The Battle of Bong Son: Operation Masher/White Wing, 1966 Review

battle of bong son

By Kenneth P. White
Casemate Publishers, 2024
ISBN 978-1-63624-401-3
Photographs. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 221. $34.95

There is certainly no doubt that the author Kenneth P. White did a lot of research and made meticulous use of unit reporting to chronicle this important six-week battle. That he also knows the battle area in central South Vietnam and was on the ground there is clear from his infantryman’s attention to the effects of the weather, terrain, and wildlife on the operation.

Both the descriptors “battle” and “operation” are used in the title. That is germane to the story since the battle began on the Bong Son Plain, but the operation extended into the surrounding jungle-covered mountains and feeder valleys, as well as the shore of the South China Sea. Although not part of the American operations plan for Bong Son, White also includes the defense of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment base against a coincidental Viet Cong (VC) attack. That base was at An Khe, forty air miles to the southeast. In addition to the large size of the combat area, the opposition was unusual in being comprised of a full, combined North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and VC division of main force elements, plus additional VC heavy weapon and local units. With the inclusion of U.S. Marine, Republic of Korea, and South Vietnamese units, as well as U.S. Navy and Air Force fire support, the battle was indeed large-scale and showcased the air cavalry concept. White also brings attention to multiple operation names in the title and readers can detect his opinion of why this occurred. Fifteen years earlier in Korea, General Matthew B. Ridgway had also dealt with trembling supervisors in Washington criticizing his designation of Operation KILLER as conveying too strong a notion. Ridgway kept the name.    

Despite obvious and deserved pride in the cavalry, White points out that given the conditions, the war in Vietnam was fought largely by the infantry. Through no fault of the infantry, the enemy was allowed the capacity to withdraw into Cambodia and Laos, lick their wounds, and return, as noted in the book’s conclusions. White’s photographs show the associated combat activities quite well and the drawn maps present each battle period adequately. His necessary inclusion of casualties is also a reminder of the price of assaulting directly, and often blindly, into enemy concentrations.    

The text’s similarity to operations reporting, with specified units and times, suggests its purpose is to establish a record of the battle, suitable for study by military students. In that regard, the inclusion of participant testimonies is one of the book’s best features. That they were relegated to very small type perhaps recommends use of the digital version of the book.

While adequately covering each subunit’s involvement with events, the text seems mechanical and somewhat dry, with a tendency for repetitive phrases. Also, more attention to formatting could have avoided tiring the reader from a narrow gutter margin and excessive text per page. The steady delineation of unit designators, time, and actions is also tiring, given the number of subunits moving about. Again, that is the downside of its similarity to an operational summary. On the other hand, White has assured that the reader can track where and when actions occur, and how they interact, always an important consideration for a military history. Ultimately, White presents an efficient report of what occurred in this period at Bong Son and has illuminated a previously insufficiently covered episode.  

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph V. Little, Jr., USA-Ret.
Jacksonville, Florida