Who Won The Viet Nam War?

 Notes from "Unheralded Victory" by Mark W Woodruff published through HARPER COLLINS 1999

Glossary:    NVN-North Viet Nam, SVN-South Viet Nam, VC-Viet Cong, NVA-North Vietnamese Army, TET-Vietnamese New Year, POW-Prisoner of War,



US vs Soviet - Cold War



US vs China - Korea



US helping (financially) France in Indo-China War


late 1950's

NVN sets up Ho Chi Minh Trail


early 1960's

NVN sending advisers & supplies to VC in SVN

cause 1


When SVN asks, Allies send advisers & supplies

effect 1


NVA units enter SVN - operate as NVA units (mostly Nth SVN)

cause 2


(China goes nuclear in October 1964)



Allies send combat troops to SVN

effect 2


US forces = elite units - Marines & Airborne - Regs, volunteers



Allies clash with VC & NVA - hotter to Nth SVN



TET - Jan 29 - Feb 11 - decimated NVA in Nth SVN

cause 3


Key targets in Nth = Khe Sanh & Hue - (see separate notes)



Total VC failure in all SVN - 32,000 KIA; 5,800 POW.

cause 5


plus, it exposed whole VC org - see "Phung Hoang" below

cause 4

mid 1968

By mid-68, 50% to 70% of "VC" units were NVA replacements

effect 5


Westmoreland hands over to Abrams - US starts to wind down war


late 1968

Nov - Pres Johnson stops bombing NVN in exchange for NVN agreement to stop infiltrating NVA thru DMZ into SVN. NVN then diverts engineers and construction troops from repairing bomb damage in NVN to building bridges & roads on Ho Chi Minh Trail

cause 6


effect 6


SVN Phung Hoang - systematic destruction of exposed VC org

effect 4


(Phung Hoang = mythical VN bird absent in adversity but reappears in times of prosperity)



Became US Phoenix program (Phoenix nearest to Phung Hoang)



By early 70's, VC infrastructure virtually gone from SVN



eg - after TET 68, no more terrorist attacks or sabotage in Saigon.



NVA units retire to Laos & Cambodia to regroup, retrain, re-equip using the refurbished Ho Chi Minh Trail

effect 3


Allies restricted from operating across borders



Combat markedly reduced - accent on defence - "Vietnamisation"

cause 7


US continues withdrawal of elite units - 25,000 gone by end Aug, another 45,000 gone by end of year - replaces with Army units mostly defending SVNs 800Km border with Laos & Cambodia.

effect 7


What combat there is mainly Allies going into VC/NVA safe areas



Most fighting now on border or in Laos & Cambodia - Fish Hook, Parrots Beak, The City, Rock Island East - major supply captures.



Feb - SVN incursion deep into Laos. Very successful at first, but over-extended. NVA counter attack with two Armoured Divisions (36,000 men, Soviet tanks & artillery). SVN force withdraws.



March - NVN reneges on 1968 Johnson agreement - puts 45,000 troops across DMZ supported by Soviet tanks and artillery. Trusting the agreement, SVN has 9000 raw troops (US had 80,000 before the agreement!). The SVN force is routed.



April - NVN puts a further three Divisions across the Laos and Cambodia borders. Success, but with heavy casualties.



By now, the US has withdrawn all but 70,000 of its combat forces.



April - Nixon orders bombing of NVN, including mining Haiphong harbour against Soviet resupply ships.


mid 1972

SVN counter attacks: stops invasion. US fire support but no troops. SVN retakes NVN gains, but many casualties.



Soviet Pres Podgorny & China's Chairman Mao advise Hanoi to negotiate and sign the Peace Accords.



Aug - US down to 27,000 combat troops (3 years earlier = 500,000)


end 1972

Peace Talks proceeding (slowly). US continues withdrawing on basis that war is won and that even Soviets & China are advising Hanoi to sign.



However, Hanoi stalls talks. US stops bombing as a sign of good will. Hanoi refuses to sign, using POWs as a bargaining tool.



Dec - Nixon resumes bombing. So-called "Christmas Bombing" Dec 18-30 = 20,000 tons of bombs directed at NVN infrastructure:

all military targets destroyed all internal communications gone

power grid destroyed air force destroyed

transport & industry at standstill international trade stopped



Jan - NVN signs Peace Accords - NVA units return to NVN



March - the last 2,500 US troops leave SVN



NVA regrouping retraining, re-equipping, preparing to invade.



March - NVN (fully rebuilt with Soviet aid - invades SVN



Few battles as SVN troops & families withdraw South



April - NVA approaching Saigon - "winning the war".



April 29 - US marines from offshore ships evacuate 1373

remaining Americans and 5595 South Vietnamese from Saigon.



April 30 - Soviet tanks crash through the gate.



Khe Sanh is frequently painted as an American failure to learn the lessons of Dien Bien Phu. The Americans are claimed to have established a large base in a valley overlooked by hills, which the VC then occupied and directed fire from. A small VC force was then able to "pin down" a large US force for many weeks, pouring Artillery fire into the base with few casualties to their own forces.

This assessment is totally wrong.

The US forces occupied all the overlooking hills with just a Company on each hill.

The "VC" forces were in fact the two very best NVA Divisions available.

The US forces peaked at three Battalions - less than one third of the NVA forces.

For every 1 NVA round incoming, there were more than 10 rounds fired outgoing.

Far from "pinning down" the US forces in a battle of artillery attrition, the NVA constantly attempted to assault the various US perimeters. Over several days, they never penetrated the perimeter.

The NVA were only able to bring artillery fire to bear by using large-calibre Soviet artillery based in Laos, where US artillery and air support could not fire suppression missions.


Hue is frequently painted as a demonstration that the VC could have occupied and defended territory if they wanted to. It is held that the civil population welcomed the VC forces as liberators and helped to defend them when they came under attack. The fact that they held the Citadel for so long is supposed to prove the ineffectiveness of the US forces.

This assessment is also totally wrong.

Prior to the main attacks, the local VC forces made diversionary attacks only.

The main assaults and occupying forces were all NVA units.

Hue was the third largest city in SVN. It was essentially two cities in one, divided by the Perfume River and connected by the Nguyen Huoang Bridge. On the North side of the river was the three-square-kilometre "Citadel" - a fortress defended by massive walls and deep moats - which was itself the seat of the Provincial government and had deep historic and cultural significance to SVN. There was just one Company of combat troops in the city itself.

Nine NVA Battalions took Hue on the first day. It was agreed that due to the cultural significance of the Citadel, its recapture would be reserved for the SVN Army - the US forces would recapture the city itself. No Artillery or bombing was permitted in the city or Citadel. The city was retaken after 10 days of heavy small arms fighting. The South Vietnamese units struggled to retake the Citadel but failed. Ultimately it fell to US forces

After the city and Citadel were safe, the local population reported that the local VC had massacred large numbers of the city's residents. 2810 bodies were subsequently found in a number of mass graves, and a further 1946 remained unaccounted for. To the NVA Commander's credit, he stopped the VC massacre when he found out about it.

Communist actions at Hue leave little to be proud about.



(Lit: "Action among the enemy")

This was the name given to the Communist Psy-Ops, aimed at the civilians at home.

As in most Psy-Ops, it was based on distortions, highlighting of isolated or extreme incidents, twisting of facts, omissions and outright lies.

Here are some of the many ways Dich Van sought to influence Western thinking:

Use of "VC" instead of "NVA"

For most of the war, NVN denied having troops in SVN.

Using "VC" made it sound like a civil war.

Constant reiteration of phrases like "the war is un-win-able", " kill one of us and 10 more will rise up", "life is cheap to us" etc

Stressing the inevitability of communist victory and therefore the uselessness of western resistance.

Stressing that the American people were not the enemy - only the soldiers in SVN

Driving a wedge between the soldiers and their support base back home.

Presenting the communist as idealistic, tough, motivated, dedicated, nationalistic, wanting peace and reunification etc

Therefore making the Allies & SVN aggressors, mercenaries, undemocratic, manipulated and victims of their politicians.

Communists were the small, barefoot army, poorly equipped with primitive weapons, but using skill, cunning and dedication to win over the big bully forces

VC & NVA well equipped with Soviet & Chicom weapons & ammo, with intelligence & other support from China & USSR

The war is domestic - it's a civil war. Therefore outside intervention is illegal, immoral, illegitimate and thus inexcusable.

Nth & Sth VN different in culture, dialect, religion & politics. The two countries were formally divided in the 50s


Other factors allowed NVN to put Psy-Ops to better effect:

NVN could hide from the Allies and not be found (they hid in Laos & Cambodia)

Allies remained within SVN until late in the war

Communist forces attacked infrastructure and civil targets at will in SVN & indulged in widespread terrorism of SVN population.

Allies only attacked military targets until late in the war, and then only limited attacks on selected civil targets right at the end.

Closed press in NVN did not permit discussion of failures or even options

Open Western press discussed failures and options - in fact, came to stress failures.

NVN used threat of Soviet and Chinese involvement as an option throughout the war to limit Allied use of powerful weapons

Allied policy was NOT to use all the power at their disposal in order not to over-react.

NVN was on a total war footing, including full conscription and total dedication of resources.

Allies were never on a total war footing - in fact, were never even near creating a war psychology at home.


Now a look at some of the specific Dich Van examples:



The "fact" that the small, weak, isolated but dedicated VC prevailed over the giant American bully.



NVN smaller in geography but similar in manpower available


VC & NVA were as well equipped in small arms as any Allied force:

AK47 compares better than the SLR and Armalite

RPD MG compares better than the GPMG M60

RPG7 antitank rocket better than the US shoulder-fired rocket launcher

In fact, at the infantry level, man-for-man, the Allies were outgunned.


Soviet & China support throughout the war.

In Nth of SVN, NVA used Soviet Artillery of greater range than Allies.

NVA had Soviet main battle tanks better than the US equivalent

Soviet "trawlers" off Guam tracked B52s and forewarned Hanoi of raids.

Soviets installed and ran a sophisticated SAM air defence system in NVN.

Soviets ran the air war at first, using advanced MiG 19s and MiG 21s.

China stationed its best air force units on the NVN border - and shot down 10 US planes


The "fact" that the cunning VC forces used primitive weapons like punji stakes and booby-traps to devastating effect against the Allies. They employed captured weapons. They were invariably few in number. :

punji stakes

Only 2% of US casualties were attributed to punji stakes, and ZERO KIAs


Almost invariably advanced mines or grenades rigged with trigger devices - these were not normally home-made devices assembled from unexploded bombs etc.

captured wpns

These were only used by the lowest part-time VC troops, couriers etc.

No regular VC soldier carried a captured or old weapon. (resupply issue)

few in number

At all the major battles, VC/NVA outnumbered Allies - often up to 20:1

Khe Sanh, Hue, even Aust examples of Long Tan, Coral/Balmoral/Coogee

Source: Lt Col David Miller, "Weapons and Warfare Techniques Used in Vietnam",

in Bonds, "The Vietnam War", 23. (Statistics are from Jan 1965 to June 1970.)



The "fact" that the war with the Allies was just a re-run for the Communist forces of the previously successful war against the French.

All we ever hear about the French Indo-China War is the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu. We never hear about French victories at Vin-Yen, Mao Khe and Minh-Binh. Viet Minh losses in these three battles alone exceeded 9000 KIA.



The "fact" that the Allied forces were responsible for widespread civilian atrocities during the war .....

Hardly a war history is published that doesn't recount My Lai. Yes - it was wrong. Yes - it was inexcusable. But No - it wasn't typical. There is NO other similar event recorded in the whole of the Allied war. Yet the killing of civilians WAS widespread. Here are the figures for civilian executions by VC forces:

Which force killed civilians as a matter of routine?



The "fact" that communist POWs were routinely tortured, thrown out of helicopters etc ....

The Allies were signatories to the Geneva Convention and generally complied with its rulings. There were presumably breaches, but, despite many allegations, few examples have been documented.

On the other hand, NVN was not a signatory and did not apply the Conventions. POWs were routinely paraded to the civilians, filmed, interviewed and, in many documented cases, tortured, both physically and psychologically.



While discussing POWs, we should look at the famous (or infamous) photograph of SVN General Loan executing a VC POW.

 The usual explanation tells us that the high ranking SVN officer took a VC prisoner out into the street and shot him in the head in front of the photographers and journalists to show other VC what awaited them if captured.

Here are some of the other facts, which are rarely revealed:

General Loan was, in fact, the Chief of the National Police - he was not acting in an Army capacity but in a Police capacity.

Loan was the target of a VC unit sent in to Saigon to assassinate him.

The VC unit failed to locate Loan on the day, but broke instead into the home of one of his best friends, a Colonel in the National Police.

The VC unit then murdered the Colonel, his wife and their six young children, some of who were godchildren to Loan.

SVN Marines discovered and engaged the unit and all but one of the VC were killed.

The remaining one was found to be carrying a pistol, indicating he was the leader.

He was taken directly to Loan.

The VC was in civilian clothes on a terrorist mission in a city under Police, not Army, jurisdiction.

When told of the circumstances of the capture, Loan summarily executed him.

The National Chief of Police acted within his powers in the summary execution.



The "fact" that Allied body-count was inflated and therefore highly inaccurate,

On the contrary, body-count ensured that only confirmed killed were included. It ensured that "I think I hit him" estimates were omitted. The VC and NVA forces did whatever they could to hide bodies, including routinely burying bodies one beneath another in single graves.

By the end of the war, Allied estimates of VC and NVA body-count totalled about 500,000 KIA. In 1995, Giap admitted to a figure of 1.1million communist soldiers killed in the war.

The Allied body-count of communist killed was almost always underestimated.

On the other hand, communist estimates of Allied killed and other casualties were almost always grossly overestimated. 6RAR was wiped out twice in its first tour alone!



The "fact" that the war was really a civil war that foreigners should not have interfered.

The allegation that the Viet Nam war in the South was a civil war without interference from the North is shown to be false by noting where the fighting took place. These two charts show USA KIA percentages by SVN Provincial groupings:

Sources: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence (Comptroller), Directorate for Information Operations, cited in Thayer,

"War Without Fronts", 116.

The obvious conclusion is that the heaviest casualties were where the NVA units routinely operated. This being the case, it is equally obvious that the War was NOT a civil war confined to South Viet Nam.



The "fact" that the wily VC chose to go underground to deceive the Allies.

The tunnel systems were originally constructed for temporary hides, storage, safe routes between points and for refuge against bombardment - not for permanent living. As the war continued after Tet 1968, the VC and even the NVA units found it increasingly more difficult to hide from the Allied aerial surveillance and bombardment.

They sought refuge from the constant pressure by living more and more underground until they were forced to develop full time living accommodation below ground, believing that the Allies would not follow them. Tunnel living was, in fact, the last VC hope of survival towards wars end.

Once the tunnel systems were found, the American and Australian "Tunnel Rats" took the war to them.



The "fact" that the uncivilised Americans targeted civilians in NVN with B52 strikes.

First, there were many more B52 strikes over SVN that there were over NVN.

B52 sorties over NVN were mostly in the early 70's, to convince Hanoi to sign the Peace Accord, so they were directed at military and infrastructure targets. There was no benefit to this activity in bombing civil centres other than where Hanoi had deliberately placed sites of military importance within residential areas - a tactic frequently used by Hanoi.

US bombing was at all times used or withheld based upon Hanoi's keeping to its agreements or breaking them. To stop the bombing, Hanoi had only to honour its own promises.



The "fact" that the longer the war took, the better the VC were by virtue of the fact that they gained experience and wore down the Allies.

Before Tet 1968, POW statistics revealed that almost all of the VC and NVA POW had more than 6 months of training before entering a unit and fighting in SVN.

After Tet 1968, NVN rushed 80,000 to 90,000 troops down the Ho Chi Minh trail to replace losses and the statistics showed a dramatic change. By the end of 1968, less than 40% of the new POWs had 6 months of training and 50% had 3 months or less. This included the time spent travelling from NVN.



Aided by journalists with their own agenda and by misled academics, the West has generally accepted the "Dich Van" allegations made by NVN during and since the war. The facts to support an Allied victory in 1973 are ignored and the duplicity of the Communists in breaking their agreements (not once but several times) is excused in the rush to accord them the honours of victory.

A careful assessment of the facts will give any amount of evidence that:

The VC force was broken after Tet 1968, and was a negligible threat by 1970; The NVA were beaten by the Allies in every major battle and campaign;

The NVA were broken in 1970 but were allowed to regroup in Laos & Cambodia;

NVN was broken when they signed the Peace Accord in 1973 - the Allies had won;

Having won the war and achieved a Peace signoff, SVN reduced its armed forces;

After two years of rebuilding, NVN then initiated a second war against SVN;

The new war was nothing less than an NVN invasion with Soviet arms and aid;

The Communist "win" was accepted by the international community who then recognised that the only alternative was to entirely eliminate NVN (and possibly even their supporters) by a Nuclear War, and this was not acceptable to the West.