Tuesday, April 30, 2019, 09:14 (GMT+7)
Selecting the battleground for the beginning of 1975 Spring Offensive

Determining the axis of advance for the initial phase of a strategic offensive is a critical issue in the art of strategic control and command. As I.V. Stalin said “victory is often decided by choosing correct area to strike”. In fact, our High Command’s decision to choose Central Highlands as the opening area of operation for the 1975 Spring Offensive is a perfect example.

In late 1974, early 1975, in the South, the tide had turned to Vietnam Revolution’s favor. Throughout battlefields, our military pushed ahead counteroffensive and offensive operations, consolidating and expanding liberated zones and forcing the enemy to hold a defensive stance. Also, combat capability of liberation forces, especially regular units, was strengthened. In short, we had significant advantages over the enemy.

On the contrary, Saigon regime was struggling with infighting between different factions and protests by socio-political organizations. In addition, due to significant cuts in economic and military aids from the U.S., Nguyen Van Thieu’s administration faced great difficulties in determining its strategy and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had to suffer a comprehensive decline in morale as well as combat capability. Based on correct situation appreciation, the Politburo held an extended meeting from December 18, 1974 to January 8, 1975 and ratified a strategic plan developed by the General Staff, in which the Central Highlands (especially the southern area) was chosen to be the first target of our strategic offensive. This plan clearly demonstrated the adept and incisive strategic vision of our Party. In term of military art, the decision on the first field of battle was extremely logical and practical; it was made based on the following factors.

First, the Central Highlands was the enemy’s weakest point militarily. At that time, according to the enemy’s assessment: “Viet Cong’s primary objective is taking control of Cuu Long Delta’ population of over 2 million and further expanding mountainous liberation zones”; “In early 1975, the Communist force will attack 3rd Military Zone, mainly Tay Ninh area, to capture this province and set it as the capital of the Provisionary Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam”. As a result, Saigon regime maintained the strategic posture of “strong at two ends”, including 1st Military Zone to defend against any attack from the North and Saigon – Bien Hoa areas (3rd Military Zone) to protect the political central of the regime. Studying and analyzing the situation in all battlefields, we realized that a critical weakness of the enemy was its miscalculation in our capability, which led to terrible mistakes in its strategic intentions and force disposition. In early 1975, ARVN had 13 divisions, 18 ranger groups, etc., its 1st Military Zone had 5 divisions and 4 ranger groups; 2nd Military Zone had 2 divisions and 7 ranger groups; 3rd Military Zone had 3 divisions and 7 ranger groups; and 4th Military Zone had 3 divisions and 18 security groups. In general, 2nd Military Zone was the weakest one strength wise; this led to many weaknesses in their defense that could be exploited by our forces.

The Central Highlands was a strategically important area, but it had many critical weak spots due to its rough terrain and poorly-developed infrastructure. Meanwhile, the enemy could only mobilize its forces via several main routes. Once these routes were cut off and “blocked”, not only the Central Highlands was isolated from South Central Plain and the rest of the South, but provinces in the area would also be disconnected from one another. In this case, the enemy could only reinforce the Central Highlands by limited airdrops. On the contrary, our forces were completely capable of utilizing advantages in mobilized offensive operations to destroy enemy units one by one. In addition, due to the miscalculation that our forces would focus on the Northern area of the Central Highlands, the enemy deployed most of its 23rd Division and ranger groups to defend Pleiku and Kon Tum, thus weakening its southern flank.

Second, we chose a critical area which enabled us to divide and break up the enemy’s strategic disposition. Lying between 1st and 3rd Military Zone, ARVN 2nd Military Zone was the strategic area which connected Saigon regime’s command center with its Northern contingents, it was also adjacent to strategic locations such as Lower Laos and Northeast Cambodia. Although it was only a sub-region in the whole 2nd Military Zone, the Central Highlands was a critical battlefield, “taking control of the Central Highland, we were able to not only divide the enemy’s strategic disposition, but also threaten the entire South Indochina theatre”. In fact, the enemy’s Central Highlands defense was responsible to fend off our attacks from the West and Northwest; acting as a shield for the Central plain and southeast provinces. Once the 2nd Military Zone and especially the Central Highlands were lost, the enemy’s strategic posture would be divided, 1st Military Zone would be isolated, 3rd Military Zone would be directly endangered, and Southeastern provinces would be exposed to offensive operations. If we managed to control the Central Highlands, it meant we would be able to threaten a vast area including Southern Central Plain, Lower Laos and Northeast Cambodia; at the same time, we would have a strong foothold to attack Saigon – Gia Dinh area.

Hence, the Central Highlands was chosen to be the battlefield for the beginning phase not only because the enemy had limited strength and difficulties in reinforce this region, it was also a critical area which would enable us to divide the opponent’s strategic defense. From this region, we would be able to isolate the enemy’s forces in the North, and gradually developed a strategic disposition to surround Saigon - the enemy’s central command and the last lair of the beast. In fact, in the 1975 Spring general offensive, with the fatal blow in Buon Ma Thuot, we managed to quickly destroy ARVN 2nd Military Zone defense. As a result, the enemy’s 1st Military Zone was isolated and shortly after that was annihilated with our 2nd strategic offensive. At the same time, the core of enemy war machine, Saigon, was gradually surrounded, thus creating favorable conditions for us to launch a decisive offensive to successfully finish our national liberation war.

Third, the Central Highlands was a favorable ground for us to conduct strategic offensive disposition. In fact, ARVN 4th Military Zone was also suggested to be the first target, because the enemy force in this region was relatively weak, and it could bring us a golden opportunity to quickly capture Saigon and cut the head of the snake, thereby leading to the dissolution of the rest of the enemy force. However, our ability to reinforce in this area was limited because we had to mainly depend on seaborne supply; Route 559 could reach Bu Gia Map, but it was impossible for us to cross Dong Thap Muoi, which had many rivers and canals, to send heavy equipment to the battlefield. Besides, we had to face many difficulties in establishing strategic disposition for a major offensive campaign in this area. Therefore, despite being the enemy’s “backyard”, 4th Military Zone was not an ideal target for the beginning phase of our general offensive. Meanwhile, the terrain of the Central Highlands was advantageous for us to deploy large numbers of troops and equipment for a major combined arms operation. In addition, this region was a familiar battleground for our forces and we had gained a lot of combat experience at both tactical and operational levels from battles in the area. Notably, we proactively made thorough preparation for operations in the Central Highlands. In early 1974, we only had 2 infantry divisions and several combat and support units in the area; however, in late 1974 and early 1975, the General Command had strengthened our Central Highlands Command with 5 infantry divisions, 4 independent regiments and many other combined arms and support contingents. Our transportation network in this region was also improved with thousands of km of newly-built roads which connected to the Route 559, thus enabling us to send more weapons and equipment to the battlefield. As a result, our combat stockpile in the Central Highlands reached “over 53,000 tons, including nearly 800 tons of ammunition and 28,600 tons of provision”.

Thus, with its natural features and our strategic posture in the region, the Central Highland was the most favorable battleground for us to initiate a major offensive. At the very beginning of the Central Highlands Campaign, we managed to score a critical strike against the enemy, they were complete surprised and shocked. After that, with the Central Highlands as a solid foothold, we were able to launch successful offensives to provinces in Central Plain and Cuu Long Delta. The enemy defense in its 2nd Military Zone was quickly destroyed, thus turning the tide of the war into our favor. That said, this victory once again demonstrated the outstanding leadership of our Party and the unique adeptness of Vietnamese military art. Needless to say, these two factors need to be further studied, developed and applied in the cause of building and safeguarding our socialist Motherland in the new situation.

Colonel Pham Hong Thai, M.A.

Vietnam Military History Institute

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