On January 21, 1968, the history of the Siege of Khe Sanh began. It is also known as the Battle of Khe Sanh. This historical battle is considered one of the Vietnam War's most controversial battles. The history of the battle begins at Khe Sanh combat base, located approximately 14 miles South of the DMZ and roughly six miles away from the Laotian border. [i]
The U.S. Marines seized and activated the Khe Sanh combat base in 1967. It was previously an old French outpost used as a staging area for forward patrols. Involvement at Khe Sanh involved four operations: Operations Scotland, Niagra, & Pegasus, and the Siege of Khe Sanh. See below a Khe Sanh map depiction. [ii]
In early 1968, the combat base Khe Sanh fell under vicious attack by three North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiments. The Vietnamese numbered nearly 20,000, while the American defenders at Khe Sanh numbered only 6,000. The siege lasted for 77 days as the Marines unfortunately "found themselves cut off and desperately outnumbered." [iii]
One engagement at the start of the conflict began on Hill 861, an outpost surrounding Khe Sanh. Just after midnight on January 20, the NVA struck Hill 861 with rocket, mortar, and machine gun attacks. Following these initial aggressions, an infantry of about 300 men attacked. [iv]
The Marines of Kilo Company fought bravely against overwhelming numbers as "enemy soldiers infiltrated inside the defensive perimeter and close-range firing ensued." A panicked First Lieutenant Jerry Saulsberry made a frantic fall for help, saying,
We're being overrun! command group is all down! [v]
Major Matthew Caulfield, battalion Operations Officer, responded, saying,
A marine unit doesn't get overrun. Now calm down and tell me what is really happening? [vi]
After receiving support and guidance from Major Caulfield, First Lieutenant Saulsberry and the remaining members of Kilo Company "held their ground, and the tide of the battle turned as American artillery, and air support joined the fight, repelling the invaders." This set the theme through the Siege of Khe Sanh as the enemy attempted time after time to overwhelm a position, only to be pushed back. [vii]
During the siege, Marines also created a method known as "super gaggle," which provided supplies and support to locations cut off from traditional supply routes. The method coordinated air and artillery strikes that were "nearly simultaneous to resupply missions." An estimated 14,223 tons of bombs were dropped on the enemy by a USAF campaign. Officials stated,
The Marines who were in the middle of such overwhelming odds at Khe Sanh were able to survive and prevail because they were so well interated with other resources and support. [viii]
Read the pdf version of the book The Battle for Khe Sanh - Captain Moyers S. Shore II, USMC, here.
Watch the video below for more details on the Siege/Battle of Khe Sanh combat base- in 1968.
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[i] U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters, The Siege of Khe Sanh (2023)
[ii] Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Khe Sanh (2023)
[iii] Captain Moyers S. Shore II, USMC, The Battle For Khe Sanh (1969)
[iv] Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Khe Sanh (2023)
[v] U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters, The Siege of Khe Sanh (2023)
[vii] Captain Moyers S. Shore II, USMC, The Battle For Khe Sanh (1969)
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