First Battle of Quảng Trị
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The First Battle of Quảng Trị resulted in the first major victory for the North Vietnamese Army during the Easter Offensive of 1972. 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 US bases. North Vietnamese forces deployed against the inexperienced ARVN 3rd Division included the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 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 was occupied by the ARVN 56th Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Dinh. During the first hours of the Easter Offensive, Camp Carroll was one of the first targets to come under the PAVN artillery barrage.
The PAVN 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 was gradually worn down as ARVN artillerymen began seeking shelter against the PAVN's devastatingly accurate 130mm guns.
By Easter, the morale of the ARVN 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 PAVN. 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. Six 175mm M107 guns were captured by PAVN.
On April 2, 1972, Camp Carroll was officially surrendered to the North Vietnamese, 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 PAVN had already moved the M107 guns out of the camp.
On 30 March 1972 the 25th Marine Brigade was deployed to Đông Hà to support the 3rd Division. By 1 April the PAVN had broken through the ARVN defensive positions along the DMZ and north of the Cam Lo River and fragmented ARVN units and terrified civilians began withdrawing to Đông Hà.:45 By 11:00 on 2 April the ARVN 20th Tank Battalion moved forward to Đông Hà to support the 3rd Marine Battalion and 25th Marine Brigade in and around the town and defend the crucial road and rail bridges across the Cua Viet River.:50–2 Marine ANGLICO units called in naval gunfire to hit PAVN forces near the bridges on the north bank of the river and destroyed 4 PT-76 amphibious tanks east of Đông Hà. More tanks were hit by a Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) A-1 Skyraider before it was shot down.:53 At midday PAVN tanks attempted to force the road bridge but 6 tanks were destroyed by fire from the ARVN 20th Tank's M48s.:55 At approximately 1pm Captain John Ripley an adviser to the Vietnamese Marines swung under the road bridge and spent 3 hours installing demolition charges to destroy the bridge. The bridge was blown up at 16:30 and the damaged railway bridge was destroyed around the same time temporarily halting the PAVN advance. Naval gunfire and a B-52 strike were soon directed at PAVN forces gathered on the northern bank.:56–60 At 18:00 a USAF EB-66 was shot down west of Đông Hà and a no fire zone was imposed around the area allowing the PAVN to capture the Cam Lo Bridge intact.:61–3
Over the next two weeks PAVN forces kept up a barrage of artillery, mortar and small arms fire on the ARVN positions and infiltrated small units across the river in boats.:65 On 7 April the Marines withdrew from Đông Hà leaving the defense to the 1st ARVN Armored Brigade, 20th Tank Battalion, the 4th and 5th Ranger Groups and the 57th Regiment.:68 On 18 April the PAVN 308th Division attacking from the southwest attempted to outflank Đông Hà but were repulsed.:74–5 On 28 April the commander of the 20th Tank Battalion withdrew from Đông Hà to deal with a PAVN force threatening the Ái Tử Combat Base, seeing the tanks leaving the soldiers of the 57th Regiment panicked and abandoned their positions leading to the collapse of the ARVN defensive line.:78
The VNMC 7th Battalion was sent to Ái Tử to help defend the base.:78 At 02:00 on 29 April the PAVN attacked the ARVN positions north and south of the base and the ARVN defenses began to crumble, by midday on 30 April the 3rd Division commander ordered a withdrawal from Ái Tử to a defensive line along the south of the Thạch Hãn River and the withdrawal was completed late that day.:79–80
On 1 May General Giai decided that any further defense of the city was pointless and that the ARVN should withdraw to a defensive line along the My Chanh River.:82–3 As the 3rd Division headquarters departed the city in an armored convoy the U.S. advisors remained in the Quảng Trị Citadel, however the command element finding Highway 1 blocked by refugees and PAVN ambushes soon returned to the Citadel and requested helicopter evacuation. By late afternoon USAF helicopters from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron and Army helicopters evacuated all remaining forces in the Citadel.:83–4 By 2 May all of Quảng Trị Province had fallen to the PAVN and they were threatening Huế.:90
The fall of Quảng Trị gave North Vietnam its first major victory of the 1972 offensive. The North Vietnamese immediately imposed their authority in the province, as collective farms were set up and strict rules 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 communist reprisals, 37% feared fighting, shelling, and bombing, and others fled because they were a family related to an ARVN 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 ARVN would retake their positions. Although the North Vietnamese eventually lost most of southern Quảng Trị Province, the northern parts of the Province would remain in their control until the end of the war in 1975.
- Vietnam War 1954–75 – Ðêm Dài Nhất Ở Cầu Ga Quảng Trị
- Melson, Charles (1991). U.S. Marines In Vietnam: The War That Would Not End, 1971–1973. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. p. 43. ISBN 978-1482384055.
- 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
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