Captured French soldiers, escorted by Vietnamese troops, walk to a prisoner-of-war camp in Dien Bien Phu


1946 Dec 19 - 1954 Aug 1
, Vietnam

Indochina had been a French colony from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. When the Japanese invaded during World War II, the Viet Minh, a Communist-led common front under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, opposed them with support from the United States, the Soviet Union and China. On V-J Day, 2 September, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed in Hanoi the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The DRV ruled as the only civil government in all of Vietnam for 20 days, after the abdication of Emperor Bảo Đại, who had governed under the Japanese rule. On 23 September 1945, French forces overthrew the local DRV government, and declared French authority restored. The French gradually retook control of Indochina. Following unsuccessful negotiations, the Viet Minh initiated an insurgency against French rule. Hostilities escalated into the First Indochina War.

By the 1950s, the conflict had become entwined with the Cold War. In January 1950, China and the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, based in Hanoi, as the legitimate government of Vietnam. The following month the United States and Great Britain recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam in Saigon, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, as the legitimate Vietnamese government. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 convinced many Washington policymakers that the war in Indochina was an example of communist expansionism directed by the Soviet Union.

During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954), U.S. carriers sailed to the Gulf of Tonkin and the U.S. conducted reconnaissance flights. France and the United States also discussed the use of three tactical nuclear weapons, although reports of how seriously this was considered and by whom are vague and contradictory. According to then-Vice President Richard Nixon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff drew up plans to use small tactical nuclear weapons to support the French. Nixon, a so-called "hawk" on Vietnam, suggested that the United States might have to "put American boys in". On 7 May 1954, the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu surrendered. The defeat marked the end of French military involvement in Indochina.

Geneva Conference, 21 July 1954. Last plenary session on Indochina in the Palais des Nations. Second left Vyacheslav Molotov, two unidentified Soviets, Anthony Eden, Sir Harold Caccie and W.D. Allen. In the foreground, the North Vietnamese delegation.

1954 Geneva Conference

1954 Apr 26 - Jul 20
, Geneva

The Geneva Conference, intended to settle outstanding issues resulting from the Korean War and the First Indochina War, was a conference involving several nations that took place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 26 April to 20 July 1954. The Geneva Accords that dealt with the dismantling of French Indochina proved to have long-lasting repercussions. The crumbling of the French colonial empire in Southeast Asia led to the formation of the states of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the State of Vietnam (the future Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam), the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Laos. The Accords were between France, the Viet Minh, the USSR, the PRC, the United States, the United Kingdom and the future states being made from French Indochina. The agreement temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại. A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state. Despite helping create some of the agreements, they were not directly signed onto nor accepted by delegates of both the State of Vietnam and the United States. The State of Vietnam, under Ngo Dinh Diem, subsequently refused to allow elections, leading to the Vietnam War. Three separate ceasefire accords, covering Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, were signed at the conference.

Up to a million people left communist North Vietnam during Operation Passage to Freedom after the country was partitioned (USS Calaveras County).

Operation Passage to Freedom

1954 Jul 21
, Vietnam

Under the terms of the Geneva Accords, civilians were allowed to move freely between the two provisional states for a 300-day period. Elections throughout the country were to be held in 1956 to establish a unified government. Around one million northerners, mainly minority Catholics, fled south, fearing persecution by the Communists. This followed an American psychological warfare campaign, designed by Edward Lansdale for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which exaggerated anti-Catholic sentiment among the Viet Minh and which falsely claimed the US was about to drop atomic bombs on Hanoi. The exodus was coordinated by a U.S.-funded $93 million relocation program, which included the use of the Seventh Fleet to ferry refugees. The northern, mainly Catholic refugees gave the later Ngô Đình Diệm regime a strong anti-communist constituency. Diệm staffed his government's key posts mostly with northern and central Catholics.

In addition to the Catholics flowing south, over 130,000 "Revolutionary Regroupees" went to the north for "regroupment", expecting to return to the south within two years. The Viet Minh left roughly 5,000 to 10,000 cadres in the south as a base for future insurgency. The last French soldiers left South Vietnam in April 1956. The PRC completed its withdrawal from North Vietnam at around the same time.

The Ho Chi Minh trail from the very beginning was using Vietnamese and Laotian people as seen in a captured Vietcong's photo, circa 1959

North Vietnamese invasion of Laos

1958 Dec 1 - 1959
, Ho Chi Minh Trail

North Vietnam supported the Pathet Lao to fight against the Kingdom of Laos between 1958–1959. Control over Laos allowed for the eventual construction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that would serve as the main supply route for enhanced NLF (the National Liberation Front, the Vietcong) and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) activities in the Republic of Vietnam

The North Vietnamese Communist Party approved a "people's war" on the South at a session in January 1959, and, in May, Group 559 was established to maintain and upgrade the Ho Chi Minh trail, at this time a six-month mountain trek through Laos. On 28 July, North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces invaded Laos, fighting the Royal Lao Army all along the border. Group 559 was headquartered in Na Kai, Houaphan province in northeast Laos close to the border. About 500 of the "regroupees" of 1954 were sent south on the trail during its first year of operation. The first arms delivery via the trail was completed in August 1959. In April 1960, North Vietnam imposed universal military conscription for adult males. About 40,000 communist soldiers infiltrated the south from 1961 to 1963.

Female Viet Cong Soldiers.

Viet Cong

1960 Dec 20
, Tây Ninh

In September 1960, COSVN, North Vietnam's southern headquarters, gave an order for a full scale coordinated uprising in South Vietnam against the government and 1/3 of the population was soon living in areas of communist control. North Vietnam established the Viet Cong (formed in Memot, Cambodia) on December 20, 1960, at Tân Lập village in Tây Ninh Province to foment insurgency in the South. Many of the Viet Cong's core members were volunteer "regroupees", southern Viet Minh who had resettled in the North after the Geneva Accord (1954). Hanoi gave the regroupees military training and sent them back to the South along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

Support for the VC was driven by resentment of Diem's reversal of Viet Minh land reforms in the countryside. The Viet Minh had confiscated large private landholdings, reduced rents and debts, and leased communal lands, mostly to poorer peasants. Diem brought the landlords back to the villages. People who had been farming land for years had to return it to landlords and pay years of back rent.

A strategic hamlet in South Vietnam c.1964

Strategic Hamlet Program

1962 Jan 1
, Vietnam

In 1962, the government of South Vietnam, with advice and financing from the United States, began the implementation of the Strategic Hamlet Program. The strategy was to isolate the rural population from contact with and influence by the National Liberation Front (NLF), more commonly known as the Viet Cong. The Strategic Hamlet Program, along with its predecessor, the Rural Community Development Program, played an important role in shaping of events in South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Both of these programs attempted to create new communities of "protected hamlets." The rural peasants would be provided protection, economic support, and aid by the government, thereby strengthening ties with the South Vietnamese government (GVN). It was hoped this would lead to increased loyalty by the peasantry towards the government.

The Strategic Hamlet Program was unsuccessful, failing to stop the insurgency or gain support for the government from rural Vietnamese, it alienated many and helped and contribute to the growth in influence of the Viet Cong. After President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown in a coup in November 1963, the program was cancelled. Peasants moved back into their old homes or sought refuge from the war in the cities. The failure of the Strategic Hamlet and other counter-insurgency and pacification programs were causes that led the United States to decide to intervene in South Vietnam with air strikes and ground troops.

A UH-1D helicopter from the 336th Aviation Company sprays a defoliation agent over farmland in the Mekong Delta.

Agent Orange

1962 Jan 9
, Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 U.S. gallons (76,000 m3) of various chemicals – the "rainbow herbicides" and defoliants – in Vietnam, eastern Laos, and parts of Cambodia as part of Operation Ranch Hand, reaching its peak from 1967 to 1969. As the British did in Malaya, the goal of the U.S. was to defoliate rural/forested land, depriving guerrillas of food and concealment and clearing sensitive areas such as around base perimeters and possible ambush sites along roads and canals. Samuel P. Huntington argued that the program was also a part of a policy of forced draft urbanization, which aimed to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, forcing them to flee to the U.S.-dominated cities, depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base. 

Agent Orange was usually sprayed from helicopters or from low-flying C-123 Provider aircraft, fitted with sprayers and "MC-1 Hourglass" pump systems and 1,000 U.S. gallons (3,800 L) chemical tanks. Spray runs were also conducted from trucks, boats, and backpack sprayers. Altogether, over 80 million litres of Agent Orange were applied.

The first batch of herbicides was unloaded at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, on January 9, 1962. U.S. Air Force records show at least 6,542 spraying missions took place over the course of Operation Ranch Hand. By 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended U.S. Department of Agriculture application rate for domestic use. In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 39,000 square miles (10,000,000 ha) of agricultural land was ultimately destroyed.

Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Soong Ching-ling 1959

China Involvement

1962 Jun 1
, Hanoi

In the summer of 1962, Mao Zedong agreed to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge, and starting in 1965, China began sending anti-aircraft units and engineering battalions to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American bombing. In particular, they helped man anti-aircraft batteries, rebuild roads and railroads, transport supplies, and perform other engineering works. This freed North Vietnamese army units for combat in the South. China sent 320,000 troops and annual arms shipments worth $180 million. The Chinese military claims to have caused 38% of American air losses in the war.

Two downed US CH-21 helicopters

Battle of Ap Bac

1963 Jan 2
, Tien Giang Province

On 28 December 1962, US intelligence detected the presence of a radio transmitter along with a sizable force of Viet Cong (VC) soldiers, reported to number around 120, in the hamlet of Ap Tan Thoi in Dinh Tuong Province, home of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) 7th Infantry Division. The South Vietnamese and their US advisers planned to attack Ap Tan Thoi from three directions to destroy the VC force by using two provincial Civil Guard battalions and elements of the 11th Infantry Regiment, ARVN 7th Infantry Division. The infantry units would be supported by artillery, M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), and helicopters.

On the morning of 2 January 1963, unaware that their battle plans had been leaked to the enemy, the South Vietnamese Civil Guards spearheaded the attack by marching toward Ap Tan Thoi from the south. However, when they reached the hamlet of Ap Bac, southeast of Ap Tan Thoi, they were immediately pinned down by elements of the VC 261st Battalion. Shortly afterward, three companies of the 11th Infantry Regiment were committed into battle in northern Ap Tan Thoi. However, they too could not overcome the VC soldiers who had entrenched themselves in the area. Just before midday, further reinforcements were flown in from Tan Hiep. The 15 US helicopters ferrying the troops were riddled by VC gunfire, and five helicopters were lost as a result.

The ARVN 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron was then deployed to rescue the South Vietnamese soldiers and US aircrews trapped at the southwest end of Ap Bac. However, its commander was highly reluctant to move heavy M113 APCs across the local terrain. Ultimately, their presence made little difference as the VC stood its ground and killed more than a dozen South Vietnamese M113 crew members in the process. The ARVN 8th Airborne Battalion was dropped late in the afternoon onto the battlefield. In a scene that characterized much of the day's fighting, they were pinned down and could not break the VC's line of defense. Under cover of darkness, the VC withdrew from the battlefield, winning their first major victory.

Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation during the Buddhist crisis in Vietnam. | ©Malcolm Browne for the Associated Press

Buddhist crisis

1963 May 1 - Nov
, Hue

The Buddhist crisis was a period of political and religious tension in South Vietnam between May and November 1963, characterized by a series of repressive acts by the South Vietnamese government and a campaign of civil resistance, led mainly by Buddhist monks.

The crisis was precipitated by the Xá Lợi Pagoda raids and the Huế Phật Đản shootings, where army and police fired guns and launched grenades into a crowd of Buddhists who had been protesting against a government ban on flying the Buddhist flag on the day of Phật Đản, which commemorates the birth of Gautama Buddha. Diệm denied governmental responsibility for the incident and blamed the Việt Cộng, which added to discontent among the Buddhist majority.

Diệm dead. Initial rumors said that he and his brother committed suicide.

1963 South Vietnamese coup

1963 Nov 1 - Nov 2
, Saigon

U.S. officials began discussing the possibility of a regime change during the middle of 1963. The United States Department of State wanted to encourage a coup, while the Defense Department favored Diệm. Chief among the proposed changes was the removal of Diệm's younger brother Nhu, who controlled the secret police and special forces, and was seen as the man behind the Buddhist repression and more generally the architect of the Ngô family's rule. This proposal was conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Saigon in Cable 243.

The CIA contacted generals planning to remove Diệm and told them that the United States would not oppose such a move nor punish the generals by cutting off aid. On 1 November 1963, Ngô Đình Diệm was arrested and assassinated in a successful coup d'état led by General Dương Văn Minh. The U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, invited the coup leaders to the embassy and congratulated them. Kennedy wrote Lodge a letter congratulating him for "a fine job". Kennedy dies the same month; Lyndon Johnson replaces him.

VA-146 A-4Cs from USS Constellation a week after Operation Pierce Arrow.

Operation Pierce Arrow

1964 Aug 5
, Vietnam

Operation Pierce Arrow was a U.S. bombing campaign at the beginning of the Vietnam War. The operation consisted of 64 strike sorties of aircraft from the aircraft carriers USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation against the torpedo boat bases of Hon Gai, Loc Chao, Quang Khe, and Phuc Loi, and the oil storage depot at Vinh.

This was the start of U.S. air operations over North Vietnam and Southeast Asia, attempting to destroy the infrastructure, war material, and military units needed by North Vietnam to prosecute the guerrilla war in the South. The air operations following Pierce Arrow would swell so that by war's end, the United States bombing campaign was the longest and heaviest in history. The 7,662,000 tons of bombs dropped in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War nearly quadrupled the 2,150,000 tons the U.S. had dropped during World War II.

USS Maddox

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

1964 Aug 7
, Gulf of Tonkin

On 2 August 1964, USS Maddox, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam's coast, allegedly fired upon and damaged several torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin. A second attack was reported two days later on USS Turner Joy and Maddox in the same area. The circumstances of the attacks were murky.–219 Lyndon Johnson commented to Undersecretary of State George Ball that "those sailors out there may have been shooting at flying fish." An undated NSA publication declassified in 2005 revealed that there was no attack on 4 August.

The second "attack" led to retaliatory airstrikes, and prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964. The resolution granted the president power "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression" and Johnson would rely on this as giving him authority to expand the war. In the same month, Johnson pledged that he was not "committing American boys to fighting a war that I think ought to be fought by the boys of Asia to help protect their own land".

The National Security Council recommended a three-stage escalation of the bombing of North Vietnam. Following an attack on a U.S. Army base in Pleiku on 7 February 1965, a series of airstrikes was initiated, Operation Flaming Dart. Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Arc Light expanded aerial bombardment and ground support operations. The bombing campaign, which ultimately lasted three years, was intended to force North Vietnam to cease its support for the Viet Cong by threatening to destroy North Vietnamese air defenses and industrial infrastructure. It was additionally aimed at bolstering the morale of the South Vietnamese.

Barrel Roll

Bombing of Laos

1964 Dec 14 - 1973 Mar 29
, Laos

Bombing was not restricted to North Vietnam. Other aerial campaigns, such as Operation Barrel Roll, targeted different parts of the Viet Cong and PAVN infrastructure. These included the Ho Chi Minh trail supply route, which ran through Laos and Cambodia. The ostensibly neutral Laos had become the scene of a civil war, pitting the Laotian government backed by the US against the Pathet Lao and its North Vietnamese allies.

Massive aerial bombardment against the Pathet Lao and PAVN forces were carried out by the US to prevent the collapse of the Royal central government, and to deny the use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos, nearly equal to the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history relative to the size of its population.

The objective of stopping North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was never reached. The Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Curtis LeMay, however, had long advocated saturation bombing in Vietnam and wrote of the communists that "we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age".

Viet Cong forces

1964 Offensive: Battle of Binh Gia

1964 Dec 28 - 1965 Jan 1
, Bình Gia

Following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Hanoi anticipated the arrival of US troops and began expanding the Viet Cong, as well as sending increasing numbers of North Vietnamese personnel southwards. At this phase they were outfitting the Viet Cong forces and standardising their equipment with AK-47 rifles and other supplies, as well as forming the 9th Division. "From a strength of approximately 5,000 at the start of 1959 the Viet Cong's ranks grew to about 100,000 at the end of 1964 ... Between 1961 and 1964 the Army's strength rose from about 850,000 to nearly a million men." The numbers for U.S. troops deployed to Vietnam during the same period were much lower: 2,000 in 1961, rising rapidly to 16,500 in 1964. During this phase, the use of captured equipment decreased, while greater numbers of ammunition and supplies were required to maintain regular units. Group 559 was tasked with expanding the Ho Chi Minh trail, in light of the near constant bombardment by US warplanes. The war had begun to shift into the final, conventional warfare phase of Hanoi's three-stage protracted warfare model. The Viet Cong was now tasked with destroying the ARVN and capturing and holding areas; however, the Viet Cong was not yet strong enough to assault major towns and cities.

In December 1964, ARVN forces had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Bình Giã, in a battle that both sides viewed as a watershed. Previously, the VC had utilised hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. At Binh Gia, however, they had defeated a strong ARVN force in a conventional battle and remained in the field for four days. Tellingly, South Vietnamese forces were again defeated in June 1965 at the Battle of Đồng Xoài.

Helicopter destroyed in the attack, 7 February 1965

Attack on Camp Holloway

1965 Feb 6 - Feb 7
, Chợ La Sơn

The attack on Camp Holloway occurred during the early hours of February 7, 1965, in the early stages of the Vietnam War. Camp Holloway was a helicopter facility constructed by the United States Army near Pleiku in 1962. It was built to support the operations of Free World Military Forces in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. With his victory in the 1964 presidential election secured, Johnson decided to launch Operation Flaming Dart which entailed strikes on North Vietnamese military targets. However, with Kosygin still in Hanoi during the U.S bombing, the Soviet government decided to step up their military aid to North Vietnam, thereby signalling a major reversal of Khrushchev's policy in Vietnam.

The U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in February 1965 had a decisive impact on the Soviet Union's strategy in Vietnam. During Kosygin's stay in Hanoi, North Vietnam was subjected to U.S. air strikes which infuriated the Soviet government. Consequently, on 10 February 1965, Kosygin and his North Vietnamese counterpart, Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng, issued a joint communique which highlighted the Soviet resolve to strengthen North Vietnam's defensive potential by giving it all "necessary aid and support". Then in April 1965, while on a visit to Moscow, General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Lê Duẩn signed a missile agreement with the Soviet Union, which gave the North Vietnamese military what they needed to resist Operation Rolling Thunder.

A U.S. Navy A-4E Skyhawk of VA-164, from USS Oriskany, en route to attack a target in North Vietnam, November 21, 1967.

Operation Flaming Dart

1965 Feb 7 - Feb 24
, Vietnam

Forty-nine retaliatory sorties were flown for Flaming Dart I on 7 February 1965. Flaming Dart I targeted North Vietnamese army bases near Đồng Hới, while the second wave targeted Vietcong logistics and communications near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

American reaction to Communist escalation was not restricted to the bombing of North Vietnam. Washington also escalated its use of air power when it authorized the use of U.S. jet attack aircraft to engage targets in the south. On 19 February, USAF B-57s conducted the first jet strikes flown by Americans in support of South Vietnamese ground units. On 24 February, USAF jets struck again, this time breaking up a Viet Cong ambush in the Central Highlands with a massive series of tactical air sorties. Again, this was an escalation in the U.S. use of air power.

U.S. Navy A-6A Intruder all-weather bombers, in 1968

Operation Rolling Thunder

1965 Mar 2 - 1968 Nov 2
, Vietnam

Operation Rolling Thunder was a gradual and sustained aerial bombardment campaign conducted by the United States 2nd Air Division, U.S. Navy, and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 2 March 1965 until 2 November 1968, during the Vietnam War.

The four objectives of the operation (which evolved over time) were to boost the sagging morale of the Saigon regime in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam); to persuade North Vietnam to cease its support for the communist insurgency in South Vietnam without sending ground forces into communist North Vietnam; to destroy North Vietnam's transportation system, industrial base, and air defenses; and to halt the flow of men and materiel into South Vietnam. Attainment of these objectives was made difficult by both the restraints imposed upon the U.S. and its allies by Cold War exigencies, and by the military aid and assistance received by North Vietnam from its communist allies, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and North Korea.

The operation became the most intense air/ground battle waged during the Cold War period; it was the most difficult such campaign fought by the United States since the aerial bombardment of Germany during World War II. Supported by its communist allies, the Soviet Union and China, North Vietnam fielded a potent mixture of MiG fighter-interceptor jets and sophisticated air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons that created one of the most effective air defences ever faced by American military aviators. This led to the cancellation of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968.

US Marines

American ground war

1965 Mar 8
, Da Nang

On 8 March 1965, 3,500 U.S. Marines were landed near Da Nang, South Vietnam. This marked the beginning of the American ground war. U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment. The Marines' initial assignment was the defense of Da Nang Air Base. The first deployment of 3,500 in March 1965 was increased to nearly 200,000 by December. The U.S. military had long been schooled in offensive warfare. Regardless of political policies, U.S. commanders were institutionally and psychologically unsuited to a defensive mission.

General William Westmoreland informed Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific forces, that the situation was critical. He said, "I am convinced that U.S. troops with their energy, mobility, and firepower can successfully take the fight to the NLF (Viet Cong)". With this recommendation, Westmoreland was advocating an aggressive departure from America's defensive posture and the sidelining of the South Vietnamese. By ignoring ARVN units, the U.S. commitment became open-ended. Westmoreland outlined a three-point plan to win the war:

  • Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (and other free world) forces necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
  • Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy forces. This phase would end when the enemy had been worn down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated areas.
  • Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of twelve to eighteen months following Phase 2 would be required for the final destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote base areas.
South Vietnamese Rangers and an American adviser at the crash site of a U.S. helicopter in Dong Xoai.

Battle of Đồng Xoài

1965 Jun 9 - Jun 13
, Đồng Xoài

The political instability in Saigon gave North Vietnamese leaders an opportunity to step up their military campaign in the south. They believed that the South Vietnamese government's power relied on the country's strong military, so the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and VC launched the Summer Offensive of 1965 to inflict significant losses on South Vietnamese forces. In Phước Long Province, the PAVN/VC summer offensive culminated in the Đồng Xoài campaign.

The fight for Đồng Xoài began on the evening of June 9, 1965, when the VC 272nd Regiment attacked and captured the Civilian Irregular Defense Group and U.S. Special Forces camp there. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Joint General Staff responded to the sudden assault by ordering the ARVN 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 5th ARVN Infantry Division to retake the district of Đồng Xoài. The ARVN forces arrived on the battlefield on June 10, but in the vicinity of Thuận Lợi, the VC 271st Regiment overwhelmed the South Vietnamese battalion. Later that day, the ARVN 52nd Ranger Battalion, which had survived an ambush while marching towards Đồng Xoài, recaptured the district. On June 11, the ARVN 7th Airborne Battalion arrived to reinforce the South Vietnamese position; as the paratroopers were searching the Thuận Lợi rubber plantation for survivors from the 1st Battalion, the VC caught them in a deadly ambush.

North Vietnamese regular army forces

Battle of Ia Drang

1965 Nov 14 - Nov 19
, Ia Drang Valley

The Battle of Ia Drang was the first major battle between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), as part of the Pleiku Campaign conducted early in the Vietnam War, at the eastern foot of the Chu Pong Massif in the central highlands of Vietnam, in 1965. It is notable for being the first large scale helicopter air assault and also the first use of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers in a tactical support role. Ia Drang set the blueprint for the Vietnam War with the Americans relying on air mobility, artillery fire and close air support, while the PAVN neutralized that firepower by quickly engaging American forces at very close range.

Members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967

Battle of Dak To

1967 Nov 3 - Nov 23
, Đăk Tô

The action at Đắk Tô was one of a series of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) offensive initiatives that began during the second half of the year. PAVN attacks at Lộc Ninh (in Bình Long Province), Song Be (in Phước Long Province) and at Con Thien and Khe Sanh, (in Quảng Trị Province), were other actions which, combined with Đắk Tô, became known as "the border battles". The post hoc purported objective of the PAVN forces was to distract American and South Vietnamese forces away from cities towards the borders in preparation for the Tet Offensive.

During the summer of 1967, engagements with PAVN forces in the area prompted the launching of Operation Greeley, a combined search and destroy effort by elements of the U. S. 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 42nd Infantry Regiment, 22nd Division and Airborne units. The fighting was intense and lasted into late 1967, when the PAVN seemingly withdrew.

By late October U.S. intelligence indicated that local communist units had been reinforced and combined into the PAVN 1st Division, which was to capture Đắk Tô and destroy a brigade-size U.S. unit. Information provided by a PAVN defector provided the allies a good indication of the locations of PAVN forces. This intelligence prompted the launching of Operation MacArthur and brought the units back to the area along with more reinforcements from the ARVN Airborne Division. The battles on the hill masses south and southeast of Đắk Tô became some of the hardest-fought and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

VC special forces are sworn into the forces before the Tet Offensive

Tet Offensive

1968 Jan 30 - Sep 23
, Vietnam

The Tet Offensive was a major escalation and one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. It was launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The purpose of the wide-scale offensive by the Hanoi Politburo was to trigger political instability, in a belief that mass armed assault on urban centers would trigger defections and rebellions.

The offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam, as neither uprisings nor ARVN unit defections occurred in South Vietnam. However this offensive had far reaching consequences due to its effect on the views of the Vietnam War by the American public and the world broadly. General Westmoreland reported that defeating the PAVN/VC would require 200,000 more American soldiers and activation of the reserves, prompting even loyal supporters of the war to see that the current war strategy required re-evaluation. The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war declined as a result of the Tet casualties and the ramping up of draft calls. Subsequently, the Johnson Administration sought negotiations to end the war, which were derailed in a secret agreement between then-former Vice President Richard Nixon, who planned to run as the Republican candidate in the 1968 United States presidential election, and South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu.

U.S. Marines wounded during the battle

Battle of Hue

1968 Jan 31 - Mar 2
, Hue

By the beginning of the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive on 30 January 1968, which coincided with the Vietnamese Tết Lunar New Year, large conventional American forces had been committed to combat operations on Vietnamese soil for almost three years. Highway 1, passing through the city of Huế, was an important supply line for Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and United States forces from the coastal city of Da Nang to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the de facto border between North and South Vietnam only 50 kilometers (31 mi) to the north of Huế. The highway also provided access to the Perfume River (Vietnamese: Sông Hương or Hương Giang) at the point where the river ran through Huế, dividing the city into northern and southern parts. Huế was also a base for United States Navy supply boats. Due to the Tết holidays, large numbers of ARVN forces were on leave and the city was poorly defended.

While the ARVN 1st Division had cancelled all Tết leave and was attempting to recall its troops, the South Vietnamese and American forces in the city were unprepared when the Việt Cộng (VC) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) launched the Tet Offensive, attacking hundreds of military targets and population centers across the country, including Huế. The PAVN-VC forces rapidly occupied most of the city. Over the next month, they were gradually driven out during intense house-to-house fighting led by the Marines and ARVN. 

Walter Cronkite reporting from the field during the Vietnam War (1968).

If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America

1968 Feb 27
, United States

CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite, who has just returned from Vietnam, tells viewers, “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.” U.S. President Lyndon Johnson is said to respond, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Burial of 300 unidentified victims

Massacre at Huế

1968 Feb 28
, Hue

The Huế massacre was the summary executions and mass murder perpetrated by the Viet Cong (VC) and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) during their capture, military occupation and later withdrawal from the city of Huế during the Tet Offensive, considered one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

During the months and years that followed the Battle of Huế, dozens of mass graves were discovered in and around Huế. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. The estimated death toll was between 2,800 and 6,000 civilians and prisoners of war, or 5–10% of the total population of Huế. The Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) released a list of 4,062 victims identified as having been either murdered or abducted. Victims were found bound, tortured, and sometimes buried alive. Many victims were also clubbed to death.

A number of U.S. and South Vietnamese authorities as well as a number of journalists who investigated the events took the discoveries, along with other evidence, as proof that a large-scale atrocity had been carried out in and around Huế during its four-week occupation. The killings were perceived as part of a large-scale purge of a whole social stratum, including anyone friendly to American forces in the region. The massacre at Huế came under increasing press scrutiny later, when press reports alleged that South Vietnamese "revenge squads" had also been at work in the aftermath of the battle, searching out and executing citizens that had supported the communist occupation. 

US Morale collapse

US Morale collapse

1968 Mar 1
, Vietnam

Following the Tet Offensive and the decreasing support among the U.S. public for the war, U.S. forces began a period of morale collapse, disillusionment and disobedience. At home, desertion rates quadrupled from 1966 levels. Among the enlisted, only 2.5% chose infantry combat positions in 1969–1970. ROTC enrollment decreased from 191,749 in 1966 to 72,459 by 1971, and reached an all-time low of 33,220 in 1974, depriving U.S. forces of much-needed military leadership.

Open refusal to engage in patrols or carry out orders and disobedience began to emerge during this period, with one notable case of an entire company refusing orders to engage or carry out operations. Unit cohesion began to dissipate and focused on minimising contact with Viet Cong and PAVN. A practice known as "sand-bagging" started occurring, where units ordered to go on patrol would go into the country-side, find a site out of view from superiors and rest while radioing in false coordinates and unit reports.  Drug usage increased rapidly among U.S. forces during this period, as 30% of U.S. troops regularly used marijuana, while a House subcommittee found 10–15% of U.S. troops in Vietnam regularly used high-grade heroin. From 1969 on, search-and-destroy operations became referred to as "search and evade" or "search and avoid" operations, falsifying battle reports while avoiding guerrilla fighters. A total of 900 fragging and suspected fragging incidents were investigated, most occurring between 1969 and 1971.  In 1969, field-performance of the U.S. Forces was characterised by lowered morale, lack of motivation, and poor leadership. The significant decline in U.S. morale was demonstrated by the Battle of FSB Mary Ann in March 1971, in which a sapper attack inflicted serious losses on the U.S. defenders.William Westmoreland, no longer in command but tasked with investigation of the failure, cited a clear dereliction of duty, lax defensive postures and lack of officers in charge as its cause.

South Vietnamese women and children in Mỹ Lai before being killed in the massacre, 16 March 1968. According to court testimony, they were killed seconds after the photo was taken. The woman on the right is adjusting her blouse buttons following an attempted sexual assault that happened before the massacre.

Mỹ Lai Massacre

1968 Mar 16
, Thiên Mỹ

The Mỹ Lai massacre was the mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by United States troops in Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968 during the Vietnam War. Between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment and Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated, and some mutilated and raped children who were as young as 12. Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of murdering 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served three-and-a-half years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence.

This war crime, which was later called "the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War", took place in two hamlets of Sơn Mỹ village in Quảng Ngãi Province. These hamlets were marked on the U.S. Army topographic maps as Mỹ Lai and Mỹ Khê. The incident prompted global outrage when it became public knowledge in November 1969. The incident contributed to domestic opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, both because of the scope of killing and cover-up attempts. Mỹ Lai is the largest publicized massacre of civilians by U.S. forces in the 20th century.

Operation Commando Hunt

Operation Commando Hunt

1968 Nov 15 - 1972 Mar 29
, Laos

Operation Commando Hunt was a covert U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction campaign that took place during the Vietnam War. The operation began on 15 November 1968 and ended on 29 March 1972. The objective of the campaign was to prevent the transit of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) personnel and supplies on the logistical corridor known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran from the southwestern Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) through the southeastern portion of the Kingdom of Laos and into the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

The operation's failure had three sources. First, there were the political constraints imposed by Washington that limited the entire American effort in Southeast Asia. The second source of the failure was the utilization of what Colonel Charles Morrison has called "over-sophisticated methods" against "elemental systems." The primitive logistical needs of the North Vietnamese (at least until the final phase of the conflict) allowed them to slip under the radar of their more technologically sophisticated enemy. Finally, all of the above were exacerbated by the communists' enviable ability to adapt their doctrine and tactics and to turn weaknesses into strengths.

The interdiction effort (like the entire American effort in Vietnam) became focused on statistics as a measure of success and "devolved from considered tactics to meaningless ritual." Statistics, however, proved no substitute for strategy and, "for all the perceived success in that numbers game, the Air Force succeeded only in fooling itself into believing that Commando Hunt was working. Regardless of the constant American belief that its enemy was on the verge of collapse, PAVN maintained and expanded its logistical flow to combat units in the field and managed to launch major offensives in 1968 and 1972 and a counteroffensive in 1971. The North Vietnamese built, maintained, and expanded, under a deluge of bombs, over 3,000 kilometers of roads and paths through the mountains and jungles while only two percent of the troops sent south were killed by the American effort to halt their infiltration into South Vietnam.



1969 Jan 28 - 1975 Apr 30
, Vietnam

Vietnamization was a policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War through a program to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops". U.S. citizens' mistrust of their government that had begun after the Tet offensive worsened with the release of news about U.S. soldiers massacring civilians at My Lai (1968), the invasion of Cambodia (1970), and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers (1971). Nixon had ordered Kissinger to negotiate diplomatic policies with Soviet statesman Anatoly Dobrynin. Nixon also opened high-level contact with China. U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and China were of higher priority than South Vietnam. The policy of Vietnamization, despite its successful execution, was ultimately a failure as the improved ARVN forces and the reduced American and allied component were unable to prevent the fall of Saigon and the subsequent merger of the north and south, to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Operation Menu

Operation Menu

1969 Mar 18 - 1970 May 26
, Cambodia

Operation Menu was a secret United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) tactical bombing campaign conducted in eastern Cambodia. The bombings are kept under wraps by Nixon and his administration since Cambodia is officially neutral in the war, although The New York Times would reveal the operation on May 9, 1969. An official United States Air Force record of US bombing activity over Indochina from 1964 to 1973 was declassified in 2000. The report gives details of the extent of the bombing of Cambodia, as well as of Laos and Vietnam. According to the data, the air force began bombing the rural regions of Cambodia along its South Vietnam border in 1965 under the Johnson administration; this was four years earlier than previously believed. The Menu bombings were an escalation of what had previously been tactical air attacks. Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon authorized for the first time use of long-range Boeing B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers to carpet bomb Cambodia. Operation Freedom Deal immediately followed Operation Menu. Under Freedom Deal, B-52 bombing was expanded to a much larger area of Cambodia and continued until August 1973.

B-52 bombers

Operation Giant Lance

1969 Oct 10 - Oct 30
, Arctic Ocean

Operation Giant Lance was an undercover military operation by the United States in which the primary objective was to apply military pressure towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Initiated on October 27, 1969, President Richard Nixon authorized a squadron of 18 B-52 bombers to patrol the Arctic polar ice caps and escalate the nuclear threat poised. The goal was to coerce both the Soviet Union and North Vietnam to agree on favourable terms with the US, and conclusively end the Vietnam War. The operation's effectiveness was also largely built on Nixon's consistent madman theory diplomacy, in order to influence Moscow's decision even more. The operation was kept top secret from both the general public and higher authorities within the Strategic Air Command, intended to only be noticed by Russian intelligence. The operation lasted one month before being called off.

US Withdrawal

US Withdrawal

1970 Jan 1
, Vietnam

Beginning in 1970, American troops were withdrawn from border areas where most of the fighting took place and instead redeployed along the coast and interior. While U.S. forces were redeployed, the ARVN took over combat operations throughout the country, with casualties double US casualties in 1969, and more than triple US ones in 1970. In the post-Tet environment, membership in the South Vietnamese Regional Force and Popular Force militias grew, and they were now more capable of providing village security, which the Americans had not accomplished under Westmoreland.

In 1970, Nixon announced the withdrawal of an additional 150,000 American troops, reducing the number of Americans to 265,500. By 1970, Viet Cong forces were no longer southern-majority, as nearly 70% of units were northerners. Between 1969 and 1971 the Viet Cong and some PAVN units had reverted to small unit tactics typical of 1967 and prior instead of nationwide grand offensives. In 1971, Australia and New Zealand withdrew their soldiers and U.S. troop count was further reduced to 196,700, with a deadline to remove another 45,000 troops by February 1972. 

Cambodian campaign

Cambodian campaign

1970 Apr 29 - Jul 22
, Cambodia

The objective of the Cambodian campaign was the defeat of the approximately 40,000 troops of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong (VC) in the eastern border regions of Cambodia. Cambodian neutrality and military weakness made its territory a safe zone where PAVN/VC forces could establish bases for operations over the border. With the US shifting toward a policy of Vietnamization and withdrawal, it sought to shore up the South Vietnamese government by eliminating the cross-border threat.

A change in the Cambodian government allowed an opportunity to destroy the bases in 1970, when Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed and replaced by General Lon Nol. A series of South Vietnamese–Khmer Republic operations captured several towns, but the PAVN/VC military and political leadership narrowly escaped the cordon. The operation was partly a response to a PAVN offensive on 29 March against the Cambodian Army that captured large parts of eastern Cambodia in the wake of these operations. Allied military operations failed to eliminate many PAVN/VC troops or to capture their elusive headquarters, known as the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) as they had left a month prior.

Kent State shootings

Kent State shootings

1970 May 4
, Kent State University

The Kent State shootings were the killings of four and wounding of nine other unarmed Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio, 40 mi (64 km) south of Cleveland. The killings took place during a peace rally opposing the expanding involvement of the Vietnam War into Cambodia by United States military forces as well as protesting the National Guard presence on campus. The incident marked the first time that a student had been killed in an anti-war gathering in United States history.

The fatal shootings triggered immediate and massive outrage on campuses around the country. It increased participation in the student strike that began on May. Ultimately, more than 4 million students participated in organized walk-outs at hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools. The shootings and the strike affected public opinion at an already socially contentious time over the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.

US Congress repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

US Congress repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

1971 Jan 1
, United States

By 1967, the rationale for what had become a costly U.S. involvement In the Vietnam War was receiving close scrutiny. With opposition to the war mounting, a movement to repeal the resolution—which war critics decried as having given the Johnson administration a "blank check"—began to gather steam.

An investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that Maddox had been on an electronic intelligence collection mission off the North Vietnamese coast. It also learned that the U.S. Naval Communication Center in the Philippine Islands, in reviewing ships' messages, had questioned whether any second attack had actually occurred.

Mounting public opinion against the war eventually led to the repeal of the resolution, which was attached to the Foreign Military Sales Act that Nixon signed in January 1971. Seeking to restore limits on presidential authority to engage U.S. forces without a formal declaration of war, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, over Nixon's veto. The War Powers Resolution, which is still in effect, sets forth certain requirements for the President to consult with Congress in regard to decisions that engage U.S. forces in hostilities or imminent hostilities.

Shortly after their release in June 1971, the Pentagon Papers were featured on the cover of Time magazine for revealing "The Secret War" of the United States in Vietnam.

Pentagon Papers

1971 Jun 13
, United States

The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, they were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times in 1971. A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had "systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress."

The Pentagon Papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the Vietnam War with coastal raids on North Vietnam and Marine Corps attacks—none of which were reported in the mainstream media. For his disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg was initially charged with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property; charges were later dismissed, after prosecutors investigating the Watergate scandal discovered that the staff members in the Nixon White House had ordered the so-called White House Plumbers to engage in unlawful efforts to discredit Ellsberg. In June 2011, the documents forming the Pentagon Papers were declassified and publicly released.

ARVN M-48 tanks are positioned near the Dong Ha River overlooking QL-9 during the Easter Offensive, 10 April 1972

Easter Offensive

1972 Mar 30 - Oct 22
, Quảng Trị

This conventional invasion (the largest invasion since 300,000 Chinese troops had crossed the Yalu River into North Korea during the Korean War) was a radical departure from previous North Vietnamese offensives. The offensive was designed to achieve a decisive victory, which even if it did not lead to the collapse of South Vietnam, would greatly improve the North's negotiating position at the Paris Peace Accords.

The U.S. high command had been expecting an attack in 1972 but the size and ferocity of the assault caught the defenders off balance, because the attackers struck on three fronts simultaneously, with the bulk of the North Vietnamese army. This first attempt by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to invade the south since the Tet Offensive of 1968, became characterized by conventional infantry–armor assaults backed by heavy artillery, with both sides fielding the latest in technological advances in weapons systems.

In the I Corps Tactical Zone, North Vietnamese forces overran South Vietnamese defensive positions in a month-long battle and captured Quảng Trị city, before moving south in an attempt to seize Huế. The PAVN similarly eliminated frontier defense forces in the II Corps Tactical Zone and advanced towards the provincial capital of Kon Tum, threatening to open a way to the sea, which would have split South Vietnam in two. Northeast of Saigon, in the III Corps Tactical Zone, PAVN forces overran Lộc Ninh and advanced to assault the capital of Bình Long Province at An Lộc.

The campaign can be divided into three phases: April was a month of PAVN advances; May became a period of equilibrium; in June and July the South Vietnamese forces counter-attacked, culminating in the recapture of Quảng Trị City in September. On all three fronts, initial North Vietnamese successes were hampered by high casualties, inept tactics and the increasing application of U.S. and South Vietnamese air power. One result of the offensive was the launching of Operation Linebacker, the first sustained bombing of North Vietnam by the U.S. since November 1968. Although South Vietnamese forces withstood their greatest trial thus far in the conflict, the North Vietnamese accomplished two important goals: they had gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives and they had obtained a better bargaining position at the peace negotiations being conducted in Paris.

VA-195 A-7E bombing the Hải Dương bridge, 10 May 1972

Operation Linebacker

1972 May 9 - Oct 23
, Vietnam

Operation Linebacker was the codename of a U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 air interdiction campaign conducted against North Vietnam from 9 May to 23 October 1972, during the Vietnam War. Its purpose was to halt or slow the transportation of supplies and materials for the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive), an invasion of the South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) that had been launched on 30 March. Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in November 1968.

Signing the peace accords

Paris Peace Accords

1973 Jan 27
, Paris

The Paris Peace Accords was a peace treaty signed on January 27, 1973, to establish peace in Vietnam and end the Vietnam War. The treaty included the governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United States, as well as the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG) that represented South Vietnamese communists. US ground forces up to that point had been sidelined with deteriorating morale and gradually withdrawn to coastal regions, not taking part in offensive operations or much direct combat for the preceding two-year period. The Paris Agreement Treaty would in effect remove all remaining US Forces, including air and naval forces in exchange. Direct U.S. military intervention was ended, and fighting between the three remaining powers temporarily stopped for less than a day. The agreement was not ratified by the United States Senate.

The agreement's provisions were immediately and frequently broken by both North and South Vietnamese forces with no official response from the United States. Open fighting broke out in March 1973, and North Vietnamese offenses enlarged their control by the end of the year.

1975 spring offensive

1975 spring offensive

1974 Dec 13 - 1975 Apr 30
, Vietnam

The 1975 spring offensive was the final North Vietnamese campaign in the Vietnam War that led to the capitulation of Republic of Vietnam. After the initial success capturing Phước Long Province, the North Vietnamese leadership increased the scope of the People's Army of Vietnam's (PAVN) offensive and captured and held the key Central Highlands city of Buôn Ma Thuột between 10 and 18 March. These operations were intended to be preparatory to launching a general offensive in 1976.

Following the attack on Buôn Ma Thuôt, the Republic of Vietnam realized they were no longer able to defend the entire country and ordered a strategic withdrawal from the Central Highlands. The retreat from the Central Highlands, however, was a debacle as civilian refugees fled under fire with soldiers, mostly along a single highway reaching from the highlands to the coast. This situation was exacerbated by confusing orders, lack of command and control, and a well-led and aggressive enemy, which led to the utter rout and destruction of the bulk of South Vietnamese forces in the Central Highlands. A similar collapse occurred in the northern provinces.

Surprised by the rapidity of the ARVN collapse, North Vietnam transferred the bulk of its northern forces more than 350 miles (560 km) to the south in order to capture the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in time to celebrate their late President Ho Chi Minh's birthday and end the war. South Vietnamese forces regrouped around the capital and defended the key transportation hubs at Phan Rang and Xuân Lộc, but a loss of political and military will to continue the fight became ever more manifest. Under political pressure, South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu resigned on 21 April, in hopes that a new leader that was more amenable to the North Vietnamese could reopen negotiations with them. It was, however, too late. Southwest of Saigon IV Corps, meanwhile, remained relatively stable with its forces aggressively preventing VC units from taking over any provincial capitals. With PAVN spearheads already entering Saigon, the South Vietnamese government, then under the leadership of Dương Văn Minh, capitulated on 30 April 1975.

North Vietnamese soldiers entering Da Nang

Hue–Da Nang Campaign

1975 Mar 5 - Apr 2
, Hue

During the spring season of 1975, the PAVN High Command in Hanoi made the decision to seize the major South Vietnamese cities of Huế and Da Nang, and also destroy the various South Vietnamese units in I Corps Tactical Zone, led by ARVN General Ngô Quang Trưởng. Originally, the campaign was planned to take place over two phases; during the seasons of spring-summer and autumn. However, as the North Vietnamese forces rolled over South Vietnamese defences on the outskirts of Huế and Da Nang, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu ordered General Trưởng to abandon all territories under his control, and pull his forces back to the coastal areas of I Corps. The South Vietnamese withdrawal quickly turned into a rout, as the PAVN 2nd Army Corps picked off one South Vietnamese unit after another, until Huế and Da Nang were completely surrounded. By March 29, 1975, PAVN troops had full control of Huế and Da Nang, while South Vietnam lost all territories and most of the units belonging to I Corps.

The fall of Huế and Da Nang did not spell the end of the misery suffered by the ARVN. On March 31, ARVN General Phạm Văn Phú—commander of II Corps Tactical Zone—attempted to form a new defensive line from Qui Nhơn to cover the retreat of the ARVN 22nd Infantry Division, but they too were destroyed by the PAVN. By April 2, South Vietnam had lost control of the northern provinces, as well as two army corps.

Saigon, capital city of South Vietnam, fell to North Vietnamese forces on April 30th 1975.

Fall of Saigon

1975 Apr 30
, Ho Chi Minh

The Fall of Saigon was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) on 30 April 1975. The event marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period from the formal reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The PAVN, under the command of General Văn Tiến Dũng, began their final attack on Saigon on 29 April 1975, with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces commanded by General Nguyễn Văn Toàn suffering a heavy artillery bombardment. By the afternoon of the next day, the PAVN and the Viet Cong had occupied the important points of the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace.

The capture of the city was preceded by Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of almost all American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians who had been associated with the Republic of Vietnam regime. A few Americans chose not to be evacuated. United States ground combat units had left South Vietnam more than two years prior to the fall of Saigon and were not available to assist with either the defense of Saigon or the evacuation. The evacuation was the largest helicopter evacuation in history. In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and the institution of new rules by the communist government contributed to a decline in the city's population until 1979, after which the population increased again.

On 3 July 1976, the National Assembly of the unified Vietnam renamed Saigon in honor of Hồ Chí Minh, the late Chairman of the Workers' Party of Vietnam and founder of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).

Handicapped children in Vietnam, most of them victims of Agent Orange, 2004


1976 Jul 2
, Vietnam

On 2 July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Despite speculation that the victorious North Vietnamese would, in President Nixon's words, "massacre the civilians there [South Vietnam] by the millions," there is a widespread consensus that no mass executions took place. The US used its security council veto to block Vietnam's recognition by the United Nations three times, an obstacle to the country receiving international aid.

Unexploded ordnance, mostly from U.S. bombing, continues to detonate and kill people today and has rendered much land hazardous and impossible to cultivate. According to the Vietnamese government, ordnance has killed some 42,000 people since the war officially ended. In Laos, 80 million bombs failed to explode and remain scattered throughout the country. According to the government of Laos, unexploded ordnance has killed or injured over 20,000 Laotians since the end of the war and currently 50 people are killed or maimed every year. It is estimated that the explosives still remaining buried in the ground will not be removed entirely for the next few centuries.

The U.S. dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Indochina during the war, more than triple the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II and more than ten times the amount dropped by the U.S. during the Korean War. Former U.S. Air Force official Earl Tilford has recounted "repeated bombing runs of a lake in central Cambodia. The B-52s literally dropped their payloads in the lake." The Air Force ran many missions of this kind to secure additional funding during budget negotiations, so the tonnage expended does not directly correlate with the resulting damage.

The deaths of as many as 2,000,000 Vietnamese civilians, 1,100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers, 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, and some 58,000 U.S. troops. Chaos in neighboring Cambodia, where the radical communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge seized power and caused the deaths of at least 1,500,000 Cambodians before being overthrown by Vietnamese troops in 1979. Over 3 million people left Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the Indochina refugee crisis after 1975. 


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