Destroyed PT-76

One of the two PT-76s destroyed in the attack on Ben Het in 1969. Don Starry/U.S. Army Photo.

March 3, 1969, NVA PT-76s spearheaded a night attack by the 66th Regiment on the American Special Forces camp at Ben Het, which hosted a battery of enormous M107 175-millimeter self-propelled guns.

A platoon of three Pattons from B Company of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment guarded the camp, entrenched in sandbag positions on the perimeter along with two M42 Duster anti-aircraft vehicles. Hearing tanks approaching late at night, the lead M48 turned on its one-million-candlepower searchlight.

Abruptly, one of four approaching PT-76 detonated an anti-personnel mine, revealing the silhouetted tanks in the explosion’s afterglow. The night erupted as the American and Vietnamese tanks exchanged armor-piercing shells. One Patton destroyed a PT-76 on its second shot.

Meanwhile, company commander Capt. John Stovall was perched on the turret of the command tank, illuminated by its Xenon spotlight, when a 76-millimeter round struck the vehicle, blasting Stovall and the tank commander off the turret and killing two of the crew. Relief tank crews quickly took their place and brought the Patton back into action.

The American firebase called in 81-millimeter mortar strikes and AC-47 gunships, while the M48 expended all of their anti-tank shells and switched to high explosives. Finally, a second platoon of Pattons relieved the base, causing the NVA to withdraw. The following morning, U.S. troops found two destroyed PT-76s and a BTR-50PK on the perimeter of the camp. This marked the only engagement between U.S. and North Vietnamese tanks during the Vietnam War.
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