Pen & Sword- Images of War- United States Marine Corps in Vietnam
Author: Michael Green
208 pages with 250 black and white and color photographs and maps
NOTE: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this book was offered in PDF format for review, but is available in paperback form.
I have found the Images of War series of books to be excellent sources of rarely (if ever) seen photographs of the engagements they center on. They are great sources of reference and excellent wellsprings of inspiration for those looking to put their models in unique settings. This book does an excellent job of covering nearly every aspect of the USMC in the Vietnam War-- from aircraft, armor, naval craft, and the individual soldier. That being said, this book only begins to skim the surface of the Marines involvement in the war and the author points to the comprehensive ten-part historical series from the Marine Corps about its participation in the conflict available in PDF for free on the web. Most of the photographs originate from the United States Marine Corps Historical Center.
The book begins with the Opening Act in 1965 with the commitment of major combat ground forces to help stabilize the government of South Vietnam and the first to deploy (other than a number of military advisors) was the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)- specifically the 9th MEB entering by sea and air to the coastal city of Da Nang. The first chapter gives an organizational breakdown of MEB and insight into the command structure involving its infantry battalions, eight fixed wing squadrons, eight helicopter squadrons, a reinforced artillery regiment, 65 medium tanks, 12 flame-thrower tanks, 65 tracked anti-tank vehicles, 157 machine-gun armed amphibious tractors, and six amphibious tractors armed with a turret-mounted 105mm howitzer. The chapter continues with a concise analysis of the USMC organizational structure, their area of operation, and continues with an overview of the enemy forces they faced and some of the early engagements, including a rundown of Operation STARLITE. By the end of 1965, the III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) had conducted fifteen operations of battalion strength or larger.
M48A3 tanks coming in near Da Nang on a US Navy landing craft
M1939 (61-K) anti-aircraft gun; Table or Organization & Equipment for 3rd Marine Division
Mule with M40 160mm Recoilless Rifle; and M50A1 Ontos
4.2" (107mm) M30 Mortar- normally with an eight man crew
Chapter Two involves coverage of the increases in the scope of fighting from 1966-67. It focuses to begin with on the operations that were centered around security and pacification programmes.Through early March of 1966, Operations MALLARD, DOUBLE EAGLE I and II, and UTAH were search-and-destroy operations that had mixed results of engaging enemy forces. Operations LIBERTY, KANSAS, HASTINGS, and PRAIRIE are also brought to light in the chapter as the US entered 1967. Throughout this time span, it was growing ever more apparent that the pacification programmes were not very effective. The 1st Marine Division would further conduct infantry battalion-sized or more extensive operations against the VC, too numerous to go into detail here. They include (not necessarily in chronological order):
- PRAIRIE II, III, and IV
- HICKORY, LAM SON 54, BELT TIGHT, and BEAU CHARGER
- UNION and UNION II (all between January- June of '67)
M55 8" (203mm) self-propelled howitzer
LVTP5s could transfer up to 25 men from ship to shore; LVTH6 (H for Howitzer)
M67A2 flamethrower tank; M51 heavy recovery vehicle with removed M48A3 engine
Preserved LVTP-5A1; Marines manning an M60 machine gun
Marine Corps M48A3 tank with 90mm gin; Artist's depiction of the effects of a mine or booby trap
Chapter 3 covers The Defining Year of 1968. As had been previously determined, the USMC and Army were at odds in the conduct of the war. The Marines believed the path to success lay with wining the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people, whereas the Army's General Westmoreland felt the quickest path to victory lay in the destruction of the military forces of the VC and NVA. After an incident on January 2, 1968 with NVA senior officers dressed in Marine uniforms trying to infiltrate at Khe Sanh, two additional Marine infantry battalions were brought in, increasing the base complement to about 6,000 men. Further attacks followed in and around the base for some time, eventually evolving into a siege of the area by the NVA. Operation PEGASUS would be initiated to bring about relief, but would only successfully begin in early April. by the 15th of April, the seventy-seven day siege was finally broken. On June 1, the decision was made to abandon Khe Sanh to the NVA due to the logistical and manpower drain on the III MAF. This also saw the replacement of Westmoreland with General Creighton Abrams. The focus would shift soon after as the NVA started the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hue, which is covered in the book extensively, as are the further series of Tet Offensives, concluding with the "Third Offensive" or "The Autumn Offensive".
M42A1 Self-Propelled Twin 40mm
M48A3 at Battle of Hue
Chapter 4 is the final chapter of the book and gives a brief overview of the period from 1969 through 1975. With Nixon's inauguration in January of 1969, the idea of a gradual shift of the conduct of the war from American forces to the ARVN, a process called "Vietnamization", was conceived. Subsequent fact finding missions emphasized that the ARVN didn't have much of a chance of successfully deterring the NVA when American forces had withdrawn, but the public had had enough. Over the course of the next few years, American forces tried to help maintain control while avoiding any major conflicts. The chapter goes into some individual stories of heroism and discusses the impact that mines and booby traps had through the course of conflict. As the book draws to a close in its discussion on the last few years and the obstacles faced, it illustrates the futility of the war as it was mismanaged. The toll was particularly shocking- from 1965 through 1973, more than 500.000 Marines spent some time in country with 13,005 having been killed and 88,635 wounded.
This is an extensive book that is jam packed full of excellent visual and textual history of US Marine Corps operations in the Vietnam War. Coverage includes Marine air, land, and sea forces-- including tanks, self-propelled and towed artillery, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, and infantry- carried equipment. It is an excellent addition to the bookshelf if you have any interest in the Vietnam War, especially focusing on the USMC. I am not a Vietnam War enthusiast or expert by any means, but I found the book riveting and learned quite a bit from it. It sure gave me a great perspective of what my father, who served two tours as a Seabee in the war might have experienced and for that, I am appreciative.
Highly Recommended for anyone interested in Marine Corps actions in Vietnam.
Thanks goes out to Pen & Sword and Casemate Publishing for this review kit.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves, AMPS Albany
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