DBP6- Route 41

Mike205

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Non, je ne regrette rien

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For this weekend’s game I talked Doug into playing a scenario from Critical Hit’s Dien Bien Phu pack. I chose Route 41 since, as a straight up infantry fight, it appeared to be the best ASL conversion and wasn’t played on the DBP map, which calls for some specific rules. Aside from some questions about ELR reductions, this seemed to go pretty well without drawing upon the Tobruk system and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

In this seven turn scenario played on boards 39, 16, and 2, is set early in the Dien Bien Phu campaign. A company sized patrol of Vietnamese paras are ambushed by a PAVN force from the Viet Minh 316th Division, well armed with mortars, mmgs, and OBA which sets up on boards 39 and 2.

By SSR, no hedges, walls, or buildings exist on board 16 and French units are allowed to low crawl closer to known PAVN without being eliminated for failure to route or being forced to surrender regardless of interdiction as long as they do not remain adjacent to a known PAVN unit- a clear indication of the carnage that was about to ensue.

The Paras are represented by 10 x 6-4-8s, a dm mmg, a dm 60mm mtr, 2 lmgs, a radio, a 7-0,2 x 8-1, and 10-2 leader.

The PAVN board 39 force consists of 3 x 5-3-7s, 7x 3-4-7s, 1 mmg, 3 lmgs, 2 60 mm mtrs, 12 dummies, a 8-0 and 81 leader. The board 2 force comprised 4 x 5-3-7s, 6 x 3-4-7s, 3 mmgs, 1 lmg, 2 60 mm mtrs, a radio, 12 x dummies, led by a 7-0 and 9-1. The PAVN observer has radio contact turn 1 and a preregistered hex for their 80mm OBA with one black chit from the access pile.

The Viet Minh need to inflict 28 or more CVP by game’s end.

The French/Viets also have OBA and on turn two receive a relief for of 8 x 6-4-8, dm mmg, 2 lmgs, and a dm 60 mm mtr, led by a 9-1 and 8-1 leaders. French OBA is 105mm and plentiful, HE only.

Doug insisted on playing the PAVN and by SSR I was required to set my guys up on the board 16 road, between 16N4 and 16Y4 with at least one squad per hex. I stuck a 8-1 with a lmg toting squad in R4 to provide some striking power in case the Viet Minh tried to rush up. My 7-0 observer with the radio went into T4, and I placed my 10-2 in U4, my last leader, a 8-1 went into W3. Obviously I’d need to get out of the killing ground in the valley as quickly as possible and I planned to withdraw the front of the column while the 10-2 led the latter half in an assault through the X1 jungle and towards point 538, where I intended to direct my relief column, with the goal of taking the hill and forcing any mortars and pesky mmgs off, before digging in and making Doug’s guys come to me. Getting on top of 538 would also allow me to rake fire along the neighboring hill 621.

Setting up last, Doug placed the bulk of his board 39 force in the treeline around the base of the ridge, with a lmg in good LOS to one of my squads on the road. It was clear he wanted to use the cover of the kunai on board 16 to get in close. His mortars and a mmg were positioned with an eye towards hitting a relief force trying to come up the road.

On board 2 he opted to lightly defend hill 538, placing dummies in the jungle at its base, and a squad, his 9-1, a mmg, and his 7-0 observer on the summit along with another mmg and hs. Below the hill facing west he set up the bulk of his 5-3-7s in the treeline intermixed with some dummies, his two mortars set up in T6 and S7. His last mmg went into Q6. After the game, Doug told me his plan was to cut apart the center of my column and then surround it forcing my relief force to come to the rescue, hopefully walking into the teeth of concentrated mmg and mortar fire.

How did it all play out? Well, for this scenario we’ve done something a little different, and brought in a special guest- Jacques Cusard, a journalist who was embedded with the 1/1 BPC as it made its way northwards on Route 41. Jacques, an expatriate living in a retirement home in sunny Florida, is currently working on his memoir, translated from French as Through the Lens- My Life as a Witness to History and we thought it would be a great opportunity to let a survivor of the Dien Bien Phu campaign tell his story in his own words:



My friends, as I sit down to write my memoirs as a spectator to some of the greatest moments of the twentieth century, time and again my mind returns to my brief sojourn to Indochina, or The People’s Republic of Vietnam as it is known today. At the time I was working as a photojournalist for the Parisian magazine Chic. Although focused on fashion and gossip in The City of Light, by 1953 even it could hardly afford to ignore the fighting in Asia. My brief stint as a supply clerk with 1re Division Blindée during the Liberation allowed me to gain a journalist’s pass to travel to the front in order to observe the fighting at de Castries’ airhead at Dien Bien Phu.

I came to the Orient with several questions in mind- how did this Guerre Revolutionnairre fit within the existing doctrine of Advanced Squad Leader? How were our cardboard fighting men represented in this postwar conversion, and how would they hold up in combat? Answering these questions would surely allow me to gain a position at a first rate paper like Le Monde!

Arriving in the port of Da Nang in late November 1953, my first taste of the war was a series of patrols with a mechanized unit along the infamous Street Without Joy. Things passed uneventfully, except for an opportunity to dine with the great journalist Bernard Fall.
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Even as a young man he had the aura of an old campaign hand and he kept us entertained with his tales of combat. One of the guests at dinner was an American named Mr. Stevens, whom I gathered had served with the OSS during the War. As the red wine flowed, he and Bernard traded stories about their time with the Maquis and these alone could have filled an entire issue of Chic. However, I tastefully declined to record their discussion- times have certainly changed in journalism!!

The next day, hung over and frustrated by the typical “hurry up and wait” of military transport I boarded a Dakota for the front.

Upon my arrival I was dismayed to discover that my position with Chic had not earned me my requested spot with a detachment of the Foreign Legion but instead with a company of Vietnamese paratroopers. Yet, when I joined the unit I was pleased to find that most of the men spoke French and quickly welcomed me into their ranks, offering me tasty food that was a fusion of Vietnamese and traditional French cuisine. My favorite was a delicacy known as the Bánh Mi. Today I’m fortunate to have a Vietnamese restaurant down the road from my retirement home that sells these- the proprietors are refugees from the Second Indochina War.

I am also pleasantly surprised to discover that Mr. Stevens is also with the unit. Although he still wears his aviator sunglasses, even at night, he has donned the same mottled camouflage smock and pants as the soldiers. He seems to already know the company commander, Lieutenant La Croix. Tall, blond, dashing, and never without his trademark scarf, the Lieutenant embodies the best that the military academy at St. Cyr can offer and is ranked as a 10-2 in combat value. He and Mr. Stevens spend long evenings discussing not war but French philosophy, especially Camus.
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Another stalwart is Dayr, the 8-1 company sergeant. The tall Alsatian is a fervent anti-Communist and is rumored to have fought for the Boche. There are many like him, especially in the Legion, where I’ve heard roughly a quarter of the men are German or Austrian. War makes strange bedfellows and friends out of old enemies.
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Gone is the French army of 1940- enjoying the material support of our American friends, these Viet paras are represented by handsome tan 6-4-8 counters with assault fire capability and well armed with mortars and .30 caliber mmgs. Mr. Stevens is not represented by a SMC and instead blends seamlessly into a squad of Paras at the head of our column as we head out, chatting with them in Vietnamese.
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The next day we find ourselves standing in the hot sun, stretched out in a column along board 16. To our west, across fields of tall grass lurks the jungled massif of board 39, to our east the bald hills of Point 538 and Point 631 which comprise board 2. I see the worn and faded hexes along the slopes and it’s easy to imagine countless soldiers fighting and dying there only to charge up them again in the next game. The board has in fact seen so much action that it has split into two halves along its seam. I shudder in response to this discovery. Although the day has been quiet, the men grumble about our position and rail against the SSR, or Scenario Special Rule, that has placed us here like sitting ducks.

The silence is broken by the chatter of machine guns and the whistle of incoming mortar rounds. Off to our immediate left a heavy round comes in, throwing up a plume of smoke. The Viet Minh have made their presence felt and at the front of the column I can hear calls for a medic above the cacophony of combat. By the end of PAVN turn 1 the front two squads have been broken and CAS reduced into HS. Our first turn La Croix begins maneuvering his men towards the treeline at the base of 538, the brave paras bounding forward while their comrades cover them. Over the crackling radio I learn that Dayr is also turning his men south, hugging the kunai field and covering the retreating survivors who remain DM and unable to rally. One HS is massacred to a man along the road while yet another para squad is reduced by highly accurate mortar fire. Tracers snake towards us from the jungle to our east, pinning down another squad that attempt to move forward. Men shout that the Viet Minh are circling in from our south as well.

Turn two our men continue to weather the mortars and machine gun fire as they sprint towards the dubious safety of 538. La Croix, our artillery observer, and two squads with a mmg cover the assault. To our north wounded continue to crawl down the ditches along the side off Route 41. They bring news that Dayr has discovered a horde of Reds creeping through the tall grass to the west and with two squads decided to wheel into the attacking force, hoping to slow down their advance. Another HS of Paras dies once they “boxcar” a morale check. In revenge, one of our squads bursts into the treeline to the southeast, slaughtering a PAVN squad in close combat. It is clear that in Revolutionary War, quarter is neither asked nor given. Our artillery observer has finally made battery contact but things are getting increasingly tense. Fortunately, the PAVN artillery has not managed to do much damage since Dayr was able to assault through the fire relatively unscathed. The column has now broken into three separate parts- Dayr to the north, the main thrust towards 538, and La Croix’s covering fire. The radio crackles again- help from 2/1 BPC is on the way! The commander is directing his forces in a charge up 538 and advises us to meet him on the hill, where we can dig in and wait for help while our artillery and aircraft decimate the Viet Minh.

Turn three the unthinkable happens. La Croix’s squad is hit by a 60mm mortar round that lands with a payload of an original 2. Our brave Lieutenant is killed by the blast and his squad understandably breaks. I hug the ground as shrapnel whizzes by like a cloud of angry bees. My left leg stings and feels wet and warm. Hopefully I haven’t pissed myself in fear. I keep moving towards the safety of the southwest treeline as 105mm howitzer rounds arc across the sky, slamming into some PAVN units in the kunai, breaking their attack. Dayr is engaged in desperate hand of hand fighting in the kunai to the northwest. His last radio transmission reports odds of 3-1 in favor of the PAVN before the radio goes silent.


The good news is that to the south, our reinforcements have pushed the Reds off the summit and down the other side of 538 with only the cost of a squad.
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Meanwhile, the column’s survivors have assaulted into the jungle, wiping out another PAVN squad and breaking another as they push towards the hill. By the end of the turn we have lost three and a half squads, not counting Dayr’s two squads, whom we later discover wiped out deep within the kunai.

Turns four and five our men trade shots with the Viet Minh but things settle down into a bit of a lull as both sides take stock for the next round. Undoubtedly, the PAVN are consolidating in the kunai fields to the west and around 621. A Para mortar squad sets up on the summit of 538 and begins dueling with two mortars on the southern slope of board 39. The PAVN mortars on board 2 shift their fire, dropping their rounds into a copse of trees on the slope of 538, breaking a squad that later dies after these broken men roll 12s on their morale check. I am relieved to discover that I haven’t pissed myself but instead have been hit by shrapnel. I tie off my wounded leg and guzzle water from one of my canteens making a secret pact with God that I will go gladly go back to covering fashion shows if He saves me this day.

Turns six and seven the concentrated PAVN attack that we anticipated never seems to materialize. The enemy appears to have trouble organizing and makes some piecemeal rushes into the southern board 2 woods but are turned away. Later we discover that many of these men are not the mainline 5-3-7 squads of the 316th division but that the crude stencils on their olive uniforms mark them as low quality 3-4-7 replacements. In morale and firepower they are simply no match for our 6-4-8s, especially once the paras use assault fire in the close jungle fighting. With a broken morale factor of 9, despite being cut off our men are in high spirits and are also quick to rejoin the fight. In contrast it takes several turns for our PAVN counterparts to rally, and this too slows down their attack. Their final act is a flurry of mortar and mmg fire that breaks our assault on 621. Then, as quickly as they attacked the Reds fade away back into the jungle as turn 7 ends. As evening falls we dig in on the bare slopes of 538 and take stock of our losses. In all the PAVN National Front Committee totals 22 French CVP and purges the 316th’s command staff for allowing such a narrow defeat to happen. Still, our ranks have been decimated, physically and spiritually as we mourn the loss of La Croix and Dayr, the heart and mind of our company.


The next day I am transported to the medical hospital at Dien Bien Phu where I remain for several weeks as I wait for the weather to break and a transport south to be organized. As I prepare to depart the doctor hands me a small glass jar filled with jagged shrapnel taken from my leg. He smiles,” a souvenir from your time in Indochina.” As I wait to board our supply plane a cry comes up nearby- I see Mr. Stevens entering the camp along with a small band of ragged looking paratroopers! Still wearing his aviator sunglasses he tells me that he was alongside Dary at the end but managed to fight his way out. Dodging Communist patrols for weeks he managed to make his way back to safety. This is the happiest ending I can hope for, along with my own survival. I climb into the Dakota without a backward glance at the hell in a very small place named Dien Bien Phu.

This brings us to now Mon Ami, yes my mind still often cycles back to those harrowing hours on hill 538 and every day I count myself lucky to have survived to carry on a good, and wonderfully mundane career at Chic and later Vogue. I still think that our men were well represented in the ASL conversion, although as time passes I feel that things were, fortunately, greatly unbalanced in the firefights. Superior firepower factors combined with stellar elan were a great advantage over the weaker armed Viet Minh who never seemed to win stand up shootouts. Our broken morale factors were also perhaps too high and therefore its hard to see how we lost this war fielding such supermen. The ELR flow of this conversion was also a factor. Over the din of fighting I often heard our generals mumbling as they sifted through counters and complained about the lack of doctrinal guidance that accompanied this edition of the module. Reflecting, perhaps that Forgotten War is now out, we shall see a better representation in the future. That said, non, je ne regrette rien, I regret nothing as this was a curious, albeit for me terrifying, few hours investigation of another forgotten war.



Postscript: my friends I am happy to report that I bumped into Mr. Stevens in my local Bánh Mi shop the other day!! Retired now, it turns out that our trip was not the last that he took to the East, and he worked very closely with the American and South Vietnamese governments between 1954 and 1975 before recently serving as a military consultant on Middle East policy for the RAND corporation. Still donning his trademark sunglasses he tells me that he was for some time involved with something called the Special Operations Group, some kind of research team fielded by the Americans during your Vietnam War. I mention that my publisher would jump at the chance to publish his memoirs of his time in southeast Asia but he politely declined, crumpling a street artist's caricature of him into my hands and mumbling something about classified information as he grabbed his bag of food and vanished into the crowds on the street.
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