|Tour of Duty '71|
The Vietnam War as we know it really started back about 1945 when a very unpleasant fellow by the name of Vo Nguyen Giap came into the picture. At the time the French had what they called an "expeditionary force" in Vietnam and thought of Vietnam as theirs. Giap, over several years formed what became known as the "Vietminh". These were communist idealists who despised the French and fought them whenever possible, the French merely thought of them as rabble and didn't take too much notice of them.
By 1950 Giap had ammassed an army of thousands and was starting to defeat the French. Giap stayed in the north of Vietnam where he could obtain support from the Chinese, could resupply his forces easily and could fight the French on ground of his own choosing. By the end of 1954 Giap had an army over 200,000 strong and after the month long battle of Dien Bien Phu where he defeated the French in their fortified positions, although with heavy losses, he knew he had driven the French from Vietnam.
By now there was the communist politburo in the North and a new government in the South under Bao Dai. Peace talks were held in Geneva, Switzerland, and it was decided to divide the country in two at the seventeenth parallel (the middle) and then hold elections in 1956 to decide if the country should be re-united as one. These elections were never held. The US didn't want South Vietnam coming under control of the communists so they supported the corrupt Bao Dai government while Russia and China supported North Vietnam.
In 1959 there was the formation of the Vietcong in South Vietnam (by the South Vietnamese communists). The US then came into the game, this was a political game of chess between the US and communist Russia played on the chessboard called Vietnam.
Because of the ANZUS Treaty (Australia, New Zealand United States Security Treaty) signed in 1951 and the SEATO Treaty (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) signed in 1954, Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, the UK and the US agreed to support each other against any South East Asia threat. So, the US called in some "markers" for support in the war.
First, the US provided massive amounts of money and weapons to try to support the hopelessly inadequate ARVN forces of South Vietnam. The US forces started with about 900 men in 1961 and ended up with over 11,000 by the end of 1962, and ended up at a peak of over 500,000 troops. In 1963 President Diem of South Vietnam was assasinated and so to was President Kennedy in the US. IN August 1964 there came about the Tonkin Incident, this was an attack by North Vietnamese PT boats against a US warship. This resulted in the first military action taken by the US against North Vietnam ie a retaliatory strike by US aircraft against a NV support base at Vinh, although this was merely regarded as a singular retaliation to show that the US was not a "paper tiger".
Because of the fact that the US had NOT retaliated for the numerous bombings and deaths of US soldiers on the land and because it was an election year in the US and Lyndon Johnson had said that he would NOT commit US ground forces to a war in S.E. Asia and because the government in the south was in turmoil. The North Vietnamese mistakenly believed that by sending enough of their NV forces into the south they would quickly overthrow the south while the US would not interfere. However this presumption proved to be false and the war turned into a long and protracted one for both sides.
The US did not want Russia or Red China to become involved so was restricted to defending the South with conventional weapons and was unable to completely bomb North Vietnam or send troops into Laos or Cambodia after the NV forces. Because of this the Allied forces were forced into fighting a limited, defensive war.
By the end of 1965, the VietCong forces were winning the war and the South Vietnamese Army was lacking in morale, constantly being deserted, full of corruption by ranking officers and hopelessly outnumbered.
By the end of 1966 the estimated enemy forces in the south were 282,000 with the US forces totalling 385,000. The tide had turned, and the VC were mostly forced into guerilla warfare fighting brief skirmishes and then vanishing into the jungle. The allied forces had forced them away from much of the populated areas.
By the beginning of 1967 the enemy forces in the south were estimated at 280,000 with the total allied forces (US, Australian, NZ, South Korean) of 1,174,000. By 1967 the US casualties were a staggering 80,000, and although the US was winning the "shooting" war it was losing the "psychological" war back in the states.
At the end of January 1968, Giap launched the "Tet" offensive simultaneously in almost every town in South Vietnam. This was to be the great uprising where he anticipated that the ARVN forces would cave in and the local people would turn against the US. This did not happen, the ARVN forces fought back and the locals did not support the VC. The result of this was that out of an estimated 80,000 VC mobilised, there were 45,000 casualties. The VC's ability in the south had been severely curtailed because of the high number of senior officers killed.
Shortly after this was the siege at Khe Sanh, just south of the DMZ. Over 45,000 NV Regulars surrounded the Marine base of 6,000. Giap underestimated the superior firepower of the US forces (artillery and air) and the determination of the Marines, for reasons unknown he did not pursue the attack. The end result of this was that the morale and fighting capabilities of the VC was broken. The allied forces were winning the shooting war in Vietnam but were losing the psychological war in their own countries.
During 1969 the VC were back to guerrilla warfare, they were difficult to find and pin down but were not much of a threat anymore. The morale of the US forces was at an all time low, no-one wanted this dirty war anymore. The US was looking for a way to get out, preferably through the Paris Peace Talks, but this did not seem to be working.
1970 saw the overthrow of the Cambodian Chief of State-Prince Sihanouk, this resulted in the NVA forces of 50,000, who were using part of eastern Cambodia as their base areas to attemt to overrun the Cambodian forces. As this could change the course of the Vietnam war, the US and ARVN forces mounted a combined attack against the NVA in Cambodia. They succeeded in routing the NVA and recovering over 18 months supplies of weapons and ammunition plus destroying their major base camp. 1970 saw a much safer South Vietnam, free from large battles with mostly VC free hamlets, it also saw a huge increase in the US forces of low morale, drug use, awols, desertions, refusal to follow orders and fragging.
By 1971 the US forces in Vietnam were reduced by about half, morale was worse, drug use was much worse, apathy and a couldn't care attitude prevailed. Everyone wanted "out". The peace talks hadn't reached any agreement and by the end of 1971 the North Vietnamese were building up supplies and weapons down the Ho Chi Minh trail and the DMZ for what looked like an all out offensive.
Early 1972 saw what was known as the "Easter Offensive". The North Vietnamese launched an all out assault against the south using over 125,000 men, this was mainly aimed at the ARVN forces. The assault ground to a halt because of the inability of the north to keep many of its forces supplied and the tremendous mobility and firepower of the US air support. The official report states that North Vietnam lost 100,000 men and more than 450 tanks, they also lost the capacity to launch another major assault for at least 3 years. 1972 also saw a breakthrough in peace talks and at last, a means for the US to withdraw its remaining forces.
1973 saw a huge buildup of North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam, contrary to the Paris peace agreement. But the US, under President Nixon was unable to do anything because of congress voting to restrict his military powers, and because everyone wanted OUT of Vietnam.
1974 saw US aid to South Vietnam drop to next to nothing. This resulted in shortages of ammunition, clothes, fuel, medical supplies, food. In fact shortages were so great that ARVN soldiers were deserting in droves, morale was non existant and black markets were rife.
At 11.30am on 30 April 1975 the NVA troops ran their red banner over Independence Palace in Saigon. The war was finally over, with millions dead and maimed and a cost of billions of dollars!! We had won ALL the battles, but lost the war!!