Vietnam War: Viet Cong Sapper Attack on Camp Radcliff, and a Patrol in Hot Pursuit.

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.

Captured VC weapons after a sapper attack on a US air base (vspa.com)

Captured VC weapons after a sapper attack on a US air base (vspa.com)

Another view (vspa.com)

Another view (vspa.com)

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.

The Golf Course, the air base at Camp Radcliff

The Golf Course, the air base at Camp Radcliff

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.

Claymore Mine (11thacrnam23)

Claymore Mine

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).

Perimeter guard tower at Camp Radcliff (a70thvets.com)

Perimeter guard tower at Camp Radcliff (a70thvets.com)

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.

Hon Cong Mountain with Camp Radcliffe below (freewebs.comjim4jet)

Soldier sitting on a spotlight on Hon Cong Mountain, with Camp Radcliffe below. (freewebs.comjim4jet)

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.

Viet Cong sapper squad. (Ly Way)

Viet Cong sapper squad. (Ly Way)

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.

One of the 17 helicopters damaged or destroyed that night.

One of the 17 helicopters damaged or destroyed that night.

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.

Night Firing at Camp Radcliff, seen from Hon Cong Mountain (freewebs.comjim4jet)

Night Firing at Camp Radcliff, seen from Hon Cong Mountain (freewebs.comjim4jet)

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.

More sapper damage caused that night.

More sapper damage caused that night.

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.

Stan on patrol that morning in pursuit of the Sappers

Stan on patrol that morning in pursuit of the Sappers (Stan Silva)

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.

Viet Cong Satchel Charges

Viet Cong Satchel Charges

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.

Viet Cong mass for a night attack

Viet Cong mass for a night attack

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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12 Comments

  1. Jim Flannery

    Thanks for the pictures from home!

    I lived on a farm in the town of An Tuc on QL19, the next town east of An Khe, from 1967-1969. I frequently went to Camp Radcliffe to scrounge up supplies like tooth paste, and to use the post office at the 173d Airborne Brigade.

    Along with an amazing Vietnamese schoolteacher, we had 1,000 students! It was a daunting task, but I really enjoyed it. Life was primitive, to be sure, but the people were wonderful to us, and we didn’t want for anything.

    The boys of the 173d and 1st Cav were good to us too. Occasionally, they held MedCaps in An Tuc, and occasionally I was able to get a call home through the M.A.R.S. Station, which was near the P.X.

    If you’re interested, I wrote a book about the experience. Here’s a link:

    http://jimflannery.net/nu/

    Jim Flannery
    unixman@mac.com

    Reply
  2. John Procter

    I was in a guard tower the night of the sapper attack on Camp Radcliffe and heard the explosions. An hour or so before the explosions, I heard on the radio a guard near me report he thought he detected motion in the stream out in front of his position. He requested permission to fire and was denied permission.

    Reply
    • Daniel J Querbach

      I too was there that night sappers hit. I and Cooper lived at tower 21. We thought we would give it a try to get away from extra bullshit. We both ended up living out there for 3+ months. We would split up the night if we didn’t get to busy. and take turns hitting the mess hall in the daylight. I just happened to get curious and found this post. I have some pictures somewhere I haven’t looked at in ages. Take care. sp4 Daniel J Querbach

      Reply
  3. Michael S Maurantonio

    I was there that night .I had come to Camp Radcliffe from the jungle to go on R&R. I had. just laid down on my bunk thinking I had survived to go on R&R to Sidney, when all hell broke loose. We were running around trying to find the key to our weapons room. .all our weapons were locked up to keep us from fighting ourselves when drinking too much . I heard all the explosions and small arm fire but did not see the enemy. The next day I was on a sweep to clear any enemy (Dinks) from inside the perimeter. All we found was some empty AK magazines and clothes.

    Reply
  4. Bill Stephenson

    The date of April 6th, 1970 is incorrect, this attack was much earlier. I left Vietnam on April 4th, 1970 and I was there during the attack. My company was right across the road from the end of the chopper pad (D co., 4th Engineers) and when they hit we grabbed our weapons and ran across the road to aid in stopping the attack.

    Reply
    • John marcotte

      Bill my name is John marcotte and i was in the k-75th rangers lrrp patrol anyways my bunker was about 100 yards from that attack an even helped a little and had a wrist band made of the timeiing chain from tthe helicopter closest to me

      Reply
  5. ben j. Taylor

    i too was there that night my first day incountry..they had a huge party at the motor pool lots of steaks burgers and a whole lot of beer vietnamese women in blk silk pjs and straw hats was serving i thought it was odd so me being new i decided .to go back to the barrick and about midnight i was awekened with a thunderous explosion and small arms fire sappers was comming in the barricks .the barracks was inline the would run through dropping sachel charges and in to the nexy one doing the same our weapons was locked up at our barrick entrance so we got under our bunks in case of motars but when the sappe was entering my hooch the sergant whose room was righ at the entrance kicked his door open and it hit the sapper and he turned around and ran off into the bushes luckly because my bunk was the first in line

    Reply
  6. Chuck kotaska

    I was at Radcliffe the night (April 6th 1970 ) I and another guy had to pull guard out side our hooch till the sun came up and come seven am I had to take the reaction force out and police the area inside the perimeter I was with 4th s&t bn my name chuck kotaska

    Reply
  7. monty D wall

    I too was at Radcliff the infamous (6 April 70) .4 div 4th M.P. co 95B/20 sentry dog handler. I never knew this conspiracy crap was out here. Shows to go ya’. any disgruntled (I hate this place) pin head can,start it rolling down hill..4th MPs were barracks at the base of Hon Cong mountain. Which is pretty much where I start my patrol.YES, it did begin at the chopper pads. But…..there was a big ditch,fairly deep,that ran between the M.P. barracks and our mess hall…My dog smells all Vietnamese.Thats all he’s trained to do (Captain) eats yellow meat Providing, He can get His teeth on one. He alerted for 35-40 mins.On both sides of that ditch.Then drug me toward the NCO club. Wish He could have got at least one. But buildings were hit also..

    Reply
  8. david Kurth

    I was new to An Khe from the 1st division. We had incoming in Lai Khe and I was used to that. When the choppers were blown we thought it was incoming until we saw the Golf Course. with the explosions. The amazing thing is that it happened again a few months later with even more choppers lost. Then the engineers were blown and we pulled guard every night. I hate say this but there was little comparison between the 1st and the 4th. Div. We also pulled guard on 17th field and Hong Kong Mt. We didn’t get alot of normal sleep. I wish things had been different there.

    Reply
  9. Alberto H Davalos

    I attended NCO Infantry Combat Academy at Camp Enari. I was SRRP and merged with LRRP when I was at Camp Enari, when we move to Camp Radcliff 4th ID. 704th Maintenance Battalion HQ and A Company was ambushed May 11 or 16, 3/4 company medical evaluation, When I heard a 82mm mortar round coming in I told SP5 Romeo Ubaldo to take cover, around 0200 hors otherwise it would have a direct. I got TBI, I had my M-16 and Chased the VC out of the company area by firing at the sappers the ran out saving from other soldier getting KIA or injured. I only remember parts because of the TBI, but I had the VC pinned going into the tunnel, next thing I remember I was at the entrance the tunnel on the floor, the sun was up and VC were gone, around 0700. I got back to the company join a group doing a sweep of area, one soldier told me I had blood on my ear, my care was that I got the sapper out and stopped the VC from causing more KIA and injury.

    Reply
  10. Dennis Neely

    There was another similar attack on Camp Radcliff on 15Nov69. The 4th ID had just begun their move from Pleiku to Ankhe. The17th Field Hospital was located at the base of Hon Kong Mountain and had been there less than a month after moving from QuiNhon.
    At about 2200, a mortar and rocket attack was launched on our hospital followed by a sapper attack on the enlisted billets, many of which were completely destroyed. The senior enlisted billets and the female nurses area were hit heavily and some required rescue from the burning structures. Two nurses were wounded with frags and a Sgt Major was wounded and had significant burns. He later expired at an Evac Hospital several days later. The night was hectic with mass casualties and providing security with sappers inside the wire. The assault was then moved to the golf course where many helicopters were destroyed.
    Ironically, I provided care to one of the female nurses at the hospital and we have been together ever since, happily married since October, 1970.

    Reply

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