Truong’s Tragic Trail #6: Fall of Saigon

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

The Fall of Saigon was surprisingly rapid, and it revealed the Communist planning and efforts, that had been advancing for years. This article is merely an overview of events that took place in March and April, 1975

The Central Highlands, March 1975

General Dung reported on 9 January, one day after the Poltical Bureau’s conference adjourned, the Central Mililary Party Committee met to prepare military plans. It was here that Ban Me Thuot was selected as the first objective, and main effort of the Central Highlands campaign.

The conference had just started when Comrade Le Duc Tho arrIved, unannounced. He said, “We must definitely raise the problem of liberating Ban Me Thuot and Duc Lap. It would be absurd, if with almost five dIvisions in Ihe Central Highlands, we could not attack Ban Me Thuot.”

Comrade Vo Nguyen Giap then discussed offensive targets, objectives of the campaign, and orders for deploying forces. The Central Highlands campaign was codenamed  “Campaign 275.” Comrade Vu Lang, the front commander left for the Ban Me Thuot area to assess the situation.

Isolating the Battlefield

The B-3 Front counted on surprise and overwhelming force to capture Ban Me Thuot, with diversionary attacks in Kontum and Pleiku Provinces to prolong these advantages, and prevent  ARVN reinforcing. Diversions began, while the 10th, 316th, and 320th NVA Divisions converged on the initial objectives.

Campaign 275 opened on 4 March with simultaneous attacks along Route QL-19, that closed the highway at Mang Yang Pass. NVA sappers blew Bridge 12 southeast of Binh Khe, and infantry struck ARVN territorials overwatching An Khe Pass, and overran an ARVN artillery position.  The Phu Cat air base received rocket fire.

While ARVN territorials and the 47th Regiment struggled against withering NVA assaults, South Vietnamese forces in Pleiku Province took rocket and mortar fire on Route QL-19 from Le Trung to Mang Yang Pass. Fire Support Bases 92, 93, and 94 were hit, and several outposts overrun. General Phu, ARVN II Corps commander, sent two battalions of 4th Ranger Group to join  2nd Armored Cavalry Brigade to clear Route QL-19, to proceed toward Mang Yang Pass. Before this was underway, FSB 94 was overrun. Meanwhile, NVA rockets hit Pleiku air base, causing heavy damage.

The Fall of MR II

While these events deceived General Phu into thinking Pleiku was the main NVA goal, Communists interdicted Route QL-21, by blowing two bridges and overrunning an outpost between the Darlac boundary and Khanh Duong, thus isolating the Central Highlands battlefield.

At II Corps HQ, the G-2, Col. Trinh Tieu insisted that Ban Me Thuot was the main NVA objective, based on signs that 320th Division shifted south. But, General Phu still believed it was Pleiku, based on current enemy attacks, and would not weaken this front to reinforce Ban Me Thuot.

Main Attack on Ban Me Thout

The first direct Campaign 275 blow came when elements of 9th Regiment struck Buon Blech. The  45th ARVN Regiment made contact, and fighting ensued, but Route QL-14 was now blocked.

The NVA 10th Division attacked south of Ban Me Thout, and although repulsed by Rangers at Kien Duc, and territorials at Duc Lap, they drove the 53rd ARVN Regiment from the Dak Song crossroads.

Now convinced Darlac was the main battlefield, General Phu asked JGS for an additional Ranger group, but was turned down. He pulled 72nd and 96th Ranger Battalions from Chu Pao Pass and Kontum, and flew them to Buon Ho, where they were to be trucked 35 km to Ban Me Thuot.

Rocket and artillery fire fell on Ban Me Thuot on 10 March, and by midmorning, 320th NVA Division elements penetrated the city. Fighting at the airfield destroyed two dozen aircraft. Rocket attacks on Pleiku and Kontum caused streams of refugees to flee south. Long lines at Kontum’s air terminal formed, as residents sought tickets to Pleiku and points south. By nightfall, the NVA had a firm hold on Ban Me Thuot, while remaining ARVN remnants held outlying positions to the south.

The ARVN 23rd Division command post fought along with 53rd Infantry to 11 March, even though province chief Nguyen Cong Luat was captured.

On 14 March, General Phu flew to Cam Ranh to meet with President Thieu, who outlined a last-ditch concept to retake Ban Me Thuot, using troops at Kontum and Pleiku, and 22nd Division from Binh Dinh.

Already, ARVN  General Tat was ordered to evacuate Kontum and Pleiku, down Route 7B to the coast at Tuy Hoa.

23d Division’s counterattack was thrwarted by 10th NVA Division, when they intercepted and shattered 45th ARVN Infantry, short of its planned link-up. Withdrawing survivors of the 23rd Division were pushed eastward to Khanh Duong

The evacuation of all South Vietnamese forces from the highland provinces had begun on 19 March.

Campaign Series Vietnam will feature a scenario titled: Battle of Ban Me Thuot – March 3 – 18, 1975

The Final Offensive in the North

On 8 March, the NVA attacked in three northern provinces of MR-1, Quang Tri, Thua Thien, and Quang Nam. In Quang Tin, attacks began two days later, and the offensive was delayed in Quang Ngai.

The strongest attacks were in Quang Tri Province against outposts and hamlets of the coastal lowlands. The 110th ARVN RF Battalion held its ground in the southwest, but the  NVA gained control of seven hamlets in southern Quang Tri and northern Thua Thien, sending refugees streaming southward to Hue. But, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, an ARVN task force composed of the 8th Airborne, 112th. and 120th RF Battalions drove the enemy from these areas by afternoon on 9 March.

The North Vietnamese also infiltrated the coastal lowlands of Thua Thien. Southeast of Hue, the NVA 324B Division began attacking, swarming over the surrounding hills. ARVN held on Hill 121, but 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry was shattered and driven from Hill 224, and Hill 50 southwest of Nui Bong was lost. Brig. Gen. Nguyen Van Diem, commander of 1st ARVN Division, dispatched the 15th Ranger Group to reinforce the line. The next day, a POW explained that 325th NVA Division moved south to join attacks in Phu Loc District, just a few km south of the Phu Bai  Airbase.

NVA troops supported by 20 tanks attacked the Marine Division in the Song Bo corridor, northwest of Hue. In two days of heavy fighting, the 147th Marine Brigade killed more than 200 enemy, and destroyed two tanks.

NVA sappers penetrated Da Nang on 8 March, firing RPGs into Hon Yang District offices. Rockets hit the air base destroying a new F-5E. NVA  infantry assaults against ARVN 3rd Infantry Division, and the Airborne Division were repelled, but sappers got through, and blew the Route 540 bridge north of Dai Loc.

The Quang Tin Province situation was serious, with NVA 2nd Division attacks  on Tien Phuoc  and Hau Duc, and overunning 102nd RF Battalion on 10 March. Refugees surged into Tam Ky, the provincial capital, which was hit by 122-mm rockets. General Nhut, commanding 2nd ARVN Division, organized a relief column, pushing out from Tam Ky to protect the withdrawal of territorials and refugees from Tien Phuoc.

In addition to the 37th and 39th Ranger battalions in the relief column, General Nhut sent the 5th Infantry Regiment, plus two RF battalions, the 115th and 135th, and the 21st Ranger Battalion to postions west of Tam Ky. This totals eight combat-ready battalions there.

Airborne Division Transfer to Saigon

General Truong, I Corps commander was now faced a more serious problem. On 12 March, he was ordered to send the Airborne Division to Saigon. He called General Vien to protest, but was informed that President Thieu wanted it for the offensive to retake Ban Me Thuot. General Vien suggested that a new Marine Brigade might be sent north to replace the Airborne Division.

Truong decided to pull the Marine Division out of Quang Tri, and shift it south to cover Phu Loc and Da Nang. The 14th Ranger Group would move north to relieve the marines. Also, one regiment from Nghia Hanh was sent to reinforce Tam Ky.

General Truong flew to Saigon on 13 March for a secret meeting with President Thieu, Prime Minister Khiem, and General Vien. He was told about the highlands evacuation, and ordered to plan for eventual evacuation of Military Region I. Thieu considered Da Nang the most important, but the rest could be sacrificed.

MR I Map

More bad news came as NVA overran overrun two RF strongpoints of the My Chanh Line. Farther south, Marines fought off attacks, while around Hue, 1st ARVN Division’s troops regained FSB Bastogne after NVA troops grabbed it. Heavy fighting continued southwest of Tam Ky, with NVA tanks joining the fight, and Rangers locked in close combat, and in danger of being overrun.

On 14 March, Truong explained to General Thi, and General Lan, the Marine Division commander, plans to pull all combat forces into Quang Nam, and defend Da Nang with Marines. Rangers at Song Ba and Tra Bong were given evacuation orders.

The 14th Ranger Group began relieving  Marines in Quang Tri on 15 March, while one marine brigade remained at the Song Bo defenses. They anticipated mass mass civilian exodus from Quang Tri. The 369th Marine Brigade was deployed to  Quang Nam.

The NVA attacked strongly throughout Quang Ngai on 14 and 15 March, overrunning outposts all around the province capital. 6th Infantry Regiment remained Nghia Hanh protect Quang Ngai City.

Only  70th Ranger and 3/4 Battalions remained south of Mo Duc. On 16 March, NVA attacks destroyed five PF platoons north of Binh Son and closed Route 1.

A collapse was imminent in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces, while shifting units in Quang Tri continued. The Marine Division command post was set up at Marble Mountain Airfield at Da Nang on 18 March. 175-mm guns and a M48 tank company begin moving south to Da Nang.

On 18 March, Prime Minister Khiem flew to Da Nang, and explained to Truong plans for a new national strategy, since evacuation from Pleiku and Kontum had begun. The goal was a truncated Vietnam anchored in the north at Ban Me Thuot. This required salvaging forces now under savage attack. It had to be done quickly, as already the NVA offensive in Tay Ninh was gathering momentum.

No additional troops would be sent to MR-1, and the promised marine brigade would remain in Saigon. The Prime Minister left for Saigon, and next day General Truong went there as well. He was directed to defend Hue, Da Nang, Chu Lai, and Quang Ngai City. When forced, he could surrender Chu Lai and Quang Ngai. But, he must defend Hue and Da Nang at all costs.

The 175-mm guns were halted in the Da Nang relocation, as was ammunition evacuation from Hue.

General Thi was put in charge of Hue’s defenses with Marines under Col. Tri defending the northern sector and 1st Division commander. Brig. Gen. Nguyen Van Diem, in the south.  The 147th Marine Brigade was at the Song Bo corridor.

Tam Ky was struck by heavy rocket fire on 21 March. 4th Infantry Regiment moved to reinforce it from Quang Ngai, where the situation was becoming desperate, despite ARVN re-opening Route 1. Truong gave General Nhut authority to consolidate anyway he could.

NVA tanks and infantry crossed the cease-fire tine in Quang Tri, and rolled against the disintegrating resistance, reaching the My Chanh Line, and pausing for the next phase. 324B and 325th NVA Divisions  assaulted ARVN positions from the Bo Corridor to Phu Loc. Heavy artillery fire fell on Hue.

The final NVA assault on Tam Ky was 24 March. Sappers breached the perimeter, and by mid morning were in the city center, blowing up the power plan!.  General Truong also ordered evacuation of  forces in Quang Ngai, to assemble for defense of Chu Lai. On 24 March, General Truong ordered General Thi to evacuation Hue. By then, the population of Hue was streaming toward Tan My to take any available boat or ship.

While these withdrawals were underway, General Truong was visited by a JGS delegation with orders to release the Marine Division to defend Saigon. General Truong objected. JGS suggested giving up Chu Lai, and sending 2nd Division to Da Nang. By the time he recovered remnants of the 1st and 2nd Divisions, neither were combat effective.

The situation in Da Nang on 26 March was chaotic, but 3rd ARVN Division still held in Dai Lac and Duc Duc districts  against mounting pressure. NVA rockets struck a refugee camp near Da Nang.

Soon it was evident that 3rd Division could not contain NVA attacks in Quang Nam. General Truong ordered withdrawal to a shorter line within artillery range. Attempts to hold that line failed as ARVN soldiers deserted to save their families. With defeat imminent, General Truong shipped all forces, mostly marines, to Saigon. And then, he and his staff left to the rescuing fleet of boats. Da Nang, the last enclave in Military Region I, belonged to the NVA by nightfall on 30 March.

The Last Act in the South

The 1975 coordinated Communist offensive struck first at Tri Tam, seat of Dau Tieng District near Michelin Plantation. West of Tri Tam, Route 239  joined local Route LTL-26,  which ran northwest into Tay Ninh. The ARVN Khiem Hanh base lay to the southwest. All traffic to Tri Tam had to pass over Routes 26 and 239 past territorial outposts. Tri Tam was defended by three RF Battalions and nine PF platoons. III Corps anticipated the attack, when 9th NVA Division was observed concentrating norlh.

The Tri Tam attack began on 11 March, with intense artillery, followed by infantry and T-54  assaults. Success was assured by severing communication lines earlier.

With Tri Tam in its possession, the NVA now controlled the Saigon River corridor from Tong Le Chon, to the ARVN outpost at Rach Bap. The ARVN base at Kheim Hanh was within  artillery range. ARVN’s Khiem Hanh’s mission was preventing NVA from closing Routes QL-22 and QL-1 near the critical junction at Go Dau Ha. But, on the eve of the Tri Tam assault, three NVA battalions closed Highway 22 between Go Dau Ha and Tay Ninh. The 75th Artillery Division operated in Tay Ninh for this campaign, and the 377th NVA Antiaircraft Division provided direct infantry support.

General Toan, commanding III Corps, reacted by reinforcing at Khiem Hanh, and deployed the ARVN 3rd Armored Brigade, two Ranger battalions, and 48th Infantry. While 48th Infantry attacked west out of Go Dau Ha, 46th Infantry attacked north along Route 22. Heavy anti-aircraft fire prevented General Toan from landing his helicopter at Go Dau Ha on 13 March.

The Eastern Front

While General Toan committed a half-corps to the west, an NVA offensive erupted in the east and center. Available ARVN forces were inadequate to cope with the attacks. Since enclaves at An Loc and Chon Thanh were of no further military or political value, ARVN forces could be withdrawn. Furthermore, a new NVA division was discovered near Chon Thanh, the 341st. An Loc and Chon Thanh evacuations began on 18 March. 155-mm howitzers were destroyed, as VNAF lacked heavy-lift helicopters. Despite appearance of the 341st Division, the most critical threat developed in the east.

Just before the NVA attacked, 18th ARVN Division was spread in several areas: Xuan Loc,  Dinh Quan, Hoai Duc, and Bien Hoa. The Long Khanh-Binh Tuy campaign began along two principal Highways, QL-1 and QL-20, striking outposts east of Xuan Loc. On 17 March, 7th NVA Division initiated one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the battle for Xuan Loc. Anticipating the attack, General Dao, commanding 18th Division reinforced La Nga bridge the day before, but intense fire forced a withdrawal. With repeated assaults, NVA Inrantry penetrated Dinh Quan, and ARVN 43rd Infantry was forced to withdraw.

An RF company, sent to reinforce Ong Don., ran into strong resistance on Route QL-1. North of Ong Don, Gia Ray on Route 333 was attacked by 6th NVA Division elements. General Dao realized

that two NVA divisions, the 6th and 7th, were committed in Long Khanh. Sappers blew a bridge on Highway 1 on each side of the  Route 332 junction, isolating all ARVN forces east or Route 332 from Xuan Loc.

Hoai Duc and Gia Ray were overrun by 6th NVA Division. General Toan responded to the expanding threat by sending 5th Armored Cavalry Squadron and a battalion from Tay Ninh to Long Khanh.

Tri Tam Battles

Tay Ninh

ARVN 48th Infantry was still heavily engaged near Go Dau Ha. The outer defenses of Tay Ninh and Hau Nghia began to crumble rapidly after the fall of Cau Khoi. The eastern prong of the NVA offensive in Tay Ninh was still pressing against the vital position at Khiem Hanh. On 23 March, ARVN soldiers and tanks made contact with NVA forces near Truong Mit.

A major battle on the 24th caused heavy casualties on both sides. 7th ARVN Infantry lost over 400 men, and the attacking 271st Regiment left nearly 200 dead. Artillery, tank, and automatic weapons fire was intense. The 271st was supported by a battalion of 37-mm antiaircraft guns. General Toan asked General Vien for an Airborne brigade to counterattack at Truong Mit, but Vien refused.

Binh Long

Withdrawal from its two enclaves in Binh Long Province was still under way.The 9th and 341st NVA Divisions attacked at Chon Thanh on 24 March. A battalion of T-54 tanks accompanied, but seven were destroyed by VNAF and defending Ranger Groups. Chon Thanh held firm, and by 27 March, the withdrawal from An Loc was complete.


As Communist forces tightened around Military Region 3, the flow of assistance was slowed by events in Washington. A House caucus resolution opposed more military aid for either Cambodia or Vietnam. Their argument was why did the Vietnamese withdraw from the highlands? The Ford administration tried to convince Congress that assistance was essential for Vietnam’s survival. At any rate, the US 7th Fleet provided huge resources in evacuation efforts.

Reorganization and Redeployment

The 48th Infantry was returned the 18th Division, and the 7th Infantry back to its division at Lai Khe. The 25th ARVN Division, elements of 3d Armored Brigade, Rangers, and territorials were responsible for defense of Tay Ninh Province. General Khuyen approved a plan for reconstitution of units from Military Regions I and 2. As of 11 April, about 40000 troops from these areas reported to camps, or were reassigned to Military Region 3.

Xuan Loc

South Vietnamese fought well at Xuan Loc, but the NVA used the battle as a “meat grinder,” sacrificing its units to destroy irreplaceable ARVN forces. Meanwhile, I Corps could slip to the west and prepare for an assault on Saigon. After the first allempt to seize Xuan Loc was repulsed, the 341st NVA Division began a second assault on 9 April.

On the 12 April, 52nd ARVN Infantry were fighting north of Xuan Loc, but the town was still held by 43rd ARVN Infantry. Two resupply missions were flown, and the VNAF reactivated some A1-Es, and used a C-130 transport to drop 15000-pound bombs, while facing intense antiaircraft fire. But, this took a heavy toll on the NVA. The NVA assault resumed 13 April, with the 6th, 7th, and 341st Divisions committed. But, the 43rd, with heavy VNAF support, held. And, for a short time, it appeared that ARVN might prevail at Xuan Loc.

The NVA continued sending additional forces into Military Region 3. I Corps set up its headquarters in Phuoc Long, but sent the 320B and 325th to Long Khanh, where Ihe 325th entered the battle on 15 April. The 10th and 304th Divisions were also on the march toward Saigon.

The approaches to Saigon were anchored at Long Binh by a marine brigade. The exhausted 18th ARVN Division fell back from Xuan Loc toward Bien Hoa by 15 April, and Long Binh would soon become the eastern front line.

Battle of Xuan Loc

Organizing Saigon Defenses

JGS and ARVN III Corps augmented Saigon defenses battles continued elswhere. General Sa, commanding the 25th ARVN Division, put 50th Infantry Regiment at Go Dau Ha. Tay Ninh City had the 49th Infantry, and the 46th was on Route 22 between Tay Ninh City and Go Dau Ha. The inner defenses of Saigon were manned by territorials, and a few regular formations, some reconstituted. Three Ranger groups were on the western approaches.

Final Battles in Ninh Thuan and Bin Thuan Provinces

Far to the northeast of the capital, battles for Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces were fought. Attacks by the 3d NVA Division began on 14 April against 2d ARVN Division.  These were repulsed on the 14th and 15th, but defenders wereoverwhelmed on 16 April, and Phan Rang was lost.

The Last Week

An uneasy quiet set in between 20 and 26 April while the NVA planned the final drive. Sixteen NVA divisions were now in Military Region 3 and poised for a three-pronged attack on Saigon.

The Defense Attache Office at Tan Son Nhut had established an evacuation control center on 1 April. On the 20 April, it began a full-scale evacuation of personnel, dependents, and Vietnamese civilian employees.

Hope that the North Vietnamese might stop the offensive and negotiate, President Thieu resigned office on 21 April. But, removal of this long-trumpeted obstacle to reconciliation had no discernible effect.

The NVA resumed attacks on 26 April, with focus on Bien Hoa, east of Saigon. After heavy artillery fire, the NVA began moving toward Bien Hoa. Route 15 was interdicted, isolating Vung Tau, and Da Ria fell. The NVA in Long An and Hau Nghia Provinces renewed attempts to dislodge ARVN defenses in the west.

On 27 April, Vice President Tran Van Huong, Thieu’s successor, failed to form a government with which the Communists would negotiate.  He resigned, and was succeeded by Duong Van “Big” Minh.

On 29 April, heavy bombardment of Tan Son Nhut airfield began. Cu Chi was under attack, and NVA sappers and infantry were in Go Vap, just north of Tan Son Nhut.

By 30 April, the American evacuation was complete. That morning, Duong Van Minh surrendered the country to the North Vietnamese Army.

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Truong’s Tragic Trail is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of the events in Vietnam from 1973 until the end in 1975. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.

Truong’s Tragic Trail #5: The Tightening Noose

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

Which Military Region do you think gave North Vietnam its most encouragement? This article explains how their successes in MR-2 in the Central Highlands, and American weakness led to a test of wills and strategy in Phuoc Long Province.

The Tightening Noose

In early 1974, the NVA maintained pressure on ARVN defenses south of Hue. These skirmishes eroded the ARVN 1st Division, which protected the Phu Bai Airbase, coastal Route 1, and the Ta Trach River corridor.

The NVA infiltrated the Hai Van Ridge in October 1973, but ARVN still held on to Nui Mo Tau, Nui Bong, and Hills 144, 224, 273 and 350 to the south, which formed the defensive ring protecting Phu Bai and Hue.

General Truong viewed see-saw contests for hills south of Nui Mo Tau as mere training exercises, so long as the NVA did not extend within range range of Phu Bai. But, when this occurred, protecting Hue’s air and land links with the south became urgent.

In spring 1974, 1st Division held Nui Mo Tau, Nui Bong, and  Hill 144. But, Hills 273 and 350 were lost. Ammunition shortages resulted in artillery firing restrictions, so other means to soften objectives were found. In recapturing Hill 350, 3rd Infantry isolated the defenders. A few days later, the NVA 5th Regiment soldiers were out of food and supplies. When revealed by radio, the ARVN commander ordered an assault, which succeeded on the first try.

After a new II Corps HQ was formed, the NVA 324B Division now controlled five regiments: 803rd, 812th, 5th, 6th, and 271st. Meanwhile, ARVN General Truong made major adjustments, which were detrimental for Hue, moving 54th Infantry from Thua Thien to Quang Nam Province. This eliminated 1st Division’s reserves.

While General Truong shifted forces to Quang Nam, the NVA 2nd Corps moved new forces in, like the 271st Independent Regiment, which marched north from the A Shau Valley. On 28 August, NVA attacks on Nui Mo Tau and Hill 350 began. ARVN 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry held, but an adjacent position, manned by the 129th RF Battalion, collapsed. The other two battalions of ARVN 3rd Infantry were driven from their positions by the 6th and 812th NVA Regiments. In only a few hours, all ARVN summer accomplishments were erased. NVA 324B Division casualties were high, but they controlled terrain overlooking the lowlands around Phu Bai.

Defense of Hue

Heavy fighting continued into September, with strong NVA attacks against the ARVN 3rd Battalion, 51st Regiment, and 1st and 2nd Battalions of 3rd Regiment. The 6th and 803rd NVA Regiments lost 300 men and over 100 weapons, but 3rd ARVN Infantry was badly crippled.

Immediate reinforcements were needed, and General Truong ordered the 54th Infantry Regiment, and 37th Ranger Battalion to Thua Thien Province. General Thi took command of ARVN forces there, and moved 7th Airborne and 111th RF Battalions to Phu Bai. These deployments and skillful artillery fire dampened further NVA initiatives.

In a diversion to draw ARVN forces northward from Phu Loc, the NVA strongly attacked in Phong Dien, north of Hue, on 21 September. However, the South Vietnamese held firmly. The next week, renewed assaults by the 803rd NVA Regiment carried it to Nui Mo Tau, and by the end of September, the NVA consolidated its control over the high ground overlooking Phu Bai. The NVA 2nd Corps exploited this by moving 85-mm field guns to fire on Phu Bai Air Base, forcing the VNAF to suspend operations.

ARVN attempted to retake Nui Mo Tau and Nui Bong, but Typhoon Della reduced air support, and little progress was made. However, heavy ARVN artillery fire forced 6th Battalion, 6th NVA Infantry to abandon position on Hill 312, and the 803rd’s  trenches were torn up. The 803rd and 812th NVA Regiments were depleted, and withdrew. 6th and 271st NVA Regiments replaced them on Nui Mo Tau and Nui Bong.

In November, heavy rains inhibited movement, and the ARVN offensive slowed considerably. For a new assault on Nui Mo Tau, General Truong authorized the reinforcement of the 54th Infantry Regiment by the 15th Ranger Group. NVA forces resisted, but on 10 December, the 1st Battalion of the 54th took one of the twin crests of Nui Mo Tau, and captured the other the following day.

Bloody skirmishing continued for weeks, and the NVA replaced the 6th Regiment with the refitted 812th. Although the NVA remained entrenched on Nui Bong, lines of communication were frequently interdicted by  ARVN units in his rear. The VNAF resumed flights into Phu Bai on 13 December.

By making timely and appropriate deployments, General Truong was able to hold the NVA forces at bay around Hue. But, the ring was closing on the Imperial City. Reinforced NVA battalions equipped with new weapons, and replacements were in contact with ARVN outposts. Behind these, new formations of tanks were assembling, and large logistical installations constructed, protected by antiaircraft, and supplied by improved roads.

Although the state of affairs around the Imperial City of Hue were indeed foreboding, a greater tragedy emerged in Phouc Long Province.

The Last Christmas: Phuoc Long

The 1974 NVA campaigns were stalemated at Thua Thien and around Saigon, but had overrun isolated bases in the Central Highlands, and penetrated the Quang Nam lowlands. In the highlands, NVA forces captured Thuong Duc, a district capital, and protracted paratrooper division counterattacks were repulsed. This victory and numerous others showed the North Vietnamese high command that it was time for a bolder strategy.

General Van Tien Dung related how the “General Staff reported to the Central Military Party Committee that the combat capability of our mobile main force troops was now altogether superior to that of the enemy’s, and the war had reached its final stage, and the balance of forces had changed in our favor.”

General Dung, the Party Committee, and General Staff agreed their superiority should be exploited in a new strategy to liberate populated areas, and  move from jungles and mountains into the lowlands. US aid reductions made it impossible for the puppet troops carry out their combat plan. The South Vietnamese were “forced to fight a poor man’s war,” with 60% reduced firepower from ammunition shortages, and reduced mobility from lack of aircraft, vehicles and fuel.

Would the US intervene in these new initiatives? The North Vietnamese did not think so, given the Watergate scandal and resignation of President Nixon, coupled with economic recession, inflation, and the oil crisis. Phuoc Long would be the first test of this assessment.

The Setting

Phuoc Long Province was far north of Saigon on the Cambodian border, and several important COSVN tactical and logistical units were in the Be Duc/Bu Dop village complexes. NVA forces were not sufficient to threaten Phuoc Long, although they interfered with ARVN movements on major roads to Song Be and Route 14 from Quang Duc. These interdictions required ARVN to mount road clearing operations when convoys were scheduled, so they stocked enough ammunition to last a week of combat, and were supplemented by VNAF C-130s.

Phuoc Long Province’s capital was Phuoc Binh on the Song Be River. (Shown on map as Phuoc Long City) Song Be was also the name of the airfield there.

Anticipating a resupply convoy, Colonel Nguyen Tan Thanh placed the 362d RF Ballalion, reinforced with four PF platoons, and two RF companies at Duc Phong, about about halfway between Kien Duc and Phuoc Binh on Route 14. Kien Duc is about 55 km northeast of Phuoc Binh. In a brief encounter, they killed four soldiers from the 201st NVA Regiment. Although a success, presence of an NVA regiment so close to Phuoc Binh was a bad omen.

Colonel Thanh also controlled the 341st RF Battalion at Don Luan, and the 363rd RF Battalion at Bunard. 34 PF Platoons were scaltered about the hamlets around Song Be, while 14 PF platoons defended eight hamlets in the Duc Phong Subsector. At New Bo Duc, there were nine PF platoons, and a similar number were in hamlets and posts around Don Luan.


Suddenly, in December 1974, major enemy threats appeared in Tay Ninh, Long Khanh and Binh Tuy Provinces. A skirmish at Xuan Loc netted a secret document describing plans to attack Gia Ray. Attacks in Binh Tuy were made by the 812th NVA Regiment.

The ARVN III Corps ordered the 18th Infantry Division, plus the 7th Ranger Group from Xuan Loc to reinforce Binh Tuy Province.

Battle of Phuoc Long

The Last Days of Phuoc Long

The 301st NVA Corps ran  the Phuoc Long campaign using the 3rd and 7th Divisions, a tank battalion, an artillery and anti-aircraft regiment, and several sapper units. This formidable force concentrated against four dispersed RF battalions and PF platoons. One by one,  isolated garrisons came under attack and were overrun.

The first blow fell on Don Luan on 13 December 1974. NVA Assaults on Duc Phong and New Bo Duc succeeded in overrunning these posts, while Don Luan held. The Bunard post was lost next. Phuoc Binh was also under artillery attack.

Three ARVN reconnaissance companies augmented the 340th RF Battalion at Phuoc Binh, and the VNAF flew six 105-mm howitzers, ammunition, and other supplies into Song Be airfield. But, the NVA did not allow this long. Artillery fire damaged a C-130 upon landing and destroyed another.

While fighting raged at Song Be and New Be Duc, the ARVN 341st RF Battalion beat back assaults at Don Luan. The battalion lost the airstrip, but counterattacked and took it back. In the north, the only positions still in ARVN hands were the Song Be airstrip, Phuoc Binh, and the crest of Nui Ba Ra.

The crises at Phuoc Long, Tay Ninh, and Binh Tuy presented ARVN General Dong with tough choices. He had to stop NVA advances toward Tay Ninh, and hold Binh Tuy, but he well knew the political fallout of losing a provincial capital. He ordered 2d Battalion, 7th Infantry to Song Be.

On 23 December, General Dong told President Thieu’s National Security Adviser that III Corps needed part of the Airborne Division to save Phuoc Long. President Thieu refused. More grim news reached III Corps Headquarters, as the NVA 7th Division finally overran Don Luan.

Meanwhile, refugees poured into Song Be. ARVN tried to resupply, but airdrop attempts failed as none of the bundles could be recovered. Although enemy tanks had been destroyed in prior attacks, more were approaching. The ARVN 81st Airborne Rangers were sent into the battle.

As tanks rolled through the streets, and fired at ARVN positions, NVA sappers followed, mopping up bypassed positions. NVA artillery was devastating, as structures, bunkers, and trenches collapsed, and casualties mounted. ARVN artillery was out of action.

With no artillery and shattered communications, and under attack from approaching T-54 tanks, Colonel Thanh and his staff withdrew. The NVA had captured the first province capital since the 1973 cease-fire.

Pitiful little bands of Montagnards treked through the jungles to Quang Duc. Helicopters rescued about 200 men Rangers, 7th Infantry. A few members of the command group eventually reached the  Bu Binh outpost. ARVN losses were staggering. Of 5400 ARVN defenders, less than 850 survived. The few province, village, and hamlet officials captured were summarily executed.

As expressed by one Vietnamese driver, ” . . .even the gods were weeping for Phuoc Long.”

Campaign Series Vietnam will feature a scenario titled: Battle of Phuoc Long – December 12, 1974 – January 6, 1975

On the Second Anniversary of the Cease-Fire

The conquest of Phuoc Long Province was clearly the most blatant breach of the cease-fire agreement thus far. On 13 January, the US State Department released an official protest.

The complaints included:

Buildup of North Vietnamese army.

Tripled armor strength.

Extended logistics system through Laos and Cambodia.

Refused to pay share of ICCS expenses.

Increased military pressure, overrunning several areas.

However, President Ford made no mention of Vietnam in his State of the Union message on 15 January. In a later press conference, he said that he could foresee no circumstances in which the US would re-enter the Vietnam War.

The dramatic Phuoc Long victory, vs the passive US response, confirmed earlier North Vietnamese estimates that the time for a major offensive was at hand. Plans for the spring offensive were made in a conference in Hanoi.

Military Region 1

ARVN I Corps pulled 2nd Airborne Brigade out of the line west of Hue, and placing it in reserve in Phu Lac. The Marine Division pulled two battalions out positions northwest of Hue to make a stronger reserve. 1st Division troops regained important terrain features: Hills 273, 350, 303, and Nui Bong.

Near the Nghia Hanh/ Mo Duc district border, the 2nd ARVN Division seized the high ground. and inflicted serious casualties against the 52nd NVA Brigade. 3d ARVN Division made a successful  foray into in Duy Xuyen and Que Son Districts of Quang Nam, causing high casualties.

The battered forces of 324th NVA Division withdrew to their base areas southwest of Phu Loc to reorganize. 325th NVA Division was relieved on the My Chanh, and moved into Thua Thien Province.  The 341st NVA Division was transformed from a training to a line infantry division, and crossed the DMZ into Quang Tri Province.

All indicators pointed to a major offensive, as the 304th and 2nd NVA Divisions conducted reconnaissance, and moved ammunition and artillery forward.

Military Region 2

In coastal Binh Dinh province, the 22d ARVN Division was seriously hurting the 3rd NVA Division at the entrance of the An Lao Valley. Later, it held all key hills at the entrance to the An Lao Valley, and  repelled repeated attacks by 141st Regiment, 3d NVA Division.

The 23rd ARVN Ranger Group had reached positions 10 km north of Kontum City along Route 14. The objective, Vo Dinh, however, was beyond reach, as NVA resistance stiffened.

More significant deployments were made by NVA’s B-3 Front. The 968th Infantry Division moved from southern Laos with its 19th and 39th Regiments into Kontum. It replaced the experienced 320th NVA Division defending the Duc Co logistical center, to employ the 320th in offensive operations.

Heavy fighting flared in Kontum and Pleiku Province. For the first time since the 1972 offensive, Kontum City on 28 February, received artillery fire. The 44th ARVN Regiment and 25th Ranger Group came under strong attack in Thanh An District.

The principal ARVN infantry formations in the highlands on 3 March were:

23rd Division – HQ at Ham Rong, 12 km south of Pleiku City.

4th Ranger Group – near Pleiku

6th Ranger Group – northeast of Kontum City

21st Ranger Group –  around Kontum

22rd Ranger Group – 95th Bn in Truong Nghia, 88th Bn in Ngoc Bay, 62nd Bn in Kontum

23rd Ranger Group – north of Kontum along Route 14

24th Ranger Group – 63rd Bn at Gia Nghia, 81st and 82nd Bn at Kien Duc

25th Ranger Group – in Thanh An, Pleiku

Military Region 3

18th ARVN Division’s counterattack in the Hoai Duc District progressed slowly, fully supported by VNAF air strikes, and 274lh NVA Regiment was forced to give way as casualties climbed.

General Toan tried to keep the enemy off balance with periodic spoiling attacks, and in one operation the 5th ARVN Division began to clear Route 13 from Lai Khe, to link up with the RF and Rangers at Chon Thanh.

Rangers and Regional Forces in northern Bien Hoa Province made raids to prevent NVA rocket artillery batteries getting in range of the airbase, and to disrupt 7th NVA Division operations in Tan Uyen.

In January, the 25th ARVN Division launched an operation to retake Nui Ba Den, but the airmobile assault faltered under withering anti-aircraft fire, and it became apparent that retaking Nui Ba Den was beyond III Corps resources.

To deal with the formidable threat on his western flank, General Toan changed dispositions to make 25th ARVN Division more mobile, and assigned  responsibility for static posts to Tay Ninh Regional Forces, which placed 8 RF battalions and 7 separate RF companies along lines of communication and approaches to the city.

To the southwest, at Tan An in Long An Province, astride Highway 4, the newly organized 4th Marine Brigade was deployed.the 5th NVA Division, three local battalions, and a separate regiment concentrated to the southwest, ready to cut Routes I and 22 at Go Dau Ha.

The 6th and 7th NVA Divisions conducted reconnaissance in prepartion for combat in Long Khanh and Bien Hoa.

The new 3rd NVA Division, fresh from its victory at Phuoc Long, was north of Go Dau Ha, while the veleran 9th Division was near the Michelin Plantation, preparing to assault Tri Tam.

Military Region 4

Consistent with the NVA’s program to consolidate independent ballalions and regiments into larger formations, they created 4th Division in Chuong Thien Province, and 8th Division in Kien Tuong and Dinh Tuong Provinces.

ARVN held on tenaciously to Tri Phap bases against attacks launched by the Z-18 and 24th NVA Regiments of the 8th Division.

In January, the 5th NVA Division suffered high casualties, and gained very little against the 7th ARVN Division in Kien Tuong Province, along the Cambodian Svay Rieng border.

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Truong’s Tragic Trail is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of the events in Vietnam from 1973 until the end in 1975. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.