45th Anniversary Operation Hump

November 8 marks the 45th Anniversary of Operation Hump the first major battle fought by the 173rd Airborne Brigade which arrived in Vietnam in early May, 1965. A note to World War II vets, battles in Vietnam generally were just as intense as your battles but involved small military units, often only a few companies, on both sides in a relatively small geographic area.

Operation Hump began on November 5, 1965, when 400 American and Australian forces entered War Zone D on a search and destroy mission against War Zone D, also known as the Iron Triangle, had been established 20 years earlier by the Viet Minh as a base during its war against the French. It was 20 miles northwest of Saigon and contained a vast underground complex providing a supply and support base complete with medical facilities and munitions factories.

The Triangle covered about 125 square miles bordered in part by the Saigon and Song rivers along with the Than Dien Forest. The area contained rubber plantations, triple canopy jungles and a few hamlets.

The Australians were deployed south of the Dong Hai River to serve as a blocking force for retreating enemy troops while the 1st Battalion of the 503rd was helicoptered into the area north of the river.

The Sky Soldiers made little contact through November 7 when B and C companies set up a night defensive position near Hill 65 which was covered by triple canopy jungle. At about 6 A.M. company C began moving toward Hill 65 while Company B headed toward Hill 78.

Company C made contact with a sizable enemy force at about 8 A.M.. Company B was ordered to move toward Hill 65 to assist Company C 45 minutes later. Company B arrived at about 9:30 and also encountered an enemy force determined to number 1,200 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. .

B Company commander Capt. Lowell D Bittrich has provided a detailed account of his company’s actions online. The account includes a poem describing the scene by SP4 Joseph M. Kenny, the B Company, lst Battalion 503D Infantry artillery team radio operator (RTO) from Battery C, 3D Battalion, 319th Artillery.

The enemy at one point moved in close to the American positions with some hand to hand fighting to reduce the ability of the Americans to use artillery and air support. The enemy broke off contact by the next morning.

Although surrounded by a much larger force the Sky Soldiers held their ground like the paratroopers of their fathers’ generation did at Bastogne in World War II. Country stars Big and Rich have immortalized the battle in their song “8th of November“.

Both sides suffered heavy losses with 48 paratroopers killed and numerous others wounded. Viet Cong and NVA losses included 403 dead and an unknown number of wounded.

The American wounded included a medic, Specialist 5 Lawrence Joel, the first black American to survive a battle in which he was awarded a Medal of Honor since the Spanish American War. Joel, though wounded himself, continued to assist the wounded in spite of heavy enemy fire.

The 173rd would return to the area two years later as part of a force of 32,000 in Operation Cedar Falls. As often happened with large scale operations the enemy fled ahead of the force’s arrival.

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