Chapter VIII:
The Road Programs
The extensive highway system in the Republic of Vietnam was constructed mainly during the past five decades. Before 1954, approximately 20,000 kilometers of road existed, of which about 6,000 kilometers were national or interprovincial and 14,000 kilometers were rural or secondary roads. By the time of the cease-fire in 1954, most of the country's highway network had been destroyed, and long segments of the highway system had become impassable to motorized traffic. The highways that remained were generally inadequate for military usage because of either faulty design or poor surfacing. Most bridges were destroyed. The national highway system, particularly National Route 1, sustained the most damage. Six hundred and fifty kilometers of Route 1 from Phan Thiet to Hue were largely impassable. To reopen the road approximately 240 bridges with a total length of 11,295 meters had to be reconstructed, endless culverts installed, and thousands of cubic meters of fill had to be replaced where erosion had taken its toll.
In the government of Vietnam, the Director General of Highways is responsible for administration of the design, construction, and maintenance of the national and interprovincial routes, while the provincial roads and city streets are administered by local governments. However, in 1971, the director was assigned the maintenance responsibility for rural roads, while reconstruction of rural roads remained a provincial function.
Efforts of the Director General to repair and maintain the highway system were halted by the enemy. Even if the government had been successful, it is doubtful that a satisfactory level of highway maintenance could have been attained; the increased weight and volume of heavy military vehicles would have quickly negated the Vietnamese effort. In 1966 Army engineer troops began to reopen highways and rebuild bridges to support tactical and logistic traffic. The engineer force was probably adequate, but its effort was limited by other priority missions.
In early 1967 the idea of a formal highway restoration program, initially utilizing troops and later civilian contractors, was conceived as the result of a combined effort on the part of the government of

Vietnam, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The combined Central Highways and Waterways Coordination Committee (CENCOM) was formed to establish priorities of restoration, to develop standards of construction, and to fund actual construction. CENCOM was comprised of representatives from the Vietnamese General Staff, the Agency for International Development, the Directorate of Highways, the Military Assistance Command, and the Marine Director of Public Works. The chairman was the Chief of Staff of the Vietnamese joint General Staff. The program envisioned the eventual restoration and upgrading of approximately 4,075 kilometers of highway, which the committee considered essential in support of military operations, to stimulate economic development, and to accelerate the pacification program by opening up rural areas. The information of the combined committee permitted the development of a national restoration program in consonance with military campaign plans.
In April 1968 the Agency for International Development published a formal announcement of the transfer of the highway mission, with the exception of secondary road projects, to the MACV Director of Construction. Included in the transfer were the Nui Sap Quarry operation, the National Highway Training School, the Suoi Lo Maintenance and Repair Parts Activity, and nineteen USAID engineers. The Director of Construction then organized a Lines of Communications Division to advise the Vietnamese Director General of Highways and to co-ordinate the massive contractor and troop effort involved in the highway restoration program. The Lines of Communications Division organized five district highway advisory detachments to correspond with the highway directorate's field organization. The detachments' primary mission was to advise the Vietnamese District Engineer and his staff.
The advisory mission was established as a three-phase operation. Phase I was to effect transition of the ongoing organization from USAID control to MACV. Phase II was to substantially increase the advisory effort available to the Vietnamese District Engineer. Phase III would be the transferral of the responsibility back to the Agency for International Development in 1971. The objective of the highway restoration program was to upgrade designated highways over a four-year period to adopted standards and in accordance with established priorities.
Construction standards followed the criteria established by the American Association of State Highway officials. The standards which were identified by letters A through F had a design life for a Class A road of twenty years down to ten years for Classes C or D.

Pavement structure design procedures were standardized using estimated traffic factors to approximate a twenty-year design life. Each class of highway had specific geometrics. Cross sections of each class are shown in Chart 7. The Class F highway was an innovation introduced by MACV's Director of Construction. This class made maximum use of the existing French-constructed highway and based its

alignment on the existing embankment. Essentially this class highway called for laying a rock or asphalt stabilized base over the existing highway and a widening of the traveled way, or actual road less shoulders, to seven meters. The entire surface would then be paved with an asphaltic concrete. Design life would not be specified. The Class F highway would be constructed extensively in the delta, thus minimizing embankment and realignment requirements and speeding up the highway restoration program there.
Sixteen engineer battalions undertook the U.S. Army's portion of the highway restoration program. The work force was composed largely of construction battalions; however, an average of three combat battalions augmented with equipment companies were engaged in the program at any given time. Although restoration of the roads was their main task, construction units frequently received orders to support combat units or were given other priority missions. Unit commanders tried to construct all highways in accordance with established priorities, but on many occasions combat engineers called on them for help and missions were shifted.
To carry out the program, units had to establish base camps along the routes to be upgraded. This requirement made it necessary to devote a part of the available manpower to base camp and industrial site construction. Quarries and asphalt plants had to be established, construction routes and security had to be maintained, and that drew off more manpower.
To maintain construction schedules, a vast amount of material had to be procured and transported to the construction sites. Initially the demand on procurement and transport was light, since construction was centered near large U.S. logistics bases. But as demands increased and construction forces moved farther away from the larger bases, a tremendous burden was placed on the entire supply system. To reduce the number of times material was handled, the Engineers attempted to ship directly from supply points to users. Stocks of cement, asphalt, and culvert material began to dwindle rapidly. As material shortages threatened delay, logisticians pulled out all the stops and attempted to meet demands any way possible. Critically needed items were improvised or borrowed from other services.
In 1966 there was an acute shortage of rock in III and IV Corps areas. At that time there were only two sources for crushed rock-a contractor-operated quarry near Saigon University and the quarries thirty miles away at Vung Tau. Because Vung Tau had no connecting roads, the rock produced there was used there with only small quantities being shipped by barge to the Long Binh area. The need for rock was so urgent that a special "buy" of rock was

made from a Korean contractor who shipped rock all the way from quarries in Korea.
When the first shipment of rock arrived in Saigon, headaches really began. Customs, harbor, and lighterage problems combined to produce lengthy delays and creeping costs. A scheme was finally devised whereby the rock was loaded into "smaller craft" at Saigon for the trip to Thu Duc, to be unloaded there by heavy equipment into trucks for the short haul to Long Binh. A crane with a two cubic-yard clamshell, or heavy steel scoop, was positioned at Thu Duc to unload the rock. There was considerable consternation as the small craft loaded with rock began arriving at Thu Duc. The small craft were hundreds of sampans-the largest nearing twenty feet stem to stern and loaded to within six inches of freeboard. The weight and size of the clamshell would have sunk them easily. Reluctantly, conveyors and hand labor were used to bring the rocks ashore. Stockpiles from which the clamshell could operate slowly grew on the beach. Since this method of supplying rock was rather nightmarish, the first shipload was also the last. The contract was terminated.
The entire highway restoration program was originally scheduled for completion by 1974. But because of the tactical and economic importance of the program, General Westmoreland directed the Army to have the majority of the roadwork finished by 1971. The principal obstacle was the shortage of construction equipment. The solution was for the Army to purchase high-production commercial equipment to augment the standard items used by engineer units. In mid-1968 the U.S. Army in Vietnam, in conjunction with the Army Engineer Construction Agency and the 18th and 20th Engineer Brigades, studied the equipment problem from all angles. The study resulted in a recommended list of commercial construction equipment that would be needed to meet the target completion date of December 1971. In determining the type of equipment required, specialists developed seven general categories and assigned each category a rating reflecting its importance to the success of the project.
In mid-1968 the rock production capabilities of both engineer brigades received a thorough analysis including actual and anticipated assets. These capabilities were then compared with all other rock requirements. From this study it became apparent that additional rock-crushers would be required to complete the road program by the specified time. Eight 250-tons-per-hour (TPH), readily portable, crushing plants were selected and included in the equipment purchase order. High-volume crushers were considered the key to the success of the project. As these crushers reached Vietnam,

PICTURE - ROCK-CRUSHING OPERATION, essential to virtually all phases of construction.
ROCK-CRUSHING OPERATION, essential to virtually all phases of construction.
they replaced the lower capacity 75-TPH plants. The, newer 250TPH plant was as portable as the 75-TPH plant but easier to operate and maintain, produced at least three times as much rock, and required fewer operators. Although the larger plant was designed with emphasis on high-volume base rock production, the all-electric plant had the capability of producing well-graded aggregates. The rapid rate of road improvement in 1969 was possible only because six 225-TPH rock-crushers had arrived from CONUS depot stocks. These crushers played a major part in the program until the Military Construction 250-TPH crushers arrived. These crushers required only one operator whereas the 75-TPH needed three. As the new crushers arrived in the theater, many of the 75-TPH units which were not economically repairable were turned in. The operators previously required for the 75-TPH crushers were then available for other equipment.
The scarcity of rock-drilling equipment also hindered progress. Engineer units had far too few drills capable of keeping up with the increased demand for rock. Reinforcements in drilling equipment were necessary to feed the eight 250-TPH crushers and the six 225-TPH crushers. To meet the demand, thirty-six track drills and 600-cubic-foot-per-minute air compressors were added to the equipment purchase list.
Requirements for hauling rock within the quarries were met by

PICTURE - ROCK DRILL operating on quarry face.
ROCK DRILL operating on quarry face.
purchasing one hundred 15-cubic-yard Euclid dump trucks in 1967. But to load the Euclids, feed the crushers, and stockpile aggregate, twenty-nine 6-cubic-yard tractor shovels were needed. Far simpler to operate and faster and easier to maintain, each of these units could replace two 40-ton shovels. Furthermore, an experienced heavy equipment operator could become reasonably proficient on the machine in a matter of several days, whereas many months were required for him to become equally proficient on a crane shovel.
To augment existing trucks, 226 twelve-cubic-yard, hydraulically operated, dump trucks were selected for purchase. Under comparable conditions, these trucks have twice the capacity of the military 5-ton dump truck and were requested specifically to haul large quantities of base rock and asphaltic concrete on medium to long hauls over improved roads.
The earth compaction equipment used by engineer units was not in scale with the projected construction rate of 774 kilometers a year. Compactors capable of doing more work in less time were urgently needed to augment the equipment in the construction battalions. The purchase of sixty commercial heavy-duty compactors certainly increased the capabilities of our engineer units.
The concept of the road program also included the rapid placing of pavement. In addition to strengthening and protecting the road-bed, paving would make mine emplacement more difficult for the enemy. To supplement existing military equipment and to speed up the over-all paving rate, six asphalt pavers and fourteen asphalt

PICTURE - SHEEPSFOOT ROLLER compacting a runway extension at Bu Dop airstrip.
SHEEPSFOOT ROLLER compacting a runway extension at Bu Dop airstrip.
distributors were ordered. To redirect and channel the runoff which results from the torrential monsoon rains, seven asphalt curb extruders were included in the order. These were put to use primarily in the Central Highlands, but were also used to manufacture curb and gutter systems for villages and towns in other areas.
To keep culvert installation ahead of over-all road building, and at the same time assure quality construction, hand compactors were requested to speed up culvert backfilling and compaction operations. Twelve backhoes were also added to the equipment list to aid in the placement of culverts and excavation in restricted areas. Thousands of man-hours required for hand excavation of culverts and trenches and many hours of equipment time on crane mounted shovels or clamshells were saved by the backhoes.
The addition of commercial cement mixers had been requested to accelerate the construction of concrete abutments, deck slabs, and approach slabs for bridges along the roads. This equipment was designed to minimize the labor force needed for concrete work. There were approximately 675 new bridges with an average span length of forty feet to be constructed to satisfy immediate tactical requirements. The type of bridge planned required approximately

165 cubic yards of concrete per bridge. The small 16S cement mixers were being replaced by central batch plants and transit mixers which greatly reduced the stockpiling requirements and the man-hours needed to produce the concrete required for each bridge. By carrying a dry mix in the transit mixers, more than one bridge could be worked on at one time. In the long run, both production and maintenance man-hours were significantly reduced.
In the Mekong Delta all rock and other conventional material for road and other construction had to be imported. Crushed rock produced at quarries in the upper regions of the country moved by barge into the delta for the road construction program. Barge offloading facilities were constructed, and an Army Engineer Hydrographic Survey team charted many of the canals of the delta to develop water transportation routes. To reduce cost the use of a lime-cement stabilized base or sub-base in lieu of a conventional base was planned for all delta road construction. Elsewhere in Vietnam the use of stabilization techniques was planned to reduce requirements in areas where little rock was available. The procurement of sophisticated stabilization equipment capable of mixing stabilizing agents, such as cement, calcium chloride, and emulsified asphalt with aggregate, was considered vital for project completion. A total of nine 300-TPH stabilization plants and three self-propelled stabilization machines were requested. These plants represented a revolutionary change in theater construction methods.
While the addition of commercial construction equipment increased production, the redeployment of engineer battalions, which began in September 1970, reduced U.S. troop strengths below that needed to meet the December 1971 completion date. To partially offset the troops losses, some engineer battalions were augmented with local labor. Initially the local laborers were used for unskilled or semiskilled duties. However, by the end of 1970, the Vung Tau quarry was predominantly staffed with Vietnamese labor; several dump truck platoons employed Vietnamese drivers; and carpenter prefab and bridge deck prefab yards were almost entirely Vietnamese operated. In early 1971 an all-Vietnamese asphalt concrete paving train was being organized.
The secondary road program, as it neared completion, was a significant incentive to the development of Vietnam, particularly in the areas of agriculture, economy, and mobility. This diversified highly. productive program permitted U.S. and Vietnamese engineers to work side by side and eventually developed a proficiency in Vietnamese units for both construction and maintenance of the road system.
The stimulus to agriculture was particularly pronounced in

previously evacuated areas. Construction of a secondary road presupposed a relatively secure area, which was ripe for resettlement. While the road was not necessary for the movement of relocated people and their few personal belongings, it was crucial to the establishment of a market for their crops. A difference of a few miles and a few hundred feet in elevation often resulted in differing climate and soil conditions which dictate the primary production of tea and manioc, rather than rice; hence the need for easily accessible markets in other than the settlers' own village.
The opening or reconstruction of secondary and rural roads was recognized by General Westmoreland and pacification officials as critical to the pacification and economic growth of Vietnam. The tremendous advances in pacification in the delta, for example, were a direct result of the road building program.
The railway system in Vietnam was originally constructed by the French between 1902 and 1936. Immediately after the Geneva Agreement in 1954, the Republic of Vietnam mobilized its financial, technical, and labor resources under the newly formed semiautonomous railway agency, the Vietnam Railway System, and began the reconstruction of its road between Saigon and Dong Ha near the 17th parallel. By August 1959 the reconstruction of the main line and branch lines was completed, except for the Loc Ninh branch. The United States government through the embassy's Operating
PICTURE - SCRAPERS PREPARE A RIGHT OF WAY before crushed rock is dumped.
SCRAPERS PREPARE A RIGHT OF WAY before crushed rock is dumped.

Mission assigned a railway adviser to Vietnam in 1957 at the request of the Vietnamese government.
From 1960 to 1964 the Vietnamese Railway System operated scheduled freight and passenger trains on the entire line, transporting approximately half a million tons of cargo and four million passengers annually. In 1962 the U.S. military assigned security advisers to the Vietnamese Military Rail Security Forces. During this period the system continued to upgrade its entire organization by modernizing shop facilities, mechanizing track maintenance, changing motive power from steam to diesel-electric, and replacing rolling stock with modern equipment. The United States assisted with commodity grants amounting to $12 million and a development loan of $7.8 million. The Australian government furnished ten modern passenger cars valued at U.S. $900,000.
In November 1964, typhoons Joan and Iris, the worst to strike Vietnam in sixty-five years, did considerable damage to the railway system and, with unabated Viet Cong sabotage, the railway was severed in many places with operations restricted to five separated segments.
In 1966 the U.S. government through the Agency for International Development pledged further support in commodities provided that the Vietnamese took the initiative to secure and reopen the rail system. This action was sanctioned by the U.S. military, which acquired and brought into the country two hundred rail cars and ten switching locomotives to supplement the fleet of Vietnamese rolling stock for the handling of military cargo.
This second reconstruction effort began in December 1966 and progressed in those areas where security was re-established. During this second reconstruction period the U.S. government assisted with U.S. $11 million in commodity grants. The system reopened 340 kilometers of main line in areas where security was restored. The government subsidized the road for this reconstruction in the amount of Vietnamese $211 million, in addition to the subsidy for operations or sabotage.
The railway contributed significantly to the war effort, the pacification program, and the economic growth of South Vietnam. For instance, a considerable amount of the rock aggregate used in the construction of the Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat airfields, as well as Route 1 and other highways, was transported by rail. As of early 1971 the railroad was in operation in three separate areas with approximately 60 percent, or 710 kilometers, of the 1,240 kilometers of main line and branch line track in use. The longest run, approximately 400 kilometers, from Song Long Song to Phu Cat handled a number of rock trains daily for highway construction work. Military

PICTURE - VIETNAMESE ENGINEERS drive piles for a ,bridge span near Qua Giang with new American equipment.
VIETNAMESE ENGINEERS drive piles for a bridge span near Qua Giang with new American equipment.
cargo from Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay still moves by rail to Phu Cat, Tuy Hoa, Ninh Hoa, Nha Trang, and Phan Rang. The system also transports approximately 11,000 passengers weekly over this line. Another segment of 103 kilometers from Hue to Da Nang,

which was reopened in January 1969, has averaged approximately 2,000 tons of cargo and 1,500 passengers a week. The remaining 80 kilometers from Saigon to Xuan Loc, serving the Thu Duc industrial area and the Long Binh and Newport military complex play an important role in transporting civilian and military cargo Operation of this line has eliminated a large number of truck run; from the congested streets of Saigon and the Bien Hoa Highway Three round-trip passenger trains operate daily over this section of the road, transporting an average of 40,000 commuters a week.
The economics of moving cargo by rail, plus the advantage of releasing trucks for work in the provinces, made rail traffic attractive to the Vietnamese Army and U.S. military.
The entire road program, both the rail and vehicular systems; has undergone a tremendous change as has Vietnam. The bridge reconstruction portion of the road program involved the building of approximately five hundred bridges totaling over 30,000 meters, During mid-1968, Army engineers were constructing highways to MACV standards at an equivalent rate of 285 kilometers per year. At the same time, they were building bases and supporting combat operations-including land clearing, tactical roads, tactical airfields, landing zones, and fire bases. Road construction has continually been paced by crushed rock production and rock-hauling capability. The Army relied on the contractor's crushers for 38 percent of the 180,000 cubic yards of rock required monthly to maintain a construction rate of 285 kilometers per year in 1968.
Before a $49 million fund cut was imposed by the Department of Defense, in mid-1970 goals were assigned for the highway restoration program.
Vietnamese Army responsibility 165 km.
Contractor responsibility 988 km.
U.S. Army troop responsibility 2,520 km.
U.S. Navy responsibility 430 km.
Total 4,103 km.
As of 17 October 1970, the revised highway restoration program was 63 percent complete with 2,297 kilometers of pavement completed out of a total of 3,660 kilometers. As a result of the fund cuts and program review, 442 kilometers of the 4,103 kilometers CENCOM Program were deferred. The Vietnamese engineers accepted responsibility for improving 353 additional kilometers in the program. The revised program totals and goals were as follows:

Revised Program Pavement Completed Percent Completed
Vietnamese Army responsibility 518 km. 10 km. 2
Contractor responsibility 902 km. 715 km. 79
U.S. Army troop responsibility 1,853 km. 1,195 km. 64
U.S. Navy responsibility 387 km. 387 km. 100
Total 3,660 km.
As primary and secondary roads were built or improved, displaced refugees settled along these roads, constructed new homes, and tilled the land. Commercial traffic traveled back and forth with decreasing fear as the area became generally pacified. Land clearing to remove vegetation along roads and in other selected areas, thus denying the enemy ambush sites and sanctuaries for resupply, also accomplished what repeated infantry operations could not. And as the rail service was improved and security provided, the demand increased. During 1970 cargo transported by rail climbed 15 percent over 1969 (from 530,000 to 610,000 metric tons). The net ton-kilometer evaluation increased 100 percent from 1969 to 1970 (from 24 million to 48 million net ton-kilometers). The number of passengers transported by rail increased 40 percent from 1969 to 1970 (from 1.75 million to 2.4 million). The net results of the combined program have not yet proved their greatest worth, but are well along the way. I consider the road development program the single most effective and important development program undertaken by American effort in Vietnam.

page created 15 December 2001

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