The Advisory Effort, 1950-1965
Background- Military Assistance
Advisory Group, Vietnam, Organized
The U.S. military advisory effort in Vietnam had a modest beginning in September 1950, when the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), Vietnam, was established in Saigon. Its mission was to supervise the issuance and employment of $10 million of military equipment to support French legionnaires in their effort to combat Viet Minh forces. By 1953 the amount of U.S. military aid had jumped to over $350 million and was used to replace the badly worn World War II vintage equipment that France, still suffering economically from the devastation of that war, was still using.
From the outset, French forces were happy to receive the new material but refused American advice on how to employ it. The U.S. desire was that all Vietnamese units be organized and trained to provide internal defense of their own country and that aid be used to equip those units. Such a desire was at odds with existing French policy. The French Army was employed not only to counter enemy forces but also to assert France as a colonial power. A purely Vietnamese army would not be dependable in this latter role. Accordingly, major units were filled totally by French officers and noncommissioned officers with the ranks made up of Vietnamese. Senior French commanders were so loath to accept advice that would weaken their traditional colonial role that they effectively hampered various attempts by MAAG personnel to observe where the equipment was being sent and how it was being used.
Slowly, however, the French were forced to change their policies. As they steadily lost their grip on the country, they saw that their days as a colonial power were numbered and that, if the country was to be saved from a Communist takeover, a strong, effective Vietnamese force would have to be provided. In 1954 the commanding general of French forces in Indochina, General Navarre, permitted the United States to send liaison officers to Vietnamese forces. But it was too late, as evidenced by daily worldwide news accounts of the siege and fall of Dien Bien Phu in the spring of
that year. Under the Geneva Accords, France was forced to surrender the northern half of Vietnam and to withdraw from South Vietnam by April of 1956. On 12 February 1955 at a conference in Washington, D.C., between officials of the U.S. State Department and the French Minister of Overseas Affairs, it was agreed that all U.S. aid would be funneled directly to South Vietnam and that all major military responsibilities would be transferred from the French to the Military Assistance Advisory Group mission under the command of Lieutenant General John O'Daniel. Because there were only 342 U.S. military personnel assigned to the group, not enough to accomplish the advisory mission, it was decided to make the training effort a joint U.S. and French mission under the title of Training Relations and Instruction Mission (TRIM). The mission was short lived, since the French Expeditionary Force formally departed South Vietnam in April of 1956 as directed by the Accords and upon the insistence of President Diem. To fill the void, the MAAG mission was increased to 740 men by the end of June.
During this reorganization period, General O'Daniel had stated a need for assigning military advisers down to the battalion level rather than concentrating them at the higher headquarters levels, but Military Assistance Advisory Group at that time did not have enough personnel. Further, President Diem was reluctant to allow advisers with tactical units. He was fearful that the United States would gain control or influence over his forces if Americans permeated the ranks of the army. It might be surmised that Diem wanted to maintain complete control of his armed forces, which constituted a major political tool to keep his opponents at bay. By 1961, however, conditions had changed. Communist guerrillas were becoming stronger and more active, and enemy contacts increased in size and intensity throughout South Vietnam.
It was evident that the Hanoi government had little intention of abiding by the Geneva agreements to honor the south's territorial integrity. President John F. Kennedy, during late spring of 1961, further increased the U.S. military commitment in both equipment and men. Aid had been averaging $50 million per year for the past several years but was sharply increased to $144 million for 1961. At the same time President Diem agreed to the assignment of advisers to battalion level. Accordingly, the adviser strength jumped from 850 in 1959 to over 2,000 in 1961. By 1964 the advisory force numbered 23,000 officers and men.
The Field Artillery Adviser
The U.S. advisory buildup during the early 1960's included the assignment of field artillery advisory teams down to battalion level
as quickly as they could be trained and sent. Each team included an artillery officer, usually a captain, and a senior noncommissioned officer. In most cases both had attended the six-week Military Assistance Training Agency (MATA) course taught at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The course was established to prepare students for future duties as advisers in Vietnam- to teach them both what to expect and what was expected of them. The curriculum included, among other subjects, a profile of the country, its people, government, history, and geography; the organization and employment of its military and paramilitary forces; and basic language instruction. The "Redleg" (an artilleryman) advisers were given additional instruction concerning Vietnamese artillery and methods of employing field artillery effectively in Vietnam. In addition to the MATA course, artillerymen attending resident courses at Fort Sill after fiscal year 1962 were to receive orientations on counterinsurgency operations. Officers attending the field artillery career course participated in practical exercises in the employment of artillery in support of jungle operations.
Field artillery advisory teams were assigned to battalions of both divisional and corps artillery. Each Vietnamese division in 1961 had a division artillery consisting of one 4.2-inch mortar battalion and one 105-mm. howitzer battalion. Each battalion had three subordinate firing batteries. In 1961 the mortar batteries had nine weapons and the cannon batteries had four weapons each. In 1963 mortar battery weapons were reduced to six and cannon battery weapons increased to six. From late 1964 to early 1965, 4.2-inch mortar batteries were replaced by 105-mm. batteries; 105-mm. weapons, with their longer ranges, had proved to be more valuable in accomplishing the mission of area coverage. Each of the four Vietnamese army corps also had its own artillery, usually two or three battalions, depending on the need. Corps artillery consisted of 105- and 155-mm. howitzer battalions. The 155-mm. howitzer was the heaviest artillery in Vietnam during this period. Like division artillery, the battalions of corps artillery each had three batteries. Each battery initially had four weapons, increased to six by early 1965.
The artillery advisory team was assigned to assist the Vietnamese unit commander and his staff in such areas as administrative procedures, personnel management, logistics, operations, training, maintenance, and communications, with particular emphasis on the tactical employment of artillery. The officer of the team, whose title was artillery officer adviser, proffered advice on all matters concerned with enhancing unit effectiveness. His noncommissioned
assistant, the firing battery adviser, concentrated on assisting the battalion S-3 and operations sergeant in planning, organizing, and supervising training of the firing batteries and individual gun sections. In addition to the battalion advisory teams, an artillery officer, normally a major, was assigned to each corps and division to advise the senior Vietnamese artillery commanders at those levels. This adviser had the additional task of coordinating the efforts of the advisory teams with the subordinate battalions.
The young officers and noncommissioned officers who served as battalion advisers were of the highest caliber. They were at once professional, knowledgeable, and aggressive. Yet they were soon to learn that as advisers they could not "get things done" as they had in the American units in which they had served. Now they could only advise, not lead. Their advice could be accepted or rejected as the Vietnamese commander saw fit. Though often frustrating, this exclusively advisory status was necessary if the Vietnamese were to learn without the United States being accused of attempting to grab control of the military with intentions of making Vietnam a puppet state. Accordingly, advisers in the field were specifically directed to avoid any action that might be construed as leading a Vietnamese military organization in combat against the enemy.
To add to their frustrations, advisers were often fearful that their effectiveness would be judged by their superiors in relation to the effectiveness of the unit they advised. Unhappily, in some cases their fears were justified. An outstanding officer might be assigned to advise a mediocre unit which he was powerless to improve if the unit commander was indifferent to his suggestions. Though expressed humorously in this first verse of a rather lengthy poem, the dilemma was a very real one:
I can't pull the throttle,
I can't ring the bell,
But if this goddamn train should stop,
I'm the one that catches hell.
(an adviser's lament-anonymous)
The Adviser's Challenge
Even when an adviser's suggestion was accepted by his counterpart, it often seemed that the suggestion was executed in a painstakingly slow and inefficient manner. There were several reasons for this.
First, advisers were faced with helping an army whose soldiers came from a culture with a set of values and philosophy far different from their own. The American believed that anything could
be accomplished with hard work, and he considered the year he would be in Vietnam ample time to get the job done. The Vietnamese, on the other hand, believed that one must work hard to live but that progress came about slowly. He had fought an enemy all his life and could not comprehend why Americans felt that they could end the fighting overnight. Many other values held by Americans and Vietnamese clashed. Suffice it to say that it was often difficult for an adviser and his counterpart to understand one another. What was viewed as a reasonable approach to a problem by one was often viewed as inane by the other. Other than making a sincere effort to understand one another's views, little could be done to close this cultural gap.
Another reason for apparent ineffectiveness of Vietnamese units was a void of trained and experienced leaders. Correcting this weakness was somewhat easier than overcoming cultural differences but was still a prodigious task. The French had purposely denied a majority of the leadership positions within their army to Vietnamese. There was evidence, however, of token acceptance of Vietnamese leaders as early as 1948. At that time, the French established an artillery training center forty kilometers northwest of Saigon to train noncommissioned officers as well as enlisted cannoneers for the French Expeditionary Force. In 1951 the school accepted Vietnamese officers for attendance in the basic courses and in 1953 presented the first battery commander's course. After the reorganization of the Vietnamese Army the artillery school was relocated, first at the engineer school near Thu Dan Mot and then on 25 July 1961 at Duc My, approximately fifty kilometers northwest of Nha Trang. At each location activities were expanded to train artillery officers and noncommissioned officers as well as artillerymen with specialized duties. Among other artillery-related courses, the first battery commander's course was offered in 1961 and the first advanced course in 1965. Vietnamese artillerymen could take some pride in their branch being the first in the Vietnamese military to offer an advanced course.
At unit level, advisers pressed their counterparts to provide training of junior officers. Some battalions developed aggressive training programs which brought officers in from the field to present classes and practical training on various aspects of the employment of field artillery.
Many of the most promising young Vietnamese artillery officers and noncommissioned officers received further training at the U.S. Army Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where they were exposed to the latest thinking on field artillery employment and
ARVN OUTPOST. Large French-style outpost with a platoon of howitzers.
developments. From fiscal year 1953 to fiscal year 1973; 663 Vietnamese artillery officers alone were sent to Fort Sill. Peak attendance was during the early years of the expanded advisory effort, 1960 to 1964, when yearly attendance exceeded 60 officers.
Vietnamese field artillery leaders could not be effective if they were not knowledgeable in all aspects of the employment of their weapons. Formal training served that purpose. But an even more important factor in developing leaders was encouraging the Vietnamese to take command themselves. American advisers could not command Vietnamese units, and although the Vietnamese might make mistakes and perform awkwardly initially, they would be challenged to perform and to develop into outstanding leaders. Thus, any frustrations that an adviser might feel in not being given a firmer hand to control the situation were well worth the end result of effective Vietnamese leadership.
A third reason for ineffectiveness was poor operational practices, some inherited from the French and others developed by the Vietnamese over a period of years. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these practices was the use of the field artillery primarily as a defensive weapon. The French had unavoidably set a poor example for the Vietnamese. They had been forced to use their artillery defensively in the face of too few soldiers, poor communications,
limited road networks, and insufficient equipment. Since the road network was so vital to their operations and the Viet Minh tactics centered on cutting this network, the French developed a series of small outposts along the roads, each with one or two guns and mutually supporting wherever possible. For this purpose they used approximately 400 weapons of mixed calibers, including U.S. 105mm. and 155-mm. howitzers and UK 3.7-inch and 25-pound guns. These weapons were manned by crews of seven to eight men and usually were located in an outpost occupied by one or two infantry platoons. From these positions, artillery supported squad-size outposts positioned along roads and canals. As a result of this type of employment, the war was often known as the war of the "firing lieutenant." Each platoon of two guns was commanded by a French lieutenant who, because of his isolated location, actually conducted his own little war. Artillery employed in this static role was not organized into batteries or battalions. Thirty to forty guns were grouped under a small headquarters staff responsible for their administrative and logistical support.
Though the French employed their artillery primarily in a static role, they also had regular artillery battalions organized as division artillery. In early 1951, as Viet Minh operations approached conventional proportions, the French emphasized employment of these battalions in a conventional manner. But this offensive application of artillery was too little and too late to have any effect on the outcome of the war.
The defensive posture that the French adopted for their guns was readily copied by the South Vietnamese. Weapons were placed in static positions throughout the countryside, where they often remained for years at a time, and seldom were used to support offensive operations. A purely defensive role was disheartening; one could never win on the defensive but could only hold off an attack or lose. A defensive attitude came to permeate the ranks at all levels and resulted in operating procedures that would seem ridiculous to anyone who seriously intended to win. Mortars were withheld from outposts where they might do some good because of the illogical reasoning that the outposts might be overrun and the weapons seized. Certain types of special ammunition and mines were withheld for the same reasons. It could only be unsettling to the morale of the defenders that they were denied weapons that might save their lives.
This is not to deny that a system of scattered artillery outposts to provide area coverage was valid in itself. Hamlets, government compounds, and lines of communication required continuous ar-
ARVN GUN SECTION. Typical 105-mm. position within a hamlet in Kontum Province, September 1963.
tillery protection. Still, after years of occupying static positions, methods of effectively employing artillery offensively were all but forgotten. Artillery not placed in static outposts was often held in unit motor pools when it should have been used to support ongoing operations or to relieve other artillery that could be so used. Artillery advisers relentlessly pushed their counterparts to move their howitzers out of the motor pools and their mortars out of arms rooms and, wherever possible, to move their guns out of the static outposts to support ground operations. From 1961 to 1965 there were some changes toward a more offensive spirit on the part of the Vietnamese artillery. Major General Charles J. Timmes, Chief MAAG, Vietnam, noted in June 1964 that there was less hoarding of weapons in motor pools and more of a tendency toward employing all available weapons in the field. He gave much of the credit for the improvement to field artillery advisers. In addition, a U.S. Army contact team noted in a report written in early 1965 that artillery weapons were being
used frequently to support South Vietnamese Army operations and that there was little hesitation to move weapons in support of those operations. However, the same report noted that most often only two guns were used to support a battalion-size operation. The report was also critical of the fact that once a platoon of two guns was moved and emplaced to support an operation, it was seldom moved again throughout the duration of the operation.
Another poor operational practice was overcontrol of the artillery commander by the supported maneuver commander. The Vietnamese followed the strictest interpretation of the French artillery commander's relationship to the ground commanders. At regimental level, the infantry commander actually commanded artillery assigned to his support. This alone was not necessarily a bad practice. U.S. artillery doctrine permits it, particularly, as was often the case in Vietnam, when both maneuver and supporting forces are some distance from their parent units on semiindependent operations. Given the command of his supporting artillery, however, the Vietnamese ground commander had a tendency to over-involve himself in the details of its employment. He often selected weapon positions and required that the artillery obtain permission from him before firing. As a result, corps and division artillery commanders were powerless to influence the action through their subordinate artillery headquarters, which were controlled by the supported commanders. They could only make recommendations on the employment of their weapons to their respective corps or division commanders. If the recommendations were accepted, they were passed on as orders through ground command channels. Subordinate maneuver commanders were then responsible for the execution of the orders. Artillery battalion commanders had no more power than their superiors to influence the action of their batteries other than to make recommendations to their supported ground commanders. A more efficient use of the system would have been for the infantry commander to give only general guidance to his artillery on how best to support his maneuver plan. The artillery commander, the more knowledgeable of the two on fire support matters, then would have the freedom and flexibility necessary to deliver the most responsive support. Unfortunately, Vietnamese infantry commanders were leary of giving their subordinates such leeway.
Artillery advisers were justifiably critical of Vietnamese firing procedures. Again, Vietnamese ideas reflected past exposure to French techniques. The French forward observer computed firing data mentally and sent them directly to the guns. The data were not accurate but the system was speedy. The U.S. observer sent
his request for a fire mission to a fire direction center, where more accurate data could be computed and sent to the guns. Whereas French procedures were fast, U.S. procedures were accurate. Arguments could be made for either system, but accuracy would appear to be preferable in a situation in which targets were small, only two or three guns were likely to be within range, and the enemy was on foot. The U.S. fire direction center was adopted, but the information required to give accuracy to firing data was not available. The required registrations, surveys, and calibrations were not conducted and meteorological information was not available. The result was that Vietnamese procedures were neither fast nor accurate.
But Vietnamese artillery was not completely ineffective. Prisoner interrogations revealed that the enemy grudgingly respected ARVN artillery and intentionally planned attacks in areas that were beyond its range. Then, too, there were hopeful, though isolated, examples of South Vietnamese artillery operating aggressively and achieving outstanding results. One such example was Operation DAN THANG 106 during the period 15-22 April 1963. Field artillery supporting the operation moved 110 times and fired 1,007 missions. One artillery concentration was credited with killing 60 Viet Cong.
Vietnamese artillery nonetheless had a long way to go, and to the advisers there were as many disquieting signs as there were hopeful ones. The ARVN operation at Ap Bac, a small village in the Mekong Delta, was bitter evidence of the weakness of the artillery. Too long in static positions and dependent on slipshod firing procedures, the artillery in this case showed itself to be unequal to the task of providing responsive support to offensive ground operations.
The attack against Ap Bac in January 1963 was well conceived but poorly executed. It was to be a three-pronged attack, including mechanized infantry, and was designed not only to surprise the Viet Cong but also to trap him and pin him down. Once the enemy was surrounded, government forces would tighten the circle and destroy him with all available fire support from small arms to tactical air power. Open rice land to the east of Ap Bac was left unguarded. The decision was that if the enemy attempted to escape in that direction, he would make an excellent target for aircraft and artillery. As the joint ground and air assault was launched, the Viet Cong 514th Battalion reinforced by local guerrilla forces made attempts to escape the closing trap but was checked in every case. With all avenues of escape closed, the Viet Cong withdrew into the village, dug in, and prepared to fight even though they were outnumbered and outgunned.
Problems started when areas near helicopter landing zones were
not cleared by preparatory artillery fire. Enemy gunners shot down five helicopters with intensive automatic small-arms fire, which could have been neutralized by an adequate artillery preparation. Poor leadership, lack of aggressiveness by the South Vietnamese, incorrect and uncoordinated use of the armored personnel carriers, and the unwillingness of the Vietnamese commanders to listen to their advisers caused the assault to slow and halt. Reinforcements were parachuted in but were not employed correctly. Night set in, and the Viet Cong picked up their weapons and casualties and escaped through the leaky trap set by the ground forces. Artillery was not fired during the night to hold the enemy in position; instead, the next morning the Vietnamese cut loose with an unobserved artillery barrage into the village and killed government soldiers. When the battlefield was searched, only three enemy bodies were found. Reports from the field attempted to declare this controversial battle a victory for the South Vietnamese. It was not.
The Adviser Learns, Too
Although the Vietnamese displayed significant weaknesses in certain aspects of the employment of their artillery, at the same time they demonstrated a considerable degree of ingenuity. They had been fighting essentially the same enemy for several decades and had developed or copied from the French various employment concepts that were particularly well suited to the peculiarities of their situation. Their country and the enemy presented a situation the likes of which the U.S. Army had not faced since the Indian wars. Artillery advisers were in a position to learn from their counterparts as much as if not more than their counterparts could learn from them. What advisers learned and reported to their superiors was later invaluable in the employment of U.S. artillery
Advisers learned, for instance-as their counterparts knew all along, that artillery could not be responsive if it had to be moved into supporting distance after a hamlet was attacked. A majority of the enemy's attacks were of small scale and lasted for only a short time. They normally terminated before artillery could be positioned. Even worse, the enemy could easily plan an effective ambush of any artillery convoy that was rushing to the relief of a hamlet. The artillery had to be prepositioned throughout the countryside so that the maximum number of hamlets would be under the protective umbrella of one or more weapons. The amount of artillery available and the number of positions to be occupied dictated that only two or three weapons, rather than a full battery, could occupy a single position. This piecemeal application of artil-
lery was contrary to everything U.S. artillerymen had learned relative to the employment of field artillery; past wars had shown that artillery was most effective when the fires of entire battalions could be massed against the enemy. But in the past area coverage was not important.
Cannons in this environment could be called on to fire in any direction. Artillerymen were quick to term this a "6,400" mil environment, the mil being the angular measurement used by the artillery with 6,400 mils in a complete circle. Procedures to shift fires quickly from one direction to another had been developed by the French and passed on to the Vietnamese, who made further refinements. The French routinely constructed in their outposts circular gun pits and protective parapets, which allowed the guns to be swung in all directions while providing protection for their crews. Sufficient markers of known azimuth were located around the gun emplacements to provide convenient reference points no matter in what direction the guns were to fire. The Vietnamese adopted in their fire direction centers a circular firing chart that was several times the size of a normal chart but permitted the computation of fire missions in any direction.
The adviser also learned that the use of scattered outposts required a host of changes to what he had considered normal operating procedures. Wire communications could be cut or tapped easily and could be used only within outpost perimeters. Radio, previously considered a backup system, became predominant. Another change was that infantry was required to protect artillery positions. This placed restrictions on the artillery that American advisers had not experienced. Artillery commanders, at best, were required to consider the availability of infantry protection in planning each of their moves. At worst, artillery movements could be totally controlled by an unwise infantry commander, who could deny protection if artillery did not move when and where he desired. Still another change was that each outpost had to be able to direct its own fire. U.S. Army doctrine said that fires would be directed from battalion fire direction centers, with backup provided by the firing battery. With his batteries spread over wide areas, the battalion commander was too far removed from the action to have a full appreciation of each local situation. Commanders of batteries or their platoons were in the best position to establish priorities and decide what targets to engage.
Advisers could not but be impressed with the innovative techniques devised by the Vietnamese that enabled a hamlet to call for artillery fire. In the initial years of the American advisory buildup, hamlets and villages were not equipped with radios but requested
155-MM. HOWITZER IN TUY AN DISTRICT HEADQUARTERS. Typical emplacement to defend local populace.
fires by prearranged signals such as colored flares. A hamlet was given four flares of different colors, each color representing a cardinal point. Red might represent north; green, south. If the hamlet was attacked, its defenders fired a flare of the color that indicated the direction of the enemy attack. From the outposts, data were computed and guns fired at various preplotted points on the appropriate side of the hamlet. Another signal was a large wooden arrow lit with kerosene at night and swung horizontally to point in the direction of an enemy attack. This procedure required that the supporting artillery outpost be at a higher elevation than the hamlet and in a position to see the arrow. As radios became available, they were issued to hamlet officials. An artillery target indicator was then devised. This was a simple circular board containing the outline of the hamlet and the relative locations of preplanned numbered concentration points. The operator pointed a rotating arrow in the direction of the enemy attack to find the azimuth and identify the point nearest the activity. With a radio the operator could request fires by concentration numbers and make subsequent corrections.
EARLY MOVEMENT OF ARTILLERY BY AIR. CH-34 with 105-mm. carriage.
The Vietnamese had moved their fire support weapons by helicopter to support combat operations several years before U.S. combat units were committed in Vietnam. True, procedures for such movement had been developed and rehearsed by U.S. Army troops stationed in the United States, and it was largely American advisers who taught the procedures; further, the Vietnamese used U.S. helicopters and pilots. Even so, this was the airmobility concept in its infancy and advisers could only profit from the experience. The CH-34 (then called the H-34) helicopter could lift the 105-mm. howitzer under normal conditions. Unfortunately, atmospheric conditions and mountainous terrain in Vietnam greatly restricted lifting capacity. The solution was to strip the 580-pound shield from the weapon and leave it behind. Then the weapon was dismantled into two separate helicopter loads-the tube and the carriage. Both parts were lifted by sling from an external hook on the bottom of the aircraft.
The 4.2-inch mortar, being considerably lighter than the 105mm. howitzer, was easier to move by helicopter and probably was
moved at least as often, though there are no records to support this assumption. One such move of particular significance was made on 5 May 1963. Three mortars of the South Vietnamese 25th Battalion (advised by Captain Theodore F. Smith) were moved by H-21 helicopters north of Bong Son into a landing zone well beyond the range of friendly artillery. Believing they were safe from artillery, the Viet Cong were caught by surprise and suffered "numerous" casualties.
American advisers regained a respect for lightweight towed artillery weapons in Vietnam. All but forgotten in scenarios pitting our forces against a sophisticated enemy in Europe, where the punch of heavier artillery was required, the 105-mm. howitzer again came to the forefront as the principal Army combat artillery piece. Although the 105-mm. projectile was much smaller and thus had less destructive power than the 155-mm. projectile, the 105-mm. howitzer was easy to manhandle, was helicopter transportable, and had a high rate of fire. It therefore proved to be the most desirable U.S. artillery weapon in counterguerrilla operations.
One of the most important lessons learned by field artillery advisers was that efficient clearance procedures were absolutely necessary if artillery was to be at all effective. The necessity for obtaining clearance was peculiar to a counterguerrilla operation in which the enemy operated in and around populated areas. Clearance was often agonizingly slow in coming. The reasons for delay could be completely valid. For instance, the ground commander might be unsure of the location of one of his patrols or the responsible government official might have reason to believe that civilians were in the target area. On the other hand, the delay could be totally inexcusable and caused by inefficient clearance procedures or indifference of the responsible official.
The above are only the more important of countless lessons learned from the Vietnamese by U.S. artillery advisers. Those advisers who were career soldiers would find themselves returning to Vietnam before the conclusion of hostilities. Many would be assigned to U.S. artillery units and could use profitably much that they had learned as advisers.
How effective was this early advisory effort? If we judge results against the established goal of providing assistance necessary for the South Vietnamese Army to defend its country, we must admit failure. Throughout the period the army continued to lose its hold on the country until, in 1965, it was in so tenuous a position that the United States was forced to intercede with combat troops. (Map 3)
But was the goal a realistic one? Only four years passed from the time the U.S. advisory commitment was significantly expanded in
1961 until American combat forces were engaged. Such a short time can hardly be considered adequate to prepare an army to face an adversary that would prove itself capable of giving even American forces a difficult time.
Aside from problems of geography, cultural differences, and Vietnamese military experience and practices, it must also be stressed that the overthrow of President Diem on 1 November 1963 occurred in the midst of the advisory effort. His government had been slow and plodding, reflecting the many checks he had built into the government machinery to keep ambitious subordinates in rein. But Diem had kept a firm grip on the country that had contributed to cohesiveness and unity of purpose. In the aftermath of the coup, however, came a series of military and civil power grabs that for the better part of a year disrupted the government to the point that only the most routine matters could be concluded. Unity of purpose was sacrificed to personal advancement and gain.
But regardless of these problems, the advisory period was useful. It ended with a better led and better trained South Vietnamese fighting force, although room for improvement remained. The U.S. advisers can also be credited with having helped the South Vietnamese Army ride out the aftermath of the coup. The advisory organization remained functional even when the Vietnamese military or government organizations were not; in emergencies, for example, advisers could appeal to their superiors to help cut red tape and effect the release of needed supplies or reinforcements.1 And in general, what the advisers learned and reported over the four years gave U.S. combat commanders an advance appreciation of the situation as well as insights into the tactics, organizations, and weapons most appropriate to defeat the enemy.
The advisory effort continued after U.S. combat troops were committed. Indeed, the success of these troops gave advisers more time to help the Vietnamese defend their country.
1 Interestingly enough, the Vietnamese field artillery played a significant role in Diem's overthrow. Apparently the artillery was directed to tie down the palace guards and not to damage the U.S. Embassy across the street from where the guards were billeted. Field artillery was positioned some 10,000 meters northwest of Saigon and a forward observer was positioned down the street from the palace guard quarters. The battalion commander had no accurate plot of their quarters; he used a tourist map to establish a grid location. The first round fired was smoke and was a target hit. The battery continued to fire the one gun with high-explosive projectiles and destroyed the top of the structure. No one was killed, yet the guards were neutralized and forced to withdraw to the cellar for protection. The field artillery had been employed with surgical precision. Not even a window was shattered in the U.S. Embassy. (The division commander was then General Nguyen Van Thieu.)
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