Lessons Learned Vietnam
by Major Garold L. Tippin
Lessons Learned, Vietnam, November
1966-September 1967 is not a unit history. It is a compilation of the
experiences gained by one Battalion, the 1st Bn, 35th Inf., 3rd Brigade
25th Div (now 3rd Brigade, 4th Div). During this period the Battalion
fought in Kontum Province, along the Cambodian border; with the 1st Air
Cav Division in Binh Dinh Province; and in the Coastal Plains near Duc
Pho, Quang Nghai Province. The Battalion is one of the most combat
experienced units in Vietnam and has maintained an enviable 12 to 1
enemy kill ratio.
Part I. Fortified Villages
One of the enemy's favorite battlegrounds is
the fortified village. This consists of several hamlets which have been
prepared with extensive fighting positions, trench works, connecting
tunnels, and spider holes. (Figure 1)
The fighting bunkers often have 5
to 7 feet of overhead cover and can take the direct hit of a 155 round.
The bunkers are placed to cover avenues of approach into the village and
are interspersed throughout the village to cover trails, approaches,
etc. Many of the huts will have a fighting bunker in one corner. Tunnels
connect the bunkers and trenches, allowing the enemy to disappear and
reappear firing from another location. Trees, shrubs and even the earth
itself are reshaped to conceal these positions. At first glance there
seems to be no logic or method to these defensive works. However, upon
closer investigation one finds an intricate, well-planned defensive
position that takes advantage of the existing cover and concealment,
natural barriers, and avenues of approach into and within the village.
The enemy elects to use a hamlet or a
village as a battleground for several reasons:
1. He expects to inflict enough casualties
on US troops during the attack to justify his making a stand.
2. The US soldier has a natural aversion to
fire upon villages and populated areas.
3. The village offers the VC/NVA a labor
source to prepare the fortifications.
4. In the open valleys and coastal lowlands
the villages contain a great deal of natural cover and concealment.
5. The hamlets in a village are usually
spread out and their arrangement offers many avenues of escape.
The enemy's normal plan of battle in a
fortified village is as follows:
1. He will allow the US troops to get as
close as possible before opening fire, usually 15 to 25 meters. The
purpose of these "hugging tactics" is to get the US soldiers
so closely engaged that they cannot effectively use artillery and TAC
2. The enemy feels that if he inflicts
several casualties in his initial burst that our soldiers will become
involved in trying to get the wounded back to the rear for evacuation.
He believes that when the US troops start worrying more about getting
their wounded buddies to safety than about the battle, they are easy
targets, and in this respect he is correct.
3. Another facet of his battle-plan is to
fight viciously until dark, then, using the cover of darkness, escape
using one of the many pre-planned escape routes, carrying off his dead
and wounded, their weapons and even empty cartridges. We have captured
numerous enemy documents either condemning or commending certain units
for their police of the battlefield. On one occasion after an 18 hour
battle, there was one particular bunker from which a LMG was firing;
after the fire fight and upon checking the position, not one empty
cartridge case was found. After several battles enemy dead were found;
and lying by their side was a large tin can filled with empty cartridge
casings. They were ready to move out when the signal was given! The
enemy knows that we place great emphasis on body count and weapons. Our
men, being typically American, expect to see at least 10 enemy bodies
for every one of their buddies killed. The enemy knows that he has won a
psychological victory if he can remove his casualties, leaving a sterile
battlefield for our men to find, especially if he has inflicted some
casualties on us.
The enemy likes to initiate these actions in
the late afternoon. This gives him several hours to inflict as many
casualties as he can, then escape after dark. He does not have enough
ammunition to conduct a sustained defense, nor can he be resupplied as
our men can. Therefore, if he begins his battles two or three hours
prior to darkness and holds out until dark he has an excellent chance to
In order to preclude the enemy from getting
away, all escape routes must be sealed off. And this is indeed a
difficult task, in fact it is usually beyond the capability of one rifle
company. The impulsive company commander that attempts to use his
platoons to maneuver and flank a fortified village soon find himself in
deep trouble, and the same is true if he tries a frontal assault. He may
succeed in taking the position but his losses will not be worth the
attempt. His best course of action is to immediately call in blocking
fires to the rear of the position and utilize his unit to fix the enemy
and give his commander an appreciation of the situation.
At the village of Dien Troung, Quang Nghai
Province, on 22 May 1967, Company A found themselves in such a
predicament. At 0600 in the morning A Company was approaching the
village from the west when they received automatic fire from the
village. (Figure 2) The company commander maneuvered his first and
second platoons to the left in order to come in on the village from the
north. Both platoons became heavily engaged in the open rice paddies and
were unable to move any further. Then the third platoon and company
command group moved across Hwy #1 and entered the NW corner of the
village. They too were stopped by intense enemy fire. (Figure 2) As a
result of overextending themselves and attempting a wide flanking
maneuver against the fortified village the entire company was committed
and unable to maneuver any further. The company CP group spent the next
four hours pinned down in a peanut patch. Much later, some 32 hours,
after a liberal use of gunships, 13 air strikes, 2000 artillery shells
and three more rifle companies the enemy was defeated.
It took four hours using gunship support for
A Company to break contact and withdraw so that artillery and air could
soften up the NW edge of the village. In the meantime artillery was
pounding the rest of the village. Two airstrikes were put on the hill
mass to the northeast. B Company was air assaulted onto the hill south
of the village at 1200 hours, and proceeded NW. (Figure 2) As they
entered the village they also became heavily engaged. Company C was
assaulted on top the hill at 1400 hours and they moved into a blocking
position. By this time Company A had occupied a position west of Highway
1, with three platoons on line. At 1600 hours B Company, 2nd Bn, 35th
Inf. became opcon to the 1st Bn and was assaulted onto the hill SW of
Dien Truong, and moved into blocking positions. The enemy was in
strength and fought throughout the night. Artillery pounded the enemy
position all night long and gunships and flare ships screened the open
ground to the north. The next morning following three air strikes and
behind a smokescreen Companies A and B assaulted the village. They met
minor contact throughout the morning. By 1500 hours the village complex
was occupied. There was a total of 87 NVA killed, one captured and 49
The blocking of enemy escape routes should
be a battalion commander's problem. He has the capability of assaulting
additional maneuver elements into the rear and flanks of the enemy
Since April 67, the 1st Bn 35 Infantry has
been engaged in seven major battles involving fortified villages,
resulting in some 371 enemy killed. These actions were very similar in
the way they began and ended. The one major difference was that the Bn
learned from each battle and applied these lessons to subsequent
Each time the action began by the
involvement of one rifle company. The pattern was the same; the enemy
allowed the friendly troops to get into the village and usually within
15 to 20 meters of a fighting bunker before they opened fire. Each time
the battle began by the rifle company getting several men wounded and
pinned down in the open. As the unit deployed they would encounter more
enemy positions. It wasn't too long before the entire company was
involved in the firefight. In the early stages, the battle would go
according to the enemy plan. However, there were several factors that
the enemy had overlooked.
Immediately upon initiation of the action,
gunships were dispatched to the battle areas. Gunships do not have a
great effect on fighting bunkers, but they do an outstanding job of
suppressing the enemy fire and they can fire accurately within 15 to 20
meters of friendly troops. Therefore, under the suppressive fire of the
gunships the closely committed units were able to "back-off"
taking their wounded with them. The unit would then take up positions to
fix the enemy. This enabled them to bring the full brunt of artillery
and tactical air upon the positions. In the meantime, other companies
were assaulted into blocking positions around the village.
In all seven actions all three rifle
companies were ultimately committed. Once the area was ringed off, al
available tactical air and artillery were used. In addition, during the
night "Spooky" C-47 with gattling guns was used. The area was
kept in continuous illumination and the friendly troops on the ground
pressed in close and maintained a heavy volume of small arms fire into
the enemy positions. The enemy fought viciously and only four prisoners
were taken in the combined battles. There is no doubt that some of the
enemy escaped because following each battle blood trails and sandal
tracks were found leading out of the villages.
The third factor that the enemy overlooked
was the dogged determination, bravery and fighting ability of the
American Infantryman. Several captured enemy documents revealed that the
enemy had been told that once several casualties were inflicted on US
troops in the initial stages of a fortified village action the US troops
would panic and withdraw. In this instance the enemy had a lesson to
learn because the men did not panic and run. They withdrew only on
order, in an orderly fashion, and only to utilize the air and artillery.
In all cases casualties were taken back with them. When the time came to
go back they went without hesitation and closed on the enemy positions
like a well-trained professional killing team.
A thorough, organized search must be
conducted in the occupied village, because the enemy has a tendency to
go underground and hide in their numerous concealed spider holes and
tunnels. It is imperative that the village is searched inch-by-inch
paying particular attention to wells, livestock pens, hedgerows, and
The use of C8 riot-control gas should not be
overlooked in fighting a fortified village. On one occasion the 1st Bn
35th Infantry made a night attack with gas masks following an aerial CS
attack. The ship made a low pass on the windward side of the hamlet
dispersing approximately 250 CS grenades. Then 20 minutes of artillery,
about one half VT fuse was fired into the enemy positions. One company
moved forward behind a walking barrage of artillery fire. Once inside
the hamlet the flare ships lit up the area. Eighteen enemy were killed
and no casualties were suffered by the friendly troops. The use of CS in
such an action depends upon several factors:
1. The availability of dispensing devices.
2. Wind direction and location of friendly
3. The availability of masks for the ground
Part II. Village Search and
In order to successfully conduct guerrilla
warfare the enemy must have control of the people; for this is where the
enemy acquires his food, intelligence, and labor force. Our primary
mission has been to cut off the Main Force VC and NVA units from the
population. Without the support of the people and faced with defeat if
he tries a pitched battle in the lowlands he will be forced to move back
into the mountains and ultimately "die on the vine" or be
tracked down and destroyed by our units. An area will be secure when the
government has won the hearts and the minds of the people. However,
before this is accomplished an area must undergo several preliminary
1. The NVA and Main Force VC units must be
defeated and driven into the hills. In other words they must be cut off
from the population.
2. The VC infrastructure must be broken; and
in order to do this the local force VC and VC cadre must either be
killed or captured.
3. Once these two steps are accomplished the
Vietnamese government can begin to pacify the people and win them over
to the GVN cause; while US and allied forces move into the hills to hunt
down and destroy the NVA and main force VC units. In our area we have
been successful in step one; however, breaking the VC infrastructure is
a difficult task. It becomes a war of hide and seek and of trying to
outwit the illusive VC in his own backyard. In the populated lowlands
this involves conducting numerous "Village Search and Clear
Operations." There are several methods that can be used depending
upon the desired results. Basically the methods of search that we have
employed are as follows:
1. Deliberate cordon and search. (Figure 3)
This is used when the specific mission of the unit is to conduct an
exhaustive search of the target village. In this operation troops are
positioned prior to daylight in ambush locations covering all exit
routes from the village. At daylight two basic procedures may be used:
a. Our preferred procedure is to use a
PSYOPS team to broadcast instructions directing the people to gather at
a particular location in or outside the village. Then one platoon enters
the village to check for any enemy in force.
b. In absence of a PSYOPS team, one platoon
can enter the village and round up the people and direct them to a
central location. The remainder of the unit remains in blocking
positions around the target village. On more than one occasion following
the PSYOPS broadcast, and/or units moving forward, VC have fled from the
village only to be shot down or apprehended by the cordon units. While
the people are being questioned the village is given a thorough search.
2. Modified cordon and search.
Here two different methods can be used:
a. Blocking forces move into position before
daylight to cordon off the village leaving one side unguarded. (Figure
4) At daylight an additional unit is air-assaulted into the open side
and moves toward the village. This technique can be used when it is
believed that there are armed enemy in the village. The objective here
is to give the enemy the choice to stay and fight or withdraw running
into our ambushing units. The enemy only wants to fight on his own terms
and usually the air-mobile assault, preceded by an artillery preparation
and gunships will cause him to take the easy way out. This operation
normally consists of two or more rifle companies.
b. The second method is used when natural
barriers such as lakes, beaches and open rice paddies, are on one or two
sides of the village. (Figure 5) These features act as either a barrier
or offer excellent observation from the air thereby eliminating the
requirement for a complete cordon around the target village. If the
village is near a beach and the people have boats with which to attempt
an escape, it is a simple matter of prior coordination to have one or
two Navy Swift Boats on station.
In this operation the blocking forces are
again positioned prior to daylight around that part of the village not
bordered by the natural obstacle. PSYOPS broadcasts again may be used if
desired. Maximum utilization of aerial reconnaissance is imperative in
One of the finest examples of a
"Modified Village Search and Clear Operation" was conducted by
our sister battalion the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry on 8 August 1967.
The action took place at An Ba Hamlet, Nghia Han District, Quang Ngai
Province. This 13 hour battle involving a US Battalion size force was
initiated by a report from a "Hoi Chanh" (VC returnee). The
battle is also an outstanding example of the use of armed reconnaissance
helicopters and gunships working in conjunction with ground elements.
The following is extracted from an "After Action Report on the
Battle of An Ba" prepared by the 2nd Bn. 35th Inf, 3rd Bde TF, 4th
The Battle of An Ba
1. The enemy was estimated to have a company
size force of 160 men located on a hill mass at BS670555. (Figure
They were reported to be equipped with the following weapons: Three 30
cal. MG, fifty AK-47 rifles, two 81mm mortars, and several M-1 carbines,
and a few M-2 carbines. It was anticipated that when US troops entered
this area they would encounter the enemy hiding in holes and tunnels and
that it would be necessary for friendly forces to conduct a thorough and
methodical search to find the enemy. Once elements of the 2-35 were
inserted, the units could expect small arms fire and booby-traps
throughout the area. The above intelligence information was obtained
from a "Hoi Chanh" who surrendered to 2nd Bn 4th ARVN Regt.
When "A" Company, "C" Company and the Reconnaissance
Platoon 2-35 made a combat assault into this suspected enemy location,
they failed to make contact however, C/2-35 did discover several
entrances to spider holes and tunnels as well as signs of fresh digging.
The enemy was sighted moving north and northwest toward the Song Ve
River by pilots flying observation helicopters and gunships. The
maneuver elements of the 2-35 were committed to move north in pursuit of
the fleeing enemy. Contact was made and the battle of An Ba ensued
against an estimated enemy force of approximately 100 men. The conflict
began about 1000 meters north of the initial insertion. The fight was
waged in and around small hamlets encircled by trenches and hedgerows
which provided the enemy with good fields of fire, cover from small arms
ground fire and concealment from aerial observation. The captured
documents from the Battle of An Ba proved conclusively that the 2-35 had
engaged elements of one VCLF Battalion. The collected intelligence which
led to the planning of this operation was considered timely, accurate,
and contained sufficient information to deploy the correct amount of
force in the vicinity of the enemy.
A/2-35, C/2-35, and Recon 2-35 were assigned
search and destroy missions. A/1-14 originally had a mission of
establishing blocking positions. Later their mission was changed to
search and destroy.
In an effort to capitalize on the
intelligence received from the "Hoi Chanh" on 6 August, the
Battalion Commander, LTC Norman L. Tiller, formulated an operations plan
to combat assault elements into three locations surrounding the target
hill on the following day (7 August). This plan, however, involved and
extension of the battalion's present AO along the 70 grid line on the
west to the 66 north-south line. The request for this extension was
disapproved for 7 August. The battalion commander repeated his request
for the extension the following day and was able to obtain a boundary
extension to the 66 vertical grid line from 08001 August to 092400
August. On the evening of 7 August plans were finalized and the
operations order issued to the commanders involved.
Once they were on the ground, all three
maneuver elements began to deploy according to the original plan. At the
same time, "Aloha" ships (observation helicopters from 3rd
Brigade Aviation) observed armed VC in the vic. of BS684582 to the
northeast of Recon. Armed helicopters were requested at 0807 hrs and at
0935 the gunships (Sharks) reported to LTC Tiller that "Aloha"
ships had killed three or four enemy. "Aloha" estimated the
observed enemy force to be two reinforced squads and said they appeared
to be fleeing to the north toward the Son Ve River. (Figure 6) The
"Aloha" birds, meanwhile, had killed two additional VC and
spotted numerous others with weapons and web gear along the southern
bank of the Song Ve River. It became apparent that the enemy force was
located north of the original target area in the hamlet of An Ba along
the southern bank of the Song Ve. It was anticipated that the fleeing
enemy would attempt to cross the Song Ve or to evade to the east.
As Recon and A/2-35 (-) moved northward, the
"Shark" gunships spotted armed VC running to the east and
west. The "Sharks" advised Recon of the enemy disposition, and
Recon began to maneuver to block the enemy's eastern escape route. At
1030 hours, C Company was ordered to move from their southern blocking
positions to the north to BS675578 on the east flank of A Company. At
1033 hours, Recon made contact with a small force and killed one VC at
BS678576. (Figure 6) A Company's platoon on the original search mission
was ordered to join the company and effected link-up at 1105 hr. At that
time, A Company was in contact with an unknown size force firing from
the west and had suffered two friendly WIAs at BS669577. When it
appeared that elements of the enemy force might escape to the west, the
battalion commander alerted Company A, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry to
prepare for deployment to the west of the contact area. By 1125 hr
A/2-35 had a friendly casualty count of two WIA and one KIA and
estimated the enemy to be a platoon. An AO extension was requested
westward to the 64 north-south grid line. Ships were sent to A/1-14th's
pickup site at BS776430. At 1205 hours, the first lift of A/1-14 touched
down at BS548573. The air assault was completed by 1220 hours without
incident. A total of four maneuver elements had been committed then, and
were strategically placed to prevent the enemy from escaping: Recon
platoon was positioned along the eastern edge of the hamlet area; C/2-35
on the southeast and A/2-35 on the southwest were pushing northward;
A/1-14 was closing in from west to east. The enemy was trapped against
the southern bank of the Song Ve River, over which the armed gunships
and observation helicopters maintained a deadly vigil. (Figure 7)
As the ground forces closed in on the
trapped VC, a series of short contacts were made: At 1237 hours A/2-35
reported three enemy killed and one weapon captured at BS 66858; C/2-35
killed seven VC and captured five weapons in the vic. of BS 673578 at
1243 hours, A/1-14 reported seven enemy KIA and three weapons captured
at 1330 hours, The "Aloha Birds" submitted a total count of
sixteen VC killed. At 1358 hours a VC grenade wounded one man from C
Company who was evacuated immediately by the battalion command and
control ship. The Recon platoon, working with the "Musket"
gunships, reported four additional enemy KIA at 1411 hours at BS687582.
Three additional VC killed and two more weapons captured were reported
by A/1-14 at 1411 hours. (Figure 7)
Two immediate air strikes were called for.
The first strike went in at 1415 hours and was followed at 1430 hours by
another. The target for both of the air strikes was the densely
vegetated village strip along the northern edge of the Song Ve River
(3) Friendly Personnel Losses:
(a) A/2-35 .............. 3 WIA, 1 KIA
(b) A/1-14 .............. 3 WIA
(c) C/2-35 .............. 1 WIA
This action, a typical employment of a
battalion sized force, was initiated by a report from a "Hoi Chanh".
As with most such reports there is some truth in them but they are far
from being factual. In this specific case, contact was never made with
the reported unit nor was the contact at the reported enemy location.
However, the battalion was able to rapidly exploit the information
gained by the "Aloha" team who detected the enemy movement to
the north. As the enemy had placed himself next to the Song Ve River,
his routes of withdrawal were extremely limited. Once his positions and
forces were located it was relatively easy to fix him with ground
maneuvers and one combat assault. Upon completion of the maneuvers, all
that remained was for our forces to close with and kill the VC. Contacts
of this nature are of short duration as the enemy does not possess the
combat power to fight on equal terms with our forces. His principal
tactic is to delay our maneuvers and fade away into the surrounding
area. In this case his tactic failed as he was surrounded on all sides
and our units conducted a deliberate search locating the individual VC
in his "fade away" holes. By far the great majority of enemy
killed were taken from holes in which they were hiding. Had a deliberate
search not been conducted the enemy probably would have been successful
in escaping with the majority of his unit; however as it was, only a
handful of enemy evaded to tell the story of defeat.
4. Lessons Learned:
Item: Battalion command net
Discussion: The battalion command net is the
only means of communication between the battalion commander and the
company commanders during this highly mobile war. As such it must be
free from unnecessary traffic and it must be on a frequency that
prohibits interference from other nets and units. During this action the
light observation helicopters were using this net to pass traffic
between themselves. Frequently they interfered with the normal operation
of this net which resulted in unnecessary transmissions at key times.
Additionally the battalion command frequency should be one in the higher
ranges (beyond AN/PRC-10) to prevent ARVN and Koreans from usurping the
frequency; however, the frequency cannot be higher than 69.95 mc as that
is the upper limit of the AN/ARC-54 FMC radio in the HU-1D. When a high
frequency is issued then a correspondingly low frequency must be used
for the air ground net as the forward air controller's radio, AN/ARC-44,
will not reach above 51.9 mc. Frequencies assigned to the battalion
command net should be checked for interference prior to issue to the
Observation: Observation helicopters must
have a frequency for communication among themselves which is different
from the net of the battalion for which they are working.
Item: Employment of the light observation
helicopter. Discussion: Dramatic results have been achieved by the
"Aloha birds" on so many occasions it is hardly necessary to
mention it here; however, a point in their employment is worthy of
mention. Almost all of the contacts made by the light observation
helicopters have been within one hour following a combat assault. This
undoubtedly stems from the enemy movements away from the area of
commitment. The enemy movement has been crisscross the coastal plain.
The low flying helicopter is by far the best device to detect this enemy
Observation: Maximum use should be made of
the light observation helicopter immediately following a combat assault.
Priority of observation should be over drainage ditches along natural
lines of drift that lead away from the combat assault area.
3. Area cordon and search. (Figure 10)
This method is used when a large area or
several villages are to be searched. The blocking ambush forces are
positioned at one end and/or the flanks of the target area. The sweeping
forces then drive and search the villages in order to push the enemy
into the blocking ambush positions which have been established between
the enemy and his sanctuary. At the same time the sweeping forces
conduct a thorough search of the area. In order for this operation to be
successful the blocking ambush positions must be placed between the
suspected enemy and his sanctuary; and they must move into position
without being detected. Two or more rifle companies are normally
employed in this operation.
4. Normal village sweep.
This is used when units move through a
village conducting a search while not in conjunction with blocking
forces. This is of course the least productive and least desirable
method of searching a village. This method is used both as a show of
force and as an intelligence gathering media. The sweeping forces look
for large quantities of rice, bunkers and positions, or indications of
recent enemy use. We have been forced to use this method many times
primarily because of the non-availability of troops. If a unit
conducting this type of operation can obtain the use of aerial
reconnaissance aircraft to work in conjunction with their sweep, the
chance of success is greatly increased.
Village search operations should be
conducted in cooperation with the local Vietnamese authorities. Once the
people are rounded up they should be questioned by the Vietnamese
personnel. We have found that the National Police are ideally suited and
trained for these "population control activities."
PART III JUNGLE FIGHTING
There are two wars in Vietnam; One is being
fought in the coastal lowlands and valley plains, and the other one is
being fought in the mountainous jungles. In some areas units will be
operating in the first environment one day and in the second the
following day. The normal methods of operation differ sharply in each
environment. Jungle fighting is not new to U.S. soldiers nor does the
enemy have a monopoly on jungle know-how. US units adapt well to jungle
fighting. When we were operating against the NVA along the Cambodian
Border we found that they had as much difficulty operating in the area
as we did. The prisoners we captured were as a rule, undernourished,
emaciated and sick with malaria. They stated that almost everyone in
their units had malaria and many had died from it.
In the jungle, landing zones are few and far
between, trails are few and narrow. Navigation is difficult, units in
many cases are limited to jungle trails and flank security is difficult
to attain. Visibility is usually between 20 to 30 meters and forward
movement is generally limited to 300 to 500 meters per hour. The most
difficult problem in fighting NVA in this type of terrain is
"finding him". This is where he builds his fortified base
camps and where he locates his bunkers on ridges and in the heads of
draws in hopes that a platoon or company will blunder into the area. The
NVA habitually emplace their fighting positions to fire down the valley
or ridge; as in the fortified village, the enemy realized that our
tactical advantage lies in our artillery and air support. So, again he
likes to use "hugging" tactics. Therefore, the problem is
finding and fixing the enemy without having our units engaged and shot
up at close range.
In the jungle where LZís are limited
reaction time is reduced to the cross-country proximity of units on the
ground. Commanders must continually consider this possible requirement
to rapidly reinforce small units which gain heavy contact with the
enemy. When operating in this type of terrain where contact with large
NVA units is possible, rifle companies should be within none to three
hours of each other.
The rifle company should operate as a unit
with platoons within 15 to 30 minutes of each other. The company should
have security elements covering the main body, front, flanks and rear.
(Too often company commanders overlook flank and rear security because
of the difficult terrain.) There are times when it is impossible to have
flank security because of the heavy jungle vegetation. In this case the
unit must move in a single file. The point element should precede the
main body by about 200 meters. A rifle company should stop every so
often and send out patrols in all directions. Not only is this a good
security measure, but it is also a good method of search in the jungle.
Special emphasis should be paid to the rear. On the border the NVA have
developed a habit, of once they locate a US unit they will have a small
recon party follow to keep "tabs". There are a couple of ways
to combat this technique; one is by dropping off a small ambush patrol.
This procedure has paid dividends for us on several occasions. The other
method is by having a patrol "button hook", move off the trail
double back at some distance and move back along the trail. When
operating in mountainous terrain, if at all possible a company commander
should keep one or two platoons on the high ground, so that if need be
they can maneuver down upon the enemy. This procedure paid off several
times for our battalion.
On 15 July 1967, our C Company was operating
in the mountainous jungle area southwest of Duc Pho RVN. Intelligence
reports indicated that an NVA battalion was in the area and the company
had infiltrated in with three days rations on the night of the 12th. On
the morning of the 15th the Company was moving south on two axes. The
company (-) was in the valley floor; and the 2nd & 3rd platoons were
on the high ground to the west. About midmorning the platoons on the
high ground turned to the east and started moving down the ridge line to
link up with the company (-). The 2nd plt, which was leading, ran into
an enemy bunker which was oriented to fire down the hill and killed
three NVA. Shortly thereafter they ran into the main enemy position
which was occupied by an NVA platoon. The company commander maneuvered
the company (-) up the ridge line and soon the enemy was surrounded.
After a five hour fire fight the enemy positions were overrun and 28 NVA
were killed. The NVA platoon was not prepared to fight a heavy battle in
two directions, their bunkers were generally located to catch a unit
moving up the ridge line, consequently they were annihilated.
When firm contact with the enemy is
established the ground commander must not be "sucked in" to
overcommit his unit. He should concentrate on fixing the enemy with his
forces and immediately employ his supporting fires. Following extensive
artillery and air bombardment the commander should maneuver his elements
to determine the effect of his supporting fires; additional support
required, if any; and to destroy the remnants of the enemy force. The
deciding factor in many of these battles has been the immediate
application of fire power.
On normal operations it is a good policy for
a company to halt about 1600 hours; so they will have sufficient time
before dark to prepare their night defensive perimeter. Digging in is an
absolute must! At the very least individual prone fighting positions
should be prepared. Security in the form of OPs and LPs is another
cardinal rule. For some reason this is a difficult thing to get
commanders, especially new commanders to do. They are reluctant to put
out two or three men 100 to 200 meters from the company perimeter. One
of the finest weapons in a jungle perimeter is the claymore. The hand
grenade loses much of its usefulness in the thick jungle. A lot of men
have been wounded by their own grenades, when they hit a tree limb or
bush. The same is true of the M-79 grenade launcher. The claymore is an
aimed weapon, just like a rifle, therefore it should be carefully
sighted in, to cover the desired target area. Some men tend to put the
claymore out to far; for fear of being injured in the back blast. The
enemy has a habit of sneaking up to our perimeters and turning the
claymores around. To combat this the claymores should be close enough to
be observed. We have also found it effective to rig the claymore with a
trip flare or anti-intrusion device. A claymore can be detonated safely
by placing them just outside the foxhole against the berm. It is a good
idea to emplace one there just "in case". Another good rig for
a claymore is up in a tree with the business end aimed on a slant toward
the ground. The locations for claymores and trip flares should be
selected before dark but ideally they should be emplaced after dark.
Whenever possible the company should cut an
LZ within their night perimeter. Of course it is a must if the unit is
going to be resupplied with other than a free drop. Our units like to
bring in their 81 mortars, not only for close-in fire support but also
for immediate illumination.
Medical evacuation is another problem. In
the jungle only emergency cases should be evacuated at night. Also,
since LZs are limited in the jungle many wounded or injured personnel
are evacuated by means of a hoist rigged on a medevac ship. On the 15
July fight of C Company, thirteen wounded men were hoisted out of the
battle area. We keep an emergency rig of a rope and parachute harness.
Fortunately, we have only had to use this rig twice, but on both
occasions the men were saved by this crude affair. The problem with this
rig is that the individual cannot be lifted all the way into the
aircraft and must dangle 15 to 30 feet under the helicopter.
In the jungle most of the meeting
engagements with the enemy are from a distance of 15 to 20 feet. In this
terrain our point men like to carry the shotgun. It is an excellent
close-in weapon especially when the point man turns the corner of a
trail and runs head-on into a couple of NVA. We used to have a Sgt E-5
in our A Company, now SSG Sidney S. Hines Jr., who love to walk point.
On the border from July 66 to December 66, he killed 15 NVA with a
shotgun. In three days time last January he killed seven more NVA. He
has since rotated but his skill with a shotgun is still a legend in the
In the jungle where there are few LZs, the
commander must assume that all are hot and mined. The enemy attempts to
keep all possible landing zones under observation by recon elements.
Some enemy units have the mission of ambushing prospective LZs. The best
method of securing an LZ in this type of terrain is to move a rifle
company in on foot to provide security for the following elements. When
this is impossible due to the tactical situation the preparatory fires
must be carefully planned and coordinated. Ideally tactical air,
artillery and gunships should be used. In these preparatory fires not
only should the LZ and the immediate area be hit by supporting fires;
but also likely avenues of approach into the area and likely enemy
assembly areas some distance from the LZ.
PART IV AMBUSH PATROLLING
One of our weakest tactical areas in Vietnam
is the ambush. Many commanders still feel that night belongs to the VC
and this is nonsense! The reason our units are not adept at ambushes is
simply because the units are not using the proper techniques. The
principles of patrolling and ambushing as taught by the Ranger School
are tried and tested. If unit commanders would apply these techniques,
their ambushes would become successful. Many of the so-called "new
techniques" being used in Vietnam are simply bad habits which units
have fallen into.
One mistake is that units attempt to
accomplish too many missions. A rifle company cannot operate all day,
then be expected to conduct ambushes at night. However, this is exactly
what is going on in many units. As a result a rifle platoon will move to
their ambush positions, organize a perimeter defense, and go to sleep
leaving a few on guard. This is not an ambush, but they are called that.
In order to conduct a proper night ambush a unit must have rest and time
Another problem area is in the patrol
preparation. Very few units are applying the proper troop loading steps.
A patrol leader must be given time to prepare. If at all possible he
should make a ground reconnaissance. Some commanders seem to feel that a
ground reconnaissance will compromise the ambush site. A small recon
patrol, well camouflaged and taking great pains to remain undetected has
little chance of discovery. So what, if you are seen, the enemy has no
way of knowing what you are doing! Those fresh PAVN tracks in the stream
bed may go undetected if you move by with your unit after dark. Too many
ambush patrols simply move out and finally end up saying "Well this
looks pretty good lets set up here".
Another common error is the failure to
establish proper security at the ambush site. In a linear ambush,
security should be emplaced at least 100 meters up & down the trail
from the kill zone and rear security beyond hand grenade range. Many
leaders are reluctant to put this security out because they feel they
are endangering their men. The fact is if he fails to put it out he is
endangering his entire patrol. The security is to provide early warning,
and one procedure we have used is commo wire strung from the security to
the main body; upon approach of the enemy the security simply tugs the
wire. The security must allow the enemy to pass his position and get
into the kill zone. He cuts down any enemy that attempts to flee the
ambush. Using a claymore with the security for the purpose of hitting
the enemy as they flee has worked well.
Another problem is people falling asleep. No
matter how much rest the men have received, some of them are going to
doze. Commo wire strung along the position and wrapped around each man's
wrist is one way to alert them of the enemy's approach. Here again
leadership is the answer. "The patrol members will stay awake, if
the patrol leader makes them stay awake."
Many times ambushes are properly planned,
well laid, and correctly positioned only to fail because of some small
failure on the part of the unit commander; such as:
1. Springing the ambush too early before the
enemy gets into the "killing zone".
2. Poor noise discipline, talking, shifting
positions, slamming of weapon bolts, etc.
3. Lack of sufficient firepower in the
initial "springing of the ambush".
4. Failure to have escape routes covered by
claymores and / or by artillery fires.
5. Failure to provide for illumination in
conjunction with springing the ambush and with a sweep of the area.
We consider the ambush, particularly at
night, one of our primary weapons against the enemy. When the Brigade
moved into the Duc Pho area in April we became involved in four months
of heavy contact with the NVA and Main Force VC units. The results were
not particularly favorable to the enemy and he was forced back into the
hills leaving behind some 1800 dead and 350 captured. During the last
two months most of the Battalion's kills have been the result of night
ambushes. The enemy still must come down out of the hills to get his
rice and intelligence, and he still travels primarily at night, on the
Our most successful unit at ambushes has
been A Company commanded by Captain Geoffrey Ellerson. His secret to
success has been his strict adherence with the techniques of patrolling
as taught at Ft. Benning. He requires his patrol leaders to follow the
troop leading steps; issue a warning order, conduct a ground
reconnaissance, issue a patrol order, select objective rallying points,
etc. From August 25th 1967 to September 21st A Company killed 43 enemy
by night ambush, without having one U.S. casualty. He also lives by the
code that a unit only does well what the commander checks, and he goes
out with a different patrol each night as an observer. The next day he
critiques their performance.
1. Stay Behind Ambushes:
In some areas the VC habitually follow
friendly units "keeping tabs" on them and feeling that the
safest area around is where friendly troops have just vacated. It is a
good practice to occasionally drop-off a squad to set up a stay-behind
ambush. The ambush element must have communications with the main body
and the main body must not get so far ahead as to be unable to return
and assist the ambush element if this becomes necessary.
2. Claymore ambush
One of the most effective weapons to employ
in an ambush are claymores. The ambush site must be selected to take
maximum advantage of the claymore's capabilities. For maximum
effectiveness the claymores should be located approximately 20 meters
from the trail. Each claymore should be "sighted in", to
ensure a thorough coverage of the killing zone, and their fire fans
should overlap. To ensure a simultaneous detonation, they can be rigged
in a daisy chain using detonation cord. Also claymores may be used
covering escape routes out of the ambush area and to help provide flank
and rear security to the ambush unit.
3. Use of Anti-Intrusion Devices
The anti-intrusion device with the trip wire
area covered by claymores can be an extremely effective "small
ambush". The trip wire should be spider-webbed across the trail,
high enough so that small animals will not set it off. The intrusion
device itself is with the "triggerman" a safe distance from
the killing zone. Care should be taken in emplacing the device since the
wire is fragile and breaks easily. The claymores should be carefully
sighted in and camouflaged. A Company rigs up this device for use by the
rear security. In two nights, four NVA were killed by this method as
they approached the ambush from the rear.
4. Trip Flare Ambush
One type of ambush that has had some success
in Vietnam is the trip-flare ambush. The site selected must be observed
and within friendly artillery or mortar fire. Several days prior to
preparing the site, artillery or mortar fires are adjusted into the
target area. Then trip-flares are clandestinely set throughout the
target area, preferably along trails habitually used by the VC. Then it
is a matter of keeping the area observed. If and when a flare is tripped
artillery or mortars are immediately called in. The area selected can be
within friendly small arms fire and these weapons may also be used. The
two types of ambushes used most successfully have been the Linear Ambush
(Figure 11) and the Inverted "L" Ambush. (Figure 12)
PART V POLICING THE
In Vietnam our soldiers are a major part of
the enemy supply system. The US soldier is by nature, rather wasteful; a
trait that carries over from his civilian life in America, the
"Land of Plenty". He tends to discard anything he considers
extra and the idea of policing the battlefield is, many times,
distasteful to him. Rather than take the time to cut up a C-ration can
he will either throw it away or bury it. The unfortunate fact is that it
may be returned to him later in the form of a booby trap.
The enemy, by contrast, is a scavenger. He
finds some use for everything he finds on the battlefield and his
scavenging teams habitually search our old campsites. The amount of US
equipment found on enemy dead and prisoners is startling. It runs the
gamut from weapons and ammunition to bottles of insect repellent.
(Almost every VC killed or captured in our Battalion during the last
four months was carrying a bottle of US Army issue insect repellent.)
The enemy has three main sources of supply:
(1) Supplies carried overland through Laos and Cambodia, hence into
Vietnam; (2) Those supplies carried in by sea from North Vietnam; and
(3) Supplies captured from US and allied troops. Major efforts are being
made to stem the first two sources, but there is not enough being done
about the third source.
During Operation Baker, from 19 April 1967
to 20 Sept. 67 the Ban compiled the following statistics which are
offered for the readers consideration:
1. One hundred and seventy-four US grenades
were recaptured; this does not count those found rigged as booby traps.
Too often the individual soldier either fails to secure them properly or
simply leaves them lying at their position when they move out.
2. One hundred and forty booby traps were
located; of these twenty-nine were found the hard way resulting in 32
men killed and 128 wounded. During this operation we attained a 14 to 1
kill ratio over the enemy. Of particular note is the fact that 75% of
our casualties during this period were as a result of mines and booby
traps. The types of booby traps located were as follows:
a. Twenty-four homemade explosive devices
constructed from discarded US C-ration cans.
b. Thirty-five booby traps using captured US
c. Four booby traps using captured US
d. Five US M-16 antipersonnel mines.
e. Twelve booby trapped 155mm artillery
f. Eight 250 lb. bombs rigged as booby
g. Seven booby trapped 105mm howitzer
h. Six booby trapped 81mm mortar rounds.
i. Four booby trapped 5" Naval gun
j. Some eighteen other homemade explosive
devices using powder from US artillery shells and other miscellaneous
During a two-week period in September when
the Battalion had the mission of securing Highway 1, some ten antitank
mines were emplaced on the road. The majority of these were rigged for
electrical detonation using parts of discarded AN/PRC-25 batteries.
These facts are revealing in that they give an indication on just how
much we are unwittingly contributing to the enemy war effort. Our men
would not purposefully kill or maim their buddies, but that is exactly
what they are doing without realizing it. Policing the immediate
battlefield and campsite is not enough. We have experienced a large
number of dud bombs and artillery shells in our area of operation. In
the period mentioned the Battalion located and destroyed seventy-six 250
lb. bombs, two 500 lb. bombs, fifty CBU bomblets, and one hundred and
eighty-nine artillery and mortar shells. This was a lot of potential
booby traps that the enemy did not get. With the large number of duds
that we were finding it was necessary to train several men in each
platoon in demolition techniques. It has become policy that each unit
carry explosives and when a dud is located they blow it in place.
The enemy supply system, at best, is poor
and he has many shortages. Therefore he is prone to police up anything
left behind by the US soldier. Just the opposite is true of the US
soldier who seldom wants for supplies.
Only training, supervision, and discipline
will stop this "help the enemy supply system". Anything that
the enemy could use should be picked up or destroyed; and this includes
used batteries, C-ration cans, ammo bags, etc. A command emphasis should
be placed on units leaving an area free from equipment that the enemy
can utilize. Harsh measures should be taken against commanders that
violate this rule of the battlefield.
PART VI LIGHTENING THE
It is not unusual to see a rifle company
moving out on an operation with men carrying 50 to 60 lbs. The
individual soldier normally carries his weapon, a double basic load of
ammunition, 2 to 4 grenades, two canteens and a couple of C-ration
meals. These are the essentials. Add to this a pack, one claymore, smoke
grenades and a few other "nice to have" items and the soldier
is bogged down to the point that his mobility is greatly decreased and
after a day's walk he is physically exhausted. Every pound that a man
carries reduces his ability to react thereby impairing his fighting
ability. One method that we use in normal day-to-day operations where
the units will be resupplied each day is to pick up the individual packs
and extra equipment each morning, and return them to the unit with the
P.M. resupply. This allows the units to maneuver during the day with
only their combat load. This procedure depends upon the availability of
landing zones and aircraft.
The individual soldier's load must be
tailored to the operation and limited to the essentials. Commanders must
carefully consider each item carried and designate each soldier's load
in view of the units mission, the length of the operation, means of
resupply, time of resupply, availability of water, climate, and terrain.
PART VII TRAINING EMPHASIS
We have found that Basic and Advanced
Individual Training Centers in the US are doing an outstanding job. The
new men arriving in Vietnam are well trained in the basic fundamentals
of soldiering and surprisingly they seem to know what to expect. It is
clear that they have been thoroughly oriented on the war and the
country. When they first arrive they are apprehensive and a little
frightened, which is natural. But when it comes to soldiering they are
consistently better than we could hope for.
There are, however, some areas in which
additional emphasis should be placed:
1. Nowhere in any other war was rifle
marksmanship any more important than it is in Vietnam. This is a small
unit war where shooting fast and accurate makes the difference. In this
respect the individual soldier has a tendency to fire too much
"automatic fire" thereby decreasing his accuracy and wasting
ammunition. Emphasis should be placed upon well-aimed, semiautomatic
fire. In this war volume does not replace accuracy.
2. The majority of soldiers tend to shoot
high at night. This is an old problem that can only be overcome by
additional training and emphasis.
3. The M-16 rifle is an ideal weapon for
jungle warfare, it is light weight, has a rapid rate of fire, and the
individual can carry a large amount of ammo. However, it cannot take the
rough handling that the M-14 and M-1 could. The weapon requires a great
deal of maintenance. In most cases it should be cleaned three times a
day. Nine times out of ten, weapon malfunctions are due to poor
maintenance procedures. Many of the new men seem to lack the
"urgency" of caring for their weapon. On 3 March 1967 a Long
Range Reconnaissance Patrol made contact with 6 VC. All six VC escaped
unharmed and the LRRP'S position was compromised because four of the
five LRRP member's weapons malfunctioned. Upon checking out the incident
we found it was plain and simple negligence; poor weapon maintenance.
4. Some units in Vietnam have found that
darkness is a friend to those who know how to use it. The enemy does not
have a monopoly on night operations. More emphasis should be placed upon
night training; because the only thing that will give men the confidence
to work efficiently at night is night training and more night training.
In Vietnam the problem area in leadership is at the most crucial level;
the squad. There are simply not enough experienced junior NCOs
available. Over half the squads in Vietnam are commanded by Specialist
Fours. This is not to say these men are not good squad leaders because
many of them are. Most of them came to Vietnam right out of AIT and they
lack a broad military background. In order to improve the caliber of
junior NCOs and provide them with additional leadership training most
Divisions and Brigades in Vietnam have organized NCO schools. Our
Battalion has organized a monthly "Small Unit Leaders Combat
Training Course". The subjects taught in the course are based upon
the needs of the Battalion with a maximum of practical work and an
emphasis on leadership and the role of the squad leader. The school has
been a success and is well received by the students. After a soldier has
been in a couple of fire fights and with the realization that other men
will soon be looking to him for leadership, he is eager to learn all he
can, as fast as he can. Our curriculum for the current course is as
a. Map Reading 8 hrs.
b. Forward Observer Procedure 6 hrs.
c. Night Firing Techniques 4 hrs.
d. Booby Traps 3 hrs.
e. Ambushing Techniques 2 hrs.
f. Use of Gunships 2 hrs.
g. Demolition's 3 hrs.
h. First Aid 2 hrs.
i. Communications 2 hrs.
j. Combat Intelligence 1 hrs.
k. Leadership 2 hrs.
No military unit is ever over trained. In
keeping with this thought we require our fire base company to spend
about one third of their time in training, that leaves them a third for
tactical operations, and the remainder for fire base defense
improvements. Most training requirements are selected from post-action
critiques between the company commander and his platoon leaders; and the
Battalion commander his staff and the company commanders. We have found
these post-action critiques to be valuable aids in improving the combat
proficiency of the Battalion.