The fall of Lang Vei Special Forces Camp, February 1969 - End notes

Page Title - US Special Forces
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Lang Vei: Tanks in the Wire
Lessons Learned
Submitted by Rob Krott 2000


COMBAT POWER AT LANG VEI

The defenders of Lang Vei were successful in interdicting and  attritting the attacking NVA ground forces because of the camp's combat power, i.e. maneuver, firepower, protection, and leadership.

Maneuver

Maneuver plays a limited role in a defending force's combat power. However, the mutually supporting positions at Lang Vei forced the enemy to split his forces and to maneuver at a disadvantage.

Firepower

484 men defended Lang Vei. They were heavily equipped with crew served automatic and indirect fire weapons including two 106mm and four 57mm recoilless rifles, two .50 caliber heavy machineguns, and 4.2 inch, 81mm and 60mm mortars. The artillery and close air support for the camp was well planned and emphasized likely avenues of approach and suspected enemy staging areas. Willoughby called in the fire support while his NCOs manned the crew served weapons. This firepower, specifically Holt's 106mm recoilless, substantially attritted the attacking force. Absent during the attack was LT Bailey, the designated operator of the other 106mm recoilless. A replacement wasn't assigned during his absence. This reduced the camp's anti-tank firepower. LAW malfunctions degraded the effectiveness of the anti-tank teams.

Allied troops inspect a destroyed PT-76 tank
Destroyed PT-76 after the battle

Protection

The camp's defenses, built around the 'fighting camp' concept, contributed to enemy losses. The chain link fence and triple strand of concertina with Claymores slowed the NVA infantry. Mutually supporting bunkers with overhead cover and good fields of fire contributed to survivability, complementing the camp's firepower. The protection afforded by the TOC bunker allowed survivors to hold out for nearly twelve hours until they could escape and evade capture.

Leadership

Lang Vei was fortunate in having LTC Schungel present to organize the anti-tank teams. Special Forces NCOs rallied indigenous troops and led them in the defense and counterattack of Lang Vei. CPT Willoughby ably coordinated the camp's defense.

THREE OF THE PRINCIPLES OF WAR

Surprise, Security, and Unity of Command in regard to Combat Power at Lang Vei. [reference US Army Field Manual 100-5]

Surprise

The NVA surprise attack significantly reduced the combat power of the CIDG camp. "Surprise can decisively shift the balance of combat power." Although the defenders weren't completely unaware of the tank threat to Lang Vei, the intelligence assessment came too late for more than hasty anti-tank preparations.

Security

"Security is essential to the preservation of combat power." The technique of prior infiltration by VC/NVA was common to almost every attack on CIDG camps. Good security measures (especially after the NVA POW walked into the camp) and the vigilance of the Mike Force prevented the possibility of an interior attack by infiltrators. The Mike Force aggressively patrolled the camp's perimeter and gathered field intelligence. Because of the Mike Force's daily enemy contact and their discovery of the tank park Willoughby requested an airlift of LAWs and prepared for an assault.

Aerial view of destroyed enemy tanks following the battle - note what looks to be a tank turret in the lower right of the picture
Aerial view of knocked out PT-76's

Unity of Command

"The decisive application of full combat power requires unity of command." Unity of command did not exist between Lang Vei and Khe Sanh. The Marines did not execute the contingency plan for the relief of Lang Vei. This was a contributing factor for replacement of Marines at Khe Sanh with US Army personnel.

US Weapons and Ammunition at Lang Vei

Weapon Quantity Rounds Available
4.2 Mort 2 800 HE and Illumination
81mm Mort 4 2000 assorted
60mm Mort 16 3000 HE
106mm RR 2 20+ HE
57mm RR 4 3000(total) 2,800 AP
M72 LAW 75 NA
.50cal HMG 2 17,000
.30cal MG unknown 275,000
BAR 39 200,000
M60 MG 2 5,000
Grenades 1000 (Fragmentation)
M18 AP mine 390 (Claymore)
M1/M2 Carbine 1 (per CIDG)  

 *Information compiled from Cash, John A., John Albright, and Allan W. Sandstrum. Seven Firefights in Vietnam Bantam Books, New York 1985. p. 133, et al.

Casualties at Lang Vei*

UNIT KIA/MIA WIA POW/ MIA
USSF 4 16 9
LLDB 5 3 -
CIDG 165 29 -
MIKE FORCE 34 32 -
NVA 250-500 (estimated) - -

*7 PT-76s confirmed destroyed and 2 possible

MIA/POWs

All of the KIAs were initially carried as MIA. Two of those listed as MIA, SFC Eugene Ashley , Jr. and SFC Earle F. Burke, were listed as MIA. SFC Ashley and Burke, were later confirmed as KIA when their remains were recovered. Burke was last seen manning the only remaining 106mm recoilless rifle still in action as SFC Holt went for more ammunition. SFC Kenneth Hanna and SFC Charles W. Lindewald, Jr. -- Hanna was wounded in the head, shoulder, and left arm. He was last seen at the mobile strike force outpost (as it was being overrun) treating Lindewald who was severely wounded by automatic weapons fire in the chest and abdomen. Lindewald reportedly died as the NVA swarmed over the hill. Hanna was probably KIA after an NVA tank fired directly into the bunker in which he and Lindewald sought cover. SP4 James L. Moreland, lying in the command bunker with a head wound, was listed as MIA but presumed KIA. SFC Harvey G. Brande, SSG Dennis L. Thompson, and SP4 William G. McMurry were captured and later repatriated in 1972. SP5 Daniel R. Phillips (last seen attempting to escape and evade through the wire while under direct fire from a tank) and SFC James W. Holt were the only two considered "MIA - possibly captured" after the final accounting.

*Compiled from: Stanton, Shelby Green Berets at War Dell Publishing Co.,Inc. New York 1987.pp. 365-372, 193, and Stockwell, David B. Tanks in the Wire! Jove Books, New York 1990.

ENDNOTES

1.Camp Lang Vei strength on 6 Feb 1968 totaled 24 Special Forces, 14 LLDB, 161 Mobile Strike Force, 282 CIDG (mixed Bru and Vietnamese), 6 interpreters and 520 Laotian tribal soldiers, not including civilians.

2. The SFOD-A 102 Camp at A Shau was overrun by human wave assaults by the 95th Regiment on 9/10 Mar 66. The 141st CIDG company defected en masse to the NVA. Aircraft crewmen and Special Forces soldiers opened fire on able-bodied CIDG to prevent the medevac helicopters from being overloaded. Later when helicopters attempted to rescue other survivors from an escape column trudging through the jungle, the SF and Nungs were forced to club CIDG with rifle butts to restore order. "On 12 March 1966 a final lift-out was summoned, and another panicked CIDG rush on the descending Marine helicopters ensued. This time the CIDG started shooting each other... " (Stanton 142)

3. "Following the battle of Lang Vei, eighteen M72 LAWs were test-fired by Detachment A-109 at Thuong Duc. Six failed to fire: Three of these six failures were due to malfunctions within the firing mechanism. A second check of all firing pins and safeties was conducted, after which a second attempt was made to fire the weapon. They again failed to fire. The tube was collapsed and extended back to the firing position, and a third attempt was made to fire the weapon with negative results. The remaining three M72 LAWs ignited, but the rocket failed to leave the launcher tube. Of the twelve rockets that did fire properly, one failed to detonate upon impact." (Stanton 192)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cash, John A., John Albright, and Allan W. Sandstrum. Seven Firefights in Vietnam Bantam Books, New York 1985.
Herr, Michael. Dispatches Discus/Avon Books, New York,1980.
Jones, Bruce E. War Without Windows Berkeley, New York, 1990.
Murphy, Edward F. Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes Ballantine Books, New York, 1987.
Phillips, William R. Night of the Silver Stars: the Battle of Lang Vei Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD, 1997.
Pisor, Robert, The End of the Line, Ballantine Books, New York, 1982.
Stockwell, David B. Tanks in the Wire! Jove Books, New York, 1990.
Stanton, Shelby Green Berets at War Dell Publishing Co.,Inc. New York, 1987.

Magazines

Andrade, Dale. "The NVA Surprise" Soldier of Fortune, February 1985.
Early, CPT John. "Armor in the Wire!" Soldier of Fortune, November 1979.
"Fall of Lang Vei" TIME, February 16, 1968 pp. 37-38.
Greenman, Ronald. "Long Night at Lang Vei." Soldier of Fortune, February 1985.
"How the US Lost Lang Vei," Newsweek, February 19, 1968. pp. 42-43.
Nalty, Bernard C. "Khe Sanh: No Dien Bien Phu, Soldier of Fortune, May 1980.

"Battle Analysis of Special Forces Operational Detachment A-101's Defense of the Lang Vei Civilian Irregular Defense Force Camp, Republic of South Vietnam, 7 FEB 1968." Ft. Benning GA, Infantry Officer's Advanced Course, 1990. Unpublished. Robert E. Krott, CPT IN, USAR.

 

Memorial at the site of the Lang Vei battle
PT-76 rests on the site of the Lang Vei battle as a monument

 

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