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CHAPTER l

The Call for Marines

Alert and Realert-Air Retaliation and the Arrival of the HAWKS-Land the Marines-The Landing

 

Alert and Realert

On 22 January 1965, Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, the assistant division commander (ADC) of the 3d Marine Division and a veteran of several amphibious campaigns during World War II, assumed command of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The brigade consisted of two Marine battalion landing teams,* BLTs 1/9 and 3/9, which had been embarked in ships of the Seventh Fleet's Task Force 76 since the beginning of the year in the South China Sea. At this time, the brigade was the U.S. combat force most readily available for deployment to South Vietnam. As General Karch later remarked, 'When the temperature went up we got closer.'1

At this stage of the war the United States was not yet prepared to make the decision to intervene in Vietnam with ground combat units. On 23 January, the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a recommendation by Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific, for a relaxation of the alert status for the 9th MEB. BLT 1/9, then embarked in the ships of Navy Task Group 76.5, 30 miles off Cap St. Jacques, a point 70 miles southeast of Saigon, reverted to a 96-hour reaction time for a landing in South Vietnam while BLT 3/9 resumed normal operations.

Political instability within South Vietnam caused this reprieve to be of short duration. On 22-23 January, Buddhist-inspired antigovemment riots with anti-American overtones rocked Saigon and the former imperial capital of Hue. As a result, the Vietnamese military continued their political version of 'musical chairs' and ousted Premier Tran Van Huong on 27 January. BLT 1/9, which had been on its way to Hong Kong, was diverted first towards a position off Da Nang and then back to its former position off Cap St. Jacques. Arriving at its previous location on the 28th, the battalion stood by to land in Saigon if so directed. BLT 3/9, embarked in the ships of Navy Task Group 76.7, reached its assigned position off Da Nang on 29 January. The South Vietnamese formed an interim government and the Marines returned to normal shipboard routine.

The confusing alert status of the amphibious forces resulting from the unstable conditions in Vietnam was the subject of extensive message traffic between General Westmoreland, Commander, U. S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (ComUSMACV), and Admiral Sharp. On 30 January, ComUSMACV requested that the Seventh Fleet position one amphibious group off Cape Varella within 24 hours of either Da Nang or Saigon. Admiral Sharp only approved a 72-hour alert status for the forward amphibious group, explaining the disadvantages of maintaining a Marine battalion for an extended period of time in amphibious shipping. In an earlier message to the Joint Chiefs, Sharp observed that since August 1964 the amphibious forces had proven, 'we can react quickly as the occasion demands.'2

While still concerned about possible commitment of Marine forces to South Vietnam, the Pacific Command had made arrangements with the Thai Government for combined maneuvers in Thailand. From 26-30 January, General Karch attended a planning conference at Subic Bay for the MEB-size exercise, JUNGLE DRUM III, scheduled to take

 

* Battalion landing team (BLT) is the basic Marine unit in an assault landing. It is composed of an infantry battalion reinforced by necessary combat and service elements. The reinforcements are usually a battery of artillery; a platoon each of trucks (motor transport), tanks, amphibian tractors, reconnaissance, and engineers; and detachments of communications, shore party, beachmasters, medical, and logistical support. Although BLTs are tailored to meet specific needs, the average strength of a BLT is about 1,500 men.

 

Page 3 (The Call for Marines )