THE BATTLE FOR KONTUM CITY - PART 2
On May 25th, enemy activity increased significantly in Kontum. Enemy ABFs on the city continued throughout the day.The caliber of weapons varied from 60mm mortars to 155mm artillery.
There were reports that two NVA Sapper Battalions had infiltrated the southeastern part of the city wearing ARVN uniforms. RF units were in heavy contact within the southeast quadrant of the city. There was great concern about the ability of the RF units to hold. They had responsibility for the entire southern portion of the perimeter and that was considered the most vulnerable point. Many times at night the soldiers would go back into town to be with their families leaving gapping holes in the defensive positions. For whatever reason, this weakness was never truly exploited by the enemy units.
The long awaited main attack hit the northeast quadrant of the city early in the morning of May 26th. The enemy conducted an intense artillery preparation beginning at about 0230 hours and lasting until about 0430 hours. The timing of the attack had been anticipated because of intelligence information. However, the exact hour was different from what was expected because the NVA were on Hanoi time that was one hour behind local time. The artillery preparation was followed by a massive combined arms attack spearheaded by 10-12 tanks. One of the lead tanks carried a large colorful NVA flag; it was the company commander's tank and inside was "hero" awards he had received for the tank battle of 1969. This information was found after the battle.
In response to the enemy attack, Hawk's Claw was launched from Camp Holloway at about 0615. This was the optimum situation for the airborne TOW system. The weather was fairly good and the tanks were exposed in the attack during daylight hours. Before the morning was over, the Hawk's Claw aircraft had destroyed nine tanks, two machine guns, one truck, and one bunker. This effectively stopped the momentum of the attack. During the remainder of the day the battle raged on with opposing forces locked in close combat within the city. By the end of the day, the enemy controlled the eastern part of the city. TACAIR, artillery, and gunships supported the ARVN effort to stop the enemy.
The 27th was the second day of major enemy attacks on Kontum City. The enemy continued his attacks by fire and reinforced his forces within the city. Pressure continued to be applied by enemy units to the northern portion of the perimeter. Enemy artillery fire was impacting with great accuracy and affect in the vicinity of the 44th Regiment Command Post. Early in the morning of the 27th, the enemy made another major infantry attack from the northeast. At this point there was great concern, that the NVA units would breach the defenses and pour into the city.
The situation within Kontum City remained critical. The enemy still occupied the eastern half of the city plus some small penetrations in the northwest. The Senior Advisor for the 23rd ARVN Division, Colonel John Truby, with his staff, made a crucial decision during the night of May 28th. After overcoming many difficulties, they decided to pull friendly forces back, closer to the center of the city so that the rules of safe distance from ARC light strikes could be satisfied and they could bring the strikes much closer in. This was a courageous and risky decision but it was crucial to the successful defense of the city. The B-52 strikes caught the NVA units preparing to attack and had a devastating effect on the enemy.
The situation in Kontum remained about the same on May 29th. Enemy attacks by fire tapered off during the day. Although the ARVN were still not able to launch an effective counterattack, there were indications that the enemy was no longer able to reinforce his elements. VNAF air strikes in the southeast quadrant of the city appeared to have a good effect. The enemy had dug in and constructed fighting positions and bunkers throughout the area that made movement and aircraft operations extremely hazardous.
Mr. Vann and General Toan were becoming more optimistic at this point. There were indications that the enemy had been badly hurt. POWs stated that enemy commanders at all levels had been directed to personally lead attacks to insure their success.
In the afternoon at about 1330 hours, President Thieu visited the 23rd Division CP. He promoted Colonel Ba to the rank of Brigadier General.
Some progress was made on the 31st of May when elements of the 44th Regiment and RF/PF units continued attacks against enemy-held positions within the city. The fighting in the northeast was difficult, and friendly forces suffered many casualties. The enemy, although not considered strong in numbers, occupied well-constructed bunkers. The difficult business of rooting them out fell on the ARVN infantry troops. The task was very costly to the ARVN. The soldiers demonstrated a great deal of courage and persistence in this hazardous work.
The situation in Kontum continued to improve on June 1st. The enemy penetration in the southeast quadrant had virtually been eliminated, and there were indications that the enemy was withdrawing to the northeast. The 23rd Division reported that they had seized control of the airfield.
For the next several days the friendly forces conducted clearing operations within the city. The southeast quadrant was cleared first and then all forces were directed to sweep the northeast quadrant. Hard, bitter fighting ensued with heavy losses resulting for both sides. ARVN M-41 tanks often fired point blank into buildings occupied by the enemy. Throughout this period, the enemy conducted sporadic ABFs. Several minor attacks on the northern perimeter were easily repulsed.
By June 7th, it began to appear that another enemy attack on the city was unlikely, and everyone felt optimistic. On the 8th of June, Air Force C-130 aircraft began landing again at the airfield during the night.
June 9th was a most significant day. On that day, the 23rd Division Commander declared the city secured. Another event took place on the 9th of June that was felt by all of us. That was the death of John Paul Vann, the II Corps Senior Advisor, who died that night, in a helicopter crash in the Kontum Pass on QL 14.