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CHAPTER 8

Defending and Expanding the Base Areas

The Evolution of a Strategy-Further Deployments and Realinements-Refinement of Command Relations-Expanding the TAORs-Attacks on the Airfields and Hill 22-Base Defense-Extended Patrolling

The Evolution of a Strategy

During the second half of 1965, the American command in Vietnam began to formulate basic operational concepts for fighting the Vietnam War. With President Johnson's approval of General Westmoreland's request for U.S. reinforcements and for an expanded role for U.S. ground troops, the MACV commander had completed his overall plan for the employment of these forces by the end of August. He divided the war into three phases. The first, to end in 1965, was simply 'commit those American and allied forces necessary to halt the losing trend.' Beginning in 1966, the second phase, allied forces were to take the offensive in selected high priority areas. At an undetermined date, the allied forces were to begin phase three, the total destruction of enemy forces and base areas. For the remainder of 1965, General Westmoreland planned to employ American combat troops 'to protect developing logistical bases, although some might have to be committed from time to time as 'fire brigades' whenever the enemy's big units posed a threat....''1

Based on general directives from ComUSMACV and its own experience gained during this period, III MAF developed a concept of operation for I Corps. Essentially, the Marines stressed the 'oil spot' approach, in which III MAF was to secure its coastal enclaves and gradually extend them as manpower and material became available. The 21 November MACV Letter of Instruction, which superseded the amended 6 May directive, prescribed five missions for III MAF. These were: to defend and secure its base areas; to conduct search and destroy operations against VC forces which posed an immediate threat to these bases; to launch other search and destroy operations against more distant enemy base areas; to extend clearing operations in selected areas contiguous to the major bases; and finally to execute any contingency plan in I Corps or elsewhere in Vietnam as directed by ComUSMACV.2 Given these all encompassing objectives, the Marines produced what they called the 'Balanced Strategy'' to fight the war. Basically it consisted of a counterguerrilla campaign within the TAORs, search and destroy operations against enemy main force troops outside the TAORs, and a pacification campaign within the hamlets to eradicate the VC 'infrastructure' and win the loyalty of the people to the government's cause.*

Although both MACV and III MAF used the same terminology in defining their strategies, by the end of 1965 there was a decided difference in perception as to where the enemy posed the greatest danger. Confronted with the pervasive VC guerrilla strength, especially in the rich and heavily populated rice lands south of Da Nang, General Walt insisted that his first priority was to clear out this region. He recognized the threat of the VC main force units, but he wanted good intelligence before denuding his base area defenses to go after them. General Westmoreland, on the other hand, perceived the growing NVA and VC main force to be the main target for U.S. forces. Brigadier General Karch, General Walt's assistant division commander, recalled that

 

*General Westmoreland has stated that the term search and destroy 'has been fully distorted.' He explained that he adopted the term in 1964 as a 'teaching aid to the South Vietnamese' when he believed the South Vietnamese Army 'was static and the enemy was taking full advantage of the situation.' Search and destroy simply meant offensive operations against enemy main force units. The former MACV commander observed that he dropped the terminology in 1968 when he 'realized that it was being distorted.' Gen William C. Westmoreland, Comments on draft MS, dtd 5Nov77 (Vietnam Comment File).

 

 

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