Thursday, June 1, 1972

Thieu Looks on as Viet Tanks Tackle Reds Inside Kontum

SAIGON, (AP) -- South Vietnamese tanks slammed into Communist positions in Kontum Tuesday as President Nguyen Van Thieu flew in under rocket fire to personally spur on the defenders.

Thieu promoted Col. Ly Tong Ba to brigadier general while Ba's 23rd Div. pressed a house-to-house sweep and a tank-backed push, gaining ground against attacking North Vietnamese regulars.

Meanwhile, Navy fighter-bomber pilots set aflame one of North Vietnam's largest rail-yards and shattered 16 bridges in a widening of the air war to disrupt supply, the U.S. command said.

Crewmen described thundering explosions and fires at the Uong Bi Rail Center, 10 miles northeast of Haiphong. One Navy plane was reported lost, but its crewmen were rescued at sea.

Action at Kontum dominated the ground war, with about a dozen M41 tanks rumbling in a line toward the old 22nd Div. compound at the city's north, held by the North Vietnamese.

Tank guns smashed buildings which had remained standing after air strikes. North Vietnamese troops, who have held parts of Kontum since Friday, fought back with mortar and small arms fire.

Other South Vietnamese units searched sections of an abandoned field hospital near the occupied compound and reported killing 34 Communist soldiers and capturing three prisoners.

At the end of town, units canvassing a residential area south of the airstrip found underground bunkers. They said they killed 27 North Vietnamese, losing seven wounded.

Thieu flew in from Pleiku with senior U.S. advisor John Paul Vann. The president, in a civilian open-necked suit, chatted with soldiers and smiled, apparently oblivious to rockets exploding within sight.

Fighting eased somewhat at the besieged provincial capital of An Loc, although attacking troops poured in 500 rounds of artillery.

Two divisions threatening the town have apparently pulled back into nearby Cambodia, U.S. military sources said, presumably to regroup.

It was the first reported withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces since their general offensive started two months ago. Hundreds of B52 strikes have left their positions devastated and smoking.

The air strikes against the Uong Bi Rail Yard were the first there in the stepped-up bombing of North Vietnam. Pilots form the aircraft carrier Coral Sea said they collapsed one end of a large locomotive repair and construction shop and saw secondary explosions throughout the yard, with many buildings in flames.

The yard reportedly serviced North Vietnam's entire railroad system, including the northwest and northeast lines to China.

Meanwhile, a task force of three cruisers and two destroyers ranged up and down the coast, shelling targets from 10 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone to within 29 miles of Haiphong.

"Thieu Looks on as Viet Tanks Tackle Reds Inside Kontum", by SAIGON, (AP) published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Thursday, June 1, 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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