Wednesday, May 3, 1972

Quang Tri Falls

SAIGON (AP) --South Vietnam's first provincial capital was abandoned to the North Vietnamese Monday after five days of savage assaults in the northern sector by troops of four divisions, giving Hanoi its biggest victory of its current offensive.

South Vietnamese troops abandoned Quang Tri and into enemy hands went territory stretching from the demilitarized zone 27 miles to the south.

This May Day triumph followed the enemy's seizure of full control of the population and important rice crops along the central coast; the cutting of Highway 1 in crucial points north of Da Nang, site of the big U.S. air base, and renewed enemy pressure on Kontum, another provincial capital in the central highlands.

With the fall of Quang Tri, capital of the province of the same name, a threat became more imminent to the old imperial capital of Hue, now only 24 miles south of the northernmost defensive line of the South Vietnamese on Highway 1.

Field reports said some 5,000 South Vietnamese troops were trying to escape the fallen capital as best they could. Most of the civilians had long since fled and only a very few remained.

Quang Tri had a population of about 27,000.

A mauled battalion of South Vietnamese rangers moving south from Quang Tri broke and fled after a day-long battle with troops of two North Vietnamese regiments near Highway l.

But U.S. advisers said South Vietnamese marines moving north to link up with the rangers attacked a nearby regimental post and killed 160 enemy soldiers with help from U. S. bombing strikes. The marines were forced to pull back, however, when the rangers turned off the pressure from the north.

The enemy drive in the northern sector is believed part of a plan to seize South Vietnam's two northern provinces and to use this as leverage in the Vietnam peace talks in Paris. The communist command also is believed aiming at seizing major cities in the central highlands and central coast, effectively cutting South Vietnam in half.

The Quang Tri objective seemed almost achieved.

"We have given up plans to defend Quang Tri," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Bowen, senior U.S. adviser in the north.

It remained to be seen whether the enemy forces would take over the virtually deserted city and face possible retaliation by Allied air attacks.

Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam, commander in the 1st Military Region, has said any city captured by the North Vietnamese in the area would be destroyed by his own forces rather than let them keep it.

Highway 1 south of Quang Tri remained closed to traffic, and enemy sappers operating 80 miles below the demilitarized zone cut the roadway about 10 miles north of Da Nang at the 3,500-foot Hai Van Pass, which connects the big port city with Hue and Quang Tri.

The road was destroyed in two places in the pass by the sappers who blew up culverts. But several hours later, light traffic started moving again after one culvert was replaced with a pontoon bridge and the second repaired with planks.

It was a significant attack because Highway 1, already blocked south of besieged Quang Tri City, is the main overland supply route from Da Nang to the northern front. Enemy action against it restricts movement of supplies north and refugees south to Da Nang.

In Binh Dinh Province on the central coast, the North Vietnamese extended their control over about 200,000 people by completing a sweep of the three district towns. This gave the enemy their biggest territorial gains of the offensive that began March 30.

To the west, in the central highlands, the North Vietnamese increased pressure on the northern defense line of Kontum, attacking Fire Base Lima on Highway 14 about six miles north.

Field reports said the North Vietnamese troops reached the perimeter of the base and captured four U.S.-made M41 tanks. They were reportedly beaten back by South Vietnamese and U.S. air strikes and fled leaving three tanks behind. One of the tanks was destroyed in the fighting and 75 enemy were reported killed. South Vietnamese losses were put at eight killed and 10 wounded.

The fall Sunday of Tam Quan, the northernmost district in Binh Dinh Province, imperils the only remaining government strongpoint, Landing Zone English, a regimental headquarters to the south.

English was reported under fire Monday, and the four American advisers there were evacuated by helicopter. One crewman aboard the helicopter was wounded.

The loss of Tam Quan also gives the Communists a rich rice crop, enough to feed their forces in the region for the rest of the year. The rice is being harvested by farmers who have not left the land despite the fighting.

Bong Son and Hoai An district towns had been lost earlier. With Tam Quan now gone, the enemy has rammed a foothold into the central coast that can be extended north or south.

Elsewhere, enemy saboteurs blew up the southern span of a major bridge on the Saigon-to-Phnom Penh highway at the district town of Go Dau Ha, 35 miles northwest of Saigon and less than 10 miles from the Cambodian border.

Enemy forces control much of a 50-mile stretch of the highway on the Cambodian side of the border after the fall of the town of Bavet, just across the frontier from Go Dau Ha.

A fire swept through a South Vietnamese military compound five miles southwest of Saigon, triggering explosions that destroyed four artillery guns and hundreds of shells. One South Vietnamese soldier was reported killed and three were wounded. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

"Quang Tri Falls", by (AP) published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Wednesday, May 3, 1972 and reprinted from the European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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