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South Vietnam - Command Structure

From the outset command and control of the South Vietnamese defense forces was less than satisfactory. President Diem appointed the Secretary of State for National Defense who in turn supervised the activities of the General Staff chief and several special sub-departments. The General staff chief, in turn, supervised the Army staff and, through it, the military regions and the field commands. In practice the system was beset by conflicting, duplicating channels of command and communications and by duplicate offices or agencies with overlapping interests. To further complicate matters, various major agencies of the Department of National Defense were installed in widely separated areas, so as to hamper coordination, rapid staff action, and decision-making.

Problems resulting from this command structure were frequent. Often a division commander would receive orders from both the corps commander (who should have been his undisputed boss) and the region commander in whose region his division was stationed. In another case, branch (infantry, armor, and so forth) chiefs would give orders to units of their branches while the units in question were assigned to field commands. Perhaps the most flagrant case involved the President himself, who, using his radio net from a van in the garden of the presidential palace, sometimes sent out operational orders directly to combat regiments, bypassing the Department of National Defense, the General Staff, and the field commands. An example of duplicate agencies of primary interest was the presence of a Director of Air Technical Service (who was nominally directly under the Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff but actually subordinate to the Director General of Administration, Budget, and Comptroller for fiscal matters) and a Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Materiel.

The physical location of various agencies also caused problems. The Department of National Defense and most of the central organizations and the ministerial services were located in downtown Saigon, while the General Staff (less air and navy elements) was inefficiently located in a series of company-size troop barracks on the edge of the city. The chief of the General Staff was thus removed several miles from the Department of National Defense. The navy and air staffs were also separately located in downtown Saigon. With such a physical layout, staff action and decision-making unduly delayed on even the simplest of matters.

The Regional Forces and Popular Forces command and control structure presented a dilemma. Territorial forces constituted approximately 50 percent of the total South Vietnam armed forces structure, but, in view of their size, they enjoyed a much smaller proportion of support. They were far down in priority for training, equipment, and leadership, resulting in marginal or unsatisfactory ratings in almost every category of their activities. The root of the problem was the chain of command. The Regional and Popular Forces central headquarters, whose mission was to command and manage the Regional and Popular Forces units throughout the country, did not have operational control of the units (except for the seven Regional and Popular Forces national training centers); the actual control of the Regional and Popular Forces was exercised by corps and divisions through sector commands.

Significant organizational changes were also made in 1962. Separate Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Forces commands were established as major subordinate elements of the armed forces; a joint Operations Center was created at the JGS level to control military operations of national scope; and South Vietnam was operationally divided into four corps tactical zones (CTZ) and a Capital Military District. A field corps headquarters controlled each corps tactical zone while a special command ran the more sensitive Capital Military District.

The Republic's armed forces in 1969 were headed by the Minister of Defense, General Nguyen Van Vy. Under him comes the Joint General Staff, headed by General Cao Van Vien. In addition to Vien's Army Command, the JGS included Rear Admiral Tran Van Chon's Navy Command, Major General Tran Van Minh's Air Force Command, a Logistics Command and a Political Warfare Command. Also directly under the JGS was the National Strategic Reserve, comprising such elite units as Major General Du Quoc Dong's Airborne Division, Lieutenant General Le Nguyen Khang's Marines and some of the 20 Ranger battalions. Most Most Ranger battalions, however, came directly under CTZ commanders. The crucial Saigon-Gia Dinh area was controlled by a special Capital Military District under Major General Nguyen Van Minh, a former Delta division commander with a reputation for combat success. The Special Forces, with headquarters at Nha Trang, were commanded by Major General Doan Van Quang.

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