task. Often selected from the air, the sites had to meet three specific
criteria in addition to satisfying the requirement that they be at specified
ranges from each other to support the scheme of maneuver. The site needed
to be large enough to accommodate at least one six-gun 105mm howitzer
artillery battery and it had to be defensible by an infantry platoon,
or in rare cases by a reinforced platoon. To meet the third criteria,
the position itself had to be capable of being constructed within 24
to 36 hours.12 Once the Marines had selected a site that met the criteria,
they accomplished the initial clearing with aerial ordnance or artillery.
Engineers supported by infantry either moved overland or were helilifted
to the site and would then secure the area and complete the work of
demolition. A small air-transportable bulldozer would be brought in
to prepare berms and pits for the artillery. Finally, helicopters would
transport to the fire support base the guns, battery personnel and their
supplies, and the initial stock of ammunition.
Task Force Hotel initially established two fire support bases, Robin and Loon, to support the search operations south of Route 9. As in all subsequent operations of the division that involved the use of forward artillery positions, these two fire bases were positioned so that their artillery fans overlapped.
Following five days of extensive artillery preparation, which included 30 B-52 sorties, Colonel Stanley S. Hughes' 1st Marines launched the first phase of the operation on 2 June. Early that morning, the members of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines conducted heliborne assaults from their assembly areas on Hill 558 and Landing Zone Stud into Landing Zone Robin and then further south into Loon. Both landing zones, south of Route 9, were near the limit of the range of Khe Sanh-based artillery. The two battalions then swept north towards Route 9, encountering scattered but light enemy resistance.
While the 1st Marines conducted their sweep northward, four battalions under the operational control of Colonel Edward J. Miller's 4th Marines assaulted into the area and began search operations to the south and west of Robin and Loon, where they encountered stiff enemy opposition. A battalion-sized enemy ground attack on Loon coupled with heavy artillery support from guns based at Co Roc in Laos dictated that Loon be abandoned in favor of a new fire base, Torch, five kilometers to the southwest.
Despite heavy enemy resistance, not only directed against Torch, but
also against the maneuvering elements, the 4th Marines destroyed sections
of a newly constructed enemy road and large quantities of equipment
and supplies. With the operations' end on 18 June, the 1st and 4th Marines
moved out of the area, leaving more than 650 enemy dead. Four of the
six battalions committed by the 308th NVA Division were decimated,
and subsequently the division itself was dropped from the allied order
of battle of enemy forces. First Lieutenant William J. Spangler, the
commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, recalled the operation
as very successful, but that the North Vietnamese "use of border sanctuaries
precluded total destruction." Although the Marines patrolled up to the
Laotian border and took both direct and indirect fire from NVA forces
in Laos, Spangler observed, "we did not pursue them with troops or supporting
It was clear from the search operations conducted southwest of Khe Sanh that the enemy was not prepared to cope with this new form of highly mobile warfare. Artillery batteries providing a movable support fan under which the infantry could maneuver; maneuver from the high ground to the low in contrast to the older method of moving up to search the high ground. In these operations, each company of a battalion operated independently of the others in terms of mutual support. As long as they remained within the 8,000-meter artillery fan, there was no requirement that rifle companies operate together. Each company was assigned a four- to nine-kilometer-square area within which a landing zone was established to facilitate resupply and the evacuation of casualties. Patrols would then fan out from the landing zone until the company's assigned square was thoroughly searched and cleared. Once the initial square was cleared, the company was then lifted by helicopter to another area within the artillery fan and the search and clear process would begin again. This type of maneuver would continue until the entire area of operations had been given a careful and detailed search.
An alternative method developed during these operations was for a battalion to be inserted onto a heavily wooded ridgeline where an artillery fire support base would be quickly established. One company would then move out from the fire support base and seize a high knob along the ridgeline where a landing zone would be cut out of the jungle while the company's platoons searched the fingers. At the same time, a second company would pass through the first and attack along the ridgeline, seize the next hilltop,
* A detailed account of Operations Robin North and Robin South can
be found in Chapter 16.