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Tet Offensive

Lyndon B Johnson

Tet Offensive: Lyndon B Johnson was the 36th American President who served in office from November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969. One of the important events during his presidency was the Tet Offensive.

Definition and Summary of the Tet Offensive
Summary and definition:
On January 30, 1968, during Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year, a massive surprise attack was launched by the Vietnamese. The surprise attack became known as the 'Tet Offensive' in which the communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong guerrilla forces began a coordinated series of ferocious attacks on more than 100 south Vietnamese cities and towns, including the former, ancient imperial capital of Hue.

There was even an attack by the Viet Cong on the American Embassy in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. In the same week of the Tet Offensive, the tally of American soldiers who had died in Vietnam passed that of the Korean War.

The Tet Offensive ended on September 23, 1968 and was a turning point in the Vietnam War. Although the north Vietnamese suffered massive casualties it gained a psychological and political victory for the communists, dramatically contradicting optimistic claims by the U.S. government that the Vietnam War was all but over.

Facts about Tet Offensive
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Tet Offensive.

The Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 April 30, 1975) was fought between the Communist government of North Vietnam and Viet Cong guerrillas, who were supported by the Chinese, and the armies of South Vietnam, who were supported by the United States. In 1967 General Westmoreland had told the American public the war in Vietnam was progressing well and the end was in sight.

The 1968 Tet Offensive was a military campaign launched by Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War. The result of the conflict was a tactical victory for the US and South Vietnamese but a political,  strategic and psychological victory for the communist North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.

The primary objective of the Tet Offensive was to promote a popular uprising so that the South Vietnamese people would rise up in rebellion against their own government.

The Tet Offensive started on January 30, 1968 by communist forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam against South Vietnam, the United States and their allies.

It is estimated that 85000 Viet Cong participated in the attacks in south Vietnam, supported by thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers.

On January 30, 1968, the Tet Offensive began when North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong forces simultaneously attacked towns and cities in South Vietnam. The attacks were a complete surprise because the enemy forces broke the temporary ceasefire that had been called for the Vietnamese lunar new year holiday of Tet. During previous Tet holidays both sides had stopped fighting for 3 days.

During the surprise Tet Offensive major targets in south Vietnam were attacked. These included over 155 villages, towns and cities that were subjected to rocket fire and massive artillery attacks. In some cities the Communists were repelled within hours. In others, it took weeks of fighting.

The Tet Offensive was the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that point in the Vietnam war. It was conducted in south Vietnam in a series of three phases:

  • Phase 1: January 30, 1968 March 28, 1968

  • Phase 2: May 5, 1968 June 15, 1968

  • Phase 3: August 17, 1968 September 23, 1968

The Viet Cong fought an open war during the Tet Offensive, not the guerrilla warfare that they usually fought.

At 2:45AM on the morning January 31, 1968, the first day of the Tet Offensive, the US embassy in Saigon was invaded.  A suicide squad of some 19 Viet Cong had blasted its way through the high walls surrounding the embassy compound and held IT until 9:15AM. Outside the city of Saigon two Viet Cong battalions attacked the U.S. logistical and headquarter complex at Long Binh

Phase 1 of the Tet Offensive was aimed at luring the Allied forces out of the heavily populated cities to defend the borders, and then launching surprise attacks on the cities.

Phase 2 of the Tet Offensive was a smaller offensive and consisted of continuing heavy attacks on cities but also included attacks on villages. The advantage of the element of surprise had been lost and it was not nearly as effective as Phase 1 and the communist Vietnamese suffered numerous casualties.

Phase 3 of the Tet Offensive continued to target cities and villages in south Vietnam but was fought by North Vietnamese soldiers, no Viet Cong forces participated in Phase 3.

The Viet Cong scored their greatest triumph when they captured ancient Vietnamese capital city of Hue. By the time the communists were driven out of Hue, nearly 10,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed and the ancient city of Hue was reduced to rubble

At the end of the Tet Offensive, both sides had endured losses, and both sides claimed victory. The United States defeated the communists decisively, but at the same time handed them a strategic victory.

Militarily it was a defeat for the communists, they were not focused on specific targets and had found it impossible to coordinate the tens of thousands of soldiers and Viet Cong taking part in the assaults. But they gained a massive psychological and political victory  contradicting optimistic claims by the U.S. government and the military that the Vietnam War was all but over.

The events of the Tet Offensive were brought into the living rooms of Americans by new communications satellites that conveyed the scenes of the carnage via the television. The invasion of the US embassy in Saigon was a terrible shock to the nation, severely damaging national confidence in the Vietnam war policies of President Lyndon Johnson

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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