1968 Vietnam Peter and Dan Snow: 20th Century Battlefields



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On January the 31st, 1968,

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the people of Saigon in South Vietnam

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were celebrating their New Year festival called Tet.

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Suddenly, savage fighting broke out.

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It was the beginning of a nationwide Communist assault

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that would change the course of the long-running Vietnam War.

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The Tet Offensive was to be a turning point

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in a war that would eventually see this city and the whole of Vietnam

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united under Communist rule,

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a war that would rage for more than a decade

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and would in the end see America, one of the world's superpowers,

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suffer perhaps its greatest setback of the 20th century.

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I'll be explaining how the best equipped army in the world

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had to adapt its strategy to face a largely guerrilla fighting force.

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The American troops had to get used

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to this new kind of combat in a strange country far away from home.

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I'll be experiencing a little of what it was like for them...

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Room clear! Room clear!

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..as they fought their way through the towns and cities of South Vietnam.

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I'll also be telling the story of the Communist fighters

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who staged this bold attack on the world's mightiest military power.

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In the whole of this long war,

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it was the Tet Offensive of 1968 that was the pivotal moment.

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Fought here in the streets of Vietnam, it struck right at the very core of the American psyche.

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The Tet Offensive was one of the most decisive battles of the 20th century.

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Since 1965,

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the Americans had been fighting the Communist regime in North Vietnam.

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The West was gripped by a fear of Communism devouring country after country.

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The Americans believed that if they didn't make a decisive stand in Vietnam,

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the whole of Southeast Asia would fall.

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By 1967, hundreds of thousands of American troops had poured into South Vietnam.

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Many were stationed in remote areas like this hillside called Con Thien.

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Con Thien was at the sharp end of the war in Vietnam.

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The fight against the Communists had become so fierce

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that the marines based here called it the Meat Grinder.

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During the war, there would have been artillery here, both in this bunker and dug in on the hillside.

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Most of it would have pointed that way,

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because just over there, there was a border that cut Vietnam in two.

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On this side, the Republic of South Vietnam which the Americans were here to protect

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and on the far side, the Communist North.

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The fire base here at Con Thien

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was in the front line of America's war against Communism,

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to prevent the Communist North taking over the South.

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Con Thien was one of a chain of US artillery bases

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just south of the border.

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Here's the base right here.

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And here's the border

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with a kind of no-man's-land either side of it

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called the demilitarised zone.

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The demilitarised zone literally cut Vietnam in half.

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Down here was South Vietnam,

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a fragile Republic governed by a military elite

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whose army need America's help. Their capital was Saigon.

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The whole of Vietnam, north and south,

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is 1,000 miles from bottom to top.

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Up here, Communist North Vietnam,

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backed by the Soviet Union and China,

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and leading it, in its capital Hanoi,

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a lifelong Communist and ardent Nationalist, Ho Chi Minh.

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Known as Uncle Ho to his followers,

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Ho Chi Minh had trained and equipped an army of 500,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.

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Ho had successfully driven out the French colonial government in 1954

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and now he was resolved to push out the Americans

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and reunite Vietnam under Communism.

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The Americans were led by General William Westmoreland.

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With a clutch of medals from World War Two and Korea,

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Westmoreland now led an American force of half a million troops

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in support of some 800,000 South Vietnamese soldiers.

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But the challenge faced by General Westmoreland and his men was all the greater,

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because they didn't just have one enemy - they had two.

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As well as the threat from the North, the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies

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had to face thousands of local Communist guerrillas

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here inside South Vietnam itself.

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The Southern Communist rebels called themselves the National Liberation Front,

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but history remembers them by the name the Americans used - the Viet Cong, or VC.

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They were a huge problem for the US troops.

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With no uniforms to distinguish them from the other villagers in South Vietnam,

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it was very difficult to tell who was friend and who was foe.

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Are you VC?

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Yeah, you Viet Cong, huh?

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You Viet Cong?

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You Viet Cong? You Viet Cong?

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Half the time, the Americans were fighting an enemy they just couldn't pin down.

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But the Viet Cong's ability to blend in was not their only advantage.

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They were also supplied

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by their powerful ally and effective controller in the North, Ho Chi Minh.

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The lifeline he set up to supply the Viet Cong was an incredible logistical feat.

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He sent North Vietnamese fighters, arms and equipment

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down the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail,

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a network of unpaved roads and paths

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stretching hundreds of miles down the length of Vietnam.

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It was largely concealed in the jungle, just across the border

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in supposedly neutral countries next door.

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I travelled south down the Ho Chi Minh trail twice.

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We literally had to hack or crawl our way through the jungle.

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Some people would carry up to 80 kilos on their shoulders.

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There were even some hill tribes people who would carry up to 90 kilos

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which for the women was more than their own bodyweight.

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The Ho Chi Minh trail was vital for the Communist war effort

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and the weapon the United States deployed against it

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was the might of its air power.

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Some of the bombing targets were strategic points in North Vietnam,

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railways, bridges, factories and so on.

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Another target for the bombers,

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including giant B-52s, was the Ho Chi Minh trail.

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The Americans hoped their bombing would cut off the lifeblood of the rebels in the south.

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Just one of these B-52s could drop over a 100 bombs

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and devastate an area a mile long by quarter-of-a-mile wide.

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In South Vietnam, the bombers would act on intelligence reports

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and try to hit Viet Cong strongholds.

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High explosive bombs and napalm, an extremely flammable liquid, caused terrible destruction...

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..and much of the countryside on which so many depended was laid to waste.

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These bombs may have been hitting their targets,

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but they weren't doing much to win over the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people.

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Often the targets were in or near populated villages,

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so, inevitably, civilians were killed.

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MASSIVE EXPLOSION

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It also wasn't really a very good way of routing out the Communists.

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To do that, there was really no alternative but to go in on foot.

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The South Vietnamese Army and the Americans spent days patrolling the countryside,

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trying to hunt down the Viet Cong,

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looking for telltale signs that might indicate a Viet Cong presence.

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But they weren't just fighting an enemy that was scarcely visible.

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They were fighting the conditions too.

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The patrols were not made any easier by the scorching temperatures

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and the weight of the kit the American troops often had to carry with them.

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I've been walking for a while now and the first thing you notice obviously is the heat.

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It's about high 30s centigrade, probably just a bit over 100 degrees Fahrenheit,

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and the guys, the Americans, who arrived in Vietnam,

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probably my age, probably a bit less,

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and most of them have probably never seen a country like this, never seen a climate like this.

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That would've taken a lot of getting used to - it's difficult for me -

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but the main thing I don't have to worry about is that they were on patrol,

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carrying this kit, and there were people trying to kill them.

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They wouldn't be getting any support,

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so they would have to eat, drink, apply medicines and fight

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with just what they were carrying.

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Of course, this wasn't really the case for the Viet Cong.

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They could travel a lot lighter because they had supply dumps in friendly villages.

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Often they were just carrying their weapon, the AK-47,

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a bag of rice and maybe a mosquito net or a tarp.

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-AMERICAN SOLDIER:

-Their camouflage was excellent.

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I can remember on instants looking out

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and I saw the side of a hill move!

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That's because it was them.

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They didn't make a lot of noise.

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We were noisy, but we had a lot of firepower.

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You could hear a marine company coming from a mile away.

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These patrols could be fatal

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and many of the troops thought them pointless, anyway.

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The enemy was just too slippery, too elusive.

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He wouldn't come out and fight the kind of set-piece battle

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the Americans had been trained and equipped for.

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The Americans did adapt to this new way of fighting,

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but just as they were beginning to make some headway in this war, everything changed.

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During 1967, Ho Chi Minh had become increasingly concerned.

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His North Vietnamese Army, the NVA,

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had suffered heavy losses and victory still wasn't in sight,

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so he turned to his defence minister, General Vo Nguyen Giap,

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for a solution.

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The plan Giap came up with was a huge gamble.

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The North Vietnamese Army and their Viet Cong allies

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would come out in the open and fight in larger numbers than ever before.

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The aim - to smash the South Vietnamese government

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and drive the Americans out once and for all.

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By December 1967, American intelligence knew that something big was brewing.

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They'd received reports of significant activity on the Ho Chi Minh trail,

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and then of a striking build-up of North Vietnamese troops

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near the American base of Khe Sanh, just south of the border.

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The Communist enemy had suddenly become very visible.

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Over in Washington,

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the American President, Lyndon Johnson, and his advisers listened to the news with great interest.

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It seemed that at long last President Johnson was to get the pitched battle he'd been waiting for

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and the battlefield was to be Khe Sanh.

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The American base of Khe Sanh

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was situated in an isolated, hilly corner of South Vietnam,

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just a few miles from the border with Laos.

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There's nothing left of the base today,

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but in January 1968, this base was home to thousands of American and South Vietnamese troops.

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Khe Sanh is the westernmost American stronghold near the demilitarised zone.

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It had been built to stop enemy infiltration from the north

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and disrupt supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail along here.

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Here is Khe Sanh and this is how it was laid out.

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Over 6,000 marines and South Vietnamese troops were housed

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in one heavily fortified combat base, built around an airstrip.

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Surrounding the combat base were hills fortified with bunkers,

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dug-outs and gun emplacements.

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By mid-January 1968,

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two whole North Vietnamese divisions, supported by elements of another division,

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some 20,000 men in all,

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had gathered in the hills around Khe Sanh.

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In the early hours of January 21st,

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North Vietnamese troops attacked an American-held hill just northwest of the base.

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Then, a few hours later,

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they launched a major attack on the very heart of the Khe Sanh combat base itself, right here.

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GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS

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As the NVA consolidated their positions around the base, the marines fought back ferociously.

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But they were surrounded. The NVA had managed to cut off their road link to the outside world.

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Now, the only way in and out of Khe Sanh was by air.

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While the marines fought hard to stop the North Vietnamese

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overrunning the vital high ground near the base,

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General Westmoreland directed more than 24,000 air strikes against the attackers.

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He called it Operation Niagara.

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American aircraft dropped almost 100,000 tons of bombs during the siege.

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It was an operation that cost 1 billion.

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Life for the besieged marines quickly became a horrific ordeal.

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The base was shelled constantly.

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On average, 360 North Vietnamese rounds landed inside the perimeter each day.

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On the heaviest day of bombardment, 1,300 shells hit US positions.

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There was wreckage thrown everywhere.

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Vehicles were smashed,

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windshields shattered, blown tyres,

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tents were shredded,

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pieces of gear and torn sandbags were everywhere.

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What had been a combat base looked like rubble.

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Back in Washington, President Johnson was deeply worried.

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To him, Khe Sanh had become the symbol of America's determination

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to hold the line in Southeast Asia against Communism.

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He could not afford to let it fall.

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America's best units and one half of the US Army's mobile reserve in Vietnam

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were moved up north into the area.

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As the battle ground on, Johnson threw even more airpower into the fight.

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At Khe Sanh, the Americans dropped around five tons of bombs

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for every one North Vietnamese soldier.

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Johnson was determined to win.

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He was convinced that defeat at Khe Sanh would be an unacceptable blow to American prestige.

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But what the Americans and South Vietnamese were about to discover

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was that when General Giap and Ho Chi Minh came up with their plan,

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Khe Sanh was not their main target.

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Ho Chi Minh's high command had a far bigger plan

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than the attack on Khe Sanh.

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While all American eyes were focused on the struggle for Khe Sanh,

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the leaders of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong met in bunkers like this

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to make final preparations for a far bigger assault.

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So far, the war had been largely confined to the countryside,

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but now, in an unprecedented move,

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Ho Chi Minh was to take the battle right into the heart of the towns and cities of South Vietnam.

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His strategy - to attack hundreds of political and military targets in those cities.

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And one of his essential aims - to provoke a popular uprising

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right across the country.

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Communist fighters, weapons and supplies had been slipping into towns and cities across South Vietnam.

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They came in vegetable carts and even in funeral processions,

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all under the noses of the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies.

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But how was it that such a huge reservoir of men and supplies

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had been gathered so close to the cities, largely unnoticed by the Americans?

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One of the answers lay right beneath their feet.

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Throughout the countryside of South Vietnam,

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the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters had constructed an intricate network of tunnels

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and the entrances were always well-hidden.

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Ah, here we go.

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Now, this may look narrow, but believe me, it's actually been widened for Western tourists,

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so I should actually be able to fit in it no problem.

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Oh, just put some leaves to obscure the entrance when I've gone through.

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This labyrinth of tunnels at Cu Chi near Saigon

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was over 200 miles long in total.

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This complex was so well-hidden that an American base was unwittingly built right on top of it.

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They had everything they needed down here.

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They had water, sleeping accommodation,

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storerooms, hospital facilities.

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What the Viet Cong had done in these dark and cramped tunnels

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was create a hidden fighting community,

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capable of taking the battle into the heart of Saigon and the surrounding area.

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We were working day and night.

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It was a time of very secret and intensive activity.

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That's why Cu Chi was important.

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The tunnels were where preparations were made.

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By the end of January 1968, these tunnels were busier than ever.

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The weapons stockpiled here were smuggled into the cities.

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All this was in preparation for the largest Communist onslaught of the Vietnam War.

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As January drew to a close,

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most Vietnamese were preoccupied with preparations of a very different kind.

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The Tet lunar New Year was approaching, a very important holiday in the Vietnamese year,

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rather like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled up into one.

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And many South Vietnamese soldiers, believing that a traditional truce was in effect, had been given leave

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to go off and visit their families in the country.

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But as festivities got going that evening in late January, there was a lot more happening than met the eye.

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It was January 31st,

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and under cover of the Tet celebrations, a group of Viet Cong were driving towards downtown Saigon.

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Their mission - to take control of the government radio station

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and broadcast a call to arms for the people to rise up and overthrow the government of South Vietnam.

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Just before 3am,

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the convoy of Viet Cong fighters pulled up outside the building.

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One of the Viet Cong leapt out the lead Jeep and shot dead the confused radio-station guard.

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The war had come to the heart of Saigon.

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The Tet Offensive had begun.

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EXPLOSION

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With the capital of South Vietnam under attack,

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news crews in the city relayed eyewitness reports

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into homes across the world.

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Well, here we are, we're right in the centre of Saigon,

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just opposite the Presidential Palace

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and I am in the driveway of the Republic...

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FIRING INTENSIFIES

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..the Republic of South Korean Embassy.

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This gunfire that you can hear is...is pretty close.

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It's coming in above our heads.

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It seems like...

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EXPLOSION

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..a major firefight is starting at this moment.

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As the night wore on,

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news of attacks poured in from all over the city.

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General Westmoreland's own headquarters was attacked and the nearby airport of Tan Son Nhut.

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The Viet Cong even seized the race track at Phu Tho.

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It was the perfect rallying point for their fighters.

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They also wanted to hold it to prevent the Americans from using it as a helicopter landing zone.

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In the city centre, they attacked the naval dockyard and the radio station they stormed was nearby.

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Even the Presidential Palace came under attack.

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But there was another objective that night,

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just a block away from the palace.

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It may have been less imposing,

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but it was to prove a much more rewarding target.

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Earlier, a group of Viet Cong fighters had gathered in a garage

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to make final preparations for this attack.

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Now, everybody present at this meeting were members of the Viet Cong C10 battalion.

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They may have been few in number and they may have had limited fire power,

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but the results of that night's C10 mission

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would reverberate around the world.

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Here at the US Embassy, the symbol of American power and presence in Vietnam,

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that C10 squad of Viet Cong fighters from the garage

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blew a three-foot hole in the bottom of this perimeter wall.

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Their two leaders rushed in, but were shot and killed by the American guards.

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Those guards then radioed for help, but it was the last message they'd ever send,

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because then they too were gunned down in a hail of VC fire.

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GUNFIRE

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After killing the guards,

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the remaining Viet Cong poured through the hole in the wall and into the compound itself.

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But their leaders were dead and the momentum petered out.

0:27:080:27:11

Instead of charging forward into the heart of the embassy,

0:27:110:27:14

they took up position around here and simply fired pot shots at the building.

0:27:140:27:18

A few blocks away from the American Embassy,

0:27:190:27:22

news of the chaos had reached newspaper and television reporters staying nearby.

0:27:220:27:27

They rushed to the scene to find that reinforcements sent

0:27:270:27:31

by American commanders were still milling around

0:27:310:27:34

outside the embassy compound, with the Viet Cong inside.

0:27:340:27:38

Laying flat in the gutter,

0:27:380:27:40

I didn't know where the VC attackers were holed up

0:27:400:27:43

or where the fire was coming from. But we knew it was the big story.

0:27:430:27:47

The journalists couldn't believe what was happening.

0:27:490:27:52

From what they could see,

0:27:520:27:53

it seemed that the VC had stormed and captured part of the US Embassy right here in the heart of Saigon.

0:27:530:27:59

Realising the huge symbolic implications of this,

0:27:590:28:03

they sent back reports within hours of the attack

0:28:030:28:06

from the beleaguered embassy to news desks right around the world.

0:28:060:28:10

Now CIA men and MPs have gone into the embassy

0:28:100:28:15

and are trying to get the snipers out...

0:28:150:28:17

..by themselves.

0:28:190:28:21

GUNFIRE

0:28:210:28:23

Military Police got back into the compound of the 2.5 million embassy complex at dawn.

0:28:340:28:39

Before that, a platoon of Viet Cong were in control.

0:28:390:28:43

The raiders never got into the main chancery building.

0:28:430:28:46

A handful of marines had it locked and kept them out, but the raiders were everywhere else.

0:28:460:28:51

By the time people back home were watching the shocking news reports

0:28:530:28:57

from the embassy, the Americans had regained the upper hand.

0:28:570:29:01

What one US Commander described a "piddling platoon action" was all over within six hours.

0:29:010:29:06

But what may have seemed militarily insignificant was crucial

0:29:060:29:11

to the battle for the minds of the American public.

0:29:110:29:13

The pictures on television of the Viet Cong on American soil here inside their own embassy compound

0:29:130:29:20

sent shockwaves across the United States.

0:29:200:29:24

In spite of this, the reality in Saigon was that the embassy attack had been crushed

0:29:240:29:29

and the threat to the capital had been contained.

0:29:290:29:32

Any fighting now was just mopping up.

0:29:320:29:34

But the Tet Offensive was far from over.

0:29:340:29:38

Within minutes of each other,

0:29:380:29:39

scores of bases, towns and cities had been attacked all over the country.

0:29:390:29:44

One US General said his map was lighting up with news of assaults like a pinball machine.

0:29:440:29:50

An estimated 84,000 troops, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong,

0:29:520:29:56

had hurled themselves at the centres of power.

0:29:560:29:59

The Americans and South Vietnamese managed to restore control very quickly,

0:30:000:30:05

everywhere, that is, except in one of the most important cities in the country.

0:30:050:30:09

What happened there was to be one of the bloodiest battles in the Vietnam War.

0:30:090:30:15

Previously untouched by war, the ancient city of Hue

0:30:240:30:29

was one of the most revered places in the country.

0:30:290:30:32

A centre of learning, religion and culture,

0:30:320:30:35

this Imperial City had huge symbolic importance for both North and South Vietnam.

0:30:350:30:42

But now, Hue would have a unique claim to fame for very different reasons.

0:30:460:30:51

In just two hours, on the 31st of January,

0:30:510:30:55

Communist forces captured and gained control of the city.

0:30:550:30:59

The occupying force was determined to destroy the South Vietnamese elite in Hue.

0:31:000:31:05

They immediately rounded up everyone they thought was a threat.

0:31:100:31:14

As many as 5,000 people disappeared.

0:31:140:31:18

The American high command and its South Vietnamese allies

0:31:180:31:21

could not allow Hue to remain in Communist hands

0:31:210:31:24

under any circumstances.

0:31:240:31:26

If this venerated city wasn't recaptured soon,

0:31:260:31:30

it would be a spectacular propaganda victory for Ho Chi Minh.

0:31:300:31:34

Hue is really two cities on either side of the Perfume River.

0:31:400:31:44

To the north, the old Vietnamese Imperial City,

0:31:440:31:49

a gigantic 200-year-old citadel.

0:31:490:31:52

On the south bank of the river, the new city.

0:31:520:31:56

Some 5,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had stormed

0:31:560:32:00

the northwest wall of the old city and had taken control

0:32:000:32:04

of much of the ancient citadel.

0:32:040:32:07

They'd also seized the new city to the south of the river.

0:32:070:32:10

Only two places in Hue held out against the Communists -

0:32:110:32:16

a South Vietnamese compound in the northeast corner of the citadel,

0:32:160:32:20

and an American compound on the south side of the river

0:32:200:32:24

near the bridge. What the Americans didn't yet know

0:32:240:32:28

was just how strong the Communist occupying force was.

0:32:280:32:32

They were soon to find out.

0:32:320:32:34

At 4.10 on the afternoon of the 31st of January,

0:32:370:32:41

160 marines moved off towards the Nguyen Hoang bridge

0:32:410:32:46

with orders to reach the South Vietnamese army compound inside the citadel.

0:32:460:32:51

Just as the marines reached the middle of the bridge here,

0:33:030:33:06

a machine gun opened up on the far bank right in front of them.

0:33:060:33:09

SOUND EFFECT: BULLETS RICOCHET

0:33:090:33:13

Ten marines were killed or wounded and the rest, taking cover, hit the deck.

0:33:130:33:19

One of my recollections was the bullets

0:33:240:33:27

flying off the bridge of steel girders.

0:33:270:33:29

They have a distinctive sound.

0:33:290:33:31

SUSTAINED GUNFIRE

0:33:310:33:33

The commander had serious doubts about leading his men forward,

0:33:380:33:41

but he felt he had to obey his orders to cross the bridge and continue his mission.

0:33:410:33:46

GUNFIRE

0:33:460:33:48

SHELL EXPLODES

0:33:520:33:54

The marines pushed on. They walked up this street here from the bridge and turned right towards the citadel.

0:33:540:34:01

Ahead of them was the imposing Thuong Tu gate.

0:34:010:34:04

I'd just turned the corner and got to about the first tree

0:34:100:34:14

on the right, and suddenly, all hell broke loose

0:34:140:34:17

and a hail of bullets rained down on us from the gate up the street in front.

0:34:170:34:22

I looked up and all I could see were the muzzle flashes of NVA machine guns.

0:34:220:34:28

NVA soldiers were dug in on top of the gate in the citadel wall.

0:34:280:34:32

We were like sitting ducks.

0:34:320:34:34

GUNFIRE

0:34:340:34:36

With five men killed and 44 wounded in just one hour,

0:34:430:34:47

the commander realised it would be crazy to proceed.

0:34:470:34:50

He gave the order to retreat.

0:34:500:34:52

The marines made their way back over the bridge to their base in the new city.

0:34:580:35:02

So, at the end of day one of the Tet Offensive in Hue,

0:35:050:35:08

the Americans had a better idea of the mammoth task they were facing.

0:35:080:35:12

Rather than risk more casualties venturing across the bridge again,

0:35:120:35:16

they determined to clear the new city on the southern side of the river.

0:35:160:35:20

From the safety of their compound, they started to move out westwards

0:35:210:35:25

in two parallel columns with a tank leading each one.

0:35:250:35:30

Their objective - to reach Hue's local government building

0:35:300:35:34

that now had a Viet Cong flag flying on its rooftop.

0:35:340:35:38

This was just 800 metres, about 850 yards, down the street.

0:35:380:35:44

It should take hours at most.

0:35:440:35:46

They were in for a rude shock.

0:35:470:35:49

The marines were about to face some of the hardest fighting

0:35:490:35:53

of the entire Vietnam War.

0:35:530:35:55

SHELL EXPLODES

0:36:300:36:32

Most of the marines had spent the last few months fighting in the countryside.

0:36:550:36:59

Many had little or no experience of combat in urban areas.

0:36:590:37:03

To make matters worse, the US High Commander banned the use

0:37:030:37:06

of heavy artillery and air strikes in Hue.

0:37:060:37:09

This historic city was not to be destroyed.

0:37:090:37:13

The marines were on their own.

0:37:130:37:15

SOLDIER SHOUTS FRANTICALLY

0:37:180:37:21

Without this support, and in the face of fierce opposition, progress was painfully slow.

0:37:230:37:28

It took the marines half a day just to get from here to there.

0:37:280:37:31

We'd been trained to fight out in jungles and rice paddies.

0:37:380:37:41

That's what we'd been doing until Hue.

0:37:410:37:44

In Hue, the NVA were properly dug in everywhere.

0:37:440:37:47

We couldn't go through any open space.

0:37:470:37:50

We had to find a completely new way of fighting.

0:37:500:37:53

As the marines in Hue were quickly discovering,

0:37:570:38:00

it's a lot harder to retake a city than it is to defend it,

0:38:000:38:05

especially if each house has been turned into a fortress.

0:38:050:38:09

'To find out more about urban clearing,

0:38:130:38:15

'Dan and I joined the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment

0:38:150:38:19

'on a training exercise.'

0:38:190:38:22

-So, lads all ready?

-Yeah, think so.

0:38:220:38:24

'I hung back with the commanding officer...'

0:38:240:38:26

-Just waiting for each unit.

-Sure, sure.

0:38:260:38:29

'..while Dan, in full combat gear, was poised for action.'

0:38:290:38:33

The brief was to clear four houses

0:38:340:38:37

of an enemy who had infiltrated the village.

0:38:370:38:40

An urban environment is extremely difficult to secure

0:38:410:38:45

because it provides so many opportunities for effective defence.

0:38:450:38:49

In Hue, the marines had to deal with troops who could be anywhere

0:38:490:38:53

in the buildings, from the rooftops to the cellars.

0:38:530:38:56

'Rapid fire in ten!'

0:38:580:38:59

GUNFIRE AND SHOUTING

0:38:590:39:02

So you've got to be all the time on the lookout,

0:39:050:39:08

all the way around you, up, down, behind you...

0:39:080:39:11

Yeah, a 360-degree battlefield.

0:39:110:39:14

SHOUTING

0:39:140:39:17

With a special camera mounted on my helmet, I recorded all the action as we moved towards the first building.

0:39:240:39:29

That's 8th Platoon assaulting now, so that's the break-in,

0:39:290:39:33

-our main effort to get that first building.

-In goes Dan.

0:39:330:39:37

'The first thing is to get a grenade in there quickly and then pour in rifle fire.'

0:39:380:39:44

HEAVY GUNFIRE

0:39:450:39:47

That's it! Got it!

0:39:470:39:49

Move! Get moving!

0:39:500:39:52

'Urban fighting eats up resources and manpower.'

0:39:530:39:56

Go!

0:39:560:39:57

'Once you're actually in the first room, you then have to search out every part of it.

0:39:570:40:02

'It is dark and you have no idea what you're up against.

0:40:020:40:05

'You have to keep communicating with one another, but very quickly it gets totally chaotic.'

0:40:050:40:10

Get out of the way of the grenade!

0:40:100:40:12

'The American marines had only four blocks to clear in Hue,

0:40:120:40:16

'but it's easy to see how tough a job that was.'

0:40:160:40:19

It's amazing how many people it takes to clear a house.

0:40:190:40:23

Yeah, it'll take up to a company of a 100 men

0:40:230:40:25

to clear these four houses, so, a platoon in each, and that's stretching us.

0:40:250:40:30

You've got to clear every single room one at a time and in each room,

0:40:310:40:35

there could be booby traps, trip wires, trap doors and hidden entrances.

0:40:350:40:40

Around every corner, there could be someone about to kill you.

0:40:400:40:44

Get in! Go!

0:40:440:40:46

Right, move!

0:40:460:40:48

GUNFIRE

0:40:480:40:50

Against the wall!

0:40:520:40:54

You got three windows, one door.

0:40:540:40:56

Top left entry point, OK? You all happy with that one?

0:40:560:40:59

-Has he got the ladder on it?

-That's the ladder there.

0:40:590:41:02

Let's go!

0:41:050:41:07

Hurry up, hurry up!

0:41:090:41:11

Move, move, move!

0:41:160:41:18

Go! Go!

0:41:180:41:19

Move back!

0:41:220:41:24

One enemy dead! One friendly casualty!

0:41:280:41:31

INDISTINCT SHOUTING

0:41:310:41:34

Come on, mate, get up!

0:41:340:41:36

Two enemy dead.

0:41:360:41:38

Three dead now!

0:41:420:41:44

OK.

0:41:440:41:46

The exercise was over and the buildings retaken.

0:41:460:41:49

Alec, tell us what you made of the operation.

0:41:500:41:53

I mean, that was a typical para operation, clearing houses. How successful was it?

0:41:530:41:58

It went according to plan and about the same timescale.

0:41:580:42:00

It took us about two hours to take the four buildings.

0:42:000:42:03

And the overwhelmingly striking thing about it all has been the number of people required

0:42:030:42:08

to clear just a few buildings here. It's extraordinary, isn't it?

0:42:080:42:12

Yeah, there's no... You can't deploy your fantastic technology

0:42:120:42:17

and your strike aircraft or your artillery because it's a matter of cleaning out every single room

0:42:170:42:22

and there's no other way than the good old-fashioned

0:42:220:42:24

"Send in the infantry" and clean out room by room

0:42:240:42:26

and the idea of doing that day after day, like those guys in Hue, is unimaginable.

0:42:260:42:31

On February 3rd, four days into the Tet Offensive,

0:42:450:42:48

the ban on supporting air attacks in the new city was finally lifted.

0:42:480:42:52

With this air support and with their tanks, the marines' progress started to speed up.

0:42:520:42:57

SHELL FIRE

0:42:570:43:00

We tried our best to avoid malicious damage.

0:43:180:43:21

As a result of their being so entrenched, it required for us

0:43:210:43:25

to bring maximum firepower at our disposal to eliminate them.

0:43:250:43:29

But we were fortunate we did have the weapons that were capable

0:43:290:43:32

of routing the NVA and Viet Cong out of their positions.

0:43:320:43:35

Three days later,

0:43:470:43:49

the marines finally secured the local government building.

0:43:490:43:52

SOLDIER SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY

0:43:580:44:01

Are you finished? We want to get the hell out!

0:44:010:44:04

It had taken a week to advance just 800 metres,

0:44:060:44:10

little more than a 100 metres - that's about a 100 yards - a day.

0:44:100:44:14

Retaking these few blocks had cost many wounded and many lives on both sides.

0:44:140:44:20

The North Vietnamese Army's resistance on the south side of the city was now broken,

0:44:200:44:26

but in the citadel, over on the north side of the river,

0:44:260:44:30

fighting had reached stalemate, and the North Vietnamese Army

0:44:300:44:33

had the South Vietnamese troops boxed in.

0:44:330:44:36

On February 12th, the South Vietnamese sent the American marines a call for help.

0:44:430:44:48

The trouble was that the bridge connecting the new city

0:44:480:44:51

with the Imperial citadel had been blown up by the Communists.

0:44:510:44:54

The only way of getting over there was by river.

0:44:540:44:58

At 5.30 that afternoon, one battle-weary company of marines embarked on fast boats

0:45:110:45:16

and sped off down the Perfume River.

0:45:160:45:18

They sat precariously balanced on ammunition crates and they came under

0:45:180:45:22

heavy fire from North Vietnamese guns hidden along this bank just here.

0:45:220:45:26

HEAVY GUNFIRE

0:45:290:45:31

It was a nerve-wracking journey.

0:45:380:45:40

But the only way to help the South Vietnamese and win the battle for Hue

0:45:400:45:44

was for the marines to get into the old city.

0:45:440:45:47

This is where the boats picked up the marines,

0:45:470:45:50

here it is on the map case,

0:45:500:45:52

just here on the south side of the Perfume River.

0:45:520:45:55

They were ferried up the river round here to the northeast corner

0:45:550:46:00

of the citadel, where the South Vietnamese forces were trapped.

0:46:000:46:04

Men and supplies were offloaded near one of the gates

0:46:050:46:09

and rushed in to reinforce the South Vietnamese inside.

0:46:090:46:13

The marines now had to fight,

0:46:140:46:16

not just in the more densely-packed streets of the citadel,

0:46:160:46:19

but against an enemy protected by bunkers and battlements

0:46:190:46:23

on walls several metres thick.

0:46:230:46:25

The North Vietnamese were scattered throughout the city

0:46:250:46:29

and heavily entrenched on the eastern side of the citadel

0:46:290:46:33

and on the walls of the Imperial Palace itself.

0:46:330:46:36

The South Vietnamese had tried but failed to push back their enemy.

0:46:360:46:41

It was now up to the marines.

0:46:410:46:43

Their plan was to push south, down the narrow streets

0:46:450:46:49

held by the North Vietnamese Army towards the Thuong Tu Gate,

0:46:490:46:53

where they had been ambushed two long weeks before.

0:46:530:46:57

Now the marines found themselves in another unfamiliar battlefield -

0:47:020:47:06

a gigantic fortress surrounded by high battlements and defensive moats.

0:47:060:47:12

In fact, this citadel was such a unique landmark that, unlike in the new city,

0:47:120:47:16

the South Vietnamese still wouldn't allow the Americans to bomb it.

0:47:160:47:20

In some places, these historic walls were up to a 100ft thick.

0:47:240:47:28

This new environment presented the marines with some difficult choices.

0:47:280:47:33

They could stay down in that tight warren of streets, fighting house to house,

0:47:360:47:40

or they could come up here onto the walls

0:47:400:47:42

where there was far greater mobility, but they would be totally exposed.

0:47:420:47:47

How long do you think it'll take you to get through this city?

0:47:520:47:55

We'll be here a few weeks, cleaning out. It'll take a while to get us out of here.

0:47:550:47:59

Have you lost any friends?

0:47:590:48:01

Quite a few, we lost one the other day, a good buddy of mine.

0:48:010:48:04

The whole thing stinks, really.

0:48:040:48:06

Fire!

0:48:070:48:09

By now, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong

0:48:120:48:16

were beginning to suffer,

0:48:160:48:18

but General Giap's men knew that for every day the Communist flag flew over this sacred city,

0:48:180:48:24

it sent out powerful propaganda messages to the Vietnamese people

0:48:240:48:28

and, even more significantly, to America.

0:48:280:48:31

A week later, the Communists were still holding out.

0:48:420:48:46

This Imperial Palace was the source of intense frustration for the marines.

0:48:460:48:51

They were still forbidden from simply levelling the walls and as a result, they were losing men fast.

0:48:510:48:56

You had this utter devastation all around you.

0:49:140:49:18

You had this horrible smell.

0:49:180:49:21

I mean, you just cannot describe the smell of death,

0:49:210:49:24

especially when you're looking at it a couple of weeks along.

0:49:240:49:28

Then the marines got some welcome news.

0:49:360:49:39

The US Airborne Cavalry had managed to cut off their enemy's supply line

0:49:390:49:43

into the old city here.

0:49:430:49:45

And, on top of this, the South Vietnamese had given permission for air strikes

0:49:450:49:49

on the citadel. The noose was tightening round the Communists.

0:49:490:49:52

They were fighting for survival and the Americans prepared for their final push.

0:49:520:49:57

As the marines forced their way

0:50:130:50:16

towards the southeast corner of the citadel,

0:50:160:50:18

two A-4 jets dropped napalm to clear one area with devastating effect.

0:50:180:50:25

Now able to use every weapon in their armoury,

0:50:310:50:34

the marines in the citadel put all they had into breaking the hold

0:50:340:50:38

of the North Vietnamese Army on the Imperial Palace.

0:50:380:50:41

Finally, to the south, around 150 marine reinforcements

0:51:330:51:37

stormed their way through to retake the Thuong Tu Gate,

0:51:370:51:41

the gate that their comrades had been beaten back from

0:51:410:51:44

three weeks earlier.

0:51:440:51:45

After nearly a month of heavy fighting,

0:51:490:51:52

the Imperial Palace was retaken

0:51:520:51:54

and the city was back under South Vietnamese control.

0:51:540:51:58

The battle for Hue was effectively over.

0:51:580:52:02

Ho Chi Minh and General Giap's Tet Offensive had failed.

0:52:060:52:11

They'd failed to prompt a general uprising

0:52:110:52:14

of the people of South Vietnam.

0:52:140:52:16

They'd failed to defeat the American and South Vietnamese in battle.

0:52:160:52:21

Of all the 100 or so towns and cities they'd attacked, they hadn't held onto even one.

0:52:210:52:27

And now the Viet Cong was effectively wiped out as a viable fighting force.

0:52:270:52:33

It was a devastating loss for the enemy.

0:52:330:52:36

We thought we had done a wonderful job.

0:52:360:52:39

In the big picture, Hue was a huge turning point.

0:52:390:52:42

Westmoreland had triumphed...

0:52:450:52:48

or so he thought.

0:52:480:52:50

Throughout the weeks the Tet fighting had raged,

0:52:590:53:02

the pictures of conflict flooded daily into American homes.

0:53:020:53:06

And what the American public saw

0:53:080:53:10

was a far uglier version of the war than they were expecting.

0:53:100:53:14

-REPORTER:

-Round the edge of the courtyard, someone noticed small holes camouflaged.

0:53:160:53:19

In almost every one, there's an enemy soldier.

0:53:190:53:22

Shocking images like these and the summary execution of a prisoner

0:53:220:53:26

by a South Vietnamese General were broadcast on the evening news.

0:53:260:53:30

All this was not what many Americans believed they should be fighting for.

0:53:330:53:38

But perhaps the final blow was that the television and newspaper images

0:53:450:53:50

suggested that President Johnson and General Westmoreland had got it wrong.

0:53:500:53:55

The Tet Offensive appeared to show

0:53:550:53:57

the Communists were a lot stronger

0:53:570:54:00

than the American people had been told.

0:54:000:54:03

The end of the war seemed even further off than ever.

0:54:030:54:06

America's most respected television news anchorman, Walter Cronkite,

0:54:120:54:16

was just back from a whirlwind tour of battlefields ravaged by Tet.

0:54:160:54:21

He filed a pessimistic report that would strike a chord with millions.

0:54:210:54:26

-VOICE OF WALTER CRONKITE:

-For it seems now more certain than ever

0:54:260:54:29

that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.

0:54:290:54:33

But it is increasingly clear to this reporter

0:54:330:54:36

that the only rational way out then

0:54:360:54:39

will be to negotiate,

0:54:390:54:40

not as victors, but as an honourable people who lived up to their pledge

0:54:400:54:45

to defend democracy and did the best they could.

0:54:450:54:50

This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.

0:54:500:54:52

Something had to change. Johnson went live on television

0:54:520:54:57

to announce a reduction in the bombing,

0:54:570:55:00

but he decided it wasn't enough just to change policy.

0:55:000:55:04

He faced re-election as President later that year,

0:55:040:55:07

and people in his own party were now openly campaigning against him on a peace ticket.

0:55:070:55:12

To the surprise even of his closest colleagues,

0:55:120:55:16

he ended his broadcast on a note of high political drama.

0:55:160:55:21

I shall not seek...

0:55:210:55:23

..and I will not accept...

0:55:250:55:27

the nomination of my party for another term as your President.

0:55:270:55:32

With Johnson's ultimate act of political self-sacrifice,

0:55:350:55:38

the Tet Offensive had taken its most high-profile victim.

0:55:380:55:43

The battle America's military claimed as a victory had turned into a political disaster.

0:55:430:55:49

The Tet Offensive led to a huge shift in public opinion

0:55:490:55:53

against the war and a change in government policy.

0:55:530:55:57

The plan now was to strengthen and re-equip the South Vietnamese Army

0:55:570:56:02

in order to allow American troops to withdraw and South Vietnam to survive on its own.

0:56:020:56:08

By 1973, all American ground troops had left,

0:56:080:56:12

but the strategy was to fail.

0:56:120:56:15

The South Vietnamese couldn't hold back the Communists

0:56:150:56:18

and in April 1975, the North Vietnamese took Saigon.

0:56:180:56:23

The war was over.

0:56:230:56:25

The country reunited, the Communists in power.

0:56:250:56:31

Over a million Vietnamese people died during the Vietnam War,

0:56:420:56:47

but the trauma did not end in 1975.

0:56:470:56:50

When the Communists took control, huge numbers of South Vietnamese fled, fearing the new regime.

0:56:510:56:57

The country that they left behind had been virtually destroyed by one of the 20th century's longest wars.

0:56:590:57:06

Most Americans had entered the war believing they were fighting a just cause.

0:57:160:57:22

By the war's end, 58,000 Americans were dead

0:57:220:57:26

and the country was divided, embittered and disenchanted.

0:57:260:57:31

Americans still argue long and hard

0:57:330:57:37

as to whether the terrible price they paid for this war

0:57:370:57:40

had any real effect on the global advance of Communism.

0:57:400:57:44

What is true is that, in spite of America's failure in Vietnam,

0:57:440:57:48

Communism, far from taking over the world, suffered one reverse after another,

0:57:480:57:53

but the trauma that followed Tet

0:57:530:57:56

was to burn deep into America's soul, and for years to come,

0:57:560:58:01

Americans would be very wary about becoming embroiled

0:58:010:58:05

in other foreign wars for fear of another Vietnam.

0:58:050:58:09

Next time, the story of the 20th century's biggest conflict

0:58:140:58:17

between Arabs and Israelis.

0:58:170:58:20

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria stunned Israel

0:58:200:58:24

with a surprise attack.

0:58:240:58:26

For three weeks, the conflict swung violently from side to side.

0:58:260:58:30

I'll be finding out how the Arabs used new weapons against the Israelis

0:58:300:58:35

with devastating consequences.

0:58:350:58:37

And I'll be revealing how Arab and Israeli commanders

0:58:370:58:39

astonished each other with the boldness of their strategies.

0:58:390:58:42

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:420:58:45

Peter and Dan Snow trace the Tet Offensive of 1968, the turning point of the Vietnam War. State of-the-art graphics are used to illustrate how US marines flushed out Communist fighters, some of whom lived in a claustrophobic network of tunnels which were used as a platform for major attacks. Together the Snows join the British Army on an urban clearance operation to experience first hand the chaos and intensity of similar situations.


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