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This is the sixty-first 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.

Since I mentioned it in the earlier post, I had better follow up. Squad Battles: Vietnam has a series of scenarios portraying the “Hill Fights” near the remote, Khe Sahn combat base. For more than a year, it was clear that the NVA were infiltrating forces across the DMZ and into South Vietnam. While the intense Battle of Khe Sahn was still more than 6 months away, a Marine patrol in April of 1967 encountered NVA units and triggered a preview of the fight that was to come.

hill861

Three platoons, three objectives.

The scenarios, a series of five, are called The Battle of the Khe Sanh Hills (parts 1-5). To me, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the scenarios is a typo in the scenario configuration, making it appear that the scenarios span both 1967 and 1968. Going through each scenario in detail, this obviously isn’t the case. The series is supposed to take place over little more than week near the end of April through the beginning of May, 1967.

The first of the scenarios (see previous screenshot) starts out with a very typical setup for Squad Battles: Vietnam. Three platoons are assigned three objectives across rough terrain wherein the defenders remain hidden until they open fire upon you. There is no off-board support and no on-board mortar squads; you advance infantry on the objectives take them. As you can see from the shading, marking my line-of-sight, this isn’t the ultra-dense jungle of some scenarios. There is occasional opportunity for movement of more than one hex at a time and there are areas where enemies can be engaged from a distance. Even still, this is mostly a scenario of advancing units straight at the objectives, to capture them before the scenario ends.

hill862

More units, more objectives, but still the same hill.

Like other scenarios, however, this one comes in multiple parts. Each scenario feeds into the next to create the larger story of the battle. While this does add something to the experience, it’s worth noting that each individual scenario remains independent. Successes or failures do not carry over in any way.

Scenario #2 is the same terrain but with slightly shifted objectives (see above). There are also more objectives, move defenders, and a full battalion of Marines at your disposal to take the hill. It is intended to reenact, after the first effort failed to dislodge the enemy, a second and successful assault on Hill 861.

hill881a

The third scenario adds on-board air support. In 1967.

Moving on, to both a new scenario (above) and a new hill, the introductory text explains that the “Marines moved in fully knowing what to expect from the NVA defenders there.” They now have air and artillery support (again, so says the mission text). I found the implementation of this to be interesting. If you look at the above screenshot, you see I have two Huey gunships to aid me in my advance. But also look at how the map has been created. The cratered hilltop suggests that this assault was preceded by off-board air and artillery support that simply falls outside the turns allotted for the scenario. I suppose this makes sense. Once the Marines advance into the NVA earthworks, bombing runs and shelling would be risking own-side casualties. Therefore, for the scenario itself, we are given only two helicopters and no off-board support.

hill882

I really hate losing helicopters.

Somehow I knew, even as I started the scenario, that my helicopters were not going to make it. I don’t know if the U.S. had air support losses during the actual battle but I did. I always kept my helicopters at a good standoff distance but there seems to be an inevitability built into the dice. Every turn, the NVA is going to make multiple rolls against those helicopters and, in 15 turns, they’re bound to roll sixes at least once. My gaming personality wants to believe that there is a strategy to saving those helicopters, but is there?

Moreover, this middle scenario is the high point in terms of novelty. The rest of the series is also battalion actions against hilltop entrenchments, albeit different hilltops each time, but otherwise a repeat of #2. At the end of it all, what stood out the most was that 1968 scenario date and even this is very specific. In most other battles, I wouldn’t have been fooled by one scenario in the set being a year off. But it would be almost a full year before the Battle of Khe Sahn reached its climax.

As for our Marines, they couldn’t know what was coming. However, having learned a lesson from Dien Bien Phu, they realized that keeping the hills surrounding their combat base was a key component to its defense. The bloody fighting over the Khe Sahn hills was followed up by a long-term effort to keep these hills in friendly hands. Although there were some additional encounters, the area around Khe Sahn would remain quiet for the remainder of 1967. By December, however, the NVA was gearing up for a major assault.

Click here for the master post of Vietnam War articles. Another scenario taking place in the spring of 1967 near the northern border, albeit entirely hypothetical, is the subject of the next post.