Airfield Pochentong. Soldiers carry ammunition unloaded from an airplane
The capture of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 was, of course, the greatest triumph of the Khmer Rouge in all of them. history. On this day, they turned from partisans into the ruling organization and power in Cambodia, which they renamed Democratic Kampuchea.
However, the battles for Phnom Penh themselves (the Khmers pronounce this name a little differently: Pnompin) were very poorly reflected in the literature. So much so that there may be a false impression that the Khmer Rouge allegedly had no problems, just entered the city without resistance and began to commit outrage there.
My research in this topic also showed that the history of the last day of Phnom Penh (meaning the Republican Phnom Penh) is more complex and interesting than is commonly believed. The sources were: the same Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times and the book of the former chief of the General Staff of the Khmer Republic, Lieutenant General Sat Sutsakan.
For Singapore, these were important events that took place very close to them, across the Gulf of Thailand. Reds were everywhere: in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Thailand, in Malaysia, and even Singapore itself had enough of its Maoists. It was very important for them to know whether the “red tide” would be limited to southeastern Indochina or to move on to them, which depended, in particular, on the important issue of when to sell out property and go to Europe.
General Sutsakan was the chief of the General Staff in the last days of the defense of Phnom Penh and fled the city at the very last moment. He is the highest ranking witness to these events. The memories of the Khmer Rouge are unknown to me, and it’s hard to even say if they exist at all.
Lieutenant General Sat Sutsakan returned to Phnom Penh at the most suitable time, February 20, 1975, and returned from New York, where he participated in the 29th UN General Assembly as part of the delegation of the Khmer Republic. Three weeks later, on March 12, 1975, he was appointed chief of the General Staff of the Khmer Republic.
At this time, the fighting took place within a radius of about 15 km from Phnom Penh. In the north-west, in Khmer Krom, there was the 7th division, in the west, 10 km from the Pochentong airfield, along the highway No. 4 in Bek Chan, there were parts of the 3rd division. In the south, in Takmau, along the highway No. 1 and along the Bassak River, the 1st Division defended itself. To the east of Phnom Penh was the Mekong, where the positions were defended by a parachute brigade and local auxiliary units.
The Mekong, which has long been an important transport artery connecting Phnom Penh with South Vietnam, was already lost by this time. The Khmer Rouge blocked the movement of ships along the river in January 1975. On January 30, the last ship arrived in the city. In early February, the Khmer Rouge captured the left (eastern) shore of the Mekong River directly opposite the capital, but by February 10 they were knocked out of there. In mid-February 1975, the Khmer Marines attempted to open a message on the Mekong, but failed to do so. Thus, since February 1975, the city has been surrounded, and the only thread connecting it with the Allies was the Pochentong airfield, on which transport planes that delivered ammunition, rice, fuel landed. In early February 1975, the Khmer Rouge attempted to storm the airfield, which was repelled with great damage to them.
On March 9, 1975, the Khmer Rouge attacked the positions of the 7th division in Prek Phneu, 19 km from Phnom Penh, but even then their attacks were repelled.
The city was, according to rough estimates, about 3 million people, mostly refugees. The capital was subjected to rocket attacks; since January 20, water and electricity have been cut off in most of Phnom Penh. Military supplies of fuel were available for 30 days, ammunition for 40 days, and rice for 50 days. True, reporters mentioned that the Lonnol soldiers hardly received any food and therefore ate human beings from the corpses of the Khmer Rouge they had killed.
It was a fierce war. That is the reason for the stubbornness of the Lonnol soldiers. In the photo military dependent - children of soldiers next to a stack of boxes with shells to a 105-mm howitzer; the wives and children of the soldiers were in position with them, and therefore the Lonnol soldiers fought primarily for their families
The number of opposing parties is now almost impossible to determine any exact. Khmer Rouge was 25-30 thousand people. Lonnolovsky soldiers were in the capital of the order of 10-15 thousand, not counting garrisons in other cities. But it is definitely impossible to say, the command of the Lonnol forces itself did not have exact numbers; headquarters documentation, of course, disappeared.
The Khmer Rouge in anticipation of an imminent victory attacked in different places, gradually shaking the defense of the capital. At the end of March, they again managed to capture the left bank of the Mekong opposite Phnom Penh, from where rocket attacks began on March 27.
On the morning of April 2, 1975, Marshal Lon Nol and his family flew by helicopter to the Pochentong airfield, where he was waiting for the plane. On it, the head of the Khmer Republic flew to Bali, formally making a visit to Indonesia. Then he moved to Hawaii, where he bought a villa for the money taken in Phnom Penh.
The Khmer Rouge gradually squeezed the forces of the 7th Division on the northern flank of the defense of Phnom Penh; there was a threat of a breakthrough. According to the Singapore newspaper, it seems that even the Khmer Rouge made a breakthrough, but this information was inaccurate. On April 4, 1975, a counterattack was carried out, in which about 500 soldiers, M113 armored personnel carriers and aircraft, which managed to fill the gap in defense, participated. True, Sutsakan writes that the last reserves were thrown onto the northern flank, which were destroyed in a few hours of intense battle. Whether he meant this counterattack mentioned in the newspaper, or some other fights, is not clear.
Apparently, Sutsakan was right that the reserves were no longer there, the defense was falling apart before our eyes. By April 11, 1975, the Khmer Rouge pushed east part of the 3rd division so that the fighting went 350 meters from the strip of Pochentong airfield. The northern flank collapsed, and already on April 12 the Khmer Rouge began to shell the city from 81-mm mortars.
The Phnom Penh defense scheme in late March - early April 1975: 1 - an approximate perimeter of defense in mid-March 1975; 2 - an approximate line of defense on April 11-13, 1975; 3 - an approximate line of defense on the morning of April 16, 1975. Blue badges: Lon Nol army, red - Khmer Rouge forces
April 13, 1975, Monivong Boulevard. This is a long boulevard going from the Monivong bridge in the south of the city to the Japanese bridge in the north through the entire center. Smoke on the horizon rises above the burning ammunition depot on highway 5
On April 13, President of the Khmer Republic Saukam Hoi fled from Phnom Penh along with his associates in 36 helicopters. The U.S. Embassy followed suit. The last plane landed in Pochentong was taken by the embassy staff, and after it there were no more planes.
In the early morning of April 14, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took the airfield. The time can be set fairly accurately, as Sutsakan writes that at 10:45 a government building was bombed; two 250-pound bombs exploded 20 yards from the building in which it is located. The American journalist Sydney Shanberg also mentions this blow. The bombs were dropped by the T-28 Trojan, captured by the Khmer Rouge in Pochentong, along with a pilot and ground personnel. It took some time to persuade the pilot to become the first pilot of Democratic Kampuchea, to prepare the departure, to take off himself. So we can assume that the Khmer Rouge took the airfield no later than 8 a.m. on April 14, 1975.
After lunch, according to Sutsakan, the news came that the Khmer Rouge had knocked out the 1st division from Takmau. Phnom Penh's defense was completely destroyed.
The rest of the day on April 14, night and all day on April 15, 1975, there were battles on the outskirts of the city. Apparently, the battles were very stubborn. Even on foot you can walk from Pochentong to the center of Phnom Penh in 3-4 hours, and the Khmer Rouge in a day and a half reached only the outskirts of the capital. They were held back by defense and counterattacks, and every step to the capital cost them blood. Only in the evening of April 15, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered the western sector of Phnom Penh and started street fighting.
April 15, 1975: Lonnol troops north of the Tuol Cork region (west of Phnom Penh); Khmer Rouge advancing from the northwest, from the side of the railway
The shelling set fire to a vast area lined with wooden houses along the banks of the Bassak River, not far from Monirong Bridge. The night of April 16, 1975 was bright: residential areas were burning, then an army warehouse with fuel and ammunition caught fire and exploded.
By the morning of April 16, the Khmer Rouge captured the entire western sector of Phnom Penh and besieged Queen's University, which had been turned into a strong point. The Lonnol troops occupied the sector of the capital, from north to south, about 5 km long and 3 km wide from west to east. They had nowhere to retreat. On three sides were the Khmer Rouge, and behind them was the Mekong, followed by the Khmer Rouge.
The suburbs of Phnom Penh were still that place. It is therefore not surprising that the Khmer Rouge tried to break into the city along the main roads
Fire in urban areas and the flight of residents. The photo was taken, obviously, in the evening of April 15, 1975.
The main efforts of the Khmer Rouge on April 16 focused on the assault from the south. At night, in the southern sector, on the outskirts, as follows from the last report of Sydney Shanberg, there was a continuous battle, mortar shelling. Lonnolovtsy threw their M113s into battle, and the Khmer Rouge fired direct-fire missiles and set fire to houses. In the morning, the Khmer Rouge managed to break through the defenses and cross the Bassak River over the United Nations Bridge. After that, they began to make their way along Preah Norodom Boulevard towards the presidential palace. At noon on April 16, an S-46 aircraft circled over Phnom Penh, aimed at transporting foreign journalists who remained in the city. The pilot negotiated on the walkie-talkie with reporters sitting in the Le Phnom hotel, but could not land. A photograph was taken from his side, in which smoke was clearly visible over the battle areas.
Yes, this was far from a triumphant entry into the city for the Khmer Rouge; they had to fight for every street and every house. Fights went all day and all night from April 16 to April 17, 1975. Command of the Lonnol forces was virtually no longer there; units and units fought according to their own understanding. In any case, Sat Sutsakan did not write anything about these battles in his book. However, as can be seen from subsequent events, the battles went on all night and even in the morning, breaking up into battles for individual positions and houses.
Last day of Phnom Penh: assault on April 16, 1975. 1 - Queen's University; 2 - Radio Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Information of the Khmer Republic; 3 - Olympic stadium, from which General Sutsakan flew off on the morning of April 17; 4 - presidential palace
Around midnight, the Prime Minister of the Khmer Republic, Long Boret, Sutsakan, and several other leaders sent a telegram to Beijing to Sihanouk with a peace proposal. They awaited an answer, deliberated and decided what they would do next. They had plans to create a government in exile, to continue resistance, but the circumstances were already stronger than them. Heavy night At 5:30 a.m. on April 17, they were still conferring at the Prime Minister’s house, deciding to fight. At 6 a.m. an answer came from Beijing: Sihanouk rejected their offer.
The war is lost. Khmer Rouge is on the way, there will be no peace, no opportunities for resistance. Sutsakan writes that he and Prime Minister Long Boret were sitting at his house on April 8 at about 17 a.m. and were silent, awaiting a denouement. She was unexpected. General Thach Reng appeared in the house, who invited them to fly; he remained with special forces and several helicopters. Then they went to the Olympic stadium of Phnom Penh, where there was a landing site. After some fuss with the engine at 8:30 a helicopter with Sutsakan on board took off and an hour later arrived in Kompong Thom. There were troops still resisting the Khmer Rouge. In the afternoon, the helicopter flew to the area of the Cambodian-Thai border. The general flew away last; The prime minister, who wished to transfer to another helicopter, could fly away and was later arrested by the Khmer Rouge.
At about 9 a.m. on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized the whole city. Captured Brigadier General May Sichang at 9.30 in the morning on Radio Phnom Penh gave the order to surrender and lay down weapon. The Khmer Rouge Command is located in the building of the Ministry of Information. The Singapore newspaper published the name of the first red commandant of the city - Hem Ket Dara, calling him a general. However, this was hardly a major commander, because he is not mentioned in any other source.
Surrendering Lonnol Soldiers
Consequences of victory
The victory of the Khmer Rouge was, of course, triumphant. They did not deny themselves the pleasure of celebrating the victory and already in the afternoon of April 17 staged a rally with banners.
Triumphant winners and Phnom Penh residents greeting them
But the victory was inconclusive. Clashes with groups and groups of soldiers who did not want to surrender flared up in the capital. Some of the Lonnol soldiers escaped from the city and joined the anti-communist troops. One can imagine what kind of people they were: those who were ready to fight the Communists to the last bullet and devour meat from the corpses of the murdered Communists. Already in June 1975, Uncle Sihanouk, Brigadier-General Prince Norodom Chandrangsal led anti-communist detachments, numbering about 2 thousand people, who fought in the Phnom Penh region, in the provinces of Compongspa and Swirieng. There were other anti-communist groups. The Khmer Rouge needed a whole dry season from October 1975 to May 1976 to defeat these units and basically end the resistance.
As for the well-known eviction of the inhabitants of Phnom Penh, it is explained by the fact that for the entire mass of the population that accumulated in it there was not enough rice and water. On May 5, 1975, a Singapore newspaper reported that people were drinking water from air conditioners and eating leather goods: signs of acute thirst and acute hunger. This is not surprising in view of the long blockade of the city, the expenditure and destruction of rice stocks, as well as the destruction of water supply. The Khmer Rouge did not have vehicles to provide the city with food. Therefore, to drive the population to rice and water was a very reasonable decision. At the same time, the deserted capital became more secure. Moreover, a ban on entry into Phnom Penh was imposed; only workers from the surrounding villages were brought into the city. But even with such security measures in the capital, the Khmer Rouge was far from always calm.
This information allows only in the most general terms to restore the circumstances of the battle for Phnom Penh. However, they also show that the last day of Phnom Penh was not at all what it is often imagined.