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Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam

Big Bada Boom:
Free World Artillery in Vietnam
with Phil Yates

For many American, ANZAC, ARVN, and other Free World soldiers fighting in Vietnam, artillery support was often the difference between life and death. Without artillery, a surprise encounter with a strong enemy force could be fatal as, even with helicopters bringing in reserves, no other support could arrive in time to stop the enemy overrunning them. The ability of the artillery to deliver heavy firepower within minutes was a massive force multiplier out in the boonies.

Tour Of Duty
The Vietnam War defined a generation, whether it was through service in Vietnam or opposition to the war. The war in Vietnam remains one the bloodiest wars since the Second World War. 

Learn more about Tour Of Duty here...  
Tour Of Duty
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam
For much of the war the main artillery support came from the old M101A1 105mm howitzer (known as the M2A1 in the Second World War), the M114A1 155mm howitzer (the old M1 with a new name), and the new M108 and M109 self-propelled guns. Both self-propelled guns were mounted on the same chassis similar to the M113 with aluminium armour and a fully-rotating turret. The M108 mounted a 105mm howitzer allowing it to carry plenty of ammunition, while the M109 mounted a bigger 155mm howitzer.

Learn more about the 105mm Field Artillery Battery here...
Learn more about the 155mm Field Artillery Battery here...
As the war progressed, and in the absence of mobile operations or prolonged artillery bombardments that would stretch the supply lines, the M108 was mostly replaced by the heavier M109.

Unlike the Second World War where divisions had their own artillery concentrated behind their front, advancing behind them as they launched successive attacks, artillery the Vietnam War was deployed in static firebases supporting the troops operating in the area. Some fire bases were elaborate affairs constructed and improved over years of occupation, while others were temporary positions hastily fortified as the artillery was flown in by helicopter, and then abandoned again as soon as the patrols they were supporting moved on to a new area of operations.
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam
The Nationalist forces recognised the importance of these firebases to the Free World strategy and the devastating effect they could have on any battle fought within their range. The Nationalists attempted to overrun and destroy firebases whenever they thought they had the strength to do so. The ANZAC battles of Coral and Balmoral were large-scale repeated attacks on recently created firebases. The pivotal point in the Lam Son 719 offensive in 1971 was when the ARVN firebases started getting overrun by combined armoured and infantry forces after being under siege for several weeks. The US forces fought numerous battles over firebases, losing FSB Mary-Ann, Airborne, Ripcord, and several others over the years, but holding far more, often against heavy odds.
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam
Firebase Mission
These attacks on firebases are a great way to get your artillery onto the table in your Vietnam games. The Firebase mission in Tour of Duty allows you to fight battles for basic Night Defence Positions, Fire Support Patrol Bases, and fully-fledged Fire Support Bases using the Race Against Time special rule. This gives you three very different battles in the same mission.

The Race Against Time rule reflects the Free World forces racing to fortify their firebase before it comes under attack, while the Nationalists choose the time and place of their attack. The Free World player starts by choosing what level of defences they want ready by the time the attack comes and rolling a die to see what level they actually achieve. The Nationalist player can then accept that result or reroll the die to reflect attempts to bring the attack forward or spending longer properly preparing the attack.

In the unprepared firebase variation, half of the defenders are in delayed reserves and there are no defences for the firebase aside from gun pits for the guns, but half of the Nationalist forces are in reserve, rushing to attack the firebase as quickly as possible.
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam
In the prepared firebase variation, the firebase has some barbed wire out, but faces a stronger Nationalist attack.

In the completed firebase variation, the firebase has barbed wire and minefields laid, trenches dug, and machine-gun bunkers emplaced. On the other hand, the entire Nationalist force is in position and ready to attack at the start of the game.

As you can see, the Firebase mission really is three missions in one and makes a great alternative to patrolling the paddy fields and jungles. Interestingly, the only engagement between American tanks and PAVN tanks was in defence of a firebase, the Special Forces camp at Ben Het, in March 1969. In a confused night battle the Vietnamese knocked out one M48 for the loss of several PT-76 tanks and BTR-50PK transports.

Even Bigger Firebases:
The Main Offensive Mission

Now for some people one artillery battery just isn’t enough! If you are one of these people, then you’ll love the new Main Offensive mission that has the Nationalists attempting to overrun a large and well-defended firebase. This mission resembles a large-scale version of the completed firebase variant of the Firebase Mission. In this mission, you may deploy as much artillery as you have into the firebase, along with up to half of your remaining force, but your relief force has further to go to save the day.

Whichever way you decide to play your firebase missions, I leave you with the recollection of an American officer of when the relief force arrived in the nick of time.

“It was just like the 10 o’clock late show on TV. The U.S. Cavalry came riding to the rescue.” - Lt. Colonel Bender, The Battle of Fire Support Base Gold, Operation Junction City, 21 March 1967.

~ Phil.

Download a PDF version the Main Offensive Mission here...
Big Bada Boom: Free World Artillery in Vietnam

Last Updated On Wednesday, April 24, 2013 by Blake at Battlefront