Operation Cedar Falls was intended to isolate and destroy enemy formations operating the region known as the Iron Triangle. The plan was to surround the area to prevent the enemy from escaping and then assault the dense jungle strongholds of the insurgency. The goal was the destruction of the military/political command center known to be located in the Iron Triangle as well as the capture the forward supply base for the 9th Division of the Viet Cong. The first step was to secure the village of Ben Suc and relocate its villagers to a safe haven. Clearing the area of civilians would allow the U.S. command to designate a free-fire zone and bring the American advantages in firepower and technology to full effect against their opponent.
The assault on Ben Suc was conducted against minimal resistance as was secured within the first day. Unfortunately, this was to be a precursor for the entire operation. Unit combat during the operation was minimal. While American forces did find large underground tunnel complexes and recovered substantial planning documents from them, the facilities were largely abandoned. The inability to destroy enemy formations was a disappointment considering the commitment of six brigades to the operation. While the capture of so much enemy intelligence was a victory, this was mitigated by the disruptive and demoralizing impact forced resettlement on the affected villagers. The result going forward was a more fertile ground for the Viet Cong’s recruitment and logistical efforts. Despite the capture and destruction of a significant tunnel complex (including over 1000 bunkers), American planners knew many more remained and that Cedar Falls was only a start.
The Squad Battles: Vietnam scenario for Operation Cedar Falls is called Assault Into Ben Suc. It imagines that the initial assault operation was contested and has the player in a full-scale fight, trying to take the objectives. As a scenario, this one has a number of pluses. First, because it is hypothetical, it can be designed to match the strengths of the game engine without regard for historical accuracy. Secondly, primarily for multiplayer support, there are three different communist set-ups available. The idea is that the player controlling the Viet Cong selects one of the options but doesn’t tell the American player which is being used. This provides an additional layer of variability/fog-of-war in the game. Even for the single player experience, it can add to replayability. Particularly so if you don’t remember what each of the three variants entail. You might be on your first go and just want to retry the scenario to see if you can fix mistakes in your first time through. Maybe you’ve picked up the game after you’ve forgotten what’s-what. In either case, randomly choosing from the three options provides a variety to the starting point that is otherwise lacking in Squad Battles.
On the flip side, this scenario suffers from the faults that many of the battles in this game share. There is no air support or artillery support, something that seems unthinkable in such a significant and well-planned operation. Although the helicopter assault is nice, once the troops are on the ground, movement becomes the 1-2 hexes per turn affair that allows little in the way of tactical innovation. Also, after the helicopters insert their passengers, they remain on the board for another five turns and can be used for fire support (a role that seems particularly necessary give there are no gunships or artillery available to the player). While I feel obligated to use these assets that I am given, it is a dreadfully tedious exercise; moreso given the brigade-sized force under my command. Each helicopter needs to be moved and fired (three times, given the capabilities of the guns) in an exercise that rarely accomplishes anything; long-range M60 fire is unlikely to show any results.
I complain, but this one isn’t all that bad as far as Squad Battles scenarios go. The operation is big enough to be interesting and the helicopter insertion allows one to employ variations in strategy. Furthermore, the use of the multiple setups solves one of the persistent problems of this game engine. Yet, playing it makes me wish for better. I had a few thoughts about some things that could have made this scenario work for me.
First of all, the American player could be forced to adhere to doctrine. He should have to designate landing zones and then stick to them, thus removing discretion on movement of individual helicopters. In fact, to spice up the exercise, it would be nice to see pre-landing artillery fire on screen (even if it doesn’t really do anything) and then restrict the support fire of insertion helicopters to that which they can deliver on direct ingress and egress to the LZ (with some leeway as provided by actual army doctrine). I also want to see realistic availability of artillery support, whether that be mortar sections (which a brigade-sized insertion must have landed) or firebase support. Realistic, in this case, given the goals* as represented by victory locations. If support fire was limited by the proximity to civilians, than include those limits explicitly.
Is such a thing even possible to enforce with the Squad Battles scenario editor? To me, it sounds like a whole lot of work and a small payoff. And all this I write about a battle that never actually took place.
*I’ve spoken before about the difference between the just-shy-of-two-hours of game time in this scenario and an alternate two-hours of action time in, let’s say, a six or eight hour operation. I’m suggesting that the time-line implied by the goals imposed on the player should correspond accordingly to the support available.