U.S. Marines in Vietnam

The Defining Year – 1968

Chapter 19 – The Third Offensive: Da Nang

Danny Lee Grimshaw (see companion webpage) was killed in action on August 23, 1968 in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, during combat associated with a Viet Cong offensive against the large military facility in adjoining Da Nang City. He was 21 years old (born February 15, 1947) when he lost his life in the line of duty.

The intense fighting that was occurring in Quang Nam when Danny Grimshaw was killed in action is described in Chapter 19 of “U.S. Marines in Vietnam, the Defining Year, 1968”1. The relevant front matter and Chapter 19 of this book are provided on this webpage. The battle that took place in and around Da Nang (a neighboring province) on August 23 is described on p. 376 to 380. Considerable detail is given on the action around Cam Le Bridge over the Song Cau Do river around August 22 and 23, during which Danny killed in action. The webpage author’s note in bold indicates the point in the description at which Danny Grimshaw was killed.

Additional graphic detail of the action around Cam Le Bridge is provided in Gary Jarvis’ book, “Young Blood: A History of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, (Vietnam) 19682” on a companion webpage. Viewer discretion is advised in visiting this webpage.


Webpage Credits

Front Matter from U.S. Marines in Vietnam, the Defining Year, 1968

Chapter 19, Pages 373 to 384


Webpage Credits

Thanks go to Jack Shulimson and Gary Jarvis for recording in detail the action that took place during the battle in which Danny Grimshaw was killed in action.

Front Matter from “U.S. Marines in Vietnam, the Defining Year, 1968”

The excerpt shown below from “U.S. Marines in Vietnam, the Defining Year, 1968”1 is taken from the following website:


The large number of typographical errors in the following excerpt apparently occurred during scanning and OCR of hard-copy text before it was posted on the internet.





Jack Shulimson

Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol, U.S. Marine Corps

Charles R. Smith

and Captain David A. Dawson, U.S. Marine Corps





U.S.Marines InVietnam

The Defining Year


Volumes in the Marine Corps Vietnam Series

Operational Histories Series

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1954-1964, The Advisory and Combat Assistance Era, 1977

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, The Landing and the Buildup, 1978

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1966, An Expanding War, 1982

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1967, Fighting the North Vietnamese, 1984

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969, High Mobility and Standdown, 1988

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1970—1971, Vietnamization and Redeployment, 1986

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1971-1973, The War that Would Not End, 1991

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1973-1975, The Bitter End, 1990

Functional Histories Series

    Chaplains with Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971, 1985 Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial By Fire, 1989

Anthology and Bibliography

The Marines in Vietnam, 1954—1973, An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, 1974; reprinted 1983; revised second edition, 1985

Library of Congress Card No. 77-604776 PCN 1900031 3900

For sale by the U.S. Government Priming Office

Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328 ISBN 0-16-049125-8


This is the last volume, although published out of chronological sequence, in the nine-volume operational history series covering the Marine Corps’ participation in the Vietnam War. A separate functional series complements the operational histories. This book is the capstone volume of the entire series in that 1968, as the title indicates, was the defining year of the war. While originally designed to be two volumes, it was decided that unity and cohesion required one book.

The year 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive including Khe Sanh and Hue City. These were momentous events in the course of the war and they occurred in the first three months of the year. This book, however, documents that 1968 was more than just the Tet Offensive. The bloodiest month of the war for the U.S. forces was not January nor February 1968, but May 1968 when the Communists launched what was called their “Mini-Tet” offensive. This was followed by a second “Mini-Tet” offensive during the late summer which also was repulsed at heavy cost to both sides. By the end of the year, the U.S. forces in South Vietnam’s I Corps, under the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAP), had regained the offensive. By December, enemy-initiated attacks had fallen to their lowest level in two years. Still, there was no talk of victory. The Communist forces remained a formidable foe and a limit had been drawn on the level of American participation in the war.

Although largely written from the perspective of III MAF and the ground war in I Corps, the volume also treats the activities of Marines with the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force, activities of Marine advisors to South Vietnamese forces, and other Marine involvement in the war. Separate chapters cover Marine aviation and the single manager controversy, artillery, logistics, manpower, and pacification.

Like most of the volumes in this series, this has been a cumulative history. Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol researched and wrote the initial drafts of the chapters on Khe Sanh as well as Chapters 17, 19, and 21 and the account of Operation Thor in Chapter 26. Mr. Charles R. Smith researched and drafted Chapters 16, 18, 20, and 22. Captain David A. Dawson researched and wrote Chapter 27. Dr. Jack Shulimson researched and wrote the remaining chapters, edited and revised the entire text, and incorporated the comments of the various reviewers.

Dr. Shulimson heads the History Writing Unit and is a graduate of the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo. He earned his master’s degree in history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan and his doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in American studies. Mr. Smith is a senior historian in the Division and served in Vietnam as an artilleryman and then as a historian with the U.S. Army. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received his masters degree in history from San Diego State University. Lieutenant Colonel Blasiol is an experienced artilleryman and a graduate of Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, with a degree in history, and of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Captain Dawson is an infantry officer now stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and a master’s degree in history from Kansas State University, Lawrence, Kansas.


Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) Director Emeritus of Marine Corps History and Museums


U.S. Marines in Vietnam, The Defining Year, 1968 like the preceding volumes in this series is largely based upon the holdings of the Marine Corps Historical Center. These include the official unit command chronologies, after-action reports, message and journal files, various staff studies, oral histories, personal papers, and reference collections. In addition, the authors have used the holdings of the other Services and pertinent published primary and secondary sources. Most importantly, nearly 230 reviewers, most of whom were participants in the events, read draft chapters and made substantive comments. They are listed by name in a separate appendix. While some classified sources have been used, none of the material in the text contains any classified information.

To a large extent, the measurement of this war relied not upon territory occupied, but upon casualties inflicted upon the enemy. In enumerating enemy casualties, the authors are not making any statement upon the reliability or accuracy of these numbers. These are merely the figures provided by the reporting units. They are important in that the U.S. military and national leadership depended in part upon the comparative casualty yardstick to report and evaluate progress in the war.

In any project this large and that involved so many people, the authors are in debt to several of their associates, past and present, in the History and Museums Division. While it is not possible to list everyone, we would be most negligent if we did not thank the following. First, Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, Director Emeritus, provided the vision and backing for the entire series, insisting upon readability and accuracy. Colonel Michael F. Monigan, Acting Director, gave the impetus for final completion of the project. Chief Historian Benis M. Frank, and his predecessor, Henry I. Shaw, Jr., furnished editorial guidance and encouragement. Ms. Wanda J. Renfrow of the Histories Section and Mr. Robert E. Struder, Head of Editing and Design, read the entire manuscript together with Mr. Frank and prevented several minor errors and some embarrassments. Mrs. Cathy A. Kerns, of the Editing and Design Section, typed the photograph captions and the Medal of Honor Appendix. Both Mrs. Kerns and Ms. Renfrow painstakingly inserted the multitudinous entries for the index, carefully checking the index against the text. Finally, Ms. Renfrow patiently and ably made the numerous revisions in the organization of the index. Mr. William S. Hill provided technical direction for both the maps and insertion of the photographs. Ms. Evelyn A. Englander of the library was most helpful in obtaining publications. The Archives staff (under the direction of Fred J. Graboske and his predecessor, Ms. Joyce Bonnett), especially Ms. Joyce M. Hudson and Ms. Amy C. Cohen, cheerfully made their resources available, as did Art Curator John T Dyer, Jr. The Reference Section under Danny J. Crawford was always most cooperative, especially Ms. Lena M. Kaljot, who assisted in the duplication of most of the photographs. A special thanks goes to Lieutenant Colonel Leon Craig, Jr., Head of the Support Branch; his administrative officer, First Lieutenant Mark R. Schroeder; and his enlisted Marines, especially Staff Sergeant Myrna A. Thomas and Corporal Juan E. Johnson, who assisted in that last push for publication.

Both Mr. Struder and Mr. Hill adroitly handled the liaison with the Typography and Design Division of the U.S. Government Printing Office in the layout of the book. Mr. Struder deftly and professionally assisted in the reading of page proofs and Mr. Hill meticulously monitored the preparation of charts and maps. The authors also appreciate the efforts of Mr. Nicholas M. Freda and Mr. Lee Nance of the Typography

and Design Division, Mr. Freda for his careful layout of text and Mr. Nance for the final preparation of all maps and charts.

Finally, the authors want to acknowledge the contributions of former members of the Histories Section who reviewed and commented on several chapters, including Lieutenant Colonels Lane Rogers and Gary D. Solis, Majors George R. Dunham, Charles D. Melson, and Edward F. Wells, and Dr. V. Keith Fleming, Jr.

Special mention and most heartfelt thanks go to various interns who have assisted with the preparation of this volume. Naval Academy Midshipman Third Class Thomas Moninger, who prepared the Chronology of Events, and Maderia School students Ms. Jaime Koepsell and Ms. Sylvia Bunyasi who drafted the initial Command and Staff list. Marine Sergeant Neil A. Peterson, a student at the Citadel, sketched over half of the draft maps used in this volume. James E. Cypher, a senior at Loyola University, in New Orleans, assisted in the tedious but most important final editing of the index. Finally, there was Peter M. Yarbo, who as a student at Johns Hopkins, for over a year, once a week, took the early morning train from Baltimore to Washington, to assist with the project. Peter prepared several of the charts in the appendices, but even more significantly, he did almost all of the photographic research, saw that the photos were duplicated, and made the initial selection of photographs, organizing them by chapter. This book could never have been published at this time without his specific assistance and that of the other interns.

The authors are also indebted to Dr. Douglas Pike, who opened up his Indochina Archives, then located at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, for their examination. Mr. Robert J. Destatte, Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, U.S. Department of Defense, provided a translation of several published Vietnamese documents. Finally our thanks to those who contributed comments on the draft and to our colleagues in the other Defense historical offices, who assisted with their advice and comments. In the end, however, the authors alone assume sole responsibility for the content of the text, including opinions expressed and any errors in fact.


Table of Contents

Preface and Forward

Chapter 1 A Puzzling War

Chapter 2 The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier

Chapter 3 War in the Eastern DMZ in Early and Mid-January

Chapter 4 Khe Sanh: Building Up 1968: The Definitive Year

Chapter 5 3d Division War in Southern Quang Tri and Northern Thua Thien, Operations Osceola and Neosho

Chapter 6 Heavy Fighting and Redeployment: The War in Central and Southern I Corps, January 1968

Chapter 7 The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ and Southern Quang Tri, 20 January-8 February

Chapter 8 The Tet Offensive at Da Nang

Chapter 9 The Struggle for Hue-The Battle Begins

Chapter 10 The Struggle for Hue-The Second Phase

Chapter 11 The Struggle for Hue-Stalemate in the Old City

Chapter 12 The Struggle for Hue-The Taking of the Citadel and Aftermath

Chapter 13 Post-Tet in I Corps

Chapter 14 The Siege of Khe Sanh

Chapter 15 The Battle for Dong Ha

Chapter 16 Khe Sanh: Final Operations and Evacuation

Chapter 17 Mini-Tet and Its Aftermath in Southern I Corps

Chapter 18 3d Division Takes the Offensive

Chapter 19 The Third Offensive: Da Nang

Chapter 20 Autumn Offensive Halted

Chapter 21 Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ

Chapter 22 The 3d Division’s Labors Bear Fruit

Chapter 23 Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year and Air Support of Khe Sanh

Chapter 24 A Matter of Doctrine: Marine Air and Single Manager

Chapter 25 A Question of Helicopters

Chapter 26 Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF

Chapter 27 Manpower Policies and Realities

Chapter 28 Backing Up The Troops

Chapter 29 Pacification

Chapter 30 Outside of III MAF

Chapter 31 1968: An Overview


Marine Command and Staff List l January-31 December 1968

Chronology of Significant Events January-December 1968

Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations

Medals of Honor Citations 1968

Distribution of Personnel

Combined Action Program Expansion-1968


Marine Fixed Wing Support

  • Chapter 19, Pages 373 to 384

The text of Chapter 19 is proved below and is from the following internet address:




Page 373




(The Third Offensive: Da Nang )



The Third Offensive: Da Nang

Indicators-The Storm Breaks–Counterattack-Pursuit-Typhoon Bess


As the 1st Marine Division Operations Alien Brook and Mameluke Thrust entered their later stages in the summer of 1968, the Communists cautiously avoided decisive contact, giving rise to the theory that they were husbanding their resources for another offensive. Rumors of an impending major attack by the enemy began to take on lives their own. The expected Communist thrust was referred to variously as the ‘third offensive’ (the Tet and the May offensives being the first and second, respectively), the ‘autumn offensive,’ or the ‘summer offensive.’ South Vietnamese President Thieu had warned on 10 July that ‘the expected Communist summer offensive against Saigon and other major cities might come in two weeks and could be the last battle, the last all-out effort by the Communists.’1 Ironically, 10 days later, North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh seemed to have confirmed this statement when he exhorted his countrymen to ‘a final victory during the third offensive.’2

Marine infantry units captured prisoners, who, and documents, which, further indicated Communist intentions. By late July, III MAF intelligence officers knew enough about the enemy’s plan to be certain that Da Nang was the target of the threatened offensive. The Da Nang National Police service captured a North Vietnamese officer who revealed details of what he referred to as the ‘X2 Offensive.’ The objective of this attack, he claimed, was to create a ‘favorable political situation for the North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris peace talks to commemorate the forthcoming VC holidays and to attempt to gain the support of the civilian populace.’ According to his account, the Communist forces would conduct the campaign in several phases. First, Viet Cong sappers would infiltrate Da Nang disguised as ARVN troops and National Police. During a series of attacks on cities and military facilities throughout the country, these ‘fifth columnists’ would seize control of key facilities in the city. Group 44 Headquarters assigned two of these Viet Cong units, Reconnaissance Team X.2/89 and the C. 23 Reconnaissance Company, the tasks of assassinating South Vietnamese government officials, hanging propaganda flags, distributing propaganda leaflets, and harassing U.S. and ARVN units in Da Nang.?

While rocket and mortar batteries shelled the airbases and U.S. headquarters facilities within the city, ground units would attack from the west, south, and east (the latter across the Trinh Minh The Bridge north of Marble Mountain Air Facility). Finally, the Communists would ‘call upon ARVN and U.S. forces to stage military revolts and desert to the VC forces.’ The prisoner claimed that the VC had collected 30 U.S. servicemen (deserters) who would assist them in fomenting an uprising.* If the attack on Da Nang and the military revolt were successful, the Communists would gather South Vietnamese intellectuals to coordinate with the National Liberation Front for the formation of local coalition governments in Da Nang and other captured areas and eventually, a national-level coalition government.4

The enemy appeared to be throwing everything he had into the effort against Da Nang. Enemy units scheduled to participate in the attacks in the Da Nang TAOR included the 31st, 36th, and 38th North Vietnamese Army Regiments, the R-20, V-25, and T-89 Battalions, as well as the 368B Rocket Regiment.’ A rallier later reported that the Communist plan even included a contingency for the use of North Vietnamese tanks and aircraft to turn the tide as a last resort.6 Indeed, in late July, Marine reconnaissance teams and air

* Indeed, Marine reconnaissance and infantry units operating in the Da Nang TAOR during this period reported numerous sightings of Caucasians moving with enemy units. One reconnaissance team shot and wounded one of the Caucasians in an ambush, then heard the man call for help in English.

••The }8th NVA Regiment represented no actual increase of enemy units in the Da Nang TAOR. It was basically a coordinating headquarters for several VC battalions that had operated there over the years. According to Marine intelligence sources, it was established in early May 1968 and collocated with Group 44 ‘to afford greater control’ during the mini-Tet and Third offensives. It consisted of the V-25, R-20, and V-7 VC Infantry Battalions, and the U and T-87 Sapper Battalions. Ill MAF PerIntRep No. 35-68, dtd 3Sep68, p. A.-47, in III MAF PerIntReps, l4Jul-31Aug68.



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observers had twice sighted enemy armored fighting vehicles west of An Hoa.

Originally, intelligence estimates had set the start date tor the offensive on 20 July, to coincide with the new moon when illumination would be low. Although speculative, this theory fit a pattern of increased enemy activity during the darkest nights of a given month.’ However, when this dare passed without serious incident, intelligence officers revised their estimates to reflect the next new moon phase as the start date: 23 August 196S. In tenuous confirmation ot this supposition, a prisoner revealed that the month of August was to bring the “decisive battle for revolutionary history.””

As III MAF developed intelligence concerning the third offensive, subordinate units prepared for the coming battle. Acting on the reports of enemy tanks and extensive Communist road-building activity southwest of Da Nang, the 1st Marine Division revised its anti-mechanized defense plan to meet the new threat.” Major General Carl A. Youngdale, who had relieved Major General Robertson as division commander in June, directed his subordinate commanders to review plans for the defense of the Da Nang TAOR and to increase the readiness of their units. Anticipating that the enemy would strike during darkness, he ordered that all units maximize night activities and “reduce day workloads accordingly to allow adequate rest for all hands.”‘0 In the area surrounding Da Nang, Operations Alien Brook and Mameluke Thrust continued with the participating units frequently shifting their areas of operations in an effort to engage and destroy the major Communist units which would have to concentrate to conduct an offensive of the magnitude III MAF anticipated.

Jusr past noon on 18 August, less than a kilometer west of Marble Mountain Air Facility, a patrol from Company B, 1st Military Police Battalion apprehended a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy who confessed that he was a member of a VC platoon which was hiding nearby. The MPs cordoned off the area and, with the assistance of the South Vietnamese l()6rh Regional Force Company and Company C, 3d Military Police Battalion, conducted a thorough search. Several light contacts with small groups of VC resulted, leading to the discovery of weapons, ammunition, and explosives caches as well as a radio receiver.”

Major General Youngdale, in a report to Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman at III MAF headquarters, noted:

. . . enemy activity has increased …. there are indications that the enemy may be in the latter stages of preparation for his third offensive. As yet, however, there are no indications that the enemy is prepared to conduct a major attack within the next twenty-four hours.’2



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Photo trom Abel Collection Front an obsen’ation touvr in his company sector. Capt Charles S. Rohb. the son-in-law of Pmicknt Johnson and commander of Company l. 3d Battalion. 1th Marines, points out key terrain features to the South Vietnamese Chief n f the Joint General Staff. Gen Cao Van Vien. u’ho is on an official visit to Da Nan{^. MajGen Carl A. Youngdale, the neu’ commander of the 1st Alarinv Division, is seen directly behind Rohb.

Early the following day, 19 August, a Viet Cong company attacked and overran Combined Action Platoon 2-4-3 northeast of Hoi An. At 2KX) that night, .30 to 40 VC attacked recon team “Trailer Park,” atop Hon Coc Mountain, south of Go Noi Island. Only the quick intervention of a Douglas AC-47 Spooky gunship, with its potent, multiple Gatling guns, saved the team from destruction.

Following a battalion-sized VC attack on Combined Action Platoon 2-3-4 during the early morning hours of 20 August, Youngdale’s view of the situation changed. In a report to General Cushman chat day, he estimated that the enemy could “close on principal targets in the First Division area in one night in launching his 3d phase offensive.”‘3

While the 5th Marines, under Colonel Paul G. Graham, pursued Communist survivors of the Battle of Chau Phong south of Da Nang,” the 27th Marines continued final preparations for redeployment to the U.S. and the 1st Marines began arranging its move from Quang Tri Province to the Da Nang TAOR.” It was a hectic period in the 1st Marine Division and the specter of the heralded third offensive continued to grow. General Youngdale made minor adjustments to the plan for the defense of Da Nang, reinforcing those sectors which appeared to be most in danger.” His daily report for 21 August concluded that:

The enemy appears to have completed his preparation for his offensive. Small scale mortar attacks on Dai Loc and Thuong Due in the last 24 hours possibly reflect last minute registration. The enemy may launch his offensive at any time . . . .’5 The Stonn Breaks

The streams which drain the rugged mountains of central Quang Nam Province follow the slope of the land toward the South China Sea, growing in size and strength as they meet other streams. By the time they reach the flat coastal plain, the streams have become rivers which twist through the populated farmlands, branching and rejoining again in a crazy patchwork. In every area through which a river passes, the local Vietnamese give it a name, so that by the time it reaches the South China Sea, it has acquired many cities along the way. The river which flows along the southern boundary of Da Nang, separating the cicy from the fertile paddy region of the coastal plain, is called Song Cau Do, at least along that particular stretch. About

*See Chapter 17.

**From the beginning, the President had indicated that the deployment of the 27th Marines to Vietnam was temporary and in March he and his advisors directed that the reyiment return in July. This was later delayed until September. See Chapter 2″ tor the deployment anil redeployment of the 27th Marines. See also Chapter 13 for (he initial deployment.



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two kilometers south of the river, Highway l forks, sending each of its branches across the Song Cau Do toward Da Nang on its own bridge. The easternmost of these, called the Cam Le Bridge, after the hamlet on its northern side, led directly to the Da Nang Airbase, less than two kilometers away. Two kilometers upstream from the Cam Le Bridge, to the west, lay a combination highway bridge-railroad trestle known as the Song Cau Do Bridge.

Marines guarded these bridges, both to prevent VC saboteurs from destroying them and to prevent enemy infiltrators ftom crossing them with weapons and explosives for use in the city. The numerous support units stationed in Da Nang each assumed responsibility for a sector within the city and its suburbs. The 1st Tank Battalion’s area included the Song Cau Do Bridge; the 1st Military Police Battalion’s area included the Cam Le Bridge. For the most part, bridge security consisted of checking the identification papers and packages of civilians crossing the bridge and keeping a lookout beneath the bridge to foil sapper attacks. At random intervals, bridge sentries dropped small explosive charges into the water nearby to discourage enemy swimmers from approaching the pilings.

At the Song Cau Do and Cam Le Bridges, the duty was routine, the only excitement being the occasional detention of a Vietnamese whose identity papers were not in order. South of the river, infantry units of the 1st Marine Division formed an additional screen protecting the city from major attacks, so it seemed unlikely that the enemy, in force, would ever get as far as the bridges.

Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion was responsible for security at the Cam Le Bridge. The company command post was in a bunker at the north end of the bridge, alongside of which stood an observation tower. An old French bunker and another observation tower stood at the approach to the south end. Normally, one of Company D s platoons occupied the bunkers, towers, and several listening posts and ambush sites on both sides of the river, while the other two platoons remained in the company’s rear area at the edge of the Da Nang Airbase, two kilometers to the north.

On the afternoon of 22 August, the company commander departed Da Nang for an “R&R” in Hawaii, leaving his executive officer, First Lieutenant Michael J. Kelly, in command.* Lieutenant Kelly was scheduled to begin his own R&R in Hawaii on 28 August, but for the next six days, he would bear responsibility for the protection of the Cam Le Bridge.16 Unknown to him, during jthe early morning hours of 22 August, 80 Viet Cong of the Q. 91 Company, 2d District, Quang Da Special Zone, in disguise and using forged identification papers, had individually crossed the Cam Le Bridge, then took a city bus to a safe house on Quang Tung Street to retrieve previously cached weapons and equipment and to await the hour for their attack.17

At 2130, responding to reports of movement along the Song Cau Do, Lieutenant Kelly ordered the 2d Platoon to move from its barracks to reinforce the 3d Platoon at the bridge. Within an hour, the Marines had reached the bridge and took up positions on the peninsula that curves out from the north bank to touch the span itself. At midnight, the Marines of the 1st Tank Battalion who were guarding the Song Cau Do Bridge, two kilometers to the west, spotted six people in the water and took them under fire, but because of the extreme darkness, could not determine whether the fire was effective.18

The Marines at the Cam Le Bridge did not have to wait long for their share of the action. At 0100, 23 August, Sergeant Larry K. Bucklew, the platoon sergeant of the 2d Platoon, spotted six sampans crossing the river near his position on the peninsula. The 2d Platoon opened fire, driving some of the sampans back across the river, while others pressed on, landing on the north bank.'”

Before the Marines on the Cam Le Bridge could react to the firefight on the river to their west, exploding RPG rounds and mortar shells engulfed the security position on the south bank. The 1st Squad, 3d Platoon, under Lance Corporal Stephen D. Hott, was taken by surprise as Communist troops swarmed over its position. Lance Corporal Arthur Costello, manning a .50-caliber machine gun mounted in an old French bunker, tried to get his gun into action, but an enemy soldier outside the bunker held the barrel fast, and Costello could not bring it to bear.20

Lance Corporal Hott, in the nearby observation tower with Private First Class Pedro L. G. Francisco, ordered Costello to disable the machine gun and withdraw. Hott then grabbed an M60 machine gun and ammunition and ran for the bridge. Costello, finding the enemy already inside his bunker, fought his way out, then paused to throw in a fragmentation grenade in hopes of “spiking” the machine gun.21 Making his way onto the bridge, Costello joined Lance Corporals John W. Thomas and Hylan L. Crowder running with

* Abbreviation commonly used for “Rest and Recreation.” Each Marine was authorized one “R&R” during his 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Many sites were available throughout the Pacific area, including Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, Japan, and Malaysia.



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Hott towards the company command post on the north bank. Francisco was still on the south side, his fate unknown. The rest of the squad, dispersed in listening posts and ambush sites near the bridge’s southern approaches, remained in their positions, unseen by the enemy.

Moments after the Communists struck, Lieutenant Kelly organized a counterattack from the north bank of the river. Corporal Wayne D. Brown led his squad across the bridge toward the fight, meeting Hott’s squad halfway. Hott had been wounded in the head, so Brown ordered him back to the command post at the north end for treatment and, in the confusion, Hott took the machine gun with him. Unwilling to risk an attack without the machine gun. Brown organized his men for a defense of the middle of the bridge, using a sandbagged position already in place, then sent Lance Corporal John A. Eller back for the gun.

Eller returned with the gun, but with no ammunition. Brown himself went back to the north side, which was now under heavy mortar and rocket fire, and retrieved the ammunition. Finally ready to counterattack, the Marines charged across the bridge, hugging the sides for protection as Eller, leading the way, sprayed the enemy with machine gun fire. Reaching the observation tower, Eller was felled by a long burst from an enemy automatic weapon. While down, a ricochet struck him in the chest, wounding him a second time. He tossed a grenade into an enemy fighting hole, then died.22*

Within one minute of Eller being hit, Brown himself and two of his men were wounded. With the machine gun lost and enemy fire mounting. Brown ordered a withdrawal to the bridge. As the Marines assumed new fighting positions near the water’s edge, the enemy hit them with either tear gas or CS gas.” Only one Marine in the squad had a protective mask, and the effects of the gas soon made the position untenable. The Marines withdrew further, to the sandbagged position in the middle of the bridge from which they had counterattacked. The gas, although still present, was not as strong there and the men were able to keep fighting. Brown reported the situation to Lieutenant Kelly. The lieutenant’s response was, “Hang tight.”

At that moment, there was little Lieutenant Kelly could do to help Corporal Brown. Enemy troops on the north bank were pressing hard against the company command post, advancing under heavy mortar, RPG, and small arms fire. The north bank observation tower, pounded by Communist shells, collapsed at 0200, burying three Marines sheltering beneath it, and immediately afterwards, the enemy used gas against the Marines on the north bank. As with Corporal Brown’s squad, the Marines had no protective masks. Some withdrew to the middle of the bridge where the gas was not as strong, while others dipped their heads in the water to clear their eyes and throats, and desperately tried to hang onto their positions.23

While Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion fought to hold the Cam Le Bridge, the third offensive erupted all over the Da Nang area. The security force at the nearby Song Cau Do Bridge, although not under ground attack, was shelled by enemy mortars. Downstream from them, toward the Cam Le Bridge, Communists continued to cross the river in sampans and the Marines on the Song Cau Do Bridge kept up steady machine gun fire into the enemy boats. Between 0245 and 0315, 19 units in the Da Nang area recorded over 300 rounds of mortar and 122mm rocket fire detonating on or near their positions. Enemy infantry attacked the 1st Tank Battalion, three company positions held by the 27th Marines, the headquarters of the 11th Marines, and three Combined Action platoons in the 7th Marines TAOR. Many other units received mortar fire. Viet Cong sappers struck the Special Forces compound two kilometers south of Marble Mountain Air Facility. Advancing under a mortar barrage, the sappers penetrated the perimeter and swept through the position with satchel charges, killing 16 Special Forces and Civilian Irregular Defense Group personnel and wounding 125 more. When finally driven off, the enemy left behind 32 dead. Later, a prisoner revealed that this enemy force was a company of the R-20 Battalion, reinforced by a platoon of the Q, 92 Sapper Company. Their mission was to seize the Marble Mountain Air Facility and hold it for one day, destroying as many aircraft and facilities as possible.24

The 2d and 3d Platoons of Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion were still under heavy attack at the Cam Le Bridge when the 1st Platoon left the airbase shortly after 0300 to relieve them. Moving in trucks down Highway l, the rescuers came to a sudden stop after moving only a few hundred meters from the

* For his courageous action, Lance Corporal Eller was posthumously decorated with the Silver Star.

**”CS” is the designation of a chemical riot control agent used in Vietnam. Its effects are similar to those caused by tear gas: burning of the eyes, throat, and mucous membranes. Although powerful, the effects are temporary, usually disappearing within minutes of the gas dissipating.



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Departmenr nl ‘Defense (USMC) Phocu A 191816 In fighting fur thv Hoa Vang headquarters in August. Marines take ewer from an unseen VC sniper. The interior of a destroyed structure can be seen u’ith only the floor and a chair still undamaged.

airbase because a battle was raging around the Hoa Vang District headquarters, which lay along the highway, midway between Da Nang and the north end of the bridge. A company of the 402dSappw Battalion had assaulted the district headquarters and blocked movement along Highway l. In their initial attack, the sappers penetrated the headquarters defenses and were repulsed only after hand-to-hand fighting inside the compound with U.S. advisors, South Vietnamese National Police, and even local government officials taking part.’-‘ The attack waned at about ()4()(), allowing the relief force to move into the headquarters where they left eight Marines as reinforcements before continuing toward the bridge. No sooner had the platoon starred toward the bridge than the enemy sappers resumed their attack.26

The 1st Platoon reached the river at 04.30, just in time to meet another enemy onslaught directed against the bridge. From the airbase, a larger, combined relief force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph J. N. Gambardella, Commanding Officer, 3d Military Police Battalion, moved south coward the bridge.’ This force, designated Task Force Kilo, consisted of two platoons from the 3d Military Police Battalion; Company K, 3d Battalion, 7ch Marines; Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion; and Ontos antitank vehicles, reinforced by a company of ARVN Rangers mounted in armored personnel carriers. Behind them, crash crews from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing followed with firefighting equipment, attempting to extinguish the fires caused by the attack on the Hoa Vang District headquarters.2′

At 0500, Lance Corporal Henry Lowery, leading a nine-man ambush patrol southwest of the bridge, radioed Lieutenant Kelly that he intended to attack and recapture the south end. Lowery s squad advanced to within 25 meters of the south tower, receiving only sniper fire. Two Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter gunships appeared overhead and Lowery attempted to signal them to provide supporting fire on the tower. The helicopters mistakenly attacked the Marines instead oi the entrenched Communists. With one man killed and two wounded, Lowery withdrew his squad to the relative safety of a nearby rice paddy to await help.-“

When dawn broke over Da Nang just after 0600, aircraft began attacking the Viet Cong in the bunkers at the south end of the Cam Le Bridge. The two “Hueys” were joined by a Douglas AC-^7 Srxx)ky gunship, a Douglas A-l Sky raider, and McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom jets which unsuccessfully pounded the enemy bunkers with napalm, high explosive bombs, and cannon fire.29

* Colonel Gambardella, the MP battalion commander, recalled (hat this was the second call for assistance on the night of 22-25 August. Just before midnight, he responded to a request for assistance from the commander of the ARVN Special Forces headquarters in the center of Da Nang city which was under attack. He deployed two platoons from his battalion who cordoned off the headquarters. Four of the attackers were killed and two were captured. Col Joseph J. N. Gambardella, Comments on draft, dtd 16Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File).




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The infantry unit nearest the south end of the bridge was the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, with its command post at Duong Son, four kilometers to the southwest. At 0645, the battalion commander, Major Kenneth J. Skipper, ordered Company A, located at the battalion command post, to launch an immediate counterattack to recapture the Cam Le Bridge. Two of the company’s three platoons were already detached, with one deployed to Christmas Island, 1,000 meters northeast of the bridge, and the other supporting a Combined Action platoon in the hamlet of Lo Giang (l), 1,000 meters southeast of the bridge. Further, one squad from the remaining platoon was on a patrol, leaving a total of two rifle squads available to the company. The company commander, Captain William O. Moore, reinforced these two squads with other members of the company who were present in the command post. Marines trained to operate mortars, rocket launchers, and even typewriters suddenly became riflemen again. Said Captain Moore, “we took our clerks, we took our sick, lame, and lazy, we took everybody we had and moved out.”30 Within five minutes of receiving the order, the small force was on the march.

Having departed without full knowledge of the enemy situation, Captain Moore tried to gather information along the way. Passing through an ARVN compound, he spoke with the U.S. Army advisors who pointed out suspected Communist positions lining both sides of Highway l. The company continued north along the highway, stopping outside of Cam Nam, only two kilometers from the Communist positions on the south end of the bridge. While there, Captain Moore received orders from Major Skipper to detach yet another squad from his seriously depleted force to assist the platoon in Lo Giang (l), which had reported being surrounded and under attack. He sent 16 Marines to reinforce the supposedly beleaguered garrison and requested permission to proceed toward the bridge. Major Skipper, however, told him to remain in position and wait for a platoon of tanks which would support the attack.

The Marines sent to Lo Giang (l) soon radioed back that they had arrived to find the hamlet quiet, with the Combined Action Marines reporting they had not had contact with the enemy for three hours. Captain Moore, assuming that someone had “cried ‘wolf,'” asked for the return of the 16 Marines, but Major Skipper denied his request.

At 1145, the tanks arrived: four 90mm gun tanks and a name tank from Company B, 5th Tank Battalion. The Marines of Company A had never operated with tanks before. Indeed, many of those with Captain Moore had never participated as riflemen in any operation before. Nevertheless, the “company,” reduced in strength once again to two ad-hoc squads, pressed forward toward the hamlet of Cam Nam on their way to the Cam Le Bridge. The road was raised above the surrounding paddies with a sharp drop down on both shoulders, so the tanks were forced to advance in column, with one infantry squad on either side. At the same time, Company D, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines prepared to attack Cam Nam from the west.

When Captain Moore and his men were less than 400 meters from Cam Nam, the enemy opened fire with RPGs, mortars, and small arms. The initial burst killed two Marines and wounded four others, but the rest continued the attack, firing and maneuvering toward the enemy, inching forward with only low paddy dikes for cover. Two hundred meters from the hamlet, an RPG hit the lead tank, causing minor damage. Captain Moore spotted the RPG and pointed it out to the tankers, who returned fire with 40 rounds of high explosive, 4 rounds of “Beehive,” and 3 rounds of white phosphorous.31 With this. Communist troops began to run from one dwelling to another within the hamlet, the tanks cutting them down with machine gun fire and blasting with 90mm rounds any structure they entered. A machine gun fired at the Marines from within a straw hut, and the flame tank drenched the hut liberally with burning fuel. Soon, the entire hamlet was ablaze, with virtually every structure leveled. “This,” related Captain Moore, “about ended our problem.”32

The Communists had blocked the highway with vehicles, which also provided cover for the enemy. Five more rounds of 90mm fire blasted away this makeshift obstacle and the tiny force again surged forward toward the Cam Le Bridge. As they passed through the burning hamlet, the company received word that a platoon from Company E, 2d Battalion, 27th Marines would soon join them. Captain Moore ordered his platoon on Christmas Island, which had already made one unsuccessful bid to recapture the bridge, to join the counterattack from the east.

The .50-caliber machine gun abandoned in the bunker the previous night had not been destroyed by Lance Corporal Costello’s hand grenade and the Viet Cong now had it in action against the Marines. Even after a fearful pounding by aircraft, there was no sign



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that the Communists in the old French bunker were ready to quit. The tanks led the attack toward the south end of- the bridge, pumping round after round of 90mm cannon fire into the bunker and the nearby observation tower. The accurate, concentrated fire proved to be too much for the Communists, who rushed from their positions, attempting to escape. Several of them jumped into a vehicle and tried to drive away, but a tank fired into the vehicle, sending it up in flames. Other enemy soldiers leaped into the river and tried to swim to safety, but the Marines rushed to the riverbank and shot them in the water.

[Webpage Author’s note: this .50-caliber machine gun was the source of the bullet that killed Danny Grimshaw; see excerpt from Gary Jarvis’ book, “Young Blood: A History of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, (Vietnam) 1968” on a companion webpage. As noted above, viewer discretion is advised in visiting this webpage.]

At 15-45, nine hours after receiving the order to counterattack. Captain M(X)re reported to his battalion headquarters that the objective was secured, then set about reorganizing the position. Several local Popular Force troops were found under the bridge where they had been hiding since the previous night. Beneath the tower, the Marines found the body of the gallant John Eller, and in the vicinity of the bridge, 22 enemy dead. Company A had suffered three dead and eight wounded. Captain Moore linked up with Lieutenant Kelly’s military policemen on the north bank and his own platoon from Christmas Island, then sent a squad down the riverbank to the west to ferret out any Viet Cong who might be hiding there.

Marine C pi Henry A. Casselli. holding his M16 rifle, is seen returning to the northern end of the Cam Le Bridge over the Can Do River after helping In secure the bridge. Other Marines cross in the background. An ad hoc force from the 1st iind 2d Battalions. 27th Marines and including tankers and MPs had taken part in the fighting.

Department of Defense (USMC) A191818

To the north. Lieutenant Colonel Gambardella’s Task Force Kilo fought through the remnants of the enemy sapper company which had laid siege to the Hoa Vang District headquarters, reaching the north bank of the river at approximately 1900. Lieutenant Colonel Gambardella recalled that in the attack south to the Cam Le Bridge, Task Force Kilo came under heavy fire and took several casualties. In the two fights, the Marines sustained 4 killed and 12 wounded and the RVN forces with them 3 dead and 21 wounded. Among the casualties was Navy Hospitalman Allan R. Gerrish, who placed himself between a wounded Marine and enemy machine gun fire and posthumously was awarded the Navy Cross for this action. Enemy casualties in the battles for the district headquarters and the Cam Le Bridge totaled 184. ARVN Rangers took control of the area, allowing Captain Moore and his company to move to Christmas Island. Although weary from the day’s hard fighting. Company A maintained 100 percent alert in their new positions.”

Through the night of 23-24 August, there were several incidents, relatively minor as compared to the events of the previous night, indicating that the “third offensive,” though seriously compromised locally, was not yet over. At 2200, a short firefight erupted at the Song Cau Do Bridge when two sampans filled with enemy troops attempted to cross the river from south to north under the cover of small arms fire and a brief mortar barrage. Return fire directed at the Communist positions resulted in 11 secondary explosions.14 Between 0200 and 0400, over 100 rounds of mortar fire fell on the command post of the 5th Marines, positions held by Company M, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, and Battery H, 3d Battalion, 11th Marines.”

With the situation in Da Nang restored, it remained for III MAF to pursue and destroy the escaping Communist units while at the same time remaining vigilant for another wave of attacks on the city. The heaviest fighting of the “third offensive” was yet to come.



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At dawn on 24 August, a patrol from Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines made contact with two companies of the Viet Cong V-25 Battalion, five kilometers south-southwest of the Cam Le Bridge in a hamlet named Qua Giang (2). The ARVN 1st Battalion, 51st Infantry, an ARVN armored cavalry unit, Company F, 2d Battalion, 27th Marines, and the 3d Platoon, Company B, 5th Tank Battalion surrounded the hamlet and directed supporting arms fire on enemy positions throughout the day and night. %

On 24 August, elements of the 1st Military Police Battalion, Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and the South Vietnamese 111th Regional Force Company swept Highway l from the airbase to the bridge. Despite the previous sweep by Task Force Kilo, pockets of enemy resistance remained. Rooting them out, the task force counted l prisoner and 30 enemy dead at a cost of 6 Marines wounded.37 South of Marble Mountain Air Facility, in a rare daylight attack, a dozen 122mm rockets fell in the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion compound during mid-morning, but they caused only minor structural damage and no personnel casualties or equipment losses.38

General Youngdale felt that the Communists had not yet played their full hand. On 24 August, he predicted that the enemy would continue attacking the Cam Le Bridge, Marble Mountain Air Facility, and major installations within the city. He also expressed concern that another Viet Cong sapper battalion might attempt to infiltrate Da Nang from the northwest.39

On 25 August, after pounding the V-25 Battalion at Qua Giang (2) with supporting arms for two days and a night, the combined Marine-ARVN force entered the hamlet, finding approximately 150 North Vietnamese dead and the remnants of what appeared to be a battalion command post, complete with radios.40 That evening, Youngdale reported to General Cushman that:

. . . infantry and sapper units may have aborted their attempts to penetrate Da Nang from the south and may move to the south to reposition in the vicinity of Go Noi Island. However, rocket and mortar attacks may resume.41

Acting on this analysis. General Youngdale issued orders to mount an operation which would block the withdrawal of the Communists from the Da Nang area and defeat them in detail.42 Named Operation Sussex Bay, it would employ elements of the 5th Marines and the 7th Marines, supported by ARVN and Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) units. H-hour was set for 0900, 29 August.

At 0815, 29 August, while occupying a blocking position in preparation for Operation Sussex Bay, Company M, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines made heavy contact with the enemy in the “Dodge City” area, four kilometers south of Hill 5 5. While maneuvering against the enemy flank, the company came under heavy fire from three sides which wounded several men. A corpsman, Hospitalman Richard L. Powell, braved the enemy fire to assist the wounded and was himself hit by machine gun fire, rendering his arm useless. Despite his wounds, Powell continued to treat the casualties, at one point advancing to assist a fallen Marine who lay within 15 meters of a Communist machine gun. Here, Powell was hit again and killed. For his selfless act, Powell posthumously received the Navy Cross.43

Company D, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and Company G, 2d Battalion, 27th Marines joined the action with tanks. Assisted by aircraft and artillery, the Marines dislodged the North Vietnamese. Friendly losses totalled 2 dead and 41 wounded and the Marines reported killing 42 of the enemy.44

While Company M fought, the other units involved in Operation Sussex Bay assumed their positions. Just east of the National Railroad, a contingent of Korean Marines established a blocking position along the Co Ca stream. To the south, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines occupied its own blocking position in the western half of Go Noi Island, along the Song Ky Lam, while the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines began a sweep of the eastern half of the island. The 3d Battalion, 7th Marines hemmed in the area of operations by establishing a defensive line two kilometers west of the railroad. Finally, two ARVN units, the 21st and 37th Ranger Battalions, attacked south along the railroad from their line of departure along the Song La Tho.

Shortly after launching their sweep, the ARVN Ranger battalions engaged a large enemy unit spread out between the hamlets of Dong Lien and Ha Nong Tay (2). The Rangers returned fire and called for fire support from the 2d Battalion, llth Marines and ARVN artillery units. The battle resulted in over 80 North Vietnamese dead at a cost of 8 ARVN Rangers killed and 33 wounded.45

Further south, in the Arizona Territory, Marine units participating in Operation Mameluke Thrust recorded significant contact with the enemy. An NVA platoon ambushed a platoon of Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines on 29 August near the Song Tinh Yen, killing 12 Marines and wounding 18. The



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Marines directed 5 airstrikes and over 700 rounds of artillery fire onto enemy positions only 200 meters away, reporting as a result 25 Communists dead.”‘

General Youngdale remained convinced that the enemy intended to attack Da Nang from the west and northwest.r To counter this threat, he ret]uesred that a B-52 mission be diverted from a previously scheduled target to strike the valley of the Song Cu De (called Elephant Valley by the Marines), 10 kilometers northwest of the city.”1

The action, despite Youngdale’s analysis, remained centered to the south, mainly in the Operation Sussex Bay area. Just after midnight on 30 August, Company H, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines ambushed a group of approximately 30 North Vietnamese fording the Song Ky Lam in an apparent effort to reach Go Noi Island. A search ot the area conducted at first light revealed 29 enemy dead. There were no Marine casualties.’-‘ Later that morning, the ARVN Ranger battalions swept south once again, claiming to have killed 27 Viet Cong and 4 North Vietnamese.”50

On 31 August, the units involved in Operation Sussex Bay closed the net around the escaping Communists. During the morning, both of the ARVN battalions pressed the enemy into a bend in the Song Ky Lam on the other side of which the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines waited in blocking positions. The encircled Communists fought desperately, but artillery and airstrikes flown by Marine helicopter gunships and RVNAF fixed-wing aircraft smashed them in the trap. The attack resulted in over SO North Vietnamese dead and netted l prisoner at a cost of 7 ARVN Rangers killed and 45 others wounded.”

The fighting of 31 August crushed the major Communist force attempting to flee south after the failed attack on Da Nang, but small units still slipped through the net and continued to work their way toward Go Noi Island. At 2000, 31 August, Company H, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines ambushed one of these groups, approximately 30 North Vietnamese attempting to cross the Song Ky Lam. Unlike the group engaged two nights earlier, these

Tu’o Marines/row Company M. 3d Battalion. 5th Marines rush to a landing zone to pick u(i supplies left by a Boeing Vertol CH-f6 Sea Knight helii’optvr from H/M/M-164, during Operation Sussex Bay near An Hoa and Go Noi Island sectors.

Photo from Abel Collection



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latest prey of Company H started to cross the river in boats. Under illumination provided by the battalion’s 81mm mortar platoon, the Marines sunk both boats with small arms fire.52

Amid the efforts to defend Da Nang and the pursuit of the fleeing enemy by Operation Sussex Bay forces, the 1st Marine Division continued its preparations for the redeployment of the 27th Marines. As elements of Colonel Robert G. Lauffer’s 1st Marines arrived at Da Nang, they took up positions in the 27th Marines sector, the first phase of an orderly turnover. By l September, Colonel Lauffer had two of his battalions in place and controlled two others of the 27th Marines. Those battalions, the 1st and 2d, still occupied defensive positions in the area. General Youngdale reorganized the Da Nang TAOR, extending the 1st Marines’ new area of operations east to the sea, thereby relieving the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion of the responsibility for securing the area south of the Marble Mountain Air Facility. This move allowed the amphibian tractor Marines to concentrate on their primary mission of supporting infantry units in the field.53

Operation Sussex Bay continued into September, but the area of operations shifted to Go Noi Island. During the evening of l September, Battery E, 2d Battalion, llth Marines moved by helicopter to the Go Noi to support an operation to be carried out by the 2d and 3d Battalions, 5th Marines. On 2 September, the 5th Marines launched its attack into the eastern half of the island. Lieutenant Colonel James W. Stemple, the commander of the 2d Battalion, remembered that the aim was “to sweep Go Noi from the railroad berm to the eastern end of the island with the two battalions advancing abreast by phase lines.” Contact was light. By 5 September, the Marines had rooted out and killed only 6 North Vietnamese and 5 Viet Cong, and had suffered 5 dead and 22 wounded. Of the Marine casualties, 4 dead and 11 wounded were the direct result of enemy action, while the remainder were victims of accidents and incidents including short mortar rounds and a friendly airstrike. The last two Marines to become casualties during this phase of Operation Sussex Bay were wounded by an aroused denizen of Go Noi Island, a water buffalo who embodied the hostile attitude held by the rest of the island’s population toward the Marines. The heavy rains of Typhoon Bess would force the Marines temporarily off the Go Noi.54 Typhoon Bess

On 5 September, Typhoon Bess struck the I Corps Tactical Zone, catching many units far afield. Winds in excess of 50 knots, accompanied by heavy rain and a ceiling of less than 100 feet, grounded all aircraft for two days.55 The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines quit Go Noi Island and marched to nearby Liberty Bridge. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines was not as lucky, since it was, as Lieutenant Colonel Stemple recalled, “occupying positions at the very east end of the island.” The battalion moved to what high ground there was along the railroad berm as Stemple “knew there would be no way we would be able to ‘walk off the island.” The next day Marine Corps helicopters lifted the 2d Battalion our of the Go Noi except for Company H. This latter company was supposed to remain on the island, directly under the operational control of the 5th Marines, and then sweep back to Liberty Bridge the following morning. According to Lieutenant Colonel Stemple, he convinced Colonel Graham, the 5th Marines commander, to helilift this company out after one Marine in the company drowned in the attempt.56 By this time ground units all over ICTZ suspended operations and moved to high ground to wait out the storm.

Even units in base areas were not safe from the typhoon’s effects. Rising water flooded defensive perimeters, filling trenches and washing away bunkers. Some minefields were under a foot of water.57 The 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, scheduled to relieve the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, halted movement, as the storm’s effects threatened the fragile timetable for the 27th Marines’ redeployment to the United States.58

The civilian populace suffered as well. A III MAF intelligence report estimated that, in addition to the thousands of homes blown down or washed away by Typhoon Bess, the storm destroyed 60 percent of the rice crop and 55 percent of the stored rice. Intelligence officers speculated the flooding damaged enemy caches, bunkers, and tunnels, as well.59

By 7 September, the storm abated and the weather improved enough that field operations could resume, although the flooding still hampered movement considerably. Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines provided security for a recovery unit of Company B, 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion attempting to retrieve two inoperative amphibian tractors abandoned by the 5th Marines on Go Noi Island during the storm. Normally, when a vehicle broke down in



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the field, it was guarded until it could be repaired or recovered. To abandon a vehicle was highly unusual, but in this instance necessary, because of the flooding. When the Marines reached the vehicles on the morning of 8 September, they found both destroyed by demolition and fire, the result of enemy action.60*

The Communists, hardly heard from during the typhoon, also resumed operations. At 1800, 8 September, a Stingray patrol in the mountains west of the Arizona Territory sighted 146 enemy moving through a rice paddy at the base of Charlie Ridge. The reconnaissance team called for air and artillery support, killing 25 of the Viet Cong. The following morning, an enemy burial party appeared to recover the bodies. The Stingray patrol directed an airstrike against them, as well, accounting for another 20 Viet Cong.61

The 1st Marine Division ended Operation Sussex Bay on 9 September, citing as the reason the disruption caused by the “unfavorable weather conditions which prevailed during Typhoon ‘Bess’.”62 In fact, enemy activity in the Da Nang TAOR and the area to the immediate south was minimal, indicating that the combination of Operation Sussex Bay and Typhoon Bess had taken the fight out of the Communist units which had originally struck Da Nang on 23 August.

Group 44, the Communist unit which carried out the third offensive in the Da Nang TAOR, suffered heavily during the effort. According to Marine intelligence sources, Group 44 units lost 637 killed while staging for the offensive. In the attacks of 23 August, the main effort of the offensive. III MAF estimated over 230 enemy died. The heaviest Communist casualties, however, occurred during the next two weeks, when III MAF intelligence reports listed another 1,200 enemy killed, thus bringing the total estimated enemy losses during their offensive to more than 2,000 dead.63

Although not everyone in III MAF was certain at the time, the “third offensive” was over.64 Bold in concept but unspectacular in results, the offensive did not materially affect the progress of the negotiations in Paris, nor the balance of power in the Da Nang TAOR. In fact, it signalled the end of an enemy effort begun during Tet and continued in May, whose purpose was to inflict a decisive military defeat on Free World Forces in the Republic of Vietnam. Communist losses in these offensives were staggering, forcing them to change tactics. For now, their timetable would be delayed once more.

*Both the 2d and 3d Battalions, 5th Marines had to abandon tanks and LVTs that had accompanied the battalions into the Go Noi. The VC or NVA burned two LVTs that had been left by the 3d Battalion, but Colonel Stemple, the 2d Battalion commander, recalled that the Navy several months later provided a LCU (Landing Craft Utility) with a tank retriever and recovered all of the tanks and the two remaining LVTs. According to Stemple, “miraculously, the enemy had not discovered them and except for the water damage, they were recovered intact.” Col James W. Stemple, Comments on draft, n.d- [1995] (Vietnam Comment File).

[end of chapter]


1Shulimson, Jack, Leonard A. Blasiol, Charles A. Smith, and David A. Dawson, 1997, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, the Defining Year, 1968: U.S. Government Printing Office, unk p.

2Jarvis, Gary, 1999, Young Blood: A History of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, (Vietnam) 1968: Jacksonville, FL, G.E. Jarvis Publishing Co., 259 p.

Webpage History

Webpage Initiated November 2004. Webpage finalized August 2006.