Hô Chí Minh Campaign (April 1975)

By MSW Add a Comment 9 Min Read


On 25 March the Politburo in Hà Nôi revised its timetable for ending the war, deciding that Sài Gòn should be taken before the beginning of the mid-May rainy season. Dung asked permission to call this the Hô Chí Minh Campaign, in the hope of achieving victory before Hô’s 19 May birthday anniversary, and the Politburo agreed.

In early April 200,000 Communist troops in 173 regiments had overrun two-thirds of South Vietnam. Communist forces now greatly outnumbered those of ARVN, and by mid-month nine Communist divisions converged on Sài Gòn. To defend the capital, Thiêu had only the three divisions assigned to III Corps (the 5th, 18th and 25th), a reconstituted division from Military Region II (the 22nd), and what remained of the armour brigade, the Marine division, the Airborne division, and a few Ranger groups.

The only major ARVN stand during the Communist offensive occurred at Xuân Lôc, capital of Long Khánh Province. Located on Route 1 just east of the junction with Route 20 and some 40 miles northeast of Sài Gòn, Xuân Lôc was strategically important to the RVN capital’s defence. The city was defended by Brigadier General Lê Minh Ðao’s 18th Division. On 9 April, following a 4,000-round artillery and rocket barrage, three PAVN divisions (the 6th, 7th and 341st) attacked Xuân Lôc, now isolated because the Communists had cut Route 1.

VNAF A-1 Skyraiders and F-5 fighter-bombers struck the PAVN attackers and ARVN armoured columns attempted to push through PAVN roadblocks on Route 1. A brigade of the 1st Airborne Division arrived by helicopter, but PAVN troops pinned it down at its landing zone east of the city. Meanwhile the PAVN force continued to grow. On 14 April PAVN 130mm heavy guns pounded Biên Hòa Air Base for the first time in the war. On the 15th Communist sappers blew up the base’s ammunition dump. The next day PAVN 130mm shells damaged 20 aircraft on the ground, which effectively ended air support for Xuân Lôc. Although they were heavily outnumbered and the outcome of the battle was certain, Ðao’s troops fought on courageously in what was probably the most heroic stand of any ARVN division of the war. They destroyed 37 PAVN tanks and killed over 5,000 PAVN troops.

At Xuân Lôc the VNAF employed 750-pound CBU-55 cluster bombs and 15,000-pound “Daisy Cutter” bombs. On the 21st a VNAF C-130 dropped a CBU-55 “fuel bomb”, the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal. This was the first time the weapon had ever been employed. It consumed the oxygen over a two-acre area and killed more than 250 PAVN troops.

In the battle more than 7,500 ARVN soldiers died or were wounded. On the 23rd the remaining ARVN defenders and PF and RF elements conducted a well-executed retreat south from Xuân Lôc.

Sài Gòn, meanwhile, was in turmoil. US evacuation flights began removing key Vietnamese officials and dependents. On 8 April VNAF pilot Lieutenant Nguyên Thành Trung dropped two bombs from his F-5 on the presidential palace and then defected. President Thiêu was unhurt, but General Dung immediately ordered Trung sent to Ðà Nang to help train North Vietnamese MiG pilots to fly captured VNAF A-37 and F-5 jets.

The US evacuation of Cambodia on 12 April reinforced Hà Nôi’s assessment that Washington would not intervene to prevent the collapse of the RVN, although some Sài Gòn officials refused to believe they would be abandoned. Even the loss of Military Regions I and II did not dissuade many US officials in South Vietnam from acting as if the Sài Gòn government could at least bring off a negotiated settlement.

On 21 April President Thiêu resigned in favour of Vice President Trân Van Húóng. In a televised farewell address he lied when he stated, “What happened in the highlands was the decision of leaders in Military Region II”. He blamed Washington for forcing Sài Gòn to sign the Paris Accords, for failing to replace military equipment lost after the US withdrawal and for its refusal to honour its pledges to come to the aid of South Vietnam. Despite Thiêu’s speech on the 21st, or perhaps because of it, he lingered on in the capital until flying out on the 26th.

Dung did not halt the PAVN offensive. He assembled 130,000 troops in 18 divisions for the final assault on Sài Gòn, which began on the 26th. Early the next morning four rockets hit the city, killing ten people, injuring 200 and leaving 5,000 homeless. In a fierce tank battle PAVN forces took Long Thành, which was located on Route 15 to Vung Tau on the coast. On 28 April President Húóng resigned in favour of Dúóng Van Minh, who had helped overthrow President Diêm in 1963. Minh called for an immediate cease-fire and the opening of peace negotiations, but the PRG rejected this. That same day five captured A-37 jets led by Lieutenant Trung flew from Phan Rang to attack Tân Són Nhút. The raid destroyed seven planes. It was the only Communist air strike in South Vietnam during the entire war, but it helped bring about the final surrender of Sài Gòn.

At the end of March 7,500 Americans remained in the RVN. On 16 April President Ford had ordered all “unneeded” Americans to leave. The PRG announced it would impose no obstacles to this. A greater issue was some 50,000 “high risk” Vietnamese who had co-operated with the Americans. Many of them now began to depart. On the 27th the RVN stopped issuing exit visas, although this did not prevent many high-ranking RVN officials from departing the next day.

The air attack of the 28th and a rocket barrage on Tân Són Nhút the next day finally convinced US Ambassador Graham Martin to order a full evacuation. Fearing its negative impact on morale, he waited until the 29th. The operation (Frequent Wind) took place in chaotic circumstances as 81 helicopters and a thousand US Marines evacuated 395 Americans and 4,475 Vietnamese. Only a minority of Vietnamese thought to be at risk were evacuated by helicopter or managed to escape by other means. Forty US Navy ships off shore did rescue a large number of refugees fleeing by boat from Vung Tàu under artillery fire.

ARVN units around the Sài Gòn perimeter came under heavy PAVN attack on 29 April and ceased their resistance the next day when elements of General Dung’s force walked unopposed into the centre of the city. At noon on 30 April a PAVN tank crashed through the gate of the presidential palace. The Republic of Vietnam had come to an end. Some ARVN forces held out in the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta for a time, but for all intents and purposes the Third Vietnam War was over.

Although the United States had extracted its own personnel, it left behind in South Vietnam a vast military stockpile. The PAVN now seized from the RVNAF 467 aircraft, 466 helicopters, 80 self-propelled guns, 1,250 105mm and 155mm howitzers, 3,300 armoured personnel carriers, 400 tanks, 42,000 trucks, 47,000 grenade launchers, 63,000 light anti-tank weapons, 15,000 machine guns, 12,000 mortars, 791,000 M16 rifles and 857 other small arms, 90,000 pistols, 940 ships (mostly landing craft) and 130,000 tons of ammunition. In the years to come the Vietnamese government sold much of this abroad to gain hard currency.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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