onto the field. The 3d Division journal contains the following description of the initial confusion at the base:
0130-Heard incoming at the airfield 0142-Counter-mortar radar is oriented toward BTOO-77 0143-Counter-radar is working but we don't have anything yet. Sounds like we are getting more incoming now. 0150-Called G-3. Major Foster said a F-102 and C-130 are burning. Lieutenant Colonel Muir said incoming all seemed to be on Air Force side of field in area of F-lOOs andC-130s, 0208-3d Marines just got permission to fire 81mm illumination.19
Some of the infiltrators managed to throw their satchel charges on the Air Force aircraft, destroying a Convair F-102 and two C-130s, and damaging two F-102s and one C-130. Company C immediately sent two squads to the vicinity of the attack to reinforce the sentries on post. In the minutes it took for the additional Marines to arrive, the sappers were already withdrawing in the same direction from which they had arrived. As the reinforcing squads approached the southern fence, enemy small arms fire wounded two of the Marines; a 57mm shell hit the top of a concrete bunker and wounded the guard inside.
The Marines could not cut off the demolition team, but the enemy had not escaped unscathed. Troops of Ludwig's battalion found blood trails leading from the airfield, and Lieutenant Colonel Muir picked up a pistol at the cut in the wire during his early morning reconnaissance. Fifty minutes after the attack. Marine artillery opened fire on suspected enemy avenues of escape. Company D and a platoon from Company B arrived to reinforce the defenders. Two companies of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines deployed along Route l to block any attack from the west and northwest.
General Walt, several years later, recalled that from the time the attack began that he was:
... in an amphibian tractor out in the rice paddies west of the Air Base. This tractor was my combat command post where I slept at night. I had both wire and radio communication capability. I directed Colonel Wheeler (CO 3d Marine Regiment) to commit our Air Base reserve company and to personally go to the Air Base and direct the defense, which he did immediately.20
Colonel Wheeler called in Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig at 0300. They outlined a plan to find the retreating enemy force. Assisted by ARVN units, Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines was to sweep the northern bank of the Cau Do, under operational control of the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion which would search the area south of the river. The commanders planned to start the mission at first light, but all units were not in place until 0700. One platoon of Company B, in LVTs, patrolled the river and remained ready as a mobile reserve. The other platoons of the company deployed along the road north of the Phong Le Bridge, a mile and a half south of the airbase. At 1700, the operation ended. The Marines returned to the base with 14 suspects, but none proved to have been involved in the attack. The South Vietnamese were more fortunate. They found a wounded North Vietnamese who turned out to be the intelligence officer of the sapper team. He identified his parent unit as the 3d Battalion, 18th NVA Regiment.
Although the damage on the airfield was not extensive and there were a few casualties, the spectacular nature of the VC attack caused worldwide publicity and renewed command attention to the vulnerability of the American bases. General Walt, in 1977, remarked:
During the period of 0200 to 0400 I received phone calls from MACV Hq, CinCPac Hq, FMFPac Hq, Headquarters US Marine Corps, Secretary of the Navy's Office, Secretary of Defense Office and from the White House "Watch Officer" not President Johnson. All of the callers wanted to know all about the attack and what I was doing about it. Fortunately I had given instructions to Colonel Wheeler before the phone started ringing. This points out one of the hazards (for a commander) of having present day instantaneous communications to the battlefield, all over the world.21
General Walt ordered Brigadier General Karch to conduct an investigation concerning the circumstances surrounding the attack. In his findings, Karch concluded that the counter-mortar radar installation failed to function properly, thus hampering the Marines in their effort to locate the enemy mortar position. Nevertheless, the reaction force from Ludwig's battalion had responded rapidly.22 Ludwig, himself, later wrote:
It was my understanding all along that the division of my battalion . . . was a bit of a calculated risk with Colonel Wheeler and General Walt. Yet both believed that the need for more sweeps and offensive action justified this thinning of the airfield defense.23
Colonel Hardy Hay, the III MAF G-3, later remarked:
I believe what really got us going and extending our patrols was the attack on the Da Nang air base. We thePage 57 (1965: The Landing and the Buildup)