The Tet Offensive


The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against the forces of South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian commands and control centres throughout South Vietnam.
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Resource summary

The Tet Offensive
  1. What was the ‘Tet’ Offensive?
    1. Took place from the end of January 1968
      1. Major attack by Viet Cong and NVA regular forces on 36 South Vietnamese provincial capitals and 5 major cities
        1. US and South Vietnamese forces largely successful in repelling attacks
          1. major shock after claims of progress
          2. Turning point for the US Vietnam?
          3. Background: US
            1. US military and government arguing that it is going well
              1. South Vietnam in no immediate danger of collapse
                1. Vietnam War increasingly unpopular in US: Increasingly expensive and growing numbers of casualties
                  1. But deep domestic divisions about what to do: increase effort, maintain effort, or withdraw?
                  2. Background: North Vietnam
                    1. Was it because the Americans were doing so badly that this was intended to be a ‘knock-out’ blow
                      1. Or was it because Hanoi was concerned about American progress and thought they needed to change tactics
                      2. political jockeying in Hanoi for position, which those advocating an all-out attack won
                        1. believed that attacks would encourage uprisings in the South that would lead to the withdrawal of the US, allowing victory
                          1. Massive build up in South during late 1967
                          2. Tet begins
                            1. the lunar new year – traditionally a time of truce
                              1. Primarily Viet Cong (People’s Liberation Armed Forces or PLAF) rather than NVA regulars
                                1. Lack of co-ordination – attack was delayed by 24 hours but not all units got the message
                                  1. Therefore initial impact is slightly diluted
                                  2. The US Response
                                    1. Americans knew something was up, but did not realise the scale
                                      1. Westmoreland moved troops just before the attacks
                                        1. Managed to rally and retaliate
                                          1. Huge bravery and resilience of American and South Vietnamese forces
                                            1. Massive losses for PLAF
                                              1. Could not take on the might of the US military in open battle
                                                1. Therefore military defeat for North Vietnam
                                                  1. US Military Victory?
                                                    1. US repels virtually all military attacks by late March
                                                      1. Westmoreland proclaims stunning US victory (In public, Johnson supports this view)
                                                        1. Thousands of Viet Cong dead (perhaps up to 40,000)
                                                          1. After Tet, Viet Cong no-longer a major in the war
                                                            1. About 1000 Americans killed
                                                              1. North Vietnam had not taken any town and had failed in overall objectives of fomenting revolution
                                                                1. BUT!
                                                                  1. Demonstrated extreme measure that North Vietnam was willing to go to
                                                                    1. Viet Cong suicide squad enters US embassy compound
                                                                      1. Long, brutal battle over Hue
                                                                        1. Took war out into the open, especially Saigon
                                                                          1. Question of whether US was, in fact, winning (Westmoreland requests 200,000 more troops!)
                                                                            1. Continued decline in US public support for war
                                                                  2. US Political Response and Fallout
                                                                    1. Economic strain of the war: inflation and taxes
                                                                      1. Johnson’s handling of the war under severe pressure
                                                                        1. Johnson a broken man
                                                                          1. Nation divided
                                                                            1. 31 March 1968: Johnson announces bombing halt to bring Vietnamese to negotiating table
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