The Battle for Hue, Vietnam, 1968
The Battle for Hue, Tet 1968 was the attack on the old Imperial capital of Hue by forces of the North Vietnamese Army and South Vietnamese insurgents of the National Liberation Front during the Tet Offensive. The Communist forces hoped a popular uprising by the “oppressed” people in South Vietnam would lead to a general uprising and overthrow of the “puppet” regime supported by the United States. The city of Hue was the only city to be completely occupied by the communist forces during the massive offensive, and was the scene of violent and close-quarter fighting that waged for nearly a month, from January 31st to February 25th, 1968. The general uprising never occurred, and in fact the communist’s disappointment led to atrocities when they massacred hundreds of “collaborators” after they took control. The fighting to retake control of the city and oust the NVA and VC devastated the city and ImperialPalace, symbolizing the tragic and confused nature of the war.
The battle of Hue was very different from any of the battles waged in the Vietnam War to that point. The NVA and NLF came out to directly confront their opponents in a conventional slug-fest that they hoped would presage a general uprising, and lead to the downfall of the Saigon “puppet regime”. Fought in an urban landscape, the battle quickly devolved into a Stalingrad-like affair that ground-down the Communist forces. The Communist atrocities that followed from the round-up and arrests of thousands of “collaborators” were matched by the nearly wholesale destruction of the once-beautiful city and symbol of Vietnamese nationalism. Neither side came away from this fight as winners, especially the unfortunate civilians who called Hue their home.
A division-sized force of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) soldiers launched a well coordinated multi-pronged attack on the city of Hué. Their strategic objective, however, was to "liberate" the entire city, that failed totally as its occupants were solidly on the American and South Vietnamese side. The following 26-day effort by the U.S. Marines, U.S. Army and ARVN to recapture the Citadel produced a stunning military defeat for the Communists. Yet the strategic victory ultimately went to them because of the scenes of bloody fighting in Hué, Saigon and other cities in Vietnam during the Tet offensive so shocked the American people via TV that the pressure to withdraw from the war became overwhelming.
With a wartime population of about 140,000 persons, Hue retained much of its prewar ambience. It had been immuned to much of the war. Unknown to the allies, enemy regiments were on the move towards Hue. The 6th NVA had as its three primary objectives the Mang Caheadquarters compound, the Tay Loc airfield, and the Imperial palace, all in the Citadel. South of the Perfume River, the 4th NVA was to attack the modern city.
The NVA attack began early on Jan.31, and by 0800, North Vietnamese troops raised the red and blue Viet Cong banner with its gold star over the Citadel flag tower. It was quite a shock to the allies. It was not until Feb. 24th, that the US Marines had finally prevailed and had retaken the Citadel and NVA flag
The US Marines, not being well trained in urban combat found a harrowing house to house, boby trap infested ordeal as they swept through every inch of the city. Armor and airstrikes were very limited to do conditions and to keep casualties down. Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures. Also, since it was monsoon season, it was virtually impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support. But as the intensity of the battle increased, the policy was eliminated. The communist forces were constantly using snipers, hidden inside buildings or in small holes, and prepared makeshift machine gun bunkers.
Communist forces suffered heavy losses in this battle, losing 5,133 men at Hue; about 3,000 more were estimated to be killed outside of the city. Basically its whole attack force was wiped out. Approximately 2,800 people killed by the NVA and VC simply because they were pro-allied. Mass graves of executed and other atrocities were unearthed. American losses were only 142.
What the NVA did win were the minds of Americans as the battle was carried on news casts everynight. The carnage of the battle turned off many Americans. Students rioted one campus's, The Beatles , specifically John, spoke out against it. This was the first ever televised war. American networks had nightly coverage. People watched the blood and napalm as they ate their dinner. For the NVA, the loss was a media gold mine and from 1968 forward, public opinion only became more vocal against it especially the young generation doing the fighting and dying. Rock culture had permeated into the military to a large degree causing discipline and drug problems. The draft in America was immensely unpopular with many college age men leaving for Canada or getting out of the duty on claims of being a drug addict or queer.
Not all Americans were against the war, but the the Battle of Hue and the Tet offensive of 1968 was the turning point.