US Army in Vietnam - observations upon the subject of US Ambush Operations by Veterans

Page Title - US Ambush Operations
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Al Baker commanded B Company, 4/9th Infantry, in the second half of 1967 and in to early January 1968. I invited Al to comment on the US Army Lessons Learned No. 39, Ambush Operations. Here is his reply,

I read your piece on ambushes and believe that it is correct as far as the book went. Then there is the real thing. In my 3 and 1/2 years there I never saw intelligence that would dictate the time and place of an ambush. Therefore we ambushed all night on likely avenues of approach. This was particularly difficult because we operated all day and everyone needs sleep. I was fond of three man positions with one asleep and two awake. You can survive on 4 hours sleep if it is continuous. That's what we survived on.

As to the type of ambush, I never saw a pin wheel and never hope to. Especially in limited visibility you need to do all you can to prevent fratricide. So it you never want friendly fire going in the direction of friendly forces. Our bullets will kill our troops the same as enemy fire. And I never used mortars in support of an ambush. It is not accurate enough to prevent friendly casualties. We used lots of Claymore mines in the kill zone and to protect the security elements. In a linear ambush I would built a ring main on the far side of the kill zone. The ring main was made with a web of hand grenades linked together with detonation cord so they would explode simultaneously. The firing mechanisms were unscrewed and removed, non-electric blasting caps crimped on det cord replaced them. The grenades were strung in trees on the far side of the linear ambush giving air burst effects to the grenades. It was very effective.

In the killing zone the machine guns were sighted in so that the long axis of the beaten zone would coincide with the long axis of the enemy. This meant the that those guns would be firing parallel to the friendly troops.

Communications were with string going from man to man. Tugs would alert to enemy sited. 

The stuff about the hamlets, I would omit.  It just didn't work that way. 

They were also mechanical ambushes. Trip wire activated groups of Claymore mines. Like booby traps these devices were very effective in areas where they was no civilian population. They were relatively easy to disarm and disassemble. Set us similarly to the ring main the det cord and lead Claymore were battery detonated using an electric blasting cap, the others were fired by no electric blasting caps crimped to det cord. The circuit would be trip wire activated so it did not have to be attended.

Artillery barrages where planned to ambush sites to be fired after withdrawal to the rallying point.  It was to prevent pursuit of the ambushing forces and disrupt other forces.

I will be in touch,



'Delta Mike 2' is a Veteran who served with the 1st Infantry Division, 'The Big Red One', in RVN. He has also written extensively for this site on many issues (see Delta Mike 2), and this is his reply to my invitation to look over the US Army Lessons Learned No. 39, Ambush Operations,

Well, I read the Official Ambush SOP y'all sent me.

It proves to me yet again their was "real life" and then there was Vietnam!!!

Some of the info was what was used in training in The World, but that crazy Catherine Wheel Ambush had to be designed by some lifer fighting from behind a desk in the Pentagon. That was one of the better pieces of Vietnam fantasy I have ever come across.

As far as ambushes go, there was never any G2 provided and selected AP site that I can remember. Every night was an ambush patrol for companies out in the boonies.  Each company, and sometimes Battalion Recon too, had a re-enforced squad out there (usually 12 - 15 men). Sites were selected by Battalion or the Company Commanders as far as I can remember.

Sometime there would be an AP dropped off during the daytime sweep by the company or the battalion, and the AP would  set up and wait for any gooks that might be following  the company / battalion.

We always used mortars for AP fire support, as there was no guarantee that we could get a dedicated  artillery battery.  I have previously told y'all about the  problems of land navigation and fire support registration and adjustment in the jungle.  It is  true that guns were more accurate than mortars, if the FAO was any good and knew where he was. When I had to adjust artillery or mortars, I was always  ready to crawl under my helmet until I could actually see the impact point for the rounds. Which was hard to do in the jungle unless y'all were close to the impact point.

My company commander NEVER went out on an AP. Sometimes the platoon leader would go out  on an AP, but that was very rare (like once when we got a new LT and  he wanted to see how each squad leader actually ran his AP). He was a smart LT (and an ex NCO).

As for ambush patrol formations, we used the straight line (we could pin the gooks against an obstacle; river stream, cliff, etc), the L (with the MG at the short end of the L, shooting  down the length of the enemy unit and  almost  always used  at roads and trails), the V (again used  mainly on roads and trails) but by far the most common AP formation was the circle.  The circle provided  good all around protection for the patrol itself, and since we never really KNEW from which direction the gooks would be coming from out in the jungle (where most AP's too place). We used  lots of claymore mines,  grenades rigged to explode at shoulder height in the trees, claymores sited to fire down the length of  ditches and waterways,  and five or ten lengths of det cord itself laid out along the  bottom of a ditch, so that it could be fired, using the det cord to disembowel or blow off the  arms, legs, or feet of any gooks that were laying on it or squatting/kneeling over  it. Pretty nasty stuff.

We also used to string commo wire at shoulder/neck height like a garrot, at ankle  height as a trip device, etc. Also as a trip wires for  use with  grenades.

And we used the punji sticks that they taught us to fear and be wary of.

Mechanical ambushes were used too. With claymores, grenades, mantraps, etc.

That's  the way ambushes were done  where I was .

Delta Mike Two

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I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to both Al Baker and 'Delta Mike 2' for taking the time to read over and reply to my emails on the subject of US Ambush Operations. Thank you.

If you are a Veteran and would like to add your comments to those of Al and DM2 then please feel free to email me as I would like to hear of other Veterans experiences of ambushes.


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