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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tet's Failed Propaganda

The Tet Offensive of 30th of January 1968 is an interesting example of utterly losing the battle, but in the process winning the war. The attacking Viet Cong were a group of rural peasants thrown into a battle in a big city, which many found disorientating and confusing, with almost no support or communications. This later point prevented them from adapting as the situation changed. Equally the style of fighting was utterly different from what they had previously faced being a stand up fight against superior forces. On the morale side of things the often expected southern uprising never happened, which must have been disheartening to a degree. However despite that they kept fighting.
While you might expect me to write about the US Embassy, which has been extensively written about since then, mainly because it's more than likely the US Embassy part of the attack was the single biggest success. It is also commonly held to be the sole reason for the move to withdraw from Vietnam by the US.

Communism spreads by propaganda and the communist armies often seem to be quite well indoctrinated, which may have lead to a self delusion that the populace of South Vietnam was ready to launch a populist uprising. In essence the communist leadership listened to their own propaganda. You can see the same effect happening in some circles on social media today. Whereby the individuals concerned create their own echo chamber and then get very surprised when the real world tells them they're wrong.
With this focus in propaganda it's no surprise that during the Tet Offensive one of the locations targeted by the VC was the National Broadcasting Station, for transmitting radio signals. Knowing the importance of the location, several years before, the VC bought a house about 200 yards from the radio station and used it to stockpile weapons. This wasn't a specific plan for the Tet Offensive, just done on the idea of controlling the propaganda stream.
In actual preparation for the Tet Offensive the VC trained up a special technician, he was to carry tapes containing a call to rise up from Ho Chi Min, which was to be broadcast from the radio station.
The VC guerilla's slipped into Saigon and met up at the safe house. There they opened the arms caches, and found that termites had eaten all the wooden fixtures away. They improvised by wrapping the damaged areas with padded cloth. The next major issue they had was that a platoon of ARVN had taken up residence at the station to guard it. Luckily one of the surrounding buildings was higher than the radio station, and they placed a machine gun overlooking the station. Their luck abruptly changed when it was discovered the ARVN guards were using the roof of the building to sleep on. At 0300 the ARVN guard watched a column of vehicles driving towards him, they stopped and a large number of heavily armed South Vietnamese riot police disembarked. Their officer strode briskly over towards the guard and informed him that they were the relief. The guard simply said "I know nothing about this". At which point the disguised VC officer pulled out his pistol and shot the guard.
The VC machine gun then raked the rooftop killing most of the defenders, and the troops stormed forward, quickly capturing the radio station. The specialist with his tapes then arrived and started trying to broadcast. The ARVN officer in charge of the guard detachment had been worried about just such an eventuality so he had organised a safety feature. The radio station was just the location of the studios, the actual broadcast tower was at a separate location. He arranged that on receiving a special code the broadcast tower would be shut down by its operators, preventing a signal from being transmitted. In the moments after the start of the attack and the station being secured, someone transmitted the code, locking out the attackers.
The VC held the station for some six hours as the specialist tried to get his message through. They had by then realised it was futile and with more ARVN paratroopers starting to close in, the VC blew up the equipment and set the building on fire. What happened in those last hours or in the fire fight seems to have been ignored by history, overshadowed by the events at the US Embassy, and we can't say what happened to the attackers.

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  1. Another good read. I missed on going to 'Nam by a couple of years.