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JAMES R. ARNOLD
EMBASSY ATTACK, SAIGON
2.47am 31 January 1968. Viet Cong guerrillas launch an assault on the United States Embassy Compound.
At a rundown automobile repair shop five blocks from the American Embassy, 19 sappers belonging to the C-10 Battalion boarded a small Peugeot truck and a taxi-cab to begin the short drive to their objective. A South Vietnamese policeman spotted the vehicles moving without lights. He chose to avoid trouble and so did nothing. The vehicles turned onto Thong Nhut Boulevard where they encountered the embassy's outer layer of protection provided by four more South Viet namese police. They too fled without firing a weapon. The vehicles proceeded along the second line of defence, an eight-foot high wall that surrounded the embassy compound. Approaching the night gate, they encountered two American MPs. Although attacks had been taking place throughout Saigon for more than an hour, such was the state of interallied communication that the embassy defenders had no idea the Communists had broken the truce. Amid an exchange of gunfire, the MPs backed into the compound and shut the steel gate, thus sealing the embassy from the outside world. At 2.47am a guard radioed the signal that the embassy was under attack.
Meanwhile, out in the street, the attackers unloaded weapons and explosives. One VC used a satchel charge to blow a three-foot hole in the wall. Displaying formidable courage but poor tactics, both VC officers led the way through the breach. The explosion had alerted the two guards. They whirled around and shot down the officers. One shouted into his radio: 'They're coming in! They're coming in! Help me! Help me!' It was his last message. With their burst of accurate fire the two MPs had eliminated the enemy leadership; but they too soon died in the return fire.
A two-man MP jeep patrol responded to the alert and rushed towards the embassy. They also died in a hail of fire from the Viet Cong who remained outside the wall. Meanwhile two more guards within the embassy itself locked the building's heavy teak doors. Seconds later a rocket grenade smashed through the granite slab on which hung the United States Seal. Its explosion badly wounded one guard. Two more rockets exploded in the lobby followed by a fragmentation grenade. Aimed with a.38 pistol, 12-gauge shotgun, and a sub-machine-gun, the remaining guard resolved to sell himself dearly as he awaited the final VC rush. The only other guard in the embassy tried to help. From atop the embassy roof he aimed his shotgun at the attackers in the courtyard. It jammed, leaving the VC free to range within the compound.
However, the loss of leadership now cost the guerrillas their opportunity to exploit their initial success. They had an ample supply of C-4 explosives to breach the embassy itself. Only a handful of lightly armed Americans remained in the building. Instead, the VC milled about in confusion and eventually took position behind the shelter of some convenient oversized flower tubs. From this position they exchanged gunfire with targets of opportunity. Outside the walls American reinforcements began to arrive. VC fire kept them from entering via the gate. In the dark they failed to sec the hole in the wall. For the rest of the night it was a standoff.
Reserves, following an ARVNV-100 armoured car, tried to work up the alley to rescue the wounded at the truck. Heavy fire drove off the armoured car.
More South Vietnamese and US reinforcements arrived to resume the advance.
MPs pinned down by heavy VC fire.
Resistance finally crumbled and VC suspects were removed.
0449: Cleveland and Columbia BOQ request ammo and assistance
0550: Three claymores detonated at Saigon motor pool.
Booby traps discovered.'