The “Battle of Hue” was a surprise attack that began on the morning of January 31, 1968 in the South Vietnamese city of Hue and turned out to be one of the most costly and time-consuming battles during the Vietnam War. It was also known as the “Tet Offensive”, because it occurred during what was supposed to be a truce due to the celebration of “Tet” or “Vietnamese New Year”. The Battle of Hue turned out to be one of the costliest and most time-consuming battles during the Vietnam War. Hue was used as a United States naval supply base and contained five US military battalions with an estimated 3,000 US Marines, 2,000 US Army soldiers, and some 11,000 South Vietnamese Army (ARVn) soldiers.
The North Vietnamese forces of the Vietnam People’s Army and the Viet Cong numbered around 12,000. Viet Cong forces attacked the Tay Loc airfield and the headquarters of the 1st ARVn Division, located in the “Citadel”, and the Vietnam Military Assistance Command Center or MACV, which was located south of the Huong River. At 2:33 am, an NVA flare was fired and lit up the sky, giving the North Vietnamese forces the “go-ahead” for the attack. At that time, the 6th Regiment of the NVA began an attack on the western flank of the Citadel, while the 4th Regiment attacked the Compound Military Assistance Command located in southern Hue.
Immediately, the 1st ARVn Artillery Company linked up with BPCo. (“Black Panther” Company) and stopped the advance of the NVA Battalion 800 for several hours later in the morning. During that time, the 802 NVA Battalion proceeded to attack the headquarters of the ARVn 1st Division in Mang Cu. Compound. Around 200 men, made up of officers and civil defense forces, managed to keep the 1st Division’s headquarters safe until the Black Panther Company was able to catch up with them and help them defend themselves from enemy attacks.
Around 8 am, NVA troops raised the symbolic Viet Cong flag over the Citadel. The commanding officer of the US Marines in Hue, Colonel Stan Hughes, was stationed at Phu Bai airfield ten miles from Hue city, along with three battalions of Marines. During the same hours at the beginning of the “Tet Offensive”, the Marines were dealing with their own attacks. Mortar shells and heavy rockets were fired and combined forces platoons, including civilian soldiers and Marines, were engaged by NVA infantry.
On the morning of January 31, at 7 am, the Marine Corps, CAP, and three tanks attempted a counterattack in Hue. They did not advance more than a quarter of a mile before they began to receive sniper fire. Then a tank was destroyed by an RPG and the offensive stopped. All forces then proceeded to return to the assistance command center.
For three weeks, the Marines, along with the forces of the US Army and the ARVn, fought rigorously until they reached the Citadel. One street at a time, the Allied forces finally pushed the North Vietnamese and North Vietnamese troops out of Hue. On February 24, 1968, the city of Hue was completely devoid of communist forces. When it was on all sides, both fronts had suffered heavy losses. The North Vietnamese forces suffered more than 8,000 casualties; about half of them died outside Hue, and 98 were taken as prisoners of war. Allied forces saw a loss of approximately 670 killed in action and a staggering 3,700 men wounded in the fighting. The Military Assistance Command reported that more than 2,800 civilians were executed, and that 3/4 of the city was destroyed in the process, which began to further curb US public support for the war. From then on, American forces and funding began to decline. The last American forces left South Vietnam in early March 1973.