Operation Starlite (also known in Vietnam as Battle of Van Tuong) was the first major offensive regimental size action conducted by a purely U.S. military unit during the Vietnam War. The operation was launched based on intelligence provided by Major General Nguyen Chanh Thi, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) commander in northern I Corps area. Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt devised a plan to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Viet Cong (VC) 1st Regiment to nullify the threat on the vital Chu Lai Air Base and Base Area and ensure its powerful communication tower remained intact.
The operation was conducted as a combined arms assault involving ground, air and naval units. U.S. Marines were deployed by helicopter insertion into the designated landing zone while an amphibious landing was used to deploy other Marines.
The operation was originally called Satellite, but a power blackout led to a clerical error and a clerk working by candlelight typed "Starlite" instead. It was launched on D-Day August 18, 1965, involving 5,500 Marines. Regimental 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) and 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), and 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines (3/7) the SLF - permission was granted by Admiral Sharp to use Special Landing Force and originally a reserve component - in an assault on the VC base near Van Tuong. The United States Navy's USS Galveston and USS Cabildo were available for naval gunfire support and 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines was the artillery unit in direct support. USS Vernon County embarked elements of 3/3 Marines (Battalion Landing Team) (BLT) 3, under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Muir, at Chu Lai, and sailed south along the coast to An Thuong, where she put the troops ashore in one phase of Starlite.
VC forces comprised the 1st VC Regiment made up of the 60th and 80th VC Battalions, the 52nd Company, and a company of the 45th Weapons Battalion. Total VC strength was around 1,500 men, and backed by several elite mortar units.
Company M, 3/3 Marines was designated the blocking force and deployed on 18 August 1965 using LVTP-5s to the operational area. When it landed on the beach, it marched 4 miles (6.5 km) to establish their blocking positions. 3/3 Marines made an amphibious landing and were tasked with driving the VC towards the 2/4 Marines who were to be lifted by helicopter into three landing zones west of Van Tuong. Secrecy was paramount, and no ARVN commander or units were informed of the impending operation.
The Marines met light resistance moving into the attack, using their M14 semi-automatic rifles to repulse occasional VC raiders. Company E, 2/4 Marines spotted VC in the open and called in artillery fire from 3/12th Marines. The artillery barrage was reported to have killed 90 VC, including crippling several of their mortar units. Company H, 2/4 Marines assaulted the VC 60th Battalion who put up a vicious fight, only being overwhelmed when helicopter gunships swooped on their position, peppering it with rocket and machine gun fire. One prisoner was taken and 40 weapons were captured. Company I, 3/3 Marines attacked An Cuong after receiving heavy fire from the hamlet and losing their company commander in the engagement.
On 21 August, a Marine armoured supply column became lost in a field, and was subsequently ambushed by VC. Two M48A3 tanks and four LVTP-5 were disabled by the time reinforcements arrived. Estimated casualties were 5 killed and 11 wounded out of 27 who were part of the convoy. This event was covered by journalist Peter Arnett and proved an embarrassment to the LBJ administration, who wanted to retain a secrecy of the operation.
Company I was ordered to join Companies H and K and clean up any opposition, but was caught in a crossfire from Nam Yen Dan Hill 30. Company H established a defensive perimeter and were told to await reinforcements. The expected reinforcements, were diverted to assist the supply column that was ambushed west of their position. 73mm recoilless rifle fire from the VC positions tore into the 5 LVTs and 3 flame tanks, forcing the Marines to mount a rescue. The Marines were hit by intense mortar and rifle fire and suffered 5 dead and 17 wounded. They called in artillery and air support to suppress the mortar and automatic fire, F-4 fighter-bombers dropping cluster bombs, resulting in an avalanche on the hillside which wiped out many of the attacking rifle and mortar squads.
The developing engagement necessitated the deployment of Company L, 3/7 Marines from the USS Iwo Jima to join Company I to assist the ambushed supply column. Part of Company L was caught in a horseshoe ambush in their attempt to rescue the LVT personnel, 4 Marines were killed and 10 wounded. Come nightfall, the Marines hunkered down into defensive positions. Scout units of 3/7 Marines came ashore during the night and the battalion got ready for a morning assault on the Vietnamese positions. When they finally attacked they found the VC unit had already retreated from the encirclement during the night, though pockets of resistance continued from other VC fighters holed up in bunkers and caves. Fighting ceased at nightfall.
The Marines sustained 45 killed and 203 wounded. US forces claimed killing 614 VC, capturing prisoners and 42 suspected guerillas. Corporal Robert E. O'Malley (3/3 Marines) and Lance Corporal Joe C. Paul (2/4 Marines) received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the operation; Lieutenant Colonel Muir was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the operation. First Lieutenant Richard Purnell (3/3 Marines) received the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action who assumed command in the battlefield when his commanding officer was killed by a grenade. To the Americans, the battle was considered a great success for U.S. forces as they engaged a local force VC unit and came out victorious. The Vietcong Battalion also claimed victory, announcing that they had inflicted 900 American casualties (killed and wounded), destroyed 22 tanks and APCs, and downed 13 helicopters, while suffering 200-300 casualties before withdrawing.
The story of the ambush of the Marine supply column was denied by the USMC.
Lessons learned from the battle include the knowledge that the daily allotment of 2 gallons of water per man was inadequate in the heat of Vietnam and that the M14 Rifle was too bulky for troops crammed into small armored personnel carriers (APCs).
Events from the year 1965 in the United States.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.3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines
3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, abbreviated as (3/3), is an infantry battalion of the United States Marine Corps, based out of Kāne'ohe, Hawai'i. Known as either "Trinity" or "America's Battalion", the unit falls under the command of the 3rd Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division. The unit consists of approximately 1124 U.S. Marines and United States Navy sailors.3rd Battalion, 7th Marines
The 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment (3/7) is an infantry battalion of the United States Marine Corps. They are based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and consist of approximately 800 Marines. The battalion falls under the command of the 7th Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division. The battalion has seen combat in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and was a part of the main effort during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. They have since deployed five times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as three times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and continue operations in Afghanistan. The unit has a long, decorated history with countless achievements. Its members were described as "true professionals" by embedded reporters during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.4th Marine Regiment
The 4th Marine Regiment is an infantry regiment of the United States Marine Corps. Based at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan, it is part of the 3rd Marine Division of the III Marine Expeditionary Force.Camp Radcliff
Camp Radcliff (also known as An Khê Army Airfield, An Khê Base or the Golfcourse) is a former U.S. Army base in the An Khê District in central Vietnam.Chu Lai Base Area
Chu Lai Base Area (also known as Chu Lai Combat Base, Kỳ Hà Air Facility, or simply Chu Lai or Kỳ Hà) is a former U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) base in Chu Lai in central Vietnam.Joe C. Paul
Lance Corporal Joe Calvin Paul (April 23, 1946–August 19, 1965) was a United States Marine killed in the Vietnam War who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for diverting an attack long enough to allow the evacuation of wounded Marines during Operation Starlite near Chu Lai, Vietnam, on August 18, 1965. The medal was awarded on February 7, 1967 during a ceremony in the Office of Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze, who presented the award to his parents.List of decorated Marines from 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines
This is a complete list of Marines from the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment who have been awarded the United States's Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, or Silver Star. An asterisk after a recipient's name indicates that the award was given posthumously.Marine Aircraft Group 16
Marine Aircraft Group 16 is a United States Marine Corps aviation unit based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar that is currently composed of five V-22 Osprey squadrons, four CH-53 Super Stallion squadrons, one Personnel Support Detachment, an aviation logistics squadron, and a wing support squadron. The group falls under the command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the I Marine Expeditionary Force.Operation Piranha
Operation Piranha was a US Marine Corps operation that took place on the Batangan Peninsula southeast of Chu Lai, lasting from 7 to 10 September 1965.Oscar F. Peatross
Oscar Franklin Peatross (March 2, 1916 – May 26, 1993) was a highly decorated officer of the United States Marine Corps with the rank of major general who served as Marine Raider in World War II and was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism on August 17–18, 1942. He also served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.In 1993, the parade deck at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island was named for Peatross.Robert Emmett O'Malley
Robert Emmett O'Malley (born June 3, 1943) is a former United States Marine who was the first Marine Corps recipient of the Medal of Honor — the United States' highest military decoration — in the Vietnam War. He received the medal for his actions as a corporal on August 18, 1965, during Operation Starlite.VMA-311
Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311) is a United States Marine Corps ATTACK squadron consisting of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets. Known as the "Tomcats", the squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW).VMA-513
Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) was a United States Marine Corps attack squadron consisting of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets. Known as the "Flying Nightmares", the squadron was last based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona and fell under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW). VMA-513 was decommissioned on 12 July 2013.VMA-542
Marine Attack Squadron 542 (VMA-542) is a United States Marine Corps fixed wing attack squadron that consists of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets. The squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 14 (MAG-14) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).VMFA(AW)-225
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All-Weather) 225 (VMFA(AW)-225) is a United States Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet fighter attack squadron. The squadron, known as the "Vikings", is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3d MAW).VMM-161
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (VMM-161) is a United States Marine Corps transport squadron consisting of MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The squadron, known as the "Greyhawks", is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW). The squadron has the distinction of being the first helicopter transport squadron in the world.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)