|Tet Offensive battle of Cholon and Phu Tho Racetrack|
|Part of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Lt Col. Gordon D. Rowe|
Lt Col. John K. Gibler
MG Keith L. Ware
General Cao Văn Viên
|General Trần Độ|
716th Military Police Battalion|
3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment
Troop D, 17th Cavalry Regiment
30th Ranger Battalion
33rd Ranger Battalion
38th Ranger Battalion
|6th Binh Tan Battalion|
|Casualties and losses|
|US body count 170 killed or captured|
The battle of Cholon and Phú Thọ Racetrack began during the early hours of 31 January 1968 and continued until 11 February 1968. The attacks by Vietcong (VC) forces were one of several major attacks around Saigon in the first days of the Tet Offensive. The attacks were repulsed with the VC suffering heavy losses and substantial damage to the densely populated area of Cholon.
The 6th Binh Tan Battalion was tasked with attacking the Chí Hòa Prison in western Saigon. The battalion was to infiltrate the city from the west and establish a base of operations at Phú Thọ Racetrack and then launch their attack on the prison 1.5km to the northeast.:343
Security within Saigon was the responsibility of the South Vietnamese with the only US ground unit in the city being the 716th Military Police Battalion which was responsible for law enforcement duties in respect of US personnel.:324–5 The Tết ceasefire began on 29 January, but was cancelled on 30 January after the VC/PAVN prematurely launched attacks in II Corps and II Field Force, Vietnam commander, LG Frederick C. Weyand deployed his forces to defend Saigon.:323–4
At 03:00 on 30 January, the 200-man 6th Binh Tan Battalion and 100 conscripted civilian porters, infiltrated the city from the west and were met by local VC guides who led them to the Phú Thọ Racetrack. A second set of guides who were supposed to lead the Battalion to the Chí Hòa Prison didn't turn up and eventually the Battalion commander sent 2 companies into the city to try to find the Prison while keeping his remaining 2 companies at the Racetrack.:343
At 04:45 a 716th MP Battalion two-man gun-jeep patrol drove through the intersection at the southern end of the Racetrack ( ). The VC fired on the jeep killing one MP immediately while the other MP radioed a distress call before he was also killed. The radio message was not understood at the 716th MP Battalion headquarters who were dealing with multiple other attacks around the city with the result that over the following hour, two more jeep patrols drove through the intersection and were engaged by the VC with 2 more MPs killed and 2 wounded.:343
At approximately 06:00 716th MP Battalion commander Lt. Col. Gordon Rowe sent a truck carrying 13 MPs to investigate the missing patrols. The MPs arrived at the intersection, rescued the two wounded MPs and then withdrew to a fighting position in a building on the southeast of the intersection. Colonel Rowe sent further reinforcements to engage the VC but they were unable to make any progress against the VC.:344
LG Weyand ordered Lt. Col. John K. Gibler's 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment stationed approximately 10km southwest to move into the city to assist the MPs. Gibler ordered his Company A to the south of Cholon where they met up with Troop D, 17th Cavalry Regiment with its 8 M113 armored personnel carriers and this combined unit was designated Task Force Gibler. Meanwhile Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) General Cao Văn Viên ordered 2 companies of the 33rd Ranger Battalion to join Task Force Gibler and ordered the 38th Ranger Battalion operating west of Saigon to advance on the Racetrack from the west.:344–5
Task Force Gibler and the 33rd Rangers moved north through Cholon and as they approached the Racetrack they began to take fire from VC in windows and on rooftops of the 2-3 storey row houses lining the road. The US/ARVN infantry fanned out into alleys and side-streets to engage the VC, while the M113s continued down the road firing on the VC with their machine guns, with the command vehicle being knocked out by a Rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).:345
At 11:00 Task Force Gibler and the ARVN 38th Rangers converged on the southern intersection, joining up with the 716th MP Battalion platoon. At this time control of the battle passed to MG Keith L. Ware and his Hurricane Forward tactical headquarters which assumed tactical control of all US units with the Saigon Capital Military District.:346
The US/ARVN forces now supported by helicopter gunships began blasting the VC in the Racetrack's concrete stadium building with 106-mm recoilless rifle fire while also engaging them with machine gun and rifle fire. By late afternoon the VC abandoned the Racetrack, exfiltrating in 3-man groups into the residential neighbourhood to the west, pursued by the Rangers and Republic of Vietnam National Police.:346
Having secured the Racetrack, the US forces used it as a base of operations with helicopters landing the rest of the 3/7th Infantry and an artillery battery there that evening.:346
On the morning of 1 February, MG Ware reinforced Task Force Gibler with Companies A and B, 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment a mechanized infantry unit equipped with M113s. Task Force Gibler spent the day clearing the neighborhood around the Racetrack, engaging small VC units with 2 M113s damaged by RPG fire and by nightfall the neighborhood was declared secure.:346
On 4 February the residents of Cholon were ordered to evacuate the area and it was declared a Free-fire zone allowing the full weight of US/South Vietnamese air and artillery support to be directed against the VC still holding out there.
On 11 February Task Force Gibler launched an attack on the Phu Lam Pagoda (M42 Dusters overran the position killing 49 VC and capturing 4 together with maps, radios and other equipment for the loss of 6 US soldiers killed.:151) which ARVN intelligence believed to be the VC headquarters for all operations in Saigon. The VC were entrenched in the pagoda and in bunkers and tunnels in the adjacent cemetery. In a day of hard fighting Task Force Gibler supported by fire from
Only 30 soldiers of the 6th Battalion returned to their base camp near the Vàm Cỏ Đông River following the battle.:346
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
- Villard, Erik (2017). United States Army in Vietnam Combat Operations Staying the Course October 1967 to September 1968. Center of Military History United States Army. p. 346. ISBN 9780160942808. https://history.army.mil/html/books/091/91-15-1/index.html.
- Nolan, Keith (1996). The Battle for Saigon Tet 1968. Presidio Press. p. 137. ISBN 0891417699.
- Willbanks, James (2008). The Tet Offensive: A Concise History. Columbia University Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780231502351. https://books.google.ca/books?id=jy3aJyxIKUsC&pg=PA39&#v=onepage&q&f=false.
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