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“End of a Task Force”

- or, whoever said war was fair? -

by Tim Goodchild



End of a Task Force: Briefing



The French Captain looks back at the slow-moving column of trucks and men, winding its way through the Vietnamese High Plateau.  The sun beats down, and a cloud of fine white dust hangs over the convoy.  Wearily the Captain orders the convoy to stop, and sitting back in his jeep, he scans the surrounding countryside with his binoculars, searching for any sign of a Viet-Minh ambush.  Nothing moves.  Wiping the sweat from eyes, the Captain swears roundly at the heat, the terrain, and the entire country.  Suddenly, a rifle shot rings out, and the lifeless body of the Captain slumps to one side.  At once the countryside erupts with whistles, bugle calls, and explosions, announcing a Viet-Minh ambush of the stalled French convoy.


Or at least that’s how it happens in the movies …  



This is an account of a game played in Singapore in October 2005 by the Provisional Wing of the Hong Kong Wargamers’ Society (i.e. Peter Hunt and myself).  The game is based on the ambush of Groupe Mobile 100 by the Viet-Minh in 1954. 


Those who have seen “We were Soldiers Once and Young”  will remember the ambush of Groupe Mobile 100 from the first few minutes of the film.  The film captures perfectly the stunning impact of Viet-Minh ambushes (but is less-than-perfect in representing the tactics, uniforms, and communication systems used by the French in Indochina ).     


Historical Background:


Groupe Mobile 100 was formed in November 1953, as a motorised infantry brigade.  The main element of the GM100 was the Battalion “Coree”, the French infantry battalion that served with the UN forces in Korea .  Following the Korean armistice, the Battalion Coree was transferred to Indochina , where it was bolstered by several Vietnamese companies, and split into two battalions.  It was joined by a battalion of the 43rd Colonial Infantry Regiment, as well as an artillery battery of the 10th Colonial Artillery Regiment, and designated “GM100”. 


GM100 was assigned to the Central Highlands in February 1954, to act as a “fire-brigade” and to coordinate with Operation “Atlante” (a French amphibious assault on Qui Nhon).  Throughout early 1954, GM100 was involved in heavy skirmishing against Viet-Minh regional and main-force units, and suffered a steady drain of casualties.   Following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu , GM100 was ordered to abandon its positions around the town An Khe, and retreat to Pleiku (90km away).  Loaded down with trucks, civilian, and supplies (including a consignment of folding-chairs that some idiot insisted on bringing), GM100 made slow progress.   On the road between An Khe and Pleiku, GM100 fell into several Viet-Minh ambushes, which cost GM100 over 50% of its infantry, 85% of its vehicles, and all of its artillery.


Back in Pleiku, GM100 was reformed, re-equipped, and sent back into battle.  On 17 July 1954 (3 days before the ceasefire with the Viet-Minh was signed), the 1st Coree Battalion was assigned to a French force moving from Pleiku to Ban Me Thuot.  This force was ambushed at the Chu Dreh pass, and the 1st Battalion Coree was effectively destroyed.  By the end of the battle, the battalion’s 1st company (which numbered 172 men at its formation) could count only 17 survivors.


Our October game assumed that the fighting in Indochina continued beyond July 1954, and that the French had decided to abandon Pleiku.  The game places a battered Mobile Group, encumbered with friendly civilians, trying to force its way along a winding jungle road, against two reinforced Viet-Minh main-force battalions.




Our terrain was based on “Miniature World” terrain pieces, and some very tasty trees from “Realistic Modelling Supplies”.


The terrain consists of hills and jungle, with a narrow road zigzagging along the valley floor.  Close to the French entry point are some open paddy-fields.  And just to make life interesting, a fast-moving stream cuts the road at a rough ford.  Near the French exit point, the valley floor is covered with tall elephant grass.    






The French force consists of 2 infantry battalions (the 2nd Coree Battalion, and the 530th Vietnamese Light Battalion).  Along with them would go a company of tanks, an armoured reconnaissance company, and an artillery battery.  Attached to this force were an engineering company, a company of paratroopers, a company of trucks hauling 'vital supplies' (which were actually a consignment of folding-chairs), a HQ unit, a medical unit, a company of “PIMS” (Viet-Minh PoWs acting as porters), a militia company, and a gaggle of friendly civilians.  The French also received 2 observation aircraft, as well as air-strikes from 2 Bearcats, 1 Hellcat, and 1 B26.


The Viet-Minh force consists of 2 regular infantry battalions (with mortars), a recoilless rifle company, a platoon of 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns, the Regimental reconnaissance company, and 8 companies of regional troops.  The Viet-Minh also received 2 small minefields.  For this game, I was umpire and commander of the Viet-Minh forces (Regimental Commander Tui Bin).  


The Scenario:


The idea behind this scenario was to give Peter (as GM Commander, Colonel Pierre Chasse) a set of remarkably unhelpful orders, courtesy of his commanding officer - General de Brigade Le Montgolfière - and to then drop him in the deep-end.  Off-road movement in the game was severely restricted, to funnel the action along the roads.  Peter knew (as a French commander would) that an ambush was likely, but its direction and strength were unclear.  Similarly, the Viet-Minh commander (myself) knew Peter’s precise strength, but didn’t know how Peter would arrange his convoy.


French Plans:


Peter broke his force into 4 elements:

  • Group A, which had half of the 2nd Coree battalion, the engineers, half the artillery, and 1 tank.

  • Group B, which contained the other half of the 2nd Coree battalion, the other half of the artillery, the paras, the HQ company, the recon company, and 1 tank.

  • Group C, which was formed from the PIMS, the civilians, the Garde Nationale, the supply trucks, and 1 tank.

  • Group D, which held the 530th TDKQ.

Under Peter’s plan, Group B would establish itself at defensive points along Route 19, with Groups C and D then moving between those points.  Group A would act as the rearguard. 


Viet-Minh Plans:


The Viet-Minh plan was based on standard ambush tactics of the day.  Three companies of militia were stationed in ambush positions along the road, to slow down and harass the French.   A main-force battalion, with recoilless rifles, was dug-in on the Northern Hill just above the exit point.  With fields of fire over the road, the objective of this battalion was to hold up the French and destroy its armour.  Viet-Minh militia units and mortars were to attack at points along the length of the stalled convoy, to cause delay, to inflict casualties, and to cause the French to disperse their troops (thus limiting the forces available to assault the Northern Hill).  Once the French convoy was stalled and under attack, a second main-force battalion would move through the jungle and execute a close assault on the rear of the convoy and destroy the rearguard.  If all went well, this would leave the French trapped and under fire from the front and the rear. 


Outcome of the Battle:


Colonel Chasse’s advance guard moved forward and seized the ford without opposition, under the watchful gaze of his observation aircraft.  Moving off from the ford, the lead armoured car triggered a mine (which had no impact whatsoever), and caused a Viet-Minh regional company to open a desultory fire from an ambush position.  The French responded with mortar and machine gun fire, scattering the regionals.  Chasse’s engineers then went to work improving the ford, and assisting vehicles crossing the stream. 


Chasse’s lead elements moved slowly forward, and triggered another ambush by a Viet-Minh regional company near the second bend in the road.  In this second ambush, Chasse’s lead armoured car (which had already driven unscathed over one mine) drove unscathed over a second mine, and somehow survived two rounds of point blank bazooka fire.  I grew to hate this armoured car.


But then life began to get complex for Chasse.  A tropical rainstorm closed in, forcing his observation aircraft to turn for home.  This rainstorm also flooded the ford, undoing all the good work of Chasse’s engineers.  One of the supply trucks got stuck in the ford, halting the movement of the rest of the convoy.  Chasse’s reconnaissance company then ran into the Viet-Minh main-force battalion on the Northern Hill, and lost an armoured car and a company of the Coree in the process.  Chasse’s force was now split into two elements:

  • Half the Coree, the paras, the (depleted) reconnaissance company, 2 tanks, half the artillery, and Peter’s HQ company; which were pinned down near the Northern Hill; and

  • Everything else (the remainder of the armour, artillery, and Coree, along with the 530th TDKQ, the PIMS, the civilians and the Garde National), which still were back at the ford.  Movement by this group was difficult due to the “stickiness” of the TDKQ, and to the ford (which claimed several more vehicles).

Bad weather was preventing air support, and bad radio connections made artillery support impossible.  At that point, the Viet-Minh counter attacked the rear of the forward group with the Regimental reconnaissance company and a company of regionals.  This attack was spectacularly unsuccessful.  The recon company was able to do some damage to Chasse’s artillery crews, but was gunned down by Chasse’s tanks, which moved quickly down the column to address this threat.  Similarly, the regionals’ attack ran headfirst into Chasse’s para company, which was moving to support the tanks.  The regionals were thrown back into the jungle in disarray.


At this point, the weather improved, allowing Chasse to call in his long-awaited air support.  As a bearcat rolled in to strafe the Northern Hill, the Viet-Minh AA gunners on the other side of the valley opened fire (and missed entirely).  Undaunted, the bearcat pilot continued his strafing run, before turning back to attack the Viet-Minh AA position.  The Viet-Minh AA gunners opened fire at this direct threat, missed (again!), and suffered heavily for it.  Chasse then called in a B26 strike, which finished off the Viet-Minh AA positions, before bombing the Northern Hill into a fine paste. 


Back by his HQ halftrack, Chasse received disturbing news, his commanding officer - General de Brigade Le Montgolfière - had hitched a ride on a medical evacuation helicopter, and would be landing in 5 minutes.  The General requested that a jeep be put at his disposal, and that a Pernod (with plenty of ice) be prepared for him. 


The General’s helicopter landed amidst a flurry of dust, and the General put himself to work, encouraging the stalled 530th TDKQ forward.  And using his 'old-boy' network, the General was also able to rustle up some additional air support for Chasse (1 B26 and 1 Bearcat strike), which would prove very handy later on.  But the ford was still jammed with trucks and civilians, and progress forward was slow.  


As the B-26 returned to base, Chasse moved the head of the column forward again, with depleted recon company taking the lead.  But the Viet-Minh had survived the bombing of the Northern Hill, and they launched a second ambush as the French drew close.  The French lost a halftrack and more of the Coree, and were again forced to retreat.  


Chasse then called in another Bearcat air-strike on the Northern Hill, which knocked out the last Viet-Ming RCL team.  This was more than enough for the defending Viet-Minh battalion, which collected up its dead and wounded, and silently retreated back into the jungle.  Chasse’s men probed cautiously forward, to find that the enemy had departed. 


But things were different at the rear of the column...


Traffic was finally moving at the ford, the civilians and the supply vehicles had crossed the stream and had linked up with the rear of Chasse’s forward group.  The engineers also started moving off from the ford, and the General drove up the column to liase with Chasse (and to find out what had happened to the Pernod he’d ordered, dammit!).  The 530th TDKQ was now moving swiftly (if not enthusiastically), and Chasse began to pull back the rearguard (2 companies of Coree) covering the ford. 


But then problems arose.  A company of regionals opened up with long-range rifle fire at the departing rearguard.  A truck towing a 105mm howitzer got stuck in the ford, and was promptly destroyed by a lucky Viet-Minh mortar burst (thereby blocking the ford).  The engineers were also hit by another mortar concentration, losing half their number.  And as the last elements of the rearguard clambered over the wrecked howitzer, and crossed the ford, whistles and bugle calls announced a Viet-Minh attack on the rear of the convoy.  


The second Viet-Minh main-force battalion had been held up by the dense jungle, and by the lurking presence of Chasse’s armour.  But as Chasse’s armour moved towards the head of the column, two companies of Viet-Minh regulars emerged from the South side of the road and unleashed a deadly close-range fire on the passing TDKQ.  Chasse swung his armour around, and headed back to the rear of the column.  Air-strikes were requested, and the rest of the convoy (under the command of the General) was ordered to exit the table as quickly as possible.  The two Coree rearguard companies counter attacked the Viet-Minh, but were caught in a cross-fire as the rest of the Viet-Minh battalion emerging from the North side of the road.  At this point, out of sheer petulance, the TDKQ went to ground and refused to move. 


But with the assistance of tank fire, Chasse was able to clear the Viet-Minh from the South side of the road, and a B26 (thanks to the General’s old-boy network) flew in low to deliver a devastating strafing run on the Viet-Minh to the North of the road.  And as Chasse, with drawn pistol, 'encouraged' the TDKQ to move, the morale of the 2nd Viet-Minh battalion broke.  The Viet-Minh retreated into the jungle, and silence returned. 


Regimental Commander Tui Bin began wondering how he could write up his report to make this seem like a glorious Viet-Minh victory.


Although both of Chasse’s infantry battalions had suffered casualties of more than 40%, and his recon company and artillery battery were largely destroyed, the remainder of his troops were intact.  The convoy had made it through to Ban Me Thuot, and the civilians and folding-chairs could now be delivered into the proper hands.  Two Viet-Minh main-force battalions had been very roughly handled, and would not be back in operation for some time.  By the standards of mid-1954, the operation could be considered a French success.


All Things Considered:


Peter/ Chasse did very well, given the terrain and his lack of infantry.  Armour and airpower were the key, and they were used effectively.  And the game seemed nicely 'historical'.  The Viet-Minh had powerful infantry, but were very vulnerable to tanks and aircraft once their support units were gone.  The action switched from one end of the column to the other, with the terrain giving real problems for the French. 


And most importantly, with an Edith Piaf CD playing loudly in the background, a good time was had by all.


But Whatever Happened to …

  • General de Brigade Gerald Le Montgolfière was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his exploits on Route 19.  The citation to this award spoke of the General volunteering to helicopter in to assist a Mobile Group that had stalled and was under heavy attack.  The General “rallied the defenders and called in air-strikes to clear the road, before personally leading the survivors to safety”.  In 1983 the General published his memoirs “Sand in my Desert Boots”.

  • Regimental Commander Tui Bin was promoted for his bravery and excellent report-writing skills.  He served in the American war, and fled Vietnam in 1979.  He moved to Paris , and opened several successful patisseries.

  • The Folding Chairs from Pleiku returned to France , where they served for several years (in a “support” capacity).

  • Colonel Pierre Chasse, was acquitted by the Court of Inquiry held to investigate the evacuation of Pleiku.

But then whoever said that war was fair?


Order of Battle 

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