Translation of Chapter 11, entitled "Tran Tap Kich Vao Khu 'TACAN' tren Nui Pa-thi cuar Phan doi Dac Cong Quan Khu, ngay 11 thang 3 nam 1968"[Raid On the "TACAN" Site Atop Pha-Thi Mountain By A Military Region Sapper aTeam On 11 March 1968], pp. 181-205 (plus map), in book entitled, "Quan Khu 2, Mot so Tran danh trong Chien tranh Giai phong 1945-1975 (tap III)" [Military Region 2, Several Battles During the War of Liberation 1945-1975 (vol. III)], Nha Xuat Ban Quan Doi Nhan Dan Viet Nam [People's Army of Vietnam Publishing House], Hanoi, 1996. Translated and edited by Robert J. Destatte, 11 May 1997 and 7 April 1998.
RAID ON THE "TACAN" SITE ATOP PHA-THI MOUNTAIN
BY A MILITARY REGION SAPPER TEAM
on 11 March 1968
Two years of employing sapper tactics on the battlefields of Laos brought success from the beginning in battles such as Tong-so in early 1966, the attack on the command post of enemy Groupement Mobile 17 (PC/GM.17) at Tha-thom at the end of 1966, and three attacks during the Nam-bac counteroffensive operation in 1967. These results gave a strong boost to the morale of the Military Region sapper and reconnaissance forces and increased their enthusiasm for and confidence in sapper tactics. It was a profound demonstration of the guiding concept: the courage, sense of purpose, and skills of a revolutionary army allow a small force to score great successes.
On the basis of assessments of sapper engagements during the two years 1966 and 1967, in which we attacked only puppet (Lao) troops, and based on the mission, which this time would involve several assault elements attacking in many directions against an American signal jamming and air navigation command center (TACAN) [sic] that lay atop a sheer cliff on the peak of a high karst mountain, it was apparent that coordinating the timing of the attack . . . [sic] would pose very many difficulties. Following Ministry of Defense and the Military Region guidance concerning systematic methods for employing sappers in combat, especially after the victory at Nam-bac, which had left enemy troops demoralized and disintegrating, we took advantage of the victory and charged forward to destroy a part of Vang Pao's special forces (which the Americans directly led). Military Region’s decision to use its experience and sapper fighting methods to attack the summit of the karst mountain to wipe out the enemy and liberate Pha-thi achieved good results.
I. GENERAL SITUATION
Pha-thi is a high karst ridge located west of Sam Neua Town. The [surrounding] terrain is rugged forest-covered rolling mountains. The approaches to Pha-thi were blocked by the surrounding ridges. To the north and northeast is the 1392 meters high Phu-hin-he ridge. To the south [of Phu-hin-he ridge] is the 1148 meter [Phou Huoi] Kha-moun [ridge]. To the east are the 1425 meter Phu-bao ridge, the 1223 meter Phu-hin-sa ridge, and the 1442 meter Phu-den-dinh ridge. To the south and southeast are the 1586 meter Phu-huoi-hao ridge and the 1225 meter Phu-huoi-na ridge. To the west and southwest are high points 1443, 1088, 1052, 1148, and 1007.
Because of this difficult and rugged terrain, the French colonialists had used Pha-thi as a central bandits' nest for suppression operations against the revolutionary base at Sam Neua.
When they replaced the French, the Americans followed a more long range policy of developing Pha-thi into a fortified stronghold. It became the second largest special forces bandits' nest in Northern Laos (after the Long-cheng area).
In 1962, we used a small deep-penetration force to seize the summit of Pha-thi mountain, which was the enemy's most important and inaccessible site [in the region], and liberated the entire region. At the beginning of 1968 [sic], the enemy attacked and recaptured the area. From then until 11 March 1968, the enemy increased and strengthed his forces and defenses, and extended the areas he occupied to the surrounding high mountain ridges; transforming Pha-thi into a solid defensive area (Western commentaries and assessments described Pha-thi as a very solid "fortress") and support base for special forces operations that directly threatened the Laotians' revolutionary base and our Ma River (Song Ma) and Chieng-khuong regions along the Vietnam--Lao border.
In March 1967, the Americans constructed a TACAN signal jamming and air control and navigation station on the summit of Pha-thi mountain that could detect our aircraft, jam signal communications, and command and control all American jet aircraft flying out of bases in Thailand to attack Pathet Lao liberated areas and several provinces in North Vietnam, including Hanoi, the Thai Nguyen steelworks, the Viet Tri industrial area, the Duc Giang--Gia Lam petroleum storage yards, etc. . . [sic]. The TACAN station controlled all air attacks.
Terrain in the vicinity of Pha-thi mountain:
Pha-thi mountain is 1786 meters high, and runs from north of the Huoi-san stream to south of the Nam-het River, a distance of about 7,000 meters. It is the highest peak in the region. The peak of Pha-thi mountain is at least 3-4 kilometers from the surrounding peaks, permitting observation and control of a wide area. All four sides of the karst are sheer cliffs that are between 50 and 200 meters high, with no routes up and down except for one path up the east side. This path, however, crossed five enemy-occupied hills and ascended a 14-rung wooden ladder.
On the summit: Running from the area the Thai troops occupied (at the north end of Pha-thi), down to the north--northwest side of the 1786 meters high crest, [the top of the karst] was covered with numerous jagged rock outcroppings and many patches of old forest that restricted observation, infiltration, and fields of fire.
From the location where the Thai troops were stationed, a gentle slope ran south--southeast down to high point 1687; forming an area that was about 2,000 meters long and about 200 to 300 meters wide, with some sections that were 400 to 500 meters wide. Scattered about this area, particularly from north of the helicopter pad to the Thai troops' area, there were many rock hillocks and patches of sapling trees that were militarily advantageous for expanding and defending our positions.
Pha-thi mountain was surrounded on all four sides by rocky slopes that extended from its base to about half-way up the sides. The slopes varied from 45 to 60 degrees, and were mostly covered with young trees, with scattered patches of bamboo and many areas that local people had cleared to plant corn, rice, and opium. From about mid-way between the base and the summit of the mountain, the sides were formed by 75° to 80° cliffs, and in some spots 85° to 90° cliffs.
On the eastern side, near the five earthen hills (the location we intended to occupy), there was a fresh-water spring that flowed year-round. This was the only source of water on the high ground in the area.
Pha-thi was surrounded by very rugged terrain and peaks higher than 1,000 meters, such that one had to cross many deep streams and spend a great deal of time to get from one peak to another. The vegetation was mostly elephant grass, exposed to observation, with many slash and burn areas that had been cleared for farming, particularly in the area to the west and northwest. To the north was the Nam-het River that was 3 to 5 meters deep and 30 to 40 meters wide, which would make if very difficult to infiltrate the area to conduct reconnaissance and set up observation posts that could monitor the central Pha-thi area.
2. Enemy Situation.
- The central area on the summit of the karst was a plateau that was about 2 kilometers long, and from 200 to 500 meters wide, on which the enemy had deployed:
+ Living area for Thai technicians manning a meteorological station, guarded by two special platoons reinforced by heavy weapons.
+ TACAN area occupied by 20 American officers and technicians, guarded by two special squads.
+ American communications center, guarded by one special platoon.
+ Command post and 105mm artillery piece.
+ Helicopter landing pad, 85mm artillery position, and outer defensive positions on the east side of the Pha-thi ridge.
+ Outer defensive positions on the south, with one special platoon occupying high point 1687.
+ Area of 5 earthen hills: close against the cliff on the northeast side of high point 1687, located on the ridge fingers that ran east from the mountain to form earthen knolls. The enemy took advantage of the high terrain, which allowed them to control a wide area, and set up a strong defense with one battalion, BS.209 (this battalion had just been moved up from Na-khang), that was intended to reinforce the defense of the American TACAN site and hold Pha-thi.
+ North and northeast of Pha-thi. The enemy occupied blocking positions on Phu-hin-he and Phou-huoi-kha-moan mountains with a force of about three companies.
+ East and southeast. The enemy occupied high point 1425 (2km east of Pha-thi), Ban Pha-non [village], and Ban Pha-thi [village], with two companies (CV.261/BV26 and CS.2065).
+ South and south--southwest. The enemy occupied high point 1319 with a force of about three companies. Additionally, the enemy deployed two battalions, AC.15A and AC.14A, in the vicinity of Nhot-phat, Pha-mo, and Pha-hang (13 km south of Pha-thi).
+ West and northwest. Approximately two companies occupied and held the area of Tham-nam, the Huoi-hoc airfield, and high point Huoi-met.
- Enemy's scheme and method of deploying a system of obstacles and mine fields: Around the karst mountain, particularly on the west side and in the vicinity of the ladder on the east side, the enemy arrayed several fields of mixed mines (claymores, elephant-shaped mines, quick-fused grenades) in conjunction with fences constructed of strands of barbed-wire, concertina-wire entanglements, and tubes of explosives.
+ At each defensive area they also deployed claymore mines and electrically detonated B90 rounds at locations they suspected we might use to infiltrate.
+ At the TACAN site, they blasted away the karst to construct an open-air bunker in which they placed their equipment. They surrounded this with a thick metal wall protected by two rows of dirt-filled oil drums. The sleeping quarters and operations building were constructed of metal and covered with camouflage netting to conceal them from detection by our aircraft. The metal walls were surrounded by concertina barbed-wire, claymores, and trip-flares.
Routine enemy activities:
- Surrounding the Pha-thi base: The enemy increased the activities of the civilian defense forces, sending out patrols to search around the footpaths they suspected we might use to infiltrate the area. They expanded the use of guises of hunting and fishing activities, and civilians striving to till fields in the forests, in order to discover our forces. They regularly fired their weapons at random, and at times they fired their automatic weapons furiously as if they had just discovered us. At night, they frequently fired artillery illumination rounds. They also launched commando teams into the surrounding areas to monitor and reconnoiter our activities (during the period before we initiated the attack, the enemy launched several commando teams from CV.261 and BS.209 into the areas southeast and southwest of Pha-thi to search for us). The enemy organized a network of informants in the hamlets and villages surrounding their troop positions. Whenever these informants spotted any sign of our activities, they would immediately report the fact and provide timely warnings.
- The karst mountain area: Compared with the surrounding area, the enemy was less active here. With rugged cliffs that were very difficult to climb, and relying on the civilian defense forces, mine fields, and obstacles, the enemy thought we would find it difficult to infiltrate the area. On the other hand, they continued to increase their vigilance and deploy new guard posts (when the sappers initiated their attack, comrade Phong's cell bumped into a new guard post at the American communication site that was not there the day we reconnoitered the site), and regularly threw grenades down the western and northwestern sides of high point 1687 (the location were one of our comrades tripped a mine and was killed when we reconnoitered the area in December 1966 [sic]. Their routine for throwing hand grenades was to throw a flurry of grenades at intervals of about 45 minutes to one hour, occasionally stretching the intervals to two hours around 0600, 1800, and 2100 hours.
Movement between the base and the top of the mountain was almost entirely by helicopter, with a bit of movement via the wood ladder on the eastern side of the mountain. Of particular note, in order to maintain secrecy the Americans became more strict about prohibiting the Meo soldiers from entering the TACAN site.
Relying on the high mountain and rugged terrain, the enemy built Pha-thi into a fortified special forces base, and used it as an operational support base for commando operations and to harass and encroach on the Laotians' liberated zone. For that reason, they put forth an effort to increase and strengthen their defenses by constructing fighting positions and obstacles, and deploying booby-trapped mines to defend against a surprise attack by us. At the same time, they expanded the area they occupied in the surrounding region. They established a dense civilian self-defense system that could detect us while we were still far away, hoping to turn this site into a safe, impenetrable location. The total number of forces occupying the Pha-thi area was about 15 special companies.
Summary: Given the characteristics of the terrain at Pha-thi, the deployment of [enemy] forces and heavy weapons in fortified defensive positions, and the enemy's operational routine, we saw that it would be difficult to use a large attack force and difficult to develop fire power; however, if we used a small sapper force and appropriate tactics, it would be possible to achieve success and a higher level of combat effectiveness.
3. Friendly situation.
The force employed to attack the TACAN site consisted of one sapper team commanded by team leader Truong Muc [Truowng Muwcj], and included three officers (1 first lieutenant and 2 second lieutenants), 15 non-commissioned officers, and 15 soldiers. Twenty-one of these men joined the military in 1966. As for quality, 11 men were Party members, 20 were youth group members, and two were ordinary soldiers. The team included members of five different ethnic groups (6 Meo, 6 Thai, 3 Nung, 3 Tay, and 15 Vietnamese).
As for technical and combat qualifications, the team had gone through nine months of training in sapper reconnaissance. They concentrated primarily on techniques for attacking karst mountain peaks, climbing the faces of rock cliffs, maintaining secrecy while operating in the forests for long periods, and exercises to increase physical strength and stamina and the ability to endure hardship. The team had conducted two practical exercises using methods for conducting an independent sapper attack; however, the team had not yet conducted a joint exercise with infantry and artillery. Upon review, higher authorities concluded that the team could accomplish the mission if the team had time to prepare, and if it prepared every detail carefully.
The team was reinforced with one nine-man sapper squad, equipped with seven AKs, one B.40, one carbine, 57 hand grenades (Hungarian), and satchel charges. Additionally, the team was reinforced with one communications and cryptography squad (with one 15 watt radio, two 71.B radios, and two flare guns).
4. Situation of the [Area] Population.
The majority of the people in this temporarily enemy-controlled region were ethnic Meo, dispersed on the high mountain peaks surrounding Pha-thi. There was a number of ethnic Lao villages along both sides of the Nam-het River and scattered along the Huoi-pha-nou, Huoi-hia, Huoi-san, Huoi-sop-ca, Huoi-lon, Nam-sut, etc. . . . [sic] streams, engaged primarily in slash and burn agriculture and subsisting partially on American aid. Additionally, there was a number of Lao clans, such as the Lao Lum, Lao Cang, etc. . . [sic], that the enemy had swept up in Noong-khang, Muong-xang, and Muong-et and herded into villages styled as "Unity Villages." Subjected to the enemy's domination, distortions of the Pathet Lao's policies and aims, and intensification of racial contradictions, the people's level of awareness was low; thus, a large number of ethnic Meo actively opposed the revolution. Consequently, the entire area temporarily under enemy control was an "empty" region; we had no infrastructure. This was a region that the enemy planned to develop into an experimental ground for "special warfare" in Laos, employing forms of military pressure, economic enticements and aid, and political and moral poisoning that caused the people to not understand, or to understand very little about the revolution.
Our force's base of operations was in the vicinity of Muong-cau and Huoi-muoi, in Muong-son District, a Pathet Lao liberated zone about 40 kilometers northwest of Pha-thi. The majority of the population were ethnic Thai and Lao. The people in the Huoi-muoi area, however, were ethnic Meo who had a profound hatred of the enemy and actively helped our troops and participated in ambush attacks against the enemy (in December 1996 [sic] the Pathet Lao Central awarded Tai-xeng and Huoi-muoi Villages the second class medal for achievement during the war of resistance.) Tai-xeng, Muong-cau, and Huoi-muoi Villages all were led by [Communist] Party chapters, had People's Committees and advisory cells with our specialists to assist, and a stable economic life. The civil self-defense and village guerrilla forces were fairly proficient in ambush attacks, planting mines, and constructing booby-traps, but they had no experience in penetrating deep into the regions closely bordering the enemy; therefore, the task of guiding our troops into Pha-thi met with difficulties, and volunteer troops had to take full responsibility for scouting and reconnaissance.
II -- COMBAT MISSION AND OBJECTIVES.
Because of the military and political importance of the Pha-thi area, we had intended and planned for a long time to liberate the Pha-thi area. In 1966, in addition to sending a reconnaissance element to prepare the Pha-thi battlefield, Military Region gave particular attention to developing and training a sapper team that would practice deep penetration [into enemy areas] and methods of attacking targets atop karst mountains, and at the same time would strive to be fully prepared and ready to move out on a mission.
In December 1967, in coordination with the main battlefront that was to wipe out an important part of the enemy's manpower and liberate the Nam-bac region, Military Region launched one sapper team to prepare the Pha-thi battlefield and, when preparations were completed, join with infantry to conduct a surprise raid and wipe out the enemy soldiers and seize and liberate the entire Pha-thi area. The primary target, the TACAN [sic] station on the summit of the karst mountain, was given to the sapper team commanded by team leader Truong Muc.
2. Combat objectives.
a) Combat intentions:
- Method of attack:
Organize the force such that it could conduct raids in several directions; several assault elements would covertly move up close to the enemy, then simultaneously conduct surprise raids and destroy assigned targets.
- Force employed: The team consisted of 31 comrades who were sappers from Military Region, reinforced by one 9-man squad of sappers from an infantry battalion. The entire team would be lightly equipped (B.40s, AKs, carbine, hand grenades, satchel charges), and divided into two assault elements and one reserve element:
- Assault Element 1: Concentrate on attacking the TACAN, the American communication site, and the helicopter landing pad.
- Assault Element 2: Attack the Thai troops' area.
- Reserve element.
Assault Element 1: Commanded by First Lieutenant Truong Muc, consisted of five cells:
Cell 1: (This cell would be responsibile for firing the opening round.) Three comrades, led by squad leader and Party member comrade Phong [Phong]. Armed with one B.40, one AK, one carbine, 19 hand grenades, and several satchel charges. Cell 1's mission was to destroy and seize the American communications center, then defend in place and wait for the infantry to arrive and take over. (Comrade [Truong] Muc accompanied this cell.)
Cell 2: Three comrades. Commanded by Party chapter member comrade Truong Xuan [Truowngf Xuaan], this cell was armed with three AKs, 21 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 2's mission was to coordinate with Cell 1 to destroy the enemy troops at the American communications center, then move to the east of the helicopter landing pad and coordinate with Cell 4 to attack the helicopter landing pad.
Cell 3: Five comrades. Commanded by squad leader and Party member comrade Tieng [Tieeng]. (Comrade Tap [Taapj], the team's political officer, was in this cell.) Armed with one B.40, two AKs, one carbine, one K54, 26 hand grenades, satchel charges, and two 2-kilogram demolition charges. Cell 3's mission was to attack and seize the TACAN site and kill all the Americans manning the site. After seizing the site, select suitable favorable terrain to organize a defense and wait for the infantry to come up and replace the team.
Cell 4: Four comrades. Commanded by comrade Le Ba Chom [Lee Bas Chomf]. Armed with four AKs, 28 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 4's mission was to destroy a portion of the enemy at the west end of the helicopter landing pad, then move to the east of the helicopter pad and be ready to engage an enemy counterattack toward the communications center and the TACAN.
Cell 5: Three comrades, commanded by Party member comrade Thanh Xuan [Thanh Xuaan]. Armed with two AKs, one carbine, 18 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 5's mission was to act as the reserve cell for Assault Element 1, to increase the fighting power of any cell that encountered difficulties; and, if all the cells attacked favorably, then choose suitable terrain in the vicinity of the American communication site and be ready to engage an enemy counterattack coming up from the direction of the helicopter pad.
Assault Element 2: Commanded by Second Lieutenant Nguyen Viet Hung [Nguyeenx Vieetj Huwng].
Reinforced by one 71.B radio and divided into four cells:
Cell 1: Three comrades. The assistant team leader and Party chapter member, comrade Huong [Huowng], was the cell leader. Armed with one B.40, one AK, one K54, 12 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 1's mission was to attack and seize the meteorological station and the 12.7mm machine gun emplacement.
Cell 2: Three comrades, with squad leader and Party member comrade Chi [Chis] acting as the cell leader. Armed with three AKs, 21 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 2's mission was to wipe out the squad on guard southwest of the meteorological station.
Cell 3: Two comrades, with comrade Lieu [Lieeur] acting as cell leader. Armed with two AKs, 14 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 3's mission was to wipe out the Thai officers and technicians in two tents.
Cell 4: Four comrades, with assistant squad leader comrade Linh [Linhx] acting as the cell leader. Armed with four AKs, 28 hand grenades, and satchel charges. Cell 4's mission was to wipe out the enemy platoon on guard southeast of the meteorological station.
After wiping out the Thai troops the entire Assault Element 2 was to organize a defense in place.
- Reserve Element: The responsibility of the infantry battalion's sapper squad. Armed with seven AKs, one B.40, one carbine, 57 hand grenades, and satchel charges, this element's mission was to act as the reserve for the entire team, supporting primarily Assault Element 1 and cells that encountered difficulties.
b) Various support and coordination matters:
-- Development of the plan:
On 2 December 1967, Military Region gave the team its mission.
On 7 December 1967, moved to the base and briefed the [Party] executive committee, Party chapter, and team on the intentions, missions, objectives, and significance of this battle. The mission to attack the American TACAN site was the heaviest responsibility as well as the highest honor. Everyone, from cadre to soldier, displayed high resolve and determination to accomplish the mission.
- Preparation of the battlefield was divided into two phases:
Phase 1: 18 December 1967, one eight-man cell, commanded by the team leader and assistant team leader, went to investigate Pha-thi, to conduct terrain reconnaissance, get a grasp of the enemy situation, search for a concealed route of movement, confirm whether the enemy command post was in the Pha-thi area (not in the area of the airstrip at Tham-nam), and scout the enemy's defense system around the karst mountain and his routine activities.
Phase 2: On 22 January 1968, a reconnaissance cell consisting of six cadre, divided into two cells, resolved to do whatever it took to climb to the summit of the karst and sneak into the TACAN site. Comrade Tap's--the political officer's--cell crawled up next to the TACAN site, the communications site, and the helicopter landing pad, and confirmed the locations of the enemy living and work areas and the deployment of his defenses. Comrade Huong's--the assistant team leader's--cell sneaked into the Thai troops' area, investigated four living and work areas, the medium and 12.7mm machine gun emplacements, the mortar emplacements, and the meteorological station, as well as their defense scheme and our infiltration route.
c) Advance planning for contingencies:
- Strive to avoid the enemy and civilians during movement to the objective. In the event we are forced to open fire, or encounter obstacles along the route, dispatch a small element to engage in combat and resolve the situation while the main body of the force quickly moves in close to the objective according to plan. If the assault elements are discovered after they have reached the summit of the karst, then:
Assault Element 1: Cell 1/Assault Element 1 immediately attack the TACAN site. Cells 2 and 3/Assault Element 1 immediately attack the communication site. Cell 4/Assault Element 1 attack the helicopter landing pad. Cell 5/Assault Element 1 reinforce Cell 1/Assault Element 1 and finish off the TACAN site.
Assault Element 2: Cell 1/Assault Element 2 go to the front and immediately attack the bandit squad defending to the southwest and seize favorable high terrain to support the fighting. Cells 2 and 3/Assault Element 2 quickly attack and seize the meteorological station and at the same time take care of the two tents. Cell 4/Assault Element 2 wipe out the enemy according to plan.
- In the event that one assault element is successful and the other encounters difficulty, the successful assault element after it accomplishes its mission must quickly assist the assault element that is in difficulty.
- In the event that both assault elements encounter difficulty, Assault Element 2 will leave a small element to pin down the enemy while the remainder of the force will move to Assault Element 1 and give priority to taking care of the TACAN, after which it will continue to take care of the Thai troops' area.
- In the event that the enemy blocked both assault elements while they were mid-way up the karst mountain, and unable to ascend, they would circle up to the northwest and try by all means to raid the TACAN site.
d) Other support matters:
+ Material support: Each man must ensure he has provisions for 15 days (eight days of baùnh daøy, four days of baùnh chöng, two days of roasted rice, and one day of rice cakes), 400 grams of explosives, six hand grenades, and 200 rounds of ammunition for each AK and six rounds for each B.40. Additionally, each man must have 100 grams of salt, one can of condensed milk, two water canteens, one 3-meter length of plastic, one jungle hammock, medicine, cotton, personal bandages, mosquito repellent, two pairs of shoe laces, needle and thread, etc., . . . [sic] a total of about 35 pieces, including weapons, equipment, and personal items, weighing up to 42--45 kilograms.
+ Support for wounded and killed: Lightly wounded men will bandage themselves and continue to fight. Seriously wounded will receive first aid on the spot from the medic and, depending on the situation, will be evacuated to the rear. Deceased soldiers will be concealed carefully temporarily and left for later resolution, and a determined effort will be made to not let wounded or deceased men become missing.
+ Support for troop movements: Keep the route and activities secret before moving, disguise the route and direction of movement, erase tracks on the route of movement.
+ Carry out properly the policies regarding captured material, prisoners and ralliers, and civilian proselyting, especially in the assembly area and the region the enemy temporarily controlled.
+ Organize training improvements to insure success in battle. The unit organized democratic discussions on methods of fighting, coordination between individual cells and assault elements, improvements in contingency plans, guiding troops to the vicinity of the karst mountain, and the critical elements of training, which were techniques for climbing sheer rock cliffs and coordination. Meanwhile, to insure secrecy, the unit made a two-day movement to a different location to carry out preparations, test fire the B.40s, throw hand grenades, and inspect explosives. The unit also spread the word that it was going to attack Tong-kho, and made a diversionary move in the direction of Muong-son to deceive enemy surveillance.
- All preparations were completed before 28 February 1968. On 1 March the team moved to its temporary holding position. The attack was scheduled to begin at about 4 to 5 o'clock in the morning on 10 March, or about 4 to 5 o'clock in the morning on 11 March.
III -- SEQUENCE OF THE FIGHTING
1. Sequence of the fighting
a) Movement to the objective:
At 1800, 1 March the team departed its base at Muong-cau and moved for two days and four nights to its assembly point.
On 7 March, the Party Committee held its final meeting to confirm the resolution. It was agreed that the attack would begin between 0400 and 0500 on the morning of 11 March.
At 1700, 7 March 1968 the team split into two assault elements and advanced to the base of the karst mountain.
Assault Element 1: At 2000, 7 March, stopped to rest about one kilometer from the position at Tham-nam, and waited for the moon to go down before moving in close. At 2330, continued to move in close; but 100 meters from the Tham-nam position the team encountered two horses grazing on grass and observed the enemy turn on many flashlights. The team withdrew 100 meters and launched a cell to move up and observe.
By 0230, 8 March the team had passed the enemy position and advanced into old forest. At 1000 hours the team encountered an enemy mine field and halted.
All day on 9 March the team rested next to the mine field, while it sent one cell to reconnoiter ahead and confirm the route and direction of movement to the TACAN.
At 1000, 10 March the entire team moved up to within 50 meters of the karst mountain peak, and stopped to rest in a small cave. At 1600 hours the entire unit confirmed the resolution the final time: regardless of what contingencies arise, the unit must seize the TACAN; after that the unit can eat, drink, and rest.
At 1800 hours, sent one team up the mountain to dismantle the mines and quick-fuse grenades, and confirm the exact route of infiltration.
2030 hours, the entire unit climbed the cliff.
2130 hours, moved to the top of the mountain, passed within only 30 meters of an enemy guard post, advanced into the old forest (100 meters northeast of the TACAN) and stopped there, reconnoitered and listened intently for sounds of enemy movements.
b) Deployment to the attack formation: At 0100 hours, 11 March the cells followed the plan and moved up close to their assigned targets.
At 0300 hours, the cell that was to attack the TACAN halted 30 meters from its target, and the cell leader ordered the B.40 gunner to take aim at the target and be ready to fire. Cell 1/Assault Element 1, which was to attack the American communication site, moved to within 150 meters of its target, with Cell 5 behind it. The team commander ordered Cell 4/Assault Element 1 to attack straight to the east of the helicopter landing pad, rather than to the west of the landing pad as previously planned, because he observed that there were more buildings and higher terrain to the east of the landing pad.
Assault Element 2, however, while moving up to the summit, became lost on the face of the cliff, 30 meters from the enemy, but could not climb up and thus was unable to open fire.
c) Sequence of the fighting:
0345, 11 March 1968: Cell 1/Assault Element 1, moving on the point about 30 meters from the American communication site unexpectedly bumped into a concealed enemy guard post. The [enemy] soldier did not open fire in time because comrade Phong quickly jumped up and stole his weapon; however, [the enemy soldier] had time to throw a hand grenade to the rear of Cell 1, but no one was hit. Comrade Phong immediately threw a hand grenade into the guard post and the enemy soldier fled. Immediately, comrade Phong sent the B.40 gunner up to fire directly into the building that had many antennas. After only 15 minutes, Cells 1 and 2/Assault Element 1 had attacked and seized the American communication site, killing one officer and wounding several other persons.
Cell 3/Assault Element 1 attacked the TACAN after Cell 1's B.40 fired. Gunner Thanh [Thanhf] immediately fired one B.40 round into the TACAN site. The round hit the electrical generators, which burst into brilliant flames. Comrade Tieng threw a hand grenade toward the American living quarters; however, it hit the camouflage netting on the roof of the building and bounced back and wounded him lightly. After that, gunner Thanh fired two rounds in succession into the radar command center. At the same time, the entire cell opened fire with their AKs and assaulted en masse. The Americans were taken by surprise and ran helter-skelter outside; only a few stubborn ones resisted.
At 0415 hours, Cell 5/Assault Element 1 (the reserve cell), reinforced by one B.40 arrived to assist Cell 3/Assault Element 1 on orders from the comrade team commander.
At 0425 hours, the cell was reinforced by the comrade team commander and one cell member who joined the fighting and finished the mission.
At 0430 hours, after killing all of the remaining stubborn enemy, the team seized the TACAN (after 45 minutes of dauntless fighting).
- Cell 4/Assault Element 1 (the cell attacking the helicopter landing pad): At the moment the other cells opened fire to attack and seize the communications site and the TACAN, Cell 4 also quickly attacked the enemy buildings east of the helicopter landing pad; however, they were blocked by an enemy mortar that wounded one comrade and split the cell into two parts, with the comrade cell leader in front and the three cell members in the rear. Faced with a difficult situation, cell leader Le Ba Chom courageously assaulted the enemy defenses single-handedly, throwing hand grenades while firing his assault rifle, and killed five men on the spot and wounded several others. Fighting continued until nearly daybreak, when the enemy discovered that our force was very small and tried to capture cell leader Chom alive; however, he cleverly took advantage of the rock outcroppings, firing and feigning, and escaped an encirclement by two enemy platoons and made his way back to make contact with the cell that attacked the TACAN.
Dealing with the enemy counterattack:
- At the communications site: At 0415 hours, after Cell 5/Assault Element 1 went to assist Cell 3, only Cells 1 and 2/Assault Element 1 remained to defend this site.
At 0600 hours the enemy began to conduct air strikes around, and fire mortars into the communication site. This was followed by an enemy infantry counterattack that was aimed at seizing this site. Although the enemy fired very many different types of munitions and shouted and screamed as they assaulted, Cell 2/Assault Element 1 fought doggedly, killing four enemy on the spot with the first burst of fire, and threw them back.
At 0615, the enemy again fired mortars and counterattacked a second time. This time Cells 1 and 2/Assault Element 1 allowed them to come in very close to their defensive positions to recover the bodies of the dead enemy, then opened fire and killed several more enemy. Squad leader and Party member, Trinh Xuan Phong [Trinhj Xuaan Phong], fought very courageously. He was wounded twice, but continued to command and encourage his men to destroy the enemy. When hit by strong enemy attacks, and when the enemy was organizing an assault, comrade Phong, although wounded, still shouted, "Be resolute, hold the positions until the end." Together with his comrades he beat back many enemy counterattacks. Until he was killed, Phong continued to calmly encourage the two cells of Assault Element 1 to keep up a dogged defense. As a result, we held the communication site until the entire Pha-thi area was liberated.
- 0625 hours, when the enemy had been attacked and had not been able to take back the communications site, Cell 2/Assault Element 1 received orders to assist in the fighting at the TACAN site.
At the TACAN site: At 0415 hours, after losing the TACAN, the enemy ran out and hid in the rock crevices, taking advantage of the darkness of the night; then, seeing that our force was not numerous, they used rapid-fire assault rifles and hand grenades and organized a counterattack to try to retake the TACAN. We quickly returned fire. The fighting continued fairly violently. Assault team leader Muc killed many men with a rapid-fire assault rifle he took from the enemy. Cell 5/Assault Element 1 commanded by cell leader Thanh Xuan fought very valiantly and wiped out many other enemy at this site.
By 0635 hours, Cell 2/Assault Element 1 arrived to increase the fighting and, together with the cell that attacked the TACAN station and Cell 5/Assault Element 1, killed nearly all the enemy who still survived, broke up the enemy attacks, and took firm control of the TACAN station.
Organizing the defense of the TACAN site: After defeating the enemy attacks, we occupied favorable terrain and organized a defense-in-place. The enemy knew the TACAN station was lost, so from 0600 until 1700 hours they sent jet aircraft and T.28 aircraft to strafe and drop cluster bombs and high explosive bombs in and around the TACAN site. At 0900 hours, one helicopter dropped a line down near the TACAN site and rescued three wounded enemy. We were tangled up in the mountain, so we fired on it without hitting it.
All day on 11 March our men used the crevices in the rocks to hide their wounded and deceased [PAVN] soldiers and avoid enemy bombs and aerial attacks, while organizing a defense of the TACAN site.
On the 12th and 13th, we still maintained a defense of the TACAN.
On the 14th the entire unit organized a withdrawal to the assembly position.
2. Results of the fighting.
We killed 42 men and wounded a number [of others], primarily Lao and Thai soldiers.
- The enemy fled and at the base of the karst mountain abandoned a large quantity of weapons, including one 105mm artillery piece, one 85mm artillery piece, two 106.7mm mortars, two 81mm mortars, four 57mm recoilless rifles, six 61mm mortars, and nine heavy machine guns together with much military equipment, military goods, and provisions (later, our infantry went up and took control of everything).
- We lost one comrade killed and two comrades lightly wounded.
+ While the sappers where moving in close to the karst mountain, our infantry closed in and surrounded the enemy to the east. Before the sappers initiated this battle, our artillery fired on the enemy base on top of the karst mountain.
3. Significance of this battle.
The raid by the sapper team that seized the TACAN station was successful, it made a noteworthy contribution to the overall victory of the campaign, broke up one of two large nests of Meo special forces in North Laos, destroyed a control center for American aircraft attacking the Northern region of our country, and gave a heavy thrashing to the second strategic force in the enemy's "special warfare" in Laos, following the big thrashing and destruction of the enemy's mobile regular forces in the Nam-bac region. The attack that seized the TACAN station destroyed and dispersed an important part of their manpower, liberated the Pha-thi region, and expanded the Lao revolutionary base, which became stronger every day.
IV -- STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, AND LESSONS LEARNED
1. Strong points.
- The Party Committee, Party chapter, cadre, and soldiers had a profound grasp of the circumstances of the mission and the Military Region's tactical guidance. The unit was instilled with high and resolute morale; it was motivated to overcome difficulties and hardships, [to act with] doggedness and courage, [to display] positive and creative thinking, [to maintain] secrecy and surprise, and to fight deep in the enemy's bosom (clearly displayed during the two times the unit went to prepare the battlefield, and during the fighting at the TACAN station and the communications site).
- The reconnaissance and preparation of the battlefield employed the concept of "see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears," by infiltrating right into the location of the assigned mission. The choice of direction [of attack] and the force employed were appropriate. Rear services operations were meticulous and thoughtful. Many contingencies were anticipated and handled correctly.
- Secrecy was maintained (intentions, mission, target of the attack, route of movement, deception was carried out, tracks were erased in the enemy's rear area). This is one of the important factors for success in battle, especially in circumstances such as those on the Laos battlefront.
- The cadre and soldiers' style of fighting was very bold, courageous, and resourceful; and their technical and tactical skills were good (all 11 B.40 rounds struck their target). Leadership had a deep understanding of, and was in very close touch with the men and mission, set an example for quick thinking, handled contingencies in a timely manner, carried out the attack quickly and resolved it quickly, organized a dogged defense, and held their positions firmly until the entire Pha-thi region was liberated.
2. Weak points.
- Failed to create conditions that would allow posting of observation posts to observe and keep track of the enemy continuously until the unit had moved into position to attack; therefore, the unit had to reconnoiter the enemy en route as it moved, particularly when it approached the base of the karst mountain, near the enemy base.
- Assault Element 2 became lost en route to the cliff; therefore, when the other assault element and cells opened fire, even though Assault Element 2 was only 30 meters from the enemy, it was not able to climb up. This effected the fighting strength of the entire unit, and prevented it from destroying the Thai troops' position. All day the 11th of March, Assault Element 2 laid in place and did not actively search for a way up to join Assault Element 1 in the fighting and defense.
- While moving up the cliff, one soldier dropped AK magazines, and a soldier assisting a B.40 gunner left rounds behind. When a hand grenade was thrown into the enemy's camouflage netting, it bounced back and wounded one of our troops. When the cell that attacked the helicopter landing pad was blocked by enemy mortar fire, it did not create opportunities and lacked determination to assault and destroy the enemy. It also was careless in taking care of one lightly wounded comrade.
3. Lessons learned.
a) On the North Laos battlefront we could employ sapper forces to fight independently and take [full] responsibility for a target, or to fight jointly with a combined arms force.
On the basis of the sapper team's attack on the TACAN station it could be concluded that sapper forces can be used not only independently and separately to attack a single target or single sector in a campaign, but that sapper forces can join with infantry, artillery, and other branches to accomplish missions very effectively (assuming there is specific tasking and coordination of targets, missions, and scope of responsibility for each branch). In this battle, the sappers were responsible for attacking the command post in area of the communications center, etc. . . [sic].
A sapper force of between 30 and 45 men for a single engagement is sufficient to finish off a target (all of the engagements the Military Region sapper forces fought during [the previous] two years were organized for, and employed this size force).
b) Sapper troops can not only attack according to their own methods, but can also organize a dogged defense for a specified period:
The sapper troops killed more Americans in this battle than in any other sapper attack on the Northern Laos battlefront prior to April 1968. After the target was taken, [the troops] had to go over to the defense for a period in complicated terrain. Although the enemy responded quickly with heavy artillery and air strikes, the unit still kept a firm hold on the target it was responsible for. This also resolved the question of whether sapper troops would be reluctant to engage in violent defensive combat, fight during daylight hours, and fight continuously for several days. This strengthened the entire team's confidence that it could accomplish later combat missions well.
c) The cadres' style of combat leadership must be exemplary and reflect a deep understanding of, and a very close contact with the men and the mission; and the entire team's actions in combat must be dauntless, resourceful, and quick-thinking.
- Because the sappers' combat tactics are to attack with precision, attack where the enemy is vulnerable, and attack important targets, the sapper team cadres' style of combat command has to be exemplary and courageous and reflect a deep understanding of, and a very close contact with the men and the mission. Their actions must be resolute, timely, spirited, and able to resolve contingencies. The soldiers must act with utmost secrecy, surprise, and daring, and resolutely penetrate deep to divide the enemy without fear of taking casualties. The cadres' style of command and the team's combat actions and deployment decided the victorious outcome of this battle.
The Military Region sapper force attacked the TACAN site despite the enemy's numerous forces, heavy firepower, and fortified defense system, which were positioned on high rugged terrain; and with a high level of determination, thoughtful preparations, and close coordination between the sappers and the infantry and artillery, we liberated the entire Pha-thi area. This was a big victory, not only militarily, but politically; it gave the Lao people, political authorities, agencies, cadre, and troops, in the liberated zones as well as the regions temporarily under enemy control, confidence in Vietnamese volunteer troops. This victory was a severe psychological thrashing for the enemy, causing them to become alarmed and uncertain and lose confidence in each other.
Major Do Chi Ben [Doox Chis Beenf]
 Translator's note: A United States Air Force (USAF) Tactical Air Control and Navigation and TSQ station (TACAN/TSQ) located on Pha Thi Mountain (Phou Pha Thi), vicinity coordinates 48QUH663613, 20°26’44”N 103°43’06”E, Northeastern Laos. Eleven of the 16 USAF technicians manning the TACAN/TSQ station were still unaccounted-for as of May 1997. American helicopters rescued five technicians from the TACAN/TSQ station and three Americans from the nearby Lima Site 85 during the morning of 11 March 1968. A bullet struck and killed one of the technicians after he mounted the rescue helicopter.
 Translator's note: The present day People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 2nd Military Region, which is the successor to the wartime Northwest Military Region.
 Translator's note: See gazetteer at the end of this report for map coordinates of Tong So and other locations cited in this report.
 Translator's note: "PC" is an abbreviation for “Phan Cong,” a Vietnamese term that can be translated “counteroffensive” or “counterattack.” Thus, the expansion of "PC/GM.17" is "the counterattack [or counteroffensive] against Groupement Mobile 17."
 Translator's note: Nam Bac is located on Lao Route 1 in northern Laos, vicinity 48QTH310780, 20°35’N 102°25’E, about 140 kilometers west of Phu Pha Thi. The period of the Nam Bac Campaign was from 29 December 1967 through 27 January 1968; i.e., the 1967--1968 dry season.
 Translator's note: Apparently a typographic error in the original text. Probably should read "1963."
 Translator's note: Battailon Spécial, or Special Battalion 209.
 Translator's note: "CV" is Compagnie Volunteer, or Volunteer Company. "CS" is Compagnie Spécial, or Special Company.
 Translator's note: "AC" is Auto-Défense de Choc, or self-defense forces.
 Translator's note: Appears as "Tan-nam" on the sketch appended to the original text. Ban Tham Nam (village) is located at the base of the Pha Thi ridge, about 1,500--2,000 meters north--northwest of the TACAN site. Ref. PAVN map sheet 5749, 1:100,000 scale, 1980 edition.
 Translator's note: "B90" is a PAVN term for a Chinese-made 90mm recoilless rifle.
 Translator's Note: B.40 is the PAVN designation for the Soviet-made RPG2 rocket propelled antitank grenade launcher.
 Translator's Note: AK 47, Soviet 7.62mm assault rifle; Chinese 7.62mm assault rifle, type 56.
 Translator's Note: CKC carbine (Soviet 7.62mm carbine, type SKS; Chinese type 56).
 Translator's Note: K54 is the PAVN designation for the Chinese-made 7.62mm pistol.
 Translator's note: Apparent typographic error in the original text. This book went to the printer on 10 March 1996. Printing was completed and the book was copyright dated May 1996.
 Translator's note: Northwest Military Region, headquartered in Son La Province, North Vietnam; the wartime predecessor to present day 2nd Military Region.
 Translator's note: PAVN's term for Lao General Vang Pao's H'mong irregulars.
 Translator's note: Cakes made from sweet rice flower.
 Translator's note: Cakes made from glutinous rice and filled with green bean paste and fat pork.
 Translator's note: PAVN term for the American M-16 assault rifle.
 Translator's note: The 1967--1968 dry season offensive against Royal Lao Army forces at Nam-bac and Pha-thi. See footnote no. 2, page 8, above.
 Translator's note: The other large concentration of Royal Lao irregulars was at Long Cheng.
Report by the Northwest Military Region General Staff Department, preliminary summation of the sapper attack on the American TACAN site on Pha-thi mountain, number . . . [sic], 11 June 1968.
During the war the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) used maps that were based on pre-1954 French maps. The high point measurements cited in the PAVN report of the attack on Lima Site 85 are based on the old French and wartime PAVN maps. The measurements on the wartime PAVN maps are different than those posted on US maps for the same high points. For this reason, visitors to this site will need this Gazetteer in order to accurately relate the locations it cites to American maps. Prepared by the translator based on US Army Map Service map sheet 5749IV, edition 1, scale 1:50,000; PAVN wartime maps Carte De L'Indochine sheets 58W (Sam Neua Ouest) and 57E (Muong Son Est), scale 1:100,000; and PAVN postwar map sheet 5749, 1:100,000 scale, 1980 edition.
Place name UTM Coords. Geographic Coords.
Pha-thi Mountain (TACAN site) 48QUH663613 20E26'44"N 103E43'06"E
Tong-so [unlocated. Poss. Tong-sok: 20E10'N 102E03'E]
Tha-thom 19E00'N 103E36'E
Nam-bac 48QTH310780 20E35’N 102E25’E
Sam Neua Town 20E25'N 104E02'E
HP 1392, Phu-hin-he ridge 48QUH668700 20E32'N 103E44'E
HP 1148, Kha-moun ridge 48QUH686686 20E31'N 103E44'E
HP 1425, Phu-bao ridge 48QUH710638 20E28'N 103E45'E
HP 1223, Phu-hin-sa ridge 48QUH742671 20E28'N 103E47'E
HP 1442, Phu-den-dinh ridge 48QUH772594 20E26'N 103E49'E
HP 1586, Phu-huoi-hao ridge 48QUH737584 20E25'N 103E47'E
HP 1225, Phu-huoi-na ridge 48QUH660560 20E24'N 103E43'E
HP 1443 Possibly: 48QUH609580, 20E25'N 103E40'E
HP 1088 48QUH602608 20E27'N 103E39'E
HP 1052 48QUH606616 20E27'N 103E40'E
HP 1148 48QUH599648 20E29'N 103E39'E
HP 1007 48QUH634643 20E28'N 103E41'E
Long-cheng 19E06'N 102E56'E
Ma River, Chieng-khuong region 48QVH940130 20E55'N 103E59'E
Huoi-san stream 48QUH680579 20E25'N 103E44'E
Nam-het River 48QUH650655 20E29'N 103E42'E
HP 1687 48QUH667603 20E26'N 103E43'E
Area of 5 earthen hills 48QUH675606 20E27'N 103E43'E
Na-khang 48QUH413104 19E59'N 103E29'E
[Note: About 50 km south-southwest of Pha Thi mountain.]
Phou-huoi-kha-moan mtn, HP 1148 48QUH686686 20E31'N 103E44'E
HP 1425 (2 km east of Pha-thi) 4 8QUH681615 20E27'N 103E44'E
Ban Pha-non [village] 48QUH670625 20E28'N 103E43'E
Ban Pha-thi [village] 48QUH678597 20E26'N 103E44'E
HP 1319 48QUH656587 20E25'N 103E43'E
Pha-hang (13 km south of Pha-thi) unlocated
Tham-nam 48QUH650620 20E27'N 103E42'E.
[Note: Spelled "Tan-nam" on the sketch appended to the original VN text.]
Huoi-hoc airfield 48QUH640614 20E27'N 103E42'E
HP Huoi-met unlocated
Muong-cau 48QUH360770 20E35'N 103E25'E.
Huoi-muoi village Unlocated about 40 kilometers northwest of Pha-thi.
Tai-xeng village Unlocated.
Tong-kho Unlocated, several km southwest of Muong son.
Muong-son 20E27'N 103E19'E
[Source: e-mail Robert J. Destatte to Ron Haden, January 4, 2003]