In 1968 the North Vietnamese Communists launched their largest operation of the Vietnam War – The Tet Offensive, which included a battle unlike anything the US military has seen up to that point in Vietnam: the fight for Hue City. In this month-long battle, US Marines fought house to house through the streets of Vietnam's ancient capital, suffering many casualties while inflicting even more. In South Vietnam, the Marines had become used to fighting across open fields and paddies near the coast and in the mountains and jungles of the interior. The Battle for Hue City, however, thrust the Marines into an urban operation vastly different from anything they had previously encountered.
There are two distinct parts of Hue City. The interior – the Citadel – is a walled fortress of the ancient empire, surrounded by a moat. It covers roughly three square miles with towers, gardens, houses, markets, and pagodas – as well as the former imperial palace from the early 19th century. The modernized part is the outer section of the city, which includes the university, stadium, hospital, prison, and government buildings. The Perfume River divides the city in two, with the Citadel to the north and the modern city to the south. On 31 January 1968, the second day of the Tet Offensive, Hue came under siege by two regiments of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The streets of Hue – in both the Citadel and on the south side - were to become a bloody battlefield for three undermanned battalions of US Marines.
From a strategic level, Hue was important because it was a distribution point for resupply efforts. A railroad and major highway passed through the city, connecting the Marine Corps command at Da Nang to the Demilitarized Zone; the Perfume River was used by US Navy supply boats moving to and from the mouth of the river and the South China Sea. If the city fell to the North Vietnamese, the US effort in Vietnam would suffer a major blow.
On a tactical level, the battle for Hue presented an unfamiliar environment to the Marines. At first, they were stunned at their inability to advance against the North Vietnamese defenses. The Marines were unable to use air strikes in support of their operations because of the weather and rules engagement – enabling the North Vietnamese to fortify their fighting positions, making squad and fire team rushes ineffective. Nevertheless, the Marines quickly adapted to the situation and developed the tactics needed to advance through Hue. They began to soften the enemy positions with 106-mm recoilless rifles, the 90-mm guns of their M48 tanks, LAAWs (light antitank assault weapons), 3.5-inch rockets, 81-mm mortars, and tear gas. When the Marines were able to get close enough to enemy-held buildings, they blew holes in the sides with C-4 explosives, then threw hand grenades in to clear the way. Then they entered the buildings through the holes that had been created by the C-4.
In this manner, the Marines advanced through the city – slowly and painfully. They took as many houses as they could during the day, then dug into defensive positions – waiting to resume house-to-house fighting the next morning. The closest Marine base was eight miles south of Hue, at Phu Bai, so the Marines has to secure the modern south side of the city first, after they arrived at Hue. On the first night of the attack, the defenders of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) building on the south side was able to repel invaders. This building became the base from which to launch all Marine counterattacks. From this position, the Marines moved southwest, with the Perfume River on their right flank, through the south side of Hue, taking back the city one block at a time.
Inside the Citadel, the South Vietnamese were able to defend the 1st ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Division's compound in the northern corner on the first night of the attack. The US Marines launched their counterattack to retake the Citadel from this compound. Using tactics similar to the ones they had used in the south side, the Marines cleared away the enemy along the northeast wall, then turned 90 degrees and continued their assault along the southeast wall. From this location, the Marines were able to capture the Imperial Palace, which housed the main command element of the NVA, thus breaking the North Vietnamese hold on the city.
Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 (MCDP-1) Warfighting, written well after the Vietnam War, describes the philosophy of war fighting central to the US Marine Corps. Many of the concepts outlined in MCDP-1 can be used to describe the action that the Marines saw in Hue City.
The battle for Hue was marked by a great amount of friction, uncertainty, fluidity, disorder, and complexity – while at the same time it produced violence and danger that played on the on the human impulses of those involved. The North Vietnamese had relied on speed and surprise to enter the city, and were quite successful. Their well-planned attack, combined with the poor communications and intelligence capabilities of the South Vietnamese and US forces, allowed them to enter the city with virtually no resistance. Before the allies recognized the severity of the North Vietnamese attack, two regiments of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops – approximately 5,000 men – were in the city. The North Vietnamese had orchestrated a sound plan of attack to enter the city – but once inside, they failed to secure the South Vietnamese headquarters in the Citadel, the MACV compound, and the boat ramp on the south side. They also failed to knock out the An Cuu bridge, which connected the south side to the Marine Corps base at Phu Bai, along the main highway running through Hue. Had the North Vietnamese taken out this bridge, the Marine reaction force would have been unable to enter the city as quickly as they did and the North Vietnamese might have been able to capture the MACV compound. By failing to secure the city, the North Vietnamese allowed the Marines to establish positions inside the Citadel and the south side, from which to launch their counterattacks. The Marines exploited these opportunities, and were able to attack from the inside out.
On the first day of fighting, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines suffered 50 casualties of the 150 men tasked with crossing the main bridge and entering the Citadel. This confrontation on the bridge, however, turned out to be a serious mistake by the North Vietnamese. They could have "held their fire and sucked all the Marines into the maze of streets; they could have cut them of, killed or captured everyone – and there wouldn't have been anything between them and the MACV compound." (Keith Nolan - Battle for Hue – Tet, 1968) Instead the North Vietnamese opened fire too early, and the Marines were able to pull back to the MACV compound. At this point in the battle, the critical vulnerability of the Marines was their shortage of men; yet the North Vietnamese failed to exploit this opportunity. After falling back, the Marines regrouped and launched an attack the following day in which they were able to secure a soccer field at the University, which they used to bring in reinforcements by helicopter. Again, the Marines exploited an opportunity they had created.
Another concept from MCDP-1 that can be readily observed in the battle for Hue is combat power. Though the North Vietnamese held an overwhelming advantage in sheer numbers of troops, the Marines held the advantage in terms of technology and firepower. The Marines developed new tactics during the battle as well, such as pairing an M-48 tank with and antitank M-50 Ontos (a self-propelled vehicle with six 106-mm recoilless rifles). This allowed the Marines to concentrate superior firepower in one area to weaken the North Vietnamese resistance in their fortified positions. Along with their tanks and Ontos, the Marines were able to employ weapons such as tear gas grenades and 3.5-inch rockets to drive the enemy from their positions.
A final concept is decentralization of command. In Hue, the battle took shape as the Marines moved down the streets. When Colonel Stanley Hughes, the 1st Marine Regiment's commander, ordered Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham to clear the south side, he was handicapped by a shortage of intelligence the Marines had managed to gather about the city. Instead of giving him a detailed order, Hughes told Cheatham, "You do it any way you want." With orders like these, Corporals, Lance Corporals, and Privates First Class found themselves acting as squad leaders and making the decisions needed to continue the counterattack. Because of the many casualties the Marines suffered in Hue, junior Marines often found themselves thrust into positions where they had to make tough decisions, well above their pay-grades. With a decentralized command, they were able to make those decisions rapidly, maintaining continuity during the counterattack.
Records of the battle put the number of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong dead at 5,113, with another 89 captured. With 147 killed and 857 wounded seriously enough to require evacuation from Hue, close to half of the US Marine infantrymen committed to the battle had been killed or wounded, in addition to a number of South Vietnamese Marines and ARVN soldiers who fought alongside. Building on the successes and lessons learned at Hue, the Marines began to formulate future warfighting doctrine for urban combat, which today is codified in MCDP-1.
Last edited by California Joe; 12-16-2009 at 07:03 PM.
Reason: Reenactor pics not necessary.
Hell of a battle. The marines had it tough, but they persevered. I've read a book about this oddly enough called the Battle for Hue. The ARVNs that did some of the fighting were unlike alot of their counterparts. Most the of the ARVN in Hue were South Vietnamese Rangers which were totally badass.
I think my most vivid memory as I went in was in talking with one of the other company commanders who had already been participating there in the action for a couple of days, and in a very matter-of-fact way without a great deal of embellishment on his part he just frightened the hell out of me in telling me how bad it was. And I thought in my mind right then and there that, you know, hey, here I am with a fresh company and I knew without having to be told that what my mission was going to be the next day, was going to be to go try to take this fortified tower position along the east wall. And, sure enough, that evening when I went in to be briefed, Major Thompson, he just said, "Delta Company, tomorrow you're going to take that east wall." And I said, "Aye, aye, sir" and went at it.
We tried our best to avoid malicious damage, if you would. We just didn't shoot at walls just to blow them down. But when we had to shoot at a house, we shot at a house. When we had to destroy a house, we destroyed it. But we didn't go in there with the express purpose that this is a wonderful opportunity to show how great our weapons are and how much destructive power they possess. As a result of their being so entrenched, it required for us to bring maximum firepower at our disposal to eliminate them. But we were fortunate in that we did have the weapons that were capable of routing the NVA and the Vietcong out of their positions.
And throughout all of this, you constantly had this fear. Not so much that you were going to die, because I think to a certain degree that was a given. This was combined with the semi-darkness type of environment that we were fighting in because of the low overcast -- the fact that we didn't see the sun -- gave it a very eerie, spooky look. You had this utter devastation all around you. You had this horrible smell. I mean you just cannot describe the smell of death especially when you're looking at it a couple of weeks along.
It's horrible. It was there when you ate your rations. It was almost like you were eating death. You couldn't escape it.
The Marines of Delta 1/5 led by then Captain Myron Harrington (Citadel ’61, father of Captain M.C. Harrington III, USNA ’94) broke the back of the NVA resistance in the Citadel at the Dong Ba Tower.
as i have read in more than a few supposed history reports some written by those who never set foot in hue or tam i island. a lot of misinformation and some very streched battle reports.
i was among 7 lcm8 boats working out of the island which was also where millions of gallons of fuel was stored. our det consisted of 7 lcm8 boats maned by a 4 man crew. we also had two lcm 6 boats which were heaps of junk and at times after a run we had to push up on the beach to have the welders try to put bottoms over the rusted out medal. these boats would sweep for mines and help in many ways. we could not have done our job without them.
we either take cargo from one of the ramps just outside the cove or at times go out and work ships that were anchored waiting for us to take their cargo to hue. u boats would come up from danang with cargo and take them all the way up or go to the lst ramp and back load us if they didnt want to go up river.
we also would take a barge full of frozen meat up to hue. when it arrived they found they could not get it past the mud flats of the perfume river. so we would take one boat and one fifty foot reefer trailer and make runs of this meat till the barge could pass over the mud flats.
all was normal before the tet. at times we could make as many as 3 trips up and down the river. yes there was shooting and for the most part we took that as harrasment and tended to outrun it. we were just to busy to stand there and shoot it out with the jungle. the jungle came all the way down to the water so any shooting was just wasting ammo.
then tet started. we would make one run starting in the late morning and fight our way up the river. we made our way up and down by the time we got back it was getting dark. and of course it was during the monsoon season. they also had us take the tops off our conns so if we got hit by a mine the boat skipper and whoever was in there with him would not be killed crashing into the roof. this was dailly. then we started loosing boats
during this first part they moved a pbr unit up to the area just outside of the cove and near the river mudflats. they were the best we could have. they also payed for being there also. i believe they lost two of them. we also had helo cover
on feb 17 1968 i had two rpg's shot at my boat. i was carring 10000 gallons of fuel in my well deck in a rubber bladder which was inside the well deck. one round went across my stern the other hit mid ships on the port side over the shoulder of my engineer. it went into the bladder and exploded. our convoy commander came back and we together unloaded my crew. i lost one man and had another one wounded. i had to stay on the boat to keep it out of the way of two u boats that were behind me so i ran it aground and in time jumped from my boat to the bow of a pbr.
three days later i was on the convoy commanders boat with a crew i was supposed to pick a boat up that had got stuck on the ramp and get it back into the game. we lost another 8 boat that day. he to was carring fuel and both boats ended up just outside the ramp area run aground and held hard by the current. they both had burned out completely. at least that day we did not loose a man.
this was our daily action. us with no armour and m16 or a 45. the convoy commander somehow got a marine crew and a 106 and they would wake up the bad guys with b hive rounds as we came up. from all the info i have been able to dig up we lost almost half our boats they also lost two u boats and the pbr's. hard to count the number of dead and wounded. every boat was hit at least once some many times.
i guess it was some time in march the air force dropped big bombs from b 52's all night on the river, the next day we were amazed i guess between what the marines did to the bad guys and our efforts on the river we broke their back.. that was the last day we ran in convoys. the shooting never stopped but we kept on hauling what everyone else wanted.
by the way we were a non combat unit. we had no one to support us. we pretty much lived off the cargo we were carrying. in the entire I corp area we worked in qua viet and dung ha and hue and the son thu bon, only one boat there and four navy guys. they sat along side the biggest wooden bridge in nam. that boat could only run during the monsoons because the water was to low in the summer. we also worked in chu lia. and of course danang. we lost many boats and a lot of good young man.
i guess i dont mind talking about this to people who know but i really get tired of the history written by people who either read it off the battle reports or after action reports. others new nothing about the types of boats used by the navy and how much they helped whoever was in their area. everything from out houses to eggs and we also made assualt landings which looks easy in the movies but in real life is very hard to do.
i guess i am having trouble with your response to my post. i read it again and the history is correct and i know there are others that i certainly dont speak for but probably would agree with everything i said. i am just part of the americans there. the marines fought in the streets and fought hard. other units were involved in one way or another. i never said no one unit won the battle of hue. from everything i heard even though we paid a heck of a price to win that battle a lot of people who dont understand war i think would say we lost and thats why america lost confidence in us.
i wish you could explain to me what i said wrong or who i bad mouthed besides people talking history or after action and then acting as an expert on the daily history of that battle. one of the biggest in the war.
i heard of the mass graves mostly the backbone of that community. teachers and such. i also understand and saw the dead on our side each time we hit hue ramp. yes i was there and thats not bragging its telling like it is and like many others of other battles posted what was real an not misinformation. i have never taken the side of the nva or the cong and i have had my share of killing which i am not proud of or pound my chest about. i was also very proud of the units i was with and one thing is for sure each boat was its own family
i dont have any problem with what was in your last post. i can say i was not a actor or a wanna be or a era vet.. i did 34 months in nam. 10 of those on two ships and 24 on the rivers as a river rat.
my whole point in what i posted was i get very tired of people talking history about different battles that happened in nam and are usually wrong in one way or another.
my experences were real i lost a boat a man and had one wounded i also lost 10000 gallons of fuel. to the best of my knowledge it was for the marines. i would never take credit away from the marines who fought street to street and then have to start all over again, we didnt do much better. i was wounded three days after i lost my boat when i was running another boat. when we got to mac v the doc said we were averaging 5 dead and 15 wounded every day. all our boats were hit at least once and mine and another were burned out because we had no fire fighting gear.
i was also there when we were ferrying you guys into the city from hue ramp. during that time you guys were using gas over the city. we caught it and had to attemp to drive our boats with tears coming out of our eyes. that was a bad plan. but then most people didnt know the perfume river was open and one trip a day in a convoy was all we could make.. it was fighting both ways. we did that for 5 weeks.
i cant stand wanna be's and era vets who lie and rewrite history which makes us all look bad. i tend to stay bunkered up my self. i am 100% combat related. my body is shot and my days are long and painful. so at 63 i have to find things i can do and feel good about. and yes i am still very angry and i still hate and i had to do somethings that eat at my soul every day and night.
other than that i try to find something positive to accomplish. right now i work with wood. just made my last bowl. made 4 one for the wife and 3 others for nurses who treated me very good this last time i was in the hospital. only two more operations to go. then i live with whats left.
again i agree with you and i dont consider myself a hero i believe the real hero's are those that never came back. i held one young man while he died. that stays with me also. i was his boss.
Hue city, Dong ha, khe shan, I corps, To all Marines that served in Viet-Nam, Just a special thanks to you for all your efforts in that AO. You and you're fortitude in that time during the cold war is not forgotten by my self and I thank you all.
P.S.; special thanks to the eight Marines that played garrison in western Samoa during ww2. Thanks to you guys I'm able to post in English and not Japanese today
I got to Hue after the Marines and ARVN forces had pretty much taken care of business. We arrived at Camp Eagle first of March, '68 and put right away to the center of Hue on Hwy 1 security. Since the enemy had long abandoned Hue for the countryside, we then began S&D missions north and south of the city proper.
Our first night in Hue was gruesome in that we had inadvertently pulled up right on top of a burial pit...I noticed things on the ground. Since the sun had already gone down and we were in the last light of day, I could barely make them out from my TC hatch...but they looked like large spiders. I dismounted to get a closer look and was really shocked to find out they were human hands. We had sheared off these dessicated hands as our tracks had skidded in turning....the hands were from people who had been buried alive...their wrists bound with wire...as the dirt piled up, they raised their arms grasping to the air...some were tiny hands...kids...people had tried to hold them up to the air....it was really disgusting. When our platoon leader realized what we were in, he ordered a quick move to another lager.
We never spent much time in Hue...but passed through several times. The destruction was just unbelievable. And, what surprised me most was the fact that the place seemed as busy as ever...people just like in Saigon, doing every day business. Carts of rice, fire wood, cooking pots, vendors with lots of goodies...markets with meat and veggies. Also, the surrounding farms or villages were very lush with crop. Of course, it was nearing the end of the Monsoon, so activity in the countryside was picking up, enemy be damned...people still have to eat. We drove around in flooded rice paddies....and often a track would just dissappear dropping into a bomb crater...lovely. They had some kind of damn eel that looked like a big snake to us. so, diving down under the water to hook up a towing shackel to extricate a sunken track was really exciting sometimes...and resulted in all kinds of hilarious memories of guys scattering like frightened frogs to get the hell away from some slithery thing or other. We had some very exciting fire fights in those areas, too.
i understand what you are saying. the last morning i guess of tet we got underway for hue. the convoy of lcu's and a 6 boat dragging a chain for mines. they there were us. lets see by then i think we were down to 5 boats. of course there was also two u boats sunk and a couple of pbr's. that morning the sun was out which sure made us feel good. we didnt know what to expect because the night before all night long they had been dropping bomb's from b-52's.
couldnt believe what we saw. the jungle had been blown back and you could see the banks where they had taken the operation handclasp cement and made bunkers to shoot at us from. i am willing to bet all we hit when we fired was cement. that day no one was shooting and we were happy but mad also that they had used our own stuff to kill us. but it looked like it was over. we did see some marines on the cidital side of the river. i guess no one had anything to say they looked and we looked and we kept on going.
that was it, the next day we went back to making normal runs. i stayed there for about another two weeks and not much happened. yes there was shooting and we did what we did before just outran them and got to the other end and dropped the cargo. the bridge was still down so i dont know how you guys got to mac ve. during tet we did ferry you guys back and forth.
everything around was destroyed and the river had claimed a lot of our guys and probably some of you guys also. i know at times charile would get between us and shoot both ways and start us and you guys shooting at each other. no telling how many were killed on either side. someone would stop it before it got to far. at least thats what they said. we didnt know if we killed any of you guys or not. that made us mad.
any way i got called back to danang and got another boat and went up to qua viet to work there. their tet had stopped and for the most part we just kept up going back and forth from qua viet to dung ha. i stayed there till the end of that tour and came back. that was my third time in nam. i did another year working on msb mine sweep boats. mostly out of na bay then they were shipped back to the states and for the rest of that tour i was an advisor.
i worked with and met a lot of good marines. for some reason we seemed to get along in nam. in the states we would fight with each other. never could understand that laugh.
doesnt seem to many of us old navy guys around any more that ran those boats. i guess we are dying off.