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mayor of Vung Tau, a newspaper owner, professors, and college students. The group had paid 50 million piasters for the boat and intended to sail to Singapore and sell the boat there." After berthing this group of evacuees, Detachment Echo began an around-the-clock routine which did not cease until it finally discharged its passengers. Within 24 hours of Echo Detachment's introduction to refugee-related functions, every AESF detachment was inundated with evacuees. The delay had been supplanted by non-stop activity.14 Xuan Loc Remembered

The mid-April decision to reorganize the brigade and activate the AESF occurred during a 48-hour lull in the battle for Xuan Loc. Described in many newspaper reports as the "killing ground," this deadly battle entered its second week on Wednesday, 16 April, as both sides fought for what each had deemed critically necessary objectives. The ferocity of the fighting reflected the need by the ARVN for a battlefield victory and the NVA obsession with the capture of Saigon before the end of April.

With authorization from Hanoi to delay the final offensive for a week to allow his supply lines and other units to catch up. General Dung chose to modify his plan and bypass the Long Khanh provincial capital. Instead of continuing frontal assualts, he decided to neutralize Xuan Loc by outflanking the city's defenses, attacking only the perimeter. He planned to leave elements of three units (341^ 6th, and 7th NVA Divisions') behind while moving the majority of his forces westward, thereby resuming the offensive against Bien Hoa and Saigon. According to Dung: "We advised that once the enemy amassed troops to save Xuan Loc, we need not concentrate our forces and continue attacking them head on. We would shift our forces to strike counterattacking units in the outer perimeter, where they had insufficient defense works and were not in close coordination with each other . . . ."15

After the short respite, the NVA pursued its new strategy and on 17 April, after several unsuccessful assaults, it overran the 48th Regiment of the 18th ARVN Division which had been guarding the western edge of the city. With the earlier loss of the 52nd Regiment, which had been defending the intersection of Highways l and 20; the diminishing number of resupply and evacuation helicopters; and the collapse of the city's western flank, the 18th ARVN Division and the 1st Airborne Brigade faced encirclement.

To avoid losing these forces, the JGS authorized III Corps to order Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, the division commander, to evacuate Xuan Loc. On the evening of 20 April, the 18th ARVN Division, 1st Airborne Brigade, and Regional and Popular Force elements conducted a successful withdrawal from Xuan Loc, retreating south toward Ba Ria, along Inter-provincial Route 2. Overshadowing the military consequences of this withdrawal were the political consequences.

The following day, President Thieu resigned and, accompanied by his family, flew to Taiwan* Vice President Tran Van Huong, the president's constitutional successor, replaced Thieu. His term lasted a week. On 27 April, with Saigon surrounded by Dung's forces {232d Tactical Force interdicting Highway 4 on the Long An Front; ^dNVA Corps dominating Route l on the Cu Chi Front; 1st NVA Corps controlling Highway 13 on the Binh Duong Front; 2d NVA Corps dominating the QL-15 Front and targeting Long Thanh and Ba Ria; and the 4th NVA Corps on the main axis of attack controlling the eastern approach to Saigon, the Bien Hoa Front), the National Assembly designated General Duong Van "Big" Minh to replace Tran Van Huong as President of the Republic of Vietnam.16

On the evening of 28 April, with Saigon nearly surrounded, General Minh took the oath of office. If he harbored any doubts about whether or not Saigon and its beleagured ARVN defenders could protect the city from the impending Communist onslaught, the sound of exploding bombs quickly removed them. For within minutes of the ceremony, a flight of captured South Vietnamese A-37s bombed Tan Son Nhut. This attack and an early morning rocket attack, which had occurred the day before, marked the first time in five years that the citizens of Saigon had experienced enemy hostilities- The sudden conclusion to the city's five-year "peace" convinced the new leaders of the republic that they had but two choices: negotiate or capitulate.17

*Plagued by repeated calls to resign, President Thieu had continued to refuse co rum over [he government and had become a most unpopular leader. Since his decision in March to withdraw the Airborne Brigade from MR l, his political support had evaporated. The most visible manifesrarion of Thieu's fall from favor occurred on 8 April when a disgruntled VNAF F-5 pilot. Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Trung, attacked the presidential residence, dropping rwo of his four bombs. This F-5 pilot would subsequently train a handful of NVA pilots to fly A-37s the NVA had captured earlier in the war. In lare April those same Communists led an aerial attack on Saigon. Fall of the South and Spring Victory.

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