Le Duan’s letter of 16 November 1973 to COSVN, Military Region V and the Central Party Committees of Tri-Thien and Tay Nguyen clearly described the overall situation at the end of 1973 and the strengths and weaknesses of the communists. According to Le Duan, the communists had in the early months after the signing of the Paris Agreement made a mistake by allowing the enemy to occupy parts of the old as well as newly liberated areas due to their inaction. The communist side also had not made maximum use of guerrilla warfare, and in his words, ‘at the moment, guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines is weak’. Le Duan acknowledged that the war in the South ‘was beset with difficulties and hardships’ and that the enemy remained strong because of their considerable military assets, control over the populated areas and continued American support. The communist forces in the South, on the other hand, did not have enough training and were also short of military supplies, especially artillery shells.1

Nevertheless, Le Duan was confident that the communist side, having struggled for the past twenty years, would eventually achieve victory if they were able to overcome their weaknesses.2 The shortage of artillery shells was particularly serious and the problem was raised again during a discussion with Le Duan in July 1974. In the South, the NLF forces were quietly building up the supply lines

and putting the foundation in place for the eventual major assault. Truong Nhu Tang recalled that by the start of the 1973-1974 dry season they had completed their deployment around the Saigon and the delta areas, particularly at Loc Ninh. They were also busy expanding the roads to accommodate the anticipated supplies and mechanised forces from the North. An oil pipeline starting from the Truong Son range was also being constructed. On 2 December 1973, a dozen men from the 12th Vietcong Sapper regiment successfully blew up Shell’s Nha Be oil installation, the

largest oil storage facility in the South. These sappers had infiltrated into the Rung Sat area opposite the Nha Be facility some time after the 1968 Tet Offensive but it had not been easy to operate in the mangrove marshland. At the end of 1970, US intelligence noted that scale models of the Shell installations were being transported to Tran Van Tra’s headquarters and that an attack on either the tankers and/or the installation was imminent. The absence of US helicopters gunship protection of the tankers after the Paris Agreement made it easy for the sappers to accomplish their mission.3