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 1967 saw some very intense battles as the NVA increased its 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. While there were many other campaigns during 1967, this article focuses on the border areas, including Tay Ninh Province in more detail.
Operation Junction City
This was an 82-day operation conducted by II Field Force and ARVN starting 22 February 1967. It was the largest US airborne operation since Operation Varsity in March 1945, and the largest airborne operation of the war. It was named after Junction City, Kansas, near Ft. Riley, where General Palmer attended Cavalry School. Palmer commanded II Field Force.
The operation’s aim was to locate the elusive Communist “headquarters,” the Central Office of South Vietnam, (COSVN) in Tay Ninh Province. It was believed to be a large and sophisticated installation, almost a “mini-Pentagon,” complete with typists, file cabinets, and staff comprising layers of bureaucracy. However, Viet Cong archives later revealed it was a small, mobile group of people, often sheltering in ad hoc facilities.
Junction City’s plan was a “hammer and anvil” tactic. Airborne forces would “flush out” the VC headquarters, sending them to retreat against a prepared “anvil” of other forces. US forces included 1st Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11th ACR).
The initial operation positioned 1st and 25th Infantry divisions north of the operational area to build the “anvil.” The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173d Airborne Brigade, parachuted into action west of 1st and 25th Divisions.
At first, operations appeared successful, as objectives were reached without encountering great resistance. On 23 February, the 11th ACR mechanized forces made contact with the infantry “anvil.” But, the VC were highly mobile and elusive, and already moved their headquarters to Cambodia.
The VC launched several attacks to inflict losses and wear down the Americans. On 28 February and 10 March engagements with US forces occurred at the Battles of Prek Klok I and II. US forces, supported by air strikes and artillery repulsed VC attacks. However, the strategic result was disappointing.
Prek Klok I involved the US 1-16 Infantry Battalion being attacked by the NVA 2nd Battalion, 101st Regiment. A few days before the battle, the 1-16 Battalion was brought into the area near Suoi Da and Prek Klok to defend a highway, airfield, and artillery base. They also were assigned search and destroy missions there. On 28 February, elements of 1-16 battalion headed east, and were attacked from the front by NVA infantry with gunfire, rockets and mortars. Soon after, they were attacked from all fronts. However, with air strikes and artillery available, the Americans repelled the attacks.
The Battle of Prek Klok II occurred on 10 March. It involved a VC attack on Artillery Fire Support Patrol Base II, at Prek Klok on Route 4, 20 km north of Nui Ba Den. 2nd Battalion, 33rd Artillery Regiment was stationed there along with the 168th Engineer Battalion. 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (Mechanized) was assigned to defend the firebase.
VC mortar fire began at 2200. Recoilless rifles and RPG-2 anti tank weapons fired at the base perimeter, hitting several M113s. Americans responded with heavy mortar fire, and 2-2 INF (Mech) conducted a reconnaissance a few hundred meters beyond the perimeter.
And then, the VC attacked with two battalions of the 272 Regiment. Several M113 APCs were hit. Moving parallel to the highway along the western side of the road, the VC ran across 500 meters of open ground towards C Company from the southwest. Continuous fire from the Americans quickly overwhelmed the VC. With airstrikes and artillery support, the VC withdrew before dawn.
On 18 March II Field Force launched the second phase of Junction City, this time directly to the east by the mechanized divisions, the 1st Infantry Division and 11th ACR, reinforced this time from the 1st Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division.
The toughest battle was the March 19 Battle of Ap Bau Bang II, where the VC 273rd Regiment vigorously engaged the American armored cavalry, before being forced to retire by massive firepower.
The VC launched two more attacks, on 21 March at Ap Bau Bang, and in Ap Gu on 1 April, against the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions. Both assaults were bloodily repulsed, and the VC 9th Division came out seriously weakened. They retreated to safety in areas adjacent to the Cambodian border.
On 16 April, II Field Force continued operations with a third phase of Operation Junction City. Until 14 May, units of the 25th Infantry Division undertook long and exhausting searches, advancing in the bush, raking villages and retrieving large amounts of materiel. However, there was little contact with Communist units.
CSVN plans scenarios for “Battle of Prek Klok I,” “Battle of Prek Klok II,” and “Second battle of Ap Bau Bang.”
Operation Junction City
Also known as “The Hill Fights,” the First Battle of Khe Sanh was between the NVA 325C Division and US Marines on several hills north of the Khe Sanh Combat Base in I CTZ. On 20 April 1967 operational control of the Khe Sanh area passed to the 3rd Marine Regiment. The 2/3 Battalion was involved in Operation Beacon Star, while the 3/3 Battalion was operated in the hill area northwest of Khe Sanh base.
On 24 April 2nd Platoon, Company B, 3/3 Battalion moved to Hill 700 to establish a mortar position to support another Company. A fireteam of 5 Marines then moved to Hill 861 to establish an observation post, but as they entered a bamboo grove near the summit they were ambushed by NVA killing 4 Marines.
A squad was sent to investigate. They rescued the lone survivor, and attempted to recover the bodies. They were met with fire and withdrew into the mortar position. Another squad moved to the ambush site and recovered two bodies, but as an evacuation helicopter approached the hilltop it was hit by heavy fire.
Company B moved southeast across Hill 861 to cut off the enemy, but were hit by mortar fire. 1st and 3rd Platoons dug in for the night, while 2nd Platoon withdrew to Khe Sanh Combat Base.
The next morning Company B continued its slow advance on Hill 861, hampered by fog, difficult terrain and enemy fire. On the afternoon of 25 April, Company K, 3rd Marines moved towards Hill 861 to support Company B. 1st and 3rd Platoons Company K moved up Hill 861 on different approaches and 1st Platoon was hit by fire from well-entrenched NVA 300m from the summit. 2nd Platoon was sent to reinforce 1st Platoon and fighting continued until nightfall, when the Marines dug in.
At 1800 Company K, 9th Marines was flown into Khe Sanh to support the attack. At 05:00 on 26 April the command post and Khe Sanh Base were hit by mortar and recoilless rifle fire. Company K continued their assault on Hill 861 and were joined by Company K, 9th Marines around midday.
The assault made little progress and the Marines withdrew protected by fire from helicopter gunships.Company B was also heavily engaged throughout the morning, but broke contact at 1200, and established a defensive perimeter. Medevac helicopters were called in, but encountered mortar fire.
By 1445, the Company commander reported that he was unable to move. Artillery was then plotted around the Company’s position forcing the NVA to fall back. Also on 26 April urgent orders to reinforce the 3/3 Marines came, and 2/3 Marines was flown to Phu Bai Combat Base and from there to Khe Sanh linking up with 3/3 Marines by 1600 on 26 April.
On 27 April, 3/3 Marines returned to Khe Sanh for replacements, and Battery B, 12th Marine Regiment arrived at Khe Sanh to support Battery F. Marine artillery and aircraft were used to pound Hill 861 throughout the 27th and 28th, dropping 518700 pounds of bombs and 1800 artillery rounds on the hill.
On the afternoon of 28 April, 2/3 Marines moved up Hill 861 with minimal opposition as the NVA had withdrawn. Marines found 25 bunkers and numerous fortifications.
The next objective was Hill 881S. 3/3 Marines advanced to a hill 750m northeast of Hill 881S. It was to be used as an intermediate position for the attack on Hill 881S. Company M, 9th Marines engaged a NVA platoon, while Company M, 3rd Marines secured the intermediate position and dug in.
On 30 April 2/3 Marines moved from Hill 861 to support 3/3 Marines, and walked into a PAVN bunker complex suffering 9 killed and 43 wounded. They backed off to let artillery and air support hit the bunkers. And then, they overran them.
Company M, 3rd Marines and Company K, 9th Marines began their assault on Hill 881S. They had minimal resistance until 1025 when they were hit by mortar fire and heavy fire from numerous bunkers. The Marines were pinned down, and disengaged after several hours with gunship and air support. The Marines suffered 43 killed and 109 wounded.
Company M, 3rd Marines was replaced by Company F 2/3 Marines, and Company E, 9th Marines was deployed to Khe Sanh on the afternoon of 1 May.
The Marines withdrew from Hill 881S to allow for intense air bombardment. On 2 May Companies K and M, 9th Marines assaulted Hill 881S capturing it with minimal resistance. They discovered over 250 bunkers protected by several layers of logs, covered with 4-5 feet of dirt.
Hill 881N was the last. At 1015, 2 May, Companies E and G, 2/3 Marines assaulted Hill 881N from the southeast. Company G encountered enemy positions, and pulled back to allow for artillery support. Company E almost reached the summit of the hill, but an intense rainstorm forced the Battalion into night defensive positions.
At 0415, 3 May, a NVA force attacked Company E’s night defensive position, penetrating the east of the position and reoccupying some bunkers. A Marine squad sent to drive them out was hit by machine gun fire. Engineers wereMACV sent to support them while air and artillery strikes were called in.
A flareship arrived overhead, and the Marines on Hill 881S saw 200 NVA forming up to attack. Company E fired recoilless rifles to break up this new assault. At dawn, reinforcements were flown in to support Company E while Company H, 2/3 Marines attacked from the rear. The last bunker was cleared at 1500.
At 0850, 5 May Companies E and F, 2/3 Marines began their assault on Hill 881N. Enemy fire increased as they neared the summit, and both companies pulled back to allow air and artillery strikes. The assault resumed at 1300, and by 1445, the hilltop had been captured.
CSVN plans the following scenarios: “Khe Sanh – Fighting for Hills 881N, 881S and 861.” Also a large scenario is planned: “WEEK IN I CORPS” – April 1967 – 7 day long full scenario focusing on US Marines on the DMZ at Khe Sanh.
Prelude to 1968 Tet Offensive
As with the later Battle of Khe Sanh, the NVA strategy remains unclear. Tran Van Tra, commander of the B-2 Front in III Corps stated in a 1990 interview that the intention of the border battles, particularly at Khe Sanh, was to draw US forces into remote border regions away from population centers that would be attacked during the Tet Offensive.
This engagement in summer 1967 preceded a larger battle in November, which had implications for the Tet Offensive the following year. The November battles were known as the Battle of Dak To, and took place in Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands. Dak To was one of a series of PAVN offensives beginning late in 1967. Attacks at Loc Ninh (in Bình Long Province), Song Be (in Phuoc Long Province), and at Con Thien and Khe Sanh, (in Quang Tri Province), were other actions which, combined with Dak To, became known as “the border battles.” The post hoc purported objective of the North Vietnamese forces was to distract American and South Vietnamese forces away from cities towards the borders in preparation for the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Throughout the middle of 1967, western Kon Tum Province became a magnet for several PAVN spoiling attacks. It appeared PAVN was paying an increasing amount of attention to the area.
These heavy enemy contacts prompted General Peers to request reinforcements for his 4th Infantry Division, assigned to Kon Tum Province. On 17 June, two battalions 173rd Airborne Brigade moved into the Dak To area, and began sweeping the jungle-covered mountains in Operation Greeley.
On 20 June, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment found bodies of a Special Forces CIDG unit that had been missing for four days on Hill 1338, a dominant hill south of Dak To.
Supported by Company A, the Americans moved up the hill and set up for the night. At 0658 the following morning, Company A began moving alone on a ridge, and triggered an ambush by the NVA 6th Battalion, 24th Regiment.
Company C was went to support, but heavy jungle and difficult terrain made movement extremely difficult. Artillery support was ineffective due to poor visibility and the “belt-grabbing” – or “hugging” tactics of NVA troops. Company A managed to survive repeated attacks throughout the day and night, but the cost was heavy. Of the original 137 men, 76 were killed and 23 wounded. Company A was virtually wiped out.
US headquarters press releases claimed 475 PAVN had been killed, but Company A estimated only 50–75 enemy KIAs. Such losses among American troops could not go unpunished. The 4th Infantry operations officer went to the extreme of recommending relief of General Deane, 173rd Airborne commander. Such a drastic measure would only provide more grist for what was becoming a public relations fiasco. Ultimately, the commander and junior officers of Company C were transferred to other units.
In response, MACV ordered additional forces into the area. On 23 June, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division arrived to bolster the 173rd. The following day, the elite ARVN 1st Airborne Task Force, and 3rd Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division arrived to conduct search and destroy operations north and northeast of Kon Tum. General Deane sent his forces 20 kilometers west and southwest of Dak To in search of the NVA 24th Regiment. This action became what is known as “The Battle of the Slopes.”
After establishing Fire Support Base 4 on Hill 664, the 4/503rd Airborne Infantry found the NVA K-101D Battalion of the Doc Lap Regiment on 10 July. As the four companies of the battalion neared the crest of Hill 830 they were struck by small arms and machine gun fire. Any advance was impossible, so the paratroopers remained in place for the night. The following morning, the NVA were gone.
NVA pressure against CIDG outposts at Dak Seang and Dak Sek, caused the ARVN 42nd Infantry Regiment to go into the area. The ARVN Airborne battalion moved to Dak Seang. On 4 August, the 1/42nd encountered PAVN on a hilltop west of Dak Seang, setting off a three-day battle that drew in the ARVN Airborne.
The 8th Airborne, along with U.S. Army advisers, was airlifted into a small unimproved air field next to the Special Forces camp at Dak Seang. The camp was under sporadic fire and probing ground attacks. This occurred when the Special Forces commander and a patrol failed to return. The camp received incoming preparatory fire for a full scale ground attack.
Army advisers and the 8th Airborne found the lost Special Forces patrol, all dead, including the camp commander. As 8th Airborne moved up the mountain, lead elements received small arms fire. By noon of 4 August, 8th Airborne and advisers were in a fight that lasted several days.
The unit, aided by air and artillery finally overwhelmed NVA forces. The top of the mountain had a fully operational PAVN Headquarters, complete with hospital facilities and anti-aircraft emplacements. During the three-day battle, the 8th Airborne Battalion alone withstood six separate ground attacks and casualties among all the South Vietnamese units were heavy. By mid-August, contact with NVA forces decreased, leading the Americans to conclude that they had withdrawn across the border.
On 23 August, General Deane turned over command of the 173rd to Brigadier General Leo H. Schweiter. On 17 September, two battalions of the 173rd departed the area to protect the rice harvest in Phu Yen Province. The 2/503rd remained at Dak To along with the 3rd ARVN Airborne Battalion to carry out a sweep of the Toumarong Valley north of Dak To and the suspected location of a NVA regimental headquarters. After three weeks of fruitless searching, the effort was halted on 11 October. Operation Greeley was over.
This battle is planned to be represented by CSVN with two scenarios: “Operation Greely” 22 June, and 10 July. In addition, there is to be a large scenario: “WEEK IN II CORPS” – November 1967 – 7 day long full scenario focusing on 173rd Airborne, 4th infantry and 1st Cavalry in the Central Highlands at Dak To.
Operation Junction City, Wikipedia
The Hill Fights, Wikipedia
Battle of Dak To, Wikipedia