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It was the rumble of the M113s that first alerted Lai Chi to the fact that all was not progressing according to plan. The attempted demolition of the bridge at Ni Hi had been a challenge calculated to draw the local CIDG forces into an ambush, but Lai Chi knew that they came in trucks not armoured tracks.

The valley floor by the village of Ni Hi was where Chi had planned to catch the ARVN militia with his mortars and a hot reception from his first platoon. If they pushed on towards the brodge then the road was mined in two places. If they chose to avoid the most direct route and cross the river by the ford then that was also mined and the second platoon was waiting in ambush positions there. On the hill to the west of the river the VC mortar platoon was ready to bring down fire on the CIDG troops if they came into the village. A few civilians may get killed, but what did Chi care; hopefully the American newsman would be there with his camera to take photos.

Lieutenant Tuscadero spoke into his mic' "advance on line" and his four tracks moved forward to cover the treeline. Two M48 tanks moved forward to join them in line as the Mike Force platoon abandoned their trucks and ran for the rubber plantation. Their plan was simple, they would use their armour to cover the advance of the Montagnard troops at every step. Assembling in the rubber plantation they would advance through the jungle to the east of the road and clear the bridge.

"I have movement in the treeline" Sergeant Mason Dixon had been concerned about the mission from the start, this was clearly an ambush waiting to happen, and he had been scanning the area for potential ambush sites from the moment they arrived. In unison two 0.50 calibre Brownings on the nearest two tracks opened up and began shredding the foliage. Three RPG7 rounds came back in reply before a beehive round from the nearest Patton tank sent the VC squad reeling back towards the bridge.

Lieutenant Tuscadero spoke into his mic' "advance on line" and his four tracks moved forward to cover the treeline. Two M48 tanks moved forward to join them in line as the Mike Force platoon abandoned their trucks and ran for the rubber plantation. Their plan was simple, they would use their armour to cover the advance of the Montagnard troops at every step. Assembling in the rubber plantation they would advance through the jungle to the east of the road and clear the bridge.

"I have movement in the treeline" Sergeant Mason Dixon had been concerned about the mission from the start, this was clearly an ambush waiting to happen, and he had been scanning the area for potential ambush sites from the moment they arrived. In unison two 0.50 calibre Brownings on the nearest two tracks opened up and began shredding the foliage. Three RPG7 rounds came back in reply before a beehive round from the nearest Patton tank sent the VC squad reeling back towards the bridge.

It was at that moment that the 82mm mortar rounds began exploding among the tracks, sending the cavalrymen diving for cover, however the bombardment ended abruptly as the VC platoon commander signaled to his mortar teams to relocate before the enemy could identify their positions and bring their tank guns to bear.

"I need fire now on the following co-ordinates" Lieutenant Tuscadero was in touch with Firebase Bastogne and calling for H&I fire to the west side of the river. His mission was not high priority, but it was likely that fire support could be had pretty rapidly.

Lieutenant Bon Mot moved forward with his platoon. He was sure that the enemy were withdrawing before his advance. Moving by rushes, he could hear movement ahead of him each time he moved. He waved forward his next squad to rush forward, but this time they were met with a hail of bullets at close quarters and came rushing back to seek the safety of the platoon. Mot swore; where was their support.

The tank trundled forward to support the Montagnard advance, followed closely by Sergeant Dixon's track. Again the Sergeant was on the ball, spotting a fresh VC ambush position to his left. The track swung to face the threat, it's main weapon spitting its heavy calibre rounds. The lead M48 moved up and another beehive round carved its way into the vegetation. Another VC squad fled back, its morale crushed by the devastation.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! The RPG round exploded on the flank of Dixon's M113, setting the vehicle alight. The men who had been riding on top threw themselves clear and dived into the treeline where moments before the VC ambush had been. The big Sergeant attempted to rally them and get the M60s set up to bring their fire onto the fresh VC position, however their view was blocked by another Mike Force squad charging in to attack. For a brief moment there was a violent struggle before the Montagnards began to fall back. Seeing the enemy hesitate the VC squad rushed in to close quarters, sending the CIDG troopers flooding back towards Lieutenant Bon Mot.

Now the two M60s of the dismounted cavalry squad were coming into action, their fire whipping across the road onto the flank of the VC position. For a moment it seemed likely that the VC would have to pull out, but a previously unseen VC squad now rushed in to the rear of the cavalrymens' position. Sergeant Dixon's men fought back briefly before withdrawing back from their expose position towards Lieutenant Bon Mot's men.

Artillery fire was now coming in to the west of the river. Unbeknown to Tuscadero it was obliging the VC ambush positions there to fall back as well as suppressing the VC mortar teams who were attempting to set up their pieces for a fresh attack. Two tracks trundled own to the ford, one being disabled by a mine. On the road another track was advancing rapidly forward to support the CIDG troops when it too hit a mine and was disabled. After their initial devastating success the Free World forces were now taking losses that were beginning to hurt.

On the VC side Lai Chi was happy that he had done enough damage to the enemy to claim some sort of victory and was falling back unhindered to slip away. He had lost 17 men, but the Americans had lost four men and the CIDG forces six. Neither side had secured their main objective, both sides had achieved their secondary objectives, so militarily the action was considered a draw. Politically the losses of men would rate this as a narrow win for the Free World forces, but the damage to Free World materiel tipped the balance in favour of the VC. So a narrow VC political victory.

This was a really hard fought action. The VC commanders had been expecting a force of local CIDG in trucks and were horrified when they were confronted with the array of US firepower that arrived. They were also desperately unlucky in that their initial ambush position was spotted immediately (you can't argue with double 6) and then they could just not hit anything with their volley of RPGs. What was more the US vehicles kept trundling over the mine in the road without actually running over it.

That said, after the initial shock, and seeing two squads completely routed, the VC players pulled themselves together, pulled their forces off, reset some fresh ambushes and drew the Free World forces in deeper, at which point they began to take casualties. The CIDG troops were clearly over-ethusiastic and they too kept rolling very high for movement, which resulted in some unintentional close combats.

In the end both sides were exhausted by the fight, and both were happy to break off contact. The Free World forces were able to salvage two of the M113s which had actually only been imobilised with damaged tracks. One M113 was completely gutted by fire. The Mike Force platoon was badly affected by the shock of the close combats, hence their inability to pursue the withdrawing VC. Once again the game proved that two totally imbalanced forces could compete in a balanced and very "down and dirty" game. Good fun.

Richard Clarke