3rd Battalion 3rd Marines (1968)
Information / Operations


for 5 MAR
From date 681024 to 681206

5 MAR was a US Marine Corps unit
Primary service involved, US Marine Corps
Quang Nam Province, I Corps, South Vietnam

Description: The 5th Marines conducted this search and clear operation as a follow-up to MAMELUKE THRUST. Casualties: US 35 KIA, 231 WIA; enemy 700 KIA

The source for this information was OOB, Chron P:81

operation LANCASTER II
for 3 MAR DIV

From date 680121 to 681123

3 MAR DIV was a US Marine Corps unit
2/9 MARINES was a US Marine Corps unit
3/9 MARINES was a US Marine Corps unit
Primary service involved, US Marine Corps

Quang Tri Province, I Corps, South Vietnam
Location, Ca Lu
Description: This 3d Marine Division operation was a series of multibattalion search-and-clear operations in the Ca Lu area that claimed 1,801 known enemy casualties while the U.S. had 359 KIAs and 1,713 WIAs

The source for this information was OOB, Chron P:66

Battle of Khe Sanh

Conflict: Vietnam War (Vietnam War: A prolonged war (1954-1975) between the communist armies of North Vietnam who were supported by the Chinese and the non-communist armies of South Vietnam who were supported by the United States)

Date: February 5, 1968 - April 8, 1968

Place: Khe Sanh (Khe Sanh: more facts about this subject) , Vietnam (Vietnam: A communist state in Indochina on the South China Sea; achieved independence from France in 1945)

Result: American victory

Combatants: United States (United States: North American republic containing 50 states - 48 conterminous states in North America plus Alaska in northwest North America and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean; achieved independence in 1776) North Vietnam (North Vietnam: A former country in southeastern Asia that existed from 1954 (after the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu) until 1975 when South Vietnam collapsed at the end of the Vietnam War)

Commanders: US: William Westmoreland. VC: Vo Nguyen Giap

US 5,000. VC 20,000 - 40,000

Casualties US 205 killed, 443 wounded, 2 MIA. VC 15,000+ killed/wounded

Khe Sanh was a United States Marines military base in the Republic of Vietnam constructed near the border with Laos and just south of the border with North Vietnam which became the scene of a large offensive operation by the People's Army of Vietnam and US Marines In 1968. The defense of the base was codenamed Operation Scotland.

To American commanders it looked like the PAVN was attempting to repeat their famous victory at Dien Bien Phu. The overwhelming power of US air support and vastly increased airlift capacity made starving out the base impossible. After heavy casualties on both sides the PAVN revealed the battle to be a diversionary tactic, and abandoned their assault in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive.


The base had its origins in September 1962, when an airstrip was constructed outside the town of Khe Sanh, about 7 miles from the Laos border. The airfield saw little use until a Special Forces team constructed a base next to the airfield in 1965, a base that would become the Khe Sanh Combat Base, scene of the battle. Over the next few years the base was used as a staging ground for a number of attacks on troop movements down the Ho Chi Minh trail (Ho Chi Minh trail: the ho chi minh trail was a network of roads built from north vietnam to south vietnam... and was permanently manned by Marines starting in 1967. A smaller Special Forces base was later constructed down the road toward the Laos border, known as Lang Vei, and was in the process of being moved about a kilometer further west when the battle began.

In 1968 General William Westmoreland decided that Khe Sanh would be the site to use in an attempt to bring the PAVN into direct confrontation. By sending in a massive re-enforcement force he planned on launching major operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail, which would effectively cut off all PAVN operations further south, he planned on forcing them to attack Khe Sanh in order to re-open the trail. If his plan was successful, he believed, that the war would be soon over. However, the offensive potential of Khe Sanh never materialized.

During the American build-up, North Vietnamese forces were finding excellent defensive positions on nearby hills that were heavily fortified with caves and former mines that were practically impervious to attack. Over a period of just over a week three full divisions of about 25,000 men were moved into the area, well supported from the nearby Trail. From these positions they launched mortar and rocket attacks on the base, "covered" to a great degree by continuing bad weather.

The Battle

The main assaults on the base started on February 5th, 1968. On the 7th a major tank-supported assault overran Lang Vei in spite of the heroic defense of what was essentially an undefendable position. A number of massive attacks on Khe Sanh took place over the week, but eventually it became clear the Marines positions were well developed. The buildup nevertheless continued on both sides, and while the US troops were eventually ready to launch small offensives against the PAVN forces pouring into the area, they were unable to do so due to the heavily forested areas in the valleys between themselves and the fortified hills.

After this the tempo slowed and the battle became more of a siege, with the almost continual artillery duels soon turning the base into a huge trench system looking more like the trench warfare of World War I than Vietnam. The US turned to air power as a way out of the stalemate, and called in huge bombardments on the hills by B-52's flown from Okinawa. Soldiers on both sides still express awe to this day when talking about them; the attacks gave absolutely no warning, and suddenly an entire hill would be completely covered with exploding bombs. Meanwhile losses to artillery falling on the base were being made up by new supplies being flown in, one soldier noted that a fresh batch of light 105mm howitzers would be wiped out by PAVN counterfire by the end of a day, only to be replaced by the next morning when it would start all over again. Attempts by the PAVN to shut the runway were never entirely successful, and somewhat superfluous due to the massive number of helicopters the US had at their disposal even if this were to occur.

Efforts on the part of the PAVN to reopen the battle soon started following their earlier successful efforts at Dien Bien Phu, and they started the construction of a major trenchwork/tunnel system in an attempt to enter the base under cover. However the airpower available to the US and that of the French forces a decade earlier were of an entirely different nature, whenever a trench system came anywhere near the base a B-52 strike would turn the entire area into a moonscape, completely erasing the engineering efforts.

Two further major assaults followed on March 17-18th and the 29th. Both were repulsed, the second one with ease, and it was now clear that the base would not fall to PAVN attacks. At this point the PAVN divisions were recalled and the battle slowly ended. The Americans held Khe Sanh throughout the siege, and were eventually officially relieved by the 2nd Cavalry on April 6th, 1968, and all fighting was over two days later.

Results and Analysis

As a military action Khe Sanh was another costly failure on the part of the PAVN, with estimates of 8,000 PAVN dead and considerably more wounded. It is likely that the overwhelming majority of the forces sent to the area were rendered disorganised and useless. The loss was particularly striking given the similarities to Dien Bien Phu.

The battle was significant in terms of its weakening the resolve of many Americans. Nearly a quarter of all television news was devoted to covering the battle, and was even higher for others. CBS... would devote half of their show to the siege. The intensely televised coverage was one of the hallmarks of Vietnam conflict in general and is a subject of study as a psychological is the study of behaviour,... and social phenomenon.

Militarily it drew attention away from the buildups elsewhere. As the leadup to the battle took place over late 1967 and into January 1968, the entire American military system swung into a singular effort to win the battle. Although plenty of intelligence suggested that a large scale effort was being planned all over Vietnam, this information was largely ignored. This too was a part of the Khe Sanh plan, one that was executed perfectly, leaving the Americans surprised by the Tet offensive. That too would end in military failure, but was an even larger win in terms of weakening support for the war.

In the end, the battle was a critical part of the war, highlighting both the need on both sides for development of new tactics militarily, but also reinforcing a pattern of a tactical win for the south but a strategic win for north by the erosion of support for the war in the U.S. Khe Sanh itself was abandoned on June 23, 1968 since it no longer had any military value. Consequently, many wondered if it ever did.

Although few, if any, Australian Army.... personnel were involved in the battle, the Australian rock band Cold Chisel chose the battle for the title of its song, "Khe Sanh", about an Australian Vietnam veteran (Vietnam veteran: vietnam veteran is a phrase used to describe someone who served in the armed forces of participating...

Siege of Khe Sanh

The gem of American military superiority in Vietnam was the strategic Marine Corps base a Khe Sanh. Located a few miles from the borders of North Vietnam and Laos, Khe Sanh was heavily fortified in late '67 by Gen. William Westmoreland, and designed to carry out reconnaissance attacks on the Ho Chi Minh trail and enemy supply lines from the north.

The sudden massive siege of Khe Sanh stunned the nation, and reminded many Americans, including the Johnson administration, of the humiliating defeat of the French at Dienbienphu fourteen years earlier. In his typical Texas way Johnson tells one of his advisors, "I don't want any damn Din Bin Phoo". The siege would play to a massive audience on American television each night for the next few months, proving the resolve of the Vietcong to win their struggle.

Americans from all walks of life saw the desperation of American forces as supplies were literally dropped onto the air-strip at Khe Sanh, with the occasional plane exploding from enemy fire. They also saw Operation Niagara, where 18,000 tons of ammunition were dropped each day in the jungle surrounding the base. The total American causalities would be 205 killed, while the North Vietnamese would loose between ten to fifteen- thousand. Khe Sanh would prove a military victory for the American forces, a psychological victory for the North Vietnamese.

The Battle of Khe Sanh began at 0530, 21 January 1968. The North Vietnamese Army forces hammered the Marine-occupied Khe Sanh Combat Base with rocket, mortar, artillery, small arms, and automatic weapons fire. Hundreds of 82-mm. mortar rounds and 122-mm. rockets slammed into the combat base. Virtually all of the base's ammunition stock and a substantial portion of the fuel supplies were destroyed. The actions around Khe Sanh Combat Base, when flashed to the world, touched off a political and public uproar as to whether or not the position should be held.

On 22 January, North Vietnamese mortar fire was placed on Khe Sanh and Hill 881. The North Vietnamese firing positions were in turn taken under fire by tactical air and ground artillery. Two resupply helicopters and an Air Force fighter-bomber were lost to North Vietnamese ground fire. To the west, across the Laotian border, an North Vietnamese force of three battalions assaulted and overran a Laotian unit positioned astride Route 9.

To counter the North Vietnamese pressure, Marine units engaged in active patroling in the hills around the base. These outposts were regularly attacked by large numbers of North Vietnamese soldiers, but the Marines held their ground. In some cases, company locations were nearly overrun in fierce night battles, but survived due to leadership, artillery and close air support when it was available.

Around Khe Sanh, North Vietnamese soldiers dug numerous trench lines around the base and approaching the perimter. Artillery was called on these postions and patrols were sent to thwart these North Vietnamese attempts at infiltration.

The base at Khe Sanh remained relatively quiet throughout the first week of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive, but the lull ended with a heavy ground attack on the morning of 5 February. The North Vietnamese penetrated the perimeter of the position on Hill 861A, and the resulting hand-to-hand combat drove the North Vietnamese back. A second attempt to overrun the position was less successful than the first. Elsewhere the North Vietnamese were more successful when, on 7 February, they struck at the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei.

The Lang Vei Special Forces Camp was located astride Route 9 some nine kilometers west of Khe Sanh Village. Beginning about 1800 on 6 February, the camp was subjected to an unusually intense mortar and artillery barrage. The defenders immediately responded with counter fire from the camp and requested supporting fire from the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

The North Vietnamese ground attack began about midnight on the morning of 7 February. The initial force to reach the protective wire around the perimeter included two of the approximately twelve Russian manufactured PT-76 amphibious tanks. The two armored vehicles were sighted in the outer wire on the southern side of the camp, taken under fire, and knocked out.

The armor defeating weapons in the camp consisted of two 106-mm. recoilless rifles, a few 57-mm. recoilless rifles, and 100 light antitank weapons known as LAWS. The LAW is designed to be fired once and discarded. These special weapons had been provided to the camp shortly before the attack as a result of intelligence reports which indicated that an attack was imminent and that armored vehicles would most likely be involved. Because of the newness of the weapons, few of the indigenous personnel and only half of the Americans had had the opportunity to fire the weapon before the attack. One survivor reported that several LAW'S failed to fire. This may have been due to lack of training or to improper storage.

Additional tanks moved around the destroyed vehicles and overran the company manning the southern sector. The troops pulled back, but continued fighting. They fought the tanks with small arms, machine guns, hand grenades, and antitank weapons. As the attack continued, the defenders were forced to continue their withdrawal from the forward positions. They re-formed in pockets and continued to resist and fire at the North Vietnamese troops and tanks as they moved through the camp. As the North Vietnamese soldiers advanced, they used explosive charges to demolish the fortifications within the camp. The North Vietnamese tanks used their 76-mm. main guns against the combat positions and tactical operations center in the camp.

As the battle continued, air strikes were called in. When day broke over the battlefield, the defenders located in the operations center called for and received air support to assist them in breaking out of the still surrounded position. Their escape was aided by a rescue force that had returned to the camp to help extract survivors. By day's end the camp had been evacuated and all surviving personnel extracted.

As the Lang Vei battle progressed, the Marines were requested to implement their contingency plan to reinforce the Special Forces camp. However, because of the fear that this attack was but a part of an all-out general attack in the area, Lang Vei was not reinforced. By noon on the 7th, General Westmoreland was being briefed on the need to evacuate the survivors. Also at the meeting were General Cushman and General Tompkins. General Westmoreland directed that aircraft be made available to support the reaction force, and that afternoon the extraction took place.

When 7 February came to an end, the Lang Vei Camp was empty. Almost half of the 500 defenders were dead or missing. The survivors left behind them seven destroyed North Vietnamese tanks and at least as many North Vietnamese casualties as they themselves had suffered. The North Vietnamese attack stopped at the camp. It did not continue east toward Khe Sanh.

At Khe Sanh the marines were monitoring the battle at Lang Vei. After the seriously wounded had been evacuated by helicopter, the remaining survivors and many refugees moved east on foot. On the morning of 8 February some 3,000 refugees, including the Lang Vei survivors and Laotian 33d Battalion troops who had withdrawn from their attacked position on 23 January, appeared at the front gate of the Khe Sanh perimeter. At first denied admittance, the people were later searched and permitted to enter. Most were soon evacuated out of the area with the Laotians being returned to their own country.

At 0420, 8 February, a reinforced North Vietnamese battalion assaulted a platoon position of the 9th Marine Regiment. The marines were forced back from that portion of their perimeter which bore the brunt of the assault, but maintained control of most of the position. A company-sized counterattack at mid-morning restored the position, but the Marine commander at Khe Sanh decided to evacuate that platoon position because of its exposed location.

North Vietnamese pressure on the Khe Sanh Combat Base continued during the following two weeks but not in the form of any major ground attacks. Probes, minor clashes, and sniping incidents occurred daily although the main North Vietnamese interest appeared to be the consolidation of his position and preparation for an all-out effort. In attempts to deter these preparations by artillery and air strikes, the marines were themselves hindered by the weather.

During this period Khe Sanh and its surrounding outposts continued to be supplied almost entirely by air. Marine and Air Force cargo aircraft made numerous daily runs to keep the base provisioned, to bring in replacement troops, and to take out wounded. The pilots had to brave both poor weather and intense North Vietnamese antiaircraft fire to accomplish these tasks.

On 10 February, a Marine C-130, loaded with fuel containers, was laced with bullets just before touching down on the runway. The aircraft was lost along with some of the passengers and crew. This incident caused major revisions in the offloading procedure. As a result of this loss and the damage inflicted on other aircraft while on the ground, landings of the large C- 130 type aircraft were suspended at Khe Sanh on 23 February.

Operation NIAGARA II continued throughout this period. This intensive air interdiction campaign continued to provide excellent results. The high volume reconnaissance missions, added to other intelligence sources, recommended an average of at least 150 targets per day. On 15 February, one of the most lucrative targets, an ammunition storage area, was pinpointed 19 kilometers south southwest of Khe Sanh in the Co Roc Mountain region. Flight after flight of strike aircraft were directed into the area throughout a 24-hour period. Many secondary explosions and fires revealed additional stockpiles which were in turn attacked. In all, it proved to be a good day's work resulting in over 1,000 secondary explosions and fires, some of which continued two and one-half hours after a series of strikes had been completed.

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