Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 29, 1973: U.S. withdraws from Vietnam

Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America's direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam.

In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson ordered the former, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history.

During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists' Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks.

In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the new U.S. president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and "Vietnamization" of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply routes along Vietnam's borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced.

In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year, making it the most costly of the Vietnam War.

On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, "You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated." The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.

Also: Mar 29, 1951:The Mad Bomber strikes in New York

On this day in 1951, a homemade device explodes at Grand Central Station in New York City, startling commuters but injuring no one. In the next few months, five more bombs were found at landmark sites around New York, including the public library. Authorities realized that this new wave of terrorist acts was the work of the Mad Bomber.

New York's first experience with the so-called Mad Bomber was on November 16, 1940, when a pipe bomb was left in the Edison building with a note that read, "Con Edison crooks, this is for you." More bombs were recovered in 1941, each more powerful than the last, until the Mad Bomber sent a note in December stating, "I will make no more bomb units for the duration of the war." He went on to say that Con Edison, New York's electric utility company, would be brought to justice in due time.
The patriotic Mad Bomber made good on his promise, although he did periodically send threatening notes to the press. After his flurry of activity in 1951, the Mad Bomber was silent until a bomb went off at Radio City Music Hall in 1954. In 1955, the Mad Bomber hit Grand Central Station, Macy's, the RCA building and the Staten Island Ferry.

The police had no luck finding the Mad Bomber, but an investigative team working for Con Ed finally tracked him down. Looking through their employment records, they found that George Peter Metesky had been a disgruntled ex-employee since an accident in 1931. Metesky was enraged that Con Ed refused to pay disability benefits and resorted to terrorism as his revenge.

Metesky, a rather mild-mannered man, was found living with his sisters in Connecticut. He was sent to a mental institution in April 1957 where he stayed until his release in 1973.

Taken from: [29/03/12]

In South Africa: Date: 29 March, 1879 - The Battle of Kambula

Battle of Kambula took place in 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War when a Zulu Army attacked the British camp at Kambula. It resulted in a decisive Zulu defeat and is considered to be the turning point of the Anglo-Zulu War.

Following the disaster at Hlobane on 28 March 1879, Colonel Evelyn Wood’s forces prepared to receive an attack by the entire Zulu impi, of which they had only previously encountered the leading sections. Soon after dawn of 29 March, Transvaal Rangers rode out to locate the enemy impi, the cattle were put out to graze and, after some deliberation, two companies were despatched to collect firewood. By 11am the Rangers had returned with the news that the impi was on the move and was to attack Kambula at noon. Wood also now received information that the impi was nearly 20,000 men strong, consisting of regiments that had already defeated the British at Isandlwana and other battles and that many of the Zulus were armed with rifles taken from the British dead at these battles. Shortly after this the Zulu impi was sighted 5 miles away across the plain, coming on due westwards in five columns. However, the warriors of the impi had not eaten for three days.[5] The woodcutters and cattle were brought back in and, confident that the defences could be manned within a minute and a half of an alarm being sounded, Wood ordered the men to have their dinners.

Cetshwayo responded to pleas from the abaQulasi for aid against the raids of Wood's troops by ordering the main Zulu army to help them. He ordered it not to attack fortified positions but to lure the British troops into the open even if it had to march on the Transvaal to accomplish this.[6] His orders were not followed. The impi moved and Wood initially thought it was advancing on the Transvaal but it halted a few miles south of Kambula and formed up for an attack.

Kambula’s defences

The defences on Kambula consisted of a hexagonal laager formed with wagons that were tightly locked together, and a separate kraal for the cattle, constructed on the edge of the southern face of the ridge. Trenches and earth parapets surrounded both sections, and a stone-built redoubt had been built on a rise just north of the kraal. A palisade blocked the hundred yards between the kraal and redoubt, while four 7-pounders were positioned between the redoubt and the laager to cover the northern approaches. Two more guns in the redoubt covered the north-east.

Two companies were sited in the redoubt; another company occupied the cattle kraal and the remaining infantry manned the laager. The gunners had been told that if the Zulus got in close they were to abandon their guns and make for the laager. In all, Wood’s force mustered 121 Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, 1,238 infantry and 638 mounted men. With headquarters staff, it totalled 2,000 men, of which 88 were sick in hospital.


At 12.45 on 29 March 1879, the tents were struck, reserve ammunition was distributed, and the troops took up their battle stations. As the troops moved to their posts they could see the Zulu right horn, circling north out of British artillery range before halting north-west of the camp. The left horn and centre of the impi continued westwards until they were due south of Kambula. At 1.30 Lieutenant-Colonel Redvers Henry Buller suggested his mounted troops sting the right horn into premature attack, which was agreed to. The men rode out to within range of the massed Zulus, fired a volley and then galloped back, closely followed by a great wave of 11,000 Zulu warriors. As soon as the horsemen had reached Kambula, and cleared the field of fire, the British infantry opened fire with support from their four 7-pounders firing shell, and then when the Zulus got closer canister shot. A small number of Zulus managed to burst into the laager, and were repelled with bayonets, while the bulk of the advance was held at bay by the steady British musketry and gunfire. Some of the Zulu force swung right to come in against the western sides of the laager, but were met with equally effective resistance. After about half an hour the Zulu right horn drew back to the north-east.

At 2.15, as the right horn made its withdrawal, the left horn and centre surged up out of the ravine, their leading warriors falling to crossfire from the laager and kraal as they came over the crest. However, more and more swarmed on to the glacis between the cliff and the defenders, funneling into the gap between the kraal and laager. The Zulus soon forced their way into the cattle Kraal and fought hand-to-hand with men of the 1/13th company. The cattle in the kraal hampered both sides, but with Zulu pressure mounting up the heavily outnumbered British troops managed to extricate themselves and pull back to the redoubt. Zulu riflemen were now able to open fire from behind the walls of the kraal to give their advancing comrades cover. At about this time the right horn came on again from the north-east, charging across the north face of the redoubt towards the guns and the eastern sides of the laager.
The closing stages of the battle of Kambula. A company of the 1/13th in the foreground are driving the Zulus back into the ravine.
Although now attacked on both sides, Wood appreciated that the situation to the south was critical and ordered two companies to clear the Zulus off the glacis. Led by Major Hackett the men formed in line with bayonets fixed and charged across the open ground, forcing the Zulus back over the rim. The troops then lined the crest and opened volley fire into the packed warriors in the ravine. The counter-attack had succeeded perfectly but Hackett’s men suddenly found themselves under fire from their right, where Zulu marksmen had concealed themselves in a refuse pit. Hackett sounded the 'Retire' and his men returned to the cover of the laager, but not before losing a colour-sergeant, a subaltern and himself receiving a blinding head wound. The sight of this withdrawal encouraged the Zulus in the ravine to charge again, but along the narrow killing zone in front of the laager they could not this time prevail against the controlled volleys from behind the wagons and the redoubt.
On the north side the Royal Artillery men fought their guns in the open, not taking cover, and poured round after round directly into the right horn.

The Zulus charged again and again, with unwavering courage, but the head of each charge was shot away and at about 5pm Wood sensed the impetus was going out of their attack. Two companies moved to clear the kraal and lined the rim of the cliff with a further company to fire into the dead ground. As soon as the Zulus began to pull away eastwards he ordered Buller to mount his men up and pursue. The Zulus were harried mercilessly for 7 miles, mounted troops firing one handed with carbines from the saddle or spearing them with discarded assegais. The Frontier Light Horse men singled abaQulusi warriors for their special attention, chasing them as far as Hlobane and extracting a savage revenge for their comrades killed the day before at the Battle of Hlobane.


Over 800 Zulu dead were counted in the immediate vicinity of the position and hundreds more perished in the ravine and during the pursuit. 18 British soldiers were killed, and 8 officers and 57 men wounded, 11 of which later died. Kambula is considered as the turning point of the war, for the British demonstrated that shield and assegai were no match for an entrenched force with artillery and the Martini-Henry. Never again would an impi fight against a prepared position with the ferocity and resolution displayed up to this date.


  1. ^ Laband, John. Historical dictionary of the Zulu wars, Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 0810860783, p.6..
  2. ^ Knight & Castle, Zulu War, 1992, p.69
  3. ^ F.E. Colenso, History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London, 1880, p. 353, "The strength of the enemy was thought to be 20,000..."
  4. ^ F.E. Colenso, History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London, 1880, p. 353, "The strength of the enemy was thought to be 20,000 of whom 1000 are supposed to have been killed.".
  5. ^ Donald R. Morris, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, The Washing of the Spears, Da Capo Press, 1998, p.496
  6. ^ Knight & Castle, Zulu War, 1992, p.69
 Taken from: [29/03/2012]

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.