Ho Chi Minh Creates Provisional Government.
Ho Chi Minh Declares Independence of Vietnam.
British Forces Land in Saigon to return country to French occupation and control.
Negotiations Between French and Vietminh Breakdown.
Democratic Republic of Vietnam launches its first consorted attack against the French occupation.
Vietminh Move North of Hanoi.
French General Etienne Valluy attempts and fails to wipe out the Vietminh resistence to French Occupation.
Elysee Agreement Signed.
Chinese, Soviets, Offer to Support Vietminh.
United States sends $15 million dollars in military aid to the French for the continued occupation.
Battle of Dienbienphu : 40,000 armed Vietminh lay seige to the French garrison at Dienbienphu.
In order to justify continued occupation of Vietnam, Eisenhower Cites "Domino Theory".
French Defeated at Dien Bien Phu.
Vietminh General Ta Quang Buu and French General Henri Delteil sign Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam.
The United States does not accept the agreement, pushes for continued occupation.
Diem Rejects Geneva Accords.
Diem becomes puppet of United States.
French Leave Vietnam.
US Training South Vietnamese.
Guerrillas assassinate more than 400 South Vietnamese officials of puppet regime.
Bombings Rock Saigon.
Weapons Moving Along Ho Chi Minh Trail.
US Occupation forces Killed.
Diem Orders Crackdown on Dissidents.
North Vietnam Imposes Military Conscription To Fight Occupation.
Diem Survives Coup Attempt.
Hanoi forms National Liberation Front for South Vietnam.
Battle of Kienhoa Province.
US Military Employs Agent Orange.
Diem Palace Bombed in Coup Attempt.
Battle of Ap Bac.
Buddhists Protest Against Diem.
With approval of the United States, operatives within the South Vietnamese military overthrow Diem.
He is killed.
General Nguyen Khanh Seizes Power in Saigon.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident : Three North Vietnamese PT boats allegedly fire torpedoes at the USS Maddox.
It has since been revealed, the incident never happened.
Was part of a propoganda campaign used by the United States government.
National Liberation Front Attack Bienhoa Air Base.
Sustained American bombing raids of North Vietnam, dubbed "Operation Rolling Thunder".
U.S. Marines Arrive at Danang.
American forces clash with North Vietnamese in the Ia Drang Valley.
US Troop Levels Top 200,000.
Vietnam "Teach-In" Broadcast to Nation's Universities.
B-52s Bomb North Vietnam.
South Vietnam Government Troops Take Hue and Danang.
US President Lyndon Johnson meets South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Cao Ky.
Veterans from World Wars I and II, and Korean war, stage anti-war protest rally.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) issues a report claiming that the US military draft places "a heavy discriminatory burden on minority groups and the poor."
Operation Cedar Falls Begins.
Martin Luther King Speaks Out Against War.
Sihanouk Allows Pursuit of Vietcong into Cambodia.
North Vietnamese Launch Tet Offensive.
Battle for Hue.
Westmoreland requests 206,000 More Troops.
Paris Peace Talks Begin.
Nixon Begins Secret Bombing of Cambodia.
Ho Chi Minh Dies at Age 79.
Massive Antiwar Demonstration in DC.
Sihanouk Ousted in Cambodia.
National Guardsmen open fire on a crowd of student antiwar protesters.
Kissinger and Le Duc Begin Secret Talks.
Nixon Announces Plans to Visit China.
Nixon Cuts Troop Levels.
Secret Peace Talks Revealed.
B-52s Bomb Hanoi and Haiphong.
Cease-fire Signed in Paris.
End of Draft Announced.
Last American Troops Leave Vietnam.
Hearings on Secret Bombings Begin.
Report Cites Damage to Vietnam Ecology.
North Forces Capture Phuoc Long Province.
Hue Falls to North.
North Vietnamese initiate the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, to "liberate" Saigon.
Ford Calls Vietnam War "Finished".
Last Americans Evacuate as Saigon Freed.
North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin accepts the surrender of South.
Pham Van Dong Heads Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Carter Issues Pardon to Draft Evaders.
Vietnam Granted Admission to United Nations.
Long Tan Battle
The Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam War is arguably the most famous battle fought by the Australian Army during the Vietnam War. It was fought in a rubber plantation (in UTM Grid YS 49-66), near the village of Long Tan, about four kilometres north east of Vung Tau, South Vietnam on August 18-19, 1966. The action occurred when D Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), encountered the Viet Cong (VC) 275 Regiment and elements of the D445 Local Forces Battalion. D Company was supported by other Australian units, as well as New Zealand and United States personnel. The battle is often used in Australian officer training as an example of the importance of combining and coordinating infantry, artillery, armour and military aviation. Background of Long Tan Battle Vietnam War:
1ATF arrived in Vietnam in May 1966 and was based at the Nui Dat base, in Phuoc Tuy Province. (As of 2005, Nui Dat and Long Tan are both in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.) 6RAR was composed mainly of conscripts. The Australians faced formidable enemy forces, which were operating on home soil: Within Phuoc Tuy and the neighbouring provinces of Bien Hoa, Long Khanh and Binh Tuy, the principle [sic] main force formation ... was the 5th VC Division, which usually had its headquarters in the Mây Tào Mountains. It consisted of 274 Regiment and 275 Regiment plus supporting units. North Vietnamese regulars were used to boost and reinforce this South Vietnamese [Viet Cong] formation. For several weeks prior to the battle, Australian field intelligence had tracked a radio transmitter moving south but were unsure about what unit it belonged to. Aggressive patrolling failed to find this unit. On the night of 17-18 August, the Viet Cong 275th Regiment fired over 100 mortar rounds into the 103 Battery area and 24 Australian soldiers were wounded, one later dying from his wounds. B Company 6RAR was sent out early on the morning of the 18th to find the VC heavy weapons. D Company (to which was attached three New Zealand Army personnel) relieved B Company at midday. The commander of B Company, briefed the D Company commander, and B Company returned to base. After discussing the situation with the 6 RAR battalion commander, D Company moved to the east towards the limit of their covering artillery range. Battle of Long Tan Vietnam War:
At 15:40, a small group of VC soldiers walked into the middle of 11 Platoon on the right flank of D Company. One was killed in the action, the area was cleared and 11 Platoon moved forward again. Several light mortar rounds were fired towards the company position landing to the east, most likely the same mortars that had fired at the base on the night of 16 August. The accompanying Forward Observation Officer (FO), organised counter battery fire, probably destroying them, as the mortars were not fired again. This diversion separated the main company slightly from 11 Platoon, putting the main body behind a slight rise. As 11 Platoon continued to advance they were attacked by heavy machine gun fire and immediately sustained six casualties. Following normal contact procedures, the platoon went into a defensive position. The VC formed an assault and attacked 11 Platoon around 20 minutes after initial contact with support from their heavy machine guns. Stanley called in all available artillery support from the 1ATF artillery units, and 10 Platoon moved up to the left of 11 Platoon to relieve pressure on them and allow them to withdraw to the company defensive position out of the heavy machine gun fire. The commander of 11 Platoon, was killed and the Sergeant assumed command of the platoon. During this engagement both platoons' radios went out. Heavy monsoon rain began falling on the battlefield reducing visibility considerably. The monsoonal showers that came down helped save a lot of lives among the Australians and Vietnamese. 10 Platoon, also came under fire and went into a defensive position. 12 Platoon, had been the reserve platoon, and it was ordered to the right to support 11 Platoon. 12 Platoon left one section behind to support Company HQ. The company called for close air support but when it arrived it was unable to identify targets due to the weather and rubber plantation. The US aircraft dropped their bombs to the east causing disruption to the VC rear areas. Smith requested reinforcements from 6RAR. B Company HQ with its one platoon had not yet got back to Nui Dat and was ordered back to Long Tan. The Australian soldiers were carrying a light load, approximately five magazines, and after nearly three hours of combat ran low on ammunition. At 5:00pm Smith called for an ammunition resupply. By coincidence, two Iroquois helicopters from 9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force were available at the Nui Dat base, having just been used as transport for a Col Joye and Little Pattie concert. One of the Iroquois pilots, disobeyed orders by dropping supplies to D Company. The ammunition was still inside its packing crates. The tired soldiers had to break open these crates and load their magazines from boxes of ammunition. Magazines were considered part of soldiers’ weapons and issuing was strictly controlled. (One of the lessons of Long Tan for the Australian Army was that combat personnel on operations started to carry more supplies, including more ammunition and food, to enable prolonged operations. Ammunition was later resupplied in magazines, and the issuing of magazines was relaxed.) The survivors of 11 Platoon withdrew under the cover provided by the torrential rain to the company position. At Nui Dat, A Company had been ordered to ready itself and the M-113 armoured personnel carriers of the 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron to transport them. However there was a delay of approximately one hour from the time 1 APC Squadron was ordered to 6RAR lines at Nui Dat to pick up A Coy. Smith pressed Townsend to send reinforcements, and even though Townsend had given the warning order to A Coy to be prepared to go and assist D Coy, Jackson would not release the APCs to take them. Jackson considered that the attack on D Coy was a possible feint and did not want to reduce the defences at Nui Dat until he received more information about Long Tan. The VC continually formed assault waves and moved forward, but were broken up by artillery fire. Fortunately for the attackers, the soft boggy ground reduced the effect of the shell bursts, but there were a large number of wounded. The rain was so intense it kicked up a mist that gave the Australian soldiers cover from the onslaught. The soldiers of D Company held their line and repulsed any VC that got through the artillery barrage. D Company were supported by 24 105 mm and 155 mm guns from the Australian 1st Field Regiment, the 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery and the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 35th Artillery Regiment. Over 3,000 rounds of artillery were fired throughout the remainder of the battle, at likely Vietnamese forming-up positions and withdrawal routes. "A" Battery, 1st Field Regiment fired rounds every 15 seconds for three hours. The U.S. gunners were in the same base as "A" Battery and assisted the exhausted Australian gunners by carrying artillery rounds to their guns. The reverse slope that D Company used to defend their position meant that the VC found it difficult to use their heavy calibre weapons effectively; the VC could only engage the Australians at close range. The VC tried to find the Australian flanks but the wide dispersal and excellent defensive position meant the VC thought they were up against a larger enemy. A driver of one of the 1 APC Squadron vehicles, Cpl Peter Clements, was fatally wounded as 1APC Squadron fought its way into the rubber plantation. A dispute between the acting commander of A Company and the 3 Troop APC Squadron commander, regarding who was in command of the relief force; the commander of the APCs or the commander of the infantry mounted in the APCs, also caused a delay. There was a dispute between the acting A Coy commander and the 3 Troop APC Squadron commander. In response to this ambiguity, the command structure of combined units was later more clearly defined by the Australian Army.) At last light, A Company, in ten APCs from 1 APC Squadron arrived and assaulted the Vietnamese flank. In teeming rain, 3 Troop, A Company and 2 Troop, A Company, also attacked the forward elements of D445 Battalion, taking them by surprise. B Company also attacked the fleeing enemy, withdrawing to the east. An Australian soldier from one of the rifle companies was killed as they attacked the D445 Battalion position. The fresh reinforcements formed a perimeter around D Company allowing them to treat the wounded and rest. During the night the artillery fired on likely forming-up points of the VC and some wounded were evacuated by helicopter. This was a strong force and should have been able to repulse any night attack. As it happened, there was no further contact. Aftermath of Long Tan Battle Vietnam War:
The first North Vietnamese communiqué claimed that: "Liberation Fighters ... wiped out almost completely one Battalion of the Australian Mercenaries in an ambush in the Long Tan Village." However, the official Australian losses were 18 killed and 21 wounded. In 1996, senior Vietnamese officers claimed that only 700 of their men had taken part in the battle half the most conservative Australian estimate and that only 50 had been killed. The official Australian figure that 2,500 Vietnamese were involved in the battle with D Company was determined by US and Australian Army Intelligence Reports, information from the three enemy prisoners captured on the battlefield on August 19, captured documents including the captured commanders diary of D445 and the 1 ATF Commanders Diary. On paper each of the three 275th Regiment battalions had roughly 400 men, but according to the Vietnamese commanders, all were seriously undermanned. The day after the battle, the dead and wounded from 11 Platoon’s position were recovered and the enemy dead buried. Encountering no more resistance the Australian soldiers swept the area and found 33 AK-47s, 5 SKS rilfes, 7 RPD light machine guns, 1 Soviet wheeled machine gun, 1 57mm Type 30 anti-tank gun, 1 M1 Garand rifle, 1 M1 carbine, 1 M1941 sub machine gun and 4 RPG rocket launchers. The official Australian count is 245 Vietnamese dead and 150 wounded. The number of Vietnamese killed and wounded was about twice the initial radio report of 188 killed or wounded from Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Townsend. It has also been alleged that VC and NVA bodies were found in and around the Long Tan rubber plantation for up to two weeks after the battle, but these were never recorded against the official tally. It is said that the VC and NVA often recovered and removed their dead from the battlefield. US forces later claimed to have captured documents indicating 800 killed and 1,000 wounded. Seven days after the battle, the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, a US Marine battalion, several ARVN battalions and 5 RAR launched Operation Toledo, a large-scale sweep of the area. According to 275th Regiment veterans and Vietnamese historians, 47 VC and NVA were killed in action and about 100 wounded. Controversy regarding tactics of Long Tan Battle Vietnam War:
It has been alleged that Australian commanders knew that there was a Vietnamese regiment moving towards the rubber plantation area prior to the battle. A top secret Australian signals unit (547 Troop) did track what they determined to be the radio from 275 Regiment for 12 days (2 August to 14 August 1966). Australian intelligence relied on many sources and there was no way to determine whether the radio was in fact located with the 275 Regiment forces. Jackson began a series of patrols and some of those patrols including A Coy, 6RAR actually went into the Long Tan rubber plantation on the 17 August but no contact was made. The top secret 547 Signals Troop was so secret that information gathered from it was not shared with Australian field commanders, to prevent it giving away the fact that the Australians were monitoring enemy radios. Many Vietnamese participants are also adamant that D Company walked into an ambush. They state that the VC had planned to draw the Australian force into a wooded area to the north of the rubber plantation, where heavy weapons had been set up on a rise known to the Australians as "Nui Dat 2 GR4868". Another 100 members of D445 Battalion were in the south near the village of Long Tan. One platoon with several rocket launchers had been placed on the south western edge of the plantation, hoping to slow down any APC-mounted reinforcements, and cut off an Australian retreat. However, Townsend was unable to pursue the 275th Regiment because of the vulnerability of the Nui Dat base to an attack from the 274th Regiment. Moreover, Operation Toledo was launched seven days later. Commemoration and reconciliation of Long Tan Battle Vietnam War:
A US Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) was awarded to D Company 6RAR, by President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 28, 1968, for the unit's actions at Long Tan. The text of the citation reads as follows: By virtue of the authority invested in me as the President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I have today awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for extraordinary heroism to D Company, Sixth Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, The Australian Army. D Company distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing armed force in Vietnam on August 18, 1966. While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy, Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attacked on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well armed and determined foe, the men on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Cong. The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle. After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence positions of D Company. The conspicuous courage, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were to the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army. Soldiers posted to D Company 6RAR still wear the PUC on their uniforms. Townsend was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Smith was recommended for a Distinguished Service Order, but received the lower award of a Military Cross. Each of the three platoon commanders were recommended for Military Crosses but none were awarded. Two Distinguished Conduct Medals, and two Military Medals were also awarded. The lack of recognition paid to Australian veterans by the Australian government has been the subject of intense criticism on their part. In November 2006, John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, visited Long Tan, the first Australian PM to make the journey. At Long Tan, Howard acknowledged the poor treatment that Australian Vietnam veterans received. A total of 22 members of D Company were to be awarded South Vietnamese medals. However, in line with British military policy, the Australian government was not prepared to formally accept awards from foreign powers without prior approval by the Queen. The Australian Ambassador gave this advice to the South Vietnamese government, which decided at the last moment not to award the medals. This policy was relaxed very soon afterwards. In June 2004 the 22 awards were approved by the Australian Governor-General for wearing. On 12 October 2007, John Howard announced the appointment of an independent panel to review the awarding of imperial medals, and the claim to the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation. 6RAR erected a concrete cross to commemorate those that died. This was removed by the government of Vietnam following the communist victory in 1975, but has now been replaced by a larger monument of similar design. The original is on display at Dong Nai province museum in Bien Hoa. In more recent times former officers from D Company have visited Vietnam and met former adversaries. The date the battle began, August 18, is commemorated in Australia as Long Tan Day, also known as Vietnam Veterans' Remembrance Day. At the 40th year commemoration, in 2006, veterans were accompanied by Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddle at the Long Tan Cross; following the commemoration a concert was held at Vung Tau where former Redgum band member John Schumann sang "I Was Only Nineteen" which describes the experiences of Long Tan veteran Mick Storen (Schuman's brother-in-law).
1968, January 30-31
Tet Offensive begins with Viet Cong attacks on major cities and 36 of 44 provincial capitals. More than 80,000 total numbers were involved. The attacks were well planned, and took the South Vietnamese and Americans by surprise. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese control over ten cities before being driven away. The U.S. Embassy in Saigon was overrun. They forced their way into the Embassy after blowing a hole in the perimeter wall. For several hours, the two sided battled. The presidential palace and Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport were also attacked. The Viet Cong suffered huge losses in personnel. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong lost more than 45,000 men. The American deaths totaled 1536, South Vietnamese, 2800. The face of the Vietnam War changed greatly after the Tet offensive. It was the beginning of the end for the American occupation.
Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Ho Chi Minh Trail dates back to World War II. During this time, Vietminh trecked the same paths. The Trail was developed from just a series of rough paths into a highly organized route for soldiers and supplies. The Ho Chi Minh Trail extended from Mu Gia Pass in the north, southward along the western slopes of the Annam range, to a combination of exit points that stretched to the triborder region of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. By 1971, the Trail encompassed an estimated 3,500 kilometers of roads. The roads were originally built by manual labor. The whole network was maintained by over 40,000 personnel. Most movement on the Trail was conducted at night. This was done by a series of short shuttles. The Trucks started just after nightfall and trailed off around 3:00 a.m. This allowed time for unloading and concealment of supplies and vehicles. During it`s peak, Ho Chi Minh Trail was defended against U.S. aircraft by an estimated 600 - 700 antiaircraft guns. The Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Vietnam War was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. The system provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF or derogatively, Viet Cong) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) during the Vietnam War (1960-1975). The trail was not a single route, but rather a complex maze of truck routes, paths for foot and bicycle traffic, and river transportation systems. The name, taken from North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh, is of American origin. Within North Vietnam, it was called the Truong Son Road, after the mountain range in central Vietnam through which it passed.
Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam War:
Parts of what became the Ho Chi Minh trail had existed for centuries as primitive foot paths that facilitated trade in the region. The area through which the system meandered was among the most rugged in Southeast Asia: a sparsely-populated region of rugged mountains (1,500-8,000 feet), triple-canopy jungle and dense primeval rainforests. During the First Indochina War the Viet Minh maintained north/south communication utilizing this system of trails and paths. When armed conflict heated up between the NLF and the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1959, Hanoi dispatched the newly-established 559th Transportation Group, under the command of Colonel (later General) Vo Bam, south in order to improve and maintain the system in its bid for a unified Vietnam. Originally, the North Vietnamese effort concentrated on infiltration across and immediately below the Demilitarized Zone that separated the two Vietnams. As early as May 1958 PAVN and Pathet Lao forces had seized the transportation hub at Tchepone, on Laotian Route 9. This had been accomplished due to the results of elections in May that had brought a right-wing government to power in Laos, its increasing dependence on U.S. military and economic aid, and an increasingly antagonistic attitude toward North Vietnam. The 559th Group then "flipped" its line of communications to the western side of the Truong Son Mountains. By the following year the 559th had a complement of 6,000 personnel in two regiments, the 70th and 71st. This figure does not include combat troops in security roles or North Vietnamese and Laotian civilian laborers. In the early days of the conflict the trail was used strictly for the infiltration of manpower. This was due to the fact that Hanoi could supply its southern allies much more efficiently by sea. After the initiation of U.S. naval interdiction efforts in coastal waters Operation Market Time, the trail had to do double duty. Materiel sent down from the north was stored in caches in the border regions that were soon retitled Base Areas, which, in turn, became sanctuaries for NLF and PAVN forces seeking respite and resupply after conducting operations within South Vietnam. There were five large Base Areas (BAs) in the panhandle of Laos (see map). BA 604 was the main logistical center during the Vietnam conflict; from there, the coordination and distribution of men and supplies into South Vietnam's Military Region I and BAs further south was accomplished. BA 611 facilitated transport from BA 604 to BA 609 and the supply convoys moving in either direction. It also fed fuel and ammunition to BA 607 and on into South Vietnam's Ashau Valley. BA 612 was used for support of the B-3 Front in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. BA 614, between Chavane, Laos and Kham Duc, South Vietnam was used primarily for the transport of men and materiel into MR 2 and to the B-3 Front. BA 609 was important due to a fine road network that made it possible to transport supplies during the rainy season. The popular conception of the logistical arrangements on the trail sometimes bordered on the romantic. The image of barefoot hordes pushing heavily-loaded bicycles, driving oxcarts, or acting as human pack animals, moving hundreds of tons of supplies in this manner was quickly supplanted by trucks (especially Soviet, Chinese, or Eastern Bloc models), which quickly replaced the human as the main method of supply transportation. As early as December 1961, the 3rd Truck Transportation Group of PAVN's General Rear Services Department had become the first motor transport unit fielded by the North Vietnamese to work the trail and the use of motor transport quickly escalated. Two types of units served under the 559th Group, Binh Trams and commo-liaison units. A Binh Tram was the equivalent of a regimental logistical headquarters and was responsible for securing a particular section of the network. While separate units were tasked with security, engineer, and signal functions, a Binh Tram provided the logistical necessities. Usually located one days march from one another, commo-liaison units were responsible for providing food, housing, medical care, and guides to the next way-station. By April 1965, command of the 559th Group devolved upon General Phan Trong Tue. He assumed command of 24,000 men in six truck transportation battalions, two bicycle transportation battalions, a boat transportation battalion, eight engineer battalions, and 45 commo-liaison stations. The system developed into an intricate maze of 18-foot wide dirt roads (paved with gravel and corduroyed in some areas), foot and bicycle paths, and truck parks. There were numerous supply bunkers, storage areas, barracks, hospitals, and command and control facilities. All of this was concealed from aerial observation by an intricate system of natural and man-made camouflage that was constantly expanded and replaced. By 1973, trucks could drive the entire length of the trail without emerging from the canopy except to ford streams or cross them on crude bridges built beneath the surface of the water. The weather in southeastern Laos came to play a large role both in the supply effort and in eventual U.S./South Vietnamese efforts to interdict it. The southwest monsoon, (commonly called the rainy season) from mid-May to mid-September, brought heavy precipitation (70 percent of 150 inches per year). The sky was usually overcast and the temperatures were high. The northwest monsoon, (the dry season), from mid-October to mid-March was relatively drier and with lower temperatures. Since the road network within the trail system was generally dirt, the bulk of supply transportation (and the military efforts that they supported) were conducted during the dry season. Eventually, the road and path network was supplemented by intense river transportation, which allowed large quantities of supplies to be moved even during the rainy season.
Interdiction and expansion (1965-1968) Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam War:
During 1961 U.S. intelligence analysts estimated that 5,843 enemy infiltrators (actually 4,000) had moved south on the trail; in 1962 12,675 (actually 5,300); in 1963 7,693 (actually 4,700); and in 1964 12,424. The supply capacity of the trail reached 20 to 30 tons per day in 1964 and it was estimated by the U.S. that 12,000 (actually 9,000) North Vietnamese regulars had reached South Vietnam that year. By 1965 the U.S. command in Saigon estimated that PAVN/NLF supply requirements for their southern forces amounted to 234 tons of all supplies per day and that 195 tons were moving through Laos. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analysts concluded that during the 1965 Laotian dry season the enemy was moving 30 trucks per day (90 tons) over the Trail, far above the Saigon estimate. This demonstrates one of the key problems that arose when discussing the North Vietnamese supply effort and U.S. attempts to halt it. At best, the Americans had only estimates of what its enemy was capable of doing and its various intelligence collection agencies often conflicted with one another. Thanks to improvements to the trail system (including opening new routes that would connect to the Sihanouk Trail in Cambodia), the amount of supplies transported during 1965 almost equalled the combined total for the previous five years. During the year interdiction of the system had become one of the top American priorities, but operations against it were complicated by the limited forces available at the time and by the "neutrality" of Laos. The endless intracacies of Laotian affairs and American and North Vietnamese interference in them led to a mutual policy of each ignoring the other, at least in the public eye. This did not, however, prevent both sides from violating the neutrality of Laos; the North Vietnamese by protecting and expanding their supply conduit and by supporting their Pathet Lao allies; the Americans by building and supporting a CIA-backed clandestine army to fight the communists and by bombing the trail incessantly. On 14 December 1964 U.S. Air Force Operation Barrel Roll had carried out the first systematic bombardment of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. On 20 March 1965, after the initiation of Operation Rolling Thunder against North Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave approval for a corresponding escalation against the trail system. Barrel Roll would continue in northeastern Laos while the southern panhandle was bombed in Operation Steel Tiger. By mid-year the number of sorties being flown had grown from 20 to 1,000 per month. In January 1965, the U.S. command in Saigon requested control over bombing operations in the areas of Laos adjacent to South Vietnam's five northernmost provinces, claiming that the area was part of the "extended battlefield." This request was granted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the area came under the auspices of Operation Tiger Hound. Political complications were not all that hampered aerial operations. The seasonal monsoons that hindered communist supply operations in Laos also hampered the interdiction effort. These efforts were also complicated by morning fog and overcast and by the smoke and haze produced by the slash and burn agriculture practiced by the indigenous population. During 1968 the U.S. Air Force undertook two experimental operations that it hoped would exacerbate the worst parts of the weather patterns mentioned above. Project Popeye was an attempt to indefinitely extend the rainy monsoon weather over southeastern Laos by cloud seeding. Testing on the project began in September above the Kong River watershead that ran through the Steel Tiger and Tiger Hound areas. Clouds were seeded by air with silver iodide smoke and then activated by launching a fuse fired from a flare pistol. 56 tests were conducted by October and 85 percent were judged to be successful. President Johnson then gave authorization for the program, which lasted until July 1972. Testing on Project Commando Lava began on 17 May. Scientists from Dow Chemical had created a concoction that, when mixed with rainwater, destabilized the materials that made up soil and created mud. There was a great deal of enthusiasm from the military and civilian participants in the program, who claimed they were there to "make mud, not war." The results were disheartening, in some areas it worked and in others it did not, depending on the makeup of the soil. On the ground, the CIA and the Royal Laotian Army had initially been given the responsibility of stopping, slowing, or, at the very least, observing the enemy's infiltration effort. Within Laos the agency had initiated Project Pincushion during 1962 for those very purposes. This operation later evolved into Project Hardnose, in which CIA-backed Laotian irregular reconnaissance team operations took place. In October 1965, General William Westmoreland, the American commander in South Vietnam, received authorization to launch a U.S. military cross-border recon effort. On 18 November the first mission was launched "across the fence" and into Laos by the highly secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (SOG). This was the beginning of an ever-expanding reconnaissance effort by SOG that would continue until disbandment of the organization in 1972. Another weapon in the American arsenal was unleashed upon the trail on 10 December, when the first B-52 Stratofortress bomber strike was conducted in Laos. A commonly occurring historical perspective concerning the interdiction effort tends to support the campaigns (regardless of their failure to halt or slow infiltration) due to the enemy material and manpower that it tied down in Laos and Cambodia. This viewpoint even pervades some official U.S. government histories of the conflict. For example (and there are several more) John Schlight, in his A War Too Long, has this to say about the PAVN's logistical apparatus: Yet, the same historians would not consider the immense logistical effort fielded by the U.S. to sustain its military in Southeast Asia as a waste of manpower and resources, even if only one American soldier in four assigned to South Vietnam served in the combat arms. Despite the best anti-infiltration efforts of the U.S. the estimated total of PAVN infiltrators for 1966 was between 58,000 and 90,000 men, including at least five full enemy regiments. A June Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate credited the North Vietnamese with 600 miles of truckable roads within the corridor, at least 200 miles of which were good enough for year-round use. 1967 saw a change in command of the 559th Group as Senior Colonel Dong Sy Nguyen assumed command. In comparison to the above DIA estimate, by the end of the year the North Vietnamese had completed 2,959 kilometers of vehicle capable roads, including 275 kilometers of main roads, 576 kilometers of bypasses, and 450 entry roads and storage areas. It was also discovered by U.S. intelligence that the enemy was utilizing the Kong and Bang Fai Rivers to facilitate food, fuel, and munitions shipments by loading the material into half-filled steel drums and then launching them into the rivers. They were later collected downstream by systems of nets and booms. Unknown to the Americans the enemy had also begun to transport and store more than 81,000 tons of supplies "to be utilized in a future offensive." That future offensive was launched during the lunar new year Tet holiday of 1968, and to prepare for it, 200,000 North Vietnamese troops, including seven infantry regiments and twenty independent battalions made the trip south.
Commando Hunt (1968-1970) Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam War:
In the wake of the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese showed signs of expanding and modernizing their logistical effort. The number of supply and maintenance personnel had fallen, mainly due to increased utilization of motor/river transportation and use of mechanized construction equipment. The CIA estimated during the year that the 559th Group was using 20 bulldozers, 11 road graders, three rock crushers, and two steamrollers for maintenance and new road construction. As many as 43,000 North Vietnamese or Laotians (most of whom were pressed into service) were also engaged in operating, improving, or extending the system. The rain of ordnance that fell upon the trail peaked during 1969, when 433,000 tons fell on Laos. This was made possible by the close-out of Operation Rolling Thunder and the commencement of Operation Commando Hunt in November 1968. U.S. aircraft were freed for interdiction missions and as many as 500 per day were flying the crowded skies over Laos. By the end of the year, bombing missions over southern Laos had climbed 300 percent, from 4,700 sorties in October to 12,800 in November. This round-the-clock aerial effort was directed by Operation Igloo White, run out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. It was composed of three parts: strings of air-dropped acoustic and seismic sensors collected intelligence on the trail; computers at the Intelligence Collection Center (ICS) in Thailand collated the information and predicted convoy paths and speeds; and an airborne relay and control aircraft which received the signals from the sensors and routed aircraft to targets as directed by the ISC. This effort was supported by SOG recon teams, who besides carrying out recon, wiretap, and bomb damage assessment missions for Commando Hunt also hand-emplaced sensors for Igloo White. One interesting aspect of the U.S. effort was that the task of personnel interdiction was abandoned by early 1969. The sensor system was not sophisticated enough to detect enemy personnel, so the effort was given up until the advent of Operation Island Tree in late 1971. One revelation for American intelligence analysts during late 1968 was the discovery of a petroleum pipeline running southwest from the North Vietnamese port of Vinh. By early the following year, the pipeline had crossed the Laotian frontier and, by 1970, it reached the approaches to the Ashau Valley in South Vietnam. The plastic pipeline, assisted by numerous small pumping stations, managed to transfer diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene all through the same pipe. Thanks to the efforts of the PAVN 592nd Pipelaying Regiment, the number of pipelines entering Laos would increase to six during that year. The 559th Group was made the equivalent of a Military Region during 1970 and was once again placed under the command of General Dong Sy Nguyen. Under his leadership the unit was reorganized into five divisional headquarters, the 470th, 471st, 472nd, 473rd, and the 571st. The group consisted of four truck transportation regiments, two petroleum pipeline regiments, three anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) regiments, eight engineer regiments, and the 968th Infantry Division. By the close of the year, the 559th was running 27 Binh Trams that transported 40,000 tons of supplies with a 3.4 percent loss rate during the year. These supplies traveled in convoys from North Vietnam in relays, with trucks shuttling from only one way-station to the next. The vehicles were then unloaded and reloaded onto "fresh" trucks at each station. If a truck was disabled or destroyed, it was replaced from the assets of the next northern station and so on until it was replaced by a new one in North Vietnam. Eventually, the last commo-liaison station in Laos or Cambodia was reached and the vehicles were unloaded. The supplies were then either cached, loaded onto watercraft, or man-portered into South Vietnam. Due to the increased effectiveness of Commando Hunt, North Vietnamese transportation units usually took to the roads only at dusk with the peak in traffic coming in the early hours of the morning. As American aircraft came on station, traffic would subside until just before dawn, when fixed-wing gunships and night bombers returned to their bases. The trucks then began rolling again, reaching another peak in traffic around 06:00 as drivers hurried to get into truck parks before sunrise and the arrival of the morning waves of U.S. fighter bombers. By the last phase of Commando Hunt (October 1970-April 1972), the average daily number of U.S. aircraft flying interdiction missions included 182 attack fighters, 13 fixed-wing gunships, and 21 B-52s. Evolution of PAVN anti-aircraft weapons. 1965-1972.The North Vietnamese also responded to the American aerial threat by the increased utilization of heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft artillery. By 1968 this was mainly composed of 37mm and 57mm radar-controlled weapons. The next year, 85 and 100mm guns appeared, and by the end of Commando Hunt, over 1,500 guns defended the system. Of all the weapons systems utilized against the trail, according to the official North Vietnamese history of the conflict, the AC-130 Spectre fixed-wing gunship was the most formidable adversary. The Spectres "established control over and successfully suppressed, to a certain extent at least, our nighttime supply operations." The history claimed that allied aircraft destroyed 4,000 trucks during the 1970-1971 dry season, of which the C-130s alone destroyed 2,432. A countermeasure to the Spectre was not long in coming, however. On 29 March 1972 a Spectre was shot down on a night mission by a surface-to-air SAM-7 missile near Tchepone. This was the first American aircraft shot down by a SAM that far south during the conflict. PAVN also responded to U.S. nighttime bombing by building the 1,000 kilometer-long Road K or the "Green Road" from north of Lum Bum to lower Laos. During Commando Hunt IV (30 April through 9 October 1971), U.S., South Vietnamese, and Laotian forces began to feel the North Vietnamese reaction to the coup of General Lon Nol in Cambodia and the closure of the port of Sihanoukville to its supply shipments. As early as 1969 PAVN, perhaps anticipating the loss of its southern supply line, began its largest logistical effort of the entire confilct. The Laotian towns of Attopeu and Saravane, at the foot of the Bolovens Plateau were seized by the North Vietnamese during 1970, opening the length of the Kong River system into Cambodia. Hanoi also created the 470th Transportation Group to manage the flow of men and supplies to the new battlefields in Cambodia. This new "Liberation Route" turned west from the trail at Muong May, at the southern end of Laos, and paralled the Kong River into Cambodia. Eventually this new route extended past Siem Prang and reached the Mekong River near Stung Treng. During 1971 PAVN took Paksong and advanced to Pakse, at the heart of the Bolovens Plateau region of Laos. The following year, Khong Sedone fell to the North Vietnamese. PAVN also continued a campaign to clear the eastern flank of the trail that it had begun in 1968. In that year, U.S. Special Forces camps at Khe Sanh and Kham Duc, both of which were utilized by SOG as forward operations bases for its reconnaissance effort, had either been abandoned or overrun. In 1970, the same fate befell another camp at Dak Seang. What had once been a 20-mile wide supply corridor now stretched for 90 miles from east to west. Road to victory (1971-1975) Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam War:
In early February 1971, 16,000 (later 20,000) South Vietnamese troops rolled across the Laotian border along Route 9 and headed for the PAVN logistical center at Tchepone. Operation Lam Son 719, the long-sought assault on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself and the ultimate test of the American policy of Vietnamization, had begun. Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, U.S. forces (with the exception of air support, artillery fire, and helicopter aviation units) were prohibited by law from participation in the invasion. At first the operation went well, with little resistance from the North Vietnamese. By the beginning of March, however, the situation had begun to change. Hanoi had made the decision to stand and fight and it began to muster forces that would eventually number 60,000 men, outnumbering its adversary by almost three to one. The fighting that erupted in southeastern Laos was unlike any yet seen in the Vietnam War, since the PAVN abandoned its old tactics and launched a conventional counterattack. The North Vietnamese first launched massed infantry attacks supported by armor and heavy artillery to crush South Vietnamese positions on the flanks of the main advance. Coordinated anti-aircraft fire made tactical air support and resupply difficult and costly, as the loss of 108 helicopters shot down and 618 others damaged could attest. North Vietnamese forces then began to squeeze in on the main line of the advance. Although a heliborne assault managed to seize Tchepone, it was a useless victory, since the South Vietnamese could only hold the town for a short period before being withdrawn due to attacks on the main column. The only way the invasion force managed to extricate itself from Laos was through the massive application of American airpower. By 25 March it was all over. The last South Vietnamese troops recrossed the border, closely followed by their enemy. As a test of Vietnamization, Lam Son 719 had been an abject failure. Approximately one half of the invasion force was lost during the operation. Although the South Vietnamese troops had fought well, they were poorly led. Even worse, their elite Ranger and Airborne elements had been decimated. Although Lam Son 719 had been a bloody debacle for the allied cause, it had managed to postpone a planned PAVN offensive against the northern provinces of South Vietnam for one year. By the spring of 1972 it was again obvious to the Americans and South Vietnamese that their enemy was planning a major offensive, but they did not know where or when it would take place. The answer came on 30 March when 30,000 PAVN troops, supported by more than 300 tanks crossed the border and invaded Quang Tri Province. The Nguyen Hue Offensive (known to the Americans as the Easter Offensive) was under way. As South Vietnamese forces were on the verge of collapse, President Richard M. Nixon responded by cranking up the American aerial assault (due to the withdrawal of U.S. aviation units from Southeast Asia, squadrons were flown into South Vietnam from Japan and the U.S. itself). Regardless, the effort failed to halt the fall of Quang Tri City on 2 May, seemingly sealing the fate of the four northernmost provinces. Due to the adoption of a conventional offensive (and the logistical effort needed to support it), PAVN placed itself squarely in the sights of American air power and its casualties were staggering. The Nguyen Hue Offensive, 1972.The situation was complicated for the Americans by the launching of two smaller attacks by the North Vietnamese: the first aimed to seize Kontum, in the Central Highlands, and threatened to cut South Vietnam in two; the second prompted a series of savage battles in and around An Loc, the capital of Binh Long Province. A total of 14 North Vietnamese divisions were now committed to the offensive. On 13 May the South Vietnamese launched a counteroffensive with four divisions backed by massive U.S. air support. By the 17th, Quang Tri City was retaken, but the South Vietnamese military then quickly ran out of steam. After fierce combat, the PAVN thrusts against Kontum and An Loc were also contained. During these operations North Vietnamese suffered approximately 100,000 casualties while the South Vietnamese lost 30,000 men killed during the fighting. The seizure of territory within South Vietnam itself, however, allowed Hanoi to extend the trail across the Laotian border and into that country. The signing of the Paris Peace Accord seemed to bring the conflict in Southeast Asia to an end. The last American forces (and all their aircraft) departed; both the North and South Vietnamese were to maintain control in the areas under their influence; and negotiations between the two nations, possibly leading to a coalition government and unification, were to take place. It was not to be. Jockying for control of more territory, both sides flagrantly violated the cease-fire and open hostilities began anew. By 1973 the PAVN logistical system was a trail in name only. It generally consisted of a two-lane paved (with crushed limestone and gravel) highway that ran from the mountain passes of North Vietnam to the Chu Pong Massif in South Vietnam. By the next year it was possible to travel a completely paved four-lane route from the Central Highlands all the way to Tay Ninh Province, northwest of Saigon. The single oil pipeline that had once terminated near the Ashau Valley now consisted of four lines (the largest eight inches in diameter) and extended south all the way to Loc Ninh. In July 1973 the 259th Group was redesignated the Truong Son Command, the regimental sectors were converted to divisions, and the binh trams were designated as regiments. By late 1974 forces under the new command included AAA Division 377, Transportation Division 571, Engineering Division 473, the 968th Infantry Division, and sectoral divisions 470, 471, and 472. Command then devolved upon Major General Hoang The Thien. In December 1974 the first phase of a limited PAVN offensive in South Vietnam began. Its success inspired Hanoi to try for an expanded, yet still limited, offensive to improve its bargaining position with Saigon. In March, General Van Tien Dung launched Campaign 275, the immediate success of which prompted the general to push Hanoi for a final all-out offensive to take all of South Vietnam. After a bloody but ineffective attempt to halt the offensive, Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces on 30 April 1975. The Second Indochina War was over.
Tonkin Gulf Incident Vietnam War
The official line put forth at the time was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an "unprovoked attack" against a U.S. Destroyer. The Destroyer was only just on a "routine patrol" in the Tonkin Gulf. It was then stated that North Vietnamese PT boats, followed up with a "deliberate attack" on a pair of U.S. ships two days later. However, this was far from the truth of what really happened. The ships were in fact not on some routine patrol. The U.S. destroyer "Maddox" had been engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers. This was done in coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and Laotian air force. Those assaults were part of a campaign the United States had been pursuing since early 1964. Aug. 4: Pentagon proclaimed a second attack by North Vietnamese PT boats had taken place in the Tonkin Gulf. President Johnson went on national TV that evening to announce an escalation in the war. Johnson ordered U.S. bombers to "retaliate" for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened. This lead to a war in which more then 1 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans would die. Later, released tapes of White House phone conversations indicate the attack never happened. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is a pair of supposed attacks allegedly carried out by naval forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (commonly referred to as North Vietnam) against two American destroyers, the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy. The incident occurred on August 2 and 4, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin. Although it is possible that the first attack, on the destroyer Maddox, was in fact carried out after the Maddox fired first, some altercation did occur. The second supposed attack almost certainly did not occur. Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects and overeager sonarman may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Although the United States attended the Geneva Conference (1954), it refused to sign the Geneva Accords (1954). The Accords mandated, among other measures, a ceasefire line, intended to separate Vietnamese independence and French forces, and elections to determine the rulership of Vietnam on both sides of the line, within 2 years. It also forbade the political interference of other countries in the area, the creation of new governments without the stipulated elections, and foreign military presence. The United States promptly subverted all of the measures of the Accords at once when it installed anti-communist Ngo Dinh Diem as President of South Vietnam, and gave him military backing. By 1961, poor decisions by Diem, almost all against the counsel of his American advisors, including refusals to hold elections, and attacks on Buddhism (the majority religion in southern Vietnam), and other ethnic groups, had made him unpopular. In that year, a popular uprising began, headed by the National Liberation Front. The U.S. also began providing direct support to the South Vietnamese in the form of military and financial aid and military advisors, the number of which grew from 600 in 1961 to 16,000 by the end of John F. Kennedy's presidency in 1963. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred during the first year of the Johnson administration. While Kennedy had originally supported the policy of sending military advisors to Vietnam, he had begun to alter his thinking due to the military ineptitude of the Saigon government and its inability and unwillingness to make needed reforms. Shortly before his assassination in November 1963, he had begun limited recall of American forces. Johnson's views were likewise complex, but he had supported military escalation in Vietnam as a means to challenge the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. The Cold War policy of containment was to be applied to prevent the "fall" of Southeast Asia under the precepts of the domino theory. After Kennedy's assassination, Johnson ordered in more American forces to support the Saigon government, beginning a protracted United States presence in Southeast Asia. According to the U.S. Naval Institute, a highly classified program of covert attacks against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) known as Operation 34A, had begun under the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1961. In 1964 the program was transferred to the Defense Department and conducted by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (SOG). For the maritime portion of the covert operation, Tjeld-class fast patrol boats had been purchased quietly from Norway and sent to South Vietnam. Although the crews of the boats were South Vietnamese naval personnel, approval of the plan came directly from Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Jr., CINCPAC in Honolulu. After the coastal attacks began, Hanoi lodged a complaint with the International Control Commission (ICC), which had been established in 1954 to oversee the terms of the Geneva Accords, but the U.S. denied any involvement. Four years later, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted to Congress that the U.S. ships had in fact been cooperating in the South Vietnamese attacks against the DRV. The Maddox, although aware of the operations, was not directly involved in these attacks. Veterans of U.S. Navy SEAL teams stated that U.S.-trained South Vietnamese commandos were active in the area on the days of the attacks. Deployed from Da Nang in Norwegian-built fast patrol boats, the Lien Doi Nguoi Nhai (LDNN, 'soldiers that fight under the sea') made attacks in the Gulf area on the nights of 31 July and 3 August. On July 31, LDNN commandos in "Nasty" fast attack boats attacked a radio transmitter on the island of Hon Nieu. On 3 August, they used a shipboard cannon to bombard a radar site at Cape Vinh Son. The North Vietnamese responded by attacking hostile ships visible in the area. While US officials were less than honest about the full extent of hostilities that led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, critical claims that a naval commander fired weapons solely to create an international incident tend to overlook circumstances and opportunistic responses that suggest a less intentional motivation. On 2 August the Maddox claimed it was attacked by three North Vietnamese P-4 patrol torpedo boats 28 miles (45 km) away from the North Vietnamese coast in international waters. The Maddox claimed to have evaded a torpedo attack and opened fire with its five-inch (127 mm) guns, forcing the patrol craft away. U.S. aircraft launched from Ticonderoga then attacked the retiring P-4s, claiming one as sunk and one heavily damaged. In fact, none of the three vessels was sunk. The Maddox, suffering very minor damage from a single 14.5-millimeter machine gun bullet, retired to South Vietnamese waters where she was joined by the destroyer Turner Joy. However, this account has come into sharp dispute with an official 2005 NSA declassified report which stated: "At 1500G, Captain Herrick ordered Ogier's gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards. At about 1505G, the Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first." If this new account is accurate, the U.S. fired the first shots in the Gulf of Tonkin. Shortly after 3 p.m. [on Aug 2], the Maddox fired three times at the North Vietnamese patrol boats. The shots were never reported or acknowledged by the Pentagon or the White House; they maintained the communists shot first. The Maddox was still firing when four navy F-8E jets blasted the patrol boats, killing four sailors .... On Aug 3 [Washington] proclaimed ... patrols would continue in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the State Department announced it had sent its first-ever diplomatic note to Hanoi, warning of "grave consequences" of "further unprovoked military action." At that hour, another provocative OPLAN 34A mission was dispatched to sabotage a radar station ... on island of Hon Matt. Then on ... August 4, the American commanders ... received urgent alert from onshore SIGINT operators: the three North Vietnamese patrol boats encountered off Hon Me Island on August 2 were returning ... McNamara called the President ... at 10 p.m. ... 10 a.m. in Washington ...American destroyers sent flash message they were under attack ... operators aboard Maddox and Turner Joy reported seeing ghostly blotches in the night. Their captains opened fire. The NSA report ... described how "these two destroyers gyrated wildly in the dark waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, the Turner Joy firing over 300 rounds wildly," both ships taking furious evasive maneuvers. "It was this high-speed gyrating by the American warships through the waters that created all the additional sonar reports of more torpedoes." They had been firing at their own shadows. The president immediately ordered an air strike ... to begin that night. Within an HOUR, Captain Herrick reported: "ENTIRE ACTION LEAVES MANY DOUBTS." Ninety minutes later these doubts vanished in Washington. The NSA told the secretary of defense and the president of the United States that it had intercepted a North Vietnamese naval communique reading: "SACRIFICED TWO SHIPS AND ALL THE REST ARE OKAY." But after the American air strikes against North Vietnam had begun, the NSA reviewed the day's communications intercepts. There was nothing. Every SIGNIT eavesdropper in South Vietnam and the Philippines looked again. Nothing. The NSA reexamined the intercept it had handed to the president, double-checking the translation and the time stamp on the original message. Upon review, the message actually read: "WE SACRIFICED TWO COMRADES BUT ALL ARE BRAVE." The message had been composed either immediately before or at the moment when the Maddox and the Turner Joy opened fire on August 4. It was not about what had happened that night. It was about the first clash, two nights earlier, on August 2. The NSA buried this salient fact. It told no one. Its analysts and linguists looked a third time, and a fourth time, at the time stamp. Everyone -- everyone, even the doubters -- decided to stay silent. On 4 August, another Desoto patrol on the North Vietnam coast was launched by Maddox and the Turner Joy, led by Captain John J. Herrick. This time their orders indicated that the ships were to close no more than 11 miles (18 km) from the coast of North Vietnam. The destroyers received radar and radio signals that they believed signaled another attack by the North Vietnamese navy. For some two hours the ships fired on radar targets and maneuvered vigorously amid electronic and visual reports of enemies. An hour later, at 1:27 p.m. Washington time, Herrick sent a cable in which he admitted that the attack may never have happened and that there may actually have been no Vietnamese naval craft in the area: "Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken". An hour later, Herrick sent another cable, stating, "Entire action leaves many doubts except for apparent ambush at beginning. Suggest thorough reconnaissance in daylight by aircraft". In response to requests for confirmation, at around 4:00 p.m. Washington time, Herrick cabled, "Details of action present a confusing picture although certain that the original ambush was bona fide." In 1964, Lyndon Johnson commented: "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there." Although information obtained well after the fact supported Turner Joy Captain Herrick's statements about the inaccuracy of the later torpedo reports as well as the 1981 Herrick/Scheer conclusion about the inaccuracy of the first, indicating that there was no North Vietnamese attack that night, at the time U.S. authorities and all of the Maddox crew said they were convinced that an attack had taken place. As a result, planes from the carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation were sent to hit North Vietnamese torpedo boat bases and fuel facilities (Operation Pierce Arrow). There are differing views about whether the 2 August incident was provoked by the U.S. One view is that the actions of the Maddox were provocative to the North Vietnamese because they coincided with the covert South Vietnamese raids. Since the Desoto patrols were conducted in order to gather just the sort of electronic emissions that the SOG 34A raids would provoke, it was a reasonable assumption that the two were "piggybacked." The destroyer's presence also may have been mistaken by the North Vietnamese as a sign that it was also involved directly in the raids. Others, such as Admiral Sharp, maintained that U.S. actions did not provoke the confirmed 2 August attack. He claimed that DRV radar had tracked Maddox along the coast, thus being aware that the destroyer had not actually attacked North Vietnam. Yet they ordered their patrol boats to engage it anyway. He also noted that orders given to Maddox to stay eight miles (13 km) off the DRV coast put the ship in international waters, as North Vietnam claimed only a five-mile (8 km) nautical limit as its territory. In addition, many nations had previously carried out similar missions all over the world, and the USS John R. Craig had earlier conducted an intelligence-gathering mission in similar circumstances without incident. On 4 August 1964, squadron commander James Stockdale was one of the U.S. pilots flying overhead during the second alleged attack; unlike the first attack, this one was believed to have been a false alarm. Stockdale said his superiors ordered him to keep quiet about this. After he was captured, this knowledge became a heavy burden. He later said he was concerned that his captors would eventually force him to reveal what he knew about this terrible secret. In 1995, retired Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, meeting with former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, categorically denied that Vietnamese gunboats had attacked American destroyers on 4 August, while admitting to the attack on 2 August. A taped conversation of a meeting several weeks after passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was released in 2001, revealing that McNamara expressed doubts to President Lyndon B. Johnson that the attack had even occurred. Taking into consideration documents and transcripts released by the U.S. National Security Agency and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, the consensus is that this second attack never happened. On 30 November 2005, the NSA released the first installment of previously classified information regarding the Gulf of Tonkin incident, including Mr. Hanyok's article, "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964" Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1. Lyndon Johnson, who was up for election that year, launched retaliatory air strikes and went on national television on 4 August. Although the Maddox had been involved in providing intelligence support for South Vietnamese attacks at Hon Me and Hon Ngu, Defense Secretary McNamara denied, in his testimony before Congress, that the U.S. Navy had supported South Vietnamese military operations in the Gulf. He thus characterized the attack as "unprovoked" since the ship had been in international waters. He also claimed that there was "unequivocable proof" of an "unprovoked" second attack against the Maddox. As a result of his testimony, on 7 August, Congress passed a joint resolution (H.J. RES 1145), titled the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Johnson the authority to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without the benefit of a declaration of war. The Resolution gave President Johnson approval "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom." Both Johnson and President Richard Nixon used the Resolution as a justification for escalated involvement in Indochina. The "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" defined the beginning of large-scale involvement of U.S. armed forces in Vietnam. Historians have shown that the second incident was, at its best interpretation, an overreaction of eager naval forces. Vietnam's Navy Anniversary Day is August 5, the date of the second attack, Vietnamese time, where "one of our torpedo squadrons chased the U.S.S. Maddox from our coastal waters, our first victory over the U.S. Navy".
Vietnam War Protests
The Vietnam war divided America like no other issue in it`s history. Every family was impacted by the war, losing husbands, sons, daughters, and friends. Over 50,000 Americans were killed. Those who returned suffered deep physical and emotional scars. Many took their own lives. Others ended on the streets among the homeless. Close to 2 million Vietnamese died. It was actually when President Johnson began his massive bombings against North Vietnam in 1965, that the Antiwar Movement actually gained momentum. The anti-war movement was mostly led by the young, who were also the victims of the Draft, and were the ones coming home in body bags. College and university campuses began to organise protests against the war. Rallies and marches were held. The first protest march is believed to have been in Washington in April, 1965. Celebrities like Jane Fonda, Jimi Hendrix, Abbie Hoffmann, Timothy Leary, Jefferson Airplane, and others took up the Anti-war cause. GI’s stationed overseas began supporting the Anti-war movement. 100,000 Anti-war protesters in New York. Urban riots in Detroit. There was a backlash against the military. Soldiers returning home from war were regarded as baby killers. Young men sought to evade the draft. Woodstock concert brought 500,000 together in a non-violent protest against the war. Kent State student protest of 1970, turned deadly when National Guardsman fired into crowds, killing 4 students. Students across the country became angry. The Anti-war protests probably resulted in bringing the war to an earlier conclusion, and helped curb American miliatry ambitions.
American B52 Bombing Of Vietnam
Between December, 18 - 29, American B-52s carpet-bombed Hanoi, Vietnam.
For eleven days US B-52s bombed Hanoi and Haiphong over 2000 times.
The "Christmas bombing" campaign saw 40,000 tons of bombs dropped on Hanoi.
Schools, hospitals, and whole residential blocks were destroyed.
During the Nixon/Kissinger administration, the US dropped four million tons of bombs (the equivalent of over 250 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs) on Vietnam.
Official Campaigns of the Vietnam War
15 March 1962 - 28 March 1973:
1 : Vietnam Advisory Campaign 15 March 1962 - 07 March 1965.
2 : Vietnam Defense Campaign 08 March 1965 - 24 December 1965.
3 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Campaign 25 December 1965 - 30 June 1966.
4 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase II 01 July 1966 - 31 May 1967.
5 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase III 01 June 1967 - 29 January 1968.
6 : Tet Counteroffensive 30 January 1968 - 01 April 1968.
7 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase IV 02 April 1968 - 30 June 1968.
8 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase V 01 July 1968 - 01 November 1968.
9 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase VI 02 November 1968 - 22 February 1969.
10 : Tet 69/Counteroffensive 23 February 1969 - 08 June 1969.
11 : Vietnam Summer-Fall 1969 09 June 1969 - 31 October 1969.
12 : Vietnam Winter-Spring 1970 01 November 1969 - 30 April 1970.
13 : Sanctuary Counter-offensive 01 May 1970 - 30 June 1970.
14 : Vietnamese Counter-offensive Phase VII 01 July 1970 - 30 June 1971.
15 : Consolidation I 01 July 1971 - 30 November 1971.
16 : Consolidation II 01 December 1971 - 29 March 1972.
17 : Vietnam Ceasefire Campaign 30 March 1972 - 28 March 1973.
Vietnam War Casualties
Hostile deaths : 47,359.
Non-hostile deaths : 10,797.
8 nurses died.
Married men killed : 17,539.
61% of men killed were 21 or younger.
Highest state death rate : West Virginia - 84.1 men per 100,000 males serving in Vietnam. National Average : 58.9 men for every 100,000 males serving in Vietnam.
Wounded : 303,704, 153,329 hospitalized, 150,375 injured requiring no hospital care.
Severely disabled : 75,000, 23,214 100% disabled, 5,283 lost limbs, 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.
The War Draft
President Lyndon B. Johnson commits American ground troops to Vietnam in 1965.
Draft calls go from 100,000 in 1964, to 400,000 in 1966.
Draftees made up the bulk of infantry riflemen in Vietnam (88 percent by 1969).
Drafties accounted for more than half the battle deaths.
It fell disproportionately upon working-class youths and blacks.
Opposition mounted and a draft resistance movement grew in strength.
There were demonstrations, draft-card burnings, sit-ins, break-ins and destruction of records.
Faced with well over 100,000 apparent draft offenders, the government indicted 22,500 persons, of whom 8,800 were convicted and 4,000 imprisoned.
The most common form of draft "protest" was evasion.
15.4 million received legal exemptions or deferments.
570,000 evaded the draft illegally.
360,000 were never caught.
198,000 had their cases dismissed.
9,000 were convicted.
4,000 sent to prison.
30,000 to 50,000 fled into exile.
January 27, 1973, the day a cease-fire was announced, the administration stopped drafting.
Socio-Economic Status of Forces
76% of Men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle/ working class backgrounds.
Three Quarters had family incomes above the poverty level.
50% were from middle income backgrounds.
23% had fathers with professional, managerial or technical occupations.
79% had a high school education or better when they entered the military service.
Deaths by region per 100,000 of population : South-31, West-29.9; Midwest-28.4; Northeast-23.5.
Vietnam Prisoners Of War
Congress defines a prisoner of war as a person who, while serving on active duty, was forcibly detained by an enemy government or a hostile force, during a period of war or in situations comparable to war. At the end of the Vietnam War, there were 2,585 unaccounted for American prisoners, missing in action or killed in action/body not recovered. As of August, 2002, 1,905 Americans are still missing and unaccounted for.
Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam
Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam lie 75 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. During the Vietnam war, the Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam stretched 250 kilometers from Saigon to the Cambodian border. The Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam were first started in the 1940s. They Cu Chi Tunnels were expanded over the next 25 years. The Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam were like an underground city with living areas, kitchens, storage, hospitals, command centers, etc. People living in the tunnels got married, gave birth and went to school. Most people lived in the Cu Chi Tunnels to avoid being killed by the Americans. The U.S. bombs the Cu Chi Tunnels, also used napalm, gas, poison and other deadly weapons of mass destruction. The Americans also killed families living near the Cu Chi tunnels. The Americans sent in a soldier called a "tunnel rat." The Vietnamese in the Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam would remove boards placed on the floor of the tunnel near the entrance. When the "tunnel rat" reached the place where the board was removed, he found himself falling to his death into a pit with long, steel spikes. The Tunnels of Cu Chi in Vietnam
Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by NLF guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The role of the tunnel systems should not be underestimated in its importance to the NLF in resisting American operations and protracting the war, eventually persuading the weary Americans into withdrawal from vietnam. The district of Cu Chi is located 70 kilometers to the northwest of Saigon, Vietnam, near the so-called "Iron Triangle". Both the Saigon River and Route 1 pass through the region of Vietnam which served as major supply routes in and out of Saigon during the Vietnam war. This area was also the termination of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Because of this, the Cu Chi and the nearby Ben Cat districts had immense strategic value for the NLF (National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam). Mai Chi Tho, a political commissar stationed in Cu Chi describes the region as a springboard for attacking Saigon. He goes on to say: We used the area for infiltrating Saigon-intelligence agents, part cadres, sabotage teams. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was prepared the necessary troops and supplies assembled in the Cu Chi tunnels of Vietnam. In the beginning, there was never a direct order to build the tunnels; instead, they developed in response to a number of different circumstances, most importantly the military tactics of the French and U.S. The tunnels began in 1948 so that the Viet Minh could hide from French air and ground sweeps. Each hamlet built their own underground communications route through the hard clay, and over the years, the separate tunnels were slowly and meticulously connected and fortified. By 1965, there were over 200 kilometers of connected tunnel. As the tunnel system grew, so did its complexity. Sleeping chambers, kitchens and wells were built to house and feed the growing number of residents and rudimentary hospitals created to treat the wounded. Most of the supplies used to build and maintain the tunnels were stolen or scavenged from U.S. bases or troops. The medical system serves as a good example of Vietnamese ingenuity in overcoming a lack of basic resources. Stolen motorcycle engines created light and electricity and scrap metal from downed aircraft were fashioned into surgical tools. Doctors even came up with new ways of performing sophisticated surgery. Faced with large numbers of casualties and a considerable lack of available blood, one man, Dr. Vo Hoang Le came up with a resourceful solution. "We managed to do blood transfusion," Vo said, "by returning his own blood to the patient. If a comrade had a belly wound and was bleeding, but his intestines were not punctured, we collected his blood, filtered it, put it in a bottle and returned it to his veins. By the early 1960’s, the NLF had created a relatively self-sufficient community that was able to house hundreds of people and for the most part, go undetected by large numbers of American troops based, literally, right on top of the tunnels. American soldiers in Vietnam used the term "Black echo" to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the NLF, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, spiders and mosquitoes. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground in the tunnels for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels; especially malaria, which accounted for the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured NLF report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria. In spite of these hardships, the NLF managed to wage successful campaigns against a conscripted army that was technologically far superior. The tunnels of Cu Chi in Vietnam did not go completely unnoticed by U.S. officials. They recognized the advantages that the NLF held with the Cu Chi Tunnels, and accordingly launched several major campaigns to search out and destroy the tunnel system. Among the most important of these were Operation Crimp and Operation Cedar Falls. Closed and camouflaged, it is almost undetectable. Operation Crimp began on January 7, 1966, with B-52 bombers dropping 30-ton loads of high explosive onto the region of Cu Chi, effectively turning the once lush jungle into a pockmarked moonscape. Eight thousand troops from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment combed the region looking for any clues of PLAF activity and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The operation was, for the most part, unsuccessful. On the occasion when troops found a Cu Chi tunnel, they would often underestimate its size. Rarely would anyone be sent in to search the tunnels, as it was so hazardous. Besides being too small for most Western men to fit through, the tunnels were often rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stake pits. The two main responses in dealing with a Cu Chi tunnel opening were to flush the entrance with gas or water to force the guerillas into the open, or to toss a few grenades down the hole and crimp off the opening. The clever design of the Cu Chi tunnels along with the strategic use of trap doors and air filtration systems rendered American technology ineffective. From its mistakes, U.S. command realized that they needed a new way to approach the dilemma of the tunnels. They began training an elite group of volunteers armed only with a gun, a knife, a flashlight and a piece of string in the art of Cu Chi tunnel warfare. These specialists, commonly known as tunnel rats would enter a Cu Chi tunnel by themselves and travel inch-by-inch cautiously looking ahead for booby traps or cornered PLAF. There was no real doctrine for this approach and despite some very hard work in some sectors of the Army and MACV (Military Assistance Group (Vietnam)) to provide some sort of training and resources, this was primarily a new approach that the unit(s) trained, equipped and planned for themselves. Despite this revamped effort at fighting the enemy on its own terms, U.S. operations remained largely unsuccessful at eliminating the existence of the Cu Chi tunnels. In 1967, General William Westmoreland tried launching a larger assault on Cu Chi and the Iron Triangle. Called Operation Cedar Falls, it was, in principle, exactly the same as Operation Crimp, but with 30,000 troops instead of the 8,000. On January 18th, tunnel rats from the 1st and 5th Infantry uncovered the NLF district headquarters of Cu Chi containing half a million documents concerning all types of military strategy. Among the documents were maps of U.S. bases, detailed accounts of PLAF movement from Cambodia into Vietnam, lists of political sympathizers, and even plans for a failed assassination attempt on Robert McNamara. With this one exception, Operation Cedar Falls failed to achieve its objective of destroying the communist stronghold in the region. By 1969, B-52s were freed from bombing North Vietnam and started "carpet bombing" Cu Chi and the rest of the Iron Triangle. Ultimately it proved successful but futile. Towards the end of the war, the tunnels were so heavily bombed that some portions actually caved in and other sections were exposed. But by that time, they had succeeded in protecting the local guerrilla units in "surviving to fight another day". Throughout the course of the war, the tunnels in and around Cu Chi proved to be a source of frustration for the U.S. military in Saigon. The NLF had been so well entrenched in the area by 1965 that they were in the unique position of locally being able to control where and when battles would take place, thus frustrating the Americans' overall military superiority. By helping to covertly move supplies and house troops, the tunnels of Cu Chi allowed guerrilla fighters in their area of South Vietnam to survive and help prolong the war and increase American costs and casualties until their eventual withdrawal in 1975. Today, visitors to the complex of Vietnam can eat meals underground, sampling foods that the underground Vietcong fighters ate. Tour Guide showing how the Tunnel works. The 75-mile-long complex of tunnels at Cu Chi have been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park. The Cu Chi tunnels are a popular tourist attraction in Vietnam, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the Cu Chi tunnel system in Vietnam. Some Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tet Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that NLF fighters would have eaten. Above-ground attractions in Vietnam include caged monkeys, tourist trap vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire an assault rifle.
News Coverage Of The Vietnam War
Beginning during the Vietnam War (1955-1975), and continuing into the present there has been a continuing debate on the influence of the news media on the course and outcome of the conflict. This debate has centered upon a set of basic assumptions shared across the American political spectrum. On the one side are those who charged that the media misrepresented the U.S. military effort, causing a collapse of American will to prevail in a war that could and should have been won. Post-1968, the charge that the press had "lost Vietnam" had become an article of faith to many political conservatives, military officers, veterans, and members of the public. Ranged against them are those who saw the media as having revealed to the public the truth about failed policy, which in turn forced decision-makers to face reality and alter the course of the war. Both sides staunchly believed that the media was a "decisive actor" on the stage of the Vietnam conflict and that changes in the coverage of that war produced a shift in public opinion and, by extension, American policy. A third supposition, one that was held by both groups, was that the communist Tet Offensive of 1968 was the turning point of the Vietnam War as far as the American public was concerned and that all opinions created and decisions made after its conclusion were a direct result of it. Unfortunately, all three of these suppositions were incorrect. To emphasize that the United States (U.S.) was only assisting the Saigon government in fighting communist aggression, the U.S. diplomatic mission sought to emphasize the South Vietnamese role in releasing news to the press. Although official U.S. spokesmen might brief correspondents on the activities of Americans in Vietnam, they followed South Vietnamese press guidance in all matters involving the country itself. The position of the U.S. Mission was that although President Ngo Dinh Diem had a right to dictate and impose press restrictions during what was viewed as a war of aggression waged by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the American press should be allowed to report on the conflict unhindered, due to the fact that the support of the American public and Congress were absolutely necessary for the continuation of U.S. aid to Saigon. The American government had no independent information-gathering system in Vietnam and was forced to rely on a regime that the Pentagon Papers described as "discouraging realism". Reporting was also initially controlled by the bipartisan Cold War consensus that identified foreign policy decisions with national security and there was little editorializing about Vietnam in the pages of American newspapers. In the tradition of objective American journalism, reporters "just gave the facts". But they were not just any facts. They were official facts that doomed objectivity and opened wide the channel through which official influence flowed. This would not have mattered except for the fact that the policies of the Kennedy period in South Vietnam did not succeed. Soon two different pictures of the conflict began to appear in the news media. One increasingly critical of the way the war was being conducted by the South Vietnamese, critical of the Saigon government, and pessimistic about the prospects of both. The other was supportive of those Americans who led the effort and optimistic about the wars future course. As the conflict increased in scope and length, the number of lower echelon American sources in the field available to reporters increased and comparisons of official statements of success and progress with those of the personnel "on the ground" who were more skeptical, were the seeds of a "credibility gap" that would only continue to widen. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem believed that the U.S. government controlled its media (as he did), and blamed the U.S. Mission for it's increasingly critical stories. The Mission blamed the reporters for their insensitivity to the need to win Diem's confidence. The reporters, in turn, accused the Mission of misleading them in order to protect Diem. The U.S. Mission's own ambivalence and the tensions that grew between the Diem regime and the foreign press undermined official U.S. relations with reporters from early 1962 onward. Although the number of full-time reporters covering the conflict was small (in 1960, they numbered only around eight individuals), that number belied the impression that they made on Diem. In January 1963, South Vietnamese forces engaged the communists at the Battle of Ap Bac. The reporting of what became a debacle for the South Vietnamese military and the condemnation heaped upon it by the Western press became a cause celebre at the time. The U.S. Mission and Washington both condemned the reports and questioned the motives of the correspondents. The Kennedy administration then went on the offensive, bombarding news editors in the U.S. with complaints concerning the accuracy of the reporting of the Saigon press corps. This chain of events led to the interesting conundrum of American periodicals attacking the accuracy of their own on-the-spot reporters. The reporters, however, were not questioning the black and white assumptions of the time that the war was a struggle between the free world and totalitarianism or whether the war was beyond America's ability to win. They saw it as a conflict over tactics, not principles - the government and military of Diem were hindering a positive solution to the problem. According to the reporters, the U.S. had only to get rid of Diem or take over control of the war itself. Although the U.S. Mission was irate over the reporting of the battle, even the U.S. Public Information Office (PIO) in Saigon had to admit that working from partial information on an emotional subject, the reporting was "two-thirds accurate" and that the correspondents had done quite respectably. Ap Bac and the controversy surrounding it marked a permanent divide in the relations between the official U.S. position and the news media in Vietnam. Before the battle, the media criticized Diem and argued for a more U.S. control of the war, but they were still agreeable to the position of the diplomats and military assistance command. After it, correspondents became convinced that they (and, by extension, the American people) were being lied to and withdrew, embittered, into their own community. This situation was only exacerbated during the Buddhist Crisis of May 1963, when the Diem government considered the press as its enemy and was unwilling to communicate its side of the story effectively. While the top levels of the U.S. Mission in Saigon were inordinately closemouthed around reporters during the period, others, especially those who disagreed with the policy of supporting Diem, were not. They leaked information from discussions with Diem to the press, embarrassing the President and thwarting the Embassy's vigorous efforts to win an end to the anti-Buddhist repressions. Once again, however, despite occasional factual errors and conflict between the press and the Embassy, most of the commentaries were reasonably accurate. The U.S. Army's official history of military-media relations reported that "Although marred at times by rhetoric and mistaken facts, they often probed to the heart of the crisis." During the Buddhist Crisis the number of correspondents in South Vietnam swelled from an original nucleus of eight to a contingent of over 60. By 1964 the leadership of both the U.S. and South Vietnam had changed hands. President John F. Kennedy had been felled by an assassin's bullets and Diem had been murdered during a U.S.-backed military coup. Instead of paving the way for political stability, however, Diem's demise only unleashed a maelstrom of political unrest. Although Operation Candor was a welcome relief for correspondents, it did not halt the media's dubiousness concerning the efficacy of the Saigon government or further American involvement with it. Reporters had also become quite aware that that all sides (the South Vietnamese and American governments, the U.S. Mission, MACV, the Buddhists, etc...) were trying to manipulate them. It did not help matters that JUSPAO was also MACV's propaganda arm, a fact well that was well known to news correspondents. The American public was also dissatisfied with the course of events in Vietnam. At this early stage of the conflict (and continuing to its end) the South Vietnamese people themselves were viewed by the media with the condescension, contempt, and disdain that characterized the American attitude toward them. American journalists arrived in Vietnam with almost no knowledge of its culture, history, society, or language, nor did they attempt to learn. Although the U.S. U.S. Department of Defense offered a brief introductory course for journalists on the history and culture of Vietnam, few ever bothered to attend it. Although the "pacification" of the villages was continuously touted by the U.S. Mission, MACV, and the media as the supreme goal of the Saigon government, there was little real discussion in the media as to why it was so difficult to convince the Vietnamese people to join the side of the Saigon government. As for the armed forces of the North Vietnamese and National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), American readers rarely encountered the argument that the communists were waging a war of reunification rather than "a campaign to further the interests of a communist conspiracy masterminded by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union." The domino theory was utilized to justify the American intervention in order to prevent regional domination by China, overlooking centuries of hostility between the Vietnamese and the Chinese. Throughout the war communist troops were always portrayed as "brutal, cruel, fanatic, sinister, untrustworthy, and warlike. Most depictions of the enemy employed hateful imagery or reinforced racial stereotypes of the era associated with Asians." The media went so far as to follow the lead of the American military by refusing to refer to communist forces by their correct titles. NLF forces were referred to by the derogatory term Viet Cong and northern troops of the People's Army of Vietnam as the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA. During 1964-1965 period in which the new administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson made the key decisions to escalate American involvement in the war, there was little debate or discussion in the American media. The initiation of Operation Rolling Thunder against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and Operation Barrel Roll in the Kingdom of Laos raised immediate concerns at MACV and in Washington over the possible imposition of press censorship in order to protect operational security. Many in the U.S. Mission were convinced, however, that since South Vietnam was a sovereign nation; neither censorship nor involuntary restraints on the press would do any good. Reporters were free to travel by other than U.S. military means and to file dispatches through cables and telephones operated by the South Vietnamese. The U.S. could influence the Saigon government to impose censorship, but considering the authoritarian nature of the Saigon government, "there was no guarantee that it would confine its supervision to military matters" and that censorship would lead to more political problems than it would solve. An Information Conference was held in Honolulu in March 1965 to consider press censorship. The new commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland, believed that censorship might indeed be the only solution to the problem but that "practical considerations" made it impossible. The media, political, and public uproar that was certain to follow the imposition of such a measure was problematic. Censorship would require the legal underpinnings of a declaration of war as well as an enormous logistical and administrative effort. The censors would need jurisdiction over all communications and transportation facilities connecting South Vietnam with the rest of the world and parallel authority over civilian mail. That would necessitate a large number of multilingual military personnel to do the censoring and expanded, U.S. controlled teletype and radio circuits in South Vietnam to move the censored material...In any case, many of the Saigon correspondents were foreigners beyond the reach of American military regulations and likely to resist any attempt to bring them under control." The answer seemed to lie in a system of voluntary cooperation between the military and the media. In return for accreditation, military transportation around South Vietnam, and access to briefings and interviews, correspondents would have to abide by certain rules designed to protect military security. MACV and the diplomats believed that they had created a system that was both capable of giving the American people a reasonably accurate accounting of the war without at the same time helping their enemy. Under the new arrangement, correspondents agreed to withhold certain categories of information. These included:
never to reveal future plans, operations, or air strikes; information on rules of engagement; or the amounts of ordnance or fuel on hand to support combat units. During an operation, unit designations, troop movements, and tactical deployments were to remain secret. So were the methods, activities, and specific locations of intelligence units; the exact number and type of casualties suffered by friendly forces; the number of sorties and amount of ordnance delivered outside of South Vietnam; and information on aircraft taking off for, en route to, or returning from target areas. The press was also to avoid publishing details on the number of aircraft damaged by enemy antiaircraft defenses; tactical specifics such as altitudes, courses, speeds, or angles of attack; anything that would tend to confirm planned strikes which failed to occur for any reason, including bad weather; the types of enemy weapons that had shot down friendly aircraft; and anything having to do with efforts to find and rescue downed airmen while a search was in progress. The system seemed to work. Between 1962 and 1968 only three news correspondents were disaccredited for infractions against these guidelines. There was no evidence that the military ever considered the press a source of significant damage to military operations or security. Officials sometime complained of diplomatic damage done by press coverage, but again there was little evidence that this was extensive. The most significant example was the revelation in the New York Times of Operation Menu, the secret bombing campaign that began in Cambodia in 1969, which caused no political fallout whatsoever until it was confirmed in 1972. Restrictions also covered still photography and television news coverage. Newsmen were tasked with abiding by a U.S. Department of Defense ruling that pictures of recognizable American dead or wounded servicemen would not be released until their next of kin had been notified. Pictures of disfigured wounded, of amputees, or of men in severe shock were also to be withheld unless the permission of the individual had been obtained first. Television coverage of combat was more problematic. Television coverage was shot on motion picture film and, since there were no facilities incountry for developing it, there was no opportunity to review it before it left South Vietnam. From 40 in 1964, the press corps in South Vietnam had grown to 282 by January 1966. By August that number had jumped to 419. Of the 282 at the beginning of the year, only 110 were Americans. 67 were South Vietnamese, 26 Japanese, 24 British, 13 Korean, 11 French, and seven German. Of the Americans present, 72 were more than thirty-one years old, and 60 of them were over the age of thirty-six. The same was true of the 143 non-Americans. Correspondents with valid accreditations had to show their credentials in order to receive a card that gave them access to military transportation and facilities. All other correspondents had to present a letter from their editors stating that they represented a bona-fide newsgathering organization which would take responsibility for their conduct. Freelance correspondents were required to produce a letter from one of their clients affirming that agency's willingness to purchase their work. The U.S. Mission and MACV also installed an "information czar", the U.S. Mission's Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs, Barry Zorthian, to advise Westmoreland on public affairs matters and had theoretical responsibility under the ambassador for the development of all information policy. He maintained liaison between the embassy, MACV, and the press; publicized information to refute erroneous and misleading news stories; and sought to assist the Saigon correspondents in covering the side of the war most favorable to the policies of the U.S. government. Zorthian possessed both experience with the media, and a great deal of patience and tact and maintained reasonably good relations with the press corps. Media correspondents were invited to attend nightly MACV briefings covering the day's events that became known as the "Five O'Clock Follies". The Saigon bureau chiefs were also often invited to closed sessions at which presentations would be made by a briefing officer, the CIA station chief, or an official from the embassy. They would present background or off-the-record information on upcoming military operations or Vietnamese political events. One of the chief charges laid against the news media (both then and later) was that it had misinterpreted both the Tet Offensive of January 1968 and its outcome, blaming the media for altering American public's perceptions of the war and shifting it into an antiwar stance. When the first large-scale deployment of U.S. troops had taken place in 1965, a majority of the American public had supported it. Yet, even at that early stage, public opinion polls revealed that 25 percent opposed the U.S. commitment. Over the following three years majority support for the war declined steadily, finally being surpassed during the third quarter of 1967 - well before the Tet Offensive. When viewed over a four year period, Tet had only reinforced a growing public perception that U.S. involvement in Vietnam had been a mistake. Many contemporary commentators (and later historians) had already criticized the media for the negative light in which it portrayed the war in general. During and after Tet, media coverage of the offensive became the quintessential example for those that held the view that it had misrepresented the facts. They believed that possibly the greatest allied victory of the Vietnam War had been turned into political defeat by the negative reporting of the media. Television reporting was especially decried by media critics for bringing the horrors of war into the living rooms of American citizens and that its graphic content turned viewers against the military effort. By 1965 television news coverage had increased dramatically. CBS and NBC had gone to half-hour evening news broadcasts in September 1963. ABC followed suit in early 1965. The three television networks did not systematically preserve tapes of evening news broadcasts and no complete record of network evening news existed until 1968, when the Vanderbilt Television News Archive was established. In 1963, CBS had begun saving some transcripts and rundown sheets listing the day's stories, but this collection too was incomplete. Due an incident in 1965, however, the U.S. Defense Department began copying evening news coverage. A combination of these three sources allowed a study of all three networks from mid-1965 until 1973. What a review of this record revealed was that television coverage of the Vietnam War by the three television networks was most often banal and heavily stylized. Until Tet, television (and the press media) had generally followed the conventions of reporting established during the Second World War, and was neither critical in tone nor graphic in its depiction of combat. American television executives showed little courage in their approach to Vietnam. They generally followed the path that the American military alid out for them. They saw the war as "an American war in Asia - and that's the only story the American audience is interested in," and they let other, equally important aspects of Vietnam go uncovered. There was an actual scarcity of combat footage depicted on television, since such footage only ranged from three to six percent of all war segments broadcast, depending on how the scenes were categorized. One factor that limited the graphic depiction of combat was the manner in which the war was fought: most of the operations that were covered (by three-man television crews, carrying 80-100 pounds of equipment each) took place in extremely remote areas of Vietnam and involved little or no contact with the communists. The chief limiting factor, however, was that the television networks had no desire to broadcast gruesome battle scenes during the dinner hour in America, which might have prompted viewers to switch channels. The result was that from August 1965 to August 1970, only 76 out of more than 2,300 television news reports originating in Vietnam depicted heavy fighting. Critics of the media also claimed that statements by news commentators or reporters on television were overly critical of the war effort. The view that held that journalists had served their function as a "watchdog" and had reported "the truth," of the war to the American public, thereby altering public opinion was also a false one. From 1965-1967, far back in the journalistic mythology of the press as adversary of the state, it had been rather docile. Even an issue as provocative as Vietnam (an undeclared war, without censorship or restrictions on access) failed to alter the basic premise that the media were, after all, "an establishment institution, both prior to and after Tet. What had changed was that the establishment itself, and the nation, was divided over the war." Post-Tet, the news media simply followed the influence of disenchantment with the progress in the war emanating from the administration, the Pentagon, the public, and American troops. Conscientious reporters themselves were the first to admit that objectivity sometimes went out the window for some of their colleagues. During the fast-breaking (and extremely dangerous) Tet period, correspondents made mistakes in their coverage. During the first phase of the communist Tet Offensive of January/February 1968 a record 636 correspondents were incountry. Journalists who had covered the conflict (some for as many as five years) became increasingly skeptical that American policy was succeeding. New restrictions were imposed by MACV on reporting the number of enemy rounds and the number of U.S. casualties at Khe Sanh. There were also limitations on the number of reporters in the Khe Sanh area. In fact, it had been General Westmoreland's inflated predictions of military success to the press and his inability to predict the Tet Offensive that undercut public support. On 3 November 1969 President Richard M. Nixon made a televised speech laying out his policy toward Vietnam. He promised to continue to support the South Vietnamese government (through Vietnamization) and held out a plan for the withdrawal of American combat troops. This "silent majority" speech, not the Tet Offensive, marked the real watershed of the American involvement. In it, Nixon permanently altered the nature of the issue. Nixon's policy toward the media was to reduce as far as possible the American public's interest in and knowledge of the war in Vietnam. He began by sharply limiting the press's access to information in Vietnam. The peace talks in Paris, the viability of South Vietnam, of its military and its government, and its effect on American disengagement, became the prime stories during this period for the news media. The reportage of the Tet/Khe Sanh period was unique, and after it was over the news settled back into its normal routines. The gradual dissipation of support for the war was apparent in changes in the source of news stories. The traditional sources - press conferences, official news releases, and reports of official proceedings were less utilized than ever before. Reporters were doing more research, conducting more interviews, and publishing more analytical essays. The media never became "acutely critical...but more sober, and more skeptical. The media, however, never examined or reexamined the assumptions about the nature of the war it had helped to propagate. Television's image of the war, however, had been permanently altered: the "guts and glory" image of the pre-Tet period was gone forever. For the most part television remained a follower rather than a leader. As the American commitment waned there was an increasing media emphasis on Vietnamization, the South Vietnamese government, casualties, both American and Vietnamese. There was also increasing coverage of the collapse of morale among American troops, interracial tensions, drug abuse, and disciplinary problems. These stories increased in number as U.S. soldiers "began to worry about being the last casualty in the lame-duck war." The U.S. military resented the attention and at first refused to believe that the problems were as bad as correspondents portrayed them. The media demonstrated, however, "that the best reporters, by virtue of their many contacts, had a better grasp of the war's unmanageable human element than the policy makers supposedly in control." The high number of American casualties (70 dead and 372 wounded) produced an unusual burst of explicit questioning of military tactics from correspondents in the field and from Congressmen in Washington. After the battle's conclusion, major battles of attrition involving American forces became rare - as did commentaries from correspondents like those surrounding Hamburger Hill. Tensions between the news media and the Nixon administration only increased as the war dragged on. In September and October of 1969, members of the administration openly discussed methods by which the media could be coerced into docility. The key stories of the Nixon period - the My Lai massacre, the secret bombing of Cambodia, and the release of the Pentagon Papers - were not broken by Vietnam correspondents but by insiders. As for media coverage of the antiwar movement, negative statements about it outweighed positive ones by about two to one. Indeed, 49 percent of all domestic criticism of administration policies reported on television came from public officials and former public officials, 16 percent came from reporters in commentaries, and 35 percent came from all other sources, including antiwar protesters, soldiers in Vietnam, and "the man on the street". By the time of the Cambodian Campaign of April 1970, there were at least 450 accredited print and television journalists resident in Saigon. During the operation, that number would swell to 497. Besides a large contingent of American and South Vietnamese correspondents, 21 other nationalities were represented, including 32 from Japan and Korea, 21 from Great Britain, 17 from France, and seven from Australia. MACV and the South Vietnamese imposed more stringent press restrictions and initially forbade American correspondents from accompanying troops during the incursion. During 1970 and 1971 official American sources began to shut their doors to reporters. In the end, the controversy that developed between the U.S. military and the media over the goals, success, and the expansion of the war during the Cambodian and Laotian incursions was probably inevitable. On the American side, the military and the news media had become fatigued, both with the war and with each other. As the war lengthened and the withdrawals continued, the two sides became more and more antagonistic toward one another and they battled constantly over the issues of combat refusals and the drug and morale problems of American troops. Although MACV officially remained dedicated to providing evenly balanced public affairs information, the situation was exacerbated by the manpower drawdowns at the Public Affairs Office itself. The Easter Offensive of 1972, a conventional North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam was generally depicted by MACV and Washington as a "true test" of the policy of Vietnamization. It was also readily apparent to the media that American airpower had saved the day. The press reported heavily on the "mixed" capabilities of the South Vietnamese defense and on the retaliatory U.S. bombing effort in North Vietnam, Operation Linebacker. By the end of 1971 the number of accredited American correspondents had declined to fewer than 200. By September 1973 that number had dwindled to only 59. As the war became more and more a South Vietnamese affair, the Saigon government tried to silence unofficial news sources, tightening its information guidelines and stringently punishing any who violated them. Even as the Easter Offensive waned, President Nguyen Van Thieu passed a martial law decree that made circulating news or images "detrimental to the national security" a criminal offense. Critics of the media within the military paid great attention to the mistakes made or violations of the rules by a few correspondents, but little to the majority of reporters, who conscientiously attempted to tell all sides of the story in tens of thousands of news reports. The chief problem with the relations between the U.S. government and military and the media during the war was that both Presidents Johnson and Nixon enlisted the military as spokesmen for their views. MACV had to justify both presidents' efforts and endorse their claims of progress, especially the Vietnamization program. Johnson found this effort easier, at least until his "success offensive" and the Tet Offensive. Nixon, embittered by what he considered biased press coverage of his administration and increasingly suspicious of his political opponents, attempted to intimidate the media into silence. In the end neither succeeded in their attempts to manage news coverage. The interdisciplinary nature of the Vietnam War required a new kind of war correspondent, one that was able to deal with complex political issues that often intruded on the military aspects, where military success was necessary, but where it alone was insufficient, a war where unwarranted optimism, propaganda, and news management could often deeply obscure the issues. Vietnam does stand out in the history of journalism as the first war in which journalist began to seriously question the ethics of their business. Photographers in particular were troubled by the voyeuristic nature of their profession. 45 correspondents were killed in Vietnam, and 18 were listed as missing.
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