3rd Division (South Vietnam)
The 3rd Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)—the army of the nation state of South Vietnam that existed from 1955 to 1975—was part of the I Corps that oversaw the northernmost region of South Vietnam, the centre of Vietnam.
3rd Division SSI
|Active||October 1971 – 1975|
|Branch||Army of the Republic of Vietnam|
|Part of||I Corps|
|Vu Van Giai|
Nguyen Duy Hinh
The Division was initially raised in October 1971 in Quảng Trị and composed of 2nd Infantry Regiment (from the 1st Division), 56th Infantry Regiment and 57th Infantry Regiment, the first commander was Brigadier General Vu Van Giai the former deputy commander of the 1st Division.
Although the Division had never fought a coordinated battle as a division, its battalions were seasoned combat teams with long experience fighting in northern Quảng Trị Province. Most of the Division's soldiers were natives of the region familiar with its terrain and weather. The battalions of the 56th and 57th Regiments were veterans of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). They occupied base camps and strongpoints they had been in for years and their dependents lived in nearby hamlets.:18
The Division was generally responsible for Quảng Trị Province. Its headquarters under the command of Brigadier General Vu Van Giai, former deputy commander of the 1st Division, was located at Ái Tử Combat Base. The newly activated 56th and 57th Regiments were deployed over a series of strongpoints and fire support bases dotting the area immediately south of the DMZ and from the coast to the mountains in the west. The 56th Regiment was headquartered at Camp Carroll while the 57th Regiment was located at Firebase C1. The 2nd Regiment occupied Camp Carroll with two of its battalions at Firebase C2. Camp Carroll was the lynchpin of the of the ARVN northern and western defense line situated on Route 9, the main road west to the Laos border. The Division's 11th Armored Cavalry Squadron was located at Landing Zone Sharon south of Quảng Trị.:18-9
In addition to its organic units the Division had operational control of the two Marine brigades of the general reserve. The 147th Marine Brigade was headquartered at Mai Loc Camp 2km east of Camp Carroll and the 258th Brigade was at Firebase Nancy. The Marines and 56th Regiment presented a strong west-facing defense as this was assumed to be the most likely direction of attack.:19
On 30 March the Division was in the middle of rotating its units between the various defensive positions. The 56th Regiment was taking over Camp Carroll, Firebase Khe Gio and Firebase Fuller from the 2nd Regiment. The 57th Regiment was taking over the area from Đông Hà Combat Base north to the DMZ and east to the coast. The 2nd Regiment was taking over the combat bases north of Cam Lộ Combat Base.:23-4
The offensive began at noon on 30 March 1972, when an intense artillery barrage rained down on the northernmost ARVN outposts as the 56th and 57th regiments were still in the process of occupying Camp Carroll and Strongpoint C-1. Two PAVN divisions (the 304th and 308th – approximately 30,000 troops) supported by more than 100 tanks (in 2 Regiments) then rolled over the DMZ to attack I Corps. The 308th Division and two independent regiments assaulted the "ring of steel", the arc of ARVN firebases just south of the DMZ. From the west, the 312th, including an armored regiment, moved out of Laos along Route 9, past Khe Sanh, and into the Quảng Trị River valley towards Camp Carroll.
On 30 March 1972 the 258th Marine Brigade was deployed forward to Đông Hà.:43 Early on the morning of 1 April the 4th Vietnamese Marine Corps Battalion abandoned Firebase Sarge and retreated to Mai Loc Camp.:44-5 The 56th Regiment withdrew to Camp Carroll, the 57th Regiment to north of Dong Ha and the 2nd Regiment withdrew to Cam Lộ.:27 By 1 April the PAVN had broken through the ARVN defensive positions along the DMZ and north of the Cam Lo River and fragmented ARVN units and terrified civilians began withdrawing to Đông Hà.:45 General Giai, ordered a withdrawal of the Division south of the Cửa Việt River in order for his troops to reorganize a new defensive line: Regional and Popular Forces would secure the area from the coast to 5km inland; the 57th Regiment would hold the area from there to Đông Hà ; the 1st Armored Brigade including the 20th Tank Battalion would hold Đông Hà; the 2nd Regiment reinforced by an armored cavalry squadron would hold Cam Lộ, while the 56th Regiment supported by the 11th Armored Cavalry Squadron would hold Camp Carroll. Extending the line south the 147th Marine Brigade would hold Mai Loc and secure the high ground along Route 9 between Cam Lộ and Mai Loc.:27
By 11:00 on 2 April the ARVN 20th Tank Battalion moved forward to Đông Hà to support the 258th Marine Brigade in and around the town and defend the crucial road and rail bridges across the Cua Viet River.:50–2 Marine ANGLICO units called in naval gunfire to hit PAVN forces near the bridges on the north bank of the river and destroyed 4 PT-76 amphibious tanks east of Đông Hà. More tanks were hit by a Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) A-1 Skyraider before it was shot down.:53 At midday PAVN tanks attempted to force the road bridge, but 6 tanks were destroyed by fire from the ARVN 20th Tank's M48s.:55 At approximately 13:00 Captain John Ripley an adviser to the Vietnamese Marines swung under the road bridge and spent 3 hours installing demolition charges to destroy the bridge. The bridge was blown up at 16:30 and the damaged railway bridge was destroyed around the same time temporarily halting the PAVN advance. Naval gunfire and a B-52 strike were soon directed at PAVN forces gathered on the northern bank.:56–60
On 2 April, after several days of shelling and surrounded by a PAVN regiment Colonel Pham Van Dinh, commander of the 56th Regiment, surrendered Camp Caroll and his 1,500 troops with barely a shot being fired.:29-30 With the loss of camp Carroll the 147th Marine Brigade abandoned Mai Loc, the last western base and fell back to Quang Tri and then to Huế, the brigade was replaced by the fresh 369th Marine Brigade which established a new defensive line at Firebase Nancy.:30 The capture of Camp Carroll and Mai Loc allowed PAVN forces to cross the Cam Lộ bridge, 11 kms to the west of Đông Hà. The PAVN then had almost unrestricted access to western Quảng Trị Province north of the Thạch Hãn River.
Over the next two weeks PAVN forces kept up a barrage of artillery, mortar and small arms fire on the ARVN positions and infiltrated small units across the river in boats.:65 On 7 April the Marines withdrew from Đông Hà leaving the defense to the 57th Regiment, the 1st ARVN Armored Brigade, 20th Tank Battalion and the 4th and 5th Ranger Groups.:68
At dawn on 9 April the PAVN launched an attack, led by tanks, against Firebase Pedro southwest of Quảng Trị. The PAVN tanks had outrun their infantry support and 9 tanks were lost in a minefield around Pedro. An armored task force of 8 M48s and 12 M113s from the ARVN 20th Tank Battalion were despatched from Ái Tử to support the Marines at Pedro. At the same time a flight of RVNAF A-1 Skyraiders arrived overhead and destroyed 5 tanks.:68–9 When the ARVN armor arrived they destroyed five T-54s for no losses and drove one captured T-54 back to Ái Tử. On 10 and 11 April further PAVN attacks on Pedro were repulsed at a cost of over 200 PAVN estimated killed.:70
On 18 April the PAVN 308th Division attacking from the southwest attempted to outflank Đông Hà but were repulsed by a tenacious defense and intense US airstrikes.:74–5:38-9 On 23 April the 147th Marine Brigade returned to Ái Tử and the 258th Marine Brigade redeployed to Huế leaving its 1st Battalion at Firebase Pedro under the control of the 147th Brigade.:40
On 28 April the commander of the 20th Tank Battalion withdrew from Đông Hà to deal with a PAVN force threatening Ái Tử, seeing the tanks leaving the soldiers of the 57th Regiment panicked and abandoned their positions leading to the collapse of the ARVN defensive line.:78 The VNMC 7th Battalion was sent to Ái Tử to help defend the base.:78 At 02:00 on 29 April the PAVN attacked the ARVN positions north and south of the base and the ARVN defenses began to crumble, by midday on 30 April General Giai ordered a withdrawal from Ái Tử to a defensive line along the south of the Thạch Hãn River and the withdrawal was completed late that day.:79–80 On 1 May with his forces disintegrating General Giai decided that any further defense of Quảng Trị city was pointless and that the ARVN should withdraw to a defensive line along the My Chanh River 13km to the south, he made this decision with the tacit approval of I Corps commander General Hoàng Xuân Lãm.:82–3:44 The 147th Marine Brigade which was the only unit maintaining any cohesiveness departed the city in an armored convoy, while the 3rd Division command group was evacuated by US helicopters after attempting to leave the city by road.:45 By 2 May all of Quảng Trị Province had fallen to the PAVN and they were threatening Huế.:90 By the late evening of 2 May General Giai was attempting to reorganize the remnants of the 3rd Division at Camp Evans.:46-7
On 2 May I Corps commander General Lãm was summoned to Saigon for a meeting with President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. He was relieved of command of I Corps and replaced by Lieutenant General Ngô Quang Trưởng, commander of IV Corps and former commander of the 1st Division.:171 Trưởng's mission was to defend Huế, minimize further losses, and retake captured territory. Giai, who was to be made the scapegoat for the collapse, was placed under arrest on 5 May and tried for "desertion in the face of the enemy", and sentenced to five years in prison.:150
The 3rd Division at this time consisted of only its headquarters and the remnants of the 2nd and 57th Regiments.:61 The Marine Brigades had returned to the operational control of the Marine Division which was now fully deployed in the defense of Huế.:54 General Trưởng resisted calls for the Division to be reconstituted as the 27th Division as the 3rd Division was perceived to be bad luck and the division now commanded by Brigadier General Nguyen Duy Hinh was reconstituted at Phu Bai Combat Base and the 56th Regiment reformed and then on 16 June the Division was sent south to the Hoa Cam Training Center in Da Nang for further retraining.:62
- 2nd, 56th and 57th Infantry Regiments
- 30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd Artillery Battalions
- 20th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
- US Advisory Team 155
- Ngo, Quang Truong (1980). The Easter offensive of 1972 (PDF). U.S. Army Center of Military History. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Melson, Charles (1991). U.S. Marines In Vietnam: The War That Would Not End, 1971–1973. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. ISBN 9781482384055. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Andrade, Dale (1995). Trial By Fire: The 1972 Easter Offensive, America's Last Vietnam Battle. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 9780781802864.
- Fulghum, David; Maitland, Terrence (1984). The Vietnam Experience South Vietnam on Trial: Mid-1970–1972. Boston Publishing Company. ISBN 0939526107.
- Rottman, Gordon (2012). Army of the Republic of Vietnam 1955-75. Men at Arms 458. Osprey Publishing.
- Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 526–533. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.
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