Lieutenant Colonel Elvin R. Eeiberg IIL United States Army
THE Central Highlands of Vietnam, the enemy threat in late 1968 was
posed by main force North Vietnamese Army (NVA) elements. These
units moved either against the population centers of the highlands -
Dak To, Kontum, Pleiku, and Banmethuot or used the terrain to move
troops and supplies east or south toward the coastal areas.
Much of the heavy movement was along a vehicular road just to the
east of the Cambodian-South Vietnamese border. The road varies in
width from three to five yards, and every low spot and stream
crossing is provided with a bridge, culverts or corduroyed ford.
Sidehill cuts are revetted, and steep shoulders are marked by sturdy
wooden stakes. About every 55 yards, there is a three or four-man
proactive bunker since US air and artillery interdiction is a common
occurrence. The road is generally viewable from the air because the
numerous interdiction missions have killed the trees which although
largely erect have shad their leaves.
Through October 1968, it increasingly became apparent that the NVA
were making extensive nightly use of the road. Foot traffic was
heavy, and vehicular traffic including 1.5 ton trucks, was detected.
The road had become virtually impassable for wheeled use during the
June and September highland monsoon season, but had since been
rehabilitated by NVA engineers who relied chiefly on hand labor.
US 4th Infantry Division used all appropriate reconnaissance
detection means along the route, chiefly helicopter and fixed-wing
aircraft but also long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRP’s) near
the trail. Photos and reports by the LRRP’e confirmed the heavy feat
and truck traffic. The commanding general of the 1st Field Force
Vietnam directed that the road be closed.
Considerable experience indicated that air and artillery
interdiction could close sections of the road only temporarily. The
resulting craters and randomly felled trees were removed or bypassed
by the next morning. The lip of a 750-pound bomb crater was simply
used on the new road after some reshaping and the installation of
posts to mark the crater’s edge. Free World troupes would have to
move onto the road to close it.
early November, the 4th Division engineer made aerial reconnaissance
flights to determine a course of action to recommend. The
reconnaissance revealed one stretch of road, just east of the
Cambodian border, where a “chokepoint” existed. This stretch was
vulnerable to engineer demolition. The road here, after crossing the
border to the south, crossed a fairly wide stream, wound up a narrow
valley into a saddle, over this saddle south into the Plei Trap
Valley along a sidehill cut, and then onto the valley flat land.
stretch between the stream and the valley was about two mile long
and offered a number of small stream crossings for craters and ford
destruction work several hundred yards of rod flanked by huge dead
mahogany trees, and the vulnerable sidehill cut leading into the
valley. A detour around the pass was not possible without a
tremendous construction effort or a lengthy road rerouting west of
equally important consideration was the provision of effective fire
support for the troops on the ground. Two existing land connections,
Route 511, was closed in July 196S, it could be reopened with the
installation of a 109-yard bridge, repair work on the road, and
4th Infantry Division commander decided to conduct a one-week
operation based out of Polei Kleng to former 4th Division firebases
existed within accurate howitzer range of the chokepoint. Although
both bases would require rehabilitating, the 4tb Division forces
were well practiced in techniques of rapid firebase construction on
seemingly inaccessible terrain.
Since the two Firebases and the Plei Trap Road could only he reached
by helicopter, a lift base was required to support the operation.
The closest base - and, therefore meet attractive from the
standpoint of consuming helicopter flying time was the Polei Kleng
Special Forces Camp. The camp had a good C-7A strip, and, while the
permit the engineers sufficient time to close the NVA route. He
instructed his engineers to close the road in such a manner that
attempts to reopen it would be immediately detected from the air. He
directed the 2d Brigade to execute the operation in conjunction with
an Army Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) paramilitary force.
This ARVN element was composed of five Camp Strike Force (CSF)
companies stationed at various camps throughout the highlands. The
2d Brigade had available its own direct support engineer company C,
4th Engineers; a detachment from Company A; and elements of
Polei Kleng was opened by 20 November after a 21-float M4T6 pontoon
bridge bad been built and the necessary work on the road had been
done. Some work was required at the camp to prepare it for the
influx of CSF, the brigade, artillery, and support troops. The
detachment from company A, which would construct a critical abatis
at the chokepoint underwent training in airmobile techniques,
cratering , and tree felling.
During the week before the start of the operation, an extensive air
and artillery interdiction program continued along the road. At the
request of the engineers, the pass area of the chokepoint was
untouched, so as not to complicate rapid engineer deployment in the