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The Battle For Hue,Tet 1968

"Gradually, the battling turned the once beautiful city into a nightmare. Hue's streets were littered with dead. A black-shirted Communist soldier sprawled dead in the middle of a road, still holding a hand grenade. A woman knelt in death by a wall in the corner of her garden. A child lay on the stairs, crushed by a fallen roof. Many of the bodies had turned black and begun to decompose, and rats gnawed at the exposed flesh." Time, February 16, 1968

The battle began at 3:30 A.M. on Janurary 31, 1968. The 6th NVA Regiment's 800th and 802nd battalions and the VC 12th Sapper Battalion launched a 122mm mortar and rocket barrage followed by a ground assault on the old Imperial Citadel. Meanwhile the 4th NVA Regiment attacked the U.S. MACV compound in the "New City" south of the river, which managed to hold out despite repeated assaults.

In the largest bloodbath of the Vietnam War, Communist cadres began a systematic roundup of Vietnamese government officials, military officers, Roman Catholic priests, and other "enimies of the people." The graves of 2,800 civilians who were marched off into the jungles and shot, bludgeoned, or buried alive were later uncovered, and 3,000 civilians were never accounted for.

The allied counterattack began immediatly. Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong, the ARVN 1st Division commander, whose Black Panther reaction company had managed to hold on to the division headquarters compound in the Citadel, immediately ordered his 3rd Regiment, then on an operation north of the city, to come to his relief. Reinforced by the 2nd, 7th and 9th ARVN airborne battalions, they reached his headquarters in the Citadel's northeast corner on the evening of January 31. The next day General Truong began an attack to retake the entire Citadel and clear the north bank of the river.

At the request of the ARVN I Corps commander, U.S. forces were committed to clear the south bank of the river. On February 4, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, reinforced by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, began fighting house-to-house to drive the enemy from the area. They were supported by naval gunfire from three U.S. Navy cruisers and five destroyers lying offshore. By February 9, the south bank had been cleared.

Meanwhile, on February 2, the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), with the attached 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry from the 101st Airborne Division, established blocking positions to the west of the city to prevent NVA reinforcements, including the 304th NVA Division's 24th Regiment, the 325C NVA Division's 29th Regiment, and the 324B NVA Division's 99th Regiment, from entering Hue.

When 1st ARVN Division attacks north of the river stalled on February 12, they were reinforced by two VNMC (Vietnamese Marine Corps) battalions and the U.S. 1st Marine Division's 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Intense house-to-house fighting--the Marines took one casualty for every yard gained--finally forced the enemy from the area, and on February 21 the 1st ARVN Division linked up with elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), which had launched a coordinated assault on the city from blocking positions to the west.

On Marh 2, 1968, the battle for Hue was officially at an end. More than 50 percent of the city had been damaged or destroyed. Communist casualities were estimated at more than 5,000 killed and 98 captured. ARVN and VNMC casualities included 384 killed and 1,830 wounded, while the U.S. Marines suffered 142 killed and 857 wounded and the U.S. Army 74 killed and 507 wounded.

A medic and two aides rush across an exposed area toward a wounded Marine during the fighting at Hue.

Alert and holding his pistol at the ready, a Marine officer takes shelter during the battle of Hue.

A trooper of the 101st Airborne Division guides in a helicopter so that a wounded comrade can be evacuated. The incident happened during a patrol to the west of Hue on April 30, soon after the battle.

Anguished South Vietnamese refugees flee across an improvised bridge over the Perfume River in Hue.