31 October 2014

Editorial: When Gaming Meets History #24: Team Hocker

In his latest historical column, "Wild Bill" Wilder recounts the 1967 battle for An Thach, a key battle in the early stages of the Vietnam Conflict.

Published on 19 MAR 2006 12:00am by Scott Parrino
  1. vietnam conflict, military leadership, military training

Team Hocker: The Battle for An Thach: August 20, 1967

Each of the bigger years of US involvement in Vietnam had a focus or an emphasis that contributed to the increase of further American involvement. With over 300,000 troops in Vietnam, though in reality less than 100,000 were actually combat troops, General Westmoreland now sought some toe to toe engagements. 

Taking lessons from General Matthew Ridgeway and Korea, Westmoreland realized that the enemy’s biggest asset was manpower. America’s was firepower. It was estimated that over 1,000,000 enemy troops of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Armies might be at one point or another inside South Vietnam. But with the seas and skies belonging to the Allies, along with the modernized and deadly weapons his ground troops possessed, he could easily take out the enemy at a much higher ratio than ten to one. 

Westmoreland felt he had the needed tools to get the job done. America was ready. Now she would flex her mighty military muscle against a resolute enemy. That would change by the middle of the year, when requests for additional troops would be forthcoming from MACV.

The biggest hindrances for the moment were the restrictions placed upon him by the political machinery that controlled everything the military was doing. This was only natural, since 1967 was the prelude to an election year. The boat could be rocked, but gently and quietly. For example, the rules of engagement for Cambodia and Laos remained stringent and in effect. 

While the Pentagon gave MACV permission to fire artillery against valid military targets inside Laos, only in emergency situations involving preservation of life could US troops maneuver into these bordering countries. Further, it was clearly stated that no Cambodian or Laotian village was to be attacked regardless of the circumstances. 

The enemy, of course, was well aware of these limitations put upon the US military and took full advantage of them. There were massive Communist strongpoints that honey-combed South Vietnam, but the biggest part of their supplies and manpower would be just out of reach, seemingly taunting the Americans, much as a child safely within his own house would appear at the window and taunt his peers.

The result of such a strategy would eventually lead to the American withdrawal without a victory and a bitter taste of seeming defeat in the mouth. Any army, thus hamstrung, finds itself at the mercy of an enemy who can “call the shots.” For the most part, fighting took place when and where the Communists wanted it. 

Even with all the offensive operations with South Vietnam, most were a reaction to enemy activity. Washington would not permit an all-out war, and the American army and its young men and women would pay for that decision with their blood.

On of the most active areas was in the north, parallel to the Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ). The nearly 25,000 Marines in charge of controlling that area simply had more geography than they could handle. In addition, a defensive posture was not that for which the Marines had been trained. 

To fortify the area, General Westmoreland put together various groups, including three orphan brigades and called it Task Force Oregon. Its job was to keep the coastal area free of the enemy, reopen Highway 1, and help take some of the pressure off in the Binh Dinh Province. The major units for TF Oregon were the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne, the 196th Infantry Brigade, and the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, which was sent to Chu Lai.

The latter two were not in very good combat shape. First rotations had already begun taking place, and ranks were being filled by the greenest of troops. There were not as many replacements as there had been losses, which shrunk the size, and therefore the strength, of the units. In order to compensate for these weaknesses, various independent armored battalions and helicopter gunship companies received assignment to these forces. 

On the ground, the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry would serve in the role of reconnaissance and armored support to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry. The 25th, the “Tropic Lightning” Division, was formed in Hawaii 3 months before Pearl Harbor. Its soldiers were some of the first army casualties of the Japanese attack. All of their fighting during WWII had been in the Pacific. After relieving the Marines on Guadalcanal, they also fought on other islands of the Solomons, New Georgia, and Vella LaVella.

After five years of occupation duty in Japan, it was one of the first units to enter the war in Korea. It was also one of the first units to be fully integrated during that same time period. It entered the War in Vietnam in 1966 and had fought in Operation Junction City.