Operation Kingfisher was a US Marine Corps operation that took place during the Vietnam War. The operation was executed in the western part of Leatherneck Square near Con Thien, lasting from 16 July to 31 October 1967.
Order of Battle
- United States Marine Corps
- 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines
- 2nd Battalion 4th Marines
- 3rd Battalion 4th Marines
- 2nd Battalion 9th Marines
- 3rd Battalion 9th Marines
- 3rd Battalion 26th Marines (7–11 September).:132
- North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
Following the conclusion of Operation Buffalo and Operation Hickory II, III MAF launched Operation Kingfisher in the same general area with the same objective of blocking the entry of NVA forces into Quang Tri Province.:125
This period saw only minor contact with the NVA.:125
2/9 Marines, supported by a platoon of M-48s, 3 M50 Ontos and 3 LVTEs moved north along Provincial Route 606 to make a spoiling attack into the DMZ, the unit made no contact with the NVA and set up a night defensive position near the Ben Hai River. The following morning as the unit was returning along the same route a command detonated a B-52 dud previously dropped by the Americans, exploded killing a squad of Marines and wounding many more. The NVA then opened fire with small arms and mortar fire and attacked the armored vehicles with RPGs. The NVA attempted to hug the US column negating the use of air support and the column broke up into several separate firefights. The isolated Marine Companies set up night defensive positions and were eventually relieved by 3/4 Marines on the morning of 30 July. Marine casualties for the operation were 23 dead and 251 wounded, while the NVA suffered 32 killed and a further 175 believed killed.:125–128
On the morning of 4 September, 3/4 Marines engaged an NVA force 1.5 km south of Con Thien, trapping the NVA force between two Companies of Marines. The NVA lost 38 killed and 1 captured, while the Marines lost 6 dead and 47 wounded.:132
On 7 September 3/26 Marines supported by M-48s encountered an NVA force 4.8 km south of Con Thien. The NVA lost 51 killed, while the Marines lost 14 killed.:132
On the evening of 10 September 3/26 Marines engaged the 812th NVA Regiment 6 km southwest of Con Thien.:132 Some of the attacking NVA were wearing USMC helmets and flak jackets and they were well supported mortars and 140mm rockets. An RPG destroyed a flamethrower tank, but the NVA were unable to penetrate Marines lines and US artillery boxed in the Marines forcing the NVA to withdraw by 20:30. The following morning 140 NVA bodies were found around the Marine lines, the Marines had lost 34 dead and 192 wounded.:133
On the morning of 13 September, an NVA Company attacked the northeastern sector of the Con Thien base, but they failed to penetrate the base and were forced back by Marine small arms and artillery fire.:133
On 21 September three companies (E,F & G) of 2/4 Marines conducted a large sweep east of Con Thien just below the Trace. As the units advanced through the hedgerows the companies came under sniper, mortar and then heavy artillery fire. The close-quarters fighting continued all day, eanding at nightfall. The Marines had lost 16 killed and 118 wounded, while the NVA were estimated to have lost 39 killed. At the end of the battle the Marines left 15 of their dead on the battlefield, on 10 October 2/4 Marines went back in to retrieve their dead.:134 LCPL Jedh Colby Barker would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in this battle
At 01:25 on 14 October NVA artillery hit 2nd Battalion 4th Marines position around Washout Bridge between the C-2 Strongpoint and the Con Thien Combat Base. A night-ambush squad reported that a large NVA unit was moving past its position towards the bridge.:135 Marine snipers using Starlight Scopes saw the NVA massing in front of Hotel Company position for an attack. The Marines opened fire first with tanks and machine guns causing the NVA to attack prematurely. The NVA failed to penetrate the companies wire and withdrew.:136
At 02:30 the NVA attacked Golf Company, by destroying 2 machine gun position with RPG's. The NVA penetrated the wire and overran the Company command post (CP) killing the Company commander Capt. Jack W. Phillips, his forward observer (FO) and 3 Platoon leaders; these young 2nd lieutenants just arrived in country. Capt. James W McCarter was ordered to take over command of Company, but he was killed by NVA fire before he could reach the Command Post. Fox Company was ordered to support Golf Company and sweep through the area and drive the NVA out. The Marines were also supported by AC-47; the Marines called them "Puffs". Finally the NVA was forced to withdraw by 04:30. The Marines had lost 21 dead and 23 wounded. SGT Paul H. Foster was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle. The NVA had lost 24 killed.:136
On 25 October 2/4 Marines began a sweep north along Route 561, there was no enemy contact but progress was slowed by heavy undergrowth and the unit set up a night position.:136 That night NVA rockets hit the 2/4 position killing the Executive Officer, Major John Lawendowski and wounding the commanding officer Lt.Col. James Hammond and two others of the command group who were evacuated by helicopter. The regimental operations officer Lt Col. John C. Studt was flown in to take over command of 2/4.:137
On 26 October, 2/4 Marines, less Fox Company which remained at the night position to guard a stock of ammunitition, moved north and secured the objective by 13;00. The Battalion then came under NVA mortar and small arms fire.:137 A UH-34D helicopter of HMM-363 was shot down as it attempted pick up casualties, killing the pilot and door gunner, another UH-34 attempted to land but was damaged and made a forced landing at the C-2 Strongpoint. Lt Col Studt called for reinforcements and Fox Company moved north to the Battalion position, while two Companies from 3/3 Marines moved north from the C-2 Strongpoint arriving at the 2/4 position at dusk. The NVA probed the Marine position with direct and indirect fire and ground attacks before withdrawing around 02:00 on 27 October. The following morning the Marines counted 19 NVA dead but were unable to police the area due to NVA mortar and artillery fire.:138 The Marines had lost 8 dead and 45 wounded in the period from 25–27 October.:139
Operation Kingfisher concluded on 31 October. U.S. Marine casualties included 340 dead and 1,461 wounded. The NVA sustained 1,117 killed and 5 captured, and a further 1,942 claimed to have been killed by U.S. forces and 155 weapons were captured. Tactical victories were claimed by both sides.:139 Operation Kingfisher was followed immediately by Operation Kentucky.
- Telfer, Gary I. (1984). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Fighting the North Vietnamese 1967. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. p. 139. ISBN 978-1482538878.
- "Operation Kingfisher II OP File". USMC History Division. p. 178. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- "41 U.S. Marines in 11 Days of Fighting", Associated Press, September 23, 1967, retrieved March 8, 2010