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The art of organizing and using forces in the Route 9 – Khe Sanh Offensive Campaign, Spring - Summer 1968

In late 1967, being overwhelmed across the South’s battlefield by our forces, the US – puppet forces fell into passivity strategically, shifted towards key areas including strategic defensive line of Route 9 – Khe Sanh in a bid to prevent our strategic transportation line from the North to the South. To do so, in the area, the enemy built a system of strong fortifications and deployed 45,000 troops, including 28,000 US troops and a great deal of modern weapons and technical equipment and the utmost firepower support.

To create a diversion for the 1968 Tet General Offensive and Uprising, the Ministry of National Defence of Vietnam decided to launch the Route 9 – Khe Sanh Offensive Campaign and take control of this strategic area to establish the transportation line from the North to the South. It proved that the Route 9 – Khe Sanh front was of strategic importance to both us and the enemy at that time. To ensure the victory of the Campaign, in addition to concentrating forces and means to the utmost, the Central Military Commission directed the Campaign Command to make elaborate preparations ranging from the building of cadres and troops’ determination to fight to the making of combat plans, ways of fighting and logistics support. After 177 days and nights of constantly fighting the enemy, we annihilated and captured 11,900 enemy troops (mostly US troops), shot down 197 aircraft, destroyed 80 transport ships, 70 vehicles of all types and many other means of war, forcing the enemy to flee from the valley of Khe Sanh, creating a favourable condition for the 1968 Tet General Offensive. The victory of the Campaign was made up by various factors of which organizing and using forces played a role of paramount importance.

First, organizing and using the Campaign’s forces flexibly in each direction of operations. To successfully realize the guidelines for operations by the General Command, grounded on the study and evaluation of the situation and the balance of power between our forces and the enemy, the Campaign’s Party Committee and High Command determined to conduct operations in the two directions, namely the West and the East with the former as the main one on a flexible basis. However, in fact, the forces used in the two directions by the Campaign were equivalent in quantity. Theoretically, a priority is often given to organizing and using forces in the main direction as the task in this direction is more difficult and demanding. In the Route 9 – Khe Sanh Offensive Campaign, although the East was our secondary direction, the enemy’s defensive system in this direction was stronger than in the West; therefore, using forces in the two directions on an equivalent basis was appropriate to the situation. This is a creative decision by the Campaign’s High Command to make its organization and use of forces relevant to reality of the battlefield. It was explained that during the course of operations, our forces in the two directions could be converted flexibly into each other without the transfer of forces and means of operations from one direction to the other. Moreover, our equivalent forces organized and used in the two directions during the Campaign  made the enemy in defence to be dispersed and unable to support each other, and forced them to deploy reinforcements from the outside. This is the main purpose of the Campaign.

Our forces during the Route 9 – Khe Sanh Offensive Campaign (file photo)

In reality, thanks to the flexible organization and use of forces in the two directions, in the Campaign’s phases 1 and 2, our forces quickly destroyed the enemy’s fortifications, opened up the Route 9 from Ku Boc to the frontier between Vietnam and Laos, and besieged the enemy in Ta Con, thereby greatly pressurizing them. Our forces in the secondary direction also annihilated a larger number of the enemy’s troops, attracted enormous firepower from the enemy’s air force and artillery, created a favourable condition for our military and people in Tri – Thien – Hue and across the South to attack the enemy.

Second, attaching great importance to promoting the strengths of each force to create the synergy in each direction. Our forces in the Campaign included units from different arms, active forces and local armed forces, many of which were not well versed in the area. Thus, it was difficult to organize and use the Campaign’s forces effectively. To bring into play the synergy in each direction, the Campaign’s High Command decided to intertwine old units with new ones, and units operating in the region (B5) with units from other regions to facilitate their support for one another during the course of operations. More specifically, the Campaign’s forces in the West consisted of the Infantry Division 325 (B5), the Infantry Division 304 (newly deployed), one local infantry battalion reinforced by one local company, the Artillery Regiments 675 and 45 (newly deployed) as well as anti-aircraft, armoured, commando, engineer and signal forces. Our forces in the East included the Infantry Division 324 (B5), the Infantry Division 320 (newly deployed), the Infantry Regiment 270 (B5), and local armed forces of Gio Linh (B5) as well as intertwined commando, artillery, air defence, armoured, recce, and signal forces.

In addition, the Campaign’s High Command harmoniously combined ground forces with arms, and active units with local armed forces to create a strong posture in all areas and attacking directions. Reality showed that in each phase of the Campaign, in each battle, infantry divisions closely cooperated with tank, artillery and air defence forces as well as local armed force, thereby creating a harmonious combination, opportunely reinforcing and supporting one another during the process of operations, particularly in dealing with surprise counter-attacks by the enemy. This is a favourable condition for our units to bring into play their strengths to attack the enemy.

Third, closely combining attacks to besiege the enemy in fortifications with movement to attack the enemy in each situation of the Campaign. The Campaign was divided into 4 phases with various situations to be solved. Thus, using the forces properly, flexibly for the sake of victory in each situation was of utmost importance. In the Campaign’s phases 1 and 2, in the West, the enemy parachuted 1 security company from Quang Tri into Ku Boc to support their forces being besieged by our forces at the height 832 and in Ta Con. In the East, they launched a number of counter-attacks to support their forces under siege. In response to that situation, the Campaign’s High Command opportunely organized and used forces properly, scientifically in order to more intensely besiege the enemy in Ta Con and attack them outside their fortifications in other directions. Consequently, our forces annihilated thousands of the enemy’s troops, destroyed a lot of their weapons and equipment, and firmly maintained our posture.

However, it was not easy to maintain the combination mentioned above as the Campaign took place in a large area with complex terrain, and the enemy had a large number of troops and strong firepower. Therefore, it was important to take the organization and use of forces into consideration, even those for movement, to take the initiative and create the synergy to defeat the enemy. This is also a highlight of force use in the Campaign’s phase 3 when the enemy conducted counter-attacks in various directions from Ta Con to Dong Cho, Uc Nghi, Bong Kho, Sa Muu, Lang Cat, Ca Lu – Rao Quan in a bid to support traffic on the Route 9. Against this backdrop, the Campaign’s High Command directed forces to both fight against the enemy’s counter-attacks and organize blockade positions along the Route 9 and manoeuvre to block the enemy in Ca Lu in order to slow down their advance. At the same time, the Campaign’s High Command surprisingly deployed forces from various directions to annihilate the enemy and defeat their campaign-level operations. With a smaller number of troops, weapons and equipment than the enemy’s, thanks to our proper, creative organization and employment, the Campaign not only successfully fulfilled the task of besieging the enemy and taking control of their key area, but forced the US troops to rescue their forces at various degrees, thereby creating a favourable condition for us to destroy a large number of the enemy’s troops outside their fortifications.

The art of using forces was also manifested in the Campaign’s phase 4 when the enemy conducted the operation “Scotland 2” to attack on the operating area of the Division 308 (which had just been deployed from the North). When the enemy moved out of the fortification in a large number, we deployed the Division 308, the Regiment 246, artillery force and local armed forces to carry out a great deal of raids on fortifications, such as Ro Mo, Huc Thuong, height 635, etc., destroying thousands of the enemy’s troops and tens of aircraft of all types. It is worth noting that a part from a large number of our troops assigned to besiege the enemy and fight against their counter-attacks, the Campaign organized forces to hunt down the enemy when they withdrew. As anticipated, the enemy decided to withdraw from the valley of Khe Sanh and fell into the posture which had been established in advance by our forces. Therefore, we gained an impressive victory in the Campaign’s phase 4, shooting down nearly 100 aircraft of the enemy and destroying a lot of their artillery and motor vehicles.

Organizing and using forces properly, the High Command of the Route 9 – Khe Sanh Offensive Campaign promoted units’ capability, greatly contributing to the Campaign’s victory. That victory gave us valuable lessons, especially those on organization and use of forces, which should continue to be studied and applied to the cause of Homeland safeguarding today.

Sr. Col. Vuong Van Yen, MA, Head of the Military History Department

General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army

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