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This is the fifty-seventh in a series of posts on the Vietnam War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.

A new year deserves a new year in my gaming world as well. Time to move from 1966 into 1967 and the Year of Big Battles. Surprisingly given the phrase used to describe this phase of the war, there are no operation-scale, big-battle scenarios – either in The Operational Art of War (TOAW) or within the other games I’ve been playing. Perhaps this is because, once the U.S. got its big battles, they wound up being, more often than not, entirely one-sided. Against full-scaled U.S. operations, the insurgents either fled or got walloped.

So it looks like I’ve got an array of 1967 scenarios that are fairly similar to what we saw for 1966. Despite that, who doesn’t want to mark the passage of time. And who better to herald the New Year than the United States Marine Corps?

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The Marines are chasing some guerrillas into the hills in the southern part of Quang Nam. Note that I have both artillery and air support.

The next scenario in the Vietnam Combat Operations series, this time Volume V, starts of the 1st of January 1967 and covers the first half of the year. Although January 1967 saw operations all up and down Vietnam, we’ll focus in on the Quang Nam province in the center of the I Corps zone. The focus is because this time and place, and the Operation Tuscaloosa that was active here, is also covered in Squad Battles: Vietnam.

In my version of Tuscaloosa (see screenshot above), I encountered some unknown insurgent activity a bit further south from the battle that actually took place. The river crossing marked Go Noi indicates an island that was a Viet Cong stronghold and it was near here that the Marines in Operation Tuscaloosa fought a bloody battle. Given the variability of Vietnam Combat Operations and the fog of war, I ended up on a different river. Over a period of a couple of weeks I have been bringing in reinforcements so that, by the time of the screenshot, I have 3 battalions engaged plus artillery and air support. It’s a bigger operation than the historical one. Still, its nice to feel a connection of sorts.

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Ambushed while crossing the river.

The battle portrayed in Squad Battles: Vietnam is split into two scenarios. The fight took place on January 26th, 1967, when two companies of Marines were ambushed as they attempted to cross the Thu Bon River. The point that they had chosen for the crossing had a large (500m wide) sandbar which separated two branches of the river. While the Marines had plans prepared for the possibility that their crossing would be contested, they were not aware that the VC had the entire sandbar targeted from entrenched positions on the south bank of the river.

The first scenario in this pair has you commanding one company of Marines just as they are ambushed by the Viet Cong. The Marine plan, on encountering resistance, was to call in artillery support and then frontal-assault the enemy positions with H Company while the second company, F, moved into a flanking position on H’s left.

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Fire for effect!

I am always pleased to have access to the fire support that would have been realistically available in engagements like these. In both TOAW and in Squad Battles, I feel that indirect fire is less effective in the game than it was in reality. Author John Culbertson, who fought in Operation Tuscaloosa and wrote a book about this engagement, estimates around 50% casualties from the 155 mm fire. It can be hard to tell with fog-of-war settings on, but Squad Battles casualties from artillery seem to stay within the single digits, percentage-wise.

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There’s no way that I can take the enemy-held objectives, but I feel like I have to do something.

As my artillery support ended, there were still a handful of turns left and I had a strong position on what appeared to be the enemy’s right flank. If this weren’t a one-off scenario, I’d have been tempted to wait for air support or reinforcements. There weren’t enough turns remaining in the game to take the two additional objectives (seen in the above screenshot near the center of the enemy line and in the village behind his left wing), so assaulting the enemy position seems more like an easy way to squander victory points than a game-winning strategy. On the other hand, waiting out the scenario’s end would be boring and so, seeing as I had a tactical advantage, I crossed the second branch of the river and attacked.

It is not clear from the scenario setup whether the forces in this scenario are supposed to represent H company or the flanking F company. Perhaps it is a scaled-down version of the entire two-company fight. In the historical battle, H Company was ordered, following the artillery bombardment, to frontal-assault the enemy positions. Supported by flanking fire from F, they were able to overrun the VC trenches. There were 55 Marine causalities during the battle, a steep price to pay for a sandbar. 57 VC bodies were found and another 60-70 were estimated to have been killed but removed.

Not having read any account of the battle before I played, I did not strive to duplicate that historical result. Despite being considerably more timid than the actual commander, I was still able to achieve a minor victory per Squad Battle‘s scoring.

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The counter-attack is a more typical company versus company engagement. No support here.

After the crossing had been secured, the VC battalion headquarters was determined to be located in the village of Le Bac. The second of the two scenarios has a rather typical company-on-company assault scenario. It is better than some of the jungle scenarios in that the relatively open terrain allows for reasonable maneuver.

For this second scenario, the artillery support is absent, although it was still available and still used in the actual assault. In the historical attack on the village, the artillery was decisive. The Marine advance through the village consisted more of mopping up the dazed survivors of the artillery barrage as opposed to the house-to-house fighting that Squad Battles requires for victory. Requiring the player to fight for the village makes for a much more interesting game then watching the artillery do all the work for you, so this is one difference I won’t complain about.

Happy 1967 and Happy 2020.

Continue on to the next article in the series where I discuss my having watched the film Rescue Dawn. Return to the the master post, here.