Saturday, May 27, 1972

Reds Beaten Back at Kontum

PLEIKU, Vietnam (UPI) --A North Vietnamese tank and infantry force fought its way into Kontum City late Thursday night but was driven back before dawn Friday with heavy losses, U.S. military sources here said.

In their first foray in strength into the central highlands provincial capital, the North Vietnamese attacked with seven to eight tanks supported by infantry between 10 p.m. and midnight, the sources said.

In the fighting that ensued, four Communist tanks were knocked out by missile-firing American helicopters and one-third of the infantry force was reported killed, the sources said. Initial reports did not say how large the infantry force was.

The South Vietnamese were reported to have lost three tanks but there was no early reports on their troop losses.

First reports said the Communist force attacked from either the southeast or the southwest, which meant they must have forged the Dak Bla River which runs around three sides of the city.

Most of the surviving North Vietnamese infantry withdrew with the tanks, according to field reports, but some were said to have scattered throughout the city.

American planes, retaliating for the enemy offensive now beginning its ninth week, smashed the two biggest power plants and a major bridge in the Hanoi-Haiphong industrial complex for the first time since the 1965-68 bombing campaign.

Two assaults against South Vietnam's northernmost defense line at My Chanh, 20 to 25 miles north of Hue, were reported repulsed. South Vietnamese spokesmen at Hue said 166 North Vietnamese troops were killed by government troops and artillery in what one U.S. adviser described as a "turkey shoot." South Vietnamese losses were reported as 15 troops killed and 43 wounded.

The spokesmen also reported that two Soviet-built BTR50 amphibious personnel carriers were destroyed, marking the introduction of another new weapon to the Indochina war. The BTR50 is a 141/2-ton carrier with a crew of two. It carries 12 infantrymen.

At An Loc, on the southern front 60 miles north of Saigon, field reports said up to 4,000 civilian refugees were able to get out of the besieged city. The refugees, mostly old women and children, walked south to Tau O, a village nine miles below An Loc. They said about 50 had been killed by North Vietnamese [sic] shellings during their escape.

U.S. sources said 150 to 300 North Vietnamese sappers from the 2nd Division penetrated Kontum and occupied portions of the [sic] air field, some civilian houses, a school, a Catholic seminary and the home of the French bishop of Kontum, Msgr. Paul Seitz.

The 2nd military region headquarters at Pleiku said several hundred South Vietnamese infantrymen had rooted out the North Vietnamese, killing 23 and capturing one, and the others had withdrawn by dusk. The only South Vietnamese casualties reported were three men wounded.

In the fighting, South Vietnamese spokesmen claimed 65 enemy were killed, mostly by air strikes. No South Vietnamese casualties were reported.

Enemy gunners also shelled the airfield at Pleiku, 25 miles to the south. Several rockets hit the base and reports said two South Vietnamese helicopters were damaged lightly.

South Vietnamese forces continued their efforts to reopen Highway 14, the supply route leading from Pleiku to Kontum. In fighting along the highway Wednesday, 40 enemy were reported killed, and South Vietnamese losses were put at 10 men killed and 66 wounded.

The U.S. Command announced that an Army AH1 Cobra gunship was shot down while supporting the government forces at An Loc and its two crewmen were missing. The helicopter was believed hit by a Soviet weapon newly introduced in the war, a hand-fired, heat-seeking antiaircraft missile.

American warplanes hit new targets in North Vietnam Wednesday, including some of the biggest power plants and bridges in the Hanoi-Haiphong industrial complex, the U.S. Command disclosed.

The command said two Navy planes, an F8 Crusader and an A7 Corsair were lost, and one of the pilots was missing. The other flier ditched his plane in the Tonkin Gulf and a helicopter rescued him unhurt.

This raised to 101 the number of Americans reported missing in the loss of 99 U.S. planes and helicopters since the North Vietnamese offensive started. Another 65 Americans have been reported killed and 23 wounded in the crashes.

The targets hit for the first time since the 1965-68 bombing campaign included the highway and railroad bridge one mile west of Haiphong, the Uong Bi power plant 15 miles northeast of Haiphong, and the Thai Nguyen power plant 20 miles north of Hanoi.

Navy pilots said they cut the east end of the bridge and buckled other portions of the span. Pilots who attacked the Uong Bi power plant reported their bombs caused severe damage to the generator building and heavy damage to the transformer and switching yards.

Air Force F4 Phantoms also kept up heavy attacks on the northeast rail line between Hanoi and destroyed the Vu Chua railroad bridge 15 miles farther northeast.

"Reds Beaten Back at Kontum", by PLEIKU, Vietnam (AP) published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Saturday, May 27, 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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