[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical Collection. SS Mayaguez is towed away from
Koh Tang by the USS Harold E. Holt (DE 1074). The Mayaguez
crew was rescued shortly after this, at 1010, by the USS Wilson.
The rescue caused JCS to cancel the operation and the insertion
of the second assault wave until LtCol Austin insisted that
additional forces were needed in order to secure his position.]
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its insertion at Koh Tang. These changes resulted from orders passed to General
Burns via the ABCCC from the highest authority. AJoint Chiefs of Staff message
at 1155 confirmed the earlier communication which, in effect, recalled the
flight* It said, "Immediately cease all offensive operations against Khmer Republic related to seizure of Mayaguez"*''
At approximately the same time Washington was deciding to cease all offensive activity. Lieutenant Colonel Austin was becoming concerned about the delay in the promised buildup offerees on Koh Tang. He contacted the ABCCC to inquire as to the whereabouts of his second assault wave. Upon learning it had been cancelled, he insisted that he still needed them to help secure the island and protect his position. Finally, Austin convinced the ABCCC and General Burns that the operation should not be terminated and that the second wave had to be landed on Koh Tang.** Upon receiving approval for insertion of additional Marines, the airborne mission commander ordered the five helicopters to reverse course and proceed as originally directed. Even though the ground security force commander eventually overcame this command and control problem, the damage had been done; the reinforcements' arrival would be delayed even longer than first feared. The Linkup
To keep a bad situation from getting even worse, Lieutenant Colonel Austin had to link up with his main body, but without incurring additional casual-tics. To accomplish this. Lieutenant Keith and Lieutenant Colonel Austin worked up a plan over the radio. Correctly assuming that the Cambodians had no access to their frequency, Austin and Keith discussed their scheme of maneuver. Keith would attack through his perimeter using Zaies' platoon to drive a wedge between the Cambodian forces, thereby enabling him to penetrate far enough to make contact with Austin.
Certainly there were risks involved in this plan, primarily the chance of a Cambodian counterattack, but something had to be done before Austin's group was overrun. In order to preclude an enemy counterattack and keep them off balance, Austin and Keith devised a method of using supporting fire from tactical aircraft and 81mm mortars. Not only would this prepare the area, it would also keep enemy heads down and delay any offensive they might have in mind. This maneuver appeared far less difficult than it actually was because the 81mm mortars were not with Lieutenant Keith. Instead, Lieutenant Colonel Austin's isolated group contained the mortar section. Bringing
*Admiral Steele recounted his thoughts on this arrangement:
"This complicated, jury-rigged command arrangement and detailed management from
the Joint Chiefs of Staff level endangered and nearly destroyed the forces on
the island." Steele Comments.
**According to Captain Mykle E. Stahl. who was riding in the lead helicopter,
the incident occurred differently. He related that when he noticed the helicopters
change course, he went up to the cockpit and inquired as to what was happening.
Upon learning they had reversed course, he insisted that his Marines had to
land on Koh Tang. He said that after this conversation, the pilots resumed
their original heading to the island. Lieutenant Colonel Mykle E. Stahl, unrecorded
interview, 8 Jun 87.
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