By Richard H Dick James
55 years ago, February-March 1966, I was a SGT E-5 assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in South Vietnam. I was assigned as the Demolition Specialist at Camp Cai Cai (SF Detachment A-412) in the northern Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. The main consideration for all Special Forces CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka VN “mercenaries” paid by us) camps was camp security and defense. Because almost all our camps were in no-man’s land, generally not within the protective umbrella of artillery support, or near any base that could supply quick reinforcements, the camps had to be as defendable as possible against enemy attack. Constant patrolling was a large part of that security. We had numerous daily operations patrolling outwardly from the camp. This was the most positive way to keep the enemy from building up forces, prior to a camp attack, as well as to keep them off balance. Of course, the more successful the camp was in its patrolling, the more the enemy would wish to make them a target. It was a two-way street. Because of the “Rules of Engagement” (ROE), the only place we couldn’t patrol was into Cambodia, which was a VC haven. It was also a perfect place for enemy forces to mass for an attack on the camp. All Special Forces/LLDB/CIDG camps were vulnerable to attack. It was pretty much a given that any camp could be overrun by the enemy any time, because of our remote locations. All the enemy had to do was gather enough intelligence (which they usually were able to do from local citizens and embedded VC infiltrators in our CIDG ranks) and be determined to take a camp because the camp was a major thorn in their plans. The enemy could mass enough men to overrun our camps, but they had to be willing to suffer major casualties, in fact many more than we would suffer. Maintaining good relations with nearby villages, as well as establishing a good intelligence net within the villages, were other methods of dulling a potential attack on the camp. Numerous camp shapes existed, all shaped so as to maximize defense. Camp Cai Cai was triangular in shape, with raised, machinegun bunkers on the corners, and dense barbed wire (including concertina, double apron, and tanglefoot wire) and explosive devices (mostly Claymore mines) in the “no man’s land” area surrounding the camp. The triangular shape was one of the favorite camp shapes, making it possible for the corner machine gun bunkers, at 2 of the 3 corners, to bring heavy fire upon any of the three walls. Cai Cai had great open fields of fire for defensive purposes.
There was no tall vegetation, nor any hills or gullies, anywhere near the camp, for the enemy to sneak through. That resulted in the enemy being in the open when attacking from any direction, a good defensible position. The outer defensive perimeter was very wide, consisting of numerous obstacles facing an attacking force. The only defensive devices initiated by trip wire were trip flares, placed in the outer perimeter. Trip wire actuated explosive devices were not utilized due to the possibility of actuation by animals, work crews, or extreme weather. The first obstacles consisted of double apron barbed wire fence, tangle foot, trip flares, triple concertina wire fence, Claymore directional mines, and quite a few fougasse devices. The double apron fence was about three feet high and eight feet deep (horizontally), erected with metal posts and strung barbed wire, with the center section being the tallest. It presented the first barrier for the enemy to infiltrate. Although not a perfect barrier, it nevertheless was difficult enough to breach so as to slow the enemy’s forward movement.
The usual method of breaching that barrier was using explosives, namely Bangalore torpedoes. However, using explosives resulted in losing the surprise factor, if the attacking unit hadn’t been detected yet. Cutting the lower strands with wire cutters was another method, although extremely time consuming. Placing improvised scaling ladders over the fence was yet another option, but this placed the attacking troops in direct view of the camp defenders. The tangle foot was barbed wire stretched out in no particular manner, attached to short stakes, about a foot off the ground. It was designed to trip enemy troops as they rushed the target. The barbed wire was at a height of six to eight inches above the ground, designed to trip an assaulting force. It also kept the enemy from being able to crawl during their assault, forcing them to make better targets of themselves as they attempted to pass through that ten foot long hindrance. Trip flares were interspersed throughout the defensive perimeter. They served two purposes, warning of enemy in the wire and illuminating that same enemy.
The next barrier the enemy met was the triple concertina. Concertina wire came in coiled lengths that could be stretched out. A triple concertina barrier consisted of two stretched coils running parallel across the defensive barrier, with a third stretched coil attached on top of the other two. An imposing structure, it was about six feet high and six feet deep. The triple concertina could be breached using the same methods as used on double apron fences, with the same basic positive and negative results. Claymore mines were deadly directional mines, fired from within the camp, utilizing an electrical circuit. The Claymores consisted of more than 700 metal balls which, when fired, covered a 60 degree arc of deadly projectiles traveling more than 100 yards. Claymore mines were also used as offensive weapons in an ambush, and defensive perimeter weapons at RON (remain overnight) sites during multi-day operations in the AO (Area of Operations). Flame fougasse was a homemade mixture of gas and soap flakes (not the detergent type) in drums, placed to be a part of the defensive perimeter of the camp. The drums were placed on raised platforms. An explosive charge was placed against the drum. When enemy entered the defensive perimeter, the fougasse was detonated electrically from inside the camp, lighting the enemy on fire with the napalm-like fiery jelly substance, as well as lighting the night sky.
The final barriers the enemy had to breach, before reaching the camp berm, were the moat surrounding the camp and a line of concertina wire on the outer side of the berm. All-in-all the outer perimeter made for a very difficult, although not unbreachable, set of barriers and hindrances. Individual protective bunkers were dug into the berm surrounding the camp for the CIDG defenders to utilize during attacks. The bunkers were constructed with sandbags. Firing ports faced the outer perimeter, and sandbags lined the entrances from inside the camp. Overhead protection was afforded using corrugated sheet metal, with a single layer of sandbags on top. Just inside the berms, scattered around the perimeter, were numerous small CONEX (CONtainer EXpress) containers, used to store ammunition. The containers were large steel boxes utilized as shipping containers for bulk materials aboard cargo ships and aircraft. They were waterproof, with very strong, ribbed walls. On the east-northeast side of our camp, just inside the berm and near the eastern tip of the triangular camp, was a 25-30 feet tall sturdy wooden observation tower.
The tower was build using timber framework, with two wooden floors, a triple-decker tower, counting the base. On top of the tower, accessed via a very tall permanent wooden ladder, was our Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun, mounted on a sturdy vertical metal stand. The weapon was air-cooled, belt fed, and recoil operated. The .50-caliber was a great weapon for defensive purposes. It was very powerful (able to penetrate masonry walls), accurate, and devastating to personnel and wheeled vehicles. It could rain heavy, effective, deadly fire on any enemy attacking the camp. It had a maximum range of 7,400 yards, a maximum effective range of about 1,900 yards (about a mile), and a maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. The .50-caliber position was protected by a mix of soil-filled ammunition boxes and sandbags, with a corrugated sheet metal roof. Observing from the top level of the tower, one could see for a long distance (including into Cambodia), because the land around the camp area was so flat, with minimal plant growth (except along the river’s edge). These towers were known by many as “Medal of Honor towers,” because of the dangers involved with being in the tower during an attack or barrage. On each of the three corners of the camp were air-cooled Browning M1919A6 .30-cal. light machine guns, mounted on M2 tripods. They were housed in bunkers made with cinder blocks filled with concrete and firing ports on three sides. The bunkers were built using two separate cinder block walls, with dirt packed between the walls. Numerous ammunition cans for the machine guns were stored in the bunker. Cai Cai had been frequently attacked, hence the abnormal extra thick bunker walls. In fact, the camp had defended itself from two major attacks in 1965, shortly after construction. Atop the bunkers were guard posts, each made of double thick sandbags, stacked about three feet high. The guard posts were covered by corrugated sheet metal roofs, held up by 4”x4” wooden posts. The tin roofs were only used for protection from rain and the hot sun. The outer parts of the bunker walls were also protected by sloped barbed wire aprons and Claymore mines wired to metal picket posts. From Book #3, of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”). # 2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Diagram of Camp Cai Cai (my diagram) / Claymore mine [pack of cigarettes shows size] / Camp observation tower / Outside of east corner defensive position (my photos)SLURP SENDS!