Vietnam War: US troops sent
The arrival of US ground troops
By early 1965 American bombers were regularly attacking targets in the North. Johnson did not think that this was enough. He decided that the South Vietnamese needed the help of large numbers of American soldiers on the ground. In July 1965 President Johnson took a fateful step: he agreed to send 180,000 American troops to Vietnam. The number of US troops increased over the next three years until there were 540,000 American soldiers in Vietnam.
The fighting intensifies
The arrival of large numbers of American soldiers stopped the collapse of South Vietnam and strengthened the position of the new South Vietnamese leader, General Thieu. Between 1965 and 1967 there was heavy fighting. The Americans regularly bombed North Vietnam. According to one calculation, more bombs were dropped on North Vietnam than on Germany in the Second World War. American involvement was widely criticized, and many people in the USA were unhappy about the war.
American tactics brought little success. The US forces had the technology to win straightforward battles between tanks or masse infantry. However, the Vietcong and the soldiers of North Vietnam refused to fight this kind of war. Instead they relied on guerrilla tactics: sabotage and sudden ambushes. The American response was to use:
• massive airpower to try to bomb supply lines,
• chemical defoliants to destroy areas of the countryside where communist soldiers might be hiding.
Neither of these methods worked; they simply angered the ordinary people of the Vietnamese countryside and increased support for the Vietcong and Ho Chi Minh.
The Tet Offensive
In January 1968 North Vietnam launched a massive attack at the time of Tet, a religious festival. Communist troops attacked towns all over the country. They struck right in the middle of the Southern capital of Saigon, with attacks on the American embassy.
The communists hoped that the Tet Offensive would spark a popular revolution in the South. This did not happen. The losses on the communist side were enormous. About 50,000 communist troops were killed between January and March. The Americans used great force and won back the towns. American guns destroyed the historic center of the ancient city of Hue, killing many civilians.
What were the results of the Tet Offensive?
The Tet Offensive was a turning-point in the war. Although in the short term it was a failure for the communists, in the long run it helped the North to win the war. The sight of communist fighters in the grounds of the American embassy in Saigon made a mockery of the idea that Americans were close to victory.
As a result of the violence of the attack and the clear determination of the communists, many American politicians and people became disillusioned with the war. The anti-war movement in the USA grew in strength. Leading figures in the government began to think that they could not win the war in Vietnam.