01/02 – Ấp Bắc

M113s like the ones pictured above were lightly armoured but struggled to manoeuvre in the dense, difficult terrain of Vietnam. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1963, the Battle of Ấp Bắc took place in Vietnam’s Định Tường province. ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops from South Vietnam had detected a large force of VC (Vietcong, communist guerillas) by intercepting signals from the communists’ radio transmitter. Nearly 1,500 ARVN soldiers – equipped with heavy weapons and support from M113 armoured personnel carriers – were confident (along with their American advisors from MACV) that they could easily wipe out what they suspected was a VC force of roughly 120 men. But as they moved into the hamlet of Ấp Bắc, VC fighters in well dug-in positions opened fire along predetermined arcs and immediately wiped out a large portion of the ARVN force. The American advisors had underestimated the VC threat, and plans of the attack had already been leaked to the enemy, enabling them to set up an effective killzone.

Ensuing efforts to turn the tide of the battle with helicopter support and more M113s amounted to little. By nighttime, the VC had killed over 80 ARVN troops with 18 of their own lost. They withdrew into the treeline under the cover of darkness, having won their first major victory of the Vietnam War. Ấp Bắc may have been a minor engagement in the grand scheme of the conflict; but it emboldened the Vietcong, who now knew they were capable of taking on – and beating – much larger ARVN and American formations.

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