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Although the Seabees with their heavy equipment had left, the 3d Battalion,
3d Marines had much work to do at A-3. The rains had come during December
and the only fill for the sandbags was "sticky mud." A-3 still required
defensive wire and some 30,000 mines to be laid. The battalion supported
by engineers dug four-man fighting holes. Using mechanical ditchdiggers,
the Marines and engineers trenched around the entire position. By 12
January, the 3d Battalion had erected an observation tower and nearly
completed the entire project. According to Colonel Smith, the A-3 Strong
Point "was a model for this sort of installation. This is the only one
in the AO that had a plan to begin with. The others 'just grew' under
half a dozen different commanders."51*


Although subject to enemy artillery, the 3d Battalion took very few casualties at the A-3 Strong Point because of NVA shelling. The battalion's Company M protecting the American gun positions south of Gio Linh, on the other hand, sustained three killed and two wounded on 9 January as a result of enemy mortar fire. These were more casualties than Lieutenant Colonel Needham's remaining companies suffered at the hands of the enemy for the entire month.52

The 3d Battalion, 3d Marines did come under fire from an unexpected
source in January. In his monthly chronology, the battalion commander,
Lieutenant Colonel Needham, reported: "On 13 separate occasions a total
of 54 friendly artillery rounds were received in or near the inner perimeter
of A-3 and Hill 28 [just to the north of A-3)." On 5 January, for example,
a white phosphorous shell landed inside the 3d Battalion's perimeter.
The 9th Marines and the 2d Battalion, 12th Marines investigated the
matter which resulted in the relief of the battery commander. Six days
later, the battalion was on the receiving end of six 105 rounds within
its wire, followed on the 13th by 24 rounds. At the same time, a short
round fell on Hill 28 and killed two Marines and wounded six others.
Other "friendly fire" incidents occurred on 15 and 19 January. In its
monthly report, the artillery battalion, the 2d Battalion, 12th Marines,
made no mention of the mishaps but remarked, "considerable difficulty
was experienced with computer hot lines to the firing batteries due
to the unreliability of radio relay." It then contained the statement
that staff visits to liaison officers and forward observers "have resulted
in better communications on the conduct of fire nets." Lieutenant Colonel
Needham, a former artillery officer himself, remembered several years
later that "the situation got top-level attention and quick resolution
when I finally told [the 9th Marines] that I refused any further support
from the 12th Marines, and prefer no artillery to what I was getting."
In his monthly report, he wrote that "corrective action appears to have
been initiated and a definite improvement in this regard has been made
during the latter part of the month."53**


Just north of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Lee R. Bendell's 3d Battalion, 4th Marines screened the approaches to the A-3 Strong Point. On 26-27 December, Bendell's battalion deployed from C-2 and relieved the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines on Hill 28, a slight rise about 600 meters north of A-3 and just forward of the trace. Bendell expanded his battalion's perimeter and moved his companies off the top of the hill to new positions lower down. Marine engineers bulldozed the growth and trees immediately to the west, which provided the battalion better observation of the surrounding terrain and improved fields of fire. Low rolling hills with secondary scrub and thick brush, broken by flat, wet rice paddies of 75 to 150 meters, lay to the north and east. Wide rice paddies also were interspersed with the woods to the west. To the south, the Marines had a clear line of sight to the A-3 Strong Point and the trace which marked the battalion's southern boundary. The northern boundary extended to the southern edge of the Demilitarized Zone, less than 1,000 meters from Hill 28.54

Close to the DMZ and with elements of the 90th NVA Regiment
believed to be in his sector, Lieutenant Colonel Bendell insisted on
alertness. He deployed his battalion into a three-company perimeter,
leaving one company in reserve. Bendell used the reserve company for
night ambushes and listening posts (LP) and as a reaction force during
the day. According to the battalion commander, he maintained four to
six ambushes


* Lieutenant Colonel Otto Lehrack, who commanded a company in the
3d Battalion, 3d Marines, wrote that the battalion's operations officer,
Major Raymond F. Findlay, "who designed and supervised the system" deserved
the credit for A-3. Lehrack Comments.


**Colonel Needham observed in his comments that it was obvious to him "that the friendly fire we received was due to basic breakdowns at the firing battery/FDC [fire direction center] levels." Needham Comments. Lieutenant General Louis Metzger believed that the problem was that the main division headquarters was still at Phu Bai in early January 1968 and the "need for fire control elements was at Dong Ha." He believed the situation was alleviated when the division later in the month moved the main headquarters elements to Dong Ha. Metzger Comments.




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