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Campaign 150: Khe Sanh 1967–68

by Gordon L Rottmann, illustrated by H Gerrad & P Dennis

Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-863-4, 96 pages

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The decision by the US to occupy and expand the base at Khe Sanh was full of controversy at the time. Many questioned the need for such an exposed position, with the memory of the French disaster at Dien Bien Phu uppermost in their minds, while others (particularly senior Marines) chafed at the notion of elite assault troops being turned into “mortar magnets”. And, of course, the media chimed in with their usual predictions of defeat. It is still undetermined weather the North Vietnamese forces ever seriously considered the conquest of the base itself, or if they used the siege to tie down US forces while they mounted the 1968 Tet Offensive. On the other hand, the avowed strategy of the US was to interdict enemy supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail system, as well lure the NVA into situations where US firepower would be able to inflict mass casualties. As the outpost was isolated from outside contact on the ground, the US effort in the air, to include keeping the base supplied, was a case study in “how to do it right” (in contrast to Dien Bien Phu). In the end, however, no “decisive action” was ever fought and the US abandoned the base by the summer of 1968. Not surprisingly, the North Vietnamese then claimed the base as a victorious conquest.

Mr. Rottman, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has done a fine job of presenting the story, although it could be considered to be a bit unbalanced. This is through no fault of his, since the Vietnamese have not been forthcoming with un-biased information, especially as regards to their intentions and casualties. On the other hand, quantity-wise, the photographic coverage in this book (46 B&W and six color photos) is quite a bit less than one is used to in this series. There have also been attempts at retouching photographs, something that occurs too often with this author’s work. In short, Osprey’s forte, presenting quality illustrative material in sufficient quantity, has not been completely attained in the case of this book.

In another area, the author has (typically, I might add) misidentified some items of equipment or misunderstood some of their specifications. For instance, the C-130 Hercules cargo-transport aircraft was (and still is) built by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin), never Boeing, as he has written. In another instance he states that the Fairchild C-123K Provider cargo-transport aircraft was the only version of that particular airplane in use at Khe Sanh, because it had provision for using the RATO (Rocket-Assisted Take-Off) system (which is nowhere to be seen in the provided photo). The actual reason is that aside from a pair of piston engines, the C123K also mounted a single jet engine under each wing. This is clearly stated in one of the books the author cites in his bibliography. He also misidentifies two pieces of Soviet-supplied ordnance. The piece shown on page 56 is a 122mm M1938 howitzer, not a 152mm D-20. The piece shown on page is a 152mm D-20, not a 122mm D-74. Some of the range data the author has provided on various pieces of ordnance is also suspect.

The remainder of the book consists of four color maps, 12 pages of color art and 3D maps, order-of-battle charts, a chronology, an index and a bibliography. The art describes the actions at the Lang Vei Special Forces camp, a typical ground-directed air strike and a battle on hill 861A. The three CAD maps depict the configuration of the Khe Sanh base in February 1968, the battles for the surrounding hills and the fall of the Lang Vei camp.

While providing a concise look at the overall battle and its consequences, this book will also serve the figure painter, diorama and vignette builder quite well. However the potential purchaser of this book will need to balance that against “suspect” information and the poor photo-reproduction.

Recommended with reservations.

Frank De SistoMore details from Osprey Publishing

Read an extract at Osprey Publishing

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