PART TWO

THE BUILDUP CLIMAXES, 1966 - 1967


CHAPTER III

Creation of the 1st Signal Brigade Organization and Operation

General Westmoreland has referred to 1966 as "The Year of Development" for the U.S. forces in the Republic of Vietnam, and most assuredly it was for the Army communications effort. Yet the technical developments during the expansion of communication services at that time, although significant, were overshadowed at first by the attention given at the highest levels of Army command to eliminating the fragmented control that hampered the communications effort in the Republic of Vietnam.

Crucial Decisions

The decision by the Department of the Army at the turn of 1965-1966 to return the Strategic Communications Command's Vietnam signal elements to the operational control of the Commanding General, US Army, Vietnam, was made in direct and immediate response to General Westmoreland's "fragmentation" message of 19 October 1965. This arrangement, however, was recognized by the Army as only temporary; further organizational effort was required to attain a completely satisfactory solution. General Creighton W. Abrams, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, therefore asked US Army, Pacific, in coordination with the Strategic Communications Command, to develop a plan for the organization of a US Army Signal Command, Vietnam, to include not only all signal units of US Army, Vietnam, above the field force level, but also elements of the Strategic Communications Command that were in Vietnam. General Abrams further specified that this new command be headed by a brigadier general who would serve in a double or dual-hat capacity, both as communications­electronics staff officer for the US Army component in Vietnam and as the commanding general of the new communications command. Colonel Robert D. Terry, who was shortly to become a brigadier general, was given the two jobs.

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US Army, Pacific, completing the plans early in 1966, recommended the formation of a signal brigade to be assigned to the Strategic Communications Command but to come under the operational control of US Army, Vietnam. To implement this proposal, the Department of the Army on 1 April 1966 authorized the activation of the Strategic Communications Command Signal Brigade, Southeast Asia. Later, on 26 May 1966, the embryo unit received its ultimate designation, 1st Signal Brigade.

Thus a single, unified structure to control and direct US Army communications effort in the Republic of Vietnam was authorized for the second time. Previously, in 1962, all communications responsibility had rested with the 39th Signal Battalion. But events and decisions had outdated this organization and restructuring was overdue. The signal command as formed in 1966 not only gave communications responsibility in Vietnam a new direction, but also closed a major gap that had existed between signal units and managers of communications throughout Southeast Asia.

The 1st Signal Brigade soon grew larger than a division, becoming the largest signal organization by far in the history of the US Army. Brigade headquarters in its first four months grew from an austere three officers to a strength of about two hundred. The first troops the brigade acquired were those of the 2d Signal Group. On 1 July 1966, Brigadier General Robert D. Terry reorganized the fledgling command by limiting the 2d Signal Group's responsibility to the III and IV Corps Tactical Zones only and by charging the newly arrived 21st Signal Group with communications responsibility in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones.

Thereafter, as new signal units arrived in Vietnam for assignment to the brigade or were activated in Vietnam, General Terry incorporated them in either the 21st Signal Group in the north or the 2d Signal Group in the south. And arrive they did. By the end of 1966 the 2d and 21st Signal Groups each comprised six battalions and each totaled well over 5,000 men.

Communications Support for Army and Corps Areas

These units of the 1st Signal Brigade maintained the area communications systems throughout the country. The area communications system is a concept whereby a signal unit, within its geographical area of responsibility, provides support to all military units-Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, or Coast Guard-that require communications-electronics to supplement their organic capability. The US Army Signal Corps refers to this service as the Army Area Communications System; however, the US Army,

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Vietnam, changed the designation to Corps Area Communications System in order to identify more closely with the geographical areas being served, that is, the four corps tactical zones, which were redesignated in 1970 as military regions.

Signalmen of the 2d and 21st Signal Groups operated message centers and telephone switchboards, maintained extensive networks of radio relay systems, and constructed telephone cable and wire lines between and within the increasing number of Army bases. The area communications system in Vietnam departed from the Army's signal doctrine based on the grid concept. There were reasons for this variation. First, the area communication paths either connected regional nodal centers or extended the tails to isolated elements that were not organically self-sufficient. Second, the geographical distribution of base camps and other vital installations dictated a linear, rather than a rectangular, arrangement. The classic grid advantage was preserved, however, by the brigade's capacity to provide alternate routing between key points.

With the relief afforded by both the increase in signal troops and the establishment of even a partial corps area communications system, the vital matter of communications in support of the military advisers could finally be taken up. Before the end of 1966, General Terry had assigned a signal battalion to support the US advisory elements in each of the four corps tactical zones, providing area communications support for the advisers and for the South Vietnamese Army divisions. These important signal battalions were the 37th Signal Battalion in the I Corps Tactical Zone at Da Nang, the 43d in the II Corps Zone at Pleiku, the 44th in the III Corps Zone near Bien Hoa, and the 52d in the IV Corps Zone at the provincial capital of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.

Two battalions of the 2d Signal Group had missions that differed from the rest of the units in the corps tactical zone signal groups. The 40th Signal Construction Battalion was unique within the US Army; the 69th Signal Battalion (Army) , because of its size and responsibilities, became the nucleus of yet another signal battalion.

The 40th Signal Construction Battalion, the only heavy communications cable construction battalion in the active US Army at that time, arrived in Vietnam in the fall of 1966. The battalion immediately dispersed its companies and construction platoons the length and breadth of South Vietnam. By the end of 1970 this remarkable unit had installed over 500 miles of multipair cable within military cantonments under the most trying conditions that can be imposed by both enemy and friendly forces, having to cope

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Photograph: Signalmen Operate A Posthole Digger At Chu Lai

SIGNALMEN OPERATE A POSTHOLE DIGGER AT CHU LAI,
where cable telephone poles are being installed.

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with the Viet Cong's mortars and rockets and the Army's ubiquitous bulldozers. Bulldozers used in construction work invariably uproot or knock down more cables and wire lines or poles than are destroyed by enemy action.

The Saigon area had the largest aggregation of headquarters, camps, and stations in the land. The installation and operation of the myriad of communications in support of this area was the taxing job of the 69th Signal Battalion after its arrival in late 1965. When the development of the huge Long Binh military complex in October 1966 necessitated communications support for Long Binh Post, the 69th Signal Battalion was assigned the job. 'The battalion consisted of five signal companies, each organized to provide a specific communications service. Because of the distance involved from the 69th's home station in Saigon, it was necessary to station at Long Binh Post detachments from each company of the battalion. Since command and control problems resulted from this arrangement, the brigade commander decided to form two battalions from the assets of the 2,000-man 69th Signal Battalion. Reorganization was completed on 15 August 1967, with the 44th Signal Battalion gaining the personnel and equipment of the 69th's assets at Long Binh. It also acquired the mission of providing communications support for the Long Binh complex, including the head­quarters of the US Army, Vietnam, and cryptologistic support for the entire country. The 69th Signal Battalion retained the responsibility for signal support in the Saigon area, including the headquarters of the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.

Both the 69th and the 44th Signal Battalions were assigned to Colonel Blaine O. Vogt's 160th Signal Group, which had arrived in Vietnam in the spring of 1967. 'This group headquarters, in addition to assuming the job of area and headquarters support as­signed to the 44th and 69th Signal Battalions in the Saigon-Long Binh areas, was to control and direct other important communications activities in Vietnam. The 40th Signal Construction Battalion with its cable construction mission was assigned to the 160th Signal Group. The group reorganized and molded into an effective operation the US Army's countrywide communications security logistics support activities. Another traditional Signal Corps responsibility, that of audio-visual (photographic) support, was given to the 160th on a countrywide basis. This task included backup combat photographic support to the field forces and to divisions which had their own organic audiovisual facilities. And finally the 160th assumed the responsibility for the operation of the

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Southeast Asia Signal School, which had been established in June of 1966.

By the end of 1967 these three groups of the 1st Signal Brigade controlled and directed an even dozen battalions. The 2d and 21st Signal Groups provided the area communications support in the four corps tactical zones; 160th Signal Group provided headquarters support in the Saigon and Long Binh area, as well as cable construction, photographic, and communications security logistics support throughout the country.

The circuits and lines of the Corps Area Communications System operated by these groups merged at many points into the large backbone system, known from 1966 as the Integrated Wideband Communications System. This long-haul system was operated by thousands of men from the 1st Signal Brigade who were organized into battalions that constituted the US Army Regional Communications Group in Vietnam.

Regional Communications Group

The US Army Regional Communications Group evolved both from the US Army Strategic Communications Command, Vietnam, set up in 1965 by Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Enders, and from the gateway facilities at Phu Lam and Nha Trang, which had remained under the command of the Strategic Communications Command, Pacific, until the 1st Signal Brigade was organized on 1 April 1966. The big communications facilities and systems operated by these organizations were tagged as "fixed" and were often spoken of as "long-lines." As early as February 1966, Colonel Robert D. Terry and his planners were considering a Long-Lines Group to operate the gateway facilities at Phu Lam and Nha Trang and to provide the long-haul communications between DA Nang, Pleiku, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Dalat, Cam Ranh Bay, Phu Lam, and Vung Tau. This plan was realized on 4 July 1966 when the US Army Regional Communications Group was activated. At that time, the group consisted of the Long-Lines Battalion North, later the 361st Signal Battalion, for control and management of the long-haul communications in the two northern corps zones, and the large communication facilities in Nha Trang and Phu Lam. Later, the Long-Lines Battalion South, finally designated the 369th Signal Battalion, was activated and, by December 1966, the DA Nang message relay facility became operational under the US Army Regional Communications Group. All three message relay facilities were operated by battalion-size units and were in fact des-

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ignated in mid-1967 as Provisional Signal Battalions Phu Lam, Nha Trang, and Da Nang.

Signal Units in Thailand

There was still another signal group under the 1st Signal Brigade-this one in Thailand. Early in 1966 Brigadier General John E. Kelsey, Deputy Commanding General, Strategic Communications Command, had visited with the Commanding General, US Military Assistance Command, Thailand, Major General Richard G. Stilwell. They agreed that all US Army Signal units in Thai­land should be organized into one signal group. This group was first designated Strategic Communications Command Signal Group, Thailand, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Harold J. Crochet, and was organized to be effective 1 May 1966. It acquired all US Army communications facilities in Thailand. The group was redesignated in September 1966 as the 29th Signal Group, under the command of the 1st Signal Brigade in Saigon, but remained under the operational control of General Stilwell, the top US commander in Thailand. Later, in mid-1967, this operational control passed to the Military Assistance Command's Army component, US Army Support, Thailand.

Thus a dual-hat role evolved in Thailand as well as in Vietnam; the senior signal commander in each country also served as the principal communications-electronics staff officer for the Army component commander. The 29th Signal Group's organization and concept of operation was similar to that of its parent unit, the 1st Signal Brigade. By the end of 1967, the group consisted of the 379th Signal Support Battalion and two provisional support companies to provide the required area communications support in Thailand; the 442d Signal Battalion, a long-lines unit, to operate and maintain the wideband communication links and sites in Thailand; and two provisional battalions to man the large message relay facilities in Bangkok and Korat.

By the end of 1967 the troop units of the 1st Signal Brigade consisted of twenty-one battalions organized into five groups and totaled about 20,000 men. Nearly all of these units arrived or were activated in Southeast Asia in the short period from April through December 1966.

The Signal Brigade in 1967

These units of the 1st Signal Brigade, along with the combat signal battalions, companies, and platoons organic to the fighting

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Photograph: General Terry Visits The 2d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division

GENERAL TERRY VISITS THE 2D BRIGADE, 25TH INFANTRY DIVISION

forces, furnished the vital communications needed to support expanding operations in Southeast Asia. The huge buildup of US and other Free World Forces had resulted in an unprecedented demand for communications, from long-haul data circuitry to combat radio nets, taxing the resources of both the signal battalions of the combat forces and the 1st Signal Brigade.

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