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The Vietnam War lasted from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975, officially between North Vietnam (North Vietnam) and South Vietnam (South Vietnam).

In reality, it was an international war between the French at first and then the United States and its allies on the South Vietnamese side, and the Communist Bloc on the North Vietnamese side.

The US believed it was saving Vietnam from communism, while North Vietnam saw it as an extension of its struggle for independence against colonial rule.

To counteract America’s superior weaponry and technology, North Vietnam combined modern weaponry with guerrilla tactics to deadly effect.

On December 28, 1961, US intelligence discovered that a large group of the North Vietnamese Army (North Vietnamese Army) was near the village of Ấp Bắc – deep in the territory of South Vietnam.

The 7th Infantry of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) was therefore ordered to destroy them with superior American weapons and training.

This UH-1 fighter was one of five shot down in the Battle of Ấp Bắc

On 2 January 1963 US helicopters dropped the ARVN near the village, but it was a disaster.

South Vietnam was defeated, while five American helicopters were destroyed.

In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred – it was alleged that a US ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese, although much later it turned out that no attack had taken place.

This gave them an excuse to bomb North Vietnam, forcing the Soviets to get involved.

North Vietnam retaliated by attacking bases in South Vietnam.

The following year, the 409th Viet Cong Battalion (VC) attacked Camp Holloway (an American helicopter base) at Pleiku on 6 February, while the 30th VC Company attacked a South Vietnamese Army base on 7 February.

These attacks convinced a reluctant President Johnson to increase US involvement in Vietnam.

Viet Cong prisoners under guard by US Marines on August 1, 1965 south of Chu Lai. In the background is a Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse helicopter.

Also called Operation Starlite, this was the first purely American attack on the VC, which took place on August 18, 1965.

A VC defector claimed that North Vietnam was planning to attack Van Tuong’s Chu Lai American air base, so it was decided to launch a preemptive strike.

The Americans launched their attack near the North Vietnamese border using helicopters, tanks and warships.

The fight ended on 24 August with a victory for the USA after killing 614 VC, while the Americans lost 45.

However, North Vietnam claimed it had won as it kept American forces out of its territory.

4. Battle of Ia Drang

Crandall’s UH-1D helicopter unloading foot soldiers on a search and destroy mission in La Drang Valley

This was the first major battle between US forces and North Vietnam in 1965.

In October, the VC attacked the Special Forces camp at Plei Me, the US launched three counter-attacks to stop them from their withdrawal into Cambodia and destroy them.

Ia Drang was part of the second phase from 14 to 18 November, when the VC launched a conventional attack against US forces who had deployed by helicopter near their main supply bases and the border.

Instead of employing their usual guerrilla tactics, they faced the Americans trying to defeat the Americans.

It taught the Americans to maintain their superior air power and the VC to embrace guerrilla warfare.

5. Battle of Khe Sanh

The North Vietnamese Army bombing the US base at Khe Sanh

On 21 January 1968, the VC bombed the US Navy garrison at Khe San and continued to do so until 9 July.

The VC surrounded the base and used anti-aircraft missiles to prevent planes and helicopters from providing reinforcements.

It was only in March that Operation Pegasus (a ground rescue) was able to deliver reinforcements and supplies.

It took Operation Charlie on 19 June to do this after heavy bombing from the VC.

Although the VC won, it was only a distraction, allowing North Vietnam to deploy its troops further south.

Fire trucks trying to put out fires in Saigon from the Tet Offensive

With American and South Vietnamese troops focused on Khe Sanh, North Vietnam launched attacks on over 100 towns and cities in South Vietnam on January 30, 1968 to coincide with Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

VC and communist sympathizers attacked military bases, government offices and foreign embassies.

The attacks continued until March 28, when they were finally repulsed.

Although North Vietnam lost, it won a great psychological victory.

Back in the United States, support for the war waned and calls for withdrawal from Vietnam grew louder.

This was the turning point and the beginning of South Vietnam’s defeat.

Battle of Hamburger Hill

Battle of Hamburger Hill

The North Vietnamese 29th Army had entrenched themselves on Hamburger Hill in South Vietnam, a joint U.S. and South Vietnamese force was ordered to remove them.

The attack began on 10 May 1969 with the 101st Airborne Division and troops from the 9th Marine Regiment, 5th Cavalry Regiment and 3rd ARVN Regiment.

Despite heavy losses, they captured the hill on 20 May.

Instead of protecting him, however, they were ordered to withdraw, causing outrage and further eroding support for the war.

It also forced the US to rethink its “maximum pressure” military strategy against North Vietnam into one of “protective reaction”.

North Vietnamese military bombing the city of Kon Tum

To end the war, the Paris Peace Accords were scheduled for January 27, 1973.

To increase its bargaining power in these negotiations and further pressure the US to withdraw, North Vietnam launched a major offensive into South Vietnam on March 30, 1972.

They took the cities of Quảng Trị, Huế, An Lộc and Kon Tum. The US responded by bombing North Vietnam, and although South Vietnam recaptured Quảng Trị, it lost 10% of its territory to North Vietnam.

North Vietnam was repulsed, but they retained their newly occupied territory and got their bargaining chip.

9. Battle of Xuân Lộc

Soldiers of the 18th Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam at Xuan Loc in April 1975.

Having gained strategic positions in South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive, North Vietnam continued to seize more northern territory from South Vietnam.

On April 9, 1975, they entered Đồng Nai Province, the final lane leading to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.

The ARVN 18th Infantry Division lodged in the town of Xuân Lộc and managed to block the North Vietnamese advance for almost twelve days.

Then, on April 21, the President of South Vietnam ordered them to retreat so they could concentrate on defending Saigon.

Chaos ensued as the ARVN and civilians fled towards the capital while the North Vietnamese Army gave chase.

Turner, Jr. covering a Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter landing at the Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon on 29 April 1975

Hoping to find safety in American-controlled Saigon, ARVN and South Vietnamese civilians made a chaotic retreat from advancing North Vietnam.

Even if the US bombed North Vietnam, it wouldn’t matter.

Xuân Lộc was just 26 miles away, so North VietnamA and the VC were already on your doorstep.

On April 27, Saigon was besieged.

On April 29, bombing began, and the next day North Vietnam entered the capital.

The orderly evacuation of Americans and civilians from South Vietnam descended into chaos, but the Vietnam War finally ended on April 30.

Shahan Russell is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE

US Army photo of the Battle of Khe Sanh

Unlike, for example, World Wars I and II, where thousands of large, defined battles defined the conflict, the US war in Vietnam was typically characterized by small skirmishes and strategies of attrition.

However, there were several major offensives and battles that did much to influence the progress of the war.

Battle of la Drang Valley (October 26 – November 27, 1965)

The first major meeting of US and North Vietnamese troops resulted in a two-part battle that raged across the La Drang Valley in southern Vietnam.

However, the importance of the battle was not in the body count, but in the fact that it defined both sides’ tactics for the war.

The Viet Cong learned that they could negate America’s technological advantages by engaging their forces in hand-to-hand combat.

Battle of Khe Sanh (January 21 – April 9, 1968)

Early in the war, American forces established a garrison at Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province in the northern region of South Vietnam.

On January 21, 1968, North Vietnamese forces launched an artillery bombardment of the garrison, resulting in a bloody 77-day siege.

The battle was eventually ended by Operation Pegasus, which involved airlifting American troops out of the base and surrendering them to the North Vietnamese.

The US high command had anticipated a major attack directed at the Khe San garrison, but it never came to pass.

Instead, the minor siege was a diversionary tactic for the upcoming ‘Tet Offensive’.

Tet Offensive (January 30 to March 28, 1968)

With U.S. and South Vietnamese forces and attention focused on Khe San, North Vietnamese forces launched a massive series of coordinated attacks against more than 100 South Vietnamese strongholds on January 30, the Vietnamese New Year ( or the first day of Tet).

The Tet Offensive was initially very successful, but in a series of bloody battles, US forces managed to regain ground lost to the Communists.

Saigon was only taken after 2 weeks of fierce fighting, and the Battle of Hue – during which, over the course of a month, US and SV forces gradually drove out the occupying communists – became infamous not only for the fierce fighting (captured superbly in Don McCullin’s photography), but for the massacre of civilians that occurred in the month of NV’s occupation.

In terms of raw numbers, the Tet Offensive was a huge defeat for the North Vietnamese.

Public opinion in the United States turned decisively against the war, as expressed in the famous broadcast by presenter Walter Cronkite.

Hill 937 (so named because it is 937 meters above sea level) was the scene and object of a 10-day battle between American and North Vietnamese forces in May 1969.

As part of Operation Apache Snow – which aimed to drive the North Vietnamese out of the A Shau Valley in Hue Province, South Vietnam – the hill would be captured.

Despite having little strategic significance, US commanders took a dogged approach to capturing the hill.

US forces suffered unnecessarily heavy casualties.

This reinforced perceptions of the US military command as ignorant, throwing away the lives of brave, often poor Americans, in the name of an empty and meaningless war.

Anti-war pressure was so intense that General Creighton Adam staunchly supported a “protective reaction policy” designed to minimize casualties, and the first troop withdrawals began shortly thereafter,

The Fall of Saigon (April 30, 1975)

Between 1968 and 1975, the war turned squarely against the United States, with public support rapidly waning and the prospect of any success fading along with it.

The 1972 Easter Offensive was a crucial turning point.

A series of coordinated attacks by US and SV forces again resulted in heavy forces, but the North Vietnamese retained valuable territory and therefore held out during the Paris Peace Accords.

From that point they were able to launch their last successful offensive in 1975, reaching Saigon in April.

By 27 April, PAVN troops had surrounded Saigon and the remaining 60,000 SV troops were deserting en masse.

Operation Frequent Wind was the name given to the iconic airlifts of US diplomats and troops, carried out as desperate Vietnamese tried to break down the gates of the US embassy.

Despite the Vietnam War being almost universally condemned as an unnecessary war that the US and the South Vietnamese lost comprehensively, you may notice that there is little in this list to suggest that US troops were crushed in battle by their opponents.

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