The Tactical Situation
Thua Thien Province early 1968
( click on maps to enlarge )
Third Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) intelligence as well as Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) held
the belief that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Spring Offensive of 1968 would take place in the remote regions of the
western mountains along the border with Laos. These assumptions were based upon the enemy activities of late summer and
fall, 1967. During that period the enemy had launched multiple regimental size attacks across the border against US and
Republic of Vietnam (RVN) installations. There was also activity in NW I Corps where a major concentration of enemy
forces was building around the US Marine base at Khe Sanh. The reasonable conclusion was that this would be the
"epicenter" of next years activities. The western mountain regions of I Corps was mostly under the control of the NVA and
VC where the infrastructure was non-existent and what few roads there were, none would support military traffic.
QL 547 was one of those roads, it was not the main road from Hue City to
the A Shau Valley, it was the only road! Located on the border with Laos,
logistical support into the A Shau would better come from the west, Laos
and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, rather than from the east. Operation "Cumber-
land Trail" was conceived as an engineering operation with the mission to
rebuild QL 547 to a condition that would sustain military traffic. Work was
to start at the operations base "Rock Crusher" located on the west side of the
Song Huong ( Perfume River ) about four miles SW of Hue City. Building
the road from the east toward the west, the construction forces were to be
immediately followed up by heavy combat formations tasked to secure the
A Shau Valley and to engage and contain the expected enemy attacks to be
launched across the border.
During the month of January, the units designated to form "Cumberland Trail" gathered at the Rock Crusher location.
Operational security was charged to 1st Bn 1st Marines and "C" Company was assigned duty at the "Crusher", the mission
of artillery fire support was "B" Btry 1st Bn 11th Marines and Engineering was "B" Company 9th Eng Bn.
January 30th marked the beginning of the NVA "Spring Offensive", however, it did not manifest itself in the remote western
mountains as foreseen, but instead it came on with a bang right under our noses. In one night every Provincial Capital as
well as any other town or village of significance across the entire length of South Vietnam, came under attack. Hue City, the
historic cultural capital was overun on the 31st by a reinforced NVA Division. This was unexpected until almost the last
minute, only at the very last did General Truong, CG of the 1st ARVN Div, suspect that something was amiss. The element
of surprise greatly enhanced by the following factors:
In the past Hue City, because of it's historical value and beauty, had been mostly protected by both sides,
The attack was launched on the first day of the Tet Holiday, a mutually agreed upon truce period.
Overnight Hue was occupied by over 12,000 enemy soldiers. The only friendly installations not captured during the night
were the MACV compound, located in the New City a few blocks south of the Song Huong and the 1st ARVN Division HQ
located in the Citadel. Both locations valiantly holding on by their fingernails. The surprise attack in Hue certainly had an
effect on the "Cumberland Trail" forces out at the Rock Crusher. Our mission had changed, no longer to "open 547 to the A
Shau for the use of US forces" but to "act as a blocking force to deny the use of 547 to the NVA forces". The Rock Crusher
ceased being an operational base for an engineering operation and became a fire support base for forces engaged in the
Battle for Hue City and surrounding areas. Bravo Btry 1/11 was busy full time providing artillery support. High rate of
expenditure of artillery ammunition and the remote location of Firebase Rock Crusher created a tough logistical problem.
This situation was seriously exacerbated by the large number of NVA formations located between
the Rock Crusher and logistical support at Phu Bai.
This was the situation on February 7th, when a resupply convoy of 17 trucks and 1 jeep made it out to the Rock Crusher
with a large supply of ammunition for the 105 howitzers. Unfortunately the convoy was carrying only a minimum
of food and small arms ammo, the three units at the firebase were low on all these items and OUT of "C" rations and some
crucial medical supplies.
It was decided that "B" Co 9th Eng would attach an additional 4 trucks to the
convoy that would travel to Phu Bai, load up the needed supplies and return
as soon as security could be arranged. Also 2 Ontos anti-tank vehicles from
"A" Co 1st Anti-Tank Bn had arrived at the firebase with the troubled convoy
on the 1st. These tracks had been held at the 'Cusher as extra insurance against
a potential NVA tank attack along 547, it was decided that they would be re-
turning to Phu Bai in that they were needed in Hue City.
The enlarged convoy now consisting of 21 trucks 1 jeep and 2 Ontos, depart-
ed the "Crusher" and crossed the pontoon bridge at about 1430 that afternoon.
The first incident occurred when the lead truck struck a mine ( see map ) this caused the convoy to stop with the rear
elements backed up for several kilometers along the river road. After Capt brown ( who had been riding in the truck ) had
the damaged truck pushed from the roadway, he moved to the radio jeep and the convoy resumed with Cpl Smith's Ontos in
Head of the convoy had traveled only about two kilometers when a truck in the middle was destroyed by a second mine. The
rear most vehicles were backed up just past a crude culvert bypass built around a very light bridge so as to allow passage
for the heavy military vehicles. After a delay of only a few minutes and as the convoy started to move the rear elements
were taken under intense rifle, machine gun and rocket fire. The enemy fire was so intense at the bypass that the rear Ontos
and the last truck were both quickly destroyed. The remaining convoy pressed forward with the rear group of trucks engaged
in a running fight along the road, losing 2 more trucks between the initial outbreak at the bypass and the main ambush site at
the Graveyard. No one was aware of the plight of the Marines at the bypass, in fact no one even knew that the last vehicles
were not following until they all backed up at the second ambush site. The Graveyard, here was the primary ambush where
the bulk of the NVA forces were concentrated. This ambush site was tactically arranged around a very sharp 90 deg turn, so
sharp that the large military trucks had difficulty negotiating. Vehicles stalled and piled up on each other and the fight raged
on for over 3 hours. Were it not for the reaction forces, one from the Rock Crusher the other from Phu Bai, we could have
lost all personnel.
Best described, this was a classic ambush utilizing 2 mines ( command detonated? ) to disorganise, a rear blocking force
"The Bypass", and a primary ambush site "The Graveyard". The total ambush was quite long, covering about 1 1/2 miles
road distance with the primary force and rear blocking force far enough apart to make one tend to think of two distinct
ambushes. It seemed to have been well planned and executed with only a few glaring deficiencies:
There was a clear lack of communication between the rear blocking force and the primary force. This is substantiated by
after action analysis indicating that the entire NVA force throughout the operational area was suffering from serious
We do not believe that the fight at the Bypass was intended to be initiated when it was, but instead that they planed to let the
convoy pass unscathed and then set up blocking positions across the Bypass to catch escapees retreating from the primary
action at the Graveyard. We do have information that indicates PFC Lindquist actually initiated the action by firing on
several NVA soldiers from the back of Sgt Hedlund's stopped truck.
These NVA units had been engaged in active combat for a week and it appears they were also low on ammunition and
It was only by these deficiencies of the enemy situation and the valiant, heroic actions of the reaction forces that any were
saved. All could have perished on that bloody "Road to the Graveyard".