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The Fall of Saigon

After many years of brutal fighting in Vietnam and the continued lack of public support in the U.S. along with a multitude of other domestic issues, President Richard Nixon was ready to negotiate peace in Vietnam in March of 1972. North Vietnam, however, saw no need to settle the war diplomatically and responded to the U.S. request for negotiations with the famous Easter Offensive. By the summer it became apparent that the U.S. was able to ward off this offensive and in October the North Vietnamese were willing to negotiate peace. These negotiations were unsuccessful and by December all talks of peace had ceased. The failed diplomacy frustrated Nixon and he commanded U.S. troops into full force, ordering them to mine Haiphong Harbor and commence an air raid in Hanoi-Haiphong. Finally in January 1973, Nixon and North Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu were able to hammer out a peace treaty. The accord titled “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” was anything but. It simply gave the battered and bruised United States an excuse to abandon Vietnam. Neither North nor South Vietnam was to be stopped by the words on the peace treaty, both determined to fight to the death on the battlefield. The end came two years later with the fall of Saigon.

The peace accords in 1973 called a ceasefire and put in place provisions for the protection of the freedom of South Vietnam. Additionally it provided that if the North violated any of these agreements, U.S. troops would return to the aid of the South Vietnamese. Being well aware of the domestic problems following the Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation, the North Vietnamese highly doubted the U.S.’s final promise and drafted a two year plan for the conquering of the South and reuniting the country under communist control. This assumption was confirmed when the United States Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act in December of 1974. This act removed all threat of U.S. reentry; however, the disadvantaged South Vietnamese believed that the U.S. would soon return to their aid. In early 1975 North Vietnam conquered the South Vietnamese city of Phuoc Long (located only 80 miles from Saigon) and increased the number of North Vietnamese troops in the south from 80,000 which was the maximum provided by the 1973 accord to an overwhelming 100,000. Though these events were an obvious violation of the treaty, they provoked no response from the U.S..

Hoped dimmed for the South Vietnamese once the North had entered the Phuoc Long Province and many of the South Vietnamese officers used helicopters to take their families and flee the country. This reduced morale amongst the South Vietnamese troops. Additionally a mass exodus of South Vietnamese citizens flooded the roadways and distracted troops as they tried to seek out their families and take them to safety. When Ban Me Thuot fell on March 14th, 1975, Thieu panicked and ordered for the withdrawal of the Central Highlands but provided for no plan of withdrawal. Masses of troops joined with the fleeing citizens in what has come to be called The Convoy of Tears in which 40,000 citizens and soldiers were killed. The ragged and desperate South Vietnamese soldiers began to loot citizens for food.

The physical and mental weakness of the South Vietnamese troops proved to be a deadly combination that the North took full advantage of. On March 18th Kontum and Pleiku fell. Then on March 24th Hue city fell in one day. March 29th communists entered the Da Nang region. Qui Nhon fell on March 31st and then on April 3rd Nha Trang fell in 3 hours and that same day Cam Ranh Bay fell in 30 minutes. The rapidness of the conquer surprised even the North Vietnamese who developed the motto “Lightning speed, daring, and more daring” and made their new goal to take over the entire south by May 19th, a goal they reached with 20 days to spare. By early April they had severed the roads around Saigon and on April 9th invaded Xuan Loc (a city 37 miles from Saigon) which fell on April 23rd. This was the last hard fight by the South, whose 18th division fought tenaciously despite a 30% casualty in that division. When word spread that Thieu had sent his personal affects out of the country, any remaining hope and morale among the solders dissipated.

The U.S. came back just to evacuate any remaining Americans and loyal South Vietnamese. This included operation Babylift which evacuated 2,600 children and took them back to the United States for adoption. By the time Saigon fell, 675, 000 refugees had been taken back to the United States.

On April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank broke through the walls of the South’s presidential palace. The troops cornered South Vietnam’s last president Duong Van Minh and when he told his captives that he wanted to surrender, they informed him that he no longer had anything left to surrender.

Researched by Kaitlin Coppola
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School

Sources:

Ending the Vietnam War, 1973-1975." U.S. Department of Sate. U.S. Department of Sate. 8 May 2008, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/dr/17411/htm>.

Hickman, Kennedy. “Vietnam War: End of Conflict.” Military History. About.com. 8 May 2008, http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/vietnamwar/a/vietnamEnd.htm>.

Walter, Boyne. “The Fall of Saigon.” Air Force Magazine Online. April 2000. The Air Force Association. 8 May 2008 , http://www.afa.org/magazine/april2000/0400saigon.asp>.

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