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.

Washington

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.

Diversions

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.

Truong’s Tragic Trail #4: Strategic Raids

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

The year of 1974 was very decisive, and the South Vietnamese won some important battles. But, as this article explains, the NVA gained several strategic advantages portending the final 1975 outcome.

1974, Year or Decision

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.

The American DAO in Saigon believed that North Vietnam had three options to conquer South Vietnam: A political one, which would create a recognized and competitive government in South Vietnam, or starting a limited military offensive creating situations the South could not handle, or a major military offensive causing immediate collapse of the Saigon government.

Hanoi’s leaders knew of declining US support, and were emboldened. The DAO assessed that the political option would be indecisive, as VC infrastructure was too weak. Also, the NVA was not yet ready for a major offensive, because some NVA units were far understrength.  So they were expected to continue political and economic actions, and develop militarily for eventual victory.

In early 1974, Hanoi’s military leaders studied the resolutions of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee’s 21st Plenum. Indeed, strategic concepts stated by this council paralleled remarkably to the DAO assessment. General Van Tien Dung described the situation as viewed from Hanoi:  “. . . revolution may develop through various transitional stages. It can only achieve success by way of military violence with political support. . .If the war resumes on a large scale, a revolution will be waged to win total victory. Our forces must grasp the concept of strategic offensive. . .”

Tri Phap and Svay Rieng Campaigns

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

Cambodia’s Svay Rieng Province extends into South Vietnam 97 km to  Parrot’s Beak, 48 km west of Saigon. The NVA controlled most of this area. From the South Vietnamese perspective, Svay Rieng and sizable NVA forces was a serious threat to their adjacent provinces. Also, it was a source of NVA infiltration into the delta. The RVNAF maintained outposts close to this border.

However, the South Vietnamese immediate concern was in Kien Tuong Province, south of Svay Rieng. The NVA Z-18 and Z-I5 regiments occupied an area called Tri Phap. They operated major infiltration corridors, and a logistical system there.

In January 1974, ARVN intelligence indicated that elements of the NVA 5th were ordered to Dinh Tuong Province, south of Kien Tuong. Time was critical. If the 5th were allowed to occupy Tri Phap, it would be extremely difficult for ARVN to dig out, and the threat to Route 4 would become intolerable. Maj. Gen. Nguyen Vinh Nghi, commander of ARVN IV Corps and MR 4, decided to drive Z-18 and Z-15 out, and reinforce Tri Phap before 5th NVA elements arrived.

On 12 February, ARVN 12th Infantry Regiment, 7th Division attacked through Tri Phap from the east and advanced to the Kien Phong-Dien Tuong boundary. Three days later, ARVN 14th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division attacked east from My An, and linked up with 12th Infantry.

Tri Phap Operation

This two-pronged attack was followed on the 19th by an attack by ARVN 10th Infantry Regiment from Hau My to the north to clear the southern edge of Tri Phap. NVA forces were enveloped, and suffered heavy losses. The NVA 6th Battalion, 174th Infantry was also identified in the pocket. It was a 5th Division element.

NVA casualties were heavy, with over 500 killed. ARVN captured tons of ammunition and 200 weapons, while their own losses were light. Fighting flared until the end of March, as ARVN kept up the pressure. In successive weeks, ARVN killed another 250 NVA.

After the loss in Trip Phap, COSVN ordered the NVA 5th division to assemble forces in Svay Rieng. From the Chi Phu base, it could direct forces against southern Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia, and Kien Tuong.

Svay Rieng has two minor prominences, whose shapes suggest their names. On the southwest side was the so-called Elephant’s Foot. Opposite this, bordering Tay Ninh and Hau Nghia Provinces, was the Angel’s Wing spread toward Go Dau Ha. Two battalions of the 6th Regiment, and divisional artillery assembled there.

On 27 March, these NVA battalions attacked the RVNAF Duc Hue base. NVA 105-mm howitzers and heavy mortars also fired at the garrison. The ARVN 83rd Ranger Battalion repulsed this assault.

The NVA battalions continued a loose siege of Duc Hue, assisted by the local sapper battalion. They  blocked the only land access, and continued artillery bombardment.

The ARVN 25th Division committed a task force to break the siege. This consisted of a battalion each from the 46th and 50th Regiments, and a tank company. Fighting raged several days, while VNAF provided effective air support. The ARVN task force command post was hit by 107-mm rocket fire, and the commander was also killed.

As April wore on, the threat of renewed assaults on Duc Hue remained. The situation was dangerous because the 7th and 9th NVA Divisions probed aggressively in the eastern part of MR-3.  Lt. Gen. Pham Quoc Thuan, III Corps Commander, decided to reduce the threat to his western flank, and the Tay Ninh corridor while there was an opportunity.

Phase I began with 45 sorties striking NVA bases in Cambodia. This continued to 28 April, and included two RF battalions sweeping into Angel’s Wing. Meanwhile, the 49th Regiment and 7th Ranger Group advanced westward, past Duc Hue to the Cambodian frontier. Three RF battalions provided security in northern Long An Province.

Another Phase I supporting maneuver was an ARVN  thrust into Svay Rieng Province south of Elephant’s Foot by two MR-4 battalions. They advanced from Moc Hoa, and established blocking positions at local Route 1012.

While ARVN Phase I was ongoing, the NVA struck Long Khot in Elephant’s Foot. The defenders held against the NVA’s 275th Regiment and 25th Sapper Battalion. 100 sorties were flown against NVA positions in Svay Rieng, and many in support of Long Khot. Numerous enemy weapons were captured, and 75 NVA soldiers killed.

Phase II involved armored sweeps through Cambodian NVA bases. Three Task Forces drove west from Go Dau Ha, and penetrated 15 km Svay Rieng before wheeling south down into Hau Nghia Province.

Each of the Task Forces, TF 315, 318, and 310, consisted of an armored cavalry squadron and an infantry or Ranger battalion. TF 322 was a strong reserve, ready to exploit any opportunities, and had a tank battalion, cavalry troop, infantry battalion and howitzer battery.  The 18th and 25th Infantry Divisions, and 7th Ranger Group provided units for the task forces.

By 29 April, TF 315 penetrated 7 km into Cambodia. TF 318 experienced similar success, killing nearly 60 and capturing 5. The following morning, TF 315 continued the attack, killing 40 more. Meanwhile, the VNAF pounded NVA positions with nearly 200 sorties. Many lucrative enemy contacts were also made by TF 310 maneuvers.

Task Force 322 was committed, and advanced 4 km into the center of Angel’s Wing. Infantry battalions of the 25th ARVN Division continued their sweep between Duc Hue and Go Dau Ha. By 6 May, the land route to Duc Hue was secure. The threat to the vital road junction at Go Dau Ha was substantially reduced. ARVN was in complete control of the battlefield.

Svay Rieng Operation

Strategic Raids

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.

On 5 April the NVA 3rd Battalion, 141st Regiment, with the division’s 28th Sapper and 22nd Artillery Battalion supporting, overran the Chi Linh base, defended by the ARVN 215th RF Company with a two 105-mm howitzers.

Tong Le Chon had been under siege since the cease-fire. By March 1974, the situation was becoming desperate for the defending 92nd Ranger Battalion. Resupply was by parachute drop only. Morale was deteriorating.

Rescue was not practical. After all, how could an ARVN division be expected to punch through from An Loc to Tong Le Chon when repeated efforts to attack even a few miles north of Lai Khe had failed?

Shortly after midnight, the defenders began burning sensitive papers, and  later the breakout of 277 soldiers there. Their march to An Loc, several kilometers to the northeast through jungle and enemy lines, resulted in 268 reaching friendly lines.

However, larger and more critical attacks were in Binh Duong Province. The NVA’s strategic raids campaign began on 16 May with coordinated attacks by the 7th and 9th NVA Divisions on Phu Giao and Ben Cat.

Phu Giao

The NVA main objective was the bridge at Phu Giao, spanning the Song Be. Capture of this bridge would isolate 5th ARVN Division’s base at Phuoc Vinh, and provide positions for subsequent attacks toward Phu Cuong, and Bien Hoa air base.

Two 7th Division NVA regiments prepared for the May offensive at Phu Giao: the 165th and the 209th. The 165th crossed the Song Be, and moved into position to attack at Bo La, south of Phu Giao, and to block Route IA. The 209th moved north to positions close to the bridge.

The 322nd RF Battalion defended Phu Giao, while 7th and 8th Regiments, ARVN 5th Division, and the 318th Task Force were in position to provide support. 8th Infantry attacked assembly areas of the 209th NVA Infantry on 15 May, and disrupted them to the extent that the 209th made a very poor showing.

7th Infantry Regiment and TF 315 moved north to break the block on Route IA. Casualties on the ARVN side were light, but the NVA lost heavily; the 209th was especially hard hit.

Iron Triangle

The 9th NVA Division was west of Route 13, and north of the Iron Triangle. Its artillery often shelled the ARVN 5th Division base at Lai Khe. But, its May campaign objectives were to strike into the Iron Triangle, sever Route 13 at Ben Cat, and open the Saigon River corridor down to Phu Hoa. By accomplishing this, its artillery could reach Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and it could  put pressure on the ARVN 25th Division at Cu Chi. Cutting Route 13 at Ben Cat would isolate the Lai Khe ARVN base, and in  coordination with 7th Division, threaten Phu Cuong and eventually Saigon.

The strategic Iron Triangle is enclosed on the west by the Saigon River and on the east by the Thi Thinh River. These join near Phu Hoa, at the southern point of the Triangle. The northern boundary is the parallel through Ben Cat. North of that line is heavy jungle.

Iron Triangle Attack

The attack began with heavy artillery, rocket, and mortar concentrations falling on Rach Bap, Base 82, and An Dien on 16 May. The RF company at Base 82 abandoned its bunkers. Rach Bap held out until 0300 the following morning, and its defenders withdrew toward An Dien. Fighting was fierce in An Dien, but by the night of 17 May, NVA forces held the village and its defenses.

The NVA 272nd Regiment overran Rach Bap, and moved south into the Triangle along Route 14, while the 95C Regiment attacked Base 82 and An Dien. The 271st Regiment was held in reserve.

ARVN TF 318 arrived in Ben Cat on the 16th, and the next day reinforced the RF holding the bridge. And then began moving against NVA blocking positions west of the bridgehead.

Meanwhile TF 322 moved from Tay Ninh Province to Phu Cuong. They prepared to attack into the Triangle along Route 14 opposing the NVA 272nd Regiment, which was moving south from Rach Bap.

Six months passed before the original situation would be restored in the Iron Triangle. Operations progressed in four phases.  The NVA captured the northern edge of the Triangle, and  launched a column southeast to eventually approach Phu Cuong. In the second phase, 18 May to 5 June, ARVN counterattacked, and regained control of An Dien. On 4 October, ARVN completed the third phase by reoccupying Base 82. Finally, on 20 November, ARVN recaptured Rach Bap, concluding the 1974 Iron Triangle campaign.

Campaign Series Vietnam will feature a scenario titled: Iron Triangle Campaign – May- November, 1974

ARVN Command Shakeup

A major ARVN command change was made 30 October. Presidenl Thieu relieved General Thuan of MR-3 and III Corps, and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Du Quoc Dong. The II Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Van Toan was replaced by Maj. Gen. Pham Van Phu, and Maj. Gen. Nguyen Khoa Nam became the new commander of IV Corps, in place of Lt. Gen. Nguyen Vinh Nghi. Only I Corps was untouched, where Lt. Gen. Ngo Quang Truong retained command.

The Highlands

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.

Perhaps the most successful NVA thrust was at Chuong Nghia east toward Quang Ngai. As the NVA B-3 Front prepared attack Chuong Nghia, ARVN II Corps HQ moved the 254th RF Battalion to Chuong Nghia. By the end of September, the garrison had 600 defenders, comprised of the 254th, one RF Company, and nine PF platoons.

The NVA attacked the outposts on 30 September. Two 105-mm howitzers in Chuong Nghia could not adequately support the widely scattered platoons and companies. One by one, the outposts were overrun by the 28th NVA Regiment.

The final NVA assault began 3 October with heavy artillery concentrations falling on the 254th command post. The barrage was followed by an assault by a battalion of the 28th Regiment, against the 254th RF Battalion. Defensive positions were quickly overrun. Chuong Nghia was lost.

Strategic Raids

Quang Ngai

The demands for reinforcements for adjacent provinces spread ARVN very thin in Quang Ngai Province. The 2d ARVN Division, under Brig. Gen. Tran Van Nhut, had conducted successful pacification and security operations in Quang Ngai. But, the vast territory was vulnerable to guerilla attacks. Further, several ARVN outposts were far away in the hills beyond supporting or quick reinforcing distance.

ARVN’s principal Quang Ngai adversary was the 52nd NVA Brigade, with four infantry battalions, a sapper battalion, and supporting artillery. It was deployed west of National Highway 1, and south of Nghia Hanh. From there it could threaten populated areas of Mo Duc and Duc Pho, and mountain district seats at Son Ha, Tra Bong, and Minh Long, and the frontier outpost of Gia Vuc.

Augmenting 2nd ARVN Division were 12 RF battalions and 3 battalions of the 11th Ranger Group.

Unfortunately, a critical situation in Quang Nam impelled General Truong to order Maj. Gen. Le Van Nhut to send 4th Infantry Regiment to defend Que Son Valley.

Minh Long was the first district headquarters to fall during the NVA offensive. Elements of the 52nd NVA Brigade overran two RF Companies on 17 August. Outposts held by 15 local PF platoons collapsed quickly under the weight of NVA artillery.

Artillery fire on Gia Vuc began 19 September, followed by ground assaults. Five outposts fell, but Rangers moved quickly and retook three of them. But, without artillery support or air strikes, the 70th Ranger Battalion was unable to hold. The camp fell on 21 September.

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

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 #3: “Cease Fire II”

Campaign Series Vietnam | Truong's Tragic Trail

Paratroopers, check your static lines!

Despite the “Landgrab” and other hostilities occurring after the Paris Accord, would you think that the four principal parties would meet again to try and salvage the agreements? Well, they did in June 1973, and for a little while, there was a second “cease-fire.”

“Cease Fire II” in MR 1&2

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.”

Dr. Kissinger held a press conference in Paris in which he explained the joint communique to take effect at noon on 15 June. It was not a new agreement, but attempted to gain a commitment to follow the original one. Previously the Canadian delegation of the ICCS left Vietnam, saying that they had come to supervise a cease-fire but instead were observing a war.

 

President of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu made remarks to his cabinet. He felt the Communists were not likely to attack in strength during 1973. The best advantages would be to wait until the end of President Nixon’s term to launch offensives. This was due to Thieu’s belief that President Nixon would intervene in such a situation. Ironically, Thieu could not have known that two days later, Nixon accepted “full responsibility” for Watergate.

MR-1

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. The North Vietnamese continued construction and stockpiling activities. They attempted to prevent aerial observation and photography, and the density of their anti-aircraft defenses denied manned flight over sensitive areas such as Khe Sanh and Cam Lo.

General Truong, commanding I Corps made adjustments his defensive sectors north of Da Nang. The Marine Division retained responsibility for the northern approaches in Quang Tri Province.  The Airborne Division was assigned the defense of the Co Bi-An Lo Bridge sector on the northwestern portion of the Song Bo River.  1st Infantry Division was responsible for the western and southern defenses of Hue as far south as the Thua Thien Province southern border.

3d Infantry Division held Quang Nam Province and the northern district of Quang Tin Province, which included the Que Son Valley. The 2d Infantry Division was spread from the valley southward to cover Quang Ngai Province.

Military Situation MR I

Positions held by ARVN 1st Division to the southeast were under greater enemy pressure. Forward positions of 3rd Regiment were attacked at a small tributary of the Song Bo, the Ngoc Ke Trai. In the first heavy action in the sector following Cease-fire II, two positions west of the connuence fell to Communist attack in late July. Pressure continued, and more outposts fell in late 1973.

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. The NVA was more or less on the ropes, but recovering, rebuilding, and receiving replacements. South Vietnamese territorials were taking the brunt of local terrorist attacks, which eroded morale, exacerbated already strained economic conditions, and contributed to a slow decline in confidence in government ability to influence or control the situation.

MR-2

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. For the NVA, the last half of 1973 was a period for rebuilding and expansion. The intense fighting in the B-3 Front area, from Kontum to Quallg Due, was a result to expand its logistical system, particularly the Route 14 complex, and prevent ARVN encroachment into base areas and tines of communication.

Trung Nghia

The ARVN 44th Regiment. 23rd Division was driven out of Trung Nghia by a tank-infantry assault on 8 June. In early July, the 44th gained a few meters, and dug in on the eastern edge of Ngoc Bay, but could move no farther, despite employing massive artillery and airpower.

 

General Toan decided to attack from south against the positions at Plei Djo Drap, directly across the Dak Bla River from Trung Nghia. He hoped this would force an NVA withdrawal. ARVN 22nd Ranger Border Defense Battalion moved north from Plei  Mrong. They ran into the NVA 28th Sapper Battalion, and a few days later, elements of NVA 95B Regiment attacked the ARVN Rangers.

The ARVN 45th Regiment, 23rd Division moved southwest from Kontum and struck other elements of the 95B Regiment.  The NVA suffered from artillery at Trung Nghia and withdrew the 24B Regiment to Dak To. The 66th and 28th Regiments, 10th Division replaced them at Trung Nghia.

The ARVN 44th Regiment was replaced when the 42nd Regiment, 22nd Division was flown into Kontum from Binh Dinh Province. The 42nd methodically eliminated enemy bunkers with platoon-sized assaults. Trung Nhia was cleared by 7 September and the 42nd entered Polei Krong on 16 September. Mop-up operations continued the rest of September.

The Campaign Series Vietnam game plans to feature a scenario of the Battle of Polei Krong.

Plei Djereng-Le Minh

As the NVA strove to extend its logistics corridor south along the western highlands, an impediment

was the ARVN camp at Plei Djereng, called Le Minh, manned by the 80th Ranger Border Defense Battalion.

On 22 September, 26th NVA Regiment began an assault using heavy artillery including 122-mm and 130-mm guns, mortars, and rockets and T-54 tanks. It was too much for the Rangers and the camp was taken.

General Toan proposed a plan to retake Le Minh, but his subsequent actions revealed, that he was more interested in destroying the NVA 320th Division. President Thieu had directed him to use whatever means necessary to prevent the enemy from concentrating.

The plan was to entice the 320th Division into open ground along Route 509 where the NVA battalions could be destroyed by artillery and airstrikes. Instead, the 320th kept pressure along Highway 19, and the 320th was not seriously hurt.

The Highlands

“Cease Fire II” in MR 3&4

In MR-3 there were no major terrain losses for either side, but there were some areas of contact. For the most part, Communist forces built warehouses, workshops, roads, and antiaircraft positions. They received equipment and troop replacements while assembling a logistical and training base that spread across the northern border. By September they deployed the 367th Sapper Group from Phnom Penh to Tay Ninh.

The NVA exerted strong pressure against the Tay Ninh·Saigon corridor from its forward combat bases along the Saigon River from the Michelin Plantation to the Ho Bo Woods. They wanted to prevent ARVN from probing too deeply into their base areas.

The most significant action during this period in MR 3 took place along Highway LTL-1A between the Song Be River and Saigon. The NVA 7th Division attacked between Lai Khe and Phu Giao, and roughly treated the ARVN 5th Division. The heaviest action took place south of Phu Giao. 7th Division attempted to block the highway, and blew the Song Be River bridge. The NVA intention was to deny the road to ARVN, isolate garrisons north of the bridge, and screen movement of artillery and supplies. The NVA intended to supply bases in the dense forests  north of Bien Hoa and Xuan Loc.

MR-4 Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta had been an annual contest for the rice harvest. Nearly 90 percent of Communist rice requirements, to be filled 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.

Cambodia had also became an NVA sanctuary since the defeat of Cambodia’s 32d Brigade at Phnom Penh in May 1973. The entire Cambodian | South Vietnamese border region from the Gulf or Thailand to the eastern edge or South Vietnam’s Hong Ngu District in Kien Phong Province was controlled by NVA and Khmer Communist forces.

The two most significant centers were in the O Mountain complex, opposite the Seven Mountains in South Vietnam’s Chau Doc Province. One was the rear base or the NVA 1st Division, the NVA 195th Transportation Group, and the 200th Rear Service Group; the other was NVA Base Area 704, which contained pari or the NVA 207th Regimem’s supply area.

Tri Phap

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 NVA Z-18 Regiment moved into the Tri Phap. Rice fields north of the Tri Phap had been planted under NVA control, part of the effort to become self-sustaining in the delta. ARVN repulsed numerous attacks against outposts and fire bases in Cay Bay, Cai Be, and Sam Giang Districts during July and August. In the first week of September alone, NVA casualties were 144 killed, while NVA losses were 17 killed and 78 wounded.

Tay Ninh - Saigon

The Military Situation MR IV

Decline of US Support

The Military Assistance Service Funded program for Vietnam became obsolete with the departure of American forces in January 1973. Months passed before the Defense Department and Congress could adjust to a new military assistance program. In the interim, DAO Saigon requisitioned supplies and equipment for RVNAF under continuing congressional resolutions.

The US part of the RVNAF budget for fiscal year 1974 called for expenditures of $1.1 billion. But on 19 December 1973, Rear Adm. T J Bigley, Director for East Asia and Pacific Region, cabled General Murray warning that the Senate committee reduced assistance for Vietnam and Laos to $650 million.

General Murray had identified $200 million in shortages for important items such as ammunition, medical supplies, and purchase of more amphibious ships like LSTs. The Defense Department requested an increase to $1.6 Billion to cover additional items.

The Congress, particularly the Senate, led by Senator Kennedy of the Armed Services Committee passed a resolution, capping the budget for $1.1 Billion. There was much back and forth, between the House and Senate, but this was the final approved budget for Defense Appropriation Act for fiscal year 1974.

This was also a precursor to the 1975 fiscal year budget battle.

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 #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