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garrisons, but the force constituted to conduct the counterattack was so meager that its attack did not even disrupt the Communists' defenses, let alone overrun them.
On 17 February, the Cambodian Government gave up its effort to reopen the Mekong supply line to Phnom Penh. By the end of the month, the government forces controlled only a small segment of the river. The rebels held all of the Mekong except for a small area in the vicinity ofBanam, and the adjoining naval base at Neak Loung, a major military facility and strongpoint, less than 40 miles south of the capital. Daily, these two outposts, now isolated, felt the pressure, enduring repeated attacks from the insurgent forces.12
With Phnom Penh under siege, the Khmer Rouge stepped up its attacks. On 5 March, the rebels for the first time effectively used artillery to attack Pochen-tong Airfield. Until then, they had missed their mark, but on this day their artillery barrage hit and slightly damaged an American aircraft. The plane had just completed ferrying rice in from South Vietnam, providing the Cambodians with a much needed resupply of food. Ten days later, the FANK recaptured the town ofToul Leap, northwest of Phnom Penh. While under their control, the Communists had used Toul Leap as a location from which to shell Pochentong Airfield. Its recapture, if only temporarily, ended the shelling. During the remainder of March, the Khmer Communists continued to increase the pressure on Phnom Penh, particularly in the sectors north and west of the city. These attacks again placed the airfield in jeopardy, which allowed the rebels to interdict by fire the daily supply flights.
Government forces tried but could not stop this new phase of shelling. Consequently, the Communists fired at the exposed airdrome almost at will. On 22 March, they fired rockets at two American supply planes forcing the Embassy to announce the following day that the airlift of supplies would cease until the military situation around the airport improved. Apparently recognizing the conflict of objectives contained in this announcement, the United States resumed the airlift two days later. Instead of improving the situation, the 48-hour suspension of flight activity had had the opposite effect. The Khmer Rouge, instead of waiting for the government forces to follow the American advice and counterattack, went on the offensive. Rather than fall back, they instead made significant ground gains in the vital northwest sector near Pochentong Airfield. The acquisition of this objective by the Communists took on added importance because of its strategic location. When last under their control, this vantage point had served as the location from which the rebels had mounted their most successful rocket attack on the airfield. It would again.13
Despite this fact and possibly because of it, the U.S. increased the number of daily airlifts to Phnom Penh. To avert final disaster and defeat due to a lack of supplies, the United States added three DC-8s to its fleet ofC-130s. Bird Airways, a private company under contract to the American government, operated the C-130s and the airlift. The addition of three more aircraft enabled Bird Airways to double its daily flights from 10 to 20. By this means, the Cambodian Government's minimum daily resupply requirements were met.
The increased effort of the American airlift notwithstanding, it became painfully obvious to all concerned that if the Khmer Republic was to survive, the Mekong had to be opened. Resupply by air would not ensure success, because each flight encountered an ever-increasing volume of rocket and artillery fire, making the enure process too costly and extremely vulnerable. Any remaining vestiges of hope that the republic would weather another wet season ended on the first day of April 1975.14
On that Tuesday, the insurgents overran the only remaining government strongholds on the river, Ban-am and Neak Loung. Almost immediately the sagging morale of the government forces plummeted, knowing that the five enemy regiments previously engaged at Neak Loung were now free to attack them in Phnom Penh. As these units moved north towards the capital, the Cambodian Government simply waited for the inevitable while the American Embassy waited for the Marines, who themselves had been waiting since the first week of 1975. The Marines Move into Position
Beginning on 6 January 1975, the United States had reacted swiftly to the Khmer Communist offensive. That Monday morning, CinCPac, Admiral Noel A. M. Gayler, via CinCPacFlt, Admiral Maurice F. Weisner, directed Commander Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral George P. Steele, to place the 31st MAU/ARG Alpha in an increased state of readiness in anticipation of executing Operation Eagle Pull. Admiral Steele ordered the MAU and ARG Alpha to assume a 96-hour response time to the Gulf of Thailand and Kompong Som, Cambodia. The following day, Lieutenant Colonel James L. Bolton's HMH-462 was alerted for deployment to Subic Bay to replace Lieutenant
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