Adam has a master's degree in history.
Operation Masher/White Wing was a 41-day campaign, from January to March 1966, led by the United States Army 1st Cavalry Division. It was designed to eliminate the 3rd People's Army of Vietnam, or PAVN, Division as well as members of the National Liberation Front, or NLF, within the Bong Son Plain located in the Binh Dinh province.
The mission epitomized the strategy of search-and-destroy, which was the American military policy of tactically locating and eliminating the enemy. Aside from the Masher/White Wing search-and-destroy campaign, another important goal of the mission was to assist in securing the Binh Dinh province in order to cut off enemy movement into, and staging within, the Central Highlands region.
Now before moving on to the campaign, it is necessary to explain why the operation was given two names. General William Westmoreland, commander of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (or MACV), decided on Masher as a way of symbolizing the attrition strategy of search-and-destroy. President Lyndon B. Johnson, however, feared the domestic backlash from such a violent title, especially considering that the decision to escalate the Vietnam War had already been heavily criticized. Johnson's advisors settled on the title White Wing as an alternative to Masher, simply because it sounded friendlier. American combat troops continued to refer to the mission as Masher, while the actual title became White Wing. We, therefore, have Operation Masher/White Wing.
Operation Masher/White Wing Commences
The main effort of American operations focused on the Bong Son Plain and its surrounding geographical elements. Masher/White Wing took the form of five different phases over a 41-day period. The first phase began on January 24, 1966, when the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division led by Colonel Harold Moore moved into Bong Son and began a series of combat exercises against the enemy. The goal was to establish a search-and-destroy zone by securing the neighboring mountains and then creating a northern and southern blocking point.
The assumption was that the three points would flush the enemy into the open territory, making it susceptible to American firepower. Unfortunately, many of the aerial drop offs within the landing zone were botched. The North Vietnamese were able to assault a number of the dislocated American soldiers, but Colonel Moore's men quickly regrouped and went on the offensive. The first phase lasted until February 1; the United States had claimed over 566 enemy dead and dozens captured.
The second phase of Masher/White Wing focused on the An Lao Valley, which was just west of Bong Son. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division positioned men at the northern and southern end of the valley. Soldiers then moved from the top of the valley down to the bottom. Very few enemy soldiers were located; only 11 were killed. Instead, the unit was able to secure major rice and salt caches.
The third phase had an identical strategy as the second phase, but the location was in the Kim Son Valley. On February 11, American soldiers launched a major offensive against NLF troops in the area. Concerned by the American aggression, many NLF soldiers exposed themselves and were instantly killed; estimated enemy dead for the third phase was roughly 60.
On February 16, the 3rd Brigade was replaced by the 1st Brigade, which reflected the beginning of the fourth phase of Masher/White Wing. This portion of the campaign was located in the daunting Iron Triangle region. As American soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Brigade were searching the area, they were engaged by a sizable North Vietnamese force as well as heavy artillery. The clash within the Iron Triangle was unconventional, extremely violent and led to losses for both sides.
Frustrated and exhausted by the back and forth confrontation with the enemy, the 1st Brigade withdrew and called for an aerial assault on the location. American B-52 Stratofortresses pummeled the Iron Triangle; the bombing assault was followed by the dropping of tear gas grenades. Over 300 enemy soldiers were lost during the battle; Americans suffered roughly 20 killed and over 100 wounded.
The 1st Cavalry learned that enemy troops were taking refuge in the Cay Giep Mountains. The United States planned for a full assault on the area in order to decimate what was left of the North Vietnamese within the Bong Son Plain. The South Vietnamese 22nd Division was ordered to surround Cay Giep, which it completed. The 1st Cavalry then assaulted the mountain using all forms of available firepower.
After the bombardment concluded, American soldiers moved into the area but did not find many enemy inhabitants. Those who were located were flushed into the open and immediately killed. On March 6, 1966, after a long campaign, Operation Masher/White Wing was terminated.
From a search-and-destroy standpoint, Masher/White Wing was an unquestionable success. American forces, combined with the help of the South Vietnamese, decimated the 3rd PAVN Division. Over roughly 2,000 PAVN and NLF soldiers were killed during the 41-day campaign; the 1st Cavalry Division accounted for 1,300 of the 2,000 killed. In comparison, the United States suffered the loss of 290 Americans. Only Operations Attleboro and Thayer II came close to the total enemy losses tallied during Masher/White Wing in 1966.
The grinding tactic of attrition warfare proved useful in eliminating the enemy. Yet, while many enemy soldiers had perished, the United States' secondary goal of securing the Binh Dinh province failed. Many North Vietnamese temporarily retreated into the thick vegetation and underground hideouts until the United States had moved away. The North Vietnamese continued to maintain a presence in the region throughout the rest of the war and helped to stymie the United States' desire to control the Central Highlands.
Operation Masher/White Wing was a 41-day search-and-destroy campaign led by the United States 1st Cavalry Division. There were two important goals: eliminate the 3rd People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Division and its National Liberation Front (NLF) associates and control the Central Highlands by securing the Binh Dinh province. The United States engaged the North Vietnamese in five separate phases, all within the area around the Bong Son Plain.
By the end of the campaign, over 2,000 enemy combatants had been successfully eliminated. The United States failed, however, to prevent the North Vietnamese from maintaining a foothold in the Binh Dinh province. As a result, the goal of controlling the Central Highlands by the United States was never fully realized.
After you've completed this lesson, you'll have the ability to:
- Explain what Operation Masher/White Wing was and recall how long it lasted
- Understand why the operation was given two names
- Describe the phases of this operation
- Summarize the outcome of Operation Masher/White Wing
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack