cers identified two North Vietnamese units between Khe Sanh and Ca
Lu: the 8th Battalion, 29th Regiment and the 95C Regiment.
Around the combat base, Marine patrols sighted new bunkers near Hill
881 North as well as North Vietnamese carrying supplies and heavy weapons.
Sniper fire increased around Hill 881 South and the enemy attempted
probes against Hills 861 and 950. Intelligence sources reported that
both the 304th Division and the 325C Division of the
North Vietnamese Army were near Khe Sanh and another enemy unit, the
320th Division, was east of the combat base, near Camp Carroll
and Cam Lo. Perhaps the most revealing indicator of increased enemy
activity was the rise in North Vietnamese truck traffic along the nearby
Ho Chi Minh Trail network from a monthly average of 480 vehicles in
the fall to more than 6,000 in December.22
With only one battalion at Khe Sanh to protect the combat base and its vital airstrip, as well as the surrounding hills, the 26th Marines' defenses were stretched thin. The III MAF staff, with many sources of intelligence available, recognized the significance of the enemy buildup, prompting Lieutenant General Cushman to call Major General Tompkins on 13 December to direct that another battalion be sent to Khe Sanh. Major General Tompkins, fearing that northeastern Quang Tri was much more vulnerable, argued the point and recorded later that he was "not at all excited about the idea."23 Nevertheless, within five hours. Lieutenant Colonel Harry L. Alderman's 3d Battalion, 26th Marines touched down at Khe Sanh's recently refurbished airstrip.*
The 3d Battalion conducted a four-day sweep of a ridge line west of the combat base, then settled into new positions. Companies I and K occupied Hills 881 South and 861, respectively, and Company L joined the 1st Battalion at the combat base proper as Colonel Lownds juggled the units among his defensive positions.
Taking advantage of his increased troop strength to conduct battalion-sized operations once again, Colonel Lownds sent the 1st Battalion north of the combat base to search the Rao Quan River Valley during the last three days of December. As on the 3d Battalion's expedition the previous week, the 1st Battalion encountered only light contact, but found ominous signs of freshly built bunkers and small caches of supplies.24**
The increased enemy activity noted during December continued. Early
in the evening of 2 January, a listening post established by Company
L, 3d Battalion, 26th Marines near the west end of the airstrip reported
several persons 60 meters to their immediate front. The company commander
dispatched a squad to reinforce the listening post. The Marines challenged
the unidentified men but received no reply. At the Marines' second attempt
to challenge, the intruders opened fire on the listening post. Marines
all along the nearby perimeter returned fire. The firing died down,
which saw one Marine slightly wounded, and the squad sent to reinforce
the listening post searched the area to the immediate front, but found
nothing in the dark. At first light, a patrol searched the area again
and found five enemy dead. Using a scout dog, they followed the trail
of a sixth man, believed wounded, but did not find him.25
The 26th Marines' intelligence officer, Captain Harper L. Bohr, Jr.,
examined the bodies of the five enemy and came to the conclusion that
one of them was Chinese, because the man "was just too big and too non-Vietnamese
looking." He sent photographs and a medical description to the 3d Marine
Division in hopes of receiving confirmation of his supposition. Captain
Bohr determined that at least some of the dead were officers, and a
legend later grew that one of them was a regimental commander.26***
At any rate, it appeared to the Marines that the enemy had indeed been
reconnoitering the perimeter, further fueling speculation that a major
North Vietnamese attack was in the making.
Colonel Lownds continued to seek information concerning the enemy. Infantry companies scoured the nearby jungle while small reconnaissance teams established observation posts on more remote hilltops and watched for signs of movement. The Marines continued to employ the latest technology to augment their troop patrol effort, including sensors, signal intelli-
* Colonel Frederic S. Knight of the 3d Marine Division G-2, or intelligence staff, recalled that there was the need for a smaller scale , map of the Khe Sanh sector to show more detail, one on a scale of 1:10,000, as opposed to the 1:50,000 standard maps. There was none available, but Knight finally found a Seabee, who "laboriously drew on what I would call butcher's paper the tactical map displayed in Colonel Lownds' bunker during the entire siege." Knight Comments.
** Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth W. Pipes, who as a captain commanded
Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, commented that his company was
the anvil for this operation and that one of his platoons ambushed an
enemy reconnaissance unit, killing two or three North Vietnamese soldiers.
He remembered some maps and that the enemy gear and weapons were helilifted
out. LtCol Kenneth W. Pipes, Comments on draft chapter, dtd 10Mar95
(Vietnam Comment File).
*** Captain Bohr later wrote that this claim could not be substantiated. See Maj Harper L. Bohr, Jr., Comments on "The Battle for Khe Sanh," 18Dec68 (Khe Sanh Monograph Comment File).