Vietnam 1965 - 1975 Campaign Update #4

Fall & Winter 1965




South Vietnam is in political chaos as two successive coups have happened in the fall and winter season.  The generals in charge of the ARVN Corps are demoralized and disloyal, preferring to focus on bitter in-fighting rather than getting the job done of securing the countryside from an increasingly bold VC presence.

Fall 1965 starts off with the US choosing to save its air power for operations in the field.  No bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail or the North happens at the start of this season.  Big mistake.  The VC use the trail to good effect, throwing in men and supplies everywhere, especially in the interior near Kontum.  The Viet Cong take control of several provincial capitals in this area and they now have a stronghold from which to launch attacks on the US and ARVN forces further to the east.

The SVN capital finds itself under siege as rumors of NVA regiments moving down the trail are preparing for an offensive against Saigon itself.

With the ARVN in disarray and completely ineffective in the field, the Americans find themselves with little choice but to commit more men and troops to help prop up the flailing South Vietnamese government.  The 1st Cav and the 1st US Army Division are sent to help out the Marines with their efforts to fend off VC incursions in I and II Corps.  Meanwhile, the South Koreans decide to get involved and send off a regiment to Saigon.

The VC spend most of the season consolidating their gains in the interior of the country.  Capital cities in Kontum and the surrounding regions are filling up with VC.  Population support for the South Vietnamese government drops precipitously in these areas while the limited US and Korean forces go on offensives to clear out vital areas.  The Koreans help secure some roads east outside of the capital and then use the rest of their forces to try and dislodge the VC forces holding up in the the port city of Vung Tao.  The capture of a South Vietnamese city so close to the national capital is a political and military embarassment for the ARVN, who are unable to clean their own house.

S. Koreans prepare to lay a beating on the VC operating southeast of Saigon.


The Koreans attack the city and deal out severe punishment to the VC but they are unable to take it successfully.  American air and naval power is being used up at precipitous rates further to the east,while the 1st Division hammers away at VC attempting to hold in Phan Tiet and along the roads through the Binh Thuan region. The Americans do an excellent job against the VC regiments causing the VC replacement rate to fall rapidly.


1st Division works its way down the coast through Binh Thuan, clearing out VC-held cities.



Meanwhile, the 1st Cav recaptures a port near Chu Lai as the VC are forced to withdraw after facing a battle they cannot win. The Marines up near Da Nang are also operating nicely, conducting several search and destroy and security operations to push the VC out of the Quang Tri and Thua Thien area.

Interseason Fall/Winter 1965

Although the American and Korean performance is admirable, it is still not enough to keep the VC at bay.  Their numbers in the countryside are increasing and the supplies seem to keep coming down the trail.

As fall turns to winter, the US decides it has had enough and commits an impressive amount of air power to bomb North Vietnam (30 points of air allocated for unrestrained bombing), scoring several hits against it.  The Ho Chi Minh trail is also bombed, which helps to slow the flow of supplies.  The North Vietnamese player has no choice but to spend his commitment points on air defense and repairing the trail.  The Americans also have 3 naval points committed to the blockade of North Vietnam.  Supplies for the VC start to dry up this turn but the US committment required for this means that the North Vietnamese morale increases while American morale starts to drop.  Photos of North Vietnamese villages bombed by American planes have a dramatic impact on the American public.  Citing the political instability in South Vietnam, many people back home start to wonder if the war is worth it.

With the bulk of the ARVN likely ending up as ineffective again this season, the US player decides to increase committment again.  More air is committed to the campaign and elements of the 199th as well as another brigade from 1st Cav are deployed in-country.  The 199th is sent to Saigon to help with defending the capital from NVA attacks while the 1st Cav is sent to supplement efforts in II Corps, deploying in Qui Nonh.  Without a doubt, they will be committed against the VC strongholds in Kontum to the west.

Meanwhile the US has provided cruiser support down near Vung Tao and the South Koreans look to be spoiling for a fight over the city again this season.

Although there are plenty of ARVN and a US brigade now sitting in Saigon, the defense is brittle.  The ARVN Chief of Staff is disloyal and unhappy about his position so the defending ARVN are ineffective.  To the west, there are over a dozen VC units operating in IV Corps sector.  Although the 21st ARVN division looks strong and effective on paper, it is surrounded by VC and clearing the sector of VC will be a Herculean task.  It looks like the Americans will have to help out here again or this part of the country will go to the VC.

Winter 1965

The 1st Cav conducted a massive search and destroy operation around Kontum.  The Americans blasted the city from the air (declaring the whole province a free-fire zone) and then the surrounded it with three battalions.  The attack on the city eliminated a political section and sent a VC battalion scrambling into the jungle.  The ROK troops near Vung Tao finally managed to dislodge an entire regiment from the city on a security operation and the 1st Division followed up the retreating units and eliminated a battalion, sending the VC in a retreat near the marshes southeast of Saigon.  The road between II and III Corps was finally...finally clear after six months.  Again, lots and lots of air spent here to get these results.  I found out what a wonderful thing airmobility is here ("Surprise, assholes! We're here!").

1st Cav conducts a very successful Search & Destroy operation around Kontum and starts to reclaim the area.


Another search and destroy operation in Quan Ngai found an entire regiment of VC operating in the area and used cruiser and air support in an attempt to destroy it.  The VC were able to move away after taking 3 replacement point losses and the pursuit ended there.  The regiment was in now in the mountains further west, giving the coastal cities a chance to breathe but it was evident that the S&D operation was pretty much a failure.  Several VC units moved from Kontum east towards Binh Dinh, a real danger since this province has a large SVN population that's half-and-half on its support.

The year ended with two NVA regiments on the road directly north of Saigon and VC in the area poised for an assault on the capital.  Despite some limited successes in breaking two key VC strongholds, the SVN grip was indeed tenuous, especially considering the political instability in the country.

As an aside, I am learning a whole bunch about this game.  I can see the mistakes I made in the first few turns in terms of rules and also a bit in terms of strategy.  The rulebook is actually quite short but it's really concise so it's quite easy to miss vital information if you don't read really closely.  I made errors in terms of air power numbers for the US (you recover them after each turn unless they're lost or temporarily unavailable due to using them for strategic bombing - didn't know that).  Economic aid programs boost morale in the season after the US donates them to SVN.  Also, morale losses for captured capitals accrue over time.  I also see more clearly how support works in an operation in terms of rounds.  I've fudged a bit here and there to make up for the mistakes but overall just kept going regardless.

Strategically, I made a blunder early in the game by not purchasing SVN regiments to protect capitals so the VC basically walked right into them without a fight.  This has led to the mess that we're now in.  As for the repeated coups (3 in one year!!), I don't know if that's because of my bad judgement or if it's just a function of the hand I got dealt at the beginning of the game and the unusually high rolls I've been making on leader replacement attempts.

In any case, wow.  Vietnam is really quite an experience to play.  You start to feel like this thing is less a game than a real journey.  I've learned a heck of a lot about the big picture of the Vietnam conflict from this game.  It certainly teaches more than any book or documentary on the subject that I've read or seen.  I admit that I was put off by the length and complexity of it at first but I find that every time I sit down with it, I end up engrossed with the sheer number of decisions to be made, both on the map and on paper.

The real frustration on the part of the US player is evident here.  South Vietnam is like a patient that's bleeding from all sorts of wounds and the US is just frantically trying to plug the holes and hoping to stop the bleeding somehow.  The VC are elusive and slippery.  You hit them in one place and they pop up in another.  You start securing the interior of the country and they start showing up along the coast.  You make progress in one Corps area only to see all of it lost in another.  Despite all the men and all the support, you simply can't cover all of the country. You train and supply the ARVN only to see their leaders fumble along so badly that the units under their command are ineffective.  To that extent, the game seems realistic enough.

Comments

  1. The campaign rule for setup 'garrison the cities and capitols' is also one I learned when I setup my first campaign. :-) I think everyone learns that rule first. The initial ARVN purchase is to maximize garrisons at start. As Tony Curtis pointed out, you can analyze the population in provinces and abandon some mostly lost already to strengthen provinces where the population might remain still more in question.
    The design is astonishingly well done with decisions interacting with other decisions. As you note, even disposition of where the airpower gets committed has consequences. It's really worth replaying!
    Note that the US goal is to eventually allow SVN to be able to defend itself. The US presence really is there to cause sufficient damage so the NVA/NLF aren't as dangerous to SVN's sovereignty. As you've noted, though, one of the pillars of self-defense in the end when the US has withdrawn is to have sufficient ARVN replacements to weather the potential NVA/NLF storm. It is not a trivial sum! I think Nick Karp, the designer, has also indicated that probably a ratio of five replacements for a commitment point works better than the existing three replacements per commitment.
    Thank you for the AARs! I look forward to more of your excellent commentary and visuals!

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