Chapter 9 1974, Year of decision
Critical decisions leading to an end to the third Indochina war were made in Washington and Hanoi in 1974. In Washington, Congress reduced military assistance to South Vietnam to below operating levels, a decision that seriously undermined South Vietnamese combat power and will to continue the struggle. While in Hanoi, taking fresh heart from the political fall of Richard Nixon and waning Congressional support of the war, Communist leaders decided that 1975 would be the year of final victory.
Estimates and Plans
In early October 1973, the DAO, Saigon, suggested that North Vietnam had three courses of action from which it would select the one most likely to provide the earliest achievement of its national goal, the conquest of South Vietnam. The first was political: creating a recognized government within South Vietnam capable of competing in the economic and political struggle. The second a limited military offensive designed to create a military, economic, and political situation beyond the capability of South Vietnam to handle. The third a major military offensive to cause the immediate collapse of South Vietnam's government and armed forces.
The DAO postulated that North Vietnam would base its decision for 1974 primarily on expectations of Soviet and Chinese military and economic support and on an assessment of the probable U.S. reaction to an escalation of the war. Enough was known about external Communist assistance and the size of NVA stockpiles, however, to conclude that logistics would not inhibit a major NVA offensive. On the other hand, little could be said about the reactions of the Soviets or Chinese to a major NVA offensive, nor could anyone estimate with confidence the influence they could or would exert on the North Vietnamese. But the DAO did know that North Vietnam's leadership was cognizant of the decline of U.S. support for South Vietnam and would not be inclined toward caution.
The political option would be indecisive because the VC infrastructure was too weak, South Vietnam too strong, and a reversal would take a long time. The great effort under way by the NVA to improve its offensive capability in the South indicated overwhelmingly the inclination toward a military course of action. The DAO concluded that North Vietnam was not yet ready for a major, decisive offensive - despite heavy infiltration of replacements, some NVA units in the South were still too far understrength - but that as the failures of the political struggle became more evident, the NVA would embark on a phased offensive, to create gradually conditions beyond the capacity of South Vietnam to cope with. While pursuing this military course of action North Vietnam would continue political and economic actions to support it and proceed with the development of the military strength required for a decisive offensive.
In the early spring of 1974, Hanoi's military leaders met to study the resolutions of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee's 21st Plenum. The DAO had scant knowledge of this event at the time, but the strategic concepts that emanated from this council paralleled remarkably the Saigon assessment. In a post account, Senior General Van Tien Dung, the architect of the final offensive, described the situation as viewed from Hanoi (quotes from Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Asia and Pacific, vol. IV, no. 110, Supplement 38, 7 Jun 1976):
. . . the party Central Committee's 21st Plenum held in October 1973 set forth the method of combining the political military and diplomatic struggles and pointed out: The path of the revolution in the south is the path of revolutionary violence. No matter what the situation, we must firmly grasp the opportunity and the strategic offensive line and effect leadership to advance the southern revolution. True revolutionary strength is both an urgent and a basic requirement in the new situation. In March 1974 the Central Military Party Committee went into session to thoroughly study and implement the party Central Committee resolution. The committee asserted: The Vietnamese revolution may develop through various transitional stages, and it can only achieve success by way of violence with the support of political and military forces; if the war resumes on a large scale, a revolutionary war will be waged to win total victory. The southern revolution must firmly grasp the concept of strategic offensive. We must resolutely counterattack and attack the enemy, and we must firmly maintain and develop our active position in all respects.
The conference of the Central Military Party Committee completed its work and presented its plan to the Central Party Committee, which approved it. Orders went out to the military regions, directing training and maintenance preparations in the North and prescribing offensive operations for the expeditionary army in the South. How these operations were conducted, why some succeeded and others failed, is the subject of this and the following chapters. Major events occurred in each military region, and only in the delta of South Vietnam's Military Region 4 and the border areas of Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia, was the RVNAF the clear victor. In Military Region 3, although the ARVN eventually ejected the NVA from the Iron Triangle, this costly success was vastly overshadowed by the critical loss of Phuoc Long Province to the NVA. In the highlands of Military Regions 1 and 2, all remaining outposts fell to NVA attack and the protective screen around Hue and Da Nang continued to decay.
The Tri Phap Campaign
Cambodia's Svay Rieng Province is a 60-mile long salient, only 16 miles wide at its neck, thrust into the rich delta of Vietnam, ending in what was called the Parrot's Beak 30 miles west of Saigon. Although the Cambodian government maintained a garrison at the province capital, it did so only at the sufferance of the NVA, which controlled the rest of the province and did not consider the hostile Cambodians a threat of any significance. The only threat to the NVA in Sway Rieng came from the RVNAF operating out of the provinces which enclosed the salient on three sides: Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia and Kien Tuong. As far as the South Vietnamese were concerned, Sway Rieng and the sizable enemy forces and bases it contained constituted a serious threat to the security of the three bordering provinces and was the source of infiltration and support of enemy forces throughout the northern delta. Consequently, the RVNAF maintained outposts and operational bases as close as possible to the international frontier to slow the movement of enemy forces and supplies into South Vietnam.
North of Tay Ninh City the RVNAF was at a disadvantage. The forests of northern Tay Ninh Province belonged to the NVA, and the principal port of entry, Lo Go, could be reached only by air strikes. But from Tay Ninh City south to Hau Nghia Province, the RVNAF maintained bases west of the Vam Co Dong River that impeded the free flow of enemy traffic out of Sway Rieng as well as contraband traffic into it. From these bases the South Vietnamese periodically probed into the border region but rarely intruded into Cambodia. During much of the year, the flat, marshy land was under water, but even when the weather was suitable for large expeditions into Cambodia, the RVNAF were restrained for political reasons and by the realization that the forces required to achieve significant gains were rarely available. The RVNAF strategy for the Hau Nghia flank was therefore one of active defense west of the Vam Co Dong.
The situation was quite different on the Kien Tuong side of the salient. Maintaining large forces in central Kien Tuong, principally the Z-18 and Z-15 regiments, the NVA operated major infiltration corridors through the province, anchoring this logistical system on a vast base area around a location called Tri Phap. The South Vietnamese held the province capital of Moc Hoa and a base at Long Khot, both of which were well within 105-mm. howitzer range of NVA artillery in Sway Rieng, but there were great reaches of uncontrolled, unoccupied territory between the Cambodian border and the first major population concentration along National Highway 4 (QL-4) through My Tho. Another important element of the threat was contributed by the NVA 5th Division, which had operated out of Sway Rieng Province in both directions, through Tay Ninh to An Loc and south toward My Tho. In early 1974, the 5th was north of Tay Ninh City, but available for operations into Kien Tuong and Hau Nghia.
Although South Vietnamese forces were not strong enough to contain the NVA in Sway Rieng, they could in Military Region 4 impose limits on the enemy's freedom of movement, make resupply of troops costly and difficult, and inflict high casualties. To do this much, the RVNAF had to hold Long Khot and Moc Hoa, seize the enemy's logistical and operational base around Tri Phap, and protect National Route 4 between Cay Lay and My Tho.
In January 1974, intelligence information became available to Maj. Gen. Nguyen Vinh Nghi, commanding IV Corps and MR 4, indicating that elements of the NVA 5th Division were being ordered to Dinh Tuong Province from Tay Ninh. Later in the month, advance elements of the division were detected in the division's Sway Rieng base.
Two NVA soldiers captured on 27 January told their interrogators that a battalion of the division's 6th Regiment had been sent south to reinforce the understrength NVA Z-18 Regiment in the Tri Phap area. Their testimony, along with that of four recent ralliers and captured documents, also indicated that the Dong Thap 1 Regiment, which traditionally operated in Dinh Tuong, was still badly understrength, though it had recently received 300 NVA replacements following its December 1973 battles, and would also probably receive more replacements from the 6th Regiment, 5th NVA Division. The interrogators also learned that the Z-15 Regiment had just received about 200 replacements from the North but that it was short weapons and ammunition.
Meanwhile, RVNAF outposts, patrols, and air observers detected enemy transportation elements moving past Tuyen Binh on infiltration Route 1A. Some of these were intercepted, and the ARVN captured large quantities of rice and ammunition, as well as an NVA transportation company commander.
Time became important. If the 5th were allowed to occupy the Tri Phap, it would be extremely difficult to dig out, and the threat to Route 4 would become intolerable. The previous year's experience had shown General Nghi that his troops were capable of driving into and probably clearing the Tri Phap of the NVA elements, particularly if he moved fast while the NVA regiments were still reforming and receiving replacements. If he could establish a base of operations at Tri Phap, he could deny a vital logistical complex to the 5th NVA Division, one that it would require for operations in Dinh Tuong.
On 12 February, the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 7th ARVN Division, reinforced with two battalions of the 10th Infantry and two troops of armored cavalry in personnel carriers, attacked through Tri Phap from the east and advanced to the Kien Phong-Dien Tuong Province boundary. Three days later, the 14th Infantry Regiment, 9th ARVN Division, reinforced with one battalion of the 16th Infantry and two troops of armored cavalry, attacked east from My An District town and linked up with the 12th Infantry on the western edge of the Tri Phap. This two-pronged attack was followed on the 19th by an attack by the 10th Infantry Regiment, minus the two battalions attached to the 12th, from Hau My village in northern Cai Be District, north to clear the southern edge of the Tri Phap. Completely enveloped, the enemy in the Tri Phap suffered heavy losses in men, supplies, ammunition, and food. Elements of the Z-15 and Z-18 were identified in the battle, but most NVA casualties were among rear service troops. Another element of the 5th NVA Division, the 6th Battalion, 174th Infantry, was also identified in the heavy fighting around My An on the western edge of the Tri Phap, indicating that earlier intelligence concerning probable deployment of elements of the 5th from Tay Ninh was valid. Enemy casualties were heavy that first week of the Tri Phap campaign; over 500 were killed, and the ARVN captured tons of ammunition and nearly 200 weapons. ARVN casualties were light in comparison.
Fighting flared through most of Kien Tuong and Dinh Tuong Provinces for the rest of February and until the last week of March. The center of action remained in the Tri Phap where the NVA again reinforced, this time with the Dong Thap I Regiment which was sent north to join the Z-18. The ARVN kept up the pressure, and in successive weeks killed another 250 enemy, capturing as many weapons. Meanwhile, COSVN directed NVA Military Region 3 (the southern delta command) to launch widespread attacks to take the pressure off Kien Tuong and Dinh Tuong. Replacements, up to 3,000 according to two ARVN soldiers who escaped from captivity in Cambodia, were being readied for assignment to units in Sway Rieng Province.
Unable to counter RVNAF advances on the battlefields, the NVA resorted to an increased terror campaign throughout the delta. On 9 March they fired one 82-mm. mortar shell into the primary school yard at Cai Lay while the children were lined up waiting to enter their classes. Twenty-three children died instantly; 46 others were badly wounded. Far to the south, in Bac Lieu, terrorists tossed a grenade into a religious service killing 9 and wounding 16.
ARVN operations on the My An front, that is, on the western edge of the Tri Phap area, were being supported out of Cao Lanh, with supplies coming up from Giao Duc on interprovincial Route 30. The forces on the eastern edge of the Tri Phap and those fighting north around Moc Hoa were being supported along Interprovincial Route 29 (LTL-29) out of Cai Lay. The ARVN successfully countered NVA attempts to cut these two routes.
The first phase of the Tri Phap campaign slowly wound down during the last part of March. The Dong Thap I Regiment picked up 150 replacements, freshly arrived from North Vietnam, and NVA Military Region 2, whose regiments were being so badly abused in the Tri Phap fighting, received 200 replacements who had been previously destined for Military Region 3. Reinforcing success in the last week of March, General Nghi sent the 7th Ranger Group against the NVA Dong Thap I Regiment in the Tri Phap, where the Rangers killed over 30 and captured more weapons.
By the end of March, more than 1100 enemy had been killed in the Tri Phap campaign, while the ARVN had about 700 wounded but fewer than 100 killed. Nearly 5,000 tons of rice and paddy were captured, along with over 600 weapons, 8 tons of ammunition, and a large haul of weapon accessories, radios, and other military equipment. Three NVA regiments, the Z-15, Z-18 and Dong Thap 1, had been severely mauled, and the Tri Phap base area was denied to the 5th NVA Division.
Work began immediately on the construction of fortified positions in the Tri Phap, enough to provide for posting an ARVN regiment there. The NVA Z-15 Regiment, meanwhile, was recuperating in southwestern Dinh Tuong Province, attacking ARVN outposts and preparing to return to the Tri Phap. On 26 April two NVA battalions attacked the RF battalion base at the village of Tri Phap. In a complementary attack farther south on the Kien Phong-Dinh Tuong Province boundary, the Dong Thap I Regiment struck an RF outpost. Although temporarily successful, the enemy soon faced ARVN's 14th Regiment and a troop of the 2d Armored Cavalry and was routed with heavy casualties. Meanwhile, the 11th Infantry counterattacked in the Tri Phap and restored the lost position. The ARVN, by the first week in May, was therefore in firm control in the Tri Phap, with four RF battalions holding strong positions there. NVA forces in the area were weakened and demoralized, but elsewhere in the delta they kept up their campaign of terror as the slow deterioration of local security continued. Although abductions and assassinations were predominant, the enemy attacked another school. On 4 May, eight rounds of 82-mm. mortar fell on the school at Song Phu, in Vinh Long Province. Six children were killed and 28 wounded.
Elephant's Foot and Angel's Wing
A glance at the map of the Sway Rieng salient shows two minor prominences whose names described their shapes. On the southwest side was the so-called Elephant's Foot, appearing on the verge of crushing Moc Hoa, the capital of Kien Tuong Province. Against the underside of the elephant's leg was the Vietnamese village of Long Khot, less than 1,000 meters from the Sway Rieng border. As the RVNAF vigorously pursued the Tri Phap campaign, the NVA increased pressure against RVNAF defenses around the Elephant's Foot.
Opposite the Elephant's Foot, bordering the Vietnamese provinces of Tay Ninh and Hau Nghia, what was known as the Angel's Wing spread toward Go Dau Ha, the port on the Song Vam Co Dong through which passed the main highway between Tay Ninh and Saigon. The southern tip of the Angel's Wing dipped toward an ARVN fire-base at Duc Hue, and the Sway Rieng border only five kilometers away nearly enveloped this exposed position. The Angel's Wing and Duc Hue became the focus of heavy action in the spring and early summer of 1974 as the RVNAF sought to reduce the threat to the Saigon-Tay Ninh line of communication and inflict damage on the NVA 5th Division as it concentrated in southern Sway Rieng.
The NVA 5th Infantry Division was perhaps the most versatile of all Communist divisions; at least it was called upon to perform missions of extreme diversity. In the Nguyen Hue offensive of 1972, it participated in the Binh Long campaign, and after suffering heavy casualties in the jungles and plantations around An Loc, invaded the paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta. Forced to withdraw, it sent elements to relieve the battered NVA forces in the forests of Quang Duc. In early 1974, it pulled these units back to bases in Tay Ninh and dispatched some battalions again to the delta to try to save disintegrating defenses in the Tri Phap. This mission failed in the face of powerful ARVN attacks, and COSVN ordered the division to assemble forces in southern Sway Rieng. From here, generally centered on Chi Phu, it could direct forces against southern Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia, and Kien Tuong. In early February an advance element of division headquarters began moving toward the Angel's Wing from Tay Ninh, and by mid-March it was established there east of Chi Phu.
Although units of the 6th and 174th Regiments of the 5th Division had fought in the Tri Phap battle, other battalions of these two regiments were in the Angel's Wing along with divisional artillery. South of Duc Hue, the K-7 Sapper Battalion of Long An was ready to strike. On 27 March at 0300 the attack began on the RVNAF base at Duc Hue. Defending against two battalions of the NVA 6th Regiment was the ARVN 83d Ranger Battalion. Across the border in Cambodia NVA 105-mm. artillery fired at the defenders while recoilless rifles and heavy mortars (120-mm.) bombarded the garrison from closer ranges. Although 30 ARVN Rangers died, the NVA infantry assault failed to break the position; the two battalions of the 6th NVA Regiment were forced to wihdraw, leaving 95 dead on the battlefield, together with a large number of weapons.
Under orders to maintain a loose siege of the Duc Hue post, the NVA, assisted by the local sapper battalion, blocked the only land access to the camp and continued the artillery bombardment but abandoned the idea of taking it by storm. On the ARVN side, the 25th Division committed a task force consisting of a battalion of the 46th Infantry, a battalion of the 50th Infantry, and a tank company to break the siege. Fighting raged in the paddies east and north of the camp for several days, and the VNAF provided effective support to the counterattacking infantry, losing an A-1 fighter-bomber and an observation aircraft to SA-7 fire. Meanwhile, the ARVN task force command post was hit by NVA 107-mm. rocket fire and the commander was one of those killed.
As April wore on, the threat of renewed assaults on Duc Hue by the NVA 5th Division remained. The situation was particularly dangerous because the 7th and 9th NVA Divisions were probing aggressively in the eastern part of Military Region 3. Lt. Gen. Pham Quoc Thuan, III Corps Commander, determined that he must reduce the threat to his western flank and the Tay Ninh corridor while he had the opportunity to do so. And if anything was to be done, it would have to be done soon to beat the onset of the southwest monsoon. After the rains started, most of the land around Duc Hue and the Angel's Wing would be under water.
The plan was complicated but workable. General Thuan used 18 of his own maneuver battalions and flew to Can Tho where he coordinated with General Nghi for a supporting attack by 2 IV Corps battalions from the Moc Hoa sector.
The details and timing of the operation were carefully safeguarded, and few, if any, Americans in the U.S. Mission knew anything about it until 27 April when 45 sorties struck targets in Cambodia and known and suspected bases of the 5th NVA Division. These strikes began Phase I, which lasted through the 28th and included infantry sweeps by two RF battalions between the Song Vam Co Dong and the northern shoulder of the Angel's Wing. Meanwhile, the 49th Infantry Regiment, less one battalion, and the 7th Ranger Group, also short one battalion, left assembly areas near Hiep Hoa on the Song Vam Co Dong and advanced westward through the swamplands, past Duc Hue to the Cambodian frontier. To the south, three RF battalions provided security by conducting reconnaissance in northern Long An Province, generally between the Bo Bo Canal and the Song Vam Co Dong.
Another supporting maneuver, which quickly developed into a major operation, was the attack into Sway Rieng Province south of the Elephant's Foot by two battalions from MR 4. The northernmost of the two advanced from the border area north of Moc Hoa and established a blocking position near the local route 1012 that led eastward from an assembly area occupied by the 5th NVA Division. The other battalion crossed midway between the Elephant's Foot and the tip of the Parrot's Beak and established a lodgment on the southeastern edge of the enemy's logistical base and assembly area in Sway Rieng.
While Phase I of the ARVN sweep into Sway Rieng was getting started, the NVA on 28 April struck heavily at Long Khot, an ARVN post and district town at the inside curve of the Elephant's Foot. Whether the attack was preplanned or reactive was unknown. Regardless, enemy tanks were reported at first by the defenders. Later, aerial observers correctly determined that the vehicles were captured M-113 armored personnel carriers. The defenders held strongly against the NVA's 275th Regiment and 25th Sapper Battalion of the 5th NVA Division. More than 100 sorties were flown on the 28th against NVA positions, weapons, and vehicles in the Sway Rieng area, many of them in support of Long Khot. On this same day, the ARVN at Long Khot captured nine prisoners from the NVA 275th Regiment and four from its supporting artillery, which had been employing 122-mm. guns and U.S. 105-mm. howitzers, as well as AT-3 antitank missiles and SA-7 antiaircraft missiles. Many enemy weapons were salvaged, and 75 enemy soldiers were counted dead on the battlefield.
Not only were the Long Khot defenders tenacious and prepared for the onslaught, but the VNAF proved its worth in close support as over the two days, the 27th and 28th, it flew 188 tactical and logistical sorties in the Sway Rieng Campaign. In a departure from normal practice, the 3d Air Division supporting III Corps in the Sway Rieng campaign, located a forward command post at Cu Chi alongside the III Corps forward command post in order to improve coordination and responsiveness. Combat pilots returned to their bases with encouraging, morale-building reports about enemy troops throwing down their weapons and running when faced with low-level strafing.
By the night of 28 April, 11 ARVN battalions of infantry, RF, and Rangers were conducting screening, blocking, and reconnaissance-in-force operations as a prelude to Phase II of the Sway Rieng sweep. Meanwhile, the VNAF was assaulting enemy troop locations and bases, and Long Khot was fighting off a violent NVA armor, artillery, and sapper-infantry attack.
In Phase II, originally planned by General Thuan to encompass only three days of armored sweeps into the Cambodian bases of the NVA 5th Division, three columns drove west, generally parallel to each other, crossing the frontier west of Go Dau Ha and penetrating as deeply as 15 kilometers into Sway Rieng before wheeling south and southwest into Hau Nghia Province. Making the main effort and the deepest penetration was Task Force 315 with the 15th Armored Cavalry Squadron, the 64th Ranger Battalion, and a company of medium tanks as its striking force. Supported by a composite battery of 105-mm. and 155-mm. artillery this northernmost column crossed the border through the paddies south of Highway 1 and attacked west, turning south short of the swampy ground east of Chiphu, following local route 1012 toward the blocking position held by a IV Corps battalion near Ph Chek. It was screened on its right flank by a mobile RF battalion that advanced along Highway 1 about 12 kilometers inside the international frontier. Along the center axis, which started about 2,000 meters south of Task Force 315, was Task Force 318, built around the 18th Armored Cavalry Squadron, a Ranger battalion, a tank company, and a howitzer battery. This column drove west for about 10 kilometers before turning inside the sweep south by Task Force 315.
Task Force 310, the only one of the attacking columns without tanks, had a battalion each from the 18th and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 3d Troop, 10th Armored Cavalry. Along with a supporting howitzer battalion it crossed into Sway Rieng just north of the southern tip of the Angel's Wing, along Cambodian Route 1013, and wheeled south inside Task Force 318, generally along the international boundary.
In reserve at Go Dau Ha General Thuan had two companies of medium tanks of the 22d Tank Battalion, a cavalry troop from the 1st Armored Cavalry Squadron, a battalion of infantry from the 18th Division, and a battery of 105-mm. howitzers. Designated Task Force 322, this powerful force was ready to exploit opportunities uncovered by the attacking echelons.
The 3d Armored Brigade controlled operations from Go Dau Ha. Fifty-four UH-1 helicopters mustered for the campaign were effectively used in surprise air assaults into enemy defenses. Secrecy was more rigidly enforced in this campaign than perhaps any operation since the cease-fire, partly because it was important to surprise the 5th NVA Division in garrison, ard partly to conceal, for political reasons, an ARVN offensive into Cambodia.
By 29 April, Task Force 315 had penetrated about seven kilometers into Cambodia and, at the cost of only one wounded, had killed nearly 50 enemy and captured one prisoner. To the south, Task Force 318 had experienced similar success, killing nearly 60 and capturing 5 while suffering only 6 wounded. The following morning, the 315th continued the attack, killing 40 more and sustaining light casualties. Meanwhile, the VNAF was pounding the enemy with nearly 200 sorties, accounting for nearly 100 killed, destroying many storage and defensive positions, and knocking out mortar and antiaircraft positions.
As the threat to the 5th NVA Division base in southern Sway Rieng became critical, the NVA was compelled to reduce the pressure at Long Khot and concentrate on attempting to relieve the E-6 and 174th Regiments and logistical installations lying in the path of the ARVN armored thrusts. By the end of April, nearly 300 NVA soldiers had fallen in ground combat, over 100 more had been killed by VNAF air strikes, and 17 prisoners of war were in ARVN hands. On the other hand, the speed, audacity and superior air-ground coordination that characterized the RVNAF attack had kept friendly casualties extremely low: only 21 killed and 64 wounded. In fact, success was so striking that General Thuan elected to extend the operation a few days.
Westward, over in the Elephant's Foot, matters were becoming desperate for the 275th NVA Regiment and its supporting troops. The 7th ARVN Division had moved a forward command post into Moc Hoa and was controlling the operation of two task forces then committed in the Elephant's Foot. One was composed of the 15th Infantry, 9th ARVN Division, and part of the 16th Armored Cavalry Squadron; the other included the 10th Infantry and elements of the 6th Armored Cavalry Squadron. In 12 days of fighting in the border area, these two mobile task forces killed 850 NVA soldiers, captured 31, collected over 100 weapons, and suffered fewer than 300 casualties, including 39 killed.
Making the adjustments required by the situation, particularly the fact that the most lucrative enemy contacts were being made in the southern sweeps of the 318th and 310th Task Forces, General Thuan ordered Task Force 315 withdrawn from its northern axis on 2 May and returned to Go Dau Ha where it reverted to reserve. Meanwhile, Task Force 322 was committed and advanced about four kilometers into the center of the Angel's Wing, and the infantry battalions of the 25th ARVN Division continued their sweep between Duc Hue and Go Dau Ha. By 6 May the land route to Duc Hue Camp was secured and was being improved by ARVN combat engineers, the threat to the vital road junction at Go Dau Ha was substantially reduced, and the ARVN was in complete control of the battlefield. The tank-heavy 322d Task Force turned south and headed for Ba Thu, the long-held NVA base on the border southwest of Duc Hue. On 10 May, the offensive ended, the last ARVN forces began their march homeward. Their sortie had killed nearly 300 NVA soldiers, captured 17, collected 100 weapons, and seriously disrupted the communications and logistics of the 5th NVA Division.
But this was the last major South Vietnamese offensive. The severe constraints on ammunition expenditures, fuel usage, and flying hours permitted no new initiatives. Although the RVNAF could react strongly to local threats within supporting distances of major bases, outlying threats were beyond their capability to cope with. For South Vietnam, a decline had begun to develop early in 1974 and would prove irreversible.
Note on Sources
The DAO Monthly Intelligence Summary and Threat Analyses for the period October 1973 to February 1974 were used as the basis for the first part of this chapter, also Senior General Van Tien Dung's account of the final offensive.
Operational data on the Tri Phap and Cambodian battles came from DAO Saigon fact sheets, reports, and weekly intelligence summaries, as well as from J2/JGS weekly summaries. Gaps in the information were filled in by reference to the author's notes and to reports from offices of the U.S. Embassy, Saigon.