After Action Report: Thanh Hoa Bridge - Part 1
In the first part of this Harpoon - Ultimate Edition AAR, the famed USS Kitty Hawk heads to North Vietnam to lay Thanh Hoa bridge to waste while battling against two foes: the NVA and time itself!
- cold war, vietnam conflict, air combat, real-time, tactical, fixed-wing / airplane combat, naval combat, asia
My past AARs have been chronological records, detailed down to the level of individual weapons. This one will be more conceptual and graphical. The report will be presented in segments.
We have been instructed to destroy the Thanh Hoa Bridge within 12 hours, while keeping casualties below a certain level. The first thing I am going to do is redefine the objectives. What the victory conditions consider to be acceptable casualties, I consider to be horrendous casualties. There is no justification for losing any planes to enemy fighters or SAMs in this scenario. The only losses I am prepared to accept are Intruders or Corsairs, and only because most of their available weapons are iron bombs, and someone has to take out the AAA. The B-52s wonít be bombing anything that can shoot back. I will be aiming for zero casualties.
The mission I have chosen to accept is to do as much damage to the bridge as possible in 12 hours, while keeping my casualties as close to zero as possible.
The time period in question is well before what is normal for Harpoon. In order to simulate this, it is necessary to not use many of the weapons that could be used. For example, we could just arm every Corsair with Harpoons and lay waste to everything in sight. That might provide some amusement, but not much. However, the restriction has been implemented in large measure by providing only early model airplanes.
What exactly constitutes reasonable restrictions? I donít know, but I will simply not rearm any unit with anything other than the initial loadout. What this means is that only 6 of our attack aircraft have ďstand-offĒ weapons, and this wonít be enough to destroy the enemy air defences. Primary targets will be the SAM sites. After that, we will use rockets against the AAA, but mostly, we will have to use iron bombs. This is a recipe for losing airplanes.
Our fighters completely outclass the opposition. Our Phantoms carry 8 missiles, all of which outrange anything the enemy fighters carry. Even some of our attack aircraft can do a job on the enemy fighters. The Vietnamese have MiG-17Fs, which only have guns, MiG-19s, and MiG-21MFs. Their maximum missile range is 4 nm. Each Phantom should be able to safely shoot down 2 (maybe 3) enemy fighters, and we have 24 of them. Unfortunately, the enemy has over 80 fighters, so we will need 2 fighter sweeps, using all available fighters.
One important difficulty we will encounter though: will probably be rather difficult to locate the enemy airplanes. In particular, the MiG-17s are VERY hard to locate. Itís almost as if they have cloaking devices. I think it has mainly to do with the fact that they donít have missiles, so they never turn their radars on.
The second phase of the battle will match our attack aircraft against ground defences. The Vietnamese AAA exists in 3 flavors: small, medium, and large (Ks-19, 100 mm). Only the KS-19 has a range that is equivalent to the rockets on the Corsairs, and it is likely only this weapon that will inflict any casualties. However, since all the AAA has a range less than 5 nm, we may be able to just stay away from the guns. The enemy SAMs are SA-2s, which have a range of 24 nm. These weapons will be priority targets for our Standard ARMs. Unfortunately, only 4 of our airplanes carry Standard missiles, for a total of only 8 in the entire force (per attack wave). Still, I think that this phase of the battle will also be very much in our favor.
The third phase of the battle will see a dozen Stratofortresses dropping 18 tons of bombs each on the bridge, possibly supported by the attack aircraft. Or maybe we will use 500 lb bombs; they seem to do more damage per pound.
As to ships, we have ships, they donít. Nuff said. Nor do they have anything else that could possibly harm our ships.
As if that werenít enough, all our aircraft have a much larger range than the Vietnamese ones, plus we have tankers, plus we have AEW aircraft and EW aircraft.
So overall, this scenario looks to be very much in our favor.
Our ships start the scenario merrily cruising along at 19 kn, well away from the target area. I am not going to spend any time discussing this, because I donít think itís important and there could be an awful lot to consider. However, on general principles, I slow the fleet to creep speed (5 kn) and spread the formation out a bit Ė line ahead, 5 nm separation, DDG in front, CG behind.
As mentioned earlier, I am expecting no threats to the fleet, air, surface, or subsurface. We rule the seas. Period.
Thanh Hoa Bridge is near the west edge of the Gulf of Tonkin, which opens to the east and SE. There is land in all other directions. This means that there could be SAMs and such everywhere but directly to the east and SE of the bridge. Therefore the bombers need to approach the bridge from those directions to avoid the maximum number of ground defences.
There is a small airbase 10 nm W of the bridge, and a major one (Hanoi) 75 nm N. We may need to destroy the small base.
We have an airbase 500 nm SW of Thanh Hoa Bridge. Our fleet is about 330 nm SE of the bridge, in the South China Sea, directly S of Hainan, and will remain approximately there for the duration of the scenario. Both American airbases are secure because the Vietnamese have nothing resembling a bomber. However, there may be PT boats in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Continue After Action Review: Thanh Hoa Bridge on the next page!