There were two significant and well-documented engagements occurring during Operation Atlanta, the mission to establish a base camp for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The first was the ambush detailed in Seven Firefights in Vietnam and discussed previously. A second fight, in the vicinity of Suối Cát, was analyzed in the Army publication Mounted Combat in Vietnam: Vietnam Studies, published in 1978, after the Vietnam War had ended and eight years after Seven Firefights. The latter engagement was also part of the Squad Battles: Tour of Duty release.
In this case I decided to try the Squad Battles version of the battle, The Ambush at Suoi Cat, before reading the post battle analysis. In contrast to the previous attack, this ambush came as a complete surprise but the Armored Cavalry escorts were able to react vigorously and decisively to win the battle. The contrast between the two scenarios is also stark, but not for that reason.
Both scenarios were authored by John Tiller, so you might surmise any difference must be deliberate rather than stylistic. Also, despite the difference in circumstances surrounding the two ambushes, the result was similar. After overcoming the initial surprise, the 11th Armored Cavalry flooded the ambush site with reinforcements, air, and artillery support.
Unlike the earlier scenario, the convoy is small and the fighting vehicles outnumber the transport vehicles. Another obvious difference, right from the get-go, is that the total scenario turn length is 24, not 6. Rather than portraying the opening of the engagement (the first half-hour to forty minutes), the player will have nearly two-and-a-half hours of game time to fight back and turn the tables on the ambushing force. The result is that this plays much closer to the Steel Panthers version of the earlier fight, but with nicer graphics.
Controlling the roads and the air meant that the U.S. held mobile forces in reserve and then could quickly dispatch them to the hot zone. In this case, a company of tanks, three troops of M113s, and a battery of mobile artillery were all released to the battle in fairly short order. Thus, like the Steel Panthers scenario, the initiative reverses during play. At first, there is a bit of panic as I face an indeterminable threat and then, in my case, resignation as I try but fail to protect my convoy’s payload. With only armored units remaining, there are some tense moments trying to regroup my forces and keep them from being surrounded by the enemy, but then the reinforcements begin to appear. And, like a bad joke I remember from my adolescence, they just keep coming and coming and coming…
In the end, a win is nearly inevitable. I made a few dumb mistakes, letting my attackers get to close to and RPG or a recoiless rifle. The VC still feels a little to lethal, particularly against M48 tanks, but 10 vehicle losses feels pretty minor in the scheme of things.
I have to wonder if these scenarios weren’t intended to be thought of as a pair. Same author, similar situation, and yet very different design. Perhaps the intent was to demonstrate the learning curve of the U.S. Army on how to turn the tables on an ambush and how to effectively employ armor in Vietnam.
Speaking of such lessons, I’m finding Mounted Combat in Vietnam: Vietnam Studies a much more entertaining and enjoyable read that I anticipated. The publishing date on the book is 2002, but is something of a repackaging of a work compiled in 1978. Furthermore, it was put together from after-action reports written during the war, so at least some of the chapters are actually from the 1960s and early 1970s. When American made the Vietnam War its own, everyone knew that armor and jungle warfare didn’t mix. The problem was, that knowledge came from the shortcomings of French doctrine as well as U.S. experience during World War II and Korea and much of that experience was misapplied. The book is another high-level view of the entire conflict, but focusing mostly on the use of armor, giving it a different perspective from other works. It also sets itself apart by detailing the experience of the U.S. advisors who were embedded in South Vietnamese armored units; the people who had some of the earliest and best knowledge about the effectiveness of armor against the Viet Cong. Unfortunately, that knowledge mostly did not make it back to the U.S. Army itself, at least not in a timely fashion.
Mounted Combat in Vietnam: Vietnam Studies is a free download from the army itself. The military no longer has printed copies for sale, but someone has printed out copies and sells them on Amazon, assuming you’d rather pay $23 for a free book.