Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Vietnam War was different than any other war America has fought in the way that both sides used guerrilla warfare tactics more than conventional fighting methods. Unlike conventional warfare, where two opposing armies attack each other using infantry, artillery, tanks and planes, guerrilla warfare involves "hit and run" tactics where combat patrols penetrate deep into enemy territory to cause as much damage and havoc behind enemy lines as possible.
To counter the threat of Viet Cong (or "VC") guerrillas--civilians in arms aiding the North Vietnamese Army to expand Communism throughout all of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos--the U.S. Army sent out counter-guerrilla combat teams to seek out and destroy small but fierce bands of Viet Cong as they conducted sabotage raids deep in U.S./South Vietnamese territory.
There were many contributing factors to why guerrilla warfare was so prevalent; for instance, the geography. Vietnam is made up of jungle-covered mountains, with very little roads connecting the scattered villages throughout the countryside. The staple food crop was rice, grown in water-filled paddies, rather than dry solid farm fields like Europe or North America. Because of the extremely rough terrain, moving large armies on massive campaigns was unthinkable; instead, we would send small units to venture out from an established base camp to slowly gain ground or collect information on enemy troop movements. Because of this, Viet Cong patrols were sent out to ambush and clear the area of our patrols to keep the way open to conduct raids of their own, and the American and South Vietnamese armies sent out counter-patrols to counter these, which turned Vietnam into a constant back-and-forth battlefield of hundreds of small but fierce firefights day and night.
Let's now take a look at a U.S. Combat patrol conducting a mission.
A U.S. Combat patrol usually consisted of of 10-15 men; a 9-man squad plus one medic was the most common arrangement. Being a long-range strike force, all the soldiers were heavily armed and only carried the bare necessities or less to reduce weight and to make room for as much ammunition as possible.
The Mission: local villagers have reported a patrol of Viet Cong moving South through the jungle at around 3:30-4:00 a.m. Note that the Viet Cong wear black uniforms and the soldier in front carries a M1 Springfield leftover from World War II.
Later that morning, a U.S. patrol undertakes a final weapon's check before moving out.
Hours later, a U.S. soldier finds fresh footprints. "They can't be more than half an hour old" he says, and the squad leader is notified immediately.
Two men are sent forward to scout out the location of the Vietcong, but not to engage in combat. Before long, the scouts return with news that the VC patrol is heading their way. The squad leader immediately orders everybody to prepare to ambush the oncoming enemy.
Here we see a heavy machine gunner taking position with his M-60 machine gun.
The VC patrol is wary of U.S. or South Vietnamese movements; they are in enemy territory, and take extra precaution to spread out on their return trip in case they were detected. Silently they move through the jungle, keeping their eyes and ears open for signs of the enemy.
The squad commander takes a look for himself at the surrounding area. "We should ambush them here; if a medivac is needed, the clearing to our rear will be perfect for an airlift."
All the soldiers are ready with guns loaded, waiting for the commander's order to fire.
"Corporal, take position behind that bamboo grove. Fire on sight."
The soldiers open fire on the VC patrol with all their firepower; light and heavy machine guns, grenades, and as pictured here a U.S. Soldier fires his grenade launcher, nicked-named "Blooper" by American soldiers for the noise it made when discharging the grenade.
The M-16 automatic rifle was the most commonly used rifle by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War. It is used by the soldier pictured below.
Three hits are scored on the enemy....
...But one U.S. Soldier is wounded in the fighting.
"Man hit! We need a medic over here!"
The medic rushes over, but has only bad news: the injured soldier is in critical condition, and a medivac (medical evacuation helicopter, the ancestor of today's life-flight) is needed.
A medivac is requested by radio, and soon the sound of whirling rotors beating the air comes close. As the fight draws to a close, all the enemy soldiers having been killed, captured, or escaped, the helicopter hovers over the clearing where the medic is signaling for it to land.
The fight is over, and everybody re-loads before returning to the base camp, or "fire base" as they were called.
The patrol returns to the fire base the following night. A patrol could be out in the jungle for days or even sometimes weeks on end, depending on troop strength, supplies, and proximity to friendly bases and villages.