Southlands Snuffys

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 15 (v.1) - Ordres Mouvement

Submitted: June 08, 2014

Reads: 678

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Submitted: June 08, 2014

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Ordres Mouvement.

 

 

“The best plan in the world will fail if you cannot communicate it. Similarly, a poor plan can be saved by good confident orders. Only competent orders will leave a Marine in no doubt as to what is expected of him.”

 

Selections board, NCO leadership training, 1966.

 

The sun appeared, rising above the horizon like a giant shell-burst, laying a line of gold along the top of the surrounding trees. It replaced a night of torrential rain with a day of glorious sunshine and wispy cirrus clouds. From the blue-gray wash of the false dawn our Mike Zippo had been used by gaggles of iridescent dragonflies as a bug aircraft carrier.

Those wondrous insects had dried their wings and preened themselves like birds in the sunbursts tendrils of light, preparing for feasting on the first appearing flies of the day. As if a signal had been given they suddenly rose amass into the air, all facing the same way, and hovering like helicopters absorbed the early sun’s energy giving warmth, before some individuals started breaking up the formation by spearing-off after prey.

As was becoming the norm, our boat had been ordered straight into another detail without respite. I couldn’t sleep, for even in my exhausted state sleeps velvet embrace was eluded, and I had taken the deck watch upon myself, leaving my crew deep in their comatose like slumber. However, it was more through a case of selfishness that I had left them to their dreams, or nightmares, for I dearly cherished those little snippets of solitude away from my fellow crewmen. Everyone had some means of leisure time employment; otherwise the individual could quite easily trespass close to insanity, my own was a craving for solitude.

It was the smell of coffee that brought the crew to life, and they heard our orders with sick hearts, for they knew it was going to be a highly dangerous situation we would find ourselves in, making their scorn for our superiors whom they considered incompetent click up another notch. Such was the dearth of suitable boats our orders to move had been left nigh-on too late as usual, even though the situation for the South Vietnamese Marines relying on us was deteriorating hour by hour.

On such a fine morning the river was packed solid with traffic and all going in various directions without any heed for the “rules of the road”. A small fleet of Sampans which got in the way of a charging ferry were swamped, spilling their market goods as they slowly sank, PBR’s and Swift boats darted about like terriers chasing rats, an ancient river dredger blocked the channel when her boiler blew. With all this and more going on, it took an absolute eternity for our boats to muster into any resemblance of order before heading off to find a suitable spot for embarking the SV Marines. The sheer volume of troops waiting to be recovered made the use of helicopters completely out of the question, the only way was by boat, and it was down to us.

The raging battle had lasted all day and the casualty rate had been awesome, in the region of four hundred dead and as many wounded, yet still more Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars had been thrown at it again and again, trying to force the battle front. The critical part was that their training had been insufficient so they had no idea of a need in battle for independent action, but their zeal for the communist cause made them idiotically brave, as if it was a virulent infectious disease that drove them to self-sacrifice, as their numbers were decimated by the SV Marines more rushed in to take their place.

To win, modern infantry must fight an aggressive war of fluid movement, one where even the smallest of opportunities are seized upon, and then ruthlessly exploited. In such fighting the section commanders initiative becomes king, but Charlie hung on to the futility of frontal mass attacks, and although success with press of numbers went into military planners trash cans decades before, the NVA senior commanders still clung to it. Rushing forward with a grand hurrah! And the blowing of tuneless bugles to boost moral, only resulted in their troops being slaughtered. The moving spirit behind such an outmoded tactic was the North’s General Giap

From the moment our boats sailed into view from around a bend in the river, machine guns rattled and rifles cracked, as Charlie opened fire on them from along the line of a low ridge. Following the cardinal rule “Obey the order first, ask questions later” that had been drummed into each and every one of us, the Tango boats, braving a deluge of fire which included mortar rounds and B40 rockets, dropped their bow doors onto the riverbank. The SV Marines having held out for over a day against phenomenal odds, soaked, miserable and hungry, awaited the order to withdraw, but instead received a hopeless disarray of counter orders, or lack of orders, and leaving behind those beyond help flooded aboard the Tangos, all the time returning fire as they went. To my sheer surprise they managed it without taking further casualties.

Lending our armaments to the covering fire, and standing there like a Marine in a recruiting poster, with incoming rounds banging and sparking off the gun-shield, our gunner had become battle-crazed. As the forward fifty’s sprayed the ridge two more black clad figures of a machine gun crew skidded and cart-wheeled down the slope, their bodies torn and bleeding. One stood up, then staggered and fell, and the next burst smashed him to a bloody pulp.

Another burst from the 50’s towards the ridge was immediately followed by distant shouts of “ ban thiu quy - chung ta giet b?n! “, “dirty devil - we kill you!” as the return fire intensified and kept on coming in regular bursts. It became so heavy it rattled off the hull like hail stones hitting a tin roof! One round passed through my shirt just below the armpit as I dived headlong for the steel sanctuary that was the well- deck!

Charlie’s machine gun crews proved not to be the mad rushing fools of their infantry, instead they were amongst the best trained, and had taken on a personal battle with our gunner, whose own prowess at reducing their numbers had been proven. To concentrate an apex of rounds on him, they had begun “walking” machine gun fire over the riverbank towards our boat! There was something surreal in watching rounds trimming the grass and marsh plants, with a cricket-like chirping sound, as if an invisible gardener was at work.

Just on the point of my bringing our flamethrower into action, and although Charlie was out of range for an effective display, it would act as a distraction against the ever increasing rounds being directed at our boat. When, throwing everyone into confusion, and without explanation, the firing suddenly ceased, apart from the odd rifle going off.

At first I thought my senses were playing tricks, as just audible to the ear came the sound of jet whine, which, in what seemed like no more than a second, grew into a whooshing roar as a “V” formation of fast movers, F4 Phantoms, flashed over the now near silent battlefield. Wiggling their wings as a signal for us to keep our heads down they came back running parallel to the river on what looked like a strafing run over Charlie’s positions, making him come back to life and start concentrating his gunfire on the fast movers.

Ye who challenge the Valkyrs, let all hope abandon! For completely ignoring the small-arms ground fire and the occasional rocket propelled grenade, the lead aircraft came in low and fired rockets, the second dropped 25lb bombs, which detonated with a thunderous rumble and the blast waves made the air rock and quiver, the third blanketed the rocket and bomb carnage with napalm.

On slightly higher ground behind the low ridge a line of little dark figures appeared in the distance, dancing and cavorting in mortal agony as the liquid fire engulfed them, a scene which chilled the blood! Carried upon the air came a nauseating smell, that of burnt flesh, and the sound of crackling flames mingled with pitiful screaming. Thankfully, billowing, dark brown smoke, full of flying sparks, lifted into the sky, blotting the horror from view.

With the surviving SV Marines and their casualties finally secured aboard the Tango’s I started our diesels and opened the throttles, drawing our boat away from the riverbank meant we had become sailors once more. To the crew I looked for signs of enthusiasm, but there was none, for no one could possibly come away from such military actions without eyes older than their years, and a mind dazed and bludgeoned. The battle had died with an immense sense of utter futility, and as such, was mourned by no one.


© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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