April 8

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Apr 8, 1972:

North Vietnamese forces open a third front

North Vietnamese 2nd Division troops drive out of Laos and Cambodia to open a third front of their offensive in the Central Highlands, attacking at Kontum and Pleiku in attempt to cut South Vietnam in two. If successful, this would give North Vietnam control of the northern half of South Vietnam.

The three-front attack was part of the North Vietnamese Nguyen Hue Offensive (later known as the "Easter Offensive"), which had been launched on March 30. The offensive was a massive invasion by North Vietnamese forces designed to strike the knockout blow that would win the war for the communists. The attacking force included 14 infantry divisions and 26 separate regiments, with more than 120,000 troops and approximately 1,200 tanks and other armored vehicles.

North Vietnam had a number of objectives in launching the offensive: impressing the communist world and its own people with its determination; capitalizing on U.S. antiwar sentiment and possibly hurting President Richard Nixon's chances for re-election; proving that "Vietnamization" was a failure; damaging the South Vietnamese forces and government stability; gaining as much territory as possible before a possible truce; and accelerating negotiations on their own terms.

Initially, the South Vietnamese defenders in each case were almost overwhelmed, particularly in the northernmost provinces, where they abandoned their positions in Quang Tri and fled south in the face of the enemy onslaught. At Kontum and An Loc, the South Vietnamese were more successful in defending against the North Vietnamese attacks. Although the defenders suffered heavy casualties, they managed to hold out with the aid of U.S. advisors and American airpower. Fighting continued all over South Vietnam into the summer months, but eventually the South Vietnamese forces prevailed against the invaders, even retaking Quang Tri in September. With the communist invasion blunted, President Nixon declared that the South Vietnamese victory proved the viability of his Vietnamization program, instituted in 1969 to increase the combat capability of the South Vietnamese armed forces.

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