The Streets of Saigon on the Morning of the Coup

Footage from a special CBS News broadcast showing the streets of Saigon on the morning of the military coup that deposed South Vietnam's first president.

This is what the military revolt looked like in South Vietnam's capital city of Saigon on Saturday morning, November 2, 1963. All night Friday, the guns of the rebel forces had been firing on the loyal government troops and their installations. All night the shells had fallen on, or near, the presidential palace, where President Ngo Dinh Diem and his younger brother and chief adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, refused to surrender.

The complacent attitude of the President and his brother was a product of their own machinations. Ngo Dinh Nhu, the commander of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces and of a private secret police force, had arranged for a phony coup attempt, code-named Operation Bravo, to take place on that very day. The false coup attempt was meant to draw dissident military officers out into the open.

Lieutenant General Ton That Dinh had been put in charge of Operation Bravo. Unbeknownst to Diem and Nhu, Dinh was a double agent. He had ordered rebel army units and armored vehicles into the capital, ostensibly to participate in the staged coup. In truth, these units were there to reinforce a genuine coup d'├ętat.

On Saturday morning, snipers were everywhere. Saigon city streets rang with the rapid explosion of mortar shells, over a background of shouts and cries. Tank guns were firing, as were submachine guns. The rebel forces had clearly moved according to a well-constructed plan, and they carried it out with skill, sealing off sections of the noisy, smoking city, and neutralizing the loyalist forces, neighborhood by neighborhood.

It was planned with intelligence - that would be a soldier's view. But even among soldiers the battle broke down into little pieces and became a man with a gun, guarding a man who had had a gun, but now knelt on the sidewalk on the street, with his arms tied with a rope.