In the 77 days from 20 January to 18 March of 1968, two divisions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) surrounded a regiment of U.S. Marines on a mountain plateau in the northwest corner of South Vietnam known as Khe Sanh. The episode was no accident; it was in fact a carefully orchestrated meeting in which both sides got what they wanted. The North Vietnamese succeeded in surrounding the Marines in a situation in many ways similar to Dien Bien Phu, and may have been seeking similar tactical, operational, and strategic results. General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of the joint U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (COMUSMACV), meanwhile, sought to lure the NVA into the unpopulated terrain around the 26th Marines in order to wage a battle of annihilation with air power. In this respect Khe Sanh has been lauded as a great victory of air power, a military instrument of dubious suitability to much of the Vietnam conflict. The facts support the assessment that air power was the decisive element at Khe Sanh, delivering more than 96 percent of the ordnance used against the NVA.
Most histories of the battle, however, do not delve much deeper than this. Comprehensive histories like John Prados and Ray Stubbe's Valley of Decision, Robert Pisor's End of the Line, and Eric Hammel's Siege in the Clouds provide excellent accounts of the battle, supported by detailed analyses of its strategic and operational background but tend to focus on the ground battle and treat the application of air power in general terms. Official Marine Corps histories predictably focus on the experience of the 26th Marines at the expense of the contributions of air forces. Air Force histories, including those written by historians well acquainted with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps like Bernard C. Nalty, do analyze the application of air power in detail. They do not, however, make significant distinction between the contributions of the two primary air combat elements in this air-land battle: the 7th Air Force and the 1st Marine Air Wing. An analysis of their respective contributions to the campaign reveals that they each made very different contributions that reflected very different approaches to the application of air power.
Foreword * Introduction * Close Air Support Doctrines * Khe Sanh Background * The Hill Battles of 1967 * The Siege of 1968 * Operation Pegasus and the Relief of Khe Sanh * The Deep Air Battle and the B-52 * Radar Controlled Tactical Air Support * Close Air Support * Conclusions * Appendix A: Glossary of Acronyms and Terms * Appendix B: Orders of Battle * Appendix C: Fratricide and Near Fratricide Aviation Incidents at Khe Sanh * Bibliography