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cover of 60mm mortar fire. In the firefight, the Marines sustained
casualties of two men dead and eight wounded and killed three of the
NVA. The following night the enemy hit the Marine base again, but with
much less force. At 2300, 40 82mm and 20 60mm mortar rounds together
with 10 rounds of 152mm artillery shells landed within the Con Thien
perimeter. This time the Marines sustained six wounded but no dead.44


On 29 January, the battalion demonstrated the value of maintaining the Con Thien outpost despite the continuing harassment. About 0125, a Marine forward observer there looking through his starlight scope discovered a North Vietnamese convoy moving on a secondary road, about a 1,000 meters in the DMZ north of the Ben Hai River, and called in air and artillery missions. The observer then saw the enemy at a site, just below the Ben Hai, launch four to five SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) at the American aircraft. He then ran a radar-controlled (TPQ) mission on the SAM site. After the firing and bombing missions, the Marine outpost reported a "total of nine secondary explosions including a huge fireball, and one secondary fire for area of convoy and suspected SAM sites."45

While the enemy activity in the Kentucky area of operations remained
relatively low, General Tompkins did not want to deplete his defenses
in the sector. The division and 9th Marines continued to receive reports
of enemy movement around Marine positions in the operation. News about
the arrival of the 320th NVA Division on the DMZ reinforced
the unease that the Marine commanders had about the overall situation
on the northern front.46


The transfer of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines to the Lancaster area of operations and the unexpected assignment of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines to Khe Sanh forced General Tompkins again to look to the Special Landing Force, this time SLF Alpha with BLT 2/4, for reinforcement. Earlier, on 22 January, BLT 2/4, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Weise, had relieved the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines at Camp Evans and had come under the operational control of the 1st Marines. With the takeover of Evans by the 1st Cavalry Division and the movement of the 1st Marines to Phu Bai, the BLT was once again free.* With the concurrence of the Seventh Fleet, Generals Cushman and Tompkins agreed to assign Weise s BLT the area of operations northeast of Con Thien, just vacated by the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines.47

On 26 January, BLT 2/4 reembarked from Camp Evans to SLF Alpha amphibious
shipping and the following day, in Operation Fortress Attack, deployed
to the Kentucky area of operations. Shortly after 0900 on the 27th,
the SLF helicopter squadron, HMM-361, landed the first wave of the battalion
in a landing zone near the combat operating base. C-2, on Route 561.
By 1900, the entire BLT was ashore and the 9th Marines assumed operational
control of the battalion from the Navy. According to plan, most of the
supporting elements of the BLT including the Ontos and the amtrac platoons
were detached and placed under other division commands. The following
day the battalion moved from the C-2 base to its assigned new area of
operations near Con Thien.48

On 31 January, General Tompkins would shift forces once more. He divided
the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines into two command groups, each with two
companies. The 3d Division commander sent Command Group A with Companies
F and G attached to Camp Carroll and placed it under the operational
control of the 4th Marines. Command Group B, under Lieutenant Colonel
Weise's executive officer, remained with the 9th Marines in the Kentucky
area of operations. As Tompkins explained to General Cushman, he believed
that the "enemy will aim a major effort to overrun Camp Carroll, Thon
Son Lam [the Rockpile area], and Ca Lu." According to the 3d Division
commander, the "320th Division is admirably positioned" for
such an attack which "offers enemy greatest return [and] more profitable
for him than similar major effort against hardened positions" of the
barrier strongpoints in the Kentucky area of operations. General Cushman
agreed.49

The Cua Viet Continues to Heat Up

To the east of the Kentucky area of operations, the North Vietnamese
continued their effort to close the Cua Viet River channel. Following
the sinking of the LCM on 24 January by a command detonated mine, the
next morning NVA gunners struck again. From positions in the hamlet
of My Loc on the northern bank of the river they fired rifle propelled
grenades and recoilless rifles at a Navy convoy of two LCMs and a LCU
(landing craft, utility). Both the two LCMs took hits and returned to
the Cua Viet Port Facility. The LCU continued on to Dong Ha. The action
resulted in five Americans wounded, four Navy crewmen and a Marine from
Company K, BLT 3/1. In their return fire at the enemy positions, the
Navy gun crews inadver-



* See Chapter six for operations in Thua Thien Province.




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