Report from North Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi on the evening of 30 December 1966. The following afternoon I inspected bomb damage in Hanoi. This was the result of raids on 2, 13 and 14 December 1966. We were informed that some 450 bombs had been dropped altogether in the course of these attacks. The 2 December raid hit a doctor’s house near the centre of Hanoi by missile, injuring the doctor himself and severing the foot of a child. The 14 December raid damaged the Chinese Embassy, among others; it was possible to see the damage from outside the gates, but we had no opportunity to inspect at closer quarters. In the attack of 13 December an area of working-class housing in Hanoi was bombed: the area looked like a battlefield, and we were told 300-plus dwellings had been completely destroyed - certainly there was little that was habitable left standing, and the area was pitted with craters. We interviewed a number of local inhabitants and ascertained the nature of the raid; they said there had been four deaths and ten injuries, and that the bombs had exploded in the air before actually striking the ground.1

On 1 January 1967, we drove south, starting at an early hour, to inspect bomb damage in outlying population centres. The first step was Phu Ly, about sixty kilometres from Hanoi, and not far {120} south from road and rail bridges that have been frequently bombed. Once a thriving town, it is now almost completely destroyed, having suffered eight raids up to the time of my visit. The main street and market were smashed flat, and among destroyed buildings I made out a church, a school and a pagoda. The water-control dam had obviously been bombed, and craters, as yet unfilled, were obvious near by. We were told that total casualties in Phu Ly were eleven dead and twenty-nine wounded.

Next stop was Nam Dinh, formerly an important textile city of some 93,000 inhabitants. Repeated bombing had, however, led to mass evacuation and dispersal of industry. US bombing had commenced on 22 May 1965, and up to the end of November 1966 there had been, we were told, 641 air raids, using some 4,930 bombs of various kinds. We inspected the damage, which included new workers’ flats, kindergarten and schools. We agreed that much of the damage to wood and brickwork was consistent with the use of fragmentation bombs. We looked at Hang Thao Street, which had been subjected to a sudden and savage surprise attack on 14 April 1966, killing forty-nine people and wounding over 100. It had been the busiest street in town, but had been largely evacuated. We interviewed a thirty-three-year-old mother, Tram Ahi Mai, three of whose six children had been killed in the 14 April raid - one of them a babe in arms. While we were in Nam Dinh there was a ten-minute air-raid alert, from about 9.55 A.M. till about 10.5 A.M. Note that this was during the New Year truce.2 Planes approached but then veered off. We were told that they had not been reconnaissance planes. We scrambled over the rubble of what had been busy commercial streets. I noticed a good many rats among the ruins; this, one presumes, is something of a public health menace.

Since we were in the vicinity of Nam Phong village, and it had been bombed the previous day (31 December 1966) at 5.10 A.M. - just fifty minutes before the truce came into effect - we proceeded to it. It looked as if the dikes had been the target here. The local people interviewed claimed that there had been ‘many’ (some said twelve) raids on the dikes. Appreciating the dangers of breached {121} or weakened dikes the people - everybody in the village it appeared - were toiling to make good the damage. We saw the corpse of an eighteen-year-old boy whose head had been sliced open by a bomb fragment. Three others had been killed - the husband and two children of a family of whom mother and baby remained. We also interviewed an orphan who had been living with his grandmother, also killed in this raid. Much damage had been inflicted upon the flimsy wood and thatch huts and outbuildings of the village. There wasn’t a possible military target within miles, as far as we could see. There were, as always and everywhere in North Vietnam, bridges, but in the immediate neighbourhood of Nam Phong none but flimsy bamboo pontoon-type constructions, obviously unsuited to military traffic. The only conclusion open to me is that the target here in Nam Phong was the dikes, with the intention of weakening and/or breaching them so that when the rains come later in the year serious flooding and inundation of the crops will occur.

After lunching at Nam Dinh, we pressed on south to Phat Diem in Ninh Binh province. All the way from Hanoi we had been able to observe the extent of damage to communications systems, and my conclusion was that attacks on bridges, roads and railways had had their military purpose frustrated completely by the initiative and improvisations of the Vietnamese. This might conceivably account for the apparent extension of bombing bit by bit to more and more blatantly civilian targets - including targets well off the main north-south communications routes - such as Phat Diem.

Phat Diem has been described by some US reports as a ‘naval base’. It is clear on the ground that it is nothing of the sort, and it must unquestionably be clear as well, that it is not from the air. The town is in the heart of a Roman Catholic area, as is clear from the large number of spires which decorate the landscape. It seemed to me that Phat Diem had been subjected to a pretty systematic attempt to flatten all modern-looking stone and brick buildings. This seemed to be the pattern of the bomb runs, along the line of the main street. We inspected a number of churches. The first had been attacked and badly damaged in a raid on 10 July 1966. Across the river another had been completely smashed flat, so that the grounds seemed to me to be just a pattern of {122} water-filled craters. It was interesting to see that attempts were being made to make the best of a bad job by growing vegetables on bomb sites (and on the roofs of air-raid shelters). This second church was said to have taken something like forty-eight bombs in all. The third church, the biggest of the ones we saw, had been badly damaged as far as we could see examining its exterior façade: Mass was in progress, and we did not enter. My conclusions about Phat Diem are roughly as follows. There are no local military targets (if one excludes the fishing boats and the bridges). No main road runs through Phat Diem, and the road which does go through the town runs east-west not north-south. There is no railway and no industry in the region. It is a fairly prosperous agricultural town, which used to be well-known for its handicrafts, especially basket-work. The main access bridge looked to me too flimsy for heavy military traffic. Bombing, therefore, would seem to have no reason but terrorism of the population. This is a comparatively densely populated area, with 5,700 people in two square kilometres. What had prevented much heavier casualties was obviously the intensive shelter-building programme, combined with strict discipline associated with taking shelter as soon as the alert sounded. We were informed that total fatal casualties in more than fifty raids on Phat Diem had been in the region of 100. But seventy-two of these had been suffered during the course of one sneak raid on the fourth church we visited; this raid, on 24 April 1966, had caught a congregation on the point of leaving after a service, and it had been the first raid of the long series.

On 3 January, I spent the day considering evidence of the bombing of hospitals, the use of fragmentation bombs, and the nature of civilian casualties. The morning was spent at the Department of Health building, where we heard testimony and interviewed doctors and others who had been eye-witnesses of American raids on hospitals and sanatoria. We interviewed Dr Oai, who witnessed the repeated bombing of Quynh Lap leprosorium. The first raid occurred at 8 P.M. on 12 June 1965, the planes flying over and then returning to drop twenty-four bombs and fire missiles. A night nurse was wounded. The following morning, all patients had been evacuated, but at 1.45 P.M. on 13 June 1965, when some of the patients had returned, large numbers of US planes came over {123} and bombed and strafed the hospital in turn. The centre was demolished completely. In the following few days, the Americans returned again and again until the sanatorium had been completely destroyed. The raids of 12-21 June 1965 were reported to have killed 140 patients in all. Dr Oai was moved to another hospital, while the remaining patients were dispersed to a variety of institutions. We also interviewed three other eye-witnesses - a man Hoang-Sinh, who had been wounded in one of the raids, Duong Thi Lien and Vu Thanh Mui, two women. These corroborated the testimony of Dr Oai in respect of the most important details - i.e. the height of the planes, the fact that the bombs were followed up by strafing of the patients and staff as they sought shelter. Dr Oai, in response to questions, asserted that there had been ‘at least seven’ low-flying reconnaissance flights before the first bombings. The implication is, of course, that the Americans must have known what the target at Quynh Lap was.

We also interviewed a patient at the time of the June raids, Nguyen Van Ang. whose testimony again corroborated the evidence of the others. I asked the North Vietnamese present whether they had any admissions from captured American airmen that they had actually been briefed to bomb Quynh Lap, knowing it to be a leprosorium. They said they would inquire about this, but I never heard any more about it. It seemed to me that some such evidence from the US side would absolutely clinch the argument. As it is, I am sure the weight of evidence now available affords strong grounds for indicting the Americans of deliberate bombing of hospitals. The point about what the US pilots were told in their briefing meetings is, however, an important point upon which, I hope, further evidence will become available.

In the afternoon of 3 January 1967, we visited St Paul’s Surgical Hospital, Hanoi. The surgeon-in-charge introduced the hospital, and said we would be seeing victims of US bombing of Hanoi and neighbourhood. Many wounded, he explained, had been evacuated, but the worst injured had to be kept there for expert attention. He and two other doctors took us through the details of a number of cases, showed us X-rays, showed us some victims nearing discharge, and finally showed us round some of the patients in bed. I quote from my notebook: {124}

Victims of the raid of 13 December 1966 [presumably on Hanoi - M.C.], a girl of six years - Vu Thi Hanh - and her brother - Vu Hong Nguyen - of four years. The mother had been killed in a raid on the south of North Vietnam. The girl had suffered a skull fracture, but had been cured and evacuated; the boy had had an arm fracture.
A baby of ten months, Le Dinh Lap, injured on the same day at the same place. Feet injuries. Also a splinter entered just below the eyebrow and lodged in the skull. Has been operated upon, and is considered satisfactory, despite a remaining fragment. Found beside his dead mother. The father was absent at the time. Older siblings had fortunately been evacuated.

Ngo Van Phu - fragment caused bleeding in the brain, operated upon, and now in good health.
Nguyen Thi Thanh - another case of fragment injury. Also operated on and saved (ten months old).
Nguyen Thuan - pellets from an anti-personnel fragmentation bomb in the skull - hit fifty kms. north of Hanoi - at Vinh Phuc.
Nguyen Quang, a school-boy of twelve years, also at Vinh Phuc. Fragment entered the temple region and produced severe damage to the eyes - yet another fragmentation bomb victim.

The surgeon-in-chief interrupted at this point to speak more generally about fragmentation bombs. He stressed that the fragments are particularly dangerous lodging in the skull, menacing not only the life but also the intelligence of the children if they survive. They continually threaten abscesses. They violate the Geneva Conventions. Victims are horribly mutilated. The objectives of US bombing, he said, are the populated areas, and mothers and children are the most frequent victims. These tiny fragments from fragmentation bombs, he said, cause permanent mutilation. The seriousness of the injuries is caused by the force of the explosion of each container (300 in each ‘mother’ bomb) and by the smallness of the fragments.

Dr Dang Hung Khanh, a traumatologist, took over, and took us through a number of cases of bad burning and more fragmentation-bomb victims. He had several cases of fragmentation bomb damage from Gia Lam province, near Hanoi, and from Van Dien, about ten kilometres south of Hanoi. He stressed in general that the fragments are dangerous because they travel very low, so that even those who throw themselves on the ground can be badly hit. {125}

I am not a medical doctor, and so must leave evaluation of the cases from that point of view to others better qualified. But the sheer number of fragmentation bomb victims we saw at the St Paul’s Surgical Hospital, Hanoi, fits in with the impression we had from other evidence about the frequency of their employment by the Americans in North Vietnam. One can corroborate in various ways, all of which we did. First, one can inspect bombed buildings for characteristic marks. Second, one can interview local eye-witnesses of raids. Third, one can examine fragments of bomb-casing and unexploded or recovered bombs in situ. The impression that builds up is unmistakable and unavoidable in its implications - namely that the United States is deliberately, consistently and methodically employing fragmentation bombs - a specifically anti-personnel weapon - throughout North Vietnam.

We inspected some of the patients and confirmed on inspection what had been said about them as cases. We heard their own stories of how they had been injured. I quote one typical interview from my notebook:

We interview another patient, Nguyen thi Thanh (ten months), through the mother Ngo thi Ky (29), Hoang Hanh Street, Hanoi, 1/2 km. from Hanoi central market. ‘At noon on the 13th [December -M.C.] I went to work. At 3 P.M. there was bombing and I hastened to rejoin my household, but everything was destroyed; but baby had been sent to hospital, and the baby was wounded [burned?]. I went to the hospital; the baby’s brain was sticking out of his head. I thank the doctors very much who looked after my baby. Our house was completely burned down, and the neighbouring house all [too]. When the bombs fell, I was at the small lake.’ ‘Did you see the planes?’ ‘I took shelter, but saw the planes come in. When I am at work, neighbours look after the baby - in the raid they were lightly wounded. It was doctors and nurses who removed the child to hospital.’ The doctor commented that a fragment in the head originally caused left-sided paralysis, but that this had gone.

Afterwards, we toured one or two wards, and I was appalled at some of the terrible injuries to patients from fragmentation bombs. The only limitation on our compilation of cases was obviously the amount of time at our disposal. In the hospital were cases of fragmentation-bomb damage to people living both in Hanoi, and the north, south, east and west of it. In other words, it {126} would appear that these weapons are used regularly throughout North Vietnam.

On Wednesday, 4 January, we visited the Hanoi War Crimes Investigating Committee, to be briefed on the American raids on Hanoi and suburbs. An interesting point to which I would draw attention, in connexion with what I had to say about the hospital evidence, is that the Hanoi Committee estimated that so far fragmentation bombs had outnumbered other types of bombs in a ratio of greater than 6:1. We inspected fragments of recovered bombs and other visible and tangible evidence of this from the Hanoi area.

We went on to visit Tu Ky hamlet in the village of Hoang Liet, in the suburbs of Hanoi. We interviewed Nguyen Thi San, an elderly woman of fifty-seven; she described the 2 December 1966 raid, explaining how the US planes ‘dive-bombed and strafed’. The school here is a ruin, the ground pitted with many bomb craters. All round this agricultural hamlet the ground is ploughed up with water-filled bomb craters, like a miniature Ypres or Passchendaele. There is no military target in sight. The Tu Ky pagoda also badly damaged.

We then visited Phu Xa, in the suburbs again of Hanoi. It was completely destroyed in the course of a raid on 13 August 1966. It has since been rebuilt. The hamlet grows mulberry for silk. There are now deep trenches and shelters everywhere, because many people died (twenty-four) and many others were wounded (twenty-three) during the first attack, in which fragmentation bombs predominated. We saw a large fragment of bomb case, clearly stamped ‘Loading date 7/66’ and marked with its weight ‘139 lbs.’ There is a village memorial, with many relics and artefacts of the raid. Besides human casualties, the people of the village have recorded the destruction caused to crops, farm animals, etc.

On Friday, 6 January, we attended the press conference of the visiting Japanese delegation, whose report will be submitted independently to the International War Crimes Tribunal. This was interrupted by an air-raid alert lasting about fifteen minutes. (I had twice before this, and once more subsequently, to take shelter during alerts; the last one, later this day, was accompanied by fairly heavy anti-aircraft fire, but I did not record any bombs {127} falling. The Japanese had been bombed, and had brought back some interesting evidence of the use of napalm, etc.

Early on Saturday, 7 January, I left Hanoi by plane for Phnom Penh.

NOTES

  1. The raid of 14 December 1966 badly damaged a trade-union school and nearby workers’ housing, only completed a few years ago. This is a site about four kilometres from the mile-long bridge spanning the Red River. Here we were told there had been two deaths and seven wounded.Back
  2. We were told that Ninh Binh town had been bombed at 10 A.M. on 31 December 1966 - in contradiction of the New Year cease-fire. Twenty people were reported killed and wounded.Back
Author: 
Malcolm Caldwell
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