Places to go – The Chokes

Our ride from the Ban Loboy Ford will go back down Route 912 to the junction with Route 911. This is where the two routes join with Route 91 leading to Tchepone (Xepon). The area of the junction was an obvious chokepoint for almost everything that made it through the Mu Gia and Ban Karai pass areas.

Although there were many natural “choke points” on the HCMT, this is the area pilots always called, “The Chokes.” It was “chokes”… plural… because there were several chokepoints in the area. Right at the R911 – R912 junction, there were three of the “chokes;” “Alpha,” “Bravo,” and “Charlie;” each one to designate a specific area near the junction.

Map of the main routes from the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes going to Tchepone (Xepon)

Click on any of the pics in this post for a larger view. (They will open in another tab.)

The map above shows “The Chokes”. These were the key interdiction points in this area of the HCMT. The mark-ups are provided by Col. Jimmie Butler (USAF Ret). Then Capt. Butler was a FAC with the 23rd TASS at NKP. In his 240 combat missions between Feb 67 and Jan 68, he came to know the area like his own backyard. Col. Butler created this map with mark-ups while at the Air War College. The little x marks on the map are where aircraft went down. Not all losses in the area are marked. According to Col. Butler, “The total number would be many more.”

The map shows two other designations; Foxtrot and Golf. Not shown, Delta and Echo were about equally spaced between “Charlie” and “Fox Trot.” I have found little about Delta and Echo. However, for the other five “chokes,” there is a great deal of information.

Wartime pictures of the chokes tell the story best. I should mention that except where noted, these USAF pics are from Col. Butler’s work. The first pic below is near chokepoint Alpha. The second is the same pic superimposed onto a Google Earth image. Our “Trail” ride will take us there, and we will see what this looks like today.

Choke Point Alpha. Take note of the little “triangle” at the upper left portion of the pic.
Wartime pic superimposed on a Google Earth Image. Note the Lat & Long if you want to use Google to see for yourself what it looks like today.

Of course, the NVA wasn’t going to just let us bomb the chokes at will. AAA in the area damaged and shot down everything it could. There isn’t any information on shoot-downs specifically at “The Chokes,” but suffice to say… a lot.

Recon Pic of guns at Choke Point Alpha. (USAF Photo)

In the above pic, note the North indicating marker in the upper left hand corner. This pic is at the “Y” where the “Pin” is “dropped” in the Google Earth Overlay pic. You can also see that it is the “triangle” I noted in the first pic. Since the pic is showing “probable” 100mm guns, it would have been taken later in the war. The pic below shows the same place today. Notice the bomb craters are still there.

Google Earth Pic today of Chokepoint Alpha Gun site.

 The next pics are at Fox Trot. This is another place where there were massive B-52 bombings. The “before and after” pics show how most trees, vegetation, and jungle were stripped. Notice the little road just to the right of the river in the “before” pic. Even though at least half of the bombs missed, saturation bombing pulverized the road. Following all the bombings, not much was left except dirt and gravel for road repair. Again, the Google Earth pic shows the area.

Before Pic. 16 Jan 66 recon pic of the Namkok River in the area of what would become known as “Foxtrot.”

Notice in the above pic that the Trail can be seen at the bottom of the view. It runs along the river and all the way to the top of the picture. This is about a 1.25 kilometer section of the Trail where trucks were out in the open.

“… during certain seasons of the year, men fought and died every night at Foxtrot. The road was in the open above the river for about 3 miles. When the FACs and Air Commandos were overhead at night, it was a helluva place to try to drive a truck exposed through the length of Foxtrot.”

Col. Jimmie Butler, USAF (ret)
After Pic. Same area of the Namkok River after years of bombing and B-52 missions.
Image of the bombed Namkok River overlayed on a Google Earth image.

Today there is a massive copper and gold mine in the “Charlie” area. A company named MMG Limited owns and operates the mine(s). MMG is a Chinese corporation. Perhaps it was all the bombing that exposed the gold. The bombing pic superimposed on Google Earth clearly shows the area.

Wartime Pic of the Trail near Chokepoint Charlie.
Google Earth view of the Charlie cokepoint pic. Note the alternate routes around the bombed area still visible.
Wartime Pic overlayed on Google Earth inmage. You can clearly see the gold and coper mine areas.

Today there is a massive copper and gold mine in the “Charlie” area. A company named MMG Limited owns and operates the mine(s). MMG is a subsidiary of a Chinese corporation. Perhaps it was all the bombing that exposed the gold. The bombing pic superimposed on Google Earth clearly shows the area.

We’ll spend the day riding trails and seeing what the chokes look like today. They are very protective of the gold mine area, so we’ll tippy-toe past there.

Route 91 leads into Xepon. All along the way, there is still a lot of war scrap and stuff to see as we ride down the Trail. We’ll likely spend the night near Xepon. (I think this will be the end of day 6.)

Next up – Places to go, Xepon.

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