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Old January 25th, 2014, 10:51 AM

jivemi jivemi is offline
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Default A Bright and Bloody Night

This is an AAR about Scenario 94, the initial attack on the US Special Forces camp at Lang Vei in early February 1968 by the 1st Battalion of the NVA 24th Regiment, supported by a dozen PT-76 tanks from the 203rd Armored Regiment. It's told from the POV of Major Luong, the 1st Battalion's CO.

---SPOILER ALERT---

2300 hours, 6 February 1968. Major Luong eyed his watch nervously as the seconds ticked off. Half an hour to go. Waiting before an attack could be nerve-wracking, so he willed himself to go over the battle plan one last time.

His battalion would step off first, followed later by the 24th Regiment's other battalions if he achieved the hoped-for breakthrough. His initial plan was to approach the enemy position--a system of 5 trench perimeter "boxes," with a larger central perimeter box containing the defenders' HQ flanked by 2 smaller boxes on either side--from 3 directions at once. That would divide enemy defensive fires while confusing their commander as to where the main assault would strike.

However, after considering what little he knew of the enemy's position, the plan was altered. Instead of coming in from the south, where an isolated forward trench would block their advance while subjecting the attackers to crossfire from trenches on either flank, Captain Cao's 1st Company, with its 2 light tank platoons, would approach the enemy's position from the west. They would assault the lower of 2 boxes that formed the American capitalist special forces' and their Saigon puppets' right flank. At about the same time, Captain Ngo's 2nd Company would arrive along Route 9 to take on the upper box; if circumstances were favorable they would breach the enemy's 2 western boxes almost simultaneously. Meanwhile 3rd Company under Captain Than would approach along Route 9 from the east and take the upper box on that flank. Both 2nd and 3rd Companies had their own tank platoon and MG squads for support.

What could go wrong? Plenty. Aside from the usual battlefield confusion, his opponent was cowering in deep trenches and it would take awhile to dig them out. There were almost certainly minefields around every position that would have to be either gingerly crossed or cleared by engineers to make faster progress. Even crossing the trenches would be slow. All that would take time. Time the imperialist dogs could use to call in their genocidal air and artillery strikes, time to call in battle-crazed helicopter soldiers from near and far. He shuddered to think what would happen if his men got stuck outside the enemy's positions.

What had Colonel Phe, the regimental commander, told him? "Just go in there, Luong, and grab them by the belt buckle! Get into their trenches and they'll have second thoughts about using their firepower close in. Their working masses are already on our side, so give the warmongers another reason to quit and go home." Yes, it made sense, get in fast and hit hard. Which is exactly what he intended to do.

2330 hours at last! All companies began moving towards their assault positions as the 4 attached 82mm mortars and 2 152mm batteries prepared to fire a smokescreen to hide the 2 western companies from prying eyes. The moon was out, allowing visibility to 500 meters, yet so far the enemy was none the wiser, although that could change at any moment.

So it did. At 2336 Ngo called in to report that his men had to move away from the highway to avoid fire from a small isolated trench box about one kilometer to the west of Lang Vei which had appeared deserted earlier that day. That would slow them down. A few minutes later Ngo called again to report artillery falling around his 2nd company as they moved off-road. Then, as if to rub salt into Luong's nerves, he reported that the tank platoon leader's vehicle had been hit and immobilized.

Damn! Luong swore to himself in frustration. Why did this have to happen so early? So now 2nd Company would be delayed, possibly pinned, while 1st Company was left alone to assault its southwest box. At least Cao had his men ready, and engineers were already preparing a mine-free path into the objective.

2350 hours. 1st Company was already beginning to pass through the minefield when disaster struck. An enemy airstrike had found them bunched for assault; with the aid of illumination flares they had picked out and destroyed 2 of the precious tanks, and perhaps another half dozen men had been hit by artillery, which was dropping thick and fast. (By this time the sky over Lang Vei looked like a celebration for Lunar New Year was in progress, except the seemingly bright-as-day visibility was caused by flares and explosions, not fireworks.) Most of 1st Company was pinned, leaving the advance elements isolated. High ground in front of the trenches prevented close-range supporting fire from hitting the defenders. Meanwhile, 3rd Company's progress had been halted by fire from the northeast box and had to wait for a smokescreen. Concentrated artillery fire was causing disruption and casualties. How could anything be salvaged from this mess?

2355 hours. Some encouraging news. Cao reported his men had finally driven some puppet troops from the trenches, and Ngo had shown up on their left flank to assault the upper trench box. But it was slow going. Then Cao had another message: "My troops report no barbed wire, but rough ground in front of enemy trenches prevents rapid exploitation." Luong shrugged mentally, then reconsidered. A glimmer of doubt coursed through his mind. "Your troops REPORT, Cao? Aren't you there WITH them? Why can't you tell me yourself"?

There was a brief pause. "No, Major Luong, I detached the light platoon and machine guns to shadow the enemy's southern flank. We have better fields of fire from here, and can keep an eye on the enemy's movements. As the main assault progresses, we'll guard our right flank. I'm staying in touch with the rest of the company through the tanks' radios."

Luong swore audibly this time, making sure to keep the mouthpiece away from his lips. It wouldn't do to let regiment, who were assuredly listening in to the battalion net, know his exasperation. The attack was in trouble, and now his most trusted company commander was ignoring the battle plan to operate independently. Was this mutiny or madness? After regaining composure, he replied in even tones, "Very well Cao. It's too late to change your dispositions so you may as well continue your course. Be advised you are disobeying orders and may face the people's justice after this battle. So you'd better hope your little foray doesn't turn out badly. Over." He walked away from the radio without waiting for Cao to respond.

0005 hours, February 7. Mixed tidings. Both 1st and 2nd Companies had taken the western trenches of their respective boxes, and some enemy mortars had been put out of action. Despite incessant artillery barrages enough elements of both companies had gotten through to regroup for exploitation. Another tank had become immobilized by artillery while one more had gotten stuck on rough ground while getting close to a retreating puppet squad. But that left 2 tanks with Ngo and 2 still moving with 1st company. Unfortunately Than's eastern 3rd Company was now hung up on the wrong side of the highway bridge over a stream about 200 meters from the enemy's position. For the time being he was unable to take advantage of the smokescreen Luong had ordered to cover their approach to the northeast box.

There was another squawk from the radio. Ngo this time. "Commander, we have a problem." What is it now? thought Luong, hiding his impatience from the RTO as Ngo continued his report, which was punctuated by shattering explosions in the background. "The enemy have fortified bunkers in the trenches. Our tanks can't do anything against them, their shells just bounce off at point-blank range. It looks like the only way to take them out is by assault, but when our infantry moves behind them they get hit by fire from the far trenches."

Luong breathed deeply, then replied as calmly as he could. "Well Ngo, do what you've been trained to do. Set up a base of fire to pin the enemy while you advance fresh squads. They can lay down smoke if necessary, assaulting bunkers as they advance. I'll get you and 1st Company priority of fires to exploit your breakthrough. Give me your coordinates and I'll make sure you have everything we've got. Whatever you do, don't act rashly. You've broken their crust, so now's the time to gather yourself for the next push."

Ngo gave him the information which Luong passed on to the artillery. Sure, everything we've got, he thought ruefully. Compared to what the enemy had it was a joke. He'd tried to have more regimental artillery assigned to his battalion, but Colonel Phe had overruled him. "We need more for the exploiting battalions," he'd said. "And besides, if we unmask too many batteries too soon, the whoring Americans will make us pay dearly for our stupidity." So he just had to make do with less, pitiful as it was.

Another squawk. This time it was Than, and all trace of sobriety was gone from his voice. "Major Luong, we've been hit! The jets came screaming in from nowhere and we're being pounded by artillery! One tank is burning and my men are down! I don't know how--" Luong cut him off. "Spare me your troubles Captain! Grab hold of yourself Than, or you'll have to explain yourself to your ancestors! Either gather your forces and continue the attack or I'll come up there and shoot you myself! Do you understand?" There was a whimpered acknowledgment at the other end as Luong dropped the phone in disgust. First Cao disobeys orders, then Than panics. What in hell did I do to deserve these incompetent fools? he asked himself. But for now he could do nothing except wait.

The battle dragged on, each minute like an hour fraught with almost unbearable tension. From Luong's position in some trees less than a kilometer southwest of Lang Vei the booms and screeches of the capitalists' ferocious bombardment assaulted his eardrums as light flashes from explosions and streams of tracers cut through billowing clouds of smoke and dust. How could anyone survive that nightmare? Luong wondered. Yet somehow they did; his radio continued to receive reports as his men pressed slowly and grimly forward into the maelstrom.

0030 hours. The most encouraging news so far. 1st and 2nd Companies had taken their boxes, blowing up bunkers one by one as they pressed forward to the central objective. Captain Than had managed to gather his wits, crossing the bridge with most of his force and establishing a toehold with one platoon in the northeastern box trench. Another of his platoons, along with one of his surviving tanks, advanced cautiously along Route 9 to take enemy positions by enfilade from the north. The other tank moved south to flank the box from the east; behind it machine guns poured fire into the enemy-held trenches from across the stream. Even Cao's rogue party of infantry and machine guns was coming up from the south, pinning down infantry, MG's and recoilless rifles in the isolated southern trench to cover 1st and 2nd Companies' steady advance.

Luong took this opportunity to make his first report to regiment. In a moment Colonel Phe was on the phone. "Pardon the delay Colonel, but I've been extremely busy for the past hour. I'm pleased to report that we've overrun 2 objectives and are preparing to assault 2 more, including the enemy headquarters. Casualties heavy but the attack is progressing according to plan."

Phe responded coolly, but Luong thought he detected an undertone of approval in his voice. "Acknowledged. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions have been ordered to exploit your breakthrough. Continue advancing until you secure the main objective. Repeat. Continue advancing until you secure the main objective. Over and out."

0039 hours. The western trench of the main objective had been taken. Than's depleted forces seized the objective in their box against desperate enemy resistance. Yet in spite of the battalion's success a number of mercenary bunkers continued to hold out. Enemy artillery kept falling like rain while jets swooped down shrieking from the sky, steadily increasing casualties, slowing the advance to a crawl and disrupting assaults on the obstinate bunkers. Engineers found reinforced concrete walls equivalent to 40cm of steel in the ones they'd destroyed. No wonder the tanks couldn't make a dent in them!

0042 hours. The battalion was exhausted, most units pinned or decimated. Cao's light platoon, or what was left of it, made it to the isolated forward trench where they engaged a bunker in bloody stalemate. But his machine guns were silenced, so further advance would be suicidal.

Luong ordered one final, last-gasp charge by the forward elements of 1st and 2nd Company to seize the enemy headquarters and an adjacent objective 100 meters to their front. But there were no unpinned infantry available, so the 2 tanks left running had to go it alone. The first one barged forward onto the command bunker, their main objective, meeting a hail of ineffective small-arms fire and a half-hearted assault; fortunately a barrage of 152mm fire had softened up the defenders beforehand. The second tank charged directly into the other objective, a stone building, but remained mobile, also surviving a storm of fire as watching infantry held their breath. Luong was elated when the first reports came in. The main objective had been taken! But there was no infantry to support the tanks. Could they hold?

0045 hours. Enemy attacks on the 2 tanks by the imperialist bunker, special forces, their headquarters unit, and other defenders firing desperately from the trenches continued unabated. Yet the lightly armored knights survived once again, their crews spitting back defiantly with cannons and machine guns at their tormenters. To their rear and south, a couple of stubbornly resisting bunkers finally succumbed to assault after a seeming eternity of bitter struggle. To the east, Lieutenant Vien, in an ill-advised attempt to consolidate his platoon's hold on the upper box, ordered two squads forward, only to have one blown away by unseen running dogs of the long-nosed colonialists, while the other panicked and headed blindly toward an enemy trench. That left Vien with only 2 half-strength squads, and one was pinned. Luong was consumed by suspense. Could his men resist counterattacks until the relief forces arrived?

0048 hours. The imperialist pirates made one final attempt to dislodge the people's armored heroes from their rightful prizes. Once more waves of small-arms fire rolled over the valiant proletarians; once more the workers' and peasants' avengers resisted steadfastly. Meanwhile, in the northeast box, paralyzed by their corrupt leader's failure to retake the headquarters, special forces mercenaries missed their last opportunity to profit from Vien's imprudence so 3rd Company's objective was also held.

Luong heaved a sigh of relief as the reinforcing battalions' vanguards began moving through his lines to continue the assault. He could sense enemy resistance crumbling as they realized the hopelessness of their situation. Total victory was now a foregone conclusion. NVA forces had triumphed!

Writer's Note: This is one of those scenarios where it's uphill all the way. If I hadn't been awarded 450 arty overload points I would have given up after the first half-dozen turns. Major(?) Luong's battalion is heavily outnumbered in points, he's pounded by artillery (plus air) for most of the battle, and he's got to assault a position that's mined, entrenched and fortified with bombproof bunkers. Gives you an idea of what the NVA were up against, and how much they sacrificed to fight the US interlopers to a bloody military draw.

The battle ended with an adjusted score of 843:1723 (NVA are Player 2), barely enough for a marginal win. I've replayed the final turn from the auto-save after Turn 26 about 7 times. Once a tank on the US HQ was destroyed and the battle was a draw; the other times it survived and the result was a narrow win, with the margin (including arty overload bonus) being between 13 to about 40 points. In other words, if I'd blown up one less 41-point bunker, lost another 50-point tank, or seized two less 10-point objectives (not to mention a single 50-pointer or the 100-point Headquarters) the point-swing would have brought results back to draw territory. You can't get much closer than that. (Erratum: Upon belated close examination it appears that the arty overload was not--repeat NOT--included in the score cited above. So add 450 points and the NVA have something like 2200, so it wasn't that close after all. Sorry for the oversight .)

There are plenty of online resources for this battle, the first time in the US-Vietnam war the NVA used tanks. The scenario designer may have erred by naming NVA units as being from the 66th Regiment. Some sources in fact disagree, so lazy scholar that I am I stuck with Wiki, which says they were from the 24th. Also most sources agree there was barbed or concertina wire around the perimeter but (apparently) no anti-tank mines. No big deal. The point is, this is a devilishly challenging scenario, one more great reason to play Steel Panthers Main Battle Tank.

P.S. Hope the save's OK. Let me know if it's not. Thanks.
Attached Files
File Type: rar Lang Vei Turn 26.rar (105.6 KB, 64 views)

Last edited by jivemi; May 16th, 2017 at 10:20 PM.. Reason: corrections, additions, excisions, changes and filler
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  #2  
Old May 26th, 2014, 06:45 PM

FloodNZ FloodNZ is offline
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Default Re: A Bright and Bloody Night

Awesome read, thanks a bunch for posting this.
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