Recollections of a Veteran from 1/4 Cavalry, Quarterhorse, Part 3

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

Operating with Rome Plows

The nice thing about Rome Plow work was having a real good NDP. The Rome Plows would make a berm to hide behind and often dig out vehicle positions too. As a more stable site we got regular re-supply, had latrines and everything. FSB Normandy I (started about June '68) became a full blown FSB along HY16 between Claymore Corners and Tan Uyen. Normandy started as just a NDP and remained so until sometime after June-July '68 when we were there with the plows. My next passing of that way wasn't until Dec '68 by which time it had artillery etc and a sign that it was FSB Normandy II.

The down side is that the NVA didn't like getting their jungle taken away and there was often some trouble during a long Rome Plow operation, the least you could expect was mining and sniper attacks.

The Rome Plows cleared the sides of the major roads ( although I never did this with them) or "sections" of jungle about a square kilometer. The jungle clearing I'm familiar with.

The Rome Plows, in echelon formation, would outline the area and then concentrically Rome Plow in towards the center. They could take out anything, with sharpened blades even 40 to 50-foot high trees eventually came down.

We initially followed in column formation the inner and outer Rome Plows of their echelon as they went around, but changed this pattern in June of '68 for several reasons:

  • The Rome Plow guys did not like a 90mm cannon at their backs

  • We were less mobile then their caterpillars and slowed things down (we'd belly-out or throw a track too often etc.)

  • While we were all securing the Rome Plows the rest of the cut was unsecured.

  • The track blocks, fenders, sprockets etc were getting chewed up and drivers exhausted by constant maneuvering

So in June '68 we did the following and kept it as SOP:

During the initial outlining of the area we would stay with the Rome Plows but drop off vehicles at the corners as we went around, usually two at each corner (one faced in toward the cut, the other out) or if the site had irregular outlines a vehicle would outpost singly to keep line of sight with the corner vehicles. We always kept a 48 moving around with the Rome Plows but not right behind them, usually within 10-20 meters or so.

As the Rome Plows concentrically closed in on the center of the cut so did our security. The 48's would switch off moving around with the Rome Plows because this was tough on the drivers and the vehicles i.e. when the moving 48 came to a corner with an out-posted 48 they would trade off.

Every once in a while a Rome Plow would be left to make piles of the cut jungle in certain areas - I never asked why and didn't see any pattern to it myself as most of the cut was just left flattened where it was.

After the first days cut, the platoon would split up for the next mornings start. Two 48's and 4 ACAVs would head out to the cut and RIF the perimeter while the rest of the platoon came out as security with the slower moving Rome Plows. The group doing the RIF set out the corner security outposts as they went around the cut.

M48 moving through terrain that has been flattened
M-48's moving in Rome Plowed terrain

One of the biggest hassles in cutting occurred for us when the Rome Plows reversed direction from clockwise to counter-clockwise in their concentric cutting. Then the moving 48 driver had the previously cut material facing him like bunches of spears. This stuff was more likely to get trapped between the track and fenders (I've had fenders ripped off to the sponson boxes) or get trapped around the sprocket and throw the track.

Thunder Run

On rare occasions we conducted a mission called a THUNDER RUN. The term I was told came from movie by Robert Mitchum by that name in which moonshiners (illegal whiskey makers in the southern Appalachians) ran the road patrolled by police stationed to catch them. We used the term for two rapid moves over unswept roads.

The first was the true THUNDER RUN, occurring mostly at night and twice thru free-fire zones in day time. The platoon would line up in single column on the road and travel a section of 10 or so kilometers reconning by fire all the way (tanks firing cannister as well as 50 cal.). This was supposed to "trigger" any ambushes being set up by the NVA along the road, prevent mining, discourage or prevent any infiltration movement through the area. Most of our "runs" were along HY13 (Thunder Road) and conducted at a speed of 5-10 mph. After going in one direction we'd turn around and repeat the move back to the starting point. Whole thing 2-3 hours.

Second type... we used the same term to describe the need to move rapidly over a road that could not be cleared of mines due to time constraints or lack of engineer mine clearing teams (we did have our own mine-sweep metal detectors and when time was not a factor often cleared our own way). In this instance it was important to move at the fastest speed possible based on the thought that if you hit a mine you might get past it before it exploded.... a really false notion but one that gave a feeling of some "safety" especially if it was a command detonated mine.

The first type of move became quite rare in mid '69 as free-fire zones decreased, HY13 got paved and US forces set out so many night ambush patrols along the road.

The second type was in continual use and more often than not we traveled (Thunder Ran) roads rather than waited for them to be swept. So the 'Bigboys' always cleared the road by not running in the track path of the proceeding vehicle, hopefully ensuring that they and not the more vulnerable ACAVs would hit any mines.

Jungle Busting & Maintenance

I'd take exception to Bravo 3/4's comment that double columns were hard to manage without overhead directional support...we used them a lot in jungle busting without such support and never got lost or off mission.

Jungle busting was hard on vehicles and 48 crews. Speeds were much less than a mile an hour in the thick stuff and that's also why we cleared with canister fire as we went. Equipment, fenders, headlights, searchlights and on occasion men would get stripped off. We had two machetes (one for the Track Commander and one for the loader) to hack away at the stuff. Often the driver was in a cacoon of accumulated junk that ran over the gun tube, fenders etc and the TC did the driving commands.

M48 tank busting the trail
Jungle Busting

In May '68 they took away the drivers vehicle maintenance logs and secured them at base camp. Maintenance thereafter was passed down from previous drivers to the next and became very erratic (who could remember when to grease the road wheels or when it was last done?). In its place there was supposed to be "quarterly" stand-downs of three days at Squadron maintenance.

M48 undergoing Squadron Maintenance
John Sandri's M-48 ('Big Boy' 34) at 'Q Stand-Down'

The picture shows 34 at "Q" stand-down and will give people a better idea of how ragged the vehicles got. She looks a mess but this is more like the true picture of a 'used' 48. 34 had hit two mines and and busted nearly 1000 miles of jungle by this time (and really doesn't look too bad for all that). Most of the pictures I see on the net are far too "pretty" of the 48s. Notice the tracks and tread. Track was hard to get and we'd get down to the metal skeleton with hardly any rubber left on them. Of course there'd be little traction and the engines worked hard to move the vehicles. Also by then the track was so stretched out that it would pop off the sprocket a lot - there'd be a lot of grinding and popping on turns as the track end connects popped on and off the sprocket which meant you'd throw a track often and be dead in the water.

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US Divisional Armored Cavalry



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