Battle of Ban Houei Sane

The Battle of Ban Houei Sane was a battle of the Vietnam War that began on the night of 23 January 1968, when the 24th Regiment of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 304th Division overran the small Royal Lao Army outpost at Ban Houei Sane. The fighting at Ban Houei Sane was one in a series of battles fought between North Vietnamese and Allied forces during the Tet Offensive. The small outpost, defended by the 700 man Bataillon Volontaire (BV-33)[3], was attacked and overwhelmed by the vastly superior PAVN and their PT-76 light tanks. The failure of BV-33 to defend their outpost at Ban Houei Sane would have negative consequences only a few weeks later, when the PAVN would strike again at Lang Vei.

Background

During the First Indochina War the Viet Minh constructed a pathway in neighbouring Laos in order to transport vital military supplies to southern Vietnam. Over time that pathway, now known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, grew in importance as the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam sought to topple the rival government in the south, the Republic of Vietnam.

In the late 1950s, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was expanded to support the Viet Cong (VC)'s increasing military activities in South Vietnam. To protect this vital lifeline, the PAVN were deployed to take control of various areas in eastern Laos adjacent to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. The increasing PAVN activities in those parts of Laos did not go unnoticed, as the governments of South Vietnam and Laos began working together to establish a small outpost at Ban Houei Sane for the purpose of monitoring PAVN movements in 1959.[4]

In April 1961, the newly created Bataillon Volontaire 33 (BV-33) of the Royal Lao Army arrived at Ban Houei Sane, after it was forced to retreat from Tchephone by PAVN and Pathet Lao forces.[5] At Ban Houei Sane, the Laotians constructed new defensive positions with assistance from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)'s 1st Infantry Division. One year later, BV-33 began monitoring North Vietnamese movements along the Vietnam-Laotian border.[4]

Battle

By the mid-1960s, when U.S military forces increased their presence in South Vietnam, the Laotian units at Ban Houei Sane also detected increasing PAVN movement along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Towards the end of December 1967 six thousand trucks carrying supplies for PAVN/VC forces in southern Vietnam were detected moving down the Trail.[6] That tremendous build-up came as a result of North Vietnam's decision to launch an all-out attack on Allied forces during the Tet celebrations.[7]

In order to lure American combat units away from the major cities the North Vietnamese High Command decided to launch the first strike; on 21 January 1968, the PAVN began their attacks on the Khe Sanh Combat Base, where six thousand U.S. Marines were stationed. As part of that major effort, General Tran Quy Hai made the decision to knock out the small outpost of Ban Houei Sane once and for all, as the Royal Laotian Army's BV-33 was considered an important tool in the Allies' intelligence gathering effort.[8]

On the night of 23 January 1968, the PAVN 24th Regiment struck the defenders of Ban Houei Sane from three directions. Initially the assault was spearheaded by the 3/24 Battalion with the 198th Armoured Battalion in support, but the first assault wave was delayed for various reasons. Firstly PAVN infantry and armoured corps lacked the experience in combined operations, secondly the local terrain posed many difficulties for the tank crews, causing the PT-76 light tanks to bog down attempting to cross a stream. By 06:00 Colonel Lê Công Phê ordered his troops to advance on Ban Houei Sane despite the delays of the 198th Armoured Battalion. As PAVN units moved towards the Laotian outpost, the PT-76's of the 198th Battalion turned up causing much confusion among the defenders.[2]

On the day the PAVN launched their attacks, the weather was poor for aerial operations. As PAVN engineers blew up Laotian obstacles there was little that U.S. Forward Air Controllers could do to stop their advance as ground targets could not be identified.[6]:15–16 After three hours of fighting the Laotian commander, Lieutenant Colonel Soulang Phetsampou, informed the U.S. Forward Air Controllers that all Laotian positions had been overwhelmed and that they would abandon the outpost. At that point, the Laotian commander requested assistance from the CIDG camp at Lang Vei, to help evacuate his soldiers and their families. However assistance from Lang Vei would never arrive, so the soldiers of BV-33 and more than two thousand civilian refugees made their way eastward along Route 9, approaching the South Vietnamese border. On 24 January, the survivors of the Ban Houei Sane battle and their families reached the Lang Vei CIDG camp. Initially the military personnel at Lang Vei treated the Laotian refugees with caution, but they were finally given assistance when the Lang Vei camp commander allowed the Laotians to take up positions in the nearby Lang Vei village.[8]

The next target

For Captain Frank C. Willoughby, commander of the Lang Vei CIDG camp, the arrival of the Laotian refugees also brought some disturbing development on the battlefield. For the first time the PAVN had deployed tanks in battle, and it was only fifteen kilometres away from Lang Vei. Fearing a repeat of the deadly PAVN attacks, BV-33 soldiers were allowed to assist local forces by conducting patrols around the CIDG camp.[8] As the Laotians settled down in Lang Vei, the U.S. Air Force conducted airstrikes targeting the Ban Houei Sane airfield to prevent the PAVN from utilising the airfield for operations against Khe Sanh.[6]:23–24 On 30 January, Captain Willoughby's fears were confirmed when a PAVN soldier defected to the special forces at Lang Vei, and informed them of the whereabouts of the 304th Division. On 6 February 1968, the PAVN struck Lang Vei.

See also

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

  1. ^ Kelley, Michael (2002). Where we were in Vietnam. Hellgate Press. p. 5–32. ISBN 978-1555716257.
  2. ^ a b "VVA article". Archived from the original on 2014-07-06. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  3. ^ Prados, John (1991). Valley of Decision: the Siege of Khe Sanh. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. p. 18.
  4. ^ a b Conboy, Ken (1995). Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos. Paladin Press. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-1581605358.
  5. ^ Vongsavanh, Soutchay (1981). RLG Military Operations and Activities in the Laotian Panhandle. U.S. Army Center of Military History. p. 35. ISBN 9781780392646.
  6. ^ a b c Trest, Warren A. (1997). Project Checo Southeast Asia Study: Khe Sanh (Operation Niagara) 22 January - 31 March 1968. Headquarters Pacific Air Forces. p. 3. ISBN 978-1780398075.
  7. ^ Ang, Cheng Guan (2001). Khe Sanh – from the Perspective of the North Vietnamese Communists in War in History Vol. 8, No. 1. pp. 90–92.
  8. ^ a b c Prados, John (1999). The Blood Road: the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. Wiley. pp. 245–6. ISBN 9780471254652.

External links

1966 Laotian coup

The 1966 Laotian coup was brought about by political infighting concerning control of the Royal Lao Air Force, and use of its transports for smuggling. General Thao Ma, who wished to reserve the transports for strictly military use, was forced into exile on 22 October 1966 by fellow generals angling to use the transports for smuggling opium and gold.

1968 in Laos

The following lists events that happened during 1968 in Laos.

1973 Laotian coup

The 1973 Laotian coup was a final attempt to stave off a communist coalition government of the Kingdom of Laos. Exiled General Thao Ma returned from the Kingdom of Thailand on 20 August 1973 to take over Wattay International Airport outside the capital of Vientiane. Commandeering an AT-28, he led air strikes upon the office and home of his hated rival, General Kouprasith Abhay. While Thao Ma was unsuccessfully bombing Kouprasith, loyal Royalist troops retook the airfield. Shot down upon his return, Thao Ma was hauled from his airplane's wreckage and executed. The coalition agreement was signed 14 September 1973.

Campaign 972

Campaign 972 (28 October 1972 – 22 February 1973) was the final offensive in the south of the Kingdom of Laos by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). After fending off a score of Royal Lao Government attacks against the Ho Chi Minh Trail between June 1969 and late 1972, the PAVN attacked and essentially cut Laos in two at Khong Sedone by November 1972. Sporadic ongoing fighting, especially for control of Paksong, continued until 8 February 1973. Although a ceasefire officially ended the Laotian Civil War at noon on 23 February with Salavan,

Thakhek, and Lao Ngam in Communist hands, the PAVN launched another successful assault on Paksong 15 minutes later.

Operation Bedrock (Laos)

Operation Bedrock (Laos) (1–9 November 1971) was a military offensive staged by the Royal Lao Armed Forces against the People's Army of Vietnam in Military Region 4 of the Kingdom of Laos. Its purpose was disruption of the supply of rice to Communist forces occupying the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was successful.

Operation Black Lion III

Operation Black Lion III (18 October 1972 – 22 February 1973) was one of the last Royal Lao Army offensives of the Laotian Civil War. Aimed at regaining the Lao towns of Paksong and Salavan and their associated airfields for Lao usage, the three regiment offensive captured Salavan on 20 October 1972, and Paksong shortly thereafter. Although the besieged Royalists would hold through early February 1973, they would be routed by PAVN tanks and infantry just before the 22 February 1973 ceasefire ended the war.

Operation Counterpunch

Operation Counterpunch, waged 26 September 1970 to 7 January 1971, was a military offensive of the Laotian Civil War. Royalist General Vang Pao's guerrilla army regained the vital all-weather forward fighter base at Muang Soui on the Plain of Jars from the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). The preemptive Counterpunch was credited with delaying an imminent PAVN wet season offensive for a month. The guerrilla army survived, though still heavily outnumbered by the PAVN.

Operation Left Jab

Operation Left Jab was the first military offensive launched against the Sihanouk Trail extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Second Indochina War. It was the first battalion-sized operation waged by the Royal Lao Army against the communists. Carried out between 21 and 26 June 1969, the assault interdicted Route 110 of the Sihanouk Trail for its planned three-day stoppage of military supplies. The Royalist guerrillas of Special Guerrilla Unit 2 then evaded an approaching counterattack and regrouped in friendly territory. Operation Left Jab had cleared the way for Operation Diamond Arrow.

Operation Maharat II

Operation Maharat II (31 December 1972 – 5 February 1973) was a Royalist offensive against Pathet Lao insurrectionists during the Laotian Civil War. The Royalists planned a two pronged convergence on four Pathet Lao battalions holding the intersection of routes 7 and 13. With neither side particularly avid for combat, the situation was resolved by the Royalist reinforcement of its attack forces until the Communists faced overwhelming odds. The Pathet Lao then decamped. Operation Maharat II ended on 5 February with an artillery fire base supporting an irregular regiment occupying the road intersection. On 22 February 1973, a ceasefire took effect.

Operation Phalat

Operation Phalat (2 April–20 August 1971) was a military offensive of the Laotian Civil War aimed at an active defense of the Kingdom of Thailand's northern border with the Kingdom of Laos. Evoked by the approach of The Chinese Road, and despite feeble cooperation from the Royal Lao Government, the Thai military established a three-battalion presence on Lao territory south of the Mekong River as a defense against potential invasion by the People's Republic of China.

Operation Phoutah

Operation Phoutah (15 May – late September 1971) was one of a series of offensive operations aimed at the vital Ho Chi Minh trail complex during the Second Indochina War. Staged by a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored Royalist Laotian irregular regiment, Operation Phoutah was a defensive strike against an oncoming offensive from the 50,000 North Vietnamese troops safeguarding the major transshipment point centered on Tchepone, Laos. The Royalist objective was the capture and occupation of Moung Phalane, which was needed to continue staging guerrilla raids on the Trail. In this, Operation Phoutah failed.

Operation Silver Buckle

Operation Silver Buckle (5 January – 11 February 1971), an offensive staged in Military Region 4 of the Kingdom of Laos, was the deepest Royal Lao Armed Forces penetration to date of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Reaching the Trailside village of Moung Nong, the forward two companies attacked the rear of the 50,000 People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) garrison on 8 February 1971, just as Operation Lam Son 719 was launched by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Overrun and scattered while suffering serious casualties, the Groupement Mobile 30 irregular regiment of Silver Buckle had tied up at least six PAVN battalions, preventing them from opposing Lam Son 719.

Operation Sinsay

Operation Sinsay (11 February – c. 31 March 1972) was a Royal Lao Government offensive of the Laotian Civil War. The planned offensive was pre-empted by prior moves by the opposing People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN); they struck on 6 March 1972. Although the Communist attack reached Laongam, 21 kilometers from Pakxe and the Thai border, and the defending Royalist battalions there were reassigned to fight in Operation Strength on the Plain of Jars, monarchist guerrillas were able to interdict Communist supply lines and force a Vietnamese retreat by the end of March 1972.

Operation Star (Laos)

Operation Star was a highly classified military intelligence gathering program set up in late 1965 by the Royal Thai Government during the Vietnam War. It was co-located with the American Central Intelligence Agency's Operation Hardnose at Camp Siberia 26 kilometers northeast of Savannakhet, Laos. The operation was founded although American intelligence sources in the area already shared their results with the Thais. Royal Thai Special Forces assigned as instructors to Operation Hardnose were utilized as reconnaissance teams. In early 1967, the CIA eventually severed the Thai intelligence operation from the instructional duties for Lao irregular military troops.

Operation Xieng Dong

Operation Xieng Dong (7 April–5 June 1971) was a successful defensive strike by the Royal Lao Army (RLA) against an invasion by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). In early February 1971, PAVN forces swept RLA defenders from a line of hilltop positions guarding the royal capital of Luang Prabang. The city's perceived invulnerability to attack was shattered. King Sisavang Vatthana refused to leave his capital. Other Military Regions of Laos hastily forwarded to Luang Prabang's Military Region 1 any troops that could be spared from the rest of the Laotian Civil War. On 7 April, the resulting patchwork force of RLA battalions, Forces Armee Neutraliste half regiment, and Central Intelligence Agency-backed Special Guerrilla Units managed a three-pronged offensive supported by tactical aviation that surrounded and defeated the invading PAVN 335th Independent Regiment, which had gotten within eight kilometers of Luang Prabang. By 5 June 1971, the 335th was in full retreat.

Phou Khao Kham

Phou Khao Kham (Gold Mountain), (5 August – 25 September 1971) was a Royal Lao Government military offensive operation of the Laotian Civil War designed to clear Communist forces off Routes 13 and 7 north of the administrative capital of Vientiane. Its end objective was the capture of the forward fighter base at Muang Soui on the Plain of Jars. Although it succeeded in taking the air base, it failed to remove a concentration of Communist troops at the Sala Phou Khoun intersection of Routes 7 and 13.

Project Copper

Project Copper was a coordinated military action undertaken by the Kingdom of Laos and the Khmer Republic from 1 January–May 1971. It used U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) funds channeled through the Central Intelligence Agency to train three Cambodian battalions to interdict the Sihanouk Trail before it joined the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Committed to battle in southern Laos on 1 January 1971, one battalion deserted the battlefield, a second one mutinied during training, and a third had to be repurposed after suffering 80 casualties. By late January, the project was temporarily suspended.

Project Copper was revived in March 1971. Lon Non committed his 15 Brigade Infanterie (15 BI) to the task. One battalion of the brigade occupied two minor outposts. The Cambodian troops were recalled for duty near Phnom Penh, with the last of them being repatriated in June 1971. Thus began and ended military cooperation between the two governments.

Project Hotfoot (Laos)

Project Hotfoot (also known as Operation Hotfoot) was a secretive military training mission from the United States in support of the Kingdom of Laos. It ran from 22 January 1959 through 19 April 1961. Working in civilian clothing in conjunction with a French military mission, it concentrated on technical training of the Royal Lao Army.

Wapi Project

The Wapi Project was a civic action program originated by the Royal Lao Government; it was performed in Military Region 3 of Laos from late 1963 through 1967. Notable for being among the first integrated programs to offer integrated services to the Lao Theung populace of southern Laos, it became a victim of its own success. Its lean efficiency led to its being crowded out of funding by more expensive programs.

Military engagements of the Laotian Civil War

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