Operation Hermit Park

Phuoc Tuy Province

21 June 1971

 

by W.S. McCallum

 

Force units from re-entering Phuoc Tuy Province and disrupting resupply of D445 Battalion.

 

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Back at the road, the radio set beside a lone parked Land Rover crackles as the company HQ awaits a response from 2 (NZ) Platoon, which has been sent off on patrol in the bush....

 

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Beyond the road lies some dense terrain that looks like it is hiding trouble of some sort.

 

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What the New Zealanders don't know is that there is an enemy base beyond the stream:

 

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It is the base camp for a whole NVA company, and the lone NZ platoon on patrol is heading for trouble...

 

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Lying in wait across the stream is a reception that they had not counted on....

 

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The Game

 

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The heavy machine gun failed to get the drop on the NZ patrol, as it was spotted before any attempt was made to cross the stream.

 

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The Forward Observer with the patrol radios in the relevant co-ordinates and 104 Battery of the Australian Field Artillery responds:

 

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The NVA machine gun team dives for cover and takes no further part in the action. The battery fire does however stir up a hornet''s nest:

 

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A Main Force platoon charges out of the foliage along the stream and is met with sustained M60, M79 and SRL fire from the NZ patrol:

 

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Men start falling along the banks of the stream.

 

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A third of the platoon is cut down by NZ fire. Further back, an 82 mm mortar battery, responding to fire co-ordinates from a Forward Observer hiding along the riverbank, begins firing on the New Zealanders:

 

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It is not accidental that the barrage is bracketed on the NZ Forward Observer, and he goes down in the first salvo. The 82 mm mortars shift their fire up and down the bank, causing several NZ casualties and pinning the survivors to the edge of the stream. The NZ commander is wavering - things are not going according to the script....

 

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The platoon commander carries out a tactical withdrawal to get out of the range of the mortars (the NVA commander prefers to think of this as a cowardly retreat). He has no time for further decision-making though, as his retreat uncovers a whole NVA platoon, waiting to the rear of his platoon's position. Throwing caution to the wind, the NVA troops charge, firing as they advance. The platoon commander and his NCO are cut to ribbons. The command support team also goes down in the face of sustained fire from the charging Main Force unit:

 

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Along the edge of the stream, things are looking dire as the 82 mm mortar rounds continue falling on the pinned-down and now leaderless platoon.

 

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At the same time, survivors from the NVA platoon that attempted the initial assault are slipping across the stream, around the NZ platoon's flank.

 

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And the second platoon is closing in behind the New Zealanders as the mortar barrage starts coming to an end:

 

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One M60 team manages to turn and offer defensive fire:

 

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They pin one NVA stand, but are met with LMG and RPG fire that finishes them off, and soon the men beside them are hit too:

 

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Two whole NZ sections have now been killed in addition to the platoon command. The NVA charge on, largely unopposed.

 

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The remaining NZ section, seeing a whole platoon of NVA bearing down on them, withdraw into the undergrowth.

 

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Unfortunately, they run headlong into an ambush, sprung by the unit that infiltrated across the stream to their flank.

 

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All hell breaks loose as M60, SLR, AK47, LMG and RPG fire is exchanged at very close range.

 

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Only one NZ NCO escapes; the sole surviving member of the platoon is shot in the back running away.

 

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Back at company HQ, all they are hearing now is the crackling of the platoon's radio and the sudden unwelcome sound of Vietnamese voices coming over the receiver....

 

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There will be front-page newspaper headlines back in New Zealand, and questions will be asked in the House in Wellington, about how a whole NZ platoon could be massacred at a time when the nation's involvement in the Vietnam War was supposed to be coming to an end.

 

Post-script

 

21 June 1971 is not actually remembered as a day marking an NZ military disaster. In real life, at 11.41 am, having just crossed the stream to find themselves on the edge of a base camp, 2 (NZ) Platoon was forced to initiate contact and then faced a full-scale assault by a Main Force company from 1st Battalion, 274 Regiment. 2 (NZ) Platoon withdrew back across the stream under fire, dodging and evading through the bush to avoid being outflanked, with the enemy in hot pursuit, while calling down defensive fire from the Australian 104 Battery. About 3 hours later, they managed to withdraw to a rear blocking position, had their casualties dusted off, and were reinforced by 1 (NZ) Platoon and 3 Australian Centurion tanks. Then, with tank and helicopter gunship support, the two platoons staged a frontal assault on the Main Force base. All 3 Centurions were hit by RPG fire and the base was hotly defended into the night. The following morning, the base was found to have been abandoned, with the Vietnamese having left behind various supplies.

 

The game was set up so that if the NZ platoon got back to the road, 3 Centurions and an additional platoon would arrive as reinforcements, along with helicopter gunship support. Unfortunately the NZ commander did not heed my warning about the need to get back to the road, and the perils of sticking around the base camp, and got pinned down along the stream long enough for me to encircle him and finish him off.

 

My opponent was the NVA commander in the An Loc game, and having had his forces chewed up by Free World artillery, I think he assumed that this time, as the NZ commander, he could just sit back and do the same thing. Unfortunately in that dense terrain, the field of observation was very limited, and even if his FO had not been taken out very early on, he would have had a hard time spotting targets and avoiding getting outflanked. It shows just how good the actual NZ platoon commander back in 1971 was that he managed to extricate his force from such a tight corner. 

 

It was the most decisive victory I've ever had playing Crossfire, and shows that if your timing is right, an NVA mass assault can succeed using those rules.

 

W.S. McCallum 21 February 2015

 

 

 

 

 

   

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