US helicopters fire from the air through the jungle before infantry attack, March 1965 of the year. Photo: Horst Faas / AP
The main milestones of the Second Indochinese War, which became the last direct military confrontation between the two world superpowers - the USSR and the USA
The Vietnam War, which is less commonly referred to as the Second Indochinese War, was the brightest and longest confrontation between the two largest world political systems. On the one hand, the United States, which led the anti-communist world, directly participated in it, on the other hand, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which represented the communist world, behind which stood Moscow and Beijing. Even the war in Afghanistan, comparable in time to the war in Vietnam, was not such a vivid demonstration of the readiness of the main opponents of the Cold War to defend their ideological maxims in open battle.
A colossal amount of research has been written about the causes of war, volumes historical books and thousands of newspaper articles. By and large, both the economic and political interests of the United States could not help but drag the country into a massacre, which in many respects became the largest military operation of the American army in the twentieth century. And the longest is for sure.
For ten years (formally, the last American soldiers guarding the US embassy in Saigon left the country only in 1975 year) in the jungles of Vietnam and in the skies above them, as well as on land and in the air of Laos and Cambodia and in the seas around the peninsula 3 managed to fight 403 100 US citizens. This is four times less than the number of Americans who participated in the Second World War: more than 12 million US citizens fought there. The ratio of casualties in the Vietnam War was twice lower than in World War II: during the Vietnamese years 10, the American armed forces lost 58 148 people (every fifty-eighth), while in all the Second World War theaters in four years - 405 339 ( have every thirtieth). But psychological losses were much more significant. The Vietnam War had such a tremendous impact on American society, hit the US international prestige so badly that it took almost ten years to restore the internal and foreign balance - until such losses were sustained by the Soviet Union, stuck in Afghanistan.
It is impossible to describe in detail the entire history of the Vietnam War in a short article. Experienced researchers spend hundreds of pages on this - and still have to leave some details outside their work. But it’s quite realistic to look at the chronology and understand how the catastrophe gradually increased, which resulted in Washington’s decision to take part in the civil war between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and South Vietnam. Its first foci faded in the year 1960.
The formal beginning of the direct participation of the American armed forces in the war between North and South Vietnam is March 8, 1965. On this day in Da Nang - a port on the coast of the South China Sea - the first two battalions of the US Marine Corps began unloading. But the immediate cause for America’s military intervention in the Vietnam Civil War dates back to 1964. These are two so-called Tonkin incidents - attacks of North Vietnamese torpedo boats on American destroyers. And if the first incident was really organized by North Vietnam, which he himself admitted, then the second, which served as a formal reason for the start of the US military operation, as it turned out much later, was actually inspired by the American side, and the radio interception, allegedly confirming the guilt of the DRV, turned out to be a fake . Nevertheless, the very next day after the second Tonkin incident, America launched bombing attacks on the bases of the North Vietnamese army and fleet. It was the first such bombardment to receive the codename "Piercing Arrow."
US Marine Corps Landing in Da Nang, March 8 1965. Photo: AP
In 1965, bombing will be resumed, and will continue until October 31 1968, receiving the general name Thunder Peals. In the same 1965, the first major combat operation will unfold, in which not only troops of South Vietnam and their main enemy, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Viet Cong), but also American units will face off for the first time in a ground battle. It was the operation "Starlight", which the marines conducted in the area of its base Chulay. Formally, the victory went to the Americans. In fact, they defeated the 1 th regiment of the Viet Cong, but the partisans were able to seriously foil the enemy. In addition, in the same year, in July, the Soviet C-75 air defense missile systems were used for the first time in Vietnam, and a little earlier, in April, the North Vietnamese pilots open their combat score, forcing down two American F-105 fighters.
In the same year, the first major ground battle took place, in which the American and North Vietnamese armies entered direct combat contact. It went down in history as the battle in the Ya-Drang Valley and became one of the most violent and bloody battles of the Vietnam War. Both sides still consider the outcome of the battle to be their victory, although it would be most accurate to say that the slaughter, which claimed, according to various sources, the lives of between one and a half and three thousand people, ended in almost nothing.
Sixty-sixth was perhaps the calmest year - from the point of view of ground clashes. But the war in the air did not stop, gradually becoming more global. This year in december american aviation for the first time decided to go far north, much higher than the demilitarized zone that divided North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel, and to deliver a bombing strike on the capital of the DRV - Hanoi. The success of the bombing was little consolation for the American pilots, who had survived the so-called “Black Friday” a week and a half before. This day for the US Air Force was December 2, when in one single day they immediately lost eight combat aircraft shot down by North Vietnam. This did not happen in the Vietnam War, either before or after.
The losses were all the more painful for the United States, if we recall that the “Hanoi Parade” was organized in Hanoi six months before: 55 American pilots, shot down from the beginning of the war and captured, were led through the streets of the North Vietnamese capital. The authorities of the DRV did not dare to take more such actions: the parade almost ended in a Lynch court. The personal scores of the inhabitants of North Vietnam to the pilots of America, which, although their country did not officially declare war on the DRV, literally incinerated cities, villages and fields of North Vietnamese, were very large.
The year began with a major US success in the air war. January 2 as a result of the operation "Bolo" Americans managed to avenge the loss of "black Friday". Five of the newest Soviet MiG-21 fighters fell into the trap and were shot down at once - the largest losses of this type of aircraft during the war in Vietnam.
But this year was also the first since the beginning of the war, when the monthly losses of the American army exceeded 1000 people. This happened in March, and the operation was launched at the end of February by the Operation Junction City (Junction City), the largest ground operation of the US troops at that time. Over 25 of thousands of American soldiers and comparable in size units of the South Vietnamese army participated in it. Operation Nodal Station was included in the history of the Vietnam War as the only case of an airborne assault — both before and after the paratroopers were only landed from helicopters. But the stated goal of eliminating the headquarters of the partisan movement and disrupting the movement of people and weapons along the Ho Chi Minh trail was not achieved by the command of the US Army.
Airborne assault during Operation Nodal Station, February 1967. Photo: AP
The result of the 1967 battle in Dacto, which flared up in November, was just as ambiguous. This name was given to a series of successive battles between the American and South Vietnamese armies, on the one hand, and the subdivisions of the DRV army, on the other, which broke out on the Central Plateau of South Vietnam. In scale and bitterness, the battle overshadowed even the battle in Ya-Drang, which had been fought two years earlier: only according to officially confirmed data, did the parties lose about 2000 people there, not counting twice the number of wounded.
This bloody battle in the American media tried to talk as little as possible, and historians know it worse than the battle in the Ya-Drang valley. One of the main reasons for this was the sharp rise in antiwar sentiment in the United States in the autumn of that year. The rapidly growing losses, the blood-curdling tales of the first Vietnamese veterans who returned home, multiplied by the rapidly spreading peace-loving hippie views, all resulted in one of the most famous anti-war actions. In October, the first national protest against the war in Vietnam took place in America - the so-called Pentagon March. After him, the White House could no longer turn a blind eye to anti-war sentiments and continue the old policy in Vietnam. And this in the most direct way predetermined the events of the next year.
The success of the anti-war campaign in the United States was logical: the presidential election was coming next year, and not a single candidate could afford to shake the minds of a significant part of voters. Moreover, the rapidly growing losses of the American army, the rapidly deteriorating image of the United States in the international arena, and the apparent superiority of the number of war opponents in society forced the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson to announce in advance his refusal to run for a second term. And in order not to remain in the memory of voters as a categorical “hawk”, Johnson simultaneously with this announcement in March gives the order to stop the bombing of the main part of North Vietnam. Fully the United States will abandon them only October 31 - on the eve of the presidential election.
But anti-war speeches in America alone would not be enough to shake the hawks' positions so strongly. Another reason was the two large-scale offensive of the Viet Cong, one of which was undertaken at the very end of January, and the second at the beginning of May. And although both offensives did not bring a strategic gain to North Vietnam, they clearly demonstrated that the strength and capabilities of the opponents of the Saigon regime are growing, despite the best efforts of the US and South Vietnamese armies. It is not by chance that after the second May offensive in Paris, the preliminary stage of the peace negotiations between Hanoi and Saigon began.
November 5 becomes the new president of the United States Richard Nixon, who defeats his rivals, relying on the rhetoric around the "honorable peace in Vietnam." It is Nixon who is destined to go down in history as a man who, during the four years of his reign, managed to turn around in politics at 180 degrees and ended his career as the biggest scandal in US political history.
The main milestones of the Second Indochinese War, which became the last direct military confrontation between the two world superpowers - the USSR and the USA
This year was the year of the largest presence of the American army in Vietnam - and a year of catastrophic growth of its losses. As of April, 543 400 soldiers of the US Army were in South Vietnam, and combat losses since the beginning of the active phase of American intervention in the Vietnamese civil war exceeded the losses during the Korean War.
These data, widely spread in America against the background of the growth of antiwar sentiment, led the Nixon administration to announce the beginning of "Vietnamese" - this is a complete replacement of US ground forces with troops from South Vietnam. 8 was announced publicly on this June, and exactly a month later, on July 8, American troops actually began to leave South Vietnamese territory. That, however, did not prevent the remaining US aviation units from continuing to carry out massive attacks on the territory of not Vietnam, but neighboring Cambodia, where they tried to destroy the supply bases of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army.
But if in Vietnam by the end of the year, clashes subsided, in the US political battles flared up with a new force. In mid-November, the details of the war crimes of the US military in Songmee were first revealed. This world-famous tragedy at once with the shooting of half a thousand civilians, organized by order of Lieutenant William Kelly, three days later turned into a sort of catalyst for the long-planned second national protest march against the Vietnam War. Moreover, in America itself, “Vietnamese” was considered a way not to de-escalate, but to escalate the war, because, although the US ground forces were indeed being withdrawn from Vietnam, the air force only intensified its actions.
How negatively “Vietnamese” affects the course of the Vietnam War was already clear in April of 1970, when the US Army, together with the army of South Vietnam, launched an invasion of Cambodia. The formal purpose of the operation was the destruction of the bases of the Viet Cong and the DRV army on Cambodian territory. In fact, the main objective of the offensive was the desire of the United States to support the anti-communist Cambodian government of General Lon Nol, who had recently overthrown the neutralist cabinet of Norodom Sihanouk. The eight-thousand American contingent left Cambodia only at the end of July, but the South Vietnamese remained, continuing to control virtually the entire territory of the country with the most active air support of the Americans. As a result, the Vietnamese civil war spread to the neighboring state, and the political games of Washington eventually led to one of the most terrible humanitarian catastrophes of the twentieth century — the establishment of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
The bodies of the dead Khmer Rouge militants after the soldiers of Cambodian government forces broke the 52 day siege northwest of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. November 16 1973 of the year. Photo: AP
In the same year, but already at the end of November, one of the most thoroughly prepared operations of American intelligence, the raid on the prison camp of Shontey near Hanoi, ended with an extremely loud collapse. Having destroyed about fifty North Vietnamese soldiers and not losing a single fighter, the American special forces failed to free a single compatriot. Just because there were no American prisoners of war in the camp for several months. This loud fiasco for many years became a symbol of the incompetence of the leadership of American intelligence and special forces, but ultimately led to a simplification and improvement of the command system and planning of special operations.
The year that began relatively peacefully entered the history of the war as the time when the occupation of Laos began. Although the US Congress banned the use of ground troops in the Lamshon 719 operation, US aviation and artillery actively supported the invasion of South Vietnamese forces. They spent a month and a half on Lao territory, which became one of the bloodiest in the history of a small country. As in the situation with the invasion of Cambodia, the formal reason was the desire to eliminate the Viet Cong bases and supply lines. But there was no pro-American government in Laos, and as a result, the army of South Vietnam, despite all American support, had to retreat.
American gunners on the border in Laos. February, 1971. Photo: AP
These events led to a further increase in anti-war sentiment in America, which ended with the famous action on the refusal of Vietnam veterans from their military awards. Several hundred people rushed their medals to the steps of the Capitol, protesting against the goals and methods of the war in which they were forced to participate. But even these radical methods could not knock the Nixon administration off the course of "Vietnamization". As a result, at the end of the year, American aviation received an order to carry out several bombing attacks on the territory of North Vietnam - and executed it.
It was on 1972 that the peak of Nixon's “Vietnamese” fell - a policy that began as peacemaking, quickly degenerated into escalation, and in the end, despite the efforts of its initiators, led to the end of the war much faster than it could have happened without it. In 1972, the US Army, in an effort to cope with the large-scale offensive of the Viet Cong, with the support of the DRV army, resumes regular massive bombardment of North Vietnamese territory. In addition to this, America is deciding to mine the ports of North Vietnam from the air - a step that no one ventured to take at the start of the war because of fears of the reaction of the Eastern Bloc.
Against the background of a sharp intensification of combat operations in the air and at sea, the last ground unit of the US Army is evacuated. But this peaceful step could not convince the leadership of North Vietnam to abandon the direct support of the Viet Cong. And then America decides on a radical measure: on Washington's orders, carpet bombing of the largest North Vietnamese cities — Hanoi and Hafon — begins with the use of strategic bombers.
This year entered the history of the war as a turning point - the time for the United States to completely withdraw from military operations. The formal confirmation of this step was the signing of the Paris Agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam. It was signed by representatives of the four main participants in the war: North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, on the one hand, and the United States and South Vietnam, on the other.
Signing the Paris Peace Agreement, January 27, 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.org
The agreement provided for the immediate cessation of military operations by the US Army in Vietnam and the complete withdrawal of American troops from the territory of South Vietnam within two months, with the simultaneous elimination of all US military bases. In addition, the parties were obliged to exchange prisoners of war, and South Vietnam assumed the obligation to hold free democratic elections. In fact, it all ended only by the fact that America stopped its direct participation in the Vietnam War and until the end of March received back all of its prisoners transferred to North Vietnam. No elections were ever held, and the cease-fire was constantly violated on both sides, by Saigon and Hanoi.
In August of the same year, the US Congress made the most important decision: from now on, any use of American armed forces in Indochina in the hostilities was banned. But the departure of the American army did not mean the cessation of Washington’s political and military-economic support of the regime in Saigon.
January 1974-th was the moment when periodic violations of the cease-fire resulted in the actual resumption of hostilities. And in fairness it should be noted that this time the initiator was Vietcong. More precisely, Hanoi: the North Vietnamese army was not considered as foreign in the DRV, the stay of which in the territory of South Vietnam was forbidden by the Paris Agreement. Accordingly, his government did not intend to withdraw the army of North Vietnam.
The actual offensive of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam at the beginning of the year was, with relative success, stopped by the troops of South Vietnam. This was largely determined by the presence in their ranks of the twenty-thousandth group of American military advisers: under the peace treaty, Saigon had the right to use their services. But it was the last success of Saigon, whose political stability weakened every day. In addition, on the domestic and international arena, the Temporary Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, formed in June 1969, was actively operating, gaining ever greater political weight and sympathy. After all, it was this political structure that represented the Viet Cong at the peace talks in Paris - and now it was she who was increasingly perceived as real in the near future power in the territory of South Vietnam. Contributed to this and the crisis, which broke out in the overheated military spending and the consistent tightening of the policy of the South Vietnamese economy.
It is not surprising that the second half of the year was the time of the final reversal of the situation in favor of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam. The crucial point was August, when, as a result of the Watergate scandal - the loudest political revelation in US history - Richard Nixon, Saigon's main ally across the ocean, was forced to resign. And in December, the armed forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam and the DRV army launched a decisive offensive, very quickly establishing control over the province of Fuoklong.
Formally, full control of the Fuklong Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops began only with January 6 and 1975. But the most important result of the operation was not territorial success, but the fact that the offensive did not cause any significant reaction from the United States. Shaken by political crises and anti-war demonstrations, America was forced to strictly comply with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. So, Hanoi and his allies had their hands untied.
March 1 began the most ambitious offensive forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam and the DRV in the entire history of the war. The attackers literally rolled southward from the slopes of the central mountain range of South Vietnam. By early April, they were able to completely liberate 12 provinces with a total population of about 8 million. By that time, the army of South Vietnam had lost more than a third of the personnel, including the most combat-ready units, and half of its weapons. The collapse of Saigon was inevitable, and the United States set about fulfilling its last duty to its losing ally: Washington organized the evacuation of everyone who did not want to fall under the rule of the Viet Cong. The operation, dubbed Gusty Wind, began at dawn on 29 in April, and in just over 18 hours on American planes and helicopters over a thousand American citizens and almost 7000 refugees left Saigon. At half past five in the morning of April 30, as a result of the rocket attack at Saigon airport Tan Son Nhut, two American marines were killed - the last victims among Americans during the Vietnam War. And a quarter to noon on the lawn in front of the presidential palace in Saigon, knocking the gate, broke into the North Vietnamese tank T-54: this famous photo became a symbol of the end of the Vietnamese war. A few hours later, in the same palace, complete capitulation of South Vietnam was signed, and a new state appeared on the political map of the world - the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which united and liberated the country, which remained a colony for a century and a half.
The North Vietnamese tank T-54, knocking the gate, breaks into the territory of the presidential palace in Saigon: this famous photo became a symbol of the end of the Vietnam War. Photo: AP
Of course, the victory of opponents of South Vietnam was just as impossible without the active support of the major communist powers of the world - the USSR and China, as well as the long resistance of Saigon without US intervention. But neither the Soviet nor the Chinese troops did not directly participate in the hostilities on South Vietnamese territory. Despite the fact that from July 1965 to December 1974 sent the 6359 generals and officers and more 4500 soldiers and sergeants of military service to Vietnam, none of them, contrary to popular legends, participated in the battles with the Americans or South Vietnamese. Although Soviet rocket engineers really shot down American aircraft over the DRV territory, Soviet technicians and mechanics served the newest Soviet fighters MiG-21 and their "older brothers" MiG-17 and MiG-15, at the controls of which the Vietnamese pilots sat.
Alas, the Soviet military and, more importantly, the politicians did not manage to analyze in time the lessons of the Vietnam War that America had learned at such a high price. Many of the mistakes made by the American command and the US administration during the Vietnam War, the USSR will begin to make just four years later - in December 1979, when Soviet troops enter Afghanistan. But it will be a completely different story ...