Southlands Snuffys

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

Chapter 22 (v.1) - Chiens de guerre

Submitted: November 23, 2014

Reads: 585

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Submitted: November 23, 2014

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Chiens de guerre

 

“Well Sergeant, if  you consider that our losses were  damn excessive , then  just you go and take a long hard look at Charlie’s! And ask this of yourself, which fucking side is it preferable to be fighting for! But I guarantee you one thing, there will be no immortal glory to be had for either side in this War regardless of losses!“


USMC Platoon Commander, Bassac River, Rung Sat Special Zone, 1967.

 

The Viet Cong fully understood the advantages, and limitations, of the jungle and develop their tactics to make best use of the terrain. They had a brutal will to attack, and never wavered in their faith of the final victory over the American invader, which was locked in their minds.

One of Charlie’s tactics to keep us away from their larger camps was to harass with small, mobile groups armed with RPGs and automatic weapons trying to induce us into pursuit, then ambushing, and after making a clean break-contact from the engagement, would melt away into the jungle, or a sea of reeds. Often they left stay-behind parties of single machine guns or snipers. However, we had developed a counter tactic for this by using some of our guys, formed into an aggressive fighting patrol accompanied by a CTT, combat tracker team, consisting of four or five men with a dog. Both men and dogs had been intensively trained at the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia.

The use of these British training facilities, and the little known fact their Royal Air Force flew in supplies and equipment, opened up their Military hospitals in Hong Kong to treat our wounded, and many of their Military and intelligence personnel were regular “Visitors” to all fighting Zones, discredits the misguided claim that the British didn’t help out during the Vietnam War. However, where it was true that no “Combat” forces were deployed by the British, unlike Australia and New Zealand, there were volunteers from Britain and Canada fighting alongside us, as well as others from within the British Commonwealth. Some of those volunteers were killed in action; others remain to this day missing in action.

Our CTT dogs were in the norm either Labrador or Alsatian breeds, unlike the specialist dog teams of the South Vietnamese Military which used both tracking and attack dogs. When attack dogs were required they were brought in during an air-lift, and were mostly a breed similar to our American Pit-Bull, but were many more times as aggressive. If these “Pit-Bulls” locked on to you, they would never release, they would just keep on ripping and tearing unless their tracker/handler gave the command. Apparently, like we were, Charlie was completely terrified of them, for even if their Tracker/Handler gave a release command the dogs regularly paid no heed to it.

Charlie’s sappers worked with great skill when building camps so that an attack anywhere on the perimeter came under a cross-fire. Machine gun emplacements were built so that the weapons were masked when fired, thus making them difficult to locate and eliminate. Subterranean passages, some twenty feet below the surface, led to bomb proof bunkers and makeshift hospitals. Our grunts were well aware of the bunkers, tunnels and vaults located deep beneath a camp, and their use as a safe haven even through very heavy bombing. Unfortunately, the only tactic we had available to penetrate such a third dimensional battlefield was a grunt armed with a pistol, and the near suicidal courage to go crawling about in the dark deep underground.

These bases were extremely difficult to pinpoint from the air, meaning that Air Support from jet or prop-driven aircraft was virtually useless. Unless the intention was to trash the jungle with a B52 air strike over a massive area, but with such a strike there was no guarantee of destroying the enemy in sufficient numbers to make any real difference. Anyway, as a VC looked just like any other within the rural population, getting an accurate “body count” of real combatants was virtually impossible.

Helicopters in support were also of limited use over one these camps due to the closeness of the jungle tree canopy, and as a helicopter is vulnerable in the hover it made it more than likely it would have received an RPG or Missile, fired from the cover of the trees. In addition, Chinese and Soviet made heat-seeking missiles were a hazard to bear in mind when flying above the Jungle and going about your business, for it was not exactly rare during the Vietnam War for an aircraft when buzzing around to just simply disappear, and possibly found by accident years later as no one ever bothered to search for them.

Thankfully, and much to my relief, I was only involved in but a handful of attacks on Charlie’s camps, and only one where attack dogs were used.

As our main force moved forward at a slow walk, in the distance came the sounds of small-arms firing, muffled shouts and the sharp barking of dogs, which meant the fighting patrols were doing their task of clearing away any enemy out-camp forward positions. Although this meant we would probably not come under fire on the approach to the camp, it gave the VC’s officers the luxury of having time to prepare their defenders.

Then suddenly we were there, at a large jungle clearing, and although the front line of defense trenches could be seen, it was impossible to see anything of the second. Dotted about the clearing large trees had been left standing with the branches cleared halfway up their trunks, making them look similar to giant sun parasols. To thicken the overhead camouflage thinner trees surrounding the clearing had been hauled over at an angle and tied with creepers to the parasol trees. This had formed an enormous structure similar in shape to an Apache wickiup, and was interlaced with a spider web of leafed creepers which had been allowed to flourish. Only trees with a large top leafing had been used, thus making the camp virtually invisibility from any air reconnaissance. It was a truly phenomenal camouflaging effort well worthy of praise.

At the chosen start line we went to ground in heavy undergrowth just inside the jungles edge, and in front of the camp clearing. Being so close I could smell Tiger Balm, a foul smelling oil used by Vietnamese to ward off evil spirits, and could have reached forward and touched the punji in front of me, it was one of many thousands, and unlike ours had been dipped in putrefying flesh, or human excreta before use, maximizing any infection for the careless.

Behind the deep, formidable array of punji spikes lurked “Bouncing-Betty” mines, and hanging on bamboo poles about head height, were “Chi-Com”, Chinese communist, DH5 and DH10 claymore style mines and old car headlamps which would be used to illuminate any night attack, the wires leading from the lamps and mines were quite visible. These wires ran back to the final defensive trenches and connected to a car battery, where one wire would be left undone for flashing on one of the battery’s posts to detonate the explosives, and, or light the lamps, simple and effective.

Looking through broad leaves, I could see the last of the NVA and VC sliding into their defensive positions, and from the numbers doing so it soon became clear that we did not have enough guys to swamp the enemy as had been planned, which ensured there would be no stopping for casualties. Hard as it may have been not to stop and help your best buddy when he lay torn and bleeding, was, in the practical, impossible to do, as keeping up the battle momentum against the enemy being critical for a win. Anyway, a successful assault was their best chance to survive their wounds.

With an enemy waiting for you it is the most depressing way to start any attack on an in-depth position, and as the defenders machine gunners looked for likely targets there came the occasional silvery flash of binoculars lenses, reflecting the sunlight of the clearing like tiny mirrors. Then Charlie’s troop’s raised home-made flags, and their rough young voices began singing patriotic ballads to boost morale, which was also intended to unnerve us by giving an impression they simply didn’t give a damn how many were going to attack, for they would stand their ground regardless! It was quite extraordinary to be lying in the jungle, being bitten to the point of near madness by mosquitoes listening to their impromptu concert and the calls of birds that seemed to be answering them, and knowing that within a short time we would have to do our damn utmost to kill each other.

A swift glance at my wristwatch showed there was less than one minute to go before Zero hour, and, since the attack was imminent, I quickly looked left and right, checking on my half-platoon formed up on either side of me. In the last few seconds before an action there is a phenomenon which is a perceived slowing of time, where clocks, watches and everything around you seems to go into slow motion. Then bang on Zero hour came the dull cough of our 155mm howitzers firing, which were mounted on a river barge towed by one of the troop carrying Tango boats. That fire-mission was our prep for initiating the action, and at the exact point of a second and final salvo detonating we were to attack, hoping the smoke from the shell bursts would give even some scant cover in Charlie’s pre-set killing zone, as navigating the punjis and mines would make progress painfully slow.

I could plainly see the men in Charlie’s forward trenches duck as shells exploded, covering them with dirt and the blood of their friends. The battle noise had begun, rippling and rattling its way through the hot damp of the jungle as Charlie’s mortars and machine guns increased their rate of repulsing fire, the ear-splitting noise reaching a point where it was impossible to pick out individual weapons as they went off, and just as I raised up in a half crouch shouting for the committal there was an almighty, deafening explosion, as one of the last howitzer rounds fired detonated the contents of a log and soil constructed bunker!

The blast wave shot across the clearing destroying all in its path, and as that destructive pulse radiated out it felled trees, completely stripped others of their leaves and creepers, flattened huts, ground bunkers and anyone above the prone position. It tore through the jungle for a further 500 plus meters before petering out. The stripped leaves had produced a torrential green shower, and allowed dusty sunlight through to where it had never been for countless years, and an uncanny silence meant the birds I had heard earlier had gone.

I found myself on my back with a loud whooshing noise in my ears, as if I was on a beach listening to the oceans rush, and whilst trying to extricate myself from a tangle of felled branches and a massive covering of foliage the firing started up again, then came the sharp crack of grenades exploding. Obviously some on either side must have recovered more swiftly from the blasts aftershock, allowing the battle to recommence, and by the time I had wrestled clear of my covering, regained some dignity, and ordered the half- platoon forward, the fight-through was well into the final stages.

In the end, around half of the VC who had been defending survived, and although shocked and dazed recovered sufficiently to bravely re-start the action, but they were too scattered to have any real effect, and as Jungle irregular forces, as was the Viet Cong, are not ashamed to withdraw to fight another day, Charlie’s unwounded survivors fought a spirited withdrawal into the jungle, but unwittingly headed straight for our last Poker Card. That card was the fighting patrols and attack dogs, which had been ordered to flank and set-up as stops for any bug-outs.

Then once again came those distant shots, shouts, and loud barking as the Stops cornered, then dispatched, any Viet Cong escapees they could find, and as the action closed down, we knew it had been a success. Sure, we had taken casualties, we always did, for it was inevitable in any form of assault, but they were far fewer than anyone had expected thanks to the unexpected massive blast. But Charlie had lost many more in being either killed, captured, or dispersed.

The air seemed heavy, but instead of the normal fungal damp it was filled with the metallic “iron” smell of fresh blood, and the sickly-sweet cloying stench of death, and everywhere was flash burned and scorched corpses. Bits of men hung in trees and what was left of the undergrowth, some remains floated in a little stream which had served as the camps water supply and duck pond, incredibly some chickens and ducks had survived with no other injuries than a few scorched feathers.

While the chickens pecked and the ducks paddled, one man, still alive and wailing, was standing surrounded by debris from the tremendous blast and a mass of corpses in various stages of dismemberment, having been torn apart by the high explosive shells, and by the time the bodies, and any parts thereof, were collected the ghastly pile stood six foot high with a radius of nigh on twenty feet! As we stood there looking at that monument to torment and sacrifice all were stricken silent and it was impossible not to wonder where they had found such courage and admire them for it.


 

 

 


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