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The Tet Offensive

Although the North Vietnamese were looking for a military victory in what became known as the Tet Offensive, there is little doubt that their aims were primarily political. They intended to destroy the people's will to support the Saigon regime and create a climate in which a Communist seizure of power would be possible.

The Communists used the Tet celebrations as a cover for the operation. Disguised as peasants, they mingled with the holiday crowds, taking advantage of lax security to smuggle weapons into the towns and cities, or linking up with local VC units and opening up secret caches of supplies. The Allies were overwhelmed by the scale and audacity of the subsequent attacks: by February 1, Saigon had been hit, along with 36 of the 44 provincial capitals, 5 of 6 autonomous cities, and 64 of the 242 district capitals of the South. Altogether, the Communists were fielding 84,000 troops--a mixture of NVA regulars and VC guerrillas--spread out to inflict maximum damage before the overstretched Allied forces could react.

In reality, the military response to Tet was both swift and effective. Saigon was back in government hands By February 5, having been cleared of infiltrators by a combined U.S./ARVN effort, and this pattern was repeated almost everywhere else on much the same time-scale. The only exception was Hue, South Vietnam's third-largest city, situated about 100 miles south of the DMZ in ICTZ. There the fighting was extremely hard, continuing until the end of February, but, as elsewhere, it ended in an Allied victory.

Overall Losses

US/Free World MAF: killed 1,536

wounded 7,764

missing 11

ARVN: killed 2,788

wounded 8,299

missing 587

NVA/VC: killed c.45,000

prisoners 6,991

Civilian: killed 14,000

wounded 24,000