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A Raid Too Far

Operation Lam Son 719 and Vietnamization in Laos

James H. Willbanks

Publication Year: 2014

In February 1971, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) launched an incursion into Laos in an attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail and destroy North Vietnamese Army (NVA) base areas along the border. This movement would be the first real test of Vietnamization, Pres. Richard Nixon’s program to turn the fighting over to South Vietnamese forces as US combat troops were withdrawn. US ground forces would support the operation from within South Vietnam and would pave the way to the border for ARVN troops, and US air support would cover the South Vietnamese forces once they entered Laos, but the South Vietnamese forces would attack on the ground alone.
The operation, dubbed Lam Son 719, went very well for the first few days, but as movement became bogged down the NVA rushed reinforcements to the battle and the ARVN forces found themselves under heavy attack. US airpower wreaked havoc on the North Vietnamese troops, but the South Vietnamese never regained momentum and ultimately began to withdraw back into their own country under heavy enemy pressure.
In this first in-depth study of this operation, military historian and Vietnam veteran James H. Willbanks traces the details of battle, analyzes what went wrong, and suggests insights into the difficulties currently being incurred with the training of indigenous forces.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I would like to thank Rich Boylan and Tim Nenninger at the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, and archivists Meghan Lee and Jason Schultz at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, California...

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pp. 1-3

On a Saturday in March 1971, Maj. Jack Barker flew his US Army UH- 1H Huey helicopter into Laos as part of a rescue mission to pick up South Vietnamese soldiers in heavy contact with North Vietnamese regulars. When the flight of helicopters from Bravo...

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Chapter 1: Prelude: Vietnamization

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pp. 4-23

To understand how and why South Vietnamese troops found themselves crossing the border into Laos in February 1971, one must go back to 1968. By the fall of that year, US involvement in Southeast Asia had reached a pivotal point. The communist forces had suffered horrendous losses on the battlefield during...

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Chapter 2: Deciding to Launch the Operation

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pp. 24-35

Nixon believed that the Cambodian incursion of 1970 had “gravely undermined Hanoi’s capacity to conduct offensive operations,” thus buying much- needed time for the allies.1 The North Vietnamese had long depended on the overland route from the...

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Chapter 3: The Plan

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pp. 36-51

As the initial concept for the operation was being developed and briefed, Lieutenant General Sutherland was at first told, because of operational security concerns, not to discuss the plan with his South Vietnamese counterpart, Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam, commander...

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Chapter 4: The Mission Receives a Green Light

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pp. 52-59

On 21 January, Lieutenant General Sutherland briefed the detailed XXIV Corps/ I Corps plan to General Abrams and the Joint General Staff. Abrams subsequently approved the plan. In a follow- on meeting later that day, General Lam briefed the plan to...

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Chapter 5: The Other Side

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pp. 60-69

The success of Lam Son 719 depended greatly on secrecy, and whether the North Vietnamese had advanced warning of the impending operation has long been a controversial subject. There have been assertions that the North Vietnamese learned of the...

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Chapter 6: The Battle Is Joined

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pp. 70-86

As the North Vietnamese situation in Laos developed, the allied plan was initiated as scheduled. XXIV Corps (US) established a forward command post at Quang Tri on 29 January, and I Corps (ARVN) concurrently established a forward CP at Dong Ha. Additionally...

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Chapter 7: The Attack Grinds to a Halt

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pp. 87-116

On 11 February, for reasons that were inexplicable at the time, the main attack along Route 9 came to a halt. The South Vietnamese forces stopped their advance about five kilometers beyond FSB A Luoi as they continued to search for enemy weapons...

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Chapter 8: On to Tchepone

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pp. 117-131

The situation in Laos by the end of February was that the South Vietnamese northern flank was collapsing, the southern flank was under intense enemy pressure, and the column along Route 9 was effectively stalled and also under heavy attack. General...

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Chapter 9: The Withdrawal

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pp. 132-157

The I Corps plan for the withdrawal from Laos called for a “phased delay operation,” in which ARVN forces would fall back toward South Vietnam, destroying base areas and supplies in their path as they went. The operation would begin with 2nd Regiment from...

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Chapter 10: Assessing Lam Son 719

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pp. 158-177

By the end of March, the North Vietnamese declared victory in their Route 9– Southern Laos counterattack. They claimed twenty thousand ARVN killed and more than one thousand captured, eliminating three regiments and brigades, thirteen infantry and...

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Chapter 11: Aftermath

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pp. 178-201

Despite the internal negative assessments and lingering concerns about Operation Lam Son 719, the Nixon administration continued to attempt to put the best face on it publicly. Even Henry Kissinger joined in the effort. In a report to Carl Albert, speaker...

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Epilogue: Endgame

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pp. 202-206

The war was over for the United States, but, as it turned out, decidedly not so for the Vietnamese. Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, the Paris Peace Accords did not address over one hundred thousand North Vietnamese troops inside the borders of...

Appendix 1: Task Organization, ARVN and US

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pp. 207-211

Appendix 2: Order of Battle, People’s Army of Vietnam

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pp. 212-213

Appendix 3: Casualties, Operation Lam Son 719

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pp. 214

Appendix 4: US Army Aviation Summary, Operation Lam Son 719

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pp. 215

Appendix 5: US Air Force Summary, Operation Lam Son 719

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pp. 216

Appendix 6: US/ ARVN Artillery Summary, Operation Lam Son 719

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pp. 217-218


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pp. 219-244


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pp. 245-248


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pp. 249-260


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pp. 261-270

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781623491178
E-ISBN-10: 1623491177
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623490171

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014