Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Two Brothers, Fight #18


1045 Local Time
19 June 1966
5 Miles North of Phu Bai Combat Base, Thua Thien Province, RVN
Operation Dodge

Nikki and Danny were having a rough time, their first time back out in the field after being hit during Operation Utah, their bodies weak after their extended recuperation period.  But here they were again, humping the bush for the past two days after having trucked up north of Phu Bai from Da Nang.  Attached to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (2/4), the whole battalion had been scouring the area of operations without even a hint of the enemy, but that was all about to change.  2/4 was approaching a cluster of hamlets along the coast (dammit, I was supposed to use my beach mat, with dunes, but I was in a hurry and forgot!) and began fanning out to try and get in as quickly as possible, hoping to catch the Viet Cong before they'd made their escape.  But the VC were crafty, had long played this game along the "Street Without Joy," and were already evacuating, leaving behind only a handful of fighters to harass the advancing Marines.  And, or course, the squad was about to run into one such group of stay behinds.

Sergeant Little called a halt and motioned for his fireteam leaders to join him, briefing them on the situation.  "So the El-tee wants us to split off to the northeast, so we are on the far left, there are no friendlies to our left.  As usual, battalion wants us to rush in to catch Charlie before he dee-dees* outta the area, but we all know how that goes, so let's stay frosty and take our time on this."  "Roger," replied Corporal Nelson.  Sgt Little gave Cpl Nelson a furtive glance and murmured "I'm sorry brother, if there was anything I could do, I would..."  "I know, Rob, and it's okay.  Don't you jokers sweat me, I'm two days and a wake-up, I'll be back in the World in no time," replied Cpl Nelson.  "No, it ain't alright," Nik erupted, "I can't believe battalion's got Rock out here humpin' with only days left in country!  This is bull@#$%!!!"  "Alright, alright, calm down, and get your @#$% together, we got a job to do, now move out!"

*"Dee-dees" is a bastardization of "di-di mau," which is Vietnamese for 'leave,' or something to that effect.

Overview, north is up.  The area is nice and flat, the river running from northwest (top left) to southeast (bottom right), with small villages dotting the area (top left, bottom left, top right, and far right), a hardball road running north-south west of the river (left), rice paddies dominating the north and northeast, and heavy foliage scattered throughout.

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 rice paddies are from Battlefront.
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 railroad tracks are cheap, plastic jobs from Target.
The craters, burned out areas, and rubble piles are from Battlefront.
The trenches are from Battlefront.
The bunkers are from... I can't remember.  The company is still in business but they no longer do 15mm terrain.

No opposing force picture, the Marines are on patrol and I won't know what type of opposition they face, what it consists of, or where it's at, until the Marines run into it.  So here is the squad, with Sergeant Little at top, his three fireteams beneath him.

1st Fireteam (left to right): Cpl Rocky Nelson, Pvt Ed Dombroski, Pvt Kenny Mixon, and Pvt Ed McCaffrey (Grenadier)
2nd Fireteam (left to right): LCpl Danny Thomas,  Pvt Shawn Stidham, Pvt Joey Burrows, and LCpl Lamar Jackson (RTO)
3rd Fireteam (left to right): LCpl Nik Jacobs, Pvt Eddie Contreras, Pvt Jerry Fitzgerald, and Pvt Jeremy Higgins

The initial set up: Sgt Little and Nik's 3rd Fireteam search a ville (bottom center) as Cpl Nelson's 1st Fireteam (bottom right) and Danny's 2nd Fireteam (left center) pull security.

Nik signals Sgt Little that the search is complete; Rob nods and the Marines move out onto the road.

2nd (far left) and 1st Fireteam (far right) pull security as 3rd Fireteam breaks cover (center), moving up to the river on their way to the next ille (top center right).

3rd Fireteam reaches the opposite bank (right top), then Sgt Little (center left) signals 2nd Fireteam to follow them, with 1st Fireteam (bottom center) holding tight.

1st Fireteam looks on as 2nd enters the river and 3rd reaches the edge of the ville.

Nikki gets 3rd Fireteam into position (far right) to cover as Sgt Little and 2nd Fireteam near the village and Cpl Nelson gets 1st Fireteam moving, up to the river.

3rd Fireteam pulls security (center right) as 2nd Fireteam takes up position (left top) and 1st Fireteam works its way across the river.

Cpl Nelson has his Marines follow the north bank of the river around to enter the village from the south (right), so that his men don't mask Nik's 3rd Fireteam (center, with Danny's 2nd Fireteam at far left). 

1st Fireteam enters the ville and begins its search, with Sgt Little joining them.

Nik (far right) takes a puff on his cigarette and tosses another stone at Danny (left) as 1st Fireteam completes its search an steps off (top left) for the next village.

But the enemy is out there and about to act...

Forgive me, there are no figures on the table, but I want to orient you to the situation: the Marines have two Fireteams just west of the far-right village (roughly center right) and another moving out of the treeline on the north side of that village.  The Viet Cong have a well-dispersed squad of stay-behinds preparing to ambush the Marines: there are two VC in the pigpen in the northwest (far left top), a single rifleman near the shrine in the southwest (left bottom), a single rifleman in the east (far right top, immediately adjacent the Marines that just came out of the village), two men in the ville in the northeast (top center right), and two men in the north, in the clump of bamboo at top center.

The two VC in the northwest, one with a B-40 and the other with an AK-47.

The lone VC in the southwest, with an SKS carbine.

The lone VC in the east, with an AK-47 (two more VC are behind the wall in the village at top center).

Two VC are in the northeast village, one with an AK-47 and the other with a French bolt-action rifle.

And finally the two VC in the north, in the clump of bamboo, which contains the VC squad leader with AK-47 and a light machine gunner with an RPD.

And it is they (bottom center right) that trigger the ambush, cutting loose with a long burst from the RPD at Cpl Nelson's 1st Fireteam (top left, with Danny's 2nd Fireteam at top right)!

The fire is immediately joined by the two VC in the northeast village (bottom right)...

And the lone VC in the east, the rifleman just on the other side of the trees from Cpl Nelson's fireteam (yes, the Marines are just on the other side of those trees)!

Quite miraculously due to the volume of fire coming their way, none of Corporal Nelson's Marines are hit in the initial burst of fire!!!  Dombrowski, the point man, hits the deck, panicked (white bead), as do Mixon (suppressed, with red bead) and McCaffrey (pinned, with yellow bead), but Cpl Nelson immediately faces east and opens fire with his M-14 at point-blank range...

Killing the VC just on the other side of the trees!!!

And as Cpl Nelson is whacking that guy (far right), Danny gets 2nd Fireteam (bottom right) into the game, returning fire on the VC machine gun position in the bamboo (top left).

But then the VC in the northwest (far left, with the VC MG position at top center left) launch a rocket at Danny's 2nd Fireteam (far right, with Cpl Nelson's 1st Fireteam at top right)!

And then the VC in the southwest (bottom right, next to the shrine, with the rocket trucking out of the ville in the northwest at top left) opens fire on Danny's 2nd Fireteam (top right), too.

No one is hit, and Danny kicks Stidham and Burrows, screaming at them to get in the fight...

The two Marines raise their M-14s (bottom left) and begin banging away at the VC in the southwest (top right).

Finding him and his team suddenly facing away from enemy fire and in the open, Nik nevertheless gets his fireteam turned around and begins working to figure out the situation.  "Danny!" Nik yells," where are they?"

Danny's (right), reloading, pauses, looks at Nik (bottom right), and points to the northwest (top left).  Nikki gets 3rd Fireteam (bottom right) to begin laying down fire on the two VC in the northwest (top left), where the rocket came from.

Up front, Cpl Nelson (bottom let) is taking cover with his team behind the nearby paddy dyke; the imminent threat (the VC rifleman on the other side of the trees) has been taken care of and enemy fire has slightly slackened off, but 1st Fireteam is still pinned down in the open.  "Rob," hollered Cpl Nelson, "we're pinned down, got us in a crossfire, we need help!"  Sgt Little (in trees at top center left) responded: "I gotcha, hang on Rocky!  Danny, help us out!" Danny (top right) replied "Roger!"  Corporal Nelson went back to cursing and kicking at Dombrowski, Mixon, and McCaffrey to get them to get their weapons out of the mud and get into the fight. 

Sgt Little pushed up to the treeline (bottom left, with Cpl Nelson's guys obscured by the trees at right) and began firing full auto into the VC in the northeast ville...

Danny ordered Jackson, Stidham, and Burrows (bottom right) to fire on the VC MG Position in the bamboo (top left) as he slithered through the hedge and crawled forward (center right) to get at the VC in the northeast ville (top center right, with Cpl Nelson's Marines just visible at far right)...

But as Danny is crawling forward (right top, with Cpl Nelson's 1st Fireteam at top center right and remainder of his fireteam at far right), the VC in the northwest ville (bottom left) continue firing on 2nd Fireteam...

Jackson looks on in horror as Stidham is hit and goes down and Burrows is suppressed!

Danny (bottom left) sees/hears the commotion and mutters a curse under his breath, then raises up and begins popping rounds off at the two VC int eh northeast village (top right).

But the VC (bottom right) spot him (top left) and return fire; 7.62mm x 39mm rounds knock leaves off the hedge, kick up clods of dirt, and splash dirty paddy water all over Danny as he involuntarily forces his face into the muck, praying he doesn't get hit again...

But with the northeast VC (off camera to far left) temporarily preoccupied by Danny (red bead at bottom center), Corporal Nelson (top center) is able to raise up, grab his suppressed Marines...

And kick, shove, and drag them through the treeline, into cover, next to the VC Cpl Nelson shot earlier. Rocky leaned over and spit tobacco juice on the dead Communist; "better dead than Red, and that what they say boys?  Well Charlie, now you've earned the distinct honor of being both, shouldna messed with da Marines.  Now, you three, get your @#$% together!"

Nik and his fireteam (bottom right) continue firing to the northwest (top left), but Nik is worried about 2nd Fireteam (right).  "Hey, you guys alright?"  Jackson replied: "Yeah!  Stidham is hit, but I got the bleeding stopped.  I'm talking to the El-Tee right now to get some arty and MEDEVAC."  "Where's Danny?" yelled Nik.  "He's up ahead, drew some fire, but now I can't see him!" replied Jackson.

Nik (far right top) sized up the situation: 1st Fireteam is pinned down (just off camera to top center), 2nd Fireteam has a man down (right top) and Danny is MIA somewhere to the northeast, and the VC are seemingly everywhere to their front and left.  Fire continues to come in on 3rd Fireteam from the northwest (bottom left) and southwest (bottom right); "we gotta start rolling these @#$holes up!  Contreras, you and Fitzgerald hold here and cover us!  Higgins, you're with me!"

Contreras and Fitzgerald (far right, with 2nd Fireteam at top center) lay down fire as Nik and Higgins moves out, back across the river (bottom left).

Jackson (top center right) is hollering into the PRC-25's handset as rounds begin slapping into the paddy water around him and snapping past his head, courtesy of the VC rifleman in th southwest (bottom center, with Nik and Higgins just off camera to far right).

Jackson is pinned and Burrows is suppressed (left top) as Sgt Little wheels (bottom right) and returns fire on the VC to the southwest (off camera to far left).

But just as the Marines are getting into cover, getting their casualty treated, and getting on the move, another rocket comes screeching in from the northwest!

The B-40 rocket slams into the soft earth of the riverbank, throwing up huge showers of mud, pinning Contreras and suppressing Fitzgerald (right)!

The VC in the northeast ville (bottom right) are not done with Danny (top left), who is still suppressed with his nose burrowed firmly in Mother Earth's bosom.  Nevertheless, the two enemy riflemen slap in fresh magazines and resume taking him under fire...

And Danny has had enough!  He skootches (yeah, it's a technical germ) back several feet, then turns and high-crawls back into 2nd Fireteam's position (right, from top left), screaming the running password as he goes so they don't mistake him for the enemy and put some holes in him.  Jackson (yellow bead) looks over at Danny: "glad to see you're back, bro, but you may have just flipped from the frying pan into the fire!"  Danny replies, "I respectfully disagree, Sir."  Jackson laughed: "I dunno man, how many rockets did you eat out there?  I've had two so far!" 

"Nevertheless, I'm thinking I'll just fine right here for a little bit," Danny countered.

Back up front, Cpl Nelson got his team rallied...

And McCaffrey popped a 40mm HE round from his M-79 at the VC MG position (in bamboo at top left, with two more VC behind the wall at top center right)...

Suppressing both enemy soldiers there!

While further back, Sgt Little (far right, with 1st Fireteam behind the trees at top center) and Jackson (bottom center right) pour fire into the northeast ville (top left) as Danny and Burrows rally (just above Jackson).

And when the VC in the northeast ville (bottom center) shift fire off of 1st Fireteam (just off camera to far left) and onto 2nd Fireteam (top center)...

Corporal Nelson realizes it's now or never, so he dashes out into the rice paddies, firing as he goes, closing on the VC in the northeast!

Rocky Nelson dives and awkwardly rolls to the base of the wall, fishing out a frag...

And tossing it over the wall!

The hand grenade detonates and both Viet Cong go down!

Rocky peered over the wall to make sure the two VC were down for the count, then sat down and lit a smoke; "I'm gettin' too short for this crap!"

Back on the left, Jackson is working on getting some arty on the horn (top left) as Contreras (right) continues laying down fire and Fitzgerald rallies.  

As Nik and Higgins get across the river and into position (bottom left) to put pressure on the VC in the southwest (far left)...

And once he's flanked and taking fire he's had enough, falling back (far left, from far right).

Danny and Burrows treat Stidham as Jackson lets the squad know to keep their heads down: "Incoming freight, boys!"

The 105mm spotting round lands in the paddy not more than 40 meters from 2nd Fireteam, just short of the VC MG position in the bamboo.  "Hat's off to ya, Jackson, for not getting us killed!  That's damn fine work!"

"Fire for effect!"  And once the arty fire mission began pounding the area the remaining Viet Cong broke off the engagement, and it was less then fifteen minutes later that the rest of the platoon arrived to assist.

The Platoon Doc immediately went to work; "He'll be alright, should be back in action in a few weeks, so long as we can keep any infection from setting in.  And good work Marines on getting him stabilized!"

"Yeah Doc," replied Danny, "unfortunately we've had plenty of practice..."  Jackson took a long pull on his cigarette and nodded silently in agreement, his eyes never coming up.

The boys grabbed a quick moment together on the river bank as they waited for the MEDEVAC chopper to come pick Stidham up.  "How ya feelin' little brother?" Nik asked as he took a drag then passed the Marlboro to Danny, "you look a little shook up.  It must got pretty hot up there, the way you came boogeying back through the mud,"  he said, casting a sideways glance at Danny as a smile slowly cracked across his lips.  "Kiss my ass, Nik!" Danny laughed, "and no, it's not about me.  But we're fireteam leaders now and Stidham caught one in the chest.  He's lucky to be alive."  "And there it is, brother," Nik replied.  Danny looked at him, confused; "alright, @#$hole, what are you talking about"  "I'm talking about this whole thing ain't nothing but luck man!  You've seen it!  You can do everything right, no mistakes, and still get zapped, or you could be the most worthless sack o'@#$% out here and not get a scratch.  It ain't up to you, you just do what you can and hope for the best."

"You know," Danny said, "you're dumbass just might be right.  For once.  And notice that it's still only a 'might'," he quipped, as Nikki thumped him, knocking his helmet off, and both boys busted out laughing.

Following the MEDEVAC the battalion got back to its sweep and clear mission, then halted at about 1630 local time to dig in for the night.  Not long after the battalion set in the CH-34 helicopters came buzzing in to resupply the Marines, dropping off chow, water, and ammo.  Danny signaled the squad quickly and quietly when he saw the Platoon Commander and Platoon Sergeant moseying over; "I wonder what the hell they want," Sgt Little whispered.  But it was good news: they had Sgt Little retrieve Corporal Nelson, who promptly reported in to the Lieutenant.  "At ease, Rocky, and good work out there today.  I've got good news: you've only got a few days left in country, so I'm getting you outta here."  Corporal Nelson just stood there in shock, dumbfounded.  "Well, go on Corporal, grab your gear and get on that bird, before you end up spending another night in the bush!"  "Aye-aye, Sir!" Rocky yelled as he dashed back to his hole to grab his pack.  Sergeant Little, Jackson, Danny, and Nik all said their goodbyes and wished Cpl Nelson well, then watched as he hauled ass to jump on the last chopper out of there.  The squad was happy to hear he later received a Bronze Star with "V" for taking out the VC position in the northeast village, and all agreed that was a helluva risk to take with only a few days left in the 'Nam.

But the war continued as normal for the rest of the squad; Operation Dodge didn't end until 23 June 1966, so they spent another four days humping the bush, digging holes and filling them in, searching village and sampans, before loading up on trucks and heading back down Highway 1 to Da Nang.

The squad got to rest and relax for a couple days, then it was back to local patrolling and security operations around Da Nang, and it wasn't long before Stidham was back, returned to full duty after being wounded during Operation Dodge.

But once again things were heating up.  Higher headquarters, III MAF, was surprised by the heavy resistance encountered during Operation Utah, where the Marines were pitted against North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars, not the peasant guerillas of the Viet Cong.  Lots of intel work was being done to try and figure out how so many well-armed and well-equipped NVA regulars got so deep into South Vietnam without anyone knowing it, and they weren't liking the answers they were finding.  As always, rea life is more complicated, but in the overall scheme of things, the North Vietnamese troops simply walked across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam.  The decision was made to increase the permanent Marine presence at/near the DMZ (in the form of more/larger combat bases up north), but the DMZ is a big place, lots of area to cover, and so the decision was also made to begin a series of operations to flow in multiple Marine infantry battalions in order to find, fix, and destroy the NVA streaming across the DMZ.

The squad received its Warning Order on 10 June 1966 for Operation Hastings; Nik read part of the order aloud: "Well fellars, it seems the ARVNs been getting themselves into a pickle up there on the DMZ, says the NVA's got a whole division of troops across the DMZ, looking to 'liberate all of Quang Tri Province,' according to some prisoners they captured.  And we are gonna... Proceed to Phu Bai Combat base...  vertical envelopment into the Ngan Valley... we're attached to 3/4 again... be prepared to engage multiple regiment-sized North Vietnamese Army units...  Holy crap!!!  MULTIPLE REGIMENT-SIZED NVA UNITS???"

Danny leaned in and looked over Nik's shoulder at the Warning Order; "sounds ominous," he said.  "Oh, damn, now I'm gonna have to explain what ominous means, aren't I?" Danny asked, taking off at a full sprint in the squadbay as Nikki chased him.

Coming right up!