Tet Offensive

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The Tet Offensive was a major surprise attack on South Vietnam orchestrated by NVA commander General Vo Nguyen Giap. After moving troops and supplies into South Vietnam, he launched a diversionary attack against the American base at Khe Sanh on 21 January 1968. Ten days later the real Tet Offensive began.

Early in the morning, NVA and VC forces attacked around a hundred towns and cities in South Vietnam, breaking the Tet ceasefire that had been called to celebrate the lunar New Year. The size and ferocity of the attack surprised the Americans and South Vietnamese, but they regrouped and fought back. The Communists, who had hoped for a popular uprising in support of their actions, met heavy resistance instead.

In places the Communists were repelled within hours, while in others it took weeks of fighting. The impact of the Tet Offensive on the New Zealand forces in Vietnam was varied. While W Company remained at the Horseshoe, V2 Company participated in Operation Coburg in Bien Hoa province. The purpose of Coburg was to prevent enemy units from occupying positions from where they could attack the large Allied bases at Bien Hoa and Long Binh. Based at FSB Anderson, northeast of Bien Hoa, V2 Company carried out a series of offensive patrols in which they engaged VC forces. V2 was then replaced in the field by W Company. During their operations W Company was supported by 161 Battery based at FSB Anderson. For the New Zealand gunners Tet was a busy period - they fired some 6000 rounds and survived three enemy attacks against FSB Anderson.

In Saigon, VC commandos succeeded in occupying the US Embassy for eight hours before they were overrun. It took about two weeks for US and South Vietnamese forces to eliminate enemy forces within Saigon. No New Zealand personnel suffered injury during the attacks in Saigon. The quarters in which military personnel were residing did not come under direct attack and movement to and from New Zealand Vietnam Force Headquarters was possible without any serious risk. New Zealand diplomatic staff came to no harm – volunteers from V Force HQ provided an armed guard for staff living in the embassy, and ensured they had enough food and drink.

While the Tet Offensive was ultimately a tactical disaster for the VC and North Vietnam, its strategic consequences were immense. For Americans, who had been assured that the allies were winning, the onslaught came as a shock. US public opinion turned decisively against the war, and this would soon be reflected in the beginning of American withdrawal and a shift of emphasis to ‘Vietnamisation' of the war. In that sense, the Tet Offensive was a major victory for the North Vietnamese.

How to cite this page: ' Tet Offensive ', URL: https://www.vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/tet-offensive, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 31-Jan-2014