Hanoi’s Saigon Front: Vietnamese Forces in the Battle for Saigon
by Dave Wiggins The People’s Army of Vietnam viewed the area around Saigon as critical to winning the Vietnam War. Their B2 Front commanded the North Vietnamese forces in and around Saigon and the Mekong Delta. The battles there were tough and hard fought. Both sides made major offensives like the American Operation Cedar Falls and the North Vietnamese Tet offensive, but neither side was able to decisively beat the other in combat. In the end it was the North Vietnamese willingness to take casualties and keep fighting that won the war for them after the United States finally withdrew from Vietnam after seven long years
The Forces of B2 Front During the first stages of the war, the forces in the south were largely from the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) of the National Liberation Front (NLF). These were known to the South Vietnamese as VC or Việt Cộng, a contraction of Việt Nam Cộng-sản (Vietnamese communist). American soldiers referred to communist forces in general, both Vietcong and North Vietnamese, as Viet Cong. In 1965 B2 grouped its forces, supplemented by a big influx of regular army regiments from the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), into three divisions: 5th, 7th, and 9th. These divisions were officially ‘Main Force’ PLAF divisions, disguising the presence of the PAVN regulars. The Main Force divisions were composed of three regiments, and each regiment had a designated combat speciality: mobile operations, attacking fortifications, or ambush operations, but were able to fight in any situation that might present itself. In addition to the three Main Force divisions, B2 Front also commanded up to 3 sapper battalions (assault commandos), 2 rocket artillery regiments, and an air defence battalion, and ‘Local Force’ guerillas operating at the district and village level.
B2 Front in South Vietnam
It can be very hard to find information on PAVN units, so I have summarised the main force divisions fighting under B2 Front. In late 1969, the Front also commanded three (4th, 7th, and 8th) sapper battalions, severa independent regiments, two rocket regiments, and an anti-aircraft battalion. By this stage the VC contribution had massively declined after three years of fighting the American forces and the losses in the Tet offensive. The main source was Chiangshan’s posts on http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=82511.
Sư Đoàn 5 (5th Division) Formed Sep 1965. Operated in the Mekong Delta. Rebuilt with PAVN regiments after Tet offensive. These regiments had been formed for the First Indochina War against the French.
Sư Đoàn 7 (7th Division) Formed Jun 1966. Operated south of
the Mekong Delta. Created from 312th ‘Victory’ Division which then rebuilt its regiments as 141B and 165B.
Sư Đoàn 9 (9th Division) Formed Sep 1965. Operated in the
Iron Triangle. First division formed in
the south. Created from independent
regiments. Suffered heavy casualties in Operation Junction City.
Trung Đoàn 4 (4th Regiment) until Apr 1968. Name: ‘Đồng Nai’ (Name of province).Trung Đoàn 33 (33rd Regiment) from Jul 1968. Formed from 101B and 101C, 325th Division. Name: ‘Trần Cao Vân’ (Anti-French leader).
Trung Đoàn 12 (12th Regiment)
Previously 165A Regiment, 312th Division Name: ‘Lao Hà Yên’ (Name of province)
Trung Đoàn 1 (1st Regiment)
Previously 812th Regiment, then 271A
Regiment or Q761 of B2 Front
Name: ‘Bình Giã’ (Name of village)
Trung Đoàn 5 (5th Regiment) until Jun 1970.
Known to US as 275th RegimentTrung Đoàn 3 (3rd Regiment) from Jul 1970. Formed from 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment
Trung Đoàn 14 (14th Regiment)
Previously 141A Regiment, 312th Division Name: ‘Ba Vì’ (Mountain range)
Trung Đoàn 2 (2nd Regiment)
Previously 272A Regiment or Q762 of B2 Front Name: ‘Đồng Xoài’ (Name of town)
Trung Đoàn 88 (88th Regiment) from Sep 1967 to Sep 1968. Previously 88A, 308th Division Name: ‘Tu Vũ’ (Name of village)Trung Đoàn 174 (174th Regiment) from Oct 1968 Previously 174A Regiment, 316th Division Name: ‘Cao Bắc Lạng’ (1949 campaign)
Trung Đoàn 16 (16th Regiment) until late 1967
Previously 101A Regiment, 325A Division Name: ‘Trần Cao Vân’ (Anti-French leader)Trung Đoàn 52 (52nd Regiment) Sep to Nov 1967 Previously with 320A Division Name: ‘Tây Tiến’ (Western Progress)Trung Đoàn 209 (209th Regiment) from Jan 1968 Previously 209A Regiment, 312th Division Name: ‘Sông Lô’ (Lô River)
Trung Đoàn 3 (3rd Regiment) until Sep 1968
Previously 3rd or 273rd Regiment of B2 FrontTrung Đoàn 3B (3B Regiment) from Oct 1968 to Sep 1969. Previously 88th, 5th Division Name: ‘Tu Vũ’ (Name of village)Trung Đoàn 3 (3rd Regiment) from Oct 1969 Previously 95C Regiment, 325C Division Name: ‘Nguyễn Thiện Thuật’ (Revolutionary)
PAVN divisions and regiments had a confusing variety of names. In part this was caused by the need to send reinforcements south to rebuild destroyed regiments. Regiments could be rebuilt with the letter B (or C or even D in some cases) after their number, or simply replaced with another regiment. As a result 33/7, 101/7, 101B/325, and 101C/325 all refer to the same regiment, which might also be referred to as 4/7 after the regiment it replaced.The Vietnamese also deliberately caused confusion by referring to units by different names, such as Công Trường 9 (Construction Site 9), a codename for the 9th Division.
The North Vietnamese were adept at concealing their true order of battle and the level of casualties they were sustaining. A continuous stream of replacement soldiers from North Vietnam followed the Ho Chi Minh trail south through Laos and Cambodia to replace on-going casualties. In the aftermath of major battles, whole PAVN regiments would be sent south to replace those lost in battle. These were replaced in the PAVN’s order of battle with new regiments with the same number, but with a B suffix, and on arrival in the south were renamed to replace the destroyed regiment. As you can imagine, this led to considerable confusion in American intelligence estimates which identified 308th, 312th, 320th and 325th PAVN Divisions as operating in the area
The forces of B2 Front showed themselves to be fully capable of defeating the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) on the battlefield more often than not. Indeed, B2 Front’s dry season campaign of 1964 had as one primary objective the engagement and defeat of the most capable ARVN units, leading to the largescale intervention of the United States in 1965. Early defeats against the much better equipped and led US Army forced B2 Front’s leadership to re-evaluate their strategy.General Tran Van Tra, commanding B2 Front, and his planners recognized that they could not expect to decisively defeat the US forces in Vietnam. The US forces were more mobile, and could bring superior firepower to bear in almost any situation. Also, since the US controlled the skies of South Vietnam, resupply of B2 Front forces so as to maintain their combat effectiveness would be a considerable challenge. Thus, strategy shifted. Rather than fighting large battles to defeat US forces, B2 Front began a long war of attrition designed to inflict continuous casualties and ultimately demoralize the US forces
Despite appearances, the 1968 Tet offensive was not a departure from this strategy. While it was a large-scale offensive, both in numbers of troops and the area covered, they still avoided large battles whenever possible. The targets were individual towns, population centres, communications centres, and other important infrastructure. The speed and violence of the US Army’s response caught the Vietnamese off guard, leading to massive casualties, and ultimately another large influx of North Vietnamese regular regiments. Despite this setback, B2 Front’s strategy to end American involvement in Vietnam by making the Americans tired of the war and forcing them to leave Vietnam continued.
With the American departure in 1971, large-scale battles against the ARVN resumed, now supported by artillery regiments and even tanks. With these battles B2 Front was instrumental in bringing about the ultimate collapse of ARVN forces and the fall of South Vietnam. ~ Dave
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