The Fall of Saigon During the Vietnam War: Causes and Timeline

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Fall of Saigon signaled the official end of the Vietnam War and is a memory etched in the minds of Americans who saw TV footage of desperate people falling from helicopters evacuating the U.S. embassy. Learn about the causes and timeline of the Fall of Saigon and the final offensive by the North Vietnamese that led to the collapse of the South Vietnamese military and government. Updated: 10/08/2021

On the Precipice of Collapse

On January 27, 1973, the United States entered into the Paris Peace Accords with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. The agreement officially ended the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War and called for the permanent ceasefire between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, officially known as the Republic of Vietnam. President Richard Nixon promised the South Vietnamese leadership, more specifically President Nguyen Van Thieu, that he would recommit American forces to Vietnam if the North Vietnamese violated the peace agreement.

Unfortunately for Nixon, a re-commitment proved to be legally impossible. In a series of legislative maneuvers in 1973, Congress rescinded all remaining power available to the president to conduct further war in Vietnam. In June, Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment, which imposed financial restraints as a way of ending all the United States military activity within Southeast Asia. This was followed by the War Powers Resolution, passed on November 7, which required the president to seek Congressional approval to deploy combat troops internationally.

Remaining elements of the United States were systematically withdrawn from Vietnam. The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which was the primary military command unit during the war, was terminated and replaced with the Defense Attaché Office (DAO), whose mission was to coordinate aid in South Vietnam. The United States no longer posed a viable threat to the North Vietnamese goal of unification.

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  • 0:01 On the Precipice of Collapse
  • 1:22 The Final Offensive
  • 3:23 Aftermath
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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The Final Offensive

With the majority of the United States removed from the war, North Vietnam prepared for a final offensive, known as the Spring Offensive of 1975. On December 13, 1974, the North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam, and the first battle, the Battle for Phuoc Long, was underway. By January 6, North Vietnam had defeated South Vietnam at Phuoc Long. President Gerald Ford, who had just assumed office in August 1974 following Nixon's resignation, pleaded with Congress to send aid to bolster South Vietnam. His plea was ultimately rejected.

From January to April, 1975, North Vietnam systematically marched through important areas in South Vietnam. North Vietnam captured the Central Highlands, followed by the cities of Hue and Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay, and an installation at Xuan Loc. With these strategic losses, President Thieu resigned on April 21, but not before issuing a scathing criticism of American policy in Vietnam. Regardless, North Vietnam turned its focus to the capital city of Saigon.

In the meantime, the DAO prepared for a full evacuation of American personnel as well as a select amount of South Vietnamese civilians. At the beginning of April, the United States approved of Operation Babylift to evacuate orphaned children from the streets of South Vietnam, more specifically Saigon. Estimates suggested that over 3,000 children were safely removed from South Vietnam prior to its fall via Babylift. Simultaneously, with the resignation of Thieu, Duong Van Minh, the man who had previously failed as president of South Vietnam in 1963, returned as the new leader.

With North Vietnam shelling the Tan Son Nhut airbase and its forces moving closer to Saigon, the DAO immediately commenced Operation Frequent Wind as a means of evacuating the remaining United States personnel from the capital city. Over the course of two days, the United States managed to remove over 100 military personnel and roughly 7,000 civilians from South Vietnam. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese forces steamrolled through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon. Televised broadcasts captured the Fall of Saigon, which marked the official end of the Vietnam War.

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