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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Castrioti

January 21st, 1968 - The Siege of Khe Sanh

Conflict: Vietnam War

Combatants: Americans vs. North Vietnamese Army (NVA)

Location: Vietnam

Outcome: American victory


In the early hours of January 21st, 1968, between 15,000 and 20,000 soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) lay siege to the U. S. Marine base at Khe Sanh. The base at Khe Sanh was highly valuable as it lay close the Ho Chin Minh Trail-an infiltration and supply route in bordering Laos. As the siege of the base continued, Viet Cong guerillas launched attacks on cities throughout Vietnam; a coordinated operation known as the Tet Offensive. Historians have speculated that the attack on Khe Sanh was meant to draw away forces from the cities in preparation for the Tet Offensive.


Khe Sanh, Paradropping supplies by an unknown photographer

Regardless, the Khe Sanh base was attacked regularly by NVA ground forces and pounded with artillery fire. But American Air Force, Marine, and Navy air support, along with Marine tenacity, helped hold the NVA at bay. When the Tet Offensive sputtered down in early April, American First Cavalry troops were shifted to the relief of Khe Sanh. Later Second Battalion and Seventh Cavalry forces joined the battle.


The siege was finally broken on April 7th. The Marines lost 205 men killed. The NVA left over 1600 bodies on the field and are estimated to have suffered as many as 15,000 casualties.


Soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry ordered to relieve Marines as Khe Sanh by an unknown photographer

Points of Interest:

  • Just two months after the siege, the Marines abandoned the Khe Sanh base as plans to attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail were scrapped.

  • In February , the NVA first used Soviet tanks in an attack on the nearby Special Forces post of Lang Vei.

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Sources:


Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, & Bongard, David L. (1992). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books (HarperCollins).


Dupuy, R. Ernest & Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins.


Eggenberger, David (1985). An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.


Newcomb, Richard F. (1987). A Pictorial History of the Vietnam War. New York: Double Day & Company.


Summers Jr., Harry G. (1985). The Vietnam War Almanac. New York: Ballantine Books.

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