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MARCH 9

Posted 10/23/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Douglas AC-47D
AC-47D of the 14th Special Operations Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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At 0200 hours on the morning of 9 March, the camp was attacked with mortars, 75 mm recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, and small arms fire. In the initial attack, two Americans were killed and 30 wounded; Vietnamese casualties were eight killed and 30 wounded. The barrage destroyed the supply area for the 380-man camp. Medevac was requested along with air strikes. The enemy attack was broken off at daylight and the defenders began to repair and improve their defenses.

During the night, the ceiling over the camp was 300 to 500 feet with visibility of five miles. No air strikes were flown due to the poor weather. In preparation for further enemy attacks, the I Corps commander requested that a U. S. Marine Corps standby force be alerted for airlift into the A Shau area if weather permitted and if the need arose. Also, two Chinese Nung companies, one at Hue and one at Da Nang, were standing by for helilift to the camp when the weather permitted. The first air request was received at 0908 hours, but weather initially kept planes out of the area.

At 1120 hours, 9 March, an AC-47 was sent to the outpost. The crew was scrambled from bed, having flown the previous night. When the aircraft arrived over the camp, the pilot, Captain Willard M. Collins, was told by the ground forces that the camp was in imminent danger of being overrun. The ceiling was still around 400 feet but Captain Collins and his co-pilot, 1st Lt. Delbert R. Peterson, made two attempts to penetrate the ceiling under visual flight conditions. A third attempt was made at treetop level and the plane was successful in reaching the fort. Under intense enemy ground fire from automatic weapons, including .50 calibers, the plane completed one pass at enemy troops surrounding the fort and on its second pass, had the right engine torn from the mounts by ground fire. The other engine was silenced seconds later. The plane crash-landed on a mountain slope, sliding to rest at the base. One crew member, SSgt. Foster, broke both legs in the crash. The crew prepared a perimeter defense around the wreckage of the plane and wounded crew member, and in fifteen minutes the enemy attacked. This was repulsed but a second enemy attack killed the pilot, Capt Collins and SSgt. Foster, the wounded airman.

A third attack began as a USAF H-43 rescue helicopter dropped down to pick up the crew. During this attack, Lt. Peterson charged the enemy's .50 Caliber machine gun with his M-16 rifle and a .38 caliber Pistol to permit the rescue to take place. He was successful. The chopper picked up the other three survivors and took off under heavy enemy fire, leaving Peterson and the two dead men behind.

When the word was received that the AC-47 had been shot down, a flight of two A-1Es, led by Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, of the 1st Air Commando Squadron at Pleiku, was diverted to the scene. Locating a small hole in the overcast above five miles northwest of the camp, Major Fisher led his flight through the hole and down a mile-wide valley to the camp. The ceiling was about 500 feet and enemy automatic weapons fire, including .50 calibers, was trained on the planes. Receiving instructions to destroy the AC-47, Fisher assigned the task to his wingman and went to the assistance of the beseiged fort. Learning that enemy forces were preparing for a mass assault, he brought another flight of A-1Es into the box canyon area and directed their strikes on enemy positions less than a half mile from the fort. When this flight had expended, he directed a CH-3C helicopter into the fort to evacuate badly wounded personnel. He then returned above the overcast and brought in two C-123s to make a perilous paradrop of needed medical supplies and ammunition to the defenders. As the C-123s made their drop of some 6000 pounds on target, Fisher and his wingman suppressed hostile ground fire by strafing. Earlier, two U.S. Army Caribous had made drops of supplies to the fort which landed outride the compound, but were later retrieved.

Two B-57s joined the battle later, being led through the hole in the overcast by Fisher, who by that time, was dangerously low on fuel. The B-57s strafed and bombed enemy positions in the camp and around the AC-47 where numerous enemy troops were observed. The AC-47 was destroyed along with its valuable mini-guns around 1650 hours after napalm and bomb drops were observed making direct hits on it. In addition to the A-1E and B-57 strikes, two VNAF A-1H aircraft successfully penetrated the ceiling around 1330 hours, expending ammunition on enemy positions.

Throughout the daylight hours of the 9th, only 29 sorties could be flown in support of A Shau; 17 by the USAF, ten by the USMC, and two by the VNAF. The ground defenders, concerned about deteriorating weather and another enemy attack, repaired their defenses as well as they could and dug in for the night.

Source: "The Fall of A Shau - Project CHECO Report," HQ PACAF Technical Evaluation Center, Project CHECO
Prepared by: Mr. Kenneth Sams, Chief, SE Asia Team, Project CHECO, 18 April 1966


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