Photo courtesy of Col Talman C. Budd II, USMC (Ret)
The South Vietnamese Marine Task Force Alpha commander,
the officer on the right holding a map, confers with officers of the
1st Vietnamese Marine Battalion west of the city, after leaving Hue.
The allies remained unsure about the North Vietnamese command and
control for the battle of Hue. U.S. after action reports referred to
a division-size force, but never identified any particular enemy division
headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel Phan Van Khoa, the South Vietnamese
Thua Thien Province chief, who remained in hiding until rescued by American
Marines,* accidentally overheard a conversation among some enemy officers.
According to Khoa, the North Vietnamese mentioned a division taking
part in the battle and the division headquarters was 'in an unknown
location south of the city of Hue inside a pagoda.' Khoa could not remember
the number of the division, but recalled that it ended with a 4. In
all probability, however, Khoa confused the division headquarters with
the 4th NVA Regiment. Given the disparity of so many regiments
from so many different divisions, allied intelligence officers believed
that a forward headquarters of the Tri-Thien-Hue Front under
a North Vietnamese general officer directed the NVA Hue offensive.32
Given both the resources that the North Vietnamese put into the battle and the tenacity with which they fought, it was obvious that the Hue campaign was a major component of the entire Tet offensive. According to an enemy account, the North Vietnamese military command in planning the offensive took into consideration that the U.S. and South Vietnamese had concentrated their forces in the north, expecting an attack along Route 9. It viewed Hue a weak link in the allied defenses in the northern two provinces. As the North Vietnamese author wrote: 'The enemy knew nothing of our strategy; by the time our forces approached the city of Hue, the enemy still had not taken any specific defensive measures.'33
Once in Hue, the North Vietnamese were there to stay. The Communists established their own civil government and their cadres rounded up known government officials, sympathizers, and foreigners including American civilians and military personnel in the pans of the city they controlled. After the recapture of Hue, South Vietnamese authorities exhumed some 3,000 bodies thrown into hastily dug graves. In all probability, these were the victims of the Communist roundups. Although the North Vietnamese admitted the tracking down and punishing of 'hoodlum ringleaders,' they claimed most of the reported civilian deaths were the result of happenstance, exaggerations by the South Vietnamese, or caused by the allies. The true sufferers in the battle were the people of Hue.
* See Chapter 10.