SAIGON, Jan. 31, 1968 (UPI)-Allied aircraft dive-bombed and strafed Viet Cong positions on the edge of Saigon today as the guerrillas continued to fight after raids on the U.S. Embassy, the Tan Son Nhut airbase and five hotels housing American officials a The Viet Cong also struck from one end of South Vietnam to the other in a bloody offensive.
U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker said that Saigon, a city of 2,000,000, was secure and that none of the Viet Cong attacks had been successful. He said Communist losses were "enormously heavy" and "we have taken an enormous number of prisoners."
But as he said so snipers were firing on the headquarters of Gen. William C. Westmoreland and heavy fighting continued around Independence Palace.
South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu said the situation was under control but getting more serious.
Thieu declared a nation-wide curfew and martial law, which meant suspension of the new constitution and steps toward some form of nation-wide mobilization. He ordered evacuation of some city areas infested by the Viet Cong, who were wearing army uniforms with red armbands.
As Thieu spoke, U.S. helicopter gunships strafed the Viet Cong within 400 yards of Gen. Westmoreland's "Pentagon East" headquarters at the airbase. South Vietnamese Skyraiders dive-bombed the guerrillas on the fringe of the base, where the fighting was the heaviest.
Casualty figures in Saigon were incomplete but were expected to number hundreds on each side. One report said that nearly 3,000 guerrillas were killed yesterday and today in fighting elsewhere and that 40 Americans were killed and 100 wounded in the northern part of South Vietnam.
According to reports reaching here, the Reds seized radio stations and headquarter buildings in dozens of towns and cities they proclaimed they were "liberating."
Among areas hit were Pieiku, Kontum and Ban Me Thot. Three battalions of Viet Cong -- up to 1,800 men -- overran Ban Me Thuot at dusk and heavy fighting was underway.
The Viet Cong also captured the village of Nam O just outside Da Nang, seized the citadel in the heart of Hue, 40 miles below the border, and struck at the town of Can Tho, 70 miles below Saigon.
The American air base at Bien Hoa also was hit and there was heavy fighting at Quang Tri.
President Johnson was being kept informed of the progress of the Communist offensive, the greatest they ever have mounted.
One of the most dramatic incidents in the Saigon battle occurred when the guerrillas occupied an unfinished eight-story apartment house and fired rifles and mortars at U.S. military police in the street.
Two of the Americans were slain and their buddies stormed into the building and shot down the guerrillas. Four Viet Cong bodies were dragged out and one was placed at each corner of the building.
Radio Moscow boasted about the Viet Cong "successes" and claimed that the
U.S. airbase at Saigon was put out of action. Radio Hanoi said North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh was "happy over victories which are an answer to President Johnson's claim two weeks ago that the Americans were winning."
In Saigon, Westmoreland, the U.S. military commander, said that the nation-wide attacks were diversionary efforts to draw attention from the northern frontier where up to 50,000 North Vietnamese were poised for a massive invasion.
Ambassador Bunker inspected the damage at his $3,000,000 embassy where 19 Viet Cong died trying to seize the building and told the newsmen none of the attacks in the city had succeeded.
Down broad Unity St. in front of the embassy, machine-gun bullets streaked across the lawn of the presidential palace. A half-mile away, in the main Saigon square, GI's and South Vietnamese troops routed snipers. On the outskirts of Saigon, Allied troops chased about 100 guerrillas who fought to within pistol range of Westmoreland's headquarters.
Allied troops braced for more attacks during the coming night. Near the airport they smashed at guerrillas holed up with rockets in a bowling alley under an American officers' hotel.
Patients at a U.S. Army hospital left their beds and took up guns. Clerks deserted their desks and manned machine-guns.
The guerrillas attacked South Korean, Philippines and other Allied embassies.
U.S. spokesmen said 800 to 1,000 Viet Cong had slipped into Saigon the past few weeks for the terrorism.
At the U.S. Army Third Field Hospital near Tan Son Nhut patients climbed out from beds, donned flak jackets and helmets and went out to fight.
In an alley near the hospital the Viet Cong set up a machine gun nest for a do or die stand in a U.S. officers' billet bowling alley. In a nearby alley, more guerrillas had kept GI's at bay with machine gun fire. Finally Lt. Col. Charles Brindell ordered helicopter gunships to strafe the alley. The choppers came on, spouting fire.
Moments later, UPI correspondent William Reilly reported, a dozen GI's came stumbling from the alley, some of them wounded. Brindell said he had been assured no Americans were there.