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Tet Offensive 1968: Turning point in Vietnam (Campaign) Paperback – May 24, 1990
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Highly visual guides to history's greatest conflicts, detailing the command strategies, tactics, and experiences of the opposing forces throughout each campaign, and concluding with a guide to the battlefields today.
About the Author
James R Arnold is a US-born freelance writer who has contributed to numerous military publications. James spent his formative years in Europe and used the opportunity to study the sites of historic battlefields. He has over 15 published books to his credit, many of them focusing on the Napoleonic campaigns and American Civil War.
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Arnold gives a good overview of the events leading up to campaign, including what the effects of President Johnson's continual belief in sucsess would bring to the US public when Tet finally erupted. The opposing armies section in this volume is especially well done, including US and ARVN tactics and roles in the war and the NVA tactics, all of which played a major part in Tet. He does not seem biased in any way, giving a fair and insighted look into each side's forces, though he has a nagging case of calling the North Vietnamese the 'Communists" (they are, but I didn't see him calling the Americans the 'Capitalists'!).
All of these are backed up by very good photographs and a few good illustrations, such as the US GI, the Vietcong guerilla, ARVN militia, weaponry, and whatnot. One minor omission is the lack of a good picture of Vo Ngyuen Giap (the NVA Supreme Commander), but then again there are far more places to get this.
The actual campaign itself is covered very well, with the author's clear and flowing writing style adding greatly to the content. As can be expected with early Osprey Campaigns, the 2D maps are not very good compared to the newer ones (South Vietnam Military Regions - Page 18, The Assault on Saigon - Page 42, The Bien Hoa - Long Binh Area - Page 51, Targets of the Tet Offensive - Page 63, and Hue - Page 71). The only one that actually looked good, and was useful enough for me to use often was the Targets of the Tet Offensive map, which showed all military and non military targets hit, and on what day. Every other map, though nice to have, is not really used when reading Tet Offensive 1968.
The content of the campaign (if it can be called that) section is NOT general synopsis of the fighting in the two major regions of the Tet Offensive: Saigon and Hue. It IS, to my pleasant surprise, mostly a series of synopsis' of 'sub-actions' in the overall battle, such as the NVA attack on the US embassy, the NVA attack on the Saigon radio station, and of squadrons and platoons running to the rescue at Bien Hoa. It shows how the battle was really fought instead of saying 'This battalion moved here, defended this from this, and this battalion was ambushed by that battalion as it came to relieve...', you understand. It gave me a real insight to how Tet was fought, and was very enjoyable to read. A particularily intresting story is that of general Westmoreland standing in the rubble of the US embassy saying that everything was OK to beleagured and confused journalists - portraying how misled the world believed the Vietnam War to be going. Hue is similarily covered.
When it shifts focus from Sagion and Hue to the country in general, Arnold makes it clear that in almost every action the NVA and Vietcong suffered a defeat, so much that the Vietcong would never be half the threat as it once was due to the slaugter faced by assaulting the US and ARVN positions. He gives short one-paragraph synopsis' of battles in certain towns countrywide, never forgetting to remind us the manner of which Tet was fought (such as needing "to destroy the town to save it", in the words of an American major). It is all very insightful indeed.
Photographs in all sections are well chosen and fairly large (so we can actually see whats going on). All photographs are black and white in typical Opsrey format, and several notable ones include Westmoreland trying to assauge the press (Page 56), an arieal view of the Citadel of Hue (Page 69), a large picture of a 'Mini Tet' (page 86-7), and pictures of the battle in Saigon (Pages 48-9).
Finally to Osprey's prestigious 3D maps, a factor that makes this series so popular. In this case, there are no 'traditional' 3D Maps (to my initial dissapointment), just 3D pictures of the Cu Chi caves (pg 10-1), the attack on the Saigon Embassy (pg 46-7), and Street fighting in Hue (78-9). Each picture (each meticulously detailed and colourful) has a very long caption describing the event/structure, and the Embassy attack is covered in minute detail (and is, among Arnold's selected stories, very informative and interesting). But upon thinking, it is preferable to have 3D images of the general fighting instead of a painful 3D painted rendition of Saigon or Hue (as Osprey didn't have computer terrain graphics yet, first debuted in Marengo 1800). Regardless 3D MAP lovers, don't weep over this loss.
All in all, this is a very solid Osprey packing all you need to know about Tet (I am satiated with my knowledge of it personally). Any fan of Ospreys MUST include this on the bookshelf, as well as any layman historian interested in this important event. It is a buy you will not regret.
Remember--in war it is never whether you win or lose the battle. If everybody claims that you've lost, you have. The news media thrives on neagtive news--bad news sells. Since at least the American Civil War (when most of the northern newspapers strongly sympathized with the slave-owning and Democratic south) the news media has had a vested interest in painting the American military as inept, corrupt, and just plain rotten. The US Army blames the news media for "losing the war" in Vietnam. The news media of the period counters that "the establishment" (JFK and especially LBJ) lied to them and to the American people. There's some truth to these charges. Arnold manages to clarify the murky details without too much finger-pointing. Fact: LBJ committed ground troops in 1965 because the old foreign policy failed in Vietnam. By 1967, the Johnson Administration considered Vietnam a lost cause, but couldn't see a way to get out of it. The first chapter in "Tet Offensive 1968" explains this quite well, and the last chapter details the immediate aftermath.
Arnold spares neither the media nor the government--or the military. The media reporting was incompetent. There was a flawed foreign policy. As for military action, nearly every principle of warfare was violated. I salute the guys on the round in Vietnam for achieving anything positive with all of these factors against them.
The nuts and bolts part of Osprey books are usually quite good--excellent values for the money. Us amateurs have limited time and money, so the 96 information and image-packed pages give excellent returns for spent resources. I pay close attention to the index and to "recomended reading," as well as publication date. This book was published over 15 years ago, and more information has come out, but for the casual historian, this is enough. After all, "Tet Offensive 1968" is about a single battle lasting a few weeks. The Vietnam tragedy lasted from the 1920's and still clouds America's judgement.
We still have a flawed foreign policy. Our news media still has trouble getting the story right.
I liked the full-color illustrations of the Tunnels of Cu Chi, the assault on the American Embassy in Saigon, and the battle for streetfighting in Hue City. I did question some equipment details--the cartridges for the Soviet-made RPD and the US M60 machine guns are different and do not interchange. The NATO cartridge fires its heavier bullet faster than the Warsaw Pact cartridge, producing 50% more projectile energy at the same range. Or, how about the 82mm vs 81mm mortar thing on page 33: the information I have is that the British WW2 three inch Stokes, the German WW2 8cm, the Warsaw Pact 82mm and the NATO 81mm mortars can all use each other's shells because they are the same shells. There are some adjustments required to the firing tables due to different trajectories and some of the modern shells produce peak chamber pressures too high for older mortars, but the shells will work. Mortars are simple. I stress this because one of the Vietnam myths is that the AK-47 will fire both 7.62 and 5.56 NATO rounds. I disproved this while attending the First Infantry Division's Unit Armorer Course during August 1984, but I still occassionally run into this. Today's veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know better, having hands-on experience with the real thing. The caption on Page 30 in "Tet Offensive 1968" says that the RPD (which is chambered for the Soviet M43 7.62x39mm round fired in the AK-47) fired the same ammunition as the US M60 (which uses the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge). The M43 casing is 39mm long and the NATO case is 51mm long and fatter--no way you can cram the bigger cartridge into the RPD! The RPD was a light-weight belt-fed automatic weapon and the AK series uses a detachable magazine--they are effective and reliable, but cannot use ammunition other than what they were designed to fire! I should take points off for this, but as I've said, this myth is common among Vietnam vets.
Even with some technical errors, this is a worthwhile addition to my library. I like it.