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South Vietnam: The Easter Offensive

Master Sgt. Jacob Mercer (left) prepares to load a AC-130 Spectre 105mm howitzer. Mercer was one of the crewmembers killed on June 18, 1972. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Master Sgt. Jacob Mercer (left) prepares to load a AC-130 Spectre 105mm howitzer. Mercer was one of the crewmembers killed on June 18, 1972. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The results of a deadly new threat -- the man-portable SA-7 surface-to-air missile. The warhead sprayed fragments through the back of this AC-130 and seriously wounded Ken Felty, who provided these photographs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The results of a deadly new threat -- the man-portable SA-7 surface-to-air missile. The warhead sprayed fragments through the back of this AC-130 and seriously wounded Ken Felty, who provided these photographs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The results of a deadly new threat -- the man-portable SA-7 surface-to-air missile. The warhead sprayed fragments through the back of this AC-130 and seriously wounded Ken Felty, who provided these photographs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The results of a deadly new threat -- the man-portable SA-7 surface-to-air missile. The warhead sprayed fragments through the back of this AC-130 and seriously wounded Ken Felty, who provided these photographs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The AC-130’s 105mm gun proved effective against enemy tanks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The AC-130’s 105mm gun proved effective against enemy tanks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

North Vietnamese mobile anti-aircraft gun destroyed by a 500-lb. aerial bomb during the siege of An Loc. (U.S. Air Force photo)

North Vietnamese mobile anti-aircraft gun destroyed by a 500-lb. aerial bomb during the siege of An Loc. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF tactical transports provided critical supplies to besieged forces using low-level drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF tactical transports provided critical supplies to besieged forces using low-level drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF tactical transports provided critical supplies to besieged forces using high-altitude drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF tactical transports provided critical supplies to besieged forces using high-altitude drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

COMMUNIST GAMBLE

With the majority of U.S. troops out of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese sensed an opportunity to end the war with a conventional invasion. On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched the Easter Offensive -- a large, three-pronged drive into South Vietnam using heavy tanks and mobile units. U.S. airpower played an essential role in stopping the attack. The biggest battle occurred during the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc. Airpower not only supplied materiel to the encircled ground forces, but also destroyed nearly all of the North Vietnamese tanks and artillery.

When the Easter Offensive came to a halt, however, North Vietnam controlled much of South Vietnam near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), along with a strip of land along South Vietnam's border with Laos and Cambodia.

Click here to return to the Southeast Asia War Gallery.

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