Despite the Marines' extension of their TAORs, the enemy still had the ability to mount well-coordinated hit-and-run attacks, similar to the I July Da Nang raid. On the evening of 27-28 October, the VC struck the newly built Marble Mountain helicopter facility on the Tiensha Peninsula and the Chu Lai SATS field.
- At Chu Lai, the infiltrators entered the Marine base from the northwest and split into two groups. According to the MAG-12 commander, Colonel Leslie E. Brown, the first knowledge the Marines had of the attack was when they heard machine gun fire and satchel charges blowing up. Brown recalled:
. . a couple of the airplanes were on fire, and the sappers had gotten through intact .... they were barefooted and had on a loin cloth and it was kind of a John Wayne dramatic effect. They had Thompson submachine guns and they were spraying the airplanes with the Tommy guns and . . . throwing satchel charges into tail pipes . . . Some went off and some didn't, but the net effect was that the machine gun fire caused leaks in the fuel tanks, so that JP fuel was drenching the whole area .... and in the middle of that, the airplanes were on fire."
click photo to enlarge
The Marines killed 15 of the force of 20 VC, but not before the attackers had destroyed two A-4s and severely damaged six more. General Karch, the Chu Lai Base Coordinator, remembered that when he arrived "Les Brown . . . was on the scene and the armament crews were going up and down the flight line disarming bombs . . . I couldn't give Brown too much credit for the job he and his crews did there that night-- it was fabulous."
The Communist attack on Marble Mountain was larger and better coordinated. A VC raiding party of approximately 90 men quietly assembled in a village just to the northwest of the Marble Mountain Air facility. Under cover of 60mm mortar fire, four demolition teams struck at the Marble Mountain airstrip and a hospital being constructed by the Seabees. At least six of the enemy, armed with
bangalore torpedos and grenades, reached the MAG-16 parking ramp.
Colonel O'Connor, the MAG-16 commander, remembered:
I awoke to the sound of explosions shortly after midnight . . . arriving at the group command post, I received a phone call from General McCutcheon. He was warning me that the airfield at Chu Lai had been attacked and to be on the alert. I told him no one was asleep at Marble Mountain, as we had also been under attack for about 15 minutes.
After leaving the command post, Colonel O'Connor drove to the aircraft parking ramp where "Helicopters were burning all over . . . .VMO-2 was practically wiped out." Before the VC could be stopped they destroyed 19 helicopters and damaged 35,11 of them severely.* Across the road, much of the hospital, which was nearing completion, was heavily damaged. After 30 minutes, the Viet Cong withdrew, leaving behind 17 dead and four wounded. American casualties were three killed and 91 wounded.
During the attack, Lieutenant Colonel Verle E. Ludwig's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, south of Marble Mountain, came under small arms fire, but apparently this was a feint designed to fix the unit in its defensive positions. All units at Da Nang went on full alert, but the damage had been done.
The VC attacking forces at both Chu Lai and Da Nang were not ordinary guerrillas. "There were indications that these troops were from hardcore main force VC units, although the VC unit which attacked Marble Mountain was better trained than the one which hit Chu Lai. Captain Hoa, the Hoa Vang District Chief, believed that the enemy group which attacked Da Nang was North Vietnamese, but the four prisoners captured by the Marines there came from small hamlets in Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces.
The enemy had been well equipped for the mission. At Marble Mountain, Marines recovered a considerable stock of fragmentation, concussion, and thermite grenades, as well as three bangalore torpedoes, several Chinese Communist B-40 antitank rockets, and miscellaneous ammunition. The American troops also captured several weapons, a 7.62mm AK assault rifle, two .43 caliber automatic weapons, and a 7.62mm Tokarev automatic pistol."
One of the more significant aspects of the events of 28 October was an attack which did not occur. The enemy had also planned to hit the main airfield at Da Nang. Two separate occurrences may have frustrated this attack. General Walt's staff received word on 27 October that a VC main force battalion was moving out of its base in "Happy Valley," 10 miles southwest of Da Nang, and heading towards the base. At 1930, division artillery fired 680 rounds into the area. Later intelligence reports indicated that the shells hit the VC unit, forcing it to disperse.
Shortly afterward, a 9th Marines squad ambushed a strong VC force near the An Tu hamlet, five miles south of Da Nang. The Marine patrol, 11 Marines and a Navy corpsman from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, had arrived at the ambush site after dark. By 1945 they had established their positions; only 13 minutes later the Marines heard movement along the trail. The squad leader, Sergeant John A. Anderson, ordered his troops to hold fire until the enemy was at pointblank range. Seven VC had passed the site of the most forward Marine before Anderson triggered the ambush. At this moment, the VC were only six to seven feet way from the Marine's M-60 machine gun position. The machine gunner initiated the engagement with a long burst, followed by heavy fire from all the weapons of the rest of the squad. This volley killed all seven VC.
The seven dead were only the advance party for a larger enemy force which moved forward to engage the Marines. Sergeant Anderson fired several M-79 rounds at the muzzle flashes of the approaching VC. The firefight continued for another minute, but then the enemy began to disengage. Sergeant Anderson realized that his troops had to get out of the area; he was outnumbered. The squad leader ordered his men to count the dead VC before leaving; they counted 15. The Marines moved out to their battalion's position, but during the return two squad members were wounded by Viet Cong firing from a dike. Anderson called for fire support and after 60 rounds of 81mm mortar fire hit on the enemy position, the VC stopped firing. At first light the next day, 28 October, Company I sent two platoons to search the ambush site more thoroughly. Of the 15 known VC dead only two bodies were found.
General Walt and his staff believed that Sergeant Andersen's patrol probably had foiled an attack on the airbase. Apparently the patrol had intercepted a VC company from the same unit that carried out the Marble Mountain attack:
This belief is supported by the fact that the company was moving in the direction of the Da Nang base, and time and distance being considered, the time of the attack on the Marble Mountain Air Facility.
Two days after the airfield attacks, the Viet Cong attempted another probe of the Marine defenses, not at the base area, but against the defensive perimeter on Hill 22, south of the Tuy Loan River, manned by the Marines of Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. The action began at 0100, 30 October, "Captain Charles Ward, at the time the 9th Marines S-2, debriefed the Anderson patrol. He recalled that the VC advance party had been preceded by a point element carrying candles and flashlights to give the appearance of villagers returning home. According to Ward, Andersen's men had seen the point men but "were uncertain as what to do--after all, the men wore villagers' clothing, held lighted candles, and the ambush location was on a well-travelled trail leading to Highway I only 200-250 meters away and was only 100 meters from occupied huts. The question became academic when the main body traipsed into the squad's position. So surprised was Anderson by the unexpected appearance of the column of men on the trail, he almost forgot to give the order to the machine gunner." Ward concluded his remarks with the observation that "reportedly this was Sgt Anderson's first combat patrol." LtCol Charles Ward, Comments on draft MS, dtd 270ct76 (Vietnam Comment File).
When 10-15 VC walked into a squad ambush 1,000 meters south of the hill. The Marines opened fire and killed three of the enemy, but the squad had not been able to maintain communications with the company and was unable to notify the company commander of the contact. All was quiet for about two hours, when suddenly approximately 25 enemy enveloped the Marine squad, killing three and wounding six." At 0315 the rest of the VC force attacked the main Marine positions on Hill 22. Enemy troops, supported by two recoilless rifles, penetrated about a third of the northwestern perimeter, capturing three M-60 machine guns, two 3.5-inch rocket launchers, and one 60mm mortar. They also gained access to the company's ammunition bunker.
Lieutenant Colonel Harold A. Hatch, who had assumed command of the 1st Battalion on 27 September, immediately sent reinforcements and ammunition to Company A. One resupply helicopter was "so fully loaded that it barely could get off the ground" and its "rotor wash blew the supply tent down." The battalion commander also called for supporting artillery fire and close air support.
About 45 minutes after the enemy had launched the main attack on Hill 22, three UH-34s landed Sergeant Russell L. Kees' 13-man squad from Company C on the hill. Kees stated, "The VC were everywhere; in the tents, on the tents, and in the trenches." Supported by air, artillery, and mortars, the Company A commander. Captain John A. Maxwell, rallied the Marines; they counterattacked and drove off the enemy. Marines casualties were 16 dead and 41 wounded, while the Communists left behind 47 bodies and one wounded."
Marine air accounted for a few more enemy when the VC unit tried to cross the eastern bank of the Song Yen three miles south of Hill 22. The Marine pilots reported destroying 10 boats and seeing 10 bodies in the water. " Villagers in the area told the American troops that the Viet Cong forced them to bury several bodies, apparently casualties of the Hill 22 fight.
The VC had planned the operation thoroughly. They hit the critical portions of the perimeter and knew exactly which bunker contained ammunition. American intelligence sources discovered that the VC unit involved in the attack was the R-20 battalion which had just completed training. The Hill 22 attack was apparently its final training exercise.
Colonel O'Connor observed that the destruction of the helicopters at Marble Mountain resulted in "a 43 percent loss of division mobility" and that it ' 'put a crimp in division plans for several months afterward." Col Thomas J. O'Connor, Comments on draft MS, dtd 27Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File).
As a result of the attacks on MAG-16 Lima Company was transferred from Chu Lai to the MAG-16 Hilo base for security. We stayed there until a few days before Harvest Moon OP.
We had a very wet Thanksgiving at MAG-16, there were a lot of washed out fox holes due to the Monsoon rains, which had really kicked into gear during November 65.
Even the VC were bogged down in the rain, as I recall, there were no more attacks on the Hilo bases the rest of the year.