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[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical
Collection. At
center is the area designated the eastern landing zone on
Koh Tang. The hatched rectangle,
also at center,
is where it was
believed t hat the Mayaguez crew had been taken. One of the
CH-53s in the second assault
wave. Knife 52,
attempted unsuccessfully
to land in the zone, incurring such severe damage that it
was forced to make an
emergency landing
in Thailand.]

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their later situation reports: "Spectre gunship is working in support ofGSF which is attempting to secure an area to be used as an HLZ on Koh Tang island."59

Unfortunately for the second wave of helicopters, the "Spectre" gunship departed Koh Tang shortly after JG 41, around 1000. As the second wave approached Koh Tang, the importance of providing covering fire with either close air support helicopters or other slow-moving aircraft became readily apparent. With the AC-130 gunship no longer in the area, the Cambodians confronted the arriving Americans with a barrage of antiaircraft fire. The single ship entering the eastern zone (Knife 52) was so badly damaged that it had to make an emergency landing on the coast of Thailand*

Despite the resumed enemy fire, the other four helicopters (K 51, JG 11, JG 12, andJG43) made it safely into the western zone and disembarked 100 Marines, bringing the total on the island to 222 (during the operation the Air Force inserted 231 Marines and evacuated nine). This number fell far short of the planned buildup. Knife 52's failure to unload its 27 Marines from the second wave illustrated why Lieutenant Colonel Austin never received his full fighting force.60

From this point little would change save for the consolidating of positions. The important question now became whether to reinforce or extract the Marines on Koh Tang. One change which had occurred which would have a significant impact on the Marines on the ground by providing them better air support, involved the tactical air coordinator. By 1600 OV-lOs had assumed the role ofTAC(A), replacing the "fast movers." According to the Center for Naval Analysis report on the Koh Tang assault: "There was no dedicated airborne forward air controller (FAC) at Koh Tang until an OV-10 aircraft [Nail 68], arrived on the scene about 1600, some 10 hours after the assault had begun."**61 For those on the ground the arrival of the Nail aircraft meant less radio chatter, more support, and as darkness rolled in, someone to spot the flashes of the enemy's weapons. These flashes, when once marked by the OV-lOs, became aiming points for the AC-130 gunship on station. This change in controllers marked a turning point in the quality of airborne firepower available to the Marines on Koh Tang, because for the first time that day they had an airborne observer exclusively dedicated to providing accurate and timely close air support. The presence of the OV-10 also meant that an attack aircraft no longer had to fill the role of tactical air coordinator airborne and could instead return to its primary role of dropping bombs. The attack force welcomed this addition to its airborne arsenal. On-call strike capability would be a critical consideration in evaluating when to begin the

evacuation.62 The Retrograde
Lieutenant Colonel Austin made it clear to everyone that once the decision
was made to evacuate and the extraction of his forces had actually begun,
it had to be completed quickly and without interruption. With one platoon
still isolated on the eastern shore and no way for the rest of the Marines
to link up with it. General Burns had to decide whether it was Feasi-

*Why K 52 attempted to land in the eastern zone is not explained by the Air Force's operational report.

"According to one of the 40th ARRS pilots in Utapao, Major John F. Guilmartin. Jr. "The pilot of Nail 68, Major Robert W. Undorf, allegedly was responsible for imposing order on an air battle which until his intervention had been less than coordinated and orderly." Guilmartin Comments.

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