Recollections of a Veteran from 1/4 Cavalry, Quarterhorse, Part 2

Quarter Cav - Page Title
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Recollections of a 1/4 Cav Veteran
Submitted by John Sandri

These pages are dedicated to the memory of SSG Roosevelt Williams, KIA, An Loc, RVN, Oct 1968


OPERATIONS

Operating with dismounted infantry didn't happen much, but the few times I remember we'd be on line and they would follow on line mostly, staying in our tracks. We'd supply covering suppressive 50-cal and M60 fire for their advance over open terrain. We lead into a "hot" village once but were pulled out because of our lack of fire control (we were just blowing each hootch away as we came to it) and we were getting too close to friendlies sweeping in from the other sides.

Personally I didn't like working with infantry since we really had no training for it and I always disliked the lack of maneuver around them. It was worrying, would you back over one, hit one with cannister, blow out their ear drums etc.? The rear comm phone was never working and they'd try and climb on to give you a message while you were moving etc

Mostly we cordoned off village for infantry sweeps. We'd be 50-100 meters from the village berm. Because we had learned from ex-TET vets just to blow everything away and run over it, we were not sent into villages. 1/4 Cav got a bad rep as I understand it from the Saigon and suburb villages they went through during TET.

Enemy fortified bunker complexes: you can't say we weren't consistent, massive suppressive 50, 7.62 and cannister, point blank 50, 7.62 and canister. A 50 will eventually "dig through" the earth and log bunkers we encountered. We were never far enough away to use HEAT/HE rounds anyway. An NVA who survived this might be good to talk to, if you could find one. The worst for us was the one man "spider hole" or two of them connected by a short tunnel. Impossible to penetrate and hard to get to a man in the tunnel. Often it took dropping hand grenades from the tracks into them to ensure they were neutralized.

Though we did not use HE and HEAT against the enemy, we did have the gun sighted, well, sort of. We'd select a target - tree, abandoned hootch, hillside etc. - about 500-1000 meters away. Put a cross hairs at the end of the main gun flash suppressor (blackened boot laces, c ration wire) and using binoculars looking down the tube, put the cross hairs low on target. We'd then fire the coax and see where the tracers hit. Adjust the coax mounting so that it ending up firing on the target where the main-gun was sighted, then fired off an HE main-gun round. It would take 3-4 adjustments and HE but eventually you would have the coax 7.62 and main gun targeted together within 10 meters or so. Now you could keep the main gun safety on while targeting with the coax and from the TC override take safety off and let go a HE round, no need for a gunner.

We did this every so often (or as soon as possible when you got a new tank) and used it for H&I (harassment and interdiction) on occasion, but mostly for "fun"... big boys with big toys syndrome.

By the way, the M79s were mostly used for H&I during night ambush patrols (mounted) and especially in the rubber plantations.

How did we approach certain tactical situations such as bunkers, ambushes, and RPG fire? The answer is the same for all three actually. As soon as any vehicle took fire or anyone saw a bunker, that person or vehicle opened up with everything he (they) could. In less than a second everyone else did so too. If in single column, a herring bone was formed, if in double column, vehicles faced out of center except leads. There then followed lots of frantic commo to sort out what was the cause and where was the enemy, but within 2-3 mins max either the platoon leader (when we had one) or platoon sargeant, would decide formation, direction etc.

The first response is called a "mad minute" and in itself created confusion since its hard to single out targets while everyone everywhere was firing in all directions, but if you spoke to an NVA I am sure you'd find out that, except for that initial shot(s) it was hard to fire back (figure, you'd have 3 x 90mm cannons, 12 x 50 cal, at least 12 x M60s and about 7 x M16s firing). Of course, our danger time followed the mad minute as we maneuvered positions and slackened fire searching for real targets. Any follow up hits or problems would lead to a continuous outpouring of fire from everyone, that is, if any commo was passed that another vehicle was taking more fire, the mad minute mentality took over (why bother taking the risk of looking for or being target selective, just blow everything away). It was one of the most difficult things for a leader to get a response to a "check fire" command.

I cannot remember an ambush that started with RPGs being fired first. My experience. Though I know the convoy ambushes we responded to were started that way. So it seems that, except for the convoys, the RPGs were conserved for a second strike.


How tough were the 48s?

Life span was about 2000 miles, baring mines etc. The 35 tank I got on in March supposedly came over on the boat with the Division and had already done 2200 miles. It also had two RPG holes in the right front turret, one in the left side air filter box, and a grazing gouge on the front slope. You could stand in front of the gun tube and raise it about 10 degrees with one hand. The tube was so sloppy it would bounce up and down with every bump in the road. The turret electronics were shot so that if a jerky turn was made the turret swung (the magnetic brake didn't work) and we'd sometimes have to manually crank the turret because the motor connection failed.

35 was replaced about May '68 due to maintenance headaches - just couldn't be kept together for more than a day at a time.

37 took two RPGs in '68, one at the TC cupola (killing the TC) and one in right front turret that was dissipated by track blocks, no penetration, and survived until a mine took her out. Eventually 34 took one again, right side, in May '68 that chopped off the TCs legs. He survived and the tank was re-manned and remained in action.

Then again Bravo 25 took only one hit and exploded and burned in May '68.

M48A3 damaged by mine and RPGs
Damaged M48A3

Mines: I personally hit 5 anti tank mines in two years and only had one tank as an immediate combat loss (CBL) although two others were eventually scraped due to hull warping. I was 37 in Nov '68 for the mine that eventually got her (the same 37 that took the two RPGs mentioned above). Even though you could see the upward bulge in the belly, they didn't replace her for a month and a half. We ran her hard on convoy duty that time too.


NDP/Laager

I would use laager to describe the platoon formation when we worked by ourselves and moved, night to night, or every couple of nights. NDP for me is when we worked a week or more and with other units - infantry, rome plows, mech infantry or other platoons of the troop- and was a more sophisticated setup.

As Bravo 3/4 described the idea, the laager was to spread the firepower evenly around a circular formation. The setup was based on a "clock". If the platoon was at full strength, then the M48s would be at 12, 4, and 8 o'clock; 38 or 39 at 6 o'clock. 'Assignments' were made just as we approached a laager site by 'November' 6 or 'November' 5 (platoon sergeant). We ran a tight formation (5 meters between rear ends) or loose (15+ meters) depending on terrain, with the emphasis on protecting against inter-vehicle infiltration as opposed to mortar and RPG burst radius. Only someone who has sat on top of a 48 or ACAV on a rainy, moonless night for 2 hours can probably appreciate the trade off.

Initially we put out trip flares, concertina wire and RPG screens (chain-link fencing) but all of these were gradually dropped until by Feb ' 69 none were used. This was mostly a consequence of needed night mobility that grew through 1968-1969. We were more constantly acting as a reaction force to infantry night ambushes, local forces in villages etc and the wire and fencing etc. just hampered us.

Around Jan '70 the platoon was employed on roving mounted ambush patrols at night. A main laager was established of 35, 36, 30, 32, 33 and 38, while 34, 37, 39 and 31 went out and set up an "ambush" site. Except for 36, 35, 34 and 37, the vehicle assignments for either main laager or ambush varied (i.e. 35 and 36 were always in the main laager, while 34 and 37 always on the moving site). The moving site laager was always a cross (+) type formation with vehicles backed up to be almost touching rear fenders (you could walk the circle without getting down on to the ground). Every two to three hours the ambush group would move 200 meters to a new spot. Nobody got much sleep as the moving group was always on 50% alert in the laager. We'd still have to RIF with the platoon the next morning and the 34 and 37 crews soon became exhausted. After the first week or so the moving units were given 1/2 days rest while the main laager group did the days RIFing. Even this was not sufficient since the moving group had to maintain an alert for that 1/2 day so that every three days the 34 and 37 crews got an entire day of " stand-down" - easy duty, like securing a section of road or staying at the main laager site while the rest did clover leaf RIFing around you.


Xa Cat Rubber Plantation Ambush

This is to go with the accompanying picture of the Xa Cat rubber plantation ambush that took place October 6, 1968 based on my best memory. (See Map)

The mission of 'Alpha' troop 1/4 Cav was to road march from Quan Loi base camp to a village west-southwest of An Loc, seal the village and secure an LZ for an infantry company that was going to sweep the village.

Order of march:

  • 2nd platoon ('Mike')
  • HQ platoon (4 ACAVs)
  • 1st platoon ('Lima')
  • 3rd platoon ('November')

The ambush occurred at 0830 (approx) and was sprung on ' Lima' platoon. Since the troop was strung out on the secondary road - much like an accordion - and making a right turn off the main road, most of 'November' platoon was still on the main road. All the vehicles that were in the rubber herringboned and did the "mad minute" thing for about 2-3 minutes with all weapons firing until it was decided that this was a one- sided ambush (west-side).

'Lima' maneuvered on line, HQ and two 'Mike' ACAVs moved to secure a dustoff LZ and 'November' formed a double column as it moved in to the rubber preparatory to forming  line. This was done to create room for the rest of 'November' to access the rubber from the secondary road that was raised above the marsh.

The 'November' columns outdistanced the 'Lima' line (very bad) and 'November' 7 took an RPG hit right at the cupola that killed the TC. 'November' then stalled at the first bunker line until 'Lima' got abreast of 'November' 7. 'November' then got on line and penetrated the first set of bunkers when 'Lima' 15 took an RPG hit. The line pulled back almost to the road and 105mm artillery pounded the area for 10 minutes.

The line then swept forward to the marsh.. The action was over by about 10am and no vehicles were lost:

  • USA 1 KIA, 6 WIA
  • NVA 23 KIA ( bodies recovered)

The Troop regained the road and then 'Mike' platoon was ambushed another 300 meters north by an RPG team+. 'Mike' and 'Lima' dealt with it - no USA losses, 8NVA.

Alpha troop finally reached the village around noon. Nothing was subsequently found in the infantry sweep and Alpha returned to Quan Loi around 5-6 pm.

Enemy force size? We only know what we counted in bodies but I suppose it was larger since some got away to the west where the rubber ends and a 200 meter wide tall reed/grass marsh exists (a part of the map I didn't copy).

Enemy weapons? Ditto, all we got were AK-47, RPGs and less than the 23 bodies. If memory is correct there were only 10 weapons recovered.

The enemy did break for the open during the artillery barrage, so the sweep through the second and third bunker lines was quite easy. The third line was unmanned - at least there were no bodies in them.

Bunkers were very small, log and dirt trapezoid shapes about 6 feet at front, 4 in back, 3 feet deep and 1 1/2 feet above ground level. Firing ports were at the corners, in front.

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