Da Nang's Fall Feared Imminent; U.S. Ships Sent to Help Refugees
By Malcolm Brown , March 30, 1975
Saigon, South Vietnam, Sunday, March 30 &emdash; A Saigon Government spokesman said today that radio contact with the encircled northern South Vietnamese port of Da Nang had been lost, indicating that the city had fallen.
Although another highly informed source said that he was still in contact with observers on a boat just off the nation's second largest city, it seemed clear that Saigon had written Da Nang off, and that its occupation by the Communists was hours away.
[South Vietnam's Deputy Premier for Social Welfare, Phan Quang Dan, said at a news conference in Saigon that Communist forces had captured Da Nang, according to news agency reports.]
Since the only contact with Da Nang at present is with observers off shore, real conditions there are unknown. One observer, calling from a ship, reported that "all we can see is wall-to-wall people along the shore."
There did not appear to be any fighting going on, he said, but added that there was no way of knowing whether North Vietnamese troops had entered Da Nang and, if they had, whether they had taken over its administration.
The Government spokesman, Lieut. Col. Le Trung Hien of the Saigon command, said that all communication with Da Nang ended last night.
Yesterday, as the military situation continued to deteriorate, the United States Embassy announced that "military and medical aid" were on the way to South Vietnam. At the time Da Nang was being shelled heavily and North Vietnamese troops had moved within three miles of the city.
Embassy officials declined to say how much or what type of aid was being sent, or even when the airlift carrying the material was expected to begin arriving here.
Scattered fighting was reported yesterday in an area covering the provinces near Saigon and the Mekong River Delta to the south. While no large-scale engagements were reported, pressure appeared to be mounting in provinces west and north of Saigon, notably Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia and Binh Duong.
As for far northern South Vietnam, the Government spokesman reported that the North Vietnamese Army had moved to within three miles of Da Nang to the south and west, but that there had been no fighting except where South Vietnamese Government patrols had encountered Communists outside the city.
He said that the city was shelled Saturday morning, with the main concentrations of fire directed at the naval base and at the airport.
The United States Embassy communique announcing the granting of the latest shipments of aid followed visits made Friday by General Frederick C. Weyand, the United States Army Chief of Staff, to President Nguyen Van Thieu and other Saigon leaders.
Youth of a self-defense unit raising a Communist flag on May 9, 1975 in Da Nang, according to the caption from the Giai Phong Press Agency.
The statement said that General Weyand had conveyed "assurances of President Ford's strong support in the determined resistance of the people of South Vietnam to the massive invasion by a North Vietnamese expeditionary corps in flagrant and cynical disregard of the provisions of the Paris agreement."
Despite the implication in the announcement that the South Vietnamese armed forces were fighting hard, the indications were that there was practically no resistance to the Communists anywhere in the northern part of South Vietnam.
At the Da Nang airport yesterday, a Boeing 727, against the advice of many pilots, landed in an attempt to evacuate some civilians &emdash; to be met by about 300 South Vietnamese soldiers, armed with rifles and grenades, who forced their way aboard the big jet.
Other people, seeking to flee the beleaguered city, lay in front of and under the plane to keep it from leaving. The transport, operated by World Airways, was mobbed by soldiers as it taxied off the runway to the ramp.
At least one soldier was seen firing his pistol at the cockpit. The jet finally took off.
A big part of one wing-flap was damaged when it reached Saigon. The pilots said after reaching here that the damage had been done by a grenade. Aviation authorities, however, said it appeared that the damage was due to an obstacle in the path of the plane's wheels, not to an explosion.
To avoid destruction, the plane took off from the taxiway rather than from the runway. The pilots found the runway jammed with people.
They said they knew of no deaths resulting from this. But aviation experts here said after talking to passengers and stowaways on the plane that between 20 and 30 persons had probably been killed &emdash; some run over on take-off, some dropping away from the wheel wells and the cargo hold.
The aviation authorities said the body of one soldier had been found in a wheel well on arrival here; others on the flight said that unknown numbers of others had dropped off the plane in flight.
When the plane arrived in Saigon, the mutinous troops were put under guard.
Except for the World Airways Boeing, no aircraft were reported to have landed at Da Nang yesterday.
However, lighters and barges were managing to get some people off the piers and beaches to ships standing offshore in the South China Sea. The United States Military Sealift Command is operating several chartered ships for the evacuation.
One such ship, the Pioneer Contender, took on a load of about 9,000 evacuees off the Da Nang coast Friday night and arrived about midday yesterday at Cam Ranh Bay, to the south. A similar group was taken out Friday by the Pioneer Commander, and a United States naval vessel, the U.S.N.S. Miller, has reportedly joined the evacuation effort.
Informants said that the command headquarters of Government forces at Da Nang, such as they were, moved from Da Nang itself yesterday to three South Vietnamese Navy ships offshore. Radio communication with the command was lost Friday night but re-established yesterday only after Lieut. Gen. Ngo Quang Truong, commander of Military Region I, moved to the ships.
In leaving Da Nang yesterday, the South Vietnamese Air Force reportedly ran into very bad luck. In the morning, 10 air force UH-1 helicopters, carrying the last escaping air force personnel, took off from Da Nang with scant fuel. The helicopters, each carrying at least 20 persons, flew first to the nearby Marble Mountain air field, Da Nang's second airport, where the pilots hoped to refuel.
Some succeeded, but only after outrunning jeeps and armored cars filled with soldiers who tried to force the helicopter crews to take them aboard. One copter, low on fuel, was forced to land on Re Island 72 miles to the southeast in the South China Sea. Another was forced to land at Chu Lai, a former American base occupied for the last few days by the North Vietnamese, and was seen being captured by the Communists.
Four more helicopters were shot down by Communist antiaircraft near Chu Lai. Only four of the original 10 made it to Saigon.
Forces the size of two infantry divisions have ceased to exist as organized units, and thousands of soldiers have discarded uniforms and weapons to blend with the more than one million residents and refugees jammed into Da Nang, the country's second largest city.
Yesterday, for the first
time, Saigon officially acknowledged the fall of Hue to the
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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov