January 29 – February 14, 1968
For some time, the American forces had been aware that the enemy was about to launch some type of major offensive. General Westmoreland was convinced that this big push would come either just before or right after Tet, but not during the holidays and probably at Khe Sanh and in the DMZ sector. At Da Nang, III MAF knew that the Communists were on the move.
Thanks to the Marines and NSAH, we knew when it would begin. On the evening of January 28, just west of Hieu Due, a Marine squad from Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, ambushed a three-man Viet Cong reconnaissance patrol. The Marines killed two of the enemy and wounded the third. The Marines evacuated the survivor to the NSAH (Naval Support Activity Hospital ,Marble Mountain, Da Nang) where he died of his wounds. Before his death, however, the Vietnamese identified himself as Major Nguyen Van Lam, the commanding officer of the R-20 Doc Lap Battalion.
From the recovery of Lam’s notebook and a detailed sketch map of Hill 10, the location of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines’ command post, the R-20 commander was obviously on a exploration mission to discover any vulnerability in the Marine battalion’s defenses. Lieutenant Colonel John F. J. Kelly, who was an intelligence officer on the III MAF staff, commented that General Westmoreland canceled the truce at “the request of Lt. Gen Cushman, Commander III MAF, who also requested that the announcement be held until six hours before the scheduled beginning of the truce so as not to tip III MAF’s hand By evening on the 29th, the 1st Marine Division at Da Nang was on a 100-percent alert January 29th, at Da Nang, the Marines remained tense.
TET 68 Rocket attack on Da Nanang airfield January 29, 1968
One experienced Marine non-commissioned officer, serving in his third war, First Sergeant Jack W. Jaunal of the Headquarters and Service (nicknamed “Heat and Steam”) Company, 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion, located below Marble Mountain, recorded his impressions. He remembered that before midnight “the alert sounded, and it was all hands to the wire [manning defensive positions].” Although Jaunal’s sector remained relatively quiet, he recalled that “we could see flashes of other areas being hit” and heard mortars and rockets: “The Marine helicopter strip [Marble Mountain, MAG 16,] two miles to our north got hit… Also Da Nang Airfield got it.”
After a lull of about an hour to an hour and a half, the enemy gunners renewed their assault on the airbase and also included the helicopter air facility at Marble Mountain.
About 0330, perhaps to divert Marine attention from the ground assault on I Corps headquarters and the city of Da Nang, enemy mortars opened up on Marble Mountain. Approximately 16 rounds impacted in the MAG-16 sector and another four in the Army aviation company area. About the same time, from their firing positions on the western fringes of the Da Nang TAOR, NVA rocketeers let go with a fusillade of 122mm rockets aimed at the main airbase. Some 36 of the large missiles landed on the main base, including the airfield. The Communist Tet offensive was in full bloom, not only at Da Nang, but throughout Vietnam. In the early morning hours of 31 January, Communist forces assaulted provincial and district capitals extending from the Mekong Delta in the south to Quang Tri City in the north. In Thua Thien Province in I Corps, two North Vietnamese regiments held most of Hue City and the Marine base at Phu Bai came under mortar and rocket barrages.
Along Route l between Phu Bai and Da Nang, VC and NVA main force units on the 31st made some 18 attacks on bridges. In the extensive Da Nang TAOR, the early morning hours of 31 January were almost a repeat of the events of the 30th. Enemy gunners fired rockets at both the Da Nang Airbase and this time also included the Marble Mountain helicopter facility on Tiensha Peninsula. No rockets fell on the main airbase but Marble Mountain sustained some damage. The enemy rocket troops fired in two bursts, one at 0342, followed by a second barrage three hours later. About the same time as the rocket attacks on the Da Nang base and Marble Mountain, enemy mortars bombarded the command post of the 7th Marines on Hill 55 south of Da Nang and forward infantry positions. These included Hills 65 and 52 manned by companies of the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines in the southwestern part of the TAOR and Hill 41 defended by Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in the central western sector..
The mortar attacks resulted in only five wounded and none killed among the Marine defenders. Counter mortar fire quickly silenced the enemy tubes. The Marine staff speculated that the enemy launched the mortar attacks largely as a cover for the rocket attacks against Marble Mountain. Even at Marble Mountain the damage was relatively contained. The Marines lost l helicopter and sustained damage to 29 others.
Department of Defense (USMC) photo A 190390
A bandaged VC wounded in the fighting, waits for evacuation. The prisoner talked freely to his captors while he received medical attention. The combined force then swept the general area where they found two enemy bodies and took three prisoners. According to the prisoner accounts, they were from the 3d Battalion, 31st NVA Regiment and confirmed that “Da Nang itself was the ultimate objective.” The enemy offensive in the Da Nang sector had spent itself.
During the next few days, Task Force Miracle conducted sweeps in its sector and encountered relatively little resistance.The battle for Da Nang was largely over. Despite limited attacks later in the month, these were largely, as a report stated, “an attempt to maintain the facade of an offensive.” During the Da Nang Tet offensive, both sides experienced heavy casualties, but the Communist forces proved to be no match for the allied forces. According to III MAF figures, from 29 January through 14 February at Da Nang, Marines sustained 124 killed and more than 480 wounded. Army forces in the Da Nang area including the troops from Task Force Miracle suffered 18 dead and 59 wounded. South Vietnamese and Korean casualties probably equalled or slightly exceeded the American. U.S. estimates of enemy casualties ranged between 1,200 and 1,400 dead. Colonel Smith believed that the 7 st VC Regiment alone lost about 600 men. The 2d NVA Division still remained intact, but obviously was not about to renew the offensive.
From almost every account, the Communist attack in the Da Nang TAOR was very inept. Despite the thinness of the Marine lines and the ability of both the NVA and VC to infiltrate, the enemy never capitalized on these advantages. According to a VC after-action report early in the offensive, the writer complained that the “commander did not know . . . [the] situation accurately . . . and that orders were not strictly obeyed.” In a 1st Marine Division analyses, the author commented that the 2d NVA Division’s approach was “along a single axis of advance so that his eventual target was easily identifiable.” Moreover, once the NVA units arrived south of Da Nang they “made no further attempts at maneuver even while being hunted by Marine and Army units, and when engaged, seldom maneuvered, except to withdraw.” General Robertson, the 1st Division commander, observed that the delay of the 2d NVA Division into the picture may have been because the Communist forces “got their signals mixed ….” The VC were supposed to be inside “when the NVA division came marching down main street. You get your timing off and you’ve got problems.”
Another possible explanation was that the Da Nang attack may have been a secondary assault-to cause as much damage as possible and divert allied forces from the almost successful effort of the Communist forces to capture the city of Hue.” ** Brigadier General Paul G. Graham who was the 1st Marine Division Operations Officer (G-3) at the time disagreed with the last statement, writing “Hue had no military value to the NVA/VC. Da Nang was the prize-for success in that endeavor could have had a serious effect on the Allied efforts in the III MAF area.” BGen Paul G. Graham Source: For the complete story, with all the details, click here CHAPTER 8 The Tet Offensive at Da Nang