Friday, May 19, 1972

Viets Push Open Highlands Link

by Matt Franjola

(UPI) --South Vietnamese troops Wednesday punched open a vital highway leading to the embattled central highlands and helicopter-borne government troops pushed out to expand the "circle of steel" defenses guarding the key northern city of Hue.

But in a day of fluctuating fortunes, Communist sappers dynamited the Nuoc Ngot Bridge, 30 miles southeast of Hue, temporarily closing Highway 1, which links the old imperial capital to the south.

The Communists also blew up a major ammunition dump less than two miles northeast of Pleiku City, in the central highlands. Military sources said they believed "some slick sappers" were behind the attack, which a government spokesman said set off 400 tons of ammunition.

A U.S. Air Force C130 Hercules transport, carrying ammunition, crashed after being hit by Communist 122mm fire at Kontum City Airport. Seven of the nine Americans aboard were killed.

Seven other U.S. military men were wounded in the sporadic bombardment of the Kontum Airport and two government transport planes were destroyed by rockets. The field was temporarily closed.

Another 1,100-man U.S. Marine air group has begun to arrive at Bien Hoa, the big air base 15 miles northeast of Saigon.

The first two squadrons of Marine Air Group 12 arrived Tuesday night from Cubi Point in the Philippines. The squadrons brought to five the number sent to Vietnam since the Communist offensive began 49 days ago.

Government troops, backed by napalm and nausea-producing gas, reopened Highway 19 Wednesday by driving out entrenched Communist forces on the lip of Mang Yang Pass 30 miles east of Pleiku City.

The highway runs from Qui Nhon, on the east coast, to Pleiku and is considered a vital supply line.

Field reports said U.S. and Vietnamese planes hit the Communist positions with napalm Tuesday and government troops followed up with gas Wednesday. A government spokesman said the bodies of 52 Communists were found.

Spokesmen said in two probing actions within three miles of Kontum City, 30 miles north of Pleiku, government soldiers found 104 bodies, victims of heavy air strikes.

To the north, two battalions of Saigon troops rode a fleet of Allied helicopters to reoccupy Artillery Base Rakkassan, 15 miles due west of Hue, under cover of air strikes, U.S. Naval gunfire and an artillery barrage. They met no opposition.

The base, long ago abandoned by units of the U.S. 101st Airborne Div., was taken as part of a government plan to keep Communist troops beyond heavy artillery range of Hue.

South Vietnamese commanders said they were setting up a "ring of steel" around the key city to meet the threat posed by four Communist divisions believed readying for a decisive battle.

Earlier Wednesday, Communist forces fought their way through defenders and dynamited the Nuoc Ngot Bridge, 30 miles southeast of Hue, temporarily closing the southern supply route from Da Nang. Government [sic] spokesman said "40 percent" of the bridge was destroyed.

Government defenders still held on at An Loc, the battered province capital 60 miles north of Saigon, after more than six weeks of fighting.

"Viets Push Open Highlands Link", by SAIGON (UPI), published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Friday, May 19, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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