50. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Forces (Sharp)1

MAC 01592. 1. The following is my assessment of the situation as it has developed.

2. The enemy’s Tet offensive peaked on 30–31 January and has been ebbing over the past two days. Current actions result primarily from the mopping up of pockets of enemy forces in and around the urban areas of the country. The enemy has caused heavy damage to sections of Saigon, My Tho, and other cities and towns in his rampage of destruction, but he has failed to gain the objectives he sought. The cost to him in losses of manpower have been enormous. It is too early to accept any figure of enemy killed [garble—as legitimate], but I have no doubt that the enemy lost more men in the 72 hours beginning 1800 29 Jan than he has in any single month of the war.

3. The objectives, strategy and tactics of this enemy offensive are becoming clearer. Beginning on 31 January, the VC propaganda organs announced the existence of a new “revolutionary armed forces” responsive to a new political entity called “the Alliance of National and Peace Forces”. This organization was touted as a collection of intellectuals, merchants, industrial, political and religious notables. The “revolutionary armed forces” are alleged to contain many elements including defected GVN troops. It is apparent that the enemy attempted to create the impression of spontaneous political and military uprising against the GVN and to suppress the role of the NLF and the VC/NVA military forces.

4. The ruse is transparent, but the goals and strategy of this Tet offensive are indicated in it. The enemy apparently hoped to seize a number of population centers or parts of them and set up an ostensibly non-VC political apparatus in the ensuing chaos. The initial assaults, where possible, were conducted by VC main and local forces and guerrillas infiltrated into populous areas under cover of the Tet celebrations. These were apparently to paralyze GVN control and generate a popular uprising within 48 hours. Then the remaining VC main forces and the NVA would reinforce to exploit the situation. This general pattern of the enemy plan has been substantiated by numerous POW interrogations [Page 116] and by the actual movement and commitment of forces. There were, of course, modifications in various areas for local reasons.

5. The NVA divisions in northern I CTZ were not committed during the Tet offensive. There were some contacts near Cam Lo, but these were due to U.S. Marine initiatives. Elements of the 812th Regiment and one battalion each of the 803rd (both from the 324B Division) and 270th Independent Regiments were committed to the attack on Quang Tri City.

6. In the Tri-Thien MR the enemy committed 80 percent of his locally available forces in attacks on Quang Tri City, Hue and Phu Bai. Only the 9th NVA Regiment and possibly some elements of the 4th and 5th NVA Regiments were held back. In southern I CTZ practically all of the VC units were committed, but the 2nd NVA Division and the newly infiltrated 31st NVA Regiment have not been to date.

7. In the western Highlands, every VC unit was committed along with elements of the 24th and 95B NVA Regiments. The 1st NVA Division retained an offensive posture, but did not attack. Along the coasts of II CTZ, the paucity of VC troops and guerrillas was reflected in the relative inactivity of the enemy. The exceptions were the attacks at Nha Trang by the 18B NVA Regiment and at Phan Thiet by VC units. The remainder of the 5th NVA Division and all of the 3rd NVA Division remained inactive.

8. In III CTZ, it now appears that almost every VC unit was committed with the 7th NVA Division plus the 88th NVA Regiment withheld. A possible important exception is the 9th VC Division. It is possible that at least two regiments of the 9th are in the Saigon-Bien Hoa area, but we are not sure whether they have been committed.

9. In IV CTZ virtually every VC battalion which we know to exist was committed to attacks throughout the CTZ.

10. Thus it appears that the enemy has generally followed his plan to commit VC forces and retain NVA forces for follow up attacks. He has achieved little success to exploit with follow up attacks, but his capability to recycle his offensive remains, and another round of attacks could occur in I, II and III CTZ’s at any time. In IV CTZ it appears that there are no large reserves for renewed attacks in the near future.

11. I expect enemy initiation of large scale offensive action in the Khe Sanh-DMZ area in the near future despite the failure of the Tet offensive to achieve its objectives. He has been hurt to some extent by friendly firepower and his losses around Cam Lo, but it is unlikely he would abandon his heavy investment in offensive preparation in that area. It is likely that the uncommitted NVA forces elsewhere in the country will conduct complementing offensive operations. If the [Page 117] enemy conducts these attacks he will no longer enjoy the cover of the Tet holidays, and he will lack the assistance of destroyed VC units. This presents us with an opportunity to inflict the same disastrous defeats on his NVA troops as we have on his VC forces.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Exdis; Eyes Only. Repeated to Wheeler and Bunker. At 1810Z Wheeler forwarded the telegram to the JCS as well as to Rusk, Rostow, and Helms.