The attached photos were sent to me by a LinkedIn friend, John Schmidt, who served as an infantryman with the USMC from 1969 – 1971. He served in Nam with G 2/7 and A 1/5 and participated in “Operation Imperial Lake” which took place in the Que Son Mountains. His Company, Alpha 1/5, was engaged in search and destroy operations and found a VC training and food storage camp. During their search, they found the NVA and Russian Flags, tons of rice, and salt which were destroyed with explosives.  Pictures were taken in the field and later on Hill 34.

The following is an overview of the operation…

Que Son is south of Landing Zone Baldy approx 10km South of DaNang Vietnam. 1/1 Marines had 24 / 7 patrols to stop NVA soldiers from launching Soviet 122 rockets into DaNang airbase 

The Quế Sơn mountains located approximately 20 miles (32 km) south of Danang had long been a People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) base area, and numerous operations were mounted against the mountains and valley throughout the war. From late June 1970, the 7th Marine Regiment had been rotating reinforced rifle companies on 5-day patrols of the area, which regularly uncovered PAVN/VC positions and engaged in small skirmishes.

On 13 August, Companies I and L, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines began Operation Ripley Center in the central Quế Sơn mountains. On 15 August, Company A, 1/5 Marines were withdrawn from the operation, and on 24 August, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines landed in the area and took over the operation. The Marines uncovered numerous PAVN/VC facilities and killed 25 PAVN/VC and captured 8 with no Marine losses. The operation concluded on 31 August.

In August the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Marine Regiment staffs began planning a large operation to pacify the Quế Sơn mountains, which were believed to harbor the PAVN’s Front 4 Headquarters, the D3, R20 and V25 Infantry Battalions, the 42nd Reconnaissance Battalion, and the 3D, T89 and T90 Sapper Battalions. The plan called for an intensive air and artillery bombardment intended to drive the PAVN/VC into shelters while the 2/7 Marines landed at 12 separate landing zones. The 1st Platoon, Company D, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion was to establish 3 observations posts, and the mortar battery of 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines were to establish a firebase on Hill 845.

September to December 1970

After midnight on 31 August, 10 Marine artillery batteries began shelling 53 targets in the Quế Sơn mountains; when the bombardment ended at 06:45, a total of 13,488 shells had been fired. The artillery barrage was immediately followed by 2 hours of airstrikes and then at 09:00 the first helicopters began landing the Marines. The 2/7 Marines command post was established on Hill 845, now named Landing Zone Vulture. The Marine landings were unopposed, and they made no contact with the PAVN/VC over the next 4 days.

LZ Vulture

On 5 September, Company E pursued a PAVN soldier into a cave in a ravine near LZ Vulture and were met by heavy weapons fire. The other 3 companies moved to the area and proceeded to engage an estimated 30-50 PAVN in the ravine in close combat over the next 3 days. On 9 September, after having lost 3 Marines killed in the ravine, the Marines were pulled back to allow air strikes in the area. By 12 September the Marines had pacified the area with the PAVN having been killed, sealed in caves or withdrawn from the ravine. From 14 to 30 September, the Marines killed 14 PAVN/VC in ambushes throughout the operational area.

On 13 September, 3/7 Marines joined the operation landing southwest of the 2/7 Marines position. On 20 September, the 3/7 Marines launched Operation Imperial Lake South, which continued until the end of September with minimal results.

On 16 September, a VC defector led Company E, 2/7 Marines to 2 base camps of the 91st Sapper Battalion. On 20 September, the Marines found a headquarters and hospital complex in caves and tunnel underneath LZ Vulture and captured 2 VC medical corpsmen who revealed that the complex had been evacuated after the 31 August bombardment.

On 22 September, Company F, 2/7 Marines left the operation, and on 23 September, Company G, the mortar battery and the 2/7 Marines command group redeployed to Landing Zone Baldy, leaving only Company E in the area of operations and Company I, 3/7 Marines in the Imperial Lake South area of operations. 

At the end of September, the 5th Marine Regiment took over the operation from the 7th Marine Regiment, which was redeployed to the United States as part of Operation Keystone Robin Alpha. Company M, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines replaced Company E, 2/7 Marines at LZ Vulture, while Company L 3/5 Marines replaced Company I 3/7 Marines in the southern area.

Many NVA flags were captured and taken as souvenirs during this Operation

On 18 October, the 1st Marine Division ordered a change to the operation with 6-man patrols deployed in the Quế Sơn mountains which would call in a quick reaction force (QRF) at LZ Baldy to exploit any contact.  The 1st Reconnaissance Battalion moved to LZ Vulture, now renamed LZ Rainbow, which would serve as the patrol base. On 21 October, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines replaced Company M, 3/5 Marines at LZ Rainbow while Company H, 2/5 Marines formed the QRF.

The reconnaissance team/QRF tactics achieved steady results in locating PAVN/VC positions and engaging small units. On 26 October, the QRF discovered an abandoned battalion-size base camp, and on the same day 2 reconnaissance teams ambushed 10-15 PAVN north of LZ Rainbow and killed 5. On 27 October, a squad from Company F of the QRF attacked a PAVN camp west of LZ Rainbow killing 6 before coming under attack themselves and losing 1 Marine killed before air and artillery strikes forced the PAVN to withdraw. By the end of October, the Marines killed 74 PAVN/VC and captured 34 weapons during patrols in the area.

On 1 November, 1/5 Marines established a forward command post in the northern Quế Sơn mountains, and on 6 November, 2/5 Marines established a forward command post on Hill 381, 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) south of LZ Rainbow. Then, on 26 November, the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion moved its patrol base to Hill 510 in the western Quế Sơn mountains.

On 5 November, Company B, 1/5 Marines found an abandoned base camp and uncovered many documents – including files for the VC security section of Quảng Nam Province – identifying its leaders and agents.

NVA and Russian Flags were uncovered together in an NVA base camp where John was awarded a meritorious mast for his work with explosives.

On 18 November, an HMM-263 CH-46D helicopter, while extracting a reconnaissance team by McGuire rig, crashed into a mountainside during bad weather 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) southeast of LZ Rainbow, killing all 15 Marines on board, including the Reconnaissance Battalion commander Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich Jr..

On 19 November, a newly formed Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) Marine reconnaissance unit joined the operation and established a base in Hill 322 in the northeast Quế Sơn mountains; they would be joined by the 6th and 7th ROKMC Companies later that month.

Korea Marine Corps

On 2 December, the 3/5 Marines command group arrived on Hill 381 and replaced the 2/5 Marines command group, who returned to LZ Baldy before redeploying to Hill 510 later on 20 December.

From 16 to 23 December, Companies G and H, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines operated northwest of Hill 510 with minimal results.

On the afternoon of 24 December, Company L, 3/5 Marines found a group of 9 PAVN/VC standing outside of a cave 2.5 kilometers (1.6 mi) southwest of Hill 381 and fired on the group – killing 4 while the others fled. Companies K and L searched the caves and discovered a major PAVN/VC command post including 3 radios, 3 generators, spares and other equipment which were believed to belong to the elusive Front 4 Headquarters.

By the end of December 1970, the operation had accounted for 196 PAVN/VC killed and 106 captured, with 20 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen KIA.

January to May 1971

On 8 January, 1/5 Marines withdrew its forward command post and one of its companies from the operation.

Alpha Company troops pose on Hill 34 with flags captured during an earlier patrol

On 25 January, 2nd Platoon, Company L, 3/5 Marines engaged 10 PAVN 2.48 kilometers (1.54 mi) northeast of Firebase Ross, killing 9 with no loss of their own.

On 13 February, the 2/5 Marines command group replaced the 3/5 Marines command group on Hill 381 and assumed command of the operation. On 15 February Companies K and L, 3/5 Marines were withdrawn to Hill 34 near Da Nang Air Base for redeployment to the United States.

1st Battalion, 11th Marines took over artillery support replacing the 2/11 Marines who were also being redeployed.  With the planned closure of Firebases Ross and Ryder, the 1/11 Marines moved to new firebases in the Quế Sơn mountains at Hills 218, 381, 425 and 510.

In January, and February, the Marines killed 85 PAVN/VC with the loss of 1 Marine. The operation continued to uncover large quantities of ammunition and enemy supplies, which surely disrupted their logistics network. 

John Schmidt posing next to a CH-46 helicopter waiting to fly out from LZ Baldy

On 1 March, the 2/5 Marines moved its command post from Hill 381 to LZ Baldy in preparation for their redeployment. On 2 March, the 1st Marine Regiment took control of the operation and established its command post on Hill 510, then on 3 March, Companies F and H, 2/5 Marines were withdrawn from the operation.

On 23 March, 1/5 Marines moved its command post and two companies from Hill 510, while the 1st Marines moved in and established their command post there together with Companies K and L.

Plenty of Chieu Hoi (surrender) leaflets were dropped in the mountains during this operation

On 28 March, the 1st Marine Division expanded the Imperial Lake area of operations to include the mountains west and northwest of Danang, known as the “Rocket Belt”. On 30 March Companies K and L left Hill 510 and moved back to the Rocket Belt, leaving one platoon on the hill.

On 6 April, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division landed on Hill 510 and began preparing for the handover of the area of operations to them. From 7, to 8 April, the 3/1 Marines command post along with a platoon from Company L, 3/1 Marines, left Hill 510. Then on 13 April, the 25th Infantry Division formally assumed control of southern Quảng Nam Province.

Operation Imperial Lake concluded on 7 May 1971, the Marines lost 24 killed and reported 296 PAVN/VC killed.

Thank you for the photos John Schmidt, and for your service and sacrifice. Welcome home brother!

All information for this article was obtained from Wikipedia. Here is the direct link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Imperial_Lake


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