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The Communists began serious planning for what became the Tet Offensive in mid-1967. Lien-Hang Nguyen, Merle Pribbenow, Ngo Vinh Long, and Sophie Quinn-Judge have written useful English-language accounts of various parts of the process.1 In theory, the supreme organ of the Communist movement in Vietnam was the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party, but the Central Committee met only to deal with exceptionally important issues, and the meetings became less frequent, rather than more, as the war escalated. It met twice in 1965 but not at all in 1966 and only once in 1967. In practice, the Politburo ran the party. The strongest faction in the Politburo in 1967 was made up of Le Duan, Le Duc Tho, and Pham Hung, who had become allies while serving together in the South during the First Indochina War. They favored a maximum commitment of resources to the struggle in the South; they have sometimes been called the “South-firsters” or “southern mafia.”2 They opposed the “North-firsters,” who wanted to emphasize the development and strengthening of North Vietnam. The most important headquarters south of the 17th parallel was the Central Committee Southern Branch. The American name for this body, Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), understated its importance. It was a detached section of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee, not just an office subordinate to the Central Committee. It was responsible for the southern half of South Vietnam, the B2 Front in Communist terminology . By the territorial divisions the Americans used, this was IV Corps, III Corps, and the five southernmost provinces of II Corps. The head of COSVN was usually a member of the Politburo, and COSVN was a stepping-stone to positions of the highest possible importance in Hanoi. C H A P TER FIVE 5 PREPARING FOR THE OFFENSIVE 110 CHAPTER FIVE Two former heads of COSVN, Le Duan and Nguyen Van Linh, held the supreme leadership position in Hanoi (first secretary of the Lao Dong Party until 1976, general secretary of the Communist Party after 1976) continuously from 1960 to 1991. One other former head (Pham Hung) and one former member (Vo Van Kiet) of COSVN went on to serve as prime ministers of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It has sometimes been suggested that Nguyen Chi Thanh, head of COSVN from 1964 to 1967, originated the plan for the Tet Offensive, but Merle Pribbenow rejects this idea.3 In any case, Thanh died in July 1967 while in Hanoi to discuss plans for the coming year. At least from this point onward, the principal advocates of the offensive were Lao Dong Party First Secretary Le Duan and PAVN Chief of Staff General Van Tien Dung. They conceived it as a “General Offensive—General Uprising,” a massive military offensive combined with a mass uprising by the population in South Vietnam. In June 1967, the Politburo discussed the idea of trying to achieve a decisive victory during the following year. From October 20 to 24, the Politburo met again, discussed the issue in more detail, and decided to carry out a general offensive and uprising at the time of the Tet holiday, including surprise attacks against cities throughout South Vietnam.4 Top leaders in the South were also beginning to prepare for the offensive , especially the largest and most complex part of it, the attack on Saigon. Late in 1967, they rearranged the command structure for the provinces around Saigon to allow troops from all these provinces to be funneled toward the city when the time came. They created five subregions surrounding Saigon. Over these were two higher headquarters. Northern Forward Headquarters (Forward Headquarters I), headed by Tran Van Tra, controlled Subregion 1 to the northwest of Saigon, Subregion 5 to the north, and Subregion 4 to the northeast and east. Southern Forward Headquarters (Forward Headquarters II), under Vo Van Kiet, controlled Subregion 2 to the southwest of Saigon, Subregion 3 to the south, and the special attack units (sappers) that would already be in the city when the offensive began.5 The forces under Northern Forward Headquarters were larger and stronger and included a higher proportion of North Vietnamese troops. Also they used radio more than the forces under Southern Forward Headquarters. For all these reasons, the Americans kept better track PREPARING FOR THE OFFENSIVE 111 of the locations and movements of the units under Northern Forward Headquarters. The Politburo approved a revised version of the plan...


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