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Coordination of Vietnamese-Lao Coalition during Plain of Jars - Xiengkhouang Defensive Campaign 1972

In the battlefield of Laos 1972, Lao and Vietnamese troops together launched significant campaigns and gained remarkable victories. In this regard, combat coordination of the Vietnamese-Lao Coalition forces during the Plain of Jars - Xiengkhouang Defensive Campaign serves as a special art.

Plain of Jars is a large highland in Xiengkhouang province with complicated terrain including jungles, high mountains and large, flat valleys combined. This is an area of strategic value in terms of military, politics and economy to Laos. Militarily, this area is beneficial to both offensive and defence, while representing part of the strategic transportation route from North Vietnam to the battlefields of the three Indochinese countries. Therefore, right after Lao-Vietnamese Coalition attacked and controlled the whole area, the enemy sent the reinforcements directly led by the U.S. with the support of US air forces to retake the area. In response to the enemy’s moves, the Politburo and the Central Military Commission discussed with Laos counterparts and decided to mount the Plain of Jars - Xiengkhouang Defensive Campaign. Taking part in the Campaign, Vietnamese troops included 5 infantry regiments, 2 commando battalions, 1 artillery battalion, 4 anti-aircraft gun battalions, 1 tank battalion and 2 engineer battalions; while the Pathet Lao troops included 7 active battalions, 1 tank company, 2 artillery companies, 2 anti-craft gun companies, 1 engineer company and 4 local force companies.

This is a rather large-scale defensive campaign following Plain of Jars - Long Cheng Offensive, aiming to maintain strategic posture in North Laos and protect the West flank for main operations of the strategic offensive 1972, thereby having great importance. To prepare for the Campaign, the Pathet Lao troops and our troops quickly organized and built a defensive battleground within the quadrangular of Muang Xay - Nong Het - Xiengkhouang town- Tham Lung (50 km frontal, 60 km deep), and formed an interconnected, strong, deep defensive disposition for an enduring operation even in hard conditions. As a result, after 5 months, Vietnamese-Lao Coalition conducted 244 battles including many important counter-raids, annihilating over 5,750 enemy troops, causing heavy losses for the enemy‘s strategic mobile corps, firmly holding the strategic area of Plain of Jars and maintaining connection among Lao revolutionary bases, making significant contribution to the victory of our troops’ strategic offensive 1972. Moreover, the Campaign greatly contributed to leading the war of resistance of the two countries to victory and taught us valuable lessons, particularly on the art of coordination and large-scale combined arms operation between Lao forces and our forces.

1. Bringing into play our and Partner’s potentialities, applying the mode of flexible defence to defeat the enemy’s large-scale attacks. From the enemy’s situation, the terrain for defence and the reality of our forces, the Campaign's Command realized that the space for defence was very large and the terrain was rather complicated with a scattering dominant heights; therefore, it was beneficial to a defence posture. However, possessing a large number of troops and modern means of warfare, the enemy was able to attack us from various directions, namely the front, the flanks, the rear, and airborne assaults. After thoroughly evaluating the situation, the Campaign’s Command decided to adopt the mode of zoned defence and divide the whole force into two parts: one for on-spot defence and the other for maneuver. The Coalition agreed to establish 5 defence zones, namely Plain of Jar centre (main defence zone), the buffer zone of Hintang, the secondary defence zone of Nong Het, and the two zones for operation from afar including Muang Xay and Xiengkhouang town. By means of force organization, our forces could both engage the enemy in directions and support each other during the process of operation; moreover, it was favourable for commanding work and promotion of forces’ strengths. What happened in the Campaign proved that in all 4 combat phases, our forces and Partner’s brought into play potentialities of each side, closely worked with each other in all battles, destroyed a large number of the enemy’s forces, and firmly held the assigned defence battleground. On 21st and 22nd August 1972, while our forces were fighting the enemy from the directions, they suddenly carried troops of the two mobile groups, namely GM21 and GM26, by helicopters landing in the Northeast of Phukeng, with the intention of raiding the centre of Plain of Jars. Nevertheless, Regiment 355 of the Vietnam People’s Army in cooperation with 1 battalion (equipped with tanks) of the Lao People’s Army organized a counter-raid that annihilated over 650 troops of the enemy and completely broke the enemy’s attack direction using airborne forces.

2. Working together to build systems of interconnected, strong fortifications and battlefields and prepare equipment for an enduring operation. Preparations, i.e. construction of battlefield, transport of materials, for the Campaign  was directly impacted as it was in the rainy season (in May). To deal with this issue, the Vietnam’s Volunteer Force closely worked with the Lao People’s Army to actively build up the system of defensive battlegrounds and transport of materials. Though the strength of Lao local armed forces in the theatre of war was low as most of the people had left the area, our Partner strove to mobilize human and material resources for building fortifications, battlefield, roads and facilitating logistics. Only in short time, around 300km of new and old roads was repaired and built. Regiment 148 alone built two 40-km new roads and 80 small bridges. Regiment 866 built many roads and a cable-stayed over Namkho spring. Before the Campaign turned into the status of defence, a large amount of weapons, ammo and supplies had been transported to the Campaign’s theatre, enabling us to fight the enemy for 3 or 4 months. The system of fortifications and battlefields had been built strong and connected. Noticeably, inside important entrenched fortifications, our forces constructed the system of tunnels to both reduce losses and ensure timely maneuver. Accordingly, when the enemy attacked us in any position of the Campaign’s theatre, the Coalition’s forces timely maneuvered to engage them.

3. Close working with our Partner to fight the enemy extensively and conduct key battles victoriously, destroying a large number of the enemy’s troops, firmly holding the strategic area. To that end, the Campaign’s Command used the forces versed in the area, particularly Lao on-spot local armed forces, to collect the information and grasp the situation before the enemy’s attacks. Though our and Partner’s defence zones were rather separate, under the command of the Campaign’s Command, units of Vietnamese and Lao Armies proactively engaged the enemy in their zones, resolutely repelling the enemy’s attacks, particularly in the Campaign’s main defensive direction; while creating the opportunity for the Campaign to concentrate strength and firepower for conducting the key battle. When engaging the enemy in the bordering area between our and Partner’s battlefield, the two sides made close collaboration in all situations of operation, supporting each other to destroy the enemy and firmly hold the battlefield. During the Campaign, the enemy constantly attacked our and Partner’s defensive zones. They even deployed 60 battalions in order to attack and take control of the Plain of Jars, but we worked in close collaboration with our Partner to repel all their attacks. Our Partner concentrated its force to protect the left and right flanks of the Campaign’s theatre while we fought the enemy in the frontal direction, protected the rear and supported our Partner in the bordering areas. Accordingly, we defeated 4 offensives of the enemy repeatedly and successfully conducted 3 key battles in the phases 2, 3 and 4. Notably, in the counter-raid No.3, the enemy deployed mobile groups, such as GM23, GM30, GM31, simultaneously launching attacks from the southern direction up to Phu Huot, Ban Xua, the height 1,172 ( the left side of our formation) and on Chaho, Phu Tay (the right side of our formation), with a view to attacking the heart of our defensive zone. Responding to the enemy’s attacks, the Campaign’s Command adjusted the combat plan and deployed the force more flexibly to engage the enemy in directions. The close and smooth collaboration among forces of the Vietnamese-Lao Coalition, especially between the on-spot and mobile forces brought about the combined strength, heavily destroying the enemy’s main force (GM23) in the buffer zones  of South Plain of Jars, annihilating more than 1,000 troops of the enemy, greatly contributing to the victory of both the key battle and the Campaign.

After over 5 months of operation, thanks to close collaboration in guideline, preparation and combat among forces, the Vietnamese- Lao Coalition gained great victory in the Campaign. That victory has further strengthened the special bond between the Parties, the States, the peoples and the Armies of the two countries.

Senior Colonel Ta Duy Chinh, PhD

National Defence Academy  

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