World: Victory at Kannack
Camp Kannack stands on the crest of a gentle hillock near the midfield stripe of South Viet Nam, balanced like a football waiting for the kickoff. From the Kannack compound and its adjacent dirt airstrip, some 400 American and montagnard defenders oversee dense jungle, slippery slopes and the crumpled folds of ravines ideally suited for enemy mortar attack. A single ribbon of road leads south toward embattled Route 19, the east-west highway where government convoys are frequent prey for Viet Cong ambushes. Last week the Communists hit Kannack.
The Viet Cong waited until a thick layer of rain cloud covered the mountain crests around Kannack. Insured against U.S. jet attacks, they struck, nearly 1,000 strong, at the camp's north, south and east flanks. Dozens of assault squads in black shorts and green kerchiefs of parachute silk slipped up to the barbed-wire perimeter carrying Bangalore torpedoes. There followed bangs galore.
Wives & Desperation. Then shock troops dragged wicker baskets full of grenades and ammo through holes blown in the wire, knocked out a sandbagged bunker on Kannack's northeast corner with one shot from a 57-mm. recoilless rifle, then blasted through the camp's bloody southeast angle to carry a string of defensive bunkers. All told, Kannack's defenders lost 33 dead and 27 wounded—most of them in the first assault.
But the mountain men—a mixture of Hrey, Bahnar, Rhade and Muong tribals —dug in and held. As they turned their mortars on their own overrun positions, their women carted ammunition into the trenches and fed belts into the clatter ing machine guns. It was a grim sort of togetherness, born of desperation. "I think the montagnards fought well because most had their families with them," said an American adviser. "These people are ruthless when it comes to life or death. One guy was in a bunker, completely cut off, and the V.C. called on him to surrender. He told them to go to hell and ran down the hill."
End of the Trail. Demoralized, the Viet Cong drew back. In the morning light, more than 100 Communist dead dangled on the wire, some clutching grenades and belts of unburnt ammunition. They belonged to the battle-hardened 580th and 801st Viet Cong battalions, and the dead carried new, Communist-bloc weapons—tying the guerrillas to outside supplies of ammunition and spare parts—a sure sign of Communist confidence in ultimate victory.
Many of the Communist dead at Kannack had been wounded earlier, probably during U.S. jet strikes on Viet Cong positions along Route 19 last month. Some had been nipped by the ''Lazy Dog," a new U.S. anti-personnel bomb that explodes 30 yds. above the ground, spewing tiny fléchettes (steel darts) over a block-square area. Among the dead was a young North Vietnamese lieutenant named Ngo. In his diary, he told of the arduous trip down the long Ho Chi Minh trail that began last November. It ended last week on the barbed wire before Kannack. "My life is very hard," he wrote. "There is not enough to eat, and all the time the planes bomb me."
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