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Plain of Jars
Haihin Plain
Jarres Plain
Plaine des Jarres

The Plain of Jars (Thong Haihin) in Xieng Khouang Province takes its name from large stone jars believed by some to be ancient Chinese funeral urns. Hundreds of these jars, large enough to hold a small, squatting man, are found in meadows at the center of the plains. These three- to ten-foot-tall stone urns, some weighing as much as seven tons, lie scattered across a grassy plain. The plain, a grassy, upland plateau approximately 40 miles across, has an average elevation of 3600 feet and resembles the dairy land of southern Wisconsin. More than 400 sites have been discovered on this plain. The largest of which contains 250 stone jars.

The famous Plain de Jars (PDJ) which dated back to more than 2000 years, being part of the Bronze Age culture and may relate to those jars of North Cachar Hills of north-eastern India, more than 600 miles to the northwest, and the jars of Da Nang, Vietnam. This may have been part of the prehistoric salt traders’ caravan route from Sa Huynh to Luang Prabang, located near the northwest edge of the Plain of Jars and all the way to India. These jars may be part in the old burial tradition.

The local inhabitants say that the jars were made to celebrate a great military victory 1,500 years ago. The victor ordered the construction of large jars to be used in making wine for a victory celebration. The urns were brought to the attention of the Western world in 1909 by a French customs official named Vinet. In the 1930s, French archeologist Madeline Colani documented the jars in a 600-page monograph, The Megaliths of Upper Laos, concluding that they were funerary urns carved by a vanished Bronze Age people.

Even today, the PDJ remains as the strategic points linking Vietnam to the West and the saying that “who ever control the PDJ controls Laos” could be the reason both sides trying their hearts out to control this burial plain by scarifying thousands of lives, not to mention the tons of bombs dropped around it during the last Vietnam War.

The Plain of Jars, near the border of North Vietnam, was crucial to the overall course of the war effort. The war was fought primarily in the heavily forested mountains between the Lao-North Vietnamese border and the two principal northern Laotian cities of Vientiane, the administrative capital, and Luang Prabang. A significant feature in the heart of this area is the Plain of Jars. This plain is where most of the fighting took place. The Americans, during the Vietnam war, desolated most of the area known as the Plain of Jars.

On 31 December 1960 senior military and intelligence advisors presented President Dwight D. Eisenhower a very disquieting briefing on Laos. The Soviets were maintaining their extraordinary military aid airlift to the Pathet Lao-Neutralist forces on the Plain of Jars. Chinese and or North Vietnamese intervention in Laos seemed a distinct possibility. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid the Royal Lao government appeared on the verge of losing control over more than half the kingdom. Eisenhower declared at the conclusion of the meeting "We cannot let Laos fall to the Communists even If we have to fight ... with our allies or without them."

In early 1961, backed by North Vietnamese forces, the Pathet Lao had opened an offensive on the Plain of Jars in central Laos. The loss of the critical junction of Routes 7 and 13 at Sala Phou Khoun in early March 1961 had several consequences. The US Government felt it might be necessary todefend the neutral and independent Laos, and so on 09 March 1961, President Kennedy approvedplans for a major B-26 strike against the Plain of Jars.

In early 1963 the CIA organized a Meo offensive which hill-hopped to within 15 kilometers of Sam Neua City. Pathet Lao forces, with NVA backing, attempted to drive Kong Le's neutralist forces from the Plain of Jars. The CIA responded to Kong Leis plight by ordering Vang Pao's Meo to support his forces. The NVA then reacted with a series of Dry Season offensives to clear the Meo positions from the dominating terrain along Route 6, leading to the Plain of Jars.

During the first few months of 1964, the Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese forces again threatened the Plain of Jars, the strategic gateway to the Mekong valley, where most of the Lao population lived. In the spring of 1964 Pathet Lao (Laotian communists) and North Vietnamese troops drove Laotian forces from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos. The Navy's participation in the joint Navy-Air Force operation, designated Yankee Team, was inaugurated on 21 May 1964 by two Chance-Vought RF-8A Crusader photo reconnaissance planes from Kitty Hawk (CVA 63). The aircraft discovered a Communist military presence in the Plain of Jars region, from both a photographic record and direct hit on one plane by antiaircraft fire.

Navy reconnaissance flights were conducted from a higher altitude and away from the more lethal areas of Laos. In addition to acquiring useful intelligence of enemy activity in the Plain of Jars and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the officers and men of the Seventh Fleet task force gained practical experience in the command, conduct, and support of intended operations.

At first, the USAF only flew unarmed reconnaissance missions. As the situation grew worse, the USAF began flying combat strike missions in northern Laos in under the code name BARREL ROLL. Strike aircraft used during BARREL ROLL included F-100s, F-105s and F-4s based in Thailand and South Vietnam (no USAF jet combat aircraft were stationed in "neutral" Laos).

When the dry season in the fall of 1965 made offensive ground operations on the Plain of Jars possible, the communists launched their largest offensive to date. Air power gradually slowed the Pathet Lao advance, and by August 1966, a Royal Laotian counterattack had advanced to within 45 miles of the North Vietnamese border. North Vietnam responded by sending in more troops, and once again the Laotians retreated. This remained the pattern for the next two years, with the ground situation changing back and forth with the seasons. The USAF flew thousands of BARREL ROLL missions, but poor weather at times caused missions to be cancelled.

Campaigns on the Plain of Jars were led by Vang Pao and his Hmong soldiers against the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao. Vang Pao's capture of the Plain of Jars to crop destruction missions which had taken place in August 1969. By 1969, the NVA had achieved their objective. In 1970 fresh North Vietnamese troops advanced through northern Laos. The North Vietnamese in March 1970 drove Royal Lao forces from the Plain of jars in northern Laos and threatened to overrun the Meo heartland. In February USAF B-52s bombed targets in northern Laos for the first time. Laotian reinforcements, along with the AC-47 gunships the USAF had provided to the Royal Laotian Air Force, stopped the enemy. For the rest of the year, it remained a "seesaw" military campaign. By 1970 the Plain of Jars was controlled by three North Vietnamese divisions.

By 1970 the Laotians had surrendered the Plain of Jars and were backed up to Long Tieng just short of Vientiane, where they managed to hold. The NVA had improved their lines of communication to a point where they were subsequently able to contest Vang Pao for the Plain with multi-division offensives by 1970-71.

An exception to the rule of small-scale engagements was the major North Vietnamese-Pathet Lao offensive against Vang Pao that began in mid-December 1971 and lasted until the end of April 1972. This battle involved more than twenty North Vietnamese battalions and some 10,000 Hmong irregulars and Royal Lao Army defenders. After blasting the last defensive positions on the Plain of Jars with newly introduced 130-mm guns with a thirty-kilometer range, the North Vietnamese advanced on Longtiang. They captured a number of positions on a ridge dominating the airfield before being driven off with heavy loss of life on both sides. The Hmong halted an attack of T-34 tanks against the airfield by skillfully placing land mines.

Through 1972, the communists slowly occupied more territory in northern Laos with their superior numbers, but they failed to overwhelm government forces. By 1973, the Meo hadlost the Plain of Jars and had only one remaining major base at Long Tieng

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Page last modified: 08-06-2012 14:42:46 ZULU