Vietnam War – The Easter Offensive 1972

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The 1972 Eastertide Offensive. What did Hanoi hope to achieve militarily and politically? What did they actually achieve? What were the long term implications of the Eastertide Offensive for both sides?

The 1972 Eastertide Offensive was Giap’s third try at Mao’s third stage conventional warfare, the first being his General Offensive against Hanoi in 1951, the second being Tet in 1968. He was surely hoping for better results this time around. The Offensive was dubbed the Nguyen Hue offensive after the emperor who had led the Vietnamese against the Chinese in the first Tet in 1798.

The Nguyen Hue Offensive was planned to overwhelm South Vietnam, and destroy Thieu’s government with overwhelming numbers and firepower. The leaders in Hanoi knew they could take advantage of ARVN, first because the US had withdrawn the majority of its forces by then, and second they knew ARVN soldiers were not concentrated in large units, due in large part to the pacification strategy being pursued, fairly successfully, by the South Vietnamese military. The leaders in Hanoi, like Pham van Dong and General Giap, were now seeking to destroy South Vietnam as a political and military entity and since they had long given up on the idea of the national uprising, and since the PLAF (Viet Cong) had basically been wiped out during Tet and pacification, they knew it had to be conventional attack from the North.

The big wild card was American air power. How much would the US bring to bear?  PAVN had massed huge numbers of SA-2, SA-7s and anti-aircraft artillery around the DMZ with the goal of keeping the US bombers away from the advancing PAVN armies. It appears that they underestimated the US, and ARVN resolve. Remember, we still had a good amount of firepower in the area, bombers, helicopters, advisors, logistical support.

The air firepower that the US used was the turning point it was designed to do two things: directly support ARVN ground troops and also take the fight to North Vietnam. The Linebacker I operation was launched against the North, both supply lines and infrastructure, and with a goal of crushing the logistical support of the offensive and forcing Hanoi leadership to the negotiating table.

So ARVN, and the US backers, we facing an all out conventional drive by PAVN to finally knock out the South Vietnamese and it was designed to hit on three fronts: in the North against Quang-Tri across the DMZ and Hue with an inland hook maneuver; in the Central Highlands around Pleiku, Dak To, and Kontum; and in the area just north west of Saigon around An Loc and Loc Ninh.

In the North, they had immediate success around the Quang-Tri area and actuall captured Quang-Tri City. One curious behavior of the ARVN troops was the fact that they had their families in tow, and this caused some major problems, both in 1972 and in 1975. At any rate, the northern attack began to bog down when they met stiff resistance in Hue. Bat-21 was an important episode in this phase of the offensive.

BAT 21 Bravo (30 March 1972): Mission in extreme north of South Vietnam, near DMZ, (I corp) above quang-tri during the Easter Offensive in which a pilot who’s call signal was BAT-21 was the only survivor of a jamming aircraft shot down. The rescue effort became exceptionally costly and controversial. First we sent in a “jolly green giant” Huey to try to get him but it was shot down killing all on board, it was a disaster. Then we called a moratorium on shelling in his area while we tried to get him, which put the ARVN troops at risk and gave the impression that one American pilot was more important than a whole ARVN regiment.

Meanwhile, the attack in the Central Highlands was launched a few days later and was successful early on, but two old characters from the Ap Bac days, Ba and Vann, reappeared together and did an excellent job of reppelling the PAVN forces, although as mentioned before many PAVN forces would remain in the Central Highlands even after the truce was signed. Nevertheless, Vann and Ba had done there jobs and held Pleiku. Tragically John Paul Vann would be killed a short time later.

Down South the PAVN forces attacked from the Cambodia side against An Loc and Loc Ninh. Again, the Northern forces were successful early on but were unable to maintain their attacks, largely due to supply problems and American firepower and expertise. In An Loc there was a famous siege, much like Khe Sanh, which ARVN performed quite well. The American who was influential there was Hollingsworth.

So, the Eastertide offensive ultimately was turned back by ARVN and the US. Nixon was able to get Le Duc Tho to the bargaining table and it was a short-term shot in the arm for ARVN. But if you believe Troung Nhu Tang in his Viet Cong Memoir, the long term affect was to reinforce for ARVN that they were in trouble without US firepower backing them up. For the North it was a setback, but they fought successfully to keep troops in South Vietnam in the final peace treaty with the US– a cease-fire in-place was granted. They were clearly in a perfect position to go back and retool for the 1975 Ho Chi Minh Offensive. Which they of course did.

13 responses to “Vietnam War – The Easter Offensive 1972

  1. As usual with most of these internet illusions of history nothing is mentioned about the 196th Light Infantry Brigade or the 1st Cav or the many combat helicopter units that were in combat during the 1972 Easter Offensive of the N.V.A. I get so tired of these internet histories that keep saying it was ARVN troops that did the fighting! They basically retreated like they always did and got credit by the Nixon administration for doing such a “good” job – BULLSHIT! Every grunt involved knows it was the B-52’s that stopped the N.V.A. in their tracks south of Quang Tri in the North MR1 A.O. after they decimated the ARVN there and it was the 1st Cav and air strikes that stopped the NVA in the Tay Ninh/ Elephants Ear areas northwest of Saigon!
    The “historians” and writers of this offensive has been too influenced by Government reports to even document the history correctly! Only a very few writers give the full correct story! Not to mentioned the bridge at Dong Ha as being a very minor slowdown of the NVA during the offensive as they quickly took over Quang Tri and Hwy 1 was their main offensive route in the spring of 1972 in the northern sector.

  2. The First Cavalry did NOT fight in the Easter Offensive…

  3. i
    I was with the 196th LIght Infantry Bde during this period and we were in the field around Phu Bai during this time and were told of the NVA and them having tanks coming south to engage us . We were issued M-72 LAWS ” anti-tank rounds to use and I was pulled out and we were trained on the new Armor Weapon ,the TOW Missile . We were then used to train the Arvn ‘s to use it in the Easter Offensive. The last I heard , they were overrun and they ran off leaving their TOWS for the oncoming NVA. Prior to rejoining our unit, we were flown out onto a US Aircraft Carrier, to train our US Marines on how to use the TOW Missile.

  4. To Jack kennedy: the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 1st cav were both in the bush/field during the “Easter offensive” of 1972. Both were in combat with the 196th near phu bai and the 1st cab near an loc! Believe me I know I was with the 196th. Both were in combat until August 1972. You have not a clue on what you are talking about!

  5. the 196th and first cav were not close 2 any heavy fighting,the arvins did all the heavy stuff,that i know for a fact,any questions call tom at 512-825-1885,the 196th did have 1 artillery battery,firing support from miles away,iknow 3 advisors that were at kontum,anh loc and loc ninh,they were down in toc bunkers with the radios bringing in air srikes,i have 2 s viet friends in saigon that were at loc ninh and anh loc they said there were no grunts in action and the adisors were deep under ground

  6. my cousin was in the 196th in 72 he said they ,the grunts were 60 miles from the fighting except for the art. battery,they were about 12 miles away.grunts were far from the combat zone,nixon would not alow them 2 engage ist cav and 196th only had 1200 troops each,9th marines were off coast near danand ,never came ashore,nixons orders 2 few,my chppewa indian buddy was so diappoined,my yavipi apache buddy was ichin 2 fight,was in 196th near phu bai,they wouldnt let them fight 2 few and it was an election year.

    • B. J. Phillips

      I am not sure were you get your information from. First, hue and quang tri is only about 58km , which is much less than 60 miles – .61 miles per km! The 196th was west of hue and was within sight of the mountains were most Arvn firebases had been overrun! Also, I am not sure what you call “heavy fighting” or the “combat zone”, since all of Vietnam was a combat zone! Out of the 58,000 plus that died in Vietnam most were in smaller firefights, booby traps, and small abuses. If you don’t think humping the bush was “combat” then you have no respect for what the infantry did there.

  7. I was in the tri star compound in quang tri at the start of the easter offensive in 1972 from 30 march until April 2 1972. We sure could have used some of the first cav and the 196th light infantry brigade to help us to get out of the compound instead of waiting for 4 days for a chinook to get us out. I was there.

    • B. J. Phillips

      Well the First Cav was in the bush northwest of Saigon during the Easter offensive, so it would have been impossible for them to get up to Quang tri , and the 196th was northwest of phu bai and west of hue as a blocking force since the nva had taken all the firebases west of hue. I will agree that the 196th was not involved in “heavy combat”, but that is not what military command designated their job to be. All arvn units at or near quang tri was quickly defeated. I still feel if it was not for the B-52’s stopping the nva advance south of quang tri, then the 196th – whom was only at brigade strength would have also been decimated by the multi division offensive nva advance. Maybe that would have made some of you all happy!

      • B. J. Phillips

        With that said, it should be noted that the First Cav and the 196th was quite effective in stopping or interfering with smaller sapper squads and advance nva recon during the Easter offensive, which was their assignment and mission! Yes, we were issued m-72 rocket launchers and gas masks at that time and were expecting tanks and nva armour, since the us army had little to no tanks or amour to fight the nva advance! I guess if we were overran and decimated it would give your “cousins, and whatever in Saigon a REAL war story to tell!!!!!! Sorry some of you had to be in quang tri a few days before being choppered out. That is something you need to address to military command and/or intelligence and not the grunts in the field that had no say so in troop placement or movements! You type of people piss me off!!!!!

  8. B. J. Phillips

    Do not agree that it was the Arvn that turned back the nva offensive! It was the B-52’s and U. S. Air power that stopped the offensive south of quang tri. The nva never made it to hue. Saying that the Arvn stopped it is just an echo of Nixon and U.S. government, which was totally inaccurate!!!! B. J. Phillips 196th light infantry brigade 1971-72

  9. How about the 7/17th Air Cavalry in the Central Highlands? I was there and was wounded in action west of Plieku while serving in C Troop. The war was not fought only in I Corps. We were engaging and killing NVA nearly every day in II Corps during the Easter Offensive.

    • B. J. Phillips

      Most people do not know that the 1972 Easter offensive was the largest to date during the Vietnam war. The majority of “historians” write what Nixon/government supplied as information, and has resulted in woefully inaccurate “facts”! The nva had three thrust into south vn: across dmz, central highlands, and fishhook (An loc, Tay ninh). Army units such as 7/17 Did a big part in stymie their attacks with aerial defense!!!! Too many only concentrate on “major battles”, which actually there were few, but focused on hue in 68, hamburger hill (which wasn’t a big fight, and other “headlines” fights. In doing so they miss the real fights and distort history!

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