Episode 84: The Second Indochina War, Part 12



This episode is a day late, sorry to keep you waiting!  Episode 84 continues our ongoing narrative of the Second Indochina War, better known as the Vietnam War in the United States, and the American War in Vietnam.  Here the battles of early 1967 are covered, and then we look at the growing protest movement against the war, from late 1965 to 1967.



This episode is dedicated to Christian M., who made a donation to the podcast.  Christian, sorry I didn’t report your donation last time; it arrived in the time frame between when I finished recording the episode, and when I uploaded it.  Therefore, here are my belated thanks.  What’s more, because you made a donation last year, you have received the coveted water buffalo icon next to your name, on the podcast Hall of Fame page!  Thank you for your support, may this year be a good year for you, and may many others follow your example!  And now let’s get started for today.

Episode 84: The Second Indochina War, Part 12

or, The Crossover Point Approaches, but for Which Side?

Greetings, dear listeners!  And if you have listened to the podcast before, welcome back!  For most of the northern hemisphere, February is a short and chilly month, so here is a podcast about a part of the world that is always hot, to get your mind off the cold.

This is the twelfth episode in our ongoing series on the second war in Indochina in the twentieth century, which lasted from the late 1950s until 1975.  Most history texts call it the Second Indochina War, but Americans know it as the Vietnam War, while the Vietnamese in turn call it the American War.  And a few times I have half-seriously called this the Unofficial Vietnam War Podcast, partly because there are other podcasts about the Vietnam War, which may have a better claim to being the official Vietnam War Podcast than this one, and partly because I plan to talk about recent history in the rest of Southeast Asia when we get done with the war in Vietnam.

In the previous episode we made it to the end of 1966, concerning the part of the war in Vietnam.  In the past I gave a recap for those who missed the previous episodes, but I won’t do it this time.  We have too much material behind us now, so if you missed what we covered on the Second Indochina War so far, here are the episodes you should listen to.

For the war in Vietnam, Episodes 71, 72, 73, 80, 81, 82 and 83.

And for the war next door in Laos, Episodes 74, 75, 78, and 79.

Now let’s get started with today’s content.



When 1967 began, there were nearly 400,000 American troops in South Vietnam — along with some 850,000 from South Vietnam, South Korea and other allies — and America’s civilian and military leaders were starting to think big.  After two years of troop buildups, the commander of the American troops, General William Westmoreland, announced that the “crossover point” he had been predicting, the point when there would be enough American troops to break the Viet Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese troops, would come sometime in 1967.  But while the Americans usually won their battles – the enemy continually suffered more casualties than they did – they could not follow up on their victories, and the communists soon re-occupied the land on which the battles took place.  Let us take a timeout from the narrative and look at what made the war unwinnable for the Americans.

1.  The kind of warfare in Vietnam was quite outside the American experience.  The closest thing to it the Americans had been in was fought in the Philippines seventy years earlier – we covered that war in Episodes 30 and 31 – and most Americans completely forgot about it afterwards, including whatever lessons they might have learned from it.  To repeat what I have said before, the war was not a conventional conflict, with shifting front lines and armies on the move.  Progress here was not measured in territory gained but in the number of casualties inflicted.  In a conventional war, it is possible to escape it by moving to a spot where fighting is not taking place, but in a war without frontiers, the Americans lived under constant danger, no matter where they were – even in Saigon they could be a target.  That is why I haven’t shared any maps lately on the course of this war –a map won’t accurately show the situation until the 1970s, when the war becomes a conventional one.

2.  The enemy was not an obvious villain.  The Viet Cong did not always wear their black pajama uniforms; their ranks included women and even children.  My favorite story of child soldiers in the conflict comes from the testimony of the evangelist Mike Warnke, who was a hospital corpsman stationed with the Marines in Vietnam for three and a half years.  Here is how he tells it:

<Play Mike Warnke quote>

In a nutshell, any civilian could be an enemy, and before long many Americans wondered if they were fighting on the right side.  Americans also found it hard to hate the enemy completely because Ho Chi Minh was not a Stalin or a Hitler; to them he looked more like an Oriental Santa Claus.  Here in Kentucky, he reminded folks of Colonel Sanders; I have seen pictures on the Internet that put photos of Ho Chi Minh and Colonel Sanders together, asking if they were separated at birth.

3. Heat, disease, leeches, and fiendish Viet Cong traps; in the jungle these put almost as many men out of action as the actual firefights did.  And I have heard one report of an American soldier getting eaten by a tiger.  Yes, a tiger!  You don’t learn anything in school about what to do in THAT kind of situation!  An enemy soldier might spare you if he is in the mood, but nature takes no prisoners.

4. The ineffectiveness of bombing.  We saw that for most of the time between 1965 and 1968, American B-52s flew daily bombing missions over North Vietnam.  They would do it again in 1972. Ultimately, like Laos, North Vietnam would get pounded with more bomb tonnage than was dropped everywhere during World War II.  Bombers were only allowed to go after targets in six categories:  power facilities, war support facilities, transportation lines, military complexes, fuel storage, and air defense installations.  Because of those limitations, casualties were limited; civilians were protected by putting them in underground tunnels or by moving them out to the countryside.  The Ho Chi Minh Trail was also bombed, as we saw in the episodes on the Laotian war, but the Viet Cong carried so little gear that their entire force could keep fighting even if only 15 tons of supplies got to them daily.  Whatever could not be manufactured locally was generously given by both Russia and China.  Targets that could have done real harm if hit, like the heavily populated residential neighborhoods of Hanoi, were carefully avoided; US President Lyndon Johnson thought if he hit North Vietnam too hard, it would trigger Chinese or Russian intervention, and that would be the beginning of World War III.  The US never attempted an offensive strategy–like an invasion of North Vietnam to topple Ho Chi Minh’s government–for the same reason.  From the American point of view, the war in Vietnam was always a defensive war.

5. Speaking of aircraft, the North Vietnamese had a surprisingly effective air force.  I say "surprisingly" because the first North Vietnamese squadron was only assembled in 1964, the same year as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and a year later they won their first battle, one that pitted eight North Vietnamese planes against seventy-nine American ones.  In that encounter, the North Vietnamese pilots were flying hand-me-down Soviet MIGs that were out of date, but still they managed to shoot down two American planes.  Over the course of the war, the North Vietnamese lost 131 planes, while the Americans lost more than 2,000; seventeen North Vietnamese pilots had enough kills to become aces, compared with only three American aces.  This isn’t just beginner’s luck; away from Vietnam, only the American, Soviet and Israeli air forces have done better!  In fact, the Americans were so embarrassed at the North Vietnamese performance that they did not talk about it until long after the war.

6. The role of the US press.  In previous wars the activities of reporters in war zones were heavily restricted, and the main source of war news for Americans at home were newsreels carrying carefully edited, or should I say censored, stories.  For Vietnam many of those restrictions were dropped, and for the first time, stories about the war were brought into Americans’ homes on TV, in living color.  At first the media, like the average American, supported the war effort, but soon many editors were having second thoughts.  In 1967 LIFE Magazine brought the reality of the war home to readers by printing the names and high school photos of the 250 young Americans killed in a single week.  The television news programs also showed a point of view that was not pro-American, by interviewing North Vietnamese/Viet Cong leaders and by showing pictures of wounded Americans and atrocities committed against civilians, like the notorious My Lai massacre.  None of that had happened before; in World War II, for instance, American news networks did not interview Prime Minister Tojo to let him defend the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The actual effect of all this on American morale has been debated ever since, and you will be hearing more about it in future episodes of this podcast.

7.  General Westmoreland and his superiors in Washington underestimated the breaking point of the communists, and overestimated it on their side.  The Vietnamese had fought wars against China and Champa that had lasted for centuries, and the Communist Party provided the discipline and coercion needed to withstand the more recent wars with France and the United States.  On the other hand, this was the first time the Americans fought a war that lasted longer than a decade, and they did not have the willpower to fight an unpopular war for generations.  They began to realize this when recruiters for the armed forces no longer got enough volunteers to meet the demands for more troops, and started calling up reservists to fill the ranks.  By October 1966, draft calls were bringing in 49,300 soldiers a month, the highest number of draftees since the Korean War.  The typical soldier who was drafted to serve in Vietnam could expect to be there for a year, and his main goal was to stay alive until his assignment was over; many counted out the number of days they had left.  In a boxing match, when you have one fighter who is determined to win, while the other simply wants to keep standing until the match is over, who do you think will win the prize?

Besides conscription, the recruiters also lowered their standards.  This was the idea of the Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, who thought it would be better than abolishing student deferments or calling up reservists.  He optimistically called this “Project 100,000" because he felt this would generate a ton of fresh soldiers without causing a backlash like the one coming from drafting able-bodied young men.  He also figured that superior American technology would allow poor-quality troops to perform about as well as the recruits who met the old standards.

Now the recruiters gave more attention to the men who had been unfit, mentally or medically, to serve previously.  Recruiting efforts targeted small Southern communities, where support for the war was still strong, and urban ghettoes, offering college educations to those who enlisted.  Because of this emphasis, 41 percent of the soldiers recruited were black, at a time when African-Americans made up 12 percent of the US population.  In the past, the military did not take applicants who scored less than 80 on an IQ test, but under Project 100,000, they brought in at least one recruit with an IQ of 62.  Critics of Project 100,000 unkindly called the recruits that came from it The Moron Corps, McNamara’s Folly, and McNamara’s Misfits.

We don’t have exact figures on how many casualties the substandard troops suffered, except to say that they died at higher rates than other Americans serving in Vietnam.  Those who survived the war didn’t have a better standard of living either; after doing their term of service, they had lower incomes and higher rates of divorce than their non-veteran counterparts.  Project 100,000 lasted from October 1966 to December 1971; by the time it ended, it had recruited not 100,000, but 354,000 troops for the war effort.  Therefore it was one of the reasons why the draft was abolished in the early 1970s.  The Vietnam War was the last time in US history when recruiters would accept anyone who could walk and breathe, and members of the US armed forces have all been volunteers since then.

8.  Anti-war protests at home.  We will cover this more later in the episode.  It has been said that the Americans won every battle in Vietnam, but they lost the war in America.

End of timeout.



1967 began with Operation Bolo on January 2.  This was a major air battle, where 28 US Air Force F-4 Phantom jets, pretending to be going on a typical air raid, lured 16 North Vietnamese MiG-21 interceptors into a dogfight over Hanoi that lasted for just twelve minutes, and shot down seven of the MiGs.  The American pilots were led by Colonel Robin Olds, a World War II ace, and they did not lose a single plane.  Four days later, the Air Force launched another ruse, this time mimicking an F-4 reconnaissance flight, and they shot down two more MiG-21s.  As a result, the North Vietnamese only had seven MiG-21s left for service, and this severely limited North Vietnamese air activity for several months.  However, the American pilots were prohibited by Washington from attacking MiG air bases in North Vietnam, presumably because they might kill or injure citizens of the Soviet Union.  You can count this as another victory the Americans did not follow up on.

Do you remember what I said about the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong sneaking back into areas they had been driven away from?  One of those places was between Saigon, Tay Ninh, and the Michelin rubber plantation, an area called the Iron Triangle by Americans.  Because the Saigon River runs through here, and because the Iron Triangle was so close to the capital, it was essential to keep enemy troops out of here.  This was the site of Operation Attleboro in late 1966, and the return of the Viet Cong after the battle required another  search and destroy mission, Operation Cedar Falls, in early 1967.  Lasting from January 8 to 26, this was the largest ground operation in the war so far; it combined 16,000 American and 14,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, to clear the Viet Cong out of the Iron Triangle.  However, the Viet Cong avoided a one-on-one fight either by fleeing across the border into Cambodia, or by hiding in an extensive network of tunnels.  Thus, there was no large scale combat, just small unit actions.  Americans discovered the tunnels and large stockpiles of Viet Cong supplies – enough rice to feed a Viet Cong division for one year – and introduced specially trained volunteers called “tunnel rats” to explore the tunnels.  The tunnel rats found the Viet Cong district headquarters at Cu Chi, where they discovered half a million military documents:  documents on strategy, maps of US bases, records of guerrilla  movements from Cambodia into Vietnam, and lists of South Vietnamese sympathizers.

To make the Iron Triangle useless to the enemy, if and when they came back, once the fighting was over, the entire civilian population in this area was relocated to so-called New Life Villages, their old homes were destroyed, and defoliants like Agent Orange were used to wipe out eleven square miles of jungle.  For the casualty count, 72 Americans and 11 South Vietnamese were killed, while for the enemy, 720 were reported dead, and 218 were captured.  Thus, at a casual glance, Operation Cedar Falls was another American-South Vietnamese victory.  But when you look at the “big picture,” the operation wasn’t as big a success as the senior officers claimed.  First, the Americans did not get the big battle with the enemy they wanted.  Second, as you have learned to expect by now, the Viet Cong would return, and rebuild their sanctuary.  In 1968 they would use the Iron Triangle as a staging ground for attacks on Saigon, during the Tet Offensive.  Third, the Americans came under criticism for destroying the Thanh Dien Forest Preserve, and for their harsh treatment of the local civilians.  Instead of winning over the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, the Americans had driven a bunch of them into the ranks of the Viet Cong.

Podcast footnote:  On January 10, while Operation Cedar Falls was taking place, the United Nations Secretary General, U Thant, said he doubted that Vietnam was essential to the security of the West. Apparently President Johnson was not listening, for he gave his annual State of the Union address to Congress on the same day, and there he again declared, quote, "We will stand firm in Vietnam."  Unquote.  End footnote.

The next attempt to clear out the Iron Triangle came less than four weeks after Operation Cedar Falls.  This was Operation Junction City, and though it used the same number of American and South Vietnamese troops, 30,000, there was much more air support, so this is considered the largest airborne operation of the Vietnam War, and one of the largest US operations in the war.

The declared goal of Operation Junction City was to locate and capture the headquarters of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, which the communists called the Central Office of South Vietnam, or COSVN.  Americans expected the headquarters to be in a fixed location, and some imagined it as a "mini-Pentagon," complete with typists, filing cabinets, and staff workers organized in layers of bureaucracy.  Sounds like one of our “cubicle farms” in today’s offices, doesn’t it?  They never found the headquarters, though; its personnel escaped to Cambodia at the beginning of the operation.  After the war, Viet Cong records revealed the headquarters was a small group of people, constantly on the move, often sheltering in makeshift facilities; at one point, American pilots who didn’t know they were there dropped bombs that missed them by a hundred meters or so.

Operation Junction City also lasted much longer than Operation Cedar Falls, from February 22 to May 14, 1967.  It began with the dropping of 845 paratroops, to secure the pieces of land selected as landing zones for the troops brought in by helicopter; this was the only large paratroop assault during the entire war.  Most of the time after that, though, the Allied forces moved without encountering much resistance.  The Viet Cong attacked Americans at the village of Prek Klok twice, on February 28 and March 10; air strikes and artillery drove them away each time.  Then on the night of March 19, the Viet Cong 9th Division attacked Fire Support Base 20, the base of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, a mechanized force.  There had been a battle on this spot in November 1965, the first battle involving American armored vehicles, and it was called the battle of Ap Bau Bang, so this clash became known as the second battle of Ap Bau Bang.  This time the Viet Cong infantry swarmed over the American armored vehicles, and were dispersed by the vehicles shooting on one another, which meant that some of the vehicles were put out of action.  With the help of artillery and air strikes, as well as flares and aerial searchlights to spot their enemies, the Viet Cong were repelled again.  The Americans claimed 227 enemies killed and three captured, while losing 3 and suffering 63 wounded.  Two more attacks on the Americans were staged on March 21 and April 1, and again the Viet Cong 9th Division suffered heavy losses.  After that, the rest of the operation consisted of long and exhaustive searches in the bush and villages, which captured large amounts of enemy materiel and rice, but there were no more large encounters with communists.  For the whole operation, 282 Americans were killed, and 2,728 Viet Cong were counted dead.  In the long run, Junction City was no more effective than the other operations in Tay Ninh province, because the enemy’s Central Office had gotten away.

Before we move on, I would like to mention one of the American officers involved in Operation Junction City, because you have probably heard of him – Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Haig.  In the last clash, the battle of Ap Gu, Haig’s unit, the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment, was pinned down by a Viet Cong unit three times its size.  Haig boarded a helicopter and flew to investigate; his helicopter was shot down, and he led the battalion in two days of bloody hand-to-hand combat, before US artillery and air power saved the day.  For this, General Westmoreland awarded Haig the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest medal for valor.  Here is an excerpt from Haig’s official Army citation, explaining what he did to earn the medal.  Quote:

“When two of his companies were engaged by a large hostile force, Colonel Haig landed amid a hail of fire, personally took charge of the units, called for artillery and air fire support and succeeded in soundly defeating the insurgent force … the next day a barrage of 400 rounds was fired by the Viet Cong, but it was ineffective because of the warning and preparations by Colonel Haig.  As the barrage subsided, a force three times larger than his began a series of human wave assaults on the camp.  Heedless of the danger himself, Colonel Haig repeatedly braved intense hostile fire to survey the battlefield.  His personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men to fight with previously unimagined power.  Although his force was outnumbered three to one, Colonel Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Viet Cong …

HQ US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 2318 (May 22, 1967)”

End Quote.

Afterwards, Haig rose through the ranks to become an advisor to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, vice chief of staff of the Army, the second-highest-ranking position in the Army, White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Nixon and Ford, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, and President Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of State.


Growing Opposition at Home

Back in the United States, the Vietnam War was starting to interfere with President Johnson’s other plans for America, what he called the “Great Society.”  Although as we noted, the “kill ratio” in the battles was way in the Americans’ favor, it was unacceptable for those who thought no American lives should be sacrificed for Vietnam.  And as long as North Vietnam was sending troops into South Vietnam at a higher rate than the US escalation, no number of American troops would be enough.  If the Americans could not win, the best alternative was a negotiated agreement to end the war, and Johnson offered peace talks, but as we have already seen, the North Vietnamese at this stage were not interested.  Because the Americans temporarily stopped bombing North Vietnam whenever Johnson was making peace overtures, the North Vietnamese felt they were being bombed to the conference table.  Leaders like Premier Pham Van Dong made it clear that they would only talk peace if the bombing was stopped permanently, and that whatever agreement is reached must give the Viet Cong a role in the government of South Vietnam.

We saw in previous episodes that a solid majority of Americans supported the war when the first American ground troops went to Vietnam in 1965.  That support eroded steadily, however, when news stories captured the horrors of the war, and reported on various atrocities like the destruction of villages and the use of defoliants.  And the news stories did not show the Americans winning the war, though they won individual battles.  For the American public, the “crossover point” came sometime in 1967; a survey published in October 1967 reported that 46 percent of the people it interviewed regarded the Vietnam War as a mistake, while 44 percent continued to back it.  Also in October, Life Magazine renounced its earlier support of President Johnson’s war policies.  Still, those who saw the war as an exercise in futility felt that a humiliating defeat, like what the French had suffered at Dienbienphu, must be avoided at all costs; the only options were to win or quit.  As one housewife at the time told a pollster, quote, “I want to get out, but I don’t want to give up.”  Unquote. 

We also saw previously that there was some domestic opposition to the war from the start.  As early as August 31, 1965, President Johnson signed a law that made draft card burning a crime, with penalties of a five year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine.  Nevertheless, people burned their draft cards at anti-war rallies.  Some young people also fled to Canada, to avoid getting drafted.

Podcast footnote: Early on in the antiwar movement, the most popular slogan was, "Girls say yes to boys who say no."  I was too young to be looking for a date at that time, so I don’t know if I would have gotten a date by saying “No.”  Oh well . . .  This slogan was dropped after the feminist movement appeared, because some women were offended at the idea of mixing sex and politics this way.  Among the slogans that took its place, the most famous was “Hell no, we won’t go!”  End footnote.

Here I will give a quick list of the main events in the antiwar movement, from 1965 to 1967.  This should give you an idea of how American opinion of the war changed as the 1960s went on:

October 16, 1965 – Anti-war rallies occurred in 40 American cities and in international cities, including London and Rome.

October 30, 1965 – 25,000 marched in Washington.  This was one of the few cases where the demonstrators were for the war, not against it.  They were led by five Medal of Honor recipients.

November 27, 1965 – In Washington, 35,000 anti-war protesters circled the White House, and then marched on to the Washington Monument for a rally.

March 26, 1966 – Anti-war protests were held in New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco.

June 4, 1966 – A three-page anti-war advertisement appeared in The New York Times, signed by 6,400 teachers and professors.

November 7, 1966 – Defense Secretary McNamara is confronted by student protesters during a visit to Harvard University.

January 23, 1967 – Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright published The Arrogance of Power, a book that was critical of American war policy in Vietnam, and called for direct peace talks between the South Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong.  Both Fulbright and Johnson were Democrats from the southern United States, but after Fulbright learned everything he could about Vietnam, he and Johnson were no longer on speaking terms.  Instead, the President denounced Fulbright, Robert Kennedy, and a growing number of critics in Congress as "nervous Nellies" and "sunshine patriots."

February 8-10,1967 – American religious groups stage a nationwide "Fast for Peace."

April 14, 1967 – Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon visited Saigon and stated that anti-war protests back in the U.S. are quote, "prolonging the war."  Unquote.

April 15, 1967 – Nearly 200,000 people took part in anti-war demonstrations, in New York City and San Francisco.  Here the Rev. Martin Luther King declared that the war was undermining President Johnson’s Great Society social reform programs.  Quote:  "…the pursuit of this widened war has narrowed the promised dimensions of the domestic welfare programs, making the poor white and Negro bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and at home."  Unquote.

Podcast Footnote:  When it came to race relations, Dr. King got nearly everything he wanted with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Therefore he spent the last years of his life pursuing new goals, and that included opposing the Vietnam War, at a time when most Americans were for it.  The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, thought that speaking out against the war was a bad idea.  King also campaigned for economic equality, meaning better jobs, better housing and better pay for African-Americans, only to find that white Americans were not as receptive to this as they were to social and political equality, especially in the Northern states.  End footnote.

April 24, 1967 – General Westmoreland condemned anti-war demonstrators, saying they give the North Vietnamese soldier, quote,  "hope that he can win politically that which he cannot accomplish militarily." Unquote.  Privately, he warned President Johnson that "the war could go on indefinitely."

May 2, 1967 – The United States is condemned during a mock war crimes tribunal held in Stockholm, Sweden, organized by British philosopher Bertrand Russell.

August 18, 1967 – California Governor Ronald Reagan said the U.S. should get out of Vietnam, because it is difficult to win a war when "too many qualified targets have been put off limits to bombing."

November 29, 1967 – An emotional Robert McNamara announced his resignation as Defense Secretary during a press briefing, stating, quote, "Mr. President…I cannot find words to express what lies in my heart today…"  Unquote.  Behind closed doors, he had begun regularly expressing doubts over Johnson’s war strategy, angering the President.  McNamara became the latest of Johnson’s top aides who resigned over the war; among the others were Bill Moyers, McGeorge Bundy and George Ball.

December 4-7, 1967 – Four days of anti-war protests take place in New York City.  585 protesters are arrested, of which the most famous is Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of a best-selling book on baby care.



Oh my goodness, we are out of time already!  I was planning to finish by chronicling the events in 1967 that led up to 1968’s main battle, the Tet Offensive, but now that will have to wait for another episode.  And it probably won’t be the next episode; I am thinking of running a question-and-answer episode first, to answer the questions you kindly sent me last month.  Whatever the next topic will be, join me again for that, on or near March 1, 2020 if you are listening to the episodes as soon as I upload them.  As for the Tet Offensive, it now looks like I will need two episodes to cover that, but don’t worry, we will continue to make progress.

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Episode 83: The Second Indochina War, Part 11



Today marks the beginning of a new month, and you know what that means:  a new episode of the History of Southeast Asia Podcast is online for your listening pleasure!  This time we cover events in Vietnam during 1966.  Besides the battles from the Second Indochina War (also known as the Vietnam War), we will look at a Buddhist revolt that has largely been forgotten in the years since then.





Episode 83: The Second Indochina War, Part 11

or, The Lotus Unleashed

Greetings, dear listeners!  If this is your first time here, welcome to our ongoing narrative about the eleven countries between India, China and Australia!  Back in the middle of 2016, we started the podcast in the stone age, and now we are in the mid-twentieth century, 1966 in the case of this episode.  And if you have been here before, welcome back!  You know that for the past few months we have been covering the second major war of the twentieth century, in the former French colony of Indochina, what we now call Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  If you are American, you know this struggle better as the Vietnam War.

I guess we need a bit of a refresher here, on events up to this point.  The First Indochina War, covered in Episodes 64 through 68, ended with the French pulling out after they suffered a disastrous defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu.  However, two governments were set up for independent Vietnam, a communist government north of the 17th Parallel, and a non-communist republic south of that line.  From the start, the United States was the principal foreign power backing the government in the south, while the Soviet Union and China predictably gave aid to the government in the north.  Elections were supposed to be held in 1956 to create a new government for all of Vietnam, but they did not take place, and that made a second war inevitable; the Second Indochina War began with a network of communist guerrillas, the Viet Cong, being organized in South Vietnam.  The United States responded to this by sending military aid to South Vietnam.  That did not stop the communists from making gains in the countryside, and when American troops went over with the military equipment as “advisors” in the early 1960s, that did not halt the communist advance, either.  Then in 1964, North Vietnamese troops started sneaking into South Vietnam, and the US president, Lyndon Johnson, used an attack on an American destroyer, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, as an excuse to get US forces involved in Vietnam all the way.  Thus, the first American combat troops arrived in early 1965, but even they weren’t enough to turn back the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong clients, so more American soldiers were called in before the year was done, and still more in 1966.

If you haven’t listened to the previous episodes on the war already, and want to know more about the events I just mentioned, go to Episodes 71, 72, 73, 80, 81 and 82 for the war in Vietnam.  I also covered the phase of the war that took place in Laos at the same time, in Episodes 74, 75, 78 and 79.  There!  Are we now ready to resume the narrative?  If not, go listen to those other episodes and then come back here, I’ll wait.

For those of you still here, I’ll assume you’re caught up to the end of 1965 in Vietnam, and ready to move on.  Let’s roll, boys!


Operation Masher, or Operation White Wing

December 25, 1965 was the beginning of a pause in Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign over North Vietnam.  This was done to encourage North Vietnam to join the United States in peace talks to end the war.  Because of the pause, 1966 started off relatively quiet for the Americans.  However, the North Vietnamese denounced the bombing halt as a "trick" and continued to support Viet Cong terrorist activities in the South, so the bombing resumed on January 31, 1966; the pause had lasted for 37 days.

So what ideas did the American generals come up with for 1966?  Their first idea was the largest search and destroy mission attempted so far in the war.  The American commander in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, called it Operation Masher at first, but President Johnson thought that name sounded too violent, especially since there was growing opposition to his escalation of the Vietnam War effort, so at his insistence, the name was changed to Operation White Wing.  The operation took place in Binh Dinh, a province on South Vietnam’s central coast that was seen as a communist stronghold.  Besides 6,000 American soldiers from the 1st Cavalry and 4,000 US Marines, nine South Vietnamese battalions and two South Korean battalions took part in the campaign.  It is almost forgotten today, but I mentioned previously that five allies of the United States – South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines – sent troops to fight in Vietnam alongside the Americans.

Eight thousand enemy soldiers were believed to be in Binh Dinh Province, from the 18th and 98th North Vietnamese Regiments and the 1st and 2nd Vietcong Regiments; the operation’s goal was to sweep those communists out of the Bong Son plain, an area covering 450 square miles.  Operation Masher/White Wing began on January 24, 1966, with the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry establishing a temporary command and forward supply base on the south edge of the area of operations.  Incidentally, for this mission the 3rd Brigade was led by Colonel Harold Moore; we met him in the battles covered in the previous episode.  At first there was only sporadic contact between the Allies and the communists.  One of the C-123 transport planes used at this time crashed into the mountains near An Khe, killing all 4 crewmen and 42 passengers on board.  Meanwhile helicopters landed Air Cav troops at several landing zones (LZs) west of Highway 1, on a flat part of the coast that was mostly rice paddies separated by scattered forests and villages. 

The first big clash came on January 28, when 500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong staged an ambush on Landing Zone 4, just as Huey helicopters were bringing in two companies of infantry.  The communists attacked from bunkers and trenches they had built on two sides of the landing zone, and they did such a good job of concealing these fortifications that American aircraft did not spot them until it was too late.  In addition, light rain and high winds prevented US planes and helicopters from flying over the site, to give aid to the besieged Americans.  Two helicopters, one of them a big CH-47 Chinook, were shot down on that day.  The weather improved on the next day, allowing American forces to come to the rescue with more helicopters and three US battalions.  The G.I.’s on the scene noticed that the entire area was honeycombed with bunkers, trenches and spider holes.  Some of the trenches were so deep and so well constructed with timber supports that they were impervious to bombs, napalm and artillery.  A veteran of World War II said the Vietcong’s fortifications, quote, “…reminded him of those on Tarawa in the North Gilbert Islands.”  Unquote.  The battle went on until February 4.  When it was done, the Americans claimed they had killed 566 enemy soldiers at Landing Zone 4, and in the surrounding area, which included a town named An Thai, while losing 123; this included the 46 lost in the C-123 crash.

While all this was going on, the second phase of the operation began with the insertion of three Project DELTA U.S. Special Forces teams, consisting of 17 personnel, into the An Lao Valley on January 28, for reconnaissance.  They ran into immediate trouble, with seven of them killed and three wounded in a firefight, before the teams were rescued a day later.  It was believed that the North Vietnamese 3rd Division had its headquarters in the An Lao Valley, so a second attempt to enter it was made on February 6.  This time US Marines blocked the northern entrance of the valley, and the South Vietnamese blocked the southern entrance, while three battalions of the 1st Cavalry were landed in the valley.  However, the communists had withdrawn by now, and what the 1st Cavalry found were mainly defensive works and stockpiles of rice.  There were 8,000 peasants living in the valley, though, and when the Americans offered to relocate them to an area that wasn’t under communist control, 4,500 of them left.  As with the “Strategic Hamlet” program in Episode 73, it is questionable how many of the peasants were really willing to leave.

Southwest of the Bong Son plain were seven small river valleys, together called the Kim Son valley, and the Americans went in here next, on February 11.  This turned out to be the longest phase of the operation, lasting for the rest of February.  It began with the deployment of three Air Cav battalions at the valley exits, where they could ambush escaping enemy soldiers.  On the next day they began sweeping up the valleys, the plan being to catch enemy soldiers retreating in that direction.  Nothing happened until February 17, when three companies of the 1st Cavalry located a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery battalion.  In the resulting firefight, the Americans called in B-52 air strikes, which destroyed the Communist artillery pieces and left 227 bodies on the ground after the battle.   Then on the next day, two Air Cav platoons ran into a heavily defended area, and they called in B-52 bombers as well.  By February 22, the Kim Son valley had been secured at a cost of 23 Americans killed in action and, at least 313 enemies killed.  However, the Communists were not done yet; on February 28, about 20 Viet Cong ambushed an American patrol, killing 8 and seizing their weapons.

The final phase of Operation Masher/White Wing took place in the Cay Giap Mountains, five miles east of Bong Son during the first six days of March 1966.  Allied intelligence indicated that a North Vietnamese battalion was hiding here, so an ARVN division surrounded the mountains, while small boats patrolled the adjacent coast, to keep the communists from escaping by sea.  Three battalions of the 1st Cavalry went in after an artillery bombardment of the area; they found 52 enemy bodies, but it turned out most of the enemy had slipped out before the assault.  Throughout the whole campaign, 288 Americans, nearly 100 South Vietnamese and ten South Koreans were killed, against 2,150 enemies confirmed dead.  In addition, 600 enemies were captured and 500 defected.  Therefore Operation Masher/White Wing was called a successful air assault operation, but the communists were never defeated, nor were they forced to surrender.  Only a week after the Allies left Binh Dinh province, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong returned, so more search and destroy operations would be needed in 1966 and 1967.
While Operation Masher/White Wing was going on, Operation Double Eagle was taking place in Quang Ngai, the province adjacent to Binh Dinh.  Here six battalions and two companies of US Marines, accompanied by the South Vietnamese 2nd Division, were up against the North Vietnamese 18th and 95th Regiments, and the Viet Cong 2nd Regiment.  The operation began with an amphibious assault on January 28, which was hampered by bad weather, like the first phase of Operation Masher/White Wing.  Only a few B-52 strikes were carried out, and the helicopters had to wait until February 1 before they could do their part.  After the Marines went in, they found few enemies, so the operation ended on February 17.  It turned out that most of the enemy units had pulled out several days before the operation began.  The score for Operation Double Eagle was 24 Marines dead versus 312 communists killed and 19 captured.  The Marines also captured 18 individual weapons and 868 rounds of ammunition.

Meanwhile in the United States, President Johnson had his first meeting with South Vietnamese leaders, in a conference that lasted from February 5 through the 8th.  We saw in Episode 81 that two generals, Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu, had seized power in 1965; Thieu became South Vietnam’s president, a mostly ceremonial job, and Ky became prime minister, meaning he held most of the power.  Anyway, they came to meet Johnson in Hawaii, which is almost halfway between Southeast Asia and the Eastern United States.  I will let Wikipedia describe what happened at the conference.  Quote:

“In order to shore up liberal American support for the war, which Johnson felt to be wavering, the main theme of the conference was that the war was to promote the social and economic development of South Vietnam.  The war was presented as virtually an extension of Johnson’s Great Society program to end poverty in the United States.  Little of any substance was discussed and instead the conference was almost an infomercial for the Vietnam war.  The conference had no agenda or even much preparation, and for the most part consisted of speeches designed to win over American public opinion.  The key note speech was delivered by Ky in English, was written by his American advisers, where he called for a ‘social revolution’ in South Vietnam that would ensure everyone in South Vietnam ‘respect and dignity, and a chance for himself and his children to live an atmosphere where all is not disappointment, despair and dejection.’  Afterwards, Johnson, who was unaware that the speech had been written by American officials, told Ky: ‘Boy, you speak just like an American.’  Johnson in his speech called for a relentless drive to eradicate the Viet Cong, saying in his Texas twang that he wanted ‘coonskins on the wall.’”

End quote.

The conference ended with Johnson announcing the Declaration of Honolulu, which promised continued American support for South Vietnam during the war, and an economic and social program designed to promote peace and justice in South Vietnam, much like Johnson’s Great Society at home.


The Buddhist Uprising

In South Vietnam, the main event in the spring of 1966 was a Buddhist revolt against the government of Ky and Thieu.  This is an obscure event to Americans; I didn’t even know about it until I started doing the research for this episode.  Because I am in the United States, most of my sources for the Vietnam War tell it from the American point of view, and since the revolt had little, if any, effect on the Americans, those sources don’t mention it.  An exception to that rule is a book called The Lotus Unleashed: The Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam, 1964-1966.  It was written in 2002 by Robert J. Topmiller, right here in my home town of Lexington, Kentucky, so I used the book’s title as a secondary title for this episode.

Before I begin, I need to give you a bit of a geography lesson, so you’ll understand what happened here.  During South Vietnam’s existence, its 44 provinces were organized into four military districts.  Each district was defended by a corps of ARVN, the South Vietnamese army.  The Americans called these districts Corps Tactical Zones, or CTZs.  The five provinces nearest the Demilitarized Zone were part of Zone 1, also called CTZ-I.  This included the cities of Hue and Da Nang.  Zone 2 was the Central Highlands, and the adjacent coast, around Cam Ranh Bay.  Zone 3 contained the provinces around Saigon, and Zone 4 was the Mekong delta.  I have posted a map of South Vietnam, showing the four zones, on the Blubrry.com page hosting this episode and on the podcast’s Facebook page.

In Episode 80, when we met Nguyen Khanh, he was the general commanding the First Corps, the part of ARVN in Zone 1.  You will remember he seized power in Saigon, and ran South Vietnam for most of 1964 and early 1965.  The general who succeeded him as the First Corps commander was Nguyen Chanh Thi.  However, South Vietnam’s Buddhists were now organized politically, to defend themselves against persecution like what they experienced when Ngo Dinh Diem was president – we covered that in Episode 73 – and Zone 1 had become a Buddhist stronghold.  The Buddhists wanted a truly representative government, and were opposed to expansion of the war, and to the rule of the current leader in Saigon, Nguyen Cao Ky.  Because Nguyen Chanh Thi was also a Buddhist, Ky saw him as a potential threat.  Here is what Stanley Karnow, Time-Life’s Southeast Asian correspondent, said about Ky and Thi, in his book, Vietnam: A History.  Quote:  "Both flamboyant characters who wore gaudy uniforms and sported sinister moustaches, the two young officers had been friends, and their rivalry seemed to typify the personal struggles for power that chronically afflicted South Vietnam.  But their dispute mirrored more than individual ambition."  End quote. 

In February 1966 Time Magazine ran an article about Thi claiming that Thi was more dynamic than Ky and could seize power at any time.  It looks like Ky was encouraged to act by this, so on March 10, 1966, with US approval, he fired Thi, put him under house arrest, and announced Thi was going to the United States for treatment of a sinus condition, when in reality he was exiling Thi.  In response, Thi said, quote, "The only sinus condition I have is from the stink of corruption."  Unquote.

Ky thought the dismissal would be a routine affair, but over the next few days Buddhists came out into the streets to protest, first in Hue and then in other cities; the protesters soon came to be known as the Struggle Movement.  The police did little to stop the protests, probably because they sympathized with the protesters.  In Saigon the protests turned into outright battles between students and loyalist police and troops, where the police used clubs and tear gas and the students fought back with bicycle chains, sticks, rocks, homemade spears, glass bottles and at least one hand grenade.  When he realized the protesters were not going to go away quietly, Ky tried to defuse the situation by allowing Thi to return to Da Nang.  Instead, soldiers loyal to Thi seized control of Hue and Da Nang.  The result was that Vietnam now had one civil war going on inside another civil war.  This prompted an unnamed American official to exclaim, quote, “What are we doing here?  We’re fighting to save these people, and they’re fighting each other!”  Unquote.

On April 3, Ky declared he would “liberate” Da Nang, because it was now in communist hands.  I trust you will agree that was an absurd statement, because the Americans still had their bases in Da Nang, and the Buddhists weren’t cooperating with the communists.  In fact, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong stayed out of the rebellion completely.  Later the chief of the North Vietnamese Communist Party, Le Duan, would admit this was an opportunity they had missed.  The US ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, provided American planes and pilots to transport 4,000 South Vietnamese Marines to Da Nang.  Ky personally led this force, only to find that the road going from the US base to the city was blocked by rebel troops with machine guns.  They did not fight because Major General Wood B. Kyle, the commanding officer of the 3rd Marine Division, intervened with a regiment of US Marines, moving them in between the two forces.  Following an afternoon of posturing, Ky flew back to Saigon and his men followed a few days later.  Instead of crushing the rebellion, Ky had “lost face,” which is considered bad by all East Asian cultures.  In Da Nang, the Buddhists were angry that the Americans had chosen Ky’s side instead of them; they burned American jeeps, and held signs demanding peace and an American withdrawal from Vietnam.

A week later, a humiliated Ky announced that he would resign after elections to establish a completely civilian government for South Vietnam, which would take place sometime in the next five months.  This was just what the Struggle Movement wanted to hear, and demonstrations were called off.  In the zone called CTZ-I, the new general commanding the First Corps, Ton That Dinh, went so far as to claim the whole area was back under Saigon’s control.  But in early May Ky went back on his promise, this time declaring that he expected to remain in office for at least another year.  Then he ordered his best general, Cao Van Vien, to lead 2,000 troops in an expedition to take back Da Nang.  Ky sent them off without telling Ambassador Lodge, General Westmoreland, and even his partner, President Thieu.

Landing in Da Nang at dawn on May 15, the pro-Saigon force advanced to the center of the city and captured the local ARVN headquarters.  Twenty rebel soldiers were killed and General Dinh, who feared that the new arrivals had come to kill him, fled to Hue on an American helicopter.  For chickening out, Dinh was dismissed from his position and briefly jailed.  Now Ky put Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan in charge of getting rid of the remaining rebels; two years later, Loan would become infamous, when an NBC camera crew got pictures of him shooting a Viet Cong prisoner in the head.  Fighting in Da Nang went on for the rest of May, with loyalist troops storming Buddhist pagodas, while South Vietnamese warplanes strafed rebel troops occupying the central market.  Over a three-week period, at least ten Buddhist monks and nuns around the country burned themselves to death, in protest of US policies.  Veteran listeners to the podcast will remember that some monks had burned themselves in 1963, to show their opposition to the Saigon government at that time.  As for Thi, the general that all the trouble had started over, he met with Westmoreland and agreed to leave Vietnam for the good of the country; he spent the rest of his life in the United States.

The rebellion had been put down in Da Nang, but Hue was still in revolt.  Here the rebels overran and burned the US Consulate in Hue.  Accordingly, the Americans helped Ky send troops to Hue in early June.  By now the rebel soldiers, seeing that the cause was lost, were negotiating their surrender to Ky’s forces, so the resistance in Hue mainly came from civilians.  By June 19, Vietnam’s nineteenth-century capital was back under government control.  President Johnson was relieved, and Ambassador Lodge praised the Ky government for suppressing the Struggle Movement, calling it, quote, "a solid political victory."  Unquote.  In the whole struggle, about 150 Vietnamese were killed on each side, and another 700 were wounded, while the Americans suffered 23 wounded.  The Buddhists were no longer a political force, and for the rest of the time it existed, South Vietnam would be politically stable; everyone in the country would either be for the Saigon Government, or for the communists.


Other Events in 1966

The main war may have been interrupted in Corps Tactical Zone 1 while the Buddhists were in revolt, but the main war continued in the rest of Vietnam.  For example, on April 13, 1966, the Viet Cong staged a raid on Tan Son Nhut, Saigon’s airport, which caused 140 casualties and destroyed 12 US helicopters and nine other aircraft.  Then, in late June and early July, US Marines in Quang Tri, the northernmost province of South Vietnam, captured two North Vietnamese soldiers, and learned from them that the North Vietnamese were now sneaking across the 17th Parallel, ignoring its other name, the Demilitarized Zone.  To stop this, Operation Hastings was launched on July 15, bringing 8,000 US Marines and 3,000 South Vietnamese to Quang Tri.  Opposing them were between 8,000 and 10,000 North Vietnamese.  When the two sides met, the result was one of the bloodiest, most difficult fights the Marines had experienced, since World War II and the Korean War, thanks in part to the tropical heat and the brutal terrain.  This was also the first time that American aircraft bombed enemy troops in the Demilitarized Zone.  General Lew Walt, one of the American commanders, had this to say about his North Vietnamese opponents.  Quote:  "We found them well-equipped, well-trained and aggressive to the point of fanaticism.  They attacked in massed formations and died by the hundreds.  Their leaders had misjudged the fighting ability of U.S. Marines and ARVN soldiers together; our superiority in artillery and total command of the air.  They had vastly underestimated . . . our mobility."  Unquote.  After nineteen days of fighting, the operation was called off on August 3, because it was believed that the North Vietnamese had all been driven across the Demilitarized Zone into North Vietnam.  Casualties had been heavy for both sides; the Marines had lost 126 killed and 448 wounded, and ARVN had 21 killed and 40 wounded.  For the communists, there were more than 700 confirmed dead and 17 captured.  The Marines and South Vietnamese also made a major haul of enemy equipment, capturing more than 200 weapons, 80,000 documents, and 300,000 rounds of ammunition.  Naturally this was declared a joint victory for the Americans and South Vietnamese.

The next big battle was Operation Attleboro, which was named after Attleboro, Massachusetts, the home town of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.  This was another search-and-destroy mission, and it began on September 14, 1966, with the 196th Brigade patrolling Tay Ninh, the province its base camp was located in, about 50 miles northwest of Saigon.  For the rest of September and October they did not meet enemy soldiers, but they discovered hundreds of tons of rice that the Viet Cong had stored in several caches.

The stage was set for a battle here because of an argument that took place the previous July, in Hanoi.  North Vietnam’s defense minister, Vo Nguyen Giap, criticized General Nguyen Chi Thanh, the Viet Cong commander of the Central Office of South Vietnam, for waging conventional battles against the Americans during the past year, instead of choosing less costly hit and run guerrilla tactics.  We saw in the previous episode what happened when the North Vietnamese had a one-on-one fight with the Americans, at Ia Drang, and it taught Giap that fighting the Americans in this way was suicide.  Thanh, however, was an ideological zealot known for motivating his soldiers with class hatred, and he won the argument by convincing the Politburo that they could only win the war if they killed so many Americans, that the growing antiwar movement in the United States would force Washington to abandon Vietnam.  To do this, Thanh gave orders to the 9th Division, the most reliable and experienced unit in the Viet Cong army, to launch a November offensive in Tay Ninh Province, and destroy "a vital element" of the enemy forces near Saigon.  Senior Colonel Hoang Cam, the 9th Division commander, targeted the US 196th Light Infantry Brigade, an army unit that had just arrived in Vietnam, as the "vital element" to be destroyed.  His plan was to have the 271st Regiment, a unit of 1,500 men, attack the American brigade’s base camp while two battalions of the 272nd Regiment and the local force unit targeted the South Vietnamese home guard unit at Soui Cao, 19 miles southeast of Tay Ninh.  At the same time, the 3rd Battalion of the 272nd Regiment and the 101st North Vietnamese Regiment would attack indigenous forces and a U.S. Special Forces unit at Suoi Da, a camp between the Michelin rubber plantation and the Cambodian border.

The 196th Light Infantry Brigade got its first indication that large enemy units were in the area on November 2, when it bumped into the 101st North Vietnamese Regiment, before the latter reached the Suoi Da camp.  The next day, the brigade encountered an unknown sized Viet Cong force, and because it took two days, November 3 and 4, to drive the force away, they gradually realized this was one of the main enemy units.  In fact, it was the 9th VC Division.  November 4 also saw Soui Cao and the city of Tay Ninh come under attack by mortars, recoilless rifles and automatic weapons, from the 271st and 272nd Regiments; these were driven off as well.

The 196th Regiment was led by Brigadier General Edward Sausurre, a general who was a superb staff officer and an authority on missiles, but he had no experience commanding infantry.  On November 4 Sausurre’s superiors heard about the fighting, and flew in to see for themselves what was happening.  They didn’t like what they saw.  To start with, Sausurre wasn’t in the base camp, but was at Tay Ninh, inspecting damage from the mortar attack.  Worse, he had plans to launch a counterattack, but the plan was overly complicated, and he and the staff disagreed on where all their units were.  Sensing a disaster in the making, the First Division commander, Major General William Depuy, personally took over the operation.  The counterattack was launched on November 6, and lasted until November 25; six battalions were brought in as reinforcements, and organized into the 2nd Brigade Task Force.  Between this force and the 196th Brigade the Americans had 22,000 troops on the scene, and together they swept through the area between Tay Ninh City and the Cambodian border.  In the process they not only drove away the enemy, but also found an enormous weapons cache, at a hidden base camp in the jungle.  When it was all done, the Americans suffered 155 killed, 494 wounded, and 5 missing, while the communists left 1,106 dead on the battlefield and had 44 captured.  For the Americans this was a tremendous triumph.  Two follow-up operations, Cedar Falls and Junction City, were conducted in Tay Ninh Province in 1967, and they ensured the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese would not recover in this area until early 1968.
Meanwhile to the north, the Americans received reports that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had re-established themselves in the Kim Son Valley, one of the areas that had cleared out by Operation Masher/White Wing.  The response to that was Operation Thayer, two days of B-52 air strikes near the valley, followed by the airlifting of five battalions to the highlands surrounding the valley.  The battalions spent the second half of September 1966 going through the valley, hampered by heavy monsoon rains; they only caught a few enemy troops.

The Americans believed the North Vietnamese fled from the Kim Son Valley to the mountains of Binh Dinh Province, near the coastal town of Qui Nhon.  To “find, fix and finish” these intruders, Operation Irving was launched on October 2.  For this five battalions of the 1st US Cavalry Division were used, along with five South Korean and two South Vietnamese battalions, a total of 6,000 men.  Over a 22-day period, each national group searched one of the mountains in the area.  The biggest battle came on the first day, when the Americans found that the North Vietnamese had fortified a village, Hoa Hoi.  However, this was the only place where the Allied forces could find and bring to battle a large number of enemy troops.  They also faced a challenge from the large number of peasants, who were allowed to evacuate so they would not be caught in the crossfire.  The final score at the end of the operation was 681 communists killed and 1,409 captured, while 52 Allied troops were killed, so Operation Irving was declared another success.

When Operation Irving was finished, the 1st US Cavalry Division returned to the Kim Son Valley and two adjacent areas, the Suoi Ca Valley and the nearest part of the coast, for another search and destroy mission, called Operation Thayer II.  This time the operation lasted nearly four months, from October 25, 1966 to February 12, 1967.  The Americans were able to claim victory again, killing a reported 1,757 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, while suffering  242 American dead, and 947 wounded.  However, the main casualties from Operations Thayer, Irving and Thayer II were the local civilians.  About one third of the 875,000 living in Binh Dinh Province lost their homes and were turned into refugees.

On October 25, 1966, President Johnson went to the Philippines and conducted a conference in Manila, with representatives from America’s Vietnam Allies:  Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and South Vietnam.  Together they pledge to withdraw from Vietnam within six months if North Vietnam will withdraw completely from the South.  However, North Vietnam did not accept this peace proposal, no surprise since it had so far rejected all proposals to end the war.  The next day, Johnson visited US troops at Cam Ranh Bay. This was the first of two visits he made to Vietnam during his presidency.

Finally, just before the end of the year, on December 27, 1966, American planes mounted a large-scale air assault against suspected Viet Cong positions in the Mekong Delta, using napalm and hundreds of tons of bombs.

I gave you a set of figures in the last episode, when we got to the end of 1965, so here are the year-end numbers for 1966.  US troop levels are up to 389,000, more than twice the number from a year before.  The total number of American casualties are 5,008 combat deaths and 30,093 wounded.  More than half of the American causalities were caused by snipers and small-arms fire during Viet Cong ambushes, along with handmade booby traps and mines planted everywhere in the countryside by the Viet Cong.  Among the American Allies, there are now 45,000 South Korean soldiers and 7,000 Australians in Vietnam.  An estimated 89,000 soldiers from North Vietnam infiltrated the South in 1966, using the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


All right, here is a good stopping point.  I hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed recording and uploading it.  Join me next time as we continue the narrative into 1967.  I will keep covering what is happening in Vietnam, but it also has been a while since I talked about opposition to the war in the United States, and it is increasing, so I plan to cover that, too.  And then, maybe two episodes after this one, I will do a question-and-answer episode, answering the questions you sent me – thanks again for doing that!

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