Page 143

Page 143 (1968: The Defining Year)



survivor to the Naval Support Activity hospital where he died of his
wounds. Before his death, however, the Vietnamese identified himself
as Major Nguyen Van Lam, the commanding officer of the R-20 Doc
Lap Battalion
. From the recovery of Lam's notebook and a detailed
sketch map of Hill 10, the location of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines'
command post, the R-20 commander was obviously on a exploration
mission to discover any vulnerability in the Marine battalion's defenses.7*

From other sources, the Marine command learned of other ominous measures
taken by the Communist forces in the Da Nang sector. According to intelligence
reports, on 15 January, Group 44, the forward headquarters
of Communist Military Region 5, moved from the hills in western
Quang Nam, to an advance position on Go Noi Island. On 29 January, Marine
intelligence officers received a reliable report that the 2d NVA
Division
also had established its command post in western Go Noi.
According to Marine Chief Warrant Officer Stuart N. Duncan, assigned
to the 5th Counterintelligence Team, a Combined Action unit in the northern
Da Nang area, a few days before Tet, killed a VC who tried to hide in
a tunnel. The CAPs found several documents on the body and in the tunnel
which the man obviously had used as his base of operations. In his last
report, the Communist agent wrote, "I have been discovered and mission
not yet completed." From the details of the other recovered documents,
the VC obviously were making an extensive reconnaissance of the Da Nang
area. His notes contained descriptions of military structures, distances,
weapons, and other information that would be of value to an attacking
force.8

Additional intelligence tended to confirm the enemy was about to initiate
something big. The ARVN 51st Regiment operating in the southern sector
of the Da Nang area of operations came across evidence including documents
pointing to a buildup of Communist strength together with probes of
allied defenses. On 29 January, a local village chief told the security
officer of the Naval Support Activity at Camp Tiensha that about 300
VC would attack the Marble Mountain transmitter that night. That same
day, the 1st Marine Division notified III MAF that "usually reliable
sources" told of staging areas south of Da Nang for an impending attack.
Finally, according to Marine intelligence officers, another "very reliable
source" flatly stated "that the time of attack throughout MR {Military
Region] 5
would be" at 0130 and no later than 0200 on 30 January.9

The Communist forces throughout South Vietnam were about to strike.
In I Corps, the allies learned from a defector that the enemy planned
an attack against Quang Ngai City. According to this former member of
the VC 401st Regimental Security Guard, local Communist cadre
stated that "the war had lasted too long and the Front had to seek a
good opportunity to stage a great offensive that would bring the war
to an early end." Further, the South Vietnamese National Police reported
that Viet Cong local leaders from Quang Tin, Quang Nam, and Quang Ngai
Provinces met in a base area in the hills of northern Quang Ngai to
plan attacks on Chu Lai and on Quang Ngai City.10

While the Communists concentrated their forces for the large offensive,
many of these units suffered from too many rapid replacements and in
some cases from poor morale. As the defector from the 401st
later revealed, his unit lacked "weapons, experienced soldiers, and
transportation manpower." He personally believed the plans were impractical
and deserted at the first chance he had. Another Communist soldier,
who infiltrated from North Vietnam after receiving a year's training
as a radioman in Hanoi, was thrust into one of the attacking battalions
south of Da Nang so hastily that he never learned the name of his unit
let alone those of his officers. Two members of a VC engineering company,
also in the Da Nang area, later recounted that nearly 80 percent of
their unit was from North Vietnam. The Communists obviously were bringing
the local VC main force units up to strength, even if to do so they
had to bring in replacements from the north. For example, while the
enemy R-20th attempted to maintain a full complement of 400
men through the recruitment or impressment of local villagers and infiltration
of North Vietnamese "volunteers," intelligence sources rated the unit
only "marginally effective."11

Throughout the Da Nang area of operations, the enemy began to move
into attack positions. In addition

* Colonel Davis, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines commander, wrote that,
according to the interrogation of another prisoner. Major Lam, if he
had not been killed would have become an advisor to the 31st NVA
Regiment
, also known as the 3d NVA Regiment, for terrain
and operations. Another prisoner claimed that Lam was the chief of staff
for the NVA regiment. Col W. J. Davis, Tet Marine, An Autobiography
(San Diego, CA, 1987), pp. 117-18, End to Col William J. Davis, Comments
on draft, dtd 2Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Davis, Tet
Marine
.





Page 143 (1968: The Defining Year)