The Attack on Coastal Group 16's Base

   On the morning of 7 August 1967, in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours, an enemy force of one to two battalions assaulted the Coastal Group 16 base, 70 miles southeast of DaNang.

   The base, which lies adjacent to the village of Co Luy near the mouth of the Tra Khuc River, was initially struck by an intensive mortar barrage that began just before 0300. The Coastal Group's US advisors -- Lieutenant William C. Fitzgerald, USN, Lieutenant Junior Grade Anthony Williams, USNR, Chief Engineman Harold H. Guinn, USN, and Boatswain's Mate First Class Leo E. Pearman, USN -- immediately radioed for help and provided direct assistance as base personnel tried to check the enemy's movements amid a heavy exchange of small-arms fire.

   A US Navy craft on patrol nearby -- PCF 20 -- intercepted the distress call, relayed the message to other MARKET TIME units in the area and headed toward the base, arriving about 0315. Upon arrival, at Lieutenant Fitzgerald's request, the Swift boat began firing on enemy mortar and automatic-weapons sites emplaced on the other side of the river, directly across from the beleaguered base.

   By 0330 the overwhelming enemy force had penetrated the base's northern mine field  defenses and numerous Vietnamese Navy personnel were already dead, including the Coastal Group commander, Lieutenant Junior Grade Nguyen N. Thong, VNN. Then, as an advance contingent (approximately 300 in number) of the invaders broke through and began overrunning the central sections of the base, Lieutenant Fitzgerald and his assistants moved to their bunker and continued to fire on the enemy troops.

   At 0340 PCF 75 reached the scene to lend additional fire support and, five minutes later, the Vietnamese Navy's PCE 10 arrived and began firing on the Viet Cong positions with spotting assistance from Coastal Group personnel embarked on the junks in the river. By 0345, however, the base was in virtual enemy possession and communications with the base had deteriorated. At this time, realizing that the advisors' bunker was probably the sole remaining source of resistance within the base complex, Lieutenant Fitzgerald requested an artillery strike on his position and ordered his men to escape to the river. as the men left the bunker Lieutenant Fitzgerald remained behind, providing covering fire for their movements. When Lieutenant Fitzgerald reached the bunker's exit. he was fatally struck in the back of the head by a round of small-arms fire.

   The remaining advisors subsequently reached the river successfully but not before LTJG Williams was hit in the face and chest by shrapnel; about an hour later he was picked up by a fisherman, transferred to a Swift boat and eventually evacuated to the US Army hospital at Qui Nhon. Meanwhile, the other two advisors were rescued by Coastal Group junk and, after treatment for minor wounds, returned to the base and made their way back to the bunker where, about 0430, they found the body of LF Fitzgerald.

   By this time a number of other units were in the area, including USS Camp DER 251, PCFs 15 and 54, and a US Air Force C-47 "Dragon Ship." With Camp acting as on-scene commander, the units provided counter-fire support, exfiltration patrols and evacuation assistance. The Swift boats evacuated approximately 40 Vietnamese to Camp, fifteen of whom were subsequently flown by helicopter to the Vietnamese hospital at Quang Ngai.

   At 0700 two infantry companies of the ARVN Second Division and a company of US troops from Task Force OREGON reached the battered Coastal Group base and launched a counter attack against the Viet Cong units, forcing them to retreat. By 0730 the Allied contingent had regained control of the base.

   Besides the Coastal Group commander, 13 Vietnamese sailors were killed during the attack and 35 were wounded. In addition, 20 civilians, most of them military dependants, were killed or wounded. At the same time 11 Viet Cong invaders were killed, and 35 Viet Cong suspects  who had been in a detention status had escaped; three other detainees were killed. All but one of the buildings comprising the base complex were destroyed or damaged.

   By mid-morning the base was re-manned by remaining Coastal Group 16 personnel, augmented by 30 men from Coastal Group 15 and a company-size security unit of Regional Force troops. 

    Coastal Group 16 after the 7 August attack

Coastal Group 16 base after the 7 August 1967 attack

Account taken from:
US NAVAL FORCES VIETNAM
Monthly Historical Supplement
August 1967, pages 83 thru 87

 

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This page was last updated on:  21 October, 2008 at 11:16