War, with Really Bad Dice Throws -
of Phu Ly
late August 2004 I had the great pleasure of running an Indochina War game
with Peter Hunt. This game was
based on an incident in “Operation Auvergne”, the last French operation
of the Indochina War.
to the Battle:
July 1954 the elite units of the French expeditionary corps had largely been
destroyed in the battle of
Dien Bien Phu
The French High Command understood that a ceasefire would soon be
signed with the Viet-Minh, but they didn't know when, and they looked
nervously at the victorious Viet-Minh regular divisions, now moving out of
Dien Bien Phu
positions in the Tonkin Delta. The
French High Command decided to retract its lines, to give itself a more
defensible position and to create a reserve to hold the expected Viet-Minh
evacuation of the Southern Tonkin Delta (including the Catholic communities
– who were friendly towards the French - around Phat Diem).
During this operation, the French had to rely on their few remaining
Legion and North African battalions, backed up by the AVN (“Armée
Nationale du Vietnam” –
the army of the “official” government of
, and precursor to
a combination of surprise, planning, and firepower, Operation Auvergne was
an outstanding success, allowing 63,000 soldiers and civilians, and 11,000
tonnes of supplies, to be evacuated to positions closer to
the operation was “touch and go” in places.
As soon as the Viet-Minh realized that the evacuation was underway,
they closed in on the French, aiming to ambush convoys, over-run posts, and
stampede the French into a rout similar to that of October 1950.
The French were thus forced, on several occasions, to turn in their
tracks and fight off their Viet-Minh pursuers, relying of airpower, armour,
and artillery to buy them time to evacuate troops, supplies and friendly
battle of Phu Ly started by accident. At
3 July 1954
, French armoured
units began to move out from their firebase to the West of the
, to clear the
road leading North to
Mistaking this for evidence of a general French withdrawal, the
Vietminh launched a major attack on the French outpost line to the east of
Backed by mortar fire, the Viet-Minh quickly over-ran the outposts and
, scattering an
AVN company and two recon platoons (and capturing a French artillery
observation team) in the process.
by the Viet-Minh attack, the French rapidly counter-attacked, throwing in 2
armoured platoons and a battalion of Moroccan infantry (the III/5e “Régiment
de Tirailleurs Marocains”),
backed up by artillery and heavy air support.
Pushing the Viet-Minh back through the
(which was by now
in flames), the French were able to recapture the artillery observation
team, inflict 147 dead on the Viet-Minh, and win the day.
the battle of Phu Ly could have gone either way.
The Viet-Minh were well equipped (with infantry weapons), well led,
and highly motivated. The French
had a monopoly on airpower and armour, but their morale was less robust.
As one contemporary observer noted, “nobody wanted to be the last
man to die in this war”.
game places two “French” infantry battalions (one Moroccan, the other
AVN), with armour, artillery, and air support against a Viet-Minh militia
battalion, reinforced (over time) by two regular battalions, with
intermittent mortar support.
battlefield was bounded by the River Day to the South, and a series of
inland lakes to the North. The
ground consisted of paddy fields surrounding Phu Ly, with thick jungle and
scrub bordering the road to Phu Ly. A
thick hedge surrounded the village
of Phu Ly
To the east of the village, on a low hill, stands the AVN outpost,
over-run by the Viet-Minh.
French orders are simple - to re-capture the village
of Phu Ly
and the AVN
outpost to the east of it, and to withdraw by stages back to their base line
once this was accomplished. Viet-Minh
orders are to prevent the French from attaining their objective.
The Viet-Minh initially have a militia battalion on the table, and
receive one battalion of regulars on Turn 10, and another on Turn 20 (see
could have been a short game, as it was (theoretically) possible for Peter
to have blown through the Viet-Minh militia battalion and arrive in Phu Ly in
3 turns (well before the Viet-Minh regulars could turn up).
correctly suspecting an ambush, and keen to preserve his armour, Peter took
a prudent approach. Deploying
his Moroccans on his Southern flank and his AVN on his Northern flank, he
carefully cleared the jungle on both sides of the Phu Ly road, before moving
his armour forward behind an infantry screen.
Scattered fire fights broke out between the advancing French infantry
and the Viet-Minh militia, tripping an anti-armour ambush in the process, and
generally chasing the militia off the table.
all this took time (allowing both Viet-Minh regular battalions to enter the
table), and causing the Moroccans to get badly strung out.
The remnants of the militia, backed up by one of the regular
battalion were able to inflict casualties on the Moroccans, and hold them in
place in front of the village
of Phu Ly
howitzer fire). But it was on
Peter's Northern flank that the battle was decided.
than the Moroccans, and more familiar with the local terrain, Peter's AVN
battalion was able to move quickly through the jungle, with relatively
little straggling. The AVN
battalion was then able to seize, just ahead of an advancing battalion of
Viet-Minh regulars, a small hill overlooking the paddy fields around Phu Ly.
a (far too brief) Viet-Minh mortar barrage, the AVN battalion clung to the
hill (despite its shaky morale), stalling a strong Viet-Minh attack. Peter
then skilfully manoeuvred his M-24s to take the Viet-Minh battalion in a
flanking crossfire. The
had a brief moment of glory, when a Viet-Minh RCL team, with its first (and
last) shot, destroyed one of the French M-24s.
firepower counted more than fervour this day, and it was only a matter of
time until the morale of this Viet-Minh battalion broke, and the survivors
took to their heals (as did the long-suffering militia battalion).
Two of the three Viet-Minh battalions were now out of action, and
French aircraft were beginning to bomb the third battalion out of Phu Ly.
Sighing deeply, the Viet-Minh commander fired a red flare to signal a
general withdrawal. The
victorious French were left to capture their objectives, locate the missing
artillery observation team, and withdraw without interference.
his shattered units, the Viet-Minh commander began to understand the folly of
fighting firepower in the open, and vowed “next time...”
Lieutenant-Colonel Chasse, III/5e
RTM is ordered to immediately
establish contact with S/GB1
and 18e AVN.
With these units, III/5e
RTM will attack
and destroy Viet-Minh elements occupying the village and the AVN post to the
east of it. Upon the destruction
of enemy forces, III/5e RTM and attached elements will retire by stages to
RTM will have on-call support from 64e
RA, and limited air support will be available for this attack.
An artillery observation team from the 64e RA will be attached to III/5e
strength in PHU
is estimated at 2 (two) militia battalions, supported by mortars located in
the LAT SON area. Friendly
elements (including elements from 64e
RA) overrun by the initial VietMinh attack may still be in the environs of
of the wounded, coordination of radio frequencies, and liaison between
involved units will be arranged between the command elements of the units.
Battalion, 5th Moroccan Rifle Regiment (average
x 81mm mortar
AVN Infantry Battalion (low morale):
x 81mm mortar
Armoured Sub-Group (-) (average morale):
x M24 Chaffee
x M3 Half tracks (2 x MG)
Group (average morale):
x Command half track (1 x MG)
x radio jeep (artillery observation team)
64th Regiment Artillery
x 105mm howitzers
x F6F sorties (2 x medium bombs)
x B26 sortie (8 x medium bombs)
Battalion, 95th Regiment (average morale): - arrives Turn 20
x 57mm RCL
Battalion, 95th Regiment (average morale): - arrives Turn 10
x 57mm RCL
Provincial Battalion (poor morale):
x mortar observation team, 95th Regiment
Company, 95th Regiment (off-board)
x 81mm mortars
can only begin firing on a “6”, and must cease-fire if a “5 or 6” is
thrown, until a new “6” is thrown. Throughout
French fight-bombers flew numerous sorties against Viet-Minh mortar
positions, in an effort to silence them.
Fire” – Rule Amendments
jungle and grass lands as “difficult terrain”
and European French units move at “difficult terrain rates”
(i.e. 6 inches less D6)
and AVN units move at 6 inches less (D6 - 1).
into, out of, and within jungle and grassland areas is 3 inches.
teams move and fire like bazooka teams (with the same limitations on
fields are treated as open terrain for movement, and figures immediately
behind paddy field dykes are treated as in soft cover (July is summer in
and so the paddy fields are “dry”).
reflect limited communications and rigid command structures, Viet-Minh
units must operate on the basis of written orders.
A “6” on a D6 must be thrown for any variation to those