South Vietnamese forces retake Quang Tri City

South Vietnamese forces retake Quang Tri City

ARVN forces recapture Quang Tri City after four days of heavy fighting, with the claim that over 8,135 NVA had been killed in the battle.

The North Vietnamese forces had launched a massive offensive, called the Nguyen Hue or “Easter Offensive,” on March 31, with three main attacks aimed at Quang Tri south of the Demilitarized Zone, Kontum in the Central Highlands, and An Loc just 60 miles north of Saigon. This invasion included 14 divisions and 26 separate regiments, a total force numbering over 120,000 troops, and was designed to knock South Vietnam out of the war and inflict a defeat on the remaining U.S. forces (which numbered less than 70,000 by this date due to President Nixon’s Vietnamization policy and the American troop withdrawal schedule). The North Vietnamese attack was characterized by conventional combined arms attacks by tank and infantry forces supported by massive artillery barrages, resulting in some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

The South Vietnamese forces and their American advisors supported by U.S. tactical airpower and B-52 bombers were able to hold at An Loc and Kontum despite being vastly outnumbered, but the South Vietnamese forces at Quang Tri faltered under the communist assault and were quickly overwhelmed. It was only after President Thieu fired the I Corps commander and replaced him with Major General Ngo Quang Truong, arguably one of the best officers in the South Vietnamese army, that the ARVN were able to stop the North Vietnamese. Truong took measures to stabilize the situation and the South Vietnamese began to fight back. After a tremendously bloody four-and-a-half-month battle in which 977 South Vietnamese soldiers perished, Truong and his troops retook Quang Tri from the North Vietnamese, winning a major victory. President Nixon used this as proof positive that his Vietnamization policy had worked and that the South Vietnamese were prepared to take over responsibility for the war.

Battle of Quang Tri (1968)

The Battle for Quang Tri occurred in and around Quảng Trị City (Quảng Trị Province), the northernmost provincial capital of Republic of South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive when the Vietcong (VC) and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) attacked Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and American forces across major cities and towns in South Vietnam in an attempt to force the Saigon government to collapse. This included several attacks across northern I Corps, most importantly at Huế, Da Nang and Quảng Trị City. After being put on the defensive in the city of Quảng Trị, the Allied forces regrouped and forced the PAVN/VC out of the town after a day of fighting.

DMZ Quang Tri

The northernmost province of the former South Vietnam. Home of the southern part of the DMZ. Quang Tri was one of the most contested areas in South Vietnam where Hanoi troops constantly tried to infiltrate across the borders from Laos and North Vietnam. This prompted U.S. to build a string of bases along the east – west link Route 9. These bases popped up over time and in different shapes with different purposes. As time went on several of the bases changed character and were expanded, a good example of that is Khe Sanh Combat Base that started out as a Special Forces outpost.

Please click images for slideshow

Most of the bases along Route 9 are possible to visit today, where most of them are marked with only a monument, Khe Sanh has been turned in to a large museum. One of the largest bases, Dong Ha Combat Base is not to be found as the city of Dong Ha has grown all over the former base area. There are a few houses left from the old base and the runway is now one of the main streets in the city.

About halfway along Route 9 one will also find The Rockpile which served as a communication and observation station, well located just north of Route 9, this monolithic rock stands out high above the surrounding landscape. By the foot of the hill, Elliot Combat Base was located where U.S. Marines and artillery units were stationed.

Legendary battlegrounds like Mutter's Ridge and Leatherneck Square, which was comprised of Con Thien, Cam Lo, Gio Linh and Dong Ha, was located here and can still be traveled. We have not been to Gio Linh yet but there is supposed to be a monument on the site. Mutter’s Ridge will take some extra planning to visit as it is off the main road with only small trails leading up to it.

Route 9 is the the road to go for those who wants to visit the old war sites as it stretches from Dong Ha in the east all the way to the Laotian border. Going south from the Dakrong bridge through the Dakrong Valley will reward you with a scenic journey through minority villages and breathtaking views. The valley, which has its own section on this website, offers the traveler the opportunity to visit locations where some very large operations took place as well as those secretive recon operations.

In 1968 parts of the Tet offensive played out here, the siege of Khe Sanh and the battles of and around Quang Tri City and Quang Tri Combat Base. The battles were intense and went on for weeks, in Khe Sanh’s case for 77 days with the hill battles west of Khe Sanh stretching all the way in to May.

In 1972 it was the scene of the Easter Offensive when PAVN forces tried to push all the way down to Hue, but were held and eventually had to pull back, this included the famous siege of The Quang Tri citadel which ended up in ruins and today hosts a museum. Spending time around Dong Ha and Quang Tri and east will offer a lot of interesting discoveries as well. Going just a few kilometers north of Dong Ha one will reach a is a large PAVN cemetary located which is well worth a visit, it will give a good picture of the sacrifices made during the fighting in the area.

How to get there

Quang Tri is located just north of Thua Thien province with Hue as its capital. One can stay over night in Dong Ha which today is the provicial capital, but we recommend staying in Hue City with its broader range of hotels and restaurants.


Antecedents Edit

In March 1949, Emperor Bảo Đại officially requested that the French help set up a Vietnamese military air arm. Pressure was maintained with the assistance of Vietnamese National Army Lt. Col. Nguyễn Văn Hinh, who had flown the B-26 Marauder with the French Air Force during the Second World War. In late 1951, the French Air Force established the South Vietnamese 312th Special Mission Squadron at Tan Son Nhat Airfield equipped with Morane 500 Criquet liaison aircraft. [1] : 10 In March 1952, a training school was set up at Nha Trang Air Base, and the following year two army co-operation squadrons began missions flying the Morane 500 Criquet. In 1954, the French allocated a number of Dassault MD.315 Flamant armed light transports to the inventory of this Vietnamese air arm. Vietnamese pilot trainees began to be sent to France for more advanced training.

1955-1960 Edit

In January 1955 planning for the RVNAF began, building on the Vietnamese air force that the French had established in 1950. As of January 1955, the RVNAF consisted of 3,434 men, with plans to organize them into two liaison squadrons and one air transport squadron. France retained a contract to train the RVNAF until 1957. [2] : 191–2

On 1 June 1955, Bien Hoa Air Base became the RVNAF's logistics support base when the French evacuated their main depot at Hanoi. [1] : 81

On 1 July 1955, the RVNAF 1st Transport Squadron equipped with C-47 Skytrains was established at Tan Son Nhut. The RVNAF also had a special missions squadron at the base equipped with 3 C-47s, 3 C-45s and 1 L-26. [1] : 50

On 7 July 1955 the RVNAF took over the Nha Trang Training Center and formed the 1st and 2nd Liaison Squadrons equipped with L-19s. [1] : 50

In August 1955 under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP), the United States equipped the fledgling RVNAF with aircraft turned over by the French: 28 F8F Bearcats, 35 C-47s and 60 L-19s. [2] : 208 In June 1956 the US provided a further 32 C-47s and 25 F-8Fs to the RVNAF under the MDAP. [2] : 216

On 19 September 1955 the French turned over Tourane Airfield (renamed Da Nang Air Base) to the RVNAF. [2] : 208–9 In November 1955, the RVNAF 1st Liaison Squadron moved to Da Nang AB from Huế. [1] : 272

French instructors for pilots and mechanics remained in South Vietnam until late 1956, and transferred 69 F8Fs to the RVNAF, which throughout the late 1950s were the main strike aircraft. [3] In May 1956, by agreement with the South Vietnamese government, the USAF assumed some training and administrative roles of the RVNAF. Teams from Clark Air Force Base began in 1957 to organize the RVNAF into a model of the USAF when the French training contracts expired.

On 1 June 1956 the RVNAF's 1st Fighter Squadron (redesignated the 514th Fighter Squadron in January 1963) was formed at Bien Hoa Air Base with 25 F8F Bearcats. [1] : 50

In June 1956 the 2nd Transport Squadron equipped with C-47s was established at Tan Son Nhut AB and the RVNAF established its headquarters there. [1] : 275

On 1 June 1957 the US assumed full responsibility for training and equipping the RVNAF as the French withdrew their training missions. At this time, the RVNAF had 85 aircraft and 4 squadrons: one of F-8Fs, one of C-47s and 2 of L-19s. No squadron was combat-ready. Total RVNAF personnel numbered just over 4,000. [2] : 231 At this time the role of the RVNAF "was basically to support the ground forces." The RVNAF was part of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), not a separate service. [2] : 232 In meetings in Washington D.C. in May 1957, South Vietnamese premier Ngo Dinh Diem gave his reasons for deemphasizing the RVNAF, advising President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, "his main military requirement is ground forces. Diem is convinced that because of the poor visibility of low cloud cover prevailing through most of the year, it would be difficult if not impossible to give adequate air support to the ground forces." During a briefing at The Pentagon for a group of leaders that included Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General Nathan Farragut Twining, Diem explained that the South Vietnamese believed that the Indochina war had shown that "it was difficult to use air [power] effectively in this country." [2] : 233

On 1 June 1957 the RVNAF 1st Helicopter Squadron was established at Tan Son Nhut AB without equipment. It operated with the French Air Force unit serving the International Control Commission and in April 1958 with the departure of the French it inherited its 10 H-19 helicopters. [1] : 50

In October 1958 it was announced that the RVNAF's tired F8Fs would be replaced by T-28A/B Trojans. [1] : 50–2

In October 1959 the 2nd Liaison Squadron equipped with L-19 Bird Dogs moved to Tan Son Nhut AB from Nha Trang AB. [1] : 275

Following an unexplained crash in August 1960, President Diem grounded all the obsolete F8Fs of the 1st Fighter Squadron and in September asked for jets to replace them. However the Geneva Accords that ended the First Indochina War prohibited the introduction of jets into the country, so instead the F8Fs were replaced by ex United States Navy AD-6 Skyraiders with the first 6 arriving in September and a further 25 delivered by May 1961. [1] : 54–5

In late 1960 in order to support the operations of the ARVN Rangers Military Assistance Advisory Group secured approval for the shipment of 11 H-34C Choctaws from the United States Army to replace the worn out H-19s of the 1st Helicopter Squadron. They were airlifted to Saigon without renovation, four in December and the others soon after. [1] : 55

The AD-6s and H-34s had no immediate impact on operations. The high aircraft out-of-commission rates stemmed from poor maintenance and supply at Bien Hoa AB. Also to blame was the long pipeline time for processing spare parts requisitions through USAF logistic channels to Army and Navy sources. Yet between August and October 1960, the 1st Fighter Squadron flew 20 combat sorties, the L-19 liaison planes logged 917 combat hours, the helicopters accumulated 166 hours on operational missions and C-47s of the 1st Air Transport Group flew 32 sorties. Only 5 airfields were usable for AD-6 operations: no communications network served dispersed airfields: and President Diem believed that air units could not operate effectively from dispersed locations distant from depot supplies. The RVNAF was oriented to the support of ARVN operations, but the ground troops gave little attention to spotting targets suitable for air strikes. About 90 percent of the ground targets were located by RVNAF observers who flew in L-19s based at the same fields as the fighters. Approval for aircraft to strike ground targets was required from Province chief, regional commander, the Joint General Staff and sometimes Diem himself. As a final guarantee against bombing mistakes that might hurt the government's image, politically cleared and technically competent observers had to mark approved targets before air strikes could be launched against them - a rule of engagement reportedly directed by Diem. A USAF team visiting South Vietnam noted "The high level approval required for on-call fighter strikes, along with poor communications and procedures for requesting strikes, builds in excessive delays for efficient use of tactical air effort. This is particularly true in view of the hit-and-run guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong (VC)." [1] : 55

1961-1962 Edit

In mid-December 1961 the USAF began delivery of 30 T-28A/B Trojans to the RVNAF. [1] : 75 The 2nd Fighter Squadron equipped with T-28A/B Trojans was formed at Nha Trang AB. In late 1961 4 USAF T-28 pilots from Operation Farm Gate were sent to Nha Trang AB to train RVNAF crews. [1] : 127 The 2nd Fighter Squadron became fully operational in mid-1962. [1] : 132 It was renamed the 516th Fighter Squadron in January 1963. [1] : 275

In October 1961, the 2nd Helicopter Squadron was activated at Da Nang AB. [1] : 273

In December 1961 the 3rd Liaison Squadron was activated at Da Nang AB. [1] : 273

The RVNAF 1st Fighter Squadron staged AD-6 Skyraiders at Pleiku Air Base from late 1961 and this force was later increased to 4 A-1s and a C-47 flareship. [1] : 127

On 27 February 1962 two RVNAF pilots Second Lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Cử and First Lieutenant Phạm Phú Quốc flying from Bien Hoa AB bombed the Independence Palace in their A-1 Skyraiders in an attempt to kill President Diệm. Three palace staff died and 30 were injured in the attack. [1] : 129

In mid-1962, the 2nd Fighter Squadron at Nha Trang AB began detaching 6 aircraft to Da Nang AB. [1] : 132

In September 1962 the 12th Air Base Squadron was formed at Nha Trang AB. [1] : 275

In December 1962 the 293rd Helicopter Squadron was activated at Tan Son Nhut AB, it was inactivated in August 1964. [1] : 277–8 Also that month Pleiku AB was activated by the RVNAF as Air Base 62. [1] : 275

In late 1962 the RVNAF formed the 716th Composite Reconnaissance Squadron initially equipped with 2 C-45 photo-reconnaissance aircraft. [1] : 147

1963-1964 Edit

In January 1963 the 1st Transport Squadron was redesignated the 413rd Air Transport Squadron and the 2nd Transport Squadron was redesignated the 415th Air Transport Squadron. [1] : 277 The 1st Fighter Squadron was redesignated the 514th Fighter Squadron. [1] : 50 The 2nd Helicopter Squadron was redesignated the 213th Helicopter Squadron, the 1st Liaison Squadron was redesignated the 110th Liaison Squadron and the 3rd Liaison Squadron was redesignated the 114th Liaison Squadron. [1] : 273 Also that month the USAF opened an H-19 pilot training facility at Tan Son Nhut and by June the first RVNAF helicopter pilots had graduated. [1] : 168 Also in January the 211th Helicopter Squadron equipped with UH-34s replaced the 1st Helicopter Squadron. [1] : 277

On 19 June 1963 the USAF 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron equipped with 23 O-1 Bird Dogs and 44 pilots was activated at Bien Hoa AB, with the aim of training RVNAF pilots and observers as Forward air controllers (FACs). USAF planners thought originally that the training could be done in one year. However, unforeseen problems, such as the RVNAF practice of siphoning off pilots into fighter squadrons and their penchant for standing back and letting the Americans fly many of the combat missions, slowed the RVNAF's progress toward self-sufficiency. When the squadron was turned over to the RVNAF after one year, they were unable to assume the controller role and by January 1965, the squadron was back in USAF hands. [4] : 5–6

In September 1963 the USAF opened a training center at Nha Trang AB equipped with L-19s. RVNAF flight crews would undergo 1 month of preflight training followed by 3 months of primary flight training with a total of 80 flying hours. [1] : 168

In October 1963 the 518th Fighter Squadron was activated at Bien Hoa AB. [1] : 272

In December 1963 the 716th Composite Reconnaissance Squadron was activated at Tan Son Nhut AB, equipped with C-47s and T-28s. The squadron would be inactivated in June 1964 and its mission assumed by the 2nd Air Division, while its pilots formed the 520th Fighter Squadron at Bien Hoa AB. [1] : 278

In January 1964 33rd Tactical Wing was established at Tan Son Nhut AB and it assumed control of all RVNAF units at the base. [1] : 278 Also that month the 41st Tactical Wing was established at Da Nang AB and assumed control of all RVNAF units at the base. [1] : 274

In February 1964, the 516th Fighter Squadron equipped with 15 A-1 Skyraiders moved to Da Nang AB from Nha Trang AB. [1] : 274

In March 1964 the US decided to reequip all RVNAF fighter squadrons with A-1 Skyraiders. [1] : 213

On 15 March 1964 the RVNAF established a Tactical Wing Headquarters at Da Nang AB. [1] : 211

On 18 March 1964 the newly formed 518th Fighter Squadron began operations from Bien Hoa AB with an original strength of 10 A-1Hs, it would grow to 25 aircraft authorized. [1] : 213 The RVNAF pilots were trained by crews from the US Navy's VA-152. [1] : 219

On 24 March a Farm Gate T-28 lost a wing during a bombing run near Sóc Trăng Airfield killing both crewmen and on 9 April another T-28 lost a wing during a strafing run and crashed. Two officials from North American Aviation, the manufacturers of the T-28, visited Bien Hoa AB and reviewed these losses and advised that the T-28 wasn't designed for the stresses it was being subjected to as a close air support aircraft. As a result, 5 older T-28s were retired and 9 newer aircraft were borrowed by the RVNAF and operational restrictions imposed. [1] : 214 Despite this augmentation, accidents and aircraft transfers meant that by late May the 1st Air Commando Squadron had only 8 T-28s left but these were retired on 30 May and replaced by more capable A-1E Skyraiders. [1] : 220–1

In March 1964 Air Base 62 at Pleiku AB became the RVNAF 62nd Tactical Wing. [1] : 275

In May the 217th Helicopter Squadron was established at Da Nang AB. [1] : 274

In June 1964 the 116th Liaison Squadron equipped with O-1s was activated at Nha Trang AB. [1] : 275 Also that month the RVNAF formed the 23rd Tactical Wing at Bien Hoa AB incorporating the 514th, 518th and the 112th Liaison Squadron. The 520th Fighter Squadron would be activated at Bien Hoa AB in October and join the 23rd Wing. [1] : 272

In October 1964 the RVNAF 520th Fighter Squadron equipped with A-1Hs was formed at Bien Hoa AB, however due to delays in construction of Binh Thuy Air Base it was only in December that they were able to start deploying a 5 aircraft detachment daily from Bien Hoa AB to Binh Thuy AB. [1] : 237–9

By mid-1964, the RVNAF had grown to thirteen squadrons four fighter, four observation, three helicopter and two C-47 transport. The RVNAF followed the USAF practice of organizing the squadrons into wings, with one wing located in each of the four Corps' tactical zones at Binh Thuy AB, Tan Son Nhut AB, Pleiku AB and Da Nang AB.

By the end of 1964 however, the combat sortie rate suffered as some key units were diverted from tactical operations and placed on "coup alert" during the seemingly endless political changes in Saigon. Still missing from the RVNAF were some of the basic elements of an effective combat force. Communication facilities were inadequate. The RVNAF had a rudimentary reporting system and, consequently, no way to measure the results of their missions. Absence of centralized control meant that it was impossible for the RVNAF to be fully integrated into the tactical air control system the USAF advisors had installed. Both the central air operations center at Tan Son Nhut AB and its field sites, the local air support operation centers, while technically performing their primary functions of scheduling and coordinating RVNAF sorties, were actually "after the fact" agencies that did little more than schedule missions demanded by the wings. About 75 percent of all attack sorties were being flown against "free strike" targets, which meant they were outside the control of a FAC and used little or no intelligence support. The RVNAF was still being run largely at the local level and, as a result, was seldom able to respond quickly to calls for assistance from the ARVN. [4] : 12–3

1965 Edit

In January 1965 the 62nd Tactical Wing and 516th Fighter Squadron, equipped with A-1H Skyraiders deployed to Nha Trang AB from Pleiku AB while a new runway was built at Pleiku. [1] : 263 Also that month the 1141st Observation Squadron moved to Pleiku AB from Da Nang AB. Pleiku AB was then managed by the 92nd Base Support Group and the base was used as a staging and emergency airfield. [1] : 275

On 8 February 1965, RVNAF commander Nguyễn Cao Kỳ led RVNAF A-1s from Da Nang AB on a retaliatory raid against North Vietnamese targets, all of the aircraft were hit by anti-aircraft fire, but only one was shot down. [4] : 60

On 2 March 1965, 20 RVNAF A-1s from Da Nang AB participated in the first attacks of Operation Rolling Thunder, striking the Vietnam People's Navy base at Quảng Khê. [5] : 84 On 14 March the RVNAF led by General Kỳ participated in attacks on barracks on Hòn Gió island. [5] : 85 The RVNAF contributed 19 sorties in March and 97 in April to attacks on North Vietnam. [4] : 25 By the end of June 7 RVNAF aircraft had been lost to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, while a further 8 had been damaged. [5] : 141 With the increasingly sophisticated air defenses over North Vietnam, the RVNAF was soon reduced to operating over only a small part of southern North Vietnam, with USAF, Navy and United States Marine Corps aircraft conducting most operations. [5] : 314

In May 1965 the 522nd Fighter Squadron equipped with A-1s was activated at Tan Son Nhut AB. [4] : 95

In August 1965 the 524th Fighter Squadron equipped with A-1s was activated at Nha Trang AB. [4] : 95

In August 1965, 4 USAF B-57B Canberras operating from Da Nang AB were nominally transferred to the RVNAF becoming their first jet aircraft. [4] : 88 Six Vietnamese pilots had already been checked out in the B-57B, and there were fifteen more with jet training, along with about forty mechanics. These pilots could join in strikes against the Viet Cong and later they, along with the mechanics, could form the nucleus of a Vietnamese F-5 squadron that was then being considered. [4] : 68 The RVNAF never officially took control of the aircraft, and, after accidents and other problems, including apparent claims by RVNAF pilots that the B-57 was beyond their physical capabilities, the program was terminated in April 1966, and the aircraft were returned to their original USAF units. [6] : 43

In December the 217th Helicopter Squadron moved from Tan Son Nhut AB to Binh Thuy AB. [1] : 274

By the end of 1965 there were 13,000 men and 359 planes in the RVNAF, numbers that would not change substantially until the 1970s. Of the 5 tactical wings, 2 were in III Corps (Bien Hoa AB and Tan Son Nhut AB) and a single wing was in each of the other Corps (at Da Nang, Pleiku and Binh Thuy). There were 6 fighter squadrons with a total of 146 A-1 Skyraiders. The 4 H-34 helicopter squadrons and 4 O-1 liaison squadrons were up to strength and 2 of the 3 planned transport squadrons of C-47s were operational. This was as large a force as the country could afford, and it was deemed sufficient to defend postwar South Vietnam. Until that day arrived, the US could handle any additional requirements. Besides these tactical wings, the RVNAF had a logistics wing at Bien Hoa AB, a base support group at Pleiku AB and its Air Training Center at Nha Trang AB. [4] : 95 The RVNAF was flying 2900 combat sorties per month in support of the ARVN. [4] : 65

USAF advisors were turning from expanding to modernizing the RVNAF. Plans were taking shape in December for modernization over the next three years. Two of the six fighter squadrons would gradually convert to F-5s, the H-34s would give way to newer UH-1s and at least one of the C-47 squadrons would receive C-119 transports. Major improvements were envisioned for the FAC program, the air defense net, and in the realm of communications, which was particularly weak. [4] : 96

The expansion and effectiveness of the RVNAF was hampered by numerous factors. Its commander, Prime Minister Ky, pulled his best people with him into the government, leaving to the American advisors the task of training replacements. The difficulties of that were noted by Seventh Air Force commander General Joseph Harold Moore who observed that, although several young field grade officers were showing promise as good leaders, "daily siestas and weekend slackening of effort is still a way of life." Pilots, lacking training and confidence, refused to fly at night and would not use their helicopters for medical evacuation missions in the face of enemy action. Liaison pilots were assigned for only two weeks and then moved away to another province, undercutting Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)’s ambitious visual reconnaissance program. In the midst of combat, RVNAF commanders were reluctant to release men for training. With the war all around them, pilot trainees were thrown into action as soon as they became minimally qualified, leaving little time to learn instrument and night flying. As a group, the commanders operated from day to day rather than programming and training their way out of their skill shortages. Often the men resisted being sent for training since this meant leaving their home stations. The program was weakened by the low pay that forced the men to moonlight, by the family separation, and by the relatively poor facilities at training bases. The concept of preventive maintenance was alien and the tradition of postponing maintenance until equipment broke down or failed to function continued. [4] : 97–8

1966 Edit

Attempts by the USAF to wean the ARVN off reliance on USAF FACs were making slow progress. ARVN commanders seldom trusted the RVNAF and wanted USAF FACs who could command jet fighters rather than their own controllers who could not. In many ways they were justified, as the RVNAF controllers were slow in mastering the techniques of strike control and visual reconnaissance. [4] : 132–3

1967 Edit

On 1 June 1967 the US Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker presented the 20 F-5As of the 10th Fighter Squadron (Commando) to Vice-President Kỳ at Bien Hoa AB. These aircraft would be used by the RVNAF to form the 522nd Fighter Squadron, their first jet squadron with training support provided by the USAF Air Training Command. This was the first step in the unfolding of the program that would see four of the six RVNAF fighter squadrons gradually convert from A-1s to jets. Besides the F-5s for the 522nd, three of the other squadrons were to receive A-37 Dragonflys as soon as the planes were tested in South Vietnam. The two remaining squadrons would continue to fly the A-1s. United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had been convinced to allow the RVNAF to have the F-5s on the grounds that the jets had proved themselves to be good close air support vehicles, that they posed no threat to North Vietnam and therefore did not signal escalation, and that they would permit the RVNAF to defend the country against air attacks when the USAF finally withdrew. The impact of the move was as much psychological as it was military. The South Vietnamese were sensitive to taunts from North Vietnam that the US would not trust them with jets, and the activation of the jet squadron was an important status symbol for the southerners. [4] : 234–5 The 33 pilots chosen for the 522nd Fighter Squadron, were hand picked by Premier Ky and had trained in the US and the Philippines. They were assisted at Bien Hoa AB by a mobile team sent by the Air Training Command to teach the squadron to maintain the planes. 522nd Fighter Squadron logged 388 combat sorties in June and 436 in July. In December, they flew 527 sorties, striking enemy supply routes and supporting ground troops in South Vietnam. Their safety record during the first 6 months was excellent, with only one plane lost. [4] : 235

There was some basis for the claim that the US did not trust the Vietnamese with jets, but not for the reasons implied above. The RVNAF's safety record with conventional aircraft had been poor. Since 1962 they had lost 287 planes, more than half of them (153) to accidents. In 1967, the force suffered 32 major aircraft accidents for every 100,000 hours it compared to the USAF's accident rate of 7.4. In July alone, the RVNAF had 18 mishaps with its conventional planes, 12 the result of pilot mistakes hitting trees on Napalm passes, ground looping on landing, colliding in midair, taxiing into a fence, landing with the gear up, losing control on takeoff, nosing over after stopping an aircraft too quickly and running off the runway. In August, there were 10 major flight accidents, a single major ground accident, a minor flight accident, and 6 flight incidents, but only a single reported combat loss. While many of these accidents stemmed from the inexperience of RVNAF pilots, the widespread absence of safety awareness and the absence of a program to instill it was making the problem difficult to correct. The USAF's advisory group, which oversaw the RVNAF's development, had been eclipsed since the large-scale USAF arrival began in 1965 and a flying safety program for the RVNAF, which had been in the plans, had fallen victim to higher priorities. Some advisory group officials complained that they were not getting top caliber people for so sensitive a mission. Few officers possessed the linguistic and cultural skills needed for the job and advisor duty was frequently viewed as inferior and undesirable compared to a more glamorous and career-enhancing tour with the Seventh Air Force. [4] : 235

On 7 May 1967 a VC attack on Binh Thuy AB destroyed 4 A-1Hs and 2 UH-34s. [7] : 54

The RVNAF 2311th Air Group, later to become an Air Wing, and the 311th Air Division were also stationed at Bien Hoa AB and the base supported the greatest number of air combat units than any other in South Vietnam. Following the final withdrawal of US forces from South Vietnam in February 1973, Bien Hoa remained a major RVNAF base hosting the headquarters of the RVNAF 3rd Air Division and the Air Logistics Command. [8] : 216

1968 Edit

When the Tet Offensive began on 31 January, 55 percent of the RVNAF's personnel were on leave, many in rural areas that had been isolated by VC infiltration. Within 72 hours, 90 percent of the force was back on the job. Helicopters, operating with fewer aircraft, flew more than half their normal monthly number of missions. [4] : 305 By the end of February RVNAF A-1s and F-5s had flown over 2500 sorties, helicopters had flown over 3200 hours and transport aircraft had flown over 1000 soties. [8] : 33 The overall damage was moderate and casualties were light, with less than 1 percent of the RVNAF personnel lost, including deserters. 18 aircraft were destroyed, 11 in ground attacks. [4] : 305 The RVNAF played an active role in the repelling the Tet Offensive attack on Tan Son Nhut Air Base and the attack on Bien Hoa Air Base.

Training remained the number one priority and the hardest to accomplish. Trying to fight while modernizing, RVNAF commanders were reluctant to assign their personnel to training, which meant losing them from combat. The RVNAF still relied principally on US units in both Vietnam and the United States for advanced flying and technical training. Mobile training teams taught F-5 and C-119 maintenance, logistic management, and the English language inside Vietnam. The US Army was training the H-34 pilots to fly the new UH-1s and USAF units in the country taught Vietnamese airmen control tower operations, meteorology, armament maintenance and missile handling. Between 1965 and 1968, almost 1,000 Vietnamese airmen were trained in the United States. [4] : 305

The RVNAF was a rapidly maturing force, flying one-fourth of all the strike sorties in South Vietnam and was on its way to becoming a modern, effective jet age fighting force. However the ARVN was not making full use of the RVNAF's resources. Preoccupied as it was with immediate, day-to-day combat, the RVNAF by early 1968 was still unable to develop the concept of long-range force development. For such planning, it was still heavily reliant on the US. Major aircraft accidents, which claimed an average of 22 aircraft each month throughout 1966 and 1967, remained the biggest problem. Over 60% of these accidents were caused by pilot error on takeoffs and landings. Only eight accidents occurred during the Tet Offensive, suggesting a dramatic increase in motivation during the crisis. [4] : 305 However apart from the peak during Tet, combat sorties averaged only 1800 per month, 9 percent of total Allied sorties. [8] : 55–6

The RVNAF's maintenance record was improving. Between 1965 and 1968, it integrated six new types of aircraft and showed that it could maintain them. Its maintenance depot, however, was unable to handle all crash and battle damage repairs, much of which was done by US contractors. Maintenance discipline and proficiency were still showing the strains caused by traditional work habits and a shortage of personnel. The RVNAF's supply system early in 1968 was slowly digging its way out of the inundation that started 2 years earlier. As US aid increased from $15 million in 1965 to $264 million in 1967, the RVNAF did not have enough personnel to cope with the deluge of supplies. The result was a mountainous backlog in receiving, processing, storing and recording the new equipment. [4] : 305

In late 1968 MACV proposed its Phase I plan to prepare the RVNAF to assume a greater share of responsibility for fighting the war. The plan called for the addition of four UH–1H helicopter squadrons (124 helicopters) to the 20 squadron RVNAF. There would also be modernization: T–41 trainers replacing some of the older U–17s, four H–34 squadrons converting to UH–1Hs, a C–47 transport squadron reequipping with the AC-47 Spooky gunship, and three A–1 squadrons receiving jet-powered A–37s. These changes increased by some 41 percent the authorized number of aircraft. However, as it became apparent that US forces would start withdrawing from South Vietnam MACV revised the plan to expand the RVNAF by a further 16 squadrons, all of which would be in service by July 1974. Besides an additional 5 helicopter squadrons, for a total augmentation of 9, phase II called for three new squadrons of A–37s, four of transports (all but one flying C-123 Providers), an AC-119G Shadow gunship unit, and three liaison squadrons equipped with planes suitable for use by FACs. The new plan would double the current number of RVNAF squadrons, more than double the total number of aircraft, and increase personnel to 32,600. MACV believed that these additions, plus the F–5 and A–37 strike aircraft and CH–47 Chinook helicopters already scheduled for delivery, would enable the RVNAF to conduct operations in South Vietnam similar to those conducted by the air forces of both the United States and South Vietnam in 1964/5. The AC–47 and AC–119 gunship force were believed sufficient for base defense and the support of ground operations, and by July 1974 the fighter arm would have achieved satisfactory strength and skill, even though the F–5 would have to double as strike fighter and interceptor. The planned number of helicopters seemed adequate to permit airmobile operations against insurgency activity. The planned liaison units, which included FACs, and the transport squadrons did not have enough aircraft, however, and MACV acknowledged that the proposed reconnaissance force, 6 RF–5s, could not cover an area the size of South Vietnam. The USAF would have to compensate somehow for these obvious weaknesses. [8] : 163–4

1969 Edit

On 4 January 1969, the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented the outgoing Johnson administration a plan for changing the target date for completion of the RVNAF Phase II expansion from July 1974 to July 1972. [8] : 162–3 In April 1969, the Department of Defense issued instructions to accelerate the Phase II improvement and modernization plan as recommended by the Joint Chiefs. [8] : 164

By May 1969 the full complement of 54 A-37B jets was on hand and assigned to the 524th, 520th, and 516th Fighter Squadrons. The first A-37 squadron was declared operationally ready in March 1969, the last one in July. [9] : 315

On 8 June 1969 Presidents Richard Nixon and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu met on Midway Island and discussed both the withdrawal of US forces and the arming and training of South Vietnamese to take over a greater share of the fighting. Although amenable to the idea of Vietnamization, President Thieu had ideas of his own about the kind of weapons his armed forces required, he offered a plan of his own for modernizing the military services, asking for what the Joint Chiefs of Staff termed appreciable quantities of sophisticated and costly equipment, including F–4 Phantom fighters and C–130 Hercules transports. If South Vietnam received these aircraft and the other weapons he sought, the nation would have the means to play a more nearly decisive role in the struggle against the combined forces of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. However the Joint Chiefs did not believe it could be attained as rapidly or as easily as President Thiệu seemed to think, and certainly not by merely handing the South Vietnamese deadlier but far more complex aircraft and other weapons. Compared to their American counterparts, the RVNAF lacked the technical skills necessary to make effective use of the weaponry Thiệu desired. Nor did the phase II plan, now to be accelerated, envision the South Vietnamese promptly taking on the aggregate strength of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. However desirable this might be as an ultimate goal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not believe that mere weapons could, in view of such problems as leadership and desertion, enable South Vietnam to take over major fighting responsibility against the current threat. A review of the Thiệu proposal by MACV resulted in a recommendation that the United States turn down almost every request. The RVNAF would have to do without F–4s and C–130s, additional VC–47 transports for high-ranking officials, coastal surveillance aircraft, and a search and rescue organization like that operated by the USAF. Thiệu's ambitious plan did, however, generate an additional $160 million in US military aid to improve logistics support and also produced a decision to speedup previously authorized recruiting, adding some 4,000 men to the RVNAF by June 1970. [8] : 164–5

On 30 June 1969 all AC-47 Spooky gunships of D Flight, 3rd Special Operations Squadron were transferred to the RVNAF at Tan Son Nhut AB. [7] : 70 On 2 July 1969 5 AC-47 Spooky gunships were used to form the 817th Combat Squadron which became operational at Tan Son Nhut AB on 31 August. [7] : 252

During the latter half of 1969, the USAF began transferring its O–1E FACs to the RVNAF as newer aircraft replaced them as part of the gradual transfer of control of the entire tactical air control system to the RVNAF. The direct air request network, as the Vietnamized control system came to be called, had three principal elements: the tactical air control party, the direct air support center, and the Tactical Air Control Center. Grouped together in the tactical air control party were the forward air controllers, various radio operators and maintenance men, and the air liaison officer, who acted as air adviser to the ground commander. Like his American counterpart, the South Vietnamese air liaison officer served as focal point for all matters relating to air activities, from close support to weather reports. The direct air support center bore responsibility for fulfilling requests from the tactical air control parties for air strikes, tactical reconnaissance, or emergency airlift. Like the tactical air control parties, the centers would continue for a time to be joint operations, with the American role diminishing as South Vietnamese skills improved. Plans called for a direct air support center in conjunction with each ARVN Corps' headquarters: I Direct Air Support Center at Da Nang AB, II at Pleiku AB, III at Bien Hoa AB and IV at Binh Thuy AB. Each of these centers would keep in contact by radio, telephone, or teletype with the subordinate tactical air control parties and with the Tactical Air Control Center at Tan Son Nhut AB. The Tactical Air Control Center served as nerve center of the Vietnamized system. In the tightly centralized US model, this agency functioned as command post for strikes throughout South Vietnam, establishing priorities among competing needs and issuing daily and weekly operations orders in support of the war on the ground. RVNAF officers began serving in each component of the center, creating a parallel structure that could sustain the air war after the Americans left. Whether a tactical air control center of this type could be transplanted and flourish remained open to question, for South Vietnam's armed forces had not yet accepted the concept of centralized control over tactical aviation. The Corps' commander, though theoretically influenced by an air liaison officer, remained supreme in his fiefdom and could use the direct air support center for his own purposes, regardless of orders issued elsewhere. [8] : 172–3

1970 Edit

In 1970, the RVNAF units at Da Nang AB were reorganized as the First Air Division with responsibility for I Corps. [8] : 213

In March 1970 the USAF began handing the Pleiku AB over to the RVNAF and this transfer was completed by the end of 1970. [8] : 216 Pleiku AB was one of the 2 operating bases of the RVNAF 6th Air Division, the other being Phù Cát Air Base. [10] The RVNAF established the 72nd Tactical Wing at Pleiku AB with the 530th Fighter Squadron equipped with A-1 Skyraiders, along with two UH-1H helicopter assault squadrons (229th, 235th) and the 118th Liaison Squadron, with O-1 and U-17 forward air controller/light reconnaissance aircraft.

On 31 March a USAF mobile training team arrived in South Vietnam to begin teaching, in collaboration with Army aviators, the tactical use of the UH–1 fitted out as a gunship. On 29 May 29, before the second class of 32 students had graduated, the RVNAF mounted its first helicopter assault. Eight troop-carrying UH–1s, another serving as a command post, and three others equipped as gunships successfully landed a small force near Prey Veng, Cambodia. [8] : 223

From the beginning of the Cambodian Campaign in April until the end of 1970, the RVNAF flew some 9,600 attack sorties in Cambodia, compared to 14,600 by US airmen. Besides flying interdiction missions, the RVNAF delivered close air support for both ARVN and Cambodian troops and provided other assistance. [8] : 208

The Cambodian Campaign gave unexpected impetus to the modernization and improvement of South Vietnam's armed forces. US Defense Secretary Melvin Laird launched the Consolidated Improvement and Modernization Program which called for a South Vietnamese military establishment totaling 1.1 million in June 1973, with the RVNAF expanding to 46,998 officers and men. During December 1970, however, the USAF advisory group became concerned that additional airmen, technicians, and medical professionals would be needed as South Vietnamese replaced US troops at air bases, logistics centers, command posts and hospital facilities. South Vietnam's Joint General Staff agreed, increasing the projected strength of the air service to 52,171, but even this number could not ensure the self-sufficiency of the RVNAF. At best, the greater number of airmen could help the ARVN to deal with the kind of threat that existed in the spring of 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia. Under the program, the RVNAF expanded from 22 squadrons with 486 authorized aircraft in mid-1970 to 30 squadrons with 706 planes at year's end. Two additional A–37 squadrons and one of A–1s (all originally scheduled for activation in the summer of 1971) were activated, as were 4 new squadrons of UH–1s and, some 6 months ahead of schedule, the first of two planned CH–47 Chinook units. Moreover, the consolidated plan looked beyond these 1970 increases to a force of 37 squadrons by the end of June 1971, 45 squadrons a year later and 49 by 30 June 1973. The final squadron, 18 F–5E interceptors, would arrive at the end of June 1974, raising to 1,299 the authorized total of aircraft. In terms of squadrons, the RVNAF expanded by almost 30 percent during 1970, while the number of aircraft increased by not quite 50 percent. [8] : 212–3

The RVNAF faced high costs and long delays in obtaining from schools overseas navigators for the reconnaissance, gunship or transport versions of the C–119G and C–47. To avoid reliance on courses taught in English in the United States, the USAF advisory group helped establish at Tan Son Nhut AB a school in which American-trained South Vietnamese instructors taught the basic elements of navigation. The first of seven scheduled classes began in June 1970. In August 55 RVNAF airmen started transition training at Tan Son Nhut AB from the CH–34 helicopter to the CH–47. Maintenance men as well as flight crews received instruction from members of US Army helicopter units at Phu Loi Base Camp north of Saigon. This training program produced the RVNAF's first CH–47 squadron, which was formally activated on 30 September 1970. Preparations had already begun to create a second CH-47 squadron. Tan Son Nhut AB was also the focal point for training on the AC-119G Shadow gunship, as 50 RVNAF pilots, half of them experienced in the C–119G transport and the others fresh from flight training in the US, joined recent graduates of navigator school in forming the nucleus of the AC–119G crews. Flight mechanics and searchlight operators would learn their specialties in the US before teaming up with the pilots, copilots, and navigators already training at Tan Son Nhut AB. Once brought together, each crew received a final indoctrination, then reported to the USAF's 14th Special Operations Wing for the last phase of gunship training, 5 routine combat missions. [8] : 218–9

The need to acquire some fluency in English before starting certain training courses remained an obstacle to many potential RVNAF aviators or technicians. Indeed, the USAF advisors came to conclude that it had been a mistake to make proficiency in English the key to advanced training. In retrospect it would appear wiser to have trained US instructors to speak Vietnamese at the outset. During early 1970, 55 percent of the RVNAF airmen selected to learn English for further training in the US were failing the language course, almost three times the anticipated failure rate. [8] : 217

Certain kinds of training simply could not be given in South Vietnam. Facilities did not yet exist for the 1,900 aviators (1,500 of them helicopter pilots) who completed undergraduate pilot training in the US during the 18 months ending in December 1970. Since travel outside South Vietnam was in this case unavoidable, the USAF agreed to compress the period of training in fixed-wing aircraft. The duration of the course was reduced from 42 weeks for all cadets to 40 for future fighter pilots and 38 for those destined for transport squadrons. Besides future aviators, some doctors and nurses could receive their specialized training only in the United States. Except for these fledgling pilots, the doctors and nurses, and the communications specialists trained for a time at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, policy called for transplanting courses of instruction to South Vietnam. [8] : 219

Although pilots of helicopters, fighters, or transports and their variants, including gunships, learned to fly in the US, training for liaison or observation craft went forward in South Vietnam. This curriculum also underwent time-saving revision. Formerly, after 299 hours of training on the ground and 146 hours mastering the U–17 or the recently introduced Cessna T–41, the new liaison pilot had reported to an O–1 unit for 50 hours of additional instruction. Unfortunately, the demands of combat usually forced the veteran fliers in the unit, whose combat missions took precedence over training flights, to spread the required instruction over 3–5 months. Beginning in September the RVNAF demanded 110 hours in the T–41 and 35 to 70 hours in the O–1, all of it acquired before the aspiring FAC left Nha Trang AB. As a result, he arrived at his unit thoroughly familiar with the O–1 and needing only an informal and comparatively brief combat indoctrination. South Vietnamese assumption of responsibility for tactical air control, a process in which FACs, trained in South Vietnam and flying newly acquired O–1s, played a key part—moved ahead during 1970. At midyear, the RVNAF had ninety O–1 and forty U–17 observation planes organized into five active squadrons and manned by 149 pilots and 135 observers, all of them deemed fully qualified for combat. Of these 284 FACs, 44 pilots and 42 observers had demonstrated sufficient ability to control strikes by USAF as well as RVNAF aircraft. Successful control, however, remained limited in most instances to planned strikes conducted in daylight. According to US Army reports RVNAF FACs did not fly at night or in bad weather, ignored emergency requests to adjust artillery fire or carry out visual reconnaissance, and responded slowly to requests for immediate air strikes, though their work was adequate once they arrived on the scene. [8] : 219–20

With American units leaving the country, the RVNAF transport fleet was greatly increased at Tan Son Nhut AB. The RVNAF 33rd and 53rd Tactical Wings were established flying C-123 Providers, C-47s and C-7 Caribous. [8] : 218–9 As C–119 pilots began training to fly the AC-119 gunships, and men qualified in the C–47 were about to begin their transition to the newer C–123K, the two existing airlift squadrons had to carry out their usual duties while furnishing trainees for the new gunships and transports. Because of the need for more transports, the USAF advisory group and the air arm's headquarters drew up plans to hasten the activation of two C–123K squadrons, equipped with planes transferred from USAF units. The K models would commence operation by mid-1971, 6 months ahead of schedule. Two squadrons of C–7s, also from USAF resources in South Vietnam, would round out the projected airlift force by July 1972. This planned airlift fleet did not satisfy Vice President Ky, who argued for the addition of a squadron of C–130s. Secretary of the Air Force Robert C. Seamans, Jr., visited South Vietnam in February 1970 and was impressed with Ky's reasoning. The C-130 could carry more cargo than any of the types his nation would receive with 5 times the cargo capacity of a C–7 or roughly three times that of the C–123K or C–119G. A study by the USAF advisory group concluded that a combination of C–7s and C–130s could better meet the needs of the RVNAF than the planned combination of C–123s and C–7s. The C–123s, however, would soon become surplus to American needs and already were based in South Vietnam. Ease of transfer provided, for the present, a decisive argument in favor of the C-123s, and many months would pass before the RVNAF finally received C–130s. [8] : 224

In July the RVNAF had received the first 2 of 6 RF–5 reconnaissance planes. In mid-August, RVNAF technicians processed and interpreted film from these aircraft, thus foreshadowing Vietnamization of aerial reconnaissance. The remaining 4 RF–5s arrived in time for the reconnaissance unit to begin functioning on 15 October. At year's end the RVNAF possessed the nucleus of a tactical air intelligence operation. [8] : 225

The 412st Transport Squadron formed at Phù Cát AB in 1970 operating C-7As inherited from the 537th Troop Carrier Squadron. [11]

In November 1970 Sóc Trăng Airfield was handed over to the RVNAF by the US Army. [8] : 214

By the end of December 1970, RVNAF security police had assumed full responsibility for protecting Nha Trang and Binh Thuy Air Bases. [8] : 214

Increased cockpit time resulted in safer flying. The accident rate for 1970 throughout all of South Vietnam declined by some 20 percent from the previous year, but the lower ratio of 11.4 accidents per 100,000 flying hours remained roughly 2.5 times the USAF figure. The improvement during 1970 represented a sharp decline in accidents involving observation and utility aircraft fighter and helicopter pilots flew no more safely than they had the year before. Although RVNAF flight proficiency appeared to be improving, if unevenly, some senior US Army officers had reservations about the combat effectiveness of the RVNAF, citing the inadequacies of its FACs, as well as its limited inventory of aircraft and its inability to fight at night. USAF advisers rendered more optimistic judgments, however, pointing out that the fighter and attack squadrons had performed well during the Cambodian fighting. Indeed, by year's end, the RVNAF were flying almost half the combined total of attack sorties in South Vietnam and Cambodia. Progress was being made toward early activation of more A–1 and A–37 squadrons, although the A–37 was handicapped by a combat radius of no more than 200 miles (320 km). A few F–5 pilots were undergoing training in ground controlled aerial interception, and the RVNAF was increasing the emphasis on nighttime operations. Although inability to fight at night or in bad weather remained the gravest weakness of RVNAF fliers, by late 1970, some 56 percent of the RVNAF's fighter-bomber pilots had demonstrated the ability to deliver a night attack on a target illuminated by a flareship. Also, the A–37s and A–1s were starting to receive flare dispensers of their own so that nighttime operations were no longer dependent on the few C–47s available to drop flares. Despite the growing insistence on night flying, FACs logged fewer nighttime hours than the fighter pilots. This imbalance stemmed at least in part from the fact that the U–17s and older O–1s lacked adequate instrumentation and suitable cockpit lighting for operating in darkness. To prepare the RVNAF FACs for the better equipped O–1Es and Gs that were becoming available, USAF pilots were giving nighttime familiarization flights in the right-hand seat of the O–2A Skymaster. [8] : 222–3

1971 Edit

On 1 January the 5th Air Division was activated at Tan Son Nhut AB. This newest air division did not support the ARVN within a particular region. Instead, it was an outgrowth of the 33nd Wing, which flew transports, gunships and special mission aircraft everywhere in South Vietnam. Since so many of the aircraft flown by this division, the AC-47, VC–47 executive transport and RC–47, were variants of the basic C–47, the RVNAF centralized these disparate operations in one division. [8] : 213–4

Vietnamization did not include aerial interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, so the program for modernization of the RVNAF did not provide them with the weapons necessary to interdict the PAVN supply lines. [12] : 237 The armed forces of South Vietnam would have to conduct interdiction on the ground. [12] : 238 During Operation Lam Son 719, an ARVN operation to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, the RVNAF flew 5,500 sorties mostly by helicopters, a tiny fraction of the 160,000 sorties flown by US Army helicopters, showing that the operation would have been impossible without US support. [8] : 273

The crash of the helicopter carrying ARVN General Đỗ Cao Trí and photojournalist François Sully on 23 February 1971 was attributed by US sources to mechanical failure and this led journalist Edward Behr to investigate the maintenance standards within the RVNAF. US maintenance personnel advised Behr that RVNAF mechanics never flushed helicopter engines with water and solvent every 25 flying hours as recommended and did not undertake other routine preventive maintenance. By late 1971 more than half the RVNAF helicopter fleet was grounded due to maintenance issues. [13]

The first squadron of C–123s, organized in April, received its aircraft in May. The delay reflected the extensive maintenance the transports required after heavy usage flying men and cargo to staging areas for Operation Lam Son 719. A second squadron commenced operation in July, and the third, scheduled for December, took shape in January 1972. The last of 24 AC–119Gs joined the RVNAF in September 1971, and in December the USAF Chief of Staff, authorized the transfer of modified AC–119Ks to replace a squadron of AC–47s. At year's end, the RVNAF had 1,041 aircraft on hand, 762 of them (roughly 70 percent) ready for combat. Organized into 41 squadrons, it included three squadrons of A–1s, five of A–37s, one of F–5s, one of AC–47s (which the AC–119Ks would eventually replace), one of AC–119Gs, 16 of helicopters (mostly UH–1s) and 7 squadrons of liaison craft for FACs. It also had one reconnaissance squadron with a mix of U–6s, RF–5s and variants of the C–47. The transports units totalled one squadron of C–47s, one of C–119s, and two (soon to be three) of C–123s. A special air mission squadron that carried high-ranking passengers and a school squadron to conduct training rounded out the force. [8] : 299

The tactical air control system underwent Vietnamization in 1971. In June, the RVNAF assumed complete responsibility for assigning targets to their aircraft, selecting ordnance and scheduling strikes. The US presence at the Vietnamized command and control center now consisted of a two-man liaison party and a few instructors who trained the persons assigned there. The RVNAF command and control function did not issue orders to components of the Seventh Air Force, which continued to maintain a separate tactical air control center for its own aircraft. By August, the RVNAF had also taken over the four direct air support centers, one in each Corps, but the parallel structure prevailed there also, for the Seventh Air Force supplied detachments to handle strikes by its aircraft. As retention by the Seventh Air Force of control over its aircraft indicated, the RVNAF had trouble mastering the tactical air control system, but the difficulties went beyond the mechanics of operating the various centers. ARVN commanders, for example, frequently ignored the lower ranking air liaison officers assigned to help them make effective use of the aerial weapon. FACs, who directed the actual strikes, seldom remained with a particular ground unit long enough to learn its special requirements, the characteristics of the operating area, or the patterns of enemy behavior. Moreover, FACs received, at most, a smattering of night training, and some of them avoided daylight missions over heavily defended areas, on occasion falsifying reports or logs to conceal their dereliction of duty. [8] : 299–301

From 1–7 December RVNAF A–37s flew 49 sorties against PAVN transportation targets on the exit routes from the Ho Chi Minh Trail just inside the western border with Laos as part of Operation Commando Hunt VII, in preparation for taking over the interdiction campaign as early as the 1972–73 dry season. [12] : 263–4 However it soon became apparent that the powerful defenses of the Ho Chi Minh Trail prevented a simple and inexpensive interdiction campaign combining operations on the ground and in the air. South Vietnam had no alternative to the strategy of defending the cities and the food-producing coastal region. This task would absorb the overwhelming share of the nation's military resources, leaving nothing for long-range interdiction. No longer would North Vietnam have to divert troops to protect the roads and trails through southern Laos from air attack or ground probes. [12] : 265–6

By the end of 1971, Vietnamization of the air war formed a mosaic of progress and disappointment.

1972 Edit

Phan Rang AB was progressively handed over to the RVNAF in March–May 1972. [14] : 573

At the start of the Easter Offensive the RVNAF strength was 1,285 aircraft organized into 44 squadrons. 9 squadrons flew A–1s, A–37s, or F–5s, a total of 119 aircraft classified as combat-ready fighter-bombers two squadrons operated AC–47 or AC–119G gunships, 28 of the aircraft ready for action 17 helicopter squadrons had 367 helicopters combat-ready out of a total of 620 seven FAC squadrons flew O–1 or U–17 light aircraft, 247 operationally ready out of 303, and the remaining units carried out training, transport and reconnaissance duties. [8] : 333

The Easter Offensive showed that the ARVN couldn't defeat the PAVN without continuous and massive air support. The basic assumption surrounding the expansion of the RVNAF was its ability to provide close air support to the ARVN under permissive conditions. For this reason the RVNAF was not given the type of aircraft to be able to operate in a Surface-to-air missile (SAM) environment augmented by heavy concentrations of radar-directed AAA fire. From experience in North Vietnam and in the Easter Offensive it was obvious that high performance aircraft, backed up by Electronic countermeasures (ECM) and supporting forces, were necessary to penetrate and operate in such defenses. These types of defenses had to be neutralized with a high degree of survivability. This was the reason why it was necessary to pull the RVNAF out of the high threat areas and use USAF aircraft to handle these targets. [10] : 54

Under Operation Enhance beginning on 23 May the US began the supply of additional equipment to South Vietnam to make up losses suffered in the Easter Offensive. For the RVNAF this initially comprised 5 F–5As, 48 A–37s and 32 UH–1s to be delivered by 1 August. For the remainder of the year the US Army would deliver CH–47s to equip two squadrons by September. The USAF would accelerate the delivery of 14 RC-47s, 23 AC-119K gunships, 23 EC-47s, 28 C-7 transports and 14 C-119Gs modified for coastal fire support and maritime patrol. [8] : 350

By the end of October, the RVNAF had activated 51 squadrons and actual strength stood at 52,400. [8] : 351

In October, as Operation Enhance neared completion, the Nixon administration approved another infusion of equipment, Operation Enhance Plus. This served two purposes: to rush war material to South Vietnam before a ceasefire imposed restrictions on military assistance and to reconcile President Thiệu to the fact that the US, without having consulted him, now stood ready to accept a settlement that would permit North Vietnamese troops to remain on South Vietnamese soil, thus legitimizing the results of the Easter Offensive. For the RVNAF Enhance Plus included 19 A–1s, 90 A–37Bs, 32 C–130s, 126 F–5s, 177 UH–1s, together with the AC–119Ks and some other types not yet delivered in Project Enhance. The plan originally called for completing Enhance Plus by 20 November, but later changes moved the deadline to 10 November and added 35 O–2 observation craft, already in South Vietnam, as replacements for the older O–1s and U–17s. The collapse of truce negotiations, which did not resume until after the Christmas Bombing, caused the possible signing of a peace agreement to recede beyond 1 January 1973, and eased the pressure for prompt completion. Reflecting the changing circumstances, the last items in Enhance Plus did not arrive until 10 December. [8] : 351

Enhance Plus increased the inventory of the RVNAF by some 595 aircraft, excluding about 30 of the helicopters intended for a postwar truce surveillance agency. To absorb this influx, the RVNAF by mid-1973 organized 8 additional fighter or attack squadrons, 2 transport squadrons, 14 squadrons or flights of helicopters, and 1 training squadron. Besides accomplishing all of this, the project reequipped some tactical air support squadrons with O–2s, increased each UH–1 squadron from 33 helicopters to 38, and began organizing the squadron of armed C–119Gs for coastal and maritime patrol. When the RVNAF absorbed all the Enhance Plus aircraft and eliminated the recently organized C–123 squadrons in 1973, as scheduled, it would total 67 squadrons with more than 61,000 officers and men. This rapid augmentation, however, imposed strains on the supporting establishment and failed to generate the kind of air power that the US had exercised over the years. [8] : 351–2

The training of pilots and crews to fly the aircraft provided by Enhance Plus proceeded on the principle that instruction in the US soon would merely supplement that given in South Vietnam. To cope with the additional aircraft, the RVNAF no longer waited for trainees to emerge from the pipeline, but tried instead, with US collaboration, to teach personnel already familiar with one kind of aircraft to make the transition to a more advanced type. Assignments vacated by those who retrained would go to officers that had recently learned to fly. Pilots of A–37s retrained for F–5s O–1 pilots for the O–2 and the A–37 crews of AC–119Gs for AC–119Ks crews of C–119s and C–123s for the C–130s and those of C–123s for the armed C–119s. Since the C–123 squadrons would disband during 1973, they were a valuable source of pilots and crew members for transition training. The USAF Advisory Group, using teams of instructors dispatched from the United States, planned to teach a number of the South Vietnamese to take over the postwar training programs for the various types of aircraft, assisted as necessary by American civilians working under contract. In contrast to the fixed-wing aircraft, the vast increase in helicopters during Enhance and Enhance Plus required, at least for the near future, pilots trained exclusively for this type of aircraft by Army instructors in the US. Despite the emphasis on training, in February 1973, two weeks after the ceasefire took effect, the RVNAF projected a shortage of some 800 pilots or copilots, 300 for fixed-wing aircraft and the rest for helicopters. [8] : 352–3

The aircraft that arrived in late 1972 failed to correct glaring weaknesses in the RVNAF's ability to wage aerial warfare. The RVNAF had no aircraft capable of attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail or comparably defended PAVN lines of supply and communication. The most modern gunship, the lumbering AC–119K, could not survive conventional antiaircraft fire, let alone radar-directed guns or heat-seeking SAMs. The A–1, though sturdy and able to carry up to four tons of bombs, lacked speed, but the fast jets like the A–37 or F–5, which might survive antiaircraft defenses, had neither the endurance nor the bomb capacity for armed reconnaissance and, because of the failure to equip and train the RVNAF for aerial refueling, could not attack targets deep within southern Laos or North Vietnam. Moreover, only the F–5E provided an effective weapon for air defense, should North Vietnam break with tradition and launch an air campaign against the South. As it coped with these weaknesses in tactical aviation and air defense, the RVNAF faced the formidable task of finding an aerial weapon with the versatility and firepower of the B–52. The Nixon administration sought to substitute a powerful bomb for the B-52, providing fuel-air munitions, which the A–1 or A–37 could deliver by parachute, and the pallet-load of high explosive, and sometimes oil or gasoline, parachuted from a transport like the C–130. The RVNAF received some of the CBU-55 fuel-air devices in time to try them against the PAVN-held citadel at Quang Tri City, where the sturdy masonry walls proved impervious to 500-pound bombs dropped by A–37s. In this instance, the cloud of gas exploded ineffectually in the opening along the base of the wall instead of first seeping into a confined space, like a cellar or bunker, for maximum destructive effect. After the CBU–55 failed, USAF F–4s breached the barrier with laser-guided bombs. The RVNAF, lacking laser-guided bombs, had to achieve the necessary accuracy with ordinary munitions, which required attacks at low altitude. However, the PAVN introduction of the SA–7, a shoulder-launched, heat-seeking SAM, in early 1972 forced a change in tactics. Although flares might fool the infrared homing device or shields screen the heat source, the surest protection against the SA–7, until flare dispensers and heat shielding became commonplace, consisted of staying out of range and bombing from 9,000–10,000 feet (2,700–3,000 m). At that altitude, even a skilled pilot found it difficult to hit a compact target with a conventional bomb. [8] : 355–6

Despite its use of EC–47s to intercept radio signals and locate transmitters in the field, the RVNAF depended heavily on photo reconnaissance for discovering and pinpointing targets. A Vietnamized photo interpretation center functioned at Tan Son Nhut AB, but neither of the available camera-equipped aircraft, the RF–5A and the RC–47D, could supply it with satisfactory pictures of the battlefield. The RF–5A, though fast enough to penetrate defended areas, carried a camera that photographed too narrow a swath to be of much value in finding targets. The RC–47D, flying low and slow, provided more panoramic coverage but presented an easy target for PAVN antiaircraft gunners. [8] : 356

1973 Edit

By the time of the ceasefire on 27 January 1973 the RVNAF had 2075 aircraft of 25 different types. It had reached a strength of 65 squadrons and 61,417 personnel. The rate of expansion was more than the RVNAF could absorb and it was obvious that it couldn't operate this size air force with so many different types of aircraft. The rationale for such a large force was based on the assumption that, given time, the RVNAF would eventually develop the ability to handle such a large force and because of the provisions of the ceasefire agreement that no additional equipment could be introduced after the ceasefire, only replacements on a one-for-one basis. [10] : 60

By the time the cease-fire went into effect, the RVNAF had received the benefits of Project Enhance Plus, a final American push to strengthen the armed forces before the peace settlement restricted the flow of equipment to replacing, on a one-for-one basis, items already in the inventory. RVNAF airmen were in the process of absorbing C–130 transports, RC–119 G maritime patrol craft, F–5 fighters, A–37 attack planes, as well as UH–1 and CH–47 helicopters. The ceasefire afforded a badly needed respite from major operations for the RVNAF to train the pilots, aircrews, mechanics, staff officers, clerks, and administrators necessary for effective operation. This period of comparative stability, plus continued training and logistics support from US firms under contract to the RVNAF, seemed likely to ensure progress toward self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, the aircraft recently incorporated into the RVNAF brought with them problems that impeded progress towards self-sufficiency. The war-weary C–130s, for example, required 199 civilian technicians, supplied under contract by Lear Siegler, plus two technical representatives from Lockheed Corporation, the manufacturer of the transport. The RC–119G, moreover, seemed unlikely to succeed as a coastal patrol craft. Although crews who flew the C–119 or C–47 could readily transition to the patrol plane, navigators remained in short supply, and the modification of just thirteen AC–119Gs proved expensive, costing more than US$4 million. Once the aircraft were fitted out and manned, tactical problems would arise. The enemy trawlers and junks, for which the modified gunships would search, could carry the same antiaircraft guns and SA-7 missiles that earlier had driven the planes from vigorously defended portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. An even more serious obstacle to self-sufficiency resulted from the short range of the F–5 and A–37, which could not carry the war much beyond South Vietnam's borders. The A–1, which it was hoped to employ with fuel-air munitions as a substitute for the B–52, suffered from decades of hard usage. The A-1s could no longer dive more steeply than 30 degrees or exceed 4 Gs in pulling out. These limitations increased the vulnerability of the airplane to ground fire, but against weak antiaircraft defenses the A–1 could accurately deliver a heavy load of bombs. The C–47 also remained a useful weapon. Indeed, when faced with the prospect of losing the C–47 flareships slated for conversion to intercept the PAVN's radio traffic, General Cao Văn Viên, Chief of the Joint General Staff, protested to MACV commander General Frederick C. Weyand. Weyand decided, however, that the electronic reconnaissance mission took precedence over flare-dropping, which could be done by AC–119s. Despite the emphasis on using the converted C–47s for intercepting radio traffic, the Defense Attaché Office, Saigon (DAO), the successor to MACV, looked at the status of military intelligence and reported a "decided drop in total usable information since the demise of MACV." The most notable decline occurred in electronic intelligence. The ancient EC–47s that located the PAVN's radio transmitters carried equipment that had become difficult to maintain after years of hard use, first by US airmen and more recently by the South Vietnamese. Ground-based intercept stations supplemented the EC–47s, but the operators lacked the experience to make timely evaluations, so that interpretations lagged an average of 5 days behind the message traffic with which they dealt. Photo interpretation also proved tardy at a time when the South Vietnamese were exposing more film than ever before. Indeed, the DAO brought in US photo interpreters to keep the Defense Attaché General John E. Murray informed of the military situation in the South. [8] : 406–7

Amid the remarkable increase in PAVN antiaircraft strength in South Vietnam the gravest threat to RVNAF planes, particularly in the southern pan of the country was the SA-7 missile. From the ceasefire until the end of June, there were 22 reported SA-7 attacks on RVNAF aircraft, resulting in 8 aircraft shot down (1 A-37, 3 A-1s, 1 F-5A and 3 UH-1s). The rather low ratio of successful firings-slightly better than one out of three was attributable in large degree to effective countermeasures adopted by the RVNAF. As the SA-7 was fired, it had a distinctive flash which could often be seen from the air, followed by a characteristic smoke and vapor trail. With attack aircraft flying in pairs, one or the other of the pilots might see the missile coming and take or direct evasive action. High-energy flares were sometimes tossed out or mechanically ejected, frequently causing the missile's heat-seeker to lock on and track the flare and burst a harmless distance from the plane. Helicopter crews were also alert to watch for missiles, and in order to reduce infrared emissions, UH-1 helicopters were modified, The hot-spot on the fuselage below the main rotor was shielded and the exhaust diverted upwards by means of an elbow attached to the tailpipe. But regardless of these moderately effective measures, the new environment forced reconnaissance and attack aircraft above optimum operating altitudes and virtually eliminated the employment of large helicopter formations. [15] : 49

Serious problems soon surfaced within the RVNAF, mostly because of the frenzied expansion. The RVNAF now totaled 65,000 officers and enlisted men, but half of them were undergoing some form of training to qualify them for new assignments. Nevertheless, the RVNAF flew over 81,000 sorties during September 1973 helicopters accounted for 62,000 of these and training craft for 1,100. Fighter-bombers or attack planes flew most of the others, but all too often they attacked from 10,000 feet (3,000 m) or higher out of respect for PAVN antiaircraft weapons. Strikes from this altitude, in the opinion of General Murray, not only "failed to contribute to productive destruction" but caused inaccuracy that actually harmed "interservice relationships." The RVNAF could not yet maintain the mixed fleet of aircraft, many of them cast-offs, they had inherited. For example, maintenance on the force of UH–1s fell behind schedule throughout 1973, even though Air Vietnam, the national airline, lent its civilian mechanics to help with inspections. Similar delays affected maintenance of the EC–47, largely because crews failed to report equipment failures, and of the C–7, handicapped by a shortage of spare parts and trained mechanics. Almost every aircraft suffered from corrosion, the inevitable result of service in a tropical climate. During 1973, Lear Siegler launched an ambitious program of maintenance training. The instructors concentrated on the lagging UH–1 program, but teams of specialists also taught the South Vietnamese to repair corrosion and battle damage to the F–5 and A–37. Unfortunately, a shortage of spare parts hampered the training effort. [8] : 408–9

1974 Edit

In 1974 as a result of budget cuts, RVNAF squadrons were reduced from 66 to 56 no replacements were ordered for 162 destroyed aircraft flying hours, contractor support, and supply levels were further reduced and 224 aircraft were placed in storage, among them all 61 remaining A-1 Skyraiders, all 52 C-7 Caribous, 34 AC-47 Spookys and AC-119 gunships, all 31 O-2 observation planes and 31 UH-1 Hueys. [15] : 87

In mid-1974 USAF headquarters, Pacific Air Forces and the Air Force Logistics Command examined the structure of the RVNAF and offered specific recommendations to help it repulse an invasion like the Easter Offensive of 1972. Even though public and Congressional support for South Vietnam was diminishing, the study reflected a tacit assumption that US air power would intervene on behalf of the Saigon government. Some of the findings dealt with the problem of gathering intelligence on PAVN activity. The panel concluded that the authorized reconnaissance force of 12 RC–47s, 32 EC–47s and 7 RF–5s was adequate, but proposed that the RF–5s be divided between Da Nang and Bien Hoa, instead of concentrating at Bien Hoa, thus expanding the area covered by these short-range aircraft. Also, the RVNAF should devise tactics and countermeasures, fighter escort, for example, and flares to decoy heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles—to enable the RC–47 and EC–47 to operate in more areas strongly defended. Similarly, the review expressed confidence that the 200 authorized aircraft would meet the needs of RVNAF FACs. The U–17, judged at best a light transport and liaison plane, seemed too vulnerable for the FACs to use. The threat posed by the SA–7 missile inspired two recommendations: the training of FAC parties to direct strikes from the ground and the use of the F–5 as a vehicle for FACs facing powerful antiaircraft defenses. The F–5E model, impressed the panel as a match for the Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) MiG–21. They believed that a squadron at Da Nang AB should meet the threat of MiG incursions over South Vietnam, if necessary launching as many as 20 air defense sorties within two hours. The study declared that the fleet of transports, though adequate for routine operations, could not sustain a maximum effort for an extended time. Better management, however, could to some extent make up the deficiency in the number of aircraft, estimated at 10 percent. The helicopter armada seemed "more than adequate to meet the projected requirement." The number of UH–1s, used by the Americans for assault operations, could safely be reduced from 842 to 640, since the ARVN would not be employing airmobile tactics. The fleet of larger CH–47s could supplement cargo-carrying, fixed-wing transports in an emergency and therefore should remain at the authorized total of 64. Fighters and attack aircraft, according to the study, fell "127 aircraft short of the computed requirement," although AC–47 and AC–119K gunships might help make up the difference. Moreover, careful scheduling of maintenance and the massing of available aircraft could ensure an adequate number of F–5s, A–1s, and A–37s to deal with the threatened invasion. [8] : 414–5

Although the mid-1974 assessment of the force structure generally approved of the composition of the RVNAF, the former Defense Attaché General Murray warned in October of serious failings that could erode the ability of the RVNAF to control the air. At times, Murray said, pilots crossed "the narrow line between the brave and the foolhardy." They flew with an almost suicidal disregard of basic safety procedures, even though they respected the SA–7 missile and remained reluctant to venture below 10,000 feet (3,000 m) to attack targets defended by that missile or radar-directed antiaircraft guns. Joyriding or careless taxiing, sometimes by drunken pilots, and failure to make preflight inspections cost the RVNAF, by Murray's reckoning, "the equivalent of an entire squadron of jet aircraft." Murray characterized the RVNAF as "costly, careless, and conceding air space." [8] : 415–6

In addition to RVNAF negligence, PAVN air defenses took a steady toll. By June 1974, the PAVN had launched 136 SA–7s, costing an estimated US$680,000, and downed 23 aircraft worth perhaps US$12 million. Antiaircraft weapons proved so deadly that they, in effect, gained control of the air over a large expanse of South Vietnamese territory, especially in the west, on the border with Laos and Cambodia. In I Corps the RVNAF could operate freely over only a narrow strip of land along the seacoast. Accidents and hostile fire claimed 237 RVNAF aircraft in the 23 months following the ceasefire. The losses, especially the toll from preventable accidents, raised the price of equipping and training the RVNAF. Support for the RVNAF cost US$382 million in Fiscal year 1974, excluding the cost of munitions, more than the combined cost for the ARVN and the Republic of Vietnam Navy. The RVNAF also required the services of 1,540 employees of contractors, compared with 723 for the ARVN and 61 for the Navy. Of 466 civilian employees of the US government assigned to aid the South Vietnamese armed forces, 202 worked with the RVNAF. [8] : 415–6

General Murray suggested some basic remedies to correct the failings he described. Besides an emphasis on flight safety, he proposed reducing costs by consolidating the RVNAF inventory, perhaps eliminating the T-37 and T-41 trainers and using just one type for FACs. He also would encourage commanders to choose the cheaper-to-operate A–37 over the F–5 whenever such a choice was possible. To reduce combat losses, he suggested fitting some A–37s and F–5s with radar homing and warning gear to alert pilots that they were being tracked by radar-controlled antiaircraft weapons. [8] : 416

In August 1974 the DAO recommended a substantial reduction in RVNAF training in the United States in order to save costs. 318 crew in training would return to Vietnam between August and December 1974, while 347 crew would stay to complete their training. [16] : 445–6 By November 1974 RVNAF flying hours had been reduced from 672,000 to 345,500. [16] : 433

Quangtri in Ruins After Battles

QUANGTRI, South Viet nam, Sept. 29 — What the South Vietnamese marines captured here more than two weeks ago was not Quangtri city, nor the Quangtri Citadel. It was an unrecognizable wasteland of smashed build ings and craters.

The marines entered it on Sept. 15, after the Americans with their bombing and the North Vietnamese with their shelling had reduced Quang tri to ruins.

The enemy soldiers who took the provincial capital in a few hours last May 1 have now been driven north across the Thach Han, a river, and in the last week have not even been firing shells at the ma rines camped in the ruins. The Government troops are awaiting orders to, drive the enemy back even farther, and the North Vietnamese cam paign here now seems to have been decisively beaten at last.

The Government's control over what used to be a city of 35,000 people now seems assured. But what will be come of those people, and of the nearly 300,000 others who fled Quangtri Province last spring, is not nearly so certain.

Most of them are huddled in wretched squalor in the refugee camps at Danang, 60 miles to the south. They know little of what has hap pened to their homes, or of the horror the war has brought there.

The entrance to Quangtri city from the south is by Le Huan Street, which got its name from a South Vietnam ese Army colonel who died in one of the fiercest battles of last year's operation into Laos. A sign still marks it but otherwise it and all the other streets of Quangtri are unrecognizable, indistinguish able from the rubble.

The Citadel, only six months ago a splendid if crumbling 19th‐century for tress with thick red‐brick walls surrounded by a moat, is no more. It is possible to see where the walls stood, but they are chewed up and broken by the force of count less 750‐ and 2,000‐pound bombs that American planes dropped between late June and September to enable South Vietnamese troops to fight their way back in.

Inside the walls nothing— not one tree, no building, not even a bunker—is left stand ing.

Outside, stretching east, west, and south as far as the town once did, there is noth ing but rubble, bomb craters and shredded trees.

The marines who reoccu pied the town this September put up yellow South Vietnam ese flags on the shattered telephone poles, because al most nothing else stands higher than a man in Quang tri city now.

The American advisory team compound, once noted for its excellent food, movie theater, library and swim ming pool is a shattered mess. This correspondent had been there many times in the past, but recognized it only by accident, coming upon the burned wreckage of a heli copter, which identified the compound's landing pad.

There are no civilians in Quangtri. They have not been permitted to come back yet, Army troops are scavenging the wreckage, for goods to sell—bits of copper wire, per sonal belongings left behind in the houses by the civilians who fled—but little remains. The North Vietnamese shell ing and intensive American bombing have so riddled the wreckage that even pieces of debris are raked with shrap nel holes.

Route I from Hue to Quang tri passes through a 10‐mile stretch of sand dunes that has become known as the Avenue of Horror.

It got its name from the appalling losses inflicted on the fleeing South Vietnamese troops and civilians who were rushing toward safety but found themselves in a gantlet along the highway last spring.

Many of the corpses lay unburied for months, and a Saigon newspaper, Song Thanh, held a fund‐raising campaign called “A grave for the dead.” With the money it raised, it has buried 384 corpses, according to Nguyen Kinh Chau, the paper's bu reau chief in Hue.

Mr. Chau was in Quangtri today, along with civilian vol unteers for the project. He had a dozen clear plastic bags draped over his left arm.

“We just pick up the dead and bury all we can find, whether they are civilians, military or Communist sol diers,” he said, as he directed his group into what had been Quangtri high school.

Wherever they turned, they found corpses. The men laid out the plastic bags on the ground and set about try ing to put the remains in side. Each of the dead was in the uniform of a North Vietnamese soldier.

Mrs. Tran Thi Sau is a young widow who used to live with her four children on Le Van Duyet Street, near the Citadel. Her house was a large brick one that belonged to her mother‐in‐law. Her husband was a soldier who was killed during the 1968 Tel offensive.

Since May, she has been living in a refugee camp in Danang. Her family has a bed in a corrugated‐metal build ing that was built years ago by the United States Marines and later used by American soldiers when the place was called Camp Books. About 100 other people also live in the building, which is about the size of a gas station and is open to the weather on one side.

Mrs. Sau, who said she was feeling ill, complained the other day of conditions in the camp—particularly the bad quality of the rice, which the Government was inexplicably weeks late in providing in September. What was finally forthccoming, at the end of the month, was broken and, in her words, “fit only for pigs.”

Speaking of Quangtri, she said: “As long as the situa tion up there is unsettled, then we will have to stay here, even for a long time. We are waiting for Govern ment permission to go back. If we went now, without a Government order, we would lose our rice ration and might be arrested on the way up. But we have to go back. It is our ancestors' land.

“The soldiers told us all the houses near the Citadel were destroyed,” she went on. “But if your husband was buried there, would you not go back?”

In mid‐June, before the South Vietnamese began their attempts to retake Quangtri city, American officials in Danang said that there had been relatively little damage inflicted on it.

But since then, American planes undertook one of the heaviest bombardments of the war in support of the drive to retake Quangtri. Is sues of South Vietnamese newspapers were confiscated when they reported the in formation that there had been 1,600 B‐,52 strikes and 17,000 tactical air strikes in Quang tri Province. The Government has concentrated on publiciz ing the victory at Quangtri but ignoring its costs.

The casualty figures on both sides are appalling. The North Vietnamese are said by allied officials to have lost more than 42,000 killed in the campaign in the two northern provinces of Viet nam since March 30.

South Vietnamese losses this summer alone—since the start of the drive to retake Quangtri on June 28—are about 16,000 killed and 40, 000 wounded. The North Viet namese lost nearly all the 130‐mm artillery pieces they had at the beginning of their campaign last spring, United States Air Force officers say, and also lost more than 500 armored vehicles, while sim ilar South Vietnamese losses have all been replaced by the Americans.

North Vietnamese forces have now apparently moved north, and a battleground ap pears likely to develop soon around the combat base at Aitu just north of Quangtri city and at the town of Dongha, which President Nguyen Van Thieu on his visit to Quangtri in mid‐Sep tember conceded would be more or less a permanent field of combat.

At the Books refugee camp in Deming, the commander, Maj. Nguyen Van Rao, said: “We are encouraging people to move south rather than to think strongly of going back up there. The Government is working on a plan to let peo ple go back to southeastern Quangtri Province, but the northern part—that is much more difficult.”

Nguyen Chiem, a farmer from Hailang district in Quangtri, said: “We have nothing now except our bare hands. Our houses and rice fields have all been de stroyed. Now it all depends on the Government. If they tell us to go back, then we will go back. If they tell us to stay here, then we will stay. If they tell us to go south for resettlement then we will go. If the Govern ment helps us then we will rebuild what has been de stroyed. If it does not help, then we will just have to manage.”

South Vietnamese forces retake Quang Tri City - HISTORY

By early 1972, Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization" was well underway: South Vietnamese forces had begun to assume greater military responsibility for defense against the North, and US troops were well into their drawdown, with some 25,000 personnel still present in the South. When North Vietnam launched its massive Easter Offensive against the South in late March 1972 (the first invasion effort since the Tet Offensive of 1968), its scale and ferocity caught the US high command off balance. The inexperienced South Vietnamese soldiers manning the area south of Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone in former US bases, plus the US Army and Marines Corps advisors and forces present, had to counter a massive conventional combined-arms invasion.

The North's offensive took place simultaneously across three fronts: Quang Tri, Kontum, and An Loc. In I Corps Tactical Zone, the PAVN tanks and infantry quickly captured Quang Tri City and overran the entire province, as well as northern Thua Thien. However, the ARVN forces regrouped along the My Chanh River, and backed by US airpower tactical strikes and bomber raids, managed to halt the PAVN offensive, before retaking the city in a bloody counteroffensive. Based on primary sources and published accounts of those who played a direct role in the events, this book provides a highly detailed analysis of this key moment in the Vietnam conflict. Although the South's forces managed to withstand their greatest trial thus far, the North gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives and improved its bargaining position at the Paris peace negotiations.

On 30 March 1972 the PAVN launched the Easter Offensive against South Vietnam. In Quảng Trị Province by early April South Vietnamese forces succeeded in halting the PAVN advance at Đông Hà. By 28 April the PAVN had surrounded Quảng Trị and begun shelling the city and the only escape route was along Highway 1 with almost the entire population of 20,000 fleeing the city. [1] [2] [3]

South Vietnamese civilians began fleeing Quảng Trị on foot and on any available vehicles forming columns up to 3 miles (4.8 km) long. At the same time PAVN armored and infantry units from the 324th Division moved south of Quảng Trị on either side of Highway 1 periodically firing on the Highway. [3]

The largest group of refugees assembled in Quảng Trị for evacuation early on 29 April, although three quarters of the people in the convoy were civilians, 95 percent of the vehicles in the column were military the majority were two and one-half ton trucks plus a considerable number of flatbeds, tankers, small trucks, jeeps and 15 ambulances. The convoy had gone approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) south on Highway 1, to the vicinity of Hải Lăng District. At this point, the convoy came under attack by PAVN direct and indirect fire. Lead vehicles were stopped immediately and mass confusion ensued. The overstretched Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 3rd Division had failed to organise flank security for the convoy allowing the PAVN to attack, inflicting a physical and psychological blow on the South Vietnamese civilians and military. [4] : 41–2

On 1 May the 3rd Division commander gave the order to abandon Quảng Trị and all remaining ARVN forces and civilians abandoned the city and fled south along Highway 1 under fire from the PAVN. Burning trucks, armored vehicles, civilian buses and cars jammed the Highway and forced all traffic off the road in a scene that the South Vietnamese press dubbed the "Highway of Horror". [5] A PAVN corporal with a mortar unit reported, "The people were moving on bicycles, motorbikes and buses. No one was able to escape." A solid wall of military and civilian rolling stock of every description, bumper-to-bumper and three vehicles abreast remained on the road. Personal effects, individual equipment and bodies were piled in the vehicles and lay strewn alongside, and to the east, where individuals had attempted to flee to safety. [6]

The Washington Post reported on 2 May that a PAVN regimental command post south of Quảng Trị was surrounded by captured refugees being used as human shields against Allied attacks. [7]

The official PAVN history states that "Accurate fire from our long-range artillery positions created added terror among the enemy troops. Route 1 from Quảng Trị to northern Thua Thien province became a "highway of death" for the enemy." [8]

During the Second Battle of Quảng Trị, South Vietnamese forces advanced from their positions on the My Chanh Line northwest of Huế and succeeded in recapturing most of Quảng Trị Province. With the area under South Vietnamese control, South Vietnamese and international reporters were able to access the area in early July and see the destruction that had taken place two months previously. [2]

Estimates vary of the total number of civilians killed, South Vietnamese journalists Dương Phục and Vũ Thanh Thủy estimated 5,000 killed, while Red Cross officials placed the death toll at 2,000, including women, children and elderly and sick evacuees from Quảng Trị hospitals. [2] [4] : 41

North Vietnamese Army’s 1972 Eastertide Offensive

Thirteen years after the North Vietnamese government’s Resolution 15, in January 1959, set in motion the armed struggle to conquer South Vietnam, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) General Vo Nguyen Giap believed he had found the elusive ‘center of gravity’ he had been searching for. Four years earlier, with the Tet Offensive of 1968, he had thought it was the relationship between the South Vietnamese people and their government. But the ‘Great General Uprising’ he had counted on never materialized, and his Viet Cong (VC) guerrilla auxiliaries were annihilated in the process.

But this time it would be different. Since that debacle, the United States had begun a process of what it called ‘Vietnamization’ — i.e., turning the war over to a rearmed and equipped South Vietnamese military while the Americans gradually withdrew. Beginning in 1969, U.S. Army and Marine combat divisions began leaving Vietnam. By 1970, both Marine divisions had departed, and by 1972 American in-country strength had fallen from a peak of 550,000 to some 75,000. The only U.S. Army ground combat units left in Vietnam were the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). U.S. Air Force and naval units had been drawn down as well.

It appeared that a classic center of gravity had been created — the relationship between South Vietnam and its American ally. Not only had the majority of U.S. military forces been withdrawn but American congressional and public opinion had shifted dramatically against the war, and the chance of U.S. reintervention appeared to be nil. All that remained was for the NVA to administer the coup de grace.

And that’s what their Operation Nguyen Hue was designed to do. Better known as the ‘Eastertide Offensive,’ it dropped all pretense of guerrilla war. Instead, it was a three-pronged multidivision NVA cross-border invasion, well supported by tanks and heavy artillery. General Giap committed six NVA divisions to the attack in I Corps in the northern portion of South Vietnam. Another three NVA divisions were ordered to strike in II Corps in central South Vietnam, and yet another NVA/VC three-division force would attack in III Corps north of Saigon.

For the I Corps attack, the elite 308th Division, a veteran of Dien Bien Phu, and the 304th Division were poised to move into Quang Tri province while the 324B Division had the follow-on task of attacking the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) positions of the 1st Division west of Hue City. In the weeks before the invasion, the NVA was busy setting up an extensive anti-aircraft network around their staging areas north of the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam) to protect their vulnerable second echelon forces and logistical trains from expected U.S. airstrikes. In February 1972, the NVA in the DMZ fired more than 50 Soviet-made SA-2 SAM missiles, shooting down three U.S. F-4s.

On March 30, 1972, the three NVA divisions crossed the DMZ into the northern part of South Vietnam, to be joined, by the end of April, by an additional three divisions. Facing them was the recently activated 3rd ARVN Division, composed of a combination of other ARVN units and local forces. The 3rd Division was generally responsible for the defense of Quang Tri province, and two of its three regiments, the 56th and 57th, had been activated less than six months before, with only the 2nd Regiment, recently transferred from the crack 1st ARVN Division, having any real combat experience. The two newer regiments occupied a series of hilltop strongpoints and fire support bases immediately south of the DMZ overlooking all the main access routes. Preceding the attack, NVA long-range artillery and rockets rained on all of the outposts of the 3rd Division. As bad luck would have it, two of the 3rd Division’s regiments were in the process of exchanging positions at that exact time, and as the salvos of NVA artillery started to come down, they caught thousands of ARVN soldiers in the open. The three NVA divisions, supported with tanks and self-propelled artillery on a scale never seen before in Vietnam, crossed the DMZ along the Ben Hai River and drove south into Quang Tri province.

The untested 3rd Division units, trained only for dealing with enemy infiltration, were not psychologically prepared to handle the massed-artillery fire upon their positions, let alone to face the waves of enemy tanks. Key units, particularly the command and logistical units in the rear, panicked and broke at the first explosions of enemy artillery. Especially painful was the poor performance of the ARVN artillery batteries located along the series of hilltops and firebases south of the DMZ. Given the task of providing critically needed fire support and counterbattery missions, the Vietnamese gunners took shelter against the NVA artillery instead of remaining at their guns. The low overcast weather initially precluded any effective South Vietnamese or American air support, so the only fire support came from a U.S. destroyer located a few miles off the coast in the Gulf of Tonkin.

By the second day of Nguyen Hue, the situation along the DMZ was critical. The general confusion and the tendency of the ARVN field commanders to downplay their bad fortune led both South Vietnamese and U.S. senior military officials in Saigon initially to dismiss the invasion across the DMZ as a diversionary attack and to believe that the real thrust of the anticipated North Vietnamese offensive would occur in the Central Highlands farther south.

By April 2, the NVA had overrun all of the DMZ firebases and turned their sights next toward the provincial capital of Quang Tri. With South Vietnamese forces in full retreat, critical intelligence on the route and disposition of NVA forces was lost, forcing the U.S. Air Force to maintain continuous air coverage over the 3rd Division’s entire area of operation. Following a series of small clashes on the outskirts of Quang Tri on April 27, the North Vietnamese launched a multi-pronged drive against the Dong Ha-Quang Tri area.

The lack of South Vietnamese aggressiveness up to this point produced a lull on the battlefield, allowing the NVA to reorganize their forces and replace the heavy losses they had sustained from U.S. airstrikes. The NVA took advantage of the bad flying weather to strike when tactical air power would be least effective. Following an artillery and mortar barrage, the North Vietnamese took Dong Ha on April 28, forcing the South Vietnamese defenders to retreat into the Quang Tri citadel. There, the ARVN continued their defensive actions while airmen took advantage of clearing skies to mount concentrated airstrikes — as many as 200 sorties per day.

The next day, the equivalent of four NVA divisions mounted their final advance on Quang Tri. In the face of massive artillery attacks (over 4,500 rounds fell on the city in one day) and tank-supported infantry attacks, the South Vietnamese defenders broke and ran, leaving substantial quantities of weapons and supplies intact. The green 56th Regiment surrendered to the Communists, forcing its two American advisers to make their escape by helicopter.

On May 1, in the face of the NVA onslaught, all South Vietnamese military forces abandoned Quang Tri. Communist troops then continued to move farther south, putting themselves in a position to threaten Hue from the west and southwest. The contingent of South Vietnamese Marines sharing the defense of Quang Tri had withdrawn in an orderly fashion, but the 3rd ARVN Division completely fell apart during the retreat.

While allied tactical air pounded the NVA positions to great effect, the South Vietnamese forces, led by a proven commander, General Ngo Quang Troung, reorganized around Hue and launched several successful spoiling attacks against Communist forces poised to move on the old capital city. The North Vietnamese did make several drives on Hue in later May, the most notable taking place on May 29, but it failed when the South Vietnamese, though outnumbered, pushed the North Vietnamese back across the Perfume River. Unable to take Hue, and reeling under the destructive weight of U.S. B-52 strikes, the North Vietnamese withdrew from their position in northern South Vietnam. On June 28, Troung’s forces advanced north and fought to take Quang Tri.

Meanwhile, the NVA had launched the second effort of their battle plan in II Corps in the Central Highlands. The NVA 320th Division, supported by tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, swept across the Laotian border and advanced on the city of Kontum, badly mauling the 22nd ARVN Division in the process. The 22nd Division was split between the Highlands and the coast, where it still had area security missions, and was more or less chopped up in detail (i.e., defeated one unit at a time).

The NVA 320th Division attacked more than a dozen ARVN outposts southwest of Kontum and blocked Routes 14 and 19. The NVA were able to occupy the northern part of the coastal province of Binh Dinh and capture Dak To in the highland province of Kontum, before moving on the city of Kontum itself and surrounding it. In Kontum, the newly assigned commander of defenses for the region, Colonel Ly Tong Ba, found it nearly impossible to control the many diverse units under his command. He had a mixed bag of airborne, ranger, territorial and armored forces, as well as one regiment of his own 23rd Division.

The first major drive on Kontum itself occurred on the morning of May 14. Battalion-sized units of NVA soldiers supported by two columns of tanks attacked from the north and northwest. South Vietnamese defenders, using hand-held anti-tank weapons and supported by fighter-bombers, were able to deal with the tanks and held their ground. Similar attacks were launched and subsequently broken up by the Kontum defenders and by U.S. and South Vietnamese air power over the next several days. Of particular help against the North Vietnamese tanks was the introduction of the TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) anti-tank missile. These missiles, launched from U.S. Army helicopters and guided to their targets by the pilots, gave the allies a great advantage by being able to pick off the NVA tanks as they moved in to attack. Of the first 101 firings, 89 scored direct hits on enemy tanks and trucks. Through June 12, the U.S. Army claimed 26 tank kills by the helicopter-launched missiles, including at least 11 T-54s in the Kontum area.

As each enemy attack was repulsed, the morale of the Kontum defenders grew while the North Vietnamese Army commanders became increasingly frustrated by their lack of progress. Pressing their attack, the NVA units surrounding Kontum laid siege to the city, dropping more than 1,000 rounds of artillery and rockets onto the defenders, and were able to seize parts of the city and close down the airport, necessitating the resupply of the defenders by helicopter. Finally, unable to break the ARVN resistance and devastated by tactical airstrikes and especially the B-52 raids, the North Vietnamese pulled away from Kontum during the first half of June. Sporadic fighting continued, but by mid-July, the highway connecting Kontum and Pleiku was cleared, and armed convoys were once again able to travel between the two cities.

The third prong of the NVA attack began on April 2, as the enemy 5th Division, composed of both Viet Cong and NVA units, rolled into northern Tay Ninh province in III Corps and attacked the fire support base at Lac Long. Within two days the Communists had effective control of key positions in the province and were able to direct their attention to their main objectives, the towns and airfields in Loc Ninh, An Loc and Quan Loi, along with positions astride Highway 13, the main highway connecting the region with Saigon. As elsewhere, the Communists? main objectives were to establish a regional government and to better position themselves for subsequent ‘peace’ talks. The city of Loc Ninh, located close to the Cambodian border, fell within a couple of days and subsequently became the capital of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRGSVN), a distinction it held until it was disbanded by the North Vietnamese after the war.

After securing that city, the NVA drove on to their main military objective, the small provincial capital of An Loc, to which most of the ARVN units in the region had withdrawn. Here the city was probed by the enemy 9th Division, while the 7th Division, a mixture of Viet Cong and NVA, successfully blocked Route 13 about 25 kilometers to the south. On April 13, with their escape route effectively cut off, the town’s five ARVN regiments and about 10,000 civilians found themselves under a siege that would last for 95 days.

Supported by U.S. B-52 airstrikes and U.S. and South Vietnamese tactical airstrikes, the defenders at An Loc were able to hold out as American air power effectively broke up the NVA troop concentrations around the city. A captured letter, handwritten by the political commissar of the NVA’s 9th Division to his higher headquarters, reported that the allied tactical air and V-52 strikes had been unbelievably devastating. Finally, the Communist forces lifted their siege on July 11 and withdrew to their base areas in Cambodia.

For the United States, and especially for President Richard Nixon, the invasion could not have come at a worse time. Enjoying foreign policy successes abroad but a shaky economy at home, the president would just as soon not have had to deal with the Vietnam issue. Politically, as General Giap had foreseen, it was impossible to reintroduce sufficient U.S. combat troops to stem the NVA drive. The major U.S. contribution to the South Vietnamese effort, besides political and materiel support, would be fire support in the form of naval gunfire from U.S ships off the Vietnamese coast and, most important, air power.

The diminishing U.S. role in the Vietnam War during this period of Vietnamization had left U.S. air assets at a fraction of their past strength in Southeast Asia. Before the offensive started, three squadrons of F-4 fighter-bombers and a single squadron of A-37 attack aircraft made up the U.S. Air Force’s presence in Vietnam, a total of 76 planes. United States Navy and Marine aviation assets located in-country and off the coast of Vietnam augmented this total.

With his reputation and his policy of Vietnamization at stake, Nixon implemented a massive buildup of air power in Southeast Asia and a broadening of the eligible targets. On April 6, U.S. fighter-bombers raided military targets 100 kilometers north of the demilitarized zone. As the available air assets made their strikes both in support of the beleaguered ARVN units and against targets in North Vietnam, squadrons of U.S. military aircraft redeployed from their bases in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the U.S. mainland. Simultaneously, more aircraft carriers steamed toward Vietnam to join the two already on station there, until by late spring there were six aircraft carriers, each with approximately 90 craft, operating off the coast.

The bolstering of the B-52 fleet at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and U-Tapao in Thailand was particularly valuable. During February of 1972, when the United States started receiving reports of the massing of NVA forces, Strategic Air Command returned B-52s and KC-135 tankers to the Pacific from five Stateside bases. Besides offsetting Communist buildups of men and supplies, the deployments were evidence that the United States would not stand idly by during a major North Vietnamese attack.

U.S. tactical air power was stemming the tide of the Communist invasion, but it was not turning it back. While the ARVN ground forces were holding, they were in no shape to drive the NVA from South Vietnam. If the United States was going to stop North Vietnam, it would have to greatly increase its pressure. Instead of concentrating on the tactical situation on the battlefield, the United States would have to hit the North on a strategic scale.

In May 1972, Nixon went on national television to tell the American people that to bring the North Vietnam government to the peace table, the United States would take the appropriate steps to terminate the North’s ability to continue the war. Major among these steps included mining all North Vietnamese ports, interdicting supplies to the North by U.S. forces, cutting rail and communication lines and resuming bombing in the North.

Operation Pocket Money, the mining of North Vietnam’s ports, commenced on May 9. U.S. Navy A-6 bombers sowed the waters with sophisticated mines set to activate on May 11, giving the many ships in Vietnamese harbors, including 16 from the Soviet Union, time to vacate. Only five actually left, and several ships, including Soviet ones, were subsequently damaged. Since during the previous year up to 85 percent of all imports had arrived through the port of Haiphong, including all oil, this was a devastatingly effective blockade.

Cutting rail and communication lines and interdicting land-based supplies was accomplished to much greater effect than during attempts earlier in the war. This was due mainly to the introduction of precision-guided munitions, commonly referred to in the press as’smart bombs.’ These weapons, dropped from aircraft and then guided to their target by the pilot using either television or lasers, allowed a pinpoint accuracy never before enjoyed on the battlefield. Key targets previously restricted because of their proximity to foreign borders or civilian areas could now be attacked.

The Soviet-built Lang Chi hydroelectric plant, located 63 miles northwest of Hanoi on the Red River, was capable of supplying up to 75 percent of Hanoi’s electricity, but breaching its dam could drown as many as 23,000 civilians. On June 10, F-4 laser bombers put 12 Mk .84s through the 50-by-100-foot roof of the main building, destroying the plant’s turbines and generators without putting a crack in the dam.

Stiff South Vietnamese defenses at An Loc and Kontum, a spirited counterattack around Quang Tri, and the crippling effect of U.S. air power brought the offensive to a standstill by early summer. The North Vietnamese abandoned their sieges of Kontum and An Loc by mid-June. In September, South Vietnamese forces were able to recapture the remnants of the city of Quang Tri from a token Communist force. In the end, the North Vietnamese forces were able to hold on to only two district towns, Loc Ninh and Dong Ha.

By the end of the summer of 1972, both the Hanoi government and the Nixon administration were feeling the urge to compromise. The Communists? grasp at decisive victory had fallen short — its ports remained effectively blocked, and its two major allies in the Communist world stood apart from the battle in the name of better relations with the United States.

The invasion of 1972 saw the first enemy use of massed armor coordinated with infantry and artillery in a fashion that the American generals, trained in European-style mechanized warfare, would be quite familiar with. In fact, the overt invasion by the North proved to be the opportunity that American military and planners had long dreamed of: to lure the elusive Communists into the open in a conventional, setpiece battle. Only in this type of conflict could the United States? huge advantage in firepower and mobility be effectively exploited.

The North Vietnamese had a big battlefield edge over the South because of their artillery. The North Vietnamese deployed three regiments of artillery totaling several hundred guns to go along with the equivalent of two tank regiments and 17 infantry regiments. The Soviet-made 130mm cannon could do much damage. It had an effective standoff range of 27,500 meters and could outgun practically every artillery piece in both the U.S. and U.S.-equipped South Vietnamese armies.

In terms of equipment, the South Vietnamese were equivalent, if in some areas not superior, to their brothers in the North. The major problem that ARVN suffered from was leadership, especially at the higher levels. Too often during the battle, as well as throughout the war, the battalion, regimental and divisional commanders suffered from indecision at crucial moments. The field commanders also exhibited a lack of aggressiveness and initiative on the battlefield, preferring to let U.S. and South Vietnamese air power take on enemy forces rather than engage them themselves.

The Vietnamese extreme concern with’saving face’ also contributed to their unwillingness to take chances or to take personal responsibility for their actions. This belief probably contributed to the early successes of the North Vietnamese since the ARVN leadership was reluctant to report the reality of the situation.

This poor leadership translated directly into poor morale among the front-line soldiers who would have to fight and die if the South Vietnamese forces would turn back the invaders. Despite that disadvantage, however, in the end the ARVN, encouraged by the presence of U.S. air support, held.

As the offensive petered out, the North Vietnam government and military had to take stock of what their effort had won them and what it had cost them. Analysts estimate that between 50,000 and 75,000 NVA died as a result of Operation Nguyen Hue. As many or more were wounded, and massive materiel losses included more than 700 tanks.

Giap had made a major miscalculation, one that would cost him his job. History would later show that the entire Eastertide Offensive probably was not necessary. If the North Vietnamese had waited another year or two until the United States had completely disengaged from Vietnam, and then invaded, they would probably have been successful. The collapse of the South Vietnamese army in 1975 showed all too plainly the frailty of the ‘Vietnamized’ South Vietnam once the United States was not there to offer its support.

This article was written by James Moore and originally published in the February 1992 issue of Vietnam Magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today!

Attack on Quang Tri City During the Vietnam War

Creeping unseen into Quang Tri, the 20 elite commandos of the Communist sapper platoon struck at 0200 hours on January 31, 1968, hitting critical points throughout the city. The surprise assault was the spearpoint of a larger attack on the northernmost province of South Vietnam North Vietnamese Army infantry was poised just outside city limits. The capture of Quang Tri City would open an avenue of attack straight through the strategically important city of Hue.

The Communist high command, as well as many in the American news media, expected the supposedly unmotivated, poorly led South Vietnamese soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who were defending the city of Quang Tri to just melt away. Instead, the ARVN troops stayed, fought and held the city. Like the GIs at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, the South Vietnamese paratroopers became a breakwater against the Communist flood, resisting and waiting for relief. They held the fort until, as in the old American West, cavalry troopers rode to the rescue — this time with the snarl of rotor blades.

Capital of the province of the same name, Quang Tri was about 20 kilometers south of the DMZ, along the east bank of the Thach Han River. The city, which was the largest of the province, developed into a major communication and logistics center during the war. It was situated on the national coastal highway, Highway 1, squeezed between provincial roads 560 on the west and 555 on the east. The road network, north-south and east-west corridors, passed through Quang Tri. Square-shaped with a citadel, Quang Tri City stood like a miniature of Hue, the old imperial capital. More important, Quang Tri was located only 45 miles north of Hue. Quang Tri was built on the coastal plain, and thus vulnerable to attack from all directions. Despite the presence of U.S. Marine and Army units in I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ), the defense of the small city lay in the hands of the ARVN 1st Division.

The 1st Division had operated around Hue since the unit’s establishment. Many Americans considered it the best division in the ARVN. Like the heavy armor divisions of the U.S. Army during World War II, the ARVN 1st Division was an exception to the standard military organization. Each regiment had four battalions instead of the standard three.

Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Lam, a quality officer and a veteran, was the commanding general of I Corps. The Quang Tri province chief, Lt. Col. Nguyen Am, had formerly been commander of the ARVN 1st Infantry Regiment, which was stationed at Quang Tri. Am’s former relationship with the unit would pay dividends in the coming battle.

American advisers rated the 1st Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu Hanh, as the weakest in the 1st Division. The U.S. 3rd Marine Division, in a report toward the end of 1967, noted that ‘Hanh had a mediocre reputation but was not incompetent.’ At the start of 1968 the 1st Infantry Regiment was participating in the Revolutionary Development program, to which Hanh had committed two battalions. These were scattered and immersed throughout numerous villages north and northwest of Quang Tri. To compensate, Lam had attached the ARVN 9th Airborne Battalion to Hanh’s command.

Activated October 1, 1965, the 9th Airborne Battalion was part of the ARVN 1st Airborne Brigade. The paratroopers were all volunteers, with nine weeks of intensive combat training at the Airborne Training Center, capped by a three-week jump school at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. The airborne troops were high-quality veterans who received better pay, rations, weapons, quarters and family benefits than the common ARVN soldier. Hanh also had additional units available for the city’s defense. A National Police Field Force company was quartered in the city proper. The 1st Regiment’s armored personnel carrier squadron was stationed inside Quang Tri, and Regional and Popular Forces were available as well.

Hanh deployed his forces to screen the city. His 2nd and 3rd battalions conducted security missions north and northwest of the city, while the 9th Airborne Battalion quartered northeast of the city in the Catholic hamlet of Tri Buu. The 1st Battalion, along with the APC squadron, guarded military installations in Quang Tri’s western suburbs. The National Police patrolled throughout the city proper. The 1st Regiment’s CP was established at La Vang, east of Highway 1.

The U.S. Marines had been operating in I CTZ since 1965. The 3rd Marine Division covered all of Quang Tri Province. With units spread along the DMZ and Highway 1, together with their commitment to pacification operations and the defense of the Khe Sanh firebase, the Marines were stretched thin. As the official Marine Corps history describes the situation: ‘The 3rd Marine Division had no men to spare for the defense of Quang Tri City, which was an ARVN responsibility. Marines deployed units out to mortar and sniper range to screen vital areas of the city.’

Just prior to Tet, General William Westmoreland took major steps to reinforce I Corps. After assessing both intelligence reports and captured enemy documents, Westmoreland believed the primary threat was in the extreme north. Associated Press reported Westmoreland’s thinking on January 17, 1968: ‘Westmoreland said he expects the next major Communist campaign in the northernmost I Corps areas, primarily in Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces, just below the DMZ.’

Westmoreland planned to move his ‘First Team,’ the entire 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), into I Corps. The division’s 3rd Brigade was already there, attached to the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. The 1st Brigade, at Bong Son, received orders on January 17 to move into the Hue–Phu Bai area on January 25, it shifted farther north into the Quang Tri area. The 2nd Brigade, meanwhile, remained committed to an operation in the Binh Dinh area, and Westmoreland attached the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division to the 1st Cavalry Division.

Colonel Donald V. Rattan commanded the 1st Air Cav’s 1st Brigade. Since the perceived threat in the province focused on the border regions, he did not receive the mission to secure the city. Rattan was in constant communication with the American provincial adviser, Robert Brewer, who helped coordinate the actions of the South Vietnamese and American units as well as the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support program.

Rattan positioned his battalions south and west of Quang Tri City. The 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry (1-8), covered Fire Base Area 101, west of Quang Tri. The 5th Battalion, 502nd Infantry (5-502), from the 101st Airborne Division, covered Landing Zone Betty, about three miles southwest of Quang Tri, while 1-12 and 1-5 cavalry were left a free hand to maneuver against any enemy forces. As the American and Vietnamese units went about the business of pacification, search-and-destroy missions and the improvement of their logistical base, some 21,000 NVA troops in nine regiments were deployed to strike the small city at Tet.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s defense minister and architect of the Tet Offensive, had been preparing for the campaign since the summer of 1967. Giap’s goal was the capture of Hue as the linchpin of the ambitious, war-winning offensive. Like Antwerp in Adolf Hitler’s 1944 Ardennes offensive, Hue was both a political and military target. The direct land route to Hue stretched along the coastal plains on Highway 1. Like Bastogne, Quang Tri was a crucial transportation hub, which had to be taken to facilitate the Communist offensive. Its capture would open an avenue for the B-9 Front, a corps-size force just north of the DMZ, to advance down the coast along Highway 1 to capture Hue.

The plan to overrun Quang Tri called for a joint operation by the NVA and Viet Cong. A platoon from the NVA 10th Sapper Battalion would infiltrate the city at night and hit key spots, just before the main attack by four battalions of the 812th Regiment of the NVA 324B Division, and the VC 814th Battalion. The 324B Division, consisting mainly of volunteers from the south, was rated by American intelligence as one of the NVA’s best units.

Sappers were the elite force of the NVA. It was sapper units that had led the 1954 assault on Dien Bien Phu. Sapper platoons attached to infantry battalions had the mission of clearing obstacles and leading attacks on built-up positions. Trainees in these battalions received as much as three months of special training at a base near Son Tay, North Vietnam, or on the job with their units in the south. Trained to move in complete silence, a sapper unit was an assault engineer force designed to oppose a greater force. Typically, such a unit consisted of a security element, an assault element, a fire support element and a reserve.

The NVA 812th Regiment’s four battalions, K-4, K-5, K-6 and K-8 (detached from the NVA 90th Regiment), consisted of three infantry companies of 130 men each. Along with signal, reconnaissance and heavy weapons support companies, the regiment totaled about 2,600 troops for the assault. The 600-man VC 814th Battalion would strike from the northeast, while the K-4 Battalion would hit from the east and K-6 Battalion from the southeast. The K-8 Battalion screened in the northwest and K-5 Battalion remained as the reserve in the southeast, with the heavy weapons company.

The unexpected insertion of the 1st Cavalry Division into I Corps during January did not cause the NVA to alter their plans. Committed to the all-out assault throughout I Corps, Giap took the gamble. The capture of Quang Tri, with its road network and one of only two large airfields in the province, was essential for the offensive to be able to drive deep into South Vietnam. Throughout January, NVA and VC units meticulously infiltrated close to the cities and towns they would attack. The NVA 812th Regiment first infiltrated into the hamlets and countryside around Quang Tri City, and then sent thousands of ‘local people’ to the city.

This indicator did not go unnoticed by the ARVN. On January 28, General Lam flew to Quang Tri and consulted with Lt. Col. Am. They decided to place the city in a state of emergency and impose martial law. Colonel Am also provided weapons to various cadres and government civil servants. The two officers then waited and watched for the strike they sensed lurking just out of sight.

When the 20 NVA sappers struck Quang Tri on the morning of January 31, they destroyed communications lines and attacked critical points. They intended to create an even bigger advantage for the simultaneous surprise attack of the 812th Regiment. But due to rain, swollen streams and unfamiliarity with the terrain, the K-4 Battalion did not launch its assault until 0420. During the two-hour gap, the South Vietnamese concentrated on the sappers. Local police isolated the sapper platoon and, after a nasty firefight, captured the few remaining survivors. With the elimination of the sappers, Hanh ordered the regular ARVN units to stand-to for the expected assault.

At 0420, rocket and mortar attacks hit bases inside and outside the city. The 812th Regiment attacked along multiple axes. The K-4 Battalion advanced along four routes to penetrate the city and seize key objectives, including the left gate of the city wall, the province section headquarters, the artillery unit compound and the city prison. The K-6 Battalion, advancing between Highway 1 and the railroad, struck the ARVN compound at the La Vang base just south of the city. The VC 814th Battalion struck from the northeast through the small village of Tri Buu. The two remaining battalions, K-5 and K-8, screened southeast and northwest of the city respectively, to ambush and prevent anticipated allied ground reinforcements from interfering.

As the Germans had done during the Battle of the Bulge, the VC attempted to use subterfuge at Quang Tri. Wearing ARVN paratrooper uniforms, VC elements approached the ARVN 9th Airborne Battalion at Tri Buu. The ruse failed when a sharp-eyed ARVN sentry observed that the impostors were wearing sandals instead of government-issue jungle boots. The ARVN paratroopers opened fire, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued. While the VC pressed their attack, the paratroopers gradually withdrew to just outside Tri Buu and re-formed their lines. The 814th Battalion never reached the city limits. Lieutenant General William Pearson later reported, ‘The South Vietnamese airborne decisively engaged the VC and halted the advance.’

East of Quang Tri, the K-4 and K-6 battalions rushed the city walls. They encountered withering fire from the defenders, but the Communists moved forward. As the NVA continued to exert great pressure, the ARVN troops fought for every foot of ground. The 1st Regiment’s 1st Battalion maintained its resistance, as Hanh committed his armored personnel carrier squadron. As the APCs laid down fire support, the ARVN troops gave ground grudgingly. Heavy fighting went on throughout the morning along the city’s edge.

Sheer numbers and effective fire support from their heavy weapons enabled the NVA to edge into the city, as the ARVN 1st Battalion slowly fell back toward the sector headquarters. By noon the outcome of the battle still hung in the balance. The South Vietnamese held on by their fingernails. Communist pressure continually increased. If the NVA committed their other battalions, the defenders would be overwhelmed. The South Vietnamese needed reinforcements as soon as possible, and the only available force was the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Brigade.

Robert Brewer, the Quang Tri senior provincial adviser, choppered into LZ Betty shortly after noon on January 31 to confer with Colonel Rattan at his brigade command post. Brewer urgently requested American units, telling Rattan: ‘The situation is desperate. One enemy battalion has infiltrated inside the ARVN lines. The enemy is reinforcing from the east and has established fire support positions on the east and south fringe of the city.’

Rattan contacted Maj. Gen. John Tolson, commanding general of 1st Cavalry Division, and requested authority to reorient his brigade and attack east of Quang Tri City. The Communists, anticipating such a move, had been rocketing and mortaring LZ Betty since dawn to pin down part of the brigade.

Tolson was the perfect officer to make a decision on how to deploy the relatively new resource of air mobility. Commander of 1st Air Cav since April 1, 1967, Tolson had been the commandant of the U.S. Army Aviation School in 1965 and 1966. He was a West Point graduate of the Class of 1937 and also a veteran of combat jumps in New Guinea, Corregidor and the Philippines during World War II. He had long been on the cutting edge of airmobility development. But the 1st Brigade was limited in maneuver battalions and could engage only one area. It had to be the right point. Tolson immediately approved the request. ‘I agreed with [Rattan’s] assessment,’ he later wrote. ‘I trusted his judgment implicitly.’

Rattan learned from Brewer the most probable enemy location and infiltration routes. Brewer indicated that enemy troops were northeast, east and southeast, and Rattan selected LZs adjacent to the Communist forces. As General Tolson later noted, ‘The LZs were selected for the purpose of reducing the enemy’s reinforcement capability by blocking his avenues of approach and to eliminate his fire support capability by landing in his support areas.’

Meanwhile, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam in Saigon reacted slowly to the initial Communist attacks. It fell to local commanders and individual soldiers to take action in their immediate locations to affect the outcome of the fighting. Working swiftly and efficiently, Rattan’s staff put together a plan and called up the lift assets. Within two hours after the alert, the first slicks touched down almost on top of the NVA battalions.

Like George S. Patton in the Ardennes turning the Third Army 90 degrees in just three days, Rattan redirected his 1st Brigade 180 degrees in just two hours. The 1st Brigade had only two available battalions: 1-12 Cavalry and 1-5 Cavalry. The 1-8 Cavalry was fogged in on its mountaintop base, and the 1-502 Infantry was defending the brigade base. Vaulting over the enemy blocking forces, the two cavalry battalions landed in five locations in the Communist rear. Rattan designated Lt. Col. Daniel French’s 1-12 to land east around the village of Thon An Thai and positioned Lt. Col. Robert Runkle’s 1-5 southeast of Quang Tri City. Priority for lift went to the 1-12. Rattan also asked for, and received, additional divisional air support assets in the form of 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, including aerial rocket artillery.

As the American preparations continued, the ARVN infantry and paratroopers refused to yield. Their relief would come from above. Alerted at 1345, the first skytrooper set foot on the objective LZ at 1555. B/1-12 air assaulted into LZs east of the city. A few minutes later, intense fire met C/1-12 as it came into the hot LZs defended by an enemy company. The battalion’s assault bracketed the heavy weapons supporting the NVA battalion, and the cavalry troopers overran them. The enemy battalion, now wedged between the 1-12 and ARVN 1st Regiment, fought back.

Right behind the 12th Cavalry, the 1-5 landed two companies southeast of Quang Tri, near the village of Thong Thuong Xa, right on top of the K-6 Battalion. As one of the troopers remembered the action: ‘We air assaulted southeast of Quang Tri. We were in the rear of an NVA battalion. The entire company was airmobiled onto one side of Highway 1. We went forward and ran into elements of the 812th NVA Regiment. Along with supporting helicopter gunships, we quickly destroyed this fighting unit.’

The surprised NVA used machine guns, mortars and recoilless rifles against the Americans. The 1st Brigade’s scout helicopters directed aerial rocket artillery fire and called in additional fire from divisional artillery. As the American firepower pounded the enemy forces, it created pandemonium in the K-6 Battalion’s rear.

Struck from above by gunships and artillery, and wedged between the ARVN and the Americans, the K-6 Battalion was shattered as an effective fighting unit. By landing directly on top of the NVA units attacking the city, the cavalry units cut off the support those units were providing to, and receiving from, the Communist infantry inside the city. Relief was on the way. The ARVN defenders knew it as they redoubled their efforts to hold on.

B Company, 1-5, but attached to 1-12, arrived in a relatively calm LZ northeast of Tri Buu. The ARVN airborne troops ‘were in pretty good contact, but holding their own,’ remembered Captain Michael Nawrosky, the company commander. ‘Our company’s position remained quiet for the most part. On two occasions enemy soldiers retreating from Quang Tri and Tri Buu skirted our perimeter. In both cases, we engaged with mortar, M-79s, and machine guns, but had negative assessment that night.’

Allied units blocked the 814th Battalion from striking the LZs from the north or from reaching the city. According to 1st Brigade’s war diary, ‘It was obvious that the NVA were completely unfamiliar with air cavalry techniques of warfare.’

The fighting continued into the afternoon. It was a close-quarter, nasty engagement. The Communist units began to buckle, and the commander of the 812th Regiment made a crucial decision. Instead of committing the K-5 and K-8 Battalions, he decided to withdraw. Around 1900 hours the NVA along the east wall of the city broke contact, leaving behind 29 dead.

North Vietnamese soldiers who had reached the city during the morning now tried to get away among the crowds of civilian refugees. Nawrosky recalled his company discovering two who had ‘donned civilian clothing over their uniforms, thrown away their rifles, and tried to slip through our lines.’ They were caught and taken prisoner.

The shattered, demoralized NVA soldiers now tried to withdraw south to reach the protection of the K-5 Battalion. The airmobile assault had crushed the Communist attack and relieved the ARVN defenders. By nightfall the enemy attempted to escape north and south of the town in small elements. The cavalry troopers pressed the attack throughout the night, and into the morning.

By noon of February 1, the ARVN 1st Regiment finished clearing all the NVA stragglers from Quang Tri, while the 1st Brigade pursued the remnants of 812th Regiment into the hills. The brigade expanded in ever-increasing concentric circles around the city. Rattan was now able to commit the 5-502 Infantry. When he did, A Company hit the jackpot: It found an NVA contingent holed up in a cathedral south of the city. A firefight ensued, and Rattan committed D Company, 1-12, to gain numerical superiority. The engagement resulted in 76 Communists killed. Meanwhile, the ARVN airborne troops, with support from U.S. fixed-wing aircraft, retook Tri Buu on February 1. Rattan continued the pursuit during the first 10 days of February. When the operation concluded, the ARVN 9th Airborne Battalion and the American units were shifted to the fighting at Hue. Communist losses at Quang Tri amounted to 86 captured and 914 dead, of which 553 were killed by ARVN forces. General Earl Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later commented that ‘it was touch and go’ — but Quang Tri was saved.

The swift intervention of the 1st Cavalry Division had prevented Hanoi from achieving one of its major objectives for the Tet Offensive — the capture of a provincial capital and a transportation hub that would have allowed the Communists to commit their mobile reserves deeper into the countryside. In the process, their overall offensive timetable in I Corps was completely disrupted.

The reasons for the allied victory included the tenacious defense of Quang Tri City by the ARVN forces, the accurate evaluation of the tactical situation by Rattan and Brewer and the airmobile capabilities of the 1st Cavalry Division. The South Vietnamese performed above expectations. As Maj. Gen. Phillip Davidson, Westmoreland’s J-2, evaluated the South Vietnamese afterward: ‘The ARVN troops did not surrender or defect, and the South Vietnamese people refused to join the enemy even in towns where the Communist held temporary sway.’

The ARVN performance had been absolutely crucial. In this, the unexpected and tenacious resistance of the poorly regarded, outnumbered ARVN 1st Regiment was the center of gravity that formed the base for commitment of U.S. airmobile forces. Rattan’s quick but correct assessment of the situation was also a key factor. The air cavalry’s vastly superior mobility had introduced a new factor to warfare. Although it was deployed in the north by Westmoreland only weeks before the outbreak of Tet, the outcome might have been different if the 1st Cavalry Division had been a conventional infantry or mechanized unit. As at Bastogne, where American armored columns provided the relief to a besieged town, so too did the helicopters of the 1st Cavalry Division provide the relief at Quang Tri during Tet.

This article was written by James Marino and originally published in the February 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today.

By early 1972, Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization" was well underway: South Vietnamese forces had begun to assume greater military responsibility for defense against the North, and US troops were well into their drawdown, with some 25,000 personnel still present in the South. When North Vietnam launched its massive Easter Offensive against the South in late March 1972 (the first invasion effort since the Tet Offensive of 1968), its scale and ferocity caught the US high command off balance. The inexperienced South Vietnamese soldiers manning the area south of Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone in former US bases, plus the US Army and Marines Corps advisors and forces present, had to counter a massive conventional combined-arms invasion.

The North's offensive took place simultaneously across three fronts: Quang Tri, Kontum, and An Loc. In I Corps Tactical Zone, the PAVN tanks and infantry quickly captured Quang Tri City and overran the entire province, as well as northern Thua Thien. However, the ARVN forces regrouped along the My Chanh River, and backed by US airpower tactical strikes and bomber raids, managed to halt the PAVN offensive, before retaking the city in a bloody counteroffensive. Based on primary sources and published accounts of those who played a direct role in the events, this book provides a highly detailed analysis of this key moment in the Vietnam conflict. Although the South's forces managed to withstand their greatest trial thus far, the North gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives and improved its bargaining position at the Paris peace negotiations.
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By early 1972, Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was well underway: South Vietnamese forces had begun to assume greater military responsibility for defense against the North, and US troops were well into their drawdown, with some 25,000 personnel still present in the South. When North Vietnam launched its massive Easter Offensive against the South in late March 1972 (the first invasion effort since the Tet Offensive of 1968), its scale and ferocity caught the US high command off balance. The inexperienced South Vietnamese soldiers manning the area south of Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone in former US bases, plus the US Army and Marines Corps advisors and forces present, had to counter a massive conventional combined-arms invasion.

The North’s offensive took place simultaneously across three fronts: Quang Tri, Kontum, and An Loc. In I Corps Tactical Zone, the PAVN tanks and infantry quickly captured Quang Tri City and overran the entire province, as well as northern Thua Thien. However, the ARVN forces regrouped along the My Chanh River, and backed by US airpower tactical strikes and bomber raids, managed to halt the PAVN offensive, before retaking the city in a bloody counteroffensive. Based on primary sources and published accounts of those who played a direct role in the events, this book provides a highly detailed analysis of this key moment in the Vietnam conflict. Although the South’s forces managed to withstand their greatest trial thus far, the North gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives and improved its bargaining position at the Paris peace negotiations.

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