Vietnamese troops, one fell short and burst near the Marines, killing
four and wounding two. With darkness coming on, Lieutenant Colonel Cheatham
recalled the company and waited for the next morning to renew the assault.
On the morning of the 27th, Marine air and artillery bombarded the enemy defenses. After the last fires had lifted, all three companies of the 2d Battalion rushed forward. Reaching the crest of the hill without encountering opposition, the Marines discovered that the enemy had departed during the night. Strewn around the hillscape were 14 enemy bodies. The Marine battalion then completed its sweep south of the new city the next day and prepared for a joint operation with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines to the east and north of Hue.
Leaving the southern sector to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne on
the 29th, the two Marine battalions entered their new area of operations
to cut off any NVA forces trying to make their way from Hue to the coast.
Although encountering few enemy forces, the two battalions uncovered
"fresh trench work along the route of advance, 3,000 meters long with
600 fighting holes." Captain Michael P. Downs, the Company F commander,
remembered a trench complex that "traveled in excess of five miles"
with overhead cover every 15 meters. As Downs remarked, "that had to
be a way to get significant reinforcements into the city." The search
for significant North Vietnamese forces proved fruitless. Lieutenant
Colonel Cheatham observed, "we couldn't close it [the loop around the
enemy]. To be honest, we didn't have enough people to close it." On
2 March 1968, the Marines closed out Operation Hue City.28
A Summing Up
The battle cost all sides dearly. Marine units of Task Force X-Ray
sustained casualties of 142 dead and close to 1,100 wounded.* U.S. advisors
with the 1st ARVN Division in Hue reported 333 South Vietnamese Army
troops killed, 1,773 wounded, and 30 missing in action. According to
the U.S. Marine advisors with the Vietnamese Marine task force in Hue,
the Vietnamese Marines suffered 88 killed, 350 wounded, and 1 missing
in action. The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) listed casualties of
68 killed and 453 wounded for their part in the battle while the 1st
Brigade, 101st Airborne showed 6 dead and 56 wounded in its battle account.
Thus, all told, allied unit casualties totaled more than 600 dead and
nearly 3,800 wounded and missing. Obviously the enemy did not escape
unscathed. Allied estimates of NVA and VC dead ranged from 2,500 to
5,000 troops. According to the South Vietnamese, captured Communist
documents admitted to 1,042 killed and an undisclosed number of wounded.29
Just as speculative were the size and number of units that the allies
engaged in the one month battle. The allied command, however, knew that
the enemy was in Hue in force. South Vietnamese and U.S. intelligence
officers initially identified at least three North Vietnamese regimental
headquarters controlling subordinate units during the early fighting.
These were the 4th, 5th, and 6th NVA Regiments.
Later, American and South Vietnamese units confirmed battalions from
at least three more NVA regiments-the 29th from the 325C
NVA Division and the 90th and 803d from the 324B
Division. The 1st Air Cavalry Division reported prisoners from
yet another regiment, the 24th Regiment, 304th NVA Division.
Allied intelligence estimated that from 16 to 18 enemy battalions took
part in the battle for Hue in one form or another, not including VC
local force units. It would be a safe bet that from 8,000 to 11,000
enemy troops participated in the fighting for Hue in the city itself
or the approaches to the former imperial capital.30
Until the battle for Hue, the allied order of battle estimates carried
the battalions from the 29th and the 90th NVA as part
of the besieging force at Khe Sanh, approximately 45 miles to the northwest.
The 803d Regiment was supposed to be in the eastern DMZ, another
45 miles to the north. One prisoner from the 803d, captured
on 23 February by Vietnamese Marines, told his captors that his unit
on the night of 21-22 February made a forced march from Gio Linh District
to the Citadel. Although wounded himself, he spoke of the high morale
and fairly low casualties in his unit. On the 23d, he stated that his
unit received orders to withdraw, but did not know why. In the hasty
departure, he lost his way and ran into the South Vietnamese troops.31
* The breakdown of casualties among the Marine infantry battalions are as follows: The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines sustained 67 dead and 403 wounded. The incomplete 2d Battalion, 5th Marines after-action report does not show total Marine casualties, but the battalion's command chronology for February shows 65 Marines killed and 421 wounded. It can be assumed that over 90 percenr of these casualties occurred during the Hue City righting. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines did not submit an after-action report for Hue, but its command chronology for February reflects 17 dead and 154 wounded. Again it can be assumed that the bulk of the casualties occurred in the Hue City fighting. 1/5 AAR Hue City; 2/5 ComdC, Feb68; 1/1 ComdC, Feb68.