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Military


Viet Cong Organization

Viet Cong military forces varied from hamlet and village guerrillas, who were farmers by day and fighters by night, to full-time professional soldiers. The enemy's armed forces essentially consisted of three major groups - local and provincial VC guerrillas, main force VC units and members of the regular North Vietnamese Army.

  • Main Force VC units were organized into battalions and regiments, but could also be organized into divisions for operations throughout South Vietnam. They were better equipped and trained than the local and provincial VC units and were fully capable of relatively large-scale and violent opera?tions. Yet they could also break down into squads and platoons and could operate in the same fashion as the local Vietcong. Main force units were organized as battalions, regiments, and - as the insurgency matured - divisions. Subordinate to provincial, regional, and higher commands, such units were the strongest, most mobile, and most offensive-minded of the Viet Cong forces; their mission often was to attack and defeat a specific South Vietnamese unit. By 1965 Viet Cong Main Force units were generally equipped with improved weapons supplied by the Communist countries.
  • Local Force VC guerrillas usually operated as part-time soldiers who blended into the civilian population by day and became effective fighters at night. They operated in small units (usually squad, platoon or company). The provincial Vietcong (usually organized into battalions) consisted of forces recruited from local villages. They normally operated in the province from which the unit's members were drawn. Forming companies and battalions, local forces were attached to a village, district, or provincial headquarters. Often they formed the protective shield behind which a Communist Party cadre established its political infrastructure and organized new guerrilla elements at the hamlet and village levels. As the link between guerrilla and main force units, local forces served as a reaction force for the former and as a pool of replacements and reinforcements for the latter. Having limited offensive capability, local forces usually attacked poorly defended, isolated outposts or weaker paramilitary forces, often at night and by ambush.
  • Guerrillas, part-time fighters organized into squads and platoons, had several military functions. They gathered intelligence, passing it on to district or provincial authorities; they proselytized, propagandized, recruited, and provided security for local cadres. They reconnoitered the battlefield, served as porters and guides, created diversions, evacuated wounded, and retrieved weapons. Their very presence and watchfulness in a hamlet or village inhibited the population from aiding the government.
  • Self Defense Forces provided a base for recruitment as well as for political and logistical support, but were not a fighting force comparable to the guerrilla. While local VC hamlet self-defenses cause some casualties and damage, they do not represent a continual or dependable force and do not form a valid part of the enemy's military force. Part-time and unarmed communist supporters living in rural villages and hamlets were organized into units denominated as youth assault teams, self-defense forces, and secret self-defense forces. Self-defense units undertook various security duties in communist-controlled areas. Secret self-defense units included persons performing self-defense functions but living in government-controlled areas. Their participation in the communist-led insurgency was to be kept secret.
  • Viet Cong Infrastructure, were political cadre with no direct military function. The VCI supported by main force and local force troops, maintained the control of the enemy over the people. The Viet Cong went about systematically breaking up the organizational fabric of the village. They installed their own Village Chiefs and established a complete infrastructure. The Viet Cong infrastructure personnel and organizations performed support roles, such as recruiting, political indoctrination, propaganda and psychological operations, intelligence collection and logistical support.

    Viet Cong Infrastructure was the target of the US Marine Corps' Combined Action Program (CAP), which sought to destroy the Viet Cong infrastructure within the village or hamlet area of responsibility. The Marines' emphasis on pacifying the highly populated areas prevented the guerrillas from coercing the local population into providing rice, intelligence, and sanctuary to the enemy. The Civil Operations and Revolutionary (later Rural) Development and Support (CORDS) Accelerated Pacification Campaign focused on territorial security, neutralizing Viet Cong infrastructure, and supporting programs for self-defense and self-government at the local level. Identifying and eliminating the Viet Cong infrastructure was a critical part of the new focus on pacification, the Accelerated Pacification Campaign - included the Phuong Hoang program, or Phoenix. The purpose of Phoenix was to neutralizethe Viet Cong infrastructure, and although the program received some negative attention in the instances when it was abused, its use of former Viet Cong and indigenous Provisional Reconnaissance Units to root out the enemy's shadow government was very effective. The intent of Phoenix was to attack the enemy's infrastructure with a "rifleshot rather than a shotgun approach to the central target - key political leaders, command-and-control elements and activists in the VCI." The Phoenix approach acknowledged that capturingthe enemy's political operatives was more important than killing them. The prime source of information for identifying and locating future targets was the capture of current enemy operatives and leaders. The apprehension of a courier or minor village functionary often permitted a roll up operation on a portion of the local infrastructure.

    Viet Cong Infrastructure and their VC guerrilla forces were largely defeated by early 1970 leaving little option for the northern Communists but to pursue a conventional military strategy. Internal Communist documents and information provided by CIA spies within the VCI confirmed that the VCI was finished. In the 1972 Easter offensive, and again in 1975, there was no sign of the VCI or the Viet Cong military because Phoenix and its allied activities had dealt them a very serious blow.

As the Viet Cong's control over the population increased, their military forces grew in number and size. Squads and platoons became companies, companies formed battalions, and battalions were organized into regiments. This process of creating and enlarging units continued as long as the Viet Cong had a base of support among the population.

The local and main force units consisted of full-time soldiers, most often recruited from the area where the unit operated. Because of their detailed knowledge of local terrain, extensive combat experience in guerrilla warfare and often intense dedication to their cause, the VC soldiers were formidable opponents throughout the war. One American officer described the Vietcong as"a fanatically dedicated opponent whowould take on tanks, if necessary, armed only with bow and arrow."

The NVA units were better equipped than the VC units and usually operated as battalions, regiments or even divisions. The NVA units possessed greater combat power than the Vietcong, illustrated by their eventual employment of heavy artillery andtanks, particularly in the latter phases of the war. Except for the greater firepower and usually larger units, NVA methods of operation resembled those of main force Vietcong. At times, the NVA units also conducted light and highly mobile guerrilla operations, similar to those of the local Vietcong, but such operations were often not as successful as those conducted by local forces. Because of his lack of familiarity with South Vietnam and relatively easy identification as aforeigner, the NVA soldier sometimes could not blend into the local popuiation.

By mid-1967, large-scale offensive operations by free world forces had flushed the enemy's larger units from many of their base camps and sanctuaries near large urban areas in South Vietnam. Thenceforth, NVA units often operated in border areas where they could elude pursuing free world units by fleeing across the Vietnamese border into relatively safe sanctuaries.

Despite the variety of units, the enemy's forces operated in an interdependent fashion. There was no notion of each type unit fighting in its own way without regard to the methods or mission of other units. Local force Vietcong, for example, provided important logistics support for main forceunits while continuously harassing alliedtroops. Similarly, main force units bore thebrunt of the heaviest fighting in the largeroperations, but, without the intelligence,preparation and assistance of the localforces, their successeswould have been ex?tremely limited.



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