Page 107

  Page 107 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

 

and captured the presidental palace. Four Vietnamese Marines were killed and 12 wounded during the battles in Saigon. No U.S. Marines were involved in the fighting as Lieutenant Colonel Noren directed his subordinate advisors to remain in their quarters. When the situation stabilized, the advisors rejoined their units and resumed their normal duties.

Combat operations against the Communist guerrillas resumed for the Vietnamese Marine Brigade in the second week of November. Accompanied by its U.S. Marine advisor. Captain James P. McWil-liams, the 3d Battalion initiated a search and clear operation in III Corps in conjunction with the llth ARVN Regiment on 10 November. The next day the Vietnamese Marines clashed sharply with a substantial Viet Cong force west of My Tho and suffered six killed and 21 wounded. Nineteen enemy bodies were found on the battlefield along with four weapons, several grenades, and some documents. McWilliams, respected by his fellow advisors for his candid and forthright assessments, later recalled that such encounters were the exception rather than the rule. "While the Vietnamese Marines were individually good fighters and showed tenacity in most cases against forces that would stand and fight, this was not the nature of the conflict," he lamented. More often than not, McWilliams went on to explain, the highly mobile Viet Cong could elude the larger, more cumbersome government units.2

On 14 November, the same day that the combined Marine-ARVN operation in III Corps terminated, the Vietnamese Marine command formed a provisional regiment to control operations DAI-PHONG 28 and 29, which were to be conducted concurrently in the same general area. Composed of the 1st and 3d Battalions, and a 75mm pack howitzer platoon, the Marine force searched until 21 November for Viet Cong units thought to be in Binh Duong Province but with discouraging results. Only one enemy was killed, two prisoners taken, and three weapons captured at the expense of five dead and 13 wounded Marines.

A week later the 2d Battalion, now advised by Captain Joseph N. Smith, fought a more typical action while participating in Operation DAI-PHONG 30. The battalion commander, Captain Nguyen Thanh Yen, received orders for the operation during the early morning hours of 25 November. Shortly after daybreak nearly 550 Vietnamese Marines boarded trucks at their camp near Thu Due for the trip to Bien Hoa airfield. Upon arrival, officers from III Corps headquarters informed Captain Yen that his battalion was to conduct a heliborne assault against Hoi Dong Sam, a Viet Cong-held village in western Hau Nghia Province just west of Saigon. The purpose of the operation was to intercept a guerrilla force which had overrun the nearby Hiep Hoa Special Forces camp the previous day and had taken several American prisoners. The enemy unit was believed to be using Hoi Dong Sam as a way station while attempting to escape across the Cambodian border.3

The operation began at about 0800 when eight U.S. Army H-21 "Flying Bananas" from the 145th Aviation Battalion helilifted Captain Smith, a Vietnamese company commander, and his 90-man assault force from Bien Hoa. Eight Army UH-1B gunships and a U.S. Air Force 0-1B Bird Dog observation aircraft escorted the transport helicopters on the 20-minute flight to the objective area. The gunships were put to use almost immediately when Communist .50 caliber machine gun fire erupted from a treeline at the eastern edge of the village. Under the suppressive fire of the UH-lBs, the first wave of H-21s landed the assault force in some partially flooded rice paddies about 700 meters east of the Viet Cong positions. The Marine assault force quickly deployed into a treeline on the western edge of the landing zone. From this position the company began returning fire with rifles and .30 caliber machine guns. The Air Force forward air controller (FAC) overhead in the 0-1B and the Army gunships prevented the enemy from withdrawing across the open rice paddies which surrounded the objective on the north, south, and west.

The distance between the assembly area at Bien Hoa and the landing zone combined with the scarcity of transport helicopters to slow the progress of the helilift. The landings continued at 40-minute intervals while the UH-1B gunships teamed with the Vietnamese Marine assault force to suppress the enemy's fire. The last elements of the battalion were finally landed about two hours after the initial assault. Largely because of the effective suppressive fires from the air and ground, no aircraft were hit during the helilift.

 

Page 107 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)