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Additional Operation Essex Info
(11/6/02 5:33:54 pm)
Additional Operation Essex Info
Thought maybe you may be interested in reading a bit more of what I was wrapped up in back in November '67 ....
Ancillary operations such as the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines' Essex in "Antenna Valley," six miles south of An Hoa, drove the enemy back against the Army units in the basin.
There were two main engagements with NVA forces in Antenna Valley during Operation Essex. Both involved company-sized attacks on fortified villages which the North Vietnamese chose to defend. Lieutenant Colonel George C. McNaughton, commander of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, described these fortified villages in his after-action report:
"In each instance, the village had a wire fence around the perimeter...consisting of three to six strands of cattle fence with woven wire running up and down through the horizontal strands. The wire fence line was either concealed in bamboo tree lines or camouflaged with bamboo and shrubs. Behind these perimeter fences, the enemy had dug a communication trench...that was four to six feet deep with firing positions and deep caves for protection against artillery and air attack. Some of these caves were fifteen feet deep. Spider holes, caves, and bunkers were found in depth through the village. Fortifications were carefully located to achieve an interlocking and mutually supporting series of defensive positions. Both (villages) were located such that attacking infantry had to cross stream barriers (to reach) the defensive positions. As attacking troops emerged from the stream beds, they found themselves to be within close range (50-150 meters) of the enemy perimeter defenses with open rice paddy in between. (Both villages were) situated on the sides of the valley adjacent to high ground such that the enemy had ready routes of egress into the mountains."
Both Marine attacks took place during afternoon hours and the enemy force successfully defended its positions into the night. In each case, however, the NVA defenders withdrew from the fortified positions under cover of darkness in spite of continuous artillery fire in and behind the village. "In summary," wrote McNaughton, "when Marine units attacked the villages in the afternoon, the enemy defended with vigor. When Marine units delayed an attack until dawn and conducted heavy preparation by air and artillery, the NVA units made their escape."
Company H, commanded by Captain Gene W. Bowers, conducted one of the fortified village assaults. Bowers used tactics similar to those that had succeeded so well in a similar situation during Operation SWIFT.
Company H had landed by helicopter in Antenna Valley earlier in the day, as had the rest of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines. The company then proceeded toward its assigned objective, the village of Ap Bon (2) in the northeast portion of the valley. As it approached the objective, Company H made heavy contact with a large enemy force within the village.
Captain Bowers ordered Second Lieutenant Duane V. Sherin to maneuver his 2d Platoon to the left of the village and then envelop the enemy. The platoon, however, ran into more NVA soldiers in the heavy brush west of the village, sustained two Marines killed and several wounded, and then, on Bowers' orders, withdrew with its casualties back to the company. Upon its arrival at the company position, Bowers directed the 2d Platoon to move to the company's right flank and establish a base of fire for an assault on the village by the 1st and 3rd Platoons. The assault began after air and artillery strikes on Ap Bon (2).
Bowers recalled the subsequent action:
"The assault was well-coordinated and executed, maintaining continuous fire superiority over the enemy until the assault line reached the bamboo hedgerow on the periphery of the village. Eight taut strands of U.S. (-type) barbed wire were unexpectedly encountered woven among the bamboo stalks. As the Marines fought to break through the barrier, .50 caliber machine guns from 800 meters on the right flank and 800 meters on the left flank commenced enfilading, grazing fire down the line of bared wire, as 60mm, 82mm, and 4.2-inch mortar rounds began impacting in the paddy before the village. One platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Robert W. Miller, Jr., was killed and both platoon sergeants were severely wounded. The assault faltered and the Marines took cover, protected by small inter-paddy dikes."
The fighting developed into an exchange of rifle fire and grenades as reported air strikes hit the village. Some bombs and napalm fell within 50 meters of the exposed Marines in the paddies. Captain Bowers requested reinforcements and Company G arrived about 1600. With Company H acting as a base of fire on the village, Company G made an assault which the North Vietnamese repulsed.
At dusk, both companies moved back about 70 meters, carrying all wounded Marines and equipment, and established night defensive positions. The North Vietnamese maintained pressure on the two companies until almost dawn despite flares and machine gun fire from AC-130s, which fired on targets within 10 meters of the Marines. Around 0430, the North Vietnamese slipped away.
At dawn, the two Marine companies advanced and searched the village without resistance. There were no enemy bodies. All bunkers and trenches had collapsed under the intensive artillery and air strikes. The Marine companies had suffered 53 serious casualties, including 23 dead, in the fighting of Ap Bon (2).
The following days involved pursuit of small groups of fleeing NVA soldiers. On 10 November, the 2d Battalion captured an NVA aspirant (officer cadet) who claimed to have been in Ap Bon (2) on 6 November. He said the village had contained a division headquarters battalion. A direct bomb hit on the command post bunker killed the battalion commander; 60 enlisted men died in the fighting and many were severely wounded. Operation Essex ended a few days later on the 17th.