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Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces [RVNAF] Strength

In the final stage of the war the French Expeditionary Corps in Indochina totalled 235,721 men (this figure includes 2,460 female military personnel, 380 of whom were nurses). Of this total, 115,477 were Indochinese serving in either regular or auxiliary units. In addition, there were 257,130 men in the armed forces of the Associated States. The vast majority of the Asian contingents in both cases were Vietnamese. This force included 152 infantry battalions, 2 airborne battalions, 2 imperial guard battalions, 2 highlander infantry battalions, 2 armored cavalry squadrons, 6 artillery battalions, and 5 engineer battalions. Under TRIM guidelines these units were reorganized into four standard field divisions of 8,100 men each and six light divisions of 5,800 men each and a number of territorial regiments. The air and sea elements were smaller, ill-equipped, and poorly trained.

When the Indochina War ended, the Vietnamese Armed Forces exceeded 200,000 men. In late 1954, the United States announced its willingness to support the Vietnamese Armed Forces at a level of 90,000 men. This offer was strongly oppose d in Saigon and, in early 1955, the figure was revised to 100,000. Then, later in the year, when it became evident that the end of the Indochina War had not brought an end to the fighting in the South, the figure was raised to 150,000 where it remained until the expansion of the U.S. support effort in 1961.

By 1960 the major elements of the Republic of Vietnam armed forces were three corps headquarters, seven infantry divisions, one airborne brigade, the Ranger force of about 9,000 men, three Marine battalions, a token Air Force and Navy, and a small number of logistical support units. In 1960 the Military Assistance Advisory Group reported that the Republic of Vietnam armed forces were about 13,000 below its authorized 150,000 level and that both the Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps were below strength and still largely untrained. The Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps were not considered part of the Republic of Vietnam Army or armed forces until 1964. MAP support was available for about 25,000 Civil Guardsmen, but the Self-Defense Corps was still not receiving any financial aid. In view of the growing insurgency these force levels had to be raised and both the training program and the organization of the Army modified to provide the armed forces with a greatly strengthened counterinsurgency capability.

By 1962 many of the measures taken during the past two years began to bear fruit. Significant gains were made in all areas owing to the buildup of U.S. advisory and operational support forces, and the greater strength and effectiveness of both the South Vietnam Army and the territorial units. Regular force strength grew to approximately 219,000, exceeding the 200,000 authorized level. The Civil Guard expanded to a total of 77,000 and the Self-Defense Corps to 99,500, and a new paramilitary force, the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG), was established and, by the end of 1962, totaled about 15,000. In 1963 MAP supported levels rose to 225,000 for the Vietnamese armed forces, 86,000 for the Civil Guard, and 104,000 for the Self-Defense Corps.

At the end of 1967, the Government of South Vietnam had a total of about three quarters of a million men under arms -- about 341,000 in the regular forces (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force,) 150,000 each in the Regional and Popular Forces, 42,000 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) forces and 70,000 National Police. The regular Army stood at about 301,000 compared with 284,000 in December 1966. A major effort was made in 1967 to bring the "present-for-duty" strength of the Army maneuver battalions up to an acceptable level. This was substantially accomplished with the increase of about 17,000 men in Army strength.

The communists' Tet offensive of February 1968 marked a turning point for the armed forces in terms of morale, manpower and equipment. During the lunar new year holiday the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army hurled 84,000 troops against the South Vietnamese and their allies, and Hanoi assured its troops that ARVN units would desert to them in droves., But not a single squad went over to the enemy, and the communists lost half their attacking force (20,300 to the South Vietnamese, 18,581 to the Americans and the rest to other allied forces). The ARVN went over to the offensive in mid-1968. Amid a rare burst of public praise for their showing against the heaviest attacks the enemy could mount, the regulars of the ARVN division and the "Ruff Puffs" of the RF companies and PF platoons experienced a soaring of morale unequaled in the army's 20-year history.

The Tet offensive spurred the Saigon government to new action. The National Assembly in mid-June 1968 answered President Thieu's call for general mobilization by lowering the minimum and raising the maximum draft ages. It passed a law inducting men from 18 to 38 into military service and ordering youths of 17 and older men from 39 through 43 into civil defense duty. The primary goal was to augment army strength by 268,000 recruits before December 1968, a 33 percent increase (excluding casualties suffered during the mobilization period). The quota was met well before the deadline, with 220,000 inducted before the summer was out. Of them, 161,000 chose their branch of service by volunteering for induction.

By 1969, the Republic of Vietnam, fully mobilized for the first time in two decades of warfare, had trained one out of every nine citizens to fight the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. With 1,045,500 uniformed servicemen augmented by nearly as many civilian home-defense recruits, 11.7 percent of the population was under arms. South Vietnamese national, territorial and paramilitary troops, strongly reinforced as a result of a 1968 general mobilization call, represented six percent of the country's 17,400,000 people. On a proportionate population basis, these full-time warriors -- excluding the unpaid civilians trained and armed to protect their home villages -- constituted a force three and a half times the size of the United States' standing military establishment. If the United States had six percent of its population in uniform, it would have 12 million instead of 3.4 million servicemen. The Republic's 1,045,500 uniformed men were due to be increased by another 71,000 soldiers, 8,000 sailors and 10,000 policemen before the end of 1969. Already they made up nearly 63 percent of all forces opposing the communists in Vietnam.

In 1969 the nation's armed forces included

  • The regular 10 infantry divisions and three independent regiments of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) totaling 384,000 men;
  • More than 46,000 elite striking forces like the three brigades of the Airborne Division, the 20 battalions of the Rangers, the 9,500 Marines, and the few but highly trained men of the Vietnamese Special Forces;
  • The territorial or militia troops, including 218,000 Regional Forces (RF) and 173,000 Popular Forces (PF) for a total of 391,000 men;
  • A Navy of more than 21,000 men, including 11 percent officers and 27 percent petty officers;
  • An Air Force of 18 squadrons, including two jet squadrons (to be increased to at least four), some 400 aircraft and 21,000 men, including more than 1,000 pilots;
  • Paramilitary troops totaling 182,500 men, including more than 79,000 National Police, 45,000 CIDG troops (tough combat patrol specialists -- Montagnards, Vietnamese, Khmers and Nung Chinese -- of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, led by the Special Forces), 4,000 former Viet Cong in Armed Propaganda Teams, 1,500 former Viet Cong serving as Kit Carson Scouts for U.S. Marines, 46,000 armed Revolutionary Development (RD) team members, and 7,000 Truong Son team members doing similar RD work in hamlets of the Central Highlands.
  • People's Civil Self-Defense Forces of about one million youths, women, veterans and older men, organized since May 1968 to defend their own communities, with some 800,000 already trained and with weapons already issued to them on the basis of one submachine gun, rifle, carbine or shotgun to every three members. While not listed as members of the armed forces, they were an important adjunct in urban neighborhoods and rural hamlets

At the beginning of 1972 South Vietnamese combat strength was formidable: about 120 infantry battalions in 11 divisions supported by 58 artillery battalions, 19 battalion-size armored units, and many engineer and signal formations. On the front line were thirty-seven Ranger border defense battalions (mostly former CIDG units) and in reserve, twenty-one Ranger battalions and both the airborne and the Marine divisions. This powerful force of almost 429,000 men (South Vietnam Army and Marine Corps) was supported by a Navy of 43,000 men operating 1,680 craft and an Air Force of 51,000 men flying well over 1,000 aircraft, including about 500 helicopters. The territorial force became stabilized at about 300,000 Regional Forces and 250,000 Popular Forces men, marshaled into about 1,679 Regional Forces companies and 8,356 Popular Forces platoons.

REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM ARMED FORCES STRENGTH a

  Army Air Force Navy Marine Corps Total Regular Regional Forces Popular Forces Total Territorial Grand Total
1954-55
170,000
3,500
2,200
1,500
177,200
54,00 b
48,000 b
102,000
279,200
1959-60
136,000 c
4,600
4,300
2,000
146,000
49,000 c
48,000
97,000
243,000
1964
220,000
11,000
12,000
7,000
250,000
96,000
168,000
264,000
514,000
1967
303,000
16,000
16,000
8,000
343,000
151,000
149,000 c
300,000
643,000
1968
380,000
19,000
19,000
9,000
427,000
220,000
173,000
393,000
643,000
1969
416,000
36,000
30,000
11,000
493,000
190,000
214,000
404,000
897,000
1970
416,000
46,000
40,000
13,000
515,000
207,000
246,000
453,000
968,000
1971-72
410,000 c
50,000
42,000
14,000
516,000
284,000
248,000
532,000
1,048,000

a All figures are approximate only.

b Civil Guard (later Regional Forces) and Self-Defense Corps (later Popular Forces) were officially authorized only in 1956.

c Decline due to increased desertions and recruiting shortfalls.




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