Battle of Van Tuong, August 18, 1965
The Battle of Van Tuong, or Operation Starlite, was the first significant engagement of U.S. Marines in Vietnam. The operation was originally named Operation Satellite, but during a power outage, it was transcribed incorrectly as Operation Starlite. The Battle of Van Tuong was a search-and-destroy mission against the North Vietnamese in Van Tuong, South Vietnam.
The United States’ Marine forces were under the command of U.S. Lieutenant General Lewis Walt and Major General Oscar Peatross. In total, there were between 5,000 and 6,000 marines involved in Operation Starlite. Viet Cong forces in the area numbered between 1,500, so the United States had a clear operational advantage.
The Marines landed in Da Nang in March 1965. Initially, U.S. operations were purely defensive; however, that approach lasted only the first few months. On August 15, 1965, the South Vietnamese reported intelligence received from a young defector from the North; the first Viet Cong regiment was in Van Tuong, near the U.S. base at Chu Lai.
This was the first combined amphibious and helicopter assault by the U.S. Marines. Helicopters were used in Korea, but not in this fashion. The assault was planned quickly. It would begin at daybreak only three days after the intelligence was received by the U.S. The Viet Cong had predicted a U.S. attack, but had not been able to predict the speed of the attack.
The first of the landings of the amphibious vehicles went relatively well; landing zone red and landing zone white were not heavily guarded or in close sight of the Viet Cong; however, landing zone blue was and those troops immediately came under fire. The assault soon began in earnest, with more resistance than expected by the Americans. The fighting was most intense in LZBlue; however, by that night, the Americans had secured the site.
Under cover of darkness, the Viet Cong retreated. In total, approximately 600 Viet Cong were killed. The United States had lost 52 Marines, a corpsman and an Army major. Many others were wounded, but this battle provided key insights into war in the jungles of Vietnam.