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Why LRRP In Vietnam

When US Army conventional infantry units began to arrive in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam) in May 1965 they found a country of rugged mountains and hills, open plains, dense forests, and vast delta marshes and swamps. The climate was hot, humid, and dry – or hot, humid, and wet. Yet the terrain and unpleasant climate were not the only difficulties that awaited the units. The local Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars opposing them were highly mobile, traveled light and fast, and were not burdened with a significant logistics tail as the Americans were. Indeed, the enemy was elusive, blended into the population, and could chose when and where to strike. The US-allied forces reacted. They reacted with massed artillery, fighter-bombers, helicopter gunships, and infantry transported in by helicopters. But the enemy often managed to fade into the countryside. Their own logistics bases were across the border in Cambodia and Laos, close but essentially unreachable due to diplomatic considerations.

It became increasingly obvious that this was a war for which the US Army was not prepared. The Army was organized, trained, and equipped to fight a conventional war in Europe or Korea. It was prepared for high-tempo mobile operations involving massed armor and artillery; nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare; electronic warfare; and massive use of airpower against a larger enemy force with similar capabilities. Army doctrine focused on seizing and retaining terrain. An operation order directed a unit to occupy a hill. If the enemy was on the hill or was encountered en route, he was destroyed. If the hill was unoccupied by the enemy, the unit secured it and prepared to fight off attackers or to continue their mission. Vietnam proved to be an entirely different kind of war. Seizing and holding terrain seldom accomplished much: the enemy had no need to seize and hold terrain. It wanted to seize and control the population. To destroy the enemy, the enemy had to be found – found while he was moving to attack US-allied forces, exploiting the civilian population, or withdrawing after doing so. The enemy’s scattered base areas, weapons caches, infiltration trails, and troop concentrations also had to be found to keep him off balance. Once the enemy was located he could then be engaged with overwhelming firepower, and air mobility ensured that troops could be rapidly deployed at any time and from unexpected directions. But first the enemy had to be found.

What is a LRRP unit

First, an understanding of the designation of these units is necessary. From the early 1960s they were called long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) units. In the mid-1960s they were commonly known as long-range patrol (LRP). “Reconnaissance” was dropped because the units were sometimes assigned other missions and, according to some, as a way of simplifying the designation. Through the 1960s the terms LRP and LRRP were used interchangeably, and both were even used in the same official reports. Both terms are pronounced “Lurp.” It is incorrect, however, to use the word “Lurp” in text to identify these units (even though it is written that way in some books).

Officially, they were identified as an Infantry Airborne Company (Long-Range Patrol). On January 1, 1969, they were redesignated an Infantry Airborne Company (Ranger), but their mission did not change. No Ranger units had existed since 1951, and the redesignation as Ranger was simply to restore a traditional title. In World War II and the Korean War, Ranger units were primarily raider or strike units. LRP units, while they might undertake occasional small-scale direct-action missions, were chiefly passive reconnaissance units and not “commandos.” The earliest US Army unit that could be considered LRP was the Alamo Scouts, who served in the Southwest Pacific in World War II.1 They mainly conducted passive reconnaissance missions, operated in six-man teams, and used a peer evaluation system in training that was later adopted by the Ranger Course. In 1961 two provisional LRP companies were formed in West Germany to support V and VII US Corps. These units were formalized in 1965, being assigned a table of organization and equipment (TO&E). US military histories seldom mention that US LRP doctrine is an offspring of the LRP concept developed by NATO in 1960. Largely based on British Special Air Service concepts of deploying small patrols behind enemy lines, units reported enemy movements and rear area targets via long-range radios. The patrols would be inserted by foot, helicopter, or parachute, or left as stay-behind elements as the Soviets advanced into Germany. They also provided targeting for air and missile strikes on Soviet follow-on echelons. Each NATO country formed LRP units of one or more companies, and battalions in some cases. The operational concept of most of these units was to dig completely concealed hides overlooking main avenues of approach. They reported intelligence using single- sideband radios transmitting in Morse code to rear area base stations. For the most part these units were under corps control, as were the early US units.

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