I can speak only for Laos, since that is where my work was concentrated.
There were two objectives in Laos. The first obvious one was to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, destroying material or delaying it's arrival into South Viet Nam. Millions of tons of supplys were destroyed during the 1965 to 1975 period using millions of tons of bombs. The trail was not one wide boulevard, but a seris of parallel trails starting at the NVN border and snaking down the border of NVN/SVN and Laos. At it's southern extremity, it curved into Cambodia and then turned east into South Vietnam. Above the Cambodian border, the trail broke off at various points, turning east. This series of drop off points ran all the way up to the 17th parallel.
In some areas this trail system was 10-15 kilometers wide, maybe more. The NVA paid dearly in bearers, troops and material, but the sheer mass of the effort kept some goods out of the hands of the Viet Cong. Estimates vary as to the percentage of material destroyed, but the best guess is about 30% over the years. Efforts to stop the flow of goods did not rest completely on the Air Force or the airborne FACs patrolling the trail from on high. There were roadwatch teams and LRRP units scattered the entire length of the trail.
We may never know how may of these brave troops lost their lives in Laos or Cambodia. They not only gathered intelligence to facilitate better knowledge of where the bad guys were, but they booby trapped a few trucks themselves. Many of the Arc Light missions (B-52 strikes) were guided by these teams, sometimes at great risk to themselves if the Buffs were a little off on their coordinates. There were some "black ops" missions apparently, but I only know of their existance, not their mission. Someone else may have a better handle on that phase of the war.
On the question of the percentage of bombs dropped on a target: Let me give you an extreme example of what kind of tonnage of ordnance we dropped. At Mu Gia Pass, there was (and I emphasis WAS) an area at the south end of the pass where the road/trail curved around a high cliff area. Below the road was a river/stream. This area had been bombed and bombed, but when the recce film was analyzed the next day...the bicycle tracks were coming thru as if nothing has happened. I viewed many of these photos. Some wise and far-seeing General at 7th AF in Saigon decided we should bomb this peak into powder, so we did.
I think there were 3 or 4 aircraft (CRS) shot down during this mission. Some estimates suggest we reduced the elevation of the mountain by 700 feet, dropping it across the trail and into the river. We, in our little shop, estimated we dropped at least a million dollars in bombs and lost another 10 million in aircraft. The next day, there were bicycle trails traversing the moon-scape. Truck parks, POL storage, and suspected truck parks and POL storage areas were bombed out of existance. Targets of opportunity existed mostly at night and the night fighters did a hell of a job whacking trucks and some troops. Once in a while someone would find a nice little virgin target (I was the proud father of a couple) and it would be fragged as a tertiary or (dump your ammo before return to base). The only problem lay in the fact that once the target was fragged, it stayed on the frag for days or weeks. What ever was there was beat up in the first few drops, but the ROE (Rules of Engagement) wouldn't let the guys drop too far from the target or other restrictions came into play.
The second objective in Laos and the one that I hold dear is our effort to keep the NVA from overrunning Laos entirely. This was "The Secret War".
The political scene in Laos was complicated and would make another complete story, so I will not dwell on that fiasco. We ended up supporting the Royal Lao Government, which was weak and had basically no defense of it's own. The RLA was indifferent, led by tin generals trying their best to save face. The only warrior they had was Gen. Vang Pao,a sometimes ruthless little guy, now living in Orange County, California. He was a fighter and his people, the Hmong or Meo as they were called then, held off the NVA for many years.
We helped with money, ammo and the Ravens, who directed air support for the Hmong. The PDJ (Plain of Jars) was taken and lost by VP several times from 1960 to the capulation in 1975. The North Vietnamese hated the Hmong and vice versa. All the Hmong wanted was to be left alone, but the NVA wanted the mountain tops....that is where the Hmong lived. Thus a problem for the NVA.
The UN treaty in 1961, totally ignored by North Vietnam, their refusal to acknowledge they were even IN Laos, the dicy diplomatic ways of our embassy in Vientiene, all figures into the picture. The bottom line for me is that we abandoned them in 1975, caused the uprooting of a beautiful culture. I and many others involved with Laos took the defeat personally. I still get angry when thinking about it. Probably will be that way the rest of my life.
The above is how I saw it. Others may add to or detract from what I said and that is good, because the truth of our involvement should be out there for everyone to see, warts and all. I am proud of my part in it. Would do it again in a heartbeat.
The Author served with:
8th TFW Intell - Ubon RTAFB, Thailand 67-68
Det 1, 7/13th DI, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, 69-70
Copyright 2000 Larry Clum All Rights Reserved