USMC in Vietnam - Operation Starlite, a scenario for Command Decision by Greg Novak. Introduction.


August 18th 1965
Greg Novak

US PLAYER FORCES & NOTES VC PLAYER FORCES & NOTES

INTRODUCTION

On March 8th, 1965, the 4,000 strong 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9th MEB) landed at Da Nang, the first elements of the USMC to be sent officially into combat in South Vietnam. (A number of Marine units, including air defence elements, transport helicopters, engineers, and Company D, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment were already there, but March 8th is the official date). The 9th MEB were committed to ensure the safety of the Army, Air Force, and Marine aviation units that were already based at Da Nang. After a perimeter around Da Nang was secured, additional landings were made at Chu Lai, and other enclaves along the coast in I Corps, again with the purpose of securing enclaves to operate aviation elements. By May, the number of Marines ashore in Vietnam had risen to 17,000, and IIIrd Marine Expeditionary/Amphibious Force was established to control the Marine units in Vietnam. (It was decided that the term 'expeditionary' smacked a bit too much of the now departed French, so that term was officially dropped). The 1st Marine Air Wing was set up to control all Marine aviation elements in country, and Marine strength totaled some 25,000 by the end of July.

The Marine ground units had been restricted to operating in the immediate area about the air bases, and were not allowed to move out and engage the Viet Cong. After the 1st Viet Cong Regiment had won an impressive string of victories against the ARVN forces in the area south of Chi Lai in the summer of 1965, the Marines stationed there were given permission to move out of their defensive perimeter and engage the enemy. The stage was set for Operation Satellite. (Unfortunately, the power failed while the operations order was being typed, and it was completed by candlelight. The clerk misread Starlite for Satellite, and so typed that throughout the order).

The plan for Satellite/Starlite was as follows;

Headquarters, 7th Marines, along with elements of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), would board the transports in Chu Lai that had just brought the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) there. This force would sail south, hoping to rendezvous with the 7th Fleets Special Landing Force, on which the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines (3/7) was embarked. (The Special Landing Force was off station at the moment, and was on a high speed run back to Vietnam from Subic Bay. It remained to be seen if they would arrive in time). The 3/3/ Marines would arrive off An Cuong 1 on the morning of the 18th, and land on the beach there at 0630 and drive inland.

The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), would be lifted by the helicopters of the Marine Squadrons 161, 261 and 361 into the LZ's Red, White and Blue at the same time. The 2/4 would drive for the coast, linking up with the main body of the 3/3. To the north, Company M, of the 3/3, would move south to secure the Tra Bong River. (Company M had been left behind at Chu Lai, operating to the south of the enclave there in the normal Marine AO).

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OPERATIONAL MAP

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REFEREES NOTES

The terrain in this battle was miserable at best for the Americans. The trails on the map were piano-keyed by the VC so that while personnel stands may use them, neither wheeled nor tracked vehicles may do so. The wooded areas on the map as well as along the canals and in the hamlets, and the rice paddies, are considered rough terrain, with a cost in terrain of 2" per 1" actually moved for all personnel stands. Exception: VC units while moving in hamlets pay 1" for 1" moved.

All vehicles pay double costs to move in the above areas, and wheeled vehicles may only cross canals at locations where an engineer stand has created a crossing. In addition, while crossing a rice paddy or canal, even at a crossing site, a check for miring must be made: Wheeled vehicles mire on a 1 or 2, tracked vehicles mire on a 1. Vehicles can either be towed out, or unmired on a die roll of 1 or 2.

Visibility within the wooded areas and hamlets is 2". The woods along the canals do block line of sight. Due to the flatness of the ground in this area, all aircraft at low or very low can be spotted by any stand whose visibility in the direction of the aircraft has not been reduced to 2" by its location.

The game starts at 0600 and ends at the conclusion of the 1800 turn. Historically, USS Point Defiance arrived too late to allow her troops to take part in the battle.

Victory is determined by the following conditions:

Decisive USMC Victory
The Marines occupy and hold a line running south from the Tra Bong River through the hamlets of Nam Yen 4, Nam Yen 1, Van Tuong 1, An Coung 3 to Au Cong 1.

Tactical USMC Victory
The Marines occupy and hold a line (Phase Line Banana) running south from the Tra Bong River through the hamlets of Nam Yen 4, Nam Yen 2, Nam Yen 3, An Thoi, Au Cuong 2 to Au Cong 1.

Draw
The Viet Cong are able to hold at least five hamlets at the end of the 1745 turn. If both sides have stands in a hamlet, ownership goes to the side with the greatest number of combat stands present (do not count patrol-sized stands).

Tactical VC Victory
The Viet Cong are able to hold at least seven hamlets at the end of the 1745 turn. If both sides have stands in a hamlet, ownership goes to the side with the greatest number of combat stands present (do not count patrol-sized stands).

Decisive VC Victory
The Viet Cong are able to hold at least nine hamlets at the end of the 1745 turn. If both sides have stands in a hamlet, ownership goes to the side with the greatest number of combat stands present (do not count patrol-sized stands).

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HISTORICAL NOTES

Historically, the battle was a draw. The Marines started off by taking the 1st VC Regiment by surprise, landing on Beach Green, and at LZs Red, White and Blue. The 1st VC Regiment rallied and fought back, and was able to prevent the Marines from reaching Phase Line Banana before nightfall. That night, elements of the 1st managed to withdraw before the 7th Marines, now reinforced by the infantry companies of the 3/7th, closed the pocket on the following day.

The official body count was 641 VC KIA versus a Marine casualty rate of 45 KIA and 203 WIA. (The final weapon count was 109 captured weapons, perhaps a better indicator of the actual damage inflicted). The 1st VC Regiment was badly mauled, but not destroyed as the Marines had hoped. Later that year it was back to its old tricks, ambushing the 11th ARVN Ranger Battalion, and following up that success with an attack on the 5th ARVN Infantry Regiment as it attempted to move to relieve the 11th.

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ALTERNATIVES

For players who are seeking a different game, one can easily change a number of factors. there are two additional LZs (Yellow and Brown) located on the map, and two alternative beaches, Orange and Black. (For the historical record, the howtar battery was landed on LZ Brown and fired from there, but it could be shifted to any of the other LZs). One change to favour the Marines would be to allow all or part of the Special Landing Force to arrive earlier, thus increasing the Marine strength. If you feel the VC need help, add part or all of the 70th and 90th Infantry Battalions, and the rest of the 45th Weapons Battalion (one company of each type).

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I would like to express my thanks to Greg Novak for granting permission to reproduce this scenario.

 

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