by W.S. McCallum
In April 1972, during the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam, 3 NVA divisions moved across the Cambodian border to seize the town of An Loc, north of Saigon.
The ARVN hastily threw together a defence force to defend the town, with the south-east sector being assigned to the 3rd ARVN Rangers Group.
Initial NVA assaults with tank support were repulsed repeatedly and what was supposed to be a quick Communist victory turned into an extended siege.
At dawn on 11 May 1972, the defenders are recovering from a sleepless night: NVA artillery has been bombarding the edges of town and has added to the destruction already caused by B-52 bombers some weeks before.
The B-52 strike has demolished one road into An Loc:
The wreckage of a Cobra gunship shows that the NVAís air defences have also produced results:
The outskirts of An Loc are deserted, the local inhabitants having fled weeks before:
The front line looks deserted, although it is in fact defended by ARVN Rangers careful to leave no visible signs of their presence that would give them away to NVA artillery.
At 5 am, there are signs of enemy movement.
A detachment of NVA scouts races up the road to An Loc, hoping to seize ground before the ARVN can react.
Another detachment advances through the trees to their right; the assault has begun. To be successful it will have to be swift; once the early morning cloud and mist clears, the sky will be heavy with South Vietnamese and US air support.
The detachment of NVA scouts is not far up the road when trouble comes their way:
An ARVN M60 machine gun opens fire and pins them down along the road.
Meanwhile, the advancing NVA scouts in the bush manage to startle a water buffalo:
82 mm mortars deploy ready to provide fire support:
The scouts probe the flank of the ARVN machine gun position, looking for a breakthrough point:
On the other side of the road, another squad deploys and begins advancing:
They do not get far before a barrage of 105 mm shells starts falling around them:
Undeterred, further squads and a T54 move up:
The advance on the left side of the road comes unstuck as the leading squad is decimated by another barrage of 105mm shells:
The ARVN M60 team keep hammering the NVA recon element pinned on the road and start clocking up casualties:
It is now 5.15 am and already the NVA advance is running into difficulties. Shellfire and M60 fire from up the road stall their advance until 5.30 am.
The 82mm mortars move forward to pound the M60 team, and NVA scouts start to move around their flank.
Unfortunately, that flank is covered by another M60, which opens fire:
The lead elements receive accurate fire:
Six men go down:
At the same time, the recon unit pinned down on the road is being whittled away by fire from the first M60 team:
The second M60 takes out several more NVA in the trees:
A further surprise awaits: poor NVA reconnaissance has failed to uncover a Ranger LAW team lurking in the end hooch, right beside the mortar unitís position. They wait quietly for the T54 to approach:
The first shot bounces off the tank, but the second is a KO:
Deciding discretion is the better part of valour, the Ranger LAW team makes a run for it across the field. The NVA mortar teams open up on them:
They are the first ARVN casualties:
And there are a lot more NVA troops advancing:
They are soon running to close in on the 2 Ranger M60 teams:
It is now 5.45 am and things are not looking good on the ARVN flank, but the NVA have made surprisingly little progress. Will the 2 Ranger M60 teams holding the crater be able to withstand a mass assault?
At this point, various questions are going through the NVA commanderís head: what else is waiting up ahead, and just WHERE ARE the other ARVN Ranger units supposed to be defending this stretch of the town perimeter?
While the ARVN commander is frantic, wondering how he is going to hold back the better part of an NVA company on his left flank with just 2 machine gun crews, but not wanting to reveal his other units at this early stage for fear they will be engulfed by a human wave assault.
Then three NVA go down as the machine gunners open fire at the advancing units:
But fire is also returned; at first it is wide of the mark:
The Rangers manage to pin one more stand before they too are pinned down and fall to heavy fire:
It looks like the ARVN flank is now wide open....
Meanwhile, back up the road, more 105mm howitzer fire lands on the advancing units:
Somewhere, there is an ARVN forward observer directing very accurate fire against anything that moves on that side of the road.
The lead NVA elements rush forward to capture the position the Ranger machine gunners were holding but encounter unexpected opposition:
The NVA commander had been duly informed that his men were hearing the clanking of tracks somewhere out of their line of sight but foolishly chose to ignore the warning...
The ARVN tank commander lets rip with his 0.50 cal. MG and finishes off six NVA in one go:
Unfortunately the leading NVA squad's RPG team gets in a lucky shot before they can be mown down and the M41 brews up:
Unperturbed, a Ranger squad in the treeline behind the crater begins firing concertedly at the NVA in the field:
They hit 9 NVA but the response is quick from the NVA mortar crews:
There's a lot of smoke and noise, but the mortar rounds miss:
The Ranger squad in the treeline focus their fire on the mortar teams and soon begin scoring hits. Their fire is withering, wiping out the whole mortar unit, and most of the leading elements around them:
The second wave moving up behind them also take fire from the treeline:
And further NVA moving across the field also fall victim to artillery fire:
It is now 6am and things are not looking good for the NVA; too many men are being lost to concentrated ARVN rifle, machine gun and artillery fire.
Fire is returned at the treeline and one fire team is suppressed:
And then wiped out:
But 105mm shells keep raining on the NVA in the field, killing over a dozen men:
The NVA in the trees are also hit as the remaining Rangers in the treeline shift fire onto them:
Just when the NVA commander thought things could not get worse, the ARVN concealed on his flank finally reveal themselves and open fire at the third wave of NVA coming up the right-hand side of the road in front of them:
The fire kills 8 men and effectively stops any further advance in that area.
Following such heavy casualties, the NVA force is reduced to approximately one platoon's worth of effective fighting men, penned in behind the hooches by ARVN fire:
In one last desperate attempt to break out of the box they are in, the NVA storm out of one of the hooches and charge the ARVN on their flank:
Little do they know it, but they are charging right in front of the ARVN forward observer, who immediately brings down a rain of shells on them:
There are no survivors and the hooch is left in flames.
At this point, with only 45 minutes remaining and his advance in tatters, the NVA commander throws in the towel and the game is over. The ARVN Rangers are still firmly in possession of the town perimeter:
The NVA body count was shockingly high, and although the ARVN did lose a tank, its crew, and 11 Rangers, it was a clear victory to the ARVN commander by a very large margin.
© W.S. McCallum 6 December 2014
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