Facing the most powerful nation in the world, North Vietnamese communists wisely chose to wage a war of attrition. They planned to make a long, bloody, and expensive war for the U.S. This strategy’s purpose was to turn American public opinion against American involvement in the conflict, and therefore, forced them to leave Indochina so that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) could conduct major offensives against the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and unify the country under a communist government. North Vietnam’s military strategy could be divided into three phases:
Viet Cong Establishment
Firstly, they began to prepare and organize their forces. The National Liberation Front (NLF) was a political organization with its own army first established in South Vietnam in 1954 in form of “Saigon-Cholon Peace Committee”. This first Viet Cong front was created to provide leadership for between 5,000 to 10,000 cadre who remained in the South after the 1954 Geneva Accords. In 1958, NLF became under a single command structure set up from North Vietnam. The NLF began to recruited soldiers in South Vietnam. Their forces included both guerrillas and regular units, and a network to organized peasants in controlled territory.
In the beginning, the NLF was weak and disorganized, but then Hanoi decided to construct a logistical system that ran from North to South Vietnam for better support. This trail best known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail was almost 1,000 miles long and became the main supply of manpower and weapons to the NLF. According to American intelligence analysts, there were 5,843 infiltrators used the trail to move south in 1961. The number increased considerably to 12,675 and 12,424 in 1962 and 1964 respectively. Meanwhile, 20 to 30 tons of supply were moved south per day in 1964 and quickly increased to 234 tons per day by 1965.
Secondly, the NLF applied guerrilla warfare all over South Vietnam. Guerilla was an unusual style of warfare using small and stealthy units to surprisingly attack the opponent.
The NLF soldiers usually mingled in with the peasants, wearing same clothes, acting same way. This tactics made Americans soldiers extremely hard to identify who was enemy. When American troops were unaware, they surprisingly ambushed. Besides, the NLF also set up booby traps, land mines, and planting bombs in towns which could kill American troops anywhere they went, which left a heavy psychological burden on American soldiers.
The NLF, following the example of Chinese guerillas, had given the highest priority to create safe base areas. Their bases usually located in swamps and forests were easy to hide. Since it was more difficult to do in places near cities or towns, the NLF solved this problem by constructing an enormous systems of underground tunnels. Those tunnel systems were usually located under some underground towns where communist soldiers could get all necessary supplies and even medical care. By using those tunnels, the Viet Cong forces could move from place to place and remained undetected by the U.S.
Finally, the third phase of this strategy was launching massive offensives against South Vietnam. There were three massive offensives launched by the PAVN and the NLF in 1968, 1972 and 1975. In 1968, a surprising offensive was held in time of the Lunar New Year celebration. The initial attacks stunned the U.S. and ARVN, although they soon regrouped and the communist forces suffered significant losses. This offensive albeit a military failure turned out to be a great psychological & political victory for Hanoi. Tet deeply impacted American public opinion towards the war, and triggered one of the greatest anti-war movements in the U.S. history. The movement was arguably the main reason for preliminary peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam in Paris in 1968 and subsequently the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973.
When the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam in 1973, the war outcome were more or less anticipated. The North Vietnamese forces launched the Spring Offensive at the beginning of 1975. On March 24, the ARVN was defeated dramatically in the Central Highlands, which led to a massive retreat in chaos. On March 29, the PAVN captured the major cities of Hue and Danang. After just about four months of the campaign, the ARVN was almost defeated. On April 30, 1975, the PAVN captured Saigon and ended their thirty-year wars.