The Battle For Khe Sanh

By Maj R. D. Ammon - Originally Published March 1970

THE BATTLE FOR KHE SANH. Captain Moyers S. Shore II, Historical Brandi, G-3 Division, HQMC. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. pp. 203.

In his preface to this historical monograph, LtGen R. E. Cushman says:

"As a history, this work is not intended to prove any point, but rather to record objectively the series of events which came to be called the Battle of Khe Sanh."

However, in view of the controversy and clamor that arose during the seige of Khe Sanh, one can only imagine that this book, the first written on Vietnam, was prepared to answer or rebut some of the controversy.

The Battle for Khe Sanh is written in the tradition of the excellent U.S. Marine Operations in Korea series. The author has very effectively intermixed command chronologies and personal interview to create a very lively "sea story." With a foreword by Gen Westmoreland, and a preface by LtGen Cushman, the reader is treated to a high level explanation of why Khe Sanh happened. What follows is an excellent chronological development of the situation beginning with the battles for Hills 881N and 881S during January 1968, through OPERATION PEGASUS, the breakout and closing of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

The events of the "77 day seige" are spiced throughout by the commentaries of the individuals who participated in the battle. Instead of reading a history replete with dates and places, die reader hears the stories of old "ship mates." Familiar names crop up throughout the book which makes for more personal and enjoyable reading.

There are lessons to be learned from the accounts of the participants. The description of the organization of the defenses and control of supporting arms is interesting and enlightening when compared to Dien Bien Phu. The development of techniques such as the "mini-arclight and inicro-arclight" to augment the effectiveness of the giant B-52 strikes denionstates the flexibility and responsiveness of Marine Aviation. Also, the development of the "supergaggle" as a method to insert helicopter resupply missions in the midst of heavy enemy concentrations stands out as an example of "good old American ingenuity."

Despite the excellent commentary, the reader is left with two questions, (1) Did we fall for a very effective ruse executed by the NVA to draw our combat power away from the more populated and vulnerable lowlands during the TET offensive, or (2) did the NVA really believe they could effect another victory such as Dien Bien Phu? There is no doubt that there was a heavy concentration of NVA forces in the Khe Sanh valley. There is little doubt that the Marines acquitted tnemselves well in the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. But, the book does not answer the question whether or not it was necessary to tie down four reinforced battalions, and all of the supporting artillery and air assets to deny the NVA the use of the Khe Sanh valley as a staging area.

I believe The Battle for Khe Sanh to be a valuable addition to any Marine's professional library. For those who were not at Khe Sanh, it is invaluable as a means of swapping stories with those who were. For those who participated in the seige, the book is an excellent diary of events, which will add depth and breadth to their experience. As a "first" official history, the book will undoubtedly be a source for future works, which in time may calmly and objectively still the controversy which the seige of Khe Sanh generated.