Combat After Action Report

Page Title - After Action Report
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Number One

22d Military History Detachment
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
APO San Francisco 96383

SUBJECT: Combat After Action Interview Report

1. Name and Type of Organization: 1st Squad, 2d Platoon, Company C, 2d Battalion, (Airmobile), 327th Infantry.

2. Date of Operation: 19 December 1969.

3. Location: Grid ZD083004; Map, Phu Loc District, Vietnam, 1:50,000; Sheet 6541 I, Series L7014.

4. Control Headquarters: Company C, 2d Battalion (Airmobile), 327th Infantry.

5. Persons Interviewed: 2d Platoon, Company C, 2d Battalion (Airmobile), 327th Infantry.

Keller, Robert G. 1LT 25 Plt Ldr
Sprangenberg, Robert L. SGT 21 Sqd Ldr
Hardison, Toney J. SP4 21 Sniper
Cruz-Arroyo, Regino SP4 25 Pt Man
Poe, Garret C. SP4 21 Gun Tm Ldr
Ratcliff, Walton W. SP4 20 M79
Sexton, Russell E. SP4 20 M60
Cahoon, Clifford PFC 20 Rifleman
Olmer, Donnie L. PFC 19 M79
Garrick, Tommy D. SGT 21 Rifle Tm Ldr
Kendrick, Richard D. SGT 23 Slackman

6. Interviewing Officer: CPT S. V. Olive, Asst S3, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile).

7. Task Organization: 1st Squad, 2d Platoon, Company C, 2d Battalion, (Airmobile), 327th Infantry.

a. 1 Patrol leader.
b. 1 M60 Machinegunner.
c. 2 M79 Grenadiers.
d. 1 Kit Carson Scout.
e. 1 Sniper
f. 11 Riflemen.

8. Supporting Forces:

a. 81mm mortar squad, E/2-327th Infantry.
b. C/2-320th Arty (105mm T) (DS)
c. B/1-39th Arty (155mm) (GSR).

9. Background: The 2d Platoon had been conducting night ambushes in the Phu Loc area to interdict enemy lines of supply, to deny the enemy an opportunity to obtain rice, and to provide security for the populated lowlands.

10. Intelligence:

a. Enemy - Information was gained from popular force soldiers (PF) that an unknown number of enemy soldiers had entered the village of Cau Hai two nights earlier for the purpose of gathering rice. No specific information as to identity, strength, organization, equipment or operating habits of the enemy was known. The villages in the immediate area were considered pacified and the populace was not considered sympathetic to the enemy forces. The village contained a sizeable amount of stored resources (rice and foodstuffs).

b. Terrain - The terrain was generally flat and consisted primarily of inundated rice paddies with interlacing dikes providing primary routes of movement. Vegetation consisted of hedgerows, rice stalks, brush and small trees (mainly fruit trees).

c. Weather - The prevailing light conditions for the night were: SS 1821 H, EENT 1911H, PMI 79% (although cloud and fog conditions created a moderate to heavy overcast) and the moon was in the first quarter and waning.

11. Mission: The mission of the 2d Platoon, Company C, 327th Inf (Airmobile) was to conduct night ambushes to interdict VC/NVA movement into the village.

12. Concept of Operation: One squad (reinforced) was deployed on the western edge of Cau Hai (ZD083004) to conduct a night ambush to interdict enemy movement into the village.

13. Execution:

a. A reconnaissance of the ambush position was conducted during the day prior to occupation of the site. Personnel conducting the reconnaissance included the platoon leader, platoon sergeant, squad leaders, radio operators, and one man for each of the positions to be occupied during the ambush. The actual position sites were reconnoitered while moving through the area during a routine patrol. Each patrol member was briefed beforehand and made mental notes enroute without stopping or otherwise drawing undue attention to his actions. The location of the ambush position was selected based on a calculation that the enemy would most likely travel along the main trail located to the S and SW or from the west along the paddy dikes. The primary killing zone was oriented to the S and SW (See Inclosure 1: Map of Ambush Site ).

b. Following a final briefing, Sergeant Sprangenberg's patrol begin its movement to the ambush position at approximately 1855 hours. Moving by a direct route, in file formation, the patrol was concealed by heavy overcast and vegetation, arriving at the pre-selected ambush site at approximately 1915 hours. Occupation of the site was accomplished, and the personnel were established in final positions within ten minutes after arrival.

c. The ambush site was occupied by four separate team positions, the machine gun being located to cover the primary killing zone as well as a secondary route of approach from the west. Claymore AP mines were emplaced to cover the primary and secondary killing zones and were camouflaged with natural vegetation. Each team position was under the supervision of one designated trooper, and overall command and control was exercised by the patrol leader.

d. The exact tactical formation employed by the enemy could not be determined. It appeared that the point element, consisting of two or three men and restricted by a confining dike, was moving in file. Based or, the rapid return of RPG fire, it was evident that a supporting element was set up in a firing position to cover the point element. The enemy force consisted of at least seven men.

e. The only identifiable weapons employed by the enemy were AK47s and RPGs. Enemy noise discipline was excellent; however, light discipline was extremely poor. The enemy's use of a flashlight (believed to be a signal device) confirmed the point element's presence and identified its location.

f. The enemy's weakness lay in his selection of a route of movement. His strong points were dispersion, stealth, and accurate and responsive supporting fire.

g. The first sighting of the enemy occurred at 2130 hours, when one man from the rear security element observed movement on the dike to his right front. He quickly directed a trooper employing the night vision device to scan the suspected location and conformed the presence of two NVA/VC. At that time, the enemy personnel were stationary, apparently continuing their reconnaissance of the village to their front. The remainder of the US ambush patrol, already on 100% alert, began to scan the area for additional movement. Then, the lead enemy soldier appeared to signal with a flashlight toward his rear (west). Suddenly, he moved forward, appearing to have detected a Claymore mine. As he approached for a closer examination, the Claymore was detonated, and the patrol members delivered an instantaneous volume of grazing fire within their assigned sectors. Within a few seconds, the enemy returned fire with one enemy RPG round from the west, followed shortly afterward by two additional rounds. The enemy fire struck a house to the rear of the ambush site, injuring one Vietnamese woman. During the initial phase of the action, another enemy soldier was observed to the west, and engaged by M79 HE and M60 MG fire. Following a rapid estimate of the situation, the platoon leader requested 8lmm mortar, 155mm howitzer, and helicopter flareship support. The first 81mm mortar illumination was overhead in less than two minutes and the 155mm howitzer illumination in approx1imately three and one-half minutes. Unfavorable weather conditions precluded the employment of flareships, and hand-held flares were employed until 81mm mortar illumination was received. Although the enemy returned small arms fire, it was totally ineffective, and artillery blocking fires were employed to seal off the suspected enemy routes of withdrawal. Following a quick check of personnel and redistribution of ammunition, the ambush petrol conducted an aggressive sweep to locate any remaining enemy forces. The sweep revealed the bodies of two enemy engaged by the first Claymore, one NVA/VC body approximately 50 meters to the west who appeared to have been hit by a Claymore, and further west, another body also killed by a Claymore. One RPG round was found near the last body. When the patrol leader determined that no enemy remained in the area, he regrouped and relocated the patrol and had the slightly wounded civilian evacuated. At first light, another sweep was conducted with negative results. A combat tracker team was employed but was unable to discover the enemy's trail due to the high volume of civilian and animal traffic that had previously passed through the area. The patrol was subsequently debriefed and released for maintenance and rest.

14. Results:

a. Friendly losses: Stone (one VN civilian slightly wounded).
b. Enemy casualties: KIA - 4 (2 VC, 2 NVA)
c. Enemy equipment losses: 4 AK47s.

15. Analysis:

a. This contact was significant in that the enemy was engaged by the rear security element which accounted for the majority of enemy killed. Previous experience had demonstrated that, when the enemy was not engaged in the primary killing zone, the likelihood of a successful engagement was considerably reduced.

b. The ambush squad employed a high ratio of tracer to ball ammunition in all weapons. Squad and fire team leaders employed a 1:1 ratio, while riflemen employed either a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio. This combination of ball and tracer ammunition improved accuracy, fire distribution end control, individual confidence, and increased the psychological impact on the enemy.

c. The designation of one individual to control each team position facilitated commend and control.

d. The enemy employed the standard tactic of covering the movement of a small reconnaissance element with supporting weapons, which, in this action, consisted of one RPG launcher. The enemy supporting fire was immediately countered by M60 machine gun and M79 grenade launchers. The employment of an instantaneous heavy volume of grazing fire prevented the enemy from delivering accurately aimed RPGs.

e. The employment of a combat tracker team failed to produce positive resents since heavy human and animal traffic had passed through the area earlier in the day, making it impossible to isolate and follow enemy trails.

f. Secondary kill zones, properly covered by fire, provide significant results. In this case, a properly established rear/flank position effectively engaged the enemy without diverting assets from the primary killing zone.

16. Summary:

The success of this action is attributed to timely response to local intelligence, detailed planning, reconnaissance, position organization, the integration of organic and supporting weapons, effective command and control, and violent ambush execution and pursuit. The operation demonstrates the results of a well-planned and executed small unit action in the 1ow1ands area of Thua Thien Province, RVN.

s/Carl A. Wesneski
MAJ, Armor

1 Incl
Schematic Drawing - Map of Ambush Site

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See also:

US Ambush Operations - an examination of US Army ambush tactics and techniques


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