Operation Pike, Operations Wheeler, Operation Wallowa, Operation Essex, Operation Onslow, Operation Badger Hunt, Operation Knox, Operation Foster, Operation Pitt, Operation Citrus, and Operation Auburn These Operations all together as these operations all went on during same time with same units.
For more Information on Events Leading to these Operation Click Here (Operation Swift)
Other allied activity, both north and south of the Que Son Basin, also hurt Communist formations in I Corps. The enemy, buffeted between the allied forces in the basin and those in contiguous areas, lost the initiative. To the north, Colonel Herbert E. Ing's 1st Marines continued to prod the VC around Hoi An. Operation Pike, conducted in early August, was one of the more significant operations in this area. Two Marine battalions, Lieutenant Colonel George E. Petro's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and Lieutenant Colonel Webster's 3d Battalion, 5th Marines executed a box and sweep maneuver that accounted for 100 enemy dead and four captured. South of the basin, General Knowles' Task Force Oregon conducted Operation Benton in the hills west of Chu Lai during the latter part of August. Army troops made a helicopter assault of a suspected enemy base camp and then drove south and east, encountering enemy platoons and companies. When Benton ended, on 1 September, Task Force Oregon reported 397 NVA soldiers killed and nine captured.
Much further south, between Quang Ngai and Duc Pho, Task Force Oregon's Operation Malheur series, lasting from 11 May through 2 August, produced a total of 857 enemy troops killed. A more important result was the opening of Route 1 from the border of II Corps to Dong Ha, the last section of this vital artery to be cleared in I Corps.
Hood River followed Malheur II in a locale 25 miles south of Quang Ngai City. Hood River occur red in conjunction with the Korean Marine Brigade's Dragon Head V and the 2d ARVN Division's Lien Ket 110. The soldiers on Hood River claimed credit for 78 enemy dead and 45 prisoners. Army casualties were only three killed.
All of these operations maintained constant pressure on the 2d NVA Division. Continual use of the search and destroy process in the basin and adjacent areas from April through August by the 5th Marines, the Special Landing Force, and ARVN units forced the enemy to move south. As the Communists tried to regroup in the hills west of Chu Lai, Task Force Oregon pushed them back to the Que Son Basin to face the Marine and ARVN Swift-Lien Ket 116 operations. Once more the enemy withdrew, this time trying to escape to the hills near Tam Ky. There four U.S. Army battalions were on hand to meet the remnants of the 2d NI/A Division during Operation Wheeler. Task Force Oregon became the Americal Division on 22 September and by the end of that month the soldiers of the Army division had killed an additional 442 Communists. Once more they drove the NVA units back into the basin. A new opponent was waiting for the North Vietnamese division.
A Busy Calm Before the Storm
Increased September activity in I Corps once more caused General Westmoreland to send reinforcements north. On 4 October, Colonel James D. McKenna's 3d Brigade, 1st U.S. Cavalry Division, having been transferred to III MAF and, in turn, to the Americal Division, began Operation Wallowa in the Que Son Basin. With the arrival of this brigade, the Americal Division took over responsibility for the entire basin and the 5th Marines moved to Hoi An, relieving Colonel Ing's 1st Marines there. Operational control of the 1st Marines shifted from the 1st to 3d Marine Division and Colonel Ing then moved his headquarters and two battalions to the northern provinces of I Corps.
Most operations in southern I Corps during the last three months of 1967 reflected the enemy's desire to avoid casualties, but even in this the enemy was unsuccessful. The Americal Division, now commanded by Major General Samuel W. Koster, USA, continued to harry the 2d NVA Division in the Que Son Valley as the Communists frantically tried to collect rice and supplies there. During October, the Army units, engaged in Operation Wheeler and Wallowa, were in almost constant contact with small NVA units. By the end of the month Operation Wheeler had reported 498 enemy killed, while Wallowa recorded another 675 NVA dead.
During November, the Americal Division combined Operations Wheeler and Wallowa as Operation Wheeler / Wallowa and a force of seven U.S. Army battalions, more than twice the number previously available, deployed in the area. The army battalions systematically pursued NVA elements as they tried to escape to the mountains in the west. Ancillary operations such as the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines' Essex in "Antenna Valley," six miles south of An Hoa, drove the enemy back against the Army units in the basin.
There were two main engagements with NVA forces in Antenna Valley during Operation Essex. Both involved company-sized attacks on fortified villages which the North Vietnamese chose to de fend. Lieutenant Colonel George C. McNaughton, commander of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, described these fortified villages in his after-action report:
In each instance, the village had a wire fence around the perimeter . . . concisting of three to six strands of cattle fence with woven wire running up and down through the horizontal strands. The wire fence line was either conceal ed in bamboo tree lines or camouflaged with bamboo and shrubs. Behind these perimeter fences, the enemy had dug a communication trench.., that was four to six feet deep with firing positions and deep caves for protection against artillery and air attack. Some of these caves were fifteen feet deep. Spider holes, caves, and bunkers were found in depth through the village. Fortifications were carefully located to achieve an interlocking and mutually supporting series of defensive positions. Both [villages] were located such that attacking infantry had to cross stream barriers [to reach] the defensive positions. As attacking troops emerged from the stream beds, they found themselves to be within close range (50-150 meters) of the enemy perimeter defenses with open rice paddy in between. (Both villages were] situated on the sides of the valley adjacent to high ground such that the enemy had ready routes of egress into the mountains.
Both Marine attacks took place during afternoon hours and the enemy force successfully defended its positions into the night. In each case, however, the NVA defenders withdrew from the fortified positions under cover of darkness in spite of continuous artillery fife in and behind the village. "In summary," wrote McNaughton, "when Marine units attacked the villages in the afternoon, the enemy defended with vigor. When Marine units delayed an attack until dawn and conducted heavy preparation by air and artillery, the NVA units made their escape.
Company H, commanded by Captain Gene W. Bowers, conducted one of the fortified village assaults. Bowers used tactics similar to those that had succeeded so well in a similar situation during Operation Swift.
Company H had landed by helicopter in Antenna Valley earlier in the day, as had the rest of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines.* The company then proceeded toward its assigned objective, the village of Ap Bon in the northeast portion of the valley. As it approached the objective, Company H made heavy contact with a large enemy force within the village.
Captain Bowers ordered Second Lieutenant Duane V. Sherin to maneuver his 2d Platoon to the left of the village and then envelop the enemy. The platoon, however, ran into more NVA soldiers in the heavy brush west of the village, sustained two Marines killed and several wounded, and then, on Bowers' orders, withdrew with its casualties back to the company. Upon its arrival at the company position, Bowers directed the 2d Platoon to move to the company's right flank and establish a base of fare for an assault on the village by the 1st and 3d Platoons. The assault began after air and artillery strikes on Ap Bon. Bowers recalled the subsequent action: The assault was well-coordinated and executed, maintaining continuous fire superiority over the enemy until the assault line reached the bamboo hedgerow on the periphery of the village. Eight taut strands of U.S. type barbed wire were unexpectedly encountered woven among the bamboo stalks. As the Marines fought to break through the barrier, .50 caliber machine guns from 800 meters on the right flank and 800 meters on the left flank commenced enfilading, grazing fire down the line of barb ed wire, as 60mm, 82mm, and 4.2-inch mortar rounds began impacting in the paddy before the village. One platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Robert W. Miller, Jr., was killed and both platoon sergeants were severely wounded. The assault faltered and the Marines took cover, protected by small inter-paddy dikes."
The fighting developed into an exchange of rifle fire and grenades as reported air strikes hit the village. Some bombs and napalm fell within 50 meters of the exposed Marines in the paddies. Captain Bowers requested reinforcements and Captain Edward J. "Buck" Byer, Jr.'s Company F about 1600. With Company H acting as a fire on the village, Company F made an which the North Vietnamese repulsed.
At dusk, both companies moved back about 70 meters, carrying all wounded Marines and equipment, and established night defensive positions. The North Vietnamese maintained pressure on the two companies until almost dawn despite flares and machine gun fire from AC- 130s, which fired on targets within 10 meters of the Marines. Around 0430, the North Vietnamese slipped away.
At dawn, the two Marine companies advanced and searched the village without resistance. There were no enemy bodies. All bunkers and trenches had collapsed under the intensive artillery and air strikes. The Marine companies had suffered 53 serious casualties, including 16 dead, in the fighting of Ap Bon.
The following days involved pursuit of small groups of fleeing NVA soldiers. On 10 November, the 2d Battalion captured ,an NVA aspirant (officer cadet) who claimed to have been in Ap Bon on 6 November. He said the village had contained a division headquarters battalion. A direct bomb hit on the command post bunker killed the battalion commander; 60 enlisted men died in the fighting and many were severely wounded. Operation Essex end ed a few days later, on the 17th.
By the end of December, cumulative reports for Wheeler/Wallowa cited 3,188 enemy killed, 87 captured, and 743 weapons seized, while U.S. Army units listed their own losses as 258 killed and 1,190 wounded. As 1967 ended there could be little question that control of the Que Son Basin was returning to the South Vietnamese Government.
North of the Que Son Valley, in the 1st Marine Division's Quang Nam Province zone of action, the level of enemy contacts dropped during this period. Fifth Marines units executed Operations Onslow and Essex, while elements of the 7th Marines conducted Knox, Foster, Pitt, Citrus, and Auburn. All of these operations were designed to keep the enemy out of the Da Nang rocket belt. The most significant of these was Foster and a companion STY operation, Badger Hunt.
Foster / Badger Hunt followed two savage Viet Cong attacks against the district headquarters and refugee settlement at Duc' Duc and Dai Loc, 15 miles southwest of Da Nang. The attacks killed 34 civilians, wounded 42, and another 51 were reported missing. In addition, the enemy destroyed 559 houses and left 625 families homeless.
The Marines retaliated with Operation Foster, conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Roger H. Barnard's 3d Battalion, 7th Marines and Operation Badger Hunt utilizing SLF Bravo's BLT 2 / 3, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Englisch. Both were coordinated search and destroy endeavors in the river complex of the Dai Loc District and in the flatlands and foothills west of the An Hoa industrial complex. Intelligence reports placed the Viet Cong R-20 and V-25 Battalions and the Q-13 Company in these areas.
The operation began at 0900 on 13 November. BLT 2(3 landed by helicopter west of An Hoa, and two hours later Barnard's Marines landed northwest of the complex near Dai Loc. Initially there were numerous contacts with small groups of VC trying to escape. The Marines uncovered many VC bunkers and logistic areas. With the exception of one company-size fight on 29 November, the enemy concentrated on escaping. Marine reconnaissance and air observers sighted numerous fleeing enemy groups; artillery and air strikes directed against these groups caused the majority of enemy casualties inflicted during Foster. For the Marine infantry units, the operation was more successful in terms of destruction of enemy supplies and installations than enemy killed. The Marines destroyed 6,000 enemy buildings, bunkers, tunnels, and shelters and un covered rice caches totaling 87 tons. By the end of the operation, 30 November, reported enemy casualties totaled 125 killed and eight captured. More important than the personnel losses inflicted on the enemy, the Marines evacuated more than 11,500 refugees from the Communist-dominated area.
The loss of a large, readily available labor and manpower pool annoyed the local Communist leaders. Previously, the enemy, following the Communist guerrilla dictum that the good will of the people must be preserved, had been very selective in targeting acts of terror. During December, as the Marines challenged their hold on the populace, Communist terror attacks increased, demonstrating that the "liberating" Communists were not really concerned about popular good will. Distrust of the Communists spread in the refugee communities. In tended to force the refugees to abandon their Government-sponsored settlements, the terror raids caused grave doubts about the promises made by the Viet Cong.
The refugees from western Quang Nam Province, like those from the Que Son Basin and the coastal plains of Quang Ngai Province, demonstrated a desire not to be incorporated in the Communist system. Would they rally to the South Vietnamese Government and be loyal citizens? The next step was the implementation of the pacification program to win the support of the mass of displaced, confused, and often apathetic residents bf Vietnam's food producing regions. In I Corps it was III MAF's job to provide the physical security for the Vietnamese Government's pacification efforts. It would prove to be a tough, unrewarding, tedious assignment.