The 1/92nd Field
Life on Firebase Six - 1969
| The mission of the Field Artillery Battery located on FSB 6 was to provide fire support for U.S. and allied units in the area. Survival on the firebase was possible, but most of the time not very comfortable, it was downright aggravating, but the ingenuity and flexibility of young American Soldiers is unlimited.
FSB 6 was only about three hundred meters long and two hundred meters wide. The soldiers of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 92nd Field Artillery lived in this small area. The position consisted of six M114A1 (155mm) Howitzers, a Fire Direction Center (FDC) and mess facilities. Additionally, the Command Post, a helicopter landing pad and other facilities necessary for survival in combat occupied this small mountain top. It was a rugged looking place to say the least. To a 19 year old private just out of AIT at Fort Sill, this place seemed like the end of the world. I had no idea when I arrived there that I would spend eight out of the 12 months of my tour in Vietnam on this firebase.
The general living conditions on FSB 6 were not great, but they were toleable. The bunkers were constructed of perforated steel plating (PSP), sandbags, timbers or logs and either elephant hide or ponchos for waterproofing. We also discoveed that half of a large culvert made an excellent bunker. It was waterproof so all you had to do was sandbag it and build a blast wall for cover at each end. At times, the rain seemed like a greater enemy than the NVA; it was with us more frequently. We could never get dry. As soon as you put a pair of dry fatigues on, the FDC sent down a fire mission.
I arrived at FSB 6 in May, 1969. Duringmy first weeks I got very little sleep. It rained constantly and we fired hundreds of fire missions. On 9 May, 1969, at 1035 hours Dak To, FSB 6 and Ben Het began receiving constant standoff attacks. During the weeks that followed, these three positions received a total of 397 incoming rounds of almost every caliber in the enemy arsenal. The battery continued to provide fire support to the maneuver forces and counterfire despite the devasting attacks. The month of June brought no respite for the beseiged Ben Het-Dak To region. By the week of 7-13 June 1969 it became apparent that the enemy was turning the brunt of its attack toward Ben Het. Throughout the battle of Ben Het, the 1st Battalion, 92nd Artillery expended 49,041 rounds against enemy forces estimated to be in excess of 5,000. This indoctrination provided me an excellent opportunity to enhance my gunnery skills and figure out what was going on in the Field Artillery.
The nights were very long interrupted by numerous firemissions. We were fortunate if we could get a few minutes of sleep each night. Days were spent maintaining our equipment, receiving ammunition and firing more missions. We kept this pace up for two months.
We had to be ready at all times to deliver fire. To do this the Cheif of the firing batteryand the XO would lay the battery each evening, just before dark, on azimuths of 6400 and 3200 mils. We would then emplace our aiming post at a deflection of 2400 mils. I have never seen the technique that we used in a book, but it worked. Azimuth markers were emplaced every 400 mils around the parapet to make it easier for us to get on the correct azimuth. The M12-seruespanoramic telescope was used on the M114A1. All a gunner had to do was remember 2400, 5600 and 8800 and he could calculate the base deflection for any azimuth. If the azimuth of fire was less than 2400 he subtracted it from 2400; if it was greater than 2400 but less than 5600 he subtracted it from 5600; and if it was greater than 5600 he subtracted it from 8800.
To lay the howitzer, the gunner placed the calculated deflection on the pantel and shfted trails until the vertical hair line in the panoramic telescope was on the aiming post. A speedjack was used to make it easy to shift trails to any azimuth. All the Cheif of Smoke had to do was to give us a safety check from the safety circle and we were ready to fire. This was an extremely fast method of laying without using an aiming circle.
To stabilize the howitzer in position, we drug in heavy timbers that the spades could push against to keep the hositzer in the center of the pit. After the fire mission, we could tilt the speedjack to the rear, jack the howitzer down, and it wold pull the spades out of the mud and the howitzer back to the center of the firing pad which we had constructed in the middle of the pit. On my second tour in Vietnam, we used a M88 track in our pit. We dug in until only the top was above the ground, and connected it into a continuous circle around the pit. This worked even during monsoon season, and was very good for a permanent firebase. However, it was impractical if you displaced frequently.
The only way to reach FSB 6 was by helicopter. All resupply had to be done by air. This was satisfactory most of the time, but during the monsoon season, heavy fog would make it impossible for aircraft to reach the firebase. These conditions would normally only last a few days, but sometimes lasted for weeks. When this happened, we ate a lot of C-rations and used our ponchos to catch rain water for use, and stored it in powder canisters.
In the dry season, we found that a VT fuse can, or powder canister with small holes punched in the bottom of it, served as a pretty good shower. We heated the water by leaving the canister on top of our bunker, letting the sun's warmth heat the water.
We lived with a constant threat of sapper, mortar, artillery and recoiless rifle attacks on our position. Recoiless rifle attacks were the most common form of harassment. With experience, it became second nature to get into a hole, bunker or wherever you could when you heard the shout, "Incoming!" I consider myself lucky to be assigned to the hositzer section that returned fire on the recoiless rifle positions. My section was always called on to return the enemies fire. After being fired upon for several days from a ridge just to the west of us, we nicknamed the ridge "Rocket Ridge." The fires we were receiving were from a recoiless rifle. Each time Charlie fired at us, we would return twenty or so high-explosive projectiles in his direction with various fuse types. Our fires never seemed to suppress him. Charlie managed to knock out a helicopter that was bringing in supplies, put a round through our mess hall and wound a few of our soldiers. We tried air strikes but Charlie continued to reappear each day to shoot at us.
Finally, a special forces team, with "tunnel rats," left the firebase on a mission to capture the recoiless rifle position. The team returned with the recoiless rifle. That ended our problems from "Rocket Ridge." But that's how well the NVA could dig into a position and be able to sustain artillery as well as air strikes.
The Defensive perimeter was manned by soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). We pulled howitzer pit guard but never perimeter guard. The perimeter was made of concertina wire, and we employed trip flares, claymore mines and tangle foot. It looked impassable, but believe me, it wasn't. The ARVN Soldiers had dug a ditch all the way around the top of the mountain. Their fighting positions and living areas were inside the ditch. The parapet we built around our howitzer was high enough to protect the howitzer from enemy direct fire. I also provided us with a fighting position if the situation warranted it. Ammunition bunkers lined the inside of the parapet with blast walls in front of them to protect the ammunition from the blast of incoming rounds.
Even though FSB 6 will never be the subject of a movie, to the men that manned the howitzers of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 92nd Field Artillery, there will always be vivid memories of it. I can still remember seeing men cry as they left the firebase upon completion of their tour in Vietnam. There was something about sharing hardships on the firebase that developed a bond between the artillerymen serving there that will last forever.
David L. Mull Retired as a Command Sergeant Major