Operation Allen Brook - 1968
By late April 1968, through reconnaissance observations and limited engagements, it was determined that the enemy had fed in an equivalent of an NVA Division in the area south of Da Nang. Major General Donn Robertson, the 1st Marine Division Commanding General, decided to change his tactics for the defense of Da Nang. Up to this time, the defense consisted of heavily patrolling the rocket belt extending in a semi-circle around Da Nang. With additional available troops, the 27th Marines, it was decided to fan out in deeper reaching, more mobile operations which would keep the NVA forces away from doing damage to the Da Nang area.
By the beginning of May 1968, both the Marines at Da Nang and the Communist forces in Quang Nam were in the midst of preparations to launch offense operations against one another. While during April the enemy in Quang Nam had largely confined its activities to guerrilla activities, the increased number of reconnaissance Stingray sightings indicated that Communist regulars were re-infiltrating their old positions. The Marine command was especially concerned about the Go Noi Island sector, about 25 kilometers South of Da Nang, outlined by the confluence of the Ky Lam, Ba Ren, and Chiem Son Rivers.
In the Go Noi, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in April had conducted Operation Jasper Square in the Western sector with relative limited contact. Never-the less, the Communists had controlled the area for years with the continued existence of both a Communist political and military command infrastructure there, local populace maintained a strong Viet Cong orientation, thus making the island a relatively "safe haven" for both NVA and VC military units. III MAF knew Go Noi was home to 3 local Viet Cong units, R-20 Battalion, V-25 Battalion, and T-3 Sapper Battalion, as well as Group 44, the headquarters for the enemy's operations in Quang Nam Province. It also suspected that elements of the 2nd NVA Division were trying to reconnect in the sector.
In early May, Maj. Gen. Don J. Robertson, the 1st Marine Division Commander, ordered the 7th Marines into the Go Noi to forestall the NVA from staging a new offense. On 4 May at 0500, Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Mueller's 2d Battalion, 7th Marines launched a two-Company " No Name Operation" into the Go Noi. Crossing Liberty Bridge at 0500, Companies E. and G, supported by a platoon of tanks, attacked eastwards toward the main north-south railroad tracks. On the first day of the operation, the Marines evacuated some 220 civilians, mostly old men, women, and children, out of the Go Noi to the district capital of Dai Loc.
In the first phase of the operation, which soon became Operation Allen Brook, the battalion encountered light although persistent resistance from enemy local forces and guerrilla units. For the next few days, the 2d Battalion attacked to the east towards the main north-south railroad tracks experiencing increasing but still relatively scattered opposition to their advance. Although the terrain was flat with relatively clear fields of fire, the local units were familiar with the locale and took full advantage of the advantages offered by the fortified Hamlet's that dotted the Go Noi. Surrounded and interlaced by defense hedges, these Hamlet's were connected one to another by a series of trenches and tunnels which provided "excellent cover and concealment" for their defenders.
While Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines relieved Company G on 7 May, Colonel Reverdy M. Hall, the 7th Marines Commander, also reinforced the 2d Battalion on the same day with Company K from the 3rd Battalion. Through 8 May, the Marine companies accounted for some 88 enemy troops killed at a cost of nine Marines killed and 57 wounded. On the 9th, about 1820, the sweep forces just west of the railroad tracks came under heavy small arms and machine gun fire as well as a mortar salvo outside the Hamlet of Xuan Dai (2). Taking casualties of one dead and 11 wounded, the infantry pulled back and called for artillery support and air strikes. After the last air mission, the Marine companies clambered over the tracks which fronted the Hamlet on the west and pushed into Xuan Dai (2). Thirty minutes after the initial action, the Marines secured the Hamlet. As a result of this action, the Marine Battalion reported 80 enemy killed. A Stingray patrol about 1900 observed some 200 enemy troops moving to the southwest of Xuan Dai (2) and called in both artillery and another air strike which resulted in a secondary explosion.
For the next four days, the Marines again met only sporadic resistance and encountered no regular NVA units. In fact, up through the 13th, the indications were that the enemy troops that the Marines had engaged to that point except for the fight for Xuan Dai (2) were from the usual VC units known to be in the Go Noi. Even the enemy forces in Xuan Dai (2) did not appear to be an NVA tactical unit. According to recovered documents and to a prisoner captured in the flight, the enemy in Xuan Dai (2) were from the 155th Battalion, 2nd NVA Regiment. Marine intelligence officers believed the 155th to be a temporary infiltration group rather than a regular NVA Battalion.
Hoping to find the suspected NVA regular units from the 2nd NVA Division believed to have returned to the Go Noi, the Marine command decided to reorient Allen Brook from east to west. On 13 May, General Robertson reinforced the 2d Battalion with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines. While the other three companies attached to the 2d Battalion reversed their direction, Marine helicopters lifted Company I, 27th Marines into a landing zone in the Que Son Mountains to the South overlooking Go Noi Island. The following day Company I moved down to blocking positions near the Ba Ren River were it was joined by the other Marine companies now advancing to the west. On the 15th, at 1400, the 2d Battalion with all four Marine Companies and the attached tanks arrived back at Liberty Bridge. In their reverse march, the Marines had encountered the same "harassing small arms and mortar fires and fluid guerrilla tactics" that had characterized the operation for the most part up to that time.
Operation Allen Brook appeared to be at an end. At least that was what the Marines wanted the enemy to believe. At 1800, on the 15th, Marine helicopters helilifted Company E and the command group of the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines out of the operational area. The Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Roger H. Barnard, then assumed command of the remaining forces and Allen Brook. To continue the "tactical deception," Lieutenant Colonel Barnard ordered the units still in Allen Brook to cross Liberty Bridge as if the Marines were closing out the operation. Then shortly after midnight on the 16th, the command group of the 3rd Battalion together with Companies A 1st Battalion and G of the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, together with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines, recrossed the Thu Bon River and "moved in single file undercover of darkness for security." Ironically, the 3rd Battalion had none of its own organic companies in the operation as it reached its line of departure about 2,500 meters northeast of Liberty Bridge, just north of the objective area, a few hours prior to dawn. According to Barnard, Colonel Hall, who had monitored the radio traffic, "was beside himself with the success" of the plan to re-enter the Go Noi.
Lieutenant Colonel Barnard remembered that his objective " was a suspected NVA installation.... we had reason to believe they did not know we were there...." According to the Battalion Commander he was to attack to the South with the mission " to search for, fix, and destroy the enemy." As the Marines advanced with two companies online and one in reserve, they were "hoping to execute a major surprise." In fact, both sides were to surprise one another. About 0900 on the morning of the 16th, 3rd Battalion encountered an NVA Battalion in the Hamlet of Phu Dong (2) about 4,000 meters west of Xuan Dai (2), the scene of the latest heaviest fighting. According to Barnard, " we hit a Hornet's nest." Two of his companies came under deadly machine gun fire and the Battalion Commander described the situation " like being in the butts at the rifle range." The Marine Battalion tried to flank the enemy position, but as Barnard recalled, "we needed more resources then we had for the situation." He recalled that even maximum supporting artillery and mortar fire failed to break the NVA defenses. Finally, extensive close air support, including over 50 air strikes, "carried the day." By early evening, the Marine infantry which had fought continuously throughout the day in the oppressive heat finally forced the NVA out of their trenches and bunkers. Afraid of encirclement, the enemy withdrew leaving more than 130 dead at the Hamlet. Marine losses were also heavy: 25 dead and 38 wounded. One Marine, 2nd Lieutenant Paul F. Cobb, a platoon leader with Company A, and one Navy Hospital Corpsman, Robert M. Casey with Company G, were both awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for their actions in the fight for Phu Dong (2).
Despite Marine losses, Colonel Hall, the 7th Marines Commander, believed that his plan had been a success. Barnard's unit had uncovered the North Vietnamese units in the Go Noi and hit them before they were able to mass their forces. Lieutenant Colonel Barnard later wrote, "when all enemy resistance ceased and the dust had settled it was clear we had... achieved a significant victory." The suspected NVA installation was an "NVA Regimental Headquarters, with attendant security and a major staging area for supplies..." The Battalion Commander remembered that the enemy supplies were so extensive, that they could not evacuate them to the rear. Marine helicopters, however, took out the casualties and the Battalion "received water and ammo re-supply." Col. Hall directed Barnard to continue his southward advance the next morning.
After an uneventful night, in which the Battalion had moved twice, it started out at dawn from a line of departure, just north of the Hamlet Le Bac (2). Advancing southward, the Battalion was again in a column of companies, with Company I, 27th Marines in the lead, and Companies A and G of the 7th Marines, and the Battalion command group, following in trace. Lieutenant Colonel Barnhard remembered, "we were in open country, without a defined objective." If Company I made contact, Barnard planned to use Company A as a maneuver unit and Company G. in reserve.
As events turned out, the Marine Battalion ran into even stronger resistance then the previous day. That morning, as Company I came upon a dry river bed with a densely wooded tree line on the northern bank bordering the Hamlet of Le Nam (1) just above route 537, the North Vietnamese sprung an ambush from elaborate defenses " of significant width." Strong enemy resistance and the terrain combined to prevent Lieutenant Colonel Barnard's initial efforts to come to the assistance of his embattled Company. Upon hearing of the contact and the extent of the enemy defenses, he immediately ordered Company A to attempt to flank the enemy from the west. While the ground was flat, it was covered with tall grass which impeded the flanking movement. In the meantime, as the reports from Company I "were not good," Bernard ordered Company G to join the embattled unit. Enemy resistance, however, proved too strong and prevented Company G from advancing. A frustrated Battalion Commander called for artillery and air support. He remembered that his command group with Company A struggled through the tall grass, he had his artillery and air officers "calling mission after mission...." The situation for Company I was already desperate when Colonel Hall, the 7th Marines Commander, radioed Barnard that the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines would make a helicopter assault to the South in order to relieve the pressure on his Battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel Tullis J. Woodham, Jr., the commanding office or of the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines, remembered that his unit had been on alert for Allen Brook and was to relieve 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. In fact the 27th Marines, under Colonel Adolph G. Schwenk, Jr., was scheduled to take responsibility for the operation from the 7th Marines later that day. Early on the morning of the 17th, Lieutenant Colonel Woodham had received orders to truck his Battalion down to Liberty Bridge and then cross the Bridge on foot to make the planned relief. At this point, he had only two of his companies with him, Companies K and I. His Company M was the Danang Air Base security company and Company I, of course, was attached to Barnard's Battalion. Upon learning of the predicament of his Company I, Woodham conferred with Schwenk and agreed-upon the helicopter assault. For the time being, Woodham's Battalion would be under the operational control of the 7th Marines.
After some unexpected delays in the arrival of the aircraft and in coordination with the air preparation of the landing zone, about 1500 on the 17th, Marine helicopters finally brought the Battalion into An Tam (1) about 1,000 meters southeast of Le Nam. Even as the Battalion landed, it came under mortar and long-range weapons fire. Despite the enemy fire, the two Marine companies immediately attacked northward to link up with the 3rd battalion, 7th Marines. With extensive air and artillery support, Company K, 27th Marines broke through the enemy's defenses in Le Nam (1), and finally linked up with Company I about 1930 that evening. According to the Lieutenant Colonel Woodham, as darkness approached, the North Vietnamese resistance ceased and they began to withdraw from the battle area.
The heavy fighting for Le Nam (1) had resulted in 39 Marines dead and 105 wounded as opposed to 81 North Vietnamese dead. Company I especially had suffered grievous losses. Of the total Marine casualties in the battle, Company I had sustained 15 killed and 50 wounded. Among the dead were Captain Thomas H. Ralph and two of his platoon leaders. The casualties of the Company may have been even higher if it had not been for the heroics of Private First Class Robert C. Burke. A machine gunner with the company, he quickly took his weapon "and launched a series of one-man assaults" against the enemy emplacements. Providing covering fire, he permitted other members of Company I to come up and remove the wounded from exposed positions. He continued to advance upon the enemy and to suppress enemy fire until he fell mortally wounded. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
During the night of 17 May, the two Marine Battalions, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines, remained is separate positions, but in radio contact. Lieutenant Colonel Barnard had moved to a night position near Cu Ban (4), about 1,200 meters to the northwest of Le Nam (1), while Lieutenant Colonel Woodham retained his command group at AnTam (1). About 1900, Lieutenant Colonel Barnard had turned over operational control of Company I to Woodham and then began preparations to start out on the 18th for Liberty Bridge. Essentially, Operation Allen Brook was over for the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, which would leave as planned the next day and be replaced by the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
By that time the 27th Marines, under Colonel Schwenk, had assumed responsibility for Operation Allen Brook which would continue in the Go Noi. On the morning of the 18th, Lieutenant Colonel Woodham began to expand his perimeter around Le Nam. At 0930, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines began to take sniper fire from Le Bac (2), about 300 meters to the north. Lieutenant Colonel Woodham immediately sent Companies K and L to clear out what he thought were a relatively few snipers. The "few snipers" turned out to be a formidable North Vietnamese Force which quickly brought the Marines attacked to a halt. Under an "exceedingly heavy" volume of fire, the lead elements of both companies I and K remained isolated and unable to maneuver. Woodham called for both artillery and air, but their effectiveness was limited because of the proximity of the Marines to the enemy. Both companies, but especially Company K, sustained severe casualties and the intolerable heat soon became as much a factor as the enemy bullets.
At 1500 that afternoon, Marine helicopters brought in Company M, which had already been alerted to replace the combat impaired Company I. As the latter Company boarded the helicopters for the return trip to Da Nang, Woodham thrust the newly arrived Company M into the battle for Le Bac (2). With the reinforcements, Company K which had taken the most casualties, was able to pull back and Lieutenant Colonel Woodham placed it in reserve. The fighting raged on until the night when NVA withdrew. The Marine companies pulled back to Le Nam (1) and Woodham brought in air and artillery to the rear of the former NVA positions. The Battalion had sustained serious casualties: 15 Marines were dead, another 35 were wounded, and 94 troops had succumbed to the heat. In and around the abandoned enemy position lay 20 dead North Vietnamese.
Operation Allen Brook would continue to focus through 27 May largely on the Chu Ban, Phu Dong, and Le Bac Village complexes. Beginning with the action of the 16th, the 7th, and later that 27th Marines, were in a more or less of a conventional battle against well dug in and relatively fresh and well-trained North Vietnamese regulars. Colonel Schwenk, 27th Marines Commander, commented that while the enemy troops did not initiate any offense actions, they fought back " tenaciously" from concealed positions within tree-lines and in the Hamlet's themselves. To offset the Marine advantage in supporting arms, the NVA will allow "the point of advancing units to pass through" and then open up on the "main body" with both intense small arms fire and mortars. At this close range, the Marine command can then make only limited use of artillery and air support.
To counter this tactic, the 27th Marines used heavy preparatory fires from both U.S. Navy gunfire ships offshore and artillery in coordination with air strikes to blast the enemy out of their bunkers and trenches before moving into an area. If a Marine unit encountered heavy small arms fire, it was either to hold its position or move back so that the supporting arms could be employed as much as possible under the circumstances. Colonel Schwenk remarked "that tanks with their 90 mm guns proved most effective in these circumstances", both high explosive rounds to breach enemy fortifications and with canister rounds against troops in the open. Schwenk wrote that once he committed to tanks, "the enemy would break contact almost immediately." The tanks were also at a disadvantage, however, in that terrain " caused... [them] to become channelized making them highly vulnerable to RPG fire and mines." On 24 May, two Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines, Corporal Richard W. Buchanan from Company M and Private First Class Charles R. Yordy, from Company K were later awarded the Navy Cross for their actions that day in Le Bac (1) about 800 meters northwest of Le Bac (2). The fight for Le Bac (2) lasted until the 27th and featured some of the heaviest combat of the campaign until a torrential rain storm ended the fighting. Lieutenant Colonel Donald N. Rexroad, the Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, remembered that his Battalion near the end of the month overran "an apparent NVA regimental command post."
Casualties on both sides had been heavy. For the entire operation through the end of May, the Marines reported to have killed over 600 of the enemy. They themselves sustained since the beginning of the operation 138 killed, 686 wounded including 576 serious enough to be evacuated, and another 283 non-battle casualties that had to be evacuated. The number of heat induced "non-battle casualties" had soared towards the end because of the extreme high temperatures averaging 110 degrees and the physical exertion expended in the firefights. In many engagements, the number of heat casualties equaled or exceeded the number of Marines killed and wounded.
In Operation Allen Brook, the Marines believed they had broken the back of a planned enemy attack on Da Nang. Colonel Hall of the 7th Marines later wrote that his 3rd Battalion's re-entry into the Go Noi under cover of darkness in the early morning hours of 16 May foiled the designs of the enemy which had begun to stage its forces. Hall observed that the North Vietnamese unit engaged by his units was from the 36th Regiment, 308th NVA Division. According to a North Vietnamese prisoner from the second Battalion of that Regiment, his unit had departed North Vietnam in February and only arrived in Go Noi the night of the 15th with orders to assault allied positions north of the Thu Bon and Ky Lam Rivers. The 27th Marines would later engage both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of 36th during the fighting in the Chu Ban and Le Bac complexes.
The appearance of 36th Regiment in the Go Noi was of some concern to the Marine command. III MAF and the 1st Marine Division had expected to find elements of the 2nd NVA Division which previously had used the sector during the Tet offense. This was the first evidence that any unit of the 308th NVA Division had ventured so far south. There were already indications that the North Vietnamese had built up their regular forces in the Da Nang sector. From 16 - 25 May, just to the east of the Marine units on the Go Noi, the 51st ARVN regiment, reinforced by two Ranger battalions, in a series of running battles engaged approximately two NVA battalions. While sustaining casualties of 53 dead and a 144 wounded, the ARVN claimed to have killed 284 of the enemy during this period.
During the last four days of May, the 1st Marine Division rotated fresh units into the Allen Brook area of operations. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick J. McEwan's 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, and Lieutenant Colonel John E. Greenwood's 1st Battalion, 27th Marines relieved Lieutenant Colonel Woodham's 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines two days later. As May ended, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines departed Go Noi Island an became the 1st Marine Division reserve.
Thereafter, III MAF maintained at least two battalions in Operation Allen Brook. At the beginning of June, both the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines were involved, still under the control of the 27th Marines headquarters. The 1st Marine Division expanded the area of operations to include the 27th Marines forward command post at Liberty Bridge, as well as about 35 square kilometers of rice farming area Southwest of Go Noi Island.
The Regiment's orders called for an ongoing "search and clear" operation, a euphemism for the tedious process of methodically searching an area for enemy personnel, facilities, supplies, and equipment. When carried out to the degree of thoroughness which provided a measure of success, the procedure was slow and sometimes ponderous. The extreme heat encountered during Operation Allen Brook, combined with the terrain that included man high elephant grass, as well as a hostile, uncooperative local population and frequent encounters with booby traps and mines, made the "search and clear" mission far more challenging that it's named applied.
On the morning of 1 June, a flight of nine Lockheed C - 130 Hercules Aircraft conducted what was accurately known as an "inferno mission", dropping more than 31,000 gallons of fuel in 55 gallon drums with igniters attached. While the intent was to burn away a considerable portion of the islands foliage, the mission was not as useful as desired due to excessive dispersion of fuel and a heavy thunderstorm that fell on the drop.
After this disappointment, the two battalions of Marines began the process of physically searching the area for signs of the enemy. The Marines trudged steadily across the Island, from the west to the east and then back to the west again. Short, sharp contacts resulted when enemy troops fired from well concealed positions, causing the Marines to return fire and to call for supporting arms. Upon overrunning the area from which the enemy had fired, the Marines usually found little or nothing. Occasionally, Marines detonated mines or booby-traps (referred to as surprise firing devices in the reporting system), often times disguised as soft drink cans, tea bags, or even "Chieu Hoi" leaflets. At night, with the Marines in defensive positions, the enemy would fire on listening posts from close range, or use of mortars to harass the main parameters. These activities caused additional casualties and further frustration for the Marines, who could not strike back effectively.
By 3 June, the 27th Marines had found little evidence of the enemy, causing the 1st Marine Division to determine that the " recent lack significant contact indicates that enemy forces departed Allen Brook A0". Accordingly, the Division reduced the scale of Operation Allen Brook, ordering the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to depart Go Noi Island for operations elsewhere, and shrinking the Allen Brook A0. It would now include only that portion of Go Noi Island west of the National Railroad Track and a small area on the north bank of the Song Thu Bon, opposite the Island.
The 27th Marines ordered the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to move westward along Route 537 on its departure from the Island, continuing the "search and clear" process along the way. Simultaneously, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines also would move westward, on the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.
By mid morning on 5 June, as Company D and the two battalions were approaching their final objectives, having lost 4 killed and 26 wounded to sniper fire and mines along the way. As Company D, 26th Marines, under 1st Lieutenant Daniel L. McGravey, neared the hamlet of Chu Ban (3), North Vietnamese hidden in a trench line and bunkers to the South fired on the 1st Platoon. The Marines maneuvered to one flank, attempting to envelop the enemy, and Communist mortars joined the action. At the same time, 500 meters to the east, Company B, 26th Marines, under Captain James H. Champion, also came under heavy fire and had a platoon caught in the open, unable to maneuver.
As the Marines called for mortars, artillery, and air support to assist in suppressing the enemy fire, Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood, commanding the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, dispatched his Company C, commanded by Captain Martin T. Farmer, to assist the beleaguered 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. Company C hurried southward and made contact with the northern most flank of Company B, 26th Marines, then swung to the west and assaulted the nearby Communist positions. Almost immediately, Captain Farmer and his second in command were wounded by mortar fire. Attacking without "a proper base of fire" and without near the time to "adequately reconnoiter" enemy positions, Company C, said Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood later, "lost momentum, faltered, and stopped."
Company D, 26th Marines was still heavily engaged near Chu Ban (3) and now, both Company B, 26th Marines and Company C, 27th Marines were being held down by enemy fire 500 meters east of the hamlet. The Communists fighting from the well covered and expertly concealed positions, kept up heavy fire with rifles, machine guns, and mortars. The Marines, long accustomed to the luxury of fire superiority, found that they were unable to employ their supporting arms effectively in such close quarters without endangering friendly troops.
As casualties mounted, helicopters landed under fire to evacuate the wounded. Two Sikorsky UH-34 " Sea Horse" helicopters suffered hits in the process, but neither were lost. In mid afternoon, with the fight still raging, Company A, 27th Marines, accompanied by three tanks, departed Liberty Bridge to join the fray. Supported by the tanks and carefully using artillery and air support, the Marines attacked and overran enemy the positions.
The Marines lost 7 killed and 55 wounded in this hard fought, but confused, action. They found 30 North Vietnamese dead. A machine gunner with Company C, 1st battalion, 27th Marines summed up the battle from an infantryman's perspective: "We had a bad ass fire flight... it lasted for a while. Then we moved on."
Although the Marines had finally made solid contact with the enemy, the plan to reduce the Operation Allen Brook commitment to a single Battalion remained in effect. On 6 June, the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines left the area and elements of the 1st Engineer Battalion arrived with the heavy equipment needed for the new task assigned to Operation Allen Brook forces: the virtual raising of Go Noi Island. The new mission called for the 27th Marines to "provide support and protection for an engineer effort to systematically eliminate all fortifications, dwellings, harbor sites, and hedgerows roles in the A0. The first area scheduled to be cleared was Chu Ban (3).
The clearing project presented many challenges especially since Go Noi Island was thoroughly infested with well constructed enemy field fortifications. The typical Go Noi bunker, based on a deep hole, had overhead protection constructed from rails and ties from the nearby National Railroad. Some actually included concrete. Covered with earth and camouflaged effectively, these positions were invisible from the air and only barely apparent from the ground. In some areas, farmers had worked away the ground surrounding the bamboo groves for so long that the groves appeared to be raised on flat mounds of hard earth. The Communists burrowed under these groves to construct hidden bunkers with firing slits at ground level. In addition to the fortifications built by the NVA and VC for their own use, the hamlet contained bunkers built by the local populace for family protection. These bunkers, also built with materials salvaged from the National Railroad, featured sloped roofs which deflected bombs and artillery projectiles. So strong were these bunkers that some were undamaged by 2,000 lb. bombs donating 50 feet away.
As the engineers went about the business of destroying bunkers and filling in trench lines Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood provided them security and continued a program of aggressive patrolling with his four companies. Contact with the enemy remained sporadic. As before the battle at Chu Ban, the enemy contented themselves with occasional sniping, attacks on listening posts, harassing mortar fire on Company night positions, and an ever increasing number of mines and booby-traps. Marines continued to fall prey to the heat as well as to enemy action, for the daily temperature averaged 100 degrees, with humidity greater than 80 percent. In the still, thick air, heat casualties sometimes ran as high as 10 percent, causing commanders to limit troop activity to the early morning and late afternoon. While moving, the Marines did not carry excess equipment, sometimes even leaving behind even their flak jackets. To further exacerbate the Marine problems with the intense heat, the enemy contaminated the water wells in the area with oil and dead animal carcasses and the local river water was seemingly impervious to the attempts to purify it with halazone tablets.
The Battalion continued the "search and clear" routine (while the engineers gave a whole new meaning to the clearing aspects of the mission) without significant contact until 15 June. At 0330 that morning, behind a curtain of B-40 rockets and heavy automatic weapons fire, Communist troops fell upon Company B's night position near the National Railroad. The Marines returned fire with all organic weapons, from rifles to anti-tank rockets, and called for artillery fire support. In the face of Company B's tenacious defense, the North Vietnamese broke off their attack and attempted to flee, but Company B Marines pursued the broken enemy into the night, ending the engagement decisively. The next day, the Marines tallied 21 dead North Vietnamese, all victims of the abortive attack. Company B suffered only three wounded.
The 1st Marine Division ordered the area of operations extended to permit the Allen Brook forces to venture east of the National Railroad in pursuit of the enemy. Early on 19 June, and ad hoc force composed of elements of Company's B and D (under the command of the executive officer of Company B) ran into a North Vietnamese force near the hamlet of Bac Dong Ban. One Marine platoon immediately went to ground in the face of overwhelming enemy fire. As the Marines called for air and artillery, another ad hoc Company (also composed of elements of companies B and D) moved to the rescue under the command of Company B's commanding officer, First Lieutenant Richard M. Wozar.
The North Vietnamese were thoroughly dug in, occupying a line of trenches and bunkers with their backs to the Song Ky Lam. For nine hours, the battle raged with neither side able to gain the upper hand. Finally, at 1800, the Battalion command group, with Company A and a platoon from Company C arrived an attacked from the West. Swinging northward, the reinforcements assaulted the enemy positions while Company B and D provided a base fire. By 1900, the Marines overwhelmed the enemy suffering 6 dead, 19 wounded, and 12 heat casualties. By noon the next day, the Marines found 17 North Vietnamese dead.
The fight at Bac Dong Ban was the 1st Battalion's last major battle in Operation Allen Brook. After completing a sweep of the eastern portion of Go Noi Island, they departed the area on 23 June and in their place, the 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines assumed responsibility for Operation Allen Brook. That night the North Vietnamese welcomed the fresh Battalion to Go Noi Island with 60 rounds of mortar fire on Companies E, F and H.
The 2nd Battalion, tasked to continue the land clearing operations on Go Noi Island, intent on carrying out a program of "total destruction." The policy included elimination of natural assembly areas, concealing foliage, tree lines, bamboo groves, hedgerows, trenchlines, fighting holes, caves, bunkers, tunnels, building structures, and any natural or man-made feature providing cover. Material which could be used to build bunkers, such as concrete blocks, beams, posts, pillars, and tree trunks, would be destroyed by crushing or burning. In the words of the Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Albert W. Keller "we were to level that island."
This 2nd Battalion experienced only light enemy contact throughout its stay at Go Noi Island. The enemy appeared only in small groups, usually fleeing when sighted by the Marines. Because of the sporadic nature of enemy contact, much of the Battalion's effort centered on land clearing, in one 18 - day period, the engineers completely leveled the largest forested area on Go Noi Island. Lieutenant Colonel Keller later remarked that "by the time we destroyed and leveled that whole area... It looked almost like a parking lot for a major ballpark in the United States." As part of its land clearing effort, the Battalion arranged two air delivered herbicide missions which "were found to be quite effective."
On 16 July, the 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines departed Go Noi Island, having reported killing 144 enemy at a cost of 4 Marines dead and 147 wounded. Simultaneously, the 3rd battalion, 27th Marines moved into the area and assumed responsibility for Operation Allen Brook. The character of the operation remained on changed as the companies of the 3rd battalion alternated between patrolling and providing security for the engineers who were methodically scraping the Island clean. The Communists continued to avoid significant engagement, but they did muster the temerity to fire on the aircraft which sprayed the Island with herbicides on 18 July and 21 July. Meanwhile, the Marines continued to fire on small groups of enemy or on Vietnamese voices heard in the night, then search the areas later to find an occasional body or bloody trail.
Although it appeared that the NVA Battalions once thought to be based on Go Noi Island were gone, intelligence sources indicated that the Communists would soon try to reoccupy the area. At the request of the 1st Marine Division, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/7 (Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force "B") launched Operation Swift Play on 23 July 1968, only 17 hours after having embarked on board amphibious shipping at the close of Operation Eager Yankee in Thua Thien Province.
Designed to complement Operation Allen Brook, Operation Swift Play was a surprise thrust into the Da The Mountain area, 6 km south to Go Noi Island. After landing by helicopter, BLT 2/7 swept north toward the Song Chiem Son and the Allen Brook area of operations. During the week long sweep, the Marines of BLT 2/7 uncovered numerous enemy caches and basic areas, including what appeared to be a training center, complete with lecture Hall, carefully hidden in the steep, forested mountains. On 31 July, BLT 2/7 crossed the Chiem Son to Go Noi Island and relieved the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines of responsibility for Operation Allen Brook. Three days later, the 27th Marines ended its participation in the operation altogether, passing control it to the BLT 2/7 Marines, which had previously exchanged its area of operations near Phu Bai with the 26th Marines.
Land clearing operations continued until the Communists launched their long-awaited "third offensive" on 23 August. With the enemy activity on Go Noi Island only minimal, the First Marine Division terminated Operation Allen Brook so that the forces could be employed to battle the enemy forces threatening Da Nang. Company E remained behind temporarily to escort the engineers to Liberty Bridge while the remainder of BLT 2/7 departed by helicopter. On 24 August, as Company E and the engineer convoy of trucks and earth moving equipment headed westward the enemy harassed them with sporadic sniper fire until they cleared Go Noi Island.
Operation Allen Brook lasted three and one-half months and resulted in 917 enemy killed. An additional 11 were captured, and two rallied to the Government of Vietnam. The III MAF units which sought to bring Go Noi Island under government control lost 170 Marines and 2 sailors killed in action and a further 1,124 wounded. Even more fell to heat, disease, snake bite, accidents, and a host of other hazards.
U.S. Marines In Vietnam: The Defining Year 1968
By Jack Shulimson, Lt. Col. Leonard A, Blasiol (USMC),
Charles R. Smith & Capt. David A. Dawson (USMC)
U.S. Marines In Vietnam: The Defining Year 1968
By Jack Shulimson, Lt. Col. Leonard A, Blasiol (USMC),
Charles R. Smith & Capt. David A. Dawson (USMC)