Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers Operation Niagara (Jan-Mar, 1968) - Mar. 16th, 2005
Posted on 03/15/2005 8:39:30 PM PST by SAMWolf
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The thing that broke the back of the NVA at Khe Sanh, said General Westmoreland, was 'basically the fire of the B-52s.'
General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, chose the code name "Operation Niagara" for the coordination of available firepower at Khe Sanh. According to Westmoreland, the name Niagara invoked an appropriate image of cascading shells and bombs. Niagara would be composed of two elements. Niagara I was the comprehensive intelligence-gathering effort to pinpoint the available targets, and Niagara II was the coordinated shelling and bombing of these targets with all available air and artillery assets.
The effectiveness of the firepower available to the Marines at Khe Sanh was heavily dependent on target selection--a responsibility of the intelligence section (S-2) of the 26th Marine Regiment Headquarters Company. S-2 knew the siege strategy employed by the NVA at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and Con Thien in 1967, and it could predict the enemy's actions at Khe Sanh.
Various sources were utilized to keep track of enemy activity around the Khe Sanh plateau. Sources outside the immediate battlefield included intelligence reports from MACV in Saigon, III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) headquarters in Da Nang, as well as the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Division at Phu Bai.
Intelligence was generated locally in many ways. Hundreds of acoustic and seismic sensors were seeded around the combat base. This comprehensive sensor system cost approximately $1 billion and was credited with reducing Marine deaths during the fighting by 50 percent. By Marine estimates, the sensor system provided 40 percent of the raw intelligence at Khe Sanh. Ground and aerial observers supplied visual evidence of enemy activity, as did photoreconnaissance. Analysis of incoming rocket, mortar and artillery craters determined the likely source of the attacks. Shell/flash reports, infrared imagery and analysis of intercepted enemy communications were also used to identify potential enemy targets.
Marine reconnaissance patrols, Army Special Forces, CIA personnel, and the MACV-SOG all provided input to the 26th Marines S-2. The CIA Joint Technical Advisory Detachment and SOG obtained their information from casual encounters with villagers; from regular paid agents, including Rhade and Bru Montagnards; and from locals who wanted to be agents of the U.S. intelligence community around Khe Sanh. Likely or confirmed targets were then pummeled by the available firepower, while the base Fire Support Coordinating Center (FSCC) coordinated the array of supporting arms.
After making the trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, the NVA established various forward logistic bases within a few thousand meters of the combat base. At night the Communists dug shallow trenches from their supply points toward the U.S. positions. American intelligence noticed this trenching system around February 23, 1968. Once the system had been constructed close to the base, secondary trench lines branched off and paralleled the Marine perimeter. These close-in, secondary trenches were dug for the purpose of launching ground attacks against the base.
Initial FSCC fire tactics were to saturate infiltration routes into the area around the combat base with artillery fire and airstrikes. This slowed down NVA trenching efforts but could not stop them completely. From a logistic standpoint, it was impossible to sufficiently saturate the trenching systems with massed artillery fire, so the FSCC altered its tactics. The NVA was permitted to dig trenches close to the base--then it was easier to pinpoint them.
The sensor system quickly proved its worth. During the night of February 3-4, sensors detected up to 2,000 NVA soldiers in the vicinity of Marine hill outposts northwest of the combat base. Defensive artillery fires were ordered against them, and sensors reported hearing men screaming in panic and the sounds of troops fleeing their assembly areas. The NVA units were completely destroyed in their assembly areas and the intended attack was effectively broken up. This is one of the earliest examples in warfare of a ground attack entirely thwarted by using remote sensor data.
With crater analysis, it was possible to confirm the location of enemy batteries, assist in counterbattery fires and detect new types of enemy weapons--new calibers or new munitions. The flight direction of a projectile could be determined with reasonable accuracy from its crater, ricochet furrow or, in the case of dud rounds, soil tunnel.
The particular characteristics of the soil at Khe Sanh often yielded valuable information through crater analysis. A stick placed in the soil tunnel made by a dud round would point in the direction of origin, and the angle of the stick would indicate the angle of fall. By measuring this angle and using the firing tables of enemy weapons, counterfire personnel could compute the range of the enemy weapon. Shelled areas were inspected as soon as possible after a shelling.
"Khe Sanh CAS"
During the siege at Khe Sanh, Marine aviators from various squadrons scraped the tree tops at high speed to provide Close Air Support to their fellow Marines on the ground. 400 knots at 30 feet. Air support doesn't get much closer.
Staff Sergeant Bossiz Harris, the acting gunnery sergeant of the mortar battery, 1st Battalion, 13th Marines, conducted crater analysis during incoming fire, which allowed the battalion's Fire Direction Center (FDC) to direct prompt return fire. Rapid and accurate counterbattery fire could force the enemy artillerymen to seek cover and could destroy NVA guns and gun crews.
To minimize the reaction time of the Marine and Army artillerymen at Khe Sanh, Colonel Lownds, the base commander, periodically entered the regimental FSCC bunker, indicated a spot on the wall map and directed the senior artillery officer to hit the marked spot. The coordinates were sent to the FDC, computed and sent to the appropriate gun crew, which adjusted its tubes. This aiming process usually took less than 40 seconds before a round was on its way. During the battle at Khe Sanh, the 1st Battalion, 13th Marine, guns fired 158,891 mixed artillery rounds in direct support of the 26th Marines.
One Marine spotter on Hill 881 South, Lance Cpl. Molimao Niuatoa, had especially sharp vision. Niuatoa was scanning the landscape with a pair of 20-power naval binoculars when he saw the muzzle flash of an NVA artillery piece 12,000 to 13,000 meters from his position. Because the gun position was beyond the range of Marine artillery, it could only be taken out by airstrikes, and an observation aircraft was directed toward the position. Since the observer did not know the exact location of the gun, he fired a 2.75-inch smoke rocket into its general vicinity. A Marine Douglas A-4 Skyhawk jet dropped a 500-pound bomb on the marking rocket. Niuatoa observed how far the billowing bomb smoke was from the artillery piece and called in adjustments to the spotter aircraft. More smoke rockets were fired and additional strings of bombs were dropped. Corrections and bracketing continued until a Skyhawk on its fourth pass scored a direct hit on the gun position.
Khe Sanh had top-priority claim on all U.S. air assets in Southeast Asia. B-52s, personally directed by Westmoreland from the Saigon MACV combat operations center, came from Guam, Thailand and Okinawa. Marine and Air Force fighter-bombers provided support from bases in South Vietnam, and Navy aviators from Task Force 77 flew sorties from aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. The VNAF and U.S. Army aviation also provided aerial support. From B-52s, originally designed for high-altitude strategic delivery of nuclear weapons, to propeller-driven Douglas A-1 Skyraiders, aircraft from the entire spectrum of American aircraft were deployed to support the 26th Marines at Khe Sanh.
In February 1968, about 77 percent of the Navy carrier sorties planned against North Vietnam were redirected against targets around Khe Sanh due to clouds that enveloped the North Vietnam airspace. One naval aviator who attacked the NVA trench system said the detonation of his 1,000-pound delayed-action bomb resembled a volcano eruption. After U.S. air support collapsed 50 meters of trench, the NVA abandoned building assault positions in the area.
During bad weather, ground-controlled radar bombing was employed. Radar controllers operated from a heavily reinforced bunker that contained fragile computer equipment and the TPQ-10 radar used to guide aircraft to their target. This radar emitted a beam that locked onto the aircraft. Using targeting data acquired from the FSCC, the controller programmed the computer with information on enemy position, ballistic characteristics of the ordnance, wind speed and direction and other relevant data. At a predetermined release point, the controller instructed the pilot to release his bombs. In specially equipped aircraft such as the twin-engine Marine Grumman A-6 Intruder, bombs could be released automatically by the ground controller. Marine controllers routinely directed strikes as close as 500 meters to friendly positions. The Air Force liaison officer felt strikes could be conducted to within 50 meters in case of emergency. Marine pilots flew 7,078 sorties and delivered 17,015 tons of ordnance in defense of Khe Sanh, while U.S. Air Force tactical aircraft made 9,691 sorties and delivered 14,223 tons of munitions.
| The $1 billion of aerial munitions expended by the United States during the siege totaled almost 100,000 tons. That was almost 1,300 tons of bombs dropped daily--five tons for every one of the 20,000 NVA soldiers initially estimated to have been committed to the fighting at Khe Sanh. This expenditure of aerial munitions dwarfs the amount of munitions delivered by artillery, which totals eight shells per enemy soldier believed to have been on the battlefield.
General Vo Nguyen Giap claimed that Khe Sanh was never of particular importance to the North Vietnamese. According to him, it was the United States that made Khe Sanh important because the Americans had placed their prestige at stake there. In the larger scheme of things, the fighting at Khe Sanh was of little lasting significance.
Before the bombs and shells of Operation Niagara stopped falling on the Khe Sanh battlefield, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered severe restrictions on aerial and naval attacks against North Vietnam, declared the readiness of the United States to begin peace discussions to end the war and declined to seek re-election to the presidency. In June 1968, the base at Khe Sanh was abandoned by the Americans. Ultimately, the United States would learn that it was unable to win at the conference table what it could not win on the battlefield.
1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlet Letter" was first published. It was about adultery, revenge and redemption in Puritan Massachusetts.
And now off to bed as I need my beauty sleep.
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To all our military men and women past and present, military family members, and to our allies who stand beside us
Good morning, Snippy and everyone at the Foxhole.
March 16, 2005
The much-loved children's story Pinocchio is about a wooden puppet whose nose grows long when he tells a lie. His friend Jiminy Cricket chirps, "Let your conscience be your guide." Pinocchio follows his advice, repents, and returns to Geppetto his creator, where he is given a heart of flesh and is freed from his strings.
There's a principle in this story for God's children. If we don't listen to that voice deep down inside that tells us what we should and should not do, we live in bondage. But a cleansed conscience brings freedom.
Some people have no strong basis for making godly decisions. Their conscience is weak, and they can be easily swayed by the behavior of others. Then there are those whose conscience is defiled. The standard by which they measure good and evil is corrupted, polluted, and impure (Titus 1:15). But saddest of all are those who have a "seared" conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). They have resisted that inner voice for so long that they no longer hear what it has to say.
But you ask, "How can we have a cleansed conscience?" We must repent of our sin and return to our Creator. We must ask Him to conform our desires and behavior to His Word and then be careful to obey it. -David Roper
Conscience is a trustworthy compass when God's Word is your true north.
One man's imagery is another man's head scratch.
Prayers for your friend and his family.
Hump day Bump fore the Foxhole, I am off to the BORG as we here at the alfa6 domicile are undertaking another "Weekend Home Improvement Project"
On This Day In History
Birthdates which occurred on March 16:
1739 George Clymer US merchant (signed Declaration of Independence, Constitution)
1751 James Madison Port Conway VA, (D-R), 4th US President (1809-17)
1787 Georg Simon Ohm physicist (discovered Ohm's Law)
1802 George Archibald McCall Brigadier General (Union volunteers), died in 1868
1806 Norbert Rillieux inventor (sugar refiner)
1812 Henry Dwight Terry Brigadier General (Union volunteers), died in 1869
1822 John Pope Major General (Union volunteers), died in 1892
1832 Charles Camp Doolittle Brevet Major General (Union volunteer)
1836 Andrew S Hallidie inventor (cable car)
1839 René François Armand Sully Prudhomme France, poet, 1st Nobel winner (1901)
1849 Reverend James E Smith became father at 100 with woman 64 years younger
1868 Maxim Gorki USSR, playwright (The Lower Depths, Night Asylum)
1878 Reza Sjah Pahlawi [Reza Chan], shah of Iran
1884 Harrison Ford Kansas City MO, silent screen actor (Just Married, Vanity Fair, Love In High Gear , Rubber Tires)
1903 Mike Mansfield (Senator-Democrat-MT) majority whip
1906 Henny Youngman London England, comedian (Take my wife please)
1920 Leo McKern Sydney Australia, actor (Rumpole of the Bailey)
1926 Jerry Lewis [Joseph Levitch] Newark NJ, entertainer/fund raiser (MDA), especially loved in France
1927 Daniel Patrick Moynihan US ambassador to UN/(Senator-Democrat-NY, 1977-2001)
1927 Vladimir M Komarov Moscow Russia, cosmonaut (Voshkod I Soyuz 1)
1932 Ronnie Walter Cunningham Creston IA, Colonel USMC/astronaut (Apollo 7)
1933 Ruth Bader Ginsberg justice (US Supreme Court)
1942 Chuck Woolery Kentucky, TV game show host (Love Connection)
1956 Ozzie Newsome NFL tight end (Cleveland Browns)
1959 Michael J Bloomfield Flint MI, Major USAF/astronaut (STS 86)
1963 Phung Vuong Saigon Vietnam, murderer (FBI Most Wanted List)
1976 Michelle Rae Collie Miss Bahamas-Universe (1996)
Good Morning, Foxhole.
Good thread. A whole lot of new-tech war stuff was being tested over there at the time. The sound sensor info is interesting, but the sharp-eyed Marine seemed to to a better job than the sensors.
Incoming rounds slammed into the runway and apparently struck the C-130's left main landing gear, causing the aircraft to swerve and smash into a forklift.
Five-hundred pound bombs fall on NVA trenches at the northeast end of the Khe Sanh runway.
Bruce M. Geiger
At Khe Sanh: February 22 - April 14, 1968
First Lieutenant, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery, 108th Artillery Group, 1st Field Force, U.S. Army Attached to the 3rd Marine Division
Good morning all. Thanks for the pings, even if I don't reply to them all. Good article on the use of airpower to support the ground troops.
I didn't like the last comment about the US not being able to win at the conference table as well as not winning on the battlefield. It's a well known fact that the US would have beaten the NVA and ultimately the VC if the Armed Services had been allowed to do their jobs instead of the politicos telling them what to do.
Again, thanks for the ping and ...........
I believe it was Adniral Nimitz who said of the Marines at Iwo..."Uncommon Valor was Common"
A pic of the first flag with what appears to be the second, more famous flag raising on Suribachi
Carrier Landing Practice On Iwo Jima Iwo Jima Iwo Jima 2 The attached picture was taken during our last day of carrier landing practice on Iwo Jima, 15 Janauary 2003. The flag flying proudly atop Mt Suribachi and adjacent to the American Memorial is "Old Glory," the very same "Old Glory" that has been touring America's Freedom Road since 1999. Leading the division of VF-154 Tomcats is the Commanding Officer, CDR James H. Flatley, IV. We head back to NAF Atsugi tommorow for carrier qualifications aboard KITTY HAWK, then await subesequent tasking.