Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Historical Foundation©
Marine Corps Vietnam-era Tankers and Ontos Crewmen Have Made History.
Your Historical Foundation is Making it Known.
THE BREECH BLOCK©
|The Breech Block
Vietnam TankersHistorical Foundation
Board of Directors
LtCol Raymond A. Stewart, USMC (Ret)
USMC Vietnam Tankers Association
Vice Pres. and Flame Tanks Rep.
Charles 'Chuck' Garrison
USMC Vietnam Tankers Association
LtGen Martin R.
Steele, USMC (Ret)
USMC Vietnam Tankers Association
Col William 'Bill' Davis, USMC(Ret)
David 'Doc' Forsyth
Dr. Ken Estes,
LtCol, USMC (Ret)
Director and Ontos Rep.
Richard "Dick" Carey;
USMC Vietnam Tankers
MGySgt Donald Gagnon, USMC (Ret),
by Jim Coan
by Bob Peavey
by Clyde Hoch
Robert Hugh Gage
1st Marine Division
1st Tank Battalion
03 July 1966PP/ Staff Sergeant
"Marines" and the Eagle, Globe and Anchor are trademarks of the U.S. Marine Corps, used with permission. Neither the U.S. Marine Corps nor any other component of the Department of Defense has approved, endorsed or authorized this newsletter.
Climate data for Da Nang
1965 to 1970 Januaries' Tank and Ontos Action in Vietnam
Of the many books and published works we have researched for the Foundation’s History Book detailing tank and Ontos action in Vietnam, those authors who describe the weather upon debarking – be it by boat or plane – estimate the temperature in the low triple digits (e.g., 110+) and the humidity with matching severity in the high double digits (e.g., 90%+). And most agree that the mix of unpleasantness of smells (e.g., human and animal processed waste in various forms and places) could not be measured on any known scale. And, while the authors – a number of whom had never been in Vietnam – made their case, the above chart will set a tone of realism. Note the upper rec bar and the lower blue bar and note what’s missing. So much for the guys debarking in Da Nang and environs.
However, the Marines in the field did indeed experience the extremes of weather on an every-day basis. The temperatures inside of a tank would routinely violate the stats. And the Grunts humping 60# packing in the triple canopy jungle and saw grass and slogging through the rice paddies up to their knees and waist often found the heat as brutal as the elusive enemy. So much for our case.
This is the Foundation’s first quarterly publication of the Breech Block. In the new format we will roll up the 3 months that comprise each quarter. For the details of tank and Ontos action a link will be provided to the Foundation’s web site where will be found the details from which the quarterly Breech Block is condensed in the by-month form.
This, the 2015’s First Quarter Breech Block takes a bit of “sorting”. January and February 1965 found tanks and Ontos battalions in various stages of preparation to go to war – any kind of war – let alone a guerrilla war in a place most Marine had never heard of a long way mentally and physically from the pending fight. Surely no Tanker or Ontos crewman could have envisioned how a they in their vehicles would contribute to the battle that included fighting a local-grown guerrilla insurgency that would morph into a head-to-head well organized, trained, and equipped main force enemy. Planning and training Tankers and Ontos crewmen to negotiate flooded rice paddies, ford rivers, plow through jungles, or develop ad hoc tactics to deploy tanks and Ontos in urban door-to-door combat, conduct amphibious raids, and more. Static defense – bridge guard and withstanding a 77-day siege. The many long nights firing H&I fires at an unknown, unseen enemy with unknown and unverifiable results was found in no training regimen offered the young Officers or even younger Crewmen. Tank and Ontos companies deployed thousands of miles from their respective supporting battalions and company commanders sending their platoons off to support their infantry battalions even farther afield into unknown terrain.
By early March 1965 the Okinawa-based Third Tanks’ units were on the ground in South (The Republic of) Vietnam (RVN). They came ashore in the first amphibious operation since the Korean War. The parent battalions to which they looked for support – many sailing days away. In the meantime, back in CONUS First Tanks was playing war games (Silver Shield) in preparation for a conventional war.
The subsequent first quarter January – March 1966 presents a quite different picture. Tanks and Ontos were ensconced in, and operating from, three enclaves with defined (but expanding) Tactical Areas of Responsibility (TAOR) in the northern-most of the Four Military regions of South Vietnam – I Corp (pronounced “eye core”) Chu Lai, Da Nang, and Hue/Phu Bai. Additionally, the Navy’s Seventh Fleet comprised the Special Landing Force with a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) which included an attached reinforced platoon of Tanks and a platoon of reinforced Ontos plying the waters off the coast of RVN.
1967 is referred to as “Fighting the North Vietnamese” in its “The U.S. Marines in Vietnam” series published by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division in 1984. And fight the NVA we did. During 1967’s first quarter - January through March – we realized that in essence we were fighting two separate and only somewhat related wars. “The 3d Marine Division conducted basically a conventional war along the DMZ against regular NVA formations. At the same time, the 1st Marine Division continued its combination of large unit and counterguerilla operations south of the Hai Van Pass.” And units – or parts of units - were re-assigned and re-designated as they were moved from division to division. Tanks units, down to the platoon-level, were re-designated e.g., 3d Plt, “C” Co., 1st Tanks became 1st Plt, “B” Co., 3d Tanks. More often than not the tank crews had no idea the mill-drill. And, since turret numbers were removed, either did the supported unit know the tank outfit that was attached to it. Even more conflagration was the de-activation of the Ontos battalions and their re-organization under the Tank Battalions half way through the war.
The “’U.S. MARINES IN VIETNAM: THE DEFINING YEAR – 1968’ is the capstone volume in this series covering the Marine Corps’ participation in the Vietnam War. As the defining year of the war, 1968 included such dramatic occurrences as the Communist Tet Offensive and the battles for Khe Sanh and Hue City, in which Marines had the leading roles. These were momentous events in the course of the war and they took place in the first three months of the year.” (GB-66)
The first quarter of 1969 was complicated by packing up equipment and men to leave the battle and head east out of Vietnam while fighting an ever-increasingly well trained, equipped, and dedicated North Vietnamese Army. By late June 1969 the men and equipment of the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion had boarded the Navy’s amphibious shipping and sailed for Okinawa. The remaining units were right behind them. The point must be made that the Marines held their own – fighting and defeating the NVA with ever-decreasing assets while withdrawing from the war. What a tribute to the Officers leading their Marine Warriors and the loyalty and dedication of the Marines all of whom remained focused on their mission.
You are encouraged to access the Command Chronology expanded Abstracts on the Foundation’s website for details. And please, “stay tuned” as the remainder of the by-quarter treatment of “Tanks and Ontos in Vietnam” is presented.
Our motto "You made history. Your Historical Foundation is making it known" is coming alive in the Breech Block month-by-month and will jump off the pages with The Book.
|Mail Call! , Attaboy List and anything else.|
|"The Book" SitRep:|
No Report this Quarter. See Intro.
|Command Chronologies, Abstracts, and Supplements|
CHRONOLOGY OF KEY MARINE CORPS EVENTS IN THE VIETNAM WAR
January - March 1965-1973*
March 8, 1965 - The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) commanded by BGen Frederick J. Karch landed at Da Nang, Vietnam, consisting of two Marine battalions, one arriving by air (1/3) and over the beach (3/9). The following day, the MEB assumed control of the Marine Task Unit 79.3.5 at Da Nang which became Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16.
Significance: This was the first deployment of U.S. battalion-sized U.S. combat units to Vietnam. Although the mission of the 9th MEB was limited solely to the defense of the airbase at Da Nang, it was, nevertheless, indicative that the U.S. advisory phase in the Vietnam War was to be transformed into more direct U.S. participation.
March 1, 1966 - The 26th Marines was activated at Camp Pendleton, California initiating the formation of the 5th Marine Division.
Significance: For the first time since World War II, the Marine Corps was to have four infantry divisions on active duty. By the end of June, the Marines were authorized over 278,000 personnel, a Marine Corps larger than that of the Korean War.
March 4-7, 1966 - The 3rd Marine Division Task Force Delta defeated the 21st North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Regiment inflicting heavy casualties upon the enemy in heavy combat in Operation Utah south of Chu Lai.
Significance: This was the first engagement by Marine units against North Vietnamese Army units.
March 10, 1966 - South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky removed LtGen Nguyen Chanh Thi from his position as ARVN I Corps commander. As a result this led to a series of strikes and political unrest especially in I Corps that saw a succession of I Corps commanders into June 1966. Much of the heaviest unrest was in the Da Nang sector which often placed III MAF in the middle between troops loyal to the central government and those who supported Thi and the Buddhist dominated "Struggle Group". General Walt often served as a mediator between the two.
Significance: This unrest undermined the authority of the Vietnamese government which had grave implications about American participation in the war.
March 29, 1966 - MajGen Lewis J. Fields established the 1st Marine Division Headquarters at Chu Lai.
Significance: III MAF now officially consisted of two Marine infantry divisions and a reinforced Marine Aircraft Wing.
February 21, 1967 - Dr. Bernard Fall, noted historian of the French combat experience in Indochina, died in an explosion of an enemy mine. Dr. Fall was accompanying the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in Operation Chinook.
Significance: Dr. Fall was a recognized expert on Vietnam and ironically died in an area near the so called "Street Without Joy," which he had so carefully portrayed in his writing.
February 27, 1967 - NVA rocket troops launched 140 mm rockets against the Da Nang Air Base. More than 50 rockets hit the base in less than a minute. The rockets had a range of 9,000 meters.
Significance: This was the first know use of large tactical rockets in South Vietnam. The use of these weapons forced III MAF to extend its protective patrolling at Da Nang out to 9,000 meters, which added to the drain on Marine infantry manpower.
March 18, 1967 - The first woman Marine to serve in Vietnam, M/Sgt Barbara J. Dulinsky, arrived in Saigon, for assignment to the MACV combat operations center.
March 26, 1967 - ComUSMACV ordered III MAF to prepare a plan for locating, constructing, and occupying a strongpoint obstacle system south of the DMZ to prevent the North Vietnamese from infiltrating through that zone into South Vietnam.
Significance: III MAF eventually began building this strongpoint system later in the year while under fire by North Vietnamese artillery. This anti-infiltration effort, also known as Dye Marker and Project Nine was labeled by the Media as "McNamara's Wall," after the name of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
January 21, 1968 - General William C. Westmoreland, Commander USMACV, ordered a temporary halt to work on the "McNamara Line", the barrier and anti-infiltration system south of the DMZ.
Significance: This for all practical matters ended the work on the McNamara Line which officially terminated on October 22, 1968.
January 21 - April 15, 1968 - NVA troops began shelling the base at Khe Sanh and the strongholds in the surrounding hills. This rocket, mortar, and artillery barrage initiated the siege of Khe Sanh.
Significance: The siege of Khe Sanh would be one of the defining battles of the Vietnam War. Supplied by air and supported by massive artillery and air bombardments including B-52 strikes, the 6,000 man Khe Sanh garrison would hold out against elements of an estimated two North Vietnamese Divisions until relieved by U.S. forces on April 14.
January 30 - February 28, 1968 - Communist forces launched a country-wide offensive during the Vietnamese Tet holidays. On January 30, their Main Force units launched an aborted attack upon Da Nang. Units from the U.S. Army Americal Division would reinforce the 1st Marine Infantry Division at Da Nang. Fighting in the Da Nang sector would continue sporadically until the end of February. Communist offensives would also occur in Hue, Quang Tri City, Hoi An, and Quang Ngai City in I Corps.
Significance: While providing the Communists with the some political and propaganda successes, especially in the United States, the defeat of their nation-wide offensive would cost the Communist forces dearly in manpower in both their regular forces and especially among their Viet Cong infrastructure and local forces.
January 31 - March 2, 1968 - In the Battle for Hue City, the North Vietnamese in Division strength on January 31 captured most of the city except for small pockets of resistance. Elements of the 1st Marine Division Task Force X-ray, the South Vietnamese 1st ARVN Division, and the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division in month-long house to house fighting retook the city with significant losses suffered by both sides.
Significance: The capture of Hue, the ancient Imperial capital of Vietnam had significant symbolic reverberations throughout the country and was the one partially successful element of the enemy Tet offensive. The defeat of the Communist forces at Hue prevented them from possibly taking over the two northern provinces of South Vietnam.
February 9, 1968 - MACV Forward, under General Creighton B. Abrams, Deputy Commander USMACV, is established in I CTZ at Phu Bai. It is a forward headquarters to monitor operations in the two northern provinces. The two divisions in the sector, the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) and the 3rd Marine Division, remain, however, under the operational control of III MAF.
Significance: There is some concern among Marine commanders that MACV plans to assume direct command of all forces in the north and reduce the role of the senior Marine command.
February 12, 1968 - The 27th Marines receive orders to deploy to Da Nang from the U.S. as part of the reinforcements requested by General William C. Westmoreland and the JCS. President Johnson made extensive reductions to original recommendations of MACV and the JCS.
Significance: President Johnson limited the number of U.S. reinforcements to Vietnam as a result of the Tet offensive and disapproved the JCS recommendation for a call up of major U.S. Reserve units for the war. In effect, he placed an upper limitation upon the U.S. combat involvement in Vietnam.
February 13, 1968 - The headquarters and combat elements of the 101st Airborne Division arrive in I CTZ.
Significance: III MAF now has three U.S. Army Divisions under its operational control as well as two reinforced Marine Divisions and a reinforced Marine Aircraft Wing in I Corps.
March 7, 1968 - General Westmoreland issued a "Single Manager" for air directive officially placing with the Seventh Air Force the "responsibility for coordinating and directing the air effort throughout Vietnam, to include I CTZ and the extended battle area." III MAF was to make available to the Seventh Air Force commander all strike and reconnaissance aircraft and that part of the Marine air command and control system that related to the employment of these aircraft. Marine fixed-wing transports, observation aircraft, and helicopters were exempted from the directive.
Significance: The Marine Command protested this decision claiming that the directive placed undue restrictions upon Marine fixed-air in mission of support for Marine ground forces. While never withdrawn during the war, the directive was amended several times, and by the end of the war, III MAF in effect basically regained its control over its fixed-wing aviation.
March 10, 1968 - U.S. Provisional Corps, Vietnam was created under the command of Lieutenant General William B. Rosson, USA, to replace the MACV (Fwd) Headquarters. The new command has under its operational control the 3rd Marine Division, the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile), and the 101st Airborne Division and is a subordinate headquarters to III MAF. The U.S. Provisional Corps becomes XXIV Corps on August 15, 1968.
Significance: III MAF became one of the largest commands in Marine history. It had assumed in effect the role of a Field Army with a Marine Aircraft Wing attached to it.
December 7, 1968 - March 9, 1969 - The 1st Marine Division Task Force Yankee conducted Operation Taylor Common in Base Area 112 southwest of Da Nang, accounting for extensive North Vietnamese casualties.
Significance: Incorporating mobile helicopter and firebase tactics used by the 3rd Marine Division, the 1st Marine Division entered the North Vietnamese base areas, destroying much of the enemy main force logistics buildup and clearing the 2nd NVA Division elements which had taken refuge there.
February 22 - March 18, 1969 - The 9th Marines under the 3rd Marine Division conducted Operation Dewey Canyon, a mobile helicopter and fire base operation, in the Da Krong Valley in western Quang Tri Province. During the course of the operation, Marine units crossed the border into Laos.
Significance: Not only was this was the first acknowledged and deliberate entry into Laos by a large American unit, it resulted in the uncovering of extensive enemy supplies, arms, and ammunition, spring offensive in northern Quang Tri Province.
January 28 - March 19, 1970 - Redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam, now codenamed Keystone Robin, continued to include the 26th Marines, MAG 12, and several aviation squadrons.
Significance: U.S. redeployment plans call for III MAF units to be among the first U.S. units to depart Vietnam.
March 9, 1970 - III MAF turned over command of U.S. units in I Corps over to XXIV Corps, thus becoming a subordinate command of XXIV Corps.
Significance: This again is indicative of the future reduced role for Marines in Vietnam and their pending departure.
January 30 - April 6, 1971 - On January 30 the South Vietnamese begin Lam Son 719. In phase 1 which lasted to February 8, the South Vietnamese supported by allied forces opened up the Khe Sanh base. In Phase II, the South Vietnamese forces which included the Vietnamese Marine Corps Division. U.S. advisors, including U.S. Marine advisors, were not permitted to accompany their units into Laos, they were allowed, however, to coordinate supporting fires (ARG)/Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) remained off the Vietnamese coast, but was not committed.
Significance: Militarily, this operation was much less successful than the Cambodian incursion and called into question the capability of the South Vietnamese command to coordinate division-size forces. Again U.S. Marine units in Vietnam played almost no role in Lam Son 719 as they redeployed or planned to redeploy from Vietnam.
March 25, 1971 - The 5th Marines departed Vietnam.
Significance: The continuing redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam in accordance with the Keystone Robin plans.
March 30 - June 27, 1972 - On March 30, the North Vietnamese launch their Nguyen-Hue (known in the U.S. as the Easter) Offensive and after extensive losses in I Corps, South Vietnamese forces stabilize their lines at the My Chanh River north of Hue. In the retreat of the Vietnamese Marine Division, U.S. Marine advisors played a major role in helping to rally the Vietnamese Marines after the initial setbacks. On April 6, the Marine Corps deployed MAG-15 to Da Nang and on May 16, MAG-12 deployed Bien Hoa in III Corps. Both Marine aircraft groups operated under the Seventh Air Force in support South Vietnamese Forces. On June 16, MAG 15 redeployed from Da Nang to Nam Phong, Thailand where the group continued to support operations of the Seventh Air Force against the Communist forces both in Vietnam and Cambodia. MAG-12 would remain in Bien Hoa until February 1993. The 9th MAB was embarked on board Seventh Fleet amphibious shipping and arrived in the Gulf of Tonkin on April. The MAB remained embarked and Marine infantry units were not committed.
Significance: Although Marine ground units remained ready for redeployment to Vietnam, the Marine Corps participation was limited in its participation in the renewed fighting to aviation support and in an advisory effort.
March 14 1973 - With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 between North Vietnam and the United States, Sub-unit 1, 1st ANGLICO redeploys.
Significance: This was the last Marine tactical unit to leave Vietnam.
March 29 1973 - U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was deactivated.
Significance: This ended the U.S. military advisory effort at the unit level with the South Vietnamese military, and included the deactivation two days earlier of the U.S. Marine Advisory Unit to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps.
* Although Tanks were out of Vietnam and on their Okinawa or CONUS and Ontos were ---------- only the gods know where but scattered to the four winds ---- both a number of Marines were to remain behind in various roles until the bitter end was reached.
|Killed in Action:|
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