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American fire support bases in Vietnam


By Sakhal

The Vietnam War constituted a true experimentation field not only of new weapons but of new combat tactics as well. The massive use of helicopters and their multiple attack and transport functions, the watching of the routes in the jungle and other many procedures were specifically developed for the Vietnamese scenario.

An important innovation carried by the Americans was the creation of those self-sufficient artillery bases from where the infantry received fire support. Their effectiveness was tangible. They could operate even in conditions in which it would be required to go without air support. Sometimes they served as a bait to induce the Communists to concentrate their attacks precisely upon them, where they could be annihilated with the help of the fire support from other similar bases around. These bases usually relied in the following resources: a battery of six field howitzers M102 of caliber 105 millimeters, one infantry company for local defense, four 81-millimeter mortars, services of transmission, medical care and intendance and the very possible support from other similar bases, of which they were never isolated. It was indeed always possible to resort to the support from other bases in the event of enemy attack. In a sample situation in which Fire Support Base A is subject to a main attack and a diversion attack, Fire Support Base B could attack the main enemy forces and Fire Support Base C would then attack the diversionary enemy forces. Additional assistance from combat helicopters would be the norm as well.

Construction and internal disposition of a fire support base

These bases constituted, as it was said, an innovation of the military art which originated in the specific fighting conditions in the Vietnam War. Their construction and disposition were fundamented in very precise reglamentary instructions. A first step was a detailed reconnaissance of the terrain to choose the appropriate emplacement. Once this one was decided, it was installed a post in the center of the choosen place. A rope 40 meters long was used to mark the area that would be occupied by the fortified enclave. The resulting circular line was marked at intervals of 4.5 meters to indicate the position of the blockhouses for the infantry. A circle 75 meters in diameter signaled the perimeter of the barbed wire entanglement. In each stake, the helicopters deposited a normalized pack of controlled demolition charge, two sheets of steel perforated plates and sandbags, with all of which was built a blockhouse 2.7 meters in size. A grader excavated the terrain for the Command Post and the Fire Support Coordination Center, and the ditches for cannons and mortars. A prefabricated observation tower was placed by a helicopter CH-47 Chinook. The time spent in the construction was variable. But it was considered as indispensable that the outer defenses and the infantry positions were completed in the last hours of light of the first day of occupation of the enclave for the future Fire Support Base. The Fire Support Base depicted in the illustration is completely built and comprises:

A: Triple emplacements for three 105-millimeter howitzers M102. B: Twin emplacements for two 81-millimeter mortars (for firing high-explosive projectiles or providing illumination during nocturnal enemy attacks). C: Command Post. D: Watchtower. E: Fire Support Coordination Center. F: Communications Center. G: Intendance, kitchen and storage. H: Vigilance of the enclosure and emplacement of the anti-personnel radar. J: Night observation devices: normal and infrared searchlights. K: Arsenal for an infantry company with rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns and recoilless cannons. L: Area destined to landing of helicopters. M: A helicopter CH-54 Tarhe, able to lift at once one 155 millimeters howitzer, lifts a load of 7614 kilograms by means of a sling. N: Around the base, between the blockhouses of the infantry and the barbed wire entanglement, were placed Claymore mines and flares. P: Triple barbed wire entanglement (three spirals disposed in pyramidal structure) around the base. Q: Access and exit points for infantry patrols, either for attack or ordinary vigilance. R: Artillery support by aerial rockets installed in a helicopter Huey that could mount up to 48 rockets caliber 69.85 millimeters in the variants UH-1B and UH-1C or 76 rockets in the variant AH-1G Cobra.

Here it is shown the ideal configuration of a Fire Support Base: a perfect circle 40 meters in radius. In the practice this shape was rarely achieved due to the irregularities of the terrain.

American fire support bases in Vietnam


Categories: Logistics - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-17


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