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Easter Offensive

Easter Offensive (1972).Knowing that the United States was losing its will to continue the war in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi decided in January 1972 to attack South Vietnam and thus started the war's largest battle to date. American intelligence knew Hanoi's general intentions, but was wrong on the estimates of the time and place of the offensive. On 30 March 1972—three days before Easter—the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) committed fourteen divisions backed by several hundred tanks and heavy artillery to a three‐pronged assault to gain territory and possibly win the war outright.

NVA Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, directed spearheads toward Quang Tri and Hué in the northern provinces of South Vietnam, Kontum in the central highlands, and An Loc northwest of Saigon. Initially, South Vietnamese resistance failed, but American advisers such as John Paul Vann and Maj. Gen. James Hollingsworth helped stabilize the ground defense, supported by American airpower and naval bombardment.

Still, in early May, Gen. Creighton Abrams, American commander in Vietnam, cabled Washington that Saigon had lost the will to fight and the war might be soon lost. The NVA had taken Quang Tri and had put Hué, Kontum, and An Loc under siege. The situation at An Loc was particularly dangerous. If it fell, there was little standing between Hanoi's forces and Saigon. President Richard M. Nixon authorized a major buildup of American airpower, plus heavy air strikes against Hanoi and Haiphong for the first time since 1968. On 8 May, with Saigon fighting for its life, the U.S. Navy mined Haiphong Harbor to block the flow of Soviet supplies. Ultimately, the South Vietnamese, supported by American airpower, drove the NVA back from the cities and recaptured Quang Tri.

The Easter Offensive cost the NVA dearly. Americans estimated Hanoi lost 100,000 men killed and 400 tanks destroyed. The failure to end the war on the battlefield undoubtedly prodded Hanoi toward the negotiations that led to the Paris Peace Agreements in January 1973. Three years later, forced to fight without American aid, Saigon could not duplicate its defensive victories of 1972.

During the Easter Offensive, American forces for the first time employed sizable numbers of precision‐guided munitions, “smart weapons.” U.S. warplanes used wire‐guided bombs to destroy North Vietnamese bridges that had withstood years of attack by conventional ordnance, and American helicopter gunships and South Vietnamese infantry employed TOW antitank weapons with deadly effect.
[See also Helicopters; Missiles; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Philip B. Davidson , Vietnam at War: The History 1946–1975, 1988.
Jeffrey Clarke , Advice and Support: The Final Years 1965–73, 1988.

Eric Bergerud

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