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Page 0(1968: The Definitive Year)previous pagenext page


U.S. MARINES IN VIETNAM

THE DEFINING YEAR

1968

by

Jack Shulimson

Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol, U.S. Marine Corps

Charles R. Smith

and Captain David A. Dawson, U.S. Marine Corps

HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION

HEADQUARTERS, U.S. MARINE CORPS

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1997

U.S. Marines In Vietnam

The Defining Year

1968

 

Volumes in the Marine Corps Vietnam Series

Operational Histories Series

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1954-1964, The Advisory and Combat Assistance Era, 1977

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, The Landing and the Buildup, 1978

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1966, An Expanding War, 1982

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1967, Fighting the North Vietnamese, 1984

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969, High Mobility and Standdown, 1988

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1970�1971, Vietnamization and Redeployment, 1986

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1971-1973, The War that Would Not End, 1991

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1973-1975, The Bitter End, 1990

Functional Histories Series

Chaplains with Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971, 1985 Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial By Fire, 1989

Anthology and Bibliography

The Marines in Vietnam, 1954�1973, An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, 1974; reprinted 1983; revised second edition, 1985

Library of Congress Card No. 77-604776 PCN 1900031 3900

For sale by the U.S. Government Priming Office

Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328 ISBN 0-16-049125-8

Foreword

This is the last volume, although published out of chronological sequence, in the nine-volume operational history series covering the Marine Corps' participation in the Vietnam War. A separate functional series complements the operational histories. This book is the capstone volume of the entire series in that 1968, as the title indicates, was the defining year of the war. While originally designed to be two volumes, it was decided that unity and cohesion required one book.

The year 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive including Khe Sanh and Hue City. These were momentous events in the course of the war and they occurred in the first three months of the year. This book, however, documents that 1968 was more than just the Tet Offensive. The bloodiest month of the war for the U.S. forces was not January nor February 1968, but May 1968 when the Communists launched what was called their "Mini-Tet" offensive. This was followed by a second "Mini-Tet" offensive during the late summer which also was repulsed at heavy cost to both sides. By the end of the year, the U.S. forces in South Vietnam's I Corps, under the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAP), had regained the offensive. By December, enemy-initiated attacks had fallen to their lowest level in two years. Still, there was no talk of victory. The Communist forces remained a formidable foe and a limit had been drawn on the level of American participation in the war.

Although largely written from the perspective of III MAF and the ground war in I Corps, the volume also treats the activities of Marines with the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force, activities of Marine advisors to South Vietnamese forces, and other Marine involvement in the war. Separate chapters cover Marine aviation and the single manager controversy, artillery, logistics, manpower, and pacification.

Like most of the volumes in this series, this has been a cumulative history. Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol researched and wrote the initial drafts of the chapters on Khe Sanh as well as Chapters 17, 19, and 21 and the account of Operation Thor in Chapter 26. Mr. Charles R. Smith researched and drafted Chapters 16, 18, 20, and 22. Captain David A. Dawson researched and wrote Chapter 27. Dr. Jack Shulimson researched and wrote the remaining chapters, edited and revised the entire text, and incorporated the comments of the various reviewers.

Dr. Shulimson heads the History Writing Unit and is a graduate of the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo. He earned his master's degree in history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan and his doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in American studies. Mr. Smith is a senior historian in the Division and served in Vietnam as an artilleryman and then as a historian with the U.S. Army. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received his masters degree in history from San Diego State University. Lieutenant Colonel Blasiol is an experienced artilleryman and a graduate of Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, with a degree in history, and of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Captain Dawson is an infantry officer now stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and a master's degree in history from Kansas State University, Lawrence, Kansas.

E. H. SIMMONS

Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) Director Emeritus of Marine Corps History and Museums

Preface

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, The Defining Year, 1968 like the preceding volumes in this series is largely based upon the holdings of the Marine Corps Historical Center. These include the official unit command chronologies, after-action reports, message and journal files, various staff studies, oral histories, personal papers, and reference collections. In addition, the authors have used the holdings of the other Services and pertinent published primary and secondary sources. Most importantly, nearly 230 reviewers, most of whom were participants in the events, read draft chapters and made substantive comments. They are listed by name in a separate appendix. While some classified sources have been used, none of the material in the text contains any classified information.

To a large extent, the measurement of this war relied not upon territory occupied, but upon casualties inflicted upon the enemy. In enumerating enemy casualties, the authors are not making any statement upon the reliability or accuracy of these numbers. These are merely the figures provided by the reporting units. They are important in that the U.S. military and national leadership depended in part upon the comparative casualty yardstick to report and evaluate progress in the war.

In any project this large and that involved so many people, the authors are in debt to several of their associates, past and present, in the History and Museums Division. While it is not possible to list everyone, we would be most negligent if we did not thank the following. First, Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, Director Emeritus, provided the vision and backing for the entire series, insisting upon readability and accuracy. Colonel Michael F. Monigan, Acting Director, gave the impetus for final completion of the project. Chief Historian Benis M. Frank, and his predecessor, Henry I. Shaw, Jr., furnished editorial guidance and encouragement. Ms. Wanda J. Renfrow of the Histories Section and Mr. Robert E. Struder, Head of Editing and Design, read the entire manuscript together with Mr. Frank and prevented several minor errors and some embarrassments. Mrs. Cathy A. Kerns, of the Editing and Design Section, typed the photograph captions and the Medal of Honor Appendix. Both Mrs. Kerns and Ms. Renfrow painstakingly inserted the multitudinous entries for the index, carefully checking the index against the text. Finally, Ms. Renfrow patiently and ably made the numerous revisions in the organization of the index. Mr. William S. Hill provided technical direction for both the maps and insertion of the photographs. Ms. Evelyn A. Englander of the library was most helpful in obtaining publications. The Archives staff (under the direction of Fred J. Graboske and his predecessor, Ms. Joyce Bonnett), especially Ms. Joyce M. Hudson and Ms. Amy C. Cohen, cheerfully made their resources available, as did Art Curator John T Dyer, Jr. The Reference Section under Danny J. Crawford was always most cooperative, especially Ms. Lena M. Kaljot, who assisted in the duplication of most of the photographs. A special thanks goes to Lieutenant Colonel Leon Craig, Jr., Head of the Support Branch; his administrative officer, First Lieutenant Mark R. Schroeder; and his enlisted Marines, especially Staff Sergeant Myrna A. Thomas and Corporal Juan E. Johnson, who assisted in that last push for publication.

Both Mr. Struder and Mr. Hill adroitly handled the liaison with the Typography and Design Division of the U.S. Government Printing Office in the layout of the book. Mr. Struder deftly and professionally assisted in the reading of page proofs and Mr. Hill meticulously monitored the preparation of charts and maps. The authors also appreciate the efforts of Mr. Nicholas M. Freda and Mr. Lee Nance of the Typography

and Design Division, Mr. Freda for his careful layout of text and Mr. Nance for the final preparation of all maps and charts.

Finally, the authors want to acknowledge the contributions of former members of the Histories Section who reviewed and commented on several chapters, including Lieutenant Colonels Lane Rogers and Gary D. Solis, Majors George R. Dunham, Charles D. Melson, and Edward F. Wells, and Dr. V. Keith Fleming, Jr.

Special mention and most heartfelt thanks go to various interns who have assisted with the preparation of this volume. Naval Academy Midshipman Third Class Thomas Moninger, who prepared the Chronology of Events, and Maderia School students Ms. Jaime Koepsell and Ms. Sylvia Bunyasi who drafted the initial Command and Staff list. Marine Sergeant Neil A. Peterson, a student at the Citadel, sketched over half of the draft maps used in this volume. James E. Cypher, a senior at Loyola University, in New Orleans, assisted in the tedious but most important final editing of the index. Finally, there was Peter M. Yarbo, who as a student at Johns Hopkins, for over a year, once a week, took the early morning train from Baltimore to Washington, to assist with the project. Peter prepared several of the charts in the appendices, but even more significantly, he did almost all of the photographic research, saw that the photos were duplicated, and made the initial selection of photographs, organizing them by chapter. This book could never have been published at this time without his specific assistance and that of the other interns.

The authors are also indebted to Dr. Douglas Pike, who opened up his Indochina Archives, then located at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, for their examination. Mr. Robert J. Destatte, Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, U.S. Department of Defense, provided a translation of several published Vietnamese documents. Finally our thanks to those who contributed comments on the draft and to our colleagues in the other Defense historical offices, who assisted with their advice and comments. In the end, however, the authors alone assume sole responsibility for the content of the text, including opinions expressed and any errors in fact.

JACK SHULIMSON

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Foreword ................................................... iii

Preface ..................................................... v

Table of Contents ............................................. vii

Map Listing ................................................. xiii

PART I PRE-TET 1968 ........................................ 1

Chapter 1 A Puzzling War ...................................... 2

III MAP January 1968 ....................................... 2

MACV and Command Arrangements ............................ 3

South Vietnam and I Corps .................................... 6

The Enemy ............................................... 9

Focus on the North .......................................... 11

MACV Vis-a-Vis Marines ..................................... 12

An Ambivalent Outlook ...................................... 15

Chapter 2 The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier .................... 18

The 3d Marine Division in the DMZ ............................. 18

The Barrier ............................................... 21

Chapter 3 The War in the Eastern DMZ in Early and Mid-January ........ 32

The NVA in the DMZ Sector .................................. 32

Operation Napoleon ......................................... 37

Kentucky Operations and the Barrier ............................. 40

Operation Lancaster and Heavy Fighting in Mid-January .............. 52

Chapter 4 Khe Sanh: Building Up ................................ 58

The Battlefield ............................................. 58

The Early Days ............................................. 59

Protecting the Investment ..................................... 61

The Isolation of Khe Sanh ..................................... 61

The Decision to Hold ........................................ 65

The Stage is Set ............................................ 68

Sortie to Hill 881 North ...................................... 70

The Enemy Plan Unfolds ..................................... 72

Chapter 5 The 3d Division War in Southern Quang Tri

and Northern Thua Thien, Operations Osceola and Neosho .......... 73

Protecting the Quang Tri Base, Operation Osceola, 1�20 January 1968 .... 73

Operation Neosho and Operations in the CoBi-Thanh Tan,

1-20 January 1968 ....................................... 78

Operation Checkers ......................................... 83

Chapter 6 Heavy Fighting and Redeployment:

The War in Central and Southern I Corps, January 1968 ............ 84

A Time of Transition ........................................ 84

The Da Nang TAOR ........................................ 88

Operation Auburn: Searching the Go Noi ......................... 91

A Busy Night at Da Nang .................................... 97

Continuing Heavy Fighting and Increasing Uncertainty ............... 99

Phu Loc Operations ......................................... 101

The Formation and Deployment of Task Force X-Ray ................. 105

The Cavalry Arrives ......................................... 107

The Changed Situation in the North ............................. 109

PART II THE "TET OFFENSIVE" ............................... 112

Chapter 7 The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ and Southern Quang Tri,

20 January�8 February ..................................... 113

The Cua Viet is Threatened .................................... 113

Adjustment of Forces in Southern Quang Tri Province ................ 118

Heavy Fighting Along the DMZ ................................ 119

A Lull in Leatherneck Square .................................. 126

The Cua Viet Continues to Heat Up ............................. 127

The Battle For Quang Tri City ................................. 133

Tet Aftermath Along the DMZ ................................. 137

Chapter 8 The Tet Offensive at Da Nang ........................... 141

Allied Dispositions .......................................... 141

The Enemy Plans His Offensive ................................ 142

The Attack ................................................ 144

The Fighting Continues ...................................... 149

A Brief Lull and Renewed Fighting .............................. 158

Chapter 9 The Struggle for Hue�The Battle Begins ................... 164

The Two Faces of Hue ........................................ 164

The NVA Attack ........................................... 164

Redeployment at Phu Bai and Marines Go to Hue ................... 168

Chapter 10 The Struggle for Hue�The Second Phase .................. 175

More Reinforcements ........................................ 175

The Beginning of the Advance 3-4 February ....................... 180

Block by Block 5-8 February .................................. 185

Chapter 11 The Struggle for Hue�Stalemate in the Old City ............ 192

A Faltering Campaign ....................................... 192

Going Into the Walled City ................................... 194

The Fight for the Tower ...................................... 199

Continuing the Advance ...................................... 201

Chapter 12 The Struggle for Hue�The Taking of the Citadel and Aftermath . 204

The Struggle in the Western Citadel ............................. 204

An Estimate of the Situation and Mounting the Offensive ............. 205

Closing Out Operation Hue City ................................211

A Summing Up ............................................213

PART III AFTER TET, KHE SAHN, AND MINI-TET ................ 224

Chapter 13 Post-Tet in I Corps ................................... 225

The Immediate Ramifications of the Tet Offensive ................... 225

Readjustment in I Corps ...................................... 227

Readjustments in the U.S. I Corps Command Structure ................ 235

Planning for the Future ....................................... 241

March Operations in the DMZ Sector ............................ 241

March Operations in the Rest of I Corp ........................... 246

Regaining the Initiative ...................................... 250

Chapter 14 The Siege of Khe Sanh ................................ 255

Digging In ................................................ 255

Opening Moves ............................................258

"Incoming!" ............................................... 260

The Fall of Khe Sanh Village ................................... 261

Reinforcement and Fighting Back ............................... 264

Round Two ............................................... 269

The Fall of Lang Vei ......................................... 273

The Intensifying Battle ....................................... 277

Settling the Score ........................................... 282

Operation Pegasus .......................................... 283

Chapter 15 The Battle for Dong Ha ............................... 291

Why Dong Ha? ............................................ 291

The Fight for Dai Do, The First Day ............................. 293

The Continuing Fight for Dai Do ............................... 299

The End of the First Offensive .................................. 304

The Second Offensive ........................................ 307

Chapter 16 Khe Sanh: Final Operations and Evacuation

16 April-11 July 1968 ..................................... 312

To Stay or Not to Stay .......................................312

The "Walking Dead" ........................................ 313

Operation Scotland II ........................................ 316

Operation Robin ........................................... 319

Razing Khe Sanh: Operation Charlie ............................. 323

Chapter 17 Mini-Tet and its Aftermath in Southern I Corps .............. 328

Going into the Go Noi ....................................... 328

Mini-Tet and Operation Mameluke Thrust, May 1968 ................ 336

Operation Allen Brook Continues ............................... 339

Mameluke Thrust Also Continues ............................... 343

PART IV THE WAR CONTINUES: OFFENSIVE AND COUNTER-OFFENSIVE 350

Chapter 18 3d Division Takes the Offensive ......................... 351

The Enemy Situation ........................................351

The Offensive Takes Shape ....................................351

The Eastern DMZ ........................................... 357

The Pressure Continues ....................................... 359

Into the Western Mountains ................................... 364

Southern Quang Tri and Thua Thien ............................. 370

Chapter 19 The Third Offensive: Da Nang .......................... 373

Indicators ................................................. 373

The Storm Breaks ........................................... 375

Counterattack .............................................. 379

Pursuit ................................................... 381

Typhoon Bess .............................................. 383

Chapter 20 Autumn Offensive Halted ............................. 385

A New Orientation .......................................... 385

The Eastern DMZ ........................................... 386

Defeat of the 320th Division ................................... 396

Coastal Quang Tri and Thua Thien: A Shift ........................ 410

Chapter 21 Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ .............. 414

The Situation in September .................................... 414

Operation Maui Peak ........................................ 418

The End of Mameluke Thrust and Renewed Attacks on Da Nang ........ 423

Operation Meade River ....................................... 425

Operation Taylor Common .................................... 437

Chapter 22 The 3d Division's Labors Bear Fruit ...................... 443

Elimination of the Infrastructure ................................ 443

Rough Soldiering ........................................... 450

Thua Thien and the End of the Year ............................. 455

PART V SUPPORTING THE TROOPS ........................... 457

Chapter 23 Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year and

Air Support of Khe Sanh .................................... 458

Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year .......................... 458

Marine Control of Air ........................................ 465

Proposed Changes in Command and Control over

Marine Air; Operation Niagara, January 1968 .................... 471

Operation Niagara and Air Resupply in the Defense of Khe Sanh ........ 475

Chapter 24 A Matter of Doctrine: Marine Air and Single Manager ......... 487

The Establishment of Single Manager ............................ 487

Point, Counterpoint ......................................... 497

The Continuing Debate ...................................... 509

Chapter 25 A Question of Helicopters ............................. 516

Another Debate ............................................516

The Need for Lighter Aircraft .................................. 519

To Keep the Mediums and Heavies Flying ......................... 522

Another Look at Helicopter Air-Ground Relations ................... 526

Chapter 26 Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF ............ 533

Marine Artillery Reshuffles .................................... 533

The Guns in the North ....................................... 537

Mini-Tet and the Fall of Ngog Tavak and Kham Due ................. 541

Operations Drumfire II and Thor�Guns Across the Border ............ 543

Fire Base Tactics ............................................ 548

Marine Reconnaissance Operations ..............................552

Chapter 27 Manpower Policies and Realities ......................... 557

Personnel Turnover .......................................... 557

The Quality Issue and Project 100,000 ........................... 559

Training .................................................. 561

The Search for Junior Leaders .................................. 562

Discipline ................................................ 565

Morale ................................................... 566

The Aviation Shortage ....................................... 569

Filling the Ranks in Vietnam: Too Many Billets, Too Few Marines ....... 571

The Deployment of Regimental Landing Team 27 ................... 572

Reserve Callup? ............................................ 574

The Bloodiest Month, The Bloodiest Year ......................... 575

Foxhole Strength: Still Too Few Marines .......................... 576

The Return of RLT 27 ....................................... 578

The End of the Year ......................................... 579

The Marine Corps and the Draft ................................ 580

The Marine Corps Transformed ................................. 581

Chapter 28 Backing Up The Troops ............................... 582

A Division of Responsibility ................................... 582

Naval Logistic Support ....................................... 586

Marine Engineers ........................................... 588

The FLC Continues to Cope ................................... 592

PART VI OTHER PERSPECTIVES:

PACIFICATION AND MARINES OUTSIDE OF III MAP .......... 595

Chapter 29 Pacification ........................................ 596

Prelude .................................................. 596

The Tet Offensives and Operation Recovery ........................ 604

III MAF and Pacification ..................................... 607

Homicide in the Countryside .................................. 614

Changing Attitudes ......................................... 616

The Boys Next Door: The Combined Action Program ................ 617

The Accelerated Pacification Plan ............................... 630

Chapter 30 Outside of III MAF:

The Special Landing Forces, Marine Advisors, and Others ............ 631

The 9th MAB and the SLFs .................................... 631

Sub-Unit 1, 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) .... 639

Embassy Marines ........................................... 642

Individual Marines in Saigon and Elsewhere in Vietnam ............... 644

Chapter 31 1968: An Overview .................................. 652

NOTES .................................................... 655

APPENDICES

A: Marine Command and Staff List, 1 January�31 December 1968 ........ 713

B: Chronology of Significant Events, January�December 1968 .......... 722

C: Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations ........................... 728

D: Medals of Honor Citations, 1968 .............................. 735

E: Distribution of Personnel ................................... 745

F: Combined Action Program Expansion�1968 .................... 753

G: NVA/VC Casualties Reported by III MAF Units .................. 756

H: Marine Aircraft, Support and Ordnance ......................... 760

I: List of Reviewers ......................................... 761

J: Tables of Organization ..................................... 764

INDEX .................................................... 775

Map Listing

Reference Map, I Corps Tactical Zone .............................. xiv

Allied Headquarters, January 1968 ................................ 9

3d Marine Division Areas of Operation and the Strong Point Obstacle System . . 22

Enemy Order of Battle DMZ/Quang Tri Province ..................... 33

Major Enemy Units in Northern Quang Tri, January 1968 ............... 36

Unit Headquarters in Quang Tri Province ........................... 43

Allied and Enemy Units in the Khe Sanh Area, January 1968 ............. 71

Operations Osceola and Neosho, January 1968 ........................ 77

1st Marine Division Area of Operations, Da Nang, January 1968 .......... 88

Operation Auburn, Go Noi Island, December 1967�January 1968 ......... 96

Phu Loc, 1 January 1968 ........................................ 102

Task Force X-Ray, 15 January 1968 ................................ 108

Badger Catch/Saline Area of Operations, January 1968 .................. 114

Clearing of Route 9, 24-29 January 1968 ........................... 121

The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ & Southern Quang Tri,

20 January-8 February 1968 ................................... 135

Tet Offensive at Da Nang, 30 January-February, 1968 .................. 150

The Fight for Hue, 31 January�February 1968 ........................ 165

Task Force X-Ray, 31 January 1968 ................................ 170

Copy of Briefing Map and Commentary (Hue) ........................ 196

2/5 Area of Operations, 24-27 February 1968 ........................ 212

Post Tet in I Corps, 1968 ....................................... 226

Marine and Allied Units at Khe Sanh, February 1968 ................... 262

Allied and Enemy Positions, 30 April 1968, in and around Dai Do ......... 295

3/7 Participation in Operation Allen Brook, 15May�18 May 1968 ......... 331

17 May 1968, Le Nam (1) NVA Ambush ........................... 332

Operation Mameluke Thrust, May 1968 ............................ 336

The Third Offensive, Da Nang Area Operations, August 1968 ............ 374

Fire Support Bases in Northwestern Quang Tri ........................ 400

Photocopy of III MAP Briefing Map (Nov-Decl968) ................... 415

Operation Maui Peak, Opening Moves, 6 October 1968 ................. 418

Meade River AO, 20 November-9 December 1968 .................... 425

Operation Taylor Common, December 1968 ......................... 438

Fire Support Bases in Southwestern Quang Tri ........................ 450

Photocopy of Northern I Corps Briefing Map (Nov�Dec 1968) ............ 454



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