Operation Song Than

Operation Song Than

By: Captain Jim Barton


On May 13, 1972 the first South Vietnamese counteroffensive Operation Song Than 5-72 just south of the DMZ began in order to retake the areas lost in the NVA Easter Offensive 6 weeks before. An earlier attempt by 5000 ARVN soldiers airlifted in to retake the areas lost had been largely decimated. It was give and take over the next couple of weeks.

Early the morning of the 24th, it seems every cruiser and destroyer in the 7th Fleet lined up to provide Naval Gunfire Support and to prepare the beach for the renewed South Vietnamese helicopter and amphibious assault in Operation Song Than 6-72.

My ship USS George K. Mackenzie (DD-836) was positioned 2000-3000 yards from the beach between the 8 inch heavy gun cruiser Newport News (CA-148) and the 6 inch light cruiser USS Oklahoma City (CG-5).

Just prior to amphibious landings by the Republic of Viet Nam’s 369th Marine Corps Brigade, B-52s from Anderson AFB in Guam laid down a line of 500 pound bombs along the beachhead.

The concussion from the bombs and the gunfire from the ships was unreal and prompted us to say, “I love the smell of cordite in the morning.”

Support for the troops ashore continued over the next several weeks but I had never before or after seen such an array of ships shooting at the beach on this particular D-Day/H-Hour.



8 thoughts on “Operation Song Than

  1. mdenomme says:

    I was there and remember that landing well. The choppers came and buzzed our ship. When the shore bombardment ended our captain allowed us to go topside to watch the landing. To this day I can close my eyes and see the destruction laid down by the B52’s. A memory not easy to forget. 

    Michael Denomme MD Calibrations 401-864-2461

    Please excuse my brevity Sent from my iPhone


  2. John Nesbit says:

    The USS St Louis (LKA-116) was part of this action. The St Louis’ Mike boats were put in the water near the heavy cruiser Newport News. I will never forget seeing that ship fire it’s guns. I was an Electronics Technician aboard but my duty station for Condition 1-Alpha (lowering the Mike boats) was aboard a Mike boat to ensure the prc-(prick) 45 radio was functioning. We had a Navy UDT team aboard our Mike boat and we delivered them under mortar fire to Wunder Beach. The sailors aboard the USS St Louis were awarded the Combat Action Ribbon for this day’s work. I have about a dozen slides that I developed that were taken in the water on that day, May 24, 1972. Let me know if you would like to have me email them to you for your web page. A side note: A Vietnamese fellow told me that “Song than” means Tsunami.


  3. Paul Robitaille, Fire Control Technician (FTG) Second Class. says:

    I was on the USS Anchorage, LSD-36, at Operation Song-Than and were nearby the USS Duluth LPD-6.The concussion offshore when the B-52s bombed the beach head was unbelievable. I was topside in one of our gun directors, watching the beach head and the concussion was strong enough to hurt your ears. After the B-52 run, F-4 Phantoms also struck several sites along the beach with napalm and there was also a naval bombardment as mentioned by others above.

    Shortly after we and other adjacent ships sent the first wave of troops on the beach, (we had a contingent of South Vietnamese Marines aboard the Anchorage who were in the first wave) there were two shell splashes, not far from the USS Duluth.

    I can’t recall if the first was short or long, but the next round was just the opposite of the first. It was clear that the third round would have struck the Duluth. All of a sudden, she was getting underway as fast as possible, leaving tall trail of smoke from her stacks. We also went further off shore and the naval bombardment started again. Sadly we only had four twin 3″50 gun mounts on Anchorage and they did not have the range to contribute to the shore bombardment. No more rounds came our way from the shore after the naval bombardment resumed.

    It amazed me that there was anything left to retaliate from the beach head after that B-52 strike!


  4. Dennis Williamson says:

    I remember this almost like it was yesterday. I was on the fantail of the Anchorage and saw the splashes. Suddenly we got out of there like a bat out of hell. Didn’t know the big tub could move that fast! I remember we all (in the deck force) were so excited because after so long at sea (in a 30 day modloc) with nothing going on, finally some excitement!


  5. Lou Mansfield says:

    Boy, do I remember this. I was a first loader on an open air 3″ 50 gun mount on the USS Duluth LPD-6, so I could see everything as it took place. Paul Robitaille, in his post, describes events perfectly as they transpired.

    When the extensive naval shore bombardment, B52 and napalm strike finally ended, one member of our gun crew said ” I don’t think anything’s left on that beach except maybe a snake.” We all laughed, but right after he said that we saw a splash in the water aimed directly at our gun mount, and then another. No one was laughing now and, as Paul mentioned, our gun mount did not have effective range to shoot back.

    I thought the next round would surely hit us and kill us all, and although I was not particularly religious, the prayer, Hail Mary, raced through my head. Fortunately a destroyer near us immediately returned fire and our ship was able to make its escape. I’ll never forget it and often wondered what became of the South Vietnamese marines we landed on that beach.


  6. Kenneth Jones says:

    No doubt one of my most memorable moments of a day in May 1972 . As a young US Marine member of an infantry battalion (3 / 4) on board the USS Duluth hearing and seeing all of the activity with the LVT’s in the ships well deck firing up their engines and South Vietnamese Marine forces lining up to board. I remember looking out and counting at least 35 ships when only the night before there was only our 4 ships. I recall going on our flight deck seeing the Vietnamese force eating their evening meal and checking their gear for the upcoming event. But that awesome B-52 arc light strike was as if I was watching a TV show the planes flying what appeared as low and slow and the naval bombardment of the beach. Nearly 50 years latter this day is still so very clear if anybody has photos or video of this operation could you please share your copies – (blt34@verizon.net). Be blessed & stay well.


    • louman21 says:

      Saw your post beneath mine on “Tales of an Asian Sailor.” I was a first loader on a Duluth gun mount during Operation Song Than. As per your request for photos or videos, Google: American Experience; Nixon; Quang Tri amphibious assault,1972 and you’ll find an ABC news video of the operation.

      Also, I have 3 copies of a booklet which was provided to navy crew members. It has a write up of the operation and includes several pictures. If you email me your postal address I’d be happy to send you one. They are still in surprisingly good shape


  7. John Nesbit says:

    Louman21, I would like one of your copies please, or just a photocopy of it. I was aboard the St Louis that day. My address is 15441 Southwind Lane, Brookings, OR 97415. Email is 3boars@gmail.com. I have posted several pictures taken May 24th, one of which is the USS Duluth. St Luis call sign Woolworth Yankee. Thank you Louman21, John Nesbit


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