Battle of Ban Houei Sane - Battle

Battle

By the mid-1960s, when U.S military forces increased their presence in South Vietnam, the Laotian units at Ban Houei Sane also detected increasing North Vietnamese movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And towards the end of December 1967 six thousand trucks carrying supplies for Communist forces in southern Vietnam were detected moving down the Trail. That tremendous build-up came as a result of North Vietnam's decision to launch an all-out attack on Allied forces during the Tet celebrations.

In order to lure American combat units away from the major cities the North Vietnamese High Command decided to launch the first strike; on 21 January 1968, regular units of the North Vietnamese Army began their attacks on the Khe Sanh Combat Base, where six thousand U.S Marines were stationed. As part of that major effort, General Tran Quy Hai made the decision to knock out the small outpost of Ban Houei Sane once and for all, as the Royal Laotian Army's 33rd Elephant Battalion were considered an important tool in the Allies' intelligence gathering effort.

On the night of 23 January 1968, the North Vietnamese 24th Regiment struck the defenders of Ban Houei Sane from three directions. Initially the North Vietnamese assault was spearheaded by the 3/24 Battalion with the 198th Armoured Battalion in support, but the first assault wave was delayed for various reasons. Firstly North Vietnamese infantry and armoured corps lacked the experience in combined operations, secondly the local terrain posed many difficulties for North Vietnamese tank crews, causing the PT-76 light tanks to bog down attempting to cross a stream. By 06:00 Colonel Lê Công Phê ordered his troops to advance on Ban Houei Sane despite the delays of the 198th Armoured Battalion. As North Vietnamese units moved towards the Laotian outpost, the PT-76's of the 198th Battalion turned up causing much confusion.

On the day the North Vietnamese launched their attacks, the weather was poor for aerial operations. As North Vietnamese engineers blew up Laotian obstacles there was little that U.S Forward Air Controllers could do to stop the North Vietnamese advance as ground targets could not be identified. After three hours of fighting the Laotian commander, Lieutenant Colonel Soulang Phetsampou, informed the U.S Forward Air Controllers that all Laotian positions had been overwhelmed and that they would abandon the outpost. At that point, the Laotian commander requested assistance from the CIDG camp at Lang Vei, to help evacuate his soldiers and their families. However assistance from Lang Vei would never arrive, so the soldiers of BV-33 and more than two thousand civilian refugees made their way eastward along Route 9, approaching the South Vietnamese border. On 24 January, the survivors of the Ban Houei Sane battle and their families had crossed the South Vietnamese border, reaching the Lang Vei CIDG camp. Initially the military personnel at Lang Vei treated the Laotian refugees with caution, but they were finally given assistance when the Lang Vei camp commander allowed the Laotians to take up positions in the nearby Lang Vei village.

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