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ARVN Divisions

From 1957 to 1959 the South Vietnamese Army was restructured under MAAGV guidance to meet the threat of external attack. In October 1957 the advisory group began tests to determine the most effective and practical organization for a standard division. The next two years saw more than two hundred tables of organization and equipment and tables of distribution developed in the search for the proper organization.

By September 1959 the South Vietnamese Army had been organized into seven standard divisions of 10,450 men each and three Army corps headquarters. Each division consisted of three infantry regiments, an artillery, a mortar, and an engineer battalion, and company-size support elements.

South Vietnam leaders in mid-June 1961 made force level proposals which corresponded closely with an earlier proposal by Military Assistance Advisory Group on 19 May and outlined the creation of a fifteen-division force totaling 278,000 men. This was to be a phased buildup, and as a first step they requested two divisions requiring an over-all Vietnamese armed forces increase of 30,000. In consideration of the South Vietnam government request, on 4 August President Kennedy announced that the United States would support an armed force of 200,000 men, with the condition that an agreement on the training and employment of these additional 30,000 men be reached. No decision was made on the request for a force increase above the 200,000 level.

Activation of new units created by the force increases was to be completed by the end of 1961. However, by the end of August, Vietnamese armed forces strength was only about 153,000--far short of the 170,000 goal and farther still from an Army of more than 200,000. By September it was thus apparent that the Presidential Action Program was in danger of bogging down. Funds were slow in having an impact, and both desertions and combat operations continued to take a rising toll of available personnel. The creation of new units only stretched existing leadership and personnel resources.

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. By 1969 support elements -- engineers, transport, ordnance, logistics -- were brought into a division support command in a more modern organizational structure for each division. The 10 regular ARVN divisions as well as ARVN's three independent regiments were deployed under CTZ commanders.

The First, largest of all ARVN divisions (five infantry regiments and two cavalry squadrons), was not the only Vietnamese unit to collect commendations and awards. Another is the Marines, which trace their history back to the French Marine Commando Companies used in river assaults. Originally part of the Navy, the 9,500 Marines became a separate command under the JGS in 1963 and now are part of the strategic defense of Saigon's Capital Military District. Another elite force is the Airborne Division. Also part of the strategic reserve, they have seer action in the Demilitarized Zone, in Saigon during the 1963 Tet offensive, at the embattled Citadel of Hue, and in nearly every major struggle of the war. By 1969 they were in the Tay Ninh area blocking any potential eastward movement of four North Vietnamese Army divisions, including the dangerous NVA, poised in a threat to Saigon. Other famed units include Colonel Tran Ba Di's tough Ninth Division in the Delta, and the Second Division at Quang Ngai.

An ARVN division was a potent force, but even in the case of the First Division one of the factors making it an elite unit was its ability to call in helicopter and artillery support from the neighboring 101st U.S. Airborne Division. Because the average ARVN division, particularly since the war became a big unit war in mid-1965, had been able to rely on its ally's artillery, air strike and transport capabilities, by 1969 it had not yet developed its own such capabilities to a point that would make it self-sufficient on a modern battlefield. And the average American division had about twice the number of howitzers and mortars available to an ARVN division.

The only major force reorganization occurred in 1971 when an eleventh infantry division - 3rd Division - was formed in I Corps Tactical Zone. The constituent units, taken from two other divisions and local territorial forces, had little opportunity to co-operate before the North Vietnam Army offensive in the spring of 1972, and this lack may in part explain the poor performance of these units.



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