The artillery pounding came in part from Base Area 609, a heavily fortified NVA area. The position was hit by air strikes on the 24th and 25th. But due to an ingenious trick they failed to cause any significant effect: the NVA had mounted its guns on rails, and given each gun a cave into which the artillery piece could be pulled backwards into when danger threatened. The entrance to the cave had blast doors that could also be sealed.
Despite that the artillery emplacements revealed their positions by the muzzle flash when fired, giving the firebase a warning of an incoming barrage. The US tankers also tried to fire long range at Base 609 with concrete piercing shells guided in by spotter aircraft. All this had no effect on the bombardment.
At the beginning of March the bombardment stopped. However at 2200 on the night of the 2nd vehicle movement and engine noises could be heard from outside the wire. Despite using their night vision devices nothing could be seen, and after 20 minutes the sounds ceased. The US intelligence simply dismissed them as bulldozers. A Montagnard patrol later reported a confirmed visual sighting of a tank.
The 3rd of March was very quiet, and life continued as normal. In the evening an observer was directing a Spooky gunship against targets in the vicinity, apart from that there was no firing.
Shortly before 2100, as the night began to draw in it began to get foggy. With limited visibility the Spooky departed for home leaving the valley below Ben Het in quiet.
Meanwhile Mike Linnane, one of the US special forces A-Team members had grabbed his radio and called out to the Spooky that had just left the area.
"You've gotta come back, we have tanks down here!"
"Tanks! TANGO-ALPHA-NOVEMBER-KILO-SIERRA! TANKS!"
After a stunned pause the gunship replied that he was on the way back. When the gunship arrived over the battlefield he began dropping huge amounts of flares to illuminate the area, as well as making attack runs.
Accounts differ, one account says the round hit the glacis plate, another said the loaders hatch. Wherever it hit, both the driver and loader were killed, the tank commander was blown out of his hatch and landed ten feet behind the tank and Cpt Stovall was seriously injured by shrapnel.
Spare tank crewmen from Cpt Stovall's command post had been helping feed the artillery and mortars by heaving shells. When they saw what had happened they raced to the M48's position, and formed a scratch crew to continue to fight the wounded tank.
At this time another tank was brought into action, normally facing a different direction it had been unable to engage the main enemy attack. Again sighting at the muzzle flashes its gunner managed to destroy another NVA tank. As the battle wore on the tanks began to run out of ammunition and were reduced to firing concrete piercing rounds. One APC was spotted and pummelled into oblivion by several of these shells.