Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Mounted Combat in Vietnam

I just finished reading this book today in the afternoon and have to say that it is a MUST for any person interested in the Vietnam war and the role of armoured units, written by contemporary actors involved in the conflict... and the best thing of all: it is for free
But who best to introduce the content than the promoter of the study. From the book's foreword: 
The story of mounted combat in Vietnam was written at Fort Knox between 1973 and 1976 by a task force under the direction of Major General Donn A. Starry, then commander of the Armor Center and commander of the Armor School. General Starry has been involved in the planning or direction of armored operations and development since he was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1948 as a second lieutenant of cavalry. After serving in command and staff positions from platoon to battalion in armored units in Europe until 1953, he became a staff officer in the Eighth Army in Korea and then an instructor in combined arms and nuclear weapons employment at the U.S. Army Intelligence School. He later served as an armored battalion commander and staff officer in U.S. Army, Europe. In 1966 he assumed duties in the G-3 Section, U.S. Army, Vietnam, and was a member of the Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations, Vietnam, study group which evaluated armored operations in Vietnam. After serving in assignments with the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, he returned to Vietnam to join the plans office of J-3, Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and in 1969 assumed command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. In 1970 he returned to the United States and served successively as Deputy Director of the Operations I Directorate and Director of Manpower and Forces. After two and j one-half years as the commander of the Armor Center, he assumed command of V Corps, U.S. Army, Europe, in 1976. Promoted to full general, in July 1977 General Starry became commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia.
Washington, D. C. 
15 September 1977
Brigadier General, USA
The Adjutant General

The book starts descrbing the prevalent doctrine and the (poor) state of of the South Vietnamese  armoured units in the early 60's, living on old and mostly outdated colonial French-army material (mostly form the Second World War).  The limited capabilities of the Vietnamese armoured stock only allowed them to move only through roads and act in limited support of infantry, or as mobile pillboxex in duty-guard functions
The US advisors, although with limited powers to lead the Vietnamese units, had a twofold critical role in the transformation of he Vietnamese army: (1) helping updating tactics and renovating material; and (2) extracting important tactical lessons on the use of armour that refuted the extended idea that "Vietnam was no place for tanks": jungle, mountains and torrential rains
Unfortunately and despite their knowledge, the US military advisors counsel was not taken into consideration when the US forces started to plan its build up and to scalate in the mid 60´s; on the contrary, most of the armoured elements attached to the regular US infantry divisions were left in their bases when moved into Vietnam. Actually the first armoured elements to landed in Vietnam almost accidentally, when a USMC detachment arrived in Da Nang and brought with it its embeded armoured support.
A change in the views of the US army high command  about the use of armour was driven by some local victories achieved by the units but also supported by a detailed analysis of the Mechanized and Armor Command Operations group showing that, contrary to the extended beliefs, over 61% of the Vietnam territory was suitable for armour in the dry season and 49% during monsoons, while 65% all the year round for APCs
The book tells in detail the story of the transformation of the M113 APC from a pure transport vehicle into a fighting machine with the ACAV version, the critical role of the M 48 Patton and the limitations of the Sheridan tank (deployed at the end of the US intervention). The armoured units had a critical role in both, stopping the Viet Cong offensives in 1968 (Tet, Hue....) showing its capacity to fight also in urban areas, and in the amjor offensivesof the US and South Vietnamese armies in 1969-1970. By the end of the period, the US army was at its finest,  maximizing  the assets at hand in the form of armoured, infantry, air cav and artillery units in combined operations where the military superiority in the field was overwhelming
Ironically, when the US forces started pulling back in 1970, the US army command (initially unconvinced and opposed to the deployment of armour) delayed the return home of the armoured units because of the "flexibility, mobility and superior firepower" features, which offset the reduction in the boots over ground.
To summarise, a well written, engaging and well supported analysis  of the armoured warfare development in Vietnam, worth reading to any aficionado of the period  
You can have free access to the book in the US Army Center of Military History  website  or if you like to go straight into Mounted Combat in Vietnam just click here. Unfortunately it only offers HTML access, but I printed the chapters in pdf (I use the CutePDF program) and read it confortably in my e-book reader


  1. Benito, that's a fantastic resource! There's something about using these types of contemporary documents which really makes a game come to life. A fantastic find!

  2. Thanks Sidney, there is a treasure of information available in internet for free, saving me a lot of money to but other high- value products ... like TFL rules for example!