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On the establishment of counter-offensive posture during the 9th Route - Southern Laos Campaign

The 9th Route - Southern Laos Campaign in 1971 was a large-scale counter-offensive operation by our Military and people in the resistance war against the U.S., for national salvation, defeating the Operation Lam Son 719 in particular and the “Vietnamisation War” Strategy by the U.S. and Saigon army in general, providing us with many valuable lessons, especially on the posture establishment.

To realise the “Vietnamisation War” Strategy, in late 1970, the U.S. imperialists and the Saigon army enhanced their artifices of pacification and made preparations for an offensive on the whole battlefield, with a focus on the goal of “annihilating our forces, seizing the people, and smashing our resistance war.” To achieve that goal, they launched three large-scale operations towards the 9th Route - Southern Laos, Northeastern Cambodia, and Indochina’s T-junction region so as to destroy our logistics bases, cut off our strategic transport corridor from the socialist Northern rear to the Southern frontline, and crush our resistance war and the revolutions in Laos and Cambodia, among which the Operation Lam Son 719 in the 9th Route - Southern Laos was the largest.

Under the direction from the Politburo, particularly the Central Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defence, the 9th Route - Southern Laos Campaign’s Party Committee and Command quickly, comprehensively prepared the battlefield. Units taking part in the Campaign proactively built a solid combat posture, developed plans for coordination with each force in a close, elaborate, scientific manner, and flexibly, creatively employed combat methods. As a result, within only 50 days and nights of bravely fighting the enemy, the Campaign ended with our victory, annihilated a large number of enemy troops, and revolutionised the war. The Campaign’s victory was of strategic significance, opened up the prospect of defeating the U.S. “Vietnamisation War” Strategy, and marked a new development in Vietnam’s art of campaign, especially the establishment of combat posture for large-scale joint operations.

Our artillery force in Khe Sanh (photo: baotanglichsu.vn)

First of all, we proactively established a solid on-the-spot posture before and during the Campaign. As the Campaign took place in a large mountainous area with low population density, the number of members of local units and the militia and guerilla force was limited. Meanwhile, we had to both prepare the battlefield and fight to protect the area as the basis for the forces’ manoeuvre and combat cooperation with others. Since it was a joint operation with the participation of a lot of forces and means, right after undertaking its task, the Campaign Command proactively deployed on-the-spot troops of the Group 559 and the Front B5 extensively, with a focus on the key zones. By doing so, we managed to form a very strong on-the-spot force capable of protecting the area and proactively fighting to pin down, stretch, and destroy each U.S. army as the basis for others’ manoeuvre and operations. At the same time, the on-the-spot force actively consolidated and repaired the old roads 10, 16, 18 and 20, constructed the routes 16B and 16D as well as the road from Cha Ki to Alea to set up an inter-connected system of roads for manoeuvre. It also built a number of key battlefields, especially the artillery ones at heights along the 9th Route, while establishing a smooth communication network and preparing depots and stations to provide logistics and technical support for the Campaign. Doing so startled the enemy completely and pushed them into passivity. Therefore, when the enemy deployed their attacking formation (January 30th, 1971), the on-the-spot force - troops of the Group 559 and the Fronts B4 and B5 contained the enemy in the northern and southern 9th Route, shot down many aircraft, destroyed a lot of means of wars, and forced the enemy to adjust and disperse their troops. This force also raided the enemy’s headquarters in Ke Soc, Ba Lao, and Bong Kho, while destroying the enemy’s logistics bases in Khe Sanh, Ta Con, and Sa Muu, inflicting heavy human and material losses on the enemy. Constant attacks by our on-the-spot force undermined the enemy’s fighting power and created a favourable opportunity for our main force to conduct decisive battles annihilating a large number of enemy troops, leading to the Campaign’s victory.

The Campaign shows us that in the mountainous areas with a small population, greater importance should be attached to building and making the on-the-spot force, particularly the local military, militia and self-defence, and border guard units strong enough. Moreover, sectors and localities should focus on consolidating the postures of defensive zones, all-people national defence, and people’s security in each area, especially the key, strategic ones in order to keep increasing the country’s defensive capacity under the Politburo’s Resolution 28-NQ/TW, dated September 22nd, 2008 and the Government’s Decree 21/2019/NĐ-CP, dated February 22nd, 2019 on defensive zones.

Second, deploy and use the forces and change the posture. To form the posture for fighting the enemy in different directions, the Campaign Command deployed the Regiment 24 under the Division 304, units from the Group 559, and air defence and artillery units to Co Roc, Co Boc, the Heights 331 and 351, and the bridge of Cha Ki. Meanwhile, units of the main mobile force tasked with counter-attacking the enemy in the main and secondary directions were disposed in the north of the 9th Route and the south of the 9th Route, Western Ban Dong, and Sepon respectively. Units assigned to fight the enemy in the back were deployed from Cua Viet to Huong Hoa. Laotian military units were dispatched to the west of the 9th Route. Doing so enabled us to establish a firm posture and ensure victories in those directions. When the enemy was prepared to launch attacks, our main force closely cooperated with the on-the-spot force in quickly changing the posture from containment to counter-attack to annihilate enemy troops. At the same time, we besieged the enemy in Ban Dong, prevented their 1st squadron from advancing towards Sepon, and forced them to deploy the 2nd squadron in place of the 1st one and shift their main attacking direction downwards to the South. It was the enemy’s force adjustment that helped us to change the posture for protecting Sepon, reinforcing our units in the South, and using the Regiment 1 under the Division 2 to launch large-scale battles and attacks against the enemy on the whole battlefield.

Deploying and using the forces and changing the posture during the 9th Route - Southern Laos Campaign could be seen as a feature of joint operations. At present, the goal and task of building and protecting the Homeland have new developments; therefore, we should concentrate on building comprehensively strong armed forces to meet the task requirements. In this regard, great value should be attached to increasing the capabilities in joint operations in each defensive zone and in military region-level defensive combat in each strategic direction. Due attention should be paid to adjusting the force disposition of military regions, army corps, and services in line with the defensive posture.

Third, concentrate the forces on breaking down each enemy army as the basis for completely defeating the enemy. During the Operation Lam Son 719, the enemy organised their attacks in three directions, namely the 9th Route’s section from Ban Dong to Sepon as the main, the northern 9th Route as the first secondary and the southern 9th Route as the second secondary, thereby creating a “pincer movement” to occupy Sepon and break our strategic transport line. In response to this operation, we besieged and isolated the enemy in each region, while concentrating our forces on destroying each of their armies and gradually completely defeating them, instead of spreading our forces uniformly. More specifically, our main units worked with the on-the-spot force to pin the enemy down in Ban Dong. Our units from the Commando Force, the Front B5 and the Corps 70 actively isolated and destroyed the entire 3rd Parachute Brigade and the 17th Armoured Brigade as well as inflicted severe damage on the 1st Ranger Group in the northern 9th Route. Our units of the Group 559 at the Heights 351 and 311 actively shot down many enemy aircraft as the basis for the Division 324 to deal a death blow to the 1st Division of the Saigon Army in the southern 9th Route. Besides, our Regiments, namely 36, 64, 24 and 102 and a unit of the Regiment 66 closely cooperated with units of various corps in launching a decisive battle in Ban Dong and set up an ambush along the 9th Route to annihilate enemy troops when they fled. Against the enemy’s relentless attacks to regain the initiative, the Campaign Command proactively, flexibly focused our forces on establishing an appropriate posture to divide, isolate, and prevent enemy armies from assembling, with a view to destroying each of enemy armies, particularly in the 9th Route.

In a war to defend the Homeland (if occurred), our enemy will be superior to us in terms of manoeuvrability and materiel. Therefore, in order to gain the initiative in each moment and stage, we must focus all effort on constantly counter-attacking and attacking the enemy in each direction and region.

In conclusion, the victory of the 9th Route - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign is of strategic significance and provides us with valuable lessons, particularly on the establishment of a counter-attack posture.

Sr. Col. PHAM DUC TRUONG, MA, The Military History Institute of Vietnam

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