Napoleon/Saline, on 1 March, Company M, BLT 3/1, supported by two
engineer LVTE-ls and two howitzer LVTH-6s from the 1st Amphibian Tractor
Battalion, crossed Jones Creek just above where it emptied into the
Cua Viet for a sweep into the hamlet ofMai Xa Thi (West).48*
Earlier, the LVTEs and LVTHs "swam down the Cua Viet to a position a few meters south of the village and west of Jones Creek. From there, the LVTEs shot line charges over the houses fronting the river, levelling the structures and "clearing the way for the follow on Marines." The LVTHs fired canister rounds into the village and then moved to new positions off shore to support the infantry. While still on the LVTs carrying them across the river, the Marine company came under accurate fire from the western bank of Jones Creek.** Lieutenant Colonel Max McQuown, the BLT commander, immediately ordered his Company I to secure the left flank of Company M and the southern portion of Mai Xa Thi. In heavy fighting that lasted until nightfall, the two companies killed 36 of the enemy and took 3 prisoners. During the next two days, BLT 3/1 operated in the village and secured a small island, just below Mai Xa Thi, in the Cua Viet River. The battalion uncovered 83 more bodies and captured another prisoner. Marine casualties were also heavy-27 killed and 81 wounded.
In this renewed fighting for Mai Xa Thi, the Marines learned that
elements of the 320th NVA Division were coming into the Cua
Viet sector to replace the 803d NVA Regiment which had the
previous month moved south into Thua Thien Province. While most of the
enemy dead were from the 270th Main Force Regiment, which had
long operated in the region, two of the prisoners, a lieutenant and
a private, were from the 52d NVA Regiment, 320th NVA Division.
Up to this time, the 52d had been in reserve above the DMZ
in North Vietnam, while the other two regiments of the division, the
48th and 64th had moved into the Kentucky and Lancaster
Under questioning, the two prisoners declared they were part of a
small detachment from a heavy weapons company and an advance party of
their regiment. Their mission had been to provide RPG (rocket-propelled
grenade) support for the 270th unit in Mai Xa Thi against Marine
amphibian tractors and tanks in the Cua Viet sector. Both prisoners
claimed that the bulk of their regiment was to infiltrate south on the
night of 1-2 March, but gave conflicting accounts. According to the
lieutenant, the rest of the regiment was to cross the Ben Hai River,
just west of the so-called "Freedom Bridge" into South Vietnam and that
the final destination of the regiment was Quang Tri City. The private,
on the other hand, related that the regiment would cross the Ben Hai
by boat near the ocean and then infiltrate into the Cua Viet sector.
Although cooperative, the 18-year-old enlisted man had little other
information except that "they had orders to remain close to the Cua
Viet." While the lieutenant may have known more of the big picture,
his Marine interrogators were suspicious of his testimony. They reported
that "the captive continually tried to lie throughout the interrogation"
and that "his reliability could not be determined."50
While the intelligence of a new North Vietnamese unit in the Cua Viet
pointed to the continued presence of enemy units in this vital area,
the Marines had already started their own buildup in the sector. With
his new command post at the Cua Viet base, Colonel Hull, the 3d Marines
commander, had just taken control of the operation. The forces in Napoleon/Saline
included both BLT 3/1 and the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion. On 4
March, Hull's 1st Battalion, 3d Marines joined the operation, moving
up from the Quang Tri base to the Cua Viet sector. The following day,
there was another adjustment of forces, but this was an exchange of
missions rather than a reinforcement. BLT 2/4 under Lieutenant Colonel
William Weise redeployed from the Lancaster II area of operations to
the Napoleon/Saline operation, replacing BLT 3/1. The latter battalion
then took the place of the former in the Lancaster area of operations.51****
* This was to differentiate it from that portion of the village of
Mai Xa Thi on the eastern bank of Jones Creek.
** Colonel McQuown noted as a safety precaution "against mines and
RPG rounds," the Marine infantry rode on top of LVTs rather than inside
when they were used as troop carriers. McQuown Comments.
*** Colonel McQuown related that he turned over his prisoners together
with weapons and documents to the 3d Marine Division: "These NVA troops
were fresh, mostly young males, and carried brand new weapons . . ."
including a flame thrower and a "fragmentation grenade launcher 'far
superior to its U.S. counterpart'." Relative to the flame thrower, McQuown
observed, "this was the first and only time we had seen one in the hands
of the NVA." McQuown Comments.
**** Colonel Bruce F. Meyers, who at the time commanded SLF Alpha, observed that BLT 2/4 remained under the administrative control of the SLF commander for medical evacuation of casualties and "a significant portion of logistic support," even while under the operational control of various regimental commanders. He recalled that the embarked SLF helicoprer squadron, HMM-363, helilifted BLT 3/1 to Camp Carroll and in exchange brought BLT 2/4 to the Cua Viet sector. Col Bruce F. Meyers, Comments on draft, dtd 20Feb95 (Vietnam Comment File).