From 1st Battalion 6th Infantry 

 

On 1 March 1971, Operation NANTUCKET BEACH ended.  Enemy operations on the Batangan Peninsula and other areas east of LZ Dottie had been substantially reduced after nearly six years of combat.  From 22 March 1970, when the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved into the area, until the end of the operation a year later, the synergistic effect of three significant activities brought about the reduction of enemy operations:  the devastating effect on the Viet Cong of night ambushes and saturation patrolling; the loss of food stuffs through rice denial operations; and, the land clearing efforts of the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing) that deprived the Viet Cong of concealment and cover.

Land clearing was accomplished by use of a dozen or more bulldozers that cut a combined swath of destruction across the landscape.  Underbrush, trees, and jungle vegetation were destroyed.

Photo taken near Hill 76, BS 683 836: three dozers work on line on the "cut" on the steep slopes on the left side of the photo;  two have been working on the vegetation on the right side of the  photo; and, three more vehicles are visible on the horizon.

The D7E dozer was a massive machine, weighing 56,350 lb.. with a four cylinder turbo diesel that generated 165 hp at 1,200 rpm.  The blade cut a swath about 20 ft. wide through trees and underbrush down to bare soil.  When equipped with a protruding blade extension, the dozer could tear apart trees more than 16" in diameter, knock them down, and cover them up with dirt.

Still photos converted from US Army SEPAC film made in Jan '71 east of LZ Dottie near Hill 76, BS 683 836:  available as video III LC 56419, National Archives II, College Park MD.
 


Above:  The operator seat and controls.

Left:  The business end of the machine.  Note the "Rome" designation on the blade--a tribute to the inventor and manufacturer. 

Photos from the US Army Engineer Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, MO.  The only other surviving Vietnam era dozer is on display at Fort Hood, TX.

Once the Viet Cong realized that their cover and concealment were being stripped away, they attempted to stop the land clearing efforts with mines and booby traps.  According to the 59th Engineer Company Commander's Evaluation of land clearing, a 105 mm artillery round detonating under or in front of the blade did "slight or no damage to the dozers." Likewise, if a 175mm round (which had a casualty producing radius of 515 m.) detonated underneath the blade, the dozer continued to operate.  The introduction of delay type fuzes resulted, however, in damage to the machines that exceeded the unit's repair capability.


This dozer hit a 500 lb bomb in the vicinity of Hill 128 late in 1970.  Photo and comments from Tim Botts, 59 LCC.   One of the operators that was there that day recalled the incident:

"I was leading the cut that day.  We had a stream crossing we used and I asked ___ if he wanted to do a new one and he said no.  So we headed out across it and passed a funeral procession a ways down the trail.  On the way back I cut a new trail and again asked do I do a new crossing or the same one.  He said the same one.  I crossed it blading as I went.  The dozer behind me crossed and the third one in line set it off.  It was so loud and the concussion so great I actually thought it ws me for a second or two.  Then I realized is was not and saw the belly pan from the machine and other parts dropping everywhere.  I just knew ____ had to have been killed.  But if I recall he had some pretty bad cuts and a ruptured ear drum.  We figured later the bomb was in the casket they were carrying. ... The cab was a new one and it is what saved his life.  We ended up burying the machine where you see it in the pic.  Yep, I remember that one well."

The explosion of the larger artillery rounds and bombs under the dozer blades perforated the operator's eardrums.  This meant a medivac flight back to the real "world" of the USA.  The most danger to the engineers came from artillery rounds hung in trees, with the trip wire strung so that the round exploded next to the cab of the vehicle.  Saturation patrolling and night ambushes in the areas to be cleared helped prevent the Viet Cong from putting mines and booby traps in the path of of the operators.

Due in part to the success of land clearing operations, one half of the Viet Cong 48th Battalion (about 100 soldiers in September 1970) left the Batangan and moved westward across QL 1.  The impact of operations by the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing) and the infantry units was dramatic. From 3 December 1970 to 28 January 1971, an intensive PSYOP campaign with leaflet drops, helicopter mounted loudspeaker broadcasts, and ground operations led to 92 Hoi Chans leaving the Viet Cong and surrendering to the government.

The 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing) moved their operations to the area between of LZ Stinson BS 538 824 and highway QL-1 on 31 March 1971.  In that area the Viet Cong bitterly contested the land clearing and road building efforts of the engineers.  Often the accompanying infantry forces suffered multiple casualties from the booby traps apparently intended for the engineers.  The engineers and infantry troops were victims of their success -- remaining parcels of land were often heavily booby trapped.

From 1 August 1970 to 31 March 1971, the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing) operated from seven different locations in the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry area of operations.  They cleared 17,22 acres of vegetation.  They also destroyed 13,486 meters of tunnel, 2,730 meters of trench, and 206 bunkers. A significant quantity of munitions were also destroyed:  19 hand grenades and 60mm mortar rounds; 19 of the 80mm and 81mm mortar rounds; nine 105mm artillery shells; six 155mm artillery shells; two 175mm rounds; 6 bombs; and, 38 mines of various sizes.

A heartfelt "thanks" is due to the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing).  Their efforts undoubtedly saved the lives and limbs of many soldiers in the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry during 1970-71.