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sage did not reveal whether the suspected enemy was the 190th
Battalion
or another enemy force. Colonel Bohn in his implementing
order only stated "high order intelligence indicates very important
enemy unit between Liberty Bridge* and present Auburn AO."33


Despite the indication of new intelligence, the remainder of the operation was to be a fruitless search for the phantom unit. On the 31st, both Lieutenant Colonel McNaughton, the 2d Battalion commander, and Colonel Bohn, the regimental commander, returned to their respective command posts leaving Lieutenant Colonel Rockey, the 3d Battalion commander, solely responsible for the operation. Rockey retained both the 2d Battalion's Company E and G, as well as Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines and Company M of his own battalion in the next phase of the operation. For the next four days, the four companies encountered only scattered sniper fire and grenades as they extended the Auburn area of operations to the west. By 3 January 1968, the battalion reached the hamlet of Phu Loc 6, about 7,500 meters west of the "B&O," and just south of Liberty Bridge. Companies E and G, 5th Marines reverted to 2d Battalion control and Company E, 3d Marines departed Auburn for its original area of operations. At 1725 on that date, Lieutenant Colonel Rockey closed out the operation and his forward command group and Company M clambered on board trucks for the return trip to the battalion command post.34


For the entire operation, the two Marine battalions sustained casualties of 23 killed in action and over 60 wounded and, according to Marine body count, killed 37 of the enemy. With the exception of four of the Marines and five of the enemy, the deaths in Auburn occurred on the first day of the operation. The action on the 28th also accounted for nearly half of the Marine wounded. In the remaining six days of the operation, enemy snipers, a casually thrown grenade, and the ever-present "surprise firing device" were responsible for the remaining Marine casualties.35

Although Lieutenant Colonel Rockey's battalion in the extended phase
of Operation Auburn met no significant enemy force, he observed "large
enemy forces could evade our search and destroy efforts, concealed in
the vast expanses of elephant grass in some cases reaching 12 feet in
height." Rockey believed that given the abundant "luxuriant natural
cover and concealment" available to the enemy and the extensive area
covered, the Marines required a larger force to conduct the operation.
No allied order of battle in early 1968 showed the 190th NVA Battalion
in the Da Nang area of operations. Intelligence would indicate that
the Group 44 headquarters later moved into Go Noi Island. This
may have been the basis for the information of the "very important enemy
unit" that caused the continuation of the operation. In any event, the
available evidence pointed to elements of the V-25th and the
R-20th VC battalions being the only units engaged in Auburn."
Colonel Bohn several years later complained about the nature of intelligence
available to the Marines: "The major frustration was too much general
intelligence and no good tactical timely intelligence."36

A Busy Night at Da Nang

As Operation Auburn drew to a close. Group 44 prepared another
surprise for the Marines at Da Nang. On the night of 2-3 January 1968,
in an obviously coordinated series of ground and fire attacks, the VC
struck at 7th Marines positions north of the Thu Bon, the 2d Battalion,
5th Marines command post at An Hoa, and at Combined Action units and
South Vietnamese District headquarters throughout the Da Nang area of
operations. The Communists capped off their assaults with an early morning
rocket barrage of the Da Nang airfield.

The enemy began the night's events about 2200 with several sniping
and harassing fire incidents on Marine outposts throughout the Da Nang
area of operations. About a half-hour later, some 15 Communist troops
attacked the 7th Marines command post on Hill 55, the low-lying but
dominant piece of terrain south of Da Nang, with automatic weapons,
rifle fire, and antitank rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). They knocked
out a security tower and wounded two Marines. The defending troops responded
with small



* The bridge across the Ky Lam River connecting the An Hoa combat base to the 7th Marines area of operations.

** Lieutenant Colonel Bowers believed, however, that the Marines engaged
an NVA unit rather than the VC R-20 Battalion. He felt that the tactics,
uniforms, and "unusually fierce tenacity" were indicative of the NVA.
According to Bowers, the designation was made the R-20, "by default,
simply because we couldn't prove that any other unit was present." Bowers
Comments. An Army historian, George L. MacGar-rigle, suggested that
perhaps the 190th NVA Battalion "was the security force for
Front 44 [Group 44] also known as Front 4." George
L. MacGarrigle, Historian, CMH, Comments on draft, dtd 5Dec94 (Vietnam
Comment Files).







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