Military Wiki
Operation Speedy Express
Part of the Vietnam War
Fire Support Base Danger March 1969.jpg
Fire Support Base Danger, headquarters of an element of the 1st Brigade, 9th U.S. Infantry Division, Định Tường Province
DateDecember 1968 – May 11, 1969
LocationMekong Delta provinces Định Tường, Kien Hoa and Gò Công, Republic of Vietnam
Flag of the United States.svg United States FNL Flag.svg Viet Cong
Commanders and leaders
Julian Ewell Unknown
8,000+ Undetermined
Casualties and losses
40 killed and 312 wounded[1] 10,889 killed according to Gen. Ewell[1]
Possibly more than 5,000 civilians killed

Operation Speedy Express was a controversial United States military operation of the Vietnam War conducted in the Mekong Delta provinces Kien Hoa and Vĩnh Bình. The operation was launched to prevent NLF (Viet Cong) units from interfering with pacification efforts and to interdict lines of NLF communication and deny them the use of base areas.


In 1969 the 1st Brigade, 9th U.S. Infantry Division continued the operation in Định Tường Province, using night ambush tactics while the 2nd Brigade continued its mission with the Mobile Riverine Force. Although engagements in the Operation Speedy Express were typically small, the 9th Infantry Division fought several sizeable engagements.[2] The objective was summarized by a U.S army publication to take the "war to the enemy in the Delta and sever his supply lines from Cambodia".[1]

The U.S. military used 8,000 infantrymen, 50 artillery pieces, 50 helicopters and extensive aerial bombardment. The United States Air Force carried out 3,381 tactical air strikes by fighter bombers.


The U.S. military claimed 10,889 enemy dead, with only 40 soldiers killed in this operation from the period of December 1968 to 31 May 1969 (a kill ratio of 272.2:1), but only 748 weapons were recovered (a ratio of enemy killed to weapons seized of 14.6:1). The U.S. Army after-action report attributed this to the fact the high percentage of kills made during night hours (estimated at 40%), and by air cavalry and other aerial units, as well as asserting that "many of the guerilla units were not armed with weapons". The commander of the 9th Division, Major General Julian Ewell, was allegedly known to be obsessed with body counts and favorable kill ratios and said "the hearts and minds approach can be the delta the only way to overcome VC control and terror is with brute force applied against the VC".[3]

Controversy over the operation arose in June 1972, when Newsweek's Saigon Bureau Chief, Kevin Buckley (working with Alexander Shimkin), wrote an article titled "Pacification's Deadly Price" that questioned the spectacular ratio of U.S. dead to purported Vietcong, as well the small number of weapons recovered, and suggested that perhaps more than 5,000 of the dead were innocent civilians (quoting an unnamed U.S. official). Although Buckley acknowledged that NLF structure and control in the region was extensive, he wrote that local hospitals had treated more wounds caused by U.S. firepower than by the NLF. Col. David Hackworth was a battalion commander during Speedy Express, according to him, "a lot of innocent Vietnamese civilians got slaughtered because of the Ewell-Hunt drive to have the highest count in the land." Hackworth added that "the 9th Division had the lowest weapons-captured-to-enemy-killed ratio in Vietnam." [4] The book Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse devotes a chapter to Speedy Express. It reports that "free fire zones" were designated in the Mekong Delta where any human present could be killed. These zones helped the 9th Division achieve an unlikely enemy-to-GI kill ratio of 134:1 in April 1969.[5]

More recently, former Senator Charles Hagel of Nebraska, a veteran of the Ninth Infantry, alleged that some U.S. commanders on the ground inflated the body count during the operation since this was how their success was judged.[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  2. Named Campaigns - Vietnam
  3. Guenter Lewy book: America in Vietnam. 1980. Page 142. ISBN 0-19-502732-9.
  4. Kevin Buckley "Pacification’s Deadly Price", (Newsweek, June 19, 1972, pp. 42–43). Buckley's statements were based on extensive interviews conducted by him and his associate Alexander D. Shimkin, who was fluent in Vietnamese. Hackworth also found in: Nick Turse,"A My Lai a Month" The Nation, November 13, 2008
  5. Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, Metropolitan Books, 2013, p. 209.
  6. "You used that body count, commanding officers did, as the metric and measurement of how successful you were...." Quoted by Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan in a blog posting, "A Vietnam War That Never Ends", August 5, 2009. (Accessed August 17, 2011.)

Further reading

  • John Pilger: Heroes, Jonathan Cape, Australia, 1986. ISBN 978-0-89608-666-1
  • "in May 1970, a self-described "grunt" who participated in Speedy Express wrote a confidential letter to William Westmoreland, then Army chief of staff, saying that the Ninth Division's atrocities amounted to "a My Lay each month for over a year." "
  • Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam 2013. ISBN 978-0-8050-8691-1

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