Long Term Events
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (Indochina) were under French control.
Ho Chi Minh left Vietnam to travel and learn more about the Western World. His travels included the United States, United Kingdom and France.
1917 – 18
Ho Chi Minh was in France and learned of the Communist Revolution in Russia. He shared many of the Communist’s beliefs.
Paris Peace Settlement
Ho Chi Minh’s request for Vietnamese independence ignored.
Ho Chi Minh visited the newly established Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and met Stalin
in Moscow. He was disappointed that Stalin was uninterested in the plight of Vietnam.
Bao Dai, aged 12 years, was crowned Emperor of Vietnam. The French sent him to Paris to be educated.
Ho Chi Minh set up the Indochinese Communist Party
Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai returned to Vietnam from France. He attempted to govern independently but was not strong enough to lose his French advisers.
Vo Nguyen Giap, later General Giap, joined the Indochinese Communist Party. Giap spent much of his free time studying military tactics particularly guerrilla warfare.
Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam and established the Vietnam Independence League (Vietminh). Their aim was to fight both the French and Japanese and gain independence for Vietnam.
Japan invaded Indochina
1941 (8th December)
The United States declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
1945 (2nd September)
World War Two ended with Japanese unconditional surrender. Japan gave Vietnam to the Vietminh.
Short Term Events (First Indochina War)
1945 (2nd September)
Using a speech that drew on the United States Declaration of Independence, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese Independence with himself as leader and Giap as Minister of the Interior of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV)
American intelligence told President Truman that the Vietnamese were determined to have independence.
The Vietminh declared war on the French in Vietnam
Emperor Bao Dai, fearful of both the French and the Vietminh fled to Hong Kong
The Cold War
With the expansion of the Soviet Bloc the division between East and West, notably the USSR and the USA became ever greater. Each were suspicious of the other and so began a period in which both vied for dominance geographically and militarily.
Truman Doctrine Speech
Truman declared that the United States would help any country that resisted Communism.
President Truman believed the Ho Chi Minh was a puppet of the USSR. He was fearful of the spread of Communism and did not want to alienate France. He therefore supported France’s bid to control Vietnam.
1949 (1st October)
China became a Communist Country, The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong
. The Vietminh began training in China away from the French.
President Truman established the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a Western anti-Communist alliance.
President Truman gave money to help the French take Vietnam which they proclaimed as an Independent State of Vietnam
The French in Vietnam persuaded Bao Dai to return as puppet Emperor. His love of women and material possessions gave him the nickname Playboy Emperor.
Ho Chi Minh persuaded China and the Soviet Union to recognise the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The United States formally recognised the French controlled Associated State of Vietnam.
Truman sent $10 million to help the French in Indochina
1950 (24th June)
Communist North Korea invaded non-Communist South Korea. Truman, fearful of the spread of Communism, sent American troops to restore South Korea’s non-Communist status.
President Truman established the Military Assistance Advisory Group. The group was sent to Indochina to help France take control.
The French requested a US airstrike against the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu but after much thought President Eisenhower decided against US intervention.
Eisenhower’s Domino Theory – This theory, which dominated much of early 1950s US policy, held that if Communism took one state then neighbouring states would quickly fall to Communism as well.
1954 (7th May)
The French were defeated by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu.
An international conference was called to discuss the Indochina situation at Geneva, Switzerland. The Korean War had ended so it seemed pertinent to try to end the war in Indochina as well. Stalin had died and Kruschev wanted to show the West that he was open to reducing tension with the West and so declared willing to support the French concessions in Indochina. Communist China favoured a negotiated settlement largely because it wanted to gain international recognition as a global state rather than an isolated Communist country. Both the Soviet Union and China had encouraged Ho Chi Minh to negotiate a settlement. The Geneva Accords detailed the agreement made; namely that Vietnam was to be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel into the Communist North ruled by Ho Chi Minh and the non-Communist South with Bao Dai as Emperor and Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister. Neither North or South Vietnam were to enter into alliances with other countries, the French would withdraw from the North and Ho’s Communist forces would withdraw from the South. Democratic elections would be held in a reunited Vietnam in 1956.
1954 (after July)
Many South Vietnamese remained loyal to Ho Chi Minh despite being in South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh wanted to be seen as abiding by the terms of the Geneva Accord and so requested that those loyal to him in South Vietnam remain peaceful. However, Diem sought to eradicate all Communists in South Vietnam and many were executed.
1954 (8th September)
The South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was established.
South Vietnam voted in elections to decide leadership between Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem rigged the elections by punishing those who voted for Bao Dai. Diem claimed 98.2% of the vote and became leader of the South Vietnamese republic. Emperor Bao Dai left for France where he ended his days. The United States supported Diem financially to ensure that South Vietnam did not become Communist.
A revolt against Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam was put down by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). 6,000 peasants were killed or deported.
The French left South Vietnam.
Ngo Dinh Diem began arresting anyone in South Vietnam that was suspected of belonging to the Vietminh
Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of South Vietnam, refused to carry out the planned nationwide elections in Vietnam because he knew that Ho Chi Minh would win and be elected ruler of all Vietnam. The United States continued to give their full support and financial aid to Diem
The Vietminh began using guerrilla warfare tactics in South Vietnam.
The Viet Cong began using the Ho Chi Minh trail to move supplies and people through Laos and Cambodia.
Having consolidated their hold on North Vietnam the government in Hanoi decided it was time to give attention to liberating South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh’s supporters in the South called themselves the National Liberation Front (NLF) with a focus on national independence and a membership that contained many non-communists. However, Diem called them the Vietcong (Vietnamese Communists) and decided that military force was needed to stop them. In response the NLF also took a military stance and reformed itself to the People’s Liberation Armed Forces.
Second Indochina War (Vietnam War)
John F Kennedy
became President. Kennedy was a Catholic and he and his family hated Communism.
During a press conference, Kennedy intimated that he might be prepared to send US troops to Indochina.
1961 (17th April)
The Bay of Pigs
President Kennedy inherited a scheme set up by Eisenhower administration which was a planned invasion of Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro. 1400 rebel Cubans, trained by American troops, landed in the Bay of Pigs were to be met by local Cubans and the Cuban military who would rise up to overthrow the Communist Fidel Castro. Unfortunately things did not go to plan; the troops were not supported by local Cubans but were met by heavy artillery fire and strafing by the Cuban Airforce. Those rebels that were not killed were rounded up and imprisoned. The mission had failed and the responsibility for the failure fell to Kennedy.
US Vice President Lyndon B Johnson
visited Diem in South Vietnam and advised him of the need to reform. However, Diem persisted in using repressive, unpopular policies.
French President, Charles de Gaulle warned America of becoming stuck in a Vietnamese Quagmire saying that he US would sink “step by step into a bottomless quagmire,” however much it spent “in men and money.”
Kennedy sent US military advisors to Laos
Kennedy believed that the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) were using the wrong military tactics against the Vietcong and felt that they should be trained in counter-insurgency tactics such as those used by US Green Berets. General Maxwell Taylor was sent to Sough Vietnam to evaluate the military situation. Taylor advocated that the US should send 10,000 ground troops to Vietnam. McNamara wanted to go further and advocated at least 40,000 and up to 200,000 troops be sent.
Kennedy sent Kenneth Galbraith to South Vietnam to assess the situation there. Galbraith concluded that the real problem was Diem and that no amount of military involvement would result in an American victory.
The number of American military advisors in South Vietnam rose to 3,000
1962 (2nd January)
Battle of Ap Bac
This battle was fought between the South Vietnamese ARVN and the North Vietnamese army NVA at Ap Bac to the south west of Saigon. It was a decisive victory for the North Vietnamese.
Strategic Hamlets Policy – Diem introduced a policy of fortifying strategic villages in order to isolate them from the Vietcong. The policy was administered by Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu who refused to take US advice regarding the establishment of these hamlets. As a result the policy failed because the Vietcong joined the villagers and turned them against Diem by encouraging them to protest against having to pay for the fortifications. Additionally the Vietcong were able to take the weapons that had been allocated to the villages.
1962 (8th February)
President Kennedy created the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) to give military assistance to the South Vietnamese.
Robert McNamara US Secretary for Defence returned from visiting South Vietnam and declared that the United States could win the war in Vietnam. He advocated a greater US military involvement.
Unofficial peace talks were held with the North Vietnam government but they failed to reach a settlement.
Kennedy’s military advisers in Laos had managed to neutralise the country. It was a greed that a coalition government should govern Laos but Laotian Communists would not co-operate and Ho Chi Minh was still using trails through Laos to reach South Vietnam
The Cuban Missile Crisis heightened anti Communist sentiments in the West particularly in the United States.
Kennedy sent Mike Mansfield to South Vietnam to assess the situation again. Mansfield came to the same conclusion as Galbraith had a year earlier, that Diem was weak and that further American involvement would not result in victory. Kennedy questioned Mansfield saying that he had been given different reports. Weighing up all the reports Kennedy remained cautious against sending in American ground troops.
Battle of Ap Bac
The Vietcong defeated a force of 2,000 Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers supported by a number of American armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, bombers and military advisors.
Diem, a Catholic, had allowed the flying of Catholic flags but banned the flying of Buddhist flags. Around 10,000 Buddhists protested against this. Diem sent in the military and 7 Buddhists were killed.
A 73 year old Buddhist monk set himself alight in protest against Diem’s regime. Diem’s sister-in-law, the hated Madame Nhu made the situation worse by making flippant jokes such as ‘Let them burn and we shall clap our hands’.
Diem seemed intent on waging a religious war on the majority Buddhist population.
1963 (22nd August)
Henry Cabot Lodge replaced Frederick Nolting as US ambassador
President Kennedy declared his commitment to minimising American troop involvement in Vietnam by stating that the South Vietnamese had to win the war by themselves but that America would remain supportive to them.
1963 (1st November)
The government of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam was overthrown in a coup led by General Duong Van Minh with the support of the United States. Ngo Dinh Diem managed to escape.
1963 (2nd November)
Ngo Dinh Diem was captured and assassinated. General Minh took over as head of the government in South Vietnam.
1963 (23rd November)
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, United States. Vice President Lyndon B Johnson became President.
The North Vietnamese government in Hanoi began sending the People’s Army of North Vietnam soldiers south strengthening the Vietcong who controlled increasing areas of South Vietnam
General Khanh took over as head of the government in South Vietnam
Robert McNamara visited South Vietnam and publicly declared that he was optimistic that US troops would be successful. Privately however, he was concerned by the attitude of the South Vietnamese.
President Johnson declared that America was ‘in this battle for as long as South Vietnam wants our support.’
President Johnson was having serious doubts about the situation in Vietnam and feared it could go badly for both the United States and himself personally.
The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was drawn up. This resolution gave the President of the US power to wage war in Vietnam. However, it was not presented to congress.
The war had claimed 200 US soldier’s lives and, with the war going badly for South Vietnam, Washington searched for a solution to help the South Vietnamese win the war. There was no question of the United States pulling out.
1964 (4th August)
Gulf of Tonkin
South Vietnamese gunboats had been raiding North Vietnam. These raids were approved by Johnson as were covert operations in North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese made unprovoked attacks on the Maddox and the Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson introduced the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution drawn up in June and requested congressional support for retaliation.
Lyndon B Johnson was elected President of the United States.
1964 (24th December)
The Vietcong attacked a bar in Saigon where a large number of US Officers were drinking.
Dr Quat took over as head of the government in South Vietnam.
The Vietcong attached the US airbase near Pleiku killing 8 Americans and wounding 100 others.
Operation Rolling Thunder
America began airstrikes on selected sites in North Vietnam. The first US ground troops were also sent to Vietnam.
The first anti-war protests were staged in American universities
25,000 anti-war protesters marched to Washington.
Congress approved $700 million for the war against Communism in Vietnam
Air Vice Marshall Ky became leader of South Vietnam. Ky was unpopular with the South Vietnamese people who saw him as having too much to do with foreigners. The Vietnamese tradition was one of mistrust of foreigners and American presence in South Vietnam only served to bewilder South Vietnamese peasants and even push them towards acceptance of Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist Communism.
President Johnson announced that a further 50,000 US ground troops would be sent to Vietnam.
1965 (26th October)
The Battle of la Drang
North Vietnamese soldiers had been sent South along the Ho Chi Minh trail to La Drang. Many had died along the way but those that made it then found themselves in a 34 day battle with American troops which saw 305 American and 3561 North Vietnamese deaths. Both sides claimed victory.
There were 200,000 US troops in Vietnam. Polls showed that the majority of the US population were in favour of US involvement in Vietnam.
Robert McNamara visited South Vietnam again but now began to doubt whether the US could win and felt that further involvement should not be committed. However, he kept his thoughts to himself and publicly maintained that the US could win in Vietnam.
Robert Kennedy, brother of assassinated John Kennedy, became increasingly anti the war in Vietnam.
During the Foreign Relations Committee hearings many senators spoke against the war saying that the US should withdraw and that such a withdrawal would be in America’s best interests.
The Democrats did badly in the mid-term elections a reflection of public opinion against US involvement in Vietnam
There were around 400,000 US soldiers in Vietnam
Robert McNamara publicly opposed the bombing of North Vietnam and tried to instigate peace negotiations with the North.
The Americans began placing seismic sensors along the Ho Chi Minh trail so that American bombers could destroy the trail. In practice the trail was never destroyed and continued to be used by the Viet Cong throughout the war.
Americans found a Communist tunnel network near Saigon. The tunnels contained stoves, furniture and clothing but were not properly explored because a bomb exploded killing an American officer. The Americans chose to fill the tunnels with tear gas and set off explosives.
Martin Luther King publicly criticised US involvement in Vietnam. The criticism came as a result of the media showing images of children burnt by napalm. King was also critical of the numbers of black soldier casualties fighting for freedom in South East Asia when they did not have the same freedom in America.
Public opinion polls in America showed that 45% favoured increased involvement in Vietnam while 41% favoured total withdrawal.
The American people were not happy when taxes were increased to help pay for the war.
Organised by Hawks, the aim of the hearings was to force Johnson to lift restrictions on bombing North Vietnam. The military laid the blame for the failure of success in Vietnam on Johnson but McNamara told them that the only way to win the war would be to totally annihilate North Vietnam and everyone living there.
Thieu took over as head of the South Vietnamese government.
In a poll of American people 46% felt that sending troops into Vietnam was a mistake. However, this meant that 54% were in favour of the war. These statistics show that the country was split between those in favour and those against. Many people wanted to be out of Vietnam yet did not want the country to be seen as losing the war nor did they want the losses of US servicemen to have been in vain.
There were 535,000 US troops in South Vietnam
Robert McNamara left the US government to become President of the World Bank.
By this point in the war many South Vietnamese were living lives they no longer recognised as they had been forced to leave their lands and were living in camps reliant on Americans for food and shelter.
Richard Nixon began to believe that the only way to win the war was to use increasing numbers of South Vietnamese troops to do the fighting. A process called ‘Vietnamisation’
Clark Clifford was appointed US Secretary of Defence
1968 (21st January)
Battle of Khe Sanh
The North Vietnamese PAVN began bombing the US Marine garrison at Khe Sanh/ The ensuing battle lasted for 77 days until 9th April when it was ended by Operation Pegasus.
1968 (30th January)
this was launched by the North Vietnamese and was a co-ordinated attack on around 100 South Vietnamese Cities and towns. Their aim was to incite rebellion in the South and force the United States to withdraw. Although they took the Americans and South Vietnamese by surprise the Communists were soon repelled and the south was recovered by March 28th. However, the fact that the offensive by the Communist North was able to take place had a big impact on morale in Vietnam and at home.
TV journalist, Walter Cronkite, who had supported US involvement in the war, visited Vietnam and concluded that the US could not win the war.
Television programmes and newsreels showing footage of the Tet Offensive and the Mai Lai Massacre had turned huge numbers of Americans against the war.
Clark Clifford was totally against prolonging the war in Vietnam.
1968 (16th March)
Mai Lai Massacre
US soldiers massacred between 350 and 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in two villages known as Mai Lai and My Khe. Twenty-six soldiers were charged but only one, Lieutenant Calley was convicted. The incident sparked outrage around the World
1968 (25th March)
President Johnson was advised against further escalation in Vietnam. Indeed many of his top advisors, once in favour of the war, were now advocating a withdrawal.
1968 (31st March)
President Johnson announced “I am taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict.” He told the North Vietnamese government that he would stop American bombing of North Vietnam if they would agree to talks. Johnson also announced that he would not be standing for a second term as President.
Talks began in Paris to try to find a peaceful solution in Vietnam. The Americans wanted the North Vietnamese out of the South and declared that the Communists could have no part of the Saigon government. The North demanded that the Americans leave South Vietnam and that they have a part in the Saigon government. Johnson could not accept the North’s terms and the North would not accept the American terms.
There were riots in Chicago, where the Democratic Party Convention was being held, in protest against US involvement in Vietnam.
1968 (31st October)
President Johnson called for a halt to American bombing of North Vietnam and began negotiating with the North Vietnamese Hanoi government. However, the negotiations never really got off the ground.
The Democrats lost the election and Richard Nixon, a Republican, won the election.
The Communists in North Vietnam launched a new offensive against South Vietnam
President Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia hoping to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trail and also the Vietnamese Communists headquarters in Cambodia.
President Nixon suggested secret negotiations between Washington and Hanoi to bring the war to an end.
President Nixon agreed concessions for Hanoi in exchange for peace in a secret negotiation with North Vietnam
1969 (10th May)
Battle of Hamburger Hill
This battle was fought between the United States and South Vietnamese ARVN and the North Vietnamese PAVN on a hill. The battle formed part of Operation Apache Snow which had as its goal clearing the PAVN from the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam. The battle lasted ten days and claimed a high number of casualties. The hill was of little strategic value and was abandoned by the US in June. The battle was not popularly received in the United States.
Troops began to leave Vietnam
President Nixon announced that 60,000 US troops would leave Vietnam.
1969 (3rd September)
Ho Chi Minh died. He was succeeded as head of the Communist Party by Ton Durc Thang
President Nixon tried his ‘linkage’ policy. He promised the Soviet Union detente (more trade, arms control and decreased tension) in return for Soviet support to end the war in Vietnam.
Anti-war protests across America
1969 (October/ November)
The publication of pictures showing the Mai Lai Massacre increased anti-war feeling.
1969 (3rd November)
President Nixon made his ‘great silent majority’ speech where he asked for the support of the American people, those that were the ‘great silent majority’, to stand united behind him and his bid to end the war.
1969 (14th – 16th November)
250,000 people protested against the war in Washington.
US bombing of Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and Cambodia began. The US also bombed North Vietnamese anti-aircraft bases.
1970 (12th February)
North Vietnam launched a new offensive in Laos.
1970 (after 12th February)
A force of American troops and South Vietnamese ARVN invaded Cambodia
US intervention in Cambodia sparked a new wave of anti-war protests
Richard Nixon made his ‘pitiful, helpless giant’ speech to explain US action in Cambodia
1970 (4th May)
Four student protesters were killed by the National Guard at Kent State University, Ohio during an anti-war protest.
1970 (9th May)
Around 80,000 people attended a peaceful anti-war rally at the Ellipse, Washington.
1970 (17th September)
The North Vietnamese presented an 8-point peace plan at the Paris Peace Conference but the talks remained at stalemate.
1971 (8th February)
Lam Son Offensive
30,000 ARVN invaded Laos with orders to retreat if the death toll reached 3,000. They retreated before they were halfway to their destination.
1971 (29th March)
Lieutenant Calley was found guilty for the Mai Lai Massacre
Arms agreements had been reached with the Soviet Union and a visit by President Nixon to China was in planning stages.
President Nixon offered Hanoi more concessions to bring the war to an end.
1971 (3rd May)
Around 11,000 people were arrested during a rally held over three days in Washington to protest against the war in Vietnam.
1971 (9th June)
Because it was known that many soldiers in Vietnam had begun using drugs the Senate approved a measure authorising drug control and rehabilitation into the military
Nguyen Thieu held a presidential election that had been agreed in talks with Hanoi but he was the only candidate. Other candidates had dropped out and it was thought that Thieu had rigged the election.
Operation Proud Deep
This was an operation consisting of 1,025 air strikes on North Vietnam.
1972 (17th February)
President Nixon began an 11 day visit to the People’s Republic of China.
1972 (30th March)
North Vietnamese PAVN offensive against the United States and South Vietnamese ARVN saw Nixon’s policy of ‘Vietnamisation’ criticised as the ARVN were unable to withstand the PAVN onslaught.
1972 (15th April)
President Nixon began a bombing raid north of the 20th parallel and particularly on Hanoi and Haiphong using B52 bombers but failed to stop the PAVN.
1972 (16th April)
Nixon’s bombers hit four Soviet merchant ships at Haiphong. The Soviet Union protested but because they were keen to take part in a planned summit with the United States their protests were kept low key.
1972 (27th April)
Paris Peace talks continued.
A summit between the United States and the Soviet Union was held in Moscow.
1972 (17th June)
Representatives for the President broke into the Democratic Party Headquarters with the intention of bugging the offices. With the election just months away Nixon was fearful of defeat.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secured an agreement with Hanoi
South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu rejected the agreement reached between the United States and Hanoi
Richard Nixon was elected President for a second term. Congress told him that financial support for the war would be pulled early in 1973.
1972 (18th December)
Operation Linebacker II
To try and speed up a negotiated settlement President Nixon began a new bombing campaign of North Vietnam which lasted for 12 days. However, the bombing received Worldwide condemnation since it seemed as if the US was not honouring any peace.
1973 (22nd January)
Nguyen Thieu reluctantly agreed terms to end the war.
1973 (27th January)
Paris Peace Accords
This ended US involvement in the War in Vietnam. It agreed a ceasefire in Vietnam (but not Cambodia or Laos), the exchange of prisoners of war, the removal of American troops from Vietnam. The PAVN was not required to leave the South but was required to agree not to seek to increase its numbers in the South.
1973 (29th March)
US Prisoners of War were freed in Hanoi.
1973 (29th March)
The remaining 2500 US troops were withdrawn from Vietnam.
1973 (10th May)
The American government voted to cut off funds for Indochina.
1973 (31st May)
War Powers Act
Congress voted to remove the power of the President to commit US troops abroad without needing approval of Congress.
President Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal
1975 (9th March)
The North Vietnamese Communists launched a new attack on South Vietnam.
1975 (9th April)
Battle of Xuan Loc
This battle was fought between the ARVN and PAVN. It was launched by the ARVN to try to stop the PAVN advance into South Vietnam at Xuan Loc. The ARVN held firm for eleven days before they were forced to retreat.
1975 (17th April)
The Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia
1975 (28th April)
The last US soldiers were evacuated from Saigon.
1975 (30th April)
The Fall of Saigon
Having secured Xuan Loc the North Vietnamese PAVN were able to circle Saigon. The ARVN did not have the strength to withstand the assault and Saigon fell. Vietnam was reunified under Communist rule and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh city.
Boat people began fleeing South Vietnam.