The victory proved the effective and timely collaboration between the Vietnamese and Lao forces and forces in the Southern theater in the strategic offensive in 1972, contributing to failing the “Vietnamization” strategy of the U.S. and the “Nixon doctrine.” It also reaffirmed that defensive is the obvious operation in the liberation war and added more theoretical and practical values to the art of combat at the operational level of Vietnam in the resistance war against the U.S. invaders.

As the operation went, the Central Military Commission of Vietnam and the Lao side informed the Command of the Plain of Jars – Muong Sui Campaign about the intention: Right after the end of the offensive operation in the area, our forces would shift to the defensive posture at the operational level, ready to break down any counter-offensive operations of the enemy.

With good preparation, by May 20, 1972, the coalition forces had completed the firm and continuous operational defensive disposition, ready to combat and to win. After nearly six months of unyielding defensive and counter-offensive operations, our forces completely defeated the large-scale offensive of the enemy, firmly defending the strategically-important area of the Plain of Jars.

According to the Vietnamese Military Encyclopedia, in the campaign, the Vietnamese and Pathet troops conducted 244 battles, eliminating 5,759 enemy troops and destroying a good number of weapons and military materiel, including 38 aircraft. This was the first complete defensive campaign of the coalition forces of Vietnam and Laos, featuring creative and effective tactics, marking a higher development in the art of combat at the operational level of Vietnam in the war of resistance against the U.S. invaders.

Below are some of the notable features of the operation:

First, this was the first time in the war of liberation, a complete defensive operation was conducted. Theoretically, offensive is the major operation employed in revolutionary wars. In reality, that theoretical ground proved to be effective and helped win the enemy forces in various conditions. However, combat at the operational level consists of not only offensive, but also defensive and other methods of struggle. Moreover, in combat no specific methods should be considered superior to others, as each method has its own strong points and position. In fact, not thoroughly grasping that guideline had led to mass casualty in some campaigns. Opposing defensive operation and its role is also a mistake in both theory and practice.

In practice, before 1972, most of the campaigns were offensive. Defensive operations were noted in just some cases at the regiment and division levels like those of Division 5 of Military Region 5 in North Binh Dinh and Regiment 209 of Division 7 in Road 13 in the area of Tau O - Khom Ruong. Therefore, the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign was the first complete defensive one at the operational level. The victory of the campaign affirmed the important and indispensable role of defensive operations in the liberation war, adding more practical values to the art of combat at the operational level of Vietnam.

An 82mm mortal battery in the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Defensive Campaign in 1972 (File photo)

Second, the firm and continuous defensive disposition contributed to defeating waves of offensive of the enemy, firmly reinforcing the defensive disposition. The Command of Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign made right forecast of the directions of attack of the enemy. Therefore, the defensive disposition was established on the basis of the main defensive direction to the center of the Plain of Jars, the secondary defensive direction in Noong Pet, and the basic defensive direction in the forward edge of the disposition in Hin Tang. The troops in each direction of defensive were organized into 2 to 4 strongholds to ensure the defensive power for the disposition when the enemy attacked from various directions to the center of the Plain of Jars.

The reasonable disposition resulted in the reasonable use of forces, in line with their power. The close coordination between the stationary and mobile forces were also effective in sustaining the defensive disposition, preventing the enemy from breaching the defensive line. The well-prepared, firm and continuous defensive disposition broke each and every major attack of the enemy in the Plain of Jars, which was shown in the successful defensive operations in the three key battles in Phu Keng, in the west of the Plain of Jars and in the field of Cang Xeng (south of the Plain of Jars). The victory contributed to the firm reinforcement of revolutionary bases between Vietnam and Laos while helping promptly coordinate with other forces throughout the Indochina theater.

Third, mobile defensive operations were chosen, mainly employing attacking tactics. Defensive operations are broken down into two forms: area defensive and mobile defensive. Both of the forms require firm entrenchment and fortifications as well as strong firepower to engage the enemy from the forward area and destroy them when they advance closer toward the disposition.

In the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign, we chose the mobile defensive combat. The principle of using forces in mobile defensive operations was creatively applied, employing attacks as the main measure to successfully defend the disposition. In more details, two thirds of the defensive forces were deployed for stationary defensive in all directions while the other third maneuvered to attack and counter-attack the enemy when they intruded the battlefield from all directions.

In this campaign, the friendly forces defeated the enemy attacking from all directions when the Campaign Command used Regiments 174 and 866 as the stationary defensive force and Regiments 148 and 335 as the mobile defensive force to counter-attack the enemy when they attacked the friendly forces in Hin Tang defensive direction. At the same time, both forces stepped up coordination in combat with those in Muong Sui and Xieng Khouang town to destroy part of the enemy and step by step prevent the enemy from advancing forward, leading to the final victory.

Fourth, forces were employed flexibly and reasonably in all directions of defensive and in mobile defensive. In the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign, the Vietnamese side mobilized five infantry regiments, two special operation (commando) battalions, one artillery battalion, four anti-aircraft machine gun battalions, one tank battalion and two engineering battalions. The Laotian force deployed seven regular battalions, one tank company, two artillery companies, two anti-aircraft machine gun companies, one engineering company and four companies of local troops. The units were divided into the stationary defensive force and the mobile defensive force.

The defensive force included Regiment 174, Regiment 866, and one company of tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) and operational artillery batteries. The force was to defend the battlefield by creating an air defense coverage to gun down and drive away enemy aircraft and protect our ground formations while the special operation troops were organized in teams to destroy targets in the enemy’s formation with part of the troops capturing and defending the north of Xieng Khoang town. Tanks and APCs were responsible for providing fire support for troops in all defensive directions.

The mobile force consisted of Regiment 148 and Regiment 335 (reinforced with troops of Regiment 88) attacking the enemy from the north of Noong Tai and the south of Phu Keng Luong. Employed flexibly and reasonably, the mobile troops maneuvered to attack the enemy from afar, taking attacks as the main combat operation to successfully carry out the task of defending the battlefield.

In the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign, by using forces creatively, flexibly and reasonably, we brought into play the capabilities of the participating troops, creating synergy to advance to the final victory. The victory also marked a new development of the Vietnamese military art.

A war of Fatherland protection, should it happens, in the coming time will be conducted in the general defensive disposition of the whole country. The defensive area dispositions at all levels are now regularly run, inspected and partly prepared in advance right in peacetime, ensuring an active and quick transformation to the employment of the people’s warfare in wartime. The defensive operations will take place at the very beginning and during the war, on a national scale or in a number of key strategic directions and defensive areas. They may also take place simultaneously on various terrains, but mainly in plains and coastal areas, midlands, with the focal point in the defensive areas of provinces, cities and military regions.

Hi-tech warfare is also a matter of concern. As our technical and technological infrastructure for the use and the counter-attack of hi-tech weapons is still limited, conducting defensive operations in the Fatherland protection war is obvious and inevitable.

In terms of international relations, relationships among major powers in the world and the region have been changing rapidly, much different from the previous resistance war against the U.S. invaders. There are now strategic interests and national interests of each country, ethnic groups and the general trend in the region and in the world that affect the war.

Based on all the above mentioned factors, more research should be carried out to draw more lessons learnt from the Xieng Khouang - Plain of Jars Campaign in order to develop and apply to the combat conditions of modern warfare. This is a practical job contributing to the success of the early protection of the Fatherland from afar in the new period.

Written by Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Le Huy Vinh

Translated by Huu Duong