(1968: The Defining Year)
Photo is from the Abel Collection
A BLT 3/7 platoon leader directs his men to attack
enemy positions during Operation Badger Catch, as the enemy offered
heavy resistance to Marine efforts to clear the hamlets near the Cua
the three companies occupied all of the hamlet. In the fighting, the BLT sustained 12 dead and 46 wounded. They killed 44 of the enemy and captured 2 North Vietnamese soldiers.65
From prisoner interrogation, the battalion later learned that Mai
Xa Thi had been the command post of the 3d Battalion, 803d NVA Regiment.
As Lieutenant Colonel McQuown observed, that despite all of the sophisticated
intelligence sources, 'BLT 3/1 was not able to ascertain when the enemy
occupied a given area.' He therefore worked on the assumption that 'all
areas that could be occupied by the enemy' were defended by the enemy.
According to McQuown, 'This practice consumed time and resources but
prevented the kind of surprise encounters which had been costly on previous
Thus for the Marines along the DMZ front, Tet had little meaning.
It was the same dogged righting that they had encountered for the last
two to three weeks. There was no truce, but also there was no sudden
thrust through the DMZ or attack on Khe Sanh that the allies half-expected.
The only significant new enemy initiatives in this period were the attempts
to cut Route 9 and more importantly, the Cua Viet supply line.
The Battle For Quang Tri City
While along the DMZ, 31 January was just another day in the war, the
same was not true for the allied forces near Quang Tri City. In the
early morning hours of 31 January, all of the military installations
near the city came under either enemy rocket and mortar attack, or both.
This included the 3d Marines base area in Operation Osceola II at Ai
Tu, the 1st Air Cavalry's 1st Brigade's LZ Betty, and the 1st ARVN Regiment
command post near La Vang east of Route 1. Simultaneously with the bombardment
of the military base areas, the 812th NVA Regiment launched
a ground attack against Quang Tri City.
The 1st ARVN Regiment, not noted for its aggressiveness, withstood the shock of the North Vietnamese assault against the city. U.S. military advisors considered the 1st the weakest of the three regiments of the 1st ARVN Division. Only a few months previous, a 3d Marine Division message contained the observation that while Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu Hanh, the commanding officer of the regiment, had a 'mediocre reputation,' he was 'not incompetent.' The advisors blamed the 'present passive' role of the regiment in support of the 'Revolutionary Development' program offending 'to adversely effect regiment and Hanh.'67
It was, nevertheless, because of its participation in Revolutionary
Development, that the 1st ARVN was in position to counter the thrust
of the North Vietnamese attack. Two of the battalions, the 2d and 3d,
were conducting security missions relatively close to Quang Tri City
and could be called back into the city at very short notice. Hanh had
stationed his l st Battalion, together with the regimental armored personnel
carrier (APC) squadron, at a military installation in the western suburbs
of Quang Tri. Just to the northeast of the city, in the Catholic hamlet
of Tri Buu, Hanh placed the 9th Airborne Battalion that had been sent
north from Saigon and put under his operational control. In the city
itself, Regional Force troops and combat police supplemented the regular
forces. Because of these dispositions, the 1st ARVN Regiment could readily
concentrate its forces and those of the local militia.68
The South Vietnamese had some inkling that the city was in some danger.
Given the unsettled situation in the north, on 28 January, General Lam,
the I Corps commander, flew to Quang Tri City and consulted with Lieutenant
Colonel Nguyen Am, the