Returning to the missions assigned to the 1st Cavalry, I undertook a scenario from Operation Davy Crockett. Davy Crockett (and I can’t even say that without hearing the old Disney tune in my head) followed Operation White Wing by almost exactly two months, bringing the 1st Cavalry and Hal Moore’s 3rd Brigade, back to the area around Bong Son. Squad Battles: Tour of Duty brings me, as the gamer, back as well.
The Squad Battles The Battle at Thanh Son scenario focuses on the initial contact between the forces of the 1st Cavalry and the targets of their sweep, the PAVN 22nd Regiment. From the information I have, which is mostly from Combat Operations: Stemming the Tide, this appears to be another scenario where the historical order of battle is used, but in a decidedly unhistorical way, to give them player full access to all of the aspects of a multi-day battle within a single scenario.
In the historical Davy Crockett, the 1st Cavalry had just had the enemy escape from their search in the vicinity of Binh De (north of Thanh Son) but found them again when a helicopter was shot down near Thanh Son (2). Using the superior agility of his airmobile forces, Moore moved to surround the enemy’s position and, with blocking forces in place, ordered an attack on the village from the north. Upon encountering an entrenched enemy, the U.S. responded with air and artillery, first to smash the enemy in their defensive positions and then, throughout the night, to prevent them from withdrawing before a final assault could be made. In that, at least, the Americans failed. During the night, the communists abandoned their positions and managed to slip free of the American cordon. U.S. losses in the battle, as well as in the overall operation, were slight. The communists, on the other hand, were estimated to have suffered substantial losses, much of it from the artillery barrage.
The operation had the support of multiple 1st Cavalry battalions as well as a nearby, supporting ARVN operation. The scenario seems to propose a situation where the 1st Cavalry, rather than waiting for artillery to do its work, assaults the enemy position, using not only a full battalion of troopers but available supporting jeeps and ARVN vehicles as well. While it may not be historical, it does follow the “fun” formula I’ve talked about in previous posts. The wide range of assets means plenty of tactical choices for the player. The relatively open terrain provides longer sight-lines and better movement, even for the soldiers on foot. The player’s units can easily cross substantial portions of the map, execute flanking maneuvers, or just creep forward on their bellies. Lots of options.
I ended up losing miserably. In doing so, I had more casualties* that the U.S. suffered, taking into account the entire operation. I also lost a large number of vehicles; jeeps, trucks, and helicopters, and the points docked for those alone turned what might have been a minor victory into a decisive loss. One lesson from this might be that Hal Moore was right to hold off attacking until he had brought his artillery and air superiority to bear on the enemy, even though it appears that waiting may have cost him a more decisive victory. The other lesson might be that I’m just really bad at using the combined arms which this scenario made available to me.
As you can see in the above screenshot, my use of helicopter transports resulted in a number of them grounded or destroyed by enemy fire. Further, you can see (on the left side of the screenshot) my jeeps and trucks bunched up on the road leading into the village. A later screenshot would show heavy jeep and truck losses after I attempted to force the road passage through the heavily defending section of village surrounding the victory point location. The short duration of the scenario required me, at least by my own reckoning, to use these assets in ways that ran both counter to my own judgement and, likely, counter to historical doctrine. First, I landed my helicopters in contested areas of the battlefield, under fire, suffering some losses. While the U.S. did offload its helicopters in hot landing zones, they wouldn’t have done so if they had a choice and certainly would not by plan. Afterward, I used my helicopters to provide support fire for my advancing troops. Initially, they kept their distance but I moved them closer to the action after their long-range fire proved ineffective. Once again, using the M60s on the transport Huey’s was sometimes actually done for support purposes, but probably wouldn’t have been part of a brigade-sized assault plan. Notably absent are the supporting gunships that are more suited to this role. The close-support from my transports lost me a few more helicopters over the course of the scenario. Similarly, I used the machine guns and recoiless guns on my jeeps from a much closer distance than would be desirable for such lightly-armored vehicles. This seemed necessary given the time constraint but, obviously, resulted in unacceptably high losses.
A compare-and-contrast exercise might be interesting where I explicitly avoid close contact with the enemy. Try to first minimize losses and contain the enemy and only seize objectives or close-assault the enemy where there are overwhelming odds. It seems likely that I could beat my previous score using these, the historical tactics. Question is, could I beat the scoring system of the scenario this way and come out with a victory?
*I think. Squad Battles, like most games, doesn’t distinguish between killed-in-action and wounded. My losses, at 151, were actually lower than the killed plus wounded (28 + 155), but I wouldn’t know how to compare these apples to oranges.