Mike & H&S Companies
Third Battalion, Fifth Marines
VC ATTACK HILL 71 CHU LAI, VIETNAM AGAINST 1ST PLT M CO.3/5 Dec 14th 1966
by JD Murray
(In memory of Hans Haupt, H&S Company Commander, 1966, 1/26/1933-1/7/2004)
December 14, 1966
Map of Chu Lai, Hill 69, Hill 71, Hill 76,Thanh My Trung, Hill 49, Rte 1
2 Aug 66 -BLT 3/5 (Special Landing Force, Vietnam) offloaded from amphibious shipping and moved into a temporary camp in Chu Lai.
6 Aug -15Aug 66 - The Battalion participated in Operation Colorado west of Tam Ky in the Queson Valley.
24 Aug -29 Aug 66 - M and K Co 3/5 assigned operational control of 3/7 for Operation Jackson.
4 Sep - 15 Sep 66 - 3/5 (-) participated in Operation Napa Quan Hgai Province
21 Sep - 26 Sep 66 - Participated in a search and destroy operations in Quang Tin Province
28 Sep -30 66 - 3/5 participated in Operation Monterey in support of 1/5.
29 Sep 66 - 3/5 TAOR expanded to include 2/5 TAOR to the north. Co M takes over K Co as well as their own area on Hill 49 in old 3/5 area.
2 Oct - 1 Nov 66 M Co assigned operational control under Chu Lai Defense Command to provide security for the Airfield.
At the end of Nov 66, 3/5 was operating from combat bases within the expanded TAOR.
A. Provide alert forces for the Chu Lai TAOR
B. Security for the 5th Marines CP
C. A company for defense of the Chu Lai Airfield
D. Security for all convoy movement within Chu Lai Defense
E. A contingency commitment for the Tien Pheoc and Khon Duc Special Forces camps.
M Co, 3/5, maintaining its position on Hill 49 during early Nov., conducts Operation Mustang (Starvation) from 7-13 Nov 66 to the west of its position.
During mid Nov., M Co relieves K Co. in Thanh My Trung (1). No where does it specify the exact date. I assume it was on the 14th that M Co packed up and left Hill 49 and entered Thanh My Trung (1) to relieve K Co. I remember well our short stay in Thanh My Trung (1) and I remember Hill 76 close by. I do not remember Hill 71. It seems to me that we had a platoon in Thanh My Trung 1), a platoon on Hill 76, and the remainder on Hill 69 and maybe Hill 71. I would assume it was a platoon minus on Hill 71 because there were not sufficient positions to support a full platoon. Sometime during the latter part of November, M Co moved out of Thanh My Trung (1) because of the vulnerability of that position. So, during November, M C. 3/5 had moved out of the Hill 49 complex in 3/5s old TAOR, moved into multiple positions in the expanded TAOR, and finally moved out of the Company CP position in the village of Thanh My Trung (1).
During Nov. and he first part of Dec 66, the Battalion made many changes to personnel. Most of the members had been with the Battalion for a year and therefore, key officers and staff NCOs were rotated to other billets. The Battalion got a new Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and a reshuffling of the key staff officers as well as several new Company commanders. M Co commander, Capt. Harold Pettengill, went on 5 days R and R, and I assumed acting CO of M Co. As I recall, no operations were scheduled for the month of December.
On 4 Dec 66, an arclight bombing occurred in the lower Quesons, and K Co reinforced by Recon units heloed into the area on the 5th to investigate the damage. They immediately began receiving small arms fire and as the resistance increased, M CO and the Battalion Command Group reinforced them on the 7th of December. Operation Cortez ran from 5-12 Dec 1966. (Editor note: see JD's write up of that operation at http://www.securenet.net/3rbn5th/cortez.htm).
The final elements of M Co 3/5 returned from 7 days in the Quesons on Operation Cortez around 1815 on the 12th of December. During the time we were on Cortez, another unit filled in on our defensive position on Hill 71. They did not run any patrols or ambushes during that time. The company used that evening and the following day to re-equip, re-supply, and adjust to the changes of the operation and to prepare to re-man and occupy our positions in the TAOR. Hill 71 was not fully developed since our departure from the village of Thamh My Trung (1), a highly vulnerable location near the high ground to the West. A detailed account of the establishment of a Marine Company in Thamh My Trung (1) is found in Capt. F.J. West's book titled SMALL UNIT ACTION IN VIETNAM SUMMER 1966 Page 84-89. Basically, 2/5 replaced 2/4 in the TAOR DURING April/May of 1966. By June a company of Marines had begun defending the Village of Thamh My Trung (1). K Co 3/5 defended Thanh My Trung (1) during Nov. 66 and was replaced by M Co during the latter half of Nov. Shortly thereafter, Thanh My Trung (1) was abandoned by 3/5.
ATTACK ON 1ST PLT M CO 3/5
Since most of the positions outside Hill 69 were not yet fully established defensive positions, preparations were made to bring in wire and begin fortifying the new locations. Hill 71 and Hill 76 were being prepared as new platoon positions within the TAOR.
The last elements of M Co returned from Operation Cortez around 1815 on the evening of the 12th. Since we departed under emergency condition for Cortez, the company set about re-equipping and resupplying on the 13th. Prior to assuming our normal positions in the TAOR.
During the afternoon of the 13th the 1st Platoon was sent back out to reoccupy Hill 71 and replaces the Marines who filled in during their absence. Another battalion had manned it, and unknown to us, had not run any patrols or ambushes during their stay on the hill.
SSgt Wilcox, the acting Platoon Commander, took his platoon to the position. After looking over the situation, he requested not to send out the normal ambushes due to the fatigue of the troops but to put out outposts instead. I concurred.
At 3 am on the 14th an enemy force attacked Hill 71. Because all the radios were in the tent areas and hit immediately by 57mm Recoilless Rifle fire and set ablaze, communications was lost for the remainder of the night. We could hear the explosions and weapons fire on Hill 69.
I requested to take the remaining platoon FROM Hill 69 and move out in support of the 1st Platoon but was denied by the Battalion. I understand that later a captured member of the VC force said that they were waiting in ambush for the relief force coming from hill 69.
The following information is extracted from Task Force XRay's messages concerning the attack.
The hill was a relatively new position that was normally manned by a Platoon of Marines as well as local Popular Force Vietnamese. Normally the platoon would have a squad out on ambush and observation posts as well. That night the ambush squad did not go out. The bunkers and fighting holes were being developed to match the number of Marines normally occupying the hill. Therefore, not all Marines had a fighting hole.
Two Machine Bunkers and fighting holes defended the Hill. All manned by Marines and 2 bunkers under construction manned by local popular Force Vietnamese. The local PFs came from the surrounding villages. I believe they disappeared from their bunkers prior to the attack.
The positions were partially dug in and sandbagged above ground. They extended below the ground approximately 3 ft and 3-4 ft above ground. Some had sandbagged roofs and some were covered by fighting hole covers. The fighting holes were in good condition with others in the process of being constructed. All had walls at least 8 sandbags thick.
There was no wire on the position. It had been ordered and delivered while the company had been on Operation Cortez. During the company's absence, nothing had been done to improve the position. The brush surrounding the hill still needed to be cleared before the wire could be laid.
It was later learned that the VC had practiced that attack on a similar piece of terrain prior to the attack. The VC had used vine ropes to follow up the hill and after the attack the area was covered with 57mmRR fins, grenades, and other enemy combat gear.
This was the first major attack on a Marine position in that area since the Marines had occupied the Chu Lai area.
Shortly thereafter, the Battalion abandoned the platoon positions.
The above information has been taken from these sources:
1. 3/5 Command Chronologies for Jan-Dec 1966
2. 2/5 Command Chronologies for Jan-Nov 1966
3. 5th Marines Command Chronologies for Jun-Dec 1966
4. Task Force Xray Chronologies for Jul-Dec 1966
5. 3/5, 5th Mar, TF XRay, and 1st Marine Division message traffic Dec 1966
6. My memories of the action. JD Murray Jan 17, 2004
These nine Marines of 1st Platoon and one more, yet to be identified by us, lost their lives in the attack on Hill 71 that day.