Page 034

Page 34 (1968: The Defining Year)

the 105s. Although concerned about the enemy 130mm field guns. Major
General Raymond L. Murray, the III MAF deputy commander recalled, "...
they were an annoyance far more than an effective weapon. I don't think
we lost very many people from them, and certainly we lost no territory
as a result of them but it was a constant annoyance . . . ." During
the April-December period, the North Vietnamese fired fewer than 500
rounds from the big guns at allied targets in the south. Brigadier General
Louis Metzger, a former artillery officer and the 3d Marine Division
assistant division commander, observed that the enemy artillery followed
certain patterns. Usually his bombardments occurred around 0600, at
noon, and at 1700 with relatively little shelling at night. Whenever
enemy use of the heavier calibers lessened, his employment of mortars
rose. Metzger gave the North Vietnamese gunners generally only fair
grades. Despite their employment of forward observers, the North Vietnamese
artillerymen's readjustment fires on American positions were often inaccurate.
Yet, Metzger conceded that the enemy gunners and rocketeers had little
difficulty in targeting Dong Ha when they wanted.7*

Notwithstanding that the North Vietnamese artillery units operated on a logistic margin, Marine commanders could hardly dismiss the danger they posed to the American defenses in the DMZ sector. Mortars and artillery rounds caused more than 70 percent of the allied dead and wounded in the north. For example, from 3-10 December, enemy shelling resulted in 124 Marine casualties from 727 rounds that fell in or around the Marine defenses. Although the artillery fire from the north diminished towards the end of the month, the NVA could increase the pressure whenever it elected to do so.8

With the guns massed into two major groupings, the North Vietnamese artillery belt extended westward some 15 kilometers from the Cap Mui Lay coastal region to a finger lake area just above the Ben Hai River. The belt contained about 130 interconnected artillery sites with each site capable of holding one to four guns. Reinforcing their artillery with a sizable antiaircraft concentration including nine SAM-2 (surface-to-air missile) sites and a mix of heavy machine guns and antiaircraft guns up to 57mm, the North Vietnamese impeded American air strikes against the gun positions and hampered air observation for effective counter-battery target acquisition.9

Both Generals Westmoreland and Metzger confessed at different times that American commanders lacked the detailed accurate information to determine the damage U.S. air and artillery inflicted upon the enemy defenses in the DMZ. Several years later, General Metzger observed that the American estimates on the number of enemy guns in the DMZ were derived from the III MAF enemy order of battle. According to Metzger, all the order of battle officer did was to take "all the identified enemy units known to be in a certain area and multiplies the weapons known to be in those battalions, regiments, and divisions. The actual numbers can be significantly greater or smaller." Metzger claimed that the North Vietnamese moved their artillery pieces almost nightly from position to position, playing a kind of "moving shell game" with American intelligence officers, gunners, and aviators. At best, the North Vietnamese offered only fleeting targets for the U.S. forces. On 6 January, the 9th Marines reported that the NVA had constructed three new artillery positions north of the DMZ, each consisting of two guns and supported by an antiaircraft unit.10

While building up their infantry and combat arms in the north, the
North Vietnamese also strengthened their logistic network and combat
support capability. According to Marine intelligence estimates, the
North Vietnamese had "demonstrated a remarkable degree of ingenuity"
in overcoming U.S. air efforts to interdict their lines of communication.
They quickly repaired roads and built pontoon or cable bridges to replace
those damaged by American bombs. Major roads remained open to through
truck traffic, but

* Major Gary E. Todd elaborated in his comments somewhat further on the effectiveness
of the North Vietnamese artillery. While acknowledging that the volume
of artillery fire was light compared to other wars, he emphasized that
"this situation was different from other wars and this fire went beyond
what we would call H&I [harassing and interdiction] fire." He observed
that the North Vietnamese guns often fired on Dong Ha, for example,
"when aircraft were landing or taxiing to take off. By preregistering
their fires on the airstrip their first rounds might give them the bonus
of one of our aircraft, along with passengers and crew." He noted, nevertheless,
that the North Vietnamese gunners were selective in their firing so
as not to give away their positions. Todd wrote that the North Vietnamese
usually had a logical reason for their bombardment of Dong Ha-to keep
voters away from the polls during an election or knowing that a few
rounds at the Dong Ha base may explode an ammunition dump. According
to Todd, "At any rate, the NVA artillery attack represented clever and
cost-effective use of their assets." Todd Comments. Colonel Edwin S.
Schick, Jr., who commanded the 12th Marines in 1968, remarked that the
North Vietnamese gunners had the benefit of the excellent military maps
they had appropriated from the French and that "any point that they
wanted to hit, they could." Col Edwin S. Schick, Jr., Taped Comments
on draft chapter, n.d. {1994} (Vietnam Comment File).

Page 34 (1968: The Defining Year)