Battle of Huế

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The Battle of Huế (also called the Siege of Huế), was one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War. In February 1968, in the South Vietnamese city of Huế, 11 battalions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), two U.S. Army battalions, and three understrength U.S. Marine Corps battalions, for a total of 16 battalions, defeated 10 battalions of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN or NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC).

With the beginning of the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive on January 30, 1968, the Vietnamese lunar New Year (Vietnamese: Tết Nguyên Đán), large conventional American forces had been committed to combat upon Vietnamese soil for almost three years. Passing through the city of Huế, Highway 1 was an important supply line for ARVN, US, and Allied Forces from the coastal city of Đà Nẵng to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It also provided access to the Perfume River (Vietnamese: Sông Hương or Hương Giang) at the point where the river ran through Huế, dividing the city into northern and southern parts. Huế was also a base for United States Navy supply boats.

Considering its logistical value and its proximity to the DMZ (only 50 kilometres (31 mi)), Huế should have been well-defended, fortified, and prepared for any communist attack. However, the city had few fortifications and was poorly defended.

While the ARVN 1st Division had cancelled all Tet leave and was attempting to recall its troops, the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in the city were unprepared when the Viet Cong and the PAVN launched the Tet Offensive, attacking hundreds of military targets and population centers across the country, including Huế.[4]:164

The PAVN/Vietcong forces rapidly occupied most of the city. Over the next month, they were gradually driven out during intense house-to-house fighting led by the Marines and ARVN. In the end, although the Allies declared a military victory, the city of Huế was virtually destroyed, and more than 5,000 civilians were killed (2,800 of them executed by the PAVN and Viet Cong, according to the South Vietnamese government). The communist forces lost an estimated 2,400 to 8,000 killed, while Allied forces lost 668 dead and 3,707 wounded. The losses negatively affected the American public's perception of the war, and political support for the war began to wane.


Hue: the initial dispositions


Tây Lộc airfield

In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, a division-sized force of PAVN and Vietcong soldiers launched a coordinated attack on the city of Huế. Their strategic objective was to "liberate" the entire city to help sweep the Communist insurgents into power. Hue, the ancient imperial capital city of Vietnam, was a hundred kilometers south of the DMZ. It had a population of nearly 140,000, making it the third largest city in the Republic of South Vietnam. The Citadel or Imperial City is the walled in portion of Hue sitting on the north bank of the Perfume River. The walls of the fortress form a square with sides of 2,500 meters. The outer stone wall is one meter thick, five meters high and is separated from the inner wall by dirt fill. The distance between the walls varies from 75 meters to 17.5 meters.[9]

At 02:33, a signal flare lit up the night sky, and two battalions from the PAVN 6th Regiment attacked the western bank of the fortress-like Citadel on the northern side of the city. Their objective was to capture the Headquarters of Brigadier General Ngo Quang Truong’s 1st ARVN Infantry Division in the northern corner of the citadel.[9] This was also known as the Mang Ca Garrison. Other objectives included the Tây Lộc Airfield, and the Imperial Palace. The PAVN 4th Regiment launched a simultaneous attack on the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound in the new city on the south side of the river.[4]:166–7

At the Western Gate of the Citadel, a four-man North Vietnamese sapper team dressed in ARVN uniforms killed the guards and opened the gate. Upon their flashlight signals, lead elements of the PAVN 6th Regiment entered the old city. The 800th and 802nd Battalions pushed through the Western Gate and then drove north. On the Tây Lộc Airfield, the ARVN "Black Panther Company", reinforced by the 1st Division's 1st Ordnance Company, stopped the 800th Battalion. Although one battle account stated that the South Vietnamese "offered no strong resistance", the PAVN report acknowledged "the heavy enemy ARVN fire enveloped the entire airfield. By dawn, our troops were still unable to advance". The fighting for the airfield continued to seesaw, with first the ARVN having the upper hand and then the Communists.[4]:167

The 802nd NVA Battalion struck the ARVN 1st Division headquarters at Mang Ca. Although the enemy battalion penetrated the division compound, an ad hoc 200-man defensive force of staff officers and clerks staved off the enemy assaults. General Truong called back most of his Black Panther Company from the airfield to bolster the headquarters defenses, which kept division headquarters secure.[4]:167

At 08:00, North Vietnamese troops raised a Vietcong flag over the Citadel flag tower.[4]:168

ARVN reinforcements[edit]

From February 12 through the 29th (it was a leap year) the embattled General Truong called in reinforcements. He ordered his 3rd Regiment; the 3rd Troop, 7th ARVN Cavalry; and the 1st ARVN Airborne Task Force to relieve the pressure on his Mong Ca headquarters. Responding to the call at PK-17, the ARVN base located near a road marker on Highway 1, 17 km north of Huế, the 3rd Troop and the 7th Battalion of the Airborne task force rolled out of their base area in an armored convoy onto Route l. A PAVN blocking force stopped the ARVN relief force about 400 meters short of the Citadel wall. Unable to force their way through the enemy positions, the South Vietnamese paratroopers asked for assistance.[4]:168

The 2nd ARVN Airborne Battalion reinforced the convoy and the South Vietnamese finally penetrated the lines and entered the Citadel in the early morning hours of the next day. The cost had been heavy: the ARVN suffered 131 casualties including 40 dead, and lost four of the 12 armored personnel carriers in the convoy. According to the South Vietnamese, the enemy also paid a steep price in men and equipment. The ARVN claimed to have killed 250 PAVN, captured five prisoners, and recovered 71 individual and 25 crew-served weapons.[4]:168

The 3rd ARVN Regiment had an even more difficult time. On the 31st, two of its battalions, the 2nd and 3rd, advanced east from encampments southwest of the city along the northern bank of the Perfume River, but PAVN defensive fires forced them to fall back. Unable to enter the Citadel, the two battalions established their night positions outside the southeast wall of the old City. Enemy forces surrounded the 1st and 4th Battalions of the regiment, operating to the southeast, as they attempted to reinforce the units in Huế. Captain Phan Ngoc Luong, the commander of the 1st Battalion, retreated with his unit to the coastal Ba Long outpost, arriving there with only three eight-round clips per man for their World War II vintage M1 Garand rifles. At Ba Long, the battalion then embarked upon motorized junks and reached the Citadel the following day. The 4th Battalion, however, remained unable to break its encirclement for several days.[4]:168

South of the city, on January 31, Lieutenant Colonel Phan Hu Chi, the commander of the ARVN 7th Armored Cavalry Squadron attempted to break the enemy stranglehold. He led an armored column toward Hue, but like the other South Vietnamese units, found it impossible to break through. With the promise of U.S. Marine reinforcements, Chi's column, with three tanks in the lead, tried once more. This time they crossed the An Cuu Bridge into the new city. Coming upon the central police headquarters in southern Huế, the tanks attempted to relieve the police defenders, but an enemy B-40 rocket made a direct hit upon Lieutenant Colonel Chi's tank, killing him instantly. The South Vietnamese armor pulled back.[4]:168

U.S. Marines[edit]

A U.S. Marine carries an elderly Vietnamese civilian from Huế Hospital out of harm's way.

Three United States Marine Corps battalions were protecting the air base at Phú Bài (approximately 16 km southeast of Huế), Highway One and all western entrances to Huế, when there should have been two complete regiments.[4]:169 The Commanding Officer of the Marines in Huế was Colonel Stanley S. Hughes, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who had already been awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for action in World War II and was eventually awarded his second Navy Cross for Hue City.

On the night of January 30 – January 31, the same time the North Vietnamese struck Huế, the Marines faced rocket and mortar fire at the Phú Bài airfield and Communist infantry units hit Marine Combined Action Platoons (CAP) and local Popular Force and Regional Force units in the region including the Truoi River and Phu Loc sectors. At the key Truoi River Bridge, about 04:00 a PAVN company attacked the South Vietnamese bridge security detachment and the nearby CAP H-8. Colonel Hughes ordered Captain G. Ronald Christmas, commander of Company H 2nd Battalion 5th Marines to relieve the embattled CAP unit. The Marines caught the enemy force beginning to withdraw from the CAP enclave and took it under fire. Seeing an opportunity to trap the North Vietnamese, Colonel Ernie Cheatham reinforced Company H with his Command Group and Company F.[4]:170

With his other companies in blocking positions, Cheatham hoped to catch the enemy against the Truoi River. While inflicting casualties, the events in Huế were to interfere with his plans. At 10:30, January 31, Company G departed for Phu Bai as the Task Force reserve. Later that afternoon, the battalion lost operational control of Company F. Captain Downs years later remembered the company "disengaged ... where we had them pinned up against a river, moved to the river and trucked into Phu Bai." With the departure of Company F about 16:30, the PAVN successfully disengaged and Companies H and E took up night defensive positions. 2/5 Marines killed 18 enemy troops, took 1 prisoner, and recovered sundry equipment and weapons including 6 AK-47s, at a cost of three Marines killed and 13 wounded.[4]:171

While the fighting continued in the Truoi River and the Phu Loc sectors, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines had begun to move into Huế city. In the early morning hours of January 31 after the rocket bombardment of the airfield and the initial attack on the Truoi River Bridge, Task Force X-Ray received reports of enemy strikes all along Route l between the Hai Van Pass and Huế. All told, the enemy hit some 18 targets from bridges, Combined Action units, and company defensive positions. With Company A, 1/1 Marines as the Phu Bai reserve, Colonel Hughes directed Lieutenant Colonel Gravel to stage the company for any contingency. At 06:30, Colonel Hughes ordered the company to reinforce the Truoi River Bridge. All Captain Batcheller recalled several years later was that "we were rousted up about 04:00 on the 31st and launched south on trucks to rendezvous with and reinforce ARVN forces about a map sheet and a half south of Phu Bai."[4]:171

Up to this point the fighting for Huế had been entirely a South Vietnamese affair. Brigadier General LaHue, the Task Force X-Ray commander, actually had very little reliable intelligence on the situation. All he knew was that Truong's headquarters had been under attack, as was the MACV Compound. Because of enemy mortaring of the LCU ramp in southern Huế, the allies had stopped all river traffic to the city. As LaHue later wrote: "Initial deployment of forces was made with limited information."[4]:171

As the Marines approached the southern suburbs of the city, they began to come under increased sniper fire. In one village, the troops dismounted and cleared the houses on either side of the main street before proceeding. The Marine convoy stopped several times to eliminate resistance in heavy house-to-house and street fighting before proceeding again. At about 15:15 after bloody fighting the Marines managed to make their way toward the MACV Compound. By this time, the enemy attackers had pulled back their forces from the immediate vicinity of the Compound. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel met with Army Colonel George O. Adkisson, the U.S. senior advisor to the 1st ARVN Division.[4]:171–3

Leaving Company A behind to secure the MACV Compound, the Marine battalion commander took Company G, reinforced by the three M-48 tanks from the 3d Tank Battalion and a few South Vietnamese tanks from the ARVN 7th Armored Squadron, and attempted to cross the main bridge over the Perfume River. Gravel left the armor behind on the southern bank to provide direct fire support. As he remembered, the American M-48s were too heavy for the bridge and the South Vietnamese tankers in light M-24 tanks "refused to go." As the Marine infantry started across, an enemy machine gun on the other end of the bridge opened up, killing and wounding several Marines. One Marine, Lance Corporal Lester A. Tully, later awarded the Silver Star for his action, ran forward, threw a grenade, and silenced the gun. Two platoons successfully made their way to the other side. They turned left and immediately came under automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire from the Citadel wall. The Marines decided to withdraw.[4]:174-4 This was easier said than done. The enemy was well dug-in and firing from virtually every building in Huế city north of the river. The number of wounded was rising, the Marines commandeered some abandoned Vietnamese civilian vehicles and used them as makeshift ambulances to carry out the wounded. Among the casualties on the bridge was Major Walter M. Murphy, the 1st Battalion S-3 or operations officer, who later died of his wounds.[4]:174

By 20:00, the 1/1 Marines had established defensive positions near the MACV Compound and a helicopter landing zone in a field just west of the Navy LCU Ramp in southern Huế. On that first day, the two Marine companies in Huế had sustained casualties of 10 Marines killed and 56 wounded. During the night, the battalion called in a helicopter into the landing zone to take out the worst of the wounded. The American command still had little realization of the situation in Huế.[4]:174


U.S. Marines wounded during the battle.

The next morning at 07:00, LtCol Gravel launched a two-company assault supported by tanks towards the jail and provincial building. The Marines did not progress further than one block before they came under sniper fire. A tank was knocked out by a 57 mm recoilless rifle. After that the attack was stopped and the Battalion returned to the MACV Compound. North of the Perfume River, on the 1st, the 1st ARVN Division enjoyed some limited success. Although the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 3rd ARVN Regiment remained outside of the Citadel walls unable to penetrate the PAVN defenses, the 2nd and 7th Airborne Battalions, supported by armored personnel carriers and the Black Panther Company, recaptured the Tây Lộc airfield.[4]:176

About 15:00, the 1st Battalion, 3rd ARVN reached the 1st ARVN command post at the Mang Ca compound. Later that day, U.S. Marine helicopters from HMM-165 brought part of the 4th Battalion, 2nd ARVN Regiment from Đông Hà into the Citadel. Eight CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters made the flight in marginal weather with a 200–500 foot ceiling and one mile visibility, arriving in an improvised landing zone under enemy mortar fire. The deteriorating weather forced the squadron to cancel the remaining lifts with about one-half of the battalion in the Citadel.[4]:176

Shortly after 15:00 Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines made a helicopter landing into southern Huế. They were to relieve a MACV Microwave/Tropo communications facility surrounded by a Vietcong force. It was the main communications link for the Huế area, the DMZ, and for Khe Sanh. The company spent the better part of the afternoon trying to reach the isolated United States Army Signal Corps 513th Signal Detachment, 337th Signal Company, 37th Signal Battalion communications site which was approximately 2.5 km southeast of the MACV Compound. They never made it. The Company sustained casualties of 3 dead and 13 wounded.[4]:176

Attacking the PAVN supply lines and recapture of southern Hue[edit]

U.S. Marines deploy a 106 mm recoilless rifle from within Huế University to target an NVA machine gun emplacement.

On February 1, General Cushman alerted the 1st Cavalry Division commander, Major General John J.Tolson, to be ready to deploy his 3rd Brigade into a sector west of Huế. By 22:15 that night, Tolson's command had asked III MAF to coordinate with I Corps and Task Force X-Ray its designated area of operations in the Huế sector. Tolson's plan called for an air assault by two battalions of the 3rd Brigade northwest of Huế. The 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry was to arrive in the landing zone first, followed by the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry to be inserted near PK-17. Attacking in a southeasterly direction, the two battalions would then attempt to close the enemy supply line into Huế.[4]:177

Under difficult circumstances, the 1st Cavalry began its movement into the Huế area. In mid-afternoon on 2 February, the 2/12th Cavalry arrived in a landing zone about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Huế. The Cavalry force soon encountered two dug-in NVA Battalions which they were unable to overcome as fog prevented their usual gunship support. The 2/12 Cavalry withdrew to a night defensive perimeter, but at dawn on 3 February following a mortar barrage the NVA attacked their position and the attack was only beaten back with heavy artillery fire. Losses continued to mount throughout the day from mortar and small arms fire and that night the Battalion commander decided to breakout from the encirclement by a night march to a hill from where they could be resupplied and the casualties medevaced. The breakout was chronicled in Charles A. Krohn's "Lost Battalion of Tet: The Breakout of 2/12th Cavalry at Hue".[10]

In southern Huế, on February 2, the Marines made some minor headway and brought in further reinforcements. The 1st Battalion finally relieved the MACV radio facility that morning and later, after a three-hour fire fight, reached the Huế University campus. Although the PAVN, during the night, had dropped the railroad bridge across the Perfume River west of the city, they left untouched the bridge across the Phu Cam Canal. About 11:00, Company H, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, commanded by Captain G. Ronald Christmas, crossed the An Cuu Bridge over the canal in a 'Rough Rider' armed convoy.[4]:177

As the convoy, accompanied by Army trucks equipped with quad .50 machine guns and two M50 Ontos, entered the city, enemy snipers opened up on the Marine reinforcements. Near the MACV compound, the Marines came under heavy enemy machine gun and rocket fire. The Army gunners with their quad .50s and the Marine Ontos, each with six 106 mm recoilless rifles, quickly responded. In the resulting confusion, the convoy exchanged fire with a Marine unit already in the city. About mid-day, the NVA, continued to block any advance to the south. An enemy 75 mm recoilless rifle knocked out one of the supporting tanks. By the end of the day, the Marines had sustained 2 dead and 34 wounded and claimed to have killed nearly 140 of the enemy. The battalion consolidated its night defensive positions and waited to renew its attack on the following day.[4]:177–8

Heavy street fighting followed the Marines all the way through the city for more than three weeks. Marines of the 1st and 5th Regiments, fighting alongside the ARVN 1st Division, and also supported by U.S. Army 7th and 12th Cavalry Regiments drove the PAVN and Vietcong forces out of Huế little by little and retook the city one block at a time.

Many of the Marines of Task Force X-Ray had little or no urban combat experience, and the US troops were not trained for urban close-quarters combat, so this battle was especially tough for them. Due to Huế's religious and cultural status, Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures. Also, since it was still monsoon season in that area of the country with heavy rain and low clouds on many days during the battle, it was virtually impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support.[4]:185–6 But as the intensity of the battle increased, the policy was eliminated. The communist forces were constantly using snipers, hidden inside buildings or in spider holes, and prepared makeshift machine gun bunkers. They organized local counterattacks and, during the night, they prepared explosive booby traps. Sometimes booby traps were even placed under dead bodies.

On 6 February the Marines captured the Provincial Headquarters which had served as the command post of the PAVN 4th Regiment and raised an American flag to celebrate their victory but shortly thereafter were ordered to lower it, for in accordance with South Vietnamese law, no US flag was permitted to be flown without an accompanying South Vietnamese flag.[4]:189–90

Battle for the Citadel[edit]

A Marine fires his M-60 Machine gun during the fight for the Citadel

Within the Citadel the ARVN 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment and the 1st Airborne task force cleared out the north and western parts of the Citadel including Tây Lộc Airfield, while the 4th Battalion, 2nd Regiment moved south from Mang Ca towards the Imperial Palace, killing over 700 PAVN/VC by 4 February. On 5 February General Trưởng exchanged the Airborne with the 4th Battalion, which had become stalled. On 6 February the 1st Battalion captured the An Hoa Gate on the northwest corner of the Citadel and the 4th Battalion captured the southwest wall. On the night of the 6th, the PAVN counterattacked, scaling the southwest wall and pushing the 4th Battalion back to Tây Lộc. On the 7th General Trưởng ordered the 3rd Regiment, which had been futilely trying to break into the southeast corner of the Citadel to move to Mang Ca to reinforce his units inside the Citadel.[4]:192

On 10 February 2 forward observers from the Marines 1st Field Artillery Group were flown into Tây Lộc to help coordinate artillery and naval gunfire to support the fighting within the Citadel, however General Trưởng instructed them that the Imperial Palace was not to be fired on.[4]:195

On 11 February the Vietnamese Marines Task Force A comprising the 1st and 5th Battalions, began to be lifted by helicopter into Mang Ca to replace the Airborne, however due to poor weather this deployment would not be completed until 13 February. At 10:45 on 11 February Company B 1st Battalion, 5th Marines was airlifted aboard Marine CH-46s into Mang Ca, however enemy fire forced several of the helicopters to return to Phu Bai. The Marines together with 5 M-48s from the 1st Tank Battalion would later be loaded onto Mike Boats at the LCU Ramp in southern Hue and ferried across to Mang Ca.[4]:197

Marines assault the Dong Ba Gate in the Citadel

On 13 February Companies A and C 1/5 Marines left Mang Ca and moved south along the eastern wall of the Citadel, while Company B remained in reserve. Unknown to the Marines, the ARVN Airborne had withdrawn from the area two days previously when the Vietnamese Marines began to arrive at Mang Ca and the PAVN defenders had used this opportunity to reoccupy several blocks and reinforce their defenses, Company A was engaged by the PAVN and quickly suffered 35 casualties. The 1/5 Marines commander Major Robert Thompson ordered Company B up to relieve Company A and the advance continued slowly until it was halted by PAVN flanking fire from the Dong Ba Gate (16°28′37″N 107°34′59″E / 16.477°N 107.583°E / 16.477; 107.583).[4]:199 On 14 February the Marines resumed their attack supported by Marine and Navy gun fire and Marine close air support, but despite this support they made little progress as they had to withdraw when supporting fire was called in and the PAVN quickly reoccupied abandoned positions, after a day of attacks the Marines withdrew to their night defensive positions.[4]:200 Company D 1/5 Marines arrived in the Citadel on the evening of 14 February after taking fire while crossing the Sông Hương. On 15 February Company D led the renewed attack against the Dong Ba Gate with Company C defending its flank, Company B joined the assault and after 6 hours the Marines had secured the base of the gate and later the entire gate at a cost of 6 Marines killed and 50 wounded and 20 PAVN killed. Overnight the PAVN counterattacked and briefly regained control of the Dong Ba Gate before being forced out by Company D.[4]:201

Also on 14 February the Vietnamese Marine Task Force A joined the battle. The operational plan was for the Marines to move west from Tây Lộc and then turn south, however they were soon stopped by strong PAVN defenses; after two days the Vietnamese Marines had only advanced 400 metres. Meanwhile the ARVN 3rd Regiment fought off a PAVN counterattack in the northwest corner of the Citadel.[4]:204 On the night of 16 February a radio intercept indicated that a battalion size PAVN force was about to launch a counterattack over the west wall of the Citadel, artillery and naval gunfire was called in and a later radio intercept indicated that a senior PAVN officer had been killed in the barrage. Later that night a radio message from the commander of PAVN forces in the Citadel was intercepted, he stated that his predecessor had been killed and requested permission to withdraw from the city but this request was denied and they were told to stand and fight.[4]:204-5

On 16 February the 1/5 Marines advanced approximately 140 metres for a cost of 7 Marines killed and 47 wounded and 63 PAVN killed.[4]:201

On 17 February the Vietnamese Marines and ARVN 3rd Regiment resumed their attacks south, while the Black Panther Company was moved to support the right flank of the 1/5 Marines, over the next 3 days these forces would slowly reduce the PAVN's perimeter.[4]:206

By 20 February the 1/5 Marines advance had stalled and after conferring with his commanders Major Thompson decided to launch a night attack against 3 PAVN strongpoints that were blocking further movement with the entire Battalion attacking at daybreak. At 03:00 on 21 February, the 3 ten-man teams from 2nd Platoon of Company A launched their assault, quickly capturing the sparsely defended strongpoints which the PAVN withdrew from overnight. As the PAVN moved to reoccupy the strongpoints at dawn they were caught in the open by the Marines, 16 PAVN were killed for the loss of 3 Marines. The Marines were now only 100 metres from the south wall of the Citadel. That evening Company B was replaced by Company L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.[4]:207-8

At 09:30 on 22 February, Company A 1/5 Marines led the day's attack to find that that PAVN had largely disappeared and the south wall was soon secured.[4]:208 Company L 3/5 Marines was then tasked with clearing the area to the southern gate and out to the Trường Tiền Bridge, advancing with tank and air support they completed the mission meeting little resistance.[4]:208-10

To the west the South Vietnamese forces continued to meet stubborn resistance. On 22 February after a barrage of 122mm rockets the PAVN counterattacked the Vietnamese Marines who pushed them back with the support of the Black Panther Company. 23 February saw little progress prompting deputy commander of MACV General Abrams to suggest that the Vietnamese Marine Corps should be dissolved. On the night of 23 February the PAVN attempted another counterattack but were forced back by artillery fire and the ARVN 3rd Regiment launched a night attack along the southern wall of the Citadel, at 05:00 they raised the South Vietnamese flag on the Citadel flag tower and proceeded to secure the southern wall by 10:25. General Trưởng then ordered the 2nd Battalion 3rd Regiment and the Black Panther Company to recapture the Imperial City and this was achieved against minimal resistance by late afternoon. The last remaining pocket of PAVN at the southwest corner of the Citadel was eliminated in an attack by the 4th Vietnamese Marine Battalion in the early hours of 25 February.[4]:210–11[11]

Mopping-up operations[edit]

On 25 February a two Battalion task force of ARVN Rangers recaptured the Gia Hoi sector (16°28′34″N 107°35′20″E / 16.476°N 107.589°E / 16.476; 107.589) between the east wall of the Citadel and the Perfume River.[4]:211

While 1st Battalion, 1st Marines conducted mopping-up operations in southern Hue, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines had been conducting patrols south of the Phu Cam Canal. On 24 February 2/5 Marines launched an operation to the southwest of Hue to relieve the ARVN 101st Engineering Company whose compound (16°26′13″N 107°34′55″E / 16.437°N 107.582°E / 16.437; 107.582) had been under siege by the PAVN since the start of the battle. As the Marines approached the base at 07:00 they were met by PAVN mortar and machine-gun fire, artillery fire was called in on the PAVN positions and the Marines entered the base at 08:50. The base remained under fire from PAVN positions in a Bhuddist temple to the south and a ridgeline to the west and at 07:00 on 25 February Companies F and G began to attack the ridgeline, but were met by intense mortar fire. Under cover of supporting fires the Marines secured part of the ridgeline, killing 3 PAVN for the loss of 1 Marine dead. The attack resumed the following morning and the ridge was secured with 20 PAVN and 2 Marines killed. Company H attacking a nearby hill was met with a stubborn defense, losing one dead and killing 6 PAVN. Company H withdrew so that air strikes could be launched and these knocked out mortar and machine gun positions killing 20 PAVN, however one bomb fell short killing 4 Marines. On 27 February the entire battalion attacked the hill but the PAVN had withdrawn during the night leaving behind 14 dead.[4]:211-3

On 28 February 1/5 Marines and 2/5 Marines launched an operation to the east of Hue to try to cut off any PAVN forces fleeing from Hue towards the coast. While the Marines encountered few PAVN in their sweeps they located various abandoned infrastructure that had been used to support the battle including a 3000 metre trench system with over 600 fighting holes. On 2 March 1968 the Marines concluded Operation Hue City.[4]:213


The fighting in other parts of South Vietnam during Tet was generally confined to a week or sometimes less, however battle for Hue City was the longest, lasting from 31 January through 2 March 1968.[12] The Communist forces suffered heavy losses in this battle, losing 5,133 men at Huế; about 3,000 more were estimated to be killed outside of the city (according to MACV).[13] Moreover, in addition to the significant civilian casualties inflicted in the battle by U.S. forces to retake the cities from the Vietcong and PAVN,[14] eighty percent of the city was destroyed by US airstrikes.[13]

Comparisons with Fallujah[edit]

U.S. Marines from the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines seize apartments at the edge of Fallujah in November 2004.

The November 2004 anti-insurgent Marine operation in the city of Fallujah that took place during the Iraq War, has been compared to the Battle of Hue.[15][16] Both battles were fought in close quarters in an urban setting where the enemy ensconced itself in the midst of civilians. In Fallujah, Sunni insurgents turned mosques into fortresses, in a similar way to how NVA forces utilized Buddhist temples in Hue. Both battles also had insurgents and other forces utilizing snipers, significantly increasing the combat potential of the combatants, while the Marines also constituted the advanced fighting elements of the US forces deployed in both Hue and Fallujah.[17] Lastly, both battles constituted some of the heaviest fighting that took place in their respective wars. The operation in Fallujah killed 95 U.S. servicemen, while operations in Hue resulted in more than 200 U.S. servicemen being killed.[citation needed]

In his analysis of the Battle of Fallujah, Jonathan F. Keiler, a military historian and former officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, compares it to both Israel's Siege of Beirut and the Battle of Hue. He wrote:[18]

The Marine Corps’ military operations in urban terrain doctrine recognizes that tactical success does not necessarily translate to strategic victory. It notes the Israeli’s tactical victory in Beirut was a strategic defeat—and observes the same about the Battle of Hue in the Vietnam War, when Marines defeated an enemy that sought to put up a good fight but never expected to win. Much the same can be said of Fallujah’s defenders. In spite of the beating they took in November, they will continue to assert they repelled the initial attack and fought well thereafter.

Impact on American public opinion[edit]

Militarily, Huế was an Allied victory, because the PAVN and Vietcong forces were driven from the city paying a heavy price for their offensive, but because of the change in the opinion of the American public, Huế was the beginning of the end. Marine Captain Myron Harrington who commanded a one-hundred-man company during the battle said: "Did we have to destroy the town in order to save it?"[19] Years later in a 1981 interview, Harrington answered in the affirmative, saying "I think in the case of Huế that it was required, because the NVA wanted it."[20] From this time forward, American support for the war in Vietnam declined, and during the next five years American involvement slowly but steadily decreased until March 1973 when the last American troops left Vietnam and communist forces captured Saigon in 1975, thus ending the war.

In popular culture[edit]

Film and literature[edit]

A day-by-day chronicle of the battle is found in Mark Bowden's book Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (2017).

Michael Herr writes about the Battle of Huế in chapter two of his autobiographical book, Dispatches.

In Nelson Demille's novel Word of Honor (1985), the main character is accused of having committed war crimes at the Battle of Huế

In the film Full Metal Jacket (1987), based on Gustav Hasford's semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers (1979), the main characters are sent from Đà Nẵng to Huế to cover the fighting, and the majority of the Vietnam scenes take place during the battle.

The Battle of Hué is referenced in Vincent Lam's novel The Headmaster's Wager (2012).


The Battle of Huế appears in multiple video games, including: Battlefield Vietnam (2004), Conflict: Vietnam (2004), Men of Valor (2004), Vietcong 2 (2005), and Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010), which covers the protagonists attempting to break into the MAC-V compound and subsequently fighting their way out. It also has appeared as a playable map in Rising Storm 2: Vietnam (2017).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warr, Nicholas (1997). Phase line green:The battle for Hue, 1968. Naval Institute Press. p. xi. ISBN 1-55750-911-5. 
  2. ^ The History Place – Vietnam War 1965–1968
  3. ^ PAVN's Department of warfare, 124th/TGi, document 1.103 (11-2-1969): Tri-Thien front
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Shulimson, Jack; LtCol. Leonard Blasiol; Charles R. Smith; Capt. David A. Dawson (1997). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968, the Defining Year. History and Museums Division, USMC. p. 213. ISBN 0-16-049125-8. 
  5. ^ Hoang, p. 84.
  6. ^ Stanton, Shelby (2006). Vietnam Order of Battle. Stackpole Books. p. 11. ISBN 0-8117-0071-2. 
  7. ^ Willbanks, James H. (2 October 2002). "Urban Operations: An Historical Casebook". Combat Studies, Institute Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: The Battle for Hue, 1968. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  8. ^ Douglas Pike. "An Excerpt from the Viet Cong Strategy of Terror". pp. 23–39. 
  9. ^ a b Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 40, ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4.
  10. ^ Arnold, James (1990). Tet Offensive 1968 Turning point in Vietnam. Osprey Publishing. pp. 80–2. ISBN 0850459605. 
  11. ^ "Fight for a Citadel". Time. 1968-03-01. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 
  12. ^ Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 70, ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4.
  13. ^ a b Kolko, Gabriel (1986). Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience. Pantheon Books. pp. 308–309. ISBN 1-56584-218-9. 
  14. ^ Young, Marilyn (1991). The Vietnam Wars: 1945—1990. Harper Perennial. p. 223. ISBN 978-0060921071. 
  15. ^ Robert D. Kaplan (1 July 2004). "Five Days in Fallujah". The Atlantic. 
  16. ^ Tony Karon (8 November 2004). "The Grim Calculations of Retaking Fallujah". Time. 
  17. ^ Robert D. Kaplan (1 July 2004). "Five Days in Fallujah". The Atlantic. 
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ Karnow, Stanley (1983). Vietnam A History. Penguin Books. p. 534. 
  20. ^ "Transcript of Interview with Myron Harrington, WGBH". Retrieved October 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

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