Operation Kansas, June 1966
By June 1966, the 1st Marine Division had plans to expand its assigned tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) southward from Da Nang to Tam Kỳ, the capital of the Quảng Tín Province. Pressure from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) had placed Brigadier General William A. Stiles, the assistant division commander (ADC), position to respond by conceiving an operation by ordering an extensive reconnaissance effort between Da Nang and Tam Ky.
BGen. Stiles had divided the operation into two phases. The first phase was to send in his recon assets in an area in the vicinity of the Hiệp Đức District. The division’s intelligence (D-2) section had sources of a headquarters of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 2nd Division lying somewhere near the western border of I Corps in the Quế Sơn Valley. The second phase consisted of a massive exploitation of the recon team’s findings, by sending in a joint show-of-force; four infantry battalions from the 1st Marine Division and the ARVN 2nd Division.
On the afternoon of June 13, a thirteen-man recon team, accompanied by the command group, of 1st Recon Battalion landed by helicopters in the middle of the Quế Sơn Valley onto the small mountain of Nui Loc Son. In the course of the next 24-hours, six more recon teams were deployed in different strategic positioning sites, ringing the valley. This enabled the teams to actively report on enemy activity, and if possible, forward observe for either air strikes or artillery fire. Up to eight battalions were on full standby— four battalions of Marines and ARVN each, ready to deploy against any hostile forces encountered. One recon team worked their way south of Hiệp Đức after they set up positions along the heavily wooded Hill 555. They spotted several groups of PAVN of varying size that appeared to be training in the area.
The next day on June 14, a scout dog accompanying an enemy patrol caught scent of the nearby Marines and the patrol advanced towards their position; the recon team’s leader immediately called for an extraction. A helicopter was inbound within minutes and the team hastily scrambled aboard and were safely flown back to Chu Lai Base Area.
The other five recon teams remained undetected and continued reporting on the enemy for the next two days, until the moment Team 2 spotted a large enemy formation as they took up positions on Nui Vu hill, at the east end of the valley. Staff Sergeant Jimmie E. Howard (a decorated Korean War veteran), called in numerous fire coordination support, from an ARVN artillery battery located at an Army Special Forces camp 7 km to the south.
The PAVN quickly adapted when they realized the barrage of artillery fire was more than mere coincidence; a battalion-size force was heading toward Nui Vu. On the night of June 15, a Special Forces team spotted the advancing enemy presence and alerted headquarters. However, they relayed the information too late. SSgt Howard had heard the enemy forces approach them as they amassed below them at the bottom of the hill. While the next few hours were quiet, by midnight, several of Howard’s men spotted silhouettes as dozens of PAVN soldiers furtively climbed up the hill in the darkness. The PAVN instigated the fight by throwing grenades at the Marines. Greatly outnumbered, Howard’s men held off the attackers.
Howard understood that they would soon be overwhelmed and radioed to his commander, Lt. Colonel Arthur J. Sullivan, for an immediate extraction. A short time later, the UH-34s were inbound. However, the helicopters were under immediate attack from machine gun fires, forcing them to return. Sullivan relayed the bad news back to Howard that they would not be able to be extracted until daylight.
Throughout the night, close air support, artillery strikes, and gunship fire support pounded the enemy, but the PAVN launched three strong attacks against Team 2. By 04:00 on 16 June, six out of eighteen Marines were killed in action and Howard was temporary immobilized from shrapnel wounds. Every other man was hit at least once. While they were suffering from ammunition shortages, some recon Marines resorted to throwing rocks at the enemy, others managed to pick up captured AK-47 rifles.
By dawn, Company C of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (1/5) landed at the base of Nui Vu and reinforced recon Team 2. The Marines of 1/5 forced their way up the small mountain through scattered but strong resistance to reach Howard and his recon team. Howard and the surviving Marines were immediately evacuated; however, Charlie Company of 1/5 continued to battle for control of Nui Vu. The PAVN finally disengaged and withdrew, leaving 42 dead.
The first phase of Operation Kansas had ended, however, the second phase of the operation was changed. On June 17, the day before the first assault was scheduled, General Walt advised Gen. Stiles that the ARVN units would be unavailable due to the Buddhist Uprising in Huế. Although aware of the circumstances, both Generals Walt and Stiles decided to continue the effort. Overall, the recon teams reported over 141 sightings of enemy forces. The second phase of the operation commenced artillery and air strikes, dispersing the enemy. Operation Kansas ended on June 22, 1966.
Operation Washington, July 1966
On 6 July 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. Sullivan, battalion commander of 1st Recon Battalion, moved his battalion headquarters to Hau Doc, a location 25 km west of Chu Lai. For eight days his recon teams covered four-hundred square kilometers of his area of operation (AO); sighting forty-six PAVN that were scattered throughout the dense, rugged double- and triple- canopy jungle terrain, roughly ranging of 200 soldiers at most. The ground combat and supporting elements resulted only in thirteen PAVN killed, with four prisoners. Because of the poor results, General Lewis J. Fields, the commanding general of the Chu Lai TOAR, ended the operation on July 14, 1966.
Operation Scott Orchard, April 1971
Operation Scott Orchard was the last major 1st Marine Division operation of the Vietnam War, issued by the 1st Marine Division commander, MG Charles F. Widdecke. The operation began when Marines of 1st Recon Bn. commenced a heliborne assault into abandoned Fire Support Base (FSB) Dagger at 10:45 on 7 April 1971. After the brief firefight, the fire support base was declared secured. The plan was to reopen FSB Dagger in the Quế Sơn mountains by emplacing a provisional composite battery of 105-mm and 155-mm howitzers from the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines (1/11). FSB Dagger was used the previous autumn during Operation Catawba Falls. The intelligence sources from MACV had included reports of American prisoners-of-war were being held at an isolated camp in the mountainous region of the Quảng Nam Province, however no prisoners were found, contact was minimal and only abandoned base camps were discovered. The operation concluded on 12 April, the Marines had killed 4 PAVN/VC and captured 1 and 12 weapons.