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The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier

The 3d Marine Division in
the DMZ-The Barrier

The 3d Marine Division in
the DMZ

The war in the north was largely the responsibility
of the 3d Marine Division. Since the summer of 1966, the division had
parried several successive North Vietnamese Army thrusts in Quang Tri
Province, both in the northeast and in the west near the Marine base
at Khe Sanh. Commanding one of the largest divisions in Marine Corps
history, Major General Rathvon McC. Tompkins had more than 24,000 men
under him organized into five infantry regiments, one artillery regiment,
and supporting elements. U.S. Army artillery units and Navy logistic
forces, including Seabees, supplemented the Marines. Two of the regiments
of the 1st ARVN Division also reinforced the 3d Division. The division's
forward command post was at Dong Ha some eight miles below the Demilitarized
Zone. Although one regiment, the 4th Marines, remained in Thua Thien
protecting the western approaches to Hue, the bulk of the 3d Division
was in Quang Tri Province, mainly facing north, to counter the expected
enemy onslaught.

Quang Tri Province contains some 1,800 square miles,
extending about 45 miles north and south and 40 miles east and west.
Its rugged interior rises to the west with jungled canopied peaks reaching
heights of 1,700 meters near the Laotian border. Eastern Quang Tri is
characterized by a narrow coastal plain and a piedmont sector of rolling
hills. In the north, the Ben Hai River marked the boundary with North
Vietnam. The six-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone followed the trace of
the river for 30 miles inland and then went in a straight line to the
Laotian border. Despite some relaxation of the U.S. rules of engagement
in the DMZ south of the Ben Hai, both the Demilitarized Zone and Laos
offered a sanctuary for the North Vietnamese Army to mass its forces
and position its artillery.

These terrain and political considerations largely
determined the enemy's avenues of approach and the 3d Marine Division
dispositions in the DMZ sector. The North Vietnamese made their base
areas in the Demilitarized Zone and Laos and tried to infiltrate their
forces into the river valleys and coastal plain to cut the allied lines
of communications. Route 1, the main north and south highway, connected
the Marine bases of Dong Ha and Quang Tri in the north to Phu Bai and
Da Nang further south. The Cua Viet River provided the division its
chief logistic artery, running from the Cua Viet Facility at its mouth
to Dong Ha. Little more than a mountain path in its western reaches,
Route 9 linked Dong Ha with Khe Sanh. Since August 1967, however the
North Vietnamese had successfully severed Route 9 west of the Marine
outpost at Ca Lu, isolating the Marines at Khe Sanh and permitting resupply
only by air.

East of Khe Sanh, the 3d Division was strung out
in a series of outposts and bases that allowed protection for Route
9, the important Cam Lo River Valley which extended to Dong Ha, and
the coastal plain. The most significant of these were: Ca Lu, 10 miles
east of Khe Sanh; the Rockpile, a sheer 700-foot outcropping, eight
miles further north; followed by Camp Carroll, 10 miles to the east;
and then the heralded "Leatherneck Square," the quadrilateral
outlined by Cam Lo, Con Thien, Gio Linh, and Dong Ha.

For purposes of delineation and control, the division
divided this extensive area into a series of regimental and battalion
operational areas with designated code names. For example, the 1st Amphibian
Tractor Battalion in Operation Napoleon was responsible for keeping
open the Cua Viet waterway. Further north, the 9th Marines, in Operation
Kentucky, manned the defenses in the Leatherneck Square sector. In Operation
Lancaster, the 3d Marines screened the area from Cam Lo to Ca Lu. Scotland
was the code name for the 26th Marines operations at Khe Sanh. To the
south, the 1st Marines in Operation Osceola guarded the approaches to
the provincial capital and the secondary Marine base near Quang Tri
City. The 1st ARVN Division was responsible for the sector east of Route
1 and south of Dong Ha. With its command post at Dong Ha, the 12th Marines,
the artillery regiment, supported all of these operations

Page 18 (The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier )