The Tet Offensive was a sequence of organized attacks in the Vietnam War. The surprise assaults began on 31st January 1968 by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong (rebel forces) on the big cities and towns of South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive was launched a day after the North Vietnam forces declared a seven-day break from firearms to celebrate the new year (Tet). The assaults are considered a turning point of the Vietnam War because they were the largest planned military campaigns. Moreover, the attacks were not only launched against the South Vietnamese forces but also the U.S and other allies (Rabel, 24). The assaults were the bloodiest to both the South Vietnamese forces and the American troops. The initial assaulted shocked the American troops as they lost temporary control of several towns. The Tet Offensive was a significant and strategic success for North Vietnam by changing the American psychological view of the Americans. It inflicted massive casualties on US forces that forced the troops to withdraw slowly from the war. Although the Tet Offensive caused loss of many American and South Vietnamese forces, it demonstrated how wrong it was for the US to intervene in this war.
A month after the Tet assaults, the Charlie company executed the My Lai massacre to revenge the loss. Moreover, the My Lai massacre that followed after the assaults increased the support that the US had no role in the Vietnamese war. The Tet Offensive was a turning point in the Vietnam War because it weakened The US support and later lead to the slow withdrawal of American forces in Southeast Asia. It was a well-organized series of attack on the American troops by the Viet Cong forces (Rabel, 24). The initial attacks were carried out in police headquarters, radio stations, garrisons and command posts. These attacks were expected to cause a national uprising to be broadcast on radio across the country. This was the reason why the North Vietnamese forces targeted the national radio broadcasting station in Saigon. They would take advantage of the tension and confusion of the initial mass attack to overthrow both the South Vietnamese and American troops by the second wave. The North Vietnamese forces third wave was commanded to attack the marine base in the South. They had also carried out pre-attacks before the main attack on small cities in the south which happened in the late hours of 29-30 January 1968 (Schmitz, 45).
The leaders of the North Vietnamese troops believed that the surprise attacks would make US and Vietnamese soldiers to scatter in fear and panic. Therefore it would be easy for them to take over the cities and towns without much opposition. However, their plan failed to succeed as they lost many soldiers during these attacks. Moreover, the plan also failed due to intelligence leaking a week before the attacks. The southern troops were aware of the planned attack against them hence they recalled all their troops and American forces from leaving. The South Vietnamese leaders also urged the local citizens to join them to end what was a long drawn out war. The North troops faced strong opposition from the locals as they tried to enter the town (Schmitz, 68).
The southern troops inflicted more casualties than expected because the citizens kept out of the main battles. The South did all they could to win the war because did not want the North to take over their divided country. Therefore they were able to fend off the attack from the north. Although the North was able to overtake the Embassy of the United States in Saigon this was unsuccessful because they were killed by the US forces. The Southern troop's maintained control over their government was influenced by populace support and intelligence gathering (Edmans, 3).
The main incidences of the attacks during the Tet Offensive included the Hue combat (the longest battle), Tan Son Nhut which was the American stronghold and the Bien Hoa airbase. On January 31, 1968, the Viet Cong overtook the city of Hue where six battalions of Viet Cong and Four battalions of North Vietnamese forces held the city hostage until 25 February 1968 (Oberdorfer, 87). The Bien Hoa air base was overtaken by motor fire and infantry fire in the morning. The American leaders were also aware of the three battalions' attacks at their main gate. The Northern Vietnamese planned to overtake the air base at the gate and prevent gunship support. The intelligence helped the American to plan a counterattack by getting all the gunships of the round. They attacked the Viet Cong as they were crossing an open field before they were able to reach the major gate. Lastly, the Tan Son Nhut attack was also a major event and a turning point for both South Vietnamese and American forces. During the air base assault, more than four thousands men attacked it at gate 051. However, they did not enter through the gate as five security forces while the Bunker 051 was secured by the same number for more than twenty minutes. They gave enough time for reserve forces to take a position and respond successfully to the attack. Tan Son was a strategic base because it hosted 1500 security forces personnel. It was also home for military assistance command (Rabel, 24). At Bunker 051 five personnel manned the gate and they included Sgt Charles Hebron, Sgt Louis Fischer, Sgt Alonzo Coggins, Sgt Roger Mills, and Sgt William Cyr. The Northern Vietnamese attacked the bunker at 0345 hours and they entered the perimeter all. Sgt Fischer kept updating the situation through the radio but footages and videos of dead and scattered on these bases. The American public was shocked by the updates because they felt that they were losing their loved ones in a foreign country.
The public had a positive opinion before the war since they were assured that the war was coming to an end. The American received a different picture when the Tet Offensive began since they received images of burning houses in Saigon and soldiers lying on the round in the embassy. The Americans leaders requested for a back-up of 200,000 soldiers and many were unwilling too since they had a clear picture of what was happening in Vietnam. The more forces were deployed overseas the more America remained weak since the reserve forces that would protect the country from terror were guarding South Vietnam. For instance, the 9/11 attack was a major indication that America was not ready for unforeseen attacks since they concentrated on overseas war. After the attack American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam to protect their home country. Another problem that made the Tet Offensive to accomplish their goals was the fact that the army only relied on air forces for protection. The Northern Vietnamese spotted these inabilities and the fact that when the air forces were out fighting there was no one to protect the base. The army had poor war machinery that did not match the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. The air forces left M-16's and M60's which both small arms in the base area during the Tet Offensive. They also left behind small unprotected vehicles that could not be used to overcome the attack. The officials learned that they were not organized for war since they did not protect the perimeter and inner sides of the bases. The security forces were required to undergo special training and specialized equipment was made available (Ang, 188).
In conclusion, the Tet Offensive played a significant role to end the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese predicted that they would overtake all cities and towns in the South through a series of coordinated attacks. They also planned to cause terror and instill fear to the US soldiers to make them withdraw from the war. They hoped that the locals would support them but the opposite happened when they supported the Southern forces. The assault was not successful because there was intelligence leakage. The southern troops learned about the attack a week before it occurred hence they had enough time to prepare for a counterattack. The American army depended on air force protection had poor war machinery that did not match the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. They could not respond quickly to the war and many of them lost their lives and later the United States withdrew from Vietnam.
Schmitz, David F. The Tet Offensive: Politics, War, and Public Opinion. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.Edmans, Anthony O. "The Tet Offensive and Middletown Study in Contradiction 4. (1994), 1-4, Web http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Texts/Scholarly/Edmonds_Tet.html. (accessed May 19, 2010).
Oberdorfer, Don. Tet!: the turning point in the Vietnam War. JHU Press, 2001. 20-87
Ang, Cheng Guan. The Vietnam War from the Other Side. Routledge, 2013. 100-200
Rabel, Roberto. "Tet, 1968: Roberto Rabel Looks Back at the Critical Turning Point in the Vietnam War." New Zealand International Review 43.3 (2018): 24.
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