CHAPTER VI

Tactical Refinements And Innovations

As discussed previously, in the spring and summer of 1968 we were looking for ways to bring the enemy to battle on our terms and were willing to try anything within the limits of common sense and sound military judgment. To do this we adapted known tactical techniques to the unique delta environment, resulting in some tactical innovations which proved highly successful. The first of these, involving the use of airmobile assets, was the jitterbug. About the same time, to complement our daytime airmobile activities, we adapted the ground tactical "Bushmaster" and "Checkerboard" techniques. Later when the enemy broke down into smaller units rendering our daytime operations less effective, we turned, of necessity, to nighttime techniques including the "Night Hunter," the "Night Search" and the "Night Raid."

Throughout the period we were perfecting sniper techniques and as a result of their great success, we turned to a "quick kill" method of combat. Subsequently we will discuss each of these tactical innovations. Our discussions of the jitterbug techniques are more detailed to bring out the interplay of intelligence and the great amount of coordination required to achieve tactical success on the Vietnamese battlefield. The discussion also includes examples of the Viet Cong reaction to our new techniques, providing an insight into the requirements for continued analysis of operations if a unit is to stay on top of the situation.

Jitterbugging

The dense population and the broad expanse of inundated flatlands in the Mekong Delta dictated an adaptation of conventional airmobile infantry operations developed elsewhere in Vietnam. Viet Cong units dispersed and blended very effectively with people in the numerous villages and hamlets, greatly complicating reconnaissance difficulties and problems of fire control. Flooded rice paddies severely inhibited our ground mobility. The maze of canals and streams, generally bordered with dense nipa palm growth, presented formidable obstacles, while at the same time affording

[106]


the Viet Cong a convenient network of very strong defense positions.

On the other hand, the open country permitted virtually unrestricted access by airmobile forces. Landing zones were readily available and could be selected to conform to the enemy situation; extensive preparation of an LZ with its inherent loss of surprise was usually unnecessary. Enemy bunker complexes were normally linear, with canals and open rice paddies bordering the long axis. While these obstacles deny approaches in two directions, they also channeled Viet Cong escape from the bunker complex. As a result, it was technically possible to surround a Viet Cong unit by cutting the canal and woodlines leading out of the bunker complex and interdicting the canals and rice paddies by fire and aerial observation.

The environmental characteristics of the delta thus placed a premium on two particular aspects of tactical doctrine: reconnaissance and encirclement. Intensive, rapid reconnaissance in the delta required skilled orchestration of the capabilities of local intelligence, electronic and chemical sensors, air cavalry, and airmobile infantry. This process appeared complex and frenetic to the uninitiated, and hence was aptly nicknamed "Jitterbugging." When most successful it provided an opportunity for airmobile encirclement of a Viet Cong battalion or company. The rapid build-up of combat power to surround and destroy an enemy force was known variously as "piling-on" or establishing a "seal."

Command decisions at every stage of jitterbug and seal operations required a sensitive feel for Viet Cong tactics and patterns and the capabilities of the intelligence system. Therefore, it was vital that commanders at every level immerse themselves in the details of the intelligence process to insure a thorough understanding of enemy movements and pattern of operations.

Brigades generally rotated the assignment of air assets among subordinate battalions. The day before an impending operation the designated battalion had already been alerted to its mission and the assets expected to be available, normally an Assault Helicopter Company and an Air Cavalry Troop. The brigade commander usually withheld his selection of specific targets until the evening before the operation in order to make use of the most recent intelligence. His decisions resulted in instructions assigning five to seven tentative targets with priorities to the assault battalion. Planning at this stage was very flexible, because the targets were frequently changed the following morning on the basis of new intelligence. The brigade staff made arrangements for night visual

[107]


JITTERBUGGING

JITTERBUGGING

JITTERBUGGING

[108]


reconnaissance, Side Looking Airborne Radar, Red Haze (IR), Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol and radar coverage of the target areas that night. Tactical air strikes were planned for the next day on likely targets. If the objective areas were outside existing artillery fans, arrangements were made for movement of firing batteries (either before or during operations) to new fire support bases by air, barge, or overland. Chinook sorties were requested for movement of artillery (CH-54 for 155-mm batteries) and logistic resupply. New Areas of Operation were cleared with the Government of Vietnam and South Vietnamese Army authorities, if necessary. Provision was made for establishing forward aviation fueling and rearming points if needed. Finally, liaison was established with the supporting air cavalry troop and assault helicopter company.

At the battalion base camp, targets were analyzed in conjunction with aerial photos, photomaps, and pictomaps to determine specific areas to be searched by aerial and ground reconnaissance. Detailed information about the area and Viet Cong operations was secured from the District Chief and Tiger Scouts familiar with the locale. The concept of the operation was developed and expanded and orders were issued to the two assault companies (the remainder of the battalion was usually engaged in Checkerboard, Night Ambush, or local security missions). All preparations were completed the night before the operation.

The air cavalry troop "target detection package" was comprised of light observation helicopters (LOH's) , AH-1G's (Cobras) , and Man-packed or Airborne Personnel Detectors (People Sniffers) as well as E-158 -CS Canister Clusters. The People Sniffer and CS canisters were carried in the Command and Control of the Air Cavalry Troop. Once a hot People Sniffer reading was obtained, gas was dropped to assist in verifying the Sniffer reading by flushing the Viet Cong out of hiding. The LOH's attempted to pick up the slightest indication of movement while the Cobras circled above to provide immediately responsive firepower should the Sniffer or LOH's draw fire. Once again, the use of CS gas in a target confirmation role increased the probability of developing a good contact before troops were inserted.

As mentioned previously, the technique of insertion was the key to the success of the jitterbug-and insertions took a great amount of tactical judgment on the part of the commander, in fact it separated the true tactician from the commonplace one. The 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry became quite skilled in jitterbug operations. Usually the jitterbug in conjunction with our intelligence paid off well, resulting in enemy contacts. However, one day the 2d

[109]


Battalion 60th Infantry dry-holed it all day long (most unusual for this hard hitting outfit) and at the end of the day Lieutenant Colonel Jim Lindsay had made 16 insertions on suspected targets, sweeping each target. This was a peak in smooth, rapid operating and the command and control of troops. It gives an indication of the great number of targets in a large area that could be covered by one battalion utilizing airmobile assets. His successor, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Mahaffey, was equally skilled in the use of airmobile assets and refined the operations of the battalion until in Long An Province insertions were made no farther from the target than 100 meters and in some instances as close as 15 meters. This was pushing the balance of the risk of a hot landing zone against the achievement of total surprise to its limit. However, the technique paid off as during the period of a year no lift ships were lost. Over 90 percent of the 2d Battalion 60th Infantry contacts were over within 10 to 30 minutes as a result of the speed of the operation and the aggressive attitude of the troops. On the other hand when a reconnaissance developed a larger enemy force, the battalion was prepared to exploit to the maximum with classic pile-on tactics.

Once a large contact was developed the encirclement phase began with a rapid build-up of combat power or piling-on of all available brigade resources. The aim was to completely encircle or seal the enemy force as rapidly as possible, then destroy it through firepower rather than frontal assault. In this manner we assured ourselves of minimum troop casualties while inflicting tremendous punishment on the enemy.

Artillery fire was registered by the aerial observer, and the company commander employed artillery as necessary to support movement of his elements toward enemy-occupied tree lines and nipa palm groves. The Air Cavalry Troop screened the general area of contact and provided responsive fire support to the battalion commander. As the situation developed, the battalion commander usually moved a second company to a convenient pickup zone and prepared to insert it in a position to cut off enemy escape from the point of contact.

At that time Viet Cong tactics called for delaying action by guerrilla or light security forces to allow the main force to escape before it was engaged. For this reason additional troops were inserted as rapidly as possible after a sizable enemy contact had developed. Flight routes were carefully planned to prevent unnecessary check fires and excessive delays in insertions. If the engagement looked promising, the battalion commander also alerted the base camp to prepare another company for commitment, if possible. If

[110]


the situation was beyond the capability of the battalion, the brigade commander assumed direction of the operation and established the seal with additional brigade units.

The brigade commander had to be fully abreast of time and space factors in controlling the air movement of additional infantry units, the shifting of artillery resources, aircraft refueling and rearming, and logistical support. The ultimate goal of the jitterbug was the entrapment of the Viet Cong. For a large enemy unit this required commitment of most or all of the brigade's resources. The secret to successful encirclement of an engaged enemy force lay in the accurate positioning of sufficient rifle companies to cordon off all routes of escape from the area of contact. A gap of as little as 20 meters in heavy cover would permit the enemy battalion to escape almost as soon as night fell. The premium therefore was in an early decision to commit forces sufficient for encirclement and the rapid accumulation of the means to feed major forces into the area of contact and provide them with a continuous, heavy volume of fire support. Battalion commanders occasionally made conservative estimates of the force confronting them and as a result developed an encirclement that was too small or added reinforcements incrementally at the point of contact. The brigade commander had to be alert to these possibilities and be prepared to take over control of the operation early enough to allow commitment of additional forces in a large seal. That was always a tough decision, for no one wanted to commit two battalions to destroy a small enemy force.

Initially artillery fire was brought to bear as needed by the companies and battalions, to fill in gaps in Air Cavalry and Tactical Air coverage and to seal enemy avenues of escape. Once the ring was tightened by converging infantrymen, fire control was centrally supervised to avoid casualties to friendly troops. Once night fell and if adequate artillery support was available, the Air Cavalry Troop was released (although a division Light Fire Team remained on call) and throughout the night the encircled enemy was pounded with artillery. Canals and rivers were sealed with concertina wire stretched from one bank to the other on a rope. Troops on each bank had to know each other's positions exactly. This was accomplished with small strobe lights. Hand grenades were thrown into streams every five to ten minutes to discourage swimmers from infiltrating through U.S. lines. Rear security was established (normally listening posts only) and the artillery periodically fired on likely avenues of approach outside the ring to prevent reinforcement or attack from Viet Cong units not encircled. CS was

[111]


dropped into the interior of the ring from time to time. After several hours of bombardment during daylight, all fire was halted for five to ten minutes, and Tiger Scouts (or Hoi Chanh's, if any materialized) appealed over airborne and hand-held loudspeakers to the Viet Cong to surrender. Pre-prepared appeals keyed to possible platoon tactical situations, and designed to reach individual Viet Cong soldiers temporarily separated from their superiors were broadcast by hand-held loudspeakers (AN PIQ5A's) . After a brief pause to allow the Viet Cong to "rally" the artillery bombardment would be resumed. This denied enemy commanders the opportunity to maneuver their units away from areas under fire. The possibility always existed that the encircled enemy would attempt to break out through the thin U.S. lines. If the enemy knew how tenuous our "seals" sometimes were they could have broken out easily.

The jitterbug, seal, and pile-on techniques were most effective in the hands of a skillful commander and reasonably effective with the average commander. However, they required an integration of details that was hard to bring off. For example, the People Sniffer had to work well mechanically. This was often a problem with the early sniffer equipment. However, by using two sets simultaneously

TIGER SCOUT PERSUADING THE ENEMY

TIGER SCOUT PERSUADING THE ENEMY

[112]


ON A "SEAL" OPERATION

ON A "SEAL" OPERATION

(which reduced complete outages) , by having a backup reserve pool, and by improving our preventive and regular maintenance, we reduced on-the-job down time to essentially zero. This increased confidence and operator skill.

With targets of battalion size and during wet weather, the sniffer worked well. However, as target size reduced due to enemy fragmentation, readings became progressively more unreliable. We then conducted a series of tests (discussed subsequently) which allowed us to improve flight tactics, operator skill and reliability.

Next, the air cavalry had to work smoothly. It had been customary, due to its great utility, to fragment the troop. This made it difficult for it to operate effectively as real cavalry. We reassembled our air cavalry and it developed a complicated technique of taking targets from the sniffer, locating the exact spot, dropping CS in the cover to flush the enemy from bunkers and then hovering at low altitude to blow the vegetation about and uncover any enemy scuttling away. If the air cavalry and ground commanders felt there was a valid target, an insertion was started.

The seal and pile-on required very precise infantry and artillery

[113]


techniques to insure an air-tight seal and "danger close" artillery support) The seal also required courage and stamina as the troops had to hang on all night in order to insure destruction of the enemy.

Of equal importance, the three-cycle intelligence approach (mentioned earlier) maximized the possibilities of the sniffer detecting enemy troops.

Chart 11 shows the sequential nature of a jitterbug. Its strength lay in the fact that seven of the operations tended to increase the possibilities of a contact. One can theorize that this increase was on, the order of 12 times. The difficulty of the technique was that poor performance at any one point could break the chain. For this reason the technique required a high level of skill and tight supervision. Once the enemy target size became fine grain, the overall technique was not worth the effort and simpler techniques were indicated.

We also discovered that some batteries had great difficulty with this precision work. By means of rigorous tests we discovered that some were inaccurate due to sheer wear and tear on their howitzers after months of shooting and others just hadn't mastered the techniques involved. By systematically replacing worn out parts and retraining batteries, we were able to gain optimum accuracy in most batteries.

The enemy described our jitterbug as "Hawk Tactics." As far as he was concerned this was probably most descriptive because in reality we were sweeping down and scooping him up. We began to perfect our jitterbug tactics in July 1968 and it did not take the Viet Cong long to catch on. In the latter part of September 1968 we captured a Viet Cong letter from Headquarters Military Region II to its subordinate regiments written in late July. This letter covered the employment of "Hawk Tactics" by our forces. It admitted that these tactics had been successful in locating and destroying base camps and inflicting casualties "in the corridor area." Interestingly, the letter pointed out several weaknesses in U.S. techniques which subordinate Viet Cong regiments should exploit. It stated: first, operations were generally conducted from 0900

[114]


CHART 11-SIMPLIFIED JITTERBUG FLOW CHART

Daily intelligence/Operations planning

No - Yes

Night planning refinement

No - Yes

People-sniffer operational

No - Yes

People-sniffer detects

No - Yes

Reaction to current intelligence

No - Yes

Target handed to air cavalry

No - Yes

Low-level reconnaissance and detection

No - Yes

C/S used

No - Yes

Target confirmed to ground commander

No - Yes

Increases possibility of a contact

No - Yes

[115]


until late afternoon; second, command and control helicopters circled suspected landing zones several times before insertion; and third, the landing force was normally a small unit without support.

The letter also directed the Military Region II regiments to select several landing zones ambush squads for training. Each squad, armed with one automatic rifle, one claymore, three to four AK 47's, and one sniping rifle would then link up with local guerrillas and set up ambushes "in the areas where the enemy has frequently landed." The instructions to these squads were fairly explicit:

1. If the enemy drops his troops close to the edge of a village and the choppers have not quite landed, we will concentrate maximum firepower to destroy the enemy force immediately. The function of the sniping cell will be to shoot down the CP chopper.
2. If the enemy drops his troops away from the edge of the village, we will deploy in combat formations and wait for them. When they are three or four meters from our positions, we open fire.
3. If the enemy drops troops on our position, our efforts depend on the situation. After we have destroyed the enemy force and cleared the battlefield, we will move to another location 300-500 meters from the contact area and deploy again, ready to fight.

An analysis of helicopters shot down or hit while entering or leaving landing zones in support of the 9th Division during the time period July through December 1968 seems to indicate that the Viet Cong were most effective in their anti-hawk tactics during the months of July and August. In this two month period, supporting Assault Helicopter Companies had 31 helicopters shot down, 74 hit by hostile fire, with 131 rounds received. However, we learned to react quickly to Viet Cong tactics. We stopped reconnoitering landing zones with both the Command & Control and Air Cavalry elements. We improved the use of our People Sniffer so that we had good verification whether to expect Viet Cong or not and we were rarely caught by surprise. The LOH's replaced the OH-23's and every time a Viet Cong fired his weapon, unless he was in a bunkered position, he signed his own death warrant because the LOH's picked him right off. As a result, the Viet Cong went almost completely defensive and avoided contact at all costs. Table 16 shows the statistics of aircraft shot down for the period July through December 1968. Less than half the aircraft shot down were totally destroyed.

[116]


TABLE 16-AIRCRAFT DAMAGED BY HOSTILE FIRE 1968

Damage    July    August   September    October   November    December
Aircraft Shot Down    11    20   8    5    2    1
Aircraft Hit    31    43    26    36    25    41
Rounds Received    50   81    84    61    43    86

 

The aforementioned should give a feel as to the capabilities of the Viet Cong to "turn us off" once they grasped our tactics. We found much evidence of Viet Cong analysis of our tactics, including map studies of actual operations wherein they analyzed our encirclement tactics. Once they caught on to our new techniques they dispatched operational immediate messages to all their units describing our tactics and their proposed countermeasures. Consequently, we had to be alert to the need for changes in our operational approach to keep on top of the situation. This required a systematic analytical study of combat operations subsequently described.

Bushmaster and Checkerboard Operations

The jitterbug is am airmobile operation. However, in the summer of 1968 our brigades received the support of an Air Cavalry Troop and Assault Helicopter Companies only a little over one half the time. Jitterbug tactics required at a maximum one battalion when a good size contact was made. Most of our battalions, then, were engaged in ground mobile tactics and we were constantly trying to improve our techniques.

Colonel Henry E. Emerson, drawing upon his earlier experience in Vietnam, began experimenting with "Bushmaster" and "Checkerboard" tactics to supplement the jitterbug. These proved very successful and were implemented division-wide. We continuously adjusted and adapted these tactics to the terrain and the enemy of the delta.

Bushmaster Operations.

Bushmaster operations involved an infantry company broken into platoon sized elements. The Bushmaster was used in areas where the enemy was strong, and where breaking down into less than platoon sized elements risked heavy losses. The Bushmaster was normally used to interdict known enemy communicationsliaison routes, and the primary ingredient of the Bushmaster was valid intelligence. Once the area had been chosen and the approxi-

[117]


mate sites of ambush determined, the Bushmaster force was usually inserted using helicopters during the last two hours of daylight. It was inserted directly into its area of operations or adjacent to it, infiltrating the remaining distance on foot. Under either situation, the final positions were not occupied until after dark. Once in the area of operations, a small command group set up a command post. The platoons were spread out and, if possible, units were made mutually supporting, located at a distance whereby they could reinforce in less than one-half hour. In the rice paddies this distance was not over 750 meters, so that a company sized Bushmaster normally covered an area three-fourths of a kilometer square. The Bushmaster, although primarily a night time operation, was also effective during daylight. However, during daylight, much more stealth, cunning, ingenuity, and planning were required.

Checkerboard Operations.

The Checkerboard concept was an outgrowth of the Bushmaster, and often times it paid off to use the Bushmaster one night, completely familiarizing the troops with the area and then breaking up into a Checkerboard on the second day of a two-day operation. Whereas in the Bushmaster a company was broken-down into platoon sized elements, the Checkerboard was configured in squad sized elements. These elements had fixed areas of operations comparable to the squares of a checkerboard, and once in these areas of operations they moved continuously from one terrain feature to another in order to interdict the enemy. Checkerboard personnel must have increased communications capability and must be highly mobile. Therefore, they were lightly equipped and carried only basic ammuntion and rations, preferably long range reconnaissance patrol type. The Checkerboard was an offensive operation and aggressively sought to establish contact in order to find and fix enemy positions. The Checkerboard was also a precursor of the "pile-on" because once the enemy was found, other troops were brought in to encircle and destroy him. Since the Bushmaster and Checkerboard generally were conducted at night, the operations were kept within artillery range and a Light Fire Team was kept available on standby. Checkerboard patrols were also mutually supporting and, because they were broken into small units, 500 meters between patrols was the normal distance in the delta. Fifteen slick loads of personnel broken down into 10 to 12 man units could easily cover an area 11/2 kilometers square, or 4 times that of a Bushmaster.

[118]


Both the Checkerboard and Bushmaster techniques were excellent training vehicles for young company commanders. After the brigade or battalion headquarters had picked the general area of operations the company commander could plan the location of his unit, the method of movement, and the control required. When inserted and left on his own, a company commander took intense pride in insuring that his troops were trained and disciplined enough to establish a contact. The key to success on a Checkerboard was small unit leadership, flexibility, stealth, and aggressiveness. Like ourselves, the enemy had to move to get his resupply, his replacements, and to deliver his non-electronic messages. The Checkerboard was ideally suited to interdict these activities since it covered a substantial amount of terrain. A 48hour Checkerboard could cover an area three kilometers square. In a two-day operation, troops were rested during daylight so that they were ready to operate at maximum potential during the night. Checkerboards were not conducted in enemy base areas with known large size operating units. Such base areas were better handled by Bushmaster or jitterbug operations.

Ambushes

The importance of keeping constant pressure on the Viet Cong was discussed previously. By constantly disrupting his supply and personnel infiltration routes, both by air and ground maneuver, we strangled his much needed support. One of our best tactical examples of constant pressure were the ambushes conducted by the Riverine Brigade in Kien Hoa Province. Traditionally the Riverine Brigade had lived aboard ship-foraying out on Reconnaissance in Force missions and upon completion of. their operations withdrawing to the large APL's. In the fall of 1968, the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry broke with tradition and established a base camp in a coconut grove astride the main highway and canal arteries of Kien Hoa Province. The results were instantaneous and dramatic. Because they were on the ground the intelligence picture got better as the result of constant liaison with the District Chiefs, and others. They started running more Integrated Civic Action Programs and established radar and sensor fields.

Armed with better intelligence, the men of the 3d Battalion 47th Infantry under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Ismael Pack went to extraordinary lengths to set up and spring ambushes. The ambushes were planned to coincide with Viet Cong movement times and routes. The ambushes were augmented with snipers and pink lights and were tied into the radar and sensor nets.

[119]


The 3d Battalion 47th Infantry after initial successes had enough confidence to allow the advance Viet Cong elements in a unit to pass through the ambush so that their traps were usually sprung against Viet Cong main bodies. They built their fire power around claymore mines and M-79's. When the Viet Cong entered the killing area, the ambush was initiated by the detonation of the claymore belts and the area was sealed with M-79 fire augmented by direct fire weapons. Artillery fires were adjusted into the area of contact and along likely avenues of escape. Terrain permitting, the infantry moved forward to establish contact. At the conclusion of the ambush new troop positions were occupied in the contact area to ambush the enemy anew as he attempted to retrieve his dead.

During the period January through March 1969 the Division conducted over 6,500 ambushes. (Table 17) This table is activity oriented indicating only the level of activity reached; this averaged 70 ambushes per night in early 1969. The success rate of the ambushes increased even more. Of course the availability of night vision devices gave our friendly troops a major technical advantage. Trained snipers provided expertise not previously available and gave the infantrymen a new confidence in their weapons and capabilities. Thus, using intelligence, stealth, cunning, and aggressive tactics the 3d Battalion 47th Infantry and other battalions in the division were able to take the night away from the Viet Cong by interdicting his route of communications thus upsetting his time schedule, his flow of supplies, and his personnel.

TABLE 17-9TH INFANTRY DIVISION TOTAL AMBUSHES CONDUCTED

Quarter    Number
3d Qtr 1968    4,461
4th Qtr 1968    5,957
1st Qtr 1969    6,430

 

Sniper Program

In the Spring of 1969 our most successful ambush tactic was the sniper mode. Our sniper program was initiated in the States and was set in motion as result of a visit to Fort Benning in January 1968. The Army Marksmanship Unit cooperated with us to the fullest extent, and funds were made available to increase the accuracy of fifty-five M-14 rifles and to provide sniper-scopes. The idea was to get an outstanding training team from the Marksmanship Unit to train our soldiers in Vietnam in sniper tactics.

[120]


The Army Marksmanship Unit team led by Major Willis L. Powell and consisting of seven non-commissioned officers arrived in Vietnam in June 1968. Upon arrival in the country they revamped the M-16 training methods at our division training establishment, the Reliable Academy. Subsequently they supervised the construction of a 500 yard range at Dong Tam and periodically accompanied ambush patrols to assimilate the delta tactics. Progress was slow. Brigadier General James S. Timothy was given the task of getting the sniper program off the ground in early August. This gave it the needed boost. Eventually the more accurate M-14 rifles arrived as well as special national match ammunition. Our first hand picked group of volunteers from each battalion graduated in early November 1968 and the first sniper kill was registered on 19 November 1968 north of Binh Phuoc in Long An Province. The second group of snipers graduated in early December, giving us a full complement of 72 snipers, six per battalion and four per brigade. Notwithstanding all the personal attention that had been given to the sniper program, the early performance was ragged with only eight kills in November and eleven in December. This was clearly a dismal performance, considering the large number of men and the effort that had gone into the program.

Therefore, we set about analyzing our equipment, personnel, methods and tactics. We hit upon the flaw in the system, and while the solution was extremely simple, it had an immediate effect. Initially snipers had been parcelled out by the battalions on the basis of two per line company. The company commanders, then, had the responsibility for the snipers and most company commanders could not care less. They used snipers just as any other rifleman. This was the reason we were not getting results. Consequently, we directed assignment of the snipers to the battalion headquarters and held the battalion commanders responsible for their proper utilization and for emphasis on the program. Once the battalion commanders learned to assign the sniper teams to the companies going on night operations the problem was solved. Snipers reported directly to company commanders, received a briefing on proposed tactics, picked the platoon and the area where they thought they could be most effective, and waited for a target. The nighttime sniper teams normally consisted of two snipers and two additional infantrymen armed with an M-79 and an M-16 and carrying a radio. Snipers worked in pairs to offset the eye fatigue which set in after long periods of peering through a starlight scope.

Once the snipers began to get personal attention and could handpick their assignments and fit their talents to the mission,

[121]


CHART 12-SNIPER KILLS, 9TH INFANTRY DIVISION, NOVEMBER 1968-JULY 1969

CHART 12-SNIPER KILLS, 9TH INFANTRY DIVISION, NOVEMBER 1968-JULY 1969

the results were extraordinary. Chart 12 shows the steady improvement in sniper results, culminating in 346 enemy killed in the month of April and leveling off at about 200 kills per month. It was a flat learning curve initially but it soon steepened up.

After the snipers began to gain confidence and unit commanders saw that they were a great boon to the unit, the whole nighttime pace increased. To be quite frank, things went slowly initially because the ambush units were fearful of drawing attention to themselves as the result of snipers engaging the Viet Cong. However, our units soon became more confident and aggressive in night operations, primarily as a result of the sniper program a large unexpected bonus that we had not considered.

One of the unusual night sniper employments resulted from the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry operating from riverine boats along the Mekong River. In this case, the snipers working in pairs positioned themselves on the helicopter landing pad of Tango boats. The Tango boats travelled at speeds of 2 to 4 knots moving about 100 to 150 meters from and parallel to the shore. Often they would anchor for periods of a half-hour before moving to a new location. As the Viet Cong moved along the shoreline the snipers after positive identification of the enemy, that is detection of a weapon, would open fire. During the period 12 April to 9 May 1969 snipers of the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry killed 39 Viet Cong. About 1.7 Viet Cong were killed per engagement. The average distance to the target was 148 meters and it took 6 rounds per kill. The average time of engagement was 0040 hours.

[122]


As an interesting war story, our most successful sniper was Sergeant Adelbert F. Waldron, III, who had 109 confirmed kills to his credit. One afternoon he was riding along the Mekong River on a Tango boat when an enemy sniper on shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Viet Cong out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot (this from a moving platform). Such was the capability of our best sniper. We had others, too, with his matchless vision and expert marksmanship. Sergeant Waldron earned two Distinguished Service Crosses for his outstanding skill and bravery.

Space does not permit us to recount many of the ingenious methods that were used in our sniper program. One of the most effective was the use of pink filtered searchlights during periods of limited ambient illumination. Another was the effective use by the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry of daytime sniper operations. They would insert snipers in the early morning along known trails and infiltration routes likely to be used by the enemy. They used sixman teams-highly trained individuals capable of remaining in the field for several hours without moving a muscle when the situation required.

The sniper program of the 9th Infantry Division was one of the most successful programs that we undertook. It took over a year from its inception in the States to its peak of performance in Vietnam. It also took plenty of hard work and belief in the concept and in our snipers. But more than anything it restored the faith of the infantryman in his rifle and in his own capabilities. Fighting alone at night without the usually available combined arms team, the "rice paddy" soldier was more than a match for the enemy.

The 15-Second War

When snipers came into their own, it became apparent that aimed rifle fire was killing Viet Cong. In thinking about this, the thought occurred that the Viet Cong basically could not shoot and our men could. By that time (December 1968) the Viet Cong were beginning to fragment and we had many contacts which were essentially meeting engagements between small groups of men. By polling the commanders, it was found that the contact ranges were much closer than we had imagined in such open terrain-on the order of 10 to 25 meters.

We then decided, more on faith than conviction, that we would go for aimed shot kills rather than fire superiority. We devised a

[123]


SNIPER AT WORK (SGT WALDRON)

SNIPER AT WORK (SGT WALDRON)

[124]


very simple training drill to teach men to shoot under these conditions:

a. Quick kill technique
b. Short range
c. Single aimed shots (quick kill)
d. No full automatic mode
e. Quick reaction (seconds)

The battalion commander, after an informal poll of riflemen, would determine what his normal opening range was and how quickly a soldier must fire to beat the enemy to the draw. We will say that a battalion commander set 25 meters and 8 seconds as his criteria. Each company, every third or fourth day during stand-down, would have the riflemen shoot at anything (tin cans, targets, whatever) until they could get a first round hit at 25 meters in 8 seconds. By repetition, this became an automatic reflex action. This one idea in combination with good night ambushes made it possible for our small rifle units to wreak heavy damage on the enemy with low friendly casualties. One reason it worked so well was that the average Communist soldier was not trained to shoot and could not afford to expend the ammunition necessary to learn. Actually this concept which was formulated at division level received more or less attention and implementation at lower levels, depending upon the commanders involved. However, there appeared to be some key element which was helpful. Nevertheless, it is one of the best examples we can think of which combined an analytical approach, military judgment, training, execution and substantial results. This idea has been termed the "15-Second War." Chart 13 shows why.

It seemed absolutely incomprehensible that some hundreds of riflemen wandering around could inflict heavy losses on a Communist enemy and seldom use the artillery, bombs, and so forth that were necessary in more formal warfare. (Naturally, if one hit a bunkered position, one shifted to heavy firepower.) However, this idea paid off manyfold on the battlefield in the Upper Delta and III Corps area during all of 1969.

What's Best

During March, when all of our tactics seemed to be paying off, we questioned ourselves as to what were the best methods of operations in the daytime and nighttime environments. Since we normally monitored brigade operations by type, size and whether the operation was conducted during the day or night, we decided to

[125]


15-SECOND WAR

15-SECOND WAR

[126]


CHART 13-FIRE POWER VERSUS TIME CONCEPTION

Normal Fire and Maneuver Approach

Normal Fire and Maneuver Approach

 

The-15 Second War

The-15 Second War

keep tabs on their results and to analyze our operations in order to be able to reinforce success. These statistics are shown in Table 18.

Daytime Operations.

Checkerboard and Bushmaster operations yielded 0.27 and 0.22 contacts per operation respectively. Thus, the choice of these ground mobile modes was pretty much a toss-up. On the other hand company-sized airmobile jitterbug operations produced 1.80 contacts per operation as compared with platoon reconnaissance in force which produced only 0.08 contacts per operation. We concluded that daytime company-sized operations paid off, undoubtedly due to the better command and control provided by the company command section.

[127]


TABLE 18-COMPARISON OF TACTICAL RESULTS CONTACTS PER OPERATION APRIL 1969

DAYTIME OPERATIONS

  Number of Operations/Contacts
Type of Operation    Squad    Platoon    Company
Jitterbug     640/51    335/603
Bushmaster          111/ 25
Checkerboard          93/ 25
Ambush           
Total       640/51    539/653

NIGHTTIME OPERATIONS

  Number of Operations/Contact
Type of Operation    Squad    Platoon    Company
Jitterbug           
Bushmaster          269/88
Checkerboard          65/26
Ambush    1080/37    654/123     
Total    1080/37    654/123    334/114

 

Nighttime Operations.

Nighttime operations had a few surprises. The Checkerboard and Bushmaster operations yielded 0.40 and 0.33 contacts per operation respectively. This was exactly 50 percent more contacts per operation than in the daytime. So again the choice between type was pretty much up to the unit commander. However, it can be seen that over four times as many Bushmasters were conducted than Checkerboards. This was because the Checkerboard required much greater control and much tighter leadership than was required with a Bushmaster and few of our battalions felt confident enough to conduct Checkerboards. Although the company-sized operations produced more contacts per operation on a percentage basis than did the platoon-size ambushes, for the number of troops involved the platoon ambushes were 60 percent more effective than the company-size Bushmasters and Checkerboards. Squad ambushes did not produce significant results, again probably because of the security problems involved with a small number of personnel. We concluded that squad operations did not pay off; whereas platoon ambushes were effective. Since the results of the Checkerboards and Bushmasters were almost identical, it appeared to be sounder to conduct Bushmasters at night because the chance of being overrun by the enemy was much less.

The number of enemy eliminated in April resulting from day-

[128]


time infantry tactics (1768) was about twice those eliminated during nighttime infantry operations (847) . However, when the enemy eliminated per contact was computed it was most startling to find that the average nighttime contact resulted in 3.1 enemy losses compared to 2.5 in the daytime. A comparison of equivalent platoon days during the month of April shows that the number of troops in the field was almost identical daytime versus nighttime averaging 75 platoons per period. Therefore, the daytime effectiveness per infantryman was double the nighttime effectiveness even though the enemy losses per contact at night were greater.

By April we had come to rely on the fact that a great number of small contacts over a large area literally bled the enemy to death. Our units had quit looking for the "big contact" because by then the Viet Cong were entirely fragmented and in hiding, generally without ammunition and food and avoiding contact at all costs. We concluded that the answer to "What's Best?", was more of the same.

Night Hunter

In the fall of 1968 when the Viet Cong throughout our tactical area of operations were directed to break down into small groups and ordered to avoid combat at all costs, it became much more difficult to find the enemy. The effectiveness of jitterbugging declined and commanders frantically sought better methods of employment. About this time we received permission to break down into five slick insertions for our reconnaissance-in-force to meet the reduced level of enemy activity and to cover a much broader area more thoroughly. In Long An Province, Colonel John P. Geraci of the 1st Brigade turned to night operations since the daytime targets had dried up. Up until this time our radar sightings were engaged with unobserved artillery fire and we had no follow-up target damage assessment during the hours of darkness. It was assumed that Viet Cong were being killed but we were unable to confirm that assumption. Consequently, our radar sightings were of value mainly as intelligence information since we had no way of assessing the artillery results.

In an attempt to solve his reduced daytime contacts and the unknown effect of our engagements on radar sightings, Colonel Geraci developed what he called his "Night Hunter" technique. Night Hunter was a very complex tactical maneuver utilizing radar vectored air cavalry. The Night Hunter task force was comprised of three essential elements: a ground surveillance radar, air cavalry gunships, and a direct support artillery element. Initially we used a ground reaction force also. The maneuver worked something like

[129]


this. Our AN /TPS-25 radar was monitored by the command and control group. When they found a major sighting of 20 or more Viet Cong they monitored it for some time and when they were assured that it was, in fact, enemy personnel they started the Night Hunter in motion. The artillery prepared to place a battery volley, shell high explosive, fuze variable time, on the target as well as two rounds of shell illuminating with a 200 meter height of burst. Both the high explosive and illuminating rounds had to arrive on target simultaneously. Data were also computed to follow up the initial illumination with continuous illuminating rounds with a 600 meter height of burst.

The air cavalry commander scrambled his gunships and they orbited some 5 to 10 kilometers away from the target. Ground elements were dispatched to blocking positions. As the Time on Target approached the air cavalry commander vectored his gunships toward the target on a flight path generally perpendicular to the artillery-gun target line and at an altitude below the burst height of illumination. Through precise coordination, the artillery fire burst over the target as the gunships rolled in to exploit the shock effect of the combined attack. If the target was large enough the ground troops were brought up.

It is amazing that this highly complex tactical maneuver worked at all-but it did. The first Night Hunter resulted in 22 enemy being killed, completely surprising a major enemy unit. We tried three or four subsequent operations, all of which were successful with an average enemy eliminated of about 25. However, this was a costly maneuver, requiring great judgment on the part of the commander. It needed an air cavalry standby which on many nights was never scrambled due to lack of lucrative radar sightings. In other words, we were tied to the black box, thus limiting the area coverage and the number of targets that could be engaged. However, from this interesting maneuver, the most complex that we know of in the Vietnamese environment, we proved conclusively that the air cavalry could operate effectively at night. The Night Hunter was the precursor to our very successful Night Search operations which were developed because of the foregoing limitations of the Night Hunter. Once the Night Search was implemented the Night Hunter technique was abandoned.

Night Search

Night Search operations evolved from the Night Hunter in early December 1968 for the reasons just mentioned. The Night Search was a pure nighttime air cavalry operation with a great many

[130]


twists in techniques. The assets required were minimal-a Command and Control Copter and two Cobras. The operation was not hampered by anything except weather. The key to our Night Search operations was again good intelligence plus highly trained personnel.

Operational areas were selected predicated upon enemy movements and current intelligence. Search patterns were organized primarily focusing on canals and waterways because this was the main method of Viet Cong supply in the delta. The operation was led by the Command and Control chopper flying 300-500 feet over the target area. Our spotters in the Command and Control copter initially used starlight scopes to scan the ground area below the flight pattern of the aircraft. Since spotters were the key to the operation, we ultimately went to our trained snipers for this duty. Once they identified a target they engaged it with a burst of full tracer fire. This enabled the gunships flying close to the Command and Control copter at about 1500 feet to zoom in for the contact. As the Cobras attacked the Command and Control copter patrolled areas adjacent to the target to observe the results and to permit the snipers to engage any enemy fleeing the area. This simple technique resulted in over 1,800 enemy kills in a six month period. Not only did it weaken the enemy but it completely disrupted his normal pattern of nighttime movement.

We encountered some skeptics concerning the efficacy of such a simple operation. The J-3 of the South Vietnamese Joint Staff, Colonel Tho, visited us one night to observe the technique in operation. Upon his return to Dong Tam he somewhat excitingly exclaimed: "We killed 18 of them. You could see them as clear as day."

The key was in identifying the enemy. To illustrate how small things make the difference, our heliborne snipers easily tired of scanning the ground through sniper-scopes. We then introduced the Night Observation Device to identify targets, but it vibrated so much that it wasn't particularly effective. Some enterprising soldier suggested that we suspend it from the chopper doorframe with a rubber cord spring. Once we did this, we had a stable platform that literally turned night into day. Although we pioneered this operation our techniques were chewing gum and bailing wire modifications. The Night Search techniques reached their perfection later on in the 25th Infantry Division and 1st Air Cavalry Division who developed much improved hardware.

Another innovative method of finding the enemy was developed for periods when there was no moon to activate the Night Observa-

[131]


tion Device. In such cases, we would patrol a waterway as far as 10 kilometers distance from our actual target area, covering it with artillery illumination. We were certain the Viet Cong under the artillery illumination dug in; but we also knew that the Viet Cong in outlying areas relaxed. As they relaxed our Night Search team barrelled in, using the flares to activate the night vision device. We always racked up a good number during those no-moon periods which normally were considered nonoperational times.

But good hunting doesn't last forever. The Viet Cong soon caught on and took countermeasures. Table 19 highlights the operations of the 1st Brigade, which initiated and perfected our Night Search operations, as well as the division totals. The efficiency of the operations built up and peaked for the 1st Brigade in March 1969. Thereafter results tapered off greatly as the Viet Cong learned to cope with this technique (or possibly reduced their night movement) .

As our spotter teams became more skilled, the spotters not only could mark the area for the Cobras but were actually successful in killing the enemy with rifle fire from the aircraft. Approximately 15 percent of the total kills of the night search operation was attributed to sniper fire. If one has not flown in a chopper at night over the delta it is hard to describe how lonely and difficult it is to keep your bearings and to operate. All our night activities took a tremendous amount of guts and those on the Night Search had their quota of them.

Night Raid

The most daring of all our tactics was the Night Raid. In late February 1969 our liaison with Government of Vietnam authorities was hitting on all cylinders and we were obtaining much more

TABLE 19-9TH INFANTRY DIVISION RESULTS OF NIGHT SEARCH OPERATIONS

 

  1969
   JAN    FEB    MAR    APR    MAY    JUN    TOTAL
1ST BRIGADE                       
Total Operations    12    24    20    23    23    17    119
Total VC Killed    134    324    407    219    155    38    1,277
Kills/Operation    11.2    13.5    20.4    9.5    6.7    2.2    10.7
DIVISION TOTAL                       
Total Operations    19    37    60    43    60    50    269
Total VC Killed    134    373    477    388    300    141    1,813
Kills/Operation    7.0    10.1    7.9    9.0    5.0    2.8    6.7

[132]


information about the Viet Cong. The 2d Battalion, 39th Infantry, first under one of our most outstanding battalion commanders, Lieutenant Colonel Donald B. Schroeder (who was killed by enemy fire in early 1969) , and subsequently under Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Sullivan, had a particularly good intelligence section. This battalion was located along Highway 4 north of the District Headquarters of Cai Be in Dinh Thuong Province. Their S-2, Captain Joseph W. Hudson, (later killed by hostile fire on 17 March 1969) had noted that the enemy dispersed during daytime but in the evening they reassembled in small isolated groups of abandoned houses throughout the District area. Whenever U.S. troops set ambushes, even though we would pick off one or two enemy, they remained generally dispersed and did not concentrate. Captain Hudson suggested that it was too bad we could not raid some houses, and so the concept of the Night Raid was initiated. The Night Raid combined the techniques associated with the Night Hunter and the Night Search into a dramatically daring attack on an enemy stronghold. The operational team consisted of a Command and Control copter, two Cobras, and two slicks carrying six combat infantrymen each. The operation unfolded something like this.

About midnight when we were sure the Viet Cong had settled down for the evening the aircraft would become airborne. At a prearranged time artillery would fire illuminating rounds lighting up the target huts. The Cobras would swing in and strafe the peripheral areas and the Command and Control copter would follow the Cobras and mark the landing zone with a flare. The two Hueys protected by the Cobras would land, deposit the troops, and circle again. After the initial illumination the Command and Control copter normally provided additional flares but the artillery would remain on call if needed for high explosive or illuminating rounds. The troops on the ground were prebriefed as to layout of the area, the buildings to be searched and what they expected to find. Each man had his job and upon hitting the landing zone they set out to accomplish it in a period of 5 to 10 minutes at the most. So sudden was the element of surprise gained on these raids that we have killed Viet Cong guards sitting up against a tree reaching for their rifles in order to combat the U.S. attack. Most of the times the Viet Cong were caught asleep so that we could capture prisoners giving tremendous intelligence bonuses. The attack ended as fast as it had begun, with the Hueys coming in to the pick-up zone to pick up the troops and depart rapidly. These raids were so successful that in the dozens which occurred in the midst of Viet Cong strongholds with

[133]


100 or more Viet Cong on hand we suffered only two U.S. soldiers killed.

The decision to conduct the Night Raids was one of our toughest decisions. In most people's minds we stood a good chance to lose two choppers and twelve infantrymen. As it turned out we never lost an aircraft, had minimum casualties and maximum returns. The shock to the Viet Cong who realized that they were not safe even in the middle of the night in far off areas was more than they could stand. This helped to keep them off balance and when considered with all of the other day and night operations that were going on was one of the keystones of our constant pressure technique.

Day or Night?

Many have asked whether all the planning, training, scheduling, maintenance and time that went into night operations were worth the pay off. After the mini-Tet in May 1968 the total enemy losses (Viet Cong, killed in action, Prisoners of War, Hoi Chanhs and V.C. Infrastructure) for the period June through December 1968 averaged approximately 983 a month. At the same time the ratio of Viet Cong eliminated to U.S. Killed in Action was about 13.7 to 1. (Table 20) Throughout this period we had conducted continuing

TABLE 20-RATIO OF VIET CONG ELIMINATED TO U.S. KILLED, JUNE 1968-JUNE 1969

DATE   VC KIA    PW    HC   VCI a  TOTAL VC ELIMINATED    KIA   VC ELIMINATED
 U.S. KIA
Jun 68    888    69    7    -    964    113    8.5:1
Jul    646    84    5    -    735    54    13.6:1
Aug    968    108    9    -    1085    101    10.7:1
Sep    735    104    12    -    851    67    12.7:1
Oct    901    92    25    -    1018    66    15.4:1
Nov    961    140    22    -    1123    44    25.5:1
Dec    968    101    26    13/ (11)    1108    59    18.8:1
             Sub-Total Avg    983    72    13.7:1
Jan 69    1292    95    24    24/ (10)    1435    92    15.6:1
Feb    1799    82    42    26/( 8)    1949    59    33.0:1
Mar    3504    124    75    20/ (21)    3723    46    80.9:1
Apr    3117    116    71    6/(15)    3310    39    84.9:1
May    2677    122    37    11/(24)    2847    65    43.8:1
Jun    1792    127    55    7/(20)    1981    45    44.0:1
             Sub-Total Avg    2541    58    43.8:1

a Numbers to left of slash mark represent civilians held for trial by South Vietnamese authorities. Numbers in parentheses indicate military personnel killed or held as prisoners of war.

[134]


night operations but not on the scale that occurred in 1969. Our night cavalry tactics commenced in earnest in January 19699 but in that month we only had 19 Night Search operations. Our Night Raids didn't get started until late February and our snipers didn't begin to be productive until January. The influence the snipers had in making our nighttime ambushes more aggressive was not really felt until February or March. Considering the fact that we really didn't get moving in nighttime operations until February there was a tremendous change in the statistics between the last half of 1968 and the first half of 1969. It must be remembered that in July of 1969 the division was alerted for withdrawal and combat operations dropped off sharply as the troops prepared to relocate to the Continental U.S. If the month of December 1968 is any criteria of the nighttime activities for the last half of 1968 the ratio of nighttime enemy eliminated to total enemy eliminated during the month was 17 percent. (Table 21) This compares to an average of 35 percent eliminated during night operations in the first half of 1969. In other words, the percentage of enemy losses due to night operations in 1969 was twice that in 1968. Moreover, the absolute increase in enemy losses was most impressive. During January-June 1969 the average monthly number of enemy eliminated jumped from the 983 previously discussed to 2,541 while at the same time the average monthly exchange ratio more than tripled to 43.8 to 1. (Table 20)

TABLE 21-9TH INFANTRY DIVISION VIET CONG ELIMINATED DAY-NIGHT OPERATIONS

   DEC 69    JAN 69    FEB 69    MAR 69    APR 69    MAY 69    JUN 69    JUL 69
Day Air Cavalry    398    341    337    572    429    516    564    209
Day Infantry    396    539    726    1138    1293    1034    724    174
Others    124    146    157    377    340    485    145    121
Total Daytime    918    1026    1220    2087    2062    2035    1433    504
Night Air Cavalry    34    143    391    580    355    266    113    12
Night Infantry    145    193    245    845    547    346    275    175
Snipers    11    73    93    211    346    200    160    56
Total Nighttime    190    409    729    1636    1248    812    548    243
Total    1108    1435    1949    3723    3310    2847    1981    747
Ratio, Night/Total    .17    .28    .37    .44    .38    .29    .28    .33

[135]


While greatly increasing enemy losses we had reduced U.S. casualties relatively and absolutely.

There is no question that by breaking down into small units and applying continuous pressure day and night, the two building blocks of our tactical innovations, we were able to get the Viet Cong on the run and really clobber him. His apparatus fell apart. The Viet Cong lost his leaders, his followers, his ammunition, and his food. In short he became unglued, resulting in additional enemy eliminated. We decimated four or five of his best battalions.

In our opinion, our tactical innovations, particularly those at night, were the key to the division's success.

These innovations came about as a result of improved support and an analytical approach to combat operations. To answer the question, Day or Night?, we can only reply, "Day and Night."

Mines and Booby Traps

As the war wound down in Vietnam the number of friendly casualties due to mines and booby traps became more pronounced or at least more obvious. Whether this was due to more enemy effort in this area or due to less direct combat casualties overall or both was not determined.

However, all units felt compelled to study this problem and hold it under control. One approach was to try to teach the riflemen as much about mines and booby traps as possible. The 9th Division took the opposite approach; by analyzing the types and setups in depth it was determined that about two types of devices and three or four setups covered the great majority of engagements. By concentrating on these it was possible to teach all of the men most of what was necessary to know to detect booby traps and to minimize casualties. The men who demonstrated a flair for detection were given more training and used as on-the-job-training instructors. Statistical records were kept which could be studied by every commander so that he, in his own way, could seek means to reduce losses by enemy booby traps and mines. Our analytical approach allowed us to come up with many changes that helped reduce casualties. Highlights of our analysis are discussed subsequently.

How Detected.

Almost all of the booby traps not detonated were detected visually. (Table 22) Very few-less than one percent-were detected as a result of informants or scout dogs. Therefore, men must constantly be on the alert, eyes focused and searching ahead of the line of march. In this respect, as mentioned above, training was of vital

[136]


MORTAR AT NIGHT

MORTAR AT NIGHT

importance to new men in-country prior to gaining the experience that comes only with being in the rice paddies.

When Detected.

We found that the peak of booby trap detection occurred at 1100 in the morning when the troops were fresh and alert. The average peak of detonations on the other hand occurred at 1600 hours, when the troops were tired and not as alert. (Chart 14)

[137]


MINE DETECTION, THE HARD WAY

MINE DETECTION, THE HARD WAY

The majority of all casualties from booby traps occurred on reconnaissance in force missions. When a soldier plodded through a rice paddy up to his waist in water for several hours in the hot humid atmosphere he became terribly fatigued, his ability to concentrate was low and he was an easy mark for a Viet Cong booby trap. Just the simple fact that the commanders were told to rotate units as well as lead personnel as the day progressed in order to always have alert troops as point men cut our booby trap casualties greatly.

TABLE 22-METHOD OF DETECTION OF ENEMY MINES AND BOOBY TRAPS

Method    Number    Percent
Visual    503    66.4
Detonation    221    29.2
Mine Detector    13    1.7
VC Mine Marker    4    0.5
Scout Dog    4    0.5
Informant    3    0.4
Other    10    1.3
Total    758    100.0

[138]


CHART 14-TIME DISTRIBUTION OF BOOBY-TRAP INCIDENTS, 9TH INFANTRY DIVISION, 1-30 APRIL 1969

CHART 14-TIME DISTRIBUTION OF BOOBY-TRAP INCIDENTS, 9TH INFANTRY DIVISION, 1-30 APRIL 1969

[139]


TABLE 23-LOCATION OF ENEMY DEVICES

Location    Number    Percent
Jungle    274    36.1
Trail    154    20.3
Rice Paddy Dike    101    13.3
Canal or Stream Bank    83    11.0
Rice Paddy    71    9.4
Road    35    4.6
Open Field    21    2.8
Intersection of 2, 3, 4, or 6    10    1.3
Structure    9    1.2
Total    758    100.0

Where Detected.

We found that about 34 percent of all booby traps were located predominantly along trails and rice paddy dikes while 36 percent were located in the jungle growth. (Table 23) At first this was thought surprising but, then, when Viet Cong tactics were considered this booby trap pattern appeared plausible. Prisoner interrogations indicated that the Viet Cong employed booby traps as a defensive measure around perimeters of bunkered positions. Their booby trap fields were normally one or two strings in depth. Consequently, our infantrymen had to be alert for booby traps throughout the complete perimeter of nipa palm or built-up enemy positions.

Disarming of Booby Traps.

We found that approximately three-fourths of all devices were trip-wires attached to a grenade. (Table 24) Generally these were detected visually and activated by heavy objects thrown ahead and dragged over the ground. We concluded that every squad going into the field should have some type of drag device and found

TABLE 24-TYPE FIRING DEVICE

Type    Number    Percent
Tripwire    549    72.4
Pressure    124    16.3
Unknown    27    3.6
Cmd Electric    24    3.2
Press/Electric    8    1.1
Cmd Pull    1    0.1
Other    25    3.3
Total    758    100.0

[140]


that 155mm shipping plugs made excellent dragging devices. Interestingly, 94 percent of all the booby traps and mines encountered were not covered by fire. This did not mean that Viet Cong were not in the vicinity, but most probably indicated that the Viet Cong used them as a measure to keep Allied troops away from defensive positions. They relied heavily on the detonation of the booby traps to divert our movement. Since mines and booby traps were not covered by fire, troops could take their time to neutralize the booby traps as they come upon them. In addition to the tripwire booby traps, most of the other (16 percent) were pressure activated. One might believe that pressure activated booby traps would be located almost completely along dikes and trails. Unfortunately, this was not true; only 35 percent were located along travelled ways, with the rest dispersed in jungle, open fields, rice paddies, and structures. We recommended that all mines and booby traps should normally be blown in place.

Origin of Booby Traps.

The majority of all booby traps were made from Chinese Communist grenades, although 19 percent of the mines and booby traps were from U.S. munitions. (Table 25) Chicom grenades were small, easily assembled, and in plentiful supply, so troops had to expect them anywhere within the tactical area of interest.

Multiple Casualties.

Forty-six percent of all mines and booby traps detonated resulted in multiple casualties. (Table 26) This was caused by the bunching up of troops as they walked closed up in single file instead of walking as skirmishers with the proper distance between elements. A prisoner of war commented on this state of U.S. discipline when he said:

U.S. troops were moving fast, so I knew they did not have any idea the booby traps were there. Suddenly I heard some booby traps explode.

TABLE 25-ORIGIN OF MANUFACTURE OF BOOBY TRAPS

Origin    Number    Percent
Chicom    425    56.1
U.S    145    19.1
VC Local    54    7.1
USSR    8    0.4
Other    9    1.2
Unknown    122    16.1
Total    758    100.0

[141]


THE DEADLY ENEMY BOOBY TRAP

THE DEADLY ENEMY BOOBY TRAP

Five U.S. soldiers in the front element went down and were wounded or dead. Then the entire U.S. element stopped, laid down for five minutes and started advancing again. I think U.S. troops were staying too close together during movement. U.S. troops move single file, too close together, causing many booby trap casualties.

We could not tolerate this sloppy field discipline and really put the pressure on commanders to get better control. We concluded

[142]


TABLE 26-9TH INFANTRY DIVISION MINE AND BOOBY TRAP CASUALTY STATISTICS 1-30 APRIL 1969

Battalion   No. Detonated No. Detonated Causing Detonated Casualty Casualties / Detonation   No. of Multiple Casualty Incidents   Percent Multiple Incidents   No. of Multiple Casualties   Average Casualties per Multiple Incident
KIA   WIA  
6-31 Inf    40    34    3    57    1.5    20    50    46    2.3
2-39Inf    30    29    0    43    1.4    9    30    23    2.6
3-39 Inf    8    7    0    10    1.2    2    25    5    2.5
4--39 Inf    16    16    1    32    2.1    9    56    26    2.9
3-47Inf    10    10    0    16    1.6    4    40    10    2.3
3-60 Inf    18    18    4    41    2.5    9    50    36    4.0
4-47 Inf    28    24    2    49    1.8    19    68    46    2.4
5-60Inf    12    12    1    28    2.4    5    42    22    4.4
2-60 Inf    25    25    1    46    1.9    11    44    33    3.0
2-47 Inf    28    23    1    56    2.0    13    46    47    3.6
15th Engr    10    4    1    6    0.7    2    20    5    2.5
Others    5    4    2    10    2.4    3    60    11    3.7
Total    230    206    16    394    1.8    106    46    310    2.9

[143]


that a casualty rate of over two per incident indicated bunching, a casualty rate over about 1.5 indicated reduced distances or interval, etc. The advantages of an analytical approach are demonstrated by setting optimum distances between men based on simple field tests with the most frequent types of traps. If this distance was maintained, multiple casualties were infrequent.

The 25th Division elaborated upon this type of analysis by placing the data on their computer, thus giving them the capability to present and study the problem with minimum clerical effort.

We found that the mine and booby trap tactics of the enemy varied seasonally. For example, when rice planting time came around at the beginning of the wet season the enemy did not rig booby traps in the rice paddies so as to avoid casualties among the farmers tending to their livelihood. Because of the variations by the Viet Cong, divisions in Vietnam had to resort to analytical approaches to stay on top of this most important problem. For us, the analytical approach paid off. In a short period of time our booby trap neutralization rate increased from less than 50 percent to over 70 percent. Not only did we increase the percentage of mines and booby traps detected without detonation, but by emphasizing proper ground formations we were able to reduce the number of casualties per detonation, thereby protecting our most important asset-the soldier.

All of the significant information resulting from our analysis of mine and booby trap data was published in a Monthly Mine and Booby Trap Report. Included in the report was a handout entitled "The Story of a Booby Trap Casualty" which was disseminated to all infantry soldiers. This handout related cold statistics to reality and we hoped it would help to prevent booby trap casualties.

The Story of a Booby Trap Casualty

The battalion has the assault helicopter assets today and members of the 2d Platoon Alpha Company are on the PZ waiting for the "slicks." Amongst the 1st Squad is PFC Jones, infantryman, in-country for six weeks. The assault helicopters arrive and the 2d Platoon fills five slicks. As they lift off the PZ the day's reconnaissance in force has started. About 20 minutes later the 30 combat infantrymen are inserted 400 meters from a nipa line along a canal on the edge of the Plain of Reeds. Upon insertion the men hit the ground behind a paddy dike, but it is a cold LZ. The platoon leader is now issuing instructions to move to the north and check the nipa line. It is about 1100 hours in the morning as the men are closing in toward some dense underbrush in the tall coconut trees. So far there has been no fire; however, they can see bunkers interspersed amongst the edge of the foliage. The Tiger Scout who is walking point raises his hand, indicating something suspicious. Every-

[144]


MEDEVAC

MEDEVAC

one halts, and the squad leader comes forward to see what's up. A visual inspection indicates a trip-wire grenade booby trap carefully camouflaged amongst the foliage.

(The majority of all booby traps are detected in the early morning when troops are fresh. Many of the booby traps are detected by the several hundred Tiger Scouts, former VC themselves with an intimate knowledge of VC tactics and techniques, which the 9th Infantry Division has operating with the troops in the field. 70% of all booby traps encountered are detected. 72% are trip-wire grenade types. 36% of all booby traps encountered are in the jungle. Only 6% of these booby traps are covered by VC fire; that is, 94% have no one covering them, or if the VC are covering them, they don't fire. The majority of all grenade booby traps are Chicom.)

Having seen that the pin is still in the Chicom grenade, the squad leader instructs the Tiger Scout to cut the trip-wire, rendering the grenade safe. This having been done, they destroy the grenade and the platoon moves forward again and, encountering no more booby traps, they check the bunkers. Finding no VC, they blow the biggest bunkers and return to the rice paddies and a new PZ, ready for pickup and additional airmobile insertions elsewhere.

Two more insertions follow, one of which results in an enemy contact. The troops are proud of their two VC body count and the one AK-47 captured. Towards the end of the day, at 1600 hours, they are

[145]


inserted again, this time approximately 500 meters from another nipa line along another canal where intelligence has indicated there may be VC. Again they are instructed to move out and check the nipa for VC activity. By now the point man has changed three times, and PFC Jones is walking point. He is tired. Although during the dry season there is not any water in the rice paddies, Jones nevertheless is walking along the rice paddy dike where the movement is quicker, because during the dry season the paddies are broken and the footing is difficult. His buddies are in the same frame of mind and instead of walking as skirmishers they follow in a single line. They are bunched up, too, as they move forward. They really don't expect anything and everyone is as relaxed as you can get in the rice paddies-which isn't very relaxed. About 100 meters from the nipa line, Jones hears a POP. He realizes that he has set off a booby trap. But Jones freezes; he can't move; he can't speak. The booby trap goes off and Jones and two buddies just behind him are hit by fragments.

(9th Division statistics show that 40% of all casualties occur to soldiers in-country less than two months. 30% of all booby traps encountered during the month of April were inadvertently detonated. 34% of all booby traps found were on trails and rice paddy dikes. 16% of these booby traps were pressure type. 36% were buried in the ground.)

Jones has been seriously wounded. His foot is torn up; he has fragments in the gut. God! how it hurts! Dustoff is called immediately and it arrives 20 minutes later, taking Jones and his two buddies to the hospital at Dong Tam. One of his buddies was lucky. He is treated arid released. Jones is sent immediately to the operating room.

(During the month of April 75% of all men wounded by booby traps were hospitalized. 46% of all the detonated booby traps resulted in multiple casualties. An average of 2.9 men were wounded per multiple incident.)

Jones, back from the operating room, has had a lot of time to think it over. The doctors hope to save his foot, but right now he is awfully glad just to be alive. He relives that terrible moment in the paddy. And now, too late, he realizes he should not have walked on the paddy dike. But he was tired, and he was not paying attention to where he put his feet. Brown, the other man hospitalized, a veteran of eight months in the paddies, knows he should not have been walking so close to the point man. However, the detonation came without any warning to Brown. So as they lay convalescing in their hospital beds, he asks ,Jones why he did not holler. Jones admits that he froze when he heard the pop of the booby trap. Jones feels badly because if he had hollered the other men probably would not have been wounded.

(All troops entering the Reliable Academy are given instructions 'to holler "HIT IT" and to hit the ground immediately upon hearing the pop of a booby trap. Yet, surveys show that when confronted with reality inexperienced soldiers sometimes just don't react.)

And so it goes, even though A Company had a two VC bodycount for the day, three men had been wounded, two seriously.

[146]


(In April 1969 41% of the 9th Division soldiers killed in action, and 63% of those wounded were casualties from booby traps. Booby traps are the single most important casualty producer in the 9th Division area.)

This, then, is the story of a booby trap casualty. The patterns, types, locations and enemy reactions are all predictable. To prevent such incidents the 9th Division collects the most detailed statistics, disseminates vital tactical information, teaches refresher courses, follows up with reaction tests, and constantly exhorts troops to utilize proper combat formations and distances between soldiers. Notwithstanding, in the last analysis it is the action of the individual soldier that will detect enemy booby traps and insure his and his buddies' safety.

REMEMBER!

Be alert
Utilize the expertise of the Tiger Scouts
Don't walk on trails and rice paddy dikes if you can help it
Probe ,jungle foliage carefully
Watch where you step
Change point men often when you are tired
Use artificial drag lines
Don't bunch up

And when the above don't work and you hear a booby trap "pop", holler "HIT IT" and hit the ground

 

You, the rice paddy soldier, are the most important asset the 9th Division has. Don't be a booby trap casualty.

The People Sniffer

As discussed earlier one of our most reliable sources of intelligence was the Airborne Personnel Detector (People Sniffer). Over 33 percent of all significant readings were confirmed by operational contacts. This high success rate was directly associated with the real time readout of information. The device was normally mounted in a UH-1 aircraft and connected. by a flexible hose to an airscoop mounted to the underside of the aircraft. Air passing through the People Sniffer was sampled for the presence of carbon and ammonia, emitted by man and other sources, and compound sigma, an emission peculiar solely to man. Readings on a graduated dial could indicate the presence of personnel in an area. It should be noted that the Airborne Personnel Detector was much superior in every

[147]


way to earlier models and improvisations. It automatically produced better results.

Although we had great success with the People Sniffer the turnover of personnel had been such that in the Spring of 1969 the newer commanders were not completely familiar with its capabilities and were not utilizing it to its fullest extent. Therefore, we found it worthwhile to re-emphasize the tactical importance of this valuable sensor. To insure that we refined our tactics to the utmost we did a great amount of field experimentation which gave us a much better insight into the preferred use of the People Sniffer. The utilization and effectiveness of the People Sniffer was influenced by many variables, such as the flight pattern and altitude of the aircraft, local climate, wind and precipitation, time of day, population, and the numbers and dispersion of enemy personnel.

Other Influences.

From time to time pundits have claimed that the People Sniffer was influenced by water buffaloes or other animals. However, repeated structured tests have shown that most animals do not exude a scent which is detectable on the People Sniffer. A Viet Cong practice of arraying various human excreta produced an only minor and predictable effect on the People Sniffer, and it was not widely encountered.

Drawing upon past experience and fortified with new experimental information we were able to provide our commanders with ideas to assist units in improving the results obtained by the People Sniffer. It, like any other intelligence source, required careful employment and proper interpretation to obtain maximum benefits. We provided information concerning the employment of aircraft, the employment of personnel and the pattern and time of searches. However, the most important fallout of our experimentation was in the field analysis of read outs.

The crux of the situation was the ability to differentiate between actual enemy on the ground and residual scents. We relied heavily on the air cavalry to sort out our readings. The LOH's would hover over areas of significant readings seeking visual information. The LOH's also employed CS gas extensively in attempts to flush out the enemy. However, in bunkered areas most of the time the air cavalry could not tell whether the enemy remained or whether the bunkers were indeed emptly. However, we set up a system where, by on-the-spot analysis of read outs, we could differentiate between residual scents and actual enemy, thus giving a high rate of assurance that when our units reacted to People Sniffer readings they would find

[148]


some enemy. During the months of March and April over one half of all significant readings to which we reacted resulted in contacts.

It is of interest to note that our best test and analysis of this device took place in the Spring of 1969 which was pretty late in the game. Ideally it should have been done months earlier. We would have then gained maximum benefits from it.

It should be mentioned that this discussion is primarily oriented towards the technique of handling the sniffer. It is somewhat handicapped by the security classification of this study. More importantly, however, it does not do justice to the importance of having the capability to react at once to favorable reports. People Sniffer readings as intelligence were of academic interest. Readings, leading to quick contacts were of real importance.

[149]


Endnotes for Chapter VI

1 The mention of very close-in artillery fire brings out two modest but interesting examples of analysis. In a close seal one could receive two or three casualties from friendly artillery fire. However, the constant artillery fire was instrumental in attaining heavy enemy casualties. By comparing the enemy and friendly losses due to artillery with the loss pattern in normal meeting engagements, we gained a fairly clear picture that lessened our overall casualties by accepting the penalty of small losses due to artillery. The breaking up of a sizeable enemy unit was the bonus that made this penalty doubly worthwhile. (click here to go back)


page updated 19 November 2002


Return to the Table of Contents

Next Chapter
Previous Chapter


Return to CMH Online