The regular ARVN divisions were triangular, normally having three regiments plus a cavalry squadron and two artillery battalions, or about 10,000 men. Each regiment had three battalions and each battalion three companies. The combat effectiveness of and combat results obtained by ARVN units were normally equated with like US units. It is well to keep in mind the important differences that existed as regards strength, number of individual and crew served weapons, commnications assets, fire support, and airmobile support.
The US Infantry Battalion had and authorized strength of 920 soldiers in four line companies.; apprcmimately 49% (450 men) were normally employed iw the airmobile role. In Vietnam the ARVN Infantry Battalion had an authorized strength of 639 soldiers in three line companies. The HQ company was often utilized as a 4th infantry oampon. Approximately 53% (340 men) were normally employed in the airmobile role. A US infantry battalion was authorized 312 radios, he ARVN Infantry Battalion was authorized 55 radios. At the lower unit levels the wide disparity in quality of leadership was particularly noteworthy. By US standards, the ARVN squad and platoon leaders were marginally effective at best. These factors, together with the leadership differential, led observers to conclude that the combat effectiveness of the US infantry battalion to be approximately three times that of the ARVY infantry battalion.
Unit training continued to pose serious problems. In 1963 and 1964 the increased level of enemy activity made it almost impossible to regroup entire combat units for training despite the increased force levels. For the Vietnam Army infantry, initial plans called for two battalions from each corps to be in training at all times. In January 1964, eight battalions were in unit training for a four-week cycle which was extended to five weeks in April. However, by May the number of battalions undergoing training had dropped from eight to four because of operational requirements, and by September each corps headquarters was finding it difficult to release even a single battalion for formal training. Field advisers continued to report that the low state of training was one of the major causes of the low level of combat effectiveness. In spite of this report, formal infantry battalion training continued to slide during the year until, by December 1964, there was only one battalion in training at a national training center. Although 25 infantry battalions had been trained and 8 battalions retrained during the year, there still remained 15 that had not received any formal unit training.
Emphasizing the gravity of the desertion problem and the importance he attached to the new laws, in July 1966 General Westmoreland sent a communiqué to all advisory personnel stating his conviction that "The present for operations strength of each unit must be raised. The minimum acceptable number to conduct a battalion operation is considered to be 450 men. The most important single improvement that can be made in the RVNAF to achieve this goal is a solution to the desertion problem; and to this end, advisory effort must be focused."
By 1969 ARVN battalions were relatively proficient in planning and executing airmobile operations, but non-availability of air assets limited such operations. Although ARVN battalions habitually used light fire teams as their primary fire support means, they were beginning to depend more on available artillery and organic support weapons. Reaction to intelligence was generaly good, but a considerable improvement in the timely transmission of intelligence was required. Night operations were generally limited to ambush patrols, moving ambushes, and NDP. A factor that improved combat effectiveness was the introduction of the new family of weapons.
ARVN commanders had a propensity for keeping their battalions together for all kinds of operations. This stemmed from a feeling of safety in numbers and was caused in part by the limited comnications within a battalion. Reluctance to off-load from a hovering helicopter and the tendency to bunch up in the immediate landing zone instead of dispersing rapidly to secure an area often delayed the landing of following helicopters and exposed aircraft and personnel to hostile fire. U.S. helicopter personnel presumed that Vietnamese reluctance to offload from a hovering aircraft was the result of depth perception errors which made the helicopter appear to be much higher off the ground than it actually was; again, lack of training was the real villain.
The leadership, or lack thereof, of the ARVN commander was of utmost importance. The effectiveness of a battalion can changeo vernight from black to white, or vice versa, with the change of commanders. Unfortunately, even by early 1969 there were not enough dynamic ARVN commanders available. The serious shortage of field grade officers and captains constituted a critical deficiency in the field of leadership. Of the number authorized within the three divisions in III CTZ, 19% of the colonels, 29% of the lieutenant colonels, 88% of the majors, and 52% of the captains were currently assigned. Only eight percent of the company, battalion, and regimental commanders held the grade authorized for their positions.
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