Beaver Track/Buffalo/Hickory II (4-16 July 1967)
When SLF Alpha joined Buffalo on 3 July, STY Bravo went on standby, and it entered the Buffalo area on 4 July on Operation Beaver Track. At 0640, Major Wendell 0. Beard, the BLT 2/3 commander, and Company H loaded in Lieutenant Colonel Rodney D. McKitrick's Ch-46s and flew off the USS Tripoli (LPH 10); destination: Cam Lo. McKitrick's HMM- 164 ferried the rest of the battalion to an assembly area north of Cam Lo where the BLT prepared for employment as directed by the 3d Marine Division. At 1300, BLT 2/3, under operational control of its parent regiment, gained the 1st Platoon of Company A, 3d Tank Battalion. The battalion spent the afternoon moving into position in preparation for impending search and destroy operations.
The Beaver Track operation order directed the battalion to move out at 0700 on 5 July and attack northward on a four-kilometer front to a point just south of the southern limit of the DMZ. There, the battalion was to turn and move roughly three kilometers west. During Phase II, a return sweep, the battalion was to maneuver south to the Cam Lo River from its DMZ position, following an axis parallel to but west of the Phase I axis of advance. Friendly units had occupied the area as recently as two days before the start of Beaver Track, but intelligence sources reported that elements of the 29th NVA Regiment were making a reconnaissance of the region.
At 0700, 5 July, Major Beard's troops moved out. As in many similar operations, nothing happened at first. The Marines discovered and demolished abandoned bunkers as the day progressed. By midafter noon, Company E was enduring desultory sniper fire, but no contact developed. That night remained quiet.
The enemy made the first move at 0535 on 6 July with a probe of Company E's perimeter. The Marines met the attack with skillful, coordinated machine gun and artillery fire. The Communists broke off the engagement, leaving 14 bodies behind plus abandoned weapons and equipment. Shortly after the beginning of the fight along the Company E perimeter, 40 NVA mortar rounds hit the BLT command group and Company G, located about four kilometers south of the DMZ. Return fires temporarily silenced the Communist gunners, but at 0800 a Company H patrol less than three kilometers to the northeast also came under mortar fire. Sup porting tanks and artillery again silenced the enemy, but not before RPG rounds hit two of the supporting Marine tanks.
At 0930, the enemy struck a Company F patrol with a command-detonated claymore-type mine, and half an hour later, Company G, operating east of Company F, also encountered enemy claymores. A brief flurry of action occurred when the tank platoon commander, 2 d Lieutenant Edward P. B. O'Neil, spotted NVA troops in the vicinity of the destroyed town of Nha An Hoa. The tankers' 90mm guns and heavy machine guns accounted for 16 of them. The remainder of the 6th of July reverted to duels between Communist mortars and U.. S. artillery.
As the sweep continued on the 7th, the STY Bravo Marines confronted increasing numbers of enemy bunkers, all deserted, but many showing signs of re cent use. The search for the elusive 29th NVA Regiment continued.
July 8th was a day filled with the curious whims of combat. At 0800 a patrol from Company H found a completely stripped UH-34D surrounded with assorted NVA equipment. While these Marines examined their disquieting prize, another Company H patrol was busily engaged destroying captured enemy equipment. Someone or something triggered an unknown explosive device which killed eight Marines. A Company G patrol tripped a "Bouncing Betty" at 1030; two more Marines died and another received wounds. The tempo of action picked up an hour and a half later when Company G engaged in a sharp action in one of the many Communist bunker complexes. Air and artillery smashed the enemy position. The Company G Marines found 35 NVA bodies in the wreckage after the bombardment.
The fortunes of war smiled on the BLT that after noon. As the battalion patrol actions continued, Company F executed a classic example of fire and maneuver. One squad, immobilized by enemy automatic weapons fire coming from a well- developed position, became a pivot for the rest of the company. The Marines fixed the Communists in their dug-in positions and called in supporting arms. The Marines counted 73 NVA bodies in the followup sweep and captured three 82mm mortars.
During the following days, the BLT Marines discovered and destroyed more bunkers, fighting positions, and shelters, but the Communists chose not to fight. Meanwhile, at sea on board the USS Tripoli, Lieutenant Colonel McKitrick's HMM- 164 turned over its SLF assignment on 12 July to HMM-265, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William R. Beeler.
To capitalize on the results of Operation Buffalo, which had paralleled Beaver Track, ComUSMACV ordered that another sweep be made south of the Ben Hai River to destroy enemy weapons positions in the southern half of the DMZ. Known as Operation Hickory II, the plan was similar in concept to the 13-battalion Hickory I sweep conducted in the same area during May. Hickory II was smaller in scale; it employed seven maneuver battalions and four blocking battalions. Since BLT 2 / 3 was already located northwest of Cam Lo, it became a blocking battalion on the western edge of the zone of action.
SLF Bravo received the Hickory II operation order on the morning of 13 July. At 0700 the next morning the battalion moved out, securing designated objectives en route to its final blocking position. At 1000, the battalion commander, Major Beard, became a casualty and his executive officer, Major John H. Broujos, took over the battalion. By 1230 the battalion reached the blocking positions and searched the surrounding terrain. During BLT 2 / 3's brief two-day involvement in Hickory II, Communist antipersonnel devices were the most serious threat. Grenades rigged as booby traps killed two Marines and wounded 13. Other than mortar fire, the 2d Battalion had no contact with the enemy during Hickory II.
The BLT reconstituted at 0600 on 16 July as Hickory II ended. Re-embarkation began immediately. STY Bravo's participation in the Beaver Track/ Buffalo/Hickory II operations produced an impressive, verified kill ratio. Sixteen SLF Bravo Marines gave their lives, while the battalion killed 148 NVA soldiers.