(1968: The Defining Year)
In October, the monsoon struck with a vengeance, pouring 30 inches
of rain on ICTZ. Khe Sanh did not escape the deluge. The hill positions
were especially hard hit. Unlike the Xom Cham plateau, the surrounding
hills and mountains did not have soil suitable for construction, and
the rain pointed up this weakness. The battalion commander, Lieutenant
Colonel James B. Wilkinson, described some of the damage:
.when the first torrential rains of the season hit [Hill] 861 the results
were disastrous. The trenchline which encircled the hill washed away
completely on one side ot the position and caved in on another side.
Some bunkers collapsed, while others were so weakened they had to be
The Marines kept busy repairing damage and improving their positions.
New bunkers on Hill 861 stood almost completely above ground, and the
new trenchline included a drainage system jury-rigged from discarded
55-gallon drums. Space on board resupply helicopters was critical, and
priority for construction materials went to the airfield project, leaving
little or no room for imported fortification materials. Logging details
searched the nearby jungle tor suitable wood, but many trees were so
filled with steel fragments from the earlier Hill Battles that the engineers'
chain saws could not cut them.15
October brought more than the monsoon. That month, the North Vietnamese
325C Division, which had taken part in the earlier "Hill
Battles," appeared again in the enemy order of battle tor Khe Sanh.16
On 31 October, Operation Ardmore ended with Operation Scotland beginning
the next day. Little more than a renaming of the continuing mission
of defending Khe Sanh and using it as a base for offensive action against
Communist infiltration. Operation Scotland became the responsibility
of the 26th Marines.
November began clear and sunny at Khe Sanh, but by the 10th, the crachin
returned. Seabees continued work on the airfield, improving it to the
point that it was suitable for use by medium-sized cargo aircraft, such
as the Fairchild C-123 Provider, but more work was necessary before
it could safely handle the heavy Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft.17
Anxious to find alternate methods to support the units on the hill
outposts, should bad weather or enemy fire prevent helicopter resupply,
the 26th Marines studied the route from the combat base to Hill 881
South. Representatives from the 3d Motor Transport Battalion, the 3d
Antitank Battalion, and the 3d Engineer Battalion examined the route
and determined that it would require extensive engineer preparation
before it could accommodate vehicle convoys.18
Photo courtesy of Col Robert W. Lewis, USMC (Ret)
An aerial view of the Khe Sanh Combat Base facing
north-west (note north arrow at top of photo) was taken in November
1967 at 10,000 feet, with the airstrip seen in the center of the photo.
By this time, medium-sized fixed-wing transport aircraft could land
on the airstrip, but the road supply network had been cut.
The 3d Marine Division assigned the 26th Marines to prepare a contingency
plan for the relief, if needed, of the Lang Vei Special Forces CIDG
Camp.** The new commanding officer of the 26th Marines, Colonel David
E. Lownds, ordered his 1st Battalion to find an overland route from
the combat base to the CIDG
* Lieutenant Colonel Harper L. Bohr commented that the rain in September
resulted in "the collapse ot some newly completed bunkers resulting
in the deaths of several Marines." LtCol Harper L. Bohr, Jr., Comments
on draft chapter, dtd 2Nov1994 (Vietnam Comment File).
** There were actually two Lang Vei Special Forces Camps. The first
one had been overrun in May 1967 while the Marine command was engaged
in the Hill Fights. The American command decided to relocate the camp
a few hundred meters to the southwest. Lieutenant General Louis Metzger,
in 1967 a brigadier general and the 3d Marine Division assistant division
commander, commented that "Westmoreland was specially interested
in this camp . . . and had the Seabees completely rebuild that camp
with heavy concrete bunkers ... so strong . . . [that it could withstand]
a tank on top of it without crushing it in." The new camp was finished
in the fall of 1967. LtGen Louis Metzger. Comments on draft, dtd 17Oct94
(Vietnam Comment File). See also Prados and Stubbe, Valley of Decision,
pp. 188-189. Army Colonel Bruce B. G. Clarke observed that the contingency
plan also called for the relief of the district advisors in Khe Sanh
village. Col Bruce B. G. Clarke, USA, Comments on draft chapter, n.d.
[Apr95] (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Clarke Comments.
Page 62 (1968: The Defining Year)