1969- The fire support base became an integral part of Marine Corps artillery employment and deployment for the remainder of the war.50* Marine Reconnaissance Operations
The more mobile Marine operations would also have an impact on the employment of Marine reconnaissance units. In 1968, the Marine reconnaissance units consisted of the 1st and 3d Reconnaissance Battalions and the 1st and 3d Force Reconnaissance Companies. The two reconnaissance battalions remained under the control of their respective parent divisions, the 1st with the 1st Marine Division and the 3d with the 3d Division. Each of the Force Reconnaissance companies were attached to one of the battalions, the 1st to the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and the 3d to the 3d Battalion.
Since mid-1966, the two divisions employed their reconnaissance battalions in much the same way, basically as an extension of their supporting arms in "Stingray" patrols, thus bringing Marine firepower to bear deep in enemy territory. In Stingray operations, a small reconnaissance unit (usually a squad, although platoon-sized operations were not uncommon) moved to an objective area by helicopter and occupied a position on commanding terrain from which it could observe enemy activity. From their observation posts, the Marines watched for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese moving through the area. By maintaining a radio link to their headquarters, the Marines were able to engage lucrative targets with artillery fire and air strikes without revealing their position. This technique greatly extended the effectiveness of U.S. firepower by hitting the enemy in his own backyard. For example, the 1st Division credited its Stingray patrols in the Da Nang sector for disrupting the enemy main forces as they moved into attack positions just prior to Tet.51**
Although the Stingray concept called for the patrols to remain clandestine, they went to the field prepared for the worst. A squad, accompanied by a corpsman and occasionally by an artillery forward observer, would take a considerable amount of equipment for the defense of their position.*** In addition to the squad's own rifles, the standard equipment included M60 machine guns (occasionally, Marines even took M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns and 60mm mortars), grenade launchers, Claymore mines, sniper rifles, as well as binoculars, spotting scopes, night vision devices, and, of course, radios. Such heavy firepower was virtually a necessity because the observation posts used by the patrols were, for the most part, somewhat developed as defensive positions with concertina wire, lightly constructed bunkers, and fighting holes. There were only so many pieces of commanding terrain and the patrols returned to these again and again.
Most patrols remained in position about four to six days, although some teams were out for as long as 10 or 11 days. On the other hand, helicopters might extract them much sooner than planned if the enemy detected the patrol. One team which paid the price
* See Chapter 21 for Operation Taylor Common.
**See Chapter 8. Lieutenant Colonel Broman C. Stinemetz, who commanded the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during this period, provided the following description of the experience of one patrol in a harbor site on the nose of Charlie Ridge west of Da Nang that overlooked a well-known trail on 30 January: "Suddenly a major force of NVA regulars, heavily armed, came marching single file down the trail heading in an easterly direction towards the Da Nang area. At the 1st Recon Battalion's opcenter [operations center] came the whispered voice over the tacnet [tactical net} of the patrol's radio operator relaying his leaders observation. 'Ask them how far they are away,' the battalion's operations officer said. There was an agonizing wait as the operator relayed the request to his leader and waited for a response. Then in a barely audible whisper came: 'the six [patrol commander] says they are within farting distance.' The patrol leader stuck with his position for a good thirty minutes and then called artillery strikes on points further down the trail. The darkness and the dense vegetation prohibited any damage assessment, but in debriefings patrol members reported lots of screaming from the impact area." Colonel Stinemetz attributed the success of Stingray in the 1st Division sector for the growth of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in 1967. By the latter parr of the year, the four reconnaissance companies of the battalion were joined by an
enlarged Company E which had an additional fourth platoon. With the introduction of the 26th Marines into country in 1967, Company B, 5th Reconnaissance Battalion, was attached to the battalion. Together with the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, which had been under battalion control for some time, there were a total of seven reconnaissance companies, more than doubling the 1st Marine Division's capability to field patrols. According to Stinemetz, "at this stage the Recon Battalion was the largest battalion in the division. It had more rolling stock rhan a motor transport battalion and more communications equipment than the Communications Battalion." Col Bfoman C. Stinemetz, Comments on draft, dtd 2Nov94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Stinemetz Comments. Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Berg, who commanded the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion from July until December 1968, observed that the Stingray patrols usually varied from 8-12 men. He noted that "patrols preferred going short rather than have a new man added to the patrol." In addition to the corpsman and depending up the situation, a doghandler and dog may be attached.as well as other specially skilled personnel such as a demolitions expert. According to Lieutenant Colonel Berg, one dog had two confirmed "KlAs" from Stingray actions. LtCol Donald R. Berg, Comments on draft, dtd 9Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File).