The Tet Offensive was one of the biggest turning points of the Vietnam War. Although from a purely military standpoint the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces emerged victorious, it was a strong psychological victory for the Northern Communists (American History).
The Original concept for the Tet Offensive came from General Vo Nguyne Giap of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. He knew that since the U.S. entered the war on the side of the south, the communists had been on the loosing end of the battle. So he concocted a three point plan with the hope of neutralizing the overwhelming American advantages in Firepower and mobility. He planned to combine the Chinese element of General Offense with the Vietnamese element of General Uprising. The plan was based around three points: that the South Vietnamese army would not fight but would collapse from the shock of the initial strike; that the people of South Vietnam would rally with the communist cause; and that the American morale would break from the “one two punch” (Zabecki).
Giap planned to launch the attack on the Vietnamese holiday of Tet, which was so important that a ceasefire had been called in order to celebrate. He did not tell his generals of the exact timing of the attack, however, until the last possible moment, in order to maintain secrecy. Because of this, the timing of the attack was off by 24 hours, launching a day early. The U.S. and Southern Vietnamese forces immediately stopped their ceasefire and met the offensive head on (Zabecki).
Before the attack, Giap attacked the marine base at Keh Sahn, near the 17th Parallel, using it as a feint to draw U.S. attention away from South Vietnam. The deception worked, drawing thousands of troops away from their primary objective (American History). However, Lieutenant Genral Frederick C. Weyand was not fooled. He noticed an increased amount of DRV radio traffic around Saigon, but a small amount of contacts for his patrolling troops. He convinced General William Westmoreland, the Commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, to let him pull more American Battalions back to Saigon. For this reason, there were 27 battalions in the Saigon area instead of the original 14 when the attack came (Zabecki).
During the attack, the DRV attacked five of South Vietnam’s cities, most of its provincial capitals, and about 50 smaller towns. In Saigon, they attacked several high value targets, such as the palace and the airport, and the U.S. embassy. But because of Weyands’ forsight, the U.S. forces pushed the DRV out of Saigon. However, Hue, another extremely important city in South Vietnam, was completely leveled, leaving thousands dead and 100,000 without homes (U.S. History).
Giap was ultimately wrong on two of his three assumptions. The people of South Vietnam did not rally to the communists, and the South Vietnamese army did not collapse, but fought well. Giap was however right on his third assumption. The U.S. did not have the will to do what was necessary to win. The United Stated defeated the communists decisively, but at the same time handed them a strategic victory. After the Tet offensive, the American public turned against the war, thinking it un-winnable. This change of heart damaged soldier moral greatly, giving the DRV a big advantage (Zabecki).