K REL="fontdef" SRC="VI_Arial.pfr"> LAM SON 719 (II)

Indochina Monographs


by Maj. Gen. Nguyen Duy Hinh

Published by U.S. Army Center Of Military History



by Maj. Gen. Nguyen Duy Hinh



The overall situation throughout South Vietnam began to improve soon after American troops were committed to the ground war; and as the enemy gradually lost the initiative, his main force units were driven away from populated regions and other areas vital to the defense of the country. The Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam (RVNAF) regained their poise and, with increased United States assistance and support, were greatly strengthened.

The exertions made by the Communists during the 1968 general offensive seriously depleted their strength. The huge losses they incurred during this campaign - 200,000 troops killed, taken prisoners or rallied to the GVN-caused entire units of the enemy's main force to be paralyzed and considerably weakened his infrastructure. Consequently, as of late 1968, it became evident that the improved military situation provided the opportunity for an energetic revitalization of the Republic of Vietnam. To consolidate the gains, the United States found it necessary to further strengthen the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam and increase American assistance in all forms. Firepower and troop morale of ARVN combat units were quickly improved as a result of force structure increases, the creation of new units and the delivery of modern weapons such as the M-16, rifle, N-60 machine- gun and M-79 grenade-launcher.

In 1969, the new Nixon administration reemphasized efforts begun in the last part of the Johnson administration to obtain a lasting peace in Indochina. New efforts were made in Paris and the United States adopted a more flexible negotiating stance aimed at reaching an early compromise. While at the Midway meeting of 8 June 1969, the President of the United States and the President of the Republic of

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Vietnam proclaimed a new course of action, which the U.S. referred to as "Vietnamization." Under the doctrine of Vietnamization, the United States would begin removing its combat troops and turning over the prosecution of the war to the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam. To facilitate the withdrawal of United States troops, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam were to be rapidly expanded and modernized and the United States would also assist and strengthen the development and economy of the Republic of Vietnam by increasing non-military aid as well.

The years 1969 and 1970 witnessed an unprecedented development of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam. Their total strength was rapidly increased from 700,000 in early 1968 to nearly one million in late 1970. Major ARVN combat forces consisted of ten infantry divisions fully equipped with modern weapons, including heavy artillery and armored vehicles. The general reserve forces consisted of the Airborne and Marine Divisions, both up to strength and thoroughly combat worth‹ In addition, armor, artillery, engineer and logistic capabilities were rapidly improved and training facilities were developed in order to provide for the needs of a l,000,000 man arm‹

The Air Force and Navy were also strengthened. The Air Force, which had 16,000 men in 1967, was boosted to 45,000 men in 1970. Its five air wings were upgraded into five full fledged air divisions, equipped with A-37 and A-1H fighters and modern UH-l helicopters. The Navy also experienced a rapid development from 16,000 men in 1967 to 40,000 in late 1970. New naval units were created as a number of U.S. vessels operating at sea and in rivers were turned over to the Vietnamese Nav‹ Amphibious Task Force 211 was created at Dong Tam and became fully operational in late 1969. River Patrol Force 212, created in mid 1970, was assigned patrol and interdiction duties on rivers and canals. United States naval vessels operating on the high seas were also gradually turned over to the Vietnamese Nav‹

In addition to regular forces, the territorial forces similarly underwent major changes. The numerical strength of the Regional Forces, whose units were responsible for local security at the province and

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district levels, rose from 150,000 in early 1968 to 280,000 in late 1970. The number of their fighting units increased accordingly from 880 to 1,600 companies. The Popular Forces, responsible for security in villages and hamlets, numbered 250,000 by late 1970 as compared to 150,000 in 1968, an increase from 4,100 to 7,200 combat platoons. Noteworthy is the fact that these territorial forces were supplied with new basic weaponry just like their regular counterparts and were greatly improved in terms of training, command and control, and logistics.

As the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces developed following the Midway agreement, the United States and other free world forces gradually stood down and reddeployed. Of the ten U.S. divisions fighting in Vietnam, only six remained as the year 1971 began.

During the period that United States combat forces were actively fighting the ground war, major units of the Vietnamese regular forces were assigned the primary role of pacification support. The 1968 Communist offensive, however, caused a significant change in the responsibilities of the RVNAF. Since most of the targets of this offensive were cities and urban centers, Communist forces were pitted directly against the ARVN. This general offensive resulted in a military defeat for the enemy and two facts became immediately apparent. One was that the RVAAF had the capability to meet and cope with such challenges. The second was that the people of South Vietnam were still strongly anti-Communist. They refused to respond to the call of the Communists for a general uprising and their wide response to the general mobilization law afforded the manpower needed to enlarge the national armed forces.

Even though the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam could not replace the reddeployed United States and other free world forces on a numerical basis, they made every effort to fill the vacuum. In the beginning, this was not a very difficult task. The enemy's post-offensive strength had considerably dwindled while the combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam was improving as each day passed. New weapons and equipment stimulated ARVN moral© Concurrently, United States troops cooperated with the Vietnamese armed

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forces to capitalize on the enemy's diminishing strength. Major operations were launched successively which succeeded in forcing the enemy from his bases and driving him over the national boundaries.

The enemy's weakness and the Allied successes of 1969 and 1970 were favorable to the implementation of the Vietnamization program. ARVN units were reddeployed to gradually replace United States troops and assume more combat responsibilities. The northernmost DMZ area was taken over by units of the 1st Infantry Division. By the end of 1969, the northern part of II Corps area and the entirety of IV Corps area were defended by the armed forces of Vietnam. In other corps areas, whenever a United States infantry unit was leaving, adjacent Vietnamese units immediately expanded their operational responsibilities to cover the evacuated area as well.

The Vietnamese Air Force continued to develop and provided more effective support for friendly ground units. The Navy also was given more responsibilities at an accelerated pac© By September 1970, the inner perimeter of Operation Market Time, which was designed to interdict sea infiltration routes to the Communists, became the sole responsibility of the Vietnamese Nav‹ By the end of 1970, twelve of the fourteen joint United States-Vietnamese naval operations in progress were conducted entirely by the Vietnamese Nav‹ The other two operations, Solid Anchor (south of Cape Ca Mau) and the outer perimeter of Market Time, were subsequently completely turned over to the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam.

The years 1969 and 1970 were a period when the Republic of Vietnam took advantage of the enemy's declining strength and power. Pacification and development campaigns were launched in rapid succession, designed to reoccupy and rehabilitate the countryside. As early as at the end of 1968, the Hamlet Evaluation System indicated that the pacification program had more than restored the conditions that had existed in the countryside prior to the Communist general offensive. In late 1970, 95 percent of the hamlets of the Republic of Vietnam were recorded as secure and fairly secure (HES categories A, B and C). When compared to 1967, an additional five million people had come under the authority of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam.

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Achievements in other areas also pointed to the success of the pacification effort during the initial stages of the Vietnamization program. The number of Communist personnel defecting to the Government of the Republic of Vietnam reached its peak in 1969 (47,000) and remained very high in 1970 (32,000). Many of the Communist senior cadre chose to come over to the side of the government. At the same time, popular sentiment against the Communists continued to rise in the aftermath of their 1968 general offensive.

In early 1970, the People's Self Defense Force numbered as many as 3-1/2 million members, supplied with approximately 400,000 weapons of various types, a significant force politically and militarily. The territorial forces, comprised of the Regional and Popular Forces, in coordination with the paramilitary forces including Police, Rural Development cadre, Armed Propaganda cadre, Provincial Reconnaissance units and People's SelfDDefense forces, succeeded - with support from ARVN units - in driving the enemy from the populated areas and reducing his infrastructure. His local guerrilla bases were eliminated by these forces while his major bases in country were being destroyed by the Armed Forces of Vietnam and those of the United States.

As the pacification program continued to improve, the people who had taken refuge in the more secure urban areas were able to return to their home villages and resume farming. Rural development programs steadily changed the outlook of the countryside of South Vietnam. Schools sprang up almost everywhere, attended by large numbers of eager children. As a result of the agricultural development and technical guidance programs, extensive use of fertilizers and improved rice hybrids, and finally the implementation of the Land-To-The-Tiller program, agricultural production in South Vietnam improved considerably. Rice production in 1969 increased by 700,000 metric tons as compared to the preceding year. In 1970, this figure rose by another 400,000 tons. Total agricultural production in 1970 reached the 5.5 million tons mark, exceeding even the 1964 figure which had been the highest in South Vietnam since World War Iė Besides rice crops, other agricultural products were plentiful. Fisheries became highly productive as a large

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number of the fishing fleet units made use of newly imported motors. The results of these rural development programs were apparent throughout South Vietnam in the gleaming prosperity of the countryside: great expanses of green rice fields, the great number of motor bicycles on the roads, the TV antennas on rooftops, and the fleet of motorized sampans crisscrossing the waterways.

Against this favorable setting for increasing self sufficiency, 1970 also provided a major event that diminished still more the Communist threat and boosted the morale of the people of South Vietnam. Prince Sihanouk was overthrown as Chief of State of neighboring Cambodia. For many years, Cambodia, under Sihanouk's rule, had been a sanctuary for the Communists; they had built on Cambodian territory near the border areas a network of bases from which they mounted attacks against the Republic of Vietnam. It was on this "neutral" territory that Communist war supplies and materiel dispatched from North Vietnam were stored before being brought to use in South Vietnam. The seaport of Sihanoukville had also served as a major supply port for the enemy for many years.

At the end of March 1970, after General Lon Nol had taken over. ARVN III and IV Corps sent a few reconnaissance patrols into the border area adjacent to the provinces of Hau Nghia and Kien Tuong and found a number of Communist supply caches in the are’ In late April, with the concurrence of the new Cambodian government, and the cooperation and support of United States units, III and IV Corps launched a large offensive against Communist sanctuaries on the other side of the border. This offensive was joined in early May 1970 by the U.S. 25th Infantry Division, 1st Air Cavalry Division and armor elements. While United States units swept into enemy bases and command complexes adjacent to the border, west and north of Tay Ninh province, ARVN forces progressed deeper into Cambodia flushing out Communist units and searching for supply caches.

Unable to resist the advancing U.S. and ARVN units, Communist forces fell back into Cambodia and, in cooperation with Khmer Rouge units, threatened Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and a number of

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other cities. This prompted the new Cambodian government to appeal for help. Responding to this request, III Corps forces assisted in the relief of Cambodian provinces under pressure west of Tay Ninh, while IV Corps helped clear the enemy threat from provinces south of Phnom Penh. During these relief operations, ARVN engineers reestablished road communications on National Route Nų 1 between Phnom Penh and Saigon and built a major logistic base at Neak Luong, 40 miles south of the Cambodian capital. A Vietnamese Marine brigade was deployed to Neak Luong with the mission of assisting with the security of Phnom Penh, if required. In the meantime IV Corps units and the Vietnamese Navy mounted operations to clear the Mekong River, a vital supply route for the Cambodian capital.

This cross border, offensive campaign was a resounding success. By 30 June 1970, which was the deadline for United States forces to withdraw from Cambodia, Allied forces had eliminated 5,000 enemy troops, and captured 9,300 tons of weapons, ammunition and assorted supplies, and 7,000 tons of ric© Most enemy bases had been overrun and destroyed. The amount of materiel and supplies seized was enough for the enemy to sustain a military campaign in his COSVN area of South Vietnam for at least six months.(1)

After the Cambodian incursion the RVNAF continued to conduct small scale cross border operations as required by the situation or to assist the Cambodian government when requested.

The operations into Cambodia resulted in significant improvements in security in South Vietnam and, just as important, the morale of the population as well as of our troops was stimulated in the belief that, despite the continued redeployment of United States and Free World Military Assistance forces and the deadlocked Paris talks, the U.S. was still striving for a satisfactory solution to the war and Vietnamization was going to work.

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This was a difficult time for the enem‹ His system of bases and sanctuaries on both sides of the Cambodian border was apparently paralyzed and continued to be harassed. The port of Sihanoukville (redesignated Kompong Som) no longer was a free port of entry for his supplies and our Operation Market Time on the high seas off the Vietnam coastline was effectively interdicting infiltration by se’ To continue supporting its war in the South, it appeared that North Vietnam would have to rely solely on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the supply route along the rugged Truong Son mountain rang© Therefore, an invasion of the Laos Panhandle became an attractive idea; such an operation would retain the initiative for the RVNAF, disrupt the flow of enemy personnel and supplies to South Vietnam, and greatly reduce the enemy's capability to launch an offensive in 1971.

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(1) COSVN, the Central Office for South Vietnam, was the enemy head-quarters responsible for the geographical area under GVN Military Region 3, Military Region 4 and the five southern provinces of Military Region 2.)

===> Part 1: Preface & Table Of Content Content - Part 2: Introduction - Part 3: The Operational Environment - Part 4: The Planning Phase - Part 5: The Offensive Phase - Part 6: The Withdrawal Phase - Part 7: A Critical Analysis - Part 8: Observations And Conclusions - Part 9: Appendix & Glossary
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