1967: The Era of Big Battles in Vietnam

1967: The Era of Big Battles in Vietnam by Ron Milam, New York Times

By the beginning of 1967, there were 490,000 American troops in South Vietnam — along with some 850,000 from South Vietnam, South Korea and other allies — and America’s civilian and military leaders were starting to think big. This, they believed, would be the year to crush both the southerners fighting as the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies, who had infiltrated the south.

Doing so, though, would require enormous multidivisional operations involving all branches of the military. Already by the end of 1966, they had begun planning for the “era of big battles,” and specifically for operations designed to eradicate the enemy from around the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon. In the months to follow, those plans would involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers, lead to the deaths of thousands on both sides, and bring simmering doubts about the war effort to a boil.

In December 1966, intelligence reports indicated that large units of both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops were garrisoned in an area about 12 miles northwest of Saigon known as the “Iron Triangle,” bordered by the Saigon River on the southwest leg, the Thi Tinh River to the east and a line between the villages of Ben Suc and Ben Cat to the north. Gen. Jonathan O. Seaman, who commanded the 100,000-man II Field Force, described the Iron Triangle as a “dagger” aimed at the South Vietnamese capital. The very existence of the Republic of South Vietnam was at risk. But if the Iron Triangle could be destroyed by a major operation, the Americans and their allies could gain the offensive initiative and begin to drive the Communists out of the country…

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