Sunday, January 31, 2021

Two Brothers, Fight #7


1530 Local Time
18 December 1965
Phuoc Ha Valley, RVN
Operation Harvest Moon

The operation began nine days ago, and it's been a real bastard.  The boys helo'ed into the west end of the Que Son Valley, got into a helluva ambush, watched some B-52 "Arc Light" bombing raids pound the hell out of the valley, then got to walk around for another week looking at abandoned VC base camps before somebody finally realized the Viet Cong had pulled out of the Que Son Valley and were now inhabiting the nearby Phuoc Ha Valley.  III MAF committed 2/9 and had them enter one end of the valley whilst 2/7, whom the boys were still attached to, entered from the other end.  Both battalions soon found themselves in the fight of their lives.

The squad found itself at the tail end of the 2/7 formation; they could hear a helluva cacophony about a klick up ahead, and they tried to make sense of the chatter on the radio, but it was crazy.  It seemed that the 8th Viet Cong Battalion had ambushed the Marine battalion and were trying to isolate HQ and Hotel Companies from Fox and Golf Companies, and 2/9 was in a very similar predicament.  In any case, the boys were with Golf Company, which was ordered to move off to the in an attempt to outflank the VC defensive line and breakthrough to HQ and Hotel, but on the way their mission changed.  

The Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Dunn, quickly briefed the entire squad: a section of HQ Company was separated from the main body and found itself in a running gunfight heading west.  They managed to break contact but they're beat up pretty bad and they can hear Charlie out there in the jungle looking for them.  They don't know exactly where they're at, other than 'in the bend in the river,' so you're going to go out there and be their cavalry coming to the rescue.  Golf is moving east-northeast, so the rest of the platoon is gonna be the bridge between them and you, now go get'em, cowboys."

Overview, north is up.  The Marines will enter the table in the southwest (bottom left) and follow the river northeast (top right), searching for the separated HQ Company Marines.  Sergeant Garcia figures the bend in the river referenced on the radio is at top right, and there's a nice bamboo thicket that would be perfect to hide in if one were hurt and being pursued by the enemy.  The Marines are in a narrow valley, with the jungle covered slope of Hill 304 present in the northwest (top left), and a finger of Hill 412 jutting northwest from the southeastern end (bottom right) of the area of operations.

Time is of the essence, the squad needs to find the HQ Company Marines before the VC do, or they succumb to their wounds.  And Sergeant Garcia really hopes the HQ Company Marines are hiding exactly where he thinks they are, because if the squad reaches the bend in the river and hasn't found them, they're going to have to split up and search both sides of the river simultaneously, which is a recipe for disaster.

A couple admin notes: I'm playing this game using a modified version of Ivan Sorensen's "Five Men at Kursk," but I've also modified Joe Legan's "Platoon Forward" to a card version to figure out the US mission, assets available, enemy location, strength, activity, etc...  I'm playing this game solo.

I'm playing in lovely 15mm with individually-based troops.
The Marines are from Jimmi's Flashpoint Minis.
The Viet Cong are from Martin's Peter Pig.
The mat is from The Wargaming Company.
The roads are from Fat Frank.
The fields are from Hotz Mats.
The villages are from Flashpoint Minis, as are the bamboo thickets and most of the trees.  The rest of the trees were bought off some cake decorating shop on Ebay.
The sampans are from Flashpoint Minis.
The rivers are from Wargamers Terrain.
The bridge is from Novus Design Studios.
The sandbagged emplacements are from JR Miniatures.

The Squad is looking a bit different after the ambush a week ago, down to ten men, though they do have a Corpsman, Doc Johnson, attached to them for this mission.

Top (left to right): Sergeant Garcia, LCpl Marks is carrying the M-79, and Pvt Jackson is carrying the radio.  HM3 "Doc" Johnson is to their right.
Center (left to right): Cpl Little, Pvt "Nikki" Jacobs, and Pvt "Danny" Thomas
Bottom (left to right): Cpl Zamora (in intense pain and with his head covered in bandages), Pvt Washington (the hero of the last fight), LCpl Murcia-Jimenez ("MJ"), and Pvt Holmes.

The initial deployment; "Alright, take five," said Sgt Garcia.  "This fork in the river is about 100 yards south of where I'd be hiding if I was those Marines.  It's awful quiet, not sure what to make of that.  Maybe they found a place to hole up and the dinks can't find'em.  Maybe they're all dead... Or maybe it's a trap.  Alright, break time is over, on your feet!"

And with that, Sgt Garcia led Marks, Jackson, and the Doc across the river while the rest of the squad pulled security.

Sgt Garcia and his group made it into cover and he yelled back: "We're in, go!"

Cpl Little led Nikki and Danny left, while Cpl Zamora led Murcia-Jimenez, Washington, and Holmes right.

But enemy eyes were already on the Marines, a lone sniper in the northeast.

The VC (bottom right) sighted in with his scoped Mosin-Nagant bolt action right and fired on Sergeant Garcia's squad (top left)...

Being under fire whilst crossing the river had a very deleterious effect on the Marines: Holmes was panicked, Cpl Zamora and Nik were suppressed, and Cpl Little was pinned though, luckily, no one was hit.

The VC sniper then moved west (top right, from bottom center left, with Marines off camera to top center left).

None of the Marines spotted the sniper, but Sgt Garcia and MJ begin firing to the north anyway...

As Danny pushes up to Nik and grabs him and Cpl Little...

And shoves them into a nearby thicket.  "Look at you two, freezin' up like a coupla boots!" laughed Danny.  Cpl Little grinned, but Nik wasn't so amused; "you mutha..."

As the Marines on the left (top left) got comfy in their new-found home in the thicket, Washington (right) does the same for Cpl Zamora and Holmes...

Getting them into the treeline next to Sgt Garcia's command group.  "Anybody see anything?"  "Negative!"  "Anybody volunteering to be bait?"  "You can kiss my..."

"I'll go," said Marks, as he crept forward to the edge of the treeline (left)...

But no sooner had he (top center) broke cover than the sniper's rifle shot (bottom center) rang out again...

And this time he was deadly accurate: he fired and Marks went down, then, as MJ moved forward to help him, the sniper fired again and MJ went down (far left)!!!  Sgt Garcia was splattered with blood from MJ's wound, suppressing him, and the Doc was suppressed, too, as Jackson and Washington were pinned.

The VC sniper continues moving west (right center bottom, from bottom left), reaching the base of the hill.

Cpl Zamora, seeing his longtime friend MJ go down, let out a desperate cry of "no!," ripped off a burst to the north with his M-14 and then dashed forward.  Not knowing exactly what was going on but seeing his fireteam leader moving up, Holmes followed him.

Realizing they weren't under fire and that the sniper must be moving or had withdrawn, Cpl Zamora and Holmes pick up MJ and Marks, looking to get them out of the line of fire.  Sergeant Garcia and Washington are back in the fight, but Doc and Jackson are still a bit shook up.

While on the left, Cpl Little, Nik, and Danny move up (center, from far left).

As the VC sniper begins climbing the hill (center, from bottom left).

Things have gotten eerily quiet; Sgt Garcia and Washington (right) keep a look out as Cpl Zamora and Holmes begin moving the wounded back across the river (center, with Nik and Danny visible at top center/left).

Sergeant Garcia gets with Jackson and gets on the radio (left) as Washington pushes right (far right) to get a look around.

While back on the left, Nik (bottom left) covers Danny (bottom center) and Cpl Little (top left) as they cautiously push forward.

The VC sniper gets atop the hill (right top) unnoticed (despite the fact 1st Fireteam is closing in on the hill, just off camera to left)...

Where he (bottom right) sights in on Washington (top left) and fires...

The enemy misses and Washington dives behind a nearby hedge and returns fire!

Washington (top right) hasn't spotted the sniper (off camera to top left) but he continues laying down fire as Cpl Zamora and Holmes (bottom left) reach the opposite bank of the river.

Where they are joined by Doc Johnson.

Back on the left, Cpl Little creeps ahead (left); he doesn't see the VC sniper (in bamboo at top left), but he heard the shots and knows he's close.

"Danny, can you see him!?" asked Nik.  "Negative, I'm in a fold (right) and don't have a good look at the top of the hill, but if I move up my face is going to be the first thing he sees.  I can cover from here, or keep pushing around the base of the hill."  "Roger.  Sit tight, I'm moving up," said Nik as he began creeping forward (left, from bottom left) very cautiously.

The VC sniper (far right) can't really see Danny (far left) because of the slope, but he fires nonetheless, nearly scaring Nik (center top) to death at the realization of how close the enemy sniper is.

While Danny wasn't hit, the sniper's round was too close for comfort, so the young Marine dove behind some trees and took shelter on the river bank, pinned.

As the VC sniper (far right) takes another shot at Danny (in trees at far left).

The Viet Cong (top right) misses Danny, but now Washington (bottom left) has spotted him and opens fire.

Washington's fire is ineffective and he ends up getting the worst of it as the VC sniper (bottom right) returns fire, pinning him (top left).

Back on the other side of the river, Cpl Zamora and Holmes set down MJ and Marks and Doc Johnson gets to work.  "Who bad is he, Doc?" asks Cpl Zamora about MJ.  "It's bad man, he's losing a lot of blood.  Sit down, I need help to get this bleeding stopped; Holmes, open up Marks' flak and tell me where he's hit."

Though pinned, Washington pops his head up and continues firing up the hill at the sniper..

But now Jackson and Sergeant Garcia...

And Danny are in the thick of it, too, having ascertained the sniper's location and now four M-14s are rockin' and rolling up the hill.

Suppressing the VC sniper!

Danny (bottom center) is laying down fire, firing as fast as he can swap out magazines, as Nikki continues to very slowly close in on the sniper (top center; Nik is atop the hill on the near side of the thicket, while Cpl Little is on the far side of the thicket, and the VC is next to the explosions further right).  "Hey Rob," Nik yelled.  "Yeah!"  "Where you at?"  "Sit tight, I'm gonna flush him!"  "Roger!"  

Nik (bottom center) scans the trees as Cpl Little moves up (left, from bottom left, with the sniper in the explosions at top center)...

But then Cpl Little reaches the position and it's empty... 

The Viet Cong sniper has simply melted away into the jungle (bottom right, from Cpl Little at top center right)...
Back in the rear, Doc Johnson has gotten Marks and MJ stabilized, but they need a MEDEVAC, which he yelled back across the river to Sgt Garcia.  Cpl Zamora asked about MJ's wound, and tears welled up in his eyes when Doc told him it looked like the round had struck MJ's spine.

The Corpsman was correct; MJ would undergo various surgeries and treatments back in the States for the next 36 months before being medically discharged from the Marine Corps, a paraplegic.  Marks was hit in the abdomen and would be evacuated to the Naval hospital in Okinawa, where he would ultimately make a full recover despite losing a foot of intestines.

Meanwhile, getting back to the mission at hand, Cpl Little led a team on the northwest bank of the river (top center) while Sgt Garcia led a team on the southeast bank of the river to search for the missing Marines from Headquarters Company.

And Sgt Garcia's team found the Marines exactly where he'd expected, all seven of them too wounded to walk.

The jungle was too thick to get vehicles in, so the Marines spent the next six hours carrying the wounded Marines back to the rally point.

Once it was all finished and the Marines of 2/7 had arrived to relieve them, Nik and Danny found a spot to sit down, drop their packs, bust open some C-rats, and have a smoke, absolutely exhausted, without even having dug a fighting hole for the night.  "Damn, Nik, kinda feels like we're beginning to tempt fate, don't it?  I mean, we've only been here what... two and  a half months?  Not even 90 days yet, and already we've been almost killed more times than that!"

"Yeah man, I don't see how you're gonna make it outta this alive."  "Me???" Danny said, incredulously, as he stole a sideways glance at his buddy, who tried his best but couldn't hold back a grin.  When Danny saw the smile he reached over and thumped Nikki in the helmet, and both boys broke out into nervous laughter.

There was an ugly moment as the mission was wrapping up; several UH-34s were brought into a nearby LZ to evacuate Marks, MJ, the seven HQ Company Marines the squad rescued, as well as some other casualties 2/7 had suffered.  As MJ and Marks were being loaded onto a helo, Corporal Zamora began climbing aboard.  Sergeant Garcia quickly yanked him back; "Z, are you crazy, what the @#$% are you doing?"  "I'm going with MJ, Rob, ya gotta let me go!"  "Z, you can't get on that bird, they've got him, he's gonna be alright."  "Negative, let me go, you gotta let me get on that bird."  Sergeant Garcia nervously looked up and left, at the crew chief standing in the doorway, visor down, dispassionately staring down at the two grunts.  Noticing Sgt Garcia's stare, he gave a quick, curt, almost imperceptible shake of the head; "Z, you're not tagged, you can't get on that helicopter, that's a court martial offense man, let's go."  "@#$% that!  I'm not tagged???  Get the @#$% outta my way," and with that, Corporal Zamora again lunged to pull himself onto the helicopter.  Before the crew chief could react, Sergeant Garcia, Corporal Little, and Jackson were able to grab him and pull him back, screaming obscenities the whole time, as the helo lifted off.  Sgt Garcia, Cpl Little, Jackson, and Holmes literally carried Cpl Zamora back into treeline, where they body-slammed him onto the ground, then stripped him of all his gear and weapons, and forced him to sit still and drink some water.  Sgt Garcia let about five minutes go by in silence, then told the rest of the squad to get lost, lit up a pair of cigarettes, stuffed one in Cpl Zamora's mouth, and calmly began talking to him.  Cpl Zamora eventually came around, got back to being his normal self, partly based on Sgt Garcia's assurances that they were coming out of the field in two days and as soon as they were back in Da Nang Sgt Garcia would arrange for Cpl Zamora to go visit MJ in the hospital at China Beach.  The only problem was that MJ was hit badly enough that he didn't go to China Beach, he was immediately evacuated to a hospital ship off the coast, and then on to Japan before Cpl Zamora was able to catch up...

The boys slept fitfully under the stars, the squad ostensibly performing security for the 2/7 Battalion Command Post, but, in reality, they were being given a brief respite from watch after the grueling fight and recovery mission.  Turns out they'd need the rest, they're fighting in Operation Harvest Moon was not yet finished.

Coming soon.