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

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

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

Talks Begin After 1968 TET Offensive

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

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

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

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

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

Nixon Election and New US Negotiators

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

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

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

Major Hurdles

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough and Agreement

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

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

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

Areas in Red controlled by Communist Forces

Areas in Red controlled by Communist Forces

Enforcement of Agreement

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

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

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

Agreement Reached

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

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

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

Signing the peace accords

Signing the peace accords

Main Peace Accord Terms

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


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

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

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


“Paris Peace Accords”, Wikipedia

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

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

1971 timeline excerpt –

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC

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

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #5: 1972 Easter Offensive

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

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

Offensive Overview

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

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

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

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

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


COSVN Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligence Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quang Tri and Hue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Offensive 1972


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle for Dak To

An Loc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle for An Loc


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

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

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


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

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

“Resolution 10 – Document 99”, COSVN

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

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

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

“Easter Offensive”, Wikipedia

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC


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


Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #4: Vietnam War 1971

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

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

Vietnamization Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lam Son 719

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

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

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

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

Map of Lam Son

War Protests in US

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

Lt. Calley Trial

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

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

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

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

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

Paris Peace Negotiations

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

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

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

Paris Peace Conference


“1971 in the Vietnam War”, Wikipedia

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

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC


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

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #3: 1970 – Cambodia and Kent State

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

Did you ever suspect there was a connection between Cambodia and Kent State University?

This article discusses the Cambodian Incursion in 1970, and the US political turmoil over the Kent State University shooting.

Cambodian Political Inclination Under Prince Sihanouk

Under Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia aligned with Communist Bloc nations. He believed  that Communism was the eventual “wave of the future” for all Southeast Asia.

However, for centuries, Cambodians held intense mistrust toward Vietnamese. Against the Viet Minh invasion in 1954, Cambodians hated them more as Vietnamese than as Communists.

Cambodia emerged from the First Indochina War with good reason to fear North Vietnam. But, traditional hatred and suspicion of the Vietnamese extended as much to anti-communist South Vietnam as it did to the North.

During the early 1960s, Prince Sihanouk played a game of “diplomatic ping-pong” with Communist China and the United States. It was policy of manipulation, favoring first one side, then the other, which helped keep opponents off guard.

Sihanouk initially accepted aid from the US. The Communist Chinese were also eager to befriend Cambodia, and invited him to a state visit to China, hosted by Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.

Prince Sihanouk gradually became unhappy with US aid, and with what he considered American attempts to dictate to him. In 1963, Cambodia terminated all US assistance.

Convinced that South Vietnam could not win, even with powerful American aid, the Prince felt that permitting North Vietnamese supplies and munitions to funnel through Cambodia, he was protecting his country from possible Chinese fury when the Communists took over all of Vietnam.

1965 Meeting in Peking: Mao Zedong, Peng Zhen, Norodom Sihanouk, and Liu Shaoqi

1965 Meeting in Peking: Mao Zedong, Peng Zhen, Norodom Sihanouk, and Liu Shaoqi

North Vietnamese in Cambodia

The NVA maintained sanctuaries along the Cambodian border with South Vietnam. They built base areas (BA) from the tri-border area of Cambodia-Laos-South-Vietnam southward to where the border meets the Gulf of Siam. These BAs were particularly placed opposite the CTZ III and IV, with close proximity to Saigon. Of 14 BAs located on the Cambodian border, 8 were contiguous to III CTZ alone.

Prior to 1966, North Vietnam sent arms, ammunition, and supplies to coastal depots in CTZ III and IV by sea. But, a US Naval blockade, Operation “Market Time,” closed these direct sea routes.

And then, Sihanoukville, a Cambodian seaport on the Gulf of Siam, began receiving arms shipments from North Vietnam. These were delivered over land to sanctuaries, and BAs straddling the border. This had tacit approval of the Cambodian government.

Cambodia also provided secure infiltration routes from North Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Cambodian territory provided a safe extension of infiltration trails to CTZ III and IV.

The Communist base areas contained NVA/VC installations, fortifications, and logistics storage. These were used for regrouping, resting personnel, and training. Political, military, or logistical headquarters were located in BAs, where they planned offensive operations.

Some of the most important BAs were 353, 707, and 354. BA 353 was located  along the northern border of Tay Ninh Province, and was a staging area for attacks along Highway 7. This BA also served as the location of COSVN HQ, and became a primary target area for Allied sweep operations. Several NVA 7th Division elements later operated from here.

BA 707 was in the Dog’s Head area on the northwestern Tay Ninh Province border. It was an operating area for the VC 272d Regiment, 9th Division.  BA 354, to the south, was also used by the VC 9th Division.

COSVN Base Areas along Cambodia-South Vietnam Border

COSVN Base Areas along Cambodia-South Vietnam Border

Cambodia’s Rift with Vietnamese Communists

NVA/VC presence in Cambodia fomented resentment. Their need for food, and resources to support them distorted the price system, and led to graft, corruption, and bureaucratic malfunctions. This increased resentment toward Prince Sihanouk.

Government officials blamed Sihanouk for Communist collaboration and poor economic policies. The military leaders found fault with Sihanouk for being inconsistent.  While the Prince condemned Communists in speeches, he forced the military to release all Viet Cong prisoners.

The “Salvation Government” of Lon Nol

Lon Nol and Sirik Matak agreed that the only way to return Cambodia to order was to limit the Chief of State’s power. When Sihanouk asked Lon Nol to form a cabinet, he replied that he would form a government only as Premier, and not merely a secretary to Sihanouk.

Nol also indicated he would not agree to form a government until Sihanouk met further conditions: principally, that Nol would have the right to choose his own ministers, and that they would report to him, not to Sihanouk. The Chief of State, however, could keep control over foreign policy. Sihanouk accepted. and the cabinet took office on 12 August 1969.

The new Premier Lon Nol and his appointed deputy, Sirik Matak issued decrees to solidify their position. All government communications and letters were to be addressed to the Premier’s office rather than to the Chief of State. Taxes were no longer paid into the Chief of State’s treasury, but into the Government’s accounts instead.

During an absence from Phnom Penh in early 1970, Lon Nol left Sirik Matak in charge. Friction between Matak and Sihanouk became intense. Sihanouk felt that Matak was unfairly limiting the Chief of State’s influence over domestic politics, and that he was intruding on his foreign policy prerogatives. Matak accused Sihanouk of reneging on his mandate to allow the Salvation Government to solve domestic problems.

After three unsuccessful coup attempts to cause the Salvation Government collapse, Sihanouk departed for Europe, USSR, and China on 6 January 1970. Sihanouk’s absence left the government and the country totally in the hands of Lon Nol and Sirik Matak.

Anti-Communist Measures Begin

Lon Nol and Matak began taking measures against the NVA/VC. They closed the Hak Ly Trucking Company. This cut off the supply route from the Gulf of Siam port of Kompong Sam (Sihanoukville) to Communist base areas along the South Vietnam border.

They also took military action to drive Communists back across the border into South Vietnam. In December 1969, Sirik Matak issued orders to Cambodian Army units ( Royal Khmer Armed Force, or FARK,) to attack NVA/VC troops in Cambodia, especially in Prey Veng Province.

Using the bombing of Dak Dam by US aircraft as a pretext, Matak requested the NVA/VC to move out of Cambodia. He ordered destruction of their installations in Svay Rieng Province, and directed that food supplies to the Communists be discontinued. In February 1970 FARK units moved into the BA 702 Tri-border area.

Public Demonstrations Begin

The Cambodian people’s hostile feelings intensified over failures to remove the Communist forces had finally reached a peak. Demonstrations flared up in early March, particularly in Svay Rieng Province, but also in the capital Phnom Penh. Finally, protesters ransacked the North Vietnamese Embassy.

Vietnamese Communist Reaction

The North Vietnamese resisted orders to withdraw. COSVN directed its forces to maintain vigilance, avoid provocations, remain calm, and try to win over the Cambodian people and local officials.

In late March, particularly after the Lon Nol coup, COSVN decided they would have to fight the Cambodians. A NVA/VC force of approximately 2000 troops attacked and occupied a Cambodian military post near the northwestern Tay Ninh Province border on 29 March.

Joint Cambodian – South Vietnamese Operations

Cambodian and South Vietnamese border officials planned their first joint operation. American advisors participated, but were unaware that the operation would not be limited to· boundaries of South Vietnam. The planning agreed upon, two FARK battalions served as a blocking force as three ARVN Ranger battalions pushed at least two miles into Cambodian territory.

Despite the Cambodian-South Vietnamese moves against them, NVA/VC forces in Cambodia were not in serious danger. They enjoyed almost unrestricted movement in southern Kandal and Prey Veng Military sub-divisions, and overran several Cambodian defense posts.

 Lon Nol Appeals for Help

The survival of the Salvation Government depended on foreign assistance and leadership to organize military resistance. Chaotic economic problems emphasized this need. Lon Nol to appealed for arms from any country that would provide them. And, he wrote a letter to President Nixon on 15 April for help.

US Response

After careful appraisal of Cambodia’s aid request, on 22 April the White House approved the supply of several thousand rifles to Cambodia. Meanwhile, Washington and Saigon agreed that ARVN would mount limited attacks on suspected NVA/VC sanctuaries in Cambodia.

While ARVN troops moved toward the Cambodian border, US forces maneuvered into blocking  positions for ARVN troops. The buildup of Allied forces along the Dog’s Head, Parrot’s Beak, and Fishhook areas of the border increased rapidly, but still no American ground forces entered Cambodia.

But, by the end of April, communist forces overran the entire eastern portion of Cambodia, and disrupted or threatened several provincial capitals, and posed a threat to Phnom Penh. Stronger measures were needed immediately to resolve the situation.

On 29 April, the White House announced that it was providing advisors, tactical air support, and supplies to ARVN forces in Cambodian operations. Then, on 30 April, President Nixon announced on television the incursion of US troops into Cambodia for the first time. As he spoke, American combat troops moved across the border into the Fishhook area of Cambodia. ARVN forces were attacking in several other areas, including the Parrot’s Beak.

US Intelligence

A considerable amount of SIGINT was available to MACV. In fact, they had a pretty good idea on the location of COSVN most of the time. The Army units involved were radio research groups, battalions, and companies. These units had radio recievers and transmitters, cryptologists, and language translators. The main group reporting to MACV was the 509th Radio Research Group in Saigon.

In particular, the 175th Radio Research Company was a nerve center for SIGINT support. In the early days of this operation were crucial. COSVN location and communications required particular emphasis. An OPSCOMM conversation on 1 May between the 175th RRC and NRV discussed 12 high interest targets.

Operation Rock Crusher

Attacks on the Parrot’s Beak area involved 12 ARVN battalions of approximately 8700 troops. These were two armored cavalry squadrons from III Corps, and two from the 25th Division and 5th Infantry Divisions, an infantry regiment from the 25th Infantry Division, and three Ranger battalions with an attached ARVN Armored Cavalry Regiment. They crossed into the Parrot’s Beak region of Svay Rieng Province. The operation commander was Lieutenant General Do Cao Tri.

On 1 May an even larger operation was underway as B-52s dropped 774 tons of bombs along the southern edge of Fishhook. This was followed by massed artillery fire air strikes by tactical fighter-bombers. The US 1st Air Cavalry Division, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 1st ARVN Armoured Cavalry Regiment, and the 3rd ARVN Airborne Brigade entered Kampong Cham Province of Cambodia.

The operation failed to capture COSVN, one of its primary objectives. The NVA evaded US and ARVN forces, and mostly withdrew into Laos. However large NVA supply caches were found and destroyed.

The PAVN  response was to avoid contact with allied forces and, if possible, to fall back westward and regroup. They were well aware of the planned attack, and many COSVN and B-3 Front military units were already far to the northwest conducting operations against the Cambodians when the offensive began.

This actually started the largest expansion of the Ho Chi Minh trail in the entire conflict. As a response to the loss of their Cambodian supply route, NVA forces seized the Laotian towns of Attopeu and Saravane during 1970.

The aftermath of the incursion for the US and ARVN was to destroy large supply depots.  Units entered what came to be known as “The City”, southwest of Snoul. The NVA complex contained over 400 thatched huts, storage sheds, and bunkers, each of which was packed with food, weapons, and ammunition. There were truck repair facilities, hospitals, a lumber yard, 18 mess halls, a pig farm, and even a swimming pool.

Other 1st Cavalry Division elements discovered a larger base,  nicknamed “Rock Island East” after the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. The area contained more than 6.5 million rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition, 500000 rifle rounds, thousands of rockets, and large quantities of communications equipment.

Unfortunately for the MACV war effort, political blowback in the United States was swift and intense.

Kent State Shooting

Protests against the Vietnam War had been ongoing since the 1968 Tet Offensive, but the Cambodian Incursion gave new impetus to the protest movement.

President Nixon had campaigned on ending the Vietnam War. But, with the Cambodian involvement, it seemed to many that he had broken his promise. This also gave many left-wing radical activist groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society, (SDS) and the Weathermen a pretense to agitate.

At Kent State University (Kent, Ohio,) these protests began on 1 May, the day after Nixon’s address. That day, hundreds of students gathered on the Commons, an open space at the center of campus that had been the site of large demonstrations.  Several speakers spoke out against the war in general, and President Nixon specifically. Some of these were from outside radical groups, and not Kent State students.

That night, violent clashes occurred between activists and police. Bottles were thrown at cars and protesters stopped traffic and lit bonfires in the streets.

Reinforcements were called in from neighboring communities, and Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared an emergency, and ordered all bars closed. Satrom also contacted Ohio Governor James Rhodes, seeking assistance.

The Ohio National Guard arrived at the Kent State campus on the night of May 2nd, however, protesters had already set fire to the school’s ROTC building, and scores were watching and cheering as it burned. Some protesters also reportedly clashed with firefighters attempting to put out the blaze, and Guardsmen were asked to intervene. Clashes between the Guard and the protesters continued well into the night, and dozens of arrests were made.

The next day, Sunday on 3 May, the campus was relatively quiet, despite 1000 Guardsmen at the school. However, a major protest was scheduled for 4 May.

At noon 4 May on the Commons, protesters gathered. University officials attempted to diffuse the situation by prohibiting the event. Still, crowds began to gather at about 1100 that morning, and an estimated 3000 protesters and spectators were there by the scheduled start time.

Stationed at the smoking ruins of the ROTC building were roughly 100 Guardsmen carrying M-1 Garand rifles. Although the protests were initially peaceful, General Robert Canterbury ordered the protesters to disperse, with the announcement being made by a Kent State police officer riding in a military jeep across the Commons and using a bullhorn. Protesters refused to disperse, and began shouting and throwing rocks at the Guardsmen.

General Canterbury ordered his men to lock and load their weapons, and to fire tear gas into the crowd. The Guardsmen then marched across the Commons, forcing protesters to move up a nearby hill called Blanket Hill, and then down the other side of the hill toward a football practice field.

As the football field was enclosed with fencing, the Guardsmen were caught amongst the angry mob, and were the targets of shouting and thrown rocks yet again. The Guardsmen soon retreated back up Blanket Hill.

As the Guardsmen moved to the top of Blanke Hill, shots were fired, not from the Guards, but from a  38 revolver carried by photographer, Terry Norman. He had apparently fired into the air and ground.

An angry mob surrounded Norman, and he sought protection from the Guardsmen.

Kent State Campus

A command was given, “prepare to fire.” But there was a pause. And then, more than a minute later, frightened and undisciplined Guardsmen began firing. 29 out of 77 guardsmen fired 67 times for 13 seconds. This killed four students, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, William Schroeder, and wounded nine others.

Following the shooting, the university was immediately closed, and the campus remained shut down for six weeks. Numerous investigatory commissions and court trials followed, during which members of the Ohio National Guard testified that they felt the need to discharge their weapons because they feared for their lives.

In a civil suit filed by injured Kent State students, a settlement was reached in 1979 in which the Ohio National Guard agreed to pay a total of $675,000.

The impact of this incident on the American psyche was devastating. It ended any hope for public support of the Vietnam War, and greatly weakened President Nixon’s credibility.

Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over Jeffrey Miller minutes after his shooting

Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over Jeffrey Miller minutes after his shooting


“Focus on Cambodia, Parts 1 and 2”, NSA Cryptologic History Series, January 1974

“Cambodian Campaign”, Wikipedia

“Kent State Shooting”, History Channel

“Kent State shootings”, Wikipedia

“Kent State: The Rest of the Story”, Roger Canfield

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC


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

Big Ernie’s Scuttlebutt #2: TET ’69 and Cambodian Bombing

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

As you were, Grunts,

1969 Tet Offensive

The 1969 Tet Offensive was not nearly as big as for 1968. Most attacks centered on military targets near Saigon and Da Nang and were quickly beaten off. NVA strength was diminished from casualties of the previous year’s campaign. Although these attacks were repulsed, they inflicted casualties, and demonstrated that NVA/VC forces were still able to mount attacks at will.

These attacks might have been planned by North Vietnam to test the will of the new US President Richard Nixon. Nixon retaliated by secretly bombing Communist sanctuaries in Cambodia the following month. In April, US forces in Vietnam reached a peak at 543000.

Long Binh and Bien Hoa

Near Saigon, the VC made attacks on Long Binh and Bien Hoa. On 22 February, elements of the VC 274th Regiment, 5th Division assembled at three hills along Highway 15, approximately three kilometers south of Long Binh.

The ARVN 720th Military Police Battalion kept watch along potential approaches to Long Binh. One of the MP ambush squads held a position within a kilometer of the VC positions.

At 0200, 23 February, the 274th VC Regiment attacked with an estimated 78 rounds of rocket and mortar fire. The rounds landed on post, with some igniting petroleum tanks. The VC made several attempts to advance on the base, but were halted.

ARVN responded with full-scale sweeping operations to secure the perimeter. M113 armored personnel carriers and M551 Sheridan armored reconnaissance vehicles supported infantry forces, while AH-1 Cobra gunships and OH-6 helicopters provided air support. These units made occasional contact, often with NVA/VC who fought stubbornly from trenches and spider holes.

Da Nang

Since early February 1969, Marine noted increased NVA activity around Da Nang. A Communist base was found near the Nam O bridge northwest of the Red Beach Base Area. Marines left the base untouched, and returned at night,  setting up a series of ambushes that killed 18 and captured 2. On 8 February patrols from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines found 7 122mm rockets 14km southwest of Da Nang and another 13 140mm rockets 2km further south.

On 18 February Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines called in artillery fire on a group of NVA/VC 5km south of Marble Mountain. This caused 21 secondary explosions believed to be from detonating rockets.

Also in mid-February Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines engaged an entrenched PAVN platoon 22km southwest of Da Nang killing 30 and the ARVN 2nd Battalion, 51st Regiment operating 4km west of the Marines killed 49 NVA moving north of Go Noi Island.

These, and other incidents were hints of attacks to come. Finally, on 23 February, the NVA fired 25 122mm rockets at Da Nang’s deep water port. It hit an ARVN ammunition dump and a fuel tank farm at Da Nang Air Base, and caused minor damage to A-6A and 6 helicopters. Later, rockets hit the An Hoa Combat Base destroying 15000 artillery rounds, and igniting 40000 gallons of aviation fuel. Fifty rockets were fired at Naval Support Activity Da Nang. More than half went into the sea, and the remainder caused minor damage.

The 3/7 Marines attacked NVA forces, forcing them into three pockets along the Song Tuy Loan river.

Two of the pockets were destroyed by the next morning, resulting in the capture of the commander of the 141st Regiment. The last pocket along the An Tan ridgeline proved more difficult, and Company L, 3/7 Marines suffered numerous casualties. They were forced to withdraw.

On 26 February, Napalm and Snake-Eye air strikes hit NVA positions, and Company L, reinforced by Company M assaulted, making slow progress against determined resistance. The attack continued into 27 February when the Marines overran the NVA position resulting in more than 200 killed.

PAVN/VC retreating to the south from Da Nang were intercepted by elements of the 1st Marine Regiment and ARVN 1st Battalion, 51st Regiment 11km south of Da Nang losing 139 dead in 3 days. NVA/VC attacks on Da Nang were a failure, resulting in more than 500 dead.

Other 1969 Ground Combat

Operation Apache Snow was a  sweep the A Shau Valley in May and June. This was an important corridor for the NVA to move supplies into South Vietnam. It also was a staging area for attacks.

The 1st Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions attacked fortifications defended by the NVA 29th Regiment. After ten days of combat, US forces flushed out the defenders and captured Hill 937. This position came to be known as “Hamburger Hill.”

The Battle of Binh Ba, also known as Operation Hammer, was a hard-fought, but one-sided, battle. The action occurred on 6–8 June 1969 when Australian Army troops from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR) fought a combined communist force of NVA/VC at Binh Ba, 5 kilometers north of Nui Dat, in Phuoc Tuy Province.

The battle was unusual in Australian combat experience, as it involved fierce close-quarter house-to-house urban fighting. The majority of enemy killed was by heavy artillery and air-strikes. In response to communist attempts to capture Binh Ba, the Australians assaulted the village with infantry, armour and helicopter gunships, routing the Viet Cong and largely destroying the village itself.

VC heavy losses forced the Communists to temporarily leave the province. Although the Australians  encountered some NVA/VC Main Force units in later war years, this battle marked the end of such large-scale clashes. It was one of the major Australian victories of the war.

Operation Menu – Cambodian Secret Bombing

As early as 1966, US Special Forces and South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) troops began classified ground missions into Cambodia known as Operation “Daniel Boone.”

Less than a month after President Nixon’s inauguration in January 1969, General Creighton Abrams, MACV commander, reported that the NVA headquarters,  (COSVN HQ) was located in the jungles of Cambodia. Abrams stated that an attack on this HQ and base camps  would cripple future NVA/VC  hostile actions in South Vietnam.

After weeks of debate in Washington, a plan was approved for forty eight sorties against COSVN HQ. Other strikes were to be made against targets within South Vietnam that were nowhere near the true objective. The actual target of the operation, code-named “Breakfast,” was to be concealed, and treated as if it were simply routine bombing on enemy targets in South Vietnam.

Published information would indicate the bombing was within South Vietnam, and if questioned about Cambodian air strikes by the press, a spokesman would state that sorties adjacent to the Cambodian border happened, but he had no further information, and that he would look into it.

Just before takeoff, pilots and navigators of the Strategic Air Command’s B-52 bombers were told by that they would be bombing Cambodia, not South Vietnam. During the night raid, B-52s dropped their payloads into forty-eight separate areas in Cambodia.

Daniel Boone teams were dispatched immediately following the bombing, in order to capture supposedly dazed enemy troops. However, they found themselves under heavy fire. This was , justification for further Cambodian attacks.

Over the next fourteen months, the Nixon administration secretly authorized 3875 sorties, collectively known as Operation Menu, on fourteen suspected Communist  bases inside Cambodia.

Ironically, only one week after Operation Breakfast began, the New York Times reported that Abrams had requested air strikes against areas in Cambodia. On 9 May 1969, Pentagon correspondent William Beecher stated that US air raids against ammo dumps and base camps in Cambodia had definitely taken place. While the report sparked little appreciable public interest, and no federal inquiries at the time, the same account, four years later, generated limited calls for Nixon’s impeachment.

Communist Base Areas

Communist Base Areas


“1969 in the Vietnam War”, Wikipedia

“Tet 1969”, Wikipedia

“Operation Menu”, Wikipedia

Secret Bombing of Cambodia

“Operation Apache Snow”, Wikipedia

“Battle of Binh Ba”, Wikipedia

“Cambodia: U.S. bombing, civil war, & Khmer Rouge”, World Peace Foundation

Campaign Series Vietnam | Big Ernie's Scuttlebutt

Maj Gen Ernest Cheatham, USMC


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