TACTICS AND STRATEGIES OF THE COMBATANTS IN THE VIETNAM WAR
North Vietnamese and NLF strategy: 1960-65
The North Vietnamese and NLF strategy to win the Second Indochina War was essentially the same as their strategy to defeat the French: to wear down the enemy’s morale by waging a prolonged guerrilla war, then destroy his will to fight by delivering a savage military blow. In the war against the French, this blow had come at Dien Bien Phu – a military victory for the Vietminh. In the war against the Americans, it came during the Tet Offensive, although this was a significant military defeat.
The communist-led forces had always seen the conflict in political as well as military terms. Their strategy was to win over the rural population of South Vietnam, enabling the Viet Cong (VC) to operate freely in those regions. As support for the NLF grew, so too would the guerrillas’ capacity to resist the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN). Gradually, the ARVN would be unable to enter large sections of the country, leaving the VC free to establish an alternative government in these so-called ‘liberated zones’.
This strategy was very effective during the early 1960s. The VC did gain control of large sections of the countryside, and inflicted heavy casualties on the ARVN. By early 1965, victory seemed assured, as the South Vietnamese regime neared collapse.
US and South Vietnamese strategy: 1965-67
The arrival of American troops in 1965 put an end to the gains made by the VC and NVA, and saved South Vietnam from collapse.
The US strategy to win the war was three pronged: destroy the VC, by the application of superior firepower; cut the supply of arms to the south by bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail; and drive the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table by bombing their heartland.
In the South, Westmoreland’s strategy was to establish a series of firebases across the country, then launch wave after wave of search and destroy operations against the VC. The US...