Vietnam: The Fight for Hill 52

Place: Hill 52, just above the village of Ha Nha, on the Song (River) Vu Gia, Thong Duc Corridor, 15 miles SW of Da Nang Vietnam, I Corps

Time: June, 1970

I was a forward observer (FO) assigned to I/3/5 and we had responsibility for the area around Hill 52 to watch for infiltration of the NVA/VC, through the Thong Duc Corridor, out of Eastern Laos via the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Hill 52 was next to the village of Ha Nha.  The Marines have had many encounters with the enemy over the years at this location.  Hill 52 was just south of “Charlie Ridge”, a well known enemy stronghold and just North, across the Song Vu Gia from the “Arizona Territory”, another well known enemy stronghold.


We were used to having enemy activity on a routine basis.  One night, at about 2000 hours, I received a priority message indicating that intelligence said we could expect a sizeable ground attack that evening.  Needless to say, the pucker factor was tight.  We had a group of Marines, along with some ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), in Ha Nha Village.  A friend of mine was in charge.  I got Hill 65 and An Hoa ready to fire some preplanned targets.  The problem was the 105 guns on Hill 65 could not fire HE (High Explosive) all around Hill 52 because of range limitations.  They could support the East side of Hill 52, but fell about 500 meters short of reaching the hill proper.  They could reach Ha Nha Village because they were to the east of us.  The An Hoa guns could reach all around us, but we would be on the gun/target line.  We had no other choices other than air and that was limited.  The only air available, at the moment, was an Air Force, “basketball” which was an aircraft that dropped very big and bright illumination rounds. Besides the standard 60’s and 81’s, we had 1-106 recoilless rifle and 2-8 inch SP howitzers (fired 8 inch rounds) on the hill.  I told Lt. Burke, CO of the 8 inch howitzers, to do what he could with those SP’s and I had the 106 prepare to fire “beehive” rounds.  These rounds had approximately 6,000 fleshettes (nails) that could cause a body great harm.  If the bad guys got into the wire, the order to fire beehive may be given.


Well, the troops in the village got hit first.  Lt. Turner was in trouble because the ARVN ran.  The “Skipper” got the area declared a “free fire zone” and we began supporting him under the “rules of engagement” with contact fire missions.  I fully understood that the Marines in Ha Nha had to have our support to survive.  I was committed to do whatever was required.  Rules tend to come in second in situations like this.

We believe the enemy came down from Charlie Ridge and would most likely return in the same manner, otherwise, they would have to cross the river and they would make great targets if they tried to do that.  I made the decision that the land between Ha Nha village and Charlie Ridge, approximately 1500 meters, needed to be rearranged.  The 05’s from Hill 65 got that assignment.  I requested a “sustained fire mission” where a round would be fired every 15 seconds.  I was trying to establish “fire supremacy”.  There seems to be a universal understanding and belief that when “the metallic density of the air” in your immediate surroundings gets heavy, then you tend to duck and forgot somewhat about your mission and just try to stay alive.  We alerted Lt. Turner to our plan and he concurred.  We hoped “Charlie” would disengage the Marines in the village and try to “beat feet” out of there and head back to Charlie Ridge.  If we could get them in the killing zone, we could ruin their whole day.


Charlie felt like he wanted to try and do a little more damage, and “play war” in the village, so we sent some additional troops to reinforce Lt. Turner.  In the meantime, we needed more illumination.  The basketball had left so we used a platoon of guns from Hill 65 to fire the “illums”.  The challenged we faced in doing this was that Hill 52 was on the gun/target line so when the illum popped, the canister continued on, landing on our position.  Again, we had little choice.  We alert the troops that when they saw the illum open, be prepared to take some incoming from the canister in a few seconds.

We fired this method throughout the majority of the night.  Contact was broken and we repulsed the attack with few casualties.  We never chased the bad guys that night and the decision was made to “recon” the area with air the next day just in case there were any stragglers around. We then got prepared to start another day on Hill 52.

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