National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam
The Vietcong or National Liberation Front (NLF), was a political organization and army in South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

 and Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

 that fought the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 (1959–1975). It had both guerrilla
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized peasants in the territory it controlled. Many soldiers were recruited in South Vietnam, but others were attached to the People's Army of Vietnam
Vietnam People's Army
The Vietnam People's Army is the armed forces of Vietnam. The VPA includes: the Vietnamese People's Ground Forces , the Vietnam People's Navy , the Vietnam People's Air Force, and the Vietnam Marine Police.During the French Indochina War , the VPA was often referred to as the Việt...

 (PAVN), the regular North Vietnamese army. During the war, communists and anti-war spokesmen insisted the Vietcong was an insurgency indigenous to the South, while the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments portrayed the group as a tool of Hanoi
Hanoi , is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city. Its population in 2009 was estimated at 2.6 million for urban districts, 6.5 million for the metropolitan jurisdiction. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam...

. This allowed writers to distinguish northern communists from the southern communists. However, northerners and southerners were always under the same command structure.

Southern Vietnamese communists established the National Liberation Front in 1960 to encourage the participation of non-communists in the insurgency. Many of the Vietcong's core members were "regroupees," southern Vietminh who had resettled in the North after the Geneva Accord
Geneva Conference (1954)
The Geneva Conference was a conference which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, whose purpose was to attempt to find a way to unify Korea and discuss the possibility of restoring peace in Indochina...

 (1954). Hanoi gave the regroupees military training and sent them back to the South along the Ho Chi Minh trail
Ho Chi Minh trail
The Ho Chi Minh trail was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Republic of Vietnam through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia...

 in the early 1960s. The NLF called for Southerners to "overthrow the camouflaged colonial regime of the American imperialists" and to make "efforts toward the peaceful unification." The Vietcong's best-known action was the Tet Offensive, a massive assault on more than 100 South Vietnamese urban centers in 1968, including an attack on the US embassy in Saigon. The offensive riveted the attention of the world's media for weeks, but also overextended the Vietcong. Later communist offensives were conducted predominately by the North Vietnamese. The group was dissolved in 1976 when North and South Vietnam were officially unified under a communist government.


The word Việt cộng appears in Saigon newspapers beginning in 1956. It is a contraction of Việt Nam Cộng-sản, (Vietnamese communist), or alternatively Việt gian cộng sản ("Communist Traitor to Vietnam"). The earliest citation for "Vietcong" in English is from 1957. American soldiers referred to the Vietcong as Victor Charlie or V-C. "Victor" and "Charlie" are both letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet
NATO phonetic alphabet
The NATO phonetic alphabet, more accurately known as the NATO spelling alphabet and also called the ICAO phonetic or spelling alphabet, the ITU phonetic alphabet, and the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet, is the most widely used spelling alphabet...

. "Charlie" referred to communist forces in general, both Vietcong and North Vietnamese.

The official Vietnamese history gives the group's name as the Liberation Army of South Vietnam or the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam).Radio Hanoi called it the "National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam" in a January 1961 broadcast announcing the group's formation. In his memoirs, Võ Nguyên Giáp
Vo Nguyen Giap
Võ Nguyên Giáp is a retired Vietnamese officer in the Vietnam People’s Army and a politician. He was a principal commander in two wars: the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War...

 called the group the "South Vietnam National Liberation Front" . See also the (1967).
Many writers shorten this to National Liberation Front (NLF).The terminology "liberation front" is adapted from the earlier Greek and Algerian
National Liberation Front (Algeria)
The National Liberation Front is a socialist political party in Algeria. It was set up on November 1, 1954 as a merger of other smaller groups, to obtain independence for Algeria from France.- Anticolonial struggle :...

 National Liberation Fronts.
In 1969, the Vietcong created the "Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam" (Chính Phủ Cách Mạng Lâm Thời Cộng Hòa Miền Nam Việt Nam), abbreviated PRG.This also follows terminology used earlier by leftists in Greece (Provisional Democratic Government
Provisional Democratic Government
The Provisional Democratic Government was the name of the administration declared by the Communist Party of Greece in December 1947.The Provisional Democratic Government was defeated in the Greek Civil War and left Greece on 28 August 1949....

) and Algeria (Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic
Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic
The Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic was the government-in-exile of the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale during the latter part of the Algerian War of Independence .- Creation and purpose :The GPRA was set up in Cairo, Egypt, by the FLN on September 19, 1958, four years...

Although the NLF was not officially abolished until 1977, the Vietcong no longer used the name after PRG was created. Members generally referred to the Vietcong as "the Front" (Mặt trận). Today's Vietnamese media most frequently refers to the group as the "Liberation Army" (Quân Giải phóng).

Relationship with Hanoi

The relationship between the Vietcong and the Hanoi government was highly controversial during the war. Communist and anti-war spokesmen insisted that the Vietcong was an insurgency indigenous to the South. These sources identify the Vietcong with the National Liberation Front, which they stress was a multiparty organization. Although the People's Revolutionary Party
People's Revolutionary Party (Vietnam)
The People's Revolutionary Party was a political party in South Vietnam established in 1962. It provided leadership for the Vietcong uprising. In 1976, the party was merged with the Worker's Party of North Vietnam to form the Communist Party of Vietnam....

, the South Vietnamese communist party, was the front's "paramount member", there were two other parties in the NLF, the Democratic Party and the Radical Socialist Party.

Anti-communists countered that the Vietcong was merely a front for Hanoi. Numerous statements issued by communist leaders in the 1980s and 1990s confirm that southern communist forces were strictly under the authority of Hanoi. Nguyễn Hữu Thọ, the NLF's non-communist chairman, was a figurehead. According to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà
Tran Van Tra
Trần Văn Trà was a commander in the Vietcong; a member of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party from 1960 to 1982; a lieutenant general in the army of the North Vietnam; chairman of Military Affairs Committee of the Central Office of South Vietnam .The son of a bricklayer, Tra was born in...

, the Vietcong's top commander and PRG defense minister, he followed orders issued by the "Military Commission of the Party Central Committee" in Hanoi, which in turn implemented resolutions of the Politburo.Trà begins, "How did the B2 theater carry out the mission assigned it by the Military Commission of the Party Central Committee?" Trà himself was deputy chief of staff for the PAVN before being assigned to the South. The official Vietnamese history of the war states that, "The Liberation Army of South Vietnam [Vietcong] is a part of the People’s Army of Vietnam".


By the terms of the Geneva Accord
Geneva Accord
The Geneva Initiative, also known as the Geneva Accord, is a model permanent status agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on previous official negotiations, international resolutions, the Quartet Roadmap, the Clinton Parameters, and the Arab Peace Initiative...

 (1954), which ended the Indochina War, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and the Viet Minh
Viet Minh
Việt Minh was a national independence coalition formed at Pac Bo on May 19, 1941. The Việt Minh initially formed to seek independence for Vietnam from the French Empire. When the Japanese occupation began, the Việt Minh opposed Japan with support from the United States and the Republic of China...

 agreed to a truce and to a separation of forces. The Vietminh became the government of North Vietnam and communist forces regrouped there. Non-communist forces regrouped in South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

, which became a separate state. Elections on reunification were scheduled for July 1956. A divided Vietnam angered Vietnamese nationalists, but it made the country less of a threat to China. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

 negotiated the terms of the ceasefire with France and then imposed them on the Vietminh.

About 90,000 Viet Minh were evacuated to the North while 5,000 to 10,000 cadre remained in the South, most of them with orders to refocus on political activity and agitation. The Saigon-Cholon Peace Committee, the first Vietcong front, was founded in 1954 to provide leadership for this group. Other front names used by the Vietcong in the 1950s implied that members were fighting for religious causes, for example, "Executive Committee of the Fatherland Front", which suggested affiliation with the Hòa Hảo
Hoa Hao
Hòa Hảo is a religious tradition, based on Buddhism, founded in 1939 by Huỳnh Phú Sổ, a native of the Mekong River Delta region of southern Vietnam. Adherents consider Sổ to be a prophet, and Hòa Hảo a continuation of a 19th-century Buddhist ministry known as Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương...

 sect, or "Vietnam-Cambodian Buddhist Association." Front groups were favored by the Vietcong to such an extent that its real leadership remained shadowy until long after the war was over, prompting the expression, "the faceless Vietcong.".

Led by Ngô Đình Diệm, South Vietnam refused to sign the Geneva Accord. Arguing that a free election was impossible under the conditions that existed in communist-held territory, Diệm announced in July 1955 that the scheduled election on reunification would not be held. After subduing the Binh Xuyen
Binh Xuyen
Bình Xuyên, often linked to its infamous leader, General Le van "Bay" Vien, was an independent military force within the Vietnamese National Army whose leaders once had lived outside the law and had sided with the Viet Minh...

 organized crime gang in the Battle for Saigon
Battle for Saigon
The Battle for Saigon was a month-long battle between the Vietnamese National Army of the State of Vietnam and the private army of the Binh Xuyen organised crime syndicate...

 in 1955, and the Hòa Hảo and other militant religious sects in early 1956, Diệm turned his attention to the Vietcong. Within a few months, the Vietcong had been driven into remote swamps. The success of this campaign inspired U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to dub Diệm the "miracle man" when he visited the U.S. in May 1957
Ngo Dinh Diem presidential visit to the United States
Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam, made a state visit to the United States, the main ally of his government, in 1957. Diem received a glowing welcome and was heaped with praise as a leader of a "free country" in the midst of the Cold War...

. France withdrew its last soldiers from Vietnam in April 1956.

In March 1956, southern communist leader Lê Duẩn presented a plan to revive the insurgency entitled "The Road to the South" to the other members of the Politburo in Hanoi. He argued adamantly that war with the United States was necessary to achieve unification. But as China and the Soviets both opposed confrontation at this time, Lê Duẩn's plan was rejected and communists in the South were ordered to limit themselves to economic struggle. Leadership divided into a "North first", or pro-Beijing, faction led by Trường Chinh
Truong Chinh
Trường Chinh Trường Chinh Trường Chinh (pseudonym meaning “Long March”, born Đặng Xuân Khu (b. February 9, 1907 in Xuân Trường District, Nam Định Province, d. September 30, 1988 in Hanoi) was a Vietnamese communist political leader and theoretician. From 1941 to 1957, he was Vietnam's second-ranked...

, and a "South first" faction led by Lê Duẩn.

As the Sino-Soviet split
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

 widened in the following months, Hanoi began to play the two communist giants off against each other. The North Vietnamese leadership approved tentative measures to revive the southern insurgency in December 1956. Lê Duẩn's blueprint for revolution in the South was approved in principle, but implementation was conditional on winning international support and on modernizing the army, which was expected to take at least until 1959. President Hồ Chí Minh
Ho Chi Minh
Hồ Chí Minh , born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam...

 stressed that violence was still a last resort. Nguyễn Hữu Xuyên was assigned military command in the South, replacing Lê Duẩn, who was appointed North Vietnam's acting party boss. This represented a loss of power for Hồ, who preferred the more moderate Võ Nguyên Giáp
Vo Nguyen Giap
Võ Nguyên Giáp is a retired Vietnamese officer in the Vietnam People’s Army and a politician. He was a principal commander in two wars: the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War...

, who was defense minister.

An assassination campaign, referred to as "extermination of traitors" or "armed propaganda" in communist literature, began in April 1957. Tales of sensational murder and mayhem soon crowded the headlines. Seventeen civilians were killed by machine gun fire at a bar in Châu Đốc in July and in September a district chief was killed with his entire family on a main highway in broad daylight. In October 1957, a series of bombs exploded in Saigon and left 13 Americans wounded.

In a speech given on September 2, 1957, Hồ reiterated the "North first" line of economic struggle. The launch of Sputnik in October boosted Soviet confidence and led to a reassessment of policy regarding Indochina, long treated as a Chinese sphere of influence. In November, Hồ traveled to Moscow with Lê Duẩn and gained approval for a more militant line. In early 1958, Lê Duẩn met with the leaders of "Inter-zone V" (northern South Vietnam) and ordered the establishment of patrols and safe areas to provide logistical support for activity in the Mekong Delta and in urban areas. In June 1958, the Vietcong created a command structure for the eastern Mekong Delta. French scholar Bernard Fall published an influential article in July 1958 which analyzed the pattern of rising violence and concluded that a new war had begun.

Launches "armed struggle"

The North Vietnamese Communist Party approved a "people's war" on the South at a session in January 1959 and this decision was confirmed by the Politburo in March. In May 1959, Group 559
Group 559
Group 559 was a transportation and logistical unit of the People's Army of Vietnam that was subordinate to the Rear Services General Directorate....

 was established to maintain and upgrade the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Ho Chi Minh trail
The Ho Chi Minh trail was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Republic of Vietnam through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia...

, at this time a six-month mountain trek through Laos. 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, a few dozen rifles, was completed in August 1959.

Two regional command centers were merged to create the Central Office for South Vietnam (Trung ương Cục miền Nam), a unified communist party headquarters for the South. COSVN was initially located in Tây Ninh
Tay Ninh
Tây Ninh is a town in southwestern Vietnam. It is the capital of Tay Ninh province, which encompasses the town and much of the surrounding farmland....

 Province near the Cambodian border. On July 8, the Vietcong killed two U.S. military advisors at Biên Hòa
Bien Hoa
Biên Hòa is a city in Dong Nai province, Vietnam, about east of Ho Chi Minh City , to which Bien Hoa is linked by Vietnam Highway 1.- Demographics :In 1989 the estimated population was over 300,000. In 2005, the population wss 541,495...

, the first American dead of the Vietnam War.Major Dale R. Buis
Dale R. Buis
U.S. Army Major Dale Richard Buis was formerly the first name listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.Buis originally hailed from Pender, Nebraska, and graduated from Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri. He was part of the Military Assistance Advisory Group sent in 1955 to train...

 and Master Sergeant Charles Ovnand
Charles Ovnand
Master Sergeant Chester Melvin Ovnand was formerly listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as the second American killed in the Vietnam War....

, the first names to appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors U.S. service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for during the War.Its...

The "2d Liberation Battalion" ambushed two companies of South Vietnamese soldiers in September 1959, the first large unit military action of the war. This was considered the beginning of the "armed struggle" in communist accounts. A series of uprisings beginning in the Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of . The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.The...

 province of Bến Tre in January 1960 created "liberated zones", models of Vietcong-style government. Propagandists celebrated their creation of battalions of "long-hair troops" (women). The fiery declarations of 1959 were followed by a lull while Hanoi focused on events in Laos
Laos Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west...

 (1960–61). Moscow favored reducing international tensions in 1960, as it was U.S. presidential election year.This is sometimes referred to as the "Genoa Policy" and later inspired Khrushchev to take credit for Kennedy's election. Despite this, 1960 was a year of unrest in South Vietnam, with pro-democracy demonstrations inspired by the South Korean student uprising that year and a failed military coup in November.
To counter the accusation that North Vietnam was violating the Geneva Accord, the independence of the Vietcong was stressed in communist propaganda. The Vietcong created the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in December 1960 at Tân Lập village in Tây Ninh as a "united front
United front
The united front is a form of struggle that may be pursued by revolutionaries. The basic theory of the united front tactic was first developed by the Comintern, an international communist organisation created by revolutionaries in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.According to the theses of...

", or political branch intended to encourage the participation of non-communists. The group's formation was announced by Radio Hanoi and its ten point manifesto called for, "overthrow the disguised colonial regime of the imperialists and the dictatorial administration, and to form a national and democratic coalition administration." Thọ, a lawyer and the NLF's "neutralist" chairman, was an isolated figure among cadres and soldiers. South Vietnam's Law 10/59, approved in May 1959, authorized the death penalty for crimes "against the security of the state" and featured prominently in Vietcong propaganda. Violence between the Vietcong and government forces soon increased drastically from 180 clashes in January 1960 to 545 clashes in September.

By 1960, the Sino-Soviet split was a public rivalry, making China more supportive of Hanoi's war effort. For Chinese leader Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

, aid to North Vietnam was a way to enhance his "anti-imperialist" credentials for both the domestic and international audiences. About 40,000 communist soldiers infiltrated south in 1961-63. The Vietcong grew rapidly and an estimated 300,000 members were enrolled in "liberation associations" (affiliated groups) by early 1962. The ratio of Vietcong to government soldiers jumped from one to 10 in 1961 to one to five a year later.
The level of violence in the South jumped dramatically in the fall of 1961, from 50 guerrilla attacks in September to 150 in October. U.S President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 decided in November 1961 to substantially increase American military aid to South Vietnam. The USS Core arrived in Saigon with 35 helicopters in December 1961. By mid-1962, there were 12,000 U.S. military advisors in Vietnam. The "special war" and "strategic hamlets" policies allowed Saigon to push back in 1962, but in 1963 the Vietcong regained the military initiative. The Vietcong won its first military victory against South Vietnamese forces at Ấp Bắc in January 1963.

A landmark party meeting was held in December 1963, shortly after a military coup in Saigon in which Diệm was assassinated. North Vietnamese leaders debated the issue of "quick victory" vs "protracted war" (guerrilla warfare). After this meeting, the communist side geared up for a maximum military effort and PAVN troop strength increased from 174,000 at the end of 1963 to 300,000 in 1964. The Soviets cut aid in 1964 as an expression of annoyance with Hanoi's ties to China.There was also a U.S. presidential election in 1964. Even as Hanoi embraced China's international line, it continued to follow the Soviet model of reliance on technical specialists and bureaucratic management, as opposed to mass mobilization. The winter of 1964-1965 was a high water mark for the Vietcong, with the Saigon government on the verge of collapse. Soviet aid soared following a visit to Hanoi by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in February 1965. Hanoi was soon receiving up-to-date surface-to-air missiles. The U.S. would have 200,000 soldiers in South Vietnam by the end of the year. In January 1966, Australian troops uncovered a tunnel complex which had been used by COSVN. Six thousand documents were captured, revealing the inner workings of the Vietcong. COSVN retreated to Mimot in Cambodia. As a result of an agreement with the Cambodian government made in 1966, weapons for the Vietcong were shipped to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville , also known as Kampong Saom, is a province in southern Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand. This port city is a growing Cambodian urban center, located southwest of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. The province is named after King Father Norodom Sihanouk and grew up around the...

 and then trucked to Vietcong bases near the border along the "Sihanouk Trail
Sihanouk Trail
The Sihanouk Trail was a logistical supply system in Cambodia used by the People's Army of Vietnam and its National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam allies during the Vietnam War...

", which replaced the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Many Vietcong units operated at night, and employed terror as a standard tactic. Rice procured at gunpoint sustained the Vietcong. Squads were assigned monthly assassination quotas. Government employees, especially village and district heads, were the most common targets. But there were a wide variety of targets, including clinics and medical personnel. Notable Vietcong atrocities include 48 killed in the bombing of My Canh floating restaurant in Saigon in June 1965 and a massacre of 252 Montagnards in the village of Đắk Sơn in December 1967 using flamethrowers.

Tet offensive

Major reversals in 1966 and 1967, as well as the growing American presence in Vietnam, inspired Hanoi to consult its allies and reassess strategy in April 1967. While Beijing urged a fight to the finish, Moscow suggested a negotiated settlement. Convinced that 1968 could be the last chance for decisive victory, General Nguyễn Chí Thanh
Nguyen Chi Thanh
General Nguyễn Chí Thanh was a North Vietnamese officer who was born in Thua Thien Province in Central Vietnam to a poor peasant family. His original name was Nguyễn Văn Vịnh. He joined the Indochinese Communist Party in the mid-1930s and apparently spent most of the Second World War in a French...

, suggested an all-out offensive against urban centers.Disappointed with the results of the 1964 U.S. presidential election, the Kremlin did not try to influence the election of 1968. Desiring "businesslike" relations, the Kremlin favored incumbent Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 against left-wing challenger George McGovern
George McGovern
George Stanley McGovern is an historian, author, and former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election....

 in 1972. (Lynn-Jones, p. 29).
He submitted a plan to Hanoi in May 1967. After Thanh's death in July, Giáp was assigned to implemented this plan, now known as the Tet offensive. The Parrot's Beak
Parrot's Beak, Cambodia
Parrot’s Beak was the name given to a salient of Svay Rieng Province, southeast Cambodia that protrudes into Hậu Nghĩa and Kien Tuong Provinces, Vietnam, approximately 65 km northwest of Saigon....

, an area in Cambodia only 30 miles from Saigon, was prepared as a base of operations. Funeral processions were used to smuggle weapons into Saigon. Vietcong entered the cities concealed among civilians returning home for Tết
Tet can mean:*Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán, the Vietnamese new year**Tet Offensive, a military campaign that began in 1968*Têt in Roussillon, France*Equal temperament, abbreviated as 12-TET, 19-TET and so on...

. The U.S. and South Vietnamese expected that an announced seven-day truce would be observed during Vietnam's main holiday.
At this point, there were about 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, as well as 900,000 allied forces. General William Westmoreland
William Westmoreland
William Childs Westmoreland was a United States Army General, who commanded US military operations in the Vietnam War at its peak , during the Tet Offensive. He adopted a strategy of attrition against the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army. He later served as...

, the U.S. commander, received reports of massive troop movements and understood that an offensive was being planned, but his attention was focused on Khe Sanh
Khe Sanh
Khe Sanh is the district capital of Hướng Hoá District, Quảng Trị Province, Vietnam, located 63 km west of Đông Hà.Khe Sanh Combat Base was a United States Marine Corps outpost in South Vietnam used during the Vietnam War. The airstrip was built in September 1962...

, a remote U.S. base near the demilitarized zone
Demilitarized zone
In military terms, a demilitarized zone is an area, usually the frontier or boundary between two or more military powers , where military activity is not permitted, usually by peace treaty, armistice, or other bilateral or multilateral agreement...

. In January and February 1968, some 80,000 Vietcong struck more than 100 towns with orders to "crack the sky" and "shake the Earth." The offensive included a commando raid on the US Embassy, Saigon and a massacre at Huế of about 3,500 residents. House-to-house fighting between Vietcong and South Vietnamese Rangers left much of Cholon, a section of Saigon, in ruins. The Vietcong used any available tactic to demoralize and intimidate the population, including the assassination of South Vietnamese commanders. A photo by Eddie Adams
Eddie Adams (photographer)
Eddie Adams was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American photographer and photojournalist noted for portraits of celebrities and politicians and his coverage of 13 wars.-Combat photographer:...

 showing the summary execution of a Vietcong in Saigon on February 1 became a symbol of the brutality of the war. In an influential broadcast on February 27, newsman Walter Cronkite
Walter Cronkite
Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. was an American broadcast journalist, best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years . During the heyday of CBS News in the 1960s and 1970s, he was often cited as "the most trusted man in America" after being so named in an opinion poll...

 stated that the war was a "stalemate" and could be ended only by negotiation.

The offensive was undertaken in the hope of triggering a general uprising, but urban Vietnamese did not respond as the Vietcong anticipated. About 75,000 communist soldiers were killed, according to Trần Văn Trà
Tran Van Tra
Trần Văn Trà was a commander in the Vietcong; a member of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party from 1960 to 1982; a lieutenant general in the army of the North Vietnam; chairman of Military Affairs Committee of the Central Office of South Vietnam .The son of a bricklayer, Tra was born in...

, commander of the "B-2" district, which consisted of southern South Vietnam. "We did not base ourselves on scientific calculation or a careful weighing of all factors, but...on an illusion based on our subjective desires," Trà concluded. Earle G. Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council and the President on military matters...

, estimated that Tet resulted in 40,000 communist dead (compared to about 6,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese dead). "It is a major irony of the Vietnam War that our propaganda transformed this debacle into a brilliant victory. The truth was that Tet cost us half our forces. Our losses were so immense that we were unable to replace them with new recruits," said PRG Justice Minister Trương Như Tạng
Truong Nhu Tang
Trương Như Tảng is a Vietnamese lawyer and politician living in France. He was active in many anti-South Vietnamese organizations before joining the newly created Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam as the Minister of Justice. He spent many years in the jungles...

. Tet had a profound psychological impact because South Vietnamese cities were otherwise safe areas during the war. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Westmoreland argued that panicky news coverage gave the public the unfair perception that America had been defeated.

Aside from some districts in the Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of . The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.The...

, the Vietcong failed to create a governing apparatus in South Vietnam following Tet, according to an assessment of captured documents by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The breakup of larger Vietcong units increased the effectiveness of the CIA's Phoenix program
Phoenix Program
The Phoenix Program |phoenix]]) was a controversial counterinsurgency program designed, coordinated, and executed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency , United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam's security apparatus during the Vietnam War that operated...

 (1967–72), which targeted individual leaders, as well as the Chiêu Hồi Program, which encouraged defections. By the end of 1969, there was little communist-held territory, or "liberated zones," in South Vietnam, according to the official communist military history. There were no predominantly southern units left and 70 percent of communist troops in the South were northerners.

The Vietcong created an urban front in 1968 called the Alliance of National, Democratic, and Peace Forces. The group's manifesto called for an independent, non-aligned South Vietnam and stated that "national reunification cannot be achieved overnight." In June 1969, the alliance merged with the NLF to form a "Provisional Revolutionary Government." (PRG)


The severe communist losses during Tet allowed the U.S. to gradually withdraw combat forces and to shift responsibility to the South Vietnamese, a process called Vietnamization
Vietnamization was a policy of the Richard M. Nixon administration during the Vietnam War, as a result of the Viet Cong's Tet Offensive, to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnam's forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S....

. Pushed into Cambodia, the Vietcong could no longer draw South Vietnamese recruits. In May 1968, Trường Chinh urged "protracted war" in a speech that was published prominently in the official media, so the fortunes of his "North first" fraction may have revived at this time. COSVN rejected this view as "lacking resolution and absolute determination." The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 in August 1968 led to intense Sino-Soviet tension and to the withdrawal of Chinese forces from North Vietnam. Beginning in February 1970, Lê Duẩn's prominence in the official media increased, suggesting that he was again top leader and had regained the upper hand in his longstanding rivalry with Trường Chinh. After the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in March 1970, the Vietcong faced a hostile Cambodian government which authorized a U.S. offensive against its bases in April. However, the capture of the Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. Scattered in the landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau Xieng Khouang, Lao PDR, are thousands of megalithic jars...

 and other territory in Laos, as well as five provinces in northeastern Cambodia, allowed the North Vietnamese to reopen the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Ho Chi Minh trail
The Ho Chi Minh trail was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Republic of Vietnam through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia...

. Although 1970 was a much better year for the Vietcong than 1969, it would never again be more than an adjunct to the PAVN. The 1972 Easter Offensive was a direct North Vietnamese attack across the demilitarized zone
Demilitarized zone
In military terms, a demilitarized zone is an area, usually the frontier or boundary between two or more military powers , where military activity is not permitted, usually by peace treaty, armistice, or other bilateral or multilateral agreement...

 between North and South. Despite the Paris Peace Accords
Paris Peace Accords
The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 intended to establish peace in Vietnam and an end to the Vietnam War, ended direct U.S. military involvement, and temporarily stopped the fighting between North and South Vietnam...

, signed by all parties in January 1973, fighting continued. In March, Trà was recalled to Hanoi for a series of meetings to hammer out a plan for a massive offense against Saigon.
In response to the anti-war movement
Opposition to the Vietnam War
The movement against US involvment in the in Vietnam War began in the United States with demonstrations in 1964 and grew in strength in later years. The US became polarized between those who advocated continued involvement in Vietnam, and those who wanted peace. Peace movements consisted largely of...

, the U.S. Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment
Case-Church Amendment
The Case-Church Amendment was legislation approved by the U.S. Congress in 1973 that prohibited further U.S. military activity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This ended direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War, although the U.S. continued to provide military equipment and economic...

 to prohibit U.S. military intervention in Vietnam in June 1973 and reduced aid to South Vietnam in August 1974. With U.S. bombing ended, communist logistical preparations could be accelerated. An oil pipeline was built from North Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters in Loc Ninh
Loc Ninh
Lộc Ninh is a town in southern Vietnam. It is a rural district of Binh Phuoc province in the southeastern region of Vietnam. A major battle, the Battle of Loc Ninh, occurred there during the Vietnam War.-Transport:...

, about 75 miles northwest of Saigon. (COSVN was moved back to South Vietnam following the Easter Offensive.) The Ho Chi Minh Trail, once a treacherous mountain trek, was upgraded into a drivable road. Between the beginning of 1974 and April 1975, the communists delivered nearly 365,000 tons of war material to battlefields, 2.6 times the total for the previous 13 years.

The success of the 1973-74 dry season offensive convinced Hanoi to accelerate its timetable. When there was no U.S. response to a successful communist attack on Phước Bình
Battle of Phuoc Long
The Battle of Phuoc Long was a decisive major battle of the Vietnam War which began on December 12, 1974, and concluded on January 6, 1975. The battle involved the deployment of North Vietnam's 4th Army Corp for the first time, against determined units of the South Vietnamese Army in Phuoc Long,...

 in January 1975, South Vietnamese morale collapsed. The next major battle, at Buôn Ma Thuột in March, was a communist walkover. After the Fall of Saigon
Fall of Saigon
The Fall of Saigon was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front on April 30, 1975...

 on April 30, 1975, the PRG moved into government offices there. At the victory parade, Tạng noticed that the units formerly dominated by southerners were missing, replaced by northerners years earlier. The bureaucracy of the Republic of Vietnam was uprooted and authority over the South was assigned to the PAVN. Perhaps 1 million people considered tainted by association with the former South Vietnamese government were sent to reeducation camps, despite the protests of the non-communist PRG members including Tạng. Without consulting the PRG, North Vietnamese leaders decided to rapidly dissolve the PRG at a party meeting in August 1975. North and South were merged as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in July 1976 and the PRG was dissolved. The NLF was merged with the Vietnam Fatherland Front in February 1977.

See also

  • Viet Cong and PAVN strategy, organization and structure
    Viet Cong and PAVN strategy, organization and structure
    During the Second Indochina War, better known as the Vietnam War, a distinctive land warfare strategy and organization was used by the Main Force of the People's Liberation Armed Forces and the NVA to defeat their American and South Vietnamese opponents...

  • Viet Cong and PAVN battle tactics
    Viet Cong and PAVN battle tactics
    Viet Cong and PAVN battle tactics comprised a flexible mix of guerrilla and conventional warfare battle tactics used by the Main Force of the People's Liberation Armed Forces and the NVA to defeat their American and South Vietnamese opponents during the Second Indochina War .For related articles...

  • Kit Carson Scouts
    Kit Carson Scouts
    The Kit Carson Scouts belonged to a special program initially created by the U.S...

    , former Vietcong who worked with U.S. Marines
  • Vietnam People's Army
    Vietnam People's Army
    The Vietnam People's Army is the armed forces of Vietnam. The VPA includes: the Vietnamese People's Ground Forces , the Vietnam People's Navy , the Vietnam People's Air Force, and the Vietnam Marine Police.During the French Indochina War , the VPA was often referred to as the Việt...

    , the North Vietnamese army.

Further reading

  • U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam (1972), part I, part II, part III, and part IV.
  • Marvin Gettleman, et al. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. Grove Press. 1995. ISBN 0-8021-3362-2. See especially Part VII: The Decisive Year.
  • Truong Nhu Tang. A Viet Cong Memoir. Random House. ISBN 0-394-74309-1. 1985. See Chapter 7 on the forming of the Vietcong, and Chapter 21 on the communist take-over in 1975.
  • Frances Fitzgerald. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
    Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
    Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, written by Frances FitzGerald and published by both Back Bay Publishing and Little, Brown and Company in 1972, in 1973 won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, the National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs and the Bancroft...

    . Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972. ISBN 0-316-28423-8. See Chapter 4. "The National Liberation Front".
  • Douglas Valentine. The Phoenix Program. New York: William Morrow and Company. 1990. ISBN 0-688-09130-X.
  • Merle Pribbenow (translation). Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam. University Press of Kansas. 2002 ISBN 0-7006-1175-4

External links

  • Tet Offensive 1968, US Embassy & Saigon fighting. CBS News footage of the Tet Offensive.
  • Vietnam War - Hue Massacre 1968. A tribute to the dead of Huế
    Hue is one of the main properties of a color, defined technically , as "the degree to which a stimulus can be describedas similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow,"...

     by Trịnh Công Sơn
    Trinh Cong Son
    Trịnh Công Sơn was a Vietnamese composer, musician, painter and songwriter. He, along with Pham Duy and Van Cao, is widely considered one of the three salient figures of modern Vietnamese music. Many of Trinh's songs are long songs...

    , one of wartime Vietnam's most prominent composers.
  • The Wars for Vietnam: 1945-1975. Primary documents concerning the Vietnam War, including peace proposals, treaties, and platforms.
  • Digger History, VC Tunnels. At one point, Vietcong tunnels stretched from the Cambodia border to Saigon.
  • The Viet Cong 1965-1967 - part 1 and The Viet Cong 1965-1967 - part 2. Vietcong recruiting video.
  • "Tiên vê Sài Gòn" (Forward to Saigon.) This propaganda video features singing Vietcong and newsreel footage from the 1975 offensive.
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