The beginning of the battle
The course of the Vietnamese offensive was slow - it was necessary to advance along the roads, but not along them, which reduced the speed of maneuvering troops on very rough terrain to a few kilometers, and sometimes hundreds of meters per day. In addition, some of the heights held by the royalists were truly impregnable, and worked against the advancing aviation.
Faced with the loss of Siangghuang (now the Phonsavan airport, it was with his attack and capture that a new series of battles began in the Valley), Wang Pao organized the transfer to the Valley of the battalion from another province - the 26th volunteer battalion. The latter was armed with trophy tanks PT-76 and 155-mm howitzers. It took two weeks to get the battalion near the outskirts of Phonsavan and Sianghuang, but then, as a result of a counterattack, this battalion was able to drive the Vietnamese out of Sianghuang. By November 27, the village was returned. This has not changed much - route number 7, on which this settlement stood, was controlled by the Vietnamese, along the arcuate route 72 north of route 7, they also slowly launched their offensive.
The mountains Fau Nok Kok (south of the route number 7) and Fau Fiung (to the north-east of the previous one) were defended by local tribal militias reinforced by royalist battalions. The first to fall was Fau Fiung. On November 29 the battalion of the 141 infantry regiment of the 312 infantry division knocked out the 21 volunteer battalion and local militias from the mountain. The next step was Fau Nok Kok, but then difficulties arose. The mountain, firstly, had very complex slopes, and secondly, it was of much greater importance, for example, as part of the defense, there were American CIA aircraft-guides. The mountain was fortified with various types of anti-personnel barriers. And the movement near the mountain, and the transfer of heavy weapons presented a serious difficulty.
The assault on the mountain was entrusted to units of Duck Kong, a Vietnamese special forces. The assaulting mountain was able to concentrate everything necessary only by December 2. Before dark, the mortar men of the mortar detachment assigned to the special-purpose detachment opened heavy fire at the positions of the troops defending the mountain. Before dark, they brought down about 300 mines on the defenders. Under cover of fire, special forces approached the front edge of the defense on top of the mountain. After dark, the special forces immediately attacked. In order to quickly overcome the massively equipped barriers on the way, the Dak Kong fighters used the so-called “Bangalore torpedoes” - elongated explosive charges (US) in long tubes.
A rare photo. Dak Kong fighters in Laos during the offensive described. Photo from 17 January 1970 year
Throwing such a charge ahead of themselves on the fence, and undermining it, the soldiers punched corridors for themselves to attack. Excellent preparation, superior weaponry and darkness favored the advancing and, immediately closer to dawn, the defenders fled. However, it was too early to rejoice at the Vietnamese. The CIA gunner requested a series of massive airstrikes on top of the mountain. Blows were dealt and the Vietnamese, unable to withstand a strong bombardment, went down below, leaving the top a draw.
The royalists soon launched a massive counterattack. Fau Nok Kok was occupied by a detachment of Hmongs, and all the forces that Wang Pao could throw into battle here and now - the 21th volunteer, 19th infantry battalions and tribal militias - fell on the whole front edge of the Vietnamese.
The advancing were able to return back another mountain - Fau Fiung, after which they continued their slow advance to the east. Soon, however, it stopped. By the nature of the intelligence information collected during the counter-offensive, the royalists realized that the Vietnamese had not brought their main forces into battle, and that an even stronger blow from their side was not far off.
At first, the royalist command had the idea of slowly retreating with battles, but Wang Pao “corrected” it. He did not want to surrender to the enemy the Kuvshinov Valley, which he had so hard to conquer and he refused to retreat.
On January 9, soldiers of the 27 Dak Kong battalion launched another assault on Mount Fau Nok Kok, attacking it from several directions. Initially, SGU1, the 1th Special Rebel Detachment, was held at the top. However, the commandos managed to climb up the northern slope and find themselves near the top. It took them a day. Then the peak was again subjected to powerful mortar shelling, under the cover of which the Vietnamese special forces approached the front line of the defenders. Then a new surprise was launched - flamethrowers. The royalists got it over and they fled, leaving the Vietnamese this blood-soaked height. By the end of January 12, the height was cleared and completely occupied. Three days later, on 15 on January, a detachment of 183 soldiers of the 26 Volunteer Battalion was landed from the air on a mountain range directly at the top of Fau Nok Kok, but the landing attempt failed - the forces were insufficient and the weather prevented the use of strike aircraft.
South of the 7 route, on the 72 route, the Vietnamese attacked another royalist detachment with powerful mortar and artillery bombardment - the 23 Mobile Unit, which, unable to withstand the fire, moved away and passed two Vietnamese regiments in the direction of Xianghuang-Phonsavan. The latter immediately began to prepare their starting positions for an attack on Xiangghuang with a view to returning it. The royalists, unable to counterattack immediately, began to gain a foothold at the intersection of the 7 and 71 routes, which the Vietnamese could not pass and the Vietnamese communications would have controlled under fire, try to enter Phonasawan itself.
A detachment of fighters of the 316 pd selected for the performance of special tasks. Laos, the beginning of the 70's
In general, they concentrated four battalions and a number of local militias there.
On 23 on January, the US ambassador in Laos again requested the U.S. command to strike with B-52 bombers. The armored columns of the royalists delivered supplies to the semi-encircled Vietnamese stronghold Lima 22 near Phonsavan.
Until the beginning of February, the parties pulled up the second echelons and delivered supplies along incredibly difficult terrain. The CIA, by Air America forces, as usual, began to remove the civilian population from the battle zone, this time pursuing twofold goals - firstly, to morally support the Hmongs (a significant part of the evacuees belonged to this nation), and secondly, to deprive the mobilization resource and labor "Patet Lao." In general, in about two weeks they took 16700 people through the air. The Vietnamese did not interfere with these operations.
The bigger problem was that the enemy was constantly increasing the concentration of attack aircraft. In early February, attack aircraft from all over Laos began to gather at Muang Sui airfield. Since February 4, a sharp increase in the number of sorties of these aircraft began. To the Vietnamese, deprived of serious air defense, they caused great problems and considerable losses. The power of air strikes was constantly growing. On January 30, the B-52 again entered into business, though on that day they bombed the far rear without touching the troops on the front line.
On February 7, Wang Pao organized the breakthrough of a small detachment from the 155th Volunteer Battalion to the rear of the Vietnamese airborne troops near the intersection of 26 and 7 routes, supported by 71 caliber artillery. The detachment occupied the top 1394 meters high, from which it was possible to keep the road in the Vietnam rear under continuous fire
One of the CIA's mercenaries, Hmong Sai Chao Xiao. Photo from the Sai family archive
On February 11, Duck Kong went into battle again. Two companies attacked Lima Xnumx. The royalists called the aircraft, the Americans sent three AC-22 Ganships, and the attack drowned - 47 special forces soldiers were left lying in front of the royalists.
But at the intersection of 7 and 71 routes, special forces were successful - secretly approaching the defenders, they massively used tear gas, completely disorganizing the enemy’s resistance. Morally and financially unprepared to withstand a gas attack, the enemy faltered. The so-called “Brown” battalion fled, leaving heavy weapons. The rest of the monarchists, seeing the flight of their neighbors, panicked and followed them. Soon the fortified point fell.
Now the gates were opened for the Vietnamese to invade the Valley of Pitchers, and despite the insulting and heavy losses at Lim 22, this day was certainly a good one for them.
On February 17, the Vietnamese carried out reconnaissance in battle in the direction of the "22 Lima" stronghold that harassed them. The result was the loss of four tanks in mines. On the same day, Duck Kong fighters entered the Lon Tieng airfield and disabled two T-28 Troyan light attack aircraft and one O-1 guidance aircraft. The royalists, however, managed to kill three of them. The next three days, the Vietnamese pulled their forces to the “22 Lima” stronghold, through an impassable terrain, to finally take this object by storm and untie their hands completely. The royalists also planned a visit to the same stronghold of King Laos Savang Vathana, which was to cheer up the defending troops.
By the evening of February 19, the Vietnamese had concentrated in front of the Lima 22 stronghold a sufficient number of soldiers, as well as Grad-P man-portable missile launchers. On the night of 19 on February 20, a mass of rockets fell on the positions of the troops defending the 22 Lima, and consisted mainly of units from the Lao neutralist political faction. Immediately after the rocket fire, in the pitch darkness, the Vietnamese infantry launched an attack. But this time, the neutralists, who had previously earned a reputation as the most unreliable troops in this war, repelled this attack. True, the king’s visit after this was out of the question.
The next day, the Vietnamese managed to deliver four PT-76 tanks to their starting lines, and on the night of February 21, before dawn, they launched an attack again.
This time, luck smiled at them - parts of the neutralists who were attacked by tanks panicked and fled. The Vietnamese managed to wedge themselves into the defense of Lima 22, and when it became light, their success was obvious to other defending units. The latter, including the “brown” battalion already defeated by the Vietnamese, ran after them. To 14: 15 On February 21, the last royalist soldiers defending the stronghold escaped, and the Vietnamese already took this abandoned position by the defenders, which they got so dearly.
Thai aircraft mercenary inspects Vietnamese PT-76 padded in the Valley of Pitchers
The gates to the Valley of Pitchers were now completely open, and all communications that could only be used to invade it were under Vietnamese control.
Since early March, the Vietnamese began to advance into the Valley. The problem was the extremely low throughput capacity of the roads to their rear, for units of two divisions and one separate infantry regiment, this capacity was critically lacking, the rear units worked at the physical limit, and still the pace of attack was very low. In addition to inadequate communications, the enemy’s resistance itself, and extremely rocky off-road terrain covered with dense vegetation, the offensive was also hindered by the vast minefields that covered the royalists en masse. However, the Vietnamese forces continued the offensive by the 4's infantry regiments
Padded under Phonsavan PT-76
On the right (northern) flank of the 866-th separate infantry regiment and 165-th infantry regiment of the 312 infantry division advanced on Hang Ho, on the left southern flank the 148-th infantry regiment of the 316-th infantry division in the direction of Sam Thong. Between these two attack groups, the 174-th sub-station of the 316-th front, which had no clear target for capture and which was supposed to provide the flanks of two other strike groups, quickly cleared the area between them, moved.
The advance of the Vietnamese made it clear that they had every chance to take Thong himself, and that would be a disaster for the royal regime - located just a few kilometers Lon Thieng - the main Hmong base, the CIA, and the largest royal airfield in the region, in fact, almost a full-fledged (by the standards of Laos, of course) airbase.
The scheme of the Vietnamese offensive. The 312 Division and the 866 Regiment to the north, the 316 Division to the south. I - Mount Fou Nok Kok, II- Mount Fau Fyung, the green arc under the number 71 is the 71 route that is no longer indicated on the map due to abandonment. The southern flank of the Vietnam offensive at its first stage - 72 route
It would be a disaster for the royalist regime and the CIA.
In mid-March, Wang Pao was in an almost hopeless situation. There were no troops. The resources of other regions of Laos were largely exhausted, their soldiers were out of order. In principle, there was still someone to put under arms, but first, for this, the help of generals from the capital was needed, and they did not want to help the upstart Hmong, who de facto worked for the Americans, and not for the monarchy. One could try to recruit mercenaries from different tribal detachments and militias and replenish depopulated special rebel groups at their expense. But I had money. None of this happened, and the CIA took time, promising that there would be help soon.
Lon Thieng Air Base, during the period described. The terrain is noteworthy
Wang Pao Day consisted of organizing the evacuation of civilian Hmongs from the Lon Tieng area further to the west, planning the evacuation of the entire Hmong people to the border with Thailand, and during the breaks by physical labor at the airport, where the general personally hung bombs under the hmong pilots - there weren’t enough technicians either. However, sometimes the situation required Wang Pao to go to the trenches himself, where he could realize his skills as a mortar gunner. It would not have been possible to fight like that for a long time, and it seemed that defeat was near. And soon the weather turned bad, and the planes got into a joke ...
On 15 of March, Vietnamese advanced units were already rolling up to Thong Sam. Hang Ho was surrounded by VNA forces and blocked by them; there were no forces to defend Sam Thong. On 17 of March, the royalists began a massive withdrawal from Sam Thong, from which by that time both wounded, civilians and Americans had been evacuated. A day later, the base was occupied by Vietnamese troops. According to the testimony of the Americans, they immediately burned half of the infrastructure there - buildings and the like. Soon it was the turn of the last stronghold of royalists in the southwest of the Valley of Pitchers - Lon Tieng.
Fights for Lon Tieng
Fortunately for Wang PAO, the CIA succeeded at the last moment. On that day, when the Vietnamese infantry, exhausted and embittered by the heavy months-long battles and maneuvers, entered Sam Thong, reinforcements began to arrive at Lon Thieng airfield. The weather "gave an indulgence" and flights of helicopters and airplanes became possible. 20 March Wang Pao watched as salvation descends from heaven to him.
The first CIA delivered a battalion to Lon Tieng Thai mercenaries Special requirement 9, artillerymen armed with 155-mm howitzers, in the amount of 300 people that they immediately dug on the outskirts of the air base. With them arrived and their ammunition, quite enough for a heavy battle. On the same day, the CIA was able to deliver another full-fledged royalist battalion, recruited and trained in another Laos battalion, numbering 500 people. This has radically changed the matter. In the evening, 79 fighters from northern Laos were brought, and after them a couple more dozen from the area adjacent to the Valley of Pitchers.
Another view of Lon Tieng, and the terrain conditions are also very clearly visible - they were so everywhere
At the end of the day, the CIA evacuated the 2 Special Rebel Detachment (2nd SGU), which held Hang Ho, and transferred it to Lon Tieng, leaving the village surrounding the Vietnamese.
Together with the deserters gathered around the neighborhood, walking wounded and fallen behind their forces, the forces of Wang Pao reached about 20 people by the end of March 2000. It was about three times less than the advancing VNA troops, but it was already something.
Wang Pao concentrated these forces on the defense of Lon Tieng, effectively abandoning all the surrounding positions. The Vietnamese took advantage of this, and on 20 March in the afternoon they occupied a mountain range near the air base, which in American documents was listed as "Skyline One." Immediately an artillery reconnaissance group was abandoned on the ridge and soon Lon Tieng was the first to launch a fire attack with Grad-P missile launchers for the first time in the entire war. At night, the Dak Kong saboteurs tried again to infiltrate the airfield, but to no avail.
The Vietnamese did not have literally a day to turn the tide of the war in Laos - American helicopters and airplanes made their opponents much more mobile.
The weather, to the misfortune of the Vietnamese, was getting better and better. In the morning of March 21, the Trojans piloted by Thai mercenary pilots began to strike at them. Soon, the Hmong pilots sharply increased their speed, so on March 22 one of the Hmong pilots completed the 31 sortie in one light day. Another 12 sorties were performed by American flight instructors, also on the T-28.
Decisive in the Vietnamese loss of pace was the night from 22 to 23 on March. On that night, units preparing to storm Lon Tieng were hit by the BLU-130 heavy bomb dropped from the US "special-purpose aircraft" MS-82. The monstrous force of the explosion completely disorganized parts of the VNA, inflicted heavy losses on them and stopped military operations for the rest of the night.
BLU-82 bomb application
On 23 in March, the weather over central Laos finally became flying, and over all central Laos. This allowed the US Air Force to enter the battle with all its might. During March 23, they carried out 185 attacks on Vietnamese troops, despite the fact that Lao and Thai planes also continued to fly and attack targets. The offensive stalled. The Vietnamese simply could not move forward under such a flurry of fire, and no matter how close their goal was, they did not go further. On 24 in March, VNA scouts found on the ridge of Skyline One a beacon of the TACAN system, a navigation system used by the US Air Force. The lighthouse was immediately destroyed. The Americans could easily put a new one in the same place, but first it was necessary to take the height at which the lighthouse stood back. This was the second critical moment - in fine weather, the Vietnamese units, exhausted by continuous months of fighting, could maintain their positions only by minimizing air strikes, and the loss of the American lighthouse gave them such an opportunity.
But now, the royalists are fired up with the idea to discard the enemy. By that time, the CIA came to its senses completely and announced that each participant in the height assault operation would receive a dollar for each day of fighting. For Southeast Asia, the 1970 of the year was money. Over the morning of March 24, CIA and Wang Pao operatives assembled a large assault squad. Each fighter was delivered an M-16 rifle. Although the US Air Force could not fully realize its strike potential without a beacon, Trojans from nearby air bases could fly without it. On March 26, during a massive attack, the height with the lighthouse was bounced back.
While the US Air Force was rebuilding its equipment, the offensive continued with massive air support. Encouraged by the success of the Wang Pao supporters and the royalist units, with more and more powerful air support, they were crowding out the Vietnamese, who had neither strength, nor reserves, nor even the ability to get ammunition in off-road terrain. 27 March royalists knocked out surrounded Thong Himself. Realizing that it would not work to stay in the village, the Vietnamese went into the jungle, leaving the position to the royalists.
However, they held a number of heights from which it was possible to shell Lion Tieng, now impregnable for them, interfering with the work of aviation.
By March 29, the Americans had found another detachment wishing to fight, now for three dollars a day — the 3 Special Rebel Detachment. For his fire support between air strikes, the Americans threw an 155-mm howitzer with ratchet and shells through the air. On 29 on March, this battalion and two royalist battalions that had been to Lon Tieng earlier, under cover of artillery and air strikes, went on the attack. Parts of the 866 and 148 regiments were unable to hold them and retreated. The risk of Lon Tieng falling under Vietnamese fire was removed.
Skirmishes with the Vietnamese in the jungle and separate clashes continued for another month, but then the lack of roads and the difficult terrain began to work against the royalists, and they could no longer push the Vietnamese away. However, they themselves then retreated from the "inconvenient" for defense sites.
On April 25, Wu Lap, seeing that it was no longer possible to advance, stopped the 139 Campaign. The Vietnam offensive is over. The 312-I division was recalled, but the 316-I and 866-I regiment remained in the reinforcement of the Patet Lao units, which again occupied the Kuvshinov Valley.
The results of the operation for the Vietnamese at first glance look contradictory. They knocked out the enemy from the Valley of Pitchers, took decisive for control over the Valley of heights. At the same time, the losses were very large, but it did not work to take the enemy’s main air base - Lon Tieng.
But in fact, this offensive was decisive for the war on Vietnamese communications. After the 139 Campaign, royalists will never again be able to drive Vietnamese out of the Valley and threaten the Tropez from the north. They will never again have the strength to simply inflict a serious defeat on the Vietnamese. Their mobilization reserve was completely exhausted in these battles. The next time, the people of Wang Pao will go on the offensive only in the fall, about how to start attacks again and again, as before, now there will be no question. Of course, royalists will more than once create problems for the Vietnamese and Patet Lao. They will be able to invade the Valley at the end of the 1971 year. They will take Hang Ho. Later VNA will take Muang Sui, but will again be knocked out of there, then to take this town again. But such that the royalists were able to again drive the Vietnamese out of the Valley of Pitchers, there will never be more. The 139 Campaign, despite the contradictory nature of its results, has led to the removal of the threat of a complete cut of Vietnamese communications in Laos.
It is after these battles that the CIA will move on to a different strategy for working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Now, operations on it will go without regard to the course of the civil war in Laos, in the form of raids and raids - which, due to the very nature of such operations, a priori could not lead to the interruption of the "Trail". Raids and raids will be a serious problem for the Vietnamese, but they will never become critical.
The war in Laos was just approaching its climax. Ahead were the battles for the western part of the Kuvshin Valley, the Vietnamese offensive on Lon Tieng, the battle for the Skyline Ridge, the first massive use of tanks and mechanized forces by the Vietnamese, the first aerial battles over Laos between the Vietnamese and the Americans, which put the presumptuous Yankees in place - there was still ahead many events. The war in Laos itself ended the same year as the war in Vietnam, in 1975. But the risk for Vietnamese communications from central Laos will never be again.
However, the CIA was not going to give up, and the main problem for the Vietnamese communications did not mature in Laos.