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Page 98(The 1st VC Again- Operation HARVEST MOON )  

CHAPTER 7

The 1st VC Again- Operation HARVEST MOON

The Abandonment of Hiep Duc-Activation of Task Force DELTA and Planning the Operation-The VC Strike and the Marines Are Committed-The Search of the Phouc Ha Valley-The Fight at Ky Phu-The Wrap-Up

The Abandonment of Hiep Duc

In November, the 1st VC Regiment, obviously recovered from the beating received during Operation STARLITE, attacked the South Vietnamese outpost located at Hiep Duc, 25 miles west of Tam Ky.* This district capital, situated on the headwaters of the Song Thu Bon, was the western gateway to a fertile mountain valley which later became known to Marines as the Nui Loc Son Basin, named for a rugged, narrow hill that protrudes from the center of the valley floor. Also known as the Que Son Valley, the broad, heavily populated expanse of farm land constituted one of the more strategic areas between Da Nang and Chu Lai. During the northeast monsoon season, heavy rain clouds shrouded the valley and its western approaches, thus allowing the enemy freedom of movement without being observed from the air.

On the evening of 17 November, the enemy regiment, with all three of its battalions, the 60th, 80th, and 90th, overran the small Regional Force garrison. Enemy units were identified later from captured documents and by interrogation of a VC defector. Hiep Duc District leaders reported 174 of the 433 defenders missing and 315 weapons lost.

Soon after reports reached Da Nang of the loss of Hiep Duc, F-4B Phantoms from MAG-11 and A-4 Skyhawks from MAG-12 arrived over the outpost and conducted strikes against enemy positions in the surrounding hills. At the same time, the two helicopter groups, MAG-16 and MAG-36, prepared to helilift two South Vietnamese battalions into the battle area.

Colonel Thomas J. O'Connor, the MAG-16 commander and airborne coordinator for the operation, Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Zitnik, the commander of VMO-6, and the South Vietnamese infantry commander made an early morning reconnaissance flight over the fallen base on 18 November ''to look over the area and select a landing zone.'' O'Connor remembered as they looked down:

The area was ominously quiet. We didn't see a living soul. There was much evidence of the fight the day before. The typical triangular-shaped French fortification in the village had been penetrated in several places. There were several corpses hanging on barbed wire around a few of the outposts across the Song Thu Bon.1

In their search for a suitable landing zone, the three officers rejected a rice paddy about 500 meters north of Hiep Duc because of the potential of an enemy ambush. Instead, the South Vietnamese commander selected a small hill, about 80 meters high, 700 meters southeast of the village. With this decision made, the three returned to Tam Ky where the transport squadron commanders were organizing the lifts to Hiep Duc.

The site chosen for the landing zone would create problems. It was quite small and could only accommodate two helicopters at one time. Furthermore, the hill on which the landing zone was situated was the western end of a ridgeline stretching


* Colonel Wyckoff, remarked in his comments on the draft that he was unconvinced that the 1st VC ever recovered from STARLITE. He believes that its 'resurgence as a fully active unit was the result of reinforcement by North Vietnamese Regulars.' Colonel Wyckoff recalled message traffic at the time in which the VC main forces were 'notifying the local guerrillas to stick it out on their own until help came down from the north; that their current role was to be assistance to the main force, not vice versa.' Col Don P. Wyckoff, Comments on draft MS, dtd 160ct76 (Vietnam Comment File).

 

 

Page 98(The 1st VC Again- Operation HARVEST MOON )