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What tactics did the USA use to fight the Vietnam War?. Lesson objectives. To be able to identify the key strategies used by the USA in the Vietnam War. To be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the US strategies in the Vietnam War. General Westmoreland.
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Commander of the US troops in Vietnam until 1968.
Operation Rolling Thunder was the main US bombing campaign in Vietnam. It began in February 1965 and was supposed to last eight weeks. It ended in 1968.
The aim was to target North Vietnamese factories. But there were few factories to bomb and countryside and cities were bombed instead trying to cut North Vietnamese supply routes to the NLF in the South.
Supporters of Operation Rolling Thunder claimed that the bombing disrupted the supply routes from North Vietnam to the NLF in the South. However, it did not stop the NLF being supplied from the North.
The bombing campaign from 1970 to 1972 on Hanoi and Haiphong forced the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.
The bombing campaign strengthened the North Vietnamese resolve against the US.
It was hugely expensive. For every Viet Cong fighter – the US launched 75 bombs, 400 artillery shells and paid $400,000.
Many advised President Johnson that this was the wrong strategy as North Vietnam had few factories to bomb.
The bombing campaign did not stop the supply routes from north to south.
The US could not handle the Viet Cong’sguerrilla tactics and wanted to fight them face to face. The US decided to use chemical weapons to destroy the jungle and countryside which acted as a cover for the VC.
The two main chemicals the US used were Agent Orange and Napalm.
Agent Orange was a defoliant – a very powerful weedkiller – which was sprayed in the jungle to kill off the vegetation so that the Viet Cong could not use the jungle for cover.
Agent Orange was used to destroy crops which helped turn South Vietnamese peasants against the US.
82 million litres of Agent Orange was sprayed across thousands of kilometres of Vietnamese jungle.
Napalm also destroyed jungle. It was a type of bomb that exploded and showered petroleum jelly called Napalm. This stuck to the skin and burns at 800 degrees centigrade. It caused horrific burns.
Strategic Hamlet policy
Search and Destroy
The first involvement of the US on the ground in Vietnam was in 1962 before the war with the Strategic Hamlet policy which was designed to secure the support of villages in South Vietnam vulnerable to the VC.
Strategic Hamlets involved entire villages being moved into fortified villages guarded by troops. 3,000 Strategic Hamlets were created but this cause huge resentment from the South Vietnamese who were forced to move as well as only moving Communist supporters to a new area to spread their ideas further.
The aim of the US land campaign was to kill a large number of the enemy and gain a high enemy ‘body count’. The problem with this strategy was that the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were prepared to suffer high casualties - unlike the US public.
The Search and Destroy strategy marked a more aggressive US approach. After securing US bases in South Vietnam in the first year of the war, from these bases troops would launch attacks on villages suspected of assisting the Viet Cong.
The tactics involved using helicopters to descend upon a village and destroying it. These raids became known as ‘Zippo Raids’ after the lighters used to set fire to the villagers huts.