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were subject to delays because of the numerous bypasses, fords, ferries,
and damage caused by the bombing. As a result, the enemy often substituted
bicycles and porters for trucks. A man on a bicycle could transport
about 500 pounds while porters could carry some 50 to 60 pounds.* The
NVA supplemented its human pack carriers with mules, horses, and even
elephants. A horse or mule could bear about 150 to 300 pounds while
an elephant could take about 1,000 pounds on its back. An animal-drawn
bull cart could hold up to 1,500 pounds. These alternate modes of transportation
were slower, but more maneuverable than motor vehicles. Nevertheless,
where and when they had the opportunity, the North Vietnamese continued
to rely on both trucks and shipping to bring their supplies into the
DMZ sector.11


The enemy lines of communication in the North Vietnamese panhandle from Dong Hoi south to the DMZ consisted of 16 interconnecting roads, five waterways, the national railroad, and an extensive trail network. At Dong Hoi, North Vietnamese stevedores unloaded the cargo of seagoing vessels for transfer either to river craft or trucks for transhipment south. The enemy then impressed ships of 800 tons or less, or fishing junks, to ply the deeper waters and occasionally the open sea. Small shallow-draft canoe-like craft called pirogues with attached outboard motors were used on the more restricted inland water passages, such as the Ben Hai and the Ben Xe Rivers. Although the railroad was not functioning, its railbed served as a roadway for foot and bicycle traffic. The main north-south road arteries, Routes 101, 102, 103, and 1A, connected the three main North Vietnamese base areas in and above the DMZ to one another and to the infiltration corridors further south.12

The northernmost base area, Base Area (BA) 510, 40 kilometers southeast
of Dong Hoi, contained some 19 installations, including general storage
areas, a warehouse, a POL (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) facility,
and an ordnance depot. Located near the junction of Routes 101 and 103,
which run southeast and southwest, respectively, towards the DMZ, the
jungle-canopied base provided a relatively safe harbor for both troops
and supplies destined for the forces further south. The largest of the
base areas, BA 511, some 100 kilometers in area and at one point only
10 kilometers southeast of BA 510, extended to the northern edge of
the DMZ. Its confines accommodated three bivouac areas, six troop-staging
areas, and logistic storage depots. Lying astride the junction of Routes
101 and 1A, the base area served as the gateway for the North Vietnamese
units moving south to attack the positions in the eastern DMZ sector.13

The North Vietnamese also moved supplies and troops from both Base
Areas 510 and 511 to the westernmost base area, BA 512, situated in
the DMZ where North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos all joined together.
This base area included a large staging complex consisting of both underground
shelters and surface structures. Moreover, with Route 103 traversing
its lower sector, BA 512 was a major transhipment point for both men
and equipment prior to infiltration into the south. As 1967 ended, III
MAF received disturbing intelligence that NVA units coming down the
"Santa Fe Trail," the eastern branch of the "Ho Chi Minh" Trail in Laos
that paralleled the South Vietnamese-Laotian Border, were entering the
Khe Sanh sector rather than skirting it as they had in the past. In
both the eastern and western rims of the DMZ sector, the enemy appeared
to be on the move.14

At the end of the year, American commanders and intelligence officers
attempted to assess the enemy intentions. Although the North Vietnamese
Army had suffered heavy casualties in the DMZ sector, some 10,000 dead
according to Marine sources, and had obviously been hurt, it was still
a formidable adversary. General Westmoreland recognized the obvious
advantages that the situation provided the enemy. He later remarked
that the proximity of I Corps to North Vietnam was "always frightening
to me." Indeed, he declared that "it was more frightening to me than
it was to ... [Lieutenant General Robert E.] Cushman," the III MAF commanding
general.15



*The notion that a man either on a bicycle or walking a bicycle could move a load of 500 pounds may very well be hyperbole. Colonel Frederic S. Knight, a member of the 3d Marine Division staff, recalled a conversation that he had with news columnist Joseph Alsop: "he talked and I listened." According to Knight, Alsop presented the case of the bicycle and the 500-pound load. The Marine officer recalled he told Alsop that "such an assertion was unmitigated nonsense; add a 120-pound man to the 500-pound load and the weight of the bicycle itself and you get an unmanageable vehicle. I doubt it could be ridden, and if it could, it would have to be down a gently sloping very smooth paved road. Imagine pushing it up rutted muddy mountainous jungle trails and trying to brake that load on the way down. And if the bicycle fell over, how would one man ever restore equilibrium." Knight remembered that Alsop "did not address my objection beyond saying that he was privy to certain recondite research that indicated it was possible." Knight concluded, however, that this "datum go into the folklore category." Col Frederic S. Knight, Comments on draft chapter, dtd 10Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File)






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