In late January 1968 the VC launched the Tet Offensive attacking U.S. and South Vietnamese positions across South Vietnam.. Saigon was the main focal point of the offensive, but a total takeover of the capital was not intended or feasible. "[196], The Tet Offensive created a crisis within the Johnson administration, which became increasingly unable to convince the American public that it had been a major defeat for the communists. 's and enemy battle 8 hours north of Saigon", "Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975 (book review)", https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reports/2007/R3060.pdf, "Vietnam War U.S. Military Fatal Casualty Statistics", United States Army Center of Military History, Vietnam: History of the Bulwark B2 Theater, Volume 5: Concluding the 30 Years War. 13 VC battalions, however, managed to slip through the cordon and once again plunged the capital into chaos. Dougan and Weiss, p. 11. [157], Except at Huế and mopping-up operations in and around Saigon, the first surge of the offensive was over by the second week of February. [57] Since the Politburo had already approved the offensive, all he had to do was make it work. [256], The horrendous casualties and suffering endured by PAVN/VC units during these sustained operations were beginning to tell. Battle of Hue During the TeT Offensive - Vietnam 1968. Some, especially students, intellectuals, academics, and clergymen, opposed the war on moral grounds, pointing out that large numbers of civilians in both the North and the South…. At 03:00 on 31 January PAVN/VC forces attacked Saigon, Cholon, and Gia Định in the Capital Military District; Quảng Trị (again), Huế, Quảng Tín, Tam Kỳ and Quảng Ngãi as well as U.S. bases at Phú Bài and Chu Lai in I Corps; Phan Thiết, Tuy Hòa and U.S. installations at Bong Son and An Khê in II Corps; and Cần Thơ and Vĩnh Long in IV Corps. U.S. Army units participating in the defense included the 716th Military Police Battalion, seven infantry battalions (one mechanized), and six artillery battalions. "[166] General Wheeler reported that the offensive had brought counterinsurgency programs to a halt and "that to a large extent, the VC now controlled the countryside". This group was led by Communist Party First Secretary Lê Duẩn and Lê Đức Thọ (no relation). American organizational, material, and logistical superiority was quickly demonstrated in the early hours of the offensive, and the traditionally unreliable South Vietnamese infantry fought with surprising effectiveness. During the entire battle from 1 November 1967 to 14 April 1968, 730 U.S. personnel were killed and another 2,642 wounded. Orders cancelling leaves either came too late or were disregarded.[92]. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. 1968 Tet offensive . "[68], Despite all the warning signs, however, the allies were still surprised by the scale and scope of the offensive. Stephen T. Hosmer, Viet Cong Repression and its Implications for the Future (Rand Corporation, 1970), pp. 118, 120. In addition to captured documents (a copy of Resolution 13, for example, was captured by early October), observations of enemy logistical operations were also quite clear: in October, the number of trucks observed heading south through Laos on the Hồ Chí Minh Trail jumped from the previous monthly average of 480 to 1,116. Wirtz, p. 61. Westmoreland—and the American media, which covered the action extensively—often made inevitable comparisons between the actions at Khe Sanh and the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, where a French base had been besieged and ultimately overrun by Viet Minh forces under the command of General Giáp during the First Indochina War. Foreign Minister Trinh announced on 30 December that Hanoi would rather than could open negotiations if the U.S. unconditionally ended Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign against North Vietnam. [51] On the evening of 6 July, after receiving permission to begin preparations for the offensive, Thanh attended a party and died of a heart attack after drinking too much. From Saigon, pacification chief Robert Komer asserted that the CORDS pacification program in the countryside was succeeding, and that sixty-eight percent of the South Vietnamese population was under the control of Saigon while only seventeen percent was under the control of the VC. In a misty drizzle, U.S. Marines of the 1st Marine Division and soldiers of the 1st ARVN Division and Marine Corps cleared the city street by street and house by house,[129] a deadly and destructive form of urban combat that the U.S. military had not engaged in since the Battle of Seoul during the Korean War, and for which neither side were trained. [115], While their attacks on Saigon had been quickly repulsed, in early March, more than 20 VC battalions remained near Gia Định Province, threatening Saigon. [101] By dawn most of the attacks within the city center had been eliminated, but severe fighting between VC and allied forces erupted in the Chinese neighborhood of Cholon around the Phú Thọ racetrack, southwest of the city center, which was being used as a staging area and command and control center by the PAVN/VC. [18] The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war declined as a result of the Tet casualties and the ramping up of draft calls. This course of events disturbed Lieutenant General Frederick Weyand, commander of U.S. forces in III Corps, which included the Capital Military District. The Tet Offensive was an operation that the North Vietnamese conducted that called for a simultaneous attack on every major city in South Vietnam; its shock value would prove to be a major blow to American support for the war at home even though it was a great tactical victory for Allied forces. The operations, however, were not well coordinated at the local level. Concessions had been made to the center group, however, by agreeing that negotiations were possible, but the document essentially centered on the creation of "a spontaneous uprising in order to win a decisive victory in the shortest time possible. Westmoreland was replaced by Gen. Creighton Abrams, who aggressively pursued the Vietnamization program and oversaw the reduction of the U.S. presence in Vietnam to fewer than 30,000 troops. See also Westmoreland, pp. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops occupied the walled fortress of Hue, Vietnam’s ancient capital, until they were finally driven out by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces on February 24. For years this figure has been held as excessively optimistic, as it represented more than half the forces involved in this battle. Increasingly vocal antagonism against any escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam put greater pressure on the Johnson administration and the U.S. Congress. 315–316. U.S. intelligence sources estimated between February and May the North Vietnamese dispatched 50,000 men down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to replace losses incurred during the earlier fighting. This is my view, not that of Mr. Willbanks. 72-8. Nguyen, who came to the U.S. as a refugee child, is now a professor of history at Columbia University, where she is writing a comprehensive history of the Offensive. Their target was the ARVN 1st Division headquarters located in the Citadel,[118] a three-square mile complex of palaces, parks, and residences,[119] which were surrounded by a moat and a massive earth and masonry fortress. [255], Saigon was struck again during this phase, but the attacks were less sustained and once again repulsed. Selective Service System announced a new draft call for 48,000 men, the second highest of the war. The offensive was launched prematurely in the late night hours of 30 January in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. The offensive itself, an all-out effort by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces to overrun the major cities of South Vietnam, marked the turning point of the Vietnam War . Heading this faction were party theorist Trường Chinh and Minister of Defense Võ Nguyên Giáp. Casualties, Public Opinion and Presidential Policy During the Vietnam War (1985), Halberstam, David (1979) The Powers That Be, Knopf, Brinkley, Douglas (2012) Cronkite, Harper. "[239] According to the Pentagon Papers, the advice of the group was decisive in convincing Johnson to reduce the bombing of North Vietnam.[240]. With their officers killed in the initial attack and their attempt to gain access to the building having failed, the sappers simply occupied the chancery grounds until they were all killed or captured by U.S. reinforcements that were landed on the roof of the building six hours later. Westmoreland was "bitter" and was upset that he "had been made the goat for the war." [72] The intense shelling (100–150 rounds per day) prompted Westmoreland to launch Operation Neutralize, an intense aerial bombardment campaign of 4,000 sorties into and just north of the DMZ. Zaffiri, pp. On 27 February, Secretary of State Dean Rusk had proposed that a partial bombing halt be implemented in North Vietnam and that an offer to negotiate be extended to Hanoi. Communist leadership in Hanoi had gambled on a conventional assault that they thought would sweep aside ARVN forces and topple the “puppet” government in Saigon. Updates? [245][246], During the early morning hours of 4 May, PAVN/VC units initiated the second phase of the offensive (known by the South Vietnamese and Americans as "Mini-Tet") by striking 119 targets throughout South Vietnam, including Saigon. He believed that the troop increase would lead only to a more violent stalemate and sought out others in the administration to assist him in convincing the President to reverse the escalation, to cap force levels at 550,000 men, to seek negotiations with Hanoi, and turn responsibility for the fighting over to the South Vietnamese. In total, about 85,000–100,000 PAVN/VC troops had participated in the initial onslaught and in the follow-up phases. If outright victory was not achieved, the battle might still lead to the creation of a coalition government and the withdrawal of the Americans. The overland supply route to the base had been cut off, and airborne resupply by cargo aircraft became extremely dangerous due to heavy PAVN antiaircraft fire. The operational plan for the General Offensive and Uprising had its origin as the "COSVN proposal" at Thanh's southern headquarters in April 1967 and had then been relayed to Hanoi the following month. General Westmoreland is called "boastful" and Johnson is confused 'as the man in the moon.' Brigadier General Foster C. LaHue, the Task Force X-Ray commander, dispatched Company A, a single rifle company 1 st Battalion, 1 st Marines (1/1), to provide support to the city and reinforcements to the MACV and the LCU. Provided with an enemy intelligence windfall accrued during Operations Cedar Falls and Junction City, the CIA members of the group believed that the number of VC guerrillas, irregulars, and cadre within the South could be as high as 430,000. In 1969 we were only able to recruit 1,700 new soldiers in Region 5 (compared with 8,000 in 1968), and in the lowlands of Cochin China we recruited only 100 new soldiers (compared with 16,000 in 1968). The violence and destruction witnessed during the offensive left a deep psychological scar on the South Vietnamese civilian population. Now they were gone, used up, heros, dead heros. Beijing advocated that North Vietnam conduct a protracted war on the Maoist model, fearing that a conventional conflict might draw China in, as had happened in the Korean War. A total of approximately 84,000 PAVN/VC troops participated in the attacks while thousands of others stood by to act as reinforcements or as blocking forces. Early in the morning, North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong forces attacked both towns and cities in South Vietnam, breaking the ceasefire that had been called for the Vietnamese holiday of Tet (the lunar new year). Westmoreland, p. 328. During their occupation, the PAVN/VC executed thousands of people in the Massacre at Huế. [143] The official allied explanation was that during their initial occupation of the city, the PAVN had quickly begun to systematically round up (under the guise of re-education) and then execute as many as 2,800 South Vietnamese civilians that they believed to be potentially hostile to communist control. Simultaneously a U.S. Navy advisor contacted the U.S. military police who soon attacked the VC from adjoining streets, the resulting crossfire ended the attack, killing eight sappers with two captured. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The General was then ordered to the capital to explain his concept in person to the Military Central Commission. [125], During the first days of the North Vietnamese occupation, U.S. intelligence vastly underestimated the number of PAVN troops and little appreciated the effort that was going to be necessary to evict them. The term "Tet Offensive" usually refers to the January–February 1968 offensive, but it can also include the so-called "Mini-Tet" offensive that took place in May and the Phase III Offensive in August, or the 21 weeks of unusually intense combat which followed the initial attacks in January.[20]. [183], The human and material cost to South Vietnam was staggering. Continuing their border-clearing operations, three PAVN regiments asserted heavy pressure on the U.S. Special Forces camp at Bu Prang, in Quang Duc Province, five kilometers from the Cambodian border. [22] Westmoreland was deeply concerned about the possible perceptions of the American public to such an increased estimate since communist troop strength was routinely provided to reporters during press briefings. This assignment will requireyou to utilize both direct and paraphrased quotations to support your arguments. Over 190 targets, including every government and military installation on both sides of the river would be hit on January 31 by a force of five thousand. Nguyen, p. 30. Since, in the allied estimation, the communists hardly had the capability to launch such an ambitious enterprise: "There was little possibility that the enemy could initiate a general offensive, regardless of his intentions. Tet Offensive revision Two quick summary tasks to review the events and consequences of the Tet Offensive On January 31, 1968, coinciding with the Vietnamese Tet holiday, North Vietnam launched a massive conventional invasion, known officially as … [78], By the beginning of January 1968, the U.S. had deployed 331,098 Army personnel and 78,013 Marines in nine divisions, an armoured cavalry regiment, and two separate brigades to South Vietnam. [237] According to Clifford, "few of them were thinking solely of Vietnam anymore". As far as MACV was concerned, the August offensive "was a dismal failure". No history of that war can be complete without an analysis of this offensive. [107], Small squads of VC fanned out across the city to attack various officers and enlisted men's billets, homes of ARVN officers, and district police stations. Chris Cook. By 09:20 the embassy and grounds were secured, with the loss of five U.S. [209] On 8 February, Westmoreland responded that he could use another division "if operations in Laos are authorized". During the month, Clifford, who had entered office as a staunch supporter of the Vietnam commitment and who had opposed McNamara's de-escalatory views, turned against the war. They also resisted the idea of negotiating with the allies. Hoang, p. 84. Under the leadership of National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow, the news media then was inundated by a wave of effusive optimism. It was followed immediately by Operation Toan Thang I (8 April - 31 May) which expanded the security operation across III Corps and resulted in a further 7645 VC killed and 1708 captured for South Vietnamese losses of 708 killed, U.S. losses of 564 killed and other Allied losses of 23 killed. CIA Analysis of the Tet Offensive 2/12/1968. [179] High-intensity, conventional big-unit battles were replaced with smaller-scale, quick attack and quick withdrawal operations to continually put pressure on the allied forces at the same time that mechanised and combined-arms capabilities were being built. [184] More than 70,000 homes had been destroyed in the fighting and perhaps 30,000 more were heavily damaged and the nation's infrastructure had been virtually destroyed. [191], Thiệu saw an opportunity to consolidate his personal power and he took it. 1969 - U.S. troop strength reaches high at 536,100 servicemen, President Nixon makes peace offer, North Vietnamese forms Provisional Revolutionary Government. General Westmoreland informed the Joint Chiefs that "the enemy has approximately three companies in the Huế Citadel and the marines have sent a battalion into the area to clear them out. [222] Some of the members argued that the offensive represented an opportunity to defeat the North Vietnamese on American terms while others pointed out that neither side could win militarily, that North Vietnam could match any troop increase, that the bombing of the North be halted, and that a change in strategy was required that would seek not victory, but the staying power required to reach a negotiated settlement. [34] The American public, "more confused than convinced, more doubtful than despairing ... adopted a 'wait and see' attitude. Upon their arrival, the two men bolstered the administration's claims of success. Biên Hòa Air Base was struck by a battalion, while the adjacent ARVN III Corps headquarters was the objective of another. In sudden attacks on urban areas throughout South Vietnam, North Vietnamese forces struck and briefly held portions of Saigon and 36 of the country’s 44 provincial capitals. William Westmoreland meeting with U.S. Pres. The decision signaled the end of a bitter, decade-long debate within the North Vietnamese Government between first two, and then three factions. During this crucial crisis, however, no South Vietnamese unit broke or defected to the communists. Yet, as historian Ronald Spector has pointed out "the communist failures were not final or decisive either". [97] Although Westmoreland's appraisal of the military situation was correct, he made himself look foolish by continuously maintaining his belief that Khe Sanh was the real objective of the North Vietnamese and that 155 attacks by 84,000 troops was a diversion (a position he maintained until at least 12 February). [108], On 1 February General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, chief of the National Police, publicly executed VC officer Nguyễn Văn Lém, captured in civilian clothing, in front of photographer Eddie Adams and a film cameraman. The Tet Offensive. The National Archives is proud to serve veterans and their families, especially through our work at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. Ibid. Their basis for this conclusion included: a belief that the South Vietnamese military was no longer combat-effective; the results of the September 1967 South Vietnamese presidential election (in which the Nguyễn Văn Thiệu/Nguyễn Cao Kỳ ticket had only received 24 percent of the popular vote); the Buddhist crises of 1963 and 1966; well-publicized anti-war demonstrations in Saigon; and continuous criticism of the Thiệu government in the southern press. Nguyen, p. 20. The Essay on The Tet Offensive War Vietnam American. The fighting lasted for two days before the PAVN broke contact; the combat resulted in US/ARVN claiming 776 PAVN/VC casualties, 114 South Vietnamese and two Americans. The General Offensive, General Uprising would then commence with simultaneous actions on major allied bases and most urban areas, and with particular emphasis on the cities of Saigon and Huế. That review absolved the CIA of operational negligence. Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House, Washington, D.C., 1968. "[221] To meet Wheeler's request would mean a total U.S. military commitment to South Vietnam. The multi-pronged offensive, named Tet after the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, proved to be a military defeat for the Communists. Palmer, p. 245. The attack on Khe Sanh, which began on 21 January before the other offensives, probably served two purposes—as a real attempt to seize the position or as a diversion to draw American attention and forces away from the population centers in the lowlands, a deception that was "both plausible and easy to orchestrate. All eight of the attacks were controlled by the North Vietnamese headquarters of Military Region 5. [199] In 1969, the year after the Tet battles, the US suffered 11,780 killed, the second highest annual total in the war. Others in the Politburo were willing to settle for a much less ambitious "victory". In August, Chinh's report on the situation was accepted in toto, published, and broadcast via Radio Hanoi. To probe this question, we must review briefly the details of the Tet offensive. [251] The actions also brought more death and suffering to the city's inhabitants. (2002) "Foreword," in Military History Institute of Vietnam Victory in Vietnam: A History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975, p. xiv. They seized the building, held it for six hours and, when running out of ammunition, the last eight attackers destroyed it and killed themselves using explosive charges, but they were unable to broadcast due to the cutting off of the audio lines from the main studio to the tower as soon as the station was seized. Because Johnson and Westmoreland thought Khe Sanh was the main target of PAVN forces, they ignored the buildup of troops that would lead the Tet Offensive. [116]:460–1 From 11 March to 7 April, Allied forces launched Operation Quyet Thang to pacify the area around Saigon. Lt. Gen. Weyand invited CBS News Correspondent John Laurence and Washington Post reporter Don Oberdorfer to his III Corps headquarters in the week before the Tet Offensive to alert them that a major enemy attack was coming "just before or just after Tet." The final assessment of the majority stupefied the group. The fighting during this phase differed from Tet Mau Than and "Mini-Tet" in that no U.S. installations were attacked. "[225] Between the results of Tet and the meetings of the group that bore his name, he became convinced that deescalation was the only solution for the United States. Unquestionably the biggest occurrence of the American bombing of the Tet offensive later! 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