The 6th Marine Battalion, Divine Hawks, was created and commanded by Colonel Pham Van Chung in 1965 and became part of Marine Task Force B (also know as 258th Marine Brigade). The Divine Hawks received their baptism of fire when they engaged the enemy at Tan Uyen in Zone D during the early part of 1967. In early 1968 they had performed operations in Phu Cu Pass, Bong Son and Tam Quan in the province of Binh Dinh.
Tet Mau Than Offensive
The North Vietnamese Army agreed to a temporary ceasefire in order to observe the lunar New Year. The VC and the ARVN's had been doing this for several years without any serious violations. The NVA were a different matter, their intent was to launch a major offensive under the flag of truce. However, there was a mix-up in the communications between the NVA and VC units. North Vietnam celebrates Tet on January 29th and South Vietnam on the 30th. Consequently some NVA units attacked their targets one day early. This action became known as the Tet Mau Than Offensive (The Americans called it the Tet offensive) This failure to coordinate their attack cost the NVA and VC the element of surprise.
On New Years Day the 6th Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hoang Tich Thong, received orders to dislodge the enemy from the Lien Khuong Airbase in Da Lat. The NVA had deployed a large number of antiaircraft units around the airbase so they were diverted to Tuy Hoa Airfield. The Marines were then sent to Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon.
The following day they were transported along Bien Hoa Highway to liberate the Thu Duc District of Saigon. The Marines arrived at a forest area north of the university. The enemy had launched attacks on the Crazy Buffaloes (2nd Marine Battalion) and Sea Wolves (3rd Marine Battalion). The enemy was well concealed in the abandoned rubber plantations behind the Marine positions. By the time the 6th Marines arrived the 2nd and 3rd Marines had repulsed several enemy attacks.
The next day the 6th sent out patrols to search the rubber forest northwest of Thu Duc. The enemy had retreated and it took the 6th about a week to secure the area.
The 6th moved to Hang Xanh and Dong Ong Co in Gia Dinh province. The terrain was uneven giving the NVA units an advantage. The 6th had to retake the area meter by meter. With the aid of helicopter gunships the enemy retreated with many wounded and killed. The 2nd Marines relieved the 6th who then returned to Marine Task Force A.
The 6th was then deployed to protect the Binh Loi Bridge. They set up camp south of the bridge. In May of 1968 Captain Nguyen Xuan Phuc was placed in command of the 6th Marine Battalion. Captain Phuc had a reputation for being a tough commander. He saw NVA sappers attacking the southern end of the bridge. He ordered a platoon to reinforce the 1st Co. and together they routed the NVA sappers and they retreated back to the coconut swamp.
Locked in the coconut tree swamp the NVA could not escape. With helicopters hovering overhead the NVA surrendered. Altogether the 6th Marines killed over 40 NVA soldiers and captured 150.
It was Captain Phuc's first victory and the Divine Hawks first battle where they had defeated the NVA unaided by any other unit.
Nguyen Hue Offensive
On the 30th of March, 1972 the North Vietnamese Army invaded South Vietnam on three fronts. The Nguyen Hue Offensive (the Americans called it the Easter Offensive) had begun.
With the surrender of Camp Carroll and the retreat of the 147th Marine Brigade from Mai Loc then Fire Base Pedro became the defensive line. The Divine Hawks occupied this position under the command of Major Do Huu Tung. Major Tung prepared for the advancing NVA tanks by setting up anti-tank mine fields on the approaches to Pedro.
The enemy shelled the position then the NVA tanks and infantry attacked on the morning of April 9th. The Marine artillery, based at Ai Tu, responded causing the infantry to retreat but the tanks kept coming. They crushed the fence and continued their attack. The Major held his fire. One of the tanks hit a mine and exploded in flames. The other tanks stopped. The Major gave the order to fire. The Divine Hawks raked the column of tanks with M-72 rockets and 106 mm recoilless rifles.
The battle lasted three days. The NVA lost 23 tanks (19 by the Divine Hawks and 4 by the Wild Birds of the 1st Marine Battalion), 400 killed and many more wounded and captured. This battle was unusual in that an infantry battalion had defeated a tank battalion without using any of their own tanks.
On May 1st the ARVN had to retreat from Quang Tri and form a new defensive line to the south of the My Chan River. This line held and on July 27th the Marines were ordered to recapture the Dinh Cong Trang Citadel. The Divine Hawks were assigned to recapture the Dinh Cong Trang Old Citadel. The Old Citadel was a square monument, about 500 m by 500 m, built with hard bricks covered with a layer of earth on top and a 10-meter wide moat surrounded it. The 3rd Infantry Division before the invasion had heavily fortified the Old Citadel. The NVA had an entire regiment inside the citadel and they were able to use these fortifications to their advantage.
After 80 days the marines were within 200 meters of the wall. The Marines commenced Operation Thunderstorm. They would rain down a constant barrage of firepower, for 48 hours, on the Citadel and any units that were supporting the NVA unit inside. American B52's carpet-bombed the artillery units, the Navy guns maintained a constant barrage against enemy positions, the Vietnamse Air Force rained down bombs and rockets against the wall surrounding the Old Citidel and ARVN artillery units fired every kind of weapon imaginable. The Marine Division shelled the old Citadel itself. After the bombardment ended they had expended 60,000 rounds on the enemy positions.
The wall was 5 meters wide and the air units would provide the main firepower to destroy it and the bunkers situated on each corner. The NVA gunners were chained to their machine guns. The 147th Brigade, the Sea Eagles (8th Marine Battalion) and the Sea Wolves were to attack the east wall. The 258th Marine Brigade, the Crazy Buffaloes and the Divine Hawks would attack the west wall.
The Sea Wolves scaled the wall. The Divine Hawks had reached the base of their wall and coordinated their attack with the Sea Wolves. Within minutes the Divine Hawks had taken the southwest corner. By dawn the Sea Wolves and the Divine Hawks occupied the entire southern side of the wall.
On the northwest side the Crazy Buffaloes, supported by M-48 tanks, were attacking and the Sea Eagles were closing in on the east wall. The 20th Armour Brigade was attacking the west wall. By afternoon the Marines controlled the southern half of the Old Citadel. The NVA was still in control of the northern wall. The Marines rearmed themselves and continued to attack. They wanted to dislodge the enemy before dusk. The enemy finally retreated and fled to the river, the red and yellow flag was raised by the Marines.
The battle to recapture the Old Citadel ended at 8 pm on September 15th, 1972.