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Page 538 (1968: The Defining Year)

Department of Defense (USMC) Photo A190292

Marines of Battery W, 1st Battalion, 13th Marines
at Khe Sanh are seen preparing to load a M114A 155mm howitzer. The M114A
in contrast to the M109 is towed rather than self-propelled, but has
the same range.

continued to shell the Marine base, unmolested by artillery counterfire.*

Still the enemy was in no position to make a final assault on the
Marine base. Complemented by a massive air effort in Operation Niagara**
ranging from B-52s to helicopters, Marine artillery supplemented by
the Army 175mm guns kept the enemy at bay. In one of the more climactic
moments, American sensors on 3-5 February indicated the possibility
of a North Vietnamese regiment moving into an attack position. In coordination
with supporting B-52 Arclight Strikes, the American artillery including
both the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines and four batteries of 175mm guns
blasted the suspected North Vietnamese positions. While unable to confirm
the extent of enemy casualties, U.S. intelligence officers believed
that the heavy and accurate artillery fire (almost 2,000 rounds from
the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines alone) prevented these traps from reinforcing
the North Vietnamese attack on Hill 861 A that occurred at the same

While U.S. supporting arms failed to prevent the overrunning of the Special Forces Gimp at Lang Vei south of Khe Sanh a few days later. Marine gunners still made a valiant effort. In their attempt to keep back the North Vietnamese attackers, the 105mm howitzers of the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines employed, perhaps for the first time in Vietnam, the still-secret Controlled Fragmentation Munitions (CoFraM), otherwise known as "Firecracker Munitions." A CoFraM shell consisted of a number of small bomblets, which when ejected, spread over a wide area, with each bomblet exploding like a small grenade. It was considerably more lethal against troops in the open than the standard high explosive projectile. How effective the new munitions were at Lang Vei can only be a matter of conjecture.7****

* The 1st Battalion, 13th Marines at Khe Sanh consisted of three 105mm
howitzer batteries, a provisional 155mm howitzer (towed) battery, and
a 4.2-inch mortar battery See Chapter 14 about the question of the location
of the enemy artillery pieces in Laos.

** See Chapter 23 for Operation Niagara.

*** See Chapter 14 for the account of the attack on Hill 861A.

**** Lieutenant Colonel John A. Hennelly, who commanded the 1st Battalion,
13th Marines at Khe Sanh, stared that he fired only a few of the CoFraM
rounds. He doubted very much their effectiveness. LtCol John A. Hennelly,
Comments on draft, dtd 30ct94 (Vietnam Comment File). Colonel Edwin
S. Schick, Jr., the 12th Marines commander, also emphasized the judicial
use of the new munitions. Schick Comments. See Chapter 14 tor further
discussion of the use ot CoFraM at Lang Vei. The 11th Marines at Da
Nang fired their first CoFraM mission on 15 March 1968. On that date.
the 1st Platoon, 3d 8" Howitzer Battery fired two rounds in support
of a reconnaissance mission. An observer reported that the "munitions
. . , covered an area 200 x 300 meters with excellent target coverage."
According to the report, it resulted in enemy killed and that the Communist
troops "appeared CO be surprised, shocked, and quite confused. Those
who were not hit by fragments remained standing and immobile." 11th
Mar ComdC, Mar68. pp. 2-3.

Page 538 (1968: The Defining Year)