by W.S. McCallum
Operation Bathurst, a search and destroy operation in and around the sprawling locale known as Hoa Long, has been running since 20 October. South of Ap Phuóc Hiên, elements of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment are being deployed to act as a long stop to catch any VC being driven south by units of the 1st Battalion, 43rd ARVN Rangers.
The view looking northwards, towards the outskirts of Ap Phuóc Hiên. It is suspected that scattered VC remnants may have occupied the area.
Although it looks deserted, there are known to be civilians in the area, and the presence of the provincial governor's pied à terre means that use of any artillery has been ruled out.
With his mistress's red car still parked outside, there are orders from the top to take the building intact without breaking a single window. In the foreground, an abandoned RF/PF bunker for perimeter defence of the ville lies deserted. Or is it?
The eastern approaches feature rice paddies offering clear fields of fire should there be any VC defenders lurking in houses along the road.
The view across the rice paddies from the Australian lines.
The view from the road leading to Ap Nâm - more open country.
The road the ARVN Rangers are expected to advance along to meet up with the Australians:
It is already 9 am and the Australian commander is getting tetchy. He is ankle-deep in foul-stinking rice paddy water. The ARVN Rangers were supposed to have met up with the Australians hours ago but they have not arrived on the scene. He decides to stop wasting time and orders his men to advance towards the provincial governor's pied à terre....
In a move straight out of officers' training school, the Australian commander deploys his force of two platoons in a line and orders them to advance across the rice paddies.
A section dispatched to scout a B52 bomb crater on the right flank almost immediately gets pinned down by sniper fire:
Some of the section manage to evade the sniper's fire and reach the edge of the dead zone:
An Australian M60 machine-gunner from the other platoon opens fire on the sniper:
His aim is good:
Unfortunately, this automatic fire draws the attention of a VC machine gun team on the far side of the paddy fields:
Their aim is poor and their fire prompts a hail of return M60 fire that makes short work of them:
While this is going on, a section peels off to reconnoitre northwards:
This tempting target draws fire from the courtyard of the farmhouse on the road to Âp Nam:
The response is immediate and accurate: the VC are hit with SLR and M60 fire that kills two men:
But the Australians have been caught in the open and they lose 6 men to rifle and AK47 fire:
Nor is the ordeal over for the leading Australian elements on the edge of the dead zone. A second VC sniper pops up and opens fire on them:
Three men go down as a result of his sustained, accurate fire:
While the section leader is pinned down:
Only 20 minutes have passed....
... and already things are not looking good for the Australians. They have barely moved off their start line and it looks like nothing but trouble up ahead:
The VC commander did not however count on the early arrival of the ARVN Rangers at his rear:
They infiltrate through the roadside houses...
... and cautiously approach the provincial governor's mansion:
The VC have been caught flat-footed. Not a single MG or sniper was assigned to cover the approach road to their rear. The ARVN Rangers advance unopposed onto the grounds of the mansion and the game is over:
It is a salutary lesson for the VC commander. In spite of having inflicted heavier casualties on the Free World forces, he loses the battle. Completely outflanked, all he can do now is hastily withdraw.
© W.S. McCallum 30 November 2013
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