While the emphasis on the employment of armor was
primarily on offensive operations, some of the largest kills of the war occurred
when the enemy tried to overrun armored defensive positions. Armor units
habitually assumed a defensive posture when not actively engaged in offensive
A Laager position is a defensive position occupied by
combat units whenever they are halted for extended periods of time, particularly
at night. An armored cavalry unit may occupy such a position as a separate unit
or with infantry and artillery units.
of the Laager Position
The position of the laager could be selected by the squadron, troop or platoon leader. The selected terrain was often chosen to be relatively open with good fields of fire since such a position would make it more difficult for the enemy to approach the perimeter unobserved. Also, when set up in such an area, the open space within the perimeter allowed for better maneuvering of the defensive forces.
A laager was generally set up at least 1km from the nearest friendly positions in order not to restrict the firing of heavy weapons.
Previously used laager sites were generally avoided due to booby trapping by the enemy, but when this was not feasible, the position was well searched for antitank mines and booby traps prior to the laager being established.
Vehicles were placed to provide 360-degree security for the perimeter and the location of vehicles was intended to take the maximum amount of advantage from the terrain as well as covering the most likely avenues of enemy approach. Because of the lack of any enemy tactical air threat as well as limited artillery capability, the vehicles were often positioned more closely to each other than in previous wars. The commanders primary consideration was to provide mutual support of the vehicles in the event of massed attack by the enemy and generally there was not more than 50-meters between vehicles.
".... usually, when we set up Troop Night Defensive Positions (NDP's), we would laager with three platoons set on the outer perimeter and one platoon, the HQ platoon, on the inner perimeter. The size of the outer perimeter was determined by the amount of clear area you had to deal with. When we worked in the rice paddies, the perimeter could be quite large, with the distance between vehicles set at ten to twenty meters apart and with good fields of fire. However, when we worked in the jungle our perimeter became very compact, sometimes with as little as five meters separating vehicles and the fields of fire were therefore very tight. It was only on very rare occasions that our perimeter ever got down to 5 meters between vehicles, usually due to the size of the jungle clearing. We would attempt to enlarge it using the M48A3s but sometimes that proved to be a futile effort.... "
Within the divisional armored cavalry troop or platoon, the tanks were spread evenly on the perimeter. However, in confined areas or positions which offered only restricted fire zones, the tanks were positioned so that they could cover the most likely avenues of the enemy approach.
The support squads were normally placed in battery in a troop laager and in the center of the platoon laager from where they could provide good illumination and limited indirect-fire support.
When possible, vehicles were generally moved into their final positions just before darkness so as to deny the enemy any knowledge regarding their exact location on the perimeter. Vehicles were often moved, if only a few meters, in order to prevent their being hit by weapons which had been sighted on them before dark.
The first priority in the construction of a laager was the provision of excellent fields of fire. If the position did not present these then they were quite often ‘created’ by individual vehicles knocking over brush, jungle and wooded areas. In the dry season fields of fire were sometimes created by simply burning off the vegetation around the perimeter.
Consideration was also given to the stand-off distance from wooded or jungle areas. In most instances this would not be less than 50 meters although 200-meters was the ideal.
In general each vehicle would have a range card with listening posts and ambush patrols marked on it. All areas to the front of the laager were covered either by organic direct-fire weapons or by indirect-fire weapons such as M79’s, mortar and artillery fires. All fields of fire, wherever possible, would be overlapping with defensive concentrations of mortars and artillery registered.
One of the most important stages in the establishment of a laager was the creation of the ‘barrier’. This critical step involved the emplacement of concertina wire, trip flares, Claymore mines, anti-intrusion devices, and demolitions to assist in preventing the enemy from penetrating the perimeter.
Concertina wire was placed at least 50 meters to the front of the vehicles (out of enemy hand-grenade range). This wire was often carried on the vehicles or was brought in by resupply helicopters.
Trip flares were placed in a random pattern forward of the concertina wire out to a distance of about 200-meters and quite often was interwoven with the wire.
Between the wire and the vehicles themselves would be placed the deadly Claymore mines. Generally these were laid out at dusk and picked up again at dawn. In order to deter the enemy sappers from turning the mines around to fire into the perimeter, the Claymores were themselves quite often booby trapped.
Added security came from the emplacement of anti-intrusion devices, demolitions and booby traps (including fougasse).
With the widespread use of antitank weapons by the enemy, steps were taken to afford both the vehicles and crews added protection. The ideal situation would be the construction of an earthen berm around each vehicle, or indeed the entire perimeter, but seldom were the resources or the time available for such. Invariably the vehicles would have sandbags emplaced as well as cyclone or chain link fencing to act as stand-off protection from RPG’s. This was often carried rolled up on the vehicles.
".... most of the time the tracks and tanks were not dug in, however we did attempt to screen them with fencing and perforated steel planking (PSP) as a defense against RPG's. The troopers on the other hand were all dug in, using both foxholes and defensive fire positions between the tracks and tanks. The M60s would be removed from their mounts and used as standard light machineguns simply by folding down the front bipod. The vehicles on the inner perimeter acted as backup for the ones on the outer, if a track or tank took a hit from an RPG and was knocked out, then one from the inner perimeter would fill the void.... "
Personnel not actually in the vehicles constructed covered fighting positions to protect themselves from small arms fire and shell fragments. These were usually a trench with sandbags and a perforated steel planking roof (again, this was carried slung on the side of many vehicles) which was then further covered in sandbags.
It was important that plans were in place for the commander to be able to reinforce portions of the perimeter when under attack and a troop reserve was usually created from elements of the troop headquarters vehicles. All vehicle commanders were required to know the perimeter thoroughly so that in an emergency they could move rapidly to another position on the perimeter. Quite often specific vehicles were tasked with the responsibility of reinforcing specific points on the perimeter if the need should arise.
When selecting a laager position, careful consideration was given for the suitability of a helicopter LZ since nearly all supply and evacuation of casualties would by done by helicopter. Quite often an LZ suitable for resupply was constructed outside of the main perimeter whilst a smaller, medevac LZ was contained within the perimeter itself.
The security of the laager was dependent to a large extent on the employment of an aggressive programme of ambush patrols (AP’s), observation posts (OP’s), listening posts (LP’s) and harassment and interdiction fires (H&I) quite often directed by emplaced ground surveillance radar. It also required a high proportion of the troops to be awake and alert.
H&I fires would be carried out at random throughout the night involving artillery, mortar and M79 fire. The use of tank main guns or automatic weapons fire from within the laager was avoided so as not to disclose the positions of the vehicles and infantry fighting positions. The positions of listening posts and ambush patrols were carefully plotted in order to avoid friendly fire casualties.
The primary purpose of the AP was to kill the enemy and/or provide early warning of an enemy attack. Most platoon ambushes consisted of between 8 and 12 men.
Once the ambush site had been selected a reconnaissance of the ambush position was carried out either by helicopter, dismounted or mounted patrol. During the reconnaissance the exact ambush position would be selected as well as an alternate position, a route of withdrawal and an extraction point. The ambush site itself was selected to provide good routes of withdrawal but also good fields of fire, cover and concealment.
".... we would send out a minimum of three LPs and at least one AP. AP’s were used quite extensively in Areas of Operations such as the Iron Triangle and War Zone C. The LPs would be anywhere from 100 meters to perhaps 1Km from the laager area, this was also dependent on the area of operation and on the terrain in which we were working at the time. Usually, to be out a Klick meant we were working in a wide open clear flat area. The AP's were always dismounted ground operations, consisting usually of a Squad Leader, normally an E-6, and a squad of infantry armed with standard M16, M60 and M79s along with 1 PRC 25. All APs and LPs were required to give a sitrep every 30 minutes. A situation report call would go something like this;
“Lima Papa 1 this is Saber Bravo 65, if sitrep is negative break squelch twice”.
However if they heard anything they would report in the clear - the same with an AP. If the AP got into a firefight where more enemy were outside of the killing zone than were inside it usually they would call for backup from the night laager and a platoon of tracks and tanks would head out to bail them out of trouble.... "
Prior to the patrol’s departure co-ordination with the FAO attached to the Troop in the selection of preplotted artillery targets as well as with the relief force commander was fully established. All equipment was thoroughly checked and noise and light discipline was rigorously enforced.
Common items taken in addition to normal kit included;
AN/PRC-25 radio with spare batteries, earphone and antenna
at least one M60 MG with a minimum of 1000-rounds
M79 40-mm Grenade Launcher
Two Claymore mines per man
four hand grenades per man
at least one starlight scope
several compasses and maps
red filtered flashlights
Movement of the patrol from the laager to the ambush site was usually done just before dark and movement into the actual site was carried out after dark. The AP tried to ensure that they had all-round security with Claymore mines covering both the kill zone and likely routes of enemy withdrawal with all men awake.
On particularly dark nights, when there was insufficient light for the employment of the starlight scope it was common to fire an illumination round approximately 5000-meters from the position in order to provide sufficient light.
When the enemy entered the kill zone the ambush would be initiated by the patrol leader either detonating a Claymore or firing his rifle. Once the ambush was initiated the patrol leader would then call for illumination, artillery and the reaction force as needed.
The purpose of the LP is to provide the commander of the laager position with early warning of enemy approach, it is not to engage the enemy. Each platoon was normally required to send out one LP. The LP was usually sited at sufficient distance from the laager (100 - 200 meters) so as to be able to provide enough of an early warning for the laager to be prepared.
The LP generally consisted of three men with a radio in defilade positions so as not to be hit by friendly fire from the perimeter.
".... the only time I remember that we even came close to having our perimeter breeched was on Easter Sunday morning of '68. We were working in the jungle up in War Zone C, and after the firefight the closest enemy body we found was only about 10 meters in front of the perimeter. You can believe me it got real hairy in a laager that tight... "
Special Text 17-1-3 provided by Jerry Headley CO, Bravo Troop, 3/4 Cavalry, RVN, '68/69
My thanks to Stanley Homiski (Commo Sergeant, Bravo Troop, 3/4 Cavalry, RVN, '68/69) for his comments and contribution