Assault on Retrans

guys by bunkersThis post provides further details about an insurgent attack on 19 Apr 05 against Battle Position Khe Sahn, aka “Retrans”.  One of my first blog posts was about Retrans, and quoted John Parina who gave me a little bit of info.  Later on, I gathered more details and included the story in the Retrans chapter.  (download it here) 

Now, thanks to a recent chat with Vinny Brothman, I’ve filled in some more of the story.  Brothman led a Fire Direction Center (FDC) in the 81mm mortar platoon of Weapons Co, and often pulled duty out at Retrans directing the mortar crews.  Here’s his first-hand account of the action that day.

I was in the main bunker playing Monopoly… We heard the 50 cal open up.  The chain of command out there went Corporal Marshall and then myself… He and I sprinted to the 50 cal. bunker to see what was going on.

We get up there and get reports of muzzle flashes coming from the Papa 6 bridge, which was about a click from Retrans… We see the flashes and decided I would request permission to fire mortars…  Marshall ran to the Mk19 bunker.  The idea was to have the 50 firing against the right side of the bridge and the Mk19 firing on the left and trap them on the bridge.  Running back to the main bunker I could hear small arms and the crack of a high powered rifle…likely a sniper.  Then I got on the radio and called into battalion… to report what’s happening.  The S3, Major Day, breaks the transmission:  

Break break, Khe Sahn, this is Betio 3.  Who am I speaking with?

Betio 3, this is Echo 3 Bravo

Roger, Brothman?

That’s affirmative

Roger. You have no friendlies or air in your vicinity. Engage any target you see fit.

Roger, Khe Sahn out.

At that point I run to the 50 cal bunker and start a fire mission.  We fired an immediate suppression on the bridge.  We were also seeing muzzle flashes coming from a multistory building right of the bridge… I climbed onto the bunker to call a fire mission for myself.  I estimated the range and shot an azimuth, or direction, from my position.  I worked a converged, sheathed mission onto the building, set the fuse to delayed impact and dropped 10 rounds on the building.
Mark Thiry w 240G
LCpl Mark Thiry, on 19 Apr 05, returning fire with the M240G machine-gun, next to the .50 cal bunker at Retrans.  (Mark Thiry photo)

The whole time the 50 and the Mk19 were going and had the enemy locked on the bridge.  I  believe Marshall had our guys pull the 240G out of the bunker and set it up on top and fired away at the bridge too. After that fire mission I focused back on the bridge, where I worked up the data on a traverse mission.  I split the two guns further to have all three guns up, gave them their data and had them dropping rounds across the entire bridge.


There was no more firing from the building or the bridge.  All we saw were vehicles stopping on the bridge, assuming they were picking up wounded and they left.

After that I called into Betio and reported that contact was over and they notified us that the Battalion Commander and Sgt Major were on their way.  Marshall and I debriefed them and that was it. 
When I got back to Camp AQ, our Platoon Sgt, Gunny Boldin, called me a psycho for being on top of that bunker calling my own fire missions.  

–Vinny Brothman, chat with author

And here’s an excerpt from the Retrans chapter, with more of the story:

In actuality, there was always a chance that insurgents might mount a determined attack against Retrans.  One particular incident highlighted that threat.  On April 19th, multiple insurgents used the cover of a daytime sandstorm to engage the little hilltop fort with more than hit-and-hide harassment fire.

Just after noon, apparently thinking the blowing sand would keep the Marines from responding effectively, some 15-20 men started firing machine guns and rockets at Retrans from down by the P6 highway bridge and a nearby building.

We were playing spades in the CP when we started taking small arms fire… The insurgents tried to make their move when we couldn’t see. But unfortunately (for them) we could see their muzzle flashes. We all ran to our respective bunkers and started firing back… The .50 and Mk19 were in the front where we were taking fire. We also dismounted the 240 from its bunker, and ran it up to the .50 cal bunker and [used it] to return fire. I was on the Mk19, and took the traverse and elevation off the gun, so I could track targets faster. We returned a lot of rounds before it quieted down, cleared up and was all over. –John Parina

In spite of the storm, the Marines had returned heavy fire, including 400 .50 calibre rounds and some thirty 40mm grenades, which squelched any plans the enemy may have had. But coming a few days after the big attack on Camp Gannon, there was cause for concern. “That incident was somewhat prolonged, a clear probe”. Kilo’s Commander, Capt. Ieva recalls. “It alarmed me a bit because it underlined the risk to Khe Sahn, manned at the squad level to preserve combat power. But it also gave me confidence that the Squad Leaders out there were capable of handling things.” –Chris Ieva

(I’ll need to add in the mortar fire called in by Vinny Brothman)


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