Tuesday, September 21, 2021, 12:09 (GMT+7)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021, 09:17 (GMT+7)
The art of fighting rescue enemy troops during the Dak To Campaign of 1967

In order to defeat the enemy’s “search and destroy” operation and especially drag the U.S. expeditionary force up to the battlefield of Central Highlands as the basis for our offensive in the Spring of 1968, the Central Highlands Front Command decided to launch the Dak To Campaign. The victory of this operation marked an outstanding development in our warfare against rescue enemy troops.

In the dry season of 1967, the enemy in the Central Highlands stepped up their reconnaissance operations to identify, prevent, and destroy our attacking direction, region, and targets. To that end, the enemy strengthened and deployed their troops and means of war to the battlefield of Central Highlands, while organising “search and destroy” operations. In early October 1967, knowing that we were about to launch a campaign in North Kon Tum, the enemy hurriedly ended their operation MacArthur in Gia Lai, shifted towards the mountainous region in Dak To, and establishing two clusters of military bases along the defensive line of North Central Highlands: the first one in the intersection of route No.14 with route No.18 and the second one along the route No.18. The enemy force included the 1st Brigade, the Headquarters, the U.S. cluster of logistics depots, and the 42nd Regiment of the Saigon Army.

Under the leadership of the Politburo and the Central Military Commission, in late 1967, our Central Highlands Front Party Committee and Command decided to mount the Dak To Campaign, with a view to putting more pressure on the enemy and forcing them to deploy rescue force so that we could annihilate a large number of enemy troops, smash the Saigon Army, and thwart the enemy’s “pacification” strategy. The Campaign Command focused all forces in the provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, and Dak Lak, mainly  in North Kon Tum. At the same time, Southwestern Dak To was seen as the main direction as a large number of enemy troops were stationed in that region but revealed weaknesses; therefore, we would have a chance to destroy them when they came for rescue. While Northeastern Dak To was considered as the secondary direction, Gia Lai was the diversionary direction. After discovering that we were making preparations, the enemy immediately deployed troops to encircle us but fell into our decisive battlefield. With the courage and resilience, our Central Highlands military and people, especially the Division 1 annihilated a large number of enemy troops. The development in directly attacking the U.S. expeditionary force is manifested in several main points as follows.

1. We actively made preparations. To launch the Dak To Campaign, the Central Highlands military and people were confronted with numerous difficulties in personnel, weapon, and equipment. In that period, the enemy organised many small-scale “search and destroy” operations against our main force. Consequently, our military and people in the Central Highlands had to fight fiercely in a long time, with a huge drain on our materials and strength. Hence, making both material and mental preparations would be a prerequisite for a victory. The Campaign Party Committee and Command directed units to “raise their strength to defeat the massive quantity of enemy troops.” Our troops were educated on the significance and goal of the Campaign and encouraged to surmount difficulties and fulfil their task. Troops were also provided with intensive technical and tactical training courses to fight the U.S. expeditionary force with great manoeuvrability and modern weapons.

To develop combat projects and plans and ensure a victory right in the first battle, the Campaign Command required cadres at battalion level and above to reconnoitre the field, design combat plans, and then stay there to directly exercise their direction over the preparatory work and the reception of troops for combat formations. At the same time, it directed engineering and transport units to quickly repair roads in the directions and mobilise troops from transport stations, offices, units, and citizens across the Front for receiving, exploiting, and transporting logistics materials, food, weapons, and ammunition. Due regard was paid to ensuring secrets; however, since the enemy enhanced their reconnaissance force, they partly knew our intention. Therefore, on the one hand, our Command stepped up operations behind the enemy as diversionary tactics. On the other hand, it actively deployed troops to fill the battlefield three to five days earlier than expected. As a result, our military and people in the Central Highlands created greater strength than the enemy and forced them to deploy their troops according to our Campaign’s combat intention.

2. We correctly selected the decisive battlefield and built an inter-connected, flexible, solid posture. Against the expeditionary force as a new object of struggle, the Campaign Command selected a key battlefield that would facilitate our attack, defence, force disposition and posture change and prevent the enemy from maximising the power of their materiel and reinforcements. To defeat the enemy’s counter-attacks with the number of troops equivalent to a brigade, the Campaign Command chose the heights of Ngoc Do Lang, Ngoc Rinh Rua, Ngoc Kom Liet, and Ngoc Kring as the key battlefield, while organising several key positions at the heights No.782, No.875, No.843 and No.882. Those heights were connected with one another and located in jungles, thereby being favourable for us to deploy personnel and means to set up a closed perimeter against the enemy and place them under more pressures in Dak To - Tan Canh. When organising counter-attacks and raids, the enemy would have to deploy their formation in unfavourable places and face difficulties in fire support (that area was about 8 to 12 km far from Dak To - Tan Canh). As a result, their manoeuvrability and attack speed would be reduced, while their troops and means would be exposed outside fortifications, thus being easily destroyed. After undertaking the task, the Division 1 deployed the Regiment 320 to Ngoc Do Lang and Ngoc Rinh Rua, the Regiment 66 to Ngoc Kom Liet and Ngoc Kon Kring, and the Regiment 174 to the heights No.882 and No.875 - the Campaign’s decisive battlefield. One company was stationed at the height No.882 and another one was at the height No.875. Besides, one company was deployed to the West of the height No.875 to create a solid, inter-connected, flexible posture against counter-attacks and raids launched by the enemy’s 1st Brigade and 173rd Parachute Brigade when they fell into our battlefield prepared in advance at the height No.875.

3. We flexibly employed tactics and combat methods and opportunely changed the posture. To defeat the enemy in the North Central Highlands defensive line, their “search and rescue” strategy, and their entire rescue troops, our units flexibly applied various methods to entice the enemy into our key battlefield. At the same time, we transformed from ambush and raid into “manoeuvre for attack associated with key positions.” That type of tactics was first used by the Central Highlands armed forces to directly fight the U.S. expeditionary force, marking a development in creatively applying the tactics of “manoeuvre for attack” during the resistance war against the French into the resistance war against the U.S. on the Central Highlands battlefield.

After knowing that we had not mounted large-scale attacks in Gia Lai and Dak Lak, the enemy deployed the 1st Brigade to conquer Ngoc Rinh Rua, the height No.882, and Ngoc Do Lang with the aim of suppressing our attacks. In order to maintain the initiative on the battlefield, the Campaign Command used the defensive force in the key positions and other mobile units to ambush and attack the two flanks and rear of the enemy’s 1st Brigade, thus inflicting heavy losses on one enemy battalion and forcing the enemy to deploy the 173rd Parachute Brigade to Dak To. Grasping that intent, our Division 1 employed troops in the key positions of Ngoc Do Lang, Ngoc Kom Liet, and the heights No.843 and No.882 to encircle and force the 173rd Parachute Brigade to deploy its troops at a disadvantage under our artillery fire; it quickly transformed the posture from ambush into manoeuvre for attacking the enemy at the height No.875. After combating the enemy’s airborne operation, the Regiment 174 under the Division 1 abandoned the height No.882 and shifted the Battalion 3 and a section of the Battalion 1 to the height No.875 so as to establish a “tripod” defensive posture against the enemy in that area. When the enemy started deploying their rescue troops, the Division 1 closely cooperated with other units of the Campaign in organising forces at company and battalion levels, setting up key attacking positions, and then manoeuvring to annihilate one battalion of the 173rd Parachute Brigade and one company of the Calvary Division on the decisive battlefield at the height No.875, victorious ending the Campaign.

The Dak To Campaign provides us with both practically and theoretically valuable lessons on making preparations, building the posture, creatively employing tactics, and developing new combat methods to defeat the enemy’s rescue troops. If a war to defend the Homeland occurred, the enemy’s forces would include the navy, the ground force, and the air force with a high level of manoeuvrability and modern, high-precision weapons and equipment. Therefore, those lessons drawn from the Dak To Campaign should continue to be further studied, applied, and developed in the new condition.

Sr. Col. NGUYEN HUNG CHIEN, PhD

Army Academy

Your Comment (0)

Artillery Corps in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign - lessons for today
After 56 days of fighting, the VPA’s fledgling Artillery Corps accomplished successfully its mission to suppress and destroy the enemy’s artillery sites, controlled the airfields, destroy its headquarters and installations, disrupt logistic lines of communication, and effectively support the infantry to surround and destroy every fortification and the whole fortified complex of Dien Bien Phu, making important contribution to a world-shaking victory