In phase 1:
Total casualties in Phase 1:
Approximately 45,820 casualties
(9,078 killed, 35,212 wounded, 1,530 missing) 
123 aircraft destroyed, 214 heavily damaged and 215 medium damaged
Total 3 phases: unknown
In phase 1:
Est. 17,000 killed and 20,000 wounded
Total 3 phases: 111,179 casualties (45,267 killed, 61,267 wounded,
Civilian: 14,000 killed, 24,000 wounded
Military engagements of the Vietnam War
1st Ap Bac
Quyet Thang 202
Bien Hoa Airbase
1st Bau Bang
Suoi Bong Trang
Xa Cam My
Minh Thanh Road
John Paul Jones
Tan Son Nhut airbase
Lam Son II
SS Baton Rouge Victory
Paul Revere IV
Tra Binh Dong
Junction City (1st Prek Klok
2nd Prek Klok
2nd Bau Bang)
The Hill Fights
Malheur I and Malheur II
Hong Kil Dong
Suoi Chau Pha
1st Loc Ninh
Kien Giang 9-1
New Year's Day Battle of 1968
1st Quảng Trị
Ban Houei Sane
Hop Tac I
Truong Cong Dinh
Lima Site 85
My Lai Massacre
Toan Thang I
Landing Zone Center
Phase III Offensive
Lam Son 719
Son Tay Raid
FSB Mary Ann
2nd Quang Trị
3rd Quang Trị
2nd Loc Ninh
Paris Peace Accords
Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)
Ap Da Bien
Ban Me Thuot
Tan Son Nhut Air Base
Yankee & Dixie Stations
Gulf of Tonkin
Vung Ro Bay
Bo De River, Nha Trang, Tha Cau River
Tet Offensive (Vietnamese: Sự kiện
Tết Mậu Thân 1968), or
officially called The General Offensive and Uprising of Tet Mau Than
1968 (Vietnamese: Tổng Tiến công và Nổi dậy
Thân 1968) by
North Vietnam and the NLF, was one of the largest
military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968,
by forces of the
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People's Army of
Vietnam against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the
Republic of Vietnam, the
United States Armed Forces, and their allies.
It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian
command and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name of
the offensive comes from the
Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year,
when the first major attacks took place.
The North Vietnamese launched a wave of attacks in the late night
hours of 30 January in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones of South
Vietnam. This early attack did not lead to widespread defensive
measures. When the main North Vietnamese operation began the next
morning, the offensive was countrywide and well coordinated;
eventually more than 80,000 North Vietnamese and
Viet Cong troops
struck more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial
capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns,
and the southern capital. The offensive was the largest military
operation conducted by either side up to that point in the war.
Though initial attacks stunned both the US and South Vietnamese
armies, causing them to temporarily lose control of several cities,
they quickly regrouped, beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy
casualties on North Vietnamese forces. During the Battle of Huế,
intense fighting lasted for a month, resulting in the destruction of
the city. During their occupation, the North Vietnamese executed
thousands of people in the Massacre at Huế. Around the US combat
base at Khe Sanh, fighting continued for two more months. Although the
offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam, it had a profound
effect on the US government and shocked the US 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 soon
declined and the U.S. sought negotiations to end the war.
The term "Tet offensive" usually refers to the January–February 1968
offensive, but it can also include the so-called "Mini-Tet" offensives
that took place in May and August, or the 21 weeks of unusually
intense combat which followed the initial attacks in January.
1.1 United States
1.2 North Vietnam
1.2.1 Party politics
1.2.2 General Offensive and Uprising
1.3 U.S. unpreparedness
1.3.1 Suspicions and diversions
1.3.2 Before the offensive
2.3 Khe Sanh
2.4 Phase II
2.5 Phase III
3.1 North Vietnam
3.2 South Vietnam
3.3 United States
3.3.1 Troop request
4 See also
5.1 Published government documents
5.2 Primary sources
5.2.1 Declassified primary sources
5.3 Memoirs and biographies
5.4 Secondary sources
6 External links
Further information on the U.S. effort prior to 1968: The United
States and the
Vietnam War § Search and destroy, the strategy of
During the fall of 1967, the question of whether the U.S. strategy of
attrition was working in
South Vietnam weighed heavily on the minds of
the American public and the administration of President Lyndon B.
Johnson. General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of the
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) believed that if a
"crossover point" could be reached by which the number of communist
troops killed or captured during military operations exceeded those
recruited or replaced, the Americans would win the war. There was a
discrepancy, however, between
MACV and the Central Intelligence
Agency's (CIA) order of battle estimates concerning the strength of
Viet Cong guerrilla forces within South Vietnam. In September,
members of the
MACV intelligence services and the CIA met to prepare a
Special National Intelligence Estimate that would be used by the
administration to gauge U.S. success in the conflict.
General William C. Westmoreland, COMUSMACV
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
Viet Cong guerrillas, irregulars, and cadre within
the South could be as high as 430,000. The
MACV Combined Intelligence
Center, on the other hand, maintained that the number could be no more
than 300,000. 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. According to MACV's chief of intelligence,
General Joseph A. McChristian, the new figures "would create a
political bombshell", since they were positive proof that the North
Vietnamese "had the capability and the will to continue a protracted
war of attrition".
MACV attempted to obtain a compromise from the CIA by
Viet Cong militias did not constitute a fighting
force but were essentially low level fifth columnists used for
information collection. The agency responded that such a notion
was ridiculous, since the militias were directly responsible for half
of the casualties inflicted on U.S. forces. With the groups
deadlocked, George Carver, CIA deputy director for Vietnamese affairs,
was asked to mediate the dispute. In September, Carver devised a
compromise: The CIA would drop its insistence on including the
irregulars in the final tally of forces and add a prose addendum to
the estimate that would explain the agency's position. George
Allen, Carver's deputy, laid responsibility for the agency's
capitulation at the feet of Richard Helms, the director of the CIA. He
believed that "it was a political problem ... [Helms] didn't want
the agency ... contravening the policy interest of the
During the second half of 1967 the administration had become alarmed
by criticism, both inside and outside the government, and by reports
of declining public support for its Vietnam policies. According to
public opinion polls, the percentage of Americans who believed that
the U.S. had made a mistake by sending troops to Vietnam had risen
from 25 percent in 1965 to 45 percent by December 1967. This trend
was fueled not by a belief that the struggle was not worthwhile, but
by mounting casualty figures, rising taxes, and the feeling that there
was no end to the war in sight. A poll taken in November indicated
that 55 percent wanted a tougher war policy, exemplified by the public
belief that "it was an error for us to have gotten involved in Vietnam
in the first place. But now that we're there, let's win – or get
out." This prompted the administration to launch a so-called
"Success Offensive", a concerted effort to alter the widespread public
perception that the war had reached a stalemate and to convince the
American people that the administration's policies were succeeding.
Under the leadership of National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow, the
news media then was inundated by a wave of effusive optimism.
Every statistical indicator of progress, from "kill ratios" and "body
counts" to village pacification, was fed to the press and to the
Congress. "We are beginning to win this struggle" asserted Vice
Hubert H. Humphrey
Hubert H. Humphrey on NBC's Today show in mid-November. "We
are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady
progress." At the end of November, the campaign reached its climax
when Johnson summoned Westmoreland and the new U.S. Ambassador,
Ellsworth Bunker, to Washington, D.C., for what was billed as a "high
level policy review". Upon their arrival, the two men bolstered the
administration's claims of success. 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 Viet Cong. General
Bruce Palmer Jr., one of Westmoreland's three Field Force commanders,
claimed that "the
Viet Cong has been defeated" and that "He can't get
food and he can't recruit. He has been forced to change his strategy
from trying to control the people on the coast to trying to survive in
Westmoreland was even more emphatic in his assertions. At an address
at the National Press Club on 21 November he reported that, as of the
end of 1967, the communists were "unable to mount a major
offensive ... I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the
enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing...We have reached an
important point when the end begins to come into view." By the end
of the year the administration's approval rating had indeed crept up
by eight percent, but an early January Gallup poll indicated that
forty-seven percent of the American public still disapproved of the
President's handling of the war. The American public, "more
confused than convinced, more doubtful than despairing ...
adopted a 'wait and see' attitude." During a discussion with an
interviewer from Time magazine, Westmoreland defied the communists to
launch an attack: "I hope they try something, because we are looking
for a fight."
Hanoi for a winter-spring offensive during 1968 had begun
in early 1967 and continued until early the following year. According
to American sources, there has been an extreme reluctance among
Vietnamese historians to discuss the decision-making process that led
to the General Offensive General Uprising, even decades after the
event. In official Vietnamese literature, the decision to launch
Tet Offensive was usually presented as the result of a perceived
U.S. failure to win the war quickly, the failure of the American
bombing campaign against North Vietnam, and the anti-war sentiment
that pervaded the population of the U.S. The decision to launch
the general offensive, however, was much more complicated.
The decision signaled the end of a bitter, decade-long debate within
the North Vietnamese Government between first two, and then three
factions. The moderates believed that the economic viability of North
Vietnam should come before support of a massive and conventional
southern war and they generally followed the Soviet line of peaceful
coexistence by reunifying Vietnam through political means. Heading
this faction were party theoretician
Trường Chinh and Minister of
Defense Võ Nguyên Giáp. The militant faction, on the other hand,
tended to follow the foreign policy line of the People's Republic of
China and called for the reunification of the nation by military means
and that no negotiations should be undertaken with the Americans. This
group was led by Communist Party First Secretary
Lê Duẩn and Lê
Đức Thọ (no relation). From the early-to-mid-1960s, the militants
had dictated the direction of the war in South Vietnam.
Nguyễn Chí Thanh
Nguyễn Chí Thanh the head of Central Office for South
Vietnam (COSVN), headquarters for the South, was another prominent
militant. The followers of the Chinese line centered their strategy
against the US and its allies on large-scale, main force actions
rather than the protracted guerrilla war espoused by Mao Zedong.
By 1966–1967, however, after suffering massive casualties, stalemate
on the battlefield, and destruction of the northern economy by U.S.
aerial bombing, there was a dawning realization that, if current
Hanoi would eventually lack the resources necessary
to affect the military situation in the South. As a result, there
were more strident calls by the moderates for negotiations and a
revision of strategy. They felt that a return to guerrilla tactics was
more appropriate since the U.S. could not be defeated conventionally.
They also complained that the policy of rejecting negotiations was in
error. The Americans could only be worn down in a war of wills
during a period of "fighting while talking". During 1967 things had
become so bad on the battlefield that
Lê Duẩn ordered Thanh to
incorporate aspects of protracted guerrilla warfare into his
During the same period, a counter-attack was launched by a new, third
grouping (the centrists) led by President Hồ Chí Minh, Lê Đức
Thọ, and Foreign Minister Nguyễn Duy Trinh, who called for
negotiations. From October 1966 through April 1967, a very public
debate over military strategy took place in print and via radio
between Thanh and his rival for military power, Giáp. Giáp had
advocated a defensive, primarily guerrilla strategy against the U.S.
and South Vietnam. Thanh's position was that Giáp and his
adherents were centered on their experiences during the First
Indochina War and that they were too "conservative and captive to old
methods and past experience... mechanically repeating the past."
The arguments over domestic and military strategy also carried a
foreign policy element as well, because North Vietnam, as the South
Vietnamese forces, was largely dependent on outside military and
economic aid. The vast majority of North Vietnam's military equipment
was provided by either the Soviet Union or China. Beijing advocated
North Vietnam conduct a protracted war on the Maoist model,
fearing that a conventional conflict might draw them in as it had in
the Korean War. They also resisted the idea of negotiating with the
allies. Moscow, on the other hand, advocated negotiations, but
simultaneously armed Hanoi's forces to conduct a conventional war on
the Soviet model. North Vietnamese foreign policy, therefore consisted
of maintaining a critical balance between war policy, internal and
external policies, domestic adversaries, and foreign allies with
To "break the will of their domestic opponents and reaffirm their
autonomy vis-à-vis their foreign allies" hundreds of pro-Soviet,
party moderates, military officers, and intelligentsia were arrested
on 27 July 1967, during what came to be called the Revisionist
Anti-Party Affair. All of the arrests were based on the
individual's stance on the Politburo's choice of tactics and strategy
for the proposed General Offensive. This move cemented the
position of the militants as Hanoi's strategy: The rejection of
negotiations, the abandonment of protracted warfare, and the focus on
the offensive in the towns and cities of South Vietnam. More arrests
followed in November and December.
General Offensive and Uprising
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. The
general was then ordered to the capital to explain his concept in
person to the Military Central Commission. At a meeting in July, Thanh
briefed the plan to the Politburo. 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
After cementing their position during the Party crackdown, the
militants sped up planning for a major conventional offensive to break
the military deadlock. They concluded that the Saigon government and
the U.S. presence were so unpopular with the population of the South
that a broad-based attack would spark a spontaneous uprising of the
population, which, if the offensive was successful, would enable the
North Vietnamese to sweep to a quick, decisive victory. 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
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ
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.
Launching such an offensive would also finally put an end to what have
been described as "dovish calls for talks, criticism of military
strategy, Chinese diatribes of Soviet perfidy, and Soviet pressure to
negotiate—all of which needed to be silenced."
In October, the Politburo decided on the Tet holiday as the launch
date and met again in December to reaffirm its decision and formalize
it at the 14th Plenary session of the Party Central Committee in
January 1968. The resultant Resolution 14 was a major blow to
domestic opposition and "foreign obstruction". 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."
Contrary to Western belief, General Giáp did not plan or command the
offensive himself. Thanh's original plan was elaborated on by a party
committee headed by Thanh's deputy, Phạm Hùng, and then modified by
Giáp. The Defense Minister may have been convinced to toe the
line by the arrest and imprisonment of most of the members of his
staff during the Revisionist Anti-Communist Party Affair. Although
Giáp went to work "reluctantly, under duress", he may have found the
task easier due to the fact that he was faced with a fait
accompli. Since the Politburo had already approved the offensive,
all he had to do was make it work. He combined guerrilla operations
into what was basically a conventional military offensive and shifted
the burden of sparking the popular uprising to the Viet Cong. If it
worked, all would be well and good. If it failed, it would be a
failure only for the Communist Party militants. For the moderates and
centrists, it offered the prospect of negotiations and a possible end
to the American bombing of the North. Only in the eyes of the
militants, therefore, did the offensive become a "go for broke"
effort. Others in the Politburo were willing to settle for a much less
PAVN official history states that the objectives of the Tet
Offensive were to: annihilate and cause the total disintegration of
the bulk of the puppet army, overthrow the puppet regime at all
administrative levels, and place all government power in the hands of
the people. Annihilate a significant portion of the American
Military's troop strength and destroy a significant portion of his war
equipment in order to prevent the American forces from being able to
carry out their political and military missions; on the basis, crush
the American will to commit aggression and force the
United States to
accept defeat in
South Vietnam and end all hostile actions against
North Vietnam. In addition, using this as our basis, we would achieve
the immediate goals of the revolution, which were independence,
democracy, peace, and neutrality in South Vietnam, and then move
toward achieving peace and national unification.
The operation would involve a preliminary phase, during which
diversionary attacks would be launched in the border areas of South
Vietnam to draw American attention and forces away from the cities.
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.
Concurrently, a substantial threat would have to be made against the
U.S. combat base at Khe Sanh. The
Khe Sanh actions would draw North
Vietnamese forces away from the offensive into the cities, but Giáp
considered them necessary in order to protect his supply lines and
divert American attention. Attacks on other U.S. forces were of
secondary, or even tertiary importance, since Giáp considered his
main objective to be weakening or destroying the South Vietnamese
military and government through popular revolt. The offensive,
therefore was aimed at influencing the South Vietnamese public, not
that of the U.S. There is conflicting evidence as to whether, or to
what extent, the offensive was intended to influence either the March
primaries or the November presidential election in the U.S.
Viet Cong troops pose with new
AK-47 assault rifles and American field
According to General Trần Văn Trà, the new military head of COSVN,
the offensive was to have three distinct phases: Phase I, scheduled to
begin on 30 January, would be a countrywide assault on the cities,
conducted primarily by
Viet Cong forces. Concurrently, a propaganda
offensive to induce
ARVN troops to desert and the South Vietnamese
population to rise up against the government would be launched. If
outright victory was not achieved, the battle might still lead to the
creation of a coalition government and the withdrawal of the
Americans. If the general offensive failed to achieve these purposes,
follow-up operations would be conducted to wear down the enemy and
lead to a negotiated settlement; Phase II was scheduled to begin on 5
May, and Phase III on 17 August.
Preparations for the offensive were already underway. The logistical
build-up began in mid-year, and by January 1968, 81,000 tons of
supplies and 200,000 troops, including seven complete infantry
regiments and 20 independent battalions made the trip south on the Ho
Chi Minh Trail. This logistical effort also involved re-arming the
Viet Cong with new
AK-47 assault rifles and B-40 rocket-propelled
grenade launchers, which granted them superior firepower over their
ARVN opponents. To pave the way and to confuse the
allies as to its intentions,
Hanoi launched a diplomatic offensive.
Foreign Minister Trinh announced on 30 December that
rather than could open negotiations if the U.S. unconditionally ended
Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign against North
Vietnam. This announcement provoked a flurry of diplomatic
activity (which amounted to nothing) during the last weeks of the
South Vietnamese and U.S. military intelligence estimated that North
Viet Cong forces in
South Vietnam during January 1968
totaled 323,000 men, including 130,000 North Vietnamese regulars,
Viet Cong and members of the infrastructure, and 33,000
service and support troops. They were organized into nine divisions
composed of 35 infantry and 20 artillery or anti-aircraft artillery
regiments, which were, in turn, composed of 230 infantry and six
Suspicions and diversions
Signs of impending communist action were noticed among the allied
intelligence collection apparatus in Saigon. During the late summer
and fall of 1967 both South Vietnamese and U.S. intelligence agencies
collected clues that indicated a significant shift in communist
strategic planning. By mid-December, mounting evidence convinced many
in Washington and Saigon that something big was underway. During the
last three months of the year intelligence agencies had observed signs
of a major North Vietnamese military buildup. 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
Hồ Chí Minh Trail jumped from the previous monthly
average of 480 to 1,116. By November this total reached 3,823 and, in
December, 6,315. On 20 December, Westmoreland cabled Washington
that he expected the
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese "to undertake an
intensified countrywide effort, perhaps a maximum effort, over a
relatively short period of time."
Lieutenant General Frederick Weyand, commander of II Field Force,
Despite all the warning signs, however, the allies were still
surprised by the scale and scope of the offensive. According to ARVN
Colonel Hoang Ngoc Lung the answer lay with the allied intelligence
methodology itself, which tended to estimate the enemy's probable
course of action based upon their capabilities, not their intentions.
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." The answer could also be partially
explained by the lack of coordination and cooperation between
competing intelligence branches, both South Vietnamese and American.
The situation from the U.S. perspective was summed up by an MACV
intelligence analyst: "If we'd gotten the whole battle plan, it
wouldn't have been believed. It wouldn't have been credible to
From spring through the fall of 1967, the U.S. Command in Saigon was
perplexed by a series of actions initiated by the North Vietnamese and
Viet Cong in the border regions. On 24 April a U.S. Marine Corps
patrol prematurely triggered a North Vietnamese offensive aimed at
taking the airstrip and combat base at Khe Sanh, the western anchor of
the Marines' defensive positions in Quảng Trị Province. By the
time the action there had ended in May, 940 North Vietnamese troops
and 155 Marines had been killed. For 49 days during early
September and lasting into October, the North Vietnamese began
shelling the U.S. Marine outpost of Con Thien, just south of the
Demilitarized Zone or DMZ. 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 demarcation line.
On 27 October, an
ARVN battalion at Sông Bé, the capital of Phước
Long Province, came under attack by an entire North Vietnamese
regiment. Two days later, another North Vietnamese Regiment attacked a
Special Forces border outpost at Lộc Ninh, in Bình Long
Province. This attack sparked a ten-day battle that drew in
elements of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and the
ARVN 18th Division
and left 800 North Vietnamese troops dead at its conclusion.
The most severe of what came to be known as "the Border Battles"
erupted during October and November around Dak To, another border
Kon Tum Province. The clashes there between the four
regiments of the 1st North Vietnamese Division, the U.S. 4th Infantry
Division, the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade, and
ARVN infantry and
Airborne elements, lasted for 22 days. By the time the fighting was
over, between 1,200 and 1,600 North Vietnamese and 262 U.S. troops had
lost their lives.
MACV intelligence was confused by the
possible motives of the North Vietnamese in prompting such large-scale
actions in remote regions where U.S. artillery and aerial firepower
could be applied indiscriminately, which meant that tactically and
strategically, these operations made no sense. What the North
Vietnamese had done was carry out the first stage of their plan: to
fix the attention of the U.S. Command on the borders and draw the bulk
of U.S. forces away from the heavily populated coastal lowlands and
Westmoreland was more concerned with the situation at Khe Sanh, where,
on 21 January, a force estimated at 20,000–40,000 North Vietnamese
troops had besieged the U.S. Marine garrison.
MACV was convinced that
the North Vietnamese planned to stage an attack and overrun the base
as a prelude to an all-out effort to seize the two northernmost
provinces of South Vietnam. To deter any such possibility, he
deployed 250,000 men, including half of MACV's U.S. maneuver
battalions, to the I Corps Tactical Zone.
This course of events disturbed
Lieutenant General Frederick Weyand,
commander of U.S. forces in III Corps, which included the Capital
Military District. Weyand, a former intelligence officer, was
suspicious of the pattern of communist activities in his area of
responsibility and notified Westmoreland of his concerns on 10
January. Westmoreland agreed with his estimate and ordered 15 U.S.
battalions to redeploy from positions near the Cambodian border back
to the outskirts of Saigon. When the offensive did begin, a total
of 27 allied maneuver battalions defended the city and the surrounding
area. This redeployment may have been one of the most critical
tactical decisions of the war.
Before the offensive
South Vietnam, Corps Tactical Zones
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. They were joined
there by the 1st Australian Task Force, a
Royal Thai Army
Royal Thai Army regiment,
two South Korean infantry divisions, and a Republic of Korea Marine
Corps brigade. South Vietnamese strength totaled 350,000 regulars
in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. They were in turn
supported by the 151,000-man South Vietnamese Regional Forces and
149,000-man South Vietnamese Popular Forces, which were the equivalent
of regional and local militias.
In the days immediately preceding the offensive, the preparedness of
allied forces was relatively relaxed.
Hanoi had announced in October
that it would observe a seven-day truce from 27 January to 3 February
for the Tet holiday, and the South Vietnamese military made plans to
allow recreational leave for approximately half of its forces. General
Westmoreland, who had already cancelled the truce in I Corps,
requested that its ally cancel the upcoming cease-fire, but President
Thiệu (who had already reduced the cease-fire to 36 hours), refused
to do so, claiming that it would damage troop morale and only benefit
On 28 January, eleven
Viet Cong cadres were captured in the city of
Qui Nhơn while in possession of two pre-recorded audio tapes whose
message appealed to the populace in "already occupied Saigon, Huế,
and Da Nang". The following afternoon, General Cao Văn Viên,
chief of the Vietnamese Joint General Staff, ordered his four
corps commanders to place their troops on alert. Yet, there was still
a lack of a sense of urgency on the part of the allies. If
Westmoreland had a grasp of the potential for danger, he did not
communicate it very well to others. On the evening of 30 January,
200 U.S. officers—all of whom served on the
staff—attended a pool party at their quarters in Saigon. According
to James Meecham, an analyst at the Combined Intelligence Center who
attended the party: "I had no conception Tet was coming, absolutely
zero ... Of the 200-odd officers present, not one I talked to
knew Tet was coming, without exception."
The general also failed to communicate his concerns adequately to
Washington. Although he had warned the President between 25 and 30
January that "widespread" communist attacks were in the offing, his
admonitions had tended to be so oblique or so hedged with official
optimism that even the administration was unprepared. No one –
in either Washington or Vietnam – was expecting what happened.
Frederick Weyand invited
CBS News Correspondent John Laurence
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." He said
the Vietnamese had too much respect for the holiday to attack during
Tet itself. Weyand said he had moved 30 U.S. and South Vietnamese
battalions closer to Saigon to defend the city.
"Crack the Sky, Shake the Earth"
— Message to North Vietnamese forces who were informed that they
were "about to inaugurate the greatest battle in the history of our
Whether by accident or design, the first wave of attacks began shortly
after midnight on 30 January as all five provincial capitals in II
Corps and Da Nang, in I Corps, were attacked. Nha Trang,
headquarters of the U.S. I Field Force, was the first to be hit,
followed shortly by Ban Mê Thuột, Kon Tum, Hội An, Tuy Hòa, Da
Nang, Qui Nhơn, and Pleiku. During all of these operations, the Viet
Cong and North Vietnamese followed a similar pattern: mortar or rocket
attacks were closely followed by massed ground assaults conducted by
battalion-strength elements of the Viet Cong, sometimes supported by
North Vietnamese regulars. These forces would join with local cadres
who served as guides to lead the regulars to the most senior South
Vietnamese headquarters and the radio station. The operations,
however, were not well coordinated at the local level. By daylight,
almost all communist forces had been driven from their objectives.
General Phillip B. Davidson, the new
MACV chief of intelligence,
notified Westmoreland that "This is going to happen in the rest of the
country tonight and tomorrow morning." All U.S. forces were placed
on maximum alert and similar orders were issued to all
ARVN units. The
allies, however, still responded without any real sense of urgency.
Orders cancelling leaves either came too late or were disregarded.
U.S. Marines with M14 rifles battle in Hamo village
At 03:00 on 31 January North Vietnamese forces assailed Saigon,
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;
Cần Thơ and
Vĩnh Long in IV Corps. The following day, Biên
Hòa, Long Thanh,
Bình Dương in III Corps and Kien Hoa, Dinh Tuong,
Gò Công, Kiên Giang, Vĩnh Bình, Bến Tre, and Kien Tuong in IV
Corps were assaulted. The last attack of the initial operation was
Bạc Liêu in IV Corps on 10 February. A total of
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops
participated in the attacks while thousands of others stood by to act
as reinforcements or as blocking forces.
Viet Cong and North
Vietnamese forces also mortared or rocketed every major allied
airfield and attacked 64 district capitals and scores of smaller
In most cases, the defense against the communists was a South
Vietnamese affair. Local militia or
ARVN forces, supported by the
National Police, usually drove the attackers out within two or three
days, sometimes within hours; but heavy fighting continued several
days longer in Kon Tum, Buôn Ma Thuột, Phan Thiết, Cần Thơ,
and Bến Tre. The outcome in each instance was usually dictated
by the ability of local commanders—some were outstanding, others
were cowardly or incompetent. During this crucial crisis, however, no
South Vietnamese unit broke or defected to the communists.
According to Westmoreland, he responded to the news of the attacks
with optimism, both in media presentations and in his reports to
Washington. According to closer observers, however, the general was
"stunned that the communists had been able to coordinate so many
attacks in such secrecy" and he was "dispirited and deeply
shaken." According to Clark Clifford, at the time of the initial
attacks, the reaction of the U.S. military leadership "approached
panic". 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). Washington
Peter Braestrup summed up the feelings of his colleagues
by asking "How could any effort against Saigon, especially downtown
Saigon, be a diversion?"
Black smoke covers areas of Sài Gòn during Tet Offensive
ARVN Rangers defending Saigon in 1968 Battle of Saigon
Although Saigon was the focal point of the offensive, the communists
did not seek a total takeover of the city. Rather, they had six
primary targets to strike in the downtown area: the headquarters of
ARVN General Staff at Tan Son Nhut Air Base; the Independence
Palace, the US Embassy in Saigon, the Republic of Vietnam Navy
Headquarters, and the National Radio Station. These objectives
were all assaulted by a small number of militants of the local C-10
Sapper Battalion. Elsewhere in the city or its outskirts, ten Viet
Cong Local Force Battalions attacked the central police station and
the Artillery Command and the Armored Command headquarters (both at
Gò Vấp). The plan called for all these initial forces to capture
and hold their positions for 48 hours, by which time reinforcements
were to have arrived to relieve them.
Attacks on Saigon
The defense of the Capital Military Zone was primarily a South
Vietnamese responsibility and it was initially defended by eight ARVN
infantry battalions and the local police force. By 3 February they had
been reinforced by five
ARVN Ranger Battalions, five Marine Corps, and
ARVN Airborne Battalions. U.S. Army units participating in the
defense included the 716th Military Police Battalion, seven infantry
battalions (one mechanized), and six artillery battalions.
At the Armored Command and Artillery Command headquarters on the
northern edge of the city the North Vietnamese planned to use captured
tanks and artillery pieces but the tanks had been moved to another
base two months earlier and the breech blocks of the artillery pieces
had been removed, rendering them useless.
One of the most important
Viet Cong targets, from a symbolic and
propagandistic point of view, was the National Radio Station. Its
troops had brought along a tape recording of Hồ Chi Minh announcing
the liberation of Saigon and calling for a "General Uprising" against
the Thiệu government. They seized the building, held it for six
hours and, when running out of ammunition, the last eight attackers
destroyed it and sacrificed 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
The US Embassy in Saigon, a massive six-floor building situated within
a four-acre compound, had been completed only in September. At 02:45
it was attacked by a 19-man sapper team that blew a hole in the
8-foot-high (2.4 m) surrounding wall and charged through. 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 US
reinforcements that were landed on the roof of the building six hours
later. By 09:20 the embassy and grounds were secured, with the loss of
five US personnel.
At 03:00 on 31 January, twelve Vietcong sappers approached the
Vietnamese Navy Headquarters in two civilian cars, killing two guards
at a barricade at Me Linh Square and then advanced towards the base
gate. The sound of gunfire alerted base sentries who secured the gate
and sounded the alarm. A .30-caliber machine gun on the second floor
of the headquarters disabled both cars and killed or wounded several
sappers while the Navy security force organized a counterattack.
Simultaneously a U.S. Navy advisor contacted the U.S. military police
who soon attacked the Vietcong from adjoining streets, the resulting
crossfire ended the attack, killing eight sappers with two
Small squads of
Viet Cong fanned out across the city to attack various
officers and enlisted men's billets, homes of
ARVN officers, and
district police stations. Provided with "blacklists" of military
officers and civil servants, they began to round up and execute any
that could be found.
On 1 February General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, chief of the National
Police, publicly executed
Viet Cong officer Nguyễn Văn Lém
captured in civilian clothing in front of photographer Edward T. Adams
and a film cameraman. That photography, with the title of Saigon
Execution won the
1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and
it's widely seen as a defining moment in the
Vietnam War for its
influence on public opinion in the
United States about the war, even
being called "the picture that lost the war".
Outside the city proper two
Viet Cong battalions attacked the U.S.
logistical and headquarters complex at Long Binh.
Biên Hòa Air Base
was struck by a battalion, while the adjacent
ARVN III Corps
headquarters was the objective of another. Tan Son Nhut Air Base, in
the northwestern part of the city, was attacked by three
battalions. A combat-ready battalion of
awaiting transport to Da Nang, went instead directly into action
United States Air Force's 377th Security Police
Squadron and the US Army's 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry in halting the
attack. A total of 35 communist battalions, many of whose troops
were undercover cadres who had lived and worked within the capital or
its environs for years, had been committed to the Saigon
objectives. By dawn most of the attacks within the city center had
been eliminated, but severe fighting between
Viet Cong 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 North
Vietnamese. Bitter and destructive house-to-house fighting
erupted in the area. On 4 February, the residents were ordered to
leave their homes and the area was declared a free fire zone. Fighting
in the city came to a close only after a fierce battle between the
ARVN Rangers and
PAVN forces on 7 March.
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.
The U.S. estimated that during the first phase (30 January – 8
April) approximately 45,000
PAVN soldiers were killed and an unknown
number were wounded. For years this figure has been held as
excessively optimistic, as it represented more than half the forces
involved in this battle.
Stanley Karnow claims he confirmed this
Hanoi in 1981. Westmoreland himself claimed a smaller
number of enemies disabled, estimating that during the same period
PAVN troops were killed and another 5,800 captured. The
South Vietnamese suffered 2,788 killed, 8,299 wounded, and 587 missing
in action. U.S. and other allied forces suffered 1,536 killed, 7,764
wounded, and 11 missing.
Further information on the battle for the city: Battle of Huế
Further information on communist atrocities committed during the
occupation: Massacre at Huế
Huế and the Citadel
Burial of 300 victims of the 1968 Hue Massacre
At 03:40 on the foggy morning of 31 January, allied defensive
positions north of the Perfume River in the city of Huế were
mortared and rocketed and then attacked by two battalions of the 6th
PAVN Regiment. Their target was the
ARVN 1st Division headquarters
located in the Citadel, a three-square mile complex of palaces,
parks, and residences, which were surrounded by a moat and a
massive earth and masonry fortress built at the beginning of the 19th
century by Emperor Gia Long. The undermanned
ARVN defenders, led
by General Ngô Quang Trưởng, managed to hold their position, but
the majority of the Citadel fell to the PAVN. On the south bank of the
river, the 4th
PAVN Regiment attempted to seize the local MACV
headquarters, but was held at bay by a makeshift force of
approximately 200 Americans. The rest of the city was overrun by
PAVN forces which initially totaled approximately 7,500 men. Both
sides then rushed to reinforce and resupply their forces. Lasting
25 days, the battle of Huế became one of the longest and
bloodiest single battles of the Vietnam War.
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. 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." A later
assessment ultimately noted three Marine and 11 Vietnamese battalions
engaged at least 8 NVA/VC battalions of the 6th NVA Regiment, not
including the large number of forces outside the city.
Since there were no U.S. formations stationed in Huế, relief forces
had to move up from Phu Bai, eight kilometers to the southeast.
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, 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. Because of poor weather conditions, logistics
problems and the historical and cultural significance of the city,
American forces did not immediately apply air and artillery strikes as
widely as they had in other cities.
Viet Cong forces around Hue included six main-force battalions, while
PAVN regiments operated in the area. As the battle unfolded three
PAVN regiments redeployed from
Khe Sanh arrived as
reinforcements. The North Vietnamese plan of attack on Hue involved
intensive preparation and reconnaissance. 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. Other forces
would block American and
ARVN reinforcement routes, mainly Highway 1.
Over half of the
ARVN 1st Division was on holiday leave and PAVN
commanders believed the population of Hue would join the fight as a
part of the General Uprising.
U.S. Marines advance past an
M48 Patton tank during the battle for
Outside Huế, elements of the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division and the
101st Airborne Division
101st Airborne Division fought to seal
PAVN access and cut off their
lines of supply and reinforcement. By this point in the battle 16
PAVN battalions (8,000-11,000 men) were taking part in the
fighting for the city itself or the approaches to the former imperial
capital. Two of the North Vietnamese regiments had made a forced
march from the vicinity of
Khe Sanh to Huế in order to participate.
During most of February, the allies gradually fought their way towards
the Citadel, which was only taken after twenty-five days of intense
struggle. The city was not declared recaptured by U.S. and
until 25 February, when members of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd
ARVN Division raised the South Vietnamese flag over the
Palace of Perfect Peace.
During the intense action, the allies estimated that North Vietnamese
forces had between 1,042 and 5,000 killed and 89 captured in the
city and in the surrounding area. 216 U.S. Marines and soldiers had
been killed during the fighting and 1,609 were wounded. 421 ARVN
troops were killed, another 2,123 were wounded, and 31 were
missing. More than 5,800 civilians had lost their lives during
the battle and 116,000 were left homeless out of an original
population of 140,000. 40-50% of Huế was
destroyed by the end of the battle.
In the aftermath of the recapture of the city, the discovery of
several mass graves (the last of which were uncovered in 1970) of
South Vietnamese citizens of Huế sparked a controversy that has not
diminished with time. The victims had either been clubbed or shot
to death or simply buried alive. The official allied explanation
was that during their initial occupation of the city, the
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. Those taken into custody included South Vietnamese
military personnel, present and former government officials, local
civil servants, teachers, policemen, and religious figures.
Historian Gunther Lewy claimed that a captured
Viet Cong document
stated that the communists had "eliminated 1,892 administrative
personnel, 38 policemen, 790 tyrants." The North Vietnamese
officer, Bùi Tín, later further muddied the waters by stating that
their forces had indeed rounded up "reactionary" captives for
transport to the North, but that local commanders, under battlefield
exigencies, had executed them for expediency's sake.
General Ngô Quang Trưởng, commander of the 1st
believed that the captives had been executed by the communists in
order to protect the identities of members of the local Viet Cong
infrastructure, whose covers had been blown. The exact
circumstances leading to the deaths of those citizens of Huế
discovered in the mass graves may never be known exactly, but most of
the victims were killed as a result of
PAVN and NLF executions,
considering evidence from captured documents and witness testimonies
among other things.
Further information on operations around the Combat Base: Battle of
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." In General
Westmoreland's view, the purpose of the Combat Base was to provoke the
North Vietnamese into a focused and prolonged confrontation in a
confined geographic area, one which would allow the application of
massive U.S. artillery and air strikes that would inflict heavy
casualties in a relatively unpopulated region. By the end of
MACV had moved nearly half of its manoeuvre battalions to I
Corps in anticipation of just such a battle.
Quảng Trị Province
Quảng Trị Province & DMZ.
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.
Westmoreland, who knew of Nguyen Chi Thanh's penchant for large-scale
operations—but not of his death—believed that this was going to be
an attempt to replicate that victory. He intended to stage his own
"Dien Bien Phu in reverse."
Khe Sanh and its 6,000 U.S. Marine Corps, Army, and
ARVN defenders was
surrounded by two to three North Vietnamese divisions, totaling
approximately 20,000 men. Throughout the siege, which lasted until 8
April, the allies were subjected to heavy mortar, rocket, and
artillery bombardment, combined with sporadic small-scale infantry
attacks on outlying positions. With the exception of the overrunning
of the U.S.
Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, however, there was never
a major ground assault on the base and the battle became largely a
duel between American and North Vietnamese artillerists, combined with
massive air strikes conducted by U.S. aircraft. By the end of the
siege, U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy aircraft had dropped
39,179 tons of ordnance in the defense of the base.
The overland supply route to the base had been cut off, and airborne
resupply by cargo aircraft became extremely dangerous due to heavy
North Vietnamese antiaircraft fire. Thanks to innovative high-speed
"Super Gaggles", which utilized fighter-bombers in combination with
large numbers of supply helicopters, and the Air Force's utilization
C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft employing the innovative LAPES
delivery method, aerial resupply was never halted.
Tet Offensive began, feelings ran high at
MACV that the base
was in for a serious attack. In I Corps, the
Tet Truce had been
cancelled in apprehension of a communist assault that never happened.
The offensive passed
Khe Sanh by and the intermittent battle
continued. Westmoreland's fixation upon the base continued even as the
battle raged around him in Saigon. On 1 February, as the offensive
reached its height, he wrote a memo for his staff—which was never
delivered—stating: "The enemy is attempting to confuse the
issue ... I suspect he is also trying to draw everyone's
attention from the area of greatest threat, the northern part of I
Corps. Let me caution everyone not to be confused."
In the end, a major allied relief expedition (Operation Pegasus)
launched by all three brigades of the First Cavalry Division reached
Khe Sanh on 8 April, but North Vietnamese forces were already
withdrawing from the area. Both sides claimed that the battle had
served its intended purpose. The
MACV estimated that 5,500 North
Vietnamese troops had been killed and considerably more wounded.
During Operation Pegasus, 730 American lives lost and another 2,642
Khe Sanh Base was later closed on 5 July 1968 because
the base was seen as having less of a strategic importance than
Further information on Phase II of the offensive: May Offensive
U.S. Marines move through the ruins of the hamlet of Dai Do after
several days of intense fighting
Attacks on Saigon, Phase II, May 1968
Vietcong killed in Mini-Tet
Kham Duc during the evacuation
To further enhance their political posture at the Paris talks, which
opened on 13 May, the North Vietnamese opened the second phase of the
General Offensive in late April. U.S. intelligence sources estimated
between February and May the North Vietnamese dispatched 50,000 men
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Ho Chi Minh Trail to replace losses incurred during the
earlier fighting. Some of the most prolonged and vicious combat
of the war opened on 29 April and lasted until 30 May when the 8,000
men of the 320th
PAVN Division, backed by artillery from across the
DMZ, threatened the U.S. logistical base at Đông Hà, in
northwestern Quảng Trị Province. In what became known as the
Battle of Dai Do, the North Vietnamese clashed savagely with U.S.
Marine, Army, and
ARVN forces before withdrawing. The North Vietnamese
lost an estimated 2,100 men after inflicting casualties on the allies
of 290 killed and 946 wounded.
During the early morning hours of 4 May, communist 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. This time, however, allied intelligence was
better prepared, stripping away the element of surprise. Most of the
communist forces were intercepted by allied screening elements before
they reached their targets. 13
Viet Cong battalions, however, managed
to slip through the cordon and once again plunged the capital into
chaos. Severe fighting occurred at Phu Lam, (where it took two days to
root out the 267th
Viet Cong Local Force Battalion), around the
Y-Bridge, and at Tan Son Nhut. By 12 May, however, it was all
Viet Cong forces withdrew from the area leaving behind over
The fighting had no sooner died down around Saigon than U.S. forces in
Quảng Tín Province suffered what was, without doubt, the most
serious American defeat of the war. On 10 May, two regiments of the
PAVN Division attacked Kham Duc, the last
Special Forces border
surveillance camp in I Corps. 1,800 U.S. and South Vietnamese troops
were isolated and under intense attack when
MACV made the decision to
avoid a situation reminiscent of that at Khe Sanh. Kham Duc was
evacuated by air while under fire, and abandoned to the North
The communists returned to Saigon on 25 May and launched a second wave
of attacks on the city. The fighting during this phase differed from
Tet Mau Than and "Mini-Tet" in that no U.S. installations were
attacked. During this series of actions,
Viet Cong forces occupied six
Buddhist pagodas in the mistaken belief that they would be immune from
artillery and air attack. The fiercest fighting once again took place
in Cholon. One notable event occurred on 18 June when 152 members of
the Viet Cong's Quyet Thang Regiment surrendered to
ARVN forces, the
largest communist surrender of the war. The actions also brought
more death and suffering to the city's inhabitants. A further 87,000
were made homeless while more than 500 were killed and another 4,500
were wounded. During the second phase (5 May – 30 May) U.S.
casualties amounted to 1,161 killed and 3,954 wounded, while 143
South Vietnamese servicemen were killed and another 643 were
Further information on Phase III of the offensive: Phase III Offensive
Phase III of the offensive began on 17 August and involved attacks in
I, II, and III Corps. Significantly, during this series of actions
only North Vietnamese forces participated. The main offensive was
preceded by attacks on the border towns of Tây Ninh, An Lộc, and
Loc Ninh, which were initiated in order to draw defensive forces from
the cities. A thrust against
Da Nang was preempted by the U.S.
Marines' Operation Allen Brook. Continuing their border-clearing
operations, three North Vietnamese regiments asserted heavy pressure
on the U.S.
Special Forces camp at Bu Prang, in Quang Duc Province,
five kilometers from the Cambodian border. The fighting lasted for two
days before the North Vietnamese broke it off; the combat resulted in
the deaths of 776 North Vietnamese, 114 South Vietnamese, and two
Saigon was struck again during this phase, but the attacks were less
sustained and once again easily repulsed. As far as
concerned, the August offensive "was a dismal failure". In five
weeks of fighting and after the loss of 20,000 troops, not a single
objective had been attained during this "final and decisive phase".
Yet, as historian
Ronald Spector has pointed out "the communist
failures were not final or decisive either". During the same
period 700 U.S. troops were killed in action.
The horrendous casualties and suffering endured by communist units
during these sustained operations were beginning to tell. The fact
that there were no apparent military gains made that could possibly
justify all the blood and effort just exacerbated the situation.
During the first half of 1969, more than 20,000 communist troops
rallied to allied forces, a threefold increase over the 1968
figure. On 5 April 1969, COSVN issued Directive 55 to all of its
subordinate units: "Never again and under no circumstances are we
going to risk our entire military force for just such an offensive. On
the contrary, we should endeavor to preserve our military potential
for future campaigns."
A number of North Vietnamese targets during the Tet Offensive
The leadership in
Hanoi was despondent at the outcome of their
offensive. Their first and most ambitious goal, producing a
general uprising, had ended in a dismal failure. In total, about
85,000–100,000 communist troops had participated in the initial
onslaught and in the follow-up phases. Overall, during the "Border
Battles" of 1967 and the nine-month winter-spring campaign, 45,267
communist troops had been killed in action.
South Vietnamese troops in action near Tan Son Nhut Air Base
Hanoi had underestimated the strategic mobility of the allied forces,
which allowed them to redeploy at will to threatened areas; their
battle plan was too complex and difficult to coordinate, which was
amply demonstrated by the 30 January attacks; their violation of the
principle of mass, attacking everywhere instead of concentrating their
forces on a few specific targets, allowed their forces to be defeated
piecemeal; the launching of massed attacks headlong into the teeth of
vastly superior firepower; and last, but not least, the incorrect
assumptions upon which the entire campaign was based. According
to General Tran Van Tra: "We did not correctly evaluate the specific
balance of forces between ourselves and the enemy, did not fully
realize that the enemy still had considerable capabilities, and that
our capabilities were limited, and set requirements that were beyond
our actual strength.
The communist effort to regain control of the countryside was somewhat
more successful. According to the
U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department the Viet Cong
"made pacification virtually inoperative. In the Mekong Delta the Viet
Cong was stronger now than ever and in other regions the countryside
belongs to the VC." General Wheeler reported that the offensive
had brought counterinsurgency programs to a halt and "that to a large
extent, the V.C. now controlled the countryside". Unfortunately
for the Viet Cong, this state of affairs did not last. Heavy
casualties and the backlash of the South Vietnamese and Americans
resulted in more territorial losses and heavy casualties.
Viet Cong guerrilla awaits interrogation following his capture in
the attacks on Saigon.
The heavy losses inflicted on
Viet Cong units struck into the heart of
the infrastructure that had been built up for over a decade. MACV
estimated that 181,149
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops had been
killed during 1968. According to General Tran Van Tra, 45,267
NLF/NVA troops had been killed during 1968 From this point
Hanoi was forced to fill one-third of the Viet Cong's ranks
with North Vietnamese regulars. However, this change had little
effect on the war, since
North Vietnam had little difficulty making up
the casualties inflicted by the offensive. Some Western
historians have come to believe that one insidious ulterior motive for
the campaign was the elimination of competing southern members of the
Party, thereby allowing the northerners more control once the war was
It was not until after the conclusion of the first phase of the
Hanoi realized that its sacrifices might not have been
in vain. General Tran Do, North Vietnamese commander at the battle of
Huế, gave some insight into how defeat was translated into victory:
"In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective, which was to
spur uprisings throughout the South. Still, we inflicted heavy
casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and this was a big gain
for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been
our intention—but it turned out to be a fortunate result".
On 5 May
Trường Chinh rose to address a congress of Party members
and proceeded to castigate the Party militants and their bid for quick
victory. His "faction-bashing" tirade sparked a serious debate within
the party leadership which lasted for four months. As the leader of
the "main force war" and "quick victory" faction,
Lê Duẩn also came
under severe criticism. In August, Chinh's report on the situation was
accepted in toto, published, and broadcast via Radio Hanoi. He had
single-handedly shifted the nation's war strategy and restored himself
to prominence as the Party's ideological conscience. Meanwhile,
Viet Cong proclaimed itself the Provisional Revolutionary
Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, and took part in future
peace negotiations under this title.
South Vietnam was a nation in turmoil both during and in the aftermath
of the offensive. Tragedy had compounded tragedy as the conflict
reached into the nation's cities for the first time. As government
troops pulled back to defend the urban areas, the
Viet Cong moved in
to fill the vacuum in the countryside. The violence and destruction
witnessed during the offensive left a deep psychological scar on the
South Vietnamese civilian population. Confidence in the government was
shaken, since the offensive seemed to reveal that even with massive
American support, the government could not protect its citizens.
Civilians sort through the ruins of their homes in Cholon, the heavily
damaged Chinese section of Saigon
The human and material cost to
South Vietnam was staggering. The
number of civilian dead was estimated by the government at 14,300 with
an additional 24,000 wounded. 630,000 new refugees had been
generated, joining the nearly 800,000 others already displaced by the
war. By the end of 1968, one of every twelve South Vietnamese was
living in a refugee camp. 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. The
South Vietnamese military, although it had performed better than the
Americans had expected, suffered from lowered morale, with desertion
rates rising from 10.5 per thousand before Tet to 16.5 per thousand by
July. 1968 became the deadliest year of the war to date for the
ARVN with 27,915 men killed.
Moreover, in addition to the heavy civilian casualties inflicted in
the battle by U.S. forces to retake the cities from the NLF and NVA,
the presence of NLF fighters in the villages exposed their rural bases
to attack. Writes Marilyn B. Young:
In Long An province, for example, local guerrillas taking part in the
May—June offensive had been divided into several sections. Only 775
out of 2,018 in one section survived; another lost all but 640 out of
1,430. The province itself was subjected to what one historian has
called a "My Lai from the Sky" – non-stop
In the wake of the offensive, however, fresh determination was
exhibited by the Thiệu government. On 1 February Thiệu declared a
state of martial law and, on 15 June, the National Assembly passed his
request for a general mobilization of the population and the induction
of 200,000 draftees into the armed forces by the end of the year (a
decree that had failed to pass only five months previously due to
strong political opposition). This increase would bring South
Vietnam's troop strength to more than 900,000 men. Military
mobilization, anti-corruption campaigns, demonstrations of political
unity, and administrative reforms were quickly carried out.
Thiệu also established a National Recovery Committee to oversee food
distribution, resettlement, and housing construction for the new
refugees. Both the government and the Americans were encouraged by a
new determination that was exhibited among the ordinary citizens of
the Republic. Many urban dwellers were indignant that the communists
had launched their attacks during Tet and it drove many who had been
previously apathetic into active support of the government.
Journalists, political figures, and religious leaders alike—even the
militant Buddhists—professed confidence in the government's
Nguyễn Văn Thiệu
Nguyễn Văn Thiệu was the president of South Vietnam
Thiệu saw an opportunity to consolidate his personal power and he
took it. His only real political rival was Vice President Kỳ, the
former Air Force commander, who had been outmaneuvered by Thiệu in
the presidential election of 1967. In the aftermath of Tet, Kỳ
supporters in the military and the administration were quickly removed
from power, arrested, or exiled. A crack-down on the South
Vietnamese press also ensued and there was a worrisome return of
former President Ngô Đình Diệm's
Cần Lao Party
Cần Lao Party members to high
positions in the government and military. By the summer of 1968, the
President had earned a less exalted sobriquet among the South
Vietnamese population, who had begun to call him "the little
Thiệu had also become very suspicious of his American allies,
unwilling to believe (as did many South Vietnamese) that the U.S. had
been caught by surprise by the offensive. "Now that it's all over", he
queried a visiting Washington official, "you really knew it was
coming, didn't you?" Lyndon Johnson's unilateral decision on
31 March to curtail the bombing of
North Vietnam only confirmed what
Thiệu already feared, that the Americans were going to abandon South
Vietnam to the communists. For Thiệu, the bombing halt and the
beginning of negotiations with the North brought not the hope of an
end to the war, but "an abiding fear of peace." He was only
mollified after an 18 July meeting with Johnson in Honolulu, where the
American president affirmed that Saigon would be a full partner in all
negotiations and that the U.S. would not "support the imposition of a
coalition government, or any other form of government, on the people
of South Vietnam."
Further information on on the debate over the media's portrayal of the
offensive and the public response: News media and the Vietnam War
§ The Tet Offensive, 1968
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. The optimistic
assessments made prior to the offensive by the administration and the
Pentagon came under heavy criticism and ridicule as the "credibility
gap" that had opened in 1967 widened into a chasm.
At the time of the Tet Offensive, the majority of the American public
perceived that the war was not being won by the
United States and its
allies, despite assurances from the President and military leaders
that such was the case. No matter that the North Vietnamese and
their NLF allies lost about 30,000 of their best troops in the
fighting at Tet, they were capable of replacing those lost with new
recruits from North Vietnam. In 1969, the year after the Tet
battles, the US suffered 11,780 killed, the second highest annual
total in the war. This was a clear indication that the North
Vietnamese were capable of ongoing offensive actions, despite their
losses at Tet. Most Americans were tired of suffering so many
casualties without evidence that they were going to stop anytime in
the foreseeable future. Walter Cronkite, anchorman of the CBS
Evening News and a World War II combat veteran, argued for
negotiations as an honorable way out in a
Special Report based on his
journalism in Vietnam broadcast on
CBS TV in March.
The shocks that reverberated from the battlefield continued to widen:
On 18 February 1968
MACV posted the highest U.S. casualty figures for
a single week during the entire war: 543 killed and 2,547
wounded. As a result of the heavy fighting, 1968 went on to
become the deadliest year of the war for the US forces with 16,592
soldiers killed. On 23 February the U.S. Selective Service System
announced a new draft call for 48,000 men, the second highest of the
war. On 28 February Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense
who had overseen the escalation of the war in 1964–1965, but who had
eventually turned against it, stepped down from office.
During the first two weeks of February, Generals Westmoreland and
Wheeler communicated as to the necessity for reinforcements or troop
increases in Vietnam. Westmoreland insisted that he only needed those
forces either in-country or already scheduled for deployment and he
was puzzled by the sense of unwarranted urgency in Wheeler's
queries. Westmoreland was tempted, however, when Wheeler
emphasized that the
White House might loosen restraints and allow
operations in Laos, Cambodia, or possibly even North Vietnam
itself. On 8 February, Westmoreland responded that he could use
another division "if operations in
Laos are authorized". Wheeler
responded by challenging Westmoreland's assessment of the situation,
pointing out dangers that his on-the-spot commander did not consider
palpable, concluding: "In summary, if you need more troops, ask for
Wheeler's promptings were influenced by the severe strain imposed upon
the U.S. military by the Vietnam commitment, one which had been
undertaken without the mobilization of its reserve forces. The Joint
Chiefs had repeatedly requested national mobilization, not only to
prepare for a possible intensification of the war, but also to ensure
that the nation's strategic reserve did not become depleted. By
obliquely ordering Westmoreland to demand more forces, Wheeler was
attempting to solve two pressing problems. In comparison with
MACV's previous communications, which had been full of confidence,
optimism, and resolve, Westmoreland's 12 February request for 10,500
troops was much more urgent: "which I desperately need ... time
is of the essence". On 13 February, 10,500 previously authorized
U.S. airborne troops and marines were dispatched to South Vietnam. The
Joint Chiefs then played their hand, advising President Johnson to
turn down MACV's requested division-sized reinforcement unless he
called up some 1,234,001 marine and army reservists.
Johnson dispatched Wheeler to Saigon on 20 February to determine
military requirements in response to the offensive. Both Wheeler and
Westmoreland were elated that in only eight days McNamara would be
replaced by the hawkish
Clark Clifford and that the military might
finally obtain permission to widen the war. Wheeler's written
report of the trip, however, contained no mention of any new
contingencies, strategies, or the building up the strategic reserve.
It was couched in grave language that suggested that the 206,756-man
request it proposed was a matter of vital military necessity.
Westmoreland wrote in his memoir that Wheeler had deliberately
concealed the truth of the matter in order to force the issue of the
strategic reserve upon the President.
On 27 February, Johnson and McNamara discussed the proposed troop
increase. To fulfill it would require an increase in overall military
strength of about 400,000 men and the expenditure of an additional $10
billion during fiscal 1969 and another $15 billion in 1970. These
monetary concerns were pressing. Throughout the fall of 1967 and the
spring of 1968, the U.S. was struggling with "one of the most severe
monetary crises" of the period. Without a new tax bill and budgetary
cuts, the nation would face even higher inflation "and the possible
collapse of the monetary system". Johnson's friend Clifford was
concerned about what the American public would think of the
escalation: "How do we avoid creating the feeling that we are pounding
troops down a rathole?"
According to the Pentagon Papers, "A fork in the road had been reached
and the alternatives stood out in stark reality." To meet
Wheeler's request would mean a total U.S. military commitment to South
Vietnam. "To deny it, or to attempt to cut it to a size which could be
sustained by the thinly stretched active forces, would just as surely
signify that an upper limit to the U.S. military commitment in South
Vietnam had been reached."
To evaluate Westmoreland's request and its possible impact on domestic
politics, Johnson convened the "Clifford Group" on 28 February and
tasked its members with a complete policy reassessment. 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. This would
require a less aggressive strategy that was designed to protect the
population of South Vietnam. The divided group's final report,
issued on 4 March, "failed to seize the opportunity to change
directions... and seemed to recommend that we continue rather
haltingly down the same road."
On 1 March, Clifford had succeeded McNamara as Secretary of Defense.
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. According to Clifford:
"The simple truth was that the military failed to sustain a
respectable argument for their position." 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. 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. Clifford quietly sought allies and was assisted in
his effort by the so-called "8:30 Group" – Nitze, Warnke, Phil G.
Goulding (Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs), George
Elsey, and Air Force Colonel Robert E. Pursely.
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. On 4 March, Rusk reiterated
the proposal, explaining that, during the rainy season in the North,
bombing was less effective and that no military sacrifice would thus
occur. This was purely a political ploy, however, since the North
Vietnamese would probably again refuse to negotiate, casting the onus
on them and "thus freeing our hand after a short period...putting the
monkey firmly upon Hanoi's back for what was to follow."
ARVN Rangers moving through western Cholon, Saigon, 10 May 1968
While this was being deliberated, the troop request was leaked to the
press and published in
The New York Times
The New York Times on 10 March. The
article also revealed that the request had begun a serious debate
within the administration. According to it, many high-level officials
believed that the U.S. troop increase would be matched by the
communists and would simply maintain a stalemate at a higher level of
violence. It went on to state that officials were saying in private
that "widespread and deep changes in attitudes, a sense that a
watershed has been reached."
A great deal has been said by historians concerning how the news media
made Tet the "turning point" in the public's perception of the war.
Walter Cronkite stated during a news broadcast on
February 27, "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of
the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith
any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds" and
added that, "we are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by
negotiation, not victory." Far from suffering a loss of morale,
however, the majority of Americans had rallied to the side of the
president. A Gallup poll in January 1968 revealed that 56 percent
polled considered themselves hawks on the war and 27 percent doves,
with 17 percent offering no opinion. By early February, at the
height of the first phase of the offensive, 61 percent declared
themselves hawks, 23 percent doves, and 16 percent held no opinion.
Johnson, however, made few comments to the press during or immediately
after the offensive, leaving an impression of indecision on the
public. It was this lack of communication that caused a rising
disapproval rating for his conduct of the war. By the end of February,
his approval rating had fallen from 63 percent to 47 percent. By the
end of March the percentage of Americans that expressed confidence in
U.S. military policies in Southeast Asia had fallen from 74 to 54
By 22 March, President Johnson had informed Wheeler to "forget the
100,000" men. The President and his staff were refining a lesser
version of the troop increase – a planned call-up of 62,000
reservists, 13,000 of whom would be sent to Vietnam. Three days
later, at Clifford's suggestion, Johnson called a conclave of the
"Wise Men". With few exceptions, all of the members of the group
had formerly been accounted as hawks on the war. The group was joined
by Rusk, Wheeler, Bundy, Rostow, and Clifford. The final assessment of
the majority stupefied the group. According to Clifford, "few of
them were thinking solely of Vietnam anymore". All but four
members called for disengagement from the war, leaving the President
"deeply shaken." According to the Pentagon Papers, the advice of
the group was decisive in convincing Johnson to reduce the bombing of
Lyndon Johnson was depressed and despondent at the course of recent
The New York Times
The New York Times article had been released just two days
before the Democratic Party's New Hampshire primary, where the
President suffered an unexpected setback in the election, finishing
barely ahead of Senator Eugene McCarthy. Soon afterward, Senator
Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy announced he would join the contest for the
Democratic nomination, further emphasizing the plummeting support for
Johnson's administration in the wake of Tet.
The President was to make a televised address to the nation on Vietnam
policy on 31 March and was deliberating on both the troop request and
his response to the military situation. By 28 March Clifford was
working hard to convince him to tone down his hard-line speech,
maintaining force levels at their present size, and instituting Rusk's
bombing/negotiating proposal. To Clifford's surprise, both Rusk and
Rostow (both of whom had previously been opposed to any form of
deescalation) offered no opposition to Clifford's suggestions. On
31 March, President Johnson announced the unilateral (although still
partial) bombing halt during his television address. He then stunned
the nation by declining to run for a second term in office. To
Washington's surprise, on 3 April
Hanoi announced that it would
conduct negotiations, which were scheduled to begin on 13 May in
On 9 June, President Johnson replaced Westmoreland as commander of
MACV with General Creighton W. Abrams. Although the decision had been
made in December 1967 and Westmoreland was made Army Chief of Staff,
many saw his relief as punishment for the entire Tet debacle.
Abrams' new strategy was quickly demonstrated by the closure of the
Khe Sanh base and the ending of multi-division "search and
destroy" operations. Also gone were discussions of victory over North
Vietnam. Abrams' new "One War" policy centered the American effort on
the takeover of the fighting by the South Vietnamese (through
Vietnamization), the pacification of the countryside, and the
destruction of communist logistics. The new administration of
Richard M. Nixon
Richard M. Nixon would oversee the withdrawal of U.S. forces
and the continuation of negotiations.
Battle of Quang Tri (1968)
Battle of Khe Sanh
Battle of Kham Duc
United States presidential election, 1968
Nguyễn Văn Lém
Viet Cong and
PAVN battle tactics, after Tet
^ Macmillan Dictionary of Historical Terms. Chris Cook. Palgrave
Macmillan UK. ISBN 978-1-349-10084-2. P. 316
^ Nationalism and Imperialism in South and Southeast Asia: Essays
Presented to Damodar R. SarDesai. Arnold P. Kaminsky, Roger D. Long.
Routledge; 1 edition (September 7, 2016). ISBN 1138234834. P. 49
^ Smedberg, p. 188
^ "Tet Offensive". History. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
^ Hoang, p. 8.
^ The South Vietnamese regime estimated North Vietnamese forces at
323,000, including 130,000 regulars and 160,000 guerrillas. Hoang, p.
MACV estimated that strength at 330,000. The CIA and the U.S.
State Department concluded that the North Vietnamese force level lay
somewhere between 435,000 and 595,000. Dougan and Weiss, p. 184.
^ Tổng công kích, Tổng nổi dậy
Tết mậu thân 1968 (Tet
Offensive 1968) – ARVN's Đại Nam publishing in 1969, p. 35
^ Does not include
ARVN or U.S. casualties incurred during the "Border
ARVN killed, wounded, or missing from Phase III; U.S.
wounded from Phase III; or U.S. missing during Phases II and III.
^ Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast
Asia. Naval Institute Press, 2008. P 33
^ Includes casualties incurred during the "Border Battles", Tet Mau
Than, and the second and third phases of the offensive. General Tran
Van Tra claimed that from January through August 1968 the offensive
North Vietnam more than 75.000 dead and wounded. This is
probably a low estimate. Tran Van Tra, Tet, in Jayne S. Warner and Luu
Doan Huynh, eds., The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American
Perspectives. Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1993, pgs. 49 & 50.
^ PAVN's Department of warfare, 124th/TGi, document 1.103 (11-2-1969)
^ Ang, p. 351. Two interpretations of North Vietnamese goals have
continued to dominate Western historical debate. The first maintained
that the political consequences of the winter-spring offensive were an
intended rather than an unintended consequence. This view was
William Westmoreland and his friend Jamie Salt in A
Soldier Reports, Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1976, p. 322; Harry G.
Summers in On Strategy, Novato CA: Presidio Press, 1982, p. 133;
Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts, The Irony of Vietnam, Washington, D.C.:
The Brookings Institution, 1979, pp. 333–334; and Schmitz p. 90.
This thesis appeared logical in hindsight, but it "fails to account
for any realistic North Vietnamese military objectives, the logical
prerequisite for an effort to influence American opinion." James J.
Wirtz in The Tet Offensive, Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1991,
p. 18. The second thesis (which was also supported by the majority of
contemporary captured Vietcong documents) was that the goal of the
offensive was the immediate toppling of the Saigon government or, at
the very least, the destruction of the government apparatus, the
installation of a coalition government, or the occupation of large
tracts of South Vietnamese territory. Historians supporting this view
Stanley Karnow in Vietnam, New York: Viking, 1983, p. 537; U.S.
Grant Sharp in Strategy for Defeat, San Rafael CA: Presidio Press,
1978, p. 214; Patrick McGarvey in Visions of Victory, Stanford CA:
Stanford University Press, 1969; and Wirtz, p. 60.
^ "U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive, 1968".
United States Department of State. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 8.
^ Dougan and Weiss, pp. 22–23
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 22.
^ Hammond, p. 326.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 23.
^ Hammond, pp. 326, 327.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 23. This Order of Battle controversy resurfaced
in 1982, when Westmoreland filed a lawsuit against
CBS News after the
airing of its program, The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, which
aired had on 23 January 1982.
^ Those in the administration and the military who urged a change in
strategy included: Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara;
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach; Assistant Secretary for
Far Eastern Affairs William Bundy; Ambassador to
South Vietnam Henry
Cabot Lodge; General Creighton W. Abrams, deputy commander of MACV;
Lieutenant General Frederick C. Weyand, commander of II Field
Force, Vietnam. Lewis Sorley, A Better War. New York: Harvest Books,
1999, p. 6. Throughout the year, the
Pentagon Papers claimed, Johnson
had discounted any "negative analysis" of U.S. strategy by the CIA and
the Pentagon offices of International Security Affairs and System
Analysis, and had instead "seized upon optimistic reports from General
Westmoreland." Neil Sheehan, et al. The
Pentagon Papers as Reported by
the New York Times. New York: Ballantine, 1971, p. 592.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 68.
^ Karnow, pp. 545–546.
^ Karnow, p. 546.
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 66.
^ Schmitz, p. 56.
^ Schmitz, p. 58.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 69.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 67.
^ Karnow, p. 514.
^ Elliot, p. 1055.
^ Nguyen, p. 4.
^ Nguyen, pp. 15–16.
^ Nguyen, p. 20. See also Wirtz, pp. 30–50.
^ Wirtz, p. 20.
^ Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, p. 55.
^ Nguyen, p. 22.
^ Contrary to Western belief,
Hồ Chí Minh
Hồ Chí Minh had been sidelined
politically since 1963 and took little part in the day-to-day policy
decisions of the Politburo or Secretariat. Nguyen, p. 30.
^ Wirtz, pp. 36–40, 47–49.
^ Hoang, pp. 15–16. See also Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, p. 56.
^ Hoang, p. 16.
^ Nguyen, pp. 18–20.
^ a b Nguyen, p. 24.
^ Nguyen, p. 27.
^ Victory in Vietnam, p. 371.
^ Victory in Vietnam, p. 380. For years Western historians believed
that Thanh had died as a result of wounds received during a U.S. air
raid. Nguyen, fn. 147
^ Hoang, p. 24.
^ Ang, p. 352.
^ Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, p. 56.
^ Nguyen, p. 34. Duiker, p. 288. Also see Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland,
^ Marc J. Gilbert & James Wells Hau Nghia Part 3, 2005.
http://grunt.space.swri.edu/gilbert3.htm. This reference, left over
from an earlier editor, is a fine example of just how discerning
research has to be. One of the few accurate statements in it is the
one quoted above. The rest is inaccurate gibberish.
^ Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, pp. 58–59.
^ William, Thomas Allison. The Tet Offensive: a brief history with
documents. pp. 25.
^ Duiker, p. 299.
^ Hoang, p. 26.
^ Hoang offered opposing viewpoints (pp. 22–23) while William Duiker
(p. 289) and
Clark Clifford (p. 475) believed that it was so intended.
Stanley Karnow did not (p. 537), while
William Westmoreland never even
mentioned the prospect in his memoir. A study of North Vietnamese
documentation by James Wirtz led him to conclude that Giáp believed
that the American people would have to endure two more years of
military stalemate (post-offensive) before turning decisively against
the war. Wirtz, p. 61.
^ Trần Văn Trà, Tet, p. 40.
^ Victory in Vietnam,, p. 208. See also Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland,
The North, p. 46.
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 10.
^ Hoang, p. 10.
^ Hayward, The Tet Offensive: Dialogues.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 11.
^ Hoang, p. 39.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 11. The
Tet Offensive would later be utilized
in a textbook at
West Point as an example of "an allied intelligence
failure to rank with Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the Ardennes Offensive in
1944." Lieutenant Colonel Dave R. Palmer: Current Readings in Military
History. Clifford, p. 460.
^ Moyars Shore, The Battle of Khe Sanh.
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine Corps Historical
Branch, 1969, p. 17.
^ a b Willbanks, p. 16.
^ Morocco, pp. 174–176.
^ a b Hoang, p. 9.
^ Willbanks, p. 17.
^ Maitland and McInerney, pp. 160–183.
^ a b Palmer, pp. 229–233.
^ Palmer, p. 235.
^ Stanton, p. 195.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 124.
^ Willbanks, p. 7.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 12.
^ Hoang, p. 35.
^ Sheehan, p. 778.
^ In their memoirs, both Johnson and Westmoreland stated that they had
predicted the offensive. According to Clark Clifford, however, these
later claims were rather "self serving". Clark Clifford, with Richard
Holbrooke, Counsel to the President. New York: Random House, 1991, pp.
^ Zaffiri, p. 280.
^ Hammond, p. 342.; Zaffiri, p. 280.
For a treatment of official statements predicting the offensive, see
Peter Braestrup. Big Story, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University
Press, 1983, 1:60–77.
^ Laurence, John (2002), The Cat from Hue: a
Vietnam War Story,
^ Oberdorfer, Don (1971) Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
^ The first attacks may have been launched prematurely due to
confusion over a changeover in the calendar date by North Vietnamese
Hanoi had arbitrarily forwarded the date of the holiday in
order to allow its citizens respite from the retaliatory airstrikes
that were sure to follow the offensive. Whether this was connected to
the mixup over the launch date is unknown. All eight of the attacks
were controlled by the North Vietnamese headquarters of Military
^ Westmoreland, p. 323.
^ Stanton, p. 209.
^ Westmoreland, p. 328. Palmer gave a figure of 70,000, p. 238.
^ Westmoreland, p. 328.
^ a b Westmoreland, p. 332.
^ a b Karnow, p. 549.
^ Clifford, p. 474.
^ Zaffiri, p. 283. Clifford, p. 476.
^ Braestrup, p. 108.
^ Wiest, p. 41
^ a b c Willbanks, p. 32.
^ Stanton, p. 215. For a detailed description of U.S. participation in
the defense, see Keith W. Nolan, The Battle of Saigon, Tet 1968. New
York: Pocket Books, 1996.
^ Westmoreland, p. 326.
^ Willbanks, pp. 32–33.
^ Alvarez, Everett (1983). Vietnam, a television History: Tet
Offensive. Public Broadcasting Service. p. Time in video: 6:57.
Retrieved 31 January 2015.
^ Willbanks, pp. 34–36.
^ Sherwood, John (2015). War in the Shallows: U.S. Navy and Coastal
and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam 1965-8. Naval History and Heritage
Command. p. 284. ISBN 9780945274773.
^ a b Willbanks, p. 36.
^ In the Jaws of History. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press,
^ Perlmutter, David D. "Just How Big an Impact Do Pictures of War Have
on Public Opinion?". History News Network. Retrieved 31 January
^ Willbanks, pp. 37–39.
^ Hoang, p. 40.
^ a b Willbanks, p. 39.
^ Oberdorfer, p. 261, See also Palmer, p. 254, and Karnow, p. 534.
^ Department of Defense, CACCF: Combat Area [Southeast Asia]
Casualties Current File, as of Nov. 1993, Public Use Version.
Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1993.
^ Willbanks, p. 46.
^ Willbanks, pp. xxiv, 43.
^ a b Willbanks, p. 44.
^ Willbanks, p. 47.
^ Palmer, p. 245. These units included the 12th
Viet Cong Main Force
Battalion and the Huế City
^ Willbanks, pp. 48–49.
^ Willbanks, p. 54.
^ a b Willbanks, James H. (January 25, 2011). "Tet - What Really
Happened at Hue". historynet.com. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
^ Schulimson, et al., p. 175. For a detailed description of U.S.
participation in the battle, see Keith W. Nolan, Battle for Huế, Tet
1968. Novato CA: Presidio Press, 1983.
^ Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine
Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 71, ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4
^ Willbanks, p. 48.
^ Willbanks, pp. 50–51.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 28.
^ Willbanks, p. 49.
^ William, Thomas Allison, pp.51.
^ Willbanks, p. 53.
^ a b Schulimson, p. 213.
^ Willbanks, pp. 52–54.
^ Willbanks, p. 154.
^ Schulimson, p. 213. A
PAVN document allegedly captured by the ARVN
stated that 1,042 troops had been killed in the city proper and that
several times that number had been wounded. Hoang, p. 84.
^ Schulimson, p. 216.
^ Willbanks, pp. 54–55.
^ Tucker, Spencer (2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War:
Political, Social, Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 515.
^ Wiest, Andrew (2009). The Vietnam War. Rosen Publishing. p. 42.
^ a b c Willbanks, pp. 99–103.
^ a b Willbanks, p. 55.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 35. This was the version given in Douglas
Viet Cong Strategy of Terror, published by the U.S. Mission
^ Lewy, p. 274.
^ Bui, p. 67.
^ Hoang, p. 82.
^ Stephen T. Hosmer,
Viet Cong Repression and its Implications for the
Future (Rand Corporation, 1970), pp. 72-8.
^ Hosmer, pp 73-4.
^ Karnow, p. 555, John Prados, The Blood Road, New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1998, p. 242.
^ Westmoreland, pp. 339–340.
^ Westmoreland, p. 311.
^ Pisor, p. 61.
^ Prados and Stubbe, p. 297
^ Prados and Stubbe, p. 186.
^ Prados and Stubbe, p. 454.
^ Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine
Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 205–208,
ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4. The Joint Chiefs of Staff created a Top
Secret assessment on whether to maintain the
Khe Sanh Combat Base or
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 145.
^ Schulimson, p. 307. Perhaps more indicative of North Vietnamese
losses were the 41 North Vietnamese prisoners taken and the recovery
of 500 weapons, 132 of which were crew-served. Ibid. For a detailed
description of the battle, see Keith William Nolan, The Magnificent
Bastards: The Joint Army-Marine Defense of Dong Ha, 1968. New York:
^ A vivid description of the participation of four battalions of the
U.S. 9th Infantry Division in the fighting in
Cholon can be found in
Keith Nolan's House to House: Playing the Enemy's Game in Saigon, May
1968. St. Paul MN: Zenith Press, 2006.
^ Hoang, p. 98.
^ The best descriptions are found in Ronald H. Spector, After Tet. New
York: The Free Press, 1993, pp. 166–175 and Lieutenant Colonel Allen
Gropman, Air Power and the Airlift Evacuation of Kham Duc. Washington,
D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1985.
^ a b Hoang, p. 101.
^ Spector, p. 163.
^ Spector, p. 319.
^ Spector, p. 235.
^ Hoang, p. 110.
^ a b Spector, p. 240.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 152.
^ Hoang, p. 117.
^ Hoang, p. 118.
^ Karnow, pp. 544–545.
^ Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, pp. 118, 120.
^ a b Tran Van Tra, Tet, pp. 49, 50.
^ Willbanks, p. 80.
^ Tran Van Tra, Vietnam, Washington, D.C.: Foreign Broadcast
Information Service, 1983, p. 35. There are some extravagant but
largely unfounded stories that Tra was severely punished. For example,
"This public criticism of the
Hanoi leadership led to Tra's removal
from the Politburo and house arrest until his death in April 1994."
Tra had never been a member of the Politburo. He was not placed under
house arrest, even being allowed to travel abroad to attend a
conference on the
Vietnam War in 1990. And he was allowed to continue
writing and publishing on the history of the war; the People's Army
Publishing House released his next book in 1992.
^ Schmitz, p. 106.
^ Schmitz, p. 109.
^ Duiker, p. 296. This was mainly due to General Creighton Abrams' new
"One War" strategy and the CIA/South Vietnamese Phoenix Program.
^ a b Smedberg, p. 196
^ According to one estimate by late 1968, of a total of 125,000 main
force troops in the South, 85,000 were of North Vietnamese origin.
Duiker, p. 303.
^ Arnold, pp. 87–88.
^ Arnold, p. 91. See also Karnow, 534.
^ Karnow, p. 536.
^ Doyle, Lipsman and Maitland, pp. 126–127.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 118.
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 116.
^ Arnold, p. 90.
^ Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990 (New York: Harper
Perennial, 1991), p. 223
^ Zaffiri, p. 293.
^ Hoang, pp. 135–6.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 119.
^ Three of the four
ARVN corps commanders, for example, were replaced
for their dismal performance during the offensive.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 120.
^ Hoang, p. 142.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 126.
^ a b Dougan and Weiss, p. 127.
^ Hoang, p. 147.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 128.
^ Clifford, pp. 47–55.
^ Lorell, Mark & Kelley, Charles, Jr. "Casualties, Public Opinion
and Presidential Policy During the Vietnam War" (1985)
^ Laurence, John The Cat from Hue (2002) PublicAffairs Press, New York
Vietnam War U.S. Military Fatal Casualty Statistics". 15 August
^ Lorell, Mark & Kelley, Charles, Jr. Casualties, Public Opinion
and Presidential Policy During the
Vietnam War (1985)
^ Halberstam, David (1979) The Powers That Be, Knopf
^ Brinkley, Douglas (2012) Cronkite, Harper
^ Clifford, p. 479.
^ Smedberg, p. 195.
^ Palmer, p. 258.
^ Willbanks, pp. 148, 150.
^ Zaffiri, p. 304.
^ Westmoreland, p. 355.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 70.
^ Pentagon Papers, p. 594.
^ Westmoreland, p. 356.
^ Schmitz, p. 105.
^ Dougan and Weiss, p. 72. See also Zaffiri, p. 305.
^ Zaffiri, p. 308.
^ Clifford, p. 482. See also Zaffiri, p. 309.
^ Westmoreland, pp. 356–357.
^ Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point. New York: Holt, Rinehart,
& Winston, 1971, pp. 389–392.
^ Johnson, pp. 406–407.
^ Clifford, p. 485.
^ a b Pentagon Papers, p. 597.
^ The group included McNamara, General Maxwell D. Taylor, Paul H.
Nitze (Deputy Secretary of Defense),
Henry H. Fowler
Henry H. Fowler (Secretary of the
Nicholas Katzenbach (Undersecretary of State), Walt W.
Rostow (National Security Advisor),
Richard Helms (Director of the
William P. Bundy
William P. Bundy (Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern
Paul Warnke (the Pentagon's International Security Affairs),
Philip C. Habib
Philip C. Habib (Bundy's deputy).
^ Pentagon Papers, pp. 601–604.
^ Pentagon Papers, p. 604.
^ Clifford, p. 402.
^ Major General Phillip Davidson, Westmoreland's chief of
intelligence, reflected how the military men thought about Clifford's
conversion in his memoir: "Clifford's use of the Wise Men to serve his
dovish ends was a consummate stroke by a master of intrigue...what
happened was that Johnson had fired a doubting Thomas (McNamara) only
to replace him with a Judas." Phillip Davidson, Vietnam at War. Novato
CA: Presidio Press, 1988, p. 525.
^ a b Johnson, p. 399.
^ Johnson, p. 400.
^ Pentagon Papers, p. 623.
^ President Johnson was convinced that the source of the leak was
Undersecretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes. Don Oberdorfer
suggested that the Times pieced the story together from a variety of
sources. Oberdorfer, pp. 266–270. Herbert Schandler concluded that
the key sources included Senators who had been briefed by Johnson
himself. Herbert Y. Schandler, The Unmaking of a President. Princeton
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 202–205.
^ Oberdofer p. 269.
^ Stephens, Bret, "American Honor", Wall Street Journal, January 22,
2008, p. 18.
^ Braestrup, 1:679f.
^ Braestrup, 1:687.
^ Johnson, p. 415.
^ Clifford, p. 507. The group consisted of
Dean Acheson (former
Secretary of State),
George W. Ball (former Under Secretary of State),
General Omar N. Bradley, Arthur H. Dean, Douglas Dillon, (former
Secretary of State and the Treasury), Associate Justice Abe Fortas,
Henry Cabot Lodge
Henry Cabot Lodge (twice Ambassador to South Vietnam), John J. McCloy
(former High Commissioner of West Germany),
Robert D. Murphy (former
diplomat), General Taylor, General
Matthew B. Ridgeway
Matthew B. Ridgeway (U.S. Commander
in the Korean War), and
Cyrus Vance (former Secretary of Defense), and
Arthur J. Goldberg
Arthur J. Goldberg (U.S. representative at the UN).
^ Karnow, p. 562.
^ Clifford, p. 516.
^ The four dissenters were Bradley, Murphy, Fortas, and Taylor.
Karnow, p. 562, Pentagon Papers, p. 610.
^ Pentagon Papers, p. 609.
^ Clifford, p. 520.
^ Zaffiri, pp. 315–316. Westmoreland was "bitter" and was upset that
he "had been made the goat for the war." Ibid. See also Westmoreland,
^ Sorley, p. 18.
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