Ho Chi Minh trail. Counterattack by Wang Pao and Capture of the Valley of Pitchers
The fighting in central Laos was clear evidence of this. Wang Pao and the Hmong fought for their sacred land and the opportunity to establish their own kingdom separate from Lao. This, among other things, limited how many young people could be given tribal leaders to recruit him - a departure from national goals could cut off the influx of new recruits. Royalists and neutralists also fought each for something different. The CIA wanted to stop the "spread of communism" first of all, and the suppression of Vietnamese communications was second. The military needed to cut the "Path", and how the situation in central Laos was developing in general, they were less concerned about it. But once the pieces of the mosaic were put together in the correct order.
Return the lost honor. Operation Kou Kiet
The defeat of the Hmongs and royalists in the Valley of Pitchers was perceived by Wang Pao very painfully. And the risk of further advancement of the Vietnamese increased significantly. Intelligence of the Americans reported that the Vietnamese are focusing Tanks and people for the further offensive, which was to begin, in the near future. Wang Pao himself, however, wanted to advance at any cost. His task from the very beginning was to cut route number 7 - the road running from east to west, along which the Vietnamese contingent in the Valley was supplied. This would at least prevent the advance of the Vietnamese. The CIA succumbed to his persuasion and gave the training a “green light”. And this time, the Americans really, as they say, "invested" in the blow.
It was 1969 year and it was a rather wild land, far from civilization. The standard in the armament of an infantryman of the “third world” in those years was either a semi-automatic carbine, such as the SKS, or the same rifle, such as the Garand M1. Magazine rifles were also not uncommon. As an option - a submachine gun from the Second World War. So, the Lao neutralists fled with the PCA received from the USSR back when the civil war was on the decline and everything went towards a single socialist Laos sometime very soon.
The Hmongs and all the other attackers received the M-16 rifles.
With all the minuses of this weapons in terms of reliability, accuracy and accuracy of fire, it now has almost no equal among infantry weapons. In addition, her light weight allowed undersized Asians to handle her much easier than with a long-barrel rifle. In addition, all the units involved in the future offensive, both the Hmongs and other royalists, received all the necessary supplies.
The problem, however, was people. Wang Pao was already recruiting everyone in his squad, but there weren’t enough people — past military failures undermined the Hmongs mobilization resource. The CIA, however, had “bitten a bit” by that time, and had taken action unprecedented for the war in Laos - CIA operatives managed to get agreement from other tribal and hired guerrilla groups to fight for the Hmongs under the command of their leader. In addition, the existing royalist troops were also subordinate to Wang Pao, and all the local Hmong militias, self-defense units theoretically unsuitable for such tasks, went under his command. It was not easy, but they did it, and by the time the future offensive began, Wang Pao more or less “plugged holes” with the number of personnel. Although she was, as they say, at a minimum.
The trump card was that the new US ambassador to Laos, George Goodley, found the right approaches to the military. Kicks aviation The United States was previously of key importance to the actions of the royalists and the Hmongs, but the ambassador managed to get aviation involved at a completely different level - both he and the CIA received firm guarantees that, firstly, there would be no recall of planes and a reduction in the number of sorties. Secondly, the US Air Force ensured that defoliants would be massively applied if necessary. For this, an outfit of forces and a supply of "chemistry" were allocated.
But the strongest card that the new ambassador threw on the table, and the trump card that turned out to be decisive, was the Air Force’s guarantees to send B-52 strategic bombers to the battlefield, and every time when tactical aviation strikes were not enough. For this, part of the aircraft was removed from the tasks of raids on North Vietnam. The Americans proceeded from the fact that if attacking the positions of the Vietnamese did not help the advancing units to drop them, the arriving bombers would simply incinerate all the opposing troops, which guarantees the Hmong the opportunity to move on.
Another trump card was that the operation was planned primarily as an airborne assault. If earlier the Hmong attacks on the Valley of Pitchers were carried out from west to east (although the Americans practiced limited-scale airborne transfers by the Americans), now the attack should have been conducted from all sides - including from the rear, from the Vietnam border. Although the VNA units outnumbered the attacking side in numbers and weapons, the combination of surprise attacks, the power of air strikes and a coordinated attack from different directions, was intended by Wang Pao to ensure victory for his troops. The CIA doubted, however, that parts of the royalists would succeed in performing such a complex maneuver, but Wang Pao insisted. Moreover, through negotiations with the authorities of the neighboring “military regions” of Laos, he was able to “occupy” two more irregular battalions.
The planned operation was called “Kou Kiet” in the Hmong dialect “Restoration of Honor”. This was very symbolic for the Hmongs, in whom the vicinity of the Valley of Pitchers and she herself had a sacred meaning.
The operation plan involved more than eight battalions. The number of daily air strikes was planned at least 150 during the daylight hours, of which from 50 to 80 were to be applied at the guidance of "air controllers" mainly on the positions of the Vietnamese troops. At least 50 air strikes had to be applied every night. There weren’t enough helicopters to land the attacking troops, and they were supposed to land them on one of the sites from the PC-6 Pilatus Turbo Porter and DHC-4 Caribou aircraft, piloted by Air America mercenaries.
Part of the royalist forces was supposed to attack on the ground, from the southwest of the Valley of Pitchers. By early August, Wang Pao and his troops were ready. The Americans were ready.
The Vietnamese, apparently, missed the preparation of the enemy. The intelligence did not report any changes in the behavior of the VNA units and, apparently, the planned offensive should have come as a surprise to them.
The offensive was postponed for several days due to rains, but, finally, on 6 of August 1969 of the year it began.
One battalion, “occupied” by Wang Pao, was landed from helicopters at the Bauemlong point in the north of route 7 number, west of Phonsavan, where he connected with the waiting groups of Hmong militias and moved south to the point in which it was necessary to cut the route number 7.
To the south of the route, number 7, at the point “San Tiau”, much more troops were landed from planes. Firstly, the Hmong squadron of the battalion named Special Guerillia Unit (like all parts of the Hmongs organized into regular military force, not the militia) 2, and secondly, another non-Hmong battalion - the 27th Volunteer Royalist Battalion . All of them were delivered by air and landed in a landing way. There, they were also joined by local irregular groups of Hmong militias.
Both landed detachments launched an offensive at Nong Pet, the so-called conditional place on route number 7, which had to be taken under fire control. However, the downpour that began with a terrible force stopped the advance of the southern grouping, on the path of which there was a very difficult terrain, and it could not move forward at all. For several days, the northern group was able to go to the road and take it “under the gun”. The forces of the Vietnamese were many times superior to the forces of the attacking.
But then bombers entered the business. If for light aircraft the weather was a critical obstacle, then for the "stratosphere" it simply did not exist. Visibility over the war zone was poor, but on the ground the CIA had scouts from local tribes with walkie-talkies, and the bombers were not limited to the consumption of bombs.
A flurry of attacks from the sky paralyzed any activity on the part of the Vietnamese troops. A wave of air attacks crushed one of their strongholds after another, covered convoys and groups of vehicles trying to move along the roads, and the showers were so strong that they excluded any maneuver outside the roads. They just had to literally lie down on the ground and die - with volley dropping bombs from a bomber it was impossible to survive even in the trenches.
For a week, the Americans drove Vietnamese incapable of moving into the ground, by August 19 the weather had become better, and the southern group of the advancing troops was immediately landed on helicopters and flown closer to the desired point. On August 20, ticks closed and route number 7 was cut. By then, the monstrous force of air strikes had already completely disorganized the Vietnamese troops, to the complete inability to resist.
In fact, the royalists managed to achieve access to strategic communication without resistance. Inspired by success, Wang Pao launched the next phase of his attack.
The three royalist battalions, the 21 and 24 and the 101 and parachute, were secretly concentrated at Ban Na, and from there launched an offensive to the north.
In the south of the Valley, two detachments of approximately an infantry regiment each — the 22 Mobile Group and the 23 Mobile Group — began to move to the southern outskirts of the Valley.
Neither this day nor the next week the advancing units met with organized resistance. The interrogations of the prisoners showed the Vietnamese completely losing control of their troops and the decline in morale and discipline due to bombing. The resistance they rendered everywhere was poorly organized and was crushed by aviation.
Meanwhile, air strikes intensified and intensified. On 31 of September, when already advancing units of Wang Pao wedged themselves into the defenses of the Vietnamese everywhere, the US Air Force began to flood the rice fields in the Valley with a defoliant to deprive local rebels and the population of any food sources. The number of sorties from the Royal Laos Air Force also increased and reached 90 sorties per day. The valley bombed continuously, in fact during this period the interval between air strikes on Vietnamese troops was measured in minutes. In early September 1969, part of the Vietnamese forces tried to break through to the rear along route 7, but was met by fire from adjacent peaks and returned.
By September 9, the defense of the Vietnamese in some places already had a focal character. By September 12, it had collapsed everywhere, with Mobile Groups 22 and 23 occupying the city of Phonsavan - once again for this war. To this day, only the Muang Sui Hanizon was really holding on - the village west of Phonsavan, where there was an airstrip strategically important for the royalists. The garrison was blocked by the Hmong militias of about seven infantry companies and could not raise their heads from air strikes.
The way they were bombed is characterized by such a detail - in more than a week of fighting, not a single Vietnamese soldier was able to reach their own weapons depots located in a defended settlement. By a surprising coincidence, not a single bomb hit them either, they were well disguised and were away from the defensive positions, but the Vietnamese could not use them.
By the end of September 24, the royalists reached the northern edge of the Valley of Pitchers. The Vietnamese fledged in small groups east through the mountains. Their former neutralist allies followed them, also evading entry into battle. Two battalions of Pathet Lao fled through the countryside, hiding in the villages and disguising themselves as civilians. He stayed only cut off from his detachment in Muang Sui.
On the night of September 30th, their resistance was also broken. Unable to withstand the hurricane bombings, the Vietnamese seeped through the battle formations of the Hmong surrounding them and went into the mountains, throwing heavy weapons and all supplies.
The Pitcher Valley has fallen.
The Vietnamese at that time began to transfer troops to the region. But the units of the 312 division that arrived from Vietnam were late and were only able to stop the advance of several Hmong squads by a series of counterattacks near Mount Fou Nok in the north of the Valley.
The results of the operation, however, were contradictory.
On the one hand, it was without exaggeration the defeat of parts of the Vietnam People’s Army. It is not known exactly what losses they suffered in people, but they were certainly considerable - the fact that the Vietnamese were forced to flee the battlefield says a lot about how hard the enemy hit them. The serious demoralization of the Vietnamese units suggests the same. Material losses were also huge.
So, 25 PT-76 tanks, 113 vehicles of various types, about 6400 small arms, about six million pieces of ammunition of different caliber and type, about 800 000 liters of gasoline, ration for several soldiers battalions for five days, fell into the hands of the advancing the number of cattle intended for food supply of the troops. US aviation destroyed 308 pieces of equipment, many warehouses and positions of the Vietnamese troops and almost all the heavy weapons used in battles. The important powerful radio station Pathet Lao, which was located in a fortified cave, was captured. Rice fields were destroyed by chemical attacks, leaving the population of the Valley without food.
Moreover, immediately after the capture of the Valley, Wang Pao launched an operation to relocate approximately 20 000 people - these people were torn from their places of residence and driven to the west - it was assumed that this would deprive the Vietnamese and Pathet Lao as the labor force used to carry goods for VNA, and for the population that was the source of supply and recruits for Patet Lao. However, the defoliant in any case deprived these people of the opportunity to live in their native places.
However, the too frisky offensive of the royalists, who went far beyond the allotted to them to capture the area, played a cruel joke. According to the plans of the Americans, after air strikes broke the resistance of the Vietnamese and put them to flight, it was necessary to literally bombard the entire area around the Valley with anti-personnel mines, thus eliminating the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops - in difficult and very rough terrain, not yet dry after rains, they would have to retreat along solid minefields tens of kilometers deep. But the royalists “jumped out” to the areas designated for mining themselves and thwarted this part of the plan. Not wanting the death of a large number of royalist troops, the US Air Force command canceled this part of the operation, and this enabled many Vietnamese to get to their own and continue their participation in the war.
The second problem was the lack of reserves - in the case of the Vietnamese counterattack, there would be no one to reinforce the strength of the troops of Wang Pao. Intelligence, meanwhile, warned that the Vietnamese were focusing their units for a counterattack.
Nevertheless, Operation Kou Kiet proved to be a clear victory for the royalists and their allies, as well as the CIA.
For the CIA, this was especially important because, almost simultaneously with this offensive, the royalists dealt a successful blow to the VNA in another region of Laos. Now it’s not on the approaches to the “Path”, but on it itself.
To be continued ...
- Alexander Timokhin
- J.Pote, Peter A. Bird, Wikipedia Commons (Air America archive), SavannaNet.com, Doug Nieben (PBS), Ozy.com, thevietnamwar.info
- At the entrance to the Ho Chi Minh trail. Continuation of fights in the Valley of Jugs
Unmarked. Involving the US in the Vietnam War and the role of old bombers
Ho Chi Minh trail. Vietnamese road of life. Part of 1
Ho Chi Minh trail. Vietnamese road of life. Part of 2
Ho Chi Minh trail. The first battles in Laos
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