Monday, April 3, 1972

Acid Test of Vietnamization Shapes Up Along the DMZ

by Arthur Higbee

(UPI) --"I'll tell you what's going to happen when all the Americans leave here." A grim U.S. military police master sergeant told this reporter some months back in South Vietnam's northernmost province of Quang Tri.

"The North Vietnamese are going to move the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) south by a couple of provinces."

The last of the U.S. ground troops, except for a handful of advisers and artillery spotters, left Quang Tri six weeks ago. And now the North Vietnamese, indeed, appear bent on taking Quang Tri and possibly the next province to the south, Thua Thien, where the former imperial capital of Hue is located. The Americans are gone from here, too.

The South Vietnamese Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam, has termed the North Vietnamese onslaught an invasion. In this war where there are no fronts, that is probably as close a word as any.

In brief, this appears to be the acid test of "Vietnamization" ---which means turning over the fighting to the Vietnamese themselves.

Allied officers have been saying for months, however, that North Vietnam has been building up its strength inside South Vietnam itself for a major offensive.

They have been predicting for months that this offensive, which is now well underway, may achieve a few short-lived successes but that it will be repelled within a few days at most.

"Vietnamese officials and their American counterparts have a great deal of confidence they can handle any forthcoming enemy initiative," Gen. William C. Westmoreland, U.S. Army chief of staff and the American commander in Saigon during the Tet offensive of 1968, told a news conference here Jan, 31 after a week's inspection tour.

"I share this confidence," Westmoreland said, adding that "the staying power of the enemy is not great. He strikes, and his logistics (supplies) are reduced to the point where he will have to reduce the magnitude of his offensive in a matter of days."

Similarly, other allied officers have said that the Communists are capable of overrunning one or two towns in the South and holding all or part of them --- but for a few days at the most.

The offensive already is the heaviest since May, 1968, when the Communists took and held part of Saigon and other South Vietnamese cities for weeks.

It was ushered in with a bombardment of unparalleled ferocity. More than 1,000 shells a day hit each of two South Vietnamese bases, Charlie One and Charlie Two, on Friday and again on Saturday. An additional thousand hit base Alpha Four on Saturday.

By comparison, the DMZ base of Con Thien took a maximum of 1,000 shells on a single day in 1967. The U.S. Marine base in western Quang Tri Province never took that many in a single day during its long siege of 1968.

Though the offensive is still in its early stages, it already appears to be the first major test of the South Vietnamese now that they are alone on the ground facing a North Vietnamese force that has been building up since November.

Alone is the word. The offensive began under a thick cloud cover across the DMZ that cut allied strafing runs down to almost nothing.

"Acid Test of Vietnamization Shapes Up Along the DMZ", by Arthur Higbee, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Monday, April 3, 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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