- Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973–75 by George J. Veith
Black April is a genuinely important book. George Veith demonstrates convincingly and in detail that South Vietnamese forces put up considerably more resistance during the final Communist offensive in 1975 than most authors have acknowledged. From the time the Communist forces began their offensive in the Central Highlands in early March 1975 until they arrived in Saigon on 30 April, they often had to fight real battles and suffered serious casualties. Their attacks did not always succeed, and the failures were costly. But enough Communist attacks succeeded to keep the South Vietnamese forces off balance, with some units disintegrating and the others unable to maintain a cohesive overall defense. The Communists’ great superiority in intelligence, and bad decisions by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, also contributed to the outcome.
The difference between Veith and some previous authors, who have portrayed the Communist forces as having faced little opposition as they advanced, is especially striking for the climax of the campaign, the fall of Saigon. Even on the morning of 30 April, the Communist forces attacking Saigon were facing serious resistance. Their tank losses that morning were especially heavy at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Only after a surrender announcement broadcast by Duong Van Minh, who had become president of the Republic of Vietnam two days before, did the resistance fade away, allowing the two Communist tanks that approached the presidential palace shortly before noon to do so without shooting or being shot at. [End Page 251]
Veith’s sympathies clearly lie on the South Vietnamese side, but on only a few issues does this seem to have biased his account. Most conspicuous is the way he places the blame for the breakdown of the Paris Peace Agreement overwhelmingly on the Communist side, downplaying South Vietnamese violations of the agreement.
Parts of Veith’s discussion of the breakdown of the agreement are hard to evaluate because Black April is only the first of a planned two volumes. The first volume concentrates on military events. A future second volume will deal with political issues and may provide better evidence for some accusations against the Communists that are unconvincing in this one. Veith maintains that the Communists repeatedly rejected South Vietnamese proposals for national elections, but he says almost nothing about the proposals. The forthcoming volume might describe them in enough detail to allow one to judge whether the Communists could reasonably have been asked to take them seriously.
Veith feels that the United States should have been more generous with its aid to Saigon, but he, unlike many authors, does not claim that China and the Soviet Union were far more generous in their aid to Hanoi. On the contrary, one of the valuable parts of this book is the discussion scattered widely through it of the way the Vietnamese Communist forces, not having been able to obtain from their great-power backers all the equipment and munitions they needed for the campaign, made up the difference with captured materiel. In December 1974, General Tran Van Tra was trying to get authorization for a major offensive in Phuoc Long Province, but the shortage of artillery rounds among the Communist forces in South Vietnam was so serious that it seemed “ludicrous” (p. 103) for him to expect to be given the amount of ammunition he would need. The problem disappeared when his forces captured 6,400 rounds of 105-mm ammunition around 17 December, and another 3,000 on 26 December. They completed their capture of the province on 6 January 1975.
Communist attacks in the Central Highlands beginning on 4 March triggered a South Vietnamese evacuation from that area, which went disastrously. The attacks also prompted a withdrawal of crucial units from the northern part of South Vietnam, which quickly led to a collapse of South Vietnamese defenses there. In both of these areas, the Communists captured many thousands of tons of ammunition and large quantities of equipment—tanks, armored personnel...