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The art of conducting raids during the Tay Ninh – Binh Long Campaign 1968

As the 3rd phase of the 1968 Tet General Offensive and Uprising, the Tay Ninh – Binh Long Campaign acted as a breakthrough that contributed to making changes in the situation of the vicinity of Saigon and pushing the US-Saigon troops into passivity. This Campaign has given us valuable lessons, including the art of conducting raids.

In the beginning months of 1968, after the successive defeats on the battlefield of the South, the US-Saigon troops fell into passivity and had to change their strategy from “search and destroy” into “clear and hold” in an effort to push our main forces away and protect urban area, particularly Saigon, Danang and Hue. To that end, US-Saigon army adjusted their force disposition in each region. Around Saigon city, they organized 3 solid defensive lines with the depth of nearly 100km. In each line, they established groups of fortifications and disposed many layers of troops from the outside to the inside with the support of enormous firepower. It is worth noting that in the outermost defensive line, they deployed a large number of US troops and organized a system of joint firepower including the air force, artillery and supporting forces in a bid to maintain the springboard and prevent us from deploying attacking forces from afar.

As for us, grounded on the balance of power on the battlefield, the Central Committee and Central Military Commission for South Vietnam decided to change the operation of our main forces and launch an offensive campaign against the enemy’s outer defensive line with a focus on the Northwest and North of Saigon which were located in the two provinces of Tay Ninh and Binh Long in cooperation with other forces on other battlefields to annihilate a large number of the enemy troops and force them to deploy their troops from the middle and inner lines, thereby facilitating the masses’ struggle and expanding the liberated area. That demonstrated our Party’s sound guidelines in the 3rd phase of the 1968 Tet General Offensive and Uprising which aimed to attack one of the most vulnerable positions in the enemy’s system of defensive lines. To do so, the Campaign Command carefully studied the situation, made elaborate preparations, and commanded the operations closely and flexibly under the motto “attacking fortifications, destroying reinforcements”. It flexibly employed methods of operations and tactical forms, mainly combined raids with large, medium and small-scale battles to destroy the enemy’s strength. After one month, we destroyed over 18,400 enemy troops, 1,500 military vehicles, 112 aircraft, 107 artillery guns and many modern means of war, greatly contributing to the victory of the Tet General Offensive and Uprising. The Campaign provides us with valuable lessons, the salient of which is the art of conducting raids to annihilate the enemy’s clusters of troops in the field.

First, grasping the situation, correctly identifying the targets of the raids, quickly destroying the enemy’s defensive posture. In the outer defensive line in Tay Ninh and Binh Long, the enemy sought to establish the bases to protect the flanks of big cities as the basis for launching raids to push our main forces away. Thus, they selected and promptly built rather solid spare defensive clusters protected and supported by strong firepower units. Meanwhile, our fighting forces and means, which had been consolidated and supplemented after the 2nd phase of the 1968 Tet General Offensive and Uprising, were not as powerful as the enemy’s. Thus, it was important to select the targets of the raids so that we would be able to quickly destroy and force the enemy to deploy their reinforcements and create a favourable condition for other forces to attack the enemy out of their fortifications. After studying and correctly assessing the situation, the Campaign Command decided to choose a series of targets, such as Cha Phi, Ba Den mountain, and Cha La to conduct the raids. As theses bases were occupied by only 1 enemy battalion and located in key positions, we could both destroy the enemy in these bases and attack other forces of the enemy on the Routes 4 and 22. Consequently, in a short time, we quickly annihilated the enemy and ambush the enemy’s reinforcements.

The art of grasping the situation and identifying the targets properly was clearly demonstrated when we successfully carried out the key, opening battle of the campaign against the enemy’s base of Cha Phi. It was the first time in the resistance war against the U.S. for national salvation and in a campaign we had conducted the key, opening battle in the form of a raid. The base of Cha Phi held a position of utmost importance to the enemy’s general defensive posture in Tay Ninh, protected by 1 enemy battalion which was garrisoned in Tay Ninh town in the East of the Route 4. If we could destroy this target, the enemy’s entire defensive system would be separated, thereby creating a favourable condition for us to attack other targets and break the outer defensive line of Saigon from this direction. As a result, when we attacked Cha Phi, the enemy had to deploy the reinforcements to retake the battlefield. And that was the golden opportunity for us to annihilate the enemy out of the fortifications. In the evening of the 17th of August, Regiment 3 (Division 9) completely defeated 1 battalion, killed over 400 enemy troops, destroyed  33 tanks, 9 105mm artillery guns, and 2 106.7mm mortars only in 2 hours and a half; we occupied, quickly cleaned up, and  safely left the battlefield. Losing an important position in the system of defensive lines, the enemy had to deploy their reinforcements. To attack these forces, the Campaign Command employed Regiment 33 (Division 5) to lay an ambush on the Route 22 and destroy hundreds of the enemy troops and a lot of their armoured vehicles. Until one day later, the enemy could re-organize the forces to take the battlefield back.

Second, selecting the moment and opportunity properly to conduct the raids to greatly surprise the enemy. In operations in general, a campaign in particular, opportunity represents the strength; therefore, selecting the opportunity and moment to attack the enemy is of paramount importance to the battle’s success. In the 1968 Tay Ninh – Binh Long Campaign, the Campaign Command chose the moment to attack the targets very properly when the enemy just shifted towards defence and their systems of fortifications and commands were not strong enough. To seize the opportunity, our units quickly completed the preparation work, organized forces to secretly get close to the enemy’s battlefield, formed flanks to simultaneously attack the enemy, quickly penetrate into the enemy’s battlefield, separate and destroy the targets, thereby forcing the enemy to fall into passivity and disorder and creating a favourable condition for us to annihilate the enemy both partially and completely. After we launched the first raid against Cha Phi, the enemy immediately deployed the forces to re-occupy the target 3 days later (August 18th, 1968). Against that backdrop, the Campaign Command organized the second raid against this base and obtained the victory. This is a sensible, creative decision as the enemy couldn’t imagine that our troops were powerful enough to launch another raid against the base which had just been reoccupied by them. Therefore, only after more than 3 hours, we annihilated over 600 enemy troops and destroyed many weapons and means of war of the enemy. It is worth noting that in the second phase of the Campaign, in only 3 days (from 16th to 18th September) we used the Regiment 5 to conduct 3 consecutive raids against the base of Ben Cat. The Regiment 33 even launched 4 consecutive raids on the Route 22 against 4 US mobile battalions, annihilated over 1,000 enemy troops, and destroyed 250 motor vehicles of all types and modern means of war.

Selecting the moment and opportunity to conduct raids creatively, properly in accordance with the situation, the Campaign continuously organized raids against one position, thereby greatly surprising the enemy. This is a creative feature of the art of conducting raids, which both satisfied the motto “attacking fortifications, destroying reinforcements” and ensured small, medium, and large-scale continuous battles to inflict losses on the enemy and break their plan for outer defensive line.

Third, flexibly employing combat tactics to annihilate a large number of the enemy troops and achieve the victory. In the Tay Ninh – Binh Long Campaign, although the targets selected by us had not been consolidated yet by the enemy, they had been protected by many layers of barbed wire fences and mine fields; therefore, it was very difficult to raid these targets. More difficultly, these targets were located in the belt which the enemy could control with enormous firepower. Thus, flexibly employing tactical forms in each battle and phase of the Campaign was a matter of importance. Accordingly, basing on the characteristics of each target and the capability of each unit, the Campaign Command directed units, particularly the attacking forces to flexibly employ combat tactics to ensure the victory. Following that direction by the Campaign Command, units launched raids and annihilated a large number of the enemy troops. In fact, when the enemy in the bases of Cha Phi, Ong Hung Spring, Ben Cat, and Ca Tum just shifted towards defence, we adopted the method of heavy raid, promoted the strength and surprisingly, determinedly and daringly penetrated into and attacked the main targets. Moreover, the Campaign Command directed units to bring into play and carry out night-time, surprise battles as well as attack the enemy’s front, flanks and rear. Typical examples were the battle which we conducted for the second time against the base of Cha Phi. When the main direction was halted outside the fences, we quickly transformed the secondary direction into the main direction, daringly penetrating into and attacking the heart of the enemy’s formation to achieve the victory in this key battle. In the battle of Ba Den Mountain, we promoted the strength of sapper units, launched secret raids, secretly deployed the combat formation right in the enemy’s battlefield, simultaneously destroyed the targets, and won the victory quickly.

The 1968 Tay Ninh – Binh Long Campaign took place 50 years ago, but the lessons on the art of conducting raids remain valuable and should continue to be studied and flexibly applied to the cause of Homeland protection in the new period.

Major Pham Cao Cuong

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