Battle of Dai Do

The Battle of Dai Do (also known as the Battle of Đông Hà) took place from 30 April to 3 May 1968 in Quảng Trị Province during the Vietnam War.

Coordinates: 16°50′28″N 107°06′40″E / 16.841°N 107.111°E

Background

The Cửa Việt River served as a vital supply line for the 3rd Marine Division in northern Quảng Trị Province, running from the Cửa Việt Base to the Đông Hà Combat Base which in turn supported the Marine bases along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).[1]:18

The Cửa Việt area was part of the Napoleon/Saline operational area with the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion responsible for securing the Cửa Việt Base and its vicinity. The 1st AMTRAC Battalion had operational control of a rotation of Marine infantry battalions.[1]:38[2]:142

Battle

In late April 4 People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Battalions, including 2 from the 320th Division, infiltrated past the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 2nd Regiment to occupy the area around Dai Do (16°50′28″N 107°06′40″E / 16.841°N 107.111°E) 2.5 km northeast of Đông Hà.[3] The PAVN moved into a series of pre-built mutually supporting bunkers surrounded by barbed wire which had been built over the preceding weeks unnoticed by the ARVN who were responsible for security in the area.[1]:294

At 03:30 on 30 April PAVN in the hamlet of An Loc (16°50′17″N 107°07′12″E / 16.838°N 107.120°E) fired on a United States Navy PBR, which returned fire and then returned to Đông Hà Base. At 04:00 the PAVN opened fire on an LCU causing severe damage and killing 1 sailor. At 07:00 a patrol from Company H, 2/4 Marines operating north of Dai Do was sent to investigate the area.[1]:294 Two platoons from Company F were ordered aboard AMTRACs to move to join Company H. As Company H advanced towards the suspected PAVN position they came under heavy machine gun, mortar and rocket fire from across a stream in the hamlet of Dong Xuan (16°50′37″N 107°07′12″E / 16.8436°N 107.120°E). Company H was withdrawn to await the arrival of the Company F reinforcements. The reconnaissance platoon and 2 M48s were also sent as reinforcements.[1]:294-5 The Marines called in air and artillery strikes which were reported to have knocked out 3 PAVN machine guns and Company H crossed the stream 400m northwest of Dong Xuan. Company F riding on AMTRACs crossed the stream west of Company H and positioned itself to attack Dai Do. At 14:00 both companies launched their attack and by 15:00 Company H had secured Dong Xuan. Company F's attack on Dai Do was stopped some 300m short of the hamlet, recoilless rifle fire had knocked out 2 AMTRACs, while mortar and machine gun fire had stopped the infantry advance. An attempt to reinforce Company F by landing Company G nearby was stopped when PAVN forces attacked Company G's landing zone near Lam Xuan. At 16:25 Company B 1/3 Marines aboard AMTRACs landed south of An Loc under cover of Task Force Clearwater gun boats. Company B was met by intense fire which destroyed 1 AMTRAC and disabled another, nevertheless Company B captured half of An Loc hamlet until its advance was brought to a halt and its commanding officer killed. 1st AMTRAC Battalion commander, Colonel Hull ordered Company F to withdraw from Dai Do and join Company H in Dong Xuan so the Marines would only have 2 perimeters to defend overnight. That night the PAVN probed the Company F/H position at Dong Xuan but were deterred by Marine artillery. Marines losses for the day were 16 dead while PAVN losses were 90 dead.[1]:294-7

The 2/4 Marines commander Lt. Col. William Weise felt that inadequate resources were provided for the attack on Dai Do, both in terms of men and air and artillery support. General Rathvon M. Tompkins could not be sure whether this was the main thrust of the May Offensive along the DMZ or a diversion for a larger attack still to come, however by the end of 30 April it was clear that the PAVN intended to either attack Đông Hà Base or move through the area and attack Quảng Trị. With limited Marine reserves available, General Tompkins requested Army reinforcements from I Field Force commander LG William B. Rosson who sent the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment to a landing zone north of Đông Hà on the morning of 1 May.[1]:297-9

On the morning of 1 May Company B patrols in An Loc found that the PAVN had deserted the hamlet overnight. Outside the hamlet they saw a group of approximately 60 PAVN moving across paddyfields north of An Loc and opened fire on them in what was described as a "turkey shoot". While artillery fire continued to be directed at Dai Do, at 10:00 Company G and 2 M48s were landed by LCMs at An Loc and moved west through Company B's positions to attack Dai Do. Company G was met by intense fire from the entrenched PAVN and had to knock out each bunker one by one, eventually reaching the north of Dai Do by 14:00 after having suffered heavy losses and both tanks being immobilized. The PAVN then counterattacked from the north and west of Dai Do and from bypassed positions to the south forcing Company G to withdraw and establish a perimeter east of Dai Do. A large PAVN force, including an artillery spotter team was observed in the hamlet of Truc Kinh (16°51′11″N 107°06′14″E / 16.853°N 107.104°E) 3km northeast of Dai Do and airstrikes were directed on them resulting in a decline in the effectiveness of PAVN artillery fire. Company F at Dong Xuan attempted to move south to support Company G but was stopped by PAVN fire and returned to Dong Xuan. At 17:00 Company B in An Loc was ordered to move west to support Company G but was stopped by PAVN fire which injured their replacement company commander. Company B was ordered back to An Loc where it linked up with Company E which had marched south along Highway 1 and then northeast across the stream. Marine losses for the day were 24 dead while PAVN losses were 91 dead and 2 captured.[1]:299-301

At 05:00 on 2 May Company E attacked northeast from An Loc towards Company G's position near Dai Do in the face of heavy PAVN fire. Meanwhile Company G attacked PAVN positions in southern Dai Dao knocking out bunkers with White Phosphrous grenades, Satchel charges and M72 LAWs. By 09:30 Companies E and G had secured Dai Do. With Dai Do secured, the Marines sought to squeeze the PAVN with a Hammer and anvil approach, while an ARVN mechanized battalion would secure the hamlets of Dong Lai and Thong Nghia (16°50′46″N 107°05′59″E / 16.846°N 107.0996°E) and establish blocking positions, the Marines would attack northwest taking the hamlets of Dinh To (16°50′38″N 107°06′23″E / 16.844°N 107.1064°E) and Thuong Do (16°50′46″N 107°06′14″E / 16.846°N 107.104°E).[1]:301-2

At 13:00 Company H attacked northwest from Dai Do towards Dinh To in the face of heavy PAVN fire which stalled their advance through the hamlet, the PAVN then counterattacked and the company commander radioed that he was in danger of being overrun. Company E, although numbering only 30 men, immediately moved forward to support Company H, pushing forward into the PAVN defenses until a large PAVN counterattack stopped their advance and threatened to overwhelm them. Both companies were ordered back to Dai Do under the cover of Marine airstrikes. Col. Hull liaised with the ARVN mechanized battalion which was now west of Dai Do and it was agreed that they would advance 1km north to Thong Nghia while the Marines renewed their attack on Dinh To. At 16:00 the attack on Dinh To resumed with Company G (now down to 40 men) in the lead, followed by Company F (80 men). Company G pushed through the now lightly defended Dinh To and had reached the outskirts of Thuong Do when it was stopped by PAVN fire from across the stream which still had not been reached by the ARVN. Company F advancing slightly further east meanwhile had met heavy PAVN fire and become separated from Company G. The PAVN then counterattacked at Thuong Do and Company G fought back surrounded by a wall of Marine artillery fire, eventually withdrawing to meet up with Company F and both companies then withdrew to Dinh To and then Dai Do. Marine losses for the day were 40 dead while PAVN losses were almost 380.[1]:302-3

Aftermath

On the morning of 3 May the PAVN had largely abandoned the Dai Do area. BLT 1/3 Marines relieved BLT 2/4 Marines and swept through Dinh To and Thuong Do meeting no resistance. The Marines had lost 81 killed in the battle while the PAVN had lost at least 600 killed. Company E commander Captain James E. Livingston and Company G commander Captain Jay R. Vargas were each awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle, while 2/4 Marines commander Weise was awarded the Navy Cross. The ARVN had lost 5 dead and killed 39 PAVN in their advance to Thong Nghia.[1]:303-4

The PAVN have never released their casualties for Dai Do, but claimed victory stating that they had defeated 3 Marine Battalions and elements of the non-existent US 73rd Air Cavalry Brigade on 2 May, killing over 500 Americans.[4]

Max Hastings writing in 2018, described Dai Do as an "act of sustained folly," blaming Col. Hull and MG Tompkins for not appreciating the tactical situation and continuing with costly frontal attacks on 1 and 2 May.[4]:509-10 Lt. Col. Weise stated "I don't believe Tompkins ever realized what was going on."[4]:510

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Shulimson, Jack (1997). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. ISBN 0-16-049125-8. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Telfer, Gary (1984). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Fighting the North Vietnamese 1967. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. ISBN 978-1494285449. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ Kelley, Michael (2002). Where we were in Vietnam. Hellgate Press. p. 5–131. ISBN 978-1555716257.
  4. ^ a b c Hastings, Max (2018). Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975. Harper. p. 508-9. ISBN 9780062405661.

External links

1968 in the Vietnam War

The year 1968 saw major developments in the Vietnam War. The military operations started with an attack on a US base by the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong on January 1, ending a truce declared by the Pope and agreed upon by all sides. At the end of January, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive.

Hanoi erred monumentally in its certainty that the offensive would trigger a supportive uprising of the population. NVA and Viet Cong troops throughout the South, from Hue to the Mekong Delta, attacked in force for the first time in the war, but to devastating cost as ARVN and American troops killed close to 37,000 of the ill-supported enemy in less than a month for losses of 3700 and 7600 respectively. These reversals on the battlefield (the Viet Cong would never again fight effectively as a cohesive force) failed to register on the American home front, however, as shocking photos and television imagery, and statements such as Conkrite's, fueled what would ultimately prove to be a propaganda victory for Hanoi.

Peter Arnett quoting an unnamed US major as saying, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." Eddie Adams' iconic image of South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan's execution of a Viet Cong operative was taken in 1968. The year also saw Walter Cronkite's call to honourably exit Vietnam because he thought the war was lost. This negative impression forced the US into the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam.

US troop numbers peaked in 1968 with President Johnson approving an increased maximum number of US troops in Vietnam at 549,500. The year was the most expensive in the Vietnam War with the American spending US$77.4 billion (US$ 557 billion in 2019) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed. The deadliest week of the Vietnam War for the USA was during the Tet Offensive specifically February 11–17, 1968, during which period 543 Americans were killed in action, and 2547 were wounded.

1st Division (South Vietnam)

The 1st Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)—the army of the nation state of South Vietnam that existed from 1955 to 1975—was part of the I Corps that oversaw the northernmost region of South Vietnam, the centre of Vietnam.

The 1st Division was based in Huế, the old imperial city and one of two major cities in the region, which was also the corps headquarters. This division was also tasked with the defence of Quảng Trị, the closest town to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and among the first to be hit by the Tet Offensive.

2nd Battalion, 4th Marines

2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4) is an infantry battalion of the United States Marine Corps. The battalion, nicknamed the Magnificent Bastards, is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and is a part of the 4th Marine Regiment and 1st Marine Division.

James E. Livingston

Major General James Everett Livingston (born January 12, 1940) is a retired United States Marine Corps major general. He was awarded the United States' highest military decoration—the Medal of Honor—for heroic actions in 1968 during the Vietnam War. Livingston served on active duty in the Marine Corps over 33 years before retiring on September 1, 1995. His last assignment was the Commanding General of Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Jay R. Vargas

Jay R. Vargas (born July 29, 1938), is an American and a retired United States Marine Corps colonel who served in the Vietnam War. He received the Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" in action, in 1968.

Vargas is one of four brothers who has served in combat in the United States Armed Forces in time of war — World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

May Offensive

PHASE II of the Tet Offensive of 1968 (also known as the May Offensive, Little Tet, and Mini-Tet) was launched by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) against targets throughout South Vietnam, including Saigon from 29 April to 30 May 1968. The May Offensive was considered much bloodier than the initial phase of the Tet Offensive. US casualties across South Vietnam were 2,169 killed for the entire month of May making it the deadliest month of the entire Vietnam War for U.S. forces, while South Vietnamese losses were 2,054 killed. PAVN/VC losses exceeded 24,000 killed and over 2,000 captured. The May Offensive was regarded as a defeat for the PAVN/VC.

Operation Napoleon/Saline

Operation Napoleon/Saline was a multi-Battalion operation conducted by the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army along the Cửa Việt River south of the DMZ in Quảng Trị Province. The operation ran from 20 January to 9 December 1968.

Tet Offensive

The Tet Offensive (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Tết Mậu Thân 1968), or officially called The General Offensive and Uprising of Tet Mau Than 1968 (Vietnamese: Tổng Tiến công và Nổi dậy Tết Mậu Thân 1968) by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968, by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the United States Armed Forces, and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name of the offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks took place.The offensive was launched prematurely in the late night hours of 30 January in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. This early attack allowed South Vietnamese and US forces some time to prepare defensive measures. When the main North Vietnamese operation began the next morning, the offensive was countrywide and well coordinated; eventually more than 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops struck more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the southern capital. The offensive was the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that point in the war.

Hanoi had launched the offensive in the belief that the offensive would trigger a popular uprising leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Although the initial attacks stunned both the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies, causing them to lose control of several cities temporarily, they quickly regrouped, beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces. The popular uprising anticipated by Hanoi never happened. During the Battle of Huế, intense fighting lasted for a month, resulting in the destruction of the city. During their occupation, the North Vietnamese executed thousands of people in the Massacre at Huế. Around the U.S. combat base at Khe Sanh, fighting continued for two more months. The offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam though General Westmoreland reported that defeating the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong would require 200,000 more American soldiers and activation of the reserves, prompting even loyal supporters of the war to see that the current war strategy required re-evaluation. The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war soon declined and the U.S. sought negotiations to end the war.

The term "Tet Offensive" usually refers to the January–February 1968 offensive, but it can also include the so-called "Mini-Tet" offensive that took place in May and the Phase III Offensive in August, or the 21 weeks of unusually intense combat which followed the initial attacks in January.

William Weise

William Weise is a retired United States Marine Corps Brigadier General who served in the Vietnam War.

Đông Hà Combat Base

Đông Hà Combat Base (also known as Camp Spillman or simply Đông Hà) is a former U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army base northwest of Quảng Trị in central Vietnam. The base was first used by the 4th Marines in late April 1966. In mid-July Đông Hà was used by the Marines as a helicopter base and logistics area. Numerous US marine and army units rotated through the base, and several artillery units were based there.

During 1968 units of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) made repeated attacks on the base, on one occasion destroying its ammunition dump. During these attacks, and in other actions in the general area the PAVN suffered heavy casualties. By January 1972 the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 3rd Division had assumed responsibility for the defense of Đông Hà and the area north of Highway 9. During April 1972 the PAVN made repeated assaults on Dong Ha and it fell on the 28th.

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