This Day In History: The US Begins A New Offensive In Vietnam (1966)

On this day in the Vietnam War, the U.S. army begins a new offensive, codenamed Operation Attleboro. This was an offensive by  the 196th Light Infantry Brigade against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese  units near the Cambodian Border. This area was known by the Americans as War Zone C and it was some fifty miles northwest of the South Vietnamese Capital Saigon.

The Communists seemed to be intent on making a stand and determined to hold on to the area. The General in command of the operation sent in reinforcements from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and some units from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. There were also units from the  U.S. 4th and 25th Infantry Divisions sent to War Zone C. They were also reinforced by a South Vietnamese Division; in total some 20,000 troops are involved in the operation. This was the largest American and South Vietnamese operation of the war, thus far. The American units inflicted severe damage on the Viet Cong forces who suffered some 1,000 casualties and are forced to retreat into Cambodia. The Americans were extremely frustrated as they believed that they had the Viet Cong on the run in the area, However, they could freely enter and leave Cambodian territory as the government in Phnom Penh had no authority in the countryside. The Americans could not follow up their successes by pursuing the Viet Cong into Cambodia and this probably saved the communist forces.  This was not unique as the Vietnamese Communists would often retreat or disappear only to re-appear elsewhere and attack the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies.

usa soldiersenter vietnam
US soldiers in Vietnam

Operations like Attleboro,  was to be the first of many. It was the first of many search-and-destroy operations. These included Cedar Rapids and Junction City, and they were personally directed and conceived by Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam or MACV.

Westmorland objective was to find the Viet Cong and force them into a  decisive battle. The Americans with their superior firepower would then inflict massive casualties on the enemy and gain control of swathes of communist territory. There was a flaw in Westmorland’s strategy and one that was to contribute to the American defeat.  The main weakness in the strategy was that  the communists  would not engage in a conventional battle. They would always adopt guerrilla tactics even if they outnumbered the Americans and the South Vietnamese.  The Americans did not have the opportunity to draw the communists into a decisive battle as they had in previous wars, such as the Second World War. Westmoreland’s search- and -destroy tactics led  to an apparent endless round of fighting with heavy casualties for little or no purpose. The communist although they suffered heavy casualties were able to replace their losses and remained determined to fight on.

Vietnam. As the second phase of operation "Thayer," the 1st Air Cavalry Division (airmobile) is having operation"Irving" in the area 25 miles north of Qui Nhon which lies 400 miles north-northeast of Saigon. The 1st Air Cavalry was given the mission of clearing a mountain range where an estimated two battalions of North Vietnam regulars were supposed to be massing an attack on Hammond Airstrip. Troops of "A" Company, checking house during patrol., 10/06/1966
American Soldiers searching for Viet Cong Troops