Humanities › History & Culture Vietnam War: The Easter Offensive Share Flipboard Email Print Photograph Courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History History & Culture Military History Vietnam War Battles & Wars Key Figures Arms & Weapons Naval Battles & Warships Aerial Battles & Aircraft Civil War French Revolution World War I World War II American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Kennedy Hickman Military and Naval History Expert M.A., History, University of Delaware M.S., Information and Library Science, Drexel University B.A., History and Political Science, Pennsylvania State University Kennedy Hickman is a historian, museum director, and curator who specializes in military and naval history. He has appeared on The History Channel as a featured expert. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Kennedy Hickman Updated October 03, 2019 The Easter Offensive occurred between March 30 and Oct. 22, 1972, and was a later campaign of the Vietnam War. Armies & Commanders South Vietnam & United States: Hoang Xuan LamNgo DzuNguyen Van Minh742,000 men North Vietnam: Van Tien DungTran Van TraHoang Minh Thao120,000 men Easter Offensive Background In 1971, following the failure of the South Vietnamese in Operation Lam Son 719, the North Vietnamese government began assessing the possibility of launching a conventional offensive in spring 1972. After extensive political infighting among senior government leaders, it was decided to move forward as a victory could influence the 1972 US presidential election as well improve the North's bargaining position at the peace talks in Paris. Also, North Vietnamese commanders believed that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was overstretched and could be easily broken. Planning soon moved forward under the guidance of First Party Secretary Le Duan who was assisted by Vo Nguyen Giap. The main thrust was to come through the Demilitarized Zone with the goal of shattering ARVN forces in the area and drawing additional Southern forces north. With this accomplished, two secondary attacks would be launched against the Central Highlands (from Laos) and Saigon (from Cambodia). Dubbed the Nguyen Hue Offensive, the attack was intended to destroy elements of the ARVN, prove that Vietnamization was a failure, and possibly force the replacement of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. Fighting for Quang Tri The US and South Vietnam were aware that an offensive was in the offing, however, analysts disagreed as to when and where it would strike. Moving forward on March 30, 1972, People's Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) forces stormed across the DMZ supported by 200 tanks. Striking the ARVN I Corps, they sought to break through the ring of ARVN firebases located just below the DMZ. An additional division and armored regiment attacked east from Laos in support of the assault. On April 1, after heavy fighting, Brigadier General Vu Van Giai, whose ARVN 3rd Division had born the brunt of the fighting, ordered a retreat. That same day, the PAVN 324B Division moved east out of the Shau Valley and attacked towards the firebases protecting Hue. Capturing the DMZ firebases, PAVN troops were delayed by ARVN counterattacks for three weeks as they pressed towards the city of Quang Tri. Coming into force on April 27, PAVN formations succeeded in capturing Dong Ha and reaching the outskirts of Quang Tri. Beginning a withdrawal from the city, Giai's units collapsed after receiving confusing orders from I Corps commander Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Lam. Ordering a general retreat to the My Chanh River, ARVN columns were hit hard as they fell back. To the south near Hue, Fire Support Bases Bastogne and Checkmate fell after prolonged fighting. PAVN troops captured Quang Tri on May 2, while President Thieu replaced Lam with Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong on the same day. Tasked with protecting Hue and re-establish the ARVN lines, Truong immediately set to work. While the initial fighting in the north proved disastrous for South Vietnam, staunch defending in some places and massive US air support, including B-52 raids, had inflicted heavy losses on the PAVN. Battle of An Loc On April 5, while fighting raged to the north, PAVN troops advanced south out of Cambodia into Binh Long Province. Targeting Loc Ninh, Quan Loi, and An Loc, the advance engaged troops from the ARVN III Corps. Assaulting Loc Ninh, they were repelled by Rangers and the ARVN 9th Regiment for two days before breaking through. Believing An Loc to be next target, the corps commander, Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Minh, dispatched the ARVN 5th Division to the town. By April 13, the garrison at An Loc was surrounded and under constant fire from PAVN troops. Repeatedly assaulting the town's defenses, PAVN troops ultimately reduced the ARVN perimeter to about a square kilometer. Working feverishly, American advisors coordinated massive air support to aid the beleaguered garrison. Launching major frontal attacks on May 11 and 14, PAVN forces were unable to take the town. The initiative lost, ARVN forces were able to push them out of An Loc by June 12 and six days later III Corps declared the siege to be over. As in the north, American air support had been vital to ARVN defense. Battle of Kontum On April 5, Viet Cong forces attacked firebases and Highway 1 in coastal Binh Dinh Province. These operations were designed to pull ARVN forces east away from a thrust against Kontum and Pleiku in the Central Highlands. Initially panicked, II Corps commander Lieutenant General Ngo Dzu was calmed by John Paul Vann who led the US Second Regional Assistance Group. Crossing the border Lieutenant General Hoang Minh Thao's PAVN troops won quick victories in the vicinity of Ben Het and Dak To. With the ARVN defense northwest of Kontum in a shambles, PAVN troops inexplicably halted for three weeks. With Dzu faltering, Vann effectively took command and organized the defense of Kontum with support from large-scale B-52 raids. On May 14, the PAVN advance resumed and reached the outskirts of the town. Though the ARVN defenders wavered, Vann directed B-52s against the attackers inflicting heavy losses and blunting the assault. Orchestrating Dzu's replacement with Major General Nguyen Van Toan, Vann was able to hold Kontum through the liberal application of American airpower and ARVN counterattacks. By early June, PAVN forces began withdrawing west. Easter Offensive Aftermath With PAVN forces halted on all fronts, ARVN troops began a counterattack around Hue. This was supported by Operations Freedom Train (beginning in April) and Linebacker (beginning in May) which saw American aircraft striking at a variety of targets in North Vietnam. Led by Truong, ARVN forces recaptured the lost firebases and defeated the final PAVN attacks against the city. On June 28, Truong launched Operation Lam Son 72 which saw his forces reach Quang Tri in ten days. Wishing to bypass and isolate the city, he was overruled by Thieu who demanded its recapture. After heavy fighting, it fell on July 14. Exhausted after their efforts, both sides halted following the city's fall. The Easter Offensive cost the North Vietnamese around 40,000 killed and 60,000 wounded/missing. ARVN and American losses are estimated at 10,000 killed, 33,000 wounded, and 3,500 missing. Though the offensive was defeated, PAVN forces continued to occupy around ten percent of South Vietnam after its conclusion. As a result of the offensive, both sides softened their stance in Paris and were more willing to make concessions during negotiations.