Tri Tam and Tay Ninh
The 1975 Communist offensive was coordinated country-wide. The NVA troops of COSVN struck their first major blow of the campaign at Tri Tam, the district seat of Dau Tieng District at the southwestern edge of the Michelin Plantation. West of Tri Tam, across the Saigon River, local Route 239 passed through another large plantation, Ben Cui, before it joined local Route 26 (LTL-26), which ran northwest into Tay Ninh City and southeast to the ARVN forward base at Khiem Hanh. All traffic to Tri Tam had to pass over Routes 26 and 239, and by outposts manned by Tay Ninh territorials. Tri Tam was defended by three RF Battalions and nine PF platoons. III Corps had anticipated the attack on Tri Tam - major elements of the 9th NVA Division had been observed concentrating north of the town - so the province chief reinforced the garrison with two additional RF companies on 10 March.
The attack on Tri Tam began at 0600 on 11 March with an intense artillery and mortar bombardment, followed by an assault by T-54 tanks and infantry. But the success of the attack was assured by the earlier severing of the line of communication; at 0330, NVA infantry and tanks overran an RF outpost on Route 239 about 10 kilometers west of Tri Tam.
The province chief reacted by sending two RF battalions east along Route 239 toward Ben Cui, but they were stopped by heavy fire short of the lost outpost. NVA tanks were already in the Ben Cui Plantation. Meanwhile, as the day wore on in embattled Tri Tam, the territorial defenders held on, destroying two T-54s in the town. The main attack was coming from the east, and the ARVN soldiers blew the bridge on Route 239 east of the town. Fighting raged through the night, and as dawn broke on 12 March, ARVN territorials still held Tri Tam. The 95C and 272d NVA Regiments, and at least a company of tanks, supported by a regiment of artillery, continued the attack that day and eliminated the last resistance in Tri Tam.
Meanwhile, the ARVN III Corps commander had dispatched another relief column toward Tri Tam. Task Force 318, composed of tanks and armored personnel carriers from the 3d Armored Brigade, with the 33d Ranger Battalion attached, was stopped by heavy B-40 and 130-mm. gunfire before it could reach Tri Tam. Three officers, including a company commander, were among the heavy casualties in initial fighting near Ben Cui.
With Tri Tam in its possession, the NVA now controlled the Saigon River corridor from its beginning, near Tong Le Chon, to the ARVN outpost at Rach Bap in the Iron Triangle. The ARVN base at Khiem Hanh was now within easy range of NVA artillery. Khiem Hanh's principal mission was to prevent major enemy units from closing on Routes 22 or 1 (QL-22 and QL-1) near the critical river port and road junction at Go Dau Ha. Tri Tam was thus the first important objective in a campaign to isolate Tay Ninh Province from Saigon. On the eve of the assault on Tri Tam three main force Tay Ninh NVA battalions, the D-14, D-16, and D-18, with support from the 101st NVA Regiment and the 75th Artillery Division closed Highway 22 between Go Dau Ha and Tay Ninh City. The 75th Artillery Division had five regiments operating in Tay Ninh for this campaign, and the 377th NVA Antiaircraft Artillery Division had about 15 antiaircraft battalions, some providing direct support for infantry.
While the NVA Tay Ninh battalions blocked Highway 22 north of Go Dau Ha, the 6th and 174th Regiments, 5th NVA Division, attacked out of Cambodia and struck the ARVN base at Ben Cau, northwest of Go Dau Ha between the international boundary and the Song Vam Co Dong. Initial assaults were repulsed, and two PT-76 tanks were destroyed. When two large concentrations of tanks were sighted west of Go Dau Ha on 12 March, fighter-bombers destroyed eight and damaged nine, losing three aircraft in the engagement. Ben Cau, however, fell on 14 March as defending territorials pulled back toward Go Dau Ha.
Ben Cau was only one of eight outposts west of the Song Vam Co Dong that came under heavy attack on 12 March. Most of them held out until the night of 13 March, but nearly all were in enemy hands by the next day.
General Toan, commanding III Corps, reacted to the crisis developing at Go Dau Ha by reinforcing at Khiem Hanh and along Routes 1 and 22. He deployed the 3d Armored Brigade, with its three battalions, reinforced by the 64th and 92d Ranger Battalions (from Tan Uyen District, Bien Hoa) and the 48th Infantry, 18th Division, reinforced with armored personnel carriers (from Corps reserve in Long Binh, Bien Hoa) to Khiem Hanh and Go Dau Ha. He also pulled the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, from the 5th Division at Lai Khe and sent it to reinforce Khiem Hanh.
While a battalion of the 48th ARVN Infantry attacked west out of Go Dau Ha to clear Route 1 to the Cambodian frontier, the 46th Infantry attacked north along Route 22 to help territorials clear the road to Tay Ninh against heavy resistance and intense artillery fire. Antiaircraft fire was so heavy in the area that General Toan was unable to land his helicopter at Go Dau Ha on 13 March. Route 22 between Go Dau Ha and Tay Ninh remained closed.
Connecting Saigon with the delta of Military Region 4, Route 4, even more critical than Route 22, was also threatened by the widespread offensive in Military Region 3. This highway passed through the rich, densely populated rice lands and pineapple farms of Long An Province on the boundary between the two military regions. Long An territorials were among the best troops in the country, and they gave a good account of themselves in initial fighting with local main-force battalions in early March, although suffering high casualties. Recognizing the need to keep Highway 4 open, the JGS had given General Toan two battalions of Marines, the 14th and 16th, which comprised the new 4th Brigade, to stiffen the defense in Long An. The Marines and RF operated well together and secured Long An throughout March.
The Eastern Front
While General Toan was committing more than half of his corps to the western flank, an NVA offensive erupted in the east and center. Available ARVN forces were inadequate to cope with the widespread attacks. Since the enclaves at An Loc and Chon Thanh in Binh Long were of no further military or political value, the ARVN battalions could be withdrawn and used to bolster the hardpressed defenses throughout the region.
Furthermore, a new enemy division was discovered near Chon Thanh - the 341st from just above the 17th parallel. To save the Rangers and territorials in An Loc and Chon Thanh, General Toan began an evacuation on 18 March. Among the first to be moved were 12 105-mm. howitzers, while 5 of the 155-mm. howitzers had to be destroyed because the VNAF did not have heavy-lift helicopters to move them. But despite the appearance of the 341st NVA Division and a new regiment - the 273d Infantry from North Vietnam's 4th Military Region - the most critical threat developed not in the center but on the eastern flank.
Just before the NVA attacked, the 18th ARVN Division was spread out. The 1st Battalion, 43d Infantry, was securing Route 20 north of Xuan Loc, the capital of Long Khanh Province. The Regiment's 2d Battalion was south of Dinh Quan, and the 3d Battalion was in Hoai Duc District Town in Binh Tuy Province. The 52d Infantry, minus its 3d Battalion on Route 1 between Bien Hoa and Xuan Loc, was in Xuan Loc with elements operating northwest of the town. The 48th Infantry was still attached to the 25th Division in Tay Ninh Province.
The NVA forces of Nam Bo began the Long Khanh-Binh Tuy campaign with strong attacks against ARVN positions on the two principal lines of communication in the region, Highways 1 and 20 (QL-1 and QL-20), striking outposts, towns, bridges, and culverts north and east of Xuan Loc. On 17 March, the 209th Infantry Regiment and the 210th Artillery Regiment, 7th NVA Division, opened what was to become one of the bloodiest, hardest fought battles of the war, the battle for Xuan Loc. The 209th struck first at Dinh Quan, north of Xuan Loc, and at the La Nga bridge, west of Dinh Quan. Eight tanks supported the initial assault on Dinh Quan, and NVA artillery fire destroyed four 155-mm. howitzers supporting the territorials. Anticipating the attack, General Dao, commanding the 18th ARVN Division, had reinforced the La Nga bridge the day before, but the intense fire forced a withdrawal from the bridge. After repeated assaults, the 209th NVA Infantry penetrated Dinh Quan, and the 2d Battalion, 43d Infantry, as well as the RF battalion were forced to withdraw with heavy losses on 18 March.
The day before, the 3d Battalion, 43d Infantry, killed 10 enemy in heavy fighting northwest of Hoai Duc. At the same time another outpost of Xuan Loc District, Ong Don, defended by an RF company and an artillery platoon, came under artillery and infantry attack. The NVA assault was repulsed with heavy losses on both sides, and another RF company, sent to reinforce, ran into strong resistance on Highway 1 west of Ong Don. North of Ong Don, Gia Ray on Route 333 was under attack by the 274th Infantry Regiment, 6th NVA Division. The 18th ARVN Division headquarters therefore realized that two NVA divisions, the 6th and the 7th, were committed in Long Khanh. While the battle raged at Gia Ray, another post on Highway 1 west of Ong Don came under attack. Meanwhile, a bridge and a culvert on Highway 1 on each side of the Route 332 junction were blown up by NVA sappers. Thus, all ARVN forces east of Route 332 were isolated from Xuan Loc by formidable obstacles and enemy road blocks.
North from Xuan Loc, on Route 20, hamlets along the road were occupied in varying degrees by enemy soldiers, and the territorial outpost far to the northeast near the Lam Dong boundary was overrun. General Dao decided to counterattack up Route 20 with his 52d Infantry, minus one battalion but reinforced with the 5th Armored Cavalry Squadron from Tay Ninh Province. The regiment was ordered to clear the road as far as Dinh Quan. But the attack quickly stalled as it met heavy resistance well short of its objective.
Evidences of increasing heavy NVA commitments in Long Khanh flowed into III Corps headquarters in Bien Hoa. The 141st Regiment, 7th NVA Division, had apparently participated in the attack on Dinh Quan. Hoai Duc was overrun by the 812th Regiment, 6th NVA Division, while that division's other two regiments, the 33d and 274th, seized Gia Ray. The ARVN outpost on the conical peak of Chua Chan, standing 2200 feet above Xuan Loc and providing excellent observation, also fell to 6th NVA Division forces and Xuan Loc itself began to receive artillery fire, including 105-mm. General Toan responded to the burgeoning threat on his eastern flank first by sending the 5th Armored Cavalry Squadron and then one battalion of the 48th Infantry from Tay Ninh to Long Khanh.
The rest of the 48th Infantry was still heavily engaged near Go Dau Ha. The 3d Battalion made contact with an NVA Company west of the Song Vam Co Dong on 17 March, killed 36, and captured a number of weapons. Meanwhile, on Route LTL26 east of Tay Ninh City, an outpost at Cau Khoi, manned by the 351st RF Battalion, was overrun.
The outer defenses of Tay Ninh and Hau Nghia began to crumble rapidly after the fall of Cau Khoi. Following an intense bombardment by 105-mm. howitzers and 120-mm. mortars, the 367th Sapper Regiment, 5th NVA Division, seized Duc Hue on 21 March, advancing enemy-held positions to the Vam Co Dong southwest of the critical village of Trang Bang on Route 1. If the NVA could take Trang Bang, Go Dau Ha and all of Tay Ninh would be isolated.
North of the airfield at Tay Ninh was the main outpost on local Route 13. The NVA struck here on 22 March, and the defenders withdrew to an alternate position, Mo Cong II, to the south. The attack continued on the 23d, and Mo Cong II was lost, compressing the perimeter north of Tay Ninh to less than 10 kilometers deep.
The eastern prong of the NVA offensive in Tay Ninh was still pressing against the vital position at Khiem Hanh. Just north of Go Dau Ha, Khiem Hanh was an essential strongpoint preventing the enemy from reaching Route 1 from the north and seizing Go Dau Ha and Trang Bang. From Trang Bang, Route 1 provided a high-speed approach through the 25th ARVN Division base at Cu Chi and on to Tan Son Nhut and Saigon. On 23 March, ARVN soldiers and tanks made contact with NVA forces near Truong Mit, northwest of Khiem Hanh. The enemy had advanced through Cau Khoi on Route 26. A major battle developed on the 24th and casualties were very heavy on both sides. The 3d Battalion, 7th ARVN Infantry, 5th Division, attached to the 25th Division, lost over 400 men killed, wounded, and missing, and the attacking 271st Regiment, 9th NVA Division, left nearly 200 dead. The artillery, tank, and automatic weapons fire was intense; the 271st was supported by a battalion of 37-mm. antiaircraft weapons used as field artillery, as well as by the 42d Artillery Regiment with its 85-mm. and 122-mm. guns. The decimated battalion of the 7th Infantry was withdrawn from combat and sent to the regimental base at Phu Giao in Binh Duong Province. As a precaution against being flanked by a strong attack down the Saigon River corridor, General Toan sent the 2d Battalion, 7th Infantry, to reinforce Rach Bap, the western anchor of the Iron Triangle.
Then General Toan asked the Chief of the JGS, General Vien, for an Airborne brigade to use in a counterattack at Truong Mit. General Vien refused the request; he could not agree to further dissipating the small general reserve while General Toan still had a few uncommitted units. Therefore, on 25 and 26 March, the hard-fighting 3d Armored Brigade, together with elements of the 25th ARVN Division, attacked the 271st NVA Regiment at Truong Mit and succeeded in reoccupying the position. Losses were again heavy on both sides. General Toan then reinforced the defense by sending the headquarters and two battalions of the 48th Infantry, 18th Division, to Khiem Hanh.
The planned ARVN withdrawal from its two enclaves in Binh Long Province was still under way when the 9th and 341st NVA Divisions attacked at Chon Thanh on 24 March. A battalion of T-54 tanks accompanied the assault, and in the first day's action seven of these were destroyed by the VNAF and the defending 31st and 32d Ranger Groups. The Chon Thanh position held firm, and the evacuation from An Loc continued without interruption. On the 26th, the 341st NVA Division attacked again, apparently trying to retrieve disabled tanks, but was repulsed again. By 27 March the withdrawal from An Loc was complete, and the 31st and 32d Ranger Groups still held Chon Thanh. The 341st NVA Division, reinforced with the 273d Independent Regiment from North Vietnam, got set for yet another assault on the strongpoint. Following a 3,000-round bombardment by 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzers and 120-mm. mortars, a regimental-sized force supported by an understrength tank battalion attacked Chon Thanh on 31 March. Again the determined Rangers drove back the attackers, destroying 11 more tanks. But it was clear that if the fighting strength of the two Ranger groups was to be preserved to fight again, they would have to pull out of Chon Thanh. Accordingly, on 1 April the VNAF saturated the assembly areas and bivouacs occupied by the badly mauled 341st Division with 52 sorties; under the cover of this attack, the 32d Ranger Group was airlifted out of Chon Thanh and set down in another hot spot, Khiem Hanh in Tay Ninh Province. That night, three battalions of the 31st Rangers and the one remaining RF battalion began a withdrawal to Bau Bang and Lai Khe, taking artillery and light tanks with them. The northern defenses of Saigon were now about 14 kilometers north of the 5th Division base at Lai Khe, but this was not really a significant change since the fire base at Chon Thanh had long been isolated by strong NVA blocking positions on Highway 13 around Bau Long. Nevertheless, the arc of main force NVA divisions was pressing ever closer to the heart of the nation, and the vital lines of communications to the outer defenses were either severed or dangerously threatened.
As the ring of Communist divisions tightened around Military Region 3, the flow of military assistance to Vietnam was slowed by events in Washington. Members of a House caucus on 12 March voted 189 to 49 in favor of a resolution opposing more military aid for either Cambodia or Vietnam before the end of the fiscal year. The next day, 13 March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee rejected a compromise proposal that would have provided some additional aid.
The Ford administration pressed ahead with efforts to convince Congress that additional assistance was essential to the survival of Vietnam and that the Congressional approach to this issue was the cause of the Vietnamese decision to withdraw from the highlands. Although the decline of U.S. support was the crucial factor in the overall disaster in Vietnam, the proximate cause of the highlands debacle was the failure of the corps commander to accept an intelligence estimate and to fight the battle of Ban Me Thuot with forces available. Then, when he followed this critical mistake with two others - inadequate planning and execution of the counterattack from Phuoc An and a horribly mismanaged withdrawal down Route 7B - he started the entire nation on a downhill slide that not even the valor of thousands of loyal officers and soldiers could reverse.
The Defense and State Departments were receiving reasonably accurate daily reports from the DAO and Embassy in Saigon, but most journalists in Vietnam were having difficulty discovering what was really happening on the battlefield, and it has been argued that military assistance could not have stemmed South Vietnam's decline because the South Vietnamese lacked the will to fight. As in every war, some units performed poorly under attack, but the growing certainty that defeat was imminent, now that the United States had cut back military assistance, was at the root of the decline in combat efficiency. Yet there were countless instances of great tenacity in defense and awesome valor in combat, even in the face of overwhelming enemy firepower and numbers.
As the end of March approached, reports from Saigon told Washington that a crisis was rapidly approaching. Blocked by Congress from providing relief in the form of additional assistance, President Ford dispatched General Frederick C. Weyand, U.S. Army Chief of Staff and the last senior American commander in Vietnam, to Saigon to make a personal assessment of the situation. General Weyand arrived on 27 March. He met with Ambassador Martin and Maj. Gen. Homer D. Smith, Jr., the Defense Attache, as well as with President Thieu and General Vien. He also met privately with the author on two occasions before his departure to brief President Ford on 3 April. In these two meetings, the author stressed the point that although a decision to renew the U.S. commitment to Vietnam was essential to its survival, it was already too late for this alone. A U.S. military effort was required and, as a minimum, would have to include U.S. airpower against NVA formations, bases, and lines of ommunication in South Vietnam. The author followed his discussions with General Weyand with a written summary of his assessment on 31 March quoted in its entirety:
a. The GVN has a new strategy. It calls for defending from Khanh Hoa south and what remains of GVN MR's 3 and 4. This strategy might have held the promise of success
(1) if GVN forces in MR's 1 and 2 could have been extracted more or less intact for employment in the south;
(2) if the enemy forces committed, or to be committed, against the new, truncated South Vietnam were not in the process of being heavily reinforced and
(3) if the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Vietnam were expressed in the form of immediate deliveries of essential equipment, ammunition and supplies; followed by assurances that this support would be continued for as long as the North's aggression makes it necessary.
b. With regard to factor (1), above, of all the major formations in MR's 1 and 2, only the 22d Division stands a chance to be extracted intact (as of now, a slim chance).
c. With regard to factor (2), the enemy has reinforced in GVN MR 3. Reinforcement continues and the potential for more is very real.
d. Factor (3) has not been decided, but defeat is all but certain within 90 days without it. Because of factors (1) and (2), material and political support may no longer be enough to provide a successful defense. Only the application of U.S. strategic airpower in South Vietnam can give this any degree of probability.
2. RVNAF Capability to Regroup.
a. Assuming necessary equipment is available and that the 22d ARVN Division is able to disengage from Binh Dinh, the following can be ready for redeployment in 20 to 40 days:
(1) The 22d Division (4 regiments). (now questionable)
(2) A three-brigade Marine Division.
(3) One other division.
(4) Three to four Ranger groups.
(5) Seven direct support and two general support artillery battalions.
(6) Four armored cavalry squadrons.
b. One and probably two additional divisions should be ready for deployment in about 120 days.
c. Although the three existing ARVN divisions in MR 4 have been fairly aggressive, they are seriously understrength. Upgrading the divisions by reassigning territorial forces is underway. Territorial forces themselves, the key to Delta security, must continue to be upgraded.
d. Summary: Success in the above regroupments would provide ARVN with 13 divisions (or division equivalents of ARVN/Rangers/VNMC) within 40 days; an additional two divisions in four months.
3. Enemy Strength Available for MR 3 and 4 Operations.
We believe that the 341st NVA Division has arrived, that the 320 B Division is currently enroute to MR 3 and that two other divisions currently deployed in the south or from the NVN reserve will also move to MR 3 in the next one to three months. The movement of units to MR 3 will allow the use of infiltrators to rebuild units and the allocation of significantly larger numbers of infiltrators of GVN MR 4. Because of difficulties in terrain and supply, we do not believe that a new NVA division will try to move into MR 4.
4. Near Term Projection.
a. If the Communists allow the GVN six to eight weeks before initiating major attacks in MR 3, the GVN possibly could organize a successful defense. The principal battle area will probably be Tay Ninh Province where the Communists have a three division equivalent of infantry/sappers plus 20 artillery battalions and three armor battalions. They might deploy one of the newly arriving divisions to the Tay Ninh area.
b. Opposing are two ARVN division equivalents, plus territorials. Probably another four or five ARVN regimental equivalents would be moved to this front, but regiments of the 5th and 18th ARVN Divisions now in Tay Ninh would return to their normal AO's. Thus, in Tay Ninh (with overlap in Hau Nghia) the GVN would probably deploy a total of seven or eight infantry regiments, supported by an armor brigade. An airborne brigade could be reserve. The GVN's ability to withstand and neutralize expected heavy artillery and AAA fire will be key factors.
c. In central MR 3, the Communist threat may have temporarily lessened (since the 7th and 9th Divisions are deployed to eastern and western MR 3 respectively) but the 341st Division and another division will probably be committed to strike southward in southern Binh Duong Province. These forces would be supported by about eight battalions of artillery and several tank battalions. The three regiments of the 5th ARVN Division would probably require support by at least another regiment and an airborne brigade. ARVN could probably withstand a two-division attack although they would probably abandon Phu Giao.
d. In eastern MR 3, elements of the 6th and 7th NVA Divisions, possibly reinforced by another division, will probably continue attacks to overrun Xuan Loc and establish a lodgment north of Bien Hoa. ARVN has only the 18th Division in this area. To meet this threat and also to open routes 1 and 20 will probably require another ARVN division equivalent. The GVN must also protect the water routes to Saigon and the key LOC's from the Delta.
e. The movement of either the 7th or 9th ARVN Division out of the northern Delta would result in Route 4 being closed, and the departure of the 21st Division would endanger Can Tho and open up the southern Delta to nearly unlimited Communist gains.
f. The fighting will be very heavy with high GVN losses which will have to be replaced immediately. The GVN will have trouble matching Communist 130-mm. artillery and VNAF effectiveness will be limited by Communist AA weapons. The last two reconstituted divisions will have to be ready for commitment by early summer. If heavy rains occur early this year, Communist elements in the Parrot's Beak will probably have to withdraw from forward positions. This would allow the GVN time to regroup and refit units in Tay Ninh and Kien Tuong Provinces.
It is possible that with abundant resupply and a great deal of luck, the GVN could conduct a successful defense of what remains of MR's 3 and 4. It is extremely doubtful that it could withstand an offensive involving the commitment of three additional Communist divisions in MR 3 without U.S. strategic air support in SVN. With defeat in MR 3 tantamount to defeat of the GVN, South Vietnam would be almost certain to fall within three to six months (or sooner). By this time agencies in Washington were equally gloomy. A DIA assessment of 3 April gave south Vietnam only 30 Days.
Meanwhile, a misconception was spreading in Washington that the current reverses in Vietnam did not involve much combat. In his news conference of 2 April, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger spoke of "relatively little major fighting." He repeated this view on "Face the Nation" on 6 April: "It is plain that the great offensive is a phrase that probably should be in quotation marks. What we have had here is a partial collapse of South Vietnamese Forces, so that there has been very little major fighting since the battle of Ban Me Thuot, and that was an exception in itself."
General Smith could not let that impression stand and sent a message to CINCPAC and a number of addressees in Washington attempting to correct the record:
On the contrary, there was heavy fighting all along the coastal plain and in the foothills from south of Phu Bai to Khanh Duong in Khanh Hoa Province.
In the hills south of Phu Bai, the 1st ARVN Div repelled numerous heavy two-divisional attacks and even gained some lost positions before it finally was ordered to withdraw because its northern flank was exposed.
In Phu Loc District just north of Hai Van Pass on QL-1, an overpowering attack by up to two regiments of the enemy's 325th Div forced outnumbered ARVN defenders back from their positions and severed the line of communications.
These attacks could not be described as "little fighting." In the An Khe/Binh Khe region along QL-19 in Binh Dinh Prov, the ARVN 22d Div defended strongly with great perseverance against determined and heavy NVA attacks. Outflanked, outgunned, and eventually cut off, the 22d fought its way back to the beaches and was eventually evacuated. This was a long and heavy battle.
Likewise along QL-21, the ARVN fight at Khanh Duong was a battle of major proportions. The NVA 10th Div employed three and possibly four infantry regiments to overcome the ARVN defenses. The ARVN 3d Airborne Brigade was reduced to only 600 men by the time it was able to fight its way out of encirclement and regroup intact near Phan Rang.
Respectfully recommend that you suggest to the Chairman that he acquaint the Secretary with these facts so that an accurate representation of what has occurred might be presented to the American people. There is a "great offensive" underway.
Meanwhile the bloody struggle continued as the GVN assembled its few forces recovered from the defeated regions, reorganized and redeployed for the final stand.
Reorganization and Redeployment
The stiff ARVN resistance and strong local counterattacks in Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, Binh Long, and Long Khanh Provinces caused the NVA to pull back and regroup. Meanwhile, a relative calm settled over the battlefields during the first week of April, and the ARVN exploited the opportunity to reorganize shattered units arriving from the north and redeploy forces to meet the certain resumption of the NVA attacks.
On 1 April, General Toan commanding III Corps, returned the headquarters and two battalions of the 48th Infantry to their parent division, the 18th, from Tay Ninh Province. The regiment moved to the Xuan Loc area but sent its 2d Battalion down to Ham Tan on the coast of Binh Tuy Province to secure the city and port while large numbers of refugees poured into the province from the north. About 500 troops, survivors of the 2d ARVN Division, were among those arriving from Military Region 1. When reorganized and re-equipped, they would take over the security mission in Ham Tan.
The 52d ARVN Infantry, 18th Division, meanwhile was pressing forward on Route 20 south of Dinh Quan and in sharp fighting on 1 April killed over 50 NVA troops. The other regiment of the 18th was fighting east along Route 1, near Xuan Loc and in contact with a major enemy force.
General Toan also returned the battalions of the 7th Infantry fighting on Highway 1 near Go Dau Ha to their division at Lai Khe. This left the defense of Tay Ninh Province and its line of communication to the 25th ARVN Division, elements of the 3d Armored Brigade, Rangers, and territorials.
Shocked by the necessity to withdraw the RVNAF from the northern military regions, intensely preoccupied with the fierce battles raging within sight and sound of the nation's capital, unable to obtain reliable information concerning the status of withdrawing and decimated units, and further concerned with enormous personal and family tragedies that permeated all their thoughts, the officers of the Joint General Staff neglected until very late -and until prodded into action by the Defense Attache Office - the planning required for reorganizing and re-equipping shattered units whose members were pouring into the southern ports.
Colonel Edward Pelosky, Chief of the Army Division, DAO, took the lead in encouraging the Central Logistics Command to develop the plan. On 27 March, General Khuyen, the Chief of Central Logistics Command, as well as the Chief of Staff of the JGS, approved a plan setting forth a schedule for the reconstitution of units from Military Regions 1 and 2 and including the requirements for replacement vehicles, weapons, and all types of equipment and supplies. Unfortunately, General Khuyen had been unable to secure from the personnel, plans, and operations sections of the JGS information concerning personnel strengths and unit dispositions, and the plan was therefore not only incomplete but unworkable. Data concerning units available for reconstitution and information on the numbers and locations of officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers for these units were therefore not even considered. The unreality of the plan was aggravated by the fact that it was predicated on the availability of funds in a supplemental appropriation and the significant absence of a clear, fully coordinated statement of priorities. But despite these shortcomings, planning and reorganization went ahead, and the Army Division of the DAO reprogrammed unused funds and called forward as much supplies and equipment as could be realistically obtained under the severe funding limits and reasonably employed upon arrival.
By 29 March no contributions to the plan had been received from the J-1, J-3, or J-5 although the Operations and Plans Division, DAO, made another appeal for full JGS participation. Again, although these other staff sections were not represented, joint South Vietnamese-American planning continued, the American side being represented by the DAO, and the South Vietnam side being represented by only RVNAF logisticians from the Central Logistics Command. The revised plan was approved by General Khuyen on 1 April and published as a JGS document, signed by General Vien, on 5 April. By this time, the JGS had become fully involved, and the plan included an activation schedule that dealt with the availability of units, personnel, and equipment as well as an obvious, although unstated, concept for deployment after reconstitution.
By 2 April, the survivors of the Marine Division were disembarking at Vung Tau. Under the leadership of their commander, Maj. Gen. Bui The Lan, they were moved into the 4th Battalion's camp there for processing and reorganization. In all, of the 12,000 Marines who had been deployed in Military Region 1, about 4,000 were at Vung Tau. The equipment for a reorganized division was on hand in the Saigon-Long Binh area, but moving it to Vung Tau would be difficult. A more serious problem was the shortage of infantry leaders; 5 Marine battalion commanders and 40 company commanders had been killed in action during March and April. Nevertheless, the division rapidly took shape. One brigade of three rifle battalions and one artillery battalion was ready to receive equipment in three days. Ten days later, an additional similar brigade was formed.
Meanwhile, on 1 April the evacuation of Nha Trang came to an end when NVA troops moved in to occupy the harbor. But the evacuation of Cam Ranh Bay continued. Farther south, Phan Rang Air Base came under increasing enemy pressure, and its evacuation began, although the VNAF's 6th Air Division continued limited operations from the field. A forward command post of III Corps was established at Phan Rang under Lt. Gen. Nghi and on 7 April the 2d Airborne Brigade was flown into Phan Rang.
Note on Sources
General Van Tien Dung's articles on the final offensive set the stage for the action in these chapters. The factual record of the combat actions and order of battle was derived from multiple sources. Principal among them were the following: reports of DAO Regional Liaison Officers in the field, particularly those in Military Regions 1, 2, and 3 who visited units in combat, as well as senior commanders and staff officers, reports of the Consul Generals, particularly those at Da Nang and Nha Trang; reports of offices of the U.S. Embassy, Saigon; notes and recollections of the author, who visited each military region and had conversations with senior commanders and staff officers, DAO fact sheets and assessments prepared for General Weyand, and the author's notes and recollections of meetings with General Weyand.
The Weekly Intelligence Summaries published by DAO and J2/JGS were also used, as were the final DAO Quarterly Assessment and the report of Army Division, DAO.
Generals Vien and Truong read and commented on the deployments, plans, and combat described, and American newspaper accounts were used for statements of U.S. officials concerning the final offensive.
Most of the data on the April reconstitution was derived from the "Army Division Final Report," Vol IX: "Reconstitution of Forces," Defense Attache Office, Saigon, 18 June 1975 (compiled by the Residual USDAO Saigon Office, Fort Shafter, Hawaii).
Finally, the most important single check on the accuracy of the account of this final offensive was contributed by Colonel Hoang Ngoc Lung, J2/JGS, who corrected several misconceptions and provided invaluable perspectives.
Colonel William E. Le Gro