Knowing the Terrain
The communists were fighting on home soil. They knew the conditions far better.
The Vietcong were adept at deploying guerrilla-style tactics against the US and South Vietnamese forces.
The communist forces learnt the importance of guerrilla warfare during the First Indochina War against the French. At the battle of Dien Bien Phu, General Giap had led his communist forces against the French colonisers. The communists won, but when they employed traditional warfare strategies, the communists suffered heavy casualties. During the Giap unleashed a “human wave” at French positions incurring vast losses. Giap learnt the lessons from the First Indochina War. He knew that to defeat a larger military power, his forces could not engage them in traditional warfare strategies. He took these lessons to the Vietnam War and they shaped the strategies he employed against the US forces.
After 1965, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, the leaders of the North Vietnamese communist forces, made the decision to avoid pitch battles at all costs. The adopted hit-and-run ambush tactics. The NLF and Vietcong built an extensive network of tunnels which were used as fighting bases. They put the local villagers to work. Each villager had a quota. They had to dig three feet of tunnels a day. One of the most extensive tunnel networks is clearly visible at Cu Chi. The network consists of nearly 200 miles of tunnels, including an underground conference room, kitchens, and a training area. Hidden trapdoors connected the tunnels with the surface and provided ample opportunities to ambush patrolling US platoons. These guerrilla tactics meant that the US rarely had the upper hand in Vietnam. US forces could not match the Vietcong’s combat skills in dense jungle terrain. Nor could it neutralise their ambushes.
The body counts and kill ratios show that the US forces consistently won skirmishes with the communists. At the battle of Ia Drang, after three days of fighting, the allied US and South Vietnamese forces lost around 600 men. The communists had lost around 3,000. During the Tet Offensive, one of the pivotal battles of the Vietnam War, the Northern Vietnamese forces suffered losses of around 50,000, compared to the US and ARVN losses of 2,000 and 4,000 respectively.
The communist forces used an unconventional guerrilla style of fighting that the US forces could not contend with. The war was fought on the communists' terms, neutralising the technological advantages of the US forces.
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