Operation Masher/White Wing: Description, Phases & Strategies

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

Operation Masher/White Wing embodied the concept of search-and-destroy during the Vietnam War. Learn more about Masher/White Wing, including its multi-phase strategy, engagements and results, in this lesson.


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.

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  • 0:03 Search-and-Destroy
  • 1:22 Operation Masher/White…
  • 4:26 Results
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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.

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