talion on Nui Tia Pong. Colonel Barrow later reflected, "our tactics
were to employ massive firepower, air, artillery, and mortars, and 106s,
and when the area was virtually devastated, move in." He observed, "always
there seemed to be enough left for the infantry to have to do a little
of its own fighting, but most of it resulted in counting confirmed dead."55
In its drive west, the battalion reported killing more than 200 enemy
soldiers and uncovered large caches of mortar rounds, Chinese Communist
hand grenades, anti-personnel mines, and long-range rockets.
As the 2d and 3d Battalions, 9th Marines pushed westward, the 3d Marines continued in heavy contact north of the Razorback. Lieutenant Colonel Bates' 3d Battalion, with three companies on line, swept through the low ground, northwest of Mutter Ridge, against dug-in enemy troops who resisted with heavy 60mm, 82mm, and artillery fire. Although Bate's Marines reported killing more than 17 enemy, they suffered in turn 8 dead and 87 wounded, most as a result of the enemy's indirect fire.
Working in conjunction with Bates' Marines were the other two battalions of the 3d Marines on Mutter Ridge. While enemy contact was light, both battalions discovered and then destroyed numerous enemy bunkers complexes, fighting positions, and ammunition storage areas.
Replacing Bates' 3d Battalion on 13 September, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Sparks' BLT 2/26 landed at LZ Margo, two kilometers north of Landing Zone Winchester. Three days later, as the battalion's four companies pushed east and then north from the landing zone, a hill overlooking the deep, prominent bend in the Cam Lo River, the command post on Margo underwent a 158-round 82mm mortar barrage at 1520. Despite returning fire initially with machine gun and small arms and then with 81mm mortar and artillery fire in an effort to silence the enemy mortars, the command group suffered 21 killed and 135 wounded. The command post took another 64 rounds two hours later, resulting in l killed and 11 wounded. The following day, the command group was again bombarded with 117 mortar rounds and lost another l dead and 16 wounded.
The enemy's continued use of delaying tactics such as that employed
against the command post of BLT 2/26 and the oftentimes tenacious defense
of caches throughout the rest of the area of operations, indicated that
the remnants of the three regiments of the 320th NVA Division
were endeavoring to gain time in order to make their escape north of
the DMZ. "It was apparent," General Davis later wrote, "that the situation
was ripe for the lift of two battalions into the DMZ to trap as many
of these scattered units as possible."56 Colonel Barrow noted the idea
was "to move south against the enemy that was believed to be between
the Ben Hai and Cam Lo."57
On 16 September, the regimental command post of the 9th Marines displaced from Vandegrift to Landing Zone, now Fire Support Base, Winchester. From Winchester, Colonel Barrow would direct the northward deployment of additional Marine battalions and oversee the destruction of the enemy division. With the movement of the regimental command post forward, the regiment assumed operational control of BLT 2/26 and the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.
The next morning following nine B-52 Arclight strikes on the DMZ north of the operational area, Lieutenant Colonel Colleton's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and Lieutenant Colonel Galbraith's 1st Battalion, 4th Marines were inserted into the DMZ, within a kilometer of the Ben Hai River. "The mission which we assigned 1/9 and 1/4," Colonel Barrow recalled, "was to attack on multi-axes to the south in a most deliberate, methodical manner, searching out ridgelines, draws, looking both for the enemy and for any caches which he might have in the area. It was by no means a matter of land and move rapidly to the south. It was to be a deliberate search."58 Meanwhile, Barrow directed Lieutenant Colonel Sparks' BLT 2/26 to attack rapidly to the north on two axes, one generally in the direction of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and the other toward the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.*
Pushing south toward the high ground, the two battalions captured a number of prisoners who confirmed that their units were moving north, attempting to cross the Ben Hai and escape into North Vietnam. They also indicated that they were plagued by severe food shortages, low morale, and had been seriously hurt by Arclight strikes. In addition to prisoners, both Colleton's and Galbraith's Marines, when not engaging small groups of enemy troops moving north, found a number of mass graves, containing the bodies of more
* At 1330 on 17 September, a Marine UH-1E bound for Winchester from
Vandegrift, hit a tree and crashed 200 meters south of the fire support
base. Among the passengers on board the aircraft were Brigadier General
William C. Chip, who had replaced Brigadier General Carl W. Hoffman
as Commanding General, Task Force Hotel on 22 August, and Lieutenant
Colonel Frederic S. Knight, Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines.
Although injured, both men survived the crash.