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Operation Starlite

Operation Starlite

Otto J Lehrack
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This is rather a small book that describes the hour by hour fighting that took place during the 18th-20th of August 1965 in the area of the Van Tuong Peninsular, near Danang. The intense fighting between the Viet Cong and US Marines is certainly interesting reading. Van Tuong is a flat Rural area on the sandy coastline about halfway between Saigon and Hanoi. The fighting that went on there for three days cost 54 US lives and over 600 Viet Cong. This Was the first of the larger and more hostile of US involvement in Vietnam, Prior to that the policy was little more than to attach US military advisers to the ARVN,( Army of Vietnam)

The war thereafter escalated, whereby Gen Westmorland Commander Vietnam could ask of the Pentagon, ‘I need two more large airfields, also another 44 marine Battalions’ and he got them. Then followed the war’s development and the eventual ‘Body count’ system, whereby US successes were gauged by enemy deaths, ‘The Meat Grinder system.’ While the Vietnamese war aim was to, ‘Rid their country of the invader.’

On entering the war the US still had a ‘tolerance’ for taking casualties. This petered out when the figure neared about 5000, it was about then that civilian demonstrations at home against the war commenced. The US were eventually to lose 58,200 personnel. The Vietnamese loses were 300,000 killed. This figure was 1.8 % of the Vietnamese population of 17,000,000. If such losses were applied to the US population, then the US would have lost 3,300,000. The USA’s tolerance for losses, though somewhat more than other nations, this was excepting the Vietnamese who were prepared to lose all to oust the invader.

It was interesting to read that prior to entering the war in Vietnam the Americans conducted a set of ‘War Games’ in conjunction with the CIA and middle rank senior officers of Colonel to Regimental commanders. The games showed that the US would be defeated. It was decided to try the same War Games using more senior officers up to Divisional Generals and above;. The War Games showed again that the US would be defeated in the field. A few Senators expressed concern at this. They were told that they were ‘out of step with policy’ as the more intense war preparations continued. The US saw the whole affair as just an extension of the ‘Cold War’ and that Vietnam was just ‘another Domino that should not fall.’

Operation Starlite was a vicious Battle between a US landing force comprising Marine battalions and just over a Regiment of Viet Cong. There is much interesting information in the book obtained from modern day interviews with veterans of the Viet Cong and the NVA (North Vietnamese army. There is also a Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the US forces compared with the French. The French came out on top.

A total of 5,000,000 Americans were to serve in Vietnam during the whole of the war. The US were involved somewhat in Vietnam from 1959 onwards. The French had been beaten by the Viet Min at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
Post WW2 the British came out of Burma and held Vietnam and defeated the Viet min with the aid of captured Japanese Infantry, this was while awaiting the return of the French from Europe.

The attacking force of US Marines for Operation Starlite landed from the sea in true WW2 Pacific style, they came down the 'nets' on the side of their sea transports into landing craft, then 'circled into formations of companies' before moving to the shore in waves. Battalions of Marines of the 3rd and 4th Marine Divisions came out of the darkness of the sea to surprise the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong also surprised the Marines by appearing as ‘ small moving trees, and shrubs’ such was their Camouflage.

I found the book completely enjoyable, it is well researched and well presented. It covers some very interesting facts, also some Americanisms; for example a Divisional General landing his helicopter to enable him to give a sound bollocking to a Battalion Commander and then to sack him loudly in front of his men. There are a few typos, which worried me not, therefore I recommend the book and award it 5 stars.

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