Wednesday, April 26, 1972

More Bases Fall

Viets Pull Back Under Red Push

More Viet Bases Fall in Highlands Fighting

SAIGON (UPI and S&S Vietnam Bureau) --More government bases in the central highlands fell to the Communists Monday and the senior U.S. adviser in the region predicted tank-led North Vietnamese troops would mount an "intense" campaign for control of the country's midsection.

Refugees were streaming from the battlefront 280 miles north of Saigon in mountainous Kontum Province where the Communists have cut Highway 14 in seven places.

Kontum, a provincial capital of about 30,000 people, was seen as the key highlands target in the 26-day-old offensive.

Five government bases or positions fell Monday as the tank-led North Vietnamese forces drove toward Kontum. There was no count of casualties on either side in the swirl of the scattered battles, but senior U.S. officers said the South Vietnamese 22nd Div sustained heavy tank losses from Communist tanks and missiles. The government unit was said to have lost 17 of its 22 tanks.

Four Americans were killed Monday when their helicopter was shot down over one of the bases seized by the Communists on the 26th day of their general offensive.

A South Vietnamese military spokesman at Pleiku described the attack force as a full North Vietnamese division-- about 12,000 men. Senior U.S. advisors put the size of the force at a reinforced regiment of about 3,000.

"The North Vietnamese will have to reorganize, but the pressure on Kontum will be intense," said the senior U.S. adviser in the highlands area, John Paul Vann. The region covers 12 provinces.

Vann helped direct the withdrawal of two bases lost Monday-- Tan Canh and Dak To II.

According to Vann, the Communists bypassed Dak To District and attacked Tan Canh to the south at about 6:30 a.m. Monday.

Vann said the Reds used about 15 tanks in the thrust and that U.S. and Vietnamese Air Force strikes had destroyed at least nine of them, including two that smashed through the front gate of the command post into the middle of the base.

Vann said he believed the Communists have four tank battalions totaling 80 vehicles in the highlands. An ARVN spokesman said 30 tanks were destroyed by air strikes in Kontum Province Monday, including 18 near abandoned Fire Base Delta.

"The scenario has been fairly clear for the last four months, Vann said. "The enemy's strategy was first to interdict the strategic roads-- from Pleiku to Kontum, Kontum to Dak To, and Qui Nhon to Pleiku; second, to launch a coordinated series of attacks on the border camps, Tan Canh and Phoung Long. And finally he plans to drive on to Kontum with 320th Div.

Heavy fighting also erupted Monday on Highway 13 only 38 miles north of Saigon and North Vietnamese troops attacking at close range pinned down two South Vietnamese battalions south of the town of Chon Thanh.

Field reports said the fighting four miles south of Chon Thanh halted an ammunition convoy of some 60 trucks just outside the major South Vietnamese base at Lai Khe, 30 miles north of Saigon.

One of the government battalions reportedly was clearing the highway south from Chon Thanh and the other moving north from an artillery base outside Lai Khe when Communists forces opened up before the government units could link up.

Heavy rains lashed Saigon and the area to the north for the first time this year Monday morning and drastically reduced the number of air strikes in the region around the capital. The weather cleared at noon.

More than 500 rockets, mortars and artillery rounds were fired into the besieged province capital of An Loc, 60 miles north of Saigon, during the day. At dusk, Monday, B52 bombers hit within a half mile of An Loc, their closest strikes yet to the city which has been under heavy pressure since April 6 and which South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu has ordered held at all costs.

B52 bomber crews Monday also joined U.S. tactical fighter-bombers in striking the North Vietnamese port of Thanh Hoa and a nearby road complex, the U.S. command said. It was the third B52 raid over North Vietnam in nine days. Command spokesman listed the targets as a "transshipment point and associated military warehouse and storage areas."

While the fighting built up in the highlands, the front in the northern provinces below the Demilitarized Zone was described as static, but enemy rockets hit Da Nang for the second time in a day.

Four rockets were fired into the city shortly before midnight. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage. Earlier Monday, 13 rockets hit the big air base at Da Nang, wounded nine persons and damaging three buildings.

"Viets Pull Back Under Red Push", by S&S Vietnam Bureau, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Wednesday, April 26, 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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