September 11, 1970, Duck To, Vietnam. Battle group loaded on helicopters, operation Tailwind, real photo
At the end of 1970, two operations were carried out in Laos. One was a reconnaissance raid. The second is another attempt to stop supplies on the Trail.
Both used local forces. But the rest of the similarities ended. But according to the results of the end of 1970, the Americans finally got the idea of where they should move on and why.
"Fair wind" for the battle group "Ax"
The Americans could not openly use their troops in Laos. They could conduct reconnaissance there and support other, non-US forces. Their MACV-SOG special forces group, specially created to work on the Trail, regularly conducted reconnaissance operations there and launched strikes aviation. However, for American operations in which it would be necessary to send American soldiers into battle, Laos was closed.
However, the end of 1970 was marked by a deviation from this rule, not the first, but one of a very small number of such deviations. Contrary to usual practice, the Americans planned an intelligence raid against the Vietnamese forces in Laos, which provided for their direct attack. The operation was codenamed Tail wind.
To reduce political risks, the Americans brought in the operation of the so-called battle group “Ax” (Hatchet force). This unit, which was part of the MACV-SOG, from the very beginning of operations on the Trail, initially consisted of military personnel from the South Vietnamese army and the Americans, but later it was based on volunteers from the Thongong ethnic group, inhabitants of the mountainous regions of southern Vietnam. Thuongs have been and remain a discriminated minority. The only ones who could guarantee this group of peoples any rights and protection were Americans. And they did this, preventing the South Vietnamese authorities from pursuing a policy of assimilation, and protecting them from communist rebels, who, seeing the Thyongs as not only an ethnically alien element, but also the minions of the United States (and previously the French), were not shy about their means .
The United States trained the thongs and successfully used them for fighting in the jungle and reconnaissance. So when the decision was made to conduct a raid, it was the thongs that became the basis of the battle group, which was to be thrown into Laos. Organizationally, they were part of the company "B", completely recruited from the thong.
Thuong Rookie, 1966
Americans with their thong wards
The group was led by Captain Eugene McCarley. Together with him, it consisted of 16 Americans and 110 thongs, who had special training and combat experience. The point of the operation was far beyond the zone in which the American special forces could operate, if only for intelligence purposes.
However, the Americans had information that in their area of interest there was an important Vietnamese bunker, which was also used as a command bunker. And the desire to realize intelligence exceeded the risk.
The area where it was necessary to advance was located on the Boloven Plateau, east of Thathen, near the intersection of roads.
September 11, over the Vietnamese Dak To was heard the roar of helicopters. Due to the fact that the casting of special groups was carried out at a long range, it was necessary to use the rare CH-53 in those parts. The danger from fire from the ground should have been taken by the AN-1 Cobra, which had not been used before in Laos either. Shortly after takeoff, the group crossed the border of Vietnam's airspace and headed for the Boloven Plateau.
CH-53 in Vietnam
AN-1 in Vietnam
The operation was developing hard. Three Stallions, under cover of the Four Cobras, each landed three platoon combat groups in the designated area. Helicopters flew away, and special squads neatly moved through the jungle to the target, the area of their whereabouts they knew only approximately. On September 12, the detachment ran into the Vietnamese infantry. A battle ensued. The forces were approximately equal. Wounded immediately appeared. However, for the Americans this was a symbol of the fact that they got where they needed to, and the operation continued.
On the morning of September 13, a special squad was at the Vietnamese camp. During a brutal frontal assault, the camp was captured.
But at the first moment, the Americans did not find anything. It seemed that either the intelligence was mistaken, taking the ordinary stronghold of the Trails as an important command center, or the group attacked the wrong object. But the thongs soon found a disguised passage down to the ground. And it immediately became clear that the reconnaissance was not mistaken, it really was a command post, moreover, it turned out a little later that this command center controlled all logistics along the Lao route 165. Therefore, the bunker was so well camouflaged: only the depth at which it was built, was 12 meters.
Thuong quickly filled up two large drawers with documents, and it was time to evacuate. Now, McCarley had to evacuate faster, flew planes reported about a battalion of Vietnamese in the immediate vicinity of the camp.
McCarley had an evacuation plan that, in his opinion, would prevent the Vietnamese from destroying the entire group due to some kind of accident. He chose three landing sites from which the group was to be evacuated platooned. It was assumed that the Vietnamese would not be enough to kill everyone at the same time; if they cover the site, then one. But first, it was necessary to break away from them, and it was not easy.
The next day was a nightmare for the group: the Vietnamese were not going to leave, not to release a special squad with such valuable information. The Americans had to conduct a night battle with the Vietnamese infantry, without the possibility of retreat.
The group managed to hold out, but by September 14th it was already a group of almost all wounded, who had at least ammunition, exhausted by continuous three-day battles of people, many of whom could not walk from the wounds.
Nevertheless, at a crucial moment, the group managed to conceive. Divided into three platoons, the Americans and their allies reached the landing sites exactly on time. By this time, helicopters appeared. All landing sites were under fire and helicopter crews had to literally pour all the thickets around with tear gas, and only under its cover they managed to take saboteurs on board and fly up. But even so, the last helicopters took off under fire from the Vietnamese infantry from tens of meters. All cars were damaged, and many crew members were injured.
Shortly after takeoff, two helicopters with special forces sequentially came under heavy machine gun fire and were shot down. But the survivability of huge cars helped out. Both cars made emergency landings in the jungle, the Americans escaped after some time picked up other helicopters.
On September 14, the special group returned to Vietnam, successfully delivering important intelligence information about what is happening on the trail. The Americans later claimed that 54 Vietnamese army soldiers had been killed by them. The group itself, upon return, had, according to various estimates, about 70 wounded and 3 killed.
It should be noted that such statistics did not take place on its own, but because of the personal will of an individual - a physician of the sergeant Harry Rose group. Rose during the operation several times pulled the wounded out of the fire, many times personally went into close combat to prevent the Vietnamese from capturing the wounded, being repeatedly wounded himself, did not provide himself with medical care until he finished with the first aid to the other wounded, he fought as a soldier himself, when it was not necessary to provide medical assistance to anyone. He was in the last helicopter, which had already risen from under the fire of VNA soldiers and he, having already been wounded several times, during the take-off, fired with the Vietnamese from the open ramp of the helicopter.
Soon, the helicopter was shot down, and one of the Marines, machine gunners, was seriously wounded in the same line from the ground, which damaged the car. Rose began to provide first aid in the air and did everything in his power to ensure that the shooter survived a hard landing. Then Rose crawled into a burning helicopter several times, pulling out soldiers unable to move.
Presumably, without this person, the number of those killed during the operation would be several times higher. Rose successfully survived the war, was awarded and resigned in the captain's rank.
Rose (center) immediately after returning from surgery, photo taken September 14, 1970
Rose after assignment of a lieutenant rank
Operation "Fair Wind", thus, ended in success, although not without loss.
There is one “dark spot” associated with this operation, namely the details of the use of gas, thanks to which the Americans and Thuongs managed to evacuate from shelling in the last seconds.
In 1998, CNN and Time magazine jointly released television and print reports stating that then, in Laos, soldiers were evacuated not under the cover of tear gas, but under the cover of sarin gas. Allegedly, this was the reason for the success of the operation. Journalists questioned the participants in the operation, and the answers they received hinted that everything was really dirty with tear gas: for example, one of the platoon commanders, Robert van Boeskirk, complained that when gas came to his people by the wind, several of them clogged in convulsions. True, no one died. In addition, the personnel then had health problems that were not caused by either the wounds or the consequences that a person could actually suffer from tear gas (western marking CS).
But the scandal did not receive development: the Pentagon managed to push through the official point of view that it was just tear gas. I must say that, on the one hand, the idea of using sarin looks strange: it was unusual for the Americans, and the troops were clearly not ready for a chemical war.
On the other hand, the testimony of van Boeskirk should be somehow explained, as well as the health effects of many fighters, and it would also be worth explaining how the Vietnamese, who fired massive automatic fire at take-off helicopters from a distance of 50-60 meters, that is, from a pistol distances, in the end they still missed. They knew how to shoot. What hindered?
The answers, apparently, will not be given by anyone.
Tear gas grenades were massively used from helicopters by the US Army in Vietnam and around
Operation "Fair Wind" shows well what enemy VNA would have to deal with on the "Trail" if the United States had the opportunity to act in Laos openly. But another enemy acted against them.
Second attack on Chipone
CIA unit in Savannaket studying failure last raid on Chipone, found nothing better than to arrange the same raid there again, simply with great strength. Now the operation was to be carried out by six local battalions. According to the plan of the operation, it was assumed that one three-battalion convoy would meet with another immediately before the attacked logistics center of the VNA and then, during a joint attack, the Vietnamese base would be destroyed.
On October 19, 1970, the battalions advanced towards the target. The first column left Muang Phalan, having the order to seize the village of Muang Fayn, held by the Vietnamese and Patet Lao, near Chepone. The second column, also of the three battalions, moved towards the Vietnamese strongholds and logistics points east of Chepone.
The first column immediately ran into desertion: one of the battalion commanders did not have time for the operation, because he was having fun with his 17-year-old bride. When they reached Muang Fayn, three battalions trodden on its outskirts and left after a languid exchange of fire with the enemy. On this operation for them is over.
The second column reached the target and entered the battle. A few days after the start of the extension, the convoy destroyed the weakly guarded Vietnamese car fleet, putting dozens of trucks and lots of spare parts and repair equipment on fire. Then the column continued to advance to Chepone.
On November 1, the convoy was ambushed by the VNA, which, prior to the battalion, began to grind militants trained by the CIA. The airplanes caused by the aircraft encountered excellent enemy disguise and heavy fire from the ground. This time, the Vietnamese were not going to just sit under the bombs, and their communications were nearby. As a result, the royalists at the decisive moment simply did not have air support, not at all. Moreover, due to powerful fire from the ground, the removal of the wounded, which the Americans, as a rule, provided for their wards, was also impossible.
On November 4 and 5, US aviation nevertheless came into action, delivering strikes in front of the front edge of the royalists. Under the cover of these attacks, Air America helicopter pilots managed to pull all the wounded from the royalist battalions on the fifth attempt. Freed from the wounded, the royalists fled through the jungle, breaking away from the enemy.
American sources assess the losses of the Vietnamese as “heavy”, but do not give figures, and, in truth, with the exception of the half-blind air strikes that the US Air Force inflicted, which did not have accurate information about the location of the enemy, it is not clear why they should be heavy.
Soon, the royalist troops participating in the operation came under attack from the Vietnamese in the vicinity of Pakse and suffered heavy losses there, attributing to themselves, however, hundreds of killed enemy soldiers.
It was obvious that the CIA was simply not coping with the war in Laos. Against the background of the forces that the agency trained, the different tribal units that the US Army trained in Vietnam were just a model of combat readiness, especially when the Americans themselves fought with them.
Meanwhile, the 1971st year approached.
The United States by that time had embarked on a course of "Vietnamization." Now it should have been sharply deepened for political reasons. Nixon was due to have elections next year. The 71st year was the year when it was necessary to "close" issues related to the ability of the South Vietnamese regime to fight independently. And for this it was necessary to undermine the rebel forces in southern Vietnam. And to do this, finally do something with the "Path". Washington understood that the CIA could not do this “something”, although no one had relieved them of the obligation to conduct a secret war in Laos.
It had to be other forces, and they had to act differently.