The following post is by Ryan Moore, a cartographic specialist in the Geography and Map Division.
Hue is a city in central Vietnam, which most Americans may know from the 1968 Battle of Hue, one of the longest and bloodiest battles in the Vietnam War. However, less is known about America’s involvement with the city during World War II. This blog post will present an American military intelligence map from each era.
During World War II, the United States, the free-French government, and local fighters, such as the communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, coordinated to undermine the control of the Nazi collaborationist Vichy French authority and the occupying Japanese Imperial forces. The American, French, and Vietnamese alliance was often tense, as each of the parties had a very different vision for a postwar Vietnam.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a U.S. wartime intelligence agency, mapped Hue’s culturally important citadel and the surrounding area. American intelligence relied on a 1920 French atlas and aerial photography to create the 1945 depiction, shown above and below. The map identifies locations of concern to military and political affairs, such as barracks, rail lines and stations, industry, power plants, and other key sites. A list of nine locations identifies government buildings, public institutions, and hotels. The accuracy of the plotted data is assigned a reliability code in the lower left corner. The map, though stamped “restricted,” is no longer classified.
America’s connection to Vietnam in World War II led to its eventual direct military role during the Vietnam War. Hue served as an important base for South Vietnamese forces and housed American diplomats and advisors. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, intense fighting broke out in the city that resulted in damage to the historic citadel and many other buildings.
In contrast to the 1945 OSS map, less is known about the purpose of this 1:10,000 scale map created during the Vietnam War, shown above, that depicts the city in great detail. Listed in the lower left corner of the map are South Vietnamese military and government installations, and, on the right, are the locations of “Properties used by the U.S. Government Hue, Vietnam.” The list of American properties is faded, as seen below. It notes the residences of American diplomats, civil administrators, and military advisors. The presence of so many different American specialists reflected the all-encompassing role the U.S. played in the civil and military affairs of South Vietnam.
Following the Tet Offensive, President Richard Nixon sought to reduce America’s involvement in the war, particularly through a steady withdrawal of U.S. ground troops. The hope was to hand over control of the war to the South Vietnamese government, who would, in turn, check the communist insurgency. However, the effort failed and the South Vietnamese nation was toppled in 1975, and Vietnam was reunified under a communist government.