Hue: A 1989 Analysis
AUTHOR Major John M. Taylor, USMC
SUBJECT AREA - History
TITLE: Hue: A 1989 Analysis
I. PURPOSE: To recreate the battle for Hue by analyzing it from a
maneuver warfare position and to culminate this analysis with the battle's
operational and tactical lessons learned as they may apply today.
II. THESIS: Although the battle for Hue transpired twenty years ago,
the military actions conducted then are in consonance with the fundamentals
of maneuver warfare revitalized today.
III. DATA: The 1968 Tet offensive conducted by the NVA/VC forces within
the I Corps Tactical Zone found the enemy's main effort as the seizure
of Hue. Through the implementation of a METT-T analysis, the military
student is able to effectively recreate the battle for Hue from a maneuver
warfare perspective in order to better understand the objectives, centers
of gravity, and intent of both opposing forces. An examination of the
mission statement for both opposing forces displays the conflict between
tasks and constraints. Terrain and weather analysis focuses upon key
decisive terrain, avenues of approach or lines of communication, and
inclement weather conditions as they impacted upon the warfare principles
of maneuver, surprise, and offensive. The culmination of these principles
demonstrates their effect on how, at specific moments, each opposing
force's timetable for success was altered. The operational lessons
learned focus upon surfaces and gap, concentration of force and speed
of action, and attrition warfare versus deterioration of the enemy's
cohesion. Tactical lessons learned focus upon urban tactics, combined
arms weapon systems, and command/control
IV. CONCLUSION: The fundamentals of maneuver warfare, as they apply
to the battle for Hue, have assisted in demonstrating an analytical
process and identifying valuable lessons learned for preparing for future
urban warfare. However, the Marine Corps' experience in Hue has not
been capitalized upon with regard to training direction and weapons
system flexibility towards urban warfare. The future commitment of
forces to safeguard United States interests abroad may find the Marine
Corps unprepared to operate in urban terrain.
HUE: A 1989 ANALYSIS
Although twenty years have elapsed since the battle for Hue, the military
actions executed then are in consonance with the fundamentals of the
maneuver warfare concept revitalized today.
I. TET OFFENSIVE
a. Movement of Forces
b. Lodgement and Clearance of South Hue
c. Lodgement and Clearance of North Hue
III. METT-T ANALYSIS
1. Specified Tasks
2. Implied Tasks
3. Higher Headquarters Intent
2. Centers of Gravity
6. Combat Power
c. Terrain and Weather
d. Friendly Forces
2. Centers of Gravity
6. Combat Power
IV. OPERATIONAL LESSONS LEARNED
a. Limited War versus Unlimited War
b. Urban Warfare Deliberate Attack
c. Indigenous Constabulary Forces
d. Surprise versus Offensive
V. TACTICAL LESSONS LEARNED
a. Urban Tactics
d. Anti-tank Weapons
e. Riot Control Agents
f. Small Unit Command/Control
HUE: A 1989 Analysis
Throughout the 1988-89 academic year at the U.S. Marine Corps Command
and Staff College, students have been subjected to an approach to war
that has replaced the attrition warfare concept with warfare whose goal
is the deterioration of the enemy's cohesion. This approach to war is
referred to as maneuver warfare and focuses upon commander's intent,
surfaces and gaps, main effort versus centers of gravity, objectives
at various levels, and the use of reserves. In addition, the estimate
of the situation known as METT-T analysis has been reinforced with particular
emphasis on its application as being a perpetual analytical process.
Tactics are thus employed as a product of the analytical process and
estimate stated above. Warfare possesses a degree of fluidity that allows
both opposing forces to execute speed of action and concentration of
their respective combat power at specific moments thus allowing for
an advantage to exist. Urban warfare or MOUT may limit these opposing
forces from attaining an advantage through speed and concentration.
The battle for Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive is the most recent example
of United States military involvement in urban warfare for students and
Marines to examine. This paper will attempt to recreate the battle for
Hue by analyzing it from a maneuver warfare position and to culminate
this analysis with the battle's operational and tactical lessons learned
as they may apply today.
TET OFFENSIVE: A Tet cease-fire, traditional throughout the years
of fighting in Vietnam, went into effect at 1800 on 29 January 1968.
In response to this tradition, US and ARVN forces began to observe a
declared 36-hour cease-fire to be effective from 1800 29 January through
the morning of 31 January. The Viet Cong, at the same time, announced
a seven-day Tet truce to last from 27 January to the early morning of
3 February. Using the truce as a form of a ruse, a force in excess of
80,000 NVA and VC troops launched attacks on the evening of 30 January
of unprecedented scope directed against the populated areas within the
provinces inclusive of I Corps Tactical Zone.1 On 29 January, indirect
fires were directed against MAG-11 in Da Nang and MAG-16 at Marble Mountain
in an effort to reduce US air assault and close air support capability.2
Due to the numerous truce violations, northern I Corps ARVN units responded
with an increased alert posture to include the division headquarters
of the 1st Vietnamese Army Infantry Division located in Hue. At 0340,
31 January, NVA/VC forces conducted a coordinated rocket, mortar, and
ground assault against Hue.3 The enemy's main effort was directed against
Hue and Da Nang.
Battle for Hue: In an effort to reconstruct the siege at Hue from
the US/ARVN perspective without immense verbosity, phases based upon
time, unit action, and composition of forces will be presented. The point
of main effort will be identified with each phase. The recapture of
Hue was both a joint and combined operation featuring 3 US Marine battalions,
5 US Army battalions and 11 Vietnamese battalions.
31 JANUARY-PHASE I MOVEMENT OF FORCES: Main effort directed at
responding to the infiltration of enemy forces into Hue. This effort
includes the movement of the 3rd ARVN Regiment from the northwest to
a position north of Hue and commitment of elements from the 1st and 5th
Marine Regiments from Phu Bai towards south Hue.
31 JANUARY-10 FEBRUARY-PHASE II LODGEMENT AND CLEARANCE OF SOUTH
HUE: Main effort directed against destruction of forces within south
Hue. This effort includes the recapture of the Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam(MACV) compound and then attacking westward parallel to the Perfume
River with five rifle companies composited from the 1st BN, 1st Marines
and the 2nd BN, 5th Marines. Also on 31 January, G/2/5 attempted to
evacuate US nationals within the Citadel but was repulsed. Tank platoon
in direct support.
12 FEBRUARY-23 FEBRUARY-PHASE III LODGEMENT AND CLEARANCE OF NORTH
HUE: Main effort shifted against enemy forces in north Hue utilizing
a three-prong attack consisting of the 3rd ARVN Regiment as the main
attack and Vietnamese Marines and 1st BN, 5th Marines as supporting attacks.
Artillery and naval gunfire in direct support of main effort.
24 FEBRUARY-25 FEBRUARY-PHASE IV PURSUIT: Main effort shifted
to the west-southwest region outside Hue where four battalion blocking
positions controlled by the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division destroyed
the fleeing enemy. ARVN Rangers (Black Panther Company) liquidated remaining
enemy forces within the Imperial Palace.
The isolation of Hue was a continual process lasting from 2 February
through 21 February. This period of time was required to commit and
maneuver enough forces in order to effectively contain the enemy forces
operating both in and around the city of Hue. In addition, weather conditions
precluded the use of close air support and supporting arms to assist
in the isolation process. Commitment of reinforcements early in the
Hue siege was withheld based upon "intelligence reports of 20,000-40,000
NVA troops, as a strategic reserve, massed in the NW corner of South
Vietnam".4 By 21 February, one battalion of the 101st Airborne Division
opcon to Marine Task Force X-Ray and four battalions- 1st Bn/7th CAV,
2nd Bn/501st Airborne, 2nd BN/12th CAV, and 5th BN/7th CAV-opcon to 3rd
Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division finally were in position to effectively
cut the enemy lines of communication and withdrawl routes northwest,
west , and southwest of Hue.5 ARVN/US forces operation within the
Citadel islolated the enemy forces by virtue of their attack in a southwesterly
direction while US Marine elements contained the enemy south of the Perfume
River. The integration of close air support, artillery fire, and naval
gunfire assisted in isolating the enemy forces as the weather conditions
improved throughout the seige.
METT-T ANALYSIS(As analyzed from US/ARVN position)
MISSION: Analysis of the mission statement received by the Marine
units identified three specified tasks:
-destroy as many of the enemy as possible
-keep their own casualties to a minimum
-spare as much of the city from destruction as was humanly
Several implied tasks could be induced from these specified tasks and
the higher headquarters intent:
-prevent enemy reinforcement and resupply of Hue
-possibly allow enemy forces an avenue of escape away from
-regain control of US 1, railroad line, and Perfume River as
friendly lines of communication
Proposed higher headquarters intent- The enemy's ability to defend his
position within Hue poses a serious threat for the success of continuing
operations within northern I Corps. His destruction is the only way
to reestablish the ground lines of communication contiguous to Hue in
order to maintain supply routes between Da Nang and units operating in
the northern I Corps Tactical Zone.
Constraints- Several constraints existed that initially would make
the accomplishment of the US/ARVN mission difficult. The first constraint
is that pertaining to sparing the city from as much destruction as possible.
President Thieu's request to spare the city from destruction meant denying
the infantry units the complete freedom to utilize their combined arms
assets. This restriction thus would directly impact on the ability of
the US/ARVN forces to honor the second constraint- keep friendly casualties
to a minimum. To conduct house to house fighting void of supporting
arms in order to destroy enemy strong-point positions created a potential
for an escalation in casualties.
ENEMY: Before we discuss the obvious aspects of the enemy's characteristics
and capabilities, let's examine his objectives, centers of gravity,
and intent. The diplomatic, economic, military, and informational goals
of North Vietnam's national strategy focused upon its effort to cause
a reunification of Vietnam. Thus the strategic objective of the North
Vietnamese was to end the war from a position of strength by virtue of
militarily occuppying as many of South Vietnam's provincial capitals
via the Tet offensive in January 1968. One of its operational objectives
was the seizure and control of Hue and the city's population, as it
controls the ground and surface LOCs within Thua Thieu and Quang Tri provinces.
Tactical objectives were twofold. The first tactical objective was the
capture of the Citadel to include the destruction of the 1st ARVN Infantry
Division headquarters while the second tactical objective was the seizure
of the MACV(Military Assistance Command Vietnam) compound.7 The Citadel
would allow the NVA/VC forces to occupy key decisive terrain that provided
good fields of fire and observation in order to control the ground and
surface LOCs contiguous to Hue. The seizure of the MACV compound appeared
to be more for psychological dislocation of the Hue population from US
military sources as it served no advantage from a terrain perspective.
While the enemy's main effort would be directed against Hue, supporting
attacks would be launched against US air bases(MAG-11 and MAG-16) around
Da Nang in order to reduce CAS and air assault capability.
Center(s) of gravity are defined as an element(s) when unhinged will
bring about the total demise of a force. A center of gravity should
not be restricted to a comparison of combat power(e.g.; tanks, artillery, etc).
Therefore, the centers of gravity for the enemy's seizure and control of
Hue would be his sustainment of effort, and his ability to influence
the Hue population. The effects of the enemy's centers of gravity from
a limited war perspective will be discussed later.
Proposed NVA/VC intent: Since the commander's intent should always
focus on the enemy, the enemy's combined arms capability and mobility
are his centers of gravity. We must utilize surprise through infiltration
of forces into Hue thereby forcing the enemy to conduct a costly effort
against our many strong-point positions in the urban environment in order
to prevent him from regaining control of his LOCs.
The size of the NVA/VC force used in the battle for Hue is most
frequently measured in the number and type of battalions committed.
The enemy forces initially committed to Hue were equivalent to a division
consisting of approximately 10 battalions. Commanded by the 6th Regiment,
the following units were used initially:
6th Regiment-consisting of three infantry battalions
4th Regiment-consisting of three infantry battalions
SAPPER Battalions-consisting of two battalions
Mortar Battalions-consisting of two battalions
This force totaled 6,000 men. Before the flow of enemy reinforcement
could be checked, the NVA/VC forces operating within Hue increased to
16 battalions.8 These forces would also include elements of the NLF
(National Liberation Front).9 By virtue of their infiltration mission,
mobility of the enemy force was restricted to foot. The drastic disparity
in relative combat power was reflected by the absence of armor, gun/howitzer
batteries, and aviation. However, the enemy possessed the proper mix
of automatic, anti-tank and sniper rifles organized into strong-point
positions to be an effective urban warfare force. Based upon the enemy's
objectives and intent, it is likely that he will defend within the city
of Hue neutralizing the US/ARVN centers of gravity - combined arms.
It is also likely that as long as the enemy controls the LOCs to sustain
his effort, he will reinforce his position. The enemy possesses neither
the combat power nor mobility to initiate an attack from Hue.
TERRAIN: Hue is the provincial capital city of Thua Thien province
with a population of 140,000. It is located 100 km from the DMZ and
15 km west of the Tonkin Gulf. Surrounded by the Annamite Mountains,
its strategic value is its position contiguous to three avenues of approach
leading to the northern I Corps units along the DMZ. These three lines
of communications are the north-south highway(Hwy 1) connected by the
railroad bridge running along the western fringe of Hue over the Ngayen
Hoang Bridge, the railroad line between Hue and Da Nang, and the Perfume
River which divides the city and connects with the Tonkin Gulf in the
east. Highway 1 south of Hue passes through Phu Bai. Decisive key terrain
is the ancient walled fortress known as the Citadel north of the Perfume
River. The Citadel is surrounded by rivers on all four sides, and it
is protected by a moat which encircles 3/4 of the interior city. The
moat is reinforced by two massive stone walls 20 feet thick and 25-30
feet high. Many of the buildings inside the Citadel are composed of
the same stone construction. The Citadel walls thus provide good fields
of fire and observation along the bridge avenues of approach, obstacles
enhanced by the rivers and moats to retard lodgement into the north part
of the city, and cover from direct fire weapons systems.
The Perfume River serves to sustain operations within Hue through
the use of river and naval landing craft. Its position which divides
the city serves as an advant age to both defender and attacker.
Other key terrain exist in the Annamite Mountains particularly located
southwest and west of Hue. NVA/VC sustainment of effort in terms of
reinforcement and resupply rests heavily in holding the LOCs that exist
within these mountains between the A Shau Valley and Hue. These mountains also
are instrumental in creating the weather conditions characteristic during
the winter months in this area.
The civilian population of Hue is an advantage to the NVA/VC forces
primarily due to the population's inability to resist occupation. The
ability of the NVA/VC to contain Hue's population within the city may
preclude siege warfare being executed by the US/ARVN forces - hostage
population neutralizes combined arms.
WEATHER: The impact of weather during the winter months creates
an advantage for the NVA/VC whose use of infiltration tactics coinciding
with low fog allows him to maneuver his forces into Hue undetected.
The rain-laden clouds of the northwest monsoon strike the barrier of
the mountains and curl-back, making the Hue area one of the wettest spots
in Vietnam.10 On the contrary, these conditions would create a foul weather
disadvantage that would severely limit fire support, air assault, CAS,
and resupply efforts during the first two weeks of the battle for the
FRIENDLY FORCES: A discussion is required of the US/ARVN objectives,
centers of gravity, and intent. While all diplomatic, economic, military,
and informational goals of the US national strategy were directed towards
the preservation of democratic freedom within South Vietnam, the strategic
objective was to contain North Vietnamese operations within the northern
region of I Corps Tactical Zone. When this strategic objective became
threatened as a result of the enemy's incursion into Hue in late January
1968, the operational objective became the destruction of enemy forces
within Hue in order to regain control of critical LOCs leading into
Quang Tri province. The tactical objectives of the US/ARVN forces would
be to control the enemy LOCs leading west from Hue through the Annamite
Mountains into the A Shau Valley, and the control of Hue, particularly
the Citadel, in order to regain control of the LOCs passing contiguous
to the city. The US/ARVN centers of gravity were its ground LOCs, its combined
arms capability, mobility, and, eventually, its superior will to unleash
unlimited war upon the enemy in and around Hue. Proposed US/ARVN intent:
The enemy's ability to sustain his effort through resupply and reinforcement
is his center of gravity. Therefore, US/ARVN forces will isolate, fix,
and destroy the enemy forces within the vicinity of Hue.
In reaction to the surprise attack by the enemy into Hue, only 2
US Marine battalions with armor and 3 ARVN battalions with armor were
available to react to the incursion. Eventually, 19 battalions would
be dedicated to the liberation of Hue. The US/ARVN order of battle consisted
of three Marine infantry battalions, five US Army infantry battalions,
and eleven battalions from the 1st ARVN Infantry Division.11 Mobility
assets included armor, landing craft, and helicopters. Combined arms
capability included armor, artillery, naval gunfire, and CAS. With the
absence of operational units within Hue at the outset of the battle,
US/ARVN forces were unable to conduct reconnaissance pull in order to
build a better picture of the enemy situation initially.
TIME: The US/ARVN response to the NVA/VC incursion into Hue was
of critical importance with respect to preventing the enemy from strengthening
his positions within the city to the maximum extent possible and preventing
sustainment efforts from the west. Immediate contact with the enemy
was required in order to wrestle away from him the initiative and upset
his timetable. The fact that the enemy launched his attack against Hue
24-36 hours after the beginning of the Tet offensive allowed the US/ARVN
forces to gain valuable time in its effort to apply immediate pressure
upon the defending NVA/VC forces within Hue. The imposing weather would
provide the greatest impact on the duration of the siege.
OPERATIONAL LESSONS LEARNED
LIMITED WAR vs UNLIMITED WAR: The NVA/VC were prepared to fight
a limited war during their operation against Hue primarily because they
were not capable of waging unlimited war. The sustainment of effort
center of gravity lacked the myriad methods of mobility, other than foot
and river craft resupply, to effect a protracted resupply/reinforcement
effort. This was characterized by the fact that NVA/VC units carried
only enough food for 3-8 days of operation.12 When enemy forces were
not welcomed by the civilian population of Hue as liberators, this drastically
effected the North Vietnamese timetable. In contrast, the US/ARVN forces
initially received a mission of reaction embodied with the constraints
of keeping friendly casualties to a minimum while at the same time sparing
the city from mass destruction. This contradiction placed the US/ARVN
forces into a limited war posture that played into the hands of the occupying
NVA/VC forces. It wasn't until the second week of the battle that President
Thieu authorized the use of tanks, artillery, and air support to assist
in recapturing the city. With full use of combined arms center of gravity
available to the ground forces, US/ARVN forces were capable of unleashing
unlimited war against the NVA/VC. The US/ARVN main effort thus focused
on the destruction of the enemy by massing its combat power and utilized
economy of force by avoiding enemy surfaces and creating lodgements against
enemy gaps. This was most obvious when US/ARVN forces avoided attacking
north across the Perfume River against a viable enemy surface and subsequently
enveloped 1st Bn/5th Marines, via helicopter and landing craft, to strike
from the rear against an enemy gap. The battle of Hue points out that
unless the attacking force is free of constraints to wage siege warfare
against the defending force, the defender must be considered to have
an equal chance to raise the attacker's cost in men and material.13
URBAN WARFARE DELIBERATE ATTACK: A deliberate attack of urban terrain
is comprised of three general sequential phases. These phases are isolate
the area, secure a foothold or lodgement, and initiate systematic clearing
or "salami tactics". The US/ARVN operation against the enemy forces
within Hue deviated from the doctrinal approach stated above. Due to
the element of surprise characterized by the NVA/VC attack, and the lack
of US/ARVN forces within Hue to immediately counter the incursion, isolation
of the area would seem to have been the obvious phase to have initiated.
However, two prominent factors had a direct impact on the inability of
US/ARVN forces to execute the isolation phase. Sufficient ground forces
were not available to conduct a total isolation of Hue due to the fact
that the numerous NVA/VC attacks within the I Corps Tactical Zone during
the opening moments of the Tet offensive precluded the release of units
to Hue until the enemy's strategic reserve was contained. In addition,
poor weather conditions consisting of fog and rain during the monsoon
seasons limited severely the use of CAS and supporting fires. In fact,
total isolation of the battle area was not achieved until 21 February-
almost 3 weeks following US Army forces first arrival on the scene to
the west and southwest of Hue to begin cutting enemy lines of communication
from Hue through the A Shau Valley. Considering that the US Marine forces
attacking from the south beginning on 31 January were able to fix enemy
forces in South Hue while the 3rd ARVN Regiment applied direct pressure
north of the Citadel, both measures appeared to have contributed to taxing
the enemy's sustainment effort earlier than anticipated. It appears
that an alternative to being unable to isolate the area immediately is
to initiate and maintain contact with defending forces from as many directions
as possible in order to buy time until isolation can be achieved. However,
early isolation and encirclement of urban terrain appears to at least
prevent the prolonged battle for control of the city.
INDIGENOUS CONSTABULARY FORCES: By 24 February, the remaining enemy
resistance was contained within the Imperial Palace of the Citadel.
Once it became obvious that these forces would not surrender, US/ARVN
commanders decided to allow the Imperial Palace to be attacked by an
elite volunteer company of the South Vietnameses First Division known
as the Black Panthers.14 A unique trait of the Black Panther organization
was that they were indigenous citizens of Hue. An indigenous element
such as this would have favorable success in liquidating the residual
enemy forces because of their knowledge of the urban terrain, interface
with the civilian population for intelligence collection, and able to
prevent the enemy from blending in with the Hue populace. The IDF(Israeli
Defense Force) during the 1982 Lebanon war attempted to utilize the Christian
Phalange Army of President Gemayel to eradicate the PLO forces isolated
by the Israelis in West Beirut. In future urban warfare, it would be
prudent to exploit a sympathetic government's constabulary or militia
in order to assist in clearing enemy strong points.
SURPRISE vs OFFENSIVE: The NVA/VC forces capitalized on the principle
of surprise with a relative degree of success as it pertained to the
accomplishment of their main effort to seize and control Hue. Numerous
factors attributed to the attainment of the enemy's success. Foremost
was the NVA/VC effort to take advantage of the US/ARVN failure to conduct
reconnaissance pull that led to little information about enemy activity
in the northern I Corps Tactical Zone particularly around Khe Sanh.
This advantage resulted in three NVA regimental size units being piecemealed
into the vicinity of Hue cleverly emanating from three separate divisions
located around Khe Sanh. These infiltration tactics combined with poor
weather and the Tet holiday period enhanced tremendously the success
for surprise. With Hue remotely defended, the NVA/VC forces felt that
they would be welcomed as liberators in the eyes of the Hue population.
Conversely, due to the enemy's underestimation of the will of the
US/ARVN effort and the disturbance of his timetable, the US/ARVN forces
took the initiative through offensive action to force the enemy to respond
to a protracted campaign within and around Hue that he was not prepared
to endure. The US/ARVN aggressive action forced the enemy into a position
of reaction for which the enemy would never again regain the initiative.
Even though the force ratio between the US/ARVN and NVA/VC forces was
at best 2:1, the offensive mind set of US/ARVN forces exemplified by
concentration of forces and speed of action stand out as decisive factors
for the US/ARVN success in recapturing Hue.
TACTICAL LESSONS LEARNED
URBAN TACTICS: The North Vietnamese forces that infiltrated into
Hue established key sector defenses whereby effecting a strongpoint defense
of vital positions particularly those controlling major avenues of approach
within Hue.15 This tactical option was considered credible for defeating
South Vietnamese reaction forces composed of ARVN mechanized convoys.
Key sector defense was designed to separate a mechanized column and piecemeal
destroy it using snipers, automatic weapons and rocket launchers.16
Urban terrain features such as three-story buildings, stone fences, and
sewer manholes provided good fields of fire, street obstacles, and cover
and concealment. This form of defense was probably most appropriate
for the NVA/VC since they lacked the combined arms and mobility capability
to effect either a defense in depth or a mobile defense.
To counter the key sector defense concept, US/ARVN forces executed
a methodical house to house fighting concept attacking strongpoint positions
against known enemy disposition and utilizing overwatch tactics to mutually
support their attacks on a defended city block. This systematic clearing
of enemy strongpoint positions is referred to as salami tactics commonly
used by the IDF(Israeli Defense Force) during the West Beirut siege in
1982 against the PLO(Palestine Liberation Organization). Though this
tactical concept requires more time to conduct, it reduces casualties
for the attacking force while greater sustainment requirements are levied
upon the defending force.
ARMOR: The effect of armor in the battle for Hue was diminished
due to the canalizing effect of urban terrain and the distance they were
being engaged by enemy anti-tank teams. The principle role of the tank
in urban combat is to function as an assault gun providing fire support
to the infantry in the form of neutralizing and suppressing fires utilizing
smoke, HE, and automatic weapons fire as the infantry closes with and
destroys the enemy. When possible, tanks in urban terrain should be
overwatched by other tanks or anti-tank weapons.16 However, the tank
should never be the lead element when advancing through restrictive
terrain. Even though firepower, mobility, and shock effect are reduced,
survivability of the tank is enhanced. During the Stalingrad Campaign,
tank/infantry tactics employed by elements of the Sixth Army were characterized
by assault teams with tanks leading infantry. The results were devestating
due to the Russians' use of key sector defense employing snipers to separate
the infantry following in trace of the tank and then destroying the isolated
tank with anti-tank rockets or sappers. The IDF demonstrated significant
success with tanks in trace of infantry when executing salami tactics
against the cities of Sidon, Tyre, and Beirut in 1982. The key learning
point here is that the success of tank/infantry tactics in urban warfare
is tremendously dependent upon the mutual experience level shared by
ARTILLERY: During the battle for Hue, US artillery was used to
harass and interdict enemy movement and concentration of forces within
the city, and to assist in the severing of enemy lines of communication
west of Hue when weather conditions dictated. Since that time, the emergence
of the 155 mm SP howitzer as an assault gun used against building structures
7-8 stories high has been demonstrated by the IDF in the 1982 Lebanon
War. Special demolition shells, penetrating concrete up to 38 inches
thick, were found to be extremely effective against an enemy force refusing
to abandon his position. The 155 mm SP howitzer would be used in accordance
with existing tank/infantry tactics in urban warfare. The greatest con-
tribution of artillery in urban warfare is its effect on interdicting
lines of communication outside the built-up area where enemy resupply
and reinforcement efforts are conducted. Artillery does not appear to
have the demoralizing effect on enemy forces defending a city as it does
in other terrain. Although anti-aircraft artillery guns were not used
at Hue, their high rates of fire make it an excellent weapon with regard
to shock and destruction potential.18
MORTARS: The battle for Hue created two tactics with mortars that
were very successful. The "willie peter screen" entailed the concentration
of WP followed by HE. Smoke rounds allowed for the concealment of friendly
troop movement while the HE forced NVA/VC troops undercover from shrapnel.19
The other improvision pertained to the actual systematic clearing of
buildings. Pre-registration of enemy avenues of escape from occupied
buildings caused heavy enemy casualties.20 When excellent cover is afforded
defending troops, airburst concentration should be utilized. Where mission
constraints involving destruction of city structures do not exist, incendiary
fires will provide an effect much like a flame weapon.
ANTI-TANK WEAPONS: A dual role of the anti-tank weapon in urban
warfare is its employment against enemy armor/personnel carriers and
urban structures. In lieu of their vertical clearance and range arming
limitations of 65 meters, ATGMs can be used against urban structures,
but multiple shots are required for breaching walls. The LAAW is not
a suitable breaching weapon as evidenced by its performance in Hue. The
3.5 rocket launcher and the 106 mm recoilless rifle contributed significant
success towards the breaching of thick stone walls while providing a
lethal shrapnel effect when directed against the perimeter of an opening
in a wall.21 These direct fire weapon systems have been replaced by a
generation of ATGMs that have provided a greater number of weapon availability
and capability for the destruction of enemy armor but have diminished
the flexibility of its use in urban warfare.
RIOT CONTROL AGENTS: The skilled use of tear gas and smoke by U.S.
Marines in Hue contributed to a decrease in friendly casualties and an
increase in enemy prisoners of war. The implementation of CS via M-79
grenade launchers against NVA/VC elements inside buildings was instrumental
during clearing operations and avoiding civilian casualties. A prudent
enemy such as the North Vietnamese directed their automatic weapons into
the palls created by smoke. Marines used the smoke to draw enemy fire
and then retaliated with direct fire weapons. CS grenades were more
effective in clearing enemy bunkers and sewers than fragmentation grenades.
Marine "tunnel rats" were spared having to wrestle the enemy from these
hardspot positions.22 The M203 40 mm grenade launcher today still provides
Marine units the capability for small unit use of CS and smoke. Even
though virtually every military organization in the world possesses some
form of protection from riot control and chemical agents, the discomfort
and visual limitation of field protective masks makes it very probable
that enemy soldiers will not don it until it is too late.
SMALL UNIT COMMAND/CONTROL: The inability of company and platoon
commanders to see the battlefield during the battle for Hue affected
their ability to always apply accurate, timely, and concentrated firepower
from all organic and supporting weapon systems. Urban terrain limits
the decision making process of even the most well forward commander.
Therefore, the ability to provide a preponderance of combat power to
the main effort may not always be achieved. Marine units operating in
Hue learned quickly the necessity for decentralizing control down to
the squad and fire team level in order to ensure coordination of fire
and maneuver among adjacent units. Service station road maps, possessing
an index depicting shape, location, and number designator for each building/
structure within Hue, were instrumental in allowing commanders to facilitate
some control over the movement of their units.23 Friendly sympathizers
from the civilian population performed an important role as guides and
Although twenty years have elapsed since the battle for Hue, the
military actions executed then are in consonance with the fundamentals
of the maneuver warfare concept revitalized today. US/ARVN forces were
able to recapture Hue even though taxed by such problems as mission constraints,
joint/combined operating forces, and a lack of urban warfare experience.
Despite these deficiencies, US/ARVN forces exploited the NVA/VC's centers
of gravity by directing their main efforts against enemy gaps whereby
forcing the enemy to fight a protracted battle it was not logistically
capable of supporting. The U.S. Marine elements adapted to the urban
environment through trial and error of small unit tactics, fire support,
and command/control with an acceptable degree of casualties considering
this was their first exposure to urban warfare. In the end, it was the
application of US/ARVN centers of gravity in the form of combined arms
and a determined superior will that provided the margin for victory.
Today's Marine Corps lacks the experience, realistic training, and
weapon systems to conduct large-scale urban operations. Since 1968,
the absence of the Marine Corps' participation in urban warfare operations
has had a direct bearing on why attention towards realistic training
has not been pursued. As a result of this inattention to urban warfare,
the Marine Corps' arsenal of weapon systems are less flexible for use
in urban terrain. ATGMs and towed-artillery bear this out. The Marine
Corps needs a training environment accessible to all combat and combat
support commands that provide Marines the training to experience the
effects urban terrain has on their command/control, weapon systems effect
on urban structures, and urban tactics integrated with combined arms.
In order for the United States to protect its military, economic,
and diplomatic interests abroad, the Marine Corps can be expected to
be called upon to preserve these interests. Potential urban hotspots
such as Manila, San Salvador, and even Beirut may be the future battleground.
Marxist insurgency and terrorist activity usually seek the haven of urban
environments where populations of the Third World can be used as hostage
to mask their efforts. The commitment of the Marine Corps to an urban
environment in the future very likely will not have the advantage of
forces already presently operating in the vicinity as the United States
enjoyed in 1968 Vietnam.
1 Department of the Army, The War in the Northern Provinces 1966-1968,
2 History and Museum Divisions, The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973,
Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1985, pp.107-108.
3 Department of the Army, p. 40.
4 Louis Peake, The Battle for Hue Tet 1968(Vermont: Weapons and Warfare
Press, 1986), p.9.
5 Department of the Army, pp. 44-45.
6 History and Museum Divisions, p. 159.
7 Ibid, p. 159.
8 R.D. McLaurin et al, Modern Experiences in City Combat (Maryland:
U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory, 1987), p. 67.
9 Peake, p. 12.
10 History and Museum Divisions, p. 110.
11 Department of the Army, p. 48.
12 Ibid, p. 49.
13 McLaurin, p. 38.
14 Peake, p. 11.
15 McLaurin, p. 27.
16 History and Museum Divisions, p. 160.
17 MCDEC, USMC, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain, OH 8-7 (Quantico
1980), p. 7-6.
18 McLaurin, p. 29.
19 History and Museum Divisions, p. 161.
20 Ibid, pp. 161-162.
21 Ibid, p. 161.
22 Ibid, pp. 162-163.
23 Ibid, p. 163.
1. Department of the Army. The War in the Northern Provinces 1966-1968.
Vietnam Studies, Washington, D.C. 1974.
2. History and Museums Divisions, The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973.
Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1985.
3. McLaruin, R.D. et al. Modern Experience in City Combat. Aberdeen
Proving Ground, Maryland: U. S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory, 1987.
4. Peake, Louis A. The Battle for Hue Tet 1968. Vermont: Weapons and
Warfare Press, 1986.
5. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Ground
Combat Operations, OH 6-1. Quantico, 1988.
6. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command.
Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain, OH 8-7. Quantico, 1980.
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