Truong’s Tragic Trail #2: First Half Year 1973

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

Did you know that on paper, the South Vietnamese Forces vastly outnumbered the North. Yet, in 1973, the NVA began to gain advantages. This article explains how.

1973 Cease Fire

Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signed the Paris Accords on 27 January 1973. Once this took place, the following military requirements were in force: All US forces withdraw, cease-fire in place with delineations of communist and government zones, withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia, ban on introduction of war materials in South Vietnam except for replacement, and a ban on further military personnel introduction into South Vietnam.

In addition, a Joint Military Commission  composed of the four parties, (US, SVN, DRV, PRG), and an “International Commission of Control and Supervision,” ICCS were established to police agreement terms. The ICCS was composed of Canada, Hungary, Indonesia, and Poland.

Project Enhance

Prior to the cease-fire, both sides sought to bring in additional equipment. The US had “Project Enhance,” which supplied equipment to the South Vietnamese armed forces, RVNAF. Table 1 lists equipment supplied in late 1972

Table 1.

Table1

Project Enhance was designed to raise RVNAF force structure to planned levels before the cease-fire.

Another effort, Project “Enhance Plus” augmented the South Vietnamese Air Force. (VNAF) Table 2 outlines aircraft provided.

Table 2.

Table 2.

The RVNAF planned for 1100000 personnel in fiscal year 1973.

Communists were also shoving great quantities of materiel, including field guns, tanks, and anti-aircraft weapons down the roads into South Vietnam, including SA-2 air defense missiles on their way to Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province.

The Communists were not concerned about any imposed cease-fire restrictions on shipments to South Vietnam; the surge of shipments was instead in response to the heavy losses the NVA suffered during the 1072 Easter Offensive.

North Vietnam sent nearly 148000 replacements into South Vietnam during late 1972.

DAO (Defense Attache Office) Saigon was organized according to requirements established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CINCPAC, and MACV, and was activated on 28 January 1973 by Maj. Gen. John E. Murray. This became the US coordination function, and replaced MACV. The cease-fire agreement ended American advisory efforts. Senior DAO officials avoided any offer of operational advice to the Vietnamese, with whom they worked closely.

Balance of Power January 1973

The NVA had 15 Divisions in South Vietnam in January 1973, with approximately 148000 troops.

Supporting this force in COSVN and the Ho Chi Minh trail were about 71000. This totals 219000.

ARVN had an assigned strength of 450000. About 152000 were in 13 infantry divisions and another 10000 were in Ranger groups. The South Vietnamese Navy and Air Force had about 96000. The Regional Forces (RF) had 325000, Popular Forces 200000, and Women’s Armed Forces had 4000. The total is about 1.1 million.

The gross figures, 1.1 million for RVNAF vs 219000 NVA forces seem to favor South Vietnam, but a comparison of force structures and missions provide a somewhat better understanding. The 15 NVA divisions vs 13 ARVN does not take into account that the NVA had 27 separate infantry and sapper regiments, whereas the comparable ARVN units were only seven Ranger groups.

The missions were different. Communist forces were solely offensive, acting against fixed bases, villages, and communication lines. ARVN forces were mostly on the defensive. Thus, comparing 140 separate NVA battalions of infantry, sapper, reconnaissance, tank, and artillery to the 54 ARVN Ranger battalions and 300 or more regional force battalions is rather meaningless.

Considerations of NVA strength should also acknowledge the large administrative and logistical support force within North Vietnam similar to South Vietnamese backup forces. North Vietnam also did not have to defend lines of communication or base areas in North Vietnam from ground attack. It did have significant numbers to defend against air attack in North Vietnam, and to protect the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia.

Land Grab 1973

The NVA planned general attacks throughout most of South Vietnam immediately before the expected date of the cease-fire. These were known as “Landgrab 1973,” and occurred between 23 January and 3 February 1973.

In the northern areas, the NVA B5 Front did not launch anything but local attacks, because those forces were still rebuilding from the previous year. However, they did not give up any ground, and used heavy artillery to thwart ARVN attempts to advance along the coast toward Cua Viet.

Likewise, south and west of Quang Tri City, B5 Front forces prevented expansion of Airborne Division’s positions into the hills south of the Thach Han River.

The area around Hue was different. The Tri-Thien-Hue Front wanted to gain a political presence and get VC legitimacy. Elements of the 803d Regiment, 324B Division, moved into the lowlands south of Camp Evans, and regulars moved toward the lowlands north or Hue on 24 January. The next day, artillery and ground attacks began against RVNAF positions around Hue. Between 27 January and 3 February elements of the 803d attempted to interdict Highway QL-1 in the vicinity of the An Lo bridge.

Front-4 operations were conducted in Quang Nam, where 711th Division operated to contain the ARVN in the Que Son Valley, and prevented their advance to a logistical base in the Hiep Due region.   Front-4 completed attack preparations by 22 January 1973, including the 575th Rocket Artillery Battalion firing on Da Nang.

In Military Region 2 The NVA’s B3 Front included Kontum, Pleiku, Phu Bon, and Darlac Provinces, part of Quang Duc, and western districts of Binh Dinh. Objectives assigned to enemy forces in B3 Front were similar to those in southern MR 5: to hold the ARVN 23d Division in place, isolate the cities of Kontum, Pleiku, and Ban Me Thuot, and interdict the main highways. Attaining these objectives would effectively extend control over the population of the highlands.

In MR-3 north of Saigon, RVNAF intelligence indicated that Tay Ninh City might be attacked. But for reasons not fully clear, the Communists failed to allocate sufficient forces to capture the city. ARVN preemptive operations in January 1973 most likely eliminated the enemy’s capability to assign main forces to a Tay Ninh campaign.

The number and intensity of NVA attacks increased from 23 through 27 January against ARVN outposts, mostly on those defending major communication lines. Trang Bang, Trang Born, Highway 13 south of Chon Thanh, and Highway 15 south of Long Thanh were struck. NVA casualties were very heavy, however.

As ARVN preempted enemy operations in Military Region 3, it also did in the Mekong Delta. In an  operation known as “Dong Khoi.” the ARVN and territorials planned to attack for six days beginning on 15 January, but early successes were very good and the operation was extended six more days.

The Communists planned to capture areas with the greatest potential for subsequent exploitation and expansion. In the northern delta, they considered the border area with Cambodia from Ha Tien in the west to the Parrot’s Beak in the east to be most important. But, ARVN operation Dong Khoi thwarted these initiatives.

Landgrab73

Consolidating and Rebuilding

The North Vietnamese developed a strategy consisting of two parallel elements: political and military. The political was the public element of the strategy. The North Vietnamese propagandized worldwide, and emphasized to the troops the following Landgrab related plan: Capture as much populated area as possible just before the cease-fire. Show the flag, and rely on the NVA main forces to contain the RVNAF while local forces entered villages. Wait for the arrival of ICCS teams declare and guarantee legitimacy of newly-won areas.

 

Directive No. 2/73, issued by COSVN coincided with the Paris Accord signing. This document announced the beginning of a new political struggle, in which military units were to play a secondary role in support of political efforts. The NVA was to help the VC to harrass the RVNAF, defend “liberated” areas, conduct terrorist campaigns, protect “mass movements,” and secure the resettlement areas.

One of the major components of the political offensive was propaganda. Their worldwide message was that Communists were scrupulously observing the cease-fire terms in the face of constant, aggressive violations by the other side. The only offensive operations undertaken by the Communist forces were to punish the “Thieu puppets” and promote peace.

While political efforts continued, unprecedented military preparations were underway in North Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh trail into South Vietnam. In order to deny observation of these preparations, the NVA deployed new anti-aircraft systems. The North Vietnamese were largely successful in denying VNAF visual or photo reconnaissance over sensitive areas, but were not so effective against US aerial photography.

In mid-March 1973 the NVA began a transportation effort that was to last almost to the end of the dry season. Convoys of unprecedented size, up to 300 trucks in each, headed south through Laos. Large quantities of food and ammunition were being received in storage areas in Quang Tri Province.

Heavy traffic was seen on Roule 534 from Laos to Hiep Duc in Quang Tin Province, and on roads into the B-3 Front area. Road improvements linked NVA units operating on coastal lowlands with Base Areas 609 and 702 in the Central Highlands. Similar route improvement activities were ongoing in Tay Ninh Province.

By September 1973, new pipeline construction was completed south of Da Long to a new storage site at A Luoi in the A Shau Valley.

The NVA took advantage of the American air interdiction halt of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to reinforce its tank and artillery strength in South Vietnam. Attrition during the 1972 Easter offensive had reduced the tank force to an estimated 100 vehicles. But, by the end of April 1973, estimated tank strength was close to 500.

NVA increased their artillery strength in South Vietnam by the introduction of 170 more 122- and 130-mm. guns, bringing the total to over 250. As was the case with replacement soldiers, no accounting was made to the ICCS, but ICCS teams nevertheless kept close track of US shipments into Bien Hoa, Da Nang, and other ports of entry.

Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail-Network

First Half Year 1973

As the post-cease-fire flurry subsided, activities in the four military regions began to develop patterns that persisted through the summer of 1973. Each region was different.

In Military Region I, both sides avoided serious contact. The NVA continued consolidation and construction of major logistical bases in northern Quang Tri and western Thua Thien Province. The South Vietnamese used artillery sparingly, and little air power in defending outposts and coastal communication lines.

In Region 2, both sides developed strong positions around Kontum City. While the ARVN sought to keep NVA forces out or rocket range. While ARVN tried to keep Route 14 open south to Pleiku, the NVA’s 10th Division pressed against the city’s defenses to the north and west.

Another area of contention developed around the westernmost ARVN outposts of Plei Mrong and Plei Djereng. The latter was destined to fall because it was too close to Duc Co, the major NVA logistics base. The Communists also worked to improve their norlh-south logistical route from Dak To southward through the Plei Trap Valley.

The NVA 10th Division launched operations to control for the area north and west or Kontum City. The Montagnard hamlet of Polei Krong was attacked and taken by the NVA 95B Regiment. This was near ARVN defenses at Trung Nhia along the Poko River. With help from the 85th Ranger Border Derense Battalion at Paid Krong, ARVN held on to Trung Nghia with Regional Forces.

In Military Region 3 the NVA concentrated against Tong Le Chon, an isolated ARVN post deep in Communist-controlled northern Tay Ninh Province.  In March 1973, the NVA began a siege that lasted for a year. Although action elsewhere in the region was relatively light, harassment of outlying hamlets and resettlement areas continued.

In Military Region 4 the heaviest action centered in the Seven Mountains area of Chau Doc Province, where ARVN Rangers undertook a slow and costly campaign to destroy the remaining elements of the NVA’s 1st Division. Other intense combat occurred in the Hong Ngu region along the border  where the Mekong River enters South Vietnam.

General Ngo Quang Truong

Truong was an officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, gaining his commission in 1954 and moving up the ranks in the Airborne Brigade. In 1966, he commanded 1st Division after helping to quell the Buddhist Uprising. He rebuilt the unit after this divisive period, and used it to repel the NVA, and reclaimed the imperial citadel of Hue after weeks of bitter street fighting during the Tet Offensive.

In 1970, Truong was given command of IV Corps in the Mekong Delta and improved the situation there such that some of his forces were redeployed elsewhere to resist Communist pressure. And, in 1972, he became commander of I Corps. He stabilized ARVN forces before turning back the Communists. In 1975, the NVA attacked again. This time, President Nguyen Van Thieu gave contradictory orders as to whether he should stand and fight or retreat and  consolidate. This demoralized I Corps, causing its collapse, and allowing the NVA to gather momentum, and overrun South Vietnam within two months. Truong fled South Vietnam during the fall of Saigon, and settled in Virginia in the United States.

Likewise, the numbers of anti-aircraft guns were greatly increased. Furthermore, they had SA·7 “Strella” Soviet hand-held, heat-seeking missiles. Also early in 1973, the 263rd SAM Regiment moved into Quang Tri Province, and set up near Khe Sanh. By the end of April, this regiment had constructed eight SA-2 sites around Khe Sanh and had placed weapons in four of them.

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 #1: Vietnam Endgame 1973-75

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

After the Paris Accords, the US no longer helped defend South Vietnam. This series of articles covers the period from Ceasefire to the fall of Saigon, 1973 – 75. The first provides an overview.

First Half Year 1973

Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signed the Paris Accords on 27 January 1973. All US forces withdrew, and a cease-fire began. Introduction of war materials further military personnel were banned.

Prior to the cease-fire, both sides sought to bring in additional equipment. The US had “Project Enhance”, which supplied equipment to the South Vietnamese armed forces, RVNAF.

The NVA had 15 Divisions in South Vietnam in January 1973, with approximately 148000 troops, while ARVN had an assigned strength of 450000. About 152000 were in 13 infantry divisions and another 10000 were in Ranger groups. The missions were different. Communist forces were solely offensive, acting against fixed bases, villages, and communication lines. ARVN forces were mostly on the defensive. The comparison is rather meaningless.

The NVA planned general attacks throughout most of South Vietnam immediately before the expected date of the cease-fire. These were known as “Landgrab 1973”, and occurred between 23 January and 3 February 1973. The area around Hue was particularly affected as the Tri-Thien-Hue Front wanted to gain a political presence and get VC legitimacy.

The NVA strategy was similar in the four military regions: Hold ARVN in place, isolate the cities, and interdict the main highways. The North Vietnamese used the landgrab for propaganda. Capture as much populated area as possible just before the cease-fire. Show the flag, and rely on NVA main forces to contain ARVN while local forces entered villages. Declare legitimacy of newly-won areas to arriving ICCS teams.

North Vietnam began a transportation effort of unprecedented size, headed south through Laos. With this, the numbers of anti-aircraft guns and artillery were greatly increased.

In MR-2, both sides developed strong positions around Kontum City. In MR-3 the NVA concentrated against Tong Le Chon, an isolated ARVN post deep in northern Tay Ninh Province.  South Vietnamese conserved artillery and air power in defending outposts and communication lines.

The Military Balance MR I

“Cease Fire II”

On 13 June 1973 the four-party Joint Military Commission, (US, SVN, DRV, PRG), met in Paris and issued a communique calling to observe provisions of the 28 January cease-lire. This was followed by a decline in combat activity, reaching the lowest level since the “Landgrab.”

President Thieu felt the Communists were not likely to attack in strength during 1973, but would wait until the end of President Nixon’s term to launch offensives. He believed that President Nixon would intervene in such a situation.

Combat levels in Military Region 1 were relatively low, because the NVA’s northern Quang Tri and western bases and logistical routes were neither seriously threatened nor interfered with. At the close of 1973, the situation in MR-1 was such that ARVN regulars had control of major population centers and key lines of communication.

In MR-2 the situation was much hotter, as the NVA wanted to expand its hold on territory to control roads and logistics bases that approached Kontum. There were actions at Trung Nghia, and around Kontum. The NVA strove to extend its logistics corridor south along the western highlands, resulting in combat at Plei Djereng-Le Minh.

In MR-3 there were no major terrain losses for either side, but there were some areas of contact. The NVA exerted strong pressure against the Tay Ninh·Saigon corridor, with the most significant action along Highway LTL-1A between the Song Be River and Saigon. The NVA intentions  were to deny roads, isolate garrisons north of the bridge, and screen movement of artillery and supplies.

The Mekong Delta had been an annual contest for the rice harvest. Most Communist rice requirements, coming from South Vietnam, were obtained from the delta. The South Vietnamese strove to interdict communication lines to prevent rice shipment to NVA delta base areas as well as Cambodian collection points, where much of it was transferred to the other military regions.

One of three principal NVA infiltration routes, corridor 1-A crossed the Cambodian frontier near the border between Kien Phong and Kien Tuong Provinces, traversed the maze of canals through the Plain of Reeds, and ended in the watery wasteland called the Tri Phap.

The Military Assistance Service Funded program for Vietnam became obsolete with the departure of American forces in January 1973. The Congress, particularly the Senate, led by Senator Kennedy of the Armed Services wanted to reduce the amount of US aid. This led to shortages for important items such as ammunition, medical supplies, and purchase of more amphibious ships like LSTs.

The Military Balance MR II

Strategic Raids

The critical decisions in 1974 were made in Washington and Hanoi. The US Congress reduced assistance to South Vietnam, undermining their combat power and will to continue fighting. Hanoi was encouraged by the political fall of Richard Nixon. They foresaw 1975 as the year of victory.

Hanoi’s leaders knew of declining US support, and were emboldened. In early 1974, Hanoi’s military leaders studied the resolutions of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee’s 21st Plenum. The plam was to continue political and economic actions, and develop militarily for eventual victory. General Van Tien Dung described the situation:  “Our forces must grasp the concept of strategic offensive.”

NVA orders went to the various fronts, with training and maintenance preparations in the North, and  offensive operations in the South. Only in the Mekong delta, and Svay Rieng Province did the RVNAF emerge victorious.

Svay Rieng and sizable NVA forces was a serious threat to their adjacent provinces. A two-pronged attack by ARVN 10th Infantry Regiment was to clear the southern edge of Tri Phap. NVA casualties were heavy, and ARVN captured tons of ammunition.

Svay Rieng has two minor prominences, Elephant’s Foot and Angel’s Wing. The NVA 5th Division assembled forces in Svay Rieng. Lt. Gen. Pham Quoc Thuan, III Corps Commander, decided to reduce the threat to his western flank. Three armored task torces drove west from Go Dau Ha, sweeping through Cambodian NVA bases. The threat to the vital road junction at Go Dau Ha was substantially reduced. ARVN was in complete control of the battlefield.

In spite of ARVN successes at Tri Phap and  Svay Rieng,  the North Vietnamese pressed ahead with their “strategic raids” campaign against the crucial defensive perimeter north of Saigon. The first to fall was unimportant outpost of Chi Linh. Ultimately, the NVA would attack a dozen locations in MR-3.

The NVA 141st Regiment overran the Chi Linh base. Tong Le Chon had been under siege since the cease-fire, and finally ARVN 92nd Ranger Battalion had to abandon it.

Two 7th Division NVA regiments attacked at Phu Giao, but ARVN 5th Division and the 318th Task Force thwarted this effort.

The 9th NVA Division pressed into the Iron Triangle taking Ben Cat and Rach Bap, and pushing deeper toward Saigon. But the ARVN 18th Division eventually recovered all lost ground in a several month campaign. This may have caused a major ARVN command shakeup in October.

As NVA forces conducted strategic raids north of Saigon, forces of the B·3 Front and the NVA Military Region 5 embarked on a campaign to eliminate isolaled ARVN outposts in the Central Highlands, and move into the coastal lowlands of MR-1 and 2. A successful NVA thrust was at Chuong Nghia east toward Quang Ngai.

The NVA strategic raids campaign accomplished three things that placed their forces in an excellent position for a major offensive. 1) Despite high losses, they severely depleted ARVN forces of experienced leaders and soldiers. 2) COSVN command, staff, logistics, and communications had been greatly expanded. 3) NVA gained ground on the edge of the coastal plain, and were within artillery range of major South Vietnamese installations and population centers.

The Military Balance MR III

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 the defensive ring protecting Phu Bai and Hue. After a new II Corps HQ was formed, the NVA 324B Division now controlled five regiments that attacked th hills south of Phu Bai.

Heavy fighting continued into September, with strong NVA attacks and Bloody skirmishing against the ARVN 1st Division elements.

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.

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.” Phuoc Long would be the first test of this assessment.

Phuoc Long Province’s capital was Phuoc Binh on the Song Be River. 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.

ARVN defended Phuoc Binh with a couple RF battalions and eventually the 7th Infantry Regiment and the 81st Airborne Rangers. But as NVA 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.

The NVA had captured the first province capital since the 1973 cease-fire. ARVN losses were staggering. 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.”

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.

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.

The Military Balance MR IV

Fall of Saigon

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.

Central Highlands

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.

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.

Rocket and artillery fire fell on Ban Me Thuot on 10 March, and by midmorning, 320th NVA Division elements penetrated the city. Already, ARVN  General Tat was ordered to evacuate Kontum and Pleiku, down Route 7B to the coast at Tuy Hoa. The evacuation of all South Vietnamese forces from the highland provinces had begun on 19 March.

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. General Truong, I Corps commander wasordered to send the Airborne Division to Saigon. A collapse was imminent in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces, while shifting units in Quang Tri continued.

On March 18, Truong 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 Marine Division, defending Da Nang was ordered to Saigon.

The defense of Hue was a confusing command and communication blunder. At first Thruong was told to withdraw, then later to defend Hue at all costs. But, the citizens there began fleeing once it was being hit by NVA artillery, and its defenses withdrew

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.

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.

Last act in the South

The 1975 coordinated Communist offensive struck first at Tri Tam, and in its possession, the NVA now controlled the Saigon River corridor from Tong Le Chon, to the ARVN outpost at Rach Bap.

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. Enclaves at An Loc and Chon Thanh were of no further military or political value, and ARVN forces were withdrawn.

Just before the NVA attacked, 18th ARVN Division was spread in several areas: Xuan Loc,  Dinh Quan, Hoai Duc, and Bien Hoa. that two NVA divisions, the 6th and 7th, were committed in Long Khanh and the main combat was at 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.

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, to join  the fight at Xuan Loc.

JGS and ARVN III Corps augmented Saigon defenses battles continued elswhere. General Sa, commanding the 25th ARVN Division, and deployed it at key strongpoints around the the city. Three Ranger Groups were set up west of Saigon, and the inner city would be defended by territorials, and a few regular formations.

Far to the northeast of the capital, battles for Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces were fought. 3rd NVA Division attacked on 14 April against 2d ARVN Division. These were initially repulsed, but defenders were overwhelmed on 16 April, and Phan Rang was lost.

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 discemable 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.

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.

References

“Vietnam from Cease-Fire to Capitulation”, Col. William E. Le Gro, CMH Publication 90-29

” Our Great Spring Victory”, General Van Tien Dung

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail


 

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #6: 1973 Paris Peace Accords

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

Guess how many months negotiators haggled over the shape of the table? Well actually, the talks were stalled for five months over the bombing issue, but during that time, the North Vietnamese demanded  a circular table, while the US and South Vietnam side wanted it square. This article is a primer on the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and will explain the main issues of the talks.

Talks Begin After 1968 TET Offensive

The Paris Peace Accords were a peace treaty signed on 27 January 1973, to end the Vietnam War. It  included North Vietnam (DRV,) South Vietnam, the United States, as well as a Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG.) In effect, it was to remove all remaining US Forces, and stop, at least temporarily, fighting between the three remaining powers.

It all began when US confidence was shaken after the 1968 TET Offensive. President Johnson halted bombing operations (Rolling Thunder,) over North Vietnam to encourage Hanoi to begin peace negotiations. The bombing halt covered most of North Vietnam, but operations continued in areas just north of the DMZ.

Shortly thereafter, Hanoi agreed to discuss a complete bombing halt, and representatives of both parties met in Paris, France on 10 May. The DRV Foreign Minister,  Xuan Thuy, met with US Ambassador W. Averell Harriman.

Negotiations stalled as North Vietnam demanded all bombing of North Vietnam be stopped. The US demanded de-escalation in South Vietnam. Finally, on 31 October, President Johnson agreed to end the airstrikes and serious negotiation began.

The table shape issue was also wrangled over during the May-October period. North Vietnam favored a circular table because it signified that all representatives, including the National Liberation Front (NLF,) would have “equal” voice. South Vietnam argued for a square table, that symbolized the two distinct sides in the conflict. Ultimately, they agreed on northern and southern government representatives sitting at a circular table, and all other parties sitting at individual square tables.

Nixon Election and New US Negotiators

Prior to the November 1968 elections, Richard Nixon, presidential candidate, began getting involved behind the scenes with the negotiations. Nixon asked  a prominent Asian-American politician Anna Chennault (widow of WWII Flying Tigers Gen. Claire Chennault,) to be his “back-channel” to South Vietnam President Thieu. She agreed, and learned that Thieu had no intention of attending the peace conference.

After winning the 1968 US presidential election, Richard Nixon assumed office in January 1969. He replaced US ambassador Harriman with Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who was later replaced by David Bruce. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was to become the chief US negotiator, however.

Also that year, the NLF set up the PRG to gain government status at the talks. However, the primary negotiations did not occur at the peace conference at all, but were carried out in secret discussions between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, who had been deputy secretary of the Central Committee of the Southern Region.

Major Hurdles

From 1969 to 1972, the talks continued, but a tentative agreement was not reached because of key issues. The North Vietnamese demanded ouster of President Thieu; to be replaced by a coalition government. The US wanted all NVA forces to leave South Vietnam. And, although a bombing halt occurred in 1968, this issue arose again in 1972, when Nixon ordered Operation “Linebacker.”

The largest sticking point was that North Vietnam and NLF refused to recognize the South Vietnamese government, (ie Thieu.) With similar tenacity, Saigon refused to acknowledge NLF legitimacy. Initially, Harriman devised a system by which North Vietnam and US would be the named parties, but the NLF officials could join the North Vietnam team without being recognized by South Vietnam, while Saigon’s representatives joined the US delegates.

But, this did not resolve the issue. Even in August 1969,  Lodge informed Kissinger that: “. . . However he dresses it up, he is calling for the removal of Thieu–Ky–Huong (by us) and the formation of the “peace cabinet” of which they have spoken before.”

In secret negotiations in Paris 31 May 1971, Kissinger retracted the demand that US and DRV forces mutually withdraw, conceding that the armed forces of the DRV will remain in South Vietnam after a peace agreement. The demand for a mutual withdrawal had been one of the early US demands.

Breakthrough and Agreement

During the 1972 Easter Offensive, President Nixon announced that major concession, that the US would accept a ceasefire in place as a precondition for its military withdrawal. In effect, the NVA forces could remain in place. However, he also countered with “Operation Linebacker,” a significant bombing campaign in North Vietnam. It blunted the North’s drive in the South as well as inflicting damage in the North.

The final major breakthrough came 8 October 1972, when In a meeting with Kissinger, Le Duc Thọ significantly modified his bargaining line, allowing the Saigon government to remain in power, and that negotiations between the two South Vietnamese parties could develop a final settlement. Within 10 days, the secret talks drew up a final draft. Kissinger held a press conference in Washington during which he announced that “peace is at hand.”

At the time the 1973 Paris Peace Accords were signed, the South Vietnamese government controlled about 80 percent of the territory and 90 percent of the population, although many areas were contested.

Areas in Red controlled by Communist Forces

Areas in Red controlled by Communist Forces

Enforcement of Agreement

With the concession President Nixon made, to allow NVA forces to remain in South Vietnam, enforcement of the agreement provisions were a concern. Privately, President Nixon assured President Thieu that if North Vietnam violated the agreement, the US would intervene militarily.

At a meeting 30 Nov 1972, Nixon addressed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making similar assurances. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt attended, and said: “The President’s discussion of the status of the cease-fire agreement increased my sense of being on a strange planet . . . It was perfectly obvious to all of us at the time that the promise of massive American assistance to South Vietnam and of prompt US retaliation to serious truce violations were the critical elements in securing the cease-fire and the fullfillment of these promises would be the critical element in maintaining the cease-fire. Yet the Administration never really let the American people – or Congress – in on this non-secret, apparently on the assumption that the critical element in persuading the Americans to accept the terms of the cease-fire was to allow them to believe that it meant the end of any kind of American involvement in Vietnam no matter what happened there after the cease-fire was agreed to. Not even the JCS were informed that written commitments were made to Thieu. There are at least two words no one can use to characterize the outcome of that two-faced policy. One is ‘peace,’ the other is ‘honor.'”

In late 1972, President Nixon won re-election by a wide margin. However, the Watergate scandal had already broken into the news. President Nixon probably had an idea this scandal would hamper any military moves against North Vietnam, in the post cease-fire era.

Agreement Reached

The US put great pressure on Thieu to sign the treaty, even without the concessions wanted by the South. To persuade Thieu, Nixon pledged substantial aid to South Vietnam, and to demonstrate his seriousness, Nixon ordered the heavy Operation Linebacker II bombings of North Vietnam in December 1972. (Known as “Christmas Bombings.”)

When Le Duc Tho agreed to resume “technical” discussions on 30 December, Nixon ordered a bmbing halt. With US committment to disengagement (and after threats from Nixon that South Vietnam would be abandoned if he did not agree,) Thieu had little choice but to accede.

On 15 January 1973, President Nixon announced a suspension of offensive actions against North Vietnam. Kissinger and Tho met again on 23 January, and signed off on a treaty that was basically identical to the draft of three months earlier. The agreement was signed by the leaders of the official delegations on 27 January 1973, at the Hotel Majestic in Paris, France.

Signing the peace accords

Signing the peace accords

Main Peace Accord Terms

  1. The withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces within sixty days.
  2. The return of prisoners of war parallel to the above.
  3. The clearing of mines from North Vietnamese ports by the US.
  4. A cease-fire in place in South Vietnam followed by precise delineations of communist and government zones of control.
  5. The establishment of a “National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord” composed of a communist government, and neutralist side to implement democratic liberties and organize free elections in South Vietnam.
  6. The establishment of “Joint Military Commissions” composed of the four parties and an “International Commission of Control and Supervision” composed of Canada, Hungary, Indonesia, and Poland to implement the cease-fire. Both operate by unanimity.
  7. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia.
  8. A ban on the introduction of war materials in South Vietnam unless on a replacement basis.
  9. A ban on introducing further military personnel into South Vietnam.
  10. US financial contributions to “healing the wounds of war” throughout Indochina.

Aftermath

As a result of their efforts, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. However Le Duc Tho refused to accept it because “. . . Vietnam could not get a ‘tie.’ No matter how far the US minions are yet to fall, it is the only Nobel Prize for Vietnamese people.”

The cease-fire was declared, but hostilities resumed between North and South Vietnam only days after its signing. The agreement’s provisions were routinely violated by both sides. This elicited no response from the US. Nixon was embroiled in Watergate, and would have been politically too weak to act.

Ultimately, the Communists enlarged the area under their control by the end of 1973. The NVA gradually built up military infrastructure, and two years later, were in a position to launch the successful offensive that ended with the fall of Saigon, and the South Vietnamese government in 1975.

References

“Paris Peace Accords”, Wikipedia

“108. Letter From the Head of the Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam (Lodge) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)”

“No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam”, Larry Berman

1971 timeline excerpt – https://www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org/1971-2/

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC


Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of the events in Vietnam from 1969 onward. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #5: 1972 Easter Offensive

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

What forces wreaked the greatest havoc on the Communist offensive? Well, the implied premise that the offensive was a failure is mistaken, but the NVA sustained heavy losses, largely due to B-52 bombing missions. Despite this, they met some of their political goals, which this article explains.

Offensive Overview

The Easter Offensive, was a major military campaign conducted by PAVN in the spring of 1972. The three major attack areas were: CTZ I – Quang Tri, CTZ II – Kontum, and CTZ III – An Loc. Overall, the NVA attacked with 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. This was about 200000 troops and 300 tanks and armored vehicles. PAVN used  largescale conventional infantry and armor assaults, backed by heavy artillery. Both sides fielded weapons systems with the latest technology.

The operation began 30 March, and related combat continued into October. The COSVN goal was to gain territory, and inflict as much damage to ARVN forces as possible, with the hope that it would improve North Vietnam’s negotiating position at the Paris Peace talks.

Initially, the NVA overran several firebases near the DMZ, and captured the city of Quang Tri, before another attempt to seize Hue. NVA forces eliminated frontier defense forces in CTZ II, and advanced on Kontum. In the south, Communist troops overwhelmed Loc Ninh and assaulted An Loc, the capital of Binh Long Province.

The ARVN forces counterattacked in July, culminating in recapture of Quang Tri city in September. On all three fronts, initial PAVN successes were hampered by high casualties, inept tactics, and US and South Vietnamese air power. An unintended consequence for the North was launching of Operation Linebacker, the first sustained bombing of North Vietnam by the US since November 1968.

However, for all the heavy losses, the Paris Peace talks gained a renewed importance for both sides, and negotiators began making proposals and counters in earnest.

Spring-Offensive-1972

COSVN Planning

North Vietnam was committed to eventual takeover of the South and reunitication. This was clearly agreed to in the 19th Plenary Session of the Vietnam Workers Party. The communique discussed the overall conditions of the war, described their view of US aggression, and extolled the virtues of the Communist Party, its followers, and the “people.”

This communique excerpt illustrates the commitment: “In the interest of the nation and for the sake of their international duty, our people will do their utmost to fight shoulder to shoulder with the fraternal Lao and Cambodian peoples to drive the U.S. aggressors out of the Indochinese peninsula. Our people will constantly strive to contribute to the consolidation of the solidarity in the socialist camp and the international communist movement. . . “

 “Let our entire Party, people, and Army unite around the Party Central Committee, strive their hardest to implement by all means the sacred testament of President Ho Chi Minh for the sake of independence and freedom of the fatherland and for the welfare and happiness of the nation.”

 The North Vietnamese understood that conditions had changed, and perceived that the time was favorable for a major offensive. In particular, Secretary Le Duan believed that such a bold campaign could be successful. The changed conditions included US troop withdrawals, and the related Vietnamization program, loss of American public support, and weaknesses in the South Vietnamese Army, particularly its leadership.

COSVN (Central Office of South Vietnam) was the direct control authority conducting the liberation of South Vietnam. In April 1971, a COSVN conference discussed the war situation, and a Resolution 10 was made.

Resolution 10 acknowledged that the US pacification program (CORDS and Phoenix) achieved some temporary results, but that the guerrilla forces in the South, had “fought courageously and persistently, surmounted all difficulties, and are forging ahead . . .”  Also the 1970 US and ARVN Cambodian incursion had failed to destroy NVA forces and base camps in Cambodia. COSVN believed  their forces in Laos and Cambodia were still very active and effective, particularly at operating the Ho Chi Minh trail. The other goal was to oppose the Nixon Vietnamization program, given that US troop withdrawals would continue, and would rely on “puppet forces.” (ARVN).

However, greater involvement of ARVN against the VC would “aggravate contradictions between itself and the people of various classes. . . and deepen the internal dissensions in the puppet government.”

Resolution 10 concluded that “For this reason, in addition to the requirements of dealing heavy blows to U.S.troops and expediting the anti-war movement demanding repatriation of the U.S. and satellite troops, the destruction of puppet forces, especially the mobile forces and tyrannical puppet units in local areas will be of particular significance in turning the tide of the war in South Viet-Nam and the Indochinese theater of operations in our favor.”

 General Giap, the Minister of Defence worked with COSVN to plan the 1972 Easter Offensive. The operation was given the name Operation “Nguyen Hue,” after the hero who defeated an invading Chinese army in 1788. General Van Tien Dung would lead the overall offensive.

The plan called for an initial attack across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) toward Hue and Da Nang, with other forces pressing in from the A Shau Valley. Giap wanted to force President Thieu to commit reserves to protect the northern provinces, after which the NVA would launch a second assault from Cambodia to threaten Saigon. A third attack in the Central Highlands would take Kontum, and aim for the coast in Binh Dinh Province, thus possibly splitting South Vietnam in two. This might lead to its collapse or, at the very least, a more favorable peace agreement.

Intelligence Estimates

North Vietnam succeeded in masking the considerable military invasion from American and South Vietnamese detection. Some US field officers said that the invasion came as a surprise, especially in Military Region 1. Although there were signs of increased enemy activity, particularly by unattended ground sensors, no one suspected an attack of the intensity of the Easter Offensive.

The U.S. Army’s 525th Intelligence Group was an independent unit under control of MACV. There were other military intelligence units organic to different American divisions, as well as CIA and NSA operations. In late 1971, the last organic intelligence unit conducting air reconnaissance missions, an unit of the 101st Airborne Division, was shipped back to the United states. The CIA had also moved many people during the last months of 1971, although it continued to operate its network.

For the 181-day period ending 30 April 1971, the 525th produced 11630 reports, evaluated 124000 captured documents, and 1250 tons of enemy material. Among enemy documents exploited were  detailed orders of battle and COSVN plans for the spring offensive.

Lt. Col. John Oseth, who was the G-2 adviser to 3rd ARVN Division, acknowledged that there might have been isolated agent reports of an impending invasion, but the general consensus, at least at the division level, was that the threat of enemy attack though present, was not great. Oseth recalls

that the most frequent complaint about military intelligence operations in 1972 was absence of American air units to provide aerial reconnaissance.

A top Vietnamese general, Lt. Gen. Ngo Quang Truong, IV Corps, asserts that intelligence had predicted much of what the enemy did. They knew where the main foci of the offensive would be. The exception is the DMZ, where the untested and newly-formed 3rd Division was stationed.

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, were the individuals most responsible for the perception that intelligence failed to perform before the Easter Offensive. In late 1971 and early 1972, they proclaimed the enemy would launch a large offensive during the Tet holidays in mid-February of 1972. During a press conference in Saigon on 31 January 1972, Westmoreland stated that ” . . . communist forces were mounting a multi-phase offensive timed to coincide with the Tet holidays, and with President Nixon’s trip to the People’s Republic of China in mid-February.” They predicted an offensive, but got the timing incorrect.

Quang Tri and Hue

The NVA B-5 Front in CTZ I – Quang Tri consisted of the 304th and 308th Divisions. General Le Trong Tan led these forces. The attack began on 30 March 1972, with an intense artillery barrage on the northernmost ARVN outposts. The 309th division moved across the DMZ and attacked.

From the west, the 304th, including an armoured regiment, moved out of Laos along Route 9, past Khe Sanh, and into the Quang Trị River Valley. This thrust put pressure on FSB Sarge, southwest of Quang Tri City and, FSB Anne was also attacked.

The ARVN 3rd Division defended the group of ARVN firebases near the DMZ. These firebases were known as the  “ring of steel.” The 56th Regiment was headquartered at FSB Carroll, while the 57th Regiment was located at FSB C-1. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, organic to the division,was located near Landing Zone Sharon. In addition, the 147th VNMC Brigade at Mai Loc was under control of 3rd Division.

On 1 April, General Giai ordered withdrawal of 3rd Division south of the Cua Viet River for reorganization. The following morning, ARVN armoured elements held off a PAVN attack while the crucial Highway QL-1 bridge at Dong Ha was blown.

By 2 April, Camp Carroll was surrounded, and it surrendered. The entire 56th Regiment was lost at this point. The 56th and 57th Regiments had only received their last battalions in late January 1972. These troops were substandard performers in previous units, and there was too little time for training, and insufficient experience to develop dependable combat organizations.

The PAVN advance was slowed by delaying actions and ARVN counterattacks for three weeks, but on 27 April, the North Vietnamese came on again, launching multi-pronged attacks against Dong Ha and advancing to within 1.5 kilometers of Quang Tri City.

As a side note, a Campaign Series Vietnam scenario is planned for the action at Dong Ha: Dong Ha – April 1972,  filename: VN_720402_Dong_Ha.scn.

General Giai planned a staged withdrawal to regroup south of the Thach Han River, but confusion and conflicting orders from Lam and Giai caused most formations to splinter and collapse. The area north of Quang Tri city was lost at this point. On 29 April, Giai ordered a general retreat to the My Chanh River, thirteen kilometers to the south. U.S. military advisors in Quang Trị called for emergency helicopter extraction, and on 1 May, 132 survivors were evacuated, including 80 US.

Hoping to break the stalemate developing on the northern front, Lt. Gen. Tran Van Quang, commander of the B-4 Front, attacked on 1 April west from the A Shau Valley toward Hue with the 324B Division. Spoiling attacks by the ARVN 1st Division, however, threw off the timetable.

On 28 April, the  29th and 803rd NVA Regiments seized FSB Bastogne, the strongest anchor on Hue’s western flank. This made FSB Checkmate untenable, and it was evacuated that night.

This exposed Hue to a direct thrust along Route 547. On 2 May, NVA forces south of Hue tried to surround the city. They also attempted to press their attack southward down Highway 1, and across the My Chanh River to Hue, but were halted by increasingly reinforced ARVN troops. After General Truong took command of I Corps, the 1st and Marine Divisions were reinforced by 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the Airborne Division, and the reorganized 1st Ranger Group, raising ARVN to 35000 troops.

The weather cleared for a week, which was fortunate because it permitted massive US bombing. The PAVN advance was finally halted on 5 May.

Easter Offensive 1972

Kontum

The PAVN objective in the third phase was to overrun the Central Highlands and seize Kontum and Pleiku. This would enable a thrust eastward to the coastal plains, splitting South Vietnam in two.

North Vietnamese forces, under the command of Lt. Gen. Hoang Minh Thao, commander of the B-3 Front, included the 320th and 2nd NVA Divisions in the highlands and the 3rd Division in the lowlands, approximately 50,000 men.

The defenders were ARVN II Corps, with the 22nd and 23rd Divisions, two armored cavalry squadrons, and the 2nd Airborne Brigade, all under the command of Lt. Gen. Ngo Du.

Intelligence showed a buildup of NVA forces in the tri-broder region in January, and ARVN units were deployed near the border at Tan Canh and Dak To. This was to slow any advances and allow air power application. Gen Du ordered Col. Le Due Dat, commander of the 22nd Division to move the  forward CP, 47th Regiment, and logistical support to the Tan Canhand Dak To II areas. The 19th Cavalry Regiment was ordered to the Tan Canh area to reinforce the division’s organic 14th Cavalry Regiment. Col. Dat placed this unit at Ben Het, thinking that any NVA armor assault must come from that direction.

The ARVN II Corps staff began to doubt whether the enemy possessed the capability to attack, and in early April this estimate appeared to be accurate as the 320th NVA Division’s 48th.and 52nd Regiments sustained heavy losses in assaults on the fire bases on Rocket Ridge. B-52s and tactical aircraft continued to pound at the massed enemy forces in this area. Four to five NVA battalions were rendered combat ineffective.

A prisoner confirmed this, and said reinforcements were infiltrating daily, however, and units were regaining original strength. At the same time the 42d and 47th ARVN Regiments were in heavy contact north and east of Dak To with elements of the 2nd NVA Division and the 66th Regiment. Prisoners said the mission of 2nd Division was to seize Dak To II airfield. Gen. Du felt the forces in the Dak To area were insufficient to counter a multi-divisional attack.

Gen. Du wanted to bolster the Dak To forces with nine ARVN battalions from Binh Dinh. But, this would leave that province stripped of ARVN regular forces, and defended only by territorial forces. US advisor Vann convinced him that such a move might prove disastrous. The area of operations of the 23rd Division was adjusted to give it responsibility in Kontum, eliminating the need to move battalions from Binh Dinh.

On 14 April FSB Charlie on the northern end of Rocket Ridge received heavy artillery fire followed by an attack by the 48th NVA Regiment. The 42nd and 47th ARVN Regiments continued their attempts to hold the ridge lines around Tan Canh and Dak To II, but slowly fell back to the main compound. On 19 April, 1/42 Battalion was isolated. And after several days of heavy artillery bombardment, the ARVN forces at FSB Delta were overrun.

On 22 April, Gen. Du ordered some artillery to the Dak To District. The defenses in the Tan Canh area appeared adequate for a short while. But, NVA forces had increased significantly, and by 24 April, the Tan Canh/Dak To II area was encircled. On 25 April, Gen. Du decided to abandon FSBs 5 and 6, affording the NVA movement down Route 14 to Kontum.

The NVA was surprised at the ease with which they took Tan Canh. They decided to attack Kontum without artillery preparation, to save time. The 14 May attack had three major axes of advance: The 48th NVA Regiment and one company of the 203rd Tank Regiment attacked from the northwest along Route 14. The 64th NVA Regiment attacked south, with one company of armor. The 1st and 28th NVA Regiments advanced south against the 53d ARVN Regiment. The 141st Regiment probed the sector forces who defended the southern positions along the river.

By nightfall on 14 May, the front lines had been restored by the 23d Division through fierce, hand-to- hand fighting. When the B-52s arrived, they caught NVA troops in the open with little cover. An airlift was begun on 15 May to evacuate the families of Montagnard refugees.

Between 18 and 21 May there were five assaults. These were generally broken up by claymore mines, artillery, tenacious ARVN soldiers, Spooky and Spectre gunships, and B-52 airstrikes. The PAVN offensive was thwarted, and although fighting continued, ARVN gradually regained control of the area. The Campaign Series Vietnam game will feature a scenario at Kontum. The scenario title is Battle of Kontum – May 26–27, 1972.

Battle for Dak To

An Loc

An invasion force of 35470 troops was launched from Cambodian Base Area 708 by the B-2 Front’s 5th VC Division and 203rd Armoured Regiment. They advanced down Highway 9 toward the border outpost of Loc Ninh. There, 2000 men of the ARVN 9th Regiment and a battalion of Rangers beat back five separate infantry/armor assaults before collapsing under the attack on 7 April.

The North Vietnamese then isolated the 25th Division in neighboring Tay Ninh Province by sending the 24th and 271st Independent NVA Regiments to conduct diversionary attacks against the 25th ARVN Division in northern Tay Ninh Province.

This diversion masked movement of the 7th NVA and 9th VC Divisions. The 7th Division bypassed An Loc, and moved south on Highway 13 to block relief efforts. 9th VC Division was assigned to attack and capture An Loc.

Sensing that of An Loc would be the next target, ARVN III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Van Minh dispatched the 5th Division to hold the town. They were reinforced by two Ranger battalions and two infantry battalions by 11 April. The 21st Division, was rushed from the Mekong Delta to Chon Thanh Camp to join a regiment of the 9th Division as a relief force. All forces were placed under Brig. Gen. Le Van Hung, 5th Division commander.

By 13 April, An Loc was surrounded and under attack by the 9th VC Division. Attacks persisted and PAVN forces eventually battered their way into the town, seizing the airfield and reducing the ARVN perimeter to a square kilometer. During another assault on 21 April, NVA tanks actually forced their way through the defense perimeter, but were destroyed by anti-tank weapons and helicopter gunships. PAVN infantry managed to seize most of the northern sector, and began digging in. Supporting infantry failed to advance with the NVA tanks, and were easy prey for anti-tank weapons. This failure of tactical coordination was one of PAVN main weaknesses.

After the attack failure 21 April, the battle devolved into a siege, with North Vietnamese pounding An Loc with mortar, rocket, and artillery fire. Completely surrounded, An Loc could only be resupplied by airdrops due to loss of the airfield. Resupply was accomplished by 448 aerial missions parachuting 2693 tons of food, medical supplies, and ammunition.

A relief effort by 21st ARVN Division never reached An Loc. For three weeks, the division crept northward along Highway 13, but it was held up by constant delaying actions of smaller PAVN forces. Although never reaching its goal, it inadvertently supported the beleaguered city by diverting elements of the 7th NVA Division.

By 12 June, the last PAVN forces were driven from An Loc, and and over 1000 ARVN wounded were evacuated. Slowly, the decimated North Vietnamese units faded away into the north and west.

Two scenarios from this front will be featured in the Campaign Series Vietnam game: Battle of Loc Ninh – April 4 – 7, 1972, and  Battle of An Loc – April 13, 1972 – July 20, 1972. Filenames:   VN_720404_Loc_Ninh.scn and  VN_720413_An_Loc.scn

Battle for An Loc

Aftermath

By the end of June, ARVN forces were counterattacking, which culminated in recapture of Quang Tri City in September. On all three fronts, initial North Vietnamese successes were hampered by high casualties, inept tactics, and the increasing application of US and South Vietnamese air power.

Communist casualties were estimated to be up to 100000 troops. Airpower, particularly B-52 bombing was a major contributor to these losses. However, ARVN troop losses are estimated to be as high as 200,000. These were serious losses to both sides.

President Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker, to resume bombing North Vietnam. The Communist forces gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives, and they obtained a better bargaining position at the peace negotiations. A new urgency arose in the Paris talks, to end the war

References

“Military Intelligence Operations and the Easter Offensive”, Thomas H. Lee

“Document 91”, The 19th Plenary Session, Central Committee of the Vietnam Workers Party

“Resolution 10 – Document 99”, COSVN

“Annex J An Loc”, USMACV Command History Vol. I

“Annex K Kontum”, USMACV Command History Vol. I

“Annex L Quang Tri and Hue”, USMACV Command History Vol. I

“Easter Offensive”, Wikipedia

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC

[hr]

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of the events in Vietnam from 1969 onward. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.

 

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #4: Vietnam War 1971

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

In the “quiet” year of 1971, would you believe that the largest airborne operation of the war involved an ARVN invasion into Laos? This article describes some of the major events of 1971, both military and political. It was a strange time, with many surprises and contradictions.

Vietnamization Program

The program to expand, equip, and train the South Vietnamese Army was known as the “Vietnamization Program.” The goal was to make South Vietnam militarily self sufficient against North Vietnam so that the US forces could withdraw.

As of January, 1971,  Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird said that the “Vietnamization” was ahead of schedule, and that the combat mission of the US troops would end in summer 1971. Indeed, the reduction of US troops was significant. The total US troops in Vietnam went from 334600 on 31 December 1970 to 156800 on 31 December 1971.

There were two key political developments. The US Congress adopted the revised Cooper-Church Amendment in January, which prohibited the introduction of US ground troops or advisers into Cambodia, and declared that US aid to Cambodia should not be considered a commitment to the defense of Cambodia. This was the Congressional response to Nixon’s Cambodian Incursion the previous year.

The other development was the Mansfield Amendment, authored by Senator Mike Mansfield, and adopted by Congress in June. The amendment urged withdrawing American troops from South Vietnam at “the earliest practical date.” This was the first time in US history that Congress had called for the end of a war.

The Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger announced in July that the US was prepared to provide $7.5 billion in aid to Vietnam, of which $2.5 billion could go to North Vietnam, and to withdraw all American forces within nine months.

The last major ground operation for American forces was Operation “Jefferson Glenn.” Three battalions of the 101st Airborne patrolled the area west of Hue, called the “rocket belt,” to prevent communist rocket attacks. Americans were gradually replaced by ARVN soldiers. The operation claimed to have inflicted 2026 casualties on the NVA/VC.

In October, President Nixon announced that “American troops are now in a defensive position. The offensive activities of search and destroy are now being undertaken by the South Vietnamese.”

Lam Son 719

The largest 1971 operation was Lam Son 719. It was a joint US-ARVN thrust into Laos to destroy supply depots on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Americans provided a blocking force and air support, while only ARVN troops entered Laos. This battle is described in detail in the CS Legion article UHH#11 Truong Son Ground Combat.

 In summary, the ARVN armor and infantry task force consisted of the 1st and 3rd Armored Brigades, 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, plus the Airborne Division and 1st Ranger Group. Advancing west along Route 9, this effort failed when faced by NVA counterattacks of the 304th, 308th, 320th and 2nd Divisions. ARVN helicopter assaults faltered due to unexpected numbers of anti-aircraft guns. (NVA 367th Air Defense Division) Poor condition of Route 9 slowed advance, and hampered resupply. ARVN artillery range was inferior to the NVA’s 122mm and 130mm guns.

However, Operation Lam Son 719 had the largest airborne assault of the Vietnam War utilizing 120 Huey helicopters to transport two battalions to capture Tchepone. This transportation center was captured without major resistance, because the NVA abandoned it.

After its capture, many stocks of supplies were destroyed. But, President Thieu of South Vietnam ordered the withdrawal of ARVN troops from Laos. He ignored the recommendation of MACV Commander General Creighton Abrams that ARVN reinforce and hold its position. The withdrawal became a disaster with heavy ARVN casualties.

Map of Lam Son

War Protests in US

Vietnam veterans threw away over 700 medals on the west steps of the United States Capitol building in Washington to protest the Vietnam War. The next day, antiwar organizers claimed that 500000 marched, making this the largest demonstration since November 1969. Police arrested more than 1200 protesters during the 1971 May Day rallies.

Lt. Calley Trial

The courts-martial of Lt. William Calley was a significant event. It was the result of the My Lai massacre in 1968.

This was a high profile massacre in the news media. It involved the killing of Vietnamese villagers by American soldiers at My Lai. In March 1968, soldiers from ‘Charlie’ Company, deployed in the coastal province of Quang Ngai, were sent into areas believed to house Viet Cong soldiers and sympathisers. This company was in 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division.

Operating under stress,with questionable intelligence, and unclear orders, US soldiers entered the small hamlet of My Lai, and began firing indiscriminately on people and buildings. When they left at dusk, hundreds of Vietnamese peasants lay dead, the vast majority were women, children, and aged.

The incident was concealed for several months, until revealed by concerned American soldiers, and later, journalist Seymour Hersh. The My Lai massacre, as it became known, caused horror and outrage in the United States and around the world. It raised questions about the methods being used in Vietnam and whether American soldiers were doing more harm than good.

Calley was the only soldier convicted for his role in the massacre. In March 1971, he was convicted of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. President Nixon ordered Calley, to be transferred from Leavenworth to house arrest. The life sentence was reduced to 20 years, but Calley served only three and one-half years before being paroled.

Paris Peace Negotiations

The peace talks in Paris between North Vietnam, South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong,) and the United States enter the fourth year. Little or no progress had been made. Henry Kissinger introduced a new US proposal to withdraw from South Vietnam, with a cease fire in place, and an exchange of prisoners. The cease fire in place was a key concession, because it would allow North Vietnamese soldiers to remain in South Vietnam at least temporarily.

North Vietnam negotiators Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy responded to Kissinger’s 31 May proposal with a nine-point “bargaining proposal.” This was the first time that the North Vietnamese had indicated a willingness to negotiate, rather than presenting unilateral demands. But later, the North Vietnamese Politburo instructed its negotiators not to make any further concessions.

President Nixon ordered the initiation of Operation Proud Deep Alpha, an intensive five-day bombing campaign against military targets in North Vietnam just north of the border above the 17th parallel. This was likely meant to provide leverage in the peace negotiations.

Paris Peace Conference

References

“1971 in the Vietnam War”, Wikipedia

UHH#11 Truong Son Ground Combat“, CS Legion.com, David Galster

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC

[hr]

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of the events in Vietnam from 1969 onward. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.