- Hardcover: 356 pages
- Publisher: Cantigny First Division Foundation; First Edition edition (2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0739436627
- ISBN-13: 978-0739436622
- Package Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,241,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Beast Was Out There (The 28th Infantry Black Lions and the Battle of Ong Thanh, Vietnam, October 1967) Hardcover – 2002
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guarantee a victory. Surprise wins 90% of battles and this is a prime example of it....
Lt. Colonel Terry Allen, son of a very highly regarded ** WW II general, took on a large group of VC regulars. The result was a devastating defeat. Allen was killed in the battle. Shelton was there as a major, the S3. The 2-28, also known as the Black Lions, was badly mauled by a tenacious enemy in an unusual stand-and-fight battle which heretofore the VC had always avoided.
Shelton sets the stage with a short account of the history of the Black Lions, part of the famed "Big Red One." He also brings his personal experience to the story of events as he was assigned to the Black Lions under General Hays following the very successful leadership of General DePuy, fames for the "DePuy bunkers", enfiladed and covered foxholes that were impossible to attack without heavy losses.
Shelton is candid throughout the book and some of the details are less than savory. Food was always a problem, hot rations being flown in by helicopter, but usually getting thoroughly rained on before being eaten, and often the troops were utterly exhausted by the time night came, so food was just a quick can of fruit.
Shelton noted several things when he was assigned as S3 (Battalion Operations Officer) -- he succeeded Lt. Colonel Allen who was being promoted -- to the Black Lions. The whole division had terrible radio discipline, most communications going in the clear, rationalizing that during combat it was less confusing than the multiple codes normally required. There was also constant "ass-chewing" over the air and in person, to such an extant everyone expected it and enjoyed it. The question was whether it was taken seriously. Air mobile insertion and extraction operations were incredibly complex and required an intricate ballet of cooperation between multiple units, helicopters and soldiers. Finally, there was turnover. Because of the military's policy of one-year rotations, often units had only FNGs (I tried to tell exactly what this stands for but Amazon's guidelines prohibit honesty in this regard so we'll just have to say Fornicating New Guys) to run the show. Few experienced soldiers were left to guide the FNGs and it would take awhile to learn how to stay alive.
The Air Force guys all thought they were doing a great job but Shelton has nothing but contempt for their close air support which often fell on the troops rather than the designated target. "I never heard of one air strike that helped while we were on offensive operations. When we were on the defensive and were in a static position, air strikes could be of great assistance. On the other hand, when we were moving, all air strikes did was slow us down and delay the action." (84)
The operation that spelled disaster for the Black Lions did not get off to a great start. Ignoring the warnings of Lt. Clark Welch who's company had taken the brunt of the fighting the day before, Allen, seeking a fight, moved two companies out into the jungle. Because the fighting was at such close quarters, artillery was of little use even though one soldier called it in on his head. Artillery was also delayed because they had to wait for fighters to clear the area even though the airstrikes were off target and of little use. Pleas for fighters to clear the area in favor of the more precise artillery went unheeded even though one artillery captain, risking a court martial, fired 6,000 rounds in support of the troops, even though planes were flying through the area.
The result was a massacre. Both companies were decimated. Most of the officers were killed and at one point a PFC was technically the battalion commander. Welch himself was hit five times. Interviews with the remaining participants were considered so damning they were classified for years but Shelton gained access to them and they provide a multi-faceted glimpse of the catastrophe.
Shelton blames the failure on three elements: 1) Allen's failure to listen to Welch's concerns. At that time Welch, ironically, had far more combat experience than any of the other commanders having come up through the ranks. Shelton considers this an endemic problem of commanders who want to "prevail"; "a malaise that I refer to as the “prevail syndrome” afflicts many senior commanders. I know it afflicted me when was officer, and believe most officers are with today. It manifests itself in a tendency not listen, carefully analyze substance of argument or point made by subordinate.” 2) the failure of the units to use "fire and maneuver" effectively. Shelton points to training manuals and documents highlighting the importance of infantry to find the enemy and artillery and firepower to destroy him. I found this peculiar since the enemy in this case did not have the firepower but certainly used infantry far more effectively.; and 3) " the danger of overcontrol by superiors, which froze subordinates in action," although I'm not sure I got the same lesson from his account. Certainly Allen was wedded to his radio (which also made him a target) and headquarters away from the field was constantly badgering for more information, the infamous SITREP.
This is a fascinating look at Vietnam operations from the viewpoint of a battalion S3, an unusual perspective.