In the summer of 1967, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN)
initiated a series of attacks in western Kontum Province. To counter these,
Major General William R. Peers commenced Operation Greeley using elements of
the 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This was designed to
sweep PAVN forces from the jungle-covered mountains of the region. After a
series of sharp engagements, contact with PAVN forces diminished in August
leading the Americans to believe that they had withdrawn back across the border
into Cambodia and Laos.
After a quiet September, US intelligence reported that PAVN
forces around Pleiku were moving into Kontum in early October. This shift
increased PAVN strength in the area to around division level. The PAVN plan was
to utilize the 24th, 32nd, 66th, and 174th regiments to isolate and destroy a
brigade-sized American force near Dak To. It was believed by the PAVN command
that this would lead to the further deployment of American troops to the border
regions which would leave South Vietnam's cities and lowlands vulnerable. To
deal with this build up of PAVN forces, Peers launched Operation MacArthur on
Battle of Dak To -
Peer's understanding of the enemy's intentions and strategy was
greatly enhanced on November 3, following the defection of PAVN Sgt. Vu Hong.
Alerted to each PAVN unit's location and objective, Peers' men began engaging
the enemy the same day, disrupting the North Vietnamese plans for attacking Dak
To. As elements of the 4th Infantry, 173rd Airborne, and the 1st Brigade of the
1st Air Cavalry went into action they found that the North Vietnamese had
prepared elaborate defensive positions on the hills and ridges around Dak To.
Over the ensuing three weeks, American forces developed a
methodical approach to reducing PAVN positions. Once the enemy was located,
massive amounts of firepower (both artillery and air strikes) were applied,
followed by an infantry assault to secure to objective. In most instances, PAVN
forces fought tenaciously, bloodying the Americans, before vanishing into the
jungle. Key firefights in the campaign occurred on Hills 823, 724, and 882. As
these fights were taking place around Dak To, the airstrip became a target for
PAVN artillery and rocket attacks.
Battle of Dak To - Final
The worst of these took place on November 12, when rockets and
shellfire destroyed several aircraft as well as detonated the base's ammunition
and fuel depots. In addition to the American forces, Army of Vietnam (ARVN)
units also took part in the battle, seeing action around Hill 1416. The last
major engagement of the Battle of Dak To began on November 19, when the 2nd
Battalion of the 503rd Airborne attempted to take Hill 875. After meeting
initial success, the 2/503 found itself caught in an elaborate ambush.
Surrounded, it endured a severe friendly fire incident and was not relieved until
the next day.
Resupplied and reinforced, the 503rd attacked the crest of Hill
875 on November 21. After savage, close-quarters fighting, the airborne
troopers neared the top of the hill, but were forced to halt due to darkness.
The following day was spent hammering the crest with artillery and air strikes,
completely removing all cover. Moving out on the 23rd, the Americans took the
top of the hill after finding that the North Vietnamese had already departed.
By the end of November, the PAVN forces around Dak To were so battered that
they were withdrawn back across the border ending the battle.
Battle of Dak To -
A victory for the Americans and South Vietnamese, the Battle of
Dak To cost 376 US killed, 1,441 US wounded, and 79 ARVN killed. PAVN
casualties are estimated between 1,000 to 1,445 killed. The Battle of Dak To
saw US forces drive the North Vietnamese from the Kontum Province and decimated
the regiments of the 1st PAVN Division. One of the "border battles"
of late 1967, the Battle of Dak To did accomplish a key PAVN objective as US
forces began to move out from cities and lowlands.