(1968: The Defining Year)
both the Que Son Valley and the Da Nang TAOR. Allied
commanders also learned that the North Vietnamese established a new
headquarters in the Quang Da Special Zone in Quang Nam Province called
Group 44. Commanded by North Vietnamese Army Senior Colonel
Vo Thu, the former commander of the 3d NVA Division, Group 44
located its headquarters in the mountains of Dai Loc District, about
24 miles southwest of Da Nang. According to a captured enemy officer,
the new command was a subordinate or forward headquarters of Military
Region 5 and now controlled all independent enemy regiments, battalions,
and separate units in the Quang Nam sector.8
Since September 1967, III MAF suspected
that the enemy planned a large-scale offensive in the Da Nang area.
At that time, according to U.S. intelligence officers, 'a very reliable
source' reported detailed enemy plans tor Quang Nam Province with 'Da
Nang as the ultimate object.' The appearance of new units including
the enemy 31st NVA Regiment in southwestern Quang Nam and the
establishment of Group 44 tended to corroborate the first report.
In early December, the allies uncovered further evidence that the 2d
NVA Division was about to escalate its operations in the Que Son
sector and reinforce the independent units and local forces in Quang
Photo courtesy of LtCol John F.
J. Kelly, USMC (Ret)
LtCol John F. J. Kelly
is pictured with a captured NVA 122mm rocket launcher which had a range
of about 12,000 meters. According to LtCol Kelly, this was the first
122mm launcher captured by Marine forces, a direct result of Operation
Claxon in December 1967 to lure enemy units into a premature attack
on Da Nang.
On 5 December, helicopters and troops of the U.S.
3d Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division under the operational control of
the Americal Division in Operation Wheeler/Wallowa killed 17 North Vietnamese
troops in a skirmish on a ridgeline north of the town of Que Son. In
an examination of the enemy bodies, the Americans discovered four were
dressed in American camouflaged fatigues while the remaining dead wore
North Vietnamese uniforms. Four of the North Vietnamese were officers,
including the political officer of the 2d NVA Division.
Among the various documents strewn about were several notebooks and
various American maps. In a notebook marked 'Absolutely Secret,' American
intelligence analysts found a plan for a division-size assault against
American Fire bases in the Que Son Valley, complete with sketches of
the targeted sires. The general attack would involve all three regiments
of the 2d NVA and would be coordinated with smaller diversionary
attacks against district capitals controlled by Group 44. The diversions
included a rocket bombardment of the large Da Nang Airbase.10
Lieutenant Colonel John F. J. Kelly, a member of the
III MAF staff, recalled that all of this intelligence began to fit a
pattern. According to Kelly, the Marine command had 'very precise information
of his [the enemy] plans in the Da Nang TAOR' and called several commanders'
conferences to determine how best to deflect the Communist intents.
According to the enemy documents recovered by the 1st Cavalry Division
brigade, the enemy was to begin his offensive on 23 December. Lieutenant
Colonel Kelly later related that III MAF hoped to confound the enemy
by triggering his attack prematurely. In an operation codenamed Claxon,
the Marines set off explosive charges throughout the Da Nang TAOR that
they wanted the VC forces to mistake for the signal to scare the offensive.
The enemy refused to take the bait, however, and the 2d NVA Division,
on the 23d, also failed to attack the 3d Brigade's fire bases
in the Wheeler/Wallowa sector. In the Que Son Valley, American intelligence
officers concluded that the loss of the documents may have caused the
NVA to believe their plans were compromised and to postpone, if not
cancel, the attacks against the Army's 3d Brigade. At Da Nang, however,
III MAF still expected some sort of offensive against the populated
centers in the TAOR.11*
* Lieutenant Colonel Kelly observed that although the
attack failed to materialize, some enemy rocket troops failed to get the
word and 'tried to rush forward to firing sites . . . .' They were intercepted
by Marines and 'the first enemy 122mm launcher was captured.' LtCol John
F. J. Kelly, Comments on draft, dtd 13Dec94 (Vietnam Comment I'lle).