Battles: Vietnam Scenarios
by Patrick Blackman
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 &
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
‘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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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’.
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.
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
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.
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
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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