Page 334

Page 334 (1968: The Defining Year)



as the battalion landed, it came under mortar and long-range weapons
fire. Despite the enemy fire, the two Marine companies immediately attacked
northward to link up with the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines. With extensive
air and artillery support. Company K, 27th Marines broke through the
enemy defenses in Le Nam (l), and finally linked up with Company I about
1930 that evening. According to Lieutenant Colonel Woodham, as darkness
approached, the North Vietnamese resistance ceased and they began to
withdraw from the battle area.13


The heavy fighting for Le Nam (l) had resulted in 39 Marines dead and 105 wounded as opposed to 81 North Vietnamese dead. Company I especially had suffered grievous losses. Of the total Marine casualties in the battle, Company I had sustained 15 killed and 50 wounded. Among the dead were Captain Thomas H. Ralph and two of his platoon leaders. The casualties of the company may have been even higher if it had not been for the heroics of Private First Class Robert C. Burke. A machine gunner with the company, he quickly took his weapon "and launched a series of one-man assaults" against the enemy emplacements. Providing covering fire, he permitted other members of Company I to come up and remove the wounded from exposed positions. He continued to advance upon the enemy and to suppress enemy fire until he fell mortally wounded. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.14


During the night of 17-18 May, the two Marine battalions, the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines and the 3d Battalion, 27 Marines, remained in separate positions, but in radio contact. Lieutenant Colonel Barnard had moved to a night position near Cu Ban (4), about 1,000 meters to the northwest of Le Nam (l), while Lieutenant Colonel Woodham retained his command group at An Tarn (l). About 1900, Lieutenant Colonel Barnard had turned over operational control of Company I to Woodham and then began preparations to start out at dawn on the 18th for Liberty Bridge. Essentially, Operation Allen Brook was over for the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, which would leave as planned the next day and be replaced by the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines.15


By that time the 27th Marines, under Colonel Schwenk, had assumed responsibility for Operation Allen Brook which would continue in the Go Noi. On the morning of the 18th, Lieutenant Colonel Woodham began to expand his perimeter around Le Nam (l). About 0930, the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines began to take sniper fire from Le Bac (2), about 300 meters to the north. Lieutenant Colonel Woodham immediately sent Companies K and L to clear out what he thought were a relatively few snipers. The "few snipers" turned out to be a formidable North Vietnamese force which quickly brought the Marine attack to a halt. Under an "exceedingly heavy" volume of fire, the lead elements of both Companies I and K remained isolated and unable to maneuver. Woodham called for both artillery and air, but their effectiveness was limited because of the proximity of the Marines to the enemy. Both companies, but especially Company K, sustained several casualties and the intolerable heat soon became as much a factor as the enemy bullets.16


At 1500 that afternoon. Marine helicopters brought in Company M, which had already been alerted to replace the combat-impaired Company I. As the latter company boarded the helicopters for the return trip to Da Nang, Woodham thrust the newly arrived Company M into the battle for Le Bac (2). With the reinforcements, Company K, which had taken the most casualties, was able to pull back and Lieutenant Colonel Woodham placed it in reserve. The fighting raged on until the night when the NVA withdrew. The Marine companies pulled back to Le Nam (l) and Woodham brought in air and artillery to the rear of the former NVA positions. The battalion had sustained serious casualties: 15 Marines were dead, another 35 were wounded, and 94 troops had succumbed to the heat. In and around the abandoned enemy position lay 20 dead North Vietnamese.

Operation Allen Brook would continue to focus through 27 May largely
on the Cu Ban, Phu Dong, and Le Bac village complexes. Beginning with
the action of the 16th, the 7th, and later the 27th Marines, were in
a more or less a conventional battle against well dug-in and relatively
fresh and well-trained North Vietnamese regulars. Colonel Schwenk, the
27th Marines commander, commented that while the enemy troops did not
initiate any offensive actions, they fought back "tenaciously" from
concealed positions within treelines and in the hamlets themselves.
To offset the Marine advantage in supporting arms, the NVA would allow
"the point of advancing units to pass through" and then open up on the
"main body" with both intense small arms fire and mortars. At this close
range, the Marine command could then make only limited use of artillery
and air support.17


To counter this tactic, the 27th Marines used heavy preparatory fires from both U.S. Navy gunfire ships offshore and artillery in coordination with air strikes to blast the enemy out of their bunkers and trenches







Page 334 (1968: The Defining Year)