PANO – In early 1971, after two years deploying the strategy “Vietnamization”, the USA and the Saigon regime still faced a number of big difficulties. Attempting to create a turning point for the war, the enemy mobilized a large number of forces to conduct three large-scale operations to attack the Truong Son strategic transportation route. Among the enemy’s three operations, “Lam Son 719” was the largest, which took place in Road 9-Southern Laos in the aim to cut off our strategic transportation route and experiment the new operational model: Saigon Army’s troops under the leadership of US advisors and with US logistics.

To implement their plan, the enemy mobilized 42,000 troops (55,000 at peak), including 15,000 US troops. Their forces included three divisions with 47 infantry battalions; 460 tanks and armored cars; 280 cannons; 600 aircraft. In addition, nine enemy battalions of two Lao mobile army corps GM30 and GM33 from the West were tasked to participate in the operation. The operation was also supported by US artillery and air force.

Based on the prediction and assessment of the enemy’s plot, the Politburo and the Central Military Commission decided to open a campaign to counterattack the enemy in the Road 9-Southern Laos area. Our leaders also set a high resolve to win the battle at any price. Our participating forces, including Vietnamese and Lao revolutionary units, comprised five infantry divisions 308, 304, 320, 324 and 2; four tank-armoured battalions 177, 197, 241 and 491; four artillery regiments 368, 38, 45 and 84; four anti-air regiments 230, 237, 241and 491; three engineering regiments 7, 83 and 219; several commando units under the Central Command; several units of Group 559, Front B4 and B5; and other units from the Central Command and the Lao People’s Liberation Army.

The center of gravity stretched 90km in length from Dong Ha, Quang Tri province, Vietnam to Sepon, Xavannakhet province, Laos, and 60km in width from Truong village, Vietnam to Noong village, Laos. The main terrains were forests, mountains and bare hills, which were home to Vietnamese ethnic minority people and Lao ethnic groups. In general, local people had national patriotism and high spirit to fight against US troops and anti-revolutionary forces. In the preparation and during the campaign, local Vietnamese and Lao people built roads through forests and mountains, transported weapons, ammunitions and other logistics to combat troops, and sometimes side by side with troops participated in raiding enemy spies and scouts.

From January 1st to February 7th, the Saigon regime sent a large number of troops to Tactic Zone 1; organized operations to capture localities to build bases to launch attacks Dong Ha, Ai Tu, Khe Sanh and so on; and staged a series of strategic diversionary activities. On February 8th, several enemy units crossed the Vietnam-Laos border to move to the Road 9-Southern Laos area. Dozens of artillery fields deployed with hundreds of cannons of different kinds started to shell at locations of our forces along the borderline in support of enemy infantry troops’ forwarding.

Meanwhile, the joint force of Vietnamese and Lao troops, relying on the well prepared defensive system, actively responded to the enemy’s attacks, slowing down the movements of enemy units; focused force and fire power to decimate a majority of the enemy deployed on heights 316, 456, 500 and 543. From February 12th to March 3rd, local people along the Vietnam-Laos borderline actively participated in combat support activities, even in combat as well, or guided Vietnamese regular and commando units to assault enemy headquarters. Thanks to local people’s support, our troops easily wiped out enemy-controlled heights 500 and 543, smashed a large-scale counteroffensive conducted by Parachute Brigade 3 and Armored Regiment 17 of the Saigon Regime, an enemy contingent in the North of Road 9, and stopped the enemy’s attacks on other directions. On March 13th, all our forces in the battlefield were ordered to change from defense and counteroffensive to offensive posture. Our forces at the same time attacked enemy units across the battlefield. The campaign was successfully concluded on March 23rd, 1971.

After more than 50 days, with the support from the local people along the border area, especially Laotians, and good coordination with Lao revolutionary forces, the large-scale counteroffensive in the Road 9-Southern Laos area concluded successfully. 21,102 enemy troops were put out of action; 556 aircraft were either shot down or destroyed; 43 vessels and boats were sank; 1,138 military vehicles, 112 cannons and heavy mortars were destroyed. The great victory strongly impacted the balance of power in the battlefield of the three Indo-China countries, contributed to defeating the US strategy “Vietnamization”, created good potential and opportunity for our nation to achieve the final victory in the war against the invaders, and cemented the unity and special warfighting alliance between Vietnam and Laos.

Commander of Corps 559 Dong Si Nguyen said, “During the war, the enemy mobilized their comprehensive force in an attempt to eliminate the Truong Son Trail, our strategic transportation route, also known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail; a large number of soldiers laid down their lives at the foot of hills variegated by bombs and bullets or on the edge of forests denuded by bombs and chemicals…for the survival of the road, the victory of the campaign. If one failed to see the origin of the victory coming from dancing steps of male and female youths of the Pa Co ethnic minority on their ways carrying ammunitions on their shoulders to combat troops in nice sounds of the Ta Lu guitar, or Lao male and female soldiers dancing the Lao well-known dance of Lam Vong after single battles, they could not understand the significance of the victory and could not fully explain why the Vietnamese people could win the war.”

The traces of the old battles and steps of our participating troops would fade out by time but the heroism of the Vietnamese and Lao revolutionary troops and people in the operations and clear and bright symbols of the unity and special warfighting alliance between Vietnam and Laos will live forever.

Written by Le Minh Nam

Translated by Thu Nguyen