Operation Commando Hunt

Operation Commando Hunt was a covert U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction campaign that took place during the Vietnam War. The operation began on 11 November 1968 and ended on 29 March 1972. The objective of the campaign was to prevent the transit of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) personnel and supplies on the logistical corridor known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Road to the North Vietnamese) that ran from the southwestern Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) through the southeastern portion of the Kingdom of Laos and into the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

Operation Commando Hunt
Part of the Vietnam War
HCMTT

Targets: (top) loaded PAVN trucks, (mid) POL storage area, (bot) open supply storage area
Date11 November 1968 – 29 March 1972
Location
Southeastern Laos
Result Strategic US failure
Belligerents
Flag of the United States.svg United States,
Flag of South Vietnam.svg Republic of Vietnam,
Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand
Flag of Vietnam.svg Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
North Vietnam Đồng Sĩ Nguyên

Interdiction (1964–1968)

Systematic U.S. aerial operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail had begun on 14 December 1964 with Operation Barrel Roll.[1] With the onset of Operation Rolling Thunder, the strategic aerial bombardment of North Vietnam in April 1965, the U.S. also expanded its interdiction effort in Laos by dividing the Barrel Roll area into two sections on 3 April.[2] The former operation would continue in northeastern Laos while Operation Steel Tiger was initiated in the southern panhandle. The American headquarters in Saigon requested, and received, authorization to control bombing in the area adjacent to South Vietnam's northern provinces in Operation Tiger Hound on 3 December 1965.[3] The U.S. Air Force had already begun to up the ante in its anti-infiltration campaigns by unleashing B-52 Stratofortress bombers against the trail in December 1965.[4] From April through June 1966 there were 400 B-52 anti-infiltration sorties against the system.[5] The PAVN countered this effort by concentrating more anti-aircraft artillery weapons within its logistical network. Between 1964 and the end of 1967 there were 103,148 tactical air sorties launched against the trail, including 1,718 B-52 strikes.[6] During the same timeframe 132 U.S. aircraft or helicopters were shot down over Laos.[7]

And so matters stood until the massive PAVN/NLF Tet Offensive of early 1968. Although a tactical victory for American and South Vietnamese forces, Tet became a political disaster. The American public (who had been reassured by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Pentagon that the communists were incapable of launching any such actions) were stunned by the size and ferocity of the offensive. The light at the end of the tunnel had been extinguished, if it had ever existed at all.[8] The president, in an attempt to nudge Hanoi to the negotiating table, decreed an end to bombing operations in North Vietnam north of the 20th parallel, effectively ending Rolling Thunder on 11 November 1968.[9]

What this effectively did was shift the bombing campaign southwestward to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The interdiction campaign against the enemy logistics corridor was massively expanded due to the increased number of U.S. aircraft (approximately 500 planes) made available by the closure of Rolling Thunder. By November 1968 bombing missions over southern Laos had climbed by 300 percent, from 4,700 sorties in October to 12,800 in November.[10] By the end of the conflict, U.S. and South Vietnamese aircraft would drop over three million tons of ordnance on Laos, three times the total tonnage dropped on North Vietnam.[11] The new campaign against the trail was unprecedented, and not just due to the numbers sorties flown or munitions expended. The U.S. was going to field its latest technology in its attempt to prevent the North Vietnamese from toppling the South Vietnamese government.

Igloo White

HoCMT
Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1967.

As early as 1966 Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara had become increasingly disenchanted with the bombing of the north.[12] No amount of pressure, it seemed, could either drive Hanoi to the negotiating table or slow the flow of PAVN supplies and men to the south. He then began to consider an alternative in the form of a physical strongpoint/electronic barrier to infiltration that would stretch below the Demilitarized Zone from the coast to the Laotian frontier (and possibly beyond).[13] This was the origin of the so-called "McNamara Line."

The physical barrier was to be backed up by air-dropped and hand-emplaced acoustic and seismic sensors that would provide both warning and location of enemy movements. A scientific group was established to find or develop the technology for what was initially titled Practice Nine. On 17 June 1967 the title of the program was altered to Illinois City and on 15 July to Dyemarker, the electronic barrier portion of which was designated Muscle Shoals. In June 1968 it was renamed for the last time, becoming Operation Igloo White.[14]

Igloo White consisted of three interrelated parts. The battery-operated sensors would be monitored by an airborne command and control center (ABCCC), which would relay the information to an infiltration surveillance center (ISC), located at Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Thailand. Computers at the ISC would collate and analyze the data and then relay target coordinates to the ABCCC which would, in turn, direct strike aircraft to the targets. The hand emplacement of sensors and bomb damage assessment missions were to be carried out by the reconnaissance teams of the highly classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (SOG), which already operated "over the fence" in Laos. Construction began on the ISC on 6 July 1967 and was completed within three months.[15]

The anti-infiltration effort would be supported by MSQ-77 Combat Skyspot, a ground-based radar bombing system first introduced in Southeast Asia in 1966 to direct B-52 strikes in poor weather or in complete darkness.[16] This system was utilized to direct one-quarter of all strike missions conducted by U.S. aircraft during the conflict.[17] Combat Skyspot was complemented by expanding the radio-based LORAN system utilized by other strike aircraft.

A shakedown of the system took place during the first two weeks of November 1967 and it seemed to work.[18] The PAVN siege of the U.S. Marines at the Khe Sanh Combat Base, in western Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, provided the opportunity for an operational test. The American command in Saigon launched Operation Niagara, the largest tactical and B-52 operation thus far in the conflict, to support the Marines at Khe Sanh.[19] By the end of January 1968, Muscle Shoals had emplaced 316 sensors in 44 strings to detect PAVN troop movements in the vicinity of the combat base.[20] The operation was deemed a success, but locating and targeting enemy troops moving toward a fixed location like Khe Sanh was not the same as doing it on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

And there were already problems with the system. The anti-personnel portion of the program had already failed. The presence and movements of enemy troops were to be detected by the utilization of small, wide-area Gravel mines that were to alert the acoustic sensors.[21] Unfortunately, the mines rapidly deteriorated in the heat and humidity of Laos, nullifying their effectiveness. The focus of any interdiction campaign, therefore, would have to concentrate on PAVN supply transportation. The war against trucks was about to begin.

1968

The immediate result of the 11 November bombing halt was that the average daily sortie rate over southern Laos rose to 620 per day before the new campaign had even begun.[22] The freeing of aircraft (Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps) that had previously been participating in Rolling Thunder, when combined with those from Steel Tiger and Tiger Hound (which were both superseded by Commando Hunt), promised to create an interdiction effort of unprecedented scale. The new sensor-directed effort would see, for the first time, continuous round-the-clock bombing of the communist logistical system. During daylight, the missions would be performed by propeller-driven and jet fighter-bombers and B-52s. At night, fixed-wing gunships would prowl for prey. The new effort would also be supported by aerial defoliation missions (Operation Ranch Hand) and the cloud-seeding weather modification effort known as Operation Popeye (see Ho Chi Minh Trail). On 15 November 1968 the Seventh Air Force was granted authorization for launch of Commando Hunt.[23]

HCMTBA
Communist Base Areas, southern Laos.

It was decided to divide Commando Hunt into numerically designated phases that reflected the seasonal weather patterns in southern Laos. Odd numbered campaigns took place during PAVN's high activity period, which occurred during the dry season (November–May). Even numbered campaigns took place during the more dormant wet season (June–October). It was never assumed that the campaigns would halt the North Vietnamese logistical effort, so the goals of the campaigns were limited. They were to have two objectives:

First, to reduce the enemy's logistical flow by "substantially increasing the time needed to move supplies from North Vietnam to the south;" second, "to destroy trucks and supply caches along the roads, pathways, and streams and in the truck parks and storage areas along the Trail."[11]

Due to the failure of the anti-personnel portion of the system, the targets of Commando Hunt were trucks, the infrastructure of the trail (truck parks, supply caches, POL storage, etc.), the terrain itself (by creating landslides to destroy sections of the system), and finally, the ever-increasing numbers of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft weapons.

It was a daunting challenge. The Ho Chi Minh Trail (controlled by the 259th PAVN Logistical Group) consisted of a labyrinth of dirt roads, bicycle and foot paths, bypasses, storage areas, workshops, and truck parks that stretched from the mountain passes of North Vietnam, through the panhandle of Laos, and into east central Cambodia. The entire system was elaborately camouflaged from aerial observation and was constantly being maintained, expanded, and improved. By 1968 PAVN was relying less on manual labor and increasingly utilizing modern construction equipment. The CIA estimated during the year the 259th Group was using 20 bulldozers, eleven road graders, three rock crushers and two steamrollers on the network.[24] Manual labor was still provided by an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Laotians (mostly pressed into service) and North Vietnamese volunteers.[25]

1969

By the end of Commando Hunt I, the first dry season offensive of the campaign (15 November 1968 to 20 April 1969), the Air Force estimated that 7,322 enemy trucks had been destroyed. At the rate of attrition claimed in December, however, the PAVN transportation network should have been destroyed in only a month and a half. It also claimed that 20,723 enemy had been killed by air, 15 percent of the total number believed to have been travelling on, operating, or defending the trail."[26] 56 allied aircraft were shot down during the operation by an estimated 600 communist anti-aircraft weapons.[27] The end of Rolling Thunder, it seemed, had freed up not only U.S. aircraft, but also allowed more PAVN anti-aircraft units to move south to defend the trail. During the year the North Vietnamese began deploying longer-ranged and radar-directed 85 and 100 mm guns.[28]

For the U.S. program there were teething troubles. There was a lack of sufficient numbers of sensor strings and controlling the number of aircraft available for the missions proved problematic. These difficulties could be remedied. Commando Hunt II (1 May through 31 October 1969), however, was thrown off track by phenomena that the Air Force could do absolutely nothing about. The first wet season offensive was hampered by atrocious weather, especially heavy rain (48 inches of rain in July alone).[29]

The real problem for U.S. planners was a lack of sufficient intelligence on the numbers of infiltrators, the amount of supplies being transported, the number of trucks operating, the specific locations of targets in a rapidly changing environment, and the infrastructure of the system. This lack of real intelligence forced the Air Force to basically take its best guess as to PAVN numbers, intentions, and limitations. For instance, Air Force intelligence claimed that 9,012 enemy trucks were destroyed during 1969. Yet, an even lesser estimate of trucks destroyed by the Defense Intelligence Agency only resulted in their computer model reaching zero (where the enemy was supposed to be out of trucks) no fewer than 14 times during the same time period.[30]

The Air Force's computing of communist personnel losses, according to Air Force historian Bernard Nalty was "based on so many assumptions that the end product represented an exercise in metaphysics rather than mathematics."[31] He was seconded by historian Earl Tilford who explained that

Americans expected progress, or at least quantifiable measures of success...It is in their nature to do so. Commando Hunt provided the figures that sated that appetite. Productivity epitomized what the war had become: an exercise in management effectiveness.[32]

It was, however, difficult for the Air Force to do otherwise. Observation of the trail from the air was difficult at best. Human intelligence was provided by CIA-backed Laotian irregulars and Thai volunteers operating from the western side of the system while the eastern side was covered by SOG.[33] The depth of penetration by these reconnaissance efforts was hampered by the same man who had the last word in the bombing effort, Ambassador William H. Sullivan in Vientiane. The ambassador (with the full backing of the State Department and the CIA) maintained a firm hold over all military operations conducted within the supposedly "neutral" Kingdom of Laos.[34] All targets had to be pre-approved either by Sullivan himself or by the air attaché within Project 404, the understaffed U.S. military operations center within the embassy.[35]

By the end of the year the Americans felt that they were better prepared to deliver destruction to the trail system. During Commando Hunt III (1 November 1969 to 30 April 1970), the Air Force claimed that 6,428 enemy trucks destroyed and another 3,604 damaged. 60 aircraft were shot down during this phase of the campaign by an estimated 743 anti-aircraft weapons.[36] This increased number of aircraft losses forced the Air Force to decree that flak suppression missions would accompany the bombers on missions over the trail. Armed with cluster bomb units (CBUs), the fighter bombers were poised to pounce upon any enemy anti-aircraft positions identified by other aircraft.

On the other side of the fence, the North Vietnamese transported and/or stored 70,000 tons of supplies in 3,000 trucks with a net loss of 13.5 percent during the year. During the same period about 80,000 PAVN troops made the trip south.[37] A new North Vietnamese logistical effort, discovered by U.S. intelligence in late 1968, was a petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL) pipeline running southwest from the North Vietnamese city of Vinh. By early the following year the pipeline had crossed the Laotian frontier and by summer it had reached Muong Nong and the approaches to the A Sầu Valley. The plastic line, assisted by numerous small pumping stations, could transfer diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene all in the same pipe.[38]

1970

From October 1969 until April 1970 (probably anticipating the loss of their Cambodian supply conduit) the North Vietnamese launched "probably their most intense logistical effort of the whole war."[39] The motivating factor became evident in April, when U.S. and South Vietnamese ground forces launched an incursion into the PAVN base areas lining the eastern border of Cambodia. Thousands of tons of food and munitions, including 7,000 tons of rice and weapons, were destroyed; as a result, PAVN operations were set back by an estimated 15 months. However, the U.S. also assumed an abiding responsibility for the survival of the Lon Nol regime, which remained dependent on US air support.[40]

HCMT70
Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1970.

Missions conducted by CIA-backed Laotian irregulars and Thai volunteers operating on the western flank of the trail (and the Lon Nol coup in Cambodia) prompted PAVN to launch offensives in Laos to protect and expand their system. As a result, the North Vietnamese seized the towns of Saravane, Paksong, and Attopeu.[41] Although fighting continued in these areas, what had once been a 30-mile (48 km) wide logistical corridor was now expanded to 90 miles (140 km). Meanwhile, PAVN was also expanding its other methods of logistical transportation.

In 1967 U.S. recon photographs uncovered an unusual sight. POL barrels were spotted floating in the waters of the Kong River south of Ban Bak, Laos. Soon, PAVN was making use of the Banghiang River which flowed southwestward from the Demilitarized Zone all the way to the Mekong River, for the same purposes. The watertight drums were launched en masse from tributary streams into the main channel, floated downstream, and were recovered by systems of nets and booms.[42] The Kaman River was added to the system in 1969. By 1970 the North Vietnamese were making intense use of streams and rivers to supplement their logistical route, especially in the rainy season, when the water levels rose and the roadways became impassable mires. During one two and one-half month period during 1969, over 10,000 POL barrels were spotted in the waterways of southeastern Laos.[43]

The Air Force estimated that during the year there were 3,375 trucks working the trail system in southern Laos, yet it claimed that 12,368 enemy trucks were destroyed during the year.[44] During the same time frame, the CIA estimated that only 6,000 trucks existed in the entire North Vietnamese inventory.[44] The buildup of PAVN anti-aircraft defenses continued to increase. During Commando Hunt III the Seventh and Thirteenth Air Force estimated that 700 23-mm and 37 mm weapons, most of them radar-guided, were defending the trail system in southern Laos.[45]

Beginning in 1967 the Air Force had fielded a whole series of fixed-wing, side-firing gunships for nighttime interdiction missions.[46] This evolution in aircraft was a "dynamic reaction between opposing forces which led to a refinement of the tactics of employing round the clock interdiction and prompted development of specialized night attack systems."[47]

As the operation progressed, newer technologies (low-light television cameras, infrared vision devices, side-looking radars, radar jamming equipment, and computer-directed fire control systems) were also fielded to improve the performance of these aircraft. The apex of these developments was reached by the deployment of the AC-130E Spectre, a conversion of the venerable C-130 Hercules cargo transport, in February 1968. By 1970 the Spectre had become the most formidable weapon platform fielded by the Air Force in its war against trucks.The PAVN 377 Air Division's history notes "Just one hour when AC-130s did not operate over our chokepoints was both precious and rare."[48]

1971

During Commando Hunt V (10 October 1970 to 30 April 1971) Air Force intelligence claimed 16,266 trucks destroyed and another 7,700 damaged during the dry season offensive.[44] The Seventh Air Force headquarters in Saigon, chagrined by the enormity of the figures, recomputed them and lowered the estimate to 11,000 destroyed and 8,000 damaged.[49] In fact, there were only 2,500–3,000 PAVN trucks operating on the trail during 1970–1971, each carrying approximately four tons of materiel.[50]

North Vietnamese Antiaircraft Weapons
Evolution of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft weapons, 1965–1972.

77,000 combat sorties were flown during the offensive while the number of communist anti-aircraft weapons defending it reached 1,500.[51] Although only 11 aircraft were brought down by air defense fire during the dry season, this lower level of destroyed aircraft was not the result of any U.S. countermeasures. The lower figures were attributed to the fact that many PAVN air defense units had been moved to the Tchepone area to support the counteroffensive against the South Vietnamese Operation Lam Son 719.[51]

The interdiction effort during Commando Hunt VI (15 May through 31 October 1971) was thrown off by Lam Son 719 during April and May. During the offensive, 80 percent of all U.S. aerial sorties were directed to support it.[52] This highlighted what was now rapidly becoming a dual dilemma for the Air Force: First, the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia meant that there were fewer and fewer air assets available with which to conduct more and more missions. During Commando Hunt, for example, 1,777 aircraft were utilized during the campaign. By the time of the opening of Commando Hunt VI, that figure had decreased to 1,199 aircraft and this number dropped to 953 before that phase was completed; Second, this state of affairs was exacerbated by the withdrawal of sorties to conduct missions for Operation Freedom Deal in Cambodia.[53]

During the year the North Vietnamese transported or stored 60,000 tons of supplies with a net loss rate of 2.07 percent.[54] During the same period, 195,000 PAVN replacements moved through the system to the southern battlefields. As during the previous year, PAVN continued to expand the system. By the end of May the North Vietnamese had occupied Muong Phalane, Ban Houei Sai, and Paksong. They also retook Attopeu, Saravane, and Ban Thateng, cementing their hold on the strategic Bolovens Plateau of south central Laos.[55] Commando Hunt VI, launched during the wet season, was hampered by heavy rain and the arrival of two typhoons which threw off both the PAVN logistical effort and U.S. attempts to interdict it.

1972

Air Force planners believed that Operation Commando Hunt VII (1 November 1971 to 29 March 1972) would be the most fruitful of the entire campaign. During this dry season phase, the U.S. averaged 182 attack fighters, 13 fixed-wing gunships, and 21 B-52 sorties per day.[56] As a result of this all-out effort, U.S. intelligence analysts claimed 10,689 North Vietnamese trucks were destroyed and credited AC-130E Spectres alone with 7,335 of these kills.[57] During the campaign, however, ominous signs appeared in the mountains of Laos. On 10 January 1972, a U.S. O–1 observation aircraft, flying near the Mu Gia Pass, dodged the first surface-to-air missile(SAM) launched from Laotian soil. This event, and others like it, were compounded by the crossing into Laotian airspace of North Vietnamese MiG fighters. Both of these threats tended to force off B-52 and tactical air strikes. During the campaign, ten American aircraft were lost to SAMs (mostly SA-2 Guidelines) and another thirteen were lost to more conventional weapons.[58]

HCMTD
Commando Hunt statistics

One new innovation that took place during the campaign was renewed interest in personnel infiltration. This aspect of the PAVN effort had been virtually ignored since the initiation of the Commando Hunt in 1968. An intelligence collection and technical reassessment effort invited the Air Force to make another attempt to force the North Vietnamese pay for their effort in blood instead of in imported supplies and trucks. The result was Island Tree the launching of a personnel anti-infiltration effort during Commando Hunt VII.[59] However, it was too little and far too late.

American analysts were elated when they discovered that the number of trucks ordered by North Vietnam from its communist allies in late 1971 exceeded those of previous years. 6,000 vehicles had been ordered from the Soviet Union alone (as opposed to the usual 3,000) and this seemed to indicate that the enemy was hurting for transportation and that the campaign was working.[60] However, since 80 percent of the vehicles arrived in North Vietnam at least six weeks before the launching of the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known to the U.S. as the Easter Offensive, they probably reflected anticipated losses.[61]

Commando Hunt VII came to a close with the launching of the PAVN offensive mentioned above. This conventional attack, backed by armor, heavy artillery, and anti-aircraft units (including SAMs) rolled over the two northernmost provinces of South Vietnam while two smaller offensives were launched in central and southern parts of the country. All U.S. and South Vietnamese air assets were diverted to first slowing, and then halting the onslaught. They were then utilized in the first sustained bombing of North Vietnam since late 1968 (see Operation Linebacker). Interdiction missions were then diverted to carry out an even heavier aerial offensive against the north (see Operation Linebacker II). The end was nigh for Commando Hunt. With the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in March 1973, the Vietnam War finally came to an end for the U.S.

Conclusion

The goal of the Commando Hunt campaigns was not to halt infiltration, but to make the North Vietnamese pay too heavy a price for their effort. Corollary to this was the destruction of as much of their logistical system as possible and to tie down as many PAVN forces in static security roles as possible. Aerial interdiction could not succeed unless Hanoi felt the pressure and relented. The seed of the campaign's failure, however, was sown in its first operation. Despite the expenditure of an enormous amount of ordnance over five years, the level of that pressure was never going to be sufficient to deter Hanoi from its goal.

HCMThru
Estimated North Vietnamese supply throughput

This failure had three sources. First, there were the political constraints imposed by Washington that limited the entire American effort in Southeast Asia (the continued fiction of Laotian and Cambodian "neutrality", failure to disrupt the trail with U.S. ground forces when it would have made a difference, etc.) The second source of the failure was the utilization of what Colonel Charles Morrison has called "over-sophisticated methods" against "elemental systems."[38] The primitive logistical needs of the North Vietnamese (at least until the final phase of the conflict) allowed them to slip under the radar of their more technologically sophisticated enemy. Finally, all of the above were exacerbated by the communist's enviable ability to adapt their doctrine and tactics and to turn weaknesses into strengths.

The interdiction effort (like the entire American effort in Vietnam) became focused on statistics as a measure of success and "devolved from considered tactics to meaningless ritual."[62] At the end of the Commando Hunt campaigns the Air Force intelligence service claimed that 51,000 trucks and 3,400 anti-aircraft guns were destroyed in all seven operations.[63] Statistics, however, proved no substitute for strategy and, "for all the perceived success in that numbers game, the Air Force succeeded only in fooling itself into believing that Commando Hunt was working.[64] Regardless of the constant American belief that its enemy was on the verge of collapse, PAVN maintained and expanded its logistical flow to combat units in the field and managed to launch major offensives in 1968 and 1972 and a counteroffensive in 1971. The North Vietnamese built, maintained, and expanded, under a deluge of bombs, over 3,000 kilometers of roads and paths through the mountains and jungles while only two percent of the troops sent south were killed by the American effort to halt their infiltration into South Vietnam.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ For a detailed history of the interdiction effort from 1961 to 1968, see Jacob Van Staaveren, Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1961–1968. Washington, D.C.: Center of Air Force History, 1993.
  2. ^ John Morocco, Rain of Fire. Boston,: Boston Publishing Company, 1985, pp. 27–28.
  3. ^ Van Staaveren, pp. 96–101.
  4. ^ Morocco, p. 28.
  5. ^ John Schlight, A War Too Long, Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1993 p. 55.
  6. ^ Van Staaveren, p. 287.
  7. ^ Schlight, p. 58.
  8. ^ For an overview of the offensive and its political repercussions, see Clark Dougan, Stephen Weiss, et al., Nineteen Sixty-Eight. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1983.
  9. ^ John Morocco, Thunder from Above: Air War, 1941–1968, Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1984, pp. 183–184.
  10. ^ Earl H. Tilford, Setup: What the Air Force did in Vietnam and Why. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, 1991, p. 173.
  11. ^ a b Tilford, p. 173.
  12. ^ Morocco, Thunder from Above, pp. 152–154.
  13. ^ Van Staaveren, pp. 255–266.
  14. ^ Van Staaveren, p. 269.
  15. ^ Van Staaveren, p. 271.
  16. ^ Bernard C. Nalty, The War Against Trucks: Aerial Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1968–1972. Washington, D.C.: Air Force Museums and History Program, 2005, p. 39.
  17. ^ Schlight, p. 29.
  18. ^ Van Staaveren, pp. 277–283.
  19. ^ Morocco, Thunder from Above, pp. 178–181.
  20. ^ Van Staaveren, p. 290.
  21. ^ Nalty, p. 20.
  22. ^ Nalty, p. 48.
  23. ^ Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 40.
  24. ^ Prados, p. 193.
  25. ^ Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 33.
  26. ^ Nalty, p. 111.
  27. ^ Nalty, p. 120.
  28. ^ Nalty, p. 215.
  29. ^ Nalty, p. 116.
  30. ^ John Prados, The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998, p. 304.
  31. ^ Nalty, p. 110.
  32. ^ Tilford, pp. 182–183.
  33. ^ For an excellent description of the covert CIA effort in Laos, see Kenneth Conboy with James Morrison, Shadow War, Boulder CO: Paladin Press, 1995.
  34. ^ Nalty, pp. 43–50.
  35. ^ Morocco, Rain of Fire, pp. 43–50.
  36. ^ Nalty, pp. 129–130.
  37. ^ Victory in Vietnam, p. 499, fn 4.
  38. ^ a b Nalty, p. 175.
  39. ^ Herman L. Gilster, The Air War in Southeast Asia: Case Studies in Selected Campaigns, Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press, 1993, p. 20.
  40. ^ John Schlight, p. 73.
  41. ^ Brig. Gen. Soutchay Vongsavanh, RLG Military Operations and Activities in the Laotian Panhandle. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 1984, pp. 53–58.
  42. ^ Nalty, pp. 167–169.
  43. ^ SOG 1969.
  44. ^ a b c Tilford, p. 183.
  45. ^ Nalty, p. 228.
  46. ^ This process was unusual in that it married older aviation technology with the newest developments in the field. The AC-47 Spooky was a variant of the C-47 transport of Second World War fame. It was followed by the AC-119G Shadow and the AC-119K Stinger (both variants of the C-119 Flying Boxcar). These aircraft proved too vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire and were superseded by the AC-130.
  47. ^ Gilster, p. 19.
  48. ^ This process of adaptation and innovation is described in detail in Jack S. Ballard, Development and Employment of Fixed-Wing Gunships, 1962–1972. Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1984.
  49. ^ Nalty, p. 184.
  50. ^ Gilster, p. 18.
  51. ^ a b Nalty, p. 160.
  52. ^ Nalty, pp. 153–154.
  53. ^ Nalty, p. 180.
  54. ^ Victory in Vietnam, p. 352.
  55. ^ Vongsavanh, pp. 65–86.
  56. ^ Gilster, p. 21.
  57. ^ Nalty, p. 232.
  58. ^ Nalty, p. 218.
  59. ^ Nalty, pp. 197–203.
  60. ^ Tilford, p. 184.
  61. ^ Nalty, p. 286.
  62. ^ Nalty, p. 271.
  63. ^ Nalty, p. 220.
  64. ^ Tilford, p. 185.

References

Published government documents
  • Gilster, Herman L, The Air War in Southeast Asia: Case Studies of Selected Campaigns. Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press, 1993.
  • Nalty, Bernard C. The War Against Trucks: Aerial Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1968–1972. Washington, D.C.: Air Force Museums and History Program, 2005.
  • Schlight, John A War Too Long. Washington, D.C.: Center of Air Force History, 1993.
  • Tilford, Earl H. Setup: What the Air Force did in Vietnam and Why. Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press, 1991.
  • Van Staaveren, Jacob, Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1961–1968. Washington, D.C.: Center of Air Force History, 1993.
  • Vongsavanh, Brig. Gen. Soutchay, RLG Military Operations and Activities in the Laotian Panhandle. Washington, D.C.: US Army Center opf Military History, 1984.
Secondary sources
  • John Morocco, Rain of Fire: Air War, 1969–1973. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1984.
  • Morocco, John (1984). Thunder from Above: Air War, 1941–1968. Boston: Boston Publishing Company. ISBN 0-939526-09-3.
  • Prados, John, The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998.
1968 in the United States

1968 in the United States was marked by several major historical events. It is often considered to be one of the most turbulent and traumatic years of the 20th century in the United States.The year began with the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, which reached its climax after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation allowing for an increased maximum number of troops on the ground at one time (549,500). Likewise, it was the most expensive year of the war, costing $77.4 billion. Antiwar sentiment continued to grow after the occurrence of the My Lai Massacre (though the public did not learn of this until the following year) and an increasing number of Americans considered intervention in Vietnam to be a mistake. Nonetheless, the war persisted.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, the country erupted in violent riots, the most severe of which occurred in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Baltimore. More than 40 people were killed during the month of protest, which led to greater racial tensions between white and black Americans. Despite this, a landmark piece of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, was passed in April, effectively prohibiting housing discrimination based on race.

The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June led to uncertainty in the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. After Hubert Humphrey was declared the nominee at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, another wave of violent protests emerged, this time between antiwar demonstrators and police. The tumult within the Democratic Party helped launch Richard Nixon, a Republican and former vice president, to the presidency in November. A particularly strong showing by segregationist George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968's presidential election highlighted the strong element of racism that continued to persist across the country, particularly in the South.

In popular culture, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the most profitable film of the year, earning $56.7 million, while Oliver! won the Academy Award for Best Picture. "Hey Jude" by the Beatles was the hottest single of 1968 in the U.S. according to Billboard, demonstrating the continued popularity of bands associated with the British Invasion that began in 1964.

8th Fighter Wing

The United States Air Force 8th Fighter Wing is the host unit at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea and is assigned to Seventh Air Force. Seventh Air Force falls under Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). The Wing's 8th Operations Group is the successor of the 8th Pursuit Group, one of the 15 original combat air groups formed by the Army before World War II.

Established in Japan after World War II in 1948, the wing flew combat missions throughout the Korean War. Redesignated the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1958, it remained in Japan until 1964. After a year in California, it moved to Southeast Asia, where its F-4 Phantom II crews earned the nicknames "MiG killers" and "bridge busters". In 1974 the wing relocated to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, where it was redesignated the 8th Fighter Wing in 1992.

Ban Karai Pass

The Ban Karai Pass (Đèo Ban Karai, Quảng Bình) is a mountain pass in the Annamite Range between northern Vietnam and Laos, located approximately 60 km southwest of Đồng Hới and 115 km northwest of Quảng Trị, Vietnam. The pass is 418 m above sea level and connects National Road 565 (formerly Route 137) in Vietnam to Route 912 in Khammouane Province in Laos.

The pass, together with the Mụ Giạ Pass was one of the principal entry points into the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. Southwest of the pass in Laos was an area nicknamed "the Chokes" where several highways from the Mụ Giạ and Ban Karai passes converged.The CIA stationed roadwatch teams near the pass to monitor Vietnamese supply activities and it became one of the prime targets of Operation Commando Hunt. Despite frequent bombing, the United States Air Force and United States Navy were never able to put the pass out of operation for any sustained period of time.From 19 April to 24 June 1968 the USAF conducted Operation Turnpike, an intensive air interdiction campaign against the Mụ Giạ and Ban Karai Passes, that included the use of B-52 bombers. In March 1969 USAF UC-123s sprayed defoliants over a four square mile area on an approach road to the pass.During 1968 the area around the pass was defended by numerous machine-guns and smaller calibre (23mm and 37mm) anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). In December 1970 the North Vietnamese stationed SA-2 missiles on the North Vietnamese side of the Mụ Giạ and Ban Karai Passes. By 1971 given the buildup of large calibre (57mm, 85mm and 100mm) radar-guided AAA and the presence of SA-2s, USAF AC-119 gunships and B-52s no longer operated near the pass.During 1970 the North Vietnamese built a petroleum-oil-lubricants pipeline through the pass.

Ho Chi Minh trail

The Hồ Chí Minh trail (also known in Vietnam as the "Trường Sơn trail") was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) through the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. The system provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (called the Viet Cong or "VC" by its opponents) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), or North Vietnamese Army, during the Vietnam War.

It was named by the Americans after North Vietnamese president Hồ Chí Minh. Presumably the origin of the name came from the First Indochina War because there was a Viet Minh logistics line called the Route of Ho Chi Minh, and in 1961, as the present trail developed, Agence France-Presse [AFP] announced on the radio that a North–South trail had now opened, and they named the corridor La Piste de Hồ Chí Minh, or in English the Hồ Chí Minh Trail. The trail ran mostly in Laos, and was called by the communists the Trường Sơn Strategic Supply Route (Đường Trường Sơn), after the Vietnamese name for the Annamite Range mountains in central Vietnam, and the communists further identified the trail as either West Trường Sơn (Laos) or East Trường Sơn (Vietnam). According to the United States National Security Agency's official history of the war, the Trail system was "one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century". The trail was able to effectively supply troops fighting in the south, a military feat unparalleled given it was the site of the single most intense bombing campaign in history, with bombs dropping on average every seven minutes.

List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1970–71)

This article is a list of US MIAs of the Vietnam War in the period from 1969–1971. In 1973, the United States listed 2,646 Americans as unaccounted for from the entire Vietnam War. By August 2017, 1604 Americans remained unaccounted for, of which 1026 were classified as further pursuit, 488 as no further pursuit and 90 as deferred.

List of bombing campaigns of the Vietnam War

The bombing campaigns of the Vietnam War were the longest and heaviest aerial bombardment in history. The United States Air Force, the U. S. Navy, and U. S. Marine Corps aviation dropped 7,662,000 tons of explosives. By comparison, U. S. forces dropped a total of 2,150,000 tons of bombs in all theaters of World War II.

List of bombs in the Vietnam War

The American air campaign during the Vietnam War was the largest in military history. The US contribution to this air-war was the largest. Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Curtis LeMay stated that "we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age".

List of military operations of the Laotian Civil War

The following is a complete list of military operations staged within the Military Regions of Laos during the Laotian Civil War. They are listed in chronological order of their start date. Also listed are the Military Region(s) in which they were staged.

While all the operations listed were part of the Laotian Civil War, not all of them were combat operations or battles. Coups, invasions, civic action projects, military training and procurement, and an opium smuggling incursion are included among the operations.

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War.

Established on 24 January 1964, the unit conducted strategic reconnaissance missions in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Laos, and Cambodia; carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots, and conducted rescue operations to retrieve prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia; and conducted clandestine agent team activities and psychological operations.

The unit participated in most of the significant campaigns of the Vietnam War, including the Gulf of Tonkin incident which precipitated increased American involvement, Operation Steel Tiger, Operation Tiger Hound, the Tet Offensive, Operation Commando Hunt, the Cambodian Campaign, Operation Lam Son 719, and the Easter Offensive. The unit was formally disbanded and replaced by the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158 on 1 May 1972.

Mụ Giạ Pass

The Mụ Giạ Pass (Đèo Mụ Giạ, Quảng Bình) is a mountain pass in the Annamite Range between northern Vietnam and Laos, located 90 km northwest of Đồng Hới, Vietnam. The pass is 418 m above sea level and connects National Road 15 from Tân Ấp in Vietnam to Route 12 in Khammouane Province in Laos.

The pass was the principal point of entry into the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. A CIA landscape analysis prepared in February 1966 described Route 15 as threading "its way upstream along a narrow, steep-sided valley. To the left rise dog-toothed limestone peaks, to the right is a flat-topped plateau. Dense tropical rain forest covers the entire area, almost frustrating aerial observation. The road is carved out of the steep hillside, for in most places there is not enough room for both road and stream in the constricted bottom of the ravine". Due to its difficult geography, the pass was identified as a choke point, and, as a result, was heavily bombed first as part of Operation Barrel Roll and later as part of Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Commando Hunt. By March 1966, it was estimated that 75% of all truck traffic into Laos went through the pass.On 12 April 1966, 29 B-52s attacked the pass for the first time in the largest bombing mission since World War II, using a combination of subsurface and delayed action bombs over a 5 km section, but the pass was not closed by landslides as had been hoped for. A second B-52 strike took place on 26 April but the damage was repaired within 10 hours and convoys were seen using the pass the next day. A CIA report noted that the "Communists will spare no effort to keep it open". Despite frequent bombing, the United States Air Force and United States Navy were never able to put the pass out of operation for any sustained period of time. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) also constructed several bypass roads around the pass to the east and west of Route 12 in Laos and later a series of petrol, oil and lubricants (POL) pipelines through the pass. The NVA progressively built up their air defences around the pass, first installing smaller calibre anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), then larger calibre (100mm) AAA, by 1966 more than 300 AAA sites had been identified around the pass. By 1972 SAM-2 missiles covered approaches to the pass, forcing B-52s and gunships to keep their distance reducing the interdiction effort.

November 11

November 11 is the 315th day of the year (316th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 50 days remain until the end of the year.

Operation Igloo White

Operation Igloo White was a covert United States joint military electronic warfare operation conducted from late January 1968 until February 1973, during the Vietnam War. These missions were carried out by the 553d Reconnaissance Wing, a U.S. Air Force unit flying modified EC-121R Warning Star aircraft, and VO-67, a specialized U.S. Navy unit flying highly modified OP-2E Neptune aircraft. This state-of-the-art operation utilized electronic sensors, computers, and communications relay aircraft in an attempt to automate intelligence collection. The system would then assist in the direction of strike aircraft to their targets. The objective of those attacks was the logistical system of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) that snaked through southeastern Laos and was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Road to the North Vietnamese).

Operation Pigfat

Operation Pigfat was a crucial guerrilla offensive of the Laotian Civil War; it lasted from 26 November 1968 to 7 January 1969. Launched by Hmong tribal soldiers backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, it was based on the usage of overwhelming air power to clear the path for the guerrillas. The guerrillas were faced with the largest concentration of Vietnamese communist troops stationed outside Vietnam, and hoped to spoil that imminent attack.

In the event, the promised air power allotment was halved and curtailed. Intermittent foul weather also restricted air operations. Nevertheless, the Hmong assault against communists on the mountain of Phou Pha Thi nearly carried the position in mid-December. However, a communist night raid that destroyed an ammunition dump, followed by the arrival of a relief column from the 316th Division, tipped the balance of battle against the assailants. On 7 January 1969, the Hmong retreated while pressed hard by the communists.

Both sides took heavy casualties. However, the Vietnamese had abundant manpower to be trained as replacements. By contrast, the Hmong replacement pool was scanty. Moreover, the communists ended their follow-up drive within ten kilometers of the Hmong main bases at Long Chieng and Sam Thong.

Operation Shed Light

Operation Shed Light was a crash development project in aerial warfare, initiated in 1966 by the United States Air Force to increase the ability to accurately strike at night or in adverse weather. During the 1960s the United States military worked hard to interdict the movement of men and materiel along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The North Vietnamese were experts in the use of weather and darkness to conceal their movement, and understanding the superiority of American air power put their skills immediately to good use. US forces seeking to impede the steady flow of supplies attempted to locate largely static targets during the day with poor results.

The United States Air Force, focused toward nuclear weapons and delivery of such munitions against static strategic targets had spent little effort in expanding its tactical capabilities since the end of World War II. Operation Shed Light sought to rectify this by bringing together improved tactics and technology. The programs were subsequently centered on improved communication and navigation aids for all-weather and night flying, sensor equipment for seeing through clouds, foliage, and darkness, improved equipment and methods for target marking and battlefield illumination, and aircraft and tactics to utilize these developments. In the end, few of the programs would yield applicable results and most of the aircraft developed under its umbrella would largely fall into obscurity. The most applicable developments were those that could be mainstreamed such as the work done on navigation and communication and sensor equipment.

Operation Steel Tiger

Operation Steel Tiger was a covert U.S. 2nd Air Division, later Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction effort targeted against the infiltration of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) men and material moving south from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) through southeastern Laos to support their military effort in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) during the Vietnam War.

The operation was initiated by the 2nd Air Division on 3 April 1965, continued under the direction of the Seventh Air Force when that headquarters was created on 1 April 1966, and had a subsidiary operation code-named Operation Tiger Hound. The purpose of Steel Tiger was to impede the flow of men and materiel on the enemy logistical routes collectively known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route to the North Vietnamese).

Bombing of the trail system had begun on 14 December 1964 with the advent of Operation Barrel Roll. Due to increasing U.S. intelligence of the build-up of regimental-size PAVN units operating in South Vietnam, the increased American military presence in that country, and the initiation of Operation Rolling Thunder, American planners in Washington and Saigon decided that the bombing in southeastern Laos should be stepped up. On November 11, 1968 Steel Tiger and Tiger Hound were combined and renamed Operation Commando Hunt.It was estimated by U.S. intelligence analysts that, during 1965, 4,500 PAVN troops were infiltrated through Laos along with 300 tons of materiel each month. From April to June 1966, the U.S. launched 400 B-52 Stratofortress anti-infiltration sorties against the trail system. By the end of 1967 and the absorption of Steel Tiger operations into Commando Hunt, 103,148 tactical air sorties had been flown in Laos. These strikes were supplemented by 1,718 B-52 Arc Light strikes. During the same time frame, 132 U.S. aircraft or helicopters had been shot down over Laos. The actions implemented aircraft of the Air Force, Marines, and Navy flying from carriers in the South China Sea as well as bases in South Vietnam and Thailand. While B-52 bombers accounted for a majority of the strikes, the most effective aircraft were fixed wing gunships, including the AC-47, the AC-119, and the AC-130.Operation Steel Tiger, Operation Tiger Hound, and Operation Commando Hunt inevitably slowed the flow of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong men and supplies into South Vietnam and required them to divert a multitude of assets to keep the Ho Chi Minh Trail in serviceable condition, however airpower was never able to completely close the trail during the war.

Operation Tiger Hound

Operation Tiger Hound was a covert U.S. 2nd Air Division, later Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction campaign conducted in southeastern Laos from 5 December 1965 till 11 November 1968, during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the operation was to interdict the flow of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route to the North Vietnamese) from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), through southeastern Laos, and into the northern provinces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The missions were originally controlled by the 2d Air Division until that headquarters was superseded by the Seventh Air Force on 1 April 1966.

The geographic boundary of the operation was carved from the area of Laos already under bombardment under Operation Steel Tiger. This was done at the behest of the American commander in South Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland, who saw the area of Laos that bordered the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam as an extension of his area of operations. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed. Unlike Operation Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger, however, the bombing in the new area would be conducted by aircraft of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force and by U.S. Air Force units based in South Vietnam (aircraft participating in Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger were generally based in Thailand).

By the end of 1968 and the absorption of Tiger Hound operations by Operation Commando Hunt, 103,148 tactical air sorties had been flown over Laos. These missions were supplemented by 1,718 B-52 Stratofortress sorties under Operation Arc Light. During the same time period, 132 U.S. aircraft or helicopters were shot down over Laos.

Outline of the Vietnam War

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Vietnam War:

Vietnam War – Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States, Philippines and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle.

Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force

Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force was an operational headquarters that controlled United States Air Force tactical combat operations from Thailand during the Vietnam War. It was established in 1966 when Seventh Air Force replaced the 2d Air Division as the USAF headquarters in South Vietnam and was discontinued in 1973, when Seventh Air Force moved its headquarters from Vietnam to Thailand. Its combat units were attached to it for operations, but were assigned to Thirteenth Air Force in the Philippines for administration.

Đồng Sĩ Nguyên

Đồng Sĩ Nguyên, also spelled Đồng Sỹ Nguyên, other name Nguyễn Hữu Vũ (1 March 1923 – 4 April 2019), was a Vietnamese soldier and politician. He was Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam, lieutenant-general of the North Vietnamese Army, and minister of transport of Vietnam. He was born in Quảng Bình Province, home to general Võ Nguyên Giáp and Ngô Đình Diệm, president of the Republic of Vietnam.

Military engagements of the Laotian Civil War

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