HUE, South Vietnam, Feb. 15, 1968 (UPI) - When the attacks started, North Vietnamese troops, perhaps 2,400 of them, seized this ancient city in a blitzkrieg invasion that did the job in about two hours.
It is now Thursday - 16 days later - and the walls of Hue are slowly tumbling down under an intense assault.
Like the Biblical Jericho, Hue may be destroyed.
A high-level U.S. intelligence source said two regiments of North Vietnamese regulars moved into Hue on Jan. 31 "rather quickly by forced march from base camps and staging areas, surrounding the city and straddling supply routes."
This source told UPI only a handful of North Vietnamese commanders were aware they were part of a plan to capture the entire city. Each unit was assigned a specific area.
Hue is really three cities: the relatively modern city on the south bank of the Perfume River, the Citadel behind high walls on the northern bank and the imperial city behind more high walls within the Citadel.
Today, the main body of the North Vietnamese force had fallen back into its last line of resistance - the thick walls (12 feet in some places) - protecting the imperial or "forbidden city" - so called because it was forbidden to all but noblemen.
"That was was built to defend the city, of course, and the damned thing is doing its job," Brig. Gen. Foster C. Lahue of the U.S. Marine Corps said as he surveyed the defenses. "As soon as we crack that wall, we're going right in."
U.S. airpower was given the job yesterday. Tons of bombs hit the wall, gradually reducing it to rubble.
The North Vietnamese holed up in the Imperial City got there easily, the intelligence source said.
Mortar and ground attacks opened the Red invasion thrust, hitting the U.S. military advisory compound and the headquarters of the South Vietnamese 1st Infantry Division.
Hundreds of North Vietnamese infantrymen streamed through the gates and into the streets of the Citadel.
The Allied counterattack on Hue began Feb. 1, and U.S. marines succeeded in clearing the new city earlier this week.
South Vietnamese troops were given the task of driving the North Vietnamese from the old city.
U.S. marines joined the old city combat last Sunday night, and American bombers were committed to the fight yesterday in a move that underscored U.S. determination to annihilate the Communists there.