Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces [RVNAF]
Công minh - Liêm chính (1967 - 1975)
(Fatherland - Justice - Integrity)
Ngo Dinh Diem pressed for the complete independence of South Vietnam and called for an early withdrawal of the French Expeditionary Corps. The South Vietnamese Army had been created in 1949 out of units that had been native auxiliaries to the French Union Forces; these units were commanded by French officers and fought alongside regular French Army units. A series of decrees by the government of Bao Dai, recognized by the French as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the new State of Vietnam, provided a judicial basis for the evolving armed forces. A Ministry of National Defense headed by a Secretary of State for National Defense was established on 19 September 1949. A Vietnamese Air Force was authorized on 25 June 1951, a Vietnamese Navy on 6 March 1952, and a Marine Corps by decree of 13 October 1954.
The similarity between the Vietnamese situation of 1954 and the Korean situation of 1950 prompted the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam to concentrate on developing a South Vietnamese force capable of meeting an overt invasion from North Vietnam. While the threat of an external aggression was real, it was not until 1959 that the internal subversion and insurgency openly supported by the north was recognized as the major threat and that a strong effort to give South Vietnam a counterinsurgency capability began.
By 1960 it was apparent that the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam were incapable of dealing with the growing insurgency. Since 1956 the Viet Cong had been slowly turning the south into a battlefield of unconventional warfare and eroding the limited authority of Saigon in the countryside. Assassinations and other acts of terrorism began to rise rapidly and for the first time battalion-size attacks occurred against isolated posts and small towns. When, on 26 January 1960, the Viet Cong overran a South Vietnamese Army regimental headquarters in Tay Ninh Province and captured large amounts of arms and ammunition, U.S. planners realized that new and forceful actions and programs were needed if the government of Vietnam was to survive.
The civil unrest and political instability that gripped the Republic of Vietnam from 1963 to 1965 had disastrous effects on the armed forces whose morale dropped to a new low by mid-1964. Two successive coups created numerous changes in the command structure and seriously impaired the administrative and military efficiency of the Army. Short tenures prevented commanders from gaining the full support of their troops, and the confusion was further aggravated by junior officers who openly expressed dissatisfaction and spread discontent among the rank and file. In this atmosphere there was little incentive for conducting normal operations, and the war effort ground to a halt. By the end of 1964 the enemy had clearly seized the initiative, North Vietnamese Army units had been committed, and larger Viet Cong units were maneuvering around the capital area. Once again the survival of the government of South Vietnam was in doubt.
In September 1966 the government of Vietnam decided to integrate the separate Regional Forces and Popular Forces headquarters at the Joint General Staff, corps, division, sector, and subsector into the regular military commands at these echelons. Two advantages ensued from this arrangement: fewer people were required for staff duty, thus releasing personnel for duty in the field; also, the new arrangement would provide more efficient logistical support of Regional and Popular Forces units. The integration placed operations, administration, and support of the Regional and Popular Forces under the responsible tactical commanders throughout the armed forces and thus provided for a more unified effort throughout the chain of command.
In imposing restrictions on the bombing of North Vietnam (in effect, placing a ceiling on U.S. participation in the conflict) President Johnson set in motion an effort to strengthen South Vietnam's armed forces. In the spring of 1968, American planners converted the President's policy into a plan for improvement and modernization based on the assumption that the war would continue with the U.S. role basically unchanged, although the South Vietnamese would assume a larger role in the ground fighting as rapidly as possible. This so-called phase I plan preserved an existing imbalance in the composition of South Vietnam's defense forces. Ground strength remained disproportionately large in comparison to the air and naval establishments, an acceptable arrangement as long as the United States continued to exert its air and naval might on behalf of its ally.
The government of South Vietnam agreed to reduced American strength on the battlefield in return for more and better weapons and appropriate training. On June 8, 1969, Presidents Nixon and Thieu met on Midway Island and discussed both the withdrawal of American troops and the arming and training of South Vietnamese to take over a greater share of the fighting.
Although amenable to the idea of Vietnamization, President Thieu had ideas of his own about the kind of weapons his armed forces required. In acceding to an American reduction in strength, he offered a plan of his own for modernizing the military services, asking for what the Joint Chiefs of Staff termed "appreciable quantities of sophisticated and costly equipment," including F-4 fighters and C-130 transports. To American eyes, Thieu appeared to be trying to move too fast. Compared to their American counterparts, members of South Vietnam's armed forces seemed to lack the technical skills necessary to make effective use of the weaponry the nation's chief executive desired.
Viet Cong who had turned their backs on communism and rallied to the government's side under the Chieu Hoi (open arms) program are engaged in a number of paramilitary activities. By 1969 more than 104,000 had defected since the program started, and most are in the regular ARVN divisions. But about 4,000 are in Armed Propaganda Teams. These APT men go back into enemy-controlled or contested areas to proselytize their former Viet Cong comrades and generally spread the word about how life in government-controlled areas compares with life under VC rule. Another 1,500 former Viet Cong served as Kit Carson Scouts for the U.S. Marines in the northern provinces, helping in pacification and village development programs, identifying the VCI, passing on knowledge of terrain, people, guerrilla fighting methods and booby trap techniques. Some former VC joined such specialized groups as the PRU (Provincial Reconnaissance Units), whose stock-in-trade was using terror against Viet Cong terrorists.
Important paramilitary forces, who received more than their share of Viet Cong attacks, included the 46,000 Revolutionary Development and the 7,000 Truong Son members, the men (and a few women) in black pajamas who help villagers recreate local democratic government in newly pacified areas. Lightly armed, they provide hamlet defense until the people can be motivated, trained and armed to protect their own communities. While RD teams, some working in 59-man units and others in 39-man units, were teaching self-defense methods to villagers for some years, the program to build hamlet-level civilian home protection units did not begin to snowball until after the communists' Tet offensive.
As the South Vietnamese Army assumed the lion's share of combat, it was expected to shift operations to the border and to assume a role similar to that performed by U.S. forces between 1965 and 1969. The Regional and Popular Forces, in turn, were to take over ARVN's role in area security and pacification support, while the newly organized People's Self-Defense Force took on the task of village and hamlet defense. Stressing the close connection between combat and pacification operations, the need for co-operation between American and South Vietnamese forces, and the importance of co-ordinating all echelons of Saigon's armed forces. The strength of the People's Self-Defense Force, Saigon's first line of hamlet and village defense, after steady increases in 1969 and 1970, began to decline after 1971, suggesting a revival of the insurgency in the countryside.
The Cooper-Church Amendment had a profound effect on the morale and outlook of South Vietnamese leaders at all levels. No longer was there a lever to deter the North Vietnamese from building up forces for an all out fight for a military victory. Only the threat of resuming the bombing restrained North Vietnam. With the amendment, this threat was neutralized. Finally, whereas U.S. airpower had been decisive in halting the 1968 and 1972 offensives, that firepower would no longer be available. Confronted with these factors and the curtailment of money and equipment, Vietnamese leadership stood at the crossroads on the brink of the 1975 offensive.
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