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1975 - Fall of Saigon

Fall of Saigon -  the Vietnam War comes to end as North Vietnamese troops sweep into Saigon, just as the last Americans, along with thousands of desperate refugees, evacuate the country 

As the conflict in Vietnam entered the final stages, South Vietnamese forces collapsed under the rapid advancement of the North Vietnamese. The most recent fighting had begun in December 1974, when the North Vietnamese launched a major attack against the lightly defended province of Phuoc Long, located north of Saigon along the Cambodian border, overrunning the provincial capital at Phuoc Binh on January 6, 1975. Despite previous presidential promises to provide aid in such a scenario, the United States did nothing. By this time, Nixon had resigned from office and his successor, Gerald Ford, was unable to convince a hostile Congress to make good on Nixon’s earlier promises to rescue Saigon from communist takeover.

This situation emboldened the North Vietnamese, who launched a new campaign in March 1975. The South Vietnamese forces fell back in total disarray, and once again, the United States did nothing. The South Vietnamese abandoned Pleiku and Kontum in the Highlands with very little fighting. Then Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast toward Saigon, defeating the South Vietnamese forces at each encounter.

The South Vietnamese 18th Division had fought a valiant battle at Xuan Loc, just to the east of Saigon, destroying three North Vietnamese divisions in the process. However, it proved to be the last battle in the defense of the Republic of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese forces held out against the attackers until they ran out of tactical air support and weapons, finally abandoning Xuan Loc to the communists on April 21.

Having crushed the last major organized opposition before Saigon, the North Vietnamese got into position for the final assault. In Saigon, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and transferred authority to Vice President Tran Van Huong before fleeing the city on April 25. By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and began to maneuver for a complete takeover.

Meanwhile, planning was underway for the evacuation of American personnel. Debate ensued as Ambassador Graham Martin wished any evacuation to occur quietly and slowly to prevent panic whereas the Department of Defense sought a rapid departure from the city. The result was a compromise in which all but 1,250 Americans were to be quickly withdrawn.

This number, the maximum that could be carried in a single day's airlift, would remain until Tan Son Nhat airport was threatened. In the meantime, efforts would be made to remove as many friendly South Vietnamese refugees as possible. To aid in this effort, Operations Babylift and New Life were initiated in early April and flew out 2,000 orphans and 110,000 refugees respectively. 

When the North Vietnamese attacked at dawn on April 30, they met little resistance.  As rockets began hitting the city, the American final evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind, was put into action.  American radio station began repeat playing "White Christmas" which was the signal for American personnel to move to their evacuation points..

Due to the runway damage, Operation Frequent Wind was conducted using helicopters, largely CH-53s and CH-46s, which departed from the DAO Compound at Tan Son Nhat. Leaving the airport they flew out to American ships in the South China Sea. Through the day, buses moved through Saigon and delivered Americans and friendly South Vietnamese to the compound. By evening over 4,300 people had been evacuated through Tan Son Nhat. Though the US Embassy was not intended to be a major departure point, it became one when many became stranded there and were joined by thousands of South Vietnamese hoping to claim refugee status.

Operation Frequent Wind flights met little opposition from PAVN forces. This was the result of the Politburo ordering Dung to hold fire as they believed interfering with the evacuation would bring American intervention. 


The war finally ended when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin accepted the surrender from Gen. Duong Van Minh, who had taken over after Tran Van Huong spent only one day in power. When Minh stated that he wished to transfer power, Tin replied, “There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.” Tin explained to Minh, “You have nothing to fear. Between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy. The war for our country is over.”


Further Reading


Associated PressApril 30 1975: Saigon Has Fallen

The Guardian - The Fall of Saigon: Witnessing the End of the Vietnam War

Newsweek - The Last Helicopter: Evacuating Saigon - What Was the Impact of the Vietnam War?

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