As children we were indoctrinated by films and literature (of a war or western genre) that inferred only the ‘baddies’ employed the tactic of an ambush against the ‘goodies’ ... never the other way around. In reality, because an ambush gave such a decided advantage to the party setting it, the ploy was indeed adopted by all sides in any confrontation, in all wars.
The Viet Minh, masters in guerrilla warfare, employing mainly hit and run Fabian tactics, had used the ambush to great effect against the French forces in Indochina. Subsequently, the Viet Cong continued the widespread use of this tactic against the Americans and South Vietnamese forces. Due to the different patrolling techniques employed by the Australians, the Viet Cong had only limited success using this ploy in Phuoc Tuy Province. In fact they had the tables turned on them on many occasions.
♪♪ Oh, the history books tell, us ... they tell it so well,
The cavalries charged ... the Indians fell;
The cavalries charged ... the Indians died,
For the county was youn-g, ... with God on its side! ♪♪
- from the song With God On Our Side, by Manfred Mann,1968.
Playing children’s games,
Using famous names,
Right up till we reached our teens;
Tom Mix and Roy,
Favourites of each boy,
Cowboy idols on silver screens.
Cavalry columns would ride,
And Indians died,
On open plains where they lined to meet;
Marshals beat the draws,
Of all bad outlaws,
Clean gunfights on a town’s main street.
I really don’t know,
It just appeared so,
All ‘goodies’ hats worn were white;
Winners won girls,
Made much better worlds,
Evil overcome by what was right.
Whilst it seemed a fact,
Only those in black,
(Their skin, or the clothes they’d wear),
Played a coward’s game,
With a sinister name,
An ambush, somehow, just didn’t seem fair.
Yet, in guerrilla wars,
Life is played by a ‘rule of thumb’;
Searching for signs,
Avoiding deadly mines,
Seeing things you can’t tell your mum.
And it haunts me still,
That contact drill,
Or the screams of a wounded mate;
Confused young ‘boys’,
Amongst firefight noise,
Or the silence when we’d lie in wait.
For men in black,
On a well-worn track,
Claymores set, then you’re on your own;
Till a party of them,
Two or maybe ten,
‘Diddy-bopped’ through our killing zone.
A woman’s eyes stared,
Hidden guilt we shared,
Perhaps unfair, but still, we all knew,
A.K.s and rockets thus,
Did the same to us,
Since they often set an ambush too.
Burning huts and crops,
Our orders on ‘ops’,
‘Tankies’ and chopper crews too, no doubt;
Harassing ‘arty’ feared,
Patrolled jungles to flush them out.
Searching tunnels and caves,
Digging shallow graves,
Ransacking homes of those called ‘Nogs’;
Destroying bunker hides,
Till morale subsides,
Hunted down like a pack of dogs.
Until the C.O.’s Sioux ,
On a ‘recce’ flew,
Would locate one more likely place;
One more night in rain,
Perhaps for us in vain,
And then maybe a rest on base.
So you’d lie awake,
Joints and eyes would ache,
Straining blackness, visibility nil;
Gun gripped ready,
Fingers curled, nerves steady,
In an ambush ... designed to kill.