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1st Division

Organized January 1, 1955
(Decree 012-QP/ND of January 17, 1955)
(JGS order 474/TCM/1/1/SQ of January 22, 1955)

The 1st Division was formed from elements of the 21st Mobile Group which was organized on September 1st 1953. The Group was formally disbanded on 15 December 1954. However, the JGS order implementing the decree establishing the division provided for the formation of the staff of the new 21st Infantry Division, as the 1st Division was originally known, from the staff of the former 21st Mobile Group. LTC. Le Van Nghiem, commander of the group, became the first commander of the division.

There is some question as to when the division actually came into being. The authorizing decree established the division--with retroactive active effect--on January 1, 1955 ("Il est vree a partir de 1er Janvier 1955 de un division d'infanterie qui porteront les denominations de 21eme, 31eme Divisions d'Infanterie.") However, the JGS order issued five days later specified that the two divisions--the 31st Infantry Division is now the 7th Division--would come into being with effect from February 1, 1955. It should be noted that the 1st Division calculates January 1 as the anniversary of its founding.

The JGS order of January 22, 1955 is also of interest because gives details on the advisory teams to be attached to the division. The order specified that the commander of the division would have at his disposal a group of French advisers ("un groupe de conseillers Français") who were to be assigned in a manner consistent with the applicable conventions. A footnote to this section makes the first mention of American advisers to Vietnamese divisions (U.S. adviser would remain with the divisions until early 1973): "Il est prévu en outre un conseiller Américain du grade de colonel dont la mise en place sera l'objet d'une note particuliers." On August 1, 1955, the 21st infantry division was redesignated and became the 21st Field Division. Another change took place effective November 1, 1955 when the division became the 1st Field Division. 1st January 1959, the present title of 1st Infantry Division was adopted. The 1st Division was the only one of the four original RVNAF divisions which was formed from units raised in the vicinity of division's ongoing area of operation. The 21st Mobile Group was formed from battalions native to Thua Thien and Quang Tri provinces, and the 1st Division remained in that area.

Headquartered at Hue from the time of its founding until January 1972, the 1st Division had its home six kilometers south of the city at a former US camp known to Americans troops as Camp Eagle. In the past, the division at times maintained a forward headquarters. In October 1968, one was set up at Dong Ha, south of the demilitarized zone in Quang Tri provinces. This forward headquarters was closed in 1969 but in February that year another was set up and at Ai Tu, across the Thach Han River from Quang Tri city. This forward headquarters was closed with effect from September 30, 1971 when it was turned over to the newly formed 3rd Division. Since its formation, the 1st Division conducted operations in Thua Thien, Quang Tri, and Quang Nam Provinces and also in Lower Laos. By 1972, the division's primary responsibility was the defensive of Thua Thien Province and the city of Hue.

Originally, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Regiments (known as the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Regiments prior to 1955) were assigned to the division. In September 1958, 54th regiment, formed in mid 1958, joined the 1st Division. On October 1, 1971, the 2nd Regiment was transferred to the new 3rd Division. However divisional strength was brought back to four infantry regiments in late 1972 when the 51st Independent Regiment was formally brought into the division. This regiment, detached from the 25th Division in 1964, had on several previous occasions been placed under the operational control of the 1st Division. Since becoming a part of the 1st Division, the 51st Regiment has continued its history of being frequently placed under the operational control ("opcon") of other units.

The First Division, guarding the two northern provinces just below the Demilitarized Zone, was judged by General Creighton W. Abrams, the U.S. forces commander, as one of the finest divisions to take the field of battle. U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird awarded this division the Presidential Unit Citation for sustained bravery in action during engagements in Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces. It was no coincidence that the First Division was commanded by a man considered by friend and foe alike as the best division commander in Vietnam, 39-year-old Major General Ngo Quang Truong. And this elite division included an elite company, the Hac Bao, the Black Panther assault company that stopped an entire North Vietnamese battalion on the Hue airfield during the Tet offensive and later emerged victorious from a 72-hour battle against overwhelming NVA forces with 19 of its 240 men alive.

From that Tet battle in the Hue Citadel, where the First Division successfully tackled two NVA divisions, through October 10, 1968, the division's men killed 12,661 NVA and VC troops, took 2,571 prisoners and picked up 5,622 weapons. In that period the division lost 1,600 killed, 6,675 wounded and 238 weapons. According to Colonel John A. Hoefling of the Second Brigade, 101st U.S. Airborne, the division which shares responsibility with General Truong for defense of Hue and surrounding areas of Thua Thien province: "I have never seen a division as sharp as the First ARVN Infantry Division, and I have been in two wars. They could handle any task given them, now or in the future, if provided with proper artillery and helicopter support."

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:36:47 ZULU