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On 23 July, Lieutenant Colonel Heath's battalion began assuming operational
control of the rifle companies of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines as
they were phased into the battalion's positions in preparation for a
relief in lines. Company E, 26th Marines, relieved by Company G, 1st
Marines, proceeded to Quang Tri Combat Base on the 24th and assumed
positions along the base's defensive perimeter. Following a brief, unproductive,
one-day sweep northward from Con Thien along the Kinh Mon Trail to the
DMZ and southward from A-3 through Leatherneck Square, the remaining
elements of Heath's battalion departed the Kentucky area of operations.
On 28 July, they proceeded to Quang Tri Combat Base to prepare and train
for service afloat with Seventh Fleet's Special Landing Force. The battalion,
by 8 August, had embarked on board ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alpha,
and the battalion, on the 13th, once operational control had been passed
to the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, was redesignated Battalion Landing
Team (BLT) 2/26.26

Into the Western Mountains

During June, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion patrols reported increased
enemy activity north of Thon Son Lam, an area that had seen little enemy
activity for the previous several months. It appeared that the enemy,
estimated to be of battalion strength, possibly an element of the 64th
Regiment, 320th NVA Division
, was moving through the large valley
to the north of the Dong Ha-Dong Ma Mountain ridgeline into the region
around Thon Son Lam.27

The vital allied area straddled not only Route 9, the major east-west line of communication in Quang Tri Province, but also included two major III MAF artillery positions, Camp Carroll and Thon Son Lam. Although these fire support complexes presented the enemy with inviting targets, the successful destruction of which would provide both a tactical as well as a propaganda victory, the enemy had yet to mount a strong attack upon either position. Instead, his forces had concentrated on periodically interdicting Route 9 and harassing the installations with artillery, rocket, and mortar attacks. With the Demilitarized Zone and North Vietnam less than 20 kilometers distant, the enemy threat to the area remained constant.

In mid-June, upon receipt of a warning order from General Davis, Task Force Hotel began planning an operation in the area north and northwest of Camp Carroll over which the enemy had long enjoyed control. General Davis informed Task Force Hotel, however, that the necessary forces, two Marine infantry regiments, the 3d and 9th Marines, and elements of the 2d ARVN regiment, and accompanying resources, would not be available until mid-July. On 5 July, General Davis approved the concept for the proposed operation, which "for want of a better name, we dubbed . . . July Action.'"28

The approved scheme of maneuver was one of area saturation. Davis simultaneously placed the forces involved at various locations throughout the region-including three battalions near the DMZ- in order to "upset the enemy quickly and decisively. "29 The 9th Marines' zone of action would include a wide swath of piedmont from the DMZ to Route 9, west of Con Thien, while the zone assigned the 3d Marines embraced the rugged National Forest Reserve, which included Dong Ha Mountain and Mutter Ridge, a high ridgeline which generally parallels the southern boundary of the DMZ. The zone assigned the 2d ARVN Regiment lay west and northwest of the Rockpile and consisted of a maze of valleys and sheer ridgelines.

General Davis directed that the operation begin on 16 July, following a series of B-52 Arclight strikes throughout the area. However, on the 15th, MACV canceled the proposed Arclight strikes for the lack of sufficient intelligence justification.* Later in the day. Lieutenant General Stilwell, the Prov Corps commander, suggested that if the operation were postponed 24 hours, the strikes would be carried out. The promised B-52 strikes never occurred and, instead. Marine tactical air and artillery strikes carried out the preparation of the area. While air and artillery strikes were effective, General Davis noted that they "lacked the mass destructive effect and shock power of the Arclights." According to Davis, "intelligence reports indicated that the enemy was surprised and confused by the operation but due to the protection afforded by bunkers from our fires, he was not disorganized to the point where he lost his capacity to resist. "30

* The selection process for Arclight targets required the submission
of only current, hard intelligence restricted to the proposed target
nomination. The division's request for Arclights included not only specific
target intelligence, but an immediate area intelligence summary. Prov
Corps forwarded the request without the area intelligence summary to
MACV where it was reviewed and subsequently rejected on the basis of
insufficient specific target intelligence in comparison with other proposed
targets. CG3dMarDiv msg to CGProvCorpsV, dtd 20Jul68, in III MAF Message

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