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

Chapter 25 (v.1) - Aucune île Moyenne

Submitted: March 01, 2015

Reads: 715

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Submitted: March 01, 2015

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Aucune île Moyenne

 


“You Americans are so slow and clumsy in the jungle, and today I killed four of you, and that is a victory for me. Tomorrow my friends will kill even more Americans, and so it will be until you are driven out. All we have is our land, and when you leave we will still have it!”

VC prisoner,Hatchet Force operation,Rung Sat Special Zone,1967.

 

 

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The Rung Sat Special Zone actions were a series of medium sized conventional battles punctuated by numerous minor engagement and special forces operations. However, within it there was no “front line” in the normal meaning of the phrase. The only front line in 1967, if it could have been called one, lay hundreds of kilometers to the north at the DMZ, demilitarized zone, and sat on the “17th parallel” by agreement in 1954 at Geneva.

The Southern river deltas were areas of stale,stagnant water saturated ground with kilometers of rice paddy fields, abandoned colonial plantations, dense mangrove forests and jungle, over which two antagonists fought constantly without, so it seemed to those of us participating, any obvious long lasting tactical gains.

Some of the places within those deltas where enemies met had no known name beyond one given to it by the grunts involved in a particular action, others to remember them by had no more than a grid reference. Such a no-name place was on a “funny paper “, topographic map, of the Rung Sat, and showed up as just a black dot within a “blue feature”, an area of open water.

A Mike boat was only a landing craft, slow but sturdy, broad in the beam, flat bottomed and hard to steer on a straight course. However, one could sail over shallows denied to vessels of deeper draft, and that advantage meant a sailing order had been written up for our Mike and two Tango boats towing artillery barges to follow a river, then narrow waterways that wound through marshland and swamp for a dozen or so kilometers before they expanding out to form a shallow lake. On an island in the lake was a newly constructed FOB, forward operating base.

It was solely due to a lack of proper map surveying that on many an occasion a promising looking side channel within the marshy swamp proved to be annoyingly not feasible as a sailing route for the cumbersome barges, in which case we had to reverse course and continue the search for another that was. In addition, it was easy to come close to disaster in those waters as there were no tides to ebb and flow, thus enabling a vessel if it grounded hard to lift clear. Any boat or barge so done would have to stay where it was until the seasonal rain floods did the work of tides.

After two days of twisting and turning, probing those water “alleyways” for a clear passage one was finally found, and we entered the sleepy, placid lake on a hot sunny afternoon under a brilliant blue sky. It was an oasis of peace edged with fan-like palms and thickets of bamboo that was suddenly, even rudely, disrupted by the loud growling rumble of idling-ahead motors. Alarmed flocks of birds rose into the air shrieking, and spooked fish shot-off from our bubbling bow wakes, leaving behind rippling trails that took on the color of electric blue in the sunshine.

Ahead was our destination island, set in the middle of the little lake much like a center piece jewel is in a crown, and like that jewel it had its own particular luster in the way of exuberant, heady fragrant flowers everywhere, their colors punctuating the eternal green of the isle.

Once warped in and securely tied off to the landing stage of the base, and under the sun’s burning rays, which pressed on my shoulders with a fierce heat, I went ashore and reported to the base commander, then had a look around. In essence the FOB was constructed in the classical way with a miry series of obstacles laced with a tangle of razor wire, barbed wire, and mines, which seemed to represent the dead hopes of any intended attacker.

The wire and mines surrounded the main in-depth defensive positions made up from a circle of interlocking fire trenches, with sandbag and PSP, Perforated Steel Plate, reinforced fortified bunkers, and dug-in soil covered Conex shipping containers in the center, all of which was intended to be an attackers futile finishing point if they managed to breach the outer defenses.

Beyond the island home of the FOB, no more than a kilometer away, was the profile of a tiny islet, and on what was a quiet, oven hot evening, the sun went down behind it with a sudden blaze of golden fiery-red, but in war such tranquility could never last.

As if to prove the latter, and the base commanders belief that well constructed fortifications located upon an island meant there was little danger of surprise attack was overly optimistic, charlie landed in sampans at dawn directly in front of the heaviest defended part of the FOB. A tactical error that would cost him dear.

However, it would be easy to criticize if on a winning side, and especially when not knowing how much actual intelligence gathering went into the planning of an action. Anyway, we certainly had our own “cluster-fucks “, operations which went bad, produced by those considered to be “strategists”, for everyone had heard the rumors and stories from other grunts of what seemed like great military blundering.

Although we had become used to large bangs, absolutely nothing could drag us so quickly away from satisfying slumber than the sudden crackle of automatic gunfire. Meaning, that seconds after the first burst we were suddenly wide awake and running for our allocated stand-too positions.

By the time I was sliding into a forward fire trench the VC, unhesitating and advancing as one, were already opening the action by rushing up the sloping beach of the island yelling and screaming like fiends, even though being in such a perilous position militarily meant they were on the very threshold of sudden and violent death.

To overcome and repel a frontal assault your maximum fire capability must come in to play immediately, you have to hammer, and hammer again the enemy, keeping him out of your perimeter defenses. You have to make his losses so damn grievous at the outset it breaks his assault momentum and resolve. For, once he is in them he will use your own trenches as a springboard for a fight-through.

 A deadly hail of rounds from M60 and M2,“ Ma Deuce”, machine guns smashed into them. Within minutes of that first devastating wall of fire the gun crews began shouting for more ammo, as we Non Coms bawled pointless orders for them to keep up the dwindling suppressing fire, which was being bolstered by independent fire from the fickle but deadly M16 rifles, and M79 “blooper”, grenade launchers.

In that type of action there is no time to think, no time to ponder or plan, everything has to be done by a conditioned response, automated, and it is why you train relentlessly. The procedure is a simple one of, sight on target and fire, over and over. If there are no glaringly obvious targets you just act as if there were. Time passed words from the training staff at Florida during battle appreciation instruction on the “QBR”, quick battle range, still echo in my mind, “ qualifying at Pendleton rifle range can’t always save your life when a determined chuck is trying to end it, so never mind the goddamned bulls-eye accuracy! Increase your rate of fire and get the rounds towards the enemy, for that is the real key to success”.

Then, just as charlie started “walking” his mortar rounds through our trenches towards the CP, command post, a mass of electrically detonated M18 “claymore” mines spat out their steel balls, and hundreds of projectiles from each mine blasted the outer perimeter wire of the FOB, quickly followed by the combined gunfire of the barge mounted howitzer batteries which had joined in with a devastating salvo of shells. The shells whimpered over our heads before thudding into the packed ranks, spraying out high explosive driven shrapnel, and I could almost feel the anguish and agony of charlies dying and wounded.

Regardless of the shelling, the Viet Congs attack, although severely damaged, was by no means ruined as they had not been discouraged by their troop losses. Communist bugles blew, and charlies reserves raced in to fill the gaps left by the ravaging small-arms fire, AP mines, and the first howitzer rounds. A pointless, terrible waste of lives, but no less magnificent in bravery. However, as the battle advantage always lies with a defender such ambitious attacks using low numbers could only result in slaughter for those attacking a heavily defended FOB.

Along with the early afternoon came the final roar of the guns, and so close was the exploding shells that showers of dirt and stones cascaded over the trenches, but we had managed to achieve the trench warfare tactical rule of keeping an enemy beyond their grenade throwing reach.

With charlies officers and NCO cadre finally realizing the attack was heading for a complete disastrous result it finally tottered to its end, leaving well over half of their peasant-soldiers dead, discarded corpses among the other ugly war garbage littering a narrow area of bloodstained ground. Some as they fell had caught their clothes on the razor and barbed wire, and hung there with arms thrown wide as if begging for deliverance from their terrible ordeal.

Still under murderous fire, the survivors, most likely shocked and dazed, turned and ran, somehow managing to get back over the lake in what was left of their sampan fleet and in the jungle, having achieved nothing.

Then following our SOP, standard operating procedure, for enemy dead we stripped them of clothing, weapons and gear before they were “pit” buried, meaning that all of those half starved cadavers went into one hole.

Our wounded and dead , along with VC prisoners, some of whom were wounded but still going for interrogation, were taken out by a flight of UH-1Slicks. Sadly, during the Vietnam war, a sound of beating helicopter rotors after an action became synonymous with losses and casualties, just as those heard before and during an action meant carnage and destruction.

The general belief that the Viet Cong guerrilla only wore a “uniform” of pajama style black silk and “Chi-Com”, Chinese Communist, equipment, like some sort of AK47 rifle toting ninja assassin is wrong headed. Other than rural recruits and infiltration units, their real fighting attire was much more a mix of civilian, north and south Vietnamese, French , and ever our, uniforms, weapons and web gear. In essence anything they could possibly lay their hands.

That "pot puree mix" could at times be a little unnerving, for occasionaly a line of Japanese WW2 helmets would be spotted on the move in the jungle, and even more surreal the distinctive shape of German “coal scuttle” helmets of the same vintage.Therefore, it meant that the piles of clothing and gear collected for the standard ”Body Count” confirmation took on the look of discarded rags and scrap metal, rather than proper uniforms and equipment issued to members of a regular army.

Interestingly, a couple of sentries later reported they had noticed a vast hush had fallen over the lake and the jungle beyond prior to the assault starting, a phenomenon I had come across before, sometimes just before the start, or shortly after a firefight. Never the less, that action was only the first of many such failed attacks on the FOB over the years of its existence, as if each one that followed was to avenge the loses of the previous one.

However, it was not those attacks which finally removed the FOB and it’s defenders from the island, it was President Nixon's Vietnamization policy that eventually completed the task without need for any ongoing actions by charlie. An added but unplanned advantage of the policy was that it let nature reclaim the little lake and its islands.

Within the Marine Corps it was known that many grunts believed what they were doing in Vietnam might change the world, and indeed it did, but hardly in the way they thought it would. Unfortunately, as things transpired, what they were doing in Vietnam changed them far more than it ever changed the world.

 

 


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