Operation Meade River

   Search and Destroy

Dodge city was an area that was called by the troops because of its shoot-em up characteristics; the area 10 miles south of Da Nang was familiar ground for the Marines.It was about 5 miles wide and only 3 miles long.

It was low ground and  was crisscrossed with rivers and streams, honeycombed with caves and tunnels; hamlets with his bamboo and thorn hedges. Around the hamlets and villages, was fighting trenches and also fortified positions. Dodge city had been the site of enemy engagements since the Ky-Lam campaign of 1966. Many battles during Tet and the third summer offensives of 1968 Took place in this area. The northern boundary was the La Tho River, the southern was the Ky Lam. The eastern boundary was Highway 1; the Western boundary was 1 mile west of an old bomb out railroad. Hill 55 was in the northwest corner; theDien Ban District headquarters ordered its South East corridor. Route 4, also called Route 14 and bisected the area from the East to West.The major battles of Operation Meade River would take place in the two square-mile center of Dodge city, the operation was a county fair mission, utilizing a cordon technique developed by first Battalion, third Marine Regiment and first Battalion, first Marine Regiment. When the Marines mission shifted from defense to offense, it became necessary for platoon, companies or battalions to complete and simultaneously cordon off an area and search and clear inward, literally foot by foot because the Viet Cong had infested hamlets west and south of the Da Nang airstrip.

The technique was refined and used often by the ninth Marine Regiment, which operated off of Hill 55 in early 1966. Operation Meade River would be the largest mission using the county fair technique during the Vietnam War.Intelligence had determined that remaining elements of the decimated VC Doc Lap Battalion which had operated in the area against the Marines; for more than three years along with other understrength VC units and several hundred North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops were again massing in the area. Going northward through Dodge city were two major enemy infiltration routes used by the NVA to supply and assist the Viet Cong in the rocket belt, whose main objective had been and continue to be, the destruction of the Da Nang airbase. Intelligence also had information that an all out attack against strategically located Hill 55 and the first Marine division headquarters on Hill 327 or the airstrip itself was intimate with this many enemy soldiers staging rapidly in the area. 

On November 20, 1968 at 4 AM; operation Mead River commenced. The monsoons for this part of Vietnam had already started in October. The temperatures were dropping, and the Marines often found the nights cold.The conditions were miserable, and the rains averaging 1 inch daily added to the misery.The entire helicopter assets of the first Marine air wing were required to support the operation. Col. Robert G.Lauffer, commanding officer of the first Marines was designated Meade Rivers commander,he personally supervise elements of seven Marine battalion. The first Battalion first Marines; the second and third battalions of the fifth Marines; the third Battalion of the 26 Marines, and the Battalion Landing team's,(BLT) from the second Battalion 26 Marines and the first and second battalions of the seventh Marines. The Marines surrounded an area 24,000 meters in circumference, with fire teams no more than 15 meters apart. This initial movement of 5,000 Marines into a tightly established cordon would be the key to the successful completion of Meade River.

Twenty-eight hundred of the 5,000 Marines were heli-lifted; approximately 2,200 more were moved by truck and on foot from Hill 55. Other companies in Battalion areas from along the north bank of the La Tho River and liberty Road (also known as ambush row): Highway 1 in route 4 was in place with troops by 8:25 AM, the cordon was now snapped shut.Just prior to landing within the cordons boundary, a Boeing-Vertol Ch-46 Sea Knight carrying one of the last elements arriving a unit from the 3/5, was hit by enemy fire; it crashed and burned resulting in six killed and nine wounded.In addition, a truck convoy was moving towards the cordon; a command detonated mine exploded halfway down the line of vehicles, destroying a 5 ton truck and wounding 19 men. Immediately, pre-positioned dump trucks unloaded gravel and matting. The large hole was filled and the damage truck removed, the remainder of the convoy continued into the area with little delay.

At 4:30 PM on the 20th, a recon team was inserted 1000 meters south of the La Tho from the base on Hill 55 and immediately west of the cordon near liberty Road to look for fleeing bands of enemy. The team soon encountered enemy troops and open fired; killing eight NVA and capturing an 82mm mortar from the enemy soldiers trying to escape the cordon. The recon team, with one wounded was extracted back to Hill 55. Later it was learned from a captured VC that news of the impending cordon and search operation had been received the previous day, November 19. The VC who reported this information was apprehended when villagers throughout the corridor were screen and sent to the refugee relocation center at the base of Hill 55.Fortunately, few enemies knew in advance of the cordon because of a breakdown in communications between the VC political arm and the Communist military units mistake, that cause the enemy many lives.

The Marines was fortunate have trapped many more of the enemy than anticipated, found in the objective area was a sizable well organize and well trained enemy force; that chose to fight, utilizing solid fortifications throughout the area of operations.
Numerous small elements of larger NVA and VC units tried to slip away, as they found in several unsuccessful attempts trying to escape was a deadly option, due to the tight well coordinated cordon. Throughout the operation, the enemy soldiers try to conceal themselves underground until sweeping forces had passed, this tactic however was seldom successful since the Marines would probe foot by foot.

Throughout the area of the cordon, dozens of freshly dug enemy spider holes were found. To help find these holes, the Marines use several thousands of metal probes. They were issued to all battalions, and usually one man in the fire team had a probe. These probes faciltated in the discovery of numerous holes and caches. Many NVA and VC would try to break the cordon along the northern boundary of the operation area; and slid into the La Tho river, which ran along the base of Hill 55. The sniper platoon based at Hill 55 an expert rifleman from numerous combat and support units maintain firing positions day and night. These marksmen operate it mostly from various sites that reached down to the river. Besides using starlight scopes, to Searchlight teams aided the American snipers. The searchlights would scan the river and the riverbanks, leaving little escape areas of panicky enemy forces.The Snipers kept a number of 
​the enemy from escaping

The first major contact of operation made River was made on November 20 by the Marines of 2/7, while the troops were moving eastward and attempting to close in on the railroad berm; they encountered a sizable enemy force in well deployed and fortified positions in the Ben of a small river in an area known as the horseshoe. A large scale BC in NVA force has now been caught in the cordon. On November 22, the company from 2/7 try to maneuver its way across the river into the horseshoe, but the volume of enemy fire was too heavy and 2/7 resumed its previous position. The 11th Marines artillery carried out precision destruction missions against the enemy positions during the remainder of the 22nd. On November 23, the objective area was secured. The horseshoe contained a multi bunkered complex of fighting holes in trench lines that had apparently been a battalion defensive position. Many of the bunkers have been constructed by civilians and enemy soldiers using railroad tides removed from under the remaining tracks of the Vietnam north-south railroad.

After the Horseshoe was secured by 2/7, Delta Company 1/1 was attached to second Battalion seventh Marines to provide security for the engineers; who was left to blow the numerous bunkers and a level of fortified positions. Many bodies were found in the bunkers in addition to a great deal of equipment and field gear and thousands of rounds and ammunition. Also uncovered were many sacks of line and lime sprayers used by the enemy to sanitize and hasten the decomposition of dead bodies. On November 23, the Marines had a second and brief encounter in the hamlets of An Hoa ! and 2 where the enemy also had well fortified positions. An Hoa village a village consists of several hamlets designed by numbers appeared to be a site where the enemy consolidated its forces and equipment before moving on to a better defensive positions.

It was amazing that such well fortified positions were present in and about An Hoa, since that area had been heavily patrolled by the seventh Marines from Hill 55 when a regular basis. It showed again how well the NVA and VC could conceal a position. He loves Marines did an outstanding job of saturating the cordoned area with artillery fire. Of the dozen artillery sites designated for this operation, five fired from Hill 55. Some 1,286 fire missions expended 27,513 howitzer rounds in support of Meade River. Eight-inch howitzer fired precision destruction missions, some called in as close as 200 meters from friendly forces throughout the cordon.

Delta Company 1/1 was ordered to stay in the horseshoe for the next two weeks to provide security for the engineers, but the Marines of 2/7 left the area on November 24, continuing its delayed movement towards the railroad berm. The Marines of 2/7 continue to meet heavy resistance all the way from the horseshoe to the berm. As they advanced to within 200 meters of the berm, a large enemy force commenced firing along their right flank from well covered positions. This area near the berm became known as the triangle.November 25th was spent reducing this position by artillery and ground attacks.The Marines of 3/26 was spread out south of the cordon to screen and keep the enemy within. That day they killed a 15- man NVA unit that was making a desperate attempt to flee the cordon. 
On the 26th, the Marines of 2/7 secured the railroad berm, finding once again that heavy enemy bunkers had been constructed from railroad ties and cement.From the empty bags, it was evident that the cement was part of the civil action supplies issued to area hamlets by U.S. military forces for building and self-improvement projects.

On November 27th, elements of 2/5 and 2/26 started a simultaneous coordinated move westward from Highway 1, probing and searching every foot of the way. Numerous fresh enemy graves were uncovered as well as a considerable amount of supplies;and 2/26 found one cache of 180 anti-personnel bouncing Bettys and minds ready to be in place within the area. Other fines included field gear and miscellaneous documents. Plus tons of rice buried in the ground in urns and much more equipment. Meanwhile, Delta 1/1, which was providing security in the horseshoe for the engineers continue to find scores of freshly dug graves and more equipment in that area. In addition, scuba teams searching throughout thecordon found weapons, equipment, ammunition and 122mm rockets submerged in various riverbank caves and in several 20-foot deep bomb craters that have been collecting water since the B-52 Strat fortress bombings during the Tet Offensive.

The cordon diminished considerably in size as the Marines inched inward. The north and south boundaries of the cordon continued to be covered by various units, which accounted for many of the kills. From 6 to 7 a.m. on the 28th of November; the enemy was offered an opportunity to surrender. The offered broadcasts was clearly and repeatedly heard for one hour throughout the cordon.

The offer was ignored by the enemy, in fact it kind of pissed them off and they began to attack; the enemy chose to fight rather than surrender. An extremely heavy artillery and air bombardment commenced; in addition to the numerous heavy artillery barrages the fixed air wing gunships AC- 47's and AC- 130's known as spooky and puff the Magic Dragon were on station during Meade River firing over 609,000 rounds of ammunition into enemy positions. You we helicopter gunships flew over 884 firing sorties during the 20 day operation. More than 2,100 helicopter sorties moved personnel, cargo, casualties and equipment. The battleship USS New Jersey fired 153 of its monstrous 16-inch 1,900 pound high-capacity and 2,700 pound armor piercing rounds against enemy bunkers throughout the cordon. The accuracy of the firepower is demonstrated by the fact that despite the many friendly troops in the area; there were no reports of friendly fire casualties.

During the operation, a platoon of deuce and a half trucks staged on Hill 55, continuously help supply the troops via trails, roads and paths throughout the cordon. The platoon would set of wagon trains at different areas bordering the cordon. Many of the vehicles came under fire from small frantic enemy units, trying to break the perimeter. Often drivers were instrumental in stopping bands of enemy soldiers who were trying to escape. Heavily armed deuce and a half trucks were used to patrol ambush row and route 4 day and night. In addition, 10 all-terrain vehicles known as otters from Hill 55 were used to supply the troops deep within the cordon with food and ammunition.

On December 1, 1968 the hardest fighting of the operation thus for commands as 3/5 encountered a large enemy bunker complex along its right flank, in what would become known as the hook. They received devastating fire from small arms, automatic weapons, grenades and enemy mortars within the bunker. There were many casualties as the enemy fire came from well entrenched reinforced bunkers and the Marines of 3/5s advance was temporarily halted.
On December 3, even after the 11th Marines artillery had spent most of the previous day and night conducting heavy precision destruction missions into the book,3/5 continue taking casualties from well entrenched enemy fire. The 26th Marines were moved from their screening positions along route 4 order to help the Marines of 3/5 in the attack against the NVA entrenched in the hook. After repeated airstrikes with 750 pound bombs and napalm canisters, the Marines fought their way into the southern portion of the hook.

By nightfall on the 4th, they had worked around to its rear area, the Marines of 3/26 and 3/5 called in additional air and artillery strikes very close to your own positions. On December 5, the enemy was once again given an opportunity to surrender. This time the Arvin (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) commanders broadcasted surrender or die messages to the enemy at the Hook. As before, the hard-core communists chose to continue the battle. Later that day, when a final assault secured to hook; more than 100 enemy dead were counted. 15 POWs were pulled out of their partially destroyed bunkers and tunnels, numerous weapons were also uncovered.
The Marines of 3/5 separated from 3/26 and started a turning movement north, then commenced a sweep from west to east across the top of Dodge city. 

On December 6, because of other commitments and after much heavy fighting, 3/5 ceased to participate in operation Meade River. However, Bravo 1/5 which have been with 3/5 remained at the northern boundary of Dodge city to keep what was left of the enemy confided and to search the area. 3/26having thoroughly mopped up the hook, also moved on to positions in Dodge citys northern boundary. The cordon remained intact but the final and most furious battle has yet to be fought. Elements of 2/26 and 2/5 Marines in their careful and deliberate search of the cordons northern boundaries from Highway 1 ran into a heavy concentration of enemy troops. Those units regrouped and remain in close proximity to the last objective the northern bunker complex, throughout the rest of the day and on through the night. Forming a blocking position to ensure that the enemy remain trapped within the cordon. In the meantime, the Marines of 3/26 was joined by additional forces, Col.Lauffer had attached three additional companies to the 3/26 Marines. Giving them the mission of completely destroying the remaining bunkers in the hook and then continuing a full attack into the northern bunker complex.

On December 7, the Marines was joined by an Arvin cow per unit whose armored personnel carriers were late and provided mobility for the Marines in the final attack. A tight line was drawn surrounding the northern bunker complex, throughout the day the Marines reinforce by attached units cautiously moved forward literally inch by inch. Maneuvering the APCs towards bunker after bunker and directing small arms fire against the enemy, at one point late in the day on December 8, the Marines moved within 20 meters of what was thought to be the last in a series of in-depth bunker positions. But from those final hidden positions deep within the northern bunker complex and area that has been heavily carpet bombed, came an unexpectedly accurate and deadly heavy automatic weapons fire from the enemy. Despite suffering heavy casualties, the Marines silenced those machine gun positions. The final assault was executed the next day; and a brutal fight that included hand-to-hand combat against a tenacious enemy that refused to surrender. More than 300 enemy bodies were found, and this time the enemy was unable to bury its dead.

On December 9 at 6 PM, operation Meade River was terminated. Use will return to their parent organizations after 20 days of vicious, intense fighting. The Marines from 1/1 took over and mopped up the northern bunker complex for two more days; during this post Meade River . They found additional dead bodies and killed some 50 NVA who had remained in the bunkers, and refused to surrender. Also recovered numerous enemy individual and crew served weapons, although preliminary reports of enemy casualties varied from 1,000 to 1,500, the final count was 1,325 confirmed enemy casualties. More than 360 well Doug entrenched log and railroad ties cement bunkers were destroyed, and many more must have been caved in by the bombings. Of the 1,325 confirmed casualties, 1,025 were killed and 300 wounded. Only six enemy troops chose to surrender, it is estimated that another 200 to 300 more bodies went undiscovered, and many more were probably obliterated by the accurate and heavy bombardment from artillery, battleship and fixed air wing. Is in an area measuring only 3 miles x 5 miles. But this successful operation was not without cause to the US military. 108 Marines were killed and 513 were wounded. Despite all the death and destruction against the NVA and VC forces in Dodge city area, it was only a matter of weeks before squads, platoons and companies of Marines were in firefights against NVA forces that had re-infiltrated the area once again.Sporadic engagements between NVA and Marine forces in Dodge city would continue through 1969 and 1970.
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