SAIGON, Feb. 15, 1968 (UPI) - A North Vietnamese regiment was headed for Hue tonight in an attempt to reinforce Communist troops surrounded by Allied forces in the embattled Citadel, intelligence reports said. U.S. radar picked up a convoy heading toward the ancient imperial city from mountain sanctuaries to the southwest and artillery was called in to knock it out. A North Vietnamese regiment numbers up to 1,200 men.
The reports came as U.S. marines and South Vietnamese Black Panther troops charged into the flaming ruins of the Citadel to root out the Communist forces who have held the fortress for more than two weeks. The troops moved in after Allied bombers and U.S. warships bombarded the Viet Cong positions.
Reports from Hue said the marines and Vietnamese were making painfully slow progress against the Communists holed up in the battlements.
Correspondent Alvin B. Webb Jr. described the house-to-house battling that followed a bombing and nausea-tear gas barrage as some of the bitterest of the war. He said the Allies appeared to be suffering as many casualties as the Communists.
The Allied thrust was aimed at pinning 300 to 500 Communists against the southern wall of the century-old fortress they invaded 16 days ago.
Near Saigon, American troops charged into Communists threatening at least Saigon once more. They reported killing at least 336 guerrillas in two days of heavy fighting on the northwestern approach to the capital.
Officers of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division reported some 3,800 North Vietnamese Seventh Division troops spreading out in a broad, flat, tree-lined triangle extending from a point 20 miles north of Saigon almost to the giant Tan Son Nhut airbase on the western outskirts.
The bloodiest action was at Hue. The Allies' three-pronged drive against the Communist suicide battalion was prefaced by the first U.S. Navy barrage against the Reds behind the 12-foot thick walls.
The warships lay close to shore - Hue is 400 miles up the coast from Saigon - and unleashed their five-inch guns. Correspondent Richard Oliver reported black columns of smoke and orange balls of fire rising from the Communist positions. He said whiffs of the nausea-tear gas blew from the flaming ruins.
The barrage followed a Communist break-out attempt. U.S. marines had massed against the east wall. The elite Black Panther troops had charged in from the north. At the east walls were South Vietnamese rangers, some of Asia's toughest warriors. Against them the Communists charged.
The Allies hurled them back. Then after the barrage, they charged.
The former imperial home of Vietnam's Annamese kings, Hue was a beautiful spot of Southeast Asia, repository of the country's historical and architectural heritage. But the beauty is gone now, Webb reported, because of heavy shelling.
An estimated 2,400 guerrillas have been killed and an unknown number of civilians have perished in blistering crossfire. Webb reported some 50,000 refugees huddling in centers across the river from the flaming fortress.
From his window view of Hue's destruction, Webb reported, "For the first time there are indications the Communist grip on the rubble of the walled city - is beginning to slip."