History of War

SIEGE OF KHE SANH

US Marine tank crews inside the perimeter of the combat base watch as jet aircraft make bombing runs against enemy positions

“JOHNSON REQUIRED THE MEMBERS OF THE JCS TO SIGN A PLEDGE THAT THEY WOULD NOT ALLOW KHE SANH COMBAT BASE TO FALL TO THE ENEMY”

QUANG TRI PROVINCE, SOUTH VIETNAM 21 JANUARY – 8 APRIL 1968

North Vietnamese artillery and mortar shells exploded atop American-held Hill 64 slightly north of Khe Sanh Combat Base in the predawn darkness of 8 February 1968. Communist sappers shoved Bangalore torpedoes through the triple concertina wire on the outpost’s perimeter and unrolled spools of canvas over the wire so that the assault troops could breach the perimeter. Khaki-uniformed troops armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and satchel charges streamed into the compound.

The 65 marines of Alpha Company of the First Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment reeled under the shock of the attack. Some of the marines fought from the protection of the trenches and bunkers, while others climbed out of the trenches and charged at the invaders to stop them from reaching the heavy weapons and bunkers. The marines fired M16 assault rifles and M60 machine guns, as well as M79 grenade launchers and one-shot disposable rocket launchers in an effort to check the enemy onslaught.

As the fighting grew in intensity, the shouts and screams of the combatants were drowned out by the roar of incoming artillery shells fired from American and North Vietnamese mortars and howitzers, as each side brought supporting fire to bear on the contested hill. After 90 minutes of fighting, the NVA had captured most of the compound, except for the trenches on the southern side of the stronghold. The Communists broke off their attack at dawn. A Marine Corps relief column backed by a section of M48 tanks arrived after daybreak to mop up any remaining resistance.

The fight for Hill 64 was typical of the savage, limited attacks that the NVA made against the Marine

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