By Tom Dare
INCREDIBLE FIRST-HAND footage from one of the most intense battles of the Vietnam war has emerged this week, on the 50th anniversary of the start of the battle of Dak To.
Video from the battle, taken over a three-week period between November 3 and November 23, shows American soldiers from the 4th Infantry battling against the Vietcong in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.
Soldiers can be seen firing rifles, throwing grenades and launching heavy artillery toward North Vietnamese positions, while footage also shows a series of air strikes being carried out by the U.S. Air Force on enemy positions.
The Battle of Dak To was is still known today as one of the bloodiest of the Vietnam War, and took place between roughly 5,000 American troops and 6,000 Vietcong.
The aim of the Vietcong was the destruction of an entire American unit, something which they thought was achievable at Dak To. As such, four regiments were dedicated to the offensive.
The Americans had been informed about the planned attack prior to it going ahead, though, as a result of a former North Vietnamese commander defecting to the South. Their response was to establish a base and bolster defences, before attempting to methodically push the Vietcong back from their positions.
Over the next three weeks several pitched battles resulted in the loss of 376 American soldiers and approximately 1,200 Vietcong, though this number is heavily disputed. The North Vietnamese had hoped to destroy the base to such an extent that it had to be reinforced with infantry from the cities, leaving space for the Tet Offensive in January 1968. As it happened, though, three of the four regiments which took part in the attack at Dak To were weakened to such an extent that they could not take part in the planned attack the following year. Toward the end of the battle the 4th infantry were ordered to take what was being referred to as Hill 875, a strategic position in the region. The successful completion of this mission contributed heavily to the body count.
Despite forcing the Vietcong to retreat from their base and losing far fewer men, many in the American army failed to see Dak To as a victory after the considerable number of men that were lost. All in all, approximately 1,441 men were wounded, while the army used 151,000 artillery rounds, 2,096 tactical air sorties and 257 B-52 strikes. 2,101 Army helicopter sorties were flown, and 40 helicopters were lost.
“There was no reason to take that hill,” said Matt Harrison, one of the men on the ground whose unit was ordered to take Hill 875.
“I doubt there’s been an American on that hill since Nov. 23.
“We accomplished nothing.”