“Crack the Sky, Shake the Earth”
— North Vietnamese coded message launching the Tet Offensive
Fifty years ago today, the Viet Cong broke its own back by launching the “Tet Offensive” against Saigon, Hué, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Pleiku, every provincial capital (36 cities), and all major US bases in South Vietnam. Between 30 January 1968 and 10 February 1968, when one straggling group of VC attacked Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta, some 50,000 Viet Cong backed by about 35,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars launched waves of attacks ranging in scope from simple rocket and mortar attacks on 64 district capitals and their airfields to suicide assaults on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon to full-fledged urban warfare in an attempt to seize and revolutionize the former imperial capital of Hué.
South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) forces, in most places and most cases, eventually drove the Communist attackers away or killed them, aided by the VC lack of coordination, which spread their attacks out so that mobile reserves could defeat the assaults in detail. The dithering reluctance of U.S. General Westmoreland (who somehow talked himself into believing that the whole nationwide offensive was a feint intended to divert American forces from the ongoing siege of Khe Sanh) nearly handed the Communists the tactical advantage anyway, even as the complete failure of U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence to predict the attacks handed the Communist forces strategic surprise.
However, even General Westmoreland couldn’t change the objective correlation of forces. American reinforcements took the cities back, clearing the VC out of Saigon city center by dawn on 1 February. Fighting continued in a few other locations: in Dalat until 15 February, in Kon Tum, Buôn Ma Thuột, Phan Thiết, Cần Thơ, and Bến Tre until the end of the month, in Cholon, the Chinese neighborhood of Saigon, until 7 March, and of course in Hué itself where the Communist cadres had formed a revolutionary committee and begun executing class enemies (2,800 to 5,000 of them) as the American artillery and bombs slowly reduced the “Fragrant City” to corpse-smeared rubble. (65% of the city was destroyed in the fighting.) The ARVN and USMC finally cleared the last Communist forces out of Hué on 2 March 1968.
At the end of the Offensive, the Viet Cong had lost as much as a third of its fighting strength, allowing Hanoi to fill the gap with NVA forces and take control of the insurgency from the locals. The Tet Offensive gut-punched the American effort in Vietnam almost as badly: the Washington establishment began looking for the exits in earnest, and nobody wanted to give Westmoreland the troop numbers he was now screeching for. The American media in the person of Walter Cronkite declared that Tet revealed the war to be stalemated and unwinnable, President Johnson refused to seek re-election rather than wage the war he had blundered into, and the American public eventually saw no reason to disagree with either of them.
The Tet Offensive takes DELTA GREEN by surprise just like it does the rest of the American national security establishment. DELTA GREEN Agents and teams in country respond to the attacks on 30 or 31 January, drive them off, and then return to barracks where they find a message: “In honor of the New Year, join us in a day at the races.” DELTA GREEN decides to use Tet to launch as many operations as they can in the first week of February while the country is in chaos: any needed damage, looting, arson, and so on can be concealed in the VC onslaught. Every program op on the planning boards in South Vietnam gets a “free fire” approval to welcome in the Year of the Monkey, all rolled up in one.
During this country-wide Operation ODDBALL, individual DELTA GREEN teams of Agents might launch their own harebrained, half-planned op or move on any of these leads:
- South Vietnamese and American military police stationed in the resort town of Da Lat in the Central Highlands report that the VC seem fanatically insistent on capturing the Pasteur Institute there, founded by the bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin in 1936. DELTA GREEN has determined that Yersin uncovered the extraterrestrial and unnatural Black Fever from research in French Algeria and possibly even cultured it during his work on the plague in the 1890s, the same time as a Black Fever outbreak in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the same CDC asset that provided this intel also provided it to MJ-8. A MAJESTIC operator (from MJ-10) is also on the case, because Black Fever probably sickens and infects the Greys; the Agents’ mission is to find that one vial among the millions stored in the Institute, and destroy it by fire.
- The Kuen-Yuin cult smuggles weapons, medicine of extremely dubious nature, and propaganda for both Mao and Tsan-Chan in and out of Cholon as part of a Maoist cadre in the city, and devotes the rest of its activities to mapping Saigon’s geomantic nexi using the local xin stone as a focus and lens. The xin stone is actually the foundation stone of a wharf, and its xin field rapidly energizes during the cruelty, barbarism, and suffering of the campaign.
- The USMC retakes the Khai Dinh Museum in Hué on 5 Feb. Shortly before that date, DELTA GREEN inserts a team into Hué with the mission of clearing out the entire museum’s supply of Cham artifacts, art, and archaeological records for ARCHINT analysis by the program. While they’re there, they should look out for anything else implying Cthulhu cultism or other unnatural activity in the past. Of course, they will have to drive off the Viet Cong cadre currently occupying the museum. The program mounts similar actions at the Museum Henri Parmentier in Da Nang and the Blanchard de Brosse Museum in Saigon, as well as the Saigon offices of the École Francaise d’Extréme Orient on Hai Ba Trung Street … next door to the French Embassy.
- Taking advantage of the ARVN garrison’s redeployment into Saigon, a Dao Sâm cadre (reinforced by VC fighters) has taken over the archaeological site at Óc Eo in the Mekong Delta. Óc Eo was a major port for the empire of Funan in the 6th century A.D., an empire centered on the Cambodian jungles. The Dao Sâm seeks to awaken whatever loathsome swimmer their lord Angka, the Black Buddha, sent to guard his empire’s gateway to the outside world. The program seeks information on Dao Sâm practices, and operational intel on their connections deeper inside Cambodia.