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CHAPTER 20

Autumn Offensive Halted

A New Orientation-The Eastern
DMZ-Defeat of the 320th Division-Coastal Quang Tri and Thua Thien: A
Shift

A New Orientation

Combat action throughout Quang Tri Province had been
intermittent during June and July. Enemy forces engaged by 3d Marine
Division, U.S. Army, and ARVN forces were, by and large, elements of
the 304th, 308th, and 320th NVA Divisions, and the
27th, 138th, and 270th Independent NVA Regiments.
Only occasionally encountered or employed in strength, these units primarily
undertook reconnaissance in force missions, shellings, ambushes, probing
attacks, and assisted in the movement of arms and supplies to local
force Viet Cong units and guerrillas. The aggressive air and infantry
attacks had caused the enemy to keep his forces dispersed, off balance,
and denied him access to many areas and avenues of approach necessary
to carry out a large-scale ground attack against major population centers
and allied military units and installations. By the end of July, allied
forces in the north had blunted but not curtailed the forward deployment
and positioning offerees for the forthcoming autumn or 'Third Wave'
Offensive by elements of the 320th NVA Division and the three
independent regiments.

With an area of operation that encompassed more than
3,000 square kilometers, the 3d Marine Division could not continue to
rely on battalion- or regimental-sized operations as it had done in
the past. 'In my field visits,' Major General Raymond G. Davis noted,
'I find that battalion level operations mentality still exists in most
instances.'1 With the dispersal of enemy forces over such a large area.
General Davis, in an effort to standardize operations, reemphasized
the need for the employment of numerous coordinated infantry company
patrols working under the protective umbrella of supporting arms. The
idea was not only to increase coverage, but also to deny the enemy sanctuary
and discourage him from developing extensive logistics bases and resupply
caches during the coming months.2

Incorporating lessons learned during June and July
as the division moved toward a more mobile posture, Davis urged his
regimental and battalion commanders to reorient 'their thinking and
staff planning toward infantry company operations to find and fix enemy
forces within their AO's.'3 Even though an operation would be planned
at the regimental- and battalion-level, it was not now necessary for
it to be executed by the regiment or battalion as a single unit. Companies
would be given specific objectives within the area of operations and
encouraged to operate independently within a particular area oriented
to terrain rather than grid lines and within reinforcing distance of
another company. Night operations would be emphasized.

The division commander, likewise, encouraged rifle
company commanders to employ the highly successful tactics developed
during the past two months. Once a company entered the area of operations,
either by foot or by air, it would immediately and unobtrusively select
the first of what would become a series of defensible patrol bases.
Before eating or resting, Marines dug in and registered the company's
defensive weapons on all possible avenues of enemy approach.

In sweeping out from the base toward a series of preselected,
limited objectives, companies and platoons would move cross-country
in two or more mutually supporting columns. They were to avoid well-travelled
trails and draws, while remaining within supporting and reinforcing
distance of the patrol base. Supporting arms would be registered at
frequent intervals, normally 500 meters to the front and flanks of the
column. In addition, landing zones would be cut to facilitate the evacuation
of casualties and resupply. The Marine unit on the move, Davis stressed,
would have 'what it needs, where it needs it, and at the time it needs
it.'4 The pursuit of small groups of enemy troops, composed of fewer
than five individuals would be avoided, as the North Vietnamese frequently
relied on this tactic to lure the advancing unit into an ambush.

Once the advancing Marine unit established contact,
massive, coordinated supporting arms fire would be employed prior to
launching an assault on the enemy's position. Blocking forces, simultaneously,
would be moved up or inserted to seal off all possible avenues of escape.
Upon the lifting of supporting arms fire, the combined force would then
conduct a method-








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