81 fierce days and nights in Quang Tri ancient citadel in 1972 (Part 1)

Part 1: Stamp of Hero

PANO – During the patriotic war, legendary Quang Tri Province and various brave and resilient localities across Vietnam were clear and eloquent evidence of the pinnacle of Vietnam’s stamp of a hero and intelligence in the Ho Chi Minh Era.

On May 2 nd, 1972, Quang Tri town was liberated after 18 years’ occupation by the American imperialists and puppet troops. The liberation was a result of the two unexpected and resolute attacks with a large-scale coordinated combat from noon of March 30 th, 1972.

In this campaign, Vietnamese troops destroyed the strongest group of defence of the enemy in Quang Tri. As a result, more than thirty thousands of the enemy’s troops were wiped out and 178 aircraft, 11 warships, 320 tanks, 237 cannons and a number of other ammunition were destroyed or seized by the liberation troops.

Having recovered their composure, the enemy mobilized their whole forces to launch a counter-attack with an attempt to re-occupy Quang Tri. Their number one target was the ancient citadel. The enemy’s operation was named “Lam Son 72” which started on June 28 th, 1972. The enemy’s effort was to hold back their spirit and put pressure on our delegation at the Paris Conference which would be resumed on July 13 th, 1972.

Vietnamese young people and students join the army to fight against enemies at Quang Tri battle in 1972. File photo

Vietnamese young people and students join the army to fight against enemies at Quang Tri battle in 1972. File photo

During the “Lam Son 72” operation, the enemy daily sent fighters, with 150 to 170 sorties per day on average, B-52 bombers with 70-90 sorties per day, 12-16 destroyers and cruisers under the 7 th Fleet, 2 strategic reserve divisions, including an air-borne and a marine; 4 armored regiments, each including 79 tanks and armored vehicles and dozens of battalions.

This was an extremely fierce operation in which the enemy committed many atrocities. They dropped cluster bombs, blockbuster bombs, laser-guided bombs, artillery as well as toxic chemicals, poison gas and tear gas. Some 328 thousands of tons of lethal weapons, equivalent to 7 nuclear bombs dropped on two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US troops in 1945, were recorded.

In the history of the World War, there was never any operation whose target was an ancient citadel with a perimeter of 2,080 meters and an area of 3 sq.km, and in which a great number of naval, army and air forces were mobilized and a giant amount of munitions were used.

However, in that destructive operation of the enemy, Quang Tri ancient citadel opened a glorious chapter in the history of Vietnam with the hard, risky and brave fight during 81 fierce days and nights which shook the country and the globe as well from June 28 th, 1972 to September 16 th, 1972.

In Quang Tri town, Vietnamese troops had Regiment 48, Division 320B and two battalions of local troops. In urgent circumstances, they were reinforced by Regiment 95, Division 325 and Battalion 8, Regiment 64. The town frontline’s headquarters was located in a trench in the palace of the provincial chief of the puppet troops by Thach Han River.

Our outer-ring forces included Division 320B in the east, Division 308 in the south and units of tanks, anti-craft guns and guerilla of nearby communes.

At our important positions in Long Quang, Tri Buu church, Long Hung T-junction, Bo De School and Cau Ga T-junction, our troops had to bravely fight against the enemy’s counter-attacks in spite of danger, hardship and sacrifices.

Notably, Quang Tri ancient citadel, the fiercest focus, witnessed the extraordinary fighting spirit, legend, bravery and great sacrifice of our troops and civilians. There, each soldier, on average, was hit by more than 100 bombs and 200 shells. There was a day, for example, on July 25 th, 1972, the enemy fired some 5,000 shells at the ancient citadel that made the citadel’s 12m thick walls were gradually broken.

The battle in Quang Tri ancient citadel was like a legend. Sometimes, fighting tactics were abnormal. Carrying 60mm mortar under their arms, our troops opened fire on the enemy. Dozens of shells were fired at a time. Moreover, they had to throw grenades precisely to make it explode right on a target.

There was a time our troops crawled close to the enemy’s trench and threw grenades. Attentively, in a battle, a soldier fired 14 RPG-2 (B40) shells, annihilating 32 enemy’s troops.

Despite being wounded many times, various soldiers tried to uphold the front without stepping backwards. Infantry forces, sappers and army medical workers, all were armed to fight against the enemy.

With wonderfully strict discipline, brave spirit, resilient stuff, boundless sacrifice, our troops and civilians were determined to uphold the battlefield in 81 historic days and nights of majesty, fierceness, magnanimity, sacrifice and ever-immortality.

At that time, Company 1, Transport Battalion 25, Division 320B, was aware that it was very risky and less effective to transport weapons into the town and carry wounded soldiers off the town on a long distance under intense bombardments of the enemy. So, it would be better if weapons and wounded soldiers were sailed on Thach Han River. The Company’s commanders discussed and agreed to borrow speedboats of local fishermen.

Remembering those days, our troops could not forget the whole-hearted, intimate and efficient assistance of local people and guerrilla of four villages of Nhi Ha, Vinh Quang, Mai Xa and Lam Xuan. They generously lent the troops these speedboats, local people’s fortune, and other machines with a very simple reason that “they, coming from the North, sacrificed to liberate the local people, so why we did not lend them”.

With speedboats and enough fuel, a waterway section and a team of technology maintenance with troops from two districts of Giao Thuy and Xuan Truong, Nam Dinh Province were established. In the first five days, the section safely transported 8 tons of weapons to Quang Tri town and nearly 100 wounded soldiers back to the rear. Yet, the transportation was later spotted by the enemy, resulting in fierce fights on Thach Han River.

In order to destroy our boats which supplied provision to our troops in the ancient citadel, the enemy dropped flares and magnetic bombs on the river between Quang Tri Bridge, Nhan Bieu village and Ai Tu base every night.

When seeing flares and hearing aircraft noise, our troops covered boats, switched off engines and moved to the riverbank. They resumed their work after airplanes flew away.

However, it was not easy to deal with magnetic bombs because they often sank deep to the riverbed, making them difficult to be spotted. Boats’ propellers would activate bombs to explode, causing causalities and destroying ammunition.

At first, that kind of bomb destroyed various our boats and claimed dozens of troops’ lives. Yet, our troops did not surrender this danger.

Three reinforced sappers from Division 320B, with support of local guerillas, manually disarmed magnetic bombs. Accordingly, the enemy’s ammunition cases were bound together with plastics at a depth of 1.5 to 2m underwater and then pulled downstream with banana trees as buoys to activate the bombs.

Finding out remains of our soldiers while sailing across the river to Quang Tri ancient citadel, our troops were seething with hatred for the enemy.

During 81 days and nights defending Quang Tri town and Quang Tri ancient citadel, Company 1 spent 40 nights transporting ammunition and wounded soldiers. Despite hardship and danger, Company 1 was determined to transport munitions and wounded soldiers to the right place. Their motto was that “the existence of Company 1 means that Quang Son Unit keeps transporting munitions”.

The brave fight to defend Quang Tri ancient citadel was ended with the defeat of more than 50,000 troops of the enemy whose ammunition was abundant and modern. Once again that victory brightened the truth that the enemy with advanced weapons must be beaten by resilient people who whole-heartedly fought for the national independence and freedom.

Late Party General Secretary Le Duan used to honor the fight to defend Quang Tri ancient citadel that what we had undergone was not because we were iron-like. In fact, iron and steel could be melted by the enemy’s bombardment. We were real people, Vietnamese people whose tradition lasted thousands year and who profoundly awakened their great responsibility for the nation and the era.

The Quang Tri ancient citadel and Quang Tri town have been honored the title “Hero of the People’s Armed Force” by the State. To get this honor, 18,000 officers, soldiers, people in Quang Tri and across the nation have sacrificed their lives. There have laid down various patriots in the ancient citadel, Long Hung T-junction which is called “T-junction of bombs”, “T-junction of fire” and Thach Han river. That magnanimous period could never been forgotten by our ancestors who are living in the peace time.

Written by Chi Phan

Translated by Mai Huong