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US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

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Page 204(The Struggle for Hue)


CHAPTER 12

The Struggle for Hue- The Taking of the Citadel and Aftermath

The Struggle in the Western Citadel-An Estimate of the Situation and Mounting the Offensive-Closing Out Operation Hue City-A Summing Up

The Struggle in the Western Citadel

While the American Marine battalion fought for the Dong Ba tower and painfully inched its way forward, the Vietnamese Marine task force also entered the battle. After several delays, on 13 February, U.S. Navy landing craft ferried the command group and the remaining companies of the 1st VNMC Battalion and the entire 5th VNMC Battalion from the LCU ramp across the Perfume River to the northern landing site. At his Mang Ca headquarters, the 1st ARVN Division commander, General Truong assigned the southwest sector of the Citadel, west of the Imperial Palace, to the Vietnamese Marine Task Force.* According to Truong's concept of operations, the following morning, the task force would pass through friendly forces south of the headquarters and then attack first to the west and then make a left turning movement with the 1st Battalion on the eastern flank and the 5th Battalion on the western.1

As planned, at 0900 on the 14th, the Vietnamese Marines left their line of departure, but both battalions immediately ran into strong enemy forces. From 0930-1200, the 5th Battalion engaged in heavy house-to-house fighting until it reached its first objective. In its sector, the 1st Battalion failed in its mission to secure a small school, stubbornly defended by the NVA.2

According to a South Vietnamese reporter who accompanied the 1st Battalion's 4th Company, a Vietnamese Marine platoon leader, Third Lieutenant Nhut, led his men supported by a tank into a pagoda from which to launch the assault on the school. After a supporting air strike on the enemy positions, Lieutenant Nhut suddenly dashed forward toward an abandoned house, halfway between the school and the pagoda. Enemy automatic fire cut the lieutenant down. The company commander shouted over the radio: 'I never told anyone to charge ahead yet. I told everyone to wait . . . .' He then reported to the battalion commander 'the loss of a 'big child'' [referring to a 'comrade in arms']. During a lull in the fighting, a small group of Marines recovered Nhut's body and equipment. On the helmet was the inscription 'Live beside you, darling, die beside buddies.' The reporter later learned that this was the slogan of the 4th Company. During the 14th, the 1st Battalion took casualties of 9 dead and 24 wounded. Repulsing early morning probes on its positions on the 15th, the 1st Battalion counterattacked and finally captured the schoolhouse that afternoon. In two days of heavy fighting, the two Marine battalions had advanced less than 400 meters.3

To the north of the Vietnamese Marines, the 3d ARVN Infantry Regiment in the northwest sector of the Citadel also met with setbacks. On 14 February, the enemy forces broke out of their salient west of the Tay Loc airfield and cut off the 1st Battalion of the 3d Regiment in the western comer of the Citadel. It took two days for the ARVN to break the encirclement.4

By this time, the enemy also had its problems. On the night of 16 February, the ARVN troops at the 'Alamo' with Lieutenant Wells, monitoring enemy radio frequencies, intercepted a transmission ordering 'an attack of battalion-size reinforcements into the Citadel through the 'west gate' and over the moat bridge.' Wells immediately called upon the Marine 155mm howitzers at Gia Le and all available Navy gunships on station to ''fire for effect' at the on-call targets around the gate and bridge.' According to the Marine lieutenant, the howitzers 'and a 5-inch mount from one of the destroyers responded simultaneously within three minutes and continued firing for approximately 10 minutes.' Lieutenant Wells remembered that after approximately 100 rounds, 'there was


*For purposes of control, Truong had divided the Citadel into six zones or areas ofoperarions: Zone A was the Mang Ca compound; Zone B was the area immediately south of the headquarters and under friendly control; Zone C was in the northwest sector and given to the 3d ARVN Regiment; Zone D was the sector of the U.S. 1st Battalion, 5th Marines; Zone E was the Imperial Palace and grounds still occupied by enemy forces; and the Vietnamese Marine sector was to be Zone F. Pham Van Son, Tet Offensive, pp. 257-58.



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