Hack’s Hardcore Hints #16: Vietnam War 1965

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

In Hack’s Hardcore Hints series, David Galster shares some of his scenario design toolkits for Campaign Series: Vietnam, a work-in-progress tactical platoon-scale wargame.

It’s a pleasure, Campaign Series Wargamers,

The Vietnam War really got into high gear in 1965. The Marines landed, and the US first major air mobile battle occurred at Ia Drang. Other significant battles were Dong Xoai, Gibraltar, and the Michelin Plantation. I’ll cover these here in more detail.

Marines Landed

As Viet Cong activity escalated, US Air Force bases were increasingly being attacked. They needed more protection, which ARVN seemed incapable of providing. On 8 March 1965, 3500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam. This marked the beginning of the American ground war. US public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment.

Marines from Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/9 came ashore at RED Beach 2, northwest of Da Nang. Initially, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade was given responsibility to protect the vital Da Nang Airbase. By the end of 1965, more than 38000 Marines made up the Ill Marine Amphibious Force (Ill MAF) under Major General Lewis W. Walt. They would ultimately serve in the Quang Tri Province near the DMZ.

Dong Xoai

The Battle of Dong Xoai  was part of the Viet Cong Summer Offensive of 1965. It was fought in Phuoc Long Province, between 9 -13 June 1965.

The fight began when the VC 272nd Regiment attacked the Civilian Irregular Defense Group, (CIDG) and US Special Forces camp. ARVN General Staff ordered 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, to retake Dong Xoai district.

They arrived 10 June, but were quickly overwhelmed by the VC 271st Regiment near Thuan Loi. Later that day, Dong Xoai was recaptured by the ARVN 52nd Ranger Battalion, which survived an ambush prior to battlefield arrival.

On 11 June, the ARVN 7th Airborne Battalion arrived. While searching for 1st Battalion survivors in the Thuan Loi rubber plantation, South Vietnamese paratroopers were defeated in a deadly ambush.

On June 13, US Army General William Westmoreland decided to insert elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade into a major battle for the first time, because he feared the Viet Cong could secure a major base area in Phuoc Long Province. By that time, however, the Viet Cong had already withdrawn from the battlefield, and the paratroopers returned to base without a fight.

Campaign Series Vietnam (CSVN) plans to represent this battle with a scenario titled “Battle of Dong Xoai”

Operation Gibraltar

Operation Gibraltar was planned by MACV to clear the area around the 1st Cavalry Division’s base at An Khe. The battle at An Ninh took place from 18–19 September 1965 between elements of the NVA 94th and 95th Battalions, 2nd Regiment, 3rd Division, and the US 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment and ARVN Rangers. CSVN plans to represent this battle with a scenario, “Operation Gibraltar.”

After preliminary airstrikes, the first wave of helicopters dropped the 2-502 Inf and a company of ARVN Rangers at 0700, in a landing zone near the village of An Ninh, 30 km east of An Khe.

Unknown to US/ARVN forces, they had landed in the middle of a NVA training base.

When the second wave of helicopters arrived, NVA began intense fire, forcing Lt. Col. W.K.G. Smith to wave off the second wave without dropping the soldiers.

Lack of artillery posed dire difficulties for the American defenders. Air support was initially unavailable, but shortly after 0900, F-100 fighter-bombers joined the battle, with 50 sorties by dusk. Close enemy contact caused two friendly fire casualties. Continuous efforts to reinforce the besieged troops and evacuate wounded involved 26 helicopters.

In the afternoon, a relief force was transported to a landing zone near the battle. But before they could regroup and start to advance, night fell, and they had to stop.

It was the first serious firefight between regular forces of the U.S. Army and the NVA. The battle was covered by CBS News reporter John Laurence who interviewed the brigade commander, Colonel James Timothy, and paratroopers who had been in the fight. “It was a nightmare,” a private said. “Nobody slept all night.” A sergeant said, “I spent three years in Korea and never saw nothing like this.”

The NVA retreated overnight. When the relief force arrived, the battle was over.

The outcome was interpreted in different ways. General Westmoreland hailed it as a great victory. Others, such as David Hackworth and Maj. J.C.W. Dyke of the 101st Airborne Division considered the battle a tactical and strategic disaster. Dyke regarded the operation as a failure, because the landing zone was in the middle of a NVA training camp. Hackworth commenting that “the VC saved the day by walking away.”

Ia Drang

This was the first major airmobile operation of the Vietnam War. Helicopters gave the Americans much greater mobility and additional firepower. However, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap gained confidence at Ia Drang. Their peasant soldiers withstood the high-tech firestorm thrown at them by a superpower, and fought the Americans to a draw.

The Campaign Series Vietnam game plans to simulate Ia Drang by eight scenarios, titled “Ia Drang Campaign 01 through 08.”

The story begins in the Pleiku Province in November 1965 when 1st Brigade flew to the aid of the besieged ARVN base at Plei Me. They chased NVA 33rd and 320th Regiments as they retreated back to their bases on the Chu Pong Massif. The fighting consisted of a series of air assaults ranging from patrol to battalion strength as the brigade attempted to locate and attack retreating troops. After three weeks of heavy fighting, the 1st Brigade was rested, and the Garry Owen’s took over the pursuit in Operation Silver Bayonet. After several days of searching, it appeared that the Vietnamese forces had gotten away.

A lead suggesting that there were NVA around the Chu Pong Massif, 22 km southwest of Plei Me. A  reconnaissance-in-force mission was ordered, and assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore. He selected a landing zone codenamed LZ X-ray northeast of the Chu Pong Massif.

Soon after landing, Moore learned from a prisoner that he had found what he was looking for.

His battalion was landing right in front of the NVA 66th Regiment. By mid-afternoon, his battalion landed, but was already heavily engaged by elements of two Vietnamese battalions. B Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was sent in to reinforce them.

The next morning, North Vietnamese attacks intensified as the remainder of the second battalion was committed. About to be overrun, Moore requested help from every aircraft available. This additional firepower turned the tide. Later that morning the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry arrived having marched cross-country from LZ Victor. The afternoon, night and next morning saw further attacks by the NVA regiment, but the Cavalry’s perimeter held.

On the afternoon of the second day the exhausted troopers of the 1st Battalion were withdrawn with the rest of 2nd Battalion taking their place. After a relatively quiet night the Cavalry marched out of LZ X‑ray to be picked up from LZ Columbus and LZ Albany.

The 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry reached LZ Columbus safely, but the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry ran into the Vietnamese 66th Regiment’s third battalion. The battle raged all afternoon with both sides suffering heavily. The next day LZ Columbus was attacked by fire, but the Vietnamese were driven off by air attacks.

For the US Army, Ia Drang proved the concept of airmobile infantry warfare. Some feared helicopters were too flimsy and fragile to fly into hot landing zones. They were not. All 16 Hueys dedicated to lifting and supporting Colonel Moore’s besieged force in X-ray were shot full of holes, but only two were unable to fly out on their own. The rest brought in ammunition, grenades, water and medical supplies, and took out the American wounded in scores of sorties. Without them, the battles like Ia Drang could never have taken place. Thus, the Huey became the most familiar icon of the war.

Lt. Col. Nguyen Hu An, The PAVN commander figured out one other way to neutralize the American artillery and air power. It was called “Hug Them by the Belt Buckle,” or get in so close to US troops that their firepower could not be used, for fear of killing and wounding their own. “Then,” said An, “the fight would be man-to-man and much better odds.”

General Giap later said, “We thought that the Americans must have a strategy. We did. We had a strategy of people’s war. You had tactics, and it takes very decisive tactics to win a strategic victory….If we could defeat your tactics, your  helicopters, then we could defeat your strategy. Our goal was to win the war.”

Michelin Rubber Plantation

Also known as the Battle of Ap Nha Mat, it was a US Army operation that took place in the Michelin Rubber Plantation, lasting from 1 to 6 December 1965. The Michelin Rubber Plantation was located near Dau Tieng District in Bình Doung Province, 72 km northwest of Saigon.

The CSVN plans to represent this battle with “Battle of Michelin Rubber Plantation (Ap Nha Mat).”

On 27 November 1965 ARVN 7th Regiment, 5th Division was operating in the Michelin Rubber Plantation, and was overrun by the VC 271st and 273rd Regiments, killing most of the Regiment, (possibly up to 500 soldiers,) and its 5 US advisers.

Maj Gen Seaman ordered Col. William Brodbeck’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division to rescue the shattered 7th Regiment. Several days later, intelligence was received that the VC Phu Loi Battalion and the 272nd Regiment were operating in the area. The mission was changed to hunting and engaging those units. Viet Cong forces prepared an ambush for the incoming US forces. Initially codenamed Operation Bloodhound, but was revised to Bushmaster II.

The 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (2-2 Inf) landed at LZ Dallas inside the Michelin Rubber Plantation. LZ Dallas was the operation command post. From 2–5 December, US troops searched in the VC base area known Long Nguyen Secret Zone.

On 5 December, 2-2 Inf assaulted a VC base complex, and were met by heavy fire from entrenched VC forces. An American attempt to outflank the VC position was repulsed, and the VC force then attempted to outflank and press the Americans who retreated into a defensive perimeter.

Lt.Col. Shuffer, 2-2 Inf commander, called for air and artillery support. 8th Battalion, 6th Artillery Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 32nd Artillery Regiment provided fire support on the southwestern perimeter, while air strikes were conducted on the east, and helicopter gunships strikes on the north.

VC attempted to negate this firepower by “hugging” the American positions, but were forced back by small arms fire. The barrage continued for over 4 hours allowing the 2-2 Inf to secure their position, and to allow Companies A and C to move south behind a creeping barrage to overrun the VC bunkers.

18 aerial sorties added to the artillery barrage prompted the VC to withdraw. By 1430, the VC begun withdrawing, leaving behind their dead and wounded. Lt.Col. Shuffer decided not to pursue the retreating VC, fearing ambush, and withdrew into a night perimeter.

The 2-2 Inf spent the next few days policing the battlefield, and destroying bunkers. Operation Bushmaster II ended on 6 December.


U.S. Marines in Vietnam 1965, Jack Shulimson and Major Charles M. Johnson, USMC

Battle of Dong Xoai, Wikipedia

Battle of An Ninh, Wikipedia

Battle of Ia Drang, Wikipedia

Ia Drang – The Battle That Convinced Ho Chi Minh He Could Win, Joseph Galloway

Operation Bushmaster II, Wikipedia

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

Hack’s Hardcore Hints #15: Vietnam War 1964

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

In Hack’s Hardcore Hints series, David Galster shares some of his scenario design toolkits for Campaign Series: Vietnam, a work-in-progress tactical platoon-scale wargame.

It’s a pleasure, Campaign Series Wargamers,

The political turmoil described in the previous article emboldened the Viet Cong. Their activities increased in the Mekong Delta in early 1964. Two notable battles were Thanh-Phu Island and Mo Cay. Later that year, attacks increased around Saigon, culminating with the epic battle, Binh Gia.

Thanh-Phu Island

On January 17, 1964, a US Army helicopter UH-1B was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing the helicopter to explode in flight and crash. Four crewmen were killed. This occurred on a mission supporting ARVN operations on Thanh Phu Island in Kien Hoa Province.

In previous days, VC 303 Battalion infiltrated the island, and set up ambushes. ARVN forces including the  8th Parachute Battalion, 2nd Marine Battalion, and a Ranger Task Force responded, and were able to regain the lost villages, while sustaining high losses. They tried to trap the Viet Cong, but most of the 303 Battalion escaped.

This action is represented in Campaign Series Vietnam by a scenario, Battle of Thanh-Phu Island.

CSVN Screenshot of Thanh-Phu Island

CSVN Screenshot of Thanh-Phu Island

Mo Cay

An ARVN Civil Guard unit was attacked by VC company 8 km north of Mo-Cay, on 9 April, 1964.  A truck-borne  ARVN relief battalion was ambushed by the VC D507 Battalion on three sides. During the ambush, another VC battalion, D307 attacked the Mo Cay garrison. The ARVN defenders held long enough for helicopter reinforcements. The CSVN scenario is  “From Bad to Worse.”

This action was in the Kien Hoa Province. A common VC tactic was attacks on Civil Guard posts to capture their supplies and weapons. When these outposts were attacked, ARVN would attempt to rescue the garrison and engage any Viet Cong in the area. Ambushes of relief columns were  becoming commonplace. With VNAF air support, they could be beaten off.

But, on the morning of 9 April, the VC attack appeared as typical, but the Viet Cong had additional  surprises in store. It took the ARVN 10th and 11th Regiments, Mo Cay Regional Force companies, and a US Aviation battalion to eventually recapture Mo Cay. ARVN losses were quite heavy.

Mekong Delta Area showing Mo Cay location

Mekong Delta Area showing Mo Cay location

Binh Gia

Battle of Binh Gia was the first “set-piece” battle in which the Viet Cong severely mauled ARVN units.

This is represented in Campaign Series Vietnam by the scenarios  Battle of Binh Gia #1 , #2, #3 and #4. In December 1964, ARVN suffered heavy losses in a battle that both sides viewed as a watershed. Previously, Communist forces used only hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, however at Binh Gia, they had defeated a strong ARVN force in a conventional battle.

In the second half of 1964, the Viet Cong commenced a series of large-scale military operations, as ordered by the North Vietnamese. The area was in the III Corps Tactical Zone, around Saigon.

Following these initial stages, an offensive was planned in the Long Khanh region, with Bình Gia as the next target. It was a small village in Phuoc Tuy Province, 67 kilometres southeast of  Saigon.

In early December, the Viet Cong 272nd Regiment set up roadblocks on Inter-provincial Road No. 2 and 15. They ambushed and destroyed an ARVN mechanised rifle company. A few days later, they destroyed six armored vehicles on Road 15.

In late December, the 271st Regiment penetrated the Bình Gia eastern perimeter, and attacked the South Vietnamese Popular Force militiamen, which numbered about 65 personnel. The militia fighters were overwhelmed, and quickly retreated into underground bunkers, and called for help.

After securing the village, the Viet Cong set up a command post in the church. They were reinforced with heavy mortars, machine guns and recoilless rifles. To counter ARVN helicopter assaults, the VC set up defensive fortifications, including trenches and bunkers ringed by land mines and barbed wire.

On 29 December, the ARVN 33rd Ranger Battalion and a company from 30th Ranger Battalion were brought in with an airmobile operation using helicopters. They were airlifted into area located west of Bình Gia. They faced an enemy force of unknown size.

CSVN Map of Bihn Gia area

CSVN Map of Bihn Gia area

Upon arrival in the landing zone, ARVN troops were quickly overwhelmed by Viet Cong in a deadly ambush. The entire 30th Ranger Battalion was then committed to join the attack, but they failed to penetrate strong defenses. Several more Ranger companies arrived, but were unable to break through Viet Cong defenses.

The 38th Ranger Battalion landed unopposed, and immediately advanced on Bình Gia from the south. They spent the whole day fighting, but could not break through the defences.

The 4th ARVN Marine Battalion moved out from Bien Hoa Air Base, and arrived on the outskirts of Binh Gia. They marched towards the Catholic church to relieve the besieged Rangers. About one and a half hours later, the 4th Marine Battalion linked up with the 30th, 33rd and 38th Ranger Battalions, and the Viet Cong began withdrawing to the northeast.

However, in the evening 30 December, the Viet Cong returned to Bình Gia, and attacked from the southeast. The South Vietnamese were able to repel the Viet Cong, with support from US Army helicopter gunships from Vung Tau airbase.

While pursuing the Viet Cong, a helicopter gunship from the US 68th Assault Helicopter Company was shot down and crashed in the Quang Giao rubber plantation, about four kilometres southeast of Bình Gia. Four crewmen were killed.

The 2/4th Marine company went out to the Quang Giao rubber plantation to recover the bodies. But VC opened fire and the Marine company had to pull back. The entire 4th Marine Battalion was then ordered to confront the enemy. They were met with artillery fire and human wave attacks. They had to fight with bayonets fixed to escape.

The next day, the 4th Marines returned to the crash site, and recovered the bodies. A US helicopter took the bodies of the Americans, and left. The Marines waited for helicopters to arrive to carry their casualties out. But none came, and they began retreating on foot.

Suddenly, they were attacked by three Viet Cong battalions, with artillery support. 4th Marine Battalion’s commanding and executive officers were immediately killed. Air support was not available. Two Marine companies fought their way out of the ambush, and back to Bình Gia, but the third was overrun and almost completely wiped out. The fourth company desperately held out at a hilltop against Viet Cong artillery barrages and large infantry charges, before slipping out through the enemy positions at dawn. The 4th Marine Battalion of 426 men lost a total of 117 soldiers killed, 71 wounded and 13 missing.

The Viet Cong suffered only light casualties, and did not leave a single casualty on the battlefield. In recognition of the 271st Regiment’s performance during the Bình Gia campaign, their high Command awarded the title ‘Bình Gia Regiment’ to honour the achievement.


The Binh Gia Front, Tran Ngoc Toan

Street Without Joy, pp 359, Bernard Fall

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

Hack’s Hardcore Hints #14: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

In Hack’s Hardcore Hints series, David Galster shares some of his scenario design toolkits for Campaign Series: Vietnam, a work-in-progress tactical platoon-scale wargame.

It’s a pleasure, Campaign Series Wargamers,

The year of 1964 came on the heels of a very tumultuous time in Vietnam. As we will see, the US and South Vietnamese faced many critical political and military challenges.

Ngo Dinh Diem Coup and Kennedy Assassination

The brutal coup and murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was shocking enough, but the assassination of US President Kennedy magnified the situation tremendously.  These events brought in a new Vietnam war era, with much chaos.

South Vietnamese generals planned a two-tiered government structure with a military committee presided by General General Duong Van Minh. They oversaw a mostly civilian cabinet,  with Nguyen Ngọc Tho as prime minister. (Former Vice President under Diem.) US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge met with Minh, and made some requests regarding treatment of the Diem and Nhu families. Lodge believed US aid should be increased to indicate support for the new government. However, US officials had concerns about the how deeply the military council intended to involve itself in running the country rather than Prime Minister Tho. This was not resolved and contributed to another coup in January 1964.

Lodge later met with the new US President Johnson and cabinet members at the November 20 Honolulu Conference, and wrote NSAM 273. (National Security Action Memorandum)

President Johnson Inherits Vietnam War

Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), as he took over the presidency after the death of Kennedy, initially did not consider Vietnam a priority, and was more concerned with “Great Society” social programs.

But, as he became more involved with discussions about the situation, Johnson gained a greater commitment to fighting the war. NSAM 273 directed the concentration of US and Vietnamese military, political, economic, and social efforts to improve the counterinsurgency campaign in the Mekong Delta. It directed economic and military aid be maintained at the same levels as during Diem’s rule. And in conclusion, plans were requested for clandestine operations by South Vietnam against the North, and also for operations up to 50 kilometers into Laos. The State Department was directed to develop a strong, documented case “to demonstrate to the world the degree to which the Viet Cong is controlled, sustained and supplied from Hanoi, through Laos and other channels.”

On 24 November 1963, Johnson said, “The battle against communism… must be joined… with strength and determination.” The pledge came at a time when the situation in South Vietnam was deteriorating, especially in places like the Mekong Delta, because of the recent coup against Diem.

 January 1964 Coup

The new South Vietnamese government was weak, and failed to set firm national policies, and issue detailed instructions. At lower levels, it was in complete turmoil because of the turnover of personnel following the coup, and lack of firm leadership.

The military revolutionary council, meeting in lieu of a strong South Vietnamese leader, was made up of 12 members headed by General Minh—whom Stanley Karnow, a journalist on the ground, later recalled as “. . . a model of lethargy.” Lodge, frustrated by the end of the year, cabled home about Minh: “Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?”

On the internal political front, 1964 began with increasing criticism of the Minh government by accusations of discrimination from both Buddhists and Catholics. Buddhists attacked Prime Minister Tho. Catholics accused the Minh government of having gone too far to placate the Buddhists in reaction to Diem repressions.

General Minh also was reluctant on US advisor involvement. He stressed the undesirability of Americans going into districts and villages. He feared it would play into the hands of the VC, and make Vietnamese officials look like lackeys. There would be a colonial flavor to the pacification effort.

Although Lodge tried to reassure General Minh, and worked to resolve issues with American advisors, political tensions increased. Then on 28 January 1964, General Nguyen Khanh informed Lodge that Minh was plotting with the French to stage a “pro-neutralist” coup. Ostensibly, this would end US involvement in South Vietnamese affairs. Khanh asked whether the US would support a counter-coup. There is no record of US reply. On 30 January, General Khanh took over.

Khanh wanted to try four Generals, including Minh, for conspiring with the French, and this intrigue continued into September 1964. Ultimately, the government made the cabinet more representative of all political and religious groups, and included 17 generals and 32 other officers. As a concession to US conciliation requests, General Minh travelled around the country, and reportedly gained public confidence.

Khanh’s government was receptive to top-level US advice and advisors at lower levels. The US was encouraged by the performance of the Khanh government, which was highly responsive to US advice, and had a grasp of elements needed to fight the Viet Cong. For the time being, the US was content to work with the Khanh government.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

On 2 August 1964, the USS Maddox, (DD-731) on an intelligence DESOTO patrol along North Vietnam’s coast, fired upon and damaged several torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin. A second attack was reported two days later on the USS Turner Joy (DD-951) in the same area. The circumstances of the attack were murky, and there was US confusion about what really happened. Lyndon Johnson commented to Under Secretary of State George Ball that “those sailors out there may have been shooting at flying fish.”  However, the USS Maddox did fire on three North Vietnamese torpedo boats with its 5-inch guns, severely damaging them.

The second attack led to retaliatory air strikes, prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, signed by Johnson, and gave the president power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. Although Congressmen at the time denied that this was a full-scale war declaration, the Tonkin Resolution allowed the president unilateral power to launch a full-scale war if the president deemed necessary.


From a strength of approximately 5000 at the start of 1959 the Viet Cong’s ranks grew to about 100000 at the end of 1964. Between 1961 and 1964 the Army’s strength rose from about 850000 to nearly a million men. The numbers for US troops deployed to Vietnam during the same period were quite different; 2000 in 1961, rising rapidly to 16500 in 1964. By early 1965, 7559 South Vietnamese hamlets had been destroyed by the Viet Cong.

The National Security Council recommended a three-stage escalation of the bombing of North Vietnam, on 2 March 1965. This followed an attack on a US Marine barracks at Pleiku, and as a result, Operation Flaming Dart, Operation Rolling Thunder, and Operation Arc Light commenced.

After several attacks upon them, it was decided that US Air Force bases needed more protection as the South Vietnamese military seemed incapable of providing security. On 8 March 1965, 3500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam. This marked the beginning of the American ground war. US public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment. The Marines’ initial assignment was defensive. The first deployment of 3500 in March 1965 was increased to nearly 200000 by December.

The US military had long been schooled in offensive warfare. Regardless of political policies, US commanders were institutionally and psychologically unsuited to a defensive mission.

Increased Viet Cong Attacks

Turmoil in the South Vietnamese government only encouraged greater Communist aggression. Viet Cong attacks against ARVN occurred at Thanh-Phu Island, Mo Cay, and Binh Gia in 1964. Particularly in the case of Binh Gia, ARVN forces suffered heavy losses that both sides viewed as a watershed. Previously, Communist forces only employed hit-and-run “guerrilla” tactics. However, at Binh Gia, they defeated a strong ARVN force in a conventional battle. More information will be provided on these battles in the next article.


The Pentagon Papers Vol. II

Vietnam War, Wikipedia

USS Maddox (DD-731), Wikipedia

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

Hack’s Hardcore Hints #13: Vietnam War 1964-67 Overview

mpaign Series Vietnam | Hack's Hardcore Hints

In Hack’s Hardcore Hints series, David Galster shares some of his scenario design toolkits for Campaign Series: Vietnam, a work-in-progress tactical platoon-scale wargame.

It’s a pleasure, Campaign Series Wargamers,

This is the first article  of a new six-part series, Vietnam War 1964-1967. It is an overview of political and military events, and describes major themes and issues shaping course of the war. Each subsequent article summarizes the main battles and events of that year. This is intended to give a closer look at actual battles, operations, and campaigns, and serves as a historical background guide for the new Campaign Series: Vietnam game.


The 1963 coup that overthrew President Ngo Dinh Diem, and the assassination of President Kennedy marked the end of the early era of the Vietnam War. In 1964, the war escalated, and by 1967 was a large scale conventional war.

Sometimes, this war is called the “Second Indochina War.” For the North Vietnamese, it was called the “American Resistance War.” For our purposes, it is referred to simply as the “Vietnam War.”

In the early days of 1964, the South Vietnamese government was in turmoil and had interim leadership of military generals. Later, President Thieu would provide some political stability. As for the Americans, President Johnson was office during this entire period.

The escalation in this period can be illustrated by US troop strength. In 1964, there were about 16000 US advisors, and no conventional ground troops. The first ground soldiers were 3500 Marines that landed in March 1965. By the end of 1965, there were 38000. Each year the number of combatant troops increased, and by the end of 1967, 400000 American servicemen were in Vietnam. Major battles in 1967, such as Dak To and Khe Sanh, were omens of the climactic Tet Offensive  in 1968.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

In early 1964, South Vietnam was ran by a military committee presided by General Minh. A second coup in late January put General Nguyen Khanh in charge of a similar arrangement. The January coup highlights the instability of the South Vietnamese government at that time.

The North Vietnamese exploited the instability in the South, and stepped up guerilla attacks, particularly against US airbases. Also the Communist “navy” became more aggressive and provoked an attack by two US destroyers on two NVA torpedo boats. The USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy were involved in what was to become known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” This lead to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, signed by President Johnson. It granted him power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war.

Vietnam War 1964

In early 1964 Viet Cong guerilla activity increased in the Mekong Delta. Two significant battles there were Thanh Phu Island and Mo-Cay. The trend was for more frequent and deadly attacks by the Viet Cong, and more difficulty for ARVN forces to counter them.

The battle of Battle of Binh Gia was the first “set-piece” battle in which the Viet Cong severely mauled ARVN units. This took place late in 1964 in an area southeast of Saigon. It was major action involving two Viet Cong Regiments fighting two ARVN Ranger battalions and a Marine battalion. This was considered a defeat for ARVN forces, although in the end the Viet Cong withdrew. Previously, Communist forces used hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, however at Binh Gia, they had defeated a strong ARVN force in a conventional battle.

Vietnam War 1965

In early 1965 the significant event was the Marine landings at Da Nang. This would form the Ill Marine Amphibious Force (Ill MAF) which was intended to provide security for US airbases.

The Viet Cong began a summer offensive with the battle of Dong Xoai in Phuoc Long Province. A CIDG camp was attacked, and ARVN forces responded, first with an infantry battalion and then an airborne battalion. Both ARVN battalions suffered heavy losses in ambushes. This prompted MACV General Westmoreland to insert elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for the first time. But when the American paratroopers arrived, the VC had already withdrawn.

Another clash between American and NVA troops was Operation Gibraltar. This was a clearing operation at An Ninh near An Khe, the base of the US 1st Cavalry Division. The 2-502 battalion landed right into an NVA training camp and a horrific battle ensued.

The most epic battle of 1965 was Ia Drang. US forces pursued NVA near the Cambodian border in Pleiku province. This was the first large airmobile operation. The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry landed by helicopter right by a large mountain defended by the NVA 66th Regiment. The battle raged for three days, and there were significant casualties on both sides. In the end however, the battle convinced Ho Chi Minh that North Vietnam would win the war.

For the Americans, Ia Drang proved the effectiveness of air mobile operations and helicopters in combat. They brought in ammunition, grenades, water, and medical supplies, and took out the American wounded. Without helicopters, the battles like Ia Drang could never have taken place. Thus, the Huey became the most familiar icon of the war.

Vietnam War 1966

Politically, the cycle of coups ended, and greater stability came to South Vietnam when Nguyen Van Thieu became President, and Nguyen Cao Ky became prime minister. They were strong enough to keep their power and position. The Struggle Movement was put down, and they prevailed in the September elections.

The year 1966 introduced Australian, New Zealand, and South Korean forces into the war. The battle of Hobo Woods was a joint US-Australian military operation, near Cu Chi, in Binh Duong Province. This battle also illustrated the use of tunnels and underground facilities used by the Viet Cong.

Suoi Bong Trang was fought between US, Australian, and New Zealand forces, and the Viet Cong and NVA. This occurred during Operation Rolling Stone, an American security operation to protect engineers building a tactically important road in the vicinity of Tan Binh, in central Binh Duong Province. The Viet Cong suffered heavy casualties, and were forced to withdraw.

Operation Utah was a US Marine Corps and ARVN operation northwest of Quang Ngai. It was an airmobile operation to clear out VC. It was an intense battle with high losses on both sides. Air and artillery support preceded a final Marine assault, but the enemy had slipped away.

The Battle of Long Tan was fought in a rubber plantation near Long Tan, in Phuoc Tuy Province. The NVA 275th Regiment and VC D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion attacked the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) shortly after its deployment. Heavy fighting followed, but Australian reinforcements and artillery support helped them maintain a defensive position. The VC eventually withdrew.

The overall trend in 1966 was for greater attacks by the VC and NVA. The MACV forces were able to defend areas and even make some sweeps. But, the North Vietnamese would not commit large forces “set piece” battles to permanently hold ground.

Vietnam War 1967

The trend in 1967 was increased NVA operations, particularly in border areas. Unknown to MACV at the time, it was intended to draw US and ARVN forces away from populated areas, which would then be attacked during the Tet Offensive the following year. Khe Sanh and Dak To are examples.

Operation Junction City an 82-day operation conducted by II Field Force and ARVN starting in February. The aim was to locate the elusive Communist “headquarters” in Tay Ninh Province. US forces included 1st Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Although the initial operation appeared successful, the VC withdrew into Cambodia. Then, they made a series of attacks to inflict losses and wear down the Americans at Prek Klok, Ap Bau Bang, and Ap Gu. One of these was an attack on a firebase. Each time, the VC would attack, inflict casualties, and then the Americans would respond with air and artillery support. American forces would then search, only to find that the VC had withdrawn.

Khe Sanh was a series of “Hill Fights” between the NVA 325C Division and US Marines in I CTZ. The Marines struggled to gain control of several hills north of the Khe Sanh forward operating  base. With air and artillery support, the Marines eventually captured several important hills there.

In the last half of 1967, NVA forces attacked in the Dak To area of the Central Highlands. This led to Operation Greely. In one engagement, an entire US infantry company was wiped out. This led to a scandal, ultimately leading to the commander and junior officers of two companies being transferred.

The commanding general of 173rd Airborne Brigade also later relinquished his command.

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