Vietnam War: Viet Cong Sapper Attack on Camp Radcliff, and a Patrol in Hot Pursuit.
Above Photo: Foo gas explosion – one of the defenses at Camp Radcliff on the night of the sapper attack.
Sergeant Stan Silva was interviewed by Peter Alan Lloyd as part of his research for BACK.
Sappers were well-trained, special North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers who were able to penetrate a heavily fortified base camp perimeter undetected. They would then wreak havoc and death with satchel charges, RPGs, grenades and automatic weapons and then simply disappear.
All base camps in Vietnam were constructed nearly the same. On the outside of the perimeter was an area called the green zone, cleared of trees, jungle and grass extending hundreds of meters out.
Then there was a bird’s nest of razor wire, barbed wire and a combination of concertina wires which was another hundred or so meters thick. Within all of this, Claymore mines were placed, overlapping each other, as interlocking fire. Claymore mines contained about 700 small ball bearings with C4 explosive packed behind them. They fired in a 60 degree fan, and at 100 meters the impact area was about 50 meters wide.
In between all this there were 55 gallon barrels of foo gas (gasoline mixed with a thickener, placed at a 45 degree angle, igniter placed inside with a explosive charge on the bottom of the barrel). This foo gas acted as napalm when it was fired (see main photo).
Then you had bunkers at ground level along with three storey guard towers. The whole area was well lit and staffed 24/7 with armed base camp commandos (bunker guards) with automatic weapons.
In the Central Highlands of South Vietnam near the small town of An Khe (Sin City) was Camp Radcliff.
This was the main base for the 4th Infantry Division. The camp was well fortified with a green zone around the perimeter. Within this area was Hon Cong Mountain. On top of this mountain were radio communications and a large spotlight that could light up areas of the base camp.
The camp had a full landing strip called the Golf Course, where the planes and helicopters were located.
On midnight of April 6th, 1970, Viet Cong sappers penetrated the perimeter of the 4th Division base camp at Ah Khe (Camp Radcliff). They were able to enter undetected.
The first indication of their presence was when 17 helicopters were destroyed or damaged due to the sappers throwing satchel charges. The Sappers then fired on the 704th Maintenance, shooting up the buildings and then disappeared into the perimeter wires.
There is an account of this attack, from a soldier nicknamed “Tripper”. On that night, he and two soldiers were in a tower pulling security duty. They heard absolutely nothing, until a radio message stated the Sappers were inside the perimeter. They were directed to open fire.
Tripper noted their M60 machine gunner went crazy and shot out all the perimeter lights.
From that point on they could not see anything. It appears the sappers came through the wires near their position and left the same way.
Tripper believed there were no sappers but it was a US military-staged attack for political purposes.
And this is where I come into this.
On the morning of April 6th, I happened to be in base camp. I was ordered to take two of my men and assist a base camp patrol that was leaving immediately. It was going out in search of any sappers that might still be in the area.
Sgt. Bell was in charge of the patrol. I looked at the 12 or so base camp soldiers in clean green uniforms and already they had the look of deer in the headlights. I turned to Sgt. Bell and explained that my men and I did not feel comfortable with them and we did not want to die because of friendly fire.
I told Sgt. Bell we would pick up the rear of the patrol. He understood. I had Harley Funk carry a radio and along with Ken Wixson, as we set off.
About 2 hours into the patrol, Harley told me he thought he’d seen some movement on a knoll. I had him notify Sgt. Bell to place his patrol in a perimeter and come back to the rear of the column.
The four of us flanked the knoll. Sgt. Bell called in a slick (a helicopter with two machine gunners, not a gunship) to view the back side of this area. Upon arrival of the helicopter we started moving up the knoll, towards what appeared to be a wounded Sapper.
I was requesting the enemy to Chu Hoi (open arms) surrender. As we got closer, all hell broke loose. The enemy opened fire and we received sniper fire from my side of the flank.
I could see the bullets hit the tree ahead of me. The helicopter took off and got out of the action. We regrouped and assaulted the knoll. One sapper was killed and the snipers disappeared back into the jungle.
The enemy had an officer’s pistol and a large satchel charge.
We carefully opened it and found it was not explosives. Instead, we were astonished to find it was full of maps and information, with layouts to the 4th Div. base camp. Their intelligence on the camp, its defenses and layout was incredibly detailed, and proved they had “inside’ help, which was the case so often in Vietnam, which was how they were so effective in penetrating US bases throughout the country.
Sgt. Stanley Silva served as a Scout in the central highlands of Vietnam 1969/70 2nd Battalion, 8th Inf. Reg., 4th Div.
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