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posed the president's decision to remove the Airborne Division. The next day he flew to Saigon to argue personally against such a move, but to no avail, gaining only a four-day postponement. The withdrawal would begin on 17 March, although two days later Thieu, after another personal request by Truong, authorized the 1st Airborne Brigade (the last brigade scheduled for redeployment to Saigon) to remain at Da Nang on the condition it not be committed to combat and the defense of MR l. To replace the departing units, Thieu ordered the newly formed Vietnamese Marine Corps brigade to deploy to MR l. Brigade 468 (composed of only two battalions-the l4th and 16th) of the VNMC Division arrived in Da Nang a few days later.18
Also at the 13 March meeting, Thieu directed the new III Corps commander. Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Toan, to withdraw his forces from An Loc and employ them in MR 3 wherever they were needed most. Both of these decisions represented serious blows to the morale of the RVNAF: the brigade's withdrawal because it ripped out the very heart ofTroung's defenses, and the An Loc retreat because it reversed perhaps the ARVN's greatest victory. In June of 1972, the Communists ended a 95-day siege of this provincial capital when, in defeat, their forces withdrew to bases in Cambodia. The ARVN's shining moment in achieving a battlefield success at Binh Long's capital, Just 65 miles north of Saigon, was made possible during the Easter Offensive by something dramatically absent in 1975 -U.S. air support. Marine Corps A-4s and Air Force B-52s had helped to end the siege by continuously bombing the enemy concentrations around An Loc.19 In March 1975 while Thieu attempted to redress the absence of a strategic reserve and the need for additional support, General Dung boasted: "The United States appears completely impotent, and even if they increased their aid they would not be able to rescue their puppets from the impending collapse."*20
Events would prove Dung correct, but neither South Vietnam nor the United States nor even General Truong expected what soon followed. To compensate for the loss of the airborne brigades. General Truong ordered the Marine Division to plan for a redeployment from its position near Hue to the Da Nang area. In the midst of confusion over the defensive strategy and the growing civilian panic, Communist forces crossed the Thach Han River, attacked and occupied the ruins of Quang Tri City- The South Vietnamese forces resisted and then fell back. The date, 19 March 1975, marked the beginning of the end for Military Region l and northern South Vietnam. The Government of South Vietnam (GVN) in the ensuing days concentrated its efforts on establishing a defensive perimeter around Hue. At 1800 on 24 March, Lieutenant General Truong decided to abandon Hue and evacuate as many troops as possible along a narrow coastal sandspit east of Highway l, where they could move without restriction until reaching the evacuation column north of Hai Van Pass. The effort proved futile, and as panic grew, the withdrawal, compounded by North Vietnamese Army pressure, became a rout. This left, as the last line of defense, Da Nang.21
The massive influx of civilian refugees into the Da Nang area precipitated a breakdown in law and order. Attempts to establish a defensive perimeter around the city met with little success, and on 30 March, that former bastion of American firepower fell to the Communists. Da Nang, by now in total chaos, collapsed without a shot being fired. The aggressors from North Vietnam literally walked into the city and found planes, tanks, guns, and equipment; all serviceable and yet abandoned.
Responsibility for this disaster would be laid at the doorstep of President Thieu. The catastrophic chain of events leading to the surrender of Da Nang resulted directly from the decision to abandon Military Region 2 and the ill-advised withdrawal of the Airborne Division from Military Region l. Subsequent efforts to adjust defenses in the face of increased Communist pressure destroyed confidence and morale, and worse yet, caused panic among the civilian populace. This, in turn, led to a total collapse within the country, handing the Communists a stunning victory at minimal cost.
The North Vietnamese plans and preparations that produced the successful offensive of the 1975 dry season were fully underway by 1974. The only modification to the plan and one which came as a complete surprise was the length of the operation. It was originally planned for both the 1975 and 1976 dry seasons. On 31 March, the North Vietnamese Politburo met
*Commenting on rhe issue of American assistance and aid. Lieutenant Colonel Edward A. Grimm recalled his Indochina experiences nisr prior to General Dung's boascs: 'A particularly disheartening spectacle to all U.S. personnel present was the arrival in Saigon in the fall of 1974 of several U.S. Congressional delegations (CODELs) allegedly on fact-finding trips but who were actually and vociferously pre-dccided against any further assistance to our allies. Both Major Jaime Sabater and myself were specifically assigned and prepared to brief members of these CODELs but we were repeatedly rebuffed. The CODELs sought and received briefings from the enemy and ostensibly 'neutral groups' instead." Grimm Comments.
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