 Captain Heslin: Well, in that general area they had fire support bases located along this whole ridgeline.
55 Neil Sheehan: And they may have had Yankee too, but we know for sure they had 5 and 6.
56 Captain Heslin: I know 1338, and I know 1001 were both fire support bases for the 4th Division in 68.
57 Neil Sheehan: Oh, 6 is called 1001.
58 Captain Heslin: Well, that's hill mass 1001.
59 Neil Sheehan: Did they have to fight for it in 68?
60 Captain Heslin: 1338 was a real tough fight, a real tough. If you read, go back to some of the military publications at the time, the Battle of Dak To, the documents. But the battle for 1338 was straight forces, and 1001 I don't remember a big battle in taking that. Most of the real heavy, on the ridgeline the biggest battle was for 1338, that I remember. And the rest of the heavy fighting took place down in the valley area.
61 Neil Sheehan: And so, they get involved in 835. Right, okay.
62 Captain Heslin: So, they had the 2nd Airborne up here and the 22nd Division. During the month of March, the fire support bases along the ridgeline came under sporadic attacks by fire. The rocket and mortar fire, and I think they were taking some artillery fire, too. They had moved in anti-aircraft positions along the ridgeline made helicopter operations fairly hazardous. We were operating up there daily, for the 22nd Division and the 2nd Airborne. However, on the 31st of March, a CH47 from the 180th assault helicopter company, was shot down at fire support base 421, it belonged to the Airborne. It was also known as fire support Delta. And it landed inside the fire support base and it burned and it was destroyed. However, the crew made it out alive with minor injuries. I think one crew might have had an injured leg. For the next several days we could not get in to get the crew out. The anti-aircraft fire and attacks by fire on the base was so intense. And on the 4th of April, Colonel Charles Bagnal, who was the 52nd Aviation Battalion Commander, at that time located here in Holloway, along with I believe it was General Ware, Deputy Senior Advisor and Mr. Vann, decided that they would make an all-out effort to get the crew out.
63 Neil Sheehan: 52nd Aviation Battalion.
64 Captain Heslin: That's right, it was here at the time. And they stood down in April. So early in the morning on the 4th, 6 gunships and I believe 5 lift ships were launched out of here to make a first light extraction, make an attempt to pull them out. As they arrived over the city of Kontum, they contacted the Airborne Headquarters and they were informed that the fire support base was in an intense ground attack. They were requesting gunship support. Gunships immediately went out and they engaged heavy, very large enemy troop formations in the assault. The timing of the arrival was very good. And with the assistance of the gunships, artillery support, they eventually were able to drive off the attack by about 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning. Although in several cases, in fact, they got inside of the perimeter and had taken a part of the compound. Gunships were firing inside the perimeter and right on the bunkers themselves. And they had taken on a lot of, what is believed to be elements of the 320th NVA Division. In fact, this whole area was believed to be elements of the 320.
65 Neil Sheehan: What units had taken part in the 68 battle, do you remember the NVA units?
66 Captain Heslin: 2nd Division, if I remember right.
67 Neil Sheehan: The 2nd NVA Division and the B-3 Front?
68 Captain Heslin: Some of the same. Because I remember going back to the intel reports here this time and checking the order of battle. And some of them were the same units.
69 Neil Sheehan: You mean like 95 Bravo?
70 Captain Heslin: 95 Bravo and there were a couple of the others. I have to go back and check for sure. But I remember seeing them back then and the history gives them as participating back in 68.
71 Neil Sheehan: You mean the history of the battle of 68?
72 Captain Heslin: The history of the NVA Units. That we know anyway, that were identified later in this area, also had been participating in 68.
73 Neil Sheehan: Oh, you mean their own history.
74 Captain Heslin: No. Our history.
75 Neil Sheehan: Excuse me, right, right.
76 Captain Heslin: That was the first large scale ground attack in our area that was part of the of the overall country wide offensive. The Easter offensive. The next day we were able to go in and pick up the down crew without further incident. Significantly slack in the anti-aircraft fire in the enemy positions. Many dead, crew served weapons were found in the vicinity of the fire support base the next morning. At any rate, for the next several weeks all the fire support bases came under attack, intense attack, both ground attacks and attacks by fire. Making helicopter operations again, extremely hazardous. Although the fire support bases held up very well. And they inflicted very heavy casualties and they give a real good accounting of themselves. But the 22nd troops end the 2nd Airborne. On the 22nd of April, Tan Cahn, came under attack by fire. There had been reports of the 2nd NVA moving down north of Dak To, in this general area. So, Tan Cahn came under attack by fires, the same scenario, rockets and mortar, this and other things. I believe it was on the 23rd, they had several M41's, I think there were three, if I remember right there were four or five M41 tanks within the compound. Three of them were knocked out by surface to surface wired guided missiles probably Colonel Kaplan went over that with you. At any rate, the attacks on Tan Cahn continued. And on the 24th of April they took their full-scale combined arms attack out of the North East, North and East, early in the morning. And you have all the details on what happened. The loss of Tan Cahn, and it wasn't too long and they lost Dak To. And it wasn't too long after that when the whole defense fell back. The fire support bases were evacuted. When they first started out quite orderly some of them under pressure. However, by the time they reached the base of the mountains many of them were ambushed.
77 Neil Sheehan: Oh, they were?
78 Captain Heslin: On the East side.
79 Neil Sheehan: Ah, you mean the guys coming from the fire support bases 5 and 6 got ambushed when they get down to the bottom?
80 Captain Heslin: I'd have to check that for sure, you know how many there were.
81 Neil Sheehan: Right.
82 Captain Heslin: Some of the ARVN troops made it out to Ben Het, where they were later picked up by CH47's and brought into Kontum. The Airborne troops also withdrew from their fire support bases and they were brought back into Kontum.
83 Neil Sheehan: They walked out.
84 Captain Heslin: They walked out.
85 Captain Heslin: Thatís right Vo Din and QL14 and brought back to Kontum. We did not use any air evacuation for the fire support bases. The 22nd Division, it was determined it would not be used in defense of Kontum. They had taken such heavy losses, etc. The loss of the headquarters had a tremendous effect on the ARVN troops, in my opinion. It's one of the lessons I think we should learn, in that the headquarters should not be in a vulnerable area. Whether or not Tan Cahn can be considered a vulnerable area is a matter of opinion. It's my opinion it was vulnerable because it wasn't prepared for an armored attack like that. The loss precipitated a general withdrawal. It's interesting to note, in my opinion, that the two Ranger camps that were even further out Ben Het and Polie Kleng, were not affected by the loss of Tan Cahn. There was no attempt to withdraw them. There was no talk of it, even though they were further extended. Whereas, the fire support bases were all pulled out. So, I think that's for my purposes thatís important.
86 Neil Sheehan: Good Point
87 Captain Heslin: So, that ended the first phase, and at that period of time things were critical. Really critical. The defenses around Kontum, I'm sure you got it from Col Rhotenberry what they started to do to prepare for.
88 Neil Sheehan: Vo Dinh was evacuated very quickly, I take it.
89 Captain Heslin: Yes. It wasn't too long after that, that the initial loss came, but I can't give you an exact date.
90 Neil Sheehan: Just abandoned, since the Airborne pulled out of there.
91 Captain Heslin: I can't tell you for sure.
92 Neil Sheehan: Right.
93 Captain Heslin: I don't know for sure. The mission of defending Kontum was given to the 23rd. And they started moving up from Ban Me Thout, some of the men had already arrived and preparing for the defense of Kontum. For some reason, the enemy did not pursue or capitalize on their initial success. Would have been something else, could have just driven down QL14th, but they didn't. For some reason, they turned their attention to border camps Polei Kleng and Ben Het. And that began the second phase. On the 5th of May, Polei Kleng came under intense rocket, artillery and mortar fire. And the NVA Units moved in close proximity to the compound and used their anti-aircraft weapons in close proximity. I remember there were two US advisors there and on the 6th of May there was a decision made by Mr. Vann and General Hill to extract them. And that was done on the evening of the 6th by a light observation helicopter from the CAV and he pulled them out. Many of the bunkers and the main bunker in the compound were destroyed by the artillery fire. And a lot of the defenders, they suffered a lot of casualties. There was quite a bit of talk with Mr. Vann and General Hill over the area. And Colonel Todd was also in the area at the time. General Hill and Colonel Todd could give you a lot of specifics probably about that day, the 6th of May, an evacuation of the US. The camp held out to the 9th of May. And on the 9th of May, the Rangers evacuated the compound. They went out to the East back to Kontum. I don't believe they ever received a major ground assault, but they continued to receive very intense fire the whole time.
94 Neil Sheehan: Did the evacuation of the US, lower the morale as far as you could figure out?
95 Captain Heslin: I don't know.
96 Neil Sheehan: Hard to tell.
97 Captain Heslin: Hard to tell. Some of these other people that I mentioned could probably tell you better about that.
98 Neil Sheehan: Yeah
99 Captain Heslin: They were there the whole time. They were a little closer. So, we lost Polei Kleng. On the 8th of May, Ben Het, came under attacks by fire. Same scenario. And also, large troop formations were observed to the North West of the compound. On the 9th of May, the compound came under full scale ground attack. We had the Airborne TOW System up there at the time. I'm sure you heard about it. It was call sign Hawk's Claw.
100 Neal Sheehan: Right.
101 Captain Heslin: It successfully engaged a couple of PT 76 tanks. I believe one tank was knocked out by an ARVN Law at the gate of the compound. Gunships were up there in support, TACAIR supported, and although they had a real tough time of it, as far as they lost part of their compound a couple of times, they were able to hold off their attackers and by the latter part of the day the compound was pretty well secure and they again had inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy. Reportedly, elements of the 320th Division. So, that for all intents and purposes ended the second phase. They get out the next day, they found a very large body count around the compound. They found crew served weapons again. The second phase, in my opinion, served two very important purposes for us and the allies. One, it continued the attrition of the enemy, attrition not only in its personnel but in its expenditure of ammunition to reduce their count, they expending quite a bit of ammunition. Attrition. Secondly, it bought time, time we really needed during that period. To prepare Kontum for what was to come. Not including the last elements of the 23rd moved into Kontum I believe on the 13th of May. The 44th Regiment, which I believe was considered their better regiment. Moved into the North-Western part of the perimeter. On the 14th of May, Kontum received its first ground attack. There was a combined arms attack out of the North West. Several tanks, I believe the count was somewhere around 5 accompanied by infantry formations. A VNAF 01 adjusted ARVN artillery and was very successful in inflicting heavy casualties on the troop formations. The Airborne TOW system up there was able to knock out 2 T54 Tanks, well it was either T54's or 59's. I don't know which. I'm not familiar with tanks. One tank was reportedly knocked out by an ARVN LAW. Two medium tanks. One of the tanks that had penetrated the perimeter. But by mid-morning they had stopped the attack and began inflicting pretty heavy casualties on the enemy. This was not thought to be the main attack on the city at the time. Again, during this period of time, just to back track a little bit, Kontum City was receiving daily attacks by fire, I'm sure you read in the logs. Rocket and artillery fire. We were operating, staging out of the Kontum Airfield. And we were being resupplied by Air Force C 130s that were landing there. Also our CH47's flying out of here were going into the soccer field up there. Probably the most key thing that we were doing as far as Army Aviation goes, was the effort of our AIR CAV Troop, Bravo 7/17 Air CAV, later they were re-designated H Troop of the 17th CAV. They were operating in this area reconnaissance missions, and they were, as I said in my opinion, a key role. And being able to monitor the build ups, the shifts in troop formations, the general activities throughout the area. Paint the picture. They were the key source of information, there's no doubt about it. They were able to provide up to date information in targeting the ARC light strikes which were going in daily in very large numbers. They had a very high priority for the CAV to identify lucrative targets. I think that the fire power was, in my opinion, the key as far as our defense of the city. The ability of the ARVN to hold and the fire power we were able to kill with. The CAV being able to find the targets was an essential role. We were staging as I said out of Kontum Airfield at the time. We had POL points set up there, and ammunition and supply. And although we were, they were mortaring and rocketing the airfield. The decision was made to continue to stand by there. It was felt that it was essential to have them readily available to aircraft. Even though we did have some aircraft damaged and we lost one on the ground. On the 21st of May, the next attack on the city, there was another one in there where tanks during the night, I think it was somewhere around the 15th or 16th. Rolled up just outside of the perimeter, and just started blasting away at the perimeter form a distance out. But never assaulted. And they were engaged by Airborne C130 gunships and also the TOW aircraft went out. They did not have success at night.
102 Neil Sheehan: He didn't meaning he couldn't see them so he couldn't hit them.
103 Captain Heslin: Well, I don't know how much I can go into that.
104 Neil Sheehan: I know he was tired, physically, but he indicates the system didn't work at night.
105 Captain Heslin: He was not able to knock out any tanks. Right, and didn't knock any out, let' s put it that way. On the 21st of May, there was a large infantry attack brought through regimental size from the North, from the North, and they were successful in making three penetrations within the compound, within the perimeter. At that time, the perimeter extended as a finger sort of, they went up QL14. And made a penetration right at the base of that. And then there were two others further on down. However, the ARVN's were able to control and contain the penetrations, and late in the day, and successfully conducted a counter attack and drove them back out. Which was a good sign. As I mentioned then, I'm sure that Col Rhotenberry explained how the city was defended. But as I understood it, most of the 23rd was in the Northern part. And then in the Southern portion of the city was defended mostly by an RFPF Unit. On the 25th of May, an NVA Sapper Battalion penetrated the South East quadrant of the city. I understand that it was reported they were dressed in ARVN uniforms. I don't know if that's been verified. At any rate, they infiltrated and occupied the South East quadrant in the city, which effectively closed the airfield and we could no longer use it. And then on the 26th of May, the enemy launched its first large scale main attack against the city. It came from the North and North East, and it was a combined arms attack. Several tanks, I think there was 15 or something like that. 15 or 20 tanks and infantry formations. The Airborne TOW was sent out from here and arrived on station about 7 in the morning and by 9 he had knocked out 9 tanks, I believe a deuce and a half. And several machine gun positions. It had a definite morale factor on the troops, from what I've been told.
106 Neil Sheehan: Very positive. Knocked out 9 tanks.
107 Captain Heslin: Yep. The ARVN's were also- pardon me.
108 Neil Sheehan: What was that, 9 tanks plus a deuce in a half.
109 Captain Heslin: Plus 2 machine gun positions.
110 Neil Sheehan: Right.
111 Captain Heslin: I understand also that the ARVN, I donít know if it was on this day or several days later, that they were successful on the ground with the LAW M72 LAW. At any rate, on the 26th they were successful in making penetrations in the 53rd's area up there in the North and the North West portion of the perimeter. The intense attacks continued through the 27th and 28th. More attacks, more infantry, heavy artillery. It's really interesting on the 26th, the morning of the 26th, there was a very intense artillery preparation, I think it went in somewhere between 2 - 4 in the morning. But, abruptly, at one point around 4 in the morning, it stopped. And then there was a pretty good size delay, before the attack actually began, which was interesting, I thought, really interesting. I don't know whether it was a commo breakdown between their own people or what happened. But, I think it was significant.
112 Neil Sheehan: Could they have run out of ammunition or something?
113 Captain Heslin: No, I don't think so. I think it was a decision made that they were afraid to go, keep the artillery up, the tanks or the armor was afraid that they would, that their own artillery would get them. At any rate, I believe it was a mistake. There were plenty of advantages that the armor could go into this territory, they didn't use it. I think, in fact, it's been pretty well established, and it's my opinion too, that their coordination of armor and infantry was poor, it seemed to indicate that probably they didn't have a lot of training time. Also, the use of their equipment seemed to be poor. They didn't seem to be real successful with the main gun. And as far as I know, they weren't real successful at all with their 12.7 mounted on top of the anti-aircraft. I venture they didn't have much problem with the tank itself. As far as the anti-aircraft.
114 Neil Sheehan: That's interesting.
115 Captain Heslin: It is, it is. They probably got the stuff in and didn't really have a lot of chance to train with it.
116 Neil Sheehan: Yeah. Interesting.
117 Captain Heslin: Anyway, the 26th, 27th and 28th, it went really bad. And the enemy was able to occupy the North East quadrant of the city. And in fact, they had the eastern half of the of city. And the situation was really brutal. Really brutal. Also, during this period of time, I didn't even go into it. Iím sure you are aware that the Kontum pass on QL14 had been closed. Reinforcement ware not able to get through. However, on the 28th and 29th, correction, on the 29th and 30th, it appeared that the enemy was not, or no longer able to reinforce. I think this probably can be attributed to the effectiveness of the ARC light strikes on their staging areas, and on the ground that their reinforcements would have to go through. They were very close in proximity to their positions. These ARC light strikes were decided on the targeting was decided by the II Corps Commander, General Toan, and with Mr. Vann and General Hill in several meetings each day. And their decisions were critical, very critical. And as it turned out very, very effectively. On the 1st of June, the Vietnamese started their counterattack and the RFPF units were able to work their way back into the South East quadrant of the city. A lot of bitter, house to house fighting. Gunships still in support, and TACAIR strikes in the South East quadrant of the city. But then by the 3rd of June, they had pretty much secured the South East section of the city, except for a few pockets of resistance. The defense was, of the NVA, was very staunch. They had bunkered in the buildings, dug a lot of bunkers inside the buildings. Even though the ARVN had received a lot of criticism they did a fine job. From what I can see, and from what I know. Others might, that are closer to it, have a different opinion. The fact remains, they did the dying. They did all the dying to take that area back again.
118 Neil Sheehan: Because it was ground fighting?
119 Captain Heslin: It was ground fighting, that's right, it was ground fighting, and it had to be done. The same with North East quadrant. After the South East quadrant was taken, the 23rd Division elements along with RFPF counterattack and worked their way back to the North East quadrant. And it was real hard going again, bitter house to house, bunker to bunker type fighting. And the toll was real heavy on both sides. On the 9th of June, General Brigadier Ba, as I understand it, had declared that the city was secured. Colonel Ba, General Ba, 23rd Division Commander, had been promoted by President Thieu. I happened to be there that day. I was flying overhead, I was the air boss. I was flying the airborne ship. It was a pretty dramatic scene. From what I could picture that was handed to me over the radio, I didn't actually go on the ground. Colonel Todd and well, Colonel Todd didn't either, but General Hill and Mr. Vann had. But, the whole scene was very something.
120 Neil Sheehan: Oh, yeah?
121 Captain Heslin: The artillery was going in, and the rockets were going in and everything else. There was still fire going into town. I think it was about the latter part of May, somewhere around the 30th of May or the 2nd of June, somewhere in there, I have to find out what that date is. In fact, I know where I can find it. But, the decision was made about mid-day, or early in the morning, or mid-morning, that President Thieu was going to go in and promote him. At least we found out about the decision, and then the hustle to get the gunships to provide cover and then Colonel Todd going in to check out the area and see how it would be if shots fired because there was still fire in the city, snipers and Mr. Vann going in and President Thieu, he was on the ground for about 20 or 30 minutes.
122 Captain Heslin: I think the 9th in general is also really significant in the fact that that was the day that John Paul Vann was killed.
123 Neil Sheehan: Right.
124 Captain Heslin: I was again flying that day. And I had been airborne all that day, and came back in about 19: 00. And we had to get a radar part back to Kontum, so I had to fly back up there. And I was coming back through the pass about 21: 00 hours. And the weather was poor, really poor. And I just landed and had come in here when I found out that Vann, it was Vann that had crashed out in the area.
125 Neil Sheehan: Colonel Todd was also in the area.
126 Captain Heslin: He was in the air at the same time. In fact, he was going to the 23rd Division, the same place Mr. Vann was going.
127 Neil Sheehan: He was going up to Kontum, what was he going up for? Do you know?
128 Captain Heslin: I think he was going up to check out the GCA. We were using the GCA, Ground Control Approach as radar to bring the 130's in at night. Colonel Todd did an outstanding job of personally making sure that the aviation guys, they got the maximum amount of support. You know, a lot of times it's the regular personal risk.
129 Neil Sheehan: You mean physical risk?
130 Captain Heslin: Physical risk, absolutely. Going in there, and he was told to check out the POL points, on one occasion, one of the Air Force aircraft was burning, going to get the crew out.
131 Neil Sheehan: Was it the C130 that panicked and crashed?
132 Captain Heslin: No, not that one. Colonel Anderson was involved with that one. This was another one. It was another one that was burning. At any rate, after the 9th of June, the 23rd elements, that ended the major fighting, they were contact, they were trying to break contact they were, when they moved out into the area, they ran into more of them. They started to discover how destructive the ARC LIGHTS were. Remember when I told you back in 68.
133 Neil Sheehan: Right, the way it was conducted you said.
134 Captain Heslin: Okay, in 68 we had the fire power, we had the forces, we had strength, we had combat power. What's combat power. Combat power is fire power and maneuver. We had them both in abundance. So, we could afford when we started building up out here, to go and get him on his ground, find him, fix him and destroy him. Okay so we had the 4th Division, we had the 173rd, at the time we had elements of 101st and even elements of the 1st CAV up the there. Abundance galore. What did the ARVN's have? Division minus, the 22nd Division, probably have one Airborne unit. Essentially a whole lot less. A whole lot less. So that type of tactic has to be out of the question.
135 Neil Sheehan: Going out and looking for them?
136 Captain Heslin: The offense. The offense. That's correct. They had to conduct the defense very defensively. Capitalizing on what we had. And what did we have. Combat power. We had the biggest equation of Combat power, the biggest portion of it which is fire power, not maneuver, not ground forces, but fire power. And the way that that could best be used most effectively, was just hold them in long enough to bring it down on them. The way it went. Kontum was the objective. Kontum City was the objective from the beginning. I don't think there was doubt in anybody's mind. Kontum was the objective. Okay, he was going to come in with x amount of force. The equivalent of 3 divisions. Elements of the 320th, elements of B3 Front and the 2nd division. Close to three divisions. Right. In order to get into Kontum City here. Just looking at the city itself. And this is kind of working backwards, and it's the clarity of hindsight right. The river was in the South portion of the town. And at the end of the dry season it was low. It was fordable. But it was not fordable for large troop formations, i.e. an assault. So, an avenue of approach from the South West or South East, has to be eliminated. It's not logical, not even for him. So, where's he going to hit. It's got to be from somewhere in the North. The North West portion up here, you got a chance to look at the ground, especially if it's dry season. It's fairly open, fairly open. With some little hills and what have you. But any large build up in the area would be observable from the air. Okay, the North, directly North there was a large hill mass in relatively close proximity to the city again. And that's a key point. In order to hit his objective, working backwards to the way he'd have to think. He'd have to have a staging area from 3 to 5 kilometers, maybe as much as 8 kilometers out from his objective. By staging area, I mean an area where he can construct bunkers, because his biggest threat was our air. And before he moved in his combat troops, he had to have the whole battlefield prepared, and he'd have to have his bunker complex within 3 to 5 kilometers. Why? When he kicked off his attack, his troops had to march from the staging area directly into the attack and get there before the air, the next morning could be on him.
137 Neil Sheehan: Right.
138 Captain Heslin: So, the only place he could really prepare that was in the North and especially in the North East. So where did he have to come from. He had to come from the North East. The same area he came from in 68, the 24th Regiment from the North East, the North West.
139 Neil Sheehan: You mean in TET of 68, when the 24th Regiment attacked Kontum, they attacked from the North and North East.
140 Captain Heslin: That was their axis of advance. Okay, again, working backwards. If that was going to be his staging area in the North, North East part of the city. Where was he coming from? Alright, well we already knew that the buildup was out here by the tri border area. His natural, his habitual base area. His own network out here. Okay, so if he came in from this direction alright, and the 2nd coming down from the North. In order to get over there, he had to cross this valley area. Okay this area, if you look at it from the ground there's a ridgeline that goes up here directly North. Then you got this valley that is called QL14 bordered on the East by QL14 on the West by the ridge, by the Rocket Ridge and by the river. This large valley area, right in here. In order to get over here, he had to use that valley. What dominated the valley?
141 Neil Sheehan: Rocket Ridge.
142 Captain Heslin: Rocket Ridge. Okay, so I'm working backwards. In order to get down there, he had to control the ridgeline. From that ridgeline with 105's as they had up there, we observed and controlled the valley area. There's no way, he could move trucks, which he did eventually, build roads, which he did eventually, and move large troop formations across there, without observation and direct fire. No way. So, he had to eliminate the ridgeline. So, the defense of the Kontum started with the ridgeline. The fire support bases. And up here to the North, Dak To and Tan Cahn. Again, in order for him to get his large troop formation, you can infiltrate troops all day long, but this hiding, to get the troop formation, so to really move large numbers of people, he had to control the area. So, by putting, it was a tremendous economy of force move, in my opinion, in that by putting small fire support bases out there, with a minimum number of troops, maximizing your advantage of one, having the area support or resupply by helicopter. And especially the fire power and you control the ground. If you can get him to mass, trying to knock out these little fire support bases, and it triggers. Start the killing process early, by the time you finally got in here. You'll have done a lot of the damage. That's right, you will have done a lot of the damage.
143 Neil Sheehan: Because if you said the hill mass to the North East of Kontum. To get the there, that is the ridge that runs up from the North East, you have to cross the valley of the QL14.
144 Captain Heslin: You have to cross the valley, that's right, to the North West. It's not even reasonable to assume that he would move all this man material and supply down this really treacherous and ridiculous terrain, directly North and North East.
145 Neil Sheehan: Yeah.
146 Captain Heslin: The most direct route was straight across. Now like I said.
147 Neil Sheehan: Through Rocket Ridge.
148 Captain Heslin: Yeah through Rocket Ridge and then across that valley area and then in this area. He had to have a relatively good area for the staging. But his movement had to be across this area. Okay, so by occupying this ridgeline, no denying this, he had to knock out the ridgeline. He had to knock out the fire support bases. As he got them knocked out, the fire support bases up there in Tan Cahn and Dak To, so he's moving down. Okay, my idea is, that, and the reason that I'm studying this, is the area, the size of the area we're talking about. To me, and I hate to use the word mobile defense, but have the same kind of connotation that it was, it almost fits the description. In fact, I almost think that was the way it was conducted. Even though, it might not have been planned that way. Okay, the initial encounter was here. The idea of becoming decisive-
149 Neil Sheehan: In Tan Cahn and Rocket Ridge, is the initial encounter.
150 Captain Heslin: Tan Cahn, and coming back from Rocket Ridge, the initial encounter. The idea of becoming decisively engaged in any of those fire support bases was absurd. There was no way to reinforce once they came under attack. The decision when they went up there to begin with had to be that they stayed to fight as long as they could, as much damage as possible that is done on the enemy and they fought their way out. Because there's no way of pulling them out and there's no way of reinforcing them. Not really. Not realistically. Okay.
151 Neil Sheehan: You mean there's too much anti-aircraft fire
152 Captain Heslin: Too much. And there would be. It had to be assumed that there would be, when the enemy really made a determined effort to eliminate them. Their purpose was to hold long enough, to start the attrition. The decision had to be somewhere made, or in my opinion, even if it wasn't clear, that the decisive engagement that the enemy was really going to take Kontum would not be out in this area. They couldn't be out in this area. It would have just been throwing people into a meat grinder and by the time it was over, we would have nothing left to hold them by the time we got down into Kontum. Okay, so in that respect, they served their purpose. And one weakness, in my opinion, was Tan Cahn. It was a division headquarters. It was a relatively small compound with a lot of support troops that weren't ready for battle and it wasn't ready for an armored attack that it received. And it was not adequately defended from the North. Tanks came right down the road. The loss of Tan Cahn, the whole thing collapsed. The headquarters, the whole thing collapsed. The shock of the tank, the whole thing collapsed. Okay, if there had been better organized and they had been able to regrasp the situation. There was good terrain to conduct a delaying action back to Kontum. It would have been essential if the enemy hadn't turned on to Ben Het and Polei Kleng. In my opinion, we would have lost Kontum for sure, because we didn't have the delayed positions, or the delayed positions were not really prepared well and if the enemy had decided to go straight to Kontum. At any rate, in lieu of the delayed positions, he went to Ben Het and Polei Kleng.
153 Neil Sheehan: Have you figured out why?
154 Captain Heslin: The only reason I can give, and again it's strictly conjecture on my part. Ben Het was established in 67 as a Special Forces camp, late 67 and early 68. Polei Kleng also. Both of them, especially Ben Het, had been a thorn in the side of the B3 front for years and they had been trying to eliminate it for years. If you remember, the first time tanks were used in 68 were PT76's against Ben Het. Do you remember that, and then they were used the next time up near West of Khe Sanh, I believe, I can't remember the name of the town where they were successful?
155 Neil Sheehan: Lang Vei.
156 Captain Heslin: Lang Vei, that's right and they were successful there. So, the fact they committed tanks back in 68, to me establishes the significance of this little puny ranger camp.
157 Neil Sheehan: You mean it was just annoying.
158 Captain Heslin: It was really annoying them, that's correct. Back in 68.
159 Neil Sheehan: Why would annoy them so much?
160 Captain Heslin: Okay. It's at the mouth of the valley, your base area is over here, and I think, and this strictly of my opinion. And I'm not of North Vietnamese, I hadn't been able to study what they been doing. They saw it as a potential base in the rear. Okay, it was large enough with an airstrip. And the size of the compound, if they bypassed it completely, didn't make any attempt to negate it or neutralize it. There was always the possibility that we would assault, air assault in there, vertical assault and get in behind them and cut them off. The same with Polei Kleng.
161 Neil Sheehan: They had gone after Polei Kleng before?
162 Captain Heslin: They had gone after Polei Kleng before. But never to the extent they had with Ben Het. And the other thing is they are on good avenues of approach. It would be easy for the enemy to just drive down the road and bypass or just drive by Polei Kleng. So, they wanted to eliminate them. So again, it was to our advantage. This was a big bowl, especially this one was an orifice. It's built in a hole.
163 Neil Sheehan: Polei Kleng, of course was small and destroyed.
164 Captain Heslin: Relatively small. Which brings around another good point. The size of the area. Polei Kleng was relatively small. Ben Het is a little bigger. Ben Het, was able to absorb and hold Polei Kleng was just too small. All the fire was concentrated in a very small area. One of the reasons I think, Kontum held is strictly its size. It was ungainly to defend, because it was so large. You had to have a strung out perimeter. But that goes back to helping the defense. The artillery that they were pounding in there, was not as effective as it would have been if it was a small compound. It could have been concentrated. Not only that, because of its size it allowed for give. Okay. And allowed for the ability to fall back without losing everything.
165 Neil Sheehan: It was a chess board in other words.
166 Captain Heslin: You could look at it that way. Okay, so back to what I was saying. All right the initial encounter was out here, delaying positions would have been ideal, but they didn't happen. Okay, so then the next and the decisive engagement would be fought in front of Kontum. And there's where the key, I mean our biggest advantage would have come into play on the equation of combat power, and that is fire power. What we had going for us was ARC LIGHTS, tremendous numbers and available that fast. Relatively, not only that, by losing this, as you can see, the enemy was going in this direction and in this direction by the time we got them down to Kontum, this whole bowl of wax was here. He concentrated himself. He concentrated himself. In other words, if the decision had been made to do decisive battle out here, we would have been spread too thin. Or any of them. He could have massed anywhere he wanted to and shoot us up piece meal. But by falling back to a relatively small area, he not only forced himself into a concentrated position, we forced him into a concentrated position, which allowed for the application of fire power. Which is precisely what happened. Then the decision was made, or had been made that Kontum was to hold at all cost. Kontum, the purpose, the whole idea of Kontum was to hold it. That was his objective and that's what he wanted and we had to deny it for the one purpose, so that he could be held in front of it to be killed. If he wanted to bypass Kontum, he could have by passed it. It's because he wanted it and the ARVN were able to hold it and we were able to kill him. If he had not massed in front of that, we would have never been able to. The ARC LIGHTS could have scattered all over that area and never got the kill power that they did when he massed in front of them. So, in effect, what has happened, and again. If I look to the future, as far as this whole equation of combat power. We had in the past, you can go back through history, I'm really getting off on a tangent here, and I don't want to go that far. But look at it this way, combat equation, maneuver. At one time who ever had the most troops won. That was strictly maneuver. And then we had fire power, we had combat, we had a little part of that combat equation. And as time went on technology gave us greater, and greater fire power. That equation set up somewhere in the second world war. We are now faced with a period of time when we had the introduction of atomic weapons, especially tactical nucs, I mean if you want to go back that far. But especially with heavy air, and a tremendous amount of ordnance that equation is now shifted, but maneuver is now a small part of that combat power equation. And if commanding you can use the application of the fire power.
167 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, because the B52 strikes is the nearest thing you have to a tactical nuclear weapon.
168 Captain Heslin: Do you know the number of B52 strikes that went out there and you add the tonnage in up you would come up with atomic bomb equivalents. I don't. It's fire power. It's fire power. And that's the way it was conducted, and that's why it helped. An Loc was another example of it. An Loc, if those people in An Loc could hold long enough for them to mass around there, so that we could apply the fire power. He would be killed, there's no two ways about it. He would be attrited.
169 Neil Sheehan: The Battle of Khe Sanh was a dress rehearse of what happened here because once they massed then they could be destroyed.
170 Captain Heslin: The mistake, I went back to reread the book. I went back to reread this thing to see if I could find it. And it was there, the same mistake.
171 Neil Sheehan: Oh, Bernard Fall
172 Captain Heslin: Bernard Fall. The French didn't have enough fire power. The theory was right. The place they began to come to, and hold them in front of and kill them. Although it was kind of sloppy the way they went about it. But they didn't have the killing power. Especially when they got in the monsoon and lost their air. It was, they really lost it. They didn't have the killing power. He was good, and he had the maneuver, he had the massive troops, he was able to overcome the firepower that the French did have and he was successful. But there was no way of overcoming it here. Or at An Loc. As long as it held, as long as he didn't actually take it. Once he took it, he did go to the winds again, and you could never catch him again.
173 Neil Sheehan: As long as he was committed to the offense and he didn't get fixed in front of the ARVN, and found by the CAV, he could have been destroyed.
174 Captain Heslin: Fixed instead of, if we had a lot of maneuver forces like we did in 68, we went out and fixed him, and then killed him. We didn't have them. The ARVN didn't have them. They counted on him fixing himself. Now again, this is my opinion. And I'm not sure it was thought out this way.
175 Neil Sheehan: I know it wasn't.
176 Captain Heslin: But that's the way it was.
177 Neil Sheehan: I did know of one person who did think that way.
178 Captain Heslin: I think you're right.
179 Neil Sheehan: Not John Vann.
180 Captain Heslin: Oh, who?
181 Neil Sheehan: Colonel Ba.
182 Captain Heslin: Did he? Fantastic , fantastic
183 Neil Sheehan: Out of necessity.
184 Captain Heslin: Airborne TOW, right. Heís up in here, moving in. We know he's got tanks. They're out there. Every day we're out looking for tanks. Never did find that tank. Everybody in the world goes on that one tank trying to destroy. TACAIR and everything else. What it proved to me, or the lesson I got out of it, is that when he's in his staging area, he's on his turf. You won't find him unless he wants you to find him, and when you find him, you'll find him in bits and pieces, and you'll have to fight over those. What you'll really want to wait for is waiting for him to come out in the open. And there's two times he is going to come out in the open. One is when he's coming in to the attack, and two when he's running away. Either he's exploiting his mission has been successful and he's continuing and he's in the open, or he's been defeated and he's withdrawing. That's when you want to use your Airborne TOW system against armor, that's when you want to do the armor killing. If you go out and pick them out one at a time, you're wasting your time. You're wasting your time.
185 Neil Sheehan: In other words, if you go orbiting with the TOW and try to find them ahead of time, it's a waste, I see your point.
186 Captain Heslin: I'm thinking of like in the future. Or I'm thinking of the deployment of the system in my opinion, again, in my opinion. The way it might look, we're thinking in terms of going forward, going out and finding him. Going forward in these areas okay, with this type of a system. Yes, we want to do that but not with that a system. What would be better is let him come into an area, that you know, that he doesn't know, and he's out moving in the open, in unfamiliar ground and relatively massed then bring that system in.
187 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, where you can knock him out quickly.
188 Captain Heslin: You can knock him out and get out of the area. That's exactly right. If you go out there when he's got his anti-aircraft weapons and he's got the ground prepared. Then you're going to lose him, you're going to lose him. The only time you want to commit them is if you're under attack and you've routed him. You've forced him to stop delaying or moving back and he's in that movement phase. Then you can go and get him. Don't get him when he's all hardened. You're wasting your time. With that system, with that system. That particular system, in my opinion. I think that whole thing is fantastic.
189 Neil Sheehan: That is interesting. Is there any other thoughts you have on that? You've helped me a great deal with your perspective.
190 Captain Heslin: In what respect. On the battle-
191 Neil Sheehan: Yeah your theory on the battle or here.
192 Captain Heslin: Well, some interesting things. Some other things. All right, the enemy's preparation is out there. He hasn't learned his lesson. In my opinion he uses engineer troops or probably impressed labor. I don't know where he gets them from to build his fortifications before he moves his combat troops into these staging areas, he hasn't prepared because of the air. We can watch him do that. We can watch him from the air. We can see bunkers being built. When air goes in and blows them, we can see them repairing the bunkers. By the size of the bunker complex, we know about what size of force will be in there. By the state of construction, we know about how soon they will be ready to accept troops. And we start to see the troops infiltrating in, it gives us some idea when he's going to launch his main attack. And that's exactly the information the CAV gave. And that's the information John Paul Vann had when they knew about when the attack would come and about where it would come. Based on that information. The ARVN and the artillery, I don't think we advised them real well they weren't hardened. We bombed I donít know how many times their artillery positions, blew them up, if they took the time to prepare their artillery positions. One of the biggest advantages of the defense economy of force and being able to prepare your terrain. He tried, he was on the offense, and he still took the time to harden his artillery. And when his artillery started running around out here, because of the open configuration, they weren't effective. They were forced out. In other words, we didn't harden them, we should have prepared the ARVN Artilleries. They lost a lot of their effectiveness. They were not properly prepared.
193 Neil Sheehan: In other words, it's the same mistake the French made at Dien Bien Phu, obviously the ARVN should have been dug in.
194 Captain Heslin: Dug in. Well prepared. Because why? Because he was coming with artillery. Because we knew he was coming with artillery.
195 Neil Sheehan: And you knew, relatively speaking, the fans that he would have to fire in.
196 Captain Heslin: That's correct. Okay, and another thing was, what about the old basics you know. When you've got an armor threat, you build tank trenches. You put up defenses for an armor assault. I didn't see any. I particularly didn't see anything around Tan Cahn.
197 Neil Sheehan: Right, of course they weren't expecting the tanks at Tan Cahn.
198 Captain Heslin: No, they weren't. I think a lot more could have been done and should have been done, clearly in the advantage of the defense. You prepare the terrain, it's yours. Your going to fight it on your ground. You got to prepare it. And I'm not sure how well it was prepared. Plus, Colonel Ba, was having a heck of time getting everything together.
199 Neil Sheehan: He didnít get all his regiments until two days before the battle. That was a real big problem.
200 Captain Heslin: That's correct. It was a real big problem.
201 Captain Heslin: Anticipation. A lot of problems that occurred that could have been, that may have been a loss of resupply points, the loss of POL facilities, the loss of staging areas, but once the battle began, maybe someone could have said, you know, once this stuff starts getting really bad, we won't have it, so what we will do in place of that. This will be next likely area, or let's prepare it now, 3 days, 4 days a week ahead of time.
202 Neil Sheehan: Like using fire support base 41 and 42 for refueling point.
203 Captain Heslin: Possibly that's right. Eventually we did end up using others additional ones and it was some plans. But I'm thinking in terms of the future. A lot more anticipation of what I need, of what is going to happen. Thinking we are going to lose the air stripes. We are going to lose Ö. Same types of thinking for us. I think that maybe that's a good lesson to learn. Anticipation. Tremendous refugee problem. When the rockets and the mortars start going, what do I do with the refugees. What refugees? The ones we don't have today, that we will have tomorrow. The 46,000 of them that we pulled out of there eventually.
204 Neil Sheehan: There were 46,000? Wow.
205 Captain Heslin: Somewhere around 46,000. So, you know, maybe possibly, plans could have got started earlier. Maybe fixed wing aircraft could have been used in lieu of helicopters.
206 Neil Sheehan: They airlifted out of Kontum.
207 Captain Heslin: By helicopter
208 Neil Sheehan: Most of them in VNAF and US aircraft.
209 Captain Heslin: Thatís right Ė correct
210 Neil Sheehan: 46,000 thousand refugees out of Kontum to Pleiku. Because the NVA closed the road at the Kontum pass. Did you ever figure out the radius of most of B Ė 52 strikes around Kontum?
211 Captain Heslin: No, and that could be an interesting study. Although, the only thing I said, I was flying over the area, and I could see on the ground, the majority of them as far as concentration was in the Northern part of the city, out about oh, maybe about 5 to 8 kilometers in the North East, right in this area right here. They were all throughout the area static. But I would say if there were any place they were concentrated that was it.
212 Neil Sheehan: So the majority of the B -52s was 5 to 6 kilometers?
213 Captain Heslin: 5 to 8 kilometers out from the city North and North East. In that plane. As far as the concentration goes. And that was just an observation on my part, you would have to check statistic. But that was the ideal place for them. It was the ideal place for them. In fact, they did, I think, you probably already found out, when they went back out into those areas, they found a lot of dead people. An awful lot of dead people. I would have loved to have been in a position to talk to Vann, to see how much of this he saw. I'm convinced, in my own opinion, that he saw a lot it. A lot of what I said, I can think that happened at the time. That he recognized the significant of the Kontum hold. That he recognized that that's where the decisive battle would be fought. Not at Tan Cahn, not at the fire support bases, not at Vo Dinh, but there, that's where it was going to happen. And that Kontum had to hold.
214 Neil Sheehan: [Inaudible] Ö supposed to be held.
215 Captain Heslin: That's, now that's way above my level. Way, way above my level.
216 Neil Sheehan: I'll find out, I hope by the end.
217 Captain Heslin: I envy the position you're going to be in and who you're going to talk too.
218 Neil Sheehan: [Inaudible]
219 Captain Heslin: You know, this was, in my opinion, a fantastic allied effort. It was absolute interdependence. We could have never done this without the ARVN, and the ARVN couldn't have done it without us. We needed the ARVN, as manuever and they needed us for the fire power. But together we could do it. You know, I'm talking, going back even further. This is strictly curious. I think that this the range. That this battle we saw here in 72, was the battle that was intended in 65. In 65 when the first hard core NVA units started moving in through Plei Me and the first CAV, met NVA regulars for the first time. US units against NVA, we picked up the ball, I know ARVN would never have been able to hold them, in my opinion, and we held them until they faced the match in 72. I think they have proven themselves.
220 Neil Sheehan: You mean they control these people properly employed.
221 Captain Heslin : Thatís right
222 Neil Sheehan: That is if your tactics are used, I mean the tactics along the lines you're talking about are used in the employment of the troops.
223 Captain Heslin: Basically, it's a tactic of defense. And the ARVN, basically, in their own country, you know, are going to be invaded by the enemy, they are going to be on the defense. But I have to go back over it, this is as I remember it.
224 Neil Sheehan: This is 68 now. Phase 1 was the buildup.
225 Captain Heslin: Was the buildup in the mountain area. Both the enemy and us, in October and November.
226 Neil Sheehan: And phase 2.
227 Captain Heslin: Was the battle of Dak To, itself. Which was in November, December and January. When we had the 4th Division and the 173.
228 Neil Sheehan: Right and Phase 3.
229 Captain Heslin: Phase 3 of it was the TET offensive right about January and February. There wasn't a whole lot of activity around here, it was around the cities.
230 Neil Sheehan: And then phase 4 was the border camps.
231 Captain Heslin: The last phase and yes, and that was in March, which was nothing. But what I thought was real, real key about their timing, both for this and what happened in 72. He moves best in the dry season. He doesn't move worth a darn in the wet season. Okay, if you were to hit Kontum, and be successful and hold it. You would have to have the weather on his side. In other words, he would have to have the rainy season. Otherwise if it was clear, and we had a couple of months of clear, we counter attack, we have air superiority, the whole bit. We could get back in there and we could take it. But if he took it at just the beginning of the rainy season, we have real difficulty getting in there. But by the same token, if he lost just at the beginning of the rainy season, the rain would cover his withdraw. Timing. November, December and January, the battle took place when he was building up in 68. Okay, the TET offensive and Kontum. Okay, in 72, the buildup. December, January and February.
232 Neil Sheehan: In the rainy season.
233 Captain Heslin: Dry season. November through May, dry season. Buildup, December, January and February. The actual attack, I think, he was delayed by numerous air strikes, up here, but the actual attack was late in the dry season. If he was successful at Kontum, it would have been hell taking it back in rainy season. And being unsuccessful, he wasn't perused, no way to pursue him. He wasn't even pursued by air. He was covered for the withdraw.
234 Neil Sheehan: I see what your mean.
235 Captain Heslin: The timing was great.
236 Neil Sheehan: I see. In other words, the January, February theme is the same thing.
237 Captain Heslin: In other words, his build up, his timing for his battles in this area.
238 Neil Sheehan: I mean, he took Kontum in TET of 68 in February. And rainy season starts in May and June.
239 Captain Heslin: So, in that period of time it would have been closer to the dry season. But this year, it was much closer. In fact, the battle went right into June. Which we were starting to get pretty good rains, the weather had turned pretty bad. It was really bad.
240 Neil Sheehan: The first action took place at 1338, 990 and 875, then they were fighting down in the valley.
241 Captain Heslin: Yeah, I have to go back over the sequence. But these are the major areas of combat. Initially, one of the first major ones for the 4th Division was 1338, for the 173rd, it was down here at 875. And after they took 1338 and they established a base at 1001 they had several others along the ridgeline. And they went down in the valley areas. And the heavy fighting took place with the 4th Division down in the valley. The one 173rd out here. And later on, 990, which was West of, South West of Ben Het, there was a big battle there. Relatively, and then some of the fire support bases out here, South of Ben Het, the NVA tried to knock them off, they were attacked but they held.
242 Neil Sheehan: And then they went after Ben Het and fully claimed both.
243 Captain Heslin: Later on, in the dry season, late in late part of March and April and then there was activity in June.
244 Neil Sheehan: And the only unit that ever got into Kontum was the 24th Regiment. Of all the units that were involved in all that fighting.
245 Captain Heslin: The NVA Units that I know of. That's correct. Now there were VC and there were Sappers that got into the city. The 57th Assault Helicopter Company was located out on the Kontum Airfield at the time, it was hit by Sappers. They got inside the compound did a lot of damage. And there was an ARVN CAV unit and an ARVN Artillery unit that did very, very well in countering the attack on the city itself. With that NVA out there.
246 Neil Sheehan: It was the same compound that was hit this time. The 18th Armored CAV or the 14th Armored CAV whatever it was.
247 Captain Heslin: Same compound. Exactly right.
248 Neil Sheehan: Ah, so your point being that if they hadn't been stopped out there, all of those units would have descended upon Kontum, and that was really their objective.
249 Captain Heslin: That's my opinion. That's exactly right, that's exactly right. But we had the maneuver forces to go and get them in 68.
250 Neil Sheehan: But as the Vietnamese didn't this time. So, we had to fight up in the town. That's fascinating.
251 Captain Heslin: In 68, we fought. None of the ARVN Units and none of the US Units that fought in 68 were still here. Right. The B 3 Front was. I would like to see their personnel structure. I'll bet a lot of their commanders that we were here in 68 are here planning the same thing in 72. It stands to reason they use the same plan. Basically. But we're not the same. And we didn't' fight it the same. In other words, this area was defended in 68 by different units than defended it in 72. The experience factor was not there. But for the attackers, the experience factor was there. Basically, the B 3 Front.
252 Neil Sheehan: They knew what they were after.
253 Captain Heslin: Yep, their AO, for years their AO, their ground. They knew what they had to do.
254 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, they were the controlling force in this offensive.
255 Captain Heslin: They had the initiative.
256 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, and they had the controlling headquarters.
257 Captain Heslin: That's correct. Now that's correct as I know it. That's my understanding.
258 Neil Sheehan: So, they knew what they needed to do.
259 Captain Heslin: They knew the key terrain. They knew the terrain that had to be taken. And they knew the best avenues of approach in to Kontum. Any graduate of the basic Infantry course, could look at Kontum and come up with a terrain analysis and tell me which would be the most logical avenue of approach into Kontum, primarily infantry troops.
260 Neil Sheehan: Yeah and they had to get ultimately, their infantry into position to where they could assault in a matter of hours. Safely where they could assault in the matter of hours. And the CAV did detect them building those bunkers.
261 Captain Heslin: Oh, absolutely. A lot of bunker building out here, in staging areas, very concerned about the buildup of bunkers in the North East quadrant. North East of the city, North to North East of the city.
262 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, in these ridgelines.
263 Captain Heslin: That's right in those ridgelines. Up in the North.
264 Neil Sheehan: Yeah, I noticed going through the log reports.
265 Captain Heslin: And then the infiltration, picked up steam, pick up if you can the detection of the construction of bunkers. And then you start to pick up the extent of the bunker complexes, and then start to pick up the movement of troops. Such and such CAV scout spotted, 30 men moving from North to South. And then 15 men moving from North to South and East to West trying to infiltrate his troops in.
266 Neil Sheehan: Right. I heard that the ARVN using their own intelligence and the CAV reports had pretty well figured out when and where it was coming from. So the CAV was the deciding factor.
267 Captain Heslin: The CAV played a really, really big role. Which is a sign of the future. It's a lesson for the future, it really is. When we're talking distances what are we talking, look at this area, it's miles long 20, 30 miles, and 40 miles in direction. Anyway, 20 to 30 miles in each direction.
268 Neil Sheehan: Where they have got to cover a large area.
269 Captain Heslin: That's right. A large area. Very large area.
270 Neil Sheehan: In 68 the 4th Division did set their fire bases up on the ridgeline south or Dak To. They CAíd up there but they didnít run into a Ö. And this is a fire base over here.
271 Captain Heslin: They stayed on the road. They had artillery fire base there, securing the bridge there.
272 Neil Sheehan: Oh, you mean where QL14 meets the river there.
273 Captain Heslin: Right, close to Dak To.
274 Neil Sheehan: Yeah thatís where they had another fire base.
275 Captain Heslin: Near Ben Het.
276 Neil Sheehan: That is the 4th Division. That's interesting. That's where the tanks met. The tanks met right at the, where QL14 crosses the river, that's where the tanks met. One correction. The 4th Division fire base in 1968 was at Dak Moat, not where QL, it's not QL19, it's 512, where 512 meet the river, west of Dak To. Not the place the tank trail came into this time with QL14 and the ARVN also had a fire base at Dak Moat this time. Thank you.