Operation Hump was a search and destroy operation initiated by United States and Australian forces on 8 November 1965, during the Vietnamese War. The US-Australian objective was to drive out Viet Cong (VC) fighters who had taken up positions on several key hills.
The main US Army operation took place in an area about 17.5 miles (28.2 km) north of Bien Hoa, where the US 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (1/503), 173rd Airborne Brigade conducted a helicopter assault on an LZ northwest of the Dong Nai River and Song Be River.
The 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) was deployed south of the Dong Nai. In a part of the operation (known later as the Battle of Gang Toi), 1RAR attacked a VC bunker and trench system.
Little contact was made through 7 November, when B and C Companies settled into a night defensive position southeast of Hill 65, on a triple-canopied jungle hill.
At about 0600 on 8 November C Company began a move northwest toward Hill 65, while B Company moved northeast toward Hill 78. Shortly before 08:00, C Company was engaged by a sizeable enemy force, well dug in to the southern face of Hill 65, armed with machine guns and shotguns. At 08:45, B Company was directed to wheel in place and proceed toward Hill 65 with the intention of relieving C Company, often relying on fixed bayonets to repel daring close range attacks by small bands of masked VC fighters.
B Company reached the foot of Hill 65 at about 09:30 and moved up the hill. It became obvious that there was a large enemy force in place on the hill, C Company was suffering heavy casualties, and by chance, B Company was forcing the enemy's right flank.
Under pressure from B Company's flanking attack, the enemy force—most of a VC regiment—shifted their position to the northwest, whereupon the B Company commander called in air and incendiary artillery fire on the retreating rebels. The shells scorched the foliage and caught many VC fighters ablaze, exploding the ammunition and grenades they carried. B Company halted in place in an effort to locate and consolidate with C Company's platoons. Together they managed to establish a coherent defensive line, running around the hilltop from southeast to northwest, but with little cover on the southern side.
Meanwhile, the VC commander realized that his best chance was to close in on the US forces so that the 173rd's air and artillery fire could not be effectively employed. VC troops attempted to out-flank the US position atop the hill from both the east and the southwest, moving his troops closer to the Americans. The result was shoulder-to-shoulder attacks up the hillside, hand-to-hand fighting, and isolation of parts of B and C Companies; the Americans held against two such attacks. Although the fighting continued after the second massed attack, it reduced in intensity as the VC troops again attempted to disengage and withdraw, scattering into the jungle to throw off the trail of pursuing US snipers. By late afternoon it seemed that contact had been broken, allowing the two companies to prepare a night defensive position and collect their dead and wounded in the center of the position. Although a few of the most seriously wounded were extracted by USAF helicopters using Stokes litters, the triple-canopy jungle prevented the majority from being evacuated until the morning of 9 November.
The result of the battle was heavy losses on both sides—49 Paratroopers dead, many wounded, and about 403 dead VC troops as an estimate by the US troops.
On November 8th 1965, the 173rd Airborne Brigade on "Operation Hump", war zone "D" in Vietnam, were ambushed by over 1200 VC. Forty-nine American soldiers lost their lives that day. Severely wounded and risking his own life, Lawrence Joel, a medic, was the first living black man since the Spanish–American War to receive the United States Medal of Honor for saving so many lives in the midst of battle that day. Our friend, Niles Harris, retired 25 years United States Army, the guy who gave Big Kenny his top hat, was one of the wounded who lived. This song is his story. Caught in the action of kill or be killed, greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother.
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- Conetto, Al (June 2015). "In the Beginning, there was the Hump". Vietnam Magazine. pp. 27–33.
- Dedicated to Sky Soldiers Past & Present
- Lawrence Joel – Arlington National Cemetery
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-1 (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-13A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- The Virtual Wall