Page 021

Page 21(The Bitter End)

larly were sent north to the Rock Pile and into the western reaches of Quang Tri Province around Khe Sanh. All the Marines selected for these elite reconnaissance companies were handpicked by Colonel Tri, the Assistant Commandant of the VNMC. One of these platoons obtained an excellent hand-held camera shot of the SAM-2 sites around Khe Sanh. These patrols also provided the information which ultimately led the VNMC to conclude that a NVA division headquarters was located in Lang Vci, the old Special Forces outpost near Khe Sanh. Intelligence gathering was a two-way proposition as the NVA occasionally reminded the Vietnamese Marines by sending a reconnaissance flight over their AO. Expecting the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) to intercept these violators of South Vietnamese air space, General Lan became increasingly disconcerted when the VNAF failed to even challenge the NVA intruders. It seemed that even when the agonizing process of requesting tactical air support from battalion to brigade to division to Military Region l headquarters in Da Nang provided a timely contact, the Vietnamese Air Force still did not respond* To Generals Truong and Lan, and their troops as well, who had become accustomed to and reliant upon timely tactical air support (formerly provided by the U.S.) this absence was an ominous portent. Lieutenant Colonel Strickland noted that this issue more than any other preyed on General Lan's mind and colored his outlook for peace in Southeast Asia.63

Following the signing of the Cease-fire Agreement, enemy ground activity in the Marine's AO consisted of monthly, sporadic mortar shellmgs, small but sharp firefights, and isolated ground attacks. Both sides spent considerable rime and effort in firing propaganda barrages across the relatively fixed defensive lines. Major artillery or ground attacks were rare, but in early September enemy activity throughout the AO increased significantly. The tempo reached a peak just a few days before the major NVA thrust against Mo Tau Mountain, slightly to the south. On 21 September 1974, the Communists launched a battalion-sized ground attack against the 8th VNMC Battalion. The preceding day, the Marines had observed a 30-truck enemy convoy moving toward a possible assembly area. At approximately 1930, an observation post reported seeing what appeared to be helicopter lights approaching the vicinity of the suspected staging area. Based upon these reports, the Marines redeployed the supporting artillery to positions from which the 8th Battalion could receive more firepower. The enemy opened the engagement by directing approximately 5,500 rounds of mixed artillery and mortar rounds at the VNMC 8th Battalion positions. They followed the preparatory fires with a ground attack. The VNMC stopped the NVA infantry battalion in its tracks; after taking heavy casualties, the enemy withdrew. Many of the North Vietnamese casualties (247 KIA reported) resulted from artillery fire readjusted from ground observation posts. Approximately 300 rounds of 4.2-inch mortar fire from the ARVN armored brigade hit the advancing enemy with resounding accuracy. Effective small arms fire combined with the expenditure of over 50,000 M-60 machine gun rounds helped turn the planned NVA offensive into a VNMC victory64

Following the engagement, enemy activity fell off, except for periodic mortar attacks against various VNMC positions. The remainder of 1974 was marked by light, sporadic NVA activity. Poor mobility caused by seasonal rains further contributed to the low level of activity. In December of 1974 the JGS, in an effort to reconstitute a mobile strategic reserve, directed the VNMC to form a fourth brigade and have it fully operational by the end of April 1975. The l4th, l6th, and 18th VNMC Battalions comprised the newly designated organization, the 468th Marine Brigade. Upon completion of its training, the 468th (formed and initially trained in Military Region l) moved south to the Song Than Base Camp near Saigon. During the months immediately prior and subsequent to this event, the remainder of the Vietnamese Marine Corps enjoyed the relative "calm before the storm."65

On 13 December 1974 in a letter to HQMC, Lieutenant Colonel Lukeman prophetically wrote: ". . . The VNMC is getting a good rest from heavy fighting. They will need it in the spring . . . ."6e

*Thc VNMC had no Direct Air Support Center (DASC) or the associated tactical air control infrastructure and its accompanying tactical air request and air direction radio networks.

Page 21(The Bitter End)