Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971

Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971
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Art.Nr.: BF-FW901(A)
GTIN/EAN: 9780987668943
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Tour of Duty: Armored, Airborne & Infantry Combat in Vietnam 1965 - 1971
(FW901)

Four years ago I knew about as much about the Vietnam War as the next wargamer (so a bit more than the average population, but not much more). Tour Of Duty, Battlefront’s latest project, is my third visit to this fascinating war, and signals an escalation in both the status of Vietnam in Flames Of War and in the war itself. What started out as a minor side project has now become a core part of Battlefront’s range with a wide variety of forces awaiting you on the field of battle.
Initially, the concern that people often expressed when I began working on bringing Flames Of War to Vietnam was the relevance of a company-scale game to a war that is often viewed as endless patrols and skirmishes. I was already aware of a goodly number of large-scale battles, Khe Sanh, Hue and the other Tet battles come immediately to mind, and our first project was focussed on the Battle of Ia Drang, a pitched battle between a US airmobile cavalry brigade and a North Vietnamese infantry division, so there really wasn’t a problem. As the project has grown, I’ve come to realise the full extent of large-scale battles in Vietnam. While both sides portrayed the war as a guerrilla war, that wasn’t true at all. Both sides recognised that victory could only come with the military defeat of the enemy in the field, and both sought that victory at every opportunity.
For the Free World forces, this often meant endless hours of patrolling as they sought out enemy base areas and other targets the enemy would have to fight to defend. Whilst many of these patrols made no contact and many more erupted into small skirmishes, there were numerous large battles when significant forces were located and forced to fight as the Free World forces piled on. There was no reluctance to get into large-scale battles on the behalf of the Nationalist forces either. After all, it was their escalation from guerrilla warfare to a general insurrection that the Free World forces matched with an escalation from advisers to massive military force. It is these big battles that Tour Of Duty focuses on, the fights that escalated until a company, a battalion or a whole brigade were in the thick of it, the fights that won or lost the war.

The Firstest with the Mostest
By far the biggest of the Free World forces that intervened in the Vietnam War was the US Army, the focus of our previous Tropic Lightning booklet. All the forces from Tropic Lightning are still there, and several new ones have been added. The Rifle Company (Airmobile) from Ia Drang is still there, and we’ve added the pure-helicopter Air Cavalry Troop in support. The new Air Cavalry Troop allows you to put all of your Airmobile support in the air, with plentiful OH-6 ‘Loach’ scout helicopters, UH-1B Hog gunships, AH-1G Hueycobra gunships, aerial rocket artillery gunships of both types, and UH-1D ‘Slicks’. The Air Cavalry Troop also allows you to field a pure air cav force of dozens of helicopters, taking the fight to the enemy without ever putting a boot on the ground (although there is a helicopter-mounted aerorifle platoon for those times when somebody needs to get themselves down in the mud).

These are backed up in the airmobile role by a new addition, the versatile Rifle Company. These footsloggers can call on an Assault Helicopter Platoon to carry them into combat, or simply fight on foot. Even on foot, if they need mobile The Firstest with the Mostest support they can call in an Airmobile Rifle Platoon with its own helicopters, or go heavy with the tanks and tracks of the mechanised battalions, or the M113 ACAV tracks of the armoured cavalry. The real support for the infantry though, is massed artillery. The grunts on the ground can call on the massed fire of the artillery at need, or task each battery with a different target to smash enemy charges and neutralise their heavy weapons. The artillery’s 105mm and 155mm howitzers can be towed or armoured with the M108 and M109 self-propelled guns, the later particularly useful for defending fire bases alongside the M41 Duster, a self-propelled twin 40mm anti-aircraft gun that just cuts through massed infantry like a scythe.

The Tank Company, Armored Cavalry Company, and Rifle Company (Mech) have a few new tricks up their sleeves too. Their support has increased to match the new Rifle Company, and the grunts have gained M67 90mm recoilless guns. Perhaps the biggest change for them though, is that the M48A3 Patton tank has come down in points, becoming 30% cheaper. This change came about when we started looking at the tank battles in Vietnam (more about them later) and hypothetical battles that wargamers are bound to try out. Previously we used WWII points for the tanks, and that worked fine while there was only one real tank in the game. When we expanded this to include half-a-dozen new tanks, it became obvious that we really needed a post-war ‘period’ as far as the points were concerned. The result was a decrease in the cost of the Patton.

While we are talking about those hypothetical tank battles between US and North Vietnamese tanks, it’s a good time to mention the MGM51 Shillelagh missile for the M551 Sheridan light tank. In reality, the Sheridan was deployed to Vietnam without its expensive missiles as there was no need for them. We decided to allow players the option of using them anyway (for a very significant boost in points cost), simply because if the Nationalists had used tanks in quantity in South Vietnam before the US withdrawal, the US Army would have shipped the missiles and control systems over pronto. You can ignore them for historical games, but they are available for the ‘what if’ scenarios.

The ANZAC Commitment
While not a large force compared to the US contribution, Australia and New Zealand sent a brigade-sized task force, veterans of the insurgencies in Malaya and Borneo, to the Vietnam War. As New Zealanders, adding these troops to our Vietnam range was one of the easy decisions for this book. The core of the force was the three battalions of infantry, two and a half Australian battalions, and two companies and an artillery battery of Kiwis. Tour Of Duty gives you the option of fielding either half of the ANZAC equation, although all of the support (aside from that all important artillery battery!) was Australian (with a leavening of Kiwi troops on attachment).

The ANZAC Rifle Company differs from its American counterpart in its equipment, and its tactics. Rather than the light M16, the ANZAC troops were equipped with the full-calibre SLR rifle and an M60 GPMG in every section, giving them more punch and a longer range. In terms of tactics, the Anzacs stressed cautious patrolling and maximum security. This gives them the Cautious Movement special rule making them harder to ambush, and makes it harder for resistance fighters to surprise them.

The Australians sent a squadron (a company, not a battalion as it would be if American) of Centurion tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment to support the task force, and you can field this in Tour Of Duty. For its day, the Centurion was a surprisingly advanced tank (and surprisingly big – it’s the biggest tank we make!). It had a ranging machinegun, stabiliser, protected ammunition … you name it … , and if it had faced Vietnamese tanks, would have had APDS ammunition to boot. The result is an expensive piece of kit (especially with the optional APDS ammunition!), so you are more likely to find them in close support of the infantry than in a massed formation.

The third Australian force we included is a Cavalry Troop from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Once again, the Australians only sent a Squadron (company) of cavalry to Vietnam, but in the British style these are armoured personnel carriers rather than scouts – although they still undertook cavalry operations as needed. When working with the infantry, the cavalry often carried extra ammunition, enabling them to resupply the infantry under fire, making them even more flexible and useful. The platoonsized troop (the biggest formation used at a time) still has thirteen M113 APCs in four sections, and is capable of carrying a full rifle company if assigned to do so. Even their equipment differs from the Americans, as most of the APCs have a turret rather than pintle-mounted machine-guns. The squadron even kitted out some of its APCs with 76mm-armed turrets from Saladin armoured cars for fire support in defence of fire bases!

The Vietnamization of the War
The poor state of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in the early 1960’s was one of the main causes of the Free World committing massive forces to Vietnam. This state of affairs continued until the 1968 Tet Offensive and the resulting policy of Vietnamization. From this point onward, the ARVN was reequipped and retrained by the US Army, and it is this reinvigorated army that Tour of Duty portrays. Despite the resulting improvements, patronage was still a vital part of the way the ARVN worked. The ARVN Patronage special rule reflects this, with each platoon commander rolling to see how they fit into the system at the start of the game. Cronies are out for number one, making their personal survival more likely. Palace Guards are loyal to the regime, even if not particularly talented. Professional Officers are rare, but their units are better trained, reducing their casualties in combat.

The first ‘test’ of Vietnamization was Operation Lam Son 719, a 1971 incursion into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail supplying the Nationalists in the south. This operation was conducted by the elite divisions of the ARVN, the confident 1st Division and the fearless Airborne Division, and both options are available for the Infantry Company. If you prefer the other end of the spectrum, you can field the reluctant 18th Division. This unfortunate formation was rated as one of the worst in Vietnam, much to the disgust of the ANZAC forces assigned to work with it on a regular basis.

The ARVN infantry organisation is a mix of 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s US Army organisation and equipment, with an emphasis on lighter weapons and less inherent support. While this may sound bad, it has several advantages for the ARVN player. The most obvious is that their lighter equipment is still almost as good as the top-line American stuff against the lightly-armed infantry force that is their main opponent. The second is that they can put more of their cheaper troops into the field (reflecting their ‘home field’ advantage), even when supported by US or ANZAC tanks, cavalry and artillery. When it comes down to it, the ARVN can hold their ground just as well as the US Army, and have a lot more troops available for patrolling and counterattacks.

Operation Lam Son 719 also saw the first large-scale tank-vs-tank fighting of the Vietnam War, pitting the M41A3 Walker Bulldog light tanks of the ARVN cavalry against the North Vietnamese tanks. The new Combat Car Squadron (once more a European-style company strength unit) allows you to field these powerful light tanks, either as a unit, or supporting the infantry. The M41A3 Walker Bulldog is essentially a massive upgrade of the WWII-era M24 Chaffee, with a long-barrelled 76mm gun of similar performance to a Panther tank mounted on a light, fast chassis. These are backed up by the M113 ACAV tracks of the Armoured Cavalry Squadrons. The Vietnamese cavalry invented the ACAV (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles) concept, then carried it further by fitting a 106mm recoilless gun to an M113 ACAV in each platoon. Their cavalry units were originally mechanised infantry, so rather than struggling to find enough crew like American cavalry units, their ACAV tracks carried a small infantry detachment that fought as tank escorts from on top of the track (even apparently the flametracks!), dismounting to support it when needed.

Fighting For The People
The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) raised significant regular forces in South Vietnam, and sent even more regular army units south to fight the war. While these units tried to avoid contact with the Free World forces until they were ready to attack, they launched large-scale operations on a regular basis. A typical unit, the 274th Main Force Regiment, made regimental-sized attacks as part of divisional-sized or larger operations roughly every six months, except when they were fighting to halt Free World offensives against their own base areas. In between they rebuilt their forces. Units like this were the mainstay of Tropic Lightning, and the Infantry Battalion is still the core force in Tour Of Duty.

The Infantry Battalion’s capabilities have been dramatically expanded though with the arrival of local forces and resistance fighters using local knowledge to out manoeuvre and outwit the foreign invaders, special tasks companies (known as sappers to their enemies) with the training and equipment to overcome any obstacle and close with the enemy, heavy artillery and rockets for fire support, and even tanks.

The local forces aren’t as hard as the regulars, nor as well equipped. They make up for this with local knowledge, and the fact that they are dressed in straw hats and black pyjamas just like the peasants they are, to move into position undetected. The resistance take disguise a step further. Without close examination and questioning, they are indistinguishable from the locals. This allows them to move caches and documents and other objectives right out from under the noses of the ‘Imperialists’ and their lackeys. When they aren’t doing this, they can guide reserves (or artillery bombardments) into place, and even deliver bombs or hand grenades to unsuspecting foes.

The special tasks companies are small, elite commando units, armed to the teeth and trained to clear obstacles and infiltrate into enemy fire bases before opening fire and generally causing havoc. Even a small special tasks group can make a significant difference to the success or failure of a battalion’s attack.

If infantry isn’t your thing, we’ve added an Ironclad Battalion. No sneaking about here! This armoured force packs the punch of twenty to forty Soviet T-34/85M, T-54, and PT-76 tanks, backed up by infantry in BTR-50PK armoured transporters. The North Vietnamese were smart enough not to feed their armoured forces to the American meat grinder, but as soon as the US forces withdrew, they started using massed armour to support their attacks on the ARVN. As you would expect from their equipment, the PAVN armoured battalions have been trained by Russian advisers and use the latest Soviet Army doctrine and tactics.

The K-2 (as the Vietnamese called the T-54 and its variants) has the armour, mobility, and firepower of the American M48A3 Patton and the British Centurion, there are far more of them, nearly matching the M41A3 Walker Bulldog in numbers. As you might expect, every tank has a heavy anti-aircraft machinegun to keep the helicopters at bay, while the regiment’s ZSU-57-2 twin 57mm self-propelled anti-aircraft guns are truly deadly to anything that flies.

Vietnam Missions
To reflect the very different style of war in Vietnam, Tour Of Duty adds eight new missions to Flames Of War. Contact! Contact! recreates the battle that results when a patrol runs into a Nationalist ambush and both sides pile on. Search and Destroy has the Free World forces searching a Nationalist base area for arms caches and intelligence while the Nationalist forces attempt to defend their position long enough to evacuate them. Bunker Complex is the result of a Free World patrol stumbling into a Nationalist bunker complex and finding itself in deeper than it can handle. Fire Base reverses the situation to recreate a Nationalist attack on a Free World fire base. Various options allow the attack to take place while the fire base is still being occupied, once fortifications have been installed, or even against a well-established and heavily-fortified fire base. Hot LZ and Indian Country allow you to recreate the insertion and extraction of helicopter-borne airmobile forces under fire. Stand-up Fight is a more conventional battle with both sides seeking battle, while the last mission, Blocking Force takes place when one side attempts to surround and destroy the other.

Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971
Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971
Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971
Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971
Tour of Duty: Vietnam 1965 - 1971

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