(The reader is cautioned that this article is taken from a Viet Cong's propaganda media. Tin Nguyen)
General Van Thanh Cao, advisor and former deputy director of the Psychological Political Warfare Reform Committee, presented himself to the revolutionary authorities at midnight on May 3, 1975. After being told about our policy of clemency toward mercenary officers who voluntarily reported themselves, like he had done, he was quite reassured. He said that he was well aware of the situation: In his view things were "desperate, for us as well as for the Americans!". He began his story by relating the last moments of his thirty years as a mercenary soldier:
Three days after the fall of Ban Me Thuot, Thieu hurriedly convened a cabinet meeting with General Cao Van Vien, Chief of the General Staff. General Phu, who commanded the 2nd Army Corps in the Central Highlands, said that it was impossible for him to defend Kontum and Pleiku. The cabinet decided to abandon the two towns and to start a "tactical withdrawal" toward the coastal region.
The puppet in Kontum and Pleiku were already demoralized by the fall of Buon Me Thuot. The withdrawal order sowed panic among them and the "tactical" operation was carried out in utter disorder. Everybody tried to leave as quickly as possible, and the result was a rush eastwards in the greatest panic. Intercepted by PLAF units, the fleeing troops were soon dispersed and their units broken up. Most of them were taken prisoner. A small number fled into the forests and many died of exhaustion. The survivors arrived at Khanh Hoa and Tuy Hoa a week later. News of the dreadful exodus spread rapidly through the coastal provinces. When the local miltary and civilian authorities realized that Washington and Saigon were incapable of resisting the general offensive by Liberation forces, they were seized with panic.
When the Thua Thien-Hue defence line collapsed, Thieu telephoned to Ngo Quang Truong, commander of the 1st Army Corps, ordering him to withdraw to Da Nang and set up a new line of defence at the Hai Van Pass. Truong replied that this was impossible, but Thieu insisted that his order be carried out.
At the weekly general staff meeting on Monday morning, General Dong Van Khuyen reported that after the arrival of evacuees from Hue and Quang Tri in Da Nang, the port city was in chaos. Banditry and murder were rampant. At the airfield, marines were shooting at the pilots to get places on the planes. In the harbour, military and civilian authorities and their families were wrangling with one another about evacuation priority. A new telephone call from Thieu ordered Truong to hold out at all costs. Truong answered that the PLAF were already on the outskirts of Da Nang and that 70 per cent of his troops had deserted. Thieu had to give way: "You have full power to act, you're better placed than I to assess the situation!" The next day, Ngo Quang Truong abandoned his men, and boarded a helicopter which took him to a Cam Ranh-bound warship. From the naval base he flew to Saigon where he asked for immediate hospitalization, without being the least bit ill.
After the Da Nang garrison had fallen, it was the turn of puppet troops in Quang Nam, Quang Tin, Quang Ngai, Qui Nhon, Phu Yen, Khanh Hoa to be hurriedly withdrawn. At a meeting, General Dong Van Khuyen announced that on Thieu's orders, a stand would be made at all costs at Ninh Thuan. An all-out effort was necessary, and re-inforcements arrived: a paratroop brigade, a unit of rangers, and artillery and armoured vehicles. Warships were ordered to stand by, ready to provide curtain-fire. Land operations were to be covered chiefly by the air force. General Nguyen Vinh Nghi, former commander of the 4th Army Corps, was sent to the rescue of 3rd Army Corps commander Nguyen Van Toan. Nghi took direct command at the front.
At the general staff meeting the next day, Dong Van Khuyen reported that General Lam Quang Tho, director of the Dalat Military College, and his 800 students had taken flight without having received any order, and had travelled overland to Ninh Thuan.
On Thieu's orders, Nguyen Vinh Nghi set up his sub-sector CP at Ninh Thuan. Four days later, he telephoned to ask Khuyen (then presiding over a general staff meeting) to send six giant Chinook helicopters to evacuate himself and his escort company of paratroopers. The landing place would be communicated the next day - it would be somewhere beween Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan. But on the following day, Khuyen announced at the general staff meeting that contact with Nghi had been lost, (Nghi and other officers of the 3rd Army Corps Command have been captured by our troops).
Two days after the fall of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan was under continual pounding by our artillery. Panic-stricken, the colonel chief of province and his principal collaborators fled by sea the same night. The provincial capital of Phan Thiet was liberated.
The command of the 3rd tactical region sent reinforcements to defend Binh Tuy "at all costs." Meanwhile, liberation forces were pursuing the fleeing Saigon troops along National Highway One, and had taken support points Nos. 15, 14, 13, 12, 11 and 10...and begun their attack on Binh Tuy airfield, near the town. Ham Tan and the town of Binh Tuy were then pounded by our artillery. Pressure on the town was increasing every hour. The enemy were completely demoralized at the sight of our tanks. The puppet regional forces were disintegrating. General Nguyen Van Toan arrived for an on-the-spot inspection, and ordered immediate withdrawal.
After heavy shellings the town of Binh Tuy was encircled on April 26. All regional troops had deserted. The one remaining brigade of paratroopers tried to put up resistance, but in face of the furious assault by our units, they were forced to withdraw two kilometres from the town, and were soon dispersed by our shelling.
On April 27, Long Thanh (Bien Hoa) fell. That night, the Bien Hoa air base was pounded by our artillery. The next day came the fall of Vung Tau. In the face of this situation, general Cao Van Vien asked to be relieved of his duties: on April 28, he had Dong Van Khuyen appointed Chief of the General Staff. And the next day he left the country together with scores of puppet generals.
Van Thanh Cao's story ended at that point. The General Staff HQ had been deserted, and he did not know what had happened afterwards. He estimated that the Saigon-Gia Dinh area had been defended by six divisions comprising infantry, armoured units, paratroops, marines and rangers. During the night of 28-29 April 1975, the Liberation forces launched a final assault on Saigon.
Vietnam Courier #53 (October 1976)