Tactics used in the Vietnam War

The USA’s tactics under President Johnson

American tactics in Vietnam can be summed up by the acronym BEAST - Bombing, Escalation, Air and artillery, Search and destroy and Technology.
BombingPresident Johnson ordered the bombing of strategic military targets in North Vietnam, including air raids on the capital city, Hanoi, and bases and supply routes for the Vietcong. This was code-named Operation Rolling Thunder. The USA would ultimately drop three million tonnes of bombs in Vietnam - more than all the bombs dropped in Europe during World War Two. However, bombing was highly inaccurate due to the jungle landscape and the lack of industrial targets in North Vietnam.
EscalationPresident Johnson slowly increased the number of American troops on the ground in Vietnam. In 1965, two battalions of US Marines were deployed to protect military bases at Da Nang. This represented a shift away from ‘military advisors’ to combat troops. In July 1965, Johnson sent another 100,000 troops, and a further 100,000 in 1966.
Air and ArtilleryAmerican troops were sent on patrols, to be supported by air and artillery if attacked by the Vietcong. This demoralised soldiers, who realised they were being used as bait to draw out the enemy.
Search and DestoryFrom 1965, the American military began a policy of sending soldiers into the jungle and villages of Vietnam to ‘take the war to the enemy’. This often meant soldiers were easy targets for Vietcong guerrilla attacks as the Vietcong were far more at home in the jungle than the American soldiers. This tactic also led to a high number of civilian casualties, destruction of villages and atrocities like the My Lai Massacre all of which damaged the USA’s reputation.
TechnologyThe USA relied on high altitude bombers to drop heavy bombs in North Vietnam. They used jets to dump napalm, a chemical that burnt skin down to the bone, on suspected Vietcong strongholds, and Agent Orange, an ultra-strong defoliant, was used to destroy the jungle cover. Helicopters were used to deploy (search for) and destroy guerrilla combatants. Television propaganda was used in the USA to report the ‘body count’ of estimated Vietcong casualties.

How did the Vietcong fight?

The Vietcong tactics in Vietnam can be summed up by the acronym PEG - Peasants, Enemy and Guerilla.
PeasantsThe Vietcong treated the peasants in the villages with respect, sometimes even helping them with their workloads in the fields. They needed the peasants to give them food, shelter and hiding places.
EnemyLand that was taken from large landowners would be given to the peasants. The Vietcong encouraged a fear amongst the peasants that the Americans and South Vietnamese would take this land back. They would frustrate the Americans by simple tactics: retreating when the enemy attacked; raiding enemy camps; attacking the enemy when they were tired and pursuing the enemy when they retreated.
GuerillaThe Vietcong made sure they picked battles they would be able to win. Weapons included daggers and swords, and explosives captured from the Americans to ambush patrols. Booby traps were made from pointed bamboo sticks, mines, grenades and artillery shells. The Vietcong wore no uniform and could not be found in any particular location. Tunnels existed for them to escape into the jungle. The cells they worked in were very small so that if captured, they could not be tortured for information about others.

The War in Vietnam