In the last months of the Vietnam war, virtually all US support to the Republic of South Vietnam had been vindictively cut and PAVN forces from the north seemed to be ready to roll over the southern country in an unstoppable wave. All commentators and military experts predicted there would be little resistance. They had no idea that one of the most remarkable efforts in the history of war was about to take place by a ARVN division famously known for having a reputation as lazy cowboys.
By Late 1974, slashes to in aid to the RVN were reflected in the operational ability and tempo the ARVN could maintain. The daily allowance of ammo supply for rifles was set at 1.6 rounds per man. Machine guns got 10.6 rounds a day. Mortars 1.3 rounds and 105MM Howitzer shells per gun a day was 6.4. Stories of Regional Forces and Popular Forces buying grenades from their own pocket money seemed incredible, but true. The enemy continued to expend ammo at will. At one location, firing 10,000 artillery rounds in a period of 6 weeks.
With those limits on support only getting worse by 1975, one of the most gallant efforts in the entire war was about to start in at Xuan Loc, forty miles northeast of Saigon, where a determined defense was mounted by the ARVN 18th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Le Minh Dao commanding. At one time, the 18th Div had once annoyed General Abrams so much it caused him to declare the commander ” not just the worst general in the Vietnamese army, but the worst general in any army”. But now, under assault by three then four divisions of the North Vietnamese Army, with the war certainly lost and the country in ruins, the 18th Division virtually destroyed three of the attacking divisions and held out for almost a month before finally succumbing to the superior numbers.
When another ARVN general once again sought to overthrow the RVN president in a coup, the 18thDiv commanding general responded ” too busy killing communist, can’t participate”.
Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi commanded the III Armor Brigade and fought to the very last day of the war, called Xuan Loc “the war’s bloodiest” battle.
A long time US Advisor, Colonel Ray Battreall said “That magnificent last stand deserves to live on in military history if we can overcome the bias, even in our own ranks, that ARVN was never capable of doing anything right”.
” Americans would not have liked hearing it said that two totalitarian states- the USSR and the People’s Republic of China- had proved more faithful and more reliable as allies than the American democracy, but that was indeed a fact.”
“Please, do not call me a hero. My men who died at Xuan Loc and the hundred battles before are the true heroes.” – Le Minh Dao, Brigadier General, 18th Division, South Vietnam
“Even though we knew we had lost the war, I still fought. I was filled with despair after the loss of the northern Corps, but I still fight.”
Below is a little background on the commander of the 18th Div from the freedom for Vietnam website.
The Battle of Xuan Loc was the last major struggle before Saigon’s fall on April 30, 1975. With the passionate and inspirational leadership of Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, the 18th Division of the ARVN resisted heavy fire from the Communist forces from April 9-21, when the division was recalled to defend Saigon. The brilliance of the 18th Division can be seen by its numbers, dealing a miserable amount of pain to the 4th Corps of the NVA. On the first day of battle, the NVA under Major General Hoang Cam lost more than 700 hundred men to the ARVN and Le Minh Dao, whose losses were below 50 soldiers. After four days, Cam’s death toll climbed to 2,000, while Dao’s still only in the hundreds, the 4th Corps still had not advanced (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 191-199).
By April 13, the 4th Corps and the North Vietnamese Army were forced to change their strategy. According to NVA Commander Tran Van Tra, because of the fierce resistance of General Dao and the 18th Division, it was no longer in the interests of the NVA to continue pressing in Xuan Loc (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 200). From then until April 21, the Communist forces would concentrate their forces in other areas around Xuan Loc, and Le Minh Dao would continue to fight them until receiving orders to return to Saigon. The general’s retreat was just as masterful as his advance, which required much daring and intellect to outmaneuver the Communist forces.
“I was their general, I wish to be the last man from the 18th ARVN to be released. I could not look them in the face otherwise.”
Sadly, the success story ends here, with Le Minh Dao’s successful retreat back to Saigon. From this point onward, South Vietnam would run out of steam, and the ARVN would no longer have the means to fight. Brigadier General Le Minh Dao and the 18th Division were only few of many brave individuals who sacrificed their lives for the free and democratic South. On April 30th, even after Duong Van Minh and the Southern government surrendered, Le Minh Dao still wanted to keep fighting. However, with the knowledge that the corps commander and the deputy had taken their own lives, Dao knew that it was done. On May 9, Le Minh Dao turned himself over to the Communist forces, serving a prison sentence of 17 years. He would remain in prison until May 4, 1992, when he was finally released. Le Minh Dao currently resides in the United States, his accomplishments forever immortalized in the pages of history.