5/03/2014 5:45pm, #1
Question about the tactics used in the Vietnam War
Some background music by The Doors for this post:
So, I recently read another Vietnam War memoir, "Time Heals No Wounds" by Jack Leninger: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Heals-Wou.../dp/0804109168
The book concerns Leninger's experiences as a line infantryman in the Central Highlands around 1969. His memoir was special because to a greater extent than other authors he described resupply problems, poor leadership (Lieutenants arriving fresh from training with apparently zero grasp on reality yet haphazardly striving to make contact with the enemy all the time for career reasons), and the fact that many of the missions seemed to have been compromised before they started and what were supposed to be ambushes of North Vietnamese forces became ambushes of US forces instead; Leninger dwells on this particular point in the final chapter of his book. Moreso than any other memoirs I've read, Leninger's book makes Vietnam sound like on the US side no one was really at the wheel.
This is in contrast to the innovation and forward thinking which is described when you read memoirs from people who were engaged in LRRPs and special operations. It seems like there was a night and day cultural difference between these two groups.
Anyway, there were a few tactics I read about in Leninger's book that make so little sense to me that I feel like I need to ask for help understanding them on the forum. Are they as divorced from reality as the impression that I'm getting, or am I missing something? As someone with no military experience, I want to make sure I'm not just completely misunderstanding the whole thing.
1.) One recurrent activity was a platoon going out on "ambush". This is to say that the platoon would go out with the idea that they would be able to ambush a North Vietnamese force. However, since the platoons were often proceeding through very dense jungle, and needed to use machetes to cut their way through the vegetation, they must have been making a huge amount of noise.
I've been doing some experiments locally in a jungle and I am finding that as an individual walking through bushes or plants can be very noisy and create noises that are very at odds with how the jungle normally sounds. That's just me without a lot of gear.
So how could a platoon of infantrymen walking in formation and essentially chopping their way through virgin forest ambush anyone? Is there something I'm missing here?
2.) When traveling through the jungle, US infantry seemed to travel with groups of flankers traveling on the side of the main body. There were instances where the main body had to wait because the flankers had gotten snarled in some particularly dense vegetation.
I understand the concept of suppressing and flanking, but in the context of this jungle forest, where everyone was chopping their way through dense jungle, the execution of the concept seemed very strange when I read about it.
How can the flankers really flank if they basically have to move slowly and chop their way through forest? Are flanking parties who move really slowly and make a lot of noise tactically viable?
I'm not saying I know what would have been better, but it seemed like use of a tactic that might have worked in Europe with more open terrain, but which was pretty much neutralized by the terrain that Leninger described in his book.
3.) A third part of the tactics described by Leninger is the use of blocking parties. A platoon might be assigned as a blocking force and the idea was that some other platoons would go and beat the bushes and cause the NVA to flee into the blocking party's kill zone so they could be shot to pieces.
The concept seemed to rest on the idea that the NVA would run away or be overpowered by the beater platoons and that they would flee in fairly predictable routes right into a kill zone.
But naturally this never seemed to work as smoothly as planned. As people who read Vietnam War history know, the NVA used dispersed formations when they expected contact in the woods and one of their typical contacts was to flee in a manner designed to draw US forces in. You could say that their groups were less densely packed than the US groups. The NVA weren't particularly known for losing it and running away haphazardly as a unit in a manner that could easily lead them into a trap. Their dispersed formation was firstly to reduce the effectiveness of artillery and airstrikes, but secondly was kind of a matrix or net to let you draw the enemy in if they want to chase one of the groups. Which is exactly what a "beater" group would do if their goal was to try and drive the enemy into a blocking group.
(Incidentally I read in another book that NVA trained for like a year before being deployed; they were very well trained and disciplined.)
It just seems like the NVA tactics were designed to exactly counteract the US tactics that Leningen described. And since there was a constant parade of new lieutenants on one year rotations, this created a situation on the US side where the leadership literally never learned and kept trying the same compromised textbook tactics over and over.
Anyway, I don't want to extrapolate all this stuff like some kind of armchair general. What I'm really hoping here is that someone with a little bit of practical knowledge can comment on this and help me figure out if I'm thinking along the right lines, or if I'm off base. I really appreciate any help. The Vietnam War is one of my favorite subjects and it's important to me to have a realistic and nuanced understanding of Vietnam.Best Vietnam War music video I've ever seen put together by a vet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDY8raKsdfg
5/03/2014 6:56pm, #2
- Join Date
- Aug 2006
I cannot remember the source, which undermines the comment somewhat, nevertheless, I have read a remark about the differences between American take on jungle warfare and the Australian encountering the dense foliage. It stated that the Australians were frustrating to work with as the worked very slowly to reduce noise. The Australians felt that the Americans would often use the tracks or make too much noise and thus fall into ambushes...given it was an Australian source it may be biased but the Australians did have a lot of prior experience from WWII in png and borneo and later in Malaya. I know the Americans would have also surely encountered jungle before against the Japanese. Both militaries probably had different approaches possibly due to resources etc
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5/05/2014 4:33pm, #3
Well, the US expected to win and had the experience of winning as an integral part of their mindset. Moreover, the US had the means and the money. Technically, astonishing weapons systems with sophisticated range and Naval, Air, Infantry, Armour, Artillery, Comms, Re-Supply and more. How could they not win?
It's not just about Tactics: you are articulating Small systems and neglecting Strategy. In other words, the overarching Plan.
Rather than get bogged down in the weeds (no pun intended), consider a few books:
Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall
The Quiet American by Graham Greene.
These frame the French experience with clear analogies for the subsequent US involvement.
Vietnam Incorporated by Philip Jones Griffiths. A photographic essay. Stunning work.
Despatches by Mchael Herr. A classic (rightly) and it alludes to much knowledge.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Another Classic and only of recent publication. This is essential reading and worth it.
Remember, US Forces won every engagement but still lost the war. They were always free to leave, the vietnamese, less so. Consider the casualties sustained by the Vietnamese c.2million. Consider "Apocalypse Now" (stunning film) and the comment by Col Kilgore when attacking the vietnamese village, 'that sure put the red skid up her ass. These people never give up'. Meditate on that.
Hope it helps.
5/06/2014 9:43am, #4
- Join Date
- Mar 2006
Regarding the ambush question - obiously the larger the group, the harder it is to move quietly. I've been on movements in the jungle with a company sized force. There's nothing quiet about it. A platoon sized force, on the other hand can move through the jungle pretty quietly, depending on the thickness of the vegetation, ground moisture, etc. If you're hacking your way through the jungle with machetes you're going to make a huge racket.
The ambush concept relies on proper intelligence. The idea is to get to where you expect enemy contact before you expect the enemy to arrive. Once you're in position nobody makes a sound and you have the advantage. If you get ambushed on the way to your destination, then the enemy's intelligence was better than yours. Or you just have bad fucking luck.
5/06/2014 9:44am, #5
- Join Date
- Mar 2006
5/11/2014 3:34am, #6
5/31/2014 2:36am, #7"Preparing mentally, the most important thing is, if you aren't doing it for the love of it, then don't do it." - Benny Urquidez
5/31/2014 2:55am, #8
As I've written about previously, I was in 5th and 6th grade, 1961-1963, in Saigon. Then dad (and at least one other officer) told General Maxwell Taylor, chair of the joint chiefs, that we were losing the war so Mac fired him. The Navy was pissed that the Pentagon had removed their top officer so they gave him the flag ship of the amphibious troop carriers out of San Diego and let him know that he'd have another tour or two, but get ready to retire because you pissed off the Pentagon.
So I knew it was bs at a young age and I've hated Mcnamara for that and that he KNEW that his concept of a war of attrition was bs and it took him years to do anything and he let tens of thousands of US soldiers and many more Vietnamese die for no reason.
I worked for a while with a Sr. retired NCO who'd been in Roger's Rangers in WWII and served in Korea. He said that in 1964 a sr NCO came back and told him that it was a bad one and don't go. He retired along with thousands of experienced NCO's. So the word got out and the leaders needed to fight the war got the **** out asap.
In Vietnam the common soldiers served full terms. Officers anxious to get their combat ticket punched served six months and then rotated.
My point is that it was bullshit and it made no sense and was a corrupt policy lead by corrupt politicians and corrupt military leaders. Of course the tactics often made no sense.
A couple good books:
A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
by: Neil Sheehan
About Face/the Odyssey of an American Warrior
David H./ Sherman Hackworth
When Cheney and the neo cons (Bush's puppet masters) fired dozens of brass, including head of Army and Sec of Army, because they spoke truth (land war in Asia because WHY??? Are you fucking nuts?? though most probably put it more politically correct) it was deja vu all over again.
Last edited by patfromlogan; 5/31/2014 3:06am at ."Preparing mentally, the most important thing is, if you aren't doing it for the love of it, then don't do it." - Benny Urquidez
5/31/2014 6:47am, #9
2.) Your post contains no real information on tactics and what points you may have been trying to make are masked by your rant. Please limit future posts in this thread to the topic, which was the execution of jungle warfare in Vietnam."No. Listen to me because I know what I'm talking about here." -- Hannibal
5/31/2014 12:56pm, #10
MacNamara and Westmorland were more interested in profiteering than winning. Winning would mean a pause in cash flow as the war would be over. When your business is war you don't want the wars to ever end.