Join us for a journey through the history of Vietnam conflicts.


khe sanh
Aerial view of Khe Sanh combat base in 1968

The Khe Sanh Combat Base was situated in the northwest corner of South Vietnam. Isolated by miles of triple-canopy jungle, it was virtually inaccessible except by air. From above, the landing strip looked like a little bald patch shaved into the undulating green landscape. Its proximity to Route 9 and the Ho Chi Minh Trail – the two main supply routes into the south – made the base valuable real estate to both sides. It provided US Army General William Westmorland and the military planners in Saigon a base from which to monitor and disrupt the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troop movements across the border. Just how highly prized it was by the enemy became clear to Washington when intel reports revealed that two divisions of 20,000 highly trained and well-equipped NVA troops were heading for the area, with the intention of capturing the base.
President Lyndon B Johnson was concerned that the 6,000 Marines, at the base and dug into the surrounding hills, were horribly outnumbered and faced impossible odds. Westmorland, whose Marines had already repelled several attempts by the NVA to take the surrounding hills, considered the base too great an asset to concede. The decision was made. Despite the overwhelming numerical disadvantage, the Marines would stay to defend it, and an additional 1,000 troops were ordered in to bolster those already there. This brought the total at Khe Sanh to around 6,000 – the maximum that could realistically be supplied with the 60 tons of food, water, ammunition and medical equipment needed per day for the base to function.

khe sanh battle map
Khe Sanh combat base map

On 21 January 1968, two divisions of the North Vietnamese Army ( NVA ) attacked the US Marine Combat Base at Khe SanhAfter increasing reports of North Vietnamese Army ( NVA ) forces occupying the area of Khe Sanh, U.S troops were sent to Khe Sanh to fortify the combat base and prevent it from being encircled and cut off. However, once the base came under siege, it was clear that it was surrounded. During this time, the base and hilltop outposts surrounding it were subjected to constant NVA artillery, mortar and rocket attacks, and several infantry assaults. To support the Marine base, a massive aerial bombardment campaign was launched by the U.S Air Force. Over 100,000 tons of bombs were dropped by US aircrafts and over 158,000 artillery rounds were fired in defence of the base. In the initial artillery bombardment, NVA forces hit the base’s main store of ammunition and destroyed 90 percent of its artillery and mortar rounds.Despite American air support, as the battle of Khe Sanh dragged on, NVA troops gained the upper hand as the Tet Offensive took effect on 31 January 1968. As approximately 70,000  National Liberation Front or the VC and the NVA troops launched coordinated attacks throughout South Vietnam, Khe Sanh became a huge distraction for American and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces. Very quickly, due to the similarity with General Vo Nguyen Giap’s diverting tactics against French forces in 1954, the Battle of Khe Sanh became synonymous with the
operation pegasus
Operation Pegasus
battle of Dien Bien Phu. In March, US Marines successfully broke through NVA military lines in support for Khe Sanh combat base as part of Operation Pegasus. Although, despite American claims that they were defending the base at all costs, on 19 June they began the process of dismantling and evacuating the base. During heavy shelling, US Marines attempted to salvage what they could before destroying what remained as they were evacuated. Minor attacks continued before the base was officially closed on 5 July. Marines remained around Hill 689 (one of the hills surrounding the combat base at Khe Sanh) and fighting in the vicinity continued until 11 July until they were finally withdrawn, bringing the battle to a close.In the aftermath, the North Vietnamese proclaimed a victory at Khe Sanh, while US forces claimed that they had withdrawn, as the base was no longer required. Historians have observed that the battle may have distracted the U.S and South Vietnamese attention from the buildup of Viet Cong forces in the south before the Tet Offensive. Nevertheless, the U.S commander during the battle, General William Westmoreland, maintained that the true intention of Tet Offensive was to distract forces from Khe Sanh.
Khe Sanh - DMZ tour