The Vietnam War was the prolonged struggle between nationalist forces attempting to unify the country of Vietnam under a communist government and the United States.
During the Second World War Southeast Asia had been under Japanese control however in 1945 the French re-occupied Indo-China. A nationalist group, the Vietminh, eventually surrounded and wiped out the French occupying army and America was dragged into fighting a disastrous war in Vietnam.
More than 3 million people (including 58,000 Americans) were killed in the Vietnam War; more than half were Vietnamese civilians.By 1969, at the peak of U.S. involvement in the war, more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were involved in the Vietnam conflict.
Growing opposition to the war in the United States led to bitter divisions among Americans, both before and after President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973.
In 1975, communist forces seized control of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.
The war in Vietnam
The Americans had a huge army, money and technology at their disposal while the Vietcong were an underground army, using underground tactics.
In February 1965, President Johnson ordered Operation Rolling Thunder - a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
He sent US troops - 500,000 by 1969 - to fight in Vietnam
In November 1965, General William Westmoreland, the US commander, lured the North Vietnamese Army to attack a force of American troops at Ia Drang, then destroyed the attackers with a massive air strike.
In 1968, the CIA started Operation Phoenix, arresting, interrogating and killing suspected Vietcong activists.
Despite this, the Americans could not succeed in driving the Vietcong out of the rural areas
In January 1968, the NVA launched the Tet Offensive, capturing a number of towns in south Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese lost 45,000 men, including many officers. Their morale was damaged.
The offensive proved that they could not defeat the Americans by direct attack.
It took the Americans a month to recover the towns. Their confidence was badly shaken. They won the Tet Offensive, but realised that they would never defeat the Vietcong.
The Vietcong's tactics
They fought a guerrilla war ambushing US patrols, setting booby traps and landmines, and planting bombs in towns. They mingled in with the peasants, wearing ordinary clothes. The Americans couldn't identify who the enemy was.
They were supplied with rockets and weapons by China and Russia. They used the Ho Chi Minh Trail - a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia - to supply their armies. The Americans couldn't attack their supply routes without escalating the war.
Their tactic was "hanging onto the belts" of the Americans - staying so close to the Americans so they could not use air or artillery backup without killing their own men.
The Americans' tactics
They fought a hi-tech war, using B52 bombers, artillery, helicopters, napalm and defoliants (Agent Orange). This killed many innocent civilians, and failed to stop the Vietcong guerrillas.
They forced the peasants to leave Vietcong-controlled areas and made them live in defended strategic hamlets in loyal areas. This created immense opposition, and allowed Vietcong infiltrators into loyal areas
American troops were sent on patrols, and then supported by air and artillery when attacked. This demoralised the soldiers, who realised they were being used just as bait.
Search and destroy patrols went out looking for "Charlie", as they called the Vietcong. But the patrols were very visible, and easy to ambush. This led to atrocities such as "zippo raids" to burn villages.
Results of the Vietnam War
Although the Americans left Vietnam in 1973,they continued to support the south Vietnamese army.
In April 1975 the South Vietnamese regime collapsed and Vietnam was