Operation Double Eagle, Operation Masher, Operation Thang Phong II, Operation Lien Ket-22, Operation White Wing,
See TAO Maps For This Operations Here Double Eagle
Double Eagle planning began the previous month. On 7 December 1965, General Westmoreland ordered 111MAF and Field Force, Vietnam to initiate a coordinated offensive against the enemy buildup in the region of theI and II Corps border during late January. By the beginning of the year, General Walt had received approval of a general concept for a multibattalion operation in southern Quang Ngai Province
On 6 January, General Walt ordered General Platt to reactivate Task Force Delta Headquarters for planning. General Platt had commanded Task Force Delta during Operation Harvest Moon in December, but closed out the headquarters upon completion of the operation. A task force organization allowed the Marines a large degree of leeway in both composition and command for operations outside the major enclaves. Its size was limited only by its mission, and its formation permitted the employment of air and ground components under a
single commander. Equally important, this ad hoc organization permitted the least disruption of the command structure of units remaining in the TAOR's. Normally a Marine task force was of such size to merit a general officer as commander. According to Colonel Peatros “This was a strong factor in getting the Vietnamese generals into the field.
General Platt and Brigadier General Hoang Xuan Lam, the South Vietnamese 2d ARVN Division commander, had established excellent personal relations since working together during Harvest Moon. They also discovered they had a common interest in tennis and played when they had the opportunity. Generals Lam and Platt soon became good friends. On a professional level, the Marines found Lam very cooperative and respected his military judgment
Similar personal friendships facilitated coordination between 111 MAF and the South Vietnamese I Corps military commanders. General Walt stated that for large operations, "General Thi and I talk it over— we come up with a concept and we put the concept to our staffs, who get together and work out the details
The working out of details for Double Eagle was somewhat more complicated. It involved coordination not only with I Corps but with MACV. Seventh Fleet, Field Force, Vietnam, and the Vietnamese authorities in II Corps. General Walt’s original concept involved a two-battalion amphibious landing in southern Quang Ngai Province near Due Pho and a helicopter landing of another battalion in the vicinity ty of the U.S. Special Forces camp at Ba To, 18 miles inland. Field Force, Vietnam and RVN II Corps commands were to launch a supporting operation in Binh Dinh Province to the south while an ARVN task force under General Lam was to block the enemy’s avenues of retreat to the north.
General Walt established liaison with the Seventh Fleet very early in the planning phase. On January, the commander of the Seventh Fleet Amphibious Ready Group (4RG), Captain WilliamJ. Maddocks, and the Marine commander of the Special Landing Force, Colonel John R. Burnett, Visited III MAF to discuss the operation. By the next day, General Walt's staff and the amphibious commanders had adopted a tentative concept of operations for the proposed landing. Shortly after the departure of Maddock's and Burnett from Da Nang, Admiral Sharp approved the plans and the assignment of two battalions for the landing, BLT 2/ 3, the SLF battalion, and BLT 3/1, which at that time was on board Seventh Fleet amphibious shipping for its previously planned move to Chu Lai On 12 January, Vice Admiral John J. Hyland, Commander of the Seventh Fleet, issued his initiating directive for the operation, designating Captain Maddock's commander of the amphibious task force, and Colonel Burnett commander of the landing force. In accordance with amphibious doctrine, the amphibious commander was to transfer operational control of the ground forces to the III MAF ground commander for the operation, General Platt, once all the troops were ashore
The morning after Admiral Hyland issued his directive, GeneralThi, the I Corps commander, hosted a conference at his Da Nang headquarters, which included the senior U.S. and South Vietnamese commanders in both I and U Corps. General Thi explained that the purpose of the meeting was to develop an overall concept for operations in southern Quang Ngai-northern Binh Dinh Provinces. After a two-hour discussion, the conference reached a general agreement Most of the conferees believed that the NVA and VC main force units were in Quang Ngai Province, but that their base areas were located in the Tam Quan coastal region and the An Lao River Valley in Binh Dinh Province. The IIIMAF task force, buttressed by 2d ARVN Division units, was to destroy the enemy main force units while the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), in a separate but coordinated operation supported by the ARVN 22d Division, was to go after the base areas.
General Walt viewed “these operations as a con-verging effort to entrap the enemy. On the other hand, Major General Stanley R Larsen, the Field Force, Vietnam commander, was less sanguine than Walt and declared “that we should not think in terms of entrapping and annihilating large bodies of VC, but should consider ourselves highly successful to destroy one battalion( Both commanders did agree that the Corps boundaries “were not in-violate they could be crossed by I Corps and U Corps forces as required to exploit the situation
During the next two weeks the Marines refined their plans for the operation. On 15 January, IIMAF published its operation order which directed Task Force Delta to be prepared to deploy two rein-forced battalions by helicopter or amphibious ship-ping to an objective area near Thach Tru in Quang Ngai Province. General Platt was to coordinate the date of D-Day with the Seventh Fleet, Field Force, Vietnam, and the ARVN commanders. A recon-naissance effort was to precede the operation and U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command Boeing B-52 Stratafortresses were to fly bombing missions against suspected enemy positions further inland subsequent to the landing. The SLF battalion, BLT 2/3, was to remain on board .amphibious shipping, ready to land on order to exploit the situation. IIIMAF modified its order the following day toprovide for two BLTs, BLT 3/1 and BLT 2/4, to land over the beach on D-Day. Later, on 16 January, General Walt established D-Day for the operation as 28 January, so BLT 3/1 and the SLF BLT could conduct a practice landing in the Philippines.
General Platt and his staff expedited final planning for the operation. His ADC command group, reinforced by the Headquarters Company of the 4th Marines as well as members of the 3d Marine Division and 7th Marines staffs, provided the personnel for the Task Force Delta Headquarters. Colonel Donald W. Sherman, the former 3d Division Chief of Staff who had relieved Colonel McClanahan on 24 January 1966 as commander of the 4th Marines, became General Platt's Chief of Staff for the operation. After establishing liaison with the Seventh Fleet, General Platt and Colonel Johnson, whose MAG-36 was to provide helicopter support for the operation, visited General Lam at his headquarters in Quang Ngai to coordinate with the 2d ARVN Division. On 24 January, the task force commander published his operation order and briefed General Walt the next day on the final plan.
Task Force Delta’s operating area consisted of 500 square miles, the center of which was approximately 20 miles south of Quang Ngai City and about 10 miles west of Duc Pho. The southern boundary en-compassed a small portion of northern Binh Dinh Province in U Corps. Red Beach, the site selected for the landing, was a 1,000-meter stretch of flat sand about three and a half miles northeast of Duc Pho. Inland from the beach, the assault elements would have to place heavy reliance on helicopters and amphibian tractors for movement in a region partially inundated by numerous rivers, streams, and marshes. To the west lay a mountainous area of jagged peak scriss crossed by valleys and trails. Despite heavy foliage, there were numerous sites suitable for helicopter landing zones, but the lush jungle vegetation, precipitous hills, and intertwining valleys seriously impeded overland movement from these zones. In short, it was the sort of terrain which favored the enemies highly mobile light infantry and hit-and-run tactics.
General Platt’s intelligence section estimated the enemy strength to be 6,000 regulars, reinforced by approximately 600 guerrillas. Two NVA regiments, the18th and 95th, were supposedly located in the mountains toughly 10 miles southwest of Red Beach, while the2d VC Main Force Regiment was thought to be four miles north of the NVA regiments. Additionally, the 300-man 38th Independent Battalion and 11 separate companies, ranging from 90 to 150 men each, normally operated in this area. The remaining enemy units consisted of scattered guerrilla bands and support troops including the Bink Son Transportation Battalion with 250 permanent personnel and about 1,000 laborers.
The 5,000-plus Marines of Task Force Delta approximated the size of the enemy regular units. Ultimately, General Plan would have four Marine battalions under his command, including three BLTs, initially BLTs 2/3, 3/1, and 2/4. The fourth battalion, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Donahue, Jr’s 2d Battalion, 9th Marines from the DaNang TAOR, would consist of only a command group and two of its four rifle companies. Supporting forces were organized into provisional commands. These were Lieutenant Colonel Leslie L. Page artillery group with a total of 26 pieces ranging from 4.2-inch mortars to155mm guns and howitzers, a provisional reconnaissance group, an engineering company, an amphibian tractor company, and a shore party group.
The Marine concept of operations called for three distinct phases: reconnaissance, landing, and exploitation. Marine reconnaissance units and an artillery battery were to be inserted at the Special Forces camp a Ba To well before D-Day. From this location, the reconnaissance Marines were to provide information on enemy positions and movement in the western portion of the Double Eagle area of operations. The artillery battery would not only sup-port the reconnaissance missions, but would be in position to cover the amphibious landing forces as they moved inland beyond the range of naval guns. After the establishment of the Ba To contingent, one company of the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines was to conduct a reconnaissance of the landing beach in conjunction with the 2d ARVN Division two weeks before the landing. On D minus 1(27 January), another company from the battalion, with a company from the 4th ARVN Regiment, was to secure Hill 163, which overlooked Red Beach from the south. At H-Hour on 28 January, BLTs 3/1 and 2/4 were to land across Red Beach and secure immediate objectives north and west of the landing beach. Once the landing force had secured the beachhead, the Delta command group was to land, at which time the amphibious task group commander would pass operational control to General Plan. BLT 2/3 was to remain on board amphibious shipping as the task force reserve while the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines was airlifted from DaNang to Quang Ngai City for the final phase of the operation.
Since General Platt wanted to create the impression that his forces were ashore only to conduct limited sweeps close to the coast, the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines was to stay at Quang Ngai and the SLF battalion to remain on board its shipping out of sight over the horizon. The exploitation phase was to be the main effort, signaled by B-52 strikes against suspected enemy troop concentrations and marshalling areas. These B-52 missions or Arc Lights, the codename for all B- 52 strikes in Vietnam, were scheduled for D plus 2. Following this intensive bombardment, the Marine infantry was to move in-land by helicopter to cut off any enemy forces at-tempting to escape.
The reconnaissance phase began in early January. On 7 January, General Walt ordered the establishment of the 3d Marine Division reconnaissance base atBa To Special Forces Camp. Three days later, six U.S. Air Force Sikorsky CH-3C helicopters ferried four 105mm howitzers and crews from Battery H, 3d Battalion, 12th Marines and two platoons of the 1st Force Reconnaissance company from Chu Lai to the camp. After establishing his base on 12 January, Captain William C Shaver commanding officer of the company, sent out his first patrols’
For the next two weeks the Reconnaissance Marines reported movements of a small group of VC. One 14 man patrol, led by 1st Lieutenant Richard E. Parker Jr. encountered a Significant enemy force near hill 829, approximately 4,000 meters northwest of the Bn To Camp. Lieutenant Parker and an advance party reached the top of the hill at 1400 on 2l January and halted for the day because of poor visibility. Three hours later Parkers Marines heard yelling and firing from the vicinity of their rear base on the lower slope of the mountain. By the time Parker and his group reached the patrols rear party it had already repulsed four or five attacks. In the confusion, 1st Lieutenant James T. Egan, Jr., a forward observer from the artillery battery, had disappeared. Parker and his men searched the immediate area, but found no sign of the missing lieutenant
At 0745 the next morning, the reconnaissance Marines began the difficult climb down the mountain to continue their mission. About two and a half hours later, 50 to 60 enemy soldiers suddenly attacked from the rear. Lieutenant Parker wryly remarked in his after action report,” the entire descent was made under conditions of heavy contact and was not a controlled movement”’6 The patrol leader and five of his men escaped into a densely vegetated draw and set up an ambush. They were joined one-half hour later by three other Marines from the patrol Lieutenant Parker then called for an artillery mission on suspected enemy positions. After the battery stopped firing, four helicopters from MAG-36, twoSikorskyUH-34s escorted by two Bell UH-lE gunships, picked up the patrol, the nine men in the draw, and three other Marines stranded nearby. One Marine, Lance Corporal Edwin R. Grisset was missing. The 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, which had come under the operational control of Task Force Delta on 21 January, conducted other patrols in the vicinity of Hill 829 several days after Park~ men returned to Ba To, but never found Lieutenant Egan or Lance Corporal Grissett
While the reconnaissance Marines continued their patrolling in the Ba To region during mid-January, the preparations for the coordinated allied offensives in Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh Provinces entered the final stages. On 13 January one of the companies from Lieutenant Colonel Trevin6s 2d Battalion, 4th Marines conducted a surveillance mission with the Reconnaissance Company, 2d ARVN Division in the initial objective area at Red Beach and the immediate coastal region. Ten days later, BLTs 2/3 and 3/ 1, conducting Exercise Hill Top Ill, landed on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines as a dress rehearsal for Double Eagle. With the completion of the exercise the following day, 24 January, both bat-talons embarked on their amphibious shipping and sailed for the South China Sea where they were to rendezvous with the rest of the amphibious task force.
On the 24th, four battalions of the 1st Cavalry Division began Operation Masher near Bong Son in the coastal region of Binh Dinh Province, 50 miles north of QuiNhon. Six ARVN airborne battalions and six infantry battalions from the 22d ARVN Division reinforced the airmobile division during Operation Thang Phong II, the South Vietnamese companion operation to Masher in Binh Dinh. Further north in I Corps, General Lam’s 2d ARVN Division prepared to launch Operation Lien Ket-22. With the two-battalion South Vietnamese Marine Task Force Bravo attached to his command, General Lam planned a five-battalion advance from a line of departure eight miles south of Quang Ngai City to blocking positions in the Song Ve Valley and the coastal region north of the U.S. Marines in Double Eagle. The combined allied forces for Masher Thang Phong II and Double Eagle/Lien Ket-22 were the equivalent of three divisions The area of operations covered more than 2,000 square miles.
On 26 January, Task Force Delta undertook the last of the preliminary operations before the amphibious landing. Nine UH-34Ds from HMM-261 carried 190 troops of Captain Brian D. Moore’s Company E, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines from Ky Ha Air-field at Chu Lai to the Nui Dau ARVN outpost, eight miles south of the Double Eagle landing beach. At Nui Dau, Major Ernest L. Defazio, the executive officer of the Marine battalion, assumed command of a combined force, consisting of Company E, 4th Marines and the 2d Company, 3d Battalion, 4th ARVN Regiment Shortly after mid-night, the combined unit left the outpost, Company E in the lead followed by the ARVN company. The force was to move to the beach and then travel along the coast and secure Hill 163. According to Defazio, it took over six hours in the darkness to cross the one mile of rugged terrain from Nui Dau to the beach.
Slowed by the loose sand, intense heat during the day, and heavy packs, the combined task unit did not reach the top of Hill 163 until 1300 on 27 January. The Marines and South Vietnamese soldiers prepared defensive positions on the hill which had a commanding view of Red Beach. Major Defazio remarked that he had a “ringside seat’ for the amphibious landing the next day.
D-Day, 28 January, was a dismal day with low overcast and light rain. Despite the heavy seas, the first wave of Lieutenant Colonel James R. Young’s BLT 3/1 landed at 0700 as planned. Offshore, a destroyer, theUSS Barry (DD 933), and a cruiser, the USS Oklahoma City (CLG 5) provided naval gunfire coverage, while eight Douglas A4 Skyhawks from MAG-12 and eight McDonnell F-4B Phantoms from MAG- 11 were on station overhead. The only opposition encountered by the assault troops occur-red late that day. Companies I and M were exposed to occasional small arms fire; one Company I Marine was wounded. Shortly after Lieutenant Colonel Young's men secured their objectives, five 105mm howitzer-equipped amphibian tractors (IVTH-6 moved ashore to provide artillery support for the infantry battalion. Company B from the 3d Engineer Battalion was also on the beach to establish various points. Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas J. Dennis, the battalion commander, remembered that “The beach assault took a toll of operational engineer equipment and generators.
At midmorning the surf began to build rapidly. Swells, six to eight feet in height, held up the debarkation of Lieutenant Colonel Trevino’s 2d Battalion, 4th Marines. Nevertheless, by noon, the battalion was ashore, as were the forward elements of Task Force Deltas Headquarters and Lieutenant Colonel Pag's provisional artillery command group. Battery H, 3d Battalion, 11th Marines also landed and reinforced the LVTH-6 platoon in support of the infantry.
Weather hampered the operation for the rest of the day. Although General Platt arrived at Red Beach from Chu Lai by mid afternoon, he was unable to assume operational control of the Double Eagle forces because high seas and pounding surf prevented the landing of sufficient communication equipment As a result, the command of forces ashore remained with the amphibious task force commander, Captain Maddock’s, and with the commander of the landing force, Colonel Burnett, the SLF commander. General PlaIt received the concurrence from Captain Maddock’s “to coordinate actions ashore in the event of emergency which in practical terms would give operational control to Platt
High seas also curtailed the artillery and logistic buildup. Supplies slowly accumulated at the beach support area (BSA) while the rest of the artillery remained on board ship. These units included the 3d 155mm Gun Battery; the 107mm Mortar Battery, 3d Battalion, 12th Marines; Battery M, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines; and a platoon from the 4.2-inch Mortar Battery, 11th Marines.
The weather, typical of the second half of the northeast monsoon season, continued to plague the operation on the following day, 29 January. Low overcast and periodic rain squalls prevented any sizeable helicopteroperations until late afternoon and restricted both infantry battalions to operations within 6,000 to 8,000 meters of the landing beach. The Marine infantry did receive some reinforcements during the day. Captain Moore’s Company E left its positions on Hill 163 and rejoined its parent battalion, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines. That same afternoon, HMM-362, the SLF helicopter squadron, assisted by six MAG-36 UH-34s which arrived at the BSA from Chu Lai, flew Company E, BLT 2/3 from the USS Valley Forge (LPH 8) to Nui Xuong Giong, a 180-meter peak west of Red Beach. The Marine company was to provide security for a detachment of the task force communications platoon which was to establish a radio relay station on the hill to insure reliable communications for the planned operations in the mountains and Song Ve Valley to the west.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert J.Zitnik, the commanding officer of VMO-6, later remarked that his UH-lEs accompanied the SLF squadron’s UH-34s to Nui Xuong Giong. He recalled: minute VMO-6 was assigned to escort the helos on this mission. ... As the H-Ms were landing on the hilltop the lead pilot.. . of my second section observed what he described as a military training unit with some uniformed VC. ... a uniformed soldier (with rifle) was shedding his uniform while running and as we were trying to get per-mission to fire we heard the firm order “Do not fire” all the VMO-6 pilots on this flight experienced.. . frustration at not being allowed to pursue what appeared to be, and eventually proved to be, the only few enemy in the area.
The VMO-6 commander conceded that he never was able to pinpoint the originator of the message but believed “that it was either from afloat or an enemy transmission’ Zitnik concluded:. “This incident occurred before the transfer of control ashore and contributed to frustrations in General Platts headquarters as well as with the URlE pilots
Although General Platt had not as yet received operational control of the units ashore, preparations for the exploitation phase were well under way on 29 January. Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports lifted Lieutenant Colonel William F. Donahue’s 2d Battalion, 9th Marines command group and two rifle companies from DaNang Air-base to Quang Ngai Airfield, 2,000 meters west of Quang Ngai City. From the airfield, which the Marines were using as a helicopter staging area, MAG-36 UH-34s were to liftthe battalion into the Song Ve Valley to exploit B-52 Arc Light missions.
The Marine command attempted to postpone the B-52 strikes for a day, but MACV replied that the missions would either have to be flown on the 30th as scheduled or canceled altogether. Flying high above the low-lying clouds on 30 January, the Stratafortresses struck three target areas in the Song Ve Valley. Despite some improvement in the weather, poor visibility prohibited helicopter operations in the mountains and Marine ground exploitation of the Arc Light missions.
Task Force Delta took advantage of the calm seas on the 30th to bring more forces ashore. The remain-ing artillery batteries and other supporting units arrived in the BSA. Later that afternoon, 28 helicopters from three MAG-36 helicopter squadrons and 12 UH-34s from HMM-362 transported Lieutenant Colonel William K.Horn’s BLT 2/3 command group and his remaining three companies from the Valley Forge to an old French fort northwest of Company Es position, eight miles inland. After the lift was completed at 1730, most of the helicopters returned to the Quang Ngai Airfield since Colonel Johnson, the MAG-36 commander, thought it unnecessary to risk the aircraft overnight in a forward area when they could easily return in the morning.
On the afternoon of 30 January, MAG-36 did establish a forward operating base in the Double Eagle BSA, located 400 meters inland from Red Beach and known as “Johnson City7 In addition to the logistic support area and task force headquarters,” Johnson City” contained an expeditionary airfield complete with a tactical air fuel dispensing system (ITAFDS), maintenance facilities, tower, run-way, and airfield lights. As the tactical air commander for the operation, Colonel Johnson established his MAG-36 combat operations center 100 yards from General Platt’s command post and adjacent to the mobile direct air support center ASC) from Marine Air Support Squadron 2. This collocation allowed the air commander to tie in the DASC with the fire support coordination center (FSCC). According to Johnson, the close proximity of the Task Force Delta air and ground commanders “permitted the detailed and continuous planning which enabled us to react expeditiously throughout Double Eagle:’
On 31 January, the weather finally cleared in the objective area and the tempo of operations increased. At 1210, General Platt assumed operational control of the landing force and began to move inland. Two USAF CH-3C helicopters and a Marine Sikorsky CH-37 Mojave lifted the six 105mm howitzers from Battery. H 3d— Battalion, 11th Marines from the “Johnson City” support area to the old French fort so that the artillery could support operations to the west Shortly after noon, Marine UH-34s transported Company E, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines to Hill 508, five miles southwest of the fort. The Marine company was to provide protection for another detachment from the communications platoon, whose mission was to relay radio transmissions from Lieutenant Colonel Trevino’s 2d Battalion which was to operate in this rugged terrain. At 1600 that afternoon, MAG-36 completed the helolift of Trevinds command group and his remaining three companies into a landing zone in the Song ye-Song Ba To Valley, 2,000 meters northwest of Hill 508. The Marine battalion advanced rapidly to exploit one of the Arc Light targets on the high ground to the northeast During the day, 14 Marine jets, 6 A4 Skyhawk-2 F4B Phantoms, and 6 Chance Vought F-8E Crusaders, provided helicopter landing zone preparations and air cover for the infantry.
The next day, 1 February, General Platt moved his forces deeper into the interior of the Double Eagle area of operations. Helicopters from MAG-36 lifted Lieutenant Colonel Donahues 2d Battalion, 9th Marines command group and two rifle companies to a landing zone on the high ground east of the Song Ve, 7,000 meters northwest of where the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines had landed the previous day At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Horn’s 2d Battalion, 3d Marines made an overland sweep west of the fort area in the valley of the Dra Cau River.
During the succeeding days, despite the extensive commitment of Marine units, there was no heavy fighting. Marine units encountered only small guerrilla bands. According to Captain James R. Hardin, Jr., company commander of Company F, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, the Viet Cong would hit us pull out Hit us and pull out They wouldn’t stick around for firefights.”25 Although firefights were the exception the Marines did take a heavy toll of the enemies local forces. In two engagements on 2 February, Lieutenant Colonel Young's 3d Battalion, 1st Marines accounted for 31 enemy dead in the coastal region north of Red Beach. On 3 February,General Platt began to move most of his forces south toward Binh Dinh Province to trap the NVA and VC main force regiments between the Marines and the 1st Cavalry Division.
In contrast to the Marines, the 1st Cavalry troopers encountered North Vietnamese regulars early in their operation. In heavy fighting which lasted from 28 January through 3 February, the Cavalrys 3d Brigade engaged the 18th NVA Regimentin the coastal region of Binh Dinh Province eight miles north of Bong Son. During that six-day period. Colonel Harold G. Moore, the brigade commander, reported that his troops killed over 600 enemy by body count, captured 357 NVA soldiers, and recovered 49 individual weapons and six crew-served weapons. The Army brigade suffered 75 KIA and 240 wounded. After being reinforced by the 2d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry near Bong Son, Moore’s brigade moved into the rugged interior of the An Lao region to link up with the Double Eagle Marines with the aim of smashing the l8th NVA Regiment once and for all.
As Task Force Delta deployed into the southern portion of the Double Eagle area of operations, Genenal later split his battalions into smaller elements, each consisting of a command group and two rifle companies reinforced by an 81mm mortar section. This provided Platt with six to seven maneuver elements in the field while at the same time enabling him to provide security for the “Johnson City” support area. The task force commander took full advantage of the fact that he had two-thirds of UJMAF’s helicopters available for his use and ordered a series of small search and destroy missions His improvised maneuver elements would land in an area, search it, and reboard the helicopters for further movement south. The infantry units accomplished 17 battalion and 19 company helilifts during the operation. Lieutenant Colonel Pages provisional artillery group displaced 47 times, including two small amphibious landings further south along the coast, in order to support the fast advancing infantry
During the advance, the Marines seized hills both for the purpose of providing supporting artillery fire and to maintain better voice communication with the infantry battalions. The Task Force Delta communications platoon established three relay stations on mountain tops to keep radio contact with the widely dispersed maneuver elements. According to General Platt, the task force communications capability was stretched to the absolute limit and the newly distributed ANI PRC-2 5 radios proved in-dispensable and reliable, often reaching distances of 20 to 25 miles.
On 4 February, Company G, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, accompanied by a small communication platoon detachment, secured Hill 726,1,000 meters south of the I Corps boundary, and linked up with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 30th Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division.* While the Marines provided security and radio communication, the Army battery fired in sup-port of Marine units in Quang Ngai Province and the 1st Cavalry Division in Binh Dinh. Through the next week, neither the Marine infantry nor the cavalry brigades encountered enemy main force units, only light resistance from local guerillas. On 11 February, Task Force Delta maneuver elements began to re-deploy north toward the “Johnson City” support area, using the same tactics in the retrograde movement as they had in the advance.
During this period, the most significant sighting of enemy forces was made by Captain James L. Comptois provisional reconnaissance group, which consisted of a command group, Company B, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, and Captain Shaver’s 1st Force Reconnaissance Company. While Shavers men patrolled 11,500meter circle around Ba To, the Company B reconnaissance Marines operated throughout the Double Eagle area. The task force reconnaissance group primarily employed four- to five-man teams, who could call artillery and air missions on targets of opportunity.
On 12 February. two UH-34 helicopters inserted two four-man teams from Company B into the mountainous terrain 11,000 meters northwest of Ba To. Shortly after landing, one of the teams observed 31 armed men to their front dressed in green uniforms carrying two mortars. The Marines called an artillery mission which killed 10 enemy. After the artillery had fired another mission, 80 more enemy soldiers appeared. The team asked to be extracted and 15 minutes after its departure, 1st MAW jets, controlled by radar, dropped 39250-pound bombs on the enemy concentration. The next day, a UH-IE from VMO-6 took out the second team, which had come under heavy fire and suffered one man dead.29
During the entire operation, the Marine recon-naissance group conducted more than 40 patrols and sighted nearly 1,000 enemy soldiers. The recon-naissance Marines called for 20 artillery and naval gunfire missions which resulted in at least 19 known enemy dead.30 Battery H, 3d Battalion, 12th Marines at Ba To fired more than 1,900 rounds in support of the~1st Force Reconnaissance Company alone.
Gradually, it became apparent that most of the North Vietnamese units had left the Double Eagle operating area. According to one prisoner report, the main force enemy units withdrew fron Quang Ngai Province a few days before D-Day. The Arm)5s Operation Masher, redesignated White Wing on 5 February because of criticism in certain U.S. Government circles that the U.S.-named operations sound-ed too brutal, turned out to be the main show in-stead of a side event when the 1st Cavalry Division encountered the 80th NVA Regiment in Binh Dinh Province. Even during Masher/White Wing, nearly half of the. 2,000 enemy casualties claimed by the operation occurred during the first heavy fighting. Thereafter, until the end of the operation on 6 March, the cavalry troopers met the same pattern of sporadic resistance that the Marines faced during Double Eagle.
Generals Platt and Lam ended their coordinated operations in Quang Ngai Province in mid-February. South Vietnamese Marine Task Force Bravo closed out Lien Ket-22 on 12 February, having found only a few enemy in its zone of operations.52 By 17 February, all Task Force Delta forces, including the reconnaissance and artillery elements that were at Ba To, were on board amphibious shipping, or had already returned to their respective base areas. During the operation, the U.S. Marines killed 312 enemy soldiers and captured 19. General Platt's men also captured 20 tons of rice, 6 tons of salt, and 4 tons of miscellaneous supplies including barley, copra, corn, concrete, and fertilizer. In addition, the Marines captured 18 weapons and 868 rounds of ammunition. These results were achieved at the cost of 24 Marines killed and 156 wounded
Although Task Force Delta ended its operations in southern Quang Ngai Province on 17 February, Double Eagle entered an entirely new phase 50 miles to the north, a development not called for in the original plans. Major General McCutcheon, acting CG UIMAF at that time because General Walt was in Washington, had received intelligence that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment had entered the Que Son Valley near the border of Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces west of Tam Ky, the area where the Marines had previously conducted Operation Harvest Moon. McCutcheon ordered General Platt to re-deploy Task Force Delta and launch Double Eagle U in this region.
Retaining his basic task organization, but replacing the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines with Lieutenant Colonel Leon N. Utter’s 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, a unit which had participated in Harvest Moon, General Platt began the operation on the morning of 19 February. Elements of four battalions, employing both helicopters and trucks, converged on the objective area. The 3d Battalion, 1st Marines moved by truck from Chu Lai to north of Tan Ky where it dismounted. As Lieutenant Colonel Young's 3d Battalion moved into blocking positions, helicopters carried the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines; BLT 2/3 of the SLF; and the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines into lan-ding zones further to the southwest in the Que Son sector. The helilifted battalions then attacked in a northeasterly direction towards the 3d Battalion.
The 1st VC Regiment was not there. Interrogation of prisoners revealed that the Viet Cong unit had withdrawn long before the Marines arrived. For the next 10 days, the Marines swept through numerous villages, cleared out isolated guerrilla bands, and un-covered enemy supplies, but found no major VC units. Task Force Delta accounted for 125 enemy dead and 15 captured. Marine losses were six killed and 136 wounded. The Marines also captured or destroyed caches including 28 tons of rice, 500 pounds of sweet potatoes, 53 weapons, and 450 rounds of ammunition
On the next-to-last day of the operation, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines entered the hamlet of (Ky Phu, west of TamKy, where the battalion had en-countered the 80th VC Battalion during Harvest Moon in December. This time the Marines found a concrete marker on which was inscribed the Viet Cong claim that they had defeated the Americans. According to Captain Alex Lee, the acting S-3 of the battalion,” While many desired to use demolitions on this sign, it was Lieutenant Colonel Utter’s decision to let it stand for the lie it was.
Task Force Delta began returning to Chu Lai the afternoon of 27 February, but the VC made one last attempt to disrupt the Marine forces before the closeout of the operation. In the early morning hours of 28 February, a VC squad attacked the Task Force Delta command post perimeter, just outside of Tam Ky. A Marine platoon from Company E, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines repulsed the enemy. Captain Edwin W. Besch, who was at the time the Task Force Delta Headquarters Commandant, remembered that the VC were led by a man who had dressed in ARVN uniform and sauntered up in a friendly manner to Marines who had taken him into their... CP for coffee the night before 36 Another Task Force Delta Headquarters staff officer, Colonel Glen E. Martin, recalled that the Marines stopped the VC assault” just short of General Platt's tent. Captain Lee later wrote that” five naked VC with explosives strapped -around their bodies stumbled directly into a 2/7 machine gun position 38 As a result of the early morning action, the Marines killed two VC for sure, possibly another two, and took one wound-ed VC prisoner. The Marines suffered casualties of one man dead and another wounded. The last elements of Task Force Delta departed Tam Ky at 1300 on 1 March and Double Eagle was over.
While neither of the Double Eagle operations produced the desired results, General Platt believed that they both achieved an element of success. Although the Marines had not encountered any sizeable enemy formations, they had taken a heavy toll of local guerrilla forces in these areas. Moreover, General Platt argued that the people residing in both the Que Son Valley and southern Quang Ngai Province learned that neither area was “the VC private backyard because U.S. Marines trampled over a huge area with little or no significant opposition.
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