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JAMES R. ARNOLD
TET OFFENSIVE 1968. TURNING POINT IN VIETNAM

Table 3: ARVN desertion

Morale gradeBefore actionAt start of actionAt 1st shotDo not desert
Poor1-2345+
Average-12-34+
Good-123+
Elite----

In places, whole sub-units were reported as deserting (for example some elements of the 45th Infantry Regiment near Ban Me Thuot). Such mass desertions can be included in games, but balance must be considered as they would vary the weapons and strength of both sides. Just prior to the Tet Offensive, the first issue of M-16 assault rifles to the ARVN took place. This had a marked effect in improving effectiveness and morale in the ARVN units so equipped. Therefore an ARVN unit armed with M-16s should have a minimum morale grading of 'average'.

If the ARVN had problems, so too did the Communists; the desire for secrecy was confounded by their unreliable communications.

The intended simultaneous offensive did not take place because the order was not received on time. Thus some units attacked at 0300 hours on 31 January as intended, others a day early, more a day late, still others even later. The effect of this would be to vary the alertness of the defenders. Timing should be the prerogative of the umpire or by means of a dicing system:

Table 4: NVA, VC/NLF assault timing

Type30 Jan31 Jan1 Feb2 Feb3 Feb
NVA Regulars12-910--
NLF Main force1-23-8910-
NLF Local force1-34-67-8910

Usually, ARVN units attacked on 30 January will be completely surprised; those on 31 Jan partially surprised; and those aftenwards hardly surprised at all. The strength of the defenders should be increased as each day passes and soldiers return to duty.

Other disasters plagued the Communists. All communication was lost to the Saigon front shortly after the attacks started. VC/NLF units failed to maintain liaison in Saigon and other places, resulting in many objectives being attacked by too many units while others were attacked with inadequate strength. Units became lost in the cities after air and artillery strikes altered the geography.

The lack of good communications led to confusion, misdirection of reserves and slowed deployment. Any or all of these elements should be incorporated.

A prime factor in the failure to carry the objectives was the absence of a reserve force in support. Virtually every active service unit was allocated a primary objective. Thus units 'burned themselves out' through fatigue and casualties in ceaseless day and night operations. Then, inevitably, they lost the initiative and morale began to crack under the US and ARVN counter-attacks.

So far as we are concerned, this translates into the NLF/VC and NVA commanders not being allowed to receive reinforcements other than those they have allocated from their own commands. Fatigue rules are required for both sides, but are less of a burden to the US and ARVN players because of troops returning to duty or being flown in.

A further factor affecting the reduction of morale and performance of the NLF/VC and NVA was that the expected popular uprising against the Saigon Government failed to materialize. In fact, the local reaction seemed to range from apathy to hostility. Again the NLF and NVA soldiers had been briefed that the ARVN would crumble at the first attack. They did the opposite and put in a creditable performance in most cases. Thus NVA/VC/NLF morale should reduce the longer resistance lasts.

Some scenario suggestions might include:

1. NLF/VC sappers assault a USAF base to destroy aircraft on the ground. Points to consider timing, strength of attackers and guard forces, terrain, field defences, breaching rules, surprise.

2. NLF/VC sappers attack a national radio station. Points to consider: as Scenario 1 plus morale of defenders.

3. NLF/VC suicide squad assault US Embassy. Points to consider: as Scenario 2.

4. Assaults on provincial, armed forces and government headquarters and other installations.

After the initial shock of the offensive, which was increased by an over-responsive media coverage, the US and ARVN launched a series of operations to recover lost ground. These were the long-awaited field battles the US generals had hoped for, the most famous and probably the most useful to the wargamer being the recapture of Hue by the ARVN and the US Marines. Street-fighting, search-and-destroy missions, patrols, water crossings and virtually every other type of military activity took place. Scenario options include:

1. Street-fighting and house-clearing with units of both sides in some confusion as to location and direction.

2. Relief of cut-off troops and evacuation of casualties under fire by US Marines or ARVN. It was Marine policy not only to evacuate the wounded but also to recover their dead for burial.

3. NVA or NLF/VC tank-stalking parties attempting to destroy enemy AFVs with satchel charges and/or rocket propelled grenades.

4. Clearing out a nest of snipers. This makes an excellent role-play scenario because it centres on the troops' willingness to take on the unknown.

These scenarios take place in relatively confined areas and at short ranges, leading to heavy casualties. Add a few booby-traps, minefields and civilian problems (refugees, civilians hiding in cellars, freed/escaped hostages, etc.) and the frustration of the war will come through.

Those desiring larger-scale actions should try some of the bigger operations staged in the follow up to the Tet Offensive:

1. NVA tank and infantry assault on, and capture of, Lang Vei Special Forces Camp (7 February).

2. Operation 'Quyet Thang' around Saigon to mop up and clear NVA/NLF forces from around the capital (11 March to 5 April).

3. Assaults on US fire bases; for example, at Kon Tum (26 March).

4. Operation 'Pegasus', the relief of Khe Sanh (1-14 April).

5. Operation 'Toan Thang', a major counter-offensive around Saigon (began 8 April).

6. Second and Third Battles for Saigon in May.

Air wargamers are not left out of this. Massive air strikes were launched against the besiegers of Khe Sanh, against targets inside North Vietnam and in support of the ground troops. Most scope for aerial combat lies in the Operation 'Rolling Thunder' raids against the North. Interesting scenarios could also be made from the many attempts at the rescue of shot-down aircrew. This would involve aircraft, helicopters, ground troops and good visibility and communications rules.

The selection of the rules for this period is a purely personal decision based on your own perspective of the war. For wargaming the Tet Offensive most of the modern period rules listed below are suitable, with some modifications for the peculiarities outlined above.

Commercial rules include the following.

Bodycount; Arclight Publications, 32 Milverton Road, Winchester.

Giac My; Platoon 20, Model Figures and Hobbies, Lower Balloo Road, Groomsport, County Down, BT19 2LU, Northern Ireland; and Ulster Imports Ltd, Box 1748, Champaign, Illinois 61820.

Hell by Daylight; Anschluss Publishing, 79 Godfrey Road, Spixworth, Norwich, Norfolk.

Firefight; Tabletop Games, 53 Mansefield Road, Daybrook, Nottingham, NG5 6BB.

Special Forces; MOD Games, 19 Chiltern Road, Sheffield, S6 4QX.

Skyfight (air combat); Tabletop Games, Skytrex, 28 Brook Street, Wymeswold, Loughborough, Leicestershire; and SG Simulations Inc., 1183 Cedar Street, Safety Harbor, Florida 34695.

Several magazines run articles periodically on the Vietnam War; these include: Wargames Illustrated, Military Modelling and Wargames World. These often give scenarios with special rules or information on how to amend existing rules. They are also useful sources of reviews and adverts for new products.

Board games include: Sniper by SPI; Vietnam by Victory Games; Platoon by Avalon Hill (the game of the film; the Director's royalties are paid into the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation).

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