Viet Cong forces shelled central Phnom Penh for the first time on Friday (January 22).?
Viet Cong forces shelled central Phnom Penh for the first time on Friday (January 22). At the same time, the Cambodian capital's international airport was devastated by a commando attack, which decimated the country's air force.
At least 10 aircraft and four helicopters were destroyed in the attack. A further 20 aircraft were damaged.
The airport stands just outside the city astride Highway Four -- the capital's lifeline to the sea which has been the centre of fierce recent fighting. About 2,000 refugees poured into the capital from the airport as it was rocked by explosions.
Most of Cambodia's Mig-17 jets and T-28 propeller-driven fighter-bombers are based at the airport.
Reports of the attackers varied from "suicide squads" to a single unit of about a dozen commandos who overcame the airport guards and then systematically set about blowing up the aircraft.
They also knocked out a virtually unprotected army camp and a South Vietnamese ammunition dump just across the road from the airfield. About 40 Cambodians were estimated to have died in the attack.
The operation left Phnom Penh an isolated city. It marked a distinct change in Viet Cong strategy in striking at the capital itself -- and the success of the mission showed that Phnom Penh is poorly equipped to stop such raids.