Vietnam war 1972

After mounting massive sầu conventional warfare assaults near the DMZ và in the Central Highlands on 5 April 1972, Hanoi extended the deadly arm of the Nguyen Hue, or the 1972 Easter Offensive sầu, to South Vietnam’s Military Region III (MR III), formerly known as III Corps. North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces quickly overran Loc Ninch, a tiny district town in Binh Long Province near the Cambodian border. One week later, three NVA divisions, supported by tanks & massive amounts of artillery, launched an all out attaông chồng on An Loc, the capital of Binh Long Province, 60 miles north of Saigon.

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The vital role that U.S. và South Vietnamese aerial bombing played in saving An Loc is well known. However, the much less publicized, but equally vital, U.S. Army và Air Force air resupply effort also played a major role in helping the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) forces & their U.S. Army advisors defending An Loc survive sầu a 70-day siege, a siege longer than either Vicksburg or Dien Bien Phu.

The North Vietnamese could not have picked a better time to lớn attaông chồng in MR III. Since the drawdown of American troops began in 1969, the region had seen U.S. combat units dwindle to lớn almost nothing. Between February và April 1972 alone, 58,000 troops and advisors returned khổng lồ the U.S. This was the single largest troop reduction of the war và it came precisely when the NVA was building up for the Easter Offensive.

Those advisors that did remain in III Corps operated within the Third Regional Assistance Comm& (TRAC), headquartered at Long Binch outside of Saigon. TRAC, the distilled remains of II Field Force và the former III Corps Advisory Group, was commanded by the flamboyant, Pattonesque, World War II tank commander Major General James F. “Holly” Hollingsworth. In 1966-67 Hollingsworth had served as deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Division, whose area of operations included Binc Long Province, so he was familiar with the territory. In mid-1971 Hollingsworth returned to lớn Vietnam as deputy commander of the U.S. XXIV Corps. By the end of the year he was on his way lớn Long Binch to commvà the last American advisors in III Corps. Given his reputation as a hands-on fighter, Hollingsworth was not only miscast for this managerial assignment, but he was under pressure from his old World War II friover, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam giới (MACV) Commander General Creighton W. Abrams to continue the troop drawdown & not endanger American lives. Yet withdrawing advisors from the increasingly dangerous situation in An Loc would sover a signal of diminished American support of the South Vietnamese and would certainly weaken their resolve sầu. Hollingsworth chose khổng lồ defend An Loc but did not order his advisors khổng lồ remain in the surrounded thành phố. He evacuated those deemed nonessential along with the senior American advisor to select his combat advisory team. Only a handful of Americans remained in the tactical operations center with General Hung & the 5th ARVN Division staff.

By 1972, the advisory system in MR III, & in the rest of South Vietphái mạnh, was primarily a skeleton team sprinkled throughout the top of the ARVN officer corps. In combat units, advisors now interacted with their ARcả nước counterparts only at corps, division, and regimental levels. In elite units, such as airborne, rangers, and marines, advisors were still used down to lớn the battalion cấp độ.

At An Loc, the 5th ARđất nước hình chữ S Division had a U.S. Army senior advisor with a small staff under hyên ổn. The senior advisor was responsible for “advising” his counterpart on troop movement và deployment, a particularly crucial job during the drawdown because ARtoàn quốc forces were spread thinly over areas previously covered by both American & South Vietnamese troops. The advisors also gathered intelligence from units in the field and sent it back khổng lồ TRAC headquarters for analysis. However, as far as the South Vietnamese were concerned, the senior advisor was most valuable in his role as air tư vấn provider. As a result, the senior advisor spent much of his time plotting air strikes and coordinating them with TRAC headquarters.

When the 5th Viet Cong Division struchồng Loc Ninh on 5 April, the magnitude of the artillery barrage that preceded the attaông xã was unprecedented in MR III. Two days later Loc Ninc fell và intelligence reports from the rubber plantations north of An Loc noted large numbers of NVA tanks already in place.

Air Force forward air controllers (FACs) reported heavy troop and truông chồng movement particularly lớn the north of An Loc. They saw hundreds of civilians were fleeing rubber plantations, attempting to lớn avoid NVA conscription. B- 52 strikes were placed wherever a troop concentration was reported. Gathering bomb damage assessment information, however, was difficult because the South Vietnamese would not patrol beyond An Loc’s thành phố limits.

On 7 April, the NVA overran the Quan Loi airstrip located a mile and a half east of An Loc. The highway, Route 13, was cut, blocking the main road in and out of town. The đô thị was surrounded by communist troops and isolated from the outside by road. Only helicopters & aircraft with pilots willing khổng lồ risk flying through the enemy anti-aircraft batteries encircling the đô thị could keep An Loc supplied with food and ammunition. The population of An Loc consisted of 15,000 persons, half military & the other half civilian. The resupply objective was 200 tons per day, including 140 tons of ammunition, 36 tons of rice & other rations, và trăng tròn tons of water.

Early in the morning of 11 April, the ARtoàn quốc 1st Airborne Brigade left neighboring Binc Duong Province by truông chồng for Chon Tkhô hanh, the southernmost district in Binch Long Province. It was khổng lồ dismount just north of Chon Tkhô cứng và continue the remaining twelve sầu miles north toward An Loc on foot. Their mission was khổng lồ sweep the area clean of the enemy patrols that might threaten the vital Route 13 supply line from Saigon. This elite ARtoàn nước unit never got cthảm bại lớn its objective.

Nine miles south of An Loc, the ARtoàn quốc troopers met a blocking force made up of a regiment from the 7th NVA Division. During the same period, 10-11 April, the 1st và 2nd battalions, 8th ARViệt Nam Regiment, as well as the regimental combat reconnaissance company, were flown inkhổng lồ An Loc by the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, the last remaining element of the famous airmobile division still in South Vietnam. During the next six days, under a canopy of B-52 strikes, the ARđất nước hình chữ S frantically continued reinforcing An Loc. Between 7-12 April, the Vietnamese Air Force’s (VNAF) 237th Helicopter Squadron, flying U.S. Army CH-47 Chinooks, completed 42 sorties, though limited khổng lồ a single landing zone. Each sortie brought in approximately 3.5 tons. Some of the Chinooks were hit as they hovered for the few seconds it took lớn dump their cargo, but none were shot down by NVA fire. Then, on 12 April, an enemy mortar scored a direct hit on an ARViệt Nam Chinook. A few hours later, after another massive Soviet-style artillery barrage, the 7th Viet Cong Division, with T-54 tanks và trucks, launched the initial assault on the An Loc perimeter.

After the first assault, not only were the NVA able to lớn occupy the northern half of the thành phố, but they were able to move sầu an anti-aircraft regiment immediately outside the An Loc defensive perimeter. All CH-47 deliveries were halted, & only fixed wing cargo planes attempted the dangerous flight inlớn An Loc, where the drop zone (DZ) had shrunk to an area 1,000 yards by 750 yards. Thus, the ARđất nước hình chữ S began airdropping supplies. VNAF crews and transports, primarily C-123’s, made their first drops on 12 April. All drops were made during daylight và all were troubled by the enemy fire & small drop zones. Planes could only approach An Loc from the south, flying along Route 13. They usually flew in three-aircraft formations at 700 feet. Other airplanes released their loads from 5,000 feet or higher to avoid anti-aircraft fire. The crews used makeshift sighting devices or simply guessed where khổng lồ drop their cargo. Lacking delayed parachute-opening devices, drops were usually off target and landed outside the defensive perimeter. After 27 C-123 and C-119 drops in the first three days of the siege (12-14 April), only 34 tons of the 135 tons dropped was recovered. Six transports took ground fire và on 15 April, a C-123 was shot down, killing all aboard, including the squadron commander. Four days later a second C-123 was shot down.

On 14 April, Military Assistance Commvà, Vietnam (MACV), decided lớn deploy the first USAF C-130s to An Loc. Two of the four-engine aircraft, using the Computerized Aerial Drop System (CARP), made their first run at dawn the following day. They circled the thành phố until a FAC signaled khổng lồ commence the dangerous run. Initially, no instruments were needed; pilots simply followed Route 13 from the south. As they approached the DZ, a 219 square-yard soccer field in the southern part of An Loc, the computer took over, releasing the supplies at a pre-arranged point. The first airplane roared over the target. As enemy guns opened fire, pallets of food & ammo crashed to lớn the earth & the aircraft climbed up from the 600 foot drop altitude with only slight damage to lớn the rudder.

After talking with the FAC on site, the second crew decided to surprise the enemy with an approach from a different direction. When the C-130 was thirty seconds from the release point, a wall of machine gun fire met the nose of the aircraft. The pilot struggled lớn control the shuddering transport under the impact of dozens of bullets. Rounds smashed the circuit panel in the flight deông chồng, killing the flight engineer và wounding the navigator và co-pilot. The situation in the cargo hold was even worse. Incendiary rounds ignited some of the pallets of 155mm howitzer and 81milimet mortar ammunition. The crippled C-130, flying on 2 engines, limped back lớn Tan Son Nhut Airbase north of Saigon. U.S. advisors at An Loc later reported that none of the 26 tons of supplies dropped by the two transports were recovered.

On 15 April, two more C-130s headed for An Loc. To counter enemy interception, communication crews used five different frequencies instead of one. The CARPhường system was abandoned because it required strict attention from the crew, which was preoccupied flying the airplane through the hostile fire. Instead they manually dropped the cargo load. Although the two aircraft were hit, they successfully dropped fifteen tons of ammunition và supplies within the area controlled by the ARcả nước.

On 18 April, NVA anti-aircraft fire nearly downed another C-130. With the right wing burning, one engine out, và another on fire, the crew ditched the cargo & managed lớn crash l& near Lai Khe.

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The situation on the ground at An Loc was grave sầu. On 13 and 15 April, twenty-four NVA tanks led major ground assaults into lớn the thành phố. Allied weapons stopped the enemy armor, but communist forces held the northern half of the đô thị. Despite total allied air superiority, the enemy continued to pound the remainder of the city with an average of 1,000 artillery rounds per day. In addition to lớn the heavy shelling, the defenders of An Loc faced other serious problems. Significant amounts of the air-dropped supplies landed within enemy lines. As a result of the shelling and the misdirected supplies, the defenders’ morale declined considerably.

Although aerial supply efforts were going nowhere, new developments inside An Loc took some pressure off the Air Force. Originally, U.S. Army ground advisors estimated that it would take 200 tons a day lớn sustain the garrison. The highest priority was small arms ammunition và 105milimet howitzer rounds. The NVA quickly eliminated the need for the howitzer rounds by destroying all the ARtoàn quốc artillery in the first few weeks of the siege. Water requirements also eased when a series of brackish wells were found inside the perimeter. U.S. Army advisors now felt they could survive on 65 tons per day.

The Air Force then tried night drops. On 24 April seven C-130s headed for An Loc with lights out. All made it in safely & dropped their loads, but accuracy was marginal, & at night, stray pallets were more difficult to recover. On 25 April eleven C-130s tried another night mission. The first four aircraft that rolled over the target were met by heavy anti-aircraft fire. One C-130 took several hits, quickly lost altitude, & crashed two miles south of the DZ, killing all onboard. All subsequent missions that night were called off, & ten additional missions were cancelled the following night due to lớn inclement weather. Two drops were made on the 27th & most of the cargo was recovered. Both aircraft, however, suffered damage from enemy ground fire.

For the next seven days Air Force C-130s made only night drops. Out of thirty-seven missions, U.S. advisors “recovered” thirty-five tons, “possibly recovered” ninety-six tons, & “probably lost” 350 tons. They also reported that enemy barrages over the DZ continued lớn increase in volume & intensity. Over fifty percent of the C-130s making night drops were hit by enemy fire. With many aircraft damaged và the loss of a third C-130 with its crew on 4 May, the Air Force decided lớn over standard màn chơi drops. Thus far, three C- 130s had been lost & thirty-eight had been hit by enemy fire over An Loc.

The disappointing results of the night drops were not a reflection on the ingenuity of the participants. Several expedients were devised khổng lồ aid in spotting the soccer field DZ. One relied on aerial flares for illumination, but unfortunately, this method silhouetted the aircraft for the NVA gunners. ARcả nước troops also used portable runway lights and blazing cans of gasoline to lớn mark the DZ.

Termination of the night drops coincided with the desperate conditions on the ground within An Loc. Food và ammunitions stocks were critically low, and medical và sanitation conditions were rapidly deteriorating.

On 29 April the NVA fired the first SA-7, a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile, at U.S. aircraft in Quang Tri Province near the DMZ. With the possibility of SA-7s near An Loc, the return of low-màn chơi resupply operations was unthinkable.

C-130 crews met this challenge with the first “high velocity” drop at An Loc on 8 May. One thousvà pound bundles were rigged khổng lồ 15-foot slotted parachutes. These chutes were designed to lớn stabilize descent at roughly one hundred feet per second, approximately four times the normal impact velocity. There was no low opening function, which eliminated the need for a delay mechanism. Accuracy remained high because of the high-speed descent.

On 3 May the Air Force resumed High Altitude, Low Opening (HALO) drops at An Loc with fair results. The following day, using a modified HALO method, two C-130s dropped sixteen bundles. No parachutes opened prematurely and all but one bundle landed in the DZ.

On 8 May, twenty-foot slings were inserted between each parachute and its load to lớn allow a better chance for proper chute filling. The results were positive. The incidence of unopened parachutes dropped to five sầu percent on 10 May và remained negligible thereafter.

Eleven high velothành phố missions were made at An Loc between 8-10 May. Out of 140 bundles 139 hit the DZ. The NVA launched their last major ground assault on 10 May. When drops resumed on 13 May, the suitability of high velocity drops became even more obvious, despite the fact that descending bundles could be dangerous khổng lồ those on the ground. On several occasions, loads of artillery rounds detonated on impact và fuel drums ruptured after the parachutes malfunctioned. While small arms ammunition usually survived the drops, medical supplies proved too fragile for this kind of drop, even under optimum conditions. On 29 May an even more reliable chute was introduced, a slotted twenty-two footer which carried a one-ton bundle.

Strong communist forces remained around An Loc during June, but ARtoàn nước relief forces were making a slow approach toward the thành phố along Route 13, clearing the ground lines of communication & establishing fire bases. On 11 June VNAF helicopters began bringing replacements inlớn An Loc, & between 13-14 June, U.S. Army choppers lifted 1,400 fresh troops into the besieged thành phố. Beginning on 18 June, the defenders slowly pushed out of the rubble that had once been An Loc và the South Vietnamese Comm& declared the siege over, despite the fact that Highway 13 remained closed.

After mid June, drops into An Loc were cut to lớn two per day. Although pressure on An Loc decreased in late 1972, communist forces continued to lớn hold Quan Loi airfield và threatened movement along Route 13. C-130s continued to resupply An Loc by air until December 1972. Both sides maintained defensive sầu positions in the region as the likelihood of cease-fire increased. In MR I, General Truong, the “Savior of Hue,” emerged as the nhân vật of the Easter Offensive sầu. In MR II, the redoubtable Colonel Ba, who held Kontum, was the nhân vật. On the southern front, in MR III, the nhân vật was Major General Hollingsworth. It was he who saved An Loc. He strengthened the resolve of the ARViệt Nam corps commander when the situation looked gryên. He visited An Loc daily during the worst of the shelling & encouraged both the ARtoàn nước troops & American advisors defending the đô thị. Above all, largely because of his rapport with MACV Commander General Abrams, Hollingsworth was able to lớn divert B-52 strikes from MR I và MR II lớn An Loc when the thành phố was most seriously threatened. It was Hollingsworth và his deputy, Brigadier General John R. McGiffert, an artillery officer who had also served in the 1st Infantry Division in 1966-67, who personally planned the B-52 & tactical air strikes that saved An Loc.

Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu, and Khe Sanh, An Loc was a classic siege with the garrison supplied entirely by air. Unlike Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu, the kết thúc results were much better for the besieged at An Loc. Through the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Army advisors under Hollingsworth; the air resupply effort, B-52 attacks, & tactical air strikes by the Air Force; & the determined resistance of the besieged ARViệt Nam forces, the South Vietnamese and their American allies were able to withstvà a massive assault by the NVA & save the city of An Loc.

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For more information on the Siege of An Loc và the Easter Offensive sầu read: Jeffrey J. Clarke, Advice & Support: The Final Years; LTG Phillip B. Davidson, USA (Ret)., Vietphái nam at War; Dale Andrade, Trial by Fire; & Donaldson D. Frizzell and Ray L. Bowers, Eds., “Airpower & the 1972 Spring Invasion,” in Air War – Vietnam.


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