The 199th Infantry Brigade
Written By: Patrick Feng
The 199th Infantry Brigade is most notable for its participation in combat operations during the Vietnam War. However, the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company traces its lineage to its initial activation on 24 June 1921 in the Organized Reserves and its assignment to the 100th Division at Huntington, West Virginia. Converted and redesignated as the 100th Reconnaissance Troop, 100th Infantry Division, on 23 February 1942, it was reorganized as the 100th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and entered active service on 15 November 1942.
As part of the 100th Infantry Division, the 100th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop arrived in Marseilles, France, on 20 October 1944 where it took part in the Rhineland campaign, in the Vosges Mountains region of France, from November through December 1944. It also saw action during the German Ardennes counteroffensive near the French town of Bitche in Lorraine from December 1944 through January 1945. Renewing the offensive toward Germany, the division took Bitche on 16 March 1945. Capturing the towns of Neustadt and Ludwigshafen, the division reached the Rhine River on 24 March. Crossing the Rhine on the 31st, the 100th moved toward Stuttgart, where it mopped up the last remnants of German resistance in the area along the Neckar River throughout April 1945.
The 100th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop remained in Germany after the war ended as part of the occupation forces. It was redesignated as the 100th Mechanized Reconnaissance Troop in September 1945. Returning to the United States in January 1946, the troop was inactivated at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. It remained an element of the 100th Infantry Division throughout the late 1940s and 1950s in the Army Reserve. It was reorganized and redesignated as the Antitank Platoon, 100th Airborne Division, on 31 August 1950. On 12 May 1952, it was redesignated as the 100th Reconnaissance Company. When U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated to a major ground commitment in 1965, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 199th Infantry Brigade, was reconstituted from the 1st and 2d Platoons, 100th Reconnaissance Company, 100th Infantry Division, on 23 March 1966.
The brigade was activated on 1 June 1966 at Fort Benning, Georgia, as the 199th Infantry Brigade (Light), with emphasis on counterinsurgency operations and mobility. The 199th later became known as the “Redcatchers” for its mission objective—to seek out and destroy Communist cadres in Vietnam. The brigade was comprised of 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry; 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry; and 4th and 5th Battalions, 12th Infantry, which formed the backbone of the brigade. Artillery, cavalry, and support units included 2d Battalion, 40th Artillery (105mm howitzer); Troop D, 17th Cavalry (Armored); 87th Engineer Company; Company F, 51st Infantry (Long Range Patrol), and Company M, 75th Infantry (Ranger); 7th Support Battalion; and 313th Signal Company.
After six months of intensive training at Fort Benning and Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the brigade arrived in Vietnam on 10 December 1966 and primarily operated from the vicinity of Long Binh, north of Saigon, in III Corps Tactical Zone. In January 1967, the 199th took part in Operation FAIRFAX with elements of the 5th Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Ranger Group in Gia Dinh province, the region around Saigon, with the objective of enhancing security and clearing Viet Cong (VC) resistance and strongholds in the area. The brigade saw its first casualties in the initial month of the operation when a company from 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, was caught in an ambush in the Thu Duc district of Saigon. During an operation in August, the commander of the 199th, Brigadier General John F. Freund, who had just replaced Brigadier General Charles W. Ryder, Jr., in March, was wounded and replaced by Brigadier General Robert C. Forbes, who had been chief of staff of II Field Force.
The most significant action of the year for the 199th occurred on 6 December, five miles north of the village of Tan Uyen, when elements from Company A, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, located a battalion-sized Viet Cong base camp thirty-five miles northeast of Saigon. After suffering heavy casualties, two of Company A’s platoons, with assistance from elements of 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, and Troop D, 17th Cavalry, launched a counterattack that resulted in sixty-seven VC casualties. The brigade also saw its first Medal of Honor recipient, which was awarded to Chaplain (Captain) Angelo J. Liteky, who carried over twenty men to safety and administered last rites to the dying while under heavy enemy fire, in spite of wounds to his neck and foot. First Lieutenant Wayne Morris of 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, received the Distinguished Service Cross.
When Operation FAIRFAX concluded in December 1967, General William C. Westmoreland, commanding general of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), ordered the 199th deployed to Bien Hoa to support Operation UNIONTOWN in War Zones C and D in Dong Nai province. Supported by elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the brigade was tasked with clearing all VC and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) elements in the area. However, on the evening of 30 January 1968 and into the early morning hours of 31 January, the VC and NVA launched the Tet Offensive against allied bases and outposts throughout South Vietnam. Enemy mortar and rocket barrages hit the 199th and II Field Force headquarters at 0300 at Long Binh and Bien Hoa Air Base. Colonel Frederic E. Davidson, the deputy brigade commander, a veteran officer who saw combat in Italy during World War II, organized the defense of the compound in place of Brigadier General Forbes, who was on leave. For his coolness under fire and attention to his men, Davidson was affectionately known as “the old man” by the soldiers of the brigade.
Immediately following the barrage, elements of the 274th and 275th VC Regiments launched a number of assaults along the entire II Field Force/199th perimeter. In the first fourteen hours of the attack, the 199th accounted for over 500 enemy casualties. Elements of the 199th, including 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry; 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry; Troop D, 17th Cavalry; and 2d Battalion, 40th Artillery, as well as elements from the 11th Armored Cavalry, launched a counteroffensive to dislodge enemy fighters from the village of Ho Nai, which was adjacent to the 199th’s main base at Camp Frenzell-Jones. With the support of air strikes, artillery fire, and helicopter gunships, the 199th managed to wipe out enemy resistance from the village in three days of heavy fighting. In the Long Binh/Bien Hoa complex, the 199th inflicted approximately 900 VC casualties, at the cost of nineteen killed and 158 wounded. The brigade also captured a large cache of Russian and Chinese-made weapons.
As the fighting intensified around the Saigon/Long Binh/Bien Hoa area on 31 January, the brigade’s 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, was flown into Saigon’s Cholon district to retake Phu Tho Racetrack from VC units that had infiltrated the capital. The VC were dug in and used the racetrack’s structures as a command post during the fighting. Arriving in Cholon at 0800, Company A, 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, was ambushed six blocks from the racetrack and had to clear enemy resistance block-by-block as they proceeded to the racetrack. After the initial assault was repulsed, the battalion renewed its attack at 1630 with support from helicopter gunships. After eight hours of intense fighting, the track was retaken. For the next several days following its recapture of the racetrack, the battalion proceeded to clear remaining VC guerrillas from Cholon. Contrary to the jungle warfare that the brigade had experienced prior to the Tet Offensive, the fighting in Cholon resembled the urban fighting in Germany in the final months of World War II as the soldiers of 3-7 Infantry were engaged in bitter close-quarter, house-to-house fighting. Cholon was finally cleared of VC resistance by 7 March, but sporadic fighting in Saigon continued for the rest of the month.
In the months following the Tet Offensive, the 199th continued to clear enemy forces throughout III Corps Tactical Zone, including the Saigon area and the southern part of War Zone D. The brigade also saw action at the Cambodian border, west of Tay Ninh. The brigade was again deployed to defend Saigon when the NVA launched a new offensive on the South Vietnamese capital in May 1968. For several days, the units of the 199th were engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the year against NVA regulars of the 271st, 272d, and 273d NVA Regiments, and VC guerrillas of the 8th Local Force Battalion. By the time NVA and VC units withdrew in the early hours of 14 May, the 199th accounted for approximately 550 enemy casualties and seventy-one detained, while losing nineteen in the entire brigade.
For its role in the defense of Saigon during and the months following the Tet Offensive, the 199th received a Valorous Unit Award for extraordinary heroism as well as a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry from the South Vietnamese government. Davidson was later promoted to brigadier general on 15 September 1968 and assigned to command the 199th by General Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., the new commander of MACV, making him the third African American general officer in the history of the U.S. armed forces and the first to lead white troops into combat.
Following the May offensive, the 199th focused on securing the area to the south and west of Saigon for the remainder of the year, encountering sporadic enemy resistance from elements of the 5th and 7th VC Divisions during what the brigade called the “Pineapple and Rice Paddy War,” named for the large pineapple plantation and surrounding rice fields that stretched from the western edge of the Saigon area to the Cambodian border. During this phase of its deployment, the brigade conducted reconnaissance-in-force operations, destroying enemy bunkers and supply caches as well as interdicting VC and NVA soldiers trying to infiltrate the area. In one operation on 18 September 1968, the brigade uncovered a large enemy supply depot containing fifty-five gallon drums of weapons and ammunition, 2,600 pounds of rice, and three fully equipped hospitals. Subsequent patrols also resulted in the destruction of over 200 enemy bunkers and outposts in the area.
The 199th continued its operations in the “Pineapple” region into the early 1969, rooting out NVA/VC units and supplies. In January, the brigade managed to capture and destroy several large caches that were crucial to thwarting a renewed NVA offensive during the Tet holiday. Also in February, through the “Chieu Hoi” program, the brigade’s 179th Military Intelligence Detachment, in conjunction with the civil affairs office and South Vietnamese local forces, accounted for the defection and apprehension of over 250 suspected VC, including several high ranking VC officials, from the Saigon region. In March 1969, 5th Battalion, 12th Infantry, managed to kill a senior VC leader in the region, who had been operating in the brigade’s area of operations for over ten years.
In mid-June 1969, the 199th was deployed to the northeast of Saigon, with its major operations centering in Long Khanh province, a sparsely populated region dominated by rubber plantations and areas of heavy jungle. NVA units were known to use the area’s terrain as cover for infiltration routes and resupply on their way to Saigon. Operating in conjunction with the 11th Armored Cavalry and the 18th ARVN Division, elements of the 199th focused on building and occupying outposts in the thick jungle to interdict and engage NVA units, mainly the veteran 33d NVA Regiment as well as the 274th VC Regiment. Their main missions in the province were pacification, elimination, and neutralization of enemy forces, as well as augmenting the fighting capabilities of ARVN units as part of the Vietnamization program, which was well underway in 1969. As a result, combined operations with the 18th ARVN Division, along with Regional and Popular Forces, became the emphasis of the brigade’s deployment in Long Khanh.
Through the summer and fall of 1969, the units of the 199th continued to locate enemy base camps in the dense jungles of Long Khanh. On 5 July, 4-12 Infantry located and destroyed eighty-one bunkers and twenty enemy strongpoints north of Xuan Loc, the provincial capital. 5-12 Infantry located and destroyed an enemy complex of ninety bunkers to the east of Xuan Loc, and also captured a large cache of munitions. In early August, 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry, with the support of elements of the 48th ARVN Regiment, engaged and destroyed a base camp belonging to the 33d NVA Regiment, accounting for the destruction of 133 bunkers and the capture of weapons, ammunition, and food supplies. Another company of 2-3 Infantry, destroyed 123 bunkers to the west of Xuan Loc. Although contact against enemy elements was light and scattered with few casualties, the brigade’s pressure on NVA operational capacity in Long Khanh resulted in the disruption of NVA and VC units in the area and relieved the immediate threat to Saigon.
The brigade remained in its positions to the north and east of Saigon for the majority of 1970. As part of its planned spring offensive to regain the initiative, the NVA and VC stepped up attacks against allied forces. On 1 April, during one of these attacks against a supply escort from Troop D, 17th Cavalry, in the southeast portion of War Zone D, Brigadier General William R. Bond was mortally wounded by an enemy sniper as he arrived to inspect the patrol that had made contact with Communist forces in the area. Bond died of his wound within hours of arriving at a field hospital for treatment, making him the first (and only) commander of the 199th to be killed in action, and the fifth Army general officer to be killed during the Vietnam War.
As enemy activity and movement of troops and materiel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail increased through the spring, in late April 1970, President Richard M. Nixon authorized the joint invasion of Cambodia to destroy NVA/VC supply bases and sanctuaries in the country. The 199th’s 5-12 Infantry; Battery D, 2-40 Artillery; and elements of the brigade’s “Fireball” aviation unit, were attached to 2d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, in preparation for the Cambodian incursion. On 12-13 May, two companies of 5-12 Infantry were involved in heavy fighting against the veteran 174th NVA Regiment at Fire Support Base (FSB) Brown, a few miles over the border in Cambodia, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Several days later, on 21 May, another company of 5-12 Infantry became embroiled in a firefight on Hill 428, several miles northwest of FSB Brown. After several hours of fighting, both sides broke off contact and the company withdrew to FSB Brown. By the end of June, 5-12 Infantry and 2-40 Artillery returned to the brigade at Camp Frenzell-Jones. The invasion of Cambodia was the last major operation for the 199th as the brigade was withdrawn from Vietnam as part of Operation KEYSTONE ROBIN, Increment IV, in late September 1970. After four years of combat in Vietnam, the 199th was inactivated at Fort Benning on 15 October. During the Vietnam War, the brigade took part in eleven campaigns, received five unit decorations, including a Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Republic of Vietnam (RVN) Crosses of Gallantry with Palm, and an RVN Civil Action Honor Medal First Class. Company D, 4-12 Infantry, received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions during the May Offensive in 1968. Four soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor and fifteen earned the Distinguished Service Cross. Overall casualties were 755 killed, 4,679 wounded, and nine missing.
When the 9th Infantry Division was inactivated at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1991, a brigade of the 9th was redesignated the 199th Infantry Brigade (Separate) and remained at Fort Lewis until it was inactivated on 16 July 1992. The brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company was transferred to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command on 9 November 2006 and reactivated on 27 June 2007. The 199th currently serves as a combined arms leadership development formation for new Army officers and noncommissioned officers at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. It is composed of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 11th Infantry; 2d Battalion 16th Cavalry; 3d Battalion, 81st Armor; the Noncommissioned Officer Academy; and the Directorate of Training.