Military Wiki
Battle of Khe Sanh
Part of the Vietnam War
The Fight for Khe Sanh.jpg
NVA artillery shells strike near the Khe Sanh airstrip
Date21 January – 9 July 1968[1][2][3]
Location16°39′19.6″N 106°43′42.9″E / 16.655444°N 106.728583°E / 16.655444; 106.728583 (Khe Sanh)Coordinates: 16°39′19.6″N 106°43′42.9″E / 16.655444°N 106.728583°E / 16.655444; 106.728583 (Khe Sanh)
Khe Sanh Combat Base (Khe Sanh), Quang Tri Province, Republic of VietnamUTM Grid XD 852-418[4]

Both sides claimed victory[5]

  • Khe Sanh was relieved by ground forces on 6 April.[6]
  • July 1968, Americans destroyed the base complex of Khe Sanh and withdrew from the battle area.[7]
  • North Vietnamese Army gained control of the Khe Sanh region after the American withdrawal.[7][8]
  • Termination of McNamara Line.[9] North Vietnamese lines of communication were extended further into South Vietnam.[10]
United States
 South Vietnam
 North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
United States William Westmoreland
United States David E. Lownds
United States Rathvon M. Tompkins
(3rd Div)
United States Robert McNamara
North Vietnam Vo Nguyen Giap (theater)
North Vietnam Tran Quy Hai
(local, military)
North Vietnam Le Quang Dao
(local, political)

~45,000 in total[11]
~6,000 Marines at the Combat Base of Khe Sanh[12] Operation Pegasus: ~20,000 (1st Air Cavalry and Marine units)

Operation Arc Light and operation Niagara: US Air Forces

Siege at Khe Sanh: ~17,200 (304th and 325th Division)

Defense at Route 9: ~16,900 (320th and 324th Division)[13]
Casualties and losses

At Khe Sanh:
United States 274 marines killed
2,541 wounded (not including ARVN Ranger, RF/PF, Forward Operation Base 3 – US Army and Royal Laotian Army losses)[14][15]
Operation Scotland I (1 November 1967 – 31 March 1968) Operation Pegasus ( 1–14 April 1968):
United States 703 killed in action
2,642 wounded,
7 missing[15]
Operation Scotland II (15 April 1968 – July 1968):
United States 485 killed, 2.396 wounded[16]
Casualties of U.S. Airforce personnel:
United States 5 ~ 20 killed, wounds unknown[16]
Operation Charlie for the final evacuation (19 June – 5 July 1968):
United States 11 marines killed, wounds unknown[17]

South Vietnam ARVN losses: 229 killed, 436 wounded (not including CIDG, RF/PF and SOG losses)
CIDG losses: 309 killed, 64 wounded, 250 captured[18]

Total (21 January – 9 July):

10,350+ casualties
(2,016+ killed, 8,079 wounded, 7 missing, 250+ captured)[14][19][20]

Unknown (1,602 bodies were counted, US offical public estimated 10,000–15,000 KIA,[21][22][23] but MACV's secret report estimated only 5.550 KIA[24])

Vietnamese figures: 2,469 KIA (from 20 January until 20 July 1968).[24]

The Battle of Khe Sanh was conducted in northwestern Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), between 21 January and 9 July 1968 during the Vietnam War. The belligerent parties were elements of the United States (U.S.) III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), 1st Cavalry Division, the U.S. Seventh Air Force, minor elements of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) against two to three division-size elements of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).[16]

The American command in Saigon initially believed that combat operations around the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the summer of 1967 were just part of a series of minor North Vietnamese offensives in the border regions. That appraisal was altered when it was discovered that NVA was moving major forces into the area during the fall and winter. A build-up of Marine forces took place and actions around Khe Sanh commenced when the Marine base was isolated. During a series of desperate actions that lasted 5 months and 18 days, Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) and the hilltop outposts around it were under constant North Vietnamese ground, artillery, mortar, and rocket attacks.[25]

During the battle, a massive aerial bombardment campaign (Operation Niagara) was launched by the U.S. Air Force to support the Marine base. Over 100,000 tons of bombs (equivalent in destructive force to five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs) were dropped until mid April by aircraft of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines onto the surrounding areas of Khe Sanh.[26] This was roughly 1,300 tons of bombs dropped daily–five tons for every one of the 20,000 NVA soldiers initially estimated to have been committed to the fighting at Khe Sanh.[27] In addition, 158,000 large-caliber shells were delivered on the hills surrounding the base.[28][29] This expenditure of aerial munitions dwarfs the amount of munitions delivered by artillery, which totals eight shells per NVA soldier believed to have been on the battlefield.[27]

This campaign used the latest technological advances in order to locate NVA forces for targeting. The logistical effort to support KSCB, once it was isolated overland, demanded the implementation of other tactical innovations in order to keep the Marines supplied.

In March 1968, an overland relief expedition (Operation Pegasus) was launched by a combined Marine–Army/South Vietnamese task force that eventually broke through to the Marines at Khe Sanh. Though presented as a victory for American and South Vietnamese forces, the NVA did force a complete retreat of U.S. servicemen and materiel from the combat base of Khe Sanh afterwards.[30] Historians have observed that the Battle of Khe Sanh may have successfully distracted American and GVN attention from the buildup of Viet Cong forces in the south prior to the early 1968 Tet Offensive.[31] Even at the height of the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland maintained that the true intentions of the offensive was to distract forces from Khe Sanh.[32][33]

On 19 June 1968, another operation began at Khe Sanh, Operation Charlie, the final evacuation and destruction of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The Marines withdrew all salvageable material and destroyed everything else. The NVA continued shelling the base, and on 1 July launched a company-sized infantry attack against its perimeter. On 9 July 1968, the flag of the National Liberation Front was set up at Ta Con (Khe Sanh) airfield. On 13 July 1968, Ho Chi Minh sent a message to the soldiers of the Route 9–Khe Sanh Front affirming their victory at Khe Sanh. It was the first time Americans abandoned a major combat base because of enemy pressure.[34] It followed a clear American defeat and disorderly retreat just two months before at the Battle of Kham Duc.[35]


The camp

The village of Khe Sanh was the seat of government of Huong Hoa district, an area of Bru Montagnard villages and coffee plantations, situated about seven miles from the Laotian frontier on Route 9, the northernmost transverse road in South Vietnam. The badly deteriorated Route 9 ran from the coastal region, through the western highlands, and then crossed the border into Laos. The origin of the combat base lay in the construction by U.S. Army Special Forces of an airfield in August 1962 outside the village at an old French fort.[36] The camp then became a Special Forces outpost of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG), whose purpose was to keep watch on NVA infiltration along the border and to protect the local population.[37]

As early as 1964 Westmoreland described Khe Sanh's possibilities: 'Khe Sanh could serve as a patrol base blocking enemy infiltration from Laos; a base for Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) operations to harass the enemy in Laos; an airstrip for reconnaissance to survey the Ho Chi Minh Trail; a western anchor for the defenses south of the DMZ; and an eventual jumping-off point for ground operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail'.[38] In November 1964 the Green Berets moved their camp to the Xom Cham Plateau, the future site of KSCB.

Map of northern Quang Tri Province.

During the winter of 1964, Khe Sanh became the location of a launch site for the highly-classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group or MACV-SOG (the site was first established near the village and was later moved to the French fort).[39] From there, reconnaissance teams were launched into Laos to explore and gather intelligence on the NVA logistical system known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (also known as "Truong Son Strategic Supply Route" to the North Vietnamese soldiers).

By 1966, Westmoreland had begun to consider Khe Sanh as part of a larger strategy. 'I still hoped some day to get approval for a major drive into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail,' he said, 'in which case I would need Khe Sanh as the base for the operation.' In a meeting with Lt. Gen. Lewis Walt, commander of III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF), Westmoreland said that he placed great strategic importance on Khe Sanh. He believed it was absolutely essential to hold the base, which explains why he then ordered Marines there. In September 1966, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) began detailed planning for an invasion into Laos, and an airfield was built at Khe Sanh in October.[38]

The plateau camp was permanently manned by the U.S. Marines during 1967, when they established an outpost next to the airstrip. This base was to serve as the western anchor of Marine Corps forces, which had tactical responsibility for the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam known as I Corps.[40] The Marines' defensive system stretched below the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) from the coast, along Route 9, to Khe Sanh. During 1966 the regular Special Forces troops had moved off the plateau and built a smaller camp down Route 9 at Lang Vei, about half the distance to the Laotian border.[41]

Border battles

During the second half of 1967, the North Vietnamese instigated a series of actions in the border regions of South Vietnam. All of these attacks were conducted by regimental-size NVA/National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, or Viet Cong) units, but unlike the usual hit-and-run tactics used by the People's Army forces, these were sustained and bloody affairs.

In early October, NVA intensified battalion-size ground probes and sustained artillery fire against Con Thien, a hilltop stronghold in the center of the Marine's defensive line south of the DMZ in northern Quang Tri Province.[42] Mortar rounds, artillery shells, and 122mm rockets fell randomly, but incessantly upon the base. The September bombardments ranged from 100 to 150 rounds per day, with a maximum on 25 September of 1,190 rounds.[43] The American commander in Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland responded by launching Operation Neutralize, an aerial and naval bombardment campaign designed to break the siege. For seven weeks, American aircraft delivered from 35,000 to 40,000 tons of bombs in nearly 4,000 airstrikes.[44]

Combat on Hill 875, the most intense of the battles around Dak To.

On 27 October, a NVA regiment attacked an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) battalion at Song Be, capital of Phuoc Long Province.[44] The North Vietnamese fought for several days, took casualties, and fell back. Two days later, the 273rd NLF Regiment attacked a Special Forces camp near the border town of Loc Ninh, in Binh Long Province.[44] Troops of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division were able to respond quickly. After a ten-day battle, the attackers were pushed back into Cambodia. At least 852 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed during the action, as opposed to 50 American and South Vietnamese dead.[44]

The heaviest action took place near Dak To, in the central highlands province of Kontum.[45] There, the presence of the 1st NVA Division prompted a 22-day battle that saw some of the most intense close-quarters fighting of the entire conflict.[46] American intelligence estimated that somewhere between 1,200 and 1,600 North Vietnamese troops were killed while 362 members of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and ARVN Airborne elements were killed in action. Nonetheless, three of the four battalions of the 4th Infantry and the entire 173rd were rendered combat ineffective during the battle.[47]

American intelligence analysts were quite baffled by this series of enemy actions. For them there appeared to be no logic behind the sustained NVA/NLF offensives, other than to inflict casualties on the allied forces. This they accomplished, but the casualties absorbed by the North Vietnamese seemed to negate any direct gains they might have obtained. The border battles did, however, have two significant consequences that were unappreciated at the time—they fixed the attention of the American command on the border regions and they drew American and ARVN forces away from the coastal lowlands and cities, in preparation for the Tet Offensive.[48]

Hill fights

The Khe Sanh Valley

Things remained quiet in the Khe Sanh area through 1966. Even so, General Westmoreland insisted that it not only be occupied by the Marines, but that it be reinforced.[49] He was vociferously opposed by General Lewis W. Walt, the Marine commander of I Corps. Walt argued heatedly that the real target of the American effort should be the pacification and protection of the population, not chasing NVA and the NLF in the hinterlands.[50] Westmoreland won out, however, and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (1/3) was dispatched to occupy the camp and airstrip on 29 September. By late January 1967, 1/3 was relieved by Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9). A single company was replacing an entire battalion. Prados argues that one of the mysteries surrounding the Battle of Khe Sanh was why, after running roughshod over the Marines concerning the defense of the base at Khe Sanh, Westmoreland allowed the drawdown, but Weider explains that Khe Sanh objectives of interdicting NVA infiltration through Laos were negated as the base was completely surrounded.[31][51] Furthermore, NVA's General Giap claimed that Khe Sanh itself was not of importance, but only a diversion to draw U.S. forces away from the populated areas of South Vietnam.[52]

The Hill Fights

On 24 April 1967, a patrol from Bravo Company became engaged with a NVA force of unknown size north of Hill 861. This action prematurely triggered a North Vietnamese offensive aimed at taking Khe Sanh. The NVA forces were in the process of gaining elevated terrain before the launching of the main attack.[53] The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 3rd Marine Regiment, under the command of Colonel John P. Lanigan, reinforced KSCB (Khe Sanh Combat Base) and were given the task of pushing the North Vietnamese off of Hills 861, 881 North, and 881 South. North Vietnamese forces were driven out of the area around Khe Sanh after suffering 940 casualties. The Marines suffered 155 killed in action and 425 wounded.[54] In order to prevent NVA observation of the main base at the airfield (and their possible use as firebases), the hills of the surrounding Khe Sanh Valley had to be continuously occupied and defended by separate Marine elements, thereby spreading out the defense.

In the wake of the hill fights there was a lull in NVA activity around Khe Sanh. By the end of May, Marine forces were again drawn down from two battalions to one, the 1st Battalion 26th Marines. Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. relieved General Walt as commander of III MAF in June.

On 14 August, Colonel David E. Lownds took over as commander of the 26th Marine Regiment. There were sporadic actions in the vicinity during the late summer and early fall, the most serious of which was the ambush of a supply convoy on Route 9. This proved to be the last overland attempt at resupply for Khe Sanh until the following March.[55] During December and early January there were numerous sightings of NVA troops and activities in the Khe Sanh area, but the sector remained relatively quiet.[56]


A decision then had to be made by the American high command: either commit more of the limited manpower in I Corps to the defense of Khe Sanh or abandon the base.[57] General Westmoreland regarded this choice as quite simple. In his memoirs he listed the reasons for a continued effort:

"Khe Sanh could serve as a patrol base for blocking enemy infiltration from Laos along Route 9; as a base for SOG operations to harass the enemy in Laos; as an airstrip for reconnaissance planes surveying the Ho Chi Minh Trail; as the western anchor for defenses south of the DMZ; and as an eventual jump-off point for ground operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail."[58]

Leading Marine officers, however, were not all of the same opinion. General Cushman, the new III MAF commander, supported Westmoreland (perhaps wanting to mend Army/Marine relations after the departure of Walt).[59] Arguments offered by other Marine officers against remaining included: that the real danger to I Corps was from a direct threat to Quang Tri City and other urban areas; that a defense would be pointless as a threat to infiltration, since NVA troops could easily bypass Khe Sanh; that the base was too isolated and that the Marines "had neither the helicopter resources, the troops, nor the logistical bases for such operations … The weather was another critical factor because the poor visibility and low overcasts attendant to the monsoon season made such operations hazardous to say the least."[60] Brigadier General Lowell English (assistant commander 3rd Marine Division) complained that the defense of the isolated outpost was ludicrous. "When you're at Khe Sanh, you're not really anywhere. You could lose it and you really haven't lost a damn thing."[61]

As far as Westmoreland was concerned, however, all he needed to know was that NVA had massed large numbers of troops for a set-piece battle. Making the prospect even more enticing was that the Combat Base was in an unpopulated area where American firepower could be fully brought to bear without having to worry about civilian casualties. The opportunity to engage and destroy a formerly elusive enemy that was moving toward a fixed position promised a victory of unprecedented proportions.[61] NVA was acutely conscious of his position, as he voiced that opinion publicly over the press.

Attacks on the perimeter

First Skirmishes

Marine intelligence confirmed that, within a period of just over a week, the 325th NVA Division had moved into the vicinity of the base and two more divisions were within supporting distance. The 324th Division was located in the DMZ area 10–15 miles north of Khe Sanh while the 320th Division was within easy reinforcing distance to the northeast.[62] They were supported logistically from the nearby Ho Chi Minh Trail. As a result of this intelligence, KSCB was reinforced on 13 December by the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.[63]

At positions west of Hill 881 South and north of Co Roc Ridge, across the border in Laos, the North Vietnamese established artillery, rocket, and mortar positions from which to launch attacks by fire on the base and to support its ground operations.[64] They were assisted in their emplacement efforts by the continuing bad weather of the winter monsoon.

Dispositions of opposing forces, January 1968

During the rainy night of 2 January 1968, six men dressed in black uniforms were seen outside the defensive wire of the main base by members of a listening post. After failing to respond to a challenge, they were fired upon and five were killed outright while the sixth, although wounded, escaped.[65] This event prompted General Cushman to reinforce Colonel Lownds with the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines. This marked the first time that all three battalions of the 26th Marine Regiment had operated together in combat since the invasion of Iwo Jima during the Second World War.[66] In order to cover a defilade near the Rao Quan River, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel and H&S Companies of 2/26 was immediately sent out to occupy Hill 558, with Echo Company 2/26 manning hill 861A.

On 20 January, La Thanh Ton, a NVA lieutenant of the 14th Anti-Aircraft Company, 325th Division, defected at the base and laid out the plans for an entire series of North Vietnamese attacks.[67] Hills 881 South, 861, and the main base itself would be simultaneously attacked that same evening. At 00:30 on 21 January, Hill 861 was attacked by approximately 300 North Vietnamese troops. The Marines, however, were prepared. The North Vietnamese infantry, though bracketed by artillery fire, still managed to penetrate the perimeter of the defenses and were only driven back after severe close-quarters combat.[68]

The main base was then subjected to an intense mortar and rocket barrage. Hundreds of mortar rounds and 122mm rockets slammed into the base, leveling most of the above-ground structures. One of the first enemy shells set off an explosion in the main ammunition dump. Many of the artillery and mortar rounds stored in the dump were thrown into the air and detonated on impact within the base. Soon after another shell hit a cache of CS tear gas, which saturated the entire area.[69] Hours after the bombardment ceased, the base was still in danger. At around 10:00, the fire ignited a large quantity of C-4 and other explosives, rocking the base with another series of detonations. NVA forces, however, did not use the opportunity to launch a ground attack.


Images of the battle of Khe Sanh

Simultaneous with the artillery bombardment at KSCB was an attack launched against the village of Khe Sanh, seat of Huong Hoa District. That large village, three kilometers south of the base, was defended by 160 local troops, plus 15 American advisers and heavy artillery provided from the base. On the dawn of 21 Jan, it was attacked by a ~300-man NVA battalion. Reinforcements were dispatched aboard nine UH-1 helicopters, but were wiped out after landing near the NVA, along with one helicopter. A small ground rescue force from the nearby combat base was repulsed, while the survivors from the village assault evacuated themselves to the combat base. The NVA fought throughout the day, into the next night, and finally completed the capture of Khe Sanh Village at 9:30 a.m. on 22 January.[70]

To eliminate any threat to their flank, the NVA made the decision to attack Laotian Battalion BV-33, located at Ban Houei Sane, on Route 9 in Laos. The battalion was assaulted on the night of 23 January by three NVA battalions supported by seven tanks. The Laotians were overrun, and many fled to the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei. The battle of Ban Houei Sane, not the attack three weeks later at Lang Vei, marked the first time that the North Vietnamese had committed an armored unit to battle.[70]

Due to the arrival of the 304th Division, KSCB was further reinforced by the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment on 22 January. Five days later, the final reinforcements arrived in the form of the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion, which was deployed more for political than tactical reasons.[71] NVA artillery made its debut on the battlefield on 24 January, when a bombardment by 100mm and 152mm guns began with Hill 881 South, moved on to Hill 861, and then worked over the main base. The Marines and ARVN dug in and hoped that the approaching Tet truce (scheduled from 29–31 January) would provide some respite. On the afternoon of 29 January, however, the 3rd Marine Division notified Khe Sanh that the truce had been canceled. The Tet Offensive was about to begin.

Westmoreland's secret plan to use nuclear weapons on Khe Sanh

Nine days before the Tet Offensive broke out, the NVA opened the battle of Khe Sanh, attacked the U.S. forces in the center of the country (beneath the DMZ – Demilitarized Zone), where the U.S. kept Vietnam divided. In response, General William Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, reached for the nuclear button.

"In late January, General Westmoreland had warned that if the situation near the DMZ and at Khe Sanh worsened drastically, nuclear or chemical weapons might have to be used," said a separate 106-page declassified, "top secret" report titled, "The Air Force in Southeast Asia: Toward a Bombing Halt, 1968," written by the Office of Air Force History in 1970.

"This prompted Air Force chief of staff, General John McConnell, to press, although unsuccessfully, for JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) authority to request Pacific Command to prepare a plan for using low-yield nuclear weapons to prevent a catastrophic loss of the U.S. Marine base," it said.[72]

A secret memorandum reported by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, sent to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on 19 February 1968, was declassified in 2005. It reveals the nuclear matter being excluded because of terrain peculiarity inside South Vietnam that reduces the effect of tactical nuclear weapons.

"Because of terrain and other conditions peculiar to our operations in South Vietnam, it is inconceivable that the use of nuclear weapons would be recommended there against either Viet Cong or North Vietnamese forces.

Robert McNamara, signed"[73]

Operation Niagara

During January, the recently installed electronic sensors of Operation Muscle Shoals (later renamed Igloo White), which were undergoing test and evaluation in southeastern Laos, were alerted by a flurry of NVA activity along the Ho Chi Minh Trail opposite the northwestern corner of South Vietnam. It was due to the nature of these activities, and the threat that they posed to KSCB, that General Westmoreland ordered Operation Niagara I, an intense intelligence collection effort on NVA activities in the vicinity of the Khe Sanh Valley.[74]

Niagara I was completed during the third week of January, and the next phase of the operation, Niagara II was launched on the 21st, the day of the first NVA artillery barrage. The Marine Direct Air Support Center (DASC), located at the Combat Base, was responsible for the coordination of air strikes with artillery fire. An airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC), in the form of a C-130 aircraft, directed incoming strike aircraft to forward air control (FAC) spotter planes, which, in turn directed them to targets either located by themselves or radioed in by ground units. When weather conditions precluded FAC-directed strikes, the bombers were directed to their targets by either a Marine AN/TPQ-10 radar installation at KSCB or by Air Force Combat Skyspot MSQ-77 stations. This LORAN-based system could direct aircraft to their targets in inclement weather or in absolute darkness.

National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow showing President Lyndon B. Johnson a model of the Khe Sanh area, 15 February 1968

Thus began what many considered "the most concentrated application of aerial firepower in the history of warfare".[75] On an average day 350 tactical fighter-bombers, 60 B-52s, and 30 light observation or reconnaissance aircraft operated in the skies near the base.[76] Westmoreland had already ordered the nascent Igloo White to assist in the Marine defense.[74] On 22 January, the first sensor drops took place and, by the end of the month, 316 acoustic and seismic sensors had been dropped in 44 strings.[77] The sensors were implanted by a special Naval squadron, Observation Squadron Sixty-Seven, VO-67. The Marines at KSCB credited 40 percent of intelligence available to their fire support coordination center to the sensors.[78]

U.S. Navy OP-2E Neptune of VO-67, a variant of a naval patrol bomber and anti-submarine warfare aircraft specifically developed for the Muscle Shoals mission.

By the end of the battle of Khe Sanh, U.S. Air Force assets had flown 9,691 tactical sorties and dropped 14,223 tons of bombs on targets within the Khe Sanh area. Marine Corps aviators had flown 7,098 missions and released 17,015 tons. Naval aircrews, many of whom were redirected from Operation Rolling Thunder strikes against North Vietnam, flew 5,337 sorties and dropped 7,941 tons of ordnance in the area.[79] Westmoreland later wrote that "Washington so feared that some word of it might reach the press that I was told to desist, ironically answering what those consequences could be: a political disaster.[80]

While battles were raging around the Combat Base, other engagements were taking place in the headquarters at Hue/Phu Bai, Saigon, and the Pentagon. An intense interservice struggle over who should control aviation assets supporting not just Khe Sanh, but the entire American effort in Southeast Asia was being waged.[81] Westmoreland had given his deputy commander for air operations, Air Force General William W. Momyer, the responsibility for coordinating all air assets during the operation to support KSCB. This caused problems for the Marine command, which possessed its own aviation squadrons that operated under their own close air support doctrine. The Marines were extremely reluctant to relinquish authority over their aircraft to an Air Force General.[82]

The command and control arrangement then in place in Southeast Asia went against the grain of Air Force doctrine, which was predicated on the single air manager concept. One headquarters would allocate and coordinate all air assets, distributing them wherever they were considered most necessary, and then transferring them as the situation required. The Marines, whose aircraft and doctrine were integral to their operations, were under no such centralized control. On 19 January Westmoreland passed his request for Air Force control up the chain of command to CINCPAC in Honolulu and there it stayed.

Meanwhile, heated debate arose among Westmoreland, Commandant of the Marine Corps Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. and Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson. Johnson backed the Marine position due to his concern over protecting the Army's air assets from Air Force co-option.[83] Westmoreland was so obsessed with the tactical situation that he threatened to resign if his wishes were not obeyed.[84] As a result, on 7 March, for the first time during the Vietnam War, air operations were placed under the control of a single manager. General Westmoreland had won this battle.[76] He insisted for several months that the entire Tet Offensive was a diversion including, famously, attacks on downtown Saigon and obsessively affirming that the true objective of the North Vietnamese was Khe Sanh.

Fall of Lang Vei

The Tet Offensive was launched prematurely in some areas on 30 January. On the following night, a massive wave of NVA/NLF attacks swept throughout South Vietnam, everywhere that is, except Khe Sanh. The launching of the largest enemy offensive thus far in the conflict did not shift Westmoreland's focus away from Khe Sanh. A press release prepared on the following day (but never issued), at the height of Tet, showed that he was not about to be distracted. "The enemy is attempting to confuse the issue …I suspect he is also trying to draw everyone's attention away from the greatest area of threat, the northern part of I Corps. Let me caution everyone not to be confused."[85]

In film

  • In the Coen brothers film The Big Lebowski, Walter Sobchak references the Battle of Khe Sanh, along with Langdok and Hill 364, during his eulogy of Donny.
  • In Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, when John Terry (Lt. Lockhart) briefs his men on attacks by the NVA and VC during the Tet Offensive, he mentions "Khe Sanh is standing by to be overrun".
  • In the Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do! reference is made in the closing credits to the bass player's participation in the engagement.
  • In PBS's Battlefield: Vietnam, the Battle of Khe Sanh got its own chapter.[86]

In videogames

  • In Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam, there appears a map called Cao Son Temple, which is vaguely similar to the battle of Khe Sanh.
  • The fifth mission in Call of Duty: Black Ops, entitled "S.O.G", depicts the battle from the American perspective.
  • In Arma2, the Wasp Class Aircraft Carrier LHD-9 is called the USS Khe Sanh.

In literature

  • Gustav Hasford makes reference to the Battle of Khe Sanh in his war novels The Short-Timers (which is the basis for the film, Full Metal Jacket) and The Phantom Blooper.[87]
  • Michael Herr's "Dispatches" includes an essay titled "Khe Sanh", about the months leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and the experiences of the marines stationed at the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
  • Kenton Michael uses Khe Sanh and Hill 881 South as a back drop for his historical fiction titled "1968".

In music

  • The song "Khe Sanh", by Australian pub rock band Cold Chisel, was written by pianist Don Walker about Vietnam veterans of his personal experience.[88] (The only Australian personnel to be directly involved in the siege were the crews of Canberra bombers operated by 2 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, who flew close air support missions in the area).[89]
  • A line in the Bruce Springsteen song "Born in the U.S.A." says, "I had a brother at Khe Sanh fightin' off the Viet Cong. They're still there; he's all gone." However, according to the information above the Viet Cong were not involved in the Battle of Khe Sanh.


  1. Battle of Khe Sanh: Recounting the Battle's Casualties, by Peter Brush
  2. 40th Anniversary of The Battle Of Khe Sanh, Khe Sanh Casualties in May 1968
  3. 40th Anniversary of The Battle Of Khe Sanh, Khe Sanh Casualties in June 1968
  4. Kelley, Michael P (2002). Where We Were in Vietnam. Hellgate Press. p. 5. ISBN 1-55571-625-3. 
  5. Peter Brush, THE BATTLE OF KHE SANH, 1968
  6. 100 Battles, Decisive Battles that Shaped the World, Dougherty, Martin, J., Parragon, p.236
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Withdrawal from Khe Sanh
  9. The McNamara Line
  10. Khe Sanh 1967–68: Marines battle for Vietnam's vital hilltop base, By Gordon Rottman – page 90
  11. LIFE Magazine – Feb 9th, 1968 – page 26
  12. The Withdrawal from Khe Sanh "HistoryNet – From the World's Largest History Magazine Publisher
  13. Gordan L Rottman, Osprey Campaign 150: The Khe Sanh 1967–68, p. 51
  14. 14.0 14.1 Gordan L Rottman, Osprey Campaign 150: The Khe Sanh 1967–68, p. 91-92
  15. 15.0 15.1 Khe Sanh 1967–68: Marines battle for Vietnam's vital hilltop base, By Gordon Rottman – page 91, page 92
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Recounting the Casualties at Khe Sanh ©2006 Peter Brush
  17. 1968: The Definitive Year
  18. John A. Cash, John Albright & Allan W. Sandstrum (1985). Seven Firefights in Vietnam. Washington D.C: The Center of Military History, p.137
  19. The low figure often cited for U.S. casualties (205 killed in action, 443 wounded, 2 missing) does not take into account U.S. Army or Air Force casualties or those incurred during Operation Pegasus. Prados and Stubbe, p. 454.
  20. Not including ARVN Ranger, RF/PF, Forward Operation Base 3 – US Army, Royal Laotian Army and SOG commandos losses
  21. Schulimson, p. 283.
  22. Shore, p. 131.
  23. Smedberg, Marco (2008). Vietnamkrigen: 1880–1980. Historiska Media. ISBN 91-85507-88-1. 
  24. 24.0 24.1
  25. 40th Anniversary of The Battle Of Khe Sanh – Casualties in July 1968 when the base was officially closed
  27. 27.0 27.1 Operation Niagara: Siege of Khe Sanh – Peter Brush, Vietnam Magazine
  28. New York Times – Battlefields of Khe Sanh: Still One Casualty a Day
  29. Robert C Ankony, Lurps: A Ranger's Diary of Tet, Khe Sanh, A Shau, and Quang Tri, revised ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Landham, MD (2009), pp.145–55.
  30. The Withdrawal from Khe Sanh, Vietnam Magazine
  31. 31.0 31.1
  34. Battle of Khe Sanh: Recounting the Battle's Casualties, by Peter Brush
  35. Lost Battles of the Vietnam War, ©2011 Carlton Meyer
  36. Schulimson, p. 59.
  37. For a succinct overview of the creation of the CIDG program and its operations, see Stanton, pp. 35–48.
  38. 38.0 38.1
  39. U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Command History 1965, Annex N. Saigon, 1966, p. 18.
  40. Prados and Stubbe, pp. 140–146. See also Dougan, Weiss, et al., p. 42.
  41. Schulimson, p. 60.
  42. Telfer, Rogers, and Fleming, pp. 129–131.
  43. Maitland and McInerney, p. 164.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3 Maitland and McInerney, p. 165.
  45. The most detailed account is in Edward F. Murphy, Dak To New York: Pocket Books, 1995.
  46. Stanton, pp. 160–169.
  47. Maitland and McInerney, p. 183.
  48. Palmer, pp. 213–215.
  49. Dougan and Weiss, p. 432.
  50. Murphy, pp. 3–7, 13–14.
  51. Prados and Stubbe, p. 71.
  53. Murphy, p. 79.
  54. Shore, p. 17. For detailed accounts of the Hill Fights, see Telfer, Rogers and Fleming, Chapter 4, and Murphy, The Hill Fights.
  55. Prados and Stubbe, p. 155.
  56. Murphy, p. 233.
  57. Only nine U.S. battalions were available from Hue/Phu Bai northward. Prados and Stubbe, p. 159.
  58. Westmoreland, p. 236. General Westmoreland had been forwarding operational plans for an invasion of Laos since 1966. First there had been Operation Full Cry, the original three-division invasion plan. This was superseded by the smaller contingency plans Southpaw and High Port (1967). With Operation EL Paso the general returned to a three-divisional plan in 1968. There was another plan (York) which envisioned the use of even larger forces. U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Command History, 1966, Annex M. Saigon, 1967, p. 60. See also Jacob Van Staaveren, Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1961–1968. Washington DC: Center of Air Force History, 1993, pp. 230, 290.
  59. Schulimson, p. 67.
  60. Shore, p. 47.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Dougan and Weiss p. 42.
  62. Dougan and Weiss, p. 43.
  63. According to the official NVA history, by December 1967 the North Vietnamese had in place, or within supporting distance: the 304th, 320th, 324th, and 325th Infantry Divisions, the independent 270th infantry Regiment; five artillery regiments (the 16th, 45th, 84th, 204th, and 675th); three AAA regiments (the 208th, 214th, and 228th); four tank companies; one engineer regiment plus one independent engineer battalion; one signal battalion; and a number of local force units. Military Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002, p. 216.
  64. NVA 152mm artillery pieces had a range of around ten and one-half miles. The 130mm gun, introduced later in the battle, had a range of nineteen miles. The heaviest Marine ordnance at Khe Sanh, the 155mm, had a range of only nine miles. This discrepancy in ranges was used by the North Vietnamese in order to avoid counter-battery fire.
  65. A whole myth has grown up around this incident. The dead men have been described as wearing Marine uniforms; that they were a regimental commander and his staff on a reconnaissance; that they were all identified, by name, by American intelligence. See Prados and Stubbe, p. 215.
  66. Shore, pp. 30–31.
  67. Schulimson, p. 72.
  68. Schulimson, pp. 258–259.
  69. Dougan and Weiss, p. 44.
  70. 70.0 70.1 Khe Sanh: The Other Side Of The Hill – BY JOHN PRADOS
  71. Schulimson, p. 269.
  72. The US's secret plan to nuke Vietnam, Laos – By Richard Ehrlichr 2008
  73. Khe Sanh Declassified Documents, © 1998 – 2005 Raymond P. Anderson Jr. , Ballinger, Texas 76821
  74. 74.0 74.1 Van Staaveren, p. 290.
  75. Morocco, p. 52.
  76. 76.0 76.1 Morocco, p. 178.
  77. Prados and Stubbe, p. 301.
  78. Nalty, p. 95.
  79. Prados and Stubbe, p. 297.
  80. Westmoreland, p. 252.
  81. Schulimson, pp. 487–515.
  82. Prados and Stubbe, pp. 295–297.
  83. Prados and Stubbe, p. 223.
  84. Prados and Stubbe, p. 295.
  85. Prados and Stubbe, p. 286. See also Pisor, p. 152.
  87. The short-timers; Gustav Hasford, Harper & Row, 1979
  88. Kruger, Debbie (2005). Songwriters Speak. Balmain, New South Wales: Limelight Press. pp. 267–287. ISBN 978-0-9757080-3-3. 


Unpublished Government Documents

  • U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Command History 1965, Annex N. Saigon, 1966.
  • U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Command History 1966, Annex M. Saigon, 1967.

Published Government Documents

  • Military History Institute of Vietnam (2002). Victory in Vietnam: A History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975. trans. Pribbenow, Merle. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press. ISBN 0-7006-1175-4. 
  • Nalty, Bernard C. Air Power and the Fight for Khe Sanh. Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1986. Library of Congress Classification DS557.8.K5 N34 1986
  • Schulimson, Jack; Blaisol, Leonard; Smith, Charles R.; Dawson, David (1997). The U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968, the Decisive Year. Washington DC: History and Museums Division, United States Marine Corps. ISBN 0-16-049125-8. 
  • Shore, Moyars S., III (1969). The Battle of Khe Sanh. Washington DC: U.S. Marine Corps Historical Branch. 
  • Telfer, Maj. Gary L., LtCol. Lane Rogers, and V. Keith Fleming. U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1967, Fighting the North Vietnamese. Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, United States Marine Corps, 1984. Library of Congress Classification DS558.4 .U55 1977
  • Van Staaveren, Jacob. Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1961–1968. Washington, D.C.: Center of Air Force History, 1993. Library of Congress Classification DS558.8 .V36 1993


Secondary Sources

  • Ankony, Robert C., Lurps: A Ranger's Diary of Tet, Khe Sanh, A Shau, and Quang Tri, revised ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Landham, MD (2009).
  • Clarke, Bruce B. G. (2007). Expendable Warriors – The Battle of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War. Westport, Connecticut & London: Praeger International Security. ISBN 978-0-275-99480-8. 
  • Dougan, Clark; Weiss, Stephen, et al. (1983). Nineteen Sixty-Eight. Boston: Boston Publishing Company. ISBN 0-939526-06-9. 
  • Maitland, Terrence; McInerney, John (1983). A Contagion of War. Boston: Boston Publishing Company. ISBN 0-939526-05-0. 
  • Morocco, John (1984). Thunder from Above: Air War, 1941–1968. Boston: Boston Publishing Company. ISBN 0-939526-09-3. 
  • Murphy, Edward F. The Hill Fights:The First Battle of Khe Sanh. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
  • Palmer, Dave Richard (1978). Summons of the Trumpet: The History of the Vietnam War from a Military Man's Viewpoint. New York: Ballantine. 
  • Plaster, John L. (1997). SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam. New York: New American Library. ISBN 0-451-23118-X. 
  • Prados, John; Stubbe, Ray (1991). Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-395-55003-3. 
  • Rottman, Gordon L. "Khe Sanh 1967–68". Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2005.
  • Stanton, Shelby L. Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia, 1956–1975. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1985.
  • Stanton, Shelby L. (1985). The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1965–1973. New York: Dell. ISBN 0-89141-232-8. 
  • Warren, James. The Mystery of Khe Sanh in Robert Cowley, ed. The Cold War: A Military History. New York: Random House, 2005

External links

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