South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia

South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia

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South Vietnamese troops retake Binh Gia in a costly battle. The Viet Cong launched a major offensive on December 4 and took the village of Binh Gia, 40 miles southeast of Saigon. The South Vietnamese forces recaptured the village, but only after an eight-hour battle and three battalions of reinforcements were brought in on helicopters. The operation continued into the first week of January. Losses included an estimated 200 South Vietnamese and five U.S. advisors killed, plus 300 more South Vietnamese wounded or missing. Battles such this, in which the South Vietnamese suffered such heavy losses at the hands of the Viet Cong, convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the South Vietnamese could not defeat the communist without the commitment of U.S. ground troops to the war.

Battle of Ba Gia

The Battle of Ba Gia was a major battle that marked the beginning of the National Liberation Front's Summer Offensive of 1965, during the early phases of the Vietnam War, which is known in Vietnam as the American War. The battle took place in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam, between May 28–31, 1965.

Following the victory of Communist forces in the Battle of Binh Gia earlier in the year, the North Vietnamese leadership in Hanoi decided to intensify their war effort in order to defeat the American-backed Government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese war effort received a major boost in the first half of 1965, when the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China stepped up the delivery of military aid, which included the deployment of military specialists and other personnel to train North Vietnam's armed forces. The North Vietnamese decision to intensify the war culminated in the Summer Offensive of 1965, which aimed to destroy the regular divisions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in large-scale battles, and pin down the elite units of the ARVN strategic reserve. In Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (commonly known as the Viet Cong) kick-started their summer campaign by attacking elements of the ARVN 51st Infantry Regiment during the early hours of May 29, 1965. In the days that followed, the National Liberation Front destroyed an entire ARVN Task Force to mark a successful start to their summer campaign.


The Vietnamese Marine Corps had its origins during French rule of Indochina. The 1949 Franco-Vietnamese Agreement stated that the Vietnamese Armed Forces were to include naval forces whose organization and training would be provided by the French Navy. [7]

In March 1952, the Navy of Vietnam was established. In 1953, the French and Vietnamese governments agreed to increase the size of Vietnamese National Army, so an increase in the size of the Vietnamese Navy was also deemed necessary. As they debated whether the Army or Navy would control the river flotillas, French Vice Admiral Philippe Auboyneau proposed for the first time the organisation of a Vietnamese Marine Corps. When the French withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, the Vietnamese Marine Corps was a component of the Vietnamese Navy. The Marine Corps consisted of a headquarters, four river companies, and one battalion landing force. On October 13, 1954, Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem signed a government decree formally creating within the naval establishment a section of infantry, then of brigade strength, later to be designated as the Marine Corps (VNMC). [7]

During late December 1964 in the Battle of Binh Gia the 4th Marine Battalion suffered 60% casualties as it attempted to rescue a trapped Ranger force. [8] : 204

On 30 May 1965 in the Battle of Ba Gia the 3rd Marine Battalion was part of a task force with 2nd Battalion, 51st Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, the 39th Ranger Battalion and one squadron of M113 armored personnel carriers to recapture Ba Gia which had been captured the previous day by the VC. [9] The VC first attacked the 2nd Battalion, 51st Infantry and then ambushed the 3rd Marine Battalion as it attempted to support the 2/51st forcing both units to retreat to Phuoc Loc. On the morning of 31 May the VC renewed their attacks capturing Phuoc Loc and attacking the 39th Rangers inflicting heavy casualties. [10] Total South Vietnamese losses were 392 men killed and missing. [8] : 51

From 7 to 10 September 1965 the 3rd Marine Battalion participated in Operation Piranha on the Batangan Peninsula with US Marine forces. [8] : 84

From 6–22 August 1966 3 Marine Battalions participated in Operation Colorado/Lien Ket 52 with the ARVN 2nd and 4th Battalions, 2nd Division and elements of the US 1st Marine Division against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 2nd Division in the Hiệp Đức District. [11] : 213–20

From 6–15 January 1967 the 3rd and 4th Marine Battalions participated in Operation Deckhouse Five with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in Kiến Hòa Province. [12] : 151

From 27 to 31 July 1967 the 3rd Marine Battalion participated in Operation Coronado II with the 44th Ranger Battalion and the US Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) against VC units in the Mekong Delta. [13] : 120–5

From 15 to 19 November 1967 the 5th Marine Battalion participated in Operation Kien Giang 9-1 with the ARVN 7th and 9th Divisions and the MRF against the VC 263rd Battalion's Base Area 470 in western Định Tường Province. The operation rendered the 263rd Battalion combat ineffective. [14] : 130–5

On 4 December 1967 while participating in Operation Coronado IX with the MRF, a flotilla of ATCs carrying the 5th Marine Battalion came under fire 12 km east of Mỹ Tho from the VC 502nd Local Force Battalion in a fortified base on the west bank of the Rach Ruong Canal. The VC attacked the boats with rockets and automatic weapons and the Marines were landed north of the VC position and proceeded to overrun the position killing over 100 VC and scattering the rest. Shortly afterward the US 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment landed south of the VC. The fighting was intense and the 4/47th Infantry was landed by helicopter west of the VC position. To the south the 3/47th Infantry, encountered resistance from scattered VC bunkers that prevented it from linking with the Marines. There were 266 VC killed in total, mostly by Marines. [13] : 139 The Marines lost 40 killed and 107 wounded, while the Americans suffered 9 dead and 89 wounded. [13] : 139–40 [14] : 135–6

During the Tet Offensive attack on Joint General Staff Compound the 2nd Marine Battalion, together with the 6th Airborne Battalion and elements of the 8th Airborne Battalion, fought the VC 2nd Go Mon Battalion attacking the compound. [14] : 342–3

On 11 February 1968 during the Battle of Hue the Vietnamese Marines Task Force A comprising the 1st and 5th Battalions, began to be lifted by helicopter into Mang Ca Garrison, headquarters of the 1st Division in the northeast corner of the Citadel of Huế to replace the 1st Airborne Task Force. However, due to poor weather this deployment would not be completed until 13 February. [15] : 197 On 14 February Marine Task Force A joined the battle. The operational plan was for the Marines to move west from Tây Lộc Airfield and then turn south, however they were soon stopped by strong PAVN defenses after two days the Marines had only advanced 400 metres. [15] : 204 On 17 February the Marines and 3rd Regiment resumed their attacks south, while the 1st Division's Black Panther Company was moved to support the right flank of the US 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, over the next 3 days these forces would slowly reduce the PAVN's perimeter. [15] : 206 On 22 February after a barrage of 122mm rockets the PAVN counterattacked the Marines who pushed them back with the support of the Black Panther Company. 23 February saw little progress prompting deputy COMUSMACV General Creighton Abrams to suggest that the Vietnamese Marine Corps should be dissolved. On the night of 23 February the PAVN attempted another counterattack but were forced back by artillery fire and the 3rd Regiment launched a night attack along the southern wall of the Citadel, at 05:00 they raised the South Vietnamese flag on the Citadel flag tower and proceeded to secure the southern wall by 10:25. The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment and the Black Panther Company recaptured the Imperial City against minimal resistance by late afternoon. The last remaining pocket of PAVN at the southwest corner of the Citadel was eliminated in an attack by the 4th Marine Battalion in the early hours of 25 February. [15] : 210–11

From 11 March to 7 April 1968 the Marine Brigade participated in Operation Quyet Thang in Gia Định Province with the Airborne Division and the US 199th Light Infantry Brigade to reestablish South Vietnamese control over the areas immediately around Saigon in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. [14] : 460–1

After midnight on 20 September during the Phase III Offensive, the VC 1st Battalion, 272nd Regiment, attacked a Regional Forces outpost in Phước Tân hamlet, 20 km west of Tay Ninh City, losing 35 killed in the brief assault. The 1st Marine Battalion was deployed to Phước Tân later that day to defend against any renewed assault. That evening the 271st Regiment attacked, the assault was repelled with air and artillery support, killing 128 VC with 6 captured. The 8th Airborne Battalion was also deployed to Phước Tân and on the night of 27 September the 272nd Regiment attacked again losing 150 killed. [14] : 670

On 15 January 1969 the 1st Marine Battalion joined Operation Goodwood with the 1st Australian Task Force replacing the 2nd Airborne Brigade. [16] : 31 On 20 January they were replaced by Headquarters ARVN 52nd Regiment augmented by the ARVN 3/52nd Regiment and the 5th Marine Battalion. [16] : 39

During Operation Lam Son 719 on 21 March 1971 the Marines at Fire Support Base Delta, south of Route 9 in Laos, came under intense ground and artillery attacks. During an attempted extraction of the force, seven helicopters were shot down and another 50 were damaged, ending the evacuation attempt. The Marines finally broke out of the encirclement and marched to the safety of FSB Hotel, which was then hastily abandoned. [17] : 269 Following the conclusion of the operation the Marines were kept in I Corps instead of returning to their base in Saigon, presumably to prevent them spreading stories of the losses suffered in the operation. A US adviser who observed the Marines before and after the operation said that "These were brave men, well led, well supplied who had a certain elan and a certain confidence in themselves when they went in. When they came out, they'd been whipped. They knew they'd been whipped and they acted like they'd been whipped." [18]

Easter Offensive Edit

In early 1972 two Marine brigades of the general reserve were stationed in Quảng Trị Province under the operational control of the recently formed 3rd Division. The 147th Marine Brigade was headquartered at Mai Loc Camp and the 258th Brigade was at Firebase Nancy. The Marines and 56th Regiment, 3rd Division presented a strong west-facing defense as this was assumed to be the most likely direction of attack. [19] : 19 The offensive began at noon on 30 March 1972, when an intense artillery barrage rained down on the northernmost ARVN outposts just south of the DMZ.

On 30 March the 258th Marine Brigade was deployed forward to Đông Hà. [20] : 43 Early on the morning of 1 April under pressure from the PAVN the 4th Marine Battalion abandoned Firebase Sarge and retreated to Mai Loc Camp. [20] : 44–5 By 1 April the PAVN had broken through the ARVN defensive positions along the DMZ and north of the Cam Lo River and fragmented ARVN units and terrified civilians began withdrawing to Đông Hà. [20] : 45 3rd Division commander General Vu Van Giai, ordered a withdrawal of the Division south of the Cửa Việt River in order for his troops to reorganize a new defensive line. Extending the line south the 147th Marine Brigade would hold Mai Loc and secure the high ground along Route 9 between Cam Lộ and Mai Loc. [19] : 27

By 11:00 on 2 April the ARVN 20th Tank Battalion moved forward to Đông Hà to support the 258th Marine Brigade in and around the town and defend the crucial road and rail bridges across the Cua Viet River. [20] : 50–2 Marine ANGLICO units called in naval gunfire to hit PAVN forces near the bridges on the north bank of the river and destroyed 4 PT-76 amphibious tanks east of Đông Hà. More tanks were hit by a Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) A-1 Skyraider before it was shot down. [20] : 53 At midday PAVN tanks attempted to force the road bridge, but 6 tanks were destroyed by fire from the ARVN 20th Tank's M48s. [20] : 55 At approximately 13:00 Captain John Ripley an adviser to the Marines swung under the road bridge and spent 3 hours installing demolition charges to destroy the bridge. The bridge was blown up at 16:30 and the damaged railway bridge was destroyed around the same time temporarily halting the PAVN advance. Naval gunfire and a B-52 strike were soon directed at PAVN forces gathered on the northern bank. [20] : 56–60

On 2 April, after several days of shelling and surrounded by a PAVN regiment Colonel Pham Van Dinh, commander of the 56th Regiment, surrendered Camp Caroll and his 1,500 troops with barely a shot being fired. [19] : 29–30 With the loss of Camp Carroll the 147th Marine Brigade abandoned Mai Loc, the last western base and fell back to Quang Tri and then to Huế, the brigade was replaced by the fresh 369th Marine Brigade which established a new defensive line at Firebase Nancy. [19] : 30 The capture of Camp Carroll and Mai Loc allowed PAVN forces to cross the Cam Lộ bridge, 11 km to the west of Đông Hà. The PAVN then had almost unrestricted access to western Quảng Trị Province north of the Thạch Hãn River.

On 7 April the Marines withdrew from Đông Hà leaving the defense to the 57th Regiment, the 1st ARVN Armored Brigade, 20th Tank Battalion and the 4th and 5th Ranger Groups. [20] : 68 At dawn on 9 April the PAVN launched an attack, led by tanks, against Firebase Pedro southwest of Quảng Trị. The PAVN tanks had outrun their infantry support and 9 tanks were lost in a minefield around Pedro. An armored task force of 8 M48s and 12 M113s from the ARVN 20th Tank Battalion were despatched from Ái Tử to support the Marines at Pedro. At the same time a flight of RVNAF A-1 Skyraiders arrived overhead and destroyed 5 tanks. [20] : 68–9 When the ARVN armor arrived they destroyed five T-54s for no losses and drove one captured T-54 back to Ái Tử. On 10 and 11 April further PAVN attacks on Pedro were repulsed at a cost of over 200 PAVN estimated killed. [20] : 70 On 23 April the 147th Marine Brigade returned to Ái Tử and the 258th Marine Brigade redeployed to Huế leaving its 1st Battalion at Firebase Pedro under the control of the 147th Brigade. [19] : 40

On 28 April the commander of the 20th Tank Battalion withdrew from Đông Hà to deal with a PAVN force threatening Ái Tử Combat Base, seeing the tanks leaving the soldiers of the 57th Regiment panicked and abandoned their positions leading to the collapse of the ARVN defensive line. [20] : 78 The 7th Marine Battalion was sent to Ái Tử to help defend the base. [20] : 78 At 02:00 on 29 April the PAVN attacked the ARVN positions north and south of the base and the ARVN defenses began to crumble, by midday on 30 April General Giai ordered a withdrawal from Ái Tử to a defensive line along the south of the Thạch Hãn River and the withdrawal was completed late that day. [20] : 79–80 On 1 May with his forces disintegrating General Giai decided that any further defense of Quảng Trị city was pointless and that the ARVN should withdraw to a defensive line along the My Chanh River 13 km to the south. [20] : 82–3 [19] : 44 The 147th Marine Brigade which was the only unit maintaining any cohesiveness departed the city in an armored convoy and regrouped that evening at Camp Evans. [19] : 45

On 3 May I Corps commander General Hoàng Xuân Lãm was replaced by Lieutenant General Ngô Quang Trưởng, commander of IV Corps and this change of command and reinforcement by forces of the general reserve stabilized the ARVN position in Thừa Thiên Province. [19] : 50–3 The remainder of the Marine Division was deployed to Huế and was given responsibility for north and northwest Thừa Thiên Province, while the 1st Division was given responsibility for the area southwest and south of Huế blocking any further PAVN advance from the A Sầu Valley. [19] : 54

On 8 May the 2nd Airborne Brigade arrived at Huế and came under the operational control of the Division on the My Chanh Line. The entire Airborne Division arrived in late May and was given responsibility for a sector between the Division and the 1st Division. The 1st Marine Division then assumed control of the 1st Ranger Group which had just arrived from Da Nang. [19] : 56–7

On 13 May 2 battalions of the 369th Brigade launched a heliborne assault on helicopters of the US 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9th MAB) against PAVN positions in the Hải Lăng District southeast of Quảng Trị, sweeping the area before returning to the My Chanh line. [19] : 57

On 21 May the PAVN hit the Marine defenses in an attempt to regain the initiative. After achieving an initial breakthrough the PAVN were forced back by the 3rd and 6th Battalions which regained their original positions by the evening of 22 May. [19] : 57

On 24 May with support from the 9th MAB the 147th Brigade conducted an amphibious assault at Wunder Beach 10 km north of the My Chanh Line and a heliborne assault 6 km inland at Co Luy. The Brigade swept the area for several days and then returned to the My Chanh Line. [19] : 57–60

On 28 May President Thieu promoted Division commander Colonel Bui The Lan to Brigadier General at the Imperial City, Huế. [19] : 60

From 11 to 18 June the Division and the Airborne Division conducted probing attacks to test PAVN strength ahead of the launch of General Trưởng's Operation Lam Son 72 to recapture Quảng Trị Province. [19] : 65 The operational plan called for the Airborne and Marine Divisions to advance abreast to the northwest to the Thạch Hãn River. The Airborne Division would deploy to the west from the foothills to Highway 1, while the Marine Division would deploy to the east from Highway 1 to the coast. Quảng Trị City would be in the Airborne Division's operational area, but the plan called for the city to be bypassed so as to concentrate on the destruction of PAVN forces. As a diversion the 9th MAB would conduct a feint amphibious assault against the mouth of the Cua Viet River. [20] : 106

On the morning of 27 June the 9th MAB launched their amphibious feint against the Cua Viet, reversing course when 7 km from shore. [20] : 106 On 28 June the South Vietnamese advance began and quickly ran into strong PAVN resistance and helicopter assaults were launched to land troops behind PAVN positions. [19] : 65 On 29 June, following preparatory airstrikes the 1st and 4th Marine Battalions were landed by Marine helicopter squadrons HMM-164 and HMM-165 near the Wunder Beach area. [20] : 110 By 7 July the Airborne advance had reached the southern outskirts of Quảng Trị but became bogged down as the PAVN defended tenaciously. [21] : 211–3

On 11 July, following preparatory B-52 strikes, the 1st Marine Battalion was deployed by HMM-164 and HMM-165 helicopters to two landing zones 2 km northeast of the city to cut Route 560, the main PAVN supply line. [20] : 113–4 This move would force the PAVN to reinforce and resupply across the Thạch Hãn River, making them vulnerable to air strikes. The helicopters were met by heavy anti-aircraft fire with one CH-53 hit by an SA-7 and crashing with 2 U.S. Marine crewmen and 45 Vietnamese Marines killed. Two CH-46s were shot down while another 25 helicopters were damaged. [20] : 113–5 Despite these loses the Marines deployed successfully and consolidated their positions with air and artillery support. After a vicious, three-day battle the 48th Regiment, 320B Division broke and withdrew to the west. [18] : 115–6

By 20 July the Marine Division had consolidated its position north of Quảng Trị City, while the Airborne continued trying to break in. On 22 July the Marines launched a three battalion operation against PAVN supply lines south of the Cua Viet River. The 5th Battalion would be landed by HMM-164 helicopters 4 km north of the city, while the other two battalions, supported by tanks would attack north, the combined force would then move southeast. The helicopter landing proceeded smoothly, while the ground assault met heavy resistance and could only break through PAVN defenses with air and artillery support. After 2 days the Marines had killed 133 PAVN and destroyed 3 tanks. [20] : 118–9

On 27 July, the Marine Division was ordered to relieve the Airborne units as the lead element in the battle. But progress was slow, consisting of vicious house-to-house fighting and incessant artillery barrages by both sides. [20] : 121 On 9 September, the final assault to capture the heavily defended citadel was launched by the 147th and 258th Marine Brigades. The citadel was finally captured on 15 September. [20] : 123–6 Meanwhile, between 11 and 15 September the 2nd Marine Battalion advanced to the southern bank of the Thạch Hãn River, where they halted, exhausted and depleted by heavy casualties and unable to push on to Đông Hà. During the operation, the Marines suffered 3,658 casualties. [20] : 126

In late October 1972 the ARVN and Marines began attacks north of Quảng Trị to try to regain positions along the south bank of the Cam Lộ/Cửa Việt River. The attacks were met with stiff PAVN resistance and were stopped at the Thạch Hãn River. A further attack from the coast by the Marines in November made limited gains. By the end of 1972 the Marines and ARVN occupied positions 5 km south of the river. [20] : 129–31 As the ongoing peace negotiations would soon lead to a ceasefire, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS) sought the most advantageous battlefield positions possible and so ordered a further effort to regain the south bank of the Cam Lộ/Cửa Việt River. [20] : 134 On 15 January 1973 planning began for a final assault on Cửa Việt. A special combined unit called Task Force Tango was organized, consisting of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Battalions and elements of the 1st Armored Brigade. The task force was put under the command of Colonel Nguyen Thanh Tri, Deputy Commander of the Division. [20] : 134 [22] The operation began at 06:55 on 26 January with Task Force Tango advancing in two columns. [20] : 134 Besides ARVN firepower, twelve B-52 bombers from the US Air Force and naval gunfire of the United States Seventh Fleet was used to soften the PAVN-occupied Cửa Việt Base and hinder PAVN reinforcements. The PAVN put up fierce resistance to the attack, destroying 26 M-48s and M-113s with AT-3 missiles and shooting down two Republic of Vietnam Air Force planes with SA-7 missiles. [20] : 135 At 01:45 on 28 January the Marines made a final assault and by 07:00 had broken through the PAVN lines to recapture the base. At 08:00 in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords the ceasefire came into effect and the US stopped all support for Task Force Tango. [20] : 135 On the evening of 29 January, the PAVN launched a counterattack against Task Force Tango, and by the next day had succeeded in cutting off its lines of communication and began bombarding the encircled Marines. [20] : 136 A Republic of Vietnam Navy LCM was destroyed as it tried to resupply the Marines. The Marines attempted to break out on the early morning of 31 January and the PAVN recaptured the base. [20] : 136 [22] South Vietnamese losses were recorded as 40 casualties and 20 armored vehicles destroyed in the battle between 28 and 31 January. [20] : 136

In 1972 President Thiệu finally moved General Khang out of the Division which he had commanded since February 1964, transferring him to a nebulous "special assistant" post under General Cao Văn Viên on the Joint General Staff and replacing him with General Bui The Lan. [23] : 487

1975 Edit

In December 1974 the 147th Marine Brigade replaced the 2nd Airborne Brigade west of Huế. The Marine Division itself pulled two battalions out of forward positions northwest of Huế to constitute a heavier reserve and further thinning the force, sent one company from each battalion to Saigon to form the new 468th Marine Brigade for the JGS reserve effective 1 January 1975. Later in the month, Marine positions in Quảng Trị were taken over by Regional Force battalions, and three marine battalions were shifted south to Thua Thien Province. [24] : 139

In early March the 468th Brigade was deployed to Tân An, Long An Province to stiffen the defenses of the Regional and Popular Forces there. [24] : 143

On 9 March a PAVN assault supported by at least 20 tanks hit the Song Bo corridor defended by the 147th Brigade consisting of five battalions - the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th Marines and the 130th RF Battalion. The attacks continued for two days and one marine position was lost but the 4th Marine Battalion recovered it on 11 March. In two days of heavy fighting, with moderate casualties, the 147th Brigade killed more than 200 PAVN, destroyed 2 tanks and damaged 7, and captured many weapons. [24] : 155

On 12 March, I Corps commander General Trưởng received the JGS order to pull the Airborne Division out of the line and start it moving to Saigon. The deployment was to begin on 17 March. General Trưởng immediately called General Viên to protest the decision but learned that President Thieu had personally directed the deployment so that the Airborne Division could participate in the offensive to retake Ban Me Thuot. General Viên told General Trưởng that, if possible, two battalions of the new 468th Marine Brigade and a Ranger group would be sent north to replace the Airborne Division. To adjust to the loss of the Airborne Division, General Trưởng decided to pull the Marine Division out of Quảng Trị and northern Thua Thien Provinces and shift it south to cover Phú Lộc District and Da Nang. The 14th Ranger Group would move north to relieve the Marines on 13 March. Only one Marine brigade, the one in Phú Lộc, would remain north of the Hải Vân Pass. General Truong flew to Saigon on 13 March to participate in a secret meeting with President Thiệu, Prime Minister Trần Thiện Khiêm and General Viên during which Trưởng was told about the evacuation from the Central Highlands and ordered to prepare a plan for the eventual evacuation of I Corps. He also was permitted to delay the first airborne brigade's departure to 18 March and the rest of the division until 31 March. Thiệu's reasoning was that Da Nang was most important, but that the rest of the region could be sacrificed. He would send the 468th Marine Brigade north to help defend Da Nang as soon as the Airborne Division arrived in Saigon. This division was vital to the defense of III and IV Corps, without which South Vietnam could no longer survive. [24] : 156

On 14 March, General Trưởng met with General Thi, commanding I Corps troops in Quảng Trị and Thua Thien Provinces, and General Lan, the Division commander, to explain his concept for the final defense of Da Nang. He would pull all combat forces into Quang Nam and defend Da Nang with the 1st, 3rd and Marine Divisions on line and the 2nd Division in reserve, but this deployment would be approached gradually as divisional troops were relieved in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces and terrain in the southern part of the region was abandoned. On 15 March, the 14th Ranger Group was to begin the relief of the 369th Marine Brigade in Quang Tri Province. While one marine brigade would remain in the Song Bo Valley for the defense of Huế, the 369th Marine Brigade would deploy to Đại Lộc District in Quang Nam Province and relieve the 3rd Airborne Brigade for movement to Saigon. Generals Trưởng and Thi anticipated a mass civilian exodus from Quảng Trị as soon as the people saw that the Marines were leaving, and he directed his staff to prepare plans to assist the refugees. The 258th Marine Brigade pulled out of Quang Tri to relieve the Airborne brigade in southern Thua Thien on 17 March. The Marine Division command post was set up at Marble Mountain Air Facility southeast of Da Nang on 18 March while the 2nd Airborne Brigade moved to the Da Nang docks for shipment to Saigon. [24] : 157

On 18 March, Prime Minister Khiêm flew to Da Nang to meet with General Trưởng and advised him that due to attacks elsewhere no additional troops would be sent to I Corps the promised 468th Marine Brigade would remain in the defense of Saigon. [24] : 158

On 19 March at meetings in Saigon with President Thiệu General Trưởng was directed to stop the evacuation of Hue and to defend enclaves at Huế, Da Nang, Chu Lai and Quang Ngai City. He could, when forced, surrender Chu Lai and Quang Ngai, but he was to defend Huế and Da Nang at all costs. When General Truong returned to his headquarters on 20 March, he turned around the displacing 175mm. batteries moving to Da Nang and stopped the evacuation of ammunition from Huế. The Imperial City would be defended despite the fact that PAVN artillery had, on 19 March, already struck inside the Citadel and Highway 1 was clogged with the southbound traffic of thousands of refugees. The contracted organization for the defense of Huế, under the command of General Thi, was divided between the deputy commander of the Marine Division, Col. Tri, who was responsible north of Hue, and the 1st Division commander. Brig. Gen. Nguyen Van Diem, south of the city. Colonel Tri's outposts were just inside the Thua Thien-Quang Tri boundary, nearly 30 km northwest of Huế. Here, under the direct command of the 14th Ranger Group, were the 77th Ranger Battalion, seven RF battalions, and a troop of armored personnel carriers of the 17th Armored Cavalry Squadron. The four Marine battalions of the 147th Brigade were in the vital Bo Corridor, within light artillery range of the Citadel, while the 78th and 79th Ranger Battalions were on outposts 10 km west of the Marines. South of the Marines, on the high ground at Fire Support Base Lion (also called Nui Gio) was the 51st Regiment, 1st Division, with two of its battalions. General Diem's responsibility began southwest of his 51st Regiment, which was attached to Colonel Tri's command. The 3rd Infantry Regiment, with two battalions, held the high ground around Firebase Birmingham, above the Song Huu Trach, south of Huế. East of the 3rd Infantry, the 54th Regiment with two of its battalions defended the Mo Tau sector, while the reinforced 1st Infantry Regiment extended the line southeast to the Nui Bong area. The 1st Infantry had, in addition to its own three battalions, one battalion of the 51st Regiment, a company of M48 tanks and a troop of armored personnel carriers. The 15th Ranger Group, with its three battalions and one battalion of the 3rd Regiment, dug in on the hills above Highway 1 west of Phú Lộc District Town. The 258th Marine Brigade, with two battalions, was also near Phú Lộc, while the 914th RF Group of three battalions guarded the Hải Vân Pass. [24] : 158–9

On the morning of 21 March the lead battalions of the PAVN 324B and 325th Divisions, together with the independent Tri-Thien Regiment, with heavy artillery support, assaulted South Vietnamese positions from the Bo Corridor to Phú Lộc. The attacks against the Marines in the Bo Valley were repulsed with heavy PAVN losses, but the Phú Lộc sector, taking the brunt of the attack, began to crumble. In the area of the ARVN 1st Regiment, the PAVN 18th Regiment, 325th Division, supported by the 98th Artillery Regiment, took Hill 350 and drove on to assault Nui Bong. Although the mountain changed hands three times that afternoon, the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, controlled it on 22 March. Other formations of the 325th, notably the 101st Regiment, forced the 60th Ranger Battalion, 15th Group, from Hill 500 west of Phú Lộc, and supporting artillery interdicted Highway 1. A stream of refugees began piling up along the road northwest of Phú Lộc. By evening, however, one lane was opened for traffic to Da Nang. [24] : 159

On 23 March the 913th Regional Forces Group on the My Chanh Line north of Huế withdrew without orders and they refused to stop at the next delaying position near Phong Dien District Town. The 913th's pullout caused some panic among other forces and a general rout developed. I Corps officers attempted to rally the troops at the Bo River. The mass desertion was not motivated by fear of the PAVN but by the soldiers' overwhelming concern for the safety of their families in Huế. On 24 March, after receiving the report of the collapse of the My Chanh line, General Trưởng met with his commanders, General Thi, Maj. Gen. Lan, Maj. Gen. Hoang Van Lac (deputy commander of I Corps) and 1st Air Division commander, Brig. Gen. Nguyen Duc Khanh. General Lac reported that Da Nang was close to panic also, with more than 300,000 refugees jamming the streets. At 18:00 on 24 March. General Trưởng ordered General Thi to begin the evacuation of all troops defending Huế. All forces north and west of Huế would assemble at Tân Mỹ Base, the port of Huế northeast of the city, cross the narrow channel to Phu Thuan and march southwest down Vinh Loc Island ( 16°25′44″N 107°48′00″E  /  16.429°N 107.8°E  / 16.429 107.8 ). Crossing the mouth of Dam Cau Hai Bay on a pontoon bridge to be constructed by ARVN engineers and moving along the beach to Highway 1, they would cross over the Hải Vân Pass and on to Da Nang. No trucks, tanks, or guns could make this march all would have to be disabled or destroyed. The 1st Division would protect the column by blocking in Phu Thu District. By the time these orders were issued, what was left of the population of Hue was streaming toward Tân Mỹ Base to take any available boat or ship out of Thua Thien Province. I Corps Forward commanded by General Thi, established its command post in Tân Mỹ, together with the command posts of the Marine Division and the 147th Marine Brigade. The 7th Marine Battalion deployed there to secure the port and the command posts. The 1st Division withdrew from the Troui-Nui Bong sector. The 15th Ranger Group, which had held the Troui River for the pulled back to Phu Bai Combat Base with heavy casualties. The 54th Regiment withdrew from the Mo Tau sector to Camp Eagle, southeast of Huế near Highway 1. The 3rd Regiment withdrew from its forward positions on the Son Hue Trach and assembled in Nam Hoa, south of Huế. The 51st Infantry pulled back and located just west of the city while the division headquarters and the 1st Regiment, which had suffered moderate casualties in the Nui Bong sector, were around Huế. Just as the withdrawal was well under way. General Trưởng was visited by a delegation of officers from the JGS, carrying orders to release the Marine Division immediately for the defense of Saigon. Pointing out that he could not defend Da Nang without the Marines, General Trưởng objected. The JGS suggested giving up Chu Lai and sending the 2nd Division to Da Nang. General Trưởng issued the order to the 2nd Division, but still insisted that Da Nang could not be held without the Marine Division by the time he recovered what was left of the 1st and 2nd Divisions, neither would be combat effective. [24] : 160

The withdrawal from Thua Thien Province began in a rather orderly fashion. The 258th Marine Brigade linked up with the 914th RF Group on Vinh Loc Island to cross the narrow channel over to Loc Tri in Phú Lộc District, but the bridge to be installed by ARVN engineers never got there engineer boats were evidently commandeered by other military units attempting to escape. The withdrawing forces crossed anyway, using local fishing boats. General Trưởng flew over the column making its way down the long stretch of Vinh Loc Island and noted that the only apparent disciplined, cohesive units were marines. The rest was a mob. Delayed by heavy seas on 25 March the 147th Marine Brigade left Tân Mỹ the next day for Da Nang. Also on 26 March, the marine battalion of the 258th Brigade holding the Phu Gia Pass, a short, twisting defile about 15 km east of Phú Lộc District Town came under attack. With the PAVN approaching the Hải Vân Pass from the north and Vietnamese Navy boats breaking down faster than they could be repaired, General Trưởng stopped the sea movement of forces and equipment from Huế. Further, because he had been unable to reinforce Da Nang with adequate strength from the 2nd Division, he elected to concentrate the recoverable elements of the Marine Division at Da Nang. However, PAVN pressure on the 3rd Division west of Da Nang, led General Trưởng to order a withdrawal to a shorter line within artillery range of the center of Da Nang. Attempts to hold that line failed as large numbers of 3rd Division soldiers deserted to save their families. With defeat imminent, General Trưởng shipped all organized forces, mostly Marines, out of Da Nang toward Saigon, then he and most of his staff left some of them, General Truong included, had to swim through the surf to the rescuing fleet of boats. Da Nang, the last enclave of South Vietnam presence in I Corps, belonged to the PAVN by nightfall on 30 March. [24] : 161

By 2 April, the survivors of the Marine Division were disembarking at Vung Tau. Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Bui The Lan, they were moved into the 4th Battalion's camp there for processing and reorganization. In all, of the 12,000 Marines who had been deployed in I Corps, about 4,000 were at Vung Tau. The equipment for a reorganized division was on hand in the Saigon-Long Binh area, but moving it to Vung Tau would be difficult. A more serious problem was the shortage of infantry leaders 5 Marine battalion commanders and 40 company commanders had been killed in action during March and April. Nevertheless, the division rapidly took shape. One brigade of three rifle battalions and one artillery battalion was ready to receive equipment in three days. Ten days later, an additional similar brigade was formed. [24] : 172–3 A Marine brigade was responsible for the defense of Long Binh in the final defense around Saigon. [24] : 175

On 19 April as the JGS ordered a withdrawal from Xuân Lộc, a new defensive line was formed east of Bien Hoa at the town of Trảng Bom which was defended by the remnants of the 18th Division, the 468th Marine Brigade and the reconstituted 258th Marine Brigade. [25] : 465 At 04:00 on 27 April the 341st Division attacked Trang Bom, the initial attack was repulsed but by 08:00 attacks on the flanks broke through and the town was captured with the 18th Division suffering heavy casualties in their retreat. The PAVN then advanced to the town of Hố Nai (now Tân Hòa), which was held by the Marines. [25] : 475 Hố Nai was defended by the 6th Marine Battalion, an M48 tank from the 3rd Armored and Popular Forces. Following an artillery barrage the PAVN attacked Hố Nai, but were met by ARVN artillery losing 30 dead and one T-54 tank destroyed before they pulled back. On 28 April the 341st renewed their attack using 5 T-54s supported by an infantry regiment, but were repulsed in 3 separate attacks losing 3 T-54s and many soldiers. On 29 April the entire 341st Division attacked Hố Nai and were again repulsed in 2 hours of fighting. At midday the Marines were ordered to withdraw to defend Bien Hoa and Long Binh. Brigadier General Trần Quang Khôi, commander of the 3rd Armored was given responsibility for defending Bien Hoa, although PAVN shelling had rendered the base unusable. Seeing the regular forces leaving Hố Nai the PAVN renewed their assault at midnight on 30 April, but the town's Popular Forces fought back and were not subdued until dawn. The PAVN then advanced to Bien Hoa where they were met by the 3rd Armored, at this point the PAVN 4th Corps changed the axis of their advance to the south. [25] : 483–5 On the morning of 30 April the 18th Division and Marines were ordered to retreat from Long Binh to the west bank of the Đồng Nai river, while the ARVN 81st Rangers held Bien Hoa Air Base and the 3rd Armored held Bien Hoa. [25] : 488–90 The 3rd Armored was moving from Bien Hoa to attack PAVN forces when they heard the surrender broadcast of President Dương Văn Minh and BG Khôi halted his advance and disbanded the unit. The 81st Rangers had abandoned the base and had moved west of the Đồng Nai river when they heard the surrender broadcast and then marched towards Saigon to surrender to the PAVN. [25] : 493–4

  • Headquarters Battalion
  • Amphibious Support Battalion
  • Signal Battalion
  • Engineer Battalion
  • Medical Battalion
  • Anti-tank Company
  • Military Police Company
  • Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Company

147th Marine Brigade (Brigades were numbered after the battalions they contained) [1]

The Vietcong's Tactics and Technology in the Vietnam War

China, North Vietnam's neighbor and ally, successfully tests an atomic bomb.

The Vietcong attck an American Air Base

Two days before the U.S. presidential election, Vietcong mortars shell Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. Four Americans are killed, 76 wounded. Five B-57 bombers are destroyed, and 15 are damaged.

The Vietcong attack Binh Gia

January 1 1965 - February 7 1965

Vietcong forces mount a series of attacks across South Vietnam. They briefly seize control of Binh Gia, a village only 40 miles from Saigon. Two hundred South Vietnamese troops are killed near Binh Gia, along with five American advisors.

U.S. Helicopter Base is attacked by Commandos

A U.S. helicopter base and advisory compound in the central highlands of South Vietnam is attacked by NLF commandos. Nine Americans are killed and more than 70 are wounded. President Johnson immediately orders U.S. Navy fighter-bombers to attack military targets just inside North Vietnam.

A Vietcong-placed bomb explodes in Qui Nonh

A Vietcong-placed bomb explodes in a hotel in Qui Nonh, killing 23 American servicemen.

Operation Rolling Thunder

March 5 1965 - November 2 1968

Vietcong troops attack Song Be

Two and a half thousand Vietcong troops attack Song Be, a South Vietnamese provincial capital. After two days of fierce battles in and around the town, the Vietcong withdraw.

The Battle of La Drang

November 14 1965 - November 18 1965

After the North Vietnamese Army attacks a Special Forces camp at Plei Mei, the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry is deployed against enemy regiments that identified in the vicinity of the camp. The result is the battle of the Ia Drang. For 4 days, the division pursues and fights the 32d, 33d, and 66th North Vietnamese Regiments until the enemy, suffering heavy casualties, returns to bases in Cambodia.

The Vietcong ambush American Troops near Plei Mei

Elements of the 66th North Vietnamese Regiment moving east toward Plei Mei encounter and ambush an American battalion. Neither reinforcements nor effective firepower can be brought in. When fighting ends that night, 60 percent of the Americans were casualties, and almost one of every three soldiers in the battalion had been killed.

Vietcong attacks are forced to retreat by U.S. Artillery and Air Support

The 272nd Regiment of the Vietcong 9th Division attack a battalion of the American 3rd Brigade at Lo Ke. U.S. air support succeeds in bombing the attackers into retreat. Two days later, the American 1st Brigade and a battalion of the 173rd Airborne are attacked by a Vietcong regiment, which is driven away by artillery fire.

Operation Birmingham Backfires

In Operation Birmingham, more than 5,000 U.S. troops, backed by huge numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles, sweep the area around north of Saigon. There are small scale actions between both armies, but over a three week period, only 100 Vietcong are killed. Most battles are dictated by the Vietcong, who prove elusive.

Operation Hastings

In late May 1966, the North Vietnamese 324B Division crosses the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and encounters a Marine battalion. The NVA holds their ground and the largest battle of the war to date breaks out near Dong Ha. Most of the 3rd Marine Division, some 5,000 men in five battalions, heads north. In Operation Hastings, the Marines backed by South Vietnamese Army troops, the heavy guns of U.S. warships and their artillery and air power drive the NVA back over the DMZ in three weeks.

Vietcong Brutally assault U.S. Forces

On Route 13, which links Vietnam to the Cambodian border, American forces are brutally assaulted by the Vietcong. Only American air and artillery support prevents a complete disaster.

North Vietnamese divisions bomb U.S. bases South of the DMZ

Two North Vietnamese divisions, operating out of the DMZ that separates North and South Vietnam, launch heavy bombardments of American bases south of the DMZ. These bases include Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh.

Operation Cedar Falls is a Huge success

January 8 1967 - January 27 1967

America forces begin Operation Cedar Falls, which is intended to drive Vietcong forces from the Iron Triangle, a 60 square mile area lying between the Saigon River and Route 13. Nearly 16,000 American troops and 14,000 soldiers of the South Vietnamese Army move into the Iron Triangle, but they encounter no major resistance. Huge quantities of enemy supplies are captured. Over 19 days, 72 Americans are killed, victims mostly of snipers emerging from concealed tunnels and booby traps. Seven hundred and twenty Vietcong are killed.

The NVA dixisions begin to mass near Khe Sanh

In mid-January 1968 in the remote northwest corner of South Vietnam, elements of three NVA divisions begin to mass near the Marine base at Khe Sanh. The ominous proportions of the build-up lead the U.S. commanders to expect a major offensive in the northern provinces

Vietcong artillery attacks U.S. base at Khe Sanh

January 21 1968 - January 23 1968

At 5:30 a.m., a shattering barrage of shells, mortars and rockets slam into the Marine base at Khe Sanh. Eighteen Marines are killed instantly, 40 are wounded. The initial attack continues for two days.

Tet is a Catastrophe

January 30 1968 - January 31 1968

On the Tet holiday, Vietcong units surge into action over the length and breadth of South Vietnam. In more than 100 cities and towns, shock attacks by Vietcong sapper-commandos are followed by wave after wave of supporting troops. By the end of the city battles, 37,000 Vietcong troops deployed for Tet have been killed. Many more had been wounded or captured, and the fighting had created more than a half million civilian refugees. Casualties included most of the Vietcong's best fighters, political officers and secret organizers for the guerillas, Tet is nothing less than a catastrophe. But for the Americans, who lost 2,500 men, it is a serious blow to public support.

South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia - Dec 28, 1964 -

SP5 Mark Kuzinski

South Vietnamese troops retake Binh Gia in a costly battle. The Viet Cong launched a major offensive on December 4 and took the village of Binh Gia, 40 miles southeast of Saigon. The South Vietnamese forces recaptured the village, but only after an eight-hour battle and three battalions of reinforcements were brought in on helicopters. The operation continued into the first week of January. Losses included an estimated 200 South Vietnamese and five U.S. advisors killed, plus 300 more South Vietnamese wounded or missing. Battles such this, in which the South Vietnamese suffered such heavy losses at the hands of the Viet Cong, convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the South Vietnamese could not defeat the communist without the commitment of U.S. ground troops to the war.

South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia - Dec 28, 1964 -

Defense and fall of Xuan Loc [ edit | edit source ]

After the North Vietnamese 4th Army Corps successfully captured all key objectives surrounding Xuan Loc in Long Khánh Province, they had four days to prepare for the final push against the ARVN 18th Infantry Division. North Vietnamese Major General Hoang Cam personally took control of the operation he decided to launch a full-frontal assault on Xuan Loc using his infantry, tank and artillery units from the north and northwest. Colonel Bui Cat Vu, deputy commander of the 4th Army Corps, would dictate operations from the east. ⎠] While the North Vietnamese were closing in on Xuan Loc, ARVN General Le Minh Dao and the chief of Long Khánh Province, Colonel Nguyen Van Phuc, was also busy lining up their units in anticipation of the enemy onslaught. Prior to the battle, General Le Minh Dao told foreign media that:"I am determined to hold Xuan Loc. I don’t care how many divisions the Communist will send against me, I will smash them all! The world shall see the strength and skill of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam". ⎡]

Picture with South Vietnamese soldiers posing with captured enemy flags [ citation needed ] .

At 5.40 am on April 9, 1975, the North Vietnamese 4th Army Corps began bombarding South Vietnamese positions around the town of Xuan Loc. From the north of Xuan Loc, the PAVN 341st Infantry Division captured the ARVN communications centre and the local police station after more than one hour of heavy fighting. ⎢] However, all North Vietnamese units moving down from the north were forced to stop when elements of the ARVN 52nd Task Force counter-attacked from the south. From the east, the North Vietnamese 7th Infantry Division advanced on South Vietnamese positions without tank support, so they sustained heavy casualties in the initial stages of the fighting. At 8 am the 4th Army Corps Command sent eight tanks to support the 7th Infantry Division, but three were destroyed by entrenched South Vietnamese soldiers at Bao Chanh A. ⎢]

By midday, the North Vietnamese 209th and 270th Infantry Regiments captured the Headquarters of the ARVN 18th Infantry Division and the Governor's Residence, which was defended by the ARVN 43rd and 48th Infantry Regiments, setting ablaze seven South Vietnamese tanks in the process. ⎢] In the south, the North Vietnamese 6th Infantry Division attacked South Vietnamese positions on Highway No.1 from Hung Nghia to Me Bong Con, where they destroyed 11 tanks from the ARVN 322nd Armoured Brigade. ⎣] Throughout the day on April 9, the ARVN 18th Infantry Division staged counter-attacks on North Vietnamese flanks to slow down their enemies’ momentum, especially movements from the north and northwest. ⎤]

Between April 10 and 11, elements of the North Vietnamese 7th Infantry Division tried to destroy the ARVN 18th Infantry Division, the 52nd Task Force and the 5 Armoured Cavalry, but on each occasion they were forced to stop and deal with enemy counter-attacks on their flanks. ⎥] In the northwest the North Vietnamese 226th and 270th Infantry Regiments, from the 341st Infantry Division, were also forced to deal with counter-attacks staged by the ARVN 43rd Infantry Regiment and the 322nd Armoured Brigade. During those two days, South Vietnamese fighter-bombers from the 5th Air Force Division flew more than 200 bombing sorties in support of the ARVN 18th Infantry Division. On the night of April 11, General Le Minh Dao secretly relocated the headquarters of the ARVN 18th Infantry Division to the military zone of Tan Phong, to continue his resistance. Colonel Pham Van Phuc, on the other hand, also moved his headquarters to Nui Thi. ⎥]

On April 12, the ARVN General Staff made the decision to bolster the defences at Xuan Loc with units drawn from the ARVN general reserve. Subsequently, the ARVN 1st Airborne Brigade arrived at the Bao Dinh rubber plantation, while two marine battalions defended the eastern corridor leading to Bien Hoa. In addition, Tan Phong and Dau Giay received reinforcements from the 33rd Ranger Battalion, 8/5th Infantry Division, 8th Artillery Battalion and three armoured brigades (315th, 318th and 322nd Armoured Brigades). As the reinforcements were making their way onto the battlefield, South Vietnamese fighter-bombers from Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhat flew between 80 to 120 combat sorties per day to support the defenders at Xuan Loc. ⎦] At 2 pm on April 12, South Vietnamese C-130 Hercules dropped two CBU-55 Daisy Cutters on North Vietnamese positions in the town of Xuan Vinh, close to Xuan Loc, killing about 200 civilians and North Vietnamese soldiers. ⎧] However, the ARVN also suffered casualties from the blast.

On April 13, General Tran Van Tra, commander of the National Liberation Front Armed Forces (Viet Cong) arrived at the headquarters of the 4th Army Corps. During the meeting with other commanders, General Tran Van Tra decided to alter certain aspects of the combat operation the 6th Infantry Division and elements of the 341st Infantry Division would attack Dau Giay, which was the weakest point in the defensive line around Xuan Loc, set up blocking positions along Highway No.2 which leads to Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu, and Highway No.1 between Xuan Loc and Bien Hoa. ⎖] On the same day, the North Vietnamese 2nd Army Corps ordered the 95B Infantry Regiment to join the units of the 4th Army Corps, in their efforts to capture Xuan Loc. As North Vietnamese commanders began to implement their new strategy, the South Vietnamese military declared it had successfully repulsed the "Communist attack" on Xuan Loc, thereby ending a period of continuous defeats. President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, buoyed by the fierce resistance of his army at Xuan Loc, announced that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam had "recovered its fighting ability" to defend the country. ⎨]

On April 15, the situation on the battlefield began to change as North Vietnamese artillery stopped their shelling of Xuan Loc, but started pounding Bien Hoa instead. In just one day, the South Vietnamese 3rd Air Force Division at Bien Hoa was forced to cease all operations due to continuous North Vietnamese artillery bombardments. To continue their support of ground troops at Xuan Loc, the South Vietnamese air force mobilised the 4th Air Force Division based at Tra Noc to conduct further missions. ⎩] On the same day, the North Vietnamese 6th Infantry Division and the 95B Infantry Regiment defeated a combined ARVN formation which included the 52nd Task Force and the 13th Armoured Squadron west of Xuan Loc. Between April 16 and 17, the North Vietnamese 6th Infantry Division and the 95B Infantry Regiment also defeated the ARVN 8th Task Force and 3rd Armoured Brigade, when the South Vietnamese tried to recapture the military zone of Dau Giay. Around Xuan Loc the ARVN 43rd and 48th Infantry Regiments, as well as the 1st Airborne Brigade, suffered heavy casualties as North Vietnamese infantry units attacked them from all sides. ⎩]

With Dau Giay and all the main roads under enemies control, Xuan Loc was completely isolated, the 18th cut off from reinforcements and surrounded by the North Vietnamese 4th Army Corps. On April 19, the ARVN General Staff ordered General Le Minh Dao to evacuate the 18th Infantry Division and other support units from Xuan Loc, in order to continue their resistance elsewhere. The ARVN 18th Infantry Division, which was the main unit defending Xuan Loc, was ordered to defend Bien Hoa. Γ] On April 20, under the cover of heavy rain, South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians began pulling out from Xuan Loc, in a convoy of about 200 military vehicles. On April 21, the town centre of Xuan Loc was completely abandoned, with the ARVN 1st Airborne Brigade being the last unit to be evacuated from the area. At 4 am on April 21, the 3/1st Airborne Brigade was completely destroyed by the North Vietnamese army at the hamlet of Suoi Ca. By the end of the day Xuan Loc was under North Vietnamese control, and the gateway to Saigon was finally opened. Γ] ⎪]

The Xuan Loc victory monument dedicated to the Vietnam People's Army, in Đồng Nai Province.

Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap

Americans spend a lot of time agonizing over the Vietnam War. Who is to blame for losing this conflict? The political leaders? The military? The media? Was it the protesting college students? The hippies? The anti-war left?

Maybe North Vietnam had something to do with it.

"Victory at Any Cost--the Genius of Viet Nam&aposs Vo Nguyen Giap" by Cecil Currey reminds us that one can&apost study any war without understanding "the other side." Currey bypasses much of the turgid, politically correct communist hag Americans spend a lot of time agonizing over the Vietnam War. Who is to blame for losing this conflict? The political leaders? The military? The media? Was it the protesting college students? The hippies? The anti-war left?

Maybe North Vietnam had something to do with it.

"Victory at Any Cost--the Genius of Viet Nam's Vo Nguyen Giap" by Cecil Currey reminds us that one can't study any war without understanding "the other side." Currey bypasses much of the turgid, politically correct communist hagiography and agitprop that usually surrounds a good Communist like a red halo. He goes straight ot the source, interviewing Giap himself and providing an insightful recount of the disagreements and divergences in the North vietnamese Politburo during the war against the French, and later the Americans.

Giap was a self-taught general who did what he could with what he had. He understood there was no way his meager, under gunned forces could ever fight a modern, western power on terms that even approached parity. So he played to his country's strength--it's massive peasant population, which had to be politically unified so that the enemy could be outnumbered.

"He who defends everything defends nothing," is an oft-repeated maxim in military history. Giap had an intuitive understanding of this reality. Guerillas controlled the countryside between the few strongpoints that the French, and later hte Americans, would control. With freedom of movement and action, Giap could mass his forces to overrun the isolated outposts, forcing his enemy to give up even more countryside. By protracting a conflict, he could simply wait out his enemy, as the political will needed for an enemy nation to support its war effort collapses for lack of results.

There were times when Giap tried to fight the French, and later the Americans, on western terms, with masses of infantry and artillery. Sometimes he tried to do this too soon and got his head handed to him, which is what happened in his 1951 offensive against the French or the 1968 Tet offensive against the U.S. But then he could follow it up with a Dien Bien Phu, which pretty much destroyed the French war effort. While he did not command the army in the 1975 offensive that took down South Vietnam, the army he created did, and proved resilient enough to defeat the Chinese and the Cambodians as well.

"Victory at Any Cost" does not give Giap a free pass. Currey points out the general's shortcomings, his impatience for results that sometimes led to premature attacks and stunning defeats. Nor does Currey pull his punches when describing how a Communist Revolution eliminates rivals in its ruthless march to power, using democracy to destroy it and achieve a monopoly on power. He will tell "the other side of the story," whether by citing recollections of a non-Communist on the losing side of the Hanoi power struggle while fighting France, or the Diem regime setting up shop in Saigon with U.S. aid.

But Currey did not set out to write an anti-Communist book, despite his clearly American background. Giap won his war against the United States and France. The author explains why and analyzes how, while avoiding the pitfall of right-wing rhetoric that prefers to fix blame on opponents as an explanation of defeat.

It will be another generation until we get an impartial history of the Vietnam War that is not polluted by present-day political agendas. It seems every author has an ax to grind, and history is the battlefield to refight past battles. A reader with an interest in this period of history will have to build up his own library on this topic, reading many different books to build up a reasonable understanding that takes all factors into account.

Final irony: "Victory at Any Cost" is put out by Potomac Books, a publishing unit of the Association of the United States Army. It would have been so easy for them to put out yet another revisionist book claiming "we could have won." To the credit of Potomac Books, they did not. I have no idea what the rest of their line-up is like.
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Cecil B. Currey&aposs book on Vo Nguyen Giap is an utterly excellent book! It&aposs gripping, engaging, provides historical context, contains essential quotes, and shows Giap to be the logistical, tactical, and strategic genius he was as a general leading North Vietnam to defeat the Japanese, the French, the US, the South Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Chinese. No one else has done so much with so little. I&aposm going to reprint my review for Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James Cecil B. Currey's book on Vo Nguyen Giap is an utterly excellent book! It's gripping, engaging, provides historical context, contains essential quotes, and shows Giap to be the logistical, tactical, and strategic genius he was as a general leading North Vietnam to defeat the Japanese, the French, the US, the South Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Chinese. No one else has done so much with so little. I'm going to reprint my review for Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren (a book I read a few months ago. ) in its entirety here, because I think many of the same things can be said about this book. Read on.

Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

General Vo Nguyen Giap was the North Vietnamese mastermind who defeated the French and American superpowers over 30 years in what was previously an unthinkable possibility -- that countries with so so much more military and economic power could lose to an underdeveloped third world country. And yet it happened. (Also, Giap had to battle the Japanese toward the end of World War Two.)

Giap came from humble beginnings -- a history professor turned professional solider from the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam. He was self taught. Aside from Hi Chi Minh, Giap was probably North Vietnam's most important figure. He learned communism from Ho and never strayed. He learned how to battle from the Chinese and adapted what he learned to the Vietnamese battlefield. When the Vietminh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu to end the French colonial war with what was then Indochina, he showed that he had mastered guerrilla tactics as well as conventional war strategies, and these carried over to the American war. He was also a master at logistics. It took months for the Vietminh to carry broken down parts of artillery pieces up into the mountains surrounding Dien Bien Phu, where they were then assembled and used with devastating success. Another strength Giap possessed was learning that the political counted as much as the military. He indoctrinated his soldiers, the Vietnamese peasants, and won a war of attrition against both France and America -- both countries, he knew, that wouldn't have the stomach for a protracted war. He was right. Now he took horrifying losses throughout both wars. When all was said and done, the NVA and Vietminh lost over a million soldiers (to America's 56,000), but he knew that a country united in revolution against colonialism was destined for victory. He never lacked in confidence. The Tet offensive was, of course, the turning point in the Vietnam war with America. Looked at it militarily, the US won, giving the NVA and Viet Cong horrifying casualties, but strategically, North Vietnam won because America now wanted out and started the process of withdrawing troops and halting the bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to get to the negotiating table -- a place where America had no leverage.

The author makes some good points in his final chapter in this excellent book.

"The power of the US military machine posted immense challenges to Giap as a commander. He knew that the conflict would result in horrific losses, but he also realized that those causalities were the inevitable cost of victory, and neither the reality of those casualties, as regrettable as they were, nor the destructive capacity of American forces, would prove to be decisive factors in the war's outcome. Giap was first and foremost a revolutionary war strategist, which is to say he conceived of war primarily as a social struggle by people committed to breaking down the status quo and replacing it with a new set of power relationships and institutions, not as a strictly military activity carried out by full-time soldiers and guerrillas. the work of building a powerful political infrastructure that could challenge French and American efforts was far more important than achieving victory in a series of conventional military battles and campaigns. He also believed that he could instill a sense of futility and exhaustion in the French and American armies by avoiding large-scale combat engagements in favor of harassing tactics, including ambushes, booby traps, and luring the enemy into patrolling forbidding mountainous terrain and steamy jungles where his own troops were more at home."

"Giap never doubted that the power of his soldiers' and citizen's commitment to the Vietnamese revolutionary vision would compensate for the inferiority of their military forces. It was only necessary to instill the same level of belief and determination he himself possessed for the cause into the Revolution as a whole, and to direct that energy toward victory. When all is said and done, Giap's enduring importance lies in recognizing that he was a successful general largely because he could see with extraordinary clarity all the factors and forces that shaped the trajectory of the wars in which he fought, and how each element related to all the others."

Giap then, who might still be alive at over 100 years old, was the instrumental commander that foresaw victory and instilled that vision in his troops and citizens. He was Ho's second, and as such, wielded great power. He built his army up from a tiny platoon in 1945 to hundreds of thousands of hardened troops by war's end. When the NVA rolled into Saigon in 1975, the revolution was complete and Vietnam was reunited. Communist, yes, but under no colonial authority for the first time in over a century. It was a mighty struggle, and even though I'm an American, I've studied this war for decades and have seen how American stupidity lost us the war -- which we could have won with the right strategies and leadership, I believe. Giap's commitment never wavered. He should be looked at as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. I can't think of a single instance in which a tiny, impoverished, technically backwards country defeated two of the world's superpowers within two to three decades of each other. His legacy will live on for a long time. This was an excellent book to read and I certainly recommend it to any military buff or historian, or to anyone interested in the Vietnam war. Great book!

Well, that's what I wrote about the previous book, and the same holds true for this one. The thing that separates them, I think, is Currey actually got to interview Giap for this book. It made it more compelling. There was more narrative and a lot more on actual thought patterns and secrets behind North Vietnam's successes. I also didn't know that Giap whipped China when China invaded in 1979. Truly amazing. After Ho died, though, the Politburo demoted him several times over the years, and that was disgraceful for the founder of that country's army and leader of victorious military campaigns. Still, he handled himself with grace and dignity and while he wasn't always the most likeable person in the world, you can't come away from this book without some sort of admiration for the man. Truly one of the greatest generals in history. Recommended.
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North Vietnam’s Big-Unit War and the Man Behind It

In December 1964, the Viet Cong, famous for their hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, overran villages in four South Vietnamese provinces near Saigon with the powerful force of two regiments. One of those big units, the 272nd Regiment, crushed a mechanized rifle company from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam on December 9, destroying 16 armored personnel carriers in the process. In an even more dramatic demonstration of a large-unit force (a regiment or bigger), during the early morning hours of December 28 the 271st Regiment smashed into the hamlet of Binh Gia, home to about 6,000 Catholics who had fled North Vietnam after the Communist victory in 1954. Binh Gia was one of the villages involved in the U.S.-supported “pacification” program established by South Vietnam to improve the security and lives of people in refugee settlements.

After killing many of Binh Gia’s militia defenders, the 271st Regiment took on the seven ARVN battalions that responded to the attack. The results of the five-day battle were devastating to South Vietnam: A Marine battalion and a similar-size Ranger battalion were bloodily defeated. About 200 South Vietnamese troops and five U.S. advisers were killed. Viet Cong troops captured more than 300 weapons and shot down two helicopters, killing four U.S. Army crewmen. Only 32 VC had been killed.

Afterward, the new commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, believed the enemy was moving from “guerrilla and small unit warfare into attacks by big units that would stand their ground,” according to his 1976 memoir, A Soldier Reports.

With this change from guerrilla-type actions to large-scale assaults, U.S. commanders urgently needed to determine who in Hanoi’s leadership elite was responsible for the new strategy so they could try to anticipate the enemy’s next moves. From 1964 through 1975, there was never a satisfactory answer. Most dismissed from consideration Ho Chi Minh, the nation’s frail and elderly leader. Other possibilities among Hanoi’s leaders included the former vice premier, Truong Chin the defense minister, General Vo Nguyen Giap and later during the war, Senior General Van Tien Dung, the assumed planner for the 1968 Tet Offensive, the 1972 Easter Offensive and the final offensive in 1975. Often the guessing game pointed to the possibility of collective agreements in the Politburo. In the end, all those conjectures proved wrong.

Not until 2012 would a convincing answer come. After 10 years of diligent research, unprecedented access to previously secret archives and in-depth interviews with North Vietnamese wartime leaders, American scholar Lien-Hang T. Nguyen discovered the master strategist: Le Duan (sometimes pronounced “Le Zwan”), first secretary of the Vietnam Workers’ Party from 1960 until 1986. Le Duan determined Hanoi’s foreign policy, deployment of forces, allocation of resources and other weighty matters. A believer in stand-up, big-unit attacks, Le Duan vigorously defended his approach when he faced resistance from Giap and Ho later in the war.

Le Duan, born into the peasant class of central Vietnam in 1907, became a passionate Communist revolutionary in 1928 and was deeply dedicated to the overthrow of French colonialism. He appeared to be a humble attendant and clerk for the French-built Indochinese railway but lived a clandestine life as an enthusiastic rebel. Le Duan stood out from most Communist Party leaders, well-educated men. His speech was coarse, sometimes unintelligible. But his diligence, sincerity and zeal propelled his rise within the party. In 1931, at age 24, Le Duan was arrested and imprisoned by the French. He was released in 1936 and three years later reached the top ranks of the party in central Vietnam. Le Duan was jailed again in 1940 and freed in 1945.

Le Duan was then sent south to head the party’s affairs there. In 1948 he met another party member assigned to the region, Le Duc Tho, an educated man who had prison experiences almost identical to Le Duan’s. Tho became Le Duan’s second in-command and firm ally for the next 38 years. Together they recruited fighters and organized the southern part of the country against the French. In recognition of his mission’s importance, the party elevated Le Duan in 1951 to Politburo membership in absentia. The party also named him head of the Central Office of South Vietnam, responsible for both political and military affairs in the southern region.

Meanwhile in the north, the First Indochina War (1946-54) had begun as Ho and Giap—assisted by training, weapons, equipment and advice from Communist China—launched Vietnam’s struggle for independence from France. A controversy over tactics used by Giap during the war would have great influence on Le Duan’s future.

In 1951 and 1952, Giap was heavily criticized for using costly, big-unit “human wave” attacks against French forces. De-emphasizing guerrilla fighting, he would employ several 10,000-man divisions in large-scale offensive operations. Two of Giap’s divisions engaged two regiment-size French units in January 1951 at Vinh Yen, 30 miles northwest of Hanoi. The heavily outnumbered French defenders defeated both divisions with devastating napalm airstrikes. Giap’s defeated forces retreated with about 6,000 dead and 500 captured. Giap later acknowledged his failures and returned to small-unit operations in a campaign of protracted warfare. But he also placed some of the blame on a Politburo comrade, General Nguyen Chi Thanh, an advocate of big-unit attacks. Le Duan may have seen Giap as a rival, but for whatever reason, he became an enthusiastic promoter of offensives by large units and found support from Tho and Thanh.

After the war ended in 1954 with the collapse of France’s will to fight and the partition of Vietnam, there was a six-year period of relative peace—and preparation. About 1 million North Vietnamese left the land of their ancestors and traveled south to avoid life under militant Marxism. At the same time, about 200,000 living south of the dividing line chose to settle in North Vietnam. Le Duan secretly remained in South Vietnam with 10,000 of his Viet Cong combatants and began organizing forces for a fight to bring the area under Communist rule.

Le Duan was called back to North Vietnam to speak about South Vietnam at a party leadership conference that took place between late December 1958 and early January 1959. He warned that South Vietnam, with U.S. military and financial assistance, could soon be converted to a Western ally and become an enemy of communism. He proposed political and military measures to unite both Vietnams. A month later, the party approved Le Duan’s recommendation. Then, in May 1959, party leaders established a large organization to prepare and maintain a supply route (the Ho Chi Minh Trail) capable of carrying men and arms into South Vietnam.

In September 1960, Le Duan was given the power to prosecute the coming war and manage the affairs of state for Hanoi. He was also elevated to first secretary of the Vietnam Workers’ Party. His responsibilities included directing the day-to-day activities of the government and bringing about a “national democratic revolution” in the South.

That same year, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem became increasingly concerned about the growth of insurgent activity. Insurgent groups, usually comprising three to 12 Viet Cong in the late 1950s, had grown to include 30 to 50 men. Diem asked the U.S. government to send Special Forces soldiers who would train volunteers for Ranger-type units to counter the guerrilla operations. In May 1960, three 10-man Special Forces teams arrived and established a Ranger school. A year later, President John F. Kennedy, pulling back from a failing attempt to contain communism in Laos, moved Special Forces units from Laos to Vietnam. Kennedy laid out in April 1961 his new goals for Southeast Asia: “Prevent Communist domination of South Vietnam, and create in that country a viable and increasingly democratic society.” Some 400 Special Forces troops were dispatched to advise, assist and train the South Vietnamese.

Meanwhile, Le Duan dispatched 5,000 former South Vietnamese members of the North Vietnamese Army to join about 25,000 Viet Cong regulars and an estimated 80,000 part-time VC guerrillas in South Vietnam. Diem’s army at this time had reached about 280,000 troops. American support and advisory personnel numbered about 3,000. Le Duan hoped to ship an additional 30,000 to 40,000 army regulars south by 1963.

On Jan. 2, 1963, a VC regular battalion scored a big victory at the Battle of Ap Bac in the Mekong Delta. Le Duan touted it as evidence that American technology and advice did not give Diem’s poorly led troops an edge against spirited Communist forces. “After the Battle of Ap Bac, the enemy knew it would be difficult to defeat us,” he said. The Ap Bac defeat was a crushing blow to the Saigon regime. In a few hours, 63 men in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s 7th Division were killed. Three American advisers also perished, and no less than five U.S. Army helicopters were shot out of the sky. The VC battalion escaped with light losses.

In the last weeks of 1963, events in South Vietnam and the United States encouraged Le Duan to accelerate his war plans. On November 1, a coup by ARVN generals removed Diem from power, and he was assassinated the next day. On November 22, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Le Duan believed the coup would create confusion and weakness in the Saigon government, and he assumed American troops in Vietnam would continue to grow from their year-end strength of 16,000 because of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s pledge to continue Kennedy’s policies.

The North Vietnamese leader moved quickly to put fellow big-unit advocate Thanh in command of the Central Office of South Vietnam. In December Le Duan made a secret announcement to Hanoi’s top leaders, telling them there was no need to follow a policy based on a protracted war. He claimed victory could be attained in 1964 with a strategy of general offensive–general uprising: a major revolt of urban dwellers simultaneously executed by large units of regulars that would destroy the ARVN’s regular formations.

“If for some reason the uprising in the cities runs into trouble and we are forced to pull our forces out, that will not matter,” Le Duan said. “That will just be an opportunity…to learn lessons…in order to try again at a later date.”

Hanoi’s leadership approved the strategy, and Le Duan directed the Defense Ministry to bring its forces to the wartime strength of 300,000. He ordered the army’s 101st, 95th and 18th regiments down the Ho Chi Minh Trail—bringing about a fourfold increase in Hanoi’s regulars south of the 17th parallel that divided Vietnam.

The new strategy was demonstrated with vivid successes in late 1964 and early 1965. The first show of strength was the 271st Regiment’s thrashing of the ARVN in the December 1964 battle at the Catholic refugee village of Binh Gia. In May 1965, two Viet Cong regiments, one in Phuoc Long province and another at Quang Ngai province, mauled ARVN battalions. On June 10, elements of two VC regiments overran a U.S. Special Forces camp in Phuoc Long and thoroughly defeated a pair of ARVN battalions in a two-day battle.

By then Washington was preparing a response. Johnson, having seen that airstrikes in the north failed to deter Hanoi after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, decided that American ground forces would be necessary to prevent the collapse of South Vietnam. In March 1965, the U.S. government began geographically limited ground operations in South Vietnam. Westmoreland’s analysis and proposals arrived in Washington before the month was out. The general wanted ARVN troops to focus on protecting the country’s populated regions and pacified rural settlements, while U.S. and foreign allied forces would engage and defeat Communist regulars. The ARVN would accompany U.S. operations only occasionally. In April Johnson authorized the use of U.S. troops for ground offensives. In July he informed Americans that he was raising military strength levels in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 and stated, “Additional forces will be needed later and they will be sent as requested.”

The fight between U.S. and Communist regular forces began in August 1965 when the 1st VC Regiment was surprised at its base near the Chu Lai coastal area in Quang Tin province, about 57 miles south of Da Nang. In a six-day battle, the 7th Marine Regiment, reinforced by elements of the 3rd and 4th Marine regiments, all but destroyed the Viet Cong force. The Communists left 645 dead on the battlefield, while the Marines suffered 45 killed and 203 wounded.

Another notable big-unit battle was fought two months later in Pleiku province. General Chu Huy Man had been ordered to gain control of the province using three North Vietnamese Army regiments. In an October attack on a U.S. Special Forces training camp for hill tribesmen, one of those regiments, a 2,300-man unit, was thoroughly defeated by ARVN reinforcements and U.S. air power. The North Vietnamese losses included 890 killed, 100 missing and about 500 wounded. In November the other two regiments fled toward the Cambodian border, doggedly pursued by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The American troops caught up with both units, and a bloody clash resulted in 634 known dead for the North Vietnamese, plus an estimated 581 additional deaths and six prisoners. The cavalrymen lost 79 killed and 121 wounded.

In 1966-67 more U.S. and ARVN victories raised doubts in Hanoi about North Vietnam’s leadership. Le Duan’s failed “Victory in 1964” general offensive–general uprising scheme was recalled, and Communist Party officials became embroiled in a debate about the wisdom of costly slugfests with superior American firepower. Giap, North Vietnam’s defense minister, openly criticized Thanh’s big-unit operations. He called them “wasteful and suicidal.”

Thanh responded by characterizing Giap’s charges as carping commentary from an “armchair general.” Thanh, parroting Le Duan’s thinking, argued that the American strategy was bound to fail because the United States did not have enough troops to counter the steady flow of North Vietnamese soldiers moving south. And he pointed to growing protests against the war during the run-up to the 1968 U.S. presidential election. American endurance was waning, Thanh said. North Vietnamese intellectuals also participated in the dispute, demanding expanded peace talks and negotiations.

In the summer of 1967, Le Duan, his authority challenged, acted quickly to crush opposition to his policies, forestall a rush to diplomatic negotiations and save his offensive strategy with its big-unit formations. He overruled his own minister of for eign affairs, firmly stating there would be no negotiations until there was a major, decisive military victory over ARVN forces in 1968. When Ho and Giap argued for protracted, low-intensity warfare, Le Duan responded by jailing their subordinates, including Ho’s secretary, Vu Dinh Huyen Giap’s deputy defense minister, Dang Kim Giang and the deputy chief of the general staff, General Nguyen Van Vinh. Several hundred officials and others opposed to Duan’s dictates were imprisoned in the Hoa Lo facility, better known to Americans as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Turmoil in Hanoi continued at a high-level strategy meeting on July 18-19, when Le Duan briefed Ho on a massive operation designed to bring about the “major, decisive victory.” The regular army would engage the Americans in rural areas while South Vietnam’s urban centers would erupt in mass insurrections leading to an overthrow of the government. Ho said the plan was unrealistic and too grandiose, and he urged Le Duan to revert to protracted, low-intensity guerrilla warfare. Le Duan rebuffed the nation’s revered leader and directed his staff to continue planning the giant operation that became the 1968 Tet Offensive. Showing their disapproval, Giap and Ho chose to leave the country before the Tet battle, returning to Hanoi only when that campaign was over.

Throughout the dispute, there was a common understanding that guerrilla and local forces were essential. Those groups had always fed recruits into regular units, persuaded villagers to support their own and the regular forces and assisted the big units in combat. Ho hit on the essence of the argument when he said Le Duan’s plan put too much emphasis on the regulars. Le Duan, however, firmly believed that only the regulars could win the decisive battles needed for a final victory.

After establishing unfettered authority over the North Vietnamese government, Le Duan remained Hanoi’s most powerful official in the decade following the fall of Saigon. He headed a unified Vietnam during its incursions into Cambodia, its tangle with China in a 1979 border war and its near economic collapse in the early 1980s. Le Duan died in Hanoi at age 80 on July 10, 1986.

Although Communist forces achieved almost none of their objectives during the Tet Offensive, the boldness of their widespread attack shocked South Vietnam’s allies, who began to have serious doubts about the value of continued participation in the war. Le Duan was proved right about conducting battle with regiments and division-size forces. They were essential in unifying the country during Le Duan’s final 1975 conquest of South Vietnam.

Curiously, Le Duan, Hanoi’s expert on South Vietnam, was wrong about the prospects for a popular uprising against the government there. In 1968 most South Vietnamese either resisted Communist forces or remained passive. Much the same attitude was displayed when Le Duan launched the successful 1975 campaign. About 1.2 million South Vietnamese risked their lives trying to escape Communist control by setting out to sea, many in leaky boats.

But Le Duan was right about American endurance. While successive American administrations attempted to keep some ground forces in South Vietnam, as they had in Korea, Congress mandated total U.S. troop withdrawal in 1973.

How important was Le Duan’s role in the Vietnam War? An excellent case can be made that he started the war—and finished it.

Rod Paschall was a Special Forces A detachment commander in Vietnam 1962-63, served in Laos in 1964 and returned to Vietnam in 1966 as a rifle company commander and staff officer until 1968. He served in Cambodia 1974-75.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.


At the beginning of the summer season in 1965, National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) Commanders in Military Region 5 passed a resolution to launch a military operation known as the "Le Do Campaign", which was supposed to last from May 15 to August 30, 1965. The operation was aimed at regular South Vietnamese military units based in the provinces of Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Quảng Ngãi. [9] Preparations for a major military offensive was made at the beginning of 1965 when Tran Kien, Chairman of the NLF Rear Services in Military Region 5, began the process of transporting soldiers and materiel into the NLF areas of operation. Huynh Huu Anh, Deputy Chief of the NLF Chief of Staff in Military Region 5, was responsible for conducting reconnaissance missions and air defence. North Vietnamese Major General Chu Huy Man was sent to South Vietnam to take command of military operations. [10]

Prior to the NLF Summer Offensive of 1965, Quang Ngai and the surrounding provinces had witnessed a substantial increase in NLF military activities. On February 6, 1965, the Viet Cong 409th Sapper Battalion attacked the U.S airbase at Pleiku, injuring more than a hundred American personnel and damaging about 20 aircraft. [5] The United States retaliated by launching Operation Flaming Dart, bombing selected targets in North Vietnam. On May 28, local Viet Cong units in Nui Thanh attacked a company of U.S. Marines, and 180 U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded as a result. [11] Following those minor actions the National Liberation Front decided to launch a major assault on South Vietnamese units in Ba Gia, a small village in Son Tinh District about 10 kilometres away from Quảng Ngãi City. [12]

In May 1965, the Viet Cong 271st Regiment (part of the Viet Cong 9th Division) moved into northern Quảng Ngãi from the neighbouring province of Quảng Nam. The Viet Cong 271st Regiment had three battalions (the 40th, 60th and 90th Battalions), and was placed under the command of Le Huu Tru. In northern Quảng Ngãi, the 271st Regiment joined the 45th Independent Battalion and the 83rd Local Force Battalion. [12] On the other side, South Vietnamese military units in Quảng Ngãi Province formed part of the ARVN 1st Brigade, I Corps Tactical Zone, commanded by General Nguyễn Chánh Thi. In Quảng Ngãi the main ARVN force included the 51st Infantry Regiment (part of the 25th Infantry Division), Marine Corps Task Force B, 1st and 3rd Marine Battalions, the 37th and 39th Ranger Battalion, the 5th Airborne Battalion, and two artillery battalions equipped with 105mm artillery guns. [12]

South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia - HISTORY

This memorandum attempts to describe the situation, the stakes and the measures which I think should now be taken.

The situation in Vietnam is deteriorating, and without new U.S. action defeat appears inevitable—probably not in a matter of weeks or perhaps even months, but within the next year or so. There is still time to turn it around, but not much.

The stakes in Vietnam are extremely high. The American investment is very large, and American responsibility is a fact of life which is palpable in the atmosphere of Asia, and even elsewhere. The international prestige of the United States, and a substantial part of our influence, are directly at risk in Vietnam. There is no way of unloading the burden on the Vietnamese themselves, and there is no way of negotiating ourselves out of Vietnam which offers any serious promise at present. It is possible that at some future time a neutral non-Communist force may emerge, perhaps under Buddhist leadership, but no such force currently exists, and any negotiated U.S. withdrawal today would mean surrender on the installment plan.

The policy of graduated and continuing reprisal outlined in Annex A is the most promising course available, in my judgment. That judgment is shared by all who accompanied me from Washington, and I think by all members of the country team.

The events of the last twenty-four hours have produced a practicable point of departure for this policy of reprisal, and for the removal of U.S. dependents. They may also have catalyzed the formation of a new Vietnamese government. If so, the situation may be at a turning point.

There is much that can and should be done to support and to supplement our present effort, while adding sustained reprisals. But I want to stress one important general conclusion which again is shared by all members of my party: the U.S. mission is composed of outstanding men, and U.S. policy within Vietnam is mainly right and well directed. None of the special solutions or criticisms put forward with zeal by individual reformers in government or in the press is of major importance, and many of them are flatly wrong. No man is perfect, and not every tactical step of recent months has been perfectly chosen, but when you described the Americans in Vietnam as your first team, you were right.

For the last year—and perhaps for longer—the overall situation in Vietnam has been deteriorating. The Communists have been gaining and the anti-Communist forces have been losing. As a result there is now great uncertainty among Vietnamese as well as Americans as to whether Communist victory can be prevented. There is nervousness about the determination of the U.S. Government. There is recrimination and fear among Vietnamese political leaders. There is an appearance of wariness among some military leaders. There is a worrisome lassitude among the [Page 176] Vietnamese generally. There is a distressing absence of positive commitment to any serious social or political purpose. Outside observers are ready to write the patient off. All of this tends to bring latent anti-Americanism dangerously near to the surface.

To be an American in Saigon today is to have a gnawing feeling that time is against us. Junior officers in all services are able, zealous and effective within the limits of their means. Their morale is sustained by the fact that they know that they are doing their jobs well and that they will not have to accept the responsibility for defeat. But near the top, where responsibility is heavy and accountability real, one can sense the inner doubts of men whose outward behavior remains determined.

The situation is not all black. The overall military effectiveness of the Vietnamese armed forces in open combat continues to grow. The month of January was one of outstanding and genuine success in offensive military action, showing the highest gross count of Viet Cong dead of any month of the war, and a very high ratio also of enemy to friendly losses. We believe that General Westmoreland is right (and General Alsop wrong) when he says that the Viet Cong do not now plan to expose themselves to large-scale military engagements in which their losses on the average would be high and their gains low. (The operation at Binh Gia 2 is analyzed as a special case, representing the taking of a friendly Catholic village as bait rather than a decision to force pitched battle—more such cases are expected and the particular military problem posed is difficult.)

Moreover, the Vietnamese people, although war weary, are also remarkably tough and resilient, and they do not find the prospect of Communist domination attractive. Their readiness to quit is much lower than the discouraging events of recent months might lead one to expect. It is probable that most Vietnamese think American withdrawal is more likely than an early switch to neutralism or surrender by major elements within Vietnam.

Nevertheless the social and political fabric is stretched thin, and extremely unpleasant surprises are increasingly possible—both political and military.

And it remains a stubborn fact that the percentage of the countryside which is dominated or threatened by the Viet Cong continues to grow. Even in areas which are “cleared,” the follow-on pacification is stalled because of widespread belief that the Viet Cong are going to win in the long run. The areas which can be regarded as truly cleared and pacified and safe are few and shrinking. (An important exception to this is the area of Saigon and its immediate surroundings. The Hop Tac program of pacification in this area has not been an unqualified success, but [Page 177] it has not been a failure, and it has certainly prevented any strangling siege of Saigon. We did not have a chance to form an independent judgment on Hop Tac, but we did conclude that whatever its precise measure of success, it is of great importance that this operation be pursued with full vigor. That is the current policy of the mission.)

III. The Political Situation

Next only to the overall state of the struggle against the Viet Cong, the shape and structure of the government is the most important element of the Saigon situation. We made it our particular business to examine the question whether and to what degree a stable government is a necessity for the successful prosecution of our policy in Vietnam. We reached a mixed conclusion.

For immediate purposes—and especially for the initiation of reprisal policy, we believe that the government need be no stronger than it is today with General Khanh as the focus of raw power while a weak caretaker government goes through the motions. Such a government can execute military decisions and it can give formal political support to joint US/ GVN policy. That is about all it can do.

In the longer run, it is necessary that a government be established which will in one way or another be able to maintain its political authority against all challenges over a longer time than the governments of the last year and a half.

The composition and direction of such a government is a most difficult problem, and we do not wholly agree with the mission in our estimate of its nature.

The mood of the mission with respect to the prospect of obtaining such a government is one of pessimism and frustration. This is only natural in terms of the events of the past many weeks. Two dominant themes predominate: a government headed by Khanh will be difficult if not impossible to deal with and, in any case, would be short lived the Buddhists (or, more specifically, the few politically activist bonzes) must be confronted and faced down (by military means if necessary) lest they maintain their power to unseat any government that does not bow to their every demand. We tend to differ with the mission on both counts.

Specifically, we believe that General Khanh , with all his faults, is by long odds the outstanding military man currently in sight—and the most impressive personality generally. We do not share the conclusion of Ambassador Taylor that he must somehow be removed from the military and political scene.

There are strong reasons for the Ambassador’s total lack of confidence in Khanh . At least twice Khanh has acted in ways that directly spoiled Ambassador Taylor ’s high hopes for December. When he abolished the High National Council he undercut the prospect of the stable [Page 178] government needed for Phase II action against the North. In January he overthrew Huong just when the latter, in the Embassy’s view, was about to succeed in putting the bonzes in their place.

Khanh is not an easy man to deal with. It is clear that he takes a highly tactical view of truth, although General Westmoreland asserts that Khanh has never deceived him. He is intensely ambitious and intent above all else on maintaining and advancing his own power. He gravely lacks the confidence of many of his colleagues—military and civilian—and he seems not to be personally popular with the public. He is correctly assessed as tricky. He remains able, energetic, perceptive and resilient, and in our judgment he will pursue the fight against the Communists as long as he can count on U.S. help. (If he should conclude that the U.S. was violently against him personally, he might well seek a way to power by some anti-American path, a path which would lead to disaster for both Vietnam and the United States.)

But our principal reason for opposing any sharp break with Khanh is that we see no one else in sight with anything like his ability to combine military authority with some sense of politics.

We also differ from the Embassy in our estimate of the Buddhist leaders. The dominant Embassy view is that “the Buddhists” are really just a handful of irresponsible and designing clerics and that they must be curbed by firmness. We agree that they may well have to be limited at some point, especially in their use of mobs, but we also think they must be offered some accommodation.

We feel that the operative concept should be incorporation into the affairs of government rather than confrontation. This is easier said than done, because the Buddhists have many of the bad habits of men who have prospered by irresponsible opposition. Still there are signs that both Buddhist laymen and bonzes are now taking a more positive stance. We feel that the mission might do more in attempting to direct or channel the Buddhists into a more useful and positive role—an active rather than a passive approach. The Buddhists now play a key role in the balance of political forces, so that something more than “confrontation” must be achieved if there is to be any active government at all.

Having registered these two immediate and important differences of emphasis, we should add that in our judgment the mission has acted at about the right level of general involvement in the problem of Vietnamese government-making. American advice is sought by all elements, and all try to bend it to their own ends. The mission attempts to keep before all elements the importance of stable government, and it quietly presses the value of those who are known to be good, solid, able ministerial timber.

In a situation in which confidence is low and uncertainty great, strongly ambitious forces like Khanh and the Buddhists might react very [Page 179] vigorously against an overt American attempt to form or actively support a government against their liking. Anti-Americanism is a theme that is potentially explosive, and therefore tempting to those who feel that we are blocking their ambitions. This is one lesson, to us, of the outburst in Hue last month.

On the other hand, no power whose stake is as great and whose presence as clear as those of the United States in Vietnam can afford to stand aside entirely, and such a passive posture would not be understood or approved by the Vietnamese themselves.

It is important, therefore, that the mission maintain a constant and active concern with the politics of government-making. This it is doing. While it is very difficult to second-guess this effort, we do recommend a telegram of guidance which might take into account the marginal differences from mission thinking which are suggested above. In the light of further discussion, a message of this sort will be drafted for consideration.

IV. Strengthening the Pacification Program

If we suppose that new hopes are raised—at least temporarily—by a reprisal program, and if we suppose further that a government somewhat better than the bare minimum is established, the most urgent order of business will then be the improvement and broadening of the pacification program, especially in its non-military elements.

The mission fully concurs in the importance of this effort. We believe, however, that consideration should be given to important modifications in its organization for this purpose. In particular we believe that there should be intensive effort to strengthen our program at the margin between military advice and economic development—in the area which implies civil government for the soldiers and police action for the aid mission. These efforts, important as they are understood to be, are somehow at the edge of vision for both parties. General Westmoreland and his people inevitably think first of military programs, though they have been imaginative and understanding about the importance of other aspects. Mr. Killen and the USOM people are centrally concerned with problems of aid and of economic improvement, although they talk with conviction and energy about their increasing police effort. It remains a fact that its own organization for helping to provide real security for an area which has been “cleared” in crude military terms is unfinished business for the U.S. mission. What is true of our side is doubly true of the Vietnamese.

We do not offer a definite solution to this problem. We are inclined to suggest, however, that one important and unemployed asset is the Special Forces of the Defense Department. Because of the predominant role of the U.S. military, and because of the generous spirit and broad mind of [Page 180] General Westmoreland himself, we are inclined to believe that the easiest growing edge for this work may be through the use of some of these versatile and flexible units.

We would think it important, however, that an effort of this kind be coordinated at a high level between the Defense Department and AID , and we believe that a joint mission which would include either Director Bell or Mr. Gaud from AID is urgently needed for the purpose of building this missing link into our program.

V. A Sense of Positive Hope

Vietnamese talk is full of the need for “revolution.” Vietnamese practice is empty of action to match the talk—so much so that the word “revolution” sometimes seems to have no real meaning. Yet in fact there is plainly a deep and strong yearning among the young and the unprivileged for a new and better social order. This is what the Buddhist leaders are groping toward this is what the students and young Turk generals are seeking. This yearning does not find an adequate response in American policy as Vietnamese see it. This is one cause of latent anti-American feeling. We only perceived this problem toward the end of our visit. We think it needs urgent further attention. We make no present recommendations. We do believe that over the long pull our military and political firmness must be matched by our political and economic support for the hopes that are embodied to Vietnamese in the word “revolution.”

VI. The Basic U.S. Commitment

The prospect in Vietnam is grim. The energy and persistence of the Viet Cong are astonishing. They can appear anywhere—and at almost any time. They have accepted extraordinary losses and they come back for more. They show skill in their sneak attacks and ferocity when cornered. Yet the weary country does not want them to win.

There are a host of things the Vietnamese need to do better and areas in which we need to help them. The place where we can help most is in the clarity and firmness of our own commitment to what is in fact as well as in rhetoric a common cause. There is one grave weakness in our posture in Vietnam which is within our own power to fix—and that is a widespread belief that we do not have the will and force and patience and determination to take the necessary action and stay the course.

This is the overriding reason for our present recommendation of a policy of sustained reprisal. Once such a policy is put in force, we shall be able to speak in Vietnam on many topics and in many ways, with growing force and effectiveness.

One final word. At its very best the struggle in Vietnam will be long. It seems to us important that this fundamental fact be made clear and our understanding of it be made clear to our own people and to the people of [Page 181] Vietnam. Too often in the past we have conveyed the impression that we expect an early solution when those who live with this war know that no early solution is possible. It is our own belief that the people of the United States have the necessary will to accept and to execute a policy that rests upon the reality that there is no short cut to success in South Vietnam.

Annex A 3

Paper Prepared by the Members of the Bundy Mission


We believe that the best available way of increasing our chance of success in Vietnam is the development and execution of a policy of sustained reprisal against North Vietnam—a policy in which air and naval action against the North is justified by and related to the whole Viet Cong campaign of violence and terror in the South.

While we believe that the risks of such a policy are acceptable, we emphasize that its costs are real. It implies significant U.S. air losses even if no full air war is joined, and it seems likely that it would eventually require an extensive and costly effort against the whole air defense system of North Vietnam. U.S. casualties would be higher—and more visible to American feelings—than those sustained in the struggle in South Vietnam.

Yet measured against the costs of defeat in Vietnam, this program seems cheap. And even if it fails to turn the tide—as it may—the value of the effort seems to us to exceed its cost.

1. In partnership with the Government of Vietnam, we should develop and exercise the option to retaliate against any VC act of violence to persons or property. 2. In practice, we may wish at the outset to relate our reprisals to those acts of relatively high visibility such as the Pleiku incident. Later, we might retaliate against the assassination of a province chief, but not necessarily the murder of a hamlet official we might retaliate against a grenade thrown into a crowded cafe in Saigon, but not necessarily to a shot fired into a small shop in the countryside. 3. Once a program of reprisals is clearly underway, it should not be necessary to connect each specific act against North Vietnam to a particular outrage in the South. It should be possible, for example, to publish weekly lists of outrages in the South and to have it clearly understood that these outrages are the cause of such action against the North as may be occurring in the current period. Such a more generalized pattern of reprisal would remove much of the difficulty involved in finding precisely matching targets in response to specific atrocities. Even in such a more general pattern, however, it would be important to insure that the general level of reprisal action remained in close correspondence with the level of outrages in the South. We must keep it clear at every stage both to Hanoi and to the world, that our reprisals will be reduced or stopped when outrages in the South are reduced or stopped—and that we are not attempting to destroy or conquer North Vietnam. 4. In the early stages of such a course, we should take the appropriate occasion to make clear our firm intent to undertake reprisals on any further acts, major or minor, that appear to us and the GVN as indicating Hanoi’s support. We would announce that our two governments have been patient and forbearing in the hope that Hanoi would come to its senses without the necessity of our having to take further action but the outrages continue and now we must react against those who are responsible we will not provoke we will not use our force indiscriminately but we can no longer sit by in the face of repeated acts of terror and violence for which the DRV is responsible. 5. Having once made this announcement, we should execute our reprisal policy with as low a level of public noise as possible. It is to our interest that our acts should be seen—but we do not wish to boast about them in ways that make it hard for Hanoi to shift its ground. We should instead direct maximum attention to the continuing acts of violence which are the cause of our continuing reprisals. 6. This reprisal policy should begin at a low level. Its level of force and pressure should be increased only gradually—and as indicated above it should be decreased if VC terror visibly decreases. The object would not be to “win” an air war against Hanoi, but rather to influence the course of the struggle in the South. 7. At the same time it should be recognized that in order to maintain the power of reprisal without risk of excessive loss, an “air war” may in fact be necessary. We should therefore be ready to develop a separate [Page 183] justification for energetic flak suppression and if necessary for the destruction of Communist air power. The essence of such an explanation should be that these actions are intended solely to insure the effectiveness of a policy of reprisal, and in no sense represent any intent to wage offensive war against the North. These distinctions should not be difficult to develop. 8. It remains quite possible, however, that this reprisal policy would get us quickly into the level of military activity contemplated in the so-called Phase II of our December planning. It may even get us beyond this level with both Hanoi and Peiping, if there is Communist counter-action. We and the GVN should also be prepared for a spurt of VC terrorism, especially in urban areas, that would dwarf anything yet experienced. These are the risks of any action. They should be carefully reviewed—but we believe them to be acceptable. 9. We are convinced that the political values of reprisal require a continuous operation. Episodic responses geared on a one-for-one basis to “spectacular” outrages would lack the persuasive force of sustained pressure. More important still, they would leave it open to the Communists to avoid reprisals entirely by giving up only a small element of their own program. The Gulf of Tonkin affair produced a sharp upturn in morale in South Vietnam. When it remained an isolated episode, however, there was a severe relapse. It is the great merit of the proposed scheme that to stop it the Communists would have to stop enough of their activity in the South to permit the probable success of a determined pacification effort.

III. Expected Effect of Sustained Reprisal Policy

1. We emphasize that our primary target in advocating a reprisal policy is the improvement of the situation in South Vietnam. Action against the North is usually urged as a means of affecting the will of Hanoi to direct and support the VC . We consider this an important but longer-range purpose. The immediate and critical targets are in the South—in the minds of the South Vietnamese and in the minds of the Viet Cong cadres. 2. Predictions of the effect of any given course of action upon the states of mind of people are difficult. It seems very clear that if the United States and the Government of Vietnam join in a policy of reprisal, there will be a sharp immediate increase in optimism in the South, among nearly all articulate groups. The Mission believes—and our own conversations confirm—that in all sectors of Vietnamese opinion there is a strong belief that the United States could do much more if it would, and that they are suspicious of our failure to use more of our obviously enormous power. At least in the short run, the reaction to reprisal policy would be very favorable. 3. This favorable reaction should offer opportunity for increased American influence in pressing for a more effective government—at least in the short run. Joint reprisals would imply military planning in which the American role would necessarily be controlling, and this new relation should add to our bargaining power in other military efforts—and conceivably on a wider plane as well if a more stable government is formed. We have the whip hand in reprisals as we do not in other fields. 4. The Vietnamese increase in hope could well increase the readiness of Vietnamese factions themselves to join together in forming a more effective government. 5. We think it plausible that effective and sustained reprisals, even in a low key, would have a substantial depressing effect upon the morale of Viet Cong cadres in South Vietnam. This is the strong opinion of CIA Saigon. It is based upon reliable reports of the initial Viet Cong reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin episode, and also upon the solid general assessment that the determination of Hanoi and the apparent timidity of the mighty United States are both major items in Viet Cong confidence. 6. The long-run effect of reprisals in the South is far less clear. It may be that like other stimulants, the value of this one would decline over time. Indeed the risk of this result is large enough so that we ourselves believe that a very major effort all along the line should be made in South Vietnam to take full advantage of the immediate stimulus of reprisal policy in its early stages. Our object should be to use this new policy to effect a visible upward turn in pacification, in governmental effectiveness, in operations against the Viet Cong, and in the whole U.S./ GVN relationship. It is changes in these areas that can have enduring long-term effects. 7. While emphasizing the importance of reprisals in the South, we do not exclude the impact on Hanoi. We believe, indeed, that it is of great importance that the level of reprisal be adjusted rapidly and visibly to both upward and downward shifts in the level of Viet Cong offenses. We want to keep before Hanoi the carrot of our desisting as well as the stick of continued pressure. We also need to conduct the application of the force so that there is always a prospect of worse to come. 8. We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing the course of the contest in Vietnam. It may fail, and we cannot estimate the odds of success with any accuracy—they may be somewhere between 25% and 75%. What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own. Beyond that, a reprisal policy—to the extent that it demonstrates U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counter-insurgency—will set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerrilla warfare, and it should therefore somewhat [Page 185] increase our ability to deter such adventures. We must recognize, however, that that ability will be gravely weakened if there is failure for any reason in Vietnam.

IV. Present Action Recommendations

1. This general recommendation was developed in intensive discussions in the days just before the attacks on Pleiku. These attacks and our reaction to them have created an ideal opportunity for the prompt development and execution of sustained reprisals. Conversely, if no such policy is now developed, we face the grave danger that Pleiku, like the Gulf of Tonkin, may be a short-run stimulant and a long-term depressant. We therefore recommend that the necessary preparations be made for continuing reprisals. The major necessary steps to be taken appear to us to be the following: (1) We should complete the evacuation of dependents. (2) We should quietly start the necessary westward deployments of back-up contingency forces. (3) We should develop and refine a running catalogue of Viet Cong offenses which can be published regularly and related clearly to our own reprisals. Such a catalogue should perhaps build on the foundation of an initial White Paper. (4) We should initiate joint planning with the GVN on both the civil and military level. Specifically, we should give a clear and strong signal to those now forming a government that we will be ready for this policy when they are. (5) We should develop the necessary public and diplomatic statements to accompany the initiation and continuation of this program. (6) We should insure that a reprisal program is matched by renewed public commitment to our family of programs in the South, so that the central importance of the southern struggle may never be neglected. (7) We should plan quiet diplomatic communication of the precise meaning of what we are and are not doing, to Hanoi, to Peking and to Moscow. (8) We should be prepared to defend and to justify this new policy by concentrating attention in every forum upon its cause—the aggression in the South. (9) We should accept discussion on these terms in any forum, but we should not now accept the idea of negotiations of any sort except on the basis of a stand down of Viet Cong violence. A program of sustained reprisal, with its direct link to Hanoi’s continuing aggressive actions in the South, will not involve us in nearly the level of international recrimination which would be precipitated by a go-North program which was not so connected. For this reason the international pressures for negotiation should be quite manageable.

South Vietnamese win costly battle at Binh Gia - HISTORY

After several attacks upon them, it was decided that U.S. Air Force bases needed more protection. The South Vietnamese military seemed incapable of providing security. On March 8, 1965, 3,500 United States Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam. This marked the beginning of the American ground war. U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment.

In a statement similar to that made to the French almost two decades earlier, Ho Chi Minh warned that if the Americans "want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea." As former First Deputy Foreign Minister Tran Quang Co has noted, the primary goal of the war was to reunify Vietnam and secure its independence. The policy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was not to topple other non-communist governments in South East Asia.

The Marines' assignment was defensive. The initial deployment of 3,500 in March was increased to nearly 200,000 by December. The U.S. military had long been schooled in offensive warfare. Regardless of political policies, U.S. commanders were institutionally and psychologically unsuited to a defensive mission. In December, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Binh Gia , [ 139 ] in a battle that both sides viewed as a watershed. Previously communist forces had utilized hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, however at Binh Gia they had successfully defeated a strong ARVN force in conventional warfare. Tellingly, South Vietnamese forces were again defeated in June, at the Battle of Dong Xoai .

Desertion rates were increasing, and morale plummeted. General William Westmoreland informed Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific forces, that the situation was critical. He said, "I am convinced that U.S. troops with their energy, mobility, and firepower can successfully take the fight to the NLF [National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam]." With this recommendation, Westmoreland was advocating an aggressive departure from America's defensive posture and the sidelining of the South Vietnamese. By ignoring ARVN units, the U.S. commitment became open-ended. Westmoreland outlined a three-point plan to win the war:

  • Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (and other free world) forces necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
  • Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy forces. This phase would end when the enemy had been worn down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated areas.
  • Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of twelve to eighteen months following Phase 2 would be required for the final destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote base areas.

The plan was approved by Johnson and marked a profound departure from the previous administration's insistence that the government of South Vietnam was responsible for defeating the guerrillas. Westmoreland predicted victory by the end of 1967. Johnson did not, however, communicate this change in strategy to the media. Instead he emphasized continuity. The change in U.S. policy depended on matching the North Vietnamese and the NLF in a contest of attrition and morale. The opponents were locked in a cycle of escalation. The idea that the government of South Vietnam could manage its own affairs was shelved.

The one-year tour of duty deprived units of experienced leadership. As one observer noted "we were not in Vietnam for 10 years, but for one year 10 times." As a result, training programs were shortened.

South Vietnam was inundated with manufactured goods. As Stanley Karnow writes, "the main PX [Post Exchange], located in the Saigon suburb of Cholon , was only slightly smaller than the New York Bloomingdale's." The American buildup transformed the economy and had a profound impact on South Vietnamese society. A huge surge in corruption was witnessed.

Washington encouraged its SEATO allies to contribute troops. Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea , Thailand, and the Philippines [ 149 ] all agreed to send troops. Major allies, however, notably NATO nations Canada and the United Kingdom, declined Washington's troop requests. The U.S. and its allies mounted complex operations, such as operations Masher , Attleboro, Cedar Falls, and Junction City. However, the communist insurgents remained elusive and demonstrated great tactical flexibility.

Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam began to stabilize with the coming to power of Prime Minister Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and figurehead Chief of State, General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, in mid 1965 at the head of a military junta. This ended a series of coups that had happened more than once a year. In 1967, Thieu became president with Ky as his deputy, after rigged elections. Although they were nominally a civilian government, Ky was supposed to maintain real power through a behind-the-scenes military body. However, Thieu outmanoevred and sidelined Ky by filling the ranks with generals from his faction. Thieu was also accused of murdering Ky loyalists through contrived military accidents. Thieu, mistrustful and indecisive, remained president until 1975, having won a one-man election in 1971.

The Johnson administration employed a "policy of minimum candor" in its dealings with the media. Military information officers sought to manage media coverage by emphasizing stories that portrayed progress in the war. Over time, this policy damaged the public trust in official pronouncements. As the media's coverage of the war and that of the Pentagon diverged, a so-called credibility gap developed.


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