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Landing Force - Then and Now (cont'd)

RECENTLY, landing operations have centered in an area called the Rung Sat, which in Vietnamese means dense jungle. U. S. troops have learned to call it other things. The whole region is covered with thick mangrove swamps, so thick that a man with a full pack often finds himself thrashing around for 20 minutes in an effort to advance 20 feet.

In this area, landings over the beaches are somewhat impractical. There is a small beach, of course, but when the troops have crossed it, there is practically nowhere to go. At least, not effectively.

For this reason, the assault forces operating in the Rung Sat area have taken a tip from the enemy. The Viet Cong use the many rivers like roads through the jungle, moving supplies and equipment from place to place in homemade sampans and junks. U. S. forces and their Vietnamese comrades have taken to the rivers, too.

DAWN ATTACK - Navymen control landing of amphibious craft in Vietnam. Below: MORE POWER - Ontos on LST helps lay down support fire during landing.

Many of the landings are being made along the banks of the Soirap River, in an effort to find and destroy the concentrations of Viet Cong guerrillas entrenched in the swamps. From the amphibious ready group in the South China Sea, the landing forces are dispatched up these rivers, with orders to seek out the enemy.

When the World War II order was given to land amphibious craft, it meant hundreds of boats churning toward the beach. Today's landing force usually consists of about 20 landing craft, gliding up the river one behind the other in a convoy. It's an odd looking group, often surrounded by Vietnamese Navy junks, who join U. S. Navy gunboats and Swift boats to form a protective screen for the troop-laden landing craft.

IN PREVIOUS YEARS, amphibious forces have been trained to think in terms of the big push, with thousands of men rushing over the beaches in one big landing operation. Today's landings are more like a series of small nudges, up, and down the rivers of the Rung Sat.

Because of the difficulty in movement overland, the concept of vertical assault has proven highly effective against the Viet Cong in this region. But here, too, there are problems of terrain. The helo pilot may see a patch of seemingly clear ground on which to land, that turns out to be an uninviting spot into which to jump. During a recent landing, the embarked Marines jumped into water up to their waists, then spent the next 24 hours up to their necks in it, as they painstakingly searched for the Viet Cong.

But the real key to the assaults on the river banks is the old reliable LST, or tank landing ship. Where deepdraft ships simply can not make it up the rivers, the LSTs, with their shallow draft, can make it with ease. They slip up the rivers, stick their noses into the swamp, along the river bank, drop the ramp, and unload their cargo of troops.

The LSTs often have unusual configurations. With only a couple of machine guns for firepower, the amphibious forces have come up with yet another example of improvising to get the job done. The LSTs' firepower is increased by strapping an antitank vehicle (called an Ontos) to the deck, and using its guns against the Viet Cong on the river banks.

Although the blast of the Onto's gun sometimes shakes windshields out of the embarked vehicles, and breaks light-bulbs throughout the ship, it provides an excellent means of fire support for the landing force.

Where World War II assault troops were often two or three divisions strong, the Rung Sat landing forces are usually only of battalion size, and are known as the Special Landing Force. Their mission is to search and destroy. When they are landed, they fan out and search for the Viet Cong, when intelligence reports have previously indicated they are established in the area.

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