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  1. The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973
  2. In This Article
  3. The Rise and Fall of an American Army U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam

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How did the U.S. Fail in Vietnam? - Animated History

Hunt, Richard A. Boulder, Colo. Lewy, Guenter. America in Vietnam. Oberdorfer, Don. Spector, Ronald H. Lexington, Mass. Kimball, Jeffrey P. LeGro, William E. Vietnam from Cease-Fire to Capitulation. Pearson, Willard. The War in the Northern Provinces , — Vietnam Studies. Pisor, Robert. Norton, Shulimson, Jack, et al. Marine Corps, Stanton, Shelby L. Ground Forces in Vietnam , — Novato, Calif. Map House-to-house and street-to-street fighting caused enormous destruction, necessitating massive reconstruction and community assistance programs after the battle.

Throughout the country, the South Vietnamese forces acquitted themselves well, despite high casualties and many desertions. Stunned by the attacks, civilian support for the government of President Nguyen Van Thieu coalesced instead of weakening. Many Vietnamese for whom the war had been a mere annoyance were outraged, not the least by confirmation that the Communists had executed almost 3, civilians at Hue. The change from grudging toleration of the Viet Cong to active resistance provided an opportunity to create new local defense organizations and to attack the Communist infrastructure.

Spurred by American advisers, the Vietnamese began to revitalize pacification. Most important, the Viet Cong suffered a major military defeat, losing thousands of experienced combatants and seasoned political cadres, seriously weakening the insurgent base in the South. Americans at home saw a different picture. Claims of progress in the war, already greeted with skepticism, lost more credibility in both public and official circles.

But the magnitude of the new request, at a time when almost a half-million U. Without mobilization the United States was overcommitted. The dwindling strategic reserve left Johnson with fewer options in the spring of than in the summer of His problems were underscored by heightened international tensions when North Korea captured an American naval vessel, the USS Pueblo , a week before the Tet offensive; by Soviet armed intervention in Czechoslovakia in the summer of ; and by chronic crises in the Mideast. In addition, Army units in the United States were needed often between and to enforce federal civil rights legislation and to restore public order in the wake of civil disturbances.

Again, as in , Johnson refused to sanction a major troop levy, but he did give Westmoreland some modest reinforcements to bolster the northern provinces.

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Again tapping the strategic reserve, the Army sent him the 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, and the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division Mechanized —the last Army combat units to. For the 1st Division, few of the battles were dramatic, except for the soldiers who fought them, but were typically small sweeps and night ambushes in the rolling hills along Highway 13, punctuated by clear-and-hold missions with South Vietnamese regu- Long Range Patrol, James R.

The more dramatic encounters took place in the tactical arena of the 25th Division. Here lay the Tay Ninh corridor, one of the traditional enemy funnels from the Cambodian sanctuary to the outskirts of Saigon. Small, unprepossessing, and seemingly vulnerable, defended by a battery of light artillery and a company of infantry, CROOK was in fact a formidable redoubt with major tactical advantages: deeply dug with reinforced bunkers, equipped with remote sensors and radar, and well within range of medium and heavy artillery and, like all bases, supported by air power.

Further attacks followed on Tay Ninh City and other bases, all beaten back with heavy enemy casualties. The city was not impregnable. During the Tet celebration in heavy fighting broke out near Bien Hoa and Long Binh; into the early summer, enemy troops could still penetrate close enough to launch the occasional rocket attack or set off a bomb. The rocket attacks were especially troublesome. By the autumn, however, the attacks had virtually ceased. Saigon seemed to fall back into a period of tranquility and prosperity in which the main concern seemed to be not the fighting off in the distance but a wartime inflation eating into the purchasing power of the urban population.

The trauma visited upon the city during Tet had become a bad memory on the wane. In the Central Highlands, the war of attrition continued. Until its redeployment in , the 4th Infantry Division protected major highland population centers and kept important interior roads clear. Special Forces worked with the tribal highlanders to detect infiltration and harass enemy secret zones.

As in the past, highland camps and outposts were a magnet for enemy attacks, meant to lure reaction forces into an ambush or to divert the allies from operations elsewhere. In some cases camps had to be abandoned; but in most, the attackers were repulsed. The departure of the Green Berets brought an end to any significant Army role in the highlands. Following the withdrawal of the 4th and 9th Divisions, Army units concentrated in the northern provinces as well as around Saigon.

Operating in Quang Ngai, Quang Tin, and Quang Nam Provinces, the 23d Infantry Division Americal conducted a series of operations in and to secure and pacify the heavily populated coastal plain of southern I Corps. Along the demilitarized zone, the 1st Brigade, 5th Division, helped marines and South Vietnamese forces to screen the zone and secure the northern coastal region, including the stretch of Highway 1 that the enemy had cut during the Tet offensive.

Since the Tet offensive, the Communists had restocked the A Shau Valley with ammunition, rice, and equipment. The logistical buildup pointed to a possible North Vietnamese offensive in early In quick succession, Army operations were launched in the familiar pattern: air assaults, establishment of firebases, and exploration of the lowlands and surrounding hills to locate enemy forces and supplies. As the Army always had in the A Shau Valley, it once again met stiff resistance, especially from antiaircraft guns. The North Vietnamese had expected the American forces and now planned to hold their ground.

Entrenched in tiers of fortified bunkers with well-prepared fields of fire, the enemy forces withstood repeated attempts to dislodge them. Supported by intense artillery and air strikes, Americans made a slow, tortuous climb, fighting at close quarters. By the time the allies took Hill , three U. Army battalions and a South Vietnamese battalion from the 1st Division had been committed to the battle. Victory, however, was ambiguous as well as costly: the hill itself had no strategic or tactical importance and was abandoned soon after its capture. Critics charged that the battle wasted American lives and exemplified the irrelevance of large-unit tactics in Vietnam.

Defending the operation, the commander of the st, Maj. We found the enemy on Hill , and that is where we fought them. American plans to return in the summer of came to nothing when enemy pressure forced the abandonment of two firebases needed for operations there. Until redeployed in , the st Airborne Division, with the marines and South Vietnamese forces, now devoted most of its efforts to protecting Hue.

In This Article

While the operations in western I Corps had inflicted casualties. Cross-Border Operations With most U. At the end of June, one day short of the sixty days allotted to the operation, all advisers accompanying the South Vietnamese and all U. Army units had left Cambodia. Political and military events in Cambodia triggered changes in the war as profound as those the Tet offensive had engendered. From a quiescent sideshow of the war, Cambodia became an arena for the major belligerents.

Military activity increased in northern Cambodia and southern Laos as North Vietnam established new infiltration routes and bases to replace those lost during the incursion. North Vietnam made clear that it regarded all Indochina as a single theater of operations. Cambodia itself was engulfed in a civil war. Army units withdrew, the South Vietnamese Army found itself in a race against Communist forces to secure the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

Moreover, the South Vietnamese performance in Cambodia was mixed. When working closely with American advisers, the army acquitted itself well; though there were flaws in planning and the use of air and artillery support. The South Vietnamese logistical system, with a few exceptions, proved adequate. The difficulty was that the North Vietnamese Army largely chose not to fight, so the South Vietnamese Army was never really tested. Furthermore, the South Vietnamese command had relied on rangers, armored cavalry, and airborne troops—elite units—bypassing the mediocre infantry divisions hampered by their politics.

If the elite units performed credibly, the shortcomings in the regular army remained intact, starting with poor leadership and lack of discipline. Despite equivocal results in Cambodia, less than a year later the Americans pressed the South Vietnamese to launch a second cross-border operation, this time into Laos. Although the United States would provide air, artillery, and logistical support, Army advisers would not accompany South Vietnamese forces. But American intelligence had detected a North Vietnamese buildup in the vicinity of Tchepone, Laos, a logistical center on the Ho Chi Minh Trail approximately twenty-five miles west of the South Vietnamese border.

The Military Assistance Command regarded the buildup as a prelude to a North Vietnamese spring offensive in the northern provinces. Like the Cambodian incursion, the Laotian invasion was justified as benefiting Vietnamization, but with the added bonuses of spoiling a prospective offensive and cutting off the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

This would be the last chance for the South Vietnamese to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail while American forces were available to provide support. A decade earlier military analysts had developed plans to use corps-size American and allied forces to block the infiltration routes in. Keeping the trail open was one of the key elements of North Vietnamese victory. So tightly held was information on the impending operation that logistical and signal preparations that required long lead time were put in jeopardy and a combined tactical command post was not established until well into the offensive.

In preparation for the attack, Army helicopters, artillery, and supplies were moved at the last minute to the vicinity of the abandoned base at Khe Sanh. The st Airborne Division conducted a feint toward the A Shau Valley to conceal the true objective. On February 8, , spearheaded by M41 tanks and with units from the 1st Infantry, 1st Airborne, and Marine Divisions leapfrogging into Laos to establish firebases on the flanks of the attack, a South Vietnamese column from the 1st Armored Brigade advanced down Highway 9 toward Tchepone. Because of security leaks, the North Vietnamese were not deceived.

Within a week South Vietnamese forces numbering about 17, became bogged down by heavy enemy resistance, bad weather, and poor attack management. Conflicting orders from I Corps headquarters and the airborne division delayed the reinforcement of a critical landing zone north of the highway, and the position was lost. The drive into Laos stalled. Before long the South Vietnamese were facing elements of five North Vietnamese divisions, as well as a tank regiment, two artillery regiments, and numerous antiaircraft battalions.

Departing from the evasive tactics they had used a year earlier in Cambodia, the North Vietnamese had decided to stand and fight for their sanctuaries. Nonetheless, aided by heavy U. This was the last bit of good news from the front. By that time the North Vietnamese had counterattacked with Soviet- built tanks, heavy artillery, and infantry. They struck the rear of the South Vietnamese forces strung out on Highway 9, blocking their main avenue of withdrawal. Enemy forces also overwhelmed several South Vietnamese firebases, depriving South Vietnamese units of desperately needed flank protection.

The South Vietnamese also lacked enough antitank weapons to counter the North Vietnamese armor that appeared on the Laotian jungle trails and were inexperienced in the use of those they had. Army helicopter pilots flying gunship and resupply. William J. McCaffrey, put in an urgent call to the Department of the Army. American specialties B—52 strikes, photo reconnaissance, and the use of sensors and other means of target acquisition were drastically curtailed.

Such losses were all the more serious because operations in Cambodia and Laos had illustrated how deeply ingrained in the South Vietnamese Army the American style of warfare had become. Nearly two decades of U. In its broad outlines and goals, the offensive resembled Tet , except that the North Vietnamese Army, instead of the Viet Cong, bore the major burden of combat. The allies had plenty of warning of an impending attack. In December U.

By mid-January Abrams was so certain of his information that he was predicting a major conventional attack in which massed enemy formations and enemy armor and artillery operating in the open would play the decisive role. This gave confidence to those officials who believed in the efficacy of U. While this point was controversial, all did agree that U. The task of countering any offensive on the ground would fall almost exclusively to the South Vietnamese. By January U. The Nguyen Hue, or Easter, offensive began on March 30, Attacking on three fronts, the North Vietnamese poured across the demilitarized zone and out of Laos into northern I Corps, pushed eastward into the Central Highlands, and drove down Highway 13 toward Loc Ninh and An Loc, one of the traditional invasion routes to Saigon.

Surprised by the ferocity of the attacks, the South Vietnamese fell back everywhere. The most devastating assaults took place in Quang Tri Province. Map 20 While enemy artillery struck every firebase in the northern defense sector, infantry and armor quickly routed the 3d Infantry Division, formed just months before, and slashed their way toward Dong Ha. In one month of battle, the South Vietnamese in northern I Corps had lost almost all their artillery and all but one of their M48s.

The marines and rangers had also lost heavily, and several U.

Elsewhere, South Vietnamese losses were nearly as serious. President Thieu removed another corps commander, leaving the senior adviser, John Paul Vann, a civilian, in command of II Corps and Kontum City braced for all-out assault. The III Corps area also was sorely threatened. Realizing too late that the main attack was developing in Binh Long, not Tay Ninh, Province, the South Vietnamese and their advisers were slow to reinforce the corridor down Highway This was the grim situation, enemy pressure unrelenting everywhere and the contest in doubt, when, sometime during May, the battlefield on all three fronts began to stabilize.

The change was barely perceptible at first, but slowly the enemy offensive ran out of steam. Those supply lines became targets of a renewed aerial offensive in both North and South Vietnam that isolated the Southern battlefield as never before. Every front felt the impact of U.

At Kontum City, with supplies and artillery running low, the North Vietnamese Army spent its infantry in city fighting until it was too weak to withstand a counterattack by the 23d Division. Harried by U.


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An Loc was touch-and-go a little longer; but by mid-June, buttressed by air drops from U. Air Force C—s, and massive B—52 bombing runs, the South Vietnamese made their stand at the city center, decimating the attacking formations. After several more desperate assaults, the enemy survivors slipped. But such pressure was intended at least in part to force North Vietnam to sign an armistice.

If President Thieu was encouraged by the display of U. With that agreement, the talks hastened to a conclusion. In early the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong signed an armistice that promised a cease-fire and national reconciliation. Government forces in many areas of the country were on the defensive, confined to protecting key towns and installations.

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The Rise and Fall of an American Army U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam

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