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size=5>CHAPTER 6

size=5>The Evacuation of South Vietnam's Northern Provinces

The Amphibious

Evacuation RVN Support Group-Initial Operations in Vietnamese Waters Military

Sealift Command Operations-Meeting the Needs

The North Vietnamese spring offensive

launched in March 1975 enjoyed a level of success far beyond its commander's

greatest expectations. The utter collapse of resistance in the Central

Highlands, with the flight of thousands of soldiers and civilians to the sea,

followed immediately by a rout of the South Vietnamese forces in Military Region

l came suddenly and unexpectedly. The ensuing chaos reflected the low morale and

the rapidly deteriorating confidence of the South Vietnamese people in their

government and its decisions. The United States reacted to these events by

providing humanitarian assistance to those South Vietnamese fleeing the

Communist onslaught. This assistance took the form of rescuing refugees at sea

and transporting them to areas still under South Vietnam's control. America's

military involvement, including the use of Major General Carl W. Hoffman's III

Marine Amphibious Force, began on 25 March 197 5.'

The Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support

Group

The swiftness with which the situation

in South Vietnam changed and the resultant need for American Marines to assist

in evacuation operations posed some unique and challenging problems for General

Hoffman and his staff. First, the amphibious ships that III MAF needed, known as

ARG Bravo, were not readily available. Second, the battalion that his staff

wanted to send was a thousand miles to the north on the main island of Japan.

The battalion landing team of ARG Bravo, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Loehe's

reinforced 3d Battalion, 9th Marines and its supporting units, already had

deployed to Camp Fuji, Japan, for training. Dependent on ARG Bravo ships for

transportation, BLT 3/9's mobility was severely limited by its ships' movements.

The Navy, anticipating that the battalion would stay on the island of Honshu for

two to three weeks of scheduled training, sent two of the three ships in the

amphibious ready group south to Subic Bay for routine maintenance. When events

unexpectedly went from bad to worse in South Vietnam, BLT 3/9 suddenly faced a

dilemma: how to get to the scene of the action? With the Frederick (LST 1184)

and the Durham (LKA 114) in Subic Bay, the battalion had at its disposal in

Yokosuka harbor only one ship, the Dubuque (LPD 8), and diplomatic sensitivities

made even its use questionable. An agreement between the United States and Japan

precluded the deployment of military units from Japan directly to combat in

Southeast Asia. Considering all these factors, General Hoffman made the decision

to use Okinawa-based Marines instead of BLT 3/9.

On 25 March 1975, the 1st Battalion,

4th Marines received the warning order to support possible evacuation operations

from Da Nang* The battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Hester,

was located at its customary cantonment on Okinawa, Camp Hansen. It had all but

completed its predeploy-ment training in preparation for its scheduled relief in

May of Lieutenant Colonel George P. Slade's 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines.

BLT 2/4, the landing force of the 31st

Marine Amphibious Unit (31st MAU) which Colonel John F. Roche III commanded, was

already on board ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alpha. It had deployed to the

Gulf of Thailand on 28 February in anticipation of the impending order to

execute Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of Phnom Penh.2

Its relief, the 1st Battalion, 4th

Marines, possessed considerable leadership experience in its senior officers and

senior NCOs, almost all of whom were veterans of combat in Southeast Asia. They

led an extremely well-motivated group of junior officers and Marines, all

anxious to join the action. The warning order on 25 March represented that

opportunity, but before the battalion could actually effect the order, it was

modified.

''Lieutenant Colonel Walter J. Wood,

who as a captain commanded Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines during this

period, recalled the events surrounding the issuance of the warning order. He

stated that when the battalion was alerted on 25 March 1975, the battalion

commander immediately called a meeting around 0900 which lasted less than a

half-hour: 'I was instructed that my company would be helilifted to White Beach

at around 1400 for embarkation aboard the USS Blue Ridge. During this brief, my

company's mission was described to me ... we were to embark aboard the Blue

Ridge for immediate departure to Da Nang where we would reinforce U.S.

facilities. We did embark on 25 March but for reasons never explained to me or

since forgotten, the Blue Ridge did not get underway for Vietnam until 27

March.' Wood Comments.





Page 85(Evacuation of South Vietnam's Northern Provinces )