Logline: On February 13, 1968, the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, attacked a huge force of entrenched North Vietnamese troops waiting for them inside the ancient Citadel Fortress of Hue. The Marines were outnumbered, five to one. For thirteen days, they fought inch by inch, house by house, street by street, against those overwhelming odds. Contrary to U. S. Marine Corps combat principles, during the first three days they fought with no supporting arms whatsoever, due to politically motivated and overly restrictive rules of engagement. The enemy fought fiercely, but the ROE dictated by higher commands proved even more deadly. This is their story.
Synopsis: During the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces left their mountain and jungle hideaways and, using the “traditional truce” during the Tet lunar new year holiday to their advantage, launched the infamous Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of fierce attacks on more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam. Up until that point, the Tet truces had been honored by both sides, with only a few minor exceptions. Thus, this attack caught American and our allied forces off guard, along the order of Pearl Harbor.
One of those attacks was against the beautiful, historic city of Hue, which was symbolically the most important city in all of Vietnam, respected by all the Vietnamese people, North and South, as a center of their heritage, society, commerce, culture, and education. The Citadel of Hue had been the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors for centuries, and the schools and university in Hue were the source of learning for even General Vo Nguyen Giap, leader of the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), or North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and many of his fellow communist leaders.
Giap believed that the attacks would cause Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces to collapse and foment discontent and rebellion among the South Vietnamese population, leading them to revolt against the regime in Saigon. Thus, he sent an overwhelming force of over 10,000 NVA soldiers against Hue alone, and he nearly succeeded. The entire city was overrun, but two allied strongholds repulsed repeated attacks: The Military Advisory Command – Vietnam (MACV) compound in the “new city” on the south side of the Perfume River, and the 1st ARVN Division compound inside the Citadel.
The NVA’s Tet Offensive initially succeeded in creating chaos and confusion within allied ranks, and thus the first intel reports severely underestimated the size of enemy forces and the scope of their offensive. The ARVN soldiers and leaders, most of whom had gone home for the Tet holiday, now found themselves fighting for their lives, and the first responding American unit was one infantry company, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, a force of approximately 150 Marines. They were up against thousands of enemy soldiers. Although they did manage to reinforce the MACV Compound, thus saving a “toe hold” in the city, and were quickly reinforced by additional companies from 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, they were also seriously hampered by the Rules of Engagement (ROE) enforced by the South Vietnamese government, the ARVN leaders, and their own Chain of Command, because the buildings in this city were considered “sacred” to the Vietnamese people. Over the next six days, they fought valiantly against this huge enemy force, with only what they carried into battle, and without the supporting arms they had come to rely on, resulting in very little progress and very high casualties. On the sixth day of the battle, realizing that this was only going to result in the annihilation of the Marines, the ROE were lifted and the Marines began to make progress. About a week later, the new city was declared secure, and the enemy was on the run. Many of them crossed the Perfume River and entered the Citadel, reinforcing the NVA soldiers holding the old city.
The Film: This documentary film focuses on the 2nd Phase of Operation HUE CITY, the Battle for the Citadel Fortress of Hue, on the Marines and Sailors who served with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines during that battle. For some unknown reason, despite the experiences of the Alpha 1/1 and 2/5 Marines in the new city, the same overly restrictive ROE were placed on this understrength USMC infantry battalion, pitting about 1,000 Marines against over 5,000 NVA soldiers waiting for them inside the Citadel. Their mission was to attack and destroy the NVA, but once again the Marines’ hands were tied behind their backs.
The focal point of this film is the human aspect – the young Americans who fought that battle, the Marines and Sailors who died and suffered from enemy bullets and bombs, but also from the horrible disadvantages placed upon them by their own leaders. The film will first relate the story of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, who were ordered to conduct three frontal assaults against the NVA without any supporting arms on 13 February 1968, and who gave their all trying to obey orders. They did not survive the first day of the battle.