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Ambush Alley
20mm Vietnam by Mike Proudlock

Ambush Alley

A Force on Force AAR

Central Highlands, Vietnam, 1965

Working together, the local VC commander and the CO of an NVA battalion had developed a plan to ambush an American patrol. The Americans had fallen into something of a pattern that would allow the Communists to get their forces into position, using a combination of the local VC guerrillas and NVA regulars.

Like all plans, this one did not survive contact with the enemy as the US patrol, in platoon strength, was a day or so earlier than expected, resulting in the VC contingent mainly being out of position, and the NVA platoon still infiltrating towards the ambush location.

From the US side this was a routine patrol through an area where there had been very little contact for several weeks. The platoon had a number of men nearing the end of their time in country that the platoon commander had arranged to be mainly at the rear of the platoon column in his third squad. The platoon had been strengthened with an attached Forward Observation team, along with a medic and a Kit Carson (KC)scout (a “turned” Viet Cong soldier).

With the Americans entering the planned ambush area, a mid-sized opening in otherwise dense forest, the few available, VC forces were desperate to slow the US down and inflict any causalities possible while runners were sent off to hurry on both the NVA and other VC contingents. The VC commander was lucky in that he had managed to get his heavy weapons in place early, having a heavy machine gun and a light mortar set up to cover the expected American patrol route.

Unable to see any of the hostiles hidden at the edges of the forest and in other dense vegetation, the Americans advanced in single file, heading towards the location of the HMG and their planned exit point from the table. Action was opened when the VC HMG opened up on the lead US fire-team. The American’s reaction in diving for cover saved them from taking any casualties, and their return fire quickly silenced the machine gun. The only effect being that the KC scout, unnerved by the attack, suddenly remembered an urgent appointment somewhere else and disappeared while the bullets were flying (A failed morale check by the scout).

Resuming their advance, albeit somewhat more cautiously, the Americans next came under mortar fire, with an accurate salvo from the light mortar landing on the platoon HQ group with devastating results. When the smoke cleared all but two of the 6 men were on the ground. As the VC had no radios, the mortar had had to fire from a position where they could see their target, and in firing had given away their position. Again, American return fire proved highly effective, and no more mortar fire was received. Fortunately, the medic had not been hit and was able to get two men back on their feet, although one had a light wound. The platoon leader, however, was seriously hurt and the platoon sergeant was dead. The Forward Observer, as the only effective officer remaining, took charge.

The VC commander, watching what should have been his most effective firepower having limited effect, was relieved when another group of VC turned up on the left flank of the Americans, and another HMG team appeared in the subsequent turn. Not being hidden as they moved into position to fire on the Americans, the VC took fire resulting in several causalities, but in return did manage to kill another GI before they were wiped out.

With the American now nearing the centre of the clearing, a large group of VC tried to engage the American lead units. Although the Americans managed to fire first, they did limited damage and several Americans were hit, resulting in one dead, one seriously wounded and a number of light wounds before the VC were finally eliminated. The new VC HMG also managed to cause a couple of casualties, although none serious, before it was silenced.

The VC commander, now alone on the field with his command team, was tearing his hair in frustration at the limited damage his troops had done. The Americans were now nearing the far end of the clearing and, despite the casualties they had taken, had not slowed appreciably. If anything, they were moving faster, particularly the third squad, with little time left in country, who were overtaking the lead squads in their eagerness to get out of the open and into deep cover. Even a string of VC traps failed to slow down the Americans with most being avoided, although more men suffered light wounds and one man went down with a serious wound. In desperation, and with no sign of any additional reinforcements, the VC commander led his men in a desperate attempt to stop the Americans, but the whole command team was shot down before they could fire.

The American commander, sensing his route out of the trap was open, considered briefly whether he should call in a helicopter to evacuate his dead and wounded before the patrol went back into the forest. He made the request, then decided to press on (without cancelling the helicopter). The platoon pushed on into the small gap between forest and the steep hill that flanked their route out. To avoid complete congestion, although the pressure to escape that had driven 3rd squad seemed to have infected the whole platoon, one squad went over the edge of the hill. This proved to be their downfall as, unbeknownst to the Americans, some more VC had arrived behind the hill and were preparing to hit the flank of the column as they passed at close range. More significantly, the first NVA unit had just arrived and was located at the other end of the hill, concealed by dense brush, but able to see the GIs on the hill even though the rest of the platoon was shielded by the slope. Having access to some off-board artillery (from a bobby trap card), the NVVA successfully called down a salvo on the visible squad. The burst radius of the rounds was enough to catch the whole platoon apart from two men from 3rd squad who managed to escape. A few members of the platoon managed to avoid being hit, including the medic who went up onto the hill to treat the casualties there, where the whole squad was down. A further 3 serious wounds were suffered, bring the total to 7, and two more men were killed in the barrage for a total of 5 KIA. The survivors on the hill tried to get to cover but, seeing the movement the NVA again successfully called for artillery. This time when the dust settled there were no Americans left on their feet. The NVA and VC were, therefore, to secure prisoners and dispose of the dead and critically wounded before disappearing back into the forest.

When the helicopter for the casualty evacuation arrived it found an empty clearing, with no trace of the platoon or the communist forces. Although there were NVA were in the vicinity, without suitable weapons to bring down the helicopter, they decided it was better to let it go and spread the story of the platoon that disappeared.

The VC had lost about 41 men, of which the VC commander and the heavy weapons were the most significant losses. The Americans lost an entire platoon of 31 men apart from the KC scout and the two men from 3rd squad who managed to escape under cover of the artillery barrage. Whether any of these were ever seen again is another question. A comprehensive Communist victory, although largely snatched from the jaws of defeat in the last two turns by the NVA artillery as it was unlikely that the 5 VC and 6 NVA troops on the table at game-end could have done much better than any of the other communist forces to stop the Americans escaping without the artillery.

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