Escape of the Provisional Revolutionary Government

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Escape of the Provisional Revolutionary Government
Part of the Vietnam War
Map showing the army bases along the Vietnamese Cambodian border
Location of bases in early 1970
Date29 March – late April, 1970
LocationEastern Cambodia
Result The capture of large amounts of supplies and material and the expansion of the Cambodian Civil War
Belligerents
 South Vietnam
Cambodia Cambodia
Vietnam North Vietnam
Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam Viet Cong
Commanders and leaders
Cambodia Lon Nol B-3 Front:
Phạm Hùng (political)
Hoàng Văn Thái (military)

The Escape of the Provisional Revolutionary Government was a series of military operations conducted in eastern Cambodia during mid-1970 by the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) during the Vietnam War. The objective was to search and destroy elements of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC). This incursion was the single closest time the entire leadership of the Viet Cong was close to being captured according to PRG leader Trương Như Tảng[1] a task South Vietnamese/US Intelligence and special forces for years have failed to do.

A change in the Cambodian government allowed a window of opportunity for the destruction of the base areas in 1970 when Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed and replaced by pro-American General Lon Nol. The pro-American Lon Nol demanded that PAVN/VC forces to leave Cambodia, they refused and took control of much of the east and north of Cambodia. Lon Nol and the South Vietnamese responded by launching an invasion of the border region and forcing the PAVN/VC fighters to leave the area to the PAVN-controlled Kratié Province to the north. Some elements of the PAVN/VC including the PRG left the area while under pressure from Cambodian and South Vietnamese forces. This operation was seen as a precursor to the much larger Cambodian Campaign a month later.[2]

Background[edit]

The PAVN/VC had been utilizing large sections of relatively unpopulated eastern Cambodia as sanctuaries into which they could withdraw from fighting in South Vietnam to rest and reorganize without being attacked. These base areas were also utilized by the PAVN/VC to store weapons and other material that had been transported on a large scale into the region on the Sihanouk Trail. During 1968, Cambodia's indigenous communist movement, the Khmer Rouge began an insurgency to overthrow the government. While the Khmer Rouge received very limited material help from the North Vietnamese at the time, the Hanoi government had no incentive to overthrow Sihanouk, since it was satisfied with his continued "neutrality", they were able to shelter their forces in areas controlled by PAVN/VC troops.[3]

For nearly a decade the fabled COSVN headquarters, which directed the entire war effort of the Viet Cong was the target of the RVN/US war effort, and which would have collapsed the insurgency war effort. US Special Forces sent to capture them usually were killed or returned with heavy casualties to the point that teams refused to go[4]. Near-continuous daily bombing of COSVN headquarters at Memot for over a year under Operation Menu failed to destroy COSVN or to kill a single political or military leader of the Viet Cong[5]. Soviet ships in the South China Sea gave vital early warnings to NLF forces in South Vietnam.[5] The Soviet intelligence ships detected American B-52 bombers flying from Okinawa and Guam,[5] and relayed their airspeed and direction to COSVN headquarters. COSVN used this data to determine probable targets, and directed assets along the flight path to move "perpendicularly to the attack trajectory" [5] or to hide in underground bunkers[6].

While Sihanouk was abroad in France for a rest cure in January 1970, government sponsored anti-Vietnamese demonstrations erupted throughout Cambodia.[3]:56–7 Continued unrest spurred Prime Minister/Defense Minister Lon Nol to issue an ultimatum on 12 March to the North Vietnamese to withdraw their forces from Cambodia within 72 hours.[7]

On 18 March, the Cambodian National Assembly officially deposed Sihanouk and named Lon Nol as provisional head of state. The North Vietnamese response to the coup was swift. Even before Lon Nol's 12 March ultimatum the PAVN had begun expanding its logistical system from southeastern Laos (the Ho Chi Minh trail) into northeastern Cambodia.[8] The PAVN also launched an offensive (Campaign X) against the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK), quickly seizing large portions of the eastern and northeastern parts of the country, isolating and besieging or overrunning a number of Cambodian cities including Kampong Cham.

Escape to Kratie[edit]

The escape of the PRG in March April 1970
The red dotted track indicates the route taken by the PRG while escaping South Vietnamese forces in April 1970

In early 1970 North Vietnamese intelligence in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh knew that Sihanouk was coming under intense pressure to remove North Vietnamese bases on Cambodian soil. Planning for any eventuality the North Vietnamese started planning emergency evacuation routes in the event of a coordinated assault by Cambodians from the west and South Vietnamese from the east. After the Cambodian coup, COSVN was evacuated on 19 March 1970.[2]:177 While the PRG and PAVN/VC bases were preparing to also move to the north and safety they came under aerial bombardment from American B-52 bombers on 27 March.[2]:177 As laid out by the evacuation plans General Hoàng Văn Thái planned to have three Divisions to cover the escape.[2]:180 The VC 9th Division would block any movement from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the VC 5th Division would screen any FANK forces and the VC 7th Division would provide security to the civilian and military members of the PAVN/VC bases.[2]:180

Moving across the border in Cambodia on 30 March elements of the PAVN/VC were surrounded in their bunkers by ARVN forces flown in by helicopter. Surrounded they awaited till nightfall and then with security provided by the 7th Division they broke out of the encirclement and fled north to unite with the COSVN in Kratié Province.[2]:178 Trương Như Tảng was the Minister of Justice in the PRG and he recounts that during the march to the northern bases was day after day of forced marches in the rain.[2]:180 Just before the column crossed Route 7 on their way north they received word that on 3 April the 9th Division had fought and won in a battle near the city of Krek, Cambodia against ARVN forces.[2]:181 Years later Trương would recall just how "close [South Vietnamese] were to annihilating or capturing the core of the Southern insurgency – elite units of our frontline fighters along with the civilian and much of the military leadership.[2]:180 After many days of hard marching the PRG reached the northern bases, and relative safety, in the Kratié region. Casualties were light and the march even saw the birth of a baby to Dương Quỳnh Hoa the deputy minister of health in the PRG. The column needed many days to recover and Trương himself would require weeks to recover from the long march. Near the end of April as the skeleton crew that was left behind to man the bases were finally forced from their positions by the coordinated campaign from the ARVN and U.S. forces in what would be later known as the Cambodian Campaign.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tảng 1985, p. 180
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Tảng, Truong Như; Chanoff, David (1985). A Vietcong memoir. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 182. ISBN 9780151936366.
  3. ^ a b Deac, Wilfred P. (1997). Road to the Killing Fields: The Cambodian War of 1970–1975. Texas A&M University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9781585440542.
  4. ^ Gibson, James William (2007-12-01). The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. Grove/Atlantic, Inc. pp. 400–402. ISBN 9780802196811.
  5. ^ a b c d Tảng 1985, p. 168
  6. ^ Gibson, James William (2007-12-01). The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. Grove/Atlantic, Inc. ISBN 9780802196811.
  7. ^ Isaacs, Arnold R.; Hardy, Gordon (1987). Pawns of war: Cambodia and Laos. Boston Publishing Company. p. 90. ISBN 9780939526246.
  8. ^ Gilster, Herman L. (2002). The Air War in Southeast Asia: Case Studies of Selected Campaigns. University Press of the Pacific. p. 20. ISBN 9780898759662.