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Viet Nam Marine Corps - VNMC

Patterned after the US Marine Corps, the Vietnamese Marines proved their capabilities by executing major troop movements on land, sea and air. They were part of the Republic of Vietnam General Reserve, and had been employed from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta-operating in all four Corps Tactical Zones. By January 1968, the Vietnamese Marines numbered over 7,300 men and prided itself like its sister service in the United States on its elan and its reputation as one of the country's elite fighting force.

The Viet Nam Marine Corps consisted of five infantry battalions and one artillery brigade. It was established as a brigade in 1960, then became a separate service in 1965, equal to the Vietnamese Navy (VNN), and increased to division size in 1969. In 1966, the Vietnamese Marine Corps operated as an element of the general strategic reserve and, in effect, as a sort of "fire brigade" whenever trouble erupted. The Vietnamese form of their name is Thuy Quan Luc Chien (TQLC), and their motto was "Honor and Country" (Danh-Du To-Quoc).

By the 1960s the teachings of Mao Zedong and Che Guevara became relevant to an understanding of the nature of "peoples wars" or "wars of national liberation." The most effective strategy for opposing communism in wars of this type was of a dual nature. The destructive phase would address the conventional force threat, while the constructive phase was concerned with the political, economic, social, and ideological aspects of the struggle.

The Marines understood this duality best and made a serious attempt to achieve permanent and lasting results in their tactical area of responsibility by seeking to protect the rural population. The US Marine Corps adopted a strategic approach that emphasized pacification over large-unit battles almost from the outset of their arrival in Vietnam. Previous Marine deployments as colonial infantry in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and especially Nicaragua had elements of civil development and an emphasis upon the training of local militia.

As could be expected, the South Vietnamese Marine Corps attempted to pattern itself after the U.S. Marine Corps model. It consisted of a Lieutenant General Commandant and a small central headquarters in Saigon, two combat task forces, Task Force Alpha and Task Force Bravo, six infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, an Amphibious Support Battalion, and a training center. Most of the Vietnamese Marine field officers and many of the company grade officers had attended at least the U.S. Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. A few of the more senior officers also graduated from the more advanced US Amphibious Warfare School at the U.S. Marine base.

Despite the similarities between the two Marine Corps, there were important differences. While its officers and some of its enlisted men had received amphibious warfare training, the South Vietnamese Marine Corps actually participated in very few amphibious operations. Having its origins in the Vietnamese commando and riverine companies under the French, the Vietnamese Marine Corps at first operated much in the French tradition after its establishment in 1954. In fact until May 1955, a French officer remained in command of the Vietnamese Marines.

With the growing American influence, the Vietnamese Marine organization tended to reflect the U.S. Marine Corps with a growing emphasis upon the amphibious mission. Still, from the very beginning of their existence, the Vietnamese Marines were committed to campaigns against the Viet Cong. While still continuing riverine operations, especially in the MeKong Delta and in the Rung Sat sector south of Saigon, there was little call for assaults across a defended beach.

The VNMC was an all-volunteer unit. and the men who join the "Corps" must virtually sweat blood in order to graduate from the intensive Vietnamese Training Center at Thu Quc, near Saigon. The center is modeled after the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and most of Thu Duc's Drill Instructors were graduates of the USMC DI School in San Diego. The recruiting pitch used by 13 recruiting teams traveling throughout the four Corps Tactical Zones was "Serve with the Best - Be a Vietnamese Marine".

The basic advantage that the Vietnamese Marines offered was their national character. Recruited from the nation at large, rather than from any one region as most of the South Vietnamese Army divisions were, they could be deployed anywhere in Vietnam when the situation demanded. Together with other specialist units such as the South Vietnamese rangers and airborne, the Vietnamese Marines formed the National General Reserve. Operating directly under the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS), these units became in effect fire brigades to rush to the most urgent hot spots and put out the flames. In one sense, the most important quality of the Vietnamese Marines was their demonstrated loyalty over time to the central government and the Joint General Staff.

Given the dominance of the Vietnamese military in the central government, no South Vietnamese military organization could be entirely divorced from internal politics. In the coup against then-President Diem in 1963, Vietnamese Marines played a decisive role in toppling the regime. While the Vietnamese Commandant, Le Nguyen Khang, did not take an active part in bringing down the government, he was aware of the plot and took no action to prevent it. Following the coup, Khang became the South Vietnamese military attache in the Philippines, but in three months he once more resumed his duties as Commandant of the Vietnamese Marine Corps. In 1966, Khang and his Marines sided with the central government against the "Struggle Movement" in I Corps and helped to subdue those ARVN units loyal to the former I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Nguyen Chanh Thi.

During one engagement in northern I Corps, during 1965, the 2nd Battalion, VNMC, exhibited a fighting spirit which was recorded by the enemy, when the capture of his documents revealed the notation. "The second Battalion . . fought like Crazy Water Buffaloes.' The 2nd Battalion, incidentally, was the most decorated unit in the Vietnamese Marine Corps, and their decorations include a United States Presidential Unit Citation.

While the U.S. Marine advisors for the most part respected their Vietnamese counterparts and the fighting qualities of the Vietnamese Marine, they also recognized several of the shortcomings of the Vietnamese organization. There was a constant theme of lack of staff work and refusal of commanders to delegate authority, lack of tactical coordination, poor employment of mortars, and poor caliber of the noncommissioned officers. During the battle for Hue, for example, the 1st Battalion was heavily engaged for two days while the "two other battalions of the task force watched the fighting from a distance of about one kilometer." The Marine advisor to the battalion attributed some of the heavy losses of the Marines during the fighting on the failure of the task force commander "to commit all or part of his watching idle battalions."

Despite such obvious weakness on the part of the Vietnamese Marines, there was much improvement over time. The Vietnamese took several steps to improve both tactics and leadership. The Marines opened up a school for noncommissioned officers and a school for the use of mortars. In March 1968, after a review of the entire organization with the Joint General Staff, MACV agreed to support the transformation of the Marine Corps into a Marine light division. In October the Vietnamese Marine Brigade officially became the Vietnamese Marine Corps division consisting of two brigades. With the potential of continued growth and an earned combat reputation, the Vietnamese Marine Corps had become an even more integral part of the Vietnamese General Reserve.

There's no greater tribute an enemy can pay to the opposite force than to give the organization a distinctive nickname. In the Great War, the United States Marines earned the title "Devil Dogs." In Vietnam, their counterparts earned the title Trau Dien "Crazy Water Buffaloes." The Vietnamese Marines exhibited the fighting spirit that elite units create for themselves. This was reflected in the various names of their battalions that were the focus of their unit identification. The infantry battalions had a series of nicknames and slogans that were reflected on their unit insignia: 1st Battalion's "Wild Bird," 2d Battalion's "Crazy Buffalo," 3d Battalion's "SeaWolf," 4th Battalion's "Killer Shark," 5th Battalion's "Black Dragon," 6th Battalion's "Sacred Bird," 7th Battalion's "Black Tiger," 8th Battalion's "Sea Eagle," and 9th Battalion's "Mighty Tiger." For the artillery units, this was the 1st Battalion's "Lightning Fire," 2d Battalion's "Sacred Arrow," and 3d Battalion's "Sacred Bow." Support and service battalions followed this example as well.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:37:23 ZULU