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18th Division

Organized May 16, 1965
(Decree 486-QP/ND of August 5, 1965)
(JGS Order 1,133/TTM/P3/4 QC/K of May 18, 1965)

Known as the 10th division when it was established 1965, the 18th division brought three already existing independent regiments under a single command. The regiments ceased their independent functions on May 16th, 1965, the date the division was provisionally organized "while awaiting promulgation of the decree", which did not occur until August of that year.

The headquarters of the division was established at Xuan Loc, 70 kilometers east of Saigon and the provincial town in Long Khanh province. It remained there, although the division in addition sometimes maintained light command posts such as one located at the former U.S. advisory headquarters for III Corps adjacent to Long Binh base. When the division was organized the 43rd Regiment was in Long Khanh Province, the 48th Regiment was at Tan Uyen, 15 kilometers north of Bien Hoa, and the 52nd Regiment was at Ba Ria in Phuoc Tuy Province (one battalion was on guard duty at Ton Son Nhut Airport, Saigon.

The three regiments had histories reaching back to 1955. The 43rd regiment officially came into being on August 1, 1955. It was activated at Ninh Hoa, 33 kilometers north of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa Province. Known then as the 404th Regiment of the 5th Light Division, it subsequently became the 43rd regiment of the 23rd division as the result of several changes in designation (see history of the 23rd Division). On November 1, 1963 adjustments in corps assignments and corps tactical zone boundaries were made. The 23rd Division was reassigned to II Corps, the 43rd Regiment remained with III Corps as an independent regiment; its area of responsibility in Long Khan and Binh Thuy remained part of the III Corps Tactical Zone.

Although a 48th regiment was formed in August 1955 as part of the later disbanded 16th Light Division in Quang Tri, the 48th Regiment had no relationship - except in designation - to the earlier unit. It is actually the former 32nd Regiment of the 21st Division within a new number. As of early 1961, the 32nd Regiment was in Tay Ninh, and it may still have been there in early 1963. Meanwhile on March 16, 1963 a new 48th Regiment had been formed as an independent unit, apparently in Ba Xuyen in the Mekong Delta. A decision appears to have been made to locate the entire 21st Division in the Delta, and the easiest way to accomplish this was to have the two regiments exchange designations. It was done by a Defense Ministry decree dated February 14, 1963.

The 52nd regiment was originally the 135th Regional Forces Regiment. It was formed on August 1, 1955 to serve in the Saigon area of the old 1st Military Region (present-day Military Regions 3 and 4). The regiment, headquartered near the Gia Dinh provincial offices just outside of Saigon, was primarily a service unit providing sentries, drivers and similar types of personnel to military installations and commands in the Saigon area. At some time prior to 1963, it was upgraded to main-force status and designated the 52nd Infantry regiment.

One of humankind's oldest preoccupations: divination by numbers. Implicit in divination (from Latin divinatio the gift of prophecy) lies the notion that by predicting an event or by seeing beyond the boundaries of the sensible universe one can influence outcome or attain mastery over the Beyond. Divination may call upon spirits or apparitions to supply knowledge. The process was widely applied in early stages of religious and medical culture throughout the world and persists to the present day in crystal gazing, astrology, palmistry, fortune telling, in the use of the divining rod, and in other forms. One of those forms is number.

Numbers ward off danger. Taboos, good and bad, arise from number. Twelve is a good number, identified with the Zodiac. In the West, thirteen is bad, unlucky (except in Belgium): Friday the 13th, the 13thfloor (often omitted), Judas, the 13th person at the Last Supper. In Korea there is a fully developed numerical lore, based on superstitions common to Japan and Korea regarding lucky and un-lucky numbers. The number ten has a primitive taint: the ten fingers of the human hand. The Japanese call the best or the top "Ichiban" (itchy-ban) or "Number One." Anything from the bottom of the barrel they call "Juban" ( jew-ban) or "Number Ten. American soldiers learned a more or less garbled version. Number One (numba whon) was slang for good, excellent, fine, superb, prime, as based on numeric rating scale, from earlier use of Japanese "ichi-ban" during the Korean War. Number Ten (numba ten) was slang for bad on a numeric rating scale from earlier use of Japanese "juu" during the Korean War.

On January 1, 1967, the 10th Infantry Division became the 18th Infantry Division. The change was made because of the unfavorable connotations of the expression "number ten".

Two battalions in the 18th ARVN Division were activated during 1968, bringing the composition of each of the three divisions in III CTZ to 12 maneuver battalions and one armored cavalry regiment. Eastern MR 3 was the 18th Division's primary area of responsibility. However, the division had on occasion served in other parts of the region. For a period during mid-1972, the 18th Division was deployed to the surrounded Binh Long Province Headquarters town of An Loc.

During late 1968 and early 1969 the overall tempo of operations incroaned considerably in this division, particular in terms of multi-day operations, which become the rule rather than the exception during the last six months of 1968. Although airmobile operations had improved, they were not conducted in the frequency desired. The improved quality of intelligence obtained resulted in more reliance on the information and more effective response. This division registered an improvement in the employment of supporting fires, but fire discipline of the M-16 rifle remained a problem. The training of units within the division left much to be desired, and while combat service support was considered to be adequate, there was still over-dependence on US assets. Desertions constituted a particularly serious problem in this division, and no progress in lowering the excessive rate was evident. Factors which most improved the effectiveness of the division were the III Corps emphasis on supervision of operations, the issue of M-16 rifles, the addition of two battalions to the division, and the organization and proper utilization of the I & R elements.

The primary problem during 1969 in the 18th Division was its ineffective commander. As a result, although some of the battalions had on occasion shown marked improvements in the conduct of operations, this division was considered marginally combat effective, at best. The quality of leadership at other levels of command, which had been another major problem in this division for some time, was improvod by the replacement of three regimental and eight battalion commanders during early 1969. Although the division commander had demonstrated a willingness during late 1968 and early 1969 to react to enemy contacts to a degree not previously noted, his complete ineffectiveness as a military leader was the division's most serious problem.

In the spring of 1975, Giap launched another "final" offensive with a total of one hundred thousand troops (half the 1972 number). the completenessof their initial victories caused them to decide in iate March 1975 to move directly on to Saigon. This time the South Vietnamese army collapsed. The NVA turned its attention to the decisive phase in the capture of Saigon. The defenses of Saigon consisted of an outer ring, 30 to 55 miles from the city, composed of the 25th Division anchored at Tay Ninh, the 5th Division at Lai Khe, the 18th Division at Xuan Loc, and the 7th Division at My Tho, and an inner ring, composed of remnants of the 22d Division and whatever else could be scraped together.

The Saigon phase of the campaign began with the battle of Xuan Loc. Here, the 18th Division, reinforced by an airborne brigade, fought ARVN's best battle of the war. It held its ground for two weeks against four NVA divisions, functioned well as a division-level force, and (for the only time in the campaign) was provided effective air support. On 20 April, BG Le Minh Dao's 18th Division finally abandoned its magnificent defense of Xuan Loc and withdrew to Long Binh. Outgunned, outmanned, but never outfought, the 18th Division continued to repulse NVA attacks until, on 21 April 1975, out of ammunition and almost surrounded, its surviving battalions were withdrawn by helicopter.

On the 21st, President Thieu resigned. After five days of recuperation, the 18th Infantry Division was ordered tomove east on 25 April and replace III Corps Armored Task Force on the front line at Hung Loc-Dau Giay. The 18th Division could not sustain the front at Trang Bom. It was already weakened by the fighting at Xuan Loc, had had only five days to recuperate, and the inevitable would happen in time. Remnants of this brave division were finally crushed by the NVA II Corps along the Saigon River.

At Da Nang, defenses had collapsed in almost a chain reaction as the evacuation of senior commanders became known. Further, the I Corps Commander reacted to reverses by going into seclusion, making no real effort to inspire the troops. In sharp contrast was the performance of Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, commanderof the 18th Division, which formed Saigon's eastern defenses. Not only did he turn a mediocre division into a formidable fighting force, but he stayed with it to the very end, actively directing operations and inspiring his men. The performance of his division reemphasized that the attitudes of commanders are infectious and that positive leaders are most vital when affairs are going badly.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:36:48 ZULU