As America went to war with Vietnam, people expected that they would win with relative ease. Even at that time in world history, America was the strongest military force in the world and had never previously lost a war. They faced what was an unestablished military force composed of two factions, The Vietcong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). There were fundamental differences in their fighting methods.The main difference between the two sides’ tactics was that the Americans had access to bomber planes like B-52’s. These allowed rapid dispersion of bombs on military targets. However, this proved unsuccessful.
We can speculate as to reasons of the failure of this tactic. One could say that the bombs weren’t as accurate as in modern day, and therefore there was a risk of missing targets. Even today, bombs and missiles are not one hundred per cent accurate. It is also possible that it was hard to find genuine and credible targets in an under-developed country such as South Vietnam. America had to adapt its tactics to the situation it found itself in. They commenced carpet/blanket bombing South Vietnam, which was known as ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’. This began on the 13th of February 1964, and signalled a major escalation of America’s role in the war. It was the indiscriminate of where the bomb landed, and therefore put civilian’s lives at risk even more than they were before.
The U.S. had a huge artillery of bombs that had devastating capacity. It included cluster bombs that released mine-like small “bomblets”. They were anti-personnel bombs, designed to eliminate as many opposition soldiers as possible. However, it was more than possible that civilians would unintentionally detonate bombs intended for troops. There were also Napalm bombs, which was originally intended for de-forestation purposes, an American counter tactic to the communist’s Ho Chi Minh trail, but it was used in residential areas and had horrifying effects on humans.
It burnt petroleum jelly that stuck to the surface of what it landed on, be it bark or skin.Although statistics are varied, it is rumoured that the tonnage of bombs used in Vietnam was double that used throughout the entire duration of World War Two. One source, Vietnam 1939-75 states that “the United States Air Force dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than all the bombs dropped in the Second World War.” This statistic gives people the sheer enormity of the bomb raids.The indiscriminate bombing gave a negative public image of American troops during the war.
One soldier was told “We don’t accept any drinks from killers,” after he tried to buy drinks for people in a bar. Never before had the American people been sceptical of it’s own military aims and objectives. People developed opinions from the emotive propaganda photographs released by the media.
This had a detrimental effect in the “Battle for Hearts and Minds” – i.e. the propaganda war.The NVA and NVA reacted wisely to bombing raids.
They dug an intricate network of tunnels that had multiple uses. Primarily, they acted as shelters, but they also had offensive uses. Often they would have concealed trap doors that would drop soldiers into a firing chamber. This was in addition to booby traps which would trap soldiers and inflict fatal wounds.From the very start of the war, the VC and NVA knew that they couldn’t compete with the United States in terms of sheer firepower.
They avoided large-scale battles and instead adopted guerrilla tactics. This meant fighting small battles, gaining minimal ground each time. Guerrilla warfare also relied heavily on booby traps, which wore down American forces, killing them often without even being seen.Americans were naive to these tactics, and were not prepared to fight a jungle war. They were used to conventional war, and were frustrated that their VC opposition was virtually indistinguishable from the ordinary South Vietnamese folk, as they did not wear a uniform. The Americans employed a new tactic, which were known as “zippo raids”. They were named after the standard issue lighters of the American soldiers, which were used to torch small villages.
The aim of this tactic was to drive the VC out of residential areas and into more open areas. These kinds of tactics didn’t stop here; massacres like My Lai were even more horrific and violent. Seymour Hersh, a prize-winning journalist, told how one soldier “stepped within two feet of a boy and shot him in the neck with a pistol.” This is fairly reliable secondary evidence (based on the author’s journalistic credibility) and shows that soldiers abused tactics.Of the communist factions, the North Vietnamese Army was the most conventional – in that they wore uniforms. They still used guerrilla style ‘hit and run’ tactics, which were utilitised as an effective way of fighting against a larger opposition i.e.
the U.S.The VC and NVA had successful political policies and military strategies. They used less sophisticated tactics, but they won the war for the communists. The American public was embarrassed, not only had they lost to an unestablished military force, they had come out of Vietnam with a negative public image.
The Vietnam War serves as an example to show that it is not always the best-equipped and most sophisticated side that wins wars; and that the application of tactics is vital.