Page 070

Page 70(The Bitter End)

after entering Phuoc Long, the Rangers withdrew from the city.

The importance of the victory was overshadowed by the manner in which the North Vietnamese achieved it. Using supporting arms and sappers to create confusion, chaos, and communication problems behind ARVN lines and in the headquarters area, the NVA destroyed any semblance of orderly resistance. The North Vietnamese then simply overwhelmed the disorganized defenders. To insure completeness of victory, the enemy neutralized RVN air support and destroyed defensive structures. Phuoc Long offered the NVA a blueprint for future operations and also served as an indicator of South Vietnam's battlefield prowess. The bitter end did not really begin at this isolated capital, but a growing cloud of doubt and discomfort did originate here, portending that, without some major changes in strategy. South Vietnam and its armed forces would suffer grave consequences. As General Cao Van Vien stated: "Psychologically and politically, the loss of Phuoc Long, the first provincial capital of South Vietnam permanently seized by the Communists, came as a shock to the population and the armed forces. The apparent total indifference with which the United States and other non-Communist countries regarded this tragic loss reinforced the doubt the Vietnamese people held concerning the viability of the Paris Agreement."2 One experienced historian of the Vietnam War called Phuoc Long "a significant battle in terms of its influence on South Vietnamese morale and as the prelude to the events of 1975."3

This victory, followed by a weak South Vietnamese counterattack, strengthened the belief of the "hawks" in Hanoi that the balance of power in the South had shifted conclusively in their favor. Furthermore, the failure of the United States to intervene in the conflict made it easier to infer that America's willingness to support the South Vietnamese had waned. Based on this assumption, the North Vietnamese Pohtburo made plans to plunge ahead with maximum force. Before concluding its conference in January 1975, the Pohtburo adopted a two-year plan which aimed for a complete and final victory over the South. Initially, attacks would be directed toward My Tho in the Mekong Delta; Ban Me Thout and Tuy Hoa in the center of the country; and Hue and Da Nang in the north. The objective was to seize the cities, and in the process, smash the ARVN.4

As the North Vietnamese Army staged its forces for the attack, it faced, in addition to the Vietnamese Navy and Air Ibrce, a South Vietnamese Army ground force of approximately 192,000 soldiers and Marines. The South Vietnamese forces were disposed as follows:

-in Military Region I, five divisions: the Marine, Airborne, 1st, 2d, and 3d ARVN Divisions; the 1st Armored Brigade; and four Ranger Groups, the llth. 12th, l4th, and 15th, comprising 11 Ranger Battalions.

-in Military Region 2, two divisions: the 22d, and 23d;

the 2d Armored Brigade; and seven Ranger Groups, the 4th, 6th, 21si, 22d, 23d, 24th, and 25th, comprising 17 Ranger Battalions.

-in Military Region 3, three divisions: the 5th (which had lost one of its regiments during the fighting in Phuoc Long Province), 18th. and 25th; the 3d Armored Brigade;

and five Ranger Groups, the 7th (under direcr operational control of rhe JGS), 31st, .32d, 33d, and 81st. comprising 18 Ranger Battalions.

-in Milirary Region 4, ihree divisions, the 7th. 9th, and 21sr; and the 4th Armored Brigade. There were no Ranger units deployed in MR 4,*3

To oppose these forces in 1973 North Vietnam mustered 14 infantry divisions and 62 separate regiments for an estimated total of 149,000 to 167,000. By the war's end there were 18 NVA divisions, or approximately 185,000 to 200,000 frontline troops.**

General Dung's assessment of the VNAF's situation and the NVA victory at Phuoc Long helped him overcome objections by conservative members of the Polit-

*Normally assigned to the Saigon area, the 4th and Cith Ranger Groups were deployed along Highway l in Binh Dinh under the operational control of MR 2. Vietnam From Ceasefire to Capitulation, p.73.

**Sour(.es vary as to how many divisions and Communisr soldiers were actually in South Vietnam at any given rime. The January 1973 figures are taken from the official Defense Attache Office reports and The Final Collapne. Sources also vary as to how many NVA divisions actually began the final assault on Saigon. Official records Stared thai the Communists "massed up to 16 divisions in MR 3 and had deployed forces for a three-pronged attack against Saigon" (DOA Final Assessment, p. 1-15; see also From Ceasefire to Capitulation, p. 176). Another source, Fall of the South, in its caption for a map showing the final offensive againsr Saigon said that General Dung "called for the simultaneous assault on Saigon's defenses by eighteen Main Force Divisions." That same map also detailed 19 divisions while the book's index listed under "North Vietnamese Military Units" 15 NVA divisions {Fall of ihe South, p. 140). The former chief of Staff of [he South Vietnamese Armed Forces, General Cao Van Vien, stated thai "the total enemy force around Bien Hoa and Saigon during the last days amounted to fifteen NVA infantry divisions augmented and supported by a sapper division, an artillery division, some armor brigades, and SAM antiaircraft units" {Final Collapse, p. 129). General Dung purposely avoids discussing specifics concerning divisions and instead includes in the final assault forces: the NVA 1st Army Corps, NVA 2d Army Corps, NVA j'dArmy Corps, and the 2^2dTactical Force. Spring Victory, pp. 212-231.

Page 70(The Bitter End)