Vietnam War - The Final Offensive
With the northern half of the country under their control, the Politburo
ordered General Dung to launch the final offensive against Saigon. The
operational plan for the Ho Chi Minh Campaign called for the
capture of Saigon before 1 May. Hanoi wished to avoid the coming monsoon and
prevent any redeployment of ARVN forces defending the capital. Northern forces,
their morale boosted by their recent victories, rolled on, taking Nha Trang, Cam
Ranh, and Da Lat.
On 7 April, three North Vietnamese divisions attacked Xuan
Loc, 40 miles (64 km) east of Saigon. The North Vietnamese met fierce
resistance at Xuan Loc from the ARVN 18th Division. For two bloody weeks,
severe fighting raged as the ARVN defenders made a last stand to try to block the North Vietnamese
advance. By 21 April, however, the exhausted garrison surrendered.
An embittered and tearful President Thieu resigned on the same day, declaring
that the United States had betrayed South Vietnam. In a scathing attack on the
US, he suggested U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had tricked him into signing
the Paris peace agreement two years ago, promising military aid which then
failed to materialise.
"At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace
equipment on a one-by-one basis," he said. "But the United States did not keep
its word. Is an American's word reliable these days?" He continued, "The United
States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the
same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men." He left for Taiwan on 25 April, leaving control of the
government in the hands of General Duong Van Minh. At the same time, North
Vietnamese tanks had reached Bien Hoa and turned toward Saigon, brushing aside
isolated ARVN units along the way.
By the end of April, the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam had collapsed
on all fronts. Thousand of refugees streamed southward, ahead of the main
communist onslaught. On 27 April, 100,000 North Vietnamese troops encircled
Saigon. The city was defended by about 30,000 ARVN troops. To hasten a collapse
and foment panic, the VPA shelled the airport and forced its closure. With the
air exit closed, large numbers of civilians found that they had no way out.
Chaos, unrest, and panic broke out as hysterical South Vietnamese officials
and civilians scrambled to leave Saigon. Martial law was declared. American helicopters
began evacuating South Vietnamese, U.S., and foreign nationals from various
parts of the city and from the U.S. embassy compound. Operation
Frequent Wind had been delayed until the last possible moment, because of
U.S. Ambassador Graham
Martin's belief that Saigon could be held and that a political settlement
could be reached.
Schlesinger announced early in the morning of 29 April 1975 the evacuation
from Saigon by
helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel.
Frequent Wind was arguably the largest helicopter evacuation in history. It
began on 29 April, in an atmosphere of desperation, as hysterical crowds of
Vietnamese vied for limited seats. Martin pleaded with Washington to dispatch
$700 million in emergency aid to bolster the regime and help it mobilize fresh
military reserves. But American public opinion had soured on this conflict
halfway around the world.
In the U.S., South Vietnam was perceived as doomed. President Gerald Ford gave a televised
speech on 23 April, declaring an end to the Vietnam War and all U.S. aid.
Frequent Wind continued around the clock, as North Vietnamese tanks breached
defenses on the outskirts of Saigon. The song "White Christmas" was broadcast as the
final signal for withdrawal. In the early morning hours of 30 April, the last U.S.
Marines evacuated the embassy by helicopter, as civilians swamped the
perimeter and poured into the grounds. Many of them had been employed by the
Americans and were left to their fate.
On 30 April 1975, VPA troops overcame all resistance, quickly capturing key
buildings and installations. A tank crashed through the gates of the
Presidential Palace, and at 11:30 a.m. local time the NLF flag was raised above
it. Thieu's successor, President Duong Van Minh, attempted to surrender, but VPA
officers informed him that he had nothing left to surrender. Minh then issued
his last command, ordering all South Vietnamese troops to lay down their
The Communists had attained their goal: they had toppled the Saigon regime.
But the cost of victory was high. In the past decade alone, one Vietnamese in
every ten had been a casualty of war—nearly a million and a half killed, three
By war's end, the Vietnamese had been fighting foreign involvement or
occupation (primarily by the French, Chinese, Japanese, British, and American
governments), for 116 years.