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Saigon, Battle for

Saigon, Battle for (1968).On 31 January 1968, during the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong (VC) allies in South Vietnam launched the massive Tet Offensive. Timed to exploit reduced South Vietnamese vigilance during lunar New Year celebrations (“Tet”), the offensive was intended to spark an insurrection by disaffected southern civilians and military units against the American‐backed regime with its capital in Saigon. Given the offensive's overtly political purpose, attacking prominent targets in Saigon was key to Hanoi's plans to spark a southern revolt.

At about 3:00 A.M., just as the last volley of Tet celebratory fireworks was set off, a variety of targets were attacked in and around Saigon: air bases, southern military and police headquarters, U.S. military command and billeting facilities, and television and radio studios. Although Communist forces had tipped their hand by mistakenly attacking Hué and others cities to the north of Saigon on 30 January, Americans were shocked by the realization that about 4,000 VC could infiltrate the capital and launch vicious attacks.

The most spectacular engagement in Saigon occurred when the VC C‐10 Sapper Battalion penetrated the U.S. Embassy compound, prompting a desperate shootout with security guards and embassy staff. The VC were cleared from the embassy grounds by 9:00 A.M., but American reporters, who had witnessed the fight, were shocked by Gen. William Westmoreland's assertion that this was a VC publicity stunt and militarily meaningless. The American public was also shocked by television, film, and still photographs of the summary street execution of a suspected VC commando by Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the South Vietnamese chief of Saigon's security forces.

Westmoreland's prediction was accurate militarily; within forty‐eight hours, allied forces in Saigon were hunting down the VC, and by 16 February, the battle for Saigon was over. But politically the Tet attacks, especially the VC success in turning Saigon into a battlefield and the false news reports that the VC had actually penetrated the embassy building itself, produced a political uproar in the United States, particularly because they seemed to clash with previous government and military assurance that the VC had been crushed. The summary street execution also revolted many Americans. The credibility gap resulting in part from the Tet Offensive and the Battle for Saigon ultimately prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson not to run for reelection and American officials to reduce U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia.
[See also Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Don Oberdofer , Tet!, 1971.
James J. Wirtz , The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War, 1991.

James J. Wirtz

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