Chapter 7 Cease-Fire II in MR 3 and 4
The Delta Rice War
While post-cease-fire fighting in the northern and central provinces of South Vietnam alternately surged and subsided as opposing sides grappled for key terrain, the war in the Mekong Delta became a contest for the rice harvest. Nearly 90 percent of Communist rice requirements, to be filled from South Vietnam sources, were requisitioned in the delta.
For the South Vietnamese, the rice war meant that enemy lines of communication had to be interdicted to prevent shipment of rice to delta base areas as well as to collection points in Cambodia where much of it was transshipped to Communist units in South Vietnam's Military Regions 2 and 3. Intelligence efforts were therefore concentrated on rice requisitioning, transport, and storage. The J2 of the Joint General Staff had estimated that some 58,000 metric tons of rice had been collected in the delta during the 1972 harvest, and the object was to cut this drastically in 1973. For the Communists, the rice war meant controlling more rice-producing hamlets, protecting the forays of rice-requisitioning parties, securing canals used for the movement of rice boats, and preventing intrusions by the RVNAF into storage areas.
The South Vietnamese were motivated by more than the simple purpose of denying the rice to the enemy; besides the obvious political imperative to reduce - or at least limit - the enemy's influence over the delta's population and resources, South Vietnam needed the delta's rice to feed its own people and armed forces. By September 1973, a shortage of rice was already developing in Saigon. An early season drought had disrupted planting, and shipments of delta rice for the year were 326,500 metric tons, considerably behind that of 1972 (465,500). Furthermore, raging floods had struck the coastal lowlands of the northern provinces of MR 1 and MR 2, destroying much of the rice crop and stores.
The enemy's rice production in areas under his control in South Vietnam was negligible, and only forces north of COSVN's domain were normally provided any rice from North Vietnam. Consequently, heavy demands were placed on Cambodian and delta rice. All sizeable NVA forces in Cambodia were sustained by Cambodian rice, and much of this rice was also delivered to COSVN forces inside South Vietnam. The Cambodian rebel forces were experiencing shortages of their own and by the fall of 1973 were becoming increasingly reluctant to permit the NVA to fill rice requisitions in Cambodia. Competition for rice resulted in armed clashes between the two Communist allies and increased the importance of South Vietnam's delta rice.
Since the defeat of Cambodia's 32d Brigade at Phnom Penh in May 1973, the entire Cambodian-south Vietnamese border region from the Gulf of Thailand to the eastern edge of South Vietnam's Hong Ngu District in Kien Phong Province was controlled by NVA and Khmer Communist forces. The only Cambodian government presence was at Samma Leu, a small navy river station north of the border. The frontier area, in some places as deep as 35 kilometers into Cambodia, contained major NVA supply routes and rear service centers. The two most significant centers were in the 0 Mountain complex, opposite the Seven Mountains in South Vietnam's Chau Doc Province. One was the rear base of the NVA 1st Division, the NVA 195th Transportation Group, and the 200th Rear Service Group; the other was NVA Base Area 704, which contained part of the NVA 207th Regiment's supply area.
Near 0 Mountain was the southern terminus of the Ho Chi Minh trail, the beginning of infiltration corridor 1-C serving Communist units throughout the southwestern delta and providing conduits for illegal commerce in rice and other commodities between South Vietnam's border provinces and the NVA's Cambodian base areas. While markets flourished on the Cambodian side of the border for trade with the NVA forces contraband rice and other commodities, South Vietnam garrisoned its border established blocks on the canals, rivers, and trails that crossed the frontier, and patrolled the region vigorously with ARVN and navy units. A major campaign was also started in the summer of 1973 to destroy or force the NVA 1st Division out of its redoubt in the Seven Mountains. Earlier post-cease-fire battles around Hong Ngu had severely damaged NVA forces in this region. Now, as the RVNAF began its offensive against the NVA 1st Division and imposed a well-planned, though indifferently executed, rice blockade, the pinch was felt. As if this were not trouble enough for the Cambodian based NVA, the Khmer Communists decided to force the NVA to leave the border region entirely.
They prohibited sales of Cambodian rice to NVA and VC units, creating a serious rice shortage.
Consequently, COSVN directed that the required rice be requisitioned from South Vietnam's delta and that the blockade be broken. Information concerning this COSVN directive was obtained from ralliers and captured documents The main methods to be used: (1) district and province cadre were to bag rice in the hamlets and move it to secure caches; (2) armed units were to secure all routes used for the movement of rice; (3) armed units were to enter South Vietnamese controlled areas and seize rice; (4) Cadre were to negotiate deals with South Vietnamese villagers who would transport purchased rice to Communist areas; (5) all units were to begin farming on land under their control with the aim of self-sufficiency; and (6) women and children living in VC-controlled hamlets were to enter South Vietnamese markets, buy small quantities of rice and bring it to VC areas, making as many trips as possible but keeping each purchase small to reduce the risk of suspicion and discovery.
In the border area the enemy achieved the most success with tactics number four and six and relied on the mechanism of the market itself to provide the rest of the rice requirement. For example, a kilogram of rice in South Vietnam brought 80 piastres in June and 180 piastres in September, while on the border, in the VC market at Ca Sach, a kilogram commanded 115 piastres in June and 250 in September. The price differential offered in the markets in Cambodia was worth the risk to some smugglers and consequently drew significant amounts of rice across the border.
According to estimates, at least 600 tons of rice was smuggled out of the delta each month, August through October, from the Tan Chau market across the Mekong and up the small canals that laced the swamp and paddy fields to the border. The scope of this smuggling operation depended on complicity on the part of local regional and popular forces, as well as on the Vietnamese Navy at Tan Chau. Reliable evidence indicated that some high-level officials were involved and profiting from the trade. Other routes were used to transport clandestine rice in the border area, but the Hong Ngu-Ca Sach arrangement was the largest.
Meanwhile, fears began to mount in Saigon that Communist rice-procuring would lead to runaway inflation in rice and other commodities. Orders went out from Saigon directing province chiefs to crack down on illegal trade and to tighten the blockade. Thereupon, the chiefs of Chau Doc, Kien Giang, and Kien Phong established restricted, controlled, and free trade zones in each province. The entire border was designated a restricted zone, meaning that no commodity could cross legally. Parts of the Seven Mountains and the Tram Forest of western Ha Tien in Kien Giang Province were also declared restricted zones. Controlled zones were established, primarily in Hong Ngu District, in which citizens could legally possess only limited quantities of commodities. Except for a five-kilometer radius around the district town itself, all of Hong Ngu was either restricted or controlled. Those parts of Chau Doc and Ha Tien adjacent to the Seven Mountains and the Tram Forest became controlled zones, while other parts were free trade zones in which goods could move without restrictions.
The blockade was barely under way when Military Region 4, responding to the Saigon rice delivery plan, instituted far more stringent controls. The Saigon plan, aimed at preventing a rice shortage in the capital and the Central Highlands, made it illegal in the border provinces to move rice or paddy (unmilled) rice anywhere without specific permission, except for small amounts for family consumption. Any unauthorized movement, whether across the border or not, was grounds for arrest and confiscation.
Elements of all police and military forces were employed in the blockade and collection plan. Navy and marine police were responsible for stopping and searching all craft on major waterways. Combined checkpoints were manned by RF, PF, National Police, military police, and sector intelligence sections at all major land crossing points. Each village organized a mobile inspection team made up of police, PF, and local officials, while RF and PF established check points on the roads and highways. Airmobile operations, using regular ARVN forces, were conducted regularly against known VC market places. To check on the entire operation, General Nghi, the region commander, assigned police from the Military Region 4 Special Branch to report directly to him on any evidence of corruption in local officials and units. Inefficiency and corruption in the execution of the plan nevertheless continued to undermine the blockade. Even so, there is no doubt that the blockade worsened the existing rice shortage among the enemy forces in Cambodia.
Desertions increased in the Communist ranks as men became progressively more despondent and hungry. Ralliers and prisoners of war told of extremely austere diets and of little hope for relief. Although relatively ineffective in Hong Ngu, the RVNAF blockade in the Seven Mountains of Chau Doc was very tight; the province chief gave it the highest priority and his personal attention. It was in measure responsible for one of the most resounding RVNAF military victories of the post-cease-fire period: the destruction of the NVA 1st Division.
The attack to drive the 1st NVA Division out of the Seven Mountains was launched in early July 1973 by the 44th Special Tactical Zone, where principal forces consisted of the 7th Ranger Group and the 4th Armor Group (armored personnel carriers). The Seven Mountains was a chain of rugged, forested, cave-pocked peaks stretched in a ragged line from the Cambodian border at Tinh Bien 25 kilometers to below Tri Ton, a district headquarters in the shadow of Nui Co To, the southernmost peak in the chain. Although the tallest of the seven was only 700 feet high, rising as they did from a featureless, often flooded plain, they were spectacular prominences and gave the impression of far greater size.
Just north of the border in the Seven Mountains, Nui O was one of the main bases of the NVA 1st Division, which had moved there from battles around Phnom Penh in the summer of 1972. Establishing defenses as far south as Nui Co To, the 1st Division was primarily responsible for screening and protecting movement along infiltration corridor 1-C, which passed to the west of the mountains. Secondary objectives included protecting rice collection teams, proselytizing, and harassing South Vietnamese communities and military installations throughout the region.
As the 44th's offensive began, intelligence revealed that the NVA 1st Division Headquarters had pulled out of the Nui O base and was established in the Cambodian town of Kampong Trach, north of Ha Tien.
The NVA 52nd Regiment was operating in Cambodia north of Ha Tien, while the 101D Regiment and most of the 44th Sapper Regiment were in the border region south of Nui O. The attacks by fire conducted by the 101D Regiment in Tinh Bien and Tri Ton increased in late July, and the 44th Special Tactical Zone reacted, not only to reduce the threat to the districts, but also to break the screen protecting infiltration corridor 1-C. In late August, a number of sharp contacts between elements of the 101D and ARVN Rangers resulted. Units from the NVA 1st Division infiltrated into positions in Nui Giai and Nui Co To mountains during September, and a concerted drive was started by the 44th Special Tactical Zone to dig them out. The 101D Regiment received 300 fresh replacements from North Vietnam in August and moved into position on Nui Dai in September. As the Rangers, with up to 10 battalions operating, and territorials maneuvered into the mountain strongholds, casualties mounted and the rocketing and mortaring of populated areas by the NVA continued.
Just as a stalemate seemed to have been reached, casualties and the RVNAF blockade began to weaken the 101D and the 1st Division units and the enemy began to break. NVA hospital records recovered by RVNAF near Nui Dai disclosed that units of the 1st NVA Division had lost nearly 900 soldiers to sickness and wounds from the cease-fire to 20 September. Captured on 2 October, two prisoners of war from the 101D revealed that the NVA 1st Division had been deactivated. Soldiers from the 44th Sapper and 52nd Infantry Regiment were transferred to the 101D, which had only 300 men left. The 101D then became a brigade, assumed control of the artillery and support units of the 1st Division, and began operating directly under NVA Military Region 3.
By the end of October, with its battalions down to less than 200 men each, the 101D withdrew from the Seven Mountains into its Cambodian sanctuary. Although it continued to operate in the border region, it never again presented a serious threat to South Vietnamese forces in Military Region 4. The RVNAF 44th Special Tactical Zone and its 7th Ranger Group had accomplished its mission.
There was more to the rice war than the illegal trade and skirmishes along the border. And there was more to infiltration in the delta than that which took place in Kien Giang Province along corridor 1-C. Dinh Tuong Province, with its bustling market capital of My Tho, was the key province in the eastern delta. Through My Tho passed Highway 4 to Saigon, a major channel of the Mekong, and several large canals. One of the principal NVA infiltration routes, corridor 1-A crossed the Cambodian frontier near the border between Kien Phong and Kien Tuong Provinces, traversed the maze of canals through the Plain of Reeds, and ended in the watery wasteland called the Tri Phap (listed as Base Area 470 by allied intelligence) where those provinces join Dinh Tuong. A branch of corridor 1-B from the "Parrot's Beak" of Svay Rieng Province entered the Tri Phap from the northeast. An insurgent base established during the 1945-1954 war, the Tri Phap was partly covered with brush, with little land suitable for cultivation, essentially a swamp that over the years had been laced with permanent fortifications and hidden storage areas. No allied force had succeeded in occupying or inflicting any serious damage to the installation or enemy forces in the Tri Phap. Immediately after the cease-fire, RVNAF units in Dinh Tuong were preoccupied with maintaining security in the central and northern reaches of the province and could not divert the forces necessary to clean out the Tri Phap, even though they were aware of increased enemy activity.
A document captured on 9 August disclosed that the Z-18 Regiment of NVA Military Region 2 was moving into the Tri Phap from Cai Bay District in northern Dinh Tuong Province and that it would probably be replaced in Cai Bay by the Dong Thap-1 Regiment. Information in the document pertaining to planned attacks in northern Dinh Tuong was confirmed by attacks on several outposts on 8 August. Furthermore, aerial photography showed that fields north of the Tri Phap had been planted in rice, part of the NVA's effort to become self-sustaining in the delta. With pressure mounting along Highway 4, however, IV Corps could not then challenge the NVA activities in and north of the Tri Phap. Nevertheless, the RVNAF repulsed, with heavy losses to the enemy, numerous battalion-sized attacks against outposts and fire bases in Cay Bay, Cai Be, and Sam Giang Districts during July and August. In the first week of September alone, enemy casualties in the region were 144 killed, while those of the RVNAF were 17 killed and 78 wounded.
The surge in enemy attacks, which continued through November, was motivated in part, as in the border provinces, by the harvest and marked by Communist attempts to gather as much of it as possible. But beyond that, the enemy objectives were to protect the installations in the Tri Phap, expand the base area there, and use the infiltration corridors from Cambodia without interference from the RVNAF. Success in these ventures would force contractions of the RVNAF defenses along Highway 4, demoralize the soldiers of the ARVN 7th Division charged with the responsibility, and support the proselyting campaign among South Vietnamese troops.
As the year wore on, RVNAF units slowly wore down the four main force regiments in NVA Military Region 2 - the Z-18th, Z-15th, E-24th, and DT1. Despite receiving hundreds of fresh replacements from the north, these regiments gradually lost ground to aggressive attacks. The NVA 207th Regiment, which had suffered so badly in its disastrous Hong Ngu campaign, was required to provide soldiers to replace losses in the E-24th Regiment. These demoralized soldiers were intercepted en route to the Tri Phap area in September; their casualties were heavy and 14 were captured. The NVA 6th Division was disbanded that fall, and its depleted regiments were assigned to NVA Military Region 2. The RVNAF Joint Operations Center provided data on casualties in December that showed nearly 40 percent of all enemy killed during the last half of 1973 died in the delta. Although the figures were estimations the ratio was probably very close to reality, supported as it was by weapons captured and corresponding RVNAF casualties.
The year ended in a flurry of Communist activity throughout the delta. Incidents of ground attacks and attacks by fire reached the highest level since the cease-fire. Losses were heavy on both sides, but no significant changes in the tactical situation were apparent. Nevertheless, a steady erosion of security was under way and most evident in Chuong Thien and northern An Xuyen Provinces, where the 21st ARVN Division was only marginally effective against persistent enemy operations to expand control. Four NVA regiments operated in Chuong Thien - the 95A, 18B, D-1 and D-2 - and they were adequately supported with weapons, ammunition, and replacements through the Kien Giang corridor, despite the frequent successful RVNAF operations near the Cambodian border against this logistical route.
As the first anniversary of the cease-fire approached, no early decision was foreseeable in the delta. Although harassed by increasingly threatening RVNAF offensives, the NVA still maintained control over major infiltration corridors into the delta and managed to gather enough rice to sustain its forces, though some troops were on short rations. Communist strategy had undergone no great modifications; it still focused on acquiring rice, proselyting, and eroding South Vietnam's territorial and population control. Despite severe personnel losses and a few minor military defeats, the NVA was gaining in the delta.
RVNAF Delta Dispositions
The three ARVN divisions in the delta were reacting differently to the deteriorating situation in Military Region 4. True to their records of past performance and in concert with the nature of the leadership they received, they ranged from highly effective to consistently poor. On the high side was the 7th Division, operating principally in Dinh Tuong. Commanded by spartan and austere Maj. Gen. Nguyen Khoa Nam, who was later to command IV Corps and still later to take his own life after the capitulation, the 7th had become particularly skillful in rapid deployment, netting significant catches along the infiltration corridors. As the year drew to a close however, severe rationing of fuel, imposed to compensate for spiraling costs, drastically limited the division's mobility. The permanent withdrawal of RF and PF from exposed positions balanced this disadvantage somewhat, in that General Nam less frequently had to dispatch troops in what were often futile but costly attempts to rescue beseiged outposts; he could select areas of deployment more likely to result in combat with major units or large infiltrating groups. Employing advantages of surprise, superior mobility, and firepower, including effective coordination with the VNAF, the 7th was usually the clear winner in that kind of encounter. Going to the relief of outposts too often drew the relief force into an ambush in which all advantages lay with the enemy.
Major changes in the 9th Division took place toward the end of the year. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Tran Ba Di, was replaced by Brig. Gen. Huynh Van Lac. Of more immediate impact was the reorganization which drew all Rangers out of IV Corps and eliminated the 44th Special Tactical Zone. This change required the 9th to assume responsibility for Chau Doc and northern Kien Giang Provinces, as well as Kien Phong. It turned over its two southern provinces of Vinh Long and Vinh Binh to the 7th Division, recovered its 14th Regiment, which had been under the operational control of the 7th, and released its 15th Regiment to the operational control of the ARVN 21st Division in Chuong Thien Province. Thus, with two infantry regiments, General Lac replaced the equivalent of three Ranger regiments in the northern districts of the border provinces. It was feasible only because the enemy main force in the area had been so severely damaged in the Hong Ngu and Chau Doc battles.
In June 1973 the 21st ARVN Division, which deservedly had the worst reputation for discipline and effectiveness among the divisions in the delta, was given a new commander, Brig. Gen. Le Van Hung, who had done well at An Loc. Although General Hung (who was also to die a suicide) had nowhere to bring the division but up, progress was slow. He gradually replaced ineffective subordinates with combat-proven officers, many from airborne and Ranger units, and observers noted some slight improvements in morale and combat effectiveness. General Hung employed the 15th Regiment, under his operational control from the 9th Division, exclusively in Long My District of Chuong Thien, while his three organic regiments, the 31st, 32d, and 33d, operated throughout the rest of Chuong Thien and northern An Xuyen. The 32d and 33d had few contacts with the enemy, other than receiving attacks by fire; but in late December, the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry, was ambushed while marching to the relief of an RF outpost, and more than 100 of its men were killed. This event illustrated again longstanding defects in leadership and training in this regiment and supported the DAO's year-end assessment that the division was no more than "marginally combat effective."
Because the territorials were raised and stationed in their home provinces and districts, their numerical strength in each military region was largely a function of the local population. With a population of over seven million, Military Region 4 was authorized nearly three times as many territorials as Military Region 1, and twice as many as were authorized Military Regions 2 and 3.
The regional force soldiers in Military Region 4 were assigned to 144 battalions and 125 separate companies and were employed by 18 Sector Tactical Commands. But nearly all units were seriously understrength due to a combination of factors: combat losses, desertions, ineffective recruiting, and the "flower soldier" practice whereby a soldier was carried on the rolls but for a fee paid to the unit commander he was never required to be present for duty. Overall, RF strength in the delta was less than 80 percent of authorized, and NCO strength was even lower. While most of the battalions carried assigned strengths of 350 to 400 men, out of an authorized 561, some, such as those in Ba Xuyen and Chuong Thien Provinces, were down to 300. With such a reduced assigned strength, as few as 150 soldiers would be present for operations in a typical Chuong Thien battalion, a battalion smaller than a company. Quite understandably, as unit strengths declined, so did combat ability and morale, while desertions increased. Remarkably, the territorials in a few sectors, notably Kien Tuong and Go Cong, maintained high assigned strengths, a reflection of inspired leadership. But overall desertions exceeded recruitments, and strengths continued their slow but steady erosion.
Declining strengths influenced another debilitating situation. A well-intentioned unit training program for territorials had been devised by Central Training Command and ordered executed by the JGS, but the demands of combat on the depleted units made it progressively more difficult for the more embattled of the sector commanders to release RF and PF units for training. Combat efficiency in the most active sectors thus declined still further.
In early 1974, General Vien, Chief of the Joint General Staff, ordered the JGS to investigate, study, and report on the territorials of MR 4. The study revealed some interesting facts. During the first three months of 1974, for example, MR 4 territorials lost 8,852 men killed, wounded, or missing during mobile operations away from fixed bases. In these engagements, they accounted for 5,344 enemy killed or captured, a ratio of about 1.6 to every enemy casualty, excluding the uncounted enemy wounded. The relative weapons losses in these operations was also instructive. While the RF and PF lost about 1,600 weapons, they salvaged about 1,800 of the enemy's. But the most revealing and alarming discovery concerned the comparative losses during enemy attacks on territorial outposts. In the same three-month period, RF and PF casualties, including missing, were nearly 1,300, while enemy losses were only 245, a ratio of 5 to 1. Weapons losses in defensive engagements were even worse - 1000 lost against 100 recovered.The obvious conclusion was that mobile operations by territorials were immensely more profitable than defense of fixed outposts. But the JGS team also found that only 2,192 out of 22,884 offensive operations involving units of company size and larger resulted in combat with the enemy, a poor record attributed to weaknesses in intelligence, operational planning, and techniques. While this judgment was at least partially valid, benefits were derived even from mobile operations that netted no enemy. The confidence of the population in their local forces was strengthened, and the enemy was often compelled to move or discontinue his activities while the territorials maneuvered through the area.
There were 3,400 outposts, watch towers, and bases to be defended in MR 4. These ranged from large complex positions with supporting artillery to remote mud forts garrisoned by weak, under-strength PF platoons. The futility of attempting to defend the vast delta from isolated posts scattered about the paddies, canals, and swamps had been recognized by General Nghi as well as the JGS, but despite the strong desire to reduce the number of posts, to do so would remove all government presence from many contested villages and hamlets, surrendering the population to the Communists. In 1973, nevertheless, MR 4 withdrew forces from 97 outposts while 193 were lost to enemy attacks. Meanwhile, emphasis on mobile operations was increased. Operating in their home provinces, some RF battalions earned hard-fought reputations for aggressiveness and success. Unfortunately, a battalion's achievement in its native sector often impelled the corps commander to deploy it to another province under the operational control of an ARVN division. As often as not, the division would employ the battalion in a particularly hazardous role and give it inadequate logistical and administrative support. Fresh morale problems would develop and, tragically, superior RF battalions were reduced to the level of the majority.
The Vietnamese Navy in the delta was charged with providing security on the major waterways, patrolling the coastline to prevent enemy supply boats from entering, and supporting ARVN and territorial force operations. Although the Navy could boast of low desertion rates, a generally well-maintained fleet of small craft, and higher morale than in the rest of the armed forces, its performance in the delta was far below what it should have been. In good measure, the reason for its ineffectiveness lay in an aversion to coordinating operations with the other services. Although General Nghi, as region commander, had all the authority he needed to direct-coordinated operations involving all forces in the delta, by the time this authority filtered down through the structure it had lost its force. ARVN sector and sub-sector commanders, as well as commanders of tactical units, exercised no authority over naval units and naval commanders consequently remained independent and aloof, often unwilling even to attend sectorplanning and briefing sessions.
There were, happily, some exceptions to this rule. A case in point was the Navy's role in special operations to interdict the NVA's infiltration route through Kien Giang into Chuong Thien (Infiltration partially valid, benefits were derived even from Corridor 1-C). The "brown-water" navy - that is, the shallow draft boats plying the rivers and canals - was especially successful intercepting enemy attempts to cross the Cai Lon River and its tributaries. But while combined operations enjoyed some success interfering with enemy movement interior routes, the "blue-water" navy failed to intercept the enemy's supply craft sailing down the coast from Cambodia. The blue-water boats were too deep of draft to follow suspicious sampans into the shallow inshore waters, and the brown-water responsibilities ended where the waterways emptied into the Gulf of Thailand.
The blue-water navy in the delta operated from two major bases. The 4th Coastal Flotilla, with 26 patrol craft, was based at An Thoi on Phu Quoc Island and was responsible for coastal waters down to the border of An Xuyen Province. There the 5th Coastal Flotilla assumed responsibility which extended around the Ca Mau and northeast along the coast to the MR 3 boundary. The 5th operated 27 patrol craft from Nam Can, a former $50 million U.S. Navy base with excellent dry dock facilities. The brown-water fleet, with 362 boats, operated impelled from 17 locations throughout the delta.
RVNAF Economics and Morale
A melancholy accompaniment to the slow but steady erosion of government influence in the delta was being heard, not only in the delta, but throughout South Vietnam. The outward appearances of a bustling, growing economy, as seen in the prosperous looking shops and restaurants of Saigon and in the dense, noisy traffic that choked its boulevards, scarcely disguised a stagnant commercial and industrial situation but still misled the casual observer. The truth was that galloping inflation had taken hold, and those that suffered most were those to whom the country owed the most, those upon whose strength and constancy survival depended: the soldiers, airmen, sailors, and officers of the RVNAF. The consumer price index rose 65 percent during 1973, but more devastating to the serviceman and low paid public official, whose incomes were fixed at a bare subsistence level, was the fact that rice doubled in price during the year. An unfortunate combination of international and domestic events was responsible for South Vietnam's worst year economically since 1965-66. In 1972 the NVA offensive and poor weather had reduced the expected rice crop, and that disappointing harvest was followed by an even less productive one in 1973. The deficit had to be compensated for by imports at a time when rice on the world market was soaring. This fact, in combination with the domestic shortage, drove the price to the consumer even higher. South Vietnam's tough rice control program was doubtless of some benefit, but it could not thoroughly dampen market-driven trends.
Meanwhile, the U.S. aid dollar, as well as other forms of foreign assistance to Vietnam, was declining in value under the influence of worldwide inflation. Imported commodities therefore entered the country at drastically inflated costs. Cooking oil, laundry soap, and brown sugar, for example, were all selling at 200% percent above 1972 prices; driven by the international petroleum crisis of 1973, gasoline rose by 213 percent and kerosene by 196 percent. And while import prices climbed, South Vietnam's opportunities to earn foreign exchange declined with the departure of the U.S. forces. The U.S. withdrawal also aggravated high levels of unemployment. In 1969, about 160,000 Vietnamese were direct employees of the United States; by September 1973, the number had dropped to less than 20,000. This decline was matched by the disappearance of jobs whose functions indirectly depended on the U.S. payroll in Vietnam.
The severe unemployment greatly affected the families of soldiers because a soldier's family could only survive if it had a source of income other than military pay. Disquieting evidence that the depressed economy and inflated market were having deleterious effects on RVNAF morale and effectiveness began to appear in mid-1973. Reports of particularly heinous instances of venality surfaced, sometimes in official channels, but more frequently in private conversations between DAO people and RVNAF officers whose sensibilities were offended by the corrupt practices of their countrymen, even though they understood the conditions that impelled men to seek dishonorable means to supplement their livelihood. And even when corruption was not mentioned, the serious economic plight of officers and soldiers was cited as contributing to defeats and portending future disaster. Here are some examples:
On 15 December the Communists attacked a position in the Song Bo corridor west of Hue defended by a company of the 1st ARVN Division. According to the new 3d Infantry commander, Col. Hoang Mao, the company incurred only light casualties before breaking and running in panic. Similar performances occurred in other regimental positions, and Colonel Mao attributed this conduct to poorly trained draftees with low morale. The regiment had borne the weight of the NVA's attacks that autumn, and its extended period in the line had aggravated its declining morale, but the root cause of the problem was widespread disaffection in the ranks traceable to the growing deprivations suffered by military families.
The Airborne Division was the elite of the ARVN. It could still boast an all-volunteer force and the high esprit that went with special and rigorous training. But even it was not immune to South Vietnam's economic malady. In a despairing interview with a trusted American friend, a young paratrooper captain, battle tested in Cambodia, An Loc, and Quang Tri, told of demoralization in the airborne as largely the result of worsening economic conditions. Another reason for low morale was the continued commitment of the division - trained and psychologically equipped for difficult offensive operations - in a static defensive role in northern MR 1. Add to this the fact that the division bases were at Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa and the soldier's families lived on or near them. In any event, this dedicated 29-year-old veteran deplored the decline of discipline in the division, which he said could be traced to the absence of the airborne spirit in leaders who had recently joined the division, a spirit hard to kindle in the bunkers and trenches of Thua Thien Province.
More importantly, he cited the desperate economic conditions among the troopers' families, which the officers and noncommissioned officers were powerless to relieve. As a direct consequence, the empathetic leader was loath to punish severely any soldier whose derelictions were traceable to despair or concern for his suffering family. Absences, even some desertions, went unpunished, and alcoholism and drug addiction increased, as did incidents of "fragging." (Slang for the practice of murdering or attempting to murder officers or noncommissioned officers; derived from fragmentation grenade, the usual weapon of choice.)
The division commander, Brig. Gen. Le Quang Luong, was acutely aware of the problems, his personal leadership and concern for his men no doubt prevented collapse. In fact, the division fought some of its most effective and gallant engagements in the months following.
Illegal trading in fuel used by the South Vietnamese Navy was a favorite means of income augmentation in the delta. An incident in September in southern An Xuyen Province is illustrative. In September near Vam Song Ong Doc, a small fishing port at the mouth of the Ong Doc River, a Navy boat was reportedly sunk by gunfire and three sailors were wounded, apparently in an ambush set by the VC. But the facts were quite different. It seems that Navy vessels regularly sailed up the coast and called at Vam Song Ong Doc to sell diesel fuel, a commodity in great demand by the fishing fleet as well as the Communists, who used it in their boats. The the 412th RF Battalion had been watching this for some time and finally demanded 1,000 piastres (about $2) per 55-gallon drum sold. After the crew refused, reportedly explaining that all the proceeds had to be sent to the Chief of Naval Operations in Saigon, the RF attacked. Some accommodation was apparently arrived at because before long the boats
were again engaged in the diesel trade, though the market had been moved upriver. Preoccupation with this illegal operation distracted the Navy from its important mission of intercepting Communist boats that were infiltrating the coast with impunity from the Ong Doc River to An Xuyen's northern border.
There were a few documented cases wherein RVNAF officers and soldiers sold weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment and supplies for cash, knowing full well that they were trading with the enemy. But the most despicable of all cases of venality - and reports of these were widespread and persistent enough to deserve credence - were the demands of VNAF helicopter crews for payment from ground troops for the evacuation of casualties. This is not to say that this practice was the rule, but that it happened at all was a vivid commentary on a pernicious flaw and the conditions which spawned
A typical colonel in the RVNAF was paid less than 40,000 piastres per month, the equivalent of about $80.00, this after about 20 years of service, virtually all of it in wartime. Of course he received a few other emoluments, but basically he was supporting a family group of perhaps 10 people on $80 per month. At prices prevalent in the winter of 1973, half of his earnings went for rice. This meant, among other things, that every able person in the family had to bring in some income. Practices ranging from simple nepotism through the entire gamut of activity that well-fed, comfortably-housed Americans might call malfeasance understandably became part of the system. The wonder is that so many honest, devoted officers and public servants managed, through strength of character and with the help of friends and families, not only to survive but also to take care of their less fortunate subordinates.
In September 1973, a JGS evaluation of the structure and employment of Ranger forces culminated in a recommendation from General Vien to President Thieu. Approved by the President, it was developed by 31 December into a plan of reorganization. Essentially the plan's major purpose was to reconstitute a small strategic reserve for employment by the JGS and small reaction forces for the first three military regions. The planners accepted the unpleasant fact that the two general reserve divisions - the Airborne and Marine - were probably permanently committed in Military Region l; a Ranger reorganization would result in a slight surplus of uncommitted battalions and help restore some flexibility to the RVNAF as a whole. The planners also took into account the deterioration of South Vietnamese control in the western and Central Highlands but with unwarranted optimism calculated that Rangers would eventually be redeployed to frontier posts in lost or contested sectors. In any event, the fact that Ranger battalions were programmed for deployment on the borders in the indefinite future provided uncommitted battalions for the present for reserve or other missions.
The planners also recognized the unique situation along the Cambodian border in Military Region 4. The Rangers of 44th Special Tactical Zone around the Seven Mountains and the ARVN regulars and territorials in other reaches of the frontier had all but eliminated the enemy main-force threat and were dealing with some success with infiltration. Thus the decision was made to eliminate the 44th Special Tactical Zone and deactivate its nine Ranger battalions, with officers and men reassigned to battalions in the northern part of the country. This made tactical sense, but unfortunately, the delta Ranger battalions had been recruited in the delta, and the soldiers showed their displeasure at being reassigned from their home provinces by deserting in great numbers. By 1 January 1974, the original 54 Ranger battalions had been reorganized into 45, and each belonged to one of 15 Ranger groups (regiments). Rather than having three different types of battalions - organic to regiments, border defense, and separate - all were to follow one table of organization and equipment.
The new concept of operations for Rangers visualized that 27 forward defense bases, mostly along the Laotian and Cambodian borders in Military Regions 1, 2, and 3, would be occupied by a minimum of one Ranger battalion each. At this time, however, only six of these border posts were occupied by Rangers; the others were inaccessible because of enemy operations or were in enemy hands. Each military region was to keep one Ranger group in reserve, dedicated to the reinforcement or rescue of any threatened or besieged Ranger base. A 30-man Ranger headquarters was established in each of the three military regions where Ranger battalions were assigned to oversee training and administrative matters. Its commander was the corps commander's adviser on Ranger employment. At year's end, Ranger deployment and strength was as shown in Table 3.
[See Table 3: ARVN Ranger Deployment, 31 Dec. 1973]
Military Region 3
RVNAF efforts to open lines of communication to beleaguered bases, interdict NVA logistical routes, and damage enemy base areas and the NVA's response to these actions raised the level of combat in Military Region 3 after Cease-fire II. There were a number of sharp contacts, particularly in Tay Ninh and Binh Duong Provinces, but no terrain changed hands. The VNAF carried out heavy raids against NVA bases in Tay Ninh, Binh Long, and Phuoc Long Provinces, and the NVA retaliated with a rocket attack on Bien Hoa on 6 November that destroyed three F-SA fighters and with a sapper raid on the Shell petroleum storage site at Nha Be on 2 December that virtually wiped it out. The Communists also sent water-sapper teams into South Vietnamese Navy docks near Saigon and sank six small craft. Just a few miles southwest of Saigon, on 15 December, they ambushed an unarmed U.S. Joint Casualty Resolution Center Team and killed a U.S. Army captain, the first American serviceman to die by Communist fire after the ceasefire. This incident effectively ended all efforts by U.S. casualty resolution teams to enter areas not considered absolutely immune from enemy intrusion.
Behind the screen of harassing and sometimes destructive attacks, and beyond the range of effective RVNAF interference, Communist forces in Military Region 3 built warehouses, workshops, roads, and antiaircraft positions, receiving new weapons, combat vehicles, and replacements while assembling a logistical and training base that spread across the northern border of MR 3 from Bu Dop in Phuoc Long to Lo Go in Tay Ninh. The Communists were also# concentrating freshly arrived battalions of tanks, artillery, and antiaircraft weapons, together with infantry replacements for the divisions that were protecting the buildup. By September they had completed the deployment of the 367th Sapper Group from Phnom Penh to Tay Ninh for further employment in the Saigon area.
The NVA strategy in Tay Ninh called for continuing pressure along lines of contact, preventing the RVNAF from probing too deeply into the base area, and undermining the fragile hold the RVNAF maintained on the vital corridor between Tay Ninh City and Saigon. This pressure was exerted from three directions and spilled over prominently into Hau Nghia Province through which the corridor passed into the northwestern suburbs of Saigon. From the Cambodian salient of Svay Rieng Province, called the Parrot's Beak, NVA forces probed RVNAF outposts along the Vam Co Dong River. The river port of Go Dau Ha was kept under constant threat. Since the port was the junction of National Routes 1 and 22, only 10 kilometers from the Cambodian frontier, its loss would sever Tay Ninh and isolate sizable South Vietnamese forces there.
The NVA prevented any RVNAF forays toward its northern Tay Ninh base along local Route 4 (TL-4); this road led into the NVA's growing headquarters, logistical, and political complex around Lo Go, Thien Ngon, Xa Mat, and Katum. Moving within range of the ARVN's 25th Division forward base at the Tay Ninh airfield, the ARVN outpost and communications relay station on Nui Ba Den mountain, and the RF base at Soui Da, the NVA regularly harassed these positions with artillery, mortar, and rocket fire and made resupply of Nui Ba Den hazardous by frequently directing antiaircraft fire and SA-7 rockets at VNAF helicopters.
The NVA exerted strong pressure against the Tay Ninh-Saigon corridor from its forward combat bases along the Saigon River from the Michelin Plantation to the Ho Bo Woods. The Ho Bo area was flat, almost featureless terrain, laced with trenches and tunnels, deeply pocked with ragged lines of bomb craters left by numberless waves of B-52s, its shattered plantations overgrown with head-high weeds and dense brush. Nearly 10 years of battle litter defaced the countryside, and a tangle of tank-tread marks gave it the appearance of an abandoned armored training ground. Hidden beneath were the bunkers and fighting positions of several NVA main force units, the principal occupant being the 101st Infantry Regiment.
The 101st had entered Nam Bo, the southern battlefield, in 1966 from North Vietnam and had been a more or less constant resident of the Tay Ninh-Hau Nghia-Binh Duong region since its first punishing engagements with the U.S. 1st Infantry Division that year. In the summer and fall of 1973, it was backing up local battalions harassing ARVN territorials and elements of the 25th Infantry Division generally north of Highways 1 and 22.
Principal targets for NVA artillery and mortar attacks were Khiem Hanh, a forward base protecting the northern approach to Go Dau Ha; Trang Bang, a principal town and defensive position astride Highway 1 midway between Tay Ninh City and Saigon; Cu Chi, the main base of the ARVN 25th Infantry Division; and the defensive position at Trung Lap north of Highway 1. Although a night rarely passed without some kind of attack against these or smaller posts, major contacts were infrequent. But in one major engagement in late September, the 2d Battalion, 49th Infantry, 25th Division, was caught in a devastating ambush in a rubber plantation between Highway 22 and Khiem Hahn. More than half the battalion were casualties, including 43 killed, and the battalion lost nearly 150 weapons and 18 field radios. Shortly afterward some command changes were made in the 25th, including the division commander and commanders of the 46th and 49th Regiments. The road to recovery was long and slowly traveled for the 49th Infantry, but on the other hand, the 50th Infantry of the 25th Division, during the last half of 1973, enjoyed more successes than failures in sweep operations around Phu Hoa, and in southeastern Binh Duong and Hau Nghia Provinces.
In the only other major contact in the Tay Ninh-Saigon corridor up to the cease-fire anniversary, a Hau Nghia Regional Force battalion met a battalion of the NVA 101st Regiment, reinforced by a local company, northeast of Trang Bang. When the smoke cleared, the Hau Nghia battalion, among the best RF units in MR 3, collected 32 enemy weapons on the battlefield and buried 56 NVA soldiers. RF casualties were 19 killed and 33 wounded.
In the last half of 1973 in southern Binh Long and western Binh Duong Provinces, very little combat took place. The NVA continued its buildup in the Minh Thanh Plantation and the Lai Khe-Ben Cat area, shifted its artillery southward into the Long Nguyen area from where it increased the weight and frequency of attacks against the ARVN bases. But the only ground engagement of note took place in early January just west of Chon Thanh when the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, ARVN 5th Infantry Division, was struck hard by the 7th Battalion, 209th Infantry, NVA 7th Division. Charged with blocking Highway 13 and preventing any ARVN advance toward Minh Thanh, the 7th Battalion killed 36 ARVN soldiers in this engagement, wounded 26 others, and captured 85 weapons.
The most significant action during this period in MR 3 took place along Highway 1A between Song Be and Saigon. Continuing to isolate the Phuoc Long capital of Phuoc Binh, NVA troops used artillery, mortars, rockets, and ground attacks against all RVNAF posts and positions along the 75-kilometer stretch of road between Phu Giao and Song Be. They bombarded the airfield at Song Be and attacked the Don Luan post, but the heaviest action took place south of the Phu Giao base as the NVA 7th Division attempted to block the highway and blow the bridge over the Song Be river. The NVA intention was not only to deny ARVN the use of the road and isolate the garrisons north of the bridge, but also to screen the movement of artillery and supplies south from Bu Dop in northern Phuoc Long to forward combat bases in the dense forests north of Bien Hoa and Xuan Loc. In fact, the NVA itself was using sections of Highway 1A between Bu Dop and Phu Giao for the movement of artillery.
The ARVN 5th Division was roughly handled by the NVA 7th Division between Lai Khe and Phu Giao, and one result of the 5th's consistent failures was the relief of its commander and his replacement in November by Col. Le Nguyen Vy. (Colonel Vy was later to take his own life upon the surrender of his division to the NVA on 30 April 1975.) The 18th ARVN Division fared much better under the leadership of an aggressive commander, Brig. Gen. Le Minh Dao (who was to surrender to the Communists after a gallant defense of Xuan Loc in April 1975), and Highway 1A was kept open as far as Phuoc Vinh. The 18th also saw action around Xuan Loc and in its southern sector of Phuoc Tuy, but nothing decisive was accomplished by either side.
The NVA seige of Tong Le Chon continued through the year, and the 92d Ranger Battalion's defense was rapidly becoming legendary. But the cost was high. After a brief respite following Ceasefire II, the shelling resumed, moderately enough at first, but reached crescendo proportions later in the year as the NVA added 120-mm. and 160-mm. mortars and 122-mm. and 130-mm. howitzers and guns to the batteries ranging on the camp. Antiaircraft artillery, including 37-mm. and 57-mm. guns om the newly formed 377th Antiaircraft Artillery Division at Loc Ninh continued to make supply difficult and evacuation next to impossible.
The NVA 200th Battalion, which had been used in local security missions in the Tay Ninh logistical area, was assigned to the infantry element of the NVA siege force. One of its platoon leaders rallied to the South Vietnamese side in September with some interesting comments on the conduct of the operation. He said that in June the NVA organized a company to collect parachuted supplies that fell outside the Tong Le Chon perimeter, which between April and June amounted to about 80 percent of all supplies dropped. After June, according to this rallier, VNAF techniques had improved to the point where only 10 percent of the drops were recoverable by the company. He asserted that an understanding had been reached between the ARVN Rangers and the NVA whereby the C-130's dropping supplies would not be fired upon so long as the company would not be opposed as it collected the supplies outside the perimeter. This assertation cannot be corroborated, but it fits the general character of the situation at Tong Le Chon. </!>
If there was a tacit withholding of fire against the C-130's at Tong Le Chon, it certainly did not apply to helicopters. Many attempts were made to fly helicopters into Tong Le Chon to evacuate casualties and land replacements. Between late October and the end of January, 1974, 20 helicopters attempted landings; but only 6 managed to land and 3 of these were destroyed by fire upon landing. In the last week of December 1973, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was destroyed as it landed, the 13th helicopter hit by enemy fire on a Tong Le Chon mission during December alone. Casualties were 9 killed and 36 wounded. Another crashed and burned in January, and as the anniversary of the cease-fire came and went, 12 seriously wounded soldiers of the 92d Ranger Battalion remained in the beleaguered camp.
South Vietnam's leadership was concerned and frustrated over the NVA buildup north of Saigon. Largely beyond reach of ARVN artillery and protected by large and mobile NVA infantry formations, the NVA was openly constructing a modern, mechanized, heavily fortified logistics and communications center. In late October President Thieu decided to attack this enemy complex with air strikes. The concentrated attacks did not begin until 7 November, and South Vietnam made known that they were in response to the NVA's 6 November rocketing of Bien Hoa Air Base, an indication it still felt obliged to rationalize offensive operations in terms of retaliation for NVA cease-fire violations.
Not a part of the concentrated program, a single attack was made in late October against Xa Mat in Tay Ninh Province, a small hamlet on the border with Cambodia which had been named as a "point of entry" in Article 4 of the "Protocol to the Agreement Concerning the International Commission of Control and Supervision," but at which no ICCS team had been posted for the simple reason that the Communists did not want their activities at Xa Mat observed. The only report DAO received concerning the air attack was through an agent who passed through Xa Mat. According to his account, the market, a fuel dump, and about 60 structures were destroyed.
Another separate attack was made on 6 November, the day the NVA rockets destroyed three F-5As at Bien Hoa, when the VNAF made 33 fighterbomber sorties against NVA concentrations around the ARVN base at Don Luan. Military Region 3 claimed the destruction of numerous fighting positions, about 100 enemy soldiers killed, and four secondary explosions.
From 7 November to 5 December, spotty records revealed about 800 sorties of fighter-bombers, including A-1s, F-5s and A-37s were flown. It began with attacks against Bo Duc and Loc Ninh areas. Although the results of the Bo Duc strike were not reported, Military Region 3 claimed good results against Loc Ninh storage facilities, including fuel, and antiaircraft positions. A contrary version was given by Brig. Gen. Le Trung Truc, a VNAF officer on
detached duty in the office of the President. General Truc said that most of the bombs landed miles from the targets, that attacking fighters released at excessively high altitudes to avoid antiaircraft fire, and that poor targeting, poor execution, and low VNAF morale were to blame for the meager results. Criticisms such as these, from RVNAF commanders as well as from U.S. observers, persisted throughout the campaign and certainly had some merit. Even the enemy antiaircraft gunners complained, according to an agent reporting on a Katum strike, that the VNAF flew too high to be reached by their 37-mm. guns.
Lest there be an assumption that VNAF fighter pilots lacked courage to fly through flak, they did habitually assume high risks in attacking enemy forces while in support of ARVN infantry. The inhibition against flying too low through heavy antiaircraft fire stemmed more from the realization that no ARVN unit was in peril and perhaps more cogently that, under the constraints on military assistance, lost airplanes would not be replaced and damaged ones would be grounded for months awaiting repair. On the strikes against Loc Ninh on 30 November and 3 December, pilots reported flak between 4,000 and 12,000 feet and bomb release altitudes were between 7,000 and 10,000 feet. While these release altitudes were too high for precision bombing and rocketing, they did produce some visible results, although VNAF attacks had no lasting effect on the enemy's capabilities.
Attempts by the JGS and Military Region 3 to assess the damage to NVA installations were frustrated by the lack of an aerial photographic system in VNAF as well as by the remoteness of the areas attacked and the dense foliage that concealed many of the targets. Agents filtered back with a few reports, and these were probably accurate as far as they went but were far from comprehensive. Pilot reports were also used to assess bomb damage but these may well have been colored by wishful observations. A brief summary of the campaign is given in Table 4. [See Table 4: VNAF Strikes, Oct.-Dec. 1973 (date/location and targets/sorties)]
On the first anniversary of the Paris Agreement in early 1974, the Communists issued statements presenting their views on the cease-fire and the situation in South Vietnam. Hanoi published a "White Paper" assailing U.S. and South Vietnamese "provocations." Its charges were accompanied by the rattle and roar of thousands of trucks coursing south across the DMZ and through Laos in a mammoth "transportation offensive" started in December 1973. Thousands of tons of supplies were accumulating in the southern stockpiles, and by the cease-fire anniversary the NVA had sufficient stocks to support an offensive comparable to that of 1972 for over a year. Meanwhile, NVA engineers extended their fuel pipelines into the A Shau Valley in Thua Thien Province, and the Laotian pipeline was passing through the tri-border junction into Kontum Province. During the year following the cease-fire, the NVA increased its artillery and tank strength in the south at least four-fold.
Despite some surges of concentrated effort, such as the MR 3 air campaign of November and the aborted attempts to advance on the NVA logistical base at Duc Co, the RVNAF was unable to interfere significantly with the NVA's steady accumulation of logistical and combat strength. One major inhibiting factor was the growing density of NVA antiaircraft defending the major logistical corridors and troop concentrations. In the year following the cease-fire, the NVA added one air defense division and at least 12 regiments to the expeditionary force so that by the cease-fire anniversary 2 air defense divisions and 26 regiments were deployed in South Vietnam. Included in the force were SA-2 and SA-7 missiles and radar-controlled guns; these, in particular, forced the VNAF, which had none of the sophisticated electronic counter-measures employed by the U.S. Air Force in such a high-threat environment, to operate above effective attack altitudes.
Preparations for resuming the offensive were being made north of the DMZ in concert with the buildup in the South. The NVA strategic reserve was being reconstituted, and most of its fighting elements were being concentrated in Thanh Hoa Province between Hanoi and Vinh. Here the NVA I Corps was organized in the fall of 1973, and the 308th, 312th, and 320B Divisions, having returned from the Quang Tri front, were assigned to it. Adding to reserve strength, the major elements of the 316th Division returned to North Vietnam from northern Laos, and the 341st Division, located immediately north of the DMZ, was reorganized from its territorial status into a deployable infantry division. The sixth major element of the NVA strategic reserve, the 308B Division, was still in garrison in the Hanoi area. Compounding the already tenuous situation facing the RVNAF in Kontum and Pleiku Province, the NVA 968th Division began deploying from southern Laos into the western highlands of South Vietnam, and by the end of January 1974 its 9th and 19th Regiments were already there.
As the RVNAF leadership and the DAO observers in Saigon viewed the situation, the warning was clear: although there existed a rough parity of military power deployed in the South, considering the obviously heavier requirements on South Vietnam to protect a dispersed population and long lines of communication, the RVNAF could retain not even one division in general reserve. The planned defense possessed no flexibility whatsoever, and adjustments were possible only by giving up terrain and usually population along with it. On the other hand, the NVA not only possessed considerable flexibility in choosing objectives and selecting forces to employ, but it also had six full-strength infantry divisions, adequately supported by artillery, tanks, and supplies, to throw into the battle at the decisive moment. Furthermore, improvements made in roads southward and the absence of U.S. air interdiction reduced North Vietnamese deployment times to the point where a surprise appearance of the NVA reserve became a worrisome possibility.
Note on Sources
References used in describing the situation in the delta during the last half of 1973 included, most importantly, reports and studies made by J2/JGS, translated and retained by DAO Saigon Intelligence Branch; similar reports of rallier interrogations and captured documents; DAO Intelligence Summaries and reports; operational reports and intelligence information from headquarters IV Corps; reports from the U.S. Consul General, Can Tho; a JGS report on the status of territorial forces in Military Region 4; and the author's own notes recorded during meetings with the J2/JGS, and visits to Military Region 4.
The section on morale in the RVNAF was derived largely from reports by U.S. Military Attaches who had regular contact with knowledgeable Vietnamese officers, from DAO Saigon Economic Reports, and from recorded observations made by liaison officers of DAO Intelligence Branch.
Information on the Ranger reorganization came from the DAO Saigon Quarterly Assessment, December 1973, and reports from offices of the U.S. Embassy.
Combat activity and the air campaign in Military Region 3 came from personal observation by the author, reports by the principal liaison officer from DAO Intelligence Branch with the VNAF, and information reports from the Consul General, Bien Hoa, the U.S. Embassy, and DAO Saigon.