From Richard H. Dick James
55 years ago, 13 May 1967, I was the Staff Sergeant Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border. I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam.
The Mobile Strike Force (aka Mike Force) from Company D (also known as Task Force 399A) had begun operating on Nui Giai (one of the nearby Seven Mountains) on 20 April. Intelligence gathered by them on 9 May, from those operations, led to a quick reaction parachute drop and assault on the mountain. The intelligence showed that a company of the 512th Viet Cong Battalion (which operated in our area) was on the mountain.
An operation, named Operation Blackjack 41C (also known at various times as Operation Blackjack 41 White and Operation Arrowhead) was conceived, planned, and set into action in less than thirty-six hours. The mission was “to seal off Nui Giai, inflict maximum casualties on VC forces, destroy VC command and supply installations, and deny the VC further use of Nui Giai.”
The allied players included Company D/Detachment C-4 and VNSF forward command post, a command & control helicopter, a platoon of gunships, Task Force Alpha (consisting of Task Force 399A [Company D Mike Force] and 2 CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka our VN “mercenaries”) companies from Detachment A-423 [Tinh Bien]), Task Force Bravo (consisting of the Company E command element, 3 companies of the 5th SFG Mike Force, and Task Force 588 [Company D Mobile Guerrilla Force company]), and Task Force Charlie (USSF Detachment B-42/VNSF B-18 [Chau Doc] and 1 company CIDG each from Detachments A-421 [Ba Xoai], 422 [Vinh Gia], and 423 [Tinh Bien]).
At one minute past midnight, on the morning of 12 May, detachments A-402 and A-403 (4th Mobile Guerrilla Force, aka Task Force 588) moved into position near the base of Nui Giai, to set up as drop zone security and blocking force for DZ Blackjack.
With only eighteen hours advanced warning (prior to the airborne assault) from headquarters, five of our team departed Vinh Gia on the evening of 12 May to participate in Operation Blackjack 41C (aka Operation Blackjack 41 White, aka Operation Arrowhead).
CPT Morris, SGT Gilchrist, and I deployed, with a company of our CIDG as part of the blocking force, west of the target. Another company, led by 1LT Tomlinson and SP4 Evec, acted as part of the attacking force from the south. Units from the SF camps of Ba Xoai and Tinh Bien also took up blocking positions, to the north and northeast of the mountain.
The group I was on moved out of camp, ostensibly to set up a night ambush, but instead to set up the blocking force the following morning. The target was Nui Giai, a VC controlled granite mountain, pockmarked with hundreds of VC tunnels and caves, about fifteen miles east of Vinh Gia. There was no preparatory artillery fire, or tactical air softening the target, prior to initial engagement. The VC on, and in, the mountain, were caught by complete surprise.
At 0530 the following morning, six men from detachment C-4 (C-4’s XO, the assistant S-3 [operations] officer, an S-2 [intelligence] NCO, and three operators) arrived at Ba Xoai (A-421), to set up the forward command post (CP) for the operation. The assault was to be a large-scale operation, involving eleven companies, including two companies involved in an airborne assault, marshalled out of Nha Trang.
At 0645 thirty-nine USSF and three companies of the 5th Special Forces Group Mike Force out of Nha Trang parachuted from five C-130 “Hercules” Air Force cargo aircraft, 700’ above the ground, onto the drop zone (DZ Blackjack) at the south base of the mountain. There was no enemy resistance.
That was the second-ever combat parachute jump in the history of Special Forces. The Command & Control (C&C) helicopter, with the CO of Detachment C-4 onboard, flew over the DZ during the drop.
You would have thought some leg was responsible for selecting the drop zone. The jump would have been a funny ha-ha moment, if it had been a peacetime jump. The drop zone consisted of rice paddies and marshes, containing water that was anywhere from eight inches to four feet deep.
Amazingly, only two paratroopers were injured, both minor. The parachute drop was completely unexpected by the VC. They didn’t get a single shot off before the paratroopers had formed on the ground and began to move out, hampered by the mud and water.
Helicopters flying overhead provided cover and additional firepower. After the drop, the Mobile Guerrilla Force proceeded slowly up the mountain in advance of the Mobile Strike Force, acting as a recon unit for the strike force.
At 0900 hours, two companies of Tinh Bien (A-423) CIDG moved up the north slope of Nui Giai, to link up with the existing task force on the mountain (TF 399A). TF 399A had been on the mountain since 20 April. The Tinh Bien CIDG contacted an estimated squad of VC, at 0930. Two CIDG were KIA, and one USASF (CPT Syring, the CO from Tinh Bien) was WIA.
On the way down the mountain with the casualties, a TF 399A unit of CIDG and Mike Force personnel again made contact, at the same location and, once again, with an estimated squad of VC. The contact caused the two Tinh Bien CIDG companies to become dispersed. They managed to go down the mountain, to re-form at the Ba Chuc FOB.
The company of CIDG from Vinh Gia was positioned on the west side of Nui Giai at 1800 hours, to act as a blocking force. The results for the day included 9 VC confirmed KIA, 2 CIDG KIA, 4 CIDG and 3 USASF WIA (2 of the SF slightly wounded). Also, a .45-cal pistol, an M-1 Garand rifle, and 2 U.S. Carbines, were captured. Task Force 399B also apprehended 48 suspected VC, who were heli-lifted to Ba Chuc for interrogation.
PHOTOS: Seven Mountains area map / Me (on left) and SGT Gilchrist in blocking position / CPT Morris making a commo report (my photos/map)