A Vietnam War Mystery in Laos: Russian SAM Missiles.
Above Photo: North Vietnamese Anti-Aircraft Gunners fire on US Planes during the Vietnam War.
When I was travelling along Route 9 in Laos recently, I was surprised to come across the remains of a SAM-2 rocket, or the rocket’s solid fuel booster stage, which had clearly been fired, and which was now resting in a memorial park in Muang Phin.
This area saw much fighting during the Lam Son invasion of Laos by the US-backed South Vietnamese Army, who tried to take the nearby town of Tchepone, in a failed attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in half.
The reason it was unusual to see these SAM rocket remains so far south is they confound conventional thinking about the presence of these missiles in Laos during the war.
It is generally believed that the North Vietnamese Army only moved SAM-2s along the Ho Chi Minh Trail into southern Laos after the US pulled out in 1973. To have done so before would have invited destruction from the air, as they were large, cumbersome missiles to transport, and it would have been difficult to successfully hide them on a journey of hundreds of miles.
In no accounts of the invasion of Lam Son in 1971 have I read that SAM-2 missiles were launched against planes. Anti-aircraft fire, small arms and RPGs, yes, but nothing as big as a SAM-2 missile.
Even the above still-intact missile in the far south of Laos didn’t arrive until 1974, well after the US had pulled out of Vietnam and Laos. And the garbled sign (below) makes it clear what a huge undertaking this was, even without the risk of air attack.
So that begs the question of just how did these SAM-2 missile remains end up so far south in Laos, in an area of the country that saw the heaviest fighting of the Lam Son invasion?
For now, I have no idea.
POSTSCRIPT – Since originally writing this article I have had the privilege of reading and commenting on a manuscript of the History of the AC-130 gunship by William Walter. This amazing book details the work, weaponry, hits and losses of the AC-130 gunship over Laos during the Secret War. It also contains considerable information about the North Vietnamese Army’s covert location and operation of SAM missile sites in the south of Laos, from original North Vietnamese military documents.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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