Bernhard H.Holst

Anniversary of the combat of Khe Non, Tonkin/North Vietnam, 21 May, 1954

20 posts in this topic

Hello readers:

the following account of a combat action is in memory of Cavalier ( Trooper) MAU who died in action during this combat while crew member of a LVT ( armored Landing Vehicle Tracked) when a mortar round hit the barrel of his machine gun. This account also serves in the memory of the other 22 KIA during this engagement whose names are unknown to us presently. Of this number 4 legionnaires belonged to the 2.Groupement Amphibie of the 1.REC and the above mentioned Trooper MAU.

Upon the return for his second tour of duty in Vietnam in early February 1954, this writer was reassigned to the 2.G.A. and entrusted with the 1.Squad of the 1.Platoon of the mounted elements of the 18.Escadron. These elements were commanded by then Lt. Xavier de Cacqueray-Valmenier ( later Captain and killed in Algeria in 1958 as earlier described in other posts).

The 1.Platoon was commanded by the Marechal des Logis-Major Tabournel well remembered from my earlier tour. and who requested this new assignment.

A quick description of the kind of formation involved here seems in order:

The 2. G.A. consisted of four Escadrons ( Troops), namely the 1. and 8. Escadron of three combat platoons each equipped with M24 Weasel ( called Crabes by us).These vehicles were tracked amphibious ones but not armored. Armed with Automatic Rifles, 30 cal. M.G. and 57 mm Recoilless Rifles. Then the 11. and 18. Escadrons each with three combat platoons equipped with armored LVT 4 (Landing Vehicles Tracked called Alligator by us). Armed with 30 and 50 cal. M.G., 75 mm Recoilles Rifles and the transport for the mounted elements. In addition four LVT Howitzer with 75 mm guns and two LVT modified to accomodate a 40mm Bofor ( anti aircraft) gun.

The mounted elements of the 11. and 18. Escadrons had the strength of 120 to 140 men each and in the case of the 18.Escadron were organized in three platoons of four squads each, two so-called heavy because armed with an Automatic Rifle ( FM 24/290 and two rifle grenade launchers) and two so-called light because entirely armed with sub- machine guns.

Only the "heavies" had one to two Legionnaire cadres while the "lights" were completely composed of Vietnamese personnel.

Only slight combat actions took place during the months of Feb. , Mar. and Apr. allowing this writer and his men to get acquainted with each other. Unfortunately the assignment of a Legionnaire to the squad turned out to be in the negative. An apparent reject from some other unit the Leg.van der M. did not fit by being unable or unwilling to adopt basic field craft such as taking cover etc. Efforts to train and then get rid of him were unsuccessful. Being a strong fellow qualified him to the carry of a backpack containing 10 spare Automatic Rifle magazines. He required constant supervision.

Base of operations of the 2.G.A. was Nam Dinh, capital of the province by the same name. Operations took place mostly in the triangle Nam Dinh, Phuly and Ninh Binh. Intensely rice cultivated and subject to energetic and constant infiltration by the Viet Minh.

Preparations for a major operation were made on May 20 while positioned along the Provincial Route 21 , the route from Nam Dinh to Phuly on the River Day. Very early on May 21 departure on board of our transports with, to us an unknown destination. When dawn broke the outlines of a range of limestone hills became visible. Learned later that this was the Khe NonRange located about 17 km south-east of Phuly and with a length of 7 km and a width of 1 1/2 km.

Searches on foot of some villages yielded no results. Soon noises of intense firefights from several directions could be heard. One more debarkation from our vehicles led us into the village of Dai Kien, situated to the south of the Khe Non Range. What no longer seemed to be a stroll through a deserted village turned into an attempt to overcome an enemy, determined to hold his ground. Leg.van der M. made himself conspicuous at a window of a hut and quickly made himself a target despite this writer's repeated warnings. He was promptly hit by a shot to his left thigh requiring great efforts to stop the bleeding. Being unable to walk it then took four troopers to evacuate him. Strength of this squad was now down to five with the need to dole out the wounded man's weapon, munitions and equipment. Except the webbing equipment everything was dealt with. A hiding place for the rest was found in the hut ( later to be found burned to the ground by artillery fire).

Orders to move to the edge of the village were received to allow artillery fire to dislodge the defenders. My four Troopers did all return from their "mission of mercy" and a renewed push to take the village succeeded. Fortunately no further losses were incurred. Munitions were nearly exhausted especially hand grenades and rifle grenades. It so happened that our transports had endured heavy enemy fire with mortars and 57 mm recoilless rifles during which Trooper Mau lost his life. His remains traveled with us wrapped in a straw mat. During a halt his best comrade, the Brigadier-Chef Canh mounted the vehicle having heard of his death and drew back the mat. With a very tender movement he wiped away the bloody foam from his mouth and covered him up again.

After this action information received showed that friendly troops included the II./13.DBLE which had just lost the I.and III. Battalions in Dien Bien Phu , one battalion of Maroccan riflemen and three Vietnamese battalions . Friendly losses were indicated above. Enemy losses were given as close to 400 killed and 76 POW. Arms recovered were one 57 mm recoilless rifle, two machine guns , six automatic rifles , forty seven rifles, one 60mm and one 50mm mortar.

Of the above enemy losses our mounted elements received credit of 45 enemy killed and 20 POW, 26 weapons recovered of which was the 57mm rifle , two machine guns and one automatic rifle.

Notes: some data was retrieved from the valuable book by General (ret.) Jacques Jauffret: "Crabes et Alligators dans les rizieres (Indochine 1953 - 1954) and from the award citation of Lt.X.de Cacqueray for the Croix de Guerre T.O.E. with Palm.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Again, fascinating, Bernard. The description of the structure (what the US Army calls TOE) of your unit is very revealing, and the description of the action most interesting.

Best,

Hugh

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ID: 3   Posted (edited)

Hello readers:

The following members of one of several battalions deployed during the above described combat and who lost their lives certainly deserve mention here.

All belonged to one of outstanding infantry units, personnel of which consisted mainly of Vietnamese riflemen with French cadres, here one of the Bataillons de Marche Indochinois

- Captain (Medical Corps) DERIVERY, Jean Paul, DoB 10 February, 1926 in Amiens. Captain Derivery most likely was the Battalion Medical Officer.;

- Sergeant DE MAUDUIT DU PLESSIX, Yann Marie Bernard20 August 1931 in Nantes( I believe from a prominent French family);

- Rifleman 1.class DONG, Van Bong, Born in 1919 in Hadong, North Vietnam.

Unknown to this writer but remembered as being members of a respected unit often engaged together in operations.

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst

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Yes, I agree with Hugh, an excellent and illuminating account of something little covered in the English language.

Mark Allen

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Hello readers:

I have just now located the name and other particulars of a member of my former regiment killed during the combat on 21 May, 1954 described above.

The Brigadier-Chef PANNICKE, Werner , born on 16 August, 1921 in Apolda, Germany was a member of the 8. Escadron of the 2.Groupement Amphibie of the 1.REC. This troop was equipped with M29 Weasel vehicles ( called Crabs by us ) which were unarmored and therefore quite vulnerable to enemy fire. Brigadier-Chef Pannicke was mortally wounded by gun shot. While personally unknown to this writer, it seems right to make his name known if only to a few readers. Together with Cavalier Mau the Brigadier-Chef Pannicke can now be named of having been two of the six members of our formation who lost their lives that day.

Bernhard H. Holst

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ID: 6   Posted (edited)

KIA on 21 May 1954 were also:

Paul LACZKO, 18° Esc.

Gerhard STECKHAN, 11° Esc.

Rudolf BEER, 18° Esc., died of his wounds on 22 May 1954 at Nam Dinh Hospital

Regards

Lars

Edited by camerone54

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Hello Lars.

Thank you for the additional names of those who lost their lives that day.

I was unaware that two legionnaires beside Cav.Mau were killed that day and who belonged to my , the 18.Escadron. I do not recall any honor detachment or other detail of our troops at the funeral.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Hello readers.

The recently expanded French Government site "Memoire des Hommes" listing the personnel Mort Pour La France during several of the French conflicts now makes it possible to locate fatal losses during the Indochina conflict based on dates of death and/or other particulars. Unfortunately the data are not complete and oftentimes distorted in the transcription and it does not seem to operate as smoothly as one could wish..

I have now located additional personnel who belonged to a mainly Vietnamese battalion, the Bataillon de Marche d'Indochine of which there were I believe three in total. These battalions were considered elite.This personnel also lost their lives in this combat.

- MORILLON, Andre Rene, Marechal des Logis (Sergeant) DoB 2 January, 1931;

- TESTAR, Kleber, Soldat de 1er classe, DoB 24 April, 1933;

- NGUYEN, Van Tai, born in 1935;

- NGUYEN, Van Ngac, born in 1933;

Having been in the field with this unit on several occasions I felt an obllgation to here record their names.

Bernhard H. Holst

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When I read posts like this, I think of a passage from Anthony Price's Soldier No More, where a young woman, speaking about Korea to a Korean War veteran, says that it was just a little war. He replies that it was a big war for those who died.in it.

Here I feel some kinship, as although I'm a Canadian, and as far as I know none of my French cousins served in Indochina, some of them were in Algeria.

To quote Kipling, "It is knightly to keep faith [or to remember] even after a thousand years."

Michael


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Hello Michael.

I thank you for your kind and considerate words.

To me those I personally knew shall forever remain in my memory.

I am grateful to the French government to have made enough efforts and funds available to transfer those remains of which the grave sites were known, to a national and final resting place at Frejus, France. This action was not limited to military personnel of French nationality but whoever served.

The end of that conflict is near at hand as is the date of that action. At least still remembered by some.

Bernhard H. Holst

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ID: 11   Posted

Hello readers.

I was lately successful to locate the particulars of the fallen Trooper Tran Van Mau by consulting the registry of the French National Site of those personnel who died during the French phase of the Indochina conflict.

Trooper Tran Van Mau has his last resting place in Frejus, France.

On this anniversary of the combat of the heights of Khe Non I remember those I personally knew and all others who gave their lives so long ago.

Bernhard H. Holst

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ID: 12   Posted

Bernhard

Thank you for your service as a soldier. By sharing your memories here you inspire others to keep them alive.  All honour to you!

Kind regards

Brett

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ID: 13   Posted

Hello Brett.

Thank you for your kind message. I am planning to place a list of fallen  members of my former unit on this forum. This in order to provide a readily visible indication of their having been among us and fighting the good fight. Until their life ended so early...

But health matters delay such fairly easy activities again and again.

BTW: the entry for Trooper Tran Van Mau in the mentioned registry is without obvious errors of which are many in this and the other registry Memoire des Hommes established and maintained by the French Defense Ministry in which he, Trooper Tran Van Mau is not listed.

Bernhard H. Holst

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ID: 14   Posted

I wonder how he ended up in Frejus?

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ID: 15   Posted (edited)

6 hours ago, Chris Boonzaier said:

I wonder how he ended up in Frejus?

Hello Chris.

In the 1980's the French Government made an agreement with Vietnam to recover all those remains of fallen members of French military incl. Indochinese personnel which could be recovered for reburial at a French national  site. The site was established at Frejus within sight of the Mediterranean Sea over which French origin military personnel traveled to reach Indochina.

The remains so gathered were reburied at Frejus and the total number of remains are listed as 26,000 plus. A large number have their individual graves. Again very unfortunately the registry contains a numerous errors, distortions etc which should have been easily avoided and in my view puts a very commendable enterprise into a shaky light. An example is my former company sgt.major ( adjudant de compagnie ) Marechal des Logis-Chef  Manuel Bonastre listed with several errors in his single entry ( regt., rank, dod).

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst

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ID: 16   Posted

I once had the occasion to visit Frejus and St. Raphael on a US Navy ship.  We were assigned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, the World War II Allied landings in the south of France.  We anchored out in the harbor of St. Raphael, two destroyers just up the coast from St. Tropez.  It’s always nice to make a port visit in a smaller port without the carrier and the rest of the destroyer squadron.  You don’t overwhelm the town with sailors and Marines, and without the Marines, there are fewer fights in the bars.  The division commodore, Captain David Ruble was our senior officer embarked, and he knew I spoke French, so I became his interpreter for a hardworking round of courtesy calls on the French military and civil officials.  What a day! 

We started the morning at 10:00, drinking champagne with the colonel commanding the Foreign Legion base.  He had some wonderful stories about Indochina and Algeria, but alas, we had the mayor of St. Raphael at 11:00.  His stories weren’t nearly as colorful, but he served a very nice red wine.  Then, lunch at noon at the Naval Air Station.  It was a light lunch, only three wines and God knows how many courses.  My interpreter counterpart was a French Navy ensign.  We had a wonderful time and lunch finished up around 3:30.  Then, off for a 4:00 with the mayor of Frèjus and a little Cognac.  The official car dropped us at Fleet Landing at about 5:30, and somehow we got into the commodore’s gig without hurting ourselves.  We got back to the ship, and each of us retired to our staterooms, neither to be seen until noon the next day.   

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ID: 17   Posted

Hello Hugh.

Thanks for this post describing what I call a typical French welcome. The anniversary of the Allied landings in the south of France is every year a festive occasion. I happen to believe the US Navy to be dry to this day. So a stay at port must be welcome. I witnessed some blowouts during the evacuation of civilian personnel from the northern part of Vietnam following the 1954 armistice, handled by US Navy vessels at our unit's  landing spot. Our PX was next door with beer and wine to be had for everyone with money.

A former officer of my regiment, retired Brig. General Jauffret resides in St.Raphael and was until very recently much involved in the several ceremonies taking place in the area.

Bernhard H. Holst

 

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ID: 18   Posted (edited)

Thanks for your kind words, Bernhard.  Perhaps a subsequent Navy visitor will lay a wreath on the graves.  

 

And, yes, sadly, the US Navy is still dry, thanks to Josephus Daniels.  Even the Royal Navy has given up the rum ration.  

 

Daniels was Secretary of the Navy during World War I and ended the wine mess in 1914.  He also prohibited brothels within five miles of any naval installation.  Clearly didn't understand what fighting men need.  

Best, 
Hugh

Edited by Hugh

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ID: 19   Posted

Hello Hugh.

Thank you for bringing me up to date ref. US Navy and alcohol. Plus other necessities for service men.

You may be aware of the French military long standing policy of the BMC (Bordel Militaire de Campagne )?

Even Dien Bien Phu was so "equipped" with no survivor.

The Frejus  site for a time had a virtual wall listing the names of those personnel whose remains were not recovered but sadly discontinued that.

Bernhard H. Holst

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ID: 20   Posted

7 hours ago, Bernhard H.Holst said:

 

You may be aware of the French military long standing policy of the BMC (Bordel Militaire de Campagne )?

Even Dien Bien Phu was so "equipped" with no survivor.

Bernhard H. Holst

Now there's a nugget of information which is not widely known, I'm sure!  

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