The Duc Duc Massacre
The first two weeks of March 1971 saw an increase in enemy activity in the province of Quang Nam. Da Nang
took 16 rockets in an attack on 4th March. Throughout the An Hoa basin patrols made contact with small groups of VC or NVA.
III MAF using recovered enemy documents knew that the Communists were planning a new offensive called the
K-850 Campaign. The objectives of the campaign were to attack district Headquarters, PF & RF positions, CUPP and CAP units.
Da Nang would also get its fair share of rockets .
During K-850 the VC/NVA put a lot of pressure on the Vietnamese forces and their pacification programme. On
27th March the 1st Marine Division put all its units on alert against foreseen rocket attacks. On the night of the 28th Da
Nang which was shrouded in low cloud came under rocket attack along with nearby allied positions.
In the province the enemy attacked Duc Duc, Dai Loc, Dien Ban, and the Que Son District Headquarters. They
also attacked CUPP and CAP hamlets and refugee resettlement hamlets. Bridges and highways in the province were also attacked.
Early on the morning of the 29th at 0210 two battalions of the NVA 38th Regiment along with two VC sapper
battalions charged into Duc Duc while their mortars and rockets roared in. The District HQ compound was the NVA’s primary
target. Meanwhile the VC sappers attacked the nearby hamlets destroying everything in their path.
The 412th Regional Force Company and the 123d Popular Force Platoon along with a few U.S. Advisers retreated
to the HQ Compound and prepared to make a last stand.The NVA encircled the compound and due to low cloud, fix-winged air support
could not be used. The defenders of the HQ could see the flames coming from local villages as the VC carried on with their
In Da Nang at 0245 the Direct Air Support Center ordered the Black Hammer helicopters of 1st MAW stationed
at Marble Mountain to fly to Duc Duc and assist its defenders. Black Hammer was the name given to night reconnaissance missions.
The patrol of helicopters was made up of a Huey searchlight bird from HML-167 which was under the command of Captain Thomas
C. Mc Donald who was the flight leader. With him were two AH-1Js Sea Cobra gunships from HML-367. Lt Colonel Clifford E. Reese
commanded these birds.
Flying below the thick cloud with their running lights off, the choppers headed south-west towards Duc Duc
which was about 25 miles from Da Nang. Duc Duc incidentally was only a thousand meters from An Hoa Combat base. The U.S. Marines
had pulled out of An Hoa on the 15th of October 1970 leaving the base in the hands of the ARVN The burning villages acted
as a beacon for the Black Hammer patrol .
The radio in the compound crackled into life as Captain McDonald contacted the U.S. Advisor. The advisor soon
gave a sitrep to McDonald and informed him that they were in grave danger of being overrun. Clearance was given for the gunships
to fire at any targets around the HQ’s perimeter. The advisor also told McDonald that he could not direct any air-strikes
as they were under heavy enemy fire.
Mc Donald’s Huey lead the attack and the patrol dropped down to 400 feet and homed in on flashes from
the enemy’s guns. Once found the Huey’s Xenon search-lights lit up the area and a hail of bullets from the 7.62mm
mini-guns and 20mm cannons tore into the NVA. The gunships also fired 2.75in rockets onto a knoll which was west of the compound
where the enemy had set up mortars and RPGs.
The action was close and the gunships brought their firepower as near as 30 meters from the defenders. Desperate
times need desperate measures. Now the choppers were under attack as the NVA fired into the night sky. The search-light Huey
was most at risk. As soon as he turned on his beam, the NVA fired at it.
The Black Hammer patrol stayed at Duc Duc for four hours. The AH-1Js took it in turns to fly back to Marble
Mountain to re-fuel and to re-arm. The other birds stayed to give cover to the trapped forces in the compound.
The NVA then began to pull back towards the Song Thu Bon and started to cross the river in boats. The Black
Hammer followed this withdrawal and one of the Sea Cobras fired at the boats, sinking six of them mid-stream. The NVA fired
back at the birds and the Huey’s search-light operator was wounded. With a Marine injured and the enemy in retreat the
Black Hammer patrol returned to Marble Mountain and touched down at 0600. During the battle the Black Hammer patrol had expended
2,800 rounds of 20mm cannon and 64 2.75in rockets. They also destroyed 6 boats and 12 hooches. The enemy KIA was four confirmed
and ten probable.
For the next three days and nights the area continued to take hostile fire. HML-367 squadron carried on with
the air cover and provided emergency medical envac. During the support of ARVN forces they expended 407 2.75in rockets, 14,158
rounds of 7.62mm and 1,386 rounds of 20mm ammunition.
Units of the 51st ARVN Regiment were sent to reinforce the PF and RF garrison. They made contact with the
NVA throughout these three days. The NVA losses were 59 KIA while the RFs and PFs lost 20 men and 26 WIA. 103 civilians were
murdered in the attacked hamlets, 96 were injured and 37 civilians were also kidnapped by the NVA.
Over 1,500 homes were destroyed by the VC sappers attack. The 38th Regiment remained in the Duc Duc area and
on the 3d April Duc Duc District HQ was attacked again by the NVA. Over 100 mortars fell on the compound and surrounding villages.
The NVA 38th Regiment was here to stay and take on the ARVN 51st.
In researching this article for my book / CD An Hoa Combat Base U.S. Marines in Quang Nam Province 1966-1971
I used information from:
U.S. Marines in Vietnam 1970-71 USMC History and Museums Division.
Narrative Summary for HML-367 March 1971.
This article is the copyright of Alan Waugh © 2005
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