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drew, their position rendered untenable by the A-6A Intruders of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.16*

With Thuong Duc temporarily safe, but still surrounded, General Youngdale moved to lift the siege, assigning Colonel Beckington's 7th Marines the task. For Operation Maui Peak, Youngdale gave Becking-ton control of the 7th Marines' own 3d Battalion and BLT 2/7 (still the SLF battalion, but temporarily under the operational control of the 7th Marines), and the 2d and 3d Battalions, 5th Marines. General Cushman placed one brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division on six-hour standby to reinforce, and General Lam assigned four ARVN battalions to operate in coordination with the Marines.17**

On 1 October, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines was conducting operations along the southern bank of the Thu Bon River in the An Hoa sector and Company G had engaged a small enemy force near the river edge. Lieutenant Colonel James W. Stemple later related that in the middle of this firefight he received orders from the 5th Marines that he was being attached to the 7th Marines for a new operation and that he should prepare his battalion for immediate helicopter movement to Hill 65, about 15 kilometers east of Thuong Duc. Immediately detaching from the engagement, the battalion consisting of Companies E and G, and Company A from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, arrived at Hill 65 about 1300. At that point, Stemple remembered he was told to report to Colonel Beckington at the 7th Marines command post on Hill 55. After some delay to obtain a jeep, he arrived in time to attend the 7th Marines briefing for the operation. Stemple later observed that he was not too inspired when one of the briefing officers remarked, "I don't know how we are going to support this operation; I guess we'll play it by ear."18

According to Stemple, the concept of operations called for his battalion to secure not only Hill 65, but also Hill 52, only six kilometers from Thuong Duc, before nightfall. Upon his return to Hill 65 and maintaining an outpost there, the battalion moved out in a column of companies following Route 4. With an attached engineer platoon from the 1st Engineer Battalion assisting in the detecting and clearing of antipersonnel, antivehicle, and antitank mines, the battalion arrived at Hill 52 about 1630. In taking the hill, the Marines captured one prisoner from the 141st NVA Regiment.19

While the battalion gained a measure of control over Route 4, which was the only road available for ground resupply, Lieutenant Colonel Stemple vaguely recalled that an enemy road mine accounted for at least one Marine vehicle. During the next four days, artillery units of the 3d Battalion, 11th Marines and Army 175mm guns of the 4th Battalion, 8th Field Artillery took up firing positions at Hills 65 and 52. The 3d Battalion, 7th Marines moved into the area between the two hills, guarding the road and freeing the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines to direct its efforts westward, toward the enemy.

On the morning of 6 October, attack aircraft and B-52s began bombarding landing zones in the hills surrounding Thuong Duc.*** At the same time, the 2d


* About mid-July, III MAF intelligence officers reported that captured enemy documents indicated that a new regiment, the 141st NVA Regiment, 312th NVA Division, was operating in Quang Nam Province. The first prisoner from the regiment was captured on 5 September, and stated that the regiment had been activated in North Vietnam in 1966. It left North Vietnam in January 1968 and arrived in western Quang Nam about the end of May. In mid-September, the 21st NVA Regiment, 2d NVA Division had moved up from Quang Tin Province into southern Quang Nam. According to a Marine intelligence analysis of 15 September, three North Vietnamese Regiments, the 31st, 21st, and 141st, were in position to pose a threat to Thuong Duc. In the attacks on the Special Forces Camp on 28-29 September, the allies captured prisoners from both the 21st and the 141st. See: III MAF PerIntRep No. 30-68, dtd 28Jul68, p. A-44, in III MAF PerIntReps, 14Jul-31Aug68; III MAF PerIntRpts, No. 37-68, dtd 15Sep68, pp. 4 and B-3, and No. 40-68, dtd 8Oct68, p. B-3, in III MAF PerIntReps, lSep-12Oct68. Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, who as a captain in September 1968 assumed command of the 13th Interrogation and Translation Team assigned to the 5th Marines, remembered that when he arrived at An Hoa, he "immediately formed sub-teams of one officer, one NCO, and one ARVN each and sent them to the bush with the three infantry battalions of the 5th Marines." Bartlett recalled that the 5th Marines in September captured a North Vietnamese private whose interrogation revealed that he was from the 141st NVA Regiment, but that intelligence officers from the 1st Marine Division refused to accept that he was from that regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Bartlett faulted the Marine intelligence system in the 1st Marine Division for "failure to get the word down to the subordinate units, reluctance to believe anything unless it was supported by 'usually reliable sources' (intercepts by radio battalion or counter-intelligence agent report), and unwillingness to change an opinion or assessment once it was determined." LtCol Merrill L. Bartlett, Comments on draft, dtd 8Nov94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Bartlett Comments.

** There is also some confusion about the allied supporting forces. Although some sources indicate that the only ARVN units participating were the 1st and 2d Battalions, 51st Regiment, others note that two ARVN Ranger battalions were in reserve. Also, where 1st MarDiv FragO 405-68 specifies a brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division on standby, 1st MarDiv ComdC, Oct68, p. 21 claims that it was a brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.

*** Colonel Stemple remembered that several bombs from one of the B-52s, "fell short of their objective with two bombs landing in the E/2/5 area to the rear of Hill 52." Fortunately there were no Marine casualties and the rest of the errant bombs fell harmlessly into the river. Col James W. Stemple, Comments on draft, n.d. [1995] (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Stemple Comments.



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