Chapter I: 
In the aftermath of World War II the French colonial administration returned to Indochina to resume control of French possessions. With it came units of the French Army, among them mechanized and armored elements. These units remained in Vietnam for more than ten years, until, in compliance with the Geneva Accords of 1954, the last French soldier left the country in April 1956. The experience of the French and their Vietnamese allies in those years had a strong influence on concepts developed in the South Vietnamese Army for the employment of armored forces. Their experience also influenced the thinking of American military commanders and staffs when the U.S. Army eventually set about deciding how many and what kinds of forces to send to Vietnam.
Influence of French Use of Armor
The U.S. Army in the early 1960's had very little information on the use of armor in Vietnam, and most of that came from French battle reports and the fact that the French Army had been supplied with World War II tanks, half-tracks, and scout cars. Although most of this equipment was American, made originally for the U.S. Army, there was little reliable information as to the amount, condition, and use of it in Indochina. In 1954, after four years of American aid, the French fleet of armored vehicles consisted of 452 tanks and tank destroyers and 1,985 scout cars, halftracks, and amphibious vehicles, but this armor was scattered over an area of 228,627 square miles. By comparison, in June of 1969 the U.S. forces in Vietnam had some 600 tanks and 2,000 armored vehicles of other types deployed over an area less than one-third that size.
All the American equipment used by the French was produced before 1945. In general the armor was not fit for cross-country movement and because of its age was often inoperative. The logistical system, with supply delays of six to twelve months, further hampered operations by making maintenance difficult. Helicopters were not available in large numbers-there were ten in 1952, forty-two in 1954; all were unarmed and were used for resupply and medical evacuation. To the French command, impoverished in all resources, fighting with limited equipment over a large area, the

employment of armored forces became a perpetual headache. Armored units were fragmented; many small remote posts had as few as two or three armored vehicles. Such widespread dispersion prevented the collection or retention of any armor reserves to support overworked infantry battalions. When French armored units took to the field, they were roadbound. Roads prescribed the axes of advance, and combat action was undertaken to defend a road and the ground for a hundred meters or so on either side. The enemy was free to roam the countryside. Since armored units were generally assigned to support dismounted infantry, their speed and ability to act independently, an important part of any armored unit's contribution to the battle team, were never used.
All these facts were duly reported by the French in their candid, comprehensive, and sometimes blunt after action reports. In the United States, because of restrictive military security regulations and a general lack of interest in the French operation in Indochina, there was no body of military knowledge of Vietnam. What was known had been drawn not from after action reports but from books written by civilians. Foremost among these was Bernard B. Fall's, Street Without Joy, which greatly influenced the American military attitude toward armored operations in Vietnam. One series of battles in particular stood out from all the rest, epitomizing the French experience in American eyes. Entitled "End of a

Task Force," Chapter 9 of Fall's widely read book traced a six-month period in the final struggles of a French mobile striking force, Groupement Mobile 100. The vivid and terrifying story of this group's final days seemed to many to describe the fate in store for any armored unit that tried to fight insurgents in the jungles.
Actually Groupement Mobile 100 was not an armored unit at all, but an infantry task force of 2,600 men, organized into four truck-mounted infantry battalions, reinforced with one artillery battalion and ten light tanks. Restricted to movement on roads, deploying to fight on foot, it was extremely vulnerable to ambush, and, indeed, a series of ambushes finally destroyed it. Because most readers did not take the time to understand the organization and actions of Groupement Mobile 100, its fate cast a pall over armored operations in Vietnam for almost twelve years. The story of this disaster became a major source for unfavorable references to French armored operations in Vietnam, and contributed much to the growing myth of the impossibility of conducting mounted combat in Vietnam.1 In fact, the myth was so widely

accepted that it tended to overshadow French successes as well as some armored exploits of the Vietnamese Army, and it actually delayed development of Vietnamese armored forces. Unfortunately, U.S. commanders were to repeat many of the mistakes of the French when American armored units were employed.
U.S. Armored Forces After 1945
When World War II ended the United States Army had an armored force of sixteen divisions and many other smaller armored units. The bulk of this force-the divisions-included balanced, integrated, mobile fighting forces of armored artillery, armored infantry, and tanks. Concepts for employment of these combined arms forces recognized no limitations of geography or intensity of warfare. The combined arms idea stressed tailoring integrated mobile forces to the situation, taking stock of enemy, terrain, and mission. Mechanized cavalry units were formed to supplement these forces by conducting reconnaissance and providing security.
The employment of U.S. armored divisions exclusively in Europe and Africa during World War II caused many to conclude that only in those theaters was warfare with armor possible. U.S. military studies of armor in the war were based on accounts of combined arms warfare in Europe and North Africa. Most American experience with armored units in the Pacific, and later in Korea in the early 1950's, seemed to confirm the impression that armored units had but limited usefulness in jungles and mountains. The Army staff therefore concluded that while tanks for the support of dismounted infantry might be required, there was no possibility for independent large-scale combined arms action by armored forces such as those of the World War II armored divisions. It was against this background that the U.S. Army grappled with decisions on American troop deployments to Vietnam in the early 1960's. Combined with the misconceptions of the French armored experience, this reasoning caused most planners to conclude that Vietnam was no place for armor of any kind, especially tanks.
In the war in the Pacific there was slow, difficult fighting in island rain forests. No armored division moved toward Japan across the Pacific islands. Neither blitzkrieg tactics nor dashing armor leaders achieved literary fame in jungle fighting. It was an infantry war; armored units were employed, but what they learned was neither widely publicized nor often studied. To most military men the jungle was a dark, forbidding place, to be avoided by armored formations. Even after American military advisers began to replace

the French in the country, the very name, Vietnam, conjured up an image of dense, tropical rain forests, rice paddies, and swamps.2
To American military conceptions of jungle fighting, the Korean War added some additional experience that weighed in the deliberations on troop deployments to Vietnam. Korea has a monsoon climate, a seasonal change in the prevailing wind direction, which is offshore in winter, onshore in summer. The deluge of summer rains in Korea is a reality that no one who served there can forget. The rains made mounted combat difficult, if not impossible. The extensive flooded rice paddies in the western Korean lowlands were added obstacles to the movement of armored vehicles during the rice-growing season. When it became known that Vietnam was a country with a monsoon climate and a rice culture, Americans who had been to Korea remembered the drowning summer rains that made the countryside impossible to traverse for almost half a year. Actually the Vietnam monsoons are quite different from those in Korea and do not impose the same limitations on movement. Vietnam's rice culture is, moreover, confined to a narrow belt of lowlands along the coast and the vast stretches of the Mekong Delta.
One-half of Vietnam is mountainous. Recalling the impassable mountains of some of the Pacific islands and Korea, and the extreme difficulty that armored vehicles had in operating in both places, many planners concluded that Vietnam's mountains were probably at least as rugged as those of Korea and were covered with jungle as thick as that of the Pacific islands. These assumptions were taken as additional evidence that armored vehicles had no place in Vietnam.
Yet another contribution to the growing body of notions that formed early U.S. Army attitudes toward armored units in Vietnam was a singular lack of doctrine for mounted combat in areas other than Europe and the deserts of Africa. As late as November 1961, Field Manual 17-30, The Armored Division Brigade, in a section on combat in difficult terrain, devoted one brief fourteen line paragraph to combat in woods, swamps, and lake areas. Here it was stated that armored units should bypass, neutralize by fire, or let infantry clear difficult terrain. The basic armored tactical manual, Field Manual 17-1, Armor Operation, Small Units, devoted but six skimpy paragraphs to jungle operations.


Vietnam as a Field for Armor
In fact, Vietnam is not a land totally hostile to armored warfare. When the terrain was examined in detail on the ground, as it was in 1967 by a team of U.S. armor officers, it was found that over 46 percent of the country could be traversed all year round by armored vehicles. During the Vietnam War operations with armored units were conducted in every geographic area in Vietnam, the most severe restrictions being experienced in the Mekong Delta and the central highlands.
The Mekong Delta, often below sea level and rarely more than four meters above, is wet, fertile, and extensively cultivated. The area is so poorly drained that the southern tip of the country, the Ca Mau Peninsula, is an expanse of stagnant marshes and low-lying mangrove forests. Because the entire delta is criss-crossed with streams, rivers, and canals, traffic was forced to follow dikes, dams, and the few built-up roads.
In contrast to the delta, the highlands are rugged small mountains of the Annamite chain, with peaks rising to 2,600 meters. Heavily forested with tropical evergreen and bamboo, they were a difficult but not impossible obstacle for armored vehicles. Roads were poor and population centers small and scattered. When first introduced into the highlands, armored units cleared roads and escorted convoys. Subsequently, as larger enemy forces appeared, combined arms task forces operated in the mountain and jungle strongholds. (Map 1)
The other regions of South Vietnam-the coastal plain, piedmont, and plateau-are characterized generally by rolling or hilly terrain. Vegetation ranges from scrub growth along the coast to rice paddies, cultivated fields, and plantations through the southern piedmont, with bamboo, coniferous forests, or jungle in the northern piedmont and plateau. These areas could be used by armored ground vehicles over 80 percent of the time and were traversed by French and Vietnamese armored forces before the arrival of American troops.
The weather in Vietnam is controlled by two seasonal wind flows-the summer, or southwest, monsoon and the winter, or northeast, monsoon. The stronger of these winds, the summer monsoon, blows from June through September out of the Indian Ocean, causing the wet season in the delta, the piedmont, and most of the western highlands and plateau. The remainder of the country has its wet season from November to February during the winter monsoon, when onshore winds from the northeast shed their moisture over the northern one-third of South Vietnam.

During the transition between wet and dry periods and in the dry periods themselves, mounted combat was feasible in most parts of Vietnam. Even in the wet season, armored units proved able to operate with relative ease in many areas previously considered impassable. In 1967 a study under the title Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations, Vietnam (MACOV) was undertaken to make an extensive evaluation of the effects of Vietnam's monsoon climate on the movement of armored vehicles. Although Army engineers had conducted earlier surveys, the engineers were found to be conservative in their estimates. When there was doubt that armored units would be able to maneuver in certain places these were marked impassable by the engineers, who apparently took care that no commander would find his units stuck in an area that had been marked good for land navigation.
The group conducting the study approached the matter positively; that is, it indicated as feasible for operations any terrain where experience showed tracked vehicles had gone and could go with organic support. Applying terrain analysis data to the "go or no go" concept, the team produced maps of Vietnam for both the dry and the wet seasons. (See Maps 2 and 3.) More definitive and more optimistic than the engineers, the group determined that tanks could move with organic support in 61 percent of the country during the dry season and in 46 percent during the wet season. Armored personnel carriers could move in 65 percent of Vietnam the year-round.
The study confirmed what was already known to the Vietnamese: major portions of Vietnam were suitable for armored operations. But this study was not completed until almost two years after the arrival of the first Army ground combat units. During those two years many of the units were sent to Vietnam without their tanks and armored personnel carriers. Some units were even converted from mechanized infantry to infantry before deployment. The earlier studies had provided the overriding rationale for the decisions of 1965 and 1966.
The Enemy in Vietnam
By the late 1950's the insurgents in South Vietnam were known as Viet Cong, a contraction of a term that meant Vietnamese Communists. Although the enemy's methods of fighting and his ultimate goals had not really changed since the campaigns against the French, neither Vietnamese nor U.S. military observers recognized the fact. Enemy soldiers were variously described as bandits, rebels, or political malcontents; closer study revealed that the enemy was


a well-organized force whose methods were the same as those of the Viet Minh against the French.
Lightly equipped and operating in a country with a primitive road network, fast-moving Viet Cong forces on foot proved more than a match for South Vietnamese troops confined to the roads. In the first stages, the Viet Cong avoided units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and operated as guerrillas. Sabotage, bombing, terrorism, and assassination were their hallmark. Speed, security, surprise, and deception were keys to their success.
There were many in the early 1960's who still believed the enemy was a loosely organized body with no staying power against a modern army. The truth was that the Viet Cong were well organized in regular (main) forces, provincial (local) forces, and village military (guerrilla) forces. This organization did not come about overnight; rather the Viet Cong passed through several stages that were dictated by various military and administrative situations in different parts of South Vietnam. Thus, many U.S. observers in Vietnam and the military in general did not at first realize the full extent of the enemy threat.
After 1959 small Viet Cong units began to organize into companies and battalions; guerrilla operations were a complementary tactic. Guerrilla strength grew, and secret bases were established all over the Republic of Vietnam, particularly in the lower Mekong Delta, the area north of Saigon, and the remote highlands of the north. Raids and even occasional battalion-size attacks became more frequent. These large-scale operations were centrally directed by the Lao Dong, a branch of the Communist Party of North Vietnam, through the Central Office for South Vietnam, commonly called COSVN.
An important factor in the enemy's intensification of the war was the establishment of routes for moving men and supplies from North Vietnam. Infiltration routes were in operation by 1960 and were improved and expanded during the war. Monsoon weather affected the volume of the flow and produced a pulsating effect in these arteries of men and materiel. In dry seasons and transitional periods between monsoons the flow increased dramatically, often up to four and five times the ordinary volume. The regularity of this flow in turn determined the intensity of combat that could be supported in South Vietnam. This seasonal effect of the weather would eventually be recognized in the late 1960's as a dominant factor in the enemy's scheme of operations.
Enemy supplies were limited at the beginning to relatively unsophisticated weapons and war material in limited quantities. Troops were usually former residents of South Vietnam, indoctri-


nated by North Vietnam as replacements for Viet Cong units. As the supply of South Vietnamese dwindled, North Vietnamese soldiers began to appear, first as replacements in Viet Cong units, then as entire units of the North Vietnamese Army. The appearance of whole units marked the transition to the last phase of the war, which was a clash between modern armies, even though Viet Cong guerrilla activities continued.
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese battle tactics invariably followed a simple formula, adopted originally from the Chinese combat doctrine of Mao Tse-tung: When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he defends, harass; when he is tired, attack; when he withdraws, pursue. To this formula was added a combat technique of "one slow, four quick," practiced with meticulous precision in almost every situation.
The first step, one slow, meant prepare slowly; a thorough and deliberate planning preceded any tactical operation. Each action was rehearsed until every leader and individual was familiar with the terrain and his specific job. Only when the commander was convinced that the rehearsal was perfect, was the operation attempted.
Execution was in four quick steps, the first of which was advance quickly. The Viet Cong moved rapidly from a relatively secure area to the objective and there moved immediately into the second step, assault quickly. In the assault, they tried to insure surprise, pouring large volumes of fire on their objective. They swiftly exploited success and pursued the enemy, killing or capturing. The third step, clear the battlefield quickly, consisted of collecting and carrying away all weapons, ammunition, and equipment, and destroying anything that could not be carried off. The Viet Cong made every effort to evacuate their wounded and dead. Finally, with orderly precision, the fourth step, withdraw quickly, was taken. The troops moved over planned withdrawal routes, with large units quickly breaking into small groups and losing themselves in as large an area as possible. Later, the scattered groups reassembled in a safe area.
Perhaps the most unusual Viet Cong fighting technique was that of carrying on a different kind of war in each of South Vietnam's forty-four provinces. South Vietnamese defenders in the northern highlands were confronted with enemy tactics that were in sharp contrast to those used in the broad southern deltas. Even more unusual was the fact that the level of conflict in each province varied surprisingly. Often one province would be simultaneously subjected to large-scale mobile attacks and guerrilla harassment, while a neighboring province was left entirely alone. This selective


intensification of the war by the Viet Cong confused American observers, and hid the true nature of the conflict. The American image of the enemy as loosely organized groups of bandits or guerrillas was not real. The enemy had a plan and worked his plan well, so well in fact that by 1964 he was ready to make the transition to the last phase of the conflict, full-scale mobile war.


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