PANO – Under the Paris Peace Accord, the US had to neutralize all American mines North Vietnam’s coastal and inland waterways within one year after the agreement and all of its protocols were signed.
Accordingly, the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defence established a delegation, led by Colonel Hoang Huu Thai, Deputy Commander of the Naval High Command, to negotiate with the US delegation, led by Rear Admiral Brian McCauley.
On February 6th, 1973, the US sent its Task Force 78, specializing in mine countermeasures, to Hai Phong sea. Task Force 78 included more than 5,000 staff, 44 warships and minesweepers, 45 helicopters and modern equipment.
With its modern equipment and good logistics, it was expected that the US would clear all the mines in Vietnam’s sea in two to three months. However, to sabotage the Paris Peace Accord, keeping the face of a major power, Task Force 78 only swept the open sea, near the international maritime lines where the US knew that there were few torpedoes or naval mines. They did not send their forces to sweep at estuaries and passages.
No mines were found. On February 28th, 1973, the US moved Task Force 78 on its own will to Sam Son Sea, Thanh Hoa Province where the Vietnamese forces had already swept for naval mines and torpedoes. The US also deployed its ships in Vietnam’s sovereign sea without permission. Moreover, in Hai Phong, the US also sent its intelligence staff to contact anti-Vietnam Government people, taking pictures and gathering military, political and economic information of Hai Phong and other areas.
As the US was behaving irresponsibly, the Vietnamese side was determined to force the US observe the Paris Peace Accord’s protocols. As a result, on March 6th, 1973, the US had to bring its forces back to Hai Phong. However, on April 17th, the US moved Task Force 78 back to Subic Bay in the Philippines, explaining that the Vietnamese side attacked the liberated areas.
Vietnam did not give up. On June 17th, representatives of the Vietnamese Government in Paris delivered a warning and asked the US to continue its sweeping mission as committed. Eventually, on June 18th, the US sent its Task Force 78 back to Hai Phong and agreed that they would inform about the sweeping progress and would announce when their mission was accomplished.
However, the US still showed its unwillingness. Having more than 5,000 troops with nearly 100 warships, minesweepers and helicopters, but in five months, from March to August 1973, sweeping in the passages of Nam Trieu, Lach Huyen, Hon Gai, Cam Pha, Cua Hoi, Cua Sot, Hon La and Quang Hung, the US only found three naval mines offshore Nam Trieu, where Vietnamese soldiers had not cleared. For these results, a US minesweeper suffered fire damage, three helicopters were lost, 10 US soldiers were killed and injured and many of their military equipment were damaged.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Navy, with its rudimentary equipment, destroyed 2,398 out of 3,906 torpedoes and magnetic bombs. From May 1972 to March 1973 alone, the Naval forces destroyed 1,151 torpedoes and magnetic bombs which were mostly located offshore that normal equipment could not reach, maintaining sea transportation between Vietnam and other countries and between the North and the South of Vietnam.
Destroying three naval mines in five months did not mean that the US technology and ability was bad. In 1973, the US still topped the world for these military weapons as the US once stated that although sitting on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the US could press a button to actuate all the bombs and mines they scattered in Vietnam. In reality, the US deeds went against their statement.
How should we understand the US mine counter measure operation in Vietnam? The US knew that it was costly and they had to do it. However, the US just did it because it had signed the peace accord and to show the world that it was doing what it said. And, in reality, the US just carried out its operation in areas they clearly knew that there were not torpedoes and naval mines because it was the US that knew exactly the positions where it used torpedoes and naval mines in Vietnam.
Translated by Ngoc Hung