53 Little-Known Battle Of Khe Sanh Facts All History Lovers Should Know

Aryan Khanna
Mar 20, 2023 By Aryan Khanna
Originally Published on Mar 20, 2023
Fact-checked by Dolly Chhatwani
Tank used in Battle of Khe Sanh

As the name suggests, the Battle of Khe Sanh was fought in the Khe Sanh area of Vietnam.

The Khe Sanh area was located in northwestern Quảng Trị Province of the Republic of Vietnam and is famously remembered as the site where the longest battle of the Vietnam War was fought. The Battle of Khe Sanh began on January 21, 1968, and was believed to have concluded on July 9, 1968.

During the Vietnam War, the Khe Sanh area had turned into Khe Sanh Combat Base and was being defended by a pair of regiments of the US Marine Corps.

But the two regiments of the US Marine Corps weren't alone and were supported by individuals from the United States Air Force, the United States Army, and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

When it comes to the result of the Battle of Khe Sanh, the American commanders tasted victory during their siege in April.

But, later in July, the North Vietnamese forces eventually emerged victorious.

The North Vietnamese troops gained complete control of the Khe Sanh region in July once the enemy forces withdrew. The victory of the North Vietnamese forces followed the end of the McNamara Line, which also allowed the North Vietnamese forces to establish communication with South Vietnam.

The Battle of Khe Sanh was led by Colonel David Lownds and General William Westmoreland from the American side, who had around 6000 men behind them. At the same time, the 20000-30000 Vietnamese men were led by Tran Quy Hai and Vo Nguyen Giap.

Scroll down to learn some more exciting Battle of Khe Sanh facts.

Who fought in the battle of Khe Sanh?

The Battle of Khe Sanh was arguably the deadliest battle during the Vietnam War between the United States and Vietnam. There were several small factions on both sides that supported their causes during this battle.

  • In 1967, the American commanders received information about the rise of a group in the Khe Sanh area of North Vietnam called 'People's Army of North Vietnam'.
  • The American forces responded to this threat by reinforcing the Khe Sanh Combat Base with troops of the 26th Marine Regiment under Colonel David E. Lownds.
  • The infamous Battle of Khe Sanh was fought in Khe Sanh, a village near the Laotian border towards the south of the Demilitarized Zone.
  • This Demilitarized Zone, or DMV, was responsible for separating North Vietnam from South Vietnam.
  • The Americans looked to establish a base here to prohibit the North Vietnamese from entering from the Laos region.
  • At the same time, they wanted to set up a base here to launch patrols into Laos so that they could control the Ho Chi Minh trail.
  • In February 1967, the PAVN anti-aircraft guns dealt significant damage to the helicopters as they tried to reinforce the hill with emergency supplies.
  • Later in the battle, the Americans came up with the 'Super Gaggle' idea that allowed them to provide aerial resupply to their hill posts, proving to be a turning point in the long run.
  • During the Battle of Khe Sanh, the South Vietnamese militia fought alongside the Marines and the US Army MACV advisers.
  • The Battle of Khe Sanh saw military developments that changed how wars were fought in the years that followed.
  • During the Vietnam War in general and the Battle of Khe Sanh in particular, electronic sensors were placed throughout the jungle, proving pivotal in defending a base.
  • At the same time, the Battle of Khe Sanh is remembered to be the first time when the North Vietnamese troops used tanks against the Americans.
  • While the Battle of Khe Sanh had different operations, such as Operation Scotland, Operation Scotland II, and Operation Pegasus, it was all the same for the Marines.
  • Later, some battle accounts emerged from the Marines involved, and according to them, the battle kicked off when the North Vietnamese launched an attack in January 1968.

Battle Of Khe Sanh Casualties

The Battle of Khe Sanh is infamously remembered for the number of casualties it led to on both sides and is thus regarded as the deadliest battle of the Vietnam War. Ultimately when the North Vietnamese troops attacked Khe Sanh in July 1968, it was being defended by merely 5500 Marine Corps.

  • Over the years, several documents of this battle have been declassified, and some of them state that General William Westmoreland considered using nuclear and chemical weapons at Khe Sanh.
  • Although Westmoreland did consider the use of chemical weapons as an option, he was in constant contact with then-President Lyndon Johnson who assured him that these weapons ultimately wouldn't be used.
  • During this time, the Office of Air Force History also issued a then-top secret report titled 'The Air Force in Southeast Asia: Toward a Bombing Halt, 1968'.
  • The earlier classified report also stated that 'this prompted Air Force chief of staff, General John McConnell, to press, although unsuccessfully, for JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) authority to request Pacific Command to prepare a plan for using low-yield nuclear weapons'.
  • The officials had devised this plan to avoid losing the US Marine Base.
  • The Battle of Khe Sanh saw numerous deaths on both sides. Some official records state that the siege lasted 77 days, and around 703 people were killed and 2642 wounded. This included the South Vietnamese and American forces.
  • While there is no concrete data about the casualties of the PAVN forces, around 10000 - 15000 are believed to have lost their lives in the battle.
  • During December 1967, North Vietnamese forces were often spotted near the Khe Sanh village, but there was no fighting.
  • But gradually, the movement of the North Vietnamese forces increased, and General William Westmoreland decided to respond to this by reinforcing the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
  • After the end of Operation Scotland, the 1st Air Cavalry Division took over control of the area and began to execute Operation Pegasus.
  • Operation Pegasus was brought into action to break the siege of Keh Sanh. It required the 1st and 3rd Marine Regiments to launch attacks on Route 9.
  • With the end of Operation Pegasus, the Americans initiated Operation Scotland II, which saw the Marines stationed at the Khe Sanh Combat Base launch attacks on the North Vietnamese forces.
  • The American forces are believed to have displayed their heaviest use of artillery power in the Battle of Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War.
  • During this event, the American B-52 bombers alongside other strike aircraft dropped around 100,000 tons of bombs on the North Vietnamese forces.
  • Reports suggest that Operation Scotland II killed 413 US Marines by the time it ended in June 1968.
  • Moreover, over the years, several reports have emerged that claim that the majority of the deaths associated with Operation Scotland II were not a part of the official death count of the US Marines in the Vietnam War.
  • The official figure of the deaths of 205 Marines in Operation Scotland only involves the men who died battling near the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
  • The official data did not include the deaths of United States Air Force personnel. Around 20 men from the US Air Force lost their lives in this battle.

Who won the battle of Khe Sanh?

The Battle of Khe Sanh is believed to be one of the most controversial battles of the Vietnam War, with official records blurring and varying in both countries. While the stats said that for every American soldier that died, 5-6 North Vietnamese troops were killed, but eventually, the latter emerged victorious during the final siege in July 1968.

  • On January 21, 1968, there was heavy fire on Hill 861 in the Khe Sanh Combat Base as around 300 PAVN forces attacked it.
  • While the defense of the Americans matched the attack of the PAVN forces, the latter had, on occasion, managed to get through the defense of the marine base.
  • Thus, an operation was executed to support the base's defense and was termed Operation Scotland.
  • While Operation Scotland was in action, Westmoreland also called into action Operation Niagara which saw the application of massive aerial firepower to support the base's defense.
  • As we dive deeper into the timeline of the Battle of Khe Sanh, we see that the commencement of the Tet Offensive on January 30, 1968, reduced the ambush near the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
  • But the battle soon resumed on February 7 as the camp located in Lang Vei was destroyed.
  • While the Battle of Khe Sanh was earlier recognized as a military victory by the Americans, it is now believed to be a pointless sacrifice made by several American soldiers.
  • During the last few days of the Battle of Khe Sanh, the 26th Marines fought heartily despite overwhelming odds against them.
  • June 19, 1968, saw the beginning of the final operation at the Khe Sanh Combat Base; it was titled 'Operation Charlie'. It involved the Marines withdrawing from the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
  • As the Marines evacuated the place, they took all salvageable material and destroyed everything else.
  • On July 1, the NVA launched a massive infantry attack which further led to the death of two Marines. After this period, a few Marines stayed back to recover the bodies of the previously deceased Marines.
  • The days that followed saw the deaths of a few other Marines from NVA mortars, but none of these made it to the official death count of the Battle of Khe Sanh.
  • But at the same time, 89 NVA lost their lives during this period signaling that the death count of the North Vietnamese was much larger than that of the Americans.
  • In the official North Vietnamese records, the battle came to an end on July 9, and four days later, Ho Chi Minh sent a message to the soldiers stationed at Route 9, announcing their victory.
American Helicopter on display at the former site of Khe Sanh Combat Base, DMZ

Did you know?

  • Interestingly, while General William Westmoreland decided to reinforce Khe Sanh Combat Base after the increase in the movement of the North Vietnamese forces, many opposed this decision.
  • In October 1967, the Communist forces in North Vietnam greatly reinforced the Khe Sanh area with two artillery regiments, an armored regiment, and a couple of infantry divisions.
  • At the same time, reinforcements were also provided to Marine Garrison in November 1967, which also led to the beginning of Operation Scotland.
  • In the famed 'Super Gaggle' model that allowed relief force to reach the hill posts, 12 A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers provided flak suppression to 12-16 helicopters which could now easily provide the supplies.
  • The operation 'Super Gaggle' saw the North Vietnamese positions being bombarded with airstrikes while smoke screens and tear gas were used to allow the helicopters to pass through.
  • The Operation Niagara of the Battle of Khe Sanh is remembered as the most spectacular feat of arms at Khe Sanh.
  • This operation included the use of heavy artillery bombardment and air strikes on the North Vietnamese forces.
  • While reports suggest that during the entire Vietnam War, the American forces were better fed than their counterparts, the situation was not the same during the Battle of Khe Sanh.
  • The American forces on hill outposts had to tackle an acute shortage of food and water during the early days of the Battle of Khe Sanh.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You







See All

Written by Aryan Khanna

Bachelor of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

Aryan Khanna picture

Aryan KhannaBachelor of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

A dedicated and hardworking content writer currently pursuing his Bachelor's in Management Studies from St. Xavier's University, Kolkata. Aryan aims to gain corporate exposure and enhance his skills while creating well-researched and engaging content that is SEO-friendly. Aryan is a talented individual who puts in the effort to overcome any obstacle in his way.

Read full bio >
Fact-checked by Dolly Chhatwani

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature, Master of Arts specializing in English Literature

Dolly Chhatwani picture

Dolly ChhatwaniBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature, Master of Arts specializing in English Literature

A skilled professional-client manager, Dolly brings a wealth of experience to any team. Holding a Master's in English Literature, she has worked in various customer relations and operations management roles throughout her career. With a degree in both English and Psychology, she is passionate about promoting mental health. Dolly is an avid reader, particularly of classic literature, and enjoys writing book reviews. Additionally, she maintains a food blog and is active on social media.

Read full bio >