Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase III Campaign (1967-68)/Operation Greeley
Description This operation (17 June to 12 Oct) intitially brought the 1/503d and 2/503d, 173d ABN Bde plus some support units to Dak To because of the NVA build up in the mountains to the south. When it became apparent that the NVA was in this area, the 4th Inf Div moved the FRANCIS MARION units to the north and consolidated these actions as part of GREELEY. The famous Battle of Dak To would overshadow the rest of GREELEY.
The II Corps Tactical Zone, the Central Highlands of South Vietnam
Throughout the middle of 1967, however, western Kon Tum Province became a magnet for several PAVN spoiling attacks and it appeared that the North Vietnamese were paying an increasing amount of attention to the area. Immediately after taking command, Peers instituted guidelines for his units in order to prevent them from being isolated and overrun in the rugged terrain, which also did much to negate the U.S. superiority in firepower. Battalions were to act as single units instead of breaking down into individual companies in order to search for their enemy.
If rifle companies had to act independently, they were not to operate more than one kilometer or one hour's march from one another. If contact with the enemy was made, the unit was to be immediately reinforced These measures went far in reducing the 4th Infantry's casualties.
These heavy enemy contacts prompted Peers to request reinforcement and, as a result, on 17 June, two battalions of Brigadier General John R. Deane's 173rd Airborne Brigade were moved into the Đắk Tô area to begin sweeping the jungle-covered mountains in Operation Greeley.
The 173rd had been operating near Bien Hoa Air Base outside Saigon and had been in combat only against NLF guerrillas. Prior to its deployment to the highlands, Peer's operations officer, Colonel William J. Livsey, attempted to warn the Airborne officers of the hazards of campaigning in the highlands. He also advised them that PAVN regulars were a much better equipped and motivated force than the NLF. These warnings, however, made little impression on the paratroopers, who were about to become victims of their own overconfidence.
173rd Airborne troops during Operation Greeley
On 20 June, Charlie Company, 2nd battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry (C/2/503) discovered the bodies of a Special Forces CIDG unit that had been missing for four days on Hill 1338, the dominant hill mass south of Dak To. Supported by Alpha Company, the Americans moved up the hill and set up for the night. At 06:58 the following morning, Alpha Company began moving alone up a ridge finger and triggered an ambush by the 6th Battalion of the 24th PAVN Regiment. Charlie Company was ordered to go to support, but heavy vegetation and difficult terrain made movement extremely difficult. Artillery support was rendered ineffective by the limited range of visibility and the "belt-grabbing" - or "hugging" - tactics of the North Vietnamese.
Close air support was impossible for the same reasons. Alpha Company managed to survive repeated attacks throughout the day and night, but the cost was heavy. Of the 137 men that comprised the unit, 76 had been killed and another 23 wounded. A search of the battlefield revealed only 15 dead North Vietnamese.
U.S. headquarters press releases, made four days after the conclusion of what came to be called "The Battle of the Slopes", claimed that 475 North Vietnamese had been killed while the 173rd's combat after action report claimed 513 enemy dead. The men of Alpha Company estimated that only 50–75 PAVN troops had been killed during the entire action. Such losses among American troops could not go unpunished. The operations officer of the 4th Infantry went so far as to recommend that General Deane be relieved of command. Such a drastic measure, however, would only provide more grist for what was becoming a public relations fiasco. In the end, the commander and junior officers of Charlie Company (whose only crime was that of caution) were transferred to other units.