uary, with 74,313 Marines in III MAF. While the shortfall in the divisions continued, the average strength of infantry battalions remained relatively stable at 1,186 Marines. The shortage among the battalions of the 1st Marine Division disappeared, as their average strength rose to 1,193, exactly their authorized strength. Just before the beginning of the Tet offensive, infantry companies had an average of 207.5 Marines assigned, only 8.5 below their T/O allowance of 216. However, an average of 15.4 Marines were on R&R, in hospital, or otherwise absent, leaving just over 192 Marines present for duty. Since a number of Marines present on the unit diary were in fact occupied with a variety of tasks, the number of Marines available for operations was somewhat lower.
During January 1968, 539 Marines died or were missing in action and 2,126 wounded in action."' For the month, III MAF reported that another 60 Marines were hospitalized for injuries or illness. While these casualties were heavy, especially compared to the light casualties suffered during October, November, and December 1967,* they only foreshadowed what was to prove the costliest year of the war for the Marine Corps.
On the night of 30-31 January 1968 the Tet Offensive began. Marine counterattacks, particularly in Hue City, made February 1968 costlier for the Marine Corps than any previous month of the war. In February, 691 Marines were killed and 4,197 wounded in action. While some battalions suffered terribly in this month, the high now of replacements ensured that the average strength of infantry battalions fell only slightly, to 1,157. One of the hardest hit battalions, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, which suffered 65 killed and 421 wounded in the battle for Hue City, saw its average monthly strength drop only 111, from 1,152 in January to 1,041 in February. Many of the Marines carried on the rolls of this and other badly bloodied battalions, however, were recovering from wounds.
By the end of February, while the average number of Marines assigned to rifle companies had fallen by only 5.4 from late January to 202.1, the average number physically present dropped to 174.8. Again, some companies were particularly bad off; while most companies numbered somewhere between 190 and 210 total strength. Companies E and I of the 7th Marines had only 172 and 176 Marines, respectively, on their rolls. Still, all but 17 Company E Marines and 31 Company I Marines were with their company. At the end of February, the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, an SLF battalion, was still recovering from heavy fighting in the Cua Viet sector, and the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines was still feeling the effects of the battle for Hue. Company I, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines showed 202 Marines on its rolls, but only 150 were actually with the company. Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines carried a respectable 210 Marines on its rolls, only six shy of its T/O strength. However, about half, 109 Marines, were absent, most doubtless in hospitals.
The Deployment of Regimental Landing Team 27
The unexpected ferocity of the Tet offensive shook President Johnson. In the first days of February, while General Westmoreland felt that he had the situation in Vietnam under control, the President worried that a major reverse might still occur. President Johnson found the possibility of Khe Sanh falling particularly alarming. Although anxious to send additional troops to forestall the possibility of an embarrassing defeat, for political reasons Johnson could not send reinforcements to Vietnam without a clear request from Westmoreland. On 12 February, after repeated prompting from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle G. Wheeler, General Westmoreland finally requested a brigade from the 82d Airborne Division and half a Marine division.
Immediately after the receipt of Westmoreland's request, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that the 82d Airborne Division and two-thirds of a Marine division/wing team should be readied for movement, and proposed also that enough Reserve units should be called up to reconstitute the strategic reserve before these additional troops left for Vietnam. President Johnson welcomed the opportunity to send reinforcements to Vietnam, but he had no desire to call up the Reserves. At a meeting at the White House later on the 12th, the Joint Chiefs "unanimously" agreed to send one brigade of the 82d Airborne Division and a Marine regimental landing team immediately to Vietnam. The President, however, directed them to study the issue of the Reserve call-up further.?2
That night, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a message to the Commandant directing the movement of a reinforced regiment from the 5th Marine Division to Vietnam, with one battalion moving by sea and the other two by air. Air transport would begin by l4 February, and the entire regiment was to be in Vietnam by 26 February.93 The Commandant promptly directed Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, Commanding Gen-
*Monthly deaths for this period averaged 240.3, peaking in December 1967, when 273 Marines died in Vietnam.