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Old September 7th, 2005, 05:04 AM
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Default AI tactics: NVA standoff attacks

A standoff attack has been defined as an attack using 'a weapon launched at a distance sufficient to allow the attacking personnel to evade defensive fire from the target area'. The prime requisite of standoff weaponry is superior mobility. Whilst the NVA were very aware of the importance of fire support, their particular war of mobility forced them to travel light and despite all the differences in weapon characteristics, all NVA/VC mortar, recoilless rifle, and rocket units shared one key attribute – superior mobility. The weapons themselves and the ammunition could be man-packed to just about any launch location.

The NVA/VC considered US and Government of Vietnam (GVN) military installations as being both vulnerable and lucrative targets and that standoff attacks against these installations allowed them to accomplish the following objectives:

Destroy valuable US and GVN military combat assets.
Demonstrate their capability to attack and inflict damage on major US and GVN military establishments at a time and place of their choosing.
Cause the US and GVN to use a considerable portion of their military capability to protect military installations.
Weaken the morale of military personnel located on these installations.
This philosophy was supported to some extent by a prisoner of war, a rocket company commander, who made the following statement while being interrogated in 1968:

US forces in Vietnam are disposed in large fixed installations which always provide our forces with lucrative targets. Our forces are always certain that as long as the weapons hit the installation, the US forces will lose equipment and manpower. Likewise, these large posts do not have sufficient forces to control the surrounding countryside, which makes our attacks easier....

There were a number of weapons in the NVA arsenal that met both the definition and fitted the philosophy of standoff attacks:

57mm and 75mm direct fire recoilless rifles
Mobile mortars
Light weight 70and 75mm Pack Howitzers
Heavy artillery, mortars and rockets
Man-transportable rockets
Recoilless rifles, whilst effective, were nonetheless extremely vulnerable and could not properly evade defensive fire unless only a few rounds were fired and the crew dismantled the position rapidly.

Mortars, particularly the heavier 81/82mm with their greater range, were were generally pre-sited in emplacements and aimed at specific targets which were generally not mobile (e.g. base camps, airfields etc). Ammunition was brought in by a crew and rapidly fired. The crew then hid the mortar and fled on foot. In many cases, mortars employed in this role were often spotted by allied aircraft and destroyed in-situ before having fired off their basic load. The smaller, 60mm mortar, was much more suited to the role of standoff attack and met the 'high mobility' definition.

In the fight against the French in the First Indochina War, pack howitzers had played a decisive role. In the war against the Americans however, pack howitzers could only be used in areas where US airpower could not strike within forty minutes and by 1966 there was nowhere in South Vietnam that met this criteria. As US airpower became increasingly pervasive these weapons, that had to be transported by pack animals, disappeared from the battlefield. Besides, the Chicom 70mm howitzer weighed nearly four times as much as the 81/82mm mortar, had less explosive power and about the same range. It was not therefore an adequate standoff weapon.

The overwhelming presence of US airpower also meant that heavier mortars and artillery were generally not sited for use in South Vietnam but rather fired from Laos, Cambodia or North Vietnam.

Over time, the most effective standoff weapons proved to be man-transportable rockets.

Regimental and Battalion Weapons

Mortar, recoilless rifle and heavy machine gun companies were organic to infantry combat support regiments and were employed at all echelons as combat support units. A typical infantry combat support regiment was assigned an 82mm mortar company, a 12.7mm heavy machine gun company and a 57/75mm recoilless rifle company. Each of these companies was officially authorized six weapons and approximately 80 personnel although these numbers were often exceeded. These companies were supported as required by one signal and one reconnaissance company organic to the regiment. The subordinate battalions were also armed with 60mm mortars, some 81/82mm mortars and a few 57mm recoilless rifles.

NVA Regimental Mortar Company: 100–120 men divided into 3 platoons and 9 squads, containing 9 x 81/82mm mortars; or 6 x 81/82mm mortars and 3 x 75/57mm RRs. Each squad contained 10–12 men. Two to six mortars made up an NVA mortar platoon.
NVA Regimental Heavy Machine Gun / Anti Aircraft Company: 100–150 men divided into 3 platoons with 8 to 10 squads, using 12.7mm Soviet HMG or .50 cal US HMG. Each squad contained 10–15 men. These weapons were often sited so as to give anti-aircraft cover for the other standoff weapons.
NVA Infantry Battalion Weapons Company: 300–400 men divided into 3–4 platoons and 9–12 squads, containing 3-6 x 60/81/81mm mortars; 3 x 57mm RR; 3 x 75mm RR. Each squad contained 6-10 men.
Mortars and Recoilless Rifles were employed as separate standoff attack forces, as a composite force, or in conjunction with rocket standoff attacks.

When employed as individual weapons systems, care was exercised to position these weapons in a relatively well concealed area. They were known to have been positioned within hamlets, at the edge of small villages, in churchyards or in close proximity to individual dwellings. The capability of allied counterfire appears to have been the key to their method of employment.

When employed in conjunction with rocket standoff attacks, where no attempt to breech the installation defenses was planned, mortar and recoilless rifles were normally employed as follow-on fire to the initial rocket attack. When used in this manner, they were normally employed as cover fire while the rocket force withdraws. The recoilless rifle unit was usually the last to withdraw.

A prisoner of war interrogated in December 1963 stated that recoilless rifles and mortars were more accurate than rockets and therefore could be used against smaller targets. He stated that except for the difference in range, they were used in a fashion similar to rockets.

Standoff Rocket Bombardment

By 1966, rockets began to dominate over mortars as the NVA's standoff weapons of choice. Their light-weight, salvo fire capability, and increased explosive power, meant they could be more flexibly employed and substantially increased the standoff threat. This threat was further enhanced by the fact that the standoff range of the 120mm mortar, 5,700-meters, was doubled by the range of the 122mm rocket, 11,000-meters.

Rocket Units were organized into regiments, battalions, companies and platoons. Each regiment was assigned a headquarters squadron, a signal and reconnaissance company and three rocket battalions. Within a typical rocket battalion there was a headquarters company and three rocket companies. Each 122mm rocket company was authorized six launchers and 18 rockets. The 107mm rocket company was normally authorized 12 launchers and 24 rockets. The 140mm rocket company was normally authorized 16 launchers and 16 rockets. All rockets could be employed from improvised launchers. When employed in large-scale standoff attacks, rocket units were often supported by elements of an infantry combat support regiment.

It was usual for mortar and recoilless rifle units to operate separately from rocket units, but sometimes they worked together in varying combinations. If they were used as part of the same standoff attack, they were fired sequentially in the order; rockets, mortars, recoilless rifles, RPGs and MGs.

In support of direct attacks against allied positions, rockets and mortars were used to fire on area targets such as ammo dumps, aircraft parking areas, fuel dumps and troop cantonments. The recoilless rifles and other direct firing weapons would hit point targets such as bunkers, weapons positions and command and communications centers.

Reconnaissance

Prior to a standoff attack, and in keeping with the NVA practice of thorough preparation, the NVA would conducts a thorough reconnaissance of the installation.

Each installation to be attacked was normally reconnoitered at least three times before the attack. The reconnaissance element normally consisted of three teams of three individuals each. Intelligence agents and recon units would scrutinize the target and visit it several times. Reconnaissance entailed a detailed analysis of the installation proper to determine the location and disposition of critical equipment and facilities, the location and manning of command posts, the number and type of perimeter and internal defense positions, and the schedule of installation operational activities. Efforts of the reconnaissance element were often supplemented by enemy agents (male and female) located on and off the installation.

After studying the reports by the reconnaissance element, final reconnaissance of the target was normally conducted by the rocket force company commander prior to making final decisions and preparation for attack.

In order to maintain maximum security, it was normal for the the launch crews not to be informed of any details regarding the operation ahead of time. They were guided to the sites unaware of the exact time of the attack or location of the launch site.

Point targets within the target area were precisely identified and individual standoff weapons resources were allocated to it. After that, an operational plan was drawn up which included the date and time each of the following actions was to occur:

Identification of firing position.
Pre-positioning of munitions.
Approach and withdrawal route selection and reconnaissance.
Site survey preparations.
Movement of weapons and crews into position and preparation of weapons for firing.
Movement of forward observers to target area. Commence firing.
Cease firing and withdrawal.
Weapons Site Preparation.


Aiming Stakes
Rocket accuracy depended on precise firing data calculations utilizing such instruments as theodolites and transits. Prior to each rocket attack, a survey team arrived and conducted a survey of the launch site to establish and align each rocket launch position. The survey team decided on the position, azimuth direction and firing elevation of every launcher or rocket. They also decided which launching mode, whether ramps, pits or improvised stick tripods was necessary. This survey was usually conducted the afternoon before the attack and as the survey progressed, aiming stakes were placed on and in the ground to serve as a reference for positioning, aligning and aiming each rocket or rocket launcher.
Following the preparation of the site, rocket launch crews arrived at the launch site after dark. Armed with tools such as picks, shovels and machetes, they would cut a trail from the rocket storage point to the launch sites and take an inventory of the hidden rockets.


Using the reference stakes placed by the survey team, the launch crews positioned and aligned the rocket or rocket launchers and double checked against survey party calculations. The rocket launcher firing pits were prepared and dug out and the rocket launch systems were wired for firing. Once all of these preparations was completed, the rockets were finally loaded into position.

Rockets were grouped into firing batteries of six rockets and located twenty meters from the other rocket groups. Within each firing battery, rockets were individually spaced ten meters apart. Total time to prepare rocket launch positions, after arrival of the rocket launch crews, varied from 20 minutes to an hour, dependent upon the size of the force and the type of launchers being used.

Employment of mortar and recoilless rifles required preparations similar to those required to fire rockets, except the aiming stakes were normally 20 to 30 meters in front of the firing position. Weapons positions were normally established in a semicircular pattern with the smaller caliber mortars forward of the larger caliber mortars and the recoilless rifles on the flank of the larger caliber mortars. Mortars were usually positioned in a circular foxhole 1.7 meters deep and two meters wide with a dirt bank around the position. This position was usually camouflaged with branches, grass or other like material. Recoilless rifle positions were usually located on high points offering concealment.

Weapons Movement.

Weapons were transported from the resupply point to the staging area by sampan, foot, or both, using military transportation personnel and/or civilian porters. Movement from the staging area to the launch site was accomplished, with few exceptions, at night and by foot. The staging or assembly area was seldom more than one and one-half hours travel time from the launch site and in some cases, was as close as three to five hundred meters to the launch site. Movement of the 122mm rocket is best illustrated by excerpts from an account given by a prisoner of war captured on 25 June 1968 who had participated in numerous 122mm rocket attacks against military installations. As related by the prisoner..

... two personnel carried the launcher tube. This tube could not be broken down, so it was carried by one man on each end. The unit had discarded the tripod because of the weight and the fact that it took two personnel to carry it. By not having to transport the tripod, these individuals could be utilized to carry the rocket. Instead of the tripod, pieces of wood nailed together in the form of a "X" or "H" were used as a launcher tube cradle. It took two personnel to carry a rocket. One person carried the main body and another the warhead and fuse....

This same POW stated that he did not know how the rockets were transported to the resupply or staging location. However, other prisoner of war reports reflected that rockets were transported to staging areas or resupply points by a combination of military and civilian porters or by a combination of sampans and porters. These movements were conducted in daylight under cover of heavy foliage. If insufficient foliage cover existed then the movements would be conducted at night.

Staging areas were normally within one to two hours foot or sampan travel from the launch site. Exceptions to this were mortar units which supported battalion size operations involving a combination of standoff and sapper attacks on an installation. These movements were usually by foot and required up to two hours travel time from the staging area, dependent upon the distance to the launch site. However, in some cases weapons would be located adjacent to the launch site itself.

From five to 30 days preceding an attack, the NVA normally attempted to locate his weapons approximately three to five kilometers from the launch site. In some cases, these storage points were used as assembly or staging areas which are normally one to one and a half hours travel time from the launch site. In other cases, these storage areas may be located along river or stream banks adjacent to the launch site, in graveyards, abandoned villages or hamlets, astride boundary lines between US, RVNAF or FWMAF field units, in tunnels, or adjacent to or within inhabited areas, dependent upon the attitude of the civilian populace. In each case, maximum effort was made to conceal these locations by natural foliage or similar methods.

In his book 'Lima-6, A Marine Company Commander in Vietnam', R D Camp describes how his Marine rifle company discovered a rocket launching site near Khe Sahn:

About twenty meters in front of us, in a lightly wooded area on the side of the hill we had been approaching, were a dozen or so long black objects, right out in the open. Each was about seven feet long and about fifteen inches in diameter. They were obviously 122mm rocket launchers. Beside each launcher was a line of long stakes with vines wound around them. It was easy to see the NVA rocketmen could erect the stakes and vines as bipods to support the rocket tubes at angles from which the rockets could strike the Khe Sahn Combat Base, which was directly at our backs, though miles away. We found three 122mm rocket warheads, aiming stakes, fuses, and fuse boxes in among the launchers, each with Chinese markings. It was difficult to tell if the rocket site had ever been used, for we found no telltale burn marks from rocket ignitions. However, bark had been burned from several of the trees, so it was possible that the site had been used. The launchers were manufactured, of course, but they were stabilized on bipods constructed of wooden poles cut in the forest, pounded into the ground, and tied off with jungle vines. Neat!

Attacks by rockets usually lasted from two to twenty minutes dependent upon the size of the attacking force, the number of rounds available, and opposing counterfire response capability and accuracy.

If counter-fire reaction was slow, fire adjustment was made after the first two or three registration rounds. Forward observers, near the target area, called in launch data corrections to the rocket commanders by radio or field telephone.

NVA rocket units were organized into regiments, all of whose rockets could be fired from improvised launchers. Each regiment contained a headquarters company, a signal and reconnaissance company and three rocket battalions. Each rocket battalion included a headquarters company and three rocket companies.


Launcher positions and L-Shaped Trenches The NVA normally employed rockets in salvos of three, six, twelve, and eighteen. On occasion, in the case of the 122mm and 140rnm rocket, as many as two battalions of eighteen rockets each were employed. A 122mm rocket battalion was equipped with three rocket batteries (one battery per company), each of which had six launchers or a capability of the battalion to launch 18 rockets in one salvo. In the case of the 107mm rocket, this capability varied from one to twelve rockets from each salvo, dependent upon the launcher used, the number of units, and the availability of rockets. The 140mm rocket could be launched from launcher tubes mounted on dirt pads or from improvised dirt and mud mounds. The number of rockets that could be launched was dependent upon availability of rockets, firing system and size of the launch site.

In an attack against Da Nang Airbase in February 1967, one hundred and thirty 140mm rocket launchers were emplaced at a single launch site. Because of malfunctions in the firing system and individual rocket motors, only 66 were successfully launched of which fifty-six impacted on Da Nang Air Base and eight hit an adjacent village. The other two fell harmlessly outside of the target area.

In large standoff attacks, infantry weapons units protected the rocket sites. The potential reaction time and firepower of allied counter action by fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and artillery determined how long rocket attacks lasted. However, rocket attacks usually lasted two to twenty minutes depending on the availability of antiaircraft protection for the launch sites, the size of the assault force and ammunition availability. As the war progressed, rocket attacks increased in both ferocity and duration.

As a result of the increasing success of allied countermeasures, the NVA began to use new tactics for standoff attacks by attacking military installations from more than one launch site location, either simultaneously or by alternating salvos, in an attempt to increase the problem of counterfires. The reasoning behind these tactics was probably explained best by the captured rocket company commander, interrogated in December 1968, when he stated:

...The primary problem for our forces is air observation by the US followed by quick reaction air strikes (helicopter or fixed wing). This limits the number of rounds that can he fired on an installation. The rocket exhaust is visible for nearly 300 meters from point of ignition to point of burnout. This provides air observers with easily recognizable pinpoint locations of the launch site. Consequently, we have adapted hit and run tactics in accordance with the principles or guerrilla warfare. No more than five rounds are fired from any single tripod type launcher. This takes about 20 minutes. No more than two salvos are fired from homemade launchers, which takes about ten minutes. Displacement only involves the immediate pick-up of all equipment and leaving the area with all possible speed, which takes about five minutes....

NVA rocket troops soon learned that they had to follow these 'rocket raid rules' if they were to survive.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal from the launch site was planned in advance. The withdrawal routes for rocket units were planned to provide for concealment by the most direct route to the assembly or staging area. This route was normally the same as that used to reach the site. At night, emphasis was placed on speed. When a large rocket force was employed and its units were pursued, mortars would be used to give fire support during the withdrawal.
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