Easter Offensive Vietnam 1972 – “Stunning in its magnitude”

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The three-front Easter Offensive, launched by North Vietnam in 1972, stunned the South Vietnamese and Americans with its magnitude. Here, France’s Albert Grandolini explains how he explores this landmark campaign in the Vietnam War in two exhilarating new volumes.

For many, the Vietnam War is synonymous with anti-insurgency warfare – where US soldiers tried to catch elusive guerrillas by hunting them from helicopters.

That was partially true, but – in addition to being constantly harassed by the Viet Cong – the American forces were also fighting the regular North Vietnamese tough infantry in pitched battles.

After nearly seven years of a protracted conflict from 1965 to 1971, the United States began to remove itself gradually from the area. That trend was accelerated after the historic visit of President Nixon to Beijing in February 1972 – leading to a normalisation between the United States and Communist China – and thus removing one of the main concerns for Washington in Asia. Furthermore, tension also declined with the Soviet Union over an agreement about the limitation of strategic weapons.

Easter Offensive Vietnam 1972 Book CoverThe two main mentors of North Vietnam were then sending encouraging signs, enabling the United States to extract from the Vietnamese quagmire. By that date, nearly all the US ground forces had withdrawn from South Vietnam. They were intended to be replaced by the expanding South Vietnamese armed forces within the cadre of the so-called “Vietnamization” policy.

Feeling betrayed by the Chinese, the Hanoi leadership was prepared for an all-out offensive in order to break the stalemate. The longer they had to wait, the more the Saigon regime would be strengthened; the more the aid received from its communist allies risked dwindling. The North Vietnamese then planned an unprecedented all-out offensive in order to derail the “Vietnamization” process; to soundly defeat a perceived fragile Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); and to grab the maximum territory possible in order to be in a position of strength at the negotiation table – currently taking place in Paris.

On Easter Monday, 30 March 1972, the North Vietnamese launched a nation-wide offensive that stunned both the South Vietnamese and the Americans by its magnitude. Carried out on three different fronts, it was a multi-divisional effort supported by hundreds of tanks! Thus began one of the fiercest campaigns of the Vietnam War, but also one of the less well-documented due to the fact that most of the American forces had gone home.

Most of the published accounts to-date usually give an American perspective of the fighting through the eyes of the US advisers attached to the ARVN units. Indeed, the advisers played a key role by offering their expertise and co-ordinating the American air support. However, these studies tend to give a disproportionate role to them, often overlooking (if not downplaying) the combat performances of the ARVN – sometimes for the purposes of self-aggrandisement.

The two volumes try to correct that trend by extensively using Vietnamese sources from both sides, combined with unique and rare photos. A particular emphasis is placed on the development and the mechanisation of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces. Consequently, the nature of the war changed dramatically – evolving from a guerrilla one into a conventional conflict.

After detailing the downsizing of the American forces and the setting up of the “Vietnamization” policy, the build-up of both the ARVN in the South and the PAVN in the North is also discussed at length in Volume 1: Invasion across the DMZ. It covers the main North Vietnamese assault across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The South Vietnamese resistance shuddered and then crumbled under the communist onslaught, putting Hue – the ancient imperial capital – at threat. It was only thanks to the US airpower – directed by a small group of courageous American advisers, which helped to turn the tide. Under the command of a new capable commander, the South Vietnamese then methodically counter-attacked to retake part of the lost ground. That culminated with the ferocious street-fighting for Quang Tri.

Easter Offensive Vietnam 1972 Volume 2 Book CoverAfter that first blow, which fell across the DMZ – separating the North from South Vietnam – the rest of the fighting is covered in theVolume 2: Tanks in the streets. In a surprise move, three communist divisions with T-54 tanks attacked from their sanctuaries in Cambodia (just north of Saigon). But their armours ventured into the streets of the An Loc City where they met a desperate and heroic stand by the South Vietnamese soldiers and their American advisers. The capital of South Vietnam was saved.

Finally, the third prong of the North Vietnamese offensive swept across the northern Central Highlands – destroying a whole South Vietnamese division. The communists then resumed their advance when their tanks were again entangled in a new street-fighting battle inside the Kontum City. Furthermore, they were harassed by the newly-developed gunship helicopters armed with anti-tank missiles. That volume also describes how the North Vietnamese learned to use their tanks the hard way.

Author biography

With an MA in History from Paris I Sorbonne University, France’s Albert Grandolini is a military historian and aviation journalist. He focuses his research on contemporary conflicts in general and particularly on the military history of Asia.

Having been born in South Vietnam, where he spent his childhood until the fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War is one of Albert’s main fields of research. He will publish three further volumes with the Asia@War Series, covering the last fighting in Vietnam from 1973 to 1975.

Another project with Helion & Company Ltd will be a multi-volume study of the air wars in South East Asia (except Vietnam) since 1945, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and Thailand.


The Easter Offensive – Vietnam 1972: Volume 1: Invasion across the DMZ

Easter Offensive Vietnam 1972 Volume Book CoverOn 30 March 1972 the South Vietnamese positions along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated the North from South Vietnam were suddenly shelled by hundreds of heavy guns and multiple rocket launchers. Caught in a series of outposts of what was the former McNamara Line , the shocked defenders had just enough time to emerge from their bunkers at the end of the barrage before they were attacked by regular North Vietnamese Army divisions, supported by hundreds of armoured vehicles that crashed though their defensive lines along the border. Thus began one of the fiercest campaigns of the Vietnam War but also one of the less well documented because by then most of the American ground forces had been withdrawn. Following on from the details of the downsizing of American forces and the setting up of the Vietnamization policy, the build up of both the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in the South and the People s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in the North is discussed at length. A special emphasis is devoted to the study of the development the North Vietnamese armoured corps that would spearhead the coming offensive. Consequently, the nature of the war changed dramatically, evolving from a guerrilla one into a conventional conflict. The South Vietnamese resistance shuddered, and then crumbled under the communist onslaught, putting Hue the ancient imperial capital at risk. It was only thanks to US airpower, directed by a small group of courageous American advisers, which helped to turn the tide. Under the command of a new capable commander, the South Vietnamese then methodically counterattacked to retake some of the lost ground. This culminated in the ferocious street fighting for Quang Tri. This first volume describes the combat taking place in the northern part of South Vietnam, and uses not only American archives but also Vietnamese sources, from both sides. The book contains 130 photos, five maps and 18 colour profiles. Asia@War – following on from our highly-successful Africa@War series, Asia@War replicates the same format – concise, incisive text, rare images and high quality colour artwork providing fresh accounts of both well-known and more esoteric aspects of conflict in this part of the world since 1945.

You can buy this book on Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)

The Easter Offensive – Vietnam 1972: Volume 2: Tanks in the streets

Easter Offensive Vietnam 1972 Volume 2 Book CoverOn 30 March 1972, while peace negotiations had been dragging on for four years in Paris, the North Vietnamese launched a wide scale offensive in order to break the stalemate. At that date, practically no American ground forces remained in South Vietnam where a limited offensive was expected in the Central Highlands area. But nobody imagined the magnitude of the multi-divisional, armour led onslaught. The blow fell first across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the North from South Vietnam (see Volume 1). Following from the initial attack, in a surprise move, three communist divisions with T-54 tanks attacked from their sanctuaries in Cambodia just north of Saigon. Their tanks ventured into the streets of An Loc City where they were checked by a desperate and heroic stand by the South Vietnamese soldiers and their American advisers, thus saving the capital of South Vietnam. Finally, the third prong of the North Vietnamese offensive swept across the northern Central Highlands, destroying a whole South Vietnamese division. The communists then resumed their advance, but their tanks were again entangled in street fighting, this time inside Kontum City. Furthermore, they were harassed by newly developed helicopter gunships armed with anti-tank missiles. This volume not only details the combat taking place in these two areas but also the organization of both the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in the South and the People s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in the North. It particularly emphasises the transformation of the former from a mainly infantry force into a modern motorized force. It also describes how the North Vietnamese learnt the hard way about the use of their tanks. The author relies on not only American archives but also on Vietnamese sources, from both sides. The book contains 130 photos, five maps and 18 colour profiles. Asia@War – following on from our highly-successful Africa@War series, Asia@War replicates the same format – concise, incisive text, rare images and high quality colour artwork providing fresh accounts of both well-known and more esoteric aspects of conflict in this part of the world since 1945. Includes approximately 150 colour & b/w photos, colour profiles, maps.

You can buy this book on Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)




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