Easter Offensive, Officially Known as the Nguyen Hue Offensive, Begins

The Easter Offensive, officially, the Nguyen Hue Offensive and also (Chiến dịch Xuân hè 1972 in Vietnamese) was a military campaign conducted by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN, the regular army of North Vietnam) against the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN, the regular army of South Vietnam) and the United States between 30 March and 22 October 1972, during the Vietnam War. This conventional invasion (the largest offensive operation since 300,000 Chinese volunteers had crossed the Yalu River into North Korea during the Korean War) was a radical departure from previous North Vietnamese offensives. Although not designed to win the war outright, North Vietnam hoped to gain as much territory and destroy as many units of South Vietnam as possible.

The allied high command had been expecting an attack sometime during 1972, but the size and ferocity of the assault caught the defenders off balance because the attackers struck on three fronts simultaneously with the bulk of the North Vietnamese army. This first attempt by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to invade the south since the Tet Offensive of 1968 became characterized by conventional infantry/armor assaults backed by heavy artillery, with both sides fielding the latest in technological advances in weapons systems.

In the I Corps Tactical Zone, North Vietnamese forces overran South Vietnamese defensive positions in a month-long battle and captured Quang Tri city before moving south in an attempt to seize Hue. PAVN similarly eliminated frontier defense forces in II Corps and advanced to seize the provincial capital of Kontum, which would have opened the way to the sea, splitting South Vietnam in two. Northeast of Saigon in III Corps, the communists overran Loc Ninh and advanced to assault the capital of Binh Long Province at An Loc. The campaign can be divided into three distinct phases: April was a month of communist advances and allied withdrawals; May became a period of equilibrium; in June and July the South Vietnamese forces counterattacked, culminating in the recapture of Quang Tri City in September.

On all three fronts of the offensive, initial North Vietnamese successes were hampered by high casualties, inept tactics, and the increasing application of U.S. and South Vietnamese air power. One result of the offensive was the launching of Operation Linebacker, the first sustained bombing of North Vietnam by the U.S. since November 1968. Although South Vietnamese forces withstood their greatest trial thus far in the conflict, the North Vietnamese accomplished two important goals: they had gained valuable territory within South Vietnam from which to launch any future offensives, and they had obtained a better bargaining position at the peace negotiations being conducted in Paris.

Accordingly, the so-called Easter offensive was launched beginning on March 30, 1972, with a threepronged attack across the DMZ through the A Shau Valley. The following day the communists attacked the city of Kontum and the provinces of Binh Dinh and Phuoc Tuy, threatening to cut South Vietnam in two. A few days later, three PAVN divisions attacked Binh Long Province along the Cambodian border, placing the capital, An Loc, under siege. In May the communists captured Quang Tri Province, including the capital, which was not recaptured by the ARVN until September. By that time, Quang Tri city had been virtually leveled by United States airstrikes. Although the Easter offensive did not result in the fall of the Saigon government, as the communists had hoped, it did further destabilize the government and reveal the ARVN's weaknesses. The costs were great on both sides, however, and by October both Hanoi and Washington were more inclined to negotiate.