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a month-long siege in Camp Plei Me in southern Pleiku Province. Against the unrelenting pressure of the 48th and 64th NVA Regiments, the Rangers held out from 4 August until relieved by elements of the ARVN 53d Regiment on 2 September 1974.49


Between 27 and 30 September 1974, NVA forces drove ARVN defenders off Mo Tau Mountain. From this vantage point, the North Vietnamese artillery could command Phu Bai Airfield, the major government airstrip north of Hai Van Pass, located in Military Region l. The NVA immediately brought up its guns and cleared the airstrip by fire. The mountain complex was occupied by four NVA battalions, which were finally dislodged by elements of the ARVN 1st Division and 15th Ranger Group on 11 December. 50


During the first week of December, heavy fighting erupted in Military Region 4 when Communist forces launched attacks in both the northern and southern portions of the Mekong Delta. The major threat was the 5th NVA Division whose regiments, refitted in Cambodia, were moving into Kien Tuong Province (Just south of the Parrot's Beak region where a peninsula of Cambodian territory pokes a nose into South Vietnam). To parry the Communist incursion, the 9th ARVN Division engaged the NVA as they first entered the Cambodian border region.5'


While major unit fighting was taking place in Military Regions l and 4, an equally ominous event occurred that December in Military Region 2. The NVA'S 968th Division, which had been operating in southern Laos for several years, moved en masse into the Central Highlands. This marked the first time since the Cease-fire Agreement that an entire NVA division had entered the south as a unit. During this period Military Region 3 had remained relatively quiet. Yet as the year came to an end, NVA units were closing in on Song Be, the capital of Phuoc Long Province. As the sun set on the last day of 1974, its shadows foretold more than just the impending arrival of a new year in the Republic of Vietnam.52


By the end of 1974, the North Vietnamese had wrested the initiative from the thinly spread and over-committed ARVN Divisions. The Joint General Staff had no uncommitted reserve. Its strategic reserve, the Airborne Division and the Marine Division, were already deployed to Military Region l. As early as 1973 when the United States installed an Army general as the head of its newly formed Defense Attache Office, Americans began to recognize the seriousness of the situation. General Murray recalled, "I was shocked to discover that they had no general reserve. All thirteen of their divisions were fully committed. We had left them without a general reserve."53 The need for a reserve and the strategic value it offered as a means to buy time and avert forced withdrawal or even defeat would become readily apparent in 1975. It would not be a good year for the South Vietnamese. Time was running out. A Division o/Marines


Following the Easter Offensive of 1972, the South Vietnamese Marine Division remained in the northernmost part of Military Region l. It faced three North Vietnamese divisions in defensive positions to the north and west. The division's assigned area of operations (AO) encompassed over 1,600 square miles of diverse terrain. Bounded on the north by the Thach Han River, the AO stretched south to the vicinity of Phong Dien. The South China Sea was the eastern boundary while to the west the foothills of the mountainous Hai Lang forest west of Route l marked the extent of the Marines' responsibility. The division headquarters was located in Huong Dien, a village northeast of Hue in the coastal lowlands of Thua Thien Province. Numerous units of the division's supporting organizations, among them the amphibious support battalion and the motor transport company, were based in Hue.54 The Vietnamese Marine Corps' headquarters remained in Saigon at 15 Le Thanh Ton in the old French Commando Compound. This location also contained the Americans' VNMC Logistic Support Branch, DAO. Thus Lieutenant Colonels Strick-land and then Lukeman maintained an office in the same building as the VNMC chief of staff, Colonel Le Dinh Que. Besides a division rear headquarters, the VNMC operated a training center, ranges, and a hospital complex at Song Than (10 miles northeast of Saigon, near Bien Hoa off Highway l at Dt An); training facilities and a supply section at Thu Due; and a training base at Vung Tau.* Opened on 8 September 1972 and occupying part of the former 1st U.S. Army Division encampment, Song Than also housed the VNMC's recruit depot and a company ofLVTs, a few of which regularly trained at Vung Tau.55


The Marine Division was one of the best divisions in the South Vietnamese Armed Forces. Until Decem-


*Unlike the USMC, the Vietnamese Marine Corps as a separate service had its own medical battalion. Another unusual arrangement provided for the existence of two chiefs of Staff, To assist him in his duties as division commander and commandant, General Lan had established a second billet at Huong Dien into which he continuously rotated officers Junior to Colonel Que, the chief of staff at division headquarters in Saigon. Smckland Comments-








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