Attack on Nhi Ha

South of the DMZ

4 May 1968

 

by W.S. McCallum

 

 

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In late April 1968, the 3rd US Marine Division was about to attack NVA units transiting along the DMZ when the 320th NVA Division was unexpectedly identified behind its lines, less than four miles away from the Marine base at Dong Ha. The 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines was thrown in and struggled to eject the NVA from their positions in the vicinity, while the US Army Americal Division's 3rd Battalion, 21st Infanty, also became entangled in a bitter struggle for nearby Nhi Ha. 

 

The fighting for these villages did not resemble the shape of the war in the South: here, NVA troops fought across open fields and hedgerows as regular infantry, and the Marines facing them were surprised to encounter NVA soldiers wearing full field gear, including Soviet steel helmets. While NVA tanks and aircraft were not deployed over the DMZ, these NVA infantry did have heavy artillery support in the form of 122m field guns firing from positions north of the DMZ, and light anti-aircraft guns made operations difficult for US air support.

 

By May 4th, the village of Nhi Ha has exchanged hands and the new occupants are units of the 4th Battalion, 270th NVA Regiment. Recent artillery bombardments have reduced much of the ville to rubble and the NVA defenders are dug in deep, keeping out of sight of any US reconnaissance aircraft flying over:

 

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The 3rd Battalion of the 270th NVA Regiment is known to have deployed positions along a roughly south to north axis, running through the village, but exactly where remains to be seen. The pounding the settlement received has made the place a rabbit warren of ruined buildings: 

 

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Looking westwards towards the village from the 3rd Battalion/21st Infanty's lines, there is no movement visible at all. Any civilians in the area fled several days ago.

 

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Nhi Ha is split in two by various paddy fields that will make any assault on it quite complicated:

 

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At 9.36 am, after a largely sleepless night due to the US artillery strike that preceded them, C and D Companies of the 2rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, move across the fields to assault Nhi Ha. No one in either of the two companies is deluding themselves that this is going to be an easy operation...

 

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The Game

 

The two companies began their advance spread out in line, marching cautiously across the fields and through the hedgerows on the outskirts of Nhi Ha....

 

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Company D is closest to the road, with Company C to the North.

 

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All is initially quiet, but no one expects this to last.

 

A well-camouflaged NVA sniper is lurking on the southern edge of the road and does not have to wait long before good targets present themselves:

 

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Two squads sent to reconnoiter south of the road take sustained fire and one of them is suppressed by the veteran sniper:

 

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The company's other two platoons react by moving forward out of sight to secure the edge of the ville with a view to flanking the sniper...

 

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While the remainder of the platoon under fire from the sniper takes shelter in the bushes on the side of the road.

 

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However the patchy cover along the roadside does not conceal them from the sniper's scope and soon they are taking hits too:

 

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A whole squad is picked off, while the other one beside it is pinned and goes to ground.

 

The sniper in turn receives fire and is pinned for a short time:

 

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It is already 10 am and the D Company's advance is getting bogged down by a single sniper.

 

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The other company is hedgerow-hopping, approaching closer to the village, but has encountered no resistance as yet...

 

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Back by the road, the sniper has become aware of movement through the hooches north of the road. He turns and takes aim...

 

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The fire causes the squad moving through the hooches to duck for cover. He then notices more movement across the road and turns to fire... 

 

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The sniper's fire forces one squad to go to ground along the roadside, but the others keep rushing forward...

 

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Until they too are pinned by his accurate, high-volume fire.

 

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It is now 11 am and the rest of the company is moving cautiously through the edges of the ville, hoping to avoid being noticed by the sniper...

 

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He is still busy with the units in front of him and manages to wipe out a squad.

 

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Taking advantage of this, the other two platoons make a rush across a gap in the hooches:

 

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They are not quick enough; he spots their movement and manages to pick off another squad:

 

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To the north, the other company makes its move, breaking through the final hedgerow and charging across the open ground beyond:

 

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They are met with accurate fire from a dug-in heavy machine gun unit, which takes out one squad straight away:

 

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Sight unseen, NVA troops are moving forward through the shattered ruins of Nhi Ha to meet this assault...

 

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Unaware of what they are about to run into, another platoon from C Company is starting to cross the paddy fields that cut through the middle of Nhi Ha:

 

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A third platoon has moved forward into the patches of long grass in-between the other two platoons:

 

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The NVA are ready and waiting. They open fire on the lead squad and quickly finish it off:

 

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Seeing that the heat is still very much on the sniper, a nearby NVA forward observer radios in 82 mm mortar fire in support of him:

 

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The units still pinned on the road now have even more to worry about:

 

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Freed of any pressure from assault from in front of him, the sniper redirects his attention to the units lurking among the hooches and soon suppresses another squad:

 

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Raising the stakes, the US forward observer decides to call in a mortar barrage of his own on the NVA heavy machine gun position:

 

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A lot of dust, smoke and flying dirt ensues, but the unit is unscathed and turns to open fire on the FO, suppressing him:

 

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It is now midday and time is running out for the Americans: they are supposed to have the village cleared by 2 pm and things are not going well.

 

Sustained NVA heavy machine gun fire ends up killing their forward observer.

 

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Mortar fire continues to inflict losses among the men pinned down on the road:

 

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And the sniper continues picking off any men who venture to move in his vicinity:

 

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Over the next two hours, the US assault remains stalled in this position, taking losses all the while.

 

It does not all go the NVA's way: after the loss of the FO, a platoon commander takes over calling in the mortar fire and causes NVA casualties:

 

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But by 2 pm it is clear that no further progress will be made unless an air strike is called in.

 

The NVA player won on points, having taken out 8 stands (5 by the sniper!), but was not in a position to counter-attack due to insufficient numbers to mount an assault against the still-cohesive US forces.

 

On the actual day of this battle, the historical result was much the same. By early afternoon, having stalled at the paddy fields, the two US company commanders decided to call in Skyhawks to pound the NVA into submission. The air strikes continued into the early evening. In real life, the NVA sniper caused significant casualties that day, being a deciding factor in stalling the assault and, later in the afternoon, even managed to down a C&C Huey carrying the battalion commander! When the ville was finally taken in the evening, the NVA had managed to slip away.

 

We used the Crossfire rules once again, including the rules' original figure scale of 1 stand = 1 squad as it was a perfect fit for recreating this particular battle. I was surprised that my US opponent followed the same "hey diddle-diddle straight up the middle" approach that occurred historically, as I was expecting flank attacks and did not have anywhere near enough stands to cover the entire width of the board. I was also surprised that the NVA sniper managed to survive through to the end of play and was tempted to have him bug out at one point (upon which he would have had to withdraw from play). My source for this scenario was "The Magnificent Bastards: The Joint Army-Marine defense of Dong Ha, 1968", by Keith William Nolan, which is a great read and has lots of detail.

 

W.S. McCallum 21 February 2016

 

 

 

 

 

   

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