Tet Offensive, January 31, 1968
On January 31, 1968, a combined force of the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam troops and Viet Cong forces launched an offensive on more than 100 different cities and towns in South Vietnam. The goal of the offensive was twofold. First, the North Vietnamese hoped to gain support from the South Vietnamese and encourage rebellion. Second, they hoped to dissuade U.S. forces and reduce U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. The attacks were timed to coincide with the celebration of the Lunar New Year.
Only days before the Tet Offensive, PAVN forces began a massive artillery assault at Khe Sahn, a Marine garrison located on a key road to Laos. This focused both attention and troops on Khe Sahn, and distracted from the real intent; the oncoming offensive throughout South Vietnam. Early in the morning of January 30, the PAVN and Viet Cong attacked 13 South Vietnamese cities. The widespread offensive began the following morning, and included cities and towns, U.S. military facilities and South Vietnamese military facilities. One target, in particular, was the U.S. embassy in Saigon; Viet Cong forces breached the defenses of the embassy before being stopped.
The Tet Offensive distributed North Vietnamese forces relatively thinly; they suffered quite heavy losses. For the South Vietnamese, the most atrocious losses were in the Battle of Hue. The North Vietnamese went house-to-house, arresting and executing anyone thought to support the U.S. Some 2,800 bodies were found after the Battle of Hue, and 3,000 people were missing. All were civilians; in addition, nearly 150 U.S. Marines and 400 South Vietnamese troops died in the fighting at Hue. North Vietnamese losses numbered near 5,000.
While the costs of the Tet Offensive were high for the North Vietnamese, it achieved one of their key objectives. The Tet Offensive was one of the factors that led to the progressive withdrawal of the U.S. from the conflict in Vietnam.