PANO – After the great 1975 Spring Victory, our country entered a new period of rebuilding and protecting the united Fatherland. In the South, armed forces also participated in building the local revolutionary governments, re-educating Saigon regime’s military and civilian personnel, suppressing reactionary forces and criminals, maintaining political security and social order, and joining nation’s effort in healing the wound of the 30 year war. Part of the army resigned from their military careers to work in the economic sectors and other civilian areas.

Cambodians seeing off Vietnamese volunteer troops on the way returning home

But in Cambodia after the reactionary force led by Pol Pot and Ieng Sari took power, they started to execute brutal policies, including repressing intellectuals, sabotaging cultural and educational places, herded people into collective hard labor zones, and butchering dissidents. That turned upside down the Cambodian society and the whole country, and plunged the Cambodians into mourning. After nearly 3 years ruling the country, the Khmer Rouge faction killed nearly 2 millions of innocent people, the genocide crime that all human beings with common sense condemned.

What is more, as they were backed by international reactionary forces, the Khmer Rouge government propagandized national hatred of Vietnam among Cambodians, built up a large army with all military services and corps with the aim of waging war on Vietnam. At the peak, their army mounted to 170,000 troops, including 120,000 troops of regular force and 50,000 troops of local force. They were staffed in 23 infantry divisions, three tank and armored regiments with 280 vehicles of all kinds, one division and seven regiments of artillery and mortar with 274 pieces, one anti-air regiment with 200 pieces, two air force divisions with 96 aircraft, and one naval division with 94 vessels and boats.

After two years of conflicts on the shared border between Vietnam and Cambodia, Khmer Rouge used its division-level units to assault 13 Vietnamese border communes out of 15 and 13 Vietnamese border guard posts at the same time on April 1977, officially invading Vietnam. From September 1977, they conducted larger operations on Vietnam. In several paces, they attacked Tan Bien, Ben Cau and Chau Thanh of Tay Ninh province, 20km inside Vietnam. Khmer Rouge troops were very brutal, killing Vietnamese civilians, firing their homes and robbing their belongings. In December 1978, the Khmer Rouge Government mobilized almost all their infantry force (19 out of 23 infantry divisions) and other military services and corps to attack all Vietnamese land along the shared border. They attempted to capture the Vietnamese urban hubs near the shared border, such as Tay Ninh town, Ha Tien, Kien Luong and Hong Ngu, and the areas on the western bank of the Vam Co Dong river.

In response to their vigorous attacks and brutality, the Vietnamese leadership drew up a policy that showed national resolve to firmly protect the Fatherland’s holy sovereignty and people, restore border security and maintain the national territorial integrity on one hand, and try to solve the conflict with peaceful negotiations on the other hand.

However, the Khmer Rouge resorted to bad tricks. They agreed to negotiate with the Vietnamese side but at the same time they ignored any reached agreement, keeping crossing the shared border and killing Vietnamese people. After Vietnamese forces had passively resisted Khmer Rouge attacking forces for some time, Vietnam began to build up forces and successfully retaliated the invaders. In early December 1978, the Cambodian domestic politics became divided and the Cambodian revolutionary movement rose up and openly opposed to the Khmer Rouge Government. However, the Cambodian revolutionary movement did not have a military force strong enough to fight the Khmer Rouge army. They then asked Vietnam to support them in ousting the Khmer Rouge that drove the Cambodians miserable. Under the call, Vietnamese leaders held that the genocide regime led by Pol Pot and Ieng Sari was on the edge of collapse as a wave of indignation quickly spread out across Cambodia, and that Vietnam as well as other countries in the world had a duty to stop the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, a crime against mankind. Therefore, the Vietnamese Army was entrusted to open a large-scale operation in the Fatherland’s Southwestern border.

The strategy to protect the Fatherland and stop Khmer Rouge’s genocide in Cambodia was passed by the Politburo and the Central Military Commission. The strategy stated that the Vietnamese Army should use its comprehensive force to closely coordinate with the Cambodian revolutionary force to launch large-scale, strong and quick attacks to decimate Khmer Rouge regular units, thrust into Phnom Penh to smash Khmer Rouge’s nerve center, capture Kompong Saom port, big airports and prevent foreign military forces from intervening in by sea and air, trying to wipe out the Khmer Rouge regime and troops in a short time.

Under the strategy, the Vietnamese army dew up a combat plan. Accordingly, the five groupings of targets that Vietnamese forces should wipe out included enemy Division 19 deployed near the shared border, Khmer Rouge’s nerve center in Phnom Penh, Kompong Saom port, Big airports and major roads leading to Thailand. The Vietnamese participating force was organized into three directions: the main direction deployed in the area of Vietnamese Military Zone 7, the first secondary direction in Military Zone 9, and the second secondary direction in Military Zone 5. Under the combat plan, the operations was divided into two continuous phases: in the first phase, the Vietnamese force was to dislodge the enemy from Vietnam and keep pursuing them to the Mekong river in Cambodia. In the second phase, the Vietnamese force was to cross the Mekong, continue to fight the resisting enemies on the way, maneuver to Phnom Penh to oust the Khmer Rouge regime, and liberate Cambodia from the genocide regime, hand over power to the Cambodian revolution.

To realize the combat plan, Vietnam used 18 divisions of three military zones 5, 7 and 9; three army groups 2, 3 and 4; Air Force Division 372; Marine Brigade 126; one boat regiment; 600 tanks and armored cars; 137 aircraft of all kinds; 160 warships and cargo ships; 7,000 automobile, which totaled some 250,000 troops, under the direct command of the General Staff.

On December 23rd 1978, Khmer Rouge used 3 divisions 22, 703 and 340 attacked the North of Provincial Road 13 in Ben Soi, with the aim of capturing the Vietnamese town of Tay Ninh. Against this backdrop, the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army ordered Army Group 4 to open the strategic counterattack, breaking up the enemy’s advancement and annihilating a large number of enemy troops. Next on December 26, local armed forces of military zone 5, 7 and 9, Army Groups 2 and 4, Marine Brigade 126 and support units marched into Cambodia under the cover support of artillery and air force. Further, from the Vietnamese border provinces of An Giang, Kien Giang, Dong Thap, Gia Lai and Kon Tum, Vietnamese military forces, at the same time, conducted joint force operations attacking the enemy along the border and backing the Cambodian revolutionary force to overthrow the genocide regime’s local authorities in the Cambodian border provinces. Facing vehement onsets by Vietnamese force, on January 2nd 1979, three regular force groupings (each grouping consisting of five divisions), which were tasked to control roads 1, 7 and 2 leading to Phnom Penh, were disintegrated and wiped out. On January 7th, the Cambodian revolutionary force in support of the Vietnamese force overturned the Khmer Rouge regime and liberated Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese contingents continued to advance and liberated the remaining Cambodian provinces. On January 17th 1979, the Vietnamese force captured the last province of Koh Kong, freeing the entire country from Khmer Rouge.

Regarding the military arts, that was the first time, the Vietnamese army had mobilized such a large force with various military services and arms operating in one strategic front. In other words, the participating Vietnamese force conducted large-scale joint force operations, in which the air force closely coordinated with the land force and navy. The Vietnamese air force used various kinds of aircraft, at peak 100 air operations per day, totally dominating the enemy’s air force and effectively covering friendly units on ground. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese navy was tasked to land ground forces. The naval force sometimes used its firepower to pave way for the landing of ground forces but the other times conducted secret landings, and successfully prevented hostile forces from coming in or going out. On land, Vietnamese contingents in the attacking directions perfectly coordinated with one another in operations and combined tactics: attacking the enemy front and thrusting into the enemy’s lineup, separating up enemies into small groups to annihilate one by one. It was a good choice of the Vietnamese force to launch fierce assaults on and disintegrate the enemy defensive line with the main force of Division 19 and to bring the other four main groupings of targets deep inside Cambodia under control. As a result, the general strategic counteroffensive operations, which were started at the same time along the 1,200km borderline and extended 600km deep inside the Cambodian land, took place in a very high speed.

After 26 days of fighting, the Vietnamese forces defeated and disintegrated 23 enemy divisions, helped the Cambodian revolutionary force and people oust the Khmer Rouge regime, saving the Cambodians from the genocide catastrophe.

The victory of the Vietnamese force over the brutal Khmer Rouge force in the general strategic counteroffensive marked a big development of the Vietnam People’s Army. The army succeeded in protecting the national territorial integrity and successfully fulfilled the international duty, saving the Cambodians from Khmer Rouge butchery. For a peaceful Cambodia and a bright future of the nation, many Vietnamese volunteer troops laid down their lives. What is more, Vietnamese volunteer troops shared food with Cambodians, provided free treatment and medicines and cured many Cambodians in the country rebuilding time. Therefore, Cambodians have named Vietnamese volunteer troops the “Buddha’s Army”.

Written by Le Trung Duong

Translated by Thu Nguyen