Friday, January 29, 2016
Silk woven 6th Battalion Vietnamese Marines patch, circa 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
The 6th Battalion of the Republic of Vietnam Marines was established in 1966. The motto of the unit was Thần Ưng ("Sacred Bird"). From its inception through 1975, the 6th Battalion would participate in every major engagement of the Republic of Vietnam Marines. A famous photo exists showing marines of the 6th Battalion raising the Republic of Vietnam flag after the victory at the Quảng Trị citadel in 1972. Battalion patches, like the one shown here, would be worn on the right sleeve at the shoulder. The general Republic of Vietnam Marines patch would be worn on the left, sometimes with an additional patch on the right pocket.
6th Battalion Vietnamese Marines raising the Republic of Vietnam flag
at the Quảng Trị citadel, 1972.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Map showing the principal naval movements in the Battle of the Paracel Islands, 1974.
The ships in blue represent Republic of Vietnam naval vessels, while those in red are Chinese.
Forty-two years ago today, the Republic of Vietnam met the People's Republic of China in open naval combat. The point of contest was the Paracel Islands (Quần Đảo Hoàng Sa) in the seas off the coast of Vietnam. The Republic of Vietnam had long laid claimed to the islands, and maintained a military presence there. As is the case today, China claimed nearly all islands in the South China Sea, regardless of their legal status. In 1958, with the islands in the possession of their rival (the Republic of Vietnam / South Vietnam), Communist North Vietnam officially recognized China's claim to both the Paracel and Spratly Islands. This was later reversed in postwar years, but at the time of the battle in 1974 it served as justification for China's attack on the sovereignty of the Republic of Vietnam.
Republic of Vietnam stele on the Spratly Islands with Republic of Vietnam naval officer beside.
Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s the dispute for the islands between the Republic of Vietnam and China intensified against the ongoing backdrop of the Vietnam War. A series of exchanges between fishermen and military vessels of both nations occurred to this period. The situation finally reached climax in January of 1974 when an inspection contingent sent by the Republic of Vietnam to the islands noticed armed Chinese ships in the vicinity. The Republic of Vietnam quickly sent reinforcements to the area. On January 18th, a detachment of Republic of Vietnam Sea Commandos was landed on one of the islands where Chinese flags were removed unopposed.
Captain Hà Văn Ngạc who commanded the Republic of Vietnam naval forces during the battle.
The Republic of Vietnam would field four naval vessels during the battle. Three were frigates: Trần Khánh Dư, HQ-04 (formerly the USS Forster), Lý Thường Kiệt, HQ-16 (formerly the USS Chincoteague), and Trần Bình Trọng, HQ-05 (formerly the USS Castle Rock). The fourth was a corvette, the Nhựt Tảo, HQ-10 (formerly the USS Serene). Captain Hà Văn Ngạc was authorized on January 18th to engage with the Chinese forces with the condition that a parley first be attemped. On the morning of January 19th, the first phase of the battle began when a small detachment of Republic of Vietnam Sea Commandos was landed on one of the islands that Chinese forces had occupied. They approached with a white flag, but were subsequently attacked by the Chinese units on the island. As this was meant as a negotiation parley, the sea commandos were few in number, and were forced to withdraw after suffering several casualties in the failed attempt to resolve the matter peacefully.
Trần Khánh Dư, HQ-04, 1971.
Lý Thường Kiệt, HQ-16.
Trần Bình Trọng, HQ-05.
Nhựt Tảo, HQ-10.
The next phase consisted of a naval engagement seeing all four Republic of Vietnam vessels involved. The exchange lasted roughly forty minutes, with severe damage to both sides. All four Republic of Vietnam vessels were hit with Nhựt Tảo, HQ-10, the most severe. The Nhựt Tảo took a direct hit from a surface to air missile, which left the ship immobile, in addition to other damage suffered from Chinese guns. The gun crew aboard the Nhựt Tảo were all either killed or injured, but surviving crewmen from other parts of the ship took over and commenced firing once more. The Chinese ships then focused all of their targets on the Nhựt Tảo, sending it to the bottom with most of her crew, including the ship's commander, Ngụy Văn Thà.
Photograph of Lieutenant Commander Ngụy Văn Thà, as it appeared in Vietnamese newspapers after the battle. Ngụy Văn Thà was posthumously promoted to full commander.
The threat of additional Chinese ships approaching, including submarines, along with warplanes, forced the remaining Vietnamese ships to withdraw. The final phase of the battle took place the following day, January 20th, when Chinese planes bombed Vietnamese positions on the islands. As a result, the garrison of these positions was later captured. The survivors of the Nhựt Tảo would remain at sea for several days before being rescued by a passing Dutch merchant ship. Some of the islands' garrison escaped by seas, and were subsequently rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
Prisoners of war taken by the Chinese are repatriated in the Republic of Vietnam, 1974.
The battle received great attention in Vietnam and worldwide. The veterans of the battle, particularly those on the Nhựt Tảo were decorated by the Republic of Vietnam. Those taken prisoner by the Chinese, including one American observer, were released to the Red Cross, and also received a heroes' welcome upon their return. The legacy of the battle is just as prominent today as ever. The disputes of the Paracel, Spratly, and other island groups between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors remain a vocal point of conflict. In this post, RVNHS would like to reflect on the events of today forty-two-years ago, and in particular honor the memory of those men who gave their lives for the sovereignty of Vietnam.
A wounded prisoner of war receives medical treatment upon his repatriation
to the Republic of Vietnam, 1974.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Republic of Vietnam navy Officer's double-breasted coat, commander rank,
circa 1960s, RVNHS Archive.
In recognition of the upcoming 42nd anniversary of the Battle of the Paracel Islands (January 19th-20th, 1974), we wanted to post one of the Republic of Vietnam Navy items from the RVNHS Archive. This double-breasted naval officer's coat features three gold rows on each cuff, signifying the rank of commander. A "Viet-nam" arch is present on the shoulder, and the coat was made by a military tailor in Saigon. Coats of this type were less commonly worn than the white canvas dress or fatigue uniforms, but period photos exist showing such coats in use by officer's in all branches of the Republic of Vietnam naval service.
Republic of Vietnam naval officer in double-breasted coat with family at the Pan-American Airlines terminal in Saigon, circa 1960s, RVNHS Archive.
Republic of Vietnam naval officer cadet in double-breasted coat in New York
(Empire State Building in background), 1970, RVNHS Archive.
Nhựt Văn Nguyễn (left), Republic of Vietnam navy veteran, commander, in replica double-breasted officer's coat at a memorial event in later years.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
National Order of Vietnam: Commander level with original Saigon maker's case,
1960s, RVNHS Archive.
The National Order of Vietnam was the highest official award individuals could receive from the Republic of Vietnam government. The award was offered to both military personnel and civilians, and came in five classes. These were the Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer, and Grand Cross levels of the order. The award shown in this post, featuring the badge on a necklet, was for the commander level.
National Order of Vietnam: Commander level with original Saigon maker's case,
1960s, RVNHS Archive.
The higher levels of the award (Commander to Grand Cross) were intended for senior officers and officials with the Knight and Officer levels usually given to lower ranks. In practice, most recipients of the first level of the award (Knight) were field officers (major rank and above). In order to receive the award, an individual would have needed to be distinguished for exceptional achievement in support of the cause of the Republic of Vietnam. A recipient would typically need to be recommended by multiple senior figures before the award would be issued after evaluation by select committees. In this post, RVNHS would like to share this original Commander level National Order of Vietnam with Saigon maker's box from the RVNHS Archive.
General Trần Văn Đôn with Commander level National Order of Vietnam, early 1960s.
President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu with Commander level National Order of Vietnam.
General Trần Văn Nhựt at a veterans' event in later years wearing
the Commander level National Order of Vietnam.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Set of Vietnamese Air Force subdued hand-embroidered patches removed from a flight suit, Top: general Vietnamese Air Force patch, Bottom Left: 1st Air Division,
Bottom Right: 41st Tactical Wing, circa 1971, RVNHS Archive.
This set of Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) insignia were removed from a flight suit, and came into the possession of an American advisor who later kept them as souvenirs. The set consists of three patches. All were hand-embroidered in Vietnam and are subdued colored variants. As the patches came from the same flight suit, they are related in terms of unit lineage. A general Vietnamese Air Force patch is followed by a 1st Air Division patch, and finally a 41st Tactical Wing patch.
Air Cadet TV THON of class 72G wearing a flight suit
with a subdued Vietnamese Air Force patch, circa 1970s.
The 41st Tactical Wing was based in Danang, and these patches could have been worn on a flight suit by any aircrew from the units of the 41st. The typical order of wear would have been the general Vietnamese Air Force patch on the left chest, with the 1st Air Division patch on the left shoulder, and the 41st Tactical Wing patch on the right shoulder. However, variations in order of wear can be seen in period photographs, and these three patches would not have always been worn concurrently.
Vietnamese air force cadets in a celebratory mood,
note: the mixture of colored and subdued insignia, circa 1970s.