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1968 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising and the Party’s strategic determination and historical significance

(LLCT) - The 1986 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising marked a turning point for our people’s anti-U.S. resistance war for national salvation, shaking the US’s will of aggression and forcing them to cease bombing the North and to negotiate to end the war of aggression in Vietnam. 50 years have passed, the 1968 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising has forever been engraved in the history of the nation, leaving us a number of valuable lessons.

Key words: 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising; the Party’s strategy; historical significance.

1. Upon the failure of the “Special warfare” strategy, the U.S. imperialists stubbornly intensified and expanded the aggressive war against Vietnam. On August 2, 1964, the U.S. destroyer Maddox invaded the waters of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Vietnamese People’s Navy intercepted and drove out the U.S. vessel to the international waters. On August 4, the U.S. government spread news on the new attack of the Vietnamese Navy on U.S. warships, fabricating “the Tonkin Gulf incident”, and on August 5, the U.S. Air forces attacked some locations in the North of Vietnam, initiating the war against the North. In February 1965, the U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson (L.B.Johnson) launched the “Rolling Thunder” operation to force “Hanoi to cease the support for the communist force in the South Vietnam” and “bomb the North Vietnam back into the Stone Age”.

On March 8, 1965, the 3,500 U.S. Marines corps landed on Da Nang and Chu Lai, starting the “Limited War” in Vietnam. The 11th Plenum of the Third Party Central Committee (March 1965) determined that the whole country faced a war, the South became the great Front, and the North the great Rear. The Party Central Committee affirmed the determination to fight the U.S. and to defeat the U.S. in the “Limited warfare” in the South and the destructive war in the North. Our first victories over the U.S. took place in Nui Thanh, Quang Nam province (May 26, 1965), Van Tuong, Quang Ngai province, followed by other victories in Playme (The Central Highlands). In November 1965, the victory at Dat Cuoc, Bau Bang, Dau Tieng in the Eastern region of South Vietnam initially showed our possibility to win the U.S. From the determination to fight the U.S. and to defeat the U.S., the way to fight and defeat the U.S. was found out. The real development of the battlefield, as summarized by General Nguyen Chi Thanh, is that anyone can defeat the U.S., and anywhere one can defeat the U.S., fighting with any types of weapons and stretching the enemy out to beat, encircling the enemy to beat and “catch the enemy’s waist belt” to beat.

With the determination to fight and to win according to the guidelines of the 12th Resolution of the Third Party Central Committee (December 1965), the Vietnamese Army and People in the battlefield of the South consecutively defeated two strategic counter-attacks of the U.S. and the Saigon government’s troops. During the enemy’s counter-attack in the dry season of 1965-1966 to “seek-and-destroy” and “to break the backbone of VC” in the South and South Central Coast, the enemy mobilized 72,000 troops, including more than 18,000 American ones. In the 1966-1967 dry season, the enemy mobilized 98,000 troops, including 39,000 American ones to move towards the Eastern region of South Vietnam to “seek, destroy and pacify”(1). The people’s revolutionary war in the South foiled the enemy’s strategic counter-attacks. The North resiliently fought against the destructive war, shooting down hundreds of American modern jetfighters and succeeded in dispatching human and material resources from the North to the South.

In leading and directing the revolutionary war, an extremely important matter is to make precise comparison between our forces and the enemy’s. In fact, the number of American troops in South Vietnam was 18,000 in 1965, and 41,000 in 1996. In 1967, this number was more than 48,500 including 9 divisions and 3 brigades. The mission of our nationwide revolution was to resolutely defeat the war of aggression of the U.S. imperialists in any circumstances, in order to safeguard the North, liberate the South and reunify the country.

The motto of general strategy was long-term struggle mainly based on our own strength. Struggling in the long-term, however, we had to make highly intensive efforts, concentrating our forces on both regions in order to take advantage of opportunities to gain the decisive victory in the Southern battlefield in a considerably short time while mainly relying on our own strength, we should make use of the international sympathy, support and aid.

The situation in the battlefield, particularly the victories in the two dry seasons and struggle against the U.S. destructive war in the North, not only consolidated our confidence in the possibility to defeat the U.S but also showed the development of forces to gain the decisive victory. The Party and military leaders timely summarized the method of conducting revolutionary war against the world’s most powerful empire. With the right course of the Party’s foreign policy, the Vietnamese resistance war for national salvation continued to receive the support and assistance of the Soviet Union, China, socialist countries of the communist and workers movement, and other countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the non-aligned movement, including the people and progressive forces in the U.S.

The Resolution of the 13th Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee (January 1967) decided to promote diplomatic struggle, coordinate and support the military and political front. The Party Central Committee emphasized, “Military struggle and political struggle in the South are the key factors in order to decide the victory in the battlefield, creating the basis for the win in the diplomatic front. What we can only get on the negotiation table is what we can get in the battlefield”(2). However, diplomatic struggle played an important, positive and proactive role. On February 8, 1967, in a letter sent to President Ho Chi Minh, U.S. President L.B.Johnson raised unreasonable conditions for the US to end bombing of the North and sending troops to the South. On February 15, 1967, President Ho Chi Minh sent a reply letter to the U.S. President, expressing Vietnam’s goodwill and aspirations for peace. With the stubborn imperialist stance, the U.S. was not honest in negotiation with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and continued to escalate the war in both the South and North of Vietnam.

In order to get to the negotiation table, there must be a strong development on the military and political front with decisive victories. There must be a real preparation in all aspects, with regard to both the local forces in the South and the support from the North and an extremely high strategic determination.

The striking point was that it was necessary to sum up the reality of the battlefield over nearly 3 years of our directly facing the American invaders. In order to be able to inflict a decisive blow, we should directly strike the enemy’s headquarters in Saigon, Da Nang, Hue and other cities and towns, the U.S. military bases and Saigon authorities. The general offensive and uprising required the military strength or armies equipped with weapons, logistics and facilities and people’s political forces in all the three areas: the city, rural delta and mountain and forest, particularly urban forces and movements.

General Nguyen Chi Thanh, member of the Politburo, Secretary of the Southern Regional Party Bureau made important summaries, which were the basis for the strategic decisions of the Party Central Committee and the Politburo. In mid 1967, he came back to Hanoi to attend the Politburo’s meeting to discuss the Winter-Spring 1967-1968 Plan. Yet, he suddenly passed away on July 6, 1967 before returning to the battlefield. It was a great loss to the Party, the Vietnamsese Revolution and the Southern front. Comrade Pham Hung was appointed to the South as Secretary of the Southern Regional Party Bureau, Secretary of the Military Zone and Political commissar of the Southern Liberation Army. In order to make accurate decisions, the Party Central Committee and Politburo listened to direct reports from Front leaders and commanders coming to Hanoi, including from Route 9, Tri-Thien, Zone V, the Central Highlands, and Southern fronts. From the battlefield of the South to attend the Party Central Committee’s meeting there were comrade Le Duc Anh (September 1967), comrade Tran Van Tra (December 1967) and comrade Nguyen Van Linh in mid-Janurary 1968. In 1967, the Southern Regional Party Bureau issued a Resolution and decided to carry out the general offensive and uprising. In late October and early December 1967, the Politburo discussed the Winter-Spring 1967-1968 strategic plan to submit to the Party Central Committee.

At the 14th Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee (January 1968), First Secretary Le Duan made a deep analysis of the situation, including two major issues: comparision between our forces and enemy’s; awareness of the pending general offensive and uprising. He clearly pointed out, “In 1959-1960, when we just started the uprising, the proportion between the enemy and ours was 7 to 1 (there was no American then);

- 1960: Diem troops 10, ours 1;

- 1961: the enemy 7, ours 1;

- 1962-1963: the enemy 5, ours 1;

- 1965 till now: half million more U.S. soldiers have entered. At present, the enemy 3, ours 1 in total”(3). By 1967, the enemy had possessed nearly half million of American troops and 60,000 troops of the Saigon government.

Comrade Le Duan noted, “What is the concept of General Offensive and General Uprising, what are the premises for us to do this?” “General Offensive and General Uprising is a new concept”. “It is easy to understand here the general offensive, however how is general uprising? It is easy to understand when the military developed strongly, we made several attacks in recent years because we have had strength in more aspects thus we can carry out the general offensive. Last year, we already did, liberating route 4 in My Tho, we combined uprising and offensive and did strongly”(5) Offensive and Uprising are inseparatable. The concept that uprising is one phase, we have to win in military and political fields. “Our uprising is not only for seizing the metropolitan government, but also for defeating the enemy, for fighting and destroying all their forces, and at the same time building a new government. These are military and political aspects; we see the conditions for doing that”(6).

The 14th Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee also stated that, during this Winter-Spring, the enemy was unlikely to launch the third “dry season counter-attack” and for the whole 1968, they would increasingly turn into passive defense. We have won over the enemy in both tatics and strategies. “Our military and political forces in the South have grown much stronger than ever in the history of our liberation war”. We are taking the active role in the whole battlefield. From the analysis of the circumstances and historic conditions and the chance to win, the Party Central Committee determined, “Our weightiest and most urgent mission we have in the new period is to mobilize the greatest effort of the entire Party, army and people in both regions to push our revolutionary war to the highest level of development, using the method of general offensive and uprising to win a decisive victory, achieving the strategic goal set forth by the Party, which is:

a) destroy and dissolve the great majority of the puppet troops, overthrow the puppet government at all levels, taking all the government into the hands of the people;

b) destroy an important part of the US military’s strength and means of warfare, rendering the US military unable to fulfill its political and military tasks in Vietnam;

c) on that basis, smash the U.S.’s will of invasion, forcing the U.S. to admit its loss in the South, to end all actions of war  against the North, while we can protect the socialist North Vietnam, and achieve the immediate goals of the revolution in the South, which are independence, democracy, peace, neutrality and advancing towards national unification”(7).

The Party Central Committee emphasized, the General Offensive and General Uprising was a stage of striking and strategic striking measures. We launch not only the General Offensive but also the General Uprising at the same time. The Party Central Committee set out specific mottos and guilding principles. It also expected three possibilities of the situation: 1. we would win a majoir victory on all important battlefields; the offensive and uprising would succeed in all the big cities, smashing the enemy’s counter-attacks; 2. although we might win important victories in many places, the enemy might concentrate their forces to regain and maintain important positions, stabilizing major cities; 3. the U.S. would encourage, reinforce and expand the limited warfare to North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in order to change the situation. We should focus on the first possibility.

The decision of the 14th Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee showed an extrememly high strategic determination of the Party Central Committee, the Politburo, the Southern Regional Party Bureau and the unity of the will and action of the entire Party, people and army. In January 1968, the resolution was passed and enacted immediately.

2. Before the official launching of the General Offensive and General Uprising, we launched the campaign at Route 9 - Khe Sanh (Quang Tri province) to attract American mobile forces, sieging and detaining the enemy to create great opportunities. The campaign took place from January 20, 1968, annihilating and capturing 11,900 troops, destroying 78 military vehicles, firing, shooting down and destroying 197 aircrafts, destroying 80 transportation ships and liberating Ta Con airport.

The General Offensive and General Uprising started on the night of January 30 and early morning of January 31, 1968 (the eve of the Mau Than Lunar New Year). The liberation army at the same time attacked four major cities, including Saigon, 37 towns and hundreds of townlets. In Saigon, the major targets were the U.S. Embassy, Doc Lap Palace, the General Staff of the Saigon Army and other targets are the Radio Station, Headquarters of the Saigon Capital Special Zone, Tan Son Nhat Airport, Headquarters of the Police, etc. Headquarters of corps, combat arms, divisions, brigades and regiments were all under attacks. In rural areas, the masses rose up to overthrow the enemy’s local government, building revolutionary governments. The General Offensive and General Uprising went through three phases: the first phase was from January 31 to February 25, 1968; the second phase, from May 5 to May 12, 1968, when our infantry troops attacked 31 cities and towns, 58 townlets and 30 airports. On May 12, our troops withdrew from Saigon. In the third phase from June 17 to September 30, 1968, our attack was mainly made with cannons shooting 27 cities and towns, 47 airports and 3 large warehouses.

When the war became fierce in the South, on March 31, 1968, U.S. President L.B. Johnson had to announce the curtailment of the bombing in the North from Parallel 20, accepting the negotiation in Paris starting from May 13, 1968. Not running for the reelection and on November 1, 1968, he ended the bombing in the North.

In the first two months of the Offensive, 147,000 enemy troops were disbanded and annihilated (the majority was puppet troops), 20 thousand American troops and vassals were disbanded, 5 battalions and 69 companies were heavily damaged. We shot down and destroyed 2,370 aircrafts, 1,700 tanks, 350 cannons and liberated 1,000 hamlets with 1,200,000 people. The Liberation Army took control over Hue City for 25 days. However, for our side, “111,306 cadres and soldiers of armed and political forces in the South were killed and wounded, tens of thousands of revolutionary masses sacrifices their lives”(8).

It has been 50 years since the 1968 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and General Uprising. There have been many domestic and international research works, scientific workshops, and comprehensive summaries and evaluations of this important event in the anti-U.S resistance war for national salvation and in the history of Vietnamese revolutionary war. From the perspectives of the history of the Vietnamese Communist Party, particularly the Party’s direction and leadership, there has been a number of summaries of great significance. The Politburo’s Report to the 21st Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee (July 1973) affirmed, “The victory of Mau Than Offensive is of extremely important strategic significance, creating a turning point of the war, marking the failure of the U.S.’s “limited warfare” strategy, forced the U.S. to shift to a defensive strategy throughout the battlefield, to sit down for negotiation with us at the Paris Peace Talks, and to end the bombing in the North unconditionally, and the policy on “non-Americanization” war began the period of war de-escalation. We won this great victory only three years after the enemy had shifted to the “limited warfare” strategy, while they had more than one million and 20,000 American, puppet and vassal troops in the battlefield. The war was escalated to the highest level and was the largest-scaled war of aggression since the Second World War. This event was a proof of the strength of the masses’ revolutionary movement and the strength of people’s war in the South”(9).

The Resolution of the 21st Plenum of the 3rd Party Central Committee (October 1973) clearly pointed out, “we have made some mistakes: being subjective in assessing the situation, thus we set the requirements that were not close to the actual situation at that time”(10), did not promptly review and learn experience to make timely re-orientation, were slow in identifying the enemy’s new efforts, and did not fully evaluate the enemy’s schemes. This Resolution emphasized, “Inspite of mistakes, the 1968 Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising (1968) played a great and glorious part in the resistance war against the U.S. for national salvation of the heroic Vietnamese people”(11).

The 4th National Party Congress summed up the 45 years of the Party’s leadership over the people’s national democratic revolution, including 30 years of resistance war for national salvation. It also evaluated the dimensions and historical significance of the 1968 Spring Mau Than victory, “In Spring 1968, during the highest peak of the U.S. resistance war, the 14th Plenum of the Party Central Committee set forth the policy to launch the 1968 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and General Uprising in order to hit a decisive strike on the U.S will of aggression. The glorious triump of the bold and sudden general offensive and uprising reversed the enemy’s strategic position, making his “limited warfare” strategy go bankrupt, shaking the U.S. leaders’ will to invade and forcing them to deescalate the war and sit down for negotiation at the Paris Peace Talks”(12).

The outstanding features of the Party’s direction and leadership over the revolutionary war included actively developing forces in all aspects, thoroughly grasping the offensive strategy, analyzing the situation and conditions of the battlefield of the South and the entire country, creating the military and political standing and strength for the people’s war, boldly and suddenly attacking urban areas and enemy’s headquarters. Right when the war was not over, the Resolution of the 21st Plenum of the Third Party Central Committee pointed out subjective shortcomings. It was painstaking experience which was to lead the 1975 Spring offensive to a complete vitory. The Politburo’s conclusion at the meeting on April 23, 1994, fully evaluated both the significance and shortcomings of the victory, “The Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising was a great victory; especially it defeated the U.S. will of aggression, creating a decisive turning point in the war. Then, we slowly moved our direction, deciding to continue the waves of attack into the city when there were no favourable conditions, which was a mistake in the strategic leadership. Thus the enemy caused us many difficulties and damages”(13).

The sacrifice of cadres, soldiers, comrades and compatriots in the battlefield of the South in the 1968 Spring Mau Than General Offensive and General Uprising was extremely great, glorifying the national tradition of struggling against foreign invasion as described by the poet, soldier and martyr Le Anh Xuan, that “Sacrifice made the Vietnam posture carved into the century”.

______________________

Endnotes:

(1), (13) The Steering Committee for the review of war under the Politburo: Vietnamese Revolutionary War 1945-1975: Victory and Lessons, National Political Publishing House, H, 2000, p.157, 160

(2) The CPV: Complete collection of Party Documents, National Political Publishing House, H, 2003, vol.28, p.174

(3), (5), (6), (7) ibid, vol.29, p.11, 24, 30, 50

(4) See the data of the Steering Committee for the review of war under the Politburo: Vietnamese Revolutionary War 1945-1975: Victory and Lessons, National Political Publishing House, H, 2000, p.503

(8) The Institute of Marxist - Leninist Studies and Ho Chi Minh Thought: History of the Communist Party of Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, H, 1995, vol.2, p.411

(9), (10), (11) The CPV: Complete collection of Party Documents, National Political Publishing House, H, 2003, vol.34, p.126, 215, 216

12. ibid, vol.37, p.480-481.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Trong Phuc

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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