Monday, June 06, 2016

Zulu! vs A Battlefield minute. And "The Punch Line"

One of the most influential movies I've ever seen was Zulu.

Some minor background information is needed:
I had got out of the army in 1970, was at loose ends, feeling sorry for myself and we were living off the meager earnings of my wife, Julie, who was a bank teller in Eugene, Oregon.

Pretty much into myself, I spent my days playing solitaire on the living room floor of our 300 square foot rental in Eugene, Oregon, and watch television.

One day, when I was about to put a red queen on a red king (yes, I cheat at Solitaire .. I was that low), I realized there was a movie playing which was .. interesting.  We couldn't afford a color television, so I sat entranced and watched ZULU in glorious Black-And-White.

Later I realized that I hadn't missed much, because the story was very much all about black-and-white.

Since then, I've watched ZULU an at least an annual basis; and I also bought (and watch annually), the precursor movie: "Zulu Dawn".

Zulu Dawn depicts the battle of  Isandlwana, where a large contingent of British troops were massacred by Zulu Impis (Battallions, or Regiments ... the manning was voluntary with Zulus).

The Brits were wiped out, almost to the man.

Subsequent to that battle, the Zulus went on to attack a small British contingent stationed in and around the missionary at Rorke's Drift.   That is the action which was depicted by the movie "ZULU".

That British force had some advantages that the Brits at  Isandlwana had not.
  • They were a minor detachment, so they were not attacked by all the Impi's .. merely two or three of them. (?)
  • They were in a defensible position ... they were assigned to a mission with stone walls, and they had a number of wagons (which they could tip over to provide cover and concealement) and those wagons had a full shipment of 'grain', in bags, which mad very effective 'sandbags' from which they could build a wall about their position
  • They had Martini-Henry Rifles, which were single-shot but were lever-action "single shot' rifles which could be reloaded in a matter of seconds. *(the same rifles used by British troops in Islawanda)
  • Their supply system was MUCh more aware of the danger of the attack than were the supply groups in Islandawanda, so resupply of ammunition was efficiently performed in this much smaller force
  • The leadership at Rorke's Drift ("ZULU") was much more aware of the danger, and were so junior that they had not yet developed the arrogant attitude which is endemic in senior officers through-out the world and through-out time.  At Rorke's Drift, they knew they would all die.  At Islandwanda ("Zulu Dawn"), it was inconceivable (Princess Bride Moment) that British Troops would lose a battle with 'primitives', so they were dismissive of the need to prepare defenses in an open field.

Unlike the British troops at Islandwanda, the forces at Rorke's Drift did not panic under attack, for five reasons:
  1. Leadership
  2. Discipline
  3. Defensive position
  4. Tactics
  5. Superior Fire-power

And I, in Vietnam, survived and surmounted tactics because I had been imbued with the same qualities:

LEADERSHIP:  I had been careful in my first year in the Army to get as much rank as possible; when I went to Viet Nam, I entered Country as a Staff Sergeant. which guaranteed that I would be posted as a Platoon Sergeant ... so I would be making the tactical and strategic decisions in every encounter;

DISCIPLINE: Because I spent a year in training, in both elementary and advanced Infantry schools, I knew the drill which had been proven to be most certain of achieving positive results from every movement, every encounter, and every decision point.

DEFENSIVE POSITION:  I never put my platoon in a situation where we were more exposed to enemy fire than was necessary.  During the day, our movement was always quiet; sound discipline during the day, and we added light discipline at night.  We always varied the angle of our approach to a new position, so our movement could not be predicted by enemy observers.  When we moved into a night-defensive position, we always laid up short of our ultimate over-night position, and we practiced 360-degree defensive measures (which meant we had people over-watching in all directions, and they had pre-positioned Claymore mines pointing in front, sides and rear.  Always.

TACTICS:  Before we entered our night-defensive position ("ambush"), I personally scouted the territory and terrain.  If I couldn't find a good position, I found a place where we could hide with little expectation that we would encounter the enemy:  we called this "ambush" position a "HOLD YOUR ASS 'TIL DAYLIGHT" position, and we used this tactic more often than a more aggressive, but less defensible, situation might have prevailed.
  In our most successful ambush, for example, I found an area which allowed us to over-watch the junction of two well-worn trails, yet there was a very old 'bomb crater' from a B52 strike which provided both cover and concealment for the short-squad which I was leading that night.

SUPERIOR FIRE POWER:  We had an edge in any "Night Ambush?" situation:

  1. We chose the terrain .. to our advantage.  Always.
  2. We sneaked into position; the enemy never knew where we were.
  3. CLAYMORES!  MACHINE GUNS!  Directional Mines allowed us, in the event that we had to "Blow An Ambush" (reveal our position by dint of activating all directional mines), to immediately taken out the leadership of any Viet Cong patrol/assault party, and at the same time we established and maintained a commanding position across the "Kill Zone" because we had not only killed their leadership, but we were able to redirect our M-60 machine gun toward the remaining threat sub-units in less than five seconds.  Directional Mines are Fine, but the Ma-60 is better than Sex!  There's nothing like a 600-rounds-per-minute fully-automatic weapon pouring 7.62mm rounds down their throat to totally dissuade any encroaching enemy force from pursuing their agenda.  They reverse their axis; they run; they hide (but they can't hide); or they die.
  4. After the initial "Mad minute", the entire unit stands up from our defensive position, reloads all magazines, and assaults The Kill Zone.  Anything that moves in The Kill Zone (defined as that portion of the battlefield which contains, or had contained, the majority of enemy forces) dies.  There are no surrenders, there are no qualms; there are only targets .. and moments later, dead people.  You do not leave a living enemy behind you.
  5. Rear Guard:  You always leave an element behind at your original assault point, to cover the assault element, and to maintain communications with "higher" .. and the instructions to the rear-guard (in a night ambush situation) are two part: FIRST - to guard the assault team; SECOND - to call for back-up, support, and auxiliary units to add more bodies to the slaughter, so no enemy is left alive or uncaptured; THIRD - to take control of any captured enemy, for interrogation by Intelligence units and to relieve the initial assault party of the need to be distracted from cleaning the kill zone because of the secondary need to contain and control captives, and FOURTH to back up the initial assault party and search the kill zone to insure that no armed combatants are alive and armed, and able (and willing) to counter-attack the assault party.


AFTER the assault has policed the kill zone, and ensured that all enemies who are capable of resistance have been either killed or captured, there remains a need for a second sweep of the Kill Zone.  Not everyone who seems to be dead .. is.  Your party members need medical attention.   
Your enemies may need medical attention as well, but first they must be DISARMED!
Second, your surviving enemies (if there are any)  need to be controlled.  Disarmed, first, and then cowed.  It's not necessary to either threaten them or to injure them.  Usually, it's sufficient to reassure them that the need not fear abuse by their captors.  Give them a cigarette .. they'll always accept it, even if they don't smoke.  Give them a light.  Talk to them, in gentle tones; they don't know what you are saying, but the recognize that they have no need to fear immediate mistreatment.

That happens after they're moved back to the rear, and are interrogated by professionals.
You've done your job; you've captured them, and you have given them a false sense of security.


They come out of that experienced bruised and battered, entirely cowed, and confused because .. that guy on the battlefield seemed so NICE!

But when they meet the Military Intelligence folks, they realize that they have NO "Shared Moments"
 .. and they're not getting any more cigarettes, or other forms om Military Courtesy.  They are required to give up everything they know about their mission briefing; their goals, their assault plan, their mission, their target ...

In one mission, I later learned that the plus-sized platoon was tasked to assault a South Vietnamese base camp, and kill everyone there.  That included wives and children, because it was a "Permanent Base camp" for the South Vietnamese Army, and they were typically housed with their family.

The BC attacking forced wanted to undermine the support of RVN troops for American troops, so they had tasked this particular force to commit a Terrorist Act against loyal RVN troops for the purpose of convincing them to disengage themselves from American goals of freeing RVN from NVA terrorism.

We were fortunate in that we were able to stop the attackers, and to halt their nefarious plans.

So we turned all of our captured VC/NVA prisoners over to the South Vietnamese troops.

Not my choice; I had no control over my humanly captured prisoners than you did.

Two days later, the prisoners which we had captured were dead meat.  Very badly abused.  Dragged up and down the road past both the American Base Camp and the two local villages .. and the RVN base camp which was nearby on Highway One.

They were dragged on the road behind the Armored Field Cars of the RVNs until they were dead.

Then they were hanged by the neck from the gate-posts of the nearest "loyal" Vietnamese village, asn an example.

Then their remains .. much abused and not much resembling human life forms ... were cast upon a waste-pile to rot.   They didn't look much like human beings, then.  They looked more like hamburger, with bones-in.

So .. yes, I have issues about war.  It sucks.  Not having ANY control over what happens in a war zone sucks.

That;s why when I get to watch a movie which purports to display a war which has rules, I feel better.

Okay .. perhaps ZULU isn't the best exemplar of a "humane war movie'.

I'll take what I get.  And if I find some comfort there?

I'll let you provide the Punch Line.


Anonymous said...

Zulu was/is an awesome movie. Small unit military at it's best.

Mark said...

One of my all time very favorite films.