Page 475

Page 475 (1968: The Defining Year)

wrote: "Momyer thought in terms of using a limited number of aircraft
to attack an increasing number of targets over a wide area; the Marines
focused on providing the swiftest and deadliest support for the man
with the rifle."40*

In contrast to Momyer, Marine Generals McCutcheon and Norman Anderson were relatively satisfied with the arrangements for Niagara II. While still uneasy about MACV and Seventh Air Force motivations, they believed that for the most part the questions about air control had been put to bed. On 23 January, in Washington, General McCutcheon informally wrote to Anderson, the wing commander, that Headquarters Marine Corps was "watching with great interest the OpCon command relationship game and the flurry of message traffic between the powers-to-be." McCutcheon acknowledged, however, that the Niagara implementing order was "simply a restatement of existing procedures." In reply, about two weeks later, the wing commander assured General McCutcheon that III MAF relations with the Seventh Air Force "have again normalized." According to Anderson, "the heat is temporarily off in doctrinal matters . . . We both can live and perform our jobs while respecting the others' doctrinal position. For the time being, it appears that Spike Momyer is willing to do this."41

Operation Niagara and Air Resupply in the Defense of Khe

While the issue of command and control over air operations still simmered
below the surface, the allies unleashed their air offensive in Operation
Niagara. From 22 January through the end of March, American airpower
in a massive onslaught bombarded the North Vietnamese forces surrounding
the Marine base at Khe Sanh with over 95,000 tons of ordnance.** Within
the first week, Marine and Air Force fighter bombers flew about 3,000
sorties and the B-52 stratofortresses over 200. On 7 February, General
Anderson, the 1st Wing commander, observed that "some fantastic amounts
of ordnance are delivered daily, hopefully with a beneficial effect."42

A key element of the Niagara air offensive was the B-52 Arclight strikes. During the period 22 January-31 March, the stratofortresses, each plane able to hold 27 tons of ordnance, released nearly 60,000 tons of high explosive upon the enemy. To enhance the concussion effects, the big bombers carried mixed bombloads of 250-, 500-, and 750-pound bombs. Beginning at the end of February, employing van-mounted Combat Skyspot radar MSQ-77, Air Force ground radar operators directed some of the Arclight missions as close as 1,000 meters to the Marine lines. Thinking that they had a 3,000 meter comfort range, the North Vietnamese had stored some of their ammunition within those limits. The results were some spectacular explosions. Marine defenders at Khe Sanh came out of their bunkers to watch, calling the display of pyrotechnics from the sky, "Number One on the hit parade."43***

* In 1996, Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Donaghy, who as a captain
in 1968 was the 26th Marines regimental air officer, remembered that
sometime in late February an "Air Force Jolly Green [helicopter] arrived
at Khe Sanh unannounced. . . . Into the Regimental Command Bunker walked
Gen Momyer complete with utilities, flak jacket, and helmet." After
a briefing, the Air Force general asked to speak to the "senior Marine
aviator on the regimental staff," which of course was Donaghy. According
to Lieutenant Colonel Donaghy, "General Momyer gave me the impression
that he wanted to help us get the job done at Khe Sanh, but only on
his terms." General Momyer stated that "he could send us more air than
I could control with the ground and airborne FACs I had available."
Donaghy replied that the Air Force aircraft "were carrying the wrong
ordnance and were dropping too high. They always carried 'slick' bombs
and were dropping so high that they rarely hit the point targets we
so often were after (bunkers)." The Marine officer continued that what
he needed were "snake and nape." ["Snake" pertained to 250- and 500-pound
bombs configured with a special tail called "snake-eyes," while "nape"
referred to napalm}. In Donaghy s account, General Momyer "smiled and
told me to get the high drag ordnance from the Marines. His pilots would
continue to do as they had over the past months because he didn't want
to lose planes 'down in the weeds.'" Donaghy stated that after Momyer
left, he started to obtain Air Force aircraft and eventually worked
out a system "where we would use the Air Force planes with their low
drag ordnance for Marine TPQs on targets well away from friendlies,
with FACs that had 'area targets', or pass them . . , for use in Laos
where the NVA big guns were always shooting at us from Co Roc. The Marine
air we used in close because of their ordnance loads and their release
altitudes- they could see who they were going after." LtCol Richard
E. Donaghy Itr to Jack Shulimson, n.d. (Ju196] and 4Oct96 (Vietnam Comment
File), hereafter Donaghy Comments.

** The exact tonnage dropped varies from the figure of 95,430 mentioned
by MACV in its history to 103,500 tons listed by FMFPac. Air Force historians
Bernard Nalty and John Schlight use the figures 98,000 and 100,000 tons,
respectively. MACV ComdHist, 1968, I, p. 423; FMFPac, MarOpsV, Mar68,
p. 3; Nalty "Operation Niagara, Air Power, and the Siege of Khe Sanh,"
p. 39; Schlight, Years of the Offensive, 1965-68, p. 285.

*** Colonel Bonner, the 1st MAW G-3, observed that the safety zone
for the Arclight strikes were three kilometers, and "undoubtedly there
were some missions conducted closer than three kilometers but probably
not many." According to Bonner, the Air Force briefers told the wing
staff that "the Arclight targets would be made by map grid coordinates
rather than geographical features and the target would always be one
kilometer square. Their rational was the dispersion of a full load of
250, 500, and 750 pound bombs would safely land in the one kilometer
square, ie. Carpet bombing." Bonner Comments. Navy Captain Bernard D.
Cole, who at the rank of lieutenant served as the assistant target intelligence
officer with the 26th Marines, remembered that the B-52 strikes "were
devastating, but their very effectiveness precluded accurate body counts:
many enemy were undoubtedly buried by the detonations; there were also
interesting POW accounts about the deafening and psychological effects
of the strikes . . . ." Cole Comments.

Page 475 (1968: The Defining Year)