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Phu Loc Operations

While the Army units turned back the 2d NVA Division offensive
in the Que Son Valley, North Vietnamese units in Phu Loc District, north
of Da Nang and the Hai Van Pass, initiated a series of broad-based assaults
on allied units in that sector. Their special targets were the Marine
Combined Action units, especially CAPs H (Hotel) 5, 6, and 7, protecting
Route 1, as it wended its way through the mountains between Da Nang
and Phu Loc District Town. The enemy obviously realized that cutting
Route 1 here where it was vulnerable reduced the capability of the allied
forces to reinforce and resupply their forces to the north.*

To safeguard this important north-south link between Da Nang and Marine forces in Thua Thien Province, III MAF had reinforced the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines at Phu Bai with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver W. van den Berg. On 26 December, while remaining under the operational control of the 5th Marines at Da Nang, Lieutenant Colonel van den Berg officially assumed from the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines at Phu Bai responsibility for the Phu Loc TAOR extending from Hai Van Pass in the south to the Truoi River to the northwest. Route 1 bisected the area of operations southeast to northwest. The terrain consisted of a narrow coastal lowland east of Route 1, a high, jungled piedmont south and west of Route 1, and the Annamite Mountain Range to the west. Bach Ma Mountain rising above 1,400 meters in height and located about 8,000 meters south of Phu Loc District Town dominated the western and southern area of operations. A large inland bay, Dam Cau Hai, rimmed the northern edge of the battalion's sector. Most of the population was confined to a few fishing villages along the coast and farming communities that lay on either side of Route 1 and in the small river valleys in the district.

Lieutenant Colonel van den Berg established his command post just south of the town of Phu Loc. Of the battalion's four infantry companies, three deployed in or around the battalion assembly area. The fourth, Company D, established its base area about 15,000 meters to the east of the rest of the battalion and about 10,000 meters north of the Hai Van Pass. The 1st Division attached two artillery batteries from the 11th Marines to Lieutenant Colonel van den Berg's command. Battery D, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines with its 105mm howitzers provided direct support for the infantry from positions within the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines assembly area. A 155mm howitzer battery, Battery L, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, split into two-gun sections, one section at the battalion assembly area and the second with Company D, north of the Hai Van Pass. From both locations, the Marine infantry battalion and its supporting artillery were in position to cover the Combined Action platoons and Route 1 in the sector.51**

While the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines relocated north of the Hai Van
Pass, North Vietnamese units had augmented the VC 804th and
K.4B Main Force Battalions and VC local force units that traditionally
operated in the Phu Loc region. In early December, the Marines received
reports of a new 4th NVA Regiment. On 13 December, a North
Vietnamese soldier defected to the South Vietnamese and gave his unit
as the 1st Battalion, 4th NVA Regiment, recently changed from
the 4th Battalion, 9th NVA Regiment. The "rallier" stated that
his redesignated unit had arrived in the Phu Loc forward area near Bach
Ma Mountain in late November. This together with other prisoner reports
of a 2d Battalion, 4th NVA Regiment in southern Thua Thien
Province confirmed the presence of the new enemy regiment. Furthermore,
other intelligence sources identified a new VC Battalion, the 802d,
located east of the recently arrived 4th NVA, along the Thua
Thien-Quang Nam Boundary.52

This relatively rapid buildup of enemy forces in the Phu Loc sector
obviously pointed to some enemy initiative in the very near future.
A Combined Action Marine, James Duguid, assigned to CAP Hotel 6 in the
hamlet of Nuoc Ngot just off Route 1, and about

* Colonel Robert J. Keller, who at the time commanded the 3d Combined
Action Group which included the Phu Loc Combined Action units, observed
that in late December 1967 and early January 1968: "In Phu Loc, the
NVA was moving from the mountains to the coast and CAPs, stretched along
Route #1, providing nightly ambushes, represented obstacles that had
to be dealt with . . . ." Col Robert J. Keller, Comments on draft, dtd
2Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Keller Comments.

** Lieutenant Colonel Oliver W. van den Berg, Jr., several years later
commented that the Combined Action platoons "were often placed in untenable
positions." To provide a military presence and a sense of security,
the Combined Action units were usually in a village perimeter and intermingled
with the local population. Lieutenant Colonel van den Berg, Jr., observed
that the options open to him "seemed to be to let the Marine/CAPs be
overrun or accept civilian casualties." He, nevertheless, employed "off-set
registration techniques" that with a few or even one "firing adjustment,
fire for effect missions could be called or directed" from his command
post to support the Combined Action units. LtCol Oliver W. van den Berg,
Jr., Comments on draft, dtd 12Dec94 (Vietnam Comment file).

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