The Battle of Khe Sanh
Written by Tim Nash
History of War - Vietnam War
Songs have been Written About the battle of Khe Sanh, a well known battle and one of the longest battles during the second Vietnamese war (American Vietnam war). Lasting from 21 January 1968 until 9 July 1968. During the Second Vietnam War. The battle of Khe Sanh took place in a region of North western Vietnam near the border of Laos in a province called Quang Tri.
The village of Khe Sanh was the local seat of government, an area of Bru Montagnard (local tribes people) villages and coffee plantations. In 1962 Khe Sanh was a base for U.S. Army Special Forces, they constructed an airfield this same year at the site of an old French Fort. This base during the early 1960's was used as an observations post to watch the movements of the growing ever stronger People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army).
The Battle of Khe Sanh was fought between United States Marines (III Marine Amphibious Force), supported by South Vietnamese Army. American commanders in South Vietnam nicknamed the defence of the American base at Khe Sanh “Operation Scotland”. In 1967 The People's Army of Vietnam began moving divisional sized elements of their Army into the Quang Tri Province. At first the American command in Saigon thought this was to conduct a series of small raids on military bases throughout the region.
As the force grew larger and conducted raids against American and South Vietnamese forces. Soon it was apparent they had intentions of attacking Khe Sanh base itself. By the Beginning of 1968 the People's Army of North Vietnam had moved 3 divisions of well equipped troops, artillery, rockets, mortars and various small arms. The American Marines increased their forces at the base, both armies began fighting in the jungles around Khe Sanh.
The Americans feared a repeat of what happened to the French at Dien Biem Phu in 1958, however they were far better equipped and had far superior leadership. Learning from the mistakes the French had made at Dien Biem Phu they built a series of small bases on the hilltops surrounding Khe Sanh, these outposts were well armed with artillery and Mortars. There was a major road leading into the Quang Tri Province.
Although during The Battle of Khe Sanh these outposts and the Base of Khe Sanh itself were under constant attack and on many occasions, they were over run by the People's Army of North Vietnam. This was a great tactic by the Americans as it gave them a view of the surrounding hills and valley's from many vantage points, allowing them to prepare for enemy attack as one base fell they would retreat to the next outpost only a short distance away, preparing a counter attack to retake the former outposts. This was a very effective tactic.
The Battle of Khe Sanh went on for several months, with constant attacks on the hilltop outposts and the Khe Sanh airfield and base, only for a brief time did the People's Army of North Vietnam raise their flag over the airfield in Khe Sanh. As the Battle raged on the American command decided to mount an aerial Bombardment campaign called “Operation Niagara” that was launched to support U.S. Ground troops (4000 bombs were dropped). In time the People's Army of Vietnam surrounded the III Marine Amphibious Force in Khe Sanh.
A new tactic was needed to supply the Khe Sanh Base, so in March 1968 “Operation Pegasus” was launched, a task force of American Marines/Army and South Vietnamese soldiers. The plan was to break through to Khe Sanh Via road. After fierce fighting the Americans were successful in reaching Khe Sanh.
Although the Americans considered Khe Sanh a victory, the ramifications were many, it had shown that the People's Army of Vietnam was a force to be respected and showed they had the ability to wage war on a large scale. The Americans with their giant war machine were held at bay for several months, allowing the Viet Cong (A Guerilla army made up of most local peoples whom supported the People's Army of Vietnam) to mount the TET Offensive which attacked the Americans in all theatres of operation and even in the cities. The TET Offensive went on for over a year and ultimately signalled the beginning of the end for the Americans in Vietnam.
Most Historians are perplexed as to the true reason why the North Vietnamese Army choose to attack Khe Sanh rather than other more important military bases in Vietnam where they could of effected the out come of the war greater. Among Historians this is known as the “RIDDLE OF KHE SANH”. John Prados and Ray Stubble make an interesting observation “Either the Tet offensive was a diversion intended to facilitate PAVN/NLF preparations for war-winning battle at Khe Sanh, or Khe Sanh was a diversion to mesmerise Westmoreland in the days before Tet. General Abrams also suggested the North Vietnamese may have tried to Emulate Dien Biem Phu. The Americans learnt from French error and did not repeat these errors at Dien Biem Phu.
The Battle of Khe Sanh was an American Victory, however it did signal the beginning of the end for the American involvement in Vietnam. Proving that the People's Army of North Vietnam was a force to be reckoned with. In Time the People's Army of Vietnam would defeat America in Second Vietnam war. America withdrew from South East Asian in 1975.