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Book Review

The Battle For Saigon: Tet 1968 by Keith Nolan.

The Battle For Saigon: Tet 1968

03 October 2005

Gary Linderer

Keith Nolan has done it again! Without a doubt my favourite historian on the Vietnam War, William Keith Nolan, the author of The Magnificent Bastards, Sappers in the wire, Operation Buffalo, Into Cambodia and a number of other excellent works, has come up with a winner in The Battle For Saigon.

Nolan's unique writing style with his emphasis on tireless research and countless interviews has created another masterpiece. The major military campaigns of the Vietnam War are systematically being recorded posterity by this humble young Midwesterner in a fashion that escapes notoriety, but still fills military libraries around the country.

Nolan's new book points out the errors in judgment made by MACV commander General William C. Westmoreland and his staff who doggedly believed that the real battle of Tet '68 would run its course at Khe Sanh. Westmoreland stuck to his mistaken belief despite numerous intelligence reports that indicated otherwise. It was just what Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese Senior Minister of Defence wanted him to think. While American forces began building up to meet the enemy threat in the remote North Western corner of the country, Giap's Main Force local Viet Cong units were busy infiltrating in to the unprotected urban centres of South Vietnam. The outcome was the destruction of the Viet Cong military machine and a major victory for the U.S. / ARVN forces. But the Tet Offensive of 1968 was a strategic defeat for America. It confirmed that U.S. battlefield statistics reported by MACV were not only erroneous, but intentionally deceptive. The media had a field day and U.S. confidence and support back home dissolved overnight.

Nolan's detailed history of the enemy's failure to seize and hold key allied strong points in and around Saigon demonstrates why Giap's plan was a tactical failure. It also shows how a number of incompetent senior commanders failed to respond to field intelligence and other early warnings that an enemy offensive was imminent. Only the foresight of Lt. General Fred C. Weyand, the corps commander whose operational responsibilities included Saigon and its approaches, prevented a military disaster in the military complex around the capital. By convincing General William Westmoreland to withdraw a number of U.S. units back format he Cambodian border prior to Tet, and reposition them on the approaches to Saigon, then enemy's attack was stopped dead in its tracks.

Nolan's version of this phase of the Tet Offensive of '68 offers nothing new to military historians. He offers no new insights, no current revelations, no new latent discoveries. That story has been told before by a number of writers – but not from the voices of the MPs turned infantry, the grunts of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, the tankers of the 3/4 Cavalry, the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, the Lurps of F Co/51st Infantry. The real story, as told by these soldiers who stopped the Viet Cong and sent them reeling back to their sanctuaries in Cambodia, is the backbone of The battle For Saigon. As in every Nolan masterpiece, you're there in the field with the real players as the battle unfolds. What more can one ask for?

Next time you're at your local bookstore, pick up a copy of The Battle For Saigon, and while you're there grab any of Nolan's other great books you may have missed. No military library is complete without his entire series.

Buy The Battle For Saigon: Tet 1968

This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.

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