Vietnam II: A War Novel Episode 2 (V2) (5 page)

BOOK: Vietnam II: A War Novel Episode 2 (V2)
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Major Mike Lewis

Air Force Reconnaissance Pilot

FL700 over Vietnam

 

Flying on the edge of space in the U2, Vietnam looked brown.  I was a little surprised because I guess I was expecting dense jungle covering the entire country.

Bob, the autopilot, was flying the plane on the predetermined course and all I had to do was monitor the lights and gauges to make sure that we stayed in the air.  The tech guys were running the cameras in the belly of the plane.  They were taking pictures of current and former prisons as well as other suspicious sites.  The targets were all fed to them by our intel guys back in the states.

I had nothing to do really except take off and land.  There was the danger of an attack, but the Vietnamese did not have an inkling we were here.  At least that is what the brief said.  Still I kept an eye on the warning lights for any sort of missile lock.  The PNAF, the Vietnamese Air Force, had SA-2s.  Those were huge anti-aircraft missiles the size of telephone poles.  Most surface to air missiles could not reach up to the U-2’s altitude but SA-2s and SA-10s were a problem.  An SA-2 was what took down Powers over Russia.  The last thing that I wanted was to end up another POW.

The only other thing I had to do was eat.  In order to survive at FL700 we U-2 pilots had to wear a fully pressurized suit like the astronauts.  I was not able to open my visor or my blood would boil.  That meant we had to eat tube food.

The Physiological Support Squadron loaded up the cockpit before flight.  I had requested beef stroganoff and they gave me a lot of it.  Every hour I would down one through a little port on my helmet that squirted the food out to a straw inside my helmet I could eat out of.  After the stroganoff I would follow it with a tube of chocolate pudding that was enriched with caffeine to keep me awake.

So while I tooled around at the edge of space all I could do was get fat and hope the signal guys were getting what they needed out of the mission.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Carol Madison

Air Force Intelligence Officer

Pacific Command Operations Center

 

I was assigned to a joint three person team to aid in the air planning for Vietnam.  The other two members of the team were Lieutenant Colonel Elway from the army and Commander Dickens from the navy.  We were quickly dubbed the Three Amigos.  I had not seen the movie, but I put it on my list of things to rent when I got home.

When I arrived we were planning over a dozen surveillance missions a day.  On top of that we were planning for an air campaign in the event the word was given.  The key word was cooperation.  All the services were living the Goldwater-Nichols dream and functioning like a single unit.  There were many problems.  It was not so much that we did not want to, but just that we had never done it before.  The Air Force, Navy and Army had three separate ways of doing things and they did not always agree.

When we got rolling forward in the Southeast Asia planning we were caught a little off guard.  We had multiple defense plans for a North Korean offensive against the south, but I don’t think anyone had thought about Vietnam since the seventies.  If there were ever any contingency plans for Vietnam they were long lost.  I only mention that because I am proud of how well every came together.

We had to settle on what to call the enemy.  Nobody wanted to spell out the People’s Army of Vietnam on every form so we landed on the acronym PAV.

Next we looked at the size of their services.  For Air Land Battle to be effective we needed to field a large number of personnel ourselves.  The operations plan called for moving fast and holding ground.

Personnel wise they had a large army.  Like most Communist countries they had large reserves.

People's Army of Vietnam PAVN or PAV is a singular military establishment with the singular purpose of the defense of Vietnam.  The army is an outgrowth of Vietnam’s own cultural heritage including a history of nearly messianic military leadership and four continuous decades of combat experience.

However, the Vietnamese military had been in decline since it fought against the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1978–89.  There had been several demobilizations, amounting to 500,000 less troops and military spending had been slashed.  Regardless, Vietnam still had one of the region’s largest militaries and one of the largest in terms of personnel per general population.  Furthermore, the People’s Army of Vietnam remained political with many of their senior officers holding leadership positions in the Central Committee and even the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP).  The military was extremely confident with their prestige based on a formidable track record.  Over the last century they had opposed major military powers including France, the United States and China. 

PAV, which stands for People's Army of Vietnam, is the formal name of all the Vietnamese armed forces.  The other services exist within the army and are identified by the designation PAVN for People's Navy and PAVA or PAF for People's Air Force.  The reasons for this can be traced to the 1954 Geneva Agreements.  The treaty said that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was permitted to keep such armed forces as it already possessed and could create no others.  In order to follow the agreements, Vietnamese leaders created a navy and air force, but listed them as part of the army.  After V1 separate naval and air forces evolved, however, and traditional interservice rivalries, much like the ones that hampered the American military pre-Goldwater-Nichols, quickly began to rear their ugly heads.

The PAVs were organized into three basic categories of troops.  First, the PAV Regular Force consisting of the army, the navy, and the air force.  The Army Regular Force consisted of around 1.2 million officers and enlisted personnel; the Navy, about 15,000; and the Air Force, about 20,000.  Second, the Regional Force was an organized group of reserves arranged geographically and consisted chiefly of army infantry units.  The Regional Force consisted of about 500,000.  Third, the Militia Self-Defense Force was a local militia reserve with limited training organized by community, in the agricultural village or city precinct, or organized by economic enterprise, in the communes and factories.  The Militia had about 1.2 million troops.

The bulk of the military was made up of conscripts.  A compulsory two years of service was required of all able bodied males.  Women had registered for military service prior to 1975 as well.  Mandatory military service for females had been abandoned at the end of the nation’s civil war.  Much like the former American draft young people could defer based on education and certain trades that supported the economy.

The Vietnamese military suffered from interservice rivalries like any nation’s military, but the army reigned supreme.  Their status as the dominant force was by design.  The mandates of the Communist Party of Vietnam made them so and specified that they not be challenged by the air and naval services.  This was changing however as Vietnam's strategic environment was becoming increasingly complicated.  The nation’s interest in the Spratly Islands and the threat of China meant the Vietnamese government had to place greater emphasis on the capabilities that allowed them to engage and protect their offshore claims.

To meet more extensive air and naval-based requirements, Vietnam had been making some moves towards modernization and improvement; however, due to financial constraints and other priorities these moves were at times little more than symbolic.  Additionally, the army leadership fought any material or financial moves that did not benefit them directly.  This left Vietnam as a military with a disproportionately large regular and reserve army and an air force and navy of limited strength.

The late President Ho Chi Minh was a big proponent of the Army.  He said “Our army, loyal to the Party, pious to the people and ready to fight and sacrifice their lives for independence and freedom of the Homeland, and socialism, will fulfil any tasks, overcome any difficulties and defeat any enemies.”

That continued to make the PAV army first among not so equals.

Of course warfare was a different thing in the world Ho Chi Minh grew up in.

The Vietnamese believed in the concept of total mobilization.  The theory had been so successful in keeping Vietnam's enemies at bay, France, America and China and little deviation from it could be expected.  The immediacy of a second Chinese invasion alone kept the Vietnamese army on high alert and the nation continued to keep virtually the entire nation under arms.   As of 1990, one out of every three Vietnamese males was in the armed forces including the active duty army as well as part-time militia, reserve, local or regional force units, indoctrinated with the concepts of total mobilization.  They depended on conscripts, lathered up by Communist propaganda, because it was the easiest way for Hanoi to maintain a high manpower level in the armed forces. 

Strategic Rear Force was the moniker that Hanoi labelled the Regional and Militia Self-Defense forces.  The Regional Force was controlled at the provincial level and had units headquartered in each the capital of each province.  The Militia Self-Defense force was the same thing, but they were controlled at the smaller district and village level. Provincial capital, at the very least. The Militia Self-Defense Force fulfills combat, combat support, and police functions from the district to the village level. The Strategic Rear Force, both the Regional and Militia Self- Defense forces together, added another 1.6 million personnel to the already bloated Vietnamese army.

The Strategic Rear Force had four operating principles.  First they were to defend their local areas when attacked.  Second they would be used to delay, not stop, an invading enemy.  Third to maintain local police security.  Fourth to be used in manual labor, primarily for food production and rebuilding, in times of crisis.  During wartime Hanoi’s plan was not unlike the strategy of V1, the regular army would engage in conventional warfare and the Strategic Rear Force would employ guerrilla tactics also known as the “people’s warfare.”

The 2,500,000 members of the so-called Local Forces included the urban units of the People's Self Defense Force, northern rural units of the People's Militia (northern rural units), southern rural units of the Armed Youth Assault Force (YAF) (southern rural units) and the Centralized Militia which was compromised of Montagnards along the Chinese border.  All were trained extensively in paramilitary guerrilla tactics.  A strong public relations campaign would be the first tactic in convincing these citizen soldiers to just stay home.

So the final analysis put the Vietnamese military into two camps based on the types of troops.  The first group was the active duty PAVN Regular Force who would become known as PAVs for short which included the ground forces, the navy, the air force, the border guards and coast guard, numbering about 500,000 in all.  The second group was the Reserves, and included Regional Forces, Local Forces and the People's Self-Defense and Militia.

In the final analysis as of 1990 they had:

 

Main Force 1,200,000

Regional Force 500,000 

Militia/Self Defense Force 1,200,000 

Youth Assault Force 1,500,000

Tactical Rear Force 500,000

 

We needed to meet close to those numbers to make this as bloodless for our side as possible.  Otherwise we may be looking at heavy casualties.  Of course that was limited by congress which was limited by public pressure.

The next thing we looked at was what kind of hardware they could put on the battlefield.  Their navy was nearly nonexistent so we concentrated on their army and their air force.  The Vietnamese had been armed by the Soviets during the war and in the years after.  We put together what we were looking at.

On the ground they had nearly 2000 tanks including T-62s, T-54s and T-34s.  One of the largest tank battles in history had been fought during V1 and we could expect more of the same.  Then the PAVS had over 1500 armored personnel carriers including BTR-40s, -50s and -60s.  They would have no problem moving troops throughout the country. 

Less troubling were the American weapon systems the country had captured when South Vietnam fell.  They had gotten a hold of M48 Patton tanks and M-107 Self Propelled Artillery.  They possessed American small arms that they had used during their war with China and Cambodia.  Those weapons had not been seen in years and had been assumed to be in storage due to lack of ammo and replacement parts.

 

Captured American Army Weapons:

 

TANKS/SELF PROPELLED ARTILLERY

M48 Patton Medium tank

M-41 Light tank

M107 Self-Propelled Artillery 175 mm

 

TRUCKS/APCs

M-113 Tracked armored personnel carrier

M-35 cargo truck

M-151 Jeep

 

ARTILLERY

M-40 106 mm Recoilless gun

M-107 175 mm howitzer self-propelled gun

 

SMALL ARMS

M16 Assault rifles

M16A1 Assault rifles

M14 Battle Rifle

M1919 Medium machine gun

M2HB Heavy Machine Guns

M-60 Machine Guns

 

It was assumed that all of this American equipment was phased out, in storage or decommissioned.  After all even the most basic weapons required maintenance, parts and ammunition.  We figured that the Vietnamese would have run out of spare parts a long time ago and neither we nor NATO had been sending them any replacements.

That assumption would come back to haunt us.

Finally we examined their air force.  The PAV air force would be our first obstacle if it came to armed conflict so it was better to look at them last and longest.  Again they had been armed entirely by the Soviets.  They were flying some of the vintage planes from V1 (of course so were we), but they had some modern air craft as well.

 

Soviet Air Force Planes

FIGHTERS

SU-7B Fitter                                           30

SU-17 Fitter                                          30             

SU-22 M-3/M-4/MR Fitter                40

MiG-21 Fishbed               150

MR/ MARITIME PATROL

Be-12 Mail                                          4

SURVEY

An-30 Clank                                          2

TRANSPORT

An-2 Colt                                          12

An-24 Coke                                          9

An-26 Cole                                          40

Il-18 Coot                                          2

Tu-134 Crusty                                          8

Yak-40 Codling                            11                           

 

The People’s Air Force captured hundreds of American aircraft in 1975 from the South Vietnamese.  They used them extensively against Cambodia.  The planes were no longer active due to a lack of replacement parts.  The ones that were seen in recent years were used only as trainers.

BOOK: Vietnam II: A War Novel Episode 2 (V2)
5.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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