The Tet Offensive
The Turing Point of the War
- DEFINE THE SUBJECT
On January 30th and 31st, 1968, a series of coordinated surprise attacks by North Vietnam took place on South Vietnam. Ranging from military outposts, provincial capitals, the autonomous cities, district capitals and towns, and the capital of South Vietnam called Saigon. This incursion would be known as the Tet Offensive, these surprise attacks were aimed at to breaking the stalemate in the Vietnam War since 1964, between the communist government of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong National Liberation Front against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States and its allies.
- REVIEW THE SETTING
- Strategic/Operation Overview
The Tet Offensive took place on the lunar New Year on the Vietnamese calendar, called the Tet. It was the most important holiday on the calendar for most North and South Vietnamese people. In previous years, the Tet Holiday had been an occasion for an informal truce within the Vietnam War. However, in late 1967 and early1968, General Vo Nguyen Giap of the North Vietnamese Military chose this occasion for a coordinated surprise attack aimed at to breaking the stalemate in the Vietnam War. General Giap and the North Vietnamese government believed that these surprise attacks would cause the U.S. Armed Forces and Army of the republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to collapse and foment discontent and rebel among the South Vietnamese population. Furthermore, General Giap also believed that the alliance between the United States and South Vietnam would break and hoped that the offensive would drive a wedge between them and convince the American leaders to give up their defense of South Vietnam and eventually unifying North and South Vietnam.
- Study The Area Of Operations
The Tet Offensive was timed to coincide with the poor weather in some parts of South Vietnam ranging from fog, mist, rain and even monsoon in the northeast of South Vietnam. It played a part for the PAVN offensives with some of the elements they were able to conceal their movements around towns, cities, and military bases. The reason for this is that most of the southern areas of and northern area of South Vietnam only have two types of climate seasons, a rainy season and a is dry season. It is like living in areas of the southern states of Georgia and Louisiana. Another big factor of the Tet Offensive was the time frame of the attacks, in which that most of the attacks took place either in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning that following day.
The country’s terrain that dictated the Tet Offensive at that time was South Vietnam. The Terrain of South Vietnam is divided into several parts that consist of mountainous terrain that has densely covered forest in that area in the Central Highlands connecting with Laos and Cambodia that is in the northern part of South Vietnam. The other terrain features of South Vietnam are tropical coastal lowlands covers 20% of the southern area of the country. This is where most of the towns, cities, and the capital of Saigon are located in South Vietnam but later renamed to Ho Chi Ning City.
- Compare the principle antagonists
(1) Size and Composition
Before the offensive began the ARVN strength had about 350,000 regulars in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. South Vietnamese also regional and local militias that consist about 149,000. Even though they had a reasonable force, but they were dependent relay on outside military aid that and economic aid. The majority of economic aid the military aid was consist of military equipment and manpower that was provided by United States government, due to the fact the ARVN had inexperience offices and troops as well as the will to fight sometimes.
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On the other hand the U.S. Armed Forces relied on several things such as new technology, the intelligence from the CIA and the strength of numbers. In the begin of 1968 U.S. only had deployed over about 331,098 Army personnel and 78,013 Marines that consisted of nine divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and two separate brigades to the of country of South Vietnam. They were also joined with the 1st Australian Task Force, a Royal Thai Army regiment, two South Korean infantry divisions and a Republic of Korea Marine Corps brigade.
In comparison to the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong (V.C.) South Vietnamese and U.S. military intelligence believed that PAVN and the V.C. forces in South Vietnam during January 1968 had a total of 323,000 men, including 130,000 North Vietnamese regulars, 160,000 V.C. and members of the infrastructure, and 33,000 service and support troops. Both the PAVN and the V.C. 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 Sapper Battalions. (See the picture below for the full details of all the units that participated in the Vietnam War/ Tet Offensive of 1968). PAVN and the V.C. relied on deception espionage and guerrilla tactics. They were also dependent on outside economic aid and military aid as well. The vast majority of the economic aid and military aid was provided by either the Soviet Union or by China.
For the Tet Offensive the U.S. and its allies had several primary weapons ranging from the of the M1 Garand rifle, M2 Carbine rifle, the M14, With an effective range of 500 yards, the with its 7.62 mm M14 rifle was the primary infantry weapon of the U.S. military. The classic AR-15 better known as the M16A1 with its 5.56 mm weapon first introduced to the Army in 1965 it was deployed for jungle warfare operations in South Vietnam, and the M60s (nickname “The Pig” because of its hefty size) with its 7.62 mm 200-round belt behemoth served as a squad automatic firearm during the war among many U.S. units. The weapon suffered its share of drawbacks it would blazed through rounds so quickly that every soldier in a squad typically had to carry an extra 200-round belt of ammo just for the weapon. As well as inability of crews to change out the barrel rapidly after prolonged firing. It was also susceptible to the Vietnamese climate, which made damage and deterioration inevitable.
For the PAVN and the VC they also had multiple weapons, raging from the Kar 98k, Arisaka type 99 rifle, the Type 38 rifle to Stg-44, but the standard infantry weapon that VC and the PAVN used was the Soviet SKS (better known as the AK-47) it’s a carbine/semi-automatic rifle with it 7.62mm round or the Chinese version of the Type 56 Carbine similar to the AK-47 both weapons were widely used, it more reliable rugged and easier to maintain but it was less accurate. VC and the PAVN also used the B-40 Rocket Launcher and Rocket Propelled Grenade (better known as the RPG). The RPG was originally designed for use against armored vehicles but it was adapted for anti-personnel use to good effect.
(3) Doctrine and Training/Intelligence
The U.S. intelligence (CIA) and the U.S. Armed Forces at that time had the capabilities to investigate and verify certain key transmissions that were coming-in from the VC and PAVN. They also had the capabilities get their hands on certain documentations that were left behind by PAVN and its allies VC. But they simply chose to ignore or not employ those elements or doctrines in accordance with their policy and procedures that had.
(4) Conditions and Morale
Despite the poor Intel that was giving out and the lack of commutation from higher command. U.S. Armed Forces its allies had a good morale and their willingness to fight prior to the Tet Offensive. That suddenly changed there after the PAVN and V.C launched their surprised attacks all over the South Vietnam. Largely to the leadership failing to recognized key signals and miss opportunities that lead up to the Tet Offensive by the PAVN and V.C. The morale of US troops was still same but they shocked that PAVN and the V.C. was able to coordinate a larger scale attack all over South Vietnam. On the other hand public opinion about the war started to change back in the United States.
(5) Command, Control & Communication
Command, control, on the part of the U.S. Armed Forces and its allies was at best when it came to the Tet Offensive. They were able to drive back the enemy forces in mostly all the location that PAVN and the V.C. attacked in South Vietnam. But when it came to on the communication/Intel that was mostly handed to them or given up by the PAVN and V.C. forces. The U.S. Armed Forces and its allies they didn’t do their due diligence in follow up with those investigations or they didn’t reverifing those leads that had. That could have prevented the Tet Offensive in the first place.
The leadership of the U.S. military was the single largest factor in the attack on South Vietnam. General Westmoreland could have divert his attention and recourse away from o defending town/city of Khe Sanh and started focusing on the Intel that was coming in from U.S. intelligence prior to the Tet Offensive. That could have prevented the surprise attacks that happen all over the country of South Vietnam.
- State the Mission
The main objective of the ARVN and U.S. Armed Forces during the Tet Offensive was to stop any offensive attacks that the PAVN and the V.C. had started and defended all the provincial capitals, towns and key installations and pushing back the enemy forces way at all cost.
The main mission of the PAVN and the V.C. was to attack major cities and towns including of all five provincial capitals, key structures and installations in the capital of Saigon. The goal was to break the stalemate in the Vietnam War and drive a wedge between Alliance of the U.S. and South Vietnamese, then eventually have the American leaders to give up their defense of South Vietnam.
- Describe the Initial Disposition of the Opposing Forces
In order to prepare for the Tet Offensive, General Giap needed several key factor be in place before launching the Tet Offensive. First key factor, increased resources and supplies long the Ho Chi Minh Trail to its forward operating bases along the Cambodian and South Vietnam border. The logistical build-up began in mid-year of 1967 – mid January 1968, it consist of 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.
General Giap second key factor was deception, meaning having the American attention and forces away from the population centers in the lowlands area, by having the People’s Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) launched a series of attacks in 1967 on Isolated American garrisons in the highland of central South Vietnam and along the Laotian border just below the Demilitarized Zone and Cambodian frontiers.
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The last key that General Giap want was a On January 21, 1968 PAVN forces began a massive artillery bombardment on the U.S. Marine Garrison at Khe Sanh which was located in northern part of the South Vietnam on a principal road into Laos. President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Top U.S. General William Westmoreland commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV), focused their defense of Khe Sanh drawing away military recourse away from the big towns and cities leaving them vulnerable for an open attack as well as allowing General Giap’s and it PAVN forces of 70,000 poised to begin objective of the Tet Offensive this would take place all over the country of South Vietnam.
- DESCRIBE THE ACTION
a. Describe Opening Moves of the Battles & Major Phases & Key Events
The Tet Offensive was set in three phase, the first phase of the Tet Offensive took place shortly after midnight on January 30th, 1968 It consist of the PAVN attacking five provincial capitals in II Corps and Da Nang I Corps, headquarters of the U.S. I Field Force. Those first attacks may have been launched prematurely due to confusion and changeover in the calendar date by V.C. Shortly thereafter other towns and cities followed suit from Ban Me Thuot, Kon Tum, Hoi An, Tuy Hoa, Da Nang, Qui Nhơn, and Pleiku. During those operations the PAVN followed a similar pattern just the V.C. at the same locations with a massed ground assaults conducted by battalion-strength elements, sometimes supported by V.C. 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 PAVN and V.C. forces had been driven from their objectives. By General Phillip B. Davidson he was the new Military Assistance Command, of Vietnam (MACV) chief of intelligence, he then notified General Westmoreland that “This is going to happen in the rest of the country tonight and tomorrow morning.” General Westmoreland then alerted the rest of. U.S. forces were placed on maximum high alert and similar orders were issued to all ARVN units as well. However, The ARVN and U.S. Armed Forces that didn’t get attack responded without any real sense of urgency cause they though it was a false alert since due the Tet holiday.
On the following day of January 31st, 1968, approximately 84,000 PAVN and V.C. forces started too mortared or rocketed every major allied airfield and attacked 64 district capitals and scores of smaller towns. They assailed through Saigon, Cholon, and Gia Dinh in the Capital Military District; Quang Tri (again) Hue, Tam Ky, and Quang Ngi as well as U.S. bases at Phu Baj and Chu Lai, Phan Thiet Tuy Hoa (again) and U.S. installations at Bong Son and An Khe; Can Tho, and Vinh Long. The by the following day, Bien Hoa, Long Thanh, Binh Druong, Kien Hoa, Dinh Tuong, Go Cong, Kien Giang, Vinh Binh, Ben Tre, Vĩnh Bình, and Kien Tuong were also assaulted as well. The first phase of the Tet Offensive attacks lasted until
February 24th 1968. There were other Tet Offensive attacks they were called two phases and three phase.
The second phase of attacks the Tet Offensive or Mini-Tets that most South Vietnamese and Americans called them. In late April 1968 and ended the following month in late May 1968. These attacks consist of 50,000 men and women of the PAVN striking 119 targets in South Vietnam including the capital of Saigon (again).
The third and finally phase of the Tet Offensive attacks started on August 17th, 1968 and ending in mid or late September of 1968. North Vietnamese Army mostly targeted military elements and towns that border Cambodia such as Tay Ninh, An Loc, Loc Ninh and the capital of South Vietnam Saigon was struck again as well.
b. State the outcome
The Tet offensive showed a considerable degree of military preparedness, skill and bravery on the part of the PAVN and the V.C. It shook the morale of the US Armed Forces, which was forcibly made aware of its own vulnerability, and it had a profound effect on US public opinion. However, from a military point of view it must be seen as a defeat for the PAVN and the V.C. When the offensive was over in most parts of South Vietnam. The Americans and its allies remained in control and the PAVN and the V.C had suffered heavy losses. PAVN and the V.C. dead totaled somewhat around 45,000 and the number of prisoners nearly 7000, while the Americans and South Vietnamese lost about 6000, with 16,000 wounded and over 1,000 missing in action. Within a matter of days PAVN and the V.C. were driven from most of the positions they had acquired. This was both the high point of guerrilla actions in the war and the beginning of their decline. Thus, the Tet offensive ended in the destruction of much of the V.C. infrastructure in the south. This was a heavy blow. After the Tet offensive, the regular North Vietnamese army (PAVN) did most of the fighting against the U.S. and its allies. Although the Tet offensive had failed in its major objectives, it had a profound and lasting effect on the course of the war. The cost in North Vietnamese casualties was horrendous but General Giap’s gambler proved to be the turning point in the War. It was a media disaster for the White House and effectively ended the presidency of Lyndon Johnson,
- ASSESS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ACTION
- Relate Cause Effect
This failure to not follow the doctrine, policies or procedures that they had in place, caused fatal error exploited the U.S. Armed Forces and the ARVN that lead up to the Tet offensive and also was the turning point of the Vietnam War. If the U.S. Intelligence (CIA) simply had utilized the proper doctrine, tools, and protocols to investigate and verify more thoroughly on certain key reports, secret documents and radio transmission, surely the ARVN and the U.S. Armed Forces would have been more prepared or they could also prevented the Tet Offensive as well.
- Establish Military “Lessons Learned”
Perhaps the biggest take-away from this battle, could be the absolute importance of Command, Control, and Communication. Those three principals were severely lacking in this example, and ultimately played major roles in the outcome of the battle. The other lesson learned from this attack is that if our government agencies has the capability to investigate Intel of incoming transmissions or “acquire” certain documentation received from your spies, allies or even from the enemy. It needs to investigate and verify and then reverified again so that something like the Tet Offensive never happens again.
- History Channel.com – Original Published Date October 29, 2009 https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/tet-offensive
- MHN (Military History Now) by MilitaryHistoryNow.com
- Ashbrook Ashland University “The Tet Offensive” by Steven Hayward
- “The Odyssey of Echo Company” by Doug Stanton: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War
- “The Vietnam War 1956-1975” by Andrew Wiest
- “Nineteen Sixty-Eight (Vietnam Experience)” by Stephen Weiss and Clark Dougan
- “Once upon a Mulberry Field” By C.L. Hoang
- “Westmoreland’s War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam” by Gregory Daddis