Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The great battle to liberate Phnom Penh

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 22, June 5, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Third in a series of articles by The Call’s delegation which recently returned from Democratic Kampuchea

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“I left Phnom Penh for the guerrilla base in 1968, not to return until April 17, 1975, when our liberation forces entered the city. On that day, I was greatly moved; I knew that our victory had finally solved the problem of equality for the people.”

These were the words of a veteran guerrilla fighter, just 32 years old, as he told us of the great offensive which finally liberated Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia) from the U.S. imperialists and their Lon Nol puppets. Today, an active member of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, this man spent the better part of an afternoon describing to us U.S. imperialism’s last days in his country.

His story begins at 1:00 A.M. on January 1, 1975–the exact moment when the liberation army opened fire in a final, nationwide offensive that brought total victory. But before we begin, a few words are necessary about the previous five years of Kampuchea’s national liberation war.

People’s war had been spreading throughout the country even before the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat in March of 1970 and the subsequent U.S. invasion in May. The Revolutionary Army, led by the Communist Party of Kampuchea, had liberated 80% of the countryside as early as 1973. By the time the final offensive was launched, Lon Nol’s puppet armies held only Phnom Penh and the major provincial capitals.

U.S. military “advisers” in charge of Lon Nol’s army could not understand the reasons for their rapidly deteriorating situation. They knew that the guerrilla forces were small and poorly equipped–it was not unusual for several fighters to have to share a single rifle. And unparalleled B-52 bombing had reduced much of the liberated areas to a devastated landscape not unlike the moon. So how, the Pentagon strategists asked, could these guerrillas survive, let alone win victory after victory?

The answer lay in the fact that the whole population of Kampuchea, with few exceptions, hated the fascist regime of Lon Nol and opposed U.S. domination of their country. From the remotest villages to the very heart of Lon Nol’s stronghold in Phnom Penh, the people joined in a mass patriotic effort led by the Communist Party, to feed, supply, support and fight with the army of national liberation. By January I, 1975, victory was close at hand.

“Our Party had decided to take over Phnom Penh and destroy the enemy once and for all.” our host told us. “But in order to do this, we first had to capture the Mekong River and cut off all the supplies to Lon Nol’s forces. Our Central Committee understood that the Mekong River was the key to victory.

“Some at first doubted whether this strategy would work,” our host added. “They asked, ’How can you capture the capital without first taking the smaller, provincial cities?”

“But while we applied the strategy and tactics of people’s war in general developed by Mao Tsetung in China, we also made our own concrete application. Our Central Committee analyzed the situation and decided that we could take Phnom Penh first. If we did that, enemy forces would collapse nationwide.”


At this time, the liberation army was massed about 15 miles outside the capital. The U.S. and Lon Nol, however, misunderstood the situation. They expected an attack to come from the northwest with the objective of capturing Pochentong Airport and cutting off that supply link.

“When we launched our offensive on the Mekong from the southwest,’’ said our host, “Lon Nol was taken completely by surprise. He had concentrated his main forces to defend Pochentong, and was therefore unprepared. Even so, the enemy still had powerful strongholds on the Mekong which we had to destroy.

“We thought it would take one month to cut off river traffic, but we succeeded by January 15. The most important battle was at Neak Luong, a key marine and naval base about 12 miles from Phnom Penh.”

The enemy at Neak Luong actually occupied positions on the west and east banks of the Mekong. The Revolutionary Army, with only one combined division of 8,000 fighters, first captured the west bank, then crossed the river to attack the main stronghold. Lon Nol’s forces were much superior in men and equipment. The fighting was fierce. “The enemy threw all kinds of weapons against us,” he said. “They had 105 and 155 millimeter artillery, F-l 11 and T-28 fighter bombers, and the best in mortar and small arms. All we had were a couple of 105s that we captured, some homemade mines, and, of course, our rifles. Almost all our rifles we had captured from the enemy in earlier battles.

“Marine reinforcements were even sent in from Phnom Penh,” our host continued. But by January 15, the last enemy troops fled or were killed. All together, we estimate they lost 20 men to every one of our fighters killed.”

With Neak Luong now in the hands of the Revolutionary Army, most of the river traffic was cut off. But the fighting on the Mekong was not yet over. The liberation army still had to capture each and every enemy outpost up the Mekong to Phnom Penh to ensure complete control of the river and thus sever the umbilical cord that kept the regime alive.

By April 1, the Mekong River was definitively liberated. On that-day; Lon Nol the man who was put into power by the CIA, the man who helped the U.S. murder 800,000 of his countrymen fled with all the gold bars he could carry.


“After the Mekong was ours,” our friend went on, “we shifted the direction of our attack to come from the northwest. Our objective was to cut off the remaining supplies which the U.S. was airlifting in through Pochentong; Enemy morale at this time was nearly broken, but they still had a strong force defending the airport.

“Instead of waging a costly battle at Pochentong,” he continued, “we skirted the airport and captured the road connection between Pochentong and the capital. It amounted to the same thing as seizing the airport because now all the relations between Phnom Penh and the outside world were severed.”

That was April 12, 1975. What was the result of this victory?

“U.S. Ambassador John Gunther Dean fled our country that day with his American flag under his arm. The whole world saw the ’mighty’ U.S. imperialists fleeing for their lives in disgrace.”

Meanwhile, inside the capital, the rumble of artillery and the crack of small arms fire could now be heard as small-scale battles raged for three more days and nights.

“By April 15,” the fighter continued, “the last organized units of the enemy collapsed. The top generals in Phnom Penh’s War Room fled in a waiting helicopter.”

We visited this War Room, preserved exactly as it was found when liberation forces entered the city. There, we saw room after room of charts and maps from which the U.S. “advisers” directed the war. Although the imperialists knew the exact size, strength and location of all Revolutionary Army regiments, they were unable to prevent their own defeat.

Finally, at 9:00 A.M. April 17, 1975, young men and women fighters of the Revolutionary Army entered Phnom Penh. The war for national liberation had ended in victory. The Kampuchean nation had regained its soul!

“At first everything was quiet,” our friend recalled. “Then, the people began streaming out into the streets to welcome us. Everywhere they were waving red flags and shouting the shouts of a liberated people.”

We asked him what his thoughts were on that momentous day. He paused for a minute, obviously trying to figure out how to explain his feelings at that time. Then he told us:

“It had a great impact on me. You see, in the old society, I was only a pedicab driver (a bicycle-pulled carriage), and I had no future. 1 knew nothing about patriotism, about socialism, or about how to bring equality and progress to our people. But the Party opened my eyes.

“So that morning, I thought that I was very fortunate to have taken part in the revolution. The revolution had educated me and millions like me and taught us how to liberate our motherland. Now, we had victory. Surely, I thought, it is a great honor to be in the revolution!”