Chinese Bandits LRRP Tm and NVA Communications Evaluation

J

Jerome Conners

Guest
A Division directed patrol to evaluate NVA communications in the late spring of 1966, by SGT Jerry Conners, Chinese Bandit 13

I was informed by SSG Robert F. Grimes, Jr. (Acting Platoon Leader of the Recon Platoon) that my scout squad would conduct a three-day patrol in the mountainous area along the border south of the Dak Rolong river. He accompanied me to Division HQs where we received a briefing and were introduced to a 1LT communications officer that would be accompanying us during the operation. The LT was not assigned to the 1st Cav but to a unit based in the United States and would only be in country long enough to conduct the patrol and debriefings before returning Stateside. I do not recall his unit or where he was stationed. He had not received any special ranger type training but had a good attitude and willingness to get the job done.

The operations order, maps and aerial photographs that we received indicated that we would be inserted in the late evening near the border. We were to immediately move about 10 miles, initially westward and then southward along the border to a hilltop where the commo officer, using special communications equipment, would attempt to locate and monitor NVA radio traffic and determine if the NVA were using Soviet-block communications equipment that could locate our radios when transmitting and were capable of making our radios transmit when powered on and receiving. I was previously unaware that such technology existed and was in use by the Soviets. We were instructed to keep our radios powered on during the entire patrol and make two long situation reports, one in the morning and one in the evening prior to moving to the second hilltop located about 10 miles further south. Both hilltops overlooked valleys into Laos that contained expected NVA Regimental size CPs and provided line of sight between our radios and the NVA positions. We were directed to make one final transmission on the third day prior to moving to the extraction site located east of the border during the early morning hours. We were tasked to provide a pre-arranged fire plan that relied soley on TAC Air and gunships from the 1st Cav.

Grimes did not go on the patrol but assisted my scout squad in the planning and preparation for the patrol. He and I prepared the fire support plan after providing the first formal warning order to the patrol. The communications LT joined the patrol at our base camp in AnKhe and participated in warning and operations orders and rehearsals where it was necessary to provide him the appropriate clothing, LBE and rig his equipment to achieve the needed ‘silencing’. We practiced movement in the tree area behind the Mustang LZ opposite our tents until the LT was sufficiently proficient at moving quietly and coordinating his movements well with the other members of the patrol. The LT answered all of my technical questions on the special equipment he carried on a rucksack like frame suspended by shoulder straps. Frank Spickler, my scout squad team leader, and myself carried one small IR device, field binoculars and a set of maps and aerial photos. All members were provided and carried a single topographic map of a scale that covered the entire patrol route. Stevens, my RTO, was to carry his PRC-25 with antennas and SOI, and would follow me during movement. One of the other scouts carried a spare battery for the radio. Tyler would be on point, as usual, and in front of me during movement. The communications LT would follow Stevens and remain under my direct control. Frank chose Carley, without his M60, and Frank Cunningham as rear security. Cunningham had recently joined the scout squad as a replacement for C R Hatcher who had been killed at Bong Son. Cunningham had been levied from the 8th Infantry’s Long Range Patrol Company stationed in Germany. He had quickly adapted to our procedures and movement in the Central Highlands.

All members, except the communications LT, carried our normal LBE without rucksacks, and wore snap links with wrapped 550 chord for emergency rigging, and M16 rifles (without slings and taped for silencing). All wore our prized patrol caps with ‘merit badges’ and one was loaned to the LT for use during the patrol. LRRP rations were carried in the jungle fatigue pockets, three meals for three days. Most members carried jungle chocolate candy bars and would eat the paper wrappers (a LRRP tradition, if not it should be). No claymores or grenades and only two smoke grenades were carried. Our plan was to break contact and run if detected. Special rallying points were pre-selected and easily identified along the intended route. I also carried my 101st Recondo soap dish containing emergency medical supplies secured to my LBE harness, one VS17 air panel and signal mirror. All patrol members carried a military lensatic compass, except myself, who carried an M-2 compass. As usual, we chose to go lightly equipped, allowing rapid movement though the mountainous jungle.

We had developed many SOPs and did not practice them but spent three days preparing for the patrol by studying and memorizing the maps, aerial photos, routes and pre-planned fire locations; and at least one trip to Sin City to visit Bic Lin and our other favorites. The aerial photos contained excellent detail and I chose not to perform a recon flight of the area prior to insertion; however, Air Force low level photo missions were flown to provide current aerial photos one day prior to the insertion. All photographs and reports indicated that the NVA troop concentrations were not in the area where we would be working. Our actual route selections were chosen along trails that were clearly depicted in the aerial photographs and we intended to use them until human footprints or other indicators of human activity were encountered.

Two UH-1s arrived at the Mustang LZ where we boarded and were inserted about 30 minutes before EECT. We moved as planned to the first hilltop without any indication of enemy or human activity. The commo LT, my RTO and myself occupied a small open area on the hill where we positioned our communications equipment and antennas in line of site into Laos. Frank Spickler and the other patrol members occupied approximate pre-arranged positions further down hill adjacent to the trail leading to and from the hilltop. Tyler and Cunningham were at one location and Spickler and Carley at the other. Prior to splitting up, the IR device I carried was given to Cunningham. The two teams would use the IR equipment carefully during the night. Everyone shared the IR equipment to investigate any sound that usually revealed trailing ants, large black scorpions, snakes, or large mammals including tigers. The devices were powered by BA-30 batteries and transmitted an IR beam that could be seen with any IR receiver, a potentially dangerous piece of equipment if the enemy has IR receivers in use. The use of IR devices by the NVA was routinely included on the EEI list provided during the Division reconnaissance operations. To my knowledge none was detected or captured in our area of operations during the 1965 to early summer 1966 period.

LRRP rations were heated by adding water and placing the pouch against the chest between the body and the fatigue shirt. Water was obtained from the streams we crossed. No rain was anticipated and no rain gear was carried. Each person carried a single camouflage poncho liner in the small butt pack. The routine resting position during darkness consisted of leaning against a tree along the trail and wrapping the poncho liner around the back and shoulders, if a person needed it, with the M-16 cradled on your lap. During daylight hours the individuals moved further down hill, but remained close to the trail near a tree. Leeches were always a problem, not the larger aquatic species, but the small black damp soil types. Mosquito repellant was carried by most and used to remove the leeches that accumulated when moving through areas that were infested with them. We always adjusted our planned observation sites to avoid them. I encouraged the scouts not to use mosquito repellent or anything that had an odor that masked the natural smells of the jungle and the enemy. However, we all whimped out occasionally and put on liberal amounts of the repellent. Obviously smoking was banned and I discouraged the scouts from smoking even in base camp. Photographs taken in base camp, etc. of the era indicate that I was ignored.

The commo LT was unable to record NVA radio traffic and did not detect any enemy communications equipment attempting to locate our transmitter or activate our transmitter during the entire patrol. Our twice-daily SOI coded situation reports were transmitted to airborne aircraft that operated above us during transmissions.

We moved to the second hilltop as planned and did not detect any human activity and no enemy activity was observed on the other side of the border. We did encounter two wild elephants along the trail on the second day of movement.

We were extracted on the third day without any enemy contact and no injuries. The normal debriefing occurred after the patrol members consolidated all notes and memories. Notes were recorded on a small notebook using a wood lead pencil that was carried in the breast pocket by all team members. Many interesting topics were recorded in those booklets.

Grimes accompanied me to Division HQs where I gave the debriefing to a room of senior officers and NCOs. When I completed the briefing and stated, "The time is now, what are your questions?" the audience was most interested in the patrol’s physical well being and means of remaining undetected. I expressed my concerns that the boot imprint that we made warranted a special sole that resembled a human footprint or NVA style footgear. We had discussed this amongst the scouts for several months but had not attempted to have a pair made locally. After six months in country most of the scouts were very thin and most had malaria. Grimes and I looked very thin compared to others present and that became an issue of discussion that included our efforts to select persons having only relatively mild reactions to malaria. Medical doctors were present and a General grade officer ordered them "to look into that."

We returned to the company area at AnKhe and informed the patrol and other assembled scouts of what had occurred at the debriefing. It was obvious that we had accomplished another noteworthy achievement. I remembering feeling proud until George Conrad walked, no strutted, into our area wearing his captured NVA (or Chinese Advisor) belt and pistol. But that is a story that can only be told by Conrad.

I do not recall believing this to be a LRRP patrol and we did not call it such. We conducted many two and three-day operations, often distant enough to be beyond the range of any fire support other than aerial. The patrol was special and remains a high light in my military experience. I mailed my green memo booklet describing this operation home to my brother and Father but efforts to locate the booklet have been unsuccessful. My notes included sunbathing on the hilltop wearing only my issued tan diving trunks that I occasionally wore under my jungle fatigues. My Father felt that was inappropriate...ex-WWII-Korea-JUSMAG and he told me so when I came home a few months later. He has significantly more combat time, decorations and purple hearts, therefore, I don’t argue with him.
 
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