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CHAPTER 3

Formation and Development of III MAF

The Birth of III MAF-The Le My Experiment-Building the Chu Lai Airfield-III MAF in Transition-The Seeds of Pacification-June Operations in the Three Enclaves

The Birth of III MAF

The birth of III Marine Amphibious Force occurred almost simultaneously with the landing at Chu Lai. On 5 May, the Joint Chiefs relayed Presidential approval for the deployment to Da Nang of a Marine 'force/division/wing headquarters to include CG 3d Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.'1 The following day, Major General Collins, who had remained in Vietnam after the Saigon meeting earlier in the month, assumed command of the Naval Component Command and also established the headquarters of the in Marine Expeditionary Force and the 3d Marine Division in Vietnam. The former 9th MEB commander, Brigadier General Karch, resumed his duties as assistant division commander and left for Okinawa to take over the units of the division remaining there. Brigadier General Carl became Deputy Commander, III MAF after the Chu Lai landing.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force became the III Marine Amphibious Force on 7 May. General Westmoreland had recommended to the Joint Chiefs that the Marines select a different designation for their command because the term 'Expeditionary' had unpleasant connotations for the Vietnamese, stemming from the days of the French Expeditionary Corps. The Joint Chiefs of Staff asked the Commandant, General Greene, to come up with another name. Although a III Marine Amphibious Corps had existed in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and was a logical choice for the name of the new Marine organization in Vietnam, several of the Commandant's advisors believed that the Vietnamese might take exception to the word 'Corps.' Consequently, General Greene chose the title in Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) for the Marine forces in Vietnam and extended this revision to the Marine brigades.2

One other major headquarters arrived at Da Nang during this period. On 11 May, Major General Fontana established a forward headquarters of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Vietnam (1st MAW Advance). Four days later, his Da Nang headquarters assumed command of all Marine aviation in the country. The Marine division/wing team was in Vietnam.

The expanded Marine force operated under guidelines provided by General Westmoreland. In his letter of instruction to General Collins, the MACV commander outlined the general mission of the Marines. They were directed to coordinate the defense of their three bases with General Thi; to render combat support to the South Vietnamese; to maintain the capability of conducting deep patrolling, offensive operations, and reserve reaction missions; and, finally, to carry out any contingency plans as directed by ComUSMACV.3

The U.S. relationship with the Vietnamese military was a sensitive one. Since the Americans were the guests of the Vietnamese, they could offer advice to their allies, but could not compel action. Means had to be devised so that the two military forces could cooperate, but remain independent entities.

General Westmoreland elaborated further on this relationship between the U.S. and South Vietnamese commands in a message to Admiral Sharp. According to the MACV commander the requirement was for cooperation and agreement among senior commanders of different nationality groups. One of General Westmoreland's more intriguing phrases was that of 'tactical direction.' In actuality it was identical to operational control, but the general explained that tactical direction was a more palatable term to the Vietnamese. Westmoreland warned: 'U.S. commanders at all levels

 

 

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