Monday, 18 May 2015

Book review : Vietnam Ironclads by John M. Carrico

Vietnam Ironclads: A Pictorial History Of U.S. Navy River Assault Craft, 1966-1970 is a real labour of love by John M. Carrico covering all of the boats used by the Mobile Riverine Force (TF 117) in 136 pages. Look no further if you have any interest in the ATCs, ATC(H)s, ATC(R)s, MONs, MON(F)s, CCBs, MSR, and ASPBs or want to know what were the differences between Program 4 and Program 5 boats (or even if you simply wand to know what these acronyms stood for).

While most books will give you general information about the converted LCM-6s used on South Vietnam's rivers, this book has great coverage about each type of boat, whether troop carriers, monitors, support boats or their variants. Each of these is covered in minute details, describing the conversion process, armament, armour and operational use and markings.

The only thing missing is a set of scale plans but that is more than made up for by the large number of clearly captioned photographs (127 colour and 96 black and white photos photos, most of them hitherto unpublished), including a whole lot in full colour and by top- and side-view drawings detailing the typical colours and markings worn by the amphibious craft. Note that scale plans for the ATCs and ASPBs are available in Norman Friedman's U.S. Small Combatants, Including PT Boats, Subchasers, and the Brown-Water Navy: An Illustrated Design History (US Naval Institute, 1987) if you are lucky enough to own a copy of this long out-of-print book.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Air Cushion Cavalry: The US Army's Bell SK5 ACV in Vietnam

Hovercraft are to Vietnam what Kingtigers are to World War 2: the coolest piece of kit, produced in tiny amounts and fielded by gamers in numbers far exceeding their real life counterparts. Maybe the attraction stems from the fact that they embody like few other vehicles the 1960s fascination with emerging technologies. Or maybe it is simply because we've all, at some point, played with a Dinky or Matchbox SR.N6 hovercraft (the PACV's larger cousin) while making humming sounds.

The three Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles (PACVs) operated by the US Navy intermittently between 1966 and 1968 are best known, possibly because the Navy's public relations department was very good. Or maybe because they look very much like those diecast toys. Or simply because they sported a cool sharkmouth.

However, these Bell SK5 Model 7232 hovercraft also had three US Army cousins: the improved Bell SK5 Model 7255. While the PACVs were militarised versions of the British Hovercraft Corporation's civilian SR.N5, these were much more extensively converted by Bell and rather more suitable military machines. They also served far longer than the Navy's version, being deployed in Vietnam continuously from May 1968 to September 1970.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Six Block War: finding your way around the Hue Triangle

Although it is completely atypical of the war, the battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive has long been of particular interest to me. This may be because the very first serious Vietnam wargame I played (way back when Salute was held in Kensington town hall) was a participation game set in Hue although my lacklustre performance as a USMC platoon commander would probably have ensured that I was put in charge of the latrine digging detail after the first day. More seriously, what I find particularly interesting is the "pocket Stalingrad" nature of the Marines' fight south of the Perfume river during the first week of February. This was fought over a surprisingly small area of weel groomed European-style streets which makes it possible to have a good idea of the terrain (the second part of the USMC's battle in the Citadel is far harder to reconstruct).