Snuffies - 3rd platoon D company, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry
Republic of Vietnam, 1969
By Rodney H. George
I served as a platoon leader with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment May, 1969 to December, 1969. The 11th ACR is known as the Blackhorse regiment. The official motto of the regiment is Allons, but the unofficial and much more commonly cited motto is find the bastards, then pile on. Combat with the Blackhorse was quite a bit different from the movie depictions of combat in Vietnam which tends to show small infantry formations in light jungle terrain. The Blackhorse was a full armored regiment, the largest armored unit in Vietnam. It consisted of twelve line companies equipped with the medium M48A3 90mm gun tank, the light M551 152mm gun tank, and ACAV's, modified M113 armored personnel carriers with three machine guns, plus an air Cav troop equipped with Cobra attack helicopters. Each of the three squadrons had a full battery of self propelled 155mm howitzers in direct support, augmenting the organic M107 4.2" mortar carriers in each troop. For most of 1969 the Blackhorse operated northwest of Saigon near the provincial capital of Quan Loi on the Cambodian border. Much of this area is rolling hill country and rubber plantations, with some jungle on the western side. The entire area was generally passable to tanks for most of the year and most combat occurred between mounted cavalry units and dug in NVA infantry. The basic mission was to act as a screening force preventing the ready flow of men and material from the Cambodian terminus of the Hoi Chi Minh trail to Saigon. The opposing forces were not the lightly armed guerillas popular in Hollywood epics, but consisted of the 7th Division and the 101D regiment of the 1st division of the North Vietnamese Army. These troops were fully equipped with excellent radio communications and a plethora for antitank weapons including rocket propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, mortars, 122mm rockets and excellent Soviet antitank mines. Most of the civilian populations had fled the border area, so most actions involved confrontations between regular army units on an otherwise empty battlefield.
In Vietnam the typical infantry combat in the field consisted of an NVA initiated contact, followed by the US infantry withdrawing to allow artillery and tactical air power to operating with minimum danger to US forces, followed by an sweep by US infantry through the contested area. The infamous body counts were often interpolated by infantry - "we fired 130 rounds of 155mm against entrenched infantry. Studies show one round in three causes a causality, so we must have inflicted 42 causalities, although the area is too mangled to find them." These tactics did minimize US causalities, however the NVA and VC soon learned that they could strike with impunity so long as they quickly left the area of the attack before artillery could be called in on their positions. The Blackhorse used somewhat different tactics. With a heavily armored combat vehicle, each of which carried a basic load of ammunition weighing more than one ton and which could move at 30 mph in the rubber, the Blackhorse tactic was to meet any contact with a full assault by all the Blackhorse elements in the area, giving the NVA no time to withdraw to safety. Contacts were frequent in 1969 as the Blackhorse also adopted a goal of remaining in the field at all times. Infantry battalions normally operated in a "two up, one back" schedule with two companies in the field while the third recovered in base camp, effectively cutting the available force by a third. The Blackhorse tried to keep all four troops of each squadron in the field all the time, returning to a secured area only when absolutely required by critical maintenance. Major vehicle maintenance, including power plant replacements, was performed in defensive positions hurriedly cleared in the jungle. During my eight months in country, I was in Xuan Loc, the Blackhorse base camp, for four days. Many troopers never saw it at all.
Over the course of 1969 we saw the NVA become much less willing to engage Blackhorse units. The most distinctive combat vehicle in the Blackhorse inventory was the ACAV, a boxy M113 with a round gun shield mounted to protect the track commander's 50 caliber machine gun, and two M60 7.62mm machine guns protected by armor shields on each side of the rear cargo bay. Many times prisoners told us that their orders were "don't fight the vehicles with tubs on top. Wait for others." Their caution may have been justified. In many months in '69 the Blackhorse had more confirmed enemy kills than division sized units operating in the same area. And the Blackhorse paid the price. I recall holding a parade in the field in August '69 to honor three 1/11 troopers who had reached their DEROS date and who were going home. Many troopers didn't make it to DEROS. Infantry call themselves grunts and any one who has ever humped an 80lbs basic load in the field knows one of the reasons why. In '69 Blackhorse troopers called ourselves Snuffies, in our case because one moment you are alive and the next after an RPG hits your vehicle or a command detonated goes off under you, you just are not. But grunts and Snuffies share the share the important trait that we can take whatever is thrown at us. The following stories were written for the Snuffies of D company, 1/11: