Vietnam War Timeline
Published: 09/09/2011 10:35
Ho Chi Minh declares Vietnam's independence. The French refuse to acknowledge this and reoccupy Indochina as a colony.
November - The French Army occupies the valley of Dien Bien Phu in order to force a battle with the Viet Minh.
March - General Giap accommodates the French by surrounding the base with fifty thousand Viet Minh soldiers. The valley is isolated and the siege begins.
May 7 - Dien Bien Phu falls.
July 20 - France and the Viet Minh agree to end hostilities and to divide Vietnam temporarily into two zones at the 17th parallel.
In the North, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh establish a Communist government, with its capital at Hanoi. French forces withdraw to the South, along with hundreds of thousands of anti-communist civilians. Ngo Dinh Diem establishes an anti-Communist state -- the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).
Infiltrators from the North became important to communist efforts in the South. Hanoi activates a special military transportation unit to control overland infiltration through Laos and Cambodia. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA), together with Laotian Communist forces, consolidated their hold on areas adjacent to both North and South Vietnam through which passed the network of jungle roads called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As a result, it became easier to move supplies south to support the Viet Cong in the face of the new dangers embodied in U.S. advisers, weapons, and tactics.
December - Hanoi creates the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (the Viet Cong). The revival of guerrilla warfare in the South found the 700 man US Military advisory group, the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), and Diem's government ill prepared to wage an effective campaign.
John F. Kennedy becomes President of the US. He sharply increased military and economic aid to South Vietnam to help Diem defeat the growing insurgency. By 1963 the US has 16,000 servicemen in Vietnam.
February - The US Joint Chiefs of Staff establish the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), in Saigon.
November 1 - A US supported coup d' etat topples the Diem government. Diem and his brother are killed.
November 22 - Kennedy is assassinated. Lyndon Johnson becomes President of the US.
August - In international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked U.S. naval vessels engaged in surveillance of North Vietnam's coastal defenses. The Americans promptly launched retaliatory air strikes. At the request of President Johnson, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Southeast Asia Resolution—the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution—authorizing all actions necessary to protect American forces and to provide for the defense of the nation's allies in Southeast Asia.
March 8 - A few days after ROLLING THUNDER (a campaign of sustained, direct air strikes of the North) began, the 9th Marine Regiment went ashore in South Vietnam to protect the large airfield at Da Nang. They are the first US ground combat unit in Vietnam.
May - To protect American bases in the vicinity of Saigon, Johnson approved sending the 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate), to South Vietnam. The brigade secured the air base at Bien Hoa, just northeast of Saigon. US military strength in South Vietnam passed 50,000.
July 28 - President Johnson announced plans to deploy additional combat units and to increase American military strength in South Vietnam to 175,000 by year's end. The Army already was preparing hundreds of units for duty in Southeast Asia, among them the newly activated 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Other combat units—the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and all three brigades of the 1st Infantry Division were either ready to go or already on their way to Vietnam. Together with hundreds of support and logistical units, these combat units constituted the first phase of the build-up during the summer and fall of 1965.
Spearheaded by at least three NVA regiments, Communist forces mounted a strong offensive in South Vietnam's Central Highlands during the summer of 1965, overrunning border camps and besieging some district towns. Here the enemy threatened to cut the nation in two. To meet the danger, Westmoreland introduced the newly organized Army airmobile division, the 1st Cavalry Division, with its large contingent of helicopters, directly into the highlands.
Less than a month later the newly arrived airmobile division received its baptism of fire. The North Vietnamese Army attacked a Special Forces camp at Plei Me; when it was repulsed, Westmoreland directed the division to launch an offensive to locate and destroy enemy regiments that had been identified in the vicinity of the camp. The result was the battle of the Ia Drang valley, named for a small river that flowed through the area of operations. For thirty-five days the division pursued and fought the 32d, 33d, and 66th North Vietnamese Regiments, until the enemy, suffering heavy casualties, returned to his bases in Cambodia.
November 8 - Moving deeper into War Zone D, the 173d Airborne Brigade encountered significant large scale resistance. A multibattalion Viet Cong force attacked at close quarters and forced the Americans into a tight defensive perimeter. Hand-to-hand combat ensued as the enemy tried to "hug" American soldiers to prevent the delivery of supporting air and artillery fire.
The Army's 25th Infantry Division arrived in the spring. The Division took up a position protecting the western approaches to Saigon, chiefly Route 1 and the Saigon River. Two brigades of the 25th Division also served as a buffer between Saigon and the enemy's base areas in Tay Ninh Province.
Around the key highland towns—Pleiku, Kontum, Ban Me Thuot, and Da Lat—South Vietnamese and U.S. forces had created enclaves. Allied forces protected the few roads that traversed the highlands, screened the border, and reinforced outposts and Montagnard settlements from which the irregulars and Army Special Forces sought to detect enemy cross-border movements.
February - NVA forces overran a Special Forces camp in the A Shau valley, in the remote northwest corner of I Corps. The loss of the camp had long-term consequences, enabling the enemy to make the A Shau a major logistical base and strong hold area for forces infiltrating into the Piedmont and coastal areas.
Operations in the highlands during 1966 and 1967 were characterized by wide-ranging, often futile searches, punctuated by sporadic but intense battles fought usually at the enemy's initiative.
Close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in I Corps, the enemy seemed intent on drawing the American Marines toward the border regions. In Quang Tri Province, the Marines fought a hard twelve-day battle to prevent NVA forces from dominating the hills surrounding Khe Sanh. The enemy's heightened military activity along the demilitarized zone included frontal attacks across it.
Throughout the summer of 1967, Marine forces endured some of the most intense enemy artillery barrages of the war and fought several battles with NVA units that infiltrated across the I7th parallel. Their stubborn defense, supported by massive counterbattery fire, naval gunfire, and air attacks, ended the enemy's offensive in northern I Corp for that year.
The border battles of 1967 also led to a reassessment of strategy in Hanoi. Undeviating in their long-term aim of unification, the leaders of North Vietnam recognized that their strategy of military confrontation had failed to stop the American military buildup in the South or to reduce U.S. military pressure on the North.
The Tet Offensive - Communist plans called for violent, widespread, simultaneous military actions in rural and urban areas throughout the South—a general offensive. But as always, military action was subordinate to a larger political goal. By focusing attacks on South Vietnamese units and facilities, Hanoi sought to undermine the morale and will of Saigon's forces. Through a collapse of military resistance, the North Vietnamese hoped to subvert public confidence in the government's ability to provide security, triggering a crescendo of popular protest to halt the fighting and force a political accommodation. In short, they aimed at a general uprising.
Also hoping to spur negotiations, Communist leaders probably had the more modest goals of reasserting Viet Cong influence and undermining Saigon's authority so as to cast doubt on its credibility as the United States' ally. In this respect, the offensive was directed toward the United States and sought to weaken American confidence in the Saigon government, discredit Westmoreland's claims of progress, and strengthen American antiwar sentiment. Here again, the larger purpose was to bring the United States to the negotiating table and hasten American disengagement from Vietnam.
mid - January - In the remote northwest corner of South Vietnam, elements of three NVA divisions began to mass near the Marine base at Khe Sanh. At first the ominous proportions of the build-up led the Military Assistance Command to expect a major offensive in the northern provinces. To some observers the situation at Khe Sanh resembled Dien Bien Phu, the isolated garrison where the Viet Minh had defeated French forces in 1954. Khe Sanh, however, was a diversion.
While pressure around Khe Sanh increased, 85,000 Communist troops prepared for the Tet offensive. Since the fall of 1967, the enemy had been infiltrating arms, ammunition, and men, including entire units, into the South's cities and towns.
January 31 - Combat erupted throughout the entire country. Thirty-six of 44 provincial capitals and 64 of 242 district towns were attacked, as well as 5 of South Vietnam's 6 autonomous cities, among them Hue City and Saigon. Once the shock and confusion wore off, most attacks were crushed in a few days. During those few days, however, the fighting was some of the most violent ever seen in the South or experienced by many ARVN and American units. In some American compounds, cooks, radiomen, and clerks took up arms in their own defense and helicopter gunships were in the air almost continuously, assisting the allied forces
January 31 - 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines is dispatched to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, where the NVA had captured the city. They participated in the only extended urban combat of the war, together with other Marine, US Army and South Vietnamese forces. Hue had a tradition of Buddhist activism, with overtones of neutralism, separatism, and anti-Americanism, and Hanoi's strategists thought that here if anywhere the general offensive-general uprising might gain a political foothold. Hence they threw North Vietnamese regulars into the battle, indicating that the stakes at Hue were higher than elsewhere in the South. House-to-house and street-to-street fighting caused enormous destruction. The Marines and allies took three weeks to recapture the city. Part of the story is portrayed in the film "Full Metal Jacket".
The Viet Cong and NVA had suffered a major military defeat, losing thousands of experienced combatants and seasoned political cadres and seriously weakening the insurgent base in the South.
Americans at home saw a different picture. Dramatic images of the Viet Cong storming the American Embassy in the heart of Saigon and the North Vietnamese Army clinging tenaciously to Hue obscured the assertion that the enemy had been defeated. With almost a half-million U.S. troops already in Vietnam, doubts on the conduct of the war prompted a reassessment of American policy and strategy.
March 31 - President Johnson announced his decision not to seek reelection in order to give his full attention to the goal of resolving the conflict. Hanoi had suffered a military defeat, but had won a political and diplomatic victory by shifting American policy toward disengagement.
The Marines at Khe Sanh held fast. Enemy pressure on the besieged base increased daily, but the North Vietnamese could not conduct an all-out attack. The Marines still held the high ground strong holds around the base and Westmoreland decided to subject the enemy to the heaviest air and artillery bombardment of the war. His tactical gamble succeeded; the enemy withdrew, and the Communist offensive slackened.
May and August - The enemy persist in his effort to weaken the Saigon government, launching nationwide "mini-Tet" offensives. Pockets of heavy fighting occurred throughout the South and Viet Cong forces again tried to infiltrate into Saigon—the last gasps of the general offensive-general uprising.
October - 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines engage the NVA in the relief of the besieged Special Forces outpost at Thong Duc. In intense hand-to-hand fighting, the enemy is driven off.
November - Seven Marine battalions, including 2/5, surround more that three thousand enemy in Operation Meade River. The enemy force is wiped out.
The last phase of American involvement in South Vietnam began under a broad policy called Vietnamization. Its main goal was to create strong, largely self-reliant South Vietnamese military forces, an objective consistent with that espoused by U.S. advisers as early as the 1950'S. But Vietnamization also meant the withdrawal of a half-million American soldiers.
Until the weakened Viet Cong forces could be rebuilt or replaced with NVA forces, both guerrilla and regular Communist forces had adopted a defensive posture. Nevertheless, 90,000 NVA forces were in the South, or in border sanctuaries, waiting to resume the offensive.
March - American forces reach their peak strength of 543,000.
As in the past, highland camps and outposts were a magnet for enemy attacks, meant to lure reaction forces into an ambush or to divert the allies from operations elsewhere. Ben Het in Kontum Province was besieged from March to July of 1969. Other bases—Thien Phuoc and Thuong Duc in I Corps; Bu Prang, Dak Seang, and Dak Pek in II Corps; and Katum, Bu Dop, and Tong Le Chon in III Corps—were attacked because of their proximity to Communist strongholds and infiltration routes.
The 101st Airborne Division divided its attention between the defense of Hue and forays into the enemy's base in the A Shau valley. Since the 1968 Tet offensive, the Communists had restocked the A Shau valley with ammunition, rice, and equipment. The logistical build-up pointed to a possible NVA offensive in early 1969. In quick succession, Army operations were launched in the familiar pattern: air assaults, establishment of fire support bases, and exploration of the lowlands and surrounding hills to locate enemy forces and supplies. This time the Army met stiff enemy resistance, especially from antiaircraft guns. The North Vietnamese had expected the American forces and now planned to hold their ground.
May 11 - A battalion of the 101st Airborne Division climbing Hill 937 in the A Shau found the 28th North Vietnamese Regiment waiting for it. The fight for "Hamburger Hill" raged for ten days and became one of the war's fiercest and most controversial battles. Entrenched in tiers of fortified bunkers with well-prepared fields of fire, the enemy forces withstood repeated attempts to dislodge them. Supported by intense artillery and air strikes, Americans made a slow, tortuous climb, fighting hand to hand. By the time Hill 937 was taken, three Army battalions and an ARVN regiment had been committed to the battle. The struggle was shown in the film "Hamburger Hill".
Cambodia's neutralist leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was overthrown by his pro-Western Defense Minister, General Lon Nol. A few weeks earlier, American B-52 bombers had begun in secret to bomb enemy bases in Cambodia. By late April, South Vietnamese military units, accompanied by American advisers, had mounted large-scale ground operations across the border.
May 1 - Units of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 25th Infantry Division, and the 11th Armored Cavalry followed. Cambodia became a new battlefield of the Vietnam War . Cutting a broad swath through the enemy's Cambodian bases, Army units discovered large, sprawling, well-stocked storage sites, training camps, and hospitals, all recently occupied.
The expansion of the war produced violent demonstrations in the United States, including the tragic shootings at Kent State.
Army helicopters and artillery were moved to the vicinity of the abandoned base at Khe Sanh. The 101st Airborne Division conducted a feint toward the A Shau valley to conceal the true objective. On 8 February 1971, spearheaded by tanks and with airmobile units leapfrogging ahead to establish fire support bases, a South Vietnamese mechanized column advanced down Highway 9 toward Laos. Facing the South Vietnamese were elements of five NVA divisions, as well as a tank regiment, an artillery regiment, and at least nineteen antiaircraft battalions. The result was near-disaster. Army helicopter pilots trying to rescue South Vietnamese soldiers from their besieged hilltop fire bases encountered intense antiaircraft fire. Panic ensued when some South Vietnamese units ran out of ammunition. Eventually, ARVN forces punched their way out of Laos, but only after paying a heavy price. In addition to losing nearly 2,000 men, the South Vietnamese lost large amounts of equipment during their disorderly withdrawal, and the U.S. Army lost IO7 helicopters, the highest number in any one operation of the war.
November - When the 101st Airborne Division withdrew from the South, Hanoi was planning its 1972 spring offensive. With ARVN's combat capacity diminished and nearly all U.S. combat troops gone, North Vietnam sensed an opportunity to demonstrate the failure of Vietnamization
March 30 - The NVA Easter offensive began. Total U.S. military strength in South Vietnam was about 95,000, of which only 6,000 were combat troops, and the task of countering the offensive on the ground fell almost exclusively to the South Vietnamese. Attacking on three fronts, the North Vietnamese Army poured across the demilitarized zone and out of Laos to capture Quang Tri, South Vietnam's northernmost province. In the Central Highlands, enemy units moved into Kontum Province.
By late summer the Easter offensive had run its course; the South Vietnamese, in a slow, cautious counteroffensive, recaptured Quang Tri City and most of the lost province. But the margin of victory or defeat often was supplied by the massive supporting firepower provided by U.S. air and naval forces.
The United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong signed an armistice that promised a cease-fire and national reconciliation. Between 1973 and 1975 South Vietnam's military security further declined through a combination of old and new factors. Plagued by poor maintenance and shortages of spare parts, much of the equipment provided Saigon's forces under Vietnamization became inoperable. American military activities in Cambodia and Laos, which had continued after the cease-fire in South Vietnam went into effect, ended in 1973 when Congress cut off funds.
North Vietnam's leaders began planning for a new offensive, still uncertain whether the United States would resume bombing or once again intervene in the South. When their forces overran Phuoc Long Province, north of Saigon, without any American military reaction, they decided to proceed with a major offensive in the Central Highlands. Neither President Nixon, weakened by the Watergate scandal and forced to resign, nor his successor, Gerald Ford, was prepared to challenge Congress by resuming U.S. military activity in Southeast Asia. The will of Congress seemed to reflect the mood of an American public weary of the long and inconclusive war.
What had started as a limited offensive in the highlands to draw off forces from populated areas now became an all-out effort to conquer South Vietnam. Thieu, desiring to husband his military assets, decided to retreat rather than to reinforce the highlands. The result was panic among his troops and a mass exodus toward the coast. As Hanoi's forces spilled out of the highlands, they cut off South Vietnamese defenders in the northern provinces from the rest of the country. Other NVA units now crossed the demilitarized zone, quickly overrunning Hue and Da Nang, and signaling the collapse of South Vietnamese resistance in the north. Hurriedly established defense lines around Saigon could not hold back the inexorable enemy offensive against the capital. As South Vietnamese leaders waited in vain for American assistance, Saigon fell to the Communists on April 29, 1975.
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