In early 1968, General Vo Nguyen, leader of the Communist People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), began thinking that the North Vietnamese should make a surprise attack on South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese began coordinating with the Viet Cong, they moved their troops and supplies into position, and began carrying out their plan. On January 21st of 1968 the Communists made a diversionary attack against the American base at Khe Sanh. Nine days later, on January 30th of 1968, the real Tet Offensive commenced. Viet Cong forces and North Vietnamese troops began their attacks on towns and cities in South Vietnam. This attack broke the cease-fire that had been declared for the Vietnamese holiday of Tet, which celebrates the lunar new year. Around 100 major cities and towns in South Vietnam were attacked by Communists. Although surprised by the size and ferocity of the attack, the Americans and South Vietnamese fought back as best as they could. Some towns and cities were able to repel the Communists quickly, within hours. However, other cities and towns were not as successful and it took them weeks of fighting to repel the Communists. The Communists were successful in occupying the U.S. embassy in Saigon for eight hours before they were overtaken by U.S. soldiers. It took approximately two weeks for U.S. troops and South Vietnamese forces to repel the Communists from Saigon, and it took almost a month to retake the city of Hue. Since the Communists were not able to maintain control over any part of South Vietnam the United States was considered the victor of the Tet Offensive. Even so, this event had a great impact on the Vietnam War. Up until this point most of the fighting the American troops had encountered were small skirmishes which involved guerilla tactics. The United States was realizing that their traditional warfare tactics were not very efficient in the jungle. The Tet Offensive also showed the American public a side of the war which they did not like, contradicting the claims made by the U.S. government that war was all but over. In fact, just a few weeks earlier General Westmoreland, commander of American military operations had smugly declared that the Communists were “unable to mount a major offensive” and dared them to “try something, because we are looking for a fight.” Americans were now realizing that their foe was much stronger than they had anticipated, which highly diminished the support for the war effort. The Tet Offensive was a turning point in the Vietnam War which began the slow American Withdrawal from the region.
Prize-winning photo taken on the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive - Photographer: Eddie Adams's Pulitzer
The Tet offensive was the first ''televised war''.
Americans could not believe what they were seeing. Public opinion on the war turned overnight.
U.S. Marines in Hue, South Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive