The Vietnam War

All information about the Vietnam War.

Background to the Vietnam War

  • Since 19th century Vietnam had been a French colony known as Indochina.
  • When France was defeated by Germany in 1940, Japan took control of Vietnam. During the war an anti - Japanease  resistant movment called the Viet Minhfought under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh (North communist) for Vietnamese independence.
  • At the end of WW2 the Viet Minh controlled the North of Vietnam and entered Hanoi in 1945and declared Vietnamese independence.
  • After WW2 France tried to re-assert control in Vietnam but the Viet Minh fought France.
  • In 1949there was a communist revolution in China lead by Mao Tse-tung. America saw Hochi Minhas a puppet of Moa's communist China although this was not true.
  • Fearing a communist plan to take over south-east Asia, America began to send financial aid to frenchand helped them set up a non-communist government in the South of Vietnam
  • In 1954 at Dien Bien Phu the french were defeated. At a peace conference in Genva, Vietnam was divided into North and south Vietnam until elections could be held.
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Who is Who


  • Communist
  • Leader: Ho Chi Minh
  • Army: Viet Min, Viet Cong (southern Guerrilla army)
  • Supported By: Russia and China


  • Capaitalist
  • Leader of Republic of South Vietnam: Diem
  • Supported By: USA
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Why did the USA become increasily involved in the

1) Explain the Domino Theory

2) Why was Diem's South Vietnamese goverment so unpopular with the people of Vietnam?

3) Why did the USA support Diem's regime?

4) Who were the Viet Cong?

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Why did the USA become increasily involved in the

1) An idea that China and the USSR were planning to spread communism throughout Asia. If Vietnam goes communist than Laos, Combodia, Thailand and Burma might go communist. The Americans saw Vietnam as the first domino in the row so want to prevent it going communist.

2) Diem was part of the landlord class, which treated Vietnamese peasents with contempt. Diem was Christian and not very accepting of other religions whereas most peasents were Buddist. He lead a curropt regime and appointed family members as leaders and didn't hold any elections to vote people into congress.

3) US was anti communist so supported Diem's regime as a defence measure. US didn't want communism to take over Europe as it would be a threat to many capalist countries; including the USA.

4) Viet Cong was a branch of the Guerilla Army. Lead by Ho Chi Minh. Aim was to overthrough the South Vietnamese goverment. They put enforcements in place and ferriec supplies to the Guerilla fighters.

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The Military Tactics of the North Vietnamese

  • Adapted the method of Guerrilla tactics due to there being a very unlikely chance of them defeating the US army through open warfare, due to the V being heavily outnumbered in troops and weapens.
  • Main tactics were to
    • retreat when the enemy attacked
    • raid the enemy camps or when the enemy tires and pursue when the enemy retreats.
    • not wear any uniform - hard to identify
  • Also had a complexed system of underground tunnels - a safe hiding place and provided booby traps for the US soldiers (lowering US soldiers morale)
  • Viet Cong soldiers tryed to be kind to peasents to win their hearts and minds but they were ruthless and prepared to kill any peasents who didn't co-operate. Compared to US soldiers who blew up villages to try to remove any Viet Cong soldiers.
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US tactics in Vietnam 1965 - 1972: BOMBING

  • On 7 February 1965 the USA launched Operation Rolling Thunder - involved extensive bombing raids om military and industrial targets in North Vietnam. This lasted until 1972.
  • This soon included all places in North and South Vietnam and places in Laos and Combodia along the Ho Chi Minh trail. More bombs were dropped on North Vietnam than on Germany and Japan during WW2.
  • To some exstent the bombing was effective:
    • disrupted supply routes and damaged NV war effort
    • Enabled USA to strike at communist forces even when it was reducing US ground forces in Vietnam after 1969.
    • 1970 - 1972 intense bombing campaigns against Hanoi (NV capital) and port of Haiphong forced NV to the negoiating table.
  • US air force couldn't defeat communism only slow them down. The Viet Cong continued to operate its supply lines. NV countined to launch a large assalt to SV, even after air raids in 1972.
  • Air warfare was very expensive. Communist shot down 14,000 US and SV aircrafts. In 1967 an American magasize calculated the cost to shoot down 1 Viet Cong fighter (which takes 75 bombs and 400 artillery shells) as $400000
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US tactics in Vietnam 1965 - 1972: Chemical Weapen

  • ADGENT ORANGE was a powerful weapon developed by the USA; it was highly toxic 'weed killer'. It destroyed Jungle where Viet Cong hid. 82 million liters was used.
  • NAPALM was used to destroy Jungles where Guerillas lived. It also burnt through skin to the bone. Many civilians were killed by these.
  • BOMBING could not kill all the Guerilla Army. General Westmoreland (US commander) developed a search & destroy policy. US established very secure bases along the coasts in the south of the country. The Search and Destroy was then launched by helicopter from here. They would descend into a village and destroy any Viet Cong forces they found and then send a  body count report back to USA.
  • There was some problems :
    • Raids were often based on inadequate reports
    • Inexperienced US troops often walked into traps
    • Innocent villagers were mistaken for Viet Cong.
    • Cilvilain deaths were very high compared to Viet Cong deaths (1:6)
    • Search & Destroy mission made them unpopular with peasents, pushing support towards Viet Cong.
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The Tet Offensive of 1968 - a turning point

  • 1968 the Viet Cong launched a massive attack on over a 100 cities and other military targets during the Tet New Year.
  • It was a diaster for the communists. They hoped that the people of SV would join them in the uprising, but they didn't. The Viet Cong lost around 10, 000 experienced fighters and were badely weakened by it.


  • HOWEVER the Tet Offensive proved to be a turning piont in the war because it raised hard questions about the war in the USA
    • 500, 000 troops in Vietnam and the US spent $20 billion a year on war
    • US and SV forces quickly retook the captured towns but in the process killed many civilians. The ancient city of Hue was destroyed.
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Public Opinion in the USA

  • The Vietnam war needed public support to be successful.
  • The American media (TV, radio and newspaper) gave the war extensive coverage. Reporter also went on patrol with soldiers (no censorship).
  • On TV America and the world watched as horrific scenes of killing and torture were used in prisons and as chemical weapons such as Napalm injured children.
  • There were anti-war protests throughout America. One of the chants used was 'Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids have you killed today?'
  • At Kent state university in Ohio, 4 students were shot in a protest.
  • The American government came under extreme pressure in America and the world to end its involvement in the Vietnam War.
  • In March 1968 the My Lai Massacre occurred.
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The My Lai Massacre

  • March 1968 - a group of young american soldiers called the Charlie Company started a search and destroy mission in Quang Ngai region of SV. They had been told there was the Viet Cong headquaters and 200 Viet Cong guriellas in the My Lai area.
  • The soldiers were told that most of the villagers would be at market as it was a saturday and had orders to destroy all houses and livestock.
  • Started morning of the 16th March 1968. Between 300 - 400 civilians were killed over the next 4 hours; most were women children and old men. They were shot working in the field or hearded into irragation trenches by machine guns. No Viet Cong were found only weapons.
  • Army treated as a success at the time as only 20  non-combatants had been killed. The men were praised and took it as a normal part of war.
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Consequences of the My Lai Massacre

  • 12 months later a letter arrived to 30 leading politicions in DC, from Ronald Ridenhour (an american soldier who served in Vietnam). He thought the attack was not a success and had evidence to prove it. He asked the congree to investigate it. Soon a highly influential american magazine published photos taken by an army photographer.
  • An investigation took place and Lieutenant William Cally (an officer for the Charlie Company) was charged with mass murder. In september 1969 he was formally charged with killing 109 people. 10 other members of the company and commanding officers were also charged.
  • The charges were too much for the army and passed all blame to Cally. They diened that Cally was acting under army orders. After a long court case surronded by media and publicity, Cally was found guilty of murdering 22 civilians in March 1971. In Agust he was charged with 20 years hard labour. He was released in November 1974.
  • The My Lai massacre deeply shocked the american public. In November 1964 almost 700 000 anti-war protests demonstrated in Washington. It was the largest political protest in US history.
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Nixon and Vietnamization

  • 1968 Richard Nixon was elected president.
  • he was elected on a promise to end American involvment in Vietnam.
  • Nixon was faced with the problem of withdrawing America, without it looking like a defeat.
  • Nixon's major strategy was Vietnamization. The withdrawal of American troops in phases whilst building up the forces of South Vietnam so they could continue the war alone.
  • The Nixon Doctorine (1969) - This redifined america's role in the 3rd world as helpful partner rather than military protector. These nations if threatened by communism could count on finalcial aid, morale support but they would have to defend themsleves.
  • In short this placed a limit of the policy of contianment.
  • By 29 March 1973 the last American forces had left Vietnam.
  • 1975 - Vietnam war finally ends between NV and SV.
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The Fall of South Vietnam 1973 - 1975

  • 1972 - NV launched a major offensive but were unable to conquer SV.
  • January 1973 - there was a peace conference in Paris. Le Duc Tho, Nixon and the SV president Thieu signed a peace agreement.
  • Nixon described the agreement as 'peace with honour'. Others disagreed but the US was now able to remove their troops.
  • Within two years the peace agreement was meaningless and SV had fallen to the communists.
  • Nixon had promised to keep supplying V with finacial aid and militarty support but congress refused as they did not want to waste American money.
  • There was evidence that the SV regime was corrupt and lacked the support of the majority of the public. Also Nixon was involved in the water gate scandal which lead him to resign. But the new president Gerald also failed to get support from the congress.
  • SV goverment coldn't last long without Us support or the Vietnamese public support.
  • Decmeber 1974 - NV launched an attack on SV. The SV capital feel to communism in April 1975.
  • One of the worst images from the Vietnam war was V civilians trying to clamber aboard US helicopters.
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Can this be used as part for the indepth study of America?

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