‘Live Nobly, Die Gloriously’: The Battle for Saigon—Tet 1968

  • Frank Leith Jones


In January 1968, the North Vietnamese Politburo and the National Liberation Front, known as the Viet Cong, launched the Tet Offensive. The capture of South Vietnam’s capital, Saigon, was key. If Viet Cong units could capture the city, it would demonstrate to US and South Vietnamese leaders that the war was unwinnable. This essay separates the longstanding myth from the actual events of the battle within the larger campaign. The Viet Cong suffered a significant tactical defeat partly due to inadequate planning, overreliance on surprise and miscalculation of the political situation in the city. However, US and South Vietnam forces deserve credit for acting decisively on incomplete intelligence, conducting effective counterattacks, and taking advantage, as Clausewitz underscores, of that fickle element of war known as chance.


  1. Ang Cheng Guan. “Decision-Making Leading to the Tet Offensive (1968)—The Vietnamese Communist Perspective.” Journal of Contemporary History 33, no. 3 (July 1998), 341–353.Google Scholar
  2. Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. “Viet Cong Invade American Embassy—The 1968 Tet Offensive.” Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  3. Cao Van Vien and Dong Van Khuyen. Reflections on the Vietnam War. Indochina Monographs. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1984.Google Scholar
  4. Central Intelligence Agency. Directorate of Intelligence, Intelligence Memorandum, The Situation in South Vietnam, No. 8 (February 2), 1968. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  5. Central Intelligence Agency. Intelligence Warning of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam (Interim Report), March 1, 1968. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  6. Central Intelligence Agency. Directorate of Intelligence, Intelligence Memorandum, The Situation in South Vietnam, No. 16, February 5, 1968, Item Number: 04105730004. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  7. Colby, William with McCarger, James. Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America’s Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989.Google Scholar
  8. Cosmas, Graham A. MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal, 1968–1973. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2007.Google Scholar
  9. Cubbage, Thomas L III. “Intelligence and the Tet Offensive: The South Vietnamese View of the Threat.” In The Vietnam War as History, edited by Elizabeth Jane Errington and B. J. C. McKercher, 91–116. New York: Praeger, 1990.Google Scholar
  10. Department of the Air Force, Headquarters, 377th Combat Support Group (PACAF), Subject: Combat Operations After Actions Report, March 9, 1968. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  11. Duiker, William J. The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  12. Ford, Ronnie E. Tet 1968: Understanding the Surprise. London: Frank Cass, 1995.Google Scholar
  13. Fox, Roger P. Air Base Defense in the Republic of Vietnam. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force, 1979. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  14. Hagopian, Patrick. “The ‘Frustrated Hawks,’ Tet 1968, and the Transformation of American Politics.” European Journal of American Studies [Online] 3, no. 2 (Special Issue, May 2008), document 4. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  15. “Hanoi Attacks and Scores a Major Psychological Blow.” Newsweek, February 12, 1968, 23–24.Google Scholar
  16. Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Monthly Summary, February 1968, 4, 29 April 1968, Folder 03, Box 01, John M. Shaw Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, Item Number: 7390103001. (accessed February 20, 2019).
  17. HistoryNet. The Tet Offensive. HistoryNet. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  18. Hoang Ngoc, Lung. The General Offensives of 1968–69. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981.Google Scholar
  19. Hoang Ngoc, Lung. Intelligence. Indochina Monographs. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1982.Google Scholar
  20. Hunt, Richard A. Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  21. LaFeber, Walter. The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.Google Scholar
  22. McManus, John C. “Battleground Saigon.” Vietnam, February 2004, 27–33.Google Scholar
  23. Military History Institute of Vietnam. Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975. Translated by Merle E. Pribbenow. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001.Google Scholar
  24. Newport, Frank and Carroll, Joseph. “Iraq Versus Vietnam: A Comparison of Public Opinion.” Gallup News Service. (accessed February 21, 2019).
  25. Oberdorfer, Don. Tet! Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.Google Scholar
  26. Oberdorfer, Don. “Tet: Who Won?” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2004, 117–120. (accessed February 20, 2019).
  27. Oberdorfer, Don. Tet and Iraq: Parallels and Differences,” interview by Bernard Gwertsman, Council on Foreign Relations, October 23, 2006, (accessed February 21, 2019).
  28. Oberholtzer, William M. “The Battle of Saigon Forty Years Ago.” Military Police, 19-08-1, Spring 2008, 51-55.Google Scholar
  29. Ott, David Ewing. Field Artillery, 1954–1973. Vietnam Studies. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1975.Google Scholar
  30. Ovodenko, Alexander. “Visions of the Enemy from the Field and from Abroad: Revisiting CIA and Military Expectations of the Tet Offensive.” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 1 (February 2011), 119–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pike, Douglas. War, Peace and the Viet Cong. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969.Google Scholar
  32. Pohle, Victoria. Appendix C, “Chronology of Principal Events in the Saigon Area, January 31–February 8, 1968.” In The Viet Cong in Saigon: Tactics and Objectives During the Tet Offensive. RM-5799-ISA-ARPA. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1969.Google Scholar
  33. Rovedo, Michael. “Tet Offensive of 1968,” (accessed February 21, 2019).
  34. Shaplen, Robert. Time Out of Hand: Revolution and Reaction in Southeast Asia. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.Google Scholar
  35. Sharp, U. S. G. Sharp and Westmoreland, William C. Report on the War in Vietnam (as of 30 June 1968). Section II, Report on Operations in South Vietnam, January 1968–June 1968. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968.Google Scholar
  36. Spragens, John Jr. “Buddhist Activism Alive but Muted.” American Report, April 1, 1974, (accessed February 21, 2019).
  37. “The General’s Gamble,” Time, February 9, 1968, 22–32.Google Scholar
  38. “The VC’s Week of Terror,” Newsweek, February 12, 1968, 24. 27–30.Google Scholar
  39. Thompson, A. W. The Defense of Saigon. Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report. Pacific Air Forces, Hickam AFB, HI, December 14, 1968, (accessed February 21, 2019).
  40. U.S. Army. II Field Force, Vietnam. Tet Offensive After Action Report, August 5, 1968.Google Scholar
  41. U.S. Army. The People’s Army of Vietnam (NVA) and the Liberation Army (VC) Activities in Vietnam. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1973.Google Scholar
  42. U.S. Army War College. Indochina: Tet 1968 and the 1972 Easter Offensive. Campaign Analysis Course, Case Study Guide. Carlisle, PA: Department of Military Strategy, Planning and Operations, U.S. Army War College, 2006.Google Scholar
  43. U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. “Viet Cong Security Report Details Saigon Assassination Failures,” 1 February 1968, Folder 12, Box 11, Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 02—Military Operations, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Item Number: 2131112003. (accessed February 20, 2019).
  44. U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Command History. Volume II, 1968. San Francisco: Headquarters, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, 1969.Google Scholar
  45. United States Mission in Vietnam. “The Impact of the Sapper on the Viet-Nam War: A Background Paper,” Saigon, October 1969.Google Scholar
  46. Van Son, Pham, ed. The Viet Cong “Tet” Offensive (1968). Translated by J5/JGS Translation Board with the help of Robert J. Parr et al. Saigon: Print and Publications Center, A.G./Joint General Staff, RVNAF, 1969.Google Scholar
  47. Van Tra, Tran. “Tet: The 1968 General Offensive and General Uprising.” In The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives, ed. Jayne S. Werner and Luu Doan Huynh, 37–65. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.Google Scholar
  48. Walton, Jennifer. “The Tet Offensive: The Turning Point of the Vietnam War.” OAH Magazine of History 18, no. 5 (October 2004), 45–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wendt, Allan. “Viet Cong Attack on Embassy Saigon, 1968,” Foreign Service Journal, April 2015, 22–24.Google Scholar
  50. Westmoreland, William C. A Solider Reports. Garden City: Doubleday, 1976.Google Scholar
  51. Willbanks, James, H. The Tet Offensive: A Concise History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  52. Zabecki, David T. “The Battle for Saigon,” Vietnam, February 2009, 25–33.Google Scholar
  53. Zaffiri, Sam. Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1994.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Leith Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of National Security and StrategyU.S. Army War CollegeCarlisleUSA

Personalised recommendations