World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Operation Starlite

Operation Starlite
Part of the Vietnam War

Vietcong prisoners await being carried by helicopter to rear area after Operation Starlite.
Date August 18–24, 1965
Location Van Tuong, South Vietnam

Both sides claim victory

  • Vietnamese retreat
  • Heavy casualties inflicted on
    the 1st VC Regiment
15 miles south of Chu Lai on the border of Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces
United States Viet Cong
Commanders and leaders
Lewis W. Walt
Oscar F. Peatross
Nguyen Chon
3/3, 2/4, 1/7 and SLF 3/7 Marines Infantry Battalions
1st VC Regiment composed of 60th and 80th Battalions, and 45th Weapons Battalion, 52nd VC Company
Casualties and losses
51 killed
203 wounded
US report:
614 confirmed killed
42 captured
40 weapons captured

Operation Starlite (also known in Vietnam as Battle of Van Tuong) was the first major offensive regimental size action conducted by a purely U.S. military unit during the Vietnam War. The operation was launched based on intelligence provided by Major General Nguyen Chanh Thi, the commander of the South Vietnamese forces in northern I Corps area. Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt devised a plan to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Viet Cong regiment to nullify the threat on the vital Chu Lai Air Base and Base Area and ensure its powerful communication tower remained intact.

The operation was conducted as a combined arms assault involving ground, air and naval units. U.S. Marines were deployed by helicopter insertion into the designated landing zone while an amphibious landing was used to deploy other Marines.


  • Background 1
  • Battle 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5


The operation was originally called Satellite, but a power blackout led to a clerical error and a clerk working by candlelight typed "Starlite" instead.[1] It was launched on D-Day August 18, 1965, involving 5,500 Marines. Regimental 2nd Battalion 4th Marines (2/4), 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) and 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines (3/3), and 3rd Battalion 7th Marines (3/7) the SLF - permission was granted by Admiral Sharp to use Special Landing Force and originally a reserve component - in an assault on the Viet Cong base near Van Tuong. The United States Navy's USS Galveston (CLG-3) and USS Cabildo (LSD-16) were available for naval gunfire support and 3rd Battalion 12th Marines was the artillery unit in direct support. USS Vernon County (LST-1161)embarked elements of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines (Battalion Landing Team) (BLT) 3, under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Muir, USMC, at Chu Lai, and sailed south along the coast to An Thuong, where she put the troops ashore in one phase of "Starlite."

Viet Cong forces comprised the 1st VC Regiment made up of the 60th and 80th VC Battalions, the 52nd VC Company, and a company of the 45th VC Weapons Battalion. The total Viet Cong strength was around 1,500 men, and backed by several elite mortar units.


A MAG-16 helicopter evacuates casualties, while a Marine M48 Patton tank stands guard.

Mike Co., 3/3 was designated the blocking force and deployed on August 18, 1965 using LVTP-5s to the operational area. When it landed on the beach, it marched 4 miles (6.5 km) to establish their blocking positions. 3/3 made an amphibious landing and were tasked with driving the Viet Cong towards the 2nd battalion 4th Marines who were to be lifted by helicopter into three landing zones west of Van Tuong. Secrecy was paramount, and no ARVN commander or units were informed of the impending operation.

The Marines met light resistance moving into the attack, using their M14 semi-automatic rifles to repulse occasional Viet Cong raiders. Echo Company, 2/4 spotted Viet Cong in the open and called in artillery fire from 3rd Battalion 12th Marines. The artillery barrage was reported to have killed 90 Viet Cong, including crippling several of their mortar units. Hotel Company, 2/4 assaulted the 60th VC Battalion who put up a vicious fight, only being overwhelmed when attack helicopters swooped on their position, peppering it with rocket and machine gun fire. One prisoner was taken and 40 weapons were captured. India Company, 3/3 attacked An Cuong after receiving heavy fire from the hamlet and losing their company commander in the engagement.

India Company was ordered to join Kilo and Hotel companies and clean up any opposition but was caught in a crossfire from Nam Yen Dan Hill 30. Hotel Company established a defensive perimeter and were told to await reinforcements. The expected reinforcements, were diverted to assist the supply column that was ambushed west of their position. 37mm recoilless rifle fire from the VC positions tore into the 5 LVTs and 3 flame tanks, forcing the Marines to mount a rescue. The Marines were hit by intense mortar and rifle fire and suffered 5 dead and 17 wounded. They called in artillery and air support to suppress the mortar and automatic fire, F-4 fighter jets dropping cluster bombs, resulting in an avalanche on the hillside which wiped out many of the attacking rifle and mortar squads.

The developing engagement necessitated the deployment of Lima Company, 3/7 from the USS Iwo Jima to join India Company to assist the ambushed supply column. Part of Lima Company was caught in a horseshoe ambush in their attempt to rescue a downed LVT (amtrac) personnel, 4 marines were killed and 10 wounded. Come nightfall, the Marines hunkered down into defensive positions. Scout units of 3/7's Marines came ashore during the night and the battalion got ready for a morning assault on the Vietnamese positions. When they finally attacked they found the VC unit had already retreated from the encirclement during the night, though pockets of resistance continued from other Viet Cong fighters holed up in bunkers and caves. Fightings ceased at nightfall.


The Marines sustained 45 killed and 203 wounded.[2] The various Marine units reported killing 614 Vietcong, capturing prisoners and 42 suspected guerillas. Corporal Robert E. O'Malley (3/3) and Lance Corporal Joe C. Paul (2/4) received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the operation. To the Americans, the battle was considered a great success for U.S. forces as they engaged a Main Force Vietcong unit and came out victorious. Despite this, the National Liberation Front also claimed victory, announcing that they had inflicted 900 American casualties, destroyed 22 tanks and APCs, and downed 13 choppers.[3] In fact, the VC 1st Regiment was not yet totally wiped out as expected by the U.S. commanders.

Lessons learned from the battle include the knowledge that the daily allotment of 2 gallons of water per man was inadequate in the heat of Vietnam and that the M14 Rifle was too bulky for troops cramped into small personnel carriers.


  1. ^ Operation Starlite
  2. ^ Shulimson, Jack (1978). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. p. 80.  
  3. ^ Nguyen Ngoc Toan, "Van Tuong victory raises confidence in defeating US troops", People's Army Newspaper, 21 December 2014.


  • Lehrack, Otto (2004). The First Battle - Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam. Havertown, Pennsylvania: Casemate.  
  • Rod, Andrew (2015). The First Fight: U.S. Marines in Operation Starlite, August 1965. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University, History Division. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  • Simmons, Edwin H. (2003). The United States Marines: A History, Fourth Edition. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.  
  • Summers, Harry G. Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Wilkins, Warren (2011). Grab Their Belts To Fight Them: The Viet Cong's Big-Unit War Against the U.S., 1965–1966. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.  

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from iCloud eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.