Here, Lt. Col. Bernard Fisher makes a pass in his A-1E Skyraider over the besieged Special Forces camp’s airstrip before landing to pickup a downed pilot. Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

In 1971, for me and others in the 101st Airborne, just the mention of the A Shau Valley was enough to increase our anxiety. The Valley had a reputation throughout the war, and to enter meant that bloody battles would ensue. This article takes us to the Valley at the beginning of the war.

The Battle of A Shau was waged in early 1966 during the Vietnam War between the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the forces of the United States and South Vietnam. The battle began on March 9 and lasted until March 10, with the fall of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces camp of the same name. The battle was a strategic victory for the PAVN in that they were able to take control of the A Shau Valley and use it as a base area for the rest of the war.


The A Shau Special Forces Camp was located in the A Sầu Valley, about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Huế and 2 km east of the Laos border in Thừa Thiên Province. The valley was strategically important for the PAVN as a major infiltration route because it served as a bridge from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos into populated coastal areas of Thừa Thiên Province. They established the camp in 1963. Defending the camp were 10 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group and 210 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group, supported by Air Commando units equipped with vintage A-1 Skyraider and AC-47 Spooky gunships.

Two South Vietnamese camps at A Lưới and Ta Bat in the A Shau valley had been abandoned on 8 December 1965. The special forces camp was routinely harassed by small Vietcong formations leading up to the battle. Throughout February and March, 1966, platoon-sized troops from the camp went out to conduct reconnaissance patrols in the surrounding area. On March 5, two PAVN defectors turned up at the camp. Under interrogation, they indicated that four battalions of the PAVN 325th Division were planning to attack the camp.

Based on that information, night patrols went out to confirm the enemy positions but they made no sightings. However, Air Commandos conducting reconnaissance flights observed large build-ups of PAVN troops along with anti-aircraft emplacements. Airstrikes were ordered against those enemy positions.

On March 7, the A Shau camp was reinforced with seven U.S. Special Forces personnel, nine interpreters, and a MIKE Force Company in anticipation of the North Vietnamese attack.


On March 8, the camp was on general alert and the defenders took up their positions. A PAVN assault was launched during the night, but it was beaten back. Because of poor weather conditions that would hinder tactical air and resupply efforts, the PAVN decided to continue despite their heavy casualties. The second attack began during the early morning hours of March 9 with mortar bombardment, damaging communications and reducing many defensive positions to rubble. At 1300 hours an AC-47D “Spooky 70” from the 4th Air Commando Squadron, circling the camp, fired on the attacking PAVN formations. However, the slow-moving aircraft was shot down and crashed about five kilometers north of the camp. All six crewmen survived, but they were promptly attacked by the PAVN. Three crewmen were killed, though the others were eventually rescued by a USAF HH-43.

Between 1630 and 1700 hours, supplies of ammunition were flown in by C-123 and CV-2 aircraft, but the resupply drops often landed outside of the camp perimeter and could not be retrieved. At the same time, helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. However, reinforcements from Huế and Phu Bai could not be deployed because of the bad weather, leaving the camp’s defenders to repair their defensive wall and dig in for the night.

M1/Fisher, Bernard F./pho 4.Fisher and Myers.Credit Photo to the National Museum of the USAF

During the day an A-1 piloted by Major D.W. Myers was hit and forced to crash-land on the A Shau airstrip 200m from PAVN positions, Major Bernard F. Fisher landed his A-1 on the airstrip rescuing Myers, for this action Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As fighting continued, the situation deteriorated as ammunition ran short and a decision was made to evacuate all personnel. At 1700 hours, all communication equipment was destroyed. The survivors carried out their evacuation orders and destroyed all abandoned weapons and withdrew further to the north wall.

Leading the evacuation effort were fifteen H-34 helicopters from HMM-163 supported by four UH-1B gunships of VMO-2. Panic-stricken South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians mobbed the evacuation helicopters and overwhelmed U.S. Special Forces troops as they abandoned the camp. This reached a point where the helicopters were so overloaded some Special Forces soldiers were forced to fire upon their allies to allow the helicopters to take off. Only 172 of 368 Nung and Vietnamese irregulars were flown out. The others were listed as MIA, although many turned up later, having escaped on their own. The evacuation was further complicated by heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire, and two H-34s were lost.


American control ceased at the camp at 17:45 hours when overrun by PAVN troops. During the battle, the U.S. special forces team suffered five killed and twelve wounded (100% casualties). The numbers of South Vietnamese soldiers present at the camp or how many casualties they suffered varies. They evacuated only 186 of the garrison of 434, with the others listed as missing, although some of them surfaced later. Another report stated 231 out of 417 irregulars were lost. According to Sgt. Major Bennie G. Adkins only 122 out of about 410 irregulars survived, with many of them wounded. Adkins was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in defense of the camp by President Barack Obama in September 2014.

In May a Special Forces team entered the abandoned camp to recover the bodies of those killed in the battle, finding the bodies undisturbed and large quantities of ammunition remaining in the camp. The Special Forces team retrieved the bodies and reported back on the camp’s status. On 1 June III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) commander LG Lew Walt ordered the 3rd Marine Division commander MG Wood B. Kyle to develop a plan to return to the camp and destroy the ammunition. On the morning of 23 June the Marines launched Operation Turner with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines being landed at the camp by CH-46s of HMM-164 with air support by VMO-2 UH-1E gunships. The Marines completed the destruction of the ammunition and were airborne again after 2 hours on the ground.

The PAVN transformed the A Shau Valley into a heavily fortified base area with bunkers, antiaircraft guns, and artillery. US and South Vietnamese forces were never able to re-establish a permanent presence in the valley for the remainder of the war. During the Tet Offensive the A Shau Valley provided Communist troops an important sanctuary from which to launch attacks at South Vietnamese cities and military bases, especially Huế and Phu Bai. Raids were launched into the valley in April 1968 (Operation Delaware), August 1968 (Operation Somerset Plain), March 1969 (Operation Dewey Canyon), and May 1969 (Operation Apache Snow).


This article originally appeared on the VIETNAM VETERANS GROUP on MeWe. Here is the link:


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