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Thread: Article: Lam Son 719 - Part 1

  1. #1

    Lam Son 719

    Lam Son 719 is probably one of the most misunderstood or misinterpreted operations of the entire Viet Nam War.

    I have created a brief (9 pages plus pictures - sorry) synopsis of the operation so that I could better understand the broad picture. It is too long for one post, so I will have to make multiple posts.

    As early as 1967 U.S. planners had planned a ground offensive against Laos to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail but had determined that 5 to 7 U.S. – ARVN divisions would be needed. Because the troops were not available and the political climate was never favorable, the idea was put on the back burner but kept simmering.

    On December 8, 1970, the plan was re-examined because intelligence was following a PAVN logistical build-up in southeastern Laos. The Vietnamization process along with the gradual reduction of U.S. troops was threatened. The plan became known as Dewey Canyon II (the movement of U.S. supporting troops to the border)/ Lam Son 719 (the ARVN controlled incursion) and had two options: if the North Vietnamese fell back under the attack as they did in Cambodia, then the ARVN would move down the Trail destroying everything they came across. If the North Vietnamese put up resistance then the ARVN was to cause as much damage as possible and conduct a fighting withdrawal back into South Vietnam.

    Somehow the 5 -7 division estimate was overlooked because in February, 1971, only three ARVN divisions would be involved– the 1st Airborne Division, the 1st Infantry Division, and the Marine Division, supported by the 1st Ranger Group, the 1st Armored Brigade and the 5th Regiment of the 2cnd Division – some of the best troops the ARVN had. What was overlooked was that Hanoi had deployed an entire army corps (70B) made up of the 9th, 19th, 29th and 39th infantry regiments backed up by the 208th, 304th, 320th and 324th Divisions as well as the 202cnd armored regiment. The corps was well equipped with 19 or 20 air defense battalions with 23mm, 37mm and 57mm. Hanoi’s plan was to smash the offensive and then counterattack along Route 9 towards Tchepone.

    The Dewey Canyon II part of the operation began when a task force from the 1st Bde of 5th Mech consisting of elements of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry (Mechanized), the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, the 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, and Troop A, 4th Squadron, 12th Cavalry left Quang Tri at 0400 29 January with the mission of establishing logistical bases, keeping Route QL-9 open to the border and covering the withdrawal of the South Vietnamese. By nightfall the task force rolled into Fire Support Base Vandergrift. Because Route 9 was known to be in such a poor state of repair, at midnight Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry and two engineer companies led out on foot following a bulldozer with headlights blazing. When a damaged bridge or other obstacle was encountered, a few cavalrymen and engineers were left behind while the rest of the task force moved on. The next morning, the cavalry troop vehicles moved out and joined the group on foot and arrived at Khe Sanh at 1400 on 1 February. With Highway 9 opened from Vandergrift to Khe Sanh, the road was opened all the way to the border by elements of the 1st Squadron, 1st Cav the following day.

    (Khe Sanh, March, 1971

    Following close behind the 5th Mech task force were four battalions of the US 108th Artillery Group. On 29 January, the 2cnd Battalion 94th (175mm/8in) Artillery arrived at LZ Vandergrift along with the 5th Battalion (155mm SP) 4th Artillery. The Battalions were escorted by 1/44th Dusters and Quad 50’s with two Dusters assigned to each firing battery, with the Quads and a searchlight going to battalion headquarters. 1/44th was assigned for convoy and perimeter duty. On 1 February, the 8th Battalion (175mm/8in) 4th Artillery moved through FSB Vandergrift to a position on the Khe Sanh Plains that was given the name Firebase Flexible. The 5/4 artillery moved to the old Special Forces camp at Lang Vei.

    On 4 February, the 2/94 artillery also moved to Lang Vei. A Battery (8 inch) was moved south and located on a forward slope where they had unobstructed coverage of Highway 9 into Laos. The battalion was given a new mission of general support for ARVN I Corps artillery with priority fires to the 1st ARVN Airborne Division. In this capacity on 8 February, the first day of Lam Son 719 A Battery fired a prep on LZ Yellow and B Battery fired on LZ Blue. B & C Batteries with 175 mm guns could shoot an additional 5 kilometers into Laos then the 8 inch guns of A Battery, even though A Battery was located eleven kilometers further west then B & C Batteries. That evening at 2000 A Battery received the first of many incoming rounds they would experience in the next few weeks. 8/4 Artillery occupied positions from Lang Vei north at Ta Bet and Halfway Point as general support for the area north of Highway 9.

    There was a big sign at the border, “NO US PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT.” The sign, of course, had no relevance for those flying over it. But because no Americans would cross the border on the ground, then the U.S. advisors would remain in South Vietnam and the ARVN would have to do their own co-ordinating of supporting fires, helicopters and air support. Never been done before. Even though the planning for Dewey Canyon II and Lam Son 719 was a carefully guarded secret and only a few individuals knew what was really being planned, all written plans had to be translated and there were enough communist sympathizers among the translators to provide Hanoi with complete sets of documentation as quickly as it was delivered to South Vietnamese and US Army commanders.

    At 1000 on 8 February M-41 tanks and M-113 APCs of the lead elements of the RVN 1st Armor Brigade, the 11th and 17th Cavalry Regiments (fewer then 17 M-41 tanks between them) crossed the border into Laos. Lam Son 719 had begun as the two units, accompanied by two South Vietnamese airborne battalions, moved 9 kilometers down Highway 9. Intelligence reports had indicated that the terrain along Route 9 in Laos was favorable for armored vehicles. The reality was that Highway 9 was a neglected forty-year-old, single-lane road, with high shoulders on both sides and no maneuver room. As the units moved forward they were surprised to find the entire area was cratered by bombs and long overgrown with dense grass and bamboo. The cav units had to stay on the road.

    Route QL9 near LZ BRAVO

    Here politics had raised its ugly head. Because U.S. low level recon had been forbidden until just one hour before the first airmobile assaults, the condition of the roads would be a complete surprise. All five available air cavalry troops had been consolidated under the control of the U.S. 2d Squadron, 17th Cavalry with the task of locating and destroying antiaircraft weapons, finding enemy concentrations, and carrying out reconnaissance and security missions, including the rescue of air crews downed in Laos. To give them complete autonomy, they were placed under the control of XXIV Corps. Thus, there was no early recon of roads and no recon of North Vietnamese antiaircraft positions, leaving the air cavalry to screening the landing zones just before the assaults. The air cav troops performed magnificently. The rule of no Americans on the ground in Laos included the Blues of the air cavalry, so they were replaced with the Hac Bao of the ARVN 1st Inf Div, an arrangement that was satisfactory in all respects.

    Two views of the ARVN 1st Armored Bde moving toward LZ ALPHA

    1st Aviation Brigade was reluctant to have too many of its assets transferred to the 101st Airborne Division because the two battalions available were scheduled to stand down and one of the battalions (the 223rd) was a fixed wing battalion, not a combat assault battalion, and needed a quick conversion to a CAB. Quickly, 1st Aviation Bde pulled detachments with helicopter S-3 and S-4 experience and sent them to the 223rd.
    Assault helicopter companies had been moved from as far away as Ninh Hoa and there was a concern that the NVA might believe that the country had been stripped of aviation assets, so the powers that be added an entire layer of call signs on top of the aviation call signs that had always been used. “Dolphin 26” was now “boats 26.” Gunship units stubbornly stuck to their old call signs which made them easier to identify. UHF communications were limited because the battalion hq’s were located at Quang Tri. This was resolved when battalion forward locations were established at Khe Sanh. From about the middle of February on, the weather became a factor when many of the LZ’s were socked in until noon or later.

    While the 1st Armored Bde was struggling down Highway 9, helicopters under control of the 223rd and 158th Aviation Battalions were crossing into Laos loaded with ARVN troops. Three battalions of the 3d Regt, 1st ARVN Inf Div air assaulted into FBs HOTEL and BLUE south of Route 9. Two battalions of the 1st ARVN Abn Div air assaulted into LZ 30 and LZ 31 north of Route 9. The 21st ARVN Ranger battalion was air assaulted into LZ RANGER SOUTH. 105mm batteries quickly followed and were landed on LZs HOTEL, 30 and 31 by Chinooks.

    As the first troops consolidated their positions on the LZ’s, the air cavalry moved out to reconnoiter the front and flanks, seeking landing areas and destroying antiaircraft positions. But the demand for gunships became heavy as units on the ground encountered NVA troops. In the air cavalry, emphasis shifted to locating enemy troop concentrations and indirect fire weapons that posed an immediate threat to South Vietnamese forces. Thus, long-range reconnaissance was sacrificed for fire support. The air cavalry screened the 1st Armor Brigade's advance along Route 9 all the way to Aloui, which the brigade reached in the afternoon of 10 February. Within three days Vietnamese airmobile forces on the ridgelines to the north and south had moved abreast of Aloui.

    On 12 February, the 39th Ranger Battalion was airlifted to a location named Ranger North, three km northeast of Ranger South. The two ranger battalions were northern flank security for FSB 30 and 31 protecting the north side of the main attack route down Highway 9. Headquarters of the 1st Ranger Group was located at Ta Bat, and artillery support from the 64th Artillery Bn (105 mm) was located at Phu Loc north of Khe Sanh. The area was made accessible by a secondary road, known as Red Devil Road that ran roughly parallel to Route 9, from Fire Support Base Elliott to Khe Sanh. Constructed by the 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, and elements of the 7th Engineer Battalion, Red Devil Road allowed the 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry to continue operations north of Khe Sanh until 7 April.

    One of the Ranger LZ's, don't know if its north or south

    The main thrust along Highway 9 made by the armored and airborne units halted at Aloui and waited for orders, but orders from I Corps and the Airborne Division conflicted The 1st Airborne Division was unable to keep the route open and heavy rains set in making the road impassable. The armor and airborne troops had to be resupplied by air and in their static position they became a target for intense enemy fire; losses in men and equipment mounted. Eventually a point was reached when the 1st Armor Brigade could not, if it had been ordered, move west of Aloui.

    The U.S. 175 batteries were moved from Lang Vei to Lao Bao, a bulge in the border near where Highway 9 crossed. They were now farther west then any U.S. maneuver battalion and began coming under intense artillery fire from 122 and 152 mm guns. Counter battery radar was kept busy.

    On 14 February, patrols from the 39th Ranger Battalion on Ranger North began making contact with PAVN forces. Artillery from the 64th Artillery at Phu Loc was called for support. By 1600 all the companies of the battalion were engaged and more artillery was called for, this time C/44th located on FSB 30 added its support. Under intense artillery fire, the NVA pulled back allowing the Rangers to consolidate their position. On the following day the Rangers engaged in aggressive patrolling and killed 43 NVA and captured two 37mm AA guns. This was ominous, it indicated a large unit in the area and that the PAVN intended to push the attack. In fact, three PAVN regiments were closing in on the Ranger positions.

    The NVA maneuvered its large units until the 18th when again they attacked in strength. With strong artillery support, this time including 175mm from the 2/94th at Lao Bao, the Rangers held on. During the 19th and 20th the attacks continued until finally on the afternoon of the 20th there was no more contact with the artillery forward observers. The 39th had abandoned its positions and evaded back to Ranger South rather then surrender. For three days the air cav had not been able to penetrate the weather and resupply the 39th and had been only able to offer limited support. When air cav finally got to the LZ late on the 20th, they counted over 600 NVA bodies in the positions. The CO of the 2/17 Air Cavalry wrote, “We could not re-supply them for three days. When ammunition was about to run out, they got out of their positions, counter-attacked then continued to fight with captured weapons.” That night flares lit up the sky over Ranger South and in the morning the attacks started. For four days and nights the 21st Ranger Battalion and the remains of the 39th held their positions. Between NVA attacks, the LZ was bombarded with 122 mm rockets and artillery.

    On the morning of the 25th, the Rangers were ordered to evacuate the LZ. Again the 64th and C/44th artillery were directed to maximize fire-support for the rangers. About 1000, a flight of helicopters escorted by four Cobra gun-ships extracted the Rangers and took them to FSB 30. Later, all but one company were evacuated to Phu Loc.

    At the same time NVA pressure had begun to build at Ranger North, and the South Vietnamese command was debating whether to continue the drive west, pressure on FSB 31 was increasing. On the morning of 18 February it was obvious a full blown coordinated tank-infantry attack with supporting fire from artillery and rockets was underway. I Corps ordered the 17th Armored Cavalry north from Aloui to reinforce Landing Zone 31. The airborne division modified the order to stop south of the landing zone and wait to see if the site was overrun. Neither headquarters had eyes on the scene. As a result of the confusion, the 17th Armored Cavalry augmented with tanks from the 11th Armored Cavalry did not arrive at Landing Zone 31 until 19 February when some airborne units had already been pushed back.

    In the first battle between North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese tanks, a tank in the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, destroyed a North Vietnamese T54 tank. The South Vietnamese forces retook a portion of the landing zone by the end of the day. Six T54's and sixteen PT76's were destroyed, with none of the South Vietnamese M41's lost. Direct and indirect fire continued to pound the airborne troops, and finally, on the 25th the 17th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Third Airborne Battalion were pushed off the landing zone to the south. 120 ARVN soldiers were trapped on the LZ and captured as well as the headquarters for the 3rd Bde of the Airborne Division.

    After Landing Zone 31 fell, the airborne units were pulled out and the 17th Armored Cavalry was left on its own southeast of the LZ under heavy enemy pressure. A major attack at noon on 27 February was repulsed by the cavalry supported by tactical air and air cavalry gunships. Twelve PT76's and three T54's were destroyed at a cost of three armored cavalry assault vehicles. Still the cavalry remained in its location only to be attacked again on 1 March. This ended up being a night battle supported by South Vietnamese artillery, U.S. tactical air strikes, and cavalry gunships. Six B-52 arc light missions were used on tac air targets. Fifteen enemy tanks were destroyed at a cost of six armored cavalry assault vehicles.

    The commander of the 1st Airborne Division failed to either support the 17th Armored Cavalry or to pull it back, in spite of recommendations from the American advisor of the armored brigade or the acting advisor of his division. On 3 March the Vietnamese Chief of Armor, after consulting with the I Corps commander, intervened by radio and ordered the 17th Cavalry south to more defensible ground under cover of air support from I Corps. By this time the cavalry was surrounded on three sides and would have to retreat through direct tank fire. The move succeeded and the cavalry eventually fought its way back to the 1st Brigade at Aloui.
    Last edited by rotorwash; 12-30-09 at 19:29.

    "In my many years on this earth, I have concluded that one worthless man is a shame, two are a lawfirm and three or more are a congress." President John Adams

  2. #2

    Lam Son 719 Part 2

    As February drew to a close, the ARVN I Corps commander assessed his situation. His main thrust was no longer viable, his right flank had disintegrated, but the PAVN attack had lost its momentum and under heavy pressure from the air had not been able to deliver a crushing blow from the north that could carry beyond Highway 9. The 1st ARVN Infantry Division was intact and relatively undisturbed on the south, and he had the Marine Division in reserve at Khe Sanh. Aviation assets were largely intact. The OH-6’s and OH-58’s had been withdrawn as scouts because they were too vulnerable in the 12.7 rich environment, but the scout role had been taken over by groups of 2 – 6 Cobra’s working with a C in C UH-1H and were very successful, their speed and agility allowing them to avoid the NVA AA fire.

    The NVA tanks were a threat in being, but whenever they were spotted the reaction was swift and violent. One round fired by B Battery, 2/94 landed between two PT76’s and flipped them both upside down. When the air cavalry encountered tanks for the first time, high explosive antitank (HEAT) rockets were not available, so what was used was whatever ordnance was on board. The Cobra gun-ships opened fire at maximum range, using 2.75-inch flechette rockets to eliminate enemy troops riding on the outside of the tank and to force the crew to close the hatches. As the gun run continued, high-explosive and white phosphorus rockets and 20-mm. cannon fire were used against the tank itself.

    PAVN T-54 knocked out on QL9

    Eventually HEAT rockets became available, but they were not always effective. Although these rockets were capable of penetrating armor plate, they could do so only in direct hits. Engagements therefore had to take place at ranges of 900 to 1,200 meters, distances that exposed the gunship to the tank's heavy machine gun and to supporting infantry weapons. Between 8 February and 24 March, air cavalry teams sighted 66 tanks, destroyed 6, and immobilized 8. Most of the tanks, however, were turned over to fixed wing aircraft, which could attack with heavier ordnance.

    The collapsed northern flank had served its purpose in giving early warning of large PAVN units on the move toward Highway 9. NVA tanks had been unable to close with the 1st Armored Brigade but the brigade in its present position was nothing more then static pillboxes that themselves needed to be protected. The brigade was strengthened with additional units as they became available including three companies of tanks, however, the reinforcement was so piecemeal that it was difficult to tell just who or what was committed. Many units never reached Aloui and simply plugged up the withdrawal. Only one-third of the cavalry squadrons and two-thirds of the tank squadrons available to I Corps were used in Laos, amounting to five tank squadrons and six armored cavalry squadrons total.

    As the I Corps commander reviewed the situation at the end of February, withdrawal seemed premature without another attempt on the objective, so the Marine Division was moved into locations vacated when the 1st ARVN Infantry leapfrogged toward LZ Hope. One incident that may or may not have influenced his decision was that the BBC had already announced South Vietnamese troops had occupied Tchepone.

    On 2 March, the 7th Marine Battalion, 147th Brigade, was inserted into Fire Support Base Delta. Over the next three days, the 147th Brigade Headquarters and the 2d and 4th Battalions were also brought into Delta. During this same time the 258th Brigade was inserted at FSB Hotel.

    The first part of the assault on Tchepone required the 1st Battalion of the 1st Infantry Regiment to be inserted at Landing Zone Lolo, 13 kilometers southeast of Tchepone on 3 March. Twice the landing had been postponed and twice additional prep fires were brought in to suppress NVA fire on the LZ itself. Finally the NVA were driven out of their trenches, retreating west. Still the landing was very hot with 11 helicopters shot down and 44 others damaged by ground fire. Once the LZ was secure, 105 mm howitzers were airlifted in. On 5 March, troops were assaulted into LZ Sophia to protect the south flank of the main attack. The LZ was well protected by anti-aircraft up to 23 mm and the helicopters suffered, with three shot down on the first lift.

    HITCHIN A RIDE - Downed aircrew on LZ LOLO taking cover in an NVA trench

    This is the ride they came in on

    The morning after, a Chinook drops a 105 at the purple smoke. I think there are at least 6 downed aircraft in the picture. One would be recovered.

    Long final to LZ SOPHIA, another bad place.

    6 March would be the day for the final assault into Tchepone. Prep fires for the assault included everything from B-52s to the 175’s at Lao Bao. B-52’s literally blew the tops off of mountains revealing underground storage facilities. U.S. tactical air strikes or air cover sorties were scheduled every 10 minutes. One hundred twenty U.S. helicopters assembled at Khe Sanh but were forced to depart 90 minutes earlier then planned because of incoming fire, however, preparations for this part of the operation had been so carefully planned that no problems resulted and when the first aircraft dropped off the 2/2 Battalion at Landing Zone Hope, four kilometers northeast of Tchepone, only incidental gunfire was encountered.

    The North Vietnamese had not anticipated such a move and could not react quickly enough to stop it. By nightfall, 276 helicopter sorties (some aircraft making three trips) had landed about 5,000 ARVN troops against a loss of seven helicopters.

    Tchepone itself was just a small village but around it the PAVN had established sanctuary base 604, the main base for attacks in Quang Tri Province, and base 611, south of 604 and closer to the border, used to launch attacks against the city of Hue and Thua Thien province. These base areas consisted of many small storage depots and five large storage areas, each between 1 to 2 square kilometers, stocked with weapons, ammunitions, logistic supplies, medical supplies and rations. Other areas around Tchepone were used for troop replacement and training. For a week ARVN troops wandered about the two base camps methodically destroying everything in sight or using artillery, tac air or gunships to destroy the depots. Over 9,700 secondary explosions were documented, sometimes continuing for a half hour after the initial strike. The NVA were in a state of shock at Tchepone, over 5,000 were killed in the depot area - mostly rear area troops or troops in rest centers - with another 69 captured as air cavalry roamed the area unopposed. Thousands of tons of enemy supplies were destroyed and a POL pipeline was cut in several places. Almost 4,000 captured enemy weapons were airlifted out and brought back to Viet Nam.

    As the ARVN troops began moving down Route 914 to the south, the PAVN forces finally began to react and started putting up stiffer resistance each successive day as the NVA 2cnd Division moved north. Generals Abrams and Weyand saw a tremendous opportunity to strike a mortal blow, with the exception of the 2cnd Division, PAVN units were being withdrawn from the battle area, there was no general reinforcement of 70B Corps. Abrams tried to get President Thieu to commit the 2cnd ARVN Division into Tchepone to create what they saw as the only single decisive battle in the entire war, and one that could cripple the PAVN so badly the war might be won. Thieu agreed about the strategic possibilities but settled the question with one statement, he wanted a U.S. division to go also. With the current political climate in the U.S., both knew it would never happen, and so was squandered the possibility of cutting the jugular of all NVA operations in the south. Even though the I Corps commander had control of the 2cnd Division, he would not make the move without Thieu’s approval, so he waited while his corps was becoming ever more endangered. Finally, Thieu’s response was to order a withdrawal.

    The withdrawal began from positions around Tchepone and Sophia West overland to LZ Liz. Two battalions and the 2cnd Regiment CP were extracted to FB Sophia East and then on to FB Delta 1. The next day two more battalions moved to LZ Brown. The 1st Regiment continued operations in base area 611 southwest of LZ Lolo while the 3rd Regiment worked southwest of Delta1 and LZ Brown.

    PAVN forces were still not organized enough to contest these evacuations but it would be a different story four days later when it was time to evacuate LZ LOLO. The NVA had almost an entire division in place at LOLO to confront the three battalions of the 1st Infantry Division that were being evacuated. The evacuations continued and the attacks grew in intensity until finally the only troops left were 420 men of the 4th Battalion. Over the next two days this unit was reduced to 88 men taking cover in a ravine and commanded by a sergeant. Finally, on the afternoon of 18 March, the last 36 battered survivors were pulled from the LZ.

    LZ Sophia East, also known as Sophia II, located east of LOLO was to be evacuated on 20 March. The U.S. Air Force and Army helicopters flew 1,388 gunship sorties, 270 tactical air strikes and 11 B-52 missions dropping 909 tons of bombs, and by 1300 hours, the 3d Battalion, 2d Regiment, 1st Infantry Division was extracted and taken to Khe Sanh. Twenty eight of the 40 helicopters involved in the lift were hit. A short distance away, the 4/2 Battalion was left on the ground when the lead helicopter in the flight was hit by fire and exploded in the air causing the evacuation to be aborted. The 4/2 was later evacuated under fire from LZ Brown.

    On 18 March it was discovered that the NVA were gathering a regimental size unit northwest of Aloui, so the 1st Armor Brigade was ordered to withdraw by the I Corps commander. To cover the withdrawal, he allocated two U.S. air cavalry troops to the airborne division. It was at this point that the most severe command difficulties within the ARVN came to light. The 1st Armor Brigade had been placed under the control of the airborne division, but the division had no idea what to do with the armored troops and often they were left to fend for themselves. The airborne division commander was senior to the I Corps commander and was extremely miffed about the situation, even refusing to attend command briefings. And President Thieu tolerated the situation. So as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment acting as rear guard to the 1st Armor Brigade abandoned Aloui, no air cav was to be seen. The air cav had been ordered to support airborne battalions in other locations.

    Between Aloui and Landing Zone Alpha, the armored column was ambushed at a stream crossing and four M41 tanks were abandoned in the middle of the stream isolating the 11th Armored Cavalry on the west bank. The airborne soldiers abandoned the cavalry and kept on marching east down QL 9. No reinforcements were sent and no recovery vehicles came to remove the abandoned tanks. The 11th fought on alone, and after three hours cleared a way across but had to leave seventeen disabled vehicles on the west side of the stream. The NVA used the vehicles as machine gun positions until the vehicles were destroyed on 25 March.
    On 20 March the armor brigade reached Landing Zone Alpha, regrouped, and moved on. Still no air cavalry. The next morning the hapless 11th Armored Cavalry was leading when the brigade was ambushed three kilometers east of Fire Support Base Bravo. Air strikes were called in, one accidentally hitting the South Vietnamese with napalm, killing twelve and wounding seventy-five. The brigade pulled back west to regroup and were informed by a prisoner that two North Vietnamese regiments were waiting in ambush farther east. Less then 5 kilometers from South Vietnam, the column turned south abandoning the road. Unknown to them, the airborne division had combat assaulted troops north of the ambush and cleared it. The armor column was never informed that the road was clear and after two difficult river crossings and a 17 kilometer detour cross country, finally reached South Vietnam and linked up with the U.S. 1st/ 77th Armor. A MACV advisor to the Armored Brigade met the column at the border and counted the vehicles, 25 out of 62 tanks and 64 out of 162 APC’s returned; the totals included those vehicles added as reinforcements . Sadly, most had not been combat loss, they had broken down or ran out of gas and been abandoned.

    The next day, the 1st Armored Brigade and a paratrooper battalion were ordered to go back and recover the 17 damaged tanks and APCs left behind by the 11th Cav. Once again American air cover had been promised and once again it was diverted. The brigade succeeded in picking up the vehicles and had the 17 vehicles in tow when, once again, they were ambushed crossing a river near Aloui. The four lead M-41 tanks were hit with RPG’s blocking the route. For three hours the South Vietnamese fought to survive until the disabled tanks were pushed aside and the column could move. All the vehicles that were being towed as well as the four M41’s were left behind and later destroyed by Cobras.

    Starting on 18 March, the NVA 324B Division had gradually closed around the LZ’s held by the Marines. On Fire Support Base Delta, the 147th Marine Brigade Headquarters received 400 incoming rounds that killed eight marines. The 7th Battalion maneuvering outside the LZ received about the same number of rounds and medevaced five wounded. An NVA defector from the 812th Regiment, 324B Division told the Marines that the entire 324B Division was committed to what the PAVN called the “Route 9 campaign” with its 29th, 803d and 812th regiments. The 29th Regiment had been beaten up pretty badly, but the 812th Regiment was intact and was engaging the 258th Marine Brigade at LZ Hotel. Positioned around Delta were about 10 antiaircraft guns entrenched on the mountain slopes around the base that could not be silenced. The 7th Marine Battalion operating outside the LZ was under constant pressure from fire and ground attacks. They reported that the enemy even used a noxious gas and tank mounted flame throwers.

    On 19 March it was discovered that the 308th NVA Division with its 36th, 102d and 88th regiments was maneuvering to attack from the north. The 258th Brigade on Hotel was constantly under pressure and FSB Delta was encircled. The 2d and 4th Battalions were stopped when they tried to reinforce the base. Five of the ten 105-mm howitzers were out of action due to the enemy fire. NVA troops reached the defense perimeter and dug in making helicopter resupply impossible, but the 7th Marine Battalion and the troops of the 147th Brigade could hold on because they had a ten day reserve of supplies.

    At LZ Delta a fierce attack began at dawn of 21 March by the 29th and 803d Regiments of the 324B Division supported by very accurate mortar and direct artillery fire said to be from tank guns. 175-mm guns provided close support as well as 13 tac air sorties and a B-52 mission that was diverted to the area. A prisoner of war later reported that a battalion lost 400 men from the B-52 strike. The NVA attack was stopped and the base held, but they had used up their reserve of supplies. A resupply effort was successful, seven U.S. UH-1H helicopters brought ammunition and took out wounded but an eighth helicopter was shot down. Two nights later LZ Delta was abandoned under cover of a B-52 strike. The Marines conducted an orderly withdrawal to Hotel that met no opposition.

    For 24 March the 14th CAB daily log contains the entry, “LZ Hotel was evacuated without incident.” All South Vietnamese military units were now out of Laos, although for more then a week South Vietnamese soldiers, Marines and American helicopter crewmen would be showing up at U.S. firebases after walking out. So ended Lam Son 719.

    "In my many years on this earth, I have concluded that one worthless man is a shame, two are a lawfirm and three or more are a congress." President John Adams

  3. #3

    U.S. Aviation support of Lam Son

    LAMSON 719 would never have been undertaken without the massive helicopter support available. One question is; did the large number of aviation losses sustained justify the operation? It did raise questions about the use of helicopters in the assault role.

    Gaggle of aircraft at Khe Sanh preparing for insertions

    American aircraft losses to inventory included ten OH-6As, eight OH-58s, 53 UH-1Hs, 26 AH-1Gs, three CH-47s and two CH-53s. The VNAF also lost seven UH-1Hs. Combat damage accounted for the loss of 90 helicopters while the rest were lost to non-combat related incidents. Damage not resulting in loss figures are difficult to pin down. There were 644 aircraft damage incidents to 451 different aircraft reported, but this does not impact availability figures because few damaged aircraft were down more then 24 hours. A very effective recovery operation brought back almost all aircraft that were salvageable and more then a few that weren’t. Losses to helicopter crews in the 45 days of combat flying over Laos amounted to a total of 210 casualties; of this total 152 were WIA, 26 KIA and 32 MIA.

    Recovering a Cobra back to Vandergrift

    Flying over Laos created unique challenges to aircrews, one of which was the amount of flight time crews endured. Aviation units OPCON to the 101st could not maintain the level of flight hours required to support the operation and at the same time adhere to the USARV flight time regulation which limited pilots to 120 hours per month. A waiver of the regulation was granted to units directly supporting LAM SON 719.

    Combat exposure was greatly increased during the operation. Using sortie information from the Aviation Statistical Summary, combat damage rates were established and then compared for aircraft operations over Laos and the Republic of Vietnam during LAM SON 719. This comparison showed that the threat damage was thirteen times greater when flying over Laos.

    Wreckage of CH-53 and OH-6 near LZ HOPE in Laos

    Anti-aircraft missiles were rare occurrences over Vietnam, however, over Laos there were 14 occasions when missiles were reported or photographed, and although there were no confirmed shoot downs of helicopters by missiles, there were occasions of aircraft being hit at altitudes up to 4,000 feet AGL.

    But there is another way to look at aircraft losses during the operation. Aircraft loss rate was 21 losses for every 100,000 sorties, or a loss rate of one quarter of one percent. Another way of looking at it is one aircraft lost for every 963 flying hours. The final analysis shows this to be a very high rate of accomplishment versus attrition.

    UH-1H aircraft made up most of the losses with 53 lost for 369 committed. Most of these losses were UH-1H aircraft in the troop transport or resupply role and more than half of these were lost on final approach to landing zones. Two hundred and thirty-seven UH-1H aircraft were damaged on 344 different occasions. Nearly twenty-nine percent of all the UH-1H losses occurred on 3 March and 20 March 1971, with respective operations to assault LOLO and to extract forces near BROWN. Altogether there were 84 incidents of damage to UH-1H helicopters on these two days.

    Scrap yard at Vandergrift

    As could be expected, the older, slower UH-1C/M gunships suffered much more then Cobras, many of which were hit by 12.7-mm fire but either limped back or were recovered and, eventually, got back in the fight. I have not been able to find exact loss numbers for UH-1C/M aircraft, and can only suspect they are tangled up in UH-1H and AH-1G figures, although combat damage reports record forty-eight different UH-1C/M aircraft damaged on 66 different occasions. The older gunships were the lowest priority for recovery operations and consequently, few were brought back. The required commitment level for UH-1C gunships was 60 aircraft, although more then that were probably committed as replacement aircraft were brought in.

    Downed gunship crew in Laos being rescued by Dustoff

    Aviation units involved in Lam Son 719

    Division Command and Control aircraft
    1st Bde (Avn Det), 5th lnf (Mech) /4 UH-1H, 6 OH-58
    1st Bde (Avn Det), 101stABN
    2d Bde (Avn Det), 101st ABN
    3rd Bde (Avn Det), 101stABN

    Medevac Units
    237th Med Det/Phu Bal and Quang Tri/Khe Sanh
    326th Med Bn
    498th Med Co (Air Ambulance) maintained a two ship detachment at Khe Sanh during part of February and March.
    571st Med Det Khe Sanh

    1st Aviation Brigade units
    HHC 14th CAB OPCONed to 101st CAG
    71st Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 14th CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
    174th Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 14th CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
    116/176th Avn Co (AHC) served 5 - 7 and 22 - 24 Mar OPCONed to 14th CAB / 23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C / Quang Tri. Only parts of these companies participated with combined assets during the periods indicated.

    HHC 223d CAB OPCONed to 101st CAG
    220 RAC Kat Killers provided FAC and Aerial Recon support 101st Phu Bai, Unit flew to DMZ and Tri Border area Laos, North and South Vietnam and Khe San. Based at North Phu Bai, with Platoon at Quang Tri and Dong Ha.
    48th Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 223d CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C I Dong Ha/ Da Nang
    173d Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 223d CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
    238th Avn Co (AWC) OPCONed to 223d CAB/ 12 UH-1C, 1 UH-1H
    282d Avn Co (AHC) served 5 - 7 and 22 - 24 Mar OPCONed to 223d CAB/ 23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
    B/7/1 Cav attached to 223d CAB, OPCONed to 2/17 Cav, 101st ABN / 8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A
    C/7/17 Cav attached to 223d CAB, OPCONed to 2/17 Cav, 101St ABN /8 UH-1 H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A / An Son / Quang Tri

    101st Abn Div aviation units
    HHC 101st CAG, 101stABN
    163dAvn Co (GS), 101stABN/10 UH-1H, 12 0H-6A

    HHT/2/17 Cav, 101stABN /8 UH-1H
    A/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1 H, 9 AH-1 G, 10 OH-6A
    B/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A
    C/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A

    HHB/4/77 ARA, 101St ABN
    A/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN /12 AH-1 G supported the operation only when the situation required.
    B/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN/ 12 AH-1G supported the operation only when the situation required.
    C/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN /12 AH-1G supported the operation as its primary mission and was augmented by assets from the other ARA batteries as the situation required.

    HHC 101stAHB, 101stABN
    A/101st AHB, 101St ABN /20 UH-1 H
    B/101st AHB, 101st ABN /20 UH-1H
    C/101st AHB, 101St ABN /20 UH-1H
    D/101stAHB, 101stABN/12 AH-1G
    235th Avn Co (AWC) OPCONed to 101st AHB / 21 AH-1G, 3 UH-1H

    HHC 158th AHB, 101st ABN
    A/158thAHB, 101stABN/20 UH-1H
    B/158thAHB, 101stABN/20 UH-1H
    C/158th AHB, 101st ABN /20 UH-1H
    D/158th AHB, 101st ABN /12 AH-1G
    D/227th AHB OPCONed to 158th AHB /12 AH-1G

    HHC 159thASHB, 101stABN
    A/159th ASHB, 101st ABN/ 16 CH-47
    B/159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
    C/159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
    179th Avn Co (ASHC) OPCONed to 159th ASHB, l01stABN /16 CH-47
    132d Avn Co (ASHC) OPCONed to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
    478th Avn Co (HH) attached to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /10 CH-54A / operated out of their permanent base camp at Red Beach, Da Nang but staged two or three aircraft at Phu Bai each night. Standing commitment was 5 aircraft per day
    HMH-463 OPCONed on a mission basis to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /
    16 CH-53 / operated out of their permanent base camp at Marble
    Mountain Airbase, Da Nang.
    HML367 sent USMC AH-1Gs to escort the CH-53s.

    "In my many years on this earth, I have concluded that one worthless man is a shame, two are a lawfirm and three or more are a congress." President John Adams

  4. Excellent posts about a very confusing operation that showed both the limitations of the ARVN to operate without U.S. advisors with them and the complications caused by both American politicians, ( the Cooper-Church Amendment ) and micro-management of the ground and air forces by the White House and the problems with the command and control of ARVN units by their respective political and military leaders. If not for the heroics of the American flight crews, especially the ones that evacuated the surrounded fire support bases and the ARVN in Laos, casualties would have been much higher because the retreat turned into a rout. I believe this operation also showed how if the ARVN were involved, word and details of the particular operation always reached the ears of the enemy and that secrecy was never really possible. The weather also had a negative effect on our anticipated response and as usual, the best laid plans always seem to be dependent on factors beyond our control. Very good info and remembrance by rotorwash.
    Semper Fi, Scott

  5. #5
    That was a very interesting read RW thanks for taking the time to post it and dont worry about how long they are.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Fredericksburg, Virginia
    Blog Entries

    Thumbs up

    Very detailed piece of writing. Have you ever thought about combining all these threads and possibly producing a book? It would make for one seriously engrossing read, not to mention put the war into the proper perception for the younger of us veterans who only know what they've heard from old media stories and "rear area rambos". Most of the guys I know in my American Legion Post don't really enjoy talking about some of the bull#@$* that they experienced over there, or just flat out refuse to...

    I enlisted into the U.S.Army straight outta' high school in 1977, and ironic as it may be, was sworn in on the 36th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. You know what they say, "Better late than never".

    All of my Drill Sergeants were Vietnam Combat Veterans, some who'd only been out of country for 2 1/2 years. As I got to know a couple of them better, (when they weren't "Thundering us with rifle drills and whatnot"), they began to tell me about some of the more bizarre stuff that took place on some of the forward firebases. Stuff like using 40mm AAA batteries to clear the treeline back a hundred yards or so when their battery was being harrassed by sniper fire; or calling in an airstrike on their own position when the firebase was overrun. I can't even begin to understand what something like that must have felt like.

    Hollywood has really taken some huge liberties with their so called "Historically Accurate" blockbusters, like "Apocolypse Now", "Fullmetal Jacket", "Hamburger Hill" and so on. The biggest piece of crap I've ever seen about Vietnam would have to be "Uncommon Valor". The kids that today are growing up in the shadow of the Global War on Terrorism seem to have a somewhat jaded view of the entire Vietnam War. Between the Hollywood hype and the media painting all Vietnam vets as raving lunatics, it would be and is, refreshing to learn about the real history from those who were there, waist deep in it.

    I did my full 6 year requirement in Combat Arms and Combat Support MOS's, and even though I never did see any combat, going to war with Iran in 1979 was a real possibility at that time. If our illustrious President, Gerald Ford hadn't cancelled an alert the morning after that rescue mission debacle in the desert, the entire 3rd Armored Division would've left Germany headed for Iran, armed for bear.

    But I digress... I look forward to more historical notes on a very misunderstood chapter in American history.

  7. #7
    Unregistered Guest

    C-130s in Lam Son 719

    As an C-130 driver I am a bit pissed that all you Army guys fail to mention the support given by the Air Force in Lam Son 719. Most threads compliment the B-52 airstrikes but what about all those guys hauling in your bombs, beans, bandaids, and bullets? We flew a lot of sorties into Khe Sanh (and Dong Ha, Hue, etc) in support.

  8. rotowash,

    Excellent post on Lam Son 719. We lost allot of helicopters that day. Have you ever seen the story of it on the History Channel?

  9. #9
    I haven't seen it, I hope they did it justice. I have the pieces for another post on the aftermath, its just taking the time to put it together.


    "In my many years on this earth, I have concluded that one worthless man is a shame, two are a lawfirm and three or more are a congress." President John Adams

  10. #10
    Unregistered Guest


    I appreciate your research and photos. The photos especially brought back a lot of memories. I was with D company, 3/187 at Khe Sahn during this op. Sappers got under the wire and attacked us close on the night of my 19th birthday (March 26 or thereabouts; you lose track of the days out in the bush). I have some very strong feelings right now.



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