Operation Chenla I

Operation Chenla I or Chenla One was a major military operation conducted by the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK) during the Cambodian Civil War. It began in late August 1970 and ended in February 1971, due to the FANK High Command's decision to withdraw some units from Tang Kauk to protect Phnom Penh after Pochentong airbase was attacked.


Following the overthrow of the Cambodian head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, in a coup d'état in March 1970 and its replacement by the pro-US Khmer Republic, the re-christened Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK) focused on expelling all People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) forces from their border sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia after the new President of the Khmer Republic, Marshal Lon Nol, issued an ultimatum. However, from May 1970, the ill-prepared FANK was quickly placed at a strategic disadvantage following the seizure of the northeastern areas of the country (the provinces of Stung Treng, Ratanakiri, Kratie, and Mondulkiri) by the PAVN in response to the ultimatum and the loss to the Khmer Rouge insurgents of several peripheral eastern and southwestern Cambodian provinces (Kampot, Koh Kong, Kampong Cham, Preah Vihear, plus portions of Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng, and Svay Rieng Provinces) during that same year.

In July 1970, the FANK High Command decided to take advantage of a lull in PAVN/VC activity as an opportunity to regain the strategic initiave and raise the morale of the FANK troops by retaking large expanses of rich rice-growing areas in northeastern Cambodia not under the Khmer Rouge control. Lon Nol made preparations for an offensive plan codenamed 'Chenla' to be launched in late August of that same year. An ANK task-force consisting of a dozen infantry battalions – which included several 'repatriated' Khmer Krom volunteer battalions recruited in South Vietnam – supported by armour and artillery was assembled for the operation, which relied on limited ground and air support from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF).[1][2]


Initially, Operation Chenla I went on as planned. The offensive began in late August, when the FANK task-force under the command of Brigadier-General Um Savuth converged on Route 6 and its objectives were two-fold: firstly, sweep away PAVN and VC forces along the road and recapture the rice paddies around Kampong Cham.[1]:6 Secondly, clear Route 7, which was repeatedly attacked by Khmer Rouge forces, in order to reconnect Skoun and Kampong Thom. The FANK task-force succeeded in catching the PAVN/VC by surprise, retaking Tang Kauk during early September with ease and opened 15 miles of Route 6 for a short time and the Cambodian troops then helped resettle refugees and raised local self-defense forces.[1]:6

In response to this offensive, the PAVN/VC forces mounted a series of counter-attacks along Route 7, intended to block the advance of the FANK units; the areas around Kompong Cham and Prey Totung saw significant fighting during the closing months of 1970. As a result of the pressure exerted by the PAVN's 9th Division, the FANK couldn't advance further beyond Tang Kauk. Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units then linked with the Cambodian task-force east of the Mekong River in December, allowing the FANK to reopen Route 7 without making contact with enemy troops.

However, on the night of 21–22 January 1971, a hundred or so-strong PAVN 'Commando' force (Vietnamese: Dac Cong or 'Sappers') managed to pass undetected through the defensive perimeter of the Special Military Region (French: Region Militaire Spéciale – RMS) set by the FANK around Phnom Penh and carried out a spectacular raid on Pochentong airbase, virtually destroying the then Khmer Air Force (AAK) on the ground. The surrounding areas around the airbase were also targeted. President Lon Nol extended the 'State of Emergency' for another six months as some FANK units fighting at Tang Kauk were recalled and redeployed to protect Phnom Penh, effectively bringing Chenla I to an end.[2]:217-8[1]:19-20[3]


Despite early gains, the FANK only achieved a limited strategic success, with the cost of sacrificing some of the more experienced Khmer Krom battalions; the PAVN and VC still controlled a large portion of territory east of Phnom Penh. Lon Nol was evacuated by U.S. aircraft for treatment at the Tripler General Hospital in Hawaii after suffering a severe stroke.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Conboy, Kenneth; Bowra, Kenneth (1989). The War in Cambodia 1970-75 Men-at-arms series 209. Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 6. ISBN 978-0850458510.
  2. ^ a b Conboy, Kenneth (2011). FANK: A History of the Cambodian Armed Forces, 1970-1975. Equinox Publishing (Asia) Pte Ltd. p. 10. ISBN 9789793780863.
  3. ^ Conboy, Kenneth; McCouaig, Simon (1991). South-East Asian Special Forces, Elite series 33. Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 53. ISBN 1855321068.


  • Frédéric Serra, L’armée nord-vietnamienne, 1954–1975 (2e partie), in Armes Militaria Magazine n.º 322, May 2012. ISSN 0753-1877 (in French)
  • Kenneth Conboy, Kenneth Bowra, and Simon McCouaig, The NVA and Viet Cong, Elite series 38, Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford 1992. ISBN 9781855321625
  • Sak Sutsakhan, The Khmer Republic at War and the Final Collapse, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington D.C. 1980. – available online at Part 1Part 2Part 3 Part 4.

External links

Battle of Kampot

The Battle of Kampot was a major battle of the Vietnam War, also a part of the Cambodian Civil War. From February 26 to April 2, 1974, Cambodian government troops battled Khmer Rouge guerillas for the control of Kampot city.

Khmer Republic

The Khmer Republic (Khmer: សាធារណរដ្ឋខ្មែរ, French: République khmère) was the pro–United States military-led republican government of Cambodia that was formally declared on 9 October 1970. Politically, the Khmer Republic was headed by General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak that took power in the 18 March 1970 coup against Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then the country's head of state.

The main causes of the coup were Norodom Sihanouk's toleration of North Vietnamese activity within Cambodia's borders, allowing heavily armed Vietnamese Communist outfits de facto control over vast areas of eastern Cambodia. Another important factor was the dire state of the Cambodian economy, an indirect result of Sihanouk's policies of pursuing neutrality.With the removal of Sihanouk, the existing Kingdom of Cambodia became a republic, although the throne had been officially vacant for some years since the death of King Norodom Suramarit. The character of the new regime was right-wing and nationalist; most significantly, it ended Sihanouk's period of covert co-operation with the North Vietnamese regime and the Viet Cong, and aligned Cambodia with South Vietnam in the ongoing Second Indochina War. The Khmer Republic was opposed within the Cambodian borders by the Front uni national du Kampuchéa (FUNK), a relatively broad alliance between Sihanouk, his supporters, and the Communist Party of Kampuchea. The insurgency itself was conducted by the CPNLAF, the Cambodian People's National Liberation Armed Forces: they were backed by both the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front (NLF, better known as the Viet Cong), who occupied parts of Cambodia as part of their ongoing war with the South Vietnamese government.

Despite the strongly militaristic character of the Khmer Republic, and quantities of military and financial aid from the United States, its military the Khmer National Armed Forces (Forces armées nationales khmères, or FANK) was poorly trained and unable to defeat either the CPNLAF or the Vietnamese forces of the PAVN and NLF. The Republic eventually fell on 17 April 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh and briefly restored the Kingdom of Cambodia before renaming itself Democratic Kampuchea in January 1976.

List of allied military operations of the Vietnam War (1970)

This article is a list of known military operations of the Vietnam War in 1970, conducted by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam, the Khmer Republic, the United States and their allies.

List of allied military operations of the Vietnam War (A–F)

This article is a list of known military operations of the Vietnam War, a war fought by America to try to stop communism in Southeast Asia, conducted by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam, the United States and their assorted allies. This is not a complete list. Operations are currently listed alphabetically, but are being progressively reorganised as a chronology.

List of battles (geographic)

This list of battles is organized geographically, by country in its present territory.

Operation Chenla II

Operation Chenla II or Chenla Two was a major military operation conducted by the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK) during the Cambodian Civil War from 20 August until 3 December 1971.

Um Savuth

Um Savuth (? - 1972) was a Cambodian army officer who came to his greatest prominence during the Cambodian Civil War, where he was responsible for commanding the Khmer National Armed Forces during their disastrous 1971 offensive, Operation Chenla I. The son of a government chauffeur, and the younger brother of politician Um Samuth, Savuth began his career in the Royal Cambodian Army under the regime of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and became a supporter of General Lon Nol after the latter's 1970 coup against Sihanouk.

Savuth was largely paralyzed down one side of his body, walked with the aid of a cane, and was, reputedly, continually drunk to numb the pain of his condition. This had come about due to an incident earlier in his career in which he had drunkenly insisted that a subordinate shoot a live cat off his head, stating that it was a direct order when the soldier resisted. The shot missed, and part of Savuth's head was blown away: nevertheless, he continued his military career.Under Sihanouk's regime, Savuth (along with a fellow officer, Les Kosem) was closely involved in the formation of FULRO, a guerrilla resistance movement seeking autonomy for the Degar tribes of Vietnam. When Kosem disagreed with the direction being taken by FULRO's leader, Y-Bham Enuol, he forcibly detained him and placed him under house arrest at Savuth's residence in Phnom Penh. Like Kosem, Savuth was also known to be deeply implicated in Sihanouk's secret arrangement with North Vietnam by which weapons were smuggled through Cambodia (along the "Sihanouk Trail") to the Viet Cong.Subsequent to the Khmer Republic's declaration, Savuth rose to the rank of Brigadier-General. Despite assurances, from the Republic's US backers, that Savuth was "better drunk than most Cambodian officers sober", his most prominent campaign (Operation Chenla I) was a military disaster.

In 1971, Savuth wrote to US President Richard Nixon, offering him his pet elephant "Khaat" ("Little Frog") as a gift. Nixon did not respond to the offer, though Savuth's wife told Peter R. Kann of the Wall Street Journal that she was rather pleased with this as "giving away an elephant is bad luck".Savuth was killed in a car accident in November 1972, though Khmer Rouge radio claimed that he had died during an attack by CPNLAF troops along National Route 5. A newsreel of his subsequent cremation (in accordance with traditional Buddhist practices) is still held by the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

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