On 30 March 1972, the People’s Army of Vietnam launched a massive invasion of South Vietnam with over 130,000 troops, tanks, and other modern weapons systems. The invasion was focused on three locations – Quang Tri in the north, Kontum in the Central Highlands, and An Loc, in Military Region III just 65 miles from Saigon.
In Break in the Chain, Bob Baker provides a unique insider’s view of the intelligence situation on the ground before, during, and after the massive enemy offensive. After providing a glimpse into his upbringing as an Army brat and his subsequent intelligence training upon enlisting in the Army, Baker provides the background for the enemy offensive, discussing the role of Operation Lam Son 719 in Laos in 1971 that set the stage for what would follow in 1972. Following the somewhat uneven performance of the South Vietnamese ground forces in Laos, Hanoi decided to launch a new general offensive in 1972.
The author demonstrates how the North Vietnamese were able to achieve surprise when they attacked despite the fact that prior intelligence indicated the probability of such an attack. Baker describes how and why these indications were largely ignored, leaving the South Vietnamese forces and MACV stunned by the ferocity of the North Vietnamese attack that ensued. This was not an intelligence failure; there was sufficient intelligence predicting a major impending attack, but the intelligence was not deemed worthy by both the South Vietnamese commanders, who failed to act on the intelligence provided.
After discussing the intelligence available before the enemy attacks and how it was ignored, Baker provides a detailed description of the invasion that followed, focusing on the three main battles that occurred in the spring of 1972. The strength of this part of the book is the detailed account of enemy actions on the ground, particularly with regard to the invasion in Military Region I, which focused on Quang Tri.
This book is a well-written and extensively documented account by an intelligence insider who was there during the events described. It is a much-needed corrective to the narrative of a part of the Vietnam War that has received relatively little attention by most historians of the war. This is a book that is highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand what happened in the latter part of American involvement in the Vietnam War after most of the U.S. ground troops had withdrawn.
James H. Willbanks, PhD
Lieutenant Colonel, USA (Ret)
author of Abandoning Vietnam and A Raid Too Far