Page 072

[Image 1: Map adapted from
Gen Cao Van Vien, The Final Collapse (Washington: U.S. Army Center
of Military History, 1983).]

Page 72(The Bitter End)

had considerable combat experience. A comparison of the North Vietnamese
Army units with those of the South Vietnamese in MR 2 revealed that in firepower
the forces were about equal. However, on what was to become the first field
of battle in Darlac Province, the ratio of North Vietnamese infantry to South
Vietnamese riflemen was six to one. In heavy artillery, the NVA enjoyed a
two-to-one advantage. Of even greater significance was the longer range capability
of the NVA guns. In numbers of tanks and armored vehicles the opposing sides
were almost equal.8

The North Vietnamese launched a series of attacks in the northern and extreme
southern portions of MR 2 beginning on l March when the 968th Division struck
RVN outposts west of Pleiku. On 4 March the Communists closed the Mang Yang
Pass on National Highway 19 connecting Pleiku Province to Binh Dinh Province
and the coast, and shortly after that attacked and damaged two bridges on
National Highway 21 which provided access from the coast to the Central Highlands
via Ban Me Thuot, the Darlac Province capital. On 9 March, the 9th Regiment
of the 320th Division severed Ban Me Thuot's final link to the outside world
and its source of possible reinforcements, National Highway 14 running north
to Pleiku. These events marked the beginning of Campaign 275, Dung's plan
to seize the Central Highlands by exploiting the ARVN decision to concentrate
its soldiers in the Pleiku-Kontum area while leaving Ban Me Thuot thinly defended.9

At 0200 on 10 March, the 10th and 3l6th Divisions struck Ban Me Thuot. The
320th Division augmented the attack on the city by assaulting the L-19 and
Phuong Due airfields. As at Song Be (Be River), the enemy employed the element
of surprise and coordinated supporting arms to confuse, demoralize, and defeat
the defenders. The NVA employed intense artillery fire and predeployed sappers
to eliminate preselected targets and create havoc and confusion within the
ARVN's command structure and its rear areas. At the same time it sent infantry
supported by tanks into the city and captured strategic locations.10

The attack was a complete success, and the North Vietnamese quickly overran
the city, defended by the 53d Regiment of the ARVN 23d Division and Regional
and Popular Force units composed primarily of Mon-tagnards* The II Corps commander,
General Pham

*In his book. The Tall of Saigon, David Butler described a published news
story about the collapse of Ban Me Thuot's defenses. He wrote: ". . . partisans
of an old Montagnard separatist group called FULRO {Front Unifie pour la Liberation
des Races Opprimees) guided the attacking Communist troops to the approaches
to Ban Me Thuot and joined with them in the fighting" (Fall of Saigon, pp.
80-81). A Vietnamese Marine Corps battalion commander captured by the Communists
in Saigon on 30 April and subsequently placed in a Communist "re-education"
camp recently confirmed this story. Lieutenant Colonel Tran Ngoc Toan (former
commander of 4th Battalion, 147th Brigade, VNMC) said: "While in prison in
North Vietnam, I had occasion to meet a Montagnard chief who told me that
in a top secret meeting with an envoy of Hanoi's Polit-buro held in the jungle
near the juncture of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the Communists promised
self-government for the Montagnards in return for cooperation in defeating
the ARVN in Miltary Region 2. He said that after leading the NVA tanks into
Ban Me Thuot which helped conclude that battle in a victory for the Communists,
the North Vietnamese immediately took him prisoner." Toan Comments.

Page 72(The Bitter End)