How to Fight in Caves and Fend Off “Sapper” Commandos: Tactical Lessons the U.S. Army Learned In Vietnam


The experiences of U.S. squaddies in Vietnam are advised in some ways: by way of private memoirs, media accounts, oral histories— and the federal government’s personal experiences. Historian Chris McNab mined these experiences to supply The U.S. Military Infantryman Vietnam Pocket Guide, which reprints declassified major paperwork similar to subject manuals, weapons manuals, intelligence analyses and after-action experiences, together with these with “classes discovered” sections. This text options two lessons-learned sections, with introductions by McNab.

The Vietnam Battle, and the diligent efforts of archivists, has left us with an enormous archive of U.S. Military infantry after-action experiences, lots of which conclude with a “classes discovered” part that summarized the tactical data acquired from the actual operation. The next report was a part of a broader compilation of those experiences. The explanatory doc that introduces the report explains that it “is the primary of the 1968 particular collection of numbered Operations Studies—Classes Discovered. It accommodates a abstract of chosen gadgets based mostly on data reported in Operational Studies—Classes Discovered and Fight After Motion experiences submitted throughout 1967.”

Data collected in paperwork similar to these can be distributed to front-line models and coaching formations again within the States, hopefully to enhance the survivability of these new to Vietnam operations. Within the extracts under, there are fascinating discussions about numerous tactical challenges, significantly these referring to winkling out the enemy from rocky cave complexes (widespread in mountainous areas).

From “Operations Report—Classes Discovered 1-68: Abstract of Classes” (1968)

SECTION 1: MANEUVER TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES
1. ITEM: Pursuit, battlefield sweep and evacuation of the wounded. (670698)

DISCUSSION: The 4th Infantry Division experiences that there’s a built-in battle as to what motion needs to be taken instantly upon the enemy making an attempt to withdraw within the dense jungle close to the Cambodian Border. The perfect state of affairs can be to have a touchdown zone within the rapid proximity of the contact space by way of which reinforcements might be inserted to provoke an aggressive exploitation or pursuit. Concurrently, the US unit involved ought to evacuate its wounded and useless and provoke a right away sweep of the battlefield. Nonetheless, in dense jungle touchdown zones usually are not available within the overwhelming majority of circumstances. As quickly because the state of affairs permits, and within the absence of a touchdown zone, the US unit should minimize a touchdown zone out of the jungle foliage to evacuate the wounded. The conventional time required to chop such a touchdown zone is about 15 hours, however might typically prolong to 24 hours and, once in a while, might exceed 36 hours. Throughout this era, the enemy is making a most effort to evacuate his wounded, paperwork, weapons and different gadgets of apparatus from the battle space. In lots of circumstances, he is ready to bodily take away his useless earlier than a sweep of the battlefield may be completed.

OBSERVATION: Every state of affairs have to be analyzed fastidiously to find out the sequence of
the actions to be taken. If in any respect attainable, reinforcements needs to be inserted to pursue the enemy and to in any other case exploit the state of affairs. Furthermore, rapid motion have to be taken both by the US unit involved or by the reinforcing unit, because the case could also be, to conduct a right away sweep of the battlefield. Clearly, the significantly wounded have to be evacuated from the battlefield by the quickest methodology as a way to stop additional loss
of lives. To perform all of these items within the correct order or concurrently requires cautious judgment and coordination by the commanders concerned.

In preparation for blasting closed an enemy cave entrance within the Phu Cat mountains of the Central Highlands, troopers within the third Brigade, twenty fifth Infantry Division, kind a line to move explosives as much as the opening in January 1967. (AP/Henri Huet)
2) ITEM: Fight in rock complexes. (67X071)

DISCUSSION: The 3d Brigade, twenty fifth Infantry Division, throughout Operation Thayer II [in central South Vietnam, October 1966-February 1967], carried out sustained fight operations in mountainous terrain containing quite a few rock complexes. The next relies on the brigade’s experiences:

  • A. Operations inside rock complexes. Combating the enemy inside a cave is extraordinarily troublesome. For the reason that enemy inhabits the cave, he is aware of the place the passages lead and has the benefit of inside traces of communication in his reinforcing functionality. Moreover, he has a protection plan based mostly on an in depth reconnaissance, understanding effectively prematurely what avenues of strategy have to be utilized by his opponents. The attacker has no strategy to make a reconnaissance besides by hearth. Though the benefit is on protection, there are a number of benefits that accrue to the attacker. The attacker has the initiative and freedom to decide on the place and when to strike. Secondly, the attacker has a major psychological benefit in that the defender harbors an excellent concern of being entombed alive. The ultimate end result relies upon totally on the standard of the people combating the engagement.
  • B. Group of rock complicated combating groups. A typical rock complicated combating staff consists of three to 4 males led by an skilled non-commissioned officer. The purpose man leads the best way and supplies safety to the entrance. The second man in line, usually the chief, supplies remark and safety to the flanks. The rear man secures the rear and turns into the information in case a speedy withdrawal is critical. The purpose man ought to carry a big flashlight to research cracks and crevices. This gentle have to be cautiously used as it can typically draw enemy hearth. Coaching and observe within the assault of a rock complicated are absolute requirements for profitable accomplishment of the mission. C. Use of hand grenades inside rock formations. All sorts may be successfully used at rock formations entrances, however as soon as the staff is underground the fragmentation kind hand grenades usually are not practicable. If thrown, the impact on pal and foe alike is chaotic.
  • D. Use of demolition inside the underground rock complicated. The simplest methodology of underground rock complicated destruction is thru the utilization of demolitions. Nice portions of explosives, practically 75 tons, have been required to destroy the underground rock complexes which have been discovered within the brigade’s space of operations. Transportation of the explosives was a most troublesome logistical downside. Most use was product of small satchel expenses by tossing them into the cave entrance then exploding the cost with a claymore firing gadget.
  • E. Use of particular person weapons inside an underground rock complicated. As a result of dimension of the M60 machine gun and noise it created, it was unattainable to make use of the weapon within the caves. The an identical downside exists with the M14 rifle. The XM16E1 proved to be considerably higher than both of the opposite two weapons resulting from its gentle weight and compact dimension; nonetheless, as with all weapons with excessive muzzle velocity, ricochets have been so frequent and so harmful that our troopers have been reluctant to make use of them. One of the best weapon by far proved to be the caliber .45 automated pistol. Because the ranges at which most kills have been made have been within the neighborhood of some ft, there was no need for accuracy. The super stopping energy of the caliber .45 pistol at shut ranges greater than as soon as actually blew the enemy down in addition to killing him.

The U.s. military infantryman vietnam pocket guide

by Chris McNab, Casemate, 2021

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  • OBSERVATION: A. The psychological impact on the enemy may be exploited through the use of a small moveable loud-speaker encouraging the enemy to come back out or be buried alive. A rock complicated may be attacked by way of many openings through the use of small components (lower than hearth staff dimension) working independently however with a typical mission. Little use may be product of demolitions, or fragmentation grenades as soon as a staff is inside the cave because the explosives have an equal impact on each pal and enemy. The demolitions, and fragmentation grenades have an effect on the eardrums. Subsequently, the battle inside the cave rock complicated returns to essentially the most primitive of fights; man towards man, utilizing pistols at ranges of two and three ft. Right here management and management is troublesome and the need of the person turns into the dominant issue.
  • B. The strategy of rock complicated combating requires detailed planning and violent execution much like the method developed by the US Military for destruction of a fortified space. The principle distinction within the assault of a cave complicated and the assault of a fortified space lies within the intelligence subject for in a cave complicated a reconnaissance is unattainable.
  • C. Hand grenades may be employed by troops outdoors the caves however as soon as inside solely non-fragmentation grenades can be utilized, similar to white phosphorous and CS [tear gas], and these have to be used with excessive warning. One of the best method is to make use of them round corners or down in crevices.
  • D. When underground rock complicated destruction is required an excellent amount of explosives will probably be crucial to interrupt the huge quantity of rocks that assist the cave and the doorway. The transportation downside was solved through the use of a CH-47 helicopter with a 100 foot sling which transported the explosives on to the rock complicated entrance the place the demolition was to happen. The explosives have been emplaced and exploded. The method used was to throw the small satchel cost gadget into the rock complicated whereas a soldier stood by with a claymore firing gadget. No sooner did the cost fall to the bottom than it was exploded with the firing gadget stopping the enemy from tampering with it.
  • E. For the reason that caliber .45 pistol has a particularly low muzzle velocity and a really heavy slug, there may be little likelihood of a ricochet hitting the firer. The massive drawback is the report from the pistol which at occasions will stun the firer, momentarily stopping second shot. For future operations of this nature silencers can be helpful.

Each the North Vietnamese Military and the Viet Cong had elite sapper models inside their ranks. These troopers have been specialists in assaulting and breaking by way of American defensive perimeters, similar to these round a firebase, infantry headquarters, fortified hamlet or different protected goal, typically utilizing heavy weaponry similar to rocket launchers, bangalore torpedoes [explosive-filled tubes], mines, heavy mortars and flamethrowers. The scale of the sapper models ranged from unbiased squads of only a handful of males by way of to total battalions and regiments. The next doc, produced in 1969 by the headquarters of XXIV Corps [operating in northern South Vietnam] illustrates how significantly the risk from the sappers was taken and in addition provides a window into U.S. defensive techniques in Vietnam.

A 1st Cavalry Division firebase on excessive floor within the A Shau Valley of northern South Vietnam supplies 105 mm howitzer assist on Aug. 12, 1968, to squaddies combating within the valley under. Assaults on hearth assist bases led to improved base safety measures summarized in “classes discovered” experiences. (AP)

From “Classes Discovered—Protection Towards Sapper Assaults” (1969)

  1. Day and evening recon patrols. Defending models ought to put together and implement as intensive a patrol plan as attainable. Recognizing that infantry assets at a hearth base or fastened set up seldom meet the essential wants of the commander, it stays crucial {that a} steady effort be made to detect the sapper throughout both the reconnaissance or the motion to contact. The scale of the pleasant recon patrol will naturally must be based mostly upon the enemy risk within the space. The space the patrol travels from the fireplace base or set up may even be contingent upon data of enemy exercise. It needs to be emphasised, nonetheless, that pleasant patrols needn’t essentially function at nice distance from the bottom, as a result of sapper recon components invariably try to get near the target space, and sapper forces have to be positioned inside however a couple of hundred meters of the perimeter wire many hours earlier than
    the assault begins. The mission of early detection can due to this fact usually be completed by small screening events working within the rapid space across the hearth base or set up. On this regard, an evaluation of the historic instance will present that two or three small patrols carried out by pleasant forces simply previous to nightfall alongside a line some 200 meters outdoors the wire would have uncovered the enemy pressure at a time when he was most weak.
  2. Deception and counterintelligence. It is going to be famous that the sapper bases his plan of assault on detailed data of defensive installations and patterns usually adopted all through the day and evening. Commanders ought to due to this fact develop plans to deceive the enemy and hinder his reconnaissance. Such plans ought to embody provisions for false bunkers and gun positions, motion of key installations every so often, variation in patrol schedules, and the emplacement of dummy anti-intrusion units to enhance the precise units across the perimeter. Efficient deception and counterintelligence measures are merchandise of the creativeness, often the results of thorough data of sapper strategies mixed with the promulgation of ever-changing concepts designed to confuse the enemy. One of many main deficiencies famous within the research of previous sapper assaults was the fixed use of the identical areas for listening posts. An imaginative commander prepares plans for dummy listening posts in addition to for posts which are by no means in the identical location two nights in a row.
  3. Anti-intrusion units. A unit programmed to occupy a hearth assist base or a set set up can by no means emplace sufficient anti-intrusion units. Protection plans should present for steady enchancment of these units which exist and progressive augmentation thereof. Mines and booby traps affixed to journey wires have to be fastidiously plotted within the curiosity of security. Nonetheless, the journey flare is a tool which may and needs to be utilized in nice numbers and in these areas the place the enemy is just not prone to count on them. A visit flare emplaced on excessive floor overlooking the defensive perimeter or on avenues of strategy effectively away from the perimeter will trigger the sapper immeasurable issue. He expects a sample of wires, booby traps and journey flares within the common neighborhood of the perimeter. If he discovers or journeys a flare tons of of meters from the target space, he will probably be pressured to proceed with even larger warning than he usually does. The principal issue on this method entails fixed and steady enchancment of the defensive place. This can be a platitude all too continuously ignored due to restricted personnel assets and the press of different enterprise. Nonetheless, the commander who adheres to this precept and expands his detection units so far as out there assets will allow will seldom be subjected to the assault section of a sapper assault.
  4. Troop alertness. It’s a recognized proven fact that the VC/NVA will wait till boredom on the a part of pleasant forces causes the guard to be lowered. There’s little that may be stated relative to the requirement to insure that listening posts and personnel on the perimeter are alert always. This can be a command perform, and it’s as much as the commander to develop supervisory strategies designed to inspire the boys. Apply alerts and a system of steady inspections (significantly through the early morning hours) appear to supply favorable outcomes.
  5. Illumination of defended space. One of many keys to an efficient protection towards sapper
    assaults is illumination. The sapper is educated to function in the dead of night, and as soon as he penetrates the perimeter wire, he depends on confusion among the many defenders and their incapability to distinguish between the defender and the attacker. Thus, periodic illumination (at assorted intervals) will help within the detection of approaching sappers, and steady illumination as soon as the assault has begun will work to the good thing about the defending forces. In lots of hearth bases all through the XXIV Corps space there may be one 81mm mortar tube ready always for rapid illumination of the target space.
  6. Deconstruction of the enemy after the assault has begun. If the sapper is profitable in reaching the perimeter wire with out being detected, he’s nonetheless extraordinarily weak throughout that interval when he’s making an attempt to penetrate the wire. It’s right here that efficient hearth from the perimeter guards can pay the best dividends. As quickly as any member of the perimeter detects an try to penetrate the wire, the realm needs to be illuminated, and each effort needs to be made to destroy the enemy through the means of penetration. On this regard, intensive use of tangle foot between exterior and inner perimeter wires will hold the sapper within the kill zone for an extended time frame.
  7. Use of bunkers. The bunker is the worst place to be throughout a sapper assault. Though a well-constructed bunker can maintain a direct hit by an 82mm mortar spherical, the sapper is educated to fireplace his RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]on the apertures of the bunker, thus stopping the defender from collaborating in FPL [final protective line] fires. It needs to be axiomatic that solely vital bunkers (similar to FDC’s [fire direction center] and communications bunkers) stay occupied when mortar hearth begins to hit the target, and even these bunkers needs to be protected by a guard stationed in a foxhole outdoors the set up, and one other within the entrance. A effectively ready foxhole within the neighborhood of the bunker turns into a much more efficient combating place than the bunker itself and is much less prone to be a goal for crew served weapons and small arms employed by the attacking pressure. A soldier occupying a foxhole is not going to usually maintain damage from incoming mortar hearth until his place receives a direct hit.
  8. Response pressure and inner firing. Each defensive place, no matter how small, ought to have a response pressure, whose mission is to assault the enemy components which have penetrated the wire. This pressure needn’t be significantly massive. It ought to, nonetheless, be able to assembling quickly and shifting to predesignated positions inside the perimeter. The response pressure needs to be rehearsed to insure that each man is aware of his job. Moreover, specified people within the defending pressure needs to be designated to fireplace at targets inside the wire. Sappers pay little consideration to exercise of people inside the perimeter until these people are blocking their motion to their assigned goal. They are often eradicated by efficient inner hearth.
  9. Use of indicators. Some provisions needs to be made to alert everybody inside the perimeter, in addition to listening posts outdoors the perimeter, of the truth that a penetration has been made. Virtually all historic examples point out {that a} vital proportion of the defending pressure was unaware of a penetration till it was too late. Alerts needs to be easy and straightforward to make use of by all members of the command. Visible indicators, similar to a purple flare, are maybe the simplest means out there due to the noise and confusion that exist through the preliminary phases of the assault.
  10. Miscellaneous. The next further really helpful strategies needs to be thought of by the defending commander: A. “Telltales” needs to be used extensively across the outdoors of the perimeter. These embody the raking of sand strips in order that footprints will present up and the association of timber and bushes in such a fashion that their disturbances by the sapper recon events will probably be detected by pleasant screening patrols. B. Items needs to be directed to save lots of C ration cans and affix them to wire and bushes to function warning units. C. Sapper assaults needs to be anticipated alongside the least seemingly avenues of strategy—by way of swamps, blown timber, and trash dumps. Defensive positions ought to due to this fact present for sufficient remark of those avenues and the development of further obstacles to enhance the pure ones. D. Throughout the defensive perimeter inner wire methods needs to be constructed (progressively, as time permits) round artillery items and demanding installations. The final word goal needs to be a checkerboard community of inner perimeters which can pressure the enemy right into a pocket if he succeeds in penetrating the exterior perimeter. E. Personnel stationed alongside the perimeter who suspect the presence of the enemy needs to be suggested to make use of hand grenades and M-79 [grenade launcher gun] hearth till such time because the enemy is certainly recognized. Sapper recon events often probe a fringe to check alertness of the defending pressure and find particular person firing positions.
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