What is worse jungle war or trench war

Marion Countess Dönhoff reports from Vietnam: "Chicago - 10750 Miles"


Read on one side

Saigon, in April

A couple of helicopters rose in front of us. The American major who gave me the headquarters of the First Air Cavalry Division Pointed in the Central Highlands, made a sweeping motion with his left arm, looked at the clock and said, "Seven thirty, you're flying out for dinner now." And when he noticed my questioning look, he added: "They must have that. Those who stay at the outpost get warm food, the others who were on duty are flown back to their quarters in the evening."

At home with us, I thought, the people who took part in the trench warfare near Verdun or the winter war in Russia would say: "Well, they're fine." But if you think about it, you have to admit that this is a war that has little in common with them. Tactically and technically not because there is no front, but only advances and assaults or ambushes and mined streets - a mode of fighting in which the initiative necessarily rests with the enemy guerrillas and not with their own units; Not psychologically, because it is not about defending one's homeland: I had read "Chicago 10,750 miles" somewhere on a sign where a homesick prankster had marked the distance to the home with black letters on a white background.

When I think of the tent I was quartered in in An Khe, then I don't envy its owner, Captain Hichcock, who was on duty further north: It's immeasurably hot in this tent at the moment, in the one above A mosquito net is attached to the camp bed, so that the last draft of the air is removed at night (the division had well over a thousand malaria cases in seven months). At the moment the grass floor is as hard as cement, but from May, when the monsoons begin, it will be turned into mud for six months, then the field blouses are wet during the day and the blankets at night - nothing ever gets dry. And the captain's shoes, which are next to his military suitcase, which also serves as a washstand, these shoes, which I look at in astonishment because I have never seen such huge footwear, will then begin to go moldy.

The helicopters have become an indispensable part of this war, and the perfection of their use has completely changed the image of war - here, quantity has really turned into quality. Helicopters were used as early as the Second World War and especially in Korea, but only their mass use, which has been practiced since 1964, opened up completely new perspectives; Only in this way has it become possible, even in guerrilla warfare, to take control of the law and not to leave the initiative to the enemy alone.

The First Air Cavalry Division is a legendary American division. The First Cav, as it is commonly known, it has no horses, but 450 helicopters, and so it has the highest mobility that any ground force has ever achieved. In two hours she can throw units up to the strength of two or three battalions at 250 kilometers into combat, can have them appear unexpectedly in some remote operation - and then get them out again before the dangerous night falls and fly back.

The great mobility and the possibility of massaging troops here today, there tomorrow, increases the effectiveness far beyond the numerical number of operational units. Of course, this also increases the demands on the soldiers immensely: Today they have to fight on the Laos border, tomorrow they will be deployed in an operation on the Cambodian border. In other words: uninterrupted use. "In the long run, the average age of the division will probably have to be younger than the average age of a normal infantry division," said one of the officers. By the way, all helicopter pilots are officers.