Apart from the brief offensives of '65, '68, '72 and the final assault on Saigon in '75, the NVA and VC adopted a primarily defensive posture throughout the war (see Defensive Tactics). However, they did conduct limited offensive operations throughout, which included attacks on fixed installations as well as ambushes and indirect fire against targets of opportunity.
The NVA/VC did not fight to win and hold territory, even less did they seek large-scale set-piece battles, in which the US could concentrate their firepower or use their mobility to reinforce at speed. Instead, they waged the 'war of the flea', thousands of hit and run attacks aimed at exploiting to the maximum those vital weapons of stealth and darkness.
All major attacks were characterised by close attention to planning and detail. Planning was usually very long term, anything up to six months from conception to execution, and cancellation was a constant possibility at any stage in the process. Each phase of the operation was broken down into it's constituent parts and rigorously rehearsed. Only when and if all parts of the plan appeared practical and achievable was the operation put into effect.
SLOW.... FOUR QUICK'
Attacks were invariably characterised by adherence to the principle of
'one slow, four quick' - a doctrine which prevailed in both attack and defense.
In offensive operations the 'quick attack' was further broken down to
incorporate 'three strongs' - strong fight, strong assault and strong pursuit.
Presented in sequence the doctrine can be summarized as follows;
SLOW PLAN - This involved a steady but
low-key logistical build up in forward supply areas, being positioned ahead of
the fighting forces to make a solid base for the operation. The degree of
planning and preparation necessary to undertake a large operation could take as
long as 6 months and often included numerous 'rehearsals'.
QUICK ADVANCE - This was a rapid movement
forward, up to 40kms in as little as six hours, generally in small and inconspicuous
groups to a forward staging area from where the attack would be
QUICK ATTACK - Here the attacking forces
would be concentrated at the weakest point of the target as identified by prior reconnaissance. The duration of an attack could often be measured in minutes and
STRONG FIGHT - an attempt to achieve and exploit the element of surprise
STRONG ASSAULT - against a pre-arranged position using concentration of force, effort and mass to overwhelm the defense.
STRONG PURSUIT - the attacking force's reserves would be committed to exploit the breaches in the targets defenses so as to deliver a decisive blow
QUICK CLEARANCE - The attacking force
would rapidly re-organize and police the battlefield so as to remove weapons and
casualties and was pre-planned to prevent confusion on the objective
QUICK WITHDRAWAL - Involved a quick
egress from the battle area to a pre-arranged rendezvous point where the
attackers would again break down into smaller groups to continue their
dispersal. A successful withdrawal of this kind was calculated to create an aura
of doubt over the enemy because of speed of execution and lack of evidence of
ever having been in the area
During the early years of the war, attacks against installations were
directed almost solely against Government and Police outposts. As the war
progressed these operations escalated to full-scale, multi-battalion attacks
against US and ARVN military installations and Fire
Whilst the unit or units delegated responsibility for the attack
itself were tasked with the responsibility for the planning , preparation and
execution of the attack, they were assisted by more senior headquarters. This
headquarters was the final arbiter as to whether the operation was to proceed at
all. All operations were studied from the political as well as military point of
view. Invariably it was the political considerations regarding the effect which
the attack was likely to have rather than the military ones which were of
If the operation was approved by the Province Committee, then the
Military Affairs Committee would divide the tasks associated with implementing
the operation amongst it's three staffs:
Military Staff - sends a reconnaissance unit to study the objective and to construct a sand-table model
Political Staff - sends a cadre to contact local civilians to learn their
views and reaction to the proposed attack and to study the morale of the
Rear Services Staff - tasked with ascertaining whether local populace can
sustain the attacking force and provide necessary labor for policing the
In order to accomplish their task, the recon element would gather all
possible information on the terrain, enemy troop strength, weapons (especially
the location of crew served weapons), morale and operating procedures of the
target. Also studied were questions regarding possible support that the target
could be expected to receive as well as the reaction times of air and artillery
support. In certain situations, information which could not be gathered from
sources external to the target was often supplied by infiltration of the target
itself by teams of sappers.
Studies were also made of the time, type, quality and quantity of the
reinforcements which the target could expect to be dispatched to it's relief.
Likely avenues of approach for these relief forces were reconned to determine
the best locations for ambushes aimed at slowing or stopping their advance.
Local VC forces and political cadre were questioned regarding their knowledge of
the target as indeed were civilians who worked in the vicinity of the target.
Once all of the preliminary reconnaissance of the target was completed
the plan of attack was resubmitted up the chain of command for final approval.
Once approval was given rehearsals for the assault began in earnest.
Sand table mock-ups of the target as well as 'stake and string' replicas were
constructed. Each unit commander of the attacking force, (squad leaders for a
company attack, platoon leaders for a battalion sized assault), was instructed
on these models as to the role of their unit in the overall operation and, while
the assault forces practiced their attack, local guerrillas and labourers began
to move supplies and materials to forward positions.
An attempt was made to keep the objective of the attack as secret as
possible right up to the point of execution. Knowledge of the target was on a
'need to know' basis and if it was felt that the operation had been compromised
(e.g. a soldier rallying to the ARVN under the Chieu Hoi program) the operation
was invariably called off. Cancellation of an operation was more common than
execution and it is estimated that for every assault that did take place, over
one hundred were abandoned at some stage of the planning process.
One of the major considerations for the NVA/VC in the process of approval for an
assault was that the attacking
force would be numerically far superior to the defending force and able to
achieve an overwhelming superiority of numbers at the point of engagement. The ratio of
10:1 was not an uncommon goal. However, it was quite normal for an NVA/VC
battalion of around 500 men to attack a US company of 100-120 men.
The attacking force would rapidly advance from it's bivouacs and base camps to the objective after sundown. The assault force was broken down into various components:
Main Assault Force
The ambush force would set up on the approaches to the objective along
which a relief force could be expected to approach along. Their task was to
delay reinforcements sufficiently long for the main assault to be completed and
withdrawn from the battlefield.
A diversionary force was often positioned to make a feint attack in
order to draw defenders to another part of the target prior to the main assault
Sappers led the attack; clearing approaches to the objective through
barbed wire, disarming mines and trip flares, often turning around emplaced
claymore mines to fire back at the troops who placed them. Once the sappers had
cleared the main avenues of approach for the assault force they would continue
on into the target area itself loaded with satchel charges. Their primary
targets were heavy weapons emplacements and command and control centers.
Immediately the sappers initiated their first attacks, or upon
detection of their infiltration of the target, the previously emplaced and
positioned heavy weapons teams began firing upon the target from protected
positions in order to suppress the defenders just as the main assault was
The main assault was concentrated on a single main axis of advance and
was made from the best-concealed or the least-defended direction. Attacking
units would have target priorities already assigned and these usually consisted
of communications positions, artillery and mortar gun pits, automatic weapons
pits, command posts and ammunition dumps. If rotary wing aircraft were parked at
the objective then these would be high-priority targets.
Numerical superiority was of no use if the US could bring heavy
firepower to bear and in order to deny the enemy this opportunity attacks would be launched in the period between midnight and about
2.00am in order to achieve surprise but also to afford the attackers sufficient
time to clear the area prior to daybreak and be back in their sanctuaries before
US ground attack aircraft and helicopters could interdict them.
Following the attack, the battlefield would be policed of weapons and
equipment, the wounded and the dead. Quite often small ambush forces would be
set up along the routes of egress in order to prevent or discourage pursuit of
the main attacking units. Pre-registered mortar fire was also utilised for the
same purpose. The attacking force would then make it's way back to a prearranged
rendezvous point from where it would subsequently break down into smaller
elements and disperse.
Inside the VC and the NVA
by Michael Lee Lanning & Dan Cragg, Ivy
Buckle for your Dust
by Greg McCauley, paddy Griffith