Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam Book Review

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Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, photographs, bibliography, notes, and index

Published by Casemate 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-932033-66-1

ISBN-13: 978-1-932033-66-3

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches

Despite the number of books published about the Viet Nam War, many people are unaware of the role played by armor, or that the U.S. Marines deployed armored units.  Perhaps this is due in part to the nature of their employment.  Armor rarely fought in units larger than platoons, and often in groups of only two or three tanks.  There were no large set-piece battles, the tanks were generally employed to defend bridges or firebases, or to support sweeps through the countryside.  The result is the tanks were disbursed and moved in small groups from place to place, many of the crews commenting that they had never even seen their Battalion commanders while in-country.

Not surprisingly, the constant movements and changes in unit assignments have made it very difficult for historians to document the histories of the armored Battalions in Viet Nam.  Sweeps and patrols in support of the myriad of operations tended to blend together for the crews to the point that even the men involved were unsure if they had actually been part of a specific operation.  I was surprised to learn how vulnerable the M48 was to the RPG-7, a great many crew casualties were caused by this weapon.  Another problem was mines.  While these rarely totally destroyed a tank they generally were enough to disable the track and suspension, taking the vehicle out of the fight.

This is the third of Gilbert’s “Marine Corps Tank Battles” books which I have read.  Like the others, the bulk of the text is derived from interviews with the Marines themselves, in their own words.  The opening chapter gives a history of the country leading up to the war which is well worth reading just on its own.  The book is well written, and I enjoy the first-hand perspectives from the Marines who were there.  Recommended.

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics Book Review

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics

Osprey Elite Series Book 154

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Adam Hook

Paperback, 64 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing, March 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846031362

ISBN-13: 978-1846031366

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

The development of the helicopter gave military tacticians the potential to move troops around the battlefield in unpresented ways. Natural obstacles or enemy defenses could be avoided by flying over or around to more suitable positions, opposing forces could be cut off by “vertical envelopment”.  Early helicopters were underpowered and therefore lacked the range and payload capacity to make them militarily useful for transporting large formations of troops or heavy equipment, but by the late 1950s new designs were emerging which made combat applications more practical.  The U.S. Army began organizing Airmobile formations, with helicopters effectively being used as flying trucks to move soldiers around the battlefield; the USMC saw the helicopter as another way to move Marines ashore during amphibious assaults.

These new formations saw their first widespread tactical application during the Vietnam war, where ultimately more than 12,000 helicopters were deployed.  In addition to troop transport types such as the UH-1 Huey, specialized gunships, observation, and heavy-lift helicopters were developed and incorporated into operations.  While they gave unprecedented mobility on the battlefield, helicopters were vulnerable to enemy fire, particularly when inserting troops into a landing zone.  A total of 2,066 helicopters would be lost during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics describes the transformation of the helicopter from a novel aviation vehicle into a vital tactical asset.  This is a standard Osprey Elite Series book, well-illustrated and an excellent primer in operations and tactics of Airmobile warfare.  It provides useful insight into what all those helicopters in Vietnam War movies are doing, or at least supposed to be doing.  Recommended.

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F-105 Wild Weasel vs SA-2 ‘Guideline’ SAM Book Review

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F-105 Wild Weasel vs SA-2 ‘Guideline’ SAM: Vietnam 1965–73

By Peter E. Davies, illustrated by Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector

Osprey Duel Series Book 35

Paperback, 80 pages, illustrated, indexed

Published by Osprey Publishing May 2011

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1849084718

ISBN-13: 978-1849084710

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.6 inches

I found this book at an IPMS show along with a few other Osprey titles.  Osprey books, while short, are an excellent introduction to their topics and are well illustrated being chock full of photographs, maps, and useful illustrations specially commissioned for the series.  This title is what you would expect from this publisher and does not disappoint.

The Duel series pits competing weapons systems against each other comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.  In this case the weapons are asymmetric, meaning this is not a case of two versions of the same platform (think tank versus tank), but a dissimilar example of aircraft versus surface to air missile.  In this instance the aircraft is the USAF F-105 F/G Thunderchief “Wild Weasel” SAM suppression attack aircraft pitted against the North Vietnamese SA-2 “Guideline” surface to air missile system.  Neither system operated alone, the Weasels being supported by jamming aircraft and strike aircraft tasked with bombing the missile sites, the North Vietnamese utilizing AAA and MiG interceptors to complicate matters for the F-105s.

The author describes the move and counter-move nature of the struggle between two technologically advanced systems.  The F-105’s Shrikes could home in on the SA-2’s “Fan Song” radar; the radar could be turned off to make the Shrike miss; the Weasels could jam the SA-2 guidance link but the missile could be guided optically for much of its flight, and so on.  For every new tactic or innovation by either side a counter measure was soon introduced which limited the advantage.

I found this book to be interesting and informative, just right for an evening read with a cat on your lap.  Recommended.

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Tank Sergeant Book Review

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Tank Sergeant

by Ralph Zumbro

Hardcover in dustjacket, 196 pages with appendix, glossary, and index; illustrated

Publisher: Presidio Press November 1986

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0891412654

ISBN-13: 978-0891412656

Package Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches

Tank Sergeant is Ralph Zumbro’s personal account of tank warfare in Vietnam.  Specifically, Zumbro was a tank crewman and tank commander on M48A3 Pattons during 1967 and 1968, which includes the Tet offensive.  While not specifically optimized or intended for operations in a jungle environment, the tanks were nevertheless in high demand and the vehicles in Company A, 1st Battalion, 69th Armored were disbursed in small detachments across a wide area.  Surprisingly for an organization with the vast resources of the U.S. Army, there were never enough tanks in-country to go around and never enough time to maintain the tanks that were there.

The tanks were utilized for infantry support, convoy escort, and guarding fixed points such as bridges.  The main obstacles were the jungle and the terrain, the main threats were mines, RPGs, and getting boarded by infantry.  Combat was constant.  Keeping the tanks maintained was a struggle and they often operated with partial crews.  At one point in the narrative Zumbro’s M48 (which was fitted with a bulldozer blade) received a much-needed depot level overhaul.  The vehicle was barely operational and had accumulated almost three times the running hours recommended between servicings.

This is very much a personal story, and Zumbro goes into details of the day to day operations and challenges of keeping the tanks running.  The horse-trading and bureaucratic red tape required to procure parts will be familiar to former service members, Zumbro relates resorting to unauthorized nighttime requisitions to secure the needed items.  He also describes a platoon of tanks catching an NVA battalion in the open waiting to ambush a convoy.  The results were predicable, but the complete destruction of a large NVA formation in the weeks after Tet did not fit the desired Press narrative and therefore went unreported.

Overall a very interesting and informative read, especially given the unique perspective of a tanker in Vietnam.  Highly recommended!

 

MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War Book Review

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MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 130

by István Toperczer, illustrated by Jim Laurier

Paperback, 96 pages, 30 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing October  2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1472812557

ISBN-13: 978-1472812551

Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.4 x 9.6 inches

This volume follows the standard format which will be familiar to any reader of Osprey’s previous Aircraft of the Aces volumes.  Author István Toperczer provides a historical overview of the Vietnamese Peoples Air Force and their employment of the MiG-17 and MiG-19, and illustrator Jim Laurier treats us to thirty beautifully rendered side profiles of the aircraft, most of which are depicted in natural metal schemes with a few shown in camouflage for good measure.

The VPAF credits eight pilots with five or more victories while flying MiG-17 or -19s.  Roughly half of the officially credited VPAF claims are uncorroborated, and many of the losses admitted by the U.S. were attributed to AAA or SAMs.  Toperczer notes throughout the text where North Vietnamese claims cannot be reconciled with USN or USAF loss reports, but does not explain the VPAF crediting methodology nor explains the discrepancy.  The reader is left to wonder if ground controllers who tracked U.S. aircraft throughout an engagement couldn’t easily confirm or deny a claim, or if the lack of aircraft wreckage or downed aircrew was ever taken into account.

Another more humorous illustration of the “fog of war” is the strange case of three very active MiG-19 pilots, who all flew with the 925th Fighter Regiment from Gia Lam airfield at the same time.  Their names were very similar – Nguyen Hong Son, Nguyen Hung Son, and Pham Hung Son.  As their exploits were reported in the Vietnamese press the matter became so confusing that the pilots were referred to as Son “A”, Son “B”, and Son “C” and historians have continued the paradigm.

A surprise to me was the presence of North Korean “volunteer” aircrew, which was not officially acknowledged until 2001.  They were active from 1967 through 1969.  Fourteen North Korean pilots were killed.  The VPAF credited them with achieving four victories although none of those can be corroborated with U.S. losses.

These books are a good reference for modelers and the profiles provide some great eye candy and inspiration for planning builds.  I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to sorting out or explaining the overclaiming issue, and perhaps some complementary descriptions of the same combats from the perspective of the U.S. aircrews.  A recommended reference volume, particularly as Airfix is expected to release a Mikoyan MiG-17 kit in 1/72 scale shortly.

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Legend Audio Book Review

Legend

 

Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines

By Eric Blehm

Audio CD Read by Fred Sanders

Published by Random House Audio April 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0553551663

ISBN-13: 978-0553551662

Eight compact disks, approximately nine hours

In 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, Cambodia was officially neutral and neither side in the neighboring struggle was to operate within its’ borders.  Unofficially, Cambodia was a major base and supply route for the NVA and Viet Cong and a safe haven from which to strike the South.  U.S. operations into Cambodia were officially forbidden and publicly denied by U.S. politicians.  They were also a daily occurrence for the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) and the Army Aviation units which supported them.

In May of 1968, one of these operations went bad.  A twelve-man SOG team had been inserted near a busy section of the Ho Chi Min Trail with the mission to capture a Russian truck and return it to South Vietnam, thus conclusively proving the NVA presence.  Unknown to them, their insertion point was right on top of the lager area of a large NVA unit with overwhelming numbers and numerous defensive positions.  The SOG team was surrounded by a superior enemy force, cut off from extraction and had soon taken casualties.

As the title implies, Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez is a legend.  While not assigned to the mission, he monitored the engagement by radio and boarded a helicopter which was departing in one of the many  attempts to rescue the survivors.  Benavidez jumped into the landing zone the team was trying to get out of, armed only with a knife and a medical bag.  For the next six hours he organized and fought with the team, providing medical aid and calling in airstrikes until the men could be rescued.  He was shot seven times, bayoneted, clubbed, and had numerous fragmentation wounds, but was credited with saving the lives of eight men.

The first two disks detail Benavidez’ hard childhood and early Army service life, including his 1965 deployment to Vietnam which almost left him paralyzed.  Disk three provides the political background to the situation in Cambodia.  Disk four begins with the insertion of the SOG team.  Author Blehm has obviously done a vast amount of research and interviews with the surviving team members and aviation personnel involved, the descriptions of the actions are detailed and from several perspectives.  The book concludes with the efforts of journalists and supporters who campaigned to have Benavidez’ Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was eventually awarded by President Ronald Regan in 1981.

This book is a great tale of bravery and personal determination in overcoming incredible obstacles, recommended without reservation.