Battle of FSB Mary Ann

Battle of FSB Mary Ann

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of FSB Mary Ann
partof=the Vietnam War
date=March 28, 1971
place=coord|15|18|20|N|108|6|37|E|name=FSB Mary Ann|type:landmark|display=inline,title
Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam
MGRS AS 962-998cite book| last =Kelley| first =Michael P.| title =Where We Were In Vietnam| publisher =Hellgate Press| date =2002| pages = p. 5-327 | id = ISBN 1-55571-625-3 ]
result=Viet Cong victory
commander1=William P. Doyle
casualties1=33 KIA,
83 wounded
casualties2=15 found dead
The Battle of FSB Mary Ann was fought when Viet Cong sappers attacked the U.S. firebase located in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam.

Fire support base Mary Ann was set up with the purpose of providing a shield for Da Nang and the surrounding hamlets, the base was also designed as an interception point against movements of enemy troops and materiel down the Dak Rose Trail. The base was manned by 231 American soldiers.

The firebase was scheduled to be handed over to the South Vietnamese Army, so 21 ARVN soldiers were sent out to Mary Ann to take over the camp when all U.S. soldiers had pulled out.

For months leading up to the attack the level of enemy activity in the area had been low and contacts were infrequent, although two weeks before the assault a large cache of enemy supplies were captured. The lack of significant engagements, plus the insignificant position of the firebase, had given the U.S. soldiers in the area a false sense of security.


Prior to the attack on Fire Support Base Mary Ann, there had been reports of Viet Cong infiltration within the ranks of the 21 South Vietnamese contingent. In one incident, a South Vietnamese lieutenant inquired about the easiest way to get off the firebase because his men wanted to go fishing. He was told the easiest way in and out of the camp was the south end of the firebase.Fact|date=January 2008

(Another view: The contents of the above paragraph are widely disputed, and do not show up in US Army documents, including interviews of troops taken within days of the attack. They are heard frequently, but seem to have no basis in fact.)Fact|date=January 2008

The incident, coupled with intelligence reports that the enemy were posing as ARVN, were largely ignored by officers of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. In addition, out-of-date American intelligence suggested that the Viet Cong 409th Sapper Battalion were preparing for a major push against South Vietnamese troops about 15 to 20 kilometers east of Mary Ann.Fact|date=January 2008

(Another view: The above, citing intelligence reports that the enemy was posing as ARVN troops, has been extensively investigated, without any evidence found. Rumors even include the ARVN troops firing upon the US troops. Again, unfounded. It was known that the 409th Sapper Battalion was in the area, and the Firebase was on an increased level of security due to this fact.)Fact|date=January 2008

Fire Support Base Mary Ann was similar to other U.S. firebases in South Vietnam, although it occupied a hilltop which looked like a camel with two humps. Running northwest to southeast the firebase stretched 500 meters across two hillsides with twenty-two bunkers. The headquarters consisted of the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and Company Command Post (CP), and was located at the south end of the camp. The northwest end of the camp consisted of an artillery position with two 155mm howitzers, the fire direction center and the artillery command post. Surrounding the firebase was a trench system protected by concertina wires.


On the night of March 28, 1971, 50 sappers from the Viet Cong 409th Sapper Battalion approached the wires of FSB Mary Ann and took up positions to launch an attack on the men of 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

The Viet Cong sappers were equipped with khaki shorts and soot camouflage, an AK-47 or RPG-7 strapped to their back, satchel charges to their chest and grenades around their belt. The sappers moved in small squads of three to six men, and with mortar support they attacked U.S. mortar and artillery positions at 02:30. The VC had achieved the element of surprise as American soldiers were neither prepared or on alert. Amidst all the explosions, the Viet Cong managed to penetrate the south side of the FSB's perimeter. By the time the American soldiers inside the bunkers had recovered from the confusion, the sappers were already inside the camp, and hit half the bunkers using satchel charges and rocket-propelled grenades.

The surprise attack by the Viet Cong had the effect of immobilizing the camp's defenders, but the few of those who survived the initial onslaught managed to mount resistance against their attackers. During the ensuing fire-fight, some of the enemy gunfire had actually come from the South Vietnamese section of the camp, while ARVN soldiers were nowhere to be seen. The Tactical Operations Center (TOC) was struck by 82mm mortar shells, which awakened and subsequently incapacitated Lt. Col. William P. Doyle.

Once Lt. Col. Doyle had regained consciousness, an order was made for helicopter gunships and illumination. At that point, the south end of the Tactical Operations Center was burning, after a sapper had set off a satchel charge that caused a case of white phosphorus grenades to ignite. Despite suffering from severe wounds, Doyle made his way out of the TOC and started firing his M-16 at the sappers, but he was knocked out again by a grenade.

At 02:51, radio telephone operator David Tarney managed to raise Landing Zone Mildred, when Lieutenant Thomas Schmitz requested artillery positions to adjust their guns and fire at Fire Support Base Mary Ann to save the surviving Americans there. Doyle then informed Schmitz that the TOC would be evacuated and they would lose radio contact.

Doyle and another officer had moved to the south end of the firebase at 03:20 when another group of VC sappers appeared and started up the hill. At around 03:30, the Viet Cong disengaged and withdrew from the firebase trying to drag their dead and wounded comrades through the wires of the firebase, when a helicopter gunship turned up and began firing its guns at the sappers. The wounded survivors of the 1st Battalion were finally airlifted out when Lt. Col. Richard Martin, commander of the 3rd Battalion, arrived with the medevacs.

On the next day at 16:00, the Viet Cong swept Fire Support Base Mary Ann with machine gun fire with one U.S. soldier wounded as a result.


The battle for firebase Mary Ann produced disastrous results for the U.S. Army, which suffered 33 killed and 83 wounded. It was the most deadly attack on a single U.S. firebase during the Vietnam War. Viet Cong casualties were largely unknown, but 15 bodies were left behind in the aftermath of the attack, and blood trails and drag marks indicated that the Viet Cong may have suffered more casualties.

Colonel William S. Hathaway, commander of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, was relieved of duty, and Lieutenant Colonel William P. Doyle was reprimanded. Doyle remained in service until his retirement but did not receive another promotion.

The South Vietnamese Army decided not to garrison the firebase and it was closed on April 24, 1971.

In July 1971, Maj. Gen. James L. Baldwin was relieved of command of the Americal Division, with military sources suggesting it was because of the attack on FSB Mary Ann.cite news | title =U.S. General Relieved Of Vietnam Command| pages =A16| publisher =Washington Post, Times Herald | date =1971-07-13| url =| accessdate = 2007-04-05 ]



*cite book
last =Nolan
first =Keith William
title =Sappers in the Wire: The life and death of Firebase Mary Ann
publisher =Pocket
date =1996-10-01
pages =304
id = ISBN 0671002546

External links

* [ Deadly Sapper Attack on Fire Support Base Mary Ann During the Vietnam War]
* [ Sixty Minutes of Terror]
* [ 174th Assault Helicopter Company]

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