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On January the 31st, 1968,
the people of Saigon in South Vietnam
were celebrating their New Year festival called Tet.
Suddenly, savage fighting broke out.
It was the beginning of a nationwide Communist assault
that would change the course of the long-running Vietnam War.
The Tet Offensive was to be a turning point
in a war that would eventually see this city and the whole of Vietnam
united under Communist rule,
a war that would rage for more than a decade
and would in the end see America, one of the world's superpowers,
suffer perhaps its greatest setback of the 20th century.
I'll be explaining how the best equipped army in the world
had to adapt its strategy to face a largely guerrilla fighting force.
The American troops had to get used
to this new kind of combat in a strange country far away from home.
I'll be experiencing a little of what it was like for them...
Room clear! Room clear!
..as they fought their way through the towns and cities of South Vietnam.
I'll also be telling the story of the Communist fighters
who staged this bold attack on the world's mightiest military power.
In the whole of this long war,
it was the Tet Offensive of 1968 that was the pivotal moment.
Fought here in the streets of Vietnam, it struck right at the very core of the American psyche.
The Tet Offensive was one of the most decisive battles of the 20th century.
the Americans had been fighting the Communist regime in North Vietnam.
The West was gripped by a fear of Communism devouring country after country.
The Americans believed that if they didn't make a decisive stand in Vietnam,
the whole of Southeast Asia would fall.
By 1967, hundreds of thousands of American troops had poured into South Vietnam.
Many were stationed in remote areas like this hillside called Con Thien.
Con Thien was at the sharp end of the war in Vietnam.
The fight against the Communists had become so fierce
that the marines based here called it the Meat Grinder.
During the war, there would have been artillery here, both in this bunker and dug in on the hillside.
Most of it would have pointed that way,
because just over there, there was a border that cut Vietnam in two.
On this side, the Republic of South Vietnam which the Americans were here to protect
and on the far side, the Communist North.
The fire base here at Con Thien
was in the front line of America's war against Communism,
to prevent the Communist North taking over the South.
Con Thien was one of a chain of US artillery bases
just south of the border.
Here's the base right here.
And here's the border
with a kind of no-man's-land either side of it
called the demilitarised zone.
The demilitarised zone literally cut Vietnam in half.
Down here was South Vietnam,
a fragile Republic governed by a military elite
whose army need America's help. Their capital was Saigon.
The whole of Vietnam, north and south,
is 1,000 miles from bottom to top.
Up here, Communist North Vietnam,
backed by the Soviet Union and China,
and leading it, in its capital Hanoi,
a lifelong Communist and ardent Nationalist, Ho Chi Minh.
Known as Uncle Ho to his followers,
Ho Chi Minh had trained and equipped an army of 500,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.
Ho had successfully driven out the French colonial government in 1954
and now he was resolved to push out the Americans
and reunite Vietnam under Communism.
The Americans were led by General William Westmoreland.
With a clutch of medals from World War Two and Korea,
Westmoreland now led an American force of half a million troops
in support of some 800,000 South Vietnamese soldiers.
But the challenge faced by General Westmoreland and his men was all the greater,
because they didn't just have one enemy - they had two.
As well as the threat from the North, the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies
had to face thousands of local Communist guerrillas
here inside South Vietnam itself.
The Southern Communist rebels called themselves the National Liberation Front,
but history remembers them by the name the Americans used - the Viet Cong, or VC.
They were a huge problem for the US troops.
With no uniforms to distinguish them from the other villagers in South Vietnam,
it was very difficult to tell who was friend and who was foe.
Are you VC?
Yeah, you Viet Cong, huh?
You Viet Cong?
You Viet Cong? You Viet Cong?
Half the time, the Americans were fighting an enemy they just couldn't pin down.
But the Viet Cong's ability to blend in was not their only advantage.
They were also supplied
by their powerful ally and effective controller in the North, Ho Chi Minh.
The lifeline he set up to supply the Viet Cong was an incredible logistical feat.
He sent North Vietnamese fighters, arms and equipment
down the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail,
a network of unpaved roads and paths
stretching hundreds of miles down the length of Vietnam.
It was largely concealed in the jungle, just across the border
in supposedly neutral countries next door.
I travelled south down the Ho Chi Minh trail twice.
We literally had to hack or crawl our way through the jungle.
Some people would carry up to 80 kilos on their shoulders.
There were even some hill tribes people who would carry up to 90 kilos
which for the women was more than their own bodyweight.
The Ho Chi Minh trail was vital for the Communist war effort
and the weapon the United States deployed against it
was the might of its air power.
Some of the bombing targets were strategic points in North Vietnam,
railways, bridges, factories and so on.
Another target for the bombers,
including giant B-52s, was the Ho Chi Minh trail.
The Americans hoped their bombing would cut off the lifeblood of the rebels in the south.
Just one of these B-52s could drop over a 100 bombs
and devastate an area a mile long by quarter-of-a-mile wide.
In South Vietnam, the bombers would act on intelligence reports
and try to hit Viet Cong strongholds.
High explosive bombs and napalm, an extremely flammable liquid, caused terrible destruction...
..and much of the countryside on which so many depended was laid to waste.
These bombs may have been hitting their targets,
but they weren't doing much to win over the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people.
Often the targets were in or near populated villages,
so, inevitably, civilians were killed.
It also wasn't really a very good way of routing out the Communists.
To do that, there was really no alternative but to go in on foot.
The South Vietnamese Army and the Americans spent days patrolling the countryside,
trying to hunt down the Viet Cong,
looking for telltale signs that might indicate a Viet Cong presence.
But they weren't just fighting an enemy that was scarcely visible.
They were fighting the conditions too.
The patrols were not made any easier by the scorching temperatures
and the weight of the kit the American troops often had to carry with them.
I've been walking for a while now and the first thing you notice obviously is the heat.
It's about high 30s centigrade, probably just a bit over 100 degrees Fahrenheit,
and the guys, the Americans, who arrived in Vietnam,
probably my age, probably a bit less,
and most of them have probably never seen a country like this, never seen a climate like this.
That would've taken a lot of getting used to - it's difficult for me -
but the main thing I don't have to worry about is that they were on patrol,
carrying this kit, and there were people trying to kill them.
They wouldn't be getting any support,
so they would have to eat, drink, apply medicines and fight
with just what they were carrying.
Of course, this wasn't really the case for the Viet Cong.
They could travel a lot lighter because they had supply dumps in friendly villages.
Often they were just carrying their weapon, the AK-47,
a bag of rice and maybe a mosquito net or a tarp.
-Their camouflage was excellent.
I can remember on instants looking out
and I saw the side of a hill move!
That's because it was them.
They didn't make a lot of noise.
We were noisy, but we had a lot of firepower.
You could hear a marine company coming from a mile away.
These patrols could be fatal
and many of the troops thought them pointless, anyway.
The enemy was just too slippery, too elusive.
He wouldn't come out and fight the kind of set-piece battle
the Americans had been trained and equipped for.
The Americans did adapt to this new way of fighting,
but just as they were beginning to make some headway in this war, everything changed.
During 1967, Ho Chi Minh had become increasingly concerned.
His North Vietnamese Army, the NVA,
had suffered heavy losses and victory still wasn't in sight,
so he turned to his defence minister, General Vo Nguyen Giap,
for a solution.
The plan Giap came up with was a huge gamble.
The North Vietnamese Army and their Viet Cong allies
would come out in the open and fight in larger numbers than ever before.
The aim - to smash the South Vietnamese government
and drive the Americans out once and for all.
By December 1967, American intelligence knew that something big was brewing.
They'd received reports of significant activity on the Ho Chi Minh trail,
and then of a striking build-up of North Vietnamese troops
near the American base of Khe Sanh, just south of the border.
The Communist enemy had suddenly become very visible.
Over in Washington,
the American President, Lyndon Johnson, and his advisers listened to the news with great interest.
It seemed that at long last President Johnson was to get the pitched battle he'd been waiting for
and the battlefield was to be Khe Sanh.
The American base of Khe Sanh
was situated in an isolated, hilly corner of South Vietnam,
just a few miles from the border with Laos.
There's nothing left of the base today,
but in January 1968, this base was home to thousands of American and South Vietnamese troops.
Khe Sanh is the westernmost American stronghold near the demilitarised zone.
It had been built to stop enemy infiltration from the north
and disrupt supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail along here.
Here is Khe Sanh and this is how it was laid out.
Over 6,000 marines and South Vietnamese troops were housed
in one heavily fortified combat base, built around an airstrip.
Surrounding the combat base were hills fortified with bunkers,
dug-outs and gun emplacements.
By mid-January 1968,
two whole North Vietnamese divisions, supported by elements of another division,
some 20,000 men in all,
had gathered in the hills around Khe Sanh.
In the early hours of January 21st,
North Vietnamese troops attacked an American-held hill just northwest of the base.
Then, a few hours later,
they launched a major attack on the very heart of the Khe Sanh combat base itself, right here.
GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS
As the NVA consolidated their positions around the base, the marines fought back ferociously.
But they were surrounded. The NVA had managed to cut off their road link to the outside world.
Now, the only way in and out of Khe Sanh was by air.
While the marines fought hard to stop the North Vietnamese
overrunning the vital high ground near the base,
General Westmoreland directed more than 24,000 air strikes against the attackers.
He called it Operation Niagara.
American aircraft dropped almost 100,000 tons of bombs during the siege.
It was an operation that cost 1 billion.
Life for the besieged marines quickly became a horrific ordeal.
The base was shelled constantly.
On average, 360 North Vietnamese rounds landed inside the perimeter each day.
On the heaviest day of bombardment, 1,300 shells hit US positions.
There was wreckage thrown everywhere.
Vehicles were smashed,
windshields shattered, blown tyres,
tents were shredded,
pieces of gear and torn sandbags were everywhere.
What had been a combat base looked like rubble.
Back in Washington, President Johnson was deeply worried.
To him, Khe Sanh had become the symbol of America's determination
to hold the line in Southeast Asia against Communism.
He could not afford to let it fall.
America's best units and one half of the US Army's mobile reserve in Vietnam
were moved up north into the area.
As the battle ground on, Johnson threw even more airpower into the fight.
At Khe Sanh, the Americans dropped around five tons of bombs
for every one North Vietnamese soldier.
Johnson was determined to win.
He was convinced that defeat at Khe Sanh would be an unacceptable blow to American prestige.
But what the Americans and South Vietnamese were about to discover
was that when General Giap and Ho Chi Minh came up with their plan,
Khe Sanh was not their main target.
Ho Chi Minh's high command had a far bigger plan
than the attack on Khe Sanh.
While all American eyes were focused on the struggle for Khe Sanh,
the leaders of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong met in bunkers like this
to make final preparations for a far bigger assault.
So far, the war had been largely confined to the countryside,
but now, in an unprecedented move,
Ho Chi Minh was to take the battle right into the heart of the towns and cities of South Vietnam.
His strategy - to attack hundreds of political and military targets in those cities.
And one of his essential aims - to provoke a popular uprising
right across the country.
Communist fighters, weapons and supplies had been slipping into towns and cities across South Vietnam.
They came in vegetable carts and even in funeral processions,
all under the noses of the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies.
But how was it that such a huge reservoir of men and supplies
had been gathered so close to the cities, largely unnoticed by the Americans?
One of the answers lay right beneath their feet.
Throughout the countryside of South Vietnam,
the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters had constructed an intricate network of tunnels
and the entrances were always well-hidden.
Ah, here we go.
Now, this may look narrow, but believe me, it's actually been widened for Western tourists,
so I should actually be able to fit in it no problem.
Oh, just put some leaves to obscure the entrance when I've gone through.
This labyrinth of tunnels at Cu Chi near Saigon
was over 200 miles long in total.
This complex was so well-hidden that an American base was unwittingly built right on top of it.
They had everything they needed down here.
They had water, sleeping accommodation,
storerooms, hospital facilities.
What the Viet Cong had done in these dark and cramped tunnels
was create a hidden fighting community,
capable of taking the battle into the heart of Saigon and the surrounding area.
We were working day and night.
It was a time of very secret and intensive activity.
That's why Cu Chi was important.
The tunnels were where preparations were made.
By the end of January 1968, these tunnels were busier than ever.
The weapons stockpiled here were smuggled into the cities.
All this was in preparation for the largest Communist onslaught of the Vietnam War.
As January drew to a close,
most Vietnamese were preoccupied with preparations of a very different kind.
The Tet lunar New Year was approaching, a very important holiday in the Vietnamese year,
rather like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled up into one.
And many South Vietnamese soldiers, believing that a traditional truce was in effect, had been given leave
to go off and visit their families in the country.
But as festivities got going that evening in late January, there was a lot more happening than met the eye.
It was January 31st,
and under cover of the Tet celebrations, a group of Viet Cong were driving towards downtown Saigon.
Their mission - to take control of the government radio station
and broadcast a call to arms for the people to rise up and overthrow the government of South Vietnam.
Just before 3am,
the convoy of Viet Cong fighters pulled up outside the building.
One of the Viet Cong leapt out the lead Jeep and shot dead the confused radio-station guard.
The war had come to the heart of Saigon.
The Tet Offensive had begun.
With the capital of South Vietnam under attack,
news crews in the city relayed eyewitness reports
into homes across the world.
Well, here we are, we're right in the centre of Saigon,
just opposite the Presidential Palace
and I am in the driveway of the Republic...
..the Republic of South Korean Embassy.
This gunfire that you can hear is...is pretty close.
It's coming in above our heads.
It seems like...
..a major firefight is starting at this moment.
As the night wore on,
news of attacks poured in from all over the city.
General Westmoreland's own headquarters was attacked and the nearby airport of Tan Son Nhut.
The Viet Cong even seized the race track at Phu Tho.
It was the perfect rallying point for their fighters.
They also wanted to hold it to prevent the Americans from using it as a helicopter landing zone.
In the city centre, they attacked the naval dockyard and the radio station they stormed was nearby.
Even the Presidential Palace came under attack.
But there was another objective that night,
just a block away from the palace.
It may have been less imposing,
but it was to prove a much more rewarding target.
Earlier, a group of Viet Cong fighters had gathered in a garage
to make final preparations for this attack.
Now, everybody present at this meeting were members of the Viet Cong C10 battalion.
They may have been few in number and they may have had limited fire power,
but the results of that night's C10 mission
would reverberate around the world.
Here at the US Embassy, the symbol of American power and presence in Vietnam,
that C10 squad of Viet Cong fighters from the garage
blew a three-foot hole in the bottom of this perimeter wall.
Their two leaders rushed in, but were shot and killed by the American guards.
Those guards then radioed for help, but it was the last message they'd ever send,
because then they too were gunned down in a hail of VC fire.
After killing the guards,
the remaining Viet Cong poured through the hole in the wall and into the compound itself.
But their leaders were dead and the momentum petered out.
Instead of charging forward into the heart of the embassy,
they took up position around here and simply fired pot shots at the building.
A few blocks away from the American Embassy,
news of the chaos had reached newspaper and television reporters staying nearby.
They rushed to the scene to find that reinforcements sent
by American commanders were still milling around
outside the embassy compound, with the Viet Cong inside.
Laying flat in the gutter,
I didn't know where the VC attackers were holed up
or where the fire was coming from. But we knew it was the big story.
The journalists couldn't believe what was happening.
From what they could see,
it seemed that the VC had stormed and captured part of the US Embassy right here in the heart of Saigon.
Realising the huge symbolic implications of this,
they sent back reports within hours of the attack
from the beleaguered embassy to news desks right around the world.
Now CIA men and MPs have gone into the embassy
and are trying to get the snipers out...
Military Police got back into the compound of the 2.5 million embassy complex at dawn.
Before that, a platoon of Viet Cong were in control.
The raiders never got into the main chancery building.
A handful of marines had it locked and kept them out, but the raiders were everywhere else.
By the time people back home were watching the shocking news reports
from the embassy, the Americans had regained the upper hand.
What one US Commander described a "piddling platoon action" was all over within six hours.
But what may have seemed militarily insignificant was crucial
to the battle for the minds of the American public.
The pictures on television of the Viet Cong on American soil here inside their own embassy compound
sent shockwaves across the United States.
In spite of this, the reality in Saigon was that the embassy attack had been crushed
and the threat to the capital had been contained.
Any fighting now was just mopping up.
But the Tet Offensive was far from over.
Within minutes of each other,
scores of bases, towns and cities had been attacked all over the country.
One US General said his map was lighting up with news of assaults like a pinball machine.
An estimated 84,000 troops, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong,
had hurled themselves at the centres of power.
The Americans and South Vietnamese managed to restore control very quickly,
everywhere, that is, except in one of the most important cities in the country.
What happened there was to be one of the bloodiest battles in the Vietnam War.
Previously untouched by war, the ancient city of Hue
was one of the most revered places in the country.
A centre of learning, religion and culture,
this Imperial City had huge symbolic importance for both North and South Vietnam.
But now, Hue would have a unique claim to fame for very different reasons.
In just two hours, on the 31st of January,
Communist forces captured and gained control of the city.
The occupying force was determined to destroy the South Vietnamese elite in Hue.
They immediately rounded up everyone they thought was a threat.
As many as 5,000 people disappeared.
The American high command and its South Vietnamese allies
could not allow Hue to remain in Communist hands
under any circumstances.
If this venerated city wasn't recaptured soon,
it would be a spectacular propaganda victory for Ho Chi Minh.
Hue is really two cities on either side of the Perfume River.
To the north, the old Vietnamese Imperial City,
a gigantic 200-year-old citadel.
On the south bank of the river, the new city.
Some 5,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had stormed
the northwest wall of the old city and had taken control
of much of the ancient citadel.
They'd also seized the new city to the south of the river.
Only two places in Hue held out against the Communists -
a South Vietnamese compound in the northeast corner of the citadel,
and an American compound on the south side of the river
near the bridge. What the Americans didn't yet know
was just how strong the Communist occupying force was.
They were soon to find out.
At 4.10 on the afternoon of the 31st of January,
160 marines moved off towards the Nguyen Hoang bridge
with orders to reach the South Vietnamese army compound inside the citadel.
Just as the marines reached the middle of the bridge here,
a machine gun opened up on the far bank right in front of them.
SOUND EFFECT: BULLETS RICOCHET
Ten marines were killed or wounded and the rest, taking cover, hit the deck.
One of my recollections was the bullets
flying off the bridge of steel girders.
They have a distinctive sound.
The commander had serious doubts about leading his men forward,
but he felt he had to obey his orders to cross the bridge and continue his mission.
The marines pushed on. They walked up this street here from the bridge and turned right towards the citadel.
Ahead of them was the imposing Thuong Tu gate.
I'd just turned the corner and got to about the first tree
on the right, and suddenly, all hell broke loose
and a hail of bullets rained down on us from the gate up the street in front.
I looked up and all I could see were the muzzle flashes of NVA machine guns.
NVA soldiers were dug in on top of the gate in the citadel wall.
We were like sitting ducks.
With five men killed and 44 wounded in just one hour,
the commander realised it would be crazy to proceed.
He gave the order to retreat.
The marines made their way back over the bridge to their base in the new city.
So, at the end of day one of the Tet Offensive in Hue,
the Americans had a better idea of the mammoth task they were facing.
Rather than risk more casualties venturing across the bridge again,
they determined to clear the new city on the southern side of the river.
From the safety of their compound, they started to move out westwards
in two parallel columns with a tank leading each one.
Their objective - to reach Hue's local government building
that now had a Viet Cong flag flying on its rooftop.
This was just 800 metres, about 850 yards, down the street.
It should take hours at most.
They were in for a rude shock.
The marines were about to face some of the hardest fighting
of the entire Vietnam War.
Most of the marines had spent the last few months fighting in the countryside.
Many had little or no experience of combat in urban areas.
To make matters worse, the US High Commander banned the use
of heavy artillery and air strikes in Hue.
This historic city was not to be destroyed.
The marines were on their own.
SOLDIER SHOUTS FRANTICALLY
Without this support, and in the face of fierce opposition, progress was painfully slow.
It took the marines half a day just to get from here to there.
We'd been trained to fight out in jungles and rice paddies.
That's what we'd been doing until Hue.
In Hue, the NVA were properly dug in everywhere.
We couldn't go through any open space.
We had to find a completely new way of fighting.
As the marines in Hue were quickly discovering,
it's a lot harder to retake a city than it is to defend it,
especially if each house has been turned into a fortress.
'To find out more about urban clearing,
'Dan and I joined the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment
'on a training exercise.'
-So, lads all ready?
-Yeah, think so.
'I hung back with the commanding officer...'
-Just waiting for each unit.
'..while Dan, in full combat gear, was poised for action.'
The brief was to clear four houses
of an enemy who had infiltrated the village.
An urban environment is extremely difficult to secure
because it provides so many opportunities for effective defence.
In Hue, the marines had to deal with troops who could be anywhere
in the buildings, from the rooftops to the cellars.
'Rapid fire in ten!'
GUNFIRE AND SHOUTING
So you've got to be all the time on the lookout,
all the way around you, up, down, behind you...
Yeah, a 360-degree battlefield.
With a special camera mounted on my helmet, I recorded all the action as we moved towards the first building.
That's 8th Platoon assaulting now, so that's the break-in,
-our main effort to get that first building.
-In goes Dan.
'The first thing is to get a grenade in there quickly and then pour in rifle fire.'
That's it! Got it!
Move! Get moving!
'Urban fighting eats up resources and manpower.'
'Once you're actually in the first room, you then have to search out every part of it.
'It is dark and you have no idea what you're up against.
'You have to keep communicating with one another, but very quickly it gets totally chaotic.'
Get out of the way of the grenade!
'The American marines had only four blocks to clear in Hue,
'but it's easy to see how tough a job that was.'
It's amazing how many people it takes to clear a house.
Yeah, it'll take up to a company of a 100 men
to clear these four houses, so, a platoon in each, and that's stretching us.
You've got to clear every single room one at a time and in each room,
there could be booby traps, trip wires, trap doors and hidden entrances.
Around every corner, there could be someone about to kill you.
Get in! Go!
Against the wall!
You got three windows, one door.
Top left entry point, OK? You all happy with that one?
-Has he got the ladder on it?
-That's the ladder there.
Hurry up, hurry up!
Move, move, move!
One enemy dead! One friendly casualty!
Come on, mate, get up!
Two enemy dead.
Three dead now!
The exercise was over and the buildings retaken.
Alec, tell us what you made of the operation.
I mean, that was a typical para operation, clearing houses. How successful was it?
It went according to plan and about the same timescale.
It took us about two hours to take the four buildings.
And the overwhelmingly striking thing about it all has been the number of people required
to clear just a few buildings here. It's extraordinary, isn't it?
Yeah, there's no... You can't deploy your fantastic technology
and your strike aircraft or your artillery because it's a matter of cleaning out every single room
and there's no other way than the good old-fashioned
"Send in the infantry" and clean out room by room
and the idea of doing that day after day, like those guys in Hue, is unimaginable.
On February 3rd, four days into the Tet Offensive,
the ban on supporting air attacks in the new city was finally lifted.
With this air support and with their tanks, the marines' progress started to speed up.
We tried our best to avoid malicious damage.
As a result of their being so entrenched, it required for us
to bring maximum firepower at our disposal to eliminate them.
But we were fortunate we did have the weapons that were capable
of routing the NVA and Viet Cong out of their positions.
Three days later,
the marines finally secured the local government building.
SOLDIER SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY
Are you finished? We want to get the hell out!
It had taken a week to advance just 800 metres,
little more than a 100 metres - that's about a 100 yards - a day.
Retaking these few blocks had cost many wounded and many lives on both sides.
The North Vietnamese Army's resistance on the south side of the city was now broken,
but in the citadel, over on the north side of the river,
fighting had reached stalemate, and the North Vietnamese Army
had the South Vietnamese troops boxed in.
On February 12th, the South Vietnamese sent the American marines a call for help.
The trouble was that the bridge connecting the new city
with the Imperial citadel had been blown up by the Communists.
The only way of getting over there was by river.
At 5.30 that afternoon, one battle-weary company of marines embarked on fast boats
and sped off down the Perfume River.
They sat precariously balanced on ammunition crates and they came under
heavy fire from North Vietnamese guns hidden along this bank just here.
It was a nerve-wracking journey.
But the only way to help the South Vietnamese and win the battle for Hue
was for the marines to get into the old city.
This is where the boats picked up the marines,
here it is on the map case,
just here on the south side of the Perfume River.
They were ferried up the river round here to the northeast corner
of the citadel, where the South Vietnamese forces were trapped.
Men and supplies were offloaded near one of the gates
and rushed in to reinforce the South Vietnamese inside.
The marines now had to fight,
not just in the more densely-packed streets of the citadel,
but against an enemy protected by bunkers and battlements
on walls several metres thick.
The North Vietnamese were scattered throughout the city
and heavily entrenched on the eastern side of the citadel
and on the walls of the Imperial Palace itself.
The South Vietnamese had tried but failed to push back their enemy.
It was now up to the marines.
Their plan was to push south, down the narrow streets
held by the North Vietnamese Army towards the Thuong Tu Gate,
where they had been ambushed two long weeks before.
Now the marines found themselves in another unfamiliar battlefield -
a gigantic fortress surrounded by high battlements and defensive moats.
In fact, this citadel was such a unique landmark that, unlike in the new city,
the South Vietnamese still wouldn't allow the Americans to bomb it.
In some places, these historic walls were up to a 100ft thick.
This new environment presented the marines with some difficult choices.
They could stay down in that tight warren of streets, fighting house to house,
or they could come up here onto the walls
where there was far greater mobility, but they would be totally exposed.
How long do you think it'll take you to get through this city?
We'll be here a few weeks, cleaning out. It'll take a while to get us out of here.
Have you lost any friends?
Quite a few, we lost one the other day, a good buddy of mine.
The whole thing stinks, really.
By now, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong
were beginning to suffer,
but General Giap's men knew that for every day the Communist flag flew over this sacred city,
it sent out powerful propaganda messages to the Vietnamese people
and, even more significantly, to America.
A week later, the Communists were still holding out.
This Imperial Palace was the source of intense frustration for the marines.
They were still forbidden from simply levelling the walls and as a result, they were losing men fast.
You had this utter devastation all around you.
You had this horrible smell.
I mean, you just cannot describe the smell of death,
especially when you're looking at it a couple of weeks along.
Then the marines got some welcome news.
The US Airborne Cavalry had managed to cut off their enemy's supply line
into the old city here.
And, on top of this, the South Vietnamese had given permission for air strikes
on the citadel. The noose was tightening round the Communists.
They were fighting for survival and the Americans prepared for their final push.
As the marines forced their way
towards the southeast corner of the citadel,
two A-4 jets dropped napalm to clear one area with devastating effect.
Now able to use every weapon in their armoury,
the marines in the citadel put all they had into breaking the hold
of the North Vietnamese Army on the Imperial Palace.
Finally, to the south, around 150 marine reinforcements
stormed their way through to retake the Thuong Tu Gate,
the gate that their comrades had been beaten back from
three weeks earlier.
After nearly a month of heavy fighting,
the Imperial Palace was retaken
and the city was back under South Vietnamese control.
The battle for Hue was effectively over.
Ho Chi Minh and General Giap's Tet Offensive had failed.
They'd failed to prompt a general uprising
of the people of South Vietnam.
They'd failed to defeat the American and South Vietnamese in battle.
Of all the 100 or so towns and cities they'd attacked, they hadn't held onto even one.
And now the Viet Cong was effectively wiped out as a viable fighting force.
It was a devastating loss for the enemy.
We thought we had done a wonderful job.
In the big picture, Hue was a huge turning point.
Westmoreland had triumphed...
or so he thought.
Throughout the weeks the Tet fighting had raged,
the pictures of conflict flooded daily into American homes.
And what the American public saw
was a far uglier version of the war than they were expecting.
-Round the edge of the courtyard, someone noticed small holes camouflaged.
In almost every one, there's an enemy soldier.
Shocking images like these and the summary execution of a prisoner
by a South Vietnamese General were broadcast on the evening news.
All this was not what many Americans believed they should be fighting for.
But perhaps the final blow was that the television and newspaper images
suggested that President Johnson and General Westmoreland had got it wrong.
The Tet Offensive appeared to show
the Communists were a lot stronger
than the American people had been told.
The end of the war seemed even further off than ever.
America's most respected television news anchorman, Walter Cronkite,
was just back from a whirlwind tour of battlefields ravaged by Tet.
He filed a pessimistic report that would strike a chord with millions.
-VOICE OF WALTER CRONKITE:
-For it seems now more certain than ever
that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.
But it is increasingly clear to this reporter
that the only rational way out then
will be to negotiate,
not as victors, but as an honourable people who lived up to their pledge
to defend democracy and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
Something had to change. Johnson went live on television
to announce a reduction in the bombing,
but he decided it wasn't enough just to change policy.
He faced re-election as President later that year,
and people in his own party were now openly campaigning against him on a peace ticket.
To the surprise even of his closest colleagues,
he ended his broadcast on a note of high political drama.
I shall not seek...
..and I will not accept...
the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
With Johnson's ultimate act of political self-sacrifice,
the Tet Offensive had taken its most high-profile victim.
The battle America's military claimed as a victory had turned into a political disaster.
The Tet Offensive led to a huge shift in public opinion
against the war and a change in government policy.
The plan now was to strengthen and re-equip the South Vietnamese Army
in order to allow American troops to withdraw and South Vietnam to survive on its own.
By 1973, all American ground troops had left,
but the strategy was to fail.
The South Vietnamese couldn't hold back the Communists
and in April 1975, the North Vietnamese took Saigon.
The war was over.
The country reunited, the Communists in power.
Over a million Vietnamese people died during the Vietnam War,
but the trauma did not end in 1975.
When the Communists took control, huge numbers of South Vietnamese fled, fearing the new regime.
The country that they left behind had been virtually destroyed by one of the 20th century's longest wars.
Most Americans had entered the war believing they were fighting a just cause.
By the war's end, 58,000 Americans were dead
and the country was divided, embittered and disenchanted.
Americans still argue long and hard
as to whether the terrible price they paid for this war
had any real effect on the global advance of Communism.
What is true is that, in spite of America's failure in Vietnam,
Communism, far from taking over the world, suffered one reverse after another,
but the trauma that followed Tet
was to burn deep into America's soul, and for years to come,
Americans would be very wary about becoming embroiled
in other foreign wars for fear of another Vietnam.
Next time, the story of the 20th century's biggest conflict
between Arabs and Israelis.
In October 1973, Egypt and Syria stunned Israel
with a surprise attack.
For three weeks, the conflict swung violently from side to side.
I'll be finding out how the Arabs used new weapons against the Israelis
with devastating consequences.
And I'll be revealing how Arab and Israeli commanders
astonished each other with the boldness of their strategies.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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.