Book Review

BAIT: The Battle of Kham Duc Special Forces Camp
By James D. McLeroy and Gregory W. Sanders
December 2, 2019
272 pages

Bait book cover


By Kenn Miller

The May, 1968, battle of Kham Duc Special Forces Camp and Ngok Tavak five miles to the south, is the least known major battle of the Vietnam War, but this book, McLeroy and Sanders’ BAIT, should make this important, bloody, and now extremely well documented battle an important focal point for students of that war. On the North Vietnamese side were two regiments of the NVA 2nd Division and various attached elements. On the allied side were two small detachments of Green Berets and their indigenous CIDG and SOG troops, a Marine Corps artillery battery, a US Army engineer company, infantrymen from the Americal Division, three USAF Combat Controllers, and a huge number of rotary and fixed wing aircraft and crews giving the soldiers on the ground vital air support. Most of those on either side fought with great courage. And many of those on both sides would not leave the Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak area alive.

The word “Bait” in the title of this book refers to the fact that all those on both sides of the fighting were bait in the strategic plans (or perhaps “fantasies”) of Le Duan, the actual leader of the North Vietnamese government and military, and General William Westmoreland. The North Vietnamese were hoping for a large victory to be used for propaganda aimed at the American homeland with vivid photos and film footage of many dead and captured Americans in hopes of shaking American resolution. Toward that aim, the North Vietnamese Army had brought along a film and photograph team. General Westmoreland wanted a mass of North Vietnamese soldiers to be destroyed in a set piece battle. And then there was the so called “Mini Tet” in the heavily populated coastal areas. The North Vietnamese leaders hoped that such a battle would draw many American and ARVN units away from the coast. Neither side got exactly what it wanted. What happened was almost certainly more terrible than either side had expected.

The purpose of this review is not to tell the story of the battle of Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak. All that is in this book itself. This review has only one goal, and that is to encourage people to read this splendid book. Here are a few of the things that make BAIT so amazing.

Of course there is the battle. McLeroy played an important part in the battle, but mentions himself only when absolutely necessary — and he does it with a quiet humility rare in ­first hand accounts of combat. McLeroy and Sanders give us the names and as much information as possible about the many participants of the battle. The authors tell us much about the setting and the history of the area.

Very few American books tell as much about the North Vietnamese military as will be found in BAIT. All of the allied forces involved in the battle, on the ground or in the air, get the respect they deserve. There are many subtle points about combat and life in this narrative — especially the importance of listening to those who know what it happening. There are interesting maps, photos, charts that actually support the narrative.

The writing is clear and excellent. The historical details are included. And both McLeroy and Sanders are former infantry officers with advanced degrees in history, so that the chapter notes, the index, glossary, and sources are abundant and actually worth reading. And that is a rare virtue in any history book.