The Battle of Hue
Col Stanly S. Hughes
The Battle of Hue in 1968 was the bloodiest battle of Vietnam. On the night of January 30th 1969 the North Vietnamese (NVA) launched a massive offensive against the south called the Tet offensive. This offensive attacked all major political and military objectives within South Vietnam. This offensive was supposed to conduct a “shock and awe” that would demoralize the South Vietnam and Allied Forces. The city of Hue was one of these cities. At midnight the NVA started their assault on Hue City sending an entire division to attack and ending up seizing all of Hue City except for the ARVN Headquarters and the MACV Headquarters in the southern part. This caused the Marines and ARVN to fight an enemy largely outnumber in an urban environment. (O’Neill, 2003) The Battle of Hue was the deadliest battle of Vietnam. Due to Hue City’s religious artifacts and buildings the allied forces were not allowed to use heavy artillery at the beginning of the war. This caused fierce building to building, block to block urban combat. Colonel Stanly S. Hughes was the allied commander of the 1st Marine Regiment. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He led the most destructive assault against the NVA that left the city in ruins but finally pushed the North Vietnamese out of the city. (O’Neill, 2003)
The marines were not prepared for urban combat. This was the first time they had seen any combat to this scale since World War II. Col Stanly S. Hughes was aware of this and had to find different ways to incorporate the warfighting functions into this battle. The City of Hue was a religious relic; no heavy artillery was aloud within the first days of the battle. Due to the lack of accurate intelligence on the North Vietnam Army COL Hughes had to use mission command and supported his subordinate commanders with every asset he could acquire. Colonel Hughes successful leadership and understanding of the operations process allowed him to visualize, describe, direct, lead, and assess the battle. Colonel Stanley S. Hughes successfully used the warfighting functions by understanding and visualizing the battle field allowing him to direct and lead his commanders.
Col Hughes was able to visualize that battlefield by understanding close quarter combat. He had realized that this was the first time many of his marines have seen urban warfare and that no one had been properly trained for this battle. This made for a very difficult first day of combat with high death tolls. It could take days to clear a building and tanks would make it only a few hundred yards before enemy anti-tank round would destroy it. The NVA was so well dug into fighting positions in the city they had every road and doorway covered. With the restrictions of heavy artillery at the beginning of the battle Colonel Hughes had to find another way through. Colonel Hughes assigned battalion objectives and then told his subordinate commanders, "You do it anyway you want, and you get any heat from above, I'll take care of that". After this order battalion commanders started creating teams which included, 3.5- inch rockets, 106 millimeter recoilless rockets mounted on small-mechanized wheeled vehicles, tanks, or gun jeeps. Colonel Hughes’s men then started making their own roads and doors. Using the 106mm recoilless rifle Soldiers started making their own roads, blowing holes through walls and opening their own doors through buildings. (BURLESON, 1988, p. 38) Soldiers also started using tear gas before entering a room or buildings causing the NVA to run out it into gunfire. During an after action review Colonel Hughes stated: “The nature of the terrain and the stubborn "hold at all cost" tactics of the enemy forces introduced a new concept of warfare to the Marines in Vietnam. It took each of the battalion a period of about 24 hours to adjust to these new tactics and determine the most effective method of attack...
References: BURLESON, W. M. (1988). MISSION ANALYSIS DURING FUTURE MILITARY. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Command and General Staff College.
O’Neill, E. J. (2003). LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE BATTLE FOR HUE. Louisiana State University.
Villard, E. The 1968 Tet Offensive Battles. Fort McNair, D.C: U.S. Army Center of Military History.
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