OVER THE FENCE
Covert Missions in SE Asia
By Charles Lewis
The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam— Studies and Observation Group (or MACV-SOG) was created in mid-1964 to conduct covert, unconventional operations directed against North Vietnam, and to provide hard evidence that North Vietnamese troops and supplies were entering South Vietnam through the mountains of Laos. Colonel Donald Blackburn, something of a legend in his own right, was made commander of the group. He had, during World War II, escaped the Japanese into the jungles of the Philippines. There he organised a tribe of headhunters as guerrillas and led them in operations against the Japanese until the region was liberated. Now he was called upon to use that experience by combining the Green Berets under his command with tribesmen of the Asian jungle.
Four distinct sections (or "Operations") comprised the SOG. Operation 33 was the psychological warfare section; they had several ongoing projects, including broadcasts of radio programs into North Vietnam and dropping of leaflets in various areas of SE Asia. Operation 34 was responsible for infiltrating intelligence agents into the North. Operation 34a conducted coastal shelling and raids against targets on the North Vietnamese shores.
But the main section, and the one that concerns us here, was Operation 35: The Ground Studies Group. This was the heart and soul of the Studies and Observation Group. Operation 35 had three orders: 1) the identification of infiltration trails and sanctuaries; 2) the deployment of commando units with air support to eliminate these; and 3) the organisation of tribesmen in Laos and Cambodia as a resistance movement against the North Vietnamese traversing their lands. Unfortunately, Operation 35 never did much with regard to the third goal; they were much too busy. The 3000+ missions that were carried out were all related to the first two.
The composition of SOG teams varied. In the beginning, they were usually made up of two or three American Green Beret troopers and four Nung tribesmen. The Nung were of Chinese descent and recruited in Cholon, the Chinese sector of Saigon. They were preferred over South Vietnamese or Montagnard tribesmen because of their extreme hatred of the Vietnamese peoples. Later, the SOG teams were expanded to include three Green Berets and nine Nungs.
In the field, each man of a team carried between 60 and 100 pounds of equipment. All were issued dark-coloured fatigues, similar to the enemy’s, so that at a distance they might be mistaken for Viet Cong or NVA regulars. The typical rucksack contained poncho, food, foot powder and socks, rope, tape, two or more Claymore mines, and four canteens. Two more canteens were carried at all times on the belt in case the pack had to be abandoned. Smoke, tear gas and fragmentation grenades were carried. And each man had eight to twelve magazines. Some carried pistols (at least one of which was equipped with a silencer); most, a rifle. Headbands, belts and the like were made from bandages (one can never have too many bandages). Whenever possible, standard American military equipment was avoided. This because the SOG’s activities in Laos, and later in Cambodia after 1967, certainly contravened the 1962 Geneva accords. If taken prisoner, it would be much easier for the American government to deny their involvement and responsibility.
It is difficult, even at this late date, to measure the effectiveness of the SOG operations. They are credited with destroying well over 100 tons of rice, and tying down many enemy combat troops as guards along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". But the after-action reports and studies remain classified. so it will likely be many years before the legacy of the Studies and Observation Group can be fully appreciated.
In the meantime, the following variant for FIREPOWER recreates the missions of MACV-SOG for players. The system was designed to be used as a campaign, for individual firefights cannot give the true flavour of the SOG brand of war. As a campaign, it can be played indefinitely. But, for purposes of introduction, it is intended to represent a single mission, from organisation and insertion to final withdrawal. One player takes on the role of the SOG team leader; the other, the North Vietnamese forces (when combat is dictated). The following rules are presented as a supplement to the rulebook, and unless otherwise stated, all rules for FIREPOWER remain in force.
These counters are used on the Strategic Movement Map only. [The mounted, die-cut variant Counters appeared with Vol. 26, No. 3 of The GENERAL. Non-subscribers may order these variant counters by mail only, specifying "The GENERAL, Vol. 26, No. 3" counter sheet and enclosing $3.00 (plus the usual shipping/handling fee) for each set desired.]
1.1 The counter labelled "SOG Team" is used to represent the American squad on the Strategic Movement Map.
1.2 The counters labelled "VC 1" through "VC 10" are used to mark enemy contacts.
1.3 The counter labelled "Target" is used to represent the approximate location of the mission target.
1.4 The counters labelled "LZ 1" through "LZ 5" are used to mark suitable landing zones.
1.5 The counter labelled "PZ" is used to mark the pick-up rendezvous for helicopter extraction.
The Strategic Movement Map (see the Insert of this issue) is divided into ten rows (" 1-10") and ten columns ("A-J"). Each square on the map is the equivalent of five square kilometres. The co-ordinate system is read "row-column" (thus, for example, "5-A" represents the fifth square down in the first column).
2.1 Terrain of each square is indicated by colour (and in most cases by pattern). The river shown on the Strategic Movement Map is merely decorative and plays no role. A "Terrain Key" accompanies the map on the insert.
Light Green—Clear Terrain: represents farmland, with large numbers of paddies
Gold (brush pattern)—Elephant Grass: five kilometres of tall grass
Dark Green (tree pattern)—Jungle: the "Twilight Zone" of the shadow war
Red-Brown (stipple pattern)—Mountainous: extremely rugged terrain
Brown (rock pattern)—Broken: a mixture of the above types
2.2 Movement on the Strategic Movement Map is unaffected by the terrain of the square entered. Each game turn represents one 12-hour period; and each counter may move no more than one square per turn. Movement by the SOG Team may be in any direction so long as the team counter remains on the Strategic Movement Map; North Vietnamese movement is random (as described in 4.2 below). All game activity is conducted on the Strategic Movement Map unless and until the SOG Team is in the same square as another counter.
2.3 Should action take place in a square on the Strategic Movement Map, players will place one or more of the games tactical maps on the table. Map panels are placed as specified by the scenario in play (see 3.1.1, 3.1.2. 3.5, etc.).
2.4 Should tactical action take place, the terrain of the Strategic Movement Map square is represented by the following rules on the FIREPOWER map panels:
Clear Terrain: Use all standard terrain values and heights. Buildings are of log construction. Elephant Grass: All trees are height "2", offering "-1" concealment and no cover, becoming clear terrain upon destruction. "H" weapons may be fired through them. Hills are height "1"; depressions are "-1". Ignore all fences and hedges. Buildings are of bamboo construction.
Jungle: All dark green and light green hexes, as well as all tree hexes, are considered to be tree hexes. Brown hexes are mud hexes, but otherwise clear terrain. Ignore all fences and hedges. Buildings are of bamboo construction. Mountainous: Treat all hexes as rough. Ignore all walls, fences and hedges. Buildings are of log construction. Hills are height "4".
Broken: All dark green, as well as tree hexes, are considered to be tree hexes. Ignore all fences and hedges. Hills are height ’’2". Buildings are of log construction.
Each campaign takes the form of a "mission". After determination of an objective, the SOG player will organise his team. The team is then "inserted", and play begins.
3.1 First, a mission objective must be determined. The American player rolls one ten-sided die and consults the following table:
3.1.1 Trail interdiction: Operation 34 has warned of a large supply column moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Your team is to strike the enemy troops acting as point for this column.
Upon reaching the target counter, the SOG Team must conduct an "Ambush" scenario. The American player may choose Map panel 2 or Map panel 3 to serve as the tactical map for this action, with North-South orientation randomly determined. The action is conducted in accordance with "Scenario Three" (page 45) in the FIREPOWER rulebook, with the American SOG Team as defender and the Vietnamese (one Viet Cong infantry squad and one NVA infantry squad) forces entering the map from the north. Map-board terrain is determined by the square on the Strategic Movement Map in which the action is taking place. Victory Points are awarded normally.
3.1.2 Sanctuary Interdiction: A previous SOG mission identified and confirmed that a village along the trail is being used as a sanctuary and resting place for enemy forces moving south. Your team has been ordered to neutralise it.
Upon reaching the target counter, the SOG Team must conduct a "Base Camp Assault" scenario. The Vietnamese player may place the three map panels in any configuration in accordance with that shown under "Scenario Five" (A. I—page 46). The American SOG Team is considered the attacker and the Vietnamese (two Viet Cong squads) force the defender; note that the Vietnamese player may place no fortifications. Map-board terrain is determined by the square on the Strategic Movement Map in which the action is taking place. Victory Points are awarded normally.
3.1.3 Prisoner Snatch: Intelligence has need of a prisoner for interrogation. Your team has been ordered to procure one.
Upon reaching the target counter, the American player must make a single ten-sided die roll. On a "1-5" result, an "Ambush" scenario is played (as above); on a "6-0", a "Base Camp Assault" scenario is played. During the course of this action, the SOG Team should attempt to take one or more prisoners, (which is then added to the team for the duration of the campaign). The American player is awarded ten additional VP, at the conclusion of the mission, if a prisoner (any VC or NVA) is still under his control upon exiting the Strategic Movement Map. (This is in addition to the VP normally awarded for prisoners, 25.6, for the scenario itself.)
3.2 Once the mission objective is known, the American player must organise his SOG Team. Twelve men—three Americans and nine Nung— normally comprised such a team. The American player may select up to twelve men (only three may be considered Americans). No more than one "5" and one "A" may be assigned; impulse/action values for the SOG Team are "6/3". At the same time, the player should equip and arm his team members.
3.2.1 Every team must carry a radio (RDO), to represent their link with transport and higher command. Further, every team must include at least five smoke grenades as part of their total allotment carried.
3.2.2 Each team member may be armed with one of the following weapons: RFL1 RFL6, RFL10, SMG1, SMG2, SMG9, PST1, GMG4 or GLR2.
3.2.3 In addition, the following optional equipment may be carried (limits per team shown in parentheses): BPD (maximum 2), SHG (maximum 1), BNL (maximum 1), HGN3 (maximum 30) or HGN5 (maximum 20), NST (maximum 1), SCP (maximum 1), LPL3 (maximum 5), BDA (one per team member).
3.2.4 Each weapon and piece of equipment must be assigned to a specific member of the team (use the letter-code upon the counters) prior to insertion. Should the team member be lost and his equipment/weapons not recovered during the course of play of a scenario, such are permanently removed from the team.
3.3 Next, a location for the SOG target is determined. Roll two ten-sided dice. Read one normally; this will give the row. Read the other by converting the number shown to the equivalent alphabetical letter (i.e., ‘‘1’’ =A, ‘‘2’’ =B, … "0"=J); this will give the column. Place the counter labelled "Target" in the corresponding square on the Strategic Movement Map. For example, a roll result of "2-6" would place the target counter in square 2-F.
3.4 Movement of the SOG Team onto the Strategic Movement Map is done by "insertion". While helicopter insertion was preferred, in the early days insertions were often done on foot. (Once on the Strategic Movement Map, all movement is done "on foot".)
3.4.1 If the player wishes to bring his team in on foot, he may place the "SOG Team" counter on any of the squares in Column A on the Strategic Movement Map. (Exception, it may not be placed directly upon or adjacent to any square containing the "Target’’ counter.) At this point, play of the campaign game begins.
3.4.2 If the player wishes to insert his team by helicopter, he must first determine the location of three landing zones in the random manner used to determine the location of the target. (Again, none of these may be placed directly on any square containing the "Target" counter; re-roll should this occur.) Mark each landing zone with one counter, numbered "1" through "3". Once committed to helicopter insertion by the placement of the first "LZ" counter, the American player may not bring the team into play on foot.
3.4.3 Once the three LZs are marked, the American player may start with any of the three. He rolls one ten-sided die; on a result of "1-3" place the "SOG Team" counter in the square. If unable to land, remove the LZ counter and roll for the next landing zone desired. If unable to land at this second one, the team must be placed in the square containing the remaining LZ counter. Once the "SOG Team" has been placed, play of the campaign game begins.
[3.4.4 Optional: For those more adventurous, place only one LZ counter—thus forcing the team to land in that square. For those more cautious, place up to five LZ counters, bringing more flexibility in the landing of the team.]
3.5 Once on she Strategic Movement Map, the SOG Team may be moved one square in any direction (diagonal, horizontal, or vertical) each turn. Upon entering a square (Exception: the square containing the "Target" or "LZ" counter), the American player must roll on the "Enemy Contact" Table to see if the team has made contact with the Vietnamese.
1-5 = No Contact
6-7 =One Patrol Evaded (place one VC counter)
8-9 =One Patrol Contacted; place one VC counter and play a "Meeting Engagement" scenario (page 42) with the SOG Team as Side A and one VC squad as Side B (Victory Condition #1 is in effect, never #2 regardless of the presence of buildings).
0 =Ambush; place one VC counter and play an "Ambush" scenario (page 45) with one NVA squad as the defender (who also selects Map panel 2 or 3 for the action with random North/ South orientation) and the SOG Team entering from the south
3.5.1 The die roll for "Enemy Contact" is modified as follows:
+1 for each "VC" counter already in square
-1 for each group of three less than 12 in SOG Team
+3 for "Clear" terrain square
-1 for "Elephant Grass" terrain square
-2 for "Jungle" terrain square
+2 for "Mountain" terrain square
+1 for "Broken" terrain square
All die modifiers are cumulative. For example, a SOG Team of seven members enters a Mountain square; the drm would be +1" (-1 for a group of three less, +2 for the terrain).
3.5.2 Place VC counters in the square occupied by the SOG Team only if none are currently present. No more than ten VC counters may ever be present on the Strategic Movement Map (no counter is placed in the Target square). If ten are present, suspend rolls for "Enemy Contact" unless the SOG Team moves into a square containing a VC counter. Should a VC counter be removed from the map, re-institute the roll upon entry of new squares.
[3.5.3 Optional: For those more adventurous, players may agree to craft extra VC counters and not limit the number placed on the Strategic Movement Map. Such serves very well to simulate operations near or beyond the North Vietnamese border to the north of the usual theatre of operations.]
3.6 Upon entering the square on the Strategic Movement Map marked with the "Target" counter, no "Enemy Contact" roll is made. However, the American player must locate his target. He must make a die roll on the "Target Search’’ Table and applies the following:
1-5 = No Target Located; may Continue Search
6-9 =Target Located in Square
0 = Faulty Intelligence; Head for Home No modifiers are applied to this die roll.
3.6.1 Should a result of "6-9" occur, the action takes place as described in 3.1 above, with the appropriate mission profile. Upon conclusion of the action, remove the "Target" counter (you get only one chance at accomplishing your mission).
3.6.2 Should a result of "1-5" occur, the target is not in the square currently occupied by the team. However, upon the next turn (and each succeeding one until the target is located), the SOG Team may move into any adjacent square and roll again on the "Target Search’’ Table. Upon locating the target in any of these eight adjacent squares, remove the ‘‘Target" counter (from its original location) and the action takes place as above.
3.6.3 Should a result of "0" occur, the team has determined that American intelligence is faulty and that no target exists in the square or nearby. Remove the ‘‘Target" counter. The team immediately suspends its operation and heads for home—either off the map or towards the PZ counter. He loses no VP for this failure.
3.7 Extraction of the SOG Team from the Strategic Movement Map may be accomplished in one of two ways—helicopter pick-up or by walking out.
3.7.1 Upon the ‘‘Target" counter being removed, the American player may—if helicopter extraction is desired—make one dice roll to determine the location of his "Pick-Up Zone’’ (as per the procedure in 3.3). Place the "LZ" counter in the indicated square. Once the "LZ" counter has been placed, the SOG Team must exit by helicopter. Upon reaching the square containing the "LZ" counter, the SOG Team is removed from the Strategic Movement Map immediately (regardless of the presence of any "VC" counter).
3.7.2 Upon removal of the "Target" counter, and should the American player elect not to roll for a ‘‘PZ" location, the SOG Team must exit the map by moving to any west (Column A) or south edge (Row 0) square. Upon entering such a square, the American player must roll on the "Enemy Contact" Table (should a "VC" counter be available). Assuming there is no "VC" counter then present, the SOG Team is removed from the Strategic Movement Map immediately. Should there be a VC counter in the square, no exit is possible and the action (3.5) is played.
3.7.3 The campaign game ends upon the exit (or elimination) of the SOG Team from the Strategic Movement Map.
3.8 Losses among the members of the SOG Team are cumulative. Casualties and lost equipment must be recorded after each action. Should the entire team be eliminated, the campaign game ends with an immediate victory for the Vietnamese.
3.9 The American player may elect to abort his mission prior to his next move if he has not yet reached the "Target" counter. He must then remove the "Target" counter and suffers an immediate loss of ten VP. He must also then declare his method of extraction, and play continues until the SOG Team is removed from the Strategic Movement Map.
While fully under the control of the Vietnamese player during each scenario, the movement of the VC counters is random upon the Strategic Movement Map.
4.1 When called for, enemy squads take one of two forms—Viet Cong infantry squad or North Vietnamese Army infantry squad. The composition of these is as follows:
Viet Cong Infantry Squad: 4/2; 1S; 1xLMG6, lxMPLl9, 1xMTR6, 4xRFL1, 1xRFL7, 1xPST3, 1xSMG4; 19xHGN3 ("G" only), 3xMPL19AMO, 4xMTR6AMO
NVA Infantry Squad: 4/3; 1S, 1A; 1xLMG21, 1xMPL2O, 1xPST4, 6xRFL1; 1xNST, 20xHGN3 and/or HGN5, 4xMPL20AMO
4.1.1 When two Vietnamese squads are present in one action (i.e., see 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 above), the Vietnamese player may add 1C (armed with a PST4) to any single squad.
4.1.2 Should action occur, the Vietnamese squads are always at full strength and are of the type specified, regardless of previous role. It is not necessary to maintain a record for each "VC" counter. However, should a Vietnamese squad be completely eliminated during an action, remove its corresponding "VC" counter from the Strategic Movement Map.
[4.1.3 Optional: For the adventurous player, rather than using the enemy squad specified in each action, a random die roll determines the composition of the force faced. The Vietnamese player rolls one ten-sided die for each squad required for the current scenario. On a roll of "1-5", he uses a VC squad (as per 4.1); on "6-0", he uses the NVA squad.]
4.2 Movement of the "VC" counters, once in play on the Strategic Movement Map, is random and is conducted after each American move. For each "VC" counter, the Vietnamese player rolls one ten-sided die. Refer to the "Random Movement Diagram" found on the insert below the map. The die roll indicates the new square (or same, if a result of "9-0") occupied by that counter. Should a "VC" counter move off the Strategic Movement Map, it may not re-enter and is instead available for placement as per the "Enemy Contact" Table.
4.2.1 Should a "VC" counter enter any square containing the SOG Team, an "Ambush" scenario (page 45) is played with the SOG Team as the defender (who also selects panel 2 or 3 for the action with random North/South Orientation) and one VC squad entering from the south.
Victory in this FIREPOWER campaign game is awarded to the player with the higher total VP accumulated during the course of play.
5.1 Victory Points gained by each side (SOG Team and Vietnamese) during the course of the scenarios are cumulative. Players should maintain a record of such, updated at the conclusion of each action.
5.1.1 In addition, the American player may be awarded +10 VP at the conclusion of play should he have successfully exited the Strategic Movement Map with a prisoner (only if the mission was a "Prisoner Snatch"—3. 1.3) or have -10 VP deducted if he elects to abort the mission before reaching the "Target" counter (3.9).
5.2 The following are Optional Rules required or recommended for the play of this campaign game:
1. Grenade Return Throw—Recommended
16.2 Assorted Optional Firing Modifiers— Recommended
16.3 Weapon Reliability—Recommended
16.4 Suppression by Non-Automatic Weapons— Recommended
16.6 Pinned and Inactive Status—Recommended
16.7 Optional Weapon and Equipment—Required
16.8 Extra Major Personal Weapons— Recommended
16.9 Standing Behind "2" Height Cover— Recommended
22. Individual Personal Characteristics— Recommended (for SOG Team)
23. Wounds and Cover—Recommended
AVALON HILL GENERAL: Volume 26, Number 5.