8 Major Battles of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was fought between North Vietnam on one side and South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States of America, on the other. The major ally of North Vietnam in this war was the Soviet Union. 

The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union intensified it. The war lasted for 20 long years (1955-1975) and a total of 3 million people were killed.

It ended with the Communist forces gaining control over South Vietnam following which the northern and southern parts of the country were united as a Republic the next year. 

Multiple battles were fought during this time span of twenty years and today we will look at the best battles of Vietnam- the most notable wars that shook Vietnam and impacted world politics. 

8. The Fall of Saigon 

The Fall of Saigon

The signing of the Paris Peace Accords somewhat indicated that the Vietnam War would end soon. In 1973, the US forces retreated from the place. The ARVN was the sole strength of the Republic and it was not strong enough to combat PAVN successfully. 

In the first half of 195, the North Vietnamese force started offensives against South Vietnam. The Americans who were left in the place, feared attacks by North Vietnamese forces, something similar to the Hue Massacre (1968).

The Americans started leaving from March and the numbers considerably increased during April. 

Under the evacuation drive, as many as 2,000 orphans were evacuated (Operation Babylift, 3rd April) from Vietnam, Canada, Australia and France and they were adopted by people around the world. 

At the same time, Operation New Life was also launched which aimed at transferring over lac refugees to different parts to the US. The war also saw the largest helicopter evacuation in the world, where above 7,000 people were lifted from South Vietnam. On the 9th of April, Xuan Loc, a city located at a distance of 80km from Saigon was attacked by PAVN. They finally seized control of the city after putting up a great fight against the ARVN forces.

President Thieu resigned on the 21st of April and was replaced by Tran Van Huong, the previous Vice President.

About one lac troops engulfed Saigon on the 27th of April and President Minh had to give up the city on the 30th. 

Even after the fall of Saigon, the South Vietnamese forces continued to fight but gradually lost out to the PAVN by the 3rd of May. 

30th April 1975, the date of Fall of Saigon, is regarded by many as the Reunification Day or Liberation Day since the war approached its end during this time.

7.  Battle of Hamburger Hill

Battle of Hamburger Hill

Hamburger Hill, a hill with altitude 937m located in the forests of A Shau Valley, Vietnam, was the site for a controversial and intense battle during the Vietnam War. 

The original name of the place was Ap Bia Mountain; it was later given this name by the journalists covering the war, considering the intensity of the war where the machine guns literally cut things into pieces just like a hamburger machine.

Operation Apache Show, a military sweep of the US in the A Shau Valley, was conducted with the aim to bar the North Vietnamese from infiltrating Laos and to pose enemy threats to the cities Da Nag and Hue. 

Melvin Zais, the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, engaged a regiment of North Vietnam in the slopes of Ap Bia Mountain on the 10th of May, 1969 to resist the attack. They were successful in defeating the US forces after killing a number of their soldiers. 

On May 14, another attempt of the third battalion of the 187th infantry was resisted by the 29th Regiment of the North Vietnamese forces. 

For the next ten days, the hills saw artillery barrages, heavy airstrikes, and infantry assaults. Some of them were even carried on during tropical rainstorms and the visibility was thus zero.

On the 20th of May, two US airborne battalions were sent by General Zais along with a South Vietnamese battalion to the place for strengthening the forces. 

The hill remained free even after ten assaults. Finally, in the eleventh attack, the place was captured on the 20th of May. Weakened by the attack, the North Vietnamese went back to the sanctuary area of Laos. 

Just after five days of the win, the US forces left the Hill, realizing that it was not of any strategic importance. 

After killing about 630 people from the North Vietnamese forces, 72 from the US forces and wounding 372 of the latter, the bloody battle ended. The anti-war activists have severely criticized the war and it is considered as a waste of effort by many. For some, however, it was a remarkable victory for the US forces.  

6.  Battle of Khe Sanh

Battle of Khe Sanh

The battle took place when the US Marine Garrison at Khe Sanh, near the Laos border, was massively bombarded by the PAVN forces. This led South Vietnam and its US allies to fight off, leading to one of the longest battles of the Vietnam War and causing a huge amount of bloodshed.  

The battle began in the year 1968. However, its prelude dates back to 1962 when the forces of US Army built their camp 14 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the South and North Vietnam that was 6 miles from the principal road connecting South Vietnam and Laos. 

In 1966, they built a garrison near the Army Camp and the next year PAVN started consolidating itself in the area. Naturally, the US officials suspected Khe Sanh as a potential target of the attack which occurred on 21st January 1968. 

About 90% of the artillery and mortar rounds of the base were destroyed by the PAVN forces.  In an attempt to defend themselves, the opponents started destroying the North Vietnamese artillery in the adjoining places of Khe Sanh while ignoring the Communist buildup in other places of South Vietnam. 

The fact that they made a mistake was proved by Tet Offensive when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched fierce attacks over South Vietnam, aiming to break the ARVN forces and driving a wedge between the US and South Vietnam.  

The seize of the Garrison was ended within 77 days of the attack, putting an end to the battle that had killed around 10,000 Communists and 500 U.S. Marines in contrast. 

5. The Tet Offensive

Tet Offensive Vietnam war battle

The Tet Offensive was a turning point in the Battle of Vietnam. It was a series of coordinated attacks made on the cities and outposts of South Vietnam. 

Tet, the lunar New Year and most significant holiday in the Vietnamese calendar had previously observed an informal truce. But in 30th January 1968, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the military general of North Vietnam, organized surprise attacks against the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) forces with the aim to cause rebellion and discontent among the population of South Vietnam and drive a wedge between South Vietnam and US (Battle of Khe Sanh).  

On the early morning of 30th Jan 1968, when the common people had started the celebrating or performing the rituals of the New Year, 13 cities of South Vietnam were attacked.

Within the next 24 hours, some other targets across the city, such as the government buildings, cities, towns were attacked. 

120 attacks shook South Vietnam among which the arguably boldest one was the attack on the US Embassy in Saigon. It came as a shock for the US and international audience. US and AVRN forces were successful to combat the attacks effectively, though. 

It was conducted with the sole aim of stirring rebellion among the population of South Vietnam and involved the US more into the war. South Vietnam, with its major ally, US, succeeded in resisting the attacks.

However, the American republic was shocked and gradually started showing signs of removing itself from the war. 

4. The Battle of Ia Drang

The Battle of Ia Drang

The Battle of Ia Drang was regarded as the first major engagement between the US Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). 

North Vietnam had striked against the Plei Me Special Forces Camp. American Forces attempted to destroy the attackers as a result of which components of the 1st Cavalry Division of the airmobile were seen to move to the Central Highlands of South Vietnam near the Drang River of Cambodia in November 1965 

They ventured into the forested plateaus where none including the French, the South Vietnamese Army or the freshly arrived American Forces had ventured till then.

305 Americans died in the war, taking the total count to 545 in that month! On the other hand, approximately 3,561 of the North Vietnamese force were killed during the campaign. 

At a higher level, both sides claimed victory in the war, though both realized that the war had intensified to leave people in nightmares.

3. Battle of Van Tuong

Battle of Van Tuong

Battle of Van Tuong took place on the 18th of August, 1965 where the Viet Cong was assaulted by the Americans.

This battle is recognized as one of the major ones involving the U.S. actively. Initially named as ‘Operation Satellite’, this war later came to be known as ‘Starlite’ (due to the power blackout and consequent incorrect naming by the Transcriber). 

Operation Starlite was executed at Van Tuong of South Vietnam and thus its name was given. The battle saw a large-scale ‘Search and Destroy’ by Third Battalion and Third MAF’s Third Infantry against North Vietnam. 

In the South Vietnamese front, a force consisting of about 5000-6000 men was lead by Oscar Peatross and Lew Walt was powered by naval support, helicopter, and ground artillery while the VC had mortars and their famous guerilla tactics to their support. 

2. Battle of Pleiku

Battle of Pleiku

The 409th battalion of the Viet Cong attacked Camp Holloway, a helicopter base in Peliku on the 6th of February, 1965. On the next day, the South Vietnam Army Base was attacked by Viet Cong 30th Company. 

The backdrop of this battle was the Tuticorin incident of 1964 where the North Vietnamese were accused of attacking a US ship. It was later discovered that nothing of that sort had happened. This rumor, however, made the US bomb North Vietnam and eventually the involvement of the Soviet Union

All these led to the Battle of Pleiku which had its aftermath in America being involved more into the war. Consequently, Cuba and China did the same. 

1. Battle of Ấp Bắc

Battle-of-Ấp-Bắc

Ấp Bắc is a village in South Vietnam, about 45 miles southwest of Saigon. In 28th December 1961, Us intelligent discover a sizable force of Viet Cong located in the hamlet in Ap Tan Thoi

They were attacked by the South Vietnamese forces, trained in US war tactics and empowered with advanced weapons. About 2500 troops from the 7th Infantry Division of South Vietnam were involved in the battle. 

On the 2nd of January, 1963, the US helicopters approached the region but were successfully defeated by the Viet Cong forces that were much lesser in number (average 300). 

Their Guerrilla war tactics proved to be helpful here along with their indomitable fighting spirit and clever strategization. 

Consequently, the US understood that it was not sufficiently prepared to fight the North Vietnamese and realized that they should have more involvement in this war to save themselves from losing. The battle signified the weakness of South Vietnam in spite of having the US as a major ally. 

Final Conclusion

The battles that we discussed left a deep impact on the lives of people all over the country and are considered as highly significant events in world history. After shaking Vietnam to the core and causing twenty years of bloodshed, the War finally ended with the Republic of Vietnam being established by unifying the two parts. 

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "8 Major Battles of the Vietnam War," in HistoryTen, October 11, 2020, https://historyten.com/vietnam-war/major-battles-vietnam-war/.
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