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Old September 7th, 2005, 04:53 AM
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Default AI tactics: Area Control and Mobility


The Viet Cong eventually managed to construct a very wide-spread and deeply rooted nomading system that had well established standard operating procedures, and which afforded to it a high degree of mobility. Even when located by allied forces, this system made it difficult to entirely destroy NVA and VC units since they could retreat to any number of fortified positions within their zone and finally withdraw under the cover of darkness.

South Vietnamese villages were composed of smaller population groupings, called hamlets. Each hamlet usually included about one hundred families and could accommodate one Viet Cong battalion. The village, consisting of numerous hamlets, was kept under control through the construction of fortified installations which the NVA and VC called "campsites." South Vietnamese provinces eventually became riddled with a myriad of such campsites with combat formations and their transport/logistics service units remaining in constant motion between the various sites. Whilst they always moved on the same network of trails, the NVA and VC rarely made the tactical error of falling into the habit of using a single avenue of approach. It was a deliberate policy to have several routes connecting each site so that an apparently random number of choices as to the approach route was open to unit commanders.

It was common practice that at least one NVA regiment controlled each province. The regiment was normally composed of three battalions of main force troops, consisting of two regional force and one provincial force battalions. The provincial force battalion was usually the best combat unit.

NVA and VC battalions operating independently, moved along their own routes and used their own campsites, with each battalion controlling a network of approximately twenty to twenty-five campsites, usually located in one specific sector of a province. Most campsites were within one night's march of four to seven other sites. Campsites were selected according to three geographical criteria:

Defensibility - the site had to be geographically positioned so that it offered suitable potential for defense, and several covered routes of withdrawal.
Cover - the site had to be undetectable from the air and masked by foliage which enhanced its camouflage.
Distance - the camp had to be no more than fourteen hours, or one night's march, from one or more other camp sites.
Many of the sites in South Vietnam met these criteria and although some campsite criteria were occasionally overlooked, no compromise was made with regard to defensibility, the criteria for which were rigidly observed.


NVA and VC requirements for their campsites and fortified areas were essentially the same as the ground configurations preferred by U.S. military forces and based on sound and proven military principles. American ground commanders commonly assessed terrain for: Observation, fields of fire, cover and concealment, obstacles and avenues of approach. The NVA and VC considered similar principles;

Withdrawal routes - the several routes out of a campsite must not be impeded by rivers or highways.
Surrounding area - campsite perimeters must be surrounded by terrain offering the minimum cover to advancing enemy troops.

Defensibility - Hamlets and villages surrounding the campsite must be sited favorably for defensive operations.

Of particlur concern were potential enemy avenues of approach into the vicinity of campsites and these were closely scrutinized. It was generally preferred that campsites be surrounded by open fields or paddies so that they tended to avoid villages surrounded by high ricefields, berms or dikes, graveyards or trees since these terrain features could provide cover to advancing enemy troops.

Whilst each NVA or VC battalion maintained control of its own network of campsites, they were sometimes occupied by detachments from other units who were in transit. Battalions tended to have particular campsites, or campsite complexes, which they preferred to others and where they stayed for longer periods of time. These 'permanent' campsite complexes were sometimes inhabited for periods as long as three or more months although no single campsite would be occupied that long but rather the unit would move among three or four campsites within a small geographical area for a prolonged period.

Due to the nature of the conflict in RVN, NVA and VC units maintained a high-degree of both mobility and independence as befitting a maneuver army. A consequence of this was that it also had to decentralize its command structure. Commanders of battalions, and lower level units, were frequently given mission orders with the specific plan of execution left up to them. Within the provinces of South Vietnam, the usual mission order was area control and the nomading system was the vehicle. However, the movement schedule, or itinerary, was left up to the unit commander. As a result, battalions were in constant, apparently random, flux. Nomading units periodically interrupted their movements for supply replenishment, the exercise of population control, or in reaction to an allied sweep.

Despite impressions to the contrary, the NVA and VC battalions that controlled a province did not spend a great deal of their time actually fighting. Control of an area, it's population and resources, is what primarily guaranteed it's survival so that the majority of their time was spent in maintaining this stance. The consequence was that they might not fight more than once or twice a year, and only then after very careful preparation. Only incursions by allied troops seemed to interfere with this nomadic, area-control lifestyle. The routes, supply caches, campsites, mini-bases, strongholds and war zones had to be protected and as long as they remained inviolate, there was no need to fight.

Unit commanders would attempt to maintain what appeared to be a random method of selecting their next campsite, or at least made such choices in an unpredictable fashion. The imperative to maintain secrecy and unpredictability often meant that even trusted junior officers were not informed as to where their commander planned to move next. An assistant platoon leader of the 514th Battalion claimed that he could only guess which of several campsites was the next likely stopping point,

"For instance, if while being stationed in Binh Ninh, we got shelled during the day, I could guess that we were moving to one of these three villages: Quan Long, Thanh Binh or My Tinh An. To know for sure which of them would be our next campsite I had to wait until we began to move. Then seeing the direction my unit takes, I would know where we were going."

In this example it can be surmised that the area being referred to had relatively fewer trail and campsite options than was normal since in areas that were covered with a complex pattern of trails and sites, even the direction of movement was no indicator of destination. A platoon leader of the 262nd VC Battalion described the movement flexibility which occurred in those areas where larger numbers of campsites and radial avenues of approach were located,

"There are no fixed regulations for moving. Because it had to avoid strafings and shellings, the battalion lately has reconnoitered and used new roads. The short or long marches don't follow any fixed regulations either. Sometimes the battalion reaches a village at night and leaves it for another village at 4AM . . . "

Whilst an NVA battalion commander possessed the independence to decide upon which camp to move to next, his actual choice of routes was more severely restricted since allied defensive positions and camps, as well as contiguous road and canal locations, often dictated route selection. Quite often the shortest path between two campsites was not taken, since it was necessary to avoid areas of high trafficability or government control/observation. This often resulted in the unit having to make a lengthy bypass in order to reach it's eventual destination.

In particular, roads and canals had to be crossed and, because of security requirements, crossing points were few. In many cases such crossing points were used so exclusively and habitually that they constituted a real and perplexing vulnerability,

"The 514th battalion had its own route to follow when it has to move, and especially some fixed crossing points on Highway 4. For instance, whenever this battalion has to go through Binh Phu or Binh An village. On the stretch of road between Cai Lay and Long Dinh districts, it has to go through Nhi Qui Village. So far it has always stayed inside Nhi Qui until it came to the highway and crossed."

As a consequence, road and canal crossings had to be selected with a great deal of care. Standard practice was to use local guerrillas to outpost and secure such crossings.

Another frequent obstacle to battalion movement also had to be taken into account and that was when allied posts or positions were encountered. Such situations resulted in time-consuming and dangerous detours,

"It took my unit about 4 hours . . . because we have to make a detour to avoid passing by the Than Nhut military post. This GVN post is manned by one platoon of Civil Guards and one platoon of Popular Force soldiers."


In relatively secure or otherwise inaccessible areas, it was possible for NVA and VC units to become complacent in their operations. However, the majority tended to adhere to experience-based doctrinal guidelines for nomading operations. When planning a unit move, a communist battalion commander had to consider several relevant factors including:

Reconnaissance of the route and objective area.

Security of the route and objective area.
Preparation of the objective area (i.e. the presence of nearby food/ammo caches, or preliminary organization for victual confiscation from nearby villages).
Movement formation.

Road, canal and other danger area crossings required.

Enemy presence and activity within the objective route area.

Security and secrecy methods to be employed.

Standard operating procedures required that units not stay longer than specified periods in various types of campsites and that permanent bases were to be inhabited for not more than seven days at a time while regular campsites were to be evacuated within four days, although they might be visited as much as five times within the same month. In contested areas, campsites were to be moved every three days or sooner.

Another NVA column on the move

In the twenty-four hours prior to a battalion move, a reconnaissance element would be dispatched along the avenue of approach to the objective area. This reconnaissance element, led by battalion reconnaissance assets, included a liaison party composed of food supply coordinators and representatives from battalion and company headquarters. Communist district and village cadre would be contacted by the liaison party to arrange housing and provision for the battalion. Local communications-liaison personnel, experts on local route conditions, were also contacted.

To maintain secrecy and security, unit moves invariably took place under the cover of darkness. The battalion would usually move out after four PM, expecting to bed down at its destination after midnight, and before daybreak. Companies received their march orders verbally, often only an hour or two before they were to move out. Everything was then gathered up and the current campsite area was checked to ensure that it remained camouflaged and undetectable from the air. All fortifications were left undisturbed since they were frequently reused.


After all necessary arrangements had been made, the unit was ready to move and formed up in a battalion column of companies, the battalion would move off toward their new campsite. A long-range recon element composed of commo-liaison personnel or local militia advanced about one half kilometer ahead of the column and some two hundred meters behind them was a battalion reconnaissance-intelligence team.

In the battalion column two rifle companies and the battalion command staff formed the advance guard. Following them in order would be the combat support company and/or a heavy weapons company, sufficiently close to the battalion headquarters in order that they could be rapidly deployed and controlled. Next in the column would be the third rifle company, minus one platoon which would be following the battalion column as a rear guard. Stretching in a single file along the approach route, the battalion column would be anything from four to eight kilometers in length.

Units that were marching in single file would maintain two to four meters separation between men and in daylight hours that separation would be increased to five to ten meters between each man. Platoons were usually separated by fifty meters, and companies marched one hundred meters apart.

Daylight movement required heavy camouflage, especially appropriate when crossing open areas, which were avoided as much as possible in any case. Daylight routes were always chosen through the most vegetated areas available.

Areas of particular danger, especially road and canal crossings, were approached with especial caution. For road crossings, a special battlegroup was organized that was composed of a recon team, an infantry platoon and two road security squads. The road security squads, usually armed with RPG antitank weapons, took up positions to the left and right of the crossing site, where they set up to defend against enemy armored vehicles. The rifle platoon then established a shallow bridgehead on the opposite side of the road, while the recon unit patrolled deeply to insure area security.

If the coast was clear, the battalion began to cross the road rapidly. The entire crossing procedure usually required two to three hours of time. Viet Cong battalions usually crossed roads and canals at the same points every time. That habit, although never exploited by allied forces, jeopardized the crossing operation.


As the battalion moved into its bivouac objective area, liaison personnel assigned units to housing or shelter, usually one squad per "hootch." Heavy weapons were placed in the center of the bivouac area, near battalion headquarters. Recoilless rifles and light machine guns were distributed along likely enemy areas of approach, among perimeter rifle companies. An outpost line of friendly guerrillas or self-defense militia was usually deployed around the battalion bivouac area, which was also outposted with close-in battalion security posts.

After the first night in the new bivouac area, the battalion coordinated its defensive plans for the area with local militia or other units. Contingency plans and withdrawal routes were rehearsed and the area was intensely patrolled.

An anti-recon screen of local units was thrown out along all likely avenues of approach into the bivouac area. That screen had several purposes including:

Provide early warning of approaching enemy.

Destroy enemy reconnaissance assets.

Monitor and shape enemy movement.

Delay enemy movement.

Locate and scout enemy campsites.

Surround enemy campsites with an anti-recon screen.

Guide Main Force units into night attack positions around the enemy site.


As a means of maintaining control over an area, the nomading system worked very well and in spite of the fact that the allies had increasing success in locating NVA and VC campsites, the system was so extensive that the enemy remained relatively elusive. Even when the enemy was found and engaged, it was invariably only a smaller component of the battalion so that allied forces rarely had the opportunity to decisively engage and destroy battalion sized elements. Also, even if NVA and VC elements were driven out of an area, allied resources were insufficient to maintain control and it was not too long before the enemy began to move back and reclaim it's former territory, often with much of it's prepared positions and supply caches still undetected and intact.

As a consequence of this, it was often decided to completely uproot and resettle entire communities in order to deny the enemy a lot of the resources that he depended upon. Once an area had been cleared in this fashion it could then be declared a 'free fire zone' which further limited the options open to NVA and VC commanders. However, the area control system was so well established that it was not long before an enemy battalion simply relocated and set about the business of establishing itself somewhere else.
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