U.S. Unit Batters Enemy IN THE DMZ By Joseph B. Treaster
239 North Vietnamese Slain in G.I. Surprise Attack
CONTHIEN, South Vietnam, Oct. 26, 1968 - In the southern part of the demilitarized zone, he and his comrades found an old base camp and set up positions facing south. The North Vietnamese were lounging in those bunkers and trenches at about breakfast time yesterday when hundreds of American soldiers swarmed down on them from the north. A handful of North Vietnamese leaped for their mortars and began shelling the Americans. But the attackers kept coming, and in a few minutes, one of the most intense battles that has been fought in more than two month was under way. We surprised them" said Col. James M Gibson, commander of the FirstBrigade, Fifth Mechanized Infantry Division, whose troops launched the assault.
Pattern of Attack Altered
"He's been accustomed to being attacked from south to north" the husky 47-year-old officer continued."but by coming in from this unexpected position---by driving up to the Ben Hai River, then attacking down--we surprised him" When the Americans pulled back for the night, they had killed 239 North Vietnamese, and just before midnight they captured a wounded assistant squad leader who staggered into their perimeter. The prisoner, who said he was a member of the second battalion of the 132nd Independent Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army, described how he and about 350 other soldiers in the unit had recently moved into South Vietnam. On the previous day, the Fifth Division had killed 61 North Vietnamese as they pushed toward the broad river that flows through the center of thedemilitarized zone. Allied casualties have been light. The battle occurred as new reports of North Vietnamese intransigence toward peace efforts emanated from Paris and Washington. Along with the prisoner's statements, they raised the question whether the North Vietnamese had started another troop build-up in the border regions.
No Major Change Discerned
However, field commander interviewed at this combat base and in the demilitarized zone, less than two miles to the north, said they had discerned no significant change in the enemy's combat posture in recent days. They said that intelligence continued to show that the bulk of the enemy soldiers who had once been in the demilitarized zone at the border had withdrawn into North Vietnam and Laos and that there had been no indication of reversal. While many units were ordered out of the region, the officers said, the North Vietnamese are believed to have left behind certain strong outpost. They said the troops engaged in the heavy fighting yesterday were probably manning one of those outpost. The officers believed that when the battalion of the 132nd Regiment moved into position, it enabled another unit to go to the rear to rest and refurbish. Thus it would not have represented an increase in North Vietnamese troops strength in the region. What the enemy plans for the future is something that few officers are willing to speculate about. but they repeatedly called attention to other lulls in the war and emphasized that new officers have always followed.
General Assesses Enemy
One general who flew in for a look at the combat results said he felt that the quality of the enemy soldier had declined recently.
"He's just not as good a soldier as he used to be, he lost so much of his leadership and he's not as well trained. He not as tough." Many officers serving in the northern provinces agree with the general, but few of the Fifth Infantry Division soldiers who experienced the heaviest fighting since they came to Vietnam, in July, shared his opinion. As he led his men out of the demilitarized zone late this afternoon LTC. Bernard Wheeler, paused to drink from his plastic canteen and consider the enemy. "They're either gutsy or crazy as hell" the officer said. "We had two of them jump up and fire their AK-47s at one of our tanks before it ran over them and killed them. They fought like hell.
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