Chiến trường Việt Nam - P7: Chiến tranh ở khu phi quân sự

Uploaded by royalhau on 18.07.2011

War on the DMZ
In early 1968, United States Marines fought the North Vietnamese Army...
in one of the most bitterly contested battles of the Vietnam War.
For 77 days 20,000 NVA troops laid siege... the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh.
At stake was the control of the gateway to South Vietnam.
The siege of Khe Sanh was the longest single battle of the Vietnam War.
It was also one of the most violent.
There were savage artillery duels,
mass infantry assaults and fierce hand to hand combat.
Khe Sanh also saw the most concentrated tactical bombing campaign in history
as the Americans used massed air power to try and break the siege.
The North Vietnamese meant their attack on Khe Sanh... deliver an historic victory that would destroy...
...the will of the United States to carry on the war.
In fact, in spite of immense sacrifice,
...the North Vietnamese Army would fail.
After Khe Sanh the NVA would never again...
...take on the Americans in a set piece battle.
In March 19653,500 U.S. Marines...
...had been the first American combat troops sent to South Vietnam.
Their orders were to defend an airbase at Da Nang
but their mission didn't stay defensive for long.
In spite of years of U.S. backing, South Vietnam...
...was close to losing its war against communist Vietcong guerrillas.
By July 1965 Washington had decided to commit 200,000 US troops to the fight...
and the Marines had gone on the offensive.
American commanders saw their role as taking on...
...the Vietcong's big units: the battalions and regiments.
The units were well trained...
...and had been armed with modern weapons by North Vietnam.
Increasingly the NLF's war was controlled from the North,
and North Vietnam had already begun to send its own troops fight alongside the guerrillas.
The first big battle between the Americans and the Vietcong...
...was in August 1965.
In operation Starlite the Marines smashed a Vietcong regiment.
In November in the Ia Drang valley, the 1st Air Cavalry Division...
...battled almost 6,000 North Vietnamese Army troops.
According to General Westmoreland,
the Americans killed more than 1,200 in a storm of heavy fire.
American commanders were buoyed up... their apparent success on the battlefield.
More such victories would quickly force the Vietcong to give up their campaign.
The optimism did not last long.
By the close of 1965 the Americans were finding it impossible... make the Vietcong fight pitch battles.
Meantime U.S. casualties were rising fast...
from ambushes, booby traps and surprise attacks.
By the start of 1966, Military Assistance Command, known as MACV,
the main American headquarters in South Vietnam,
deployed 184,000 U.S. troops.
Army units were concentrated in the Saigon area,
in a strip along the central coast and in the Central Highlands.
The Marines of the III Marine Amphibious Force were further North,
in the area known as I Corps.
I Corps bordered the Demilitarized Zone...
...separating North and South Vietnam.
The Marines now had three main bases in I Corps,
at Da Nang, Chu Lai and Phu Bai,
while the South Vietnamese Army had headquarters... Hue and Quang Ngai.
The threat came from NLF battalions in the countryside and the border areas,
the North Vietnamese Army on the Demilitarized Zone...
and from tens of thousands of local NLF...
...inside the heavily populated coastal belt.
To the NLF the coastal villages were a priceless asset.
They produced vast quantities of rice...
...which could feed the big guerrilla units in the remote interior.
They also produced large numbers of recruits.
Over the years the NLF had gained control of thousands of villages.
They had created their own local administration and village guerrilla forces.
The villages also played host to the big units... they passed through on operations.
All the areas in which the American Marines had built their bases...
...were surrounded by NLF controlled villages.
Marine sweeps through the settlements rarely managed to find them.
Vietcong tactics were to pull out the main guerrilla forces and officials...
leaving only snipers and booby traps behind.
After the Marines had moved on, the fighters would quickly return.
For the Americans it was deeply frustrating.
The Marines were forced to think again about how...
...they could fight this new and unsettling kind of war.
The answer the Marines came up with was a pacification program.
The idea was to fight the NLF for control of the villages...
...and to do it around the clock.
Squad and company sized units patrolled vigorously...
...and mounted constant ambushes.
The rice harvest was protected to keep it out of Vietcong hands.
In areas that stayed hostile...
...whole villages were moved by force to districts already pacified.
The Marines' aggressive military tactics were combined with persuasion.
In civic action projects, widely known as the 'Hearts and Minds' program,
villagers were given medical aid and help with economic development.
The Marines claimed the policy was highly successful...
...and helped bring more than a million people under government control,
however, in reality it was just an illusion and the NLF still managed... infiltrate these areas which continued to abound with sympathizers.
The change came in mid 1966.
General Westmoreland, the commander of US forces in South Vietnam,
had never agreed with the Marines' methods.
He believed that controlling villages was a waste...
...of highly trained and heavily armed troops.
Westmoreland argued that the Marines should instead... used to pursue the enemy's big units in the remote interior.
In fact events would soon force the Marines... reduce their whole pacification effort.
Civil unrest erupted between...
...South Vietnamese factions right across the country.
The North saw its opportunity and assembled thousands of troops...
...poised to cross into the South.
It was a threat the Marines could not ignore.
The North Vietnamese Army's 324B Division crossed the Demilitarized Zone... late May 1966, and encountered a Marine battalion.
The NVA held their ground and the largest battle of the war to date...
...broke out near Dong Ha.
General Walt moved most of the 3rd Marine division North,
5,000 men in five battalions.
In Operation Hastings, the Marines, backed by South Vietnamese Army troops,
the heavy guns of US warships,
and the Marines' own artillery and air power...
drove the NVA back over the Demilitarized Zone... just over three weeks.
Because the Marines were forbidden...
to cross the Demilitarized Zone into North Vietnam,
the 324B division, along with elements of two more divisions,
were able to regroup and return to the South almost at once.
The Marines were forced to mount Operation Prairie which tied up 11 battalions,
...nearly 10,000 troops, for a full ten months.
To support the operations they and Special Forces' units...
...built a string of combat bases stretching from Gio Linh in the East... Khe Sanh in the West.
Casualties on both sides were heavy in Operations Hastings and Prairie.
Although over 300 Americans were dead and nearly 1,500 wounded,
it was a victory for the Americans.
However, the NVA divisions had not been beaten.
They simply slipped back across the Demilitarized Zone...
...from where they could return at any time.
The Marines now had little choice...
...but to keep strong forces in the area.
As the Americans had expected, in the first months of 1967,
North Vietnamese Army units once more began infiltrating into the South.
The Marines' reaction was to mount big operations... find them and cut them off.
Both sides were determined to control the hill tops...
...dominating the valley trails.
The bloodiest battles of all were those fought for the hills...
...surrounding the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh.
These were 881 North and South and hill 861,
thus named for their height in feet.
American bases below the Demilitarized Zone were strung out...
...along route 1 and route 9.
The command center was Dong Ha, while Camp Carrol and The Rockpile...
...were artillery bases with long range heavy guns.
On the Western end of route 9, Lang Vei, a Special Forces camp...
...and the Marine base at Khe Sanh were particularly important.
They dominated North Vietnamese infiltration routes into the South...
...from the Demilitarized Zone and from Laos.
Khe Sanh combat base sat astride the valley of the Rao Quang river,
...with Dong Tri mountain to the North...
...and a series of smaller numbered hills to the North West.
In April 1967, elements of the NVA 325C Division...
...moved onto hills 881 North and South and hill 861,
...and stormed the signal relay station atop hill 950.
They built fortifications and placed artillery... support the main effort, an infantry assault... all three of the division's regiments, more than 5,000 men.
The base at Khe Sanh had been defended by only a single company of Marines,
but now American strength was raised to two battalions with more artillery.
By May 5th, after violent battles,
...the Marines had seized all three key hills.
The battered North Vietnamese division pulled back...
...over the Demilitarized Zone and across the Laotian border.
After the hill fights at Khe Sanh...
...the war on the Demilitarized Zone shifted to the Eastern sector.
North Vietnamese Artillery hidden inside the zone...
...hammered Marine bases causing heavy casualties.
30,000 NVA troops tried to infiltrate past the American outposts.
In July 1967, there was heavy fighting near Conh Tien...
...killing 1,300 NVA troops.
During the last months of 1967,
the Marines launched one operation after another... try and intercept infiltrating NVA forces.
It was no easy task.
The terrain was rough,
there were never enough helicopters,
and poor weather often shut down air operations.
Meanwhile, powerful NVA units were once again massing... the hills and forests around the Khe Sanh combat base.
THE LEADERS – North Vietnam
Since the start of the conflict, North Vietnamese leaders
had been arguing bitterly about how best to win the war in the South.
The president, Ho Chi Minh, was by now aging and in poor health
...but he still had enormous influence.
Ho was revered by millions of Vietnamese North and South,
and any big decisions had to be approved by him.
For the last two years, Ho had supported a cautious approach... fighting the war.
But in mid 1967, he backed a new strategy...
...pushed by powerful figures within the politburo including Le Duan,
...the General Secretary of the communist party.
The plan was to mount an all out offensive...
...against the cities and towns of the South.
The NLF guerrillas inside South Vietnam would launch most of the attacks.
But General Giap, North Vietnam's defense minister,
planned to add a distinctive touch of his own.
He meant to pit North Vietnamese Army troops directly
against the Americans at Khe Sanh in a major set piece battle.
He would even direct the attacking forces himself.
THE LEADERS – United States
Throughout 1967, the U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson,
had been under pressure from his military advisors... intensify the war in Vietnam.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted the president to ease...
...the many restrictions on the bombing campaign against the North.
They also wanted ground attacks against the enemy sanctuaries... Laos and Cambodia, perhaps even into North Vietnam itself.
Without such measures, they could see no prospect of victory soon.
President Johnson's fear was that expanding the ground campaign...
...might draw China or the Soviet Union into the war.
He also faced problems at home.
The Anti-War movement was already growing, and a wider conflict
might turn the American people completely against the whole effort.
The last thing the president wanted to hear...
...was that the communists were preparing for a major offensive.
But General Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam,
was warning that a large scale attack might be on the way.
Westmoreland believed that the North Vietnamese Army...
...was preparing a big push into the South,
and that its first target might be the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh.
Although the president and his advisors were deeply worried by the news,
Westmoreland himself was optimistic.
He believed he had the forces to deal with any threat,
and a massive enemy offensive might be the opportunity he'd been waiting for.
If the North Vietnamese Army came out into the open to fight pitch battles,
there was a real chance of a decisive American victory.
STRATEGY – North Vietnam
For the North Vietnamese Army and its commander General Giap,
attacking the Americans at Khe Sanh promised a whole series of benefits.
The build up would draw American attention...
...away from the Southern cities, the main targets of the Tet offensive.
A successful attack would also open a clear route into South Vietnam.
A victory at Khe Sanh might also bring another even more valuable price:
The U.S. Marines defending the base were an elite force,
...and crushing them might damage American morale beyond repair.
In 1954, 13 years previously, General Giap had inflicted...
just such a defeat on French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu.
In selecting Khe Sanh as the site for a set piece battle with the Americans
General Giap had chosen carefully.
The jungle covered hills and low cloud combined with heavy fog...
...would work against American air power,
And while his own troops were close to supplies and reinforcements,
the Americans could be cut off from any outside help.
The weakened garrison would then be overrun.
From March 1967, the Americans had succeeded in sending...
...heavily armed convoys down route 9 to Khe Sanh.
However, in July, an attempt to get long range artillery to the combat base...
...was blocked by North Vietnamese Ambushes.
Soon the NVA had closed the road completely...
...and the first phase of the campaign against Khe Sanh was completed.
The next stage in the North Vietnamese plan...
...was to deploy infantry North and West of Khe Sanh.
The units to the North would capture the hills overlooking the base...
and place artillery to bombard the Americans and destroy their airfield.
They would also mount ground attacks to create a diversion.
The Western units would capture Lang Vei Special Forces camp...
...and Khe Sanh village and then mount a massive assault... take the Marine combat base from the South.
A vital ingredient of General Giap's plan was to soften up Khe Sanh...
...and its surrounding hill outposts with massive artillery bombardments.
It was vital to prevent American aircraft from finding and destroying...
...the guns, mortars and rocket batteries before the attack.
The troops made enormous efforts to protect the artillery...
by hiding it in caves or specially dug pits.
They sited huge numbers of anti aircraft guns to drive away...
...inquisitive reconnaissance planes...
...while everything was hidden by elaborate camouflage
STRATEGY – United States
From the start of the war in Vietnam, U.S. Military commanders...
...had believed that the best form of defense was to attack in strength.
When reconnaissance detected a large enemy force,
U.S. troops would be helicoptered in to surround and destroy it.
Although often they flew straight into an ambush,
in the main, the strategy worked.
The problem with the American tactics was that they needed...
ever increasing numbers of troops and helicopters.
In Washington, Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense,
worried that the constant demand for more men...
...would eventually destroy public support for the war.
Throughout 1967, McNamara had pushed for a strategy...
...that would reduce the need for manpower.
One proposal in particular McNamara adopted enthusiastically.
The idea was to clear a line along the Demilitarized Zone...
and build an electronic barrier to stop enemy infiltration from North to South.
The plan, called the “Strong Point Obstacle System”,
was expected to cost a billion dollars.
To U.S. troops on the ground, it made no sense.
They christened it McNamara's Line.
Because the Eastern part of the Demilitarized Zone was flat ground,
the area was given the first priority for defense.
The plan was for nine strong points, including Con Thien and Gio Linh...
...linked by fencing, mine fields and electronic detectors.
West to Khe Sanh, U.S. Bases would act as anchors for short strips of line
...blocking all the likely approaches.
Artillery would cover the whole area.
By the end of 1967, the Eastern part of the Strong Point Obstacle System...
...was almost complete.
American planners hoped the new defense would at least channel...
...the North Vietnamese into the more difficult hilly terrain...
...guarded by the Rockpile and Khe Sanh.
In the future, when those bases too were part of the system,
military commanders saw them playing a particularly important role:
If full scale ground operations were ever launched into Laos,
the barrier would protect Americans from flank attacks.
The Strong Point Obstacle System was deeply unwelcome to U.S. commanders in the area.
Building just the Eastern part imposed a heavy burden on the Marines.
The line was soaking up vast amounts of material and manpower,
...restricting offensive operations.
Worst of all, the construction work and the transport supplying it...
...were sitting targets for North Vietnamese gunners.
THE OPPOSING FORCES – North Vietnamese Army
Altogether the North Vietnamese Army numbered just under 470,000 troops
in 12 divisions and 100 independent regiments.
There was also a small navy for coastal patrol, and an air force...
to defend against American bombing raids,
together with an air defense missile force.
China had also committed 50,000 advisors and engineers to repair damage...
...done by American bombing, and so free North Vietnamese troops...
...for combat operations.
By now, the NVA had taken over all military activity... the northernmost parts of South Vietnam,
...and 102,000 NVA troops were available to fight in the South.
All the same, the planned Tet offensive was not meant... depend heavily on the Northern Army.
The Southern guerrillas, the Vietcong would do most of the fighting.
And just over a quarter of NVA units in the South...
...were to be committed to Tet,
the rest would either be held back as a reserve...
...or thrown into the battle against the Americans at Khe Sanh.
By the start of 1968, the North Vietnamese Army...
...had more than 40,000 men positioned near the border with South Vietnam.
One division was to launch attacks down the East coast... take Da Nang and other important centers.
Four divisions and two regiments were massed for the assault on Khe Sanh...
...and for follow up operations to seize the northern provinces.
North of Khe Sanh was the 325C division with three regiments and a battalion.
The elite 304th Division was South of the base.
The besieging forces were supported by three artillery formations...
and anti aircraft units while a regiment handled resupply from the North.
Further East another division was placed to threaten...
the American artillery base at the Rockpile,
to keep route 9 cut and to act as reinforcements.
A small number of tanks were also positioned west of Lang Vei.
If the battle for Khe Sanh was to end in victory,
General Giap and his planners knew...
...that an uninterrupted flow of supplies would be the key.
The experience in 1954 of fighting the French at Dien Bien Phu,
...had taught him the value of ensuring continuous supply...
...long before the final storming of the enemy base.
He was determined to repeat his achievement at Khe Sanh.
To get ammunition, food and materials to the forces attacking Khe Sanh,
Giap ordered the building of two new roads.
They were soon detected by the Americans who named them “The Santa Fe trail”.
U.S. fighter bombers made furious attacks...
but the roads were impossible to destroy or even damage seriously.
The Santa Fe trail was heavily camouflaged and fully equipped...
...with bunkers, storage depots and way-stations.
The roads were protected by heavy anti aircraft cover.
Already supplies had been built up near Khe Sanh...
...for between 60 and 90 days of sustained combat.
WEAPONS – North Vietnamese Army
For more than a decade the North Vietnamese Army...
...had been getting military equipment from China and the Soviet Union.
The best NVA divisions were extremely well armed.
The rugged and effective AK-47 assault rifle was perfect...
...for the harsh battlefield conditions of Vietnam.
Infantry units had large numbers of machine guns...
...and RPG-7 anti tank grenade launchers.
The main defense against American air power for the troops around Khe Sanh...
...was the Soviet K-38 heavy machine gun.
Near special installations, the NVA anti aircraft units were armed...
...with 37 mm anti aircraft cannons...
...a menace even to the fastest American jets.
The heavy artillery which NVA gunners would use to try and overwhelm...
...the defenses of the Khe Sanh base was also Soviet and Chinese.
The 130 mm field gun had a range of 19 miles,
...further than any comparable American gun.
U.S. troops rated it the best all-round artillery piece on the Vietnam battlefield.
The guns would be reinforced by huge numbers of rockets and heavy mortars.
THE TROOPS - North Vietnamese Army
The troops of the North Vietnamese Army were recognized...
...even by their American enemies as first class soldiers.
They were extremely well trained and disciplined.
They were skilled in tactics, and their morale and determination...
...often seemed to the Americans to border on the fanatical.
In fact, during 1967, as losses soared,
North Vietnamese Army morale had slumped badly.
Desertion threatened to become a real problem.
The grueling track from home bases to distant Khe Sanh...
...had also taken its toll.
American bombing was a constant danger, and diseases,
...particularly malaria, were rife.
Most of the NVA soldiers who were massing to attack Khe Sanh...
...were from the coastal lowlands of North Vietnam and found life a misery...
in the sodden, insect infested jungles, as did their enemy.
In preparation for the Khe Sanh battle...
NVA commanders went to enormous lengths to restore their troops' morale.
Cultural groups were sent on the long and arduous journey... the front to entertain the troops.
The message was simple,
and was reinforced at every opportunity by political officers:
The coming campaign would deliver the victory...
...they had hoped for for so many years.
The propaganda effort worked well.
In the final weeks before the offensive...
...desertions from the North Vietnamese Army fell dramatically.
In late 1967, 73,000 of the almost half a million American troops... South Vietnam were United States Marines.
They were under the command of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Honolulu,
but operational control was with General Westmoreland's...
...Military Assistance Command in Saigon.
From the start, the independent status of the Marines had led to friction.
Often they were accused by the Army and the Air Force...
...of fighting their own private war.
Since Lieutenant General Robert Cushman had taken over... Marine commander in June 1967,
he and Westmoreland had argued continuously...
...over how the Marines should best be used.
The latest issue was the McNamara Line.
The idea was strongly opposed by the Marines,
...but Westmoreland had become a strong supporter.
There was also a major disagreement brewing over...
...who should control Marine air power.
On the eve of a major battle...
inter-service rivalry was threatening to grow into a serious problem.
All American units in I Corps were commanded by the III Marine Amphibious Force...
...with its headquarters at Da Nang.
The force controlled the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions,
and elements of the 5th, along with the 23rd Army division,
two army brigades, and a squadron of Armored Cavalry.
The South Vietnamese Army deployed two divisions...
...and an infantry regiment in I Corps,
and there was also a brigade of Korean Marines.
Air support for operations in I Corps was provided... a U.S. Air Force tactical fighter wing,
the 1st Marine air wing,
and a South Vietnamese Air Force squadron.
U.S. Navy aircraft were stationed on the carriers of Task Force 77,
while three wings of B-52 bombers were also on call...
...from Thailand, and Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Air Supply was carried out by Marine and Air Force...
...transport and helicopter squadrons.
As more than a 100,000 men, half of all US combat units in South Vietnam,
...had been concentrated in I Corps,
...the supply system had been strained to the limit.
On the DMZ alone, ammunition consumption was running... 25,000 artillery shells a month.
The Marine's supply line stretched from the United States... Okinawa in the Pacific and on into Vietnam.
The U.S. Forces required 21,000 tons of food,
...ammunition, fuel and general supplies daily.
As a result there was a constant stream of ships...
...and air freight into Da Nang.
Getting the supplies to where they were needed was a massive job.
Vietnam was the first war to see computers used to control supplies.
The requisitioning system handled over 80,000 different items...
...from boots for the men to spares for helicopters.
WEAPONS – U.S. Marines
Just like their North Vietnamese enemies...
...the Marine infantry would depend in the coming battles on supporting firepower.
They had large numbers of medium and heavy mortars.
The Marines would also make good use of 106 mm recoilless rifles.
The M-40 had been designed as an anti tank weapon,
but it was also highly effective against bunkers and trenches.
Marine bases always had their own standard 105 mm artillery pieces.
The guns had a range of 7 miles.
Some bases, including Khe Sanh, also had powerful 155 mm Howitzers.
They could lob a heavy shell over 9 miles at a rate of 4 rounds a minute.
The base could also call in supporting fire...
...from the Army's huge 175mm self propelled guns.
These weapons could fire a 170 pound shell 23 miles,
just enough to reach the Khe Sanh area from the Rockpile or Camp Carroll.
Support from aircraft was much less reliable than artillery.
Air operations could be shut down completely by bad weather.
But in the right conditions, fighter bombers could bring...
...devastating fire power to the battlefield.
A-4 SkyHawks operating from carriers in the Tonkin gulf...
...or from Marine airfields, could be over the Khe Sanh area... less than 30 minutes, with a ton and a half of bombs.
Navy, Marine and Air Force Phantoms were also on call.
Although designed as an interceptor, the F-4 was a powerful bomber.
It could carry 18 750 pound bombs...
or 11 canisters of the devastating flammable gel NAPALM.
THE TROOPS – U.S. Marines
As an elite formation which could attract recruits of the highest quality,
the United States Marines had for years been an all volunteer force.
Vietnam had forced to change.
Restricting tours of duty to 13 months and a steady accumulation of casualties
meant the Marine corps had to take in draftees.
Around 20,000 men had been drafted in by the end of 1967.
Basic training had been cut too, down from 12 to 8 weeks.
There was also a severe shortage of skilled personnel...
...particularly helicopter pilots.
In spite of the sometimes appalling conditions of cold, wet and dirt
in which the Marines in Vietnam had to live and fight,
the morale had stood up well.
Marine discipline and the sense of being part of an elite helped.
So did the knowledge that support from artillery,
helicopter gunship or strike aircraft was not far away.
But nothing helped the morale of the men...
as much as the superb medical evacuation and treatment system.
After emergency treatment by a medic on the spot,
a wounded man could expect to be picked up by a med-evac helicopter less than half an hour.
The crews of evacuation helicopters...
...were among the most admired troops serving in Vietnam.
The pilots would go to extraordinary lengths to get wounded men away...
...even under heavy fire.
In I Corps evacuation was to one of three field hospitals...
...or to the main hospital at Da Nang.
There were also two fully equipped Navy hospital ships...
...each with more than 500 beds.
So effective was the Marine med-evac system...
that 99% of evacuated Marines survived their wounds.
As evidence had mounted that the North Vietnamese...
...were going to attack Khe Sanh,
the Americans took a quick decision to reinforce the base.
By the close of 1967, the third battalion of the 26th Marines
...had arrived to boost the garrison.
New bunkers, quarters, and perimeter defenses had to be built fast.
Building materials that were meant for the McNamara Line...
...were quickly diverted to Khe Sanh.
Only days after the new Marine unit had arrived to Khe Sanh...
it launched a major Search and Destroy operation towards the border with Laos.
The Marines discovered North Vietnamese weapons caches and fresh trails,
but not a single enemy soldier opened fire.
Unknown to the Americans, the 30,000 NVA troops all around...
...were under strict orders to avoid all contact.
Christmas 1967 came and went on the Demilitarized Zone,
but the North Vietnamese stayed uncannily quiet.
However, there were signs of intense NVA reconnaissance around Khe Sanh.
Most Marines now believed the question was not...
...whether the North Vietnamese meant to storm Khe Sanh but when.
Subtitling: DeStrangis