Companies B and C, 3d Marines reentered the area of operations on
3 September, and the following day began search and destroy operations
west and then south along the slopes of Mutter Ridge. Four days later,
after the torrential rains of Typhoon Bess had eased, the remaining
two companies of the 1st Battalion were helilifted onto the ridge to
assist, while Companies E and F of the 2d Battalion secured and established
blocking positions on the high ground to the west. As Lieutenant Colonel
Twohey's 1st Battalion Marines moved southwest, they increasingly came
into contact with the forward elements of the 48th NVA Regiment
which were endeavoring to reinforce the scattered remnants of the 52d.
Late, on the 7th, First Lieutenant Richard A. Andrews' Company A encountered
an enemy squad in bunkers on the southern slope of Hill 461. The company
immediately formed a defensive position, but the enemy unit continually
probed its lines throughout the night. A check of the area at first
light revealed an assortment of miscellaneous equipment and arms, but
no enemy bodies. Andrews' Marines lost three killed and an equal number
of wounded during the engagement. The most significant contact began
on the 8th as Company A and the rest of the battalion continued to move
up Hill 461. An estimated two companies from the 48th Regiment,
from well-camouflaged bunkers, tenaciously defended themselves using
60mm and 82mm mortar and 130mm artillery supporting fires. As Twohey's
Marines pressed on, the enemy counterattacked twice, first on the 10th
and then on the 11th, when they attempted to employ a double envelopment
of Company B. During the three-day battle, the enemy regiment lost an
estimated 50 killed and numerous weapons captured.
While Twohey's battalion moved slowly through the triple canopy toward
the northwest, Lieutenant Colonel Knight's 2d Battalion, 9th Marines
turned its attention to two large hill masses southwest of the Rockpile,
Nui Tia Pong and Nui Ba Lao.
The battalion's search of the Suoi Tien Hien Valley had not proved
fruitful. There were no trails nor evidence of the enemy which had fired
on the battalion from the high ground to the northeast of the valley
in late August. Knight decided to split the battalion. He placed Bravo
Command Group and Companies E and H on the Nui Ba Lao ridgeline and
directed them to attack east. Alpha Command Group and Companies F and
G were lifted out of the valley, inserted into landing zones on eastern
slopes of Nui Tia Pong, and ordered to attack west up the mountain.
Both elements made contact shortly after entering their new landing
zones, the most significant occurring on Nui Tia Pong. As the two rifle
companies, alternating in the attack, slowly moved up the narrow ridge,
punctuated with peaks and saddles, from the 200-meter level to the first
prominent high ground at 800 meters, they encountered a small but determined,
well-dug in enemy force. "It was difficult fighting," recalled Colonel
Barrow, "there was no opportunity for maneuver because you could not
attempt any sort of enveloping movement because the terrain was so precipitous.
So it was a masterful use of firepower and moving straight ahead against
the resistance."53 While suffering few casualties of their
own, the companies inflicted a damaging blow upon the defending enemy
Once atop Nui Tia Pong, the heavy rains associated with Typhoon Bess
struck, cutting off resupply to the two companies for several days.
According to Barrow:
units down to zero availability rations; they tightened their belts.
They conserved their rations and had no problem with water, of course.
It was an experience in learning how to endure the monsoon-type weather
in this very inhospitable terrain, and they did it well.54
As soon as the heavy rains ended, Companies F and G moved down off
the ridge, searching the fingers and finding numerous small ordnance
and ration caches. On 8 September, in an effort to increase troop density,
Marine helicopters brought in Company C, 9th Marines. The pattern of
search during the next several days had one company ahead, moving up
the ridgeline to the west, pushing the enemy back, while the remaining
two companies searched the fingers off the ridgeline and, when required,
alternated with the lead company. This pattern of company search would
continue as the regiment moved further north.
On 9 September, as the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines prepared to leave
the Khe Giang Thoan Valley and return to Vandegrift Combat Base, Lieutenant
Colonel LaMontagne's 3d Battalion assaulted into Landing Zone Winchester
on Dong Tien, six kilometers north of Nui Tia Pong, and immediately
developed contact to its east and west. LaMontagne's battalion easily
dealt with the enemy forces on its eastern flank, killing more than
an estimated 20 NVA, and then threw its weight toward the western flank.
As the battalion moved further west, it encountered successive delaying
actions by well-dug-in enemy platoons and companies, employing command
detonated mines, mortars, and automatic weapons, the same tactics experienced
by the 2d Bat-
Page 401 (1968: The Defining Year)