Army of the Rapublic of Vietnam (ARVN) - Luc Quon
The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was created on May 23, 1948 (celebrated as Armed Forces Day) by decree of Bao Dai, who had earlier abdicated as Emperor but retained power as chief of state until Ngo Dinh Diem's election to the presidency of the First Republic. In 1954 the Army of South Vietnam was a collection of former French colonial troops with little command experience and no support forces worthy of mention. From a small, polygot force of fewer than 100,000 men -- some units tracing their lineage back to Vietnamese units operating as part of the French Union Forces and some created by Bao Dai's decree -- the ARVN developed-into a modern, well-trained and aggressive army of professional soldiers.
After the 1954 Geneva Agreement partitioning Vietnam at the 17th parallel, it was the army that prevented the South from falling into petty warlord fiefdoms. Its first fight as the official Army of the, Republic of Vietnam was against the bandit fiefdom of the Binh Xuyen gang, and later it defeated the independent armies of the Hoa Hao sect, bringing that community of, three million Delta residents into cooperative loyalty to the Saigon government. It was the army that prevented the subsequent Viet Cong insurrection from sweeping the country. The army toppled Diem's mandarin dictatorship that was losing the war in 1963.
The Vietnamese in late 1955 were unprepared to assume logistical responsibility for their army, and the limited number of U.S. logistical advisers could do little to offset the lack of Vietnamese experience. After January 1956 the accelerated withdrawal of the French forces further aggravated an already complex situation. The French literally dumped mountains of equipment upon the Vietnamese. Most of this materiel was improperly packed, indiscriminately piled, often placed in outside storage, and controlled by inadequate or meaningless inventory records. To add to this confusion, the Vietnamese were prone to open all packages to ascertain their contents. It is questionable whether the Vietnamese could have handled this situation properly even if they had been better trained.
With regard to the quality of the equipment, consideration must again be given to the circumstances of the French withdrawal. The French were confronted with a rapidly deteriorating situation in North Africa, which required increasing quantities of personnel and equipment. Therefore, they were primarily concerned with salvaging the best equipment for their own use. With this end in mind, the French were able to exploit the agreement which authorized their removal of MAP-type equipment based on a proportionate input. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was never reduced to a force goal of 100,000. In light of the rapid withdrawal of most of the French forces, continued Viet Cong buildup, and the civil war against the dissident sect forces, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, took the position that such a force goal was inadequate. With the concurrence of the U.S. Embassy in May 1955, the advisory group proposed a 150,000-man force goal to be reached by 1 July 1956, and this proposal was subsequently approved.
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. The airborne troops were organized into a five-battalion group and the armor branch into four armored cavalry "regiments" (approximately the equivalent of a U.S. Army cavalry squadron), each containing one squadron (U.S. troop) of M24 light tanks and two squadrons of M8 self-propelled 75-mm. howitzers. The eight independent artillery battalions were equipped with U.S. 10-mm, and 15-mm. pieces. Tactical control was divided between I Corps at Da Nang for the northern and central areas, II Corps at Pleiku for the Central Highlands provinces, and III Corps at Saigon for the southern part of the country. Saigon city remained a special military district.
Gradually and despite a considerable degree of political and social instability, the Army, with strong American assistance, was molded into an effective fighting force by the efforts of Vietnamese leaders. by the end of 1963 the South Vietnam Army, comprising the bulk of the regular forces with 192,000 men, was now organized into 4 corps, 9 divisions, 1 airborne brigade, 1 Special Forces group, 3 separate regiments, 1 territorial regiment, 86 Ranger companies, and 19 separate battalions and associated support units. After 1960 the South Vietnamese Army also acquired a counterinsurgency capability, but by 1965 increased political turmoil had undermined its effectiveness and necessitated the intervention of strong US combat forces.
From 1965 to 1968, while US forces bore the brunt of the fighting, the South Vietnamese slowly regrouped and, with increasing American advisory assistance and matériel support, once again became an effective fighting force. During this period the military provided security for the civilian population and administration and, in schools and training centers, laid the basis for a larger and more responsive military force.
Until the Communist Tet offensive in 1968, the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces [RVNAF] was not doing well. This was especially true of the Army of the Rapublic of Vietnam (ARVN). No army in a newly developing country that tries to be a democracy has done very well. There are many reasons for this, most of them obvious. But after Tet of 1968, the RVNAF did better. In fact, ARVN improved so much since 1968 that units were hardly recognizable. Part of the increase in morale and efficiency cames from four more years of experience in combat. But better training at several levels had also baen beneficial.
From 1970 on, there were four armor brigades, one per corps. Each headquarters was highly mobile, track-mounted, packed with radio gear, and manned by a carefully selected, battle-tested staff. Designed to control up to six maneuver battalions (a division hasnine) the brigades had no organic units but were "task organized" by their corps commanders according to the mission at hand: sometimes with as many as 18 battalions!
The tragic death of General Do Cao Tri in a helicopter crash in February 1971 marked the turning point of the war in South Viet Nam. LTG Nguyen Van Minh, succeeding General Tri as III Corps Commander, made mistake after mistake from the very start. Because of his weakness, the ARVN suffered many setbacks and, little by little, lost the initiative to the enemy. After the victory near Krek in November 1971, General Minh dispersed the resources of the III Armor Brigade and completely disbanded the III Corps ATF. When the battle of An Loc — Binh Long broke out violently during the summer of 1972, the Armor units of III Corps were completely paralyzed.
In spite of a progressive disengagement of US forces, the South Vietnamese Government appeared on 29 March 1972 to be more sacure than it had been since 1962. Then, the Communists launched their Easter offensives. Months later, the RVNAF had taken 50,000 casualties, but, during that time, had chewad up all 12 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) divisions. In fact, the Communists may have lost more men - at least 40,000 killed - for leas tangible gains than they made in their 1966 Tet efforts. Notably, the South Vietnamese were fighting the ground battles themselves.
The war in Indochina makes for a long story, but two facts stand out. In 1965, the US had to go in on the ground to prevant a complate RVNAF defeat. In 1972, the US was able to continue the ground pullout in spite of the NVA attacks. The South Vietnamese were fighting much better - the foremost reason for this may be better training. There were improvements in facilities and professionalism at all levels, and military security. New structures of all kinds were more numerous in some training centers than in others, but all had them. Since 196S, every RVNAF military installation had improvad its field fortifications. The training establishments were well designed, secure and habitable.
The RVNAF approach to training changed. ARVN Regional Force (RF) and Popular Force (PF) recruits all look the same and receive nearly identical basic instruction. In 1968, most instructors, and even some training center commanders, were essentially school teachers with little combat experience. By 1972, most of the instructors and all the commanders were combat veterans. Most were proven professionals. Emphasis had shifted from the quantity of men trained to the quality of training. Things like rifle marksmanship were not perfect, but are much better than before. As of 01 September 1971 there were 1,400 US officers and men assisting the Republic of Vietnam training organization.
The ARVN, once a loose force of diverse troops left to their fate by the retreating French, developed during 20 years of bitter fighting into an effective, highly motivated army, and it was equipped to fight a modern war. Its improvement particularly since the Tet offensive had been exceptional, and that improvement continues month by month. Australia's Army Minister P. R. Lynch, reporting to the House of Representatives in Canberra after a 1969 Tet anniversary tour of Vietnam's battlefields, said: "In the past 12 months the ARVN forces have become better equipped than ever before. Their officer training programs are of a high quality. The Vietnamese Army has grown considerably in strength and in operational efficacy.''
It is noteworthy that this assessment, like those of many other observers of the Vietnam scene, stresses that the time of the Tet offensive was the turning point. The communists may have won propaganda advances around the world when they launched that offensive, but in Vietnam they lost the battle. For that was the time when the government and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam turned the corner. Now both are viable, strong and growing more efficient as they gain more confidence with each passing month. The Saigon government, backed by an army that proved itself capable of defeating the heaviest blows the enemy could hurl against it, seemed destined to continue to gain strength until no neighbor again will dare to send invading troops across its borders.
But the areas in which the ARVN made the most improvement -- firepower and mobility -- were still the areas of its greatest weaknesses. The ARVN was quite capable of fighting and defeating the 20,000 main force Viet Cong troops and the 70,000 local force VC guerrillas in the country. In open combat on a designated battlefield the ARVN could defeat the 110,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars now in the South, despite their modern Chinese and Soviet-bloc weapons. But with the ARVN's basic responsibility for territorial defense that the NVA did not have, and with the NVA's proclivity for regrouping in inaccessible sanctuaries, it would be a formidable task for the ARVN to drive the NVA back to Hanoi. It could not conceivably do so without the helicopter, jetstrike, artillery, communications and logistics support now provided by U.S. forces.
With the signing of the cease-fire on 25 February 1973 and its effective date on 28 February 1973, the United States involvement in Vietnam came to an end. With American air power denied them, Vietnamese forces would turn more and more to their artillery to fill the gap in fire power. During the last three years of that involvement, efforts were concentrated on preparing the Vietnamese to defend their country without active American participation. Despite the adoption of program after program to assist ARVN forces in becoming proficient in all phases of fire support, little improvement was to be seen in combat. In retrospect, it is apparent that in almost all the field artillery programs that were cited as successful during the Vietnamization period, American units were actively involved, providing labor and material. The Vietnamese were merely recipients of a service. By providing services to the Vietnamese, the American command failed to involve the Vietnamese actively and therefore failed to teach them how to perform the work themselves or convince them of tie program's value. American units did the work while the Vietnamese sat idly by.
As the Americans withdrew, South Vietnam's combat capability declined. The United States furnished its allies the heavier M48 tank to match the NVA's T54 tank and heavier artillery to counter North Vietnamese 130mm. guns, though past experience suggested that additional arms and equipment could not compensate for poor skills and mediocre leadership. In fact, the weapons and equipment were insufficient to offset the reduction in U.S. combat strength. In mid-1968, for example, an aggregate of fifty-six allied combat battalions were present in South Vietnam's two northern provinces; in 1972, after the departure of most American units, only thirty battalions were in the same area. Artillery strength in the northern region declined from approximately 400 guns to 169 in the same period, and ammunition supply rates fell off as well. Similar reductions took place throughout South Vietnam, causing decreases in mobility, firepower, intelligence support, and air support. Five thousand American helicopters were replaced by about 500. American specialties - B-52 strikes, photo reconnaissance, and the use of sensors and other means of target acquisition - were drastically curtailed.
Between 1973 and 1975 South Vietnam's military security further declined through a combination of old and new factors. Plagued by poor maintenance and shortages of spare parts, much of the equipment provided Saigon's forces under Vietnamization became inoperable. A rise in fuel prices stemming from a worldwide oil crisis further restricted ARVN's use of vehicles and aircraft. South Vietnamese forces in many areas of the country were on the defensive, confined to protecting key towns and installations. Seeking to preserve its diminishing assets, the South Vietnamese Army became garrison bound and either reluctant or unable to react to a growing number of guerrilla attacks that eroded rural security. Congressionally mandated reductions in U.S. aid further reduced the delivery of repair parts, fuel, and ammunition. American military activities in Cambodia and Laos, which had continued after the cease-fire in South Vietnam went into effect, ended in 1973 when Congress cut off funds. Complaining of this austerity, President Thieu noted that he had to fight a "poor man's war." Vietnamization's legacy was that South Vietnam had to do more with less.
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