THRU: Commanding General
TO: Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
1. OPERATION COBRA STRIKE
2. DATES OF OPERATION
4. COMMAND HQ
5. REPORTING OFFICER:
All air phases of this operation were principally planned and executed by US Forces with the concurrence of CG, 44th STZ. VN phases planned and/or conducted were artillery support, ground reaction force, and PSYOP campaign. VNAF participation was planned but VNAF was unable to provide required fighter support.
6. TASK ORGANIZATION
7. SUPPORTING FORCES
a. HQ, 7/1st Air Cavalry Troop.
7/lst Air Cav provided one UH1H Command and Control (C&C) ship for the Senior Advisor, 44th STZ. 164th CAG provided backup C&C and one medical evacuation helicopter. The C&C ship was effective as the primary coordinating element throughout the operation.
b. 7th USAF.
All requests for mission aircraft were sent through the IV Corps Direct Air Request Net. One flight of F-100 aircraft was ordered on an immediate request for area fire suppression. All sorties met rendezvous and target timing as planned. Results: 8 caves destroyed; 2 caves damaged: all areas mined with CBU 42 generally as planned.
c. B-7/1st Air Cavalry Troop.
The missions of B-7/1st Air Cav were:
The Air Cavalry Troop was employed continuously throughout the operation. Fire suppression was effective, target marking was accurate, and timing criteria were met.
d. Mobile Strike Force (MSF)
Two companies of the 3rd MSF Bn were on alert at Chi Lang throughout the operation. The commanders (US&VN) flew in the Air Cav C&C on all phase II sorties. The operation did not require the commitment of a reaction force.
e. Artillery: 47th Artillery Bn reinforced 2B/67th Artillery (Tri Ton).
Artillery fire began as planned at 301645 Oct 69, immediately following the B-52 strikes. Approximately 1,500 rounds were fired throughout the night of 30-31 Oct. Phase II was on weather hold from 310500 Oct to 020500 Nov during which time additional artillery was placed in the target area. On 030800 Nov, the arty fired approximately 500 rounds of suppressive fire in the vicinity of target #4 during a period of intense hostile ground fire.
f. 44th STZ ALO/FAC:
USAF ALO and FACs were airborne throughout the operation. Weather checks were continuous from 310300 Oct through 020600 Nov in an effort to initiate phase II of the operation. The execution and control of all phases of the air mission were directed by the ALO through the FACs.
8. INTELLIGENCE: (omitted)
"The 44th STZ conducts Special Air Operations to destroy VC/NVA personnel and base camp facilities located on Nui Giai and Nui Cam Mountains and to deny the enemy further access to the area."
10. CONCEPT OF OPERATION
Operation Cobra Strike was carried out in four phases:
a. Phase I (Strike) - Consisted of B-52 strikes in target area.
b. Phase II (Strike) - This phase was the main attack whereby artillery would be massed on the target complexes upon completion of Phase I followed by the air attacks using suppressive fire (Napalm), Cobra gunships' suppressive fire, LOH for accurate target marking, and the attack of fighters with the Bullpup Guided Air Missile (GAM) for destruction of selected cave targets.
c. Phase III (Seed) - This phase of the operation consisted of a series of USAF fighters deploying CBU-42 canisters of anti-personnel mines in selected strips to restrict and deny the enemy freedom of movement throughout the target complex.
d. Phase IV (PSYOP) - This phase consists of psychological operations warning the local population of the mining of the area, the dangers of entering the target area, and a Chieu Hoi Program to induce enemy elements to rally to the GVN.
Planning for Operation Cobra Strike began on 15 October 1969. Preliminary coordination was effected through 44th STZ ALO with elements of 7th USAF revealing that AF elements were willing to attempt the mission provided necessary approval was granted. On 26 Oct, an outline plan was submitted by SA, 44th STZ with concurrence of CG, 44th STZ, to HQ, DMAC and CG, IV CTZ. The plan was approved with the exception of the Mark 36 munitions requested. Additional CBU-42 munitions replaced the Mark 36 munitions in those areas. The plan was then forwarded to COMUSMACV J3 and JGS. Staff coordination and planning for OPLAN Cobra Strike began on 26 Oct 69. Concept and coordination meetings were held at 44th STZ HQ attended by commanders of forces concerned, with USAF being represented by the ALO, 44th STZ. OPLAN Cobra Strike was issued on 30 Oct 69.
b. Cobra Strike was initiated with Phase I B-52 strikes on 301615 Oct 69 with Nui Giai being hit with two B-52 strikes. One strike at 1615 was followed by a second strike at 1630. Of seven B-52 strikes requested (four on Nui Giai and three on Nui Cam), only two were approved and carried out.
c. Phase II (Strike):
(1) This portion was developed around the primary attack weapon of this phase, the F-4 fighters with Bullpup missiles. Weather holds were taken into consideration in the plan to enable the ALO to hold all fighter sorties on the ground prior to launch, in the event adverse weather prevailed over the target area.
310630 Oct 69: All elements of the strike force, except fighter aircraft, assembled at Chi Lang, Chau Doc Province, RVN to initiate phase II. A hold was directed at 0700 by SA, 44th STZ due to weather conditions over the target areas. Phase II remained on weather hold until 311300 Oct when It was decided to postpone the operation until 010700 Nov. Artillery fires continued from 311800 Oct to 010500 Nov. Approximately 1400 rounds of 105mm and 155mm arty were fired into the target complex.
(2) A re-evaluation of the timing and sequence of events of fighter attacks was made and a decision reached to compress all fighter rendezvous times to a one-hour block, with a weather hold proceeding the rendezvous time by 1 hour. All fighter aircraft (napalm suppression F-100's and GAM attack F-4s) were placed on 15 minute scramble alert by IV DASC, in order to begin the attack at any time weather conditions would permit. The fighters were not given a specific rendezvous time. These times were to be determined by Ground Commanders at 1 hour from any time weather conditions would permit the attacks to begin.
(3) Elements of the phase II strike force again assembled 010600 Nov at Chi Lang. Adverse weather dictated that the phase be placed on hold again; the hold continued until 011300 Nov when the decision was made to postpone the phase until 020700 Nov. Artillery fires continued from 011800 Nov to 020500 Nov 69.
(4) 020530 Nov 69: Elements of phase II again assembled at Chi Lang airfield.
(a) The sequence of events was as follows.
(b) A similar sequence of marking, suppressing, and launching the GAM's on targets #2, 3 and 4 took place. At 0850 a weather hold was ordered due to deteriorating weather conditions in the target complexes. Two sets F-100 (4) fighters with napalm and 2 sets of F-4 (4) fighters with GAM's expended on targets #1, 2, 3 and 4.
(c) 020900 Nov: Targets #1, 2, 3 and 4 attacked with missiles; targets #2 and #3 destroyed; targets #1 and #4 partially destroyed. Four KBA vicinity target #4. Operation placed on weather hold 0900 hrs.
(d) 021330 Nov: The SA, 44th STZ decided to postpone additional strikes of Phase II until 030700 Nov because weather conditions were unacceptable for the fighters. It was decided to initiate Phase III (seeding) in areas that would not conflict with Phase II (strike), the weather being adequate for seeding opns. Due to the required rapid sequence of fighter passes and number of marking rounds that had to be placed, it was decided to use FAC's in the front seat of Cobra gunships carrying marking rockets, and another coordinating FAC in O1-A aircraft. This allowed the FAC to direct a Cobra pilot to mark 30+ targets accurately under cover of suppressive fire, without returning to the airfield for fuel or additional rockets. (Note: O1 aircraft carries eight marking rockets and Cobra carries 32).
(e) 021430 Nov: At 1440 the seeding aircraft arrived in the area. Two sets of fighters (4) seeded 16 strips between 1440-1535. Due to non-availability of fighter aircraft, the operation ended for the day. Arty H&I fires were placed in the remaining target areas during the night of 2-3 Nov 69. The remaining portion of Phase II was rescheduled to begin 030700 and Phase III rescheduled to begin immediately upon completion of Phase Il.
(f) At 030530 Nov all elements of Phase II again were in position at Chi Lang. The sequence of events was as follows:
Due to weather conditions over the targets, it was decided to engage targets #5, restrike #4, then targets #6 and #7 in that order.
(g) C&C and Cav elements then returned to Chi Lang airfield. An immediate air strike was requested to further suppress the target area. Due to deteriorating weather conditions it was decided to hold all fighters on the ground until weather improved. Artillery fires were placed in the area and approximately 500 rounds were adjusted by VN observer in O1 aircraft. At Chi Lang, the decision was made to use the Cobras as the marking element if the LOH became too vulnerable to ground fire. The LOHs up to this point had put red smoke grenades in the entrances of the five caves, providing utmost accuracy in marking the targets.
(h) Air Cav elements made VR of targets #5 and #7 while waiting for weather to lift. The VR revealed that targets #5 and #7 were not profitable; three additional caves were discovered near target #4. The decision was made to eliminate the attacks on targets #5 and #7; to strike #6, then restrike target #4 and the additional caves around target #4. At 1050 a weather GO decision was made for a 1200 hrs fighter rendezvous.
(i) The next sequence of events was as follows:
All elements then shifted to south side of target complex to restrike targets #1, #4, and #3 and caves near target #4. These targets were engaged in the same sequence as earlier targets, except the Cobras were used to mark the target rather than the LOH. At 1405, Phase II was completed, with the following results: targets destroyed - #6, #4, and three additional caves in vicinity of #4. Targets #1, #2, #3 were determined to be destroyed during Phase II on 2 Nov. Total number of caves destroyed: 8. Targets #5 and #7 were cancelled; close recon of targets revealed no need for Bullpup missile attack.
d. Phase III began at 1430 with a set of two fighters scheduled every 30 minutes for a total of 10 sets. Prom the previous days experience, it was decided that the best way to successfully complete the mission in the available time was to have the FAC in the front seat of the Cobra gunships. The FAC, working with the gunship pilot, directed all marking and seeding operations beginning at 1435 and ending at 1645. Forty accurate passes were made during this period.
e. Phase IV - Chau Doc Province conducted air and ground PSYOP from 2 Nov to 2 Dec to warn the civilian population that areas on and around Nui Giai and Nui Cam have been mined and to intensify the Chieu Hoi Program in that area. The PSYOP consisted of leaflet/loudspeaker missions daily and two civic action teams conducting ground loudspeaker missions in all the populated areas concerned.
a. Phase I: 30 KBA, 3 military structures destroyed, 4 military structures damaged, 25 bunkers destroyed, 40 bunkers damaged, 1500 meters of trenchline destroyed, plus six secondary explosions and six sustained fires.
b. Phase II: 4 KBA, 8 caves destroyed.
c. Phase III: Nui Cam, Nui Giai seeded with 48 cannisters of CBU-42.
d. Phase IV: PSYOP to warn populace.
13. ADMINISTRATIVE MATTERS: (omitted)
14. SPECIAL EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUES
A helicopter equipped with a jungle penetrator was on standby at Chi Lang throughout the operation for immediate rescue of pilots downed in heavily-forested or otherwise inaccessible terrain. In view of the rugged terrain and heavy vegetation, the Air Cav commander decided to use flechette rockets for suppressive fires. For Phase III, the Cobra gunships were armed with smoke rockets to mark targets for the seeding aircraft. The gunships were highly accurate in marking targets and they were able to carry as many as thirty-two smoke rockets as opposed to eight that an O1 aircraft can carry. Also, their marking runs did not take as long as it would have for an O1 aircraft. For this phase a FAC flew in the front seat of the Cobra gunship to direct the target marking.
15. COMMANDER's/ADVISOR's SUMMARY AND COMMENTS
a. Operation Cobra Strike was conceived, planned, and conducted when it became evident that an enemy regiment (+) and a probable higher control HQ were located on Nui Giai and Nui Cam in the Seven Mtns area of Chau Doc Province, RVN. ARVN assets available had not been able to reduce the target and additional VN ground assets were not available in sufficient strength to undertake the mission.
b. Intelligence indicated that enemy HQ elements were using caves located in and on sides of a slotted valley known as "Death Valley" dividing the eastern and western halves of Nui Giai mountain. Due to depth and angle of entrances, multiple massive air strikes and artillery bombardment for the past two years had been unable to deny the enemy use of these caves. Due to steep and wooded slopes, heavy jumbled rock formations, and dense booby trap/mine fields, small enemy elements with automatic weapons had successfully stopped our attacks into the area. ARVN commanders recognized the threat but indicated they were unable to cope with it. Enemy on Nui Giai included anti-aircraft and sapper elements, as well as communications and CP facilities. Enemy on Nui Cam had harrassed Chi Lang Army Training Center and airstrip with indirect fire and sapper attacks.
c. As conceived and planned, Operation Cobra Strike would consist of four phases:
(1) Phase I - B-52 bomb strike on the cave area. This was to be followed by increased and sustained ARVN arty fires to keep the enemy pinned down and to suppress anti-aircraft fires.
(2) Phase II - Employment of GAMs (Bullpups) from USAF high performance aircraft to destroy/deny cave entrances. In order to obtain the precise target marking required by the GAMs in a restricted valley, it was decided to have a FAC mark the target. A high performance aircraft would then put in napalm. Following the napalm closely, an Air Cav troop moved in with suppressive fire from Cobra gunships. They were to be closely followed by LOH scouts who would drop a bundle of three smoke grenades in the cave entrance.
(3) Phase III - Employment of CBU-42 bomblet mines by aerial seeding on Nui Giai and Nui Cam. Immediately following phase II, seeding would start. A FAC in the Cobra gunship would provide accurate marks (smoke) for 32 passes by fighters. Fighter aircraft would sow strips of mines around sides and across tops of two mountains in areas known to be used by VC. 32 strips of mines were to be laid and reported to HQ IV Corps.
(4) Phase IV - ARVN planned and conducted PSYOP campaign to warn local populace to stay out of mined areas and not to support the enemy there. Loudspeakers and leaflets and Chieu Hoi passes were to be used.
(1) Phase I: Two B-52 bomb strikes were placed on Nui Giai on 30 Oct. During the night, the 67th Arty Bn fired 1500 rounds at short intervals on all suspected enemy positions.
(2) Phase II: 310700 Oct 69 - All Army elements in position at Chi Lang airstrip.
(3) Phase III: Because of bad weather and low hanging clouds, USAF fighters were on weather hold on base strips. After a series of one-hour holds, Phase II was delayed (mid-afternoon) until the next day. ARVN arty resumed H&I fires.
(4) Phase II and III Command and Control: Coordination and precise control was the key factor. Five different aircraft (USAF and Army) were in a small and restricted area at the same time and were a mixture of high-performance fighters, helicopters, and FAC aircraft. It was necessary to have airborne control over the area at all times when targets were engaged, including seeding operations.
(5) Phase IV: 4 Nov 69 - HQ, 44th STZ and Chau Doc Province G-5/S-5 sections followed up with loudspeaker/leaflet drops from VNAF light aircraft and C-47 aircraft in the vicinity of Ba Chuc, Ba Xoai, Chi Lang, and Tri Ton. People were warned to stay off Nui Giai and Nui Cam because the area was mined. People were urged not to support VC/NVA units and the enemy was urged to rally to the government.
(6) Results: On 3 Nov, immediately following Phase III seeding operations, an estimated 100 enemy attempted a rapid daylight move from Nui Cam to Nui Giai. They were brought under fire from gunships and chased into an area recently seeded with three strings of mines. There have been continuing reports of numerous isolated explosions on the mountains from areas previously used as indirect fire positions. A Hoi Chanh reported that his unit attempted to infiltrate up Nui Giai. It took casualties and become disorganized; he rallied at Ba Chuc. In the Ba Chuc area, a number of civilians have been killed taking supplies into the mountains. Since then the local populace has refused to carry supplies into the mountains. The seeding operations have effectively denied the VC exploitation of the civilian labor force, which previously was easy to obtain. VN civilians in Tri Ton report that in a matter of days, over one hundred VC from the Z-28 Battalion were killed on Nui Cam. Usually reliable US intelligence sources indicate enemy CP operations have moved to more exposed positions on the top of Nui Giai and out in the flat areas around the base of the mountain. Movement of enemy units and personnel, as well as his capability to reinforce in the mountain areas, appear to have been curtailed.
16. LESSONS LEARNED:
a. Detailed planning, coordination and briefings at all levels are required in view of the variety of units, elements, types, and capabilities of aircraft involved. The requirement for close timing and the coordination of the use of congested and restricted air space also requires detailed planning and coordination.
b. The tactical air controller and the operation commander must remain in the air where they can view the target area at all times during the air operation.
c. Weather is a most critical factor in the planning and conduct of these operations. Available forecasts are too general and cover too much area to be of real value to the specific target area. Planning must be flexible enough to permit weather delays with fighters on strip alert. Higher HQ must depend on and be willing to accept hour by hour Go-no-Go decisions by the ground commander. Planning should permit delays and flexibility during the operation.
d. Extensive and detailed contingency planning is a must, to include obtaining special equipment, briefing of commanders and pilots, and command and control measures.
e. Artillery is invaluable in maintaining pressure on the enemy and for anti-aircraft fire suppression during delays.
f. Seeding by aerial mines does not stop or eliminate the enemy but rather only slows and restricts his movement.
g. Some commanders desired to place artillery fires where an occasional mine was detonated in the days following the operation. It was necessary to explain that arty fire would detonate other mines in the area and clear a gap for the enemy. Conversely, if a number of mines went off it indicated an attempt by the enemy to either clear a gap or move troops through. In such cases artillery fires were appropriate, to be followed by reseeding as soon as possible.
h. GAMs are 50-75% accurate under marginal weather conditions, if detailed briefings are provided by FACs and tight control is maintained. Under better conditions, accuracy goes up to 90%+. A minimum of two GAMs per point target should be planned.
i. Fighter aircraft with napalm are required to be on station during the GAM operation.
j. There was a large number of seeding strings and a requirement to complete seeding in a short time to prevent enemy movement out of the area. Seeding is done with high performance jet aircraft with relatively low loitering time available due to fuel consumption. In order to provide accurate strip starting marks, with minimum time between fighter passes, a FAC was positioned in the front seat of Cobra gunships, which can carry 32 marking rockets. Using the gunships to go in with suppressive fire marking with WP permitted close accurate marking and a minimum of two minutes between fighter passes. Therefore, the entire area was accurately seeded within the allowable time.
k. Special techniques had to be developed to provide data for mine field reports. Using an accurate starting mark provided by the gunships, the fighter dropped on the mark and on a heading provided by the FAC. As the fighter pulled out he reported his actual heading during the run. Using the starting point and the heading reported, mine strips were recorded. They were based on the known density of mines per canister dropped and the width and length of the strip covered by one pass. On completion of the operation, the ALO and FAC prepared an overlay showing mine field coverage which was incorporated into the US/ARVN Mine Field Report and disseminated to the HQ concerned.
l. Planning should permit the engagement of targets of opportunity and/ or shift of target priority during the operation.
m. Density of seeding should be increased in heavily wooded areas due to restriction of kill radii by undergrowth. Reseeding must be considered in the original planning.
n. Restriction of planning and information to a strict need-to-know basis was instrumental in achieving the element of surprise and containment of enemy in the target area.
o. An operation of this type is an excellent way of transferring the initiative from the enemy to friendly forces.
p. As a result of Operation Cobra Strike, CG IV CTZ personally planned and directed both reseeding operations in the target areas and in other areas of IV CTZ. Province officials recommended additional seeding areas in the Nui Cam and Nui Giai areas. All three mountains were reseeded either in new areas or in greater density in previously seeded areas on 18-19 November 1969.
q. On 9 Nov, Nui Coto was evacuated and was seeded when it became evident friendly troops available could not hold the mountain.
a. Counterpart personnel at Corps level and above, as well as subordinates, participate in the planning and execution of seeding operations.
b. The planning phase of a seeding operation include an orientation for all command personnel concerned on the capabilities and limitations of ordnance used and restrictions on firing into seeded areas.
c. AH-1G (Cobra Gunships) with FAC's on board be used for marking CBU-42 canister drops.
d. A-1E's be used in pairs for fire suppression rather than jet type aircraft or aircraft in larger numbers.
e. Extensive PSYOP be planned to coincide with or immediately follow artillery fires.
f. Any anti-aircraft fire suppression include use of all available artillery fires.
g. An alternate C&C ship with identical communications be on continuous standby in operations area to insure uninterrupted command and control.
1 Incl as (omitted)
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