The Lost Battalion of TET: Breakout of the 2/12th Cavalry at Hue

  • Published

The Lost Battalion of TET: Breakout of the 2/12th Cavalry at Hue by Charles A. Krohn. Naval Institute Press, 2013, 210 pp.

Mission: (1) Seal off city on west and north with right flank based on Song Huong. (2) Destroy enemy forces attempting to either reinforce or escape from Hue Citadel.

Those orders, handwritten on a notepad-sized piece of stationery, sent Col Richard Sweet and the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry (2/12) on a doomed mission to reach the South Vietnamese city of Hue during the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) Tet offensive in the spring of 1968. Revised and released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive, The Lost Battalion of TET recounts events as they unfold from the perspective of author Charles Krohn as a participant, serving as the battalion S-2 (intelligence officer). It also—and more importantly—addresses those events from his view as an experienced military officer and historian working to capture valuable lessons for future military leaders. In the middle of the 1st Air Cavalry Division’s inadequately planned and poorly executed move north from Bon Son and the Que Son Valley to the area around Hue, South Vietnam erupted under the aggressive attack of the NVA’s Tet offensive. Without adequate supplies or artillery support (both delayed as a result of the move) and hampered by bad weather and the Tet offensive, the 2/12 encountered and found itself surrounded by numerically superior elements of the 6th NVA regiment guarding NVA headquarters for the forces assaulting Hue.

His forces surrounded, having little-to-no hope of relief or assistance from a paralyzed support system, Colonel Sweet decides to leave behind the battalion’s dead and attempt a night breakout, seeking refuge in nearby mountains rather than stay in place and be overwhelmed. Although critics have often second-guessed this decision, only through Colonel Sweet’s leadership, as well as the heroism, bravery, and skill of the men of the 2/12, were they able to escape the death trap. For their gallantry, members of the unit received the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 Distinguished Service Crosses.

A solidly researched book, The Lost Battalion of TET includes numerous valuable appendices, maps, and photographs that add significantly to the text. Krohn has written an excellent work on two distinct levels. First, his direct experience clearly comes through in this gripping story. Easily read, even for those with minimal knowledge of Army operations, the book gives the reader a valuable look into the life of a US infantryman in Vietnam, as well as an enlightening view of the Vietnam War from the ground level. A skillful writer, the author pulls his audience into an engrossing and often heart-wrenching story of heroism. Second, Krohn provides a candid and critical analysis of the US Army’s failure to support the 2/12. As a soldier of the lost battalion of Tet, he holds nothing back in his criticism of the failure and lapses of command of the 1st Air Cavalry’s support structure. Although some readers may view the author’s criticism as personal attacks, it should serve as a valuable lesson to all military leaders that they must be prepared to react when the worst happens and must endeavor to prevent such unconscionable events from occurring. Both a historical work and a study of leadership and command at all levels, The Lost Battalion of TET is a must-read for all military officers.

Lt Col Daniel Simonsen

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."