Worldwide Terrorism & Crime Against Humanity   Index

The Viet Cong Massacre
at Hue South Vietnam
5,800 Civilan Dead or Missing

Immediately following the recapture of Hue, Mike Kukler; NCOIC of MACV's Public Information Office filmed the discovery of mass graves of murdered civilians within the City of Hue; The films existance went unknown for many months; and after viewing the film General William Westmoreland later told Kukler; had he been able to provide President Johnson with the tape at the time of the US debate surrounding the Tet Offensive; that American Opinion could have been turned around...The tape is graphic and clear evidence of the communist crime of genocide against a civilian population.

(Kukler later wrote Operation Barroom! Detailing the parachuting of Elephants into isolated and remote Montanyard Villages)

The Massacre at Hue

A Communist force of 12,000 Viet Cong invaded the city during the Tet Offensive the night of the new moon marking the new lunar year, January 30, 1968.

The Communists held the city for 26 days and then was driven out by military action.

In the wake of this Tet offensive, 5,800 Hue civilians were dead or missing.

Most of the missing are presumed dead.  As a large percentage of the bodies have since been found in single and mass graves throughout Thua Thien Province which surrounds this cultural capital of Vietnam.

Marines take cover near a demolished M-113 armoured personnel carrier in Hue.
They are approaching the St. Joan of Arc School and church in the City of Hue. (1)

The Battle

The Battle of Hue was part of the Communist Winter-Spring campaign of 1967-68.
The campaign was divided into three phases:

Phase I came in October, November, and December of 1967 and entailed "coordinated fighting methods," that is, fairly large, set-piece battles against important fixed installations or allied concentrations. The battles of Loc Ninh in Binh Long Province, Dak To in Kontum Province, and Con Tien in Quang Tri Province, all three in the mountainous interior of South Vietnam near the Cambodian and Lao borders, were typical and, in fact, major elements in Phase I.

Phase II came in January, February, and March of 1968 and involved great use of "independent fighting methods," that is, large numbers of attacks by fairly small units, simultaneously, over a vast geographic area and using the most refined and advanced techniques of guerrilla war. Whereas Phase I was fought chiefly with North Vietnamese Regular (PAVN) troops (at that time some 55,000 were in the South), Phase II was fought mainly with Southern Communist (PLAF) troops. The crescendo of Phase II was the Tet offensive in which 70,000 troops attacked 32 of South Vietnam's largest population centres, including the city of Hue.

Phase III, in April, May, and June of 1968, originally was to have combined the independent and coordinated fighting methods, culminating in a great fixed battle somewhere. This was what captured documents guardedly referred to as the "second wave". Possibly it was to have been Khe Sanh, the U.S. Marine base in the far northern corner of South Vietnam. Or perhaps it was to have been Hue. There was no second wave chiefly because events in Phases I and II did not develop as expected. Still, the war reached its bloodiest tempo in eight years, during the period from the Battle of Hue in February until the lifting of the siege of Khe Sanh in late summer.

American losses during those three months averaged nearly 500 killed per week; the South Vietnamese (GVN) losses were double that rate; and the PAVN-PLAF losses were nearly eight times the American loss rate.

In the Winter-Spring Campaign, the Communists began with about 195,000 PLAF main force and PAVN troops. During the nine months they lost (killed or permanently disabled) about 85,000 men.

The Winter-Spring Campaign was an all-out Communist bid to break the back of the South Vietnamese armed forces and drive the government, along with the Allied forces, into defensive city enclaves. Strictly speaking, the Battle of Hue was part of Phase I rather than Phase II since it employed "co-ordinated fighting methods" and involved North Vietnamese troops rather than southern guerrillas. It was fought, on the Communist side, largely by two veteran North Vietnamese army divisions: The Fifth 324-B, augmented by main forces battalions and some guerrilla units along with some 150 local civilian commissars and cadres.

The Battle of Hue consisted of these major developments:

The initial Communist assault, chiefly by the 800th and 802nd battalions, had the force and momentum to carry it across Hue. By dawn of the first day the Communists controlled all the city except the headquarters of the First ARVN Division and the compound housing American military advisors. The Vietnamese and Americans moved up reinforcements with orders to reach the two holdouts and strengthen them. The Communists moved up another battalion, the 804th, with orders to intercept the reinforcement forces. This failed, the two points were reinforced and never again seriously threatened.

The battle took on the aspects of a siege. The Communists were in the Citadel and on the western edge of the city. The Vietnamese and Americans on the other three sides, including that portion of Hue south of the river, determined to drive them out, hoping initially to do so with artillery fire and air strikes. But the Citadel was well built and soon it became apparent that if the Communists' orders were to hold, they could be expelled only by city warfare, fighting house by house and block by block, a slow and costly form of combat.

By the third week of February the encirclement of the Citadel was well under way and Vietnamese troops and American Marines were advancing yard by yard through the Citadel. On the morning of February 24, Vietnamese First Division soldiers tore down the Communist flag that had flown for 24 days over the outer wall and hoisted their own. The battle was won, although sporadic fighting would continue outside the city. Some 2,500 Communists died during the battle and another 2,500 would die as Communists elements were pursued beyond Hue. Allied dead were set at 357.

Finding the Bodies & Then More Bodies...

In the chaos that existed following the battle, the first order of civilian business was emergency relief, in the form of food shipments, prevention of epidemics, emergency medical care, etc. Then came the home rebuilding effort. Only later did Hue begin to tabulate its casualties. No true post-attack census has yet been taken. In March local officials reported that 1,900 civilians were hospitalized with war wounds and they estimated that some 5,800 persons were unaccounted for.

Gia Hoi High School Yard

The first discovery of Communist victims came in the Gia Hoi High School yard, on February 26 ; eventually 170 bodies were recovered.

The 1200

In the next few months 18 additional grave sites were found, the largest of which were Tang Quang Tu Pagoda (67 victims), Bai Dau (77), Cho Thong area (an estimated 100), the imperial tombs area (201), Thien Ham (approximately 200), and Dong Gi (approximately 100). In all, almost 1,200 bodies were found in hastily dug, poorly concealed graves.

At least half of these showed clear evidence of atrocity killings: hands wired behind backs, rags stuffed in mouths, bodies contorted but without wounds (indicating burial alive). The other nearly 600 bore wound marks but there was no way of determining whether they died by firing squad or incidental to the battle.

Sand Dunes

The second major group of finds was discovered in the first seven months of 1969 in Phu Thu district-the Sand Dune Finds and Le Xa Tay-and Huong Thuy district-Xuan Hoa-Van Duong-in late March and April. Additional grave sites were found in Vinh Loc district in May and in Nam Hoa district in July.

The largest of this group were the Sand Dune Finds in the three sites of Vinh Luu, Le Xa Dong and Xuan 0 located in rolling, grass tufted sand dune country near the South China Sea. Separated by salt-marsh valleys, these dunes were ideal for graves. Over 800 bodies were uncovered in the dunes.

In the Sand Dune Find, the pattern had been to tie victims together in groups of 10 or 20, line them up in front of a trench dug by local corvee labour and cut them down with submachine gun (a favourite local souvenir is a spent Russian machine gun shell taken from a grave). Frequently the dead were buried in layers of three and four, which makes identification particularly difficult.

Da Mai Creek & The Phu Cam Death March

In Nam Hoa district came the third, or Da Mai Creek Find, which also has been called the Phu Cam death march, made on September 19, 1969. Three Communist defectors told intelligence officers of the 101st Airborne Brigade that they had witnessed the killing of several hundred people at Da Mai Creek, about 10 miles south of Hue, in February of 1968. The area is wild, unpopulated, virtually inaccessible. The Brigade sent in a search party, which reported that the stream contained a large number of human bones.

By piecing together bits of information, it was determined that this is what happened at Da Mai Creek: On the fifth day of Tet in the Phu Cam section of Hue, where some three-quarters of the City's 40,000 Roman Catholics lived, a large number of people had taken sanctuary from the battle in a local church, a common method in Vietnam of escaping war. Many in the building were not in fact Catholic.

A Communist political commissar arrived at the church and ordered out about 400 people, some by name and some apparently because of their appearance (prosperous looking and middle-aged businessmen, for example). He said they were going to the "liberated area" for three days of indoctrination, after which each could return home.

They were marched nine kilometres south to a pagoda where the Communists had established a head-quarters. There 20 were called out from the group, assembled before a drumhead court, tried, found guilty, executed and buried in the pagoda yard. The remainder were taken across the river and turned over to a local Communist unit in an exchange that even involved banding the political commissar a receipt. It is probable that the commissar intended that their prisoners should be re-educated and returned, but with the turnover, matters passed from his control.

During the next several days, exactly how many is not known, both captive and captor wandered the country-side.

At some point the local Communists decided to eliminate witnesses: Their captives were led through six kilometres of some of the most rugged terrain in Central Vietnam, to Da Mai Creek. There they were shot or brained and their bodies left to wash in the running stream.\

The 101st Airborne Brigade burial detail found it impossible to reach the creek overland, roads being non-existent or impassable. The creek's foliage is what in Vietnam is called double-canopy, that is, two layers, one consisting of brush and trees close to the ground, and the second of tall trees whose branches spread out high above. Beneath is permanent twilight. Brigade engineers spent two days blasting a hole through the double-canopy by exploding dynamite dangled on long wires beneath their hovering helicopters. This cleared a landing pad for helicopter hearses. Quite clearly this was a spot where death could be easily hidden even without burial.

The Da Mai Creek bed, for nearly a hundred yards up the ravine, yielded skulls, skeletons and pieces of human bones. The dead had been left above ground (for the animists among them, this meant their souls would wander the lonely earth forever, since such is the fate of the unburied dead), and 20 months in the running stream had left bones clean and white.

Local authorities later released a list of 428 names of persons whom they said had been positively identified from the creek bed remains. The Communists' rationale for their excesses was elimination of "traitors to the revolution." The list of 428 victims breaks down as follows: 25 per cent military: two officers, the rest NCO's and enlisted men; 25 per cent students; 50 per cent civil servants, village and hamlet officials, service personnel of various categories, and ordinary workers.

The fourth or Phu Thu Salt Flat Finds came in November, 1969, near the fishing village of Luong Vien some ten miles east of Hue, another desolate region. Government troops early in the month began an intensive effort to clear the area of remnants of the local Communist organization.

Phu Thu

People of Luong Vien, population 700, who had remained silent in the presence of troops for 20 months apparently felt secure enough from Communist revenge to break silence and lead officials to the find. Based on descriptions from villagers whose memories are not always clear, local officials estimate the number of bodies at Phu Thu to be at least 300 and possibly 1,000.

The story remains uncomplicated  If the estimates by Hue officials are even approximately correct, nearly 2,000 people are still missing.

After the battle, the GVN's total estimated
civilian casualties resulting from Battle of Hue - 7600

Wounded (hospitalized or outpatients) with injures attributable to warfare -1900 subtotal 5700

Estimated civilian deaths due to accident of battle - 844 / subtotal 4756
First finds-bodies discovered immediately post battle, 1968 -1173 / subtotal 3583

Second finds, including Sand Dune finds, March-July, 1969 (est.) - 809 / subtotal 2774

Third find, Da Mai Creek find (Nam Hoa district) September, 1969 - 428 / subtotal 2346

Fourth Finds-Phu Thu Salt Flat find, November, 1969 (est.) -300 / subtotal 2046

Miscellaneous finds during 1969 (approximate) -100


The Battle For Hue

The city of Hue, South Vietnam, was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War. Three understrength U.S. Marine battalions, consisting of fewer than 2,500 men, attacked and soundly defeated more than 10,000 entrenched enemy troops, liberating Hue for South Vietnam.