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Combat art of the decisive battle in the Central Highlands Campaign in 1975
VPA attacking the Mai Hac De warehouse in Buon Ma Thuot in the Central Highlands Campaign in March 1975 (File photo)

In the Central Highlands (Tay Nguyen) Campaign (1975), we gained resounding victory in the first and decisive battle of the operation with our superiority in forces, disposition and strategic thinking. The victory of the battle of Buon Ma Thuot is not only of operational significance but also a strategic one leaving us a number of precious lessons on military art.

1. Choosing the right attacking target, laying firm disposition for fighting the decisive battle

Buon Ma Thuot is a town of around 25 square kilometers with highways connecting to its northern, eastern and southern provinces and airlines through Hoa Binh and Town’s airports. In the first months of 1975, the town was the economic, political, military and cultural centre of the Central Highlands. For this reason, it was considered a key factor in maintaining stability and disposition of the enemy in the region. Once the town is lost, the connected orbat in the Central Highlands would be broken which threatens the coastal delta and the southeastern provinces.

To carry out the determination to destroy the enemy in Buon Ma Thuot in the first and decisive battle of the campaign, along with diversionary activities, Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) forces secretly established a firm and flexible disposition for attacking in the southern part of the highlands. Accordingly, the task of reconnaissance was carefully made at all levels and in all units so as to decide positions for launching the offensive, manoeuvre routes, targets in the vicinity, firing targets and advance directions in the town; engineers units decided crossing points, solutions for overcoming obstacles, and ensuring the absolute secrecy; the 198 special force regiment both decided the attacking objectives inside the towns and deployed part of its forces to crucial locations prior to the attack. The notable thing was that though we established our disposition in a number of days on a large and in-depth area, secrecy was resolutely maintained which totally surprised the enemy. Thanks to this disposition, we were soon able to form directions for attacking, penetrating, blocking up, and splitting the enemy with overwhelming forces and gained victory.

2. Establishing the superiority in forces and vehicles in the decisive battle

Although Buon Ma Thuot was a rather weak and loose target, the enemy remained crowded there, consisting of an infantry regiment, the 8 Amoured Regiment, the 232 Artillery Regiment, the back unit of the 23 Division, headquarters of the 45 and 53 Regiments along with its police, security protector, secret service forces, etc. To meet the requirements of the battlefield, since January of 1975, the Central Military Commission reinforced the campaign with 2 infantry divisions and a number of fighting vehicles. Accordingly, the VPA deployed a large number of force for Buon Ma Thuot battle, including the 316 Division, the 95B Regiment, the 24 Regiment, the 198 Regiment and the 27 Battalion of the Special Force, the 273 Armoured Regiment, two artillery regiments namely 40 and 675, two anti-aircraft gun regiments namely 232 and 234, two engineers regiments and some local units of Dak Lak province. So, to ensure victory in the decisive battle, together with the absolute political - spiritual superiority, we deployed the number of forces and vehicles which was 3 to 4 times as many as the enemy’s.

Besides, we also actively carried out diversionary activities to disperse the enemy, such as: boardcasting fake radio messages, deploying troops to and blocking up the enemy in the north of the Central Highlands. Specially, the absolute secrecy in the south of Central Highland and some fights in Kon Tum, Pleiku, No 19 Road, etc made the enemy withdraw part of their forces in the south to reinforce Pleiku which weakened the enemy strength in Buon Me Thuot. Thereby, when the VPA forces attacked the town from 4 directions it had the domination to gain victory. It was the art of deploying an overwhelming force for this decisive battle that the VPA was able to create and transform a firm and opportune disposition, capable of defeating the enemy’s airborne counterattack in Phuoc An, gaining victory in the second decisive battle of the campaign. This battle totally defeated the enemy. Unable to recover, they had to abandon the Central Highlands, thus creating the VPA a great opportunity for the General Offensive and Uprising in the Spring of 1975.

3. Applying soundly and creatively the art of war in urban area.

On the basis of soundly analyzing and assessing the situation the commanding board of the campaign determined to mobilise the synergy of the combined arms to conduct daring and sudden attacks from various directions, penetrating directly into the enemy’s critical positions inside the town, and taking control of the ground as soon as possible. This daring fighting method was suitable to the real conditions as the enemy force remained crowded in the town but was not the main fighting one; their outposts, though being firm, was disconnected and diffused, hence limited in the ability to support each other. Meanwhile, the enemy was so subjective as to wrongly conclude that  the VPA were unable to attack such a large town as Buon Ma Thuot in 1975. For this reason, if the VPA had launched gradual attacks from the vicinity, it would have taken time, lost surprise element, hence missed the chance to destroy the enemy. Moreover, the enemy would have had time to recover, and launch counterattack, so the campain would have been prolonged and complicated. Reality showed that thanks to the decisiveness and recklessness in fighting, when the 95B, 148, 174, 98 regiments, etc appeared from all four directions along with tanks, artilleries, quickly manoeuvred and crossed the outside defence lines to penetrate directly into the town center, the enemy got panicked, nervous and quickly disintegrated. Also with this method of fighting, the VPA’s forces attacked and destroyed the two enemy’s airports and other installations in Buon Ma Thuot in a very short time (after 33 hours). Later on, Vu The Quang, the second in command of the enemy’s 23 Division admitted that the VPA’s forces method of fighting was beyond their anticipation. This unique military art was also applied later when the VPA lauched attacks into Phan Rang defence line and the enemy’s headquaters in the historic Ho Chi Minh campaign.

Colonel Hoang Xuan Nhien

National Defence Academy of Vietnam

 

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