After the fall of Saigon to the invading North Vietnamese Army (NVA), the ARVN was dissolved. While some high-ranking officers had fled the country to the United States or elsewhere, thousands of former ARVN officers were sent to reeducation camps by the communist government of the new, unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Vietnamese National Army (VNA) 1949–1955Edit
On March 8, 1949, after the Elysee accords the State of Vietnam was recognized by France as an independent country ruled by the Vietnamese Emperor Bảo Đại, and the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) was soon created. The VNA fought in joint operations with the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps against the communist Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh. The VNA fought in a wide range of campaigns including but not limited to the Battle of Na San (1952), Operation Atlas (1953) and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954).
Benefiting with French assistance the VNA quickly became a modern army modelled after the Expeditionary Corps. It included infantry, artillery, signals, armored cavalry, airborne, airforce, navy and a national military academy. By 1953 troopers as well as officers were all Vietnamese, the latter having been trained in Ecoles des Cadres such as Da Lat, including Chief of Staff General Nguyen Van Hinh who was a French Union airforce veteran.
After the 1954 Geneva agreements, French Indochina ceased to exist and by 1956 all French Union troops had withdrawn from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1955, by the order of Prime Minister Diem, the VNA crushed the armed forces of the Binh Xuyen.
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 1955–1975Edit
On October 26, 1955, the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem who then formally established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in December 30, 1955. The air force was known as the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). Early on, the focus of the army was the guerrilla fighters of the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF, also known as the Viet Cong (VC)), formed to oppose the Diem administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid the ARVN in combating the insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngo Dinh Nhu and later resurrected under another name was the "Strategic Hamlet Program" which was regarded as unsuccessful by Western media because it was "inhumane" to move villagers from the countryside to fortified villages. ARVN leaders and President Diem were criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush armed anti-government religious groups like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which according to Diem, were harboring NLF guerrillas. This most notably occurred on the night of August 21, 1963, during the Xa Loi Pagoda raids conducted by the Special Forces, which caused a death toll estimated to range into the hundreds.
In 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers and encouraged by US officials such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. In the confusion that followed, General Duong Van Minh took control, but he was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam. During these years, the United States began taking more control of the war against the NLF and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption amongst the officer corps. Although the U.S. was highly critical, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S. armed and funded. Early unmodified ARVN M113 during the Vietnam WarAlthough the US media has often portrayed the Vietnam War as an exclusively American vs. Vietnamese conflict, the ARVN carried the brunt of the fight before and after large-scale US involvement, and participated in many major operations with American troops. ARVN troops pioneered the use of the M113 armored personnel carrier as an infantry fighting vehicle by fighting mounted rather than as a "battle taxi" as originally designed, and the armored cavalry (ACAV) modifications were adopted based on ARVN experience. One notable ARVN unit equipped with M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), the 3d Armored Cavalry Squadron, used the new tactic so proficiently and with such extraordinary heroism against hostile forces that they earned the United States Presidential Unit Citation. An estimated 224,000 South Vietnamese troops died, while more than 58,000 U.S. troops died during the war. There were also many circumstances in which Vietnamese families had members on both sides of the conflict.
Starting in 1969 President Richard Nixon started the process of "Vietnamization", pulling out American forces and rendering the ARVN capable of fighting an effective war against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) of the North (Also called NVA for North Vietnamese Army) and the ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF or Viet Cong). Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its counter-insurgency role to become the primary ground defense against the NLF and PAVN. From 1969 to 1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of one million soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in the Cambodian Incursion and were executing three times as many operations as they had during the American war period. However, the ARVN equipment continued to be of lower standards than their American and South Korean allies, even as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology. However, the officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were too often poorly trained, corrupt, lacking morale and inept.
However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese Army actually started to perform rather well, though with continued American air support.
In 1972, General Vo Nguyen Giap launched the "Easter Offensive", an all-out attack against South Vietnam from the DMZ. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of armored forces by the PAVN. Although T-54 tanks proved vulnerable to LAW rockets, the ARVN took heavy losses. The PAVN and NLF forces took Quảng Trị Province and some areas along the Lao and Cambodian borders.
President Richard Nixon dispatched more bombers in Operation Linebacker to provide air support for the ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be lost. In desperation, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu fired the incompetent General Hoang Xuan Lam and replaced him with General Ngo Quang Truong. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together in order to prevent the PAVN to take Huế. Finally, with considerable U.S. air and naval support, as well as hard fighting by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN forces counter-attacked and succeeded in driving part of the PAVN out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Quảng Trị province near the DMZ.
At the end of 1972, Operation Linebacker II helped achieve a negotiated end to the war between the U.S. and the Hanoi government. By 1974, the United States had completely pulled its troops out of Vietnam. The ARVN was left to fight alone, but with all the weapons and technologies that their allies left behind. With massive technological support they had roughly four times as many heavy weapons as their enemies. The U.S. left for the ARVN with thousands of aircraft, only brought back the tactical bomber B-52s, making the South Vietnam Airforce the fourth largest airforce in the world. These figures are deceptive, however, as the U.S. began to curtail military aid. The same situation happened to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, since their allies, the Soviet Union, and China has also cut down military support, forcing them to using the obsolete T-34 tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers into battle.
In the fall of 1974, Nixon resigned under the pressure of the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford. With the war growing incredibly unpopular at home, combined with a severe economic recession and mounting budget deficits, Congress cut funding to South Vietnam for the upcoming fiscal year from 1 billion to 700 million dollars. Historians have attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid along with the growing disenchantment of the South Vietnamese people and the rampant corruption and incompetence of South Vietnam political leaders and ARVN general staff.
Without the necessary funds and facing a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the ARVN to achieve a victory against the NLF. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin a new military offensive against South Vietnam. This resolve was strengthened when the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise Nixon made to Thieu of a "severe retaliation" if Hanoi broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.
The fall of Huế to NLF forces on March 26 began an organized rout of the ARVN that culminated in the complete disintegration of the South Vietnamese government. Withdrawing ARVN forces found the roads choked with refugees making troop movement almost impossible. North Vietnamese forces took advantage of the growing instability, and with the abandoned equipment of the routing ARVN, they mounted heavy attacks on all fronts. With collapse all but inevitable, many ARVN generals abandoned their troops to fend for themselves and ARVN soldiers deserted en masse. President Nguyen Van Thieu escaped with large amounts of money and the assistance of the CIA, according to a reporter. Except for one battle by the 18th Division at Xuan Loc and the perimeters around Saigon, ARVN resistance all but ceased. Less than a month after Huế, Saigon fell and South Vietnam ceased to exist as a political entity. The sudden and complete destruction of the ARVN shocked the world. Even their opponents were surprised at how quickly South Vietnam collapsed.
The U.S. had provided the ARVN with 793,994 M1 carbines, 640,000 M16 rifles, 34,000 M79 grenade launchers, 40,000 radios, 20,000 quarter-ton trucks, 214 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, 77 M577 Command tracks (command version of the M113 APC), 930 M113s (APC/ACAVs), 120 V-100s (wheeled armored cars), and 190 M48 tanks; however on the eleventh hour, a US effort in November 1972 managed to transfer 59 more M48A3 Patton tanks, 100 additional M-113A1 ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles), and over 500 extra aircraft to South Vietnam. Despite such impressive figures, the Vietnamese were not as well equipped as the American G.I.s they replaced. The 1972 offensive had been driven back only with a massive US bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The VNAF air force had 200 A1, A-37 Ground Attack Aircraft and F-5 fighters, 30 AC-47 gunships and 600 transport, training and reconnaissance aircraft, and 500 helicopters. But their lightweight attack fighters lacked the punch of offensive bombers and fighters such as the B-52 and F-4 Phantom. Many aircraft were shot down due to Soviet NVA surface-to-air missiles and anti-air batteries.
The Case-Church Amendment had effectively nullified the Paris Peace Accords, and as a result, the United States had cut aid to South Vietnam drastically in 1974, months before the final enemy offensive, allowing North Vietnam to invade South Vietnam without fear of U.S. Military action. As a result, only a little fuel and ammunition were being sent to South Vietnam. South Vietnamese air and ground vehicles were immobilized by lack of spare parts. Troops went into battle without batteries for their radios, and their medics lacked basic supplies. South Vietnamese rifles and artillery pieces were rationed to three rounds of ammunition per day in the last months of the war. Without enough supplies and ammunition, were quickly thrown into chaos and taken down by the well-supplied PAVN, no longer having to worry about U.S. bombing.
The years after the war were not kind to some ARVN soldiers. Many ARVN soldiers were sent into special concentration camps called "reeducation camps" which consisted of harsh forced labor and political indoctrination. Conditions were dangerous and jobs like mine clearing were typical. Thousands died from sickness and starvation and were buried in unmarked graves. The reeducation camp article has much more information. The South Vietnamese military cemetery at Bien Hoa was also vandalized and abandoned and a mass grave of ARVN soldiers is nearby. The charity "The Returning Casualty" in the early 2000s was attempting to excavate and identify remains from some camp graves and to restore the cemetery. Reporter Morley Safer who returned in 1989 and saw the poverty of a former soldier described the ARVN as follows; "that wretched army that was damned by the victors, abandoned by its allies, and royally and continuously screwed by its commanders".