Colin F. Jones
THE CONFLICT IN VIETNAM: Part 7
The patrol attempts to dominate the ground between opposing defended positions to deny the enemy initiative by containing him within his own positions.
This has the effect of raising the morale of the troops by permitting security and freedom of movement and action.
Although the patrols primary aim is to kill the enemy it also seeks to gather information, such as the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy positions, his disposition, identification, location, habits, state of defences and to provide early warning regarding his tensions. Patrols also seek to deny enemy patrols these same initiatives.
Patrols are used also to provide security covering areas immediately outside forward located facilities ensuring that exits are free from enemy occupation, thus denying any effective build up in these vital areas.
Patrols are used to check minefields, warning systems and wire defensive structures around bases ensuring that the enemy has not tampered them with. They are often deployed in the role of flanking protection for mobile units, escort recce groups; protect engineers working on river crossings road building, land clearing teams and demolition experts laying mines.
The fighting patrol is required to ‘sweep’ areas thought to be occupied by enemy forces, destroying any enemy encounter, hold temporary ground and follow up successful attacks, prisoners being taken whenever possible for p purposes of possible information. A patrol normally works from a FSPB, but patrols often set up small bases the jungle from where recce patrols can work more effectively.
Escort patrols are used to protect re-supply parties and units moving between locations. They protect casualties and the evacuation procedures of casualties and senior officers moving about dangerous areas.
Some fighting patrols are referred to as standing patrols. These are fighting patrols deployed a defensive role providing early warning of enemy approach, preventing infiltration and penetration of defensive lines. They also guard gaps through which patrols pass and out of particular bases. Standing patrols normal occupy slit trenches and bunkers, which afford them adequate protection not only against enemy attack, but also against artillery support that they may require to repel an invasion force.
Many things need to be considered by the patrol commander. He needs to be aware of the specific aim of his patrol. Information must be studied concerning the enemy, his strengths, habits and state of morale. He requires knowledge of the dispositions of other friendly patrols and units operating near his area of operations.
He requires information regarding the support available on which he can call if needed, such as mortar fire artillery and weather such units might be firing on other targets his area. He needs to establish a familiarity with the ground, obstacles, villages, outpost locations and mine fields. He may work to a time plan, thus needs to recall the time the patrol left and when is expected to return.
He needs to have an understanding of the type of action necessary on contact with the enemy and whether radio silence must be observed not. He must allocate the net frequencies to be used and ensure that all of the men the patrol are informed of these requirements. Instructions concerning evacuation policy for casualties must be known, where the supply points are, helipads and rendezvous points.
After he himself attends a briefing (O GROUP) the commander decides on the composition of his patrol, the strength of the patrol depending on the task at hand. He issues a warning order to his men, where and when a briefing will be conducted, where rehearsals might be required to take place and details of weapons dress and expected activities are discussed and formulated. He ensures that each man has adequate food and water and that all members of the patrol are sufficiently rested to carry out the task at hand.
Once a patrol has begun each member has certain responsibilities, the primary one being to pass back any information he receives from the man ahead of him. This is done with a sequence of signals, that are sometimes unique to a patrol that has been working together for a period of time, but normally the system of communications follows standard procedure.
Every man in the patrol must know what is occurring. Once action takes place the need for silence is unnecessary and noise has a distinct effect on morale. Usually it is the side that shoots first and yells the loudest that maintains the greatest level of morale.
It is in contact with the enemy where the value of careful training, precise briefing, practised drills and rehearsals become effectively evident.
Flares activated at night are often seen before they burst allowing soldiers to hit the ground or freeze. The enemy are aware of this and often to encourage movement wait until the flare fizzles out before conducting fire. In this case movement from the ground need not be rapid although haste is necessary from the freeze position.
The fighting patrol attempts to get as close to its objective as possible without being discovered before opening hostilities. Once the action is won it withdraws rapidly. At night in particular advancement is slow and deliberate, with frequent stops to listen for tell tale sounds. The radio operator always accompanies the commander and, because he is wearing a headset, needs to be protected since he cannot hear what is going on always accompanies the commander
After withdrawal and reorganisation the patrol needs to maintain the same stealth and alertness in returning to a base as it kept in moving away from it, for a laps in concentration at this stage can prove fatal, particularly if the withdrawal follows the same trail of approach. Mostly patrols avoid returning by the same route, to avoid possible ambush.
When withdrawal takes the same route a standing patrol is set up to guard the rear the patrol moving back through it after being satisfied that it is safe to do so.
When a patrol is caught in an ambush or contacts an enemy patrol on the move unexpectedly the patrol uses a practised drill to extricate itself. Sometimes this does not work due to enemy cut off groups, and soldiers particularly at night might be cut off from their unit and must find their own way back to the RV. The RV (rendezvous point) is and established spot where the patrol moves into a position called a harbour, where it can take stock of casualties and reform as an effective unit.
The extraction of casualties poses a difficult problem and a rehearsed plan in this regard is included in the patrol orders.
Sometimes stretches must be improvised, though where stretches are provided the type of stretcher to be used is established in patrol orders indicating who will carry it. Evacuation of casualties depend on the remaining strength of the patrol, the seriousness of the casualty and the mission of the patrol, weather the objective has or has not been carried out. The distance to the defended areas is also an important factor and perhaps more important is the reaction of the enemy force to the situation. It is under such circumstances that many heroic actions take place to extract wounded and dead soldiers.
When the patrol returns to base a debriefing is conducted. Normally this is attended by the patrol commander who is debriefed by the officer who passed on the initial orders to him prior to the patrol going out. Sometimes an intelligence officer is present. The commander debriefs his patrol prior to his own debriefing though occasionally a patrol is debriefed simultaneously.
The patrol commander writes a patrol report recording all the necessary information about the patrols and the enemy’s activities. When his report is completed he inspects the state of his men and their equipment.
Being in charge of other men to some comes naturally: to others it must be achieved over a period of time by instruction and experience. A leader in the army must have special qualities because his leadership hinges on the life and death of those under his charge.
Man, without doubt, is the army’s most important weapon. The relationship between a leader and his men is based on discipline, status of position and attitude. It is vital that he knows his job, and conducts his responsibilities in a fair, firm and friendly manner.
He must gain mutual confidence and respect. He must not become too familiar with his men, but treat them, as he himself would expect to be treated. He should not impart praise easily but give it when it is due. Nor should he hesitate in accepting advice from a man who knows more than he does. He ought never to bluff, nor use weakness and unfairness as a means of gaining popularity.
He needs to be consistent and not let minor breaches pass. He should never be sadistic, but constructive and personal.
A leader should not eat before his men eat and he must put their interests first, getting close without digging extracting from them their best according to their mental and physical capabilities.
This of cause is the ideal, and there are those who do not fit the criteria. Such ‘leaders’ seldom find themselves on the battlefield, and normally transfer to units unlikely to go on active service.
There are of cause exceptions to this as well, and such men are soon found out, by their own failings, which of cause might often be to late for others effected.
The ambush provides a technique that uses shock and surprise in order to destroy an enemy, his armaments and vehicles. Ambushes are complex and may be small or set up in massive proportion. Information is vital and is often gathered by intelligence sources or from prisoners, informers and local agents. Documents captured through successful actions also provide a source of information.
In Vietnam suitable places to conduct ambushes include known enemy guard, administration areas, supply and watering points, approaches to and from settled areas such as towns and villages.
Areas also where there is a marked change in vegetation such as the junction of grasslands and forest or forest and paddy field. Two types of ambush exist, they being the deliberate ambush and the immediate ambush. It is the deliberate or planned ambush that is so complex and difficult to perform.
The anticipated strength and time of the ambush must be considered first along with the general area in which it is to be conducted. A skilled small force can easily wipe out a much larger force in a successful ambush.
The ambush commander must consider the nature of the task, what the enemy force is likely to be, where supporting fire will be established or where it is established, the proximity of his own troops and the ground including where a harbour might be set up or a FSPB.
He must plan what action is to be taken immediately after the ambush, the technique of withdrawal and the intelligence to be taken, what equipment will be required and ensure complete security before and after the ambush has taken place.
There must be full control of proceedings and repetitious rehearsals would have to take place. Obviously the organization of enemy forces would have to be studied and his tactics would have great influence on how the ambush would be conducted.
The enemy’s pattern of movements, movements of his vehicles and related armaments would be of interest, also the normal strength of his work parties and escorts, his counter ambush techniques and patterns of defensive and harassment methods.
Consideration must be given to friendly troops operating in the area for their safety and the possibility of using their positions as withdrawal routes. Essentially, a normally on-the-spot recce must to be carried out to study the ground on which the ambush is to be set. Not all patrolling is carried out in the jungle itself.
There are many open paddy fields and river delta areas that do not have the concealment that the foliage of the jungle offers.
Crossing paddy fields is hazardous, not only because of the exposure, but because simple traps can be set below the mud and water of the fields. The GP boots (General purpose) issued to Australian soldiers have a thin but very strong steel plate fixed in them for the entire length of the sole.
This is because on prior occasions soldiers stepped on simple traps such as a six inch nail driven through a block of wood and sunken in the mud out of sight, or a hidden Pungi spike, the tips of both often poisoned. A soldier stepping on one could easily be maimed the spike penetrating right through the foot. It was not always necessary to kill a soldier, as maiming him would effectively remove him from the field of conflict. The fear that such traps could provide also had the effect of breaking the concentration of the soldier his eyes being diverted to possible locations where one might lie hidden.
Also it would take at least four other soldiers to extract the wounded man thus effectively slowing down or even terminating a patrol altogether.
The starlight scope intensifies moonlight, starlight or star glow in the target area. Light from the moon enters an object lens causing electron movement from a photo-emitter towards a rear phosphor making the target loom out of the darkness quite clearly.
This provided a great aid to night observation and was particularly useful operated from strong points and slit trenches, either unattached or mounted on a rifle such as the M16. The M16, like the starlight scope was also a piece of modern equipment, though vastly over-rated and subject to speculative and imaginative exaggeration. The weapon is however quite devastating.
The M16 Armourlite Automatic rifle has a calibre of 5.56mm, a muzzle velocity of 3250 feet per second and as a cyclic rate of fire of 800-850 rounds per minute. It is a gas operated, air – cooled and is a magazine fed weapon which fires from a closed bolt position.
It is capable of firing single or bursts from the waist or shoulder positions and can be fitted with a bayonet, sling, telescope, (i.e.; starlight scope), bipod, or grenade sight. Fired from the waist it can effectively engage targets up to a range of 25 metres and from the shoulder up to 100 metres, though it does have a maximum effective range of 300 metres obtained using the sights.
The magazine can carry 20-30 rounds of ball or grenade cartridges and weighs 7.25Lb with the 20 round mag and 7.47Lb with the 30 Stories about this weapon, the ‘wand of black magic’, as quoted in one newspaper were often of ridiculous content.
The weapon is a Colt AR – 15 Armourlite, called an M16 by the Australian and Americans. It was said to be so devastating that to be struck in the finger would shatter all of the bones of the arm. This of course is nonsense, as is the story that the bullet tumbles in flight.
Personally I believe the standard issue SLR (self loading rifle) 7.62mm, to be a far better weapon, though does not have the fire power of the M16. The lightness of the M16 of cause is an asset as well as its incredible rate of fire. Certainly the velocity is greater than the SLRs at 2750 feet per second, but the bullet is much lighter than that of the SLR, thus does not have the same potential impact.
The SLR is easier to maintain and is not so sensitive to dirt and grime. Also the M16 uses a lot of ammunition without particularly getting better results than the carefully aimed SLR. The GPMG M60 is also a weapon of modern times that, though dramatic in effect, is susceptible to breakdown. 102 Fld Bty RAA, being over-run by enemy forces, found that all except one M60 broke down. In Malaysia the old Bren gun, now fitted with a 7.62 barrel, used by the British, in my opinion remains the best Light machine gun available, again despite the lack of firepower as produced by the belt fed M60.
By tradition the Owen gun used in the First World War was retained in concept by its replacement the F1 SMG 9mm Carbine. This weapon was issued to some gun Bombardiers, and was not a great deal better than the excellent Browning 9mm pistol issued to officers.
Most casualties are evacuated from the battlefield by helicopter, and the medics and those soldiers from other units involved in advanced medical causes in this regard, undertake extensive training.
In Malaysia a variety of helicopters were equipped to medivac wounded troops and heli-pads had to be cleared to allow them access. These varied according to the size of the helicopter.
For the Sioux the perimeter for the pad had to be cleared to 15 yards with a total diameter of 25 yards, the area for the Scout helicopter was the same. The Whirlwind and the Wessex required a 30-yard perimeter and the belvedere twin rota helicopter a 40 yard perimeter.
The twin and single Pioneer aircraft, which could land and take of in very small areas, could use the same pad as the Belvedere. The Sioux could carry three on seats and two on its external pods, while the Scout could remove the rear seat and covert them to a six foot stretcher. The Whirlwind, Wessex and Belvedere could carry 6, 8 and 12 stretcher patients and the twin Pioneer could carry 12 also. The Single pioneer was restricted to one stretcher patient.
The main stretcher used is the mark II G.S. that is six feet long, has poles 7’ 9” long and a total width of 1’ 11” and is carried by two or four men, using slings if necessary.
While serving in Malaysia I completed an advanced medical course, which required as one of its lessons the students to carry men on stretchers. I found this a very difficult thing to do.
During an exercise at Asahan (Malaysia) I was involved with a party to carry out a soldier who had badly sprained an ankle. Four of us carried him down a ridge side and across a stream. I would never forget how incredibly difficult this was to do.
A medic working with a patrol normally carries a Patrol Pack A, which is issued for any patrol over a three-day period. The pack consists of a triangular bandage, six sterile swabs, a sterile gauze, ointment for cleaning wounds, three finger bandages, three burns dressings, tin zinc oxide plaster, orange sticks for swabs, first aid dressings, three morphia needles containing GR 1/4 (1/4 gram) for pain relief, chalk with opium for diarrhoea, piriton (anti -histamine) yellow tablets for bites stings and elegies, aspirin and tetracycline.
The B pack was issued as a supplement to the A pack. Morphine was supplied in a capsule and attached needle containing a cork that was quickly removed by pulling it out with a wire loop. First the loop is pushed down so that the bottom end of the wire penetrates the capsule seal, before it is thrown away.
The injection is given where possible in the upper arm near the shoulder or in the muscle part of the thigh, straight through the clothing.
It is necessary to record the time the injection is given to inform those later dealing with the patient by writing the information on the patient’s head (i.e. M. 1630hrs GR. ¼).
©Copyright 2004 by Colin F. Jones