US Tactics in the Vietnam War

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  • Created by: Fiona S
  • Created on: 07-03-15 12:20

Operation Rolling Thunder

  • In February 1965 the NLF (National Liberatoin Front) destroyed a US helicopter base and destroyed 10 planes.
  • On February 13th President Johnson launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign in North Vietnam.
  • At first, US bombers attacked identified targets, such as bridges, radar systems and weapons dumps. 
  • They also targetted sites in Laos and Cambodia along the HO Chi Minh trail.

They US used cluster bombs. These bombs burst in mid-air, spreading 600 'baby bombs' that explode into shrapnel pellets. Later, cluster bombs exploded into fibre-glass fragments, which could not be found in the body by X-Ray.

To some extent bombing was effective:

  • It certainly damaged North Vietnam's war effort and it disrupted supply routes.
  • It enabled the USA to strike at Communist forces even when it was reducing US ground forces in Vietnam after 1969.
  • From 1970 to 1972, intense combing campaigns against Hanoi (North Vietnam's capital) and the port of Haiphong forced the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.
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Heart and Minds

  • Johnson always insisted that victory would come only if the USA won the 'heart and minds' of the Vietnamese people - on one occasion he defined it as a policy of 'hope and electricity'.
  • The Americans built schools and roads and sewers and provided medical aid.
  • However, the Stategic Hamlets program, and unrestained killing by the US forces in Vietnam, undid any good work this might have achieved.
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Search and Destroy

  • Bombing could not defeat guerilla army. The US commander General Westmoreland developed a policy of search and destroy.
  • He established secure and heavily defended US bases in the south of the country and near to the coasts.
  • From here, US and South Vietnamese forces launched search and destroy raids with helicopters.
  • Small groups of soldiers would go out looking from Vietcong units.
  • Essentially, they were bait - they would wander about unitl attacked, whereupon they would call in the air force to napalm the enemy.
  • Soldiers had to send back reports of body counts.
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  • US planes fropped Napalm. This is a petrol jelly that was meant burn and destroy jungles where guerilla might hide.
  • However, it also burned through the skin to the bone.
  • This resulted in many civilians and soldiers being severly injured during napalm raids.
  • The use of napalm became on of the most notorious memories during the Vietnam War and this photo became iconic of US involvement.


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Agent Orange

  • American planes dropped a chemical weapon called Agent Orange.
  • This defoliant stripped the leaves of the trees, so NLF soldiers would find it harder to hide.
  • The Americans used 82 million litres of Agent Orange to spray thousands of square kilometers of jungle.
  • Agent Orange had harmful side effects and led to many birth defects in Vietnam.
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