Battle of Ban Dong
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Before Operation Lam Son 719 began, intelligence indicated that North Vietnam had permanently placed logistical units in the Ban Dong area, especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The logistical units were supported by one regular division, with another one ready for rapid deployment. In order to capture Tchepone the district of Ban Dong had to be brought under South Vietnamese control.
The initial objective of Lam Son 719 was to capture Ban Dong and the surrounding areas, establish firebases and then find and destroy the enemy. Once the first phase of the operation was completed, the 1st ARVN Infantry Division and its supporting units would move on Tchephone. Again, they would set up strong points, sweep the occupied areas and then find and destroy the enemy.
In order to achieve their initial objectives, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam had a diversionery plan drawn up, the aim was to fool the North Vietnamese High Command in regards to South Vietnamese operations. During early February the 147th Marine Brigade, under the command of Colonel Hoang Tich Thong, was airlifted from Da Nang to Đông Hà. The arrival of a South Vietnamese brigade close to the DMZ created an impression that an assault was about to be launched against North Vietnam; when the 147th Marines Brigade crossed the Dong Ha river using landing craft in an amphibious exercise, the North Vietnamese Army reacted by attacking the South Vietnamese Marines violently.
A few days later the 147th Marine Brigade was moved to Khe Sanh as the main ARVN force were preparing for the main operation.
On February 8 President Nguyen Van Thieu gave the order to attack, with the 1st Airborne Brigade and the 1st Armour Brigade launching an attack on Ban Dong. Originally, the South Vietnamese Army planned to capture Ban Dong on February 9 but due to early miscalculations, Ban Dong was captured on February 12. With the help of combat engineers, Fire Support Bases A Luoi, 30 and 31 was immediately set up.
Initially the ARVN encountered little resistance, but reconnaissance activities noticed increasing activities of North Vietnamese troops in the area.
On March 18, after heavy casualties were inflicted on the South Vietnamese on Hill 723, the joint North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces launched a counterattack supported by armour. After some hard fighting, FSB 30 and 31 were overrun. Pressure from the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire prevented South Vietnamese troops from being resupplied, as a result, ARVN morale collapsed.
Taking advantage of the ARVN's critical situation, the combined Communist forces launched deep thrust into South Vietnamese defensive formations. After nearly three days of fighting, the South Vietnamese took more casualties as the 1st Paratroop Brigade was virtually wiped out by the North Vietnamese Army.