After the failure of the Pigfat operation, everything got even worse - the main military force opposing the Communists was now the Hmong, and they were focused on the war near their area of residence and for their sacred places.
And their sponsors, the Americans, needed a victory, or at least not a defeat in Vietnam - and this set the same vector of attacks, but with a different goal - to cut the “path”.
After all, the Valley of Jugs (located to the south of the previously lost Nam Bak area) is only 100 kilometers north of the narrowest part of the Laotian territory, a sort of bottleneck, which on the one hand restricts Thailand - a huge American base in the region in those years, and on the other - the rocks of the Annam ridge ... through which the “path” itself begins. By taking the Valley of the Jugs you can move along the only road to the southeast - and because of poor communications, the enemy will have nothing to counter this march. And do not strike from the flank, because the flanks are protected by natural barriers and Thailand. And after two hundred kilometers it is necessary to turn "left" to the mountains ... and the "path" is closed. But first it was necessary to take the central part of Laos, the very Valley of Jars and areas to the south of it, including the roads going from east to west, along which the Vietnamese were sending reinforcements for the actual Lao war. Without this, the "path" was not cut - Americans more than once try to do it during the war, with a logical result. So, you must first defeat the Vietnamese here.
Green rectangle - zone of battles Nam Buck. Red - fighting zone around the Valley of Pitchers. If we take Buck to Us, the Vietnamese will be limited in the transfer of reinforcements to the Valley of Jugs, and she herself can be attacked from the west and from the north. If you take the Valley of the Jugs, the passage of Vietnamese troops into Central Laos is closed, and you can form a strike force to advance to the south-west along a single road (the direction of the attack is indicated by blue arrows). There Vietnamese quickly large reinforcements to transfer could not prevent the mountains. And from the left flank will be friendly Thailand. Then you just need to close the "entrances" on the "Path" "path" is indicated by red arrows) from the Lao side - there are not an endless number of them in the mountains. And the Vietcong in South Vietnam will die. And in Laos, Pathet Lao will die. Everything was calculated correctly, but the strength was not enough.
And this meant endless attempts to break into the Valley of Jars, and the terrain around. Gradually, the civil war was localized in the part of the country where the Valley was located.
Of course, the battles were not only there, moreover, "separately" from the battles around the Valley, pro-American forces carried out separate operations against the "path" and in its other places in the south of the country, where it actually took place. The royal army of Laos even invaded Cambodia, and more than once - and also for the sake of cutting the "path". But decisive for both sides were the battles in the central part of Laos.
Interestingly, the actions of the Vietnamese fully corresponded to the logic of their opponents' actions - a breakthrough from the Valley of Jars to the operational space in the western direction allowed, in theory, to cut the road between Vientiane and Luangphangang while simultaneously capturing the Hmong base bases in the region with a hard surface in Muay Sui . And this meant the victory of the Communists in the war for Laos, and, consequently, the relative security of communications in the war for South Vietnam.
So the actions of the Vietnamese also had an obvious direction of concentration of the main efforts.
The Valley of Jugs, the adjacent regions from the south and the exit from it to the west simply had to turn into a battlefield - and they turned into it.
Operation "Dance in the Rain"
The heavy damage of the Hmongs created an extremely dangerous situation for them - the Vietnamese were tens of kilometers from the traditional areas of their residence, moreover, there was a logistic route in their rear, for which they could rely on supplies - the Lao route number 7 is part of the Laotian road network, a feature which was a solid road surface - and therefore, the ability to skip traffic even in the rainy season.
The Vietnamese, however, did not attack - and moreover, reduced the military presence to a force of about four battalions. But it was unknown to their opponents.
US Ambassador Sullivan and the Prime Minister of the Loyalist Government, Souvanna Fouma, leader of the neutralist party, and, moreover, a member of the ruling family in the country, shared Wang Pao’s concern about the proximity of the Vietnamese to the Hmong areas and the most important communications to keep Laos as a whole. Under these conditions, the answer to the successful counter-attack of the Vietnamese was inevitable. From February 1969, active planning began. The American air reconnaissance aircraft, mainly from the Raven Forward Air controllers aircraft, taking advantage of the Vietnamese’s insufficient cover this time, made detailed reconnaissance of targets in the bombing zone, identifying 345 objects that were part of the Vietnamese military infrastructure, and the Air Force command guaranteed that no reducing the agreed number of sorties will not. True, instead of the eighty requested sorties, only sixty-five was guaranteed, but firmly guaranteed.
Light aircraft advanced guidance of the United States. Same used in those days in Laos
The Americans planned to give the Hmongs so strong air support that no resistance would be possible. In addition, unlike the previous breakthrough, a separate squad of forces was allocated to isolate the battlefield - regular strikes along the 7 route number, aimed at preventing the approach of reserves on it.
The actions of the Americans were facilitated by the fact that they had not carried out serious bombing at that time in the east of the Kuvshin Valley - the royalist government did not give them the go-ahead for this, fearing for historical Monuments of the Valley. As a result, the Vietnamese concentrated too many of their objects there, and the disguise was not taken as seriously as usual.
17 March 1969, the Americans launched Operation Rain Dance (“Dance in the Rain”). The first three days of the airstrikes were not on advanced positions, but on rear facilities in the east of the Valley. No action was taken on the ground, which brought the Vietnamese to the idea that it was necessary to disperse the troops and take precisely the rear objects, which at that time were vulnerable to raid actions, under enhanced control.
The Americans tracked the results of the bombing of secondary explosions of ammunition and fuel. On the third day of the "Dance" they were fixed 486. Separately, the destruction of 570 buildings, the destruction of 28 bunkers, fires still in 288, 6 artillery positions were destroyed and, separately, a howitzer. Of the trail objects identified by 345, 192 was largely destroyed. But intelligence has found more 150 group objects to defeat.
On March 23, after six days of bombing, the Hmongs launched an offensive, this time with their allies, the “neutralists” grouping - a political movement that is neutral to the royalists but unfriendly to foreigners-Vietnamese. While the neutralists "squeezed" the Vietnamese from the previously captured airfield in Muang Sui, the Hmong moved south of the Valley and took the route number 7. Then there was an attempt to cut the road, but the Vietnamese fought it off. Then the Hmong turned along the road, and dug in so as to keep under fire control any movement along it.
Neutralists meanwhile took Muang Sui. The Americans extended the operation until April 7, and by that day the number of stockpiles with supplies had reached 1512.
At that moment, the command of the operation made a plan to strengthen the Hmongs with some new units and occupy the entire Valley - to do what the royalists did not succeed in the beginning of the 60s, when the Patet Lao front was entrenched in the Valley. The operation was again extended, albeit with a reduction in daily combat missions to 50. The 103 th Parachute Battalion of the Royal Laotian Army was deployed to help Wang Pao and his people, after which the Hmong and parachutists moved back to the north-west, to the very center of the once stronghold "Pathet Lao" and their Vietnamese allies - the city of Phonsavan.
It’s not for nothing that the war in Laos is called the “Secret War” in the USA - very few people knew about it in the country, and the hands of the Americans were completely untied. A series of air strikes and the subsequent shelling naturally destroyed the city from the face of the earth. The Hmong entered it without firing a single shot. On the ruins were found the remains of a pair of BTR-40, 18-ti trucks, a pair of anti-aircraft batteries with 37-mm guns and an old howitzer of 75-mm caliber. The Hmongs took the city of 29 on April, and after two more days they moved to the north-west, overcoming insignificant resistance, until they reached the Vietnamese communications of the route number 4.
There, they discovered tremendous medical facilities for Laos. 300 tons of stored medicine and medical supplies. Underground hospital on 1000 beds. A serious hospital, most of the Hmongs simply never saw anything like this - equipped med laboratories, dressing rooms, operating rooms and even two X-ray machines.
A day later, Air America helicopters were already carrying explosives so that the Hmong could undermine all this. I must say that such large-scale facilities of the Vietnamese were not uncommon. A week earlier, the impact of a single rocket into a cave discovered from the air led to a series of underground explosions that lasted 16 hours, and after which the village was a kilometer away.
At first glance, it all looked like a victory, but by mid-May, intelligence discovered the advancement of the first Vietnamese units in the direction of the Valley. According to intelligence reports, it was about three battalions. On May 21, these three battalions materialized in front of the enemy as the 174 th Infantry Regiment of the VNA. The Hmong knew perfectly well what to do in such a situation and began to withdraw. But the 103 th parachute battalion decided to play elite troops. On the same day, one of his mouth left more than half of the fighters in the hills around Phonsavan, and almost immediately the Vietnamese got to the rest of the battalion in the city itself, or rather what was left of it. Realizing the difference in the “level”, the royalists began to withdraw, but as already mentioned, the VNA outnumbered their opponents in their ability to maneuver in the difficult mountainous terrain of Laos. By the end of the day, the 103 Battalion had already lost the 200 man, while the rest unorganized and in horror tried to break away from the more mobile Vietnamese infantry.
The VNA quickly recaptured the entire territory, except for Muang Sui, for whom the remnants of the royalists, and the remnants of the neutralists, and the Hmongs fought hard, but most importantly, the American pilots, who, despite their protege on the ground, did not intend to stop the bombing, which continued as operation Strangehold. The Vietnamese were forced to operate under continuous air strikes. Under such conditions, Muang Sui could not succeed and the VNA stopped the offensive.
The losses of the Vietnamese people were unknown to the Americans, but the material losses were great, and the Americans were confident that the crisis had been overcome for a while.
All the more soon there was their surprise.
It soon turned out that Vietnam had not only transferred three infantry battalions to the Valley. In fact, by the time the Americans reduced the intensity of the bombing, and the Hmongs decided that it was possible to “lick the wounds”, the units of the 312th VNA Infantry Division and the 13th Special Purpose Battalion were already concentrated in the area. Moreover, this time the Vietnamese decided to strengthen the attacking parts with armored vehicles and delivered to the Valley Tanks.
Parts of Dac Kong - Army Special Forces VNA. Then they looked exactly the same, even the caps were the same
True, it was lightly armored PT-76 and there were only ten of them. The road conditions on the terrain where war was to be fought did not give the Vietnamese a firm assurance that heavier tanks would be able to operate effectively on the terrain. Then such confidence appeared, and heavier vehicles also contributed to the victory, but the first were light amphibians. However, in the absence of the enemy anti-tank weapons, any tank turns into an absolute value.
Tanks PT-76 Vietnamese army
The goal of the Vietnamese was a plus to the returned territories to capture Muang Sui.
Muang Sui, in fact, the village at the runway, defended the former 85 parachute battalion, now belonging to the military wing of the Lao neutralists, a small "gain" from the Hmong, as well as a detachment of Thai mercenaries who controlled the guns. The number of defenders was about 4000 people.
Of these units, as the subsequent battles showed, something Thoughtful was only a Thai detachment that passed under American documents as “Special requirement [unit] 8” - a battalion (in Soviet and Russian terminology - division) of howitzer artillery, 105 caliber and 155 mm.
Despite the loud name of the 312 division, there was only one 165 regiment from the division and a small number of auxiliary units. In general, the number of Vietnamese troops was three times lower than the number of defenders.
Lao neutralists "asked for a way out" almost immediately. The first armed clashes with single Vietnamese tanks sowed horror in their ranks - they had no anti-tank weapons, and they could do absolutely nothing against the Vietnamese infantry.
Before dawn on June 24th, units of the 165th VNA regiment, tankers and special forces from the 13th battalion, divided into several groups, seeped through the thickets and surrounded the positions of neutralists and Thai mercenaries. All the neutralists who were in their way were easily scattered. By dawn, the Vietnamese came to the main defensive positions. By this time, the Americans “woke up" and brought down the full power of their VNA aviation. On their very first sorties, they managed not only to inflict sensitive losses on the advancing troops, but also to disable four out of ten tanks. But that was not enough. Despite the hurricane air strikes, the Vietnamese managed to reach the distance of the infantry throw to the positions of the neutralists and even bring all six remaining tanks to the line of attack. A fire battle ensued. The neutralists, faced with the fire of 76-mm tank guns faltered, there was practically nothing to get the tanks in response to. Having lost only two killed, they fled from defensive positions, dragging the wounded, who, however, turned out to be as many as 64 people. They would leave Muang Sui even under such a weak pressure, but there were Thais and Hmongs behind them.
Neutralists fled before the gunners, moreover, on their shoulders the Vietnamese broke into the left positions and were able to capture 6 howitzers - three 155-mm and three 105-mm. However, the Hmong who were farther away rested and fired without retreating a meter - behind them was their land and their villages and they didn’t particularly like to retreat. Do not let us down and Thais. They rolled their howitzers out of their shelters on direct fire and opened up firing at the advancing Vietnamese troops. And from the sky again collapsed American aircraft.
By the end of daylight hours, the number of sorties of American aircraft against a handful of attacking Vietnamese had reached 77. Direct-fire howitzers fired at them, they conducted a heavy continuous assault for more than half a day, from the night, and could not go any further.
By dusk, the American "Ganship" AU-47 flew in, reinforcing the defense of Muang Sui.
By nighttime, the VNA units rolled back, leaving the fire blockade to the defenders.
All the next day, the Vietnamese departed from a heavy assault and put themselves in order, hiding under the cover of vegetation. To their happiness, the weather turned bad this day, and instead of dozens of air strikes, the Americans were able to inflict only 11.
Among the neutralists who understand that the lull for a while and the Vietnamese will soon come after them, and from all directions, desertion began - taking advantage of the lull, the solitary soldiers and small groups were removed from their positions and went into the jungle, hoping to slip through the Vietnamese until the latter lot.
Under these conditions, the military attache of the army made one mistake. Considering that neutralist soldiers would feel more confident if their families and loved ones were taken to a safe place, the attache planned to evacuate all non-combatants by air, as long as the weather allows it.
The evacuation began on June XNUM by Air America helicopters and special-purpose squadrons. But instead of inspiring the neutralists to fight more bravely, on the contrary, it caused panic and exodus. All day, the Thais were surprised to see how the troops, which they had to support with fire, were removed from positions with whole squads and platoons, and went into the jungle. Later in the evening, Thai General Fitun Inkatanavat, who oversaw the actions of the mercenaries, was flown to the position in Muang Sui in order to find out what was going on there. Several officers from the royalist army and supplies for the soldiers were brought with him.
By night, the Vietnamese were able to pull up their artillery. The bad weather helped them again, giving the Americans only 13 sorties to make. At night, Vietnamese shells hit Muang Sui. By that time, in addition to the Thai battalion and several hundred Hmongs, only 500 Laotian soldiers remained in positions, the rest had already deserted. In the morning, 200 of the remaining five hundred were already somewhere far away.
In the morning, a meeting took place in Muang Sui between the Thai commanders, including the general who had flown in, and the US military advisers who accompanied the Thai battalion from the very beginning. It was decided what to do next, in connection with the desertion of the bulk of the troops. Thais insisted on the continuation of resistance. The Americans pointed out that they had nowhere to take more people, and this was indeed the case, the royalists had almost finished their mobilization resource, the Hmong too, and they were already recruiting children into training camps.
Neutralists have just proved themselves in all their glory, and the mercenary troops preparing at that time in the camps of Thailand were not yet ready. In such conditions there was no one to fight, and the Thai battalion would have to hold Muang Sui alone against the Vietnamese, whose numbers were slowly growing and who had tanks. Under these conditions, the Thais had to admit that resistance was useless.
The weather forecast for the day was optimistic compared to the previous two, and an evacuation operation was assigned to 14.45.
Taking advantage of the weather, the US airplanes performed 12 sorties in half a day to attack the Vietnamese troops, another 15 aircraft were added to the royalist Lao Air Force. At 14.45, on schedule, American helicopters began a massive export of some of the non-combatants remaining in Muang Sui, in the amount of two hundred people, as well as fifty-one Hmong and two hundred thirty-one Thais. The rest of the forces began to exit the encirclement on foot, hiding behind the arriving AC-47. The Vietnamese didn’t have the strength to do it, and the desire to get hit by an airstrike was not observed, so all they could do was to shoot down one American helicopter with fire from the ground, which the Americans also managed to save the crew.
In 16.45, the last pro-American fighter left Muang Sui. Soon, it was occupied by Vietnamese troops.
The Vietnamese immediately dug in, and from the direction of Vietnam itself, reinforcements were already coming — a battalion for a battalion. And, since the use of tanks in a difficult Lao area was successful, and the tanks too, albeit a bit.
The fighting on Muang Sui, however, did not end there.
Operation "Off Balance" ("Off balance")
The next day, Wang Pao was already planning a counter-offensive. True, he had no people at all. Reached curiosities. When 29 Jun, a communications officer from the CIA arrived at the Hmong position to talk with Wang Pao, he discovered that Wang Pao was shooting at the Vietnamese with a mortar in a trench. This was not due to the fact that he wanted to war on the front line, just to the mortar turned out to be more than no one to put at that time.
Wang Pao and his people
However, both Wang Pao and the CIA did not plan to surrender. In Muang Sui, there was a strategically important solid airstrip, the only one in the region, control of which would give a royalist the opportunity to provide fast air support throughout central Laos, without the expectation of Americans from Vietnam or Thailand. Secondly, it was clear that time was working for the Vietnamese, and that they would build up their strength faster than their opponents.
For several days, the neutralists were able to assemble from a multitude of deserters something similar to an infantry battalion. Another 600 man was able to scrape together Wang Pao among the Hmongs - true, at the cost of himself having to carry mines due to lack of people, and summer recruits took 12-17 to training camps. And, most importantly, the royalist army at this point was able to allocate a battalion of paratroopers - 101.
The Hmongs were organized into two battalions — the 206 and 201, all of the at least poor neutralists who could fight, the commando battalion, the rest in the 208 infantry, 15. Together with the royalist army 101 paratroop battalion, they had to try to throw away the Vietnamese units that were there from Muang Sui, and faster than reinforcements along the ground. Forwards had numerical superiority, and could rely on American support from the air, when the weather allowed.
The operation began on July 1 with American air strikes. American air strikes hit the depots with fuel and weapons, and shelters for equipment - on what could be found with the help of aerial reconnaissance. On the first day, the Americans carried out 50 airstrikes, each of which was quite successful.
On the same day, American helicopters transferred the attacking troops to the approaches to Muang Sui. The royalist 101 parachute battalion was landed south-west from the target, the Hmong Xtalon battalion and the 201 neutralist squadron landed north of Muang Sui; was on the march to connect with the 15 battalion of the "commando" neutralists.
On July 2, the weather prevented aviation from flying, and slowed the advance of the advancing units towards Muang Sui. On July 3, the Americans flew again and made 24 combat sorties, and the 4-21s were again chained to the ground.
By the fifth of July, the 15-th battalion of neutralists had deserted in full. The remaining units continued to move, and the Hmong battalions came into contact with the Vietnamese. The latter defended Muang Sui about a couple of battalions and were not going to retreat.
On July 5, American and royalist planes jointly carried out 30 combat missions against the Vietnamese, which helped the Hmong to advance to the airfield at Muang Sui up to five kilometers. They could have walked five kilometers in a day, if not for interruptions in air support, but since July 6, the weather had completely deteriorated. Shortly before this, the American air reconnaissance counted 1000 trucks and eight tanks to assist the Vietnamese defenders. It was impossible to do something with them, however. Before July 11, aviation managed to make only six sorties. And 1-th second battalion of Lao neutralists deserted.
That was the end. Even the available forces without air support could not break through the defense of the Vietnamese, although they pressed them. Now, with the loss of another battalion and suitable Vietnamese reinforcements, the offensive has lost all meaning. On the same day, the Hmong and royalist parachutists began to retreat.
The next series of battles for the Valley of Jars was lost. But now with far more severe consequences than before.
Soon the Vietnamese counterattacked and occupied several more areas, including those from where the last offensive began. Wang Pao faced strong pressure from tribal leaders, many of whom demanded Hmong to withdraw from the war due to heavy losses. However, he could not attack now even with the support of tribal leaders - he needed at least a year to grow new “soldiers”. The Americans were convinced that taking control of central Laos and from there moving to the south-east and cutting the "path" will not work.
Attack of parts of VNA somewhere in Laos. The truth is not in 1969, but three years later. But then it was the same
We will have to look for other options, each of which was much more difficult under the terms of communications, and had significantly less chances for success. We will have to conduct a full-scale escalation in Cambodia, we will have to drastically intensify the training of mercenaries in Thailand, and we will also have to fight for central Laos, but then when people will appear again for this. And this was not promised soon.
In the meantime, the Americans could only try to bring to life the repeatedly defeated local allies, and bomb as much as possible.
To be continued ...