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plosions in fortified villages. The 107mm Mortar Battery from the 3d Battalion, 12th Marines operating with Company M, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines and Battery K, 4th Battalion, 12th Marines provided most of the artillery support for the 7th Marines, firing over 2,400 rounds. *
The ships Orleck, Galveston, and Prichett fired 1,562 rounds in support of STARLITE. One of their most effective fire missions occurred on 19 August when 100 VC were spotted on a beach trying to escape. The destroyer Orleck engaged the target with rapid salvos from her 5-inch guns with excellent effect. In addition, the Orleck sank seven sampans in which VC were attempting to flee.
Close air support provided by Colonel Robert F. Conley's MAG-11 and Colonel John D. Noble's MAG-12 was a vital adjunct to the Marines on the ground. Seventy-five Marine F-4Bs and A-4s from five squadrons flew air support missions, at times dropping ordnance within 50 meters of friendly positions.** The fixed-wing planes of the 1st MAW flew a total of 78 sorties on the first day of the operation and expended 65 tons of bombs, 4 tons of napalm, 523 2.75-inch rockets, and 6,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition. Over 290 sorties were flown during the entire operation.
Colonel Leslie E. Brown, the Wing Operations Officer, recalled:
. . . The Marines were in trouble . . . and our airplanes were literally just staying in the flight pattern and they'd land and rearm and take off and be right back again in a few minutes just dropping and strafing and firing rockets as fast as we could rearm them ... in the three day period, we flew more sorties than in the history of any other attack group before or since, in support of that one operation which took place ... in an area probably about two miles square .... Air control was pretty racy. People were congested and the helicopters were bouncing in and out. Helicopters were being struck and helicopters were burning. So it was a pretty exciting two or three days.17
General Walt later stated:
I was near the front lines when this close air support action was taking place. It was an outstanding professional performance of the highest order. Strafing was done within 200 feet of our pinned down troops and was a very important factor in our winning the battle. I have never seen a finer example of close air support.18
The helicopters of Colonel Thomas J. O'Connor's MAG-16 furnished the infantry with maneuverability and the capability of quick resupply and casualty evacuation. A task force of 24 UH-34s from HMM-361 and -261 escorted by Marine and U.S. Army 'Huey' gunships brought the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines into battle. After the first landings, the eight helicopters from Lieutenant Colonel Mervin B. Porter's HMM-261 returned to Da Nang, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd F. Childers' HMM-361 to carry the burden of resupply and evacuation. Fourteen of Childers' 16 helicopters were hit by enemy fire. After the SLF arrived, Lieutenant Colonel Ewers HMM-163 was able to assume part of the load. During the entire operation, the helicopter squadrons flew over 500 sorties in support of the ground troops.***
Logistics for STARLITE became strained as the operation was extended, nevertheless, every critical demand was met. Major Floyd J. Johnson, the 7th Marines S-4 for the operation, later wrote that Colonel Peatross had directed ' 'that we not maintain
*The Chu Lai artillery group, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Leslie L. Page, established a forward fire direction center (PDC) with Battery K on the northern bank of the Tra Bong. Other Chu Lai artillery units which provided support for the operation were Battery C, 1/12; Battery M, 4/11; the 3d 155mm Gun Battery (SP); and a platoon, two guns, of the 1st 8-inch Howitzer Battery (SP). The 105mm howitzer and 107mm mortar batteries embarked with the SLF were not committed.
**The A-4s were from VMA-214, VMA-225, and VMA-311 while the F-4s were from VMFA-513 and VMFA-342.
*** Colonel O'Connor assumed command of MAG-16 from Colonel King on 7 August. He wrote: ''I left Da Nang about an hour before dawn in a UH-1E, in company with HMM-361 and HMM-261, and flew to the pickup zones west of Chu Lai. At this time MAG-16 was based at crowded Da Nang airfield, and the hazards of getting [the] squadrons airborne and en route to the objective area in darkness were apparent. The flight time to Chu Lai for a helicopter was about 50 minutes." Colonel O'Connor also remarked on the poor marksmanship of the VC gunners: "One feature of battle damage stood out. Most of LtCol Lloyd Childers' helicopters took extensive small arms fire but it was not crippling. Most of the bullet strikes occurred in the tail booms aft of the passengers compartments. This indicated poor training of VC gunners on moving targets. Most of these hits occurred when the helicopters were approaching or leaving landing zones, at airspeeds under 60 knots." Colonel Thomas J. O'Connor, Comments on draft MS, dtd 7Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File). Colonel Mervin B. Porter commented that when his squadron, HMM-261, returned to Da Nang, it "received word of the heavy action and 261 returned to the STARLITE area with all available aircraft and supported operations there until about 2000 or 2030.'' Col Mervin B. Porter, Comments on draft MS, n.d. [Nov 76] (Vietnam Comment File).
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