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The art of launching key battle of Dac To - Tan Canh in North Central Highlands Operation 1972

In late March 1972, by launching a series of attacks, our troops gained great victory in the North Central Highlands Operation.  The key battle in the Operation entirely destroyed the enemy’s complex of solid entrenched fortifications in Dac To - Tan Canh, dealing a mortal blow to the Saigon Puppet troops, making a change in the Central Highlands combat situation.

Dac To - Tan Canh Victory Monument in Dac To town, Kon Tum province (photo: VNA)

Implementing the 1972 Spring-Summer Plan, the Politburo and the Central Military Commission directed the Central Highlands Front to launch an Operation, in collaboration with the strategic attack directions of Tri - Thien and Southern East, to attack the enemy both in the North Central Highlands and the whole South. Before the Operation, the enemy established 3 defensive complexes, namely Dac To - Tan Canh, Kon Tum town, and Playku, with 27,000 active troops and dozens of thousands of local troops. For the complex of Dac To - Tan Canh alone, the enemy positioned the headquarters of the 22nd Division, the 42nd and 47th infantry regiments, 14th Armoured Regiment, two artillery battalions and two security battalions. It was the enemy’s most powerful defensive position in this region.

In response to that situation, the Party Committee and the Command of the Operation managed to skillfully use diversion to lure the enemy to the heights located in the West of Po Co river and Vo Dinh to annihilate them and create a favourable condition for Division No.2, Regiment No.66, and strengthened forces to conduct a key attack and destroy the enemy’s group of entrenched fortifications of Dac To - Tan Canh - their most powerful but vulnerable position. That sound decision surprised the enemy and made them unable to respond to the situation. Thus, after more than 10 hours of fighting, our troops destroyed and captured various types of weapons and equipment of the enemy, facilitating the Operation’s development down to the South to attack Kon Tum town. The victory of the key battle of Dac To - Tan Canh was manifested in the following unique features.

1. Exactly identifying the main attack direction to surprise the enemy and quickly destroy the main target. The enemy organized a large defensive force with solid fortifications and strong firepower in Dac To - Tan Canh, especially the base No.42 - Tan Canh. Therefore, to defeat the enemy, we should have stronger firepower to dominate them constantly, by the strength of combined forces attacking the main target and then destroying the entire enemy. The Command of the Operation accurately assessed the situation and grasped the enemy’s defensive formation. The enemy forces were organized into various defensive positions with solid fortifications to protect the base. Noticeably, in the base, they disposed most of their tanks and armour to establish a hard defensive area to protect the 22nd Division headquarters in the West and the North directions. So, their most vulnerable position was in the East direction. If we had chosen the North or the West as the main direction to attack, it would have been convenient for our mobile forces because those directions were close to the Operation’s rear, the Road No.18 and the Road No.14. However, we could hardly maintain the confidentiality as we had to attack a huge number of the enemy’s bases and entrenched fortifications. In case we chose the East as the main attack direction, we could ensure confidentiality and quickly attack the main targets, but it would be difficult to deploy our forces and vehicles due to high mountains. Nevertheless, the Operation Command still decided to choose the East as the main attack direction for the reason that we could take advantage of mountainous terrain to secretly open road for vehicle and surprise the enemy. Moreover, it was the mountainous terrain in the East that would make the enemy subjective and careless about positioning defensive forces. The Operation showed all the Command’s evaluations were accurate. After we secretly opened road from the West to the East to deploy tanks and towed artillery, the enemy was unable to recognize. As a result, when we attacked the targets of base No.42 - Tan Canh, “the US advisors still did not know where the tanks came from”.

2. Establishing a favourable and solid disposition to isolate the enemy. Realizing the determination to conduct a key attack to destroy the enemy’s defensive complex in Dac To - Tan Canh, the Operation’s Command creatively took measures for diversions and engaged the enemy to take the initiative. To entice the enemy’s strategic reserve force to Kon Tum, the Operation’s Command built two real-and-fake roads in the West and the North of Kon Tum town. The enemy was forced to deploy two parachute brigades under the general strategic reserve force and 22nd Rangers Group to cope with us. Meanwhile, we rapidly built a military road in the East of the entrenched fortifications of Dac To - Tan Canh to maneuver our attacking forces into the main direction to the anticipated position. Our forces, including Division No.2 (Military Region 5), Regiment No.66, Commando Battalion of the Battlefield B3, the artillery, anti-aircraft guns and tanks, were maneuvered from the West to the East of Tan Canh to form the main attack formation. To stage a diversion, we launched attacks in the outer line. Notably, our Division No.320 completely destroyed one battalion of the enemy to gain control of the Height 1,049, defeated their counterattacks, divided the enemy’s disposition in North Central Highlands into two parts, and isolated the defensive complex of Dac To - Tan Canh. To besiege the enemy’s 22nd Division in the theatre of the battle, we cut off two stretches of the Road 14, namely Vo Dinh one from North Kon Tum to Tan Canh and Chu Thoi one from North Playku to South Kon Tum. Therefore, when the enemy knew that Dac To - Tan Canh was under attack, they could not deploy other forces for reinforcement. This is a really particular feature of the art of conducting the key battle.

3. Flexibly applying tactics and combat methods. Located in the North Kon Tum town, the entrenched fortifications complex of Dac To - Tan Canh was both the command centre of the enemy’s defensive group and the place to launch their operations to destroy our bases and strategic transport lines in the border T-junction. Thus, to quickly destroy this entrenched fortifications complex, it is necessary to flexibly apply tactics and combat methods, particularly the strength of combined arms. To this end, the Operation’s Command decided to deploy a great deal of firepower and strength, especially artillery, anti-aircraft towed guns, anti-tank missiles to dominate the enemy’s fire right from the beginning. Notably, it was the first time we used the B72 anti-tank missiles to destroy a huge number of the enemy’s tanks and puzzled them to the utmost.

During the attack, we flexibly applied combat methods to annihilate the enemy. Adopting the method of besieging and isolating the enemy, we confined them to the entrenched fortifications and blocked them from supporting each other. Although the enemy took advantage of underground trenches and even used chemical ammo, we flexibly applied combat methods to take the initiative and completely annihilate the enemy troops.

Right in the night of April 23rd 1972, our artillery fired at and dominated the headquarters of the enemy’s 22nd Division, entirely destroying the ammo depot, oil depot and signal centre of the base. The attack cut off the enemy’s system of communication and command, disrupted their formation, and created a favourable condition for Battalions No.7 and No.8 and tanks to occupy the headquarters of 22nd Division and completely control the base No.42 - Tan Canh. In other attack directions, we quickly destroyed the enemy’s 47th Regiment and occupied the base Dac To 2 and Dac To district. Only in a short time, we annihilated and captured nearly one division of the enemy and their equipment.

The victory of the key battle Dac To - Tan Canh in the North Central Highlands Operation 1972 remains a valuable lesson and should be studied and applied in the cause of Homeland protection.

Senior Colonel Nguyen Van Luong, PhD

Vietnam Military History Institute

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