Strategy and achievement at the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive

SR 2047
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Roll 47 of Vietnam Project
374, Take 2
Interview with Capt. Tran Ding Thong
Tran Ding Thong:
It was at the request of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam that we were sent to Khe Sanh. On March 15, 1968 we began the campaign. The commanders of my unit, and I was one of them, went ahead of the troops in order to prepare the battlefield in the effort to defeat the enemy at Khe Sanh. The rest of the unit was following us in motor vehicles. When we arrived in Khe Sanh we found out that our friends' units suffered a lot of casualties. Some units had up to 90 percent of the troops killed and wounded.
When our unit came to replace our friend's units, we fought in Khe Sanh, Tra Con and Doc Mieu. Principally Khe Sanh, however. When the enemy heard that our unit was coming, they prepared to withdraw. So I have one regret that we could not destroy as many enemy troops as possible at Khe Sanh. We allowed the enemy to concentrate and mobilize their forces to carry out the withdrawal. People have said that Khe Sanh could be another Dien Bien Phu. But this was not what we thought.
Dien Bien Phu was the final big battle. We had the opportunity to destroy the enemy at Dien Bien Phu, and there was no way for the enemy to supply their forces there. Khe Sanh, however, was different. Our objective was to inflict damages to the enemy there, creating the conditions for the enemy to bring in more of their troops from the southern part of the country so as to make it possible for the people in the South to organize toward the liberation of the region.
Therefore, by sucking the enemy forces into Khe Sanh and by allowing them to supply and reinforce themselves, it was not possible for us to turn Khe Sanh into a final big battle like Dien Bien Phu. The only aim was to destroy as many enemy troops as possible in Khe Sanh in order to create the favorable conditions for the overall struggle to liberate the South. But the enemy actively sought retreat, and we were unable to achieve our objective as a result.
375 Take 1
Did you consider Khe Sanh to be a victory, or a defeat, or what?
Tran Ding Thong:
The 34th Division, which left about a month before we did in order to place Khe Sanh, Ta Con and Doc Mieu under siege, received a lot of casualties because it had not been well prepared. When we arrived, we were briefed by our forces there about the conditions of the battlefields and the things which they had managed to grasp during the period they placed this area under siege. When we arrived, the enemy already knew who we were.
They had put us under observation on a daily basis during our troops movement southward. Therefore, they decided to make an active tactical withdrawal to Tra Con which was a much larger and more defendable area. It was more easy for them to get wiped out in Khe Sanh. Hence, we could not achieve our objective of pinning the enemy down in Khe Sanh to kill as many of their troops as possible.
But we did achieve our most basic objective which was to get the enemy to withdraw, thereby giving us a wider corridor with which we could supply our forces in the South. Therefore, I consider this a partial success. After withdrawing from Khe Sanh, our corridor in Binh Tri Thien was considerably enlarged. We could now move supplies south under much more favorable conditions: the route was shorter and the harassment by the enemy lessened.
376, Take 1
Could you tell us about the objectives of the 1968 Tet Offensive? And after it did not succeed in liberating the South, what were your feelings?
Tran Ding Thong:
The objective to liberate the South was a never changing objective. This was because after the French refused to implement the Geneva Agreements, then liberating the South was the responsibility of the entire country and the entire Party. But in 1968 we were told that Uncle Ho was already quite old and that the entire army and population must somehow exert their best to liberate the South before his passing. And this was also the desire of many of us in the Army.
After 1968, when we could fulfill our responsibility and the wish of Uncle Ho we felt that there were still a lot of hardships ahead although sooner or later the South would be liberated. At that time in the North we had concentrated much of our resources and energy for the liberation of the South in 1968, and when this could not be achieved we certainly felt a little let down. But we strongly believed that finally the South would be liberated. Therefore, subsequently, our activities in 1969 and 1971, the campaigns on Highway 9 and in Southern Laos, all indicated our determination.
Just atmos track to cover the uh interview, there's a generator in the background so we want something to stick over it.
377 Take 1
Tran Ding Thong:
As far as I am concerned, the decision to mount the Tet Offensive of 1968 was a very wise decision. However, no matter how good a decision is, it also depends on the actions and the mistakes of the enemy.

Comparison of the N.V.A. and the N.L.F.

378 Take 1
Could you tell us very briefly about the formation of the People's Army in the North and the National Liberation Forces in the South?
Tran Ding Thong:
In the North there was a long history of building up regular forces. Moreover, during the Resistance War against the French, we were highly influenced by the military tactics of China. Therefore, we relied too heavily on striking power. The Liberation Armed Forces of the South, however, grew out of guerilla units, out of the necessity to fight against the American aggressors. Therefore, they were influenced very little by the military tactics of the North, the Chinese military tactics. They built themselves up from concrete experiences and they fought very effectively.
In conclusion, the northern armed forces employed regular-forces tactics and required considerable equipment. This was not so for the southern armed forces. They employed guerilla tactics which were constantly improved and modernized. Their enemy was also completely new for the northern armed forces. For this reason, the northern Army only supplied the National Liberation Army with men and equipment. As far as military tactics were concerned, the northern armed forces had to learn from the experiences of, and to be trained by, the Liberation armed forces. And from all this we built ourselves up and fought on a larger scale. So this is the difference between the regular Army in the North and the Liberation Army of the South. This was only a natural thing as a result of historical developments as well as in the different types of enemy we had to confront.