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US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

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Page 414(Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ )


CHAPTER 21

Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ

The Situation in September-Operation Maui Peak-The End of Mameluke Thrust and Renewed Attacks on Da Nang-Operation Meade River-Operation Taylor Common

The Situation in September

Following the failure of the Communist 'Third Offensive' in late August, III MAF forces in southern ICTZ pursued enemy forces, attempting to defeat them in detail, until Typhoon Bess brought most offensive operations to a halt. During the first week in September, 60-knot winds and 20 inches of rain battered the Da Nang area. Rivers swelled, flooding low-lying areas and carrying away bridges. Trenches and bunkers collapsed, mud slides closed Route 1 over Hai Van Pass, and aircraft remained grounded. In consolation, III MAF Marines had the satisfaction of knowing that the typhoon brought misery to the enemy, as well, flooding their many underground caches of food and arms.1*

In the wake of the typhoon, III MAF forces underwent major organizational changes. On 10 September, the 27th Marines redeployed to the United States following seven months of combat in Vietnam, reducing by three the number of infantry battalions available to General Cushman. Colonel Robert G. Lauffer's 1st Marines, under the operational control of the 3d Marine Division since late March returned at the end of August and early September to the 1st Marine Division and relieved the 27th Marines. The 2d Light Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion, based near Chu Lai, which had stood ready to engage enemy aircraft since September 1965, but had never fired one of its HAWK missiles in anger, prepared for redeployment to the U.S. Operation Houston ended on 12 September, after more than six months during which the 5th Marines, and then the 26th Marines, kept Route 1 open between Phu Bai and Da Nang, killing a reported 702 enemy in the process. As Houston ended, XXIV Corps units assumed control of the area around Phu Bai, allowing General Youngdale to dissolve Task Force X-Ray and move the 26th Marines south to the Da Nang TAOR.2**

While III MAF realigned forces, the enemy began recovering from the effects of the typhoon and the defeat of the Third Offensive, albeit the recovery was somewhat slow. At the same time, the Communists maintained pressure through small-scale terrorist and sapper attacks. In one small, but spectacular incident, an enemy sapper, using a bamboo reed as a snorkel, swam through heavy debris clogging the Vinh Dien River to place an explosive charge under the Tu Cau Bridge. The Marines guarding the bridge saw the sapper and took him under fire, but could not stop the attack. The charge exploded, damaging a 28-meter section of the bridge and closing it to vehicles.3

Southwest of Da Nang, Operation Mameluke Thrust continued, with the 5th Marines conducting offensive operations in the Arizona Territory and the An Hoa area, and the 7th Marines resumed offensive operations north of Go Noi Island immediately following the typhoon. On 14 September, Lieutenant Colonel Francis X. Quinn, the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines commander, sent two of his companies, L and M, to establish blocking positions in support of an ARVN operation in the 'Dodge City' sector outlined by the Thu Bon, Ai Nghia, and La Tho Rivers. As Company L started to move into its blocking position about 4,000 meters south of Hill 55, it came under automatic weapons and small arms fire as well as a mortar barrage from a Communist force of unknown-size, well-entrenched in concealed bunkers. In the ambush, the Marine company suffered heavy casualties, reporting 1 known dead, 21 wounded, and 4 Marines missing in action (MIA). Reinforced by Company M, Company L 'returned fire and tried to retrieve the MIAs, but [were} unable to do so.' Pulling back to more defensive positions, the two Marine companies called upon supporting artillery and airstrikes as the fighting continued into the night. The Marines did capture one North Vietnamese prisoner who identified his unit as the D-3 Sapper Battalion.4

During the early morning hours of the 15th and under the cover of darkness. Lieutenant Colonel Quinn brought up his command group and newly attached


* See Chapters 19 and 20 for accounts of the havoc that Typhoon Bess caused at Da Nang and in the DMZ respectively.

** See Chapters 19 and 20 as well about the departure of the 27th Marines and the arrival of the 1st Marines at Da Nang.



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