21st DivisionOrganized June 1, 1959
The 21st Division, with 12,000 men backstopped by Ruff Puffs [the Regional Forces and the Popular Forces], protected an area including 2,100,000 residents of six Delta provinces, an estimated 35,000 of whom are armed Viet Cong. The 21st Division was one of three infantry divisions formed in 1959 as part of a plan to eliminate separate categories of "light" and "heavy" divisions and replace them with standard infantry divisions. The 21st Division was created from the 11th and 13th Light Divisions. Strictly speaking, it was a descendent of the 11th Light Division since the present regimental designations (31st, 32nd and 33rd) had been retained from that division.
Planning for the formation of the 21st Infantry Division began in 1958. A complex series of reorganization instructions resulted. The 13th Light Division was disbanded as were the 37th, 38th, and 39th regiments. Although the 11th Light Division also ceased to exist, its commander became the first commander of the 21st Division, and its headquarters became the main headquarters of the new infantry division, and its three regiments 31st, 32nd, and 33rd were retained. However, the old 13th Light Division headquarters in Tay Ninh was made the rear headquarters of 21st Division and troop dispositions and designations were realigned so as to place the 32nd regiment in Tay Ninh with this headquarters.
On August 1, 1955, 6 light divisions officially came into being with regiments composed of already existing battalions. The first light division was initially headquartered at Long Xuyen. After a short while, the headquarters was moved to Sa Dec.
On November 1, 1955, 1st Light Division became the 11th Light Division, and the 11th, 101st, and 102nd Regiments became the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd regimens. The 11th (31st after November 1) Regiment predated the division and the other regiments. It was formed on November 1, 1954 from 3 battalions of the Vietnamese National Army: BVN 1, BVN 3, and BVN 11. BVNs 1 and 3 were formed October 1, 1949 at Bac Lieu and Rach Gia respectively. Along with BVN 2, formed on the same date at Thai Binh in North Vietnam, they would appear to be the oldest identifiable main force units in RVNAF. BVN's 1 and 3 are now the 1/31 and 2/31 battalions of the 31st Regiment (BVN 2 is now the 1/6 Battalions with the 2nd Division.
The earliest combat the 11th Light Division was involved in was against Hoa Hao dissidents in the Mekong on Delta. Division elements fought the forces of various Hoa Hao "generals" in several areas. By early 1956, the Hoa Hao dissidents threat to the national government had been eliminated.
The 3rd Light Division was formed at Tu Dau Mot (now known as Phu Cuong and the headquarters town for Binh Duong Province. Soon afterwards, it was shifted to Tay Ninh and established itself in the former headquarters of the Cao Dai armed forces at Ben Keo, on National Highway 22 a few Kilometers south of Tay Ninh City.
On November 1, 1955, the 3rd Light Division became the 13th Light Division and the 15th, 12th, and 106th Regiments became the 37th, 38th, and 39th Regiments. The 37th and 38th Regiments were composed of battalions raised in presentday MR 3; the 39th regiment was made up of battalions from My Tho and Sa Dec in the Delta. The 39th Regiment participated in the successful campaigns against Hoa Hao dissidents in 1955-56.
By late 1960, 21st Division units were spread out from Tay Ninh (32nd Regiment) to Ca Mau (31st Regiment) with troops also operating in the Kien Tuong-Kien Phong area (33rd Regiment) and in Long An Province. These troop dispositions proved advantageous to division commander Col. Tran Thien Kiem when he moved in support of President Diem to help put down Col. Nguyen Chanh Thi's November 11, 1960 Airborne coup attempt, but they undoubtedly made command and control of the division difficult. It was eventually decided to concentrate the entire division in the Mekong Delta. Meanwhile, on March 16, 1961, a 48th Regiment had been activated, apparently at Ba Xuyen in the Delta. (it was an upgraded regional forces regiment). A Defense Ministry decree of February 14, 1963 redesignated the 48th Regiment the 32nd Regiment of the 21st Division while the former 32nd Regiment became the 48th Independent Regiment. The new 48th Regiment (ex-32nd) is now part of the 18th Division.
The 21st Division was for many years concentrated in the southern part of the Mekong Delta. In late 1970, a forward headquarters was set up at Ca Mau, the southernmost town of any consequence in Vietnam, in connection with the division's 1970-71 U Minh Forest campaign. However the division's rear headquarters remained at Bac Lieu. It is believed that the Sa Dec headquarters was closed prior to the arrival of the 9th Division headquarters at Sa Dec in September 1963. In April 1972, the entire 21st Division was brought up to Binh Duong Province in MR 3 to join in unsuccessful attempts to reopen National Highway 13th to An Loc. It returned to the Delta three months later. In 1973, the division opened a field headquarters at Vi Thanh, the Chuong Thien Province seat, and it conducted operations in the area since that time.
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