The Battle of Huế
during 1968, was one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War
(1960-1975). The Army of the Republic of Vietnam and three understrength U.S.
Marine Corps battalions attacked and defeated more than 10,000 entrenched
People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and National Front for the Liberation of
South Vietnam (NLF, also known as, Viet Cong) guerilla forces.
With the beginning of the Tet Offensive on January 30, 1968, the Vietnamese lunar
New Year, American forces had been committed to combat upon Vietnamese soil
for almost three years. Highway One passed through Hué and over the Perfume
River (the river ran through the city dividing it into both northern and
southern areas) creating an important supply line from the coastal city of Da
Nang to the DMZ for the Allied forces. Hué was also a base for United States
Navy supply boats. The city, considering its value and its distance from the
DMZ (only 50 miles), should have therefore been well-defended, fortified, and
prepared for the communist offensive.
However, it was actually poorly defended and unprepared because the Allied
forces expected that the North Vietnamese army and Viet Cong would respect
the Tet truce. During the Tet, which is an important holiday celebrated in
Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched a massive
assault on South Vietnam, attacking hundreds of military targets and
population centers across the country, among them the city of Hué. The Tet Offensive
began on January 31, 1968.
In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, a division-sized force of
North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) soldiers launched a
coordinated attack on the city of Hué. Their targets were the Tay Loc
airfield at 16°28′35″N 107°34′7.8″E / 16.47639°N
(Tay Loc) and the 1st ARVN Division headquarters in the Citadel, and the
Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound in the New City on the
south side of the river. Their strategic objective was to
"liberate" the entire city to help sweep the Communist insurgents
At 02:33, a signal flare lit up the night sky and two battalions from the NVA
Sixth Regiment attacked the western bank of the fortress-like Citadel on the
northern side of the city. Their objective was to capture the Mang Cu
Compound, the Tac Loc Airfield, and the Imperial Palace. A simultaneous
attack by the NVA Fourth Regiment was also launched on Hué's headquarters of
the U.S. MACV Compound in the southern part of Hué. At the Western Gate of
the Citadel, a four-man North Vietnamese sapper team, dressed in South
Vietnamese Army uniforms, killed the guards and opened the gate. Upon their
flashlight signals, lead elements of the 6th NVA entered the old city.
North Vietnamese regulars poured into the old imperial capital.' The 800th
and 802d Battalions pushed through the Western Gate and then drove north. On
the Tay Loc airfield, the 'Black Panther' Company, reinforced by the
division's 1st Ordnance Company, stopped the 800th Battalion. Although the
enemy battle account stated that the South Vietnamese 'offered no strong
resistance,' the NVA report acknowledged 'the heavy enemy ARVN fire enveloped
the entire airfield. By dawn, our troops were still unable to advance.'
While the fighting for the airfield continued to seesaw with first the ARVN
having the upper hand and then the Communists, the 802d Battalion struck the
1st Division headquarters at Mang Ca. Although the enemy battalion penetrated
the division compound, an ad hoc 200-man defensive force of staff officers
and clerks staved off the enemy assaults. General Truong called back most of
his Black Panther Company from the airfield to bolster the headquarters
defenses, which kept division headquarters secure.
At 0800, North Vietnamese troops raised the red and blue Viet Cong banner
with its gold star over the Citadel flag tower. Three United States Marine
Corps battalions were protecting the air base at Phu Bai (approximately ten
miles southeast of Hué), Highway One and all western entrances to Hué, when
there should have been two complete regiments. The Commanding Officer of the
Marines in Hué was Colonel Stanley S, Hughes, a veteran of World War II and
the Korean War who had already been awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star
for action in WWII and was eventually awarded his second Navy Cross for Hue
In the citadel, on February 1, the embattled General Truong called in
reinforcements. He ordered his 3rd Regiment; the 3rd Troop, 7th ARVN Cavalry;
and the 1st ARVN Airborne Task Force to relieve the pressure on his Mang Ca
headquarters. Responding to the call at PK 17, the ARVN base located near a
road marker on Route l, 17 kilometers north of Huế, the 3rd Troop and
the 7th Battalion of the Airborne task force rolled out of their base area in
an armored convoy onto Route l. A North Vietnamese blocking force stopped the
ARVN relief force about 400 meters short of the Citadel wall. Unable to force
their way through the enemy positions, the South Vietnamese paratroopers
asked for assistance.
The 2nd ARVN Airborne Battalion reinforced the convoy and the South
Vietnamese finally penetrated the lines and entered the Citadel in the early
morning hours of the next day. The cost had been heavy: the ARVN suffered 131
casualties including 40 dead, and lost four of the 12 armored personnel
carriers in the convoy. According to the South Vietnamese, the enemy also
paid a steep price in men and equipment. The ARVN claimed to have killed 250
of the NVA, captured five prisoners, and recovered 71 individual and 25
The 3rd ARVN Regiment had an even more difficult time. On the 31st, two of
its battalions, the 2nd and 3rd, advanced east from encampments southwest of
the city along the northern bank of the Perfume River, but North Vietnamese
defensive fires forced them to fall back. Unable to enter the Citadel, the
two battalions established their night positions outside the southeast wall
of the old City. Enemy forces surrounded the 1st and 4th Battalions of the
regiment, operating to the southeast, as they attempted to reinforce the
units in Huế. Captain Phan Ngoc Luong, the commander of the 1st
Battalion, retreated with his unit to the coastal Ba Long outpost, arriving
there with only three clips per man for their World War II vintage M1
rifles.* At Ba Long, the battalion then embarked upon motorized junks and
reached the Citadel the following day. The 4th Battalion, however, remained
unable to break its encirclement for several days.
South of the city, on January 31, Lieutenant Colonel Phan Huu Chi, the
commander of the ARVN 7th Armored Cavalry Squadron attempted to break the
enemy stranglehold. He led an armored column toward Huế, but like the
other South Vietnamese units, found it impossible to break through. With the
promise of U.S. Marine reinforcements, Chi's column, with three tanks in the
lead, tried once more. This time they crossed the An Cuu Bridge into the new
city. Coming upon the central police headquarters in southern Huế, the
tanks attempted to relieve the police defenders. When an enemy B-40 rocket
made a direct hit upon Lieutenant Colonel Chi's tank, killing him instantly,
the South Vietnamese armor pulled back.
After this the Marines at Phu Bai were called and the first U.S. Marines to
bolster the South Vietnamese in the city were on their way. They were from
the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, part of Task Force X-Ray.
On the night of January 30-January 31, the same time the North Vietnamese
struck Huế, the Marines faced rocket and mortar fire at the Phu Bai
airstrip and Communist infantry units hit Marine Combined Action Platoons and
local PF and RF units in the region including the Truoi River and Phu Loc
sectors. At the key Truoi River Bridge, about 0400 a North Vietnamese company
attacked the South Vietnamese bridge security detachment and the nearby
Combined Action Platoon H-8. Colonel Hughes ordered Captain G. Ronald
Christmas, the Company H commander to relieve the embattled CAP unit. The
Marines caught the enemy force beginning to withdraw from the CAP enclave and
took it under fire. Seeing an opportunity to trap the North Vietnamese,
Cheatham reinforced Company H with his Command Group and Company F.
With his other companies in blocking positions, Cheatham hoped to catch the
enemy against the Truoi River. While inflicting casualties, the events in
Huế were to interfere with his plans. At 1030, January 31, Company G
departed for Phu Bai as the Task Force reserve. Later that afternoon, the battalion
lost operational control of Company F. Captain Downs years later remembered
the company "disengaged . .. where we had them pinned up against a
river, moved to the river and trucked into Phu Bai." With the departure
of Company F about 1630, the NVA successfully disengaged and Companies H and
E took up night defensive positions. According to the Marines, 2nd Battalion
5th Marines (2/5) killed 18 enemy troops, took 1 prisoner, and recovered
sundry equipment and weapons including 6 AK-47s, at a cost of three Marines
killed and 13 wounded.
While the fighting continued in the Truoi River and the Phu Loc sectors, the
1st Battalion, 1st Marines had begun to move into Hue city. In the early
morning hours of January 31 after the rocket bombardment of the airfield and
the initial attack on the Truoi River Bridge, Task Force X-Ray received
reports of enemy strikes all along Route l between the Hai Van Pass and Hue.
All told, the enemy hit some 18 targets from bridges, Combined Action units,
and company defensive positions. With Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines
as the Phu Bai reserve, Colonel Hughes directed Lieutenant Colonel Gravel to
stage the company for any contingency. At 0630, Colonel Hughes ordered the
company to reinforce the Truoi River Bridge. All Captain Batcheller recalled
several years later was that "we were rousted up about 0400 on the 31st
and launched south on trucks to rendezvous with and reinforce ARVN forces
about a map sheet and a half south of Phu Bai."
Up to this point the fighting for Hue had been entirely a South Vietnamese
affair. General LaHue, the Task Force X-Ray commander, actually had very
little reliable intelligence on the situation. All he knew was that Truong's
headquarters had been under attack, as was the MACV compound. Because of
enemy mortaring of the LCU ramp in southern Hue, the allies had stopped all
river traffic to the city. As LaHue later wrote: "Initial deployment of
forces was made with limited information."
As the Marines approached the southern suburbs of the city, they began to
come under increased sniper fire. In one village, the troops dismounted and
cleared the houses on either side of the main street before proceeding. The
Marine convoy stopped several times to eliminate resistance in heavy
house-to-house and street fighting before proceeding again. At about 1515
after bloody fighting the Marines managed to make their way toward the MACV
compound. By this time, the enemy attackers had pulled back their forces from
the immediate vicinity of the compound. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel met with
Army Colonel George O. Adkisson, the U.S. senior advisor to the 1 st ARVN
Leaving Company A behind to secure the MACV compound, the Marine battalion
commander took Company G, reinforced by the three tanks from the 3d Tank
Battalion and a few South Vietnamese tanks from the ARVN 7th Armored
Squadron, and attempted to cross the main bridge over the Perfume River.
Gravel left the armor behind on the southern bank to provide direct fire
support. As he remembered, the American M48s were too heavy for the bridge
and the South Vietnamese tankers in light M24 tanks "refused to
go." As the Marine infantry started across, an enemy machine gun on the
other end of the bridge opened up, killing and wounding several Marines. One
Marine, Lance Corporal Lester A. Tully, later awarded the Silver Star for his
action, ran forward, threw a grenade, and silenced the gun. Two platoons
successfully made their way to the other side. They turned left and
immediately came under automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire from the
Citadel wall. The Marines decided to withdraw.
This was easier said than done. The enemy was well dug-in and firing from
virtually every building in Hue city north of the river. The number of
wounded was rising, the Marines commandeered some abandoned Vietnamese
civilian vehicles and used them as makeshift ambulances to carry out the
wounded. Among the casualties on the bridge was Major Walter M. Murphy, the
1st Battalion S-3 or operations officer, who later died of his wounds.
By 20:00, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines had established defensive positions
near the MACV compound and a helicopter landing zone in a field just west of
the Navy LCU Ramp in southern Hue. On that first day, the two Marine
companies in Hue had sustained casualties of 10 Marines killed and 56
wounded. During the night, the battalion called in a helicopter into the
landing zone to take out the worst of the wounded. The American command still
had little realization of the situation in Hue.
The next morning at 0700, Gravel launched a two-company assault supported by
tanks towards the jail and provincial building. The Marines did not progress
further than one block before they came under sniper fire. A tank was knocked
out by a 57 mm recoilless rifle. After that the attack was stopped and the
battalion returned to the MACV compound. North of the Perfume River, on the
1st, the 1st ARVN Division enjoyed some limited success. Although the 2d and
3d Battalions of the 3d ARVN Regiment remained outside of the Citadel walls
unable to penetrate the NVA defenses, the 2d and 7th Airborne Battalions,
supported by armored personnel carriers and the Black Panther Company,
recaptured the Tay Loc airfield.
About 1500, the 1st Battalion, 3d ARVN reached the 1st ARVN command post at
the Mang Ca compound. Later that day, U.S. Marine helicopters from HMM-165
brought part of the 4th Battalion, 2d ARVN Regiment from Dong Ha into the
Citadel. One of the pilots, Captain Denis M. Duna-gan, remembered that the
call for an emergency trooplift came in about 1400. Eight CH-46 Sea Knight
helicopters made the flight in marginal weather with a 200-500 foot ceiling
and one mile visibility, arriving in an improvised landing zone under enemy
mortar fire. The deteriorating weather forced the squadron to cancel the
remaining lifts with about one-half of the battalion in the Citadel.
Shortly after 1500 Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines made a helicopter
landing into southern Hue. They were to relieve a MACV communications facility
surrounded by a VC force. The company spent the better part of the afternoon
trying to reach the isolated United States Army Signal Corps troops and never
made it. The company sustained casualties of 3 dead and 13 wounded.
On February 1, General Cushman alerted the 1st Air Cavalry commander, Major
General John J.Tolson, to be ready to deploy his 3d Brigade into a sector
west of Hue. By 2215 that night, Tolson's command had asked III MAF to
coordinate with I Corps and Task Force X-Ray its designated area of
operations in the Hue sector. Tolson's plan called for an air assault by two
battalions of the 3d Brigade northwest of Hue. The 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry
was to arrive in the landing zone first, followed by the 1st Battalion, 7th
Cavalry to be inserted near PK-17. Attacking in a southeasterly direction,
the two battalions would then attempt to close the enemy supply line into
Under difficult circumstances, the 'First Team' began its movement into the
Hue area. In mid-afternoon on the 2d, the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry arrived
in a landing zone about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Hue and then pushed
towards the city.' In southern Hue, on February 2, the Marines made some
minor headway and brought in further reinforcements. The 1st Battalion
finally relieved the MACV radio facility that morning and later, after a
three-hour fire fight, reached the Hue University campus.' Although the NVA,
during the night, had dropped the railroad bridge across the Perfume River
west of the city, they left untouched the bridge across the Phu Cam Canal.
About 1100, Company H, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, commanded by Captain G.
Ronald Christmas, crossed the An Cuu Bridge over the canal in a 'Rough Rider'
As the convoy, accompanied by Army trucks equipped with quad .50-caliber
machine guns and two Ontos, entered the city, enemy snipers opened up on the
Marine reinforcements. Near the MACV compound, the Marines came under heavy
enemy machine gun and rocket fire. The Army gunners with their 'quad .50s'
and the Marine Ontos, each with six 106 mm recoilless rifles, quickly
responded. In the resulting confusion, the convoy exchanged fire with a
Marine unit already in the city. About mid-day, the NVA, continued to block
any advance to the south. An enemy 75 mm recoilless rifle knocked out one of
the supporting tanks. By the end ot the day, the Marines had sustained 2 dead
and 34 wounded and claimed to have killed nearly 140 of the enemy. The
battalion consolidated its night defensive positions and waited to renew its
attack on the following day.
Battle for the Citadel
Heavy street fighting followed the Marines all the way through the city for
more than three weeks. Marines of the 1st and 5th Regiments, fighting
alongside the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s 1st Division, and also
supported by U.S. Army 7th and 12th Cavalry Regiments drove the North
Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces out of Hue little by little and retook the
city one block at a time.
Many of the Marines had little or no urban combat experience, and the US
troops were not trained for urban close-quarters combat, so this battle was
especially tough for them. Due to Hue's religious and cultural status, Allied
forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the
historic structures. Also, since it was monsoon season, it was virtually
impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support. But as the intensity of
the battle increased, the policy was eliminated. The communist forces were
constantly using snipers, hidden inside buildings or in small holes, and
prepared makeshift machine gun bunkers. They organised local counterattacks
and, during the night, they prepared explosive booby traps. Sometimes booby
traps were even placed under dead bodies.
Finally it was only down to the Citadel and the Imperial Palace which was in
the center of it. American A-4 Skyhawks dropped bombs and napalm on the
Citadel. The Marines raised an American flag but shortly thereafter were
ordered to lower it, for in accordance with South Vietnamese law, no US flag
was permitted to be flown without an accompanying South Vietnamese flag. The
Marines objected to this law and threatened to shoot a few American Army
officers who were instructed to take down the flag, but eventually took it
down themselves under an order from their superior officer.
On February 24, 1968, the Imperial Palace in the center of the Citadel was
secured and the elite Black Panther Company of the First South Vietnamese
Division tore down the NVA's flag, which had flown since the battle's start
on January 31. A few days later the NVA withdrew from the city completely.
The Communist forces suffered heavy losses in this battle, losing 5,133 men
at Hue; about 3,000 more were estimated to be killed outside of the city
(according to MACV). 80% of the city was destroyed by American firepower.
There was also a large civilian death toll, mostly due to the massacres by
Vietnamese Communist forces of the civilian population of the city during
their one month control of the city. In the battle's aftermath, South
Vietnamese and American soldiers unearthed numerous shallow mass graves
inside the city and on its outskirts containing the bodies of approximately
2,800 people killed by the NVA and VC and their systematic way of eliminating
those who were considered as a threat to Communist victory, although it has
been stated that a South Vietnamese intelligence unit may have killed some of
these victims who were said to have aided the enemy.
Militarily, Hue was an Allied victory, because the NVA and VC forces
(ultimately numbering about 12,000, more than a full division) were driven
from the city paying heavy price for their offensive, but from the opinion of
the American public, Hue was the beginning of the end. Marine Captain Myron Harrington
who commanded a one-hundred-man company during the battle: "Did we have
to destroy the town in order to save it"? From this time forward,
American support for the war in Vietnam declined, and during the next five
years American involvement slowly but steadily decreased until 1975 when the
last American troops left Vietnam.
USS HUE CITY is the fourteenth
cruiser in the TICONDEROGA class to be built by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula,
Her keel was laid on 20 February 1989. She was floated on 1 June 1990 and
christened on 21 July 1991 by her sponsor, Mrs. Jo Ann Cheatham, the wife of
Lieutenant General Earnest C. Cheatham, Jr., USMC (Ret.). HUE CITY’s standard
is the flag of the United States Marine Corps, in addition to the national
ensign and the flag of the United States Navy.
HUE CITY sailed on 11 March 1993 for her maiden deployment to the
Mediterranean Sea as Air Warfare Commander for the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT
(CVN 71) battle group. Principally operating in the Adriatic Sea, HUE CITY
developed the air picture and transmitted it to command centers afloat and
ashore. HUE CITY also monitored the safety of United Nations relief flights
to Bosnia, ensuring Serbian aircraft did not violate no-fly zones.
While conducting refresher training near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in April 1994
HUE CITY was directed to serve as Destroyer Squadron 22 flagship in support
of United Nations sanctions against Haiti. Later that year HUE CITY conducted
counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea.
HUE CITY sailed for her second deployment 22 March 1995 with the THEODORE
ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) battle group, again as Air Warfare Commander. HUE CITY
took station in the Red Sea, where she provided air coverage and support to
the Combat Air Patrols enforcing the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
HUE CITY sailed for the Baltic Sea on 24 May 1996 to participate in
operations involving forty-eight ships from thirteen nations. The operations
focused on tracking air, surface and subsurface targets in a multinational
HUE CITY deployed on 29 April 1997 to the Mediterranean Sea as Air Warfare
Commander for the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) battle group. HUE CITY operated
in the Adriatic Sea, overseeing all air activity in support of naval
Early in 1998 HUE CITY received Cooperative Engagement Capability. This
capability represents the leading edge of air warfare, enabling HUE CITY to
launch a missile against an enemy target that is being tracked by another
CG 66 sailed again for the Baltic Sea in May 1999 to participate in BALTOPS
’99 and on 19 June she departed to return to Mayport, Fla. after a four-day
port visit in Kiel, Germany.
USS HUE CITY took part in the Carribean Phase Task Group of the 41st annual
UNITAS Naval exercise, as the flagship. The Caribbean Phase, hosted by the
U.S. Navy, commenced March 19, 2000 with a multi-national task force port
visit to Cartagena including four U.S. ships. This phase ended April 10th
with a port visit to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. It marked
the first time in the history of UNITAS that three separate phases, formerly
hosted by the U.S., Colombian and Venezuelan Navies, were being combined into
one larger and more complex phase. The
following year, Colombia was to host the Caribbean Phase, with rotation of
host-nation responsibilities going to Venezuela the following year.
USS HUE CITY took part in International Naval Review on July 4, 2000 in New
York Harbor, and then Sail Boston 2000.
As part of the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) Carrier Battle Group (CVBG),
and in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, USS HUE CITY
set sail in support of defense and humanitarian efforts off the coast of New
Ships and aircraft of the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) Carrier Battle Group
(CVBG) commenced use of the Vieques Island inner range beginning Sept. 24,
2001 in conjunction with their Composite Unit Training Exercises (COMPUTEX).
The exercise, which began the week prior, also utilized the northern and
southern Puerto Rican operating areas, and involved complex battle group
training events, naval surface fire-support training and air-to-ground
USS HUE CITY then took part in Underway No. 10", one in a series of
tests leading to the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) Operation
Evaluation (OPEVAL) scheduled for Spring 2001. The CEC system provides the
capability to cooperatively engage targets by a warship using data from other
CEC-equipped ships, aircraft, and land-based sensors, even in an
electronic-jamming environment. It also provides a common, consistent and
highly accurate air picture, allowing battle group defenses to act as one
seamless system. The test, off Wallops Island, VA, simulated missile firings
from some of the Navy's most technically advanced ships against unmanned
As part of the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) Battle Group (CVBG), USS HUE CITY
took part Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 02-1, with Phase I of the
exercise running from January 19 through 26, 2002 and Phase II running
February 7-14, 2002.
In March 2002, USS HUE CITY was part of the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67)
Carrier Battle Group at it relieved the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71)
Carrier Battle Group, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In May 2002, during a three-day Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS) exercise off
the coast of Djibouti, Africa, USS HUE CITY fired hundreds of 5-inch rounds
in support of Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise 2002 (MEUEX '02) more than
60 targets that included tanks, bunkers, and various military vehicles. HUE
CITY joined the WASP Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 22nd Marine
Expeditionary Unit to conduct this first of its kind exercise in this
little-known region of northeast Africa.
HUE CITY’s awards include the Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Battle
Efficiency awards, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, three Sea Service
awards, the NATO medal, the CNO Safety Award and three Community Service