North Vietnamese forces prepare to launch the “Ho Chi Minh Campaign,” designed to set the conditions for a final communist victory in South Vietnam. By this time, well over two-thirds of South Vietnam was under communist control as South Vietnamese forces had fallen back in panic when the North Vietnamese pressed the attack.
The Ho Chi Minh Campaign offensive was the final phase of the North Vietnamese plan to defeat South Vietnam. Despite the imposition of a cease-fire by the terms of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, fighting had continued between South Vietnamese forces and the North Vietnamese troops left in South Vietnam at the end of the 1972 Easter Offensive. In December 1974, the North Vietnamese launched a major attack against the lightly defended province of Phuoc Long, located north of Saigon along the Cambodian border. They overran the provincial capital at Phuoc Binh on January 6, 1975.
President Richard Nixon had repeatedly promised South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu that the United States would come to the aid of South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese violated the Peace Accords in a major way. However, by the time the communists captured Phuoc Long, Nixon had resigned from office and his successor, Gerald Ford, was unable to convince a hostile Congress to make good on Nixon’s promises to Saigon.
This situation emboldened the North Vietnamese, who launched Campaign 275 in March 1975, to capture the provincial capital of Ban Me Thuot (Darlac province) in the Central Highlands. The South Vietnamese defenders fought very poorly and were quickly overwhelmed by the North Vietnamese attackers. The United States did nothing. Stunned by the lack of response from Washington, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered his forces in the Highlands to withdraw to more defensible positions to the south. What started out as a reasonably orderly withdrawal soon degenerated into a panic that spread throughout the South Vietnamese armed forces. They abandoned Pleiku and Kontum with very little fighting and the North Vietnamese pressed the attack from the west and north. In quick succession, Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang in the north fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast, defeating the South Vietnamese forces at each encounter.
As the North Vietnamese forces closed on the approaches to Saigon, the politburo in Hanoi issued an order to Gen. Van Tien Dung to launch the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, the final assault on Saigon itself. Dung ordered his forces into position for the final battle. The South Vietnamese 18th Division made a valiant final stand at Xuan Loc, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, in which the South Vietnamese soldiers destroyed three of Dung’s divisions. After a week, however, the South Vietnamese succumbed to the North Vietnamese. By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and began to maneuver for their final assault. By the morning of April 30, it was all over. When the North Vietnamese tanks broke through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, the South Vietnamese surrendered. The Vietnam War was over.