Beginning in December 1967, reports were received of massive enemy troop movements throughout the country and along the surrounding infiltration routes. The enemy continued to move his main forces towards Saigon, Da Nang, Hue, Khe Sanh, the demilitarized zone, and a number of provincial and district capitals. The number of terrorist incidents rose sharply, as did the number of times Army units made contact with the enemy. By January of 1968, the enemy was well into his winter-spring campaign which he had begun in October of 1967. Numerous reports were received about a major offensive to be undertaken either before or after Tet.
Early in 1968 Khe Sanh again became the focal point of enemy activity in I Corps. All evidence pointed to a North Vietnamese offensive similar to the one in 1967, only on a much larger scale. Various intelligence sources indicated that North Vietnamese units, which usually came down and skirted the combat base outside of artillery range, were moving into the Khe Sanh area to stay. At first, the reports showed an influx of individual regiments, but then of a division. The establishment of a front headquarters indicated that at least two North Vietnamese divisions were in the vicinity.
This buildup around Khe Sanh drastically altered the security picture at the base. The road over which the base received its supplies had been cut since August 1967. Enemy activity intensified, and because of increased use of antiaircraft fire, it was no longer possible for U.S. forces to fly-in supplies with immunity. The bulk of the 135 tons of supplies required daily had to be parachuted to the Marine and South Vietnamese forces defending the base.
The main enemy forces in the area were identified as the 325C North Vietnamese Army Division, which had moved back into the region north of Hill 881 North, and a newcomer, the 304th North Vietnamese Division, which had crossed over from Laos and established positions southwest of the base. The 304th, an elite home-guard division from Hanoi, had been a participant at Dien Bien Phu. In addition, one regiment of the 324th North Vietnamese Division was located in the central demilitarized area some ten to fifteen miles from Khe Sanh, fulfilling a supply role. In the early stages of the siege of Khe Sanh, the presence of the 320th Division
was confirmed north of the Rock Pile within easy reinforcing distance of the enemy Khe Sanh forces. The 304th and 325C Divisions were known to have armored units with them and were supported by the North Vietnamese 68th and 164th Artillery Regiments.
In other sections of I Corps Tactical Zone, intelligence indicated the presence of the 2d North Vietnamese Army Division in the vicinity of Da Nang, the 5th and 324B Division in the vicinity of Hue, and elements of the 308th and 341st Divisions in the northeastern regions of the corps area. For his planned attack on Hue, the enemy had an unhampered route and ready access to his logistical bases throughout the A Shau Valley. There were no Free World Forces outposts in the A Shau like that at Khe Sanh to the north in Quang Tri Province.
One of the many intelligence indicators of the vast increase in the movements of enemy troops was a U.S. Air Force report of truck sightings during the period. The reports showed that for the first nine months of 1967 there was a monthly average of 480 truck sightings; sightings surged to 1,116 in October; 3,82 3 in November; and 6,315 in December. This trend was in sharp contrast to the monthly average of 256 sightings during the final three months of 1966. The Air Force also stated that although enemy activity was on the rise throughout the southern infiltration corridors and tactical zone, the most serious threat appeared in the tactical area of responsibility of the III Marine Amphibious Force in northern I Corps.
During mid-January 1968, the undeniable threat in the Khe Sanh area prompted the greatest concern. Not only had the enemy positioned a large number of forces around Khe Sanh, but intelligence sources reported that Routes 92 and 9 in Laos showed signs of an increased logistical movement into that area, indicating the area had become a pivot point for operations leading towards Khe Sanh. While it was recognized that the disposition of enemy forces in the Khe Sanh area was a very real threat to the marines at Khe Sanh, it was also seen as an undeniable opportunity to direct concentrated air strikes against known enemy positions on a sustained basis.
Still another sign of reviving North Vietnamese interest in Khe Sanh appeared earlier on 2 January 1968 when a Marine listening post at the combat base reported sighting six unidentified persons nearby. A patrol dispatched to check out the unidentified men killed five when they failed to respond to a challenge. Later the five killed were identified as a North Vietnamese Army regimental commander, his operations officer, the signal officer, and two other officers. That these key men would undertake such a mission reflected high-level enemy interest in the base.
None of these developments went unnoticed in Saigon where General Westmoreland and Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, were monitoring closely all information as it became available. On 5 January 1968, General Westmoreland directed his principal operations and intelligence officers to plan for a massive aerial bombardment program to counter the rapidly increasing threat in the north. The following morning, Saturday, 6 January, General Westmoreland directed that the name NIAGARA be given to this fire support plan. The name was felt to be particularly appropriate because the support concept called for aerial bombs and artillery shells to fall in such volume as to suggest the falls from which the operation drew its name.
Two days later, General Westmoreland further amplified his instructions by directing that the operation be planned in two distinct phases. NIAGARA I was to entail a comprehensive intelligence effort to locate the enemy in the area of interest. NIAGARA II was to consist of co-ordinated heavy B-52 tactical air strikes on a round-the-clock basis against the located targets. General Westmoreland directed that the intelligence required to support this effort should encompass everything available from all sources. This support would include the resources of all United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force strike, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare aircraft. In addition to normal ground intelligence-gathering activities, unattended electronic ground sensor devices were to be used extensively.
On 6 January 1968, while considering the plans for NIAGARA, General Westmoreland advised the Commanding General of III Marine Amphibious Force:
The anticipated build-up of enemy forces in the western DMZ area provides an opportunity to plan a comprehensive intelligence collection effort and to make preparation for coordination of B-52 and tactical airstrikes. We should be prepared to surprise and disrupt enemy plans for an offensive against Khe Sanh with heavy bombing attacks on a sustained basis.
Concerned as General Westmoreland was about that portion of I Corps immediately south of the western end of the demilitarized zone, he was all too aware that this was only one area where enemy activity was intensifying. Information becoming available at an enlarged rate indicated that a major enemy offensive within the next few weeks was a certainty.
In January 1968 the forces defending the Khe Sanh area included three battalions of the 26th Marine Regiment under the command of Colonel David E. Lownds. In addition to the maneuver
units in the Khe Sanh Combat Base, an impressive array of artillery and armor was present. Direct support was provided by 4.2-in. mortars, 105-mm. howitzers, 155-mm. howitzers, and 175-mm. guns. These sixteen 175-mm. guns provided support by the U.S. Marine positions at Camp Carroll and the Rock Pile. Five tanks having 90mm. guns for their main armament had been present since before Route 9 was closed. Two Ontos platoons were also at the base. The Ontos is a lightly armored track vehicle armed with six 106-mm. recoilless rifles. These highly mobile vehicles could be rapidly mustered at any threatened point. Originally designed as a tank killer, the Ontos was primarily used in Vietnam by the marines to support the infantry. These allied forces faced an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 enemy soldiers assigned to two North Vietnamese Army divisions in the immediate area, a third division within striking distance in the demilitarized zone, and a fourth one nearby in Laos.
Outside of the combat base itself, there were several areas of tactical importance. The most critical points were the hill outposts. Both Major General Rathvon M. Tompkins, Commanding General, 3d Marine Division, and Colonel Lownds, Commanding Officer of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, were well aware of what had happened at Dien Bien Phu when the Viet Minh owned the mountains and the French owned the valley. They therefore considered it essential that the hills around Khe Sanh remain in the hands of the marines. Hill 881 S, Hill 861, and Hill 950 had been occupied by the marines at the beginning of the year. This arrangement still left access for the North Vietnamese to the Roa Quan Valley which ran between Hill 861 and Hill 950. The regimental commander countered this opening with the newly arrived 2d Marine Battalion. Hill 558 was a small knob centered in the northwest approach. The regimental commander placed one company on this hill to control that approach. Even with this unit in position, a flaw remained in the northern screen. A portion of Hill 861 projected up to block line of sight between Hill 558 and Hill 861. This stretch of high ground prevented the two units from supporting each other by fire, thus leaving a corridor through which the North Vietnamese could move to outflank either marine outpost. This shortcoming was identified and within a week a company was put on this ridgeline at a point approximately 400 to 500 meters northeast of Hill 861. Thus, the valley floor was under surveillance by marines from all the key hills.
The Battle of Khe Sanh—Opening Round
The Battle of Khe Sanh began at 0530, 21 January 1968, just eight days before the enemy launched his offensive. The North
Vietnamese Army forces hammered the Khe Sanh Combat Base with rocket, mortar, artillery, small arms, and automatic weapons fire. (Map 5) Hundreds of 82-mm. mortar rounds and 122-mm. rockets slammed into the combat base. Virtually all of the base's ammunition stock and a substantial portion of the fuel supplies were destroyed. The actions around Khe Sanh Combat Base, when
flashed to the world, touched off a political and public uproar as to whether or not the position should be held.
In South Vietnam where the decisions were made, General Westmoreland and Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., Commander of III Marine Amphibious Force, "after discussing all aspects of the situation, were in complete agreement from the start." The base, with its outpost, blocked the main avenue of approach into eastern Quang Tri province. The desired solution to the problem, using airmobile assaults in strength, was not possible owing to lack of both personnel and aircraft. Had they been available, the weather would have complicated such an operation before March or April. Not to be overlooked was the possibility of drawing a major enemy force into a position where it could be decisively destroyed. Another consideration in the decision was that the defense of Khe Sanh could be envisioned as a classic example of economy of force. It seemed certain that two crack North Vietnamese Army divisions which might have been used elsewhere in the province could be contained by one reinforced Marine regiment with a major assist from air and artillery strikes. In addition to these two divisions, two other enemy divisions, held in reserve by the enemy, were never committed because the situation failed to develop in the enemy's favor.
General Westmoreland had but two choices, to stay and reinforce or get out. He chose to stay. In his Report on the War in Vietnam, General Westmoreland told why:
The question was whether we could afford the troops to reinforce, keep them supplied by air, and defeat an enemy far superior in numbers as we waited for the weather to dear, built forward bases, and made other preparations for an overland relief expedition. I believed we could do all these things. With the concurrence of the III Marine Amphibious Commander, LTG Robert E. Cushman, Jr., I made the decision to reinforce and hold the area while destroying the enemy with our massive firepower and to prepare for offensive operations when the weather became favorable.
Meanwhile, at Khe Sanh, the battle was progressing. On 22 January, enemy mortar fire was placed on Khe Sanh and Hill 881. The enemy firing positions were in turn taken under fire by tactical air and ground artillery. Two resupply helicopters and an Air Force fighter-bomber were lost to enemy ground fire. To the west, across the Laotian border, an enemy force of three battalions assaulted and overran a friendly Laotian unit positioned astride Route 9.
The enemy attack against the Laotian position had been supported by seven armored vehicles which had approached along the road. Such a target would normally have received priority effort for
destruction by air, but the weather would not permit it. A flareship, a forward air controller, and two B-57s circled the position attempting to get a clear enough view of the action on the ground to hit the attackers. The forward air controller described the weather: "The scene was low overcast, probably up to around 2,000 to 3,000 feet solid, with high overcast based at about 12,000 feet or so. We were unable to work visually in the area at all . . . ."
The Laotian troops, their families, and other local inhabitants evacuated the overrun position and withdrew to the east. They eventually reached the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei where the soldiers were added to the defensive effort. Although the commander of the Laotians had been a reliable source of information for some time prior to the attack, his report that tanks were a part of the attacking force was not accepted. Tracks of some type of vehicles could be observed from the air, but the weather prevented confirmation of the presence of tanks.
Also on 22 January, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, was moved into the Khe Sanh area and instructed to establish positions 1500 meters southwest of the landing strip at a rock quarry. Five days later, the final battalion allotted to Khe Sanh reported for duty. This unit, the 37th Vietnamese Army Ranger Battalion, was positioned along the eastern portion of the perimeter. At this point enemy activity subsided and remained fairly quiet for some days. The U.S. and Vietnamese forces, however, remained quite active, particularly in the air.
On 21 January 1968, the day the enemy attack began, General Westmoreland decided that the time had come to shift from the planning phase, NIAGARA I, to the strike phase, NIAGARA II and, accordingly, executed it. At 0930 the following day, the 7th Air Force reported the operation had commenced. Aerial bombardment and resupply became the heart of the defensive plan for Khe Sanh.
At the same time General Westmoreland ordered the initiation of NIAGARA II, the other actions were being taken to strengthen the Free World Force's position in northern I Corps. The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) moved a forward command post to the vicinity of Phu Bai, ten kilometers south of Hue, on Route 1. The same day that the 7th Air Force announced the start of NIAGARA, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) Headquarters arrived at Phu Bai and opened for business under the operational control of the III Marine Amphibious Force. This timely reinforcement provided the commander of the III Marine Amphibious Forces with the necessary forces to subsequently thwart the enemy's major objective of capturing the cities of Hue and Quang Tri.
CHART 2- KHE SANH TASK FORCE
In further reaction to the enemy buildup in northern I Corps, on 25 January General Westmoreland directed the establishment of a Military Assistance Command Vietnam Forward Command Post in the I Corps area as soon as possible (The role this headquarters played in subsequent events is described in Chapter IV.)
As January drew to a close, the Free World Forces at Khe Sanh took stock. (Chart 2) All three battalions of the 26th Marine Regiment were present. The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 1st Battalion, 13th Marines, and the 37th Vietnamese Army Ranger Battalion were also present. A Civilian Irregular Defense Group company with its U.S. Army Special Forces advisers and the supporting aircraft control radar detachment representing the U.S. Air Force rounded out the 6,000 or so men in and around the base.
While the marines waited, they filled sandbags, dug deeper trenches, reinforced bunkers, conducted local security patrols, and in general established a pattern that would remain unbroken for the next two months. While the enemy did not launch a major attack against the Khe Sanh Combat Base at the same time as the Tet offensive, he continued to pour indirect fire into all of the U.S. and Vietnamese Army positions. Following Tet, during the first week in February, the North Vietnamese mounted three of its heaviest ground attacks. These fights on the hill outposts were extremely bitter. The North Vietnamese continued to prepare positions for their long-range artillery pieces as well as for countless smaller supporting weapons. They established numerous supply
depots and began construction of their intricate siege works. This intensive buildup continued long after most of the fighting associated with the Tet offensive was over. During the entire time, the heavy enemy bombardment of the base and its outposts continued.
The Tet Offensive—First Phase
The most important of the Vietnamese holidays, Tet, began 29 January in 1968. The lunar new year season marks the beginning of spring and by the solar calendar usually falls toward the end of January or in early February. Work among the Vietnamese usually stops for the first three days of Tet and the festival begins with veneration of the family shrine and public worship. The entire population participate in celebrations, feasts, visits, and gay noisy public gatherings. Tet is traditionally a time of good feeling and family unity.
The Vietnamese in Hue and the surrounding areas planned the traditional celebration of Tet in late January 1968. A Tet cease-fire, traditional throughout the years of fighting in Vietnam, went into effect at 6 p.m. on 29 January. Many Army of Vietnam soldiers and most Republic of Vietnam government officials were on leave or off duty and enjoying the holiday season with their families.
After discussions between President of the Republic of Vietnam Nguyen Van Thieu and U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, General Westmoreland took part in issuance of a joint declaration of a 36-hour cease-fire to be effective from the evening of 29 January through the morning of 31 January. Keenly aware of the ominous situation in the north, General Westmoreland made an exception in the case of I Corps where the increased enemy activity seriously imperiled the U.S. positions in the region. The Viet Cong, at the same time, announced a seven-day Tet truce to last from 27 January to the early morning of 3 February. Under the cover of this premeditated subterfuge, the enemy launched attacks of unprecedented scope.
On the night of 30 January, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces violated the truce and struck many of the populated areas of South Vietnam. It was their largest attack so far—the infamous Tet offensive of 1968. The enemy attack was begun in I and II Corps twenty-four hours ahead of the attack in the remainder of the country. The enemy main attack kicked off late on the 30th and the early morning hours of 31 January, employing over 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. Major assaults were made against Saigon, Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Kontum City, Ban Me Thuot, My Tho, Can Tho and Ben Tre. The
AERIAL VIEW OF SECTION OF CITADEL WALL IN HUE
enemy drive was successful in penetrating the cities in strength, but, in most cities, Regional and Popular Forces and the South Vietnam
ese Army threw back the enemy thrusts within two or three days. In some cases, however, heavy fighting continued for some time, especially in the cities of Ban Me Thuot, Ben Tre, Can Tho, Hue, Kontum City, and Saigon.
The Battle for Hue
Hue, with a population of more than 100,000, as stated earlier, is the third largest city in South Vietnam. It lies a hundred kilometers south of the demilitarized zone and ten kilometers west of the coast. The Huong or Perfume River, running from the southwest to the coast, divides the populated area. The Citadel, a walled city of about three square kilometers and comprising about two-
thirds of the city, lies on the north bank, and the other third of the city lies on the south. A railroad bridge on the west and the Nguyen Hoang Bridge, over which Route 1 passes, connect the two sections. The Citadel is surrounded by rivers on all four sides. It is further protected by a moat which encircles perhaps 75 percent of the interior city. The moat is reinforced by two massive stone walls.
Because of the widespread truce violations by the enemy, the U.S. Military Assistance Command and the joint General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam officially terminated the cease-fire on 30 January. In northern I Corps, Brigadier General Ngo Quang Troung, the commanding general of the 1st Vietnamese Army Infantry Division, improved security measures and instituted a series of alerts which placed his units in a state of increased readiness. As a result, the division headquarters in the northeast comer of the Hue Citadel was on alert on 30 January. At 0340 hours, 31 January, the enemy initiated a closely co-ordinated rocket, mortar, and ground assault against Hue. Attacking with seven to ten battalions, the enemy struck selected targets within the city, both north and south of the Huong River. (Map 6)
The enemy had carefully selected the time for his attack. In addition to the fact that most military units would normally be at reduced strength because of the holidays, the weather favored the attacker. The northeast monsoon produced foul weather which hampered resupply operations and grounded most of the air support which otherwise would have given the Free World Forces considerable help.
Under concealment of low fog, the enemy regular units, comprising both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, were able to infiltrate the city of Hue with the help of accomplices inside. The troops quickly captured most of that portion of the city on the south bank of the Huong River and seized the greater part of the northern half including the Imperial Citadel. While the division staff of the 1st Vietnamese Army Division was on 100 percent alert at the division compound in the northeast corner of the Hue Citadel, only a skeleton staff of the U.S. Advisory Team of the Vietnamese Army 1st Division was on duty at 1st Division Headquarters in the Citadel. The remaining members were pinned down in the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound in southern Hue by the initial enemy assaults. General Troung's action in northern Hue preserved the commands and staff structure of the division. Many of his officers who lived in southern Hue probably would not have been able to make their way to division headquarters once this battle started. Their presence provided a garrison sufficient when reinforced by the Hac Bao or Black Panther Company to prevent
the headquarters from being overrun by the attacking enemy force. The Hoc Boa or Black Panther Company was an all-volunteer unit used as the division reaction force.
An enemy ground attack was launched against the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound located south of the river in southern Hue by elements of the 4th North Vietnamese Army Regiment. Following the rocket and mortar attack, the 804th Battalion assaulted the northeast corner of the compound but was repelled by small arms and automatic weapons fire. A second attack made against the southeast corner approximately an hour later was also repulsed.
To the north of the Huong River, the 800th and 802d Battalions of the 6th North Vietnamese Army Regiment assaulted the Citadel. These two battalions drove from the southwest towards the 1st Vietnamese Army Division Headquarters. At four o'clock in the morning, the 800th Battalion was blocked by the 1st Vietnamese Army Division Hac Bao or Black Panther company at the Hue city airfield. After a brief engagement with the Hac Bao, the 800th Battalion was diverted south. The 802d Battalion was more successful, having penetrated the 1st Vietnamese Army Division compound and occupied the medical company cantonment area. The Hac Bao Company was called to the compound and together with the 200-man division staff drove the enemy out of the compound. By daylight, the two battalions of the 6th North Vietnamese Regiment reinforced by the 12th Sapper Battalion, had occupied the Citadel except for the 1st Vietnamese Army Division Headquarters.
As daylight broke over the embattled city, the enemy had control of all but the northern corner of Hue. That is to say, the 6th Regiment controlled the population. The enemy had not attained his two objectives—the 1st Vietnamese Army Division Headquarters in the Citadel or the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound. But in these two friendly pockets of resistance the picture was dark. The red and blue banner with the gold star of the Viet Cong could be seen flying in the Citadel flag tower.
Also among the holdouts were the scattered Regional Force and Popular Force units, though many were surrounded and cut off from friendly elements. Particularly important was the retention of the LCU (Landing Craft, Utility) ramp, and the 1st Signal Brigade's multichannel rapid relay complex. The former comprised the logistical key to the city of Hue; the latter, the communications gateway from Khe Sanh and Hue to the south. Outside the city, the North Vietnamese established blocking positions to stop any reinforcements by U.S. and Vietnamese Army forces to the embattled elements in Hue City. In southern Hue, the entire area
was seized and occupied, except for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound by elements of the 4th North Vietnamese Regiment.
Action was immediately taken to relieve the pressure on the two compounds. (Map 7) The 1st Marine Division committed units of the 1st Marine Regiment as a reaction force to aid the Free World Forces under attack in Hue. General Troung ordered his 3d Regiment, 1st Airborne Task Force, and the 3d Troop, 7th Cavalry, to move to the Citadel. Enroute these reaction forces encountered intense small arms and automatic weapons fire as they neared the city. The 806th North Vietnamese Army Battalion was occupying positions blocking Highway 1 northwest of Hue. The 804th Battalion with elements of the Co B, Sapper Battalion and the K4B
Battalion was in southern Hue. The 810th Battalion had established blocking positions astride Highway 1 leading southwest from Hue. The Free World Forces fought through these obstacles but again slowed as they encountered intense fire 700 meters south of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound. However, they continued on and reached the compound. Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, was the lead element enroute to Hue from Phu Bai along Route 1.
This company was followed by the Command Group of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, which arrived at the compound at 1400. During the next three days, three more Marine companies, two Marine battalion command groups, and a Marine regimental command group arrived in the compound. A Marine tank platoon was also present. The marines made an attempt to cross the river on 31 January but were repulsed by the well dug-in enemy.
On 31 January, the mission of the marines was altered, giving the 1st Vietnamese Army Division, which was in an area on the north side of the river, responsibility for that area. While two battalions of the 3d Vietnamese Army Regiment moved east along the northern bank of the Huong River, two Vietnamese Army Airborne Battalions and the Cavalry Troop fought their way into the 1st Vietnamese Division Headquarters compound in the northeast corner of the Citadel.
On 1 February, the Vietnamese forces initiated offensive operations to clear the enemy from his entrenched positions inside the Citadel, and the marines opened operations to clear their area south of the river with particular attention to securing the landing craft ramp. The following day, the 3d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, moved into the operations area to seal off Hue City along the west and north.
During the early portion of the battle, the weather had been reasonably good. 2 February proved to be a turning point and conditions following that date became increasingly worse. The temperature fell into the 50's, which is quite cool for that part of the country. The prevalent misty drizzle occasionally turned into a cold drenching rain. As clouds closed in and heavy ground fog developed, it became difficult to use heavy fire support properly. Tactical air operations were severely limited and the majority of fire support missions fell on the howitzer batteries and supporting naval gunfire. Although less restricted by the poor visibility than aircraft, the artillery still had to be used with even greater precision. Even then the forward ground observers were occasionally required to radio corrections to firing batteries based on sound rather than sight.
During the period from 7 to 11 February the enemy units in and
around the Citadel continued to offer stiff resistance. The 60 percent of the Citadel still in enemy hands included the west wall through which the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were able to bring in reinforcements and additional supplies each night. The enemy was also using steel-bottomed boats to bring in supplies along the river.
The 3d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division arrived on 2 February and was assigned the mission of blocking the enemy approaches into the city from the north and west. The brigade had air assaulted into a landing zone about 10 kilometers northwest of Hue on Highway 1. They then worked their way south and east towards Hue. The men were tiring, As one trooper put it early in the battle, "We had gotten less than six hours sleep in the past 48 hours. We didn't have any water and the river water was too muddy to drink."
It was some time before the pressure was to let up on the men of the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, of the 3d Brigade. On 4 February, the entire battalion conducted a daring night march through light mist and ankle-deep water towards high ground behind the enemy lines. At six the next morning, understandably exhausted, the battalion mounted their hill objective overlooking a valley still six kilometers west of Hue.
On 5 February, the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, established positions on the high ground giving them excellent observation of the main enemy routes in and out of Hue. From that position, they were able to interdict all daylight movement of the enemy by calling artillery down on the plains below. The battalion remained in this location, restricting and disrupting enemy movement until 9 February. During the same period, the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was conducting search operations along enemy routes west of that area, then controlled by the 2d of the 12th Cavalry. On 7 February, the 5th Battalion made contact with the deeply entrenched enemy who had reoccupied the area from which the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, had previously expelled them. Progress was halted by the stubborn resistance of the enemy at this point. The following day, the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, tried again to breach the enemy's defense but was halted by heavy volumes of enemy automatic weapons and mortar fire. On 9 February, 5th Battalion remained in its position as a holding force to contain the enemy while the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, left their location on the high ground and attacked northward toward their sister battalion. Enemy resistance stiffened as the battalion entered the village of Thong Bon Tri. Fighting continued throughout the day, and the infantry slowly moved northward.
As the fighting raged in the cities and towns and along the rice
paddies and rivers in I Corps Tactical Zone, General Creighton W. Abrams, deputy commander of the Military Assistance Command, and General Cushman conferred on 8 February in preparation for a conference between General Westmoreland and General Cushman on 9 February. The result was the concurrent movement of the two battalions of the 101st Airborne Division into I Corps, one by air to Phu Bai to join the Marine Task Force X-RAY operating in the southern part of Thua Thien Province, the other by sea to Da Nang. The second battalion was tasked to secure the U.S. 35th Engineer Battalion as it moved north repairing Highway I from Da Nang to Phu Bai.
The South Vietnamese also increased their commitment to the recapture of Hue. Two battalions reinforced with the Vietnamese Army Cavalry Troop, 1st Division Reconnaissance Company, and the elite Black Panther Company succeeded in securing the airfield at Hue and then deployed south of the division headquarters in the Citadel. The following day, the remaining troops of the 4th Battalion and the 9th Airborne Battalion were airlifted into the city from Dong Ha and Quang Tri.
Meanwhile, the 1st Air Cavalry battalions remained in their positions through 11 and 12 February, blocking enemy routes and disrupting all visible movement by liberal use of artillery and airstrikes. On 12 February, the 5th Battalion again attacked the well-fortified enemy. By nightfall, there had been no substantial change in the opposing forces' positions. The cavalry battalions remained in their general locations until 19 February, conducting aggressive probes of the enemy positions and blocking the enemy's movement.
The 3d Brigade had been reinforced with the 2d Battalion, 501st Airborne, which began actively patrolling the vicinity on 19 February. Also on 19 February, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was relieved from its base defense mission at Camp Evans and was deployed south to the area of operations on 20 February. The 3d Brigade, controlling four battalions by 20 February, continued to search north and south of the initial contact area and prepared to attack eastward towards Hue the next day. According to the brigade's plan, the two 7th Cavalry battalions were to push into the area of enemy resistance at Thon Que Chu, the 2d Battalion, 501st Airborne, would advance in the center while the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, would advance northward with two companies held as brigade reserve.
During the night the four battalions moved into their attack positions and at the break of dawn on 21 February began their attack. The advance continued, with contact becoming increasingly heavy as the enemy contested every foot of ground. Air strikes,
naval gunfire, artillery, and helicopter gunships helped overwhelm the stubborn enemy and permitted the advancing infantry to maintain steady momentum as they pushed the North Vietnamese back. Before darkness, the battalions had all reached their objectives and were within five kilometers of Hue.
That night the battalions went into defensive perimeters, poised to continue the attack. On 22 February, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, remained in the battle area to search out by-passed pockets of enemy resistance while the other three battalions pushed their attack eastward to a point approximately two and a half kilometers from Hue. Heavy resistance was encountered in the afternoon but the battalions forced the stubbornly fighting North Vietnamese eastward as they continued their advance. Again on 23 February, the 3d Brigade pressed its attack and moved astride the enemy's avenues of escape from Hue. Throughout the day, enemy forces continued their stubborn resistance with mortars, rockets, and heavy automatic weapons fire. The attack was continued on 24 February against the desperate but weakening enemy forces.
The marines had been conducting clearing operations throughout southeast Hue. Marine elements, after securing the area around the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, compound had fanned out east and west along the southern bank of the river. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, moved west then south, destroying bridges over the Phu Cam to prevent the enemy from using them as a means to enter the area. Although additional sweeps were conducted south of Hue, on 10 February, the area south of the river was declared secure. The marines then concentrated on the area north of the river.
On 12 February the marines displaced the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, across the river by helicopters and LCU's. This battalion relieved the 1st Vietnamese Airborne Task Force in the southeastern section of the Citadel. At the same time, two battalions of Vietnamese marines moved into the southwest corner of the Citadel with the mission to sweep east. The buildup of friendly forces in the walled city added pressure on the enemy, who in turn doubled his efforts to accomplish his own mission. From 13 to 22 February the battle swayed back and forth as the U.S. marines' Vietnamese marines, and Vietnamese Army 1st Division bore down on the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong within Hue. Ground artillery and U.S. naval gunfire were used in heavy measure to support the U.S. and Vietnamese combat force efforts to drive the enemy out of well-entrenched positions within the city.
During the period 17-22 February, additional pressure was brought to bear against the enemy. The 3d Brigade, 1st Cavalry,
continued to press in from the west. On 19 February, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division's Task Force X-RAY was given responsibility for co-ordination of all fire support in the city. Two days later, the 1st Cavalry Division's area of operation was extended south to the Huong River and east to the western wall of the Citadel. As the Cavalry moved to fill this area, they effectively cut off the remaining major enemy supply route and precipitated a rapid deterioration of the enemy's strength.
During the night of 23-24 February, the 2d Battalion, 3d Vietnamese Regiment, executed a surprise night attack westward along the wall in the southeastern section of the Citadel. The enemy was knocked off balance by the attack but once it began, he fought savagely. The South Vietnamese persisted and never lost the momentum their surprise action had given them. During the night they forced the North Vietnamese to pull back. Included in the ground regained that night was the plot upon which stood the Citadel flag pole. At 0500 on the 24th, the yellow and red flag of South Vietnam replaced the Viet Cong banner which had flown from the flag pole for twenty-five days.
At 0500 the next morning, following a thorough artillery preparation, the final enemy position was overrun. With the loss of this last toehold in the southwest corner of the Citadel, the remnants of the ten battalion enemy force that had attacked and seized the city either fled or became casualties. The Citadel was secure, and the battle of Hue was officially over.
During the relief of the siege of Hue, the forward headquarters of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, considered directing the commanding general of the 1st Air Cavalry Division to establish a forward command post in the city of Hue, co-located with the embattled headquarters of General Troung, commanding general of the 1st Vietnam Army Division. The objective was to establish within the city a major U.S. headquarters with sufficient command and control, air mobility, and artillery resources to coordinate and apply the forces necessary to break the siege. Brigadier General Oscar E. Davis, the assistant division commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, was designated as the Hue co-ordinator for the forward headquarters and co-located with General Troung. General Davis was to assess the situation and recommend directly to General Abrams resources needed to recapture the Citadel. General Davis's recommendations to divert certain troops to critical areas, to co-ordinate air and artillery support, and to accelerate supply procedures were decisive. Within 72 hours of his arrival at General Troung's headquarters, the siege of Hue was lifted.
The recapture of Hue had been a particularly bitter fight. The
AERIAL VIEW OF RUINS OF HUE
battle had formed with four U.S. Army battalions, three U.S. Marine Corps battalions, and eleven Vietnamese battalions on one side and ten North Vietnamese and Viet Cong battalions on the other. It involved house-to-house fighting similar to that in Europe a quarter of a century before. There was extensive damage to the city where some 116,000 civilians became homeless. It was an expensive battle in terms of human life. The enemy lost 5,000 soldiers within the city and an additional 3,000 in the surrounding clashes.
An extremely harsh price was the loss of life among the civilian population. This loss was the direct result of a systematic selection process followed by the Communists during the 26 days they occupied the city. In the wake of the offensive 5,800 civilians were dead or missing. More than 2,800 of these persons were found in single or mass graves during the months following the attack. Many of these victims were chosen because of their positions and loyalty to the Saigon government. As General Westmoreland pointed out, "This was a terrifying indication of what well might occur should the Communists succeed in gaining control of South Vietnam."
As the battle for Hue developed, it became rapidly apparent to commanders on the scene that the 3d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry
Division had taken on an unusually large enemy force north and west of the city. Numerous documents captured during the action indicated the presence of elements of three unexpected North Vietnamese Army regiments and several local units of regimental size. The profusion of varying documents revealed that the enemy was using this portion of Quang Tri Province as a staging area for actions in Hue. In the last days of the battle, prisoners were captured representing the 6th North Vietnamese Army Regiment, the 24th Regiment of the 304th North Vietnamese Division, the 29th Regiment of the 325C North Vietnamese Division, and the 99th Regiment of the 324B North Vietnamese Division. Interrogation disclosed that the latter three units had begun moving into the area between 11 and 20 February to reinforce the weakening local forces. What was surprising was that each of these regiments came from one of the enemy divisions located around Khe Sanh or other demilitarized zone areas. Their presence in the vicinity of Hue had been previously unsuspected. The aggressive actions of the 3d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division had seriously disrupted the enemy plans not only in Hue itself, but quite naturally in those other areas which supplied reinforcing units.
Shortly after the opening of the enemy's Tet offensive, the U.S. Army made an accelerated effort to obtain an indication of enemy intentions through compilation of opinions of senior South Vietnamese officers. Possibly these officers would be more likely than Americans to discern the thinking of their brothers to the north. Named Operation LEAP FROG, the project produced information acquired by a team of four U.S. officers who visited each division in all four corps areas, except the 1st Vietnamese Army Division, which was totally committed in Hue at the time.
Almost without exception the South Vietnamese Army officers saw the attacks as politically rather than militarily motivated. Most of the senior Vietnamese commanders felt the enemy was attempting to obtain a position of strength from which he could better achieve his goals at any future peace talks. A smaller group of officers saw the enemy objective as being the discrediting of the South Vietnamese and U.S. military power to protect the population. With the exception of the divisions in III Corps, all commanders felt the offensive was an all-out effort using everything available. Throughout the country, the enemy carried between three and eight days of food, and many officers reasoned the enemy intended to win within that time.
Another matter of inquiry was the degree of surprise gained by the enemy in these assaults. Naturally, those installations not attacked in the early morning hours of 30 January had the one-day
warning given by the first-day attacks. Many other Vietnamese Army commanders had recovered enemy documents weeks, even months before, that warned of attacks on cities in their area. There were other general indicators of coming attacks during the Tet period. Some units received agent, outpost, defector, or prisoner reports in the hours immediately prior to the attack.
In some instances, although definite information was not available to accurately predict the time and place of enemy assaults, prudent Vietnamese commanders had anticipated the likelihood of such assaults and prepared accordingly. Already discussed was the decision of the 1st Vietnamese Army Division Commander to keep his division staff on alert in Hue—an action which contributed significantly to the division's eventual success in repulsing the enemy's savage attack. Another fortunate action was taken by the Vietnamese 2d Division in Quang Ngai which called a practice alert for the early morning hours of 31 January. Although apparently not called as a result of any warning, the alert had considerable effect in either delaying or disrupting attacks in their area.
Further re-evaluation of the enemy situation led to the conclusion that the Tet actions were due a change in enemy objectives resulting from the realization that time, once an ally, had begun to work against the Communists. Intelligence analysts believed that the enemy had developed two basic objectives as of February 1968. Those goals were to win the war by a political and psychological campaign and to gain and maintain control of the people. To accomplish these goals the intelligence people reasoned that the enemy had set for himself three basic tasks. The first was to present a constant threat in widely separated areas. The second was to cause as many casualties as possible among U.S., Free World, and Vietnamese forces. The final task was to gain military victories for propaganda purposes.
To achieve these aims the enemy had placed the equivalent of four divisions in the vicinity of the demilitarized zone. An additional overstrengthened division was located elsewhere in the northern two provinces. The actions at Quang Tri and Hue were conducted by these troops in an attempt to regain control of the population.
Battle for Quang Tri
While the struggle for Hue was the most spectacular battle of the Tet period in northern I Corps, it was by no means the only one. At Quang Tri City further north the enemy made a determined attempt to duplicate his initial success at Hue.
AERIAL VIEW OF QUANG TRI
Quang Tri City is the provincial capital for the northernmost province of South Vietnam. Like Hue, it is located on Route 1 about 10 kilometers inland from the Gulf of Tonkin. The city is positioned along the east bank of the Thach Han River some 25 kilometers south of the demilitarized zone.
On the evening of 30 January 1968, a platoon-size unit of the enemy 10th Sapper Battalion infiltrated the city. The unit's mission was to create confusion within the city by committing acts of destruction and sabotage while the main ground attack was being launched by the 812th North Vietnamese Regiment.
The enemy assault was to have started at 0200 on 31 January and accordingly the sappers went into action at that time. This of course revealed their presence and intentions. Fortunately, the ground attack by the 812th North Vietnamese Regiment was delayed because of difficulties imposed by the rain, swollen streams, and lack of familarity [sic] with the area. As a result, Regional and Popular Forces and elements of the 1st Vietnamese Army Regiment who composed the internal defense forces of the city were able to concentrate on the sappers before the main attack took place.
The 812th Regiment began its attack at 0420 on a multiple front. The K-4 Battalion attacked from the east, penetrating the city at several points. This battalion was to make the main assault and had the mission of securing the left gate of the Quang Tri Citadel wall and the province section headquarters. (Map 8) This
same battalion was expected to destroy the artillery unit within the compound and occupy the city prison.
The K-6 Battalion struck from the Southeast between Highway 1 and the railroad. The mission of this battalion was to attack the Vietnamese Army compound in the La Vang base area south of the city. The K-5 Battalion was the enemy's regimental reserve and was to occupy positions southeast of Quang Tri City.
The 814th Battalion, a Viet Cong unit assigned to the North Vietnamese Army, was to play a secondary role in the attack. Upon completion of the occupation of the city, it would occupy the whole city, allowing the remainder of the regiment to redeploy in a crescent formation on the southern side of Quang Tri to block Vietnamese Army and U.S. forces that were expected to come in as reinforcements from the vicinity of Hue. The fifth enemy battalion, K-8, also appears to have had a supporting role during the attack. Its mission was apparently to block Vietnamese units from reinforcing the city from the north and to reinforce the battalion committed in the northern portion of the city.
The brunt of the attack fell on the defending Vietnamese Army forces in and around the city. These forces were composed of the 1st Vietnamese Regiment, an attached Armored Personnel Carrier Troop, the 9th Army of Vietnam Airborne Battalion, and the police and Popular Force elements in the city. The 1st Regiment had two of its own battalions and the Airborne Battalion north and northwest of the city protecting revolutionary development areas. A third battalion of the regiment was located northeast of Quang Tri while a fourth battalion was in the city itself.
As the 814th Viet Cong Battalion attacked Quang Tri from the northeast, it was decisively engaged by the 9th Airborne Battalion and was unable to enter the city. However, the pressure on the defending Vietnamese Army forces remained heavy and, fighting for every foot of ground, they were forced to pull back into the city. Although the enemy had been unable to take over the city, they exerted great pressure on its defenders and at noon of the 31st the outcome of the battle remained uncertain.
The Vietnamese forces were not entirely on their own at Quang Tri City. On 25 January the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by Colonel Donald V. Rattan, had been moved into the area from position near Hue and Phu Bai. Since 17 January, the brigade's mission had been to launch attacks into a known enemy base area located roughly 15 kilometers southwest of Quang Tri City. The brigade had an additional mission to block approaches into the city from the southwest but was primarily concerned with its offensive mission and accordingly had two fire bases,
one 15 kilometers west of the city and one in the middle of the enemy base area. The action of the 814th Viet Cong Battalion redirected the attention of the cavalry troops.
Shortly after noon on 31 January, the senior adviser to the Province Chief, Mr. Robert Brewer, held a conference with the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Commander, Colonel Rattan, and the senior U.S. adviser to the Vietnamese 1st Regiment. The situation in the city was still in doubt. The enemy had infiltrated at least a battalion into the city and its defending forces were in need of immediate assistance. At the time, it appeared that the enemy was reinforcing from the east and had established fire support positions on the eastern fringes of the city.
At the time of the assault, the brigade headquarters at Landing Zone BETTY and other landing zones in addition to the Vietnamese Army base camp at La Vang had come under sporadic rocket and mortar attacks. A dense fog blanketed the area. Despite these factors, the brigade was able to react quickly to the new situation. The 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry could not be moved from its mountain top position in the enemy base area because of the dense fog. Also, the 1st Battalion, 502d Airborne, of the 101st Airborne Division which was under operation control of the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, continued its base defense mission and tactical operation just west of Quang Tri. (Map 9)
This development left only the 1st Battalion of the 12th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion of the 5th Cavalry for use against the attacking enemy. Each of these battalions had opened new fire bases to the west of the city, along the river valley leading to Khe Sanh, on 30 January. At approximately 1345 on 30 January, the battalions were directed to close out the new fire bases and launch their assaults as soon as possible to reduce the enemy's ability to bring additional forces into the city by blocking avenues of approach and eliminating enemy support. The two elements would also block or impede withdrawal of enemy forces already in the city. By 1555, the cavalry battalions had air assaulted into five locations northeast, east, and southeast of the city. Mr. Brewer's insistence that enemy troops were in these areas proved to be correct. The helicopters received intense enemy fire as they landed their troops east of the city. Contact continued until 1900 as the surprised and confused enemy fought with machine guns, mortars, and recoilless rifles. The cavalry air assaults had straddled the heavy weapons support of the K-4 Battalion, and the enemy battalion found itself heavily engaged on the eastern edge of Quang Tri by the Vietnamese Army and in its rear, among its support elements, by the cavalry. Caught between these forces, it was quickly rendered ineffective.
UH-1B GUNSHIP OF 1ST CAVALRY DIVISION
Shortly after the 12th Cavalry jumped, two companies of the 1st of the 5th Cavalry air-assaulted southeast of Quang Tri. They quickly became heavily engaged by the enemy. Another enemy battalion, the K-6, found itself wedged between the Vietnamese Army forces and the cavalrymen. The enemy sustained a terrific pounding from helicopter gunships and artillery as the 1st Brigade scout helicopters brought in aerial rocket artillery. As darkness fell, it became apparent that the shattered enemy had had enough. He attempted to break contact and withdraw. Because it was difficult to withdraw large units through the cavalry, enemy forces rapidly broke down into small groups, and some individuals attempted to get away among the crowds of fleeing refugees. Clashes continued throughout the night.
Through the 1st of February, the disorganized enemy units sought to avoid contact. They had suffered a terrible mauling from the Vietnamese Army defenders within Quang Tri and had been demoralized by the air-assaults, gunships, and ground attacks of the 1st Cavalry Division. Aerial rocket artillery and helicopter gunships experienced unusual success against the enemy troops.
By noon on 1 February, Quang Tri City had been cleared of the enemy and the 1st Brigade immediately initiated pursuit. Moving in ever increasing concentric circles centered on the city, 1st Brigade elements relentlessly harried the demoralized enemy. Numerous
U.S. ENGINEERS REPAIRING APPROACH TO BRIDGE
heavy contacts with large well-armed enemy forces south of Quang Tri were made. Other units of the 1st Brigade made smaller contacts. This pursuit continued throughout the first ten days of February.
The city of Quang Tri was without a doubt one of the major objectives of the Tet offensive. Three factors contributed to the U.S. and Vietnamese success: the tenacious defense within and around the city on the part of all of the Vietnamese forces; the timely and accurate tactical intelligence of the enemy locations provided to the 1st Brigade by the province senior adviser, Mr. Brewer; and the air mobile tactics of the 1st Cavalry Division. The enemy paid a high price for his failure. He lost more than 900 soldiers killed and almost 100 captured in addition to heavy losses in weapons, ammunition, and equipment.
Enemy Attacks on the Logistical System
Concurrently with assaults on Hue and Quang Tri City and his continued pressure on Khe Sanh, the enemy struck at the more vulnerable roads, bridges, and waterways used to supply the friendly positions in the I Corps Tactical Zone. While a reinforced regiment of U.S. Marines tied down three or four enemy divisions around Khe Sanh, two enemy divisions were in northeast Quang Tri Prov-
ince and elements of three additional divisions were operating along the coastal plains from Quang Tri City south to the Hai Van Pass, stopping all traffic carrying supplies north on Highway 1. An 8-inch oil pipe line used to transport aviation fuel from Tan My to Hue was cut, and the 50,000-gallon capacity storage tanks at Tan My were destroyed.
The bulk of supplies shipped to Hue from Da Nang were moved by tank landing ships (LST's). These supplies were transported from the large LST's via the Huong River to Hue and via the Cua Viet River to Dong Ha by smaller utility landing craft (LCU). With the commencement of the Tet offensive, the enemy began a series of harassing attacks to disrupt the delivery of supplies over these inland waterways.
The only secure terminals for delivery of supplies were the airports at Quang Tri and Phu Bai. The full use of these facilities was prevented by poor weather. The U.S. forces were using 2,600 tons of supplies a day, excluding bulk petroleum items, and an additional 1,000 tons a day were required to reconstitute stocks needed for a counteroffensive to relieve Khe Sanh.
The logistic situation was critical. Military developments in northern South Vietnam required an influx of combat troops at a rate that, of necessity, exceeded the capability to create a supply base for their logistical support in an orderly and economical fashion. The fundamental approach to support in Vietnam was to have the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, establish the basic policies for all services and to have each service implement the basic policy in accordance with the requirements for that particular service.
To economize as much as possible, planners also decided that support would be conducted on an area basis for all common supplies. In effect this meant that the Navy, which had responsibility for area supply in I Corps Tactical Zone, would provide common supply items such as food and gasoline. This basic decision remained unchanged although variation in troop densities among the regions caused occasional modification.
When the enemy opened his Tet offensive, he placed an additional burden on the U.S. supply system then extant in I Corps and already strained to the breaking point. Colonel Daniel F. Munster, a logistics officer for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, determined the amount of supplies his units consumed each day and realized he must have additional tonnage to reconstitute stocks and to build up for the counteroffensive to relieve Khe Sanh which was tentatively planned to begin 1 April 1968.
During January and February approximately 45,000 U.S. Army
troops had deployed into I Corps. Colonel Munster and his fellow planners had to provide 3,600 tons of supplies daily in an area where existing supply lines were just barely able to keep up with current requirements. Furthermore, this tonnage did not include bulk needs for petroleum, oils, and lubricants. Key decisions were made and implemented during a thirty-day period to stabilize the situation and prepare for the counteroffensive.
The first decision was that only essentials were to be brought in. As General Abrams observed, "Anyone who brings in nonessentials is interfering with the conduct of the war." This decision limited the use of the available means of transportation to moving only combat essential items into northern I Corps: only "beans, bullets and gasoline." PX items, beer, and furniture had to be deferred. Second, the important supply line closed by the enemy actions at the Hai Van Pass had to be reopened. This task was accomplished through simultaneous ground attacks from friendly bases along Highway 1 north and south of the blocked pass. The highway was then repaired and improved. A traffic management agency was established at Headquarters, III Marine Amphibious Force, in Da Nang to co-ordinate convoys moving north and south along this critical stretch of Highway 1. This activity was later moved to the forward headquarters of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and renamed the Convoy Control Center. The first convoy to move north from Da Nang on the reopened road contained 155 vehicles and set out on 1 March 1968. The actual volume of supplies moved over Route 1 was less than satisfactory and the subject of concern to the headquarters of the Provincial Corps, Vietnam. The reopened road had a rated capacity of 250 tons a day, but engineering problems and shortage of cargo vehicles continued.
The next project of importance was the restoration of the fuel line from Tan My to Hue, and initiation of repairs on the 50,000-barrel storage facility at Tan My. Both of these requirements were accomplished, but most important of all was the establishment of a logistical over-the-shore or LOTS facility east of Quang Tri and construction of a two-lane road to connect the beach with Highway I.. The LOTS facility was a major accomplishment. Amphibious lighterage units, terminal service units, U.S. Army Transportation Corps companies, Navy Seabees, and a Marine Fuel detachment all worked together at top speed to produce what proved to be the key logistical facility in the area. A POL (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) line laid from the beach to Highway I and then north to Dong Ha became the principal supply line for the U.S. Army troops. Sea lines were laid to accept bulk POL; extensive ammuni-
A LARC-5 COMES ASHORE
tion and fuel storage areas were developed; a helicopter refueling and lift-off point was constructed. Supplies of all types were brought ashore from deep draft ships by amphibious resupply cargo barges (BARC's) and amphibious resupply cargo lighters (LARC's). These large amphibious vehicles proved ideal for such work.
Tank landing ships (LST's) and other landing craft were discharged over a ponton causeway. Each day convoys of transportation truck units moved the cargo inland from the beach storage to the forward support bases of the combat divisions. Although originally some skeptical observers predicted that daily receipts would not exceed 350 short tons, the LOTS facility, later designated Utah Beach, often greatly exceeded this amount as shown below:
860 Short Tons
1252 Short Tons
363 Short Tons
1232 Short Tons
1862 Short Tons
816 Short Tons
1514 Short Tons
1000 Short Tons
The U.S. Army's 159th Transportation Battalion (Terminal),
LARC-5 OPERATIONS OFF WUNDER BEACH
commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Sunder, was the major unit on the beach. Because of the remarkable achievements of the supply and transportation personnel of all the services on the beach, the facility became known as Wunder Beach and the men of the 159th Battalion as Sunder's Wonders.
An unusual occurrence connected with the establishment of
CARGO CRAFT AND PATROL BOAT
logistic facilities was the crossing of the North Vietnamese and U.S. main supply routes north of Hue in early 1968. The North Vietnamese main supply route originated north of the demilitarized zone and ran south along the coast to the vicinity of Hue. The establishment of a major U.S. supply point at Wunder Beach generated a supply route from the beach inland to the operating forces. Where these two main supply routes crossed, the U.S. efforts to keep the supplies moving interdicted the enemy supply route.
It was decided to improve the capability of the U.S. Air Force to handle larger numbers of troops and supplies at the Phu Bai airbase. The Air Force met this challenge by deploying longerrange navigational equipment and additional personnel. The marines also assisted by making emergency repairs to extend the runway, by increasing the number of parking ramps, and by improving administrative facilities. As the weather improved, air delivery of supplies increased. By mid-March supplies were being received in sufficient quantities to satisfy daily needs and build up stocks for the counteroffensive.
Task Force Clearwater
A vital part of the logistic effort in northern I Corps was the
RIVER PATROL BOAT
development of uninterrupted inland water lines of communication. The intense struggle for Hue underscored the importance of these supply lines. Logistic watercraft using the Huong River to deliver supplies to Hue were subjected to heavy punishment by rockets, automatic weapons fire, and mines.
The enemy launched a large-scale assault against the vitally important routes on the Huong and Cua Viet Rivers in northern I Corps. The intensity of these continuing attacks became so great that on 20 February 1968, General Abrams, the deputy commander of the forward headquarters of the Military Assistance Command, requested that a naval task force be organized to coordinate the protection of the watercraft using the rivers to resupply. Hue and Dong Ha.
In rapid response to this request, Rear Admiral Kenneth L. Veth, Commander of Naval Forces, Vietnam, organized Task Force CLEARWATER whose headquarters was operational at Tan My on 24 February. Captain Gerald W. Smith, U.S. Navy, was designated the task force commander and was placed under the operational control of the commanding general of the III Marine Amphibious Force. The initial forces assigned to the Task Force CLEARWATER
LANDING CRAFT, MEDIUM
included river patrol boats of naval Task Force 116, helicopter gun ships, attack aircraft, artillery, and ground security troops. The task force concentrated on organizing and protecting shipping on the Huong River between Tan My and Hue and on the Cua Viet River between the port at Cua Viet and the base at Dong Ha.
Even after the establishment of Task Force CLEARWATER, enemy forces continued to harass and ambush utility craft as they moved their supplies along the river. At the end of February the enemy threat was still impressive, but it was apparent that many of the planned attacks were thwarted by the protective procedures practiced by Task Force CLEARWATER.
Captain Smith divided Task Force CLEARWATER into the Hue River security group and the Dong Ha River security group. On 2 March, in recognition of the enlarged importance that the northern Dong Ha River group was assuming, Captain Smith moved his headquarters from Tan My to Cua Viet. The original tactics used by the task force called for the operation of convoys protected by patrol boats and helicopter gun ships with security forces used to react in cases of ambush. The Hue River security group received convoys which were formed at Tan My while the Dong Ha Security group
received them from Cua Viet. When formed, the convoys consisted of an escort unit and a movement unit, both under the command of a designated convoy commander. The escort unit was to provide for the uninterrupted transit of the movement unit by employing mine countermeasures and direct fire support and by co-ordinating aircraft, artillery, and gun fire support.
The nature of Task Force CLEARWATER operations can be understood from this log dated 26 February 1968:
1. Today's convoy of 3 LCU's, 2 Bladderboats and LCM-8 escorted
by 4 PBRs, I LCM-8 and 4 VNN junks. The convoy departed Tan My for Hue at 0830H.
Preplanned artillery missions were fired into known ambush sites as the convoy
came under B-40/41 attack ... Fire was suppressed by combined fire of gunships,
PBRs and convoy craft. LCU 1574 received one B-40/41 round in the port side
of coxswain flat wounding 2 USA. When the convoy cleared the ambush site the
area was taken under fire by 81mm mortar.
2. When the convoy arrived at Hue at 1120H tank trucks and cargo trucks were available and offloading commenced immediately.
3. At 1300H convoy of LCUs, 3 empty Bladderboats, and 1 LCM-8 departed Hue for Tan My . . . gunships provided continual harassment fire into previous ambush sites as convoy passed. At 1310 the last LCM in the convoy came under R/R fire but the round fell short. Suppressing fire was immediate from PBRs and gunships.... The remainder of the transit was without incident....
Not all convoys were as fortunate. On the following day, 27 February, a utility landing craft bearing explosives was hit with a B-40 rocket, and the craft exploded with such force that the nearest escort river patrol boat was also disabled.
As the security situation along the waterways gradually improved, convoying was discontinued, first on the Huong River and then on the Cua Viet. The emphasis was shifted to sweeps by river patrol boats and mine clearing operations. In early March, the task force took the offensive and began using river patrol boats and armored troop carriers for troop insertions and gun fire support. Since the enemy's ability to conduct ambushes was limited by the presence of more friendly forces along the bank, he attempted to compensate by the increased use of mines. To hinder the enemy night emplacement of mines, patrols on the Cua Viet River often began during the hours of darkness.
page created 15 January 2002
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