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CHAPTER 13

Post-Tet in I

Corps

The Immediate Ramifications
of the Tet Offensive-Readjustment in I Corps-Readjustments in the U.S.
I Corps Command Structure-Planning for the Future-March Operations in
the DMZ Sector-March Operations in the Rest of l Corps-Regaining the
Initiative

The Immediate Ramifications
of the Tet Offensive

By the end of February and the

beginning of March with the securing of the city of Hue, the enemy's countrywide

Tet offensive had about shot its initial bolt. According to American estimates,

the Communists lost about half of their attacking force, more than 40,000 from

an estimated 84,000 men. In I Corps alone, from January through March 1968,

Lieutenant General Robert Cushman, the III MAF Commander, later calculated that

allied forces killed over 30,000 of the enemy, the equivalent of 74 infantry

battalions.1*

The Communist command, itself, admitted to several
shortcomings. As early as 1 February 1968, the Central Office of South
Vietnam, the Viet Cong governing body, issued a circular to its subordinate
commands. According to the Communist leadership, 'we failed to seize
a number of primary objectives and to completely destroy mobile and
defensive units of the enemy.' The memorandum blamed the Viet Cong military
forces for failure 'to hold the occupied areas,' and, moveover, held
the political cadre accountable for not motivating the 'people to stage
uprisings and break the enemy oppressive control.' In Military Region
5
, which included both Quang Ngai City and Da Nang, the Communist
headquarters conceded that its troops and cadre within the cities were
not strong enough to assist the main force units outside of the cities.
In an official history, the Communist author acknowledged that the Viet
Cong and North Vietnamese attacking units 'did not meet the basic requirements
that had been set forth.' Contrary to the enemy expectations, the South
Vietnamese Army had not disintegrated and in many sectors acquitted
itself reasonably well, especially on the defensive.2

Still the tenor of the Communist

communiques was one of defiance. They all claimed the achievement of great

victories and made references to final victory for their cause. At the same

time, however, the enemy leadership warned their supporters: 'Our people's

struggle has stepped into an extremely tense and fierce phase and is developing

very rapidly.' They no longer spoke of a short-term campaign, but that 'the

General Offensive and General Uprising will not last for only a few days, but

that it is a phase of a general attack against the enemy.' One phase was over

and another was to begin.3

The American military was also

examining the consequences of the enemy's offensive. While confident that Tet

was a major military defeat for the Communists, U.S. commanders were well aware

of the cost to their side. Allied casualties during the fighting totaled in

excess of 12,000, with about two-thirds suffered by the ARVN. The battle of Hue

was a near thing, especially in the first few days. While expecting an attack,

especially in the north around Khe Sanh or possibly the DMZ, General

Westmoreland and the MACV staff had underestimated the breadth and extent of the

enemy general offensive. Some 600,000 civilians were now refugees, about 100,000

in I Corps alone. The pacification effort had sustained a major setback. In

mid-February, Marine Brigadier General John R. Chaisson, the director of the

MACV Combat Operations Center, observed in a letter home, 'the damage in the

cities and to the economy is staggering. ARVN will be somewhat less than

effective for weeks.' He then wrote, however, '... there is a general tightening

up of everything, and if the guys on top don't panic this could be the turning

point of the war-even though he [the enemy] initiated it for us.' Chaisson

expressed the sentiments of many of the MACV commanders including both Generals

Westmoreland and Cushman.4

In Washington, the Johnson administration also began
its reevaluation of the Vietnam War in light of the enemy offensive.
Other factors also clouded the situation. On 23 January, North Korean
gunboats captured the U.S. intelligence ship, USS Pueblo (AGER-2),

* Cushman's statistics include figures before and
after Tet and, therefore, give a somewhat distorted picture of the enemy's
Tet casualties. It, nevertheless, is indicative of the intensity of
the fighting in the I Corps sector during the Tet period and of the
enemy's losses.




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