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Anniversery of the Combat at Phung Thon, Tonkin/North Vietnam. 7 January, 1953.


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Hello readers;

A sad day, that January 7, 1953 for the 5.Cie.Portee (Mounted Company) of the Groupe Amphibie (Amphibious Group) of the 1.REC when it lost nine Vietnamese members during the above captioned combat of which seven were nearly the entire complement of a light squad tasked to recon the village of Phung Thon on poorly chosen, unsuitable terrain.

This writer was the company radio operator at this time and does not know the source of the order which may have come through the vehicle radio of the amphibious vehicle on which we were transported towards the objective village. The company commander , an infantry officer cannot have selected the terrain of approach because of its muddy and exposed nature ( a bare paddy field) , may have argued against it but to no avail.

A light squad of 1.Platoon was selected with the assistant platoon leader, Marechal des Logis (Sergeant) Ossenbrink in command.

While managing to get close to the village edge, a severe enemy fire opened up, killing or mortally wounding seven of the eight squad members but not touching MdL Ossenbrink and one Vietnamese trooper. The enemy also fired on our LVT (armored landing vehicles) using armor piercing munition as well as Bazooka-like anti armor weapon(s) disabling one of our 75 mm Howitzer carriers.

A more suitable area to launch another attempt was nearby which should have been used in the first place and was then chosen. This was a local burying ground which provided ample cover and was very suitable for advancing infantry. Especially with the kind of available fire support in the form of 30 and 50 cal machine guns, 75 mm howitzers and last but not least two 40mm Bofors mounted on LVT by ingenious members of our affiliated unit, an amphibious formation of the 1.Chasseurs, our company got into the village. Further losses were two Vietnamese troopers killed and some few wounded.

Weapons recuperated were in the order of one .30 cal. Browning M.G., one automatic rifle, one Thompson sub machine-gun and a number of rifles. The bi-pod of a 60mm mortar but without the tube was also recovered as well as a quantity of grenades and munitions.

This writer who had closer ties to the 1. Platoon than the other two would like to list here the names as they are known today, of those Vietnamese comrades who lost their lives that tragic day:

- Brigadier ( Corporal) and squad leader My, Le Thai, born 1933;

- Cavalier ( Trooper) Nho, Tran Dinh, Mle. ( Service Number) 84398,

born 1933;

- Cavalier Bang, Mle. 109;

- Cavalier Pham,Van Chu, Mle. 90840, born 1929;

- Cavalier Nguyen,Van Theu, Mle. 96308, born 1929 ( died of wounds

the following day);

- Cavalier 1.cl. Nguyen, Van Thuong, born in 1933;

- Cavalier Bui, Van Thong, born in 1933,

- Cavalier, Mle. 12, unfortunately name unknown;

- Cavalier, Mle. 73, again the name unknown;

The above were all members of the squad tasked with the initial reconnaissance of the village of Phung Thon. The names of the two Cavaliers who lost their lives during the final assault and clearing of this village are also unknown at the present time.

The French Dept. of Defence site SGA Memoire des Hommes which lists the fatal losses of the wars going back to WW I was recently (late 2013) enhanced for the war in Indochina, which allows to search the site by inserting only certain criteria such as DoD. This feature allowed me to retrieve two more Vietnamese comrades who lost their lives. Unfortunately no service numbers were given. So I cannot verify whether the two troopers bearing the service numbers 12 and 73 are the ones. I let them stand and have added the two names now found.

Two pictures of the funeral service the next day at the Military Cemetery of Nam Dinh are available but could not be posted as yet.

Bernhard H. Holst

ex-member of the 5.Mounted Company, Amphibious Group Tonkin, 1.REC

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers:

The funeral services for the above described and listed Vietnamese personnel who lost their lives at this unfortunate action took place the following day at the military cemetery in Nam Dinh, capital city of the province, headquarters of the operations zone South/North Vietnam and our base of operations.

The first picture shows the arrival of some of the coffins of our dead comrades and here carried by legionnaires and cavaliers of the second Platoon. At left wearing a light colored field jacket is the company commander, Capitaine Andre Viard.

The second picture shows all the coffins assembled with some grieving family members gathered around them. Across are honor delegations of our unit, both legionnaires and cavaliers, next that of the 1.Chasseurs' mounted infantry and to the right the one from Commando 24, formerly Commando Vandenberghe who lost his life just a year earlier.

A very emotional event. The voice of the second-in-command of our company, then Lt. X.de Cacqueray in command of the Honor Guard reflected his state of mind. As reported before he lost his life for his country in Algeria in 1958.

France was able in the 1980's to retrieve all remains of its fallen military personnel in Vietnam whose resting places were known, for reburial at Frejus in France. This includes the listed comrades.

They are not forgotten...

Bernhard H. Holst

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-64977600-1357489939.jpghttp://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-92939500-1357489965.jpg

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers: Here are two pictures of the weapons recovered during the combat at Phung Thon:

-the first one shows the then Brigadier C. Kopanczik ( later Brigadier-Chef and recipient of the Legion d'Honneur and the Medaille Militaire) with the .30 cal. Browning M.G., the bi-pod of a 60mm mortar and a 1903 Springfield. Plus some odds and ends. We had to be content with the bi-pod, all attempts to locate the tube including the interrogation of prisoners failed. Our second-in-command tried to get information out of a prisoner in French which the scared and non-french speaker could not give. My suggestion to use our interpreter, the Brigadier-Chef Canh was accepted but with no better results.

-the second picture shows an automatic rifle and some assorted rifles plus a Thompson sub-machine gun.

Bernhard H. Holst

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-80238800-1357494455.jpghttp://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-60028300-1357494508.jpg

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers:

The following pictures show the award ceremony during which the Marechal des Logis Ossenbrink received the Palm to the Croix de Guerre T.O.E. from the hands of General de Linares, commander of Northern Vietnam French Landforces. To the left is Commandant de la Chapelle, in command of 1.Chasseurs Amphibious Group. He later became the regimental commander of the 1.REC in North Africa, relieved of command during the Putsch against General De Gaulle, then sentenced to eight years in prison.

And here is M.d.L. Ossenbrink, ex-Wehrmacht armored forces, was wounded in 1952 by a 9mm bullet to the mouth.

The 1.Platoon, 5.Cie.Portee, in command M.d.L.Major Tabournel, also Company Sergeant Major, second-in-command MdL Ossenbrink, behind whom Brigadier Kopanczik.

Bernhard H. Holst

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-91379900-1357495678.jpghttp://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2013/post-351-0-02786500-1357495709.jpg

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers:

here are some pictures of grave sites of two of my comrades who lost their lives during the "French Phase" of the Vietnam War'

The first is that of Leg. Niesen,Heinrich, Mle. 81209,born 7 January, 1931 and died of wounds at the Military Hospital of Nam Dinh, Tonkin/North Vietnam on 28 October, 1953.

The inscription says that he died on the Field of Honor ( Champ d'Honneur) , inscription applied for Legionnaires and Indochinese personnel serving with French Forces. The cross shows the French Tricolor and beneath that the Green/Red colors of the French Foreign Legion.

Leg.Niesen began his service in our company as a driver. That did not suit him, so he asked for assignment to the combat elements. He was made a mortar man of a 50mm mortar . The following two photos show him on active operation.That useless piece of metal called a mortar( to be charitable) was taken out of service by the company commander upon viewing a live firing exercise. The replacement by the excellent grenade firing rifles met with satisfaction.

Heinrich Niesen now rests in France.

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers:

Below is a picture of the grave site on the Military Cemetery in Nam Dinh of one of my Vietnamese comrades who gave his life for his country:

- Brigadier (Corporal) Hao, Vu Van, ( his tombstone gives his Name as Vu Van Hao),

Mle. 328 381,born in 1922 and died on the field the 8.February,1954.

Brigadier Hao was squad leader in 1.Platoon, mounted elements of 18. Escadron (Troop).

Bernhard H. Holst

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  • 11 months later...

Hello readers.

In the entry # 1 I was able to add two names of my Vietnamese comrades who lost their lives for their country namely:

- Cavalier 1.cl. Nguyen, Van Thuong,

and

- Bui, Van Thong.

The French official website SGA Memoire des Hommes gives the means to now research fatal losses for the war in Indochina by inserting only single criteria. Unfortunately numerous transscription errors occured while compiling these valuable lists. They mainly can be found in place names in Indochina and for members of the French Foreign Legion, names distorted, unit nomenclatures and so on. Also it seems certain that some personnel did not find their way into these lists.

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst
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Hello readers.

In the entry # 1 I was able to add two names of my Vietnamese comrades who lost their lives for their country namely:

- Cavalier Nguyen, Van Thuong,

and

- Bui, Van Thong.

The French official website SGA Memoire des Hommes gives the means to now research fatal losses for the war in Indochina by inserting only single criteria. Unfortunately numerous transscription errors occured while compiling these valuable lists. They mainly can be found in place names in Indochina and for members of the French Foreign Legion, names distorted, unit nomenclatures and so on. Also to seems certain that some personnel did not find their way into these lists.

Bernhard H. Holst

Hi Bernhard,

Thanks for the additional info!

Best

Chris

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