Second Battle of Quảng Trị
The Second Battle of Quang Tri began on 28 June 1972 and lasted 81 days until 16 September 1972, when South Vietnam's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) defeated the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) at the ancient citadel of Quảng Trị (Vietnamese: Thành cổ Quảng Trị) and recaptured most of Quảng Trị Province.
During the initial phase of the Easter Offensive the PAVN quickly captured Quảng Trị in the First Battle of Quảng Trị (30 March - 2 May 1972) and overran all of Quảng Trị Province and the north of Thừa Thiên Province. The ARVN regrouped forming a defensive line along the My Chanh River north of Huế and together with U.S. airpower the PAVN offensive was halted by the end of the first week of May.
On 14 June, I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Ngô Quang Trưởng briefed President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and MACV on his planned counterattack to retake Quảng Trị Province. Thiệu was not convinced, preferring a smaller-scale operation.. Trưởng finally convinced the president, emphasizing that such an effort would be possible "employing the superior firepower of our American ally." Thiệu finally approved the concept and Operation Lam Son 72 was launched on 28 June.
The operational plan called for the Airborne and Marine Divisions to advance abreast to the northwest to the Thạch Hãn River. The Airborne Division would deploy to the west from the foothills to Highway 1, while the Marine Division would deploy to the east from Highway 1 to the coast. Quảng Trị City would be in the Airborne Division's operational area, but the plan called for the city to be bypassed so as to concentrate on the destruction of PAVN forces. As a diversion the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9th MAB) would conduct a feint amphibious assault against the mouth of the Cua Viet River.
On the morning of 27 June the 9th MAB launched their amphibious feint against the Cua Viet, reversing course when 7km from shore.
On 28 June the South Vietnamese advance began and quickly ran into strong PAVN resistance and helicopter assaults were launched to land troops behind PAVN positions.:65 On 29 June, following preparatory airstrikes the 1st and 4th Vietnamese Marine Battalions were landed by U.S. Marine helicopter squadrons HMM-164 and HMM-165 near the Wunder Beach area.:110 That day a 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron OV-10 Bronco that was operating as a forward air controller in support of the Vietnamese Marines was hit by an SA-7 missile and ditched at sea, the pilot Captain Steven L. Bennett would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.:110-2
By 7 July the Airborne division had reached the southern outskirts of Quảng Trị City, but then President Thieu intervened in the operation.:112-3 Trưởng had planned to bypass the city and push on quickly to the Cua Viet River, thereby isolating any PAVN defenders.:67 Thiệu, however, now demanded that Quảng Trị be taken immediately, seeing the city as "a symbol and a challenge" to his authority.:89
The ARVN assault bogged down in the outskirts and the PAVN, apprised of the plans for the offensive, moved the 304th and 308th Divisions to the west to avoid the U.S. airpower that was about to be unleashed upon Quảng Trị.
The defense of the city and its walled citadel was left to PAVN replacement units and militia. One participant recalled : "The new recruits came in at dusk. They were dead by dawn... No one had time to check where they were from, or who was their commander.:213 Others described the defense as a "senseless sacrifice" and referred to Quảng Trị as "Hamburger City".:213 Nevertheless, the PAVN units stationed within the citadel were well dug in, had the advantage of terrain and mass artillery supports. An early ARVN victory was denied, and the fighting continue unabated.
On 11 July, following preparatory B-52 strikes, the Vietnamese 1st Marine Battalion was deployed by HMM-164 and HMM-165 helicopters to two landing zones 2km northeast of the city to cut Route 560, the main PAVN supply line.:113-4 This move would force the PAVN to reinforce and resupply across the Thạch Hãn River, making them vulnerable to air strikes. The helicopters were met by heavy anti-aircraft fire with one CH-53 being hit by an SA-7 and crashing with 2 U.S. Marine crewmen and 45 Vietnamese Marines killed. Two CH-46s were shot down and their crews rescued by helicopters from the U.S. Army Troop F, 4th Cavalry while another 25 helicopters were damaged.:113-5 Despite these loses the Vietnamese Marines deployed successfully and consolidated their positions with air and artillery support. After a vicious, three-day battle against the 48th Regiment of the 320B PAVN Division broke and withdrew to the west.:115-6
By 20 July the Marine Division had consolidated its position north of Quảng Trị City, while the Airborne continued trying to break in. On 22 July the Marines launched a three battalion operation against PAVN supply lines south of the Cua Viet River. The 5th Battalion would be landed by HMM-164 helicopters 4km north of the city, while the other two battalions, supported by tanks would attack north, the combined force would then move southeast. The helicopter landing proceeded smoothly, while the ground assault met heavy resistance and could only break through PAVN defenses with air and artillery support. After 2 days the Marines had killed 133 PAVN and destroyed 3 tanks.:118-9
On 27 July, the Marine Division was ordered to relieve the Airborne units as the lead element in the battle. But progress was slow, consisting of vicious house-to-house fighting and incessant artillery barrages by both sides.:121 On 9 September, the final assault to capture the heavily defended citadel was launched by Vietnamese Marine Brigades 147 and 258. The citadel was finally captured on 15 September.:123-6 Meanwhile between 11 and 15 September the 2nd Marine Battalion advanced to the southern bank of the Thạch Hãn River, where they halted, exhausted and depleted by heavy casualties and unable to push on to Đông Hà. Almost one out of every four of the 8,000 ARVN Marines in the division had been killed or wounded during Lam Son 72.:226
During July, U.S. aircraft flew 5,461 tactical sorties and 2,054 B-52 strikes and operated 5 aircraft carriers to support the counteroffensive.:212
During the battle, the South Vietnamese marines suffered 3,658 KIA.:126
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
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