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Page 103(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)  

USMC Photo A186244

 Marines from Company E, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines receive a briefing before boarding helicopters during Operation HARVEST MOON. The helicopters wait in the background.

 

the 2d ARVN Division. General Lam, 'a figure familiar to the Marines in his black beret with silver badges, tanker's jacket, and swagger stick,' would establish his operational CP at Thang Binh, while Henderson would locate his near the artillery positions at Que Son.8 The largest combined operation since the arrival of the Marines was about to begin.

The plan for Operation HARVEST MOON/LIEN KET 18 directed the 5th ARVN Regiment, consisting of the headquarters group and 1st Battalion, and the 11th Ranger Battalion, to enter the Que Son Valley along the Thang Binh-Hiep Duc road on 8 December. The objective for the first day was a point south of the village of Que Son, eight miles southwest of Route l. According to allied intelligence sources, the 1st VC Regiment was west of this area; contact was not expected until the second day. On 9 December, Lieutenant Colonel Utter's battalion was to be inserted behind the enemy to force them eastward into the advancing ARVN. Lieutenant Colonel Dorsey's battalion would then be inserted to reinforce Utter's unit when needed.

The VC Strike and the Marines Are Committed

The 5th ARVN Regiment left Thang Binh on schedule with the 11th Ranger Battalion on the right of the road, and the regiment's 1st Battalion on the left. During the first few hours, the advance was uneventful. At 1330 about halfway to Que Son, the ranger battalion was ambushed by the 70th VC Battalion.* The enemy allowed the ARVN to close within 20 meters and then opened fire. In the first 15 minutes of the battle, the rangers lost nearly one third of their personnel and were overrun. According to an American advisor who was with the ARVN force, 'They attacked in a mass and hit us from all sides. . . . People were dropping around us right and left.'9

The badly mauled ranger unit was able to withdraw to a position 1,200 meters to the northwest and


* The 70th, although not organic to the 1st VC Regiment, was attached during this period. IntellRept, End 2, TF DELTA AAR, p. 1-2. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph E. Sullivan, at the time a member of the TF DELTA staff, recalled that information on the Operation was severely restricted. According to Sullivan, the 5th ARVN regimental commander, ' 'was told his mission was to be a routine 'sweep and clear' along highway l to the vicinity of Ky Lam. On reaching the vicnity of Thang Binh, [the regimental commander] was brought to the 'bunker' at Da Nang about 1500 on 7 December and apprised of his actual mission. General Thi warned us not to discuss the operation with any of the ARVN except for a select few in his own headquarters and that of General Lam's. The fact that at 1330, 8 December the llth ARVN Ranger Battalion walked into a prepared ambush is prima facie evidence that if [the regimental commander] was kept in the dark, the commander of the 1st VC Regiment was not.' LtCol Ralph E. Sullivan, Comments on draft MS, dtd 280ct76 (Vietnam Comment File).

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