OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS (PART I)
of Offensive Operations
1. Reconnaissance in Force (RIF)
“A limited objective operation conducted by a sizeable force to discover and test the enemy’s dispositions and strengths, or to develop other intelligence”
All armor units participated in RIF operations, usually as part of a larger combined arms force, and Armored Cavalry units often conducted independent RIF operations.
“An operation, usually small scale, involving a swift penetration of hostile territory to secure information, confuse the enemy, or destroy his installations. It ends with a planned withdrawal upon completion of the assigned mission.”
Many of the airmobile operations were raids. Armor usually participated in raids as the linkup force which assisted in the withdrawal of the raiding force.
3. Cordon & Search
“An operation in which a small population group is surrounded, the area seized and then some specific mission, usually a detailed search, is carried out in conjunction with other activities.”
Armor units usually participated as a part of the encircling force that surrounded the area to be seized. Frequently this encirclement was accomplished during the hours of darkness.
“A surprise attack from a concealed position upon a moving or halted target.”
Armor units habitually conducted small, dismounted, night ambush patrols. Many also conducted mounted ambush patrols.
Missions for Armor Units
1. Reaction Force Missions
These missions invariably took many forms but usually involved the following as a minimum; the reaction force was located in a semi-secure area, such as a permanent base camp, fire support base or forward operating base such as a Troop Laager, and was prepared to rapidly reinforce other friendly units operating in the area. The reaction force was on a relatively short alert status.
Missions frequently assigned to units in the reaction force included;
· Reinforcement of units on the perimeter of the base camp or operating base where the reaction force was headquartered.
· Reinforcement of other permanent or semi-permanent installations, such as government headquarters, US base camps, Regional/Popular forces outposts etc.
· Reinforcement of friendly units in contact; due to the nature of the enemy’s tactics many missions of this type had to be carried out during the hours of darkness or periods of poor visibility
2. Base Security
This involved essentially static perimeter defense and may have entailed the security of a permanent base camp, major friendly headquarters, fire support base or forward combat base. Although the mobility and shock effect of armor was not utilised to the maximum, the use of armor in this case could be considered an ‘economy of force mission’.
In particular, during the wet season, the use of armor in this role freed other forces, such as infantry, for operations in terrain unsuited for armor operations.
3. Lines of Communication (LOC) Security
This was a traditional mission for armored units, particularly cavalry units. The limited assets that were available for aerial re-supply should ground LOC's be closed made this a vital mission. LOC security missions ensured that major road nets were available for use by the populace and the military. LOC security missions may have included any or all of the following sub-missions;
Route Security (may be mobile or semi-fixed)
4. Reconnaissance in Force (RIF)
This was really a type of operation and not a specific mission.
The following was submitted by Jerry Headley.
"The primary duty of the 3/4 was road security, convoy escort and RIF. In the dry season of '68/69 the 3/4 Cav was given it's own AO ('Spur & Saddle') within the Divisional AO and we performed RIF's more often then.
Mechanised Infantry also pulled road security for the re-supply convoys. In the Cav, one troop may escort the convoy through the Divisional AO, other Troops and Mechanised Infantry units had swept a portion of the highway and out-posted the road so that in case of an ambush they could react. We had already out-posted the road at night and established platoon strong-points to try to prevent mining (didn't always work, of course) After the convoy had reached it's destination the units would then conduct other missions, i.e., RIFs or maybe a cordon and search. Long days and not much sleep... "
" ...I can only speak for the 3/4. The Squadron was the controlling HQ. However, the Troops mostly operated independently, i.e., each Troop would sweep it's own area. You were normally near a Fire Base for support. If you ran into something you had quick response from 'D' Troop, the Air Cavalry Troop of the Squadron or USAF FAC's for fighter/bomber support. If 'D' Troop was with you on a mission; convoy support, sweeps, etc. they would have a radio on the Troop Commander's Push. The individual Platoons remained under the Troop Commander's control, although they could be spread out over the terrain and visually out of contact of the Troop Commander who would, nonetheless, maintain radio contact... I controlled movement of the Troop through my Platoon Leaders via radio. The Platoon Leader had the flexibility to move his Platoon as he wished within his "zone". I don't recall any problems"
"... we really didn't fight according to the Field Manuals per se. You are taught in Basic , Advanced, etc combat training to do certain "things", like in sports. You run "plays" to succeed. Once the game begins all plans are out the window. You still try to follow the "rules" as much as possible but you improvise to succeed. You did a lot of improvising. As you gained more experience you got more confident. Fights, as a rule, were not long drawn out affairs. The biggest ones were at night when you were in a defensive pos... "
In this formation, the maximum distance between vehicles would not normally exceed 50 meters, and would generally be kept to about 15 meters. The Platoon Leaders track follows the lead tanks with the four tracks of the Scout Section next in line. The Rifle Squad track is the penultimate vehicle at the rear of the column. The trailing tank travels with it's main gun facing opposite the direction of travel. The Support squad track (Mortar) has been detached.
Platoon Double Column
The Tank Section is split in order to lead both columns. The formation is harder to control than the Platoon Column and often required guidance from the air usually by an OH-6A (Loach). The Platoon Leader's track runs alongside the Tank in the second pair of vehicles. Scout Section forms the main body of 4 vehicles and again the Rifle Squad brings up the rear. Again, the Mortar Squad is detached.
This formation was used in what was considered to be open terrain. Open terrain was defined as an area in which vehicle movement can be observed at distances in excess of 50 meters such as dry rice paddies, low grass or in rubber plantations which possess little secondary growth.
The formation provides maximum firepower to the front and was used while conducting sweeps or attacks against fixed enemy positions. The Platoon Leader's track is the 6th vehicle from the left. The Mortar Squad is detached.
The wedge provides firepower to the front as well as security to the flanks.
The Echelon formation provides additional security for the platoon to one flank.
Although the source document depicts the Mortar Track (Support squad) as being detached in all the formations illustrated, Jerry Headley stated that he kept all the Mortars with the Troop at all times.
Platoon Double Column, Wedge & Echelon
Jerry Headley stated that these particular formations were rarely, if ever used. The individual Platoons of the Troop were able to adopt them if so ordered.
US Army Armor School, Fort Knox, ST 17-1-3 - courtesy of Jerry Headley
Armored Combat in Vietnam, Donn A. Starry, Arno Press 1980, ISBN 0-7137-1166-3