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Squad Battles: Vietnam Scenarios
 & Campaign Notes

Name

Location

Date

Reference

Starlite

LZ Blue

65 Aug

Semper Fi Vietnam, Murphy

Harvest Moon

Ky Phu

65 Dec

Utter's Battalion, Lee

 

 

 

 

Utah

Chau Nhai

66 Mar

Utter's Battalion, Lee

Jay

Ap Chinh An

66 Jun

Semper Fi Vietnam, Murphy

Hastings

Song Ngan

66 Jul

Semper Fi Vietnam, Murphy

Attleboro

Dau Tieng

66 Nov

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Le Bac

67 Jan

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Ben Suc

67 Jan

Cedar Falls, Junction City, US Army

Junction City

Suoi Tre

67 Mar

Cedar Falls, Junction City, US Army

Khe Sanh

Khe Sanh Hills

67 Apr

Semper Fi Vietnam, Murphy

Army Ambush

Phuoc An

67 Jun

Seven Firefights In Vietnam

Buffalo

Con Thien

67 Jul

Operation Buffalo, Nolan

Battle of Dak To

Dak To Hills

67 Nov

Seven Firefights In Vietnam

 

 

 

 

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Phu Binh

68 Jan

Through The Valley, Humphries

Tet I

Hue

68 Jan

Fire In The Streets, Hammel

Tet I

Khe Sanh

68 Mar

Semper Fi Vietnam, Murphy

Tet II

Dai Do

68 May

The Magnificent Bastards, Nolan

Tet II

Nhi Ha

68 May

The Magnificent Bastards, Nolan

Hill 406

Nui Ngoc

68 Jun

Through The Valley, Humphries

Meade River

Dodge City

68 Nov

U. S. Marines In Vietnam

 

 

 

 

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Dong Ap Bia

69 May

Hamburger Hill, Zaffiri

NVA Ambush

Plei Lok

69 May

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Bach Ma

69 Jul

Personal Account

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Song Lau

69 Aug

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Summer Offensive

Song Chang

69 Aug

Death Valley, Nolan

 

 

 

 

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Ph Tnaot

70 May

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Hill 1000

FSB Ripcord

70 Jul

Ripcord, Nolan

 Campaign Notes

by Patrick Blackman

Introduction

            What follows is not a comprehensive description of operations during the Vietnam War. The following descriptions give the reader basic information about only those operations that spawned the many scenarios presented in this game. Each description begins by giving an operational, and at times strategic, context for both sides so the gamer can get some sense of why these battles happened where and when they did. Additionally, the reader will find identifications of at least the divisions involved in the relevant part of the operation and in many cases, the brigades, regiments, battalions and companies. Major details pertaining to the aspects of the operation represented in the scenario are then presented to give the player a historical background sketch for the specific situation. It is important to note that the scenarios themselves are not meant to be exact recreations of every detailed account presented here. Rather, they are ‘playable’ versions of the events described, meant for entertainment and not for precise historical accuracy. Finally, with the exception of the following paragraph, all perspectives, descriptions and details outlined below are based wholly on the secondary sources listed in the bibliography. Readers seeking more detail than what is presented below are encouraged to explore the many excellent sources listed at the end of this document.

 

Comments on Jungle Warfare & Traditional Warfare

            One of the persistent half-truths so often repeated about the war in Vietnam is that the American armed forces were ill equipped for jungle warfare. This line of reasoning assumes that training in traditional methods of warfare simply failed American officers and fighting men in Vietnam, and this failure in turn contributed directly to the loss of the war. After reading about the many operations outlined below, one might conclude that this point of view is of dubious value in any serious military study of the war. Clearly, there are examples of commanders who failed to appreciate the unique demands and limitations of the geography and climate of South Vietnam, and these failures often resulted in needless American casualties. But there are such examples in the history of every major war regardless of the terrain. And obviously, a guerilla war in the jungle is bound to be fraught with bloody frustration for the dominant force. However, though it may be easier to ‘hit and run’ in the jungle, there are examples of the effective use of guerilla tactics in many environments, urban and rural.

The larger picture that emerges when one looks at the operations below is one of a dedicated fighting force that early on began to learn from its mistakes and quite often found ways to force the elusive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army into pitched battles, despite all limitations imposed by terrain and climate. Indeed, despite the popular view of the war as a mainly guerilla conflict, at times the Communists wanted large battles and were willing to take excessive casualties in order to wear down the American people’s will to continue prosecuting the war. In either case, there are very few examples below in which the Americans failed to deal a severe blow to the Communists on the battlefield. Such battles were costly for the Americans; of this there can be no doubt. But often they were five to ten times costlier for the enemy. In strictly military terms, it is clear that the fighting men of the American armed forces were every bit equal, if not superior, to their foes on the battlefields of Vietnam.

 

Operation Starlite, LZ Blue; 18 – 24 August 1965

            In the summer of 1965, the recently deployed U.S. Marines received intelligence from an enemy deserter of a large buildup of the 1st Viet Cong (VC) Regiment in Van Tuong, 12 miles southeast of the Marine base at Chu Lai. The VC intended to attack the base and win both a military and propaganda victory. The Marines decided to attack the VC in a preemptive strike to spoil their plans and to force and engagement in which the Marines would have every advantage. Elements of the 4th Marines were to land at three separate landing zones (Red, White & Blue) then drive the VC towards the South China Sea. Other Marine units were poised to strike the VC units as their comrades pushed them to the northeast. All supporting arms were to be involved. On the ground, helicopters, amphibious vehicles and heavy armor all participated in various assaults. The offensive was code named Operation Starlite and kicked off on 18 August.

            Most of the Marines at the LZs met little organized resistance, but Company H of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines at LZ Blue descended directly into the center of the 60th Battalion, 1st VC’s position. The VC were concentrated around Hill 43 and the Marine company had to take that position in order to break up what could quickly have turned into an encirclement of their position. After securing Hill 43, the LZ Blue force moved to link up with the Marines pushing in from the coast but met with heavy resistance at the village of Nam Yen. Eventually the reinforced Marines forced the 60th Battalion to break contact after inflicting heavy losses on the Communists. Other elements of the 1st VC Regiment were also roughly handled. By 24 August, Operation Starlite was terminated. Marine losses were significant, but the VC suffered much higher casualties. They retreated in total defeat and had to give up their plans for the assault on Chu Lai.

           

Operation Harvest Moon, Ky Phu: 8 – 20 December 1965

Late 1965 saw the U.S. Marines striking out from their coastal enclaves to engage the enemy and push them back from the vulnerable urban centers of the lowlands. The Marines planned Operation Harvest Moon as a complex multi-battalion search and clear mission, designed to sweep the countryside in and around the Que Son Mountains and Song Chang Valley. Its objective was to ‘flush out’ and engage hidden enemy units that chose to fight, pursue those that fled, and destroy their support infrastructure and command posts. Terrible weather and determined Communist resistance made the human cost for the Marines very high, but the weary and bloodied leathernecks made things even worse for the VC. The Marines returned to their coastal bases at the end of the operation. This was not the last time American soldiers saw hard fighting in those notorious parts of Vietnam.

            On 16 December, after several days of failing to fully engage the enemy, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and other attached units began an eastward sweep of the Song Chang Valley back towards the coast in the hope of discovering enemy forces. The nature of the terrain and the weather demanded that the battalion move in a long column with little flank protection. Late in the day on 18 December, as the Marines passed through the village of Ky Phu, the VC launched a ferocious attack in an effort to divide and overwhelm the column. The battle turned critical for the Marines as casualties mounted and communications broke down. The column was coming apart under intense enemy pressure. Through raw courage in defense and bold counterattacks with bayonets and flamethrowers, the Marines managed to push the VC back and break the momentum of their assault. The VC left their many dead on the field and pulled out under cover of darkness while the Marines tended to their own casualties.

 

Operation Utah, Chau Nhai: 4 – 7 March 1966

            In early March 1966, Marine intelligence determined that a large Communist force was massing south of the Chu Lai enclave. An operation, belatedly named Utah, was conceived as an immediate, multi-battalion response to that threat. It was hoped that swift response to the enemy concentration would disrupt their offensive plans and draw them into the open for a traditional battle. As in Operation Harvest Moon, which was carried out by many of the same units, the Marines paid a very high price for their ultimate victory over the VC.

Part of the plan called for the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines to air assault on 4 March into a landing zone near the village of Chau Nhai, northwest of Quang Ngai City, after which they were to begin a sweep of the area. However, the Marines landing at Chau Nhai met heavy fire as they disembarked their helicopters. The LZ was in front of a major force of well-armed VC. Though the 2/7 was able to deploy despite the constant fire of small arms and heavy machine guns, they could not physically connect with a unit of ARVN rangers that was supposed to operate on their flank. Indeed, the ARVN were supposed to have cleared the enemy off of a small ridgeline on the 2/7’s flank but had failed to do so, thus allowing even more enemy fire to pour into the Marines. After maneuvering to deprive the Communists of the chance to flank them, and desperately holding off the enemy assault for hours, the Marines were able to pull back and establish a defensive perimeter. The badly bloodied VC pulled out slowly the next day as other Marine units maneuvered to relieve the 2/7. The victory cost the 2/7 25% casualties.

           

Operation Jay, Ap Chinh An: 25 June – 2 July 1966

            ARVN forces discovered in early summer 1966 that the 806th and 808th Battalions, 6th NVA Regiment had deployed along Route 597 in northeastern Thua Thien Province near Hue City. Operation Jay was the code name given to a joint Marine/ARVN effort to eject the enemy from those threatening coastal positions. The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines would attack south for 9 kilometers along Route 597 into blocking positions set up by the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, while the ARVN units set up blocking positions to the east on the O Lau River and the 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines swept west to Phong Dien. The villages of Ap Chinh An and My Phu lay directly in the path of the 2/4’s southward sweep. Operation Jay commenced on 25 June as both Marine battalions hit their respective LZs without meeting resistance. That state of affairs however would soon change as the 2/4 moved south.

            The 2/4’s attack faltered as it took heavy fire from Ap Chinh An late in the morning of 25 June. The 2/1 was ordered to move north from its blocking position and reinforce the 2/4, but that force met heavy resistance at My Phu south of Ap Chinh An. The enemy occupied strong defensive positions, well supported by mortars and heavy machine guns. Late on the 25th the Communists counterattacked the 4th Marines positions near Ap Chinh An but were repulsed with the help of offshore bombardment, air and artillery support. The next day the Communists pulled out behind the cover of its rear guard. After ambushing a South Vietnamese Marine convoy on 29 June, the Communists took heavy losses as the U.S. Marines directed air and artillery support to relieve the embattled column. By 2 July the enemy had broken off all contact and was in full retreat. The Marines suffered significant casualties, but in the process roughly handled two Communist battalions and completely destroyed a third.

             

Operation Hastings, Song Ngan: 7 July – 3 August 1966

            In the summer of 1966, General Westmoreland ordered the Marines to begin serious reconnaissance missions in Quang Tri Province, directly south of the DMZ. Westmoreland feared a Communist buildup there might threaten Da Nang or Hue City. He wanted the Marines to the Communists in Quang Tri into a large battle. Indeed, the Communist forces operating in Quang Tri were regular troops of the 324B North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Division, and they were well prepared for a scrape. Over the next few weeks, the American forces provoked exactly the kind of response Westmoreland was looking for, and the Marines paid the high price demanded by such tactics. The NVA however paid a much higher price as their units in Quang Tri Province were broken to pieces by the hard fighting leathernecks.

            By far the heaviest fighting of Operation Hastings occurred in the Song Ngan River Valley, a major Communist infiltration route just south of the DMZ. The 4th Marines intended to station a blocking force at the southwest end of the Valley while another force air-assaulted into the northeastern end and pushed the enemy towards the blocking force. Hill 208, believed to be the 324B’s command post, was a major objective in the Marines push. On 15 July, the landings in the Song Ngan Valley began. Though little initial enemy resistance was met, three helicopters crashed in a tragic accident and a fourth was shot down by the Communists, earning the Song Ngan Valley the nickname "Helicopter Valley." The sweep towards Hill 208 met heavy resistance soon thereafter. The Communists were present in great force and were dug in with good fields of fire. A day of very hard fighting ensued. The NVA harassed the Marines as they tried to move down the Valley and then counterattacked viscously at night. Though initially held up by such action, the Marines, with reinforcements and heavy use of supporting arms, withdrew from the Valley after giving all elements of the 324B a serious pasting.

           

Operation Attleboro, Dau Tieng: 14 September – 25 November 1966

            The newly arrived 196th Light Infantry Brigade inaugurated operation Attleboro in mid-September as a combat training exercise. Though it began with limited military objectives, it ended in high casualties for both sides after several pitched battles. Attleboro was carried out in ‘War Zone C’, an area northwest of Saigon on the Cambodian border. Though Communist activity was known to be high in the zone, Attleboro’s original objectives did not include heavy engagement with the regular forces of the 9th VC Division operating in that area. However, heavy engagement with that enemy division is exactly what the U.S. Army got. Several pitched battles on the plains surrounding the towering Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin Mountain), most notably at Ap Cha Do, proved to the Allied forces that, with a proper understanding of how to operate in the terrain, they could engage the VC with multiple battalions in large-scale battles and beat them handily. Because of its losses in Attleboro, and the destruction of much of its support infrastructure in the region, the 9th VC Division was more or less neutralized as a combat force for six months.

            One significant confrontation during Operation Attleboro occurred in the area of Dau Tieng where American units discovered a major enemy supply base. The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry had the task of keeping the captured supplies and the airstrip at Dau Tieng secure. A complicated plan of battle called for the 1/27 to coordinate with two other battalions in an aggressive sweep of the area around Dau Tieng. Elements of the 1/27 landed in an LZ outside of Dau Tieng on 3 November and proceeded up a trail through the jungle that was part of their area of responsibility. That trail became known as the "Ghost Town Trail" because of the heavy casualties taken during a subsequent ambush of the Americans by the Recon unit of the 9th VC Division. The Americans pulled back to a defensive perimeter and awaited reinforcements before attacking again up the "Ghost Town Trail." Hard, close in fighting ensued and confusion ruled the day. Communication between units was spotty at best and whole companies became lost as they tried to maneuver through the dense forest. However, despite the initial setbacks around Dau Tieng, the Army managed to do serious damage to the VC units in the area in the days and weeks that followed.

Operation Tuscaloosa: 24 – 28 January 1967.

In early 1967, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division based at An Hoa initiated a major search and destroy operation against Main Force Viet Cong strongholds in the Song Thu Bon river valley. The operational strategy was to penetrate enemy territory in stages and in such force that the VC would be obliged to meet the threat in a pitched daylight battle that the Marines, with their superior firepower and support, were sure to win.

While crossing the Song Thu Bon on 26 January, the Marines encountered a strong force of entrenched VC regulars on the opposite bank. The VC fully engaged the Marines and kept them pinned down on a large sandbar in the river for over an hour until artillery could be called in on the Communist positions. Marine casualties were high, but the VC ‘took the bait’ and suffered major losses to artillery and the subsequent infantry assault. The remaining VC retreated from the river to their base of operations around the colonial plantation of La Bac and its surrounding villages. There the Marines destroyed the remnants of the VC battalion, effectively ending the operation.

 

Operations Cedar Falls, Ben Suc: 8 – 26 January, 1967

            In early 1967 the Allied forces had enjoyed some success in driving back main force NVA and VC units from the urban areas of South Vietnam. However, the Communists still held on to some staging areas near the large cities. Two areas near Saigon became the Army’s target, the Iron Triangle and ‘War Zone C’. After Operation Attleboro in late 1966 proved that massive search and destroy operations could in fact deal telling blows to their elusive enemy, the Army decided to strike hard into the heart of these strongholds and force the Communists once again into the kind of pitched battles they were sure to lose.

            The Iron Triangle on the Saigon River was "a dagger pointed at Saigon" only twenty kilometers to the north-northwest of the capital. This relatively small area was a fortified tunnel, bunker and village support complex used by the Communists since the war with the French. Operation Cedar Falls opened on 8 January after blocking units had taken positions around the Iron Triangle. 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division (Big Red One) air-assaulted into they key enemy support village of Ben Suc at the northwest end of the Triangle on the Saigon River. Surprise was complete and the enemy offered little organized resistance. The entire population of the village (at least 6,000) was detained, interrogated and then evacuated to resettlement camps outside the reach of the VC. Cedar Falls lasted nineteen days and though no large-scale battle was joined, small actions produced high casualties for the enemy. American casualties came mainly from booby-traps and snipers. Large amounts of rice, weapons and documents were seized. Several tunnel and bunker complexes were destroyed and large areas of jungle were defoliated. However, despite this work, the VC and NVA were still able to use the Iron Triangle a year later in staging their Tet Offensive.

 

Operation Junction City, Suoi Tre: 22 February – 14 May, 1967

‘War Zone C’ was much larger than the Iron Triangle and covered the area north and northwest of the Triangle to the Cambodian border. Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin Mountain) sits high above the central part of its mostly flat and rolling river valley terrain. ‘War Zone C’ had also been a Communist stronghold since the days of Dien Bien Phu and in 1967 was believed to be one of their most important command and control centers in South Vietnam. Operation Junction City aimed to draw the Communist forces in the area into pitched battle as well as destroy their headquarters and their support installations. A massive multi-organizational force began preliminary operations on 2 February while Operation Junction City proper began on 22 February.

            Unlike Cedar Falls, Junction City succeeded in drawing the Communists into larger battles. Engagements a Prek Klok, Ap Bau Bang and Ap Gu all ended in clear American victories. The Americans fought hard against a disciplined enemy to achieve their objectives. On 21 March in the central part of War Zone C near Suoi Tre, the 272nd Regiment of the 9th VC Division attempted to overrun the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 77th Artillery under the command of the 4th Division as they tried to establish FSB Gold. The Americans’ landing had been hotly contested on 20 March, but they had time to improve their perimeter before the next morning. Early on the 21st, the VC began a punishing mortar bombardment followed by a massive and bold daylight attack on the perimeter. The VC managed to penetrate the perimeter despite the relentless fire from the infantry and artillery, the latter using up its deadly ‘beehive’ flechette rounds before switching to HE rounds at almost point blank range. With the help of outside artillery and air support, the defenders of FSB Gold were able to hold on until reinforcements arrived in the form of infantry and armor that had been operating nearby. The infantry counterattacked while the armor shredded the VC with canister rounds. By late morning the battle was over. U.S. losses were high, but the remnants of the 272nd VC regiment withdrew with their ranks completely decimated. Operation Junction City continued well into the spring and resulted in a serious defeat for all elements of the VC 9th Division. However, as in the Iron Triangle, the Tet Offensive nearly one year later proved that the Communists were able to gain back some of what they’d lost in the spring of 1967.

 

Khe Sanh, Khe Sanh Hills: 24 April – 12 May 1967

            The Khe Sanh Combat Base was established six miles from the Laotian border as the westernmost of a series of fortified Marine bases along the DMZ in Quang Tri Province. It was located on a major infiltration route into the South, and by spring of 1967 the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force was aware of an increase in enemy activity in the surrounding area. The hills surrounding the Khe Sanh base, particularly Hills 861, 881 North, 881 South, overlooked and indeed were integrated into all of the various trails the NVA and VC used to infiltrate the south in that sector. Possession of the heights was critical to NVA operations in the area, and the first major battles around Khe Sanh were over those crucial objectives. The NVA thought that, much as at Dien Bien Phu, control of the surrounding hills could make life unbearably difficult for the defenders, and in the spring of 1967 a large force of NVA regulars massed in the hills surrounding the base. The Americans moved into the surrounding area to discover the enemy’s strength and intentions and ended up in a series of pitched battles in the hills around Khe Sanh.

            After the loss of most of a forward observation team to an ambush on Hill 861 on 24 April, the Marines discovered a regiment of the 325C NVA Division on the hill in force and in the process of completing the final phases of preparation for a siege of the combat base. The 3rd Marines had to break up the NVA concentration before it could turn into a viable encirclement of the Marine base, and Hill 861 became their primary objective. On 25 April the Marines began an attack on Hill 861 in earnest, but ran into a well-camouflaged bunker complex that was supported by mortars behind the hill. Stalled for the time being, the Marines spent the next two days in hard fighting, evacuating the wounded and preparing for an advance in much greater strength. The reinforced advance on Hill 861 came on 28 April after a day and a half of artillery and air bombardment of the bunker complex. Two Marine battalions moved against Hill 861 and found that the NVA had withdrawn. They proceeded to advance on their next objective, Hills 881S. On 30 April a battalion of Marines assaulted Hill 881S and took very heavy casualties, though with their air support they managed to do plenty of damage to the entrenched NVA unit. On 2 May they took 881S and discovered the extent to which the NVA had dug in; roughly 250 bunker complexes with wire communications and extremely thick defenses covered the hill. The Marines now knew what to expect in assaulting their last objective, Hill 881N. Later on the 2nd the assault on Hill 881N began when two companies moved against the position from different directions. Both companies came under fire and called in artillery and air support. The NVA counterattacked on 3 May and savaged one Marine company until driven off by reinforcements and supporting arms. After days of severe combat, the Marines took Hill 881N on 5 May and after several more days of sporadic contact with the retreating Communists, the operation ended in a complete and costly Marine victory. Though their own casualties were very high, the Marines destroyed an entire NVA regiment and spoiled any plans the Communists had to besiege Khe Sanh for 1967.

           

Army Ambush, Phuoc An: 18 June 1967

            American forces often laid ambushes to harass and interdict enemy operations at night. These could come in many forms, from electronic sensors designed to alert far-off artillery of a potential nighttime target to a simple squad level trap with rifles and Claymore mines. One example of the latter is the action of 18 June 1967 outside the hamlets of Phuoc An, south of the base complex at Chu Lai. Company A, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade was responsible for searching for enemy mortar sites and setting up ambushes in the area of Phuoc An where the local VC were harassing villagers at night. A squad of men from the 2nd Platoon set up an ambush with Claymore mines along the trail to the village. Late that evening a group of VC walked into the trap and suffered two confirmed and two probable KIA. The Americans only suffered two men wounded, neither seriously.

             

Operation Buffalo, Con Thien: 2 – 14 July 1967

            By the end of June 1967, four divisions of NVA regular troops were massed just north of the DMZ in preparation for a major offensive into Quang Tri Province. Operation Buffalo was conceived to prevent that incursion by shoring up the new line of Marine strong points, particularly at a small fortified hill called Con Thien considered by both sides as crucial to the defense network along the DMZ. The Marines had to hold that critical piece of ground and at the same time seek out and engage their enemy in the surrounding area. The NVA were not about to back away from a fight that might win them a significant victory in the propaganda war. Indeed they had the rare advantage of using the northern DMZ, off-limits to American attacks for political reasons, to organize and set up heavy artillery, rocket and missile support for their advancing divisions. The stage was set for a major encounter.

            Operation Buffalo kicked off on 2 July when elements of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines moved in to sweep the area east of Con Thien in an effort to seek out threats to the base from that sector. This force was almost immediately taken under small arms fire from prepared positions nearby. Marine reinforcements were called in as the area began to take additional fire from the NVA heavy artillery batteries in the northern part of the DMZ. With desperate determination and tenacity, the embattled Marines succeeded in breaking up an NVA counterattack as the battle raged on. Eventually over the next few days the Marines, using intense support from air strikes, artillery and offshore guns, pushed the NVA back across the Ben Hai River where the Americans could not legally operate. Marine casualties were very high. However, though the total NVA dead and wounded could not be accurately counted, they suffered casualties between five and ten times more than the Marines. The defense of Con Thien was a costly but well-earned victory for the Marines holding the line at the DMZ.

 

Battle of Dak To, Dak To Hills: 6 – 7 November, 1967

            In the fall of 1967, the Communists wanted a victory to boost morale and put pressure on the Allied forces and governments. They also wanted to draw U.S. forces away from the lowlands in anticipation of the upcoming Tet Offensive. They struck out looking for a fight in the Kontum Province of the Central Highlands where thirteen years earlier they had pushed the French completely from their outposts in the region. In October, the NVA 1st Division began to concentrate some of its units in central Kontum for a thrust at the Special Forces CIDG camp at Dak To. U.S. intelligence detected this concentration and the Army put together a force consisting of three battalions under command of the 4th Infantry Division to meet the Communist threat. Elements of these battalions moved out to engage the Communists, forcing them to shift to a defensive strategy of digging in on key hilltops and awaiting Allied attacks.

            On 4 November, elements of the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry fanned out for a search and destroy mission in their area of operations west of Dak To. A landing zone was cut from the jungle on Hill 823 preliminary to the establishment of a new fire support base there. Early on 6 November the Americans ran into NVA regulars, both on Hill 823 as they moved out around their new LZ and on Ngok Kom Leat about 1.5 km to the north, as they followed a Communist communication line up the slope. Fierce firefights raged all day at both sites as the Americans consolidated their positions into strong perimeter defenses and turned back all NVA assaults. Artillery and air support helped the infantry hold the Communists at bay. By the next morning, both Communist forces withdrew in defeat. The battles around Dak To continued for the next two weeks, but the battles for Hill 823 and Ngok Kom Leat set the tone for the eventual American victory.

           

Pre-Tet, Phu Binh: 2 – 11 January 1968.

            In anticipation of the Tet offensive, Communist units throughout South Vietnam began operations in late 1967 and early 1968 designed to confuse and misdirect the American and ARVN forces. In the Hiep Duc Valley, near the hamlets of Phu Binh along the Lau River, elements of the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade, during the course of routine search and destroy operations, ran into the 2nd NVA Division as they streamed down from the highlands on one such Pre-Tet mission.

After a few days of contact with the enemy, on 5 January a company of Americans on patrol ran into an ambush as they marched to take up positions for the night. Casualties were severe. The fierce battle raged through the night and into the next morning until the survivors could be extracted. On 8 January, a force of Americans crossed the Lau River on their way to Phu Binh and marched unknowingly into the heavily fortified positions of the 1st VC Regiment around the village. Still unclear as to the strength of the Communist forces in front of them, a larger expedition was mounted to dislodge the enemy and search for missing comrades. After another pitched battle around the village, the Americans finally succeeded in their objective on 9 January and the NVA Division retreated to the highlands with heavy losses.

Tet I, Khe Sanh: 21 January to 1 April 1968

            Despite their defeats in the hills surrounding Khe Sanh in 1967, the Communists in early 1968 were able to seriously contest the Marines’ hold on that highland base. The Communists wanted to give the impression of another Dien Bien Phu in order to draw forces away from more significant Tet targets. American military leaders saw a major battle for the base as a way to further reduce Communist military strength in the area and as a hedge against any Communist gains in the propaganda war. The battle that raged in the surrounding hills and for the base itself over the next two months was brutal, and included everything from massive artillery and air bombardment to ferocious hand-to-hand combat in the jungles. As usual, the Marines trounced the NVA, but only at a high cost in their own honored dead and wounded.

            As the siege was coming to a close at the end of March, the Marines decided to take the fight to the NVA in the areas surrounding the base. They also had a score to settle with the NVA over the ambush of one of their patrols in late February. On 30 March, Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines left the base perimeter on a mission to recover some of their comrades’ bodies, and to attack an identified enemy position of the 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, 304th NVA Division near the base of Hill 471. The Marines enjoyed early success in the assault, capturing trenches and destroying bunkers with flamethrowers, grenades and explosives. An enemy officer managed to get on the Marine radio frequency and order a false cease-fire, which gave his comrades a chance to use their mortars to great effect on the Americans. The Marines withdrew with heavy casualties after destroying much of the enemy position. Sadly, their dead comrades from the earlier ambush were not retrieved until a few days later.

           

Tet I, Hue: 31 January – 25 February 1968.

            One of the primary and most symbolic targets of the Communists’ ‘General Offensive – General Uprising’ during the Tet holiday was the ancient royal city of Hué. A powerful NVA and VC force assaulted the city from three directions early on 31 January during the traditional Tet ceasefire. The Communists soon overran the city’s surprised ARVN defenders and raised the Vietcong flag above the Citadel, a massive old fortress at the center of the city. It took three battalions of U.S. Marines, dispatched from their base at Phu Bai to the south, almost one month to recapture the city, which by that time was a pile of rubble and rotting corpses.

            What followed in that next month for the Marines and their enemy was some of the hardest and bloodiest fighting of the entire war. It took time for the Americans to realize the strength of the VC forces in Hué, and to understand their willingness to fight so hard to defend an urban objective. Several times the Marine counterattack stalled because of unexpectedly fierce opposition as well as poor intelligence and miscommunication. However, raw determination and superior firepower carried the Marines to victory. On 24 February, the VC flag was torn down and the government’s flag was raised above the Citadel once again.

 

Tet II,  Dai Do & Nhi Ha: 29 April – 15 May 1968

            After the initial phase of the bloody Tet Offensive in early 1968, the North Vietnamese wanted to improve their position at the peace talks about to commence in Paris. Their strategy demanded another series of attacks (119 on military and civilian targets) in the late spring of 1968. The 320th NVA Division launched one major part of this offensive on 29 April throughout the Demilitarized Zone. It was up to the Marines at Dong Ha Combat Base to meet this threat across the DMZ. The Marines called the series of fights above the Bo Dieu and Cu’a Viet Rivers collectively the Battle of Dong Ha.

            The 320th NVA Division moved faster than the Marines anticipated and by 29 April, as the Marines were planning an operational strategy to counterattack across the DMZ, the NVA had take positions less than five miles from Dong Ha Combat Base. Two intense engagements developed as the Marines and Army moved out to counter this immediate threat. On 30 April at the village of Dai Do less than two miles from the Marine HQ, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines took on elements of the 320th NVA in what would became a horrific battle. Air and Artillery support helped the Marines gain a toehold and subsequent amphibious assaults pushed the NVA back. Reinforcements came in for both sides and the battle raged for seven bloody days. Marine casualties were extreme, but as usual, they dealt the NVA a much harder blow than they took.

            While the battle for Dai Do was raging, the Marines called on the Army for support in their operation. The 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade answered the call on 1 May. By 2 May, the 3/21 was locked in a desperate fight with the NVA over the hamlet of Nhi Ha, six miles northwest of Dong Ha. The Army had trouble taking the village at first, but reinforcements and heavy air support from the Marines turned the tide of the battle. The NVA however were not prepared to concede the affair and, after rebuffing a pursuit attempt, they counterattacked Nhi Ha in the early morning darkness of 10 May but were repulsed with extremely heavy losses. The Army at Nhi Ha and Marines at Dai Do were both successful in reducing the Communist battalions to shadows of their former selves. By 16 May most of the 320th NVA was in full retreat, though it would return to fight another day. The Marines and the Army both had taken a beating, but Dong Ha was secure once again. The NVA had failed to gain a victory to strengthen their hand in Paris, but the casualties they inflicted in early 1968 on the Americans did take a great political toll on the home front.

 

Hill 406, Nui Ngoc: 6-7 June 1968

            After assisting the Marines at Nhi Ha and in other hard fights along the DMZ in May 1968, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade returned in force to the Hiep Duc and Que Son Valleys to find a distressing situation. As the Army shifted its forces around late that spring, the 3rd NVA Regiment was able to infiltrate the valleys and fortify hilltops throughout them. The NVA strategy was to gain control of the high ground in the valleys, thus surrounding key American fire support bases. The NVA wanted a fight and hoped to engage the American forces left behind while the bulk of the 196th was helping the Marines. As the main American force shifted back into the valleys, its first task was to push the NVA back into the highlands.

            One of the key fortified hilltops in the NVA network was Nui Ngoc, Hill 406, an abandoned U.S. fire support base. The 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd NVA Regiment had gone to great lengths to prepare bunkers that were practically indistinguishable from the flat, grassy hilltop. Though Army intelligence was aware of the complex, the information had not filtered down the elements of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry who moved up the hill and stumbled into the bunker complex on 5 June. After pulling back and letting artillery and air support soften up the NVA positions, the infantry advanced on 6 June to take the hill. Though the hilltop had been pummeled by the air and artillery support, the NVA still ferociously contested the American advance throughout the day. After mortaring the American positions early on 7 June, the remnants of the NVA force withdrew and the Americans took the hill.

           

Operation Meade River, Dodge City: 20 November – 9 December, 1968

            Though their three major offensives of 1968 had been battlefield disasters for the Communists, they had managed to infiltrate and gain influence in hundreds of small villages throughout the countryside. To bring those villages back under government control, an "Accelerated Pacification Campaign" was started by the South Vietnamese in November of 1968. The U.S. Marines supported this program in their area of tactical responsibility with Operation Meade River. The Marines proposed to surround and search a 36 square kilometers area south of Da Nang called ‘Dodge City’, infamous as a haven and staging area for Communist units in the area.

            On 20 November, seven Marine battalions began to move into their assigned positions around the designated perimeter. The plan of battle was simple; close the noose and attack any enemy units flushed out by the sweep. While civilians were being cleared from the area, the Marines came upon the first of three major bunker complexes they would discover before the termination of the operation. On 20 November elements of the 1st Marine Division ran into trouble in an area of Dodge City called ‘The Horseshoe’ because of a large bend in an adjacent stream. Heavy fire from the bunkers occupied by the disciplined 3rd Battalion, 36th NVA Regiment forced the Marines to pull back. It would take five more attempts by Marines with heavy air and artillery support over the next four days to take the Horseshoe complex. The NVA withdrew from the Horseshoe on 25 November, but since they could not escape the Marine perimeter, they fought on. On 1 December in an area known as ‘The Hook’ at a bend in the Suoi Co Ca River the Marines discovered another fully manned and well-fortified bunker complex. Again, the Marines pulled back and let the air and artillery reduce the stronghold. On 5 December they took it easily after a severe pounding from their supporting arms. Finally, on 6 December the Marines discovered the last organized remnants of the NVA battalion in another strong position they named ‘The Northern Bunker Complex’. After a failed assault on 7 December, the Marine artillery and air support again pounded the NVA in preparation for the final infantry assault on 8 December. That assault carried the position easily and Operation Meade River terminated on 9 December. The Marines took high casualties but in turn decimated the ranks and the support infrastructure of the NVA and VC units in ‘Dodge City’.

           

Hamburger Hill, Dong Ap Bia: 10 – 20 May 1969

            Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain, nicknamed Hamburger Hill by the Americans) was the site of one of the best-known battles of the war in Vietnam. It was a hard fought victory for the American soldiers, who afterwards were promptly withdrawn from the hill, allowing the NVA to take it back without a fight. Politically, it brought about the end of major American search and destroy missions (designed to impose "maximum pressure" on the enemy rather than secure any long-term specific ground objective) because of its seemingly senseless waste of life. Militarily, it was part of a larger operational strategy designed to rid the infamous A Shau Valley of Communist forces.

Undeniably, the Communists had been able to use the lush A Shau Valley as an effective staging area for their Tet Offensive of 1968. All indications were that it was still an important part of the NVA/VC strategic and logistical network in 1969. The Ho Chi Minh Trail allowed men and materiel to move directly into the area, from which they could easily jump off to attack Hué, Da Nang or other important sites in the coastal lowlands. So the Americans conceived Operation Apache Snow, a plan to send ten Allied infantry battalions with support into the Valley to annihilate the enemy forces there and to deny them further use of it as a staging area. One particular hill, Dong Ap Bia at the northern end of the Valley was a heavily fortified stronghold for elements of the 29th NVA Regiment. The mission of taking that key high ground fell to elements of the 101st Airborne Division and their support. For their part, the NVA leadership was willing to stand and fight in the hope that inflicting heavy casualties on the Americans would produce exactly the kind of political result that it ultimately did.

            The Battle of Dong Ap Bia unfolded in stages. Despite intense artillery and air support to reduce the bunker and trench complex on the hill, early American infantry advances failed in the face of the powerful and well-entrenched NVA force. Each day saw a renewal of the artillery and air bombardment of Ap Bia, followed by maneuvers to assault the hill from different directions. As reinforcements arrived, the American effort to take the hill intensified, as did the defenders’ determination to hold it. At one point a torrential rainstorm helped to stall an otherwise strong American advance. In the end it took the combined effort of two battalions and an incredible amount of artillery and air support to finally clear Dong Ap Bia of the NVA regiment.

Communist losses were quite severe, and though American casualties were significantly less, they were still seen as too high by many soldiers, and certainly by many American civilians and politicians. After several days of mopping up and building a defensive perimeter on the hill, it was ordered abandoned on 5 June to free up the defending units for other duties. By 17 June, an NVA force almost as large as the original one was in place. No large Allied base was ever built in the A Shau Valley.

           

NVA Ambush, Plei Lok: 31 May 1969   

            In early 1969, the Army 4th Infantry Division’s area of operations covered a massive part of the Central Highlands north and west of Pleiku. Their mission was to assist in the local pacification program and to seek out and engage the enemy, thus denying the Communists easy use of the Central Highlands as a base of operations. On 31 May, B Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment was on patrol in the vicinity of Plei Lok as part of a force trying to locate and attack an elusive NVA regiment. After spotting enemy soldiers the company pursued, then ran into the center of a horseshoe-shaped NVA bunker complex. The company managed to extract itself from the ambush and inflict some damage on the NVA, but only after taking heavy casualties.

 

Summer Offensive, Song Chang & Song Lau: 12 – 29 August 1969

            In June 1969 President Nixon, under intense political pressure at home and abroad, announced a gradual withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam. The Communists seized the opportunity to prepare an offensive in hopes of achieving two goals. Strategically the NVA wanted to put more pressure on Nixon, in the form of American casualties, "to accept serious negotiations…, to withdraw troops, to recognize the National Liberation Front, and to accept a coalition government." Operationally, the Communists hoped to slow the Allied advance into their highland strongholds, particularly the infamous Que Son mountains. The offensive was a battlefield disaster for the Communists, who suffered outrageous casualties, but the Allied victory was hollow insofar as the Communists’ strategy essentially succeeded.

            Much of the worst fighting of the Summer Offensive occurred in the Hiep Duc Valley (aka Death Valley) and Song Chang Valley (aka AK Valley.) On 17 August in the Song Chang Valley, elements of the 4th Battalion, 31st Regiment, 196th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Division made contact with the 3rd Main Force Regiment, 2nd NVA Division concentrated around Hill 102 south of LZ West. What followed over the next few days were several bloody efforts to take the hill from the Communists and break up that part of their offensive. Eventually, the Americans achieved their objective and sent the Communists back towards their highland havens.

            Around the same time, north of LZ West along the Song Lau River in the Hiep Duc Valley, other elements of the 4/31 on a search and destroy mission ran into the 1st Main Force Regiment, 2nd NVA Division as they filtered out of the Nui Chom ridge line. For several days the Army tried unsuccessfully to push the NVA back, but the enemy stubbornly held on and counterattacked. On 21 August, the Army called on the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines for help. The Marines met heavy resistance as they pushed west down the valley into rear of the NVA forces assaulting the Army’s positions. Again, attack was met with counterattack as the battle to close the gap between the Allied forces raged on for days. The 2/7 Marines were relieved after heavy fighting on 27 August by the 3/7 Marines, and on 28 August the Army and Marines linked up. By 29 August, the NVA was in full retreat to its highland bases after taking heavy losses.

 

Cambodia, Ph Tnaot: 10 May 1970

            During the 1960’s, President Johnson respected the border of neutral Cambodia for political reasons, even though the NVA and VC used eastern Cambodia as a safe haven and staging area. But as the new President Nixon pursued his policy of slowly turning the war over to the South Vietnamese, he ordered a change in policy regarding Cambodia and authorized strikes at the Communist strongholds there. The spring and summer of 1970 saw a great deal of activity on and across the Cambodian border. Ph Tnaot is an example of one of the battles from those campaigns.

            The ARVN began sweeps (code names: Fishhook & Rach Cai Bac) of the Parrot’s Beak of Cambodia in the spring of 1970 with an American infantry and artillery screening force for support. These Americans however ran into more than their fair share of heavy fighting. On 10 May 1970, a company of the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 9th Division discovered the wake of a bloodied NVA force retreating from an earlier fight at Chantrea. They followed the NVA trail to the village of Ph Tnaot where they unexpectedly discovered a large and well-entrenched enemy force. They engaged the NVA for over two hours on the ground as well as with helicopter gunship and F-4 air support. The Communists withdrew from the village that night under cover of darkness. The Americans ended their involvement in the spring Cambodian campaign after inflicting heavy casualties on the Communist forces in the area, but the political fallout from such operations effectively ended American involvement in Cambodia.

 

Hill 1000, FSB Ripcord: 1 – 23 July 1970

In the spring of 1970, the U.S. Army established Firebase Ripcord near the A Shau Valley as part of the support network for a planned offensive into that infamous Communist stronghold on the Laotian border. The NVA however seized the initiative that summer and encircled FSB Ripcord and its defenders, elements of the 101st Airborne Division. Under intense political pressure, the Army adopted a strategy designed to minimize American casualties. On 23 July 1970, FSB Ripcord was evacuated and destroyed after nearly a month of heavy fighting. It was the last major battle the U.S. Army fought in Vietnam.

            The hills surrounding FSB Ripcord, particularly Hill 1000 to the west, provided the NVA mortars and heavy machine guns an excellent line of sight on the American position. An operation was mounted on 7 July to secure Hill 1000, but its strength was insufficient for the task. The infantry made two further attempts, each stronger than the last, but the NVA contested each ferociously. In the end, the failure to secure the hills surrounding the base was key to the ultimate NVA victory.

 

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