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Tuesday, February 06, 2018, 07:07 (GMT+7)
Characteristics of joint and combined operational art in the battle of Lang Vay 1968

50 years prompt ago, the victory of the battle of Lang Vay (also known as Lang Vei) as part of the Highway 9 – Khe Sanh Campaign, substantially contributed to the triumph of the 1968 General Offensive and Uprising (also known as the 1968 Tet Offensive). With high combat effectiveness, the battle of Lang Vay offered multiple valuable lessons in military art, especially joint and combined operational art.

American troops and puppets slid into strategic passivity by the end of 1967 due to their failures in a row on the battlefield of South Vietnam. With a view to blocking North Vietnam’s reinforcements towards South Vietnam, the enemy built strong defensive lines along stretches of Highway 9 (from Cua Viet to Lao Bao), as evidenced by clusters of entrenched fortifications  with Lang Vay (to the west of Huong Hoa District) as the centerpiece. In fact, Lang Vay was home to the enemy’s troops, firepower, fortifications and obstacles.

Therefore, the Central Military Commission took the battle of Lang Vay as the onset of the Highway 9 – Khe Sanh Campaign (hereinafter the Campaign)to hold back part of the enemy’s strategic mobile forces, thereby facilitating the 1968 General Offensive and Uprising. To this end, the Command Headquarters for the Campaign ordered the mobilization of infantry, tanks, artillery, sappers and so on while employing joint and combined operational art to overrun Lang Vay in a short time. Accordingly, in addition to identifying main directions for the battle, our troops made elaborate preparations and ensured close coordination between different forces to maximize their strength. As a result, the entire enemy in Lang Vay were either exterminated or taken alive just in a short time between the mid night and early morning of February 7th, 1968. The battle of Lang Vay offered multiple valuable lessons in joint and combined operational art, which were manifest in the following.

1. Troop movements were neatly organized while disposition of forces was clandestine and perilous, thereby enabling joint and combined operations to succeed. Lang Vay was heavily guarded by the enemy’s modern electronic reconnaissance system and heavy firepower, which made it possible for our forces, especially tanks units and towed artillery, to become easily visible. In order to surmount this difficulty, our forces maximized terrain and ensured close coordination to keep their movements secret. Accordingly, the South of Lang Vay, which was not heavily guarded due to its surrounding rugged terrain (high mountains and a deep river),  was chosen as the main direction for our battle. In order for a large formation of infantry, tanks and artillery to travel across the rugged terrain into the enemy territory with secrecy, we made reconnaissances to grasp the situation and ensured close coordination in every stage. We intentionally chose the West (along Highway 9), which was heavily guarded, as a diversion, thereby facilitating our troop movements in the main direction for the battle. Our creativity was also manifested in the maximization of bangs and smoke screens generated by bombs for our troop movements. Therefore, we “blindfolded” the enemy’s modern electronic reconnaissance system, especially in the main direction for the battle whereby our joint and combined operations caught the enemy off guard. In fact, in order for two companies of tanks to reach starting points in the primary and secondary directions for the battle, the sappers had to struggle with rocks of tens of tonnes at the bottom of the over 10 km-long Sepon River. They occasionally served as pilots for tanks to cross the river at certain points. Also, camouflage was effective enough for tanks and forces to make their way to the rendezvous point with some units being deployed for 12 days and nights without the enemy’s knowledge. As such, the employment of joint and combined operational art facilitated our troop movements into the enemy territory with secrecy – a decisive factor in the victory of the battle.

2. Each force’s forte was promoted in order to create synergy, thereby curbing the enemy’s firepower and annihilating hostile troops. Lang Vay was home to about 1,000 puppet troops and American military advisors, blockhouses, bunkers, barbed wire fences in tiers, minefields, and heavy firepower. They could bring in artillery, air force, even B-52 bombers as reinforcements when necessary. Therefore, apart from effective fighting methods and thorough preparations, the Command Headquarters for the Campaign rallied a large number of units from different arms and services in coordination with the infantry in fighting the enemy. To win the battle of Lang Vay, the Command Headquarters for the Campaign provided Division 304 (responsible for the battle) with one tank battalion, one commando company, one company of 14.5mm anti-aircraft machine gun, one flame-thrower platoon, one artillery battalion and one sapper regiment as reinforcements. Each force’s forte, especially rapid movement and tanks’ heavy firepower, was promoted in order to create the synergy. Close coordination between forces was ensured in each and every stage, especially when unexpected incidents cropped up. Accordingly, as early as the onset of the battle, our artillery firepower basically curbed the enemy’s firepower while our tanks destroyed emplacements and blockhouses, enabling the infantry to destroy 5-tier barbed wire fences and dense minefields. This made it possible for our tanks and other forces to charge at the enemy’s nest. Characteristics of joint and combined operational art were also manifested in dealing with contingencies. In the primary direction for the battle, we were occupying targets inside the bridgehead as the enemy’s recovered firepower grazed the flanks of our formation, discouraging our units at the rear from advancing. Against this backdrop, the firepower of Tank Platoon 3 which were fighting inside the enemy territory was flexibly employed as a backup so that our infantry, tanks and commandos managed to cross the bridgehead, deeply thrusting into the enemy’s headquarters, annihilating and taking alive hostile troops.

3. Close coordination between different forces in various directions for the battle was ensured to take the initiative. This is a matter of grave importance as to any battle, especially during joint and combined operations, towards the enemy’s force dispersal, thereby undermining their resistance. Moreover, this close coordination would help to multiply our overwhelming combat power against the enemy. Fully aware of these, our units outside Lang Vay sought to curb the enemy’s firepower for their comrades inside to advance while the latter provided fire support for the former to attack intended targets. During the battle of Lang Vay, in the face of the enemy’s advantages in aerial and ground-based firepower and entrenched fortifications, our attacks en masse by relevant units in primary and secondary directions enabled us to gain the upper hand from the very beginning. Our troops with aggregate strength generated by close coordination between arms and services managed to strike all the intended targets, enabling other relevant units to finish off the enemy huddling together in their headquarters’ bunkers. As a result, for over 10 hours of fighting, our troops exterminated  400 enemy soldiers, took alive 253 hostile troops, wiped out one battalion and confiscated all of their materiel, turning Lang Vay - their heavily-guarded military base, into a battlefield in our favor, facilitating the victory of the Campaign.

While 50 years have elapsed, valuable lessons in joint and combined operational art drawn from the battle of Lang Vay have still retained their profound significance. Those lessons must be applied and further developed in the cause of today’s homeland building and safeguarding.

Sr. Col. Ta Duy Chinh, Ph.D. National Defense Academy

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