Operation Hastings was an American military operation in the Vietnam War. The operation was a qualified success in that it pushed the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces back across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). As the NVA clearly did not feel constrained by the "demilitarized" nature of the DMZ, US military leadership ordered a steady build-up of U.S. Marines near the DMZ from 1966 to 1968.
During late June and early July 1966, Marine reconnaissance units operating south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) had observed and engaged increased numbers of uniformed regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops.:159 On 6 July, troops of the ARVN 1st Division captured an NVA soldier near The Rockpile who identified himself as being from the 812th Regiment of the 324B NVA Division and advised that the other regiments of the division had also moved into South Vietnam.:160 On 9 July a lieutenant from the 812th Regiment surrendered in the same area and advised that the 324B Division's mission was to liberate Quang Tri Province.:160
Convinced that the NVA had moved across the DMZ in force, Major-General Wood B. Kyle, Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division recommended to General Lew Walt that the US launch an operation to drive back the NVA. General Walt passed on this recommendation to COMUSMACV, General Westmoreland, who gave his approval.:160 On 11 July Brigadier General Lowell English, Assistant Division Commander of the 3rd Marine Division met with General Truong, commanding General of the ARVN 1st Division and Colonel Sherman, commander of the 4th Marines at the 1st Division HQ in Huế to plan the operation. It was decided that a Marine task force would move into the area south of the DMZ to participate in Operation Hastings (the name given to Marine DMZ reconnaissance operations on 7 July), while ARVN forces would launch Operation Lam Son 289 south of the Marines.:161
On 13 July Task Force Delta became operational under the command of General English with Colonel Sherman as Chief of Staff. The Task Force consisted of four infantry Battalions, 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, 1st Battalion 3rd Marines, 2nd Battalion 4th Marines and 3rd Battalion 4th Marines, one artillery Battalion 3rd Battalion 12th Marines and various supporting forces. General English established his command post at Cam Lộ.:161
Intelligence determined that the 90th NVA Regiment with an estimated strength of 1500 men was using the Song Ngan River Valley some 10 km northwest of Cam Lo as an infiltration route and that the command post of the 324B Division was located on Hill 208 overlooking the southwest of the Valley. The plans for the operation were for 3/4 Marines to be helilifted into the southwestern part of the Valley to establish blocking positions, while 2/4 Marines would land at the mouth of the valley and move southwest along the high ground towards Hill 208 and 3/4's positions. 2/1 Marines would secure Đông Hà while 1/3 Marines would protect Cam Lộ Combat Base and 3/12 Marines' artillery. SLF 3rd Battalion 5th Marines would launch Operation Deckhouse II, 13 km northeast of Đông Hà on 16 July and after establishing positions ashore Deckhouse would be terminated and 3/5 Marines would join Task Force Delta. The 1st ARVN Division and an airborne task force would launch Operation Lam Son 289 to the west of Route 1, with the 1st Division operating north of Đông Hà and the airborne operating south of Route 9.:163
D-Day in Helicopter Valley
On the morning of 15 July, A-4 Skyhawks from MAG-12 and F-4B Phantoms from MAG-11 began bombing and napalming the two landing zones, LZ Crow ( ), 8 km northeast of the Rockpile and LZ Dove ( ) at the mouth of the Valley, 5 km northeast of Crow. At 07:25 3/12 artillery took over the bombardment of LZ Crow and at 07:45 20 CH-46s of HMM-164 and HMM-265 began landing 3/4 Marines on LZ Crow. While the Marines met no initial resistance, LZ Crow proved to be too small for the operation, two CH-46s collided and crashed while a third CH-46 hit a tree while trying to avoid the other two. As a result of these collisions, two Marines were killed and seven injured. All three CH-46s were too badly damaged to be recovered and would have to be destroyed.:164 Later that day another CH-46 carrying men from 2/1 Marines was hit by NVA fire and crashed killing 13 Marines. Marines promptly renamed the Song Ngan as "Helicopter Valley".:165
Companies K and L began establishing blocking positions around LZ Crow while Company I stayed in reserve. Company K took fire and soon located a 200-bed hospital and some 1200 rounds of ammunition. Company K continued on to their objective 1.8 kilometres (1.1 mi) south of LZ Crow, but they were repulsed by NVA fire as they tried to cross the Ngan River with the loss of three Marines killed and five wounded. Company K decided to set up night positions on a hill 180 metres (200 yd) from the river. The NVA were now aware of the arrival of 3/4 Marines and the Battalion started to come under sustained small arms, machine gun and mortar fire. By 19:30, the Battalion CO Lt Col Vale reported that his Battalion was surrounded but 30 minutes later under artillery and tactical air fire the NVA withdrew. At 20:15 a reinforced NVA Company attacked Company K's position and only withdrew after 3 hours of fighting, the following morning 25 NVA bodies were found in front of the position.:166
At 09:35 HMM-164 and HMM-265's CH-46s began lifting three Companies of 2/4 Marines into LZ Dove. Once landed, 2/4 Marines began moving west towards 3/4 Marines but their progress was hindered by high elephant grass and oppressive heat and humidity. 2/4 Marines were unable to move to assist 3/4 Marines and set up night positions with orders to abandon the move towards Hill 208 and proceed directly to join 3/4 Marines in the morning.:166–167
The NVA launched mortars into 3/4 Marines CP in the morning and the Marines responded with airstrikes and artillery. Company K was still unable to cross the Song Ngan, but the other two Companies were able to patrol unmolested to the north and northwest. 2/4 Marines set off at dawn towards 3/4's position and engaged the NVA several times calling in close air strikes before linking up with 3/4 at 14:45. At 19:30 the NVA again attacked Company K's position making three attacks over three and a half hours, the Marines suffered 1 dead, 5 seriously wounded and over 40 wounded from grenades thrown at short range. The NVA dragged away some of their dead but the Marines counted 79 bodies the following morning.:167
General English decided to deploy 2/1 Marines and they were lifted into LZ Robin (HMM-161, HMM-163, HMM-164 and HMM-265. At 16:00 a platoon of Marines from the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company rapelled from a MAG-16 helicopter onto the summit of the Rockpile, three hours later they spotted an NVA force to their east and called in artillery fire from 3/12 Marines killing 21 NVA and later that night called in further fire on suspected NVA positions south of the Rockpile.:168) 3 km northeast of LZ Crow by 30 helicopters of
Based on the sightings from the Rockpile, 2/1 Marines were redeployed from LZ Robin to the river valley near the Rockpile by helicopters of MAG-16 on the morning of 17 July. In Helicopter Valley there was little contact with the NVA, but 3/4 Marines gave up trying to push south and anticipating further night attacks they established a common perimeter with 2/4 Marines. General English ordered the two Battalions to withdraw to the northeast the following day, 2/4 was to establish blocking positions below the DMZ while 3/4 would move to the south of 2/4 and then attack south and take Hill 208.:168–169 With the conclusion of Operation Deckhouse II on the morning of 18 July 3/5 Marines would be inserted into a small valley 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) south of the Song Ngan in a suspected NVA marshalling area, this area also provided a possible escape route for NVA retreating from 3/4's advance on Hill 208.:169
At LZ Crow on the morning of 18 July 2/4 Marines swept north towards their new positions which they reached without incident by mid-afternoon. At 14:00 3/4 Marines began to move out leaving Company K as a rearguard to provide security for the Battalion CP and the engineers who were tasked with destroying captured ammunition and the three crashed CH-46s. At 14:30 the NVA began mortaring the position and then attacked with infantry.:169 As the Marines had filled in their fighting holes they quickly had to dig them out again as an estimated 1000 NVA attacked. Company K's 1st Platoon bore the brunt of the assault and its squads were separated from each other as small groups of NVA moved between them. Airstrikes were called in as close as 45m from the Marines and Lt Col Vale called for Company L to return to the LZ and for 2/4 Marines to provide support. By 17:00 Company L had arrived at the LZ and a Company from 2/4 Marines occupied high ground overlooking the LZ and 1st Platoon of Company K was able to withdraw but had to leave their dead behind. By 17:00 2/4 and 3/4 had established a common perimeter 1.7 kilometres (1.1 mi) northeast of LZ Crow. 3/4 Marines had suffered 14 dead and 49 wounded while the NVA had suffered 138 known dead with estimates as high as 500. Captain Robert Modrzejewski, CO of Company K and Sergeant John McGinty commander of the 1st Platoon would each be awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.:171
3/5 Marines were lifted into their position on the afternoon of 18 July. Only Company M encountered any serious resistance and after calling in airstrikes they overran the NVA positions killing 21.:171
On 19 July Company K was pulled out for rest and the remainder of 3/4 Marines were assigned blocking positions while 2/4 Marines reorganised for the assault on Hill 208. On the morning of 20 July following intense airstrikes, 2/4 assaulted up Hill 208, but found the heavily fortified position abandoned.:171 3/4 Marines was pulled out and replaced by 1/3 Marines on 21 July.:174
On 20 July 1/1 Marines joined 3/5 Marines in the valley below the Song Ngan and they met light but persistent resistance from small groups of NVA as they patrolled to the west. General English also ordered 2/1 Marines to deploy and establish blocking positions at the western end of the valley 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of the Rockpile.:172 On the night of 21 July 2/1 Marines came under fire across their entire front and responded with small arms, mortar and artillery fire to break up the attack. The Marines suffered two dead, while the number of NVA casualties was unknown.:173
On 21 July Company H, 2/4 Marines returned to LZ Crow to recover the Marine dead left behind on 18 July. The bodies of all eight Marines were found unmolested and still with all their weapons and equipment. On 22 July the other companies of 2/4 joined Company H and began patrolling through Helicopter Valley.:171 During these two days of the operation, which also included search and destroy missions, on 21 July elements of one platoon of Company H were fired upon and the point man hit and killed by machine gun fire. At that point LCPL Richard David Kaler immediately moved forward through the heavy fire and carried the fallen Marine back. On 22 July Kaler's platoon re-engaged the position and took heavy casualties and was pinned down by machine gun fire. LCPL Kaler then advanced and exposed himself to intense fire and charged the enemy positions. In this attack, and after being wounded in the thigh, LCPL Kaler silenced one enemy position before being mortally wounded. He was credited by his actions with saving many of his fellow Marines and was awarded the Navy Cross.
On 24 July Company I, 3/5 Marines was setting up a radio relay station on Hill 362 approximately 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) north of the Rockpile. As the 2nd Platoon moved to establish forward defences on the hillside the NVA opened fire from concealed positions. LCPL Richard A. Pittman of the 1st Platoon ran forward with a machine gun to cover the retreat of the 2nd Platoon and he and the survivors retreated to the crest of the hill, but the dead and wounded were left behind. One of the survivors hid among the dead as the NVA moved forward finishing off any surviving Marines. The NVA then dropped accurate mortar fire on the crest of Hill 362 for the next two hours until a Marine UH-1E Gunship from VMO-2 silenced them. Company K moved to support Company I, but was stopped by heavy fire despite air and artillery support. Company I was also battered by heavy rains from Typhoon Ora and this and the thick jungle canopy complicated the evacuation of wounded. Eventually engineers were lowered in to cut out an LZ, but only 11 wounded were able to be evacuated. The NVA made repeated assaults on Company I closing to within 5m at times, the Marines could hear the NVA talking and breathing nearby. By dawn the NVA had pulled out, Company I had suffered 18 dead and 82 wounded, 21 NVA bodies were found and two prisoners taken. Prisoner interrogation revealed that the Marines had been attacked by the 6th Battalion of the NVA 812th Regiment. LCPL Pittman was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hill 362.:173
On 25 July Generals Kyle and English met at Dong Ha and decided to withdraw Task Force Delta to the south due to the difficult terrain for manoevure and the lack of LZs for helicopter assaults.:174
26 July – 3 August
On 26 July 1/1 Marines moved south to Cam Lộ. 3/5 Marines continued to sweep to the west and operate north of the Rockpile. On 27 July 2/1 Marines moved east towards the Rockpile.:174 In Helicopter Valley, 2/4 Marines was replaced by 2/9 Marines on 26 July and on 27 July 1/3 and 2/9 and marched south out of the valley. Despite the withdrawal of the Battalions, Marine recon patrols continued to operate in the Hastings operations area and on 28 July a recon patrol spotted 150–250 NVA 5 km southwest of the Rockpile and called in artillery strikes killing at least 50 NVA. Following a report of this mission General Walt christened such recon patrols as "Stingray Patrols." While Operation Hastings officially ended on 3 August, the action on 28 July was the last major action of the Operation and it appeared that the 324B Division had either crossed back over the DMZ or dispersed into jungle to the west. General Walt described the NVA troops encountered during Operation Hastings as follows: "We found them well-equipped, well-trained and aggressive to the point of fanaticism. They attacked in massed formations and died by the hundreds".:174–175
Contemporary news reporting
- "U.S. Accused of Zone Violation". NY Times. 1966-07-20. p. 3.
- Tuohy, William (1966-07-24). "N. Viet Division Fails in Aim to Seize 2 Cities". LA Times. pp. E1.
- "A Prisoner's Tip Sparks A Battle". NY Times. 1966-07-25. p. 2.
- "Division from the North". Time. 1966-07-29. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- "B-52s Attack 3 Red Positions In S. Vietnam". Washington Post/Times Herald. 1966-07-29. pp. A1.
- "Hanoi's Humanitarianism". Time. 1966-08-05. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- Norris, John G. (1966-08-07). "Rout of North Viet Division Indicates Big Change in War". Washington Post/Times Herald. pp. A18.
- "Quiet No More". Time. 1966-08-12. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- Shulimson, Jack (1982). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding War, 1966 (Marine Corps Vietnam Operational Historical Series). Marine Corps Association. p. 176. ASIN B000L34A0C.
- "Richard David Kaler – Navy Cross". Military Times Hall of Valor.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
- Pearson, Lieutenant General Willard, The War in the Northern Provinces: 1966–1968, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975
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