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Page 234(The Marines Leave Da Nang )previous pagenext page


The Marines Leave Da Nang

Operations in Southern Quang Nam, 1-15 April 1971 Activation and Operations of the 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade-The End of Keystone Robin Charlie Keystone Oriole Alpha: The final Stand-Down-Quang Nam after the Marines Left

Operations in Southern Quang Nam, 1-13 April 1971

By the beginning of April, the war in I Corps was reverting to its pre-Lam Son 719 pattern. Allied forces in Quang Tri and Thua Thien had resumed satura­tion patrolling of the populated lowlands. The allies also mounted occasional large-scale sweeps of enemy base areas, notably Operation Lam Son 720, a com­bined offensive in the A Shau and Da Krong Valleys by the 101st Airborne and 1st ARVN Divisions, in Quang Nam, as the first phase of the Communists' K-850 Campaign came to an end, the 51st ARVN Regiment and the South Vietnamese RFs and PFs be­gan another in the Hoang Dieu series of operations. The new offensive, Operation Hoang Dieu 107, was aimed at destroying enemy local forces and protect­ing the rice harvest.

The 1st Marines, now the only active infantry unit of III MAF, kept up small-unit warfare within its TAOI. The regiment's 3d Battalion maintained its defense of the Hat Van Pass and patrolled and ambushed in the northwestern quadrant of the Rocket Belt. This battalion had a forward command post and one pla­toon on Hill 510 in the Que Sons, securing an artillery firebase and a haven for reconnaissance elements in Operation Imperial Lake. Also participating in Imperi­al Lake, the 1st Battalion used a platoon to protect a reconnaissance patrol base on western Charlie Ridge, while continuing to defend its portion of the Rocket Belt. The 2d Battalion coordinated the defense of Di­vision Ridge and kept Marines in the field in pursuit of the VCI in the hamlets south of Da Nang.1

With the enemy regrouping after the initial surge of the K-850 offensive, the Marines had few contacts during the first two weeks of April, although boobytraps remained a threat. Marine artillery ac­counted for most of the casualties inflicted on the ene­my. On 10 April, for example, Marines manning the Integrated Observation Device on Hill 65 spotted a substantial group of VC and NVA with packs and ri­fles in the Arizona Territory south of the Vu Gia River and called for a fire mission by howitzers of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. RFs and PFs from Dai Loc District, sweeping the area after the artillery bom­bardment, reported finding 50 dead Viet Cong.2

In these final days before it redeployed, the 1st Ma­rine Division made one last drive into Base Area 112 west of An Hoa. The division conducted this opera­tion at the direction of MACV, which had received in­formation indicating that U.S. and allied prisoners were being held in a camp hidden in the hills of western Quang Nam. Ill MAP intelligence officers doubted the accuracy of these reports, but the plight of American POWs had become a major political and diplomatic issue and the authorities in Saigon want­ed to exploit even the slimmest chance of a spectacu­lar rescue.*3

Accordingly, III MAF on 7 April issued orders for the attack, codenamed Operation Scott Orchard. Un­der the plan, a provisional composite battery of 105mm and 155mm howitzers from the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines was to reopen FSB Dagger, used the previous autumn for Operation Catawba Falls. Then the 1st Marines, employing a reinforced infantry bat­talion, was to make a helicopter assault on the hills west of Dagger, where the POW camp was supposed to be located. The infantry were to search the area and, if they found an enemy prison compound, try to free the inmates. Ill MAF alerted Company A, 1st Medi­cal Battalion to receive and care for diseased, dehydrat­ed, and debilitated former prisoners and ordered that the attacking infantry be equipped with bolt cutters. Advance information about the operation was to be closely restricted and aerial reconnaissance of Dagger

* Since the beginning of major American involvement in the war. the Communists had refused to follow the Geneva Convention pro­visions governing accounting for and communicating with prisoners of war. By mid-1970. under increasing pressure from families of cap­tured servicemen, the Nixon administration had begun making a public issue of the problem, using the Paris peace calks and other diplomatic channels to press the Communists for information about prisoners. The administration also tried forceable rescue. In late November 1970, a force of Army Rangers and Special Forces troops made a heliborne raid on Son Tay POW camp about 20 miles from the center of Hanoi. The raiders got in and out without casualties, but found the camp empty. For a discussion of the Son 'fay raid and the POW issue in general, see Time. 7Dec70, pp. 15-21.

Page 234(The Marines Leave Da Nang )previous pagenext page

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