Operation Harvest Moon

The Threat to the Nui Loc Son Basin

On the evening of 17 November, the 1st VC Regiment, with all three of its battalions, the 60th, 80th and 90th, overran Hiep Duc District Headquarters and the South Vietnamese reported 174 of the defenders missing and 315 weapons lost. Two South Vietnamese battalions were heli-lifted by the Marines and supporting them with air strikes after a bitter fight Hiep Duc was retaken by the ARVN on the 19th of November although the 1st VC Regiment continued to control the critical terrain to the northwest.


On 4 December, General Walt and General Thi the South Vietnamese I Corps commander met and agreed on a joint operation which became Harvest Moon/Lien Ket 18. A temporary command Task Force DELTA was activated, with Brigadier General Henderson as the Commanding Officer.

Two Battalions, LtCol. Utter's 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and LtCol. Dorsey's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who had only one of it's own companies, "Lima", "Echo" from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, and "Golf" from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines were attached for this operation. The SLF remained in reserve. The ARVN forces under Brigadier General Lam, consisted of the HQ Group, 1st Battalion, and 11th Ranger Battalion of the 5th ARVN Regiment.

The ARVN were directed to enter the Que Son Valley along the Thang Binh-Hiep Duc road on 8 December, contact was not expected until the second day. On the 9th , LtCol. Utter's battalion was to be inserted behind the enemy to force them towards the advancing ARVN.

The Battle

On the first day 8 December, at 1330 about halfway to Que Son, the 11th Ranger Battalion, was hit hard by the 70th VC Battalion . In the first fifteen minutes of battle the Rangers lost nearly one third of their unit and were overrun. Marine air support was called in from Chu Lai and Marine Helicopters evacuated the wounded, the 1st Battalion ARVN, attempted to reinforce the Rangers but was unable to. Eventually the 1st Battalion 6th ARVN Regiment was moved from Tam Ky replacing the Rangers and established a night defensive perimeter.

The next morning, the 5th ARVN Regiment command group and it's 1st Battalion bore the weight of the VC attack. On 9 December, about 0645, the 60th, and 80th VC Battalions struck. The ARVN Regimental commander was killed and his force scattered to the south and east. At this point General Henderson decided to commit his Marines.

LtCol. Utters 2nd Battalion 7th Marines was heli-lifted from Tam Ky just west of the ARVN, and By late afternoon only encountered a few Viet Cong. The same afternoon LtCol. Dorseys 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines who had motored south from DaNang were heli-lifted from a point near Thang Binh to a landing zone southeast of the 5th ARVN Regiments command group and it's 1st Battalion. Before the Marines could reach Hill 43 they ran into a force of 200 VC. The battle raged until darkness fell and resulted in 11 Marines WIA, and 17 WIA with the VC sustaining a loss of approximately 75 KIA.

On the 10th, General Henderson ordered Utter to drive east, and Dorsey to push northeast, LtCol. Robert T.Henifin's 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines were to be heli-lifted into the area and the avenue of escape for the VC to the south was to be closed. At 1100 "Fox" Company was heli-lifted to a landing zone near the hamlet of Cam La, the helicopters came under 12.7mm machine gun fire from Hill 407 and the Marines in the landing zone were kept under continuous machine gun and mortar fire. Since the rest of the Battalion landed West because of the intense ground fire, LtCol. Utter's Battalion was ordered to move South to aid the hard hit unit. "Echo" Company finally reached the stranded unit but was hit hard on its right flank; the Marines managed to join forces but sustained casualties of 20 dead and over 80 wounded for the day. As darkness fell on the battlefield that day, General Walt relieved General Henderson, and BrigGen. Jonas M. Platt became head of Task Force DELTA

On the 11th, Task Force DELTA maneuvered to consolidate it's position, by the end of the day it was apparent that the enemy had vanished. General Platt suspected that the 1st VC Regiment retreated into the Phouc Ha Valley. B52 strikes were planned and carried out on the 12th before the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines entered to search the Valley. The 1st VC Regiment was not found but large amounts of enemy supplies and equipment were found and destroyed.

the Fight at Ky Phu

While the two Marine battalions were operating in the Phouc Ha Valley, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines sought the VC along the northern bank of the Song Chang, also known as the Khang River. Except for a few snipers the Marines had more trouble with the weather, Monsoon rains harassed the Marines every step

On 18 December, on the last leg of its long trek, the Marines encountered the 80th VC Battalion in strength. In the morning the 2nd Battalion moved out in a column, with "Golf" In the lead, followed by "Fox", H&S and "Hotel" Company from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines who had replaced "Echo" because of it's high casualties, "Hotel" Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was not with the Battalion but was providing security for the 107mm Mortar Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines. The Viet Cong allowed the Lead Company to pass through the village of Ky Phu before opening up fire on "Golf" Companies advance guard. Thinking it was an enemy force of snipers "Fox" was ordered to move forward. As "Fox" passed through the East End of Ky Phu enemy mortar rounds began to drop on H&S Company, which was still in the open rice paddies. As the mortars rained down on the Marines, the CO of H&S Company, Lt. Nicholas H, Grosz Jr., crossed the open area between his Company and the Command group warning Col. Utter of the impending danger to the Marines. Grosz then dashed across the fire swept rice paddies to rally his men against the insurgent forces. Two Viet Cong Companies were trying to enter the gap between "Fox" and 'H&S" Companies and envelope the command group. Having been warned by Lt. Grosz, and realizing that he was engaged with a major force Utter ordered "Fox" to turn and attack the "main VC positions on the H&S right flank". Supported by "Huey" gunships and artillery the Marines counterattacked, the VC just broke and ran. At the rear of the column, the VC stuck "Hotel" Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, from both the flank and the rear. Both the company commander and radio operator were mortally wounded. Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr., the attached artillery forward observer rallied the company and after four hours of bitter fighting led the Company into Ky Phu and rejoined the Battalion. For his heroic exploits that day he was awarded the Medal of Honor. By nightfall the 80th VC Battalion broke, leaving 104 bodies on the battlefield, LtCol. Utter's command had sustained 11 killed and 17 wounded.

The Aftermath

The next day, the 19th, all three Marine Battalions completed their movement for all practical purposes the operation was over, Harvest Moon/Lien Ket 18 officially ended on 20 December. The USMC-ARVN Operation accounted for 407 enemy killed, 33 captured, Marine casualties were 45 killed and 218 wounded. General Lam's ARVN suffered 90 killed, 91 missing, and 141 wounded, most occurring during the first two days. Despite poor weather conditions air power played a major role and the Marines learned valuable lessons in air-ground coordination for future operations.

Back |