The Tet Offensive (Tết Mậu Thân)

The Battle of Khe Sanh
Table of Contents

The Battle of Khe Sanh

American troops battle with North Vietnamese at Khe Sanh during the nationwide Vietcong-North Vietnamese Tet offensive that proved to be a turning point in the Vietnam War
("Burch Collection" of the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition Collection [va006194])

For seventy-seven days from January through April 1968, the nation was captivated by the plight of the Marines under siege and badly outnumbered at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in far northwestern South Vietnam. It was technically not a siege in the true sense of the word since Khe Sanh was not completely cut off from the rest of the world as it could be resupplied and supported through the air. However, to those who were forced to fight there and for the nation that worried for the defenders, it certainly felt like a siege. The Marines suffered through long periods of boredom coupled with bouts of intense artillery shelling and violent hand-to-hand combat. It has been long debated whether or not Khe Sanh was North Vietnam’s attempt to defeat the United States through a set battle, such as it did against the French at Dien Bien Phu or if it was merely a diversion to draw US forces away from the target cities of the Tet Offensive that was launched a week after the siege began. It is for certain, however, that Khe Sanh continues to capture the attention of those who study the Vietnam War and those who experienced it firsthand.

The Battle of Khe Sanh lasted from 21 January 1968 until 8 April 1968 and involved the United States 26th Marines and the 37th Ranger Battalion of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) against portions of the 304th, 320th, 324th, and 325th Divisions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The siege officially began when approximately 300 NVA troops attacked Hill 861, which lay just outside of the base and was occupied by Company K, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines. Later that morning, the NVA shelled the base’s ammunition dump, damaging much of the above-ground structures. Meanwhile, the Marines on Hill 861 repulsed the attack after fierce, hand-to-hand combat. The siege at Khe Sanh had now commenced and would not end for the 26th Marines until they were relieved by elements of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, 3rd Marine Division, and 3rd ARVN Airborne Task Force in April.

Listen: Interviews with United States Marines at Khe Sanh, 1968 [15 March 1968]