Elsewhere in South Vietnam, the success of the Tet offensive was erratic. Many of the attacks on the
provincial cities and US bases were easily beaten back within the first minutes or hours, but others involved
bitter fighting. In the resort city of Dalat, the ARVN put up a spirited defense of the Vietnamese Military
Academy against a determined VC battalion. Fighting raged over the Pasteur Institute - which changed hands
several times-and the VC dug themselves in the central market Fighting in Dalat went on until mid-February
and left over 200 VC dead. In cities like Ban Me Thuot, My Tho, Can Tho, Ben Tre, and Kontum, the VC
entrenched themselves in the poorer sections and held out against repeated efforts to push them out The
biggest battle, however occurred at Hue.
The Buddhist crisis had left bitter feelings towards the Saigon Government in the ancient Vietnamese capital and, within a few hours of their attack, the disguised insurgents supported by some ten NVA/VC battalions had overrun all of the city except for the headquarters of the ARVN 3rd Division and the garrison of US advisors. The main NVA/VC goal was the Citadel, an ancient imperial palace covering some two square miles with high walls several feet thick. NVA troops assaulted the Citadel and ran up the VC flag on the early morning of January 31st but were unable to displace ARVN holding out in the northeast section. Having overrun the city and found considerable support among sections of Hue's populace, the NVA/VC began an immediate revolutionary "liberation" program. Thousands of prisoners were set free and thousands of "enemies of the state" - government officials, sympathizers, and Catholics were rounded up and many were shot out of hand on orders from the security section of the NLF which had sent in its action squad with a prepared hit-list. Most of the others simply vanished.
After Hue was finally recaptured at the end of February South Vietnamese officials sifting through the rubble found mass graves with over 1200 corpses and-sometime later-other mass burials in the provincial area. The total number of bodies unearthed came to around 2500 but the number of civilians estimated as missing after the Hue battle was nearly 6000. Many of the victims found were Catholics who sought sanctuary in a church but were taken out and later shot Others were apparently being marched off for political "re-education" but were shot when American or ARVN units came too close.
The mass graves within Hue itself were largely of those who had been picked up and executed for various "enemy of the people" offenses. There is some doubt that the NVA/VC had planned all these executions beforehand but unquestionably it was the largest communist purge of the war.
US Marines and ARVN drove into the city and, after nearly two days of heavy fighting, secured the bank of the Perfume river opposite the Citadel. Hue was a sacred city to the Vietnamese and apart from the ancient Citadel held many other precious historical buildings. After much deliberation, it was reluctantly decided to shell and bomb NVA/VC positions. Resistance was heavy and sending the Marines into the city without air and artillery support would have meant an unacceptable cost in lives. To many, the battle for Hue reminded them of the bitter street-by-street fighting that occurred during World War lI. The NVA had blown the main bridge across the Perfume River. US forces crossed in a fleet of assault craft under air and artillery cover which blasted away at the enemy-held Citadel. Its walls were so thick that few were killed but the covering fire made the enemy keep their heads down while the Marines and soldiers hit the bank below.
While the ARVN, with US support, fought its way through the streets of Hue block by block, the Marines prepared to assault the Citadel. On February 2Oth American assault teams went in through clouds of tear gas and the burning debris left over from air and artillery attacks. The NVA/VC were pushed into the southwestern corner of the Citadel and finally overwhelmed on February 23rd. Enemy resistance in Hue was finally reduced to isolated pockets and sniper teams. As the Citadel fell, NVA/VC units began retreating- some of them marching groups of soon to be massacred prisoners before them - into the suburbs while their rear guards fought holding actions with the advancing ARVN. The fight for Hue ended by February 25th at a cost of 119 Americans and 363 ARVN dead compared to about sixteen times that number of NVA/VC dead.
The dramatic difference in fatalities makes the battle look a one sided affair But it wasn't! The difference in casuaity figures came largely from the heavy use of artillery and aircraft back-up to devastate NVA/VC positions throughout Hue which reduced large sections of the city to body-laden piles of rubble. Had the commanders decided to preserve the ancient and revered city US/ARVN casualties would have been much higher American wounded during the battle for Hue came to just under a thousand compared to slightly over 1,200 ARVN. Nearly 120,000 citizens of Hue were homeless and, of the close to 6,000 civilian dead, many died in the bombing and shell-fire. Contrary to many reports, large sections of Hue escaped relatively undamaged but after the battle they were forced to suffer days of looting by soldiers from the original ARVN garrison who had spent the previous weeks keeping their heads low. Their commander-who had also sat out the city's Buddhist rebellion against Ky-was later accused of having known about the coming attack for days beforehand. His defense was that he had allowed the NVA/VC battalions into Hue in order to spring a trap! In the villages outside Hue, the battle went on for another week or so as the retreating NVA/VC took over the villages just long enough for them to be destroyed by bombing and concentrated artillery shelling. Civilian deaths and refugees increased.