Thursday, April 27, 1972

N. Viets March Toward Showdown

SAIGON (UPI) --Communist troops and tanks drove toward the central highlands city of Kontum Tuesday night. Meanwhile, a string of government bases along Highway 1 80 miles east came under heavy attack for the first time in the current offensive, field reports said.

The Communist infantrymen, with artillery and armor backing, were advancing on the South Vietnamese Bravo artillery base, situated on Highway 14 near the village of Vo Din, Kontum, which has a population of 30,000, is 12 miles to the south and 260 miles north of Saigon.

A reporter who flew over the region in a helicopter Tuesday said South Vietnamese troops were massing at Bravo for a possible showdown fight against the estimated 4,000-man Communist force.

Thousands of refugees fled south along the highway. U.S. warplanes knocked out a bridge on the road but the Communists bypassed it and at sundown were only about six miles from Bravo.

A string of Allied bases in Binh Dinh Province, about 80 miles to the east, also came under attack Thursday for the first time in the 27-day-old offensive.

Field reports said the government's Salem combat base, 30 miles north of coastal Qui Nhon, was surrounded late Tuesday night. A U.S. Navy destroyer offshore in the South China Sea was firing in support of the battalion-size garrison defending the outpost, the reports said.

A relief battalion was trying to fight its way to the base but was stalled 800 yards away. The Communist attack force had recoilless rifles and 82mm mortars, the reports said.

Other small bases along the highway also received shelling attacks or ground probes during the day. Qui Nhon, 250 miles northeast of Saigon, is South Vietnam's fourth largest city.

U.S. and South Vietnamese fighter-bombers were striking Communist positions in the region late Tuesday.

While attention centered on the growing threat to Kontum, a city already being swollen by streams of refugees fleeing the war zone, AP reported that South Korean troops finally captured a key hill dominating the blocked An Khe highway pass after three days of close quarter fighting.

(The Koreans were said to have suffered moderate to heavy casualties and the bodies of the dead from both sides were seen sprawled over the slopes of Hill 638.

(The An Khe Pass on vital Highway 19 still was blocked, however, and AP said at best it was believed three more days of bitter fighting would be required to clear it. Highway 19 runs from South Vietnamese coastal supply areas to government positions and population centers of the highlands near the tri-border junction of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.)

Heavy fighting also raged along Highway 13 about 36 miles north of Saigon Tuesday and as night fell a vital South Vietnamese ammunition convoy of more than 100 trucks was stalled by the battle.

The fighting was underway four miles south of Chon Thanh, a district town where the forward command post of the governments 21st Div is located. Chon Thanh in turn is 20 miles south of An Loc, the Binh Long Province capital which has been under siege by Communist forces since April 6.

A senior U.S. advisor at the front said the government forces were taking punishment along the highway but said he had no doubt the convoy would push through. The fleet of ammunition trucks has been stalled for two days by the fighting along the road.

For the second consecutive day, the U.S. B52 bomber fleet of more than 100 Stratoforts concentrated its full effort on targets inside South Vietnam.

Twelve of the 23 B52 missions flown late Monday and early Tuesday were over the Kontum region. At least 140 U.S. tactical fighter-bombers also pounded the area along with helicopter gunships.

The Communist forces moving on Kontum swept out of the so-called tri-border area of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It is known as "Base Area 609" and has been a Communist stronghold throughout the Indochina conflict.

Although government spokesmen in Saigon said it had been abandoned, field reports said the district town of Dak To - 25 miles northwest of Kontum - was still resisting the Communists.

The reports said Lt. Col. Lo Van Bao, commander of the regional force militiamen at Dak To, refused orders that he and his battalion leave their positions.

Bao is an ethnic "Black Thai" from North Vietnam. The Black Thais got the nickname because they are darker-complexioned and wear black clothing. He radioed his commanders that he would fight "to the death."

It was not known whether Bao and his men had been bypassed by the Communists or was still fighting. The South Vietnamese command in Saigon said the town and been abandoned.

"N. Viets March Toward Showdown", by Saigon (UPI), published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Thursday, April 27, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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