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Ukraine Today–a strategic dilemma

Many have been asking me to write something on the Ukraine.  I have been holding off because I am of mixed minds on the Ukraine. 

The globalist in me wants to deter aggression on the international stage.  This means that the US should not only talk a good tough game but should act in consonance with what it says.  In other words, talk tough and carry a big stick.  This suggests the need to deploy forces for deterrent purposes.  However, should deterrence fail we would have no alternative but to then conduct military operations.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world sees our president as weak, indecisive and as a bully who will bluster and threaten, but in the end probably do nothing.  This perception increases the probability of deterrence failing and US troops then being caught up in a war that we don’t need.

The other problem is that much of the US deterrence credibility has also been undermined by its energy policy.  It has made itself dependent on Russian oil and encouraged the Russians to finish a pipeline to western Europe so that it could be more dependent on Russian energy.  (And one wonders why the Germans are dragging their feet in supporting the Ukraine.) Today’s communiques from Berlin indicate that Germany has accepted the US position of holding the unfinished pipeline hostage as a means of deterring Russia.  After agreeing to the Nord Stream II pipeline, it is difficult to believe today’s announcement.  We will see.

As a strategist I see us being drawn into the wrong fight at the wrong place and at the wrong time.  No matter what we do we will have limited credibility as many will see US actions on the Ukraine as a ‘wag the dog” activity to try and bolster the president’s standing.  In short, he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t with respect to Ukraine.  However, if he were to pivot, and admit that this isn’t our fight.  It is a European fight. And focus on China and work to prevent a Chinese – Russian alliance while reversing his position on China and energy, he could come out of this with the US in a much stronger position.

The Biden administration, inadvertently, has caused many of the European countries to take action in terms of military aid to the Ukraine and the forward repositioning of forces to at least prevent a conflict over the Ukraine to expand to NATO member states.  Given that one of Putin’s goals is to destroy NATO his actions have to date had the opposite effect.  With the energy policy reversal noted above Germany might feel less dependent upon Russia to survive the European winter and thus more willing to contribute to the alliance efforts in eastern Europe.  This is of course what Trump was seeking 4 years ago, but since it was a Trump position Biden’s political base, to the extent that there is one, will find such actions as impossible to accept—Trump policies on energy, China and for increased European efforts in support of European stability and peace—ugh!

This is why I am torn. The right policy is politically impossible for the Biden administration.  It has blocked itself into what for me is the wrong policy at the wrong time.  So, given this undesirable situation what should the administration do?  Demanding that Europe carry the weight in reinforcing Ukraine with logistics and war fighting units is a first step.  It is also critical that the US maintain nuclear deterrence in Europe as this is the biggest genie out there.  To do this will require forward deploying nuclear capable forces that can strike back at Russia. if necessary.  What “if necessary” means must remain vague and ambiguous enough that the Russians will not consider the first use of battlefield nuclear weapons.

The Russian demands of not allowing Ukraine to enter NATO and to withdraw support from the Baltic states and Poland are totally unacceptable and there is no ground for negotiation.  Negotiating another arms control limitation agreement for Europe might be possible, but will probably take years to negotiate.  The Intermediate Range weapons treaty took years,

To my friends who asked me to write about this instead of Khe Sanh I now ask them:  what does it mean to win in this situation?  This is the ultimate question that no one is writing about.  Let me posit some outcomes that might define winning:

  1. NATO remains united and acts as a coherent whole to deter Russian aggression
  2. Russia decides that its goal of repelling the US from Europe is presently unattainable through present means.
  3. Ground conflict is avoided or minimized around the borders of Ukraine
  4. European dependence on Russian energy is at least tempered and is always at risk so that Russia has to rethink its ability to hold the heating of European homes at risk.
  5. The US begins the needed rethinking of its strategic priorities and related policies—this may require a new administration.

These are win criteria that should have been thought of initially, but unfortunately NATO and the US gave the Russians the initiative many years ago in the Crimea and have never regained it. 

Ukraine is not a winning situation in the short term so unfortunately the best we can hope for is a stalemate—not a war.

(I have refrained from talking about President Biden’s talk last night with the Ukrainian president.  Some have characterized it a s a disaster, but who can believe CNN.)

Was America duped at Khe Sanh?

Khe Sanh remains an item of historical interest,  Article continue to be written about the battle.  With the  54th anniversary the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) we may anticipate a plethora of articles about the battle that decided the Vietnam War.  A year ago there was an important such article in the New York Times (“Was America Duped at Khe Sanh?”).  The article by John Mason Glen is spectacular in its attention grabbing title but weak on strategic analysis.  Having lived through the battle and written about it in Expendable Warriors: the battle of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War, I feel uniquely qualified to rebut Glen’s argument.

The main theme of the article is that the attack on Khe Sanh was a diversion to draw American forces away from the populated areas in anticipation of the Tet Offensive which started 9 days after the beginning of the siege of the KSCB.  This argument is inaccurate for many different reasons:

  • The attack on Khe Sanh had been anticipated for 3 months.  Elements of 2 Army Divisions had been moved north in vicinity of Hue and Quang Tri.  It was these forces that blunted part of the attacks on those two province headquarters.
  • Khe Sanh was reinforced by 4 battalions of Marines with most of the reinforcements arriving after the North Vietnamese Army launched its missile and artillery barrage on 21 January 1968.  (More on the multiple implications of this attack in subsequent articles.) 4 battalions of Marines in the bigger scheme of things was not consequential to stopping the Tet attacks.
  • The diversion of air assets to support the defense of Khe Sanh was not as significant as Glen would have one believe.  Much of the air support used was B-52 carpet bombing not pin point close air support.  Such bombing approaches were inappropriate for populated areas.
  • Glen mentions the internal opinion divisions within the North Vietnamese leadership.  One faction was focused on the Tet offensive and the other on Khe Sanh.  He correctly points out that one faction focused on the general uprising goal while General Giap was seeking to break the American public support for the war by the attack on Khe Sanh.  He wanted to repeat his success at Dien Bien Phu where the French public support for the Indochinese war was destroyed.  To people like Glen it was one or the other.  Why couldn’t they have been reinforcing? Glen does not examine this point.
  • The agony of Khe Sanh played out for 77 days on the screens and in the newspapers of main street America.  This is where the war was lost!  Certainly Tet contributed to the loss but it was Khe Sanh that was the deciding factor. 
    • It should be noted that in the Burns PBS documentary which has been critiqued on these pages the siege of the KSCB is barely mentioned—another of its fatal flaws as has been recounted on these pages.
  • In fact both Khe Sanh and Tet were significant failures militarily for the North Vietnamese.  They lost both battles.  The war was there to be won, but the political will to do so had been lost.  Giap had been right.  (There is a unique event highlighted in my book that makes this point explicitly.)

But the bottom line is that the battle of Khe Sanh was won and the war lost at the same time.

In my next response to the Glen’s article I will respond to his critique of General Westmoreland.  Stay tuned!

Battle won, war lost!

As we wrap up this year’s relook at Khe Sanh those who wonder why I am devoting so much time to this effort every year will hopefully come to realize that there is much to be learned about winning conflicts and what it takes to win.  I have been asked to relook the Ukraine, which I will do, but I ask my readers to think about winning and what Khe Sanh has taught us.

On the 1st of April 1968 the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) launched Operation Pegasus. Many newly interested authors focus on the battle for the old French fort.  What they don’t realize that just as the operation was beginning the war was being officially lost.

As the senior advisor in Khe Sanh before the beginning of the “agony of Khe Sanh” on 21 January 1968 I was seconded to the 1st Cavalry Division to assist in the planning for Operation Pegasus.   (For a complete discussion of the siege of Khe Sanh see: www. Expendablewarriors.com or my recent postings here.) 

It was strange to fly over what had once been the area along route 9 and see rice paddies where there had never been paddies before.   In actuality what I was seeing was bomb craters that were filled with rain water.  (I flew into Khe Sanh with Major General John Tolson (commander of the 1st Cavalry Division) several times,

During the planning process units from the 1st Cav, the 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Marines were conducting operations along the DMZ as a diversion to the relief operation.  The engineers were busy building a short runway and underground bunkers for the command and control of Operation Pegasus near Calu.  The new facility was to be named LZ Stud.

For Operation Pegasus the 1st Cav had an extensive set of capabilities

  • The 1st Cavalry Division with its 400+ helicopters
  • A Marine BDE with augmenting engineers and artillery
  • An Army of Vietnam (ARVN) airborne brigade
  • 26th Marine Regiment +–the whole force defending the Combat Base (5000 strong)
  • Massive air support

This was the equivalent of a small Corps.

LZ Stud was located in the sharp westerly turn of route 9 shown on the above map

The attack began the morning of the April 1st with the Marine Brigade attacking along route 9.  Its mission was to open Route 9 from LZ Stud to the combat base.  This required the repair of numerous road by passes that had been destroyed by the NVA and neglected for more than a year.  The air assault was delayed until 1 PM due to fog in the Khe Sanh area.  The initial air assault was into areas where the vegetation had been flattened by use a bomb called a Daisy Cutter (a 20,000 pound bomb that was dropped from a C130 aircraft and detonated when the long pipe that was its detonator struck the ground—thus creating standoff and blowing things down without creating a crater).  The Infantry and engineers followed to secure the area and move the blowdown so that howitzers, crews and ammunition could be lifted in.  As a result, a firebase was created.

With fire support for support of the infantry and to support the next hop forward closer to Khe Sanh the next unit could be inserted and the leap frog towards the combat base and the enemy could continue.

It was on this day 1 April 1968 when the war was lost.  Major Paul Schwartz and I had to brief General Tolson on the proposed concept for the Division’s next mission—clearing the NVA out of the A Shau Valley (about 40-50 kilometers south of Khe Sanh.  There were 4 people present at the briefing—General Tolson, his Chief of Staff, Major Schwartz and myself.  We proposed attacking through Khe Sanh to the Vietnam-Laos border.  Going into Laos, cleaning up the Ho Chi Minh Trail and then turning south to enter the A Shau Valley from the west—not the traditional route which was from the east.  There were 90 days of supplies at Khe Sanh to draw upon and thus not have to back haul.  Most importantly such an approach would have caught the NVA by surprise and had war winning effects.

After about 4 minutes of briefing General Tolson said” “Obviously you didn’t hear the President last night!  What you are proposing is politically impossible.”  Lyndon Johnson had just announced a partial bombing halt in an effort to enter negotiations with North Vietnam.

3 years later the US was to support ARVN forces in Lam Son 719A which was an attack into Laos where the ARVN got clobbered.  The NVA had used the 3 years to recover.  A year or so later President Nixon was to start the B-52 bombing missions over Hanoi and Haiphong.  These would result in a peace agreement.

President Johnson’s bombing halt decision was when the US decided to not try and win the war on the battlefield—just as the NVA were on the throes of collapse.  The war was winnable after the eventual Khe Sanh and Tet victories, but the political climate in the US had so turned against the war there was no political will to try and win on the battlefield.

In coming articles, we will talk about the bigger lessons learned from Khe Sanh and other conflicts.  It is my hope that someday some wanna be strategists will read these articles and learn something from them.

Command and Control in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AO)

We just passed the 54th anniversary of the Siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB). The reader, to appreciate what has and is being presented, needs to understand the very confused and dysfunctional command and control relationships that existed in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AOO).  There were at least 5 different higher headquarters issuing orders and taking actions that affected what happened.

The advisory team of 5 soldiers responded to the Province advisory team (Advisory Team 4) in Quang Tri.  The District Chief Captain Tinh-A-Nhi responded to Province Commander who was a full Colonel in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). 

The Special Forces (Special Forces Detachment A-101) at Lang Vei along the border with Laos reported to a C Team headquartered in Hue Phu Bai, which in return reported to the 5th Special Forces Group in Danang.

In the village headquarters was the headquarters of a Combined Action Company (CAC-O) and one Combined Action Platoon (CAP O-1) of 10 Marines and about 25 Montagnards.  The CAC reported to Colonel David Lounds the KSCB Commander but also had a battalion headquarters in Danang.

Located as an appendage on the western edge of the KSCB there was a special forces Forward Operating Base (FOB-3).  The men of FOB-3 with their Montagnard soldiers (mostly Nungs) conducted reconnaissance and raids in North Vietnam and Laos.  They reported to a Battalion commander in Hue Phu Bai and Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG or SOG) in Saigon.

Finally there was a two man intelligence team located in the village headquarters that reported to a headquarters in Danang.

Colonel David Lounds as the senior American officer in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AO) exercised very loose operational control over the units in the area.  All the units would go to the Marines at the combat base for support, but when that support was not forthcoming they would go to their parent units.  This was especially true for the Special Forces and Advisory team.

The relations between the Army units—special forces and advisory team—and the Marines were so bad that they had developed their own code terms and frequencies to coordinate with each other so the Marines could not listen in.

Additionally each of the units mentioned had very different missions and therefore different objectives.  So the lack of unity of command resulted in a loss of unity of effort, which is what the whole concept of unity of command is all about.  Unity of effort is supposed to flow from unity of command.  All of the units would be working towards a common goal.  The Marines goal was to kill NVA.  The Advisory Team and District Government’s goal was to provide political leadership for the people of the area and to provide them security from small enemy forces.  A-101’s mission was border surveillance and to block the major avenue of approach into the area—route 9.  The SOG team at FOB-3 only staged in Khe Sanh for out of area operations in Laos and North Vietnam.  Thus no unity of effort.

This spaghetti bowl of relationships was the situation that existed when the battle of Khe Sanh began on 21 January 1968. 

Air Support for the Khe Sanh Village fight

In the last several articles we have discussed the bravery of the defenders on the ground in Khe Sanh village.  In this article we shall discuss the use of air support to provide a critical ingredient in the successful defense of the District Headquarters and the rendering combat ineffective of a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment.

The dense fog of January 21 finally burned off in late morning.  A Marine Forward Air Controller (FAC) put in a flight of 2 F-4s to attack targets to the south of the District Headquarters.  One of the F-4s was shot down.  Following this the FAC advised that: “That’s all I can do!”

Fortunately, part of the preparations of the defense of the District Headquarters was to establish an alternate form of communication with the Province Advisory Team in Quang Tri.  Radio contact with Quang Tri was always spotty at best, in spite of numerous efforts at antennae construction and acquisition of more powerful radios.  The Special Forces had established a radio relay site on a high hill north (hill 950) of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.  The Special Forces were able to talk to Quang Tri and thus relay messages.  CPT Clarke kept Quang Tri informed as to the status of the defense and when the Marine FAC could not provide additional air support he requested it form Quang Tri.

CPT Ward Britt (one of the advisory team’s FACs) flew his light observation aircraft through the valleys under the low clouds and fog to reach Khe Sanh and to coordinate for air support.  He requested air support from air craft attacking targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos.  The pilots flew below the clouds to the village.  Every time he coordinated for bombs on a target and he blew away the trees to the south he found more targets.

CPT Nhi was listening to one of the NVA tactical radio nets and heard a request for additional stretcher and bearers to carry off wounded soldiers.  This was passed to CPT Britt who found the force of about 100 enemy and after another air strike he could not see any movement.  This became the norm as CPT Nhi provided target locations to CPT Clarke who then vectored CPT Britt to the target.

In the middle of this CPT Britt landed at KSCB and refueled under fire.  He remained on station until the approach of dusk.  At that point he had to return to Quang Tri.  For his bravery he was awarded the Silver Star.

CPT Clarke and CPT Nhi tried to guess where the enemy would go to regroup.  Based upon their analysis a B-52 strike was requested.  They provided a rectangle 3 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide that was centered on the hilly area about 6-7 kilometers south of the District Headquarters.  The Province Advisory team coordinated with the Air Force and the mission was flown.  Several days later a NVA soldier deserted and was picked up by the Special Forces at Lang Vei.  He told them that his unit had been hit by the B-52 strike.

Before the B-52 strike a gun ship (Spooky—a C-47 plane that carried flares and several mini-guns) patrolled the area and engaged every target that it saw.  It was a quiet night except for some snipers.

The combination of artillery, air support and the bravery of the Bru, Vietnamese, Marine and army soldiers inside the headquarters combined to render a regiment combat ineffective

The Battle of Khe Sanh Villlage is Over

The morning of 22 January 1968 dawned bright and quiet.  The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces were gone.  There was a sense of exhilaration in the District Headquarters—the attack had been stopped! 

Patrols were launched to determine the damage and collect information on the enemy.  There were numerous blood trails and bodies found.  Over 150 weapons and 3 Rocket Propelled Launcher 7s (the first seen in South Vietnam) were recovered.  Many of the weapons still had cosmoline (a substance obtained from petroleum that is similar to petroleum jelly that is applied to machinery, especially vehicles or weapons, in order to prevent rust on them while in shipment or storage) as they must have just been issued.

As the Marines and District Forces were conducting their limited patrols LT Stamper (Combined Action Company Commander) was boarding and flying by helicopter to the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB).  He was not to be seen again.  He radioed back to the Marines to pack their stuff as they were being evacuated.

Colonel Lownds (KSCB commander) sent a radio message to the Advisory team that he could no longer provide artillery support to the District forces.  Both CPTs Nhi and Clarke reported this to their superiors in Quang Tri.  Bob Brewer, the Province Senior Advisor, said that there was a long meeting.  No one wanted to evacuate the District Headquarters as it would be the first governmental headquarters ever surrendered.  In the end the order was given to evacuate. 

All of the Marines, SFC Perry, with all of the wounded, and SFC Kaspar were evacuated by helicopter.  SFC King and CPT Clarke worked with CPT Nhi to organize the withdrawal from the village.  The small force of about 140 men followed a little-known trail to reach KSCB.  Throughout the trek CPT Clarke was coordinating with the Special Forces in FOB-3 for mortar coverage along the route and a reception when they got to KSCB. (The Marines had told the advisors that armed Vietnamese and montagnard soldiers could not enter their compound.)

The small force reached FOB-3 and were assigned defensive areas on the it’s perimeter to prepare fighting positions.  Little did they know that this was going to be home for over 77 days.

CPT Clarke reported all of the weapons that had been left behind.  The Special Forces quickly organized a raid to get back into the District Headquarters to recover the NVA weapons and destroy anything else of worth that was there.  CPT Clarke was the second in command of this raid and led the Special Forces into the compound after they were landed in the wrong spot.

The weapons were loaded and hauled off.  The warehouse full of bulgur wheat and vegetable oil was rigged for destruction.  After evacuating the weapons, the helicopters returned for the raiding force.  As they were leaving, CPT Clarke remembers lying on the floor of the last UH-1 helicopter out and emptying his 30-round magazine at an NVA patrol that was approaching the village from the west.

Later the charges set in the food warehouse exploded as did the grenades that CPT Clarke had used to booby trap the food in the Advisor’s store room.

The battle of Khe Sanh village had ended.  Just over 54 years ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday.

Post Scripts:  The Special Forces at Land Vei offered what was called a Mike Force to re-secure the village, but this request was never acted upon.  When the 37th Army of Vietnam Ranger Battalion was sent to Khe Sanh the original intent was for it to be used to re-secure the village, but the Marines would not support such an attack.

The grand plan was to draw the NVA into a fixed, firepower intensive battle.  The village of Khe Sanh, its inhabitants and defenders were expendable in this grand strategy.  The political loss of a seat of government was of little consequence to the attrition strategists.

The Village Fight 2

Khe Sanh Village with the District Headquarters in the bottom center

At 0500 the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attacked the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) rockets and artillery.  The sound of the barrage woke up the District Advisory Team and the defenders of the District Headquarters (a mixture of Bru Montagnards, Vietnamese Regional Forces, Marines from Combined Action Company O (CAC-O) and the small 4 man advisory team.

At 0530 the ground attack against the District Headquarters began.  NVA after action reports suggest that the attack was 30 minutes late in being launched.  The attacking force from the 66th NVA Regiment had been slowed down by the B-52 strike of the previous day—all of the downed trees etc. that it caused.

The weather on the morning of 21 January 1968 was extremely foggy with visibility down to no more than 5-10 yards.  Fortunately some of the improvements made due to the observed activity at the KSCB included the emplacement of trip flares along the entire outer perimeter.

Another improvement that CPT Nhi had made was to place a 3-man element on the roof of the warehouse.  These brave Montagnards were equipped with a case of grenades to drop on any one trying to conceal themselves behind the warehouse.  Both of these improvements were to prove critical to the defense of the District Headquarters.

The District Headquarters to include the Regional Force Compound

to the south bordering the Landing Zone

The attack included artillery and mortar rounds impacting throughout the area.  One bunker was directly hit and collapsed on the occupants.  SFC Perry dug the survivors out and treated them in a makeshift aid station.   The enemy sought to penetrate the compound in the seam between the Regional Force Compound and the District Headquarters which was defended by Bru montagnards and Marines under the command of SGT John Balanco.

The initial ground assault was announced by trip flares being set off.   The Bru knew where to shoot when certain trip flares were set off.  Thus they could engage the enemy that they could not see.  The same was true for Regional Force (RFs) in their old French fort made of pierced steel planking with about 12-18 inches of Khe Sanh red clay filling the space in between.  It stood up well to the enemy attack.  The Khe Sanh red clay was like concrete.

CPTs Nhi and Clarke were in the command bunker in the center of the compound.  CPT Clarke was to request and adjust over 1100 rounds of artillery during the next 30 hours.  The advisory team had 4 preplanned concentrations that were shaped like an L and located basically at each corner of the compound.  By moving those concentrations East and West and North and South one could cover the whole compound with steel.  The only rounds fired were fuse variable time (VT) a round that detonates in the air and throw shrapnel down to hit everyone who was not in a bunker with over- head cover.

CPT Clarke never claimed it, but it was reported that he adjusted the artillery so that it landed on the defensive wire and above the bunkers that were defending that wire.  This artillery fire is documented in the book Expendable Warriors.

The Marines in the compound became the fire brigade. SGT Balanco moved Marines around to meet the largest threats.  The presence Of Marines bolstered the morale of the RFs who had borne the brunt of the attack.  The ground attacks came in several waves, each of which was stopped.  The key spot was the two bunkers on each side of the seam between the two parts of the headquarters.  The NVA seemed to be on something. As an example, when CPT Clarke shot with a grenade round an NVA sapper, who was trying to take out the north western bunker in the RF compound, the two parts of his body, though separated continued to move towards the bunker with his pole charge.  (A charge on the end of a pole to place the charge into an aperture of the bunker and detonate it so as to create a gap in the defense.)  SFC Perry also thought that the NVA were on something.

In the late morning the fog burned off and the defenders were able to get some air support.  This will be the discussion in our next article.

The village fight

Story of the Village Fight

As written in April 1968

The scene of the action—Khe Sanh village and the District Headquarters in the bottom center of the map

These place names will be referred to extensively over the next few articles.

The District Headquarters –note the red arrow for the location of the NVA main effort—at the seam between the District Headquarters and the Regional Force Company compound.  Also note how tight everything is.  From the Pagoda to the wire is less than 10 yards.

1968 Advisory Team 4 Newsletter

There was a battle fought in Khe Sanh on 21 and 22 January 1968 that very few people know about. Everyone knows of the artillery barrages and the trenches, but one of the big battles took place when at 05:00 hours 21 January 1968 the 66th Regiment, 304th NVA Division launched an attack against the Huong Hoa District Headquarters in Khe Sanh Village (about 4km south of the Khe Sanh Combat Base).  The District Headquarters was defended by an understrength Regional Force (RF) Company, elements of 2 (Popular Force) PF platoons and Combined Action Company O (CAC-O) Headquarters and one Combined Action Platoon (CAP) with 10 or more Marines.

The attack was from three directions with the main effort coming from the southwest against the RF Company.  The weather was extremely poor with very heavy fog.  The initial enemy assault was beaten off by the courageous efforts of the RF Company and by almost constant barrages of Variable Time (VT) fused artillery fire.. Alter the initial assault was broken, the enemy simply backed off and using the positions he had already prepared, attempted to destroy the key bunkers by recoilless rifle and B-40 fire.  Simultaneously they moved into Khe Sanh village and setup mortars with which they attempted to shell the compound. At this time the police station was still communicating with the District Headquarters and made it possible to put effective fire on the enemy moving into the village.   For the next four hours there were constant attacks or probes against the compound which were beaten off by the valiant efforts of Bru (Montagnard) PFs and the Vietnamese RFs working with the Marines who SGT John Balanco moved to critical areas of the fight, as needed.  These various types of soldiers fought as a coordinated team. The four advisors were constantly moving through the compound, reassuring, reorganizing and helping the compounds’ defenders.

At about 1130 the fog burned off. During the next five hours there were three attempts to resupply the beleaguered garrison, which was in dire straits for ammunition. The third attempt included a 46 man RF reaction force that was badly mauled. LTC Joe Seymoe, the Deputy Senior Province Advisor, lost his life in this effort. All during the afternoon CPT Ward Britt, an Air Force FAC, working out of Quang Tri put in numerous air strikes on the massed NVA who were trying to reorganize. On one of these airstrikes he put in two fighters on 100 NVA in the open and after it was over he could not see any movement, just bodies.

The night of 21 January the NVA were unable to make an attack and only sniped throughout the night.

The next morning the evacuation of District Headquarters was ordered after Colonel Lownds, CO, 26th Marine Regiment,ordered the evacuation of the Marines from the garrison. The marines and the wounded were evacuated by air. CPT Clarke and SFC King, two of the advisors, accompanied the District Forces who, using an unknown route, successfully escaped from the District Headquarters.

Khe Sanh—the intelligence build up

My book Expendable Warriors was so named because General Westmoreland and Colonel Lounds at the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) knew that the North Vietnamese Army was going to attack Khe Sanh as much as 3 months before the attack began.  However, the Advisory Team in Khe Sanh village in the District Headquarters was not told.  We guess for fear that the intelligence would be leaked to our Vietnamese counterparts and then get back to the North Vietnamese.  What was the intelligence?

The intelligence that the NVA were going to attack Khe Sanh got its first visibility in November 1967 when Colonel Lounds (Commander of the KSCB) told some Marines that: “you will soon be in the American history books.”

Recently unclassified intelligence showed that in October 1967 an NVA Division began moving towards Khe Sanh.  There was also information from signal intercepts that a new headquarters had been formed to control a multi-division attack on Khe Sanh.

General Westmoreland’s intelligence brief of 12 January confirmed that the attack would begin on 21 January.  During the entire month of January Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) began preparations for the battle of Khe Sanh by:

  • Reinforcing the KSCB first on the 13December with an additional Marine Infantry Battalion.  The order sending the battalion to KSCB noted that reinforcements should not flow to KSCB too quickly so as to avoid the NVA knowing of General Westmoreland’s intentions.
  • An air campaign to target the NVA using B-52s as they approached Khe Sanh was begun on 5 January –Operation Niagara
  • Approval to use what was then a classified / controlled fragmentation artillery munition (COFRAM—also known as fire cracker) was sought
  • An Air Support Radar Team was deployed to KSCB on 16 January to control radar guided air attacks.
  • On 17 January an additional Marine infantry battalion arrived at Khe Sanh bringing the force up to 3 battalions.
  • On 18 January sensors were diverted from the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and deployed around the KSCB to monitor the movement of the NVA into the area.

During the period beginning in December 1967 the Marines at KSCB began improving their defensive positions by digging deeper putting up more sand bag reinforced bunkers.  Ammunition resupply by air began in earnest.  This Marine effort was intelligence to those of us on the Advisory Team in the District Headquarters.  We began to take similar actions by improving the defenses of our little compound.

Finally on 19 January an NVA officer was captured performing a reconnaissance of the wire surrounding the KSCB.  This officer had the entire plan for the attack from the northern Division (NVA Division 325 C) that was to attack KSCB beginning on 21 January.

The information on the pending attack was known to the leadership at Khe Sanh and throughout the relevant portions of MACV, BUT not in the District Headquarters.  The scene was set for the events of the next almost 80 days.

Articles about Khe Sanh and the fight in Khe Sanh Village

In coming days/weeks we will again post an entire series of articles on the events leading up to the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB).  If one sews these articles together, he will have much of the story leading up to the siege.  This introduction provides a road map for those who want to catch up on what happened 54 years ago January 21, 1968.  I am a little late this year posting these articles.  I will also update them, as appropriate.

I post these articles so that readers can appreciate the gallantry of the Bru Montagnards, the Vietnamese soldiers, the Marines of CAC O, the other members of Advisory Team 4, CPT War Britt the FAC and all of the others that were involved in the village fight specifically, but also those soldiers, airmen and Marines who were all involved in the Battle of Khe Sanh.

Was America Duped at Khe Sanh—debunks an article in the New York Times about North Vietnamese strategy leading up to Khe Sanh

General Westmoreland and the Vietnam War Strategy—continues the discussion of the false items in the previously mentioned New York Times article.  It presents the dueling strategies of the two sides.

Limited War and Rules of Engagement—presents a discussion of the problems with limited war concepts and how they related to Rules of Engagement.

Khe Sanh—the intelligence build up—explains the origins of the title Expendable Warriors.

Command and Control in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AO)—explains the quagmire that was the local command and control situation.  Lack of unity of command lead to a lack of unity of effort.

The march towards the opening of the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base—explains the North Vietnamese Army approach towards the village of Khe Sanh.

1968 Advisory Team 4 Newsletter—how the battle around the village was originally explained in a newsletter published by Advisory Team 4 headquarters in Quang Tri.

The village fight 2—further explains what happened during the defense of the District Headquarters

Air Support for Khe Sanh Village—explains the various forms of air support that were used to support the defenders of the District Headquarters and how they were coordinated for.

The Battle of Khe Sanh Village is Over—the Advisory Team the district forces withdraw after the Marines are withdrawn and further artillery support is denied.

The previous edition of each of these articles can be found on https://brucebgclarke.com/