The attack on Ban Me Thuot

SR 2093
677 Take 1
Interview with Nguyen Cong Thanh, 30, soldier.
Please tell us of the military operation which you were involved in from Pleiku to Ban Me Thuot.
Nguyen Cong Thanh:
My unit was thirty kilometers from Pleiku. We were preparing for the military campaign to liberate the Western Highland. My unit was given the order to advance toward Ban Me Thuot to attack it.
The first thing we did was to open fire on the district town of Buon Ho, which was forty-five kilometers northwest of Ban Me Thuot on Highway 14. After we liberated the district headquarters of Buon Ho, our unit was ordered to coordinate with Unit No. 3 to liberate the city of Ban Me Thuot. This was the capitol city of the highlands, as the Nguyen Van Thieu regime had nicknamed it.
From Buon Ho to Ban Me Thuot we only walked along the forest trails. And, as some of you may know, these trails wound through the mountains and thick forest and so it was quite arduous to make the operation. From Buon Ho to Ban Me Thuot, we only encountered a company of security and civilian guard troops about fifteen kilometers from Ban Me Thuot.
When the enemy found out that Buon Ho had been overrun, they sent the regional troops out to all directions with the intention of intercepting our forces at a distance from the city and not to allow us to approach the city.
But this was a period when the enemy troops became kind of demoralized after the fall of Buon Ho, which was a fairly strongly defended district headquarters. Secondly, these were only regional forces and so when they met with our regular forces they could not resist us for long before they fled.
At 4:00 p.m. on March 9, 1975 our unit arrived on the outskirts of Ban Me Thuot, which was only about ten kilometers from the center of the city itself. We camped down there, got rested, had our meals and prepared for the next day attack on Ban Me Thuot.
Beginning at 5:00 a.m. on March 10, 1975, our unit opened fire and attacked Ban Me Thuot. I do not know the details of the attacks from other directions. My unit was to attack from the northwest direction which was down Highway 14. When we began our assault on Ban Me Thuot, our unit attacked on foot and not on motor vehicles.
The other thing was that the attack on Ban Me Thuot was much more difficult than attacks on base camps. This is to say that if we used artillery and rockets on the city then we would hit the civilian population. Therefore, the decision was to fight at close range against the enemy.
We were supposed to cling to the belts of the enemy troops and fight them. We were not supposed to use artillery and rockets. And the determination of the unit was that if there were civilians living with the enemy troops then we would not attack.
For this reason, we had to employ infantry in the attack on Ban Me Thuot. We could not use out artillery units because we would hit the inhabitants.
There were certain base camps where there were enemy troops but there were also families of the troops living there. Therefore the first thing we did was to attack the airbase of Hoa Binh.
After we occupied the airbase, our unit was ordered to turn around and attack the base camp of the 45th Regiment.
SR 2094
Beep tone
Roll 94 of Vietnam Project.
Interview with Nguyen Cong Thanh continues.
678 Take 1
Please begin with the description of the attack on the 45th Regiment.
Nguyen Cong Thanh:
After we liberated the Hoa Binh airbase, our unit was ordered to attack the base camp of the 45th Regiment, which was the heroic regiment of the 22nd Division. This 45th Regiment was a crack force and so, when compared with other forces, it was really quite strong. We had engaged in combat with the 45th Regiment many times before.
Wherever this regiment went, it was accompanied by tanks, airplanes and artillery units. But during the battle of Ban Me Thuot the 45th Regiment was totally on the defensive. This was because when we attacked the Hoa Binh airbase, it only sent a small detachment of troops to help the Hoa Binh airbase out. Its main objective was to defend its base camp.
And so when we turned around to attack the 45th Regiment, we were fighting it at the same time we were trying to win the troops over. This, plus the fact that there were soldiers in the base which we had won over, caused the entire regiment to put down their weapons and flee.
There were many confusing scenes during the battle for Ban Me Thuot. First of all, the inhabitants welcomed us and brought us flowers, meals, cakes and water. But the puppet troops, which had been told by the Thieu's propaganda machine that the Viet Cong would carry out retaliations against them, were generally afraid of us and ran away.
And the best way for them to flee was to throw away their weapons, strip themselves of the uniforms and ran away in their underwear. Therefore, on the one hand you had very happy city inhabitants who welcomed us wholeheartedly and on the other you had troops from the disintegrated army who threw away their guns, stripped themselves of their uniforms and fled.
After we defeated the 45th Regiment and took over Ban Me Thuot, our unit was ordered to go to the town of Cheo Reo which belonged to the province of Phu Bon at that time in order to liberate this town. By this time, we mounted our operation on tanks, armored vehicles and all types of vehicles which we had captured from the enemy troops in the Ban Me Thuot area.
After we liberated Cheo Reo, our unit continued to make an operation to Tuy Hoa province to liberate it. On the way from Cheo Reo to Tuy Hoa – this is to say that in order to get to Tuy Hoa – we had to attack the district town of Phu Tuc.
After we occupied Phu Tuc, we went ahead to liberate the provincial town of Tuy Hoa. After we liberated Tuy Hoa, we received an order from the Forward Command that the entire unit had to make an operation on motor vehicles from Tuy Hoa to Binh Long, Phuoc Long, and Loc Ninh province and finally to attack the base camp at Dong Du, near Saigon.
During the preparation for the attack on Ban Me Thuot, the order was to attack. As for meetings, advance parties to investigate the terrain, etc., I must say frankly that we did not have any time for all of that then. This was because, as Nguyen Van Thieu had said, any side which managed to take over this capitol of the highlands would manage to obtain the strongest defense area which would lead to certain victory.
For this reason, we were all determined to take over Ban Me Thuot. We did not have time to study anything or to discuss anything at all. We received the order to fight and we fought.
We all knew that it was difficult to enter Ban Me Thuot because it was the capitol city of the highlands where the best and the most well trained troops were all based. And so, if you asked me whether it was difficult to attack the city, I would have said it was certainly very difficult. It was not easy to attack the city with the 45th Regiment and the entire 22nd Division defending it.
Another difficulty was that there were a lot of city inhabitants there. The idea was how to attack the city and at the same time be able to protect the property of the population and their lives. Hence, it was thought very difficult to attack Ban Me Thuot.
But, in reality, when we attacked Ban Me Thuot it turned out to be easier than we had thought. This was because the city inhabitants helped us out and the enemy troops just disintegrated and fled. We had thought that it would be five to ten times as hard to fight. We did not have to expend as much energy as we had thought.

Taking Dong Du

Now you were only 60 kilometers from Saigon. How did you get to Saigon? Which places did you have to overrun in order to get there?
Nguyen Cong Thanh:
On April 27th my unit had marched through the provinces of Binh Long, Phuoc Long and Loc Ninh and had arrived at a place about thirty kilometers from the base camp of Dong Du. We were stationed to the northwest of it and waiting for the order to open fire and to take over the base camp. The Dong Du base camp had been known as the "Tropical Thunderbolt" base camp of the American 25th Division.
After the Americans left, they turned the base over to the 25th Army Division of the puppet regime. This division was commanded by Lt. General Ly Tong Ba.
The assault on Dong Du posed certain difficulties. First of all Dong Du was "the iron gate of Saigon" as the Nguyen Van Thieu regime had boasted. It was to the northwest of Saigon and situated on Highway One, right on the route from Tay Ninh province and the route from Long Binh heading toward Saigon.
This was therefore a well situated unit which had been especially beefed up and which the Americans had bragged that no NLF unit could attack successfully. On the outside of the Dong Du base, to the north and to the west, more than half of the surroundings were marshland. In some places the marshland was up to three kilometers in width. Therefore the attack on Dong Du was somewhat difficult.
My unit had to march around to Highway One on our way down from Tay Ninh by passing through Trung Hoa and around to the west of the base camp to attack it. Lt. General Ly Tong Ba at that time did not understand the real situation of the battlefield and was therefore very pigheaded.
After our unit arrived just outside the base camp, Lt. General Ly Tong Ba ordered the 135th Battalion which was composed of security forces and civilian guards to come from Lam Son and Hoc Mon to reinforce the base camp and to attack us from the rear. According to the soldiers which we took prisoners, Ly Tong Ba ordered them to fight until the end and not to abandon their position.
Therefore, it was not that easy to attack Dong Du. In order to take over the base camp we had to deploy three divisions of regular forces and a regiment of Special Forces.
From the outside to the moat of the base camp there were 50 meters of various layers of fences. Therefore, it was already difficult to cut through this thick layer of fences let alone the spiked moats.
But because of the enthusiasm of the soldiers and the momentum of the campaign which was named after our beloved President Ho, each person, each soldier, told the other that the base camp had to be taken. We knew that we were only thirty-two kilometers from Saigon and so we were eager to wipe out Dong Du in order to get to Saigon. So we were greatly determined.
On the enemy side, the generals were quite determined to resist us. But their soldiers were in no mood to fight anymore. So as soon as we lobbed artillery shells into the base, their soldiers began to flee.
In fact, the first thing that happened was that the families of the soldiers had all left the base camp before our attack. This was quite advantageous for us. So we were no longer afraid to hit the civilian population as we had been.
Hence, when we opened fire and rushed in with tanks and armored vehicles the soldiers fled. Some only put up a half-hearted fight and then threw away their guns and fled. Some of them were killed and some stripped off their uniforms, put on civilian clothes and fled.
When our tanks approached the Command bunker of Lt. Ly Tong Ba we found out that he had taken off his uniform and had put on a suit of white civilian clothes in the attempt to sneak out.
Therefore, from the time we opened fire in the morning to about 2:00 p.m. we were able to overrun Dong Du which was a base camp of six square kilometers. It was a very large base camp and resembled a district or provincial town in there.
It was a self sufficient place. It had two huge fuel tanks which burnt from morning till night on April 29th. This is to say that standing about thirty kilometers away we could still see the smoke rising from these two fuel tanks.
When we came to attack Dong Du our unit was told to divide itself into two detachments. One was to come down on Highway 13, crossing through Cau Sang and Hoc Mon and taking over Hoc Mon in order to stop any reinforcement from Saigon and Quang Trung to allow our unit the free hand to attack Dong Du. Therefore, when we got through with Dong Du, the detachment over there also completed the liberation of Hoc Mon.
So there was a pincer movement and when the enemy tried to flee, they did not have any place to go to. We were attacking from both ends and the fleeing troops were caught right in the middle.
After we had taken over Dong Du, we advanced toward Ap Cho and Tan Phu Trung to take them over.
681 Take 1
Nguyen Cong Thanh:
We took over Dong Du around 2:00 p.m. At about that time, another detachment had already liberated Hoc Mon. So the fleeing troops were in a very precarious situation. To the north Dong Du had been taken over, to the south Hoc Mon had been liberated. Therefore, they were caught in the middle on the route from Dong Du to Hoc Mon.
The enemy vehicles – M-48s, M-41s, M-113s and all kinds of motor vehicles which had been employed in the escape – which converged on Ap Cho in Tan Phu Trung ran into our unit there and had no place to go.
Faced with this situation, the tanks and the armored vehicles all ran into the paddy fields in the effort to escape. And if you had were here about three years ago, you would have seen all these tanks and armored vehicles still lying in the paddy fields.
When we liberated the Dong Du base camp, there were many armored vehicles and motor vehicles there. And the prisoners of war we had who knew how to drive these vehicles volunteered to drive them for us, enabling us to chase after the enemy quickly. Therefore, our unit had an additional group of about fifteen drivers who were POW’s.
Our own soldiers who knew how to drive the vehicles jumped up on these vehicles and took our troops down the attack route. Along the way, we saw a lot of vehicles which still had their engines on and which were just parked by the roadside.
When the vehicles got stuck in the mud of the paddy fields which were quite deep, they could not move anymore and so their passengers had to get out and run. And so, they all had to surrender even though we did not attack them at all.

Victory in Saigon

Nguyen Cong Thanh:
By around 8:00 a.m. on April 30th our unit was ordered to head for Saigon to liberate it. Along the way, we had to get through the Quang Trung training center for non commissioned officers.
So when we got there we had to stop momentarily to attack it. Some of the soldiers there had fled, and those who remained did not give us much of a fight. They only put up a half-hearted resistance before they fled.
After an hour of stop over in Quang Trung, we continued to head toward Saigon down Highway One. When we reached Ba Queo we ran into a lot of civilians. On the way from Quang Trung to Ba Queo we also ran into the Tan Son Nhut base camp.
At that time this base was under attack by another unit and the puppet soldiers who spilled out of there fought back at us when they ran into us. And so we had to stop momentarily there to clean up the situation. In doing this, we had to run on foot as we swept our way from Ba Queo to Bay Hien.
When we reached Bay Hien we ran into a scene which I will never forget. This is to say that the city inhabitants brought us meals, water, cakes and fruit and begged us to take them. Although we were still fighting and were in a hurry, they pulled us back by our shirts and said: "Mr. Liberation, please eat a bowl of rice and make us feel good."
There were old women who just stood there and cried when we could not stop to eat. They really felt bad for us because we were so busy fighting that we did not even have time to eat. And when other troops in the same unit arrived in their jeeps and trucks, the city inhabitants just showered them with food and cakes.
682 TAKE 1
Nguyen Cong Thanh:
When we reached Bay Hien (a neighborhood of Saigon) none of us knew how to get to the Independence Palace. There were so many roads leading to downtown Saigon and I myself just did not have any idea where it was. So I turned around and asked an old woman: "Mother, where is Saigon?" And her reply was: "You're already in Saigon."
By this time the women surrounded us and asked us about our native villages, our ages and so on. And we, on our part, asked them the way to the Independence Palace. The population was very happy. By this time our forces were already victorious. And it was a proud moment for people to be helping the soldiers out.
When the people saw that we were walking, they thought that we belonged to a non mobile unit and so they begged us to board their pedicabs, Lambrettas, buses and trucks to take us to downtown Saigon. And so we did not have to wait for our own vehicles but climbed on the pedicabs, the Lambrettas and the buses to be taken to downtown Saigon.
When we passed by Tan Son Nhut, we ran into soldiers from the High Command Headquarters who were spilling out into the streets as they were being attacked by another of our units. They were in their underwear and half naked and did not have weapons in their hands. At that time it became obvious to us that any person who was in his briefs was a soldier who was fleeing. The various police forces were also in flight. There were not too many troops who fought back at us.
When we passed the High Command Headquarters we went straight down Cong Ly Avenue in order to reach the Independence Palace. When we got to the area of Le Quy Don high school we ran into a unit which fought back at us. It was at 11:15 a.m. when we got to Le Quy Don high school and ran into this unit which defended the Independence Palace and which fought back at us although General Duong Van Minh had announced on radio that a ceasefire was to be observed.
But this unit fought back at us although they could not fight for long before they had to flee. This was because we came in large numbers and the city inhabitants, who at that time showed no fear of gunfire anymore, were pouring out into the streets to greet the Liberation Forces.
After I had already arrived at the Independence Palace, I saw a tank unit coming in and putting up a flag over the building. And so, on the way to the Palace we ran into this small resistance.
After we liberated the Independence Palace and came into the building, we saw that the Duong Van Minh Cabinet, which was only a puppet administration left behind by Nguyen Van Thieu, was still sitting in there, waiting for the order of the Liberation unit which took over the Independence Palace.
After we had cleaned up the whole area – that is to say, took care of those who still resisted us – and after there were only small bursts of gunfire echoing from a long distance, we turned back to the gate of the Independence Palace and saw that population had poured into the area like a flash flood to watch.
One person told me that during the Nguyen Van Thieu administration no one had been allowed to go near the gate of the Palace. Formerly, they blocked the whole area and no vehicle or individual could get close without special permission.
The thing that impressed me most was the young girls, the schoolgirls, in their white and colorful long gowns, who came to us with beautiful bouquets and presented them to us. Some of them asked us about our age and our native villages. It was such an uproarious scene and a really moving moment that I will never be able to forget.
It was an honor for me to be able to complete, along with my comrades, an historic mission placed on us by the nation and to be able to carry out successfully the testament of Uncle Ho. This was a common source of honor and happiness for the whole nation. Even the city inhabitants of Saigon realized that it was a happy day for the nation, a day when Vietnam finally became independent and when there was no foreign enemy remaining in the country.
As for myself, from the time I was still a civilian to the time I was ordered to participate in the campaign to liberate the country, my hope was to arrive finally in Saigon. So after my unit had taken over Dong Du, I told my political commander: "Chief, now that we're here and if we're unable to reach Saigon then we can't be considered as people who help liberate the South." And the reply from my political commander was: "Then we will have to set foot in Saigon. We will have to spend time in Saigon." And so when we reached Saigon I thought that my hope and the statement from my political commander became reality.