During the Buddhist holiday of Tet, over 80,000 Vietcong troops emerged from their tunnels and attacked nearly every major metropolitan center in South Vietnam. Surprise strikes were made at the American base at Danang, and even the seemingly impenetrable American embassy in Saigon was attacked.
For all of these reasons, the Tet Offensive made the US news media, and the US public, much less enthusiastic about the war than they had been previously. General Westmoreland did not get the 200,000 additional troops he had requested, and in less than two years the US began withdrawing substantial numbers of troops. Negotiations began between the US and the Communists, and for most of the time the negotiations were going on, the US imposed limits on its bombing of North Vietnam. One might reasonably say that in the long run the Tet Offensive was a victory for the Communists, because of the way it reduced the American will to fight.
The US Embassy in Saigon was attacked and a few members of the NLF got into the embassy compound. Five US Marines were killed but the attack was repulsed. The NLF also captured the main radio station in Saigon, which acted as a major shock to US morale. Though the station was only occupied for a few hours, it showed to the US military that they were not just dealing with a ramshackle army of amateurs.
However, in military terms, the US could claim victory in the Tet Offensive. The North Vietnamese could not afford major losses in terms of manpower. During the Tet Offensive the NLF lost 37,000 soldiers while the US lost 2,500 men. Yet the Tet Offensive was a major blow to US military pride.
Ultimately, the Communist forces had miscalculated. Their offensive failed to spark a nationwide uprising and they were unable to hold back the American and South Vietnamese military. Yet the Tet Offensive had an important influence on public opinion and official policy in the U.S. The images of the American embassy under siege and the stark contrast between the fierce fighting during Tet and the optimistic estimates and reports emanating from Washing in the period just prior to the attacks contributed to the interpretation of the Tet Offensive as a political and moral defeat for the U.S.
In Saigon, nineteen VC commandos blew their way through the outer walls of the US Embassy and overran the five MP's on duty in the early hours of that morning. Two MP's were killed immediately as the action-team tried to blast their way through the main Embassy doors with anti-tank rockets. They failed and found themselves pinned-down by the Marine guards, who kept the VC in an intense firefight until a relief force of US lO1st Airborne landed by helicopter. By mid-morning, the battle had turned. All nineteen VC were killed, their bodies scattered around the Embassy courtyard. Five Americans and two Vietnamese civilians were among the other dead...The fighting within Saigon itself was pretty much over by February 5th but it carried on in Cholon until the last week of the month. Cholon was strafed, bombed, and shelled but the NVA/VC held on and even mounted sporadic counter-offensives against US/ARVN positions within the city and against Tan Son Nhut airport. B-52 strikes against communist positions outside Saigon came within a few miles of the city.
Johnson's dilemma was complete. He couldn't meet the generals' manpower requests without either depleting Europe of American troops -- which was unacceptable -- or calling up the active reserves -- which would have been a political disaster. His most senior advisors had turned against the war and Johnson took another briefing from the CIA analyst whose gloomy reports had soured some of his most hawkish counselors. A few days after this briefing, Johnson went on TV to announce a bombing halt of the North and America's willingness to meet with the North Vietnamese to seek a peace settlement. Johnson then said that he was not a candidate for reelection under any circumstances and would spend the rest of his term in a search for peace in Indochina.
A Communist force which eventually reached 12,000 invaded the city the night of the new moon marking the new lunar year, January 30, 1968. It stayed for 26 days and then was driven out by military action. In the wake of this Tet offensive, 5,800 Hue civilians were dead or missing. It is now known that most of them are dead. The bodies of most have since been found in single and mass graves throughout Thua Thien Province which surrounds this cultural capital of Vietnam.
The battle fought in and around Khe Sanh has gone into US military history. Khe Sanh base was to the southwest of the 17th Parallel and a number of miles northeast of Danang and Hué. The battle at Khe Sanh was the bloodiest of the Vietnam War and initially there were fears that it might degenerate into an American Dien Bien Phu. However, the importance of the battle ad the success of the US Marines was shown when in May 1968, President Johnson awarded the 26th Marine Regiment the Presidential Unit Citation for its bravery at Khe Sanh...The battle around Khe Sanh was fought as part of the Tet Offensive, though for the purposes of History it has taken on a dimension of its own. The siege of the base started on January 21st 1968 as part of the Tet Offensive. General Giap hoped that the Americans would place so much importance on the base, that they would defend it at all costs. This, Giap hoped, would include bringing in other US reserves from elsewhere in South Vietnam so that these places would be less well defended.
It was obviously that the North Vietnamese leaders had ordered the offensives to be launched on the night of the first day of Tet to take the objectives by total surprise. By some reason, the North Vietnamese Army Supreme Command was not aware of the fact that there were different dates for Tet between North and South Vietnam. Therefore, most NVA units in the Communist 5th Military Region - closer to North Vietnam - probably used North Vietnamese calendar, and conducted their attacks in the night between Jan 29 and 30, while their comrades farther to the south attacked in the night from Jan 30 to 31.
Many in the intelligence branch of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces were well aware of the reason why the Communist forces launched their attacks at two different dates. Information from sources among NVA prisoners of war and ralliers about the new calendar of North Vietnam should have been neglected by the American side. The information was also available in broadcast from Hanoi Radio.
Frequently quoted, also, as indication of the impact of Tet, was the reaction of CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who exclaimed, "What the hell is going on? I though we were winning the war." Lyndon Johnson recognized Cronkite as a barometer of public opinion, saying privately at the time, "Well, if I've lost Walter, I've lost middle America."...It remains intriguing to speculate about why such a defeat as Tet could have been transmuted into a decisive victory for NFL/DRV forces, what is described in the literature on the war as "the Johnson administrations Dienbienphu."