ON THIS DAY    24 February      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1968: South Vietnamese recapture Hue

The South Vietnamese are celebrating the recapture of the country's third city, Hue, after a battle lasting three weeks.

Their allies, American Marines, finally reached the walls of the old imperial citadel two days ago wiping out pockets of resistance from the North Vietnamese on the way.

But the final assault on the old palace began this morning with the marines firing cannons at the east wall of the palace compound.

The capture of Hue at the end of January by the North Vietnamese Communist forces was part of the so-called Tet offensive - the most powerful and continuous assault in the war so far.


" Now it is an ugly city because the streets are littered with bodies that have been run over by tanks "

Photographer Don McCullin

The Americans reportedly calculated that the operation to recapture Hue would be a "24-hour job", but it quickly turned into a prolonged battle, with exchanges of mortar and artillery fire.

It took 10 days to advance the last 1,000 yards inside the walled city.

American Skyhawk helicopters have dropped bombs and napalm on the citadel. Yesterday because of bad weather, the helicopters missed their target and hit a rocket dump, sending up enormous blue and green flames.

US Government aircraft with loudspeakers have been circling overhead sounding surrender warnings.

When the South Vietnamese troops finally broke through into the citadel, all guns blazing and whooping and yelling with delight, they suddenly realised there was no resistance.

They found only about 20 civilians left alive and two South Vietnamese soldiers, who had defied detection by the North Vietnamese throughout the siege.

Both sides have suffered heavy losses. The US Marines, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, joined the fighting only 11 days ago but have reported 45 dead and 250 wounded.

In total more than 100 American Marines have been killed and more than 700 wounded. Some 440 South Vietnamese soldiers have been killed and 1,900 injured.

The communist forces paid heavily too. The South Vietnamese claim to have killed nearly 3,000 in the battle for Hue, while the Americans say they have killed 1,500.

Hundreds of enemy weapons have also been captured.

A British photographer, Don McCullin, told the Times newspaper: "The devastation I saw was incredible. I had never seen a city smashed to pieces like this - with naval gunfire and planes crashing down to rout out a few snipers.

"They told me it was once a beautiful city. Well, now it is an ugly city because the streets are littered with bodies that have been run over by tanks."

Elsewhere in the country, intelligence reports say up to 15,000 communist troops are still threatening the capital, Saigon.

In Context
When the South Vietnamese finally hoisted their flag once more over Hue, it became clear the opposition had fled rather than stand and fight.

Although much of the city was destroyed, the palace compound, a walled square 700 yards along each side, was only slightly damaged. The throne room built in 1810 for Emperor Gia Long was undamaged except for two holes in the roof and three unexploded artillery shells lying on the floor.

The Tet offensive began at the end of January and was so-called after the Tet holiday which celebrated the lunar new year. The ferocity of the assault took the South Vietnamese and their allies by surprise.

Although technically the North Vietnamese and Vietcong guerrillas were defeated by the Americans, the impact of the Tet Offensive dealt a hard blow to US morale.

In the US, President Lyndon Johnson was spurred on by the anti-war movement to began peace negotiations in Paris later in the year.

The Paris Peace Accords were finally signed in January 1973.

Your Memories?
Write your account of the events.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |