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Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF

Marine Artillery Reshuffles-The
Guns in the North-Mini-Tet and the Fall of Ngog Tavak and Kham Duc-Operations
Drumfire II and Thor: Guns Across the Border-Fire Base Tactics-Marine
Reconnaissance Operations

Marine Artillery Reshuffles

While not beset by the doctrinal debates and inter-and
inaa-Service differences that characterized air support in 1968, Marine
artillery also went through a period of trial and tribulation. At the
beginning of the year, two Marine reinforced artillery regiments, the
11th and 12th Marines, supported the 1st and 3d Marine Divisions, respectively.
The 11th Marines provided the artillery support for the 1st Marine Division
at Da Nang while the 12th Marines supported the far-flung 3d Division.
The 12th had batteries spread from Dong Ha, near the coast, westward
to Khe Sanh, and south to Phu Bai. In effect, Marine artillery extended
from the DMZ to south of Da Nang in support of Marine and allied infantry.

Containing about 120 pieces, not as large nor as spread
out as the 12th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Clayton V Hendricks' 11th
Marines, the 1st Marine Division artillery regiment had an equally daunting
task. The 11th Marines controlled an impressive amount of firepower,
ranging from 175mm guns to 4.2-inch mortars.* Lieutenant Colonel Hendricks
had a largely expanded force including two U.S. Army 175mm gun batteries.
While his 1st Battalion was attached to the 12th Marines,** he retained
command of his other three battalions and was reinforced by several
general support FMF separate units. These included the 3d 8-inch Howitzer
Battery and the 3d 155mm Gun Battery. He also had attached to his command
the 1st Armored Amphibian Company with its LVTH-6s, amphibian tractors
equipped with a turret-mounted 105mm howitzer.1

Lieutenant Colonel Hendricks had a two-fold mission,
which included both artillery support of the Marine infantry operations
and the defense of the Da Nang Vital Area from ground attack as the
commander of the Northern Sector Defense Command. While not facing the
array of North Vietnamese artillery that the 12th Marines did along
the DMZ and at Khe Sanh, the 11th Marines was engaged in a counter-battery
campaign of its own against the very real rocket threat to the crowded
Da Nang Airbase. With the introduction by the Communist forces of long-range
122mm and 140mm rockets in 1967 against the Da Nang base, the Marines
countered with what they termed the 'rocket belt,' extending some 8,000
to 12,000 meters, about the outside range of the enemy missiles. Employing
a centralized control system, the 11th Marines erected a series of artillery
observation posts and deployed its artillery so that each part of the
rocket belt was covered by at least two firing batteries. By the beginning
of 1968, the regiment had reduced the average response time from the
launch of an enemy rocket to answering fire from the American guns to
about three minutes.2***

* With the arrival of the 2d Battalion, 13th Marines
with the 27th Marines at Da Nang in February, the 11th Marines also
took operational control of this battalion. The 2d Battalion included
107mm howtars, a 4.2-inch mortar tube mounted on the frame of the 75mm
pack howitzer of World War II vintage.

** Colonel Robert C. V. Hughes, who as a lieutenant
colonel in 1968 commanded the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, noted that
while the battalion was attached to the 12th Marines, it remained in
direct support of the 1st Marines, a 1st Marine Division infantry regiment,
also at the time under the operational control of the 3d Marine Division.
In January 1968 it was at Quang Tri and then moved with the 1st Marines
to Camp Evans, and then to Phu Bai. See Chapters 5-6. Hughes wrote,
'We were never in ground contact with our rear echelon/admin support
unit during the entire period.' He declared that 'Our primary source
of spare parts was quite often the damaged and abandoned equipment encountered
on our line of march.' The 1st Battalion during this period consisted
of 'Hq Btry, A and B Batteries, Prov 155mm how[itzer] Btry; and a reduced
4.2 Mortar Btry.' Col Robert C. V. Hughes, Comments on draft, n.d. [Jan95?]
(Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Hughes Comments.

*** See Chapter 6 for discussion of the rocket threat
at Da Nang. Colonel George T. Balzer, who as a lieutenant colonel commanded
the 3d Battalion, 11th Marines in early 1968, recalled that he had his
command post on Hill 55, Nui Dat Son, south of Da Nang, together with
his fire direction center, Battery K, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, and
his 4.2-inch Mortar Battery. He observed that the amount of coordination
'necessary to deliver artillery fire into areas where friendly forces
[were] constantly dueling with enemy forces is tremendous.' The Marines
at Da Nang manned a network of observation towers equipped with azimuth
measuring instruments and maintained a list of accurately identified
coordinates throughout the TAOR. With constant alerts and testing of
the system, Balzer claimed that 'utmost proficiency was

Page 533 (Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF )