The Second Indochina War

Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front (NLF) and by the South Vietnamese and the US

US Tactics
  • The US had other Western allies involved in the 2nd Vietnam War, including
    • Australia
    • New Zealand
  • America had large amounts of young troops
  • America was equip with powerful artillery and large amounts of ammunition
  • Economic power à e.g. hundreds of helicopters for transport à meant that if any helicopter was free soldiers would be on call à Soldier in this war were on call much more because of the use of helicopters for transport
  • The US sprayed the enemies’ food supply with herbicides, to stop the enemy use of food; herbicides had major effect on people.
  • US replaced people on an individual basis, e.g. if three were killed 3 were replaced
  • Cordon and searchà flushing out Vietcong inhabitance from villages
  • Search and destroyà destroy applies to food bunkers and enemy if they were found
  • Recognizance in forceà large units to aim and locate main forces and regular units
  • Deny food by patrolling those areas so the enemy could not come in and take his food as he wished
  • America also did large amounts of bombing, more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than on Germany in WW2
  • America had superior technology, firepower, and manpower which could overpower the North Vietnamese, This was the American Viewpoint
  • American strategy was always on defense
  • Disadvantage for American troops was that they were not trained in jungle combat
  • US equipment was unsuited for Vietnam e.g. M16 jams often as opposed to AK47. They had trained for the last war (Korea).

North Vietnamese
  • The Vietcong started 9 out of ten in of US battles.
  • Vietnamese booby traps were not made to kill but just to injure which would psychologically affect the platoon and would take out the whole platoon to help save their mate
  • Use of Tunnel systems
  • Wore shoes made out of tire, but when they were made the tire was put on backwards purposely so the enemy thought they were travelling the opposite way.
  • When cooking in Tunnel systems the smoke would be funneled to over 30 meters away so the US didn’t bomb their actual position
  • One strategy of guerilla warfare was that the NVA and NLF could strike and retreat and when the Americans came they would have disappeared.
  • Emphasis on silence and stealth
  • US equipment that was either found or stolen was kept and used back against the Americans

South Vietnamese
  • Mainly given policing roles by the Americans
  • Were a backup to American forces

Impact of the Tet Offensive
  • The operations are referred to as the Tet Offensive because they began during the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, Tet Nguyen Dan, the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar and the most important Vietnamese holiday and lasted until June.
  • The Vietnamese call it "Chien Tranh Chong My Curu Nuoc" or "The War against the Americans to save the nation."
  • The aims were to cripple the ARVN, capture the main cities in South Vietnam, and rally the peasantry against the Thieu government and to relieve the pressure on the North by diverting attention towards the South and end the war in one big blow.
  • The militaristic aims were a failure, yet the Tet Offensive is seen as a NVN victory.
  • It was the unforeseen benefits which arose from the militaristic strike which made the Tet Offensive so significant to the North Vietnamese.
  • Nevertheless the attack signified an American intelligence failure and this was relayed back to the American public who lost further support for the war.
  • The media impact of the Tet Offensive is by far the most devastating from an American perspective.
  • South Vietnamese executing North Vietnamese soldiers on the street (The Eddie Adam’s photo) were printed in American newspapers and horrified the American public (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was the South Vietnamese man pulling the trigger on the Viet Cong soldier)
  • The media worked what can only be stated as unintentionally against the Americans by spinning stories of the horrors which occurred during battles, which may not have immediately put the Americans into negative light, but the information of these battles gave unrest to the home front.
  • From July to October 1970 there were 75 battles launched in which 1,750 ARVN soldiers were killed, forty tanks sixteen planes and helicopters destroyed.
  • Thus as casualties rose only the American casualties were relayed to the home front whereas the number of North Vietnamese killed was unknown, and did little to change the perspective from the home front.
  • Politically support dwindled in the aftermath of Tet. General Westmoreland asked for 200,000 troops however President Johnson responded by only sending 20,000. This was part of the de-escalation problem which arose due to the public disapproval.
  • As a result of Tet, President Johnson on 31st March stated that he would not move for re-election and that the bombing would cease.
  • Tet crushed the illusion Johnson had been attempting to create saying that the war was “well in hand”.
  • In November 1969 250,000 Americans attended a Vietnam Moratorium Day in Washington. In May 1971 polls showed 61% of the US population believed that the involvement in Vietnam was wrong
  • Tet targeted 36 provincial capitals (out of 44) 64 district capitals (out of 242) 5 autonomous cities (out of 6) and 50 hamlets.
  • There were 1,001 American and 2,082 South Vietnamese ARVN deaths.
  • The most important and most complicated development of the Vietnam War” – Kolko
  • There is an estimate of 120,000 North Vietnamese casualties.
  • The fighting in the streets meant that children became involved in the conflict. Desensitisation to violence became prominent due to the daily slaughter.
  • the Tet Offensive militarily and politically destroyed the NLF.
  • It took 3 weeks to dislodge the NLF from Saigon and the imperial capital Hue witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

The Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina

  • The image of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 non combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.” – McNamara 1967
  • The impact on civilians during the Indochina war was devastating. My Lai massacre, other events similar show the pointless slaughter meant that Vietnamese civilians, and those living in neighbouring countries lived in a constant state of fear
  • The constant bombing and dropping of Herbicides, defoliants and napalm meant that people began to starve
  • WHAM could not hope to succeed in conjunction with US bombing of villagers.
  • At My Lai on 16th March 1968 there was between 300-500 Vietnamese who were slaughtered.
  • The traditional social structure was changed with young children no longer wanting to carry on with farming and instead chased ideas of easy wealth brought in by the Americans. Young women taking up prostitution was a major contributor to the changing trends as the money they were paid was irresistible.
  • The trade of narcotics developed, once again brought by the Americans. There were dealings of heroin, which was refined from the opium in Laos. It has been rumoured that Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky and General Tran Thien Khiem partook in drug dealings with money being processed into politics.
  • By 1971 30% of Americans had experimented with opium or heroin.
  • One of the positive impacts could have been the introduction of luxury goods. Profits from the American presence gave the Vietnamese money they could not have otherwise obtained allowing them to by televisions, refrigerators and motor scooters.
  • Inflation rose during the war to very high levels. This caused a large black market to develop in Vietnam.
  • Physical effects of the US presence in the South were profound with engineers working constantly building new roads, bridges, airfields and six deep water harbours.
  • The turnover of the black market was $10 billion a year.
  • In the North 85% of the electricity production was cut and over 100,000 people died by operation Rolling Thunder alone.
  • n an effort to take away from the NLF their ground coverage whereby they used the natural vegetation to avoid detection from the air, America used defoliants. The chemical most used for ‘Operation Ranch Hand’ was known as ‘Agent Orange’. In 1969 alone, 1,034,300 hectares of forest was destroyed using ‘Agent Orange’. ‘Agent Blue’ was sprayed on crops in an effort to deprive the North of its food supply. Between 1962 and 1969, 688,000 acres of agricultural land was sprayed – primarily on paddy fields.


Governance of Cambodia prior to Cambodia’s involvement in the Vietnam War
§In Cambodia, the king remained the divine centre of the world, although by the late 1930’s a nationalist movement had begun to form
§King Suramit Sihanouk was king
§Prince Norodom Sihanouk (son of Suramit) was head of the party Sangkum Reastr Niyum which held all seats in the assembly
oNote: elections held in Oct. 1955 resulted in Sangkum receiving 82% of vote, yet election was rigged and voters were intimidated.
oThus, Cambodia was one-party state
§Sihanouk became head of state in 1960 (upon his father death)

§Pursued policy of neutrality for country, thus received aid from:
oSoviet Union
§Refused to join SEATO- suggests that he wasn’t so anti-communist
oSouth-East Asian Treaty Organisation (was an int. org. for collective defence – aimed to prevent communism from developing in Southeast Asia.)
§Quietly maintained relations with NLF (which of course had an anti-US stance)
§One of greatest achievements – expansion / improvement of education system
§However, improvements in education meant there was an oversupply of professional and semi-skilled peoples in an economy that was stagnant (i.e. few jobs available). Thus many youths were dissatisfied and thus looked for political alternatives
§Late 1963, support for Sihanouk waned – because international and domestic pressures began to affect Cambodian neutrality
§Sihanouk became worried about growing number of conservative ministers and the military’s reliance on US aid. And yet at the same time, Sihanouk believed North Vietnam would win the war and once they won the war they would invade the pro-US Cambodia
oin 1963, 14% o Cambodia’s annual revenue and 30% of Cambodia’s military budget was from US aid
§Nov. 1963, Sihanouk was shocked how USA essentially did not respond to the execution of it’s ally Ngo Dinh Diem, and thus realised that the USA would not come to his rescue during a coup
§May ’65, Sihanouk broke all diplomatic ties with USA and ordered all embassy staff to leave country
§Sihanouk had begun moving towards the communists side:
odeveloped closer ties to North Vietnam and NLF
oallowed NLF to establish bases on the Cambodian side of border and
opermitted North to use HCM trail
oallowed port of Sihanoukville to be used for shipping of supplies from China to NLF
§By developing close ties with the communist North Vietnamese, Sihanouk effectively removed one of the CPK (Communist Party of Kampuchea) parties major platforms; support for the Vietnamese revolution
§As economy declined Sihanouk began to lose control of domestic situation

Operation Junction City (how it spread the war to Cambodia):
§In 1965, Operation Junction City (largest American operation); aims to remove communist bases along Cambodian border. Do so through evacuating peasants, defoliating foliage and bombing remaining land
§As a result, the communist bases move to Cambodia and thus the Vietnam war moves there as well
§Operation Menu - 17 March 1969 - US begin bombing Vietnamese communist positions in Cambodia (with the approval of Sihanouk). This had 3 effects:
  1. Vietnamese communists forced to move further into Cambodia (thus spreading war further)
  2. The eastern Cambodians were displaced by the bombing and communist activity, thus began to support alternate political regimes other than that of Sihanouk.
  3. Destruction of rice-growing border areas put more pressure on Cambodian economy
§11 June 1969, Sihanouk restored diplomatic relations with USA and received military / civilian aid immediately
§Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak (who were conservative pro-US ministers of Sangkum) argued in favour of supporting USA b/ they believed that Vietnam would dominate Cambodia if North Vietnam won.
§12 March 1970, Sihanouk was told that he was overthrown in a coup
§New regime, led by General Lon Nol and Sirik Matak as Prime Minister was openly hostile to the Vietnamese, particularly the North.
§Secret War in Cambodia – Operation Breakfast (invasion in 1970)


Changing perceptions of Americans on the Vietnam War:
§How perceptions changed:
oIn 1960, very few Americans had heard of Vietnam, let alone know where it was. Yet by 1968, Vietnam was the predominant issue in the country
oInitially there was support of the Vietnam War, e.g. rallies and parades were held in support of US involvement, however after 1965, these became less common as Vietnam War intruded more and more on domestic life (e.g. saw horrors of war on t.v., relatives / friends / neighbours died at Vietnam and the economy was becoming affected)
§Ignorance changed to strong political and social stance:
oBetween 1960-65 ppl gradually became aware of war in Vietnam
oProlific events shown on TV (i.e. Vietnam was the ‘Television War’) had a huge impact on people’s perceptions on the war in Vietnam. The events include:
§Self-immolation of monks in 1963 against Diem’s regime
§Overthrow of Diem in Nov. 1963
§Tet Offensive 1968 (esp. with famous photo / footage of the execution of Viet Cong soldier by General Nguyen)
oBy 1967, the Vietnam War was on t.v. every evening at 6:30 p.m. (footage contrasted to the positive views of politicians)
oYet, it seemed by 1965 Americans were confused:
§When US marines were landing at Danang (which included 500,000 men, of which 56,000 died) – 66% of Americans supported it vs. 19% that didn’t
§Confusingly Americans also wanted it over fast – 81% supported the idea of an immediate peace conference with Communist China to settle the dispute
§According to polls, 46% (vs. 31%) would support a congressmen advocating more troops for Vietnam
§Confusingly, according to polls, 66% (vs. 20%) would support congressmen advocating a compromise peace settlement.
oPoll conducted in August 1967:
§70% of Americans supported the war, yet
§December - this dropped to 61%

Nature of protests in USA to Vietnam War:
§Initially was composed mainly of academics, university students and the young. E.g. Students for a Democratic Society organised protests against Vietnam War in Washington in Easter 1965
§Protests appeared to be dominated by radical, long-haired hippies who were often engaged in violent protests
§Many protestors carried NLF flags
§Over 4 million students protested and over 900 US colleges and universities shut down by 1970
§100 American campuses were closed each day in strike after Kent State massacre.
§80% of colleges in the US experienced protests
§During May 1970 500 US GI’s deserted each day.
§Chants included: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win” – this (along with the acts of violence) convinced many Americans that protestors were really revolutionaries intent on smashing the American democratic system
§According to the New York Times (16 Oct. 1969): “But it also demonstrated the great divisions in American society…The demonstrations generated counter protests in some areas, and some supporters of the war who had been quiet for months, spoke out in anger”**[1]**
1968 Tet Offensive- horrific footage on T.V led to low morale and anti-war demonstrations grew rapidly through ’68 – ‘69
15 Oct. 1969 – 50,000 ppl marched through Washington in first moratorium of the Vietnam War. Others marched in:
New York
15 Nov. 1969 – a second moratorium was held:
250,000 war protestors
Mostly peaceful, however when most ppl had ended, the radical protestors began to:
Burn American flags
Throw paint bombs
Throw other home-made missiles
These protestors were repelled by tear-gas
US invasion of Cambodia on 30 April 1970 led to more demonstrations
4 May 1970 – demonstrations at Kent State University in Ohio became so heated that National Guard fired upon protestors: 4 died and 8 were wounded. Shootings led to nationwide protests:
Over 400 universities and colleges closed down
100,000 protestors marched in Washington on the 9th of May 1970
Type of protestors expanded:
The 9 May protests were followed by protests by:
Corporate executives
Essence of civil war: On May 7 and 8 1970, student protestors demonstrated in the financial district of New York. In response, builders of the World Trade Centre descended on Wall Street and beat them with clubs and other makeshift weapons
The American media fuelled the protests with paper editorials becoming increasingly anti-war
By the end of 1970, large-scale protests became less effective and necessary as Nixon’s troop withdrawal program (Vietnamisation Program) meant there were a lot less troops in Vietnam
When the American troops returned home they were not given a warm welcome by the American public (unlike WWII or the Korean War)- they were seen to epitomise everything the war represented.

The protests effect:
§Essentially, America didn’t so much lose the war militarily, but psychologically and socially; the protests against American involvement meant the politicians were left with no one choice; withdrawal
§Kolko: “the longer the war, the more likely that it will be determined outside the arena of arms and battles. The Vietnam War was no exception to the rule”.


§Triggered by the psychological victory of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and the strong domestic anti-war sentiment growing in the USA
§Was a US strategy with 2 main objectives:
oWithdrawal of US forces
oCreation of a stronger self-reliant South Vietnamese force
§This was done through 3 major military phases:
oUS units are reorganised (and slowly withdrawn) and the RVNAF’s takes their positions
oRVNAF combat capabilities are improved (esp. firepower and mobility) through training and military equipment
oA US advisory group remained behind to help the RVNAF
§Task of implementing Vietnamization program was Gen. Creighton Abrams (who replaced Westmoreland in June 1968)
oProblem was, the South Vietnamese had become reliant on US troops and thus weren’t in a position to defend their own land
oAs US forces withdrew, the RVNAF lost a large portion of US artillery, air and naval support on which it had become dependent
§E.g. when the US Army’s reverine brigade and its naval component were withdrawn from the upper Mekong Delta, NVA units infiltrated the delta for the first time
§In mid-1969, there had been a total of 56 allied combat battalions in South Vietnam’s 2 Northern provinces, this had dropped to 30 battalions by 1972.
§Artillery strength had fallen from 400 guns in mid-1969 to 169 in 1972.
§In all areas of South Vietnam, there had been a similar reduction in:
·Mobility (i.e. no. of troops)
·Firepower (i.e. weaponry)
·Intelligence support
·Air support

§By 1972, nearly all US ground combat forces had left South Vietnam
§The North Vietnamese believed now was the time to strike
§Through the Nguyen-Hue campaign, or Easter Offensive, of 1972 was similar to Tet Offensive of ’68:
oWas carried out country-wide
oDiffered however, in that the NVA (i.e. the official North Vietnamese Army) carried out the offensive rather than the Viet Cong (i.e. NLF)
oInvolved attacking on 3 fronts:
1.NVA crossed the DMZ and struck from Laos to capture Quang Tri (northernmost province in South Vietnam)
2.In Central Highlands, NVA moved into Kontum province forcing RVNAF to retreat from many border posts
3.Attacked Lon Ninh, just south of the Cambodian border on Highway 13 and advanced to An Loc along one of the major invasion routes toward Saigon.
§However, RVNAF recaptured Quang Tri City and most of the lost province in a counteroffensive in late summer 1972.
§The RVNAF’s success in regaining territory was only due to support from US fighters, bombers and helicopter gunships.
§In Operation Linebacker, the US continued bombing North Vietnam for the duration of the offensive
§Essentially, the North Vietnamese had underestimated the US response
§The US bombing of North Vietnam was designed to bring the communists back to the negotiating table for a negotiated peace


§Accord was signed in Jan. 1973:
  • Included cease-fire provisions
  • Allowed NVA forces to remain in the south (major disadvantage to South Vietnamese)
§After March 1973, when all US military forces and advisers had left South Vietnam, RVNAF forces were stretched thin
§Communist forces (i.e. both VC and NVA) took advantage of this situation and attacked lightly defended outposts and hamlets, and thus regained control over rural population
§US began reducing its aid to South Vietnam including:
  • Repair parts
  • Fuel
  • Ammunition
§South Vietnam’s President, Nguyen Van Thieu said his country faced the prospect of fighting a “poor man’s war”
§By 1975, the North Vietnamese enjoyed every strategic advantage:
  • absence of air-attacks and cross-border operations, it was able to improve its logistical support systems adjacent to South Vietnam
  • troops were reequipped (i.e. North Vietnamese continued to receive aid from USSR) and in secure bases
§The North were unsure of how the US would react to another offensive, and thus the North planned a limited offensive:
Process of Communist Invasion

  1. NVA first overran Phuoc Long province (north of Saigon)
    1. When the US did not respond and the South provided little resistance, the North were almost encouraged to continue the offensive
  2. NVA launched an offensive on Central Highlands.
    1. What was initially a limited offensive to gain a foot-hold in the Central Highlands, turned into an all-out campaign to conquer South Vietnam
    2. RVNAF forces chose to conserve its limited military assets rather than defend the Highlands or the northern provinces (which the NVA had isolated) and thus retreated
  3. NVA forces moved quickly to split South Vietnam in 2.
  4. NVA forces moved south and north along the coast
  5. NVA forces moved across DMZ and out of Laos creating a solid force.
  6. NVA captured Hue and Da Nang
    1. And at the same time NVA forces launched major assaults on several fronts to capture Saigon.
  7. South Vietnamese pleaded for US assistance, yet with little response
  8. Saigon fell to the communists on 29th of April 1975.


[1] Pp. 87 of textbook