Search and Destroy Tactics

  • The Vietnam War
  • 3 mins

By Crusader1307

An Infantry Tactic refined somewhat during The Vietnam War (1965-1975), the practice of what would become “Search and Destroy” Tactics – would become standard in Patrol Techniques during The War. Seen as necessary in dealing with the elusive “Viet Cong” (and their Sympathizers), the Tactic quickly become one of “psychological terror” due to mishandling and poor Leadership.


The Jungles of Vietnam provided a unique Theater of Warfare in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s. The US Army had only “briefly” experienced it with The Imperial Japanese during World War II (with a vast majority of this Combat experienced by it' Marine Corps. Forces). Jungle Warfare caused logistics problems unique to Warfare.


Most Enemy Combatants who relied on Jungle Warfare, came to use it as a “weapon” in and of itself. After many Centuries, The Jungle was just as effective a “killer” than any bullet or bayonet. This became well known to early American Field Commanders. Great detail was given to the location of suspected Enemy supply and munitions, within The Jungle. Conversely, most “deep Jungle” inhabitants (small Hamlets and Villages) living nearby – were seen as “Supporters” of The North Vietnamese and their Guerilla companions – The Viet Cong.


Suspected Villages were initially targeted by early Bombing Campaigns, as well as Artillery barrages. However, most Sites were very deep and well secluded. The only effective means of suppression was the use of Infantry Patrols. At first, specialized “Long Range Recon Patrols” were created from US Military Special Operations Forces and used. But these were few and far between, as these Units were needed for other Missions. The “job” was given to basic Infantry Units – as well as specialized tactics.


“Search and Destroy” Missions (better known as “S&D”), often consisted of 15 to 25-Man Patrols of Infantry. They were “stripped” down to only the most basic of fighting weapons and equipment (in provide “quick encounters” and engagements. They carried a variety of Explosive Devices and of course, the iconic “Flamethrower” (at least early on). Later, even these were abandoned in favor for the simple (yet effective) “Zippo” Lighter – carried by most US Army Soldiers.


“Suspected” Enemy Villages or Sympathizers had their homes thoroughly searched for and proof of their affiliation or the much needed “Military Intelligence”. Often these Villages were used to hide weapons and supplies of ammunition (strategically placed by The VC or NVA). Once found, the use of munitions would destroy these Sites. Unfortunately for the Inhabitants of The Village, all structures were “Destroyed” by fire.


Casualties were expected (often to the excess of young and inexperienced Infantrymen, over zealous in their duties). Often, The Viet Cong and NVA threatened Villages in order to store their munitions (kidnapping Villagers). In these case, The Villagers attacked in “S&D” Missions were unwilling victims and casualties. In most case, those not killed “willingly joined” The NVA and VC as a result.


The practice of aggressive “Search and Destroy” Missions is still taught as an impromtu tactic to Infantrymen in The US Army and Marine Corps. Such tactics are now applied to “Urban Pacification” practices.