The Fall of Cities: Phuoc Binh, Ban Me Thuot, Xuan Loc (3)

I’ve described two of the three signal losses of cities during the final debacle in Vietnam. Today: Xuan Loc.

The capital of Long Khanh Province, Xuan Loc was some forty miles northeast of Saigon. It was the last obstacle for the North Vietnamese in their advance on the capital city where I sat watching the looming end of the Republic of Vietnam. The battle at Xuan Loc began on 9 April 1975 and lasted twelve days. The South Vietnamese 18th Infantry Division fought heroically but was finally defeated by a vastly larger North Vietnamese force.

References to the battle are scattered through the final pages of my novel, Last of the Annamese, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, watches the collapse of the defense of South Vietnam. Like me at the time, Chuck is suffering from approaching exhaustion:

“Thursday morning, Chuck sent Sparky [his fellow intelligence analyst and roommate] back home without him. Too much was happening. Muscles aching, eyelids like sandpaper, he tracked the probes by the North Vietnamese 341st Division against Xuan Loc. The town had been subjected to an artillery bombardment of 4,000 rounds, one of the heaviest in the war, and enemy tanks were in the streets. At 1800, Sparky was back, helping him track hand-to-hand combat that lasted until dark when friendly forces drove the North Vietnamese from the city . . .”

“The battle for Xuan Loc raged on. Elements of the North Vietnamese 7th Division had joined the 341st in the battle. [The North Vietnamese propaganda organ] Liberation Radio urged the populace to rebel against the South Vietnamese government. Chuck pulled together signals intelligence, prisoner interrogation reports, and aerial photography and concluded that the North Vietnamese had set up a corps headquarters in Phuoc Long Province. It commanded four divisions, two of which were dispatched to the battle for Xuan Loc. Two more divisions were moving toward Saigon . . .”

“The North Vietnamese had turned the Xuan Loc battle into a meat grinder. They were willing to sacrifice unit after unit to drive out the South Vietnamese 18th Division and seize the town. Somehow the endless reports of gore and annihilation no longer moved Chuck. Was there such a thing as disaster fatigue?”

Xuan Loc fell to North Vietnamese forces on 21 April. They then surrounded Saigon with sixteen to eighteen divisions, and the siege began with rocket and artillery bombardment. I escaped under fire on the night of 29 April after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.

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