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[Image 1: Marine Corps Historical
Collection VNMC Commandant MajGen Bui The Lan addresses his division. In
March 1975
he lost over half of the division during the evacuation of Military Region

Page 82(The Bitter End)

had reinforced the 147th Brigade with the 3d Battalion of the 258th Brigade* With an overall fighting strength of 3,000, the 147th prepared materially and psychologically to execute to the letter the order to defend. Two days later, this order was countermanded, and the l47th was instead ordered to move southeastward to the coastline at Tan My where the Vietnamese Navy was expected to load and move it to Da Nang. On 23 March, the confused and concerned Marines executed their new orders and made their way southward to the beach, knowing that the brigade's fate now rested solely in the hands of the Vietnamese Navy.25

Characteristic of the almost total breakdown in coordination among the South Vietnamese forces, the Navy was not informed of this development until long after the Marines had left their positions. The Navy tried to effect the rendezvous, but arrived behind schedule with too few landing craft and failed to extract the stranded Marines. The few boats that got to the area could not beach because of submerged sand bars and only those Marines who were strong swimmers eventually made it to South Vietnamese ships.

When it became clear to the Marines that their newly acquired position was indefensible and that they would not be evacuated, they destroyed their crew-served weapons, and, in the case of the TOW missile launchers, dumped them into the surf. Less than 20 percent of the l47th Brigade made it to Da Nang. The remainder died in the beach area or were captured without ever having had a chance to fight in a major battle.26

Typical of the individual effects of this failed operation were the experiences of Vietnamese Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Tran Ngoc Toan, the commanding officer of 4th Battalion, l47th Brigade. During the retrograde operation. Lieutenant Colonel Toan's battalion, as well as the other battalions, could not reach the few LCMs which had made it as far as the sand bar, still hundreds of yards from the shoreline. He related, "One company swam out to the sand bar and climbed on board. This included the brigade commander. Sandwiched between 130mm artillery in Hue and the advancing NVA regiments, my battalion was decimated." In the next week Toan and approximately 450 Marines from the l47th made it overland to Da Nang.** They evaded capture and escaped to the southern end of the peninsula where Catholic residents of a small fishing village transported them in their boats to Da Nang. By the time they arrived there on 2 April, the city was already in the hands of the NVA. They immediately shed their uniforms and donned civilian garb, placing their pistols in the back of their pants and small hand grenades in their shin pockets. Slipping out of the city, Toan said, "they walked, paid truck drivers for rides, and hitchiked their way down Highway l to Vung Tau, arriving two weeks later."27

The 258th and 369th Brigades fared little better. With each passing day, the area around Da Nang became more and more crowded, clogged with refugees attempting to escape the onrushing North Vietnamese, unimpeded by fighting forces.

�According (o Lieutenant Colonel Tran Ngoc Toan, the commander of the 4th Battalion of the l47th Brigade, by the middle of March the four brigades operationally controlled the following battalions: l47th-3d, 4th, 5th, and 7th; 258th-1st and 8th;

369th-2d, 6th, and 9th; and 468th-14th, 16th, and l8th. The 18th Battalion consisted of a headquarters and two infantry companies. Toan Comments.

"Toan related: "The other battalion commanders, 3d, 5th, and 7th, were captured around Hue city and moved to Dong Ha, later Khe Sanh." Toan Comments.

Page 82(The Bitter End)