PANO – With its operational and strategic advisory role, in the General Offensive and Uprising in spring 1975, the Operations Department under the General Staff studied the situation and made important proposals to the Politburo and the General Headquarters of the campaign so that strategic decisions could lead the resistance war to the total victory.
After the Paris Peace Accords
The Paris Peace Accords was signed on January 27th 1973.
Two months later, the US had to pull all of its troops out of Vietnam (March 29th 1973).
The struggle turned over a new leaf with the strategic games of mind between the elites of the two sides, which took place silently but resolutely.
After a short period of time, the Vietnamese forces grasped the enemy’s plot to continue building up and maintaining a US-backed government of Nguyen Van Thieu. Under that plot, the US forces proposed the extremely malicious strategy named “Vietnamization.” The strategy would build the “elite and young” Saigon armed forces with a focus on the modernization of the air force, the navy and local forces. The US troops, after the withdrawal, left behind a huge amount of weapons and ammunitions for the Saigon regime. Moreover, the US also massively increased military aid including 650 aircraft of all kinds, 70 heavy artillery guns, 220 armored vehicles, 70 tanks and various new anti-tank weapons. By the end of 1973, the total weapons and equipment in stock of the Saigon troops had amounted to 2 million tons and the Saigon administration maintained a regular force of 1.1 million troops.
Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Saigon administration, tried his best to break the Paris Peace Accords by ordering their troops to continuously conduct military operations to annex more land from the liberated zones.
On the revolutionary side, the Central Military Commission worked out two scenarios:
– Peace would be restored and the peace accords would be gradually implemented.
– War would continue.
It was hard for the US troops to reengage the Vietnam theatre and all the US could do was to provide air and naval support for the Saigon Government. The revolutionary forces should take advantage of the situation to turn the first scenario into reality while actively preparing for the second scenario.
With its operational and strategic advisory role to the Central Military Commission and the General Staff, the Operations Department thoroughly studied the situation and clearly defined their tasks in that new stage of the revolution. No one had the illusion of an easy peace or thought that the war was over then. The staff of the department did not underestimate the enemy but tried all that they could to have the precise judgement of the situation so as to work out new but feasible operation plans to completely liberate the South.
After the Phuoc Long Battle
In the first months after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the Vietnamese forces did not pay due attention to the enemy’s acts of annexation; therefore, the enemy occupied and “pacified” a large area of the liberated zone, causing certain losses to the revolution. The Operations Department immediately reevaluated the developments of the situation in the South and made major recommendations to the Central Military Commission and submission of proposals to the 21st Plenum of the Party Central Committee.
On October 4th 1973, the 21st Plenum passed the Resolution titled “Great achievements in the war of resistance against the US invasion and the mission of the South’s revolution in the new context,” asserting that “the revolution in the South should resort to violent means; no matter how the situation would develop, Vietnam should grasp opportunities and strictly follow the guidelines of the strategic offensive.”
The Operations Department then drafted the report on the experience to fight against the enemy’s land annexation and pacification of the enemy. Subsequently, military operations were enhanced with consecutive waves of counterattacks, breaking the enemy’s entrenchment in the region of our control, partly defeating the enemy’s plan “flooding infiltration into the territory”.
Especially, in early January 1975, the Vietnamese forces won a major victory and liberated Phuoc Long province (near Saigon). Phuoc Long victory clearly showed two major points:
– The combat capabilities of the Vietnamese regular forces were better than the Saigon forces.
– There was little chance that the US forces could reengage in the Vietnam theatre.
Phuoc Long was a “strategic exploring battle,” from which the Operations Department drew the conclusion that the general offensive and insurrection in the south could be conducted sooner than expected. The department helped direct the swift expansion of the strategic transport routes (primarily the road network in the East Truong Son mountain range), actively providing support for the armed forces in the south. For the first time, the North sent major forces and equipment in large scale to the southern battlefields. By the end of 1974, the North had sent 190,000 troops (including infantry, artillery, armored, artillery, etc. forces), 175 thousand tons of cargo (including 2 thousand tons of weapons, 2.3 thousand tons of gasoline, 1.2 thousand road trucks and artillery trucks, 8 thousand tons of rice, etc.) to the southern theatre.
The Operations Department and the Department of Military Forces proposed to superior leaders to form 3 army corps to create more power for the campaign, ensuring the total victory to occur. They are Army Corps 4 (formed in July 1974), Army Corps 2 and 3 (established in early 1975). The two departments also drafted the battlefield equipment plan including a communication system from the north to the eastern part of the south and the oil pipeline system to Bu Gia Map. In March 1974, the Ministry of National Defence approved and accelerated the implementation of the plan. The Operations Department also helped strengthen the armed forces in the North, ready to fight and safeguard the North under all circumstances. The department collaborated with the Department of Militia and Self-defence Forces in enhancing duty performance of local forces, closely protecting localities so that regular units could be sent to the southern theatre for the total victory. Moreover, the department also made important advice to forces of Laos and Cambodia in their revolution to liberate the whole Indochina under the special spirit of solidarity, friendship, and faithfulness.
Determining major attack directions
In April 1973, the General Staff established a research group led by Major General Le Trong Tan, Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The group consisted of 3 other comrades namely Comrade Vu Lang, Director of the Operations Department, Comrade Le Huu Duc and Comrade Vo Quang Ho, Deputy Director of the Operations Department. Later, Comrade Le Ngoc Hien, Deputy Chief of the General Department and Comrade Phan Ham, Deputy Director of the Operations Department were added to the group. The group worked secretly for 2 full days every week to exchange ideas.
There were 5 basic issues discussed in the study plan. They are the evaluation of the force balance and the chance that the US may reengaged in the Vietnam theatre, the choice of primary attack directions and targets, the strategic attack methods, the difficulties to be overcome, and the time to open the campaigns.
By January 1975, the plan had undergone 8 times of adjustment under the guidance of the Central Military Commission and the Politburo. On January 30th 1974, the Politburo held an enlarged meeting to discuss opportunities to promote the revolution in the South. The group helped General Vo Nguyen Giap with the report on the military and political situation and the evaluation of the favourable changes to the Vietnamese forces in the southern battlefields and made comprehensive military operations proposals to 1975. Comrade Le Duan, First Secretary of the Party Central Committee concluded, “The victory now mostly rests on our shoulders… The important thing is to push up the comprehensive struggle to create and snatch opportunities to gain total victory.”
In 2 days, July 21st and 22nd 1974, deputy chiefs of the General Staff Hoang Van Thai and Le Trong Tan and Deputy Director of the Operations Department Vo Quang Ho reported to Comrade Le Duan the plan to liberate the South in 1975 and 1976 with more possibility to liberate the south in the spring of 1975.
From December 18th 1974 to January 1st 1975, the Politburo opened the enlarged session. Comrade Le Ngoc Hien reported to the Politburo the Plan for 1975. The Politburo then passed the plan to liberate the South in 1975 and 1976 with more focus on the possibility to immediately liberate the South in 1975.
Much discussion was on the relations between general offensive and general insurrection. On April 7th 1975, at a meeting of the Politburo, Comrade Le Duan concluded, “The two should be combined to produce higher effects. It is hard to make a strategic surprise now; therefore, in preparation for the general insurrection, general offensive should be employed first, then combined with general insurrection.”
The second major issue, which generated heated debates among many high-ranking officials and strategic agencies and units, was the first strategic direction of attack. In the end, almost all officials agreed with the proposal of the research group. Right from the start, the Operations Department chose the South of the Central Highlands to open campaigns and the town of Buon Ma Thuot was the first target of the attack due to its strategic position and weak enemy forces, which were easily to be divided and isolated. All of them were advantages for the Vietnamese forces.
All required preparations for the final strategic battle were then conducted actively, creatively, thoroughly, and secretly.
Later, General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote, “At the end of a war, the situation often develops very rapidly, not excluding sudden changes… Strategic opportunities often appear in a very short time and never stay for long. Therefore, prompt snatch of opportunities to win the highest victory is a must. Choosing the right time will add more power to the forces and flexibility should be employed depending on certain specific situation. That is the art of war and the wisdom of the Party in the last days of 1974 and early 1975.
Told by Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Ninh, Former Deputy Director of the Operations DepartmentTranslated by Huu Duong
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