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General Westmoreland soon passed his directives on to III MAF. He
ordered General Walt to prepare a plan in coordination with the South
Vietnamese I Corps commander, General Lam, for the Strongpoint Obstacle
System. The Marine command was to confine its discussions with the South
Vietnamese only to the eastern sector. No mention was to be made of
the western strongpoint defile or of the air-supported system in Laos.
Even with the lack of a formal plan, Marine engineers in early April
began clearing the terrain between Gio Linh and Con Thien under the
guise of clearing fields of fire and building modest field fortifications.


By mid-April, the barrier for III MAF had become a reality, and not to the liking of senior Marine commanders. On 19 April, General Westmoreland told General Walt that "the mission of establishing a strongpoint/obstacle system south of the DMZ initially will be given to the U.S. Marines."23 In his reply, General Walt protested that this order assigned his entire 3d Marine Division to the barrier. In effect, the division would be confined to fixed positions and to the construction and the manning of the strongpoint system. The III MAF commander argued that unless he received reinforcements in the north he would not be able to conduct offensive operations there. General Westmoreland had no additional forces to give him, but indicated that he would reinforce the Marines as troops and units became available. General Krulak, the FMFPac commander, was quick to point out to the Commandant, General Greene, "that we are already embarked on a form of Practice Nine." He observed that the reinforcement of Army troops in Task Force Oregon at Chu Lai had "been counterbalanced by MACV assigning III MAF the barrier mission." Krulak asked General Greene "to demonstrate at the Joint Chiefs and the Department of Defense levels" that Marine resources were going into the strongpoint system "with only a presumptive basis for assuming we will be compensated."24

Notwithstanding this unified front on the part of the Marine Corps,
III MAF, again, had little alternative but to continue with its planning
and building of the strongpoint system. In May, during Operation Hickory,
the 3d Division moved some 11,000 civilians from the construction sites
to a resettlement village at Cam Lo. The 11th Engineer Battalion cleared
the terrain while one or two infantry battalions provided the security.
On 18 June, III MAF finally published its operation plan which outlined
the eastern strongpoint obstacle system. According to the plan, a cleared
trace would extend from a strongpoint (A-5), some six kilometers west
of Con Thien, for over 25 kilometers to its eastern terminus at another
strongpoint (A-1),* some six kilometers east of Gio Linh. The "trace"
would be supported by six company strongpoints, labeled A-1 through
A-6. Gio Linh was Strongpoint A-2 and Con Thien was Strongpoint A-4.
Behind the strongpoints were to be three battalion base areas, designated
C-1 through C-3. An ARVN regiment was to man Strongpoints A-1 and A-2
and Base Area C-3. A Marine regiment was to be responsible for the strongpoints
and base areas west of Route 1.

The plan called for the work to be completed in two phases. In Phase
1, a 600 meter-wide trace was to be built from Con Thien to Strongpoint
A-1. Four of the strongpoints, A-1 through A-4, as well as all of the
base areas were to be finished by 1 November 1967, the deadline for
Phase 1. III MAF, at the same time, would improve the road network to
include Routes 9, 1, and 561. The latter road was to connect Con Thien
to its combat support bases and Route 9. The 3d Marine Division base
at Dong Ha was to be the logistics center of the entire effort. It was
hoped that by the onset of the monsoon season that the barrier obstacle
system of mines, radars, towers, barbed wire, and sensors, would be
in place along that part of the trace from Con Thien to Gio Linh. In
the second phase, at the end of the monsoon season. III MAF would finish
the construction of the two strongpoints west of Con Thien and complete
the extension of the trace and its obstacle system from Strongpoint
A-1 to A-5. The entire project would be over by July 1968.25

The III MAF barrier plan proved to be overly optimistic. By the end
of July 1967, Marine engineer and construction units had accumulated
an impressive set of statistics pertaining to the number of man and
equipment hours devoted to the project, yet progress was relatively
slow. The 11th Engineer Battalion committed nearly 50 percent of its
total resources to the construction of the trace at a loss of 15 tractors
and two dump trucks. As Marine units extended their efforts, North Vietnamese
resistance increased. The same infantry battalions that were assigned
to construction projects also had security missions. More than one bat-


* General Metzger wrote
that the original Dyemarker plan did not contain the A-1 strongpoint:
"It was only after the 3d Marine Division emphatically pointed out the
area in which A-1 was finally located was the 'rocket belt'- from which
the enemy, after crossing the Ben Hai River, set up rockets and fired
them into the Dong Ha Base. It was essential that this terrain be denied
the enemy, thus A-1." Metzger emphasized the need for tactical plans
to be developed by those who are closest to the situation. Metzger Comments.





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