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Tet Offensive

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The Tet Offensive was a series of operational offensives launched in 1968 by the PLAF and PAVN against ARVN and ARVN-allied forces during the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The offensives linked the local People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) of the National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong), with the more substantially equipped forces of the People's Armed Forces of Vietnam (PAVN) in combined operations. The series of offensives began on the night of January 30-31, 1968, Tết Nguyn Đn (the lunar new year day). It involved military action in most of the major cities in southern Vietnam and attacks on the US firebase at Khe Sanh. The attacks on Khe Sanh are usually considered as a separate operation to the Tet offensive, the two operations occuring at approximately the same time. While the offensive began spectacularly during celebrations of the Lunar New Year, sporadic operations associated with the offensive continued into 1969.

Both the ARVN and US military posture immediately proceeding the offensive were relaxed, in part due to a variety of conflicting intelligence. A common belief in the US military was that Khe Sanh was about to be the focus of a major set-piece battle, MACV staff being certain that a decisive clash was imminent. The US base was reinforced and thousands of unattended ground sensors were scattered in the surrounding jungle in Operation Niagara. US intelligence identified at least 15,000 NVA troops in the vicinity.

Contents

Origins of the Tet Offensive

Prior to 1965 the NFL strategy for South Vietnam had been predicated on developing a social revolution which would begin in the countryside and end in a nationalist urban uprising. This strategy had informed an operational doctrine of gradual intensification of ground warfare, and the development of the PLAF's capacity for operational warfare. The involvement of US ground forces had weakened this strategy. The NFL no longer believed that it would win a revolution within a year or two.

The response developed by the DRVN was for a nation-wide offensive to precipitate an urban revolution in the South. This strategy was developed in the context of the politburo of the DRVN's faith in southern buddist and student dissidents. However, elements of the politburo opposed the policy, most notably General Giap. In addition, Ho Chi Minh was approaching the threshold of death and the DRVN hoped for a significant victory before this occurred.

In the first phase, the PAVN would launch attacks on the border regions of South Vietnam to draw American forces away from South Vietnamese cities. Phase two saw widespread attacks by the Viet Cong all over South Vietnam's cities, which would prod the civilians into full fledged revolt against the South Vietnamese government. With the South Vietnamese government overthrown, the Americans, Koreans, Australians and other allied forces would have no choice but to head to the coast and evacuate. Phase three would then begin as the PLAF and PAVN would defeat elements of the evacuating foreign forces.

Battle of Khe Sanh

Main article: Battle of Khe Sanh

To the south the fighting began on January 29 as a number of NFL units began their attacks prematurely in four provincial towns. The rest of the NFL/PAVN attacks began on the night of 30-31st. All but eight provincial capitals were attacked, five of the six autonomous cities, and 58 other major towns. Major attacks were aimed at Ban Me Thuot, Quang Nam, Dalat, My Tho, Can Tho, Ben Tre, Nha Trang, and Kontum. It was in Huế, the ancient capital, and Saigon that the NVA had significant success. The morale of the ARVN was further eroded.

Battle of Hue

Main article: Battle of Hue

The city of Hue was attacked by ten NVA battalions and almost completely overrun. Thousands of civilians believed to be potentially hostile to Communist control, including government officials, religious figures, and expatriate residents, were executed in what became known as the Massacre at Hue. The city was not recaptured by the US and ARVN forces until the end of February. The historical and cultural value of the city meant that the US did not apply air and artillery strikes as widely as in other cities, at least initially. Instead, US Marines of the 1st Division, filmed by the US media, cleared the city street-by-street, heading gradually towards the fortified Citadel, the imperial palace, which was recaptured from NVA troops after four days of struggle. The US and ARVN lost 482 men and the NVA around 7,500.

The Battle of Hue was dramatized by director Stanley Kubrick in the 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket.

Source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/2002/MOUTWilbanks.htm

Saigon

There were a number of attacks in and around Saigon; around five battalions of NLF had infiltrated the city. Tn Sơn Nhất airbase, the headquarters of the ARVN and MACV, was attacked by around 700 men and there was heavy fighting but only 110 American casualties. Bien Hoa airbase was also attacked and twenty aircraft were destroyed. The Vietnamese casualties in these two assaults and other actions in Saigon were over 1,100 men but they took control of large parts of the city. Fighting lasted almost a week and some sections of the city were badly damaged by US airstrikes and artillery, the suburb of Cholon was very badly damaged as fighting there lasted into mid-February. One especially potent assault was on the US Embassy by twenty NLF commandos. While quickly contained, it was a highly symbolic incident that produced memorable images.

Continuance

Despite the failure to hold Hue, and to take or hold Saigon, other operations scheduled as elements of the Tet Offensive continued until 1969. These operations were much smaller, and failed to achieve strategic suprise (though occasionally they achieved operational suprise). None of these continuing offensives met the NFL/DRVN goals of producing a southern urban uprising.

Aftermath

The PLAF and the PAVN lost around 35,000 men killed, 60,000 wounded and 6,000 POWs. The US and ARVN dead totalled around 3,900 (1,100 US). US media reports of the battles shocked both the American public and its politicians. The effect of the offensive of US public opinion surprised the NFL and DRVN leaderships, particularly as their strategic aims were restricted to effects on the social situation in Vietnam. The role of the US media in forming popular opinion about the results of the Tet Offensive has been most notably explored in Peter Braestrup's book Big Story.

The PLAF's operational forces were effectively crippled and the offensive failed to achieve its strategic objectives, but many US observers believe it to have been an enormous psychological and propaganda victory for the NFL. Despite the severe military defeat the communist forces had been dealt, the fact that they had been able to mount such a major assault at all was a blow to US hopes of winning the war rapidly. Until the Tet Offensive, General William Westmoreland's now-infamous public reports of the progress of the Vietnam War were highly fictionalized and exaggerated to appear positive for the American public, often using exaggerated bodycounts and other inflated numbers. Developing reports of the Tet Offensive severely undercut the upbeat war propaganda of the Johnson administration and The Pentagon, and served to undermine public support for continuing the war. When the news broke that a squad of Viet Cong had gained access to the American Embassy in Saigon, the event quickly came to epitomize the disparity between the facts and official statements. Opposition to America's involvement in Vietnam began to increase from that point on, until the release of the Pentagon Papers largely confirmed the deliberate practice of "covering-up" various facts about the progress of the war. After the Tet Offensive, the main issue of public debate would be "how to securely withdraw" from the war without losing a "hearts and minds" Cold War battle against then-enemy Soviet Union and its system of communism. It must be noted that the majority of U.S. voters remained sufficiently supportive of a conservative approach to handling the conflict to elect the noted anti-communist Richard Nixon as President later that year.

The heavy US shelling of Ben Tre produced the famous quote, "it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it." The quotation has never been definitively sourced, though. In 2003 columnist Mona Charen and Vietnam war researcher B. G. Burkett concluded that Ben Tre had been destroyed by the retreating Viet Cong. And they identified reporter Peter Arnett as the probable source of the quotation, as the soldier Arnett was most likely quoting remembers saying "It was a shame the town was destroyed."

Khe Sanh was abandoned by the US on June 23, 1968.

Source: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/charen040103.asp

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