Tet Offensive

U.S. #1802 was issued on Veteran’s Day in 1979.

On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a surprise attack on South Vietnam during the Tet (New Year) holiday truce.

The North Vietnamese began planning their General Offensive and Uprising in April 1967. They believed that the government in Saigon was so unpopular in the South that an attack on major cities there would lead the citizens to revolt, guaranteeing a swift victory and an end to calls for peace talks. Throughout the second half of 1967, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers moved 81,000 tons of supplies and 200,000 troops across the border.

U.S. #3188g from the Celebrate the Century: 1960s sheet.

That October, they decided the Tet holiday would be the day to launch their attack, as the Americans and South Vietnamese (ARVN) would be observing the agreed-upon truce. In December, they launched a “diplomatic offensive,” claiming that Hanoi would consider negotiations if America halted their bombing campaign in North Vietnam. This was only a ruse to confuse the allies.

Though the Americans did not know what the North Vietnamese had planned, or when it would take place, they did see the signs. They noticed a large military buildup and were puzzled by the large battles that broke out in remote regions. In fact, these battles were part of the North Vietnamese plan to draw American troops away from the cities, their actual targets.

Item #4584112 – Australia coin honoring the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

One of their greatest diversions was the attack on the military base at Khe Sanh on January 21. American MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) commander William Westmoreland saw the attack as a plot to overrun the base and take over the two northernmost provinces of South Vietnam. To prevent this, he sent half his men – 250,000 soldiers – to aid in the defense of Khe Sanh. Meanwhile, Frederick Weyand had noticed a large buildup of North Vietnamese around Saigon and requested some of those men be brought back to defend the capital city. Westmoreland called back 15 battalions to aid in the city’s defense, a move that may have helped save Saigon.

The Tet Offensive officially commenced shortly after midnight on January 30, 1968. The first target was Nha Trang, the headquarters of the US I Field Force. This was followed by attacks in the other provincial capitals: Ban Me Thuot, Kon Tum, Hội An, Tuy Hòa, Da Nang, Qui Nhơn, and Pleiku. In each of these attacks, they launched mortar and rocket barrages followed quickly by massive ground assaults. Though the Americans and South Vietnamese were caught off-guard, they drove their attackers from nearly all these locations by sunrise. MACV Chief of Intelligence Phillip B. Davidson alerted Westmoreland that he believed these attacks would continue across the country throughout the night and morning. Westmoreland then put all US and ARVN troops on maximum alert to brace for what was to come.

Item #M4512 – Once-forbidden North Vietnam stamps.

The next wave of attacks came at 3 a.m. on January 31. They attacked Saigon, Cholon, and Gia Dinh in the Capital Military District as well as 13 other cities and US bases. Saigon was the main target of the attacks. Though fighting continued in Saigon and other cities, the North Vietnamese launched a second wave of attacks on ten more cities on February 1st. In fact, over the course of the offensive, they attacked over 100 towns and cities, as well as every major allied airfield. In most cases, the North Vietnamese were driven out of town within two or three days. Fighting went on for much longer in at least five cities. During this time, none of the South Vietnamese troops deserted or defected to join the North Vietnamese, showing commitment to their cause.

U.S. #4988a were issued to honor Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War.

Huế was among the targets on January 31. The North Vietnamese captured the city that day and the Americans and ARVN spent nearly a month in street-to-street fighting to take it back. By March they had retaken control but at extreme cost. Most of the historic city was destroyed and thousands of civilians were dead or left homeless.

U.S. #4988a – Vietnam Medal of Honor First Day Cover.

The first phase of the Tet Offensive was considered over by March 28, though fighting at Khe Sanh continued into April. The North Vietnamese launched two more attacks called Mini-Tets on May 4 and August 17. The offensive officially ended on September 23. The Tet Offensive was largely considered a failure for the North Vietnamese. They did not to meet any of their objectives and nearly depleted their Viet Cong Army.

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  1. Militarily the North lost badly. They committed so much to the offensive and
    it totally failed. It showed that the South’s soldiers were backing the Government
    in the South and so were the people. All the North did was kill civilians and turn
    them away from the North and their cause. It showed the typical duplicity of
    Communists in that they attacked during a prearranged truce and then broke it.
    The biggest problem for the U.S. and the South wasn’t the enemy ion the North but
    the enemy in the U.S. was the Leftist dominated press. The press was enamored of
    Ho Chi Minh, as they were with Castro and Che. They reported the whole offensive
    as a giant victory for the Communists even though they lost a huge number of men
    and materials in a failed attempt to end the insurgency.

    1. I agree with Mr Snyder about everything he wrote as I was there, however, it was still brutal, and most certainly the LDP did nothing but basically hinder things. So much for certain events in Freedom of the Press, which is still going on today sadly.

  2. Could not agree more as I was actually there during Tet, Hue, and Khe Sanh with the 1st Cav Division. The war was basically over in a military sense except for possible protracted Viet Cong resistance, but the media and weakness in our military leaders doomed it to what it became. All those lives on both sides because of a corrupt South Vietnam government, a dedicated and ferocious North Vietnam military and the political cowards in the USA

  3. I came in to USA the 1st time as a recently graduated MD in 1968 and immigration offered me being a permanent resident. I knew that next year I would be in Vietnam. I didn’t that I had t be at least 130 pounds. to be in the armed forces ( I was 110-20 ). At that time my whole intention was to do my postgraduate training in USA and return to Mexico immediately thereafter. I stayed 6 years as an exchange visitor program J-1 type visa and went back to Monterrey, Mexico, but I will never forget those sad faces of all of these very young adult soldiers enlisted and waiting for transport at the airports; no singing; noisy, cheerful as they ought to be at that age.

  4. What Kenneth, John, and Anthony don’t get is that the Tet Offensive showed that the American people had been lied to for years. Pentagon and Administration spokesmen had been continually claiming that U.S. forces were winning, the Viet Cong and the N.V.A. were decimated, out of equipment, their morale was low, and the war was nearly over. The Tet offensive showed that none of that was true, the enemy was still strong and dedicated, and the war would go on with no end in sight. You three are just like a current politician whose initials are D.T. You hear something you don’t like and you say its the biased media or fake news.

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