Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Two Brothers, Fight #17


1600 Local Time
5 March 1966
Near Hill 50, Quang Ngai Province, RVN
Operation Utah

The boys had accompanied Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (L/3/1) in the final assault to secure Hill 50, and now they were attached to Mike Company, which was attacking the fortified village of Chau Nhai (3), which lies just east of Hill 50, from west to east, while India Company had swung around to the north and were attacking from east to west.

The boys' platoon was attacking on the far left flank of Lima Company, with the boy's squad on the far left flank of their platoon, on the left end of a line running north-south.  "Our job is to break into the northwest end of the village, securing a foothold, as the rest of the platoon swings in from the front.  We'll be tying down their left flank, making sure the NVA can't filter in behind them as they push east to clear the rest of the village," Corporal Little briefed the squad.  "So, what, Corporal, the seven of us are gonna assault the village, all by ourselves?" Jackson asked.  "No Jackson, we're gonna have all of Lima Company out there with us assaulting the village.  They just won't be anywhere you can see them.  But trust me, they're there," Corporal Little replied, as the squad busted into nervous laughter.  "Let's go, Marines."

Overview, north is up.  You can see the far eastern end of Hill 50 at bottom left, and the northwestern end of the fortified village of Chau Nhai (3) at bottom/far right.  Air and arty has worked the area over, leaving a significant number of craters dotting the landscape, which is otherwise covered with hedges and rice paddies.  The squad is approaching from the northwest (top left), seeking to get as close to the village as possible before the shooting starts.

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.

The opposing forces, with the Marines on the left and NVA on the right.

The squad is beat to hell, down to seven combat effectives, including the Doc!  Corporal Little is very concerned with this mission, knowing it's going to take everything the squad's got if the enemy puts up even light resistance in this area of the village. 

Top (left to right): Cpl Little, LCpl "Danny" Thomas, and PFC "Nikki" Jacobs (M-60)
Bottom (left to right): Pvt McCaffrey (grenadier), PFC Rivera, LCpl Jackson (RTO), and HM3 Johnson (Corpsman) 

The NVA occupying this section of Chau Nhai (3) have been beat up pretty well, too, down to an NCO and three riflemen on post and another four men manning the bunkers (two each; normally I treat each of these types of bunkers as containing three men, but with the squad down to only seven men and the NVA having suffered heavy losses in the fighting in and around Hill 50, I have reduced them to two men each).

Overview, now with troops.  The Marines have entered the area at top left, while the NVA occupy the village, from bottom center to far right.  The most important aspect to this is that the enemy has a bunker on each flank (right bottom center and far right top. Each bunker has a rifleman posted outside it for flank protection, while the NVA leader and last rifleman occupy the trenchline connecting the two bunkers.

The Marines, hunkering down behind nearby hedge and behind a paddy dyke.  From top left: Jackson, Nik, McCaffrey, Doc Johnson, Cpl Little, Rivera, and Danny.

"Alright Marines, keep your heads down," Cpl Little relayed, "friendly mortars inbound, then we're jumping off."  "Roger that!"

A look, from west to east, at Chau Nhai (3).  You can see the NVA's far left flanker at bottom center right, behind the wood fence, with the West Bunker just above him, and the East Bunker clearly visible at top left.

A closer look at the west end of the enemy line.

And a look at the right end of the NVA line, where they have a rifleman in the trench (bottom center), the East Bunker (just above him), and another rifleman out on the far right (top right) as flank security.

Right on time, the Marine 81mm mortars came in on Chau Nhai (3), hitting the center and east end of the NVA defensive line.

The NVA NCO and rifleman in the trench are both killed outright by the Marine mortar rounds...

While one of the NVA soldiers in the East Bunker and the far-right flanker are suppressed!

Jackson, Nik, McCaffrey, and Doc Johnson (top left) look on as Danny, Rivera, and Corporal Little begin traipsing across the rice paddies...

Danny pushes further east (far right) as Doc begins following Cpl Little...

The NVA have sucked the Marines in, allowing the assault element to advance out into the open rice paddies, devoid of cover, when the two NVA riflemen in the West Bunker (bottom right) finally breaks the tension: 7.62mm rounds snap and zip past the exposed Marines, plowing into the paddies, kicking up geysers of dirty water.  Luckily for the Marines, non one is hit, but Danny (right) and Rivera (center) are suppressed, as Cpl Little (left) is pinned!

The East Bunker (bottom right) immediately joins in, spraying with their AK-47s on full auto at the advancing Marines (top left to top center).

Corporal Little (bottom right) and Doc Johnson (bottom center right) are both suppressed by the fire from the East Bunker (top right); "@#$%!!!" screams Nik (bottom left), "return fire, return fire!  I don't have a shot at that bunker on the right (the West Bunker, just off camera to far right), hit it with the thumper!" Nik ordered McCaffrey, as he poured tracers from his M-60 into the East Bunker.  "Roger that!" replied McCaffrey, as he fired a 40mm HE round.

"Jackson, get on the horn and let'em know we need help, they're pinned down and dead meat out there in those rice paddies," Nik continued.  "Already on it, boss!" Jackson replied.

But Nikki's machine gun fire on the West Bunker (top left) is ineffective, and McCaffrey's bloop-shot at the East Bunker (right) was short, accomplishing nothing, as the NVA's far-left flanker pops up for a look over the wall (bottom left, with Danny suppressed at far left).

Jackson (bottom left) spots the enemy flanker popping up over the wall (right top) and fires his M-14, suppressing him!

As Nik (bottom left) feeds a fresh belt of ammo into his M-60 and resumes sending tracers out across the rice paddies, into the West Bunker (top center right, with Doc suppressed at far right).

And this time he's on target, suppressing both NVA in the West Bunker (bottom left) and convincing the far-right flanker (far right) he's got better places to be, so he turns and hauls ass, done for the day!

McCaffrey takes another shot at the West Bunker...

The 40mm HE round slams into the roof of the bunker, suppressing both NVA riflemen inside!

There's a brief lull in the fighting as both sides take a minute to collect themselves, but as son as both NVA bunkers resumed firing...

Nik and McCaffrey immediately responded, managing to again suppress one enemy soldier in each of the bunkers.

Back in the rice paddies, Cpl Little (bottom left), Rivera (left), and Danny (top center) are in Death Ground, with no way out but to fight, so all three open fire on the West Bunker (top right) with their M-14s on full auto...

The Marine fire is heavy and accurate, suppressing one NVA in the bunker (left, with Danny visible above it) and the other to fall back into the trenchline (right), suppressed!

But with the West Bunker (bottom center right) under heavy fire, the NVA's far-left flanker (bottom left) pops back up and opens up with his AK-47...

And then the East Bunker (bottom right) joins in, firing on the Marines' assault element (top left), but they only manage to suppress Rivera.

Rivera is suppressed in the paddy (red bead at center left) as the rest of the assault element moves: Doc and Cpl Little both run and jump into nearby craters for cover (far left and bottom center, respectively), as Danny takes off at a muddled sprint, trips over the paddy dyke, then high crawls up to a nearby straw hut (top right), right next to the firing port of the West Bunker!

Jackson (bottom left) continues firing on the NVA's far-left flanker (top right, in the corner of the wood walls), keeping him suppressed.

"Dammit, be careful Jackson," yelled Nik, "the assault element is pushing up, be careful, DO NOT hit one of our own guys!"  "Gotcha Nik!" replied Jackson.

The NVA's East Bunker (bottom right) continues firing, pinning Cpl Little (left top).

But with the assault element nearly on top of the West Bunker (off camera to bottom right), both Nik and McCaffrey target the East Bunker (top right), Nikki firing belt after belt from his M-60 as McCaffrey pops out 40mm grenades.

The East Bunker is suppressed as the Marine machine gun fire and 40mm grenades are dead on target!

Meanwhile, Doc crawls out of the crater and up to Rivera, where he helps get him back in the fight.

Rivera (top left, with Doc) and Cpl Little (bottom left) pour point-blank fire into the West Bunker (far right, with Danny just above it)...

But the NVA in the trenchline (top right, he was previously in the West Bunker but was forced to fall back) and the far-left flanker (bottom center right, behind the wall) return fire, suppressing Doc (far left)!

Jackson (bottom left) continues squeezing off single, well-aimed shots at the NVA on the west end of the village (top right), doing his best not to hit any of the Marines of the assault element...

As Danny crawls up the firing port of the NVA's West Bunker.  He rolls onto his side, fishing a frag out of his pocket, then sweeps the safety clip off, pulls the pin, lets the spoon fly, and begins cooking off the grenade...

But the NVA rifleman in the trench spots him and fires, hitting  Danny in the back!!!

Danny manages to roll the frag into the West Bunker, then flops backwards, away from the firing port, as the grenade goes off, killing the NVA inside!

The NVA rifleman in the trench (bottom right) quickly recovers from the explosion, then sights in and fires on Rivera (top left)...

Doc digs his buttons into the soft earth as Rivera is hit and goes down; Doc reaches over to check, but he's gone...

"Noooo!!!" Nikki yells as he sees Rivera get hit and go down.  Jackson gasps, and drops his rifle!  "What the hell are you doing?" Nik asks.  "It... it was me. I think... I think I shot Rivera!" replied Jackson, with tears in his eyes.  "You didn't hit Rivera, the dinks in the trench got him, now pick up your weapon and get back in the fight," yelled Nik, as he swung his M-60 over and began sending tracers into the West Bunker (top right).

"And where's Danny?  I ain't see him since that explosion in the right-hand bunker," Nik asked.

The NVA's far-left flanker (bottom right) popped up and began firing on the base of fire element (top left, with Cpl Little pinned down in the craters at center and Doc suppressed just above him).

The NVA's fire is ineffective (top right), as Nik (bottom left) shifts fire onto him, suppressing him.

The NVA in the East Bunker (top left) rally, as McCaffrey sends a 40mm HE round at the far-left flanker (far right)...

McCaffrey manages to drop the grenade right over the wall, perfect shot, landing right at the NVA rifleman's feet, killing him (bottom left, with the last remaining NVA on the left being the guy in the trench at top right)!

Nik (bottom left) then turned his M-60 back on the East bunker (top right), stitching tracers into it, suppressing of of the two NVA inside.

The other NVA in the West Bunker (bottom right) returns fire on the base of fire element (top left)...

Cpl Little (bottom center) spots the NVA in the trench (top right) and opens fire, suppressing him, as Doc grabs Rivera (far left)...

And drags him back into the cover of a hedge-lined rice paddy (far left, from right), but his initial assessment was correct, Rivera is dead.

The NVA in the East Bunker (bottom right) have rallied and open fire again on the assault element (top left, with the base of fire element at top right)...

Doc (top left) looks on in horror as Cpl Little is hit and goes down (bottom right)!

Nik (bottom left) yells in horror, then sends a long string of tracers into the East Bunker (top right)...

"Jackson, give me your rifle!" yelled Nik...

As he handed the M-60 to Jackson, pulling extra magazines out of Jackson's magazine pouches and stuffing them in his cargo pockets.  "Cover me, I'm going forward!  And don't quit trying to get air or arty, we're in deep really @#$% now!"

Jackson (bottom left) took up firing at the East Bunker (top right) with the M-60...

Covering Nik as he dashed forward to help Rob and Danny...

The NVA in the East Bunker (bottom right) spot him (top left) and open fire...

And McCaffrey responds with his M-79...

Which hits near the East Bunker's firing port, suppressing one of the NVA inside!

But as Nik (top left) continues trudging through the rice paddy, the NVA in the trenchline (bottom right), next to the knocked-out West Bunker, spots him and opens fire...

And now McCaffrey (left, with Jackson above him) looks on in shocked disbelief as Nikki is hit and goes down (right)!!!

The NVA in the trenchline continues exchanging fire with Jackson and McCaffrey, the only two Marines still in the fight...

And they continue firing at him and the West Bunker, though Jackson is concerned as they are beginning to run low on ammo...

Jackson and McCaffrey (top left) continue laying down fire as Doc rushes out into the paddy, diving into the mud next to Nik.  "You still in there, bud?" Doc asked.  "Yeah, Doc, and very happy to see you."  "Where you hit?"  "I think it's bad, Doc.  I think he got me in the guts."  Doc pulled closer to him and jerked his blouse open, checking the wound: "nah, close, but not the guts.  Can't walk, can ya?"  "Negative."  "Alright, stand by, this is gonna hurt."

Doc hosted Nik up, onto his shoulders, into a Fireman's Carry.  "God bless, Nik, you need to go on a diet!"  "Kiss my ass, Doc!" Nik explained, as Doc lurched back to the cover of the hedge, 7.62mm rounds zipping past, before collapsing behind the paddy dyke, exhausted...

Doc laid there a minute, listening to the sounds of gunfire, the rounds zipping back and forth overhead, Jackson on the radio.  "Alright, back to work," Doc said to himself.  He quickly treated and dressed Nik's wound...

Then helped him sit upright and handed him Rivera's rifle.  "Thanks, Doc," was Nik could muster before sighting down the barrel of the M-14 and opening fire.

The NVA in the trenchline (bottom right) continued firing at the Marines...

And Nik (bottom left) calmly returned fire.  "Hey, Doc, where's Danny?" Nik asked.  "He got hit earlier, when he was knocking out the bunker on the right that dude in the trench shot him.  I think he's up there next to that hootch on the right side of the well (top center right)."  "Dammit!"

"We gotta get Danny!" Nik cried.  "What's this 'we' @#$%???  You can't walk, that only leaves me!  I know he's your bro, but there's no way I can get there without getting hit!" Doc replied.  "Yeah, he's my brother, but you don't understand, the only way out of this @#$%sandwich is to call in air or arty, and we ARE NOT calling air or arty in on the village with Danny and Rob laying out there!"

"Dammit man, I read you," Doc replied dejectedly.  "Alright, get ready then..."

The NVA in the west end of the trench began falling back to the east (center, from bottom left)...

And the Marines kept up their fire...

Covering Doc as he splashed through the rice paddies on his way to find Danny (far right)...

Doc dove into the mud, crawled up to the dyke, and peered over: "Danny, you okay?"  "Ugh...  Of course I'm not okay, Doc, that bastard shot me in the back!"  "Alright, stand by, I'm coming for ya," Doc said as he rolled over the dyke, up next to Danny (bottom left, with the NVA in the trench suppressed at top right).

The Marines continued laying down fire, paying special attention to the East bunker (top center right)...

As Doc lifted Danny and carried him across the rice paddies (center, from far right, with Nikki laying down fire at far left)...

Doc rounded the bend and flopped down in the mud, Danny on his back still.  He was so exhausted that he couldn't pull his head up out of the paddy water and nearly drowned before Nik noticed and rolled Danny off of him!

"Dammit, it's bad," Doc said.  "No way he's getting back in the fight, so cover me, I'm going for Rob, and I'll treat Danny when I get back."  "Roger," Nik replied, squeezing off rounds at the NVA in the trench, "and hang in there, little brother, it's gonna be alright."

The Marines continue laying down fire as Doc headed out once again (bottom right, from center)...

Doc's legs were so heavy he tripped over the last dyke and fell into the crater, almost on top of Corporal Little.  "Damn, you okay, Rob?"  But Cpl Little was unconscious.

Doc lay there for a good ten minutes, listening as the fire slackened on both sides, down to the occasional odd, angry shot.  "Nik!!!"

"Yeah!"  "Alright man, fire it up, I'm coming back in!"  "Roger, come on!"

The Marines went cyclic, burning up the last of the M-60 and M-79 ammo, though they still had M-14 ammo left over from all the wounded Marines.  Doc heaved Corporal Little onto his shoulders and staggered forth, agonizingly slow, across the rice paddies, back to Nik's position...

Where he once again flopped down in the mud, barely conscious, gasping for air.

Nik yelled back to Jackson: "Jackson, you still got that FAC on the radio!"  "Yeah!"  "Well tell him we're clear, and we'll mark the target with a Willie Pete!"  

"McCaffrey!"  "Yeah, Nik!"  "You got a Willie Pete round left, right!"  "Yeah, Nik!"  Well put it on that bunker on the left!"  "Roger!"

All the yelling and shooting brought Corporal Little back to life.  "Rob!  Well, lookie there, Sleeping Beauty decided to re-join the land of the living!"  "Eat @#$%, Nik," Cpl Little said as he slid over to the hedge and shouldered his rifle, joining Nik in firing to the east, as Doc worked on treating Danny's wounds.

"On the way!" McCaffrey hollered, as he fired the White Phosphorous round at the West Bunker...

Marking it for the Forward Air Controller.  "Jackson, the Wille Pete is dead on, tell the FAC to bring the fast movers in from southwest to northeast so they don't hit us!"

"Roger that!  FAC says fast movers inbound, they're rolling in hot in five mikes, keep your heads down, we're danger close!"

A pair of F-4 Phantoms rolled in, low and slow, talking directly to Jackson, to make sure they understood the target location, friendly location, and approach.

And all eyes were skyward as the Phantoms rolled in for their second pass, pickling their ordnance at what seemed like an impossibly long distance from the target...

But the Marines sat there, gawking, tracing the path of the tumbling canisters as they tumbled directly onto the target, skittering across the landscape for a moment before suddenly shooting a mass of flame and roiling, black smoke skyward, sucking the air out of their lungs for a brief moment...

And with that, the fight was over.  The Marines probably did not know, or much care, that they only faced two remaining NVA at that point.  But now the battlefield, at least in the immediate vicinity (the Marines of 3/1 were still involved in multiple firefights further east and south), was eerily silent, the only sound the being Jackson's radio breaking squelch.  Gradually their senses returned, and Nik realized the Platoon Commander was calling for a SITREP and explaining they had broken contact and were enroute, they just needed to know exactly where Corporal Little's squad was.  Nik called out to Jackson, ordering him to answer. 

The Marines lay there, bleeding and exhausted, pretty much out of ammo and water.  It took about fifteen minutes before Lieutenant Ward and the rest of the platoon showed up, advancing into Chau Nhai (3), setting security, and working backwards to help the squad get sorted out and back on its feet.  

The toll was high: Rivera was killed in action, Corporal Little was lightly wounded, and Nik and Danny were both badly wounded.  All three would be MEDEVACKED, with Corporal Little, who's wound wasn't that bad, going to the hospital at China Beach, while Nik and Danny were both being sent to one of the hospital ships offshore.  Nik and Danny remembered laying on litters on the LZ next to Corporal Little, zonked out of their minds on morphine, waiting on the choppers to come in and scoop them up, but they next thing they knew they were waking up aboard the hospital ship, not even getting a chance to say goodbye to Doc Johnson and Corporal Little, both of whom were scheduled to rotate back to the States immediately.

The squad was so beat up that Jackson, McCaffrey, and Doc, the only guys left, were split up and sent to different parts of the platoon (Jackson to 1st Squad, McCaffrey to 2nd Squad, and Doc to the Platoon Command Section) for the duration of Operation Utah.  The good news for them was that the NVA's 21st Infantry Regiment had taken heavy casualties the last two days and finally had enough, choosing to pack it in and get out of Dodge, as 3/1, 1/7, and 2/4 closed in on them.  Stay-behinds fought delaying actions, and a couple small detachments were caught trying to escape, but other than that the fighting in Operation Utah was finished.  The Marines of the squad spent the next two days humping the bush uneventfully.  In the early afternoon of 7 March 1966 the helos arrived to scoop the Marines up and bring them back to Chu Lai, before being trucked back to Da Nang, where they wearily fell back into their old squadbay.

Headquarters reported that the NVA were hit hard during Operation Utah, suffering 600 men killed in action and five captured, while the Marines lost 98 men and had another 278 wounded.  The ARVN, for their part, suffered 30 KIA and 120 WIA.  It had been a helluva fight, the Corps' first contest against the North Vietnamese Army, a harbinger of things to come.  The squad had deployed to Operation Utah actually over strength, with sixteen men, ending the op with only three men still in the field.  Along they way they suffered three Marines killed in action, four wounded badly enough to be sent home, and six wounded badly enough to be brought out of the field for medical attention.

Nik and Danny both received their second Purple Heart, and one day while they recuperating aboard the hospital ship a Marine Colonel came by and pinned the Bronze Star w/V on Nik and promoted him to Lance Corporal.  It took the boys two and a half months to recover from their wounds, not getting back to the squadbay in Da Nang until nearly the end of May 1966.  The squad had largely been inactive since Operation Utah, bringing in some replacements, training them up, running local patrols, performing base security, and participating in a couple walks in the woods, all without any major contact.  

The boys were a little apprehensive walking through the door, not sure how it would be, who they'd still know, but they were floored when they walked in: "Well, how 'bout that @#$%, about @#$%in' time, knuckleheads!" boomed the voice of Sergeant Robert Little, recent recipient of the Navy Cross and Silver Star.  "Rob, what the hell are you doing here?" both boys exclaimed as they rushed over to their squad leader, hugging it out.  "I reenlisted, then shipped over for another tour in the 'Nam, wasn't ready to go home yet, figured you knuckleheads needed me more than anyone back in the States," smiled Rob.  "I can't believe it, I was sure you'd be gone and we wouldn't know anyone in the squad," replied Danny.  "Yeah, we've picked up some replacements, but look," he said, pointing across the squad bay, "still plenty of friendly faces."  "Excellent!" exclaimed Danny.  "Yeah, still plenty of faces missing, too," said Nik.

"What about Doc Johnson," Nik asked Rob.  "He rotated out as soon as we got back to Da Nang, couldn't wait to get back to his wife and their little one."  "Man, I'm sure glad to hear that, that cat saved our asses in Chau Nhai."  "Yeah he did!" replied Rob. "You know, the BC put him up for the Congressional Medal of Honor, had a bunch of Captains from MAF staff running around here, interviewing everybody."  It would be almost a year later before Doc Johnson would be called to Washington, D.C., for President Lyndon B. Johnson to hang the Medal of Honor around his neck for his selfless actions in the rice paddies north of of Chau Nhai (3) on 5 March 1966.

"Rob, tell me you still got my Pig," begged Nik.  "Sorry bro, I was on the same MEDEVAC as you were, I have no idea what happened to your M-60," replied Sergeant Little.  "Besides, you're a Fireteam leader now, back to your M-14."  "Yeah," said Nik, "makes sense, but it sure was nice having a machine gun in the squad, wasn't it?"  The three veteran Marines silently nodded in agreement.  "And let me guess, Danny is a Fireteam leader, too?"  "Yeah, why?  And I don't want to hear any bull@#$% about you two not being together, we're all in the same squad, we're all in the same @#$% together, so get over it."  "Aye-aye, Sergeant!" the boys shouted.  "Kiss my ass," replied Rob, the three breaking into laughter.

The boys had missed Operations Texas and Virginia, but now they were back with the squad and rumors were already swirling about the next operation.  They were laying around in their racks on 15 June 1966, reading comics, pulp novels, and girlie magazines when Sergeant Little walked in: "listen up Marines, we got a Warning Order for Operation Dodge, get your @#$% squared away!"

Coming right up!



  1. Great stuff. Superb AAR.

    Cheers, Andy

  2. I thought it was going to go OK when the mortar worked and KO's the two NVC in the trench. But it then went all bad and probably off script. A great opportunity for you to pivot to a rescue operation for the stranded men. Good stuff!

    1. It was pretty cool how it worked out, always interesting ;)