Text by KEN CONBOY and KEN BOWRA Colour plates by SIMON McCOQUAIG

First published in Great Britain in 1991 by

Osprey Publishing, Elms Court, Chapel Way, Botley, Oxford OX2 9LP United Kingdom

© Copyright 1991 Osprey Publishing Limited Reprinted 1998

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Editor’s Note

The title of this volume reflects the names by which the Vietnamese guerrillas and military forces of North Vietnam have been popularly known in the West. Throughout the text however they have been given their more correct title of The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN).

Artist’s Note Readers may care to note that the original paintings from which the colour plates in this book were prepared are available for private sale. All reproduction copyright whatsoever is retained by the publisher. All enquiries should be addressed to:

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The publishers regret that they can enter into no correspondence upon this matter.



During the 1930s an undercurrent of anti-colonial sentiment swept through French Indochina, which comprised Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (Vietnam sub-divided into the pro- tectorates of Annam and Tonkin, and the colony of Cochin China). It was at this time that the first Communist ‘soviets’ were organized in the vicinity of Vinh by the Indochinese Communist Party. The core of these paramilitary soviets were Vietnamese defectors from a French colonial rifle unit. The French re- sponded swiftly, crushing the rebels by means of Foreign Legion troops and bombing aircraft. By August 1940 anti-French Viet- namese activists had resumed low-level guerrilla activity. During the same year the Japanese forced their way into Indochina, leay- ing the French administration in place as a gesture to the Vichy government, but forever destroying the aura of invincibility that had surrounded the French in the eyes of its colonial subjects.

In 1941 Vietnamese nationalists, many of them socialists, expanded their guerrilla resistance campaign against both the French and Japanese. During February Ho Chi Minh, a well- known Vietnamese revolutionary who had been trained in the Soviet Union, returned to Vietnam after a 29-year absence to per- sonally lead the anti-colonial movement. Four months later Ho participated in a plenary session of the Indochinese Communist Party held across the border in China; and a Communist- controlled independence league (the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, commonly known as the ‘Viet Minh’) was unveiled. Over

the next four years Ho slowly built revolutionary support cells across northern Vietnam while operating out of his rear head- quarters in China. When the Japanese launched an offensive in southern China, however, Ho decided in October 1944 to shift his headquarters to Vietnam. Moving with the headquarters were 200 armed followers organized into a ‘Propaganda Detachment of the Liberation Army’ under the command of Vo Nguyen Giap. Hanoi now considers this detachment to be the official forerunner of the Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN); Giap, meanwhile, is personally credited with creating PAVN. (This acronym will be used throughout, as being faithful to the organization’s actual title, rather than the 1960s American formula ‘NVA’.)

In March 1945 the Japanese, facing impending defeat, seized full control of Indochina from the French. The Viet Minh forces, meanwhile, had grown to 6,000 full-time guerrillas equipped with weapons given by China and the US. By the end of summer 1945 the Viet Minh counted 60,000 followers, the majority being ill-trained militia. Roughly one-fifth of these forces were in the southern part of the country and had a high percentage of non-Communists.

In September 1945 the defeated Japanese began turning over control of Indochina to indigenous nationalists. Ho’s Viet Minh entered Hanoi and declared an independent Democratic Repub- lic of Vietnam. The French rejected the Viet Minh bid for inde- pendence, but did not yet have sufficient forces to prevent Ho

changed little over the ensuing four decades. They appear to be armed with the French MAS36 rifle.

PAVN squad prior to attack on Gia Lam Airbase, 1953. Note that PAVN uniforms, headgear, and combat shoes have

eleepe TE



Dong Hoi

a Dao Con Co

Pleity SS AS ‘Qui Nhon


Lac «Hann \



International boundary


—:— Province boundary we % National capital Dao = © Province capital Se:


Railroad ar: Roa cespeymer at ic

0 50 100Kilometers Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative Names ‘9 Vietnam are shown without Hon Khoa, diacnitical marks.

oO 50 100 Miles

from consolidating strength in northern Vietnam. Instead, the French spent until the spring of 1946 systematically retaking Laos as a springboard for eventually reconquering all of Indo- china. At the same time the Communist elements within the Viet Minh began eliminating non-Communists from the organization. During 1946-47 thousands of non-Communist nationalists, such as the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religious sects, fled the Viet Minh and lent their support to the French.

By January 1947 Giap’s ill-equipped People’s Army— PAVN—had been pushed from Hanoi by a resurgent French Expeditionary Force and was forced into the jungles. Some PAVN crossed the border into China to operate temporarily alongside Communist Chinese forces against the Koumintang.

PAVN spent the next two years expanding its support and creating larger units. As early as January 1947 the vanguard 308 ‘Capital’ Regiment had been created for operations around Hanoi. (PAVN numbered its first regiments, and later divisions, in the ‘300’ series so as to distinguish them from Communist Chi- nese units, which were numbered in the ‘100’ and ‘200’ series.) With these larger units, PAVN was able to absorb and frustrate a series of vigorous French offensives launched during the 1947-48 dry season.

By early 1949 Ho’s Viet Minh were conducting two simul- taneous campaigns. On the one hand, main force PAVN reg-

Viet Minh Troop Strengths and Locations May 1954

Northern Vietnam 69 Regular Battalions! 27 Regional Battalions 50,000 Militia

Northern Laos 4 Regular Battalions 1 Regional Battalion

Central Laos 5 Regular Battalions 4 Regional Battalions

Central Vietnam

19 Regular Battalions 6 Regional Battalions 30,000 Militia

Southern Vietnam

10 Regular Battalions

2 Regional Battalions

22,000 Militia

Southern Laos and Cambodia

4 Regular Battalions

Regional elements

4,000 Militia

185,000 106,000 291,000

Total, Regular/Regional Forces: Total, Militia:

Source: CIA Intelligence Report, May 1954

‘Includes six Main Force Divisions

ulars—known as Chu Luc—were holding the French to a stale- mate. On the other hand, they conducted a highly successful grassroots campaign with regional forces at the provincial level and local militia at the district and village level.

Anxious to further expand its capabilities, PAVN in August 1949 created Regimental Group 308. Roughly set at divisional strength, Regimental Group 308 consisted of Regiments 98, 102, and 308 (the original PAVN regiment). PAVN had rushed to create Regional Group 308 in order to attract the attention of the Communist Chinese, who had come to power in November and from whom PAVN hoped to receive substantial military assis- tance. The Chinese proved co-operative, and by April 1950 were beginning to standardize the equipment of PAVN units with both Chinese and captured US weapons from China and Korea. In July China sent 400 advisors into northern Vietnam to advise PAVN in the field. At the same time, PAVN training camps were established at the Chinese towns of Wenshan, Long Zhou, and Jing Xi; an officer school was set up at the Joint Staff School at Szu-Mao in Yunnan.

By late 1950 PAVN was estimated to have a military reserve virtually equal to the French Expeditionary Forces. Bolstering their forces were the first three formations trained and equipped in China: the 308 ‘Capital’ Division, and Regiments 174 and 209. The 308 Division, built around the earlier Regimental Group 308, followed the standard Chinese structure of three infantry regiments, one heavy weapons (artillery) regiment, and support units.

Eager to create a liberated zone along the Sino-Viet border, Giap in October ordered all his fresh Chinese-trained units to attack French columns totalling 6,000 men carrying out and sup- porting a withdrawal from Cao Bang east along Route 4. The vulnerable French columns and air-dropped reinforcements were annihilated, prompting local French commanders to evacuate the important border garrison of Lang Son without a fight—leaving behind 1,300 tons of food and military equipment for the PAVN.

Overconfident after its October successes along the border, PAVN launched in early 1951 a series of three set-piece battles against French strongholds in the Red River Delta. The results were disastrous for PAVN. Using Chinese-style human wave assaults in open terrain, the Vietnamese were massacred by superior French firepower. Humbled, PAVN shelved its human wave tactics and focused on expanding its regular forces. Four new 10—15,000-man divisions were created: the 304 Division in Thanh Hoa, equipped in early 1951; the 316 Division in the north-east border region, raised in the spring of 1951; the 320 Division in the north Red River Delta, also formed in spring 1951; and the 351 Heavy Weapons Division, which was not com- pletely equipped until 1952. Numerous other independent regi- ments and battalions were added to the PAVN order-of-battle.

By late 1951, PAVN was attempting to shift the battlefield away from the strongly defended Red River Delta in order to deny the French effective use of their armour and artillery. The first major battle under this new strategy was at Hoa Binh, south- west of Hanoi in the Black River Delta. Using the 304, 308, and 312 Divisions in frontal assaults on Hoa Binh, the 316 and 320 Divisions infiltrated into the Red River Delta to hit French lines of supply. Fighting lasted until February 1952, with PAVN cap- turing Hoa Binh and inflicting heavy losses on the French.

During the summer PAVN raised the 325 Division in central Vietnam. Together with its five predecessors, the 325 comprised what PAVN called its six original ‘Steel and Iron Divisions’.

By October 1952 PAVN shifted its focus further west toward


Laos. Infiltrating across Vietnam’s north-western highlands, ten battalions from the 308, 312, and 316 Divisions swarmed across the Laotian border in April 1953, overwhelming the thin French defences at Sam Neua. The 304 Division, meanwhile, captured the Laotian border town of Nong Het and headed for the strategic Plain of Jars. A third column, composed of elements of three PAVN independent regiments, went from Dien Bien Phu toward the Laotian royal capital of Luang Prabang. Although Giap’s Laotian offensive lost impetus in May and PAVN withdrew into Vietnam, it had severely undermined the already weak French position in Indochina. Forced to protect key static positions, the French forfeited their strategic mobility. In addition, Laos was now demanding French guarantees for its national security.

In desperation, the French seized the isolated valley of Dien Bien Phu by air assault in late 1953 to use it as an offensive base and as a resupply centre for pro-French guerrillas operating in PAVN’s rear. In theory, these guerrillas would occupy the atten- tion of PAVN, reducing the chances of another PAVN invasion into Laos. As the French moved to build up their assets at Dien Bien Phu, PAVN bypassed the base and began diversionary strikes into Laos. The 308 Division moved south to threaten Luang Prabang in December, while the 325 Division struck west into the upper Laotian panhandle during the opening months of 1954. At the same time, other PAVN units began preparations for a showdown at Dien Bien Phu. In late December 1953 the 312 Division began moving closer to the isolated French garrison. They were soon joined by the 308 and 316 Divisions. Because of the harsh terrain, and French command of the air, the build-up and supply of the PAVN forces around Dien Bien Phu was a tremendous logistical challenge. PAVN proved up to the task, even hauling 200 dismantled artillery pieces from the 351 Heavy Weapons Division into the hills surrounding the base.

As he moved his divisions during late January 1954 into a ring around Dien Bien Phu, Giap entered into a heated debate on strategy with his Chinese advisors. The Chinese advocated a swift attack; Giap argued for a protracted siege in order to better pos- ition his artillery and infantry. Giap prevailed. By late March 1954 Giap’s four divisions were in place: from the north-west

PAVN Officer Ranks: 1961

PAVN Rank Translation

General Lt. General

Senior General Col. General Lt. General Major General Senior Colonel Colonel

Lt. Colonel Major

Senior Captain Captain

Senior Lieut. Lieutenant Aspirant!

Dai-Tuong ‘Thuong-Tuong Trung-Tuong Thien-Tuong Dai-Ta Thuong-Ta Trung-Ta Thien-Ta Dai-Uy ‘Thuong-Uy Trung-Uy Thien-Uy Chuan-Uy

None Colonel

Lt. Colonel Major

None Captain

1 Lieutenant 2 Lieutenant None

U.S. Equivalent

Major General Brigadier Gen.

came elements of the 308 and 351 Heavy Weapons Divisions; from the north were elements of the 308 and 312 Division; from the north-east was the 316 Division and the remainder of the 312 and 351 Divisions.

During April the fighting around the garrison intensified as the north-east front surged forward to overwhelm outlying French posts. Meanwhile, the 351 Division maintained a deadly rain of fire from its 75mm and 105mm howitzers, and anti-aircraft artillery increasingly restricted French resupply and air support missions. At the end of the first week of April, PAVN paused briefly to reinforce its weakened frontline units; within the 312 Division alone an entire regiment had been lost. As the month drew to a close, fresh supplies of Chinese artillery shells arrived and PAVN prepared for its final assault. On 1 May the 308, 312, and 316 Divisions began a unified attack on the remaining French positions. Six days later Dien Bien Phu was captured. The 308 Division was given the honour of establishing its headquarters in the former French command post.

Following the costly but decisive victory at Dien Bien Phu, Giap redeployed his divisions into the Red River Delta. The French quickly agreed to withdraw from Indochina under the terms of an international settlement signed in Geneva. By August 1954 a ceasefire was in effect, and Vietnam was divided into the socialist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), or North Viet- nam, and the pro-Western Republic of Vietnam, or South Viet- nam. PAVN was now the legitimate army of the DRV.


In the immediate aftermath of the First Indochina War the PAVN fielded 380,000 men. These were organized under a three- tiered system. At the lowest tier were local militia at the district and village level. At the provincial level were regional forces of

Level of Command

CO, Divisi XO, Division CO, Regiment XO, Regiment CO, Battalion XO, Battalion CO, Company XO, Company Platoon Leader

Source: Department of the Army, ‘Handbook on the North Vietnamese Armed Forces,’ 1961.

‘A PAVN Aspirant is not an officer but a ‘combattant’ or NCO who is to be promoted to officer.

ircraft crew wearing Soviet steel The soldier on the aring khaki the two others wear white uniforms


limited mobility. The remainder were ‘Chu Luc’ regular forces, centred on the six ‘Steel and Iron’ infantry divisions. In addition two further infantry divisions, the 330 and 338, were organized from southern Communists who had moved to the DRV in ac- cordance with the Geneva Agreements.'

PAVN faced two initial challenges: enforcing internal se- curity, and expanding and modernizing its conventional forces. PAVN’s internal operations were especially important during the late 1950s as Hanoi attempted to enforce socialist policies such as land collectivization. Opposition to the central government was especially heavy in Nghe An Province, where in 1956 Roman Catholics began rioting. PAVN spearheaded operations to bring these regions under central control, often by brutal methods.

In 1957 PAVN began a comprehensive modernization plan. Strongly influenced by the Chinese, PAVN reorganized the Viet Minh ‘interzones’ of the First Indochina War into five military regions. The commander of the military region controlled proy- incial and militia forces. Regular forces were under the oper-

‘By 1955, six more divisions were formed: the 3. , and 350 in the northern DRV; the 305 and

324 near the De-Militarised Zone; and thi

5 Division, of regroupees from northern Laos.

ational control of the PAVN High Command, unless doing re- gional tasks like road-building, in which case they came under the administrative control of the military region. The High Com- mand also controlled PAVN’s new naval and air force director- ates. PAVN modernization was encouraged by the USSR and China, both of which were vying for influence within Vietnam. The majority of material aid came from China, while Soviet ad- visors were attached to the PAVN artillery and engineer schools. PAVN trainees were sent to both countries.

Because of national economic requirements to man collective farms, several PAVN divisions were reduced to brigades in 1958-59. PAVN brigades were composed of four infantry batta- lions, two artillery battalions, an anti-aircraft battalion, and most division-level support units.

Going South

In 1956 the Communist Politburo in Hanoi began exploring means of uniting Vietnam by taking over non-Communist South Vietnam. In June of that year a Politburo directive ordered a re- structuring of the revolutionary cells which had been left in the south in violation of the 1954 Geneva Agreement. Four months later, Hanoi considered forming a Communist guerrilla force in the southern Mekong Delta, to be known as Unit 250.

Not until 1959 was the next major step taken by Hanoi to escalate the guerrilla presence in South Vietnam. In May that year a directive from Hanoi established Group 559, a logistical unit charged with organizing a supply conduit into South Viet- nam via eastern Laos and Cambodia, known later as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the same year Group 579 was created as a maritime counterpart to smuggle military supplies into South Vietnam by sea. Within a year, weapons and northern Commu- nist cadres were flowing south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Most of the early infiltrators came from the PAVN 338 Division, composed of southerners who had gone north in 1954-55. Mem- bers of the 338 Division had been settled from 1954-59 at Xuan Mai, 50km south-west of Hanoi, and formed into an agricultural commune. Once the division began infiltrating south in 1959, Xuan Mai became the initial training centre for guerrillas des- tined for South Vietnam.

In December 1960 Hanoi directed the southern-based Com- munist guerrillas to establish the National United Front for the Liberation of the Southern Region, known as the NLF. During the next month the DRV enacted a major reorganization of its chain of command with the south by reforming the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) in Tay Ninh Province. COSVN, which co-ordinated guerrilla operations in southern Vietnam beginning in 1951, had been disbanded in 1954. By reviving COSVN under its control, Hanoi was able to get a closer grip over the southern Communist forces.

PAVN assistance to COSVN quickly increased. In June 1961, for example, PAVN sent 1,500 men south, including ten majors and 60 captains. By September-October PAVN assistance enabled COSVN to raise its first two regular battalions. Both Hanoi and the NLF publicly claimed that these battalions were not under PAVN control but rather part of the People’s Liber- ation Armed Forces (PLAF), commonly dubbed the ‘Viet Cong’. (Hanoi dropped this fiction immediately after the war.)

over his shoulders. Note headgear insignia pinned to breast pocket (1966).

PAVN anti-aircraft gunner with US camouflage parachute material draped

Although becoming more involved in the south, PAVN itself was hard-pressed with northern duties during 1960-61. Several more divisions were consolidated into brigades.

In October 1962 the DRV ordered COSVN to reorganize the PLAF command structure into military regions in order to make it more consistent with North Vietnam. With PAVN assistance, the PLAF raised two tegiments in 1963; a third regiment was formed the following year. In keeping with its guerrilla roots, the PLAF also controlled rural and urban guerrilla networks.


By early 1964 PAVN had been trimmed down to 215,000 men in six infantry divisions, an artillery division, five infantry brigades, and ten independent regiments. Virtually all of this force was concentrated in the Red River Delta; one division and one regi- ment were stationed near the De-Militarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam.

During the summer of 1964 Hanoi made the decision to introduce PAVN regular formations into South Vietnam. To fight a largescale war in South Vietnam, PAVN launched a major

expansion effort. By the fall, four regular divisions—the 304, 308, 324, and 325—were converted into training divisions. These divisions would send the bulk of their men south as complete regiments while retaining a skeleton training cadre in the north to rebuild themselves. In this manner, multiple regiments (and even divisions) bearing the same number would soon be seen in the south; in such cases, it became standard practice for letters to be added after the unit number for clarification.

The first PAVN regiments sent south came from the 325 Division based at Dong Hoi. By February 1965 its 101 Regiment had infiltrated into the Central Highlands west of Kontum, care- fully avoiding contact. By mid-1965 the 325 Division had raised and trained a new 101 Regiment—the 101B Regiment—which used the codename ‘Worksite 33’. During October this regiment and the newly-infiltrated 66 Regiment of the 304 Division at- tacked the Plei Me Special Forces camp near Pleiku in an appar- ent prelude to a general offens cross the Central Highlands. Over the next month the US 1 Cavalry Division battled the two regiments in the Ia Drang Valley, crushing both regiments and sending the remnants fleeing into Cambodia.

PAVN training, 1966. Note netting on pith helmets and camouflage parachute material over shoulders.

Soviet Military Aid to Vietnam

1965 1966 Jan—Fune 1967

Surface-to-Air Missiles 1,100

Aircraft 37 85

Chinese Military Aid to Vietnam Aircraft 8 0 Naval Vessels 2


Source: CIA Report, 8 December 1967.

While PAVN divisions were taking control over the northern two-thirds of South Vietnam, the PLAF retained control over the southern third of the country. Within its zone of control the PLAF in 1965 began organizing regular divisions. Three of the PLAF’s four existing regiments were renamed the 271, 272, and 273 Regiments and incorporated during September into the new PLAF 9 Division. Later in that year two new PLAF regiments were formed with combined PLAF and PAVN cadres and used as the core for the PLAF 5 Division: the division’s third regiment was not brought up to strength until late the following year. Short of manpower, the PLAF then received the completed 141 and 165 Regiments from the PAVN 312 Division as the core for its new 7 Division; this division was not completed until 1967. None of the three divisions included support elements.

By the opening of 1966 the PLAF/PAVN forces were still reeling from heavy losses inflicted the previous year. During July, PAVN infiltrated elements of the 341 and 324B Divisions directly across the DMZ. Encountering US Marines and massive air strikes, PAVN was hit hard and withdrew into the DMZ.

By the end of 1966 one of the most active enemy units was the PLAF 9 Division. Engaging the US 1 and 25 Divisions in fierce combat, the 9 Division was forced into Cambodia. Resuming its offensive early in 1967, the division was smashed. It once again retreated to Cambodia, with the PLAF 7 Division taking its place in Tay Ninh Province. The 9 Division spent until October 1967 regaining its strength, and was then used to hit the town of Loc Ninh in Tay Ninh Province. The ill-fated division was again defeated, with at least 852 killed.

By the end of 1967 PAVN had swollen to 447,000 men in ten infantry divisions, an artillery division, an anti-aircraft division, and over 100 independent regiments. Six of the ten divisions were in the north involved in training assignments.

The Tet Offensive

Frustrated with the draining pace of the war in the south, Hanoi in late 1967 was confronted with a major strategy decision. On the one hand, prominent DRV officials such as Le Duan and Gen. Tran Van Tra advocated a massive PLAF-led offensive across South Vietnam. In theory, the population would rise to support the liberation forces, quickly bringing an end to the war. On the other hand, Giap and PAVN’s Chinese advisors, mindful of PAVN’s previous failed offensives in the First Indochina War,


urged a more patient war of attrition. The former strategy was ultimately adopted.

The southern uprising was timed to coincide with the Viet- namese Lunar New Year (‘Tet’) at the end of January 1968, when many in the South Vietnamese army would be on leave. The PLAF were to throw virtually their entire weight behind attacks on almost every major city and provincial capital. PAVN, mean- while, would attack the isolated US Marine garrison at Khe Sanh, and provide general support for the PLAF.

In early January US intelligence revealed that elements of the 324B Division, which had seen action near the DMZ in 1966, had moved near Khe Sanh, a US Marine base near the Laotian border in northern South Vietnam. It was joined by the 325C Division, which had been mauled at Khe Sanh the previous spring. Also in the vicinity were the 304 and 320 Divisions. On 22 January the Khe Sanh siege opened with a massive PAVN rocket, artillery and mortar barrage that blew up 1,340 tons of munitions at the Marines’ main ammo dump. With the 304 Division attacking from the south-west and the 325C Division pushing from the north-west, the siege lasted 77 days. Not until 8 April was the gar- rison relieved by a ground column, although aircraft movement in and out of the base was never halted.

The battle for Khe Sanh had resulted in an estimated 10,000—15,000 PAVN casualties. Their failure to capture the base may be blamed on PAVN’s inability to take the surrounding hills for use as artillery positions to pound the central garrison, as had been done at Dien Bien Phu. American success also owed much to the tremendous air support given to the Marines: a greater ton- nage of bombs was dropped on PAVN at Khe Sanh than had been dropped on all of Germany during the bombing raids of 1943.

PAVN/PLAF Amphibious Sapper Units/ October 1969

Unit 126 PAVN Naval Sapper Regiment

Strength Location

DMZ/Cua Viet River

vic. Cam Ranh Bay

vic. Vung Ro Bay

north of Nha Trang

S/SE of Bien Hoa

K-93 PLAF Swimmer Sapper Company V-17 PLAF Swimmer Sapper Company K-92 PLAF Swimmer Sapper Company

8 PLAF Swimmer Sapper Battalion

H-5 PLAF Swimmer Sapper 70 Battalion

upper Saigon River

UNK Long An Province Kien Hoa


Long An Underwater Warfare School

Kien Hoa Swimmer Sapper School UNK

Note: H-5 PLAF Swimmer Sapper Battalion may be a training unit.

Source: Department of the Navy, ‘Assessment of the Enemy Sapper Threat,’ 25 October 1969.

PAVN 122mm field guns in action during the 1972 Nguyen Hue Offensive. (Photo via F.C. Brown)

On 31 January the general phase of the Tet Offensive opened with over 84,000 PLAF and PAVN troops attacking 36 provi capitals, 64 district capitals, and 50 villages. At Quang Tr y the PAVN 812 Regiment spearheaded the assault, but was quickly beaten back. A bigger attack was launched on Hue, where the PAVN 6 and 4 Regiments struck in the initial stages, rein- forced by three regiments sent from the Khe Sanh battlefield.

The most spectacular attacks were conducted around Sai- gon. Inside the city the 250-strong PLAF C-10 Sapper Battalion attacked the US Embassy, the Presidential Palace, and the National Radio Station. Ringing the city, the PLAF 5, 7, and 9 Divisions tried to block reinforcements. Although the sapper attack on the US Embassy became headline news, the Tet Offen- sive had been a military disaster for the PLAF. On every battle- field they had been soundly defeated; PLAF casualties were so high, in fact, that the organization ceased to exist as a major threat to the South Vietnamese government. Moreover, the population had failed to rise in their support.

During May, PAVN briefly attempted to restart the offen- sive. The 320 Division was sent across the DMZ, where it engaged in ferocious fighting with US Marines. In addition, two PAVN regiments struck at the outskirts of Saigon. This effort, too, ended in failure for the Communists.

By mid-1968 PAVN strength had grown to 475,000 men. With the PLAF destroyed, the need for PAVN to send troops south increased. Tasked with raising more men were six training

divisions and two training groups; each division could assimilate, train, and equip 6—8,000 recruits every three months; the groups could handle up to 6,000 recruits.

Into Cambodia

The Communists spent early 1969 recovering from the Tet

Offensive. Because the PLAF could not replace its losses its 5, 7, and 9 Divisions were largely reconstructed with northern replacements. In addition, the first full PAVN regiment, the 101D, was introduced during May into the Mekong Delta; pre- viously the Delta had been firmly controlled by southern PLAF units with almost no PAVN presence. By September two other PAVN regiments, the 18B and 95A, were also in the Delta. All three regiments bled white while trying to hold the Seven Mountains along the Cambodian border.

In March 1970, PAVN suffered a major setback when the Sihanouk government in Cambodia was overthrown and replaced by a pro-Western Khmer Republic. Cambodia had become vital to the Communist forces for two reasons. First, the majority of military supplies destined for Communist forces fighting in the Mekong Delta region were trans-shipped through the Cambo- dian ports of Kompong Som (also known as Sihanoukville) and Ream. Second, eastern Cambodia had become a major PAVN/ PLAF sanctuary with supply depots, training centres, and R&R sites’.

In conjunction with Khmer Republic attacks from the west, US and South Vietnamese forces launched mechanized incur- sions into Cambodian territory with the purpose of destroying

'See also Men-at-Arms 209, The War in Cambodia 1970-75.

the elusive COSVN. Avoiding capture, COSVN fled north to Cambodia’s Kratie Province. The ill-fated 9 Division, which was providing security, took heavy losses in rearguard fighting.

Confronted with a hostile Cambodian government, PAVN was forced to divert thousands of troops to confront Phnom Penh. PAVN operations against the Khmer Republic were aimed initially at securing its eastern sanctuaries. By the fall of 1970, however, PAVN moved several regular units west to directly engage the Republican army near the town of Kompong Thom. By the end of the year PAVN had 10,000 troops confronting Republican forces; this included the 1 Division astride Route 4, and elements of the 5, 7, and 9 Divisions operating from planta- tions east of the Mekong.

On the first day of 1971 PAVN increased its direct involve- ment in Cambodia by infiltrating 100 commandos near Phnom Penh and destroying virtually the entire Khmer Air Force at Pochentong Airbase.

In the fall of 1971 the Khmer Republic launched a second

jor offensive toward Kompong Thom. PAVN dispatched the ion to the vicinity, along with two mixed Vietnamese/ Khmer regiments from the C-40 Division. At the same time the PAVN 1 Division, considered to be its least effective formation, was sent west of Phnom Penh asa diversion. The total number of Vietnamese troops directly confronting the Khmer Republic had increased to almost 17,000.

PAVN T-34 crews confer around a sand model, 1972. (Photo via F.C. Brown)

By the end of 1971 the Republican forces around Kompong Thom had been demolished. In spring 1972, with the Cambodian military severely weakened, PAVN redeployed the bulk ofits 1, 5, 7, and 9 Divisions toward South Vietnam to participate in the Easter Offensive. The mixed C-40 Division remained in Cambo- dia and operated north of the Tonle Sap Lake. By mid-1972 PAVN had sent the 367 Sapper Regiment north of Phnom Penh to put direct pressure on the capital. In the meantime the 1 Divi- sion had moved back into south-eastern Cambodia; in July CIA sources reported that the division was being reinforced by sea near the port of Kep.

On 7 October PAVN launched another spectacular attack on Phnom Penh when 103 commandos from the 367 Sapper Regi- ment dropped a span of the Chhrui Chang War Bridge and de- stroyed seven armoured personnel carriers at the Municipal Stadium. Republican forces killed 83 Vietnamese and captured seven before the commandos were able to launch attacks on Phnom Penh’s power plant and POL facilities.

By the end of 1972 the only PAVN units operating against the Khmer government were the 367 Sapper Regiment and the C440 Division. The sappers remained active into early 1973, beginning a training programme for Khmer Communist com- mandos in February and firing rockets at Pochentong Airbase in April. Vietnamese sappers are also believed to have been respon- sible for firing SA-7 missiles ata US AC-130 gunship on 24 June.

Once the ceasefire in South Vietnam began in January 1973, the PAVN 1 and 5 Divisions floated back across the border into Cambodia. By August, however, open conflict had developed be- tween PAVN and Khmer Communist forces, and an agreement

was reached for PAVN to begin withdrawing combat forces from Cambodia. Probably as part of this effort the 1 Division was dis- solved in October, its sole remaining regiment, the 101D, being sent to Chau Duc Province, South Vietnam, as an independent unit; and Vietnamese cadres were removed from the C-40 Divi- sion. These moves left less than 1,000 PAVN confronting Re- publican forces; the remaining 18-24,000 PAVN in eastern Cambodia were administrative and rear service personnel. Dur- ing 1974 PAVN rarely became involved in the fighting in Cambo- dia. One exception was the participation by the 275 Regiment, 5 Division, in an attack on Svay Rieng city on 11 August.

In January 1975 the Khmer Communists launched their final offensive on Phnom Penh. Although PAVN was absent from the battlefield when the Communists captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, evidence suggests that one PAVN infantry division was held in reserve in eastern Cambodia in case Vietnamese interven- tion was needed.

Lam Son 719 and the Easter Offensive

By late 1970 PAVN appears to have been anticipating a major S-South Vietnamese ground strike into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. To counter this, Hanoi established the 70B Corps in the lower Laotian panhandle. This was the first time PAVN organized up to the corps level, bringing together the 304, 308, and 320 Divisions, as well as two artillery regiments and one armoured regiment, under a single operational commander.

In February 1971 PAVN’s intuition proved correct when South Vietnam launched Operation LAM SON 719, an ambitious

strike into Laos involving several divisions of marines, paratroop- ers, infantry, rangers, and tanks. The final objective of the oper- ation was to seize temporarily the Laotian town of Tchepone, a major PAVN trans-shipment centre.

PAVN immediately threw the 70B Corps into a counter- offensive. Command of the corps was held by Maj. Gen. Le Tr ong Tan, a brilliant tactician who had previously been the PAVN Deputy Chief-of-S Under the corps were elements of the 2, 304, 308B, and 325 Divisions. After two months LAM SON 719 was brought to a close after South Vietnamese forces briefly held Tchepone. Losses were heavy on both sides, with neither gaining a clear victory. The operation, however, probably did disrupt PAVN plans for a major dry season offensive in 1971.

In late 1971 Hanoi began to reassess its military strategy in South Vietnam. Since the disastrous 1968 Tet attacks PAVN had refrained from launching a general offensive. However, the LAM SON 719 operation had proven its ability to operate at the corps level. Furthermore, its December 1971 operation in northern Laos had shown it could conduct a successful multi-division combined arms campaign. Lastly, Hanoi viewed with concern South Vietnam’s increasingly successful attempts at pacification and military self-sufficiency. As a result, Hanoi decided to launch a major offensive during Easter 1972. It was to be named after

during the Nguyen Hue Offensive. (Photo via F.C. Brown)

Propaganda shot shows camouflaged PAVN T-54s being welcomed by South Vietnamese population

Nguyen Hue, the birthname of emperor Quang Trung, a national hero who in 1789 defeated invading Chinese forces near Hanoi. During December Hanoi began massing forces in or along the De-Militarized Zone dividing North and South Vietnam, including the 304 and 308 Divisions. Significantly, the latter had become PAVN’s élite general reserve division and rarely left its Hanoi garrison. Supporting these two regular divisions were independent units under the B5 Front, including three infantry regiments, two tank brigades, two artillery regiments and one sapper regiment. In accordance with PAVN doctrine these inde- pendent units would be used in gruelling support roles such as launching diversionary attacks and hitting South Vietnamese lines-of-communication, thus enabling PAVN regular divisions

PAVN Forces Stationed in North Vietnam 9 July 1972 Unit Location Northwest Military Region 168 Artillery Regiment Nasan

Viet Bac Military Region

Vinh Yen Phu Tho Phu Tho Thai Nguyen

Armor Command

368 Artillery Regiment 396 Artillery Regment 304B Training Division

Military Region IIT

PAVN High Command

Air Force-Air Defense Command 367 Air Defense Division

351 Artillery Command

’Thu Do’ Independent Inf Regt 2 Regional Regiment

49 Artillery Regiment

364 Artillery Regiment

82 Artillery Regiment

305 Sapper Command

350 Division

330 Division

320B Training Division

154 Artillery Regiment

338 Training Division

22 Training Group

10 Regional Regiment

Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi

Ha Dong Ha Dong Ha Dong Xuan Mai Xuan Mai Haiphong Thai Binh Quang Te Quang Te Thanh Hoa Hoang Xa Ninh Binh

Military Region Northeast

Con Chon Quang Yen

8 Regional Regiment 248 Independent Inf Regt

Military Region IV

14 Regional Regiment

200 Medical Regiment 201 Armor Regiment

53 Independent Inf Regt 138 Independent Inf Regt 213 Air Defense Regiment

Muong Hinh Vinh

Dong Hoi

Dong Hoi

Dong Hoi

Vinh Linh (DMZ)

Source: MACV, ‘NVA Order of Battle,’ 9 July 1972.

to minimize losses during final assaults. At the same time PAVN had infiltrated the experienced 324B Division and the 5 and 6 Independent Infantry Regiments into the A Shau Valley along the Laotian border west of Hue.

PAVN strategy for the Nguyen Hue Offensive was signifi- cantly different from that of the 1968 Tet Offensive. In 1968 PAVN/PLAF forces had tried to win over the population; this time, PAVN intended to attack population centres with armour and artillery. By March 1972 Hanoi had inundated the DMZ with anti-aircraft units, including surface-to-air missiles. This kept US air support at a distance while PAVN positioned armour, artillery and the 304 and 308 Divisions. Incredibly, many US and South Vietnamese intelligence analysts refused to recognize the signs of an imminent invasion because few believed Hanoi would commit such a blatant violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords.

On 29 March 1972 PAVN began the Nguyen Hue Offensive with a massive 130mm artillery barrage across the DMZ that paralyzed South Vietnamese forward defences. On the following day the 304 and 308 Divisions and 300 armoured vehicles poured across the border, with the 308 Division moving toward Dong Ha and the 304 Division curving below the Cua Viet River to the west. Their target was the provincial capital of Quang Tri, which PAVN intended to capture in a week.

Within the first four days PAVN made deep penetrations, overwhelming the weak South Vietnamese 3 Division and reach- ing the banks of the Cua Viet River opposite Dong Ha. At the last moment two US Marine advisors destroyed the Dong Ha Bridge, bringing PAVN’s momentum to a halt.

At the same time the 324B Division moved from the A Shau Valley toward Hue, while the 312 Division, which had seen heavy action in northern Laos since December 1971, moved into Khe Sanh as a reserve. PAVN intended to capture Hue for psycho- logical reasons: it had been the only major city seized by the Com- munists during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Continuing its offensive on Quang Tri City, PAVN diverted its armour west and crossed the Cam Lo Bridge. Bringing in two regiments of the 320B Division and one regiment of the 325C Division, PAVN was able to overwhelm Quang Tri’s defences by the first week of May.

While fighting was taking place in the north, PAVN opened a second front on 6 April in the extreme southern part of the coun- try. One day later PAVN launched its third front in the Central Highlands as infantry and tanks moved on Kontum.

On the southernmost front, the PAVN 5 Division captured Loc Ninh on 8 April. Four days later PAVN began a major armoured assault on An Loc with over 100 tanks and armoured fighting vehicles. The 9 and 7 Divisions were ordered to partici- pate in the attack on An Loc, but COSVN failed to co-ordinate its infantry, artillery, and armour; as a result, when the | Battalion, 203 Armour Regiment penetrated into the city, neither infantry division moved forward to provide