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avenue of approach to north and south to avoid the TAOR. The Marines countered by setting up ambushes outside the TAOR (with the permission of the CO, 3d Marines and the CG, 1st ARVN Division). The CG, 1st ARVN Division would then arrange to have the TAOR enlarged to encompass these "new operating areas."15

Attacks on the Airfields and Hill 22

Despite the Marines' extension of their TAORs, the enemy still had the ability to mount well-coordinated hit-and-run attacks, similar to the l July Da Nang raid. On the evening of 27-28 October, the VC struck the newly built Marble Mountain helicopter facility on the Tiensha Peninsula and the Chu Lai SATS field.

At Chu Lai, the infiltrators entered the Marine base from the northwest and split into two groups. According to the MAG-12 commander, Colonel Leslie E. Brown, the first knowledge the Marines had of the attack was when they heard machine gun fire and satchel charges blowing up. Brown recalled:

... a couple of the airplanes were on fire, and the sappers had gotten through intact .... they were barefooted and had on a loin cloth and it was kind of a John Wayne dramatic effect. They had Thompson submachineguns and they were spraying the airplanes with the Tommy guns and . . . throwing satchel charges into tail pipes . . . Some went off and some didn't, but the net effect was that the machine gun fire caused leaks in the fuel tanks, so that JP fuel was drenching the whole area .... and in the middle of that, the airplanes were on fire.16

The Marines killed 15 of the force of 20 VC, but not before the attackers had destroyed two A-4s and severely damaged six more. General Karch, the Chu Lai Base Coordinator, remembered that when he arrived ' 'Les Brown . . . was on the scene [and] the armament crews were going up and down the flight line disarming bombs ... I couldn't give Brown too much credit for the job he and his crews did there that night-it was fabulous. "17

The Communist attack on Marble Mountain was larger and better coordinated. A VC raiding party of approximately 90 men quietly assembled in a village just to the northwest of the Marble Mountain Air Facility. Under cover of 60mm mortar fire, four demolition teams struck at the Marble Mountain airstrip and a hospital being constructed by the Seabees. At least six of the enemy, armed with bangalore torpedos and grenades, reached the MAG-16 parking ramp. Colonel O'Connor, the MAG-16 commander, remembered:

I awoke to the sound of explosions shortly after midnight . . . arriving at the group command post, I received a phone call from General McCutcheon. He was warning me that the airfield at Chu Lai had been attacked and to be on the alert. I told him no one was asleep at Marble Mountain, as we had also been under attack for about 15 minutes.18

After leaving the command post, Colonel O'Connor drove to the aircraft parking ramp where ''Helicopters were burning all over ... .VMO-2 was practically wiped out." Before the VC could be stopped they destroyed 19 helicopters and damaged 35, 11 of them severely.* Across the road, much of the hospital, which was nearing completion, was heavily damaged. After 30 minutes, the Viet Cong withdrew, leaving behind 17 dead and four wounded. American casualties were three killed and 91 wounded.19

During the attack, Lieutenant Colonel Verle E. Ludwig's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, south of Marble Mountain, came under small arms fire, but apparently this was a feint designed to fix the unit in its defensive positions. All units at Da Nang went on full alert, but the damage had been done.

The VC attacking forces at both Chu Lai and Da Nang were not ordinary guerrillas. There were indications that these troops were from hardcore main force VC units, although the VC unit which attacked Marble Mountain was better trained than the one which hit Chu Lai. Captain Hoa, the Hoa Vang District Chief, believed that the enemy group which attacked Da Nang was North Vietnamese, but the four prisoners captured by the Marines there came from small hamlets in Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces.20

The enemy had been well equipped for the mission. At Marble Mountain, Marines recovered a considerable stock of fragmentation, concussion, and thermite grenades, as well as three bangalore torpedoes, several Chinese Communist B-40 antitank rockets, and miscellaneous ammunition. The American troops also captured several weapons, a

 

 

*Colonel O'Connor observed that the destruction of the helicopters at Marble Mountain resulted in "a 43 percent loss of division mobility" and that it "put a crimp in division plans for several months afterward." Col Thomas J. O'Connor, Comments on draft MS, dtd 27Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File).

 

 

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