More About The 1968 Tet Offensive


For several thousand years, Vietnamese Lunar New Year has been a
traditional celebration that brings the Vietnamese a sense of
happiness, hope and peace. However, in recent years, It also
bring back a bitter memory full of tears. It reminds them the
1968 bloodshed, a bloodiest military campaign of the Vietnam War
the North Communists launched against the South.

The "general offensive and general uprising" of the north marked
the sharp turn of the Vietnam War. Today there have been a great
number of writings about this event. However, it seems that many
key facts in the Communist campaign are still misinterpreted or
neglected.

In the mid-80, living in Saigon after being released from the
Communist "re-education camp," I read a book published in the
early 1980's in America about the story of the 1968 Tet
Offensive. It said that the North Vietnamese Army supreme command
had imitated one of the greatest heroes of Vietnam, King Quang
Trung, who won the most spectacular victory over the Chinese
aggressors in the 1789 counter-attack - in planning the 1968
operations.

The book quoted King Quang Trung's tactic of surprise. He let the
troops celebrate the 1789 Tet Festival one day ahead so that he
could launch the attacks on the first three days of the lunar new
year while the Chinese troops were still feasting and not ready
to organize their defense.

Those who claimed the similarity between the two campaigns
certainly did not know the whole truth, but jumped into
conclusion with wild imagination after learning that the North
Vietnamese attacking units also celebrated Tet "one day ahead"
before the attacks.

In fact, the Tet Offensive broke out on the Tet's Eve - in the
early morning of January 30, 1968 at many cities of Central
Vietnam, such as Da Nang and Qui Nhon, as well as cities in the
central coastal and highland areas, that lied within the
Communist 5th Military Region.. The other cities to the south
that included Saigon, were attacked 24 hours later at the small
hours of January 31. Thus the offensive lost its element of total
surprise that every tactician has to respect.

But It surprised me that some in the American media were still
unaware of such tragic story.

The story started some 5 months previously. On August 8, 1967,
the North Vietnam government approved a lunar calendar
specifically compiled for the 7th time zone that covers all
Vietnam, replacing the traditional lunar calendar that had been
in use in Asia for hundreds of years.

That old calendar was calculated for the 8th time zone that
Beijing falls right in the middle. It was accepted in general by
a few nations such as China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and
somewhat in Japan and Korea, mostly for traditional celebrations
and religious purposes. South Vietnam used this calendar. With
common cultural origin, these countries needed not have their own
calendar, particularly it has not been used for scientific and
administrative activities.

The North Vietnam new lunar calendar differs from the common
calendar about some dates, such as the leap months of certain
year (1984 and 1987) and the Tet's Eve of the three Lunar New
Years: Mau Than (1968), Ky Dau (1969) and At Suu (1985). South
Vietnam celebrated the first day of the Mau Than lunar year on
January 30, 1968, while North Vietnam celebrated it on Jan 29,
1968.

It was obviously that the North Vietnamese leaders had ordered
the offensives to be launched on the night of the first day of
Tet to take the objectives by total surprise. By some reason, the
North Vietnamese Army Supreme Command was not aware of the fact
that there were different dates for Tet between North and South
Vietnam. Therefore, most NVA units in the Communist 5th Military
Region - closer to North Vietnam - probably used North Vietnamese
calendar, and conducted their attacks in the night between Jan 29
and 30, while their comrades farther to the south attacked in the
night from Jan 30 to 31.

Many in the intelligence branch of the South Vietnamese Armed
Forces were well aware of the reason why the Communist forces
launched their attacks at two different dates. Information from
sources among NVA prisoners of war and ralliers about the new
calendar of North Vietnam should have been neglected by the
American side. The information was also available in broadcast
from Hanoi Radio.

In military operations, nothing is more important than surprise.
So the Communist forces lost their advantage of surprise on more
than half of the objectives. Had the Vietnamese Communists
conducted their coordinated attacks at the same H-hour, South
Vietnam would have been in much more troubles.

The large scale offensive resulted in drastic human and morale
losses of the