First Battle of Quảng Trị
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The province of Quảng Trị was a major battle ground for the opposing forces during the Vietnam War. As South Vietnamese soldiers were gradually replacing their American counterparts, North Vietnam's General Văn Tiến Dũng was preparing to engage three of his divisions in the province.
Just months before the battle, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam deployed its newly formed 3rd Division to the areas along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone to take over former U.S bases. North Vietnamese forces deployed against the inexperienced ARVN 3rd Division included the North Vietnamese 304th, 308th and 324B Divisions.
The battle for Quảng Trị began on March 30 with preparatory artillery barrages on the key areas of the province. Meanwhile, infantry assaults supported by tanks overran outposts and firebases. The lightning speed of Communist attacks on those positions delivered a great shock to the soldiers of the ARVN, who were largely unprepared for the onslaught.
In 1972 Camp Carroll at Easter Offensive, Camp Carroll was one of the first targets to come under North Vietnamese artillery barrage.was occupied by the ARVN 56th Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Dinh. During the first hours of the
The North Vietnamese Army deployed a full artillery regiment against Camp Carroll with supporting infantry units, showing their full intention to take the camp. Throughout February and March 1972, the North and South Vietnamese armies exchanged artillery fire, but South Vietnamese resistance gradually worn down as ARVN artillerymen began seeking shelter against the devastatingly accurate North Vietnamese 130mm shells.
By Easter, the morale of the South Vietnamese had dropped after suffering heavy casualties, as a result Lieutenant Colonel Dinh informed his American advisors that what was left of the 56th Regiment would surrender to the Viet Cong. As the senior advisor to the ARVN 56th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel William Camper refused to go through with the surrender, so he decided to leave Camp Carroll along with three officers.
On April 2, 1972, Camp Carroll was officially surrendered to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, with a white flag raised over the main gate of the camp. Following the surrender, a B-52 strike was ordered against Camp Carroll. However, it was too late as the North Vietnamese had already moved the M107 self-propelled gun out of the camp.
Following the loss of Camp Carroll on April 2, South Vietnamese forces continued to put up resistance elsewhere. At Dong Ha atthe South Vietnamese 3rd Marines Battalion, under the command of Major Le Ba Binh, faced the tremendous task of stopping, or at least delaying a huge force of over twenty-thousand North Vietnamese troops well-equipped with tanks and armoured vehicles.
Major Le Ba Binh's seven hundred-men battalion was reinforced with M-48 tanks from the ARVN 20th Tank Regiment. Their task was to stop the North Vietnamese from crossing over the Dong Ha bridge stretched across the Cua Viet River. In order to do so the bridge had to be destroyed. Marine Captain John Ripley, advisor to the 3rd Marines Battalion, carried out the task of destroying the Dong Ha bridge. In full view of the North Vietnamese, Captain Ripley climbed under the bridge and placed the explosives in key positions. At 1245 hours an order was given for the bridge to be blown up.
At this point the North Vietnamese Army had failed in its attempt to cross the Dong Ha bridge, but it continued to hit South Vietnamese positions with artillery strikes. The South Vietnamese 3rd Marines Battalion and the 20th Tank Regiment held on to their positions on the other side. Although vastly outnumbered by enemy T-54 and PT-76 tanks, South Vietnamese M-48s inflicted heavy damages on their North Vietnamese counterparts, demonstrating their superior training and discipline.
Four days following the destruction of the Dong Ha bridge, Major Le Ba Binh intended to hold Dong Ha at all costs. However, his unit was completely surrounded and casualties were mounting. So the 3rd Marines Battalion fought their way out of Dong Ha, grudgingly giving ground to the North Vietnamese Army.
Dong Ha was captured on April 28 and all of Quảng Trị was in Communist hands by May 1.
The fall of Quảng Trị gave North Vietnam its first major victory of the offensive. The Viet Cong's Provisional Revolutionary Government immediately imposed their authority in the province, as collective farms were set up and strict rules instilled by the Viet Cong were forced on the villagers. Many victims and villagers who fell along with province under Communist control eventually fled. According to Gary D. Murfin, one of the lead writers to have done a survey on Vietnamese refugees after 1975, the province was an area of particularly dense Catholic concentration, many of whom were anti- communist. He estimated that 41% fled the area in fear of Viet Cong reprisals, 37% feared fighting, shelling, and bombing, and others fled because they were a family related to a Nationalist soldier, or were at one point landowners.
While the North Vietnamese tried to consolidate their rule over the so-called "Liberated Zones", South Vietnamese General Ngô Quang Trưởng was drawing up a plan to retake the province. The stage was set for the Second Battle of Quảng Trị which would last from June 28 to September 16, 1972, where the South Vietnamese Army would retake their positions. Although the North Vietnamese eventually lost most of Quảng Trị, the northern parts of the province would remain in their control until the end of the Vietnam war in 1975.
- Donnell, John C., “South Vietnam in 1975: The Year of Communist Victory”
- Asian Survey, Vol. 16, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1975: Part I. (Jan., 1976), pp. 1–13.
- Murfin, Gary D., A. Terry Rambo, Le-Thi-Que, “Why They Fled: Refugee Movement during the Spring 1975 Communist Offensive in South Vietnam”
- Asian Survey, Vol. 16, No. 9. (Sep., 1976): 855-863