Convoy Planning & Operations
~ 720th Military Police Battalion Reunion Association ~ Vietnam History Project ~
This Page Last Updated    14 April 2008
"When you have sufficient supplies and ammo the enemy takes 2 weeks to attack. When you are low on supplies and ammo the enemy attacks that night." Murphys Law
18th Bde.
Transportation is... the most frequently encountered limiting factor in military logistics (the science of planning and executing the movement and support of forces). It provides the bridge over which the nation's resources reach our combat troops and is the key to victory which requires that "we get there first with the most."
A convoy is... ( Websters Dictionary) a group of ships or vehicles traveling together for mutual protection or convenience.
A Typical Day on Convoy

The Briefing & Inspection The members of the convoy escort team fell out for a briefing and inspection in front of their Company Orderly Room on Long Binh Post. The Escort Team Commander, either a Noncommissioned Officer or an Officer would check the roster to insure that all personnel assigned were present or accounted for. Inspection would involve uniform and personal equipment checks, helmet, brazzard, flack jacket, weapons, ammunition loads, etc.

        The briefing would involve what radio frequencies were to be used and what the latest intelligence on enemy activity was.

        Other items of information such as weather reports, roadway, bridge construction or traffic patterns would come into play if relevant to that particular day or mission.

Vehicle Inspection and Preparation The troops would then draw their vehicles from the respective company compound or motor pool depending of what type of vehicles were required for the particular escort. The type of vehicles might be limited to one or all four types of available escort vehicles, gun jeep, armored gun jeep, armored personnel carrier (APC), or V100 Commando Car.
Note: Prior to 1967 the only escort vehicles available to the 720th MP Battalion were the gun jeeps.
        The vehicles would be checked to insure that they contained the necessary emergency equipment, radio, fuel supply, markers, and ammunition loads.
Weapons & Communications Test The escort teams would then proceed together to an area where the escort vehicle weapons were test fired for operability before moving on to the marshaling or staging point where the transport vehicles were forming. While in route all escort vehicle radios would be tested by calling into the tactical operations center.

Receiving Escort Assignments Upon arrival at the marshaling area the Escort Commander or IC (In Charge) would meet his counter part from the Transportation Unit and both would review the information passed out at the earlier briefing to see if any additional information had been received or if any changes in the previously determined operational plans would be needed.

        The transportation Unit Commander who was the Convoy Commander would be responsible for the general organization of all the transport vehicles. The vehicles would be lined up depending on the convoy destination, cargo, number, and size.

        If the convoy was large and most were, the vehicles would be separated into "march-units" to make it more manageable. If the convoy route involved dropping supplies at two or more locations along the way the march-units for those locations would make the process of controlling the separation more manageable without delaying the entire convoy.

        An average march-unit consisted of 10 trucks with an escort leading it. The escort might be an MP gun jeep or if short on MPs, a transportation unit jeep.

Example If a total of 50 trucks were involved in a convoy to Tay Ninh. Of those fifty, ten were to be dropped off at Chu Chi which was along the way. The 10 trucks designated for Cu Chi would be a separate march-unit. As the convoy passed Cu Chi on the way to Tay Ninh the Cu Chi march-unit would drop out of the convoy and enter the base camp leaving the 40 other trucks continuing along to Tay Ninh without interruption. If there were also an additional 5 trucks waiting at Cu Chi destined for Tay Ninh, they would join the main convoy under the umbrella of it's escort security.
Breakdowns In the event of breakdowns or other mechanical problems the convoy commander would also insure that a certain number of Bob Tails (tractors without trailers) and Hooks (tow trucks) were available in the convoy. The truck having mechanical difficulty would drop out of line and the trail party notified to handle the problem. Depending on the mechanical problem and cargo an MP jeep escort might be required to stay until other security arrangements could be made.
        The convoy commander was also responsible for coordinating the placement of high explosive ammunition, and fuel tank trucks. They were best disbursed throughout the convoy march units to lessen their being targeted as a group by the enemy in the event of an ambush.
        If there was going to be air support or observation the lead vehicles from each march-unit would be identified by an orange marker tied to its hood so the aircraft could identify it. The air support would be coordinated with the convoy commander and MP escorts so all would be able to communicate via radio.

        Prior to leaving, each vehicle designated to a specific march-unit or serial would be inspected by the transportation group commander and MP assigned to the unit. They would insure that the cargo was properly secured and all emergency equipment was present.

        The MPs would be assigned specific locations with the line of vehicles, one would be designated as the "scout" vehicle that would lead the convoy, others disbursed within the line as lead vehicles for each march-unit or serial, and one in the rear as the "trail."

        If the convoy was traveling through several adjoining Areas of Responsibility (as most were) assistance from the Military Police Unit from each area would be prearranged to be available to assist and coordinate movement within their areas with major intersections or defiles (detours to avoid obstacles), and general route security.

        The same coordination would be prearranged with route security reaction forces from the infantry, artillery, or armored units within that area.

Departure The convoy would then depart the marshaling or staging area for their destination. The average convoy speed would be determined based on truck loads, weather, traffic, roadway conditions, and road clearing (mine sweeps) operations ahead of the line. It could be as slow as 15 miles per hour or as fast as 40 miles per hour.
        Routine "Sit-Reps" (situation reports) would be radioed back to Battalion or Transportation Command operations to keep them advised of the convoys progress. Predetermined check points (usually intersections, bridges or other fixed land marks) would be used to identify their location.

        The convoy the commander would coordinate march discipline with the MP and Transportation Unit commanders. At all times convoy speed and distance between vehicles was crucial to it's security and safety. If vehicles were allowed to fall behind it created a "slinky effect" with vehicles constantly slowing and speeding to catch up.

        In most instances in the event of an accident the MP unit having jurisdiction in the specific AO would handle the investigation. Depending on the size of the convoy and the availability of the local area MPs they would either have units positioned along the checkpoints in their AO or have escorts join in the convoy while it remained in their AO.

        When manpower and training permitted specialized traffic investigation units would sometime accompany the convoy. If a Vietnamese National or the Vietnamese Military was involved in the accident the local MP Unit would arrange for Vietnamese National or Military Police to assist them.

Enemy Activity There were several courses of action that might be taken, all were influenced by the type of incident and amount of route security available in the area where the incidents occurred.

Sporadic sniper fire... was often ignored and reported to the local route security to pursue.

Road blocks... built by the enemy to harass the convoy might initially delay them but would be cleared as soon as possible by the local area reaction forces or any armored vehicles within the convoy.

Land Mines.... depending on the type and size of a mine the convoy commander would have two courses of action he could pursue. Delay the convoy pending additional road clearing sweeps (very seldom done), to continuing on with the hope that this was the only one that was missed in the earlier sweep.

        The vehicles behind the disable vehicle would be delayed only as long as it took for a wrecker to "hook it" or move it to the side of the roadway.

Ambushes... would be the direct responsibility of the MPs and transportation escort units. Selected MP units would immediately enter the kill zone and attempt to suppress the enemy fire while the remaining escort units would insure the convoy continued on. The MP commander and transportation commander would coordinate any local reaction forces, route security, air, artillery support, or medical evacuation air units to assist the escort units engaging the enemy attackers. In some larger convoys Ambulances and Medics would be assigned as part of the convoy escort team.

        The rule of thumb was to keep moving at the fastest possible speed to get out of the kill zone. Even if it meant leaving disabled (unmanned) vehicles behind for the reaction forces to secure. In those ambushes where the vehicles were caught in the kill zone and unable to move the operators would dismount, take cover, and return fire until the enemy withdrew or they were relieved by reaction forces.
The MP escorts that made it through would deliver their vehicles at the base, pickup needed ammunition and supplies and immediately return to the ambush site to assist their comrades.

Arrival Once the convoy arrived at their location and entered the base the MPs would break away and report to the local MP unit or detachment if unloading required any extended period of time.

Many of the trucks would be unloaded, others would just drop their trailer and pick up a waiting empty.

        The MPs would fuel their vehicles perform any minor maintenance, eat or catch up on their sleep while the trucks were being unloaded. If the convoy was a small one they might eat a C-Ration meal in their jeeps during unloading and immediately hit the road for return with the empty trucks.

Return The return trip would mirror the morning run as far as procedures went. The convoy speed might increased due to the trucks being lighter, this again depending on weather, traffic, and roadway conditions. And at times the march unit discipline would be very relaxed. If they had air cover while on the outbound trip, they wouldn't have it on the inbound leg. Route security would also be greatly reduced on the premise that the enemy would not bother with an ambush of empty trucks.

Stand-down Upon arrival back at the post the crew served and personal weapons would be cleaned and ammunition replenished, and the escort vehicles would be fueled, cleaned and prepared for the next days run before the men were relieved for the day. The Officer or NCO in charge of the escort would report to Battalion Operations to complete an After Action Report on the days events.

This is a general outline, it would differ in complexity based on the number of vehicles, type of cargo, number of planned supply transfers, and distance to be traveled. Some convoys could take over 12 hours or even days, others only a few hours.

The information contained in this outline was edited from information provided by the members of the 720th MP Battalion Viet Nam History Project that worked the convoys as drivers, gunners, officers and NCO's.
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