In this week’s reading, I found information that described how Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese reacted to the devastating loss at Ban Me Thuot.
Following the loss at Ban Me Thuot, Thieu believed that defending the most heavily populated and economically powerful portions of the country should be made the highest priority. In order to defend these regions, Thieu found it important to rally the people of South Vietnam, primarily at the line stretching from Ban Me Thuot, to Tuy Hoa, to the southernmost tip of the Mekong Delta. He hoped to use the cultural identity to the country’s advantage and ideally, they would rally together to fend off northern invaders. This area was also crucial because a large portion of the agricultural base, along with influential oil deposits, rest there.
It was critical that Thieu and the South Vietnamese recapture Ban Me Thout, as the North could use it to attack Saigon from several different directions. Thieu planned to gain the territory of either Pleiku or Kontum. He named his strategy of overtaking these crucial areas “Light at the top, heavy at the bottom”, in March, 1975. Thieu was faced with a similar situation in 1972 but chose against moving the regular forces out of the Northern Highlands. Although claims were made that he was making a bold move, backing to a more defensive position due to a lack of hope for future aid, Thieu believed that his decision was a result of a well thought out strategy that rested primarily on his perceived inability to neutralize the North Vietnamese.
To add to the controversy of Thieu’s decisions, withdrawing from the Northern Highlands would be extremely dangerous, considering American firepower was not available to hold off the North Vietnamese. Another significant problem was that there was not a lot of time for planning. Generals carrying out orders would have to act in an improvisational manner. After meeting with Phu, Major General of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Thieu gave him 3 days to complete the withdrawal plan.
The retreat turned out to be extremely poorly planned, as civilians and North Vietnamese troops could both spot the exiting South Vietnamese.
Although Thieu’s plan to retreat was logical, it proved catastrophic to leave the civilian population to fend for themselves. These mistakes that I have discussed proved to be very critical to the eventual Fall of Saigon.