"Captain, Captain, the infantry. They retreat!"
Surely not. So soon? Captain Phan Si~Dat looked out from the temple towards his left flank where the platoon of ARVN infantry were deployed in the strip of jungle along the ridge. He could see the explosions caused by the North Vietnamese artillery pummelling the position and men in olive green pouring back down the slope towards the river and the bridge at Tri-Ang.
He turned his field glassed to the west. No. No sign of the column. The column that now would be denied to bridge. Unless he could stabilise the position.
Dat was a man not used to failure, and yet his plan was already unravelling. His Ranger platoon held the centre of the ridge where he had anticipated the main enemy thrust up the road. The advance by northern armour yesterday had come from the old Dunlop rubber plantation, and he had placed his me, men he could trust, to block that line of advance. On his left the ARVN line platoon had been tasked with holding the knoll, whilst on his right a platoon of Popular Force troops were even less reliable, and with only one M48 tank he knew that he would be badly outgunned if the NVA tankers returned.
Lieutenant Wang Chung hit the Corporal with the butt of his pistol. "You stand and fight!" He fired a shot over the head of his men, they paused, momentarily, and then resumed their flight back towards the bridge. Their progress was only slowed briefly as they picked their way through the second line of razor wire with on the reverse slope of the hill.
The smoke rounds were the signal that the bombardment had ended. Commissar Me Lai ran forward as the entire Company seemed to move as one entity; this was Communism embodied in the spirit of the fighting soldier, this was the zeal for the patriotic cause that would see victory over the imperialist puppets.
The squeal of tracks on the Tri-Ang bridge was sufficient to see the retreating ARVN infantry break step and then halt altogether. The two M48s swung off the metalled road and through the shanty-town and headed towards the wire. The yellow flag of the Republic flew from the lead tank. As fire broke out from the ridgeline it was clear that the NVA were hot on their heels, already on the ridge and only one dash away from the bridge. Wang Chung took advantage of the unexpected reinforcements to rally his men and take up firing positions among the shacks. His M79 gunner fired a smoke round to mark the NVA position in the treeline and two beehive rounds tore a thick veneer of foliage from the jungle edge.
Chu-An Dat spoke clearly into the radio as the first ranging shot landed in the open ground that had been no-mans-land between the North and South Vietnamese. The mission to protect the bridge was Priority One and the artillery support had arrived promptly if not very accurately. The tail end of the NVA company were still making their way up the hill to the point where their Sappers had broke the wire. If he could block that gap then the NVA would be trapped between his barrage and the guns of the M48s.
An RPG round flew ineffectively past the turret of the lead tank, the reply was more effective by far as two more beehive round wrought their deadly work. Captain Phun Ki Tan looked to the rear, but the enemy artillery had shut off the gap in the wire and shattered the HMG platoon that had been moving up to support his company. Now it would walk across his force, trampling destruction and death among his men. There was but one hope. Moving towards the road Tan rallied his third platoon. If he could move across the ridge towards the temple then he could escape the maelstrom and outflank the ARVN forces in the village.
On the far side of the road Corporal Hung Dong checked his M60. His squad represented the left flank of the Ranger platoon deployed around the Buddhist temple, his men deployed around a large statue of the Buddha. As the wave of men came on Dong's men needed no order. The first rank of NVA went down a though an invisible scythe was at work, and yet on they came, their commander to the fore, screaming his encouragement.
It was a brutal fight. Only four Rangers survived the onslaught, but they held the line. Of the thirty four men who had begun their desperate charge only six remained, shattered by the violence of their reception.
In the rubber plantation Hoang Anh Dung watched the artillery rounds exploding on the ridge. From his position he could clearly see how the artillery fire seemed to move, searching out any survivors amid the mangled trees. He turned to the rear and mounted the T-54. He would not see Phun Ki Tan again.
A truly incredible game of Charlie Don't Surf last night which swung violently one way and then the other. Set in the Easter 1972 NVA offensive a scratch force of ARVN troops was ordered to hold the ridgeline that protected the Tri-Ang bridge in order to allow a convoy of South Vietnamese civilians to cross and escape the northern onslaught. A forty man platoon of ARVN Rangers, 27 ARVN line who were quite shaky and 40 Popular Force troops who were simply scared to death and ready to run at the drop of a hat. In support they had one tank and a Forward Observer in touch with the local FSB standing ready to assist. They also had thinly spread wire across the front of their positions and three quickly deployed minefields with mixed AT and AP mines.
The NVA had four platoons of infantry, one HMG platoon, one platoon of four T54 tanks, a couple of squads of Sappers and a preliminary bombardment from their artillery. The latter turned out to be very effective in that it completely drove the ARVN troops out of their positions in a pre-game preparation fire mission. That was quickly followed up by the wire being breached and two platoons of NVA sweeping rapidly through the jungle there to fire into the retreating ARVN troops. Only the arrival of two ARVN M48s stopped them over-running the bridge very early on.
By the time the ARVN artillery support was coming in three NVA platoons were packed into the shallow area of jungle, their HMG platoon was just stamped on by the artillery which then "shut the gate" blocking the breach in the wire. The one platoon still able to really function attempted to rush out of the jungle across the ridge, but ran slap-bang into a squad of ARVN Rangers who tore the whole platoon to bits as they attempted to cross the open road.
Total ARVN losses were four ARVN infantry and six ARVN Rangers. The NVA lost a whole Company either wiped out of captured when they were trapped between some very judicious artillery fire and the two ARVN tanks. The PF troops saw no action, they and three squads of Rangers in the temple remained on Blinds throughout the whole game. An awesome display of firepower well-used.
Interestingly the NVA commander decided not to commit his tanks to the fray, and that allowed the ARVN tanks to play the "Big Beast" role unopposed.