Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review of The Hill Fights by Edward F. Murphy

Author:  Edward F. Murphy.
Title:  The Hill Fights:  The First Battle of Khe Sahn.
Publisher:  Presidio Press.
Pages:  330.
Copyright:  2003.
Price:  $7.99 (US).

This is the second book I've read by Edward Murphy, a Vietnam War historian.  I liked The Hill Fights:  The First Battle of Khe Sahn much better than Semper Fi Vietnam.   The book focuses on the March and April 1967 battles for Hills 881 N and 881 S near Khe Sahn.  US Marine infantry became engaged with entrenched NVA units occupying Hill 881 N and Hill 881 S.  The US Marines were drawn into a piece-meal battle with infantry companies being ambushed and calling for relief forces.  The relief forces in turned were then ambushed by the NVA.

Murphy's battle narrative is excellent.  But the combat losses are gruesome.  This is my eighth book on the Vietnam War.  I lost track of more ways to die by napalm, concussion grenades, mortar rounds, snipers, 155mm artillery rounds, RPGs, and AK47 rounds.  The problem the Americans had was the jamming of the new M16s.  I read of more men being killed in combat due to their inability to shoot back at their NVA opponents than anything else.  A section at the epilogue is dedicated to the whole M16 fiasco and subsequent congressional investigations.  The US Army rushed the M16 to production using inferior gunpowder.  So the weapons tended to jam in combat.  US commanders denied that the weapons were defective.  But later field testing proved otherwise. 

The whole problem with the occupation of Khe Sahn was it wasn't needed.  The US Marines didn't want it.  General Westermoreland saddled them with it.  Westmoreland wanted it to draw out the NVA for several set piece battles where US firepower would crush their Communist opponents in northwestern South Vietnam.  The reverse happened.  Several NVA divisions eventually besieged Khe Sahn in the spring of 1968.  The surrounding terrain is mountainous rain forests.  What the vegetation wouldn't hinder, the fog and rainstorms did.  Located in a valley, Khe Sahn was an unsuitable location near the DMV as a forward base. 

But General Westmoreland got what he wanted.  The hill fights of 1967 were a prelude to a much larger action the following year during the Tet Offensive.  One must question the logic of just keeping three US Marine infantry companies in a place like Khe Sahn when the whole area favors the enemy.  In that regard, the whole Khe Sahn campaign was unnecessary.  It would have made more tactical sense to have built a fire base further back from the DMZ out of the NVA's artillery range.

I recommend The Hill Fights for those wanting to learn more about the first battle of Khe Sahn.

No comments:

Post a Comment