Monday, June 24, 2019, 11:10 (GMT+7)
The art of operational direction in the Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign

To implement the “Vietnamization Strategy”, in early 1971, together with its plan to pacify South Vietnam, America concentrated its forces on launching “counter-attacks to the outer line” in a bid to cut off the North - South strategic transport line, destroy our strategic rear bases on the battlefields of Laos and Cambodia, and strangle our people’s resistance war in the South and the revolutions in Laos and Cambodia. To that end, U.S. and Saigon army mobilized 88 infantry battalions and 15 armoured brigades to simultaneously stage 3 offensives in 3 directions aimed at the Truong Son Strategic Transport Line. They mobilized a very large number of infantry troops, tanks, armoured vehicles, and aircraft to mount the Operation Lam Son 719 in the Route 9 - Southern Laos, which was the enemy’s largest campaign.

Grasping the situation, the enemy’s plots and tricks of “changing the skin colour of the corpses”, and their plan on a new military adventure, our Politburo and Central Military Commission pointed out that the enemy’s operation in the Route 9 - Southern Laos would cause us a lot of difficulties, but their risky deployment of the main forces to the outer line, particularly to the mountainous battlefield would provide us with a favourable opportunity to annihilate them and make a decision to launch the Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign with the determination to defeat the enemy’s strategic operation and defend our strategic transport line in any situation. Under the direction of the Party Central Committee, our forces in the Campaign proactively made elaborate preparations and organized a large-scale joint operation in a close, flexible, creative manner. After 50 continuous days and nights, the Campaign achieved the resounding victory1 and provided us with valuable lessons, including those on the art of operational direction as follows.

First, directing elaborate, comprehensive preparation - a prerequisite for the Campaign’s victory. Preparation always plays a role of utmost importance to all types of operations and especially to a counter-offensive campaign as it is a basic element in achieving the initiative and creating the strength to defeat the enemy while the two sides are in the state of “movement”. During the Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign, strategic commands directed the forces in the Campaign to make preparations very early and elaborately. Regarding the combat plan, grounded on the correct evaluation of the situation, in May 1970, the General Staff had drawn up the “Guidelines on the task and the combat plan in Central - Southern Laos” and given instructions to the fronts of B4 and B5 and the Corps 559 on preparing their own combat plan. In October 1970, the General Staff continued to instruct the staff office of the B70 Front to prepare the combat plans (including the combat plan for the Route 9 - Southern Laos 1971 Spring Campaign). Notably, after the Central Military Commission issued the Determination, the General Staff directly formulated the general plan for the Route 9 - Southern Laos Campaign and directed the B702 Front - the Route 9 - Southern Laos Front to make it a complete combat plan. The work of preparing the battlefield and especially the work of issuing the directives and instructing units to make reconnaissance of the battlefield were directed closely. In addition, units were directed to construct the Road 10, consolidate the Road 16D, and make use of the existing roads to form an interconnected system of roads so as to meet the demands for force manoeuvre and logistics-technical support for the Campaign. The system of communications was established in a smooth way from the Ministry of National Defence to the Military Region 5 and the Corps 559 in readiness for the Campaign in the Route 9 - Southern Laos. Logistics units at the strategic level proactively prepared supplies for the operation of 50,000-60,000 troops in 4-5 months.

Our troops in Khe Sanh (file photo)

Concerning the manpower, the Ministry of National Defence decided to mobilize a rather large number of troops in the Campaign with the Corps 70 as the core force. The Route 9 Front’s Command and Party Committee were founded to command all forces in the Campaign and organize coordination with relevant battlefields. In late October 1970, the Battalion 4 (Regiment 24) was deployed to the Route 9 to construct the system of fortifications and clusters of defensive positions at the heights 351 and 311 and Cha Ki bridge. The Corps 559 was ordered to maintain readiness for cooperating with the Ministry’s mobile forces in combat. The main Division 2 under the Military Region 5 was required to reinforce training in the Route 9. The main Division 324 under the Tri Thien Military Region was deployed to Muong Noong. Units of the Corps B70 gathered in the Southern area of the Military Region 4. Under the direct direction by the General Staff, all preparations for the Campaign were made early and comprehensively as an essential prerequisite for the victory.

Second, maintaining the close cooperation between the mobile forces and the on-spot forces to achieve the synergy to defeat the enemy equipped with modern materiel. Organizing and using the forces and maintaining coordination to promote the synergy of the forces in all types of operations represent a creative feature of Vietnamese people’s war in which the main mobile forces play the core role while the strength of the on-spot forces is exploited to the utmost. In the Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign, the Campaign’s Command succeeded in directing and commanding the combat coordination between the mobile forces and the on-spot forces, promoted the combat strength of each force, and created a favourable condition for the forces to support one another and fulfil the Campaign’s goal together.

Right after the enemy deployed their forces, the Campaign’s Command used the on-spot forces to fight and attack them continuously, extensively, destroy each section of the enemy, shoot down their low-flying aircraft, and destroy their strategic rear bases, thereby forcing them to disperse their forces to respond to the situation and creating a favourable condition for our main forces to concentrate the strength on launching decisive attacks and annihilate a large number of the enemy’s troops. Units of the Corps 559 shot down and destroyed over 250 aircraft, 2,000 troops, and 30 military vehicles. The B5 Front’s forces fought the enemy on the move, stepped up assaults on the enemy’s logistics bases and headquarters in Khe Sanh, Ta Con, Sa Muu, Dong Ha, Ai Tu, and Cua Viet, thereby causing them casualties and loss of means of war, forcing them to deploy 2 US brigades and 2 artillery battalions to hold the rear, undermining their reinforcements and fire support for the front forces. Right after exactly knowing the enemy’s intention of attacking the Route 9 - Southern Laos, the Campaign’s Command directed the main forces to quickly move to stated positions under the combat plan and make best use of the fruits of the on-spot forces’ operation to launch counter-attacks and attacks against the enemy with the strength created by joint operation and the decisive battles to destroy the enemy’s Northern flank and smash the enemy’s Southern flank. The main forces were also commanded to concentrate their strength on staging a key attack on the enemy’s headquarters in Ban Dong and defeat their offensive.

Third, directing the flexible, creative employment of combat method, contributing to winning the decisive victory in the Campaign. During a campaign, tactical operations always play the very important role as a direct element in achieving the victory and goal of the campaign. In the Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign, the Command directed tactical-level units to apply various creative methods of combat, step by step neutralize the enemy’s combat methods and tactics, gradually push the enemy from proactive offensive into passive defence, which provided us with a favourable opportunity to mount counter-attacks and transform from counter-attack into attack to achieve the decisive victory. Typically, the Corps 559 equipped its troops with the 12.7-mm and 15.5-mm machine guns reserved in its depot to create an extensive, multi-layer posture so that troops could shoot down the enemy’s helicopters effectively, greatly contributed to defeating their tactics of “helicopter transport” during the “Operation Lam Son 719”. To deal with the enemy’s strategy on using tanks and armoured vehicles along the Route 9 to attack us, our units organized defensive positions at the heights 351 and 311 and Cha Ki bridge to prevent and smash the enemy’s attacks, while using small-scale detachments to ambush the enemy, attack the enemy’s flanks and rear, and destroy each section of the enemy. Notably, to fight the enemy in Ban Dong, on the one hand, we organized defensive battlefield in the Western Ban Dong, resolutely prevented the enemy from attacking Se Pon, and used the Regiment 36 and a section of the Campaign’s artillery and commando forces to assault and annihilate the enemy’s troops. On the other hand, we continued using the mobile forces to fight the enemy in the Lao Bao - Ban Dong section of the Route 9, thereby isolating the enemy’s main forces in each area, especially containing the majority of the enemy’s forces and equipment in Ban Dong, and pushing them into the defensive state. Accordingly, we had a chance to launch large-scale attacks, annihilate a large number of the enemy’s troops, and obtain the decisive victory.

The Route 9 - Southern Laos Counter-Offensive Campaign’s victory is of strategic significance and marks the development of Vietnam’s operational art, particularly in the counter-offensive campaigns. The lessons from this Campaign remain valuable and should be developed in line with the people’s war for the Homeland protection in the new condition.

Col. Nguyen Trung Thanh, MA, The Campaign Department

National Defence Academy

(1) We annihilated over 21,000 enemy troops, caused 2 brigades and 1 infantry regiment heavy losses, shot down and destroyed 556 aircraft, 528 tanks and armoured vehicles, 112 artillery and mortar guns, and took 2 helicopters, 24 military vehicles, 78 artillery guns, 2,000 infantry guns, and many pieces of military equipment.

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