SAIGON, May 20, 1969 (UPI) - American and South Vietnamese forces today stormed up the slopes of Hamburger Hill under heavy fire from North Vietnamese dug in on the summit and captured the strategic peak on their 12th try.
The battle for the 3,000-foot mountain overlooking A Shau.Valley cost the Americans at least 300 casualties, most of them wounded. A combat officer said it was his toughest fight since World War II.
The final assault by 1,800 Allied troops, including a battered battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, was launched at 10 a.m. today, the 10th day of the battle. It was the 12th time the paratroopers charged up the slopes to try to dislodge the North Vietnamese troops from their fortified bunkers.
U.S. fighter planes, helicopter gunships and artillery pounded the North Vietnamese positions before the final charge, UPI correspondent David Lamb reported from the battlefield.
But the North Vietnamese troops, entrenched in bunkers which had withstood repeated air and artillery strikes, still put up stiff resistance against the American and South Vietnamese troops pushing up the still hillsides, Lamb said.
He said no Americans were reported killed but at least 45 were wounded in the final assault. There was no immediate report on South Vietnamese casualties.
The airborne division which bore the brunt of the fighting since May 11 was estimated to have lost a total of at least 54 dead and 290 wounded in the battle for the hill.
Communist losses were estimated at about 350 dead, U.S. military spokesmen said. An estimated 600 North Vietnamese, two battalions, were believed to have been dug in on the summit.
"All you could see were hands and rifle muzzles sticking out of slits in the bunkers," said Capt. Gerald Harkins, 25, of Springfield, Ohio.
"They sprayed the area and threw hand grenades and we had to get to those bunkers, bunker by bunker."
Hamburger Hill got its nickname because of the blood shed on its 39-40-degree slopes and its battered appearance after 10 days of air strikes and artillery bombardments.
U.S. planes aimed more than 300 tons of bombs at the peak while artillery crows poured in shells.
The hill lies on the southern end of the A Shau Valley, about 375 miles north northeast of Saigon, and about two miles from the border with Laos.
During the fighting, U.S. B52 bombers dropped at least 180 tons of bombs between the mountain and the border, trying to stem the flow of Communist reinforcements and supplies.
Just before the final assault today, a U.S. Army UH1 'Huey' gunship crossed at least two miles into Laos and fired its rockets and minions at a band of about 25 North Vietnamese soldiers moving toward the mountain, named Dong Ap Bia on maps. Officers claimed all of the Communist soldiers were killed.