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JAMES R. ARNOLD
TET OFFENSIVE 1968. TURNING POINT IN VIETNAM

CHRONOLOGY

1967

7 July Decision in Hanoi to launch the General Offensive/General Uprising.

Late July Viet Cong leaders meet in Cambodia to plan how to implement the offensive.

29 July Detroit Riots, 15,339 federal and national guard troops sent to Detroit.

7 August Army Chief of Staff reports 'smell of success' surrounds Allied effort; beginning of Johnson administration propaganda campaign. 21-3 October Pentagon Riots; three battalions backed by tear gas repulse civilian stone- and bottle-throwing assault.

21 November General Westmoreland predicts US troop withdrawals to start in two years.

15 December Responsibility for Saigon's defence passes to ARVN.

20 December Westmoreland warns Washington of Communists' decision to attempt country-wide war-winning offensive.

1968

10 January Westmoreland orders US pullback to positions closer to Saigon.

20 January Siege of Khe Sanh begins.

23 January North Korea seizes USS Pueblo.

29 January Tet holiday ceasefire begins for Allies.

30 January Communists launch premature attack in I and II Corps areas.

31 January Nation-wide Communist offensive begins.

8 February NVA tanks overrun Lang Vei, outside Khe Sanh. Elsewhere, VC/NVA hold only Saigon suburbs and Hue citadel.

13 February Gallup poll reports 50 per cent disapprove of Johnson's handling of the war.

17 February Record weekly total of US casualties set during preceding seven days; 543 killed, 2,547 wounded.

18 February 45 cities and bases shelled but only four ground attacks.

21 February COSVN orders a pullback and return to harassing tactics.

24 February Hue's Imperial Palace recaptured.

27 February CBS's Walter Cronkite tells nation that negotiation is the only way out of the war.

1 March US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara replaced.

10 March New York Times reports Westmoreland wants another 206,000 men.

12 March Eugene McCarthy wins 42 per cent of vote in New Hampshire Democratic primary election.

16-20 March Gallup poll finds more doves than hawks for first time.

20 March NVA pressure against Khe Sanh diminishes.

22 March Johnson announces Westmoreland will become Army Chief of Staff in mid-1968.

26 March Johnson's special advisers report country has lost confidence in war and that US should disengage.

31 March President Johnson announces partial bombing pause, willingness to negotiate and decision not to run for re-election. 16 April Pentagon announces a gradual policy change to return ARVN forces to the forefront of combat, the origin of 'Vietnamization'.

3 July Westmoreland replaced by Abrams.

1969

8 June First US troop withdrawal announced.

1972

30 March Communists launch first nation-wide offensive since 1968. Much hard fighting. Backed by US airpower, ARVN wins out.

1973

29 March Last US troops withdraw.

1975

30 April NVA tanks spearhead capture of Saigon. South Vietnam surrenders.

1982

11 November Vietnam veterans memorial opens, healing the still-divisive scar of war.

WARGAMING THE TET OFFENSIVE

For wargame purposes we may consider the three phases of the Tet Offensive: 1, the diversionary siege of Khe Sanh; 2, the surprise assaults; 3, the responses. In all three phases the end-game is important to both sides. The NVA/VC must attempt to recover as many bodies and weapons as possible, whereas the Americans and ARVN must rescue and evacuate their casualties.

The charts and campaign rules set out below are not designed for any specific set of rules and should be compatible with most commercially and privately produced sets. Nor are they to be seen as unalterable. In some circumstances, where research or scenario constraints dictate, they will need some minor alterations.

Khe Sanh combat base was besieged prior to the Tet Offensive. It may well have been a diversion to draw reserves away from the real objectives. The siege became mainly an air and artillery battle punctuated by several major NVA ground attacks. The defenders sent several patrols outside the base perimeter.

The Tet assaults did not come as a complete surprise everywhere. Intelligence had shown a large NVA build up in late 1967. However, the sheer scale of the offensive did come as a shock. Most, but not all, of the South Vietnamese units were at between 25 and 50 per cent of their effective strength through personnel being granted leave during the truce period. Thus the initial assaults met with varied resistance depending on the strength and state of alertness of the defenders. Since most targets in the initial stages of this offensive fell on the ARVN-held areas, some special rules are helpful for wargamers attempting realism in their scenarios. A dicing system can be used to determine the average strength of ARVN units. Note that the designation 'D10' is used for a die numbered 1 to 10 (some are numbered 0 to 9, in which case treat the 0 as 10). These dice are also called percentage dice and are the only type to be used in these rules.

Table 1: AVRN strength

Strength of unitD10 roll
30 per cent1
40 per cent2-3
50 per cent4—5
60 per cent7-8
70 per cent9
75 per cent10

A morale dicing system for units can also be used:

Table 2: Morale

Morale grade D10 rollVC/NLFUSMC
ARVNNVAMainLocalUS
Poor1--1--
Average2-61-61-52-61-51-4
Fairly good7-87-86-77-86-75-6
Good998-998-97-8
Elite10101010109-10

Desertions were an additional problem that affected some ARVN units. However, these were not as widespread as some sources would have us believe and it certainly did not match up to the mass defection expected by the Communists. For most wargame purposes the desertions should be accounted for before the game begins. There is obviously no need to tell either side that there have been desertions - you can let them find out for themselves after the plans have been drawn up. Thus deserters can be as much a hindrance to the NVA/VC players as to the ARVN, as they are misidentified, spring ambushes and generally confuse the issue. A wargame rule might be that, once all the defending ARVN have been allocated their defensive positions, a die roll is made for each:

Die Roll Modifiers
Section NCO present +1
M-16 armed unit +1
Platoon sergeant present + 2
Platoon officer present + 2
Alone (night) -2
Alone (day) -1

Table 3: ARVN desertion

Morale gradeBefore actionAt start of actionAt 1st shotDo not desert
Poor1-2345+
Average-12-34+
Good-123+
Elite----

In places, whole sub-units were reported as deserting (for example some elements of the 45th Infantry Regiment near Ban Me Thuot). Such mass desertions can be included in games, but balance must be considered as they would vary the weapons and strength of both sides. Just prior to the Tet Offensive, the first issue of M-16 assault rifles to the ARVN took place. This had a marked effect in improving effectiveness and morale in the ARVN units so equipped. Therefore an ARVN unit armed with M-16s should have a minimum morale grading of 'average'.

If the ARVN had problems, so too did the Communists; the desire for secrecy was confounded by their unreliable communications.

The intended simultaneous offensive did not take place because the order was not received on time. Thus some units attacked at 0300 hours on 31 January as intended, others a day early, more a day late, still others even later. The effect of this would be to vary the alertness of the defenders. Timing should be the prerogative of the umpire or by means of a dicing system:

Table 4: NVA, VC/NLF assault timing

Type30 Jan31 Jan1 Feb2 Feb3 Feb
NVA Regulars12-910--
NLF Main force1-23-8910-
NLF Local force1-34-67-8910

Usually, ARVN units attacked on 30 January will be completely surprised; those on 31 Jan partially surprised; and those aftenwards hardly surprised at all. The strength of the defenders should be increased as each day passes and soldiers return to duty.

Other disasters plagued the Communists. All communication was lost to the Saigon front shortly after the attacks started. VC/NLF units failed to maintain liaison in Saigon and other places, resulting in many objectives being attacked by too many units while others were attacked with inadequate strength. Units became lost in the cities after air and artillery strikes altered the geography.

The lack of good communications led to confusion, misdirection of reserves and slowed deployment. Any or all of these elements should be incorporated.

A prime factor in the failure to carry the objectives was the absence of a reserve force in support. Virtually every active service unit was allocated a primary objective. Thus units 'burned themselves out' through fatigue and casualties in ceaseless day and night operations. Then, inevitably, they lost the initiative and morale began to crack under the US and ARVN counter-attacks.

So far as we are concerned, this translates into the NLF/VC and NVA commanders not being allowed to receive reinforcements other than those they have allocated from their own commands. Fatigue rules are required for both sides, but are less of a burden to the US and ARVN players because of troops returning to duty or being flown in.

A further factor affecting the reduction of morale and performance of the NLF/VC and NVA was that the expected popular uprising against the Saigon Government failed to materialize. In fact, the local reaction seemed to range from apathy to hostility. Again the NLF and NVA soldiers had been briefed that the ARVN would crumble at the first attack. They did the opposite and put in a creditable performance in most cases. Thus NVA/VC/NLF morale should reduce the longer resistance lasts.

Some scenario suggestions might include:

1. NLF/VC sappers assault a USAF base to destroy aircraft on the ground. Points to consider timing, strength of attackers and guard forces, terrain, field defences, breaching rules, surprise.

2. NLF/VC sappers attack a national radio station. Points to consider: as Scenario 1 plus morale of defenders.

3. NLF/VC suicide squad assault US Embassy. Points to consider: as Scenario 2.

4. Assaults on provincial, armed forces and government headquarters and other installations.

After the initial shock of the offensive, which was increased by an over-responsive media coverage, the US and ARVN launched a series of operations to recover lost ground. These were the long-awaited field battles the US generals had hoped for, the most famous and probably the most useful to the wargamer being the recapture of Hue by the ARVN and the US Marines. Street-fighting, search-and-destroy missions, patrols, water crossings and virtually every other type of military activity took place. Scenario options include:

1. Street-fighting and house-clearing with units of both sides in some confusion as to location and direction.

2. Relief of cut-off troops and evacuation of casualties under fire by US Marines or ARVN. It was Marine policy not only to evacuate the wounded but also to recover their dead for burial.

3. NVA or NLF/VC tank-stalking parties attempting to destroy enemy AFVs with satchel charges and/or rocket propelled grenades.

4. Clearing out a nest of snipers. This makes an excellent role-play scenario because it centres on the troops' willingness to take on the unknown.

These scenarios take place in relatively confined areas and at short ranges, leading to heavy casualties. Add a few booby-traps, minefields and civilian problems (refugees, civilians hiding in cellars, freed/escaped hostages, etc.) and the frustration of the war will come through.

Those desiring larger-scale actions should try some of the bigger operations staged in the follow up to the Tet Offensive:

1. NVA tank and infantry assault on, and capture of, Lang Vei Special Forces Camp (7 February).

2. Operation 'Quyet Thang' around Saigon to mop up and clear NVA/NLF forces from around the capital (11 March to 5 April).

3. Assaults on US fire bases; for example, at Kon Tum (26 March).

4. Operation 'Pegasus', the relief of Khe Sanh (1-14 April).

5. Operation 'Toan Thang', a major counter-offensive around Saigon (began 8 April).

6. Second and Third Battles for Saigon in May.

Air wargamers are not left out of this. Massive air strikes were launched against the besiegers of Khe Sanh, against targets inside North Vietnam and in support of the ground troops. Most scope for aerial combat lies in the Operation 'Rolling Thunder' raids against the North. Interesting scenarios could also be made from the many attempts at the rescue of shot-down aircrew. This would involve aircraft, helicopters, ground troops and good visibility and communications rules.

The selection of the rules for this period is a purely personal decision based on your own perspective of the war. For wargaming the Tet Offensive most of the modern period rules listed below are suitable, with some modifications for the peculiarities outlined above.

Commercial rules include the following.

Bodycount; Arclight Publications, 32 Milverton Road, Winchester.

Giac My; Platoon 20, Model Figures and Hobbies, Lower Balloo Road, Groomsport, County Down, BT19 2LU, Northern Ireland; and Ulster Imports Ltd, Box 1748, Champaign, Illinois 61820.

Hell by Daylight; Anschluss Publishing, 79 Godfrey Road, Spixworth, Norwich, Norfolk.

Firefight; Tabletop Games, 53 Mansefield Road, Daybrook, Nottingham, NG5 6BB.

Special Forces; MOD Games, 19 Chiltern Road, Sheffield, S6 4QX.

Skyfight (air combat); Tabletop Games, Skytrex, 28 Brook Street, Wymeswold, Loughborough, Leicestershire; and SG Simulations Inc., 1183 Cedar Street, Safety Harbor, Florida 34695.

Several magazines run articles periodically on the Vietnam War; these include: Wargames Illustrated, Military Modelling and Wargames World. These often give scenarios with special rules or information on how to amend existing rules. They are also useful sources of reviews and adverts for new products.

Board games include: Sniper by SPI; Vietnam by Victory Games; Platoon by Avalon Hill (the game of the film; the Director's royalties are paid into the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation).

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